Monday, April 13, 2015

OnFire #328 The Blessings of the Ordinary

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #328 The Blessings of the Ordinary

Hi folks. We just returned from an extraordinary trip. Since our 25th anniversary is coming up in May, and I will likely be on a French course, Jan and I decided we would go a little early. We flew to Phoenix, rented a car, and travelled to Sedona, the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Kingman (a traditional Route 66 stop), Las Vegas, and the Hoover Dam. We really enjoyed the time travelling together and were amazed at the spectacular sights. If we are friends on Facebook, you may have seen some of the pictures. If not, email me and I’ll send you the links.

About halfway through the trip, we met a local woman who surprised us with a thought-provoking question. She listened as we described our trip and asked, “What is it that you find so spectacular?”

She was surprised that we were fascinated by sights which were very ordinary in her local perspective. We loved the vastness of the desert, with such a variety of life thriving even though the landscape was parched. In Sedona, the red sandstone formations soared hundreds of feet into the air. In the painted desert, alternating layers of sandstone and rock looked like they had been decorated by an artist.

We met other locals who had never travelled the hour or two needed to visit the Grand Canyon. “Grand” seems too small a word to describe it. It was amazingly spectacular.

We are all guilty of taking local sights for granted. When I was young growing up on PEI, I did not appreciate Anne of Green Gables, nor did recognize the beauty of the water. It was only after leaving and coming back that I saw them with new eyes.

We tend to overlook the ordinary in our lives and herein lies the spiritual lesson. After this woman asked us what we found so spectacular, I began to wonder if it is possible that others might recognize great blessing in something we consider rather ordinary? It seems it is possible to overlook the ordinary of our lives and actually fail to see great blessings.  

My transition to military life has been a good one, but not without its adjustments. For instance, my military work day most often ends at 4pm. This can change according to training or operations, and sometimes I have the duty phone 24/7 for a week at a time. But, generally speaking, I am finished at 4. There are times I find myself a little bored, wishing for something to do or somewhere to go. This is the ordinary of my life. However, a year or two ago I would have envied myself as I tried to pry productive time from every minute of every day. I will eventually find ways to use this newfound time, but it is indeed a blessing.

This is a matter of perspective. What we see as ordinary is extra-ordinary to someone else, perhaps even a blessing.  The challenge is to see our own lives through someone else’s experience in order to gain a new sense of  thankfulness. 

Our ordinary may look very different to someone else, and so we are left to think about that very issue. In what ways is our ordinary actually a great blessing?

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 in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Apr 13, 2015. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com





Saturday, March 21, 2015

OnFire #327 Eyes to See

OnFire Encouragement Letter
Onfire #327 Eyes to See

A few nights ago, we went out to see the northern lights. We had heard that it was a possibility, and it was a clear night here in Manitoba, so we set out to see what we could see.

In the past we have seen some spectacular sights. There was one time when we lived on Grand Manan when they lit up most of the sky in gorgeous reds and greens. On PEI another time, we saw them as fingers reaching up into the sky at about 2 in the morning. And then in Shediac another time we watched them shimmering on the horizon. We had high hopes since the news had been talking up the opportunity.

As we left the bright lights of habitation to find a dark country road, we could see a little bit of green developing to the north. We parked the car, set up the camera and waited to see what might develop on the skyline.

The aurora are always neat to see, but they were not very bright that night. We gazed for a while and then I decided to take some pictures hoping that the camera could see more than our eyes.  It was an experiment, really. I knew the camera was capable, but I had never shot night scenes with it before.

My goodness, the results were pretty. After experimenting we came away with some nice shots. We were able to see green fingers of light reaching into the heavens like searchlights against the stars. 



Most remarkable to me was the fact that the northern lights were only barely visible to us.  We could only see a dim cloud of light shifting in the sky. No fingers. And yet, they were plainly visible to the camera. We needed help to see what we could not see.

Faith is like that. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1*) In a way, it is seeing what we do not yet see. 

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus is interesting in this light. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…” In other words, that their faith would be strengthened to see more of God’s working around them.

What did Paul hope they would see? “… the hope to which he has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:18-19) He wanted them to have hope because things will not always be the same (inheritance) and God is powerful. These things are not always plain to us. We need eyes of faith to see them.

Like the northern lights which were more visible to the camera than to our eyes, God is undoubtedly doing more than we can perceive because he is more powerful than we can imagine.

May our desire be to see more of God so that our hope is confident. May our prayer be “Open the eyes eyes of my heart.”

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 in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Mar 21, 2015. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 8, 2015

OnFire 324 Lessons from the Crab Apple Tree

OnFire Encouragement Letter
 OnFire 324 Lessons from the Crab Apple Tree

When we moved into our house in Shilo, we discovered a crab tree in the backyard. Like many crab trees, it is overgrown, but it has especially tiny little red apples, about the size of large cherries. They don’t taste very good. I tried.

Despite it being November with the temperature already averaging below freezing, a lot of the little apples still hung in the branches, while many others occupied the ground under the tree and on the walkway leading into our back door. It did not take long for the movers to track these little apples into the house, where their mashed remains quickly dried like glue on the floor. Needless to say, we were not great fans of that tree…

…Until a couple of weeks ago, that is. About 50 Bohemian waxwings (wide-bellied cousins of the cedar variety) showed up and spent 2 days feeding from the apples in the tree and on the ground. It was quite a show to see them milling in our trees and taking turns swooping onto the ground. Any hint of movement sent them lifting to the air, so we watched quietly from an angle. You can see them on my Facebook page if we are “friends.” We were disappointed when they left, but felt blessed to have seen them.

And then this week we spotted some bunny tracks in the newly fallen snow under the tree. Every morning the tracks multiply, mounting evidence that a rabbit or two has found a private stash of apples.

I take two lessons from this. First, I was gently reminded of the passage from Matthew 6:25-27.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

God is looking after the forest critters in our neighbourhood; in fact, He is using this “useless” tree to do it. 50 birds and a few rabbits, and probably a few deer, too. In the same way He provides for them, He will provide for us, and so we are lovingly reminded that our worrying is futile and pointless. God will, repeat, will provide for us because we mean even more to Him than the birds.

And then, there was lesson number 2. What we considered a pain in the neck actually turned out to be something very valuable and meaningful to us. Cleaning stuck-on dried apple from the floors of our house was a pain in the neck. I contemplated ways to trim the tree and wondered if it was time for this thing to go. But we rent our house, so it is hands off the tree.

We think of the tree differently now. We delight in finding the new tracks each morning. So far I haven’t convinced Jan to let me buy a trail camera to capture pictures at night – she apparently sees through my pretext. But, this tree is now a delight and we see it as so much more than the pain we initially thought it was.

Change is like that. Someone asks us to consider doing something differently. All we can see are the inconveniences and problems. But in God’s economy, who is to say that perhaps God will use this change – and our inconvenience – to accomplish something according to His purposes? It requires a little less selfishness on our part to have this perspective.

I’m living this currently. I have the chance to finish my remaining courses and get off the training list for chaplaincy. Then I can get to more permanent ministry in a unit. That’s what I joined the army for. Or, I can take a French course for three or more months, and delay getting my required courses for another year. It’s not what I prefer. I want to get right in there, and sitting in the class doesn't feel like I’m doing something productive.

But there is another way to think about it. I can be a more effective chaplain if I am willing to see things a little differently. My French currently isn't good enough to provide ministry. Without more second language skills, I cannot minister to a significant portion of our military members. And so this is the thought I need to hang on to.

Change is tough for all of us, no matter the form in which it comes. But let us not give up the possibility of something joyful and delightful just because we can’t, or won’t, see beyond our own circumstances.

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 in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Jan 8, 2014. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Monday, December 15, 2014

OnFire #323 Santa, and Other New Experiences

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #323 Santa, and Other New Experiences

Hi Folks:

We continue to settle in. Our house is looking more like a home, and there are only a few things we have not been able to locate. Mark, our youngest, flies in Friday from Moncton, and we are very excited about his visit. We have a tree up, but we’ll wait until he arrives to decorate. We won’t see Ian this Christmas, but hope to see him in February.

Blessings, and Merry Christmas!
~~~~~~~

It has been a season full of firsts: first chapel service, first duty calls, first military Christmas events, first “official” prayer with the soldiers, first potluck in a church where I’m not the pastor. Today I’ll have a meeting with the regional minister. It has been exciting and interesting season as we integrate into our new calling.

Last weekend we attended the officers’ family Christmas party (another first) and we were taken back a few years to when Mark and Ian were still young. There were tables to make Christmas decorations and gingerbread cookies, and lots of little children clutching their parents’ pants legs. 

At the right time Santa arrived and everyone got their gifts. It has been a while since we were in that life stage, and I had forgotten that not all children appreciate the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap.  A few cried when they realized they did not know this jolly old man in red and white, at which point their parents retrieved them to stop the crying.

We all knew that they did not need to be afraid of Santa, but they did not. Give it a few years and their feelings will change, but for now this was a scary new experience.

New experiences can be a little scary for all of us. Our new experiences here have not been without their moments, which generally revolve around being afraid of doing the wrong thing in a new setting. For example, we were at the base commander’s open house last week, and I dropped my plate, which landed face down on the floor, of course.  

Fear and new experiences go hand in hand. Some situations are minor, but not all are. Regardless, our fears are very real to us.  No one wakes up in the morning and says, “Woohoo, I get to do something that makes me afraid!”

The good news is that we never do these things alone. Go to biblegateway.com and look up “I will be with you” in your favourite version. NIV shows 7 times God speaks to his people to assure them that their new experiences will not overwhelm them.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”  (Isaiah 43:2*)

Don’t forget, also, that “Immanuel” means “God with us.” Jesus came to demonstrate in a very real and practical way that God is with us.

Whatever our new scary things is, we will not be alone. God goes with us. I hope this helps.

Troy

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Dec 15, 2014. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 4, 2014

OnFire #321 In the Meantime Live

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #321 In the Meantime Live


Hi Folks:

Since writing last, I travelled back to Moncton for the sale of our house, and had  about a week of leave before basic training.  Despite the fact that we are now homeless, there have been some real joys during this time. I baptized our youngest son, Mark, along with a teen from our former church. Our other son, Ian, was home. We had some great time with friends, and we’ve visited family on PEI and in Saint John NB. In addition, we dropped Mark off to Crandall University for his first year. A lot has been going on.

Tomorrow I board the plane to Montreal and make my way to St. Jean sur Richilieu for my Basic Military Officer Qualification courses. Since we have already completed about 75 lessons on military life, law, history, and all sorts of other topics over the summer, we will do a condensed course lasting about 4 weeks.  In October, we change to Borden ON for chaplain school, which lasts another month. Then, on Nov 1, I will return to Shilo. Jan will join me and we will begin our life there together.

I will not be able to write during Sept and Oct. Thank you to so many who have written to express their well-wishes already, and who have told me they are praying.  Despite the stress of so much transition, my first two months in the military have been a confirmation of God’s leading, and I anticipate the next two months will go slowly day by day, but quickly overall.

There is a lot to squeeze in, but in many ways I am looking forward to it. I met a number of the chaplains when we were in Ottawa for board selection in February and we have maintained contact. They are super and we will look out for each other along the way.

I’ve been thinking about some advice I have received which I want to pass along. Both pieces are related, although they were given many years apart.

When I arrived in Shilo, my base chaplain told me to relish all the firsts. There would be a lot to learn quickly, but along the way there would be some great memories. He was right – I’ve had tours of the units on base, visited artillery in the field, met many great people, and experienced a lot of God’s grace and favour through them.

In 1989, we sat in our first chapel service in seminary and listened to our preaching prof bring a message called, “In The Meantime, Live.” The sermon was based on Jeremiah 29:4-10. We know the passage which follows really well, “I know the plans I have for you…” (Jer 29:11), but there were important words for us leading up to it.

The situation was that the Hebrew people were taken into exile in Babylonia.  God promised that after 70 years they would be able to return to Jerusalem, but in the meantime, they should not to be afraid to live their lives:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.... When seventy years are completed for Babylon,…”*

The message for us students was that even though we would spend a number of years in school, we should fully embrace the experience. It would be easy to delay life, to view seminary as an exile of sorts. However, we would miss the opportunity God had placed before us to meet new people and experience new things.  In other words, in the meantime, live!

As I look ahead, it would be easy to wish away these next two months, to simply exist and endure. However, I’m hoping for some great times with the other chaplains. There will be lots of shared experiences and some great memories along the way.

I don’t entertain any illusions about basic training. It is designed to put us under stress and push us to new limits. I do not expect it to be comfortable.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t live in the meantime.  Jeremiah reminds us to live in the meantime.

I can’t claim original material in this letter, but a good word is worth passing along.  Difficulty, hardship, trial or trouble will come, but in the meantime we can still live.

I hope this helps. Be on fire and I’ll connect with you again in November.

Troy


OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis.  Married  to Jan, Troy is a chaplain-in-training in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Sept 4, 2014. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Monday, August 18, 2014

OnFire #320 Bad News and Good News

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #320 Bad News and Good News

Since coming to Shilo in July, I’ve seen some good increases in my fitness level. The military has an interest in the fitness of its members, and daily physical training is a requirement. Before, I had a few runs of about 15km, but with almost daily running I have increased this. In the last few weeks I have had runs of more than 20km.

This is a good news and bad news story. My last long run started out great. I mapped out a route of about 20km. I would leave the base, take one of the back roads, cut across to the highway, and then return. Without some way to vary things, running can become boring, and this new route would be a nice change.

This was great until I missed my turn to cut across to the highway. This little mistake added about 7km to my route, and about an hour. I ran out of water. I didn’t have an energy bar. It took me about 3 hours and 15 minutes, and by the end I think my effort would be better described as waddling instead of running.

The bad news was that my run that day was a lot tougher than I planned or anticipated. I was sore for a few days, even with stretching, and my energy lagged in addition.

The good news, however, was that my run that day was a lot tougher than I planned or anticipated, but I did it! I was stretched far beyond what I thought I could do, and it has changed the way I think about these longer runs.  A few weeks ago I wondered if I could do a half-marathon, and now I’ve done that, and more, more than once. It gives me confidence to think about even tougher challenges ahead.

Strength and stamina don’t come without struggle, effort, and a little pain. As much as we’d like to believe the ads and infomercials, there is no quick route to physical conditioning. We get stronger as we work hard, test our bodies, push our limits, and overcome continuous challenges.

Our faith is similar in many ways. This is why James writes, “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3)* It is not realistic to think that life will be trouble-free.  Indeed, we can waste a lot of energy asking “why me?”  Instead, let us look at our difficulties in a different light. We tend to think our troubles are pointless and meaningless, but this not so. Trials are the push-ups, sit-ups, and footsteps of our spiritual fitness by which we develop strength and stamina.

When I think of the people I consider spiritual giants, they are not people who have escaped trial. Rather, they are the ones who faced difficulties with the strength that comes only from experience. They found the Lord to be faithful in the past, and they trust He will carry them through to the future.  It gives them calm and a peace even though everything swirls about them.

I don’t know what circumstances you may be facing, but 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-in-training in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Aug 17, 2014. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Saturday, August 2, 2014

OnFire #319 Almost Spilled Coffee

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #319 Almost Spilled Coffee

Hi Folks,

Since I wrote last, I have started the  distance learning portion of basic training. This involves about 10 days-worth of lessons on military life, law, history, culture, and knowledge. For instance, yesterday I started lessons on using a military radio.

I have to say, at times it is a little overwhelming – there is a lot to remember, and there is a lot at stake – but there have been some pretty neat things about it all. I like our chaplain team. I am enjoying meeting new people, and so many people have been kind and gracious.  There are a regular group of us that eat together at the cafeteria, and I particularly enjoy the other junior officers on the base. Also, this past week I toured the “Guns,” the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Very cool to meet the folks there and see the equipment.

This past week we hosted a team of teens to help us with vacation Bible school. I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with the team, which brought back lots of memories of mission trips with youth groups in the past.

I have been doing some sightseeing. Today I visited Riding Mountain National Park and saw free-range bison. Very cool. Last week was the Lily Festival in Neepawa.

Back in Moncton, the house has shown a bunch of times – we’re just waiting for the right buyer. Also, please pray that we could find a home for our two cats.

Ian loves his work in BC. He is the compassman on a timber cruising team. They lay out cut blocks and roads, as well as survey for tree size and type. Mark is getting a fair amount of call-in work at a local seniors home in Moncton. 

Blessings,

Troy


This morning I bought a coffee at our base coffee shop and then set it on top of the car to get my keys out. I then forgot about the coffee on the roof and began to pull away. Before it spilled, however, someone kindly caught  my attention and I was able to stop without having a mess all over the car.

Its great when people watch out for you. That has certainly been my experience so far on base, and it is something which we also need in our Christian walk.

My devotional reading lately has been in Revelation. Revelation is tough because there is so much that is hard for even the experts to understand, but we need not avoid it.  This we can know – God is just and no force is equal to Him. God will win in in the end, and this is the theme of the entire vision which the apostle John received.

As I came to chapter 19:9-10, I was struck by John’s response to one of the angels.  In awe of the message the angel delivered, John attempted to bow in worship, but the angel corrected him: “I am a fellow servant.” And then John attempted to worship the angel again in chapter 22:8-9.  The angel responded in the same way, and reminded John that they were both fellow servants of God.

John needed that angel to keep from making a huge mistake in giving his worship improperly. Thankfully the angel stopped him, and I think we can see a lesson for us in how we need to look out for each other. I think we need to thank God when people help us avoid problems, and in turn, we need to look out for others also.

There is another lesson here, and we see it in John’s close call.

How does John, apostle, beloved disciple of Jesus himself, solid servant of the Lord who was exiled to the island of Patmos for his strong and stalwart faith, find himself in the position of almost bowing in false worship? I think we may judge his motives pure, but he was obviously overwhelmed and confused. How could this happen to him, of all people?

I see three concerns, and this time I somehow managed to make them alliterate.

When we are dazzled, distracted, or deceived we may easily fall. If John was susceptible, who are we to think we are beyond such things?

This is, again, where we need each other. May we each have the grace to accept good and sound advice when we need it. All too easily, our pride often resists.

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-in-training in the Canadian Armed Forces, and has 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published Aug 2, 2014. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com