Pastor’s Viewpoints: “A Challenge for the New Year”

“A Challenge for the New Year”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Before looking ahead it’s a good thing to look back. I encourage you all to look back on the previous year and list those blessings from the Lord that filled your heart with joy. Our family was privileged to be given two new grandsons. Titus and Max were born respectively in Wellington, Florida and Brooklyn, New York. My wife and I thank the Lord every day for such great blessings. By God’s grace and providence we now have five grandchildren!

Now, to look forward, I again challenge myself and you all to a passion for the things of God. In other words, commit to pursue godliness; to obey the Lord’s command to “be holy”, Leviticus 11:44 and 1Peter 1:15-16.

It seems to be normal fare to make resolutions and then discover that the year has gone by and we have failed to keep them. This renewed challenge, the pursuit of holiness, is one resolution that will be kept not because of our faithfulness but because of God’s promise.

The certainty of this promise being kept is a fact for everyone who is in Christ. Two things require explanation. The first is the meaning of being in Christ. The second is the meaning of holiness. Both the first and second are rooted in God. Those who are in Christ have been brought there by God and holiness is God’s work of free grace that progressively makes the one in Christ more and more like Him.

In other words, the challenge that I lay before you is simply living in Christ; every day dying to self and living for God. A genuine Christian will meet this challenge with joy in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible declares that those who are in Christ are chosen by God. “… He (God the Father) chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Ephesians 1:4 Notice that God the Father acted by choosing men and women before He laid the foundation of the world. He chose them to be in Christ. This is all by the sovereign will and action of God. This truth revealed by God is called Unconditional Election.

So then, those who are in Christ are there solely by the grace of God, Ephesians 2:8-9. God makes Christians! It is necessary to be clear on what it means to be a Christian. A genuine Christian is a sinner chosen by God to be holy in Christ. God does this through the gospel. The gospel is God’s power to save, Romans 1:16. God raises a dead sinner to life and through God’s gift of faith the sinner places his trust in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel.

Salvation doesn’t end there. The resolution, rather the challenge that will be kept is that Christians will be made holy. God made this promise, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.” 2Timothy 2:13 Further, God has said, “… He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

In addition, God’s will for those who are in Christ is holiness, 1Thessalonians 4:3. God will complete what He starts but those who are in Christ are not robots. Christians are exhorted to work out their salvation because God is at work in them, Philippians 2:12-13. I have been made a Christian by God’s grace alone and He causes me to pursue holiness. I have the assurance that I am in Christ by my desire to obey Him. God has said that He confirms that I belong to Him by His Spirit speaking to my Spirit, Romans 8:14.

So then, what is my challenge? Very simply put, I am challenged as a Christian to pursue the things of God. My pursuit of holiness is a desire that God gave me at my conversion. It’s a desire that everyone who is in Christ has been given! Therefore, by God’s will we are called to engage with Him, responding to His Holy Spirit by being transformed by the renewal of our minds.

Meet the challenge God’s way through a local church centered in the word of God. The church is God’s instrument by which His people “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Miracle of Immanuel”

“The Miracle of Immanuel”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The dictionary defines a miracle as a supernatural event. Our lives rest upon the genuineness of the miracle of Immanuel, the Incarnation. The Incarnation means God in the flesh. December 25th is not simply a holiday. We celebrate the historic fact of God’s miracle of the Incarnation. We are merry because we know that the One who came and dwelt among us, Jesus, did what Adam failed to do. We know that Jesus, the God-Man gave His life as a ransom for many so that those whom the Father gave Him would be delivered from the bondage of sin.

The Prophet Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 God’s promise was fulfilled in 4 B.C. with the birth of Jesus. Matthew wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:23

The Incarnation was so important that God spoke through His prophets throughout the Old Testament declaring the absolute necessity of the God – Man. It is a miracle that we simply cannot adequately understand, but we receive this absolute truth because God said it. Our hope of eternal life is real because the miracle of Jesus’ birth was real.

The Apostle Paul took the opportunity of rivalry and disunity in the church to declare both the explicit and implicit meaning of the Incarnation. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

First, the Incarnation is the ultimate definition of humility. God, the Creator of all, condescended to lower Himself and take upon Himself human nature. God came to earth as a man. All the while, He remained divine. He voluntarily set aside His glory. No analogy is adequate to describe Jesus’ humiliation in the Incarnation and His crucifixion.

Further, Paul wrote that Jesus was born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, Galatians 4:4. Jesus was fully man, but a man without sin! Jesus was born without sin because He was born out of the natural course. He was miraculously born of Mary who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because Jesus perfectly obeyed God the Father even unto death upon a cross, those who are in Christ are accepted by God because of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Apart from Jesus’ Incarnation we would never be able to have a relationship with God. The Incarnation led to the satisfaction of the Law’s demands! Because of His perfect sacrifice the sins of His people have been paid for.

Second, Paul wrote of Jesus’ exaltation. Because of His perfect obedience to His Father, even to death on a cross, God gave Him the name that is above every name. That name is Lord. The Father gave Jesus to be the Master of all that exists. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth” was given to Him, Matthew 28:18.

In summation, Paul wrote of God’s purpose in the Incarnation. Everything about the Incarnation is for the glory of God, the Father! The entirety of God’s plan of redemption is for His glory!

The Incarnation also has an implicit affect. The implication of the Incarnation, God with us is that those who are in Christ are joint heirs of heaven with Him. All those who are in Christ will receive exalted and glorified bodies like Jesus. God has promised that His people will see Him face to face. The miracle of Immanuel is God’s provision that insures redemption for every believer.

May this Christmas Season remind you of God’s great provision in sending His only Son!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “When Jesus Returns”

“When Jesus Returns”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

What will happen when Jesus returns? Christians believe that He will return. Christians believe that He will return not as a Savior, but as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Christians believe that He will judge both the living and the dead.

There are well-meaning, yet ill-informed Christians who have been told that the Church will be spared of living through tribulation. Many so-called Prophecy Experts promote some view of a “secret return” of Jesus who will “rapture” the church out of tribulation and then judgment will begin.

Let’s ask the real expert Jesus. In His Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24, Jesus gave very specific answers to the questions concerning the end of the world, His return and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

“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’ words were fulfilled in 70 A.D. This 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 and even the horrific actions within the Jewish community.

The disciples also wanted to know about Jesus’ return and 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 It is clear that Jesus second coming will not be in secret.

The Apostle John was allowed to see Jesus’ 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.

Every eye will see Jesus in His glory. There is no “secret rapture” recorded in the Bible. By God’s sovereign grace, the church will persevere through ever increasing tribulation. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church.

The so-called rapture theology is built around one word derived from the Latin translation of the Bible. This word is “rapture.” The word in the original language is translated “caught up”, 1Thessalonians 4:17. Paul described what would happen to believers who were alive when Christ returned. He said that the dead in Christ would rise first, receive glorified bodies and those who were alive would be caught up in the air, changed in the twinkling of an eye to meet Christ as He descends.

Likewise, Jesus warned disciples when He said “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.

Don’t be distracted by spurious teachings. Rather, be ready for Jesus’ return. Repent and believe in the gospel!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Reasonable Expectations”

“Reasonable Expectations”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a leader say, “I commit to do what I think is right.” Such a declaration is often followed by accolades. Each time I hear it, my amazement increases. I’m astounded that so many think that what one “thinks is right” is somehow representative of goodness and virtue. A good and virtuous person would commit to do that which is right. Whether or not one thinks an action is right is, in my mind, irrelevant. We should all seek to do what is right! Doing what is right is a reasonable expectation to have for all leaders.

How can one know what is right? Romans 12:2 calls 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.” Therefore, believers are to live as children of light, that is, to follow Jesus. Disciples of Jesus Christ are told that 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 called discernment. Doing it is wise living.

The Ancient Hebrews knew that “the fear of the LORD was the beginning of wisdom”, Proverbs 9:10a. In order to live wisely it is necessary for the creature to know the Creator. God has revealed what He wants us to know of Him through His word written. Just as the church in the Old Testament knew to apply God’s word for wise living, every believer ought to do likewise.

The application of God’s word is wisdom. Therefore discernment, knowing the right action, requires knowledge of what God has said.

The Bible reveals that God is good, righteous and true. All three are attributes of the One True God. To know the One True God one must know His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As the Father is the source, discernment only grows through a personal and intimate knowledge of His Son, Jesus. Discernment is a learned ability rather than a gift and is available to everyone who professes Christ.

Discernment leads to wise living. Wise living follows the way of blessing. God said the way of blessing was to obey Him. Conversely, He warned that a cursed life would follow the one who disobeyed Him. 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.

The key to discernment is to know what is right, good and true. The method for knowing is not easy, but is a blessing. The method is the systematic, intense study of the Bible and the theology which proceeds from it. This is not only a personal endeavor. God has ordained that we grow in discernment and wisdom corporately. I am speaking of the necessity of growing in a church that teaches “sound doctrine”, Titus 2:1.

The Apostle Paul addressed the barrier to growth in discernment and it is recorded in 2Timothy 3. He wrote of the “last days”, those days between Jesus’ first and second coming. Paul said 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 was not describing the world in general. He was describing the visible church corrupted by those who only looked godly. 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 for growth in discernment through personal and corporate study of all that is good, right and true.

May our reasonable expectations be met in all our leaders.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Beam me up Scotty”

“Beam me up Scotty”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
You may remember those words spoken by the captain of the Star Ship Enterprise. This phrase has been used to indicate a denial of reality or other questionable circumstances. When descriptions of events contradict common sense or ignore reality Kirk’s line fits. The recent announcement of an Executive Action that seemed to clearly usurp authority, the rioting in a community that occurred when evidence was lacking to indict a police officer and the release of men suspected of terrorist activities who will likely return to those activities strain our common sense. More than straining common sense, these decisions and actions demonstrate a refusal to submit to the “Rule of Law.”

The Law was and continues to be a blessing from God. The Law given on Mount Sinai reveals the character of God. God blessed His people with the Law and declared to them that submission to it was the true path of blessing.

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” Deuteronomy 11:26-28

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…” Galatians 3:19. He called believers to “walk by the Spirit, Galatians 5:16. Believers live by the Spirit by applying the word of God in their lives.

He later wrote to the church in Rome, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad…” Romans 13:3 He reminded the members of the church that God is the one who ordains all authority. Those who are in authority are His ministers for the good and welfare of all people.

Christians receive the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible, clear and sufficient word of God. We know that God ordains all authority. Concerning civil authority, God’s provides for an ordered society. When society and its leaders refuse to submit to the Rule of Law that society will not survive for very long!

To understand the importance of the Law the Protestant Reformers recovered three uses of the Law as they are revealed in Scripture. The first use of the Law is to point to man’s hopelessness and his desperate need for a Savior. The second use of the Law is to restrain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. The third use of the Law is to guide the life of a believer in pleasing God. These descriptions of the three uses of the law have been paraphrased from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 7, sections 9 and 10. John Calvin articulated what the Bible teaches concerning the Law, Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Galatians 3; 5 and Romans 13.

The intersection of the blessing of the Law and Civil authority is the second use of the Law. It is the means given by God to put bounds around sinful mankind. It is this use of the Law that is the foundation of every society.

It is accurate to say, “All truth is God’s truth”, especially when speaking of the rule of law. The incidents I mentioned are examples of the disregard of the Rule of Law.

Apparently we have laws that don’t apply to all. Those who have been charged by the people to execute and enforce our laws only do so selectively. This makes for a dangerous time.

But we are very blessed in that our country was founded upon a principle that our government is by the people and for the people. Our founders understood God’s blessing of Law. I pray that all our citizenry would recognize our current situation. May we all devote ourselves to elect men and women who understand the necessity of the universal application of the rule of law. May we once again understand that it is because of God’s blessing of law that we will be able to guard those rights that He has given all men: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

May the rest of Captain Kirk’s line not be said of our society, “Beam me up Scotty, there’s no sign of intelligent life here.”

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Offer Thanksgiving for God’s Glory!”

“Offer Thanksgiving for God’s Glory!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Believers throughout the ages have offered thanksgiving to God to acknowledge His providence. Therefore, it was fitting for our first President to set one day apart to give God thanks for His providence. Thanksgiving is man’s reasonable response to God.

God is “The Mighty One, God the LORD,” and “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies” Him, Psalm 50:1a, 23a.

We have been blessed with many relationships by God’s providence. God has providentially led many of us to our spouse. He has blessed many of us with children. He has directed our steps to our church home. Our homes and our nation are likewise examples of God’s blessings.

Even those things that may not be to our liking or are less than desirable have been provided by God and are opportunities for Christians to give thanks. The word of God says to give thanks in all circumstances, Philippians 4:6; 1Thessalonians 5:18. Believers know “for those who love God all things work together for good,” Romans 8:28.

It is instructive to look back at one of the greatest celebrations in the Bible. It was a thanksgiving service! 1Chronicles 16 records King David’s preparation and implementation of a thanksgiving worship service. His motivation was the return of the Ark of the Covenant. David organized this great worship service to, “invoke, to thank and to praise the LORD.” 1Chronicles 16:4 The Ark was a visible sign of God’s covenantal faithfulness.

The Ark contained the stone tablets upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments. There was also with the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the golden urn containing the manna from heaven and the budded staff of Aaron.

King David knew that the people of God needed a visible reminder of His providence. As a man of God, David knew that God’s people were commanded to thank Him. The Ark of the Covenant was a constant reminder that God would be faithful to His promise made to Abraham and his seed, Genesis 17:7. God demonstrated His faithful providence by providing food for Israel in the wilderness. Jesus confirmed God’s faithfulness. He declared that the Father will provide the needs of His people, Matthew 6:25-32.

God’s people in the wilderness were fickle as are we. Even though God gave them a sign of His leading them through Moses and Aaron rebellion broke out regularly. As a visible sign of Aaron’s leadership God caused his staff to bud. God told Moses to keep that budded staff before the people to remind them of His chosen leadership. It continued as a reminder of God’s promise to lead His people by His chosen instruments.

Now, consider what God has given to us! We have been given God’s word written. We hear Him every time we read His word. Every Christian has been given the Holy Spirit who works in concert with the Word to change us and speak to our hearts. God has said that believers can approach His throne of grace with confidence because of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. As we come to the Father in our quiet moments, He has promised to hear us and to answer our prayers in ways that are beyond what we ask or think.

Christians are assured by the Holy Spirit that they are children of God, Romans 8:16. Believers have God’s constant presence leading and protecting them. Believers have eternal security. Believers have been given a clear revelation of God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Christians, therefore, should have a greater desire to give thanks to God. The Church of Jesus Christ belongs to Him. He is the head and king of the Church. The most fundamental reason to give thanks to God is His grace of adoption, Galatians 3:26-29. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” 1John 3:1

May we all speak the words of King David from our hearts, thanking God for all our blessings. “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.” 1Chronicles 29:11

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “To God be the Glory”

“To God be the Glory”
By the Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Jesus told Nicodemus, “… Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 Nicodemus was one of the Jewish leaders. He was a member of the governing council in Jerusalem. He was, as Jesus said, a teacher of the word of God. Yet, this educated, religious man did not know that all men are born dead in sin. The Holy Spirit must raise a sinner from spiritual death to life.

This fact is not a matter of interpretation. If one is a believer in the Risen Lord he must be given eyes to see and ears to hear by the Holy Spirit. The technical and theological phrase that explains this truth is: regeneration precedes faith. In other words, it is impossible for men to believe and then be born again (regenerated)! In order to believe in Jesus the Spirit of God must act first. The Spirit of God acts in concert with the Word of God causing a man to see the Kingdom of God.

In order to bring this truth to a very practical understanding, I have chosen to use my own faith in Jesus. But, make no mistake, my story differs in details but the act of God is the same for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord!

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 broad-sided 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, to His beauty and to see His Kingdom.

Let me be frank, before that day, I had no such desire for Jesus. Oh, I thought that I was a good person, 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! (1John 4:8) But the Bible also says that God is holy, holy, holy, Isaiah 6:3. Before God acted and regenerated me I didn’t consider 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 didn’t know God. I was spiritually 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 was responding to His action. “Ye must be born again” 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, Genesis 3:22-24. My position in Christ is dependent upon God and Him alone!

As I looked back on what God did in saving me through the lens of God’s word, I saw 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.” (ESV) The words of Jesus, John 6:44, made perfect sense as I looked at my life in Christ. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (ESV)

Personal testimonies offer praise to God. May He be glorified by what I have written. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The One who merited God’s Favor”

“The One who merited God’s Favor”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Grace is unmerited favor. God’s favor, grace is received by those who did not merit it. Grace is poured out on God’s people because it was merited by Christ. The Bible declares that we are saved by God’s grace! Ephesians 2:8 Those who are in Christ are beneficiaries of Christ’s merit.

The Bible says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 John referred to the law given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai and to the truth which is reality revealed in the person of Jesus.

We teach our children the meaning of God’s grace and the importance of God’s law. Grace is to receive what is not deserved of which mercy is another expression.

The opposite of grace and mercy is justice. The law of God given through Moses is a revelation of the absolute perfection of God. God’s law is the absolute standard of perfection. The Jews sought to make the law fool-proof. The leaders of the Jews came up with more than 600 nuances of the basic commandments of God as a means of addressing every aspect of life and how men should behave in order to keep the law. Yet, Jesus repeatedly said that they had missed the spirit of the law. The truth is that no one can keep the law. The Apostle Paul wrote that the purpose of the law was to bound sin, lead men to their need for a Savior and be the Christian’s guide for living. Galatians 3:19-29, 5:16-25

The Law of God leads us to our dependence upon the grace of God because He requires absolute perfection. Jesus said perfect righteousness is required to enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 5:20. God does not grade righteousness on a scale!

We must all be honest with ourselves before God. We cannot keep God’s perfect law of righteousness. No one is able to be perfect. Yet God requires perfection. Therefore, all we can do is appeal to God’s mercy that He would pour out His grace upon us, Psalm 51.

God’s grace is the only means by which men may stand before a holy God. But God does not simply winking at our failure to be perfect. God’s sovereignly extends grace to those whom He chooses only by the perfect merit of Jesus Christ. What Adam failed to do, Jesus did. We all inherit the sin of Adam. We are all dead in sin. We are unable to keep God’s law. No one is righteous no not one, Romans 3:10.

In summary, the grace of God is His favor extended to His people as a result of the merit of Jesus on their behalf. This grace is called saving grace. It is given by God to those whom He chose before the foundation of the world. His choice is not based on anything we will do or have done. His choice is unconditional, Ephesians 1, 2.

You may be thinking that this choice of God to extend saving grace as He wills is unfair and God is not unfair. I agree. God is not unfair. But grace is not about fairness. God is perfectly fair. We call His fairness divine justice. He has said that at the end of this world there will be a final judgment. Two books will be opened by God. One book is the record of everyone’s deeds. The other is called the book of life. The judgment of God is that anyone’s name that does not appear in the book of life is thrown into the “lake of fire.” Those two books represent the difference between justice and grace. Those who live thinking that God winks at their sin and will somehow extend grace to them at the end are those who will experience perfect justice. On the other hand those who live their lives relying upon the perfect life of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice will experience the fullness of God’s grace in eternal bliss.

So then, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Grace is God’s unmerited favor based upon the merit of His only Son, Jesus. There are two alternatives. Rely upon your own merit or rely upon the merit of Christ. The standard is perfection. Jesus is the only One who was perfect. As He said, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “God turned my world upside down!”

“God turned my world upside down!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“In the beginning God…” are the four words that turned my world upside down. My hope is that they will do the same to you! These words are reality. Reality is that uncomfortable truth that hits you in the face like a brick wall. Some may think that reality is what you make of it or believe it to be. Try standing in front of a brick wall and imagining that its not there. Then try running as fast as you can in the belief (even strongly held) that you’ll just pass through that wall. The result is obvious. So too is the absolute and ultimate reality declared throughout the Bible.

Like that figurative wall, God’s words knocked me off of my throne. The truth that God is the only eternal Being is central to the Christian Faith. In addition, the words of Genesis 1:1 declare reality to all mankind.

God’s words given to Moses declare there was a time when nothing existed; therefore, it follows that God made everything out of nothing! Nothing existed in the beginning except God Himself. By the sovereign command of God all Creation was made. The Creator changed me. He made me a new creation. His words told me that I had no right to claim the throne of my life, to think that I was “in charge.”

In making me a new creation, He gave me new desires, specifically a new desire, a profound and deep desire for Him. The Great “I Am” is the only self-existent being. All things that exist proceed from Him. I am because He is. We know Him in Jesus who said, “Let Me tell you how to say Yahweh in Greek (I’m paraphrasing). It is Jesus.” (Read the “I Am” sayings in John’s Gospel).

The confrontation came when I realized that He alone had the right to claim ownership of me and sovereign control of my life. There was no other reasonable response that a creature (me) could make to the Creator. Since all existence proceeds from Him, “In Him we live and move and have our being”, Acts 17:28 ESV, the claim of an absolute self-determination is unachievable.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me re-phrase. Before there was anything there was God. He chose a time to make everything out of nothing. Opposed to this is the view of eternal matter. A once great philosopher of the 20th Century, Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos is all there ever was or ever will be.” Acceptance of this view, in my opinion, requires a blind leap of faith into the dark rather than a step into the light.

King David said it best, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1, ESV

In light of God’s confrontation of Man’s idea of an autonomous, self-directed control over life, the question must be asked. How do you respond to the reality that you’re not in control?

Critics say that this view of reality is demeaning and renders men and women to be pawns. But just the opposite is true. Understanding that you’re not God and He is brings you to the profound realization that He has condescended to reach down and bless man above all creatures. David wrote in Psalm 8:5 about man, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” This supremely points to Jesus Christ, but is significant for the entire human race.

You are free to ignore this reality. But, for the sake of repetition, it would be like ignoring the wall I mentioned in my introduction. So then, “How do you respond to the truth that you’re a creature made by the Sovereign Creator?

If you’ve gotten this far, I believe that another question has arisen in your mind. And, this is a necessary question: “If God has sovereign, supreme authority and control, why am I responsible for my actions?” An honest question deserves an honest answer. Let me suggest a beginning in answering this question. A biblical principle, one grounded in logic is that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not contradictory. All men are responsible for what they do, there is no exception. Yet, God is sovereign over every action. Each statement is independent of the other.

You are responsible to examine your life in light of God’s sovereignty!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Celebrate October 31st!”

Celebrate October 31st!
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
If you profess Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, October 31st is a day to celebrate. Christians celebrate this day called “All Hallows Eve” because on it Martin Luther nailed 95 indictments, called theses, on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He was protesting the Church’s practice of selling indulgences. The practice was used to raise money both to build churches and fund the Crusades. It was based in the false doctrine of Purgatory. Purgatory was taught to be the place where people would go after death to fill up their punishment for their sinful lives. It was a kind of intermediate state between heaven and hell. Yet Purgatory was a temporary place. Those living could contribute to the Church so that their deceased loved ones’ time in Purgatory could be shortened.

While Luther’s 95 Theses did not discuss the doctrine of Purgatory, they did point to the major error of the church at that time. The major error demonstrated by the false doctrine of Purgatory was that the Church had set herself over and above the Bible. This unlawful authority became the Formal Cause of the Reformation. In opposition to the Church’s unlawful authority, the Reformers coined the phrase Sola Scriptura. Sola Scripture or Scripture Alone states that the word of God has ultimate authority.

Spurious doctrines like the doctrine of Purgatory were established by the magisterium of the Church whose leaders believed that they had authority over the Scriptures and used false doctrine to manipulate people.

The Protestant Reformers were not inventing new or novel ideas. The name Protestant was derived from the German Princes who protested along with Luther against the Church. Further, the Reformers believed that the church should always seek to reform herself in accordance with the written word of God. They were not offering an alternate perspective on salvation but were declaring and teaching the plain truth of God’s word. The Reformation was a providential blessing from God through which the church recovered the revealed truth.

The main issue that concerned the 16th Century Reformers was authority. The Latin phrase Sola Scriptura, which means Scripture Alone, identifies the rightful source of authority. The Reformers asked the Scriptures, “Who has supreme authority the Church or God?”

The Bible reveals that God is absolutely sovereign. It also reveals that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18. The Reformers saw the Church usurping the authority that belonged to God. The Church only has a granted authority. The Church’s authority only exists under the word of God.

To state the issue of authority clearly, Christ is the King and Head of His Church. He exercises His Kingship and Lordship through His word, the Bible. The Bible has ultimate authority over all including leaders in the Church.

God established the church (Dt. 7:6-8; Eph. 4:11), civil government (Rom. 13:1-7) and the family (Gen. 1:28; 17:7; Mt. 19:4-6; Eph. 6:1-4). All derive their authority and rightly exercise it under God’s word. His word written, the Bible is the ultimate authority and Christ is the Supreme King and Ruler over all the spheres of life. Men possess a granted authority. When men stand outside of or on the word they are usurping God’s authority.

The Reformers defined the sovereign authority of God with five Latin phrases. They are: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Fides (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be Glory).

Here is the reason for celebrating what the Reformers recovered: salvation was merited by Christ alone. God declares a sinner to be in right relationship with Him through faith alone. Salvation is by Grace Alone. All redemption is for God’s glory Alone!

Phrased differently the truth is: Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church; all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him; Christ completed what was necessary for redemption. God, the Holy Spirit applies the finished work of Christ to those whom the Father chooses.

There is no such place as Purgatory. Those who are in Christ have eternal life and go to be with the Lord after this life. The gospel is truly good news because God did for us in Christ that which we could never do! If we belong to Him, we are His forever. God said it that settles it. Amen!