Archive for April, 2010

Just the other day my wife and I made a short but awe-inspiring spiritual pilgrimage while taking a few days of vacation. On Sunday we travelled down to St. Paul and visited the Science Museum of Minnesota’s exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While waiting for our 4:00 tour time we took in other exhibits, everything from live amoebas swimming around, to a large fossil crocodile, to a traditional Hmong home. Then it was time, and we were ushered into the special exhibit. The buildup was pretty dramatic. For most of an hour we looked at pottery, coins, basket fragments, and other artifacts from the Holy Land in the First Century A.D., and learned about the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then at last we turned a corner into a dimly lit room with five scroll fragments on display.

What are they, anyway? The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of scrolls from the First Century A.D. which were discovered in 1947 when a young Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon them in a cave near the north end of the Dead Sea, only about thirteen miles east of Jerusalem. A picture gallery in the exhibit included a photo of this shepherd as an adult, a smiling man wearing a keffiyeh (traditional Arabic headdress – I originally wrote “turban” and now realize I was mistaken) and a business suit, carrying a lamb on his shoulders. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are scrolls of Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the ones which are scripture contain every book of the Old Testament except Esther, and they are the oldest known copies of the Bible in existence. Other scrolls contain writings similar to scripture but weren’t included in the Bible. Others contain rule books and other writings of an ancient Jewish sect that had very strict rules about just about everything. Someone hid this library of scrolls in clay jars, possibly to preserve them from destruction by the Romans, who defeated the Jews and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. For nearly 1900 years the dry climate preserved these scrolls, then after they were discovered many were damaged by well-meaning researchers who didn’t yet understand how to handle ancient scrolls. During the 1950s, when scholars were piecing scroll fragments together like jigsaw puzzles, they taped them together with cellophane tape, pressed them under glass, and shone bright lights on them. All those practices damaged the scrolls, but today’s researchers have much better methods, and even know how to recover lost text from damaged scrolls. One amazing fact is that four of the scrolls (there are hundreds of scrolls and scroll fragments) were advertised for sale in the New York Times want ads in the 1950s, in the “Miscellaneous For Sale” category. Miscellaneous indeed!

There was a polite, reverent hush among the attendees, especially in the room where the scrolls were present. The light was subdued to prevent damage to the scrolls, and that added to the sense that we were in a holy place.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are one of those things that people have strange ideas about, for no reason. For example, some think there are “secrets” in them that undermine the foundations of the Christian faith, but the very opposite is true. I’ve had people ask me, “How do we really know what the Bible originally said? How do we know it hasn’t been changed?” The Dead Scrolls answer this question, because the biblical scrolls had no significant differences from Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts made 1000 years later. They are proof that the Bible text has been well preserved over the centuries. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:18, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (ESV).” One of the scroll fragments on display included verses from Psalm 119, and these words seem especially fitting:

For ever, O LORD, thy word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Thy faithfulness endures to all generations; thou hast established the earth, and it stands fast.
(Psalm 119:89-90, English translation of the scroll fragment)


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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on April 8, 2010:

The Bible uses the sprouting of seeds as an illustration of resurrection from the dead: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24 ESV);” “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel (1 Corinthians 15:36-37 ESV).” Not only can a seed come to life, but sometimes another component of a plant can have a new life and even a new voice after the plant dies. Such is the case with a wooden object that I own, one of my most precious earthly possessions, my cello.

In case anyone doesn’t know, a cello is a large instrument in the violin family, though not the largest – that would be the bass viol. Instruments of the violin family are traditionally built with a spruce top, with sides and back made of maple, poplar, or willow, though many different kinds of wood have been used for all parts of the instrument. The fingerboard and tuning pegs are usually made of ebony or another dark wood.

I’ve had my cello for 31 years now, as it was a gift for my fourteenth birthday. It has no label inside, so I don’t know who made it, or exactly when, but I do have clues. An instrument repairman told me some years ago that, based upon its construction, it was made in Germany at least one hundred, but quite possibly two hundred years previously, as long ago as the late 1700s. Sometimes I wonder; who owned my cello before I did? How many hands have played it, and in what settings? Who brought it across the ocean from Germany to the United States, and when? It has a mysterious, hidden history, and it bears a few scars. At some unknown time in the past the neck was completely broken off near where it joins the body, and then glued back together. Fortunately the repair shows no signs of weakening, but I treat it gently, as I would anyway. Indeed, this serious wound proved a blessing to us, as it brought the cello’s price tag within Dad & Mom’s reach without diminishing the sound quality. And what sound quality! One of my college cello professors said it was the best one anyone had in the area, though I’m sure she was excepting her own cello, because she had a very fine instrument.

So now, in my hands, wood from trees cut down in Germany as long as two centuries ago sings with a rich sweet resonance (provided of course that I practice). My cello sings with my voice when I play it, yet it has its own voice as well, just as it has its own history. It was around long before I was born, and with care it could last long after I’ve departed, and pass into someone else’s hands and sing with someone else’s musical voice. “And all the trees of the field will clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12 ESV).” Yet someday it will be gone along with all earthly things, and in Christ I will outlive my cello: “He who believes in me shall never die (John 11:26 ESV).” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on March 25, 2010:

An old Mac Davis song from the 1970s says, “It’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” The song is filled with mock boasting, and Mr. Davis clearly didn’t intend it to be taken seriously. If we look at that key phrase seriously, though, we find that it really isn’t true, is it? The Bible tells us that there is one Person who is perfect in every way, and He also is the most humble of all: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)”

That cross upon which He died is the altar upon which the final sacrifice was made for all of our sins, and the sins of the whole world. Most Christian churches have altars and crosses, and most of them are very nice. At Chippewa Church we have a beautiful old-fashioned altarpiece painted white, with a large picture of Christ the Good Shepherd. The Lord’s Supper is served from our altar, and we place our offerings upon it after the collection. Other churches also have altars, some fancier than ours and some plainer, but all of them very nice and kept clean and polished in order to honor God.

But the altars at the Temple in Jerusalem in Old Testament times were not “nice.” They were the site of bloody animal sacrifices; the atmosphere would have seemed more like a slaughterhouse than a church in many ways. The cross upon which Jesus died wasn’t beautiful like the ones adorning our churches or worn around our necks; it was soaked with blood, not polished with Lemon Pledge. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)” With His finished work on the cross, Jesus won salvation and full forgiveness for us. No more bloody sacrifice is needed, so we can keep our crosses and altars clean and neat. Let us do so in order to bring glory to God and not to ourselves. “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God, all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.”

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