Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Man’s Response to the Holy God”

Man’s Response to the Holy God
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
All Christians affirm the fundamental importance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible declares the Risen Lord to be the “first fruits” of Creation, 1Corinthians 15:20. Paul was referring to the third day of Creation, Genesis 1:8-13. Recall that on the third day of Creation, “God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.”’ (Genesis 1:11) Jesus’ resurrection began the New Creation. He is the “first fruits” of the New Creation.

The resurrected Jesus is the first fruits of the New Creation and all those in Christ will be like Him for they shall see Him as He is, 1John 3:2.

Christians should often reflect upon the blessing of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. His resurrection not only validated what He said, that He is the only Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, but it declares to those who are in Christ that they will have glorified bodies like His and they will dwell with Him forever!

The implications of this reality are too numerous to list in this short article. But there is one implication that I see being ignored by most of the evangelical church in the west. That implication is the content of our worship.

So much of what is called Christian worship carries little knowledge of the truth of the Person and Work of Jesus, of the glory of the Resurrected Christ. What portends to be “spiritual” and edifying worship is nothing more than man’s attempt to feel better about himself.

I want to share something of my recent experience in order to cause you, as a Christian, to reflect upon your worship of the Triune God who is known in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, revealed in the Bible.

As we moved closer to the entrance of the worship location, the ground seemed to vibrate with the sound of an electric bass guitar and electric drums. Entering the worship space which was a gymnasium, the instrumentation was deafening. The large congregation stood and stared at the band; some moved to the rhythmic beat of the music. I looked around to see if anyone was singing the words that were on a large screen and observed only a few. I read the lyrics of the unfamiliar tunes and became even more discouraged. The best ones declared what God had done to “lift us up.”

There was an attempt at a confession that didn’t confess anything, certainly not sins. The only Scripture read in the “service” was the portion that the Pastor attempted to preach.

The Psalmist declared that he “was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1) I had no such gladness. In fact, I was ashamed that I actually stayed for the entire spectacle. What made matters even worse was that I had just attended Ligonier’s National Conference in Orlando., FL. What a blessing it was to be with more than 4,000 listening to the teaching of several great theologians. Drs. R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Ian Hamilton, Derek Thomas, Robert Godfrey, Steve Lawson, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves, and others taught the pure word of God, declaring the centrality of the gospel, the sovereignty of Christ and the holiness of God!

At the close of the Conference on Saturday, I looked with anticipation to worship the Lord on Sunday. Unfortunately, I was left empty.

So then, what is Christian Worship? Christian Worship is praise and adoration given to God by those who have been made new creations in Christ. The corporate worship service is therefore to be designed by believers in accordance with God’s word to give to Him all the honor and glory that is His due. The Bible says that the Father is the one who seeks worshipers. Those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit because He is spirit. Those who worship Him must worship Him in truth because He is truth! (John 4:23-24) God alone is the object of Christian Worship! Therefore, the public reading of Scripture and the preaching of Scripture are central elements in Christian Worship, as God speaks to us as we read and hear His word.

As we lift up our worship to Him as He has commanded we receive His comfort and blessings!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Happy Resurrection Sunday!”

Happy Resurrection Sunday!
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“He has risen; The Lord has risen indeed!” Luke 24:6, 34 we read these words so easily. We even might hear them used to gather God’s people for worship on Easter Sunday. The angel told the women that Jesus wasn’t there, in His tomb. The angel told the women Jesus was not among the dead, but the living.

After Jesus opened the eyes of His disciples, they declared to each other, “The Lord has risen, indeed!” May you all celebrate the great festival of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with your church families. This historic event, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

But what actually happened? There were many eye witnesses of His empty tomb. There were over 500 witnesses of Jesus after His resurrection.

There is so much importance placed upon the event of Jesus’ resurrection that the Apostle Paul said that if it was not true, the entirety of the Christian faith was useless, mere hot air.

According to the words of Jesus Himself, if He did not get out of the grave, if His bodily resurrection was not an historic fact, He would be just another liar! C.S. Lewis gave three options. He said Jesus was either a mad man, a liar or He was who He said He was!

Christians must be clear on this fact, a dead man got out of his grave. The body buried was the body raised up. But there were some reported differences between Jesus’ earthly body and His resurrected body. He traveled long distances instantaneously. He was able to pass through locked doors. But, He also ate food and was recognized by those to whom He spoke.

The Bible describes the resurrection body as an imperishable one. One that is glorious and perfect. One that is immortal. The Bible says that Jesus is the “first fruits” of those who have died.

The Christian Faith affirms that there is a man in heaven! His name is Lord Jesus. He has a physical, yet immortal and glorious body. He is declared to be the God-Man, the only begotten One of the Father, not made but eternally proceeding from the Father.

The truth of Jesus’ bodily resurrection gets even better. It gets better for all who belong to Him. The Apostle Paul said that Christians don’t grieve over death as others do who have no hope because we know that death is the entrance to paradise. When Jesus comes again, and He will, we will receive resurrection bodies like His.

As a minister of the gospel and a Christian, I would be remiss if I did not tell you the “down side”, and there is a terrifying “down side”. The Bible says that all the dead will be raised on the last day, which is when Jesus returns. Those whom God chose have their names written in the “Lamb’s book of life”. By His grace alone they will live in glory with Him forever. Alleluia! But (and this is a big one) those not covered by the perfect righteousness of Christ and His perfect sacrifice for sin will live forever in a physical state in the “Lake of Fire” which is Eternal Hell.

I urge you to take this event and the truth it affirms seriously. It is a matter of life and death. Jesus declared that this time between His first and second coming is the “year of the Lord’s favor” Is. 61:1-2a, Lk. 4:19. This is the time that God has provided for men to receive His salvation through Jesus as He is offered in the gospel. This is the time to be spared the wrath of God.

My prayer for this Easter Sunday is that the Sovereign Spirit of God would give eyes to see and ears to hear the saving truth of Jesus Christ to all who would worship Jesus this Lord’s Day. May the sovereign Lord bless you and your family. May the Spirit of God work in concert with His word wherever it is faithfully preached and change lives for eternity. Have a happy Easter!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Do we have Free Will?”

Do we have free will?
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
If I was asked to make a list of the ten worst questions to ask in church this would be on that list. It might even be near the top! I really want you all to read my entire article, so I’ll refrain from giving the short answer to the question.

When seeking to answer a question, especially one that concerns the issue of man’s free will, you ought to be clear on the meaning and use of the words. The will of man 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.

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, “What is Salvation?”

What is salvation?
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

As we prepare ourselves to worship the Lord this Sunday, Palm Sunday, the issue of salvation seems unrelated. But, I suggest to you that the issue of salvation is never unrelated! The people of Jerusalem cried “Hosanna” as Jesus rode into the city. The meaning of their cry was “Save us now we pray!”

Of course, salvation can be applied to any dire circumstance. In Jesus’ day the people sought to be delivered from Roman rule. Every adverse circumstance of life drives us all to seek deliverance, another word for salvation.

Eternal salvation is to be delivered from the wrath of God. The Bible refers to this salvation in three ways. Salvation is a past event, an ongoing condition and a future hope. “For by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:8, “… (the gospel) by which you are being saved…” 1Corinthians 15:2, and, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Romans 10:13.

All too often pastors, like me, ask the wrong questions. That is, we sometimes ask questions that others aren’t asking. I began to wonder if my title may be the wrong question. I remember my life before Christ broke in and must admit that the question of salvation never entered my mind.

Before I became a Christian, my response to the question of salvation would certainly have been, “I don’t need to be saved! I’m doing fine.” If someone would have asked me, “Brother, are you saved?” I would have probably laughed and/or been offended. The problem now is that I know the truth about myself. I was far from fine. I needed to be saved; to be continually delivered and to have the certain hope of heaven. I was blinded by sin. I was dead in sin and unable to see my need to be delivered.

By God’s grace, I know the profound nature of the question. The following statement may offend some. Yet, it must be stated because it is the truth revealed by God. Ultimate salvation is being saved by God from God. John 3:16, because God the Father chose to demonstrate His love, He gave Jesus so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life. God must cause an individual to see his need. When confronted with his sinfulness, a jailer cried out to the Apostle Paul and his companion, “what must I do to be saved?” The answer given to him is the timeless answer for all. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your whole household” Acts 16:30-31.

When the Apostles Peter and John were confronted by the religious authorities in Jerusalem for proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Jesus, they told them God’s command for salvation. They said, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven (Jesus) given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12.

Now the hard truth, salvation is by God from God. All men are born dead in sin. There are no natural children of God. The children of God are adopted. God alone must save men and women from His wrath. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Ephesus that all men are naturally children of God’s wrath. He said that God is “rich in mercy”. He extends grace to those whom He chooses. Therefore, salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. God has given the only means to be spared His wrath which is God’s expression of His holiness against sin.

Years ago I was teaching a Bible study concerning salvation and a young woman got visibly upset with the term “the wrath of God.” She said to me and to the entire class that her god was a god of love. I responded saying that truly God is love. And, God is holy. The holy God and sin cannot co-exist. Nothing imperfect can enter heaven. This isn’t my opinion. This is simply the clear teaching of the Bible. The depth of God’s love cannot be understood apart from knowing the holiness of God.

Jesus, the full revelation of God, the second person of the Trinity, will come again to judge all mankind.

So then, “Brother, are you saved?” You will either experience the wrath of the Holy God or His steadfast love forever!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What is Grace?”

“What is Grace?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Grace is unmerited favor. God’s favor, grace is received by those who did not merit it. Grace is poured out on God’s people because it was merited by Christ. The Bible declares that we are saved by God’s grace! Ephesians 2:8 Those who are in Christ are beneficiaries of Christ’s merit.

The Bible says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 John referred to the law given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai and to the truth which is reality revealed in the person of Jesus.

We teach our children the meaning of God’s grace and the importance of God’s law. Grace is to receive what is not deserved of which mercy is another expression.

The opposite of grace and mercy is justice. The law of God given through Moses is a revelation of the absolute perfection of God. God’s law is the absolute standard of perfection. The Jews sought to make the law fool-proof. The leaders of the Jews came up with more than 600 nuances of the basic commandments of God as a means of addressing every aspect of life and how men should behave in order to keep the law. Yet, Jesus repeatedly said that they had missed the spirit of the law. The truth is that no one can keep the law. The Apostle Paul wrote that the purpose of the law was to bound sin, lead men to their need for a Savior and be the Christian’s guide for living. Galatians 3:19-29, 5:16-25

The Law of God leads us to our dependence upon the grace of God because He requires absolute perfection. Jesus said perfect righteousness is required to enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 5:20. God does not grade righteousness on a scale!

We must all be honest with ourselves before God. We cannot keep God’s perfect law of righteousness. No one is able to be perfect. Yet God requires perfection. Therefore, all we can do is appeal to God’s mercy that He would pour out His grace upon us, Psalm 51.

God’s grace is the only means by which men may stand before a holy God. But God does not simply winking at our failure to be perfect. God’s sovereignly extends grace to those whom He chooses only by the perfect merit of Jesus Christ. What Adam failed to do, Jesus did. We all inherit the sin of Adam. We are all dead in sin. We are unable to keep God’s law. No one is righteous no not one, Romans 3:10.

In summary, the grace of God is His favor extended to His people as a result of the merit of Jesus on their behalf. This grace is called saving grace. It is given by God to those whom He chose before the foundation of the world. His choice is not based on anything we will do or have done. His choice is unconditional, Ephesians 1, 2.

You may be thinking that this choice of God to extend saving grace as He wills is unfair and God is not unfair. I agree. God is not unfair. But grace is not about fairness. God is perfectly fair. We call His fairness divine justice. He has said that at the end of this world there will be a final judgment. Two books will be opened by God. One book is the record of everyone’s deeds. The other is called the book of life. The judgment of God is that anyone’s name that does not appear in the book of life is thrown into the “lake of fire.” Those two books represent the difference between justice and grace. Those who live thinking that God winks at their sin and will somehow extend grace to them at the end are those who will experience perfect justice. On the other hand those who live their lives relying upon the perfect life of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice will experience the fullness of God’s grace in eternal bliss.

So then, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Grace is God’s unmerited favor based upon the merit of His only Son, Jesus. There are only two alternatives for mankind. Rely upon your own merit or rely upon the merit of Christ. In either case the standard is perfection. The truth is Jesus is the only One who was perfect.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Mission”

“Mission”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The purpose of the church is holiness. The church has been set apart by God for God. He said because “I am holy you are to be holy.” A purpose is a reason for being or existence. On the other hand, when we speak of mission in the church, we are looking to do something. The difference between purpose and mission is the difference between being and doing.

The church’s mission was prophesied by Isaiah. The Suffering Servant, Jesus, would come and be a “light for the nations”, Isaiah 42:6. God also said it is “too small a thing” to only save “Jacob” but that He would call all peoples to Himself through the gospel, Isaiah 49:6. The Church of God was on mission, His.

One of the most familiar passages in the Bible declares God’s global mission for the church, Matthew 28:18-20. All Christian Churches know this passage to be our marching orders given directly by the Risen Lord Jesus. We refer to this as the Great Commission! The weight of this mission is supreme because of the weight of the one who gave it. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth” was given to Him. This is an inclusive statement. That is, regardless of whether or not men submit to Him, Jesus is the one who has all authority. We all would do well to think of Jesus’ ultimate authority when faced with other authorities in life that make claims upon us. Men have a granted authority. For example, we are called to submit to governmental authority because God has ordained their limited authority for the good and welfare of all men, Romans 13. The same Apostle wrote that a sign of the culture in the “last days” is that there will be a lack of submission to authority, 2Timothy 3. He was writing of the culture in the church. The church stands under the word of God and therefore, we receive His commands concerning purpose and mission and submit to Him.

The Risen Lord Jesus directs the church on her mission. The church has been given a granted authority by the one who has supreme authority to do what He commands. So, we ought to be clear on the Savior’s command. Concerning mission, His command is to disciple. Those who are following Him are to go and make disciples. The word “disciple” is the main verb of Matthew 28:19-20. In order to translate Jesus’ command in English, the word “make” has been inserted. Further, the command is in the present tense. It is intended to be an ongoing activity in the church until Jesus returns. Since this is so critical, the means of making disciples was further described by two participles, baptizing and teaching.

The first means of making disciples is baptizing which concerns identity. Discipling requires that the one discipled be identified with the One he is following, the Triune God. Followers of Jesus are identified with Him. This text is also the basis of the church’s reception of the sacrament of Baptism, the sign and seal of the Covenant. Every follower of Jesus, by His command, should receive the “sign of the Covenant” signifying membership in the Covenant Community. (Circumcision was the sign of membership in the Old Testament.)

The second means of discipling is teaching. In the process of discipling, the disciple is taught “everything that Jesus commanded,” namely, the whole of Scripture. A disciple is a learner and follower of Jesus throughout his entire life. Christians are disciples of Jesus. “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 11:26

Discipleship requires teaching the whole truth. Paul spoke to the elders in Ephesus, Acts 20:26, and told them that he was innocent of their blood because he did not “shrink from declaring… the whole counsel of God.” The content of discipleship is the Bible, the word of God written.

There is a revealed priority in what is taught. The first thing taught is the gospel. When Jesus began His public ministry, He preached that the Kingdom was near, therefore, He said, “repent and believe in the gospel”, Mark 1:15. Paul wrote that the gospel was “of first importance” 1Corinthians 15:3.

Finally, as God’s purpose of the church is clearly given by Him; be holy because He is holy; the mission is likewise clear. The Mission of the church is to make disciples “of all nations.” Be a part of a local church obeying God’s mission.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Purpose”

“Purpose”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
God created everything out of nothing. He is the truth and the hope of believers in the Risen Lord Jesus. He has given His people the desire to worship and praise Him. The true God has revealed Himself by what He has made, by the Bible and fully in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, His only Son, the second person of the Trinity. God has ordained and sovereignly controls every aspect of life. Perhaps the most fundamental thought we, His creatures can have is our purpose.

God not only created all things but He has purposed all things. He has given all men a purpose in life. The individual’s God-given purpose is to “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Ques. #1, the Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Christians, more so than others, seem to question God to discover His purpose for them in life. The Shorter Catechism’s answer to the question of purpose is derived from the Bible. God simply revealed man’s purpose with a simple command, “Be holy for I am holy” Leviticus 11:44 and 1Peter 1:15-16.

God’s command may be simple and understood, but it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are made holy. God’s work of sanctification that He begins in every one He justifies continues throughout our entire life. Perfect holiness is not reached this side of heaven.

As God has given each individual in Christ a singular purpose, He has also given the body of Christ the same purpose. The body that we see is called the visible church. Not every member of the visible church is a member of the body of Christ. Only those who are God’s elect are members of Christ’s body and the elect from all time make up the invisible church. Nevertheless, we know that the visible church is the Kingdom of God on earth, ruled by the Lord and King Jesus Christ and as such is commanded to be holy!

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, the visible church as every church that preaches the pure gospel, administers the two Sacraments as ordained by Christ and exercises biblical church discipline.

God has chosen to reach the lost through the visible church. Romans 10:17 is the clear affirmation of God’s plan. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (ESV) But God has also organized the visible church. “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” Ephesians 4:11-12, ESV. Every local church that bears the marks of a true church is part of the world-wide visible church of Jesus Christ.

God organized the church, revealed her marks and chose to use her to reach the lost. Therefore, understanding God’s purpose for individuals and the church is critical if the church expects to be used by God to reach the lost.

The purpose of the church is not her ministry, as important as ministry may be. The church’s ministry includes biblical preaching, teaching sound doctrine, liturgy, programs, etc. But the God-given purpose underlies all of the things that the church does. Purpose is concerned with being rather than doing. (The dictionary’s definition of purpose is the reason for existence or being.)

In Chuck Colson’s “Against the Night”, he observed that the church had become or was at least striving to become just like the world. D.L. Moody once 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. Just as 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.

My prayer is that you would engage yourself in a local church that understands your God-given purpose and equips you to pursue it!