Russell and Duenes

Feeling Nostalgic – Ten Years at Redwood Christian – 2007-08

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They’re gone, and my teaching at Redwood is no more (at least for now. Never want to close any door). Context is everything, and if I were speaking these words, and not writing them, you would hear profound sadness in my voice when I say, “They’re gone.” I’ve been brought to the edge of tears today, and most certainly will shed some in the days ahead. It’s all going by so fast; I feel like I need to stop time. It flashes before me in a moment, and then blows away like so many dandelion spores. I think I get some measure of St. Paul’s feelings as he left the Ephesians in tears. Having preached the whole counsel of God to them over a period of years, he had come to love them with his very life. One does not just walk away unwounded. To love is to lose, as C.S. Lewis said, and as Jesus knew best. It reminds us of death, that in the end, everything in this earthly life will be stripped away. All sentimentality dries up, and we are left naked before our Creator. As an old preacher once said, we “swing out into eternity” on Christ alone. And this is our great hope. This is why we can leave people we love in this earthly life, committing them to the care of Christ, because we know that as brothers and sisters in the Lord, we will stand together in worship and exultation before our Great God and King, united as one people.

On the way home I was moved powerfully by Sara Groves’ song, “He’s Always Been Faithful.”

Morning by morning I wake up to find
The power and comfort of God’s hand in mine
Season by season I watch Him, amazed
In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.

I can’t remember a trial or a pain
He did not recycle to bring me gain
I can’t remember one single regret
In serving God only, and trusting His hand
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.

This is my anthem, this is my song
The theme of the stories I’ve heard for so long
God has been faithful, He will be again
His loving compassion, it knows no end
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful, He’s always been faithful
He’s always been faithful to me.

I wept for joy at the reality of these words over my ten years at Redwood, even in the darkest of times. So many thoughts and feelings flood into my heart, but right now I’m thinking of Paul’s exclamation, For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Cor 2:15-17) I have not been sufficient, but God has been, and Jesus’ words came to me with new force today, “Be careful not to do your good deeds in front of others, to be noticed by them, otherwise you will have no reward from your father in heaven.” I wondered how many things I did as a Bible teacher in order to get praise from my students and colleagues. God knows, and we do well to heed His words, “But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:10-15) How subtle and how powerful is the temptation to get esteem and respect from others, to play the Pharisee. I’ve been convicted of doing this too many times to count, and on such occasions, I had my reward. May God not hold it against my students.

This freshman class is now the graduating senior class. They would be the first, and only class to have to put up with me three times as their Bible teacher. I’ll save their sartorial splendor for my last post on the ten years. I do remember a good deal about the senior class, however, a few tidbits of which stand out. First, I enjoyed James Anderson, David Gora, and Co. immensely (the group Mr. Russell dubbed “The Sweat Hogs” from Welcome Back Kotter). And then there was Michael Fong doing his impersonations of David Gora. Speaking of Michael Fong, we enjoyed giving him a hard time about his parents’ restaurant, Fong’s Dang How, which no longer exists. There was Corey Johnson, who was always ready for a good theological argument, Nathaniel “Nibbles” Kohlfield, and Jimmy T. The senior class was loaded with students who had amazing intellectual firepower, but whose tongue was had by the proverbial cat. They got A’s on everything, but I couldn’t seem to drag two words out of most of them. So first period seniors got live, and second period was Mr. Duenes listening to himself. It’s interesting how distinctive can be the personality of each class period, even within the same grade level.

I also remember this year as the one where bioethical issues came much more to the fore in my heart and mind. Not that I hadn’t talked about them before, but I remember reading Roe v. Wade for the first time that year, and then assigning it to my seniors for discussion. I started to read and think more carefully about issues such as embryonic stem cell research, contraception, and abortion. It was a bit of tough sailing, but it got the ball rolling, and I began to incorporate more bioethics material into my Theology/ Romans class.

One final great memory from that year was the flag football game Redwood put on at the end of the year. It was a big event, we had catered food, and the juniors (and some ringers) played against the seniors (and other less-talented ringers). This was somewhat serious business. Mr. Russell and I coached the seniors, and he drew up plays and we had practices. We knew we had less talent than the juniors, but we thought we had the edge in coaching. Perhaps we did, but it didn’t matter. We ultimately got beat, mainly because our secondary was getting torched all day long. One of our secondary players was Matt MacDonald, who showed up in his Darryl Lamonica Raiders jersey, talking tough, whilst getting consistently beat deep. As they say, you can’t put in what God’s left out. Some of us, MacDonald and myself included, just don’t have wheels. It was rather humorous, and since the game was meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I look back on it and smile.

I felt that I had put more effort into teaching this year than any year except my first. The students were bright and able to handle some high level stuff, and so I tried to offer it to them. You’d think after six years of teaching, you’d have it down. But I felt like I was just getting into a good groove. I was finally to the point where I had a good command of how the class should work, thus I could devote much more attention to getting command of my subject matter, keeping it fresh, and making it more of a challenge.

Lord, thanks again for the students you brought to Redwood, and for the grace you gave to me and others to teach them. May you continue to pour out your grace, mercy, and peace upon them. May they show your faithfulness through their lives, and proclaim your glories at the last day.


Written by Michael Duenes

June 2, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Duenes, Nostalgia

One Response

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  1. Hey D, congrats on the move, and the future life path – prayers directed your way. I’m interested, if you get a moment, in hearing about your motivations and hopes as you pursue this avenue.


    June 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm

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