Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Sovereignty of God Re-visited”

“The Sovereignty of God, Re-visited”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
All Christians affirm the sovereignty of God. Yet all Christians hedge on God’s sovereignty on some aspect of life. You may hear, “God is sovereign but I chose Him and was saved” Or, “God is sovereign but the He has nothing to do with the evil that we see.” I’ve forgotten who originally said, “If there is one molecule of Creation outside of God’s authority, He is not God!” As a believer in the Lord, Jesus Christ, I have found that the issue of God’s sovereignty is the primary means that God uses to change me. As I live my life in Christ, aspects of my own perceived autonomy are broken down by God.

The obvious one, one that occurred early in my life in Christ is the sovereignty of God in my salvation. I initially thought that my salvation was based upon my choice of believing in Jesus. It didn’t take very long before God broke that down. He convicted me of my pride of ownership. He showed me that my choice was a response of God choosing me. His word states clearly that He chose me before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:3-4. He also convicted me that His choice of me was not based upon anything in me. His choice was solely based upon His electing grace. My salvation, my security, everything that I am and have been made is due to the God who is sovereign. He alone is God and besides Him there is no Savior, Isaiah 43:11

Concerning the evil we see all around us, God has said that nothing occurs outside of His ordained plan. He is not the author of evil, yet evil done by others is part of His plan. The word also declares that God’s plan is good. Evil is not good. But, its place in God’s plan will be used for good. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Reasonable men and women know that evildoers exist in the world. The recent event in Orlando, FL was done by an evildoer. An adherent to radical Islam planned and implemented his plan for doing evil. The evil done was not caused by guns or any other weapon. This evil act was not about homosexuality. This evil and all evil are done by individuals. This particular evildoer in Orlando, FL was motivated by a false religion that expresses devotion to a false god. Let me say as an aside, that genuine Christians grieve along with the families of the victims of this evildoer. There is no joy or rejoicing over the taking of human life. Those who call themselves pastors of Christian Churches that teach otherwise are what the Bible declares as deceivers and false teachers. They are promoting evil as much as is radical Islam!

Our hope is in a sovereign God. God is sovereign over evil. He will crush all evildoers.
God is in charge! By the plain meaning of the word, “God”, He must be in charge or He’s not God.

God revealed His sovereignty with declarative statements, Genesis 1:1, Matthew 28:18. He also revealed it through historic narratives, E.G. Daniel 4: 34-37. Daniel, a faithful worshiper of God, recorded an incident that involved a pagan king. The king’s name was Nebuchadnezzar. He was a ruthless man, king of the ancient Babylonian Empire. This king had a very confusing dream about a huge tree that “a holy one from heaven” ordered to be chopped down. God empowered Daniel to interpret the dream. Daniel’s interpretation predicted that the king would be humbled until he acknowledged the one true God.

God drove the king mad. He made him act and appear animal-like. When God restored the king’s senses, Nebuchadnezzar said these words about God, “His (God’s) dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”’

When it comes to salvation, evil or any circumstance of life, God is in charge, He planned them and will use them for His glory and our good.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Responding to Evil”

“Responding to Evil”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

I am always amazed by the depth of man’s evil. When I see it my heart burns. When evil is ignored or blamed on anything other than the evil-doers, the fire burns hotter. 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

The one thing that God does not tell us is to ignore evil. There are some who selectively quote Scripture. Picking verses that suit presuppositions is never helpful. For example, “Love your enemies,” Matthew 5:44, is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The complete verse is, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The context is Jesus teaching His disciples the standard of life in the Kingdom. One of the repeated phrases spoken by Jesus was, “You have heard that it was said…” Jesus addressed the teaching of the leaders in Israel who focused on the letter of the law and neglected the deep, spiritual meaning. They were taught that they should love their fellow Jews and hate their enemies. But the love of which Jesus spoke was divine love. Only God demonstrated perfect love, the love of the cross. This love is the essence of life in Christ. It is the basis of life in the Kingdom!

Those who know God are to hate evil and love good, Amos 5:15. The appearance of a contradiction does not mean that there is one. We know that the Bible is altogether true. There are no contradictions because God, the Author does not contradict Himself. Therefore, there must be two different things being expressed.

The difference in calling for loving enemies on the one hand and hating evil on the other is a matter of context. God’s exhortation to love enemies is directed to those in the church who find themselves under the hand of evil men. The response of believers experiencing evil is to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Romans 12:17

Concerning those of who profess Christ and see evil from afar, Thomas Aquinas saw two Christian duties. The First is to combat evil by every means and the second is to believe that God will vanquish it according to His perfect (but hidden) wisdom and providence. Aquinas’ reflection on the issue of responding to evil was a reflection on the verse referenced from the Prophet Amos.

When evil occurs, there are always those who are quick to admonish Christians to love their enemies. Christians are to love all men. Christians are also to be people who stand for truth and justice. Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

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

It is never right to spiritualize the response to evil. Evil is real. Evil is not a thing. It is behavior that opposes God. The short definition of 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 response to evil is clear. In response to evil those who profess Christ are to do good. When we see evil being done to others, the response should be to seek justice by all lawful means available. When we experience evil our response is to do good knowing that God will execute perfect justice. Of course, in order to respond to evil it must be recognized. Evil is behavior opposite of what God requires. Be wise and identify and name the evil-doers! Inanimate objects are not to blame. Evil is done by people. It comes from the heart of man, whether they follow the false god of Islam or their own evil desires!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Choose Wisely”

“Choose Wisely”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I remember a scene in one of the Indiana Jones’ movies in which an old knight described the choice made by one of the protagonists in the movie. The protagonist had to pick the actual cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. If he made the wrong choice, he would be killed. The man chose a cup that was greatly jeweled and made of gold, saying that this was surely the cup worthy of Jesus. He drank from the cup and immediately began to disintegrate to dust. The old knight simply said to Indiana Jones, “He chose poorly.” Of course, when it came time for Indiana Jones to choose a cup, he picked the simplest and plainest one and drank from it. He chose wisely!

I use this scene from a popular movie to illustrate that life is filled with choices. We make many decisions every day. They may be as simple as what to have for breakfast or as complex as what is the purpose of my life and how should I strive to satisfy it? Somewhere in the middle of all our choices every four years, citizens of our great nation must choose a President. Electing a President is surely not the most important choice we will ever make. I suggest that it doesn’t even come near the top of our list of life-choices. Yet, so much time and effort is expended in the process of making our choice of a candidate for the Office of President of the United States. I believe that the degree of attention given to this choice is commensurate with the increasing size of our Federal Government. The more power we allow our government to have, the importance of the choice of the one leading it grows.

Therefore, in order to make a wise choice we must have an absolute standard by which to choose. Of course, the standard to which I refer is the word of God written. Christians live under God’s word and non-believers will be held accountable to it when Christ returns.

You may be wondering what text of Scripture deals with choosing a president? There is no single text that will instruct you in your choice. Yet there is a general principle by which God has commanded His people to live. He has commanded believers to “Be holy,” Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16. Further, in order to be holy, that is to be set apart to God, Christians are to choose “the good.” The opposite of good which is its absence is called “evil.”

Within the context of leaders governing people, Isaiah spoke God’s words directly to this issue. Isaiah used the word “woe” as a warning of God’s coming judgment upon those who choose evil over good. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…” Isaiah 5:20a. Woe is used four times between Isaiah 5:18-22. We should probably pay careful attention to God’s warning. We should strive to choose wisely in every decision.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Church and phrased this issue with these words. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

God expects His people to know good from evil. He expects His people to follow “the good”. “The good” is that which is morally and ethically right. The ultimate source of “the good” is God. He has revealed “the good” in His word. “He has told you, O man, what is good.” Micah 6:8a

The Bible was written to believers but it applies to all people. God does not have a sliding scale. He doesn’t grade on a curve. “All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2Corinthans 5:10

How is it that we can choose wisely? We choose wisely by choosing that which is good. Christian, remember that you are not electing a pastor. We are voting to elect the President of our Nation. We also know that no one is good but God alone. Yet because all men have degrees of goodness, we can examine past behavior to make our wise choice. May your conscience be held captive by the word of God and may you choose wisely!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “You Be the Judge”

“You Be the Judge”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
For many years, the most quoted verse of Scripture was John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Presently, the most quoted verse of Scripture is Matthew 7:1. “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

This change of the most quoted verse, among other reasons, indicates a major shift from God to Man. In John 3:16, Jesus declared God’s love for the world demonstrated by sending Him, the second Person of the Trinity, the only means by which men may be saved. There is uniqueness in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He is the only means of salvation. Jesus declared the Father’s motivation for redemption, His love! Everything depends upon the love of the Father. Redemption is not something deserved. Redemption is only by God grace.

Justice or fairness if you prefer is for those not believing in Jesus, as He is offered in the gospel. As an aside, you may notice that I regularly qualify the name, “Jesus” by adding as He is offered in the gospel. We must clearly understand that there is only One Jesus who is the Savior. He is the one revealed in Scripture. In fact, He is the central figure of the Bible. The saints of the Old Testament looked forward to His coming, the Incarnation and Crucifixion. We who profess Christ look back at the One who came, taking upon Himself the nature of a man, setting aside His divine glory and obeying God, the Father to the cross. In other words, the Jesus who is offered in the gospel is the God-Man, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is fully God and fully Man. There are counterfeits. The cult of Mormonism is one such false religion that proclaims Jesus. One of the names of this cult is, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Young men with badges identifying them as “elders” may knock on your door to introduce you to their Jesus. They make the claim that they have another testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet what they actually have is a testimony of another Jesus. Christians have fallen prey to this false teaching precisely because Churches are more focused on Man than God. The evangelical church in the west is consumed with offering programs to help their members deal with life-circumstances. Many have forgotten that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” Proverbs 1:3.

On the occasion of Dr. J.I. Packer’s graduation from Oxford, he stated that the commencement preacher recalled being asked by a graduate entering pastoral ministry, “What should I preach about?” The preacher’s response was “Preach about God and preach about 20 min.” Packer’s point was not the length of sermons, but their content. We pastors are accountable to preach about God. Paul wrote this charge to Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season,” 2Timothy 4:2.

What has this to do with the change of the most quoted verse of Scripture? I suggest that the same motivation has caused our culture to change from John 3:16 to Matthew 7:1 as it has caused churches to “tickle men’s ears” (2Timothy 4:3). Extracting Matthew 7:1 from its context has served to cause men to “check their minds at the door of the church.” False teachers can confront the unsuspecting Christian with, “Judge not, that you be not judged” causing them to blindly accept what they say. The problem is that Matthew 7:1 is within the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5-7 is Jesus’ teaching to His disciples about the standard of Kingdom Life. His purpose is to declare what is necessary for citizens of the Kingdom, namely perfect righteousness. He fulfilled everything in the Sermon. No man can. As a believer reads and studies the Sermon on the Mount, he must fall upon his knees and depend upon the Spirit of God for life. Matthew 7:1 is within that absolute standard. Believers are required to remove the “log” out of their eye so that they can help their brother take the speck out of his. Judgment is necessary. Christians discern truth from error by applying God’s absolute standard. We all live under God’s absolute standard. God has given us His word so that we might live for His glory!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Divine Imperative”

“The Divine Imperative”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
We look for the “bottom line” in most circumstances of life. There is a “bottom line” for a Christian and for the body of Christ, the church. Moses recorded the “bottom line” for all who would call themselves believers, Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 11:44 and Deuteronomy 7:6. The Apostle Peter likewise declared the “bottom line”, 1Peter1:15-16 and 2:5, 9. The “bottom line” which is the divine imperative is a declaration of being rather than doing. The divine imperative is “Be Holy!” The church is a holy nation because God has set her apart. He chooses men and women to be in Christ. He declares that each person in Christ and certainly the body of Christ is holy. The church is set apart to God by God!

Those who are set apart to God are to act differently from the world! It is important to remember that Christians act differently in response to God’s action of setting them apart.

Therefore, it is essential to understand the meaning of holy. In addition, the church is accountable to God to teach her people the meaning of holiness. Everything that the church is and does must be holy if we profess to be Bible-believing people. The basic meaning of “holy” is to be set apart; to be unique. God is totally other than all of His creation. He transcends Creation. The range of meaning of holy begins with uniqueness and ends in absolute perfection and purity. God is the entirety of holiness!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question and answer deals with man’s purpose. “What is the chief end of Man?” The answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God is to attribute all the honor, respect, majesty, etc. to Him. In other words man is to live knowing that God is holy and everything is due Him.

We are given glimpses of God’s holiness in the Bible. Isaiah 6: 1-5 is probably the most familiar. Isaiah is allowed to see the throne room of God. Part of the vision that he received included great winged creatures crying out to each other “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts…” “Holy” is the only word repeated three times in describing God. Twice would be emphasis in the Hebrew Language similar to the English use of an exclamation point. But three times is supreme emphasis.

The Apostle Paul referred to the children of one believing partner in marriage as “holy”. Children of believers are given the sign of the Covenant because God said He sets them apart! Covenant children are part of the covenant community because God said they are holy.

We understand consecration and sanctification in light of the word holy. Both words are descriptive of God’s action in setting people apart for Himself and changing those whom He sets apart to be like Christ.

So what? What does God’s holiness have to do with our lives, this divine imperative? The simple answer is everything! As mentioned above, everything in the Christian’s life is to reflect God’s holiness. All else is sin. The Apostle Paul wrote that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3: 23. Yet, God requires perfection. God requires that those who will see Him face to face must be holy as He is holy. In this life our lives, our worship, and all that we are and do must reflect the holiness of God. The gospel is the only means given by God for our holiness. Those whom God justified, He glorified, Romans 8:30. God glorifies His people by sanctifying us. He makes us holy. By God’s work of grace, He continues to sanctify us so that when we see Jesus face to face we will be holy. Jesus as He is offered in the gospel is our only hope.

God has organized the visible church so that each member will grow up into Christ. As a pastor of a local church, I am responsible to God, along with the other elders to be faithful to equip our members to be holy. Our worship, our Bible studies, our service ministries are to reflect the holiness of God. In order to apply God’s imperative to be holy; everything concerning our church must be centered in the word of God.

God said, “Be holy because I am holy!” May you pursue Godliness by living under the word of God.