Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Devotion Produces Duty!”

“Devotion Produces Duty!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Duty implies an obligation and devotion represents desire. They are separately defined but connected. Both duty and devotion are considered to be virtues. I suggest that their connection is critical for those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I believe that the relationship between the two is God’s design for His people. Jesus didn’t come to save His people and place them in another form of bondage. He came to set His people free. God sets His people free from the bondage of sin to be free to live for Him, Romans 6:11. I believe that the connection between duty and devotion is made clear by the Bible’s description of one who belongs to God. The psalmist wrote, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you,” Psalm 73:25. And the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Philippian Church, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” Philippians 3:8.

God’s command to those who are His to: hear, understand and obey Him cannot be ignored. God requires obedience which is our duty, but mere obedience is not enough. Therefore, God changes the heart of a sinner to make him a saint. He gives the sinner a desire for Him.

Growth in the Christian Life is manifested by moving from the duty to obey God to a profound desire for Him which motivates our obedience.

Jesus was asked to define the “great commandment in the Law,” Matthew 22:37. He referred to Deuteronomy 6:5. God’s command is clear, “love” God! In His command, we come face to face with the connection between duty and devotion. We are obligated to love God. However, Love is a choice we make that is based upon a desire. Before God’s absolute obligation can be met, there must be a desire to carry out His obligation to love Him.

There is a problem rooted in our human nature. The Bible says that men are not born with a desire to love God. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that the natural man is an enemy of God. God must change a sinner and give him the desire to love Him.

The words that God caused the human authors to use for love are critical for understanding. The New Testament word in Matthew 22:37 has at its heart the idea of sacrifice. It is referred to as sacrificial love. In Deuteronomy 6:5, the word for love conveys the meaning of total devotion. God’s command written by Moses called God’s people to a total devotion, to submit to Him and to demonstrate their devotion by a holy life.

Duty is not enough to satisfy God’s command. There must be a desire by which duty is produced. God gives that desire. Jesus said that one must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God, John 3:3. As regeneration precedes faith; so too desire precedes duty. God changes the heart and gives the desire to obey Him. This desire motivates the believer to obedience.

All Man’s actions are dictated by desire. The same is true for Christians. The difference between Christians and non-Christians is God’s grace in changing our desires when He makes us new creations. We as Christians have a desire to love God with our whole heart, soul, and strength because He gave it to us. When we don’t desire God, the Holy Spirit convicts us to confess our sins to Him. God promised believers, “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”, 1John 1:9. The ground of God’s forgiveness is the atoning sacrifice of Christ, 1John 2:2. Only Jesus appeased the wrath of the holy God.

To summarize, Jesus said knowing the truth sets one free, John 8:32. Knowing Jesus is freedom. God has set His people free from the bondage of sin through Jesus Christ. We have been freed from sin and given a desire for God.

The world views Christianity as either moralistic, legalistic, or fantasy. It is none of those. The Christian faith is freedom. Yet this freedom is not license to sin. One who has received the saving grace of God responds by loving God, therefore, living for Him.

God loved you first and gave you the desire to obey Him unless you don’t belong to Him.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Woe forCalling Evil Good, Culture in Decline”

“Woe for calling evil good, Culture in Decline”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
You don’t often see “woe” used in an article. It’s a word that has fallen out of usage in our day. But it’s a word that ought to be understood and taken seriously. Woe is used in Scripture to convey a dire warning. It usually precedes God’s judgment. Isaiah Chapter 5 has led me to reflect on some current issues. Isaiah 5:20, “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!” God was issuing a warning to His people for their abusive and oppressive behavior towards their brothers. More specifically, God was directing His “woe” against the leaders of His people. There are six woes’ in Isaiah 5. Taken together, we could call this situation, “Living without a moral compass.”

Isaiah comprehensively covered God’s judgment and salvation. Chapter 5 was addressed to God’s “vineyard”, His chosen people, Israel, more specifically, Judah. By direct implication, this declaration is for the Church. God sought justice and righteousness within His people and found none! God’s indictment was directed to “those who were wise in their own eyes,” Isaiah 5:21.

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

We also have God’s promise to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, those whom He has called, Romans 8:28.

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

Therefore, there is a necessity for all societies to have and maintain a moral compass. A moral compass is simply a clear understanding of right and wrong. God made man in His image. All men have a sense of what is right because God put it within all of us.

Because of the Fall of Adam, all men inherit Adam’s sin and are born with a sin nature. Even though we all know what is right, we suppress the truth. Within our culture, we often have a difficult time in discerning “the good”.

Our Western Culture has been led down a destructive path, the path of moral relativism. “What’s right for you may not be right for me” is the opinion of many. Our culture calls things that are evil good and vice versa. We no longer use words such as sin and evil. Sickness and dysfunction are the politically correct replacements. Evil is reserved for those senseless acts of violence committed by crazed killers who murder school children or Islamic terrorists. We have placed issues of human life in a confusing ethic. Men have usurped God’s authority in deciding when to end human life, from the womb to the tomb. When horrible events occur, like the recent school shootings in Florida, our leaders look to legislation. Even with more laws, our culture continues to spiral downward.

I write this as a man who believes the Risen Lord Jesus. I am accountable to God to declare the truth and live under His word. I dare not bless what God curses! I dare not remain silent when evil is called good. There is a dear price to pay when culture stops teaching by life and example that there is an absolute standard of good. God and His word is that standard and we have effectively removed both from the public sphere.

“For evil to succeed all that is necessary is for good men to be silent.” I am not good in the sight of God. I am a sinner. God alone is good, Luke 18:19! Sin and evildoers will be with us until Christ returns. Yet, God has given all of us a moral compass. Everything is not relative. May we continue to live in this great culture teaching right and wrong to our children. May we all acknowledge that good morals are grounded in a good God who is the absolute standard.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Christian Sabbath”

The Christian Sabbath
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. Christians set apart (keep holy) the first day of the week because Christians live in response to God’s grace. Therefore, Christians live under God’s word. The fourth commandment is central to all who call upon the name of the Lord! We who are of the household of God worship Him because He sought each of us to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

I wrote an article in 2012 which asked Christians a question. The question was, “Why go to Church?” The question was directed to those who have been born again by the Spirit of God. God’s word reveals His order of salvation by declaring: His effectual call; His act of regeneration; His conversion; His justification; His adoption; His sanctification; and His glorification. This represents God’s logical order of salvation. (CF: Romans 8:29-30)

Note that man’s will is not part of this logical order. Every action is God’s alone. Even the work of God’s free grace that is called sanctification is God working on the inside of the one who has been justified.

One of the primary evidences of God’s work of free grace in sanctification is that person’s desire to worship Him. Therefore, my question from 2012 remains, but slightly re-phrased. “Christian, why do you go to Church?” God makes Christians demonstrated by God’s order of salvation above. The Apostle Paul defined a Christian as one who is “in Christ.” Those who are “in Christ” are made “new creations”, 2Corinthians 5:17.

Christians, those made “new creations” don’t simply go to church. Christians are the church. The visible church, the one we see, is defined as those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and their children. Yet, there is a divine mandate for each member of the body of Christ to gather together to worship Him. Note the key verb in my previous sentence. Christians gather on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, to WORSHIP Him!

This is truly the heart of the matter. God made every one for worship. Men and woman will worship someone or something. Worship means to bow down to and serve the object of worship. The object of our worship is God. For Christians, there is only one reason to gather on Sunday. It is to worship God!

The worship manual of the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church, the book of Psalms gives the answer to my question. 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.

God commanded corporate worship. But, it is more than a command. Worship is the primary desire of a Christian. The command and desire to worship carries blessings to the believer. God speaks to us in worship as we read His word and preach it. God meets us in our need as we confess our sins to Him and pray to Him. God continues to change us from the inside out to be more like Christ as we worship Him.

I believe every Christian should ask himself this question, “Why do you go to Church?” The answers heard most often are: “I’m looking for a place where I’m fed (meaning to be satisfied).” Or, “I’m looking for a place where my children are offered ‘relevant’ programs.” Or, “I’m looking for a place for my age group so that I have something in common with most of the people.” Or, a favorite one, “I’m looking for a place that has a praise band that plays uplifting music.” These responses have something in common. They are all man-centered. Without realizing it, they say, “I go to church to meet my felt needs.” We like to “feel” good about ourselves. God-centered worship is convicting. It is not comfortable to meet the God who is Holy, holy, holy, Isaiah 6:3

I urge you to ask yourself the “Church” question and get ready for God’s conviction!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Repentance unto Life”

“Repentance unto Life!”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation… If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us (Peter and the Jews) when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I (Peter) that I could stand in God’s way? When they (the Jews) heard this they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”‘
2Cor. 7:10; Acts 11:17-18

Repentance is a change of mind that includes much more than thinking in a different way. It causes us to change every aspect of our lives informed by our minds. The penitent one changes the way he thinks and makes decisions. His motivations to serve himself are changed. An essential doctrine of the Christian Faith is that genuine repentance means to turn away from sin.

Further, repentance that leads to salvation is always coupled in the Bible with faith. Here’s why. Repentance is to turn away from and faith is to turn to. The Apostle Paul said that Christians are to count themselves dead to sin (turning from) and alive to God in Christ Jesus (turning to), Romans 6:11.

If genuine repentance leads to salvation then it is reasonable to ask, “Why doesn’t everyone repent”, or at least all those that hear this truth? The obvious answer is that some choose not to repent. But this answer only raises another question. Why do some choose to repent and others not?

This same question could be asked of believing. Why do some choose to believe and others not? The Bible answers both questions the same. Repentance and faith are gifts from God!

When the Jews in Jerusalem who had believed heard Peter’s testimony concerning Gentile believers, they said, “… God has granted repentance that leads to life”.

I have gone to this depth at the risk of repetition in order to emphasize the biblical answer to why some repent and believe. As stated above, the answer is: both repentance and faith (believing) are gifts from God. They are given to those whom God converts from a sinner to a saint. They are given and received at conversion.

Just as saving faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement and trust. Repentance also has three parts: acknowledgment of sin, sorrow over sin and finally turning from sin. When we believe, we look to a certain body of information, i.e. the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. Also, we agree or assent to the truth of that body of information. Finally, saving faith requires trust. That is, we rely upon the truth of what we know and affirm, Hebrews 11, living our lives by this faith.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer #87 defines Repentance unto life. It “is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

The Catechism’s definition includes: the acknowledgement of sin, godly sorrow over it, and finally a turning from sin.

There is a moment in time, appointed by God when He calls and regenerates a sinner converting him and giving him the gifts of repentance and faith. From that moment the Christian strives to live penitentially and faithfully.

God’s promise of heaven is for everyone who repents of his sin and believes in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel! Further, on the believer’s way home to heaven, the Spirit of God continues to sanctify him. The Holy Spirit works in the believer prompting a life of faith and repentance. Drawing from a line in an Indiana Jones movie… only the penitent may pass (survive).

By God’s grace and mercy alone, He gives the gifts of repentance and faith without which there is no good news. As we come face to face with our own sinfulness, being grieved by it and committing to turn from it, God causes light to shine in our hearts to see the beauty of Christ and run to Him. I can’t emphasize this truth enough. The gifts of repentance and faith are received in a moment in time and they continue to be expressed throughout life. They truly are the gifts that keep on giving and it’s all by God’s grace!