Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Distractions”

“Distractions”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel…Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Mark 1:15, 38

The urgency to preach the gospel should be foremost in every church that professes Christ as her head! Yet, it seems that the evangelical church continues to be distracted by cultural circumstances. Church leaders continue to “take up” the latest social issues, like gender equality, women’s roles, or racial reconciliation rather than the fundamental problem of mankind, which is sin!

Surely, social injustices were present when Jesus began His public ministry. What did Jesus, the God-Man, do in the face of social injustices? He preached a clear message. He said, “Repent and believe in the gospel! Both verbs are in the imperative mood and present tense. The imperative is the mood of command. The present tense describes current and on-going action. Therefore, both repenting and believing are current on-going actions commanded by God.

Jesus gave two reasons for obeying His dual command. The first was the “time is fulfilled.” The second, “the kingdom of God is at hand”.

The first referenced Daniel’s prophecy, Daniel 9:25. The Apostle Paul confirmed its fulfillment, Galatians 4:4. The time of fulfillment for the Messiah’s arrival on earth was set by God in eternity. Further, Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2a in the synagogue, see Luke 4:18-21. He was the one Isaiah prophesied would inaugurate the “year of the Lord’s favor”. Jesus’ coming began the time for salvation which will continue until He returns in judgment. Likewise, the Apostle Peter boldly told the religious leaders,” there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12.

The second reason given by Jesus in Mark 1:15 was the rule of God was at hand. Jesus the King and Lord, the one who rules all things, was physically in the midst of His hearers. The King who rules all men and has absolute authority, Matthew 28:18. He commands repentance and faith!

Repentance and faith go hand-in-hand. Repentance is a change of mind, a turning away from sin. Faith is trust in the object who is Jesus. When God converts a sinner into a saint He gives two gifts. One is repentance. The second is faith. Those converted turn away from sin and turn to Jesus. Paul explained the action of a converted sinner in Romans 6:11. “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Both God-given gifts continue throughout every Christian’s life. We live repenting and believing, turning from our sin and relying upon the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Jesus was very specific in His command. He commanded believing in the gospel. Christians believe in the gospel. Why? The answer is simple and clear. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16b.

I’m sure that you’ve heard that the word “gospel” means good news. So, what’s the good news? It is, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” 1Corinthians 15:3-4. This is truly good news because we all deserve to go to hell. But, God who is “rich in mercy”, Ephesians 2:4, chose some for heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus as He is offered in the gospel! That is relying upon the only begotten one, Jesus, not born but eternally proceeding from the Father. Those destined for heaven rely upon Jesus’ perfect life and His perfect sacrifice for sins. This reliance is not by our strength and power. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The gospel is good news because God applies it to those whom He has chosen.

Therefore, he who has ears to hear the Savior’s command, repent and believe in the gospel! “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8 The only solution given by God to all of man’s problems is the gospel. I pray that the church not be distracted. But, by God’s grace and His power proclaim the gospel!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The God-Man”

“The God-Man”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Years ago, I remember sitting in our family room watching a so-called Christian Television Program. The star of the show announced one of his future crusades by calling people to come “expecting a miracle”. The dictionary defines a miracle as a supernatural event.

Naturally, my interest was heightened by such an announcement. Contrary to this showman’s prideful claim, there is a miracle that surpasses all miracles revealed in the Bible. Our lives rest upon the genuineness of this miracle. The miracle to which I refer is the Incarnation. The meaning of Incarnation is God in the flesh. The Second Person of the Trinity is fully God and fully Man.

The Prophet Isaiah predicted this miracle. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 God’s promise was fulfilled in 4 B.C. with the birth of Jesus. Matthew wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:23

The Incarnation was so important that God spoke through His prophets throughout the Old Testament declaring the absolute necessity of the God – Man. It is a miracle that we simply cannot adequately understand, but we receive it as the absolute truth because God said it. Our hope of eternal life is real because the miracle of Jesus’ conception was real. Jesus was conceived out of the natural course, without sin.

The Apostle Paul took the opportunity of rivalry and disunity in the church to declare both the explicit and implicit meaning of the Incarnation. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

The first explicit revelation is that the Incarnation is the ultimate definition of humility. God, the Creator of all, condescended to lower Himself and take upon Himself human nature. God came to earth as a man. All the while, He remained divine. He voluntarily set aside His glory. No analogy is adequate to describe Jesus’ humiliation in the Incarnation and His crucifixion.

Further, Paul wrote that Jesus was born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, Galatians 4:4. Jesus was fully man, but a man without sin! Jesus was born without sin because He was born out of the natural course. He was miraculously born of Mary who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because of Jesus’ humility in fully submitting to the Law in obedience to God the Father even unto death upon a cross those who are in Christ are accepted by God because of His blood and righteousness. Apart from Jesus’ Incarnation we would never be able to have a relationship with God. The Incarnation led to the satisfaction of the Law’s demands! Because of His perfect sacrifice payment for our sins has been made.

Second, Paul also wrote of Jesus’ exaltation. Because of His perfect obedience to His Father, even to death on a cross, God gave Him the name that is above every name. That name is Lord. The Father gave Jesus to be the Master of all that exists. Jesus said, “all authority in heaven and on earth” was given to Him, Matthew 28:18.

In summation, Paul wrote of God’s purpose in the Incarnation. Everything about the Incarnation is for the glory of God, the Father! The entirety of God’s plan of redemption is for His glory!

The Incarnation also has an implicit affect. The implication of the Incarnation, God with us is that those who are in Christ are joint heirs of heaven with Him. The God-Man, the sinless One, offered in the gospel, is man’s only hope.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Do I have free will?”

Do I 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 controlled by obligation.

Substituting the meanings of the words, the question can be rephrased. “Do I have an unencumbered mental faculty by which I am able to make choices?” Every person answering this question will respond in accordance with his own personal opinion.

Therefore, since there are likely as many opinions as there are people asked, 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. My starting place is the Garden of Eden. 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 declared that man’s will is in bondage; it is not unencumbered! Yes , I do what I 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 I or you 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!

How have you answered the question?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Facing the Truth”

“Facing the Truth”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Roman Governor of Jerusalem asked Jesus the most profound question of all time and didn’t realize it! Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”, John 18:38. In Pilate’s mind, truth was secondary. He believed that the most important thing was power, revealed by his further conversation with Jesus. Pilate declared his authority over Jesus, so he thought, and Jesus responded with the truth. “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above…” John 19:11. Ironically, Pilate’s question foreshadowed our age.

Observers of Culture have called our time in the west the Post Modern Era. Simply stated, this era subverts the importance of truth as Pilate did. In the Post Modern’s mind, there is no such thing as absolute truth. One of the symptoms is reflected in our culture by what is called spirituality. We see it in movies and television. There are popular dramas centered in the world beyond this one. Talk shows on T.V. have segments to discuss the importance of having some kind of spiritual connectedness. People seem to be on never-ending quests to experience the latest spiritual guru’s method for attaining a deep spiritual fulfillment. You may have heard someone say, “It’s all about the journey.”

The obvious problem with this philosophy is that the “journey” may indeed end in destruction.

Opposed to this is what is called truth. The simple definition is: truth is reality. The Bible teaches that men naturally suppress the truth. We like to press reality down so as to seek to live above it or ignore it. A friend of mine once said that denial is not only a river in Egypt. We can deny or suppress the truth all we want. But we must live in and face reality.

Every time we look around, we see men and women telling us that truth is relative. What’s true for you may or may not be true for me. Those who see reality are referred to as simple-minded or bigots. Their charge against those of us who recognize absolute truth is: “Who made you the purveyor of truth?” The political world is filled with such charges. There are those whose sole effort it seems is to “make numbers” say whatever is expedient. We have poll numbers, jobless numbers, etc. that are designed to support one position over and against another.

The reality of truth has also fallen on hard times in the church. Some church leaders in the United States have downplayed the truth and conformed to culture. They claim to teach that Christianity is all about relationships. Truth, sound doctrine, is contrary to what they call love. They claim that doctrine is of little value. They teach that the church’s mission is to meet “felt needs”, to offer courses on how to have a better marriage or how to live as a single or divorced person, and to attract people through entertainment.

Meeting “felt needs”, offering programs, or entertaining worship do not represent the mission of the church. The truth is one’s relationship with the Jesus of the Bible is the fundamental reality of life. Having a relationship with the biblical Jesus is what matters. There is only one true Savior. He said that He is the way, and the truth, and the life, John 14:6. He is the Jesus of the Bible. Dare I say that He is not simply known in the eye of the beholder? He is the reality of life!

The church is to teach what is in accordance with sound doctrine, that is, the truth. Teaching the truth enables believers to apply God’s word facing reality in every circumstance of life. In so doing, believers will be equipped to make a difference in the world for the glory of God.

Let me be bold and say very simply and clearly that truth is reality. Truth matters since it is what is real. God has revealed the truth in His word and fully in the Person and Work of Jesus. He is the only Son of God, not born, but eternally proceeding from the Father. He is the Jesus offered in the gospel. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. All life is by Him, in Him and, for Him. Every relationship is designed by God to find meaning as a result of knowing the Truth, Jesus. He alone enables us to face the truth!