Monday, December 2, 2013

OnFire #308 Non Destructive Testing

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #308 Non Destructive Testing

Had the Lord not called me into ministry, I think I might have chosen engineering as a profession. Then again, a lot of things are fun if you don’t have to make a living doing them, like cutting wood, for instance. Even still, I love to know how things work and as a child I took a lot of things apart. Sometimes I even got them to work again. Even now, I love to watch shows on how things are made or built.

I remember watching a show on how they test metals for how strong they are. This was on things like bridges and airplanes and pipelines, where they can’t destroy it by testing it. That’s one way, to stress it until it breaks and measure it. But some things you can’t test by breaking them, so they have to develop ways to test them. One way is to do an x-ray. That’s how they test the welds on pipelines. They wrap a piece of film around the pipe, and then use x-ray, an extended and larger version of the way they do our teeth.

And then there is another way where they sprinkle  iron filings across the piece of metal and then use a magnet. If the metal is good and there are no cracks, then the iron filings line up, but if there are cracks, even tiny microscopic ones, then the filings don’t line up properly. It can look good, but unseen cracks threaten the strength of the structure.

Engineers test materials because they want to know the fundamental nature and character of the metal. What is it really like? Will it stand up to the test of daily use and abuse? I’m grateful for this work because when I fly, I want to know that the landing gear of the plane is strong, and that the wings won’t fall off.

There are a lot of parallels to human character. How do we know what someone is like? What they are really like? This is important in hiring, marrying, or appointing leaders to programs, boards, and committees.

But this is not only about evaluating others. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to evaluate our own character and behavour. There are lots of passages which help us, but lately I came across 1Thessalonians 1:3 in my own reading:  “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul was thankful for three fundamental characteristics: Their faith, love and hope. The evidence of these traits was seen in the results they produced - works, labour and endurance.

As I read this passage one day, it hit me that I was working hard, but that’s all it was, just hard work. I was lacking the faith that told me the work was for something larger and bigger than I am. And I was doing it just because that’s what I do. I work hard and there is always something to do, but I was lacking love as a motivation. Not that I hated what I was doing. Rather, it startled me that I forgot I was doing so much of what I do to help people. I got caught in a list of tasks. This passage reminded me that there are people on the other end of what I do, and it changed the way I looked at my work.

The line that got me was this one: “Your labour prompted by love.” It was the spiritual x-ray that revealed little cracks in my character. I don’t believe I was far off, and no one, perhaps, would have detected it. But I had lost sight of the people I was serving, and that was a character issue which needed to be addressed. I thanked God for the insight and almost immediately the work became easier, more pleasant and enjoyable. That was a confirmation of the verse and a further reminder to remember my love for these people.

As at other times, I pass along this along because I figure if I have trouble with these things, and I’m the “professional religious guy,” then perhaps others face the same things. I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Dec 2, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at, but I’m a little behind in updating things. Blog located at

Friday, November 8, 2013

OnFire #307 Sidetracked Personal Bests

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #307 Sidetracked Personal Bests

Hi Folks:

It has been a while since I’ve written OnFire. The fall is always busy, and it has been busy, but more than that, I just ran out of things to say. It was time to take a break.

Our family is well. Jan was hired again as a teaching assistant at a local Christian school and is directing our church’s handbell choir. Mark is doing well in grade 12 and is considering plans for next year. Ian is in his second and final year of his forestry and wildlife program and loves it. Next week he has an overnight survival exercise. They are dropped in the bush, alone, for a night, and must build a shelter and fire using only the things they normally carry in their field vests. Ian has been preparing for this since last year and usually has several knives and about 6 ways to light a fire.

I’m preparing to play in a musical at Mark’s school. We’re putting that on from Nov 20-23. We’re a very small pit band, 8 in total. There is nowhere to hide in this orchestra, so I’ve been working hard on getting my music ready.

Blessings for your week.

I had high hopes for a personal best in the 5km run. It was a fundraiser for a team from our Convention going to Kenya next spring, and so I was glad to take part, but it was also a chance to push myself and perhaps claim a new time.

The gravel crunched under my feet as I climbed the first hill. Before the race, someone described the course as beautiful, but I really didn’t feel like looking around as I tried to convince my lungs to sync up with my legs. I always find the first 10 minutes of a run uncomfortable, but I’ve also found that the feeling passes if I persevere. And so I lifted one foot after the other and worked to avoid the slippery leaves and uneven ground which might put me out of the run with a twisted ankle.

I was just starting to feel good on my feet when it happened. Several of us missed a crucial turn and headed across a dam instead of down the path into the woods. We realized something was wrong when we could couldn’t find the pink flagging tape which marked our course. By the time we got back onto the course, we had travelled an extra kilometre and wasted precious minutes.

It goes without saying that we can’t do our personal best when we get sidetracked. As in running, so also in the Christian life, where there are lots of ways to lose the path: angry words, curious clicks, unwise money decisions, unguarded hearts, fear of what others will think, hungry habits. These are just some of the ways we miss crucial turns and fall short of our best.

The solution is to keep our eyes on the goal. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize....” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

That’s the apostle Paul writing, telling us that the way to avoid being sidetracked is to keep our focus on the end, the goal. When we lose site of the end goal we get sidetracked, and eventually we find ourselves in a situation we later regret. Of course, we don’t do this on our own. We need to rely on the Lord for strength in the face of temptations and trials.

Hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Nov 8, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at, but I’m a little behind in updating things. Blog located at

Thursday, August 29, 2013

OnFire #306 Lesson for the Body and Soul

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #306 A Lesson for the Body and Soul

Romans 12:13
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

A few days ago, I reached a new running personal best. I ran for 90 minutes, which was 18 minutes longer than I had ever run before. To back up and put this in context, a year-and-a-half ago my limit was about 2 minutes. Since then I have been building up my endurance so that now I regularly run for about an hour and eight minutes, the time it takes me to finish 10km.

My run on Tuesday was about testing my limits. It felt good to arrive back home with this new personal record. And, even better, I could have continued. But my loop had brought me home, it was time for supper, and I felt satisfied with my new accomplishment.

As I ran along a particular section of road, my mind wandered to some of the times I had seen other runners at the same spot and criticized them. “Wow - does he ever look in pain.” “She’s pretty slow.” “I hope I don’t look like that when I run.” Just as these memories came back to me, I wondered if I looked any different. I was near the end of my run, tired, a little sore, slowing down, concentrating on getting home.

“But that’s not fair,” I thought. “I’m at the end of a good long run, a personal best!”

And then it occurred to me, how did I know it wasn’t that way for the others I had seen? I had no way of knowing how long those others had run, whether it was their personal best, what their history had been. It was a good, albeit humbling, lesson on being careful not to judge by appearances.

What’s the connection to Romans 12:13, sharing and practicing hospitality? The link is in the barriers we find when we think about doing these things. For some people sharing and hospitality come naturally, but I have realized this is not the case for everyone. Finding hosts for speakers and missionaries, billets for youth, or encouraging people to host a small group or take part in a program like “Guess Who’s Coming to Lunch”  have taught me over the years that these things can actually be quite scary.

Sometimes we feel inadequate for the task. Sometimes we worry our place isn’t fancy enough, or clean enough, or that we won’t be good hosts. In a way, we’re prejudging how people will react to us, presuming that they will come away from our places with bad thoughts about us.

And then, sometimes, if we admit it to ourselves, don’t we just fear we won’t like the people? I hope this would not be the case, but I know from my own thoughts and attitudes - as I’ve just illustrated here - that our fallen human nature tends to go there.

This doesn’t mean we just open our wallets and our houses to whomever asks. We still need to exercise some critical thinking. But sometimes we judge things too quickly, on too little. I’m not going to pretend that sorting all of this out is easy. But at least let’s make sure that we’re not prejudging the people and situations.

I went running last Tuesday to get some exercise. I didn’t realize I would find exercise for my soul as well as my body. In any case, I hope it helps. Blessings, and be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Aug 29, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at, but I’m a little behind in updating things. Blog located at

Saturday, July 27, 2013

OnFire #305 Of Spiders and Gardeners

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #305 Of Spiders and Gardeners

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

From where I write at home, I can look out a window where several spiders are normally working. Some build webs, spinning and weaving their traps designed to catch flying insects. Others wait at the edge, hoping for lunch to land. The other day I watched a spider wrap its prey, rolling it over and over in silk until it looked like a tidy little take-out bundle. Yummy, if you’re a spider.

My neighbour has a garden. I notice his beans are coming along and may soon be ready. There is a saying that no one plants a garden without hope. Each little seed represents fresh produce later in the season, tasty treats on the kitchen table.

Spiders and gardeners are examples of being joyful in hope. They toil faithfully without guarantee that their efforts will be successful. Flies may not be caught. Rain, insects or birds may carry the seeds away. But they do it anyway because they believe it will be worth it in the end.

These three phrases from Romans 12 are all about the same thing. Patience in affliction is the same thing as being joyful in hope. It reflects an attitude of expectation that someday the struggle will end, and so we don’t need to take out our frustration on the people around us. Faithfulness in prayer is about hope and trust in God. When we don’t trust someone, we keep away from them. Its no different with God. There are times when we blame God for our circumstance, or we lose hope that perhaps even God could do something about the situation, so we give up praying. We don’t want to face God.

Funny how we can wallow in that. We don’t always want to be convinced that someday things might be different. It doesn’t matter that the choices are limited. We can give up hope and remain frustrated and miserable, or we can take hope and experience joy. I don’t see any other options, and put like that it seems silly to remain frustrated. And yet I know from my own experience that sometimes I would rather swim in my own self-pity.

I feel this challenge. This is a real temptation in my mind, to think that because things have been difficult in the past that things won’t always be so hard. I argue with myself all the time over this.

There are some people, however, a good number of them I might add, who are not this way, and I really admire them. I think about all those visits I have made in the hospital with people who face tremendous affliction. Chronic pain. Persistent maladies. Cancer. Terminal illness. I want to be like the people I have met who experience these tough things, but yet they remain hopeful because of their trust in the Lord. Many times I have left a patient’s bedside having been far more encouraged than encouraging. I have often said that if I am stricken someday with that kind of burden, I hope I will be able to be like them.

The thought hits me, why wait till then? Are there not other burdens we bear? Difficulties and setbacks? We don’t escape life without them, and indeed, if we let the Lord shape us, they actually strengthen and improve our character and our trust in the Lord. We only learn how strong the Lord is when we come to the end of our own strength.

Hope is a choice. Not an easy one. But it is a choice we make, a thought we cling to. Soon all this will be over, and it will be worth it in the end because God is good.

I hope this helps. Be on fire. Keep up hope!


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published July 27, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

OnFire #304 Pick Up Those Heels

OnFire Encouragement Letter 
OnFire #304 Pick Up Those Heels

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:11

A few weeks ago I made a discovery while jogging on our city’s walking trails. I took about 30 seconds off my time for a kilometre just by picking up my feet. I found that lifting my heels a little higher and stepping a little further took only a little extra effort, but the payoff was big. Like I said, I took about 30 seconds off my time on a kilometre. A real measurable difference, just by picking up my feet.

Let me go back a little to explain something. Jogging is not my favourite form of exercise. Actually, I really don’t enjoy it. It is hard, intensive work, but I do like the benefits it brings to me - fitness, weight control, good blood pressure. The first fifteen minutes are the toughest until my body gets into a rhythm. After 30 minutes, my lungs feel great and I really like that, but until then I just keep reminding myself it will be worth it.

As you might appreciate, attitude in this is everything, and sometimes mine is not helpful. My body is often more capable than my mind tells me, especially if I’m mentally tired. That’s how I started shuffling a little more, not lifting my heels, not stretching my step. “Let’s just get this over with” does get the job done, but not enthusiastically. Picking up my heels didn’t take much energy, but it boosted my running and the difference was notable. All it took was putting a little zeal into my step.

This brings us back to the passage. I don’t know about you, but my zeal goes up and down. Sometimes I’m enthusiastic to serve the Lord, to keep up my spiritual disciples like Bible reading and prayer, and serve others. And, sometimes I don’t feel like it so much.

There are times I need to pick up my feet spiritually, and what I’ve found is that my feelings often follow my actions. I don’t feel like putting a little more into it, but as I get going, I feel better, and put more into it, which increases both my zeal and my energy.

Someone is likely going to write to me saying something like this. “But Troy, surely you realize that our spiritual life is about more than just striving, more than just our effort. You make it sound like we’re  trying to earn God’s love.” Point noted. We shouldn’t think that somehow God will love us more if we do more. God just loves us. No more, no less. However, scripture reminds us many times that we have a responsibility to follow faith with action. If we believe stealing is wrong, then we shouldn’t steal. If we believe God is love, then our actions (and reactions) ought to be kind and loving. That’s faith followed by action.

This is about faith and action. As I ran that day and reflected that my running time improved just by picking up my feet a little, I wondered (running does give me lots of time to think...) if perhaps there are times I drag my feet spiritually. I concluded, yes, there are times my zeal lacks, I’m not putting my best into things, I’m not acting like I really believe in God’s goodness, and I need to lift my spiritual heels.

I hope this helps. I would never want to think that I increased someone’s burden by writing about the “Himalayas of the human condition.” Rather, by talking about these things together I hope to encourage us. I have often seen that, spiritually speaking, we get out way more than we put in. As so Paul says, “let us keep up our spiritual fervour.”

Blessings, and be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published July 13, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Saturday, July 13, 2013

OnFire #303 Reflections on Courage

We continue to look at the “Himalayas of the human condition” in Romans 12:9-21. These verses are the high peaks of character transformation.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” (9-10)*

Love is more than a feeling. It is active, and looks out for other people. It does all it can to stop evil from coming upon the other person.

One of my great lessons in this happened at a ball game with our youth group in Boston. When we arrived to take our seats at the Green Monster wall, we found that some of our seats were taken. Since there were other seats available just across the aisle, we encouraged the youth to take what seats they could. The game wasn’t a sell-out and so this was not a problem, but our group was not sitting together as we had originally planned.

As the leader, I evaluated things. I was worried about creating a confrontation in a strange city, and while the arrangement was not ideal, it was not bad either. I elected to leave things as they were.
One of my youth leaders, however, a young university student, took it upon herself to gather the tickets from the affected youth. She walked over to the people sitting in our seats, showed them our tickets, and moved them. It was an amazing piece of work. It was brave and just, and I learned a lot that day about taking courage to stand up for others.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” (9-10)*

To hate evil and cling to what is good means we need to overcome our own inertia. To do something means we have to change what we were planning to do. Hey, let’s face it, it is usually easier not to get involved. But being devoted to one another is about putting ourselves aside.

We must face our fears for what might happen as we stand against evil intention. It has been said that courage is not the lack of fear, but rather action despite fear. We feared the unknown which a confrontation might bring, but my youth leader took courage anyway.

It takes determination: “I will NOT let this thing happen. I WILL do everything I can.” This is hating evil and clinging to the good.

This is an area where stereotypical markers of courage do not matter. We think of size, strength, age, and position as advantages, but they are not necessary. I have seen some really big guys who lacked moral courage, and some pretty tiny ladies who could make a king cringe. As I write, Nelson Mandela lies in a hospital bed in South Africa. For many years he led people against the forces of apartheid from a prison cell.

Some lessons are hard. I was ashamed of my inaction that day, but what a lesson it was. Better to learn from a mistake than not to learn at all. And perhaps, I hope, I am putting the lesson into practice each day.

I hope this helps. Be on fire. Let us take courage and act, even when we are afraid.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published June 27, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. * New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Friday, June 14, 2013

OnFire #302 Two-Sided Tape

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #302 Two Sided Tape

Out of curiosity, I recently looked up the tallest mountain peaks in the world. According to Wikipedia, every one of the tallest 100 mountains are in the Himalayas. Not surprisingly, this range also contains some of the toughest climbs. Everest, Lhotse, K2, and Annapurna are well-known names in the climbing world. To reach their tops takes training, skill, ability to learn from mistakes, and determination.

There is something in the human spirit that sees a mountain, and wonders what it would be like to stand on top. That’s why, the song says, the bear went over the mountain - “to see what he could see.” This is the drive which inspires us to take on new challenges and to do hard things.

My own devotional reading recently took me into Romans 12, a passage I call the Himalayas of the human condition. Verses 9-21 are some of the toughest character challenges we face, to overcome pride, selfishness, ambition, deceit, grudges, revenge, and lack of faith. They are the tough mountain peaks of human interaction and take no less determination.

We’re going to make camp in these verses for a little while. My hope is that we look at these verses in the same way we look at a mountain and wonder what the view is like at the top, or the same way we gaze into space and dream what it would be like to stand on the moon. Imagine the kind of families in which we live, the relationships in which we interact, and even our communities and churches if we were to do the hard work of character transformation to which Paul calls us.

So, let’s start in verse 9. “Love must be sincere.”

If we were to give the straight up, no-frills paraphrase of this verse, here’s what I think it might look like. “Love is not two-faced.” We can’t be all smiles and kindness to a person’s face, and then go around bad-mouthing them.

It says a lot about people when someone leaves the room. Will conversation go on as normal, or do we talk about the person who left? We have to be careful here. This is a real character issue, that we treat people the same whether they are in the room or not. This is not an excuse to treat someone badly in their presence, obviously, but rather a call to improve our behaviour when they are not around.

This is a matter of trust. When we’re kind to someone, people shouldn’t suspect our motives. They should be able to trust that we’re being kind for kindness’ sake, not because we want something in return, not because we’re hoping for some kind of information we can use as a weapon later. That’s not right. We hate it when it happens to us, and we shouldn’t do it to other people.

While visiting friends one time, they asked me to pass the “Baptist tape.” This was new to me, and I didn’t have a clue what they were asking.

“Yeah, the double-sided tape.” The puzzled look on my face told them I still didn’t understand the reference.

“Double-sided tape... it’s two-faced...”

That stung. I’m a Baptist. Follower of Jesus first, but still Baptist in polity. I trust they wouldn’t have used the reference if they thought it applied to me, but it seemed obvious they had been victims of the someone’s hypocrisy. Someone not unlike me. We think no one notices our duplicity. We need to think again.

Why is gossip so interesting, to listen to and to tell? We’re a little voyeuristic that way, we want to see into someone else’s life. Perhaps also, we might admit that we feel better about our own spiritual condition if we know someone who is worse. We secretly compare our lives and hope that we come out a little ahead so we can feel better about ourselves. I admit it is sometimes the case in my heart. I can’t be the only one.

“Love must be sincere.” I can’t hope that people will be sincere with me, and then be less myself. I cannot somehow be the exception in this. The kind of world I hope for, the kind of character transformation to which Paul calls us, starts with me.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published June 14, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

Saturday, March 23, 2013

OnFire #298 Something I Never Thought I Would Do

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #298 Something I Never Thought I Would Do

Hi Folks:

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, where we celebrate Jesus' ride into Jerusalem. While he would teach during this week, scripture also records significant moments with his disciples, and with the Father in prayer.  And, of course, on Friday we remember that he died to save us. While we love Easter Sunday with its resurrection because it speaks of life, it was never be possible without the pain and suffering of Friday.

I sometimes wonder about Jesus' faith. It was, unlike ours, a perfect faith. It is hard to imagine because we struggle so much with trust. But think about this. Jesus had to trust the Father that his suffering and death would be worth it. Lest we think it was easy to go to the cross, remember his prayer while in the garden, "Take this cup from me..." It was not easy to go to the cross, but he decided he would trust. "...but if not, your will be done." (Lk 22:42)   There was no other way, but it would be worth it in the end.

Blessings for your Holy Week.

I did something the other day I never thought I would do. Don’t worry, there won’t be an awkward confession. I’m not talking about something secret or shameful. Rather, I looked online for some half-marathons in the area which might fit my schedule this summer.

To be clear, a half-marathon is a long way to run, just over 21 km. As a result, there is a part of my brain which suggests I may have lost touch with reality. However, I always say the question of my sanity is another matter entirely. Moving on...

I started going to the gym in January 2012 because I was getting tired of being sore from sitting at my desk. While only 44 at the time, and in decent shape (I thought), it wasn’t reasonable to be sore from doing nothing. And, it was a little stressful at church without a senior pastor, so going to the gym would help burn off a little stress.

The trainer was helpful and we set up a program for me to follow which included 15 minutes on the treadmill. 2 minutes was about all I could run and I walked the rest. Eventually this became three and I challenged myself to a longer distance each time. It wasn’t easy, but my time for a mile improved and that was encouraging.

By the time summer arrived, I mustered up enough courage to enter a 5km fun run, which I wrote about in OnFire #283, “Lessons from the Treadmill.” It was actually the first time I had run that far. Since then, 5km has become a regular part of my exercise routine and 7.5km is not unusual.

Curious about 10km races I might enter, I went looking online and discovered that it is not a far stretch to go from 10km to the half-marathon. This was surprising to me since it is a lot longer, but writers were encouraging and there are lots of suggestions about how to prepare for that distance. And thus it was that I was looking online for races close to home which fit my schedule.

That’s when the thought hit me that all this fitness work has been worthwhile. It felt horrible to begin, but then improved. I won’t say I enjoy running now, but I do like how it makes me feel when I’m done, and not just because I have stopped.

I think there are many things like this, where there is a lot of hard work and we wonder if we’ve made any progress at all. But then one day we realize how far we’ve come and it makes the hard work seem worthwhile. And not only that, but because of that hard work, we now envision new dreams we never thought possible before.

I don’t know if I’ll make the half marathon. A lot of people do, but I don’t want to presume. Here’s the thing. I won’t know until I try, will I?

That’s my thought for this week. I hope it helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Mar 23, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections 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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

OnFire #297 But Do We Pray for Timing?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #297 But Do We Pray for Timing?

This week we’ll turn our clocks ahead. It’s a good thing it happens on a Sunday and not a Monday. We might arrive at work at the wrong time instead of walking into church in the middle of the sermon. What a feeling to realize that we’re out of synch with the rest of the world. We got up, prepared, and planned to arrive at church with a little time to spare, only to discover we’re an hour off.

Timing is important. I hate it when I’ve got a good joke, and then blow the punch line. In skeet shooting, it is important to lead the target or the timing will be off. The shot will go ahead of, or behind, the clay instead of hitting the mark. When my boys became teens I had to learn when it was the right time to talk to them. Too early in the morning, and the response is a grunt. I usually wait for them to say something first.

Timing is important in both temporal and spiritual matters, and Jesus was the master. After his mother told him about running out of wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus responded, “My time has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). When his disciples wanted Jesus to go up to Jerusalem and show himself as a public figure, he delayed because “...the right time has not yet come” (7:6-8,14). Later, the crowds tried to seize Jesus to kill him, but they were hindered because the timing wasn’t right (7:30; 8:20). When a group of “Greeks” arrived asking to see Jesus, it was a sign: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23; 13:1). On the night before his crucifixion, he prayed, “Father, the time has come” (17:1).

It is a scary thought that the best of ideas – the redemption of all humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus – could have been deflected and derailed because of bad timing. If it was so for Jesus, how much more so for us....

Good timing makes our intentions possible, while poor timing can turn even a good idea into a disaster. We might not be ready. The proper preparation may not have happened. The right conditions might not be present. The necessary resources and support may not be in place.

As I write, Jan is away with Mark for the March break, and it is very tempting to start some of the work we hope to do in our kitchen this year. We want to take out a wall and replace the old plywood cupboards, along with fixing the holes in the ceiling from our plumbing repair last fall. I’m itchy to open up the wall, but I know I’m not quite ready to do the job and we won’t have the money until after our tax refund. We’d have a big mess for months, which would frustrate Jan, and I don’t want that for her.

While this is a relatively simple example, I can think of more critical situations which require the best possible timing – when to launch a new program, tackle a tough issue, or have a difficult conversation with someone. Definitely, we should wait to discern God’s timing for when (and if) we ought to speak with someone if we are upset or hurt.

This is where prayer comes in. We often (I hope) pray for God to lead us and bless us in our plans. But less often, in my experience, do we pray that we understand God’s timing.

Last fall when I was hunting, I got a shot off on a duck that sprang from the bank. Water sprayed and I was sure I had hit my target, but when the air cleared the bird was heading for the skies. Because my timing was off, all I had done was make a lot of noise. I don’t want the same thing to happen with my plans. Timing is everything.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Mar 7, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections 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, February 20, 2013

OnFire #296 Loaded for Bear

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #296 Loaded for Bear

Paddling quietly, we rounded the corner of the creek in our canoe and I spotted what we had come for. It had not been a productive day of duck hunting and so the sight of something on the bank was exciting. My heart raced as I lifted the 12 gauge shotgun and drew a bead on the dark shape.

It was a good shot, dead center. Imagine my surprise when it didn’t fall over. My “duck” was really a mass of dark roots at the base of an old stump. In the poor lighting of the shade at that corner, I blasted the wrong target.

“What were you shooting at?” my hunting partner asked. We paddled back and I showed him what I saw. The mass had the shape of a duck standing to stretch, head up. In my eagerness for the hunt, it was easy to see something that was not there.

One of the very real risks of carrying a loaded gun is that we might fire at the wrong target. So it is with hunter and non-hunter alike. Jealousy, bitterness, infighting, gossip, slander and arrogance are like shells in the magazine of life, ammunition in the chamber of anger. (2 Cor 12:20; Eph 4:31). As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, contributing factors like stress, hurt, and fatigue cloud our judgment.

Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin.” (Eph 5:26). If there was a redneck translation of this verse, it might read, “When you’re angry, don’t go blasting the wrong things.”

“Loaded for bear” is an expression which means we are angry and looking for a confrontation. We can’t wait to express our displeasure. In this condition we must be very careful since it is so easy to hear or see the wrong thing and blast away.

Anger is going to happen. No one doubts this. Character is about how we handle this emotion. Self-awareness is critical. When we know we are angry, we can take steps to be careful, exercise additional patience, and avoid making snap decisions we might regret later.

My hunting day ended well, with no harm done. May the same be said of us, even when we face stress and frustration, tension and anger.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Feb 20, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections 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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

OnFire #295 Just Average? Part 2

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #295 Just Average? Part 2

Hey Folks:

In my last letter, I told the parable of a drill who wondered if he was “Just Average” because there were other drills who seemed to be so much better, flashier, and feature-filled. It came from my own recent experience of dealing with an attack of self-doubt and insignificance. Last time we saw that God uses ordinary people to accomplish his purposes. Scripture is filled with examples of ordinary people.

And now, to continue...

...Second, we need to remember that our measures of success are not the same as God’s. Our ideas of success are based on what we see, and they change according to the age in which we live. God’s measure of success is not the same as ours.

Take David as an example. The prophet Samuel went to David’s father, knowing that the new king would come from the family. David was not the one Samuel would have chosen, but God sees things differently.

"Do not consider his appearance or his height,... The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Sam 16:7)

We tend to judge on the appearance of things - how good someone looks. How much money they have. We find a number and compare. How big? How successful? How attractive? We even do this in Christian circles. How big is the church? How large is the ministry? How much is in the offering?

This is a dangerous game, for a couple reasons. First, our measure of success is constantly changing. Have you ever seen a picture of a winning boxer from the 1800's? A winning hockey or football team from the 20's? We wouldn’t look at these people twice if we saw them today.

Second, and more importantly, if we don’t have the numbers for success then we wonder if “just average” is good enough. We end up feeling small and insignificant, and we question our value.

1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that God’s measures of success are not the same as ours. God judges based on the condition of the heart, not on something we measure like money or beauty, or size, or how smart we are.

I don’t know about you, but I find this encouraging because it levels the field. The world we live in favours the rich, the beautiful, the powerful, the outstanding. What if we don’t have these advantages? Do we get left behind? God measures on a different scale, and it doesn’t matter if we’re rich or powerful or beautiful. We all have a chance for spiritual success.

Paul reminds us of this also. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27)

Third, we need to ask the right question. After about a week of arguing with myself about these things, it occurred to me that I was asking the wrong question. When I reframed the question, I began to feel better. My outlook changed as I stopped asking if I was “just average?” and ask start asking, “Am I faithful?”

Am I faithful to the teaching of scripture, obedient to its commands? Or, do I dabble in disobedience? Am I a faithful follower of Jesus Christ? Is my commitment solid, or only when it suits me?

“`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Do I faithfully model Jesus in my character?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Am I faithful in exercising my spiritual gifts?

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8)

The question we need to be asking, the only one which really matters, is, “Am I faithful?”

Fourth, there was one verse which especially prodded me.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (Is 64:8)

The context of this verse probes the issue very uncomfortably. If God is the potter, who are we to suggest He didn’t do a good job in making us as we are?

Finally, one last thing. These thoughts of self doubt may lead us to do stupid things, all out of panic and insecurity. A ministry colleague passed it along some years ago and it has been helpful to me in ministry and to others outside of ministry. Here it is - Never resign on a Monday or in February. There are times and seasons which seem to affect our outlook on life, and it is wise not to make major, life-changing decisions while under the influence of these cycles.

My attack seems to have passed and even February doesn’t look so bad. I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Feb 5, 2013. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generation and Connections 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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

OnFire #294 Just Average Part 1

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #294 Just Average? Part 1

Hi Folks:

This OnFire is in two parts. It’s a little longer than normal but starts with a parable. I got hit with some major insecurities over the Christmas break and had to work through these things. I thought it might help OnFire readers.


A parable...

There was once a drill sitting on a shelf in a hardware store. He was shiny and new inside his snazzy 4-colour box. He wasn’t fancy, but he wasn’t bargin bin either. He could go forward and backward, and he came with a set of high-speed steel bits in standard sizes. He waited for the day someone would lift him from his place on the shelf and carry him home.

That day finally came when a man entered the store looking for a drill. He was a new homeowner, and he needed a drill to drill a few holes. He didn’t consider himself handy, but he thought it was time to learn, so he headed out to the hardware store that day to find himself a drill.

Our drill was exactly what he was looking for. It drilled holes and it had reverse. He didn’t know if reverse was important, but it sounded good. And just as important, the price was right. Not as expensive as the tools at the other end of the aisle, but much sturdier than ones he had seen at the bargain store.

The drill was excited to be bought by someone so keen and eager. He had been made for drilling holes, and now he was drilling holes. He and his owner drilled holes wherever they were needed - in walls, in boards, even floors and doors. Along the way they discovered that reverse is important, and the drill thought life was just grand.

Until, this is, the homeowner brought home another drill. This drill was similar in that it drilled holes, but it had a heavier motor and a feature called variable speed. It started slow and the more the user pulled the trigger the faster it went. This was important for putting in screws, which the older drill wasn’t really designed for. The homeowner still used the old drill, but not as often as the new one. It was hard not to envy the new drill with its new skills.

Life continued in this way until THAT Christmas when the homeowner opened his presents to find a bright and shiny new cordless drill. It boosted forward and reverse, variable speed, a clip on the side to hold driver bits, and it didn’t a key to tighten the chuck. And, of course, it needed no cord. True, it didn’t have as much power as the other drills. And it didn’t have the same stamina – it always seemed to die in the middle of a job. But, how easy it was to carry the newest drill up the ladder and down the stairs, and around the corner to exactly where it was needed.

Time passed and the homeowner continued to add new tools as he did more things around the house – screw drivers and chisels, and even a few saws. He was especially fond of a specialized tool with mini grinders and tiny bits so small our drill couldn’t even hold them with his large teeth.

Our drill didn’t know how to feel. He knew he had important skills and abilities. He could drill forward and backward, he had plenty of power, and as long as he was plugged in he never ran out of juice. But the other drills seemed faster and fancier. At least he was more portable than the old drill press the owner brought home.

He felt so, so? What was the word? He felt so average. He didn’t like that. He wanted to stand out, to be special. But what if he was just average? Just mentioning the word depressed him. He didn’t want to think it, but what if he really was just average?

It’s not only imaginary drills who feel this way at times. This feeling of “just average” goes kind of like this, that if we’re not notable for some good reason, then we have failed. Its a feeling that, “I’m just an ordinary person. What good am I if I’m really just average? What good can I do if I don’t stand out from the crowd?”

I want to talk about being “just average,” and not only because I try to help people deal with this issue all the time. This year over the Christmas season I got nailed with this thought. I found my soul tugged back and forth as my heart ached with a feeling of insignificance while my head tried to counter with what I know is true. It’s hard to argue with a feeling, I know. Thankfully, however, feelings come and feelings go, and the feeling seems to have passed. But wanting to be true to the spirit of OnFire, I figured if I go through these things others probably do also. So here it is...

At least three things can help us battle this feeling. First, the Bible is filled with examples of how God uses ordinary people. Who was Noah? Abraham? Moses? Ruth? Boaz? David? Mary? Joseph? John, James, Andrew and Simon? No one, really. But God used them in powerful ways.

True, there are some people in the Bible who we might expect to do well. Daniel and his friends were chosen for service because they were the cream of the crop. Saul/ Paul was pretty bright, but was making his mark against Christians.

Many - perhaps most - of the people we see in the Bible were ordinary people. God uses ordinary people.

...To Be Continued... in the next OnFire, we’ll take a look at the final two reasons.

I Hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Jan 24, 2013. 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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

OnFire #293 Pineapple Surprise

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #293 Pineapple Surprise

I opened the cupboard door and reached for a new can of cat food. I grabbed it from the shelf we normally keep these things on, the second one from the bottom, below line of sight where we put the more well-used things like soups, but above the things we stoop to pick up, like the potatoes. I wasn’t really paying attention. I grabbed the generic yellow can and then picked the opener from its place in the drawer nearby.

What a surprise to find pineapple inside. Well, it was and it wasn’t. Jan had run out of space on the shelves above and set it there several weeks before. With its bright yellow budget brand wrapper, it could have been anything, and I had almost mistaken it for cat food several times.

I thought it really was a delight to be surprised by the pineapple. Jan and Mark were working in the kitchen when it happened and we shared a laugh over it. If anything, I tend toward the serious and so laughter is good. Jan’s first words were, “Don’t eat it. I’ll make it into something.” She knows me well. I like pineapple and would have seized the opportunity which the now-open can presented.

There are all sorts of lessons in this, I suppose. To pay attention, read carefully, and not assume. Good lessons, but not the ones I saw that day.

Wonder is the word which comes to mind. I love it when little things like this brighten and lift a day. We can’t take them granted. Often these little things are what we needed to click us out of a mood or a funk, and I think are heaven-sent.

Our God is a God of surprise, of wonder and joy. Do a word search in the Bible and discover that wonders happened when God acted to bring about a different result from what was expected by the circumstances. The Israelites did not expect rescue at the Red Sea. David did not always expect to see the light of day when he was chased by his enemies. The people who came to Jesus for healing had exhausted all other avenues of hope. That’s what makes these events wonders. Each person was surprised.

Human nature, I think, is that we forget the Lord is God. He is not like us, not limited as we are, not hindered by weaknesses and faults. We constantly need reminders that He is a God of surprise and wonders, and trust Him to do far more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

A can of pineapple is a small thing, but it brought a little joy to a day which had been filled with burdens and worry. A surprise is still a surprise. As we begin this new year, may we all look with new eyes to the God of surprises and wonders.

Ps 40:5 Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us  no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.

 OnFire is a biweekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Jan 10, 2013. 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