For forty days my soul has longed for a fresh new Alleluia!
In our local church, we refrain from any “Alleluia” during Lent. It simply doesn’t fit the occasion. Lent is a time of repentance, reflection, and preparation for Holy Week, and ultimately for the pinnacle of our faith: Resurrection Sunday.
Eastertide evokes our soul’s response of “Alleluia” as we ponder anew the significance of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s true. He has risen indeed. The whole world celebrates, rejoices, and gives thanks in loving unity once more.
Jesus’ years of earthly ministry are replete with reasons to shout “Alleluia” – from the profundity of his teaching, to his gentle touch of healing, his generous seeds of forgiveness and grace, his questions to skeptics, his knowledge of the sinfulness of the hearts of those who crowded around him. He was in continual conflict with the religious leaders, who were threatened by his tender power of love. He spoke in parables so the people could understand. He entered homes and hearts of countless individuals who were seeking new life. His was a life of perpetual service and eternal life to all who would receive.
For what about Jesus are you most grateful today? What does his resurrection offer you today? Perhaps you are thankful for his forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Or, you are filled with hope because of his promises of new life. Or, you are in relationships with others because of his example of compassion. Since it’s impossible to count up our many blessings, simply list a handful that mean the most to you today. Yes, today, not yesterday or tomorrow. Start with today, your present moment where his presence can be found through your eyes, ears, and heart of faith.
Today: let’s give ourselves full permission to shout a fresh new Alleluia!
It was John Wesley who initially described his feelings as “my heart was strangely warmed” when he trusted in Christ alone for his salvation. He was confidently assured that his sins had been forgiven as he placed his heart into God’s hands. Subsequently, Wesley began a movement known as the Methodists as he traveled thousands of miles each year preaching and teaching others to submit their lives to Christ. Many hearts were “strangely warmed” as a result of his testimony, teaching, and discipleship.
I felt my heart “strangely warmed” this past weekend as I had the privilege of serving among a group of Salvation Army officers and corps members in Northern California. We experienced a refreshing and renewing time of worship, teaching, and fellowship. We put our lives back into the hands of Christ as we consecrated ourselves to God’s goodness and grace. It was a sweet time. Our hearts were strangely warmed.
When is the last time you felt your heart “strangely warmed” by the empowering presence of God? Can you recall that sense of joy or blessing or contentment in Christ?
Unfortunately, my observation today is that too many hearts are cold and hardened by the situations and circumstances of life. Each day we encounter hearts that are harsh, crusty, angry, or brittle. Tired out by the stresses and strains of daily life, many are letting their hearts flounder from God’s loving intentions. How does this happen? Well, we become impatient, indifferent, or impulsive in our responses to our external and internal worlds, and we lose perspective for the way forward.
The recipe for softening our hearts and making them more pliable to the fresh move to of God’s Spirit? Here are a few suggestions…
Listen prayerfully: notice the state of your own soul as well as the soul of others around you. Choose a listening posture as you interact with others, free of correction, competition, or comparison. What this world needs today: lots of listening.
Choose grace: instead of jumping to conclusions or casting judgment, withhold your opinions and prayerfully offer words of grace, mercy, and love. Let your countenance be transformed by the grace God has extended to you, and then freely offer it to others.
Practice forgiveness: ask God to give you the patience to forgive as your first response, rather than your last. Prayerfully forgive and forget, as much as possible. A posture of forgiveness will soften your heart toward all who have offended you. Seek help if necessary.
Love with your whole heart: the greatest response of all is to love. Yes, with your whole heart. First to God, then to others, but also to yourself. Seek God’s heart for those around you, especially those who are difficult to love. Out love one another. It’s always the better way. Always.
When you find your heart “strangely warmed” once again, be sure to offer God your thanks and praise. And, warm-heartedly influence others. It’s very good for your soul.
“Get these three principles fixed in your hearts: that things eternal are much more considerable than things temporal; that things not seen are as certain as the things that are seen; that upon your present choice depends your eternal lot. Choose Christ and his ways, and you’ll be blessed forever; refuse, and you are undone forever.”
As we are knee deep into our Lenten experience, the words of John Wesley ring true to our soul: the unseen and eternal matter more than the seen and temporal. What we choose to focus on today will either bring us closer to the heart of God, or will lead us into wayward villages of the soul where the self-absorbed reside.
What moral or ethical choices are you considering today? Will you look to Jesus as your Guide and Counselor, your Strength and Sustenance? Trusting Christ, amidst the deluge of temptation to only trust ourselves, will in fact lead us solely to our heart’s true home: abiding in Christ alone. There is no more firm a foundation.
Choose Christ today, regardless of the pressures to trust in lesser things.
Prayerfully consider the Breastplate of St. Patrick for you comfort and protection…
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
May it be so. Amen.
In the midst of a dramatic yet oh so delicate moment, Jesus asks Simon-the-hard-hearted Pharisee a poignant question, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7: 44).
The question arises smack dab in the center of an amazing story of contrasting affections. Simon-the-know-it-all leader stands at a distance from Jesus while a “sinful woman” can’t stop showing Jesus her profound gratitude and love. Upon entry into his home, Simon didn’t show Jesus even the most basic hospitality: water to wash his feet, a customary kiss of greeting, or oil to anoint his head. But, this woman is relentless in her expressions of affection: wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, pouring out expensive perfume and then kissing his feet.
Sit with this passage (Luke 7: 36-50) long enough and you can’t help but enter Simon’s home and engage in this incredible story. The fact of the matter is: Simon missed everything. He missed the significance of Jesus’ presence in his home. He missed the powerful worship of the renewed woman. He missed out on the forgiveness, grace, and love offered by Jesus. He missed the opportunity to experience life-changing transformation. His little heart remained closed. His religious power mattered more than his changed heart. His guest, Jesus, became the host of this simple dinner party, but the eyes of Simon’s heart were crusted shut by his selfishness and pride.
This story reminds me of a few current realities. Firstly, I’m processing with a friend a violation she recently experienced in the workplace. Disregarded in every way, ignored, disrespected, colluded against, and powered over. She wasn’t included in decisions that would directly impact her work. The bosses simply barked an order and she was expected to follow in kind. No conversation. No collegiality. No compassion. No courage. She simply wasn’t seen.
Secondly, we’re also in the midst of Black History Month, a time when we are to be appropriately unsettled by the injustices inflicted upon our black brothers and sisters for far too long. A recent visit to the African American Smithsonian Institute museum in Washington DC brought me to tears as I witnessed with clarity the untold number of lives impacted by the powerful who suppressed their basic human rights. Watching “Just Mercy” for the third time. Listening to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and reading again his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and then discussing it with seminary students. All of this keeps the message in front of us, never to be forgotten. This all needs to be seen.
Fill in the blank…”Do you see this person?” It may be a woman, or a person of color, or a friend who’s abused, ignored, or irrationally powered over.
The evidence that we don’t see is astounding: we allow another to be powered over, disregarded, excluded, rejected, colluded against, judged, or violated. We stand as bystanders without the courage to be seen with the unseen.
In contrast, this is how we show another that we indeed “see” them: we inquire of and listen to one another; we include and respect one another; we value and validate one another; we think the best of one another; we are both with and for one another; we withhold judgment from one another; we forgive and show grace to one another; and we love and appreciate one another.
Jesus asks Simon a question he also asks of us, “Do you see this woman?” Open the eyes of your heart today and see like Jesus sees. Your life won’t be the same for very long.