Monday, February 27, 2017

OnFire #347 Transfiguration


OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #347 Transfiguration

I have these regular moments when Jan will tell me something, and I wonder, why? And then later, it becomes clear. “I have a dentist appointment tomorrow,” means she needs the car and I must plan some other way to get around. It usually takes some time for me to connect her details to my life.

This sometimes happens when we read scripture. Why do we have that story? Why was it so important to include it? The implication to us is not always immediately clear.

The transfiguration is one of those accounts. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all include the story that Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountain in order to pray. During that event, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, who was changed – transfigured – before them to display his true glory, and the voice of God the Father was heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5*)

The event was obviously significant, but why?

It revealed Jesus’ identity. People were always wondering who Jesus was. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry people asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). After performing miracles, some speculated Jesus was a prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah. But a few, like Peter, began to believe that he might actually be the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20).

The glory of the transfiguration and the voice from heaven confirmed this for Jesus’ inner circle. To be called “Son” was to identify Jesus as having the very character and nature of God the Father. The implications were incredible, because they could only either be true, or highly blasphemous. The disciples listened to Jesus and tucked this away until after the resurrection.

It highlighted Jesus’ role. The presence of Moses and Elijah suggested that the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew scriptures looked to Jesus for fulfillment. The old must give way to the new. We’ll see this again in the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). No longer would we relate to God through the Law of the Old Testament with its sacrifices at the temple, but instead through Jesus.

It marked a turning point. Remember the voice at Jesus’ baptism? “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) In the same way that Jesus’ baptism marked a stepping off from his early life to his public ministry, the transfiguration marks a change in direction from his ministry to the cross. Jesus did not die because he was caught in the politics of the day. Rather, his goal from the beginning was always the cross.

This made a huge impression on the disciples. Decades later Peter wrote about the event:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2Peter 1:16-18)

John also reflected on that day: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

For me, the transfiguration is not just an “interesting” account, but rather provides another brick in the foundation of a stronger faith in Jesus.

It holds together. In a world which seems to be fragmenting, with alternate truths and personal realities, “truth” does not often hold together. Rather, it changes to suit the day, and sows doubt, discord, and division. But here we have the voices of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus, joined by the Heavenly Father, leading to the cross, and confirmed by the resurrection. Something in my soul relaxes, breathes deeply, in the calm reassurance of this coming together of history around the transfiguration.

This helps me. I hope it helps you. 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 Feb 27, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

OnFire #346 Head Over Heart (Or, Stand Where Eagles Soar)


OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #346 Head Over Heart (Or, Stand Where Eagles Soar)

As I’ve written before, Jan and I spent two weeks camping in Banff and Jasper national parks last summer. It was truly spectacular to sleep in the mountains, to walk on glaciers, listen to the thunder of waterfalls, and to gaze upon “lofty mountain grandeur,” as the old hymn goes. 

One neat experience is relatively new to Jasper, the Glacier Skywalk. Modeled on a similar structure in the Grand Canyon, the Glacier Skywalk is a curved glass walkway 280m (918ft) above the valley floor. At its apex, it extends some 35m from the rock wall that supports it. Appropriately enough, it promises patrons will “Stand Where Eagles Soar.” 


It is an impressive piece of engineering. Since it is cantilevered, it juts straight from the side of the mountain. There are no cables extending overhead to support it. Dozens of steel rods drilled 30m (98.5ft) into the rock anchor it instead. A curved suspension cable supports a mere skeleton frame. Mass dampers prevent it from swaying. Four layers of tempered glass totaling 3.2cm (1.25in) provide a clear view to the canyon floor, so far below. 

As we followed the crowd to the walkway we reached the end of the concrete and peered “over the edge” where the glass started. Virtually everyone paused.  It did not feel natural to step out onto a glass walkway, even though we had been told about the construction methods and the strength of the materials. 

It was a clear case of head versus heart. Our heads told us it was safe while our hearts imagined the worst. In a flash, this conflict switched back and forth like a tennis game. It was overbuilt, but then again the Titanic was said to be unsinkable. It seems to be holding people,… but wouldn’t it be my luck to visit on the day it collapsed! 

Clearly I am exaggerating, drawing out the drama. It wasn’t that terrifying, but even I paused at the edge. Some paused quite a long time before deciding it was OK. I don’t recall anyone turning back, but some stopped longer than others.

This is exactly the kind of conflict that happens when we find ourselves going through a difficult time. We know in our heads that God is still there in the midst of our pain, but our hearts question. Did God abandon us?

The apostle Paul reminds us that God goes with us in trouble and difficulty:

He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9*)

When our fears and doubts suggest God has left us, we need to put them in their place with a dose of truth. God WILL strengthen us. Will it be easy? Probably not, but God WILL keep us to the end.

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 Jan 17, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 24, 2016

OnFire #345 Unbroken Rear View Mirror

OnFire #345 Unbroken Rear View Mirror

A few weeks ago I was backing up between two rows of trees and knocked the driver’s rear view mirror off. I was trying to be careful, but evidently, I wasn’t careful enough and drifted over too far on my side. Crunch. The mirror itself broke off and fell to the ground, while the housing pushed forward and broke in several places. I will need a new mirror assembly.

My pride was a little wounded, but these things happen, as people say. No big deal in the grand scheme of things.

I am really missing that mirror, however.  I did not have a lot of time before Christmas break to locate another, and so the task is still undone.  In the meantime, I must be extra careful while driving.

I did not realize how often I check my mirror. Of course there are the regular times, like when changing lanes or merging into traffic, but often I look for situational awareness. This is a good thing – it is good to know where traffic is around me.

I was thinking about this in terms of Christmas and New Year.  At this time of year we take a look in the rear view mirror, so to speak, to the events of Jesus’ early life.  When Jesus came to us as a baby, it was as God in the flesh. This personally means so much to me, with John 1:1-18 being my favourite verses in all of scripture. God came to us, lived among us, and then died for us. It made such an impression upon my young life that I made a commitment to follow Jesus which I have honoured for over 35 years now.

And then at New Year, we take a look back over the past year to evaluate, give thanks, and contemplate the next twelve months. It was a milestone year in so many ways, with my first marathon, finishing chaplaincy requirements, and being part of the United Way planning team. As I look ahead I have some goals in mind, but, honestly, I’m really just looking for life to even out a little so I can concentrate more on my tasks at hand instead of running from thing to thing.

It is good to look back. We need that rear view look from time to time to give us perspective on where we are going.

In this Christmas season, may we find new joy in the present by looking back upon Jesus. And as we approach the new year, may we start it with gratitude and anticipation because we have seen and noticed all that God has already done. In this way we need the rear view perspective.

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 Dec 24, 2016. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com



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