Feeling Conventional

In an odd turn of events, I registered for the 2017 Gospel Coalition national conference, which is conveniently coming to my own town, Indy. Despite the mundanity of such an action, it’s a ridiculously big deal for me. Somewhere along the line (so long ago that it’s fuzzy now), my identity got wrapped up in making sure to do the opposite of everyone else: a rebel–but a rebel in Reformed Christian circles (which is kinda silly when I say it that way). And I’ve found a tremendous joy in constantly not doing what my peers are doing.

House churches? Check. Unpaid pastor? Check. Living in the city? Check. Disagreeing in some slight-to-serious way with every Reformed author out there? Check. Avoiding conferences because every good pastor is supposed to attend conferences? Check.

So here I am, spending money to go to a conference I don’t have to and, at some level, don’t want to attend. And my wife had to talk me down out of my pretentious, self-righteous judgmentalism to even consider it in the first place. Similar things have been happening lately. When I get all cantankerous and unwilling to put up with anything that didn’t originate from my brain, my wife just rolls her eyes and says, “Old man…”

It’s been an easy path from “blazing my own trail” to “not blazing their trail.” As I read in a Dan Doriani book years ago, when you try to do the opposite of anything you’re still being controlled by the thing you’re rebelling against. And that’s probably the turning point when I stopped feeling original and started feeling like a tool. What’s sad is that I started to pull away in the first place because I felt like a tool.

I’m amazed at how lame I can be.

So, I’m going to a conference. Why? Because I want to. Because I want to hear Keller and Carson and Piper. Because I want to hear more about my commonalities with the reformers who couldn’t find unity. Because I want to learn more about the radical reformation Anabaptists, always pushing and pushing and pushing to be more and more faithful to the Word. Because I want to be reminded that I’m part of the Church, not just indyEkklesia and I can celebrate our differences, differences which orbit around the cross and empty tomb. Because it’d be cool.

Just another step in the humiliation of Bill Bell…

(And as an awesome side note, I get to go with my rockin’ awesome wife. We haven’t been able to attend something that was intended to feed our souls and reinvigorate our tired lives since some incredibly generous friends sent us to a conference ten years ago. God our Dad is very kind!)

Blind to My Own Idolatry

This morning, I took some time while running/walking to listen to some sermons with the hope of hearing God’s Word afresh. I am so highly cynical and self-sufficient that I almost never listen to anyone else teaching these days. Because I believe I’m that wise.

Ugh.

Anyway, I started with this Tim Keller sermon. He begins by talking about how sin can have spiritual mastery over us, especially by something other than God being our ultimate goal. He gives some indicators: anger, fear, and sadness. When we’re chasing after empty idols and they fail to deliver–as they always do–it leads to anger (because things aren’t going the way we want and so we rage about it), overwhelming anxiety (because if things might not turn out right, we’ve got no hope or confidence at all), and sadness (because how can we have joy when we can’t have the thing we want most).

Here’s me lately: I’ve been incredibly short-tempered and judgmental, sometimes mentally only and, especially with my kiddos, sometimes actually. Everything they do that has been even remotely annoying or disobedient or disrespectful or just not what I wanted at the time has been met by my sinful snippiness and anger. I’ve had to repent over and over again for reacting too harshly. Check one for anger.

For the last several nights, I’ve not been able to sleep well. I thought at first it was caffeinated drinks. Cut those out, still no change. I thought it might be from the Claritin D I was taking before bed. Cut those out, still no change. In retrospect, the fact that I keep waking up from dreams feeling like there’s some urgent matter I need to fix right then or else leads me to believe I’m clearly very anxious. And even though my somewhat stoic persona doesn’t display it as clearly as others, I’m anxious all the time that I’ll fail at work or fail Court or fail the kids or fail as a pastor-elder. Check two for fear.

I’ve also found it much harder lately to be light-hearted and easy-going. I, of course, don’t see this in myself but my wife has pointed it out more than once. Like I’m “carrying a constant burden on my shoulders and can’t shake it” or something along those lines. The fact is, joy feels elusive right now, a whole lot like chasing after the wind or looking for a snipe in the backyard. Check three for sadness.

And so, I find myself diagnosed: sin is ruling over me and I’m chasing after everything but the one good Giver.

I also listened to this John Piper sermon about assessing what our ultimate joy is found in (it would almost seem coincidental that both sermons had such common themes if, ya know, I believed in coincidences). He does this nice job of taking an example of something that makes us happy, then asking “Why?” over and over till we hit “the bottom” or, to say it differently, till we reach the foundation of our joy. If it’s anything other than God himself, we’re missing it.

As my old friend Tom Binkowski could painfully recollect from our many meetings for mutual encouragement, I am awfully horribly terribly tremendously bad at assessing my own motives or the foundation of my motives. (I’m not sure I stated that strongly enough…) But as I think over the things that are making me angry (Why am I so angry?), scared (What am I so worried about?), and sad (What’s making me so unhappy?), every chain of questions leads me to one response: I’m not getting the honor and recognition I think I deserve. Or perhaps I’m afraid I won’t get the honor and recognition I deserve.

So, today I’m grateful to the God and Father of King Jesus for Keller and Piper. Through their words, another layer of my inscrutable onion-y soul has been peeled back. And another layer of idolatry unearthed.

Though I still wonder if I’m just shedding the outer layer of my dragon skin and still too scared to feel the painful, gentle claws tear the whole thing off. God, grant me the mercy to get there…