Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Resolutions”

“Resolutions”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
This is the time of the year when we look back and look ahead. We look back over the year that is coming to a close and remember all those blessings. There are special blessings from God that have lifted our spirits and there have been challenges and even times of grieving that caused me to examine my life in Christ.

We look ahead to the New Year and make commitments to set goals and objectives in life. We’ve been told that if we don’t set goals, we’re assured of not meeting any! We set career goals and personal goals that concern our lifestyle and financial security. Yet, rarely do Christians think in terms of ultimate goals, goals that witness their position before God in Christ. Goals that testify to an eternal perspective.

I know that through all of the challenges and blessings God continues to change me and grow me up in Christ and I give Him thanks for it. Every year, my main resolution is the same. I resolve to persevere looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, Hebrews 12:2. My ultimate goal, my resolution is that my entire life be used to glorify God and lift high the Name of Jesus.

This resolution is not unique to me. It is certain for everyone who is in Christ. It’s a resolution motivated by God in the heart of a believer. Using a theological term, this resolution is called sanctification. Sanctification is God’s work of free grace to make one whom He has justified more like Christ. This work of God is not optional. God will change everyone who is in Christ from the inside to make him holy. Holiness, sanctification, is God’s work to progressively make the one in Christ more and more like Him.

Those in Christ are chosen by God! “… He (God the Father) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Ephesians 1:4 Notice that God the Father acted by choosing men and women before He laid the foundation of the world. He chose them to be in Christ. This is all by the sovereign will and action of God. This truth revealed by God is called Unconditional Election.

So then, those who are in Christ are there solely by the grace of God, Ephesians 2:8-9. God makes Christians! It is necessary to be clear on what it means to be a Christian. A genuine Christian is a sinner chosen by God to be holy in Christ. God does this through the gospel. The gospel is God’s power to save, Romans 1:16. God raises a dead sinner to life and through God’s gift of faith the sinner places his trust in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel.

Salvation doesn’t end there. The ultimate resolution that will be kept is that Christians will be made holy. The Bible makes this statement, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.” 2Timothy 2:13 Further, God has said, “… He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

God’s will for those who are in Christ is holiness, 1Thessalonians 4:3. God will complete what He starts but those who are in Christ are not robots. Christians are exhorted to work out their salvation because God is at work in them, Philippians 2:12-13. I have been made a Christian by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He causes me to pursue holiness. I have assurance that I am in Christ by my desire to obey Him. God confirms that I belong to Him by His Spirit speaking to my spirit, Romans 8:16.

It is a tremendous joy to know that you belong to God. He accepts us as we are and loves us so much that He will not let us stay that way. He causes His children to both make the resolution to pursue holiness and keep it. The Bible teaches that we will not be perfect this side of heaven. But, when we leave this life and enter the next, we will be absolutely pure, perfect and our holiness will be brought to completion.

May you by God’s grace make the resolution to pursue holiness this year and all that follows knowing that God is working in you!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Christian and the Culture”

“The Christian and the Culture”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The time for Christians to think deeply about how they are to live in a culture that seems to be decaying before their eyes is more important now than in more recent times. This is not a new phenomenon. Over the centuries, recorded in Church History, many have considered this important issue, E.G. Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and others.

Books have been written outlining various Christian Lifestyles. There are generally five views that have been put forth by Christendom. There is the view that Christians are to live against the Culture. Secondly, some say that Christians should blend in with the Culture. Thirdly, others maintain that Christians are above the Culture. Fourthly, there is a view that Christians and the Culture are in paradox, contradicting realities. And, fifthly, Christians are to seek to transform the Culture.

To summarize, the question before those who profess Christ is: “Should Christians express what they know to be true or simply co-exist?”

In order to answer the question, believers appeal to Scripture.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first… If you were of the world, the world would love you; but because you are not of the world… therefore the world hates you, John 15:8, 9. Jesus also told His disciples that they were His witnesses, Luke 24:48. Jesus gave the church a command. He commanded the church to make disciples of all nations, Matthew 28:19.

The reality that every Christian must face is that living the Christian Life will offend the world. Yet, we are not to live in fear of the world. Jesus said that He is the only one to fear, Matthew 10:28. He said in the same narrative, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33

God’s revealed proposition is that the world’s system is opposed to Christ and by implication it is opposed to those who follow Christ. The Bible is clear in declaring that Christians are in the world but not of the world, John 17:14ff. God has said to His people, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

Believers are aware (or should be) that following Jesus is counter- cultural. Also, Jesus called His followers to be salt and light in the world, Matthew 5:13-16. We dare not hide what we know to be true or live in opposition to the truth of God’s word. Rather we are called to let our light shine… so that the world may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven, Matthew 5:16.

Peter’s first epistle provides a clear application for living the Christian Life. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1Peter 3:15

The Apostle Paul’s declaration to the Pastor Titus gives the church direction in standing for the truth of God. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Titus 2:11ff.

God has chosen to reach the lost through His people. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit’s work is to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, John 16:8.

The biblical way for Christians to live in this culture is to pursue holiness. God commands His people to be holy, Leviticus 11 and 1 Peter 1. Holy people live under the word of God. Holy people declare the truth of a holy God. Thereby, holy people are ambassadors for Christ.

Believers ought not be silent in a culture that calls good evil and evil good. For the sake of the “lost”, and more importantly the glory of God, the church must always declare the truth. God’s word is truth, John 17:17. I pray that all of God’s people would be so willing to speak the truth in love.

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

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…” God said that we all bear His image! For the creature to bear the image of the Creator sets mankind’s value at an extreme level.

At this point, atheists have nothing to say about mankind. 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 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, the Imago Dei. No other creature has been given such a distinction. All mankind is accountable to God, the Creator. 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 span.

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.

Bearing God’s image means to possess some of the attributes of God, called communicable attributes. 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 is 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 the first man and woman. As a result, all of those attributes were marred by the Fall. We all still have those God-given attributes, but we have also inherited Adam’s 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 accountability we all have before the Holy God who set mankind apart.

Again, 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, Imago Dei!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Christian Life”

“The Christian Life”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
It was “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians,” Acts 11:26b. At that time the term Christian was used in a pejorative sense. It was a title of derision. We now proudly claim the title “Christian.” Let us be clear on what it means to be a Christian, not simply cling to the title.

Perhaps, the clearest teaching on being a Christian is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Mt. 5-7. Jesus taught His disciples the perfect Christian Ethic. Jesus lived what He taught. It would be accurate to call the Sermon on the Mount Jesus’ teaching on the economy of the Kingdom. Matthew recorded the event with precision. Jesus taught this ethic to His disciples. It is a general teaching that is meant specifically to those who have been born again. One must be born from above in order to profess faith in Jesus and thereby be a genuine Christian.

But looking to Christ’s perfect ethical standard serves to show Christians their total dependence upon the Spirit of God. Only Christ lived the Sermon on the Mount perfectly!

Luke’s use of the word “disciple” in Acts 11:26 is very helpful. Fundamentally, Christians are disciples. The word “disciple” means a learner and a follower of a master. Therefore, a Christian is a learner and follower of Jesus Christ the Master.

There is a side road that must be taken at this point in my article. The Bible teaches that followers and learners of Jesus Christ are made not born. In other words, God makes Christians. No one is born a Christian. The Bible declares that no one is righteous, no one even seeks God. The Bible describes all mankind as naturally children of God’s wrath.

Let me guide you to that “side road”. (A “side road” only in relation to this article.) Consider the biblical definition of salvation. Salvation is to be delivered by God from God for God. This important “side road” is necessary to understand the Christian Life. Put simply Christians live for God! We have God-centered lives. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth to hold every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 2Cor. 10:5.

Now back to our main highway, the Christian Life. We turn our attention to the parables of Jesus. Jesus gave a comprehensive view of the Kingdom through the parables. They teach us about the sovereignty and steadfast love of the King. They teach the necessity of living each day before the King expecting His return at any time.

As we read through the parables in Matthew’s gospel, we see them as cumulative. Each one builds toward a climax. The climax is the King’s final judgment revealed in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

Immediately preceding Jesus’ teaching on the final judgment, He taught about living in the Kingdom. That is, how Christians are to live under the Lordship of Christ. We call this teaching the parable of the talents. The Christian Life can be summarized with a single word. The word is investment. I’m sure you all know the story. In summary, Jesus compared the Kingdom of heaven to an owner who went on a journey and gave his property to three of his servants. They were given a specified sum of money, “according to his ability”, Mt. 25:15. The master then left on his journey, returned after a time and sought to settle accounts.

Two servants invested the master’s money and presented him with a return on investment. They hear the master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your master.” Unfortunately, the third servant hid the master’s money and had no increase to give to the master. This servant did not hear comforting words. He heard words of judgment.

The two faithful servants represent the Christian Life. Jesus owns everything. He is the Lord of lords and King of kings. He has entrusted His people with gifts and talents and yes, money. God’s call to Christians is: invest what you have been given for God’s glory.

The parable of the talents confronts and informs Christians. It confronts by causing us to examine our lives. We are asked if we are living for God. It informs by giving us a practical means by which we can live for God. We live for God by investing all that He has given in His Kingdom for His glory. S.D.G.