Good for the Soul

I wrote about this the other night.  Really, I did.  

Paragraph after paragraph to explain how I’m still a man of my word, in spite of my circumstances.  I even included scripture verses to encourage the reader to do the same.  

It was good.  Do you remember?

What! You never read that article?

Well, yeah. I knew that.

It’s not true anyway.

The part about me being a man of my word isn’t, that is.  I did write it.  I just couldn’t bring myself to publish it.  It still sits as a draft in my computer program.

Tonight though, I sat at my desk and, almost angrily, said the words to the ceiling in my office.

You’re going to make me write about this instead, aren’t you?

The circumstances of the two events are nearly identical; the actors in the little stageplay are the only real difference.  Oh. Then, there’s my failure to live up to the claim this time.

The details aren’t all that important.  An email arrived both times.  I had sold products, back when I ran a music store, and made promises about the products. Both of the email writers wanted me to live up to my promise.

The first time, I passed.  With flying colors, I passed the test.  I wanted to boast about that.  I wanted to make sure my readers knew how important it was to me to be a man of my word.  Even when it wasn’t convenient to do that.

Tonight?  It wasn’t such a rousing success.  When called on to make good on my promise, I simply made an excuse and said I couldn’t.


I don’t operate the music store anymore.  Money is tight.  Bills have to be paid.  No one could expect me to stand behind promises—now that the business is defunct.  No one.

Except the One who called me.  The One who sustains me with His own hand.

He expects it.

David, the psalmist knew it.  He suggested that those who want to live in God’s presence needed, among other things, to do what they had promised, even when it hurts. (Psalm 15:4)

This was going to hurt.  So, I said sorry, I won’t.

I don’t want to tell you this.  I want you to think I’m a man of my word.  I do.

But then, I guess I should actually be a man of my word.  Shouldn’t I?

The red-headed lady who raised me had a saying for this (you knew she would):  Confession is good for the soul.

Her sayings weren’t always right.  This one is.

James said it in a little more round-about way.  Confess your sins to each other and you will be healed. (James 5:16)

I suppose you might say that being healed is good for the soul.

I suppose you might say that being healed is good for the soul. Click To Tweet

I’m confessing.  

The realization has grown in me more and more in these last days that we have become an arrogant people.  

More inclined to boast than to confess, our spiritual leaders and teachers tussle and vie for the places of honor, only to be shocked when they are showered with disrespect and hateful words from other leaders and teachers.

We follow their example.  I have seen more vile speech from believers, aimed at other believers, in the last short period of time than I have in my lifetime.

I wonder.  We refuse to let anyone see our weakness for fear that they will respect us less, and then when the facade falls (as it surely will) our weaknesses and sins are exposed anyway, to the chagrin of some and the glee of others.

If we exalt ourselves, it is inevitable that we will be humbled.  Inevitable.

Among all the shouting and self-promotion, somehow, I think our Lord would propose only seven words for us to say.

They are words of humility and penitence.  Words that remind us who we really are.

I’m saying them tonight.

God be merciful to me, a sinner.


A proud man is always looking down on things and people, and of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British scholar/novelist ~ 1898-1963)


Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else:  “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’  I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ~ NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

We’ll Say We Did

Let’s not and say we did.

It was just the other day.  Someone suggested he and I should run in a long race a few months from now.  I didn’t take to the suggestion all that well.

Still, I’d like for folks to think I could.

The words came from my mouth without thought.

Let’s not and say we did.

I’m thinking about the words tonight.  Truth be told, I thought about them last night, too.

For most of the night.

With one of the Elders of my fellowship, I sat in the church library during the late morning service on Sunday.  As a member of the worship team, I had already attended the early service, listening attentively to the pastor’s words.  This time, as he preached again, I would relax in comfort and await my cue to go back in for the final song.

I thought that is what I would do.  Relaxing isn’t how I would describe the next half hour.

She didn’t look like she belonged in church.  

We don’t have a dress code—no one expects what we used to call our Sunday best, but her clothes were different in other ways.  Mismatched and fitting her badly, it had been a long time since they had been on the rack in a department store.  There were other physical attributes that reinforced the idea that she hadn’t come to sit with the other worshipers in the service.

“I need to get some help.  Are you guys the deacons?”

She sat down and filled the air with words and the smell of stale tobacco.  We asked a question or two, but she did most of the talking.  No home.  Living in a motel with her children.  Poor health.  Bad luck.  No money.

I was happy to notice the pastor was on his last point in the sermon.  It was my get-out-of-jail-free card.

“I’ve got to go sing.”

Done.  Free.

She’s somebody else’s problem now.  I’m so happy our church will help her in some way.  So happy.

But. . .

I say I follow God.  

Let’s not and say we did.

When I take the easy way out, I make my testimony of following God a lie.

When we take the easy way out, we make our claim of following God a lie. Click To Tweet

I know I should tread lightly here.  That’s what my head tells me.  It would be more comfortable that way.  For me, as well as for those reading this.

Comfortable isn’t how God always works.  Jesus, as He addressed His followers, didn’t ease up to give them a way of escape.

They didn’t get a pass because they were in the choir.

Paying their taxes to the government didn’t offer any relief for His command.

Putting their money in the offering plate at church didn’t alleviate one scintilla of their responsibility.

He didn’t give instructions to the church leaders lurking nearby to start a food pantry.

He didn’t direct words to the government officials in the area to offer a relief program financed with taxes.

With the clarity and plain words of a teacher in the guise of a practiced storyteller, He made it clear that every person has a responsibility to those in need around us.  Every single person.

He looked down through the centuries, straight at us and told us to care for their needs as we would if visited by God Himself.  (Matthew 25: 40, 45)

Let’s not and say we did.

Oh!  I would never!  

But, we do.  

Every time we suggest that government programs fulfill God’s command, we say it.

Every time we breathe a sigh of relief that the benevolence fund at our church fellowship is available for just such people, we tell the lie.

You know—running thirteen miles would be uncomfortable for me.  I’m not going to tell you I did it if I didn’t.

In the same way, I don’t want to claim to be a follower of Jesus, yet refuse to do what He asks me to do to even the least of His sisters and brothers.

But, I have done it before.  You?

It’s time to stop lying.  

To ourselves and to each other.

And, to Him.



Charity never humiliated him who profited from it, nor ever bound him by the chains of gratitude, since it was not to him but to God that the gift was made.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery ~ French pilot/author ~ 1900-1944)


Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.
(1 John 2:6 ~ NLT)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Of Prisms and Vacuums

I closed the door behind the man, having shaken his hand and offered a spoken blessing in reply to his.  

Tears welled up in my eyes as I locked the latch and turned away from the door.  Looking through those translucent prisms, by then running down my cheek, I walked over and flicked the light switches to the off position. 

The rainbow-hued prisms disappeared along with the light overhead, but the vision in my mind remained.

I talk too much.  That won’t be news to many who know me.  But, as the men had wrapped plastic around the old glass counters before carting them out to the moving truck in the parking lot, I couldn’t help reminiscing aloud.

They are the very same glass counters which were in the little music store the first time I walked into it, nearly forty years ago.  Then, the slight, white-haired old man leaned on the edge of the counter in front of him, a quizzical smile playing across his lips.

That is the vision that will not leave my head—the smiling man leaning, hands flat on the glass top of the counter.

Today (perhaps by coincidence; perhaps not) is the anniversary of the old man’s death.  I told the men as much as they worked.

I still miss him.  He was friendly and jolly, as well as stern and thoughtful.  I loved his stories.  I was frustrated by his stubbornness.

I love his daughter.  I love being part of his family.

But, this is not a sad tale, even though I began it in tears.  It’s not.

It is a story of blessings—blessings I can’t begin to count.  They are blessings that are likely to pass on to the third and fourth generation.  Or, so it seems to me.

You remember?  You who were raised in a church and Sunday School?  The words are right there in the Old Testament.

The sins of the fathers will be passed on to the third and even to the fourth generation.  (Exodus 20:5)  Years after the perpetrators are dead, their children will be dealing with the consequences.

You’ve seen it happen, haven’t you? Perhaps not in the extreme that passage brings to mind, but if you’re anything like me, you’ve seen it.

I’ll never be like my father!  How many times did I say it, growing up?  Fathers can make children so frustrated.  And, in our childish frustration, we make promises—assuming we’ll never ever do that thing that made us angry.

Fast forward ten years, perhaps fifteen.  A member of the current crop of teenagers in the house says or does something amiss, and the response comes from deep within us, without consideration.  Immediately, the brain spins back over the years and the chagrin sets in.  

How is it possible that I opened my mouth and my father came out?  How?

But, wait!  I said I would write of blessings, didn’t I?

So, I shall.

Just as the negative habits of our fathers and grandfathers are often stored up to be released at some later date, so too, good habits work to the benefit of future generations.

A heritage of blessings becomes to each succeeding generation a blessing, a way of life, a habitual practice of blessing those who come after.

A heritage of blessings becomes to each succeeding generation a blessing. Click To Tweet

My father-in-law was no exception, nor was my father.  Mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers—not a day goes by that I don’t recognize the blessing of a Godly heritage.

It is part of God’s natural law, if you will.  And, it does not in any way deny His power in changing hearts and in saving by His astounding grace.  

But, with His own hands, He set the worlds in motion, designing the way their inhabitants function, down to the minutest detail.

And, just as those tears in my eyes earlier today made me see momentarily through rainbow-colored prisms, I realize that we see our world with the collective sight of those who have shaped us.  

Good—bad—their influence is unmistakable. 

We function, not in a vacuum (if there is such a thing), but in a constantly changing and ever-expanding world of influence, seen and unseen.  Our every action and reaction has an effect on those around us.

Every one.

There is more, I know.  

When we are drawn by the Spirit and saved by God’s grace, everything changes.  His presence makes us want to do right, and even gives us the power to do it. (Philippians 2:13)

His presence in our lives makes all the difference.

Still, it should increase our understanding of our responsibility to those around us, rather than diminish it.

We have the power to affect the world for generations to come.  We get to choose.

Good.  Bad.

Blessing.  Cursing.

I like Joshua’s thoughts on the matter as he made his choice and declared, with no ambiguity whatsoever, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Many who have come before in my life have chosen well—some, not so well.  Most of us can relate.

There is no vacuum in which to live.

There may be tears to see through.  

I pray they’ll be tears of joy.  And, tears of temporary sorrow.

Prisms of light through which we see the world clearly.






I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond.
And their eyes were my eyes.
(Richard Llewellyn ~  Welsh novelist ~ 1906-1983)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.





Smooth Sailing

Battered and beaten.

It’s the only way to describe them.

Every day, we see and hear from them—humanity so tired of swimming against the current and weary of struggling to overcome the storm. They are ready to surrender.

Surrender. I’m considering it myself. Well—I was.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wind recently. It was especially true today, as I took a break from the struggle of everyday life to walk awhile with the Lovely Lady.

I love spending time with her, but it makes me tired sometimes. Oh, you know what I mean. We walked a couple of miles today, all of it uphill and against the wind.

That may be an exaggeration. I seem to remember a very short time when the wind was not blowing against us—a very short time.

Recently, I wrote of the goodness and mercy that would pursue us all our days—the expectation of the poet who penned Psalm 23. On that occasion, I came to the conclusion that it followed us as we pursued the prize set before us, the time when we will spend eternity with God.

I don’t want to make it sound as if all of life is hardship and trial. It’s not. But, if we are, as I believe to be true, on a pilgrimage, a journey, we are going to have to keep moving ahead.

And frequently, moving ahead means going straight into the wind.  Straight into it.

I heard a blessing, of sorts, spoken the other day. I remember that when I heard it, I immediately decided it was exactly what I needed.

Fair winds, and following seas.

Peaceful, isn’t it? It’s meant to be.

A naval blessing, it is spoken often about a sailor who has died. A smooth passage, aided by gentle breezes and currents moving in the same direction. Difficulty past, ease lies ahead.

I want it now. Today.

But, here’s the thing. While there have been, and will be, times of relative quiet and calm, our calling isn’t to drift along on the current, carried to whatever destination the sea has picked out for us.

I realized something, as I contemplated that phrase earlier, along with the wind the Lovely Lady and I battled on our “relaxing” walk today.

For a few recent days, it seems I actually have had fair winds. The waves, so heavy and angry barely weeks ago, have flattened out and are almost gently rocking the boat on its passage.

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, I am promising it won’t last. I hope you won’t misunderstand me. It’s a good thing.

Our path has already been charted. Through the waves and the wind, it lies. If, in our fear, we turn the rudder to run ahead of the storm, we will never reach the harbor. Never.

If, in our fear, we turn the rudder to run ahead of the storm, we will never reach the harbor. Click To Tweet

It is only through the storm, braving the wind, that we will reach those fair winds and following seas.

As we enter the harbor, battles fought, storms past, we will finally rest from our labor.

I’m not in harbor yet; the voyage is not yet completed.

But, at least for right now, the current is flowing the same direction I am. For a little while.

The Teacher said the words to His exhausted friends. Come away with me. (Mark 6:31-34)

They, ready to drop, welcomed the promise of rest. Perhaps, they misunderstood. The rest they expected never happened. The following crowds caught up to them, needing to be healed and then to be fed. And then, their beloved Teacher stuck them on a boat in the middle of the lake with a storm blowing up.

Terrified. Tired. Confused.

They rowed frantically, making no headway against the storm.

He walked to them upon the wild waves and, clambering over the side of the boat, reminded them they needed to rest.

Okay. What He said was that they had no reason to fear.

It means the same thing.

The Savior who walks on the storm is in control. On dry land—on glassy smooth seas—in the wildest, stormiest night—He speaks peace. Still.

Fair winds, and following seas will be ours.  They will.

The harbor lies up ahead.  Really.

The waves and wind still know His voice.




Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
(from Am I A Soldier Of The Cross by Isaac Watts ~ English hymnwriter ~ 1674-1748)


Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.
(Augustine of Hippo ~ Early Christian Theologian ~ 354-430)






© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Wind Blows

The wind roars, simply roars, through the leaves of the tall London plane tree outside my window.  It is frightening enough that the dogs are afraid to stay outside for much longer than it takes to devour their food and lap their tongues in the water dish a time or two before ducking back into their house.

I sit in my easy chair and listen to it blow.  And, just as the Teacher promised, I couldn’t tell you where it blew in from, nor where it will end up. (John 3:8)

I don’t know.

Funny.  I’ve been saying that a lot recently.  I said it to the nice lady from the local newspaper today.

She wanted to know what’s next.

I don’t know.

The leaves, blown around by the wind, scratch against the back door and I laugh.

She wanted to know where I came from.  I wondered if she thought it would help to figure out where I’m to go from here.

It won’t.

I recited the familiar words to her earlier today and suddenly realized it’s the first time I’ve told the story and all of it—every sentence and every word—was in the past tense.  

Over.  Done.

The words I said seemed strangely altered from the dozens of times I have recited them in recent weeks.  Then, I was still a part of the story.  Now, my part in that story is history.

So, what about the wind?  Would it help to know where it came from?

Would it be comforting to know where it is going?

Perhaps.  But, I’m thinking the more important thing is to dwell in the place to which He has brought us, as we’re being prepared for the place He is moving us to.

Dwell.  It’s an interesting word.  We usually think of it as a sense of staying somewhere permanently.

Well, sure we do.  The Psalmist averred that he would dwell in the house of the Lord.  Forever.  (Psalm 23:6)

See there?  Dwell forever.


But, my eyes are drawn to the words preceding that in the poetry of the Psalmist.  You know, the part where he says that goodness and unfailing love would pursue him all his life.

One has to be moving if they are to be pursued.

One has to be moving if they are to be pursued. Click To Tweet

I remember—years ago when I was young and loved old cars—I remember setting the ignition points on the old jalopies.  Now, computers do such things for us, but then, we had to make the adjustments to keep the mechanical beasts functioning at the top of their potential.  As I remember it, we used to set something in the ignition cycle that was called the dwell.

It was a momentary resting of one part on another.  The time between movement—a rest with seemingly nothing happening—was in reality the instant that propelled the vehicle from one place to another. During the dwell, the spark was transferred from one contact to the other, where it could start the combustion that is necessary for the motor to have power.

The dwell was absolutely essential. Of course, so was the activity in between these resting places.

The power to go forward depends on both.  Resting and acting.

Dwelling.  And, moving on.

I’ve heard people describe the wind in the treetops in various ways—singing, whispering, laughing.  I have no such gentle words with which to describe it. I guess I’d characterize the wind tonight as the lead singer in a heavy metal rock band.

You know, yelling and screaming at the top of its voice.

It’s what I feel like—a little—recently.

And yet, I’m learning to dwell in the quiet places.  And, letting go in the windy ones.

I can’t tell you where the gusting wind came from, nor can I tell you where it will stop.

But, it’s okay.

Finally, it’s okay.

The Teacher—you know, the One who promised we would wonder—He knows where the wind comes from and where it is going.

He does.

And, He knows what’s next—as well as how I’m going to get there.

He knows what's next—as well as how I'm going to get there. Click To Tweet

Listen to the wind blow!





Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
(Psalm 23:6 ~ NLT)


Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I. 
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
(Christina Rossetti ~ English poet ~ 1830-1894)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Home and Warm

I nearly tripped over her in the dark.

The coal-black Labrador was lopped across the back stoop when I stepped out a few moments ago. Her brother, almost as black, wasn’t far away.

It is twenty-four degrees outside.  The wind-chill (if you believe in such things) is below twenty.

Their heated doghouse, with its cedar-mulch covered floor is thirty-five feet away.

Why in the world are they lying in this corner of the yard with the wind whistling around them?

I, being much more intelligent, scurried to take care of my errand and get back to my fire-side easy chair.  Warm.

Home and warm.

But, I sit beside my warm fire and absently-mindedly pursue an elusive shadow through the dark and chilly pathways of my memory.  Now, what was that?

Dogs lying outside the door waiting for their master. . .

Sleeping in the cold when they could have been home and warm. . .

David was a man after God’s own heart.  Now, where did that come from?  Ah!  Now, I have it!

Uriah (who was a fighting man from a pagan tribe) refused to go home to his warm bed and his waiting wife.  Uriah the Hittite waited outside the door of the king’s house—cold and sleepless.  (2 Samuel 11:9-13)

But, honorable.  

More honorable than the man who dwelled within, Uriah was certain that comfort was not his until all could live in comfort.  He would wait until he had completed his task.  An honorable man.

Almost like the dogs who lie outside my back door. Their allegiance is to their master. All they want is a word from his mouth and his hand gently scratching their chest.  

It is enough. Payment in full for waiting in the cold.

I like being home and warm. You? 

Stupid question, huh?

Comfort is what we want. But, we have no promise of comfort. Yet.

This world can be a cold place. Cold and dark.

Our destination is anything but those. If, as our lessons in science led us to believe, light produces heat, we’ll have no lack of either light or warmth there.

The One we serve is (unlike me—or King David) honorable far above our understanding. He won’t leave us out in the cold one moment past what is necessary.

One day—one day—the door will open and we’ll be home.  

Home and warm.


One day—one day—the door will open and we'll be home. Home and warm. Click To Tweet


And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.
(Revelation 21:23 ~ NLT)


Turn up the lights.  I don’t want to go home in the dark.
(O. Henry ~ American author ~ 1862-1910)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.