Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Leaders, are they recognizable?”

“Leaders, are they recognizable?”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Leaders are not necessarily those of the highest IQ. They may not be the most attractive people. They may not possess the most aggressive or forceful personalities. But, all leaders have character. Character is the word used to describe personal qualities that are not worn on one’s sleeve or boasted about. The qualities in view concern a person’s morals and ethics.

God has revealed the standard measure of character. The Old Testament contains the history of men of character. The Bible also contains narratives concerning men of weak and deceptive character.

Joseph and Moses are good examples of men of godly character. Jesus is the supreme embodiment of genuine character. Jesus Christ was the only perfect one. Yet, as you read the narratives concerning Joseph and Moses, you should observe certain unmistakable qualities of character.

Genesis 39 is a part of Joseph’s life that reveals his godly character. We are told that Joseph became a successful man. He was put in charge of the household of an officer of the Pharaoh. We read that the LORD was with Joseph. Joseph had an ongoing relationship with the LORD. As a child, Joseph thought he was of special privilege. As you may recall, his superior attitude angered his brothers to such a degree that they plotted to kill him, but ended up selling him as a slave.

Years later, Joseph who walked with the LORD was blessed by Him. He became very successful. His character was tested at this very comfortable point in his life. The beautiful wife of the officer who entrusted his household to Joseph sought to seduce him. Joseph resisted and Moses recorded what he said. “… “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge… How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”’ Genesis 39:8ff

The officer’s wife persisted in trying to seduce Joseph and the Bible records his action. Joseph fled from her presence leaving his garment in her hand. The officer’s wife wrongly accused Joseph but her testimony was believed which caused the officer to put Joseph in the king’s prison.

The rest of the story confirms the depth of Joseph’s character. He spent his life trusting in the Lord and pursuing godliness. Joseph’s life was a foreshadowing of Christ’s perfect life which is the absolute standard of perfect character. Jesus said of Himself, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

In order to express the kind of character that Joseph had, one must be humble. Humility is a virtue which enables the one who has it to rightly assess himself before God. Jesus said that He was gentle and lowly in heart. The word from which both gentle and lowly are derived can also be translated as humble.

The Apostle Paul wrote of Jesus’ humility in Philippians 2:6-11. Even though He was God, He did not consider Himself to be equal to God but He humbled Himself by taking upon Himself human nature. Jesus’ humility extended to obeying the Father even to death upon the cross. In the Incarnation, Jesus set aside His glory and perfectly obeyed the Father.

The human author of the story of Joseph was himself a humble man. Moses wrote of himself, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” Numbers 12:3 The Spirit of God inspired Moses to write these words when his leadership was challenged by two people who were the closest to him.

Like Joseph, Moses’ life demonstrated his trust in the LORD. Even when Moses sinned and God forbid him to enter the Promised Land, he endured the consequence of his sin and continued to obey God. Moses had a right assessment of himself before God.

Character is the measure of a man or a woman. Behavior reveals character and it matters profoundly. Men and women of character are humble and can be trusted. Their character is seen over time.

As we seek to choose men and women to lead, evaluate their past behavior to determine their character. I believe that at this time in our nation’s history, the character of those we choose to lead us is critical.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “If it was easy anyone could do it!”

“If it was easy anyone could do it!”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say, “If it was easy anyone could do it!” I’ve heard it in response to some great feat or a successful decision. Often, it has been used to respond to flattering words.

Yet this cliché reserved for those things that we consider extraordinary best fits every life lived by faith in the Son of God. In other words if living in Christ was easy anyone could do it. My experience is that few actually do. Even those who are examples to the church don’t always “do it”.

I suggest to you that living the Christian Life is not only hard but also humanly impossible. The moment you think you can “do it” is the moment you fail.

I’ve been walking with the Lord Jesus for almost thirty years. The longer I do, the more impossible it seems. The longer I walk by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in His person and work, the more I see my need for the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth and reminded them that “We walk by faith not by sight.” 2Corinthians 5:7 Paul was not the first writer of God’s word to declare this principle of the believer’s life. The Prophet Isaiah phrased the principle with different words. “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

To “wait” for the LORD means to persevere in obeying God while trusting in His deliverance. The believer doesn’t see with his eye the deliverance of God. We look forward to God’s promise of glory. Yet all the while, we live trusting in Him. Living this way is God’s will. Living this way requires effort, even great effort. Living this way requires divine strength.

The world reminds us of who we are and what we are able to do by appearances. The world views success as the ability to accumulate more and more resources. God views success in terms of faithfulness. King Solomon, the human author of Ecclesiastes put success and accomplishments in this world into their right perspective. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. “Fear God and keep his commandment, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13 The word of God described Solomon as the wisest man who ever lived, 1Kings 3. That wise man said that striving after the things of this world was like striving after hot air. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2

God never said that enjoying the fruit of our labors was bad. In fact, Christians know that everything that they possess has been given them by God. Enjoying what He has given is part of enjoying Him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Christians have a desire for God. We seek to do everything for Him, using what He has given for Him because we desire Him!

Notice that it is God who has given His people, Christians, the desire for Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2Corinthians 5:17 The longer I live in Christ, the deeper my desire grows for Him. God makes it known to each one who belongs to Him that He is the sovereign provider of every good and every perfect gift, James 1:17 and the object of desire.

The problem is sin. In my weakness, I fill myself with anxious thoughts worrying if my “needs” will be met. By God’s grace, His Holy Spirit convicts me. He causes me to fall on my knees and confess my sin of anxiety. He has promised to forgive my sins when I confess them. He further promised to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. That is, each time I go to him confessing my sins, He makes me a little more like Christ, 1John 1:9.

Now, I ask you, “Can anyone live the Christian Life on his own strength?” “Who then can be saved? With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:25, 26

Pastor’s Viewpoints,

“All Hallows Eve”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
498 years ago a German monk was used by God to right the Church of Jesus Christ. The man’s name was Martin Luther. Many Christian Churches will be celebrating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation on Sunday, October 25th.

Luther was outraged by the hierarchy of the church which connected salvation to giving money. 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.” In response Luther posted 95 theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.

God caused Luther to see the foundation of the gospel in the Bible. The perfect righteousness of God is imputed to a sinner by faith alone, Genesis 15:8; Psalm 32:1; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; 3:28; 4:4. The Latin term is Sola Fides, meaning by Faith Alone. When Luther understood the doctrine of Sola Fides he said it was as if the gates of Paradise opened and he walked through.

The Reformation recovered four more essential truths 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 describe God’s plan of redemption. Note that these doctrines were not new. The Reformers, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. simply recovered the truth.

The five Solas can be summarized in a sentence. Salvation is revealed in Scripture to be by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ 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. The faith that Christians profess is a gift of God’s grace. Salvation from start to finish is solely by God’s grace.

The Reformation was a providential blessing from God through which the church recovered the truth which the magisterial church had hidden.

The main issue that concerned the Reformers 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, Christians 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. The Reformers saw that the Church of Rome had usurped the 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.

Even though there are many authorities over us. God has ultimate authority and He expresses His authority by His word written, the Bible. He has established the church, civil government and the family to exercise authority. Yet all derive their authority from God’s word. His word, the Bible is the ultimate Authority and Christ is the Supreme King and Ruler.

Four of the five Solas describe 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! Men are saved from God by God for God!

We celebrate the Protestant Reformation to remind us to fall on our knees before our sovereign God. The Protestant Reformation was more than an event. The church must continue to reform herself in accordance with the word of God written, the Bible. Celebrate the Reformation and recommit yourself to live under God’s word.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Forgiveness”

“Forgiveness”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
There is a common question that arises in churches when we hear of evil acts such as the recent one in Oregon. The question is, “Are we commanded to forgive everyone?”

My direct answer is no. But unless my answer is based on the Scriptures it’s at best a humanistic response. Let me begin by defining the issue. The definition of forgiveness according to the American Heritage Dictionary is, “Forgiveness is the act of forgiving; pardon.” And, “To forgive is to excuse a fault or offense; pardon from payment of.” When we speak of forgiveness we are assuming that an evil act, a sin has been committed. The blessing of being forgiven revealed in Psalm 32 assumes the commission of an evil act.

David admitted that “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away… “(Psalm 32:3a). He was in turmoil because he tried to hide his sin. We’ve all experienced the burden of sin resulting from its denial. The first step towards receiving the blessing of forgiveness is to experience the weight of sin. But simply feeling the weight of sin is not sufficient for receiving the blessing of forgiveness.

In verse 5, David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to you… and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” David acknowledged his sin and wrongdoing to God and he experienced God’s forgiveness. God took away the iniquity, the punishment and guilt that he deserved for his sin. No one denies that the act of forgiving brings with it a peace and sense of release. One who has an unforgiving heart will continue to be in bondage to the one who committed evil against him. Likewise, confession brings with it the blessing of peace because we know that God has promised to forgive our sins, if we confess them, 1John 1:9.

Underlying everything concerning God’s grace of forgiveness is the understanding that there is no such thing as a victimless sin which is evil behavior! Even with so-called victimless crimes there is an offended party. God is offended by every evil action. We often determine evil by the degree of harm done to others. Clearly, the murder of Christians in Oregon was evil. The perpetrator was an evil person. But we don’t see evil behavior in all those “private” sins we all commit. The truth is no matter if other people are involved or not God is offended! Psalm 51:4, “Against you (God), you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

David wrote Psalm 51 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after being convicted of his sins of murder and adultery, 2Samuel 12:7-13. Other people were directly impacted by David’s sins. Uriah the Hittite was murdered. Bathsheba was led to sin by David’s lust. But, supremely, David knew that God was the primary offended party.

David’s conviction led to his acknowledgement of sin, his sorrow for sin and finally his turning from sin. David fully expected to bear the punishment for his sin. He expected death. Yet, Nathan spoke for God and told David that “the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2Samuel 12:13) David’s overwhelming sorrow for his sins came as a result of his acknowledgement of God’s holiness. He knew that he had offended the holy God and as a result deserved death.

All Christians affirm that God is holy, Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4; 5. We know that He hates sin. All sin is evil behavior and offends the holiness of God. Therefore, like David, we must appeal to God’s mercy. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) All of us deserve God’s wrath; we are by nature children of wrath, Ephesians 2:1-3.

Having said all this, we’re ready to address our question, “Are Christians commanded to forgive everyone?” Christians are commanded to imitate God as His beloved children, Ephesians 5:1. The brief journey through the Scriptures above describes God’s action to forgive. Note that God’s forgiveness follows repentance. E.G. David acknowledged his sin; he was sorry for it; and he turned from it. David repented and was forgiven. We are to forgive those who repent; we must always to be ready to forgive. We must have forgiving hearts. Without repentance there is only justice remaining for the perpetrator of evil.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Necessary Ingredients”

“Necessary Ingredients”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation… If then God gave the same gift to them 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 this they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”’
2Cor. 7:10; Acts 11:17-18

The sovereign grace of God which He extends to those whom He has chosen consists of necessary ingredients that lead to salvation. There are two basic ingredients that lead to salvation. They are repentance and faith.

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.

Repentance that leads to salvation is always coupled in the Bible with faith. Here’s why. Repentance is to turn away from and faith is to turn to. 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 repent”, or at least all those that hear this truth? 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 not?

This same question could be asked of believing. Why do some choose to believe and others not? The Bible answers both questions the same. Repentance and faith are gifts from God!

When the Jews in Jerusalem who had believed heard Peter’s testimony concerning Gentile believers, they said, “… God has granted repentance that leads to life”.

I have gone to this depth at the risk of repetition in order to emphasize the biblical answer 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. They are given and received at conversion.

Just as saving faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement and trust. Repentance also has three parts: acknowledgment of sin, sorrow over sin and finally turning from sin. When we believe, we look to a certain body of information, i.e. 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, Hebrews 11, living our lives by this faith.

Now concerning repentance, the Bible teaches that the sinner acknowledges his sin which leads to a godly sorrow for it. But even these two are not adequate for true repentance. There must necessarily follow a turning away from sin.

There is a moment in time, 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 may 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. The gifts of repentance and faith are received in a moment in time and they continue to be expressed throughout life. Both are necessary ingredients of genuine salvation! If you are assured of salvation, then you are exercising God’s gifts of faith and repentance.