Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OnFire #292 Tenting in December

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #292 Tenting in December

I can’t explain it, but lately I’ve been thinking nostalgically about tenting. So much so, in fact, that I even considered setting up a tent in my backyard last week. I’ve done a fair amount of camping over the years in a variety of situations and settings. Our family spent many weekends in campgrounds when I was young. We camped several times a year in the scouting program. Christian camping was important in my faith development. As a university student I camped three summers in Cavendish, PEI. And as a family we’ve had a camper trailer for many years.

But what I’ve been thinking about lately are the canoe camping trips I’ve been on with friends and with my sons. There is something about getting away from civilization, leaving behind power lines and conveniences, and lighting a fire together which makes everything else worthwhile. It is a lot of work to plan, pull together gear, pack and repack, travel, and set up. There are always difficulties and obstacles along the way. We’ve dealt with heavy rain, cold, forgotten, lost or broken gear, flies, ticks, injuries, portages, navigational challenges, and close calls.

And yet these difficulties are the things which make the trips so memorable. We retell those stories over and over again. There is a bond of shared experiences from having tented together which would not have happened otherwise.

I was already thinking about these things when I came to John 7 in my Sunday class. In that chapter Jesus met his disciples in Jerusalem for the Feast Booths, or Tabernacles, which commemorated God’s provision for His people in the desert after He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Interestingly, the name of the festival in Greek comes from the word for tent. It is, literally, the feast of tents.

I love it when personal thoughts converge with something I find in scripture. While working through my own longings to pitch a tent, and studying John 7 for my class, I was drawn back to John 1:14. “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” It doesn’t sound like much, but the word for “dwell” is rooted in the word for “tent.” We could read it this way: “The Word became flesh and tented among us.”

John wants us to see the connections. Moses descended from the mountain with words from God, but Jesus is the Word. The tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and presence, but Jesus is God in the flesh. The people found manna from God in the wilderness, but Jesus is the Bread of Life.

Jesus pitched his tent with us. There are times when we need to be reminded that He has travelled the same wilderness route we walk. It is sometimes a lonely, difficult road, and it is easy to be discouraged. But God does not stand far off from His people. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Dec 12, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email . Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, November 30, 2012

OnFire #291 I’ve Got Nothin’

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #291 I’ve Got Nothin’

Most weeks it is not much trouble to write OnFire. I usually have an experience from which I’ve learned something and I pass it along. Often I reflect on some of the more unusual moments I have. They stand out, since they are a little odd, and I often glean a little life lesson which reminds me of a passage from the Bible.

This week I’m coming up empty, without some incident I feel I can write about. Its not that there haven’t been some weird moments, like last week when I returned to my locker after a workout at the gym, and couldn’t remember which one was mine. I knew the section where it was, but I often rely on the fact that many locks look different from my generic silver combination lock. This time I scratched my head as I gazed upon an entire row of generic-looking silver combination locks. I hope no one thought I was trying to break into someone else’s locker as I tried all of the locks to find mine. Perhaps I should pay more attention, a fact Jan sometimes wishes, because I don’t always notice when she returns from the hair dresser. I’m working on that one...

I’ve thought and thought about that lock incident and keep drawing blanks. It has the potential for a good story, but without application there isn’t much point. I usually don’t try to force the issue since then I would be drawing from my head and not my heart, and it would probably feel a little artificial.

Moving on, I’m illustrating that I often don’t have trouble drawing lessons from some of life’s little moments and passing them along, but this week I’m coming up short. As the saying goes, “I’ve got nothin’.”

This is actually a feeling I’m a little used to. Even after a while in ministry, I often arrive at church thinking I haven’t prepared well enough. I see the difference between what I have and what could be, and wish I had just a little more time to get ready. Its a variation on “I’ve got nothin’.” I know I did as much as I could under the constraints I had and I wasn’t wasting time, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

At these moments I often pray something like this: “Lord, I’ve done all I could. If anything is going to come from this, it has to be from you.” It’s a very humbling prayer to acknowledge that my effort may not be good enough. But the reality is that God is so much more powerful than I am, and He can work in ways I cannot. This can never be an excuse for not doing my best. But rather, it gives hope in the context of my own weakness and deficiencies.

Here’s the neat thing. I can point back to so many times when I’ve had that feeling, and reached out in prayer to God because I felt so inadequate, and the result worked out so beautifully. Much better than I had planned or hoped. At those times I thank the Lord because I know it wasn’t me. I see this as an example of God’s strength demonstrated in our weakness: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9*)

I told Jan I was going to write about “nothing” this week. I hope my “nothing” gives you something at those moments when you feel inadequate for the task. I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Nov 30, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

OnFire #290 The Battlefield of the Mind

OnFire Encourage Letter

OnFire #290 The Battlefield of the Mind

This past week we honoured our veterans on Remembrance Day and this year, as in past years, I played Last Post and Reveille at a service. When Remembrance Day falls on Sunday, I normally play in our own church, but this year we arranged to make a video of me playing so I could play live at a seniors complex. It is always an honour to play for those who have put their lives on the line so that others might enjoy freedom.

While those people faced battles of a more literal variety, these past few weeks I have faced a number of battles of the mind. While they were not as momentous as those faced by our veterans, they were, nonetheless, troubling to me.

I had some vacation and was really hoping to spend at least a few days hunting, but a number of appointments and other things kept me in town until Thursday that week. I was so frustrated to be stuck at home. This was going to be the year, finally, when I could take my time and pay attention to the hunt. My thoughts are often so divided that I looked forward to being a little more single-minded. But then there were all these appointments and other things. Grumble, grumble....

On Saturday of that week, Jan was away and Mark and I were getting ready to visit Ian overnight in Fredericton at his college. As I was getting things together, I heard water running in the kitchen and found one of the cupboards flooded. The sewer drain in the bathroom had broken. To find and fix the problem we had to cut out part of a cabinet and make a big hole in the ceiling. We did get to visit Ian that night, but I spent Monday last week cutting and fixing old sewer pipe, and then cleaning and disinfecting everything. What a mess.

These were two of the big frustrations. I won’t go into some of the other ones; these two illustrate some of the kinds of problems we all face from time to time. Often we roll with many of them, but once in a while they mount up.

This is the battlefield of the mind. How will we react? What will we think? How will we treat the people around us? I found it a constant struggle that week to deal with all of the conflicting thoughts and emotions. Early in the week I was angry to be stuck in town. At the same time, I didn’t want to be miserable to live with. “How do I make the most of this, for everyone?” was the question which came to mind. I went back and forth on this all week and constantly had to remind myself. I won’t promise I was perfect, but I have to think I was a lot better than I would have been.

Later in the week I was discouraged over the plumbing issue. How much would this cost? How long would it take to clean up. But then as I was cutting holes in my ceiling to track the leak, it occurred to me that it was a lot better to do this now than in a year’s time. We hope to renovate our kitchen this year. Thank you, Lord, that we found the problem now and not later.

In the end things worked out very well. I caught up on some neglected things around the house. I had a successful hunt. We still got to visit Ian. A man from our church is a plumber and showed me how to do the work on the drain, even bringing a “goodie bag” of assorted parts. I was able to fix it myself for the cost of parts and now we know things are solid for the renovation.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”* This is the battlefield of the mind, to put aside our first and strongest selfish reactions to allow God to do something better.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Nov 14, 2012. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. *Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at . Blog located at

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

OnFire 289 Hunting, Large Arms and the Bible

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #289 Hunting, Large Arms, and the Bible

Two thoughts, from entirely different and unexpected directions, came together this week.

Monday was the start of deer season and it will come as no surprise that I was out hunting. I’m sad to report I didn’t see a thing all day, although I know there are people who will be quite happy about that.

When we moved here a few years ago, a man from our church set me up in some areas he has been hunting since he was young. The inside of his hunting camp is a testament to his success as a hunter. More than a dozen mounted trophies illustrate his skill with the gun and bow. A bulletin board is covered with photos of him and others with their prizes. I added my own picture a few years ago.

To see him at his camp is to see his passion and commitment to hunting. Over the years he has invested countless time, energy and money, and it shows. He often sees deer on his hunts, and while he rarely shoots one now, it is not for lack of opportunity. He enjoys taking people like me and probably loves it more when we have success than when he does.

When he gives me some advice about hunting, I take it seriously because he knows what he is talking about. He has credibility.

Thought number two. I’ve been going to the gym to exercise since January. My goal is to do a combination of cardio and weight training at least twice a week in order to increase my fitness level and provide an outlet for stress. It has been working. I’ve lost about 10 lbs, my clothes fit more loosely and I can jog comfortably now.

I’ve noticed some interesting things in those hundred or so visits to the gym. There are a variety of people interested in fitness, everyone from teens to seniors. And there is a wide spectrum of commitment. I saw two young ladies on the bicycles one evening, barely moving the peddles, despite the easy settings they used. It didn’t seem to be hard for them. Rather, they appeared to be distracted as they changed the channels on their TV's (a lot of the machines have TV's – it really helps to prevent boredom), flipped pages in their magazines, texted, and chatted back and forth. I wonder if they ever say things like, “I go to the gym all the time, but it’s not doing anything.”

By contrast, I spotted a guy last night I hadn’t seen before, with the largest set of arms I have ever seen in person. Although I’m no weakling, I’ve long since gotten used to feeling a little small in comparison to some of the guys in the gym. But I have to say I felt downright puny working out next to him. He was using three times the amount of weight I was. Three times! He had clearly put in his time, with impressive results. At different points friends came over to see how he was doing. They talked about the gym and workout routines. Credibility.

People have credibility because knowledge and action come together in experience. There is a proven track record to show that they know what they are talking about. They are believable because the evidence is plain for all to see. A hunter has a trophy on the wall and meat in the freezer. A man in the gym has arms to show he can build his body.

Christians develop credibility when our actions, attitudes, lifestyle, behavior, habits, character and conduct illustrate that we follow Jesus. Do we have to be perfect? Of course not. We gain credibility when people see effort and consistency. We lose credibility when our effort is inconsistent or at odds with what we believe.

The apostle James talked about credibility:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.... But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”* James 3:13-17

Hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Oct 24, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

OnFire #288 Things that Go Boom

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #288 Things that Go Boom

A few weeks ago, our son Ian and I went duck hunting with a man from our church. Duck hunting is pretty exciting as it combines accuracy with speed and a little cunning. To lure the ducks into our area, we set out about a half dozen plastic duck decoys. As I understand it, ducks like company and it takes a crowd to make a crowd. They are more likely to land where others are already feeding, so we hoped the decoys would entice some birds to land in front of our blind.

A word about blinds. They hide hunters. Like most wild animals, ducks are always on the lookout for danger, and nothing says trouble like a few guys sitting behind a tree with guns. So, it is important that the blind break up the outline and pattern of the people sitting in it. Burlap, camouflage, and branches are popular and work well. From our cozy spot on a point of land beside a river we had already claimed two birds that morning, and hoped to get a few more before the wind picked up.

We had just settled into the blind after retrieving our ducks when we saw a boat approach from downriver. It was a bass boat, fast, with two men aboard, and it appeared to us that they were looking for something. We guessed they were duck hunting, like we were, and perhaps hoped to “jump” or surprise some ducks which might flush from the marsh. As they neared our point of land, the boat slowed and drifted to a stop in front of our decoys.

Did I say that decoys look like real ducks? If they didn’t realize these were fakes, we were now in the line of fire if they were hunters.

All at once, we stood up in the blind to show ourselves, but they didn’t see us. One man reached to pull something from a locker on deck while the other dropped the trolling moter at the front of the boat. And then both picked up fishing rods and cast into the river.

We were more than a little relieved to know that they weren’t going to shoot in our direction, but now we had another situation. As long as these guys were fishing from their boat, nothing was going to fly in our direction, and, in fact, we couldn’t shoot if they did because they were now in our line of fire.

We looked at each other and wondered what to do. How do we get their attention? Wait for them to notice? Yell? Fire a shot into the air? We could hardly believe the situation in front of us. I was already thinking of the story we could tell later, and pulled out the camera. You can see the picture on my website at

All of this unfolded in less than sixty seconds. Looking for a new place to cast, one of the men spotted us standing in the blind and called out. “Sorry boys.... Good hiding spot.” At this they pulled up the trolling motor and left.

We did the right thing by waiting. We would have called out if they hadn’t noticed us in a few more moments. It was tempting to fire a shot into the air, but anytime a firearm is discharged it is potentially dangerous, and that sort of thing tends to tick people off. While it was an option, it was not a wise one.

This situation left me thinking about a lot of the tricky situations I have been in. Patience and tact are not always what I think to do first. Sometimes I’d like to go off with a big boom. Let people know how upset I am, how serious I think the situation is. Especially if the situation has a history. The more history there is, the harder it is to be patient. But going off with a big boom rarely accomplishes anything good. We make a lot of noise, some get scared, and some get ticked off or come back with something even bigger.

Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.”*

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Oct 17, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email . Archives are located at . Blog located at .

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

OnFire #286 Peeling Back Old Shingles

Onfire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #286 Peeling Back Old Shingles

For the last week I’ve been using any spare time I have to replace the shingles on our carport. They were long since past their best-before date, curled and brittle. A few years ago we replaced the shingles on our roof, but we put off doing the carport to save money. We couldn’t put it off any longer as wind damaged shingles last year, and the condition of the rest of them told us it was not wise or prudent to delay. 

So, like I mentioned, I’ve been working away on this over the past week. It isn’t a large area, isn’t very high off the ground, and isn’t steep. Our son Mark and a man from our church helped on Saturday. Monday I finished 14 rows and now there are only a few rows left.

I had a little surprise when I peeled back the shingles nearest the house and found some rotten wood, signaling that water was a problem in that area. I think I understand how it got in. This is important as I want to avoid costly issues in the future. Thankfully the damage wasn’t structural, and it confirmed for me that it was a good idea to change the way it had been done compared to last time. This way should make it a lot harder for water to leak under the shingles.

Tearing off  those shingles reminds me of the process of transformation we have as believers. We find this process of change in verses like these:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

We are, or ought to be, in a continual process of peeling back old ways and replacing them with new ones, of getting rid of negative and harmful character traits and replacing them with new traits of godliness.

It sounds simple enough. After all, it is easy to point out the weaknesses of others, but they are harder to see for ourselves. We are often blind to our own faults and weaknesses until something happens to show us up, and then we stand uncomfortably exposed.

The better approach is continually to ask God to reveal the changes we need to make in our behaviour, our actions, thoughts and attitudes. As we come to understand these things, we can make the changes we need to be transformed.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly 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 19, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, September 7, 2012

OnFire #285 Free At Last

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #285 Free At Last

Hi Folks:

The big news is that Ian is settling into life at college in Fredericton - the Maritime College of Forest Technology. This is a big change for our family, harder for his parents than for him, I suspect. But he is doing well, enjoying his classes.

This week we kick off our Sunday school at church with a gospel illusionist at 9:30. I’ll lead some songs, and we’ll honour one of our classes for their 100th anniversary. If you are in the Moncton area, come visit Highfield Baptist. I think we’re going to have a great morning.

Blessings for your week.
“Free, free at last!” This is what I thought as I watched my mother’s car pull away from the university. It was 1985, and while she was shedding tears of sadness, I was shedding tears of joy that I was free to test my wings. I was 17 and ready to explore the world on my own, no longer under the watchful eyes of my family.

These memories were all too fresh the other day as we left Ian at his college. What a conflicting ball of emotions I felt. I was sad that a chapter in our lives was drawing to a close. Routines that included Ian at home would change, and I can’t walk this part of the journey with him. “Suck it up,” I told myself. “You’re not the first parent to go through this.” So, there was sadness.

Strangely, a small bit of jealousy was part of the mix. Here were all these young kids just starting out on their adventures. All their hopes and dreams are so fresh. Why is the beginning of the adventure always the most exciting part? I like where my adventure has taken me thus far, but there is something exciting about being at the beginning. Ah, but I digress...

I was, and am, nervous for Ian. Is he ready for the stress and pressure of student life? And, how will he handle his new-found freedom? The issue here is one of character. Who, really, is he? I am confident in him, but yet the answers to these questions can only be found in time, and in the context of his new freedom. We will only discover his true nature as we see how he handles himself.

Students are not the only ones who demonstrate their character by how they handle freedom. Indeed, it is the same for all of us. The apostle Paul wrote about freedom in Galatians. Freedom is not meant to be about just doing “what I want,” which leads to all sorts of selfish behaviour. Rather, the Christian demonstrates freedom in Christ differently. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23*)

Freedom is a test of character. We can use freedom (freedom from others watching, freedom to spend our time or money as we want) simply to indulge our own desires and pleasures, or we can use our freedom to honour Jesus Christ. The choice is ours, and how we use our freedom shows who we really are, the true nature of our character. We expect to find apples on apple trees. Likewise, these are behaviours which people ought to find in us as followers of Jesus Christ.

These verses are on my “top ten” list because they are reminders to me, a kind of inventory to see how I’m doing. At times I slip toward selfishness, but this group of character traits calls me back.

Hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly 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 7, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Monday, August 20, 2012

OnFire #284 Peace and Joy Prevail

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #284 Peace and Joy Prevail

While we were on PEI for vacation this summer, friends of ours joined us and brought their motor boat. One day while on a cruise of the river a loud buzzer warned that the engine was overheating. As it turns out, a piece of seaweed had clogged the water intake. Once we cleared it, the pump was free to do its work, and we were soon speeding up the river once again.

It’s too bad we don’t have some sort of internal warning like that buzzer to alert us that we are anxious and fearful about something. Sometime in the middle of last week I realized that I was not a good judge of my own emotional state, but rather had been stressing about problems. In fact, I understood that I had been worried for some amount of time, distressed even, and had not realized it. I wonder how often in the past this has happened to me without realizing it....

In any case, perhaps it was in response to thinking about this week’s verses, which I have often used to help other people. Curiously, I was thinking about how to write about them for you, when I needed to apply them for myself.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7*)

These verses rate highly on my “everyone should know list” because they show us how to replace anxiety, stress and fear with joy and peace. Rather than “chewing and stewing” like we so often do, we can experience deep and genuine peace even though “the wheels are coming off the cart,” as people like to say here. When we have real peace, we feel joy and blessing instead of fear, and we can even pass it along to others instead of being grumpy and grouchy with the people around us.

I have come to believe that a lot of what we do when we’re afraid and anxious is about coping with our distress, not about actually taking it away. We tend to do things to make ourselves feel better, if only for a short time, but it doesn’t actually remove the apprehension we feel. 

Here we’re not talking about drugs and alcohol, although lots of people certainly resort to these measures. How many times do we turn to food, or a movie, or a cup of coffee because it feels good, and we need a break? How often do we pour ourselves into work or a project, to cooking or cleaning because it helps us forget our problems, at least for a little while?

What we have in these verses is not about coping, but an actual remedy for our restlessness about the future. “ prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It must seem silly to God when we won’t give Him the things that are too big for us to carry. He is more than capable, and He is more than willing to lift the burden for us.

The word “petition” implies that we’re going to need to repeat the exercise of prayer. We are prone to worry and so we must be prone to pray. Like weeds creeping in the garden, we need to cut back worry with prayer.

“Thanksgiving” is important, too. Do we believe God will help us? We can thank Him for it even before we see the results because we know it is as good as done.

I have discovered I am a poor judge of my own state, but that doesn’t matter so much. Once I understand that I am agitated, I can take these things to the Lord, and I know that he will replace my fear with His peace.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Aug 20, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, August 9, 2012

OnFire #283 Lessons from the Treadmill

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #283 Lessons from the Treadmill

While I was on PEI for vacation, I ran in a 5km “fun run,” a semi-competitive race organized as part of a local summer festival, the O’Leary Potato Blossom Festival, for those who are wondering. I had been looking for a 5km race to try and this one was close to my mother’s cottage, so at the appointed time I showed up, paid my money, stretched and finally lined up on the starting line.

My goals in the race were very modest - not to embarrass myself by tripping over my own feet, and to finish without walking. I set a comfortable pace under the warm morning sun and hoped I would be OK. Lots of people passed me, but I wasn’t running to compete, I was running to cross the line.

At about the half-way point, it was fun to pass some of the people who were now walking. I kept on plodding, one foot after another.

A fun thing happened at about the 3.5km mark. I passed a girl about 11-years-old who was walking. As I pulled up beside her I asked, “You’re not going to let an old, bald, fat man beat you to the finish, are you?” About 30 seconds later she passed me and I didn’t see her again until the end.

What a joy it was to see the finish line. People were gracious enough to clap. I made it, and actually managed a decent time for a first timer. I had never, ever, run that far before in my life, so 31:28 wasn’t too bad.

When I joined the gym back in January, the longest I could run on the treadmill was about 2 minutes. I went twice a week all winter, and gradually built it up until I could run a whole mile. I kept working on my endurance until I figured out that 5km was within reach. What a difference training all winter made in my strength and endurance.

Romans 5:3-5 says, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” 

Paul reminds us that suffering is not in vain. We often think that our trials and difficulties are nothing but frustrations and problems which hold us back from what we hope to do in life. On the contrary, suffering can produce good things in our character.

There are character traits which we can’t develop without facing challenges and troubles. That’s not so different from my time in the gym. I would not have been able to run that race if I had not strained and tested those muscles all winter.

I want to be clear. God does not bring suffering into our lives to teach us lessons. However, God is a redeeming God, and He brings good from the bad by doing this work in our hearts.

I wish there was another way to strengthen my body to give me more power and endurance. Likewise, I wish there was another way to gain perseverance, character and hope. However, it helps me to know that my struggles are actually workouts for my soul, strengthening my faith and developing deeper levels of perseverance.

Some struggles seem hard at the time, but someday we’ll look back and see that we have gone on to handle even tougher ones. And that gives us character and hope to trust in God as we face the next challenges.

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 Aug 8, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Monday, July 16, 2012


Hi Folks:

Vacation is here!!!! We're taking two weeks and going to PEI, which is our normal routine for summer vacation. It's been an intense season but this is drawing to a close and a new season is about to begin.

On July 29 our new senior pastor will begin and we're very much looking forward to this. A lot of things were put on hold in the interim time and so we'll be able to move ahead again.

In the meantime, we're going to get some rest. Paddle on the river, visit family, and do a lot of nothing, really. It will feel good.

When I return, I'm planning a new series for OnFire: "10 Verses Every Christian Should Know by Heart." I've got them lined up, but you may have some suggestions. Let me know.

Last week was Vacation Bible School at our church. For reaching a total attendance goal of 350 (70 avg), I let them slime me. There is a picture here and on the website,

Blessings, and I'll be back in a few weeks.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

OnFire #282 Fireworks, Facebook, and Faith

Onfire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #282 Fireworks, Facebook and Faith

Hi Folks:

What a great few weeks it has been. Our oldest, Ian, graduated from high school. What a proud moment it was to see him walk across the stage and to play drums in the grad song. He’s working for the summer picking orders at a  car parts distributor. The next milestone will be dropping him off at college in September.

Sunday we attended the 100th anniversary of Camp Wildwood, our local Christian camp ( I worked there one summer as a lifeguard and swimming instructor and so it was good to celebrate with them. 

The German student who has been living with us since January will leave for home tomorrow. He has been kind and helpful and we will miss him. We took him sightseeing at New Brunswick’s famous Hopewell Rocks ( yesterday. While there we saw a nest of peregrine falcons being fed – what a neat experience that was.

That’s about all our news. Blessings


Sunday was July 1, Canada Day, and we celebrated as many did by going downtown to watch fireworks. The show here in Moncton started kind of low and slow, but then the big ones came out – the ones which start with a “whump” and streak high into air to explode with the biggest booms. We were treated once again to showers of burning white, red, green, and blue.

The real crowd-pleaser here this year was a kind of twice-exploding firework. Just when it looked like the last embers had burned out, it exploded with a larger burst than the first. All of us “ooo-ed” and “aaah-ed” at those big double-bangers. What a surprise it was to see another when we thought it was finished.

I left impressed with this firework I hadn’t seen before, so I was a little surprised when I saw comments in the “Twitter-Face” world about how lame the show was. Really? I thought it was pretty cool, especially the twice-exploding ones. How did we see the same thing and think about it so differently?

It took me a while to see the irony in the situation. Earlier in the show, I had almost convinced myself that it wasn’t going to be good. “Low and slow,” I thought. “Is this what our tax dollars paid for?” But then something in me suggested 1) that it was too soon to judge the whole show, and that 2) fireworks were cool in and of themselves, so I should stop complaining.

The experience was a good reminder that perspective makes a difference. I came out on top of this one, but only after squabbling with myself. I had to decide I was going to enjoy the show, to choose a different way of thinking about it.

This is not so different from faith. Faith means we decide to believe that things will not always be the way they appear to be right now. This is a matter of perspective, that we choose to look at things from a different angle in our way of thinking. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  (Heb 11:1)

Two people look at the same situation. The first person decides it is a lost cause. The person of faith looks at it differently and says, “It only looks lost. I know God has other things in store, so I choose to think differently.”

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 July 3, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Monday, June 18, 2012

OnFire #281 Pumping the Bilge

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #281 Pumping the Bilge

Hi Folks:

It has been a good few weeks. I met with our incoming senior pastor and was very encouraged by this. The boys finished their exams. And Ian found a summer job just around the corner. That was an answer to prayer. In the middle of his exam schedule he went around the industrial park delivering resumes and had an interview on the spot at a local parts distributor. They called the next day with a job for him.

This coming week is especially exciting. This is grad week for Ian. Prom is Tuesday, and the graduation ceremony is Thursday. Many of our families are coming and we managed 10 tickets for the ceremony. We are very proud of both boys, and especially proud of Ian this week.

Blessings for your week.


“I can’t believe you’ve seen our bilge.”

My aunt said these words one day last week as we worked on their sailboat to prepare it for the season. The bilge is the lowest point inside the boat where liquids collect so that they may be pumped overboard. I say liquids, because we’re not only talking about sea water. Even the most conscientious boater sometimes spills a little oil or fuel, which also finds its way to the bilge along with other dirt. Take that mix, let it sit around in the dark for a while, and voila! We have bilge water, a particularly foul substance which some suspect may actually be a form of hostile alien life.

All boats take on water and so the bilge must be pumped regularly. Many boats have automatic electric pumps to take care of this important task, with manual pumps for backup. In addition, the bilge must be kept clear of things like plastic bags which may easily damage or block the pump.

No one likes to show off the bilge. Usually it is hidden under a pretty hatch cover designed to match the deck. That’s why my aunt commented that I has seen the bilge. Here I was, looking in at the boat at its worst. I’m family, I’ve been aboard many times, and even helped with this part in the past. But it is a view not normally granted to outsiders.

We share a lot of similarities with a bilge. Only those closest to us actually see us for who we really are.  We are constantly at risk of taking on “water,” the worst of the culture which may sink us. And, we need to pay regular attention to critical areas of our soul in order to stay afloat.

We’re talking about holiness. Holiness is about cleaning out the bilge, allowing our hearts to be pumped clear of all that threatens the soul - negative character traits, worry, fear and anxiety, sin.

The apostle Peter talked about this. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled...  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” ( 1 Peter 1:13-16*)

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 June 18, 2012. Scripture taken from New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

OnFire #280 The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #280 The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

We are well into gardening season and I hope that we’re not so different from others who feel like they’re falling behind on the yard work and weeding. It seems that we get one area done and then it is time to do another, and then  by the time we get that finished the lawn needs to be mowed, and more weeds have sprouted in the first place we worked.

It is interesting to think that we actually reflect the image of God when we garden. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us we were made in God’s image, so it only makes sense. “Like father, like son,” as the saying goes. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” “A chip off the old block.”

So how is it we reflect God’s image when we garden? First, there is the urge to bring order from chaos. This is exactly what God did at the beginning when He created the heavens and the earth. We are reminded that the earth was formless and empty. God set about to bring order from the chaos - scheduling day and night, separating sky and sea, arranging plant and animal life. Gardening is nothing if not bringing order from the chaos.

There is the urge to create and to be creative. Before creation, nothing existed, but God called it all into being from His imagination. He made it new. He is Creator and creative. In the same way, we reflect the image of God in us when we look for new ways to do things. “Wouldn’t it be neat if...?” is the question of creativity. 

(On a side note, I think this issue of creativity is a possible solution to the “worship wars.” Often we turn the issue into one of new music VS old music, when the real issue is not music, but creativity. No one is asking (or allowed to ask?) the question, “Wouldn’t it be neat if ...?” Anyway, back to the main topic.)

No gardener will question that humanity’s first place to commune with God was in the garden. There is something about being in a garden which connects us to God and brings a sense of peace and calm. No wonder Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, a garden outside Jerusalem. I think this is all related to Romans 1:20, where we discover that nature reveals some of God’s character traits – power and divinity, for example. Not much wonder we feel closer to God outdoors.

While we have the image of God in us, Paul tells us that Jesus is the real thing. He is the “image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1: 15) While activities like gardening show that we have some of God’s traits in us, Jesus fully glows in these things because He himself is God.  

Every time I look out the window, I am reminded of my shortcomings as a gardener. There is always more work to be done, something I could have done differently or better. I guess in this way gardening is a little like life. But I have One to look to, Jesus Christ, who isn’t hindered by imperfection. It gives me hope and direction, that I can look to Him as I face life’s troubles. 

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published May 29, 2012.  To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Thursday, May 17, 2012

OnFire #279 Squizzeled is Not All Bad

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #279 Squizzeled is Not All Bad
Squizzeled is the word some fishermen on the Bay of Fundy use to describe the appearance of lobster buoys which have been compressed after been driven underwater by the tide. Bay of Fundy tides produce strong currents which drag them down and in many places they only surface at slack tide, when the waters change direction.

I wouldn’t have believed it, but I’ve seen it for myself. The foam buoys start round when they are new, but over time the pressure of the deep water compresses them and they develop wrinkles – squizzeled. I guess the word is a combination of squished and wrinkled.

There are times when the demands and duration of stressful situations leave us feeling squizzeled. We have been submerged for so long that when we finally surface at the other side of a difficult season, we feel like those buoys - pressed in, squished, shrunken.

Our church has called a new senior pastor and he will begin during the last week of July. This is great news and already I can feel a burden lifting. For the last year I’ve been submerged in the details of trying to plug holes in our ministries, and now that our new pastor is coming I can relax a little, which is good, because I passed tired a long time ago and now I’m depleted and weakened. I’m feeling squizzeled.

As I have been thinking about this state I’m in, I see it is not all bad. I am tired, but I sense an opportunity now to remake my routines. I don’t want to fall blindly into some other numbing routine, but rather, I sense a chance to think about the things I need to put back into my life to regain some life balance and build up my spirit.

I plan to add back into my spiritual life the kinds of things I know rejuvenate me. I’ve kept up Bible reading and prayer, but I haven’t been able to journal or take personal spiritual retreats. In the past I have connected with God in powerful ways through these and I plan to add them back to my routine.

I know I need to reengage some of the important people in my life. My family has been understanding, but as I look back, I see that my busyness has risked something with them. Sometimes when we are submerged, people move on without us. I need to reengage them.

I need to reevaluate and reinvent my schedule. What are the important things I want to do? I’ve already talked about putting some spiritual disciplines and family time back in my routine. I need to determine what other major areas I will focus on. I will obviously need to work this out prayerfully and with our deacons and new pastor, but now is the time to consider these things. The hard part will be that some things won’t go back in the schedule and I’ll end up disappointing someone.

So, while squizzeled is uncomfortable, it is not all bad. It presents the opportunity to reevaluate and reconsider. We’ll all face difficult seasons at times, but when we resurface, we have the chance to remake our routines.

I hope this helps. Be onfire.

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 May 17, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

OnFire #278 We Are Not Guitars

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #278 We Are Not Guitars

It didn’t sound like it hit hard, but when a guitar falls off the stand it’s more about how it hits the ground than it is about how hard. Not long ago I knocked mine from the stand as I walked past. My hands were full, so I tried to catch it with my leg, perhaps to slow it down to minimize the damage.

The instrument pivoted around my knee and fell behind me so I didn’t actually see it land, but I knew it didn’t sound good. The strings rang twice as the back of the head hit first, followed by the body. Not good, I thought, but I hoped for the best. After all, it was not the first time it had fallen.

I picked it up gingerly, but it didn’t matter. The neck was broken where it joined the guitar. The foot joint, as it is called, was split.

The guitar was not an expensive one. I bought it used, not for its high quality, but because I loved its rich bass tones and comfortable action. It sounded better than its price tag, and felt good to play. Later I installed a pickup. A few people over the years have suggested it was time to upgrade because I’ve worn down the frets. I knew the time would eventually come, but in my mind, why upgrade when I loved the one I had?

It’s not worth fixing. I didn’t pay much for it, and it would take a lot of time at professional rates to repair and restore it. Perhaps if it had been better it might be worth it, but it’s not. I checked some friends who know about these things and it might be possible to glue and clamp it, but there is a problem with that, too. The broken joint isn’t wide enough to insert the glue. Too broken to play, not broken enough to fix.

Not worth fixing. There is something very depressing about that assessment. Not impossible to fix, but  not worth doing. How can that be? And yet it is, because of the simple economics. It would cost more than it is worth to fix it. I would never get my money back, and chances are it would never look or play the same again, either. Perhaps if there were some reason - historic or sentimental - I could justify it, but otherwise it is not worth fixing.

Life goes on and it is just a guitar, after all. But it made me think. I wonder if any of the angelic beings looked down at Jesus and questioned God for sending His Son. Did any of them suggest that the price to repair and restore humanity was too costly? Not worth fixing?

Sometimes we wonder. What about the times we blow it? How often is too often? How broken is too broken? Are we worth fixing? Is the cost too great?

It helps us realize God’s love for all of us. He sent Jesus for us. We must be worth it if he did not spare His own Son, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:32.

We are not guitars, or cars, or something else that isn’t worth it to fix. God loves us. God’s economy is different from ours. We are not beyond repair. We are worth fixing, and he sent Jesus to do the job.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a bi-weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Apr 26, 2012.  To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at Check out Troy's other blog at

Monday, April 9, 2012

OnFire #277 Empty is Not Void

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #277 Empty is Not Void

Hi Folks:

When I think of the word “empty” my first thought is of disappointment. An empty plate in the fridge means the boys ate the leftover meatballs. When the needle of the gas gauge sits on E, I’ll have to make another trip to the pumps. However, an empty bank account may prevent me from filling the empty tank. An empty cupboard, so the nursery rhyme goes, frustrated Old Mother Hubbard. Empty words are broken promises.

“Hollow” is a related word with the same letdowns. A hollow potato is rotten in the centre. We gain nothing in a hollow victory. To be hollow-hearted is to be insincere.

That was the feeling I had as a child when I discovered that my Easter candy was hollow. What kind of sick joke was that, to build up my milk-chocolate hopes, only to have them crack like the sides of bunny under my teeth?

Empty and hollow are not always disappointing. I love finding empty parking spots. PEI, where I grew up, is covered with pretty farms located in hollows between the hills. I have secret compartments in my desk, small hollow spots perfect for hiding trinkets.

Empty was good on Easter Sunday. When the women first spotted the empty tomb, they didn’t yet know what it meant. Had someone removed Jesus’ body without telling them? It took a little while to understand that the empty tomb was a good thing. “He is not here; he has risen,” and angel said.

Imagine their joy as Mary, and Mary, and Peter and John, and soon all the others began to realize the empty tomb meant Jesus was alive. The impossible was possible with God. Empty was where hope began.

Genesis tells us that before creation the earth was without form and void, another way of saying it was empty. God took that emptiness and turned it into something. He brought order form the chaos and turned nothing into something. That’s what the resurrection was. The empty tomb was not void.

We tend to see empty as the end. We had something and now it is gone. But with God, empty is the beginning. This is the place where God can fill us up once again. I wish there were an easier way, but it seems we often don’t discover how powerful God is until we’re sucking the fumes of our empty. In this way empty is where hope begins.

May God fill your empty on this Easter Monday morning. 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 Apr 9, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Monday, March 19, 2012

OnFire #276 Lessons from the Fish Tank

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #276 Lessons from the Fish tank

Hi Folks:

My latest post on Pastor of Everything Else is “What To do When the Senior Pastor Resigns.” So far, I’ve spent a total of almost three years of my nine years in associate ministry without a senior pastor at the helm. Feel free to pass this along to associate pastors you may know.


A few weeks ago I began to see signs that our koy and goldfish were distressed. Not the “I’m overwhelmed and I’m going to flip out” kind of emotional distress, but the lethargic, not eating, kind of distress which signals that the fish were weak and might not survive.

To explain, these are fish that I brought in from our backyard pond because last year’s fish didn’t survive the winter in the shallow water. A friend gave us a tank and all winter we’ve been keeping 3 koy and 4 goldfish. I couldn’t catch one goldfish, and so it remains somewhere in the pond, forever traumatized by my efforts to net him.

Anyway, one by one and two by two I lost all of the fish over the next couple of weeks. They died despite my best efforts to change the water and filter and clean the gravel. I felt really bad that I tried to save them from freezing, only to have them die in my fish tank later from problems I was ill-equipped to handle.

It was hard not to reflect on those fish and see my life. I sometimes wonder if I’m pouring time and energy into situations and problems which will only be a wasted effort. How depressing that thought is! And yet, it is one of my secret fears. Is all this trouble for nothing? I’m generally a positive, hopeful person. It’s something people like about me. But deep down, when things aren’t going so well, I have these fears.

I have to be careful because some people think I write OnFire like a diary or journal. They think I must be writing about church life or my current mood. This is not always so. I write OnFire because I think that if I talk about the secret feelings we’re afraid to say in public, then we’ll all be better off for it. If I feel this, then others do, too, and so let’s do this together. “I’m not the only one!” is what I hope people will think.

I was surprised when I had these thoughts, and I had to work through them. It really came down to this. As frustrating as things are sometimes, as difficult and discouraging as they may be, I cannot surrender to these fears. Even as these thoughts occur, I must reject them and choose instead to trust that God is good and He is not finished with me.

This is one of the thoughts I cling to. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote. (Phil 1:6)

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 Mar 19, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Monday, March 5, 2012

OnFire #275 The Creepy Guy Emerges

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #275 The Creepy Guy Emerges

We have a concrete figurine in our backyard, one of those little fishing boy statues which sits by our goldfish pond. Not long after we moved in we affectionately named him, “The Creepy Guy in the Backyard” because all he does is hang around and stare blankly into space. By the way, we like the Creepy Guy, even though we gave him this name, and the boys have resisted our suggestions that we should give him a new coat of paint. They like the “character” he has right now and he would be “too pretty” if we freshened him up.

As I write, the Creepy Guy is melting from the snow bank. With a few warm days his hat and eyes have emerged. I like the way he seems to peer above the snow and I think of him as a symbol of the changing seasons. There is hope for warmer and longer days ahead.

In my last OnFire I wrote about the difference between real and perceived limits. I wrote it on what I call a “low motivation day.” I get these occasionally, not regularly, but once in a while, when I am tired and not feeling like I can push myself. I’ve learned over the years that they last about a day so I just plan to do simple tasks which don’t require a lot of brain power or emotional strain. And then the next day I go back to my normal pace.

That didn’t happen. My low motivation day turned into the better part of a week. I have to be honest, it was a little unnerving. I like to work hard and to push myself. And yet I couldn’t seem to muster my full amount of energy. I put myself on “light duty.” The reality was I couldn’t do much more, anyway.

I’m still not sure what happened, other than I was probably exhausted, spiritually, mentally and physically. The next week was better, last week better again. I wouldn’t say I’m back up to 100%, but then again I’m not sure I want to go back to running at 100%. I recently told one of our church leaders that there are seasons when we go flat out, when it is necessary, and it even feels good to put it all out there. But, I said, we can’t do that all the time. (Someday we’ll all be better at taking our own advice.)

Somebody is going to read this and be worried about my health and my mental or spiritual state. A lot of my relatives are on the OnFire list, including my mother. I’m OK. Really.

Here’s the thing, the reason why I’m writing all this. I figure that if I go through something, other people are going through the same thing, too. And that by sharing my experiences it helps and encourages other people. We’re not alone in this journey.

It’s OK if we’ve been running at 100% and we get tired and need to back off. Really. There really are limits. And it is OK to tell someone we’re tired. We often do much better at telling other people they can take their breaks. Somehow we think we’re unique and so we don’t need it for ourselves.

I think there are lots of reasons why we feel others can and should take breaks, but we can’t. 1) Something won’t get done. Well, sometimes things need to go undone before someone else will step up. 2) We need to prove we can handle it, that we’re tough enough for the job. But, who are we trying to prove it to? 3) Out of a sense of duty. This is my poison, and it’s a tough one because I’m often motivated by the feeling, “It’s the right thing to do.” I’m not sure I have the answer to this one, other than to say, sometimes I just can’t go any further, and that’s OK.

I’m guessing someone in OnFire Land needs to hear this today. I can’t be the only one riding this train. Be encouraged. It’s OK to admit we’re tired and that we’ve reached our limits. Furthermore, it’s even OK to say No.

The Creepy Guy is melting out of the snow bank. We’ll emerge from being buried, too.

I hope this helps. Be OnFire. Oh, and don’t take the “Creepy Guy” metaphor too far. I’m not suggesting that you or I are “creepy.”


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 Mar 5, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

OnFire #274 Living between the Red Lines

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #274 Living between the Red Lines

Last weekend the saga of the snowblower came to an end. After restarting the motor to finish the driveway, it revved way too fast and then there was a loud “pop.” The pushrod, broken and no longer bound to the crankshaft, smashed the thin walls of the engine. Judging from the pieces sprayed across my driveway, the motor will never start again.

I really enjoyed that little snowblower. I learned a lot about tuning the engine and I took a certain amount of pride in keeping it going. It was a nice mental break from what I normally do.

There are times I feel like that little machine, times when I wonder if life will rev to the point when something comes apart. I can’t be the only one who sometimes wonders how much more can be piled on and added before things suddenly go pop. That’s not a comfortable thought. Life doesn’t come with a red line to tell us where our limits are.

Now here’s a funny thought. I was at the gym the other day. Exhausted. Not really feeling like I wanted to be there, but knowing it was important to get some exercise, I hopped on the first machine to get some cardio. I wasn’t expecting good results. Just finish the workout, I thought, and go home for nap. A few minutes in, I felt my body respond to the challenge and the numbers on the electronic screen said I was working as hard as I normally do. I finished the weights and machines at full form. It made me wonder if it was mind over matter, that I was capable of more than I felt I was.

Some limits are real and some are imagined. If I go into the danger zone of the cardio monitor, I need to back off because my heart is at risk. Other times I need to push through because my limit is actually beyond where I think it is.

Reality is probably between these two lines, between where we think the limits are and where things go pop. It takes faith to work beyond our imagined limits, and discernment to know the real ones.

Paul knew something about living close to the limits, for real. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope.” ( 2 Corinthians 1:9-10)

Discovering new limits means finding new trust in God. First, we have to hang in there to trust him more. And second, we discover new ways in which God is faithful. In both these ways we find new trust in God. Only when we run out of our strength do we discover God’s, and its a good thing, for at that point we don’t have what it takes. Paul writes, “On him we have set our hope.”

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 Feb 15, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

OnFire #273 The Snowblower Saga

OnFire Encouragment Letter

OnFire #273 The Snowblower Saga

Hi Folks:

Thank you to so many for your encouragement over the last week. About 180 people went to my new blog for associate pastors in two-pastor churches, Pastor of Everything Else ( Comments were positive and encouraging.


As I write this morning, we have a snowfall warning for 15-20 cm. It makes me kind of excited because we were given a snow blower last summer and I want to try it out. We had less than 10cm a few days ago, and it seemed to work well, but I’d like to try it out with a little more snow.

Some of you will remember that we’ve had a little trouble with the snowblower. It was a saga, really. The first snowfall we had I couldn’t start it. Then I thought it was working, but it wouldn’t handle much snow. Then it wouldn’t stay running. And finally, it wouldn’t throw the snow. I was beginning to wonder if it would ever work, or that, heaven forbid (read sarcasm here) I would need to take it to the shop!

In the middle of all of this was my schedule and a cold snap. When I was free to work on it, it was too cold to work barehanded outside, and when it was warm enough, I was stuck in meetings and appointments. Finally I had some free time last week on a mild day. I discovered some really useful tuneup videos on YouTube and I set out to advance the saga to another scene.

To avoid making this story any longer than it needs to be, after I adjusted the carburetor, lubed the auger gearbox, and tightened the idler pulley it worked beautifully.

It took me quite a while to work out all these issues, trying different things to see if they worked. Sometimes possible solutions showed promise only to let me down later. There was more than one problem, which complicated things. And to top it all off, these issues were all new to me. Sounds like a lot of problems we deal with.

It was tempting just to give up on it, list it on the internet “as is,” but I wouldn’t have gotten it to work if I had done that. If these last steps hadn’t worked, my next plan was to check with my neighbour to see if he could help. And if not, then to take it to the shop. It was becoming a matter of pride – I wasn’t going to let this thing beat me.

Dealing with a snowblower is a minor thing when we consider all the issues and problems of life, but it illustrates a greater principle. Perseverance is steady persistence, to pursue a goal even when things take longer or are more difficult than we imagined. Not to give up when we get frustrated. To ask for help from people who know more than we do.

James writes, “We consider blessed those who have persevered.” (James 5:11) We musn’t give up. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (1:4).

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 Feb 1, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, January 20, 2012

OnFire #272 Rusty Hinges and Kindness

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #272 Rusty Hinges and Kindness

We live in a 70 year-old-house with lots of character, which simply means there are lots of things which need to be fixed. A few weeks ago I realized that I had become so accustomed to the creaky hinges that I could actually recognize the sound of each door. The bathroom made one noise, our bedroom another, and each of the bedrooms made their own distinct sounds. It astonished me, first of all, that I had become so used to this, and second, that it took me until now to do something about it. And, that it was such a simple thing to oil the hinges. Such a little thing - a few drops of oil and a few minutes, and the doors were swinging silently.

We can be like those hinges. Sometimes we get a little creaky, and we don’t even realize it, but kindness is the oil on the hinges of our relationships. It doesn’t take much, and a little goes a long way.

Scripture is littered with reminders to be kind. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

From this and other passages we see that kindness means to love each other, show compassion, and even extend forgiveness. Our motivation ought to be gratitude: that we are kind because we realize that God was kind to us.

The word for “kind” in Greek is an interesting one, and it shows up in interesting places:

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

The word translated as “easy” is actually the same word for kind. We could read, “My yoke is *kind.*” The yoke was a wooden beam placed across the shoulders of work animals so that they could pull an implement behind like a cart or plow. It had to be carved and formed with care or it would chafe and cut. Jesus promised to be kind and to do the heavy spiritual pulling in our lives.

This helps us understand kindness better. Kindness is about easing the burden in other people’s lives. When people come away from us, are they lighter or heavier in spirit? Do we chafe them, rubbing them the wrong way, or do we treat them “easily” ? Kindness is more than an act. It is our mannerism, the words and tone we use, the words we don’t use, our patience, how well we listen.

As I prepared this material for a sermon I preached last week, I began to see that some of my relationships had grown a little creaky. I needed to apply a little oil of kindness. It doesn’t take much time, and a little goes a long way.

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 Jan 20, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

OnFire #271 Who Likes Change?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #271 Who Likes Change?

Happy new year to everyone. I hope it will be, anyway – filled with joy, peace and satisfaction regardless of what happens. I don’t normally bother with new year’s resolutions, but I do think about change. I reflect on what changed last year and I wonder what will happen this year. There are always a few things which frustrate me which I hope to change. And, of course, there are always situations over which I have little control, and I hope simply for the strength to hang on for the ride.

Some changes we choose – to lose weight and exercise, pay down debt, do things differently, do something we’ve never done before. These are the changes we initiate because we hope they will make a positive difference in our lives.

And then there are changes we do not choose. These are brought to us, dropped in our laps and we are left to deal with the results. It has been said that the only one who likes change is a baby. Babies know they’ll be warm and dry, but when change affects us we rarely have a guarantee that things will go so well for us. I guess that’s what makes it so hard for us. We’d like to be able to prepare ourselves and take some little comfort in knowing that we have done all we could do, but there is often little we can do.

Isaiah 6 opens in just this kind of state. “In the year that king Uzziah died...” This simple opening sentence tells us more than when this event happened. It tells us something about fear for the future. We enjoy smooth transitions in government, but this was not always the case in the ancient world. While Uzziah was, generally speaking, a good and godly king, there was no predicting what would happen when a new king stepped into power. A new ruler could raise taxes, go to war, and oppress the people. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty tucked into these few words.

The next line is hopeful, thankfully. “...I saw the Lord seated on a throne...” To be seated on the throne was a symbol of power. God was in charge. Despite the uncertainty over a new king, Isaiah had reassurance that God was still in control. No matter who sat on the throne in Jerusalem, God would still sit on his throne, where it really mattered.

This is a good word for us as we face a new year. We will never know all that will face us in the upcoming year, but of this we can be sure. God is still on his throne. There are changes which we will welcome, and some which will be difficult, but God will not step away. He is always faithful. May this be a year when we say, “In the year that ____ happened, I saw the Lord seated on his throne...”

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 Jan 4, 2012. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at