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  • Tom Strode

Making or keeping New Year's resolutions has never been a strong point for me. As an example, my goal in 2019 was to read 20 books, as I recall. I read five. Despite such failures, the start of a new year still seems to be a good time for me to remind myself of what is truly important.

What follows are four priorities I intend to live by in 2020. This is not an exhaustive list. I could certainly name other priorities, but these seem to be uppermost in my mind entering 2020.

1. Jesus is Lord.

The priorities that follow mean little without this one being pre-eminent. I must deny myself and take up my cross daily and follow Jesus. He must be my Master in not only what I do but in how I do it and in how I think about it. Someone will be Lord in my life at each moment of this year. Grievously, it often could be me. My desire, however, is that I would gladly and increasingly submit to Jesus as Lord of all.

2. People are more important than possessions, positions or projects.

Everyone is my neighbor. The greatest commandment next to loving God fully is loving neighbor as self. Sadly, I can be prone to self love rather than selfless love. Life is about relationships -- with God, then others. I need to ruthlessly and repeatedly remind myself of the superior importance of others made in God's image over pursuits that fall short of serving others as Jesus did. (By "positions," I mean those of rank, reward or authority.)

3. The church is more important than the country.

I have come to realize more adequately in recent years the significance of making this distinction in my own thinking. I should fulfill my God-given responsibilities as a citizen, but I should not make the mistake of confusing America and its agenda with the kingdom of God and His agenda. For me, the name of Christ and the testimony of His church outrank the mission and future of the country.

4. Corporate worship is the most important gathering I will participate in each week.

The meeting of God's people to worship Him, to hear from Him, to proclaim His gospel, and to encourage and admonish each other has no equal in significance and impact for those of us who have been adopted into His family. This weekly assembling of the body of Christ reminds us of our hope, changes us in ways we may not recognize and identifies us with the saints already gathered in worship around His throne.

I will fail to abide by these priorities multiple times in the year ahead. That is a sad reality. But they remain my commitments. May God grant me the needed grace. I invite you to join me as we follow Jesus and seek to live in accordance with the priorities He has for us.

-- Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

  • Tom Strode

The first Sunday of Advent did not pass without reminders for the church of the importance of human dignity and Christ's incarnation.

For instance, here are a few items from December 1 or shortly before:

-- Unidentified gunmen killed at least 14 people and injured many others during a church worship service December 1 in the West African country of Burkina Faso. Though the killers were unidentified, places of worship have been targets of a series of attacks this year by Muslim extremists, according to the France 24 news channel.

-- A statue of the late Rosa Parks was dedicated in Montgomery, Ala., December 1, the 64th anniversary of her arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in the state capital. Parks' civil disobedience prompted a bus boycott that marked an important step in the civil rights movement.

-- A Nov. 29 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed another two percent drop from the previous year as part of the continuing decline in the number of abortions in this country. Yet, more than 620,000 abortions were still reported, and that is without data from three states, including California, and the District of Columbia.

-- Time magazine published November 27 a report on a federal program in the 1970s that resulted in about one-forth of all Native American women of child-bearing age being sterilized, some coercively or without their knowledge. In addition, black and Hispanic women also were targeted for forced sterilizations, according to Time.

All serve to help us remember the inhumane way human beings can sometimes view and treat other human beings.

Against such atrocities stands the biblical teaching of human dignity. God has created every person in His image. Everyone -- regardless of ethnicity, skin color, physical and mental condition, sex or religious belief -- is valuable based precisely on being made in God's image.

If that were not enough, the incarnation of God the Son adds extra significance to the truth of human dignity. In fact, it is the basis of human dignity, biblical scholars say.

Tony Reinke, senior teacher for Desiring God and author, provided an explanation of this view of "the Christological doctrine of the image of God" -- as theologian Oliver Crisp puts it -- in a November 2016 post. He did so after reading Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God and speaking to its author, John Kilner. Kilner is a former president of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and recently retired as professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity International University in suburban Chicago.

Citing II Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15, Kilner said, "The image of God is Jesus Christ."

“Christ is the image, and people are created in his image,” Kilner said. “The preposition ‘in’ more specifically means ‘according to.’ So the idea here is that God created people according to his image, which is Jesus Christ. Christ is the standard, the model for what a human being should be.”

Reinke writes, "If that sounds historically backwards — the resurrected, glorified Christ was the prototype for humanity, before Adam and Eve were fashioned from dirt — that’s because 'according to Romans 8:29, before people were created, God determined that Christ would be the model according to which humanity would ultimately be conformed.'"

This means "Christ is the archetype whose human nature is the blueprint for all other human natures," Reinke writes, quoting Crisp's book, The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ. Crisp is the chair of analytic theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

As a result, the sanctity and dignity of human life is connected to the incarnation of Christ. We are made in His image -- the image of the Son who came in the flesh.

At Christmas, may we rejoice in the revelation of the image in which we are all created -- the One who came to save us.

-- Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

  • Tom Strode

It seems this cannot be repeated too often -- we can disagree with other Christians without demeaning them.

Once again, a Christian leader has spoken with a lack of grace in seeking to correct another saint. It's not the biblical view he sought to defend that is the problem. It was the disrespectful way he chose to express his opposition to the viewpoint of, in this case, a woman teacher.

This may not be anything new in the conservative Christian church. The problem has just become magnified on social media and in an evangelicalism that is populated by tribes seeking to assert they have a corner on the truth.

I came across a quote today from Sinclair Ferguson, a Scottish preacher and theologian, who said: "I sometimes wonder if this is a distinctively evangelical sin. Of course it is by no means exclusively so. But how commonplace it seems to be to hear a fellow Christian's name mentioned in some context or other, and the first words of response demean his [or her] reputation, belittle him [or her], and distance him [or her] from acceptance into the fellowship, although this is a brother [or sister] for whom Christ died!"

The apostle Paul paints a much different picture of a Christian leader in his second letter to Timothy.

"And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will," Paul wrote in II Timothy 2:24-26.

Quarrelsomeness seems to be prized and praised too often in today's evangelicalism. Kindness and gentleness are not coveted among some Christian tribes. No, it is the snide takedown that gains the applause of too many in the church.

Into this corrosive climate, Paul urges pastors and other leaders -- and, we can add, all followers of Jesus -- to be kind, patient and gentle. With those traits seasoning our declaration of the truth, God may give those who oppose us repentance that leads to knowing the truth. And when disciples disagree over non-essentials, we should do so lovingly.

Oh may there be a revival of kindness and gentleness in Christ's church in our day.