Is It a Conviction or a Preference?
Convictions and Preferences

I’m a person of strong opinions. It’s a rare occasion when I don’t have an opinion on a subject.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering about the art of disagreement. Without meaning to, I’ve come up against passions that run high and emotions that run deep. The subjects cover everything from the national debt to exercise preferences to application of Scripture. While I understand the strong feelings—I have them myself—I don’t understand the hostility that targets and denigrates anyone who believes differently.

A few examples…

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post describing my observations about yoga. Do I have strong feelings about it? Yes, I do. However, what surprised me were the comments that went far beyond thoughtful agreement or disagreement (which I welcome). Many comments attacked those in the opposite “camp.” I found it necessary to delete some because of their uncontrolled vitriol. By the way, the hostility came from both sides—Christian and non.

On another note, friends, acquaintances, and strangers have been posting scathing denunciations of Republicans or Democrats, depending on which side of the aisle they identify with. Hyperbole abounds in an effort to portray the opposing party as unintelligent, elitist, or communist. And those are some of the more civil terms!

Finally, I had a conversation with a young lady who disagreed with something I taught from Scripture. The position I hold is one supported by many well-respected Christian denominations. The position she holds is held by many well-respected Christian denominations. Unfortunately, rather than agree to disagree, she gave vent to vehement indignation at what she pronounced to be “false teaching” simply because she did not have the same view. I should add this was not a matter of interpretation, but simply a matter of application.

These three experiences cause me to wonder: have we lost the ability to disagree without attacking those who hold an opposing view? These days disagreements quickly deteriorate into ad hominem arguments, where the person is targeted instead of the position they hold.

Convictions and Preferences

I am not saying we should compromise our convictions. But perhaps the issue is that we don’t understand the difference between a conviction and a preference. A conviction, according to Webster’s Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary, is “a fixed belief.” A preference is “the choice of one thing or person over another.” A conviction is something we would die for. A preference is not. A conviction is something we would stake our reputation on. A preference is not.

Before we engage with others on everything from politics to shampoo brands, perhaps we should spend some time—and prayer—determining our convictions and our preferences…and deciding which is which. And most importantly, listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say to us about both.

Then we have a series of choices to make.

We need to choose our motive. When we respond to those who disagree with us, are we doing so out of anger, self-righteousness, or love for others caught in error?

We also need to choose our venues. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A social media venue such as Facebook is not the place for Christians to unleash a torrent of negative comments about non-believers, and then expect to be a witness to our unbelieving friends! Come to think of it, Christians shouldn’t be doing that anywhere!

Finally, we need to choose our words. Some words are more emotionally-charged than others, igniting fires and leaving charred remains in their path. Certainly not what we want to do if our goal is to persuade others to our views.

The art of disagreement does not require compromising our convictions. It does not even entail parking our preferences. It does involve respecting those who disagree with us. Who knows? Someday, they may even be won over to our way of thinking…or we may be won over to theirs!

Your turn:
How might distinguishing between preferences and convictions help you better handle disagreements?


After 9/11…or any Tragedy: Where was God?
Where was God on September 11?

This week we commemorated a horrific event in our nation’s history. Social media feeds once again overflowed with posts and photos from September 11, 2001—a day that (please excuse the cliché) will live in infamy.

Whether it’s 9/11 or another tragedy, personal or national, responses tend to move to two extremes: we either run to God or run away from Him.

We saw it 18 years ago. Some people asked “Where was God?” almost derisively. As if the tragedy was proof God did not exist. Meanwhile, others recounted how they had a strong sense that God was intimately present, helping them through the worst day of their life.

For a time during and after 9/11, there was a surge in spirituality. Talking about God was suddenly more acceptable in mixed company. Houses of worship were packed as people sought comfort in the midst of confusion. Displaying a spiritual perspective was not just accepted, it was admired and applauded. For a while it was even okay—barely—to include the name of Jesus in conversations, as long as you didn’t make any exclusive claims about Him.

But spirituality and Christianity are not the same thing. Spirituality accepts that there is another world—a world we cannot see. That spiritual world contains many ways to god…and many gods. However, the biblical belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior is an exclusive belief that says Jesus is the only way.

In fact, Jesus said this about Himself. “I am the way, the truth…” (John 14:6 – emphasis added). Not one way among many. Not one truth among many. For those who disagree, they are not disagreeing with us, they’re disagreeing with Jesus’ own words.

So it’s not a surprise that the surge in spirituality has dissipated over the past 18 years. After all, feel-good spirituality offers nothing of substance. It’s often a composite of beliefs chosen from a wide spectrum of faiths, cobbled together with nothing more than personal preferences.

And once again, Jesus is left outside our culture. A culture desperate for answers to the meaning of life, yet stubbornly running away from the Giver of Life.

Personal preferences make a poor foundation for beliefs about eternity. For your preferences will be different from mine, and mine will be different from the next person. And we can’t all be right.

Christians are told it’s okay to believe what you want, but only if you acknowledge that Jesus is not the only way. Problem is, if we acknowledge that, then we’re no longer followers of Christ. We would become followers of yet another belief system comprised of empty promises. A belief system led by a god of our own making.

So how can we justify a belief in a sovereign God who allows tragedies such as 9/11 to occur? Perhaps a better question to ask is, why does God get blamed for all the bad things that happen, but those same people fail to give Him credit for the good that occurs?

Or why does our culture demand total freedom to do what we want, when we want it, and in the next breath, demand to know why God doesn’t intervene and stop all evil from occurring?

Why do tragedies keep coming? It boils down to the reality that this is a broken world and all of us are broken people in need of a Savior. And it helps me to remember that in light of eternity, our troubles are temporary. The apostle Paul put it this way:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

This world—on its best day or on its worst day—is not all there is. But this life does give us opportunities in the midst of tragedy. For when people ask, “Where is God?”, we can be the vessels He uses to display His grace and kindness. We can be the ones to meet a need in Jesus’ name. And we can love in a way that gives others a taste of the love their heavenly Father has for them. A love that was willing to provide the way—the only way—to restoration, healing, and wholeness.

The darkness of a broken world is the backdrop which allows God’s light and love to shine most brightly. Don’t blame God for tragedies. Be His hands and feet to love people in the midst of their suffering. Give them the answer to their question:

Where was God in the tragedy?
He was right here all along.


Why Me? Why Not Me?
Why Me? Why Not Me?

Living in Florida, I recently engaged in a stressful dance with Hurricane Dorian.

For those who haven’t been following the vagaries of tropical weather, Dorian crossed the Atlantic as a tropical storm that grew into a Category 5 hurricane. With a peak wind speed of 183 mph, Dorian is one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.

Those of us in Florida watched with trepidation as Dorian appeared to target our state’s east coast. We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. And many of us prayed.

We prayed for Dorian to turn north before it made landfall in Florida. Not here, Lord!

Then we watched this monster storm engulf the Bahamas. It devastated the islands with punishing and merciless winds before continuing its deliberate journey toward us.

And we prayed some more. Lord, help those in the Bahamas. But please don’t let that happen to us. Not here, Lord. Not me, Lord.

Even as I prayed this, I found myself wondering, Why not me?

Have you ever asked, “Why me?” Or perhaps, “Why not me?”

  • Why am I the one who received that prognosis?
  • How come I didn’t get the last seat in that class I wanted to attend?
  • Why didn’t I get the job?
  • How come the hurricane hit my city?
  • Why did someone else get what I should have received?

Where do we get the idea that bad things shouldn’t happen to us? Of course, no one wants to experience sorrow or suffering. But when these situations occur, we often seem to think God has somehow let us down. That He violated an unwritten agreement: I’ll believe in You and You will protect me from anything bad.

But the Bible never promised a life without sorrow and suffering. Actually, just the opposite. Jesus told His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV).

Living in a broken, sin-sick world means we are guaranteed to have trouble. It’s not an if, it’s a when. And our heavenly Father doesn’t always stop the trouble from happening. But He does promise peace in the midst of difficulty.

Besides, how will the world understand the reality of the peace brought by the Prince of Peace if nothing negative ever happens to Christians?

So the next time we’re facing a difficult circumstance, let’s not ask “Why me?” Instead, ask “Why not me?” Then ask, “How can I live for Christ in this situation so that others will want the relationship with Him that I have?”

I still intend to pray hurricanes will steer away from me–and from others! And not just physical hurricanes, but all storms of life. Still, if—no, when—they do come, I also pray I’ll exhibit the peace and strength that comes from knowing who I am in Christ. That I will surrender to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to live out the reality of my identity as a child of God regardless of my situation. And that the way I live might be the salt which makes others thirsty for that same relationship.

Why me?
Why not me?


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