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