What I'm Doing

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Free Tech Support: Purchase Not Required?

I just read a recent Ars Technica article (link) that highlights a little-discussed area where software piracy drains a company's resources: support. To pull a paragraph from the article,
Within three hours of the release of Ritual's SiN Episodes Emergence, the game was pirated and up on the 'Net; releasing it on Steam had little effect on piracy, at least initially. When a bug in the game was discovered, Ritual patched it and released the update via Steam... and that update was applied to the game slyly, in the background. Users who had paid for the game received the update. Those who had pirated the game didn't, but that didn't stop them from complaining to customer support.
The article goes on to quote Michael Russell, Ritual's QA Manager, describing how one guy who called in was using his friend's legitimate copy of the game to check his own settings in order to try and ensure he was giving the "right answers" to questions about his configuration. This was so that he could hide the fact that he was using an illegitimate copy of the game.

I guess I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised at the audacity of these people. "I don't feel like paying for your software, but I expect you to spend your time (time you could be using to help a legitimate customer) to help me use it, anyway." Granted, the people mentioned at the end, who have been sold counterfeit software, get a pass, since they likely didn't realize the software was counterfeit. But when you are consciously attempting to hide the fact that your software is illegitimate, why do you feel that it's okay to call the company you ripped off and expect them to support your installation?

I'm sure the RIAA and MPAA would love if people would do this for them:

Non-Customer: Hello, [recording company]? Yes, I'm having some trouble here. I made some copies of a friend's CD's, but the DRM protection you included on the originals messed up my copy. Can you help me get a good copy?
Recording Company: Sure, just give me your name and address, and we'll have our legal department contact you right away.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Kristen and I, while hanging out with some friends, went to Barnes & Noble last Saturday. While there, Kristen found a juggling set containing 3 juggling balls and a book on juggling. Remembering that I had expressed an interest in juggling before, she decided to buy the set for me.

So, I've been practicing a lot the past few days. I'm at the point now where I can juggle 3 balls, but only for a few throws. Also, my arms are tired. However, much progress has already been made. Expect to see me at the local park in a week, asking for money while amazing you with my ability to hit myself in the face while attempting to juggle various objects. My last trick, I've already figured, will be my attempt at juggling knives. After I try that once or twice, I will probably be forced into retirement.

In other news, John Carmack's mobile game, Orcs & Elves, has finally become available from Cingular for my phone. For what seemed like forever (a few months), it was only available via Verizon. I've been waiting for this game since I played his first mobile game, Doom RPG. I've not finished Doom yet, so maybe I'll try to finish that before getting into O&E. John Carmack is a genius, and if he can do for mobile gaming what he did for PC gaming, there will be some good things coming before too long. Of course, there will be a lot of technology-laden, crappy clones as well, but that's how things go.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Assurance and Salvation: My Story

I read a post earlier today by the Internet Monk called Sinning? Saved?, in which he says:
There is no doubt that the trust in outward means in many hyper-evangelistic environments winds up animating those who are, in fact, spiritually dead. Often they are deceived and may be entirely without faith in Christ. They are animated, not with spiritual life, but with one of its many imitations. We must place no trust in aisle walking or sinner’s prayers. Be concerned for one thing only: Does this person trust Jesus Christ as Lord to save, right now? Are they willing to rely, in every way that God asks, upon Christ as all-sufficient and all-satisfying?

Not one of us repents perfectly. None of us are saved by repentance or remain saved by persistence in repentance. Yet, Jesus called upon believers to “repent and believe the Good News.” To repent is to change one’s mind, orientation and “true north” from sin and self to Christ. This change of mind, if it is the work of the Spirit, will be evidenced in a change in life. That change will come from a knowledge of one’s one sinfulness rather than attempts at being righteous, and the works of righteousness will be the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. They may be unobservable, but they are real. They are not faith itself- for we are saved by faith alone- but they are vitally connected to faith. True faith does not ever exist alone, but brings along repentance, confession and evangelical obedience as companions. [emphasis his]
The statement in bold is, I think, the key to the whole question, in addition to the statement, "No one repents perfectly." I also like his definition of repentence, but that can be a topic for another post. For now, I want to focus on the question of assurance. I don't here intend to give any sort of great theological argument on the topic—I'm currently not sure whether I even still hold to "once saved, always saved" or not. Perhaps I can explore the issue in that manner in yet another post.

For now, I want to speak of my personal experience with the idea of assurance.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, where the idea of "100% assurance" was often stressed. The call would often go like this: "Are you 100% certain that, were you to die tonight, you'd go to heaven? You say you're 99% sure, but is that 1% a chance you'd be willing to take for eternity?"

Of course, through most of high school, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go to heaven. As I understood it, I was saved. My spiritual life was pretty much nonexistant, and, by my actions, no one would have suspected me of being a Christian, but I was saved, so it didn't matter. At the time that I now consider my conversion, I thought I was just "re-dedicating my life." It was around that time, when I started taking Christianity seriously, that I began to find that Jesus expected obedience from those who claimed to be his disciples.

After that time, I began to follow Christ as best I could. Everyone at school noted a change in my life. As one friend later said to me (as a compliment), "You started to get more religious last summer, but then, in the fall, it's like you just went overboard."

However, some months later, as the initial fire of zealousness began to wane, I found myself in a bit of a bind. I don't know what, exactly, brought this on—though I'm sure the settling down of that initial zealousness was a part of it—but I began to have doubts about my salvation. I would try to push them aside, looking to my conversion as evidence that I was, in fact, "saved," but the doubts persisted until I couldn't ignore them.

I eventually found myself in despair, not knowing what to do. I remember one evening that I stayed up late praying, fearing that I might die in my sleep and enter into eternity only to discover that I had, in fact, been wrong and was lost. Was 1% of doubt a chance worth taking? I was sure it wasn't, but I didn't know what to do about it.

I remembered being taught at church that Satan wouldn't make us doubt our salvation, because that tended to draw us closer to Christ and make us trust Him more. That made sense, I thought. My mom said that she thought it was Satan trying to immobilize me with doubt. That made sense, too. Niether of those ideas, however, were helping me. No matter what I did or thought, I couldn't shake that doubt that my faith wasn't, in fact, real.

I wavered between two courses of action: either I wasn't actually "saved," and I needed to be converted for real, or I was truly "saved," and I just needed to remember that I had nothing to worry about. Niether of these courses were working out. Then, after some days, a new course of action came to mind.

I finally said to myself, "I'm doing no one any good by sitting here in my despair. I don't have an answer to this right now, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about that. The only thing I can do is get up, serve Christ as best I can, and trust Him that I will be saved in the end, so that is what I will do."

I wasn't sure whether this was the "theologically correct" thing to do—I certainly don't remember this being presented as an option at church—but it was the only option I had, and I took it. To be honest, I don't think I've ever really settled that question, and my doubts have haunted me with it from time to time, but, instead, I am simply striving to commit myself to Christ each day, and, each day, to trust him to save me, not only from hell in the next life, but from my sins in this life.

I have received help about that question since then. Through Charles Spurgeon's devotional ("Morning and Evening") and sermons, I was reminded that I'm not supposed to focus on my faith, for it is not faith that saves us, but Christ. Often, we find ourselves trusting in our faith rather than trusting in Christ, and then doubts occur when we fear that our faith is insufficient. In Brother Lawrence's book, "The Practice of the Presence of God," I was encouraged by Brother Lawrence's testimony of having a similar experience, being riddled with doubt and fear of hell, and his coming to a similar conclusion that I did: simply entrusting himself to Christ, and serving him now as best he can. In talking with some Eastern Orthodox friends, I have learned that, apparently, they also hold a similar view. I have talked with some within my own tradition who have expressed similar concepts, as well. If I am in error in this, at least I know I have company.

So, this is how I have, for myself, reconciled the idea of "faith alone" and the Scriptural commands to obedience. So long as I am trusting and following Christ as best I can, I trust that He will make up whatever I lack, for "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory" (Matthew 12:20, ESV). I make my prayer the same as the father of the demoniac in Mark 9: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!" If and when I stray, which I tend to find myself doing a distressing amount of, I strive to return to Christ as soon as possible, remembering that "the Lord is...longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, KJV).

So, that's where I stand today: a sinner, still learning to repent, still learning to trust in Christ alone for salvation, both in this life, and in the next. I'm not sure that I would recommend this course to everyone, but this is my story. I do hope that, somehow, this will serve as an encouragement to someone out there to keep in the race.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independance Day

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July. Yay for freedom and stuff that blows up!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Some Thoughts From My Dominican Republic Trip

Finally, I'm getting around to posting some thoughts I took away from the Dominican Republic Trip and Kosmos conference. Here they are, neatly organized for the sake of anyone who might read this:

Of course, the main thing that anyone says when they've returned from a third-world country is "It was so sad how poor the people were," or something along those lines. To be honest, I left the Dominican Republic wondering whether this attitude isn't, to some degree, cultural hubris. The questions on my mind as we went through the villages was, "Would these people be considered poor in this culture?" and "What is poverty?"

As an example of this idea, I recalled a story I heard from a missionary in another country who had made some comment about someone being poor, and the person she was talking to responded, "They're not poor; they've got a house over their heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear." In the USA, they might still be considered poor, but in that country, they were doing just fine. Given that, as I've heard, even many homeless in the USA are better off than people in other countries, I wonder if we may have a very skewed idea of poverty.

Not that I'm denying that actual poverty exists, either in the USA or abroad. Neither am I denying that we ought to help those who are "less fortunate." I think compassion for the poor is not only a good thing, but something Christians are commanded to have. The problem that I have is with the idea that the American lifestyle is, or ought to be, the norm for the whole world.

As far as what ought to be the "norm," the measure by which we determine poverty, I don't yet know.

Being Missional
Obviously, this being a missions conference, we talked a lot about missions—particularly, overseas missions. The whole point of the conference was to expose people to the idea of career missions. I was happy, however, to hear some of the speakers make a point to say that missions begins at home. Not everyone is called to go to some other place to be a missionary; we are all missionaies within our respective spheres of influence.

This week reminded me that I need to be a more faithful witness for Christ. What this means is that, first of all, obviously, I need to be willing to share the Gospel whenever I get the chance. This seems like a pretty basic thing, but it's really amazing how, for some reason, it can be scary at times to speak about Jesus in a reverent manner. Very often, I know I have kept silence when I should have spoken in some manner. God have mercy on me.

Secondly, I need to take to heart the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." I need to be one in whom others see Christ. This only comes with being conformed to His image, which is difficult to do at times, because of that annoying call to die. Nevertheless, it is what I must do—what I really want to do. I need to be conformed to Christ's image, so that my life may serve as a testimony to His love, holiness, etc. God, give me grace.

Thirdly, I need to get out of the saltshaker, so to speak. It's kind of hard to be a missionary who doesn't really encounter people who have yet to believe. It's kind of hard to bring the light of Christ into the darkness when we won't leave the torch. It's kind of hard for salt to season the meat if the salt won't leave the shaker. I saw a neat illustration of this idea in the pilot episode of Firefly the other day, which I'll expand upon more in another post.

Patriotism and a Global Perspective
The idea of patriotism and having a global perspective came up a few times in conversation during the week, and there were a couple things I noticed:

One thing that a number of people mentioned at our "reflection time" at the end of the week was how it was surprising to run into some Dominicans and discover that they're not only already Christians, but rather passionate Christians. The discussion then turned to how we so often associate "missionary" with "white American," and how wrong of an idea that is (I've heard South Korea sends out more missionaries than the USA). I was reminded of a bumper sticker a friend of mine once had on her car that said, "God is not an American."

Christianity itself is a cross-cultural religion. Certainly, some churches have become "nationalized" over time, and that may not necessarily be wrong, but what is wrong is when we begin to associate "Christian" with "American" or "British" or "Germain" or "Russian" or whatever else.

At the same time, however, I have been bothered a bit by the almost anti-American sentiments I've heard some Christians express. It's interesting that people I've met from other countries tend to be rather proud of their homelands, yet we often seem almost ashamed we're Americans.

Now, I'm not one to withhold criticisms of our Nation, our society, etc., but I do so not because I'm ashamed of our country, or because it's fashionable to criticize our country, but because I care about our country and our society. For all it's failings, this is a great country. Do I hold our nation up as an exemplar for every nation, everywhere? Certainly not. But am I glad that I was born and raised in America? Yes, I am.

Contentment and Gratitude
Finally, I learned a little about contentment and gratitude. On this trip, there were a number of things to complain about. Hotel service wasn't too great at the resort, the conference schedule was so packed, there was almost no time to rest. The list goes on and on. Then, one day, in my devotional, I read Jesus saying that the Father makes the sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and makes the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.

As I thought on that passage, I was reminded that everything I have, even the very fact that I exist, is by the grace of God. I did not deserve to be created, and I did not deserve to be born. As another parable Jesus told says, a servent is not rewarded because he did what was commanded, so Jesus taught us, when we have done all that has been commanded of us, to say, "I am an unprofitable servant, for I have only done that which was commanded of me."

If I am to say this when I've kept all Christ's commandments, what am I to say when I have failed? And, so, I have done nothing to deserve existance. I exist, breathe, move, live, eat, and drink, and all other things, by the free grace of God. If I truly believe that, then my life should be one of gratitude.

So, those are some of my thoughts from the trip. And, now, I must get into bed.

Dominican Republic Posts

I've been a bit busy this week, as well as feeling a little under the weather, so I've not gotten a chance to post my thoughts from the trip. As a bit of an appetizer, though, I have uploaded some photos from my digital camera (all the photos on this blog were taken with my cell phone) to flickr, which you can see here.

Also, for those who weren't following my blog while I was on the trip, here's a list of all my posts (oldest on the top, newest on the bottom):

At the Airport
Breakfast on Saturday Morning
Schedule for the Week
Sunday Morning Worship
Playing Chess at the Airport
More Luggage
Dinner With Our Pastor
First Morning of the Conference
Visiting a Dominican Village
Tuesday Evening
Visiting Some Apartments
Thursday in Another Village
Reflection Time
Dinner on Friday
Catalina Island