Tuesday, March 30, 2010

OnFire #221 How Did I Never See That Before?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #221 How Did I Never See That Before?

Hi Folks:

There are a few big things going on in our family this week. There is the lead up to Easter. Ian is playing in a school production this week. He is playing for the orchestra, Glee, and another group and is enjoying this a lot. For those in the Moncton area, there are still tickets available for MacNaughton High’s production of “Scenes from the Key of Life.”

And I'm getting ready to take Mark to Denver next week. Last Saturday he and Jan spent fundraising at a local marker and we’ll do the same this Saturday also. Next Tuesday Mark and I will fly to the world championships for Sport Stacking. This will be a great trip for the two of us and Mark is counting down the days. Jan has always taken him before but this will be a guy trip.

There will be no OnFire next week since we'll be away.

Have a good week.


“How did I never see that before?”

I thought this lately as I read the account of the temptations in Matthew 4:3: “Tell these stones to become bread.” What I saw was the theme of bread in Jesus’ ministry.

He was born in Bethlehem, literally “House of Bread.”

He prayed “Give us our daily bread.”

He fed people with loaves and fishes.

He warned the disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees.

He told us that He is the Bread of Life.

During the Festival of Unleavened Bread, his betrayer dipped bread with him and he broke bread with the disciples, telling them that it was his body.

After the resurrection, the disciples recognized him when he broke bread.

In a new way I saw this theme of bread throughout Jesus’ ministry. In some ways we should not be surprised. Jesus used the common elements of daily life to illustrate his teaching and bread is a staple of life.

But there is something deeper linking all of these episodes. I’ve read somewhere that stones in that region resemble round loaves of bread. The temptation was about more than eating, it was also a temptation to gather a following by feeding everyone. How easy it would have been to turn the stones to bread.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4*)

One of the profound truths in this is that we can eat but still be hungry. Even though we fill our mouths, our hearts can be empty. We need more than bread, we need the Bread of Life. Jesus had the power to turn the stones to bread, but if he had done this at the beginning he would have failed at the end. He would have filled many bellies, but that’s all. By going to the cross, by breaking the bread of his body, he could fill many hearts.

As we lead up to Easter, may our hearts be full of the Bread of Life.

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 Mar 30, 2010. Scripture references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter@gmail.com Blog located at http://www.onfireletter.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

OnFire #220 Building Blocks

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #220 Building Blocks

“What were you thinking?”

My friend and I stood before his father as he inspected the carpentry job he had given us. They were renovating their house and we were supposed to put strapping on the ceiling so that his father could hang the drywall sheets.

As we started the job, we asked ourselves how far apart the pieces ought to be. We didn’t know, so we guessed and the evidence of our wrongness was nailed to the ceiling over our heads. It took quite a while to take it all down and put it up properly.

That was an easy situation to fix. It was a far different occasion one morning a few years before when our jazz band director asked us all the same question. While at a music competition, some students snuck out to go drinking. One of them slipped on the steps and cut his head open, requiring stitches. After returning from the emergency department with the student, our director called a meeting early in the morning.

I have to say that was one of the toughest meetings I have ever sat through. I was innocent, most of us were, but we all bore responsibility to look out for each other, to protect the reputation of our school and our band, and to rebuild trust with our director. Lets just say that he made it very clear that we had a lot of rebuilding to do!

I tell these two stories because they are relatively safe examples of rebuilding. I can think of lots of others I would rather not share because the ruins of sin and failure lay all around me. There was no going back, only going forward to rebuild one piece at a time.

That was the situation Nehemiah found himself in. The ruins of the city lay all around, a shameful reminder of faded glory and past sins. This much was obvious as he stood before the leaders of the city after surveying the damage: "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (2:17*)

There are times when the evidence of our sin and shame lays in ruins for all to see. Nehemiah points out the obvious, and we don’t always like to be reminded. In fact, sometimes we resent it. “That’s none of your business,” we say. But there is hope in this. As long as we deny that anything is wrong we can’t fix the problem. As long we think that things will get better on their own, nothing changes.

Nehemiah continues: “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." (2:17) Nehemiah gives us insight for our own mess. The way out of shame is a rebuilding of sorts. We take what is left and rebuild, one block at a time. We prove our faithfulness only by being faithful.

We do not do this alone. “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me...” (2:18) We know it is hard work to rebuild out of brokenness, but we do not need to suffer through this alone. With God’s strength, we can put those stones back together. One block at a time.

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 Mar 24, 2010. Scripture references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com  Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 18, 2010

OnFire #219 Another New Word

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #219 Another New Word

Our family news is the subject of this weeks letter, so read on to see some of the interesting things that have happened to us this week.

A reminder about my blogsite and website. To comment so that others may see, go to www.onfireletter.blogspot.com. Otherwise, feel free to use “Reply” as before. Last week’s letter about frustration struck a note with many.

Also, about my website. Its nothing fancy, but I think a good resource. On it you will find the latest letters, archived letters, and a Bible Reading Tips page. Over the years people have told me that they have used OnFire in their Bible studies, Sunday school and small group lessons, staff devotions, sermons, or with friends. www.onfireletter.com

The most popular spot on the site is the Bible Reading Tips page. On it you will find an article which covers the basics of Bible reading, as well as introductions to Joshua, Esther, Psalms, Proverbs, Acts, Romans, Galatians, and 123 John. http://www.onfireletter.com/page15.html

Blessings for your week.
I've been learning new words this week. I started Spanish lessons as we prepare to take a small group on a missions trip to Honduras in May. Last fall a pastor from Seguatepeque attended nearby Crandall University and worshipped with us. Now that he has returned, we would like to visit him and his church. To get ready, our senior pastor and I have enrolled in Spanish lessons.

Honestly, it's a little embarrassing to fumble over the simple expressions I have learned so far. Practice, practice, practice. This will be a good thing, but it really is hard to go from being a teacher to a student again.

Our cat is also helping me to learn new words. He got into a scrap and injured his hind foot on Sunday. We spotted the blood on him after church in the morning and by evening he was limping badly (or limping well, depending on your perspective). So, Monday morning we pushed him into the kitty carrier and took him to the vet.

As we were waiting, I held the cage up and tried to speak reassuring words to him. At that point he turned around, lifted his tail, and sprayed on me. Yes, its true. Try not to fall off your computer chair laughing.

He cannot stand vets. In fact, as soon as we enter the building, his disposition changes and he becomes downright nasty. Our last vet told us that we would have to sedate him at home before bringing him in. After we explained all of this to our present vet, she used a word I had never heard before. She said, "We often have to use anesthesia with fractious animals."

Fractious. We understood from the context that she meant difficult, and this made sense in my mind: fractious, fraction, fracture. We looked it up when we got home and sure enough it means to be difficult, unruly, stubborn, inclined to make trouble, irritable, quarrelsome, non_compliant. In our on_line survey of the word, we found several sites which even listed cats in their examples.

The word can apply to people and animals, but it can also apply to situations and tasks which will be unpredictably difficult, likely to be troublesome, or require great effort to accomplish, comprehend or endure.

I love how life and Bible study come together. In Nehemiah 2:13-14 we see that he encountered a fractious problem. His survey of the damage revealed that the walls were broken down, the wooden gates and posts were burned, and the rubble was such a mess that there were places Nehemiah could not get past.

I'd like to know how much time passed between verses 16 and 17, between the time he examined the situation and when he began talking about the plan to rebuild. Did he wait a while to muster his courage? Did his confidence come naturally, or did it take some time to build? It must have seemed overwhelming.

There are times when we find ourselves facing what appears to be a fractious issue. I have to remind myself that not everything is as big as it first appears. I have been amazed how many times some things turned out to be less difficult than I imagined, and occasionally some problems even solved themselves. Even still, it takes a lot of effort not to do anything which makes it worse, or simply to give up and say “Too much!”

In this we have Nehemiah’s example of perseverance. Ironically, fractiousness and perseverance have a lot in common. Whereas fractious is about being stubborn and unpredictably difficult, perseverance is about being stubborn in a good sense, about being unwilling to give up. Tenacity. Resolve. Persistence. Determination. Steadfastness.

There is one more aspect to consider in this. God’s call upon our lives does not depend on our confidence. He is the one who empowers and strengthens. Understanding this is part of what “faith” means - that we must trust God to provide what we do not feel we have. God’s call upon us will always feel beyond our capability, but as we are faithful and as we trust Him, we will overcome.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Mar 18, 2010. Scripture references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter@gmail.com Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

OnFire #218 Frustrated Efforts

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #218 Frustrated Efforts

Hi Folks - this is actually last week's letter - I've fallen behind on the blogsite, and so this week members of the blog will receive two letters as I catch up. 

Occasionally I have weeks which test my patience on a computer, and this is one of them. As I type this on my web browser from my office computer, I'm having a trojan removed from my laptop. It has takenhours of my week, and as my boys will tell you, I hate working on computer problems. Eventually this will be solved with patience, prayer, and a good removal tool.

It means, however, that my regular routine has been interrupted, OnFire is not ready, and I can't update my website because the software is on that machine.

How ironic that the next bit of Nehemiah reads like this: "When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites." (Nehemiah 2:10)*

This is the first mention of Sanballat and Tobiah in the book, and it provides foreshadowing for the rest of the account. Time and again they will try to frustrate Nehemiah. Nehemiah tells us about 4 different occasions when they intentionally stood in the way through ridicule, letter writing, and intimidation. We can be sure that there were other times and that these were simply representative events.

I've been surprisingly calm through this episode of computer troubles. I think I'm learning that eventually we will see it through, or we'll give up and pay someone to do it. I've given myself a kind of deadline so that it doesn't consume more of my time than is reasonable.

It is amazing how, when our children are watching, we can restrain ourselves. Just after Christmas, we had difficulty installing some new video editing software. It took many hours of tracking through pages of online help screens and asking friends, but eventually we got it solved and working. As we started, Mark made a comment which really made me aware of how much they watch. "I can tell you're going to be really mad as you do this..." That really made me think about my reaction to this stuff, and I intentionally worked on having a better perspective on it. I don't want him to think that way about me and I want to be a good role model.

So here in Nehemiah we first meet Sanballat and Tobiah. Later we will also meet Gesham and a few unnamed others who will also test Nehemiah's resolve.

We can be sure that we will meet people and situations which will test us, try our patience, tempt us to quit, or try to make a fool of us. As we continue to read in Nehemiah, we will see that he is determined.

His strong faith in God and his cause allows him to keep on going and even to thwart the plans of his enemies. As I see the names of Sanballant and Tobiah, Nehemiah gives me hope that I can get past the latest round of frustrations in my life, small or large as they may be. I'm no longer talking about the computer.

"This too will pass," as they say. Rather, I'm talking about the larger issues we face which threaten to derail us completely. Nehemiah finished the wall and carried on despite these problems. May we do the same.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Mar 11, 2010. Scripture references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter@gmail.com Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

OnFire #217 Talkers and Doers

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #217 Talkers and Doers

Thank you for your responses to last week’s OnFire. There were almost as many who responded as there were people who wrote initially.

Since then I have been rolling the responses over in my mind. Some identified with the comments and wanted to share their own experiences. Others added some very helpful thoughts. Today I want to bring this back to Nehemiah.

The last time we saw Nehemiah (OnFire #215 Lenses for Life) I commented that it would be great to have “life lenses” which would bring clarity to our lives. Nehemiah had clarity about the future and knew that he wanted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This clarity was no accident, no divine lottery. Nehemiah knew scripture, he had a soft heart, and was patient as he waited for God to answer his prayers.

As we continue reading at Nehemiah 2:7-8, we discover a little more about Nehemiah and his clarity about the future as he asked for travel papers and timber. Letters to the governors of the provinces would provide him with security as he travelled. He would also need building materials for the gates and buildings.

This sounds simple enough, but we miss something very important if we pass over too quickly. First, Nehemiah could clearly see the future of Jerusalem, and it included repaired walls and gates. This is important because without this picture in his mind of a renewed Jerusalem, it would never happen. We often call this vision - a picture of the way things could be before they exist. Without vision, we continue as we did before and nothing changes.

Vision was highlighted to me as people responded to last week’s OnFire. The question, “What needs to change?” is tied directly to vision - - “What should the church look like in the future?”

Do we want to be people with a deep connection to God? One friend wrote, “I missed any reference to the need for revival/renewal based on intentional efforts at practice of the spiritual disciplines.... It is my firm conviction that much contemporary ministry fails to achieve biblical effectiveness, because we short cut spiritual growth in the attempt to gain numeric growth – strategy trumps spirituality! It is like going for a long journey and refusing to fill your tank (gas) up before leaving.”

A middle school Sunday school teacher wrote that she would like her students to understand service and be deeply rooted in scripture. “We haven’t taught Christian young people that to be a Christian is to serve and it starts within the church. Serve alongside the older Christians, helping people around doing physical work, serve in various areas, outside of church time.” When she asked why her students weren’t bringing their Bibles to class, they responded, “Why? We don’t use them in church.” She encourages her students to bring Bibles and provides spares for those who do not. “It’s not about what I think, it’s God’s word I want them to have in their heart.”

The vision for an authentic Christian community where life’s successes and failures, strengths and shortcomings could be shared safely was behind another comment. “Build a cell-based church where pastoral care is done primarily at the cell level, including discussions amongst cell members about each other's obedient and joyful giving habits. All sorts of unhealthy practices flourish in an atmosphere of anonymity.”

The second thing we see in Nehemiah’s request is that there is a difference between wanting to do something and doing something. In Nehemiah’s day how many different people said that somebody needed to do something about the walls back in Jerusalem? Did they have shops in Susa where people gathered to talk while their drinks grew coldl? Wanting to do something is different from doing something.

Mark came home from school one day clearly upset. One of the other boys in his class was bragging about something that he thought he could do better than Mark. It was a little thing, nothing more than school yard posturing, but Mark needed comfort.

“Mark,” I said. “ You’re going to find people in life like that guy. They talk big, but when it comes time to perform, they don’t. There are talkers, and then there are doers. Be a doer.”

Talking and doing - now there’s an issue. I find it a lot easier to talk about something than it is to do it. It is easier to make myself look spiritual than it is to be spiritual. Easier to talk about a problem than it is do work on it, to talk about what needs to be done than to do it.

I hope Nehemiah inspires us to a deeper level of commitment and courage, that our talking leads to doing. I hope this helps. Be OnFire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Mar 3, 2010. Scripture references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com Blog located at http://onfireletter.blogspot.com/