Last week on Monday, I used my tiny bit of technological knowledge to make a slideshow for a funeral service. Once it was set up, the family walked over to the side of the sanctuary and looked at the pictures of their loved one. I admit that in that moment my mind was on slide transition time, what effect to use between slides, the aspect of portrait images on landscape screens… you know, the kind of things that a nerd like me thinks about.
Still thinking about these trivialities, I softly spoke to a new widow and said, “I hope that it looks ok for you.”
Placing her hand on her mouth with emotion, she said, “It looks beautiful.”
And that is what technology is supposed to do, isn’t it? It is a tool that can be used “for the glory of God and the good of others”1 even if the ones observing or receiving have no interest (either at all or in certain moments) in how the finished product was produced. In the church sanctuary with this family, they had no desire to hear me talk about why I did what I did. The only thing that mattered to them is that those who came to honor a husband, daddy, papa, and friend saw not only a body waiting for Jesus’s return, but they would also reflect on visual reminders that his earthly life was filled with life and loved ones.
Yesterday I left my Saturday-Schoolday in the office a little earlier than normal, and our family headed to Greenville. Last week I cleaned out some files and paperwork in my office, so I grabbed a few hanging folders awaiting review, placed them in a file folder box, and quickly headed home. My wife already had the kids ready and the car running, so I hopped in and worked on the files while we were heading down the road for my sons’ “Coding Your First App” class at the Apple Store I once worked at over a decade ago. Some of the papers were not all that important. However, some of them had me in tears as we rode up I-85. One of them was a letter from a student who went through our youth group when I first became youth pastor. It was a letter he gave me during his final days in high school. Adding to the impact of the letter was that in the years since, he made a second ever best entrance exam to a local Christian college. He then transferred to a closer school and graduated with two degrees in less time than I’ll get one of those same degrees. Today, he is a youth pastor about an hour from our town. I’ll never forget going to watch him present his senior project in public high school: Systematic Theology, lol. I was so proud. And I have to think our rubbing off on each other was mutual… around that same time was when I taught the high school students a miniature version a podcast on systematic theology that revolutionized my desire to learn. Little MP3 devices filled with huge amounts of truth can have such long-lasting impacts.
Going back further in the hanging files was a printed email I had not looked at in many years. In 2010, I received an email from a young lady in Wisconsin who found my program. She wrote to thank me for a simple podcast that explained the Bible “in a way that applies to everyday life.” The reason that particular email was printed is because a second email came later that year. She and her husband had prayed for a baby, one was on the way, and into the pregnancy she had a miscarriage. A few days later she heard my podcast about life and death from Ecclesiastes 3. She said, “I heard you explaining what the bible means when it says that there is a time to die. I immediately felt a sense of calm and acceptance when I listened to that podcast and since I have been praying for the past week to God to help me understand how this could have happened to us, I know that your podcast was the answer to my prayers.”
A little before exit 48 I was in tears trying to read that to my wife. I said, “It was amazing what God did with that USB microphone and my laptop back then.”
I wish I still had that computer (A 12” PowerBook with an 867 MHz G4 and a Plantronics USB headset mic). I remember the day that I watched it get boxed up after I sold it on eBay so that I could upgrade to a more powerful desktop with four hard bays and dual DVD burners. And predictably, I also remember when that desktop got boxed up and my wife and I drove it to Commerce, GA. I still have a picture of it buckled up in the back of my truck…
While my two boys were learning how to make a basic app, I strolled around looking at devices that I know inside and out, yet am still fascinated by. I am sometimes still fascinated by the power of the machines; every so often there will be some sort of hardware advancement that truly is noteworthy. But what fascinates me more than the power of the machines is the potential of those machines to be used for God’s glory. You’d think I’d’ve learned to be content by now. But with discussions in my head that would go neck and neck with how our government is however many trillions of dollars in debt it now is, I tried to think of every scenario that would make one of the new M2 Airs a reality. My setup at work is very nice and very powerful—a 27” 5K monitor with an M1 Pro 10-core with a 16 Core GPU attached to a 12 TB RAID. I used it this week to edit our church’s television broadcast and felt humbly confident that the next television broadcast is the best one yet since I took on that responsibility last year. In my head I thought, “But this one is 2 lbs, so light that I could scoop it up when I run off to my Mdiv classes, powerful enough for non-video tasks like searching my 16,000 books in my Logos Bible Software library, and efficient enough to get almost 20 hours on a single charge.” Then reality set it, the kids’ coding class was over, we joked with a family I have known for many years that came to our wedding almost 20 years ago, and I made it out without any more devices and any more debt. The savers in government would have been proud of me… for a few hours. Later that evening, with reasoning that would rival a young person whose brain has hit 13 years old, I told my wife, “Would you be mad if I got one of those new Airs?” I could use it when portability is key, and I’m hoping to get my website and podcast active again… for hobbies that would also be a help to other people… never for social media, YouTube, and never ever for Gamecock football highlights in the fall… thankfully the store was closed.
Yet, technology can’t solve all the world’s problems, nor does it have it. Sometimes the devices need to be turned off. Saturday, I read the emails from a lady I’ve never met who heard my podcast about death and was comforted that her “baby will never have to face the hardships, sorrow, and evilness of this world.” A USB mic, Sound Studio from Felttip Software, an MP3 file in an RSS feed, and the grace of God helped in ways I could never understand.
But the day before, on Friday, I sat in the living room of someone I have known for over a decade. Not with paper and ink or digits and data did we communicate, but in flesh and blood. And the communication was not so much an exchange of words as it was a physical presence not knowing what to say. One of the most sincere pastors I have ever met in my entire life lost his grown daughter (leaving behind a husband and two children). He didn’t need a podcast, he didn’t need a blog, he didn’t need a YouTube sermon, and he didn’t need a lesson on theodicy. He has a walk with Jesus and a humility in his life that would many podcasters, bloggers, and YouTubers would do well to imitate (but the last isn’t first—yet). For several hours, trying not to say anything dumb or stick my foot in my mouth, I was a man of fewer words than I normally am. I intentionally put my phone with my keys at the door, and I sat in the living room with no technology to distract me. The emails above centered on the message of “there’s a time to be born and there’s a time to die.” I think the lesson Friday (for me) was that “there’s a time to boot up and there’s a time to shut down.”
Christian, what fascinates you in this life? What is it that has maintained your interest for decades? What is it that you have caught glimpses of God’s providential weaving together with the temporal and the eternal, the secular and the sacred, the hobby-ish and the holy?
Other Christians might make you feel guilty for even trying to find God in those parts of life. They might even think you’re crazy.2 They for sure won’t think you’re as spiritual as them. But don’t pay them much attention; the Christians cutting down others aren’t doing all that much anyway. I know. I’ve been guilty of it far too many times in my life.
We are far too covetous in our hearts. I know that as well. I have been guilty of it far too many times in my life. Contentment is learned. And it’s learned more through life’s problems than the printed page. One definition for the leanred in Philippians 4: “I have learned to be content.”
to come to a realization, with implication of taking place less through instruction than through experience or practice3
And maybe that’s how we learn contentment today. My “work week” began Monday morning and ended Friday night being with people who have sadly worshipped alongside Job: “The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away.”
867 MHz used to be so powerful. Now it’s antique. One day entry-level machines with 10 cores and read-write speeds of 5000+ will be obsolete. One day 27” 5K monitors will be low resolution. One day 20-hour battery life in a two pound body will be called short battery life and heavy.
But that day isn’t here yet. So, whatever there is in this life that you love less than God but still love very, very much, use it for the glory of God and the good of others.4 When you need a little contentment, God might do a little taking. And when you have learned a little contentment, God might do a little giving. But whatever he’s doing in your life at this moment, whatever he is teaching you for his glory and the good of others, have so much fun in creating and serving and love for Jesus and so much appreciation for the tools that make it possible that one day old emails, old tech, outdated equipment and outdated methods will still cause tears of gratitude to roll down your face for the never changing Savior who uses the ever changing to make eternal changes for his people.