Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What Choice Do I Have?”

“What choice do I have?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
My guess is that the title made you believe that this article would be about who to vote for in our upcoming election for President of the United States of America. Well, what follows may aid you in making that choice. But my main point is that we, especially those of us who are Christians, make choices continuously. The question is, “How do you choose? How do you decide what is the right course of action?”

Most politicians are proud to say, “I always do what I think is right.” In the ultimate sense, that statement is irrelevant. The relevant question is, “What is the right thing to do?” What anyone thinks is right matters only if one’s thoughts are held captive to obey Christ! 2Corinthians 10:5 The word of God informs each believer of the way to blessing, Deuteronomy 11:26-28.

Christians are 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.” Romans 12:1-2

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. Knowing the right action requires knowledge of what God has said.

The Bible reveals attributes of God. He is good, righteous and true. The only way to know God is to know His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Father is the source of wisdom and discernment. Knowing the right choice comes through having a personal and intimate knowledge of His Son, Jesus.

Making right choices, discernment is 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.

All this being said, the answer to, “What choice do I have?” 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. Then you will be able to make the right choice!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Rule of Law… Here we go again!”

The Rule of Law… Here we go again!
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The giving of the Law and God’s ordination of civil authority are two blessings of God that intersect each other.

The blessing of the Law is stated in Deuteronomy 11:26-28. It was given to the Church of the Old Testament. “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.”

The Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia, “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.

In Deuteronomy 11:26-28 and Galatians 3:19 the focus is on the Law of God which is the word of God and more precisely the Ten Commandments.

In Romans, Paul was referring to civil authority and by implication civil laws. God is the one who ordains all civil authority. God’s purpose is to provide for an ordered society. Those who are governmental officers are God’s ministers for the good of all. They are charged with keeping order so as to promote good. As God is the source of all that is good, civil authorities and civil laws are subordinate to God’s law.

The Bible declared a situation in which there was a conflict between God’s law and man’s law. When the leaders of Israel commanded the Apostles to cease preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter and John responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

To help understand the importance of the Law and law in general, there are, what the Protestant Reformers called 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. We are experiencing the disregard of law by duly elected members of our government. We read about our Executive Branch ignoring laws enacted by our Legislative Branch of government. We hear excuses offered by a Political Party for their candidate’s behavior demonstrating that laws/rules apply to others. We see people being manipulated into thinking that those who dedicate their lives to protect citizens are actually intent on doing harm to them.

But our hope is 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 and encourage respect for police. 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.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Attracting People”

“Attracting People”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Evangelicalism in America has embraced the idea that men and women are seeking after God. You may hear pastors say, “There’s a hunger for the gospel!” I will agree that there is a “hunger.” I would not agree that the hunger is for the gospel. The gospel is the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Those who hear it and receive it are changed. Christians are humbled before the holy and sovereign God. Christians are made new creations by God. As a result, the desire of the Christian is to submit to God and live under His word. Perspectives are changed. New desires are given by God. Jesus said that to be His disciple one must take up his cross daily, that is one must die to self! Luke 14:25ff

The “hunger” seen is a desire to be lifted out of difficulty, to have some “need” met or to find a purpose in life. Evangelical leaders recognized this condition and a movement was begun. It is called the “Church Growth” movement. There were certainly well-intentioned reasons promoted by the founders of the movement. Surely, the church should attract people by offering programs that will feed the hunger. They suggest that once people are brought in, then the gospel can be preached. Yet, the unspoken motivating factor is numbers, hence the name “Church Growth.”

My observation is that it has worked! Churches have been attracting more and more people. Churches spring up seemingly overnight. Snappy visions and programs attract many. Yet, as we look around at the lifestyles in the church, it is reported that behavior in the church mirrors behavior in the world.

One large congregation on the West Coast of America was started by knocking on doors in the targeted neighborhood and asking “What would it take for you to go to church?” After compiling the results, a “church” was formed to meet those expressed needs. The church was named the Crystal Cathedral. It was a forerunner in the Church Growth movement. It grew to thousands. Yet its leader expressed universalism. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ was denied. The Jesus talked about did not resemble the Jesus of the Bible! It created a horrible picture in my mind of people being given temporary comfort on their way to hell.

There are common threads in churches focused on attracting people. One thread common to all is their entertaining worship experience. A key word used to promote worship is “relevant.” Skits or pageants replace preaching. Prayers are limited to one said by the Pastor. The only Scripture read during worship may be the verses or even a phrase from which the Pastor speaks. The worship service is designed for unbelievers. Praise bands entertain these congregations. Everything is very relevant, they say!

The motivation may be well-intentioned. Those who promote the “felt needs” philosophy of church growth sincerely believe that men and women can be convinced to give their lives to Jesus.

Saint Augustine once said that it was wrong to judge any movement by the abuses in it. In other words, while we may not like some of the aspects of the “felt needs”/ seeker philosophy of church growth, we shouldn’t summarily dismiss it based on its distortions. The appropriate question is, “What does God say concerning church growth and seekers?”

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “… I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jude wrote that believers are to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3. Paul warned that men would gather teachers to “tickle” ears, 2Tim. 4:3. The Christian Faith is the faith received by the Apostles who wrote and proclaimed the truth. The response of those pierced by the Word and Spirit, Acts 2:37, devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Jesus builds His church on the truth!

Jesus’ method for growing the church is very simple. Preach the word, 2Tim. 4:2 The means by which Christ builds His Church is through the proclamation of the truth, Romans 10:14-17. Other methods may attract people. But the only one that grows the church is Jesus Christ by His word and Spirit.

Dr. J. M. Boice, the late, great pastor and theologian said, “Using Man’s methods yields Man’s results.” Great numbers do not necessarily mean great churches. There is only one seeker, God the Father!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Do Not Fear!”

“Do Not Fear!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Matthew 10:28a
“There is nothing new under the sun” Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:9c
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

It has been fifteen years since we all saw the face of evil. Radical Islamists attacked our country. I remember seeing the black hearts of men motivated by evil on my TV. I was in my Pastor’s Study in the Church that I served in Orlando, FL. I distinctly remember being stunned. I thought that I was watching a trailer for a new movie. But, unfortunately, I was seeing a glimpse of the depravity of man.

On September 11th this year, we took time to remember those who were murdered by radical Islamists a decade and a half ago. We grieve with those who lost loved ones. This year, in my remembering, I looked at the words of Jesus. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

It is critical that we continue to remember what happened on September 11, 2001. Our Country was attacked. From that day we have been at war with the radical adherents to the Islamic faith. But, as a Christian, I am compelled to remind myself that there is a God who is sovereign over all things, even evil. Do not fear men!

Not only have so many forgotten 911 but we now seek to negotiate with evil. We live denying history. Solomon said that there is nothing that is really new. The evil that men do is not new! Yet, as the Philosopher Edmond Burke once said, unless we remember the past we will likely repeat it – mistakes and all.

Remembering is not only necessary in secular life but it is essential in the Church as well.

I recently asked our Adult Class, “Why should we study Church History?” I received an immediate response from a man in the class, “So that we don’t make the same mistakes.” We all had a great laugh, but the fact is some Christians think that the church only has a history that dates back about 150 years. But, the history of the church can be dated to the time of Abraham. The word “church” means those called out by God. This is what God did: He called a man, then a family, then a nation, then members of all nations of those who are in Christ through the gospel. Much can be gained by studying the church’s history.

For thousands of years, God has called men and women to Himself. The accumulated wisdom of those “saints” is important to study so as not to repeat their mistakes and to learn how the church dealt with error.

For example, it can be said that there are no new heresies. There are only old ones dressed up in new clothes. Essential doctrines like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the bodily resurrection have been under attack since the early days of the Christian Church. False teachers persist in re-dressing these heresies in new clothes and succeed in deceiving many. The question of evil has been studied over the centuries by all believers. We know, as God has revealed that the only remedy for evil is the wrath of the holy God. We know that God will crush all that is evil. He will do it and we can rest our hope on the truth of God’s word.

Too often, Church Leaders take the approach of our naïve leaders in government and seek to negotiate with evil. Because of the failure of churches to teach the truth of God, to worship God and to equip God’s people to grow up in Christ, members are unable to discern good from evil. The church has turned from exposition to entertainment. Mega churches continue to grow in numbers but their members are ill-equipped to respond to evil.

The prophet Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20

Remember 911, while trusting in God and join a church that will equip you to live in Christ!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What’s in it for me?”

“What’s in it for me?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
God commanded His people to “keep holy the Sabbath Day.” The “Sabbath Day” was changed by the Apostolic Church to the First Day, Sunday. The Church refers to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Each Lord’s Day is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Scripture does not reveal God’s primary purpose of worship to be satisfying His people. Yet, it is true that our satisfaction in God is most apparent as we worship Him. John Piper wrote that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

However, I have observed that the most common questions asked by people who are searching for a local church are about their felt needs: “What’s offered for my children?” Or, “What kind of music is used?” Or, “Are there people of my age and circumstances here?” Condensing all of the various questions leaves the basic one. “What’s in it for me?”

This entire issue is addressed to genuine Christians, those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. A genuine Christian is one who has been born again by the Spirit of God. The Bible views salvation in a logical order. First, God Effectually Calls a dead person to life. The effect of His call is Regeneration. All men are born dead in sin. God must raise a sinner from death to life. This is what Jesus said is being born again, John 3. The result of regeneration is Conversion. That is, God converts a sinner to a saint. In doing so, He gives two gifts. One is the gift of faith and the second it the gift of repentance. Those gifts are exercised by those who receive them. The result of turning from sin and turning to Jesus is Justification. Justification is a legal term. God’s declares a sinner to be in right standing before Him only by the merit of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God covers the sinner with the perfect life of Jesus Christ and transfers the sinner’s sin to Jesus. All this is called double imputation. After justification, God Adopts the sinner into His family. Those changed by God become heirs of His promise in Christ, namely heaven. Following adoption, God begins His work of Sanctification. Literally, as Justification covers the sinner with perfect righteousness, Sanctification is God’s action of making the sinner righteous from the inside out. In Sanctification, the sinner responds to God’s work in him. God promised to make us more and more like Christ. The end result of Sanctification is what is called Glorification. God promised to see us to glory. Every believer will be in glory in heaven. The comforting fact of glorification is that God sees us as already glorified. I would encourage you to read Romans 8:30 and notice that all of the verbs are in the past tense, even glorified.

Christians, those made “new creations in Christ” are the church. The visible church, the one we see, is defined as those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and their children. The visible church is where I, as a Christian can invest myself in the Kingdom. As a Christian, God has given me the desire to worship Him. The question should never be “What’s in it for me?” The question on the Christian’s mind and heart is, “What’s in it for God?”

God made every one for worship. Men and woman will worship someone or something. To worship is to bow down to and serve the object of worship. The object of our worship is God. Those seeking something for themselves are worshiping themselves!

The worship manual of the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church, the book of Psalms states the changed heart of a believer, Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”’ God places in each believer a desire to gather with God’s people to declare His praises and to hear Him speak both in the reading of Scripture and in the Proclamation of Scripture. As a result, believers are edified or if you choose to use this word, fed.

A believer grows as he understands that corporate worship is more than a duty; it is his desire! So then, has God filled your heart with a desire to worship Him with other believers? Worship Him by seeking the worship that pleases Him, Hebrews 12:28-29.