Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Heaven or Hell”

“Heaven or Hell”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
What’s the “bottom line”? What’s at stake? Jesus taught about the “bottom line”. He said, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:25 In other words, there are only two options for all mankind, heaven or hell!

One of the most frequent themes of Jesus’ teaching was judgment. Jesus said that there will be a final accounting given to God, Matthew 11:20-24. He instructed His disciples to fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell, Matthew 10:28.

Jesus was a master teacher. He used parables to teach His followers about the Kingdom of God. He also used those same parables to confuse those who were destined to perish, Matthew 13:10-17 and Isaiah 6:9-10. All the parables of Jesus have a cumulative effect. That is, each one builds upon the previous. The final parable, Matthew 25:31-48 is about judgment. It is undeniable to all who read the Bible that God is holy and He will judge the world. Judgment has been given to the Risen Lord Jesus. When He returns, He will put an end to all that is unholy and evil.

We would do well to examine that final parable that is referred to as the “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats”. For the sake of brevity, I want to draw attention to the beginning and the end of the parable.

Jesus gave the time of judgment. He said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory”, Matthew 25:31. The exact date was not specified. But, clearly, the day of judgment is what the prophet Joel referred to as “the Day of the LORD”. The Apostle John was given a vision of that day, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.” Revelation 20:11

Jesus used the title “Son of Man” when speaking of Himself. This was a familiar Old Testament description of the Messiah, the King of Righteousness. Jesus said that He would come in His glory. That is, when He returns, He will not come as the Savior, but as the King who has all glory and honor and power. He will come sitting on His glorious throne. This is figurative language describing the absolute power and authority that Jesus possesses and will exercise.

The initial actions of King Jesus are clearly stated. Jesus said that He will have all nations gathered before Him. No one will escape this divine appointment. Immediately, Jesus said that He will separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep are described as those “who are blessed by My Father”, Matthew 25:34. They are said to inherit the kingdom that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world. In other words the sheep are those whom God chose in eternity to be in Christ, Ephesians 1:4-6.

In the parable, Jesus described characteristics of sheep. The sheep discovered that as they ministered to Jesus’ brothers, they were ministering to Jesus. The sheep’s behavior was not a checklist of reasons for being “sheep”. It was a declarative statement that described the behavior of sheep.

The Bible teaches that those who are in Christ live differently by God’s grace in the Holy Spirit. In the context of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, sheep live like sheep. James wrote about the genuineness of saving faith. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”, James 2:17. The Apostle Paul also wrote concerning the lives of “sheep” (believers). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

The Parable ends with the fact of an eternal hell. Jesus said, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” We learn that the horror of hell is separation from God’s favor. The “goats” are commanded by Jesus to depart from Him. Their eternal home was prepared by God for the devil and his angels. The goats will share this residence forever. The bottom line is the reality of heaven and hell. God has chosen those who will live with Him forever. This truth may not tickle men’s ears, but God has promised to raise the dead by His word in concert with His Spirit.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “God’s Method for Ministry”

“God’s Method for Ministry”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“He (the LORD) bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under His feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; He came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness His covering, His canopy around Him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before Him hailstones and coals of fire broke through His clouds.” Psalm 18:9-12 (ESV) David wrote these words and through them painted a picture of the awesomeness of God. His description of God laid the foundation for the succeeding verses that declare God’s holy judgment! The true God whom David described will execute perfect justice.

As a pastor called by God and sent by the church to preach and teach His word and shepherd His people, I often ask, “How much of this God is really proclaimed in churches?” It has been said over the centuries by theologians and philosophers that man’s most basic need is to know God and oneself. Accurate knowledge of man proceeds from the revealed truth of God.

Knowing God and ourselves in relationship to Him connect our hearts to our heads. That is, making this connection motivates how we live. Ministry practices in the church begin with the revealed knowledge of God and continue as that knowledge is applied to all life situations.

The verses quoted are revealed truth. God is full of majesty. He is the one who created everything and therefore owns everything. All life is lived before Him. Therefore, it follows that all Christian ministry which is service is performed in light of and because of the knowledge of God.

On the occasion of my graduation from seminary our Commencement Speaker, Dr. J.I. Packer said, “Do not seek to interpret Scripture until you have been interpreted by Scripture.” As a minister of the gospel I am made constantly aware that my study and preparation to preach and teach the Bible is the means that God uses to change me. My conviction by the Spirit of God occurs prior to standing in the pulpit.

King David was living proof that God’s word in concert with His Spirit changed him. He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about the God he worshiped. In the verses quoted from Psalm 18, David wrote not only of God’s supreme majesty but also of His holy justice. Like David, we all live before this God.

In addition, the book attributed to David’s son, Solomon, says this about God’s method for life and ministry, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7.

Both King David and Solomon understood the fear of the LORD and were caused see their lives in the light of God’s word. Likewise, as we combine God’s revelation of: His awesomeness, His holy justice with the source of knowledge and understanding we discover that “fear of the LORD” is the root of life and ministry in the church.

God revealed His method for ministry. His method is this: learn who He is and apply His revealed character in every situation. God’s method stands in stark contrast to Man’s. Men suggest that proper and effective ministry in the church requires that we learn what people need and then set out to meet those needs. This has proven to grow churches larger. Yet, growing numbers does not appear to accomplish growing influence, growing holiness, or the ability to make critical decisions. When we use man’s methods we get man’s results. But when we use God’s methods, we see His results.

One problem with man’s methods is: each new circumstance requires a new program to answer it. The church becomes a program generator rather than a place where the truth is heard, lived and shared. I believe that we are seeing the results of man’s methods. More and more professing Christians are unable to articulate what they believe or why. Surveys reveal that the lifestyles of church members look like the lifestyles of the world.

My purpose in this article is not to “bash” churches. I love the church and all that she represents. I love the church so much that I believe that I am accountable to God to briefly outline His means to make us more like Christ. This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The End Times”

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

There is, it seems, a never-ending flow of books on Prophecy and the End Times. Theological experts hold the Newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. Warnings are issued to mankind that either the world will end on a specific date that is based on some current events or that an unsuspecting public will be “left behind” when the so-called Rapture occurs.

Very few of the prophecy experts or those who promote the “left behind” theory seem to ask the one expert. His name is Jesus and He gave very specific answers to questions concerning the end of the world.

“As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”’ Matthew 24:3

These questions were motivated by Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He said that not one stone would be left upon a stone, Matthew 24:2. Jesus declared what would happen in 70 A.D. The great siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army was led by Titus. The ancient Jewish Historian, Josephus recorded the total destruction of the temple and the barbaric actions of the Romans toward the Jews.

The disciples also wanted to know what Jesus’ return would be like as well as the day of the end of this world. The first answer concerning the sign of Jesus’ second coming was answered very directly by our Lord. He said that His coming would be like lightning! The book of Revelation describes Jesus’ coming in these words. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Revelation 1:7

The Apostle John was allowed to see Jesus’ future coming and he sought to explain the unexplainable in words. The fact is no words are adequate to describe pure glory. But, the Revelation of Jesus Christ which was given to John was intended to reveal the certainty of Jesus’ return. All the nations will mourn because of sin. There will be great wailing by all because the time for salvation will be ended. When Jesus comes again, He will come to judge both the living and the dead. He will come not as the Savior but as the Judge.

John saw more. He saw that Jesus’ return would not be a secret! Every eye would see Him in His glory. There is no “secret rapture” recorded in the Bible. I am aware that there are some who have built an entire theology on one word that is derived from the Latin translation from which our word rapture is derived. The word in the original language is translated “caught up”. It is found in 1Thessalonians 4:17. Paul was describing what would happen to the believers who were alive when Christ returned. He said that the dead in Christ would rise first and those who were alive would be caught up in the air to meet Christ as He descended.

Likewise, Jesus spoke in a figure of speech when He said that “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” Matthew 24:40-41 He followed that statement by calling the disciples to “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Matthew 24:42 In other words, Jesus was exhorting disciples to remain prepared for His coming because no man knows when He will return. In fact, Jesus declared that in His human nature, He didn’t know when He would return. “No one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Matthew 24:36 But, Jesus said that He would return when all the elect are gathered in. That is, when all those whom God chose from eternity have professed faith in Jesus’ person and work, the end will come.

Therefore, the vital question is not when is Jesus coming back; but are you ready to meet Him?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Man’s Responsibility”

“Man’s Responsibility”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
A famous comedian years ago made an extremely humorous but realistic statement. “The devil made me do it”, has come to be known as, “The Flip Wilson theology”. I have no reason to believe that this statement reflected Flip Wilson’s philosophy of life. When he said it, genuine laughter ensued. It remains funny for the same reason as before. It is how many live their lives.

Even the stages of construction projects reflect man’s tendency to shift the blame. I remembered that one of the stages was called the “reward of the non-participants”. Another was referred to as the “persecution of the innocent”. But each stage had an activity called “fixing the blame”. When a problem would cause construction to stop, there was an ongoing effort to fix the blame rather than solve the problem. It didn’t matter whether the blame was deserved. The important thing was to hold someone else responsible for the problem.

“Fixing the blame” is not only reserved for construction projects. It is as old as Adam and Eve. Adam sought to blame God for his failure. After all, it was God who gave him the woman, Genesis 3:12. Adam’s argument didn’t impress God. Adam bore the penalty for his sin and the entire human race fell with Adam and inherited his sin nature.

The Bible declares more about man’s sinful tendency to fix the blame to either eliminate his responsibility or mitigate it. God said, “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die.” Ezekiel 18:2-4

God said to fix the blame, or deny responsibility was like a father eating sour grapes and his child experiencing the sour taste. God said that would not be so. Rather each one is responsible for his sin. Denying our responsibility will not make it go away. We will all stand before a holy God and give Him an account.

The way Lord and GOD are typed in your Bible is very important. Lord means Adoni, Master and the Sovereign One. GOD, with all capital letters signifies the personal and covenant name of God, Yahweh, and The Great I Am. Yahweh is a form of the Hebrew verb “to be”. Exodus 3:14, God declared that He is Yahweh, “I am who I am”. There is no debate on this issue that will amount to anything. The only true God, the Sovereign Creator, the Triune God fully revealed in Jesus who referred to Himself as “I Am”, will hold each one accountable for his actions.

This fact of Man’s responsibility was written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome. “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek (Gentile), but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek (Gentile). For God shows no partiality.” Romans 2:9-11

God’s holiness requires that He act with perfect justice. God, as the Apostle declared, does not favor any nationality, position, or individual person. All are judged based upon His perfect standard. His judgment is final. God never “winks” at sin.

The end of the Bible has these terrifying words of judgment. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Revelation 20:12

Every human being deserves punishment for sin. The only way to be spared from the wrath of God is through Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice. He is the only appeasement of God’s wrath. Man’s hope is Jesus. He alone paid the price for sins. We all deserve hell. But God is rich in mercy. Jesus took the blame for His people. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2Corinthians 5:21 No one will be able to stand before God who requires perfection and blame someone else for one’s sin!