Thursday, December 15, 2011

OnFire #270 Christmas, Star Trek and From Away

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #270 On Christmas, Star Trek, and From Away

I grew up on Prince Edward Island, a beautiful place but not without its interesting ways of doing things. There is an expression every Islander learns from an early age to describe someone not born on PEI. “From away” is the phrase used to explain that someone does not hang from the branch of an Island family tree.

It is important for Islanders to be able to “place” someone, and so introductions and initial conversations often revolve around where people grew up, where their families live, maiden names, parents’ names. I call it the Family Name Game, and most Islanders of a certain age do it instinctively. You introduce yourself and the wheels of the other person’s mind start turning.

“Dennis.... Are you related to the Dennis’ in Ellerslie?” Everyone in Prince County knows Dennis Motors and wonders if there is a connection. If I’m talking with someone who lives closer to the middle of the Island, they might ask if I’m related to anyone in Charlottetown because a number of Dennis’ live there. This is how the name game works.

“No,” I reply. “My dad is from O’Leary.” (The original Dennis family settled near Ellerslie, but two descendants moved near O’leary and that’s where my family comes from).

“Yeah?” The response at this point is always hopeful. They are close to making a connection - they know someone in O’leary or have relatives there - “What’s his name?”

My father knows a lot of people, so sometimes this helps to make a connection. Sometimes not. They’ll probably ask about my mother’s family, or I might volunteer the information. This often helps because the name is common in that area. (I can almost predict that the Islanders reading this are now thinking about emailing me for the information because they don’t have enough info to finish putting the family connections together. The instinct is powerful.)

They will probably follow up by asking if I know someone they know. There are extra points if I do, with an additional measure of goodwill if the person is related to either of us. This is how the name game works. With my Island family credentials firmly established, conversation moves on to some bit of Island news, weather, or politics. There is a mutual feeling of trust because we share a common bond as Islanders. (Of course, if the family name has bad history this can also work against someone. Thank the Lord for great families!)

My wife was not born on PEI but the name game is played with predictable results. Her maiden name is not an “Island name,” which results in polite inquiry: “Where is your family from?” As soon as she tells them her parents live off-Island, the topic changes with a gentle, “Oh...” And forever after it will be said that I married a girl “from away.” There is no harm or malice intended. It is simply a signal to other Islanders that she cannot be “placed” in a family they may know. I’m sure this kind of thing happens in other places, too.

There is something comforting about connecting with someone from the same area because we share background and roots. We get the inside jokes and understand the idiosyncrasies of the people. It is not something which can be bought or earned. It comes from knowing the same people, going to the same schools, walking the same routes, knowing the same people, being born in the same place.

This is why it is so important that Jesus came to earth and was born as a baby. If had he been beamed in from heaven like a figure in Star Trek, he would be “from away” and could not have been “Immanuel - God With Us.” Jesus came to us as fully God but also fully human. He was born, learned to walk, grew up first as a child, then was a teen, and finally a man.

John 1:14 says, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelled among us.” Hebrews 4:14 tells us, “We do not have a high priest who unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way as we are....” It makes me wonder - was Jesus ever bullied at the synagogue? Did he have pimples? Did girls have crushes on him? What did he do when an attractive woman walked into the room?

Of course, I fully believe Jesus treated people with utmost decency and respect. I’m simply thinking out loud to make a point. We can trust Jesus with anything because there is nothing we face which Jesus didn’t face. He encountered it all, maybe not in exactly the forms we do, but the essence of the testing was the same. Jesus was not “from away.” He gets it because he was born here.

May this Christmas be a reminder that Jesus is “Immanuel - God with Us.” May this thought add extra meaning to the holiday season, and point us, not to the gifts, food and parties, but to the Saviour who was born to be one of us. Hebrews 4:16 sums it up: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

I hope this helps. Have a Jesus -centred Christmas and we’ll connect in the New Year. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-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, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, November 24, 2011

OnFire #269 Seasons of Intensity

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #269 Seasons of Intensity

Hi Folks:

One fall when I was in seminary, I noticed the leaves were gone. That wasn’t so remarkable since it happens every year. What caught my attention was that I couldn’t remember that the leaves had even changed colour. It was a little freaky.

There are seasons when we go through intense times. I’m in one right now since our church is searching for a senior pastor. We have a part-time interim senior pastor and a part-time worship pastor. Even still, there are extra responsibilities. I’ve been through this process before. When I was a youth pastor our church went two years without a senior pastor. I survived and even discovered some strengths, so that experience is helpful now.

But I’d be lying if I said there isn’t pressure and frustration. A lot, actually. I was trying to think of an appropriate metaphor or analogy, but I haven’t had the time. It takes a lot of energy to deal with the wide range of emotions I go through on a daily basis - the surge of adrenaline to deal with something important quickly, the disappointment of letting someone down, the frustration of having to put off even important things, the insecurity of making decisions normally made by someone else, the pressure to meet deadlines.

It's a wild emotional ride between the extremes of being overwhelmed on the one hand, and the excitement of feeling like we’re on the edge of a breakthrough, on the other.

I’m betting there are people who can identify with this experience, that I’m not the only one who feels these things, and so I wanted to pass along some thoughts that are helping to keep me from feeling like I’m going to lose it.

“Someday this will all be worth it in the end.” Someone told me this during their family crisis one time, and it has stuck. I keep it on my bulletin board, and it is a variation on Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.”

“Don’t do anything to make it worse.” Or, stated in another way, “Don’t do anything stupid.” Temptations look sweeter and distractions look more interesting when we’re tired and under pressure. Giving someone a piece of our minds is generally not a good a idea. Revenge is never worth it.

“Treat people like people.” I have to guard my tone, especially. And, my thought filter doesn’t work as well. Sadly, the people closest are the ones to see this side of me. I have to be very careful.

“Be more careful with major decisions.” These decisions may be life decisions or purchases: buying or selling property, changing jobs, change in marriage status. Stress changes the way we think and so we have to be careful not to think the first idea is the best one. We need to get more advice and take more time.

“Maintain important life routines.” While we can’t always control the circumstances which swirl around us, structure helps us put one foot in front of the other. I go to bed and get up at regular times and try to eat on schedule. I help get the kids off to school in the morning because this is part of a routine. And each week I take one of the boys for breakfast.

“Eat properly and get exercise.” This is part of routine, but more than this, when we’re under stress we have to take better care of our bodies. These days I’m doing things like parking further away from the door, taking the stairs when I visit at the hospital, or getting off city transit at an earlier stop to make sure I add some exercise even in small ways without taking a lot of extra time in my day. My dream would be to go to the gym or pool, but there isn’t time or money for this, so I add exercise in other ways.

“Look for the bright side.” Last night my snow blower wouldn’t start. It started in the summer, and it started a couple of weeks ago, but not last night when there was 20cm of snow in my driveway. Grumble, grumble. But, on the other hand, I got some exercise. That’s the bright side.

“Don’t give up Bible reading and prayer.” OK - I’m the “trained professional” in this area, and I face this pressure all the time. My guess is other people do, too.

“Put one foot in front of the other.” Every once in a while I have what I call a “low motivation day.” I feel blaw, unmotivated, not like working. I do anyway, but take care of some things that don’t need as much brain power. I find the feeling passes as I keep going.

"Problems don't get better by procrastinating." Some problems are not the crises they first appear to be, but generally speaking I find it better to tackle things quickly. When I put them off they always seem to come back, worse than before, and make more work. If I have to tell someone about a problem, expecially a mistake I made, I have found it better to get it out of the way. Bad news early is better than bad news late.

“Find ways to add fun-factor.” After not being very involved in youth ministry for a few years, this fall I stepped back in to help our youth groups. It was an extra that I couldn’t really afford time for, but it was too important for the youth of our church’s families, mine included. This has turned out to be a real joy. I’m also working with a youth band again and we did a worship service in our church a few weeks ago. This has been life giving, a real joy which adds “fun factor.”

“One day at a time.” This is my mother’s favourite, and I have found it to be true. We need to plan but worry is something different. As Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

Life inevitably brings seasons of intensity. I’m in one right now, and maybe there are OnFire readers in their own season. As always, I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-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 24, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OnFire #68 Audacious Faith

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #68 Audacious Faith

I felt like a fool last week. After hearing what I thought were gunshots, I called 911.

I was awake at about 1:30AM one night when I heard a big boom. There is a train yard nearby and we often hear the clangs and crashes of shunting cars, but this was different, less metallic, more “boomy,” like a shotgun blast. As I lay there wondering if I had actually heard a gunshot, I heard a crack, followed shortly by another big boom. As a hunter, I was convinced I had just heard shots from at least two kinds of guns.

The police response was swift. Less than 5 minutes later 3 or 4 squad cars arrived and began rolling through the neighbourhood as one of the officers took my statement. Did I know anyone in the area with guns? Could it have been fireworks? I felt silly, but he reassured me. A few weeks before, they had responded to a report in another part of the city and someone had actually been shot. They patrolled for half an hour or so, but I don’t think they found anything.

Since then I have reviewed the events in my mind. Did I actually hear gunshots? Was it just the trains? But what about the sharp crack? I remain convinced I heard shots, but it is hard to believe, especially since no one else seems to have heard them.

The issue of sounding like a fool came to my mind as I reviewed the last of the “little faith” passages.

When the disciples asked why they could not heal a boy, Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith.” (Matthew 17:20)

The phrase “little faith” drew me to the passage, but the next sentence caught my attention. “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

How much faith is enough faith? With only a small amount of faith we could do extraordinary things. And yet, it seems we don’t often see the incredible happen. Small faith seems to be the problem. Certainly we believe that the same God who created the mountains could move one if he wanted. His strength is not to blame.

There is part of this discussion which sounds like crazy talk. Casting out demons and moving mountains seem to be the fantasy stuff of movie legends. Are we foolish to think this could be real? For us? Right now?

This is exactly the point. Faith often appears foolish. It defies the reality we see with our eyes in order to recognize the one God sees. In this way faith does not always make sense. In fact, it may go against what many view as “common sense.”

The challenge of this passage is to have an audacious faith, a bold faith which believes even when it goes against popular opinion. Audacious faith is not limited to what we have seen before. Rather, it dares to believe in what many think is impossible. I am challenged by these words. When is the last time my faith passed the “crazy test?” Good question....

I hope this helps us all to have a stronger, bolder, audacious faith. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-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 8, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Saturday, October 29, 2011

OnFire 267 Mini Beetles Cereal

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #267 Mini Beetles Cereal

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? Half a worm.

I thought about this lame old joke as I cleaned out some cereal. It had been in our cupboard for a while, but not finding it stale I dumped it into my bowl. A few moments later, I glanced down and noticed some dark pieces floating in the milk. My first thought was that they were bits of cereal, but a hunch told me I should investigate further. Unless I accidentally picked up a box of “Mini Beetles” instead of our usual variety, there were insects in my food.

It only takes a little bit of something to affect the whole lot. A little salt makes soup tasty. A little catalyst makes epoxy harden. And a few bugs ruin breakfast.

In Matthew 16, Jesus uses the analogy of yeast to convey the idea that a little teaching can completely change us, for better or for worse. In case we need reminding, bakers add yeast to bread dough so that it rises. It doesn’t take much, but once it mixes thoroughly it affects the whole batch.

That was the point, actually. Not long after Jesus fed thousands of people by multiplying the lunches of a couple of boys, the Pharisees and Sadducees challenged Jesus to produce a sign to prove he was legit. We often paint these spiritual teachers as mean ogres, but we must remember that they were very popular and highly respected. These revered religious leaders held a lot of sway among the crowd, including the disciples. Jesus saw this and warned them about the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (16:6)

The disciples thought Jesus was trying to protect them from cheap bread, but he had something else in mind. “You of little faith... do you still not understand?” (16:8-9) In Mark 6 we see the same story from a slightly different perspective: “...Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” (6:17-18)

The disciples were not firm in their faith about Jesus, and the constant questioning and pressures from the Pharisees and Sadducees produced conflicting thoughts. The disciples ought to be able to see for themselves that Jesus was the real deal, but the doubts and teachings of these popular spiritual leaders were attractive and it was hard to resist the pressure. It was easier, perhaps, to follow the crowd even though it would be a denial of all they had witnessed.

“You of little faith.” These are tough words. No one wants to be seen as small or little. Jesus challenged them to commit. Had they not seen? Had they not heard? In just a little while, Jesus would ask them, “Who do you say I am?” Could they see for themselves that Jesus was the One? (Matt 16:15)

This is an important word for our day and age. Never before have we had such a wide array of views available to us so easily. And, what is more, never have there been so many people questioning who Jesus is. Sorting through all these opinions can be difficult, especially when some of these people are popular speakers and writers.

It is always important to remember what Jesus has done for us. We have the proof of who Jesus is by what he has done in our lives. Has he made us kinder and more compassionate? Has he healed relationships? Has he changed us to make us better people? Do we feel more peace and security? Has he provided in difficult situations? Does he give us hope for the future? These are as much a sign to us as the miracles in Jesus’ day.

There will always be people who doubt, but let us not forget what Jesus has done for us so that our commitment may be strong.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-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 29, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, October 13, 2011

OnFire #266 Sway Bars for Christians

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #266 Sway Bars for Christians

An important part of a car’s suspension system is the sway bar. This device is designed to limit the amount of side to side roll - called sway - during turns. It doesn’t look like much, usually a long piece of round steel formed into a kind of U shape, but its job is important because it improves handling and comfort. Those of us who live in New Brunswick can be proud. Wikipedia tells us that a man from Fredericton was the first to patent the bar in 1919.

We humans could use an anti-sway device. When things are smooth and straight the decisions of life are easy, but when we experience twists and turns we begin to sway. We know what we ought to do, but the complications of life make it hard to believe that we can do it.

This is the nature of doubt. We go back and forth in our minds. We get caught between two opposing ideas and don’t know which one we can trust. Often, we know what is true, but we can’t make up our minds what to do about it.

“I know, but...” is the mantra of doubt. We could fill in the blanks for lots of things. I know yoghurt has less calories and saturated fat, but ice cream is what I really want. I know I should read more, but.... I know I need to lose weight, but....

Let’s bring this around to the topic of faith. “I know I should trust God more, but...”

The books of Matthew, Mark, and John include the account of Jesus walking on the water, but only Matthew tells us that Peter also walked on water that night. In Matthew 14:22-32 we learn that the disciples were rowing across the lake on a windy night when Jesus walked on the water to meet them. The disciples thought he was a ghost and were afraid, but Peter suggested a test. If it was Jesus, he should command Peter to walk across the water also.

Peter did walk on the water, but v.30 says he began to sink when he became afraid of the wind. Jesus saved him from drowning, and then asked him, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?”

It wasn’t that Peter had no faith. As crazy as it seems, he climbed down out of the boat onto the water and started walking. He had enough faith to start, but then the wind and waves scared him. The problem was that he began to sway, to waiver in his conviction and commitment even though he was doing it.

Sometimes we set out in a direction for the Lord, and we’re doing it, perhaps even experiencing some success. But then we become afraid, and we second guess whether it’s the right thing to do. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Galatians 5:7 “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” It is natural to experience doubt, but we do not have to give in. Rather, faith and faithfulness (the two cannot be separated) mean that we will trust God to continue despite our doubts.

We don’t talk much about doubt. Maybe we hope it will just go away. Maybe it’s our way to avoid those whom we fear will rebuke and shame us for such thoughts. I love the words, however, of Jude 1:22 “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Sometimes we need the comfort of someone who comes alongside to say, “You can do this. In fact, you ARE doing this, just keep going.” And sometimes we need to say the words to someone else. In this way little faith becomes bigger faith.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a bi-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, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at . Blog located at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OnFire #265 Little Faith: Fear

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #265 Little Faith: Fear

We continue to look at the things which trip up our faith. 6 times Jesus rebuked lack of faith. Last time we looked at worry, and this time we look at it’s relative, fear.

A few years ago I went rapelling. I felt like I would shake apart as I backed over the edge of a 70-foot cliff. Even though I was afraid, the most amazing thing happened about half-way down. I realized I was doing it, and it felt great. I paused my descent, look around, looked up and down, and was truly surprised. I did not expect that terrifying experience of hanging so high above the ground to be so wonderful. I discovered I could trust the rope, trust the people holding the safety lines, trust my own ability to hold on. When I finished I ran back up the path to get in line again.

In Matthew 8 we find the disciples in the boat with Jesus, travelling from the area of Capernaum to the other side of the lake. A violent storm arose and when the waves started to fill the boat, the disciples (among whom were a number of seasoned fishermen) woke Jesus. "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"

Jesus responded immediately, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (8:26)

In this exchange we discover that fear may affect our faith and hold us back from trusting God.

I don’t believe the issue was fear itself. This is a natural reaction. The issue was the impulse to think, “I shouldn’t have come in the first place.” Or perhaps, “Is this why God brought me here, only to abandon me at the worst time?”

The insight for this comes from the verses leading up to this episode. In verse 18 Jesus gave the order to get into the boat and cross the lake. Jesus was ready, evidently feeling that it was necessary to leave right away. One man offered himself, claiming he would follow Jesus wherever he went, but Jesus answered in a way which leads us to think the man was secretly afraid of the lack of security and comfort Jesus could offer: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (8:20)

Another man was willing to follow Jesus, but wanted to wait until he had the chance to bury his father (8:21). There was nothing wrong with wanting to fulfill this family duty, but timing was the issue. Jesus was leaving and so he had to make a choice. When it came right down to it, would he follow Jesus, or was he more afraid of how his family might react if he did?

The disciples followed when others had not (8:23). This was a good thing, but when the storm hit and the waves beat the boat, they really were not much different from those they left on shore. They gave the impression of faithfulness, but fears battered their resolve. “It would have been better if we had stayed with those on shore...” I think that’s what they were thinking when they cried out, “Save us, we’re going to drown!”

Fear is what we feel when we no longer feel safe, when we worry, when we move past our level of comfort, when we exceed our experience, or when present circumstances remind us of past trouble. It is a natural emotion and we all feel it.

The difference between fear and faith is this. Fear says, “I can’t go forward,” or “I wish I could go back.” Faith says, “I am afraid, but I will move ahead anyway because I trust God to bring me through.”

This is not about conquering our fears. It is not by our mighty strength that we do this. Sure, motivational speakers pump us up to make us realize that we were stronger than we thought. But even they have fears they cannot conquer. No one is fearless, but that’s not the point..

Faith is about being afraid, but moving ahead anyway because we trust that God is in it. Faith is about believing that it is better move ahead, even in fear, than to stay where we are or to go back. In this way faith is related to courage, but it is a courage grounded in the belief that God is good and that God goes with us.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a bi-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 28, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Onfire #264 Little Faith Big Faith: Worry

OnFire Encouragement Letter

Onfire #264 Little Faith Big Faith: Worry

I read lately that worry is a negative emotion. Really? Is there someone who thinks that worry is a positive emotion? Would anyone mistake it for something good? Look at all the synonyms: anxiety, nervousness, concern, disquiet, anguish, apprehension, fear, torment, uncertainty, and the list goes on. I don’t think people lie awake at night because they have so much joy in their hearts.

Worry is the first of the “little faith” topics. Jesus spoke about worry in the sermon on the mount. “O, you of little faith,” he said. Why worry about what we will eat or wear since God feeds the birds and dresses the flowers? Aren’t we are more important to Him than these? I’m summarizing, so be sure to read the whole passage in Matthew 6:24-34.

It would be interesting to know how much worry costs us. We take expensive trips to “get away from it all.” We treat ourselves to take our minds off our problems. We fill our lives with activity and distraction hoping our problems will just go away. We haven’t even talked about the more destructive things we might do to try to forget our problems for a time. Nor have we talked about the cost of illnesses brought on by worry. Ironically, it all comes with a price tag, and then we worry about that, too.

Speaking of irony, sometimes we worry because we have nothing to worry about. How many times have we wondered how long it would be before something bad happens again!!

The solution to the problem of worry comes from the context of the passage. In v. 24 we read, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The first mistake we often make in understanding the passage is to separate this verse from what follows. Often we insert a stop here and read the next section as a different topic. Money, then worry. But we cannot separate the two because Jesus connects them in v. 25: “Therefore...”

The second mistake we make is thinking that love of money is the source of the problem. We get this from Jesus’ statement, “You cannot serve both God and money,” but this is not where Jesus started: “No one can serve two masters.”

Worry is about divided loyalties. We say we follow Jesus, but actually we’ve allowed another master to step in front. That other master may be money, but it could also be pride, our ability to think, plan, to improve ourselves, or even the desire to escape. In order to discover the other master we are trying to serve, we might ask ourselves, “My life would be better if only...”

How do we get back on the right track, to serve God wholeheartedly, and with great faith? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (V.33) Jesus tells us that we can leave worry behind by choosing to focus our thoughts and attention on God and serving Him. We can choose not to worry. This is not like the old song, “Don’t worry, be happy.” This is the choice to focus on something better than worry, on making God’s thoughts our thoughts. When we do this, worry goes away, and God makes sure we have the things we really need.

I’m not going to pretend to have this one mastered. I have to admit that I’m a little uncomfortable writing because I feel the sting of rebuke. I find myself worrying about things all the time, maybe not about what I will eat or wear, but certainly about finances, problems and situations, and all sorts of “what ifs.”

For all of us it all comes down to trust. Do we trust God to provide what we need, when we need it? Worry is the clue that we’re trusting in something we think we can provide. Jesus reminds us that our way doesn’t work. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (V.27) Jesus calls us to trust in God’s ability to provide.

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 12, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

OnFire #263 Stacking Stones

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #263 Stacking Stones

Summer means that OnFire will not be regular as we have vacation Bible school, a youth mission, vacation, and our annual Baptist assembly. I’ll send out as I’m able, but I know it will not be regular over the next few months.


While on a canoe trip with some friends a few years ago, we came across a rock cairn. We were expecting it because we had read about it in our guidebook, and one of the guys also knew there was a geocache located there. Even still, I was a little surprised to see this pile of stones in the middle of the wilderness. I’ve forgotten the story of why it is there, but a pile of stones like that means something.

Not long ago I was reading in Joshua 4 and came to the passage where the Hebrew people crossed the Jordan. What a great day it was. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, they finally went into the Promised Land. And, what a miraculous set of circumstances it was. Just as their fathers and mothers had crossed over the Red Sea on dry land, they crossed the Jordan on dry land when it was at flood stage.

To commemorate the occasion, a man from each tribe picked up a rock from the river bed where the priests carrying the ark of the covenant had stood, and carried it to their camping location that night. The twelve rocks became a lasting marker of what the Lord had done.

As I read this passage, I was struck by the fact that someone had to carry those rocks. 12 men had to lift them from the river bed, hoist them to their shoulders, and carry them to wherever their camp was that night. We’re not talking river pebbles. To make an effective marker out of twelve stones, they would need to be large, as big as the men could carry. 12 marbles would never make someone stop and ask, “What happened here?”

It occurred to me that sometimes God asks us to pick up a big stone and to carry it for a while. Life hands us an additional burden which we must bear for some time.

That thought wasn’t very encouraging when I first had it. I considered that I had enough burden to carry without thinking of more. But thankfully another thought occurred. They only had to carry them from the river to the camp. I’m sure to those men it seemed long enough, perhaps too long depending on the location in the area of at Gilgal. But it was not indefinite or forever.

My problem is that I would like to know “How long?” There are some answers we just don’t have, but these words seemed to suggest that it would not be forever. There would be a time to set the burden down.

It’s not everyday that passages lift off the page, but that was a neat day and I had one more thought. At the end we’d be able to say, “Look what God has done.” In the same way those stones represented God’s power and strength to bring the Hebrews across the Jordan River, there would be something we can point to as a reminder that God was with us.

It’s not enjoyable to pick up a rock, to lift a burden for even a short time. But I drew some comfort that day and I hope it provides some comfort for you.

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 5, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

OnFire #262 Father's Day Talk

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #262 Father’s Day Talk

OnFire is different this week. I have adapted a talk I gave to the men of our church on Sunday.

A Few Years Ago...
You will recall that I have two boys, now 17 and 15. Five or six years ago, when the oldest was 10 or 11, I began to feel some unease about raising them. It felt like I was leaving the side of one map but I didn’t have the next map. I was moving into new territory and I wasn’t sure the kinds of things we would face. More to the point, I wasn’t confident about my own ability to lead and parent them.

I tie this feeling to my parents’ s divorce when I was about that age. In these really formative years I didn’t have an active role model in the home about how to be a dad. Thankfully this sense of unease faded and I learned some important things about God and being a father. Understand, this was not a grand revelation, but came as the result of a process over many months. I hope this will help other dads and encourage the rest of men, whether grandparents, uncles, teachers, youth group leaders, friends and neighbours. We can help each other in this important task of raising children.

The Fatherhood of God
During this time I developed a new sense of the Fatherhood of God. John 1:12 began to have more meaning to me:

John 1:12 - Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God*

I realized once again that I have a perfect Father in Heaven and this eased my worries. Other passages lifted off the page and taught me both about the fatherhood of God and about what being a good father is all about.

Luke 11:11-13
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

2 Corinthians 1:3ff.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,...

Ephesians 1:17
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

These passages and others were comforting, encouraging, and they taught me about what it means to be a good father.

I Found People Who Were Good Examples
I’ve always been a conscientious parent, but it became even more important to me to find people who were good, strong, positive role models. Thankfully I didn’t have to look far. My grandfather and uncle were especially important. After my parents’ separation I spent a lot of weekends and summers with them and they were good examples of men who lived out faith in Jesus Christ. I had these memories to fall back on, and in addition there were friends and other men in our churches I could look to. They provided examples of godliness, character and diligence which helped a lot.

I Paid Attention to What Works
When I find a good example, especially of someone whose children actively live out their faith in Jesus, I pay special attention to the parenting style, attitudes, actions, home life, discipline and correction, and anything else I can get insight into. Likewise, I also pay attention to what doesn’t work. Generally speaking, several things were affirmed to me.

Our faith has to be genuine. Where I saw sincere faith in parents, children were tons more likely to be engaged in faith.

We can’t live a double life. Where I see an attitude of “do as I say and not as I do,” the children tend to disappear from church life at a young age. At about the same time, I was talking to lots of men who grew up in homes where this happened, and they were deeply cynical about religion of any kind. I became very aware that my children were paying attention to what I taught at church, and if I was not the same person at home as I was on the platform, it was a sure recipe for parental disaster.

Character Counts
I am amazed to hear my boys express opinions which sound a lot like me, even when I don’t remember talking about that topic. They are so impressionable. I was reminded during that time that I need continually to work on my own character because my actions, attitudes and words come from deep within me. Character counts and I was reminded to model godly Christian character for my boys.

Apologize and Make Things Right
I became very aware of the times I blew it. Our children see us at our best, and our worst, and they know when we’ve blown it, so there is no sense denying it or covering our tracks. I broke something belonging to Ian out of anger one night. Ironically, it was a stop sign he had made. What a horrible feeling. I apologized after, and we made a new sign together which still hangs on his door.

I learned something about God’s grace during this time. In His grace, we have a chance to redeem a situation by saying “I’m sorry.” Not that it makes it right - of course not. But we have a chance to model how to handle things when we get it wrong. We show by our example how to apologize and make things right. Thank God for redemption.

Time is Love
At about that time, I realized how busy I was, and would probably always be. And, I also noticed how different from each other my two boys were. I needed a way to get them on their own regularly so that I could pay proper attention to them individually.

At that time I started a weekly appointment with them where I take each one out for breakfast on alternating weeks. This is non-negotiable and the only time we don’t go for breakfast is when I’m out of town. On the rare occasion I need to attend a meeting at that time, I reschedule breakfast for another morning that week. I wanted them to know that for those 30 or 45 minutes, they have my undivided attention.

Its interesting - neither boy talks about these times, but both could tell you whose turn it is. These times have become very important for us.

Not Done Yet
I shared these things on Father’s Day, not because I thought I was the model, but because I hoped it would help. Our boys have a long way to go yet, and so this is stil a work in progress. However, if I felt that kind of unease and fear about parenting my children, then others probably do and maybe something that helped me might help others. I also wanted other men to know that they have an important role, even if they do not have children at home. Just as I found encouragement and wisdom by following the example of those around me, they could be an encouragement and example to the rest of the men and to the children in their lives.

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 June 21, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

OnFire #261 Flick the Switch

OnFire Enouragement Letter

OnFire #261 Flick the Switch

“Don’t forget to turn it on,” a friend reminded me as he showed me how to start the chain saw.

I couldn’t imagine why he would tell me such a thing. After all, it seemed obvious that to begin I should flick the switch from its off position. And yet, since then I have forgotten (many times) and wondered why the machine wouldn’t start after at least 20 pulls.

Sometimes the instruction or advice we receive sounds so obvious we wonder, “Why would anyone need to say that?” Like the line in the chain saw manual operator’s manual which says, “Do not stop chain with hand.” But, I can tell you that there have been times after hitting a rock or nail when I thought about reaching down to check the chain, even though it was running at the time. Sometimes we forget the obvious.

After Paul was stoned and left for dead, he and Barnabas returned to some of the cities where they had preached in order to strengthen the believers and appoint elders. In Acts 14:22, Luke tells us they were “reinforcing the hearts of the believers, calling them to remain in the faith,” and saying that “through many troubles it is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.”

He had to tell them this? Wasn’t it obvious that life was full of hardship? And, how was this supposed to encourage and strengthen them?

This was the piece of advice that reminded me of my chain saw. We sometimes forget the obvious, that life brings troubles. There is something in us that makes us think our hardships should at least fade if we are faithful, but we should not be surprised when we face trials and difficulties.

How was this encouraging? Paul and Barnabas strengthened them by reminding them of their goal - to enter the kingdom of God. There would be much difficulty, but if they remained faithful through the trouble, they would enter the kingdom of God.

A friend once cleared some land but left some trees in the middle of a bog. “Take what you want,” he offered. I needed firewood, so I took him up on the offer. It was tough work, hauling and dragging it out by hand since I couldn’t get a truck in there and I didn’t have a four-wheeler. But the goal was a warm fireplace to relax in front of. I kept reminding myself it would be worth it in the end, and it was.

That difficulty was over in a day or two. Life’s trials often last longer, but Paul reminds us that it will be worth it in the end.

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 10, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at . Blog located at

Friday, June 3, 2011

OnFire #260 To Be Bold, or Not to Be?

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #260 To Be Bold, or Not to Be?

Hi Folks:

OnFire has been shortlisted for a writing award by the Word Guild in the category, Article: Blog Series. For Word Guild see  For the full list of finalists see of Finalists


There is a time to be bold, and a time to back off, and there are times when I wish that it was more clear to me which was which.

When Paul and Barnabas went out to preach about Jesus, they were bold. We see this in Acts 14 as the two went to Iconium, where they spoke boldly and spent considerable time there (14:3). When a plot developed against them, however, they decided it was time to leave (14:5-6). Clearly, some situations call for boldness, while others call for wisdom to back off.

When we took our youth group to a baseball game in Boston one time we found people in a few of the seats assigned to our group. Not wanting a confrontation in a strange city, I rationalized that it was OK since our seating section wasn’t full and we all had seats, even though our group was now split in two. It was one of my leaders who took it upon herself to get our seats back. It was a time to be bold.

Fear is not a helpful guide. Fear may help us recognize danger, but it cannot tell us whether we need to be bold or back off. Sometimes the very thing we need to do is to stand even when it is not safe.

Paul and Barnabas did not back off just because they were threatened. After leaving Iconium, they went to Lystra where they healed a man. People were so astonished that they thought Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes, 2 Greek gods. To prevent the group from offering sacrifices to them they waded into the crowd, which actually brought them closer to death. A group from Iconium was there and persuaded the mob to stone them. Paul was left for dead and dragged out of the city (14:8-20).

For Paul and Barnabas, it was not about their safety. Sometimes we face stones of opposition because we are doing the right thing. We shouldn’t forget that most of the apostles were martyred.

Be bold? Or back off? I have found some things that help. I pray for wisdom since God promises wisdom when we ask (James 1:5). I try to learn from the mistakes I have made in the past. I look for advice from people who are wise in these matters. And I try not to let fear rule the day. Easier said than done, I know.

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 3, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

OnFire #259 Hey Goody Goody

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #259 Hey Goody Goody

Hi Folks:

I’m back form the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. I attended classes on devotional writing, voice, and digital media, and learned a lot about the business side of writing. We had the chance to meet with agents, editors and publishers, and while this was nerve-wracking, it was also encouraging.

Last week Jan and I celebrated 21 years of marriage. Always hard to believe it has been this long. One day at a time really adds up. We went out to eat and went to the musical “King and I” put on by a local high school.

Blessings for your week.

“Hey Goody Goody - what wrong?”

We were in library class at Athena Intermediate School and things weren’t going well for the teacher. Some of my classmates were less than kind and actively resisted her attempts to gain control. More than once that semester she steamed off to bring back the principal.

Things weren’t going so well for me, either. Not everyone was going along with the crowd, but it seemed that way and I felt the pressure to join in as they dropped books behind her back, mocked her, and ignored her instructions. “Goody Goody” was their name for those who didn’t help. I didn’t like the attention and it stung like a slap in the face. There was a veiled threat of “join us or you’re the next target.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I became a Christian the summer before and I was sure that my life was going to get better. Rather than improve, however, it seemed that some things actually got worse. It didn’t seem fair that being a Christian put me in a tight spot between the crowd and God.

I obviously survived this crisis of faith since I am writing about it now, but it was tough and I can remember the sights, sounds, and even smells of that library experience like it was yesterday. For me it has come to represent how being a Christian can actually make some things about life harder, not easier.

When Barnabas and Paul began to travel to tell people about Jesus, they experienced some tough things. Time and again after Acts 13, we read that they went to a new place, spoke boldly, some people responded by following Jesus, and others responded by trying to kill them, literally. We have to think that, after a while, they began to wonder - isn’t there an easier way? Wouldn’t it just be easier to give up?

But this is not what we see. After one early incident where Paul and Barnabas were forcefully expelled from the region, they continued on their way and “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52*) This seems to be the way they reacted each time. Rather than discourage them, their troubles empowered them to go on.

There is promise in this for us. Even though it would be easier sometimes just to go along with what others are doing, there is a joy that only comes from obedience. There is a sense of God’s presence that only comes when we stand against the test. Going along with the boss’s crooked scheme may save a job, but it will not bring joy. Gossiping in the lunchroom makes us feel like we fit in, but won’t bring peace. Standing up for what is right may not win us friends, but God blesses with joy and the Holy Spirit.

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 May 25, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, May 5, 2011

OnFire #258 “But God Told Me”

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #258 “But God Told Me”

Hi Folks:

First, a correction from last week. Mark had fourth place finishes with Team Canada at the World Sport Stacking Championships. I confused my colours. Bronze is not fourth place.

Jan had her stitches taken out from her carpal tunnel surgery. Get this - she needs to soak her hand in warm, soapy water four times a day. Doing the dishes is actually good for her hand.

Ian turned 17. It still amazes me that I have a child this old. I was 17 when I went to college. I hope I was more mature, but something tells me not to ask a question I don’t want to hear the answer to...

Next week I go the Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. This is THE Christian writer’s conference. I’m excited, but also a little nervous.

Blessings for your week.

A friend of mine has worked in Christian radio for many years and he tells me that they sometimes receive music recordings which are really bad, often accompanied by scribbled notes saying that God had revealed to them that they should be on the radio.

Often these recordings are bad on several levels. To begin, the recording itself is of poor quality, using old tape technology, a cheap microphone and a department store keyboard, with people singing and strumming in the background. The musicianship may also be poor, with off-tune singing and out-of-tune instruments.

How do you argue with God? Did the letter not say that God spoke? Their approach was simple. “When God tells us the same thing, then we’ll put you on the radio.”

After returning to Antioch from their mission to deliver relief money, Barnabas and Paul were appointed to travel in order to spread the news about Jesus Christ. The way this happened is fascinating. Acts 13:1-3 tells us they were with a group of other prophets and teachers, worshipping and fasting, when the Holy Spirit revealed that the two should be set apart for this work.

The issue of discerning God’s voice can be tough. We once got caught in the middle of a tiff between two sets of friends over an apartment. It was promised to one couple, but the other couple kept saying, “But God told us we should have it.” We need to be careful about playing the “God card.” In the end it went to the couple to whom it was originally promised.

There are some important principles we see in these three verses. First, they were prophets and teachers, well-respected, trusted and time-tested leaders with level heads and maturity. Only after they had proved themselves faithful in smaller matters did God lead them in something bigger.

They were worshipping and fasting together. When it comes to church matters, it is hard to take people seriously if they don’t worship regularly with God’s people. That they were fasting highlights their involvement. Their spiritual practices came at a personal cost. They weren’t dabbling, playing around at the edges.

There was a group involved. One or two might easily confuse their own desires with the voice of God, but a group has more credibility.

They sought confirmation in ever-widening circles. We see five prophets and teachers listed as part of the church at Antioch, but it is evident that there is a larger body which confirmed God’s leading. Someone had the original direction, the five agreed, but it was the larger group which agreed to send them out.

There was a process of spiritual discernment that involved the larger body. They needed time to confirm God’s leading and they needed the rest of the body to be involved. It was only after fasting and praying that they laid hands on them to confirm this was, indeed, from the Holy Spirit.

In my experience, people are often 1) not willing to test the direction, or 2) impatient with confirming God’s leading in ever-widening circles.

First, the words, “God told me that...” are serious. We will either be right... or wrong. If we’re wrong, we’d better figure it out. Second, a sense of God’s leading does not entitle us to run roughshod over people or to question the depth of their spirituality if they suggest we test the matter.

Third, God does not lead contrary to his already revealed will. It is not God’s voice which suggests someone ought to steal, cheat, or have an affair, for instance. As a pastor, I have heard all these things.

Fourth, a sense of urgency should not blind us to the need of confirming God’s leading in ever widening circles. Again, what do we have to lose? If we’re wrong, we need to know, but if we’re right it will be confirmed. Generally speaking, the bigger the idea, and the more people involved, the wider the circles need to be.

And finally, we haven’t talked about the issue of timing. Even if the direction is from God, this does not mean that we should act immediately. Obedience sometimes means waiting for the right time to act.

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 May 4, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

OnFire #257 Things We Assume Work

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #257 Things We Assume Work

Hi folks:

What a full few weeks it has been leading up to Easter. Our senior pastor has resigned, effective in June, and so we are going through pastoral transition. I will remain in family ministries to maintain stability for a future senior pastor. We have an interim pastor coming in.

Jan and Mark went to Dallas for the World Sport Stacking Championships. Mark had second, third, and fourth place finishes in individual events in the 15-year-old category. Team Canada won three bronze medals. His picture appeared in the paper at this site:

Jan had her surgery for carpal tunnel last week. She is getting by on regular acetaminophen and is already feeling some relief. It will take about 6 weeks to recover from the surgery, and then there will be therapy. At some point in the future she will have the other hand done also.

You will remember that Jan’s brother, Bruce, died suddenly in January. We will have the memorial service this Saturday in Saint John. Please include Jan’s family in your prayers since this opens up their wound once again.

Blessings for your week.

While on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I started to repair a section of ceiling which was damaged by a leak in our bathroom. As I pealed away the blistered paint and applied new drywall compound, I was perplexed to find that one section wouldn’t dry. Since the original damage happened two or three years ago, it didn’t make sense that it would still be wet, so I went looking for the problem. As I opened up the access hatch to our bathroom plumbing, there it was: a small drip in the shower diverter.

As I drive around our city, I can see the evidence of a long, hard winter. Our neighbour replaced his wind-damaged roof last week. A barn near our house collapsed under the weight of so much snow. A steel shed from one of those do-it-yourself kits looks like a giant smacked it from above. The top was flat and the sides bulged round.

We never think about our plumbing until we find a leak. We never think about the roof over our head until it stops doing its job. Integrity is a quality no one notices until it is missing.

This seems to be true in people as it is in buildings. We never think about integrity until there is a problem. We assume people around us act in good faith and, in fact, we count on it. Every time we pay a cashier, swipe a card, sign a contract, leave our car with a mechanic, hire a tradesman, invite a guest into our home, or drop off the children to a program, we trust that the people involved are honourable. That’s why we feel betrayed when we discover that integrity has broken down.

Integrity was the issue for Barnabas and Saul when it came time to deliver a gift to the believers in Jerusalem. A prophet by the name of Agabus predicted there would be a severe famine and so the Christians in Antioch decided to send money to their brothers in Judea. Acts 11:30 records simply, “This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”*

This seems to be another one of those insignificant verses we pass over on the way to some deeper insight, but we should not miss the fundamental issue of character. They had earned the trust required to deliver this money and they did not disappoint. How refreshing it is when we find people who are absolutely trustworthy.

Integrity is about what we do when we think on one is paying attention. What will we do when we think we won’t be caught? What will we buy? How will we spend our time? Where will we go? How will we treat people? Can people trust us to do the right thing? Can they count on us to avoid doing the wrong thing?

Barnabas reminds us that integrity needs to be our centre, our basic operating principle. 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 April 26, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

OnFire #256 Direction and Timing

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #256 Direction and Timing

I was in my car one day when I drove past the house of one of our church families. I knew them well and had been to visit them many times. I wasn’t aware of any great need or a reason why I should drop in on them, but this day I felt practically compelled. A few kilometres passed as I decided whether to go in. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What was I “supposed” to be doing? Was I scheduled to be anywhere else? Was this something I needed to do in the near future, or that day?

I turned around and when I knocked on the door it opened to a place in crisis. I’m not going to fill in the details of their particular issue, so no worries if you think I’m telling your story. Indeed, several people on the OnFire list may think I’m telling their story because this sort of thing has happened to me often enough that I take these promptings very seriously.

God’s direction and timing in apparently unimportant moments are a big part of the story about Barnabas in Acts 11:25-26. Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul and brought him to Antioch. These verses look insignificant, but this act will prove to be extremely important in the spread of the good news about Jesus since Paul and Barnabas will be sent out in Acts 13 to preach and establish churches in many cities throughout the ancient Roman world.

How did Barnabas decide that he needed to find Paul? Was it simply a desire to see a friend? Did something in the conversions of the Gentiles spark Barnabas’ imagination? Did he see an opportunity for the gospel since Paul had already engaged Grecian Jews in Jerusalem? Why not just go back to Jerusalem with his report? Did he figure that Tarsus, 250km by land and less by water, was closer than Jerusalem, which was more than 500km away? Did someone back in Jerusalem suggest that Barnabas find him? Was it a spontaneous decision or part of something planned in advance?

Of course we don’t have the answers we would like, but we can see important lessons for us in these simple verses.

God is constantly working to align events for His purposes. Paul’s life was in danger in Jerusalem so the leaders sent him to his home city of Tarsus. God used this “set-back” to advance the gospel outside Jerusalem.

Barnabas was sensitive to God’s direction and timing. These are both crucial for the faithful follower. Not every idea is a good one, and not everything should be done right away. Even when we feel the direction is solid, God may simply be planting the seeds for something to happen later.

God uses both the “spontaneous” and the long-term . Sometimes we glorify on-the-spot leading as in the story I told earlier, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit is only “spontaneous.” Sometimes direction takes months or years to come together. Anything involving more than one person to plan will take some amount of time. I have served on boards where we planned changes for years in advance.

Erring on the spontaneous is not my weakness, quite the opposite. As any of my friends will tell you, I often labour over decisions and so I sometimes need to remember that God may also lead in the moment. Either way, we must always be careful to discern whether direction is from God or simply a distraction.

God sometimes “interrupts” our plans. Barnabas went to Antioch for one reason, and God used him for another reason. I hope I’m sensitive to God’s direction so that I am effective in my faith and do not wander aimlessly from one thing to another. At the same time, I also hope I am sensitive enough to recognize when God’s plan interrupts what I wanted to do for the day.

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 April 13, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, April 1, 2011

OnFire #255 Barnabas and Change

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #255 Barnabas and Change

As I’m writing this morning, my computer is updating one of the programs, and to be honest, its driving me nuts. The update manager promises that I will have an improved user experience with a new look, new features, and great new free down loadable apps. It sounds promising, but I’m a little sceptical. My experience is that not all updates are improvements in this user’s interface. It doesn’t help my mood that the update is hogging the CPU and slowing everything down. Oh, and get this, just when I clicked to check its progress, yellow and red letters in the middle of the screen tell me “installation failed.” So much for that.

Before you’re tempted to write to me with one of your own stories about computer trouble, to ask what the application was, or to suggest something related to changing my operating system (usually these letters contain phrases such as “drop kick,” “have you tried...” or “linux”), I’m going somewhere with this, so lets not get distracted. Sometimes we resist change (computer related or otherwise) because we don’t know where its going or because we have not had a good experience in the past. The situation is not unlike what we find in Acts 11.

The persecution of the early church drove Christians out of Jerusalem. When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, many left for Judea and Samaria, but as zealous persecutors like Saul pushed further and further to find them, Christians travelled into other regions as well. In one of God’s many ironic ways, the persecution spread the good news about Jesus.

In Acts 11, a change happened which caught the attention of Christians back in Jerusalem. Instead of the scattered believers speaking about Jesus only to Jews, as they had done in places like Phoenicia and Cyprus, a few believers in Antioch started telling the stories about Jesus to the Greeks. The result was that a number of Gentiles turned to Jesus.

So what’s the issue, you ask? This was a new thing. The message about Jesus started among the Jews, and so at first it did not seem natural that Gentiles might come to the Lord. Was this a new act from God, or something which only had the appearance of good and would cause trouble later? This was the question which arose among the leaders back in Jerusalem .

What to do? They decided to send Joseph, now nicknamed Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement,” to be their eyes and ears so that they might discern the issue. We pick up the story in Acts 11:23-24:

“When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”*

It was a great strategy. Being full of the Spirit and a man of faith, he would be able to tell if this was from God. First, it takes one to know one. If we’re going to recognize a movement of the Holy Spirit, we need to be “full up,” filled and relying on the Spirit to lead and guide.

Second, it does indeed take faith to see a new work from God. Often God leads in new ways which require us, as it did for those who went before us, to step in faith, to move in a new direction in a new way, unlike the ways He has led in the past. Too often in our churches, we look back upon “glory days” but forget that those steps were not free from controversy and required a lot of faith, just as they do now. Personally, I’d love to hear more stories about how church leadership overcame the obstacles in those steps of faith rather than to hear about how successful things used to be. We can’t go backward, only forward, and we need to hear these accounts of how God gave courage and strength.

And then, finally, it was a great strategy because, if this was a move from God, the new believers would need someone like Barnabas to come alongside of them, encouraging them and demonstrating what a person of the Spirit and faith looks like. And so we read, “he encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Who better to do this than Barnabas?

I think we are living in an exciting time and are seeing some neat new movements of God. There are many effective entrepreneurs of the gospel who bring new thinking, new ways to engage the culture, new ways to worship, new ways to do church. At the same time, I also see that there is much controversy, and much risk that some movements may not be of the Spirit. Hardly a week goes by without receiving email warnings about this or that writer and their supposed heretical teachings.

Sorting through this requires faith, discernment, humility, and willingness to see that God may be leading differently than He did in the past. We have ways of testing these things, and we should. God will not lead in ways contrary to his revealed will in Scripture, and His people are expected to reflect character and behaviour in keeping with true repentance. We can be sure Barnabas tested this change against these things and was then able to recognize this new move of God for what it was.

Every new move of God needs people like Barnabas to discern and also to encourage. In this he stands as an example for us as we live in these exciting but changing times.

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 April 1, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, March 25, 2011

OnFire #254 Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #254 Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes?

I have added two more introductions to Bible books on my website. Isaiah and John are now part of my Bible Reading Tips page


I owe my ministry to people who have taken a chance on me. I wasn’t out of school very long when I found that things don’t always work the same in life as they do in the classroom. What seemed so easy to decipher in a case study was much harder to discern in real time and soon people were beginning to question whether they made a mistake in calling me as their pastor. I didn’t know it at the time, but thankfully there were people who saw something in me and advocated on my behalf. “Just give him a little time” became a kind of byword.

Since then there have been many other times when people have stuck their neck out for me. I know about some of them because I was there when they laid their reputation beside mine. What an encouragement to know someone would stand beside me when I was otherwise alone. It didn’t take long in ministry to understand that I was the newcomer to the church and to the community, and most often people side with those they know best.

It is a risky thing to stand up for someone, really an act of faith, because there is no guarantee that things will work out well. I promised to attend court with someone with a troubled past. On the appointed day I couldn’t find him at the courtroom. His lawyer asked what I knew and I simply told him we had been meeting and he seemed to be taking initiative to change his life. It was a 15-second conversation at most.

When the judge asked where he was, the lawyer gave a little speech saying that he did not know the location of his client, but that his minister (me) was present, he was attending church and that he was taking steps to turn his life. He was simply doing his job, presenting the best side of his client, but I felt used. We later learned that he had stolen his landlord’s van and gone on a joyride to Quebec.

In Acts 9 we see the miraculous conversion of Saul. Jesus appeared to him while he was on the way to Damascus, where he planned a full-scale persecution of believers. We should not doubt that he was going to make good on his “murderous threats,” (9:1*) but this changed when he met Jesus that day.

We have the benefit of being able to read the clear evidence of his conversion. He stopped arresting believers and started preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. Ironically, his own life came under threat and he escaped one night by being lowered outside the city wall in a basket. The church in Jerusalem did not know this. When Saul came back it was hard to believe that this tiger had changed his stripes.

It was Barnabas who saw the change in Saul and took him to the apostles. Once again, he proved his nickname as “Son of Encouragement” by standing at Saul’s side when few would take the risk. Here we see the power of an encourager. Would we have the incredible account of the spread of the gospel in Acts if Barnabas had stayed silent? Without this encourager, would we have so much of the New Testament?

Our churches need encouragers. As a pastor I need encouragement. But more than that, there are people who are trying to make a fresh start by the grace of God. Many times I have seen people shut out of church life by others who think it is just a matter of time before they slip and fall again. I understand this feeling because I’ve been burned a few times myself.

Encouragement is not without its risks and in this we don’t have to be naive. But Barnabas provides an example of the power of encouragement. Can we make room in our hearts to encourage, to stand at the side of people that we are tempted to give up on?

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 March 25, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, March 18, 2011

OnFire #253 What’s in a Nickname?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #253 What’s in a Nickname?

Hi Folks:
Nicknames can be a lot of fun, at least once we get past the mean ones. I was, shall we say, a portly young lad, and 6 year-old boys can be very cruel. But, thankfully, that was a long time ago.

Like I started out to say, nicknames can be a lot of fun. In school there was one boy everyone called “Soup” because his last name was the same as a major brand of canned product. In our college dorm guys picked up names like “Mick” and “Nobby.” Mick rhymed with “Rick,” his real name, and “Nobby” started when someone switched letters of his first and last names.

Our student has picked up the name “Chia,” partly because her own name is hard for us to say properly, and partly because it is a cute name and she is full of fun.

In Honduras last year, I picked up the nickname “Toro,” which is Spanish for bull. It stuck one day as a bunch of us were sharing a laugh while we shovelled sand. “Troy” was hard to pronounce, and I did a lot of the wheelbarrow work. One of the men made horns with his fingers against his head and pointed to me.

I love that Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder.” Were they just so loud? Did they have a roaring kind of laugh? It sounds like the kind of nickname that comes when people enjoy each other’s company.

In Acts 4:36 we read about a man named Joseph who was a Levite from Cyprus. In many ways this tells us that he was a very ordinary kind of guy, but as the verse continues, we see that he picked up a new name from the apostles. They called him “Barnabas,” and Luke translates this as “Son of Encouragement.” What would we call him now? Perhaps “Sunny” ?

Luke introduces us to Barnabas because he will be an important figure at Paul’s side later. He is never again called Joseph in the New Testament, always Barnabas. The name seems to fit, and that’s not a bad way to be known.

For the next little while we’re going to look at what made Barnabas such an encouragement. The first thing we see is that he gave money, but this is not why he was encouraging. Other people in Acts gave money and they were not called encouragers. In fact, this little blurb about Barnabas in Acts 4 leads into a section on Ananias and Sapphira, who gave money but did it with the idea of making themselves look spiritual to other people. It was the way that Barnabas gave the money that was so encouraging. There was no pretense, no hidden agenda, no strings, just a spirit of generosity and wanting to help.

As a teenager, I was once asked by a good-looking girl to go to a banquet with her. Normally this would have been very exciting because I didn’t get that many offers. The way she asked me, however, suggested that she was hiding something, or perhaps she was making sport of me. I had heard her making fun of people to her friends, and I suspected I was next. The same offer from someone who genuinely cared would have been very different.

That was what made Barnabas stand out. His generosity and kindness was sincere. No one doubted the spirit or manner in which he gave. He saw a need and looked for ways he could be involved, even if it meant personal sacrifice.

People like this are encouraging. They build us up because we know they’re not looking for something in return. We won’t owe them or be indebted to them. They’re just trying to help.

We can learn a lot from Barnabas. May we not fall into the trap of helping someone because of what we might get out of it. Sometimes we get disappointed because we helped someone and they didn’t say thank you or come to church with us. We have to be careful about that. Our helping has to be genuine, from the heart, without expecting anything in return.

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 March 18, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

OnFire #252 - A Noisy Place (Silence and Solitude)

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #252 - A Noisy Place (Silence and Solitude)

Hi Folks:

Jan and I were out shopping and there were times when I had to tell her I couldn’t hear her, not that there is any problem with my hearing, but because the store was noisy. I’m not even sure we perceived it, or perhaps we were used to it, but there was noise all around us. The freezers hummed, the lobster tank bubbled, the shopping carts clacked and rattled, people chatted. We didn’t realize how loud it was until Jan’s voice disappeared among the noise.

I like a little noise and buzz around me. Most mornings I get up and turn on the radio in the bathroom to catch up on the news while I shave. When we were students Jan knew she could find me in the large cafe area of the student union building. Believe it or not, that’s where I studied my Greek and Hebrew in seminary, in the middle of the crowd, watching people coming and going, and repeating my vocabulary words under my breath.

Noise and hubbub are all around us and sometimes we even enjoy it, not the noise perhaps, but the sense of being in motion, of being around people, not being alone, and getting something done. Maybe that’s why this next spiritual discipline can be a tough one.

Solitude and silence are the practices of getting away from other people and removing spiritual “noise” in order to encounter God. This is different from just getting away. We’ve all had the feeling that we just need some peace and quiet and so we go somewhere, to the park, garage, or for a drive. The purpose then is usually just to go somewhere where no one can find us and we can “turn off.”

The purpose of solitude and silence, however, is not to hide, but to remove noise so we can hear God as he speaks to us. There is a pattern we see in the Bible about this. It was only as Moses turned away from his normal routine to investigate the burning bush that God spoke to him.* God did not speak to Elijah in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to pray in “lonely places.” Peter went up to a rooftop to pray, and Paul and his companions were looking for a place to pray outside of Philippi when they met Lydia.

I know God can speak to us in great, dramatic, noisy ways. Look at Paul on the road to Damascus, for example. But it seems rather that God prefers to get us alone somewhere where he has our attention. I would venture to say that it is much better for us to listen for God’s small voice. If God needs to speak to us in a loud way to get our attention, then we haven’t been listening and there may be big changes coming. Again, look at Paul on the road to Damascus...

In silence and solitude we “get away,” but we take the Bible and perhaps a notebook or journal, and we intentionally meet with God in prayer. One way to do this is simply to turn off the phone, computer, radio, music, and tv. There are lots of times when this is not possible because there are other people around the house. Be creative. I have used a storage closet, a tent in our backyard, the car, my workshop, a corner of the library, a coffee shop in another town, and even a friend’s basement for micro-getaways. For longer periods I have used a friend’s cottage or camp.

I once did a 20 minute exercise in a Sunday school class to show that even a short time of silence and solitude can be very powerful way to draw close to God. I asked people to be quiet. We prayed silently for the first five minutes as a way to settle into the process. Everyone read Matthew 5:1-12 and answered the following questions silently. What verses stand out? In what ways do you feel blessed? In what ways have you experienced the truth of these verses lately? Are there ways in which these verses seem odd to you? Are there ways you sense God is telling you to change? How do you react to this? How do these verses intersect with your life right now?

The questions were really just a process for letting God speak and provided a structure for using the time. Instead of wondering what to do, I provided an outline. As we become more comfortable with being quiet we won’t have to worry about what to do. We’re simply giving God the opportunity to speak to us.

Our world is a noisy one. Lots of people and problems draw our attention. But when we take the opportunity to turn off the noise of the world, even for a short time, we allow ourselves to hear God’s small voice.

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 March 11, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at *Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  Moses (Exodus 3:1-3) Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13) Jesus (Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 11:1) Peter (Acts 10:9) Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:13)

Friday, March 4, 2011

OnFire #251 Journaling and the Word

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #251 Journaling and the Word

There is something very powerful about words. Through them we communicate our thoughts, express our feelings, make our ideas come to life. Think about it for a moment. There was a time when the universe was nothing but a thought, an idea in God’s vast and creative imagination. We had no earth, no sun, moon or stars. No trees or birds, dogs or cats, elephants, ants, fish or whales, and we certainly did not have us. None of it existed. Just darkness and nothingness.

Then God spoke and suddenly idea became reality.

Words have power to create. Not in the way God creates, of course. But with them we have the power to be creative, to express emotion which was only a feeling, to bring into being something which was only a thought.

I don’t want to be too philosophical about this. I’ve never had much patience for people who seem to live in some other-world, dreamy, idealized kind of place. But at the same time I am amazed by the connection between us, God, and the power of expression through words. Put it all together and we have Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

This brings me to the spiritual discipline of journaling. In journaling we gather our thoughts, express our feelings, record our memories and speak to God through our fingers.

Writing helps me to focus my thoughts. In traditional prayer I sometimes feel scattered and my mind wanders. God sometimes uses that wandering to bring people and things to mind, but at other times it is frustrating because I can’t gather myself productively. Writing helps slow me down and finally express what is swirling inside me, whether bad or good.

Journaling helps me to remember deeply moving spiritual events. How soon we forget those high points of meeting with God or of answered prayer. I don’t often go back through my journals, but I know those moments are there. Interestingly enough, I have had a few moments when writing in my journal has become a high point with God and I have that record.

I have used a couple of approaches which you may find helpful. Always start with prayer. This may or may not be written, but prayer helps to separate this from other forms of writing. Commit this time to God.

In option #1, we simply start writing our thoughts: current life, prayer requests, praises, confessions, goals, fears, frustrations.

In option #2, we begin with a passage or verse. The verse may come from a retreat, a daily Bible reading or devotion, or even the pastor’s message. Write it out. Summarize it in your own words. Then record your responses to it _ your questions about what it means, good things you like about it, and even the bad things you react against. This is the crucial part, because growth does not always come in our good reactions, but in our questions and negative responses. Why do you think you react against this? Don’t get caught in analyzing it - be more concerned with what is going on in your heart and your spiritual condition than with trying to apply what you saw lately on an afternoon talk show.

In both approaches it is important to remember that, like prayer, journaling is a two-way communication process. Not only do we want to tell God what is going on through our fingertips, but we want to make sure that we allow time for God to respond in the conversation.

Finally, it is OK to write our only-half-formed thoughts. In contrast to speaking or teaching where we want to present a formed conclusion, journals can help us express, work through, and develop the thoughts we still can’t make sense of. Sometimes we get glimpses of something important, but we can’t put the pieces together. Sometimes we’re confused by conflicting parts. We’re working through something, but we don’t even know what it is. That’s actually OK, and where a journal can be particularly helpful. Its just us and God, we don’t have to put it together right now. We can give the pieces to God in writing.

There are some neat passages dealing with writing and the power of recording our experiences with God. For a sample of these, see the longer web-version of this at my website (here) or

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 March 4, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

OnFire #250 Spiritual Disciplines and Bible Study

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #250 Spiritual Disciplines and Bible Study

This week Jan came to me and told me there was a notice on the computer that said we had three viruses. She wanted to know what to do. “Don’t click anything,” I said. Viruses are always a possibility, but something about it sounded odd.

The windows on the screen looked very official. There were red boxes and warning symbols and it looked pretty good, but when I looked at the details, the warning did not come from our antivirus program. I am sure that if Jan had clicked, we would have been infected by whatever cyber disease it was hiding.

I recognized the problem only because I knew our computer well-enough to recognize the false program. I’m no expert, but I know enough to recognize some basic issues.

The same thing can happen to us in life, that we end up following advice or a philosophy of life which does not lead us in a good direction. “If only I had known...” There is a way to better know, and that is to study and understand the Bible.

This leads me to my favorite spiritual discipline, Bible study. The study of the Bible is the intentional, concentrated effort to dig into its depths, to understand passages at deeper levels, to connect its history, thoughts and themes. My ultimate goal is not knowledge for its own sake, but rather to understand God better.

As part of a list of ways to please God, Paul reminds us to grow in the “knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9*). Later he tells the church in Colossae how hard he is working to strengthen the believers in Laodicea “so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding” and not be deceived by “fine sounding arguments.” (2:3-4) The risk was real. Paul knew some who had wandered from their faith because of “godless chatter and opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.” (1 Timothy 6:20). We need to have enough understanding to act like Jesus and to protect ourselves from being deceived.

The study of the Bible as a spiritual discipline is different from my devotional reading. My devotional reading is designed to connect me with God through a relatively short passage of scripture or to take me through the Bible in a given period of time. In the study of the Bible we want to get to the heart of what the writer meant by asking a number of questions.

Who was the author? Who was the audience? Why did he write? What were the historical, cultural and geographical contexts? How does this passage relate to the ones which lead up to it and follow? Is it a main point, or is it part of something bigger? How does the passage relate to the rest of scripture? Are there nuances and subtleties in the wording the author used? What does the passage teach us about God? About human nature?

Once we answer these questions, we have a good idea what the author meant and we move to the next step. How do we apply it today? Knowledge in the Bible always has components of action and relationship. We study the Bible in order to know God better in relationship and to live in ways which are pleasing to him.

Jan loves cards, and she loves a particular kind of card. I have learned that it makes her feel especially loved when I take the time to find this kind of card for her special occasions. This is like Bible study. I have studied my wife and I apply what I have learned to draw us closer together. In Bible study I apply what I have learned to draw closer to God in relationship, attitude and action.

It is interesting to me that there seems to be increasing interest in disciplines like prayer and fasting. Nothing wrong there. But I sense a decreasing interest in Bible study. I can think of some reasons for this. It is hard work and we like easy answers. More than once I have tried to explain a passage and someone has told me, “Pastor, just tell me what it means.” Maybe I was boring them, but sometimes details matter.

There are other reasons why this is hard. Good, understandable resources are not always easy to find. The internet is not always helpful for this. And, it takes an investment in time and tools. But we are not alone in this. Many churches have libraries. Some pastors don’t mind lending their resources. Many churches have an older person who is something of a Bible scholar who doesn’t mind sharing.

And while we can study the Bible on our own, we may also do this in home groups and Sunday school classes. In fact, this is where the “old fashioned” Sunday school curriculum excels. In this setting, instructors often use the accompanying “Teacher’s Commentary” to understand and teach the passage for the day. To many people, this lacks glamour and excitement, but don’t underestimate its power and effectiveness at helping people to understand and apply the Bible.

As Christians, we shouldn’t be content just to let someone always tell us what the Bible means. Most people, with a little time and patience, can learn some basic skills like reading in context which will improve Bible understanding and make us less likely to be taken in by some popular, but deceptive theory, philosophy, or advice.

I hope this helps. If you have specific questions about some aspect of biblical study, I would love to help. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Rev. Troy Dennis, B.A. M.Div., M.A.(Th). Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Feb 24, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at