Friday, December 29, 2006

14 Refusals for the New Year

Douglas Groothuis has a thought provoking post in which he lists, instead of New Year's resolutions, his New Year's denials. The basic format he follows is "I refuse to X, instead I will Y". I thought I could benefit from the exercise of thinking of and writing out a few of my own.

1. I refuse to neglect prayer and the reading of God's Word. Instead, I will take measures to avoid going through one day without a significant time of prayer and reading of God's Word.

2. I refuse to neglect those whom I love. Instead, I will do my best to serve them and be a blessing to them, even in the most minute way.

3. I refuse to accept the counterfeit joys of envy, impatience, lust, greed, pride, gluttony, self-indulgence, etc. over the true joy of walking righteously in Jesus Christ, Instead, by the grace of God, I resolve to live a life which is characterized by a yielding to the Spirit and choosing the true joy over the false counterfeit "joys".

4. I refuse to buy any more books until I've bridged the gap between my "read" and "owned" counts. Instead, I will try to save more money and/or seek opportunities to use it better.

5. I refuse to let my shy side/secluded side dominate. Instead, I will actively seek opportunities to reach out, communicate better, and be more social.

6. I refuse to make "filler" posts on my blog. Instead, if I don't have anything worthwhile to say, I will just not post.

7. I refuse to let labels and social barriers dictate how I treat a person. Instead, I will try to treat all people in a consistent and barrier transcending way.

8. I refuse to bow to the North American "do not talk to strangers" mentality. Instead, I will be unafraid to make eye contact and converse with strangers (within reason of course).

9. I refuse to let me comfort, personal security, or habit always dictate what I do. Instead, I will try to be more willing to go "out on a limb" where I feel necessity or expediency would suggest it.

10. I refuse to spend more time on anything than is profitable. Instead, I will seek to manage my time better and prioritize things better.

11. I refuse to join in on the societal trends towards lying, ambiguous communication, double talk, and the excessive desire to hide things. Instead I seek to be always honest and clear and, where it is expedient, transparent.

12. I refuse to be lazy with my spelling. Instead, I will try to root out the errors I make frequently and look up words when I am unsure of their spelling.

13. I refuse to keep anything just for the sake of keeping it. Instead, I will throw out all that trash that has no purpose or value and keep things tidy.

14. I refuse to be grumpy. Instead, I will SMILE and LAUGH.

By God's grace, these are my refusals. For every affirmation there is a denial, and vice versa. Some of them are a tall order. Others are easy for me, and are moreso reaffirmations. I do anticipate failing in some of these refusals in the New Year. And only by His grace can I make any progress in this New Year. Do hold me accountable :)

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Devil's View of Human Nature and Religion


I'm currently reading Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I rarely read such classical literature, but a friend said good things about it and I had to check it out.

There is a compelling section toward the end of the book, where Ivan (the intellectual) has a nightmare and/or some sort of delerium. He begins to talk to a man who implicitly is understood to be a devil. The visitor doesn't necessarily identify himself outright, but there are many non-subtle clues as to his identity. At one point, the devil speaks on religion and his method within religion. Here I provide two excerpts that I found interesting.


"Now, I lead you in turns between belief and disbelief and, in doing so, I'm pursuing a certain goal....I already know you well enough--that is how I'll achieve my will long to join 'the hermits in the wilderness and the immaculate virgins,' because that is what you are really secretly longing for: to wander in the desert, feed on the locusts and save your soul" [at this point Ivan makes fun of the devil, questioning whether the devil knows how hard it is to tempt someone who feeds on locusts and prays in the desert, to which the devil replies...] "I've done practically nothing but that, my friend. One can forget this and all the worlds when one works on such a person, because he is really a gold mine: in some cases his soul may be worth a whole constellation, that is, of course in our special accounting system. A victory in such a case is priceless! And some of those fellows, I assure you, are in no way less sophisticated than you are and, although you may not believe it, they're capable of visualizing such depths of belief and disbelief at the same time that there are moments when it looks as if the fellow is within a hair's breadth of plunging head over heals into the abyss."


"As to the Jesuit confessional, it is, indeed, one of my sweetest distractions in the sad moments of my existence. Let me tell you of another instance that occurred only a few days ago. A blonde, twenty-year-old Norman girl comes to an old Jesuit father. A buxom, natural beauty...[I] was just about to leave when I heard the old Jesuit arranging, through that little grill of the confessional, to meet her later. Just think--that old man, hard as flint, and there he fell in the twinkling of an eye! The truth is, though, that nature took its due!"


These speeches given by the devil as portrayed in this fictional dialog point to some interesting truths.

1. Paul, in II Timothy 3:5, speaks of people who go about having "the appearance of godliness, but denying its power". And then Paul wraps up that statement in v9 with the following: "But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all". There are many people who outwardly appear very godly but turn out to inwardly be very different and in due time it will be evident who they really are. This is a two-fold warning. First, we need to examine ourselves as to whether our religion is only skin deep. Second, we need to be careful about what we assume about others just because they do some impressive thing.

2. Self-made religion, asceticism, and extreme instances of self denial may cause others to be impressed with our spirituality, but God wants our heart to bow to Him not just our body. In Colossians 2:23, Paul makes this clear when he wraps up speaking of the danger of being hindered by human teachings by saying the following: "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

3. The final part of Colossians 2:23 also speaks to the fact that great displays of self-made religion or asceticism do not impart to us any sort of power. The greatest display of asceticism will not make us more resistant to Satan's onslaught, and the strictest Jesuit traditions and priestly concecration did not make the priest in the quote from Brothers Karamazov any more able to resist his temptation to use confession as a vehicle for his sinful desires.

What if our supposed spirituality and self-denial sometimes only leaves us wide open to crafty attacks from Satan? The aforementioned quotes really brought that thought to my mind.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

If Someone Should Rise From the Dead

In Luke 16 we see a striking account of a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. Part of this account contains a dialog between Abraham and the rich man, which is covered in Luke 16:24. This is a simplified presentation of what was said:

Rich Man - "Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father's house—for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'"
Abraham - "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them."
Rich Man - "No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent."
Abraham - "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

On a surface level, without knowing what the Bible teaches elsewhere, it would be easy to discount what Abraham says here as not corresponding with reality. What the Rich Man says in this dialog sounds quite plausible. Certainly, we could assume, there would be a higher probability that the Rich Man's brothers would repent if they could witness a in-person resurrection.

However, there is one glaring error that caused the Rich Man to say what he did and it is an error that often plauges our thinking too. The Rich Man falsely assumed that his brothers minds were neutral, and that the basic problem is that they merely haven't been exposed to persuasive enough evidence yet. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. The Rich Man's brothers were exposed to the Word of God and, as Jews, they had more than sufficient revelation to know their responsibilities before God. Their basic problem was rebellion not a lack of revelation.

This same problem is in full force today. I certainly don't want to discount the importance or value of evidence for the Christian faith, but we need be more aware of the fact that the unbelieving mind filters all evidence through a filter, which is most pronouncedly affected by the fallen, sinful human condition. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, even the most convincing evidence will fall short of persuading anyone. And we should get serious about giving some attention on our part to the presuppositions/worldviews of those we are encountering, instead of just focusing on hurling evidence at people.

The truth is that the human mind is prone to reject ALL evidence that would be contrary to its innermost presuppositions. This means that no evidence would be sufficient to change their mind in and of itself. This was made crystal clear in a debate I once listened to. If I remember correctly It was between a Christian (Douglas Wilson) and an Athiest (Dan Barker). At one point the Christian asked what evidence would be sufficient to persaude him that God exists. By my recollection, the Athiest presented a very unusual scenario where God would audibly speak, something would be levitated and rotated in the air, and a number of other remarkable things. At that point through further cross examination, the Christian was able to establish that even then, with such remarkable and unquestionablly abnormal circumstances, the Athiest would still be unwilling and/or unable to conclusively determine whether it was God or not. Why? Because there would be a myriad of other explanations and justifications that could be offered (what if it was UFOs pretending to be God, a hallucenation, etc. etc.). We are incapable of totally objective thoughts, the human mind always falls back to certain deep seated presuppositions that determine how we interpret the evidence. And those who despise God will find countless other possible explanations for just about anything they encounter.

What does this mean practically in our witness and apologetics for the truth?

1. God saves and God alone. Our evidence can't do it directly . Our preaching can't do it directly. Our love/good works can't do it directly. All these are necessary and are part what a faithful Christian does, but if the Holy Spirit is not working inwardly while we are working outwardly, nothing will happen. This does not eliminate the need for our actions and our words, but it puts what we do in a proper context.

2. There are epistemological (the study of knowledge, ie. how one knows things) issues that need to be addressed when discussing the plausability of the Christian faith. If we skip this discussion and plunge into evidence, the discussion is likely to go around in circles ever missing the core issue (not evidence in and of itself, but how the evidence is handled).

3. Everyone has many presuppositions, and we should aim at challenging unbelievers most basic ones. Some presuppositions are more basic than others. The most basic ones determine the less basic ones. You can spend years trying to persaude someone to change one of their non-core presuppositions, and you may even succeed. But that won't change their overall outlook. Only by having changed inner/core pressuppositions will one have correct non-basic presuppositions. So we should seek ways to examine some of those basic presuppositions and be able to show inconsistencies in them. For example, if you were to persaude someone that there was a global flood some time in history, but they remain commited to a materialistic worldview (ie. believing that there is nothing immaterial or "spiritual"), you have accomplished very little. It may be lending credence to God's Word, but as long as they exclude the possibility of the supernatural, they will likely find another explanation for it and certainly won't accept God's Word regarding what happened.

4. Because God saves and God saves alone, ultimately we have a great consolation when we seem to "fail" in reaching others. We certainly should do our best to present God's ways in a coherent and convincing way. We certainly should try to remove all obstacles that prevent us from relating and communicating with those we come into contact to. We certainly should look inwardly and examine our hearts to make sure our relations with others are exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit. However, the fact that someone rejects what we say or continues in their unbelief does not mean that we have done a poor job. If the masses were not persuaded by Jesus and His miracles, we can't expect any more of a positive response than He did. However, where God opens the door for it, there is a great opportunity out there to be used of God in sharing His gospel and engaging in conversation for His glory and His kindom.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Who Said This?

"Calvin, the most outstanding thinker of the Reformation.."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

P2P Bust in Japan

An author of a P2P software has been convicted in Japan. The charges revolve around copyright infringement.

However, the accused was not found guilty of "copyright infringement", but rather "enabling copyright infringement".

I think that decision is problematic. There should be a large and well-defined distinction between doing something and building something that might conceivably allow someone to do something. Isamu Kaneko did not force the users of his software to use it illegaly. It is quite conceivable that those users could have chosen to use Isamu's software legally. This sort of court decision is exactly what is needed to stifle innovation and punish those who produce popular (and free) software. Isamu's product had half a million users.

Here are some things to consider:

1. The software itself is not an infringement nor is it illegal.
2. The software does nothing that many other similar packages couldn't do.
3. There is no feasible way for such a general purpose file sharing program to reasonably detect what is copyrighted and what isn't. It just handles chunks of data.
4. The software does nothing to enable infringement that is fundamentally different than what your typical FTP or Web Client/Server does.

If it can be proven that the software does not in and of itself break any laws, I believe it is illegitimate to attempt to charge the author of it. While it may not correspond exactly, the basic principles involved are somewhat akin to MP3 player producers being sued because some of their users use illegally downloaded MP3s on the devices. It is patently silly. In almost in any context, this sort of charge would be so silly that the judge would laugh. However, somehow when it comes to coprights on the internet, many convictions for this sort of things seem to be able to happen.

The sort of logic employed here is very twisted, sort of akin to the Guilt By Association Fallacy. It goes something like "Joe broke the law with X. Fred made X. Therefore Fred broke the law". If X, in and of itself, is not an infrigement of the law, there should be no case against Fred. It is not totally unlike saying: "Joe murdered someone in MondoShoes. MondoShoes are produced by George. Therefore George is guilty of murder." This sort of reasoning would be ridiculous even in regard to murder, which is obviously of more gravity than copyright infringement. The software in question was really just a "transport" (hence the analogy of shoes) that the person used to commit the copryright infringement. The P2P software is really expendible in this matter, so there is no sane reason to blame the person who wrote that softawre. The people who are hosting and downloading the copyrighted products are the real "movers" in the act of violating copyright law.

Thankfully saner decisions have prevailed in these sort of cases in U.S. and Canada courts.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Thomas Watson on Sanctification

"The main thing a Christian should look after is sanctification. This is the unum necessarium, 'the one thing needful.' Sanctification is our purest complexion, it makes us as the heaven, bespangled with stars; it is our nobility, by it we are born of God, and partake of the divine nature; it is our riches, therefore compared to rows of jewels, and chains of gold (Song of Solomon 1:10). It is our best certificate for heaven. What evidence have we else to show? Have we knowledge? So has the devil. Do we profess religion? Satan often appears in Samuel's mantle, and transforms himself into an angel of light. But our certificate for heaven is sanctification. Sanctification is the firstfruits of the Spirit; the only coin that will pass current in the other world. Sanctification is the evidence of God's love. We cannot know God's love by giving us health, riches, success; but by drawing his image of sanctification on us by the pencil of the Holy Ghost it is known." (from "A Body of Divinity" by Thomas Watson")

Thinking upon this quote caues me to contemplate upon that evidence of God's love (sanctification) and whether it is being manifested in my life.

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Saturday's Mini Codices

Here is today's installment:

  • Douglas Groothius has made a couple of musing posts on the value (or lack thereof) of You Tube (exhibit a, exhibit b)

  • If you are running SuSE Linux on a system with an NVIDIA video card, you should check out this page

  • Wesley Center for Applied Theology has the journal of Charles Wesley posted online

  • Even though this cartoon is hosted by a site promoting Atheism, I must confess that I find the punch line more than half funny.

  • NPR has an interesting audio discussion contemplating a new alliance between progressive liberals and libertarians in America could form somewhat of an alliance. My take is that while it may happen on some limited issues that the two groups can agree on (which is true of almost all dissenting groups), widespread concensus is unlikely since the libertarians have different general principles of government. Even when they do agree, they are taking different approaches to arrive at their consensus and would not agree on the principles applied.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What Kind of Reader Am I?

I rarely do this, but here is one of those "things":

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Book Snob

You like to think you're one of the literati, but actually you're just a snob who can read. You read mostly for the social credit you can get out of it.

Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz


Friday, December 01, 2006

Interesting People #3

Here are some interesting people you may have never heard of before..

Dusan Popov: Dusan was a Yugoslavian double agent. He hated the Nazi party, so he signed up to be a Nazi spy and once he secured that post, he offered his services to Britian. Known to the British as "Tricycle" and the Germans as "Ivan", Popov fed only British-approved information to the Germans, and was highly successful, playing an integral role in deceiving the Nazis about Normandy. He wrote a memoir and he is rumored to have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming's "James Bond" character, which is quite plausible as Dusan's lifestyle was quite close to that of the ficticious character "James Bond". Rumor has it that Ian Fleming's inspiration came upon watching Popov at a Casino. Popov ran into some difficulties upon his arrival in America, where the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover distrusted him, and disliked his lifestyle.

Ravi Zacharias: Ravi is an evangelical philosopher and apologist. He descended from a line of Hindu priests, but one of his ancestors converted to Christianity and Ravi subsequently was raised as a nominal Anglican. He was personally an athiest and at 17 he unsuccessfuly tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. While in the hospital, his mother read him the Gospel of John which led to his conversion. As a teen he began to preach and was even sent to preach to U.S. soliders in Vietnam. Ravi is the president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and has authored numerous books.

Tim Berners-Lee: Few modern inventions are a significant as the invention of the "World Wide Web". Besides inventing the WWW, Tim is currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium. Tim is also credited with creating the first web browser (WorldWideWeb) and the first HTTP web server (httpd). He went to school at Oxford University, and after getting caught for hacking, he was banned from using the University computer. Tim was an Anglican, but left the Church of England right after his confirmation, and became a Uniterian Universalist.

Friday's Mini Codices

Here is today's installment:

  • According to Science Daily, sitting up straight may be the reason for that aching back

  • Wordie has to be one of the silliest projects I've ever imagined of. Put briefly, it is a word collection site.

  • Alpha & Omega Ministries has an interesting Paedobaptism vs. Credobaptism debate (James White vs. Bill Shishko)

  • You don't know what a hockey fight is until you've seen this match between Canada and Russia in 1987

  • Psiphon is a software tool just released that is intended to allow people from countries with uncensored internet access to "sponsor" or "host" people from censored countries, especially China, allowing them surf the internet freely. How it works is that rather than directly trying to access a censored site, a person from China is able go through a Psiphon client to access the said site. The idea is that the "random" people who run Psiphon will be spread across many providers. It is easy for the Chinese government to ban access to a few large controversial sites, but if there are Psiphon clients running spread over all the various Internet Service Providers that the Chinese people can access, their government's censorship will be at least partially subverted. For the obvious reason that anyone caught using Psiphon in a represive country will be subject to punishment, Psiphon isn't necessarily safe. There are possibly one or two other drawbacks to using such technology. However, new products like this remain interesting and significant challenges to countries who have repressive policies. While some countries abuse technology in ways that are repressive, they need to realize that technology is often very subversive to totalitarianism and most skilled technologists are to some degree committed to libertarian or at least independant/free-spirited ideals.

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