Wednesday, June 3, 2015

OnFire #330 Reducing Drama

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #330 Reducing Drama


None of us needs more emotional stuff to deal with, and yet all of us have experienced the splatter of life’s drama. Many of us would like to have a little less dramatic content in our non-reality-TV lives, so I’ve put together some comments which I hope will help.

Don’t assume the worst about a situation.  When we first get a piece of bad news, our minds often race ahead to all the worst possible outcomes, and before we know it we’ve gotten ourselves into a full-blown anxiety event.  Things are rarely as bad as they first seem, however. We need to take a deep breath and pray for wisdom and peace (James 1:5; Philippians 4:6-7).

Don’t assume the worst about a person. You know the saying: “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Sometimes that is true, but most often it is just the smell of someone’s reputation getting torched. It is interesting that when we make a mistake, we can think of lots of reasons why our gaffe was reasonable, unavoidable really, but when someone else makes the same blunder, it is must be the result of a deep character flaw. Jesus said something about specks and beams to drive this point home (Matthew 7:3-5).

Be careful with assumptions. Our minds like to fill in missing pieces when we don’t have all the information. Sometimes we can’t know all the facts, and so we shouldn’t try to guess. Resist filling in these missing pieces. Let me say it again, for emphasis. Let’s resist filling in the missing pieces when we don't know something. Let’s remember that another word for made-up facts is “gossip.”

Let’s avoid histrionics. This is when we increase the drama of the story by 1) accentuating our good and positive actions, and 2) exaggerating the negative actions of someone else. Such story telling is really hagiography, events told to make ourselves look better.

Let’s not play out disputes on social media. It seems the first thing we want to do when we’re hurt, offended, or morally outraged is to recruit people to our side of an issue. Social media is an excellent tool to get attention and has done wonders to raise awareness of a number of needed issues, but gossip and personality disputes are not among its redeeming purposes.

Let’s use discretion. We don’t need to tell everyone everything. Some people don’t need to know, while others can’t keep a secret. Unfortunately, we often discover this the hard way.

These are tips I have discovered while in the middle of some blow-up or another. Some were my own, while some belonged to others. Nothing lately, but in general. I say this to protect myself from someone who might try to read into the situation – that would be a wrong assumption, by the way. Perhaps you have some other tips. I've love to hear them.

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 more than 20 years of pastoral experience. This letter published June 3, 2015. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OnFire #329 Danger in Bible Study

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #329 Danger in Bible Study

Hi Folks:

We’re mainly well. Jan had the flu last week, but recovered in time to attend a women’s retreat on the weekend. Our weather has been very nice so we can enjoy exercising outdoors again. I got to paddle on Pelican Lake and discovered that there are pelicans there. Mark has moved out of dorm and to some friends for the summer. And, we’re making plans to visit Ian in Prince George in July.

I had the opportunity to speak at First Baptist Church in Brandon last week and loved preaching in a church again. I adapted part of the message for OnFire. Taking my passage from the pastor’s sermon series, I spoke from Mark 12:28-34.  To set things up, religious leaders took turns trying to trap Jesus in tricky theological issues so they could remove him from public ministry.

There is a fundamental pride issue at the heart of their approach to trap Jesus that exposes an issue for serious students of the Bible. I know this because I have seen it at Bible college, I’ve seen it in churches and communities I have served, and I have fallen into it at times.

There is a danger for students of the Bible to be puffed up with knowledge and to think that we have a corner on the truth, that we have things figured out, that we are now qualified to sit in a place of judgment, to be self-appointed arbiters and judges of “proper theology.”

There are some signs that we are on this dangerous ground.

- If we listen to pastors, Sunday school teachers, or small group leaders - not to hear how God might give us insight into our own lives – but to pick apart their theology

- If our sermon or class notes are details of the their bad theology

- If our first inclination after a sermon or Bible class is to fire off an email

- If we see our task is to correct or expose those around us for their improper or incorrect theology

I don’t want to minimize what is at stake. It is true that biblical teaching is serious business. James 3:1 reminds us that God will hold Bible teachers to a higher level of accountability because of the responsibility to teach. As Christians, we need to be on guard so that wrong theology is not spread throughout the ranks. This is part of “testing the spirits.” (1 John 4:1).

But here is the point, and where we are at risk of falling off the rails. Theology always has to coupled with humility. Without humility, theology is a very dangerous pursuit and it turns into the hammer by which we smite those who differ from our pet theological position.

Here are four reasons why we need to need humility as we study the scriptures.

- We do not have a perfect intellect or understanding. What seems so “logical” to us may actually be flawed if we make a wrong deduction or jump to a false conclusion. To illustrate things, how many arguments at home, work, or church have been caused because we misunderstood something?

- We don’t have all the truth – just all the truth we need. When it comes to the Bible, we have all that we need to understand who God is, His plan for salvation, who Jesus is, the Holy Spirit, our salvation, how to live holy and upright lives, our hope for the future, and a lot more. But we don’t have it all. There are some missing pieces, and that’s OK – it means we have to rely on God for the rest. We have all the truth we need, but we must remember we don’t have all the truth.

- The other person may actually know something. It didn’t take long for me to learn as a pastor that there were people in the congregation who knew the Bible better than I did, who had studied various parts in more detail than I had. And, thankfully,  a good many of these people had developed enough wisdom to guide or correct me gently. I learned from their knowledge and approach.

- Scripture commands humility – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) It is hard to value others when our attitude is that we are theologically superior. We can be right without being arrogant.

It intrigues and disturbs me to look back on my early years in ministry prep. I somehow thought my little bit of learning made me an expert qualified to school pastors and Bible profs. It is such an easy thing to slip into, so you won’t hear judgment from me. Just a reminder that our study is supposed to transform us so that we become more like the image of Christ, not less.

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 May 5, 2015. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com

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