December Newsletter Article

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

The last nine months have been very difficult, but God has given me some special gifts this Christmas. The first gift is obvious: Valerie is still with me, and the prognosis is good ! In fact, she wrote a special post for Facebook that many liked, and they requested that it be included in this church newsletter. The second gift is special: our grandson will be moving to Sister Bay this January (Andrew and Bethany will be living here while he pursues his Master of Divinity). The third gift is you! You have helped us through this with your gifts of time, talent, and resources, all without missing a beat when it comes to the churches ministry. Today shoeboxes are being packed for Operation Christmas Child. Next week 73 meals will be prepared for Thanksgiving. Next month Bridges will receive a $10,000 donation thanks to your generosity during our August fundraiser. But the fourth gift is the most important: Jesus Christ. When we believe in Jesus He takes away the debt we owe because of our sin and we are adopted into God’s family! But, just because the eternal consequences of our debt have been taken away, that doesn’t mean we still don’t struggle with sin. And here is where Valerie can provide some unique insights…

Nobody willingly signs up for cancer.

I have been diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma (LMS). A fancy word for a rare, chronic disease. A mutation of “normal” cells within soft tissues in my body. There is no cure for LMS – only solutions. The one gold standard permanent solution is to surgically remove it before it has a chance to spread. And even after that, there is no way to tell if it spread without the passage of time. There are “treatments” to perhaps add time, quality of life or a better outcome to surgery. But unseen, the cells multiply, rapidly as my kind of LMS is a “high grade” disease. All I can do is vigilantly examine myself, isolate any bumps, have scans quarterly and see if anything grows. Watch and wait. Then see the surgeon.

But as many of you ladies know, in our Bible studies, I have always compared sin with cancer. You either have it or you don’t. There are not levels of contamination. It is or isn’t. We as humans have sin. We know that it is a fact if we are in the lease bit self-aware or believe the Bible to be true. We are born with it. Ironically, my life has sort of become a living picture of dealing with “sin”. Please indulge me for a few moments with this imperfect, but perhaps useful analogy.

LMS – causes death (90-95% of the time patients eventually succumb)
SIN – causes spiritual and physical death (100% of the time)

LMS – often misdiagnosed, mistreated, ignored – and then causes death more quickly.
SIN – often excused, rationalized, ignored – causes moral breakdown, pain and death.

LMS – best cure is to remove surgically, treatments only offer short term solutions.
SIN – best cure is to remove with the blood of Jesus, other solutions are only short term solutions at best.

LMS – patients often fall into depression and feel hopeless about their situation.
SIN – people are powerless and hopeless about their own situation.

LMS – patients don’t “feel” sick or look sick until the disease has spread.
SIN – people don’t “feel” sinful or that they have a problem until it is often too big to handle.

LMS – patients can ignore the advice of the doctors and surgeons who are trying to help, even to the point of believing that the medical community is “against” them or trying to harm them.
SIN – people have become very distrustful of the Bible, pastors, teachers who dare tell them they have a problem and are just trying to keep them from having “fun” or just being “normal”.

LMS – the patient should have frequent examinations/scans to check for progression or reoccurrence of disease.
SIN – people need to be vigilant and ask God to frequently check us and see if there be any wicked way or thought in us.

LMS – patients have to learn to enjoy the moments – small, good, precious moments of health and remember them when times are difficult fighting the disease.
SIN – people need to learn to remember all the victories, all the small whispers, all the positive moments with God. It encourages us when we are struggling with sin.

LMS – other people are filled with platitudes and advice for the patient. All has to be sifted against the truth of the disease
SIN – the world around us has all kinds of self-help, pseudo religious advice, excuses. All has to be sifted against the truth of the Bible.

LMS – life is about more than just staying alive. It is about living.
SIN – life is about more than just surviving. It is about abundant life here and in heaven with Him.

I battle LMS, but we all battle SIN. Relentless, invasive, fast growing sin.

Only the Great Surgeon can cure us by removing it Himself. I have lost my hair, gained many scars, hope to see little James graduate from high school and feel much more “mature” (read old) than I should at this age of my life. But these things are small compared to what sin has done to our homes, communities, nation and world as it continues its relentless march. Anger, despair, determination, hate or any other human reaction cannot cure the world of its disease. Only God can. And one day, He will take those of us who rely on Him, and not ourselves, to His home, heaven.

Revelation 21:3-4 “And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them and be their God; and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, or crying, nor pain, any more; the first things are passed away.”

Catch up on all things Billington…

I can’t believe that it’s really been since April that I posted a blog!  Perhaps I can give you some insight into why in this post.

I really intended on having at least one post every week when the year started, and I thought that it would be easy because I had figured out a way to cheat!  I was going to have my sermon outlines available online so that people could use them when listening on the web or the radio (per request).  Unfortunately, I found out that trying to cut and paste from Word into WordPress was not as easy as I had anticipated, and the frustration level made me give it up temporarily.  I now see that things are a little different on here, so maybe I should try again!  It also seems that the ability to post new blog entries to Facebook has been fixed as well, so I’m hopeful that this entire process has just become much less frustrating!

Sometime in April my lovely wife Valerie got sick with viral labyrinthitis, or, as the pharmacist put it, she was a dizzy dame for about six weeks!  That entailed more care from me, which morphed into even more care as the spring progressed.  Val’s grandfather died in May, and when we were on the way home from the funeral she developed a horrible earache and ended up in the emergency room.  A 2 week migraine followed, with various MRI’s and doctor’s visits.  She is fine now, but has had to work full time this summer to help pay some of our bills.  That means that some of my extra time is now spent on cooking, cleaning, and doing additional house and yard work over the summer.  Combine that with extra church services in the summer and a larger congregation to take care of, well, let’s just say that you end up making some sacrifices.  This was one of them!  I won’t say that I’m back, but I am hopeful…

As for the rest of the family, Andrew is doing great.  He just started his junior year at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College.  This summer he’s been working as a waiter at Julie’s Cafe in Fish Creek, and that will continue until October.  He’s also working as our youth director at church.  Roxanna and Zak just bought their first house, and will be staying in Green Bay for awhile.  That has entailed some extra work for us as well, since there were some problems that popped up after they moved in.  I’m happy to say that many of those problems have now been fixed, and they are finally getting to enjoy their home a little.  Oh, and they are also expecting a new arrival — their first dog!  They had a visit from a retired racing Greyhound and they loved her.  I’m sure it will be all over Facebook if they do get her.

That’s probably enough for now.  Perhaps something a little more spiritual and a lot less mundane in the future!

Reflections on the last few weeks…

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

What a month!  It all stated with what I thought was severe gout, but actually turned out to be a foot infection.  That, coupled with a sinus infection and some severe migraines kept me feeling pretty bad for a couple of weeks.  In fact, for the first time I actually had to preach while “under the influence” — I had to take some migraine medication to get through Sunday morning.  Unbelievably, that morning was also the morning of our “thrice annual business meeting!”

Then, in what will be likely remembered for a generation, was “the storm.”  Wind gusts up to 69 miles an hour.  Trees down.  Power outages that lasted for serveral days for many people.  But it gave us a chance to minister!  We fed and warmed about 35 church related and 15 non-churched people that weekend.

Another church meeting, a call to fill in at a Bridges event, changes to our Youth program, filling in at Sunday School…I’m waiting for that after summer slow down!  Maybe in January!

We never know what the future may bring.  We can have it in our heads that one thing will happen a particular way, and it may end up being entirely different!  That’s why I try to remember the above passage, as well as what it says in Acts 16:6-7: Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

How often are our schedules rearranged by God Himself so that we can accomplish something or something more for His kingdom?  Do we really believe that God allows things to happen to us because of something we have to do or to learn?  How frequently do we get aggrevated by our circumstances when they are God ordained and we need to pay attention to His leading?

It seems trite, but we should always remember that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  I know that it’s a lesson that I need to keep reminding myself of…

…especially since the pace of our lives continues to go at breakneck speed.  This weekend we have Fall Fest and we are helping Val’s parents with their basket booth.  Upcoming minstry events include the GLBC annual meeting, a working vacation (where I officiate at my nephew’s wedding), the possibility of some new ministries starting, two church wide dinners…whew!  We’ll see what lessons and surprises God may have in store for us in the weeks ahead.

What do you say to your daughter on her wedding day?

Well, my wife and daughter tag teamed me, and I ended up preaching for Roxanna’s wedding.  I would have much rather walked her down the aisle and sat down next to Valerie, but that was not to be.  So, there I was, an emotional wreck, and wondering what to say.

Roxanna had always complained that her mom and I were preaching at her, so I probably needed to be careful about that.  I was also told that we were scheduled to cry at 2:06, six minutes after the ceremony started.  What do you do with that!?!?  Now if I don’t cry, what does that mean?!?!?

Well, I did cry, but it was when I went to tell Roxanna that we were ready.  I teared up a little during the ceremony, but made it through.  I decided to keep it short and sweet; after all, it was garden wedding and the families were the only ones there.  Besides, I wasn’t sure how much I could get through!  This is what I said:

Val and I have always talked about this day with great anticipation.  We’ve always believed in marriage based parenting rather than child based parenting, so we’ve looked forward to the empty nest time of our lives.  But as this wedding has gotten closer, I’ve had more trouble with it than I anticipated.  You see, I’ve always been the one Roxanna would call on when she needed help.

“Dad, I need a ride. Dad, I missed my bus.  Dad, I need help with my taxes.  Dad, help me fill out this form.  Dad, I dropped by phone/laptop/iPod again and it’s not working.  Dad, I was just in an accident.  What do I do?”

A lot of her requests have been about computers: “Dad, my computer won’t turn on.  Dad, my computer has a virus.  Dad, my computer cord is broken.  Dad, my computer won’t connect to the internet.”

But my favorite happened while we were living in NYC.  Roxanna was about an hour away on the other side of the city, and she called and said, “Dad, I’m lying in the middle of a field, and I can’t get up!”

Now, as annoyed as I was when some of these things happened, it did let me know  that Roxanna needed me and that I was the one she would naturally call on for help.  That’s not going to be the case anymore, and it kind of makes me sad.  But that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Scripture teaches that, “For this reason (marriage), a man (and a woman), will leave his father and mother and be joined (be glued to) his wife.  And the two will become one flesh.”  The only person you should be closer to in this life is God Himself.

Are you ready to make this commitment to each other, and do you pledge to be glued to one another for the rest of your lives?

“Blessings” by Laura Story

Last week we had a memorial service for a woman who died unexpectedly. She had experienced a lot of physical and emotional hardship in her life, and had recently posted the lyrics to “Blessings” on her Facebook account. We shared the song at her memorial, but I thought that you might like to know the wonderful story behind it.

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the achings of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

A Memorial Day memory…

Well, life seems to be settling down a little bit, so I will hopefully be able to get back to normal blog posts again.  Look for some this next week!  Until then, here is a Memorial Day memory from two years ago that you may enjoy…

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from a Northern port,
Aboard two tiny ships.”

Andrew and I decided to go kayaking on Monday afternoon.  We had a pleasant drive to Cold Spring Harbor, and set out in the kayaks about 1:30pm.  It was about 78 degrees, gorgeous, and there was no wind.  About 200 feet from shore a boat’s wake caught me and the kayak went over (first time ever), but I was able to climb back aboard without too much trouble (gotta love the sit-on-top kayaks).  For some reason I had the car keys in my pocket with the chapstick, instead of in the waterproof pouch with the wallet and the phone.  Chapstick lost, keys safe.

I scheduled the journey so that we would go out as the tide was beginning to come in, thereby making the trip back more pleasant.  It was a hard paddle, but we went about 4 miles in an hour and twenty minutes, and almost made it to the point where we would have officially entered Long Island Sound territory.

Andrew wanted to go a little further, but, since the wind was beginning to pick up, I decided we should turn around.  Now we were going with the tide, but the paddling was especially difficult in the face of the waves and wind we were coming against.  We struggled, and an hour and twenty minutes later we were about halfway back.  At this point Andrew was really tired, sore, and he had to go to the bathroom.  Being a
civilized child he wanted to get to shore to take care of his business, so I prayed that the wind would stop.  Andrew started to worry about me
then, because I was giggling hysterically.  The minute I prayed, the wind started blowing harder and had gusts up to 45mph (I know, because when I got back to shore I called a friend and had him look it up).  We were going nowhere!

We turned to shore, and, after a struggle, made it!  After taking care of business, we decided to try to portage the kayaks along the shore.  Unfortunately, the Northern Shore of Long Island is very rocky, and difficult to traverse.  We tried to walk in the water and float the kayaks in front of us, but that was treacherous too.  The rocks were slippery, some were very large, and the agitation of the water made it difficult to see where you were going.  After I stumbled into a small boulder and cut up my leg and foot, we went back to the shore and struggled along until we got to a breakwall and a cliff.  There was nothing left to do but get back in the kayak and take to the water again.

Lest I forget, we had witty repartee all during the journey.  Things like, “If I die, tell your mom that I love her.”  And, “Dad, I can’t make it, just leave me here and go on without me.”  And my personal favorite: “Son, don’t worry,  If we collapse, I’ll use the blood from my leg to leave a message on the kayak, and people will know how we died.”

We did finally struggle along the breakwall, through two piers, and landed at a private yacht club.  At this point we could see where we had parked and entered the bay!  We walked the kayaks through the club (One nicely dressed young man who worked there did come over and ask, “Can I help you?” meaning, “What are you doing here?”  Make up your own reply.)  I abandoned Andrew at the side of the road, walked the last mile to the car, and the journey was over.

I sure hope that Andrew makes it home soon…

Anyway, not quite a “three hour tour,” but a four hour adventure.  6 miles by sea, and 2 by land.  It was actually kind of fun, but I don’t think that we want to repeat it anytime soon!

A Proud Father!

Andrew and the youth praise band performed “Amazing Love” this Sunday.  He’s playing lead guitar and singing.  The camera was right in front of the band, so the singing sounds a little soft but it was a touching performance.

I’ve added three new audio sermons to the church website.

Some people have mentioned that Sunday’s sermon reminded them of a Steven Curtis Chapman song.  “Dive” can be seen here.