Archive for September, 2007


I finally did it

   Posted by: Mark    in General

I finally “modded” my XBox Classic so that it will run XBox Media Center. And I am thoroughly impressed with the quality of the software, and the great functionality available.

For those of you who may not have a clue what this means, here is a breakdown: The XBox is a console game system from Microsoft, released originally in 2001. It is essentially a 733Mhz computer with a super-fast bus and video card, internal hard drive, DVD/CD reader, up to 1080i video output, and networking capabilities. The games for it can be a lot of fun, but when I purchased it a year ago, the primary reason was to make this recent modification.

A standard XBox does little more than let you play games, though it will allow you to listen to CDs and watch DVDs. It ends up that a very creative and organized group maintains a set of code that can be installed on the XBox to make it much more useful than just a simple game machine. This “hacking” is slightly involved, requiring the box to be opened (for the cheapest route; for about $40 you can keep the box closed and do the same thing). It is probably not for someone unfamiliar with the inside of computers, but I did not find the process to be overly difficult. I followed the steps over here and here (and will be doing some of this here soon), did some additional reading and poking around, and ended up keeping my time to about three hours total. And the only reason it was that long was that I had to keep swapping my monitor and keyboard between two PCs and did not read everything as well as I should have the first time.

Anyway, the point is that I now have a game console that seconds as a top-notch media center in the living room, through the use of XBox Media Center (XBMC). This means, when connected to my home network (I have not run the permanent wires yet), I can, in the comfort of my living room, access and view pictures and videos from my main PC directly on the TV. I can listen to any of our music library, watch movie trailers, check the local weather, and more. In other words, I have vastly simplified my life and made a couple of computers reasonably useful.

The video playback has already been great fun, since I recently recorded a bunch of Hi-8 videos to the PC for eventual DVD archival. With XBMC, I can browse to these using a graphical interface and a game controller, and then select and play the video, and navigate just like with a DVD player. This also works for any TV shows I may have recorded on the PC using the TV capture card.

The MP3 playback is amazing, too. Since the machine is built for graphics, it includes some really great-looking “visualizations” that can be displayed when music is playing. It allows for playlist setup, and lots of options around playback, crossfading, album art, album info, and so much more.

And because the new iMac is on the network, too (perhaps another post on that), I expect to be able to retrieve files from it through the XBox. I have not have the time to test this fully yet, though.

And I could not say enough about the XBMC software itself. It looks better than anything else out there, is easy to navigate, and feels crisp and fresh. And I only have a 27″ tube TV!

Yes, it is a toy, but it is one that reduces overall life complexity. Once I get more hard drive space, I will be ripping most of the kid’s favorite DVDs to the PC, allowing us to access them without swapping out DVDs, using a graphical menu system that includes cover art and full info for each of the videos. I just do not know how I made it this long without XBMC.


Unconditional election

   Posted by: Mark    in The Church

Mike Ratliff has posted an excellent article that deals with the “unconditional election” portion of the doctrines of Grace.

And I also just found an article from C.J. Mahaney (via DG) on the mystery of election.

Good stuff.


The Gospel in 6 minutes

   Posted by: Mark    in The Church

Thank you, Tim for suggesting this. And thank you Abraham and John Piper for making it available.

The Gospel in 6 minutes


Proper praying

   Posted by: Mark    in The Church

There are two things I have been mulling over lately regarding prayer. These are not related to each other except by the fact that they both deal with prayer.

First, to whom should we pray? We have been praying with Isaiah most nights before he goes to bed, and in teaching such a small child how to pray I admit that there is a definite “cuteness” in hearing him say “Dear Jesus” as he copies what we say. I have recently changed the wording to “Our Father” or similar. Certainly Jesus is a member of the godhead, but we do not have any examples in the New Testament that direct us to pray to Christ. Yes, we are to pray in the name of Christ: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13). But even the model prayer Christ provides for us begins with “Our Father.” Is there any reason or example that dictates why we so often pray to Christ instead of the Father? This is not to minimize Christ or his power, but rather to ask ourselves if we are truly following the examples we have been given.

The second thought I have been tossing around is related to what we should pray for, specifically when dealing with the preaching or teaching of the Word. I often hear requests such as this: “Lord, please speak through the man of God this evening” or “Please use this preacher to speak to us this morning.” The request is that God speak to us through the teacher or preacher. This may be nit-picky, but I think it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how God speaks to his children today.

I do not want this to become a cessationism versus continuationism debate, but it is important to note that God spoke often in the early church through dreams, visions, and signs, and that he does not do so today. (That is not to say he cannot, but rather that he does not do so commonly). Today, he speaks to us solely through his Word.

This is important, because I believe a misunderstanding here can launch Christians into some very dangerous waters. We are blessed beyond measure today by having such easy access to countless translations of God’s written word. And we know that this book is utterly and completely sufficient for teaching a Christian how to be “competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17). This Bible is the foundation for Christianity. Without it we would know little of Christ and nothing of the redeeming work he accomplished on the cross. We would know nothing of God’s grace in selecting us for salvation. We would know nothing of the God who spoke the worlds into existence. This Bible contains all objective earthly knowledge about God; there are no other sources for this knowledge! (While nature certainly points to God, it does not tell us directly that he loves us, nor does it provide insight into the detailed workings of his plan, as the canon does.)

If we ask God to “speak to us through a man,” are we asking for the best thing? Are we even asking for something God will do?

Perhaps this is hyper-sensitivity, but carried to a logical conclusion, if we ask God to speak to us through a man, it seems we run the risk of hearing the man, not God. And as soon as I begin depending on a man to tell me what God says, I have started down a dangerous path. We need teachers, but we need those teachers to teach the Bible, because it is through the Bible that God has chosen to speak.