Sunday, November 27, 2016

OnFire 344 Running MY Race

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire 344 Running MY Race

This week I hit a new milestone in running, passing 1000km of training. My goal in January was to complete a marathon, which I did in June. For that I trained close to 700km, and since then I have backed off significantly to nurse a touch of tendonitis, but 10 or 15km each week still adds up.

While I have always been active, I was not always a runner. In fact, when I started trying to get in better shape 6 or 7 years ago, I struggled to run for 2 minutes on the treadmill. At the time, my goal was simply to improve my conditioning and I never even dreamed it would be possible to do a 5km run.

I’m a really self-conscious runner. With my still-husky frame I don’t have a sleek “runner’s body.” I am not fast – getting faster - but still slow compared to many. And I am not a “graceful” runner. At the marathon they take pictures hoping to sell them to you later. Yeesh – I looked miserable and tired, and didn’t buy a single one.

But here is something that I have learned. It does no good for me to compare myself to those other, lighter, sleeker, faster runners. All that does is discourage me. There will always be someone faster, younger. I can only compare myself to myself, and take pride and comfort in my own accomplishments – a longer run, or a better time – knowing that each step takes me closer to my goal of improving my conditioning.

This is not so different from the Christian life. Over the years there have been people I have looked up to in the faith, spiritual giants, bold, strong, courageous, knowledgeable, wise. I could never hope to attain the faith they have. And then as a pastor, to see the especially talented visionary leaders who spoke so well and attracted so many people to their churches was at times disheartening, and all the more so when they started getting younger and younger.

Now, I know that I am no slouch, but it is not hard to compare, and to feel like I come up on the short side at times.

It is easy to look at someone else and wish we could be more like that person. It is easy to beat ourselves up when we fall short of that image.

It is a losing game to compare ourselves to someone else. It is ok to look up, to admire, to be inspired, to follow an example. After all, Paul reminded us to follow his example (1Corinthians 11:1*). But beyond that we must resist the urge to compare and beat ourselves up because we’ll lose sight of Jesus as the goal of our faith.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3*)

I love the verbs in this passage. “Throw off.” “Run with perseverance.” “Fix our eyes on Jesus.” “Consider him.” “Not grow weary.”

There will always be someone who seems to be a better Christian. Rather than focus on those people, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, faithful to our own “race of faith.”

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Nov 27, 2016. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Monday, October 10, 2016

OnFire 343 I Shouldn't Have Looked So Hard

OnFire Letter
OnFire 343 I Shouldn’t  Have Looked So Hard

As I left the house one morning not long ago I looked up and noticed a particularly clear sky. I turned slowly to take in the beauty of the blueness surrounding me.

“Surely there must be a cloud somewhere,” I thought and I slowly scanned the sky again. To the south there was a bank of clouds, hardly noticeable because they were low on the horizon. Immediately I was disappointed because that one cloud seemed to take away from the grandness of the big blue sky, even though nothing really had changed. The sky was still pretty, and big, and blue, but now I was focused on the cloud. I shouldn’t have looked so hard.

It made me think of how we tend to focus on the negative so much more easily than the positive. A hundred things go right, but one goes wrong and that’s where our thoughts go.  We tend not to ponder the greatness of the good things in our lives, even when they are many. Rather, our thoughts tend to go toward the crappiness of the few, little things.  “I shouldn’t have looked so hard,” seems to fit here.

Amazingly, I can think of so many people I have known over the years who were content and happy despite the problems they faced in life.  We might judge their circumstances to be pretty miserable because of hardship or health, but they chose not to see it that way. They found even a few patchy bits of blue enough in skies of their lives.

Life does not have to be perfect to be good.

This seems to be the spirit behind 1 Thessalonians 6:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.*”

I wish you a wonderful thanksgiving. May we all know the fullness of God’s blessing in the midst of whatever life brings our way.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Oct 10, 2016. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

OnFire #342 Unexpected Surprises

Hi Folks,

While vacationing this summer in Banff and Jasper national parks, we did a lot of hiking. Some were longer hikes, like to the Teahouse at Lake Louise or Wilcox Pass in Jasper, and some were shorter to view waterfalls.

On one of these shorter walks, we hiked to view Bridal Veil Falls, just off the highway not far from Athabaska Glacier in Jasper National Park. It was not a difficult walk as we descended into a river ravine,  and soon we arrived at a wonderful view of our objective. Several hundred feet above us, water tumbled down the rock face and resembled the tulle of a bride’s veil.


 
The combination of the beauty, and the roar of the water pouring down the mountain mesmerized us.

As we watched this stunning spectacle, we became aware of another sound, not coming from Bridal Veil Falls, but to our left further up the ravine. The path continued, and so we followed it around the bend a few more hundred metres and discovered another waterfall, this one even more spectacular because the water poured literally out of the rock face. Over the life of the river, it had cut a channel through the limestone until it broke out in the middle of the cliff.

Imagine our surprise! We had hiked into the ravine to see one stunning waterfall, only to find another even more spectacular.



There was a lesson for us in this. God may surprise us at the most unlikely of times. 

There is something in us, that when things are going well, we want to settle in and make it last as long as we can. This is natural. But it can become dangerous if it prevents us from seeing how God might lead in the future. We avoid change or risk because we might lose our good thing. Hey - maybe  it’s not even that good, but just OK - at least we know it and it feels comfortable. Never mind that there might be something better, we want to stay the same because it is risky to make a change.

I think about this in church life – how hard it is change because we risk losing people, or listening to new music, or even having to meet new people, or possibly losing control.

I think about this in personal life – how hard it is to volunteer for something new, to put myself out there in a different situation, to do something I have never done, to risk mentioning a crazy idea. It seems easier to stay the same. If anything, I tend to be very cautious even if I am trying to move ahead.

This is the question for us – can we trust God to leave the good and seek the better? This is often the tension we face – to lay down our lives that we may live: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35*)

I hope this helps. Be on fire!

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Sept 13, 2016. *NIV. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Monday, May 9, 2016

OnFire #341 Golden Opportunities

OnFire #341 Golden Opportunities

Some years ago, while I was pastoring on Grand Manan, a beautiful little island in the Bay of Fundy, we had several youth groups come over to help us with vacation Bible school programs. During one of these trips, we found a bottle with a message in it.  The note was faded but legible, from someone located in Maine. They asked the finder to call and even included an American dollar bill.

For the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t do it. In retrospect, it would have been fun for the group to experience, and great for the person who launched the bottle. But I didn’t do it. It sat on my shelf, and after a year or two, it seemed too late and pointless.

I re-found the bottle not long ago as I sorted through our effects in the basement and once again felt the regret of not having made the phone call then. I pulled the note out and unrolled it to find that the ink was no longer readable. It was a reminder that sometimes widows of opportunity close, and I missed that one.

In the grand scheme of things this situation probably doesn’t rate very highly, but that’s not always the case. It is possible to live with regret over much more serious situations.

There are chances to take advantage of an opportunity. To act boldly. To take courage. Call it seizing the day. It can be risky to step out in a new venture, new relationship, new job, or even to share Jesus. But there are risks to inaction, also.

There are times to do something we’ve been putting off – to make a phone call or visit, take a class, enroll in a program, or volunteer.

And then there are times to turn a situation, to apologize, make things right, make peace, forgive. Someone has to do something or the situation continues unchanged until it is too late.  I think regret is hardest knowing we could have done something about it, but didn’t.

I don’t like the word regret. In my mind it denotes pain. Now, while pain can be a pretty good motivator, it’s still pretty negative.

I like the way the apostle Paul thinks about these things. Instead of concentrating on pain and regret, he focuses on the future and the possibility of opportunity. Regret is backward facing, always looking to the past. Opportunity is forward facing, looking ahead for ways to make a difference.


“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,…”  Galatians 6:10*

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity,…”  Ephesians 5:15-16

I’ll leave you with these words, hoping that it helps. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published May 9, 2016. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Friday, January 29, 2016

OnFire #340 Antiques and Angle Grinders


OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire  #340 Antiques and Angle Grinders

Some years ago, I came to own an antique Guardian soda fire extinguisher that had been in my grandparents’ attic for many years. Standing about two and a half feet tall, it is copper with a brass label, and was manufactured in Brockville ON by the National Mfg Co. Ltd.

When I got it, I was a volunteer firefighter, so it made a neat addition to my collection of interesting conversation starters. This vintage piece of equipment was a part of firefighting history and I was proud to have it.

It was badly tarnished – dull and green - and despite the fact that it was interesting, it was  still unsightly. It occupied a place in our living room for only a short time, then Jan asked me to do something with it, and I took it to my church office. When we moved to Manitoba, it remained with our personal effects in the basement.

Last year I resolved to clean it up. It is going to take a while, but so far the results are promising with a combination of techniques including Brasso, a rotary tool, and a polishing wheel.  To see a pic, check out my Facebook page or the blog site at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com


As I stood there polishing the copper and brass, it reminded me of an important piece of scripture. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17*)

When we commit ourselves to follow Jesus Christ, we begin a process of spiritual renewal where He removes the tarnish and stain of sin. Jesus takes the old, and makes it new. We become transformed. That sounds like polishing to me.

It is going to take a while to finish cleaning up the extinguisher because some stains and marks are deeper than others. So also in our lives.  It is a process. This is important personally, and as we regard others. We must be patient as some issues, problems, concerns, and even sins, sometimes take time to overcome. A few of these might not be complete until we meet Jesus, but yet we continue to have faith that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

And as we regard others, it is important to remember that they, too, are works in progress. It is all too easy to be judgmental when someone struggles in an area I have overcome.  Patience and grace are important as we consider others.

Jesus is in the process of taking our tarnish and transforming it into something shiny and bright.

I hope this helps.  Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Jan 30, 2016. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com




Friday, January 8, 2016

OnFire #339 - 18 Ways to Support Your Pastor

OnFire Encouragement Letter
#339 - 18 Ways to Support Your Pastor

Hi Folks,

I hope the new year finds you well. We spent 2 weeks in the Maritimes visiting our boys and families for Christmas. It was really good to see them, and hard to say good bye.

This letter will be a little different from some others, where I usually write about an experience in which I have learned something. This time I’d like to write about how we can encourage our pastors. With 20 years of full-time experience before becoming a military chaplain, I’ve seen ways which encouraged me, and I’d like to pass them along.

I liked pastoral ministry and only left to follow God’s leading into military chaplaincy. After retiring from the military, I plan to return to pastoral ministry. In the meantime, I want to support my pastor and my friends who are in ministry.

Ministry is hard work. The hours are long, sacrifices many, demands great, challenges diverse, expectations high. It is often lonely, with few people in whom to confide.  Yet, surveys consistently show that pastors find great satisfaction in their roles, but this is not to say that pastors don’t face discouragement at times. Ministry is sometimes overwhelming and consuming, and I would guess that every pastor considers leaving ministry at some point. 

Let’s support and encourage our pastors. Here are some ways that helped me – you may have more, and I’d love to hear them. But before getting to these things, I’ve included a list of ways to discourage pastors. Don’t do these things. I offer them as things I’ve witnessed, most first-hand.

Ways to Discourage Your Pastor
- Always Assume the Worst
- Always Raise Problems, Never Solutions
- Always Find Problems with New Ideas
- Use the Phrase, “People are saying…”
- Gossip about the Pastor
- Remind the Pastor Who Pays the Salary
- Never Give the Pastor a Raise
- Hold Secret Meetings about the Pastor
- Ambush the Pastor with Hidden Agendas
- Broadcast Your Problems with the Pastor on Social Media
- Withhold Giving And Then Blame The Pastor For Poor Leadership
- Expect the Pastor’s Children to be Perfect
- Expect the Pastor’s Children to be Little Devils
- Criticize the Pastor’s Family
- Put too Many Expectations on the Pastor’s Spouse
- Shut out the Pastor’s Family on Holidays
- Never Upgrade the Parsonage/ Manse

Yes, seriously, people do these things, and they are very discouraging. Here are some things I found encouraging.

Ways to Encourage Your Pastor
- Pray Sincerely for Your Pastor
- Get to Know Your Pastor as a Person
- Ask How Your Pastor is Doing, and Take Time to Listen
- Send a Note of Encouragement
- Bring a Plate of Cookies
- Offer to Help
- Don’t Wait Until a Business Meeting to Raise a Problem
- Treat the Pastor as More than an Employee
- Respect the Privacy of the Pastor and Family
- Be Interested in Growing as a Believer
- Keep Your Commitments
- Try New Things
- Befriend the Pastor’s Spouse
- Don’t Pressure the Pastor’s Spouse to Be Part of Everything
- Keep Confidences
- Don’t Expect More from the Pastor’s Children than from Your Own
- Encourage the Pastor’s Family
- Remember Your Pastor and Family on Holidays

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Jan 8, 2016. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 12, 2015

OnFire #338 Just Move the Beam

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #338 Just Move the Beam

Jan and I are singing in a singing Christmas tree. The set-up is pretty elaborate. At the core of the tree is sturdy steel piping. Around this structure there are the walkways and then finally the frames upon which the greenery is hung. On the very top is a regular tree with lights.

We had a few moments of laughter during the set-up when the top was placed. It was clearly evident that it was not straight as the structure was directly under a large, open wood beam. If everything lined up, the centre of the top should have met the centre of the beam, but it didn’t. 

Our first inclination was simply to leave it as it was – perhaps no one would notice!? But then one of the women walked in and proved us wrong. It was so obviously not straight that it would be a distraction.

Someone suggested, “Let’s just move the beam!” It was so ridiculous as to be funny. The simple solution was to adjust the tree.

As in the tree, so in life. Instead of simply admitting we are wrong at times, we adopt the attitude that everyone and everything else is wrong.  I’m right. Let the world change to accommodate me.

We even do this to God. We might read a clear passage of scripture and think, “That can’t mean what it says,” and we look for loopholes and justifications because it doesn’t occur to us that we might be wrong. By all means we should investigate fully in order to understand scripture. But to think that God is going to change for me is laughable, like thinking about moving the beam to make the tree look straight.

No one likes to change, but this is where we need to trust that God knows what he is doing, that His character is based in self-sacrificing love, that He really has our best in mind, that we can trust Him that He really is the standard for upright.

Evidence of God’s character is at the heart of Christmas. Jesus came as one of us, to live and die, for us, so that we can have a relationship with God. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. May you know the joy of Jesus Christ in this season and throughout the year.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Dec 12, 2015.  *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com