Back to the Basics

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
(As Time Goes By ~ Herman Hupfield)


Life is complicated.

That’s what I hear from folks.  It’s what I say myself, when I get confused about events in my life.  Relationships get tangled; children grow up and have adult problems, or they grow up and have children of their own—which yields the same result.

Wherever I look, the rest of the world encroaches on the boundaries I was careful to set—for myself and for my family.  Overwhelmed, I throw my hands up in surrender and declare it’s all too complicated for me.

Life is complicated.

Or, is it?

Perhaps, I could give an example or two from real life—my life—just today.  Since much of my life revolves around music, the examples will too, but I promise to attempt to avoid too much technical detail in the telling.

This morning, two vehicles  pulled into the parking lot at my music store at the same time.  Out of one, my preacher friend exited, holding two to-go cups of coffee.  From the other, another friend, about whom I’ve written before, alighted.  They had been at the local coffee shop and decided they should share a cup and some conversation with me.

I always enjoy their fellowship,  and today our conversation ran the gamut from memories of days long past to the preacher’s need for a rhythm instrument for his worship team.  We also talked about music a little, while our other friend strummed one of the vintage acoustic guitars he had taken from its hook on the wall.

The conversation turned to guitar playing, the man strumming the guitar explaining his finger-picking technique.  The preacher is also a guitarist, so we stopped our conversation to listen and watch for a moment.

As I watched, my mind began to race away on a tangent.  In the nearly forty years I’ve worked in the music business, I have seen many changes come in the way guitars are played, not the smallest being the blossoming of alternate tunings.  

I was taught that a guitar should always be tuned in a standard form.  The chords I learned fit that form.  The strings I install fit that form.  The way I tune the guitars which hang on my wall fit that form.

 Life used to be so simple.

Nowadays, anything goes.  Drop the pitch on a single string, but leave the rest in standard tuning—Keep the intervals the same, but drop all the pitches a half step, or one step, or two steps—Add strings to the neck and use higher and lower pitches for the additional strings—Anything goes.  If you can figure out how to play it, use whatever tuning you want.

I was just getting ready to suggest that playing the guitar was getting awfully complicated when the preacher brought things back into perspective.  Apparently, watching our mutual friend play his complicated fingerings was more than he was prepared to contemplate any longer.

guitar-196268_1280“The technique I like best when I play guitar,” he said, “is the one where I don’t drop the pick.”

I almost wanted to hug him. Almost.

In that moment, the light broke through the darkness of my confusion about playing guitar.  The profundity of the preacher’s statement stirred a common note within me.

Guitar playing is only as complicated as you make it!   When you strip it down to the basics, you play the chords and you don’t drop your pick.

All the rest is just fluff.  

Sure, there’s some good stuff which may be played later on, but you get there by mastering the basics.

One would think that moment of clarity would be enough to last me throughout the day.  One would be wrong.

I walked into the house tonight and, even before sitting down to supper, headed for the living room and opened up my French horn case.  I have been invited to play in the pit orchestra for an upcoming musical at the local university.  

Rehearsals begin next week.  I don’t want to be embarrassed.

“This music is complicated!”  I groused, as I pulled out the score.  “Look at all those odd time signatures!  I’ll never get this right!”

And, for the next forty-five minutes, I proceeded to prove my statement.  Wrong notes were the least of my problems, as I fumbled my way through the music.  To say I was overwhelmed would be like saying there are a few Razorback fans in the state of Arkansas.  Overwhelmed doesn’t nearly cover it.

As usual, the Lovely Lady came to my rescue.  As I explained my issues to her, she looked from me to the music, and then back at me again, smiling—you know, the kind of smile a teacher puts on when the solution to a math problem is as simple as one-two-three.  

No really.  That simple.

“You can still count, can’t you?  So there are more counts here than you’re used to.  Whether it’s two beats to a measure or ten to a measure, you still count it.  Slow it down as much as you need to work it out.  But, just count.”

Again the light came on!  

Basics.  Nothing but the basics.  

I’ve got a long way to go on that music, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on the basics.  I do know how to count.

I thought today about the Man the religious leaders of His day called RabbiTeacher—and how confusing must life have been during His days on the earth.  One might think there were just ten laws to follow, but one would be wrong.  The Ten Commandments had turned into a mountain of rules, depending on which sect you followed.

On the day I’m thinking about, the learned men—men who specialized in making life complicated for their followers—from two different sects came to the Teacher.  Both tried to trap him in error.  It should have been easy, given the convoluted maze of rules and regulations they had exaggerated from the original Ten.

The first group was silenced quickly and soon thereafter, the second gave it a shot.  Almost as if they were holding out a deck of cards, they asked the Teacher to pick one.

“Make sure you pick the most important one,” they warned.

He did.  

“Love God with every part of your being: Your heart and your soul, as well as your mind.”

Before they could remind Him that life is not lived on just one plane, He picked one more card.

“This one is a lot like the other.  Love people the way you love yourselves.”

Is life complicated?

Perhaps it’s time to get back to the basics.

Okay, so it’s not as easy as falling off a log.  Loving God involves learning what He requires of us.  It involves putting that into action.  And, loving people is one of those things—the major one.  There will be action required there, too.

Sometimes, we complicate things ourselves. 

I hope the light stays on for awhile.  

While it’s on, I’m going to learn how to hold on to the guitar pick.  

And, I’ll practice counting.

I may still be embarrassed as I take care of the basics.  Both in life and at my musical.

Neither will be fatal.

He still knows that we came from dust.  He still offers second chances.

Even if we drop the pick a time or two.




Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.
(Sir Isaac Newton ~ English physicist/mathematician ~ 1643-1727)


Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ~ NIV)









© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 


More Where That Came From

There’s more where that came from!

The older ladies in the kitchen had it in for Wilma from the start.  She was a cook’s helper, meaning she did whatever they needed done.  From fetching pots and ladles, to carting the prepared dishes out to the serving line, the tiny lady with the energy of a squirrel storing nuts for the winter did it all.  Mostly, she did it without complaint.

From my nearby station, where I washed the pots and pans, I listened to the abuse she took.  Day after day, the cooks, who were the royalty in that little domain, made snide remarks—about her size, or hair color, or mental abilities.  And, day after day, the hard-working lady went about her duties patiently and quietly.  I knew she couldn’t be happy, but didn’t think it was my place to interfere in kitchen politics, especially given that I was a newcomer there.

Then one morning, the cooks stepped over the line.  One of them made a rude comment about Wilma’s daughter.  It was common knowledge that the girl had made some poor decisions, the result being an unwanted pregnancy at an early age.  The other cook started to comment as well, but Wilma ended her long silence in that instant.

It seemed the weeks and months of abuse she had endured were like gunpowder packed inside her, and the comments about her daughter, the match to the fuse.  She exploded in fury.

I can’t repeat her words here.

Within seconds, the kitchen supervisor was out of her office, inviting (with no option of refusal) the ladies into her inner sanctum.  We heard voices raised again and again from the other side of the door, but half an hour later, we were hard at work (or pretended to be) when the three returned to their stations.

For the remainder of that morning, if the cooks spoke it was only to ask for a necessary ingredient to go into a dish, or for a container to transfer the food into on its way to the serving line.  Wilma didn’t utter another word, but scurried about her duties as if nothing had happened.

When it was time for our dinner break, the other kitchen employees gathered around her on the way to the dining room.

“Wow!  Wilma, I’ve never seen you so worked up!”

“I hope everything is going to be all right. They’re not going to fire you, are they?”

“Boy!  You told them!”

Wilma just smiled wryly, her lips pressed tightly together.  It seemed that, perhaps, she had been sworn to secrecy about what had transpired in the office.  When she spoke, it was just to mutter a few words.  It was all she ever had to say about the event.

Six words.  “There’s more where that came from!”

The cooks never mentioned her daughter again, nor did they dare to abuse the slight lady as she went about her duties.  Apparently, they had had more than what they wanted from the little lady’s store.

argumentMore where that came from.

Many years down the road of life from that detonation, I find myself wondering if there is more for us to learn from Wilma’s words than the lesson those cooks acquired the hard way.

Odd.  I’ve never heard the words used in a positive sense.  I’ve only heard them when people have either told others off, or even attacked them physically.  The words are usually said as a warning to beware of lighting the fuse within a second time.

But, one has to wonder—why would we only have more anger and vitriol stored up?  Why would we only promise more of the same when we physically overcame a rival?

Are we so full of ugly things?  How did we get that way?

Surely, there should be more good things where that came from?  Are there more compliments?  More hugs?  More slaps on the back?  More blessings?

I’m just full of questions tonight aren’t I?  

I suppose one could say the questions are mostly rhetorical, meant to inspire soul-searching, rather than requiring answers.

You see, I already know the answers.  Oh, I know.  Perhaps you do too.  You do, don’t you?

From deep down inside, we know what we have stored up.  From the darkest places in our souls, we have intimate knowledge of the nasty stuff—the powder ready to explode, with a short fuse.

It is there.  We have carefully stockpiled it over a lifetime of interaction with folks.

We’ve tamped it down carefully, in preparation for the time when it will be needed.  Packed it tightly in the wadding of our excuses and justifications.  The explosion will come.

It will come.  Unless we do what it takes to render it harmless.

Do you know how to keep a firecracker from exploding?

We might try removing the fuse and leaving it where it’s stored.  It’s not completely futile to do that.  Without a fuse, there is nothing to touch the match to.

Still.  The device can explode when exposed to the right amount of heat, or pressure.  It has exactly the same explosive power it always had.  Exactly the same.

But, there is a simple way to disarm that little explosive device.  So simple.  Get it out into the open air.  Tear open the paper tube.  Let the breeze blow the powder away.  Exposed to the light and air, the destructive components of the firecracker become harmless.

I’m thinking it’s time—for me, at least—to empty the arsenal.

But, I have lived my life as a follower of the Christ!  He began a good work in me decades ago.  He has continued to do that work.  (Philippians 1:6)

What about that?

What about the good things down there?

The Apostle—you know, the one who wrote all the time—suggests that we need to be tireless in doing good if we want any result worth working toward.  Tireless.

The good is already down there.  All we have to do is share it.  And then do it again.  And again.

Perhaps it’s time to make the words a promise.  Not a threat.

A promise.

There’s more where that came from!




A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
(Luke 6:45 ~ NIV)


To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.
(Sophocles ~ Ancient Greek playwright ~ 496 BC-406 BC)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Not Far Now

The message from my fitness program caught my eye as I clicked it off after my run tonight.

“Paul ran 3.99 miles.”

I set out from home tonight with a goal of running four miles.  I failed to meet that goal by one one-hundredth of a mile!  Only fifty-three feet.

I failed.

It’s not a moral failing.  The four-mile goal was an arbitrary distance, set by an ambitious energetic man, unburdened by the weight of fatigue.  It hadn’t come down as an edict from Heaven, with grim repercussions to follow, should the course not be completed.

My decision to stop short was not a calculated one.  The last two blocks of my run were spent alternating between gasping for breath, holding my side, and muttering a plea for the voice on my fitness program to announce the four miles already.  The need for air and relief from discomfort won out over the desire to meet my arbitrary goal.

Still, I failed.  

Tonight, from my comfortable office chair, rested and hydrated, I look at those numbers in the statistics.  They mock me.  

3.99 miles.  Not 4 miles.  Not 4.1.  Three point nine-nine.

At the speed I was running tonight, it would only have taken six more seconds to reach the goal.  Six seconds!

I’ll get over my disappointment with myself.  I hope I can do better.  That said, this is not the first time I’ve quit before reaching a goal.  One would think a fellow would have learned his lesson.

My mind (and heart) has moved on to other things, even as I consider your disappointment in me, just now learning I’m a quitter.  You’ll simply have to get used to the feeling.  I have.

Tonight though, I’m wondering about how many people have spent a lifetime working toward a goal, only to give up within a stone’s throw of their objective.  Tired and disheartened, uncertain of how much further their destination will be, their attention is stolen away by the attractions along the road.

Comfort could be theirs.  They’ve never cared before, the reality of their mission imprinted indelibly in their hearts.  But now?  Now they’re tired—tired and lonely.  Everyone around them is inside and warm, safe from the perils of the quest.  

I know folks like this.  Many glance at the roadside attractions and recognize them for what they are—nothing but bait in a trap.  Focusing on their goal and the prize awaiting them, they turn away and go the extra distance, shunning the alternative.  Be it fifty feet or fifty years, they will finish the course laid out before them.

But some—some no longer have their attention centered on the right thing.  Somewhere, over the years, the focus has moved from the Author and shifted to the runner.  

Look at me!  I’m giving up everything to participate in this race.  I’ve trained; I’ve sacrificed; I’ve put all I have into running.  

And, they have.  A lifetime of doing what is required of the athlete.  A lifetime.  But the focus is lost, the goal becomes fuzzy.  The spirit begins to hope for other things, other prizes.

The race is lost.  The runner is defeated—a failure.

So close.  So close, but so far.

Rabbits_and_MoonYears ago, I read a book called Watership Down.  I thought it would be about adventures and battles at sea, but it turned out to be about rabbits.  Rabbits.  I went ahead and read it.  I read it again.  And again.  You might want to do it someday yourself.  It is a story of trial and triumph—a story of perseverance, and of finding home.  

One of the long-eared creatures, Hazel, who has become the leader of the ragtag band of rabbits, is leading them to a place most aren’t sure even exists.  Throughout the nightmarish journey, he keeps repeating the words not far now again and again.  For hours he guides them through the dark, not sure himself of just where the goal will be found, but certain in his heart that the place for which they’re bound is very real.

When they reach their goal, they are ecstatic, admitting that even they weren’t absolutely certain the place to which he was leading them would be there.  

They had followed anyway, trusting their leader, even when they weren’t sure of the destination.

How about it?  Is the path growing dim, the road harder to make out?   Do you have a catch in your side?  Are you gasping for breath yet?  

Sure, there’s a comfortable stop just over there—a place where others are relaxing and enjoying the evening.  We could rest here.

But we haven’t reached our goal yet.  That’s up ahead still.

Let’s keep going. 

Not far now.  




Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3 ~ NIV)




I was so tired and confused, I actually began to wonder whether you knew where you were going.  I could hear you in the heather saying ‘Not far now,” and it was annoying me. I thought you were making it up.  I should have known better.  Frithrah!  You’re what I call a real Chief Rabbit!
(from Watership Down by Richard Adams ~ English novelist)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Simon Says


Take one step forward.

I loved rainy days.  As a kid in third grade, any change from the monotonous routine was welcomed.  Recess in the hot sun consisted of games of tether ball or freeze-tag. One might get a turn on the swings, but that was for the little kids.  And, it was always hot.  Always.

No. Rainy days were great. We took our recess in the combined cafeteria/auditorium.  The long dining tables were shoved to the walls and the concrete floor between them was our playground.  Instead of the usual every-kid-for-himself chaos, we played organized games there.

On the day my old brain is reliving tonight we were all playing the game called Simon Says.  

Sixty-some participants stood side by side, awaiting instructions.  The teacher called out the order.  

“Take one step forward.” 

From one end of the cafeteria to the other, no one moved.  Except me.  One step forward. 

Well?  That’s what she said to do.

“No.  I didn’t say ‘Simon says.’ You’re out, Paul.  Go sit on the edge of the stage.”

One step.  Just one and I was disqualified.  The game lasted the whole period.

“Simon says, ‘Jump on one leg.’  Simon says, ‘Stop.'”

 I sat, joined eventually by others who were also foolish enough to make a move without the authority of the mysterious Simon.  For the whole hour, I sat.

I remember now.  

I hate rainy days.

That was many years ago.  A lot has happened since those days—some good, some bad.  I’ve done some things I am proud of, and more than a few of which I am not.

Sometimes we get chances to make amends.  I have learned that most of those chances have to be approached purposefully.  Still, I don’t always know if I should make those moves or not.  Often, I wish there were someone standing to the side, saying stupid words like Simon says to give me the nudge I need—perhaps, even permission, or at least, someone to blame.  

Just a couple of months ago, I had one of those times.

While wandering through the never-never-world of Facebook one evening, I happened to look up the name of an old friend.  I say he is an old friend, but I only knew him for a bit over a year’s time, nearly forty years ago.  We were in a bible study together during that year.  

I was a know-it-all kid, certain I had all the answers.  I had a concordance and I wasn’t afraid to use it!  When my friend and I disagreed in our group about a certain passage in the Bible (and there were many such disagreements), I wasn’t adverse to attacking the character of the man, rather than sticking to a rational discussion of the meaning and context.

I’ve spent most of the forty years since wishing I had treated him better.  I wondered if I would ever get a chance to apologize for my arrogance and insensitivity.  Our Teacher told us if we knew of anything another person had against us, we were not even to offer our gifts to God, before we went and made things right.  (Matthew 5: 23, 24)

I have placed my offering in the basket many times since that day.

But, on that evening when I found my friend’s name on Facebook, suddenly the never-never-land turned into a haunted house, with ghosts and scary memories galore.  It is easy to be petrified in such a place and simply do nothing.

I could just close the browser window on my computer and get on with my life.  No blood visible, no foul committed.  Keep playing!

It was my move.  And, wouldn’t you know it, there was no teacher around to say Simon says, ‘Move one step forward.’

I never was all that good at waiting for the Simon says instructions, anyway.

I took the step.  Friend request sent.

The next morning, there was an answer.  Friend request approved.

And then—nothing happened.

Nothing.  Until this morning.  I received a personal message that said in effect, Who are you?  Do I know you?

He didn’t remember me!  He’s not angry.  He can’t even remember sitting with me in that living room.

I sent a reply.  Sorry.  Request sent in error.  Then I clicked the unfriend function.

That’s the end of that.  I’m washing my hands and moving on.

You know that’s not how this works, right?  Obviously, I didn’t do any of that.

But, here was my problem:  Where was the person who would tell me Simon says to take another step?  When would I get some clarification?  My old friend wasn’t angry at me.  Did I still need to make things right?

I took the step.  Hard as it was, I jogged his memory and accepted the responsibility for my actions.

Can I let you in on a little secret?  Obedience is always the correct response to God’s prompting.  Always.

Does it always turn out with a storybook ending?  


But today, I have gained back a brother.  We’re going to get together the next time either of us is anywhere in the vicinity of the other.  We’ll eat a meal together.  We’ll shake hands.  We may argue over something, but it will be over something and not about the other person in the discussion.

Values are important for us to hold onto.  They don’t require that we beat people over the head with them.  Speaking the truth in love will never look any different.  If a personal attack is involved, love is not.

I have gained back a brother.  It took a step on my part.  And, one on his.  And, another on mine.  That’s the way it works.

Do you have something you know needs to be accomplished?  Resolved?  Repaired?

Take one step forward.

Oh, sorry.  

Simon says, “Take one step forward.”




Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
(Ephesians 4:15,16 ~ RSV)


What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it. 
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ~ French author/poet ~ 1900-1944)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Storm Line

Autumn approaches like a storm line on the western horizon.  

I am not happy.

sky-173742_1280The Lovely Lady and I headed for church early the other morning about sun-up.  The lightly overcast sky above reflected the glow of the sun behind us as we headed west.  But directly ahead, we saw the line of heavy clouds stretched from our southernmost perspective all the way to the far northern horizon.

Without the need to consult a meteorologist or even to check with the weather app on my smarter-than-me-phone, I knew instantly that we would see rain in the near future.  It was inevitable.  Weather fronts here usually move from the west to the east.  We were east of the front.  

We were going to get wet.  We did.

The calendar tells me the first day of Autumn is tomorrow.  Just as certainly as that rain storm blew through on Sunday, the new season is going to arrive.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  His Word is clear.  Unassailably so.  As long as the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat. . .shall not end.  (Genesis 8:22 ~ NASB)

I don’t love Fall.  Oh, the trees are spectacular.  Absolutely spectacular.  The scarlet maple in the backyard will be so vivid that its brilliance will actually light the upper floor inside my house.  Orange, yellow, and purple hues will all combine to provide a palette that no artist can match, try though he might.

A lady who has known me all my years on this planet suggested to me today that the coming season will be wonderful.  As I always did with my siblings when we were children, I quickly tossed a pail of cold water all over the flame of my sister’s enthusiasm.

“It’s just a bunch of trees dying to get ready for winter.”

She quickly toweled herself off and alluded to the spectacular views which will be visible within weeks.  Reminding me that God made the cycle of seasons, she reprimanded me for my melancholy perspective.  It was almost as if we were ten and five years old, instead of nearly sixty and something over that.  

And, as I always had back then, I ignored her words, continuing on with my bellyaching.  

I consider myself a realist.  When I read the children’s books like Winnie the Pooh and Chronicles of Narnia, I don’t understand why people always disrespect Eeyore and Puddleglum.  

Eeyore, you’ll be familiar with from the Disney movies.  Gloomy, introverted, cartoon donkey that he is, you may be forgiven for taking him lightly.  

Puddleglum, on the other hand—Puddleglum you have to consider a realist and a solid character.

Who is Puddleglum, you ask?  Mr. Lewis tells us that he is a marsh-wiggle, inhabiting the swamps and living on a diet of stewed eels.  

He says thoughtful things like, “The bright side of it is that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we’re safe from being drowned in the river.”

What?  You’re laughing, aren’t you?

While Puddleglum may also be a humorous caricature, I’m not laughing inside.

I have spent a lifetime developing character traits which are not all that unlike those of the two famous pessimists mentioned above.  

New ideas are met with an instant declaration of all the reasons why they cannot be implemented.  

Success of newly launched ventures elicits vague warnings of impending failure, just wait and see.

Past experience is the measure by which all changes are considered.  Failures will lead to failures; successes to successes.  As they always have.

You know I was sick a good part of last winter, don’t you?  It is certain to be the case again this coming winter.

You understand also that I have grown to dislike even the cold temperatures of that barren season?  

With passionate disdain, I do not want to move away from the warmth of the fireplace while the wind blows and the ice coats the roads.  Not even to fly down the hillside on a sled or atop an inner-tube, will I leave my toasty perch.

For many years, I have been adamant in my condemnation of the intermediate season of preparation.  Autumn is prelude to Winter.  I will love neither.

But, as I sit and meditate on the words I have uttered again and again, to whomever will give ear, I begin to grow uncomfortable.  

There is a difference between being a realist and being ungracious.  

Speaking truth is important, but without proper perspective, it simply becomes selfishness.  Rude thoughtlessness begets animosity.

You can only throw cold water on your sister so many times before she becomes discouraged and disheartened herself.

The approach of Autumn is inevitable.  Winter will follow it.  It will. Those facts cannot be changed, as long as we’re living on this spinning orb.

It is possible, however, that I will not spend weeks fighting infection in my body.  Steps may be taken to avoid that.  It is not certain that ice will damage the shingles near the edge of the roof over my kitchen, nor that pipes in the wall will freeze.  

Those things, and things of more import, can change.  

Funny.  My heart can also be changed.  It’s a bigger task than I can undertake.  I can work on the physical inconveniences of the season to come. Our Maker  is the only One who changes hearts.  

The only One.

Our Maker is the only One who changes hearts. The only One. Click To Tweet

He has done it from the beginning of time.  Just as certain as His sustenance of the changing seasons and natural laws set in motion at creation is the desire on His part to change our hearts, if we will allow it.  He will not force the change on us.

Winter will come.  That won’t change.  It doesn’t have to rule in our very being.

I’m ready for a new thing.

He does new things.

I still like Puddleglum.  But he could be wrong.  This time.

He’ll want to have the leg off at the knee, I shouldn’t wonder. You see if he doesn’t.

Yep.  He could be wrong.

I'm ready for a new thing. He does new things. Click To Tweet





Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18,19 ~ NASB)



“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.
(from Winnie the Pooh ~ A.A. Milne ~ English author ~ 1882-1956)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Dragon Gold

Who steals my purse steals trash.

The high school kid smiled wryly at us for just a second as we moved closer to his checkout stand.  Then he turned his attention back to the young lady beside the register.  He had just scanned four tubes of a popular health & beauty product for her.

“That will be twenty-one dollars and seventy-six cents, Ma’am.”

Silently, the lady reached into her wallet and took out a coupon.  Beep!  He scanned the bar code into the machine.  The total was instantly three dollars lower.

He turned to her to tell her the new amount, but all she did was pull another coupon from her wallet.  Each time he completed the scan on one, she pulled out another, until there were five coupons on the counter. He dutifully scanned each one in.  With the fifth piece of paper though, the machine let out a raucous screech, instead of the cutesy beeping sound we were becoming accustomed to.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am.  You can’t use that coupon since you already used the others.”

She was incredulous.  Handing the printed coupon back to him, she insisted he try it again.  He obliged, but the machine screeched one more time.  The young man tried patiently to explain that she couldn’t use a coupon on an item for which she had already presented a coupon.

Now, she wasn’t just incredulous; she was miffed.  She snatched the offending coupon up off the counter and stuffed it into her wallet.  Quickly paying the nine dollar total (for twenty-one dollars worth of product), she strode off in a huff, her husband trailing behind.

When we completed our own transaction with the poor young man, the Lovely Lady and I headed for the exit, only to run across the lady and her husband standing near the door still.  She was pointing to the receipt in her hand and gesturing angrily back toward the cash register.  It seemed the young clerk wasn’t quite finished with the interchange.  We didn’t hang around to see the conclusion.

People are passionate about money, aren’t they?

Did you read the quote which opened this article?  It’s from a play by William Shakespeare, entitled Othello.  Mr. Shakespeare is actually trying to bolster up an argument about the value of a good name.  But, in doing that, he gives a fairly accurate description of the value of money.

Trash.  He calls it trash.

Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; 
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands. . . 

The Bard of Avon wasn’t the first to come to this conclusion.  He put it differently than King Solomon, many centuries before him, did.  A little differently.  

Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless.
(Ecclesiastes 5:10 ~ NIV)

Trash.  Meaningless.

Jesus walked among the wealthy and the poor. He enjoyed the plenty of food and fellowship as well as knowing the poverty of homelessness. He also used the word slave in relationship to money.   But unlike Mr. Shakespeare many centuries later, Jesus didn’t refer to money as the slave.

No.  He said that we are slaves to it.  Or to God. (Matthew 6:24 ~ NIV)

We choose.  But, servants we will be.  

If you’re like me, you will immediately state the obvious:  

I want to be the servant of God.  I will never serve money.

But again, if you’re like me, the resolve lasts as long as it takes to encounter someone who tries to take advantage of you.

Did you pay attention to the lady in the story above?  Some of us read her plight with a sympathetic spirit.  That greedy corporation!  What would a few dollars mean to them? Why would they cheat her like that? 

If we stop and contemplate for a moment, however, the truth begins to dawn.  The company was selling the product for a fair market price.  The company issued the coupons which reduced that price by more than half.

The discount was a gift to her!   A gift from the very company of whom she demanded more.

How like her we are.  Every single thing we have—every possession, every dollar, every benefit—each one is a gift from a loving and benevolent Heavenly Father.  Every good gift comes down from Him. (James 1:17 ~ NIV)

Every good gift.

Somehow though, the good gifts He gives become, in our minds, our right—our birthright if you will—and we desire more. In Solomon’s words above, we are never satisfied.

But, like dragon’s gold, we lie on our hoarded wealth and become greedy, dragon-238931_1280selfish dragons ourselves.  I can’t help but see that selfish, hateful boy—from C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader—Eustace Scrubb, in my mind as I consider our plight.  

The self-centered boy wandered away from his traveling companions and found the treasure trove of a dragon which had just died.  Crawling up on the stack of gold and jewels, he fell asleep. 

A funny thing happens to the boy while he sleeps on his astounding find, perhaps not unlike the transformation we go through as we hold our earthly treasure close.

Here are Mr. Lewis’s words:  Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he has become a dragon himself.

I wonder if I’ve already said too much.  Perhaps I’ve stood on this soap box longer than I should tonight.  

But, after all, I know what is in my heart.  It’s not a pretty sight.  I also know the conversations I’ve read and heard recently—conversations which convince me that what is in my heart is not exclusive to only me.

It may be time for the Lion to do His work in removing the dragon scales from around my heart.  They’ve been growing for awhile.  It will likely take some doing.

It might be a little painful, as well.





But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
(I John 3:17 ~ NASB)


If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
(from The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien ~ English author/educator ~ 1892-1973)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Can You See Jesus?

Someday your heart will be asking, What will He do with me?

I grew up singing those words, the closing of a song entitled, What Will You Do With Jesus?   I hadn’t thought about the song for a few decades.

A Catholic priest brought it to mind again today.  I wish I could remember his name.  I saw his words in print for a few seconds.  The words are burned into my brain; his name, unfortunately, is not.

When you look at the refugees, can you see Jesus?

The news and social media have been full of the stories for the last few weeks.  Refugees from the ethnic and religious purging in Syria have been displaced into surrounding Middle Eastern countries, a process which began almost four years ago.  Now, they are pouring into Europe by the hundreds of thousands.  There seems to be no end in sight for the crisis.

Over the last few days, I have seen many individuals claiming that it is our national responsibility to take in a large number of these refugees.  The argument is that as Christians, we must do our part.  

What would Jesus do?

I won’t argue with them.  Time will tell what is to be done there.  

I have bigger problems.

Or possibly, smaller ones.

I don’t want to talk about the millions of refugees.  I don’t want to discuss the millions of babies being slaughtered by abortion.  I don’t want to argue about which ethnic or civil group’s lives matter.

You think me cold?  Insensitive?  

I’m not.

It’s important to tackle the larger issues facing us as a nation—as a world—as people of faith.  The problem is that, too often, our participation in that discussion is a cop-out.

You see, for most of us it’s just that—a discussion.  

We talk.  We get angry.  We get self-righteous.  

But, we never get dirty.  Our hands never once touch the people who need a human touch.  All we want to do is to make our point and win the debate.

And, when the government agencies have done their part, when the monies designated to give relief are delivered, when the temporary housing has been fabricated, we will breath a sign of relief and, with one last self-righteous toss of our heads, we’ll turn again to our clean, sterile lives.

We talk a good game, don’t we?

After all, that’s what the Teacher commended His good servants for, wasn’t it?

I was naked, and you gave money to UNICEF.  I was sick and you checked to see where Doctors Without Borders were docking next.  I was in prison and you signed petitions to the government for my release.

What?  You don’t like my paraphrase?

Millions of refugees in the Middle East?  Easy-peasy!

African-American brothers and sisters seeking justice in urban areas?  You have my full support!

I read the words I have written and realize it seems as if I think we should abandon our concern for a world in need.  I don’t.

I don’t!

goodsamaritanBut, what I know—know beyond any argument—is that we have been given tasks which require our hands to get dirty.  When we finish the task we’ve been assigned, we will stink.

We don’t get to stand, like some politician who has just blinded the opposition with his brilliant rhetoric, clasping our hands above our heads in victory.

We get to stand, dejected in the rain as the ambulance pulls away, because the drug addict we tried to help just overdosed and lost her battle with the demons inside—and outside—her.  

We get to sit on the edge of our elderly neighbor’s front porch, sweaty and exhausted, and look over the neatly trimmed landscape we’ve just finished mowing.  After we had already done our own lawn.

We get to spend our Sunday afternoon with that young lady who has a black eye, finding a shelter for her and helping to fill out police reports.

We get to stand with an arm around the drunk man in the emergency room waiting area as, down the hall, his wife fights for her life after a failed suicide attempt.

The opportunities will never end.  The people who need our touch—our touch, not our words—will stretch out from here to the end of our lives.

Because every single one of them looks like Jesus to us.  Every single one of them.

The priest had the right idea.  

And the Teacher said, “If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.

The words still echo in my head.  Forty years since I last sang them, and certainly with a different perspective, they still echo.

What will you do with Jesus?



Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
(Matthew 25:37-40 ~ NLT)


Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall,
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all;
Hearken! what meaneth the sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be;
Someday your heart will be asking,
“What will He do with me?”
(A B Simpson ~ Canadian theologian ~ 1843-1919)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Bars Made of String

I was busy when he left the guitar.

“Give me a few weeks.  I’ll see if I can figure out what’s causing that vibration.”

He nodded, but he was frowning gloomily.  “It’s going to be bad.  Probably a loose brace.”

The gloomy clouds didn’t follow him out the door as I hoped they would, but simply hung in the air over that guitar case.  Or, so it seemed to me.

My few weeks passed.  Then a few more went by.  Every time I walked past the instruments waiting to be repaired, I could feel the gloom.

What if it’s a loose brace?

I shrugged off the gloom and continued on to other tasks.  Again and again, I ignored the guitar case sitting there.  

I didn’t open the case once.  Not once.

He came in last week.  “It’s been over two months.  Have you fixed my guitar?”

The gloomy clouds came to hang over my own head—the one I was shaking in embarrassment.  

“Sorry.  Give me another week.”

Out the door he went again.  I turned back to my work, worrying still.

What if it’s a loose brace?  It might even be broken.

The week has passed.  He called today.  The instrument must be ready to pick up tomorrow.  Tomorrow!

barsofstringTonight, the guitar lies on my work bench.  Dreading what I will find, I reach down to loosen the strings.  I can’t work inside the instrument until I get room to put my hands through the sound hole.  

Like bars of steel, the strings guard the entrance.  Perhaps I should just leave them alone.

What if it’s a loose brace?

Then a new thought strikes me.  What if it’s not?

What if it’s something really simple?  Easy to fix?

By now, I have loosened up the strings and, like a caged strong man in the movies, have spread them apart, bending them like—well—like string.  I insert my mirror and, shining a light on it, begin my inspection.  

Two months, I’ve waited.  And worried.

Five minutes—no, less than that—three minutes later, I have found the problem.  A broken string, fallen into the body of the guitar, has been trapped by the magnetic force of the electric pickup.  Trapped against the sound board which magnifies every sound ten-fold.

The tiny buzz-buzz-buzz of the metallic string against the spruce sounded for all the world like a disastrous structural failure.

I whisk away the one-inch piece of bronze and stainless steel, breathing a sigh of relief as I do.  Pulling my tools and my hand from the dungeon of my almost-failure, I let the bars—I mean, strings—spring back into place and I re-tune them.

Sitting on a nearby stool, I run my fingers over the strings, hitting a few familiar chords.  What an astounding result!  The tones radiating from the soundboard of the instrument are perfection itself.

Perfection.  And, I waited over two months to experience it.


What if?

Two months—wasted.

All of my life, I have worried about what is behind those doors I have never passed through.  All of my life.

Twelve years old.  I was with my family in southern Kansas visiting my great-aunt and uncle.  They had a farm in the gently rolling hills near the place my mother had grown up.  

Uncle Paul was old, but he hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid.  While the old folks were visiting, he warned us to beware of snakes and sent us out to explore anywhere we wanted to wander.

That was how we came to be standing in front of the doorway into the hillside.  Anywhere we wanted, he had said.  This door looked interesting.  And scary.

“What if there are snakes?”  The shaky voice was mine.

My oldest brother laughed.  “What if there aren’t?”

His optimism notwithstanding, he was holding a stick in his hand as he pulled the door open.  We stayed well behind him, but eventually, we all trooped through the open entrance to the vegetable cellar.  It was not much more than a hollow in the side of the hill, excavated here and there to make room for shelves, upon which sat the bounty of my old relatives’ garden.  It would feed them through the winter.

There were no snakes.

I would never have known that on my own.  The door would have remained closed.  Funny.  Nearly fifty years on, I’m still afraid to open doors.

What’s behind the door in front of you right now?  Why aren’t you turning the knob instead of standing there, petrified?

If God brought you to the door, there is nothing behind it that has any power to doorway-521278_1280harm you.

He has given us the key to open every lock and will make provision for every obstacle we meet, once inside.  Just a note of warning—if you have to slip the lock with your credit card, He didn’t want you in there.  Some doors were never intended for us to open.

Too many times though, I have stood in front of a door to which He has given access and failed to go through it.  What if I fail?

We fail because we fear to try.  

Many more times than we meet insurmountable obstacles, we simply don’t attempt the deed at all.

Open the door!  

Go through it!

You might still want to carry that stick.



I will keep you and will make you…to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
(Isaiah 42: 6,7 ~ NIV)


There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky;
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling, 
What if you fly?
(Erin Hanson ~ Australian poet)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

One Clear Call

“I’m looking for Ivanhoe by Egghead.  I know you’ve got it, Mark!”

The rag-tag children were scattered around the old scarred-up dining room table.  There was a huge bowl, now nearly empty, on the wood surface between them.  The smell of popcorn hung in the air, but there was nothing to be seen in the bottom of the bowl, except old-maids—the unpopped kernels—and none of the kids wanted to try chewing on them.

The scruffy boy who had spoken held a number of dog-eared cards in his hand, as did all the children.  Their father had an unqualified contempt for gambling games, so the family didn’t own a deck of standard playing cards—the type with suits and numbers, along with royalty designations.  

sirwalterscottNo.  They were playing Authors, already an old game, even in the 1960s.  With cards bearing pictures of classic authors and a list of four of their most famous works, each player would struggle to remember who had called for which author and work, and then attempt to amass complete sets of all the cards bearing that particular author’s writings.

I was the scruffy boy calling for Egghead’s Ivanhoe.  Well, the author’s name was really Sir Walter Scott, but his depiction on the card looked for all the world like the shape of an egg.  The man shall, unfortunately, forever remain so in my brain.

I hadn’t thought about the game for many a year, although the names of those classic works have come up in my collection of books and in my reading list numerous times in my adult life.  Yet, tonight, as I sat at my desk and thumbed through a book of English poems (copyright 1902), my eye fell on the poem entitled, Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

You guessed it.  Another of the denizens of that old card game.

You’ll find the poem below.

Funny.  Life back then was full of teasing and laughter.  Our poetry consisted of John and Debbie sitting in a tree;  K-I-S-S-I-N-G, and the like.

We had no idea that the classic works, whose names we memorized simply for the sake of winning a game, consisted of deep, thought-provoking material which spoke of death and of meeting God.  Unbeknownst to us, in the works inventoried on that tattered card stock, there were monsters, Muslims, and ragamuffin boys traveling the Mississippi, along with many other wonders.

I have read many of those works over the years, loving some, disappointed in others.

But tonight—tonight—I read the poem.

759px-Samuel_Bough_-_West_Wemyss_Harbour_FifeTonight, I am remembering people who were part of my life back then, folks who have already crossed the bar.  People who have seen their Pilot face to face.

It is a long list—a list growing longer all the time.

Lord Tennyson expressed his desire to choose how he would depart this world.  We don’t get to do that.  I’m not sure we really would want that anyway.

I know by long experience that my timing stinks.  I leap when I should wait, and stand still when I should fly.  

But, my Pilot knows exactly when to embark.  And, precisely where to steer the ship.  I can’t see Him, but I know He is there at the rudder, just as surely as I know my own name.  

Come to think of it, even if I forget my own name, He will still be there.

Even if I forget my own name, He will still be there. Click To Tweet

Earlier this year, my cousin passed away suddenly.  There was no warning; there were no days of preparation for the journey.  Just a call for her from the other side of the bar.  

Just like that, she was gone.

Others I love have taken years to complete their time here—years of suffering—years of moaning as the long days and nights dragged on.  

My experience is not unique.  All suffer the losses.  All look forward to the day themselves.

For all the sorrow and sadness, for all the emptiness and loss, we have a promisewe who are believers.

I’m going to get the house ready for you.  I wouldn’t make the promise if I didn’t intend to make it so.  And, if I go and prepare the home for you, I’ll be there to welcome you.  (John 14:2,3)

Face to face.  

The day is coming.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be sitting around playing games while we wait.

There is business to attend to.  

I think I’ll clock in again in the morning.  You?






Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson ~ Poet Laureate/Great Britain & Ireland ~ 1809-1892)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

If It Was a Snake

If it was a snake, it would’ve bit you.

I’m hearing the voice of the red-headed lady who raised me in my head this morning. They were words she spoke often to me as a child.

Ignoring the frighteningly bad grammar, I admit to a certain amount of myopia.  By that, I mean the figurative kind of shortsightedness. 

You know, the kind that only sees what it wants to see.

After midnight last night, I stood in the adhesives section at my local Wally-World, staring at row upon row of glue containers and bemoaning the lack of any alternatives. 

I had started a job which absolutely had to be finished before I headed home for the night, only to find I had not tightened the lid on my bottle of contact cement.  It was the only kind of glue that would work for the job at hand, so out to the local big-box discount store I went. 

Twenty-four/seven.  Shopping on my schedule.  Never mind that many of the oddest folks do their shopping there in the wee hours of the morning. 

Come to think of it, I was there.  Talk about odd…

Why was I staring at the shelves instead of purchasing glue?  Well, because there was no brown bottle marked contact cement to be found.  Not one.  The shelf sticker was there, but the metal surface above it was empty. 


I stood there for at least fifteen minutes, looking at the alternatives.  No contact cement, only super glue and some weird stuff they call gorilla.  None of them would perform the task I needed the glue for.

I finally asked a passing employee if there were any of the missing glue bottles in the stock room.  He obligingly scanned the sticker and informed me that there were none in the store—none even, in the regional warehouse.  I was out of luck.

I stood there perplexed.  What would I do?  How could I keep my promise to that little girl who needed her clarinet first thing this morning?

I mourned another missed deadline and the unhappy look on the girl’s face when she realized I had failed her.  In my head, failure was complete.  Utter.

Another few moments passed, and the employee next to me cleared his throat. 

“Is that all I can help you with?” he asked.

contactcement1I jerked back to the reality that he had done all he could and simply nodded.  In that instant my eye caught the label on a can.  Right next to the empty space I had been staring at sightlessly.  Hopelessly. 

Right next to it.

A large can of the exact thing I needed.  Just not in the package I expected to find.  It was a much better deal, as far as the price went.

I had been six inches away from the solution to my problem all that time!  Sitting right there, waiting for me to notice. 

Wrong package.  Wrong color.  Wrong size. 

If it was a snake, it would’ve bit me.

I wonder.  How many times have I given up because I couldn’t see the solution to my problem? 

In our myopic pursuit of answers, how often have we missed the provision right in front of our faces?  Our God knows exactly what we need.

Exactly.  What.  We.  Need.

All we have to do is open our eyes.  And hearts.

And get ready to get back to work.




And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day.
(Exodus 14:13a ~ KJV)


If you do not raise your eyes, you will think you are the highest point.
(Antonio Porchia ~ Argentinian poet ~ 1885-1968)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.