Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unchurched Christians
Appropriate Subtitle Pending

Alex Tatistcheff
April 2013


I’m writing this to try and organize my thoughts regarding church attendance, being a follower of Jesus, salvation and how these are related to each other.  The purpose is not to promote a specific position or doctrine.  It’s really to make us think about why we do the things we do and  ask myself if I’m doing these things for the right reasons.

I’ve been a church-attender for a number of years now.  I’ve served on the church boards in two Assemblies of God churches and done my share of “church hopping.”  I don’t know why we do this here in the U.S. but that’s a topic for another rant.  I made a decision to give my life to Jesus at age 9 and have been walking that path for the past 42 years with varying degrees of success. I view this decision at age 9 as the preeminent decision of my life, one which has influenced all the rest of my major decisions.  My identity has always been based more on my membership in Christ’s body than the particular Christian organization (some would say “church”) where I happen to be spending my Sunday mornings. However, make no mistake, I have always made gathering at least weekly with other believers in a local “church” a priority.

Before I go any further I want to clarify a term we use today which does not generally carry the Biblical meaning.  The term is “church.”  Jesus called anyone who adheres to the revelation that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God to be the Church.  Today we:

  • Go to church
  • Build a church
  • Work at the church
  • Avoid the church
  • Drink a latte at church

The term church has come to mean a building or a particular group of believers.  We use the word church to name our buildings.  “What church do you go to?”  “That’s my church over there.”  “I go to the (insert yours here) Church.”  I wish we had come up with another word for these places because it really tends to detract from the concept of a worldwide body of believers.  This is what the Church really is.  As followers of Christ we are all members of the Church.  Yes, there is piece of the Church that meets here and part of the Church meets over there but they are not “churches.”  We each are members of Christ’s body, namely the Church.

What I will try to do in the rest of this rant is to be specific when I’m taking about a local piece of the church body or the Church universal.  I think it’s important to understand the distinction.

Ok, enough of the introduction now on to the point.

Some followers of Christ do not regularly attend a local gathering of like-minded believers.  These are sometimes (incorrectly?) called “The Unchurched.”  Do a Google search and you’ll see a lot of links on these people, how to reach them, why we’re failing them, who they are, etc.  If you’re one of these, you are my main audience.  To restate my goal, I am not attempting to convince you to “get back to church.”  As I stated above, if you are a believer YOU ARE THE CHURCH.  What I am attempting to explore is some considerations surrounding gathering with local believers - especially in a building dedicated to that purpose.  Why some do it, why some don’t, and to help us all consider why any of us do what we do.

For Those of You Who Do Attend

It’s the “why” question that is the crux.  It’s a difficult question, one that may elicit a quick response, but if we are to be honest with ourselves requires significant consideration.  If you do attend services regularly one might ask, “Why do you go to church?” (using the vernacular here, of course, you know you can’t actually go to church right?)  

Some answers might be:

  • Because my parents make me
  • Because I want to
  • Because I like the worship
  • Because all my friends are there
  • Because the Bible tells me to
  • I always have
  • The sermon helps me grow as a believer
  • Because I think it’s what God wants me to do

Yes, these are just a few reasons to attend.  It’s not an exhaustive list and I’ve left out some of the less legitimate ones like making business contacts, meeting women, etc.  Most people would have more than one reason they attend but when you get down to the nitty gritty and spend some time looking at your motivation you’ll likely come up with one or two key reasons you go to (a building called) church.  

Think about it for a minute, why do you go?  Really.

That is important because you will be tested.  Not by me - by life, by other people, by Satan.  You will be tested.  This is not easy, life is not a cakewalk for anyone - believers included.  Over the course of your life you will almost certainly encounter challenges.  I can virtually guarantee you that those challenges will include your local church body.  Looking at the list above let’s see how these might figure into some of the reasons for attending.

  • Because my parents make me
    • My parents got divorced and the one I’m with now doesn’t go
    • I go to college in another town
    • I moved out of the house and started my own life
  • Because I want to
    • It’s raining today
    • Too far to drive
    • Don’t feel like it
    • The house needs work
  • Because I like the worship
    • Don’t like that new worship leader
    • They never keep the words on the projector in sync with the music!
    • They’re singing that song again?
    • Wish we could sing more old hymns (or faster music, or newer music, or older music)
    • The drums are too loud
  • Because all my friends are there
    • Those people are all idiots!
  • Because the Bible tells me to
    • (Hmmm, maybe I’ll come back to that one)
  • I always have
    • A rut is just a grave with both ends kicked out
    • Nothing here is relevant to my life
  • The sermon helps me grow as a believer
    • These sermons are taking too long
    • I’m not being fed
  • Because I think it’s what God wants me to do
    • Ok God, I’m not sure you understand my situation
    • God wants me happy (I’m not happy here)

My point here is that your reason for attending a local body will be tested.  Depending on the extent of the test, your own determination, additional ties you might have, etc. you may decide this is no longer the place you want to be.  You might find another local establishment to spend your Sunday mornings.  However, depending on the severity of the pain you may pull out of this “church in a box” thing all together.  This also may occur because after decades of the same cycle of tests and moves you decide you’ve had enough.  

Stop here and let me state again that I’m not saying any of the above are right or wrong.  I’m leaving that determination up to you.  I’m not even trying to imply that any position is right or wrong.  I am skillfully skirting the moral issues of what God wants for the Church body as a whole.  My intent is to spur you to introspection, prayer and to honestly evaluate your reasons for whatever position you are in.

The Unchurched

If you do find yourself in the group of believers (members of the Church body) who don’t regularly attend a local gathering you fall into the category often referred to as “The Unchurched.” Rightly or wrongly that’s a man-made label placed on people who once attended but don’t any longer.

If this is you, chances are you had a single event or string of events take place over years that caused you to stop regularly attending.  Believe me, I’ve seen some pretty heinous things done in church settings to and by believers.  I’m not even ruling out the possibility that I’ve been part of the problem at times myself.  I won’t try and get into motivations or accusing people of being Pharisees, control freaks or the like.  These things happen because this world is full of imperfect people.  The Church is full of imperfect people with (mostly) good intentions.  The church buildings also contain what the Bible calls wolves or goats.  Dressed up like sheep (believers) but not actually part of the Church.  As you know, going to a church does not make you a believer (part of the Church).  These wolf/goats are imposters, non-believers in church to further their own goals or agenda. They may look just like sheep on the outside but they are not followers of Jesus.

Unfortunately, it’s not all black and white.  Believers (the Church) are on a path to be more Christ-like.  On a path... That means we still do things that are in line with our old nature.  Hopefully we do these less and less as we progress toward maturity but the fact is - we do them and sometimes we hurt others as a result.  

All of this provides more than enough opportunity for our own flesh to cause problems in relationships.  Add to this the fact that we have an enemy determined to attack the Church as often as he can and you get -- pain.  

My point here is that when the pain level overshadows the reason(s) for attending a local gathering people leave.  It’s pretty simple - not rocket science as they say.  I dare say that given enough pain any normal person would remove themselves from virtually any situation.  Like pulling your hand back after touching a hot stove. When this happens in relation to church attendance the question then becomes - what next?  You decide if this is a temporary or permanent condition.  You evaluate your reason for attending in the first place and see if that is still legitimate.  Consider the fact that you will likely experience pain again if you go back to ANY church - is your reason for attending important enough to risk that?

What is at Stake?

Is church attendance just a minor consideration? I mean what difference really does it make? Personally, I think questions like whether to attend a local body, or which local body should I attend, are fairly important ones for a believer.  You may not agree in which case this entire treatise probably seems a bit over-the-top.  However, the life of a follower of Jesus is one of -- following.  That is, obeying the lover of your soul.  It means obeying in every area.  The question of where and how to fulfill your role in Christ's Body seems like a pretty big one to me.  

Conclusion (for everybody)

I’ll just cut to the chase.  The ONE THING you have to honestly ask yourself is - what does God want me to do?  It’s a tough question, one we can’t just sit down and answer in a 5 minute meditation session.  I believe this is the single most important question anyone can ask.  Other questions we need to consider:

  • Does God care what I do?
  • Does He have a plan for me?
  • Does his Word have anything to say about it?
  • Will He reveal Himself to me if I pursue Him?

(Hint: the answer to all of these is YES!)

The Path of Least Resistance?

As you are seeking God's direction, the path He lays out will likely not be the easiest one.  We have to remember that He never said following would be easy.  On the contrary Jesus said on several occasions that the path was not easy.  It may mean putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.  It may require stepping out in situations where you can't see the outcome ahead of time.  This is a walk of faith, I have to tell you that there are no guarantees that you won't encounter future situations even more painful than those in the past.  I can guarantee (because He did) that God will be with you on the path.  Traveling along a treacherous path with God at your side is far better than being on the wrong path, ask King David about that (Psalm 23).

My final admonition is to take some time, do the introspection, meditate on God’s Word, listen to His Spirit, ask Him to guide you.  I don’t know what your answer will be but I know God has one for you.  The key is that it's your answer, you heard from God and you are joyously (if not always happily) headed down the path He has guided you to. ⭅

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Arduinos, toys, robots, oh my!

I've discovered the Arduino. This is a totally cool "open source electronic prototyping" board. Basically a microcontroller which can be programmed from a PC using a "sketch" which is written much like a C++ program. It makes creating cool stuff like flashing lights, robots, distance sensor projects, clocks, etc. a lot easier.

One of the things I love doing is getting motorized toys from the thrift store and then repurposing them for my projects. I'm a lot like Sid on Toy Story but without the evil bent.

I wanted my first semi-advanced Arduino project to be an obstacle avoiding robot. I looked around at the various hobby type sites and I could get a chassis made for robot experiments for somewhere around $50. Then I'd need a motor controller board since the Arduino UNO can't put out that kind of current on its digital pins. But heck, I thought there are a lot of motorized toys out there. All I need is something I can get that moves, then stick the UNO on it.

My first attempt was a Tyco Air Rebound. It's an R/C car which is made to go fast and very rugged. Got it at the thrift store for about $7. The biggest criteria is that it has two independent drive wheels. That way I can turn it by controlling the direction of the wheels. This makes the 'bot turn a lot sharper than front wheel steering.

Turns out the Air Rebound was not the most suitable. The reason is it's made to go FAST. My robot has to go slow enough to avoid obstacles not run headlong into them all the time. But the Air Rebound was good training. I was able to identify the radio circuits and the motor controllers. After that it's just a matter of attaching wires to the motor controller inputs (radio outputs) for fwd and reverse on the right and left wheels. Each of these outputs is then connected to a digital output pin on the Arduino UNO and using pulse width modulation (PWM) I can control the motor speed.

My next toy was a Cybox robot from Sharper Image. Again about $7 at the thrift store. This robot has a two wheeled base and the gear ratios looked more promising. After disassembling the Cybox I again was able to locate the motor controller and map the four inputs controlling the direction of each of the two drive wheels. This chassis proved to be just what I needed for a slow moving platform that I could mount my servo and IR distance sensor on.

The programming for the Cybox robot was inspired by another robot which I found at http://bunedoggle.com. I used that code to get started and built a bit more on top of it. I added some LEDs for effects and the finished project can be seen in two Youtube videos.


The only problem with the Weeniebot is it's mobility. It has to operate on a hard, fairly smooth floor. I wanted more. So I again returned to the thrift store. This time I found a nice four wheel drive R/C car with the transmitter included. On top of this it was just $3.00!! Much to my joy and surprise when I got it home I found that it worked just fine. Now I had a dilema, I really liked playing with this car but to make it into a bot I have to tear it apart. Well, it turns out that turning this one into a bot presented some additional challenges.

I will continue this as the story plays out. For now the second bot is still in development.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Android part deux

Ok my last post was a bit emotional, sort of a baby and the bathwater type of thing. Turns out the real source of my frustration was the slow and buggy version of the Android OS that Samsung saddled my otherwise fantastic phone with. Shortly after posting my last rant I decided to try one of the various custom ROMs available for my phone.

All I can say is - wow!

Loading these community developed ROMs has given my phone a new lease on life. It's faster, more reliable with features that don't come on the stock operating system. It's clear that the devs at Samsung could learn a lot about developing reliable smartphone software from folks who just do it for a hobby.

Vibrant FTW!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm About Done With Android

As the title states, I am quite disillusioned with the Android mobile OS. I'm not sure if I should blame T-Mobile, Samsung or the Android OS itself. Whoever is the culprit, my latest phone the T-Mobile Vibrant (a Samsung Galaxy S variant) is hands down the worst phone I've ever owned. It has a few bright spots like the super AMOLED screen but the faults more than counter any possible advantages a flashy screen might provide.

The problem - reliability. If there's one thing a phone should be it's reliable. For years we've dealt with Microsoft PC operating systems and have grown accustomed to the occasional hang in an application or even sometimes the entire OS freezing up. Where I don't need that happening is on my phone. Since I first got it my Vibrant has had issues with the Google Maps application. Sometimes it simply hangs when loading the app causing me to power cycle the phone. In a similar manner, after the latest OTA update the Gallery application (photo viewer) does the same thing about 1/3 of the time it's loaded. This is totally unacceptable!

Don't even get me started on the GPS performance - or lack thereof. Initially the phone had problems with taking a long time to get a GPS fix. Samsung FINALLY released a fix for this however it didn't help the GPS accuracy. It consistently drifts during navigation and puts me on streets which are nearby but not the one I'm driving on. This makes using it for street navigation a very risky business. Oh, did I mention the lockups? It's done that while navigating too. It's really a pain to have your GPS lock the phone up requiring a hard reset while driving on the freeway in Dallas at night.

As a normal course of daily operation the phone seems to lose the desktop icons periodically (roughly twice a day). This causes it to pause for 10-15 seconds as it restarts it's shell. You Windows users might be familiar with this, it's what happens when the Explorer process dies and the desktop icons go away for a few seconds while it restarts. Same thing on Android - again a desktop feature I do not need mirrored on my phone.

I have serious doubts about the availability of my phone for emergency calls due to the issues above. Am I going to have to wait 90 seconds for the phone to reboot because of one of the issues above before I can dial 911? Could be a scary situation to be in.

One thing I will never do is buy another Samsung phone - they just don't know how to get them right. Not to mention the lag in Android OS updates. Here we are with 2.3 released and we're still waiting for 2.2 which was promised this year but is yet another in the long line of broken promises from Samsung/T-Mobile. I should have known, Samsung has always had a bad reputation for updates after a device is released. Well, once bitten...

I may just admit that Android is too fragmented and go to the iPhone. Is a reliable phone that actually does what it's advertised too much to ask?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stuxnet - wow!

Ok, interesting tidbit for today. This is my favorite quote so far from the Symantec 63 page paper analyzing the Stuxnet worm. The paper is located here.

In the driver file, the project path b:\myrtus\src\objfre_w2k_x86\i386 \guava.pdb was not removed.

Guavas are plants in the myrtle (myrtus) family genus. The string could have no significant meaning; however, a variety of interpretations have been discussed. Myrtus could be “MyRTUs”. RTU stands for remote terminal unit and are similar to a PLC and, in some environments, used as a synonym for PLCs. In addition, according to Wiki- pedia, “Esther was originally named Hadassah. Hadassah means ‘myrtle’ in Hebrew.” Esther learned of a plot to assassinate the king and “told the king of Haman’s plan to massacre all Jews in the Persian Empire...The Jews went on to kill only their would-be executioners.” Symantec cautions readers on drawing any attribution conclu- sions. Attackers would have the natural desire to implicate another party.

In other words - just because it looks like Israel don't necessarily make it so. ;-)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

It's Obvious Black Ops Devs Don't Own Guns

Ok this entry is dedicated to my disappointment with the new Call of Duty Black Ops game. To put it bluntly - I'm underwhelmed with this release. There are a lot of reasons like cheesy graphics, dorky sounds, ridiculous spawn behavior in multiplayer. These are somewhat subjective. However, I believe I have some items below that virtually everyone - especially anyone who actually owns a gun - will agree with.

- Makarov damage. I was glad to see the Makarov in the game although I doubt it would be considered a serious side arm for an actual soldier or black ops operative. The most bizarre thing about it though is that the damage settings for this gun are higher than for a 1911 .45 pistol. What?!?! The Makarov uses a 9x18 round which is actually shorter (and less powerful) than a typical NATO 9mm (9x19). The 9x18mm round produces between 185 and 215 ft lbs of muzzle energy. The .45 ACP produces around 400 lbs of muzzle energy. Why does Black Ops rate the damage from a Makarov higher than a 1911?

- Bullets penetrating concrete. No assault rifle can penetrate 4 inches of concrete - at least not without digging a hole with several mags worth of ammo. Yet in Black Ops diving behind a concrete barrier - similar to the ones you see on the side of the freeway - provides no cover as bullets pass right through it.

- Snub nose Python is more accurate? The Colt Python is a pretty powerfull .357 pistol. It comes in long barrel (4 or 6 inch, it's hard to say) and snub nose 2 inch models. In COD BO the 2 inch version is more accurate than the longer barrel. Again, have these folks ever even fired a weapon before?

More to come as I play this and uncover all the ballistic nonsense it contains.

Update 1: Ranks

My pet peeve about this game is the apparent lack of research that went into it. The bizarre weapon attributes above illustrate this. Move evidence of this is in the ranks as players move up in the multi-player game.

Players move through the enlisted and commissioned officer ranks which appear to match those of the U.S. Army. However, the officer ranks go from 2nd Lieutenant (O1), skip 1st Lieutenant (O2) and go directly to Captain (O3). Why skip 1st Lieutenant? Was there a reason? Once again, it makes the game look like a low budget hack where they didn't bring in military consultants to help make sure it was accurate. If the game is supposed to represent the real world then get the details right!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 3 of the Sourcefire VRT Exploit Development class

First two days are a crash course in assembly programming, Intel processor op codes, memory locations, yada, yada, yada. Good background but one wonders how much practical use this will be? It is fun to learn how computers work on the inside but really if you want to play in this area you need to know all the ins and outs and tricks.

We started crashing the stack yesterday, looking forward to more of that today. I'd like to think that in two weeks I'll remember some of this but to be realistic - probably not. Oh well...

On a side note. The Macbook Pro could really use Home and End keys. I don't even think there's a keyboard shortcut for either of these two functions. Bah!