My complicated relationship with Facebook

This post has been a long time coming.

I’ve had some fun with Facebook over the past week, but some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately.  There are many reasons for that.  Some of them have to do with privacy (Facebook certainly doesn’t need to know everywhere I go on the web or where I take my phone).  Some have to do with convenience (I used to post directly from my WordPress account, until Facebook decided that it wouldn’t allow me that convenience).  I’ve also have friends that had posts deleted or their account frozen because of conservative ideology.  Most recently it appears that a New York pastor has not been allowed to share a post about his concern with the new abortion law (https://fxn.ws/2G4Kel1).  I guess that this is my proverbial last straw.

In the past I’ve removed the Facebook app from my phone.  I’ve reviewed my browser settings to make it harder for websites to track me.  I’ve disabled location services. Much of this is just good common sense.  Big Data is a real issue.  But I have continued to use Facebook periodically.

Unfortunately, I can’t simply stop using it completely, as much as I’d like to.  I can’t add information to our church page without having a linked personal account.  I’ll have to go back to what I was doing before: logging on whenever I need to post information to the church site, but not using it as a platform for anything else.  I have other options.  I can use my WordPress blog, and our desire is to have the church website updated more frequently so that the information is current.

So, that is where I stand.  My wife has chosen to deactivate her account, at least for the time being.  The nice thing about that is the ability to continue to use messenger, although some have expressed privacy concerns about that app as well! The truth is that even our smart TVs are spying on us.  We should just be aware of the issues that arise as a result, and the Orwellian oversight of our posts.  Each of us will have to make our own decision as to where to draw the line.

Postscript: If you are concerned about your privacy on the net, you may want to check out the Brave web browser.

March Newsletter Article

2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the Billington household.  Not only did Valerie chip her ankle and tear some ligaments, I’ve been dealing with the crud that’s going around and actually had to call in reinforcements this past Sunday (thank you Delmar and Gene!).  The crud has now officially taken root in my sinuses, so I’m on an antibiotic once again and hoping for the best.

Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with sinus issues for a long time.  For the past 25 years I’ve had trouble breathing, sinus pain, migraine headaches, and various assorted maladies associated with my problem.  I’ve seen specialists, had surgery, tried allergy shots, and I currently use a neti pot, aromatherapy, vitamins, and was about to try something entirely new until I saw some pictures of people who have developed argyria!  Up next is probably another CT scan and a visit with a new specialist.

Why the litany?  Just to whine?  No, it’s because of a passage like 2 Cor 12:9.  Most of the time I realize that there are people out there that are much worse off than I am, but I still wish my issues would go away.  And I don’t have the attitude that Paul expresses here.  It’s true that he does ask the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh” – that I can understand.  But essentially being thankful for the thing that is causing him pain?  That’s not so easy.  In fact, when you’re in pain (emotional or physical), it can be especially difficult to feel spiritual, or to engage in prayer, study, reflection and praise.  Is Paul simply talking about the “God help me” cry that comes to our lips in distress, or is there more to it than that?

I think the key is in understanding what the power of Christ is in this verse.  And it’s even more interesting that Christ’s power isn’t felt through healing.  It’s felt through acceptance.  It’s felt through faith.  It’s felt through grace.  Grace?  Grace in pain?  Yes.  Grace to accept.  Grace to believe.  Grace to persevere.  Grace to trust.  Grace to hope.  In a loving God.  In a brighter future.  In a better world.  Something that we would not desire, we would not long for, we would not need, if it weren’t for pain in this world.  So, it turns out I can be thankful for my pain, because it causes me not only to lean on God, but also to look forward to a different world and a brighter future.

October Newsletter Article

Proverbs 16:9 “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (NASB).

A few weeks ago I gave a testimony at the 8am service instead of a sermon (August 14, 2016).  Although it wasn’t as eloquent as I’d normally like, it came out of the honest and forthright emotion of the moment.  It was the culmination of a long journey that I want to recount for you a little bit here.  Not the full story, since you can go and listen to that if you’d like, but a bit of the story that I think may be helpful and informative.

What do you do when you feel that God wants you to do something?  That was the dilemma that Valerie and I found ourselves in.  We both felt that it was God’s will to sell our house, and had been working toward that end for over a year.  Conversations with friends, real estate people, and even an appraiser confirmed what we felt: get it ready, put it on the market, and it probably wouldn’t last long.  So we did this past spring.  And we showed it a lot at the beginning.  And we waited.  And we waited.  And we waited.  Every other house that we’d sold had sold more quickly than this one!  We began to wonder whether or not we had misinterpreted what we’d felt, or put our desires and feelings in the place of God’s will.  And then we had another couple of showings, so we started looking for options again.  To make a long story short (too late!), Valerie ended up with a part-time job as a live in property manager of an apartment complex.  We felt that it was too good an opportunity to turn down, a God given opportunity at that, and we moved in on September 1st.  But that’s not the end of the story.  On the day that we signed our lease we received on offer on our house that we accepted.  We are currently waiting for the closing of our house on October 7th, but everything looks good so far.

So, what is the moral of this story?  Could you interpret it as God showing graciousness toward two stupid people?  Of course! But allow me to tell you my interpretation.  God was moving us in a direction, but we not only misinterpreted the timing, we often wondered if we had misunderstood the message.  However, if God had allowed our house to sell early, we wouldn’t be where we are now, and we may have jumped into a situation we weren’t ready for in our desperation for a place to live.  So that brings me to our Scripture passage.  We plan, we think, and we pray, but we recognize that it is God who is ultimately in control.  And if we are trying to please Him, He will lead us to where He wants us to be, even though that may not be where we thought we were going to end up!

June Newsletter Article – Dealing with Hard Relationships

We are in the midst of what I am calling my 2015 family and culture series, and we are preparing to get to the heart of the study.  As I think about family relationships, I find that I am surrounded by issues and situations that would make just about anybody cry.  It seems that every day I am being reminded that families can be difficult, and that we often need a lot of grace and understanding to get us through.  With that in mind, I’ve come up with some unofficial rules over the past 46 years that I think are very important and that I like to share with people in counseling situations…

  • You can’t turn the Adams family into a Norman Rockwell painting. I know, a little dated. What would it be now? You can’t turn the Kardashians into……anybody know the name of a mature TV or celebrity family? Anyway, I digress. The point is that you can’t do it! You can’t control what other people do, or make them behave in a different way. And that is further complicated by my next point…
  • Some people don’t want to be helped. It actually goes beyond that. Some people are violently opposed to being helped and will lash out at you if they even suspect that you are being critical of them. It’s a dangerous world out there! Proverbs says “Answer a fool according to his folly,” and “Answer not a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4-5). Which is right? Both are! What we need is discernment to understand when each is appropriate.
  • My final point is probably the most controversial, even though I don’t believe it should be. Sometimes, for your own health and well-being, you have to let go, at least for a time. Does a battered wife need to stay at home? Does an abused child need sanctuary? Hopefully you answered those questions “No” and “Yes.” But does that only apply to physical abuse? What about verbal, mental, and emotional abuse? Why should we allow that type of battering to take place? Sometimes there may be extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account (illness, medication, etc.), but why do we often refuse to allow someone the space and distance they need to heal just because the bruising isn’t physical?

I don’t know what you are going through right now in your own life, but I would remind you of that day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

The culmination of years of work…

I had the privilege of co-editing a volume of essays that honor my close friend and mentor Dr. Maurice Robinson.  It is actually available on Amazon, but it is very technical.  Most of the essays support or suggest the viability of an alternate theory of New Testament textual criticism – the “Byzantine priority” theory.  If you are interested in why this theory is important and what it means for our New Testament text, I would suggest reading this article by Timothy Friberg (a version of which was actually included in the volume).  He summarizes much of Dr. Robinson’s work in such a way that a non-scholar can understand it.

If you happen to be interested in a summary of the articles in the volume, click here.

When life throws you a curve…

As I sit here looking out my window, I’m amazed at the weather. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the trees and the flowers are budding, and my allergies are beginning to act up! What a contrast to last year! I remember it being cold and damp into June, and it seemed like the trees were never going to get their leaves. For the first time in my life I knew what “seasonal affective disorder” was like!

Life is like that. There are good times and bad times. Sometimes we expect one thing and we get another, like snow in May or seventy degree weather in March. The wisdom of Forrest Gump comes to mind: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

That’s difficult for me. I’m always the one looking at the inside of the lid to figure out what kind of chocolate I’m about to eat! I try to figure out life too, but so many things are out of my control. (Like the weather!) It can be quite discouraging sometimes, and I know that many of you feel the same way.

That’s why we all need to remember the wisdom of James 4:13-15. It says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy or 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.’”

Robert Burns put it this way: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Yes, our plans do. But we have to realize that God is on his throne, and he has a plan and a purpose for all things, so we need to put our trust in Him. And, when things don’t work out the way we want or expect, that’s when we need to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).