Monday, December 21, 2009

OnFire #210 The Search for the Perfect Gift

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #210 The Search for the Perfect Gift

Last week I heard an interesting statistic. 40% of all Christmas gifts will be bought in the week before Christmas. The pressure is on to find the right gift for those we love at Christmas.

I always find it hard to shop for Jan because I never seem to know the right thing. Some years I have hit it right on the mark, and others were, well, a little off centre. I think my instincts are getting better. For instance, the other night Jan was folding clothes and pointed to our ancient cracked and worn baskets. "I could really use some new clothes baskets," she said.

"Are you trying to get me hurt?" I replied. "If you tell our friends that I got you clothes baskets for Christmas, I’ll never hear the end of it. And then the women at the church will hear, and I’ll get it from them, too." We both laughed because we knew it was true. "Maybe not for Christmas, then."

You may have seen the commercial on TV lately, where a couple stands in the window of their suburban home, watching the neighbours running and laughing in their yard. It is Christmas day and she is holding a food processor, while the neighbour’s wife is dancing for joy because of the new car she got for Christmas. The message is simple: buy her something she really wants. I have the feeling I’m not alone in my quest, but Jan and I have a commitment not to blow the budget at Christmas, so things like cars are definitely out.

Jan, on the other hand, has great instincts. She’ll shop all year long, seeing things on sale that she knows will really be appreciated. Tools always work for me. I love gadgets and things for the shop, such as it is. I’ve figured out the difference here between men and women. When Jan gave me a cordless drill last year, she was suggesting, "This is fun, so go along and play." If I get an appliance for Jan, like a vacuum cleaner, I’m saying, "Here is something so you can work a little harder." Like I said, I think my instincts are getting better, even if I still struggle.

We may struggle to find the perfect gift, but as we reflect on Christmas, let’s not forget that the perfect gift is not the one we give, but the one we get through Jesus Christ.

"The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23*)

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we get before we even realize we’re going to need them, like the boots we get just before the old ones fall apart. That’s the way it was with Jesus. Long before we even knew we needed a saviour, God sent Jesus.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).

The wise men of the Christmas account got it right. Their search for the perfect gift ended with Jesus.

We’ll continue to do our shopping and wrapping and all that goes with Christmas, but sometime this season, we need to take time and thank God for His gift to us of Jesus Christ. It’s too easy to put it off or say, "Yeah, I know," and then do nothing about it. Let’s not forget to thank the One who gave us the best gift of all.

Blessings and merry Christmas from all of us here. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Dec 21, 2009. *Scripture taken from New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at  

Monday, December 14, 2009

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #209 Treasuring and Pondering

Hi Folks:

What a mixed-up kind of week. It started as the week of apologies, as I apologized for several issues I had created. I didn’t mean to, but I did, and felt really very bad. I apologized in each case and hoped I had undone at least some of the damage I caused. Apologizing is hard work, and I felt drained as I replayed the footage of those various events over and over again, trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I would do differently next time. That was the beginning of the week.

In the middle of the week we started the musical, White Christmas, at Ian’s high school. I got involved after the musical director discovered I play trumpet and she asked me to help out. The musical opened Wednesday with a matinee and an evening show. I played in 5 of the 6 shows. What a whirlwind of activity! Home to eat quickly and then back out until 10 at night. Staging a play or musical is an exercise in stamina. My arms still ache from holding the trumpet for 13 hours this week.

A highpoint of the week happened on Saturday. While in my office at the church in the morning, I looked up to see my mother and step-father outside the door. They had arrived as a surprise to attend the musical that night. That meant so much to me, that they would want to see the show. I really liked looking out to see my family enjoying the production.

And then there were all the normal parts of my week, like planning, organizing, meeting, speaking, teaching, writing, worshipping, praying, reading, talking, listening, and helping friends.

So that was my week. I don’t often think this much about all that goes on, but this was such a different week that I couldn’t help ponder it. At different levels I was processing pain, success, fear, failure and joy, all at the same time. We are complex critters, aren’t we, living in all these different kinds of worlds at the same time?

Simple sounds good, right about now. Take away some of the complexity to make life a little easier to fit together.

"Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.*" These are simple words which cover a lot of jumble and complexity. A mysterious pregnancy before marriage in a deeply religious community. Uncertainty and travel in the last days before birth. The mixed blessing of finding shelter in a stable. And then, as if wasn’t complicated enough for the poor young couple, Jesus was born, bringing shepherds, Magi, and angels in dreams pointing the way to Egypt. What to think of all this? Joy, confusion, fear.

Two ideas from these words bring me comfort. First, it somehow brings me comfort to know that the first Christmas wasn’t so simple, that Jesus was born into a world of complexity. It seems hard to identify with simple.

And then, second, it brings me comfort to know there are things to treasure in the midst of everything else. There are some things which will make us ponder, but other things which we will treasure.

These things help me as I process last week. I don’t understand everything about it, and so I will ponder. But I will also treasure some things, like my mother’s visit to see me play, and some other neat stories from people about how God is providing for their needs.

I hope this helps,


OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Dec 14, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at *Luke 2:19 New International Version. See also Matthew 2 for more of the Christmas accounts.

Monday, December 7, 2009

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #208 Jan’s Christmas OnFire

Hi Folks:

Inspired by something she has read, Jan spoke this past weekend at a women’s group and offered up her thoughts as an OnFire letter. So, this week’s letter is her gift to me, and I pass it along to you.

Jan writes:

My favourite part of Christmas decorating is digging out the ornaments. They’re like old friends because each time I open the boxes I am flooded with memories. I have quite an eclectic mix of ornaments that we’ve collected over the years, and they bring back memories of people, places and events.

While living in Wolfville, just after Troy and I were married, I started collecting pewter ornaments. Eventually I had to slow down on the pewter since they are heavy and the tree can only hold so many!! But I still look for ornaments on trips to add to my "places I have been" collection.

I see some parallels between ornaments and our lives. Ornaments have been made for a specific purpose. Like ornaments, we have been created for a specific purpose. But what type of ornament are we?

Are we like a glittery golden bell without its clapper? It looks great on the outside but there is a problem. It’s not able to do what it was created for because something is missing. Our lives are empty without Jesus Christ. We cannot fulfill our true purpose without Him.

Are we a little tarnished? We started out pretty but have come into contact with things that have discoloured our spirit. We still function but fall short of our true potential until we let Jesus polish us.

Are we like those pretty golden ornaments which look so good from a distance, but upon closer inspection reveal that they are not real. The inside is filler. If it were solid gold it’s value would be much greater. No matter how beautiful the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and increases worth. God is concerned more with the inside.

In 1 Peter 3:4-5 we read, "But let it be the hidden man of the heart,... the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." The outward decoration is okay but God places greater value on the inner beauty of a humble and quiet spirit.

Sometimes we feel like ornaments that are ugly, broken or discarded. Ugly, because there is sin discolouring our lives, souring our attitudes. Broken, due to the weight of worry and problems. Cracking, trying to hold it all together. Discarded, that we are no longer useful. When we feel like this way it easy to drift away from fellowship with Christ and other. Ironically, we avoid reaching out for Christ, when that is what we really need to do.

I have a very pretty crystal snowflake ornament. It’s transparent, letting God’s light shine through for others to see. This snowflake had to undergo adversity in order to attain maximum potential. It was shaped and cut several times to create the most light. We can either let hard times, discouragement, trials and devastation turn us into ornaments that aren’t so pretty or allow God to turn adversity into something beautiful that radiates His light.

Ian’s favourite ornament is a little pewter lobster we bought for him on Grand Manan. Mark’s is a snowman with a pull string that makes the arms and legs move which he received at a school ornament exchange. They are treasured. They’re not my favourite ornaments, not ones that I would pick for myself but because they are special to the boys they are special to me. God sees all of us as His favourite ornaments no matter the size, shape, colour, whether we’re fancy, plain, antique, modern, tarnished, or broken. We are valuable because God sees us that way and we need to value others because God sees them as his treasures.


We hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character normally written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Dec 7, 2009. To subscribe or reply, email Archives located at Blog at