Russell and Duenes

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Death Is A Real Enemy

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One of my co-workers recently passed away, far too young and with too much vigor left in him. It reminds me again that death is a real enemy. It finally and fully strips us of everything we hold dear in this life, and though we in American culture try to deny it, distance ourselves from it, or dress it up with sentimentality or euphemisms or outright lies about people apart from Christ being in “a better place,” the stark reality confronts us almost constantly. We will die, and this is not just some “normal part of life.” It is hideously abnormal, and we face it as the wages of our sin and rebellion against God. It is, as the Bible says, “the last enemy.”

But for those who have turned their lives over to Christ, it is also, paradoxically, an enemy that “will be abolished.” (1 Cor. 15:26). For Christ has abolished it by rising from the dead, an act which guarantees God’s promise to also raise those who belong to Christ. What’s more, God has said that death is something that “belongs to” us. In other words, death is an enemy that is now ours: defeated, and made to serve our interests in Christ. The enemy has been brought into our camp and transformed into that which ushers us into the presence and glory of Christ unhindered. For the Christian, death is swallowed up, thrown down, without the sting it had, and now made our possession through Christ’s victory over it. This is not triumphalism or “pie in the sky.” It is a real hope when facing our real enemy. And it is a good thing to ponder, for our lives are brief. “All things belong to you, whether . . . the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

“It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Rom. 9:16). My going to heaven and being with Jesus is all of mercy and nothing else. If I am saved from sin and death and brought into God’s kingdom, it is solely because God chooses to be kind to me and save me. There is nothing in me that brings it about. We don’t seem to like this because it takes our salvation out of our control and makes heaven and hell purely a matter of God’s merciful choice. It makes salvation seem arbitrary.

But consider the alternatives. What if going to heaven were based on something other than God’s mercy. This would mean that the Christian goes to heaven and the non-Christian to hell because the Christian was perhaps smarter or wiser than the non-Christian, or had the right genes, or the right parents, or was born in the right country, or went to the right church, or had the right friends, or read the right books or got the right education. In other words, the difference between one person’s salvation and another’s damnation would be something superior within the saved person himself or those in his life or his circumstances, rather than the mercy and kindness of a just and holy God, who never does wrong.

Yes, we cannot will ourselves to salvation, and I admit that is scary sometimes. For I want to be in control. But we can beg God for His mercy, and trust that He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We can be like the blind beggar and cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And we can come to the place of proper humility, knowing that there is no ground for boasting or pride in our salvation. There is only mercy and giving of thanks to God. Help us to see, Lord, and to thank you and respond to Your mercy with obedience and loyalty to Jesus.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

March 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm

The Fear of Humiliation

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LBJBy the accounts of those who knew him well, Lyndon Johnson was largely ruled by a fear of humiliation. This does explain a lot about his life as a politician, and though it’s not always the case that what we fear comes upon us, humiliation was a good part of Johnson’s lot. As Senate Majority Leader in the late 1950s, Johnson was literally large and in charge. He ruled the roost and ran the Senate like a boss. He was a master of all the parliamentary and procedural tricks, and he commanded persuasive respect and power. According to Robert Caro, he knew how to read others as well as anyone, but the one man he failed to read correctly was John F. Kennedy. This meant underestimating Kennedy in 1960, and having to settle for becoming Kennedy’s vice-president, which also meant that Johnson suffered a fall from the tremendous power and influence he wielded in the Senate to a largely meaningless position as the number two man. Of course, Johnson ultimately got his hands on the big prize, but even then, he was brought to his knees by his escalation of Vietnam and the domestic strife connected with it that spiraled out of control in the late 1960s. I have to wonder what role Johnson’s fear of humiliation played in his inability to extricate the country from Vietnam.

Three of the Ten Commandments have something to do with money and possessions: You shall not steal, do not work on the Sabbath, and do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

John Piper has an interesting thought about gratitude. He wonders what happens to a people when ingratitude settles into the human springs in the high mountains of a culture and begins to trickle down into the lowlands, as it were. In other words, what is the practical outworking of a large scale rejection of gratitude within individuals, families, institutions and the culture as a whole? What kind of people do we become over the decades, particularly if, as Piper says, ingratitude amounts to a lack of dependence on God?

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

February 18, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Christmas and Gratitude

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I took my sons out this morning so they could run their new remote control cars. They were doing more whining than enjoying, and some of their ingratitude has been true to a greater extent than I would like since they opened their multitude of gifts on Christmas. Now I grant that they are kids, but they have received quite generously in their young lives, and I admit that their ingratitude sometimes bothers me.

But their ingratitude had the good effect of causing me to consider my own heart. I may not whine out loud about my situation, as they do; but there are plenty of times when I am whining in my heart about not having this or that. Further, I’ve been given many times more things and stuff in life, along with comforts, than they have. And much of my receiving has gone on without proper thanks to those who gave, and to the ultimate Giver, God himself. What if God dealt with me according to my thankless attitude? If I am seeing a lack of thanks in my son’s hearts, how much more does God see the great lack of thankfulness in my heart?

It made me think of Jesus’ parable about forgiveness. Granted, Jesus was not talking about gratitude, but he tells the parable about the master who forgives the massive debt his servant owes him because the servant has begged him to. And then the servant goes out and throws his own debtor in jail for not repaying the pittance he owes him. The master, seeing this, and recalling how forgiving he had been toward his own servant, has the servant thrown into jail until he can repay all of his debt.

I am like the unforgiving servant, only in the sense that God has given to me so generously – often without thanks from me – and yet I would be hard on my sons who are ungrateful over less. I certainly need Christ’s forgiveness, and this makes me think about how to teach my sons gratitude with a soft and patient heart. God does so, and much more, with me.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

December 26, 2014 at 10:04 am

Posted in Duenes, Thank the Lord

Thank You, Lord, For the Life of the Mind

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I was not interested in the life of the mind and soul until well into my late teens. I thank God that He awakened in me a yearning to love him, not only with body and soul, but with my mind as well. So I would like to give thanks to those men and women God used to create this desire in me.

Garry Poe: Mr. Poe was my AP English teacher my senior year in high school. Up to that point, I never truly cared about academics or doing well in school, except insofar as “doing well” kept me in my parents’ good graces. Yet here was a teacher who had a passion for learning, and particularly for reading and writing. We had to write practice AP English essays every Friday, and at first, I did terribly. I had never really had to write before. But I struggled through, read the books he assigned, and wrote the essays. And eventually I found that I enjoyed the process of reading and learning. I also passed the AP exam.

Ed Duenes: My father is not particular “bookish” or academically-oriented, in the formal sense; and my brother and I used to scoff him when we were boys as he would tell us that learning had to do with building up a “data bank” in our minds. Yet I always knew that my dad was a superb pilot, and not by accident. He pursued his flying, as he pursued many things, as a “thinking man’s game.” It wasn’t until I started flying myself that I realized the importance my father put on thinking well. Based on his example, I dove into aviation with zest, enjoying the sustained thought that went into doing it well. It was the first “thinking man’s” activity I engaged in, and I have my dad to thank for setting me an example. He flew with excellence because he thought with excellence.

John Piper: My Intervarsity leader at UCLA, Alex Van Riesen, introduced me to John Piper, and it has been one of God’s greatest graces to me. For the first decade or so of my Christian life, John Piper had the largest influence on me, by far. Indeed, no other author has influenced me more, even to this day. He had that blend of heart and mind in the Christian life which appealed to me somewhere deep in my soul. I remember coming across one of his books in college, a book which had portions of the Greek New Testament text in it, and thinking that I wanted to learn Greek myself so that I could read the text in the original. Piper turned me on to thinkers like Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin and John Owen (that’s a lot of “Johns”). I am eternally indebted to him for setting me on a trajectory, as a young Christian, of thinking deeply about life and faith.

Ellen Goldsmith (Quarry): Dr. E is a friend and counselor, who spoke powerfully into my life for over ten years. It was her influence that ultimately persuaded me to attend seminary at Talbot School of Theology, and she also helped me to think about and read the Scriptures in ways I never would have otherwise.

David Alan Black: He was my beginning Greek professor. Loved him. Still love him. He read or spoke seven languages, but he clearly loved the language of the New Testament. From the first day of class, he inspired me to want to read the Greek New Testament. Going to his class, at 8:00 am no less, was like Christmas morning. There was always something there to thrill my mind and heart. I read all of his books on NT Greek I could get my hands on. To this day I still regularly translate from the Greek text. What a gift Dr. Black was.

Dallas Willard: I did not find my way to Dallas Willard until the mid-1990s, but I thank God I did. Here is a man who can speak about God and His kingdom in a way the average layman can understand, and then turn around and write a brilliant philosophical piece that seems like it causes your head to break open. He’s another guy who proves that one need not check his brains at the door before trusting wholly in the Bible. Dallas stimulated me to think more critically on a worldview level.

Douglas Wilson: He’s just a pastor, but I find him to be unique among the evangelicals I read. He has helped me find my way into deeper reflections on epistemology and the reality that there is no spiritually neutral territory anywhere in the universe. It’s been a true pleasure to read his blog on a regular, mostly daily, basis.

David E. Pierce: Professor Pierce was my oil and gas law professor at Washburn. One thing that comes clear from sitting under his teaching is that he has thought long and hard about the subject of oil and gas law. If there is an issue to be researched, he is going to research it thoroughly. He’s not just going to read a few cases on it here and there. He’s going to read every case on it, and read them numerous times. He urged us to write clearly and succinctly, and forced us to be precise and accurate. I am grateful to have been his student.

I’m grateful for more than these people in my intellectual journey, but these stand out to me this Thanksgiving. The old commercial used to say, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.” I quite agree, and I had been wasting mine for a good many years; too many. I often wish I had those years back. But praise God for His mercy, and for the joy of ¬†learning and growing in the life of the mind.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 26, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Duenes, Thank the Lord

On Becoming a Lawyer: Thank You

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About three-and-a-half years ago, my family and I made the commitment to leave California, come to Kansas for law school, and truly, begin a new life. Having now made it through law school and the bar exam, I think most of all I feel grateful . . . and relieved.

I am thankful to my generous and loving parents, without whose help we would not have made it. They provided us with a place to live, with enjoyable respites in Kansas City each winter and Los Angeles each summer, and with much advice and encouragement over the three years. They visited us regularly and showered gifts on our children. Their visits often broke up the intensity of school, and helped me go forward. I could always vent my frustrations to them. For these things and more, I thank you, mom and dad.

I am thankful for my wife’s mom and dad. When I was two weeks from the bar exam and my wife was contending with a newborn and three young boys, my mother-in-law came all the way from Alaska and stayed with us for two weeks. I can’t imagine what my bar exam prep would have looked like had she not come and helped with the boys. Her willingness to meet their energy with her own vivaciousness was a blessing to both me and my wife. Plus, the boys loved spending time with her. We would have been hurting¬†without you, Grandma Cindy. My father-in-law has also graced us with a few visits over our time here, and has been very generous with us. My wife and I both love the Cracker Barrel restaurant, and being in law school with a family, we did not get to eat out much at all. So grandpa Aubrey’s gift cards to the Cracker Barrel (and trips to Chick-Fil-A) were always a great gift. Not only that, but Aubrey has always shown a genuine and eager interest in our well-being, seeking updates from us out of true interest in our lives. We thank you, Aubrey.

Other family members have also helped sustain us through these years. I know how much my wife has enjoyed talking to her sister in Alaska, particularly when we were going through the hectic times of school and home. My brother-in-law and his wife also consistently shared tokens of affection with us by sending cards and gifts for birthdays and other significant times in our lives. My brother came to visit us each winter, and my thoughtful sisters have prayed for us, sent us letters, set up skype sessions with us so our boys could see their great-grandma, and chatted with us on the phone. My grandma (98 years old) send us beautiful cards and supported us in her own special ways. Plus, my wife’s aunt, uncle and cousins have invited us into their homes (all night stays with the cousins during my 1L year), had us over for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, lavished our children with gifts, loaned us their car and gone out of their way to spend time with us. Space would fail me to thank other family members as well. Thank you for your thoughtfulness toward us.

Many friends, near and far, have also helped us through. I have known that I can always make phone calls to my friends back in California who have taken a constant interest in my progress in school and life. Though I was often hard to reach, they were a true lifeline for me at times, reassuring voices in the midst of much stress and anxiety. Our friends here in Topeka have babysat our boys, invited us over for meals and birthday parties, met with us for Bible study, home-schooled with us, let us borrow their cars, taken us to Royals games, introduced us to their friends and loved us in a hundred other ways. They have been spiritual lighthouses for us, and helped us to keep pursuing Christ when we were inclined to crowd Him out. They have prayed for us, brought meals to us, listened to us and made themselves available to us. We genuinely enjoy them, and are thankful for them.

I would not have made it through law school and the bar exam without the care and concern of fellow students and law school professors. I obviously never attended any other law school besides Washburn, but I cannot imagine there’s a better one. The friends with whom I took classes were always too willing to share insights, outlines, notes or other helpful information to help me do my best. One friend helped me secure a job as a student rep for the bar prep course I used, which saved us a ton of money. I would not have my current job had not my Oil and Gas Law professor steered me to it. My professors were always willing to meet with me and advise me in whatever issues I was dealing with. It is this that I will miss about law school. My best friend from law school was willing to get up early each week (well, most weeks) and meet with me and pray with me. He pushed me to keep doing my best, and has even put a little bit of love for KU basketball in my heart (except when they’re playing UCLA). I know these friends have been crucial to us getting through.

My wife deserves more praise for making it through law school and the bar exam than I do. Yes, studying was hard, but at least I got to enjoy the intellectual stimulation of school, visit with friends and professional colleagues, work outside the home and receive the affirmation of academic success. She did the things without which none of it would have been possible, the thankless and invisible things, like teaching our children, keeping up with all of the household necessities, enduring the intensity and energy of our boys, raising two infants during our time at school, and making better home-cooked meals than anyone has a right to. To come home to her each day after school or work was like coming in from the rain. I never looked forward to anything more. May her reward be great.

Finally, and most importantly, I thank my God for sustaining me and granting me grace and every bit of success I happened to enjoy. He sovereignly brought us here, provided us with stamina during classes and bar prep, gave us friends, directed me toward jobs, and provided for us far beyond what we ever needed. Each semester was a gift from Him, and I have no doubt that He was the One who kept me and my wife together during the run up to the bar exam, and the exam itself. I hope that my subsequent legal career, whatever it turns out to be, will be a reflection of his love and goodness toward me, and a grateful extension of His saving purposes in this world.

I am reminded of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. They all walked away from Him cleansed of their disease, yet only one of them returned to thank Him. This is my return to thank Him. Lord Jesus, you are good and merciful and faithful through every season of our lives. I thank you. You never change. You are worthy of our praise, in both our successes and failures. I’m grateful for every good gift over these last three years, none of which I deserve. Thank you for bringing us through, and may you be lifted up and exalted in our lives through this next season, whatever it may bring.

-D

 

Written by Michael Duenes

September 5, 2014 at 9:27 pm