Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Comfortable Confession”

“The Comfortable Confession”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

One of the most practical books of the Bible is the letter of James. James was the half-brother of Jesus. James may have written this letter as early as 40 A.D. In his introduction, James called himself a “bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James did not consider himself to have a more special relationship to the Risen Lord Jesus than any other believer. His letter is often described as the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. The Epistle of James provides very practical insight for living the Christian Life.

Early in his ministry, the great Reformer Martin Luther called James a “straw epistle.” Yet in his later writings, Luther saw the connection between the Apostle Paul’s writing and James’. Specifically, whereas Paul defined the gift of faith through which God justified a believer, declared a sinner “right” with Him. James defined what that gift of faith actually looked like in the life of one who possessed it. James was not writing about earning one’s salvation, as Luther first thought. Rather, James declared the kind of behavior exhibited by one who possessed saving faith.

A “comfortable confession” is one that accommodates evil rather than exposes it. A comfortable confession of Christ avoids the attack of the evil one by ignoring it. Luther wrote this, “Also it does not help that one of you would say: ‘I will gladly confess Christ and his Word on every detail, except that I may keep silent about one or two things which my tyrants may not tolerate… For whoever denies Christ in one detail or word has denied the same Christ in that one detail who was denied in all the details, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken together or individually.”

James 4:7 commands the one who possesses saving faith to “Submit to God and resist the devil and he will flee from you.” It is at the very point at which Satan and evil present themselves that the Christian is commanded to resist it, literally standing against it.

This is the point of attack at which the believer’s confession of Christ becomes uncomfortable. As the believer stands against evil, exposing it he or she is proving himself or herself to be a genuine follower of Christ.

The context of James 4 is critical in our understanding of the cost of following Jesus. The command to resist the devil comes after the proposition that friendship with the world is enmity with God, James 4:4. So then, the word of God puts before the believer the truth that worldliness is directly opposed to God. It is so opposed to God that He has said that to be a friend of the world is to be His enemy.

In accordance with the Epistle of James, a comfortable confession is one that is in friendship with the world and therefore at enmity with God.

I should say that God’s command doesn’t mean that Christians should go out of their way to be offensive! I believe that it does mean that whenever an issue is raised to a level of visibility such that it is put forth for all to see and declared to be the “right and loving” way, Christians are commanded to speak out against what is contrary to God’s word.

Attacks on truth such as redefining marriage, approving of alternative lifestyles, suggesting that abortion is a matter of one’s choice are all points at which Christians are tempted to have a comfortable confession.

When lies such as these are put forth as truth or when men and women suggest that the truth doesn’t matter or is relative, Christians are exhorted by God to expose the lie and the liar, Ephesians 4. It doesn’t matter if these attacks occur in the Church or the Public Sphere. God is sovereign over the government, the church and the family. Truth is absolute. All truth is God’s truth and He is sovereign over all.

The challenge is coming at an ever-increasing rate. Those of us who profess Christ are being confronted by evil. Men seem to regularly call evil good and good evil. God expects His people to act. We are called to be salt and light. Christians do not possess a comfortable confession. We are people who submit to God in every aspect of life. Caution, confession is meaningless unless it’s carried into the world!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “What is Praise?”

“What is Praise?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
What’s so important about praise? It is necessary to define praise; to identify the object of praise; and to enable deep and critical thought of praise and worship. Look around our great city. We are blessed with an extraordinary number of churches. I suggest that the reason is that we are built for praise and worship. As written previously, “God made us for worship.” Worship includes the act of praising the object of worship.

Webster’s Dictionary defines praise as expressing approval or admiration. It continues the definition by including the idea of giving glory with God as the object. The essential ingredient in praise is that it requires an object.

Since the Garden, men have had the desire to praise. All too often praise was given to other men or places. The desire to praise has been built into us by our Creator. We will praise someone or something that we consider worthy. Praise and worth are intimately connected.

You might take a little test. Think about that which consumes your time and money. Then, consider whether the consumers you identify are worthy of your praise. In other words, would you choose to praise the one(s) to whom you give so much of your time and finances?

You may not agree with me at this point, but I am seeking to get you to think about worth. As you examine the definition it is clear that praise and worth are connected. The psalmist identified the greatest object of worth. Psalm 146, written by a man carried along by the Spirit of God, described a singular commitment to praise God! He said that he would declare praise to God throughout his entire life which he acknowledged was given by God.

Why would he make such a commitment? The answer is God alone is worthy of man’s praise! God alone saves man. Every instance of deliverance from oppression is by the sovereign hand of God. Only God is eternal. Opposed to this all men die. There are no exceptions. The only hope for man is God. Only God gives eternal life, a life that will never end. God raises the dead. He gives those whom He chooses eyes to see the truth, Jesus. Jesus defined eternal life as knowing the one true God and the One whom He sent, Jesus Christ, John 17:3.

In addition, we see injustice all around us robbing us of hope unless we look to God who is perfectly just. The Bible declares that He will execute perfect justice. And, the Bible, God’s word written, is always true and altogether reliable. The psalmist affirmed the holy justice of God and wrote: God “executes justice for the oppressed, (God) gives food to the hungry.” Jesus said that God the Father will provide everything that is needed for His children.

If this isn’t enough to convince you of God’s worthiness to be praised, then know that God is King. He rules all of His Creation. God’s absolute and sovereign rule of all Creation is not relative. That is, you may be thinking that I write such things because I’m a Christian Pastor. Indeed I am. And, not only do I write these things, but I actually believe them! But, to paraphrase a great philosopher, if something is not true for all it’s not true at all. God is the Creator and Ruler of His Universe. Jesus said that “all authority in heaven and on earth” was given to Him. God who made us for worship is the only worthy object. Praise, which is part of worship, is to declare the character and deeds of the object. As we understand praise in this way, we likewise know that God is its only worthy object.

I’ve come to the end. I’ve defined praise to be declaring the character and deeds of its object. I’ve hopefully made a case to demonstrate that God alone is worthy of our praise. And, finally, I hope that I’ve been successful in guiding your thoughts about this very important aspect of life, namely praise.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Why go to church (An answer needed now more than ever)?”

“Why go to church?”
(An answer needed more now than ever)

The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Over the years, I’ve asked professing Christians this question. Generally, the answers are I go to church because God commands it; I go to church because I want to worship with the people of God; or, I go to church because I want to be fed. Now more than ever, Christians need to have a clear biblical answer to the question, “Why go to church?”

We know that God commanded His people to “keep holy the Sabbath Day.” The “Sabbath Day” was changed by the Apostolic Church to the First Day, Sunday. The Church refers to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Each Lord’s Day is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The question is addressed to Christians, those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Therefore, it is directed to those who have been born again by the Spirit of God. God ordains the salvation of His elect. First, He Effectually Calls a dead person to come 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 said is being born again, John 3. The result of regeneration is Conversion, an instantaneous event that begins a process. That is, God converts a sinner to a saint. In doing so, He gives two gifts. One is the gift of faith and the second it the gift of repentance. Those gifts are exercised by those who receive them throughout their lives. The result of turning from sin and turning to Jesus is Justification. Justification is a legal term. God’s 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. All 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 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. 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.

Yes, God commanded corporate worship. But, a believer grows as he understands that corporate worship is more than a duty; it is our desire! So then, has God filled your heart with a desire to worship Him with other believers?

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Foundation of Hope”

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

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 expressions of hope. For example, one of my hopes is that my fellow citizens will think critically, especially when irrational or unsubstantiated statements are made. I also hope that we all will examine accomplishments rather than be impressed by rhetoric. We can all remember one who promised “hope and change” yet brought disaster in the form of a change and division that none of us wanted.

Like the hopes mentioned, there are endless arrays of temporal hopes. My hope of a thinking electorate may not come to pass. Yet, knowing that this hope is temporal I will remain positive because I have an ultimate hope which is eternal.

What is this eternal, ultimate hope? Reasonable people know that there is more to life than what is seen. 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 cannot 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 revealed to God’s “saints.” Now, it is necessary 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 have often asked myself why something so clear can be so confusing to some. The only answer that I can reasonably offer is that we do not like to think that God must choose us. We rather like to think that He needs our help in selecting the “right” people. However, it is only necessary to know what God thinks and has said.

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 should be said concerning God’s gift of eternal hope and Lord willing will. But in the interest of space and emphasis in 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 to be in Christ.