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Steven S. Billings

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Hi!  Welcome to my weblog.  Thanks for stopping by.  If the mood strikes you, drop me a line and let me know you were here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Joyce
 
A family vacation?  Could be.  Looks like fun!
10:41 am edt

CAPRICE POLICE
Pic of Steve
 
Detroit's finest can be seen gadding about town these days in the finely appointed Ford Crown Victoria.  An adequate automobile, to be sure, but a decade ago the standard dress was the Chevrolet Caprice.  I have recently discovered some of the reasons why.
 
As many of you know, my car of choice for the past fifteen years has been the Pontiac Grand Prix.  My 2002 Fire Red GT has all that I need and more: comfort, speed, a spectacular multi-speaker sound system, and I could go on.
 
But Sunday, on my way home from church, a glimmering product of the Detroit Public School system determined that she need to make a left turn.  Directly in front of me.  From the right-hand lane.  Needless to say, the result adorned the front of my vehicle in a manner not to my liking.  The other driver was quite cooperative, I should say, but as I discovered within the hour at the local police precinct, only because she was convinced that the collision was my fault. 
 
"No, ma'am," sighed the officer, "You performed an illegal turn."
 
"But it was clear!" she insisted.
 
"If it was clear, you wouldn't have been hit."
 
"But he hit me from behind!"
 
"No, the impact is clearly on your rear quarter-panel."
 
"But he came out of nowhere!"
 
"Thank you, Mr. Billings; you're free to go."
 
So, now my wonderfully reliable 3800 series engine is having its housing returned to its former glory.  And I am driving, for the time being, a borrowed 1993 Chevy.
 
But, oh, what a car!  The interior, though somewhat aged, is plush and comfortable.  The suspension is fluid and steady.  Bumps and pot-holes that would make my teeth rattle in my road-sensitive Grand Prix are nearly unnoticeable in the Caprice.  The low-end torque is amazing!  I have to try not to turn the tires over coming off the line.  And the high-end speed ... well, let's just say, I haven't tried to discover what that is ... yet. ;)
 
Oh, it is missing a few attributes to which I have become accustomed: anti-lock brakes, traction control, remote keyless entry, built-in security (you can't start my car without my key!), that awesome multi-speaker sound system (the Caprice only has AM/FM Stereo with cassette - who knows if the cassette player works; I don't have any cassettes to test it with!), and ... gasp! ... air conditioning!  And, oh yes, when you really step on it, that "great sucking sound" is not jobs going to Mexico, but fuel rushing from the gas tank!!  But all-in-all, I could do a lot worse for a temporary replacement.
 
And heck, the price is right!  Thanks to my dear friends Michael and Jean Mann for the loan of this impressive (spare) vehicle.  I promise to return it in one piece and with a full tank of gas. :)
10:30 am edt

Monday, July 25, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Joyce
 
One of the earliest photos of my mom.  Usually, she was seen pictured with her little sister Donna.  But here, as you can see, there is no Donna.  Just the three children at this point: Tom, Gloria, Joyce.  Oh ... and Mickey!
3:13 pm edt

CHOOSING SIDES
Pic of Steve
 
When did it begin, this "choosing sides" business?  When did the church decide that it was "ok" to draw boundaries and say, "Pick your side" or that we even have the authority to decide who is on God's side (our side) and who isn't -- on any issue which God's Word does not clearly delineate itself?
 
I mean, clearly, on issues of doctrine, teachings found explicitly or implicitly in God's Holy Word, we have not only the right, but the responsibility, to draw a line in the sand and say: "If you're not for us, you're against us!"
 
The Christian Church at large has over the centuries recognized some of these biblical principles and set them forth through the medium of Creeds (from the Latin Credo, "I believe ...")  In the three ecumenical Creeds of the Church -- the Apostles', the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (a.k.a. "Nicene"), and the Athanasian -- the Christian faith is presented as drawn from the Word of God.  All of Christendom has agreed to the teachings of these Creeds and recognized that a "Christian" teaching that militates against them is no Christian teaching at all.
 
Obviously, this leaves a lot to be determined.  For in the Creeds we find nothing which compels our faith toward or away from the maintaining of buildings -- what color to paint the walls, whether or not it has chairs, paintings, stained glass, or the like.  While it is true that in the Old Testament there are very specific guidelines given for the construction of the original Tabernacle (the tent of meeting carted around by the Children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land), and the dimensions of the original temple (built by Solomon) are given.  But nowhere is it commanded that the temple should look a certain way or be built in any particular fashion.
 
Add to this that at the death of Jesus on the cross the temple veil was torn in two, making it clear that the era of "holy places" was officially over.
 
Does this mean that spaces cannot or should not be set apart for the worship of God?  Of course not.  But what it may mean is that these spaces can no longer be said to "contain" God's presence.  Does God meet us in His house?  Certainly!  Does He do so because a certain space has been set apart for Him?  No!  Do we localize the presence of God in buildings any longer?  No!  To what do we now point as the locale of the presence of God?  His Means of Grace!  His Word and Sacraments!  He is present wherever these are honored rightly, where His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and His Sacraments administered according to His institution.
 
This can take place on a campground, where the people of God meet to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.  It can occur in a home, where a family serves as host to the worshiping community (as was the norm for the early church).  It can happen in a school gymnasium or a local library, as often occurs in communities where the congregation cannot for one reason or another support a building of its own.  And yes, of course, it can take place in a building specifically set aside for that purpose -- a building we in our culture have come to call a "church."
 
What happens, however, when a congregation who has enjoyed its own space for many years can no longer do so?  Some would say: "Then the church should close."  I ask: "Why?"  Why leave the city to the devil?  What if other means could be employed to sustain the congregation?  Such as: Someone else owns the building and permits the congregation to continue using it for its worship space.  Sounds like it could be a nifty arrangement.  Does it carry a set of complications?  Naturally.  Is it better than closing the church forever?  How could it not be?
 
And yet there are those who insist on choosing sides and pointing fingers.  They maintain -- quite contrary to the facts -- that there is enough money to keep things going "just the way they are."  That in itself is a scary suggestion!  I'm not sure we should keep things "just the way they are."  Perhaps it's because we've kept things "just the way they are" that we're in this mess to begin with!
 
But despite the facts -- heavens, let us never be confused by the facts! -- accusations are made that some only want to "sit on a pile of money" or that others simply want our congregation to close so that they can get the money and use it someplace else, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  Specious lies, one and all, but who needs the truth when we feel so strongly about the issue?  And rather than try to see what the other is really saying, it's just a whole lot more convenient to presume what they're saying and condemn them for it without ever really listening to them. 
 
Convenient, yes.  Christian, no.
3:07 pm edt

Thursday, July 21, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Joyce
 
"Steve loves his mama!"  This was at Jim & Steph's in Rochester, New York.  It was Mom's 70th birthday.
1:19 pm edt

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

SCANFEST
Pic of Steve
 
Ok, so I arrived home a couple of weeks ago with a TON of photos that I wanted to scan.  No, I haven't posted any of them to the blog just yet, though some of you have been getting them through email.  But at this point, I think I've scanned roughly 400 photos, with many more to go.
 
It's kind-of a time-consuming project.  Photos don't always scan so great, especially those pesky 1970s era prints with the "pebble" grain.  I haven't quite figured out how to scan around it, or through it, or whatever needs to be done to get RID of it!  Every photo has to be adjusted for color-balance and luminescence, and cropped to remove rough edges, or, again, that pesky 1970s era "rounded" look.  (What were they thinking??)
 
Some of the most difficult images to capture are from those teeny-tiny "wallet" photos, some of which could almost fit into a locket!  The "pebble" grain on those babies almost obsures the image in some cases.  Well, not quite, but the hyberbole is none too grand.  I've even scanned a few "wallet" photos that were apparently actually kept in a wallet for a great deal of time!  Needless to say, the scanned image, while far better than the original, is, shall we say, a bit reminiscent of Dorian Gray?  (Did they have "wallet" portraits in Oscar Wilde's day?)
 
Some of the pics that have been the most fun are the really old photos of Mom and Dad and their families.  How about Dad as a teenager?  Wow!  Or Mom in the third grade, wearing gym shoes with her skirt because she didn't have time to change?  (She actually told me that about the picture of which I speak!)  So cool!
 
Still more fun was seeing other loved ones as youngsters.  I never realized how much I look like Uncle Chuck until I saw a few childhood photos.  Amazing!  How about Connie as a little girl -- so cute!  And Don ...  Forgive me, bro, but thank GOD you've grown into those ears! 
 
Well ... someday I'll actually finish the task, and I'll be shipping out CDs with my scans on them.  I'll let ya'll know when they're ready.
11:31 am edt

Saturday, July 16, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Joyce
 
Despite declining health, Mom continued to be an active participant in her church.  This photo from 1997 -- taken for her church directory -- shows her lovely smile still intact, though she was lonely for her husband and already beginning to suffer recurring bouts of pneumonia almost every winter.
 
7:49 pm edt

WHAT IS A CHURCH?
Pic of Steve
 
That's a good question, I think.  Something I've had the opportunity of late to ponder.  The prophet Jeremiah warns against the worship of the building without due repentance before the Lord.  Jesus criticized people for adoring the temple because of its beautifully adorned stones, adding that the day would come when not one stone would be left upon another.
 
In contrast to these rebukes against building-worshipers, Jesus teaches that His body is the temple to be worshiped, and that though it would be destroyed, He would raise it up again.
 
Furthermore, God teaches through the Apostle Paul that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, because we have been bought with a price, and therefore ought to glorify God with our bodies.
 
So ... what is a church?  Is it a structure built with bricks and mortar?  Or is it a body of believers?  Most properly, the latter, I think.
 
This topic comes to mind because our congregation is faced with a proposal to sell our building to someone who is willing to let us continue to use it unhampered for the next 40 years or so.  It is a difficult issue to deal with, even for myself, as I stand in the midst of the sanctuary and contemplate someone else owning the space instead of us.  So many questions come to mind, so many fears, so many "what-ifs."
 
And then I think of the mission and ministry opportunities that would present themselves should the funds we now spend on bricks and mortar be freed up for other uses.  It could be very encouraging.
 
Someone said our church is dead.  I tend to disagree.  We are in tough shape, considering the average age of our membership and the condition of our neighborhood.  But I think the death of our little church in Detroit is certain, unless we do something drastic, something bold, something radical, to redirect us from such an eventuality.  Of course, there's no guarantee that anything we do will alter that course.  But I believe it's worth a shot.  If we try this, we may fold.  But we will most certainly -- barring some miracle of God -- fold anyway.
 
I think we should see if there's a way to make this proposal work.  Of course, we would do so, seeking God's will each step of the way.  Should He choose to anoint our efforts with His blessing and grant us success, all praise and glory to His name.  If He chooses to permit this effort to fail, then we will glorify Him for guiding us according to His good and perfect will.
 
Either way, it's in His hands.  I just hope and pray that our congregation can work together in seeking and trusting God's will, and that we permit no opportunity for the enemy to enter in and deter us from moving in the direction God chooses for us.  After all, whether the church is a building or the believers who gather in it, it is His to do with as He pleases.  May His will be done to His eternal glory and praise.
7:36 pm edt

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Stew and Joycie
 
This is how I best remember my parents.  This is how they appeared as I came to know them as an adult.  When I think back to my high school and college years, before my dad's retirement, when he felt he still had a purpose in life, this is how they looked.  Dad is still a vibrant, contributing member of society.  Mom still has her husband and children around her.  Old age and illness have not yet set in to rob them of their strength and vigor.  It was not hard to say goodbye to them at the end of their lives.  For it was obvious then for each of them that they had lived as many years as their bodies would allow, and that going home to heaven was clearly a far better thing.  What was difficult was watching them deteriorate from the happy, healthy figures you see above to the frail, time-worn, battle-scarred shadows of their former selves they were at the time of their deaths.  I don't know how they appear now in heaven, but whenever I think of them, these images are the first to enter my mind.
10:54 pm edt

I MAY BE . . . BUT I'M NOT . . .
Pic of Steve
 
Americans seems to have trouble with people suffering illnesses they don't understand.  Back in the 60s and before, people were so afraid of cancer that they wouldn't even say the word.  They referred to it as the "Big C."  And they avoided cancer victims, as though their cancer might be contageous or something.  Now that we understand cancer better, it's almost taken in stride.  Many cancers are curable, and we know that it is not "catching."  You can't get cancer from someone who has it, like you can catch a cold from someone who has one.
 
I've noticed that people with mental or emotional illnesses are treated today much the same way cancer victims were treated a generation ago.  It's not that people think that mental or emotional illnesses are contageous; it's just that they don't understand them and are afraid of those who suffer from them.  There is a huge stigma about people who require some kind of help in dealing with mental or emotional issues.
 
But the fact remains that such illnesses are every bit as curable -- perhaps more so -- than the cancers that people used to live in fear of.  Chemical imbalances in the brain can be diagnosed and treated (despite the ravings of the likes of Tom Cruise and the other lunatics who follow Scientology -- me thinks they doth protest too much!).  Deep-rooted emotional issues can be uncovered, addressed, and overcome through appropriate theraputic techniques.  A lot of progress has been made in these areas, and this progress has enlightened our understanding of how the mind works and how to fix it if it goes on the fritz.
 
But the stigma lingers, feeding off the fear and ignorance of those who do not understand, or for that matter, bother to investigate or even try to comprehend.
 
Such ignorance is conveyed by the story of a man whose car suffered a flat tire as he was driving past a mental institution.
 
"Oh, drat!" he thought.  "Of all places!" 
 
As he went to his trunk to get his jack and spare tire, he noticed one of the residents of the institution standing inside the fence watching him.
 
"Just what I need!" he muttered to himself.  "One of 'them' staring at me while I change my tire!  I'd better make this quick and get out of here!"
 
So he speedily began to change the tire.  But in his haste, he clumsily kicked over the wheel cover containing the lug nuts for the tire he had just removed, sending them all down the sewer drain!
 
"Now what do I do?" he said out loud.  "How am I going to get home?"
 
"That's easy!" came the voice from the other side of the fence.
 
"You must be out of your mind," the man snapped at the resident.  "I can't drive on a tire with no lug nuts!"
 
"All you have to do is take one lug nut from each of the other tires, and when you get into town, you can buy replacements and you'll be all set," said the man inside the fence.
 
"Wow," said the motorist.  "I can't believe you thought of that and I didn't.  I mean, you're in there and I'm out here!"
 
"Well," replied the patient, "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid!"
 
With that, the motorist completed his task as suggested and headed off down the road, his attitude duly adjusted.
10:38 pm edt

Sunday, July 10, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Stew and Joycie
 
The love birds -- Stew and "Joycie."  They loved each other dearly.  Mom was never the same after Dad's death.  Thank God they are together again.
 
11:20 pm edt

HOW ARE YOU?
Pic of Steve
 
That's the question a dear friend of mine asked me today.  I thought I'd share with you the answer I gave him:
 
"Feeling much better, thanks.  Remarkably, though predictably, the Lord granted me the strength and healing of headache and sore throat to enable me to serve Him in His house today.

"I think my body was simply putting the squeeze on me to take a couple of days to rest, which I did.  I still feel a bit tired -- mentally and emotionally fatigued -- and I don't know how long it will take me to recover.  I miss my mom immensely.  But when I call to mind the image of her those last days, and the suffering she endured for many years, I have no regrets that our Savior delivered her at this time.  It's just that the losses I've suffered over the past two years or more have had a cumulative effect, and this one has torn the scab off with the dressing.  My mother was a great comfort to me all through my abandonment and divorce.  I took consolation in the knowledge that there was one woman in this world who loved me unconditionally.

"Now I have an overwhelming sense that I will never again know what it is to be so loved.  There is a loneliness in me which hangs like a cloud over my life and will not be dissipated by the care and concern of dear friends such as yourself.  I long for a helpmeet, a companion in this world.  I feel like Adam, of whom God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone."  Mom helped to ease that pain.  And now she is gone.  And I find myself praying to be like Isaac, who was comforted after his mother's death by the gift of a wife.  I ache with a hurt that runs deep, and I wonder what heaven has in store for me ... waffling between the opposing poles of hope and doubt.

"Yet, I know wherein my healing lies ... in the cross and empty tomb, in the assurance of God's mercy and grace, in the promise of our Lord Christ never to leave me nor forsake me.  In Him I take refuge.  Upon Him I cast my doubts and fears, my hopes and expectations.  For I trust that the crimson threads of these years of turmoil, pain and heartache, are being woven by Him into the tapesty of my life to complete the picture which will demonstrate His perfect love for me, to my ultimate joy and His immeasurable glory.  But for now I walk by faith and not by sight."
 
And then I thanked him for his continued prayers and friendship.  And I thank you as well.  I've always welcomed all the prayers I could get.  This time of my life is certainly no exception.
10:28 pm edt

Saturday, July 9, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
The Siblings
 
The Siblings: Donna, Joyce, Gloria and Tom.
3:38 pm edt

RECUPERATION
Pic of Steve
 
The headache started Thursday.  The sore throat set in yesterday.  After a week and a half of the accumulated dander of four cats, lack of sleep, and the stress of not only dealing with my own sense of loss, but also with stressed-out and hurting family members snipping at each other, my body has decided that I need a rest.  So yesterday and today I am just laying low.
 
I have scanned some pictures and emailed them to friends and family.  There are so many to go through.  Some of them many of us have never seen.  So, it's a bittersweet, yet exciting, walk down memory lane to go through them.
 
Right now I'm listening to Beach Boys and hoping that my head and throat will be in better shape for church tomorrow.  Later I'll work a little on my Bible study.  In between I'll probably catch a nap.  I think I could sleep for another week.
3:25 pm edt

Thursday, July 7, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
The Sisters
 
The Sisters: Donna, Joyce, and Gloria.  I just found out this past week that Mom named Donna.  Kinda cool, though I think it took awhile for Donna to forgive her for that.  (ha ha)  Actually, they were always quite close.  It was fun to watch them together.  They were so funny, though I don't think they intended to be.  Woulda made a great sitcom.  Wait ... I think maybe someone did that already. ;)
10:36 pm edt

HOME AGAIN
Pic of Steve
 
Oh, how good it is to be home!  To sleep in your own bed, to sit in your own chair, to finally relax in a way you can only do in your own place.
 
It was so good to see family and friends, and to spend time with those we haven't seen in years.  We are so grateful for all who came and visited with us, sent cards, gifts, food, etc.  I especially want to thank my cousins, Dave and Tim Deal, and Jeff and Rob Haines, who graciously helped my brother and I bear our mother's body to her final resting place.  Love you guys!
 
Thanks too, to my dear aunts, who cared for Mom in her final weeks, especially my Aunt Donna, who has sacrificed her own home to move in with Mom and care for her.  Thanks, Aunt Gloria and Aunt Donna, for the love you have shown not only to your beloved sister, but also to her children.
 
I was pleased, too, that my mom's brother, Tom, could be with us.  He and his wife, Esther, are the kind of loving, caring, giving people that are always a joy to have around.
 
It was good to see you all, friends and family, and I do hope it is not so long before we see each other again.  But, after a grueling couple of weeks, and the exhausting whirlwind days of viewings and funeral and all the trappings of such an event, I'm tired, and so happy to be home, happy to be able to rest after the long and arduous affair.
 
I betcha that's how Mom feels right now.  She's home, home at last.  Her life was a full and happy one, but her final years were difficult, as she dealt with the creeping shadow of disease and death, and all the accompanying ailments.  Now she is at rest, in her own home, the mansion prepared for her by her loving Savior.  She is reunited with her husband, whom she missed so dearly, united with her Lord Jesus, who paid her way home with His own life's blood.
 
Yes, I'm glad to be home, finally home.  And I'm glad my mom is home.  And I'm quite sure, as she rests in her Master's arms and in the company of many loved ones, she has taken stock of her new residence and has concluded that it is so very, very good to be home.
10:22 pm edt

Monday, July 4, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Mom and Jenny
 
Mom and her oldest grandchild, Jenny.  She loved being a mother and grandmother, and was happiest when surrounded by her progeny.
5:29 pm edt

THE LORD GIVETH . . .
Pic of Steve
 
Well, the day has finally come, and the Lord, in His mercy, has seen fit to call out of this world the soul of my departed mother.  The last few days were tough.  We continued to pray for her and sing to her, but she was basically comatose.
 
Now we are left with the busy work of seeing to her arrangements.  For any in the Fort Wayne vicinity who may wish to visit at the funeral home or come to the funeral, here are the days and times:
 
Visitation Tuesday (July 5) at Hockemeyer Miller Funeral Home on St. Joe Road, just north of St. Joe Center, from 2-4 and 6-8 pm.  Further visitation at First Assembly of God on Coliseum Blvd. from 10-11 am on Wednesday, followed by the funeral at 11:00 am.
 
If you have any questions, or just want to get in touch, you can call me on my cell: 734-604-8995.
 
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.
5:21 pm edt

Friday, July 1, 2005

PIC OF THE DAY
Mom at age 48
 
This is Mom at age 48.  My older brother, Dave, is on the left.  My younger brother, Jim, is on the right.  Those are croquet mallets that we are treating like vaudeville canes.  We had a lot of fun.
4:01 pm edt

BAD DAYS
Pic of Steve
 
We knew these days were coming.  And now they are here.  The night before last was one in which we kept vigil.  But yesterday morning she rebounded once again, spending time with family and friends, albeit from her bed. 
 
But last night her breathing took a decided turn for the worse -- very shallow and labored.  We all gathered around her bed and started counting down the time to midnight, when we would celebrate her birthday and tell her it was ok for her to go home to be with Jesus.  I read Psalms to her, and other Scripture passages.  I prayed a number of prayers.  Then we sang a couple of hymns together, during which she opened her eyes and smiled at us.  Finally, I recited the words of my favorite funeral hymn:
 
Lord, let at last Thine angels come;
To Abram's bosom, bear me home,
That I may die unfearing.
And in it's narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
 
And then from death awaken me,
That these, mine eyes, with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior, and my Fount of Grace.
 
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.  Amen.
 
Then I prayed Simeon's prayer and concluded with the Aaronic benediction.  At midnight we awakened her and sang Happy Birthday.  Then we waited, watched, and prayed.
 
Today she is sleeping mostly.  We are still watching and praying, waiting for the Lord, according to the riches of His mercy and grace, to take her to be with Himself in heaven.  It won't be long now before we are left without her in this world.  Thanks be to God for the glorious hope of the resurrection and reunion in Christ!
3:45 pm edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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