Grace and Humility

“God’s grace demands response: the response of humility.”
(c.f. James 4:6)

-Douglas Moo in The Letter of James (PNTC)

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C.J. Mahaney Taking a Leave of Absence

A public letter has started to circulate the world wide web – C.J. Mahaney is taking a leave of absence.  In an open letter, Mahaney writes, “I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.”  The “charges” do not deal with financial or sexual issues, but Mahaney is taking them seriously.  Through his letter explaining why he is taking a leave of absence, Mahaney demonstrates a heart that is soft towards the Lord and is living out what he wrote in his book Humility.

Here is the letter from C.J. Mahaney:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.

I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others.  I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness.  But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed.  Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge.  Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others.  And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.  Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.

So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.  With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.   After processing these findings, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.  This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process.

Just so you’ll know, I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible. And for the past year I have been the recipient of Ken Sande’s correction, counsel and care. That, I am grateful to say, will continue. And as you would expect I will continue to meet with the appropriate men on the board of Sovereign Grace and benefit from their correction, counsel, and care as well. I am deeply moved as I reflect on how rich I am relationally and I am humbled by the time these men are willing to spend serving me and Sovereign Grace.

My friends, I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I continue to walk through this process.  Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin. Pray that I will be convicted and experience godly sorrow resulting in reconciliation where necessary and adjustments to my heart and leadership. Thank you for praying in this way for me.

One more thing. For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, and the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM.  I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak (I wish I had recognized and repented of my sin against him years ago).  This brings great joy to my soul.  In other cases, appeals for mediation have thus far been declined, but I’m hopeful this process will facilitate further reconciliation.  But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches. And I bear a primary responsibility because it has happened on my watch and under my leadership. I have resolved that I and the Sovereign Grace team can’t effectively lead us into the future without evaluating the past, addressing these deficiencies, improving our structure, and as much as possible pursuing reconciliation with former pastors. So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.

My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches.  And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated. I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.

For an open letter from SGM regarding Mahaney’s leave of absence go to the Gospel Coalition blog.

Update (07/07/11; 9:48pm) : Since the posting of this blog entry, I have received emails seeking to attack the character of C.J. Mahaney and maligning his current state of repentance and the seeking of forgiveness from those that he has offended in the past.  Having offended people in the past while in a leadership role in a church and having been offended by people in leadership positions within the Christian church in the past, I can empathize with both Mahaney and those who feel offended by Mahaney.  This blog is not to defend or accuse Mahaney or SGM, but to celebrate the work of Christ within people’s hearts.  The open letter demonstrates a conviction from God in Mahaney & SGM as well as those who have felt wronged and have demonstrated the grace of forgiveness, forgiving others just as God in Christ forgave them.  It is my prayer that the grace of God will continue to operate in a strong way within Mahaney, SGM, and those who have felt offended so that their lives will shine forth Christ through humble and loving repentance and forgiveness rather than pride and a root of bitterness.

False Humility

Do you fall into the spiritual trap of appearing holy while in fact being unholy in regards to humility and ambition?  Do you  categorically reject greatness?  In theory, not being ambitious sounds good but when applied to real life it falls apart. Do you not want to have a great marriage, family, ministry, be part of a great church, have a lasting impact on the world?  Do you want your surgeon not to aspire to greatness? How about your spouse?

False humility in the religious realm often boils down to not using to the max the gifts that God has entrusted to you. It is many times an excuse for laziness, cowardice, or living for the applause of men for being “humble” rather than living for God.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle exposes this in the video below and gives six excuses that people use for not being great in a godly way today:

  1. I am great already
  2. I have potential to be great
  3. Back in the day I was great
  4. I am comparatively great
  5. Tomorrow I’ll be great
  6. If only ___ I would have been great

Mowing the Lawn for Jesus

Rolling out of bed at the way-too-early time of 8:00am on Saturday morning in order to squeeze in a shower before leaving with my parents to the church was not my idea of fun.  Sitting down in a circle of chairs still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes while a handful of others who are on time (and by their chipperness must drink very strong coffee) are trying to sing and pray.  As the prayer time gets closer to concluding the other half of the team begins to trickle in fashionably late.  I half wish that I could get away with being late, but am more annoyed that people who live twenty minutes closer to the church facility than my family somehow manage to be consistently late.

Then the checklist is pulled out.  “Toilets? Vacuuming? Mowing the Lawn?  We need two more to mow the lawn.” I raise my hand to push one of the mowers (if they actually work). “Dusting?” The list continues but I zone out happy that I avoided anything to do with bathrooms and trash.

By the time the church clean up finished I was awake and ready to have fun for the rest of the day.  My family would hop back in the car and I would be free of mowing the lawn for Jesus for another three weeks.

As a high schooler I didn’t like the thought of serving the church by mowing the lawn and vacuuming on Saturday mornings.  But my parents had a view for me and my involvement in helping out the church. It was greater than the legalistic sense of “we have to do this”. It was more pure than the guilt trip mentality of “good Christians serve the church”.  The serving helped me into a life of serving others. Emulating Jesus who was the ultimate Servant. Who washed the feet of His disciples.  Who left the glories of the heavens to serve, even to die in service, at the hands of His own creation.

Whether I fully understood it or not (and “not” was the case most of the time), my parents were preparing me to live and love like Jesus.  I can honestly say that I am grateful for their vision and their helping me into the same vision.  As an adult, I now serve a church willingly and even find myself seeking ways to practically involve myself in cleaning and improvements.

C.J. Mahaney writes about this in his book, Humility, in a section entitled “Teaching Our Children to Serve”:

My final suggestion to parents is to intentionally teach your children to serve – and whenever possible, serve in the church with your child.

Your family’s higher purpose is to serve the local church.  It’s true that one reason the local church exists is to equip your family, but that isn’t its ultimate purpose; meanwhile, your family’s ultimate purpose is to serve in the context of the local church for God’s glory. The church is the true family of God, and you have the privilege to serve in the church not only as an adult but also with your child…

Finally, if you’re a parent, be assured that parenting is something God has called you to and that He has personally assigned your children to you both for their good and for your sanctification. They’re gifts from God, and they come with all the grace you need to prepare them for their future – and in particular for the day when you’ll appear with them before the judgment seat of Christ.  What can you do today so on that day you and your children will hear the words “Well done”? (pp 165-166)

Sin’s Hardening Effect

Sin has the amazing ability to slowly harden the heart. It isn’t like liquid nitrogen which will instantly freeze and harden an object. Sin is more like a winter night hovering just at the freezing point that gradually hardens the heart.  It starts as a few icy spots on the surface perimeter and slowly creeps across the surface in a thin film.  At the same time its numbing affect reaches deeper and its hold becomes stronger and more difficult to break.  Eventually the heart is completely hardened.

For this reason the Bible warns us to be on guard against being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Author C.J. Mahaney writes about the hardening effect of sin in his book Humility about the especially dangerous sin of pride:

Sin always has a destructive effect, but often that effect isn’t immediately obvious. Over a period of time, however, where sin is indulged, there’ll be a hardening effect on the soul of a genuinely converted Christian.
To differing degrees we’re all familiar with this hardening effect. Perhaps you gradually find yourself less affected by corporate worship in your local church. Or you’ve recently noticed that your appetite for Holy Scripture has diminished. You may be less sensitive to sin, or your confession of sin is less frequent and lacks sorrow.
The ultimate effect from such hardening by sin is that grace, for the Christian, is no longer amazing. That’s why we need to stay close to the doctrine of sin – because it helps us see the presence of pride and protects us from those hardening effects…and it’s sufficiently potent to put pride to death in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit…
[Remember] that study alone isn’t sufficient. Along with increased knowledge there must also be grace-motivated application of truth and grace-empowered obedience to truth. Only then will we experience Christ’s liberating power from the sin of pride (pp 93-94).

Humility in Leadership

“Yes, leaders are vital to the church, and it’s appropriate to thank those leaders who have been used by God as a means of grace. But we’re to ascribe glory to no man.  Glory is ascribed exclusively and entirely to God. Only He can regenerate a heart. Only He can change a life. Therefore, only God should receive glory.”
-C.J. Mahaney (Humility p 81)

Starting the Day on the Offensive

“Morning devotions can set your day going well and change you.” (John Myer in the Columbus Ministry Workshop)

Coming to the Word of God with prayer is a sure way to get your day starting off well.  Yet, we often respond to this spiritual discipline with dismissive statements such as “but it is so hard to do”, “they can be so boring”, “I’m not a morning person”, or “I would do them if only I had time in the mornings”.

The last statement carries a key to helping dismantle our excuses and set us up for an effective morning devotion.  Quite simply, they won’t work if we wake up late and feel pressured and rushed.  Waking up 10-15 minutes early (which can be helped by going to bed 10-15 minutes earlier) to dedicate to coming the Christ in the Scriptures will allow you to “set your mind on the things that are above”.

Author and former pastor C.J. Mahaney concurs with this in his book Humility:

How we begin our morning so often sets the tone for the day. I’m convinced that the most decisive time of our day is very often our first waking moments, because they color everything to come (p 68).

Sin doesn’t wake up tired, because it hasn’t been sleeping. When you wake up in the morning, sin is right there, fully awake, ready to attack. so rather then be attacked by sin in the morning, I’ve chosen to go on the offensive. I’ve chosen to announce to sin, “I’m at war with you. I know you’re there, and I’m after you.” (p 69)

In addition to being an offensive weapon in our battle against sin, our devotions provide a consistent way of encountering Christ.  In the business of life if we aren’t deliberate about our times one-on-one with Jesus we can go entire days without conversing with our Savior.  We will tend to only meet up with Jesus on accident or once a week in church.  When it comes to a quality Christian life devotions are a great help because as John Myer said during the Columbus Ministry Workshop, “How far away can  you really get from Jesus if you contact Him every twenty-four hours?”