Monday, July 31, 2017

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #351 Going to the Birds

This year Jan and I went to the birds!

Well, we started feeding them, a little. We got some suet and a cage, and hung it from our clothesline. For those who don’t know, suet is a mixture of seeds mixed with hard fat. It took a little while, about a month, before the birds found it. Now we have a regular entourage of chickadees, finches, bluejays, magpies, and brown thrashers.

The brown thrashers are interesting. They migrate north from the southern US for the summer, and apparently have about 1000 different songs, the largest repertoire of the songbirds. Several are nesting in our lilac hedge, and we see them coming and going.


Some birds knew instinctively to perch on the cage closest to the suet in order to reach it. We watched others, however, who landed on top of the clothesline and then tried to reach the feed, without success. They simply could not bend low enough below their feet. They were so close, but so far away.

I talk with people all the time who feel this way about God. They are close, but not quite there. They want to believe, but something holds them back. For them it seems that others get the privilege, but they miss out - they’ve done too much, gone too far, turned their back for too long, and they missed their opportunity. The best they can hope for is to stand on top of the wire and watch while others feed below.

This was not so different from the situation faced by most in the Old Testament. Only the high priest could pass through the heavy curtains into the holy of holies, the innermost part of the sanctuary, while others had to be content to wait outside.

This changed with Jesus. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings,… “ (Hebrews 10:19-22*)

The lesson for us is that God is within reach of the ordinary person. We should not think that closeness with God is only for someone else. Rather, because of Jesus, we can all experience closeness with God.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published July 9, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Sunday, July 9, 2017

OnFire #350 Don’t Give Up at the Beginning

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #350 Don’t Give Up at the Beginning


It was a tough week of training a few weeks ago, so when Friday came my legs were already feeling tired for the LSD, or long slow distance run. I woke early, ate breakfast and hit the road. It would all be worth it in September when we do the Mountain Man race, a four-stage ironman-type competition in Edmonton.

The first km or two of a run always feels miserable as the body warms up, but I expected this to pass. Except it didn’t. My legs felt heavy like lead, made worse from bruises received on the obstacle course earlier in the week. As the GPS app on my phone signaled the fourth km, I thought I might need to turn around, to go home, and to try again another day. I was tired and achy. Maybe it was just not going to “come together.”

A voice inside nagged me: don’t give up at the beginning. I had just started, and hadn’t given it enough effort to consider stopping yet. I needed to go further. That single thought plagued me, propelled me. I pressed on until I reached a quarter, then half - I was too far from home to give up at that point, and too proud to call Jan. Finally I reached home, feeling glad I had not given up when I wanted to.

It seems to me this was a life lesson and not just for a day of running.  So many of our good intentions suffer because we did not persevere through the difficulties. We sometimes we give up too early.

I’m not particularly fond of the word perseverance. It creates mental pictures for me of pushing a big rock up a hill. Hard tiring work. All effort and little joy.

There certainly can be joy in hard work, but most often it doesn’t come until the end. The grad walks the stage. The farmer harvests the crop. The runner crosses the line.

Biblical writers encourage us not to give up. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12*)

Don’t give up. There will be joy in the end.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published July 9, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

OnFire #349 And the Winds Were Calmed

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #349 And the Winds were Calmed

It was fairly windy the other day, breezy as we would say back home in an understated way. It was sunny, and I would have liked to take the canoe out, but it would not have been safe to go out solo in that kind of wind. I did read a book outside for a while, but wished for shelter. There was no hiding from the wind as it eddied around the house. When I checked the 24-hour weather record, I was not surprised to discover the wind was 48km/hr, gusting to over 60. Like I said, it was a breezy day.

And then over the course of a few hours, it all changed. As I looked outside later in the day, I noticed nothing moving – no leaf on a tree, no litter in the street, no blade of grass. The wind simply dropped out. It was still outside, with only a flier caught in the fence to show that it had been windy earlier. After hiding all day, the birds came out to sing in the trees.

That it was windy was no surprise. It blows a lot here in Manitoba, and it always seems to be against you on the bicycle. More surprising though was how quickly it calmed - from stormy to still over several hours.

It made me think of times in life when our troubles were stilled. We got so used to the difficulties, it was almost hard to believe that they might end. But as I look back, that is exactly what happened. Illness. Depression. The boys’ ecoli hospitalization. Worries and woes of various kinds were calmed. It wasn’t always sudden, but one by one they became still.

Life is rarely without some kind of trouble, but these words of the Psalmist are still true:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

Psalm 107:28-31*

The winds of life do not last forever. Rarely do they seem to pass as quickly as we hope, but they will end. Of this we can be sure.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Jun 13, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com



Monday, April 24, 2017

OnFire #348 Coffee is Proof of God’s Love

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #348 Coffee is Proof of God’s Love

Food has always been the gathering point of my family life. Every major holiday, birthdays, graduations, good times, and even bad times saw us gather somewhere for a meal. We sometimes joke that we have barely finished one meal and we are planning the next! I love to eat and it has only been through the constant effort of exercise that I don’t weigh much, much more.

Every morning I have a cup of my favourite coffee – Sumatran dark roast Swiss water process from Java Blend in Halifax. I am by no means a coffee snob - I happen to actually like instant coffee, for instance - but I know what I like most. One morning while enjoying that first sip, I commented to Jan, “Coffee is one more proof that God loves us!” I startled myself, thinking perhaps that I had just committed some sort of blasphemy by trivializing God’s grace. Or, at the very least, was I being shallow, to put too much stock in a beverage? I pondered this for some time.

My contemplation led me to the thought that God didn’t actually have to add flavour, variety, texture or colour to our food. Think about it – we only need calories and nutrients to survive. The calories are for the energy, and the nutrients replenish vitamins and minerals. The rest is extra, not strictly necessary.

So why did God do it? It is possible that one of the reasons was to bring variety to our menu. Think about how nice it is to eat different kinds of foods? I love pot luck meals for this very reason. I sometimes pick out foods at the store, even if I don’t know what they are, just for the sake of trying something new. The seasons bring different foods, also. Strawberries in the summer… I am getting hungry!

Think about the complaining that God’s people did in the wilderness when they only had manna for food. They thought it would be better to go back to slavery in order to eat fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (Numbers 11:5) I don’t think many of us would really be all that different.

Is it possible that God also wanted to delight us? Think about discovering a new flavour, and the joy it brings. Who hasn’t found a new ice cream and wanted to finish the whole tub, or is that just me? There are spices that transport me to another place and time. Summer savoury takes me to my mother’s place, dill to my grandmothers, curry to friends. On and on I could go. Ever have a cold, and not be able to taste very well? Takes the joy out of eating, doesn’t it? My point exactly.

I don’t want to say it too lightly, but flavour is indeed proof of God’s love for us. Not on the same plane as Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. But proof nonetheless that God did something for us He did not need to do. He did not need to add variety, flavour, colour, or texture, but He did. And I think He did it to bless us and bring us delight.

So, the next time we sit down to a meal to say grace, perhaps we might be even more thankful. Not only for the fact that we have daily food, as some in our world struggle with getting enough food. But also for the variety and taste of it. We really, truly have a lot to be thankful for.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Apr 24, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Monday, February 27, 2017

OnFire #347 Transfiguration


OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #347 Transfiguration

I have these regular moments when Jan will tell me something, and I wonder, why? And then later, it becomes clear. “I have a dentist appointment tomorrow,” means she needs the car and I must plan some other way to get around. It usually takes some time for me to connect her details to my life.

This sometimes happens when we read scripture. Why do we have that story? Why was it so important to include it? The implication to us is not always immediately clear.

The transfiguration is one of those accounts. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all include the story that Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountain in order to pray. During that event, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, who was changed – transfigured – before them to display his true glory, and the voice of God the Father was heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5*)

The event was obviously significant, but why?

It revealed Jesus’ identity. People were always wondering who Jesus was. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry people asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). After performing miracles, some speculated Jesus was a prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah. But a few, like Peter, began to believe that he might actually be the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20).

The glory of the transfiguration and the voice from heaven confirmed this for Jesus’ inner circle. To be called “Son” was to identify Jesus as having the very character and nature of God the Father. The implications were incredible, because they could only either be true, or highly blasphemous. The disciples listened to Jesus and tucked this away until after the resurrection.

It highlighted Jesus’ role. The presence of Moses and Elijah suggested that the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew scriptures looked to Jesus for fulfillment. The old must give way to the new. We’ll see this again in the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). No longer would we relate to God through the Law of the Old Testament with its sacrifices at the temple, but instead through Jesus.

It marked a turning point. Remember the voice at Jesus’ baptism? “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) In the same way that Jesus’ baptism marked a stepping off from his early life to his public ministry, the transfiguration marks a change in direction from his ministry to the cross. Jesus did not die because he was caught in the politics of the day. Rather, his goal from the beginning was always the cross.

This made a huge impression on the disciples. Decades later Peter wrote about the event:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2Peter 1:16-18)

John also reflected on that day: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

For me, the transfiguration is not just an “interesting” account, but rather provides another brick in the foundation of a stronger faith in Jesus.

It holds together. In a world which seems to be fragmenting, with alternate truths and personal realities, “truth” does not often hold together. Rather, it changes to suit the day, and sows doubt, discord, and division. But here we have the voices of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus, joined by the Heavenly Father, leading to the cross, and confirmed by the resurrection. Something in my soul relaxes, breathes deeply, in the calm reassurance of this coming together of history around the transfiguration.

This helps me. I hope it helps you. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Feb 27, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

OnFire #346 Head Over Heart (Or, Stand Where Eagles Soar)


OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #346 Head Over Heart (Or, Stand Where Eagles Soar)

As I’ve written before, Jan and I spent two weeks camping in Banff and Jasper national parks last summer. It was truly spectacular to sleep in the mountains, to walk on glaciers, listen to the thunder of waterfalls, and to gaze upon “lofty mountain grandeur,” as the old hymn goes. 

One neat experience is relatively new to Jasper, the Glacier Skywalk. Modeled on a similar structure in the Grand Canyon, the Glacier Skywalk is a curved glass walkway 280m (918ft) above the valley floor. At its apex, it extends some 35m from the rock wall that supports it. Appropriately enough, it promises patrons will “Stand Where Eagles Soar.” 


It is an impressive piece of engineering. Since it is cantilevered, it juts straight from the side of the mountain. There are no cables extending overhead to support it. Dozens of steel rods drilled 30m (98.5ft) into the rock anchor it instead. A curved suspension cable supports a mere skeleton frame. Mass dampers prevent it from swaying. Four layers of tempered glass totaling 3.2cm (1.25in) provide a clear view to the canyon floor, so far below. 

As we followed the crowd to the walkway we reached the end of the concrete and peered “over the edge” where the glass started. Virtually everyone paused.  It did not feel natural to step out onto a glass walkway, even though we had been told about the construction methods and the strength of the materials. 

It was a clear case of head versus heart. Our heads told us it was safe while our hearts imagined the worst. In a flash, this conflict switched back and forth like a tennis game. It was overbuilt, but then again the Titanic was said to be unsinkable. It seems to be holding people,… but wouldn’t it be my luck to visit on the day it collapsed! 

Clearly I am exaggerating, drawing out the drama. It wasn’t that terrifying, but even I paused at the edge. Some paused quite a long time before deciding it was OK. I don’t recall anyone turning back, but some stopped longer than others.

This is exactly the kind of conflict that happens when we find ourselves going through a difficult time. We know in our heads that God is still there in the midst of our pain, but our hearts question. Did God abandon us?

The apostle Paul reminds us that God goes with us in trouble and difficulty:

He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9*)

When our fears and doubts suggest God has left us, we need to put them in their place with a dose of truth. God WILL strengthen us. Will it be easy? Probably not, but God WILL keep us to the end.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain and has more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Jan 17, 2017. *New International Version. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com