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