May 8th, 2014
Her daughter was mortified at the news from her swim coach: for the following week’s meet, he’d entered her in the breaststroke–her weakest event. Frightful visions flooded her brain of the other entrants exiting the locker room already changed while she was still struggling to finish the race. This can’t be happening, she fumed. What will everyone think when they see her effort to be more like flailing than swimming was her agonized question?
Brené Brown, whom we’ve cited in these pages before, tells this story about her daughter in her book, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, an audio book I’ve been listening to on occasion in the car. Brené has spoken openly of her return to faith in Christ, and while this book is written for a wider audience for whom theology remains an open subject, I think the underpinnings of her “guideposts” all find resolute anchor in the foundations of the Gospel–including this experience of her daughter’s. And I think it happens to resonate with what we found in the first of the Ten Commandments last Sunday.
As her daughter lamented what she’d already concluded would be an experience of shame, Brené felt her own past experiences with shame well up and instinctively sought to shield her brood from it. So they imagined how to change the situation: either ask the coach to switch her or just refuse to show up for the race. Any of those seemed like reasonable responses to avoid the pain of shame. But then Brené had a second thought.
Brown makes a distinction between two kinds of aspiration: excellence and perfectionism. The former asks anyone to do as well as they possibly can, the latter demands a superiority that secures admiration of everyone else. While some might find those too analogous to be distinct, Brown deems them as motivations a world apart from one another.
Her daughter had become distraught because she was operating on the premise that she had to be seen as excellent in order to believe she was good. The external appreciation dictated the aspiration–and when she knew she couldn’t secure that external praise she wondered why even participate? But Brene asked her daughter to conceive of the event in a different way–specifically how she conceived of what a “win” might be. Her daughter’s first instinct was to define a win as coming out on top of the race. But what if “winning” in this scenario meant merely giving all you had, irrespective of the outcome–maybe even aim to beat your previous best time. From that perspective, the aspiration–and its motivation–changed from public perfectionism to personal excellence. While she might not finish first–perhaps even dead last–she’d win for having demonstrated the kind of courage that is of far greater value than the accolades received for being the champion.
We argued Sunday that all of us worship something. Many find the admiration of others something so desirous that we sometimes feel like we can’t live without it. In turn we choose not to risk ourselves whenever the loss of that admiration is threatened. That’s but one of a million modern versions of idolatry.
Her daughter’s first instinct was to make the admiration of the crowd more valuable than the exercise of courage in walking–or swimming–in weakness. But when her mother reminded her of the greater gain to be had just by competing, the drive to pursue of perfection for the sake of public admiration lost its power.
It’s a struggle children face. But their parents are no less immune. I have caught myself (and been caught) motivating my children with the subtle but insidious siren call of perfectionism–of making the admiration of the crowd superior to the pleasure of Him who asks them to do all as unto Him. I, too, have had to repent of a definition of “winning” that substitutes a holy motivation with one unsustainable.
And so we concluded Sunday with the answer to all our idolatries. If Jesus Christ came to earth, showed us what God was like and what it meant to be human; if He died to pardon us of all our sin, and guarantee for us an imperishable inheritance, then the character of all my aspirations change. (and sometimes the objects, too). If I know I am cherished by no less than God for what He has done on my behalf in His Son, then I may do all things as unto Him–even swim races–without fear of having not obtained the adulation of outside.
To be sure there’s no shame in reveling in that human admiration should it come our way. But we don’t make it such a controlling principle in our lives that it precludes us from the good and necessary risks that might not only not obtain it, but even sacrifice it. Just like Jesus did.
Letting God be God means checking our aspirations either for the excellence to which He bids us, or the public perfectionism that makes Him an afterthought.
This Sunday we turn our attention to the 2nd Commandment in Exodus 20:4-6. Our Roman Catholic (and some Lutheran) friends prefer to lop the 1st and 2nd into a single commandment, and then split out the last commandment on coveting into two. They do so believing that what we call the 1st and 2nd commandment are really teaching the same thing. But if our Reformed forbears considered them two separate commandments, how are they distinct? We’ll have to answer that early in the sermon. But why don’t you muse on them a bit and imagine where the distinction lies. Then meditate on why it matters that we, as this commandment teaches, “Accept no substitutes.” (hint: we may get a little help from Salinger)
[And in case you missed the post on our Facebook page, for a limited time you can download a free e-book of J.I. Packer’s brief volume, Keeping the Ten Commandments. You’re welcome.]
As the Session developed this year’s budget, it decided to prioritize expansion of our missions effort toward church planting in places outside the U.S. After a search to find viable candidates whom we might support, we’re excited to let you know that the Session has elected to devote a portion of CtK’s missions budget for the next three years to Brett and Taylor Rayl whom we met personally several weeks ago.
The Rayls are missionaries with our denomination’s mission arm, Mission to the World (MTW), with Rhett recently being ordained here in the North Texas Presbytery. Brett has recently been tapped to replace Michael Oh as Director of Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan, where he’ll be overseeing operations of the multi-faceted organization, as well as serving in a pastoral role in a local church plant.
The Rayls endeared themselves to us as soon as we met them, impressing us with their enthusiasm for a work where only patient plodding will do. (They even named their firstborn–and newborn–son, Paton, after the renowned Scottish pastor and preacher who served as a missionary in the South Pacific.) Jim Akovenko will share a bit more about the Rayls this Sunday during announcements; prayer cards will be available at the info desk, too.
In time we hope our relationship with the Rayls and CBI broadens beyond financial and intercessory support into short-term trips by CtK members that serve the mission of this work in Japan. This is but one more way we’re seeking to be faithfully present to our world.
Feel free to ask any of the elders if you have any questions.
To be sure we stirred up important conversation last Sunday during Storyline. The sovereignty of God as it relates to the transformation of our will by the effective calling of His Spirit has been, and always will be, a topic as fraught with controversy as it is deep. I might share one other brief summary of the doctrine of election, not to tamp down alternative conceptions of the degree and extent of God’s efforts in salvation, but merely to add a little more light on a profound subject. Here’s a brief audio excerpt from a talk Tim Keller (surprised?) on the doctrine. As with everything we post on these pages, comments–whether in agreement or not–are most welcome.
We’ll dive back into the deep waters of the Confession this Sunday, exploring the chapters on adoption, sanctification, and saving faith–chs. 12-14. You’re welcome to peruse those parts in advance of class, too
But pivoting back to the doctrine of election for just a moment, you might be surprised to know that the longest chapter in Calvin’s Institutes is devoted to an issue that speaks mostly of human participation–if not human responsibility–in the outworking of God’s sovereign will. While he tends to be caricatured as one whose convictions about the Divine prerogative exonerated humanity from effort, it’s Calvin who had some beautiful–and comprehensive–things to say about prayer. From chapter 20 of book 3 of his massive volume, Calvin explains the overriding purpose of prayer:
. . .after we have learned by faith to know that whatever is necessary for us or defective in us is supplied in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, that we may thence draw as from an inexhaustible fountain, it remains for us to seek and in prayer implore of him what we have learned to be in him.
As others have distilled a Reformed perspective on prayer, the sovereignty of God doesn’t alleviate us of the responsibility of prayer; it gives hope of prayer’s fulfillment. For some that collision of Divine will and human agency persists more as a contradiction than paradox (despite some reasonably clear language that synthesizes them). But Calvin anticipates that argument and gives a response early in his treatise on prayer. I’ve honestly never read the whole of his teaching here on prayer, so I’d invite you to read along with me, even if it’s not the first time.
That prayer matters in the sovereign outworking of God’s intentions is but one reason we’ll gather this Sunday night for our monthly time of corporate prayer. We’ve spoken of it before. We hope you might attend this Sunday, 6-8pm, back at the Vandermeer’s (415 Timberline Dr, Duncanville) Mark Kull will lead us in our time.
If Calvin is right, then here are just a few things worth praying for:
- the release of the nearly 200 young girls abducted in Nigeria
- peace in the Ukraine and Crimea
- Wanda Williams whose father died early Wednesday morning
- Davis and Kacy DeBoer (Elias and Gabriel) who’ve just relocated to the Pacific Northwest
- the Rayls as they settle in and become established in Nagoya
- our gracious hosts, Fairmeadows Baptist Church, and other churches in our city
See you Sunday at 9:30,