Thursday, March 26, 2009

OnFire #182 Squinting to See

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #182 Squinting to See
Hi Folks:
My oh my, what a week. Tuesday was what I call a "low motivation" day. Today wasn’t so bad, but I was definitely draggy again, and to top it all, I’ve misplaced my cell-phone somewhere today. I hope it will show up tomorrow.
Today did have its highlights, however. Mark got his report card and had an average of 91. Both boys had parent teacher interviews tonight, and are doing well. So that was a highlight. And we were given tickets to a local go-kart place, which we’ll use tomorrow because the boys don’t have school.
Mark is counting down the days before they leave for Denver on April 16. The concert went well last week. The group was a men’s quartet called "For the Cross." I really enjoyed them and can get booking info for them if you wish. Easy to work with. Good music and great gospel message.
I hope your week is going well.
I’ve worn glasses since I was in grade seven and, like all glasses-wearers, I occasionally need an updated prescription. There have been times, however, when I’ve stretched the time between new lenses. After we were married and off our parents’ health plans, I once went a little too long.
As the ophthalmologist adjusted dials and flipped lenses, he said to me, "Have you been having trouble seeing things like road signs?"
"Yeah, I guess so - now that you mention it, I have."
"You’re only barely legal to drive the way you are right now."
I knew my glasses might need a little adjustment, but I had no idea it was that bad. On the way home I tested myself and sure enough, I had to get very close to signs in order to read them. It was a good thing we didn’t have a car then.
Poor vision is like that. Its hard to know what we can’t see because, well, we can’t see it. And because the changes are so slow, we don’t even notice them. For about a year before I first got glasses, people had been saying to me, "Are you having trouble seeing?" They had seen me squinting to see the tv and the blackboard, but I myself couldn’t tell. Finally someone mentioned it to my mother, who took matters into hand and made the appointment to have my eyes tested.
It took someone else to tell me what I couldn’t see. I find this true in other areas of my life. I often don’t see my own shortcomings and failings until someone else points them out to me.
The same was true for the people James wrote to. Beginning in chapter 2, he showed them how their favouritism was hypocritical and went against the "royal law" of loving one’s neighbour as oneself (v. 8). Here’s the scenario he set up for them. It may have been hypothetical, but perhaps not far from reality. Two men entered the worship service, one showing signs of wealth, and the other showing signs of deep poverty. The rich man was shown to a good seat, while the poor man was made to sit, "under my footstool." (v. 3)
James exposed the nearsightedness of their thinking. Not only does God have a special place in his heart for the poor (v.5), but they insulted the poor by exalting the same people who were exploiting them and dragging them into court (v.6). And it was the same people who were also slandering Jesus (v.7).
Evidently, the people James wrote to were themselves poor, perhaps labourers who depended on what little work they could find despite being poorly treated. This was why it was surprising to James that they did not see the issue of favouritism. Of all people, we would think they should see it, but this is the exactly the problem of nearsightedness. There are some things that we can’t see even if they are close to us. When it comes to spotting problems in our character we often have trouble.
And so there are two lessons for us in the opening verses of James 2. The lesson about favouritism is obvious. It is all too easy to judge and treat someone according to outward appearances. There is something about wealth, power and success which draws us, while poverty often repels us. We hope one will rub off while we fear the other is contagious. The "royal law" ought always to be our guide. "How would I want to be treated?"
And then there is the lesson about nearsightedness. How are we going to respond when we discover our shortcomings? Scripture is good at doing this. Sometimes other people point them out to us. We often become defensive because we don’t want it to be true. We looked better in our own eyes when things were out of focus.
Or, we could see it as an opportunity to remove the harmful bits of our character so that they can be replaced with positive traits.
I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published March 26, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

OnFire #181 On the Way to Church One Day

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #181 On the Way to Church One Day

Hi Folks:

We’re preparing for Mark to go back to the World Sport Stacking Championships in Denver. We’ve bought the tickets for him and Jan and they will head out on April 16. If you’re in the Moncton area, there will be a benefit concert for Mark’s trip at our church this Friday night at 7pm. A lady in our church has graciously offered to help with fundraising and she put the event together.

If you’ve never seen Mark stack, check him out on YouTube and search "stackcritic"

We visited both grandmothers on PEI on Monday. This is one of the nice things about being so much closer to them. My maternal grandmother is back home from being in the hospital and my other grandmother is recovering from pneumonia. Thanks for your prayers for them.
Blessings for your week.


While visiting with friends one weekend, I volunteered at a duathalon. Duathalon is a combination of cycling, running, and cycling again. Our job was to supervise the turn-around point of the running portion and to warn traffic of the presence of racers ahead.

We had permission to stop traffic and soon developed a line we used with the few cars that passed on that quiet Sunday morning. "Excuse me. We just want to tell you that there is a bike and running race going on ahead and to be careful as you drive through the race area." Most often the drivers thanked us. An occasional few seemed annoyed, but saw the wisdom in our exercise.

But then there was one car in particular that came through at about 10:45. Even though I was standing 20 or more feet away, I could hear the driver. Bleepity bleepy blank beep. I hadn’t heard that many swear words in a row since I was in junior high.

My friend smiled at me as the car pulled ahead to pass my spot. I guess the driver wasn’t done because he stopped, looked out at me and repeated the performance. Bleepity bleepy blank beep.

And then he added this line which has stuck with me for almost 20 years. "And now you’ve made me late for church!" I had to bite my tongue from saying something like, "Yeah, pal, you really need it!" My better judgement prevailed and I waved the car along.

About an hour and a half later the car returned. I have to admit, his stamina and variety in calling down oaths was impressive, but I had to feel for the three others in the car. They tried to shrink into their seats during the encore performance. When he was done with me, he repeated it all for my friend in case he missed a few words.

It would be easy to point the finger at this guy as an example of what we don’t want to be as Christians. That’s not what I want to do. I’m all too aware of my baser instincts. I’ve pedalled away many hours on the bike by plotting various means of revenge after being cut off.

And I know what I really want to say when telemarketers won’t accept no for an answer. You know what keeps me from doing it? Jan and the boys are usually within hearing range, and somewhere on their computer screen there is probably a blank which says my occupation is clergy.

These are the kinds of things I think about as I read James. "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." (James 1:26*) Something within me tells me this is true when someone else’s mouth is involved. It is harder to accept when it is my mouth we’re talking about.

As James reminds us, religious words don’t mean much if we don’t back them up with action. The words, "I love you" mean nothing if we don’t do loving things. And "I’m a Christian" doesn’t mean much if our words and actions conflict. Our words confuse people if our actions don’t back them up. Its like a road sign pointing the wrong way. It may say something, but the message is all wrong.

So I don’t point the finger at that guy in the car. I hope instead that people - namely Jan and the boys - doesn’t point at me and wonder.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

OnFire #180 Two Ears One Mouth

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #180 Two Ears One Mouth

Hi folks:

My foot is improving, slowly, but it is getting better. The chiropractor gave me some suggestions and I’ll see him in a few weeks again.

The rest of us are healthy. School is back in full swing and we are getting back into our regular routines. Back on PEI, however, one of my grandmothers is in hospital. We would appreciate your prayers for her.

And finally, this week we have been attending a prayer conference here in Moncton called Encounter 09. A wonderful man named Gerhard du Toit is leading the sessions and they have been incredible. I’ve read lots of stuff of on prayer, but here is a man who, when he speaks, you know he meets with God. Each morning we have been having sessions with him and there have been three or four times as many people coming as organizers planned. And then we come back in the evening and the place has been packed.

Basically, he takes us through some teaching, and then we break into groups of 4 or 5 to pray together. It sounds so simple, but it was a surprise to me how many people have never prayed out loud together, or how scary this might be. Morning and evening are both 2 hours, and they never seem long.

What’s the catch? Is there a formula? Simply put, he has been encouraging us to spend time in the presence of God. I talked with one lady I know who said she just hasn’t been able to stay away. Its just the joy of spending time with God.

I’ve been at these things where the speaker used all sorts of emotionalism and manipulation, but this isn’t what has been going on here. He is a good speaker, with tons of theological depth, but the meetings are not what I would call emotional. People are praying and loving it, and they are hungry for connection with God so they return.

Me too, for that matter. Its been a crazy week, and to be honest, at the start I resented how much time it was going to take in a week which was already full. But I want to go back each session. It feels good to connect with God.

After here, he is meeting with a group of pastors in Halifax to begin planning some meetings there. This is what he does - travels the world holding these kinds of conferences. A neat man.
‘My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19-20*)

I remember a Bible study leader once asking us why we had one mouth but two ears. I could think of a few reasons why we have two ears - to distinguish where sounds come from, for instance. But this wasn’t what he had in mind.

He told us the reason God gave us two ears but only one mouth was that it was twice as hard to listen, so he gave us twice as many ears as he did mouths.

It is not hard to get myself in trouble by what I say, especially if I’m not listening or if I let my mouth run ahead of me. I did it again this past week when I tried to play matchmaker but had forgotten the guy was engaged. Oh my. Those are the times I’d like to forget, along with other times I said stupid things or got angry at someone only later to discover they were indeed right, or that I had misunderstood something. "...quick to listen, slow to speak..."

"Slow to become angry." I can recall a study that came out a few years ago about anger. It said basically that many people think if we just express our anger we will get it over with and be done with it. What researchers found, however, was that when we indulge our anger it generates more anger within us. It seems anger begets anger, and we haven’t even touched on how other people react to our anger with anger in return.

I find that when I am determined to express my anger - in other words, I explode - there is only a split second when I feel "better." This is very quickly replaced with regret and I often find it takes much longer to undo the damage than the original time I spent in anger. That’s when I find myself thinking, "If only I had kept my mouth shut!"

James is going to talk about this again in chapter 3. In short, we can’t claim to follow Jesus and leave the tongue unchecked. A mark of the believer is that we are working on listening more and becoming angry less. Two ears, one mouth.

I hope this helps. Be on fire,


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published March 12, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

OnFire #179 Hook Line and Sinker

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #179 Hook Line and Sinker

Hi Folks:

We’re on March break this week in New Brunswick. The boys are doing their normal non-school thing - sleeping in, playing video games, hanging out with friends.

Mark is better. He had the cold last week and is recovering. His cough diminishes everyday, and he has his energy back. He, Ian and Taka even shovelled yesterday after the latest storm.

Because it was March break, I got to leave the bulk of the shovelling to them. I liked that. I’ve developed some pain in one of my feet, so I’ll see the chiropractor on Friday.

For those who like to blog, I have created a blogsite at

That’s all for now. Blessings for your week.
One of my favourite late summer activities is mackerel fishing. I have had never much success with trout, but mackerel are different. In late summer they school near the shore and enter bays and harbours, where we fish them from bridges and wharves. When the time is right, it is possible to catch them continuously.

Mackerel are good fighters and when one hits, you know something is on the line. I love that feeling when a big fish tugs and runs.

The other thing I love about mackerel fishing is that they are not very discriminating bait-takers. With trout, a lure that worked one minute might not work the next, and the fly that was so successful for a friend doesn’t mean a thing to the fish I visit.

Mackerel, on the other hand, will take real and artificial minnows, red devils, spoons, feathers, worms, dough, hot dog, bits of fish - I’ve even taken them on pieces of orange peel. That’s my kind of fish! When they’re biting, they’ll take just about anything.

I do have some sympathy for mackerel as I sprinkle on the salt and pepper. They don’t know they’re being lied to. They’re just grabbing something they think they want. A free meal. A morsel of comfort food. A tidbit to break the fast. I suppose the bait looks like something they know in the water, but I’m at the other end with my rod and reel and my frying pan is warming up at home.

Why the long digression into fishing? Not because trout season opens next month. This is the language James uses to talk about temptation. "...but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (James 1:14)

It is important to understand that there are two major sources of temptation. Our enemy, Satan, loves to tempt us, as he did to Jesus. James tells us later, in 4:7, "to resist the devil and he will flee" from us.

The other source of temptation is within our own soul. The people in James’ day blamed God for their temptations. He reminds us that God does not tempt us because it is not part of his character. If we want to place blame, we need to look carefully at ourselves.

Temptations rise up from within us because of our wants and desires. We are not so different from the mackerel. We are lured by something we want. When it flashes in front of us, we blindly grab at it. We think this is our chance. Only later do we realize we were hooked and dragged away. Gain by theft. Intimacy through immorality. Power through corruption. Control by violence. Security by selling out.

As I read this, I see a warning to recognize my desires for what they are and realize they leave me open and vulnerable. That way, I can ask for God’s strength and resist the devil instead of taking the bait.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


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