Forgiveness won and delivered

More from last week’s Good Shepherd seminar at my church. . . .Prof. Pless quoted Luther from “Against the Heavenly Prophets”:

On the Cross, forgiveness was won but not delivered.

In the Word and Sacraments, forgiveness is not won but delivered.

Explain. What errors and confusions do these statements guard against?

The best Star Trek

My verdict on the Star Trek movie: The best Star Trek movie by far. And one of the best Star Trek episodes. Director and producer J. J. Abrams–who has also kept me hooked on “Lost”–did a superb job. The actors, playing the younger versions of the later characters, nailed their roles. I tend to scorn mere special effects, agreeing with Aristotle that spectacle is the lowest of the dramatic arts. But these special effects were integral to the story and very well imagined: the battles soundless as they would be in space; evocative images, such as what a planet might look like where it to be sucked into a black hole; images of outer space and other planets of the sort the old black and white TV show could never pull off. [Note: Trekker informs me that the show was in color. My family didn’t get a color set until I left home for college. Still, the sets were wonderfully cardboard and fake-looking.] It was also full of fascinating sci-fi plot points, such as time travel and, again, black holes.

One criticism I heard is that this movie doesn’t do anything with the great Star Trek themes of intergalactic tolerance and a future filled with hope. First of all, that this was a theme of Star Trek was greatly exaggerated and nearly non-existent in the original series. In the succession of Next Generations, it devolved into a tone of self-righteous, politically-correct, touchy-feely superiority that I found insufferable. This version had none of that self-conscious posing–just a good story and strong characters–which made it all the better. Nor did it play for laughs or irony or camp (though there were plenty of allusions and foreshadowing of the TV series, which were fun). It was just a very satisfying movie. You’ll like it.

(In responding to your comment-reviews: Peter, this was NOTHING like those other Star Trek movies that you, like me, find “insufferable.” Michael Poort, we do have two time-lines and two alternative histories: The old Spock, remember, could recall his time-line, in which Kirk’s father lived, Vulcan was still doing fine, etc. That’s the cosmology in the show and in the books. But the time travel interfered, setting up another history that would unfold. . . .Listen to me! I’m soundling like a Trekkie! I’m not one. Really.)

Review the Star Trek movie

If you see the new Star Trek movie this weekend, please review it in a comment. We’ll make this a Mother’s Day activity.

To help with your daily devotions

So, how are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Oh, I see. I’m not doing so well on my resolution to not let my desk get so messy, but there is one New Year’s project that I’m actually following. That’s not because of my will power, which is minimal, but because I am finding it so rewarding. On New Year’s Day, I started reading my Treasury of Daily Prayer just before I go to bed every night. And now, just as I can form bad habits, I find that I have formed a good habit. I have been reading the “Treasury” with increasing pleasure and profit ever since.

For each day, the “Treasury” gives brief but substantive readings from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Then comes a “Writing” from a church father–who may be any one from Chrysostom to Luther or more recent divines–usually commenting on one of the texts. Then comes a hymn verse followed by the collect for the day (that is, a historic prayer).

Each day’s readings are only a few pages, which means that I don’t get bogged down and later abandon the project for lack of time. The Bible readings are not full chapters, but they are meaningful chunks of Scripture. Nevertheless, in the course of a year, you would read the entire New Testament and one-third of the Old Testament. Reading the Psalms, the Old Testament, and the New Testament in this way dramatize powerfully and devotionally how the Word of God is self-interpreting and how Christ is everywhere in the Bible. The “Writings” remind me how I am part of a rich heritage that extends back through time and that the Gospel does not just derive from the Reformation but is present also in medieval and ancient Christianity. Another advantage is that I know other people who are also using it, so that I know we are reading and praying the same things, a rather cool manifestation of the communion of the saints. The result of all of this is a rich daily devotion.

The “Treasury” also includes other devotional resources, from model prayers for various occasions to orders of worship for individuals, families, or small groups. You can even pray the “offices,” those four-a-day meditations that the monks did, though in an evangelical manner.

I bring this up now because “The Treasury of Daily Prayer” is now on sale! During the month of May, you can get it half-price! So says Paul McCain of Concordia Publishing House at his Cybrethren blog:

Concordia Publishing House is offering special pricing throughout the month of May on the Treasury of Daily Prayer. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the rest of Eastertide and the Pentecost festival, than by encouraging people to embrace a richer, deeper life of prayer and meditation on the Word of God. In my opinion, there is no better single resource to aid and strengthen us in our prayer lives, than the Treasury of Daily Prayer. But, you know I’ve been saying that for some time now. If you don’t believe me, listen to what others are saying. I’ll post a slew of recommendations and endorsements from people using it at the end of this note. The special pricing is:

The regular edition, $49.99, is now $24.99.
The deluxe edition, $79.99, is now $39.99.

Call 800-325-3040 to place your order.

If you want to place a web order, you must use this link to get the special pricing: http://www.cph.org/dailyprayer

Deconverting from Buddhism

Thanks to FWS for alerting me to this account in Slate of a man who had embraced Buddhism but then decided to drop it.

Bizarrely, he had thought Buddhism would be more scientific, since it has no specific need for belief in God. But Buddhism teaches that the material world does not exist!

Other epiphanies of what should have been obvious:

Much more dubious [than the value of meditation] is Buddhism’s claim that perceiving yourself as in some sense unreal will make you happier and more compassionate. . . .

Even if you achieve a blissful acceptance of the illusory nature of your self, this perspective may not transform you into a saintly bodhisattva, brimming with love and compassion for all other creatures. Far from it—and this is where the distance between certain humanistic values and Buddhism becomes most apparent. To someone who sees himself and others as unreal, human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. This may explain why some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints. Chogyam Trungpa, who helped introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in the 1970s, was a promiscuous drunk and bully, and he died of alcohol-related illness in 1987. Zen lore celebrates the sadistic or masochistic behavior of sages such as Bodhidharma, who is said to have sat in meditation for so long that his legs became gangrenous.

What’s worse, Buddhism holds that enlightenment makes you morally infallible—like the pope, but more so. Even the otherwise sensible James Austin perpetuates this insidious notion. ” ‘Wrong’ actions won’t arise,” he writes, “when a brain continues truly to express the self-nature intrinsic to its [transcendent] experiences.” Buddhists infected with this belief can easily excuse their teachers’ abusive acts as hallmarks of a “crazy wisdom” that the unenlightened cannot fathom.

But what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. Buddha’s first step toward enlightenment was his abandonment of his wife and child, and Buddhism (like Catholicism) still exalts male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual. From this perspective, the very concept of enlightenment begins to look anti-spiritual: It suggests that life is a problem that can be solved, a cul-de-sac that can be, and should be, escaped.

I suspect that the amorality of Buddhism is part of its attraction for Westerners today. I’m glad that this person is waking up to the need for something more, though at this point he is lurching to scientific materialism.

Notice how Christianity is the opposite of Buddhism. It AFFIRMS the physical world, which God created and into which God was incarnate. It does not teach escape from the world but rather involvement in it. God Himself entered that world, and so do we in vocation. How odd that so many people are hostile to these joyous, mind blowing teachings–including that salvation is a free gift, that Christ has atoned for sinners, that everlasting life is ours for, on our part, nothing, though God Himself paid a great price for us.

I mean, I can see not believing it, perhaps because it is too good to be true, but why the hostility? And why embrace instead something so much smaller?

Thankfulness and Praise

More from Prof. Pless, drawing on the writings of Australian theologian John Kleinig. . . .When you thank someone, you address that person directly. When you praise someone, you tell someone else how great that person is.

When it comes to God, we are to thank and praise Him. We tell God how grateful we are to him–for His grace, His blessings, our existence, and on and on–in thanksgiving. Praise, strictly speaking, is when we tell other people how great He is, what His wonderful attributes are, how good and gracious He is.

When the Psalm says “Praise Him,” we should do so in talking about Him to others. Thus, hymns of praise are for the benefit of the singers and the hearers and their lyrics should thus have substantive content about who God is and what He has done.


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