Monthly Archives: January 2017

“Know Who You Are”

On Sunday, January 29, 2017, Eastside Presbyterian Church Lead Pastor Mark Auffarth preached a sermon, during which he said he doubted anyone would come hear him preach in the desert, as John the Baptist had done, but I told him I would come listen to him preach in the desert, especially after such a good sermon message on this day!  If you would like to read my summary of Mark’s sermon, “Know Who You Are,” please read on.

“Know Who You Are”

From the “Who Is This Jesus?” Sermon Series

By Pastor Mark Auffarth, Lead Pastor

Eastside Presbyterian Church

Greenville, South Carolina

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Text:   John 1:19-34

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Summary of and Editorializing by Bob Stouffer

So we’re talking about John the Baptist today.  This passage describes two days in the life of John the Baptist.  One day, he interacts with the Jewish religious leaders.  The next day, Jesus shows up — the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  These two days are presumably after Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days, prior to his public ministry.

Anyone heard of Milton Lichtman?  He’s most famous for portraying thousands of television and radio commercial characters.  He died at the age of 87.  He was once asked how he was doing?  He responded, “I’m alive and well and living in someone else’s face.”  In May of 1989, the New Yorker published an article about “The Man with a Thousand Faces.”  He considered heaven to be “living in his own face, luxuriating in his own skin.”

Do we know who we are?  We can play a lot of roles in our lives.  Who are we, when we are lying on our beds at night, and it’s just us as individuals?

John the Baptist knew who he was, and that informed the role he played in worshipping Jesus.

I have two points today:  We have identities to remember, and we have roles to play.

Point Number 1:  We have identities to remember.

The purpose for John’s Gospel was that we might know Jesus, believe in Him, and, as a result, have life in his name (John 20:31).

John the Apostle does not begin with Jesus’ birth.  He begins with Jesus’ public ministry.  And that means we begin with John the Baptist preaching in the desert.  His mother Elizabeth was a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Jewish leaders came to question John the Baptist.  The people in Jerusalem had heard that John was drawing large crowds in the desert.  A delegation of Levites and Priests came to John in the desert.  His baptizing was troublesome to them.  Ritual purifications were intended for the religious class; Priests did that.  What right did this “interloper” have to baptize others?!  And he was baptizing Jews who were already ceremonially pure.

Starting in verse 19 of John 1, these Jewish leaders wanted to get on top of something which would cause disruption to Judaism.  He told them who he was.  He was a voice in the desert, preparing the way for the Lord.  Large crowds were coming all of the way out in the desert to hear him.  It must have been heady stuff.  I know you wouldn’t come out into the desert to hear me preach!

How did he know that he was a messenger for God?  God has sent him to baptize with water.  The one who received the dove — the Holy Spirit of God — would baptize with the Spirit.

Surely during the first 30 years of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ lives they had seen each other.  They were cousins.  But John the Baptist had not known that Jesus would be the Messiah until this time.  At the point of this passage, he understands that Jesus is the lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist was willing to fade away from his purpose after Jesus was announced.  Would we fade away, as John faded away?   Could we walk away from our pride?  We must know who we are and who God is.  We need the Holy Spirit to show us who we are and who God is.

Jesus is great.  And John the Baptist wasn’t.  It’s that simple.  John’s purpose was to shed light on and bring focus to Jesus.  Brothers and sisters, this is our identity, too.  We are not to point to ourselves.  We are to point to Jesus.

There is a lot of misinformation about who Christians are.  Christians give up our own identities, and we take up a new one.  We give up who we are for the sake of someone else, Jesus Christ.  Christ-followers understand that we are sheep in a sheepfold following The Great Shepherd, Jesus.  We are beggars come to The Bread of Life for sustenance.  The sheep come to The Living Water.  The sheep follow Jesus by The Light of the World. We do not promote ourselves to be significant.  We are significant because of Jesus, the lover of our souls.  Jesus.

A Christ-follower is willing to give up his or her life to gain something so much better.  Jesus gave up His life for us.  So we give up our lives for Him.  Jesus is trustworthy, because He gave up His life for His followers.  There is nothing better than that!

John the Baptist was willing to give up everything, because he knew who he was, he knew who Jesus was, and he was willing to be Jesus’ forerunner.  Later, they cut off his head!  So?!  He’s not dead!  He’s with Jesus!!

Point Number 2:  We have roles to play.

John the Baptist told these religious leaders that they were a brood of vipers.  He told Herod that he was sinful.  That got him locked-up, and, eventually, his head was lopped off.  He was really bold, because he had a clear sense of his identity.  There’s nothing like confidence and clarity to contribute to boldness.

John pointed everyone to the lamb of God.  He said, “Look!”  He said, “Behold!”  He paused.  “Hey!  Stop what you’re doing!  Look!”  Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  That’s a statement of worship.  Jesus is in the room!  Everyone, look!  John was having a worship service, and he wanted everyone to be in on it.

Brothers and sisters, isn’t that our job as well?  We’re not trying to get people to follow a bunch of principles.  Are we supposed to get people to behave in a different way?  We’re not signing people up for a rule book!  We’re gathering people to worship Jesus!  He is so worthy of our worship!  We’re gathering worshippers!  We’re gathering people to worship Someone who is the center of our lives.

It’s going to be hard to gather people to worship, if Jesus is not the center of our lives.  You’re heart’s in!  You’ll bow!  We’ve got to show other people that He is worth worshipping.

Here’s the problem.  We live in a society in which there are many types of gods.  At the heart of our society is “the new moral code,” according to new George Barna poll results and report.  Christians are following a moral code in which there is little difference from those who are not Christ-followers.  Life is about self-fulfillment.  The suicide rate has risen 29% since 1999, because these pursuits are empty pursuits.

James Michener tells a story about a man who was a farmer worshipping a god of death and a goddess of fertility a couple thousand years before Christ.  He brought his son to sacrifice for a good crop that year.  He dragged his wife and son to the altar.  After the sacrifice, the priest indicated one of the fathers would spend time with the temple prostitute.  The man’s wife was stunned that her husband eagerly lunged at the opportunity.  If he had different gods, he would have been a different man.

God — or gods — make us who we are.  Do you know who you are?  Who/what do you worship?

The lamb of God — the King — He came to pay for the sins of the world!  We need to fall on our knees to worship.  Breaking self-preoccupation and coming to Jesus is worship (Eugene Peterson).  Jesus gives us safety, security, peace.  We must let the people around us know who Jesus is.  Christianity is a relationship with the God who is the center of the universe!  Not our jobs, children, statuses.  Jesus!

When our gods are threatened, we get anxious.  But we will never lose Jesus!  He is always with us!   He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This is hardly the kind of leader we see in the world today.  He’s the leader who became the lamb of the God who was sacrificed at Passover.  Before leaving Egypt, the Jews were protected by the blood of the lamb on their doorposts.  It is no coincidence that Jesus died on Passover.  On a cross.  For us.

We’re inviting people to worship Jesus.  With your children.  As a Father, I messed this up more times than I care to admit.  Let your children see your heart of worship for Jesus.  You can enforce rules all you want in your home, but those rules won’t mean anything unless your children see you worshipping Jesus.

I think we can join John the Baptist in proclaiming,

“Look!”

“The lamb of god who takes away the sin of the world!”

That’s the Gospel!

And the Gospel changes everything!

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, Eastside Presbyterian Church Lead Paster Mark Auffarth challenged all of us to be in the presence of Jesus on a moment-by-moment basis in our lives. If you would like to read my summary of Pastor Mark’s message, “Who Is This Jesus?” please read on. . . .

The “Who Is This Jesus?” Sermon Series
By Pastor Mark Auffarth
Eastside Presbyterian Church
Sunday, January 22, 2017

Text: John 1:6-18

Summary of and Editorializing by Bob Stouffer

We talked about 5 prayer points last week.

I’m asking you to pray over these points. The “process” does not involve a spreadsheet. The process is prayer.

Here are the five points:

Pray that God will add at least 5 ethnically diverse families to our church community.

Pray that 20 people will profess faith in Jesus Christ because of their involvement with the people of Eastside Presbyterian Church.

Pray that everyone at Eastside will engage in at least 1 mercy ministry in the community.

Pray that everyone at Eastside will be involved with at least 1 person in mutual spiritual inquiry.

Pray for everyone at Eastside to pray for at least 3 unsaved neighbors or family members.

Looking back on his 3-decade-long career as a late night TV host, David Letterman, believed it was “silliness.” He felt foolish for having been misguided by his own ego from so many years. That’s pretty insightful.

Some things which seem so important to us on a day-to-day basis seem silly in looking back at them.

We just went through a Presidential Inauguration. I like all things Presidential. When you looked at the stage, with all of those dignitaries, so many important people, the “who’s who” of leaders in our country, who of us would not be impressed? We’re impressed by “somebody-ness.”

This ceremony reminded me of Psalm 2.

Psalm 2 talked about Jesus! Unless we follow Jesus, it’s all silliness. It’s all worthless.

That’s what John was stating in Chapter 1 of his Gospel. People who pursue power, fame, importance, and power — unless they kiss the Son — it is all silliness and worthless.

JESUS IS WORTH FOLLOWING, AND HE IS CERTAINLY NOT SILLINESS.

John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus Christ. He preached that the Kingdom of God was near. He baptized those who repented of their sin. He was hated by the religious community, since he had called them a “brood of vipers.” John the Apostle didn’t go into all of that detail. John the Apostle addressed the theology of John the Baptist’s ministry.

John described the other John as a Prophet. Jesus was coming into the world. The Good News of the Kingdom was being preached by John the Baptist. He was the last of the Old Testament Prophets who would announce the Messiah Who was to come. The Old Testament pointed to Jesus and announced Him as the coming Savior. Jesus is everywhere in the Old Testament.

Jesus would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3). Jesus conquered death!

Abraham was told to go to the land God showed him. God would bless him and all peoples on earth through him. Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to the nations. It’s through Jesus that the blessing passed down through Christ Jesus to us! It’s through Jesus! It’s about Jesus!

King David sat on his throne. Solomon would build a house for the Lord (the Temple). The house and kingdom and throne of the Old Testament would survive forever because of Jesus! Jesus is the King who sits on the throne!

Psalm 2 told us exactly what would happen in the New Testament. Jesus was light in the darkness.

Jesus is the culmination of the entire Old Testament. So many people see the God of the Old Testament as an angry person who kills people. Jesus was God in the Old Testament. He is the same God in the New Testament. Jesus cast out demons. Jesus loved people. He had compassion for people. Those who do not come to Him will be lost. He freely offers Himself to others. There is no limit. There is no exclusivity to Himself or his compassion. EVERYONE is invited to come and bow the knee before Jesus.

You might not like the God of the Old Testament, but perhaps you have missed the humble, compassionate, long-suffering God of the Old Testament in such passages like that of Isaiah, where God is described as the suffering servant. That is an amazing God!

Maybe you think God is punishing you for your life choices. When something bad happens, you may think God is “out to get you.” Maybe you think He has walked away from you. Perhaps you don’t sense Him in anyway this morning.

But Jesus says to you, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” This is the God who comes to be with us, offering Himself to us, that we might fall before Him.

What does He offer to us?

He offers to make us new.

We can’t just pull him out of our pocket when we “need” him. That’s not the Jesus of the BIble.

The Jesus of the Bible will make us new. Don’t you want to be new?

So many New Year’s Resolutions get broken. Here’s the thing about Jesus. It’s not as though he is not interested in those Resolutions. He’s interested in the heart, something that is far more important.

He gives us a new status. To all who received him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to be children of God. The status He gives us is as His children! He declares, “That’s my daughter! That’s my son!” We inherit everything of His Kingdom! We cry, “Abba! Father!” We are His children adopted into His family. Of course, we are disciples, soldiers, and members of His Kingdom, but, first and foremost, we are His children. We have been named children of God.

I could say some things about adoption. It seems like, as adopted children, we love to live as though we are orphans. That’s the way we so often live, as though we do not have a loving Father, nor do we have His Holy Spirit. To those who receive Him, He gives us the power as children of God. We are not orphans.

This is not of natural descent, nor of human will. God pursues us. He comes after you, because He wants your heart. Maybe you’re being pursued by Jesus today. You may be fighting. You may be running away. He’s after you. He’ll get you. He will.

Also, he gives us grace and truth. Do we understand grace and truth?

Jesus is full of grace. He does not pay us according to our sins. He took the price of our sin on Himself. He lavishes His grace on us.

The truth part is that He does not overlook our sin. He reveals that truth. This is painful. Why? Because we are allergic to being in need. We don’t like to be in need. We want to offer up something on our own. We have nothing to offer. Grace is free. He has to give the grace. We don’t like that. We don’t want to see the truth.

He does the surgery in our hearts. We have to look at Him with that new status in mind. The truth is that we live in self-denial.

In his blog this week, Dave McCarty wrote that Christians do not have self-awareness of our idolatry. We are self-absorbed idolaters. Denial defines us, as it defined the Pharisees. There is so little of Jesus in us. No one wants what we have, because have nothing better than anyone else has. We are willful, impatient, prideful. We are wise in our own eyes. We are control freaks. We imagine ourselves more humble and holy than we are.

Ouch. That hurt. We need to see who we are, honestly, so we can see how much Jesus really loves us. Jesus loves us exactly as we are. He gives us grace. But He won’t leave us there. Such is when the truth of our need for Him comes in.

I pray that this church would be a church of grace and truth, no matter how different people are. Let’s love people with grace. Let’s love ourselves with grace. There is so much self-loathing. He loves me. And that’s good.

We should not try to impress others with our gifts and abilities. We must be honest with each other. Of course, great things are happening here. But we must also talk about the areas in which we struggle. Usually the junk that is going on with ourselves is obvious to everyone else but ourselves.

What would we be like if we were open to how others see us, and that we would grow from their honest comments, together with Jesus’ work in our lives?

We have issues. But our vision of others is 20/20, but not so of ourselves. We need Jesus in us, so the world will see a difference in us and want that same difference. We must have a quiet confidence which resonates with others. Grace and Truth. That’s Who He is. You will never improve on own through a rigorous application of the law. I would challenge you to be self-disciplined about being with Jesus every day. He’s the only one who can change us. He is the only one.

Be with Him. Be with Him!

Busy-ness is the nemesis of being with Jesus. Some of you are task-oriented. You cram as much into your schedule as possible. We all have allergies to being with Jesus. If we want to see Him — if we want to stop the silliness — we need to see Him and Who He is. And we need to be with people, so they see Jesus, too.

Today, the quote in your bulletins by John Miller, from The Heart of a Servant Leader, reads, “Perhaps you don’t drift the way that I do, but I constantly forget the deep hole of depravity from which the Lord’s mighty love rescued me. Drifting does not take any effort at all; just stop cultivating the knowledge of Christ, and the evil current of secularism does the rest. All passion for the lost seems increasingly a fading memory. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, Paul willing to be cursed for the sake of his countrymen, those things become very remote to the point of being unreal.”

Just sit, and the drift of secularism will take us all out.

Cultivate relationship with Jesus, the God of grace and truth, and you will be transformed.

This is the Gospel, and the Gospel changes everything.

Eastside Presbyterian Church Elder Steve Schoen preached a meaningful message from Luke 7:36-50 on Sunday, January 1, 2017. The message centered on our need to admit and repent of our sin, relieving ourselves of the heavy weight of that sin in the body of Christ. If you would like to read my summary of Dr. Schoen’s message, “Carrying and Unloading the Burden of Sin — Together,” please read on. . . .

“Carrying and Unloading the Burden of Sin — Together”
By Dr. Steve Schoen, Elder
Eastside Presbyterian Church
Greenville, South Carolina
Sunday, January 1, 2017

Passage: Luke 7:36-50

Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal, Southside Christian School

I have a new-found respect for our preachers and pastors [having prepared this sermon message].

Let’s pray: Help us to see Jesus clearly in this passage, Lord. Help us to be changed people as a result.

There are two ways of dealing with sin.

And there are two ways of responding to Jesus.

I would also like to look at the outcomes of these responses.

And, finally, we should answer the question, who is the “hero” of this narrative?

It would have been customary for the host of this dinner party to honor a special guest like Jesus by anointing Him with oil, by washing his feet, and by kissing him. Simon was unkind to him for not doing so.

The dinner table would have been low to the ground, with guests reclining on their left side, and eating [primarily] with the right hand. The dining would have been “public,” with people interjecting comments, a bit different from the customs of today.

Simon is muttering comments about Jesus — about Jesus not being a prophet by touching a sinful woman. According to Simon, Jesus had become ceremonially “unclean.”

Here’s my prop. This [a big bag of heavy rocks] is our sin. We carry this sin around with us. [Dr. Schoen placed the heavy bag around his neck and on his shoulders for the remaining portion of the sermon.]

What did the woman do with her sin?

The woman’s way of dealing with sin was to own her sin. She didn’t blame anyone else. It’s striking. She bears the weight of her sin silently. Blessed are the poor in spirit. She is poor in spirit.

Do you and I feel the weight of our sin, as this woman did? Do we get rid of the weight of her sin by handing the sin to Jesus? Both the large and small debt cannot be paid.

Simon’s way of dealing with sin was to become comfortable with his sin. He was comfortable with the weight. He did not feel the weight of his sin. He carried it around comfortably. Jesus said to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. This sin is the leaven.

Sin finds sanctuary in “religious” communities, causing great darkness. How great is that darkness? Think of the church in the civil rights era. The church became comfortable with racism. Think about the church during the era of Nazi Germany.

Our culture is like that. Our culture commends sin — so much so that greed and pride and lust are sins whose weight is unperceived. We struggle to confess our sin. Why? Why is that? We must confess our sin. Jesus came to save us from that sin.

When we come here, I find comfort in knowing that I don’t bear my sin alone. I find comfort in knowing that you bear sin, too. We have to go further than that. We have to unload that sin. Feel the weight of sin. Bring the weight and sin to Jesus.

How did the woman respond to her sin? She came to Jesus with an expensive oil as a thanksgiving offering to Him. This is a time of admitting her sin and thankfulness to Jesus. She had been exposed publicly. But now she comes to Him privately. Without a word, she brings her sin, seeking forgiveness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. She perceived Jesus’ deity, the God incarnate reclining at the table. She sought refuge. She perceived His deity and glory. She lost all shame and self-consciousness. It’s as though the Pharisees were not there. That was the power of Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful picture of her and Him. She let down her hair. She wept over her sin and wept in gratitude for His grace. It’s beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s just amazing, because of Jesus. She found complete forgiveness. First, she experienced sorrow — and, then, joy.

Simon didn’t need Jesus. He didn’t need his forgiveness. He was amazed that Jesus was consorting with a sinner. This was enemy territory for this woman. Simon was unmoved. He was blind to Jesus’ deity. He remained dull to the Word of God. As a Pharisee, he was an expert of the law and God’s Word. Jesus told him that His Word did not abide in Simon. This stuff [sin] is hanging around Simon’s neck. Jesus tried to open his eyes by asking him, “Have you not read?” That must have been infuriating to Simon.

We can become dull to our own sin. We must become a “confessing” church, forgiving much, loving much. There’s a transaction that we should cultivate in the body of Christ. We acknowledge and confess our sin. We find comfort in worshipping alongside others who sin. We must teach our children not to carry this stuff [of sin]. We carry our sin to Jesus, or we become a warehouse for sin. The cross is an incinerator. The weight of my sin is “killing” me. I cannot be a light when I continue to bear this sin. We must lead each other gently to Christ. We need to unload. We need to be convicted of our sin. We are too comfortable with our sin. I’m proud. I struggle with many things. I carry sin around. I’m glad we can be a church which is a confessing church. Perceive Jesus’ deity.

Who is the “hero” of this story?

Jesus is, of course, the hero of this story. Sometimes, I struggle with this passage. The passage is powerful. The bulldozer can tear-up the dirt and foliage. Beauty can be destroyed. Here, with Jesus, we see His glory and how He affects others around him, preserving their beauty through mercy and forgiveness. He drew this woman into the light in 5 sentences, silencing the wisdom of the learned Pharisee, Simon. Jesus perceived Simon’s sin in his heart and, in short order, silenced Simon’s wisdom. Jesus’ wisdom was so overwhelming. She saw His glory. His love overwhelmed her. She was so beautiful to Him. That is our God. That is our God.

In Jesus’ presence, our sins disappear. We bring our sins to Him. At the cross, He took our sins upon Himself. He destroyed our sins. Praise God! Praise Jesus! He removes our sin and shame in the same way he removed her sin and shame. Let’s love much, and let’s become a church which humbly helps each other help carry our burdens to Jesus, our most beautiful refuge.