What Hath Technology Wrought?

My father was born in 1908 and died in 1995. He lived to see incredible changes in the world during the span of his life. Growing up on a farm, he worked hard even as a child with milking cows by hand at 5:00 in the morning, and with shelling lima beans for the vegetable route his father ran to the nearby town of Phillipsburg, NJ. Dad remembers the day when, resting the horses on a farm lane, all sorts of whistles sounded in the nearby town at the same time – signaling the end of World War 1.  Dad attended a one-room schoolhouse, saw the beginnings of indoor plumbing and rural electrification, the advent of the automobile, advances in radio and television, the space program, and the beginnings of the computer age.

My own lifespan has seen incredible change, though it seems to me they pale relative to dad’s experience. Ancient times in my memory are of simple black and white TV and a telephone that was on a “party line.”  The most dramatic changes that have affected me are the computer age innovations in varied communications devises, along with the huge changes in the way church ministry is done – especially in the area of music. Of the latter, all my training was done in a classical background of choral and orchestral study – assuming that music would always be this way in church … oh my!

But ultimately it is the computer that has most changed the way I do life. I look back now at my college and graduate school years and cannot imagine how I did nine consecutive years of education after high school without anything more advanced than an electric typewriter!  Given the literal hours upon hours of every day that I now work on a computer, I hardly remember life without such! What in the world did I do with my time? I probably watched more television – though I’ve never ever watched too much compared to most folks. I guess I spent a lot of time playing with the boys when they were little … though I remember in those early ministry years I had few nights at home – was always going to a meeting, making visits, or leading discipleship groups. I have horrible memories of the kids crying when I would leave the dinner table to rush off to do some church thing … again!

Now, if I walk out of the house and forget my phone, I feel completely lost and disconnected from the world – fearing there are a dozen things going on that I’m unaware of, but should be hearing about. This condition has a name – nomo phobia – the fear of being disconnected without a working cell phone.

And God forbid the computer goes down on me! I am honestly not sure I could function again in a world without this connectivity and this tool. My cabinet files, however, are still filled with hundreds of pages of handwritten study notes and sermons from my earlier life.

I am a member of the Hagerstown Rotary Club. As such, I get a monthly Rotarian Magazine. There was an article in the last issue that really spiked my interest. It is called “Tech Savants: Five thing you need to know about the gadget generation” by a Patty Lamberti – a professor of journalism at a Midwestern University. She says of the young adult generation:

1.  They are blind to technology etiquette.  By this, she means that this generation cannot resist continually fussing with their devices – even during class or at other inappropriate times. This they do without much thought – evidencing a narcissistic culture where it is all about how what is wanted will be pursued – NOW.

2.  Multitasking is hurting their brains. They cannot stop themselves from doing several tech things at a time, and even scientific research has shown that students who spend lots of time online have less gray matter in their brains.

3.  They dislike conversing face to face.  The writer spoke about how quiet it is in her room before and after class – that few students are conversing, but are rather working with their devices. Many of this generation don’t want to get into a lot of personal conversations, because it may take too long and be annoying. Tweeting, texting, and posting gives them a better control.

4.  Their only news comes from Facebook.  The professor wrote that 99.5% of her students had FB accounts, but only about 10% read newspapers or followed this news beyond FB postings of friends – and most of that was pop culture.

5.  Life without technology leaves them depressed and anxious.  The professor challenged the students to a project also employed by other researchers – to go 48 hours without technology, and then write about the experience. The most common words used to describe the time: lonely and depressed.

Her final line is that perhaps over time for this generation, “they will learn to rule technology and not let it rule them.”

The modern technological world presents wonderful tools for all of us … and especially for those of us involved in ministry. But there are challenges with it. The article reminded me of some of the difficulty we have even found as a church in getting our young adult generation to spend time together in group activity. The fact is that God did not wire us to be successful without intimate relationships with others, and ultimately with Him. Sooner or later, this need has to prevail.

I don’t want to go back to the pre-technology world. I have made a renewed commitment to keep up with new technology “to the end” … which is why you’ll see me around church carrying and oft speaking from a computer tablet. But, these things are tools and the accoutrements of a passing and dying material world. Let’s remember that.

The Basketball Tebow

If you’ve not had it come to your attention yet, there is a new Tebow-like sports sensation in the NBA on the NY Knicks – a Taiwanese/Californian young man named Jeremy Lin, who is a Harvard grad.  Harvard? The NBA??  Yep, and though he is playing for his 3rd team this season, he is on fire and has led the formerly hapless team to six consecutive victories.

Almost overnight, Jeremy Lin has become a sensation for Chinese-Americans, and even more to those back home where he is dominating the news.

But here is another angle: he is also a committed Christian. He’s not wearing it quiet as publically as Tim Tebow, but neither is it being hidden under a bushel basket. In an interview in recent days he said, “There is so much temptation to hold on to my career even more now … to try to micromanage and dictate every little aspect. But that’s not how I want to do things anymore. I’m thinking about how can I trust God more. How can I surrender more? How can I bring him more glory? It’s a fight. But it’s one I’m going to keep fighting.”

Wow! Tebow in football, Lin in basketball … so who will it be in baseball? Lord, I’m willing to volunteer for that!  Maybe I’ll finally get that call from the Orioles scout who told me after he saw me pitch in 1975 that he was going to be in contact!

Success Does Not Equal Happiness and Satisfaction

Whitney Houston has died at age 48. I am sad – not because I’m a follower of pop stars and pop culture, for indeed, I am about the most ignorant person on the planet in that regard. No, Whitney Houston was a great, great singer … what a voice.

The passion in her vocals was deeply rooted in the wonderful musical heritage of the Black church. She could sell a song, and look good doing it too.

So many of us, when thinking of her music, remember first the performance of the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. It has been recorded and sold over and over, and is to this day played at many sporting events. Just awesome – a fabulous orchestration, and one of the most highly acclaimed renditions and recordings of all time.

Being ignorant of pop culture and the comings and goings of the “stars,” I was not aware until the current news of her passing that she struggling with substance abuse. That is hardly a shocker in her world. And why does it seem that these fabulously popular and wealthy stars often end up dying alone in a hotel?

It seems to me that so many of these folks have indeed two very divergent worlds – a popular one with all the glamour and lights, but a dark one of loneliness, doubt and despair.

There is no secret where this post is going. That lack of surprise supports the overarching thought – there is no satisfaction in life apart from a vital connection to Christ. Happiness is illusive – even for the Christian; but contentment born of eternal perspective is the common experience of a genuine faith connection.

He Occupied Europe – A Tribute

As most of you know, I was a pastor in New Jersey before coming to Maryland in 1994. Among my congregants there were a number of World War 2 veterans. One of my last actions as pastor in that church — two weeks before coming to Hagerstown —  was to honor these men in a service, upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Each of them told their story of where they were at the time, and each of them were thankful for surviving – as none of them knew Christ when younger men. They had some pretty amazing stories of survival. It was an incredible Sunday morning of testimony of God’s grace and provision.

One of these men died this week at the age of 95.

Dick Richards was in Company C, 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. Just into Germany near the end of the Battle of the Bulge, as a field officer, he went around from foxhole to foxhole one evening to check on all his men. He had returned to his own to settle down for the evening – which he told me was an especially good and comfortably dug-out hole – lit a cigarette (his last ever!), and a mortar shell landed in the hole with him. It blew off about half of his face and jaw. The Germans had been watching him, correctly surmised he was an officer, and chose him as a target. Dick was evacuated quickly, and over a long period of months (and I believe several years) underwent quite a number of reconstructive surgeries. Though the scars would never all go away, and though his speech was a bit difficult and garbled, his recovery was rather amazing.

Dick was awarded the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for meritorious achievement. His unit was among the best. Though outnumbered by the Germans 5-1, they inflicted casualties at a ratio of 20-1.

I met Dick a long time after the War. He served on some of our church boards and was a faithful attender. Definitely an “earthy” and “folksy” sort of a guy, he had an apple orchard on his property. I always enjoyed visiting him and hearing his stories and receiving his good common sense encouragement. I was a young, young pastor at the time, and Dick was a real blessing to me.

We should be grateful for the service of these warriors and patriots – who fought huge enemies, and won!  I had to laugh at a cartoon I saw recently — of an old man with a cane looking at an occupy freak and saying, “that’s funny, when I was your age I occupied Europe!”


Big City Violence in H-town!

The following topic is the kind of thing I used to comment upon a great deal in my former church blog. But back then, I was writing about stuff that happened somewhere else – NOT HAGERSTOWN!

And often, with this sort of subject, one feels like one needs to say, “I’m not making this up!”

This is ridiculous!!

Here are some clips from the Herald-Mail article on the incident:

Valley Mall was locked down and temporarily evacuated Saturday morning after more than 100 people became unruly while they were waiting to buy a new Nike sneaker at the Foot Locker shoe store.

About 15 officers from the sheriff’s office, Maryland State Police and Hagerstown Police Department responded to the store after they received a call at 8:10 a.m. that roughly 100 patrons had created a disturbance while waiting in front of the store for the release of the new Nike Foam sneaker.

The Nike Foam

Police said some of the patrons claimed they had been in line waiting to buy the shoes since 7:30 p.m. Friday … after the mall was evacuated and locked down, patrons who were waiting to buy the shoes were escorted into the store a few at a time … no one was arrested because officers couldn’t identify the instigators.

When rare shoes are released to the public, people commonly buy them at a store, then sell them for a higher price over the Internet … the Nike Foam, which costs more than $200, could fetch more than $500 online.

Athletic shoes are great! I’ve spent thousands of dollars on them for all of my runner boys (and thousands myself when I used to run marathons back before the great flood of Noah). But to fight over shoes! Shoes!! Even a $300 profit is not worth it.

But this is where the mind of so much of our culture is – that certain symbols of status have great merit – be it cars, jewelry, clothing … or … shoes!

Ephesians 6:14-15 – Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace…

Back in Town – Ugh!

Yep, back to Washington County after a week away in South Florida.

First Street - Fort Myers

I went to Fort Myers to help my family out with the business venture there – built some things and just hung out with my grandkids!

I’m thankful for the Redmans. Paul and Tina live just a few miles away and were really helpful. I didn’t have any place in the store to do much in the way of cutting wood, but Paul helped me at his place by working with me to get dozens of cuts made.

The scene at home one day later!

The weather could not have been more perfect – which cannot be said for this place!  I better understand the appeal of “snowbird” lifestyles!

Now I just need to figure out a way to return before long. The only thing that would make it better would be if I could be there during baseball spring training.

My Grandson's Business!

Who Rescued Who?

Call me stupid; call me fat; call me ugly; insult my family … but don’t you dare say anything bad about my dog! The total truth?… I love my dog – who has an abundance of good character traits most folks will never attain.

I mention this as a backdrop to explain why a little car magnet I have seen a few times has caught my eye. In the shape of a paw print, it merely says: “Who rescued who?”

Of course, there is surely a story behind the owner of the car doing that – likely a story of a poor dog who needed adoption, and later paid that new owner back by providing in some critical season those traits of copious devotion this creature is known for possessing.

It is credited (apparently spuriously) to Harry Truman that he said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”  From my foray into the political world, the only thing not believable about this statement is that a politician would have the insight to utter such a truism.

All of this is to say that the little 3-word phrase on the magnet is basically proclaiming that the way something appears to be true from what is visible is actually just the other way around.

I think this little phrase is illustrative of a major idea in the doctrine of salvation. We think we are saved because we found God, and this appears to be true. We were lost, someone told us about salvation in Christ, we considered it, and we made a conscious step of faith through prayer to accept him and his gift.

Not to get too deep into theological weeds, but I believe the Scriptures teach that truly God did all the rescuing … that He was the one really seeking us in the first place – calling us and opening our eyes and drawing us to Himself. Do not the Scriptures say:

– We love him because He first loved us.

– There are none who are righteous, there are none who seek after God.

– For it is by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves.

So who rescued who?  Who saved who?

And on top of that, God spelled backwards is “DOG” (Chris Wiles pointed this out to me! And that’s why we pay him a couple hundred thousand a year!).