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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

OnFire #187 Pile Drivers and Posts of Wisdom

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #187 Pile Drivers and Posts of Wisdom

As I drive to the church each day, I can see two large construction cranes in the downtown, working on a new building. A few days ago, however, as I stopped the car, I could hear the distinct "Thump, thump" of a pile driver in action, and decided to investigate.

As it turned out, those construction cranes are driving piles for a big new building. One crane holds a set of rails with a driver and post. Compressed air powers a giant piston which drives a long steel post into the ground as it cycles back and forth. The other crane stands by to lift another post into place.

The object is to hammer the posts into the ground until they rest on solid rock, and then to build on top of the posts. I watched this for a little while, thinking how much those posts are like the pillars of wisdom we see in James 3:17-18.

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."*

Last week we saw that wisdom is about action and not advice. We cannot proclaim ourselves to be wise. True wisdom, rather, is seen in the things we do. Thankfully in our passage today James gives us some examples of what wisdom looks like. Each one of these stands as a post grounded on the solid rock of godliness.

Pure - wisdom bears a quality of holiness and of being unspoiled.

Peace-loving - wisdom does not always have to argue and pick fights, and furthermore, it finds ways to smooth things over.

Considerate - wisdom thinks of other people and ways to help them.

Submissive - wisdom does not always need to get its own way. I could use my power and strength to get my own way, but I choose not to.

Merciful - wisdom doesn’t need to remind other people about their faults and foibles when they are down, but shows compassion and finds practical ways to help

Good Fruit - wisdom doesn’t need to proclaim itself because there is already lots of evidence

Impartial - wisdom does what is right and not only what is in one’s interest

Sincere - wisdom is not two-faced or hypocritical

Back at the work site, I noticed that we won’t see the posts when the building is done. However, we will see the evidence of their presence in the way the building remains solid and stable. Its the same for us. People aren’t going to walk around and say, "My, look how pure he is," or "Isn’t she a model of mercy and impartiality." The evidence of wisdom in our lives will be shown, rather, in the quality of our relationships.

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 May 6, 2009. *Bible references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at