Pastor’s Viewpoints: “A Challenge for the New Year”

“A Challenge for the New Year”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Before looking ahead it’s a good thing to look back. I encourage you all to look back on the previous year and list those blessings from the Lord that filled your heart with joy. Our family was privileged to be given two new grandsons. Titus and Max were born respectively in Wellington, Florida and Brooklyn, New York. My wife and I thank the Lord every day for such great blessings. By God’s grace and providence we now have five grandchildren!

Now, to look forward, I again challenge myself and you all to a passion for the things of God. In other words, commit to pursue godliness; to obey the Lord’s command to “be holy”, Leviticus 11:44 and 1Peter 1:15-16.

It seems to be normal fare to make resolutions and then discover that the year has gone by and we have failed to keep them. This renewed challenge, the pursuit of holiness, is one resolution that will be kept not because of our faithfulness but because of God’s promise.

The certainty of this promise being kept is a fact for everyone who is in Christ. Two things require explanation. The first is the meaning of being in Christ. The second is the meaning of holiness. Both the first and second are rooted in God. Those who are in Christ have been brought there by God and holiness is God’s work of free grace that progressively makes the one in Christ more and more like Him.

In other words, the challenge that I lay before you is simply living in Christ; every day dying to self and living for God. A genuine Christian will meet this challenge with joy in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible declares that those who are in Christ are chosen by God. “… He (God the Father) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Ephesians 1:4 Notice that God the Father acted by choosing men and women before He laid the foundation of the world. He chose them to be in Christ. This is all by the sovereign will and action of God. This truth revealed by God is called Unconditional Election.

So then, those who are in Christ are there solely by the grace of God, Ephesians 2:8-9. God makes Christians! It is necessary to be clear on what it means to be a Christian. A genuine Christian is a sinner chosen by God to be holy in Christ. God does this through the gospel. The gospel is God’s power to save, Romans 1:16. God raises a dead sinner to life and through God’s gift of faith the sinner places his trust in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel.

Salvation doesn’t end there. The resolution, rather the challenge that will be kept is that Christians will be made holy. God made this promise, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.” 2Timothy 2:13 Further, God has said, “… He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

In addition, God’s will for those who are in Christ is holiness, 1Thessalonians 4:3. God will complete what He starts but those who are in Christ are not robots. Christians are exhorted to work out their salvation because God is at work in them, Philippians 2:12-13. I have been made a Christian by God’s grace alone and He causes me to pursue holiness. I have the assurance that I am in Christ by my desire to obey Him. God has said that He confirms that I belong to Him by His Spirit speaking to my Spirit, Romans 8:14.

So then, what is my challenge? Very simply put, I am challenged as a Christian to pursue the things of God. My pursuit of holiness is a desire that God gave me at my conversion. It’s a desire that everyone who is in Christ has been given! Therefore, by God’s will we are called to engage with Him, responding to His Holy Spirit by being transformed by the renewal of our minds.

Meet the challenge God’s way through a local church centered in the word of God. The church is God’s instrument by which His people “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Miracle of Immanuel”

“The Miracle of Immanuel”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The dictionary defines a miracle as a supernatural event. Our lives rest upon the genuineness of the miracle of Immanuel, the Incarnation. The Incarnation means God in the flesh. December 25th is not simply a holiday. We celebrate the historic fact of God’s miracle of the Incarnation. We are merry because we know that the One who came and dwelt among us, Jesus, did what Adam failed to do. We know that Jesus, the God-Man gave His life as a ransom for many so that those whom the Father gave Him would be delivered from the bondage of sin.

The Prophet Isaiah said, “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 this 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)

First, 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 Jesus perfectly obeyed God the Father even unto death upon a cross, those who are in Christ are accepted by God because of Jesus’ 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 the sins of His people have been paid for.

Second, Paul 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 also has an implicit affect. The implication of the Incarnation, God with us is that those who are in Christ are joint heirs of heaven with Him. All those who are in Christ will receive exalted and glorified bodies like Jesus. God has promised that His people will see Him face to face. The miracle of Immanuel is God’s provision that insures redemption for every believer.

May this Christmas Season remind you of God’s great provision in sending His only Son!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “When Jesus Returns”

“When Jesus Returns”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

What will happen when Jesus returns? Christians believe that He will return. Christians believe that He will return not as a Savior, but as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Christians believe that He will judge both the living and the dead.

There are well-meaning, yet ill-informed Christians who have been told that the Church will be spared of living through tribulation. Many so-called Prophecy Experts promote some view of a “secret return” of Jesus who will “rapture” the church out of tribulation and then judgment will begin.

Let’s ask the real expert Jesus. In His Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24, Jesus gave very specific answers to the questions concerning the end of the world, His return and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

“As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”’ Matthew 24:3

These questions were motivated by Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He said that not one stone would be left upon a stone, Matthew 24:2. Jesus’ words were fulfilled in 70 A.D. This great siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army was led by Titus. The ancient Jewish Historian, Josephus recorded the total destruction of the temple and the barbaric actions of the Romans toward the Jews and even the horrific actions within the Jewish community.

The disciples also wanted to know about Jesus’ return and the end of this world. The first answer concerning the sign of Jesus’ second coming was answered very directly by our Lord. He said that His coming would be like lightning! The book of Revelation describes Jesus’ coming in these words. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Revelation 1:7 It is clear that Jesus second coming will not be in secret.

The Apostle John was allowed to see Jesus’ coming and he sought to explain the unexplainable in words. The fact is no words are adequate to describe pure glory. But, the Revelation of Jesus Christ which was given to John was intended to reveal the certainty of Jesus’ return. All the nations will mourn because of sin. There will be great wailing by all because the time for salvation will be ended. When Jesus comes again, He will come to judge both the living and the dead. He will come not as the Savior but as the Judge.

Every eye will see Jesus in His glory. There is no “secret rapture” recorded in the Bible. By God’s sovereign grace, the church will persevere through ever increasing tribulation. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church.

The so-called rapture theology is built around one word derived from the Latin translation of the Bible. This word is “rapture.” The word in the original language is translated “caught up”, 1Thessalonians 4:17. Paul described what would happen to believers who were alive when Christ returned. He said that the dead in Christ would rise first, receive glorified bodies and those who were alive would be caught up in the air, changed in the twinkling of an eye to meet Christ as He descends.

Likewise, Jesus warned disciples when He said “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” Matthew 24:40-41 He followed that statement by calling the disciples to “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Matthew 24:42 In other words, Jesus was exhorting disciples to remain prepared for His coming because no man knows when He will return. In fact, Jesus declared that in His human nature, He didn’t know when He would return. “No one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Matthew 24:36 But, Jesus said that He would return when all the elect are gathered in. That is, when all those whom God chose from eternity have professed faith in Jesus’ person and work, the end will come.

Don’t be distracted by spurious teachings. Rather, be ready for Jesus’ return. Repent and believe in the gospel!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Reasonable Expectations”

“Reasonable Expectations”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a leader say, “I commit to do what I think is right.” Such a declaration is often followed by accolades. Each time I hear it, my amazement increases. I’m astounded that so many think that what one “thinks is right” is somehow representative of goodness and virtue. A good and virtuous person would commit to do that which is right. Whether or not one thinks an action is right is, in my mind, irrelevant. We should all seek to do what is right! Doing what is right is a reasonable expectation to have for all leaders.

How can one know what is right? Romans 12:2 calls 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.” Therefore, believers are to live as children of light, that is, to follow Jesus. Disciples of Jesus Christ are told that 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 called discernment. Doing it is wise living.

The Ancient Hebrews knew that “the fear of the LORD was the beginning of wisdom”, Proverbs 9:10a. In order to live wisely it is necessary for the creature to know the Creator. God has revealed what He wants us to know of Him through His word written. Just as the church in the Old Testament knew to apply God’s word for wise living, every believer ought to do likewise.

The application of God’s word is wisdom. Therefore discernment, knowing the right action, requires knowledge of what God has said.

The Bible reveals that God is good, righteous and true. All three are attributes of the One True God. To know the One True God one must know His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As the Father is the source, discernment only grows through a personal and intimate knowledge of His Son, Jesus. Discernment is a learned ability rather than a gift and is available to everyone who professes Christ.

Discernment leads to wise living. Wise living follows the way of blessing. God said the way of blessing was to obey Him. Conversely, He warned that a cursed life would follow the one who disobeyed Him. 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.

The key to discernment is to know what is right, good and true. The method for knowing is not easy, but is a blessing. The method is the systematic, intense study of the Bible and the theology which proceeds from it. This is not only a personal endeavor. God has ordained that we grow in discernment and wisdom corporately. I am speaking of the necessity of growing in a church that teaches “sound doctrine”, Titus 2:1.

The Apostle Paul addressed the barrier to growth in discernment and it is recorded in 2Timothy 3. He wrote of the “last days”, those days between Jesus’ first and second coming. Paul said 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 was not describing the world in general. He was describing the visible church corrupted by those who only looked godly. 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 for growth in discernment through personal and corporate study of all that is good, right and true.

May our reasonable expectations be met in all our leaders.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Beam me up Scotty”

“Beam me up Scotty”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
You may remember those words spoken by the captain of the Star Ship Enterprise. This phrase has been used to indicate a denial of reality or other questionable circumstances. When descriptions of events contradict common sense or ignore reality Kirk’s line fits. The recent announcement of an Executive Action that seemed to clearly usurp authority, the rioting in a community that occurred when evidence was lacking to indict a police officer and the release of men suspected of terrorist activities who will likely return to those activities strain our common sense. More than straining common sense, these decisions and actions demonstrate a refusal to submit to the “Rule of Law.”

The Law was and continues to be a blessing from God. The Law given on Mount Sinai reveals the character of God. God blessed His people with the Law and declared to them that submission to it was the true path of blessing.

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” Deuteronomy 11:26-28

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…” Galatians 3:19. He called believers to “walk by the Spirit, Galatians 5:16. Believers live by the Spirit by applying the word of God in their lives.

He later wrote to the church in Rome, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad…” Romans 13:3 He reminded the members of the church that God is the one who ordains all authority. Those who are in authority are His ministers for the good and welfare of all people.

Christians receive the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible, clear and sufficient word of God. We know that God ordains all authority. Concerning civil authority, God’s provides for an ordered society. When society and its leaders refuse to submit to the Rule of Law that society will not survive for very long!

To understand the importance of the Law the Protestant Reformers recovered three uses of the Law as they are revealed in Scripture. The first use of the Law is to point to man’s hopelessness and his desperate need for a Savior. The second use of the Law is to restrain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. The third use of the Law is to guide the life of a believer in pleasing God. These descriptions of the three uses of the law have been paraphrased from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 7, sections 9 and 10. John Calvin articulated what the Bible teaches concerning the Law, Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Galatians 3; 5 and Romans 13.

The intersection of the blessing of the Law and Civil authority is the second use of the Law. It is the means given by God to put bounds around sinful mankind. It is this use of the Law that is the foundation of every society.

It is accurate to say, “All truth is God’s truth”, especially when speaking of the rule of law. The incidents I mentioned are examples of the disregard of the Rule of Law.

Apparently we have laws that don’t apply to all. Those who have been charged by the people to execute and enforce our laws only do so selectively. This makes for a dangerous time.

But we are very blessed in that our country was founded upon a principle that our government is by the people and for the people. Our founders understood God’s blessing of Law. I pray that all our citizenry would recognize our current situation. May we all devote ourselves to elect men and women who understand the necessity of the universal application of the rule of law. May we once again understand that it is because of God’s blessing of law that we will be able to guard those rights that He has given all men: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

May the rest of Captain Kirk’s line not be said of our society, “Beam me up Scotty, there’s no sign of intelligent life here.”