Pastor’s Viewpoints, “God continues to turn my world upside down!”

“God continues to turn my world upside down!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“In the beginning God…” are the four words that continue to turn my world upside down. My hope is that they will do the same to you! These words are reality. Reality is that uncomfortable truth that hits you in the face like a brick wall. Some may think that reality is what you make of it or believe it to be. Try standing in front of a brick wall and imagining that its not there. Then try running as fast as you can in the belief (even strongly held) that you’ll just pass through that wall. The result is obvious. So too is the absolute and ultimate reality declared throughout the Bible.

Like that figurative wall, God’s words knock me off of my throne. The truth that God is the only eternal Being is central to the Christian Faith. In addition, the words of Genesis 1:1 declare reality to all mankind.

God’s words given to Moses declare there was a time when nothing existed; therefore, it follows that God made everything out of nothing! Nothing existed in the beginning except God Himself. By the sovereign command of God all Creation was made. The Creator changed me. He made me a new creation. His words tell me that I have no right to claim the throne of my life, to think that I am “in charge.”

In making me a new creation, He gave me new desires, specifically a new desire, a profound and deep desire for Him. The Great “I Am” is the only self-existent being. All things that exist proceed from Him. I am because He is. We know Him in Jesus who said, “Let Me tell you how to say Yahweh in Greek (I’m paraphrasing). It is Jesus.”

The confrontation began when God caused me to see that He alone has the right to claim ownership of me and sovereign control of my life. There is no other reasonable response that a creature (me) could make to the Creator. Since all existence proceeds from Him, “In Him we live and move and have our being”, Acts 17:28 ESV, the claim of an absolute self-determination is unachievable.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me re-phrase. Before there was anything there was God. He chose a time to make everything out of nothing. Opposed to this is the view of eternal matter. A once great philosopher of the 20th Century, Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos is all there ever was or will be.” Acceptance of this view, in my opinion, requires a blind leap of faith into the dark rather than a step into the light.

King David said it best, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1, ESV

In light of God’s confrontation of Man’s idea of an autonomous, self-directed control over life, the question must be asked. How do you respond to the reality that you’re not in control?

Critics say that this view of reality is demeaning and renders men and women to be pawns. But just the opposite is true. Understanding that you’re not God and He is leads you to the profound realization that He has condescended to reach down and bless man above all creatures. David wrote in Psalm 8:5 about man, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” This supremely points to Jesus Christ, but is significant for the entire human race.

You are free to ignore this reality. But, for the sake of repetition, it would be like ignoring the wall I mentioned in my introduction. So then, “How do you respond to the truth that you’re a creature made by the Sovereign Creator?

If you’ve gotten this far, I believe that another question has arisen in your mind. And, this is a necessary question: “If God has sovereign, supreme authority and control, why am I responsible for my actions?” An honest question deserves an honest answer. Let me suggest a beginning in answering this question. A biblical principle, one grounded in logic is that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not contradictory. All men are responsible for what they do, there is no exception. Yet, God is sovereign over every action. Each statement is independent of the other.

You are responsible to examine your life in light of God’s sovereignty!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Imago Dei” (The Image of God)

“Imago Dei” (The Image of God)
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The world tells us that our value as human beings is based upon our current or potential contribution to society. There are ethicists who teach that human life has no more intrinsic value than plants and animals! I hope that this shocks you. It should. I suggest that human life has been given a unique value by the Creator. Genesis 1:26a, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

At this point, I think that I’ve probably lost all the atheists. The fact is: there is a God. His existence is undeniable. He has made His divine attributes known by all that He has made, Romans 1:19-20. The Bible says that there is no other reasonable explanation for the world around us.

But this article is not about the existence of God, directly. Yet, His existence is the basis for the sanctity of human life. The sacredness of human life proceeds out of being made in God’s image. No other creature has been given such a distinction. Because of this, man is accountable to God. We have been set apart by God. We are made in God’s image. One of my favorite Psalms declares, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4

The sense of the words of Scripture, Gen. 1:26, that declare men and women are made in God’s image are likened to objects viewed in a mirror. We are a reflection of God. Distortions of this idea have been offered over the years. Joseph Smith wrote that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” Another famous or infamous personality teaches that God is actually a man who is six feet, two inches tall. He even goes on to describe God’s arm length.

I believe that grounding ourselves in the truth is the best defense against such false teaching. In other words, know the truth in order to recognize error. So then, what is the truth of being made in God’s image? It cannot mean that mankind looks like God in a physical sense, as those referenced above teach. God made us male and female! Both men and women bear God’s image. All reasonable people admit that men and women are not the same.

Bearing God’s image means to have some of the attributes of God. Attributes are simply characteristics that define a being. Now I used the word “some” to qualify the attributes of God that we bear. We are not God! No man is immortal. No man is self-existent. No man can make the claim that he had no beginning. Yet, all men are able to: reason, think, and have limited knowledge. All men have a sense of right and wrong.

In bearing these characteristics, we are faced with our limitations. For example, we don’t know everything, in spite of thinking we might. We don’t always do what is right in spite of having the moral law written on our hearts. The Bible says that every intention of the thoughts men’s hearts are only evil continually, Genesis 6:5.

Yet man’s sinfulness does not eliminate man’s dignity. God made man in His image, male and female He made them as recorded in Genesis Chapter One. Two Chapters later, the Bible records the Fall of Adam and the Woman. As a result, all of those attributes were marred by the Fall. We all still have the God-given attributes and we also have an inherited sin nature. Adam is referred to as the head of the Human Race, Romans 5:12ff. Along with the dignity of being human comes the responsibility for our actions.

Having said all this, the fact that we are sinners does not remove the dignity which God conveyed by making Man in His image. It also does not reduce our responsibility to exercise good management of His Creation.

Human Life is sacred because God made it so. Remember no man can change what God ordained. You have dignity and value because the sovereign God made you in His image. The sacredness of all human life extends from conception to the grave. God said it; that settles it!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Get Out of Your Head!”

“Get Out of Your Head!”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The radio in my car blasted this advertisement spoken, I’m sure, in sincerity. The man said, “Get out of your head and into your heart.” My quote may not be exactly right. But, get out of your head and into your heart was the sentiment. The ad concerned how a man “found God.” He said that he spent a great deal of time being confused by the abundance of Bible translations and thereby questioned the veracity of the Bible. After all, with so many different translations, how can anyone rely upon the Bible? It wasn’t until he stopped thinking that he was able to follow his heart to God.

Now, I can’t determine if this man knows God. No one, but God, knows who belongs to Him. Yet, it is very likely that this man did not find the one true God in his heart! Many people construct a God of their own liking. They delude themselves into thinking that they have met God, when all that they have met is themselves.

The fact is: getting out of one’s mind and into one’s heart will only lead to darkness! The heart in the Bible means the center of one’s will. It is that human faculty which motivates action. When the word heart is used it includes our will, emotions, thoughts, etc.

In our time, the word heart almost exclusively means our feelings proceeding from our emotions. In Psalm 34, David described the wicked person. He used the word heart in his description. “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Psalm 34:1 In other words, sinners depend upon what’s in their heart. As a result, there is no fear of God. David continued by saying that this person “flatters himself in his own eyes…” Psalm 34:2a

The man who made this advertisement is not unique. This sentiment has infected the church. People are attracted to churches by appealing to their feelings. One famous word-faith cult leader, Joel Osteen, gives very positive and motivational talks. He claims that God wants to make a better you. That may give a sense of euphoria, but it smells like smoke and is from the pit of hell! The truth is, God does not make anyone a better you! God makes one different. “Truly, truly, I (Jesus) say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 And, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2Corinthians 5:17

Propositional truth has fallen on hard times in most churches. The revealed truth of God is that He enters the mind and changes the heart (the seat of our will). “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

God engages our minds in His word. True, by the providence of God we are blessed with many English translations. All good translations are based on the original Scriptures. The original Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Aramaic – the Old Testament and Greek – the New Testament. The original autographs, that is the actual writing of the human authors are non-existent. Yet, we have copies. For the Old Testament, we have the Masoretic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament made by around 250 B.C. For the New Testament, we have thousands of Greek manuscripts, copies of the originals, as well as the Ancient Latin Translation. By a process called textual criticism, scholars fluent in the original languages have reconstructed the original text. As a result, we can rely upon our English translation’s accuracy. When you open your Bible, and read it you are hearing God speak. It is the written word of God that testifies to the revealed truth of God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” 2Timothy 3:16. Jesus said that “Man shall not live by bead alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 (Deuteronomy 8:3) Further, it is the Bible that declares that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John 1:14.

Christian, don’t check your mind at the door. Engage your mind in the truth.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Ridiculous Things”

“Ridiculous Things”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“I can’t believe I just heard that!”, a refrain that we used to hear more often. Lately, I find myself thinking it, but remaining silent. I thought that I would take some time and reflect on, what I call, “Ridiculous Things.”

A recent one, “In order to heal our nation, we must take down “offensive monuments.’” The assumption is that historical monuments cause people to have evil thoughts and subsequent actions. As a Christian, I understand that men are not basically good. The Fall of Adam, recorded in Genesis 3 is inherited by every human being born of a man and a woman. As a result, all men are born dead in sin. The surprising thing, surprising is used sarcastically, is that men are not more evil than we experience. It is only by God’s grace that He puts bounds around evil behavior. Monuments don’t cause men to be evil. Men do evil things because they are evil. We all sin because we are sinners.

Continuing to think about recent ridiculous things, I heard (I paraphrase) “Let’s form a special investigation group to find something illegal!” All along, I’ve been under the mistaken idea that we live in a land where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet, there is currently a so-called special prosecutor whose sole purpose is to find something illegal in the absence of any known crime. This approach is evidently only used for those who are members of the Republican Party. I find this exercise reminiscent of the statement, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” I might be naïve, but I have always thought that the best thing for government to do to help law-abiding citizens is to “get out of the way.” I foolishly believe in our founding principle, that government is by the people and for the people. More often it seems that citizens are here to serve the government.

One final politically incorrect assessment of a culturally damaging philosophy, “Multi-culturalism is good.” The first time I heard a leader promoting the goodness of multi-culturalism, I thought he was right. Upon further reflection, in my view, our current application of multi-culturalism is erasing American Culture. I’m not some bigot, xenophobe, or minority hater. My heritage is important to me. I am a descendant of Italian immigrant and Polish immigrant grandparents. Yet, I remember best my paternal grandfather always emphasizing his American citizenship. My grandparents, fluent in Italian mainly spoke English. We seem to be losing our sense of what it means to be American, without any additional adjectival specificity.

There is a religious statement that I believe has been and continues to be destructive to the visible church. “Protestants need to heal the rift with Rome because Jesus wants us to be unified.” The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century recovered vital biblical doctrine that Rome had hidden in mystery. The truth of salvation was jeopardized. Diminishing Reformed Doctrine is damaging to the health of the church and removes the hope that our sovereign God has given to His people. The so-called “rift” between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is as deep and broad as it was in the 16th Century. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the essence of the gospel. God must declare a sinner right with Him because sinners can do nothing to gain His favor. We depend upon the sovereign grace of God to be able to “see the Kingdom” John 3:3. This is not an issue that can be resolved. Protestant theology is diametrically opposed to Roman Catholicism at the point of justification. We either receive the Bible’s teaching that justification is an act of God’s free grace by which He imputes the perfect righteousness of Christ through faith alone or we believe Rome’s teaching that justification is an infused work combined of good deeds and God’s grace. There can be no compromise on this issue!

My purpose in writing this article is not to belittle people. It is to cause men and women to think critically about what they hear. Certainly, I would advocate viewing everything that you not only hear, but also experience in light of the word of God. To do that, you must be a student of the Bible. To be a student of the Bible you must be engaged in a local church committed to teach the Bible. Commit yourself to the study and application of God’s word!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Reformation is Not Over!”

“The Reformation is Not Over!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
October 31, 1517 was a day that God used to change the church! An Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The Pope had sent a cleric to Germany to raise money for building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cleric’s name was Johann Tetzel. His message was summarized by the saying, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from Purgatory springs.”

Martin Luther was outraged by Rome’s hubris in usurping God’s authority revealed in the Bible!

God caused Luther to see that the gospel revealed the perfect righteousness of God imputed to a sinner. God does so only by faith alone, Romans 1:17 and 3:28. The Latin term is Sola Fides which means by Faith Alone. Luther reportedly said that when he understood the doctrine of Sola Fides it was as if the gates of Paradise opened and he walked through.

In addition, four more biblical doctrines were recovered from the Scriptures. They are: Sola Gratia, by Grace Alone; Solus Christus, by Christ Alone; Sola Scriptura, by Scripture Alone and Soli Deo Gloria, to God Alone be Glory. The Five Solas reflect God’s plan of redemption. They had been taught by the church until the Middle Ages. The Reformers recovered these doctrines and taught them as the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”, Jude 3.

The second Sola, Sola Gratia, means by grace alone. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone. All men are sinners, born dead in sin. We have inherited the sin nature of Adam. Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:10-18 are two passages that teach man’s total bondage to sin. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus makes this fact clear. Salvation is by grace through faith, Ephesians 2:8. Even the faith that Christians profess is a gift of God’s grace. Salvation from start to finish is solely by God’s grace.

The Protestant Reformers were not coming up with new or novel ideas. They were not offering an alternate perspective on salvation but were declaring and teaching the plain truth of God’s word. The Reformation was a providential blessing from God through which the church recovered the truth which the magisterial church had hidden.

Yet there was a main issue that concerned the great Reformers. It was authority. The Latin phrases Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura which mean respectively, by Christ Alone and by Scripture Alone, emphasize the rightful source of authority. The Reformers asked the Scriptures, “Who has supreme authority the church or God?” Of course, we would all say that God has supreme authority. The Bible reveals that God is absolutely sovereign. The Bible also reveals that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18. But the Reformers saw that the Church was usurping authority that belonged to God.

To state the issue of authority clearly, Christ is the King and Head of His Church. He exercises His Kingship and Lordship through His word, the Bible. The Bible is the ultimate authority of all life and salvation.

Of course, there are many authorities over all of us. God established the church, civil government and the family. All derive their authority from God’s word. His word, the Bible is the ultimate Authority and Christ is the Supreme King and Ruler. Men possess a granted authority. When men usurp God’s authority, it is invalid.

The four Solas described above reveal God’s means of redemption. Men are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone as God has revealed it by Scripture alone. The fifth Sola describes God’s purpose for redemption. Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be glory. God’s own glory is His purpose. Everything is ordained by God for His glory. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” And, Romans 11:36, “for from Him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Life is not about us; it is all for God!

Now, we are faced with so-called evangelical leaders who teach that the Church must “get over” the Reformation. This smells like smoke and is from the pit of hell. The Reformation started by God through the Reformers was intended to continue until Christ returns. The Church must be always reforming herself in accordance with the word of God!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “It’s a Matter of Interpretation”

“It’s a Matter of Interpretation”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Bible is the breathed-out word of God. God has revealed what He wants us to know about Him and His plan of redemption. God has told us that all men are creatures. He is the Creator. The Bible reveals His Only Son, Jesus, through whom we know God personally. This unique and precious book is a collection of 66 books. Men whom the Spirit of God carried along wrote it. It contains everything necessary for life and salvation. God has preserved what we have today.

God gave us the Bible because He is a God of revelation. He desires that we understand what He has said. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible is understandable. Many are lost when it comes to interpreting the Bible. One would think that God’s book would have specific interpretations. But, Christians are faced with a myriad of interpretations. We are faced with choices. Who has the “right” interpretation? Whom should we follow? What is “right” doctrine? If we look at this issue of biblical interpretation logically, we must conclude that all interpretations cannot be right. When there are contradicting views of the Bible, one or both may be wrong. One thing for certain is they all can’t be right. There is only one right interpretation of a passage of Scripture. For difficult passages, we may never arrive at the right interpretation this side of heaven.

Don’t lose heart. The entire Bible does not fall into the category of “difficult”. Most biblical doctrine is clear. For example, the doctrine of salvation is one such clear doctrine. God has revealed that men are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

How then do we know what God has said? As stated above, some might believe that it’s a matter of interpretation. They’d be right. It is a matter of interpretation, right interpretation, 2Timothy 2:15.

The answer is hermeneutics, interpretation. There are two principles by which we can interpret Scripture. The first is called the biblical principle. The second is called the literal principle. The biblical principle is also called the analogy of faith. The Protestant Reformers recovered this principle of interpretation. They understood that the Bible interprets itself. This means the clear passages of Scripture shed light upon the more obscure ones. It is also understood that one place of Scripture must not be placed against another. In other words, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There may be apparent contradictions, but once studied we find that the Bible is consistent with itself, because God does not speak with a “forked” tongue.

The second principle, the literal one, is also called the historical/grammatical principle of interpretation. You may have heard the saying that, “Text without context is pretext.” The words of Scripture find their meaning within the broader context of the passage. For example, because of the difficulty in understanding Hebrews 6:4, it would not be accurate to base a theology on the possibility of losing one’s salvation! Keeping that verse within its context makes it clear that the writer is speaking of one who may profess faith, but does not possess genuine saving faith. In other words, the writer was speaking of those who are called apostates.

Further, to interpret literally means to understand that which is plainly meant. It is how we read and understand any literature. Therefore, in interpreting the Bible: grammar, meaning of words, context, time in which it was written, etc. are involved in understanding the meaning. It is important to remember that the literal interpretation of the Bible is not the same as a literalistic interpretation. For example, we know that when the prophet Isaiah wrote that the “trees of the field shall clap their hands” he didn’t mean that trees have hands. God was describing the joy of all Creation when His plan of redemption is finally consummated. Or, when Jesus said that He was the “door of the sheep”, He did not mean that He looked like a door! John 10 was declaring that Jesus is the only way for His people to have safety and security.

Finally, the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice that God has given to His people. He means for us to understand it. I encourage you to apply these principles of interpretation so that your life will be lived for His glory and your blessing.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Basics of Faith in Christ”

“The Basics of Faith in Christ”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Biblical Faith has three parts. They are: knowledge, assent and trust. My focus in this article is the first, knowledge. Simply stated, having faith assumes a certain body of information about the object. The object of our faith is God who has revealed Himself fully in the Person and Work of Christ.

I am a Presbyterian by conviction. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to many different Christian Denominations. When we push aside our denominational differences, we all affirm several basic truths revealed by God concerning our common faith in Jesus Christ.

Theologians and pastors of the early twentieth century called these basic truths the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. These men were given the name, Fundamentalists. They sought to list what every Christian throughout the ages affirmed to be true about God’s plan of redemption. They arrived at five basic truths. History recorded these truths as the Five Fundamentals of the Christian Faith. They are:
1. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inerrant;
2. Jesus was born of a virgin;
3. The atonement of Christ was full, penal and substitutionary;
4. Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection;
5. The miracles recorded in Scripture were authentic.
The first is the basis of the other four. The inerrancy of Scripture means that the Bible is without error. It does not refer to translations of the Bible but to the original autographs. Now, if you have been reading and studying the Bible for any length of time, I’m sure you’re aware that we do not possess any original autographs of Scripture. But, we do have thousands of New Testament manuscripts, the blessing of the oral tradition of the Ancient Hebrew people (the Masoretic text), the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, circa 250 B.C.)

Using textual criticism, the original can be reconstructed. For example, nearly all of our English translations are based on the work of the textual critics. The end result is that you can be assured that when you open your Bible, if it is a translation rather than a paraphrase, and read it you are reading the truth of God. Textual Criticism increases the accuracy of the Bible!

Second, the virgin birth was challenged during the period known as the Enlightenment. The fact of Jesus’ birth was challenged because, they said, it’s naturally impossible. But, that’s exactly the point! Jesus was born outside of the natural course. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and Mary. If you look at Genesis 3:15, you’ll notice that it was the “seed” of the woman who would bruise or crush Satan’s head. The Messiah was born without sin because He was born out of the natural course. Jesus was the sinless and perfect sacrifice. Without the virgin birth, we’re all still dead in our sins! The Apostle Paul wrote, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2Corinthians 5:21

Third, the atonement of Christ was substitutionary. He took our place. It was penal. He was punished for sin. Jesus bore the full wrath of God. It was full and complete. There is no other sacrifice for sin. The Apostle John wrote that Jesus is the propitiation for “our” sins and not for “ours” only by for the sins of the whole world, 1John 2:2 Jesus’ last words were “It is finished”, John 19:30.

Fourth, a man got out of the grave! The body that was buried was the body raised in glory. The Bible says that if Christ was not raised, our faith is in vain and we are the most to be pitied, 1Corinthians 15:12-19.

Fifth and finally, miracles are supernatural events. Only God can break into His Created world and ordain a miracle. The miracles recorded in Exodus, of Joshua, of Elijah, of Jesus and Apostles were factual occurrences.

Jude, the half-brother of Jesus said,” Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” Jude 3. The fact of the matter is; we don’t as Christians make up our faith. We believe in a faith that has been revealed by God and given in His word written, the Bible.

The Five Fundamentals of the Christian Faith are the basics of the Apostolic Faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “We all do what we want; that’s the problem”

“We all do what we want; that’s the problem!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
How time flies when you’re having fun! It’s been more than three years since I wrote concerning Man’s Will and I believe that many continue to struggle with the question. Generally, Christians and non-Christians answer the “Free Will” question in the same way, “Of course men have free will!”

Yet, the wrong question is being answered. Surely, the Bible teaches that we all do what we want to do, CF: Judges 21:25; Romans 1:18-32.

The problem is with the word “want.” Our wants are our desires. So, the right question is, “What do we want or desire to do?”

Since everyone has an opinion on this matter. But, only one opinion counts, God’s opinion and we’re not seeking to vote on the question. We must go to the only reliable source, the inerrant and infallible word of God.

To eliminate the wrong question, “Do we have free will?” go to the concordance of your Bible and look for the words “free” and “will” used together in the same sentence. You will discover that those two words don’t appear together. The closest occurrence is Genesis 2:16-17. God told the first man, Adam, “You may surely (or freely) eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” Adam was free to obey or disobey God.

We know what happened. Adam and the woman, later named Eve, freely chose to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. At the end of Chapter three of Genesis, we read that God “placed the cherubim (mighty angels) and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” God insured that no man would be able to eat of the tree of life and live forever, Genesis 3:22-24.

We next look at God’s destruction of the earth by the universal flood before which He surveyed all mankind and made this clear declaration. God said, “Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, “Genesis 6:5. Further, the prophet Jeremiah spoke for God and said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The New Testament is consistent. Men have not changed. The Apostle Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Romans 3:10

God’s view of man’s will is it is in bondage; it is not unencumbered. But we will do what we desire (or want). One of the greatest, possibly the greatest American Theologian, Jonathan Edwards wrote a book entitled, “The Freedom of the Will.” The basic premise of his book is that men do whatever they want to do. The problem is that before God regenerates a man or woman, the only desire present is sin, evil!

The reality revealed by the word of God is, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us … while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son…” Romans 5:8, 10. Man’s will is in bondage to sin! Until God changes us, we desire evil!

I firmly believe that this fundamental teaching from God’s word is essential in knowing the majesty of God’s grace which He extends to those whom He chooses.

So, what are we to make of the right question? What does the unregenerate or natural man desire? Even in a purely physical sense, we are limited. No one can honestly claim that he can do whatever he wants. All of us have certain restrictions placed upon us. Next time, may God forbid, that you’re pulled over for driving above the speed limit, try telling the officer that you are free to do whatever you want, because the speed limit doesn’t apply to you. You may insist that you are free to do whatever you want while the police officer continues to write you a ticket. This is even more significant in our spiritual life.

The fact is unless God’s sovereign will overwhelms your human will, you will remain dead in your sins. But, God is rich in mercy; He has chosen some to be His own possession and He gives them the desire for Him. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” 2Corinthians 5:17 New creations have new desires, supremely the desire for Him. So then, “Do you desire Him?”

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Saved by God From God!”

“Saved by God from God!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The Apostles Peter and John stood before the religious rulers of Israel in Jerusalem. They were called before these leaders because many people were being saved by God’s grace through the preaching of the word in concert with the Holy Spirit. The Jewish leaders wanted to know by what power or name the Apostles were speaking.

With great courage and boldness, Peter and John told the leaders that they were preaching by the name of Jesus who was crucified by the insistence of these leaders. The Apostles continued speaking and made this declaration. “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12

Notice the word “must” used by Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is commanded by God! There is no other name but the name of Jesus as He is offered in the gospel. Receiving the gospel is commanded. The gospel is not optional. The gospel is central not because of some idea of sentimentalism but because it is God’s command issued to all men to escape God’s wrath.

We know that the Bible teaches that salvation is to be saved by God from God. That is, we are delivered from the wrath of God by the sovereign act of God. In saving men and women God does not simply excuse sin. Sin had to be paid for. The only means of payment was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The weight of the Apostles’ declaration is beyond what men can bear. The weight is the full wrath of God. Those who disobey God’s command to believe in the gospel will indeed experience the horror of God’s wrath for their sin.

Another aspect of the command to believe in the gospel is that God is not wringing His hands in heaven hoping that men will believe in His gospel. No! Those for whom Jesus died will obey His command. The payment for sin was actually and really made on Calvary. Jesus’ payment for sin was not dependent upon men accepting it. Jesus died for specific people. He died for those whom God chose before the world began, Ephesians 1:4.

So central is the gospel of God that Jesus began His public ministry with these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

The Apostle Paul in writing to believers declared that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, Romans 1:16. He also told the believers in Corinth that those who were being saved stood in the gospel, 1Corinthians 15:1.

Obeying God’s command to believe in the gospel is not only a guarantee of heaven. Salvation is deliverance. When God breaks into a man’s life, He frees him from the bondage of sin. Those in Christ are set free to love God! Salvation begins when God declares a sinner right with Him. It continues throughout life and is consummated in glory. All of what God has done for us is in and through the gospel.

Jesus’ command was very specific. It centered on God’s rule and the gospel. Christians believe in the gospel. Why? The answer is simple and clear. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16b. The gospel is the only means God has given for men and women to know Christ and have eternal life.

The good news, the gospel is: Christ died for the sins of His people, He was buried and He was raised from the dead all in accordance with the Scriptures, 1Corinthians 15:3-4. This is good news because we all deserve to go to hell. But, God who is “rich in mercy”, Ephesians 2:4, chose some for heaven. God’s power is revealed in the gospel. It causes men and women to rely upon the perfect righteousness of Christ. The Christian’s reliance upon Christ is by the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is good news because God applies it to those whom He has chosen. The gospel is God’s power to save! Have you obeyed God’s command?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “A True Church?”

“A True Church?”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

God’s call is that the church be as He has commanded. The Bible teaches that the church is the body of Christ, Colossians 1:18. The church is made up of many parts. These parts are individual believers for whom Christ died, Ephesians 5:25.
God commands the church to be holy because He is holy, Leviticus 11:44; 1Peter 1:15-16. God declared that His church is His holy priesthood, 1Peter 2:9ff. He is building His people up in Christ, Ephesians 4:11-16.

It seems to me that there is more interest in the church to study our political situation than there is to grow up into Christ! Now, I’m not suggesting that believers should separate themselves from the world. Jesus prayed that God would not take us out of the world but that He would keep us from the evil one and sanctify us in the truth, John 17:14-17. Jesus also made it very clear that the means of sanctification is by the power of the Holy Spirit in concert with His word.

Distractions come every day. For example, it seems that our governmental leaders and media gurus regularly come up with more lies and half-truths. If you try to keep up with the things that these folks say, your head will “swim” in a sea of confusion.

There will be a never-ending supply of incompetent actions and lies emanating from men and women in our society. We can easily lose our focus. The church is not beyond the tendency to constantly examine and seek to fix the failings of society. In so doing, the church can easily lose her focus on what God has commanded her to be and thereby be unable to make a difference in the world.

The Shema, meaning hear, given by God to the church is His timeless command. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Jesus said this is the Great Commandment! He further said, “a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:37ff.

The word translated as “love” conveys the meaning of offering total devotion. The church’s focus is God; to know who He is; to know what He expects; to be totally devoted to Him!

Some teach that the way to love God is to love our neighbors. That is not what Jesus said. He clearly stated God’s command. It is to love Him! The Apostle John said, those who love God cannot hate their brothers, 1John 4:20. Love of our neighbor proceeds from a heart that God has changed. We love because God first loved us, 1John 4:19. So then may we not get confused about our primary focus? God is at the center of all life. He is especially at the center of what His church is and does. The church is the visible kingdom of God. As such, we are called by God to be different. The church is accountable to her head, Jesus Christ. God has uniquely gifted members in the church to build up the whole body of Christ. The church was organized by the Risen Lord so that we might all grow up into Christ who is the Head, Ephesians 4:15-16.

Having said all this, I ask a question. “Are you learning about God in your church or are you learning how to cope with the circumstances of life?” The only way that we can be equipped to deal with all the circumstances of life is to know God. We cannot love God with all our being unless we know Him. God has revealed Himself in His word and supremely in His Only Son, Jesus Christ. The first revelation we must know is that the Jesus of the Bible is unique. He was not born in the normal course. He eternally proceeds from the Father. Are you studying the Bible or are you studying what some Christian leader has learned from his or her study of the Bible? When you hear God’s word preached on the Lord’s Day do you hear about God or are you being given steps to have a better life. When you worship on the Lord’s Day are you pleasing God or being entertained? Jesus said that eternal life is to know the one true God, John 17:3 May you seek to grow in Christ in a true church!