Monday, December 21, 2009

OnFire #210 The Search for the Perfect Gift

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #210 The Search for the Perfect Gift

Last week I heard an interesting statistic. 40% of all Christmas gifts will be bought in the week before Christmas. The pressure is on to find the right gift for those we love at Christmas.

I always find it hard to shop for Jan because I never seem to know the right thing. Some years I have hit it right on the mark, and others were, well, a little off centre. I think my instincts are getting better. For instance, the other night Jan was folding clothes and pointed to our ancient cracked and worn baskets. "I could really use some new clothes baskets," she said.

"Are you trying to get me hurt?" I replied. "If you tell our friends that I got you clothes baskets for Christmas, I’ll never hear the end of it. And then the women at the church will hear, and I’ll get it from them, too." We both laughed because we knew it was true. "Maybe not for Christmas, then."

You may have seen the commercial on TV lately, where a couple stands in the window of their suburban home, watching the neighbours running and laughing in their yard. It is Christmas day and she is holding a food processor, while the neighbour’s wife is dancing for joy because of the new car she got for Christmas. The message is simple: buy her something she really wants. I have the feeling I’m not alone in my quest, but Jan and I have a commitment not to blow the budget at Christmas, so things like cars are definitely out.

Jan, on the other hand, has great instincts. She’ll shop all year long, seeing things on sale that she knows will really be appreciated. Tools always work for me. I love gadgets and things for the shop, such as it is. I’ve figured out the difference here between men and women. When Jan gave me a cordless drill last year, she was suggesting, "This is fun, so go along and play." If I get an appliance for Jan, like a vacuum cleaner, I’m saying, "Here is something so you can work a little harder." Like I said, I think my instincts are getting better, even if I still struggle.

We may struggle to find the perfect gift, but as we reflect on Christmas, let’s not forget that the perfect gift is not the one we give, but the one we get through Jesus Christ.

"The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23*)

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we get before we even realize we’re going to need them, like the boots we get just before the old ones fall apart. That’s the way it was with Jesus. Long before we even knew we needed a saviour, God sent Jesus.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).

The wise men of the Christmas account got it right. Their search for the perfect gift ended with Jesus.

We’ll continue to do our shopping and wrapping and all that goes with Christmas, but sometime this season, we need to take time and thank God for His gift to us of Jesus Christ. It’s too easy to put it off or say, "Yeah, I know," and then do nothing about it. Let’s not forget to thank the One who gave us the best gift of all.

Blessings and merry Christmas from all of us here. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Dec 21, 2009. *Scripture taken from New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at  

Monday, December 14, 2009

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #209 Treasuring and Pondering

Hi Folks:

What a mixed-up kind of week. It started as the week of apologies, as I apologized for several issues I had created. I didn’t mean to, but I did, and felt really very bad. I apologized in each case and hoped I had undone at least some of the damage I caused. Apologizing is hard work, and I felt drained as I replayed the footage of those various events over and over again, trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I would do differently next time. That was the beginning of the week.

In the middle of the week we started the musical, White Christmas, at Ian’s high school. I got involved after the musical director discovered I play trumpet and she asked me to help out. The musical opened Wednesday with a matinee and an evening show. I played in 5 of the 6 shows. What a whirlwind of activity! Home to eat quickly and then back out until 10 at night. Staging a play or musical is an exercise in stamina. My arms still ache from holding the trumpet for 13 hours this week.

A highpoint of the week happened on Saturday. While in my office at the church in the morning, I looked up to see my mother and step-father outside the door. They had arrived as a surprise to attend the musical that night. That meant so much to me, that they would want to see the show. I really liked looking out to see my family enjoying the production.

And then there were all the normal parts of my week, like planning, organizing, meeting, speaking, teaching, writing, worshipping, praying, reading, talking, listening, and helping friends.

So that was my week. I don’t often think this much about all that goes on, but this was such a different week that I couldn’t help ponder it. At different levels I was processing pain, success, fear, failure and joy, all at the same time. We are complex critters, aren’t we, living in all these different kinds of worlds at the same time?

Simple sounds good, right about now. Take away some of the complexity to make life a little easier to fit together.

"Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.*" These are simple words which cover a lot of jumble and complexity. A mysterious pregnancy before marriage in a deeply religious community. Uncertainty and travel in the last days before birth. The mixed blessing of finding shelter in a stable. And then, as if wasn’t complicated enough for the poor young couple, Jesus was born, bringing shepherds, Magi, and angels in dreams pointing the way to Egypt. What to think of all this? Joy, confusion, fear.

Two ideas from these words bring me comfort. First, it somehow brings me comfort to know that the first Christmas wasn’t so simple, that Jesus was born into a world of complexity. It seems hard to identify with simple.

And then, second, it brings me comfort to know there are things to treasure in the midst of everything else. There are some things which will make us ponder, but other things which we will treasure.

These things help me as I process last week. I don’t understand everything about it, and so I will ponder. But I will also treasure some things, like my mother’s visit to see me play, and some other neat stories from people about how God is providing for their needs.

I hope this helps,


OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Dec 14, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at *Luke 2:19 New International Version. See also Matthew 2 for more of the Christmas accounts.

Monday, December 7, 2009

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #208 Jan’s Christmas OnFire

Hi Folks:

Inspired by something she has read, Jan spoke this past weekend at a women’s group and offered up her thoughts as an OnFire letter. So, this week’s letter is her gift to me, and I pass it along to you.

Jan writes:

My favourite part of Christmas decorating is digging out the ornaments. They’re like old friends because each time I open the boxes I am flooded with memories. I have quite an eclectic mix of ornaments that we’ve collected over the years, and they bring back memories of people, places and events.

While living in Wolfville, just after Troy and I were married, I started collecting pewter ornaments. Eventually I had to slow down on the pewter since they are heavy and the tree can only hold so many!! But I still look for ornaments on trips to add to my "places I have been" collection.

I see some parallels between ornaments and our lives. Ornaments have been made for a specific purpose. Like ornaments, we have been created for a specific purpose. But what type of ornament are we?

Are we like a glittery golden bell without its clapper? It looks great on the outside but there is a problem. It’s not able to do what it was created for because something is missing. Our lives are empty without Jesus Christ. We cannot fulfill our true purpose without Him.

Are we a little tarnished? We started out pretty but have come into contact with things that have discoloured our spirit. We still function but fall short of our true potential until we let Jesus polish us.

Are we like those pretty golden ornaments which look so good from a distance, but upon closer inspection reveal that they are not real. The inside is filler. If it were solid gold it’s value would be much greater. No matter how beautiful the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and increases worth. God is concerned more with the inside.

In 1 Peter 3:4-5 we read, "But let it be the hidden man of the heart,... the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." The outward decoration is okay but God places greater value on the inner beauty of a humble and quiet spirit.

Sometimes we feel like ornaments that are ugly, broken or discarded. Ugly, because there is sin discolouring our lives, souring our attitudes. Broken, due to the weight of worry and problems. Cracking, trying to hold it all together. Discarded, that we are no longer useful. When we feel like this way it easy to drift away from fellowship with Christ and other. Ironically, we avoid reaching out for Christ, when that is what we really need to do.

I have a very pretty crystal snowflake ornament. It’s transparent, letting God’s light shine through for others to see. This snowflake had to undergo adversity in order to attain maximum potential. It was shaped and cut several times to create the most light. We can either let hard times, discouragement, trials and devastation turn us into ornaments that aren’t so pretty or allow God to turn adversity into something beautiful that radiates His light.

Ian’s favourite ornament is a little pewter lobster we bought for him on Grand Manan. Mark’s is a snowman with a pull string that makes the arms and legs move which he received at a school ornament exchange. They are treasured. They’re not my favourite ornaments, not ones that I would pick for myself but because they are special to the boys they are special to me. God sees all of us as His favourite ornaments no matter the size, shape, colour, whether we’re fancy, plain, antique, modern, tarnished, or broken. We are valuable because God sees us that way and we need to value others because God sees them as his treasures.


We hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character normally written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Dec 7, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives located at Blog at

Monday, November 30, 2009

OnFire #207 Is That It?

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #207 Is That It?

Like so many others this past week in New Brunswick, our family watched the Olympic torch relay as it passed through the area. This flame started in Athens, Greece, and it will wind its way across Canada to light the flame for the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC.

We thought it would be good for the boys to see this historic occasion, so we got them up early one morning and lined up along the side of the road. Representatives from major sponsors handed out pennants and pins while we waited.

The flashing lights of police cars announced the arrival of the flame. The crowd cheered as flame touched flame and the torch whooshed into life. Then the torch bearer jogged up the hill and it was over. “Is that it?” I wondered.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I went. If the torch is passing through your area, I encourage you to go. It is inspirational to think that this flame will pass through more than 1000 communities on the way to Vancouver. Whose heart could not stir? The torch logo proclaims, “With glowing hearts,” a play on words with the Canadian national anthem.

But even as we walked back to the car the crowds were thinning. It another 10 minutes it would be hard to know anything extraordinary had happened that morning.

We could be tempted to think the same about Christmas. We make a lot of fuss and then its over. But that’s only if we make it about the wrong things. If we make it about the gifts, glitz, and glamour, we come to the end and think, “Is that it?”

But here is the good news. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” By this he meant spiritual illumination. “No one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (Jn 12:46)*

Christmas comes and goes, but Jesus continues to provide light all year long. If we take this approach, then Christmas becomes more than hustle and bustle. It really does become a celebration of Jesus’ arrival to show us the way.

Here are some ways to help us take this perspective:
• Follow an Advent Bible reading plan with your family this Christmas. There is one on my website,
• Read the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20 with your family on Christmas day
• Simplify Christmas to take the emphasis off “things.”
• Set an example of following Jesus everyday.
• Decide to follow Jesus if you haven’t.
• Attend worship at Christmas and throughout the year

Hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. This letter published Nov 23, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at *Scripture taken from the New International Version.

Monday, November 23, 2009

OnFire #206 Going Back to School

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #206 Going Back to School

Hi Folks:
What a great day we had yesterday. I baptized one of our young people and that is always exciting.

Deer hunting season is over. I’ve had Ian out a few times and it was nice to spend that time together. Some of you will be pleased to hear that the deer are still safe.

I hope you have a good week.

My high school music teacher stood behind me beating out the rhythm of a piece of music on my head. I’d like to say this was unusual, but we were thick and we didn’t always get it. Plus, being a trumpet player himself, he pushed us a little harder than some of the other sections.

My favourite times were when he grabbed his "horn" and sat beside us to work through difficult parts. It felt so good to play along with him. His presence inspired us to try harder and gave us confidence to play better. Plus, his example showed us how things were supposed to sound.
I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve gone back to high school this week.

No no. I’ve not gone back for classes. I’m helping the trumpets at Ian’s school as the orchestra prepares for their Christmas musical, "White Christmas." It all started at parent-teacher night when the music teacher found out I play trumpet. I’ve gone to a couple of practices so far.

I sit between two trumpet players. One has played for three years and plays decently well, but has no power. The other has only played a year and struggles to produce good tone. Their teacher tells me that sitting with them gives them confidence. Cool.

Here’s the neat thing. Its not my ability to play the music perfectly that gives them confidence. Far from it, the music is challenging and I’m playing it for the first time. Plus, I sometimes get the "count" wrong and come in at the wrong place. But even though I don’t do it perfectly, I give them confidence. I’m further down the road and it helps them.

This week I met with a pastor friend. Once in a while we get together to chat about how things are going in life and ministry. He’s a little older and more experienced, a little further down the road. I love to listen to his "war stories" and sometimes I ask him questions. It helps me and gives me confidence.

The two stories are not so different. In the first, I was helping, and in the second, someone was helping me. Both are important and I mention them for two reasons.

First, we need the help and wisdom of people who have "been there and done that." At present this is helping me with a dry spell. I need a little help to stay spiritually fresh. But, here’s where I find my problem. There are times my pride makes me think that I can do it on my own. Or, I worry about imposing upon someone. But my options really are limited - stay the way I am, or get help - so I set myself aside and call to ask for time to chat.

Here’s the other reason. We can help others coming down the road behind us. Sometimes we wonder what benefit we could possibly be to someone else. After all, we know our own weaknesses and failures. Here’s the thing - we don’t have to be perfect, just a little further down the road. And, believe it or not, our presence actually helps the people coming behind us to feel more confident.

Paul provides the example: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1*). We all look to Christ, but we also need the example of those ahead of us, and the people behind us need our example, too.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Nov 23, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at * Scripture taken from the New International Version. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

OnFire #205 Roll Away the Stone

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #205 Roll Away the Stone

Hi Folks:

Last week’s vacation felt good. I did a little hunting. Ian saw as many deer in two days as I did in several years before, so that was good. I did a few things around the house, and when Jan went to her pastors’ wives retreat, I took the boys to visit my family on PEI. A good week off.

The boys had their parent teacher interviews this week and are doing very well. At church we’re getting ready to host the Three Colors of Spirituality seminar on Monday with Christian Schwartz and we’re looking forward to that. I am told there is room for a few walk-ins.

Blessings for your week.

"What are you doing?" Miss Dover was our grade six teacher and she asked me this question one day in class.

"Nothing," I replied.

"Exactly. Get to work!!"

To my 11-year-old mind this was brilliant. Get me to answer in a way where she can use my words against me. Very clever.

Questions are powerful motivators. Who? What? Where? Why? These are not just the fundamentals of a news article, but may prompt us to think more deeply about our priorities and purpose.

I sat in a meeting this week with a church consultant talking about the results of our latest Natural Church Development survey.* His questions were penetrating. We answered some, but there are others that we will need to ponder because we do not have the answers. We hope in the end to lead our church to better spiritual health and vitality, and so we willingly submit ourselves to this (sometimes uncomfortable) probing process.

This week, also, a number of us from the church fasted and prayed over John 11:39-40. To those not familiar with the story, Jesus was called to the village of Bethany where his good friend Lazarus had recently died. Martha and Mary accompanied him to the tomb where he wept and then startled the women with these words.

"Take away the stone," he said.

This was a strange and troubling request. "But, Lord, this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."**

In their mind (and ours if we had been there) there was no reason to roll away the stone. Lazarus was dead and there was nothing Jesus could do now, was there? Furthermore, the rotting stench of decomposing flesh would drive them out. Why not leave well-enough alone? But this was not the right question...

"Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

There was only one proper answer to this question. Hidden between the words was a challenge. "If you really believe, roll away the stone."

So they did, and they saw the glory of God in a very powerful way when Jesus called Lazarus into life again. There is a lesson for us. There are times when we have to act against what our reason tells us because faith doesn’t always follow common sense. If we want to see the glory of God, we have to act in faith.

This leads us back to a powerful question. What are the stones we are afraid to roll away? This question is sticking in my mind and so I share it with you today. What is the step of faith we need to take in order to see the glory of God?

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Nov 13, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at * ** Scripture taken from the New International Version.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

OnFire #204 Running to Keep Up

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire # 204 Running to Keep Up

Hi Folks - I realized I forgot to upload my last letter, so two today...
It has happened again.

But before we get into that, let me say that OnFire has always been about my suspicion that, if I have trouble with these things even though I have years of training and I’m a “professional spiritual guy,” then others probably do also. So, here goes.

Its been a crazy fall season which isn’t done yet, and I’m feeling more than a little drained. I feel like I’ve been running just to keep up, and the pack is moving on ahead. It reminds me of those times when I rode in a mountain biking club. Here I was, a novice rider in decent shape, trying to keep up with the Elite athletes with their sponsored clothing and bikes. They stopped once in a while to let us catch up, and as soon as the last rider came along (sometimes me), they would take off again.

Now, here’s the funny thing - I have felt this way before when I was discouraged, but I am not discouraged. It has really and truthfully been a good fall. Programs are going well, attendance is good, there seems to be a good feeling in the church. I feel positive about the church work and about life. The boys and Jan are well. But I’m tired, and my connection with God is starting to feel distant. I’m not feeling spiritually fresh. My creativity is sagging. I’m not paying as much attention to things as I should. I’m feeling a little dry and parched.

Its a good thing I’m on vacation this week. This was well-timed, a God-provided opportunity which He made available a few months ago. It feels good not to set an alarm and to get some things done that I have been neglecting around home. Jan and I have watched a few movies. I’ve taken some naps. And Ian and I will do a little hunting. How quickly the time will go...

But there is another thing which I will be careful to do. I pulled out my journal and blew the dust off. It seems that’s the first thing that gets put aside. And I am setting aside some time to read larger blocks of scripture and to pray.

One of our Arrow Leadership trainers, Bob Biehl, gave us a quotation which has been dropping into my mind a lot lately. “Fatigue, fog, flirtation.” Being tired and drained is a spiritually vulnerable spot, especially when things are going well. We don’t think as clearly as we should or fight temptation as we ought. It is time to be careful, to rest, and to reconnect.

Rest. There are times when the most spiritual thing I do is give my body a rest.

Exercise. Yeeesh. How easy this one goes out the window...

Eat properly. Balanced eating is always the best way.

Take Stock. What is the most important thing I need to do? What can I hand off to others? What do I need to plan for now to avoid pain in the future? What am I going to do? Just as important - What am I not going to do?

Reconnect with God. Its OK to let some things slide to make sure this one stays strong.

In Romans 1, Paul wrote that he longed to see them in order to “impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.” (Romans 1:11-12)

Why am I writing this week? Its about this feeling that I’m not alone in this. If I feel like I’m getting dry, even though we are in a good season, then I wonder who else is? Can I encourage someone that they are not alone in this? Can I call someone back to the basics of connecting with God by sharing my own need?

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Nov 4, 2009. Scripture is from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

OnFire #203 Blood Sweat and Tears

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #203 Blood Sweat and Tears
I gave blood recently for the first time in about 10 years. For most of that time, we lived in areas where blood clinics were infrequent. Now that we're back in an area where clinics happen often, I see it as a responsibility to give, especially since I think I probably have good blood to give, and it doesn't cost me more than a little fuel and time.

My donation at the blood bank didn't cost me much, but there are times when blood is the symbol of a deep and long lasting investment. "Blood, sweat and tears" is the expression we sometimes use to say that we have put a lot of ourselves into a matter. Because the cost to us cannot be measured on a cash register, we treasure it all the more.

I think that's why the words, "I'm sorry" are so hard. We invest so much of ourselves that we find it hard to turn around. I once took a group of children on a hike at night. I thought the map showed a point where the path would join another one to form a loop back to our camp, but it didn't. By the time we realized we were wrong, we had gone so far down the path it was easier to keep walking and hope the other end was closer.

Our conflicts can be like that. We think we have gone too far to turn around. Solomon was right when he included this Proverb: "An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel." (Proverbs 18:19*)

We all know people who won't back down. Call it stubbornness or pride or something else, but it seems they wouldn't get past the offense even if someone bled. We may not live in walled cities, but we have seen barred gates.

It is easy to point the finger at other people, but let's be careful because this verse, like all of scripture, is not there to help us identify the faults of others. This verse may actually be for us. Who is the unyielding one? Who has put up the barriers?

"Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice." (Proverbs 13:10) Pride prevents us from seeing truth, and closes our ears to things which might change our minds. Its the principle of the thing that counts to us, and we're not going to back down.

The theological term for what we are talking about is repentance. We often hear about this word in the context of salvation, but repentance also has a role in everyday life. Repentance means, literally, to change directions. I have been going one way, but I change direction and go the other way. Pride keeps us from repenting - from changing direction. We have invested too much and gone too far to change things now....

As I think about my blood filling those tubes yesterday, a weird thought runs through my mind. If they didn't stop, I would bleed to death. If they didn't pinch off the tube, or pull out the needle, my blood would continue to pour out until my life went with it.

I know, weird thoughts, but true, and not so far from our topic today. When we hold onto our pride and refuse to let offenses go, when we refuse to take advice because it might make us change our minds, our effort is wasted. "Blood, sweat and tears" are good for some things, but not when it gets in the way of changing directions in conflict.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Oct 22, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

OnFire #202 Those Skywalkers Have Always Been Trouble

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #202 Those Skywalkers Have Always Been Trouble

A leopard can’t change his spots.
An old dog can’t learn new tricks.

These two little expressions both mean the same thing. It is hard, and perhaps impossible, for a person to change the way he does things. We don’t want to say it, so we create expressions to say it for us.

He will never change.

I heard a comedian on the radio a few weeks ago making jokes about my homeland, PEI. He was an Islander, so it was OK. He joked that if Star Wars had happened there, it would not have taken three episodes and six hours to figure out Darth Vader was Luke’s father. “Oh - Skywalker, huh? Aren’t there Skywalkers down there in Naboo? . . . I think he’s Vader’s son. Those Skywalkers - always were hot tempered, you know!”

Small communities are not the only places where it is hard to escape a reputation. I used to think it was a small town thing, but I have realized it is a relationship thing which happens regardless of the size of the place. We tend to mark people by the stupid things they have done in the past. It doesn’t seem to matter that time has gone by and real change has taken place. We remember the stupid things and it makes it hard for us to get past them.

Now, I’m not saying we should be naive about these things. Sometimes Christians are accused of being too trusting, or of being duped by people who might talk us into believing they have changed. Rather, I’m talking about real change, but in the back of our minds we still think it is only a matter of time before they do those stupid things again.

In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas argued over whether they should take a young man named John Mark on their proposed missionary journey. Always the encourager, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin with them, but Paul felt they could not trust him to complete the trip because he had deserted them before. They had such a strong disagreement that Paul and Barnabas parted company over the matter. Paul took Silas and went one way, and Barnabas left in another direction with John Mark.

We read about the troubled time in Acts 13:13, where it doesn’t sound so bad. John Mark returned to Jerusalem while the others travelled on. Whatever happened, Paul thought the young man should not travel with them. Once trouble, always trouble.

This is not the end of the story, however. About twelve or thirteen years later (60AD), Paul sent greetings from Mark to the Colossian believers (Colossians 4:10). At about the same time, he also wrote to Philemon from prison and again passed along Mark’s greetings (Philemon 23-24). Both times he suggested that Mark may also have been a prisoner with him. A few years after that (63-64AD), Paul was still a prisoner and wrote to Timothy, asking that Mark be sent to him because he was so helpful (2 Timothy 4:11).

Whatever happened in the intervening years, Paul no longer held the young man’s actions against him and came to love and trust him, finding him helpful and encouraging.

Maybe, just maybe... we sometimes fuel conflict because we don’t let go of someone’s reputation. Paul is an example for us in letting go of the past. Again, I don’t want us to be naive. But at the same time, maybe we can recognize real change and repentance.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Oct 15, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, October 8, 2009

OnFire #201 Who Cut My Hose?

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #201 Who Cut the Hose?

Hi Folks:

I don’t have a lot of news this week other than Ian is now taking his gun and hunter safety courses. He is really excited about this. A man from our church is letting me use his camp and this will be our base, so this is very neat, also. I’m always amazed at people’s generosity, and grateful.

We're getting ready for a parenting course at our church in Moncton next week. The Family Life Legacy course is for everyone interested in parenting and will happen on Oct 17 from 9-4. We'll learn things like how to avoid the most common mistakes parents make, how our roles change as the children grow, and how to instill confidence and character in our children. Cost is $15/person or $25/couple and includes a workbook. Please email me if you want to pre-register or want more information.

Hope your week is going well,


When I was a student, I worked for three summers in Cavendish, PEI. I had a job at a commercial campground in the resort area and lived in an old tent trailer in the staff compound. It was a fun place to work and live, but it was not without its tensions as twenty or so different people of varying maturity tried to live and get along.

I came back to the trailer one day to find my water hose cut off. My hatchet was stuck in the ground beside it, and half was missing. It was no big deal, just a cheap hose from the hardware store, but that day I saw red. One of the maintenance staff was working on the water system nearby and I jumped to conclusions. He had obviously cut my hose and stolen it. I stomped over to where he was working, and he had the missing half.

“Why did you cut my hose?” I demanded.

“What do you mean, cut your hose?” He was not one to back down easily.

“My hose,...” I pointed to the piece on the ground beside him.” “Why did you cut it off?”

“This hose was here when I came up to work. If I had wanted your hose, I would have asked you.” And then he quoted something I had heard him say many times. “Don’t ever steal anything from me. Ask me, and I’ll probably give it to you.”

With that, he handed me my hose and the argument was over. I knew he would have asked to borrow it if he needed, and certainly would not have cut it. I never did find out who did, and truthfully, I was too embarrassed by my behaviour to look any further. I still have the hose in my shed and have thought about that experience many times since.

In this series on conflict, I turned to Proverbs to see what this book of wisdom has to say. It is a favourite of mine and I found all sorts of gems, including this one which took me back to the day of the hose.

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.* Proverbs 26:20-21

I was kindling strife that day. Listening to the gossip of my own mind, I accused him without thinking. And because he was there, I charged in to call him to account, but I was wrong. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11)

Just as I have kindled strife, I have likewise been scorched by others. “Where did that come from?” is usually my first thought. Sometimes I can make sense of it, and sometimes I cannot, but I know this: It is no fun to be torched and scorched.

Another proverb comes to mind: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) It is hard not to react defensively when the sparks fly, but I have often also found that when I answer kindly the situation more quickly diffuses. There is a lot to learn from these and other proverbs for handling conflict.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Oct 8, 2009. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

OnFire #200 The Irony of Internal Conflict

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #200 The Irony of Internal Conflict

Hi Folks:
I spent a few days this week on a retreat with other youth and associate pastors in St. Andrews NB. I surprised Jan by sending her a card. I knew I would arrive home before it did, but Jan’s only mail is usually bills, and we all know bills are not real mail. She liked that. I’m not usually that romantic, but once in a while a good thought hits me.

Our Japanese student, Taka, turned 17 yesterday. We celebrated with pizza and cheese cake (his request) and some friends dropped in. He seemed very pleased, especially with the Jackie Chan movie set we gave him. He was especially pleased to receive a package from home.

This is OnFire #200. Its hard to believe that I have written 200 letters. Thanks for being kind and sending comments and thoughts. A lot of the time I write them and forget about them, moving on to the other things I do. So it is always a surprise, and truly humbling, to find out how God uses them. God is cool - He allows me to be part of something bigger He is doing in your lives.

Yesterday I spent about two hours sweeping back and forth over my lawn with a specially designed powerful magnet on wheels. We did our roof almost two weeks ago, but I just got around to picking up the nails. I was amazed at how many there were, especially close to the house. We picked up a lot on the day we reshingled, but there were more lurking in the grass waiting to puncture a tire or pierce a foot. How ironic it would be to have a safe day climbing ladders and walking on the roof, only to face blood poisoning from a dirty old nail on the ground.

This is the kind of irony we see as we turn to Acts 6:1-7. The church was surviving external persecution only to find itself threatened by internal conflict. In Acts 4 and 5, the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching about Jesus. This did not stop them, however, and they even rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer in the same way as Jesus.

So it was strange that conflict threatened them in the opening verses of chapter 6. As the church grew, a ministry of feeding widows developed. One way or another, some were overlooked, creating offense and tension. As the problem unfolded, it developed racial overtones as the Greek Jews complained against the Hebrew Jews. It is not hard to imagine how much damage could have been done to the early church if this problem got of out of hand.

Thankfully the story has a happy ending. The apostles needed to keep on teaching and praying because they were they only eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. They therefore proposed to appoint seven men who were "full of the Spirit and wisdom" to oversee the ministry. This proposal, Luke tells us, pleased the group. The crisis was averted and the church continued to add great numbers to the fold daily.

The solution they came up with gives us some principles for handling conflict. First of all, we see how holiness and integrity created an atmosphere of trust. There was no doubt about the character of the seven men, and this quickly reduced the tension and suspicion. We need to be people of honesty and integrity. If people know they can trust us absolutely, we will experience less conflict.

They were full of the Holy Spirit. Last Sunday I preached on this passage and used a glass of water to illustrate what this means. While it appeared empty, it was actually full of air. A vacuum might remove the air, but to get every molecule would probably implode the sides. Instead, we could displace the air by pouring water in.

Its the same with us. As we allow God to fill us by the Holy Spirit, the bad parts of our character, like selfishness and ungodly character and behaviour, are displaced. As we allow God to fill us, we will experience less conflict. True, we can’t control what other people do or say to fuel problems, but we can do something about our own character so that, at least, we do not do anything to make it worse.

They were full of wisdom. In the Bible, to be wise is to prove it with our actions. Too often, we want to be people who know for the sake of knowing. We love to study the Bible and we love to give advice. Bible knowledge is good, but only if we actually apply the lessons we learn. It is easier to preach and teach than it is to live it out. But biblical wisdom, true wisdom, is about living out what we know.

The lesson here ought to be obvious. We see the results of people who were filled with the Spirit and lived godly lives. They had the respect of the people and the ability to administer the food distribution wisely. These traits headed off the conflict and the church, it says, increased rapidly.
The lawn magnet I rented had a handle on top. When I pulled the handle, all the stuff stuck on the bottom dropped off. I didn’t discover this handy feature until it was too late. I could have saved myself some work. We can be a magnet for problems, attracting conflict because of the way we handle ourselves, or we can let the Holy Spirit do a work in our character so that conflict does not have to stick to us.

I hope this helps. Be On Fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Oct 1, 2009. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OnFire #199 Fallen Fruit from the Family Tree

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #199 Fallen Fruit from the Family Tree

Hi Folks:

This is a good news and sad news kind of week. Good news - Jan is feeling a little better and thinks the medication for her stomach is helping. Good news - men from our church reshingled our house this weekend.. This was a spiritual experience for me. I couldn’t go on the roof, and as I watched them do for me what I could not do for myself, I became aware of God’s grace for me in a new and very powerful way.

Sad news - we said goodbye to a dear friend this week. Our friend Dwayne passed away quietly with a brain tumour. His funeral was a real celebration of the hope we have in Jesus, but let’s just say that the water level behind the eyes was running high.... Please keep his family in your prayers.

Let’s sandwich the sad news with some more good - my mother has a birthday this week. Happy Birthday, Mom!!! She is a faithful reader, and prints off the letters each week to put in a kind of scrapbook. She is indeed a proud Mom.

I am constantly amazed by my boys. The two of them are so different, but I can see myself in both of them. Mark’s body type and temperament are like mine, while Ian has picked up my liking for the outdoors and anything that is shiny, sharp, creates fire, makes a loud noise, or does all of the above at the same time.

"The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree." That’s an expression we use to describe children who strongly exhibit the traits of one of their parents. I’ve been told that I remind people of my grandfather on my mother’s side, down to the way I talk and walk. I consider that a high compliment. He was a godly and wise man whom I try to emulate.

I can see myself in both boys, for better, and for worse. Mark has the same type of slow-burn temper that I have. He can be very patient, but he’ll only go so long and then he’ll blow. It has taken me a lot of years to learn to release pressure in smaller, safer amounts.

I wonder sometimes what bad habits I’m passing along to my boys. I’m going to take Ian hunting with me this year and in the process I’ll teach him a few things. I’ll want to get this right since bad habits in the woods can be deadly.

Bad hunting habits are one thing but bad character traits are an even more serious matter. What sorts of bad character traits are they learning through me? I’m not sure I know, since we have a hard time seeing our own shortcomings. I hope and pray I am leading them well and wisely.
"And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers." (Genesis 25:18*) This simple statement about Ishamel’s offspring is all about character traits passed along to children. They reflect the first words we read about the man. Even before he was born, it was said that he would be "a wild donkey of a man" who would live in "hostility toward all his brothers." (Genesis 16:12)

To be sure, Ishmael had his positive traits. In fact, God blessed him to become the "father of twelve rulers," and a "great nation." (Genesis 17:20) Even still, Ishmael is remembered for his hostility and for passing it along to his sons.

This is helpful for us as we examine the sources of conflict. If we live in conflict and hostility, we are at risk of passing it along to our children. "Like father like son" can be good if we are cultivating good character habits, or bad if we allow conflict and hostility constantly to be part of our lives.

Paul reminds us in Romans, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (12:17-18) It takes two to fight, but we don’t have to keep it going. When we do, we not only disturb the peace, but we teach those coming behind us to do the same.

I hope someday that people will point to my boys and say, "Like father, like son," and that will indeed be a good thing. I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Sept 23, 2009. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

OnFire #198 Lessons from Painting and Roofing

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #198 Lessons from Painting and Roofing

Hi Folks:

We had an interesting weekend. Jan had some chest pain so we took her to the emergency department. The ekg looked good, but they decided it was better to be cautious and wait for the cardiologist. So she spent the weekend in the hospital. Good news, her stress test was fine, so no heart issues. Now they will begin to track down what the issue may be.

We’re getting ready to put a new roof on the house. If you are in the area and want to help, we’ll start about 7:15 on Saturday morning.

Blessings as you finish the week.

We’ve been doing a few things to fix up the house. I’ve painted the wooden surfaces outside and we’re getting ready to put on a new roof.

Roofing and painting are interesting things. Neither one is very complicated and both have easy but important steps which are repeated over and over again until the job is done. Dip the brush and spread the paint. Dip the brush and spread the paint. Of course, the surfaces must be prepared properly and there are little tips and tricks which make the job easier, but mainly it involves faithfulness to the task. Little things over and over again.

Roofing is the same. Shingle by shingle the roof is nailed into place. Again, there are tips and tricks and essentials to be done properly, like flashing the chimney and capping the roof. But mainly there is a lot of faithfulness to the task.

Another thing about roofing or painting - it soon becomes obvious if we didn’t do the job well. I once painted a pine window ledge but didn’t bother to seal the knots. It looked fine for about a month, and then they began to show through the paint. I thought I could get away with it...

Like water dripping through the ceiling, the truth came out for Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 26. It seems that when Isaac and his wife Rebekah moved into the area, they told people she was his sister so that no one would kill him. Rebekah was very beautiful and they were afraid that someone might murder him in order to take Rebekah. As a result, Isaac finds himself in conflict with Abimilech, king of the Phillistines.

Didn’t we read this somewhere else? Yes, two other times. Abraham and Sarah tried this scheme in Genesis 12 and then they tried it again with this same king Genesis 20. Abimilech must have shaken his head when he discovered that Isaac and Rebekah were married - "Here we go again!"

The source of this conflict was a simple little lie. We all know, of course, that lying is a bad thing. But even still, how many times are we tempted to cover things over with a little paint? The instinct is the same for us as it was for Abraham and Isaac. We want to protect ourselves. The words can slip out very quickly, especially if we are used to using them.

Just as Isaac was the source of his conflict, we can become the source of our own conflict. When we ignore some of the basic fundamentals of character and faithfulness, like honesty and integrity, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in disagreement or conflict. "I thought you said you were going to do that!" I think we’ve all heard that one before. What about this one: "But that’s not what you said."

A businessman lamented to me about how difficult it is to find good people. "How hard can it be," he asked, "to find someone to show up on time and do what they said they would do?" Harder than it should be.

There is good news here. We can reduce our level of conflict by being truthful. Not whitewash or cover it. Not blame someone else. Just like in paint and roofing, the truth is going to come out eventually, anyway. Faithfulness means doing little things, like telling the truth, over and over again.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Sept 17, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

OnFire #197 When Any Idea Seems Right

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #197 When Any Idea Seems Right

Hi Folks:
School is back in. Mark went to school Tuesday, and as I write Ian and Taka are getting ready to go back.

We’re finishing some yard and outdoor work. I painted our front door overhang and touched up some areas on our carport. In a few weeks we hope to re-shingle our roof with the help of some men from the church.

I forgot to mention last week that my mother and Ivan brought my grandmother for a visit from PEI. At 91, she is not always able to travel, but she has been feeling well and made the trip. We had a wonderful time together.

Finally, I tried fly fishing for the first time last week. I went salmon fishing with a man from our church on several branches of the world-famous Miramichi River. We only caught a few chub, but we had a great time. Talk about beautiful spots. Not much wonder people love salmon fishing so much. The scenery alone is worth it, and to catch one of those incredible fish would be a real thrill.

Blessings for your week.

The next conflict we see in scripture happens between Sarai, Abram’s wife, and her maid, Hagar, in Genesis 16.

The story is a little bizarre, really, not something we think might be included in scripture, but that’s one of the things I like about reading the Bible. Bizarre stuff happens in real life, and scripture reflects real life problems and solutions.

Abram and Sarai (who will later become Abraham and Sarah) were getting along in years but could not have children. Earlier God promised children to Abraham, but in Genesis 16 we see that they were getting tired of waiting. Sarai, trying to be helpful I’m sure, suggested that Abram have a child with Hagar. This would preserve his lineage, if not hers. That’s when the trouble began. After Hagar became pregnant, jealousy and anger erupted between the two women. Soon Hagar left because Sarai treated her so poorly.

To me this seems right up there in the "what were they thinking?" category. How could they not see trouble coming? It reminds me of the pictures we find on the internet of people doing things like running power cords through swimming pools or using one forklift to lift another forklift. (I have an album on my Facebook profile called, When You Just Can’t Reach - check it out for some funny pictures)

We’re funny like that, however. If we don’t have the right tool in the box, we’ll use something else even if it doesn’t really fit, just because we don’t want to wait to get the right one. If we run out of something, we’ll substitute another, again, because we don’t want to wait.

As children we wanted to glue strips of paper together, but had no glue. So, we mixed up some flour and water and tried to make glue. We thought we were being clever, but in truth we just made a big mess all over the kitchen which our mother insisted we clean up that night. She wasn’t very happy about it, I recall, and our paste didn’t work, either.

I laugh as I look back on that, but in regular life the consequences are not so funny. In the case of Sarai and Hagar, conflict erupted because Abram and Sarai got tired of waiting. In the absence of what God had promised, they settled for something else.

When we’re desperate and impatient it seems to us that any idea is better than no idea. Never mind that it may compromise what we believe. Never mind that it may cause more problems later. Never mind that it may cost us more in the long term. We want to do something NOW because we’re tired of waiting.

We know patience and wisdom help in relationships but they also keep us from doing something just for the sake of doing something. This is a good thing because, sooner or later, sin and compromise lead to damaged relationships and conflict. When we settle for some idea just because it is the only idea at the moment, how can we not expect trouble?

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Sept 9, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

OnFire #196 Thorns Under the Skin

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #196 Thorns Under the Skin

We continue on our series of people in conflict in the Bible. This week we see how Abram handles a delicate situation with his nephew, Lot, in Genesis 13.

One of Jan’s projects this week was to prune the rosebush near our back door. When she couldn’t get a few of the woody branches she asked me to help, so I reached down and promptly got pricked. Bleeding, I picked out the thorns and completed the job. After picking out a dozen more tiny darts, I still have some left. I can’t see them, but I can feel them.

Thorns aren’t the only things that can get under our skin. People have been known to irritate us and this is what happened when Abram (later Abraham) and his nephew Lot found themselves too close together to support both of their vast sheep herding enterprises. In Genesis 13:7 we read that Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen began quarrelling.

We can hear it and understand it. There is only so much good pasture land, and only just so much water, but who will get it? And then what happens when a few sheep go missing? Who gets blamed for that, even if natural causes or wildlife are responsible? Finally, add tempers into the mix, and the situation becomes volatile. We can read all of this into verse 7. There was more at stake than a few words. The situation threatened to blow up by involving the heads of the families.

That’s where Abram and Lot came into things, but there were no explosions. Rather, Abram diffused the situation with calm and grace. In verse 8 we read, "Let's not have any quarreling between you and me.” Just because their shepherds were fighting did not mean that they needed to quarrel also. It is tempting to walk into other people’s fights. Someone told a friend when he moved to a close-knit community that if you cut one, they all bleed. Loyalty is good, but it can sometimes lead us blindly. Abram did not let this happen.

And yet something needed to change. The situation couldn’t remain the same because they had too many animals for the land to support. Someone had to move, and again, we see Abram’s grace. In verses 8 and 9, Abram says, essentially, “Hey look, Lot - there’s plenty of land for the two of us. You go one direction - you choose - and I’ll go the other.”

When our boys were younger we taught them how to divide fairly. One would cut, and the other would choose between the two pieces. This is what Abram did on a far grander scale. Lot took the land he could see in front of him which was, according to verse 10, like the garden of Eden. This meant that Abram would have to move, even though he had the right as an elder family member - Lot’s uncle even - to tell Lot to move on. Instead, he left for Hebron.

A little bit of grace goes a long way in a dispute, and there are many ways to extend this mercy. “I’m sorry.” “What can I do to make it better?” “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Even refusing to be offended is an act of grace. Last week we talked about how we can see offense where none was intended. Well, sometimes offense IS intended, but we don’t have to take it that way. Fighting words don’t have to be. I’ve done sound several times for musicians who, to put it mildly, acted like spoiled brats. I wanted to walk off, to leave them singing into the air. That’s just one example that comes to my mind, but there are many more. Sometimes I did the right thing by extending grace, sometimes I did not.

But - here’s the point - we are expected to extend more grace than others are often willing to grant.

It doesn’t feel right sometimes. We want the other person to extend grace to us. We want them to move, to give in. Its the principle of the thing, isn’t it?

But Abram shows us that grace can diffuse a tense situation. He would not be goaded by his shepherds or prodded by others who might insist he stand up for his rights. Rather, he offered up a solution even though it meant more inconvenience to him that Lot. That’s grace in action.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Aug 26, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Onfire #195 Wrong Turns and Open Doors

OnFire Encouragement Letter
Onfire #195 Wrong Turns and Open Doors

Hi folks:

We’re back from our summer stuff and looking forward to settling back into our somewhat normal routines.

It was an adventure filled vacation. We had a flat tire on our camper the first day of vacation. Then we waited seven hours for a ferry to Grand Manan because the main boat was broken down. Once there, we spent a few days visiting friends. Then we spent two weeks on PEI visiting family.

On PEI we took our Japanese student to Anne of Green Gables house. We also went to the Prince County Exhibition, where we watched the strongman competition and horse-pulls. My father treated us to the tractor pulls at Crapaud for a louder version of the pulling contest.
For an overnight adventure, Mark, Ian and I paddled about two and a half hours to an island and set up camp. We were eaten alive by the mosquitoes and horse flies, and our aging tent half-collapsed in the wind and rain, but we have lots of memories. All in all, it was a memorable vacation. Check for a powerpoint show.

For the next little while we’re going to look at conflict in the Bible. One of the things I like about the Bible is that it doesn’t hide real life. We see the ups and downs of characters’ lives and discover that they weren’t perfect. At times I think it would have been a lot easier to hide these things, to let them be buried in the depths of time, but God did not let this happen. We are the richer for it and learn lessons we can apply in our own experience.

Last week we visited a friend whose house we had never been to. I got the directions from him, but didn’t write them down because I thought I understood them. Off we went, but as we got closer I began to realize that things didn’t quite look like what I had thought they would. Finally we arrived at an intersection and at this point I was confused. Thankfully we found someone nearby to ask directions and they set us on the right road. Soon we arrived at our friend’s house.

We don’t have to read very far in the Bible before we see the first fight. In Genesis 4 Cain murdered his younger brother because he was angry that God accepted Abel’s offering and not his. We should note, too, that since the fight was about something religious, it was also the first church fight!

Cain was angry when God did not accept his offering. Choose any one of a number of expressions and they fit: Ripping mad. Seething. Boiling over. Ticked off.

God talked with him about this and told him how to make things better. It was nothing personal. It was not that he liked Abel better. Cain just made the wrong sacrfice. To make it right, all he needed to do was bring the proper one. "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" (Genesis 4:6-7*)

We gain some important insight into conflict. We often aim our anger at someone who is not responsible. Cain pointed the finger at Abel, when he was actually upset at God. This is the proverbial kicking the cat. Something goes wrong at work, and we take it out at home. We’re worried about a situation and blow up with our children or spouse. We have a problem unrelated to the person we’re dealing with, but we take it out on them anyway.

We see offense where none was intended. Cain was offended by Abel, when all Abel did was offer his sacrifice. This happens to us all the time. When we’re hurt, or worried, or being chewed up inside, we hear insults where they don’t exist. This is what was going on when God spoke with Cain, and it happens with us, too.

God gave him some advice we can also use. "But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

What a picture of sin - as a hungry lion waiting to pounce and devour us if we act on our anger. To go through the door of our anger is to go in the wrong direction, like turning onto the wrong road. Only later do we regret that we did not listen to the voice of calm and reason. By then we realize that we have been devoured, and that we have devoured in turn. If only...

But we do not have to take the wrong turn. We do not have to go through the door to where sin is crouching, waiting to devour us. Often we convince ourselves that we don’t have a choice, especially when someone hurts us. We feel we have to make it even. But we do not have to go through the door. This is one of the lessons for us. If we give in to our hurt and anger, we will be devoured and so we must avoid acting on these impulses.

I spent significant moments on this past vacation biting my tongue, keeping my mouth closed to avoid saying something stupid out of anger or frustration. As much as I love my boys, it drives me nuts when they interrupt me, or when they butt into an "adult" conversation. Aargh! There are times it is better not to say or do anything to avoid falling victim to sin.

There is good news. We can overcome these reactions. "It desires to have you, but you must master it." We can master these things. We’ll be talking about these things in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, take heart - sin does not have to master us.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. This letter published Aug 26, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Monday, June 29, 2009

OnFire #194 Feeling a Little Unglued

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #194 Feeling a Little Unglued

Hi Folks:

I’m beginning to realize that the start of summer will mean OnFire will be a little spotty for the next few months. Last week I was in Halifax on Thursday, when I would normally write. This week is abnormal, again, with Canada Day in the middle and two weddings to perform. Next week ought to be relatively normal, except that we’re getting ready for vacation Bible school, and then we’ll be part of our Convention’s youth mission called Tidal Impact ( After that we’ll be on vacation for three weeks.

I find that summer is a good time to reconnect with God. In some ways I find I have to be more intentional about things like Bible reading since my routine changes, but in other ways it is a spiritually refreshing time.

For instance, I often wake early and get up to read, pray, or write. While on vacation, I’ll go out in the canoe, taking the time to pray and sit quietly, something which is difficult in my normal routine. It feels good simply to sit in God’s presence, talk to Him, and enjoy His creation.

I always make sure we attend church when we are away. This goes back to a time about 10 years ago when we were travelling in Pennsylvania and I decided we should put some miles behind us rather than attend worship somewhere. At noon we pulled into a parking lot and as we got out of the car I looked up at a truck driver reading in the cab of his rig. This was really odd, since drivers are paid to drive and not to sit. I arranged my path to the restaurant so that I could see what he was reading and was surprised to see it was a Gideon New Testament.

His window was down and so I called up to him, excusing myself by saying that I couldn’t help noticing he was a reading a Bible. “Yes,” he said. “I became a Christian a few years ago, but I’m usually on the road on Sundays, so at 11am, I pull over and read my Bible, and pray and worship.” We chatted for a short time, and then I left feeling completely convicted about being away from worship that day. We could easily have found a church to attend.

Since then we make it a point always to attend worship on vacation. When we must travel on Sundays, we arrange to attend an early worship service or we find a church at which we can stop along the way. I know some pastors and people who consider it “time off” but I enjoy worshipping somewhere else. Sometimes we learn new songs we can bring back. Its neat to hear another preacher, and we meet people. I would encourage you to attend worship even on vacation.

This summer is already different from any other summer I’ve experienced. Ian, our 15-year-old, is working at a Christian camp and has been away for more than a week. This is the longest stretch that he has been away from us and not been with family, and, to be honest, it has made me feel a little unglued. That’s my best description for the feeling I’ve experienced. Kind of like one of the kitchen chairs when it starts to loosen up and needs a little glue. Its still together but it feels a little shaky and uncertain.

The problem is not being at camp. For those who know it, Camp Wildwood ( ) is a great spot and I worked there myself as a lifeguard 20 years ago. The director is still the same and I did two bike camps for the assistant director when he worked at another camp. We know the place and people well.

The problem is missing Ian, feeling like a part of me is missing and being a little unsettled because of it. As my mother reads this, she will see the irony. She cried as she left me at Christian college, while I was happy to be on my own and meeting new people. Ian is having a blast, learning lots, and that’s the way it should be, but even still I was not prepared for how much I would miss him.

Ian’s nickname at camp is “Winchester,” since he loves guns and hunting. We went out for a barbeque on the weekend and I presented him with a key chain I made from a Winchester 30/30 bullet casing and the end of a 12 gauge shotgun shell. It was a way to show him I miss him but support him.

I find myself praying for the boys a lot more often. There are things beyond my control, especially when they are not with us. I am finding it takes a different level of trust to know that their Heavenly Father is watching over them when I am not there to protect them.

I’m not sure how my feeling a little unglued is supposed to help, but my approach with OnFire has always been a kind of “C’mon, we can do this together.” And so I offer up this week’s letter to say that feeling a little unglued hasn’t been a bad thing. Its not always comfortable, but its not been bad, and, in fact, is teaching me a reliance on God I didn’t even know I needed.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published June 29, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located Blog at

Friday, June 19, 2009

OnFire #193 One Shovel at a Time

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #193 One Shovel at a Time

Hi Folks:

Jan and Taka are away with the international students in Quebec City so I’ve been working and trying to take care of the boys at the same time. Its not always an easy task but we’ve had some good time together barbequing.

Something else we’ve done together is to move a pile of crushed rock. Earlier we moved a 20 foot round flower bed and levelled the ground. Then Wednesday I arranged for 13 tonnes of crushed rock to be delivered to our neighbour’s yard. Its not that we’re generous, but the truck wouldn’t fit under our carport, so our neighbour was gracious and allowed us to dump it in his gravel driveway. The fact that it was the same mix helped.

At about supper the load arrived and at first it didn’t look like much. It didn’t even fill the truck and I secretly wondered if I had underestimated my requirements. But then as we filled the first wheel barrows, I realized what we were in for. We could hardly tell we had removed anything at all.

Last night we moved about 65 loads, which put us a little over half done. The pile we thought was so small had somehow grown and what remained still looked like a lot. I guessed we had moved about 7 tonnes, or a little over 2 tonnes each.

Wanting to be a good neighbour, I pushed the boys tonight (Thursday) so that we could get rid of the pile in our neighbours driveway. He told me it was OK there for a while, but I don’t want to take advantage of his generosity, so we went back at it, finishing at about 9pm. What a relief to finish. The driveway extension is done and the pile is out of our neighbour’s yard.

When we started this project last fall, I knew it would be a big job, but it turned out to be tougher than I thought. In total we moved 7 or 8 yards of top soil and 9 yards of crushed rock. Sometimes I wondered if I was too ambitious in planning and that we might have a muddy hole in our yard forever.

But as I look back on it, it all happened one shovel full at a time. Sometimes the boys helped, and sometimes I was on my own. But one by one, the dirt was scooped into a wheel barrow. We moved 25 tonnes one shovel at a time.

As I filled my wheel barrow last night, it occurred to me that there are a lot of situations in life like that pile of crushed rock. They seem big at the time, maybe even too much to handle. But when we break them down into small bits and steps, we find that we can finish even big things if we just keep at it.

James writes, “We consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (5:11*)

The end of that verse is the key to perseverance. If we try to do it on our own, perseverance is impossible. But with the strength that comes from God’s compassion and mercy, we can keep on. One day at a time. One step at a time. One shovel at a time.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published June 18, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, June 11, 2009

OnFire #191 Its Not Only Cats Who Hiss

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #191 Its Not Only Cats Who Hiss

Hi Folks:

Ian and Taka finished their exams today, officially starting their summer vacations. Mark still has a week to go, and has some neat plans lined up. Our neighbour will take him to the final dance in his Austin Healy convertible. This is very kind of him and Mark is looking forward to this. He had the choice between going in the black Corvette or the Healy, and he chose the Healy. Mark has classy taste in cars.

Jan leaves Monday for Quebec City as a chaperone with the international students. She went last year with Ian’s class from Shelburne, and she is looking forward to returning to this beautiful city. I’ll have Ian and Mark at home. We always have a good time together, and since we have taken in an international student, we don’t have the same time alone together, so this will be good.

I have a short article in Promise Keeper’s (Canada) new men’s magazine, Seven. It was an honour to be asked. To sign up for this new magazine, visit
Blessings for your week.

Every morning when I get up, our two cats meet me by rubbing their heads against my ankles as a sign of affection, or perhaps manipulation to make me feel better so I’ll let them out.
The little grey cat always runs out without hesitation. The big black cat, however, has a funny ritual. He often stops at the threshold to hiss.

He is normally a very friendly cat, but he has ways to tell us enough is enough. For instance, he might swipe with his paw, but keep his claws back. That’s his way of telling us that if we don’t leave him alone he’ll perform surgery on the next pass. I’ve learned this the hard way.

And so we think he hisses at the door as a warning that he doesn’t want any trouble. "I don’t have time for thissssssssssssss. Get out of my way!"

I know people like that. They don’t hiss, but they transmit signals to leave them alone because they are tired, grumpy, stressed, or otherwise not pleased. For that matter, we have teenagers who grunt at times, which may be loosely translated as, "Leave me alone." But its not only cats or teens. I must confess that I, too, have been guilty of sending signals which mean, "Don’t bother me."

I think I’m worst around my family. Jan has commented in the past that I can be grumpy around the house until the phone rings, and then I turn into a different person. Sadly, this tells me that I am more in control of my responses than I like to admit. I should, and could, be more patient.

My conscience is always pricked when I read passages about patience. James tells us, "Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming." (James 5:7*) If he only said it once, we might be able to avoid doing something, but he continues. "Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near." (v.8)

And just in case we still don’t get it, he gives us an example of impatient behaviour. "Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (v. 9)

I used to think James meant we needed to be patient in the abstract sense that we wait patiently for Jesus to return. This is only a minor part of the passage, however. Most of all, James reminds us that we need to be patient with each other as we wait for Jesus to return.

I really don’t expect our cat to change much. He hissed at me again today. But we’re different from cats. We can change because God can give us the strength. Its not only that we should be more patient, we can be more patient.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published June 11, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

OnFire #190 Making Plans for the Future

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #190 Making Plans for the Future

Hi Folks:

Jan and the boys had a good trip to Shelburne and Halifax. On Tuesday Ian had an appointment with the kidney specialist as a follow-up from his e-coli poisoning last year. The doctor was very impressed with Ian’s health and growth. He will continue to track Ian for the next 3 or 4 years as a matter of precaution, but he seems to give every indication of a full recovery.


I wish I had a dollar for every time a plan came undone. I remember a youth mission trip that unravelled several times. First we were taking them one place, and then another, and then I got a fateful phone call from a friend to tell me they wouldn’t be able to host us. Here it was, in May, and we didn’t have a place to take our youth team. We were already training and fundraising, and the plan was up in ashes.

Our senior pastor had a friend outside Boston and we somehow managed to pull things together in a month. Some of the youth from that era still consider it their best trip. I still consider it one of my most challenging years of ministry.

Plans can be fun to put together. Jan loves planning our vacation trips. She’ll research places and destinations online and by the time we go, we have a pretty good idea of what is in the area and what we will be able to do and afford.

Plans are also notorious for changing. We encounter difficulties we didn’t anticipate. Things cost more than we estimated. Circumstances change. There are bazillions of reasons why plans can change, but the fact remains. Plans change.

James reminds us that life and faith are about more than the plans we make. Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there,..." (James 4:13*)

We can become preoccupied with our plans. We make a plan and then feel settled and secure because now we know what the future holds. But then when the plan doesn't go quite the way we wanted, we begin to worry about the future. Here's the funny thing about worry. We don't know the future, and having a plan doesn't change that, so it is rather ironic that having a plan makes us feel better. It makes me think that sometimes we place more trust in the plan than in God.

That doesn't mean we should wait each day to decide what we are going to do. Plans are necessary, but our attitude toward them needs to change to let God in. "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (v. 15)

I once asked a fisherman friend how he determines where to set his lobster traps. I expected some semi_scientific answer, but he said, "First I pray." I was impressed. Based on his knowledge of the sea floor in the area, a good lobsterman may sometimes predict where lobsters are more likely to be, but no one can predict if there will be lobsters in the area of a specific trap. He recognized that his ability and knowledge only carried him so far, so he had to rely on the Lord. Its the same with us.

My experience is that a plan is often only the beginning of what God will actually do, and so we can't get too alarmed when things don't go according to our plan.

God's plan may actually be different from ours, and so we have to be open to the changes that God brings along. Here is where we need discernment. Some things are distractions that take us away from a godly goal, but some are God-given and we need always to pray for wisdom and direction.

It can be very upsetting when plans change, but let’s always be open to the fact that God’s plan is really the one that counts, not ours.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published June 4, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

OnFire #189 Winning for Trying

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #189 Winning for Trying

If you haven’t seen them, take a look at our canoe trip pictures. Click on the picture on my website for a slide show.

While out on our bikes one day, my brother and I encountered one of the neighbourhood troublemakers. He could be nice enough at times, but there always seemed to be something inkit for him, and this one day was no exception.

He convinced me to let him try out my bike. After a few minutes of riding it around, I wanted it back but he kept on. Tthe more I tried to tell him to give it to me, the more he kept it. Back and forth he rode, passing close enough almost to hit me.

At some point I figured that if I grabbed the handlebars I could stop him. So I mustered up all of my ten or eleven-year-old courage and reached for the bike. I clutched the bar and pulled the bike over, dropping the kid to his hands and knees on the hard pavement.

As I look back on it, it was a little like poking a bees nest with a stick. Having been stirred up, he came after me looking for his revenge. It all happened so fast I didn’t think to run, or even duck, for that matter. He hit me in the face and blood poured from my nose.

Someone must have seen and called my home. As I walked along holding my face with one hand and towing the bike with the other, my mother met me and lectured all the way back about staying out of fights. It seemed that day I couldn’t win one way or the other.

Resistence is the theme today. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you," James writes in 4:7.*
There are lots of thoughts that run through my head about resisting the devil. First, there is a calming reassurance from the promise that we can resist Satan successfully. This is important for us to know as we battle temptations and trials of various types.

Simultaneous to that thought is the one which goes like this - "I know I should resist, but if I resist, I might not get what I want." This matches up with James’ earlier words, "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (1:14) Obviously, there is no real temptation when we are not interested. Rather, the more we want something, the stronger the attraction. There are moments of powerful temptation when I fight this battle about whether I really want to resist. I know I should resist, but I want it so badly...

My big fear at this point is that I cannot win for trying. I will exert a lot of effort to resist, and still miss out in the end. Isn’t it just easier to give in and get what I want? I think this is a battle that we all face.

James has something to say to us about this battle. Some words are kind and pastoral, and some are designed to kick us in the behind to get us moving in the right direction.

"Submit yourselves, then, to God.... Come near to God and he will come near to you." (James 4:7_8) These are the kind words of James the pastor, encouraging us to draw near to God in times of struggle and temptation. We do not have enough strength to stand on our own, but when we stand close to God we find courage.

And then there is James the motivator - "Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." James calls it the way he sees it. When we start thinking that it is OK to compromise because we might not get what we want otherwise, we are double-minded and wishy-washy, in need of spiritual cleansing and a kick in he pants to motivate us.

Sometimes we need the soft and kind words. Sometimes we need the kick in the pants. Either way, James holds the key: "Resist and the devil will flee." The goal is not to get what we want, but to remain pure and holy. If we keep this in mind then we really can win for trying.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published May 28, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

OnFire #188 Weeding the Heart

OnFire Encouragement Letter
Onfire #188 Weeding the Heart

Jan has been busy lately weeding our flower and perennial beds. There is a lot to do, and what makes it all the harder is the size of some of the roots. She has long since discovered that it is not enough to cut weeds off, but rather the roots have to be dug out. We had some thistles which we thought we had conquered last fall, but we did not get all the roots and so some are back.

The last time I wrote (OnFire #187 Pile Drivers and Posts of Wisdom) we talked about some of the qualities that make for good relationships: purity, peacefulness, consideration, submission, mercy, good fruit, impartiality, and sincerity. This week we turn this around to look at what makes for bad relationships.

In James 4 :1-3* we encounter one of the most insightful and piercing pieces of scripture outside of the Old Testament prophets. James asks, "What causes fights and quarrels among you?"

This is important. There is no shortage of fights and quarrels, and I’ve had my share. In the past, I’ve talked about my argument with the college custodian (Onfire #15) but there have been many others. As a teen I flattened my brother after we got into some kind of argument. At the time it scared me because I realized I could hurt someone quite badly if I didn’t control my temper.

Controlling temper is one thing, but getting to the root of the matter is something quite different. James digs it out as he continues. "...Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight."

There are parts of scripture, like this one, which make me uncomfortable. I’d prefer it if there was some other explanation, but, like it or not, I have to acknowledge the truth of what James writes. There are times I have quarrelled because I was jealous that someone else had what I wanted. One year at Christmas my brother got a pellet gun, but I really wanted one for myself. That really chewed me up inside, until one morning we ended up in a wrestling match.

Jealousy is powerful. It can lead me to have bad thoughts about people because of the things they have, their homes, hobbies, vacations, successes, and even the way they look. If I’m not careful, it can lead to a bad attitude toward them, and that in turn leads to fights. I think James is right.

Fortunately there is a two-part weed treatment against the jealousy which leads to fights and quarrels. The first part is in the passage we looked at last week. We need to cultivate the qualities and characteristics which lead to peace.

We see the second part of the treatment as we finish this short passage: "You do not have, because you do not ask God." This reminds me of a guy I worked with who told me, "Don’t ever steal anything from me. All you need to do is ask, and I’ll probably just give it to you." There are times when we lack because we simply did not ask God. So, James tells us, stop fighting and ask God for what we lack.

Does James mean God will give us anything we ask for? No.

Motive is important to God: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."God knows when we are being selfish and we cannot expect Him to answer those prayers the way we want. This is not a complete answer to why some prayers are not answered, but it does explain some unanswered prayers.

James uses some strong words in this passage to grab our attention. Instead of blaming other people for the quarrels and fights we get into, we need to look within our own hearts to root out selfish desires, jealousy and covetousness. May God give us the strength and insight to do this hard work of weeding in the heart.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published May 21, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at