Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Straw Dogs”

“Straw Dogs”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

A straw dog is a false caricature constructed purposefully to justify tearing it down. In building a straw dog, one describes an object or person in negative terms and then uses those descriptions to tear it down and build a new model. Many church leaders have built straw dogs of traditional churches.

For example, I am sure that you have received church flyers asking a question like the following. “What do you think of when you hear the word church?” Surrounding the question were the following suggested answers: “for perfect people only, outdated, judgmental, un-welcoming, irrelevant, hypocritical, boring, or stodgy hymns.”

After presenting this straw dog, the flyers invite the reader to attend a welcoming and relevant church that uses moving music and engaging programs for children.

Having received church flyers such as the above, the first thing that came to mind was John 4:23, quickly followed by Matthew 7:15. Jesus declared the truth concerning worship which is fundamental to the church. He said the Father was the one who seeks worshipers. He called those sought as true worshipers. He also warned of only looking at the “cover”. Beware of wolves who dress like sheep.

Further, Jesus described genuine worship. Genuine worship is done in spirit and truth. Note that spirit is not capitalized in English translations. Jesus was not referring to the Holy Spirit in this text. He was indicating that true worship must be wholly genuine. It must include the entire person, both body and soul. It is comparable to the Bible’s call to the church to love the Lord with your whole heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).

In addition, examine the word “church.” What do you think when you hear that word? First, it does not matter what you or I think about the word “church”. God has defined it. The church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18). The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). It is the church for whom Christ died (Ephesians 5:25). In Greek, church (ekklesia) is a compound word. It means called-out ones. God referred to Israel as those whom He chose (Deuteronomy 7:6-7). The first martyr of the Christian church, Stephen, called the congregation in the wilderness the church (Acts 7:38).

The church of Jesus Christ cannot be for perfect people. The visible church is made up of those who have acknowledged that they are sinners in God’s sight and their children (Acts 2:37-39). God’s church cannot be outdated. Jesus said that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The church is not judgmental. The Bible declares that God alone is judge (Romans 12:19). The church is not un-welcoming. The church is commanded to be hospitable (Romans 12:9ff; Hebrews 13:1-2). The church is not irrelevant. The normal means of salvation is through the church proclaiming the gospel (Romans 10:17). The church is not hypocritical. The church does not play at worship, but worships in spirit and truth (John 4:23). The church is not boring. The church worships the Holy and Sovereign God who has revealed Himself as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, coming before Him requires humble awe and fear (Psalm 96:9; Isaiah 6:5; Hebrews 12:28-29). The Bible reveals the God of majesty and awesome might. It is impossible for genuine worship of the one true God to be boring.

The best thing that can be said about this straw dog of the church is that it may lead professing Christians to think about God’s gift of the church. But there is no need to build a straw dog for us to think deeply about the church. God holds His people accountable to ensure that our worship of Him is acceptable to Him! We dare not design our worship of God for inviting people to be entertained or to think that their needs will be met. We dare not organize our worship of God for non-believers. Clearly, biblical worship is for God by His people. May you be filled with the joy of worshiping God in spirit and truth every Lord’s Day.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Repentance”

The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor 7:10a). If then God gave the same gift to them (Gentiles) as he gave to us (Peter and the Jews) when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I (Peter) that I could stand in God’s way? When they (the Jews) heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:17-18).

Repentance is a change of mind that includes much more than thinking in a different way. It causes us to change every aspect of our lives informed by our minds. The penitent one changes the way he thinks and makes decisions. His motivations to serve himself are changed. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith is that genuine repentance means to turn away from sin.

The repentance that leads to salvation is always coupled in the Bible with faith. Here’s why. Repentance is to turn away from evil, and faith is to turn to Jesus, the Son of God. The Apostle Paul said that Christians are to count themselves dead to sin (turning from) and alive to God in Christ Jesus (turning to) (Romans 6:11).

If genuine repentance leads to salvation, then it is reasonable to ask, “Why doesn’t everyone (or, at least all those who hear this truth) repent?” The obvious answer is that some choose not to repent. But this answer only raises another question. Why do some choose to repent and others do not?

This same question could be asked about believing. Why do some choose to believe and others do not? The Bible answers both questions the same. Repentance and faith are both gifts from God! One could also say that repentance and faith are two sides of the same God-given gift.

The Jews in Jerusalem who had believed the gospel heard Peter’s testimony concerning Gentile believers, that God has granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life. In other words, God gave the gift of repentance not only to Jewish believers but also to Gentile believers.

I have gone to this depth at the risk of repetition to emphasize the biblical answer as to why some repent and believe. As stated above, the answer is: Both repentance and faith (believing) are gifts from God. They are given to those whom God converts from a sinner to a saint. Repentance and faith are given and received at conversion.

Just as saving faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement, and trust, so also repentance has three parts: acknowledgment of sin, sorrow over sin, and turning from sin. When we believe, we look to a certain body of information: The fundamentals of the Christian faith. Also, we agree or assent to the truth of that body of information. Finally, saving faith requires trust. That is, we rely upon the truth of what we know and affirm, living our lives by this faith (see Hebrews 11).

Now concerning repentance, the Bible teaches that the sinner acknowledges his sin which leads to godly sorrow, but acknowledgement and sorrow are not adequate for true repentance. There must necessarily follow a turning away from sin.

There is a moment, appointed by God, when He calls and regenerates a sinner, converting him and giving him the gifts of repentance and faith. From that moment, the Christian strives to live penitently and faithfully.

God’s promise of heaven is for everyone who repents of his sin and believes in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel! Further, on the believer’s way home to heaven, the Spirit of God continues to sanctify him. The Holy Spirit works in the believer, prompting a life of faith and repentance. Drawing from a line in an Indiana Jones movie, “only the penitent man will pass (survive)”.

By God’s grace and mercy alone, He gives the gifts of repentance and faith, without which there is no good news. As we come face-to-face with our own sinfulness, being grieved by it and committing to turn from it, God causes a light to shine in our hearts to see the beauty of Christ and run to Him. I can’t emphasize this truth enough. After the gifts of repentance and faith are received , they continue to be expressed throughout the life of the believer. They truly are the gifts that keep on giving, and it’s all by God’s grace!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Will Evil Win?”

“Will Evil Win?”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

God’s declaration through the prophet Isaiah is His promise for believers. The verse is in contrast to those who appear strong like youths and those who are powerful. Those who are strong in worldly terms will all grow tired and weary. But those who wait for the LORD will not only survive but will run because they won’t get tired. At times it seems as though evil men are winning. We wonder, where are those who know and seek to do what is good, right, and true?

God promised to deliver His people, and the prophet Isaiah began Chapter 40 with God’s word of “comfort”. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” This chapter of Isaiah is the beginning of the “Suffering Servant” passages, which continue through chapter 55. The “Servant” was revealed to be Jesus! He declared that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Luke 4:18-21). The Servant of God, Jesus, is the one who brings comfort. The comfort He brings is the assurance of deliverance which leads to glory in heaven and the judgment of all who do evil.

Isaiah often wrote in the prophetic past tense. That is, he saw future events as completed. When he wrote of judgment, he saw the total destruction of the wicked as already completed. He saw their final end. He used expressions such as, “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).

The end is certain. On the one hand God will establish perfect righteousness and on the other He will judge all ungodliness. There will be no escape for the ungodly. He will lift the curse of original sin and usher in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21).

God has promised the elect comfort, peace, and glory. This is for what we wait! We know that God never fails to keep His word. His word declares that He has claimed His people as His possessions (Isaiah 43:1). Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

God’s people wait upon Him with eager expectation for the fulfillment of His promises. The promise now is comfort. We eagerly await His promise of final deliverance. These promises are for all those who belong to the LORD. Those who belong to the Lord wait upon Him. The word translated as wait means trusting God now by obeying Him while waiting for His final deliverance.

Events in our nation and in the evangelical church may lead one to lose hope. But God is always faithful to His word. He will execute perfect justice. Those who call evil good and good evil, hiding behind what they claim to be their good intentions, will face the Holy and Just God. Likewise, God will judge men of lawlessness and those who encourage others to violate established laws.

Evil men will be with us until Christ returns. The evil in the world done by men is a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. We know that evil will be absent from the perfection that God has promised when Christ returns. God has declared it! But for now God has promised comfort. His comfort is the certainty of knowing that evil and all ungodliness will come to an end. Further, the comfort that God gives is in knowing that He walks through these evil days with His people. Those who believe that Jesus is who He said He is and rely upon Him have the assurance that nothing will ever separate them from God (Romans 8:35-39).

The comfort is grounded in knowing that His word is always true. He promised He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). By God’s grace, the experience of Christ’s work in our lives causes us to know that He holds us in the palm of His hand.

We persevere knowing that glory awaits us. We are waiting for perfect justice and peace. We wait with an eager expectation and certain assurance that God will bring His promises all to pass. While we wait, we have the comfort of the Lord given in His promise to be with us!