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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

OnFire #336 Rodeo Horses and Holy Life

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #336 Rodeo Horses and Holy Life

The last time I wrote was Jan’s birthday. We went to the rodeo and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There were a couple of events that were the most fascinating to me. First was the calf herding. Working in pairs, riders on horses sorted 10 calves by directing them one at a time from one pen to another. Barrel racing was the other. Riders and horses charge around a course of three barrels to race against the clock. 

It takes amazing control to do these things, and these riders had amazing control over their horses – they could command them to go forward, backward, step to the side, turn as far or as little as they needed, make them go or stop, fast or slow. 

I don’t know a lot about horses, but I know this. This is not the first inclination of a horse. Horses can be stubborn. They want to do what they want, and they’ll take advantage of a weak rider to push their limits of what they can get away with. A horse has to be trained. Again, I don’t know a lot about this process, but I know it has to be done to make a good horse. 

In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 we read, “…that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…”

As Christians, we always face an important decision. We can be led around by our urges and desires, or we can actually take control of our own lives. In fact, I think we can go so far as to say that until we take control and learn to control our own bodies, we are simply slaves led around by our impulses and urges. 

Until we take control of our bodies to turn them toward holy purposes, we are like untrained horses. As Christians we need to take control of our own bodies if we are to seek the higher goal of being set apart for God’s purposes.  

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 Nov 24, 2015.  *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Saturday, October 24, 2015

OnFire #335 Little Cloud on the Prairie


OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #335 Little Cloud on the Prairie

Hi folks!

Our excitement is that Jan’s birthday is today, and we have a new fridge. We’ll celebrate Jan’s birthday by going out to eat and then to a rodeo. When in the West, do as the Westerners do!  And about the fridge – our old fridge was 19 years old, and on its last legs since we could not get a replacement seal for the door, and it was rusting heavily at the bottom. It is kind of neat to know that we have been together long enough to wear out a fridge. Jan has, and continues to be, a great blessing in my life. May we wear out many fridges together!

Blessings for you and your household.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Grain and oil seed production is a basic way of life in western Canada. This is something we have learned since moving to Manitoba last year. Everywhere we travel we see vast fields swaying in the breeze. Wheat, barley, oats, rye, canola, soy, flax, and sunflower are just some of the varieties.

It is incredible to see the different crops flower in early summer. Flax blooms into an ocean of blue, while canola and soy glow yellow.  Later on, green fades to gold, and then there is the harvest. It is a major production to bring the crop into the bins, as we discovered when we were invited to see a friend’s farm. A small family farm is 1500 or 2000 acres. Many are larger. It is a huge logistical effort to time the harvest of different crops at different times.

The machinery is impressive. Combines are used to separate the grain from the stalk as well as to remove the outer shell. The seeds are collected for transport back to the farm, while the remainder is spread onto the ground behind the harvester.

It is a very dusty process, and depending on the crop, the cloud rising into the air often resembles smoke. Canola, in particular, produces a dark, sooty dust which could be confused with a tire fire from a distance. Because the prairies are so flat, it is possible to see evidence of these operations from many kilometers away. We might not see the combines, but we know they are there because we can see the clouds of dust.

This reminded me of the Holy Spirit. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8*)

Jesus spoke these words to a man named Nicodemus. Like the wind, we might not see the Spirit, but just as we know there is wind because trees sway and wheat rolls like ocean waves, we can see evidence of the presence of the Spirit. “But the fruit [aka “evidence”] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23*)

As we live each day, our words, attitudes, and actions create a kind of cloud around us which indicates something of our nature and character. As believers, it should be apparent to others that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. That just as we see a cloud of dust rising on the prairie and we know a combine is active, people ought to be able to see that God is living and active in our lives.

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 Oct 24, 2015.  *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 24, 2015

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #334 Half Marathon Thoughts


Hi Folks

About a week ago, I ran my first official half-marathon, 21.1 km of stamina and endurance. I finished in 2:22:15, which earned me 9th out of 12 men in the 40-49 age category. Humbly, I finished just ahead of a sixty-year-old who ran the entire course barefoot. Like a lot of things I’ve written about, I found some spiritual and life lessons, and I offer them to you hoping they are helpful and encouraging.

It Took More Energy To Finish than to Start
The beginning was fresh and exciting. The middle had some tough hills, but even that was OK. The real challenge for me began as I turned downhill for the last 5km. Pain struck my knee, jabbing me with every stride. Stretching at the side of the road helped, but didn’t take it away. It took a lot of energy to fight back the pain at the end of the race.

There is a rule of thumb that the last 10% of a project will take 90% of the energy.  There is certainly some truth in this. I thought that once I finished the tougher 15km, the race would practically finish itself. I underestimated how hard the finish would be.

There is a life lesson in this. We love to plan the beginning, and things are exciting at the start. But the true test of character is finishing.

I Did Not Feel Ready
In August I developed pain in my knee related to something called IT bands.  For a while, I could not run more than 5km. I did, however, find that slowing my pace made it tolerable. Even still, I wished I had another month to heal and prepare.

I thought about this when I was running and remembered all the times I wished I more time to prepare before some project in one of my churches. It seems there comes a time to act, whether we feel ready or not.

We won't ever feel 100% ready. This is not an excuse to avoid preparing. On the contrary, it ought to drive us to prepare all the more. But there is always something more we could have done. More time we could have used. Perhaps this is where faith comes in, and we must pray, “Lord, I’ve done all I can do. It is time to start, the rest has to be You.”

Don’t Quit Before You Start
When my knee didn’t seem to improve, I seriously contemplated giving up about a week before the race.

Looking back, I remember the same feeling at other times when things did not seem to be coming together – fundraising a trip, pulling volunteers together, rolling out a new ministry.  There have been times I quit too soon, when I didn't ask for help, when I wasn’t determined enough.

There are crossroads when we must decide to continue or quit. There are times to quit, but this is the topic for another discussion. Let us not quit too soon. There are times we need to push through or we will never reach our goal.

God Was in It
On the morning of the race I opened a Bible to do my next scheduled reading and turned to Hebrews 12.

“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,…” (Hebrew 12:1-2*)  Truly, God has a sense of humour!

And then while talking with another runner after the race, he showed me a bracelet he wears on race days with the same verse.

Coincidence? It showed me that God was in this, watching over the entire process from training to race day, including bringing me into fellowship with other believing runners. All I can say is, God is cool!

I Heard My Name
This race had chip timing, meaning that we all wore plastic disks that transmitted our information to a computer as we crossed the finish line. It was pretty neat to hear my name being called over the PA: “And now, Troy Dennis from Shilo, Manitoba!” A crowd of people cheered and clapped. What a feeling of pride, accomplishment and satisfaction.

How special it will be when believers appear before the Lord at the end of time. The book of the Lamb will be opened, and those whose names are written there will enter. (Revelation 21:7) Surely there will be so much more joy to enter into the eternal presence of the Lord.

These are some of the thoughts I had from my half-marathon. I hope this helps. Be on fire.

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 Sept 24, 2015.  *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com