Wednesday, December 15, 2010

OnFire #245 God Uses Ordinary

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #245 God Uses Ordinary

Does this happen to anyone else? I sometimes feel caught between two pressures about Christmas. On the one hand I think I should do something new, create a new tradition, do something special, even though I don’t know what this would be. On the other hand, sometimes I think Christmas gets in the way of other things I need to work on.

I’ve been thinking about these things this week since I realized that Christmas is next week. Next week. I tend to put my proverbial nose to the proverbial grindstone and then I get surprised when I lift my head to breathe once in a while. I went to the Christmas accounts in the Bible looking for some kind of answer to this pressure, and was surprised by what I found. I don’t normally find an answer this quickly.

It seems to me that God likes the ordinary because He uses it so much. He uses ordinary people, ordinary places, ordinary circumstances. Look at all the ordinary in the Christmas events. Joseph and Mary were ordinary people in many ways. Would we have noticed anything about them to suggest that extraordinary things would happen through them? Not likely. The census that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was an ordinary event in Roman life. The shepherds were ordinary folks trying to make a living for their families. The Magi were looking into the stars as they normally did when they spotted the star that led them to Jesus.

That a tyrant like Herod would cause people to flee for their lives is, unfortunately, fairly ordinary in history. Bethlehem and Nazareth were normal places. If anything, they were so normal that more sophisticated folks looked down on them as being backwater. There was a whole lot of ordinary going on in that first Christmas.

And yet in the middle of all this ordinary, a lot of extraordinary happened. There were dreams and visions, angels, angel choirs, visiting shepherds, astrologers with gifts, and words of prophecy about this young Jesus. God works among the ordinary, using the ordinary, to do extraordinary things in extraordinary ways.

I saw something in this for me at Christmas. Extraordinary things happen in the middle of a lot of ordinary. We will do a lot of ordinary things this Christmas, like shopping, cooking, eating, decorating, gathering, opening gifts, travelling, and following traditions. These are the regular things of Christmas but we should not be fooled. In the middle of these ordinary events God can do some very special things, but we need to be prepared to see them for what they are, or we will miss them.

In the middle of an ordinary meal God can spark an extraordinary conversation. A typical party may provide an unusual opportunity. Regular traditions may result in new memories. When we’re least expecting it, someone says something funny. Even the act of merely hanging around together can mean so much, and so we don’t want to underestimate what God may be doing through very normal things.

I realized that ordinary traditions are OK, and that I shouldn’t wish away Christmas. Rather, I need to slow down and enjoy the time I will have those closest to me, not to be planning my next events, but simply enjoying these ordinary things knowing that God is in them.

I hope this helps you in this Christmas season. 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 Dec 15, 2010. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, December 10, 2010

OnFire 244 Loading the Dishwasher (Prayer)

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #244 Loading the Dishwasher

I opened the dishwasher this morning and noticed that several of our small plastic tumblers had turned over. Instead of being empty, clean and dry, they were filled with dirty dishwater. Something about the way I loaded the machine caused them to catch the cleaning jets and flip over. Just as the way I loaded the dishwasher made it ineffective, there are things I may do which block my prayers and make them ineffective.

Sin blocks our prayers. Proverbs 28:9 tells us that “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.”* Is it reasonable to expect God to respond to our prayers if we actively rebel against him? In this case, prayer of repentance (1 John 1:9) is the place to start.

The way we treat people affects our prayers. In Isaiah 58 the prophet notices how eagerly they seem to seek God, but their well-disciplined spiritual practices mean nothing because they cheat their workers and can’t get along with each other. “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” (58:4)

Unforgiveness is another prime blocker. “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) Just in case we missed the implication, Jesus follows up with direct teaching: “... if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (6:14-15) The problem is that we expect to receive a lot more forgiveness than we are willing to give, but it is not meant to be hoarded.

The way I treat my wife affects my prayers. Peter reminds us, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1Peter 3:7) If I lead my family by threats and anger, or worse by intimidation and violence, if I insist that my opinion is the only one which really counts, if I disregard my wife’s hopes and desires for our future, if I dismiss her needs and feelings, if I am unfaithful to my vows, I will hinder my own prayers.

There is a part of me which reacts to these as being unjust or unfair. Shouldn’t God just listen to me anyway? I’m not at all comfortable with the idea that my prayers sometimes bounce off the ceiling because of what I am doing. But every time as I read these passages I see the gap between my life and my desire for more effective prayer. If I want to be more effective and powerful in prayer I must change the way I conduct my relationships with God and others.

Prayer is not only about our relationship with God. As we look to God we are pointed back to our relationships with others. And so the cycle ought to repeat over and over as we continue to be transformed spiritually and relationally.

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 Dec 8, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

OnFire # 243 Printing and Prayer

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire # 243 Printing and Prayer

Friends of mine run a printing company and so when I visit them I often spend time at their shop. I love to watch the machinery in action because so much of it is very simple in concept, but hard to automate. Take the process of printing, for example, which is applying ink to a piece of paper. We experimented with it as children when we drew on an eraser and pressed the image onto a notebook. Printing is a simple concept, but obviously more is involved if we want to publish a book at any kind of productive rate.

Prayer has this same kind of simplicity and complexity. At the centre of it all is the simple idea that we talk with God. What could be easier than conversation, right? The complexity comes as we move to make it an automatic process of our hearts and minds.

We get the idea from the gospels that it was not easy to teach the disciples to pray. We have the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and a slightly different version in Luke 11, which suggests multiple attempts by Jesus to teach them. Luke 18 records a parable designed to teach them pray and not give up. Jesus modelled prayer by going off to pray (Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 6), and sometimes he even took disciples with him, as was the case at the time of his transfiguration (Luke 9:28). But even with all of this attention, the disciples didn’t get it since at Gethsemane they kept falling asleep even after Jesus told them to watch and pray (Matthew 26:41).

We see ourselves in these passages. Deep, passionate prayer does not come as naturally as we might think. The simple prayer “Lord save me” rolls off the tongue easily enough in a thousand variations, but it is hard to sit down for more than a few moments without becoming bored, distracted, tired, or deciding that more pressing things draw our attention.

How do we change this? After all, we see glimpses from scripture that prayer can be more. The psalmist was passionate about prayer. It seemed natural for Jesus to withdraw to those lonely places to pray and he poured himself out at Gethsemane. Indeed, Jesus’ last words on the cross were in prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46*)

Prayer changed for Jesus’ followers after the resurrection, and so we read in Acts 2:42 that “they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” After the resurrection, prayer became as natural to them as eating.

There are two aspects of the resurrection we need to grip if our prayers are to change. First, we need to meet the risen Jesus. Lots of people believe in dead jesus, the teacher / healer / philosopher / doer of good deeds, but that is not enough. We need to encounter Alive Jesus, the Son of God raised from the dead: “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Why should we expect prayer to be meaningful or effective if we don’t actually believe the One to whom we pray?

Second, prayer changes when we come face to face with the grace and power of God in the resurrection. God wanted so much to have a relationship with me that Jesus died to make it possible. Paul said it clearly enough, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8) but Jesus said it first: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son...” (John 3:16) And then to demonstrate His power, the Father raised the Son. Doesn’t it make a difference to know God would do this for us? Doesn’t it change the way we think about God? Doesn’t it make us realize there is nothing God cannot do?

This same God wants to chat with us, for us to talk with Him and He with us. As I come to terms with this, it makes it easier to pray. I am more motivated and interested. Being devoted to prayer as they were in Acts 2:42 doesn’t seem so odd.

Next week we’ll continue to look at prayer. In the meantime, 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 in Moncont NB Canada. This letter published Dec 1, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

OnFire #242 Bible Reading

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #242 Bible Reading

We continue our series on spiritual disciplines and this week come to Bible reading.

A few years ago I wrote an article on Bible reading and posted it to my website at I have updated it and added a few more things.

An OnFire reader wrote,

I begin with good intentions, but often get bogged down for some reason. Either because I get confused about what I am reading or because I don't know where to go next. . . . maybe if you gave people some sort of outline? Something for each day of the week, to read, in between the Onfire emails. It could be an outline for reading through the Bible in a year, or some "homework" to help people get more out of Onfire. That is just a suggestion, but it is coming from someone who gets totally lost sometimes while trying to read the Bible without a guideline of sorts.

She and I wrote back and forth a few times as we worked out some suggestions. Here are the results, which I hope will help.

The Spiritual Warfare of Bible Reading
Our enemy knows that the Bible is God’s word. It is one of God’s “communication networks,” so like any general in battle, Satan tries to disrupt communication lines to confuse his opponents (us). We don’t need to be afraid of Satan - after all, Jesus gives us his authority (Matt 28:18). But we do need to be aware of his schemes, and this is one of them. So, be aware that Satan will send distractions of all sorts when we try to get serious about this. Pray about this before, during and after. Keep a notepad for things you remember to do during this time.

Starting Point
Where to start can be a problem for both new and experienced believers. For the new believer the Bible seems so big, so, where to begin? It seems simple enough, but since we are followers of Jesus, why not start with Matthew. Don’t worry about understanding everything. A regular dictionary can help with some words. A notebook also helps to record what you discover. I use the margins in one of my Bibles. When you are finished with Matthew, you can read it again, or move on to Mark, then Luke, John, Acts. . . . You get the idea.

For the seasoned believer it can be a question of “been there, done that.” We have to be careful not to assume we won’t find anything new. Since God’s word is living and active (Heb 4:12), we also know he will continue to reveal himself and his will to us as we read and pray. We need to approach this with the right attitude. As Paul said, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, . . .” (Eph 1:18-19). God continues to reveal himself to us.

The seasoned believer can start with an area which is not as well-known. Try the Old Testament prophets, for example. Isaiah, Jeremiah. Listen to God’s heart as the prophets pour out God’s concern for justice and holiness. See how these are connected to the downfall of a nation. For something a little less challenging, try the letters in the New Testament, or the historical books of 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles.

Starting in new territory can be a little daunting because there is so much history and so many unfamiliar names and places. Even still, listen for God’s voice in them and let your heart be moved as you watch the news at night. Some good tools like Bible maps, a concordance, and Bible dictionary are good here. More on these below.

How Much to Read?
This is not an easy question to answer. There will be some who can handle reading through the Bible in a year or less. Others will get bogged down in some of the tougher or less captivating books. Sometimes a section will grab your attention and you’ll spend a lot of time there. Other times you’ll read through and nothing jumps out. Sometimes we are motivated, sometimes not.

I recommend a chapter or two, but more if you feel like it. If you get drawn in, then it might, of course, be less. If you are convicted by the Spirit about a matter, you will need to stop and deal with this.

The object in this is not a program, as such, but a relationship with God. We want to spend enough time that our heart focus changes from what we were doing or need to do, to God. Its like spending time with my wife. She wants to know she has my full attention when we talk, so sometimes I need to close the laptop, stop what I’m doing, sit down with her, turn off the tv, send the children downstairs, or take her out. I need to look at her. I listen. I say things which show that I’m listening, without stealing her chance to say something, because it has to be about her, not me.

It sounds odd, but this is not usually the way we think about it in church. I was taught to read the Bible because it was good for me, like taking my vitamin C pill as a child (mmmmmm, love that tangy orange!!!) Of course, it was good for me, and at the time I needed it to be this way. But, as I got older, I needed to make the transition from simply reading to relationship. It took someone probing me (uncomfortably, I might add) about my lack of reading for me to realize it was really about the relationship. At that point it changed from a chore or a new years resolution to something I am much more interested in.

How Often?
It depends on how much we want to grow and understand. In the context of financial giving, Paul tells us, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Cor 9:6) I think the same principle applies. Spiritual growth is a function of the time and effort.

Obviously, every day is best. Sometimes this becomes difficult. And sometimes, it is a matter of faith to take the time because there seems so much to do. When you get out of routine, don’t fret it, but don’t put it off, either.

Note this - we could easily fall into a legalistic thing where the goal becomes the act of reading. This is the wrong way around. We read for relationship. God doesn’t love us according to how much Bible reading we do. He just loves us.

Some people react to the idea of reading everyday because it sounds too much like legalism. It’s interesting that the two systems look alike, but they differ in the intent. Do I read because I’m afraid someone will think I’m not a very good Christian if I don’t? If I answer “yes,” then I’ve slipped into legalism. Does the idea of reading the Bible everyday sound tedious and boring? Then legalism is probably to blame. Good relationships are exciting. Comforting. Affirming. Challenging.

Bible Reading Program
I have not suggested a Bible reading program, and would hesitate to do so, because it is hard to suggest something which would fit the spectrum of OnFire readers. There are new believers and veterans. Some are mature in their faith, some are less mature. Some have an incredible depth of Bible knowledge and some don’t. We may be on the same journey as we follow Jesus, but we are not at the same point on the road. I find Deuteronomy and Leviticus interesting because I like the intellectual challenge, but they bog a lot of people down. The prophets challenge my commitment to working out my faith in very practical terms, but the Hebrew poetry and history can be daunting for others. You get the idea.

You can design your own program, but there are there are a host of Bible reading programs out there. Radio Bible Class (“The Daily Bread”) has suggested readings to take someone through the Bible in a year. So does the Bible Society. Other programs will take you through in 2 or 3 years. For iPod users, there are a number of free reading programs in the iTune store.

Also - you may be involved in a small group or Sunday school class. In this case you might want to follow a reading program or choose Bible books which go along with your group’s study.

Approaches to Bible Reading
Regular Bible reading is a spiritual discipline, but there are different ways to read, each with its own strengths and intentions. I use them all at different times since there is no “either-or.”

Devotional Reading - usually small passages, up to a chapter in length, designed for quick reading but still put the reader into the Bible. Sometimes accompanied by a reading or story, such as in the “Daily Bread.”

Block Reading - larger passages of scripture, sometimes whole books, in a sitting. This is helpful to see themes, understand how different passages relate to each other, and to become immersed in a biblical book. One of my favourite approaches.

Repeated Reading - over a given period of weeks or months, we read and re-read sections or entire books. Helpful to learn these passages in-depth. We tend to see new things each time we read the section.

Bible Study - an intentional digging into the meaning of the passage to understand it in its context, to relate it to the rest of scripture, and apply it to our lives. This is important for Bible study and sermon preparation, but can also be very enjoyable. Another favourite approach.

Bible Memorization - we memorize verses or sections of the Bible so that we can recall them later in time of need.

Basic Tools
There are some basic tools which may greatly enhance your Bible reading. You can get really fancy in this or take advantage of a host of material on the internet. However, be careful on the internet. Some sites are more interested in preserving their particular doctrinal views than on biblical accuracy.

Bible - Sounds basic, doesn’t it? It may help to read a passage from a few different translations. It is often hard to translate the nuances, so checking against a different translation can help. Plus, reading from a different translation from what we are used to can bring out things we didn’t see before. has many to choose from, free, online.

Notebook - for insights, questions, notes, etc.

Dictionary - for words you don’t understand.

Concordance - If I couldn’t have any other tool, I would have a concordance for my translation, and I would have it on computer. A concordance provides a listing of passages by word. Obviously, a computer speeds up the search process. I can look up passages when I can’t remember the reference and I can do research on places and people easily with this. The internet has many of these to use. I have one on my computer and my iPod.

Bible Dictionary - This is a resource of articles on selected Bible topics, people, and places - great for providing a basic overview. I have several book editions, but now primarily use versions for my computer and iPod.

Study Bible - A good study Bible includes basic notes on various texts and topics. The NIV Study Bible is almost 25 years old now, but still a very good resource.

Bible Maps - Some Bibles include basic maps, some do not. These can be very helpful to get a picture of the biblical situation. Place names take on new meaning when you know where they are and what happened there.

There is So Much I Don’t Understand
Me, too. Don’t give up, because you don’t need to understand all of it for God to speak through it. I find that I gain new insights all the time, even in passages I know well. The goal is to know God better through his word. Again, its like my relationship with Jan. I know her better now than I did when we first married. If I had thought, “I don’t want to get married until I can understand her,” we still wouldn’t be married. But I can say I know her better.

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 Nov 12, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

OnFire #241 A Luxury We Cant Afford

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #241 A Luxury We Can’t Afford

I have a love-hate relationship with the flyers which land in our driveway every week, rolled tightly and stuffed into a clear blue plastic bag. I resent that they arrive uninvited and must be dealt with, adding to the pile in our recycling bag which ultimately must be taken to the curb each week. When I see them there, I line up the car as I pull into the driveway and attempt to squash that roll of flyers, while Jan either rolls her eyes or tells me I shouldn’t because she will need to check the grocery flyers. I figure that an extra crease or two won’t hurt.

I must confess, however, that there is a part of me which enjoys the flyers. Are there any bargains? Is there something we have been planning to buy which is finally on sale? And, sometimes it is nice to dream about some of the things we see, even if we know they are luxuries we cannot afford.

The thought has occurred to me that we sometimes view spiritual disciplines in the same way. They are nice, we’d like to have some for ourselves, but they are really luxuries we cannot afford at this time, not with regard to money, but time. Where does the time come from if we can’t keep up with what we do now? Someday, perhaps...

Jesus spoke about this. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46*)

In back-to-back parables, Jesus used business as an illustration. If we had the opportunity to make a lot of profit, legally, wouldn’t we take it? And wouldn’t we do everything we needed, even if it meant selling everything else? In one case a man discovered buried treasure and bought the field in order to gain the treasure. In the other, a jewel dealer discovered a very valuable pearl. In both cases they sold all they had in order to make the sure investment.

We understand this as good business but the application is where we have trouble. The stories are not about business, but about seeking after God: “The kingdom of heaven is like...” I can understand in my heart that there is opportunity for great gain spiritually as I read my Bible, pray, write in my journal, fast, or especially if I take some time for silence and solitude. But all the things that must be done call out like a siren. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

And yet there is the chance for great gain. This is what drove the people in Jesus’ stories, causing them even to sell all they had because of the opportunity. If we are to see spiritual disciplines in the right light, we must see them, not as luxuries which cut into our time, but as opportunities for great gain.

I am truly impressed and inspired when I see people taking advantage of this principle. I spotted a truck driver in a parking lot reading his Bible one day. A mother of young children I know keeps a Bible in the bathroom. People I know keep prayer lists on their I-Pods and Blackberrys. These are all busy people, but understand they need that time with God and so find ways to make it happen.

I’ve not talked much about spiritual disciplines even though this is my third letter. The difficulty, I find, is not in understanding how to do them, but in seeing them in the right light so that I approach them with the right attitude. For me this makes all the difference. For years I saw them as something I needed to “fit in,” and I was hit and miss. Any consistency I developed came after I changed the way I think about them. Its not perfect, please understand. Time pressure is a constant battle I face and feel. But attitude makes all the difference.

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 Nov 5, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, October 28, 2010

OnFire #240 Large Fries and Diet Cola

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #240 Large Fries and Diet Cola

Hi Folks:

When I was a teen hanging out with my friends, our weekend ritual was to rent a movie and then go to McDonalds for a snack. A creature of habit, I ordered the same thing every week - large fries and a diet Coke.

I thought that the diet Coke would somehow counter the effect of the greasy French fries. This exercise in wishful thinking seems really funny to me now but at the time it was discouraging since I exercised regularly in the pool as a lifeguard and swimming instructor, but wasn’t losing weight. The problem was that I didn’t make the connection between the different areas of my life.

There is a parallel to our experience with spiritual disciplines. The effect of regular spiritual practices is not automatic. Just because we take part in spiritual practices does not mean we will grow spiritually, change, or feel closer to God. We can have regular spiritual habits but still not grow because there are areas of our lives which are not God-honouring.

Let me show you two examples from scripture.*

Isaiah 58:3-4 “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed.” Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

These people had strict disciplines of prayer and fasting but they had two problems. First, they thought God was obligated to them because they prayed and fasted. And, second, in the same way that I could not see the connection between french fries and my weight, they could not see the connection between their behaviour and God’s quietness. God had a problem with the way they exploited their workers, their selfishness, tempers, and violence.

We see the same issues in Zechariah 7:4-5 : “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?”

Like Isaiah, the people had highly disciplined spiritual practices, but they were doing them for the wrong reasons. Spiritual disciplines are not about pleasing God so that He will give us what we want. God is not obligated to us in some kind of “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” kind of way. In this way they really fasted for themselves, for what they could get out of it.

Spiritual disciplines are not for us. Spiritual disciplines are about giving God the opportunity to reveal himself, and in this way they are really about Him. The goal of spiritual practices is to see things as God sees them. If this had happened in Isaiah’s or Zechariah’s time, the people would have understood how their unchanged lives acted against their spiritual discipline. As we begin to see things through God’s eyes our hearts are changed, and changed hearts lead to changed lives.

I hope this helps us understand the nature of spiritual disciplines. 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 Oct 27, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

OnFire #239 Spiritual Disciplines for Everyday People

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #239 Spiritual Disciplines for Everyday People

When I was in high school jazz band we went to the annual regional competition and discovered we had learned a section of music with the wrong rhythm. So with less than 24 hours to relearn the music, we practised the section over and over until our chops burned. We rested, and then did it over and over again until we had it right. It was hard work because we had practically memorized it the wrong way. Even still, we retrained ourselves to do it correctly and managed a second place, if I remember correctly.

In the same way that we had to retrain ourselves to play the music correctly, Christian growth and maturity involves a retraining of our thoughts and actions. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

We’re going to start a new series, this time on the topic of spiritual disciplines. Disciplines in this sense are good habits. Spiritual disciplines are regular practices and good habits which help the believer grow spiritually, transform character and relationships, and experience closeness with God. In essence, they help us retrain.

I’ve been teaching a Sunday school class this fall called, “Spiritual Disciplines for Everyday People.” My goal is to take the mystery out of the disciplines and help people put them into practice in their own lives. I don’t come at this as an expert, but as someone who has the same time challenges as everyone else. I know I should read my Bible more, pray more, be closer to God, but so many things seem to get in the way, important things like serving God and other people. This may sound familiar.

While spiritual disciplines are the good habits which help bring spiritual growth, I wish there was a different word to describe them. We all know we should have more discipline, to exercise more and eat less, to do push ups and push aways. Its hard work to discipline ourselves to do the right things.

This is where we need a change in perspective. A few years ago our oldest boy was popping caps when he hit his thumb with a hammer. We were on summer vacation at my mother’s cottage and I could hear him setting them off against a rock. Bang, bang, bang, thud. Almost immediately I heard him howl and then he ran to find me. With tears in his eyes he held up his thumb to reveal a small blood blister which had already formed.

“Cool,” I said. He stared at me as if to say, “Are you crazy, this hurts!!” I continued. “That’s the first of many blood blisters you’re going to have as a man.”

A look of wonder came across his face as he stared at the blister. “Cool.”

A change in perspective helps us to see that the goal is a closer relationship to God. The goal is not to add burden to our lives, another thing on the to-do list. When I started dating Jan, I did not say, “Oh, great! One more thing to add to my list of things to do.” That would have seemed very silly. We looked forward to every moment because we wanted to be together and we grew closer because of it. We even set aside some other things because we loved being together. That’s the perspective we need as we approach spiritual disciplines.

And so I hope this series will help and encourage you. Set aside time to read your Bible and pray, even today. Over the upcoming weeks we’ll talk about adding depth and meaning to your time with God, but Bible reading and prayer are at the heart of it all.

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 Oct 20, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

OnFire #238 Rescue From the Mines

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #238 Rescue from the Mines

If you’re like us, you probably watched the recovery of the miners in Chile. Stuck over 2000 feet underground for almost 70 days, the 33 men survived the collapse of a mine on August 5. Feared dead initially, they were discovered alive after an amazing 17 days when a hole was drilled into their cavity. Since then, rescuers worked to drill a hole big enough to lift the men one at a time in a steel cage. Amazingly, all were rescued.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, that we might compare their rescue to the second coming of Jesus. All metaphors or comparisons eventually break down, but check this out.

Life here on earth is dark and bleak compared to what awaits us in heaven.

We are without hope unless we have a Rescuer

Our Rescuer put communication in place through the prophets, scripture, and prayer.

Our Rescuer came down to put the plan into action

We need to prepare ourselves in order to be ready for the journey to the surface

All eyes everywhere will be watching when Jesus returns

We will rise to meet Jesus

There will be great excitement on that day

There will be a great reunion when we are rescued

I would hate to press things too far, but I think you get the idea. The rescue of the miners in Chile reminds us of the great hope all believers have in the second coming of Jesus Christ. As Paul tells us in Titus 2:13, the second coming is our “blessed hope.”

As we remember the miners being rescued, let’s not only marvel and give thanks that they were rescued, but may we also give thanks that our Rescuer, Jesus Christ, is coming back for us.

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 Oct 13, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

OnFire #237 Foundations of Praise

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #237 Foundations of Praise

Hi Folks:

As we approach Thanksgiving in our own family, this letter is as much for us as it is for you. Jan’s hands continue to bother her, and we continue to search for answers. We pray constantly about this, but her hands still ache and fall asleep, and if anything they are worsening. She has a hard time sleeping through the night because of them. At times this takes its toll on Jan and she becomes discouraged.

We try not to say much because there isn’t much to say and we don’t want to inflict others with our afflictions. But it is our struggle currently and these words spoke to me this past week as I prepared for our church’s Thanksgiving newsletter.

And so I pass them along to you with the hope that they encourage you as they encourage us.


If you visit my office, you will see that there are always several piles of books, files, or papers sitting on my desk. These represent projects I am working on, but aren’t complete. In this way they are both reminders so I don’t forget, but also symbols of frustration over incomplete work.

With unfinished projects in mind, this verse stood out for me lately: “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’” (Ezra 3:11*) They sang this song at the completion of the foundation of the new temple. The original had been demolished about 50 years earlier in war, and as people returned from exile, they began work on the second temple.

It seems odd to me - Why stop to praise God when there was still so much work to be done? After all, it was just a foundation. There were still walls to put up, rafters and roof to install, doors to hang. Why pause to celebrate at the laying of the foundation? These simple verses teach us something about the nature of thanksgiving.

They celebrated even though the work was not yet complete. How many times do we become discouraged by projects we haven’t finished, work that isn’t done, and prayers yet to be answered? Every once in a while we need to stop so that we can look back and see what God has accomplished. This is what the returning exiles did, and they were able to praise God as a result.

I’m not very good at looking back. There is too much planning ahead to reflect in the past. But here is something I find at work in my own mind. I get frustrated if I only look ahead. I need to look back, to see the ground we’ve covered, the work that has been completed, the victories that have been won. God is good. I need to remember this to keep from getting frustrated about all there is to do.

They celebrated the work God was going to do in the future. The foundation of the temple was a promise which declared, “There will be a glorious building here someday!” We too can celebrate the fact that God continues to lay foundations in our lives.

A few days ago I drove past a building which someone had started but not completed. There was a foundation and a floor, but it must have been started years ago because it was falling in and trees were growing up from the cellar through the holes in the floor. There are times when our best-made plans come to nothing, but this is not the way it is with God. He will continue to build upon the work He has done in the past, and for this we can be grateful. God is not done yet.

At Thanksgiving we pause even though there is still much work to do because we want to celebrate the foundations of our lives. God has accomplished so much, and he has left foundations upon which he will build for the future. May we sing with the people in Ezra’s day, “He is good; his love endures forever.”

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 Oct 6, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OnFire #236 Mainly Good is Partly Bad

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #236 Mainly Good is Partly Bad

Hi Folks:

Last week was a tough one for our family as my maternal grandmother passed away early Thursday morning. She was a strong believer, and so this makes a real difference. It means we can grieve with hope in the resurrection.

She was 92 and lived in her own home until she entered hospital the day before she passed away. Her home was always warm and welcoming, and some of our best memories are sharing meals at her table. Whenever we were home on vacation in the summer, we always had evening lunch with her. It was very fitting that our family ate our meals together in her home. We will miss her very much.

We appreciate your prayers for our family.

Every once in a while I start out for one place and end up in another. I thought I knew where I was going, only to realize that I was not where I ought to be.

While leading a bike camp once, I took a group of young teens on a walk. The plan was to follow one path for a little while, stop for a Bible study at about sunset, and then hook up with another path using flashlights to return in the dark. It was a great plan, except that the two paths didn’t connect. By the time we realized this we didn’t know if we were closer to one end of the path or the other, so we continued until we came out at the other end two hours later. This was definitely not where I had planned for us to go.

As we near the end of Titus, Paul summarizes the teaching he wants Titus to emphasize. All through the letter he has stressed goodness in the life of the believer and he turns to this theme one more time.

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” (Titus 3:14*)

This sentence ties the book together. Titus must appoint church leaders on Crete who love what is good (1:8), in contrast to those who are rebellious and unfit for doing anything good (1:16). Those who are age-advantaged should teach the younger what is good (2:3), and Titus himself is to be an example for the younger men (2:7). Goodness should not only be a trait of leadership, however. Jesus gave himself so that his people might be eager to do good (2:14), and this ought to be the goal for every believer (3:8). In this way, Titus reminds the people to do good (3:1).

Paul touches this theme for a final time. “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good...” Goodness does not come as naturally as we might hope. It’s not that we aim for bad, but we end up there sometimes because we forget where we are going spiritually, and so without goodness firmly in mind we don’t do everything necessary to arrive at the proper destination.

We shouldn’t settle for being mainly good because mainly good is still partly bad. That’s like arriving at the proper destination only part of the time. The good news is that we have some control over this. We can learn devotion to doing good.

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 Sept 29, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

OnFire #235 Warped is Not Good

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #235 Warped Is Not Good

In one summer job the boss asked me to help build a deck. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but thankfully there were people around who did. Someone made me a spacer for the decking. Someone else showed me how to make the ends even.

No one told me about stacking lumber, however. The maintenance crew delivered more decking one day and tossed it off the truck. Not knowing any better, I left it as it was, looking like a giant game of pick-up sticks. Without the even pressure of laying flat, the planks twisted and we had quite a job to use some of them because they were warped so badly.

The Apostle Paul knew warped. He wrote in Titus 3:9-11, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”*

Evidently there were people dividing the churches in Crete because they continued to stir up religious and theological controversy. Genealogies and quarrels over the law were two examples. I don’t think Paul was condemning the keeping of family records as a matter of history and interest. Rather, it seems people claimed closeness to God based on the location of their branch on the family tree.

Controversies come and controversies go. We have no shortage of foolish controversy in our own age and in my first year of Bible college I was involved in more than a few. Sadly, we measured other people’s faith against the standard of our own doctrine. In our arrogance, we felt that we were closer to God because we saw things “correctly.”

We were obviously not the best judges of our own spiritual state. How ironic it must have seemed to everyone else that we thought we were so close to God, and yet we showed our immaturity, perhaps even warped-ness, by our divisiveness.

How can we tell the difference between legitimate theological issues and foolish controversies? When is it time to stand up for what is right, and when is it time to keep our opinions to ourselves to avoid being divisive? Primary doctrines are worth standing up for. These are the traditional and historic doctrines which define us as Christians - the trinity, deity of Jesus, personhood of the Holy Spirit, creation, fall of humanity, the incarnation, atonement, death and resurrection of Jesus, the second coming, final judgement, and the inspiration of the Bible are all examples of primary doctrine.

Secondary doctrines tend to be the divisive ones. The second coming is a primary doctrine, but the manner and timing is a secondary doctrine, with theological differences over the rapture and millennium. Believers ought to be encouraged to study for themselves and know what they believe, but should not allow themselves to become divisive over secondary doctrines.

There is also primary and secondary morality. The ten commandments are primary, as an example, and we are not free to tamper with this morality. Whether we dance or play cards, eat meat, or support gun registry, however, are secondary and we can look to Romans 14 for Paul’s handling of this.

How will I know if I am in a foolish argument? I need to check my own heart and actions. Do I need to win at any cost? Do I think that others are idiots because they don’t believe the same way I do? Do I doubt their salvation because they differ from my views? Do I find myself raising my voice (or fists!!) or making threats to make my point? Do theological discussions turn into arguments and quarrels when I am involved? Do people tell me I need to calm down?

Again, we are often not the best judges of our own spiritual state, but if we answered yes to any of these questions, we may be divisive and need to take warning.

Finally, we do not need to coddle divisive people. Because of their forcefulness, we are often afraid to do anything about them. Warning them is for their own good and ours. Like Ezekiel’s watchman, we need to look out for each other and this includes helping to set people back on track spiritually by warning them. If they do not respond, it is a sign of their hardness and Paul tells us not to waste our time and energy further.

Just as warped lumber is not good, neither is warped spirituality. There are ways to have theological discussion and debate, but they do not include divisiveness.

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 Sept 16, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

OnFire #234 Hoping Well

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #234 Hoping Well

Hi folks:

I watched several spiders last night as they sat in their webs. Every day they do the same thing, that is, they spin and wait, spin and wait. The object of their spinning is to catch insects for food. So, over and over they spin, knowing that if they are patient they will receive their next meal as soon as it flies into the web.

What hope the spider has! He knows that sooner or later his efforts will pay off. A fly will get caught, the web will shake, and it will be lunch time. And so the spider will spin, knowing with certainty that his spinning will not be in vain.

Our actions reflect our hope. In 1896, George Harbo and Frank Samuelson set out in an 18-foot-long open boat without sails or engine on a 55-day voyage to be the first to row across the Atlantic. The sons of immigrants from Norway, they hoped to become famous and have a better life. This hope fueled them to a record which lasted for 114 years.

Hope in this sense is not wishing in the way we often use the word. “I hope it will not rain on the weekend” merely expresses our desire for good weather. The kind of hope we’re talking about is the certain expectation of future events. We know it will happen, we’re just waiting for it to become reality. That’s the spider sitting in the web.

Hope is a key to understanding the different behaviours listed in Titus 3:1-8. Paul sets up a compare and contrast between a Christian and non-Christian way of life, a kind of before and after picture of the way things should be for the believer. “At one time,” he says in verse 3, we “were foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”* Without doubt, we were not all as bad as we could be, but we can recognize that our lives before Jesus had elements of these traits. At our worst, we lived for ourselves without much regard for others.

Christians, on the other hand, are to respect authority, be obedient, ready to do good, not slander people with our words, be peaceable, considerate, and humble. (3:1-2)

Hope is the difference between these two pictures of life. If we do not have hope for the future, then we will act it out. We will feel like we need to grab everything we can get for ourselves, regardless of the cost to someone else, because our only hope is to be selfish. If, however, we believe that we have hope for the future, we will act less selfishly because we know that the future holds good things for us anyway. This is verse 7, “...having been justified by grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

The spider spins his web because he expects it will bring food. For the Christian, godly and unselfish behaviour is rooted in the expectation of eternal life with Jesus. We can give ourselves away in this life because Jesus carries us into the next. We can devote ourselves to doing what is good (v. 8) because we know the future with Jesus holds good things for us.

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 Sept 8, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

OnFire #233 Rebellious Tools

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #233 Rebellious Tools

Hi Folks:

Now that I’ve finished painting my carport, it is time to tackle some other projects around the house, so this week the job was to fix and adjust cupboard doors and hinges. On some cupboards the screws which hold the hinges are loose or stripped and so I have to tighten them or do something to keep them from falling off. Most have paint in the corners which keeps them from closing. And some rub and scrape because the wood has warped over time.

So, I got out the tools and worked on the cupboards until they closed better. At one point I had a vast array of implements spread across the floor since it took screwdrivers, chisels, planes, a drill, and glue to do the work. But now they open without scraping and close without slamming, and they stay closed, too! I haven’t finished them all yet, but at least the most annoying ones are done.

Tools are great things as long as you can get them to do what you want. It’s a good thing they don’t have a mind of their own, or who knows what might happen. A chisel is difficult enough to use without carving too deep or slicing one’s fingers. If it could act on its own it might veer off in some new direction, gouging wood in the process. Imagine what the drill would do if it didn’t want to work. As we reached for it, it might rev its motor as if to say, “Back off - you’re not the boss of me!”

As Paul continues to instruct Titus, he reminds the people to be “subject to rulers and authorities” in Titus 3:1.* It is interesting that Paul would say this even though he had many run-ins with authorities in various cities. In Philippi he was flogged and imprisoned. Later he spent four years being bounced around the legal system between Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome. Many of Paul’s letters were written from prison.

In Romans 13 we find out why Paul would say this. Rulers and authorities are God’s servants (Rom 13:6), and therefore this is not only a matter of avoiding punishment, but also one of conscience (13:5). “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honour.” (13:7)

It is silly to think that a chisel might decide to veer off on its own, or that a drill might refuse to do its work since they are inanimate and incapable of deciding for themselves. We, on the other hand, sometimes make decisions because we resent someone else telling us what to do, and so we veer off to do our own thing or simply refuse to cooperate.

Part of Christian maturity is putting down the rebellious urge within us which says, “You can’t tell me what to do.” It started when we gave our hearts to Jesus, declaring that “Jesus is Lord.” As we acknowledge that we are actually people under Jesus Christ, it becomes easier to recognize authority. As we begin to understand that we are not our own we can give honour where it is due.

It is hard for God to use us if we are rebellious. In this way this issue is not only one of being subject to earthly authority. If we won’t give honour here on earth where we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands, we’re not likely going to honour the authority of Jesus either. A sharp chisel is a great tool in the hands of a master. May we bring honour to our Master as we allow ourselves to be tools in His hands.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Sept 2, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

OnFire #232 On a Tear (Rhymes with Pear)

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #232 On a Tear (Rhymes with Pear)

Hi folks:

The Dennis family is all back under one roof. Ian finished at camp and is home again. It feels good to be all back together again.

Ian began driver’s education this week. This is a little strange, but one of those necessarily things along the path to independence. On Sept 1 he will write his knowledge test and then start his student driving. Wow.

Mark has a job interview Thursday for a part-time job at a local nursing home. Again, wow. Steps to independence.

Blessings for your week.

This week I finally finished the painting I have been working on this summer. It was more involved than I anticipated because I had to replace some trim boards, which led to replacing some rotten boards underneath the trim. But to do that I had to take off some sheathing, and then I didn’t always have time to work on it, so what seemed like a simple project seemed to drag on and on.

This week, however, I sensed that I was close to the end and that if I just kept at it, I would complete it. The end was in sight and so I didn’t waste time getting started and barely took time to eat. As we might say back home, I was “on a tear” (rhymes with pear), meaning that I was determined to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. A newer expression might be “Get R’ Done.” The end was so close all I wanted to do was finish.

Last week we looked at Titus 2:11-15 and talked about goodness, which is the goal of our faith and character development. This week we want to look at the same passage but this time we want to see the motivation.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good....*

There are two motivations in this passage to live godly, upright lives. The first is God’s grace. We ought to be so grateful that God has taken mercy on us that it translates into behaviour and action. This is what Paul means when he says that grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age...”

The second motivation in this passage is the return of Jesus Christ: “...while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ...” In the case of my painting, every dip of the brush and every stroke of the roller brought me closer to the end. For followers of Jesus Christ, each moment brings us closer to our “blessed hope.” Every day brings us one day nearer to the “glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” This is where faith comes in, because unlike painting, we cannot see it with our eyes. But even still, we sense it, we know it, and it motivates us to finish strong. Our strength and hope are renewed because we are near the finish.

We are more motivated and we work harder when we know the end is near because we know that we are almost finished. May the second coming motivate us to live completely and fully for Jesus Christ. We are almost done.

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 August 25, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

OnFire #231 The Paint Covered Ladder

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #231 The Paint Covered Ladder

Hi folks:

I have been borrowing a step ladder from our neighbour because we don’t have one our own. I’m not sure how old it is, but it is obvious that it has long been used for painting because there is a thick and conspicuous layer of paint on the top step and on the shelf. This layer is truly impressive - not just a few drops, but drop on drop, on top of many other drops so that it is a thick coat. I likely contributed my own globs to those of other painters over the years.

This week we are looking at Titus 2:11-15:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good....*

This is a key passage in Titus and pulls together themes of hope and goodness. The second coming of Jesus gives us hope for a better future and inspires us to live self-controlled, godly lives. This is why Jesus died, that we be saved from our sin and in turn be eager to do what is good.

This theme of goodness shows up in various ways throughout the short book. Church leaders must love what is good (1:8), in contrast to the rebellious who are unfit for good works (1:16). The older women need to teach what is good (2:3), just as Titus must set an example of what is good for the young men (2:7). The people should always to be ready to do good things (3:1), and in fact, they ought to be devoted to doing what is good (3:8) in order that they may live productive lives (3:14). The theme pops up over and over in Titus, showing us that goodness ought to be a main quality of the believer.

This brings me back to the ladder covered in paint. It was obvious to me that the ladder had often been in the presence of a painter since it was coated with a thick layer of paint. That is verse 14: Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

The cross is not only about saving us from our sins, but about living out the goodness of Jesus. It ought to be obvious to people that we have been with Him. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we are splattered with his goodness, the more it is reflected in our own lives, “...eager to do what is good.”

I hope this help. 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 August 17, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

OnFire #230 The Difference Between Sterile And Clean

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #230 The Difference Between Sterile And Clean

A friend asked me one day about the difference between sterile and clean. He sometimes sets me up with trick questions but I always learn something neat from them, so I responded. “Aren’t they the same?”

He smiled because it was indeed a trick question, and then continued. As an engineer overseeing the maintenance of electronic equipment in a hospital corporation, he and his staff faced the difference between sterile and clean every day. A machine could go through the appropriate procedures to make it technically sterile, but sometimes it still contained a speck of blood or dirt that was missed in cleaning. In this way it would be sterile, but not clean.

That was a few years ago but I recalled the distinction this week as I drank some water. Just as the last mouthful hit my lips I spotted dirt in the bottom of my glass. I would much rather discover dirt in my glass before I drink the water than after. The sterilization procedures of our dishwasher probably neutralized it, but dirt is still dirt, sterile or not.

In Titus 2:1-10, Paul tells Titus what must be taught to various groups in the church, including older and younger men and women as well as servants. Paul’s key idea for these groups is in verse 1, that he teach them in accordance with “sound doctrine.”* And then he goes into a list of highly practical behaviours, including sobriety, self-control, love, soundness of faith, endurance, reverence, purity, kindness, goodness, integrity, respect and honesty.

We might wonder how Paul goes from doctrine to behaviour, but Paul does not separate the two. We demonstrate the soundness of our doctrine by the way that we live, and so the two are directly connected. It is not enough simply to have the right belief, to answer the Sunday school questions correctly, to pass the test of orthodoxy. This would be like my glass of water or a piece of medical equipment which has the appearance of being sterile, but is actually not clean. Christian maturity means that we demonstrate the sincerity of our belief by how we act.

Our station and situation in life make no difference in this since Paul gives instructions for the old and the young as well as for those in slavery. All of us are called to live with respect and integrity so that it is clear we may be trusted. As we do this, we “make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.” Belief must always be paired with behaviour or we make God unattractive. Think dirt in the bottom of the glass.

There is no such thing as “do as I say and not as I do,” either. Titus also has his instructions, to show integrity, seriousness and soundness in his own teaching and speech. Those of us in teaching positions have extra responsibility to set a good example. Dirt is dirt, but in leadership dirt multiplies to followers, poisoning whole households (1:11).

I hope this helps to see the goal of maturity. 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 August 11, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

OnFire #229 Plugging Leaks and Stopping Diversions

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #229 Plugging Leaks and Stopping Diversions

When we bought our house a few years ago we inherited two fish ponds. There is a lower pond in which we keep some goldfish, and a small upper pond with a fountain and waterfall. We pump the water from the lower pond to the upper pond, which then tumbles over the waterfall back to the bottom.

We were told that we would need to add water every week. No explanation was given, just that this was needed since the water level would go down. Sure enough, after a week or two the water was noticeably lower than before. After topping it up several times I checked for leaks in the plumbing and repaired several leaks which seemed to solve the problem.

A few weeks ago, however, I began to notice that we were losing water again. After checking the plumbing, I was at a loss to explain it until I noticed a wet spot beside the upper pond. I hadn’t noticed it before because splashing from the fountain in the bird bath wets the rocks anyway, but as I looked more closely I could see water trickling out in a low spot. We were losing water because it was being diverted out of the pond.

Diversion is the thought today as we continue to read Titus. From Titus 1:10-16, Paul gives us an unflattering snapshot of the group which was creating problems for the churches on Crete. “Rebellious people” who were “talkers and deceivers” taught from dishonest motives. Even their own poets agreed that they were liars, evil, and lazy. They loved controversy and rejected the truth. Far from being pure, their consciences were corrupted. All the while, they claimed to know God, but Paul reminded Titus that their actions spoke louder than their words. They were “detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good.”*

The situation was similar to the problem in our ponds. The upper one was always full, while the bottom one suffered. We continually pump water into the upper pond, which will only pour over the waterfall when it reaches the top of the dam. Consequently, the water level is always high in the upper pond, even if the water is diverted by a low spot. The lower pond where the fish are is the one which feels the effect of the water loss because it only receives back what is left over from the top.

The “rebellious” people Paul wrote about were this way, constantly diverting spiritual resources. Money, time, attention, and energy was selfishly spent and they didn’t care about how this might affect anyone else. Their pond was always full and they were oblivious to the fact that whole households were being ruined by their actions and teaching.

Not all was lost however. By appointing leaders of the highest moral and godly character (as we read last week) they could be taught to reject this way of life. The diversions would be stopped and the people would grow into godliness and good works because their leaders would set the good example.

When we act selfishly, we fill our own pond while others further down the stream are wanting. We teach by our example that if you want something you have to divert from other people to get it. Soon everyone is doing the same thing, just looking out for themselves. Paul reminds us that this is not the way of Jesus. “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” (1:16) May this never be said of us as we aim for godliness, purity, unselfishness.

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 August 4, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

OnFire #228 Snapshots of Character

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #228 Snapshots of Character

When I was home on PEI for vacation, my mother presented me with a photo album of pictures from both sides of my family. There are pictures of my grandparents going back into the great-great’s, aunts and uncles, my parents, and lots of snapshots from when I was young. She spent months talking to relatives and assembling all these pictures, some of which I had never seen. It was a real labour of love and I understand a little more about my family and myself as I look at these pictures.

Snapshots of character are what Paul has in mind as he writes to Titus. What are the character traits of a godly leader? What is Christian discipleship? What does truth look like in the context of competing teachings? These are the kinds of things he writes to tell Titus about as he leaves him on the island of Crete to finish the work that was started (1:5).

It seems likely that Paul was released after Acts 27 and eventually visited Crete since he seems to know a lot about the situation of the churches there. In any event, there was unfinished work and Titus, Paul’s longtime travelling companion (see Gal 2:1), was the man for the job. He needed to appoint church leaders, “elders,” in every town (1:5) and teach various groups of people according to sound doctrine (2:1) in order to overcome the influence of rebellious factions (1:10). And so we have these snapshots of groups within the church and what Titus needs to teach them about leadership and Christian maturity.

The first snapshot is of the elders (1:5-9). Paul is very clear to Titus about the high, moral qualifications required of these leaders: Blameless, exemplary marriage and home life, patient, sober, peaceable, honest, hospitable, upright, self-controlled, holy, disciplined, sound in doctrine.

It is interesting that so much of what Paul tells Titus to look for in a spiritual leader is about life at home. How do we know if someone if qualified for spiritual leadership? We see it in the everyday decisions about regular life, and this begins in the home. Christian maturity is about closing the gap between belief and action. Long before Jan and the boys hear me preach at church, they watch me live at home and they know if there is a difference between what I say and what I do. No one expects perfection, but at the same time they will not respect me or follow my leadership at home if I prove to be a hypocrite. Christian leaders must be people who set a good example and so if I do not display maturity at home, I will not be a good spiritual leader in the church.

To me this boils down to two issues, corporate and personal. Corporately speaking, how do we recognize what good spiritual leadership looks like? Obviously, a person needs leadership skills, but in the church this is not enough. Godly, mature character is critical.

I happen to think that spiritual leadership, whether as clergy, board members, Sunday school teachers, or even youth and children’s leaders, requires mature, godly character. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we don’t always use this principle. The pressure to fill a board, run a program or provide a service overwhelms our judgement and we appoint people who aren’t mature enough for the position. I’ve done it, that is, I’ve asked people into leadership who weren’t spiritually qualified, and later regretted it because jagged edges of their character cut deep wounds. Sometimes we learn things the hard way.

As I look at this snapshot of a leader, I also think I need to read this personally, as a call to examine every area of my life. Can I honestly say there is no gap of maturity? We need constantly to be growing so that others around us can see a living snapshot of what Christian maturity looks like. The goal is not to be recognized as a leader, but to be spiritually mature.

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 July 29, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

OnFire #227 Hinges of Hope

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #227 Hinges of Hope

We live in a house which is approximately 70 years old and, while it is generally in good shape, there are some things around the place which show their age. For instance, when we moved in many of wooden doors didn’t close well because they had either warped or the hinges had worked lose. As a result, I have had to adjust or fix almost all of them.

I was able to tighten most of the hinges by using larger screws or by inserting a wooden match into the hole along with the screw. These are traditional methods which I have used in the past, but last night I ran into a stubborn hinge in which these solutions did not work. What to do?

I remembered a tip a friend gave me. It seemed radical and posed a small amount of risk if it did not work since it involved drilling out the hole in order to glue in a piece of wooden dowel. If it did not work, it would mean an even larger hole and then what would I do?

I decided to try one hole. I cut a piece of dowel, drilled a small pilot hole in it, and then drilled a hole the same size as the dowel in the doorpost where the screw used to be. Filling the hole with glue, I inserted the dowel and waited about an hour for it to dry. I held my breath as I twisted the screw, feeling carefully for any signs that it might slip. I’m pleased to report that my friend’s advice was good and I no longer have a door hanging by one hinge.

In Titus 1:1-3, Paul talks about his role in the spread of the message about Jesus Christ. In our last letter we reflected on the fact that he knew his purpose was to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ and teach them to grow in godliness. In verse 2 he adds this little bit of insight into the nature of faith and knowledge, that it is “resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.”*

Why did I listen to my friend’s advice? I trust him because he knows what he’s talking about and I know he would not knowingly lead me astray. It is no different with God, but while we trust our friends we often question God because it is not what we want to hear, or it seems so different from the word we get from other sources. We can take comfort, however, in the fact that “God does not lie.” We can trust him utterly and completely with our future. Sometimes Christians are accused of having blind faith, that we believe (foolishly, it is implied) without any evidence to back up our belief. Not so. Our faith is based on the goodness of God’s character. As we trust in God’s goodness all the more, our faith and godliness will grow.

Our hope for a better, eternal life hinges on the fact that God has promised it and He does not lie.

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 July 20, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

OnFire 226 Lessons from the Lawnmower

OnFire Encouragement Letter

Onfire #226 Lessons From a Lawnmower

Hi Folks:

The boys have finished school. Mark won an academic award. Ian is now at Camp Wildwood, working there for the summer. And Zen, our Japanese student, attended the prom and safe-grad last night.

Starting on Monday, we’ll be on vacation on PEI for three weeks. We’re looking forward to the break and plan to build a new raft.


I once took apart an old lawnmower. After pulling off the covers to expose the inside, I was fascinated to watch all the parts work together as I turned the drive shaft. Every piece had a job to do in order to convert energy into work. The carburetor mixed air and gasoline. The piston propelled the drive shaft, but only when the spark plug ignited the fuel at the perfect moment. The valves controlled the intake and exhaust from the cylinder. An oiler lubricated the engine, while the seals kept oil in and dirt out.

Each part has an obvious purpose. This is something we find hard as people. We struggle with knowing our purpose, and we all want to know we have one. I contrast this with our cats, who are content to sleep approximately 16 hours a day. I don’t think they spend much time between naps pondering their place in the universe. We, one the other hand, want to know there is purpose and meaning in life. Surely our toil and effort is worth something? There has to be more than simply living and working, eating and breathing.

As we continue reading the very first verse of Titus, we find that Paul understands his place and importance in God’s work. He is a servant and apostle “for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness...”* He knows that his purpose is to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ and teach them to grow in godliness.

Paul’s purpose begins with his identity. We often tie who we are to what we do, so that we are ministers or teachers, mechanics, electricians, accountants, or some other vocation. The problem is, we become confused if we can no longer do what we did. If something affects our job - like layoff, poor working conditions, a change in health , or retirement - we lose our sense of purpose. But Paul begins with who he is and this leads him to his purpose. He is a “servant and apostle for the faith. of God’s elect...” If we put identity first, then we can change what we do without needing to change who we are.

Paul’s sense of purpose is not self-focussed. He is a not a servant and apostle for his own benefit. His mission is to strengthen the “faith of the elect” and increase their knowledge of the truth. Again, we often turn this around, looking for ways to make ourselves feel better instead of serving others but God did not fashion us for our own good. We will only ever discover our purpose as we serve others.

Paul knew the importance of what he did. He called people to faith and taught them how to be godly. This is important stuff. We often feel that what we do is not important, or, we look at someone else and conclude that our contribution is weak by comparison.

We cannot do this however. For starters, it is not realistic to compare ourselves to someone else because no matter how gifted or talented we are, it seems we will always be able to find someone who appears to be more gifted or with abilities we feel are more important. I know people who run themselves down because they are not like the Apostle Paul. We all have a role in God’s kingdom if we are willing to do our part. Just because one role puts a person in the public eye does not mean other, less public roles, are not important.

It is good to be able to complete this sentence: “What I do is important in God’s kingdom because...”

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 June 23, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

OnFire #225 Temporary Amnesia

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #225 Temporary Amnesia

While at a children’s program when we were young, my brother and I were playing a game with the other boys when he was hit on the head. Even though he was stunned at first, all seemed well and we continued with our game.

But then after a few minutes he started asking weird questions like, “Where are we?” We thought he was joking, but he persisted. “Stop messing around,” we told him. His confusion continued and caught the attention of the leaders when he asked, “Who am I?” Again, we thought he was joking and told him to stop, but the leaders recognized signs of a concussion and called our mother, who took him to the hospital and had him checked out.

“Who am I?” Whether for a child with a mild head injury, or an adult trying to make way in life, identity is a huge issue. Lately we had someone travel through our area who visited our church. Her quest was to find her birth parents in order to answer that same question.

As we start Paul’s letter to Titus, we see Paul’s sense of identity and meaning in the first three verses. Often we skip over these introductory words to get into the “meat” of a book, but we’ll miss something important if we do. Only Romans contains a longer personal address, and in it we see valuable insight into what Paul believes about himself.

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ...” Servant and apostle are Paul’s two favourite descriptions of himself. In almost every letter he uses one or the other of these words to describe himself, but only here and in Romans does he use both together.

We tend to think of “servant” as a demeaning title, but this is not so in the Bible. Jesus is God’s holy servant (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30), doing the will of the Father as the suffering servant (Isaiah 42, 53; Matthew 12:18-20).

Paul was once “Saul,” violent persecutor of Christians, but this changed when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and appointed him “servant” and “witness.” (Acts 26:16) From this moment Paul considered it an honour to be God’s servant and a privilege to do what the Lord assigned (1 Corinthians 3:5). For Paul, servanthood is a gift of grace (Ephesians 3:7).

The idea of apostle and witness are closely tied. The main prerequisite of an apostle was to have witnessed the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:21-22). In this way apostles would be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8). Paul knew that he experienced the resurrection in a different way from the rest, but he was a witness nonetheless, and a grateful one indeed since he knew he did not deserve to be called apostle (1Corinthians 15:8-9).

Paul knows that he is “servant” and “apostle,” but there is more. He is a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. His identity is tied to Jesus Christ. Without this connection, the rest is meaningless. There are lots of people who serve, and lots of people with a message, but only one Jesus Christ and Paul holds unswervingly to Him. It defines him more than anything else and gives him purpose and focus, as we shall see next week.

When my brother was hit in the head, he developed temporary amnesia and it was very confusing for him. Sometimes when we are feeling confused about life, it is because we have developed amnesia. We have forgotten that we are Christ-ian, that we are “in Christ,” and we need to recover this identity.

I’ve included some verses below which illustrate this sense of “in Christ.” You can find more by using your computer and doing a search on “in Christ.” You will be surprised and enlightened to discover all we are as people “in Christ.”

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


Rom 8:1; 8: 37-39; 12:4-5; 15:17; 1 Cor 1:2, 4; 1:30; 4:17; 15:22; 16:24; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 2:14; 5:17-21; Gal 3:26-29; Eph 1:1-3ff; 1:13-14; 2:6-10; 2:13; Phil 1:1; 3:8-9; 3:1; 4:7; 4:19; Col 1:28; 2:9-10; 1 Thes 5:16-18; 2 Tim 3:12; Philemon 1:6; 1 Peter 5:10-11;

OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. This letter published June 15, 2010. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, June 3, 2010

OnFire #224 Honduras Reflections

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #224 Honduras Reflections

Hi Folks:

I’m back from our short-term mission trip to Honduras. We took a team of seven to encourage the church and prepare a children’s playing field and were away 11 days. I could write a lot about the whole experience, and in fact kept a fairly detailed journal. It was quite a learning a growing experience.

Here are a few highlights. We moved 25 tonnes of rock, more than 20 tonnes of fill, several tonnes of sand, mixed 14 bags of concrete, and sanded pews. We worshipped in Spanish and jumped off a cliff into a local swimming hole. Two of us got sick (yes, that includes me) and I came back with a nasty infection on my ankle from a scratch at the beach. I almost left my finger on the back of a rock truck. We stayed with families and enjoyed wonderful hospitality and friendliness. We had some wonderful times of study, worship and prayer together. And those are just the highlights.

This OnFire is an extended one because I wanted to explore with you a question which has deeply troubled me since my time there. Some of you may have had similar experiences on mission trips and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. There is so much I could have written about, but from this I think you will get some sense of our experience there, along with the spiritual issues I experienced.

By later tonight I will have a powerpoint on my website so that you can see some pictures. Thanks to those who sent kind and encouraging words after I accidentally sent you some of the pics.

Finally, thanks to so many who wrote and told me they were pledging to pray for me daily. In total I had more than 20 people respond, and I am grateful. I certainly felt the power of God’s strength and protection while I was away. While you were praying for me, I was also praying for you from Honduras. Many, many thanks.


My first glimpse of life in Honduras was as the plane levelled off on final approach into San Pedro Sula, the largest city in Honduras. Looking out my window, I could see hundreds of low block houses with steel roofs, surrounded by wire fences. To me it looked like a scene from one of those TV shows for sponsoring children. The rust and concrete added to my sense of pity, and I wondered how people could live there, so close to the screaming jets of the airport, and in such houses.

Over the next 11 days, the biggest lesson I would learn was to see past appearances and differences in living conditions to see the people and spiritual need. While life was difficult, it was not unbearable and my pity was not helpful. I would learn this lesson by staying with a family from the church we went down to help. In the past mission teams had stayed at a nearby mission compound, but we wanted as much as possible to live and eat as Hondurans in order to establish relationships with people from the church.

As we arrived in our village just outside the city of Siguatepeque, I was curious to see the house where I would stay. Surrounded by a fence to keep chickens in and dogs and people out, it was made from concrete block with a steel roof and concrete floor and looked a lot like the houses I saw outside the airport.

Concrete, brick and steel are typical in Honduras because they are durable and resist termites. In addition, the materials are relatively cheap, strong and quick to assemble, essential elements in a place where workers earn $7-10 US per day. Last year Honduras experienced a stronger earthquake than the one in Haiti but there were few casualties, partly because of the strength of these construction materials.

There are three bedrooms with a common sitting area and a kitchen / dining area. There is electricity; in fact most people in our village have electricity. Water comes from the city and is turned on several times a week on a schedule which the locals know, but I failed to discern. It is stored in a pila, a large open concrete holding tank. Our home has one outside for washing and flushing the toilet, and a smaller one inside for the kitchen. More prosperous homes have a plastic tank mounted on the roof to provide gravity flow into the house.

My room has a double bed with a sheet and a light blanket. I’ve been given the room belonging to Alfredo, an eleven-year-old boy. A treadle-powered sewing machine sits in one corner and night stand in another. It is bare, but comfortable; the bed has a box spring and mattress.

I can only speak a few words of Spanish, but Alfredo attends an English school and so he shows me around the house. “You like?” he asks as Spanish language Disney Channel appears on a TV I hadn’t noticed before. Leading me outside, he opens the door to what appears to be an outhouse. A low toilet sits on the floor and he demonstrates how to wrap my hand in toilet paper and then fold it so that I can deposit it into a waste paper can after use. Later I learn that the sewer pipes are small and will not handle the paper. A small basin sits on the edge of the pila for scooping water in the toilet when I’m done. I feel like a child because someone has to explain these things to me, but I’m grateful for this boy to show me the basics of living here.

Standing beside the pila, Alfredo mimes pouring water over himself with the basin. “You chower here,” he says. Our “sh” sound is difficult in Spanish and so I get the idea that this is where I will clean up. I wonder about undressing in the open since there is another house not far away. Almost reading my thoughts, he points to the toilet and indicates I could “chower” there.

On top of the pila there is a scrub board with some clothes waiting to be washed. Over time I will notice that everyone here seems clean, even the men who work with us to build a rock wall. Despite the fact that the rainy season has begun, washing clothes is a daily ritual. I’m not sure how clothing dries since it takes several days for my sweaty t-shirts to dry in my room. One day I watch Alfredo wash his white school t-shirt and put it on a half-hour later, still wet.

Pastor Mario explained that we would be eating at the church and that the menu would be typical Honduran foods. Beans, rice and bananas became our staple items and we ate them in many different ways. At least one meal per day had beans - whole, mashed, crushed, or as a paste - sometimes served on a soft tortilla flatbread. Very green bananas were boiled or deep fried like potatoes. Several nights I arrived home to see the same foods we had eaten at the church being prepared by my family. This was reassuring and helped me understand that we really were eating as regular Hondurans.

We had two goals as we left Canada - mutual encouragement (Romans 1:11-12), and to make ourselves available for service to the people of Mario’s church. As we arrived we learned we would expand a children’s outdoor play area on the side of the hill beneath the church. Over the years teams had terraced the land and built a retaining wall. Our job was to extend the concrete wall and stabilize the lower sections by placing rocks and fill. This would make it suitable for soccer and other games, particularly for their vacation Bible school in August when 500 children would attend.

In total we mixed fourteen 40kg bags of concrete and moved about 25 tonnes of rock, along with the same amount of fill. It was hard work in the heat and humidity. We had a wheelbarrow to move the fill, but we moved the rocks mainly by hand. The truck delivering these materials had no dump, and so we also helped unload everything. On a side note, I almost lost a finger on the first day of work when I jumped down from the truck after unloading rock. My wedding ring caught, but thankfully I hit the ground before much damage could be done. In twenty years this has never happened before. I walked away bleeding but intact.

We found the Hondurans to be hard-working people. We worked alongside several men over the course of the week and admired their strength and stamina. We thought we were doing OK mixing cement until they mixed a bag in about half the time it took us. That was humbling but we took the lessons from it to make our work easier.

The other job we did was to sand the pews in the church. These were really wooden benches which the church had purchased second-hand from a school. Just as in Canada, students had marked on them and put their gum underneath. We sanded them by hand for two afternoons, but could not get all the marks out. Eventually the local cabinetmaker was called in to apply his power tools. This was an exercise to watch. When the heavy sander drew too much power from the inside plugs, the men tapped into the main electrical line running into the building. This appeared to be common since the wires were already stripped at that section of cable.

The first days were a shock for all of us. The living conditions were not what we were used to and we did not want to do anything to make it harder for our hosts. What was unusual for us was normal for them, and our simple mistakes (like flushing toilet paper or leaving lights on) had the potential to cause great inconvenience or expense. They had their routines and we must have seemed out of place. I wonder how many times they shook their heads at us “Gringos” and wondered if we would survive.

Plus, there were so many contradictions in the country. We travelled to our village on a modern, well-engineered concrete highway. Along the way we passed American tractor-trailers and signs for cell phones and Coca Cola, but off the highway it was like stepping back fifty years, only with electricity and customized ring tones. Children walked cattle down the road to the pasture below the church. Roosters crowed all night and chickens clucked in back yards. And yet, on a trip into the city we passed a fancy new French restaurant and saw mansions surrounded by walls with more blocks than would be in our entire village.

After four or five days of living there, we began to settle into things. The newness of the situation wore off, and I began to see that while life was difficult and people were definitely poor, they lived with a certain amount of daily comfort. The food was simple but adequate even in hard work. Our home was dry and the beds comfortable. Reliable electricity made food storage possible for those with a refrigerator.

Don’t misunderstand me - any comfort they had was held in tension by a lot of uncertainty about the future. Food prices keep rising and the cost of living was very high in relation to their wages of only $7-10 US per day. Furthermore, unemployment and under-employment were chronic problems. One man from the church, a brick layer, had not worked in several months. I’m not sure how he managed to feed and clothe his family, but he seemed to have a peace about his situation and faith in God for the future. Another man from the church took unpaid vacation from his job to help with our construction. Work was slow and there may not have been enough work for him anyway. We take cash flow for granted (even if we feel its not enough), but life in Honduras is hand-to-mouth.

I came to see that life was difficult and uncertain, but it was bearable (at least for many in our village - we certainly saw areas of extreme poverty), and so my sense of pity upon first seeing Honduras was not needed, nor was it helpful. In fact, my pity prevented me from seeing some of the spiritual needs of the people. As I talked with Mario later in the week, I began to hear of the difficulties in leading his church. Many of his elders did not read well, making it hard to share teaching responsibility. Marriage was rare, and so it was hard to convince born-again couples to marry. Most churches could not afford a full-time pastor, and even lay-pastor training was expensive. Pastoring is hard work at the best of times; being a pastor in Honduras is all the more difficult.

As Mario explained all of these things, I also saw some other needs. American culture was all over Spanish TV and I think it contributed to a feeling of poverty among the people. Sociologists observe that we no longer try to “keep up with the Jones” next door, but the “Jones” we see on the television, and I think it also happened there. In addition, many families had relatives living in the US and so the “American” way of life was seen as the end goal. It is hard to heed Paul’s call to be content (Philippians 4:12) under such conditions.

In addition to seeing need in Honduras, I reflected a lot about life at home and began to see personal need. “Contentedness” was not only their spiritual issue, but mine. How much is “enough?” For eleven days we lived very simply and had all we needed, without a lot of the things we take for granted in Canada. It is possible to have full bellies - even full houses - but still have empty hearts. It is possible to hide spiritual poverty behind a collection of things. And in contrast, it is possible to have nothing, but be rich in the fullness of Christ. We met people who demonstrated this for us everyday.

And so I reflected on life in Honduras and at home. I’m still trying to work out what this means for me, my family, even my ministry. I can’t answer it all yet, but the question troubles me: how much is enough? Regardless of what I have, will I be content with Jesus Christ?

This is a troubling question for me, and I’m not sure it won’t be for you also. But even still, I hope it 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 June 3, 2010. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at