A Matter of Words

I really want to know God. Like, really. I want to be able to communicate with him. I want to know what it is to walk in his presence. I want to feel him near, and even more than mere feeling, I want him to actually be near.

So my question naturally becomes, Well, then, just how do I do that? What is required to bridge the seemingly infinite cosmic gap of time and space that exists between me and the Creator God of the universe? Is communication with him mystical? As in, does communing with God involve low lighting, special chants, and some type of out of body experience? Must my spirit somehow leave its body and cross the vast void of eternity to enter God’s presence and know him near? Does interaction with the Divine involve a transcendent experience of bright light, heightened enlightenment, and warm, fuzzy feelings?

Sometimes I wish I had such experiences. They just sound so intriguing. And what great stories they would make! Certainly upon having such an experience I could be assured that I had, in fact, touched the heart of God and that he had touched mine.

It dawned on me the other day that communicating with God does not require anything out of the ordinary whatsoever. In fact, communicating with God is achieved by exactly the same means by which I communicate with my wife, my students at school, or a stray dog on the street. Communication involves words. It always involves words. If I want to communicate something to a dog, my students, my wife, or to God himself, the only way I can do so is through my words. It’s very simple. I speak to him. That’s all it takes to create a link with the very Maker of heaven and earth. A word.

And the mindboggling thing about it is that that’s exactly the same way he communicates to me. Receiving communication from God—just like sending it—doesn’t require trances, late-night conjuring, or special sensitivity to secret, ethereal energy fields either. He speaks to me in words. And if that weren’t jaw-dropping enough, it turns out that God wrote those words down for me in a book. And I own a copy.

If you’re like me, at first glance such an idea might seem like a letdown. I’d rather fast for seven days and then scale a high mountain where I perform some ancient, mystic ceremony during which I feel all sorts of warm fuzzies and in the process experience the very presence of God. The reality is, however, that tends to speak to me around 5:43 A.M. when I’m still wearing my bathrobe and slippers, hunched over my Bible, fighting to keep my eyes open because the old, stained leather chair we got from a thrift store is way too comfortable for morning devotions. And he speaks to me when I’m walking down the hallway at school on my way to see my fourth graders, mind racing and anxious about all I need to get done. And he speaks to me when I lay my head down on my pillow at night, and when I go to the gas station, and when I’m feeling irritation well up inside me toward my wife.

And just how does he speak to me? No lights. No soft music. No smoke. Just his words. His words as he wrote them down in a book, the Book of books, the Bible. And my heart speaks back, either audibly or silently. And in that moment, I’ve communicated with God. Unfathomable. And it’s the most common experience of all, for such is every single interaction with every single human being you’ve ever had or ever will have. Communication is essentially an affair of words.

The question, then, is whether or not you hear his voice. And whether or not you answer back. In words, of course. Something that Jesus says to me often is this: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). That has become a very dear word directly from God’s heart to mine. And I would be overjoyed if you could say the same.

Whether you’ve never communicated with God before or you’ve done so innumerable times, at the heart of that communication are words. Speak to him, and then open the book he wrote for you and listen to him speak right back. It doesn’t sound as cool as mountaintop highs or ethereal energy fields, and yet, in my personal experience, it’s better. I think it’s better because it’s real. Real communication doesn’t involve such theatrics. But real communication is what the soul craves. So speak and listen. A real God is waiting for real fellowship with you through real words.

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Behind the Poem: “Innocence Lost, Glory Gained”

Click here to read “Innocence Lost, Glory Gained,” posted January 26, 2012.

The Meaning
A little boy stares up at me with probing brown eyes. In a moment I catch a glimpse of the shift that has begun to take place in his bright, young mind. He’s beginning to see the world for what it is. And as you and I know, the world is not always a pretty place—but he’s just figuring that out. And just as you once experienced but have probably forgotten, such a realization can be devastating to a child.

Maybe the other fourth graders have stopped wanting to sit by him at lunch because they’re starting to see that he’s just a little different from the rest. Perhaps his parents are fighting more than ever and he’s not able to drown out their shouting like he used to. It could be his sister tried to kill herself a few days back, and he’s been suddenly faced with realities that he could not, a week ago, even fathom existed. (I wish all those examples were hypothetical. You learn a lot about life from third and fourth graders.)

Staring back into his big brown eyes, I can only weep on the inside, for I see what he doesn’t see. I see what his parents and his classmates and his sister don’t see. I see that life is only going to get harder, especially for this boy, of this socio-economic class, in this racist world, living in this godless and therefore hopeless society. From my vantage point a little bit farther down the road, I can see that this instance is only the first of many run-ins with reality that will leave his head spinning.

And it makes you want to cry. It makes you want to take this precious little boy home and shelter him from every horror that’s out there.

And then this thought hits me upside the head: In my own life it has been amid realizations of the harsh realities that exist around me that Jesus has whispered most clearly, “Nevertheless, I’m here, and I’m sure. I’ll be your rock in a very shaky world.” And doing the only logical thing my mind can conjure up, I cling to him in utter, helpless faith. And he saves me.

It may be that this brown eyed boy has a long, hard road ahead of him. And he may be on the very cusp of realizing that fact. Yet it might just be that this long, hard road was designed by this child’s Creator—who, by the way, loves him infinitely more than I ever could—to eventually lead him to Jesus. Perhaps it’s only through the hardship that this little boy will think to seek out the one who promises to carry him through like nothing else in the universe can. Maybe only up against the ugliness of life will this little boy ever be able to clearly see the beauty of the Jesus he so desperately needs.

May God be faithful to work it out to such an end.

The Technical
This poem doesn’t follow any traditional form. It is written in iambic quadrameter consisting of rhymed couplets. That means that each line has eight syllables that generally follow the pattern ta-DUM-ta-DUM-ta-DUM-ta-DUM. That the poem consists of rhymed couplets means that every two lines rhyme with each other.

The first 22 lines describe the changes that take place as a child grows up. The next four lines act as a commentary on the first 22 lines and a bridge to the next 22 lines. In the second half of the poem I discuss the difficult truth that it is confrontation with the harshness of reality that many times drives one to Jesus, and if that’s the case for my student, may it be so. God will be good to him as he has been to me.

Praise the Lord for the hope that’s found only in Jesus, hope that is seen most clearly when all other hope is lost.

Seeping Sin

I’m sickened by the sin that still seeps out
Of unpatched cracks that mar this earthen pot.
The stench of stale, and festering slime could not
Be covered though the cracks were worked with grout.

Was not this heart already born again?
Was not the Spirit poured out over bone
And flesh, and wasn’t he to transform stone
To living, beating heart? And yet, there’s sin.

Oh, wicked, vile, wretched man am I!
Who brings new life to bodies dead in sin?
I praise our God it’s Jesus Christ our kin
Who died ’neath sin’s rank curse that we’d not die.

And clinging fast to Jesus’ cross, I see
It’s with my transformed mind I serve God’s law,
Yet in my flesh I’m held beneath sin’s claw.
One day he’ll fully set this captive free.

For now, we groan internally and wait
With hope for body’s crowned redemption bought
In full at Jesus’ cross and being wrought
In might, though slow may seem the Spirit’s gait.

So while this seeping sin still sickens me,
Each whiff’s a sweet reminder: Cast your hope
Again on Jesus’ gracious cross whose scope
Envelops filth for all eternity.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Hard Truths Learned from Hardwood Floors

Last week I wrote about our move to a new house. (Click here to read that post.) The house is from the early 1900’s and has beautiful hardwood floors. The other day I was sweeping those beautiful hardwood floors only to be greatly disturbed by the amount of muck the broom was able to rustle up. And we had only been living in the place a week. A week! Hair. Bread crumbs. Dust. And not that pretty powdery stuff; I’m talking about massive clumps of ickiness. It was, in a word, gross.

I asked my wife if our carpeted apartment was this dirty, and her response surprised me. She said it was worse. That, like a great many things, got me thinking. Hmm. Looking at all this dirt and grime I’ve swept up off our hardwood floors, I’m absolutely disgusted. Yet the same, if not more, filth was hiding in the carpet of our old apartment the whole time. Now if I am honest with myself, I knew the carpet of our old apartment was just as dirty if not more so. Yet for some reason the dirtiness of our old carpeted floors was somehow much more acceptable to me than the dirtiness of our new hardwood floors.

The difference? My perception. I knew the dirt was there in our old carpet. I just wasn’t able to actively perceive it. I couldn’t see it and I didn’t feel it stick to the bottom of my feet as I walked across the room. As long as I didn’t perceive the filth (even though I knew it was there), it was just fine and dandy that the floors were dirty. But as soon as I or someone else is able to perceive the reality of what exists right below our feet, watch out! The cleaning maniac will definitely be appearing shortly to take that dust to town.

And isn’t that exactly how I treat the grime of my own life? Just as long as you or anyone else doesn’t notice the filth, I’m fine with the mess. As soon as someone begins to be able to perceive the amount of dirt in my life, only then do I desire to do anything about it.

For me, the answer is not that we desperately need carpet in our new home. Nor is it that I need to frantically keep a close watch on anyone who just might get a little too close to me and see the dirty floors of my heart. In fact, I’m rather thankful for this newfound perception of my dirty hardwood floors. I’ll keep them cleaner that way. So, too, should I welcome the hard truth that no matter how squeaky clean I love to present myself, I really am dreadfully sinful. And that’s not all bad news. This realization encourages me to “clean house” more often, to keep short accounts with God and with others, and to cling more fervently to God’s good grace found only in Jesus.

If you (whether actually or only metaphorically) find yourself coming to grips with your grimy hardwood floors, rejoice. That’s a good thing! By God’s good grace you’re finally becoming aware of just how much muck exists beneath your feet. It existed in your old place when you had carpet. You just couldn’t perceive it. But now you can! You’re finally beginning to see just how much your need Mr. Clean for the soul: Jesus. You would need him either way. Better to realize it. Now you can ask him to do something about it. And he will. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Behind the Poem: “Unrestrained”

Click here to read the poem “Unrestrained,” posted on 11/12/2011.

The Meaning
There is a longing within every human heart that is inestimable in vastness. God put it there. It is a good longing. It is a longing we have as human beings to be in relationship with our infinite Creator.

We all know relationships matter more than stuff. Just ask any lost child in a toy store, desperately looking for his mother. What’s more valuable, that Star Wars action figure you were just drooling over or your mom’s presence? Or just ask any cancer patient undergoing chemo treatments. What’s more valuable, spending your last days polishing a shiny new Mustang in the driveway or spending time with your grandchildren?

There is one relationship that matters more than any other. It is a relationship that is able to bring us more joy and more fulfillment than any other. And that’s a relationship with our God. The poem “Unrestrained” is an expression of the desire to burrow as deeply as possible into a relationship with our amazing Creator.

I chose the title “Unrestrained” because what I long to know in my walk with God is complete unrestraint. No barriers. No walls. Just him. All of him. All of him just like he is. Just like a man dying of thirst will throw off all restraint to quench his thirst, so, too, would I throw off all restraint to know my God.

And in Jesus, it is possible to do just that. It’s not possible through any religion or system or set of rules or good behavior. It’s possible through Jesus Christ alone. If you’d like to learn more about knowing your Creator, click here.

The Technical
This poem is an English sonnet written in iambic pentameter.  A sonnet is a fourteen line poem, and an English sonnet specifically is a sonnet that contains three quatrains (a quatrain is a four line stanza) with an ending couplet (a two line stanza). The rhyme scheme of this piece is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, in which the last word of the first line rhymes with the last word of the third line and the last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line, etc.

As traditional English sonnets work, “Unrestrained” builds a single idea over the course of the piece. Each subsequent set of four lines expands or deepens the singular idea. Here, the focus is on the feeling of longing. Dry ground longs for rain. Cancer ridden patients long for cures. The moon longs for the sun’s light. Each reveals different aspects of the specific feeling of longing I was trying to express.

The image of dry ground longing for rain reveals the barrenness one feels apart from his longing fulfilled. The image of a patient longing for a cure reveals how desperate one feels as long as his longing is left unfulfilled. The image of the moon longing for the sun’s rays reveals the hope and joy that are also associated with awaiting the fulfillment of one’s longing.

Not until the last two lines is it revealed just what this longing is for. The fact that three quatrains were dedicated to building a specific feeling of longing and that only at the end is its object revealed builds, I hope, suspense. By the time the reader gets to the end, I wanted him or her to be asking, “Just what in the world could this desperate person possibly be desiring to fill such an obvious aching of soul?” And then, in a word, the object of such a hunger is revealed.

It’s Jesus.

It’s always Jesus.

Only he can satisfy the insatiable craving of this soul. Praise God he’s ours if we would have him.

Time for a (Real) Change

My wife and I recently packed up all our worldly possessions, said goodbye to our one bedroom apartment on Franklin Terrace, and moved 20 blocks west to the lower level of a duplex. It’s an old brick house built at the beginning of the 20th century. Hardwood floors. Mysterious metal tubes running from floor to ceiling in nearly every room. Built in wooden buffet. And nearly double the space of our one bedroom place on the east side of town.

As you can imagine—better said, as you probably know from firsthand experience—moving entails, well, somewhat of a transition. Everything is new. New location requiring new mental city maps to be drawn to get from home to work to church to the store and back efficiently. New neighbors requiring a lot of those awkward sidewalk conversations (you know, the ones you didn’t really intend to start but you have to and that you really aren’t quite sure how to end). New space requiring new ideas of how to fill said space either with what you already own or with that perfect something awaiting you in some thrift store.

Yup, everything is pretty much new and different. That is, except for one thing. Me. I’m still the same ol’ guy I was back on Franklin Terrace. Completely new surroundings. Completely same ol’ guy. Same ol’ habits (good and bad). Same ol’ desires (good and bad). Same ol’ irritations (mostly bad). I’m not more patient with my wife. I don’t pray more. I still have trouble with self-control. Turns out I brought all that I am along with me to my new house.

Truly a change in a person’s residence or vehicle or vocation or marital status doesn’t change the person. It only changes the house, the car, the job, or the (presence or absence of a) spouse. And that realization can be disappointing. You’d think outward changes would affect this inward man. But they don’t.

It takes something much more profound to really change a person. In fact, I would argue it takes an act of God. No sarcasm intended. This is where things get mind-bendingly glorious.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” What Paul says here is that if a person is “in Christ,” he’s not who he used to be. Paul’s taking about a change that affects the very essence of who a person is. It’s a change that is so radical that he’s comparing it to that person being created anew. The old person he used to be has ceased to exist, and in his place stands a completely new person.

That’s what I thought moving to new house (or getting a new job or buying a new car or obtaining a new whatever) might do for me—make me new. It didn’t. Only those who are “in Christ” are made new from the inside out.

So are you “in”? If you’re not sure, I would encourage you to click here to read more about coming to know this Christ and make sure that you are, in fact, “in him.”

For those of you who are “in Christ,” you are a new person. Moving didn’t and can’t accomplish that for you. Neither can upgrading to the latest smart phone, losing a couple of extra pounds, or getting that promotion at work. You spouse can’t make you new. Neither can your children. In fact, nothing and no one can do this recreating work inside the human heart but Jesus. And if you’ve got him, why are you looking anywhere else but to him to make you other than what you are right now? And if you don’t have him yet, you can. The good shepherd who gave his life for the sheep is seeking the lost. Come to him today and be made new.

Reasons for the Resurrection

In my last post I argued that Christ’s resurrection is paramount to the Christian faith. In fact, if it didn’t happen, find another religion because this one isn’t worth your time. That’s how vital this single event is to Christianity.

So, did it happen?  The website ChristianAnswers.net has done a much better job than I could of compiling a defense of the resurrection.  Follow this link to read their article “How do we really know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?”.  Especially insightful are their “six skeptical objections most frequently used by critics of Christ’s resurrection” listed as links at the bottom of the article.

What a sweet grace is ours to know that Jesus wants us to believe in him.  He’s not hiding behind some curtain and whispering our names to see if we’ll recognize his voice.  He’s loudly proclaiming truth to us in the form of eye-witness testimony recorded in four separate gospel accounts, hard facts, utterly changed lives, and an empty tomb.  These are his way of speaking to us today.  Do you hear his voice?  If so, respond today.  His sheep hear his voice and he knows them, and they follow him (John 10:27).

The Lord is Risen!

Does it really matter whether or not Jesus rose from the dead? I mean, really. Rising from the dead sounds like it probably happened right after the princess kissed the frog and turned him into a prince. Just a bit too fairy tale for this enlightened 21st century sophisticate, right?

The apostle Paul gives us a jaw-dropping answer to that very question:

“[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ…. [I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 15, 17-19).

In short, if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead on Easter Sunday, Christianity is a sham and you shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Preaching the message of Jesus (and therefore listening to it preached) is “in vain.” Your faith doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. You’re still stuck in your sins. All those Christians who have gone before you wasted their entire lives believing in Jesus, and then, to add insult to injury, when they died they perished anyway. We Christians are a very pitiful people if this whole resurrection thing didn’t really happen.

I guess you could say that whether or not Christ really rose from the dead is rather important. In fact, on it hinges the entire Christian faith. If it didn’t happen, find some other religion. Christianity isn’t worth your time. If it did happen, however, then the opposite is true. The message of Jesus is your only hope. It is the only true faith. It is a true testimony about real events. Your faith in Jesus is worthy of your life. Freedom from your sins is found here. Those Christians who have gone before you found eternal life the moment they closed their eyes in death. And we, today, are of all people most to be envied.

I can only speak for myself when I say that I believe this Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead just like the four Gospels say. I believe he’s ruling and reining in heaven at the right hand of the Father right now in this very moment. Whatever you choose to believe, you cannot sit on the fence on this one. As a Christian you must nail this one down because if not, you’re wasting your time.

And if you do believe it—believe it as in bank your life on it and rest in it and cling to it with all your might—then what a hope is yours. Happy Easter.

Announcing “Behind the Poem”

Hello readers,

Recently I came up with an idea that I’d like to begin here on my blog.  It’s a series I hope to begin doing regularly called “Behind the Poem.”  In it, I’ll choose one poem that I’ve posted so far and comment on it.  I’d like to comment on the poem’s meaning, make possible applications, and in general provide insight into the poetry writing process.  Think of it as a behind the scenes look at a poem from the author himself.

As always, may God be glorified in this effort.  May other poets be encouraged and challenged, and may all readers be uplifted and edified.

Look for my first post in the “Behind the Poem” series next Tuesday, April 10, where I’ll comment on the poem “Unrestrained,” my first poetry post on this blog.

Grace and peace to you,
Eric

Sought Stream

From hidden springs up high on mountain’s crest,
Enshrouded by dense wood and morning mist,
And found where none but stalwart men persist,
There flows a stream whose waters offer rest,
New life, and satisfaction to repressed
And hopeless travelers who dare subsist
On its cool flow alone, who won’t desist,
Though all their wealth, for it, be dispossessed.
The pilgrim longing for life’s fountainhead
Embarks upon a journey fraught with spite,
For most consider his sought stream as dead
And paths to it too strenuous to fight.
God grant this desperate traveler grace widespread,
For you’re the stream I seek on mountain’s height.

© 2011 Eric Evans