Beautiful. Really?

I didn’t expect my feet to hurt quite so much.

When we awoke in the morning, the day stretched ahead with only the promise of leisure and enjoyment.  A relaxing weekend of driving through the countryside seeking old bridges had prepared us for nothing like the actual ordeal.

One of the bridges we sought, the Lovely Lady and I, had eluded us up till then.  It occurred to us that we might need to leave the comfort of the pickup truck to find this one.  We were up to the challenge.

I thought we were up to the challenge.

I never figured on wading across the river.  I never intended to take off my good shoes, much less my socks.

Still, once the decision was made, there was no question in my mind it could be done easily.  In hindsight, the arrogance of ignorance is laughable. 

Only, I wasn’t laughing.

It was done, but it was touch and go for a moment or two.

You never heard such moaning and complaining in your life.  The pain could still be felt more than twelve hours later.  Fifteen feet across the waterway on the jagged flint rocks was more than enough to leave bruises on the bottoms of my tender soles, the like of which I’ve never experienced.

I used to go barefoot everywhere I went.  Hot pavement, rock driveways, wild overgrown fields?  All could be run across with no effects to be felt at all.  I’ll grant you it was fifty years ago.  Still, in retrospect, I’m ashamed of my performance.

My feet let me down.  For those few moments, they were the most important thing in my life.  Nothing mattered more than getting to the dry strand on the opposite shore, where I could sit down and replace my socks and shoes.  Nothing.

Feet!  How is it that something so unattractive and so mundane could demand the attention of every other part of my being?  

For those seconds, I didn’t think about how hungry I was.  I stopped worrying about the horseflies that buzzed about, ready to sting.  The little seed ticks which would torment later were not even a blip on the radar screen.

My feet were in extreme pain!  They needed relief. Immediately.

The promotion from lowest on the priority list to extremely urgent came as quite a surprise.

I was still mulling that over later as, fully shod and with walking sticks in hand, we made our way down into the little hollow in which the lost bridge was to be found.2016-05-30 11.38.17

There was a day when the structure was the most important part of someone’s life.  The craftsmanship and unimaginable hours of toil necessary to build the little stone arch took all the attention of the men who built it, nearly one hundred and seventy years ago.

Every stone had to be cut by hand, chipped and formed by hammer and chisel, before being laid in place.  Each one rested, without mortar, between neighboring stones which eventually would reach up to form the arch that wagons would drive across, horses and mules would gallop over, and even in later years, automobiles would ease up and over to avoid the rushing water below.

At one time, the bridge was a necessity, as well as a thing of beauty.  Almost certainly, the folk who used it praised the forethought of those who had planned and carried out its construction.  That day is long past.

The celebrated structure is nothing more than a dim memory to most.  Not even that to many others.  The folks living on the farms around about are as likely as not to be unaware of its very existence.  I know, because I asked them.

There is no road that leads to it today.  No one maintains the integrity of the bridge at all and it is likely to collapse completely very soon.

Yet, it once stood as a proud testimony to craftsmanship and hard work.  No one who passed that way failed to recognize the importance of the little bridge to their freedom to travel east and west across the waterway with ease.

What once was essential is now irrelevant.

My aching feet, however, are a different story.

You know, I normally pay little attention to my feet.  But oh, how important those two ugly things at the ends of my legs seemed to me in the middle of that river.
                             

The Savior thought feet were important.  He spent some of His last moments on earth with his followers making sure their feet were clean. (John 13:1-17)

Taking on the role of a servant, He reminded them that even those seemingly unimportant things were of great import to Him.

He washed their dirty feet.  Their stinking, road-worn feet.

It should be so for us today, also.  Our Savior turned the world upside down.  He did it so we would turn the world upside down.

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16)

If we want to be great, we must learn to be servants. (Matthew 20:26-27)

Feet, for all their disadvantages and dishonor, perform an essential function.  We count on them to get us from Point A to Point B.  When they fail to answer the call to duty, we instantly understand their significance.

Did you know the prophet describes them as beautiful when they are carrying the Good News?  Somehow, I think I might have chosen a different description, but there it is—How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that bring good news.  (Isaiah 52:7)

Beautiful.  Feet.  Beautiful.

Bridges are nice.  They make life easier.

But, bridges crumble and decay.  People forget they ever existed.

Our service is a legacy that will last far beyond our years on this earth.

Perhaps, it’s time to take care of the things that really matter.

When we bend to serve, we lend aid to the King of all Creation.

Feet might be a good place to start.

He bent to serve us.

How can we do less?

 

 

 

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.
(Augustine of Hippo ~ Roman theologian ~ 354-430)

 

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?  And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
(Romans 10:14-15 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

What Comes Out

The painting is beautiful, isn’t it?

Whether you’re an art lover or not, the scene evokes emotions—sometimes peaceful, often of awe, and at times, even of wonder.

The artist, clearly a master at his craft, has captured the reflected light on the surface of the water, as well as the powerful motion of the breaking waves; in fact, every detail lends itself to an unassailable sense of the grandeur of the sea.

The beautiful oil painting resides in our den, near the fireplace.  Seldom do I enter the room without at least a glance of appreciation.  Often, I turn on the little track lights that wash it from above with an ambient light, magnifying the effect of the cloud-covered sun as it lowers to the far horizon.

Then, backing away from the wall upon which it hangs, I simply stand and take in the view, reveling in the glory that is creation and thanking the One who placed us here in His world.

Once in awhile, though—only once in awhile—as I stand there, I find myself considering the ugliness of the human heart while I also contemplate the amazing beauty which emanates from the same heart.

It seems a strange thing to do, does it not, to think about ugly things while looking at great beauty?

Perhaps, you’ll let me tell you a story.  No, it’s not the made up kind of story; it’s completely true, as far as I can tell.

I warn you though; it is not a happy tale.
                             

Our hero, or villain—whichever—enters the story in about 1918, toward the end of World War I.  The Count had made his way by rail from Des Moines, Iowa down to Kansas City, Missouri, but found himself short of funds to get home again.  Stranded and without cash, he worked his way north to the little town of Excelsior Springs, a locale that suited his personality and lifestyle just perfectly.

In his late twenties, he was a sophisticated and debonair artist, lately emigrated from Hungary, and the young ladies in this tourist town of healing springs nearly fell at his feet.

Their fathers?  Not so much.

The artist boasted of his expertise and training at the finest art schools in Paris and Italy, and the little projects he turned out for the locals gave testimony of considerable talent.

When it became clear the teenage daughter of the local banker had been seeing entirely too much of the arrogant young dandy, her wealthy father fabricated a plan.  Knowing that the Count desired to go home, he made a deal with him.

The bank would pay him twelve-hundred dollars to paint two large murals in their building downtown.  In return, he promised to leave town and go home.  The artist honored his word, finishing the stunning murals and boarding the next train north, leaving a tearful banker’s daughter behind, along with a number of other disappointed young ladies.

For twenty years, the Count lived in different places, always wandering, always leaving behind his conquests, the young ladies, whom he had wooed and won with his foreign accent and his cocky self-confidence.

He kept finding his way back to his home in Iowa with money earned from paintings he was able to sell to well-to-do folks along the way.  He never stuck to any position, and never showed the slightest remorse about the lives he left ruined behind him.

Do you get the idea that this man was not a model of moral purity and goodness?

It got worse.

In the late 1930s he finally found one young lady, half his age, with whom he decided he could tie the knot.  Her parents, disliking him intensely, demanded that she break off the relationship.  Instead, she and the Count eloped and escaped south to Texas.

Four years later, she was dead.  She could stand neither her marriage to him, nor her life, so she ended both by hanging herself.

The police report said that she was still alive when her husband found her, but he didn’t take her down, instead going to the neighbors to ask for help.  When they got there, the only thing they could do was to assist in taking down her lifeless body.

Her family came and took the body back to Iowa, refusing to allow the Count to attend her funeral (he had no money with which to travel anyway).

Only months had passed when the Count, traveling under an assumed name, made his way in the twilight of evening to the cemetery where his wife was buried.  Standing over her grave, he took a bottle from his pocket and putting it to his mouth, swallowed the entire contents.

His dead body was draped over her grave when they found him in the morning.  Carbolic acid does its grisly work efficiently.

They buried him in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
                             

There are some who would call this a romantic tale.  Today, they might even make a movie about his life.  But, from this distant perspective, one can only assume he was riddled with the guilt of his past and couldn’t face the darkness of continuing life like that.

Romantic?  Hardly.

So, I stand sometimes and gaze at the amazing painting on my wall, completed by the Count himself in 1926, and I consider the dichotomy.

Evil lives in the heart of man.

Great beauty dwells there also.

Both make their way out, without fail, into the light of day. (Luke 6:45)

I’m reminded of the old story, oft repeated, about an old Native American man who was talking to the young braves of his tribe, encouraging them to exercise self-discipline in their own lives.

He told about two dogs that were always fighting inside of him, one evil and one good.  One of the young men asked the question that was on each brave’s mind:

“Which one will win, old man?”

The wise old man sat silent for a moment before answering, as if recalling a lifetime of the inner battle.  When he spoke, it was almost as if he spoke to himself.

“The one I feed; that one will win.”

There is more to be said—much more.

Words about grace, and new life, and beauty from ashes.  I could write for hours and not even begin to deplete the store of wisdom.

I’ll pass.

You certainly don’t need another sermon from the likes of me.

The two dogs live inside of me, too.

 

A religious life is a struggle, and not a hymn.
(Madame De Stael ~ French author ~ 1766-1817)

Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires.
(Romans 6:12 ~ NET)

 

 

 

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

New Patches

It’s not something I see every day.  Perhaps, if I had lived a century ago it wouldn’t have seemed so unusual.

The Lovely Lady and I were headed to visit one of our favorite shops in a neighboring town when we saw the long, black slabs of treated wood lying along the railroad tracks.  It’s odd, but most of us don’t give a second thought to trains and the metal rails they travel on these days.

As we drove along the road running parallel to the tracks, we began to see yellow vehicles ahead of us.  For a moment, it appeared to be a group of school buses, but, drawing nearer, we realized the machinery was riding on the rails. 

There were four or five long pieces of equipment, each one with the same large steel wheels running along the tracks in much the same manner as a train.  These vehicles had a different purpose than carrying freight, though.

The huge creosote cross ties—the ones we had seen for several miles before—were lying under the boom arm of one of the machines.  Another one, running ahead of the boom-armed contraption, had a pneumatic device that hammered out the old, worn-out ties.  Then the new tie was maneuvered under the rails by the boom arm.  After it was set into place, another machine hammered home the spikes that held the rail to the tie underneath it.

railroadcrewThat’s not the way it used to be done.  It used to take an army of men, with crowbars, saws, and sledgehammers to do the job of these three or four machines.  Everyone had an assignment and it took all that manpower to do the job, too.

Backbreaking labor was what it was.  The rails weighed tons, the ties somewhat less.  Still, they were heavy and hard to manage.  There were always lots of dusty, scuffed pairs of boots on the ground when the railroad was undergoing maintenance.

On that recent day, as I marveled at the technology, I realized that I was seeing not one set of boots on the ground.  Each machine was operated by a single person who, undoubtedly, simply babysat the process.  The functions themselves are programmed, measured, and completed by computers and motor-driven mechanisms.

The thought hit me.  The relatively ancient technology of the railroad is being repaired and maintained by cutting edge technology.

What a dichotomy!  The old rails are relatively unchanged since the nineteenth century.  The huge steel bars are still attached to the cross-ties underneath them to maintain the correct spacing for the wheels of the heavy cars in much the same way as they have always been.

The first trans-continental railroad was completed just a few years after the first commissioner of the United States Patent Office suggested (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that we might be coming to the end of the need for new patents.  It was the mid-nineteenth century.

The technology in use is over one hundred and fifty years old!  Yet, the technology which maintains that ancient system utilizes the newest advances in human knowledge and ability.

I laughed as I considered the foolishness.

Incrementalism.

We hate change—real change, that is.  We are happy to accept changes in the way we prop up our old ways, but refuse to tolerate even the slightest suggestion of a complete reversal in direction.

The Teacher addressed our problem with incrementalism in His time on earth.

I suggested recently that He came as a disruptor.  

He came, not to change the way the game was played, but to change the game itself.

He came, not to change the way the game was played, but to change the game itself. Click To Tweet

Somehow, I think many of us would view Him in the same way as the religious folk of that day, should He come and walk among us again in our generation.  We would be just as angry at this rebel as they were.  

We might even demand His death.  Again.

You don’t sew patches of new cloth into an old coat and expect to continue wearing the old coat for many more years. (Matthew 9:15-17)

I count myself in the company of Pharisees.  Honesty leaves me no choice but to admit it.  There is certainly ample proof.

Even tonight, as that scripture was brought to mind, I considered it in the same light in which I have considered it for all of my nearly sixty years.

You don’t sew new patches into old cloth, you close up the holes with old cloth.

That is how my mind thinks.  I believe, truth be told, it is how we as humans generally think.  The problem is, it’s not what He meant at all.

It’s not what He meant.  

The epiphany is staggering for me.  Absolutely staggering.

rags-245431_640What am I doing wearing old clothes when the King has made me His son?  Why in the world would I even consider what to patch the fabric with?

Old clothes?  I’ve got the newest and best threads that are to be found—anywhere!

He makes us new!  

How in the world would He leave us doing the same old trash we did before?

How is the same filth going to come from our mouths still?

How could our relationships continue on as they were?

Change is never easy.  It isn’t comfortable.

He never said it would be.

He did promise to be with us every step of the way.  (Matthew 28:20)

Everything changes.  

New technology doesn’t need to be developed to prop up old norms.  We don’t need to come up with new ways to breathe life into old worn-out methods.

He does the breathing of new life.  He always has.

Cutting edge.  (Hebrews 4:12)  

It’s all there is.

Word.

His.

 

 

Did I ever tell you the story of the man who cut off his little dog’s tail a little bit at a time?  He didn’t want it to hurt so much.
(W Paul Whitmore ~ American storyteller/sage ~ 1921-2006)

 

The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.
(Henry Ellsworth ~ 1st Commissioner/U.S. Patent Office ~ 1791-1858)

 

 

 

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

Haven

The other side of the storm.

I stepped out the back door a few moments ago and felt as if I had wandered into a different world.  When I had come home a couple of hours before, the trees stood quietly, blissfully content that their only activity was the gentle casting of long shadows in the evening sunlight.

Not so on my later visit.  The sun had tumbled from the sky, the abdication of its position giving leave to black clouds and high winds in their takeover of the landscape.

And take over, they had.

The formerly passive trees could only be described as boisterous, their limbs twisting and waving in the gale.  The wind churned and reeled, first from one direction, and then from the other.  I glanced at the lighted sign near the road waving dangerously back and forth, the wildly undulating shadows thrown by its powerful bulbs looking nothing like the shadows I had admired earlier under the trees.

I stood, frozen.  Seriously.  Frozen.

I had sensed nothing of the power of the storm front from my cozy seat in the house.  I never intended to step into the middle of a tempest.  Inside, the sound of the wind was minimal, its power unnoticeable.

Here, in the center of the maelstrom, I feared—however briefly—for my safety.  My heart pounded.  My skin crawled with the realization of how small and powerless I was, confronted by the strength of creation’s fury. 

I said I was frozen.  It was only for a moment, perhaps all of ten seconds.

Then, I remembered.

There was a door right behind me—not locked.  I had only to turn the knob and step into safety.

In an instant, the sound of the wind was muted, the wonder at its fury a memory.

Hidden from the storm, the brick house seemed a fortress, a haven where I could relax.

The storm raged for a few moments more, having nothing but threats to make tonight.  

The little tree frogs knew it even before the wind began to calm, their croakyfrog-961387_640 little voices blending in a hymn to the Creator who brings both sunshine and storm, sustaining all of His creatures.

I didn’t sing.  I’m still not singing.

I sit in my comfortable chair and all I can think about is the reality that more storms are on their way.

On the other side of the storm, my memory of safety and protection intact, I am already worrying about the next one, and the one after that.  For, surely they will come again—and again—and yet again.

andreas-achenbach-85762_640The other side of the storm is still a place where more storms will come.

The Teacher’s followers sat in that boat after He had calmed the storm on the lake and they knew, they just knew, more storms were yet to break upon their bow. 

Death would soon take their Master.  It would eventually take all of them, and in between His death and theirs, chaos would reign in the world.

And yet, they put their trust in Him.  

Their Haven from the storms, they would rest in Him.  They would trust Him while the storm yet raged, as well as when calm overtook them.  

Oh, there were a few moments when panic seized their spirits.  They ran and hid, but they knew where safety lay.  Never did they stray far.

Still, I’m waiting for that next storm.

It’s calm here now.  Outside.  

Not so much, in my soul.

We live our lives on the other side of the storm.  Few are those who can claim a life free of conflict and trouble.  For most, the respite between the storms is temporary and brief.

I wonder.  Am I looking at the wrong thing?

I think about the stubborn disciple, the one also called The Rock.  We tend to ridicule him for his experience in walking on the water.  We might even suggest that he should have stayed in the boat.  (Matthew 14:22-33)

The rational men did just that.  They stayed in the boat.  They didn’t get their names recorded as doubters who took their eyes off their Master.  Sensible men, they weren’t making any rash moves.

It didn’t make sense to get out of the boat.  At least not from their perspective.  I can almost see the others, grabbing at the impetuous one’s sleeves.

No, Peter!  Stay here.  It’s certain death out there!  You’ll drown!

Oh, the silliness of our disbelief.  We call safe places dangerous, and dangerous places safe.

In our disbelief, we call safe places dangerous, and dangerous places safe. Click To Tweet

Safety lies in the arms of the Master.  The Creator-of-all-that-is comes walking on His water and all other places except at His side teem with peril.  

A little wooden boat on the sea—safe?  What a joke!

Peter took his eyes off the Master and contemplated the storm.  He saw the wind whipping the waves up around him and he realized how dangerous his world was at that instant.

If only he had recognized who held his world in the palm of His hand.  Ah, but he did soon enough.  Safety was his in the arms of his Master.

I say it again:  I wonder if I’m looking at the wrong thing

Why does the fury of the tempest fill my sight when the One who rules all storms is right there, in plain view?

I hear the thunder in the distance and lightning is flashing in my window.  The storm approaches again.

He doesn’t only rule the weather, my friends.  

In the shadow of His protection, we may safely shelter through every storm of life.

The door is still unlocked.

Time for rest.

We’ll be on the other side of this storm soon enough.

Peace.  Be still.

Perhaps, there may even be a song, a hymn of gratitude.

The frogs aren’t the only creatures that can sing.

 

 

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
    let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread your protection over them,
    that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
(Psalm 5:11 ~ NLT)

 

Living is strife and torment, disappointment and love and sacrifice, golden sunsets and black storms. I said that some time ago, and today I do not think I would add one word.
(Sir Laurence Olivier ~ English actor ~ 1907-1989)

 

 

 

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

Disruption

She’s no better than she ought to be.

The proper English lady sniffed pompously as she said the words.  Quite obviously, she considered the woman about whom she was speaking beneath herself.  I don’t have many British friends, so I’ve never heard the phrase used in conversation.

I am happy to say the BBC comedy program the Lovely Lady and I were watching has provided the impetus for many trips to the dictionary of origins for me. 

I suppose I may be a little odd (perhaps, more than a little).

I have always loved words.  Big words.  Little words.  Obscure words.  I want to know where our language came from.  If it comes to that, I want to know where it is going.  Still, I didn’t have to do much research to figure this one out.

The female person about whom the words were spoken was quite clearly poor and uneducated.  Her morality was also suspect.  Somehow, for quite a few people, the two states are inseparable.

They believe poor and uneducated leads to immoral, every time.

Apparently, if you get a bad start, you aren’t expected to rise any higher in the years which follow.

If you are born disadvantaged, you’ll never be any better than you ought to be.

And, that might be a true statement.

Except. . .

Did you know that every one of us was born disadvantaged?  

Did you know that not one of us has the ability to become good?  

We can never be any better than we ought to be.  None of us.

All of us have sinned.  All of us fall short.  It is the norm—the common condition of man.  (Romans 3:23)

Except. . .

Except, the Disruptor came along.  He made us better than we ought to be.

You know what a disruptor is, don’t you?  In the jargon of today’s marketplace, a disruptor is someone or something which has the ability to change forever the item or entity with which it intersects.

It’s not that things are done in a different way; things actually are different.

For all of history before the Disruptor’s coming, our Creator, knowing that we were disadvantaged, and understanding where we came from (He fashioned us, after all), overlooked our sin.

Oh, it had to be covered; that’s what the sacrifices were for—a covering for sin—but God, understanding we were made from dirt and would always act like dirt, loved us anyway. (Psalm 103:8-14)

He loved us anyway.

And, in His time—at the perfect juncture in history—He sent the Disruptor.  Because He loves us, things would be different forever.

We will be better than we ought to be.

Will be!

No more will we be able to point to our heritage and suggest that we are just as good as they were.  Never again will we know the limitation of being only as good as our past allows.

He makes all things new!  Disruption means that nothing will ever be the same again.

We have been re-created.  And, not out of dirt!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The very thought of it makes me sit up straighter.  This new reality changes everything.  I don’t have to go through life trapped in the same state as when I was born.

But still, the lie intrudes. 

You’ll never be any better.  Never.

Somehow, even in the truth of newness, and in the reality of not-dirt, we begin to believe the lie that we are worthless.  And, being human, we find ways to build our own worth.

Bolstering our own worth always involves diminishing the worth of others.  Always.

She’s no better than she ought to be.pebbles-1209189_640

Still, we say the words.  The lie prevails.  Pride rules in our hearts.  And, as we take aim at others, we hurt ourselves.

He changes the rules.  It’s what He came for.

Go ahead then; stone her.  But the first stone must be thrown by one who has never sinned.  (John 8:7)

Do you think He came to leave us in the same condition in which He found us?  Without question, the most disruptive person in all of history is the Son of God.

He calls us to follow Him in his disruptive ways.  

He calls us to love each other anyway.

We are the hands and feet—and heart— of the Disruptor here on earth.

Where we walk and serve, nothing should ever be the same again.

Perhaps, it’s time for us to get started.

 

 

 

Dust are our frames, and, gilded dust our pride.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson ~ English poet ~ 1809-1892)

 

The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die
The wind blows, and we are gone—

    as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever

    with those who fear him.
(Psalm 103:13-17 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

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

I Know a Man

Boredom comes quickly to a twelve-year-old boy.  A week’s stay with relatives in the rural Illinois countryside seemed to have all the prerequisites.

At that age, summer is supposed to be about fishing, summer camp, and bicycle rides.  Up till then, the trip north to visit unfamiliar kin had offered none of them.  There had been that episode with the tractor on the farm in Kansas, but otherwise, there didn’t seem to be much promise of anything more stimulating than conversations around the dinner table for the next several days.

But, in a moment, all of that appeared as if it were going to change.  The boy’s older brother burst through the door exclaiming about the mini-bike in the barn.

“They said we could ride it as long as the gasoline lasts!”

Up and down the long gravel driveway to the county road they roared, one after another.  Taking turns wouldn’t be all that bad, the boy reasoned, as long as he knew another turn would come.

It didn’t.  Come, that is.

Before the lad had even gotten a second ride, the little Briggs and Stratton motor sputtered and the vehicle lurched forward another yard or two as it died under his brother.  Muttering and kicking the rocks beneath his feet, the frustrated kid wandered out to help push it back along the lengthy lane.  Profound disappointment was virtually painted on his face, and his slumped shoulders didn’t brighten the picture one bit.

They walked the little two-wheeler back to the barn, leaving it where they had found it.  A couple of gas cans were lying nearby, but shaking them yielded nothing at all.  They were out of gas.

Boredom seemed inevitable once more.  Oh well, perhaps there was a book or two to read somewhere.

Suddenly, a thought came to the youngster.  Quietly, without telling anyone else, he found the old uncle (probably all of forty-five years of age) sitting by himself in the living room.

Explaining his problem, the boy wondered aloud if more gasoline could be found anywhere on the property.  The old man smiled and got up from his seat, motioning the boy to follow him.  They stopped at the barn and his uncle told him to roll the inoperable machine outside.

Not far away, there was a rust-covered steel tank lying on its side atop a platform five or six feet in the air.  Funny—he hadn’t noticed that tank there before.

“There’s gas in here.  You’ll have plenty for anything you want to do with that tiny thing.”  His uncle jerked his chin toward the little two-wheeler as he said the words.

Taking down a black rubber hose with a metal nozzle on the end of it—much like what you would see at the pump at a gas station—the old fellow inserted the end into the tank of the mini-bike.

Nothing happened.  No gas came out.

The boy was about to turn the handlebars and push the useless thing back to the barn when his uncle stopped him.  Climbing up to the platform nimbly, especially so, given his advanced age, he lifted up the back end of the tank and indicated that the boy should squeeze the lever on the nozzle again.

Within moments, the tank was filled with gas.  The mini-bike roared to life with just one pull of the starting rope and he was off!

Goodbye boredom!

The little machine hardly stood still during daylight hours for the rest of the week.  Every time it needed to be refueled, the boy (or one of his brothers) clambered up to the platform and tipped the tank up.

They never ran out of gas.  Never.

For the rest of the week, the boy didn’t worry about whether there would be enough fuel.  He didn’t even look once inside the big tank to reassure himself of the supply.

His uncle knew how much there was and had promised it would be enough.

All the boy had to do was park the little motorbike down below and tip the back edge of the tank up.  It wasn’t a question of understanding how many gallons the tank held originally and how many had been used.  He certainly didn’t care about how much the gas cost when it was delivered.

Those might have been real and valid questions, but they were none of his affair.

He knew a man—a man who took care of all those things—a man who showed him how to get what he needed and promised it would be enough.

He knew a man.
                              

Do you ever wonder if you have enough faith for the difficulties of life?

I’m not talking about having faith when you’re with friends.  

I don’t want to know if you have enough faith when you sit in church beside your family.  

I’m not even wondering about when you give thanks sitting around the dinner table, hands held tightly with the folks next to you.

In the loneliest, darkest night, when it seems as if dawn is never going to break on the eastern horizon ever again, do you wonder if your faith is strong enough to see you through to daylight?

What about when wrapped in the strangling grip of pain?  Or, gripped by the overwhelming tsunami of terror?  Or, drowning in the depths of an ocean of sorrow and loss?

Is our faith strong enough?  

I wonder.  Perhaps, that’s not the right question.

Is our faith strong enough? Perhaps, that's not the right question. Click To Tweet

fountain-788430_640I think faith might just be going to the well and throwing in the bucket.

Is there water down there?  Will the rope break?  Will my bucket leak?  Will the water really quench my thirst?

If you know the One who maintains the well, you don’t even ask the questions.

Faith doesn’t require any more than one thing.

You just drop the bucket down again and again.  Water comes up every time.  (John 4:13-14)

Every time.

I know a Man.

The boy kept riding his whole vacation.  On faith.  You might argue that it was gasoline that powered the little mini-bike.

I’m pretty sure it was faith.

I was there, after all.

Drop the bucket in again.

You know the Man, too.

 

 

 

Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.
(Madeleine L’Engle ~ American author ~ 1918-2007)

 

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.
(Deuteronomy 31:8 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

Good Faith

The little truck looked as if a strong crosswind would blow it onto its side, leaving the wheels spinning slowly to a stop in the air.  The piece of furniture strapped into the bed of the vehicle almost gave the impression it was brushing the utility wires overhead as the huge affair rolled into the parking lot.

My heart sank.  Never had I seen such an item before, but I knew immediately what it was intended to be.  I had heard the project was in the planning, but didn’t really think it would ever become a reality.  Now, I wished it had stayed in the planning stages.

Seven feet tall and six wide, the rolling case was.  It was a storage rack, built for a specific use.

For half an hour, we talked.  I like the man who drove the truck.  He knew, just knew, I needed the huge thing.  He had seen the state of my repair area and believed his was the ideal solution.  A fair amount of money had gone into the project, and more than a few hours of his labor.

His gamble wouldn’t pay off on this day.

It’s too big.  I can’t put it in my store.  For that matter, it doesn’t fit my vision of what I’d want for the task anyway.

The little truck, front tires nearly lifting off the pavement from the weight in the bed, made its precarious way back onto the street and headed back in the direction from which it had come.  Before it departed though, a few unhappy words had been muttered behind the hands of the fellows who had accompanied the contraption with the intent to help unload it.

They didn’t wish to move it again.

I don’t blame them.  I wouldn’t have wanted to move it the first time!

The unhappy words hadn’t been said to me.  Still, they had been directed at me.  Somehow, it was my fault that the towering storage rack wasn’t finding a home in my little store.

I never promised to buy such a thing.  There was no commission for it to be built.

I stood behind the counter in my store and shook my head.  When I came home to dinner a couple hours later, the unhappy feelings lingered.

Why did they blame me?

Would it be sacrilegious for me to suggest that I understand how God feels?

I’m not saying I’m God.  I’m saying I’ve done just that thing to Him before.  Maybe you have too.  At the least, we’ve all seen it done.

bible-1136784_640But Lord, didn’t we do good things for you?  Didn’t we have huge fundraisers for folks worthy of our help?  Didn’t we speak of you with beautiful words?  

I wonder if the King of Creation doesn’t just look up from His work and say, “Nope.  I didn’t order it and I won’t pay for it.  Take it away.”  (Matthew 7:23)

Well now.  That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

And yet, when we presume to know what our commission is without consulting the Commissioner, we will work in vain.  We simply toil for ourselves, wasting our labor.

And what of those who come along for the ride?  They come in what we call good faith.  But, is it really?

The old pastor who married the Lovely Lady and me described such a situation once, many years ago.  It seems a traveling evangelist from a different state had stopped in to see him one day as the elderly saint sat at his desk reading his tattered, marked-up Bible.

“God has told me that I’m to conduct revival services here in this church,” the hapless young evangelist informed the wise old man.

The gray-headed pastor sat, fingers of his hands laced together on the desk before him.  He smiled.  It was a kindly smile, not the wicked smart-aleck grin of malice some would wear in such a circumstance.  Leaning forward, he quietly gave his answer.

“I’m glad you told me.  When I hear the same message from Him, I’ll get in contact with you and we’ll proceed with the meetings.”

Unfortunately, the young man never conducted any services in that church.

If someone makes a promise to you on behalf of God, check with the real Source first, before taking action.  Many who haven’t have paid the price.

Some have paid with their lives, as in the case of the People’s Temple and the Jonestown Massacre in 1978.  Blindly following their false prophet, hundreds drank poison and died.  They acted in good faith.

Heaven wasn’t awaiting.

God hadn’t invited them to be a part of that cult.  He certainly didn’t place the order for their suicides.

Almost just as bad is when we blindly follow empty teaching, the result being a lifetime of service to good feelings, but empty deeds.  The end of such a life is what the Preacher called vanity.   Nothing more.  Nothing less. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3)

Vanity.

Useless and empty.

I wonder if the folks who drove away from my music store in that little pickup felt like that?  Useless and empty?

The disappointment was almost palpable.

That old pastor had a saying:  When God orders it, he writes the check out and pays for it in full.

I think I want to be sure the order has been placed.  I need to see it with my own eyes.  It has to come right from the source.

Payment is guaranteed.  In writing, it’s guaranteed. (Matthew 25:21)

Now—that’s good faith.

 

 

True faith means holding nothing back. It means putting every hope in God’s fidelity to His Promises.
(Frances Chan ~ American pastor/author)

 

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
(Matthew 7:21-23 ~ NET)

 

 

 

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

The Weapon

The prince of this world is not a liberal or a conservative.
He is both. And neither.
He is nothing.  Nothing.

His power is now only in his voice—his charisma. He is smooth and attractive.
His logic is brilliant.  He plays all sides of the convocation.
He attracts. He distracts. He detracts.

And in the end, he simply attacks.

All roads lead to his hell. All of them.
No.  Not all.  There is one that leads elsewhere.
Only one.

The way was opened by God Himself, who is not a liberal or a conservative.
He is both. And neither.
And that’s where the similarity stops.

He is All and in all. His power is not in a voice nor in logic, but in Love.
Love—that most illogical, and logical, reality.

For love should never have led to a terrible cross on a lonely hillside.
And, love could never have led anywhere else.

The prince is indeed, nothing.  He is beaten already.
Yet, defeated, still he marshals his forces against each other.
And many, who today do his bidding, claim allegiance to Another.

When do we, who have chosen the solitary way, recall the only weapon which will ever vanquish the prince?
Indeed, it is the only weapon which has ever yet defeated him.

They’ll know we are His by our love.
Not our brilliance. Not our voting power. Not the fierceness of our defense for all good things.
In the end, there is nothing else, save Love.

Love.

Perhaps the end is already upon us.
Is it time to show our weapon yet?

Is it time yet?

people-1149873_640

 

 

 

You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.
(from The Great Divorce ~ C.S.Lewis ~ 1898-1963)

 

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood…
(Ephesians 6:12 ~ KJV)

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
(John 13:35 ~ NLT)

 

 

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

World Without End

The waves crash without any sign they will ever let up.  Again and again, they pound the brown sand on the beach.

Will they never stop?

I couldn’t count the times I’ve visited the beach.  The draw for some is irresistible.  Not so for me.

I suppose my first encounter with the Atlantic Ocean at the tender age of three may have had some effect, however subconsciously.  Soon after my father was stationed in Florida with the Navy, the whole family went down to the sands to bask in the sun.  I don’t remember it well, but the pictures still lurk on the edges of my memories.

The ocean stole my beach ball.

What use it could have had for it, I don’t know.  Still, there it is;  tossed and swirled by the receding waters, the beach ball—the first one I had ever seen, much less played with—was gone beyond reach.

Other disasters have awaited—severe sunburns, cuts from broken glass, a terrifying experience in a riptide—these and other accumulated memories have led to my disregard for the beach.

Those memories came back with a rush this evening while I was with my grandchildren.  We tagged along with them to watch a soccer game in which their brother was playing, but a couple of them wandered off, bored with the action on the field. 

I found the two children playing in the sandbox a little later.  The sand was all over them.  Hands, arms, legs, clothes—I think it was in their hair too.

When it was time to go, I suggested that they should make sure they got all the sand off they could so they wouldn’t get my truck too dirty.

As I turned away, I muttered under my breath, “We wouldn’t want to take the whole beach home, would we?”

With those chance words, I was sitting on the damp sands of South Padre Island again, a place I’d sat for many hours growing up.

Did you know when you swim in the ocean, or gulf in this case, that there is never any relief from the waves that smack against you?

wavesmorewavesNever.

You wade in and then, as the depth drops down far enough, you swim for awhile.  It’s never deep enough that you can’t stand up if you want.  Which is a comforting thought—until you spend a little time in the surf.

Again and again, the waves slap against your belly, or chest, or shoulders, knocking you down into the water.  If you stand up, it happens again.  If you work at it, you can almost dodge the waves by jumping over them.  After awhile, you might even be able to play a game of frisbee or toss around a kickball.  

But, from time to time the big waves come in, and there’s nothing you can do.  Every time you stand up, you get knocked down.

I don’t swim at the beach anymore.  I get my feet wet and wade at the water’s edge.  Sometimes, I just walk along the wet sand, dodging the incoming wash that is losing momentum before returning to the deep.  Then I sit on the sand well beyond the reach of the water until I can stand it no more.

Some folks find the beach restful.  I just find myself wishing someone, somewhere, would find the off switch for the incessant waves and let me have some peace and rest. 

It has never happened.  I think they may keep coming, world without end.  Time will tell.

We fall down.  We get up.

I understand the importance of perseverance.  Really, I do.  

The thing is, life is so much like being at the beach, I probably don’t even need to point it out.  The parallels are obvious—to me, anyway.  Yet, the beach remains one of the most popular vacation destinations there is.  Where is the logic in that?

We fall down.  We get up.

Do you know, if you go further out from the shore, you’ll reach a point at which the waves no longer break?  It’s true.  The water just rises and falls gently, one lazy slope after another for you to float upon.  Smoothly, up one side and down the other, you can just drift easily.  

No stress.  No effort.

Go out past the waves!  How simple is that?  Why don’t we all do it?

Imagine.  No waves smacking at your chest to knock you over.  No powerful, curling breakers smashing down on your head from up above.

Oh.  I forgot to mention one thing:  

You can’t touch the bottom there.

There are no breakers because there is no tension between water current and land mass.  The lack of friction allows the currents to move the water smoothly.  It seems the perfect place to be until you tire of floating and need to really relax.  Suddenly, it’s not all that great a place to be.

You can’t stand up.

Yeah, you can’t get knocked down.  But, you can’t stand up.  

Am I the only one who feels like life keeps knocking me down?  

Am I the only one who is tired of it?

I’m ready to go out beyond the breakers and rest.  Just drift along.

The Lifeguard tells me I can’t do that.  He also assures me of the safety of remaining under His care.

I get annoyed more than I want to admit.  I hate the constant battering.  I want it to stop.

I want an easy life.  All around, I see folks who don’t struggle as I do.  They have everything they want.  All they do is float along on the current, never struggling, never being knocked down.

They float along on the current.  Maybe that’s not such a good thing.

I realize I need something solid under my feet. That way I can’t be blown along with the crowd to places I don’t need to be (Ephesians 4:14)  

What good is it to drown in a crowd?  You still drown.

The waves keep coming.  Jesus said they would.  He also said we need not worry about it.  He has overcome them.  We can too.  (John 16:33)

Let the waves roll.

We are waiting for answers, but we’re not discouraged.

They knock us down.

And yet . .  And yet, we are not defeated.  (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Still standing.

Again.

 

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21 ~ KJV)

 

The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.
Seneca the Younger ~ Roman philosopher ~ 4 BC-65 AD)

 

 

 

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

Telling Stories

The storyteller sits, spinning his yarns into fabric.

That’s what they call it, isn’t it?  A fabrication?

I listen anyway.  Still, as the story goes on, I begin to see the ravelings poking through here and there.  His tale may have started with a few facts, but somehow it doesn’t all fit in a continuous pattern.

I want to reach for the edge of his fabric and pull at one of those loose ends.  I just know that, like the cartoon character with a loose thread on his sweater which gets caught in a passing car, the story will unravel and the naked truth will come out.

I have done that more than once before.  I’m learning (finally) to leave the loose threads alone and let the story spin out.

Some things are more important than being right.

Do you know how hard that is for me to say?

I grew up in a home where being right was paramount.  Lies were set straight and wrong attitudes corrected immediately.

It’s what you do for your children.  We call it teaching, and it is the responsibility of every parent.

But, the faults of others who were not part of our family were also pointed out to us constantly.  My parents didn’t want to miss the opportunity to help us make good decisions.

Examples are helpful when teaching children, so folks we knew became our cautionary examples, their faults often looming larger than life in our little eyes.  Their good traits could never balance their bad ones.

Black.  White.

Heads.  Tails.

What should have been lessons meant to help us examine our own steps and language became cause for comparison.

Comparisons stink.

I’m not the first to say it.  I won’t be the last.  The real problem lies in the fact that I kind of like the odor.

Comparisons where I come out ahead make me feel good about myself—for awhile.  I begin to believe that God, perhaps, loves me better.  I’m one of His favorite sons because of my concern with doing things right and in order.

Surely, it’s true.

It is not.

Grace pays no attention to the design of the filthy rags it washes. It takes no notice of the tag ends hanging from the corners.

The storyteller with his lying ways is no worse—nor better—off than the listener who sits nearby and tends the kernel of pride in his soul, growing quickly into a full-grown bush of snobbery.

I know how hard the fall is when pride takes its inevitable tumble, and it is inevitable.

Sinners sin.  We sin, not all in the same way, but we sin.

It has taken many years for me to understand that grace, for all its astounding power, doesn’t remove sin, but the penalty for sinning.  Justification is the work of grace.  

We who have been justified—through grace—are called to be sanctified.  All that means is we are called to become holy, or set apart, as He is.

old-friends-555527_640We have to take a walk.  It’s something we do with others.  Not surprisingly, we don’t all start the walk with the same baggage.

There are folks with sexual sins, addicts, liars, thieves, gluttons, drunks—the list is not short.  He doesn’t require that we clean up before we become part of His family.  What happens after that though, is different.  (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

This walking we do is a progressive thing.  The people we walk with may not be at the same place in the process as we are.

May not isn’t the right way to put it.  They will not be at the same place.

We walk with them anyway.  There’s a reason for that:

We still need each other.  Travelers on their own rarely reach their destinations without meeting calamities along the road.  It is our lot in life to depend on help through the tough places.

I have refused—refused—to lend aid to folks in the past.  Somehow I thought I might get dirty in the process.  I could have nothing to do with people who sinned in that way.

Do you hear what I’m saying?

I’m not alone, am I?  We are a prideful and hypocritical lot, aren’t we?

We who have been forgiven freely, refuse to believe that God could forgive that.

That!  How could He?  How would He?

He could.  He has.

Those stinking comparisons.  Still, their stench fills the air around me, like the grotesque odor of bone burning under the dentist’s drill.

But, a lifetime of making comparisons has paralyzed me.  I want to walk with others, but my paralysis stops me.

And then, I remember the Great Physician, to whom the man, bed-ridden with paralysis, was brought on that day a couple thousand years ago.  The Healer said only two things to him.  It’s all that was necessary. (Mark 2:1-12)

Your sins are forgiven.

Get out of that bed and walk.

Even today, the paralysis of a lifetime of thought patterns is banished with those words!

Freedom!  At last.

At last.

I’m walking.

There’s still room on the road beside me.

May it never be otherwise.

 

 

A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city,
And contentions are like the bars of a castle.
(Proverbs 18:19 ~ NKJV)

 

Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.
(John Lydgate ~ English monk/poet ~ 1370-1451)

 

 

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