A humorous story courtesy of C. J. Mahaney:
A man stopped in one morning at a rural Texas “greasy spoon” cafe to get a cup of coffee. After being poured a cup, he slowly dumped one packet of sugar down into the cup, then a second packet, then a third packet.
He called out to the waitress, who was taking in the situation, “I’m going to need some more sugar over here!”
The waitress replied, “Honey, first you just stir up what you’ve got!”
C. J. related the waitress’ advice to Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So often we keep asking God for more grace, and yet we aren’t “stirring up what we’ve already got”, not working out our salvation with what God has already generously put into our cup.
Some very true words from a sermon by C. J. Mahaney:
We must work hard to identify evidences of grace in each others lives…the many ways in which God is at work…In each and every conversation, discerning an evidence of grace in someone’s life, identifying that evidence to that individual, and celebrating that evidence of grace together…too often too many Christians are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God..one of the great benefits of the church is as we come together we can help perceive how God is at work in each other’s lives.
How can you exhort someone today in this way?
Here are my notes from today’s message from C.J. Mahaney at the Together for the Gospel Conference:
Mark Dever introduced C.J. with the words, “C.J. has affected me perhaps more than any other brother in my life. He lives in the knowledge of what God has done for Him.”
C.J. started out by thanking everyone who attended, “I have received more encouragement in the last two days than most men receive during their entire life.” Then he launched into a short monologue comparing Piper’s message to a Concorde taking off, shaking the ground, while he was a Cessna, just hoping to get airborne. There is no way to describe how hilariously funny this was— you just had to be there.
Then C. J confessed, “While preparing for this message, God revealed to me that I was more concerned with preparing a message to impress than to serve. How pathetic, how proud. Preparing a message is a critical part of God’s process of sanctification in the pastor’s heart. So, now, I am not here to impress you, but to serve you.”
1 Timothy 4:16
Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching; persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Spurgeon’s first lecture to his students was on this passage, “The minister’s self watch.” My practice is to read a Spurgeon sermon on my upcoming text the night before I preach.
Paul’s tender care for Timothy is evident in this passage. This morning we have the privilege of overhearing this divinely inspired fatherly communication, and we find that we are being addressed as well. This morning I am convinced that God wants to have a word with you, and a very personal word with you. He wants to address each one of us personally, and care for our souls. The Savior wants to care for you, to minister to you, so that you are a different man when you return to your home.
Here we have a summation of our ministry, and on the eternal consequences.
Feel the weight of this verse, feel the implications of this verse on your soul.
Your congregation is at stake on your obedience to this verse. The implications are eternal.
1. Watch your life
Watching your life and watching your doctrine are inseparable, both are linked and both must be done and both must be daily practiced and priorities. But in my life the easier one to neglect is watching my life. It is much easier to study doctrine than to study my heart. It’s easier to examine my books than my motives.
We watch over our flock’s souls but not our own, to public ministry but not private piety. There is no substitute for personal piety. Christian character is the fundamental qualification for pastoral ministry.
Our characters must be more persuasive than our speech. —Spurgeon
If we neglect this command the consequences are inevitable and serious.
This is more than the obvious sins like sexual sin, but also pride, lack of seeking or listening to counsel, laziness, seeking honor.
How do we watch our lives? Here are three:
1. The Limitation of Sound Doctrine:
Knowledge of Scripture is essential, not optional, but it is not sufficent for personal godliness. This conference can contribute to progressive personal godliness, but it could also lead to progressive self-deception if we think that listening and being emotionally moved is all that we need.
It is obedience to the truth that counts in the end.
We spend so much time reading and teaching the Scripture that we are vulnerable to assume that we are automatically growing.
We must apply to our own soul what we are teaching.
2. The war within our regenerated heart never ends:
Romans 7 Our enemy is not just upon you, as Samson of old, but within you. John Owen
There is no pastoral exemption from sin.
If you don’t watch, you will weaken. Are you watching? It’s hard work. And hard work, is hard work. Are you watching daily, closely, persistently? If you don’t watch you will weaken.
3. You can’t effectively watch yourself by ourselves:
We need others. In God’s wisdom He has designed it so. Left to myself there will be deficient discernment of my sin within.
I wrongly assume that since I perceive your sin clearly, I have no problem seeing my sin clearly. But sin deceives, sin blinds.
“Since each of us still has sin remaining in us, we will have pockets of spiritual blindness. The Bible says that we can be spiritually blind and yet think that we see quite well. My self perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror.” David Powlinson
You can assume others have observations, and that they will be reluctant to give you these observations, starting with your wife. You have to create an environment where they can honestly tell you their observations.
Do you specifically confess specific areas of sin and areas of temptation to trusted men in your life? And with discernment, do you confess your sin to your congregation as well? I have seen many benefits of that while I was a senior pastor.
At our church pastoral team members and wives are in small groups, both couples, mens and wives meeting separately monthly, with 3 day retreats as couples yearly. These are of immeasurable benefit, both for personal growth, marriage, and parenting.
Especially with parenting, it is so easy to have more pride and resistance to counseling regarding the management of our children than our own personal lives.
2. Watch your doctrine
Watching your doctrine must include never losing sight of the Cross.
The puritans knew that the travelers through the Bible lost their way as soon as they took their eyes off Calvary. Packer
3. Watch God work
Here is a promise of effective ministry in a most unexpected place. If we watch our lives and watch our doctrine then we have the promise that God will work. What guarantees the effectiveness of watching our lives and doctrine? The Savior.
Because of the Savior we have hope in our ministry.
In C. J. Mahaney’s excellent book Humility: True Greatness, he describes how he fights the sin of pride in his heart by using a definition of pride rather than just the name. When he acted pridefully, instead of praying, “Lord forgive me of my pride” he would say something like “Lord, forgive me for contending for supremacy with you.”
Sometimes the mere words for sin are used so commonly that they become stripped of their power and full meaning. By restating them in an accurate definition that makes sense to us, they regain some of their original power to stir our soul. They once again force us to think and seriously consider what manner of treason we have committed against the God that we love and serve. As a for instance, does “sin” or “treason I commit against the God I love and serve” strike deeper into your soul?
Here are some more examples. Feel free to take these definitions or modify them or make your own, and use them in your thought life and prayer life. Note that each of these definitions has God as the focus. In Psalm 51 David wrote, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” The greatest one offended in any sin is always God, and that realization has to be the focus of any definition of sin.
sin—treason against the God I love and serve
gluttony—using food in a way that does not honor God or His temple my body
lust—desiring a sexual partner that God has not provided for me
pride—putting myself above the omnipotent Lord of the universe
greed—wanting what God has decided is not best for me to have
anger—rejecting God’s wisdom and justice concerning His plan for me
Depending on how you are “wired”, a word picture, a Biblical example, or a song verse may be more helpful than a verbal description. Basically anything that brings the true nature of your sin and God’s true nature vividly and clearly into your mind and helps you truly repent and turn from it is a work of grace for your walk with God.
I thought, wow, this is going to be a great book.
I wasn’t prepared for what I got.
A book that broke me, that had me on my knees, that used the word of God to pierce between my joints and marrow.
Flawless theology, intensely practical, powerfully written.
I feel I do the book an injustice by trying to describe or summarize it at all, so a sentence from the epilogue will do:
Ultimately, there can be no effective expansion of your life’s mission and ministry, no fulfillment of the specific purpose He’s called you to, apart from the cultivation of humility in your heart and the weakening of pride in your life.
Let this book be a tool that the Spirit uses to expose the pervasiveness and perversity of pride in your life and challenge you to turn in humility and repentance to a gracious God.
Just got finished listening to a great series of messages by C. J. and Carolyn Mahaney that are available for download here .
I found it interesting that one message directed primarily toward men was on true greatness and how one message directed primarily toward women was on true beauty.
This echoes many other writers, most famously John Eldredge recently, that there is something God-given within the masculine heart that seeks after, knows that it is made for, and is not satisfied without, greatness, and likewise something within the feminine heart that is made for beauty.
In men, the God-given desire for greatness has been corrupted into what Eldredge likes to refer to as striving after “small stories”—greed, power, lust, sports, self-focused achievements. Most clearly through Jesus, we see that true greatness, the greatness that God defines, the greatness that God made men for, is the path of servanthood and humility.
In women, the beauty that the apostle Peter describes in 1 Peter 3:4 as precious to God is that of a gentle and quiet spirit. This has been corrupted into the brash, competitive, and self-focused vanity of external appearances.
Our relationships have been corrupted as well. Every man wants to be thought of as great, respected, by the woman in his life(because of this seed of greatness within his soul), and wants to be able to glory in the beauty of his wife(recognizing the beauty that God has intended for her). Men have corrupted this into domination and abuse of women, and focusing on and abusing their external beauty instead of seeking and cherishing their inner beauty.
Likewise women want their men to be enthralled by their beauty, not abusing it or comparing it to others. And as a literal reading of the Hebrew of Genesis 3:16 points out, women’s desire is now corrupted into wanting to rule over their husband instead of wanting to join as his help-meet in God’s vision of greatness for him.
So, in a nutshell, this is what was intended and where we have went wrong, and also a path back, through Christ a path back for men to seeing that true greatness, the greatness that the regenerated heart truly longs for, is through servanthood and cherishing our wives’ true beauty, and for women to relish and cultivate their true beauty and see and support the greatness in their husbands.
Sometimes all it takes is one simple truth to make a profound impact on a life.
That’s what The Cross Centered Life did for me. This short book dwells on one simple truth: Christ died for our sins. In the first chapter Mahaney states, “In our never-ending desire to move forward and make sure that everything we do, say and think is relevant to modern living, too many of us have stopped concentrating on the wonders of Jesus crucified…One simple truth should motivate our work and affect every part of who we are: Christ died for our sins.” The book has chapters on how legalism, condemnation, and emotionalism can rob us of a life that is cross centered, and some practical advice on how to make each day cross centered.
I’ve read multiple books on spiritual disciplines and some classics such as The Practice of the Presence of God, but none have taken me so simply and eloquently into the idea of dwelling in the glorious beauty, truth, simplicity, and profundity of the Cross. The last quote in the book is a fitting capstone, from J. Knox Chamblin, “The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it.”
If anything was obstructing our view of the main event, this would be our standard response. Or would it?
What if it was some goofy guy in a hat doing some antics, and you actually started watching him, and not until it was too late realized that you had missed the big play of the game by watching something else?
No, that wouldn’t happen. Our attention doesn’t distract that easily. Does it?
The main theme of C. J. Mahaney’s excellent short book The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing is just that—our gaze in our lives should always be focused on the “main event” in all the history of the universe, the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Our focus, our thoughts, our lives should be continually centered on the cross.
But we are so easily distracted by other things that pop into our view—anxiety and uncertainty, power and success, other people, other goals. Some things are actually good things, like loving our family or ministry, which God wants us to devote attention to, but only in the context of our continual gaze at Christ.
A good test of whether we are in error is exactly this: is any thought or goal or activity or desire viewed with Christ still “in the foreground”, or have we brought the desire so that it is in front of our eyes, blocking our view of Christ? John Piper has spoke of this when he wrote a recommendation for Josh Harris’ book Sex is Not the Problem(lust is) —
The main issue with lust is that it hinders us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ.
Not only lust, but any goal, desire, or thing that hinders us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ, especially that of his atoning work on the Cross, we must deliberately and vigorously push out of the way in our lives, so that our view of Christ remains unobstructed.