Ashes to Fire

Ashes to Fire – Holy Week Reflections

Holy week is upon us…but have you noticed?

It may be Holy Week, but baskets need to be filled, eggs need to be stuffed, meals need to be prepped, tables and chairs need to be dragged out of the basement.

And I’m finding myself right smack-dab in the middle of it all. Seriously! I think it was Monday night, and I stopped by the store on the way home to pick up some groceries, and when I got to the eggs, I was surprised that there were only 3 dozen white, large, Grade A eggs left in the entire store, and I needed 2 dozen of them! I was shocked! Why didn’t they restock?! This is a travesty! And so I put them in my cart as fast as possible and went to the next aisle, so that I wasn’t “that guy.” It wasn’t until I was home that my wife reminded me that white, large, Grade A eggs are perfect for coloring and dying…

Holy Week is upon us…but have you noticed?

This week is so much more than coming to church an extra day (or two…or three), celebrating the fact that your time of fasting is soon over (bring on those unhealthy habits and foods once more!), or making sure your best clothes are clean and pressed.

No, it’s about much more.

In a couple days we’ll gather together and reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice. His blood shed for our freedom.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed
Isaiah 53:5

And then two days later, we’ll gather to celebrate the empty tomb, the defeat of sin and death, the resurrected Christ.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!
Luke 24:5-6

And I guess what I’m trying to say to both you and me, is that in the busyness of this season, let us not forget the significance of it. Let us not get lost in the tiny details over clothing options, in making sure our homes are spotless for our guests, or ensuring that all the traditional food groups are represented for Easter dinner.

And I guess my prayer is that as we gather with friends and family this week and weekend, we would not forget the importance of this week, of Christ’s death and resurrection. May we be reminded that Jesus didn’t just go to Calvary to save us for a future date, but he died and rose again that we might experience resurrection living now…today! NT Wright writes that: Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. May this be the description of our lives…colonizing earth with the life of heaven. May we not only know Jesus, but also be Jesus every moment of every day.

This Holy Week, may we notice, and may we remember.

May we remember that Christ died for each and every one of us.
May we remember that we have good news to share…hope to give…life to offer.
May we remember that more than eggs to find, hams to cook, or church services to attend, that we’ve been made new by the blood of Christ shed for us and his victory over sin and death.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…

Have you noticed?

following His leading,
~ Pastor Joe

Ashes to Fire – Midweek Reflections

If you’ve ever been in a position of preaching, teaching Sunday School, or leading a small group within the church, you find that you inevitably come across passages when it feels like God is speaking directly to you, and those you’ll be leading/preaching to will be the recipients of that exchange between you and God. For me, this appears to be one of those weeks.

If you call Fenton Church of the Nazarene your home church, and you’ve been following along in our Ashes to Fire devotional, you might have noticed that this coming Sunday, we’ll be in John 11, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and Jesus’ proclamation that HE is the resurrection and the life.

It’s certainly an interesting time to be diving into this passage as we’re still a few weeks out from Easter…Resurrection Sunday (we’ll get into that a bit on Sunday). But, it’s also an interesting time to dive into this passage because of events that have happened in the peripheral spheres of my life.

Some of you know, but before I came to FCN, I was a solo pastor at a small town in Northern Michigan. We loved our church, and we loved our town. It was one of those communities where everyone seems to know everyone, and the people unite to support their own. And this past week, hardship and tragedy hit that community. And even though it wasn’t our home for long, and even though we’re displaced now, my heart is still heavy.

This past week, a family within that community had to say goodbye to their 7 year old son, whose body could no longer fight the cancer that was ravaging it. He fought it bravely, valiantly, courageously, and he inspired many (myself included) who didn’t have a direct relationship with him. And even though we moved midway through his fight, and even though our church had no direct contact with his family, we still feel the impact. One moment that stands out to me is how my cross-country kids decided that they wanted to dedicate their season to this boy, and for the last half of the season, we gave a moment of silence and prayer before each race, and then we ran hard, knowing he was fighting even harder. And to watch from Facebook updates the bravery and courage of this young man, and to see how he united so many people, has been incredible to watch.

And so, as I’m sitting down to prepare for this Sunday, one question above all others plagues my mind: how?

  • If I were preaching this passage this coming week in our old community, how would I preach it?
  • If I knew that a young couple would be attending this Sunday, and they’ve just come out of mourning a miscarriage as they try to start a family, and they’ve had to say goodbye to their son or daughter at the same time they’re saying hello, how would I preach this?
  • If I knew someone would be sitting in our church Sunday morning, and they’ve recently lost a beloved friend or family member, how would I preach this?

And so, as I continue to prepare for Sunday, I want to encourage you to prepare as well.

  • What does it mean that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?
  • What does it mean for our lives now?
  • What does it mean for our lives later?

Side note: it’s not just the pastors who should be preparing their hearts for Sunday mornings! 🙂

And if you’re free this Sunday, and maybe you’ve been going through a rough spot, or maybe you’re mourning the recent death of a loved one, I hope that you’d consider joining us. And I hope that this week might be an encouragement to you, as we look not only to burning away another blind spot within us, but as we also look forward to the cross, and to Resurrection Sunday.

following His leading,
~ Pastor Joe

Ashes to Fire – Taking the Direct Route

“Jesus left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.” – John 4:3-4

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan Woman from John 4. As it’s still fresh on our minds, I wanted to bring us back to the very first verse we read yesterday morning, and the implications it has for the way we go through life as followers of Jesus.

In John 4:4, we read that Jesus had to pass through Samaria. Though it might not mean a whole lot to us, this simple word, had, is packed full of meaning! And to grasp it, we have to step back in time for a little bit, because until we better understand the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, I’m not sure we’ll best appreciate this passage, and the intentionality of Christ in taking the direct route north to Galilee. (Think of this also when you read the parable of the Good Samaritan!)

The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was contentious at best. Josephus, a first century AD historian, recounts in his work, Jewish War, that at one point the fighting between the two groups was so intense that the Roman Emperor, Claudius, had to call in Roman soldiers to maintain order. The best modern analogy I can think of to describe their relationship comes from the Harry Potter series, and it is the relationship between the wizarding class and the mud-blood class. Good, God-fearing Jews would not go through Samaria…ever!

Why the contention? The Samaritans were the ones left behind during the exilic period. When Assyria and Babylon conquered Israel and Judah, they took exiles, but they only wanted the best and brightest, those who could contribute best as slaves in their empires. Everyone else was left in the destruction to fend for themselves with little shelter or food. And so, to survive, the people intermarried with the surrounding (pagan) cultures, and continued to worship at Mt. Gerizim, near where Abraham and Jacob had built altars, and where different OT peoples received blessing from God (see Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:12).

The map below provides a good visual to the extent at which they would avoid interaction with the unclean, less-than Gentile, Samaritans.

Jerusalem to Galilee.jpg

The blue route, called the Central Ridge Route, is the one Jesus took. As you can see, it is clearly the most direct route, following the central mountain ridge from Jerusalem northward.

The red route, called the Eastern Route or the Trans-Jordan Route, was the most common route choice for the Jews to take as they’d travel N/S from Jerusalem to Galilee. It might not look like much, but it’s about a 20 mile hike down the mountains to cross the Jordan River from Jerusalem. And on top of that, there’s no vegetation at all until you cross the river and start heading north!

And still, others would travel all the way out to the coast before heading north or south!

And so, when John’s first readers would have read that Jesus intentionally takes the direct route through Samaria, they would have been shocked! This was scandalous…and the Messiah did that?!?! (This may have even been more socially upsetting than the fact that Jesus met with a woman.)

But, if we stop to think about it, doesn’t this reflect Jesus’ ministry? Isn’t Jesus always about taking the direct route to bring mercy, compassion, and justice?

Zacchaeus…you, chief tax collector…you, chief thug and bully and scam artist…come down from that tree, for I need to come to your house for a meal today…

Levi…you, tax collector…come and follow me and be my disciple…

Often I feel like we, the Church, are really good at standing afar, or walking the indirect path, and pointing out the need for others to repent and turn their lives around. But, when we look at the example of Christ, he took the direct route into people’s lives, spending time with them, eating and drinking with them, and still challenging them with the call of repentance and righteousness.

In our Life Group last night, as we read over the day’s devotional, one line stood out to me. The author writes: “The Gospel of John gives us a wonderful snapshot…of who God is and how God treats those whose lives have been wrecked by failure and sin. This story (John 4) is about how God comes to people who do not think they belong.”

Let that sink in for a moment…

God comes to people who do not think they belong

What do our personal lives look like?
What does the life of our church look like?
What does the life of the greater Church look like?

Are we taking the direct route?

following His leading,
~ Pastor Joe

Ashes to Fire – Midweek Reflections

“People don’t resist change, they resist loss. And most change produces loss.”
– Quote from Nazarene Youth Leadership Conference 2017

I heard this quote during our final session yesterday, and while it certainly struck me during our session, I found myself revisiting the quote after reading the Gospel reading from Wednesday’s devotion – John 2:22-3:15.

If you haven’t read the passage yet, a quick summarization is that a religious leader by the name of Nicodemus comes to Jesus to inquire about his true identity. Jesus stumps him with the statement that unless an individual is born again, he or she cannot see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus, though a smart and educated man, is a bit dumbfounded by Jesus’ response, and they go back and forth before Nicodemus seemingly gives up his quest to understand.

This is quite the conversation! We have a Pharisee, one of the religious groups that opposed Jesus’ Messianic claims, who is curious and seemingly interested in discovering who Jesus is. But there’s a catch. In v. 2, two small words stand out above the rest: “at night.”

You might be asking, “Why is this important? Do those two words really make a difference here?”

You see, Nicodemus was afraid of the potential loss associated with this conversation. He couldn’t possibly be seen having an authentic conversation with Jesus…he’d face ridicule, and maybe even face damaging political and social repercussions because of this. And so he comes in the thick of night.

In other words, Nicodemus resists loss. This is further evidenced by the fact that when Jesus dives deeper into who he is as the Messiah and what it means to be a follower of him, Nicodemus fades from the story and we don’t encounter him again…until John 7, and also John 19. And in those places, it seems like he is still wrestling with the losses that a change of allegiances could produce.

Lent is a season of surrender. A season of loss. It’s a time for us to pause and reflect upon the Jesus’ journey to the cross, as well as his invitation to us to join him in laying down our lives and picking up our crosses.

And so if you haven’t yet, I encourage you to ask God what that might be this Lenten season.

What might God be calling you to lose?
What might God be calling you to surrender?
Could you…would you…give it up?

Eternal and merciful Father, help us to be okay with losing that we may gain. Help us to loosen our grip over our possessions and our desires for our lives, and to hold fast to your great and precious promises. Empty us, that we may be filled with you.

~ Pastor Joe



Thank you for checking out the new blog of Fenton Church of the Nazarene!

On this Ash Wednesday, we are beginning a new series that will take us throughout the Lenten season. Titled, Ashes to Fire: Burning Away the Blindspots, the series will cause us to pause and examine our lives, to see where we may have blindspots in our relationship with Christ.

Throughout this time, our blog posts will feature reflections upon the Sunday message, as well as the readings from the Ashes to Fire devotional. If you haven’t picked up a devotional yet, we encourage you to do so! They are available in the church foyer for only $8 per person (we encourage each family member to have a devotional). We don’t want anyone to miss out, so if you are unable to make a donation, please take a devotional. If you are able to make the donation, please consider giving extra for those who are unable to donate.

Thanks for joining us on this journey! We hope that you’ll follow along with our Sunday morning sermons, with the Ashes to Fire devotional, and by checking in on the blog.

During this Lenten season, may God draw you nearer to him, as we humble ourselves before God, preparing to follow in the steps of Jesus all the way to Calvary, and beyond!

~ Pastor Joe