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