Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Resolutions”

The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The first action of 2016 is the same as the first action of 2015 and all previous “New Year’s.” The action of which I speak is making resolutions. We all tend to think in grand terms. Often, our resolutions fall by the way-side by February. I want to suggest a resolution that we should all seek to implement. May we all seek to “Do what is right!” Not simply what we “think” is right, but what is right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Saved by God from God”

“Saved by God from God”
By the Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

I was snatched from the pit of hell on January 29, 1986. The day started normally. But, on my way to my office at the Nuclear Power Plant in Crystal River Florida, I was broad-sided by a semi-truck. It occurred about 7:30 in the morning. I was told that the paramedics had to cut me out of my car. I awoke four days later in a hospital in Gainesville, FL with one desire and many broken bones. My one desire was for Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. The God of truth and grace opened my eyes to the world and to His beauty. My only thought was to run to Him. I sensed no struggle. I only felt great joy because God caused me to see the beauty of Christ and His Kingdom. From the time I awoke I knew that I belonged to Him. I was broken physically but restored spiritually.

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

Before that day ordained by God in eternity, I had no burning desire for Jesus nor did I have any thought of the Holy God. Oh, I thought that I was a good person, at least good enough, most people do. I thought as long as I was better than most, the god of my making would welcome me. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God is love? Surely it does! (1John 4:8) But the Bible also says that God is holy, holy, holy, Isaiah 6:3. I never thought about divine justice. God is just. Apart from Christ, we will receive justice. God’s justice requires that He pour out His wrath upon all unrighteousness. But God chooses to extend mercy to those whom He calls.

Before my “accident,” I never knew the one true God. I know now that I was dead. I used to think that all this “born again” stuff was for the weak minded. But the reality, the truth of what I lived was that dead men don’t do anything. I was unconscious. I couldn’t have saved myself. I couldn’t even get out of my hospital bed. Before God regenerated me I didn’t know that I was lost and headed to hell. God had to act. He did and I look back in amazement that He chose me! I responded to Him because He acted first. I often hear that if one believes he will be born again. How foolish! Worse, it is the height of arrogance and pride. How can a dead person believe? The truth is “Ye must be born again” in order to believe! The Bible says: “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8. Every person is born spiritually dead. We are unable to reach out to God and live, Genesis 3:22-24. God had to act to save me and He did!

As I looked back on what God did in saving me through the lens of God’s word, I saw every aspect of my life as part of God’s sovereign plan. Even when I didn’t know God, He was directing my path in accordance with His will. I thought that I was making choices. And I was, but my choices had already been planned by the Sovereign God. Think about this when you are wondering how you got to where you are: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

The words of Jesus, John 6:44, made perfect sense as I looked at my life in Christ. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

A principle for life that brings those in Christ comfort and assurance is: You have been saved by God from God for God.

In writing this, I have a responsibility to declare my reliance upon God. I believe the God who saved me also spoke and continues to speak in His word. I believe His word is without error and absolutely reliable because He is. As a result, all experiences must be informed by Scripture.

My prayer is that you might humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and that in so doing He will cause you to see your total dependence upon Him.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Evil and what to do about it”

“Evil and what to do about it”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Evil is real but evil does not have being in itself. That is, evil is not some object or living entity. The definition of evil is the absence of good. Augustine of Hippo, a Church Father 4-5th Century is credited with articulating the definition of evil to be the privation of good. Many philosophers and theologians have sought to discover the origin of evil; to date none has succeeded. The problem of evil results from the revelation of the goodness of God. God is altogether good and everything that proceeds from Him is good. Why then is there evil in the world? Such is the root of the problem of evil.

Whereas, we are unable to understand the source of evil, we are given insight into responding to it.
I never cease to be amazed by the depth of man’s evil. When I see it from afar my heart burns. John Calvin, the great reformer of the 16th Century wrote, “All who really serve and love God, ought to burn with holy indignation whenever they see wickedness reigning without restraint among men…” The Psalmist wrote, “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” Psalm 97:10a

God’s word reveals the standard of the Christian’s response to evil. The first is by a negative command, never to return evil for evil. The second is through a positive response, love your enemies, Matthew 5:43ff; Romans 12:17ff and 1Pet. 3:9. On the surface these two teachings seem to contradict each other. We know that the Bible is altogether true. There are no contradictions. God does not contradict Himself. So then what are we to do and not do in response to evil?

Loving enemies on the one hand and hating evil on the other is clarified by the context. God’s exhortation to love enemies is directed to those in the church who find themselves under the hand of evil men. They are the ones experiencing evil first hand. The response of believers to evil and persecution is to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Romans 12:17 Peter used the word “bless” to describe the response of those in the church who find themselves under the hand of evil men, 1Peter 3:9.

Concerning those of who profess Christ and see evil from afar, Thomas Aquinas saw two Christian duties. The First is to combat it by every means and the second is to believe that God will vanquish it according to the perfect (but hidden) wisdom of His providence. Aquinas’ reflection on the issue of responding to evil reflects the Bible’s exhortation to hate evil. The Prophet Amos wrote, “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…” Amos 5:15. The prophet Micah calls believers to love justice and mercy and live in submission to God, Micah 6:8.

Those who profess Christ are accountable before God to respond to evil. Christians are to stand for truth and justice.

Believers in the Risen Lord Jesus are never to “wink” at evil. Genuine Christians do not respond to evil with a man-centered idea of love. Our God is holy. He is holy and He is love. He defined love in the cross of Christ. When you see evil done to others respond by seeking justice. Know that God will pour out His wrath upon all evil and wickedness.

Finally, I believe that it is never right to spiritualize the Christian response to evil. Evil is real. It is behavior that opposes God. Remember the short definition of evil. Evil is the absence of good. The Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” 3John 11

The Christian’s, hence the church’s response to evil is clear. We are to respond to evil by doing good. We know what is good because God has revealed it to us. We have the word of God written. Those who belong to God live under His word. Therefore, in accordance with His word, when we see evil being done to others, our response should be to seek justice by all lawful means available, CF: Romans 13:1-5. I thank the Lord that we live in a country that has preserved the rule of law. May we hold our leaders accountable and elect those who have demonstrated submission to the rule of law.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Reason for Being”

“The Reason for Being”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
One of the most important questions that I’ve had to address as a Christian Pastor is the question of being. By God’s grace and mercy, He called me to be a Pastor – Teacher, Ephesians 4:11. But as much of an honor that being a minister of God’s word is, it is not my reason for being! It took me several years to realize that God’s call of me was part of His previous establishment of my purpose. In fact, God’s call of every one has the same purpose. God’s purpose for everyone is to be holy and thereby glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

According to the Bible, one does not have to die before being called a saint! Saints or holy ones are those whom God set apart for Himself. God’s command for every man, woman and child in His Covenant community is to be holy! Leviticus 11:44 and 1Peter 1:15-16

The visible church, the one we see, is defined as all those who profess Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and their children. Every local church that teaches Jesus is fully God and fully Man, the second person of the Trinity is part of the universal visible church. The Protestant Reformation described the true church as every local church that preaches the pure gospel, administers the two Sacraments as ordained by Christ and exercises biblical church discipline. The church has the same purpose as each individual in her; to be holy!

God organized the church, revealed her marks and chose to use her to reach the lost. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that understanding her purpose is critical for any local church to be faithful to God.

Each local church need not search for a reason to be or exist. God has given a purpose. Each church exists to be holy. It is a holy church that glorifies God!

It is all too common for local churches to think that their purpose is the ministry that she does. We can look to biblical preaching, teaching sound doctrine, liturgy, programs, etc. to define us. But the God-given purpose to be holy underlies all of the things that the church does or they are meaningless. By definition, God’s command to be holy is the reason every church exists.

This clear God-given purpose for every local church would therefore be foremost in every Church’s self-description, one would think. Yet, take a look at how many churches are described by what they do. Often a local church will be described by its mercy ministry, the kind of music, the “relevance” of the pastor’s sermons, even the vast array of programs offered.
The late Chuck Colson wrote a book entitled “Against the Night”. He observed that the church had become or was at least striving to become just like the world. Mr. Colson described the evangelical church as being in danger of losing God’s purpose for her. D.L. Moody compared the visible church to a ship in the sea. He said, “The place for the ship is in the sea, but God help the ship if the sea gets in it. The place for the church is in the world, but God help the church if the world gets in it.” The Bible uses the metaphor of a bride to describe the church. She is the bride of Christ. She is the holy Jerusalem that the Apostle John was allowed to see coming down from heaven. Jesus Christ died for the church, Ephesians 5:25 to make her holy.

Why is it necessary for each local church to affirm her God-given reason for being?

It is essential for individual Christians and the church to be what God has commanded because the name of God is being blasphemed every day by those who make the church like the world. I urge you who profess the name of Christ to engage yourself in a local church that embraces her God-given purpose to be holy. God sanctifies each and every believer within the context of a church that seeks to be holy. He makes every member of His church more and more like Christ. He does so by the power of His Spirit who takes His word written and applies it to our hearts so that we might live holy lives for His glory and He has ordained to accomplish His work through a faithful, holy church.