How Many Lawyers…

We were deep in conversation on that day, my friend and I, when we were interrupted. I wasn’t optimistic that the break would be that profitable.

Usually, when folks brought in old violins, they left disappointed.

I can’t count the number of times the old fiddles were carried through my door, many of them cradled gingerly like a precious treasure that would shatter if anyone breathed on it.

It belonged to (fill in the blank—Grandpa, Uncle John, my old neighbor…), and we’re sure it’s a Stradivarius.

It never was. A Stradivarius, that is. Ever.

I disillusioned more people with my appraisals of violins than any other instrument. Unfortunately, the world is full of fakes and imitations. A name written on a label is no guarantee of authenticity.

I even learned to soften the blow by lowering expectations from the start. That day was no exception.

It’s almost certainly not made by Stradivarius.

It turns out I didn’t need to make it any easier of this couple. They knew exactly who the maker was. This one hadn’t only belonged to Uncle John. It had been made by him.

I should have known that their expectations were not the same as most of the others by the way they carried the instrument. It wasn’t even in a case and they certainly weren’t handling it delicately.

They didn’t want me to tell them they could retire on the proceeds from the sale. Far from it. These folks wanted me to confirm that the violin was no more than a wall-hanger, suitable for display on a wall in their family room.

Wouldn’t you know it? I was going to disappoint them, too.

I examined the instrument and was amazed at the quality. The solid spruce top was well-proportioned and carved expertly. There were no imperfections to be seen. The beautiful hand-rubbed finish glowed in the light.

Flipping the violin over, I gazed at a wonderful flamed maple back, again perfectly proportioned and without a flaw to be seen. The joints were tight and uniform, the structure sound as could be.

A well-shaped neck and scroll atop it completed the picture. It was a fine violin.

I was confused.

Your uncle made this instrument? And, you think it’s not going to be playable? Why?

The couple explained that the uncle had actually been a lawyer who never played a violin in his life, either before or after making the violin. He had made one violin just to prove it could be done. Then he built eleven or twelve others.

No one knew where the others were, nor if they were good instruments or not. Because he was not a musician, they had assumed he failed in proving his point, so were going to mount the violin-shaped object in a frame and save it for posterity. A piece of art.

I objected.

It was as fine an amateur-built instrument as I had ever seen. There was absolutely no reason—none whatsoever—for it not to be played.

I even took the time to tune the strings, which were horribly out of adjustment. Sliding the leaning bridge into place and tightening the pegs to the correct tension, I found a bow and drew it over the strings.

My friend, who had been sitting quietly through the episode, exclaimed suddenly. He couldn’t help himself.

Astounding!

It was, too.

The voice of the instrument was exquisite.

Like the maker, I don’t play the fiddle, but I do know how to tune one and even my inept fumbling with the bow on the strings produced a tone unlike any that normally proceeds from most of the less expensive, student instruments which come through my business.

The full-bodied tone left nothing to be desired. Nothing at all. Beautiful clear treble pitches and deep, booming bass notes emanated from the instrument instantly. Nobody in the room had any question about it.

The instrument isn’t a piece of art to be hung on a wall! In the right hands, it will make music that all listening can easily recognize as art, instead.

It is not a Stradivarius, nor is it worth a million dollars. It is a fine family heirloom which will hopefully be played by one of the maker’s descendants, proving every naysayer who ever doubted the lawyer’s ability to build a quality instrument completely wrong.

Moments before the couple walked in, my friend had asked a rhetorical question. What am I giving to God? 

He and I are both reaching our senior years, the realization that time is growing short consuming our thoughts. An old friend had died suddenly the night before of a heart attack, and that weighed heavily on me as we spoke of the urgency.

In our conversation, we had talked about stepping out, not knowing what the end result would be—not even necessarily knowing what we were being asked to do. It’s as uncomfortable a thing to do as I can think of.

But, as the couple walked out of the door, cradling the instrument as if it would shatter should anyone breathe on it, we looked at each other in disbelief. Both of us smiled as the lesson of the non-musician luthier hit home.

It can’t be done!

Stick with what you know!

Really? Did you ever notice it seems that God purposely took people who had done other things and used them in ways they never thought possible? Shepherds, fishermen, tent makers, tradesmen trained for a lifetime of performing specific tasks—He gave them responsibilities which in no way resembled those earlier vocations.

To Abraham—Go to a land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
To Noah—Build an ark. (Genesis 6:14)
To Moses—Go tell Pharaoh to let My people go. (Exodus 8:1)
To Peter—Upon this rock will I build my church. (Matthew 16:18)

God puts inside each of us His dream, His direction. Click To Tweet

I had been reluctant to give my friend advice. God puts inside each of us His dream, His direction. It’s a dangerous thing for another person to give counsel that contradicts that.

If that astounding violin I looked at on that day is any indication, it’s also a little foolish.

Sometimes we simply must follow God, even when people around us don’t understand.

My friend says he’s got things to do.

Maybe it’s time for me to get moving, as well.

I wonder. I’ve never built a violin.

You?

 

 

 

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

(Exodus 4:11-12 ~ ESV)

 

Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.
(James A Baldwin ~ American essayist/novelist ~ 1924-1987)

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Storyteller

So I says to him—I says—that’ll never go through this door.

My grandfather died the year I graduated from high school, but still, I hear his voice, telling another of his stories.  Always—always, they were punctuated with spaces.  

They were spaces in which he caught his breath.

When he walked from the front porch to the kitchen, he always stopped at the desk behind his easy chair.  Every time.  Leaning with his big hands on the edge of the desktop, he breathed deep, his powerful chest muscles expelling the bad air and drawing in good.

I felt the tell-tale tightening in my chest earlier today, a sign that my own bronchial issues may soon overtake me again.  I couldn’t help but think of the old man.

Experience tells me that, even should I succumb to the malady completely, I will breathe freely again very soon.  But, these moments remind me of folks who’ve gone before—people I have loved and who have loved me.

They remind me of other things, as well.  

My grandfather, he of the interrupted sentences, was a storyteller.  He loved a good story.  More than that, he loved being surrounded by people who listened to the stories he told.  The gaps for breathing, at first an annoyance to both the teller and the listener, soon became room for thought and reason for suspense.  

A good storyteller uses the tools with which he is provided.  

Grandpa was a good storyteller.  Health impediment or not, he was going to tell his stories.

I’m a storyteller too.  You might say, it’s in my blood.  Kind of like the lung issues.  From my grandfather to my son, the males in my family have experienced similar problems of varying degrees.  Without a say in the inheritance, we have each passed down the frailty to the succeeding generation.

May I talk about the storytelling and passing things down for a moment?  I promise to be nearly succinct.  The reader will have to be the judge of whether the time is well spent.

Did you know our Creator commanded us to be storytellers?  And, He expected us to pass the love of telling stories down through the generations?  His instructions—oddly enough, passed through another storyteller—were clear.  

Parents tell your children.  Tell them in your home, as you’re hiking on a trail, and when you’re in the shopping centers. Through all the ages, tell them.  Give them reason to believe and to trust in a God who provides and protects. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20

The testimony of previous generations is a bridge over which we cross the raging floods of cultural deception and shifting doctrine.  If we fail to provide those bridges for our children, our progeny will be washed away in the roiling currents and howling rapids.

Tell the stories!  Use words that are accurate and attractive.  Put them to music, rhyme the syllables, and give them rhythm.  Paint them on a canvas, or carve them in stone.

Tell the stories!

12745592_10206853935720800_2029702514110622443_nThe Lovely Lady—my favorite walking companion—and I wandered along an abandoned roadbed just a few days hence.  We had a goal in mind, a century-old bridge, now abandoned, but still standing.  It has not carried traffic for a number of years.

A monument to the past, the framework stands.  There is even a roadway across, but a few steps onto it and one soon realizes that it will never support the weight of a vehicle again.  

A monument—nothing more.

Bridges are meant to be more than monuments.  Properly maintained and kept, they smoothly move traffic from the place left behind to the destination.  Abandoned, they serve no purpose, but rust and rot into the landscape, forcing the traveler to choose a different route or be carried away in the flood.

I will build bridges.  

With my last breath, I will tell the stories.

With my last breath, I will tell the stories. Click To Tweet

As my lovely companion and I wandered, almost sadly, away from the beautiful old span, I realized that my faulty lungs might make the half-mile trek back to the road difficult and wondered about the wisdom of making the trip.  

I needn’t have worried.  Companions are made to help each other on the road.

We don’t walk the road alone—don’t build the bridges alone—don’t cross them alone.

Surrounded by a great cloud of storytellers, we press on.

To our last breath.  

Tell the Story.

 

 

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit!
(Hebrews 12:1,2 ~ The Message)

 

For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
(from A Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English author ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

On the Mezzanine

I remember that mezzanine.  

Tears do that, you know.  Remind you.

And they fall, unbidden.  We don’t want them to; they just come.

So, with the salty liquid running down my cheeks I remember that day, now over thirty-five years ago.  

Visiting my folks in my childhood home, I agreed to ride along with my old friend as he made his sales rounds one summer afternoon.

We stopped by a produce warehouse, a corrugated metal structure where they prepared vegetables for shipment to various marketplaces.  The building my friend entered was the onion operation.  Right outside the metal building—by the truckloads—the dirty yellowish bulbs had been hauled from the fields and were dumped onto the conveyor lines that would carry them though the process.

The process would change them dramatically.  On that summer afternoon long ago, it would change me, too.

From a filthy orb with roots hanging off one end and stem jutting out of the other, to a beautiful shiny sphere just waiting to be sliced, battered, and deep fried—turning out the most delicious tasting snack you could ask for—the transformation was radical.

But, you ask, what about the mezzanine?  Where are the tears?

I’m getting there.  Soon, there would more than enough tears to last a man a lifetime.

I hung back in the factory while my friend talked with his contact there.  In just a moment though, he was beckoning with his hand for me to follow him on into the plant.  He explained that he needed to check the stock levels for the products he provided to the company.

As I prepared to follow him up a steel staircase, he gave me a hint—just a hint—about what was to come.

You’ll want to stay close.  Don’t worry, I won’t walk away from you.

Stay close?  Why would I need him near?  I snickered.  As if I needed someone to hold my hand climbing up some stairs.

As if.

That was before the tears.

The stairs led to a mezzanine made of steel beams covered by a steel grate that served as a floor surface.

Right. Above. The. Production. Line.

Let it sink in for a moment.  We walked above the line where the onions were washed.  Where the roots were sliced off.  Where the stems were removed.  The round veggies banged and battered each other as they collided all along the conveyor.  

Think about the strongest onion you ever sliced into and multiply it a few thousand times.

I couldn’t see a thing.  It was a good thing my friend stayed near.  It was as if I had been struck blind in seconds.  The terror was nearly instantaneous.  There is no other word to describe what I felt.

Shaking, I held onto his shoulder all the way across the mezzanine and back down the stairs.

Did you know the chemical in onions that makes you cry is the very same component that lends the edgy flavor which livens up so many dishes?

This seems a strange thing to write about on a day when we talk about love, doesn’t it?  

Be my valentine.

Roses and chocolates.

Diamonds and gold.

Love is more than the fluff.  

Not less.  More.

Spicy and playful.  Stinking and bitter.

Laughing.  Crying.

To get through it, we have to stay close.

Love is more than the fluff. To get through it, we have to stay close Click To Tweet

Standing on the mezzanine of life, we stay close to the ones we love.

And, they are there.

He promised that, too—the One who gave His lifeblood to show us the way.

I’ll be with you always.  Even though the world around you disintegrates, I’ll be there. (Matthew 28:20)

He’s a Promise-keeper.

You’ll want to stay close.  He won’t walk away.

He won’t.

 

 

Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
(Carl Sandburg ~ American writer/poet ~ 1878-1967)

 

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

I Feel Better Now

She asked me about it this afternoon.

Is it time to get going on that little project yet?

She knows I’ve been thinking about it this week.  I told her I was.  Thinking about it.

What I really meant was I was thinking about how I was feeling guilty about not doing it.

So, this afternoon, we stood around—the Lovely Lady and I—and talked about the project.

Well?  It is what one does.

Oh, I know I could just do the project.  When I say we stood around and talked about it, I don’t pretend that there were any special revelations.  It was all information I had a firm grasp on already.

Still, I feel better about it now. 

I haven’t started the project yet; I’m just not feeling guilty about not starting it. We planned. We organized.

Really.  I feel much better now.

Planning and organizing.  It’s what we do best.

We are far more competent at discussing the process than we are at actually getting the job done.

Well.  I am, anyway.

His followers did it too.  You know, the Teacher’s rag-tag group of outcasts and blue-collar laborers. His disciples.

They had a discussion about what to do.  This was serious stuff.  They needed to wrap their heads around it.  What they did was pray. (Matthew 14:13-21)

Well, kind of.  They begged their Teacher to fix the problem for them. It was a prayer—of sorts.

These people, Teacher.  They need to eat. We need You to take care of this.  Send them home.  Please.

We call the story: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand.  We always have.

It isn’t what happened.

The name of the story is: Twelve Men Feed Five Thousand.

You’re skeptical.  I understand that.  But, it’s right there in the Book.

He looked at them and said, You feed them. (Matthew 14:16)

You feed them.

And, they did.

They did.

I wonder.  Why is it so difficult for us to understand?  We know what to do.  What keeps us from accomplishing it?

The Teacher told of a wealthy man who prepared an amazing feast.  The hall was ready. The food was on the table.  All that was missing were the folks who needed to eat. The chairs were empty.

Go out there and give them every reason—every reason—to come and eat.  Every person you see.  Compel them to come in. (Luke 14:23)

Love compels.  It doesn’t sit and write plans.  It doesn’t draw flow charts.  It doesn’t ask for direction when direction has already been given.

Love compels.

Love compels. It doesn't sit and write plans. Click To Tweet

Love that compels is love that grabs a neighbor by the heart and draws them inexorably to the God who forgives.

Love that compels is love that brushes aside the insult of ten minutes ago and the bitterness of ten years ago and holds tight in an embrace that forces out all but itself.

But, we have to start.

The time to plan has passed.

The time to pray for guidance has passed.

It’s time to act.

Today.

Oh.  And, I’ve still got that little project to get started on.

But, I do feel better about it now.

 

 

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.
(Lord of the Rings ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist/educator ~ 1892-1973)

 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
(2 Timothy 4:7 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Parenthesis Closed

Three of these things belong together.
Three of these things are kind of the same.

From childhood, we learn it.  Things that are similar belong together.  Even educational television programs teach the concept.  Things that do their own thing don’t belong.

From our youth, we have followed the theory.

Somehow, we misunderstood the idea.  With disastrous results, we misunderstood, thinking it could mean people, when it only meant things.

                            

A subset. 

That was the word he used.  Subset.

It was the night of the Super Bowl.  I don’t live for sports, but it seemed to be the thing to do, so I watched the game.  Exciting action.  Really.

I didn’t watch the halftime of the game.  I had work that needed to be done before I went to bed that night.  I said as much.  But, I also made the mistake of posting a comment that seemed to denigrate the halftime entertainment.  It was intended to be a comment about the hype leading up to the act, but several took it as criticism of the entertainer herself.  And, as could be expected, there were a few folk who echoed the inferred slight.

Then one friend, who held a different viewpoint, entered the conversation.  Not understanding, nor agreeing with, the direction the comments had taken, he suggested that I and my other friends were an interesting subset of our society.

We’re still friends.  He didn’t mean it to be an insult and said so, apologizing.  I believe him.  He is my friend.

And yet, I’m concerned.

A subset?

Really?

What if he’s right?  

The big thing in our culture right now is to find your tribe.  Writers. Artists. Musicians. Professionals. Gamers.

Like the folks in the television bar, Cheers, we want to be where everybody knows our name. 

So we really are subsets.  We gather in groups where we have things in common.  We don’t waste time on those who don’t fit the pattern.

Oh, I know the gurus insisting we need a tribe add the thought that we need diversity, but what they mean is we’ll accept diversity in non-essential aspects.  Just as long as folks pass the litmus tests for the really important things we stand for.

Tribes.  Subsets.

I remember learning a concept when I was very young. It was one of the most effective principles in winning any game.  

Centuries old, the phrase was known before the time of Christ.

Divide et impera.  Divide and rule.  Commonly, we quote it as Divide and conquer.

The concept assumes the invading enemy, the power that intends to rule, will divide those it has come to war against.

In our day, we who claim to be followers of Christ, have made it our duty—yes, our duty—to do the deed for the enemy ourselves.

Subsets. Closed.

Liberal believers write oceans of words condemning the evangelical church to hell for abandoning the poor and downtrodden.  Conservative believers publish scathing papers trashing anyone who could consider homosexuals as part of the Body, and denying the possibility of salvation to anyone who would support abortion.

Tribes. Locked in battle.

I have asked the question before, thinking about a different situation, but I ask it again now:  Does God cry?

Do you suppose this would be enough to bring tears to His eyes?  Is He weeping over us today, as His Son did over Jerusalem? (Luke 19:41)

I’m no mathematician.  I don’t understand sets and subsets.  

This I do know:  God never closed the equation.

If X = (Recipient of God’s grace), then X = (Anyone

Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Revelation 22:17b)

It may be bad mathematics, but it is seriously good grace.

It may be bad mathematics, but it is seriously good grace. Click To Tweet

Every tribe.  Every nation. Every language.  Every people group.  (Revelation 7:9)

All of these things belong together…

What a gathering!

It’s time to break out of our subsets.

Who’s going over the wall with me?

 

 

 

I am in them and You are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent me and that You love them as much as You love me.
(John 17:23 ~ NLT)

 

In real life, I assure, there is no such thing as algebra.
(Fran Lebowitz ~ American author/public speaker)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved. 

Lightly Tread

Ahhh!  I slide my sore feet out of the leather shoes—the best moment in my day.  As I revel in the relief, a rhyme flashes through my thoughts, and I laugh.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.

What?  You don’t think that’s funny?

I suppose, in the poisoned political climate of the last several days and weeks in our once-great country, it might be a private joke I should keep to myself—my daily introduction of my feet to freedom from their leather prisons.

But, as I sit in the old oak office chair and gaze at my stocking feet and the shoes on the floor beside them, I hear other words.

Take off your shoes, Moses.  You’re standing on holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)

I wonder where that came from.

No, I know where it came from originally.  Few of us have not heard the story of Moses and his burning bush at Mount Sinai.  Well, I call it his, but there is no question the bush belonged to God—as did the flame that engulfed it and yet didn’t burn it up.

Still, I don’t know what that ancient story has to do with me—or you—today.  All I did was take off my shoes.

Taking off our shoes doesn’t make the ground holy.  There, in that desolate place, that mountain in the solitary desert, it wasn’t even the bush afire that made the ground holy.  

There was one thing that made that place holy.  One thing.

God was there.

Where God is, the expectation is that we will act in a different manner.  Pride, arrogance, wickedness—all are shed and left behind.

We tread lightly on holy ground.

We tread lightly on holy ground. Click To Tweet

Some friends of mine wrote a song a few years ago that is sung across the world today.  It speaks of the air in our lungs and where it comes from.

It’s Your breath in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise.

The realization that we are dependent on our Creator for even the air that we breathe requires that we must offer it back to Him in praise.

How is it any different with the earth we stand upon?  The food we eat?  The clothes on our backs?

I claim to be a follower of Emmanuel.  His Spirit lives in all who believe in Him.

God With Us.

Holy Ground.  Everywhere you can see.  Holy Ground.

It is clear we don’t believe that.  Crystal clear.

We seem more like adherents to the Church of Nancy Sinatra.  

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

Don’t believe it?  Read a newspaper.  Turn on the television news.  Click on the so-called social media.  I know; it seems more like anti-social media these days.

I could cite example after example of friends and acquaintances—believers, every one—who think nothing of tearing down fellow believers, demeaning and questioning their relationship with God because their understanding of the Word is different.

Ah.  But, let me say this:  

All we have to do is turn our faces away from the ugliness of mankind and look into the face of God.

And, take our shoes off.

It’s His dirt under our feet.

His.

I think I’ll walk barefoot for awhile.

Maybe, you’d like to walk beside me.

 

 

Turn your face away from the ugliness of mankind and look into the face of God. Click To Tweet

 

 

 

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
To You only

All the earth will shout
Your praise
Our hearts will cry
These bones will sing
Great are You, Lord
(from Great Are You Lord ~ Ingram/Leonard/Jordan ~ American songwriters)

 

 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” Cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
(From The New Collossus by Emma Lazurus ~ American poet ~ 1849-1887)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved. 

Good for the Soul

I wrote about this the other night.  Really, I did.  

Paragraph after paragraph to explain how I’m still a man of my word, in spite of my circumstances.  I even included scripture verses to encourage the reader to do the same.  

It was good.  Do you remember?

What! You never read that article?

Well, yeah. I knew that.

It’s not true anyway.

The part about me being a man of my word isn’t, that is.  I did write it.  I just couldn’t bring myself to publish it.  It still sits as a draft in my computer program.

Tonight though, I sat at my desk and, almost angrily, said the words to the ceiling in my office.

You’re going to make me write about this instead, aren’t you?

The circumstances of the two events are nearly identical; the actors in the little stageplay are the only real difference.  Oh. Then, there’s my failure to live up to the claim this time.

The details aren’t all that important.  An email arrived both times.  I had sold products, back when I ran a music store, and made promises about the products. Both of the email writers wanted me to live up to my promise.

The first time, I passed.  With flying colors, I passed the test.  I wanted to boast about that.  I wanted to make sure my readers knew how important it was to me to be a man of my word.  Even when it wasn’t convenient to do that.

Tonight?  It wasn’t such a rousing success.  When called on to make good on my promise, I simply made an excuse and said I couldn’t.

Well?  

I don’t operate the music store anymore.  Money is tight.  Bills have to be paid.  No one could expect me to stand behind promises—now that the business is defunct.  No one.

Except the One who called me.  The One who sustains me with His own hand.

He expects it.

David, the psalmist knew it.  He suggested that those who want to live in God’s presence needed, among other things, to do what they had promised, even when it hurts. (Psalm 15:4)

This was going to hurt.  So, I said sorry, I won’t.

I don’t want to tell you this.  I want you to think I’m a man of my word.  I do.

But then, I guess I should actually be a man of my word.  Shouldn’t I?

The red-headed lady who raised me had a saying for this (you knew she would):  Confession is good for the soul.

Her sayings weren’t always right.  This one is.

James said it in a little more round-about way.  Confess your sins to each other and you will be healed. (James 5:16)

I suppose you might say that being healed is good for the soul.

I suppose you might say that being healed is good for the soul. Click To Tweet

I’m confessing.  

The realization has grown in me more and more in these last days that we have become an arrogant people.  

More inclined to boast than to confess, our spiritual leaders and teachers tussle and vie for the places of honor, only to be shocked when they are showered with disrespect and hateful words from other leaders and teachers.

We follow their example.  I have seen more vile speech from believers, aimed at other believers, in the last short period of time than I have in my lifetime.

I wonder.  We refuse to let anyone see our weakness for fear that they will respect us less, and then when the facade falls (as it surely will) our weaknesses and sins are exposed anyway, to the chagrin of some and the glee of others.

If we exalt ourselves, it is inevitable that we will be humbled.  Inevitable.

Among all the shouting and self-promotion, somehow, I think our Lord would propose only seven words for us to say.

They are words of humility and penitence.  Words that remind us who we really are.

I’m saying them tonight.

God be merciful to me, a sinner.

 

A proud man is always looking down on things and people, and of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British scholar/novelist ~ 1898-1963)

 

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else:  “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’  I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ~ NLT)

 
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

We’ll Say We Did

Let’s not and say we did.

It was just the other day.  Someone suggested he and I should run in a long race a few months from now.  I didn’t take to the suggestion all that well.

Still, I’d like for folks to think I could.

The words came from my mouth without thought.

Let’s not and say we did.

I’m thinking about the words tonight.  Truth be told, I thought about them last night, too.

For most of the night.

With one of the Elders of my fellowship, I sat in the church library during the late morning service on Sunday.  As a member of the worship team, I had already attended the early service, listening attentively to the pastor’s words.  This time, as he preached again, I would relax in comfort and await my cue to go back in for the final song.

I thought that is what I would do.  Relaxing isn’t how I would describe the next half hour.

She didn’t look like she belonged in church.  

We don’t have a dress code—no one expects what we used to call our Sunday best, but her clothes were different in other ways.  Mismatched and fitting her badly, it had been a long time since they had been on the rack in a department store.  There were other physical attributes that reinforced the idea that she hadn’t come to sit with the other worshipers in the service.

“I need to get some help.  Are you guys the deacons?”

She sat down and filled the air with words and the smell of stale tobacco.  We asked a question or two, but she did most of the talking.  No home.  Living in a motel with her children.  Poor health.  Bad luck.  No money.

I was happy to notice the pastor was on his last point in the sermon.  It was my get-out-of-jail-free card.

“I’ve got to go sing.”

Done.  Free.

She’s somebody else’s problem now.  I’m so happy our church will help her in some way.  So happy.

But. . .

I say I follow God.  

Let’s not and say we did.

When I take the easy way out, I make my testimony of following God a lie.

When we take the easy way out, we make our claim of following God a lie. Click To Tweet

I know I should tread lightly here.  That’s what my head tells me.  It would be more comfortable that way.  For me, as well as for those reading this.

Comfortable isn’t how God always works.  Jesus, as He addressed His followers, didn’t ease up to give them a way of escape.

They didn’t get a pass because they were in the choir.

Paying their taxes to the government didn’t offer any relief for His command.

Putting their money in the offering plate at church didn’t alleviate one scintilla of their responsibility.

He didn’t give instructions to the church leaders lurking nearby to start a food pantry.

He didn’t direct words to the government officials in the area to offer a relief program financed with taxes.

With the clarity and plain words of a teacher in the guise of a practiced storyteller, He made it clear that every person has a responsibility to those in need around us.  Every single person.

He looked down through the centuries, straight at us and told us to care for their needs as we would if visited by God Himself.  (Matthew 25: 40, 45)

Let’s not and say we did.

Oh!  I would never!  

But, we do.  

Every time we suggest that government programs fulfill God’s command, we say it.

Every time we breathe a sigh of relief that the benevolence fund at our church fellowship is available for just such people, we tell the lie.

You know—running thirteen miles would be uncomfortable for me.  I’m not going to tell you I did it if I didn’t.

In the same way, I don’t want to claim to be a follower of Jesus, yet refuse to do what He asks me to do to even the least of His sisters and brothers.

But, I have done it before.  You?

It’s time to stop lying.  

To ourselves and to each other.

And, to Him.

 

 

Charity never humiliated him who profited from it, nor ever bound him by the chains of gratitude, since it was not to him but to God that the gift was made.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery ~ French pilot/author ~ 1900-1944)

 

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.
(1 John 2:6 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Of Prisms and Vacuums

I closed the door behind the man, having shaken his hand and offered a spoken blessing in reply to his.  

Tears welled up in my eyes as I locked the latch and turned away from the door.  Looking through those translucent prisms, by then running down my cheek, I walked over and flicked the light switches to the off position. 

The rainbow-hued prisms disappeared along with the light overhead, but the vision in my mind remained.

I talk too much.  That won’t be news to many who know me.  But, as the men had wrapped plastic around the old glass counters before carting them out to the moving truck in the parking lot, I couldn’t help reminiscing aloud.

They are the very same glass counters which were in the little music store the first time I walked into it, nearly forty years ago.  Then, the slight, white-haired old man leaned on the edge of the counter in front of him, a quizzical smile playing across his lips.

That is the vision that will not leave my head—the smiling man leaning, hands flat on the glass top of the counter.

Today (perhaps by coincidence; perhaps not) is the anniversary of the old man’s death.  I told the men as much as they worked.

I still miss him.  He was friendly and jolly, as well as stern and thoughtful.  I loved his stories.  I was frustrated by his stubbornness.

I love his daughter.  I love being part of his family.

But, this is not a sad tale, even though I began it in tears.  It’s not.

It is a story of blessings—blessings I can’t begin to count.  They are blessings that are likely to pass on to the third and fourth generation.  Or, so it seems to me.

You remember?  You who were raised in a church and Sunday School?  The words are right there in the Old Testament.

The sins of the fathers will be passed on to the third and even to the fourth generation.  (Exodus 20:5)  Years after the perpetrators are dead, their children will be dealing with the consequences.

You’ve seen it happen, haven’t you? Perhaps not in the extreme that passage brings to mind, but if you’re anything like me, you’ve seen it.

I’ll never be like my father!  How many times did I say it, growing up?  Fathers can make children so frustrated.  And, in our childish frustration, we make promises—assuming we’ll never ever do that thing that made us angry.

Fast forward ten years, perhaps fifteen.  A member of the current crop of teenagers in the house says or does something amiss, and the response comes from deep within us, without consideration.  Immediately, the brain spins back over the years and the chagrin sets in.  

How is it possible that I opened my mouth and my father came out?  How?

But, wait!  I said I would write of blessings, didn’t I?

So, I shall.

Just as the negative habits of our fathers and grandfathers are often stored up to be released at some later date, so too, good habits work to the benefit of future generations.

A heritage of blessings becomes to each succeeding generation a blessing, a way of life, a habitual practice of blessing those who come after.

A heritage of blessings becomes to each succeeding generation a blessing. Click To Tweet

My father-in-law was no exception, nor was my father.  Mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers—not a day goes by that I don’t recognize the blessing of a Godly heritage.

It is part of God’s natural law, if you will.  And, it does not in any way deny His power in changing hearts and in saving by His astounding grace.  

But, with His own hands, He set the worlds in motion, designing the way their inhabitants function, down to the minutest detail.

And, just as those tears in my eyes earlier today made me see momentarily through rainbow-colored prisms, I realize that we see our world with the collective sight of those who have shaped us.  

Good—bad—their influence is unmistakable. 

We function, not in a vacuum (if there is such a thing), but in a constantly changing and ever-expanding world of influence, seen and unseen.  Our every action and reaction has an effect on those around us.

Every one.

There is more, I know.  

When we are drawn by the Spirit and saved by God’s grace, everything changes.  His presence makes us want to do right, and even gives us the power to do it. (Philippians 2:13)

His presence in our lives makes all the difference.

Still, it should increase our understanding of our responsibility to those around us, rather than diminish it.

We have the power to affect the world for generations to come.  We get to choose.

Good.  Bad.

Blessing.  Cursing.

I like Joshua’s thoughts on the matter as he made his choice and declared, with no ambiguity whatsoever, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Many who have come before in my life have chosen well—some, not so well.  Most of us can relate.

There is no vacuum in which to live.

There may be tears to see through.  

I pray they’ll be tears of joy.  And, tears of temporary sorrow.

Prisms of light through which we see the world clearly.

Blessings.

 

 

 

 

I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond.
And their eyes were my eyes.
(Richard Llewellyn ~  Welsh novelist ~ 1906-1983)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Smooth Sailing

Battered and beaten.

It’s the only way to describe them.

Every day, we see and hear from them—humanity so tired of swimming against the current and weary of struggling to overcome the storm. They are ready to surrender.

Surrender. I’m considering it myself. Well—I was.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wind recently. It was especially true today, as I took a break from the struggle of everyday life to walk awhile with the Lovely Lady.

I love spending time with her, but it makes me tired sometimes. Oh, you know what I mean. We walked a couple of miles today, all of it uphill and against the wind.

That may be an exaggeration. I seem to remember a very short time when the wind was not blowing against us—a very short time.

Recently, I wrote of the goodness and mercy that would pursue us all our days—the expectation of the poet who penned Psalm 23. On that occasion, I came to the conclusion that it followed us as we pursued the prize set before us, the time when we will spend eternity with God.

I don’t want to make it sound as if all of life is hardship and trial. It’s not. But, if we are, as I believe to be true, on a pilgrimage, a journey, we are going to have to keep moving ahead.

And frequently, moving ahead means going straight into the wind.  Straight into it.

I heard a blessing, of sorts, spoken the other day. I remember that when I heard it, I immediately decided it was exactly what I needed.

Fair winds, and following seas.

Peaceful, isn’t it? It’s meant to be.

A naval blessing, it is spoken often about a sailor who has died. A smooth passage, aided by gentle breezes and currents moving in the same direction. Difficulty past, ease lies ahead.

I want it now. Today.

But, here’s the thing. While there have been, and will be, times of relative quiet and calm, our calling isn’t to drift along on the current, carried to whatever destination the sea has picked out for us.

I realized something, as I contemplated that phrase earlier, along with the wind the Lovely Lady and I battled on our “relaxing” walk today.

For a few recent days, it seems I actually have had fair winds. The waves, so heavy and angry barely weeks ago, have flattened out and are almost gently rocking the boat on its passage.

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, I am promising it won’t last. I hope you won’t misunderstand me. It’s a good thing.

Our path has already been charted. Through the waves and the wind, it lies. If, in our fear, we turn the rudder to run ahead of the storm, we will never reach the harbor. Never.

If, in our fear, we turn the rudder to run ahead of the storm, we will never reach the harbor. Click To Tweet

It is only through the storm, braving the wind, that we will reach those fair winds and following seas.

As we enter the harbor, battles fought, storms past, we will finally rest from our labor.

I’m not in harbor yet; the voyage is not yet completed.

But, at least for right now, the current is flowing the same direction I am. For a little while.

The Teacher said the words to His exhausted friends. Come away with me. (Mark 6:31-34)

They, ready to drop, welcomed the promise of rest. Perhaps, they misunderstood. The rest they expected never happened. The following crowds caught up to them, needing to be healed and then to be fed. And then, their beloved Teacher stuck them on a boat in the middle of the lake with a storm blowing up.

Terrified. Tired. Confused.

They rowed frantically, making no headway against the storm.

He walked to them upon the wild waves and, clambering over the side of the boat, reminded them they needed to rest.

Okay. What He said was that they had no reason to fear.

It means the same thing.

The Savior who walks on the storm is in control. On dry land—on glassy smooth seas—in the wildest, stormiest night—He speaks peace. Still.

Fair winds, and following seas will be ours.  They will.

The harbor lies up ahead.  Really.

The waves and wind still know His voice.

Rest.

 

 

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
(from Am I A Soldier Of The Cross by Isaac Watts ~ English hymnwriter ~ 1674-1748)

 

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.
(Augustine of Hippo ~ Early Christian Theologian ~ 354-430)

 

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.