Higher than That

As if all of creation is following the calendar hanging on the wall, the temperatures are dropping to suit the season.  The north wind already blusters, tugging on the leaves of the trees in my yard, urging them to fly.

Soon.  Soon, they’ll fly.

I sat on the porch with a warm cup of coffee a few moments past and wondered why the melancholy mood seems to be descending like a cloud.  It does every year now, when the seasons make the turn toward colder temperatures and bare limbs on trees.

It hasn’t always been so.

I listen absent-mindedly to the wind chimes at the northern backside of the house and then to the ones beside me on the southern porch as they take their turn to spin and shimmy in the chilly breeze.  The progression of the blowing wind reminds me that the years have come and gone in just the same way.  The waning year reminds me that life too, wanes.

With the years have come so many life events.  Joyous and sad, they also take their turns, blowing in and then out again.  I might as well try to stop the north wind as to hold back the memories.

I have seen babies born and old folks die.  Before my eyes, both have happened.  I didn’t turn away from either.  Both have brought tears.  Tears of heartache and joy.

Children have grown; friendships, too.  The children left, but came back with others of their own.  Friends have come and gone, and then come again, some of them.  Life has had its sadness, but also, in great measure, its joy.

And yet, among my memories, especially now, the melancholy shoves aside the joy.  

For some reason I see, in my mind’s eye, a scene from a Greek myth I read as a child.  Most will remember it, the story of Pandora and the box she was forbidden to open.

The pain and evil she loosed on the earth changed it forever.  Only a weak and ineffective hope was left behind as a salve, a bandage for the open, bleeding wound.

The Greeks and Romans offered, in their attempts at explaining humanity and deity, a weak copy of the reality of a Creator who actually gave hope, real hope to His children, His creation.

How easy it is for us, like the ancients, to let out eyes fall to man and the created world, expecting salvation, but finding only weakness and death.  We begin to attempt to explain all we see and experience, framed in our human frailty and knowledge.

Weakly, we grasp at the wisps of hope the world offers, thinking it will stave off our unhappiness and certainty of what follows the coming of Autumn.  

We build empires, which merely crumble and dissolve beneath out feet.  We follow political leaders who make promises with their mouths, but then take action from their base, evil hearts.

Wealth bellows its virtues, only to disappoint.  Youth begins to slip from our grasp and hope flees.  We chase health with every gym membership and dietary supplement we can find, only to find ourselves trapped in ever weakening frames.

Magazines are read; books purchased.  Surely someone will find the secret before it’s too late for us!  

We set our sight too low.  Far too low.

Did you ever stand in the dark of early morning, out in a valley, awaiting the dawn?  I remember mornings—brisk Autumn mornings, not unlike those I’m waking up to now—when I sat awaiting the sun, and the beauty that would follow its rising.

Looking out across the valley, I could see only pitch blackness.  They say it’s always darkest before dawn and then, I could believe it.  But perhaps, I was looking too low.  I should look up—up on the rise of the surrounding hillsides.  Surely, from that height, light would ascend and creation would shine.

The hillsides disappointed.  Every time.  

Even the hilltops themselves were of little help.  Possibly, I could make them out, silhouetted against the sky as they were.  But, the light didn’t emanate from them.

reddawnI had to lift my eyes even higher—up to the sky, where the sun would rise.

There!  Even before the sun arrived, the light shone upward from behind the dark horizon.  Above the valley—above the hillsides—towering even above the hilltops—the sun began its daily circuit above.

The Psalmist knew it.  As he sat in the valley of despair, he lifted his eyes up to the hills, but found no help there.  Where—where would his help come from?  Only from God.  (Psalm 121:1,2)

High above the valley—from a dizzy height above the mountains—God reaches down to aid His own. 

High above the valley—from a dizzy height above the mountains—God reaches down to aid His own. Click To Tweet

We would wander in the darkness forever, chasing a weak and futile hope.  In our foolishness, we believe that the evil loosed in the world cannot ever be defeated.  Or worse, we think we can unseat it with our New-Age we-are-gods-ourselves mantra.  

Death will follow.  As surely as winter follows Autumn, death follows evil and error.

He gives us a Hope that is far better than any we could ever fabricate or imagine.

A Savior who makes all things new.  

The power of Pandora’s box is broken in Him.  Our Hope has the power to give us new life.

He promises us heaven.

Soon.  Soon, we’ll fly.

 

 

He promises us heaven. Soon. Soon, we'll fly. Click To Tweet

 

 

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
(Autumn ~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~ Bohemian-Austrian poet ~ 1875-1926)

 

 

“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” 
“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things?  I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.  But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”
(John 3:8-15 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Is It Safe?

Tonight, I’m wondering—I who have declared in my brashest voice that I am a follower of the Son of God—I’m wondering what it means to really follow Him.

Is it enough that I have followed Him for these few years, the decades of youth and middle-age?

Is that enough?

2016-02-13 13.53.27What if He says to me, Better things are waiting—out there—across the bridge?

Would I take the chance—the adventure—and strike out into a new and unknown field?

I’ve never been over there. 

What if there are strange people?  

Is the bridge safe?  

Will I have plenty to eat, a warm place to stay, a comfy bed in which to sleep when I reach the end of my days?

What if He says, 'Better things are waiting—out there'? What then? Click To Tweet

On the best day fishing Peter and his partners had ever had—the best day—the Teacher told them He had better things for them to accomplish. (Luke 5:9-11)

They abandoned their boats and nets—and fantastic catch—on the shore and followed.

They followed.

A new thing. 

I wonder.  Could I cross the bridge, abandoning the comfortable, familiar place I’m in?  I want to believe that I could.

I might look ridiculous—foolish even.

Would you laugh?

Or, would you cross it with me?

Companions on the road are nothing to sneer at.

I don’t know where we’re going yet.

He does.

It will be enough.

 

 

 

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18, 19 ~ NKJV)

 

“Doubtless,” said the Prince. “This signifies that Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die. And all’s one, for that. Now, by my counsel, we shall . . . all shake hands one with another, as true friends that may shortly be parted. And then, let us descend into the City and take the adventure that is sent us.”
(From The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ British novelist ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Chase the Shadows

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O, before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!

Last night I read the words of the poem The Lamplighter, penned by Robert Louis Stevenson more than a century ago and, as frequently happens, my mind wandered back several decades.

No.  I don’t remember any lamplighters on the street corners of my youth, electricity having been in common usage for all of my life and well before.  The orange glow emanating from mercury-vapor bulbs is a vivid memory from a childhood spent playing games on dark summer nights.

But, the joy of seeing a light on dark, dreary nights?  That, I can easily identify with.  

It’s odd that the picture which popped into my head was of an event which happened on just this date, one wild September evening forty-nine years ago.  

We watched and listened as a major hurricane, Beulah by name, wended its way up the course of the Rio Grande, leaving devastation and massive flooding in its wake.  One hundred sixty mile-per-hour winds do a lot of destruction.  So does a rainfall of twenty to thirty inches in a two-day period.

For days afterward (weeks for some), there was no electricity and no running water.

Do you know how dark it gets when there is no power as far as the eye can see?  Then you understand the popularity of the lamplighter of the nineteenth century.  

You would also understand the relief it was, after the hurricane, to have Dad light the old Coleman lantern every night as the sun fell behind the western horizon and the old creaky house fell dark.  

He would fill the tank with kerosene and, pumping up the pressure on the tank, would carefully lift the globe that protected the two little cloth mantles.  The mantles were miniature cloth bags that hung down inside the top section of the lamp which, when lit, burned with a bright white light not unlike the incandescent bulbs we were used to.  

I made the mistake of trying to light that lamp once—only once.  I poked the match through the side of one of the mantles and it burned up immediately.  It was a mistake I wouldn’t make again.

Dad lit the lamp.  Every night.  

His steady hand knew just where to hold the match to have the vaporized fuel catch the spark and spread the flame around the edges of the mantles.  They burned with a bright light, but weren’t burned up themselves.

If you were watching at just the right moment, you could see it.  In the dark, the match flared; then the mantles caught the flame.  Almost as if in slow motion, you could see the shadows disappear.  Really.

From the table on which the lamp sat, the darkness skipped away into the corners, and then, even the corners were no safe haven for it.

Light had come!

light-965652_640I loved seeing the light of that little lantern.

I loved having my father light it.

I understand the youngster in Mr. Stevenson’s poem.  Who wouldn’t want to be the one who carried the light to every corner of the house?  Or the city? 

We live in a dark world.  Darker every day, it seems to me.

And still, our Father banishes the shadows with light. There is no way the darkness can hold back the light.  None.  (John 1:4,5)

There is no way the darkness can hold back the light. None. Click To Tweet 

It never could.

Funny.  I couldn’t help but notice the name of the device that makes the light brilliant and white.  A mantle.

Frequently, the word mantle is used to describe something dreary and fear-instilling.  We use the phrase under a mantle of darkness to describe a place without hope.  A dim place, full of terror and hidden from sight.

But, there was another mantle, you know.  I learned about this mantle as a child in Sunday School.  You may have, too.  Elijah dropped it from the chariot of fire.  His protegé picked it up and it became a symbol of God’s power and authority.  (2 Kings 2)

I’m not any good with mantles.  I never was.  My Father, on the other hand—He can make one shine with a bright light like you’ve never seen.

It’s not my light or my mantle.  It never was.

Shine.

With His light.  Clothed in His glory.

Shine.

Chase the shadows.

 

 

 

The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
    a light has shined.
(Matthew 4:16 ~ NLT)

 

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O, before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!
(The Lamplighter ~ Robert Louis Stevenson ~ Scottish poet ~ 1850-1894)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

The Stomach Lies

What does your gut tell you?

I hear the words and I cringe.  I’m a know-your-facts—ducks-in-a-row kind of guy.  When I ask someone for advice, it is because I respect their expertise.  

I had found the old guitar in the dark corner of a pawn shop in Dallas.  It said Gibson on the head stock.  It said Gibson on the label inside the sound hole.  But, I wanted to be certain that it really was the genuine article before I dropped four hundred dollars, so I phoned a friend.  

An expert.  With expertise.  Wisdom, even.  

I described the instrument to him in detail.  He asked several questions about construction and materials, as well as the labels.  Then he asked that other question.

What does your gut tell you?

I bought the guitar.  My gut said I should.

My gut was wrong.  The guitar was a fake.

I wanted it so badly I could taste it.  As it turned out, I didn’t need to know what my gut told me, I needed some expertise—and wisdom.

It wasn’t the first time in my life my stomach had let me down.

Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.  

The red-headed lady who raised me said the words, laughing a little as she spoke.  I was sitting at the old scarred-up dining table with a Melmac plate before me.  There was a good-sized portion of steak on the plate.

We didn’t really have a limit to how much food we could put on our plate at that table.  As long as there was enough to go around, we were welcome to serve up as large a portion as we wanted.  There was only one stipulation.  Just one.

We had to eat everything on our plate.  Everything.

We’ll move on from this uncomfortable scene without dwelling on it, shall we?

Our appetites are poor experts.  They get us into all kinds of trouble.  All kinds.

Only today, I sat at a traffic light in heavy traffic, thinking about nothing in particular and everything in general, when my eye was captured by a bright flashing beside the road.  It was an advertising sign that operated with light-emitting-diodes; LED‘s, we call them

The writing started out as a brilliant LED in the center of the screen, appearing as nothing more than a dot.  The dot expanded, taking the form of letters in a word.  Rapidly, the expanding words filled the screen completely, before disappearing, only to be replaced by a new one.

It didn’t take long to get the whole message.

WHAT
DO
YOU
WANT?

Honk!  The driver behind me barely tapped his horn, but it was enough to make me aware that the traffic light had changed and the cars in front of me had moved on.  I was still thinking about the question.

I still am.

What do I want?  

The words, like the sign today, fill my sight.  Isn’t that always the way it is when one is hungry?  You can’t think about anything else, the desire for whatever it is you crave crowding out everything but itself.

soup-260238_640We are a people ruled by our appetites.  It’s not a new thing.  

Isaac gave his blessing to Jacob because his oldest son, Esau was hungry.  Really.  He was hungry, so  he gave up one of the most important rights a man in his culture could have—for a bowl of soup.  (Genesis 25:29-34)

Centuries later, we remain a greedy, gluttonous people, ready to sell our privileges for a paltry bowl of temporary enjoyment.  

We sell our marriages for a few moments of sexual pleasure with other partners, our children’s future for another drink of alcohol, our physical necessities for another turn at the roulette wheel.

We are so driven by our lust for satisfaction that we believe God will give us whatever we want.  Seriously!  (James 4:3)

He won’t.

And yet, He said through the psalmist that if we delight in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart.  (Psalm 37:4)  

He did.  He said that.

Based on this truth, many today teach that He will give us whatever we ask for. Cars, mansions, jewels—all of it to grasp and use in whatever way we choose.  He promised, right?

Desires of my heart!  Whatever I want!

As if we could delight in Him and have the desires of our heart not be molded to fit His will.  As if our worship and obedience of a holy God could result in the sinful lust and self-centeredness being touted by those who teach such lies.

As if.

What do I want?

I want to want what He wants.

What do I want? I want to want what He wants. Click To Tweet

I don’t need a gut-check on this one.

I just need to want Him.

Just Him.

 

 

 

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
(Fanny Fern ~ American columnist ~ 1811-1872)

 

 

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ
(Philippians 3:18-20 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Don’t Camp Out On It

Are you satisfied?

I’ve written the words before.  

The old Irish pastor had leaned over the pulpit in the little sanctuary—the same one in which the Lovely Lady and I had made promises to each other, years prior.  It seemed to me then that the old fellow was leaning right down into my face and directing the question solely to me.

Twenty years on, it still seems like that to me.

I had not only been married in that room, but I had carried my first-born child proudly in to sit with my friends there.  My second child followed a couple of years later.  I had sung with the choir, played the piano a time or two, and even preached when the opportunity arose.

Life was good.

This was as fine a place as any to settle.  I was satisfied.

Was.

Who did this old Irishman think he was, rocking my boat?  Because, that’s what he was doing.  As he spoke, a restlessness grew in me.  

It was high time I was moving on down the road!  High time.

I’m still not satisfied.  Not yet.

There is more along this road.  As long as the journey has been to this point, there is still a fair distance to go.

There is more along this road—still a fair distance to go. Click To Tweet

I can’t help but remember the lesson I learned the first time I played the piano at the Lovely Lady’s home in the days when we were dating.  Her Mom had been a piano teacher for many years.  I was to learn that it was an identity she couldn’t leave behind with her afternoon piano lessons.

I sat down to the beautiful Chickering grand piano in the living room as my future bride and mother-in-law labored in the kitchen before supper on that evening.  Glancing along the page of classical music before me, I decided it was worth taking the chance and began to play.

I had nothing to be ashamed of for the first few lines of the song, holding my own in picking out the melody and counter-melody.  I even did a fair job of reaching the bass notes along the way.  

Then, looking ahead, I saw a cluster of notes.

Uh-Oh!  I really didn’t like chords all that much.  I usually got a note or two wrong in them and it never came out quite right.  

My brain worked to comprehend the structure of the chord as I finished up the running notes leading up to it.

Miracle of miracles!  I hit every note right in the chord!  Every one.

It was beautiful!  Beautiful!

camp-1551078_640I reveled in the victory!  What a gorgeous chord!  Listen to that!  

Well?  Don’t camp out on it!  

The voice came from the kitchen.  Ever the teacher, the dear lady felt the need to encourage me along on my way, as she did with all her students who took longer than they should to move on.  

I wasn’t done yet.  There was still more music to be played.  A lot more.  For me to stop and revel in my accomplishment would actually diminish what was to come.

A friend shared a short quote this afternoon.  I read the words and felt that restlessness again—the same restlessness I felt twenty years ago when the old Irish preacher asked the question.  You may read the quote below for yourself.

I think perhaps the Apostle said it a little more accurately when he assured his readers that the One who had begun the work in them wouldn’t stop until it was completely finished.  (Philippians 1:6)

What is in the past, impressive as it may be, is simply prelude to the future.  If we stop and camp out to revel in the accomplishment, we may forget to move on and the song will never be completed.  

The Great Composer has a masterpiece for every one of us to make our way through.  Every chord and every note—loud or soft, pretty and resonant, or strident and bombastic—will sound before the end.

The journey is not complete.  It’s not time to set up camp.  

Not yet.

The journey is not complete. It's not time to set up camp. Not yet. Click To Tweet

The old preacher’s question still stands.

Well, are we?

 

 

 

You didn’t come this far to only come this far.
(Mike Foster ~ American author/teacher)

 

Be still my soul:  Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
(from Be Still My Soul ~ ca. 1752 ~ Katharina A. von Schlegel)

 

What’s past is prologue.
(from The Tempest ~ William Shakespeare ~ English poet ~ 1564-1616)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

A Voice Calls

Ahhhh.

I lean back as I sink into in my comfortable chair, coffee cup in hand. The music that gently floats in the air quiets and pacifies the very soul.

Outside, it is raining, the rain-258991_640drops gently drumming down onto the metal roof above me.

This is the life!

Only moments ago, I untied my shoes and kicked them under the desk, wiggling my toes in joy at being free of the constraints. I don’t know of many moments that feel better than that instant in which the shoes are kicked off.

I sit and soak in the mellowness. Here, I could stay forever.

But, something nags at the edges of my mood. Almost, I hear a voice calling me.

C’mon! There’s no time to waste! There are things to do. We have people to see. C’mon!

I shrug my shoulders, in a vain effort to quiet the badgering call. What is that emotion I’m starting to feel? It’s ruining the ambiance in the room.

I know what it is.

Guilt.

I am a believer in being up and about—in taking action. I am an advocate for achievement. A life spent in dissipation and indolence is a life wasted.

Perhaps, I should tackle the jobs I see waiting for me. I really should get busy, shouldn’t I?

And just like that, without even the benefit of an apology for offending my mellow frame of mind, I am instantaneously on edge.

Ready for action.

Like a bull in the rodeo pen right before the cowboy alights on his back, I mentally paw the dirt, achieving nothing, but giving the appearance of readiness.

Let me out of here!

I reach for my shoes.

But then, I remember. I worked today.  I worked!

Customer after customer, problem after problem–all dealt with, and all served. Lunch was in stages, a bite here and another bite ten minutes after. People come first. I can always eat later. I can always relax later.

This is later.

The Teacher looked at His close friends. They were exhausted. He looked beyond them to the crowds which were following—always there, always needing something.

He said two words that echo down through the centuries since. The words yet speak to us in our busy-ness here and now.

Two words.

Come away.

Into our frantic lives He speaks peace. Come away. Click To Tweet

Ah, I like that Voice better than the one in my head.

I believe I’ll leave the shoes on the floor. But, I may need to get another cup of coffee soon.

When I decide to get up from here. Or if.

Listen to the rain falling on the roof.  

Come away.

 

 

 

Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.
(George MacDonald ~ Scottish author/minister ~ 1824-1905)

 

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
(Mark 6:31 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Defining Moment

“I think the word moment would work better than minute in this instance.”

I’ve mentioned before that the Lovely Lady acts as an unofficial editor, a filter of sorts, for me in my frequent ventures into writing.  Most mornings after I post one of these essays, I find an email in my inbox which bears her return address.

The terse, one word subject helps me to be prepared for the bad news.  All it says is Blog.  

As much as I love reading her notes (she always ends them with an I love you and, for some reason I kind of like that), I don’t want to be told I’ve made an error.

This is one error I make frequently.  Time, it seems is of little import to me in real life, so I regard it almost as lightly in my writing.  That said, I do know the difference between the two words.

A minute is a set period of time—sixty seconds—one sweep of the second hand around the circumference of an analog clock.  It is not some ethereal, arbitrary concept hanging out in eternity, available to fit into whatever parameters I wish it to be stuffed.

clock-943740_640Of minutes, there is a finite supply.  One thousand four hundred forty, every day. Weeks, years, decades, centuries—all of them are filled with minutes of sixty seconds each.

Not so, the moment.  Moments, I can elongate to make them last as long as I wish.  On the other hand, I may also abbreviate them to my heart’s content.

The definition of a moment is, quite simply, a short period of time.  It is a fuzzy, arbitrary unit of measurement, determined by the perspective through which it is viewed.

A moment in history could, when viewed from the perspective of modern-day man, be a century.  If we speak of a moment of decision, that instant upon which rests all of life for one person or even a civilization, it might be merely a fraction of a second.

We get to define what a moment is.  

And in defining moments, we have a view of our past.

We get to define what a moment is. And in defining moments, we have a view of our past. Click To Tweet

Somehow, I don’t think that is what most readers expected when they read the title to this little essay.  To most of us, the term defining moment has always meant a time period which determines who we are and the path our life will take.

A defining moment is one in which our destiny hangs in the balance and any choice we make will either make or break us.

Somehow, I don’t like the idea of a period of time defining who I am.  Such a concept means that we are swept along at the whim of events, without direction—without a guiding truth—at the mercy of all about us.

I’d rather be defining moments in the light of our faith—pointing out where we were tempted to leave the path, but avoided the snare—recognizing the attacks of an unseen enemy who was powerless to sway us from our resolve—identifying the time period in which we served as we have been served.

The moments are defined, rather than them defining us.  Oh, there are, without question, moments we can point to where decisions were made—decisions which have changed us for all time;  The moment we were drawn to belief in a Savior, the moment we determined to follow close after Him, even moments we passed important landmarks along the way—marriages, births, deaths.

The moments don’t define us.  Our Creator does.

Moments don't define us. Our Creator does. Click To Tweet

Before even a single day of our life was lived, every moment was known to Him.  Every moment, even those so-called defining ones.  (Psalm 139:16

Do you know where the word moment came from?  It is derived from the Latin momentum, which is the equivalent of—well, of our word—momentum. (It also happens to come from the Middle English word, momentum, but we probably should stop beating that horse now, shouldn’t we?)

Moments always move forward.  Time runs in only one direction for us. We can make a difference by what we do with this moment we are in and with future moments—nothing more.

We move forward.  With no guarantee of a single minute ahead of us, we still have this moment in which we live, right now.

It may turn out to be the thinnest sliver of a moment ever cut from time, or it might be a great big wedge of a moment.  We don’t know.

I want to define the moments in which I live.  I want to be able to look back on every one of them and see that the momentum with which they were filled was, to quote Eugene Peterson, a long obedience in the same direction.

Every moment filled with purpose—His purpose.

Every moment.

Defining moments. 

 

 

For You, a thousand years are as a passing day,
    as brief as a few night hours.
(Psalm 90:4 ~ NLT)

 

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly it’s part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
(Day by Day ~ Lina Sandell ~ Swedish poet/hymnwriter ~ 1832-1902)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

It’s Still Turning

You know, Paul, the whole world doesn’t stop turning just because you’ve gone to sleep.

I never really thought it did.  It is an intriguing concept, though.

I can’t help but think of the Washington Irving character, Rip Van Winkle, who slept through the American Revolutionary War and a host of other events—deaths, births, and weddings to name a few—which changed the course of history.  Old Rip fell asleep under a tree in the mountains one afternoon and woke up twenty years later, expecting things to be the same as when he lay down for his nap.

The world didn’t stop turning while he slept.

My young friend, who is a card dealer in a nearby casino, said the words you read up above to me the other day.  I wanted to know what a typical night is like in the gambling world, never having been in the place myself.  I don’t stay away because I’m worried gambling is on the list of activities banned by my faith; it’s just that I don’t have any money I want to throw in the trash.

When I use the words typical night, I’m not talking about an evening, nor even the late night hours up to midnight or so.  My friend works the tables until seven or eight in the morning.  He works the night shift.

It turns out there are folks who gamble at any hour, some because they want to, others because they have a compulsion.  While we sleep, they lose money—or, sometimes, win money.  Mostly, they lose it.

While we sleep, they pray.  Yes, that’s what I said.  They pray.

I would suppose more praying goes on in that huge casino than in most of the churches in my little town on any given day.  It’s not the kind of prayer we normally voice, but in some ways, it’s not far off.  

Desperate people, in need of help, beg the only One they know never sleeps.

He never sleeps. (Psalm 121:3,4)  

Do you remember the first time you learned the concept that things happened while you slept?

Your parents took advantage of it on Christmas Eve.  While you slept and dreamed of that Easy-Bake Oven, or that V-rroom Motor for your bicycle, they turned the living room from a drab place for boring adults to sit and talk into a wonderland of toys and wrapping paper.  One instant, you were laying your head down on your pillow and the next, astounding things had happened!

I also remember the long automobile trips to Grandma’s house—ordeals that stretched out from here to eternity, it seemed.  The ubiquitous query—are we there yet? —filled the air until, one by one, we kids nodded off.  

Miracle of miracles!  When the sudden halt of the car’s motion brought us back to consciousness, we were at our destination, being bundled out of the car and into Grandma’s arms and from there, into her kitchen to taste her amazing peanut butter cookies.

While we slept, the endless miles were erased, the boring hours passed, as if by magic.

The world doesn’t stop turning just because you’ve gone to sleep.

The young man said tearth-586542_640he words to me in jest, but they keep coming back to taunt me.

I’m not a kid anymore.

Grown-ups had to prepare the living room for Christmas morning—long, busy hours of labor, while children slept peacefully in their beds, dreaming of presents.

Dad had to drive through the night, with endless curves in the road and hours of drinking black coffee to stay awake long enough to complete the trip, while the brats slept in the back seat, heads toppled over onto each other’s shoulders like so many rag dolls. 

I’m not a kid anymore.  (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Most of us aren’t.

Why are we still sleeping through the important stuff?

Folks pray for someone to help them in their addiction, and we sleep peacefully.

A mother cries for her still-born child and we sleep unaware.

A young man decides to take his life and we doze on.

The world doesn’t stop turning just because we’ve gone to sleep.

The red-headed lady who raised me had a saying (she always did):  Make hay while the sun shines.

The sun is shining.  Somewhere, it’s shining.

Make hay.

The sun is shining. Somewhere, it's shining. Make hay. Click To Tweet

The Teacher said to them, You think the harvest is months away, don’t you?  Wake up and look around you!  The fields are white and ready to harvest right now. (John 4:35)

The world keeps spinning.

Make hay.

 

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening ~ Robert Frost ~ 1874-1963)

 

 

But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?
    When will you wake up?
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest…
(Proverbs 6:9,10 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Where Will We Go?

My old friend came in and sat down.  It seemed like a morning for remembering the past.  

It turned out to be a morning for looking to the future.

Somehow though, there are always more important things to consider than those that are most obvious.  We talk about life as we know it, but larger truths lie waiting to be appropriated.

Our conversation was interrupted a time or two by customers, come to replenish their supply of guitar picks, or banjo strings.  Then she came in trombone-513806_640lugging a case that could only hold a trombone.  I remembered the young lady from her visit just days ago.

“I did what you suggested.  I brought it by to be sure it’s not going to be a bad horn for my son.  Do you mind taking a look at it?”

I didn’t mind.  It was a good horn and I told her so,  suggesting a few things she might do to keep it in that condition.  She thanked me and left.  

As I returned to my seat, my friend, who had listened and watched the interlude carefully, stared at me—a mixture of surprise and annoyance written on his face.

He wanted to know how she had the nerve to walk in with an instrument she had purchased elsewhere and ask me to help her determine its suitability.  He had also noted that there was no request on my part for a fee, nor had she offered one.

I brushed his concerns aside.  

“I told her to do it.  I want to be sure as many kids as possible get good instruments, even when I’m not the one to provide them.”

He sat in silence for a moment or two.  Mouth hanging open in disbelief and hands waving in the air, he digested the concept.

In a return—of sorts—to our earlier conversation, he asked one more question.

“Where are they going to go to get that done when you’re not around anymore?”

My friend avers that we offer a service no other business would offer.  I’m sure he’s wrong, but I can’t prove it.

I do wish I could answer his question.  It bothers me.

I have thought about it before.  I thought about it more after he left today. 

It’s an odd thing, though.  That more important truth I mentioned earlier keeps intruding on my consideration.

Peter said to the Master, “Lord, to whom would we go?  You have the only words capable of giving life.  There is no one else.” (John 6:67-69)

A large number of people who had been following Jesus were deserting Him, not able to accept the truths He was teaching.  He had wondered aloud if the original disciples were also going to abandon Him.

Peter and his comrades knew the truth.  There was no one else to turn to.  No other person who walked the earth, no other teacher who offered his version of truth, had words that could give eternal life.  There was no one else.

There was no one else.

There never will be.

You know, my friend is wrong.  

Others will come behind me.  If they don’t do the same things, the new methods will suffice.  

The music will not die.  It didn’t really need me in the first place.

The same cannot be said of those who follow Jesus.  There will never be a different Savior.  There will never be another Son of God.

No one else will ever offer the words of life.

Ever.

No one else will ever offer the words of life. Ever. Click To Tweet

And unlike me, He won’t be retiring.  His offer stands.  To every generation.  Until the end of days.

Come unto me, all who are weary and burdened with care, and I will give you rest.  (Matthew 11:28)

Leave your money at home.  You can’t afford this service.  

He wouldn’t accept it anyway.

 

 

 

The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
(Charles DeGaulle ~ French statesman ~ 1890-1970)

 

Your eternal word, O Lord,
    stands firm in heaven.
Your faithfulness extends to every generation,
    as enduring as the earth you created.
(Psalm 119:89-90 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

The Marketplace

I wonder if it’s time to shut down my social network page.

You know the one I mean.  New stories are added every few moments.  Anniversaries are noted, birthdays announced.  

One friend is angry at the news media.  Another is fed up with evil doctors and wants to be sure I understand the value of something called essential oils.  Photos of cute kitties magically appear.  There are also awful images of abused dogs, or horses, or turtles.

And constantly, along the side of the computer display, a feed runs down the page, with little bits of information appearing magically, one right after the other.  So-and-so likes this; he posted this; she commented about this.

TMI!  I’ve learned the acronym, in days long past now.

Too Much Information!

My brain screams the words, even as I devour said information.  Without intent, I now know that my old friend’s son believes drug use to be acceptable and even desirable.  Another acquaintance vilifies followers of Christ and ridicules the very idea of a God, any God. It’s time to party-hearty with old school classmates.  Jokes abound, both in print and picture form.  I may or may not have contributed some of these.

And the language!  Used-to-be children that I bounced on my knee use words we once would have expected to make a sailor blush.  Now, no one blushes.

At times, my soul actually feels soiled, as if a good cleansing with Ivory soap and clean water might make it better.

I should turn it off.

Shouldn’t I?

I sit and think.  Another acronym comes to mind.  It is an old, tired set of letters, once found on bumper stickers, mugs, and bracelets.  Unlike the acronym above, it is not followed by an exclamation point, but a question mark.  So overused, it has become a joke to many; still it bears another look.

It requires some contemplation.

WWJD?

What Would Jesus Do?

We know the answer already, don’t we?  He spent His days and nights in the center of the population, participating in the discourse of the day.  He didn’t waste a lot of time with the nodding, gesturing clergy, but He interacted with the cursing, drinking, perverse people.  (Matthew 11:19)

Every day.

I wonder–Did His soul feel dirty from the filth and stench, too?

Did His soul feel dirty from the filth and stench, too? Click To Tweet

In the center of the Agora, the marketplace, the plan to change the world was implemented.  

One-by-one, ten-by-ten, thousands-by-thousands, He intersected their daily lives with the truth, with love, with companionship.

The world would never be the same.

Still, I’m not excited about the route this marketplace living takes sometimes.

I’m not comfortable.

Funny.  We really like comfortable, don’t we?  

The couch is comfortable.  Bed is comfortable.  The back deck is comfortable.  Your house shoes and pajamas are comfortable.  

You just can’t accomplish anything in them.

In my mind’s eye, I look back over the path I’ve walked.  I think I’ve walked it asking to know WWJD.  A long look back focuses on the direction the steps have taken.

Did I take a sharp turn from the lane somewhere?  How did I get here, in the marketplace, virtually and actually?  

The social network I want to switch off is not so far removed from the retail space in which I labor five days a week.  Oh, folks try to control their language, knowing who I claim to be, but what is hidden inside always comes out eventually.  The language, the ideas, the lifestyles can’t be disguised behind the facades forever.  

Am I supposed to be here?

seattle-839652_640Again, I glance back.  No.  My footsteps have led, one weary stride after another, in the same direction.  I could not have found another route that would lead to my goal.

I walk in the marketplace.  You probably do too.

How do we act while here?  

Do we hurry through, as if afraid that we’ll get dirty too?  

Do we loiter in the dark corners, participating in the filth and immorality?

Would we rather avoid it altogether?

All of the sudden, I find myself wondering about comfort again.  The realization hits about my comments above.  

The day I get comfortable is the day I lose sight of who I am and why I’m here in the marketplace.  The minute I think I’m home and kick my shoes off to put on my slippers is the instant I’ve stopped walking the path set out for me.

If the marketplace doesn’t make us uncomfortable, perhaps we need to lace up our walking shoes again and look ahead of us.

There is more.  People need us up and doing.   Where they are.

I’m ready.  You?

Just so you know, though, I’m not looking at your selfies of your latest visit to the dentist.  Some things really are too much information.

 

 

I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church.  I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek…at the kind of a place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble.  Because that is where He died.  And that is what He died for.  And that is what He died about.  That is where church-men ought to be and what church-men ought to be about.
(George McLeod ~ Scottish pastor ~ 1895-1991)

 

Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals. Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning, for some have no knowledge of God.
(1 Corinthians 15:33,34 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.