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Archive for September 2013

You Get To Pray at the Beginning

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One of the profound and simple benefits that comes with a proper Christian education is that students get to pray with the teacher at the beginning of class – or really, any time during class. When I taught at a Christian school, I often felt like prayer with students was a formality, a rather perfunctory thing to do at the beginning of class. The students expected it, and there certainly was the danger that it would just be a rote ritual with no spiritual power attending it.

But it needn’t have been, and often, at least in my heart, it wasn’t. I was rather grateful for the chance to offer up the class period to God, to ask that He might teach us and draw us up into Himself through what we were learning. It was right and proper to offer our educational endeavors to the Lord of everything, particularly when the life of the mind is such a crucial piece in one’s development toward spiritual maturity. Like all things, it should be consecrated to the Lord. “Take my intellect and use, every power as Thou shalt choose.”

I have on numerous occasions found myself sitting in one of my law classes, waiting for the professor to begin, and I forget that I’m not at a Christian university. I half expect him or her to pray to open our class time, and find that there’s a void when it doesn’t happen. Something seems askew, as though there is this great privation, a deficit, if you will, under which we begin our inquiry and study. And in truth, there is a deficit. We are lamed when we do not carry it to God in prayer.

I don’t think this little blessing – of offering one’s studies up to Christ in class, teacher and students together – can be overestimated. One only knows the power of it when it has been had, and then lost. And I would commend it to you as one special benefit that comes with providing a Christian education for your children.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

September 30, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

Education: A Kind of Wisdom and Wisdom

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I recently asked whether any public school had as its mission statement: “It is better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver” Someone replied that this mission statement was indeed carried out in public schools by individual teachers and by quality public schools. Yet we should probably ask ourselves what constitutes “wisdom” and “understanding?”

God tells His people that keeping His commands will be “your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples.” (Deut. 4:6). A certain wise man, who was commended by God, said that “wisdom is with the aged and understanding in length of days. With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding.” (Job 12:12-13). Indeed, God says to Job: “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” (Job 38:36).

King David says that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being,” and that God “teach[es] me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Ps. 51:6). The psalmist asks God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). Further, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7). The LORD “gives wisdom, from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). The LORD “by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.” (Prov. 3:19). “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom.” (Prov. 10:31). Wisdom comes through humility (Prov. 11:2), and listening to godly advice (Prov. 13:10). Wisdom is not found among those who trust in their own minds. (Prov. 28:26). “The rod and reproof” also “give wisdom,” (Prov. 29:15). Daniel acknowledged that God “gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Dan. 2:21).

St. Paul said that God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.” (1 Cor. 1:20). Paul prays that God himself may give us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God.” (Eph. 1:17). In Christ Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3). St. James says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (Jas 1:5). Indeed, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:17).

I don’t doubt that there are individual teachers in the public schools who advise students with godly wisdom. Indeed, I know such teachers personally, and I do not discount the relationships they have built with their public school students. This is all to the good. But it is also largely beside the point when one considers the mission of their public school in general. Individual teachers may provide godly wisdom as they have opportunity, but in their official capacities as teachers, they certainly do not, yea, cannot, teach their students that true wisdom begins and ends with the fear of God and knowing Christ. So how does true wisdom even get off the ground in public schools, when the Scriptures are plain that “the fool (not the wise) has said in his heart, ‘There is no god?'” By its official stance, the schools treat God as a non-entity, a nullity, a vapor, or worse, a superstitious hang-up. How does wisdom grow from that?

Moreover, do our schools have a mission to train students in how to be “righteous” or “humble?” Is maturing in “humility” part of their mission statement? Do public schools ask their students to grapple with the questions: “Who is a good person?” “How does one become a good person?” And if they do grapple with it, will the answers coming from the teachers during class be anything along the lines of: “Those who honor God and keep His commandments?” Do our schools teach, whether explicitly or implicitly, reverence and respect for the “aged” and those with “length of days?” Too often, listening well to the “old folks” or the old books or the ancient wisdom is considered passe, unoriginal, or close-minded. We worship youth, and this filters into the public school gestalt.

There is a kind of wisdom that comes through in official secular agnosticism. Certainly students are taught how to acquire a vast number of facts. But what are they taught to do with those facts? Are they taught to use them in order to “set their minds on things above, not on things on the earth?” (Col. 3:1-2). If not, the students are not learning wisdom. They are learning pragmatism, utilitarianism, and how to “make the best of this life only.” It is a virtual certainty that students are not being instructed in how to “number their days.” (Ps. 90:12). Thinking about one’s own brief life, and the reality of one’s death, is about the last thing we want to talk with kids about, and this is true in Christian education as well. It’s morbid and depressing, we say. Yet God says that it is crucial to our gaining “a heart of wisdom.”

Wisdom can be acquired by sources other than the Scriptures, of course. As Daniel Fuller once said, reading Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” can provide the godly person with wisdom. Fuller also used Mortimer Adler’s “How To Read a Book,” as part of his curriculum. This is right and proper, and thus, as I said, there is a kind of wisdom that the public schools provide. The difference is, Fuller’s admonition was mixed with the fear of the Lord. He could therefore say that “thinking abut what is true, honorable, noble, right, just, and praiseworthy” will bring wisdom.

We too often confuse wisdom with “acquiring facts and knowledge.” Significant reflection on ancient wisdom, even though allowed in public schools, has largely been jettisoned in favor of faddish modern “voices.” After all, we consider that the ancients were not as “enlightened” as we are. This by itself shows the lack of wisdom in our public educational system, for the fruit of that system is now running the system and calling the shots. Wisdom has to do with knowing the true, the good and the beautiful. All such assessments must start with the God who creates, with a frank acknowledgment of the reality of human sinfulness, with God’s work of redemption and character transformation in human hearts, and with a view towards the ultimately end of humanity, namely, the resurrection of all persons unto judgment or unto eternal life. This is the true wisdom that should be shot through the educational curriculum. It matters not that “not everyone believes this.” As one of my good friends intimated, truth (and wisdom) is not determined by that which garners the most applause.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm

What Should We Make of Samson?

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Yes, Samson, Barak, Jephthah and others are commended in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.

But I take it that they are not there so that we would imitate them in every way. What is often missing from the stories we tell our children about the “heroes of the faith,” is the way in which these heroes contribute to the overall plan and purpose of God in redemptive history. They get pulled out of the story, as it were, and then become “character studies.” This seems a less fruitful path than one where we remind our children again and again about the narrative of the entire Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. Or as Douglas Wilson puts it: “What’s the point of the whole Bible? Kill the dragon and get the girl!”

We need our thinking and living to be shaped by a profound consciousness of the overall plan and story of what God is doing. When we come to Samson, say, with a view to his place in “Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation,” then he is no longer simply a man who had intermittent faith, or a fool who unwisely married and allowed himself to be influenced by a Philistine woman. His overall life may not be one to imitate. Rather, we begin to see him as someone God was using to bring about His redemption from sin and victory over wickedness. We see him as part of God’s covenantal faithfulness to Israel. Yes, Samson had faith, as Hebrews 11 points out, but his faith is set in the context of the entirety of what God has been doing since Creation and the Fall. And it points to the Consummation. Samson and others are worth looking to because “though they were commended for their faith, [they] did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

Even a “man after God’s own heart” must be seen and imitated in this context. We ought not to pull him out of the plot line of redemptive history to analyze his character. King David was a man after God’s own heart because he saw and pursued God’s purposes. His life fits into the larger story. Thus, from David’s adultery and accomplice to murder we take away mainly that such sinfulness on his part did not derail God’s larger plan and purpose to bring the Messiah through David’s line, to give the Messiah David’s throne. Yes, we certainly learn that God was merciful to David, even when David deserved to die for his wickedness. God is similarly merciful to us. But I think we have to look at David’s whole life primarily as a testament to God’s unwavering faithfulness to His own promises. Samson’s faithfulness in the end is exemplary of God’s own faithfulness at all times to the people He has redeemed.

Perhaps I’m creating a false dichotomy, but I agree with D.A. Carson that part of our life of faith includes having our thoughts and actions formed by and carried out in the light of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Our faith includes thinking of people of the Bible within this framework. This keeps before us a true sense of what it means to “consider the outcome of their way of life,” and thus, to “imitate their faith.”

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

They Won’t See Because They Can’t

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I was having lunch the other day with a colleague, and as it happens, we got on to the subject of what it means to be human. He made a rather startling claim. He began by saying that he agreed with Richard Dawkins that being human means, biologically speaking, that we are nothing more than gene-preservers. The nature of being human is, at its essence, simply the business of passing on one’s genes. Yet my colleague, a bright and accomplished man, then proceeded to tell me that this biological reality did not preclude there being a deep and robust conception of human rights. In other words, though we are nothing more than chemical conglomerates attempting to survive by passing on chemicals, we still ought not to oppress minorities, nor enslave the weak, nor exclude certain others from the social benefits of marriage, and on and on. It simply doesn’t follow, said he, that we need “God” in order to have this robust conception of rights and morality. After all, we’ve developed our morality over time, and that’s the nature of what we do as human beings.

Of course it is true that one need not believe in God in order to believe in and practice a “robust conception of rights.” But that’s never been the issue. The issue is always and everywhere whether one can ground one’s “robust conception of rights and morality” in any kind of standard or authority that is binding on all people, everywhere, at all times. One can protest that he does not need God in order to do so, but this is not the same as demonstrating it. Without a transcendent God, our “development” of morality and rights is nothing but a utilitarian calculus, subject to the whims of the powerful. And if the powerful happen to be the Nazis or the Communists or the Khmer Rouge and what they’ve developed, then that’s our morality. But we know this is wrong. It’s wrongness is something that is impossible not to know, and yet my colleague claims not only that he does not know it, but that its ridiculous. But why? Why does he not see?

Is it for want of intellect or learning? That cannot be, for his intellect is first rate, and so is his curriculum vitae. Is it for lack of evidence or logic? Nope. It’s not logical to think that we’re all just a bunch of gene-transmitters, the products of material forces and irrational, random mutations, who then can turn around and possess robust rights and morality in an objective sense. So why the evasion of the real issue? Why the changing of the subject, from dealing with the issue of whether one can truly ground his morality in some standard and make objective moral claims, to averting to the subject of whether we need God in order to be moral in our behavior? One may be quite moral in his behavior without believing in God, just as one may buy drinks for the house with his dad’s money (HT: Douglas Wilson). But again, that’s not the question, is it? So why the evasion?

It’s because we won’t see. We don’t want to. And we don’t want to because we can’t want to. St. Paul reminds us that the mind without Christ “is hostile to God, for it does not submit itself to God’s law; indeed it is not even able to do so.” (Rom.8:7). Paul says that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4) They are “kept” from seeing the truth. They will not see it because they cannot. Moreover, the unbeliever is “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2). That is, the devil is the power that is at work in “the sons of disobedience.” We all once walked in his ways. (Eph. 2:3). God has “blinded their eyes and hardened their heart.” (John 12:40). They must evade, suppress and banish that which they do not want to know.

This is the reality of our human condition. It manifests itself in different ways, but it came clear to me in stark relief this week. We are blind. We are, as Paul says elsewhere, people who have turned aside from God, who have become worthless, who lack all understanding, who do not seek God, whose throats are open graves, whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, who spew forth the venom of snakes, who run quickly to evil and bloodshed, who run in the paths of ruin and misery (even if such paths are dressed up in good intentions), who have no fear of God before our eyes. (Romans 3:9-20). And thus, only God can “grant us repentance” and remove the veil from our hearts.

It is a sobering thought. But we ought not be taken aback when we see the evasions and obfuscations of the truth. We ought to remember what we are, and what we need, which the new birth that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. And we ought to consider that it is God who is “rich in mercy,” who loves us with a great love, and who, according to His sovereign will, makes people “alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2).

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 12, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Honor the Emperor!

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Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Whatever is honorable…think about such things.

Honor widows who are truly widows.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

My wife and I were watching a talk on marriage by Gary Smalley, in which he was exalting the virtue of honor within marriage. His basic notion was that when husbands and wives seek to prefer each other in honor, rather than hold on to anger and frustration, their affections for each other grow. Their desire to truly love and serve each other grows as well. And I was struck by this because we just don’t hear all that much about honor in human relationships. As Christians, we know we are supposed to honor Christ, but we don’t often consider honor in our human relationships. We think of “honoring” others as something we do at an awards ceremony or a retirement party, or even, after someone has died.

Yet I remember my good friend, Duke Dillard, talking to me about honor in the context of birthday parties. He lamented that most birthday parties consist of a bunch of friends getting together, but where we do almost nothing to truly honor the person whose birthday we are there to celebrate. So he determined that when there was a birthday party that he was throwing, we would intentionally seek to honor the “guest of honor.” And I remember the first time we did this, sitting the birthday boy down and allowing each person a turn to speak words of gratitude, praise and blessing toward him. It was a transforming experience. You could see that such honor moved everyone there. It was like eating a fine meal the likes of which we’d never enjoyed. It was an entirely different experience than other birthday parties I’d attended. The power was palpable.

And yet, I don’t often think of “honor” as a key component in my marriage and in my relationship with my sons. Yet look at what God says about honor (see above). It is certainly important to God, and I assume will cause our relationships to flourish in ways we cannot even imagine. So, with God’s help, I hope to bring ever more honor into my relationships.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 8, 2013 at 7:10 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections