Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The First Importance”

“The First Importance”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The church is the body of Christ. She is referred to as the Bride of Christ and the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. The Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John reveals to us the perfect church, glorified prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, Revelation 21:2

Revelation gives us the picture of the people of God in glory. Yet, there is the church on earth. We have not yet reached glory but the church is still all those who profess the true religion. There is a visible church and an invisible church. The visible church is made up of all who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25, Par. 1 Also, read Matthew 7:21-23 and Romans 9:6-13

God has called out a people for Himself. The first priority of the church is to worship Him alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to its first question clearly defines God’s revealed purpose for mankind, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And, the church under her head, Jesus Christ is commanded by God to worship God in the way He has revealed in His word. True worship of God is only possible through His Son, Jesus Christ. God seeks worshipers to worship Him in spirit and truth, John 4:23-24.

With so much emphasis in the Bible on the church, one would think that God would have given a clear purpose for her. In fact, He did! The purpose of the church is, in a word, holiness. God has called His people to be holy. He has set us apart for His glory. He commanded His Church to be holy, Leviticus 11:44 and repeated in 1 Peter 1:15-16.

The Apostle Peter emphasized God command to be holy by exhorting the church to “be holy in all your conduct,” 1Peter 1:15. Paul likewise declared God’s purpose and will for His people. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification (holiness)” 1Thessalonians 4:3

Take special note of the verb “to be” used in the declaration of the purpose of the church. The church is to be holy because God is holy! The purpose that God has revealed for His people is a statement of being. In other words, holy is the essence of the church.

I like to think of this as “being” rather than “doing.” Of course, being holy requires the pursuit of godliness. It is a term that describes our sanctification. Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace wherein He continues to make believers more and more like Christ. As we are sanctified we die more and more to sin and live more and more for God.

The church that understands her purpose pursues God’s mission.

Those who profess Christ first understand God’s will and purpose while embarking on His mission.
In my view, a church that seeks to look like the world dare not try to fulfill God’s mission. That is, a church that looks like the world is by its witness preaching a different gospel.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this very issue. The Corinthian Church was tolerating unholy behavior and Paul’s first charge to her was to purge the evil from her midst, 1Corinthians 5. Jesus taught His disciples to first remove the beam in their eye before seeking to remove the speck in a brother’s eye, Matthew 7:5

The church is to guard her peace and purity for the sake of her witness. The first importance is the gospel. God confirms His purpose to those who receive His gospel and sends them on His mission.

It was after rebuke and correction that Paul reminded the church of the gospel. He declared to the believers that his delivering of the gospel was “as of first importance.” 1Corinthians 15:3 The church that understands her purpose to be holy and teaches her members the same is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to proclaim the pure gospel which is the power of God to save all who believe!

Pastor’s Viewposts, “Authority… The Fundamental Building Block of Society”

The Fundamental Building Block of Society”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
A year ago, I wrote an article about the Rule of Law. Reflecting on recent events both in our nation, state and the world, I wanted to test a proposition that the Rule of Law is the fundamental building block of any society.

As a Christian, I am called to hold every thought captive to obey Christ, 2Corinthians 10:5. Therefore, my starting point in evaluating the proposition regarding the fundamental significance of the Rule of Law must be the word of God.

God has established Civil Governments for the good and welfare of all people, Christian and non-Christian, Romans 13:1. The one who resists the governing authority is resisting God. Of course, Christians are to obey the Governing Authorities with one exception. When governments command us to do what is contrary to God’s word, we must obey God rather than man, Acts 5:29. Notice the word “command.” For example, if our government was to require women to have an abortion, Christians are to obey God rather than man and uphold the sanctity of human life. Yet, we must understand that in so doing we will bear the wrath of the authority imposing such an evil command. Christians are to be willing to stand for the truth and bear the consequences of doing so.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:10.

Thanks be to God that we live in a nation that does not coerce us to obey evil laws! Pray for those in other parts of the world where our liberty and freedom are not allowed. Christians in those nations are paying the price for living in Christ. In some cases, they are paying with their lives! As we pray for them, pray also that we would have the courage to stand against such evil abuses in lawful ways that are at our disposal.

Having said this, we are faced with an ever increasing disregard for the Rule of Law and submission to the authority which obeying the law assumes. I recently heard an elected official qualify her submission to the law on whether or not she voted for a certain individual. Evidently, her basis for submission to authority and obeying the law was her preference for a certain elected official.

We all have the natural desire to be our own authority rather than to submit to any authority. From a theological perspective, that official’s statement should not have shocked me yet hearing it expressed did.

Social philosophers discuss how the rejection of authority leading to ignoring the Rule of Law has happened in our culture. Their discussions and evaluations are good and necessary so that we might not repeat mistakes of the past. But, I think a more important discussion should take place and I haven’t read or heard of any recently.

I believe a more important discussion that should be held within our churches, schools, and families concerns where rejecting authority and ignoring the Rule of Law will end.

I believe that this phenomenon unraveled ancient cultures and it will do the same to ours. For example, one of the earliest law codes upon which a society was built was the Code of Hammurabi named for its author who lived between 1728 and 1686 B.C. Hammurabi’s law code was built upon other more ancient law codes. It formed the foundation of Ancient Babylonian civilization which ended with Hammurabi’s death. Factions developed each establishing their own authority and rejecting previously established authority and law.

In writing this, I am not suggesting that we should give carte blanche to anyone. All citizens are to obey the law, just as Civil Servants pledge to uphold the law. Even our branches of government were established to provide checks and balances. The judiciary is responsible to determine the constitutionality of laws. Our legislative branch is charged with establishing laws. The executive branch is to enforce those laws established by Congress.

Underlying this is the fundamental requirement that every individual involved in the process of governing is to submit to the Rule of Law. We often hear the phrase, “No one is above the law.” May this once again not only be said but practiced. It is the principle upon which our way of life may be preserved and we may all live peacefully in this Nation given to us by God’s Providence.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Do bad things just happen?”

“Do bad things just happen?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor
Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The question above raises at least two others. First, what constitutes a bad thing? Second, how do we know what a “bad thing” is?

The first, “What constitutes a bad thing?” The answer is often given based on man-centered criteria. That is, we look around us and see abusive acts of violence and diseases and conclude that those acts and those conditions are bad. In other words, we set ourselves up as the deciders of what is bad. To make the issue more accurate, the term evil is a better and more comprehensive description of “bad things.”

The problem with man as the determining factor in what is evil is that we tend toward arbitrariness. In order to discern what is evil, there must be a standard of that which is good. Evil is not rightly based upon one’s personal view. After all, what might be evil for one person might likewise be good for another.

I recall an interview with Joseph Campbell who was a Philosopher and Professor at Sarah Lawrence College. On the issue of good and evil, Campbell said, “I know that good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in God’s view, there is no difference.” Campbell also said, “My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” (Quotations are taken from “The Power of Myth”. Anchor Books, 1988)

Campbell was simply saying in sophisticated language what our relativistic culture believes. Evil like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Yet, all men know intuitively that there is good and there is evil. We all have a moral standard imprinted upon us. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. He has imprinted on us the reality of good and evil. Jesus said that God alone is good, Luke 18:19. Therefore, the standard of good is absolute as it proceeds from God. We know evil because there is good. Evil is anything that falls short of God’s goodness. We can look at behavior and determine whether it is good or evil because we can hold that behavior up to the light of God’s revelation.

The answer to the first question, “What constitutes a bad thing?” also answers the second, “How do we know what a bad thing is?” A “bad/evil thing” is anything that falls short of God’s goodness which He revealed.

Now to the question which is the title of this article, “Do bad things just happen?” The answer follows from the two secondary questions discussed. Since God is the standard and He has revealed that which is good, we must go to His word to arrive at the reason for the existence of evil/”bad things.”

First, the proposition of the sovereignty of God must be stated. God’s sovereignty means that God rules all things absolutely. There is nothing outside of the rule of God nor is there anything that can occur outside of His rule. Either God has ordained everything that comes to pass or He is not God!

What saith the Scriptures? “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Lamentations 3:37-38. And, “God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” Matthew 5:45. And, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law,” Romans 2:12

What has the church confessed? “God, from all eternity, did… ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, Par. 1)

Note that God is not the author of evil, for God is altogether good. Yet, He is sovereign over all things and by secondary causes He has factored into His good plan things that are evil.

Things just don’t happen! God has ordained them all. Our certain hope in the midst of evil is that God will work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose, Romans 8:28.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “We will do what we want.”

We will do what we want!
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

There is no doubt that we will do what we desire. What we want is a statement of desire. The question really is, “What do we naturally desire?”

Man’s will is the faculty of the mind by which choices or decisions concerning a course of action are made. The word free means unencumbered, not enslaved, or not controlled by obligation. When we speak of Man’s will, we are speaking of man’s ability to choose that which he desires.

The driving force of man’s will is, therefore, his desires. This discussion is necessary

So if I substitute the meanings of the words, the question can be rephrased in this way, “Do we have an unencumbered mental faculty by which we are able to make choices?” Still every person that answers this question will give a response based upon their own personal opinion.

Therefore, since there may be many opinions expressed, we ought to seek the one opinion that matters. In other words, what has God said, if anything, concerning the issue of man’s will?

You might try to find the instances of the words “free” and “will” in the concordance of your Bible. The place to start is the Garden. After God made Adam, He told him that he was free to eat of every tree of the Garden except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis 2:16-17.

We know what happened. Adam and the woman, later named Eve, ate 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, He surveyed all mankind and declared “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 with the Old Testament. 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 that it is in bondage; it is not unencumbered. Yes we will do whatever we desire. 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 thing that they desire is sin!

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! Jesus said that “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32.

All this may strike you as just some philosophical rambling, but this truth is much more. Understanding our human nature is essential if we are ever to know the depth of God’s grace.

So what are we to make of the question? Do we have free will? 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.

Apply that same logic to life in Christ. Tell God that you’re free to choose Him or not. Tell Him that you did not inherit Adam’s sin. Tell him that your will is not in bondage to sin that you are able to take and eat of the tree of life and thereby you can choose to live forever!

So, what’s your answer to the question?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “In the Face of Evil”

“In the Face of Evil…”
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.

But, 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. The “Servant” is 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 elimination of 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. 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 what we are waiting for! We know that God never fails to keep His word. His word declares 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 of 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 wait means trusting God now by obeying Him while waiting for His final deliverance.

Events in the Middle East and on our borders may cause you to lose hope. But God is always faithful to His word. He will execute perfect justice. Those who hide behind children while pursing the destruction of a nation will stand before 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 circumstances 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 never to leave us or 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 them all to pass. While we wait, we have the comfort of the Lord given in His promise to be with us!