Bite Sized Chunks


I remember, long years ago, riding along with my father as he visited the grocery stores where we normally puchased our provisions for each week.  At each stop, he was disappointed.  The butchers in the meat markets could not provide what he needed.

“Beef skirts?  Why would you want those?  They’re way too tough for cooking.  Sausage—that’s what those are turned into.  It’s all they’re good for.”

He didn’t give up.  We finally found what we needed in the carniceria, the butcher shop in the hispanic barrio just to the south of where we lived.  When he described what he wanted, they knew immediately what he was seeking.

Fajitas!  You want fajitas!”

It was a word we had never heard.  Even though the word had been used for forty years among the cattle workers who ate the undesirable cuts of meat around their campfires in South Texas, it had never been spoken in a restaurant anywhere.

Dad bought the meat, wrapped in brown butcher paper, and we went home victorious—successful hunters home from the chase.

I have no idea how much work it was to prepare the meat for eating.  The barbecue-84674_640butchers in the grocery stores weren’t lying.  It was tough, so tough it was nearly inedible.  But Dad knew what would happen if he prepared the meat correctly.  Hours, he worked to tenderize, season, and barbeque the meat.  Hours.

He was willing to put in the time and to sacrifice his hard work for the result he was certain of.  Absolutely certain.

He was not disappointed.

Everyone who ate Dad’s beef skirts raved.  Raved.  It was the best flavored beef anyone had ever tasted.  Sure, it was chewy.  But, it was fantastic!

It would be nearly twenty years before the trendy restaurants began to offer fajitas.  Around our scuffed and battered dining room table, we ate like rich folks.  Fine dining?  Who cared about fine dining?  We had beef skirts!  Fajitas!

I’m not trying to tell you my father invented fajitas. He did not.  He just heard about them from some of the old-timers in South Texas and determined that his family wouldn’t miss out on the culinary experience.

His perseverance and hard work paid off.  We had no idea we were eating food that would one day grace the menus of many eateries across the country.  It was simple, poor man’s food, but we knew its cost.  And, we liked what we were tasting.

I’m realizing that life almost never comes in bite-sized chunks—cut fastidiously and arranged neatly on our plates by a doting parent (or simpering chef)—but it usually arrives in great slabs of meat with the gristle and tough membranes  laced throughout.  We have to deal with all of it.

Life almost never comes in bite-sized chunks. Click To Tweet

And something tells me the most important part of what we do with our lives is not in how we deal with the tender, delicious stuff, but in how we dispatch the tough, unpleasant parts.

Character is built, not in the great hall of feasting, but in the sculleries and around the cook fires.

Character is built, not in a feasting hall, but in the sculleries and around the cook fires. Click To Tweet

Or, if you like, joy and wonder is to be found at the table as knife and fork are plied, but it is in the kitchen that the hard work takes place which makes the wonder possible.  If no one does the labor there, there will never be a finished meal to rave about.

King David spoke of a feast prepared for us by our Creator, our Shepherd.  In front of those who hate us, the meal is served and we are designated as fovored sons and daughters. (Psalm 23:5)

Favored?  Well, of course we are!  He feeds us.  By His own hand.  And, pours oil on our heads.

And, we shake those anointed heads and look down on those who hate us and who abuse us.  It’s our right, is it not?

Odd, isn’t it?  The Shepherd who feeds us, tells us to feed the hungry.  He tells us to cloth the naked.  He tells us to comfort the oppressed.  (Matthew 25:31-46)

On the shore next to a fire where He cooked fish, he told Peter what his task would be.

“Feed my sheep.”

The work in His kitchen is not always comfortable.  It isn’t always easy.  The food is often throw back in our faces.

But, when they do eat?  When they will taste what He offers?

As good as those fajitas were, they are nothing when compared to the feast prepared for those who will accept the invitation!


Favored and blessed?  Only as we share the bounty of the Creator who owns the cattle on thousands of hills.  (Psalm 50:10)

All those cattle?

Can’t you just taste the fajitas now?



O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
(Psalm 34:8 ~ KJV)

He Rides Upon the Storm

A dark and stormy night, it was.  

I had intended to ask Snoopy for help with my opening sentence, but he is nowhere to be found, probably hiding from the frightening flashes and booms himself.  It was indeed, a dark and stormy night.

Was.  A shockingly short, but powerfully reassuring, word.  

Was.  Past tense.  Over.  Done with.

Right now, there is not a creature to be seen anywhere.  All of them took shelter from the noise and commotion.  But, come morning, the skies will be alive with birds and flying insects.  The air will fairly ring with the celebration of re-creation.

The dogs in my backyard, cowering now between the floor joists of the storage building (their sturdy house seems not to be substantial enough for their reassurance during a thunderstorm), will cover their owner with muddy paw and nose prints as they leap and cavort at his appearing.

For now, the rain falls, a steady cascade of water from the heavens.  

A gentle rumble of thunder bullies its way across the sky above, bringing to mind the assault of powers from on high against these earth-bound edifices only moments past.

I sit in the quiet and give thanks for the calm, life-giving draught that enriches the earth below.  Mankind has done it from time immemorial.  Water gives life.  When it is withheld, death will follow.  How would we not be grateful?

But, as I sit, listening thankfully to the gentle and rhythmic thump of rain on the metal roof above me, I am uneasy.  I have a sense of restlessness, as if I’ve forgotten something important.

Now, what was it?

Perhaps, I want to forget.

The thunder grumbles across the wide expanse above again and I remember.  I might want to forget, but the question will not be silenced that easily.

If God is in the rain, that peaceful, life-giving source of fresh hope, where is He when the storms blow in?

storm-1506469_640As does all of nature, we cower from the raging lightning and wind-whipped raindrops.  The explosions of thunder do no real harm, save to terrify and remind us of the potential for death and destruction that awaits right outside our hiding place.

Why don’t we give thanks for the storms?

Why don't we give thanks for the storms? Click To Tweet

I don’t love storms.  Once, I thought I did.  I was younger then.  

Now, I know their potential for destruction.  I realize the repairs that will need to be effected after they have had their way.  Insurance adjusters will be called; shingles will be tacked down; broken branches will be hauled away.

I can’t help it.  I’m humming with the Fab Four as they declare whimsically, “I’m fixing the hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering.”

When we are made aware of an issue, failure to address it only guarantees we’ll be able to accomplish nothing else until it is repaired.   Water dripping into a bucket is a distraction that will not be ignored.

The realization is profound.  Perhaps, you already see it.

The result of the storm is that we work to make things better.  Stronger.  More able to withstand the next storm.  Regardless of the hardship in between, the storm leaves us better off.

Storms motivate us to become better than we were. 

Gentle rains merely make us more comfortable.

Thankful, but comfortable with what we have grown accustomed to.

Somehow, better seems to be preferable to comfortable.

Better is preferable to comfortable. Click To Tweet

The brother of our Savior, assured us that the result of these storms will not only be better.  He claims the result will, in the end, be perfection. (James 1:2-3)

Perfection.  We’re not there yet.  Well, I’m not, anyway.

The storms keep pounding.  

I’m trying to be grateful for them, too.  In everything, be thankful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

God is in the storm.

Perfection is around the corner.  Or, perhaps the one after that.

Oh.  I’ll keep fixing the holes, too.  

You know—my mind still needs to wander.





You lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
    you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
    flames of fire are your servants.
(Psalm 104:3,4 ~ NLT)

At your rebuke the waters fled,
    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
    they went down into the valleys,
    to the place you assigned for them.
(Psalm 104:7,8 ~ NIV)



There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
(Showers of Blessing ~ Daniel W Whittle ~ American evangelist ~ 1840-1901)




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

Good News. Bad News.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I sat not writing at my keyboard a couple of nights ago, I received the message.  The young man at the other end had just received good news.  He had to tell someone.

It didn’t matter that it was after midnight.  A light had blazed into his darkness and he needed to share the wonder.

I read the words and, even though I couldn’t actually see him, saw the smile that had spread across his face.

I messaged him back.  I‘m smiling with you.

I’m smiling as I think about his news, even now.

Good news shared is a blessing doubled.

Good news shared is a blessing doubled. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Click To Tweet

I always want to rejoice with folks who are rejoicing.  Except when I don’t.

Yeah.  You know what I mean, don’t you?

I was in the middle of a good pout when the young man’s message arrived the other night.  I’ve been in the middle of the pout for awhile now.  Call it what you want—depressed, sad, unhappy, disappointed—it’s still a pout.

Things aren’t going the way I want.  Perhaps more to the point, life isn’t working out the way I’d planned.  It seems the road map I was following was a little flawed.

woman-1006100_640Sometimes, when your soul feels heavy and is burdened down, you simply want to be left alone with your misery.  And yet, when that beam of light shines into your darkness, the reaction is automatic and instantaneous.

I stood in the light with the joyful young man and I smiled.

Joy spills over.

It does. But sometimes the beam of light is short-lived and the joy fades into the gloom of disappointment once more.

I sat with another young man this afternoon and unburdened my soul.  I thought he needed to know—and oddly enough, he seemed to want to know—what I was feeling.  Tears were in my eyes when I looked up again.  Looking into his eyes, I saw tears in them, too.

Weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Do you understand the power in those words?

I do.  Now.

I looked at his tears and was reminded that it hasn’t been many months since his tears were shed over the tiny body of a still-born baby.  He (and his sweet wife) are grieving still and will for years to come.  We spoke of that also and the tears came again.

Sorrow shared is a burden lightened.

Sorrow shared is a burden lightened. Weep with those who weep. Click To Tweet

The day will come when we will celebrate the end to all sorrows and disappointments.  No more separation.  No more loss.  No more death.

The day will come.  It’s not here yet.

Today, we walk this world of mixed joys and regrets, victories and defeats.  Our celebrations are tempered with foreboding of dark times yet to come.

I wonder.

The Teacher instructed His followers to walk in love for each other and promised that, as a consequence, they would give witness of His great love to a watching world. (John 13:34,35)

Surely He intended that to be done in the center of the world’s marketplace and not only in their cloistered meeting places.

He never suggested it would be the rule in mortuaries, but not on the street corners.

If it is to be witnessed, it must be done in public places. 

We rejoice.  We grieve.

Fellowship along both paths touches our spirits with His love.

Tonight, I’m smiling.

Through tears.




Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.
(Albert Schweitzer ~ French-German theologian ~ 1875-1965)


For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 ~ NLT)





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

Waiting for Dawn

The insistent tone of my smart-phone’s alarm clock pierced the fog of sleep this morning.  My eyes fluttered open reluctantly.

Still dark.

I would have lain there and slept longer, but the alarm was only increasing in volume.  It does that, you know.  It gets louder.  

I stood and, stumbling to the window sill where the offensive device awaited, touched the screen.  As it finally relented, I breathed a sleepy sigh of relief.

Over the tops of the blinds, I gazed out to the eastern horizon.  It was supposed to be daylight!  Where was the sun?

I waited—and watched.  There was a hint of light near the ground, but it did the world no good.

Still dark.  

For all my waiting, the world was still in shadow.

I glanced down at the clock.  Wow!  I had to get moving!

Dressing quickly and going through my morning ritual, I forgot about the darkness outside.  Well, I didn’t forget; I just ignored it.

Funny.  I knew what was going to happen.  Still, when I stepped out the back door to face the eastern sky again, it caught me by surprise.

sky-1280456_640It was anything but dark!  The brilliance of the sunrise had me standing there blinking in its light.

Sunrise comes by itself.  While I do the thing needed, its light explodes over the horizon in hues of fiery red and brilliant yellow and eye-popping orange.

While I do the thing needed.

In the dark, we do what is required of us.

In the dark, we do what is required of us. Click To Tweet

I will admit that it feels as if I’ve been laboring in the dark for some time now.  To my dismay, it seems very much as if night has taken hold and is determined to maintain its grip on my world without ever letting go.

Nothing I do has made the night around me less dark.  

I have prayed.  

I have sung at the top of my lungs.  

I have sat and cried.  

I have raged.

Still dark.

Finally, it occurs to me.  There is work to be done.  The journey still lies ahead.  Yes, even in the dark.

I remember that the Creator—the One who makes the sun to rise on the righteous and unrighteous—is still up to the task.  (Matthew 5:45)

I will do the thing needed.  

While He keeps His promises, I will keep mine.

While He keeps His promises, I will keep mine. Click To Tweet

Daylight will come.  It will.  With or without us, it will come.

We know it in our hearts.  

We should be up and doing while we wait.

Shouldn’t we?




Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing; Praise for the morning;-
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
(from Morning has Broken ~ Eleanor Farjeon ~ English poet ~ 1881-1965)


But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.
(Malachi 4:2 ~ NASB)





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

The Weaver

My young friend has seen more of life in his twenty-six years than many of us do in all of our allotted time on this spinning sphere.  

I’m confident there is nothing I have to teach him.  Empty words are not what he needs today.  I don’t intend to offer any.

We talked about the troubles in this world that waylay us on our journey.  I had to work hard to avoid the trite words we who follow Christ keep ready to offer for such occasions.

Count it all joy when you encounter trials…  (James 1:2)

My grace is sufficient for you… (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In the world you will have tribulations… (John 16:33)

These words—and many more—are perfectly true.  Really.  They are.  But, that doesn’t mean we need to say them every time we speak with folks who are experiencing trouble.  

Well-meant words can become explosive devices when dropped from the great height of wisdom into the valley of loss and sadness.  Where ointment and salve are needed, we offer astringents and solvents.

As my young friend and I spoke, it seemed to me he still needed soft words that soothed the hurt.  

I’m better at cauterizing than soothing.

Today though, I’m feeling the exhaustion that comes from personal loss and sadness myself.  A kindred spirit, you might say.  I speak briefly of the person I think I would be, if not for the sad times that have driven me to cower under the shadow of His wings.

Arrogant and self-assured, is who I am when my own strength is sufficient to carry me through.

Our loving Father uses those times of loss to draw us closer, but also to shape us into the followers He needs us to be.

The unhappy events that come throughout life are folded in with the joyous ones—eventually.  All of them we have lived are a part of who we are—the sadness blending with jubilation—the horror mixing into the delight. 

The warp and weft of life.

loom-579967_640I heard the phrase the other day, and a picture formed in my mind instantly.  The patient weaver stood, row after row of drab colored thread laid out and running straight ahead on the loom.  The warp is in front of him already.

Beside him lay spindles of brightly colored thread, along with more of the same drab twisted material.  From those spindles, he will choose what goes into the weft, the cross-weave.  His choice will make a dramatic difference.

The exact color and pattern of the finished material are up to the weaver.  If he picks up the brightly dyed spindle, the material will come alive with a visible change.  Although the beauty might be marred by weakened thread, the dye having caused a reaction with the fibers, the resulting cloth will be more pleasing to the eye.  

More of the same neutral color will make a utilitarian piece of material, strong and useful.  Possibly, even a complementary neutral hue will lend interest, but not detract from the strength.

The choice is the weaver’s.

Side by side—and sometimes cross-ways—the different threads of life change the character of the material.  The good lies alongside the bad, the joyous crisscrossing with the sorrowful.  As the pattern is revealed, its beauty is also.

The Weaver plans to finish what He started. (Philippians 1:6)

How would He make a garment which was not of good quality?  He knows the plan He has for each of us and it will be for our ultimate good.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Even if we don’t like the color He is weaving with right now—even if the fibers are rough and coarse—His strong and able hands assure the beauty and strength of the completed fabric.

I will admit it.  The fibers are not to my liking right now.

Today, I’m not even sure I like the pattern I see emerging all that much.

The Weaver isn’t finished yet.

Sometimes, we simply trust and wait.

The warp and weft are still coming together.

The pattern is still emerging from His loom.

I’ll wait.

For Him, I’ll wait.


The pattern is still emerging from His loom. I'll wait. For Him, I'll wait. Click To Tweet



Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.
(Fyodor Dostoyevsky ~ Russian novelist ~ 1821-1881)


For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
    the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
    my salvation through all generations.
(Isaiah 51:8 ~ NIV)



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


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 our 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 our 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 discover 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.


With His light.  Clothed in His glory.


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.


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.


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.