Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Ethics (Speak the Truth and Live the Truth)”

“Ethics (Speak the Truth and Live the Truth)”

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

Why does it seem that society requires Christians to keep their beliefs 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 expressed the idea that the church is separate from the state.

They tout this overriding principle of the separation of church and state to silence public moral reflections. In fact, 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, why then can the secular humanists impose the absence of absolutes?

Let me suggest a view from one of our Founders. Thomas Jefferson insisted that the establishment of a state religion was not appropriate for religious freedom in this country. Specifically, the Founders did not recommend a Church of America comparable to the Church of England. However, they 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 a system based on personal preference 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 and 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 in the secular world where this philosophy is seen. It is seen in the church as well. There are prevailing motivations for ministry in many churches. The most popular one is “felt needs”. The motivation of “felt needs” in churches is analogous to self-interest in the public arena.

There are two passages of Scripture that specifically address the question of ethical practice. The first is Deuteronomy 11:26-28, which says, “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….” The second is 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

In both passages 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 silent. He holds 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” (1 Peter 3:15). The Risen Lord Jesus commanded His 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, even as our freedoms are eroding. 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.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone, A Personal Story)”

“Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone, A Personal Story)”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

I was snatched from the pit of hell on January 29, 1986. The day started normally. But, on my way to my office at the Nuclear Power Plant in Crystal River, Florida, I was broadsided by a semi-truck. It occurred about 7:30 in the morning. I was told that the paramedics had to cut me out of my car. I awoke four days later in a hospital in Gainesville, FL with one desire and many broken bones. My one desire was for Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. The God of truth and grace opened my eyes to the world and to His beauty. My only thought was to run to Him. There was no struggling on my part in deciding whether to choose Jesus. I didn’t have the C.S. Lewis experience of being dragged into the kingdom. The thought of running from Jesus never entered my mind.

Not long after the accident, Jesus’ words in John’s gospel burned into my mind and traveled to my heart. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV, italics added).

Let me be frank, before that day, I had no such desire for Jesus. Oh, I thought that I was a good person, as most people do. I thought that as long as I was better than most, the god of my making would welcome me. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God is love? Surely it does! (See 1 John 4:8.) But the Bible also says that God is “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). I never thought about the justice of God. He never sets aside His justice. He extends mercy only because of the sacrifice of Jesus which alone satisfies God’s justice.

Before my “accident,” I never knew the one true God. I know now that I was dead. I used to think that all this “born again” stuff was for the weak minded. But the reality, the truth of what I lived was that dead men don’t do anything. I was unconscious. I couldn’t have saved myself. I couldn’t even get out of my hospital bed. On my best day, I didn’t know that I was lost and headed to hell. God had to act. He did, and I look back in amazement that He chose me! Yes, I responded to Him, but I only responded to His action. I often hear that if one believes he will be born again. How foolish! It is erroneous to tell people that we are made new creations by our own wisdom and ability. How can a dead person believe? The truth is “Ye must be born again” in order to believe! The Bible says: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Every person is born spiritually dead. We are unable to reach out to God and live (see Genesis 3:22-24). God had to act to save me, and He did!

As I look back through the lens of God’s word at what God did to save me, I see every aspect of my life as part of God’s sovereign plan. Even when I didn’t know God, He was directing my path in accordance with His will. I thought that I was making choices. And I was, but my choices had already been planned by the Sovereign God. Think about this when you are wondering how you got to where you are: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). The words of Jesus in John 6:44 make perfect sense as I look at my life in Christ: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

May I suggest a principle for life that may bring you comfort and assurance? I have been saved by God from God for God.

The God who saved me has spoken and continues to speak. His word is without error and absolutely reliable because He is. As a result, all experiences must be informed by Scripture and mine is not an exception. I have the assurance that I belong to God because He has said that assurance is of the essence of Faith (Hebrews 11:1).

My experience of God’s saving grace is an opportunity to praise Him. “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20b).

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Justice or Mercy”

“Justice or Mercy”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

God spoke through the Prophet Micah during a time of prosperity. He required His people to do justice and to love kindness (mercy) and to walk humbly before Him.

This divine imperative is simple and bears repeating. Do justice. Love Mercy. Live with a right assessment of ourselves before a sovereign God. God said that this is good. In light of this clear declaration, no one needs to struggle to know what is good.

Our good God commanded His people to do justice. God’s people are accountable to seek and apply justice. As God ordained civil authorities, He placed upon them the responsibility to rule and govern justly. What then is justice? In part, justice is fair treatment based on the law.

Therefore, the application of justice requires a standard. Our civil government operates under such a standard. It is the rule of law. When authorities consider themselves above the law anarchy is not far behind. An orderly and safe society requires all citizens and their leaders to obey the rules of law that govern them.

So it is for the church. The authority of the church is under the word of God. Christ is the King and Head of the church. He exercises His Lordship through His word. Authority in the church is a granted authority. That which is just and right is determined from the Bible, the church’s standard.

The Bible teaches that to do justice is to do what is right. That which is just is right and fair based upon the standard which is the word of God written.

Micah 6:8 also declares another critical concept. The prophet called God’s people to love kindness. The original word is also translated lovingkindness, steadfast love, or mercy. The word reflects the very character of God. Justice and mercy are not opposite sides of the same coin. Mercy stands in contrast to justice. Justice applies the rule of law. Mercy is granted to lawbreakers. Justice is deserved. Mercy is underserved and can only be granted by the benevolent action of a ruler. Mercy and grace are the unmerited favor of God.

Following the revealed truth of God’s word, all men deserve justice. The just and right action of the holy God is condemnation. The Bible is clear on this point throughout. From Genesis to Revelation, God has revealed that all men are born spiritually dead. All men are born in bondage to sin. Sin is defined as lawlessness by the Apostle John (1 John 3:4). Adam’s sin is inherited by every human being. The Apostle Paul wrote that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

Left on our own, we are all children of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It’s at this point that the cry “It’s not fair” is often heard. The offense of the truth causes men to define God in their own view. I’ve heard the statement, “My God is a God of love. He wouldn’t send people to hell. It’s not fair or loving.” My response is that the God defined in that statement is not the God of the Bible. God has revealed Himself as “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).

In the light of God’s holy justice, how can we hope to be saved? The apostles, prophets, and Jesus called people to repent and believe in the gospel. This is God’s ordained means to deliver men and women from this present darkness. The question that lays beneath God’s command to repent and believe in the gospel is “How?”. How are men born dead in sin able to repent and believe? The only possible answer is by God’s grace. God extends grace to those whom He chooses. God said that He will have mercy on whom He has mercy (Romans 9:15).

King David wrote Psalm 51. He was confronted in his sin. David did the only thing that is possible. He threw himself upon the mercy of God. This is the truth of man’s only hope. There are only two alternatives. You will either experience God’s perfect justice or receive His mercy.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “How the Mighty Fall!”

“How the Mighty Fall!”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
All earthly kings have a very high opinion of themselves. There was a king whose opinion of himself reached to the heavens. He thought so much of himself that he made a golden image for his subjects to worship. He commanded all people to worship the idol he made under penalty of death. This king’s name was Nebuchadnezzar. His acts are recorded in the book of Daniel.

The main revelation of chapters three and four of Daniel is the absolute sovereignty of the one true God. Yet, there are many lessons that apply directly to us. One is the example of the three Hebrews: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three men demonstrated an unyielding reliance upon God. They were willing to be burned alive rather than worship the false god erected by the king. Another lesson revealed to us through these men is the faithfulness of God. In the midst of the flames, one like “a son of the gods” was with them. God’s promise to be with His people, as declared in Joshua 1:5 and repeated in Hebrews 13:5, was demonstrated by His presence with the three men in the fiery furnace.

God revealed His sovereignty and His faithfulness, and the three Hebrews demonstrated saving faith in God. But there is more to learn. There is a timely lesson for all professing Christians. No matter what power rulers or public officials claim for themselves, we know that there is One who has absolute power and authority. Jesus declared that He has all power and authority in heaven and on earth (Mat 28:18), and He will have the last word. Daniel and his three friends lived under a foolish, pompous, and self-serving king, and they were fully convinced of the truth of God’s sovereignty.

Daniel was given a vision of the Son of God having all power and dominion (Daniel 7:13-14). Daniel saw in the night visions one like a son of man coming with the clouds. Daniel’s vision was a glimpse of the pre-incarnate Christ.

I find it necessary to remember the sovereignty of God as I hear current news and events. We are experiencing the breakdown of the rule of law in our nation. We have so-called elected leaders who appear to ignore the laws of our land. We have leaders who see themselves as being accountable to no one. There are others who have apparently abdicated their responsibility to hold their fellow civil servants accountable. We are fooled into electing men and women who promise to be something that they are not. Every day it seems that we are seeing our country coming apart at the seams.

The lesson learned by King Nebuchadnezzar provides hope for God’s people, those who place their trust in the only One who has all authority, Jesus Christ.

The king saw himself as the one and only sovereign ruler. No one could question or oppose him. He thought that he was the owner of the world. His was the greatest empire, and he believed it would last forever.

God confronted the king through Daniel. God said that the king would be driven from his kingdom and be driven mad. God brought Nebuchadnezzar to his knees!

One day when the king was surveying all that he owned, God humbled him. The king was made to live as an animal. His appearance was animal-like. He behaved like a wild beast. This once great king who thought he was above everyone and everything was humiliated.

We often pray that God would cause our leaders who have extreme pride, called hubris, to be brought to their knees. No one is too far from God. When we pray this prayer our motives are that those who are full of pride will repent and turn to God for the salvation of their souls.

King Nebuchadnezzar was caused by God to do just that. When the time determined by God was completed, the king regained his senses. The first words out of his mouth were praise to the One who lives forever. He declared the truth of the sovereign majesty of the one true God. He declared his submission to the true God worshiped by Daniel and his three friends.

I remember this factual story and I have hope. Place your hope in the one who will never disappoint you or leave you. Trust in God. He alone is sovereign. Pray that our leaders will learn the reality of God’s sovereignty and that they will govern accordingly.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Resolutions”

“Resolutions”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The first action of 2021 may likely be the same as that of 2020 and all previous “New Year’s.” The action of which I speak is making resolutions. We all tend to think in grand terms. Often, our resolutions fall by the wayside by February. I want to suggest a resolution that we should all seek to implement. May we all seek to “Do what is right!” Not simply what we “think” is right, but what is right.

There is an obvious problem in implementing this resolution. In order to do what is right, one must know what is right. There must be a standard of “right.” The absolute standard of what is right is the word of God, the Bible.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that the believer is to take every thought captive to the word of Christ, 2Corinthians 10:5. Romans 12:2 is an exhortation to Christians not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. The result is: “That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Ephesians 5:11 points out that Christians were once in darkness but are now “light in the Lord.” Believers are to be children of light, that is, Christians follow Jesus by living under His word. The “fruit” of living as children of light is “found in all that is good and right and true.” Knowing what is good, right and true is only possible through God’s transformation. He has promised to change those whom He calls, regenerates and justifies. He does it by His word and Spirit. Doing what is right is the response of one who has been born again by the Holy Spirit in concert with God’s word.

That which is right proceeds from the attributes of God. He has revealed Himself as good, righteous and true. Those who seek to do what is right are in an intimate relationship with God. This intimacy is only possible by knowing Jesus, God’s only Son. As the Father is the source, knowing the “good” proceeds from intimacy with Him.

Doing the right thing is wise living. Wise living follows the way of blessing. The way of blessing is to obey God. Conversely, God said that a cursed life would follow the one who was disobedient. I have yet to meet someone who wanted to live a cursed life. Yet, by ignorance or avoidance of God’s word, we head towards destruction. Don’t be fooled by following someone who commits to do what he thinks is right. First, know yourself what is right. Then do it.

Whereas God is the one working in a believer to do what is right, the believer is not an idle bystander. Christians live responding to the Spirit of God acting in them. God’s means to progressively change His people is the systematic, intense study of the Bible and the theology which proceeds from it. This is not only a personal endeavor but a corporate one. Each local church is accountable before God to “teach what is in accordance with sound doctrine”, Titus 2:1. Every believer is likewise accountable to invest in such a church.

The Apostle Paul addressed the barrier to growth in knowing what is right, 2Timothy 3. Paul wrote that people would be “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Paul described the visible church corrupted by those who only looked godly; those who sought to “tickle” men’s ears. He gave a timeless answer to the problem. Paul’s answer then was for Timothy to continue in what he learned and firmly believed. Paul reminded Timothy that all Scripture was breathed out by God and it’s the Scriptures which are able to make the believer “competent and equipped for every good work.” God’s answer remains the same. The visible church is the place to grow in knowing what is right as she faithfully teaches the Scriptures.

May you be a part of such a church. May you grow in knowing that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. May all Christians keep this resolution for the glory of God!