Put it Down

Three times.  

Not once.  Not twice.  Three times.

The messenger had to come through my doors three separate times today.  I got the message on the third attempt.

Loud and clear, I got the message.

Early this afternoon, I spoke with him on the telephone.

“Hey Paul.  Do you have some drum parts?”

Well, of course I have some drum parts.  I needed more information.  He clarified the request.

“I broke a lug-mount on the side of my tom.”  (Just so you know, a drummer never calls it a tom-tom, just a tom.)

I told the fellow I thought we might find a used one somewhere and hung up after hearing he would be by later in the afternoon.  Then I went about my labors, never giving the conversation another thought.

He arrived some time later with the broken part in his hand.  I looked at it and went to scour the salvaged parts box.  But, I found no tom lug-mount—at least, not one which would fit his drum.

junkdrumsSuddenly an idea came to me, and I headed up to the front of the store.  Sitting next to the wall is a stack of cheap drums.  When I say cheap, I mean worthless.  I really don’t want to sell them, they’re so horrible.

The lug-mounts were the perfect size!  I removed one and carried it to where he was awaiting my verdict.  The man was ecstatic!

Never asking about the cost, he set a little box on the counter and showed me the contents:  Miscellaneous parts, scavenged from an old electric guitar.

“I was hoping this would be about the same value.”

I made the trade with him and he left.

It never occurred to me that the man had no money to pay.  Even after I made the swap, it never dawned on me.  I now had a few parts to sell to someone else.  It was the same a cash to me, or almost so.  I was satisfied.

Half an hour later, he was back.  

“Another one broke, Paul.”  He had a hang-dog look on his face, as if I would be upset with him.

No problem.  I removed another lug-mount from the same drum and laid it on the counter in front of him.  He had some other miscellaneous parts in his pocket and I took them, plunking them in the box with his first offering. 

As he left, cheerfully telling me he’d be back soon, I sat back down at my desk, deep in thought.  Something was bothering me, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  

Ah, well.  It would come to me.  Or not.  I went about my business once more. 

Half an hour later, he walked through my door again.  I wasn’t even surprised to see him.  As soon as I saw his face, the something that I couldn’t put my finger on came in a flash.

He needed a drum.  The whole drum.  Otherwise, I was going to see him every half-hour for the rest of the day.  Or however long it took to replace all the lug-mounts on the one he had.  One at a time.

He had no money.  That, too was clear by now.

Did I mention that the drum I had was worthless?  Did I say the word horrible?  I may have forgotten to tell you that it was given to me.

Given to me.

I was the one with a hang-dog look on my face now.  Walking back up to the stack of drums—the ones which had cost me nothing—I picked up the entire drum and laid it gingerly on the glass counter he leaned against.

“Yours.  No charge.”

He laughed.  There was no humor in the laugh, but he was relieved.

“I was going to have to owe you for this one.  I don’t have anything more I can trade and now I need gas in my car.  I’ll just drive my wife’s until I get paid.”

Do you ever wonder if you’ll know God’s messenger when you see him?  

I know the answer to that question now.  It will take me a few tries, but eventually I’ll know him—or her.

I want a voice in the dark.  

Samuel got that.  Of course, it took him three times too, but he was just a boy.  God hadn’t talked with him before.

Three times, God called him before he answered, “Talk to me Lord.  I’m listening.”  (I Samuel 3)

I want the voice in the dark, but instead, I get a guy who needs drum parts.  Still, three times, the messenger came.  I should have been a little quicker on the uptake.

But, after the third time, I was listening.  

Talk to me God.  I’m ready to listen finally.

I wish the lesson were something so simple as just giving away a useless, junk drum.  I obeyed, right?  I want that to be the end of it.  

It’s not the end of it.

I look around and I realize I’m surrounded with stuff.  Things.  Most, I have purchased with cash.  Some, I have traded for.  It’s all stuff.

None of it belongs to me.

Finally, I hear the messenger.  None of the stuff, this dragon’s hoard upon which I rest, is mine.

Understand this.  I said the junk drum was given to me.  That was true.  And, in my self-centered heart, I want to differentiate between that and all the things I have worked and paid for.

There is no difference.

From Him.  Through Him.  All things.  (Romans 11:35-36)

Oh!  Did I forget something?  Oh yes.  To Him.

They didn’t just come from Him and through His provision.  

They are His.

Every last lug mount.  And drum.  

And the guy behind the counter, too.



Give what you have.  To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ American poet ~ 1807-1882)


Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.
The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
(Exodus 4:2,3a ~ NIV)




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


Arise and Go

I will arise and go.

The words came to me as I sat among the mud and scattered corn husks tonight.

You laugh.  Perhaps with good reason.  

And yet…  

And yet, I find it easy to drift away into the dark places of my mind these days.  People are gone from my life and from the lives of friends.  Some have gone beyond recall, never to be reunited this side of eternity.  At times, the pain is nearly palpable, the sadness overwhelming.

Others are separated by events no less catastrophic, but perhaps less permanent.  Perhaps.

The sadness of broken relationships has become more personal and more crushing with every passing year—indeed it seems—with every passing day.  The hopeless feeling bewilders me and doubts grow that broken marriages can be salvaged, or that adult children estranged from parents and siblings
can ever put aside their petty feuds and be reconciled. Somehow, that feeling is hardly less devastating than what I feel for those separated in that final, irrevocable farewell of death.

On the heels of the abrupt loss of an old friend last week have come numerous reminders of other recent losses by friends and in my own family.  mourning-77382_1920I listened to a beautiful song by a young friend this evening and wept anew for the cruel scars left by the theft of once-bright minds in aging parents and grandparents.  The never-ending stories of broken friendships and rifts in family relationships only add to the sadness.

No.  The mud and corn husks of a pig wallow seem to be an apt description.  

I may have even heard the startled grunt of a pig a moment ago, as I shifted my position in my seat.  It is dark in here.

But, the words come to mind again.

I will arise…  

I will arise and go.  

Although the path leading here didn’t jibe with the story those words belong to, I’m thinking the cure may be the same.

Funny, isn’t it?  Some places, you just arrive at by chance.  Without even trying, I find myself frequently at the doughnut shop miles away, and once in awhile, at the ice cream parlor just down the street.

I don’t have to decide to go there.  Why is it the places that are not healthy for us just seem to appear before us?

When we want to do healthy things, we have to struggle.  We must force ourselves out of our easy chairs, or push away from the dinner table.  We dress for the specific activity and select the correct shoes.  Protective gear is carefully adjusted and equipment is checked again.

I never, never, just find myself exercising.  You?

Come to think of it, we have to make an effort to do most everything which is profitable for us.  But the dark places, the damaging activities, almost seem to find us on their own.

I certainly didn’t go looking for this place.  I just found myself in here.  

I am going to have to take action if I want to leave it behind, though.

I will arise.  My Father has things so much better for me.

There might even be a party going on there.

You’ll come too, won’t you?

It might take some effort on your part, as well.

I will arise.  And, go to the Father.

He’s already waiting.

He always has been.




But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
(Luke 15:20 ~ KJV


There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British novelist/Christian apologist ~ 1898-1963)


Flee as a bird to your mountain,
Thou who art weary of sin;
Go to the clear-flowing fountain,
Where you may wash and be clean;
Fly, for temptation is near thee,
Call, and the Savior will hear thee;
He on His bosom will bear thee,
O thou who art weary of sin,
O thou who art weary of sin.

He will protect thee forever,
Wipe ev’ry falling tear;
He will forsake thee O never,
Sheltered so tenderly there!
Haste then, the hours are flying,
Spend not the moments in sighing,
Cease from your sorrow and crying,
The Savior will wipe ev’ry tear,
The Savior will wipe ev’ry tear.
(Flee as a Bird ~ Mary Dana Schindler ~ American hymn writer ~ 1810-1883)


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

The Truth About Can’t


I can’t.

There it is.

No such word?  Ha!

Can’t.  Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t.

Somewhere right now, there’s a positive thinker reading this who would like to be able to set me straight.  That person would like to convince me of the importance of speaking positive words, of thinking positive thoughts.  They would explain to me that negative thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I understand the theory.

And yet, the simple truth is that can’t exists.  

There are physical truths.  I can’t be in two places at one time.  

There are intellectual truths.  As useless an exercise as it would be, I can’t calculate all the digits of pi.

There are spiritual truths.  I can’t make myself into a good person.  There has been one good person ever to walk this earth.  I am not Him.

Numerous other truths—things which can’t be done—will come to your mind as you contemplate my half-hearted stab at providing examples here.

I do know one other truth about can’t, as well:  

Frequently, the fact that a thing can’t be done today doesn’t mean that it can’t be done tomorrow.

Last night, I sat in the living room and proved this particular truth to myself.  I sat in a wooden chair with my silver French horn bell resting on my leg, as the Lovely Lady played the piano to accompany me.  Looking ahead in the piece we were working through, I noticed a high A-flat followed by a B-flat coming up in the notation.

This was the test.

Two months ago, I sat in that same chair and said aloud, “I can’t.  I can’t play anything higher than a G on my horn.”  

It was true then.  In fact, the G itself was a little iffy, truth be told.  Years of neglecting to practice have, sadly, impacted my ability to play the horn in the higher range expected of an advanced player.  Something needed to be done.

I have played that horn many hours since that day.  Purposely, I have exercised my lips to achieve a higher range—a range not accessible to me before.

But last night, I was ready to give it a shot.  The A-flat and B-flat were coming up in the music.  What would happen?

The A-flat was upon me.  I depressed the thumb trigger and the middle valve and tightened up the muscles around my lips.  Supported by my diaphragm, the air flowed through the mouthpiece, into the horn

Clear and in tune, the A-flat sounded.  Perfect! 


But now, the B-flat was there, too.  The trigger stayed where it was and the first valve went down as the middle came up. Still the air flowed.

Disaster!  No B-flat came out.  A sad (and very wrong) G sounded instead.  Ashamed, I continued on and finished up the piece.  The Lovely Lady, sitting on the embroidered piano bench cover, looked over at me, a little smile playing on her lips.

“The A-flat was nice.”

It wasn’t enough!  Stubbornly, I put the horn back up to my lips and pursing my lips, blew through the tubing.  The sequence of notes was right there on the page and in my fingers.  Right up to the A-flat I charged, and then on to the B-flat.  

There it was!  A high B-flat!

I’m not saying it was pretty.  It wasn’t even that clear.  But, it was a B-flat!  It was.

I can!

This little lesson holds true in many aspects of our human existence.

Today we can’t.  We don’t tell a lie when we admit it.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t achieve the goal in the future, if we work toward it.

Can’t today doesn’t always have to be can’t tomorrow.

Three years ago, I started to ride a bicycle.  Oh, I rode when I was younger.  Much younger.  That was for fun.  When I started again, it was for fitness.

I rode my bike six miles the first time.  Six miles!  

I was sore for a week.  

The next time I got on my bicycle, I rode two miles.

As I got stronger (and less sore), I rode eight, then ten miles.  Twelve miles was a trek.  I don’t want to talk about how slowly I rode.

I couldn’t ride any farther.

“Fifteen miles?  I can’t go that far!”

It wasn’t a lie.

But, that too changed.  These days, thirty-five mile rides aren’t all that unusual for me.  I ride almost twice the speed I did back then.

I’m not looking for a pat on the back.  You see, several of my friends ride what they call century rides a couple times a year.  One hundred miles at a time!

I can’t.  Really, I can’t.  Not today anyway.  Time will tell.

I may never be able to ride that distance.  There may actually be a physical limitation which keeps me from doing that.  And, folks who want to encourage me remind me of my friends, some of them older than I, who ride that distance regularly.

“They can do it.  Surely, you can too!”

Here’s what I’ve figured out about that:  

Their can’t is further down the road than mine.  For today, anyway.

Does it seem that I’m being foolish?  Is this much ado about nothing? French horns and bicycles—what difference do those make?

I do have a larger point.  Really.

I’m tired of hearing things called truth which just aren’t.  There are limitations.  There are laws which don’t change.  They haven’t from the beginning of time.

As nice as it sounds, the words I think I can repeated by a little train again and again will never overcome the laws of nature set into motion by the Creator.

sea-gull-765490_1920Regardless of the printed text in a book, or the scenes in a movie made way back in the seventies, a seagull can not fly into the rock face of a cliff and just reappear on the other side.

Too depressing?  Oh, don’t give up on me yet!  Hope is not lost.

You see, I do know the One who made everything that can be seen out of that which could not be seen.  (Romans 4:17)

Perhaps you do too. 

And, silly hypothetical paradoxes aside, can’t is a word which does not apply to the Creator of all we see and don’t see.

He can.

I said earlier, when talking about spiritual truth, that I can’t make myself good.  I can’t.

He can.  He will.  (Philippians 1:6)

It is a real word—can’t.  There are many situations in which its use is warranted.  And, quite a few where it is not.  I’m working to learn the difference where it applies to myself.  The reader might do well to study the matter, too.

But, I’m also learning, sometimes the hard way, not to tell God He can’t.

It may be just me, but it seems that the creature giving instructions to the Creator is just a trifle arrogant.  And, perhaps even completely futile.

He can.

He does.

He will.




If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
(Martin Luther King Jr. ~ American minister/civil rights leader ~ 1929-1968)


I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:13 ~ NSRV






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

On the Jump

The autumn rain drums pleasantly on the tin roof—an invitation, I suppose, to sit lost in thought.

I accept the invitation.

It has been an emotional month.  There have been crises of varying sizes in my business, some that simply occur in the life of business owners—others which are of my own making.  Other responsibilities have come like an avalanche, family and friends, as well as community involvements taking their pound of flesh, so to speak.

Having weathered the highs and lows with a fragment of success, one might expect a well-earned respite.

I suppose that may come eventually.  Just not yet. 

Daytime hours have been spent on the jump, as an old wartime colloquialism describes it.  When soldiers were constantly harried by enemy troops, fighting on one front and then moving to another location, only to be met with more enemy troops, they were kept on the jump.  

Exhaustion follows.

I spoke recently of my friend who was contemplating what God wanted him to be doing.  In a way, I envy him, exploring new paths and making plans for a correction in navigation.

Years ago, I was reminded in a memorable way, that our Father expects us to be ministers in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.  I have never questioned what my task is since then.

You may believe that ministers have offices in the church building.  You might even think that going into all the world means traveling to Kenya or Peru.  In one respect, you would be correct.

But, that’s not what all ministers do.  It’s not where the mission field is for all who are sent.

The Teacher sat on the edge of the well, looked around at the people who stood there, and told His followers to lift up their eyes and see the fields which were already white with the harvest. (John 4:35)

He wasn’t telling them to look into the distance, nor across the sea.  

They thought it was a time for leisure and for enjoying a meal.  They didn’t realize they were still on the jump.

I said I’ve never questioned my task.  That doesn’t mean I’ve always performed it faithfully, but I have never wondered what it is I’m supposed to be doing.

Every day.  

Every day, it happens.  My door opens and they walk in.  I have called them customers, but I’m learning to open my eyes and ears a little more.  Perhaps they have been opened by something else.  Or Someone else.

I’m just browsing is likely to mean I need a shoulder to cry on.  

Just killing time might even signify I need to know someone cares.

Only this week, a fellow came in to see what new guitars I had hanging on the wall.  Before he left, both of us had cried a few tears.  Loneliness shows itself in strange ways.  Wives who are gone from a life after forty-five years leave a big hole that can’t be filled overnight—or even in a year, or ten.  He didn’t need a new guitar.  He did need a friend.

From broken legs to broken marriages, hungry kids to hungry hearts, the fields are ripe.  

harvest 002Ready to harvest.

Have you ever worked a wheat harvest?  I haven’t either, but I have friends who have described the ordeal to me.  When the wheat is ready to be cut, it’s all ready at the same time.  There is not a minute to waste.

In the modern harvest, from before dawn to well after dark, the big machines work, the exhausted and bleary-eyed operators drinking coffee to keep sleep at bay.  On the jump for the duration, they can’t afford to lose any of the harvest.

We can’t afford to lose any of His harvest.  Not one head of wheat.

The fields we work in vary greatly. Yours doesn’t look like mine.  My field isn’t any more important than yours, or vice versa.

The harvest, however—the harvest is the same.  And, there is always a harvest.  Everywhere.

Look up.

Tonight, the rain still falls outside.  My soul is refreshed. Sleep will come soon.

Morning will bring more work.

On the jump.




Let the nations thank you, O God!
Let all the nations thank you!
The earth yields its crops.
May God, our God, bless us!
May God bless us!
Then all the ends of the earth will give him the honor he deserves.
(Psalm 67:5-7 ~ NET)




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


The Instrument

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

Usually when folks bring in old violins, they leave disappointed.

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

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

It never has been.  A Stradivarius, that is.  Ever.

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

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

“It’s almost certainly not made by Stradivarius.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was confused.

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

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

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

I objected.  

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

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

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


It was, too.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It can’t be done!  

Stick with what you know!

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we have to follow God, even when people around us don’t understand.  

My friend says he’s got things to do.  Maybe it’s time for me to get moving, as well.

I wonder.  I’ve never built a violin.




Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
(Exodus 4:11-12 ~ ESV)


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




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


The old rust-colored 1953 Ford pickup truck slowed to a stop as the traffic light cycled from yellow to red.  The three year old on the bench seat beside me rattled on a mile a minute about his Sunday School class the day before.

“Our teacher says that God knows what we need before we even ask Him.  Why do we need to pray, anyhow?”

stop-77368_1920I mulled that one over for a few minutes and mumbled something about God wanting us to talk with Him, just like parents and children normally do.  It’s a question I still wonder about sometimes.

Without pursuing the subject any further, the little tyke moved on to other things.  Big Wheels and swing sets were more up his alley than the more weighty philosophical questions.  He did notice that we weren’t moving and wondered aloud about that.

“When will that light turn green, Daddy?”

I was sure it would be soon and told him so.  When it didn’t happen in a few seconds, he asked again.  I could see the light for the cross-traffic from my vantage point, so I told him maybe I could make it change in a minute.

“Why not now, Daddy?”

A second later, I noticed that the light for the cross-traffic had actually turned yellow.  Immediately, I called out an order in authoritative tones.

“One-two-three, change green!”

Obediently, the signal in front of us changed to the designated color and, revving the engine, I engaged the clutch and we eased through the intersection.  The boy gazed at me in admiration.  Amazement, really.

“Wow!  How did you do that, Daddy?”

It would be several years before the little guy noticed the correlation between the other lights and the one directly in front of us.  Until that time, he was in awe of his Daddy.  He would have more reasons than traffic lights to tarnish that awe before his years at home were done.

Remember what it was like to be a kid?  Remember the amazement?  The joy of life?  The gratitude for simple gifts?

I sit, and I remember, and my eyes fill with tears. 

How did I lose that?

When did my heart get so hard?

Last week again, I sat and watched the Father turn a red light to green for me, as a huge tax bill, which had hung over my head for months, was paid without fanfare.

It was huge.

I should be amazed.  I should be immensely grateful.

What I am, is demanding.

How did you do that?

Where did all that money come from? 

Why did I not know about it?

If I don’t understand it, I don’t trust it.  If I can’t explain it, I don’t want it.

I have become like the guy who goes to a magic show and demands to know how each illusion is accomplished.  Loud and obnoxious, from the cheap seats, he pushes the magician to reveal every secret, every trick.

It’s as if I believe I could duplicate the result if I knew each step of the routine.

A few weeks ago, I was blessed to visit with a friend who came to town for his university homecoming.  I knew he hadn’t planned to come, so I inquired about his change of mind.

He told me that God had done it.  My friend had dared God, in a sense, to reveal His will by sending him five hundred dollars in the mail—specifically in the mail—before time for his family to make the trip down from Iowa.

That week, three envelopes arrived for him via the Postal Service.  Three different checks, totaling five hundred and six dollars.

That’s what I want!  Specifics.  Money from this person, and from that company, and from a government refund.

Show me how it’s done!

But last week, I wrote my check for the taxes, and the money was simply there.  Where it came from, I don’t know.

I am frustrated.  The taxes are paid. I should be in awe, because the amount we needed was insurmountable, but I’m not even sure how I got to here from there.

How do I duplicate this next year?  What’s the procedure to insure its repetition?  What steps do I take to guarantee an encore performance?

I don’t know any of those things.  And, I need to know them.

But then, there’s this:  

By faith, Abraham was called to go to the land he would receive as his inheritance.  And, obediently he went—get this!—not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8-10)

The truth sinks in and again, I see the little boy on the truck seat next to me.  In awe of a trickster.  

In awe.  And, I can’t even trust the God of the Universe with the secrets of a tiny part of what He has created.

When am I going to get the hang of this?  How long before I unlearn my cynicism and distrust, and live in expectation of greater than I can hope or imagine?

We walk by faith.  If we have to see it, it’s not faith.

I want to see the world through childlike eyes again, in faith trusting a God who tells me He wants nothing but the best for me.

I wonder if anybody else reading this has succumbed to the dark and cynical viewpoint the world has pawned off on us?  My guess is, if I’ve fallen for it, so have others.  Maybe we could help each other to feel the wonder again.  We might even encourage each other to trust the visible creation to an unseen God.


What if we really could walk by faith and not by sight? (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Every good gift comes down from Him.  Every one—whether I can explain it or not. 

And He itraffic-lights-77320_1920s the One, after all, who really does know (and control) when the light
 is going to change to green again.

One-two-three, change green!


Even so . . .



People like you and me never grow old. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.
(Albert Einstein ~ German-American physicist ~ 1879-1955)


The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20b ~ NIV)






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

Finding My Voice

“You’re really sounding good up there this morning, Paul.”

We had a few moments between our early morning practice and the church service, which would begin soon, so I had wandered back past the sound booth.  The sound technician spoke the words, innocently I’m sure.

In my mind, I held an imaginary apple in my hand and, breathing on it, polished it on my shirt.  No, I didn’t do it physically, but I was proud.

I sounded good!

As if.

Moments later, in an auditorium filled with people and with the microphone turned up, I grimaced as my voice cracked on a high note and then shrugged as I struggled to stay in tune on the acapella verse of a beautiful hymn.

Pride goes before a fall.

But, I don’t want to talk about pride tonight.  Or even about singing.  Well, kind of about singing.  It’s more about finding our voices—the ones we were intended to have—the voices people around us were intended to hear.

I’ll never be a great singer.  How about you?  Chances are, the answer is no for most.  For some reason though, many of us—great voices or not—have a love of singing.

Don’t believe me?

Drive down any highway in any city and watch the drivers of the cars with only a single occupant.  And, when I say watch the drivers, I mean watch their mouths.  It won’t be all of them, but almost certainly, you’ll see a few on the road with their mouths moving and their fingers tapping on the steering wheel in time with the music.

I haven’t done any scientific studies, but I think I’m safe in saying if you ask the great majority of those folks to sing in church on Sunday, they’ll tell you they can’t sing.

Can’t sing?  What were they doing in the car?  What do they do in the shower at home?

They can sing.  They just aren’t ready to give anyone the chance to judge the quality of their voice.

But, perhaps I muddy the waters when I speak of finding our voice and I equate it with singing.  Even those of us who can’t sing well have voices.  We can speak.

We do speak.  Frequently.  Perhaps, too frequently.

Ah! With that, we may have hit closer to the mark than anything else which could be said about finding our voice.

If we want our voices to be heard, they must be used at the appropriate time.  They must be speaking at the right volume.  They must be shaping the correct words.

Often, when I talk face to face with folks, I’ve seen their eyes glaze over as I speak.  Since I can’t see you, it may be happening at this instant, with these very words.

Perhaps, I can reinforce the idea with an example.  Sorry.  It will be another musical analogy.  Music is an integral part of my life, after all.

In my memory, Mr. Marlar is still standing on the podium in that dim basement we called the Lower Aud.  It was over thirty-five years ago.  As we drifted into class that afternoon, on our basic black music stands, we found a new piece of music.

The big guy on the podium spent a few moments going over the piece, pointing out difficult key changes and rhythmic quagmires, in hopes that we might avoid them while playing the song.  They were almost certainly vain hopes, but he had to make the attempt anyway.

Right before he raised his baton to start us on our way, he looked straight at me and said, “Paul, in that section right after the time change, I want to hear you.  Whether you play the right notes or not, I want to hear you!

I placed a mental bulls-eye on the page and determined to follow his instructions.  Off we went, doing our best to handle the strange notes and intervals.  It wasn’t concert ready; not by a long shot.

But, may I make one thing clear?

When we got to that section right after the time change, Mr. Marlar heard me.

hornvoiceHe heard me!  

Watching his baton carefully, I struggled with a note or two, but I played out, with more volume than the trumpets and the trombones.  I even played out over the brassy, blatty tones of Carl on that old baritone saxophone.

Indifferent to the listening ears of all forty or fifty of my fellow band-members, I played my fortissimo section for one person.

Just one.  Mr. Marlar.  The man with the baton.

On that day, I found my voice.  It was just one little section of music.  Only a short phrase played on my brass and nickle-silver horn.

But, I found my voice.  And, the conductor heard it loud and clear.

Want to know something funny?  So did all the other players—the ones I wasn’t playing for.

It is my firm belief that every one of us has a voice—and a message.  Depending on which conductor one is following, the message will vary greatly.

I have a voice.  So does every human alive. It’s been given us by the Maestro, that Conductor of conductors, to use in concert with all those who follow Him. We can choose not to be part of that great plan if we want.

The voice loaned me is not one of His strongest; it doesn’t carry all that far.  Still, it carries far enough.  As far as He wants it to.

His voice.  His words.

To the prophet Jeremiah, as He reached out and touched his mouth, He said, “Look!  I have put My words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9)

He puts them there.

What we do with them after that is up to us.

Just as my old friend, Mr. Marlar, placed the music he wanted to hear on my music stand, so the Great Conductor makes clear what His words are.  And, just as it was in that band 35 years ago, He also gives us clear direction about what to do with the words.

Our turn.  

We could sing at the top of our lungs in our cars.  It might make us feel better, though somehow I think these voices were meant for bigger stages and wider audiences.

Many will find the bigger stage and wider audience, but forget the words which were put in their mouths.

Others will remember the words, but will ignore the baton of the Conductor and blurt them out at the wrong time, doing damage to the integrity of the message.  Divisions and squabbles water down the message His words are intended to convey.

I think I’m ready for this.

The Director stands at the podium, baton at the ready.  He’ll give me the cues at the right time.  And, I’ve already marked that loud section He wants to hear.

You may want to listen in too.

I know I’ll be all ears when your solo comes along.



I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself.  I want it to sound like the composer.
(Leonard Bernstein ~ American composer/conductor ~ 1918-1990)


Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”

(Jeremiah 1:9 ~ ESV)



There’s No Fun in the Bible

“God wrote the whole Bible without once using the word fun.”

The old preacher never tired of reminding his congregation of the fact.  I was just a young man, newly married, and I didn’t think much of the idea.  Back then, anyway.

No fun?  None?  


It wasn’t that the old fellow didn’t like to laugh.  It wasn’t even that he didn’t enjoy spending time at a game of skill or two with friends.  He just couldn’t find the word in the pages of the Book, so he decided it wasn’t something promised to followers of God.

I’m beginning to think he wasn’t far wrong.  

That said, there is more to speak of on the subject.  I hope you’ll stick with me here.

If you expect the conclusion of my little essay to be that we all should keep our noses to our grindstones, and wipe those smiles off our faces, you’ll be disappointed.  

The pursed lips of the Church Lady—she of Saturday Night Live fame—are nowhere to be found in the words ordained by the Author of the Book we follow.

You see, laughing and dancing, joy and enjoyment, hugs and smiles are all included in the master plan for those of us who aren’t promised fun

It would seem that, perhaps the problem lies in our definition of fun and not in the acts of enjoyment in the life with which we’ve been blessed.

His mom’s car pulled into the parking spot right next to the music store’s front door one day last week.  I recognized the lady immediately—her face, once smiling and friendly, now distressed and cheerless.  It took the man longer than usual to make it through the front door.  When he did arrive, he was leaning on a cane.

A few years younger than I, the man has been a customer of mine for the last thirty years.  I have never known him to hold a job.  Until just recently, he was completely able-bodied, but just had better things to do than find employment.

He has fun.  

In fact, on that day last week, he needed to find some supplies to get his guitar into shape so he could play at a party.  No.  Not to earn money, just to have fun.  Copious amounts of beer, wine, and hard liquor will be available there.  A fair number of the attendees at the party will leave inebriated.  He may be one of them.

As the man made his slow, painful way to the cash register, he waved a couple of twenties in the air.  Declaring that his mom had come through once again, he paid for his purchases with her hard-earned money and, struggling with the front door, departed to have fun at the party.

Fun?  Really?

We might have different understandings of the meaning of that word.  The old preacher liked to speak of joy, the joy that came from God Himself.  It is an appropriate beginning.  But, I think there is more.

Pieter_Bruegel_de_Oude_-_De_bruiloft_dans_(Firenze)Celebration, for instance.  At relevant occasions, celebration is the activity in which we should participate.  Births, life passages of import, successes in our endeavors, holidays—all these and more result in celebration, the culmination of hard work and partnerships. (Deuteronomy 12:7)

Indeed, we are told to enjoy the fruit of our labor.  Food and drink is ours to enjoy.  The wise person understands the limitations to such things, though.  Many years ago, one wise man suggested that we not become one of those folks who drinks too much wine, nor who is a glutton.  (Proverbs 23:20)

Mirth and laughter are also ours to delight in.  A merry heart is as good as medicine for our bodies.  Yes—words from that same wise man.  (Proverbs 17:22)

So, tell those jokes (the appropriate ones).  

Plan that birthday party.

Enjoy sitting at the table with family and friends.

Sing.  Dance.  Shout.

They all belong to us.  All of them.

There is just one little thing.  We earn them by our faithfulness to keep promises.  We earn our food with our labor.  Our marriages are kept strong as we work at them, loving our spouses and serving them.

The joy, celebration, food and drink, laughter, and music are the icing on the cake. They are the magnificent blessing of a loving Father who rejoices in our rejoicing.

My old friend?  He counts his celebrations by the memories of “being wasted” and his sexual conquests.  Someone else earned his ticket to those parties.  He can’t even pay for the party favors himself.

Jaded and burned out, he knows nothing else but fun. And, it’s not even fun anymore, just another dark place in which he looks as he searches for fulfillment.  In between the occasional rush of emotion, he lives in pain and unhappiness, always searching for more fun.

The old preacher wasn’t wrong.

I like his definition better.  

Every day, I like it better.





There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in the world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
(John Calvin ~ French Theologian ~ 1509-1564)



There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.
(Ecclesiastes 2:24 ~ ESV)




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

Physician, Heal Thyself

I sat at the dinner table earlier today and let my tongue explore the new sensation in my mouth.  A sharp edge that very definitely had not been there a few moments before caught the side of the exploring organ and let me know there was something very different. Painfully so.

I have broken the side off of one of my molars. 

It is not a happy discovery.  And, as my mind considers the possibilities—indeed, the probabilities—for the future, I sink rapidly in an almost depressed state.

At least, I would sink into that state if it were not for a thought that strikes me at about the same time as the inclination to be unhappy.  The thought actually makes me laugh now.

No, my tooth still hurts a bit.  My tongue is still rubbed raw where the jagged edge of the tooth abrades it at every opportunity.  

Yet, the thought remains.

A young man sat at that same table with me less than a week ago and had a similar experience. A crust of his pizza chipped a tooth in his mouth.  His reaction was much the same as mine, albeit a little more visible to the others in the room.

dentist-797305_1920Frightened at what the near future would hold, he shed a few tears and let out a few moans.  His mom attempted to allay his fears, but still, he wondered about what would happen.

Before my company left that evening, I wrapped my arms around the young man’s shoulder and encouraged him that most things we face are not nearly as bad as we imagine.  

God takes care of us.  In a week or two, you won’t even remember this happened.

Even as my memory of the event sharpens into focus, I find myself arguing.  I have other problems, too.  There are schedules to meet and expenses to pay.  Appointments must be kept. This is too much!

It’s too much.

I’m chuckling to myself as I write.  As if my problems are any worse than that young man’s.  What arrogance!

Do I believe my words to him or not?  

Does God take care of us or not?

The young man and I will both make trips to our dentist this week.  I firmly believe my words to him.  Still, I wonder why my first thought at the sign of a problem was to fret about it.  It’s not like this is my first time around this particular block.

And, as my mind calms regarding my dental problems, the eyes of my heart begin to see other things more clearly: Things which have taken over my thoughts and my life over the last few days and weeks.

They are disastrous problems, to my mind anyway.  I want nothing more than to turn back the clock and undo the process by which they appeared in my life.

Schemes and plans and worries consume me as I attempt to see a way through the troubles.

Somehow, I have to figure this out!  

I sit here thinking, and with my tongue I worry the sharp edge of my broken tooth absent-mindedly.  

Ow!  That’s painful!

And stupid.  

I don’t have to worry the tooth at all; it’s just a natural reaction to things not being as they should be in my mouth.

Do I need to write any more words here?  Even though I have a multitude of thoughts to share on this subject, I’m nearly certain I’ve said enough.

Nearly certain.

The Teacher asked,  “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27 ~ NASB)

Maybe it’s time for me to take my own advice to the youngster.  It was, after all, passed on to me many years ago by folks much wiser than I.

God takes care of us.  He’s got this.  And me.

He’ll do the same for you.  

In a week or two, we won’t even remember this happened.




Not half the storms that threatened me 
     E’er broke upon my head,
Not half the pains I’ve waited for 
     E’er racked me on my bed.
Not half the clouds that drifted by 
     Have overshadowed me
Nor half the dangers ever came 
     I fancied I could see.
(Anonymous~circa 1900)


Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
(John 14:27 ~ NASB)




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


Full of Days

I never thought I’d sing in front of anyone—ever again.

The fellow wandered into the music store today with a sheaf of papers in his hand—lyrics and chords for a strange conglomeration of songs.  In his Boston accent, a feature that certainly makes him stand out here in the foothills of the Arkansas Ozarks, the gray-haired man was telling me of his good fortune to be singing and playing his guitar for audiences again.

Four people last week.  Four!

He wasn’t complaining.  After a twenty-year hiatus from making music, he has heard the captivating song of the siren in his head and heart once again. His audience of four last week was the most warm and welcome environment he could imagine to ease his way back into the game.  He can’t wait for next week to do it again.

His words are ringing in my head still tonight.  You see, he’s not only taking up an old hobby he once practiced; he’s learning new things.  The sheaf of papers in his hand were songs he needs to learn—songs he has never sung before.  A few of them are oldies, but several are new—current hits playing on MP3 players and Spotify apps all over the country.

There are chords in some of the compositions he has never seen.  He brought them in to me for help in learning the chord forms.  We worked out a number of them and he caught on quickly.  He even played and sang one of the newer songs for me, including a couple of the chords we had just gone over in his rendition.

It’s how I keep the Alzheimer’s away.  If I’m learning, I’m not forgetting.

I’m not sure how scientific his reasoning is.  I do know we are told by the medical experts that keeping the mind active and working is a key to fending off the dread disease.  

guitar-806255_1280It seems the old adage idle hands are the devil’s workplace applies to the brain as well.  Who knew?

Moments after the budding club singer wandered out, another man pushed open the door.  This fellow is a full two decades older than the first. He wanted to pick up a guitar I repaired earlier this week.

I can’t play two chords on it, but I’m going to learn if I die trying!

I laughed at his words and suggested that it might not come to that, but the old guy wasn’t done.  

He wants me to find him a bugle.  A bugle!

When I asked him if he already played either the bugle or another brass instrument, he shook his head.

No, I never have.  But, my grandson does and he’s going to teach me!

Before I get carried away, I want to be sure and explain that this is not always the case.  I’m not going to dwell on the flip-side, but I’ve had a couple of them just recently who are prime examples.

The first one called me the other day to find an item just like one he used in the 1970s.  Just like.  No, he didn’t care that there were newer models which functioned much better.  It had to be just like the one he had in 1978.  He knows how to operate that one.

Then, just yesterday, I took a phone call from a fellow who simply wanted some specific information. I advised him of the location the information could be found on the Internet, but he cut me off shortly. No, he doesn’t use the Internet and would I find what he wanted there and print it out for him?  He would pay me for my time.

I can only shake my head.

Job died, being old and full of days. (Job 42:17)

I wonder.  What if that verse just said Job died, being old?

Well?  That’s what happens.  People get old and they die.  What else is there to say?

Somehow, I think the Author of the Book wanted it said like that.  

Just like that.

Job was full of days.  He didn’t fill his days; the days filled him.  

There was no marking time—no waiting for God—for this man.  He lived.  Until he died, he lived.  The time was spent wisely and in turn, his life was enriched.

What are you doing with your life?  What am I doing with mine?  Are the days filled with activity, spinning our wheels to get from one appointment to the next?  

Is that what we’re here to do?  Just fill our days up until we die?

Hardly.  The prophet tells us we’ll have dreams—dreams of things still to come—as old people.  That passage was quoted again by one of the Apostles in the time of the early Church.  It sure doesn’t seem like it describes folks sitting and rocking away their lives.

How about it?  Do you still have dreams for the future? God-given dreams?

I do too.

I’d like to die full of days.

Perhaps tomorrow will be one of those days.

I’ll try to use it wisely.



It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
(Joel 2:28 ~ NASB)


Well, I learned something new today; now I can go back to bed.
(W Paul Whitmore ~ American educator/businessman ~ 1921-2006)




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