Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Substance of Hope”

“The Substance of Hope”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
204 S. Main St. Weatherford
The psalmist asked himself a question that many have asked. He received God’s answer. His question was, “Why am I depressed?” God’s answer was because he had no hope! Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” ESV

What is this thing called hope? And, why is it so important for men and women? Hope can be defined as an eager expectation of fulfillment of a future blessing. When people hope they are expressing trust in or reliance upon the one whom they believe will bring fulfillment. The definition of hope expresses our need to have it. Without hope, we wander aimlessly in life and are tossed around by every one of its circumstances. When we see no future, we naturally get depressed.

There are many kinds of hope. For example, I have an ongoing hope that my fellow citizens will realize that hope placed in a person always leads to disappointment. No long ago, the man who promised “hope and change” brought disaster in the form of a change that none of us wanted.

Likewise, there is an endless array of temporal hopes. My hope of an observant electorate may not come to pass. Yet, knowing that this hope is temporal, for the immediate future, my life will remain positive because I have a much different hope, an eternal hope, one that has substance and certainty.

What is eternal hope or more correctly stated ultimate hope? Thinking men and women know that there is more to life than what we see. This is not all there is, answering an old ballad. And as there is more to life than this world, there is a greater hope than our political, economic, or personal relationships can offer. It transcends this world and is far above and apart from it.

Ultimate hope is transcendent. No man can give it. In fact, we can’t even give it to ourselves. Only the transcendent being, God can give ultimate hope. The transcendent God, the one who spoke and created everything out of nothing said that ultimate hope is eternal glory. The Apostle Paul writing God’s words said “the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed to His saints” is ultimate hope. He wrote this clear description. Ultimate hope is “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27

It follows that God’s revelation of hope raises at least two questions. The first is easy to understand. Who gives ultimate hope? Clearly, God gives ultimate hope. The second is perhaps easy to see but strikes at the heart of man’s ability. To whom does God give ultimate hope? The former passage declares that ultimate hope is given by God to “His saints.” Now, we are led to understand what God meant by the word “saints”. Who are saints?

At this point, clarity is essential. Saints are not those who have departed this life and have been determined by some religious body to be holy people. Saints are those who have been set apart by God. Saints in the Bible are those whom God has chosen to be His.

A plain reading of Scripture allows us to see that God chose: a man, Genesis 12; a nation, Deuteronomy 7; and both Jews and Gentiles, Galatians 3. The fact of God’s choosing individuals to be His saints is declared by Apostles Paul and Peter, Romans 9-11 and 1Peter 2.

I’ve often asked myself why something so clear can be so confusing to some. The only answer that I can reasonably offer is that we don’t like to think that God must choose us. We like to think that He needs our help in selecting the “right” people. In this, though, it is only critical for us to know what God thinks and has told us.

The Bible’s clarity on this issue of ultimate hope and its recipients is the greatest comfort and assurance any man or woman can have. Since God gives it no man can take it from you. Much more needs to be said concerning God’s gift of eternal hope and will be said in future articles. But for this article I want to leave all who read it with this: God gives ultimate hope, which is eternal glory, to those whom He chose in Christ.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Confrontation”

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

Over the years, I’ve met some people who thrive on confrontation. Normally, most of us would rather avoid confrontation. Confrontation challenges us. It may cause great distress. We might even find ourselves being manipulated by the one confronting us. Regardless, whether you thrive on confrontation or try to avoid it, it is part of living in this world.

You may not have thought of the beginning of the Bible in terms of confrontation. But, “In the beginning God…” represents the greatest confrontation of our lives. I’m not using exaggeration. These first words of Scripture turned my world upside down. They reveal the truth or, if you prefer, reality. Reality is unavoidable. Reality is not what you make it or believe it to be. Reality (truth) is absolute.

Genesis 1:1 declares that there was a time nothing existed except God; therefore, we are confronted with the reality that God made everything out of nothing! He spoke and by the word of His command heaven and earth were created. This God changed me. He made me a new creation. His words told me that I had no right to claim the throne of my life, to think that I was “in charge.” Neither I nor you are the center of life. God is!

As God’s 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 from Whom all things exist. I am because He is. We know Him in Jesus who said, “Let Me tell you how to say Yahweh, “I Am”, in Greek (I’m paraphrasing). It is Jesus.” (read the “I Am” sayings in John’s Gospel).

The confrontation came when I realized that He alone had the right to claim ownership of me and sovereign control of my life. There was 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. The claim of an absolute self-determination is unachievable, beyond any man’s ability.

Let me re-phrase God’s revealed truth. 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 renowned philosopher of the 21st Century said, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” His point was that the Universe is eternal. Acceptance of this view 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. Creation had a beginning and will have an end in re-creation, Revelation 21. The biblical world view is centered in the only Eternal One who is the Triune God! He confronts all of us with this reality.

In light of God’s confrontation of Man’s desire for an autonomous control over his life, the question must be asked. “How do you or have you responded to the reality that you’re not in control?”

The critic might 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 brings 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 not without consequences. “We must all 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.” 2Corinthians 5:10

I pray that you meet God’s confrontation head-on. May the realization that we are creatures made by a God who is holy, sovereign and just cause you to see that you are accountable to Him. He requires perfection. Our only hope is to trust in the Son of God, the God-Man Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life and He offered the only perfect sacrifice for sins. Jesus said His followers know the truth and are set free, CF: John 8:31-32.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Why go to church? (A need for self-examination)

Why go to church?
(A need for self-examination)
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
It’s been six years since I wrote an article exploring the common answers to “Why go to church?” Of course, this question is directed to all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The answers I’ve heard are: I go to church because: God commands it; or, I want to worship with the people of God; or, I want to be fed. Another answer offered is, “I go to church because it is makes me feel good and there are programs for my children in which they can socialize with their friends.”

We know that God has made us for worship and that when He makes a Christian, He gives a desire to worship Him.

This question is directed to those who claim to be in Christ, those who are saved so that we all might be aided in self-examination. A review of salvation is necessary. God has revealed His order of salvation.

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 meant by being born again, John 3. The result of regeneration is Conversion. God converts a sinner into a saint. In doing so, He gives two gifts. One is the gift of faith and the second is the gift of repentance. Both 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 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. 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.

Returning to the question, a Christian is one whom God has saved. God’s order of salvation revealed in Scripture, detailed above, is: God’s Effectual Call, Regeneration, Conversion, Justification, Adoption, Sanctification and Glorification. Each step along the way is by God’s action. In other words, a Christian is one who has been saved, is being saved and will be saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Christians, those made “new creations”, don’t go to church. Christians are the church with Christ as the Head. The visible church, the one we see, is defined as those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and their children. A more accurate question is “why should I attend corporate worship?”

Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. God made everyone 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.

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 has commanded worship. A believer understands that corporate worship is a duty that grows into a desire! Has God filled your heart with a desire to worship Him with other believers because of who God is and what He has done? Is worshiping Him your highest priority?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Joy of Investment”

“The Joy of Investment”
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, “Repentance”

Repentance
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.

Now concerning repentance, the Bible teaches that the sinner acknowledges his sin which leads to a godly sorrow for it. But even these two are not adequate for true repentance. There must necessarily follow a turning away 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 penitently and faithfully.

God’s promise of heaven is for everyone who is in Christ. Those who are in Christ repent of sin and believe 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 those in Christ. 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 in and through Jesus Christ alone, He gives the gifts of repentance and faith. If you do not know God in Jesus Christ, I appeal to you to run to Him! There are no prerequisites for coming to Christ. I urge you to go to Jesus, the only Son of God. As we come face to face with our own sinfulness, being grieved by it and committing to turn from it, God causes a light to shine in our hearts to see the beauty of Christ and rely upon Him. I can’t emphasize this truth enough. Repentance and faith are gifts from God received at conversion and they are expressed throughout life. They truly are the gifts that keep on giving and it’s all by God’s grace. Run to Christ!