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