Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Christian Stewardship”

“Christian Stewardship”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“Well done good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21, 23
I’m sure that you’re all familiar with Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. It is the second to the last parable in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom and this one concerns final judgment. Yet this parable speaks to genuine saving faith. We don’t like to think that when Jesus returns He will judge all mankind. Revelation 20:12ff describes King Jesus coming as the Absolute Judge. The passage describes two books being opened at His coming to judge the living and the dead. The first book is a record of everything that each person does while in this life. The second book is called the Book of Life. The Bible says that anyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life, “he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Now we know that God doesn’t need to have books either to record deeds or to know whose name is in the Book of Life. God is all knowing, the term is omniscient. He knows all things and He knows who His children are. Many Christians have been told that they don’t need to worry about the first book, the book of deeds or works. But it is of crucial importance to all of us! The Bible says a great deal about works. Jesus told disciples to store up treasures in heaven. Of course, Christians’ names are recorded in the Book of Life. That is, all those who have received God’s gift of professing faith in Christ alone have had their names recorded by God in His Book of Life. God will execute perfect justice. Therefore, there will be levels of reward and punishment.

First, Jesus will return and “settle accounts”. The servants were brought to give an account of their lives. Two of the servants in the parable heard Jesus’ comforting and encouraging words. One heard only judgment! Likewise, each person will give an account to Jesus.

Second, the letter of James expresses the reality of saving faith. The third servant had a faith that was dead. He did not have saving faith. The undeniable truth is that God’s gift of faith produces good works. One cannot be assured of heaven and produce nothing for the Kingdom!

At this point, you might be thinking that this pastor has “just gone to meddling”. After all you might say, “my faith is a private matter between me and God.” True but not true enough. Saving faith is expressed through investing in the work of the Kingdom. Without any such investment, there is only judgment. I didn’t say it, Jesus did. “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest… Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 25:26-30 ESV)

Notice that Jesus affirmed that the wicked servant knew the truth about Him. Yet knowing the truth did not motivate the man to invest what Jesus had given him. When the truth pierces a man or woman’s heart there is a necessary response. The Bible says that those who are in Christ are new creatures. God changes our desires. It’s not out of a sense of duty alone that we invest in the Kingdom. It is supremely out of a desire to love Jesus by serving His body, the church.

This desire to invest falls under the heading of stewardship. You have probably heard of Christian Stewardship when your pastor encouraged financial giving. But in Jesus’ teaching, stewardship represents the whole of life. Financial giving is only one aspect of stewardship. We are called to invest what God has given in the form of tithes, offerings, and all of our gifts and abilities given by Him. Investing ourselves like this is part of worship.

According to this parable and the whole counsel of the Bible, God owns everything and everyone. Those whom He calls and adopts as His children desire to invest all that He has given in the work of the Kingdom. It is a joy to do so. Jesus’ words to the two faithful servants not only confirmed their place in heaven, but also meant living in the joy of Jesus, the Master!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “God continues to turn my world upside down!”

“God continues to turn my world upside down!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“In the beginning God…” are the four words that continue to turn my world upside down. My hope is that they will do the same to you! These words are reality. Reality is that uncomfortable truth that hits you in the face like a brick wall. Some may think that reality is what you make of it or believe it to be. Try standing in front of a brick wall and imagining that its not there. Then try running as fast as you can in the belief (even strongly held) that you’ll just pass through that wall. The result is obvious. So too is the absolute and ultimate reality declared throughout the Bible.

Like that figurative wall, God’s words knock me off of my throne. The truth that God is the only eternal Being is central to the Christian Faith. In addition, the words of Genesis 1:1 declare reality to all mankind.

God’s words given to Moses declare there was a time when nothing existed; therefore, it follows that God made everything out of nothing! Nothing existed in the beginning except God Himself. By the sovereign command of God all Creation was made. The Creator changed me. He made me a new creation. His words tell me that I have no right to claim the throne of my life, to think that I am “in charge.”

In making me a new creation, He gave me new desires, specifically a new desire, a profound and deep desire for Him. The Great “I Am” is the only self-existent being. All things that exist proceed from Him. I am because He is. We know Him in Jesus who said, “Let Me tell you how to say Yahweh in Greek (I’m paraphrasing). It is Jesus.”

The confrontation began when God caused me to see that He alone has the right to claim ownership of me and sovereign control of my life. There is no other reasonable response that a creature (me) could make to the Creator. Since all existence proceeds from Him, “In Him we live and move and have our being”, Acts 17:28 ESV, the claim of an absolute self-determination is unachievable.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me re-phrase. Before there was anything there was God. He chose a time to make everything out of nothing. Opposed to this is the view of eternal matter. A once great philosopher of the 20th Century, Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos is all there ever was or will be.” Acceptance of this view, in my opinion, requires a blind leap of faith into the dark rather than a step into the light.

King David said it best, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1, ESV

In light of God’s confrontation of Man’s idea of an autonomous, self-directed control over life, the question must be asked. How do you respond to the reality that you’re not in control?

Critics say that this view of reality is demeaning and renders men and women to be pawns. But just the opposite is true. Understanding that you’re not God and He is leads you to the profound realization that He has condescended to reach down and bless man above all creatures. David wrote in Psalm 8:5 about man, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” This supremely points to Jesus Christ, but is significant for the entire human race.

You are free to ignore this reality. But, for the sake of repetition, it would be like ignoring the wall I mentioned in my introduction. So then, “How do you respond to the truth that you’re a creature made by the Sovereign Creator?

If you’ve gotten this far, I believe that another question has arisen in your mind. And, this is a necessary question: “If God has sovereign, supreme authority and control, why am I responsible for my actions?” An honest question deserves an honest answer. Let me suggest a beginning in answering this question. A biblical principle, one grounded in logic is that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not contradictory. All men are responsible for what they do, there is no exception. Yet, God is sovereign over every action. Each statement is independent of the other.

You are responsible to examine your life in light of God’s sovereignty!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Imago Dei” (The Image of God)

“Imago Dei” (The Image of God)
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The world tells us that our value as human beings is based upon our current or potential contribution to society. There are ethicists who teach that human life has no more intrinsic value than plants and animals! I hope that this shocks you. It should. I suggest that human life has been given a unique value by the Creator. Genesis 1:26a, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

At this point, I think that I’ve probably lost all the atheists. The fact is: there is a God. His existence is undeniable. He has made His divine attributes known by all that He has made, Romans 1:19-20. The Bible says that there is no other reasonable explanation for the world around us.

But this article is not about the existence of God, directly. Yet, His existence is the basis for the sanctity of human life. The sacredness of human life proceeds out of being made in God’s image. No other creature has been given such a distinction. Because of this, man is accountable to God. We have been set apart by God. We are made in God’s image. One of my favorite Psalms declares, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4

The sense of the words of Scripture, Gen. 1:26, that declare men and women are made in God’s image are likened to objects viewed in a mirror. We are a reflection of God. Distortions of this idea have been offered over the years. Joseph Smith wrote that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” Another famous or infamous personality teaches that God is actually a man who is six feet, two inches tall. He even goes on to describe God’s arm length.

I believe that grounding ourselves in the truth is the best defense against such false teaching. In other words, know the truth in order to recognize error. So then, what is the truth of being made in God’s image? It cannot mean that mankind looks like God in a physical sense, as those referenced above teach. God made us male and female! Both men and women bear God’s image. All reasonable people admit that men and women are not the same.

Bearing God’s image means to have some of the attributes of God. Attributes are simply characteristics that define a being. Now I used the word “some” to qualify the attributes of God that we bear. We are not God! No man is immortal. No man is self-existent. No man can make the claim that he had no beginning. Yet, all men are able to: reason, think, and have limited knowledge. All men have a sense of right and wrong.

In bearing these characteristics, we are faced with our limitations. For example, we don’t know everything, in spite of thinking we might. We don’t always do what is right in spite of having the moral law written on our hearts. The Bible says that every intention of the thoughts men’s hearts are only evil continually, Genesis 6:5.

Yet man’s sinfulness does not eliminate man’s dignity. God made man in His image, male and female He made them as recorded in Genesis Chapter One. Two Chapters later, the Bible records the Fall of Adam and the Woman. As a result, all of those attributes were marred by the Fall. We all still have the God-given attributes and we also have an inherited sin nature. Adam is referred to as the head of the Human Race, Romans 5:12ff. Along with the dignity of being human comes the responsibility for our actions.

Having said all this, the fact that we are sinners does not remove the dignity which God conveyed by making Man in His image. It also does not reduce our responsibility to exercise good management of His Creation.

Human Life is sacred because God made it so. Remember no man can change what God ordained. You have dignity and value because the sovereign God made you in His image. The sacredness of all human life extends from conception to the grave. God said it; that settles it!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Get Out of Your Head!”

“Get Out of Your Head!”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The radio in my car blasted this advertisement spoken, I’m sure, in sincerity. The man said, “Get out of your head and into your heart.” My quote may not be exactly right. But, get out of your head and into your heart was the sentiment. The ad concerned how a man “found God.” He said that he spent a great deal of time being confused by the abundance of Bible translations and thereby questioned the veracity of the Bible. After all, with so many different translations, how can anyone rely upon the Bible? It wasn’t until he stopped thinking that he was able to follow his heart to God.

Now, I can’t determine if this man knows God. No one, but God, knows who belongs to Him. Yet, it is very likely that this man did not find the one true God in his heart! Many people construct a God of their own liking. They delude themselves into thinking that they have met God, when all that they have met is themselves.

The fact is: getting out of one’s mind and into one’s heart will only lead to darkness! The heart in the Bible means the center of one’s will. It is that human faculty which motivates action. When the word heart is used it includes our will, emotions, thoughts, etc.

In our time, the word heart almost exclusively means our feelings proceeding from our emotions. In Psalm 34, David described the wicked person. He used the word heart in his description. “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Psalm 34:1 In other words, sinners depend upon what’s in their heart. As a result, there is no fear of God. David continued by saying that this person “flatters himself in his own eyes…” Psalm 34:2a

The man who made this advertisement is not unique. This sentiment has infected the church. People are attracted to churches by appealing to their feelings. One famous word-faith cult leader, Joel Osteen, gives very positive and motivational talks. He claims that God wants to make a better you. That may give a sense of euphoria, but it smells like smoke and is from the pit of hell! The truth is, God does not make anyone a better you! God makes one different. “Truly, truly, I (Jesus) say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 And, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2Corinthians 5:17

Propositional truth has fallen on hard times in most churches. The revealed truth of God is that He enters the mind and changes the heart (the seat of our will). “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

God engages our minds in His word. True, by the providence of God we are blessed with many English translations. All good translations are based on the original Scriptures. The original Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Aramaic – the Old Testament and Greek – the New Testament. The original autographs, that is the actual writing of the human authors are non-existent. Yet, we have copies. For the Old Testament, we have the Masoretic text, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament made by around 250 B.C. For the New Testament, we have thousands of Greek manuscripts, copies of the originals, as well as the Ancient Latin Translation. By a process called textual criticism, scholars fluent in the original languages have reconstructed the original text. As a result, we can rely upon our English translation’s accuracy. When you open your Bible, and read it you are hearing God speak. It is the written word of God that testifies to the revealed truth of God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” 2Timothy 3:16. Jesus said that “Man shall not live by bead alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 (Deuteronomy 8:3) Further, it is the Bible that declares that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John 1:14.

Christian, don’t check your mind at the door. Engage your mind in the truth.