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