Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Clear, yet not seen…”

Clear, yet not seen…
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I appreciate clarity. It is good to hear a communicator who clearly says what he means. The human authors of Scripture wrote with clarity. Even when using figurative and apocalyptic language (describing prophetic revelations), they can be understood. The underlying reason for their clarity is the intent of the ultimate author of Scripture, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. God intends for us to understand what He has said.

One such example of extreme clarity is the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel is unique from the other three Gospels in that he details not only the life and ministry of Jesus but His human and divine nature and the implications that follow.

The beginning of John’s Gospel declares the absolute sovereignty of the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word.” John 1:1 is parallel to Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God made everything out of nothing and John wrote of the One who spoke and all Creation came into being.

“And God said”, Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29, declares that the world was created at the command of God. John identified the divine Word as a person. He wrote that the Word of God took upon Himself human nature. He set aside His glory and became like one of His creatures.

John confronted the entire world with this miraculous truth. He wrote that even though the world was made through Him the world rejected Him. Further, John declared that not only the world but also God’s chosen nation, Israel, rejected Him.

With clarity, John revealed the implication of the Incarnate Word of God. He said that only those who received the person and work of Christ were given the right to be called God’s children. Further he specified those who were able to receive Him and how they would receive Him. John wrote that only those who were born of God’s will could receive the truth of the Incarnate Word, Jesus.

John continued and declared that the coming of the Only Son of God was not something philosophical but was someone that he and others saw. “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14.

People’s hardness is not because the Bible is hard to understand. That is, God’s salvation revealed in the Bible is not something that can only be understood by the learned. He made it clear. Man’s refusal to receive the truth of the Bible is not due to its lack of clarity. It is due to man’s blindness and hard-heartedness.

Receiving the truth of God’s Word requires humility and eyes that only God gives. Those to whom God gives eyes to see humbly submit to what God has said knowing that He is God and we are not!

John wrote with clarity and unmistakable force that all men are not God’s children. In order to have the right to be called a child of God, He must cause an individual to see the truth.

As further proof, John said that he and his fellow Apostles witnessed the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. He said that Jesus is the one who was “full of grace and truth”. It is through faith alone in Christ alone that God adopts His children.

There is nothing that I or anyone can do to make you see the truth of life in Jesus. Even though He is life and light, men are naturally blind to the Kingdom.

God desires to be known. He makes Himself known to His people. His word is absolutely clear. No one is too far from God’s saving grace. If you are His rejoice. If you know some who don’t believe, pray that God will break into their lives and raise them from spiritual death. God said that His claim upon His people was made in eternity. He will call those who are His and He will never let them go. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Praise the Lord that He has revealed Himself clearly and fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Seekers”

“Seekers”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Much of the Western Christian Church has embraced the idea that men and women are seeking after God. A movement that primarily began in the 80’s called the “Church Growth Movement” had its origin in this assumption.

At least one large congregation on the West Coast of America was started by knocking on doors in the targeted neighborhood and asking “What would it take for you to go to church?” After compiling the results, a “church” was formed to meet those expressed needs. Churches using this philosophy have grown by the thousands. Since those early days, many church leaders have improved upon the “seeker” philosophy. Books have been written that outline methods for growing a large church. In one way or another, the methods condense down to meeting “felt needs” of the people. By definition, “felt needs” are those things people feel that they need to find satisfaction in life.

Since there are as many “felt needs” as there are individuals, unique programs are needed. Church Growth experts urge pastors to develop ministry programs to satisfy the needs of people segregated into groups based on common life situations. For example, they instruct leaders of churches to have a ministry to single mothers, to teens, to divorced people, to older singles, to older couples; the lists go on and on.

There is a common thread in churches developed to meet “felt needs”. They design entertaining worship experiences. Skits or pageants replace preaching. Prayers are limited to one said by the Pastor. The only Scripture read during worship may be the verses or even verse from which the Pastor speaks. The worship service is designed for unbelievers with the intention of evangelism. Praise bands provide the entertainment necessary to attract people. The experience is much like attending a secular concert.

The motivation may be well-intended by some. Those who promote the “felt needs” philosophy of church growth may sincerely believe that men and women can be convinced to give their lives to Jesus. They hold a sincere belief that there are people seeking a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Saint Augustine once said that it was wrong to judge any movement by the abuses in it. In other words, while we may not like some of the aspects of the “felt needs”/ seeker philosophy of church growth, we shouldn’t summarily dismiss it based on our dislikes or preferences. The Bible calls believers to hold up what they see to the light of Scripture. In other words, “What does God say concerning church growth and seekers?”

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jude wrote that believers are to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3. The Christian Faith is the faith received by the Apostles who wrote and proclaimed the truth. The response of those who were pierced by the Word and Spirit through Peter’s preaching, Acts 2, devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to the prayers. But, Peter’s confession, Matthew 16:16, was the main point. He declared Jesus to be the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said Peter didn’t come up with that truth, but God, the Father revealed it to him. Peter’s confession is the truth upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.

Jesus’ method for growing the church is very simple. He is the builder. The means by which He builds His Church is through the proclamation of the truth, Romans 10:14-17. Other methods may attract people. But the only one that grows the church is Jesus Christ by His word and Spirit.

Concerning seekers, Jesus told a Samaritan woman that God, the Father seeks worshipers, John 4:23ff. The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament and wrote, “No one understands; no one seeks for God,” Romans 3:11. Men and women do not seek the one true God. People seek after what they feel they need, but not what they really need. The bottom line is that all mankind is dependent upon God. We depend upon Him to bring us to Him. He is the one who seeks His own. Those who are His come to Him; submit to Him; live for Him and worship Him. Jesus promised to build His church His way and even the forces of hell will not prevail against it.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Hope for Today”

“Hope for Today”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?… Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:1, 3

King David wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He felt all alone, forsaken, abandoned by God. It has been said that desperate people do desperate things. But David’s desperation showed itself in constant prayer. He persisted in seeking God’s answer to his desperation.

Jesus told a parable, Luke 18:1ff, of a persistent widow to teach His disciples to persist in prayer. A demonstration of trust in the Lord is persistence in prayer in our times of need.

Psalm 22 is a prophecy of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Jesus quoted from Psalm 22 as He hung on the cross. The fulfillment of David’s words in the first part of Psalm 22 were in Jesus’ taking upon Himself the full wrath of God for the sins of His people.

Yet, there is ongoing meaning for all who are in Christ. Desperation comes upon all of us. At some time, we will all face being alone or feeling that we are alone. Therefore, there is something that must be known and lived concerning God. David knew that he lived before a holy God. He wrote, “Yet you are holy,” Psalm 22:3a. As David was, I also am aware that I live before God who is holy.

David wrote that the holy God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” That is, He is the God who has revealed Himself to His people who respond in praise. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus said this to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” John 4:22. The point is, there is only one God and He has revealed Himself as holy. Unless we know Him, we are lost and hopeless in our desperation.

I believe that many in churches are like the Samaritan woman, worshiping what they don’t know. In stark contrast David persisted in prayer because he knew that the object of his prayer was the holy God. He remembered that He was the One in whom his predecessors trusted. He remembered that God answered their prayers, heard their cries and delivered them from bondage.

We have a fuller revelation than did the church of the Old Testament. Yet, like them, we seem to think that there must be more than knowing the holiness of God! We demonstrate our desires by the things we do and teach. We think or at least some, that discipleship is a program. More, discipleship programs are often about how to live while being accountable to another person or group. Rarely is discipleship about theology. Often missing in these discipleship programs is learning about the one disciples follow.

Again, notice King David’s declaration. “Yet you are holy.” David knew God! He was a man after God’s own heart. David had the revealed truth of the character of the God in whom he trusted. The Spirit of God held David accountable.

It is the same Spirit of God who holds disciples accountable to grow in the knowledge and love of God. Peter wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” 1Peter 3:15a. The means of growing is by God’s design through the Spirit of Christ working in us to do that which is pleasing in His sight, Hebrews 13:20.

Psalm 22 was not only a prophecy of Christ’s sacrifice; it is hope for all who know Him. The means God has given His people to persevere in the midst of feelings of desperation is the knowledge of who He is.

If you are going through a time of feeling deserted by God, turn to learn more of who He is. Turn to His revealed truth, the Bible. You will discover that He has promised never to leave His people. We may all cry “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” But know that the One who was truly forsaken by God, Jesus, is the light of the world. He has promised to be with us; to intercede to the Father; to go before us and to bring us to His heavenly home.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Ethics”

“Ethics”

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

Why does it seem that society requires Christians to keep what they believe to themselves? In our so-called multi-cultural society, all have equal opportunities to express themselves except Christians. Secular humanists are those who have a man-centered world view. They insist that faith is a private matter. They are quick to point to our founders who expressed the idea that the church is separate from the state.

Those who claim that there is this overriding principle of the separation of church and state, silence public moral reflections. Their premise is that there are no moral standards; just as there is no absolute truth. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes! So, we might use their standard to critique their philosophy. Since there are no absolutes, how can the secular humanists impose this one, “Christian be silent?”

Let me suggest a view that is closer to our Founders’. They, E.G. Jefferson, insisted that the establishment of a state religion was not appropriate for religious freedom in this country. Specifically, they did not recommend a Church of America comparable to the Church of England. However, the Founders knew that this experiment of a Democratic Republic (Representative Republic) would not survive unless those involved in government had a moral compass. The Founders envisioned a triangular system. The three points of the triangle are: Government, Capitalism and Faith, each one informing the other. In my opinion, it has only been in the last four or five decades that faith has been removed the triangle.

When faith is absent, ethics are also absent. Decisions not informed by faith are made based on individual preferences.

Opposed to the system based on personal preference there is an ethical system. Ethics are brought to bear in every situation so as to make good and right decisions. In order to make ethical decisions, especially for those in government, one cannot “keep it to oneself”. The “it” is faith. Faith motivates our actions. Therefore, keeping our faith to ourselves is not possible if credible/ethical decisions are sought.

We are seeing the absence of moral ethics in our society. Self-interest has become the great motivator. That is, we make decisions based upon what someone promises to give us or what we think will benefit us. The question of right and wrong rarely enters our decision-making process.

It’s not only the secular world where this philosophy is seen. It is in the church as well. There is a generally accepted philosophy of ministry in so-called evangelical churches. This popular motivation for why churches do the things they do is called “felt needs”. Felt needs in churches are analogous to self-interest in the public arena.

There are two passages of Scripture that specifically address the question of ethical practice. Deuteronomy 11:26-28, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God… and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God…” and 2Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

In each case, Deuteronomy and 2Corinthians, believers are called to apply what they know to be true in making decisions. The guiding force in each case is the knowledge of God. Faith in God should be seen. It is not in accordance with God’s word that His people keep what they believe silent. He holds all of His people accountable to declare the truth.

James wrote, “… I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18 Peter exhorted Christians to, “… always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” 1Peter 3:15. The Risen Lord Jesus commanded disciples to make disciples of all nations, Matthew 28:19.

If we are truly to be the church of Jesus Christ, we must speak what we believe. How can we simply remain silent when all around us there are people lost and heading to hell? Ethical decisions are made when we look at every opportunity to live out the truth of what we believe.

The Lord has blessed us all with the privilege of living in a country that cherishes freedom. We who are Christians are by God’s word to live under the law of the land and to exercise what we believe in the public arena.