Russell and Duenes

Archive for May 2015

Go To and Fro Killing Your Brothers

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They sliced up their own brothers. I was talking with someone this morning about Joshua 23, where God threatens His people that if they “transgress the covenant of the Lord [their] God, which he commanded [them], and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against [them], and [they] shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to [them].” (v.16).

Why the threats? Why can’t God just promise good things to us and dispense with the threats? This is an important and profound question, which in my experience, rarely gets addressed in our churches. Or it gets addressed in a platitudinous or trite way; it’s not wrestled with. It should at least bring before us questions of: (1) the kind of God we are dealing with in the Bible; and (2) the status we have as people before God. It should also cause us to consider the alternative: What if God issued no threats of punishment, nor carried through with any of them?

I don’t think one can get to helpful thoughts on these questions without assuming that God is rightfully at the center of His own affections, and that humans can only find ultimate and lasting joy when God is at the center of their affections as well. God’s threats must be considered with these underlying assumptions in place. God punishes His people not for punishment’s sake, but for the sake of sobering others of His people to worship and obey Him more carefully, for their own joy, and for the sake of others outside of His people hopefully entering into the community of His people and enjoying the blessings therein.

We like to talk about having a “God-centered” or “Christ-centered” worldview, but I think there’s a whole lot more to actually having one then we like to talk about. When God is truly at the center, God’s glory is paramount in our considerations and actions, and certain actions then become “loving” which we, in our sentimental views about love, consider mostly abhorrent. To take but one example, when the Israelites make a golden calf for themselves and start worshipping it in wild, out-of-control revelry (i.e., “the people had broken loose . . . to the derision of their enemies), Moses “stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord‘s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” 

This seems harsh, to put it mildly. Was it really necessary to kill their fellow Israelites for idolatry and wild party spirit? What benefit came from striking them down? And how could Moses bring himself to hack up His brothers? Whatever the full answer is, I believe that true God-centeredness had to be welling up in Moses’ heart. He understood what must be done if God’s reputation, glory and righteousness, indeed, if God Himself, had primacy. He also understood what was best for people, both the Israelites and the Gentiles. When God or His servants truly act on God-centered motivations and impulses, then people benefit most greatly. God-centeredness and human benefit and joy are not opposed to each other. Were God to leave us to our own devices, we could not experience this joy.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

May 30, 2015 at 8:59 am

Husbands and Wives With Little Children: Read Aloud to Each Other

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jeffersonbookAs I am sure is the case with most parents who have young children, when once my wife and I have gotten our children down for the night and finished tidying up the house each evening, we are generally very tired, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. So it was easy for us to justify “vegging out” in front of the TV for awhile before going to bed. We had gotten into the habit of this (and still, the habit is very hard to break. It’s an easy, downhill coast to the TV remote).

But we were talking about our children’s education the other night, and were reading a little tidbit out of a book called “A Thomas Jefferson Education.” This book suggests that parents who want a true education for their children must also educate themselves for the task, and they will educate themselves, at least in part, by reading the classics themselves. Yet this is a difficult challenge. Who has time or energy for it? Then we thought, “Well, we probably do. Nothing dictates that we simply must watch TV at night. Why don’t we just start in with some of these books by reading them aloud to each other, even if for only 15 or so minutes a day?”

We have not started a “classic” yet, as we were already reading another book on raising boys, but we’ve been very excited about the idea. So right now I am reading “Future Men,” by Douglas Wilson, aloud to my wife, and it is provoking some good discussion. And truth be told, we are not too tired to do it. The “vegging out” thing is not necessary.

Just thought I’d put this out there as an encouragement to other parents of young children (or husbands and wives of no children, as the case may be). It’s exciting to think about what we might still learn – and pass on to our children – and how our souls might still be enriched educationally, even at this post-schooling stage of our lives.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 22, 2015 at 4:49 am

What Is Your Free Will To God?

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God is sovereign in converting people to Christ. It’s interesting to me to hear Christians pray that God will “influence” someone or “work on” their hearts, but somehow we’re uncomfortable with the idea that God would actually take over a person’s heart to the point of conversion, because that might impinge on their “free will.” But my question is always, why is it OK for God to get into their hearts and work on them a little, but not OK for God to get in there and go the whole way? If God alters a person’s motivations, inclinations or thinking at all, hasn’t He impinged on their autonomous free will already? Why not rather pray, as St. Paul prays for the Jews, that God would save the other person. As John Piper says, “Save ’em, God!”

That’s what God does with Saul of Tarsus. Saul was on his merry way to Damascus when God struck him down with blindness and told him what would happen next. God speaks to a man named Ananias and tells him to go to Saul and give him a message from God. Ananias is afraid, but God reassures him that Saul is “a chosen instrument of mine.” God had sovereignly decided that Saul would convert and carry out God’s special purpose, and God had not consulted Saul’s free will.

Not only does God save Saul, but He saves him for the purpose of preaching the gospel, and that is what Saul begins to do immediately upon his conversion. Thus, God’s will is effectual in Saul’s life. When God chooses a man or woman for His purposes, those purposes get accomplished. And we can trust that this is true in our lives, even if we may not know God’s purposes, or though those purposes may involve pain and affliction. We may implore God in His sovereignty to have His way with us. As the hymn says, “Change my heart, O God, make it ever true; change my heart, O God, may I be like You.”

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 19, 2015 at 4:38 am

Turning Every One of You

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As I’ve been reading through Acts, God’s sovereignty has come clear in a more global sense. In other words, we see that God is directing all the growth and outreach of the new church.

For example, in Acts 1, God directs who is to replace Judas among the twelve apostles. In Acts 2, God shows his power over human tongues, giving the young believers the ability to speak new languages so that the gospel can go forth. God also “adds” souls to the church. In Acts 3, Peter, on the way to the Temple, says to a beggar: “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Healing in Jesus’ name means Jesus is the sovereign power behind the healing. Indeed, Peter tells the amazed crowd: “Why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Peter concludes that “God raised up His Servant [Jesus] and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” God does the turning. 

In Acts 4, Peter and John are hauled before the Jewish leaders and told to stop preaching about Jesus. Having been duly threatened, they pray that they will ignore the threats and keep preaching. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” God gives power for them to preach so boldly. Of course, in Acts 5, God takes Annias and Sapphira’s lives by His sovereign act, and also frees the apostles from prison so that they can return to preaching Jesus. In Acts 6, God gives Stephen power to work signs and miracles, and also gives him such strength in his witness that the Jewish people “were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

All of this serves as a brief illustration of the way that God sovereignly orchestrated all the growth of His young Church. His strategy prevails and He moves things forward. He is the one who allows persecution, and delivers from it. The Church is His project and plan. We do well to remember it today.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 17, 2015 at 5:47 am

These Go To Eleven

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One year ago I graduated from law school, which really only meant two more months of bar exam prep, the most grueling study I have ever had to do. So while I enjoyed law school in many ways, and am grateful for the new friends I made, I have never had a day of sentimental feeling about my legal studies since. I sometimes drive by my law school, and I feel absolutely no desire to be back there. I find being a lawyer stimulating and challenging, but I’m overwhelmingly glad to have law school behind me.

I recently turned 46 years old, and I was briefly thinking back on the last eleven years of my life. Why eleven, you say? In May of 2004 I was a 35 year-old single schoolteacher. I met Jennifer Howard for the first time in-person. She was in the middle of teaching students in Central Asia, and I was teaching high school Bible in the Bay Area. Through a mutual friend we had been emailing each other for several months, but had never met. On Memorial Day, she was coming through Los Angeles on a furlough and I was coming through on my way back to the Bay Area from Mexico. So we met up for the day. Looking back over the eleven years: Jenni and I became a “couple,” Jenni finished her teaching overseas and moved to the Bay Area in October of 2005, we got engaged in April of 2006 (while watching Anne of Green Gables, a most fantastic show which we recently watched again), we married in August of 2006, moved from Berkeley, CA to Oakland, CA in June of 2007, Jenni gave birth to Eli in September of 2007, she gave birth to Dylan in September of 2009, we moved to Alameda, CA in December of 2009, Jenni gave birth to Nathanael in March of 2011, and I accepted Washburn Law School’s offer of admission.

I left my teaching job, we packed up all our stuff and moved to Topeka, KS in June of 2011, started law school that fall, and finished a year ago. Two months later, Jenni gave birth to our only daughter, Georgia, I started working as a lawyer, and we bought a home. It’s all so amazing, unimaginable and redemptive to me. When I consider that I was a single, struggling, and largely unencumbered high school teacher in 2004, and am now a husband, father of four, homeowner, living in a rather smallish Kansas city, working as a public utilities attorney, well, let’s just say that is not how I had it drawn up, and I feel profoundly that I do not deserve any of it. But I’m grateful beyond anything I can express. There have been many joys, as well as much fear and pain, along the way, but God has been constant in His grace and faithfulness, even when I have been unfaithful. He is a sovereign and wise God indeed. Worthy of all glory and honor and praise!

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 16, 2015 at 9:07 am