Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Straw Dogs”

“Straw Dogs”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

A straw dog is a false caricature constructed purposefully to justify tearing it down. In building a straw dog, one describes an object or person in negative terms and then uses those descriptions to tear it down and build a new model. Many church leaders have built straw dogs of traditional churches.

For example, I am sure that you have received church flyers asking a question like the following. “What do you think of when you hear the word church?” Surrounding the question were the following suggested answers: “for perfect people only, outdated, judgmental, un-welcoming, irrelevant, hypocritical, boring, or stodgy hymns.”

After presenting this straw dog, the flyers invite the reader to attend a welcoming and relevant church that uses moving music and engaging programs for children.

Having received church flyers such as the above, the first thing that came to mind was John 4:23, quickly followed by Matthew 7:15. Jesus declared the truth concerning worship which is fundamental to the church. He said the Father was the one who seeks worshipers. He called those sought as true worshipers. He also warned of only looking at the “cover”. Beware of wolves who dress like sheep.

Further, Jesus described genuine worship. Genuine worship is done in spirit and truth. Note that spirit is not capitalized in English translations. Jesus was not referring to the Holy Spirit in this text. He was indicating that true worship must be wholly genuine. It must include the entire person, both body and soul. It is comparable to the Bible’s call to the church to love the Lord with your whole heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).

In addition, examine the word “church.” What do you think when you hear that word? First, it does not matter what you or I think about the word “church”. God has defined it. The church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18). The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). It is the church for whom Christ died (Ephesians 5:25). In Greek, church (ekklesia) is a compound word. It means called-out ones. God referred to Israel as those whom He chose (Deuteronomy 7:6-7). The first martyr of the Christian church, Stephen, called the congregation in the wilderness the church (Acts 7:38).

The church of Jesus Christ cannot be for perfect people. The visible church is made up of those who have acknowledged that they are sinners in God’s sight and their children (Acts 2:37-39). God’s church cannot be outdated. Jesus said that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The church is not judgmental. The Bible declares that God alone is judge (Romans 12:19). The church is not un-welcoming. The church is commanded to be hospitable (Romans 12:9ff; Hebrews 13:1-2). The church is not irrelevant. The normal means of salvation is through the church proclaiming the gospel (Romans 10:17). The church is not hypocritical. The church does not play at worship, but worships in spirit and truth (John 4:23). The church is not boring. The church worships the Holy and Sovereign God who has revealed Himself as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, coming before Him requires humble awe and fear (Psalm 96:9; Isaiah 6:5; Hebrews 12:28-29). The Bible reveals the God of majesty and awesome might. It is impossible for genuine worship of the one true God to be boring.

The best thing that can be said about this straw dog of the church is that it may lead professing Christians to think about God’s gift of the church. But there is no need to build a straw dog for us to think deeply about the church. God holds His people accountable to ensure that our worship of Him is acceptable to Him! We dare not design our worship of God for inviting people to be entertained or to think that their needs will be met. We dare not organize our worship of God for non-believers. Clearly, biblical worship is for God by His people. May you be filled with the joy of worshiping God in spirit and truth every Lord’s Day.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Repentance”

“Repentance”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor 7:10a). If then God gave the same gift to them (Gentiles) as he gave to us (Peter and the Jews) when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I (Peter) that I could stand in God’s way? When they (the Jews) heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:17-18).

Repentance is a change of mind that includes much more than thinking in a different way. It causes us to change every aspect of our lives informed by our minds. The penitent one changes the way he thinks and makes decisions. His motivations to serve himself are changed. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith is that genuine repentance means to turn away from sin.

The repentance that leads to salvation is always coupled in the Bible with faith. Here’s why. Repentance is to turn away from evil, and faith is to turn to Jesus, the Son of God. The Apostle Paul said that Christians are to count themselves dead to sin (turning from) and alive to God in Christ Jesus (turning to) (Romans 6:11).

If genuine repentance leads to salvation, then it is reasonable to ask, “Why doesn’t everyone (or, at least all those who hear this truth) repent?” The obvious answer is that some choose not to repent. But this answer only raises another question. Why do some choose to repent and others do not?

This same question could be asked about believing. Why do some choose to believe and others do not? The Bible answers both questions the same. Repentance and faith are both gifts from God! One could also say that repentance and faith are two sides of the same God-given gift.

The Jews in Jerusalem who had believed the gospel heard Peter’s testimony concerning Gentile believers, that God has granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life. In other words, God gave the gift of repentance not only to Jewish believers but also to Gentile believers.

I have gone to this depth at the risk of repetition to emphasize the biblical answer as to why some repent and believe. As stated above, the answer is: Both repentance and faith (believing) are gifts from God. They are given to those whom God converts from a sinner to a saint. Repentance and faith are given and received at conversion.

Just as saving faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement, and trust, so also repentance has three parts: acknowledgment of sin, sorrow over sin, and turning from sin. When we believe, we look to a certain body of information: The fundamentals of the Christian faith. Also, we agree or assent to the truth of that body of information. Finally, saving faith requires trust. That is, we rely upon the truth of what we know and affirm, living our lives by this faith (see Hebrews 11).

Now concerning repentance, the Bible teaches that the sinner acknowledges his sin which leads to godly sorrow, but acknowledgement and sorrow are not adequate for true repentance. There must necessarily follow a turning away from sin.

There is a moment, appointed by God, when He calls and regenerates a sinner, converting him and giving him the gifts of repentance and faith. From that moment, the Christian strives to live penitently and faithfully.

God’s promise of heaven is for everyone who repents of his sin and believes in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel! Further, on the believer’s way home to heaven, the Spirit of God continues to sanctify him. The Holy Spirit works in the believer, prompting a life of faith and repentance. Drawing from a line in an Indiana Jones movie, “only the penitent man will pass (survive)”.

By God’s grace and mercy alone, He gives the gifts of repentance and faith, without which there is no good news. As we come face-to-face with our own sinfulness, being grieved by it and committing to turn from it, God causes a light to shine in our hearts to see the beauty of Christ and run to Him. I can’t emphasize this truth enough. After the gifts of repentance and faith are received , they continue to be expressed throughout the life of the believer. They truly are the gifts that keep on giving, and it’s all by God’s grace!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Will Evil Win?”

“Will Evil Win?”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

God’s declaration through the prophet Isaiah is His promise for believers. The verse is in contrast to those who appear strong like youths and those who are powerful. Those who are strong in worldly terms will all grow tired and weary. But those who wait for the LORD will not only survive but will run because they won’t get tired. At times it seems as though evil men are winning. We wonder, where are those who know and seek to do what is good, right, and true?

God promised to deliver His people, and the prophet Isaiah began Chapter 40 with God’s word of “comfort”. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” This chapter of Isaiah is the beginning of the “Suffering Servant” passages, which continue through chapter 55. The “Servant” was revealed to be Jesus! He declared that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Luke 4:18-21). The Servant of God, Jesus, is the one who brings comfort. The comfort He brings is the assurance of deliverance which leads to glory in heaven and the judgment of all who do evil.

Isaiah often wrote in the prophetic past tense. That is, he saw future events as completed. When he wrote of judgment, he saw the total destruction of the wicked as already completed. He saw their final end. He used expressions such as, “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).

The end is certain. On the one hand God will establish perfect righteousness and on the other He will judge all ungodliness. There will be no escape for the ungodly. He will lift the curse of original sin and usher in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21).

God has promised the elect comfort, peace, and glory. This is for what we wait! We know that God never fails to keep His word. His word declares that He has claimed His people as His possessions (Isaiah 43:1). Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

God’s people wait upon Him with eager expectation for the fulfillment of His promises. The promise now is comfort. We eagerly await His promise of final deliverance. These promises are for all those who belong to the LORD. Those who belong to the Lord wait upon Him. The word translated as wait means trusting God now by obeying Him while waiting for His final deliverance.

Events in our nation and in the evangelical church may lead one to lose hope. But God is always faithful to His word. He will execute perfect justice. Those who call evil good and good evil, hiding behind what they claim to be their good intentions, will face the Holy and Just God. Likewise, God will judge men of lawlessness and those who encourage others to violate established laws.

Evil men will be with us until Christ returns. The evil in the world done by men is a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. We know that evil will be absent from the perfection that God has promised when Christ returns. God has declared it! But for now God has promised comfort. His comfort is the certainty of knowing that evil and all ungodliness will come to an end. Further, the comfort that God gives is in knowing that He walks through these evil days with His people. Those who believe that Jesus is who He said He is and rely upon Him have the assurance that nothing will ever separate them from God (Romans 8:35-39).

The comfort is grounded in knowing that His word is always true. He promised He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). By God’s grace, the experience of Christ’s work in our lives causes us to know that He holds us in the palm of His hand.

We persevere knowing that glory awaits us. We are waiting for perfect justice and peace. We wait with an eager expectation and certain assurance that God will bring His promises all to pass. While we wait, we have the comfort of the Lord given in His promise to be with us!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Ethics (Speak the Truth and Live the Truth)”

“Ethics (Speak the Truth and Live the Truth)”

The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Why does it seem that society requires Christians to keep their beliefs to themselves? In our so-called multi-cultural society, all have equal opportunities to express themselves except Christians. Secular humanists are those who have a man-centered world view. They insist that faith is a private matter. They are quick to point to our founders expressed the idea that the church is separate from the state.

They tout this overriding principle of the separation of church and state to silence public moral reflections. In fact, their premise is that there are no moral standards; just as there is no absolute truth. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes! So we might use their standard to critique their philosophy. Since there are no absolutes, why then can the secular humanists impose the absence of absolutes?

Let me suggest a view from one of our Founders. Thomas Jefferson insisted that the establishment of a state religion was not appropriate for religious freedom in this country. Specifically, the Founders did not recommend a Church of America comparable to the Church of England. However, they knew that this experiment of a Democratic Republic (Representative Republic) would not survive unless those involved in government had a moral compass. The Founders envisioned a triangular system. The three points of the triangle are: Government, Capitalism, and Faith, each one informing the other. In my opinion, it has only been in the last four or five decades that faith has been removed the triangle.

When faith is absent, ethics are also absent. Decisions not informed by faith are made based on individual preferences.

Opposed to a system based on personal preference is an ethical system. Ethics are brought to bear in every situation so as to make good and right decisions. In order to make ethical decisions, especially for those in government, one cannot “keep it to oneself”. The “it” is faith. Faith motivates our actions. Therefore, keeping our faith to ourselves is not possible if credible and ethical decisions are sought.

We are seeing the absence of moral ethics in our society. Self-interest has become the great motivator. That is, we make decisions based upon what someone promises to give us or what we think will benefit us. The question of right and wrong rarely enters our decision-making process.

It’s not only in the secular world where this philosophy is seen. It is seen in the church as well. There are prevailing motivations for ministry in many churches. The most popular one is “felt needs”. The motivation of “felt needs” in churches is analogous to self-interest in the public arena.

There are two passages of Scripture that specifically address the question of ethical practice. The first is Deuteronomy 11:26-28, which says, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God… and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God….” The second is 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

In both passages believers are called to apply what they know to be true in making decisions. The guiding force in each case is the knowledge of God. Faith in God should be seen. It is not in accordance with God’s word that His people keep silent. He holds His people accountable to declare the truth.

James wrote, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Peter exhorted Christians to, “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The Risen Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

If we are truly to be the church of Jesus Christ, we must speak what we believe. How can we simply remain silent when all around us there are people lost and heading to hell? Ethical decisions are made when we look at every opportunity to live out the truth of what we believe.

The Lord has blessed us all with the privilege of living in a country that cherishes freedom, even as our freedoms are eroding. We who are Christians are by God’s word to live under the law of the land and to exercise what we believe in the public arena.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone, A Personal Story)”

“Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone, A Personal Story)”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

I was snatched from the pit of hell on January 29, 1986. The day started normally. But, on my way to my office at the Nuclear Power Plant in Crystal River, Florida, I was broadsided by a semi-truck. It occurred about 7:30 in the morning. I was told that the paramedics had to cut me out of my car. I awoke four days later in a hospital in Gainesville, FL with one desire and many broken bones. My one desire was for Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. The God of truth and grace opened my eyes to the world and to His beauty. My only thought was to run to Him. There was no struggling on my part in deciding whether to choose Jesus. I didn’t have the C.S. Lewis experience of being dragged into the kingdom. The thought of running from Jesus never entered my mind.

Not long after the accident, Jesus’ words in John’s gospel burned into my mind and traveled to my heart. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV, italics added).

Let me be frank, before that day, I had no such desire for Jesus. Oh, I thought that I was a good person, as most people do. I thought that as long as I was better than most, the god of my making would welcome me. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God is love? Surely it does! (See 1 John 4:8.) But the Bible also says that God is “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). I never thought about the justice of God. He never sets aside His justice. He extends mercy only because of the sacrifice of Jesus which alone satisfies God’s justice.

Before my “accident,” I never knew the one true God. I know now that I was dead. I used to think that all this “born again” stuff was for the weak minded. But the reality, the truth of what I lived was that dead men don’t do anything. I was unconscious. I couldn’t have saved myself. I couldn’t even get out of my hospital bed. On my best day, I didn’t know that I was lost and headed to hell. God had to act. He did, and I look back in amazement that He chose me! Yes, I responded to Him, but I only responded to His action. I often hear that if one believes he will be born again. How foolish! It is erroneous to tell people that we are made new creations by our own wisdom and ability. How can a dead person believe? The truth is “Ye must be born again” in order to believe! The Bible says: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Every person is born spiritually dead. We are unable to reach out to God and live (see Genesis 3:22-24). God had to act to save me, and He did!

As I look back through the lens of God’s word at what God did to save me, I see every aspect of my life as part of God’s sovereign plan. Even when I didn’t know God, He was directing my path in accordance with His will. I thought that I was making choices. And I was, but my choices had already been planned by the Sovereign God. Think about this when you are wondering how you got to where you are: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). The words of Jesus in John 6:44 make perfect sense as I look at my life in Christ: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

May I suggest a principle for life that may bring you comfort and assurance? I have been saved by God from God for God.

The God who saved me has spoken and continues to speak. His word is without error and absolutely reliable because He is. As a result, all experiences must be informed by Scripture and mine is not an exception. I have the assurance that I belong to God because He has said that assurance is of the essence of Faith (Hebrews 11:1).

My experience of God’s saving grace is an opportunity to praise Him. “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20b).

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Justice or Mercy”

“Justice or Mercy”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

God spoke through the Prophet Micah during a time of prosperity. He required His people to do justice and to love kindness (mercy) and to walk humbly before Him.

This divine imperative is simple and bears repeating. Do justice. Love Mercy. Live with a right assessment of ourselves before a sovereign God. God said that this is good. In light of this clear declaration, no one needs to struggle to know what is good.

Our good God commanded His people to do justice. God’s people are accountable to seek and apply justice. As God ordained civil authorities, He placed upon them the responsibility to rule and govern justly. What then is justice? In part, justice is fair treatment based on the law.

Therefore, the application of justice requires a standard. Our civil government operates under such a standard. It is the rule of law. When authorities consider themselves above the law anarchy is not far behind. An orderly and safe society requires all citizens and their leaders to obey the rules of law that govern them.

So it is for the church. The authority of the church is under the word of God. Christ is the King and Head of the church. He exercises His Lordship through His word. Authority in the church is a granted authority. That which is just and right is determined from the Bible, the church’s standard.

The Bible teaches that to do justice is to do what is right. That which is just is right and fair based upon the standard which is the word of God written.

Micah 6:8 also declares another critical concept. The prophet called God’s people to love kindness. The original word is also translated lovingkindness, steadfast love, or mercy. The word reflects the very character of God. Justice and mercy are not opposite sides of the same coin. Mercy stands in contrast to justice. Justice applies the rule of law. Mercy is granted to lawbreakers. Justice is deserved. Mercy is underserved and can only be granted by the benevolent action of a ruler. Mercy and grace are the unmerited favor of God.

Following the revealed truth of God’s word, all men deserve justice. The just and right action of the holy God is condemnation. The Bible is clear on this point throughout. From Genesis to Revelation, God has revealed that all men are born spiritually dead. All men are born in bondage to sin. Sin is defined as lawlessness by the Apostle John (1 John 3:4). Adam’s sin is inherited by every human being. The Apostle Paul wrote that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

Left on our own, we are all children of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It’s at this point that the cry “It’s not fair” is often heard. The offense of the truth causes men to define God in their own view. I’ve heard the statement, “My God is a God of love. He wouldn’t send people to hell. It’s not fair or loving.” My response is that the God defined in that statement is not the God of the Bible. God has revealed Himself as “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).

In the light of God’s holy justice, how can we hope to be saved? The apostles, prophets, and Jesus called people to repent and believe in the gospel. This is God’s ordained means to deliver men and women from this present darkness. The question that lays beneath God’s command to repent and believe in the gospel is “How?”. How are men born dead in sin able to repent and believe? The only possible answer is by God’s grace. God extends grace to those whom He chooses. God said that He will have mercy on whom He has mercy (Romans 9:15).

King David wrote Psalm 51. He was confronted in his sin. David did the only thing that is possible. He threw himself upon the mercy of God. This is the truth of man’s only hope. There are only two alternatives. You will either experience God’s perfect justice or receive His mercy.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “How the Mighty Fall!”

“How the Mighty Fall!”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
All earthly kings have a very high opinion of themselves. There was a king whose opinion of himself reached to the heavens. He thought so much of himself that he made a golden image for his subjects to worship. He commanded all people to worship the idol he made under penalty of death. This king’s name was Nebuchadnezzar. His acts are recorded in the book of Daniel.

The main revelation of chapters three and four of Daniel is the absolute sovereignty of the one true God. Yet, there are many lessons that apply directly to us. One is the example of the three Hebrews: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three men demonstrated an unyielding reliance upon God. They were willing to be burned alive rather than worship the false god erected by the king. Another lesson revealed to us through these men is the faithfulness of God. In the midst of the flames, one like “a son of the gods” was with them. God’s promise to be with His people, as declared in Joshua 1:5 and repeated in Hebrews 13:5, was demonstrated by His presence with the three men in the fiery furnace.

God revealed His sovereignty and His faithfulness, and the three Hebrews demonstrated saving faith in God. But there is more to learn. There is a timely lesson for all professing Christians. No matter what power rulers or public officials claim for themselves, we know that there is One who has absolute power and authority. Jesus declared that He has all power and authority in heaven and on earth (Mat 28:18), and He will have the last word. Daniel and his three friends lived under a foolish, pompous, and self-serving king, and they were fully convinced of the truth of God’s sovereignty.

Daniel was given a vision of the Son of God having all power and dominion (Daniel 7:13-14). Daniel saw in the night visions one like a son of man coming with the clouds. Daniel’s vision was a glimpse of the pre-incarnate Christ.

I find it necessary to remember the sovereignty of God as I hear current news and events. We are experiencing the breakdown of the rule of law in our nation. We have so-called elected leaders who appear to ignore the laws of our land. We have leaders who see themselves as being accountable to no one. There are others who have apparently abdicated their responsibility to hold their fellow civil servants accountable. We are fooled into electing men and women who promise to be something that they are not. Every day it seems that we are seeing our country coming apart at the seams.

The lesson learned by King Nebuchadnezzar provides hope for God’s people, those who place their trust in the only One who has all authority, Jesus Christ.

The king saw himself as the one and only sovereign ruler. No one could question or oppose him. He thought that he was the owner of the world. His was the greatest empire, and he believed it would last forever.

God confronted the king through Daniel. God said that the king would be driven from his kingdom and be driven mad. God brought Nebuchadnezzar to his knees!

One day when the king was surveying all that he owned, God humbled him. The king was made to live as an animal. His appearance was animal-like. He behaved like a wild beast. This once great king who thought he was above everyone and everything was humiliated.

We often pray that God would cause our leaders who have extreme pride, called hubris, to be brought to their knees. No one is too far from God. When we pray this prayer our motives are that those who are full of pride will repent and turn to God for the salvation of their souls.

King Nebuchadnezzar was caused by God to do just that. When the time determined by God was completed, the king regained his senses. The first words out of his mouth were praise to the One who lives forever. He declared the truth of the sovereign majesty of the one true God. He declared his submission to the true God worshiped by Daniel and his three friends.

I remember this factual story and I have hope. Place your hope in the one who will never disappoint you or leave you. Trust in God. He alone is sovereign. Pray that our leaders will learn the reality of God’s sovereignty and that they will govern accordingly.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Resolutions”

“Resolutions”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The first action of 2021 may likely be the same as that of 2020 and all previous “New Year’s.” The action of which I speak is making resolutions. We all tend to think in grand terms. Often, our resolutions fall by the wayside by February. I want to suggest a resolution that we should all seek to implement. May we all seek to “Do what is right!” Not simply what we “think” is right, but what is right.

There is an obvious problem in implementing this resolution. In order to do what is right, one must know what is right. There must be a standard of “right.” The absolute standard of what is right is the word of God, the Bible.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that the believer is to take every thought captive to the word of Christ, 2Corinthians 10:5. Romans 12:2 is an exhortation to Christians not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. The result is: “That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Ephesians 5:11 points out that Christians were once in darkness but are now “light in the Lord.” Believers are to be children of light, that is, Christians follow Jesus by living under His word. The “fruit” of living as children of light is “found in all that is good and right and true.” Knowing what is good, right and true is only possible through God’s transformation. He has promised to change those whom He calls, regenerates and justifies. He does it by His word and Spirit. Doing what is right is the response of one who has been born again by the Holy Spirit in concert with God’s word.

That which is right proceeds from the attributes of God. He has revealed Himself as good, righteous and true. Those who seek to do what is right are in an intimate relationship with God. This intimacy is only possible by knowing Jesus, God’s only Son. As the Father is the source, knowing the “good” proceeds from intimacy with Him.

Doing the right thing is wise living. Wise living follows the way of blessing. The way of blessing is to obey God. Conversely, God said that a cursed life would follow the one who was disobedient. I have yet to meet someone who wanted to live a cursed life. Yet, by ignorance or avoidance of God’s word, we head towards destruction. Don’t be fooled by following someone who commits to do what he thinks is right. First, know yourself what is right. Then do it.

Whereas God is the one working in a believer to do what is right, the believer is not an idle bystander. Christians live responding to the Spirit of God acting in them. God’s means to progressively change His people is the systematic, intense study of the Bible and the theology which proceeds from it. This is not only a personal endeavor but a corporate one. Each local church is accountable before God to “teach what is in accordance with sound doctrine”, Titus 2:1. Every believer is likewise accountable to invest in such a church.

The Apostle Paul addressed the barrier to growth in knowing what is right, 2Timothy 3. Paul wrote that people would be “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Paul described the visible church corrupted by those who only looked godly; those who sought to “tickle” men’s ears. He gave a timeless answer to the problem. Paul’s answer then was for Timothy to continue in what he learned and firmly believed. Paul reminded Timothy that all Scripture was breathed out by God and it’s the Scriptures which are able to make the believer “competent and equipped for every good work.” God’s answer remains the same. The visible church is the place to grow in knowing what is right as she faithfully teaches the Scriptures.

May you be a part of such a church. May you grow in knowing that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. May all Christians keep this resolution for the glory of God!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Christian and the Culture”

“The Christian and the Culture”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The ongoing challenge to our free society provides, I might add compels Christians to think through living in an increasingly adverse culture. Over the centuries of Church History many have considered this issue, E.G. Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and others. This thought process is especially relevant for the Visible Church which sometimes encourages innovation motivated by new cultural norms. I am reminded of Jude’s admonition, “Contend for the faith that was once or all delivered to the saints,” Jude 3.

There have been five views embraced at various times in the history of the Church. For brevity I summarize them as follows:
1. Live against Culture
2. Blend in with Culture
3. Live somehow above the Culture
4. Live in a paradox with the Culture
5. Live seeking to transform the Culture.

To summarize, the question before all who profess Christ, which is to say the visible church which includes those who profess the true religion, and their children is: “What action should I/we take in accordance with my/our profession?”

To answer the question, believers appeal to Scripture. By definition, Christians live in accordance with a biblical/God-centered World View therefore, we see reality (truth) through the lens of Holy Scripture.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first… If you were of the world, the world would love you; but because you are not of the world… therefore the world hates you, John 15:18, 19. Jesus also told His disciples that they were His witnesses, Luke 24:48. Jesus gave the church a command. He commanded the church to make disciples of all nations, Matthew 28:19.

The reality that every Christian must face is that living the Christian Life will offend the world. Yet, we are not to live in fear of the world. Jesus said that He is the only one to fear, Matthew 10:28. He said in the same narrative, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33

God’s revealed proposition is that the world is opposed to Christ and by implication it is opposed to those who live Christ. The Bible is clear in declaring that Christians are in the world but not of the world, John 17:14ff.

We who profess Christ are aware that following Jesus is opposed to our Culture. We are also aware that Jesus called His followers to be salt and light in the world, Matthew 5:13-16. We dare not hide what we know to be true or live in opposition to the truth of God’s word. Rather we are called to let our light shine… so that the world may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven, Matthew 5:16.

Peter’s first epistle provides a clear application for living the Christian Life. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1Peter 3:15

The Apostle Paul’s declaration to the Pastor Titus gives the church direction in standing for the truth of God. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Titus 2:11ff.

God has chosen to reach the lost through His people. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit’s work is to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, John 16:8.

The way for Christians to live in this culture is to be holy people. God has commanded His people to be holy, Leviticus 11 and 1 Peter 1. Holy people live under the word of God. Holy people live openly before a sinful world. Holy people declare the truth of a holy God. Holy people are ambassadors for Christ.

It is unreasonable even to consider being silent when confronted by godless cultural norms. For the sake of the “lost” the church must declare the truth concerning lifestyles that God has declared to be unholy, sinful and an abomination to Him. Further, the Church is to stand for that which is good, right, and true and confront those who would call evil good and good evil, all for the glory of God!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Miracle of Miracles (The Incarnation)”

The Miracle of Miracles (The incarnation)
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Years ago, I remember sitting in our family room watching a Christian Television Program. The star of the show announced one of his future crusades by calling people to come “expecting a miracle”. The dictionary defines a miracle as a supernatural event.

Naturally, my interest was heightened by such an announcement. Contrary to this showman’s claim, there is a miracle that makes the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ a reality. Our hope rests upon the genuineness of this miracle. The miracle to which I refer is the Incarnation. The meaning of the Incarnation is God in the flesh.

The Prophet Isaiah predicted this miracle. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 God’s promise was fulfilled in 4 B.C. with the birth of Jesus. Matthew wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23

The Incarnation was so important that God spoke through His prophets throughout the Old Testament declaring the absolute necessity of the God – Man. It is a miracle that we simply cannot adequately understand, but we receive it as the absolute truth because God said it. Our hope of eternal life is real because the miracle of Jesus’ birth was real.

The Apostle Paul took the opportunity of rivalry and disunity in the church to declare both the explicit and implicit meaning of the Incarnation. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

The first explicit revelation is that the Incarnation is the ultimate definition of humility. God, the Creator of all, condescended to lower Himself and take upon Himself human nature. God came to earth as a man. All the while, He remained divine. He voluntarily set aside His glory. No analogy is adequate to describe Jesus’ humiliation in the Incarnation and His crucifixion.

Further, Paul wrote that Jesus was born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, Galatians 4:4. Jesus was fully man, but a man without sin! Jesus was born without sin because He was born out of the natural course. He was miraculously born of Mary who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because of Jesus’ humility in fully submitting to the Law in obedience to God the Father even unto death upon a cross those who are in Christ are accepted by God because of His blood and righteousness. Apart from Jesus’ Incarnation we would never be able to have a relationship with God. The Incarnation led to the satisfaction of the Law’s demands! Because of His perfect sacrifice our sins have been paid for.

Second, Paul also wrote of Jesus’ exaltation. Because of His perfect obedience to His Father, even to death on a cross, God gave Him the name that is above every name. That name is Lord. The Father gave Jesus to be the Master of all that exists. Jesus said, “all authority in heaven and on earth” was given to Him, Matthew 28:18.

In summation, Paul wrote of God’s purpose in the Incarnation. Everything about the Incarnation is for the glory of God, the Father! The entirety of God’s plan of redemption is for His glory!

The Incarnation leading to Jesus’ resurrection has an implicit affect. The implication is that those who are in Christ have died with Him and are raised with Him. They are joint heirs of heaven with Him.

Christmas is a celebration of this miracle of miracles. Believers celebrate the one who set aside His glory, died for our sins, was raised and now rules all things!