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