Leaning Forward

I never realized I ran that way.  I don’t think I ever thought about it.  Still, she didn’t have any uncertainty as she said the words.

He can’t really see, but he’s sure that was you he noticed running by last night.  Nobody else we know runs like that—leaning forward.

Leaning forward?  I run leaning forward?

I checked, the next time I went running,  sneaking a glance at my image in a shop window as I passed.  I run leaning forward.  Try as I might, I can’t change that.

I lean forward as I run.

I know it’s not the best way to run.  I could use my core and back muscles better if I ran with an upright posture.  When I think about it, I do that.

Mostly, I simply lean forward and run.

I want to get to the goal.  Quickly.  Leaning forward, erroneous though the concept may be, seems to get me there more quickly.

I’m beginning to wonder though, if that will always be true.  I have leaned forward all of my life.

But, things change.

Years pass.

I am tired.  I’m not the only one.

In more areas than just that of physical exercise, I have begun to plod more than to run.  The energy, the zeal of youth, has begun to wane.

I sat on an uncomfortable table this morning and listened to my new friend’s instructions.

You’ll want to quit before the test is finished.  Don’t do it!  Push on through!  It may seem that you can’t go any further, but don’t give in.  We won’t let you get into any trouble.

I nodded my head sagely and with confidence.  In retrospect, I feel like one of the sturdy dreamers in the old hymn when the Savior asks if they are able to be crucified with him.  They told Him they’d follow Him to the death.

Well, we know how that worked out for them.  The day of the test came and they scattered, terrified.  At least one of them swore he didn’t even know the Man who had trained him for the day of testing. (John 18:17, 25-27)

Anyway, earlier today, this sturdy dreamer got on the treadmill for the stress test—really, I get stressed just thinking about it—and my new friend Dawn started the belt moving under my feet.

I didn’t do so well—just walking.  Dawn told me as much.

Why are you marching?  Just widen your stride and relax.  You know how to walk.

I don’t stroll much.  But still, I heeded her advice and relaxed, stretching out the length of my stride and kept up with the speed and elevation changes.  It was uphill all the way.  Every step.

And, just when I began to think I was almost finished, the final stage kicked in.  I had to run to keep up.  But, I know how to run, even if I don’t walk so well.

Finally!  Something I could do!

I ran.

Wow!  You’re a lot better at running than you are at walking, aren’t you?

My taskmaster laughed, and I laughed with her—as much as I could with my parched mouth and heaving lungs.  I was in my element now.

Except, I wasn’t.

Panic isn’t a word I like to use when describing my own state of mind.  It’s the only word that fits for what followed.

I wasn’t going to quit.  I wasn’t.  But, there were points when I wanted to beg Dawn to slow the treadmill down to a walk again.  It was irrational, I know.  Sometimes you can’t control how you react to circumstances.  I wasn’t in control.

But, I did finish the test and, shaky legs, heaving chest, and all, stumbled back over to the uncomfortable examination table.  I sat there, grateful for a place to sit and settle my emotions, as well as get my lungs functioning normally again.

I didn’t quit!  I ran to the very end.  Leaning forward, hands on the bars, I had finished all of the stages.

I finished the test!

But, as I sit late at night, here in my easy chair, I wonder.

Can I keep leaning forward?

Am I going to finish strong?

Shaky legs and all, will I finish strong?

You know I can’t run the race in my own strength, don’t you?  I never started it on my own either.

The Apostle—my namesake—wrote the words that echo down from centuries past and reassure just as much today as when he first penned them.

He who started the work in you has no intention of leaving you on your own.  You won’t drop out.  He will finish what He started.  Count on it.  (Philippians 1:6)

I will freely admit, there have been a few moments of panic in the last few months.  More than a few.

Still, for all that, I’m going to keep running.  Leaning forward, I’m going to run.

Even if it’s uphill for the rest of the way.

There’s a prize for the winner.  It’ll be better than a gold medal, or even a crown of leaves.  Much better.

I know I’m already in good company, but there’s always room for more on the road.  Maybe you’ve been walking a ways, but it’s time to start running again.  Why don’t you come along with me?

Run the race in front of you.

Lean forward.

Run the race in front of you. Run. And lean forward. Click To Tweet

The finish line is up there somewhere.  

Up ahead.

 

 

 

Are ye able, said the Master,
To be crucified with Me?
Yea, the sturdy dreamers answered,
To the death we follow Thee.
(from Are Ye Able ~ American theologian/poet ~ 1892-1976)

 

Crossing the starting line may be an act of courage, but crossing the finish line is an act of faith.
(John Bingham ~ American marathon runner/author)

 

 

 

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

I’m Not That Man

I want to be that man.

You know—the person they think I am.

I want to spend my hours and minutes considering ways to help folks around me.  I’d like to be confident that all things work for good—confident enough that stress couldn’t ever color the edges of my emotions—confident enough that I would never give in to worry and despair.

I want to be the guy who knows exactly what action a true follower of Jesus would take in any given situation.  And, I’d like to take that action.  Every time, I’d like to do that.

I’m not that man.

I’m not.

Are you disappointed in me?  I am.  

I wanted to spend these last few days, the period of time we call Holy Week, in contemplation of the cost of grace.  I thought I could perhaps offer some deep insights into the substitutionary atonement made for us on the cross during this week so many centuries ago. 

I haven’t.  I can’t.

You see, I’ve spent the entire week—every single day—in activities that resemble the sacred arts not at all.  I’ve dug up roots from the ground.  I’ve hung drywall.  I’ve spread topsoil.  I’ve carried desks to storage, and brush to the street, and a load of poison to the recycle center.

Nearly sixty thousand steps this week, over twenty thousand of them just yesterday—that’s how far I’ve walked.  There are more steps to be walked tomorrow. 

It doesn’t sound very holy, does it?

But, as I took off my socks yesterday to prepare for the shower which would wash the sweat and filth off of me, I saw a shadowy picture in my mind.  

A nearly naked Man leaned over a basin of water, wearing nothing but a towel around His waist, and he washed the dirty feet of every single man in the room.  (John 13:4)

I looked at my feet and wondered how many steps those men had taken since last their feet were washed?  How filthy would the water in that basin have been?

But the Man completed his job, dressed again, and sat down to eat His final meal with them—the only one at the table with unwashed feet.

It was but a fleeting, fuzzy vision, washed away like dirt down that drain long before I wiped the steam from my mirror.

Today, my writing friends plied the tools of their trade and committed thousands of contemplative words to their pages and hard drives.

Not me.  I walked more steps.

I am not that man.

I wonder.

Is it just as holy this week to walk on along the road He has set before us? Click To Tweet

Is it just as holy this week—just as holy—to walk on along the road He has set before us?  

Steadfastly?  

Stubbornly?  

With purpose?

The Man who suffered—the Man who died—the Man who lives again that we may live—He made us to walk, and work, and weep, and worship on this road.

He made us to walk, and work, and weep, and worship on this road. Click To Tweet

Every week.  Every day.  Every hour.  Every moment.

They’re all holy because He made them so.

I’m not that man. Really, I’m not.

But, He is.

 

The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His.
(Francis Chan ~ American pastor/author)

 

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
(Colossians 3:23 ~ NLT)

 

 

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

 

Keep Silence

The world is a noisy place these days.

Maybe it’s just me.

No.  The cacophony of voices really is almost deafening.  My voice has usually been a part of the confusing mix.  I had even grown accustomed to it.

The ear-splitting volume is not always from the sounds one hears, either.  Just as often it’s from the colossal tidal wave of data and communication that overwhelms and dizzies us with a vertigo that threatens to dump us into the flood itself.

Last night, for the first time in a month, I sat at my computer’s keyboard and determined to make myself heard once more.  I would rise above the flood and the waves.

Not yet.

The Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all creation be silent before Him.  (Habakkuk 2:20)

I sat, hands on the keys, ready for inspiration.  All I got was a reminder to keep quiet.

I went to bed instead.

What?  You think sleeping is the same thing as keeping quiet?  

I did, too.  I was wrong.

I was supposed to be working this morning, but I dressed and, coffee cup in hand, sat in front of my computer once more, contemplating the words from last night.  I wondered why I had to keep quiet, even after a month of doing just that.

As is often the case in my office, peaceful music played on one of the internet radio stations as I considered the issue.

Suddenly, I became aware of the song which had begun to play.  I couldn’t help it; I laughed out loud.

The music wafting through the air asked the question:  Are you sleeping, Brother John?

Frére Jacques, Frére Jacques,
Dormez-vous, Dormez-vous?

It’s a simple children’s song from long ago, but the question it poses is all I need to take me back again.  Decades in the past.

After fifty-five years, I still remember keenly the disappointment.  

My Daddy, a Navy Radioman, was coming home from being out at sea on a big ship.  

He would be there that night!  It would be well after our bedtime, but Mama, knowing the excitement would be more than we could contain anyway, gave her permission for all five of us children to stay up and wait for him.  

We clambered onto the hide-a-bed mattress that served as the bedroom suite for them in the living room—with five children stuffed into a tiny mobile home, there was no separate room for Mom and Dad—wrestling and shoving each other until she grew impatient.

Each of you just lie there quietly and wait!  It won’t be long now.

Do you understand my disappointment?  The next thing—the very next thing—I remember is waking up in my own bunk bed in the room I shared with my three brothers at the back of the little rolling domicile.

Sure—Daddy was still home.  But, the arrival, the celebration had happened without me.

I woke up to just another day.  Just another day.

I missed it!  No welcome home hug for my Daddy—no standing on his spit-shined Navy Oxfords to walk across the floor while I wrapped my chubby arms around his knees—no running his knuckles gently through my burr haircut in a teasing, painless Dutch rub.

I fell asleep.  

Waiting quietly, I fell asleep.

They are not the same thing.  

They’re not.

In my mind, I hear another voice.  It’s a gentle voice, but there is sadness in the words.

Could you not watch with me one hour?  (Matthew 26:40)

The Man, about to face the worst ordeal one could imagine, asked only that they watch quietly and wait for Him to finish a conversation with His Father.

Waiting quietly, they slept.

They are not the same thing—waiting quietly and sleeping.  

They’re not.

Even while we wait quietly to learn what comes next, we need to be alert and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Waiting, we watch.

Be still, and know the wonder—the quiet and mysterious wonder of anticipation.  Good things still lie ahead.

Be still, and know the wonder—the quiet, mysterious wonder of anticipation. Good things lie ahead. Click To Tweet

Our Heavenly Father is doing exactly what He has always intended to do.  

I’m ready to be still and wait for what’s next.

And, I’ll try to stay awake.

 

 

For a brief space you have been called aside
From glad working of busy life,
From the world’s ceaseless stir of care and strife,
Into shade and stillness by your Heavenly Guide.
For a brief space you have been called aside.
(from Streams in the Desert ~ Anonymous)

 

 

 

But the Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
(Habakkuk 2:20 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

How Many Lawyers…

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

Usually, when folks brought in old violins, they left disappointed.

I can’t count the number of times the old fiddles were 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 was. A Stradivarius, that is. Ever.

I 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 even learned to soften the blow by lowering expectations from the start. That day 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 most of the others by the way they carried the instrument. It wasn’t even in a case and they certainly weren’t handling it delicately.

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 family room.

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 had assumed he failed in proving his point, so were going to mount the violin-shaped object in a frame and save it for posterity. A piece of art.

I objected.

It was as fine an amateur-built instrument as I had 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 leaning bridge into place and tightening the pegs to the correct tension, I 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.

Astounding!

It was, too.

The voice of the instrument was exquisite.

Like the maker, I don’t play the fiddle, but I do 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 less expensive, 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.

The instrument isn’t a piece of art to be hung on a wall! In the right hands, it will make music that all listening can 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 a 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 had died suddenly the night before 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 should anyone breathe 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)

God puts inside each of us His dream, His direction. Click To Tweet

I had been reluctant to give my friend advice. 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 astounding violin I looked at on that day is any indication, it’s also a little foolish.

Sometimes we simply must 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.

You?

 

 

 

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. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Storyteller

So I says to him—I says—that’ll never go through this door.

My grandfather died the year I graduated from high school, but still, I hear his voice, telling another of his stories.  Always—always, they were punctuated with spaces.  

They were spaces in which he caught his breath.

When he walked from the front porch to the kitchen, he always stopped at the desk behind his easy chair.  Every time.  Leaning with his big hands on the edge of the desktop, he breathed deep, his powerful chest muscles expelling the bad air and drawing in good.

I felt the tell-tale tightening in my chest earlier today, a sign that my own bronchial issues may soon overtake me again.  I couldn’t help but think of the old man.

Experience tells me that, even should I succumb to the malady completely, I will breathe freely again very soon.  But, these moments remind me of folks who’ve gone before—people I have loved and who have loved me.

They remind me of other things, as well.  

My grandfather, he of the interrupted sentences, was a storyteller.  He loved a good story.  More than that, he loved being surrounded by people who listened to the stories he told.  The gaps for breathing, at first an annoyance to both the teller and the listener, soon became room for thought and reason for suspense.  

A good storyteller uses the tools with which he is provided.  

Grandpa was a good storyteller.  Health impediment or not, he was going to tell his stories.

I’m a storyteller too.  You might say, it’s in my blood.  Kind of like the lung issues.  From my grandfather to my son, the males in my family have experienced similar problems of varying degrees.  Without a say in the inheritance, we have each passed down the frailty to the succeeding generation.

May I talk about the storytelling and passing things down for a moment?  I promise to be nearly succinct.  The reader will have to be the judge of whether the time is well spent.

Did you know our Creator commanded us to be storytellers?  And, He expected us to pass the love of telling stories down through the generations?  His instructions—oddly enough, passed through another storyteller—were clear.  

Parents tell your children.  Tell them in your home, as you’re hiking on a trail, and when you’re in the shopping centers. Through all the ages, tell them.  Give them reason to believe and to trust in a God who provides and protects. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20

The testimony of previous generations is a bridge over which we cross the raging floods of cultural deception and shifting doctrine.  If we fail to provide those bridges for our children, our progeny will be washed away in the roiling currents and howling rapids.

Tell the stories!  Use words that are accurate and attractive.  Put them to music, rhyme the syllables, and give them rhythm.  Paint them on a canvas, or carve them in stone.

Tell the stories!

12745592_10206853935720800_2029702514110622443_nThe Lovely Lady—my favorite walking companion—and I wandered along an abandoned roadbed just a few days hence.  We had a goal in mind, a century-old bridge, now abandoned, but still standing.  It has not carried traffic for a number of years.

A monument to the past, the framework stands.  There is even a roadway across, but a few steps onto it and one soon realizes that it will never support the weight of a vehicle again.  

A monument—nothing more.

Bridges are meant to be more than monuments.  Properly maintained and kept, they smoothly move traffic from the place left behind to the destination.  Abandoned, they serve no purpose, but rust and rot into the landscape, forcing the traveler to choose a different route or be carried away in the flood.

I will build bridges.  

With my last breath, I will tell the stories.

With my last breath, I will tell the stories. Click To Tweet

As my lovely companion and I wandered, almost sadly, away from the beautiful old span, I realized that my faulty lungs might make the half-mile trek back to the road difficult and wondered about the wisdom of making the trip.  

I needn’t have worried.  Companions are made to help each other on the road.

We don’t walk the road alone—don’t build the bridges alone—don’t cross them alone.

Surrounded by a great cloud of storytellers, we press on.

To our last breath.  

Tell the Story.

 

 

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit!
(Hebrews 12:1,2 ~ The Message)

 

For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
(from A Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English author ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

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

On the Mezzanine

I remember that mezzanine.  

Tears do that, you know.  Remind you.

And they fall, unbidden.  We don’t want them to; they just come.

So, with the salty liquid running down my cheeks I remember that day, now over thirty-five years ago.  

Visiting my folks in my childhood home, I agreed to ride along with my old friend as he made his sales rounds one summer afternoon.

We stopped by a produce warehouse, a corrugated metal structure where they prepared vegetables for shipment to various marketplaces.  The building my friend entered was the onion operation.  Right outside the metal building—by the truckloads—the dirty yellowish bulbs had been hauled from the fields and were dumped onto the conveyor lines that would carry them though the process.

The process would change them dramatically.  On that summer afternoon long ago, it would change me, too.

From a filthy orb with roots hanging off one end and stem jutting out of the other, to a beautiful shiny sphere just waiting to be sliced, battered, and deep fried—turning out the most delicious tasting snack you could ask for—the transformation was radical.

But, you ask, what about the mezzanine?  Where are the tears?

I’m getting there.  Soon, there would more than enough tears to last a man a lifetime.

I hung back in the factory while my friend talked with his contact there.  In just a moment though, he was beckoning with his hand for me to follow him on into the plant.  He explained that he needed to check the stock levels for the products he provided to the company.

As I prepared to follow him up a steel staircase, he gave me a hint—just a hint—about what was to come.

You’ll want to stay close.  Don’t worry, I won’t walk away from you.

Stay close?  Why would I need him near?  I snickered.  As if I needed someone to hold my hand climbing up some stairs.

As if.

That was before the tears.

The stairs led to a mezzanine made of steel beams covered by a steel grate that served as a floor surface.

Right. Above. The. Production. Line.

Let it sink in for a moment.  We walked above the line where the onions were washed.  Where the roots were sliced off.  Where the stems were removed.  The round veggies banged and battered each other as they collided all along the conveyor.  

Think about the strongest onion you ever sliced into and multiply it a few thousand times.

I couldn’t see a thing.  It was a good thing my friend stayed near.  It was as if I had been struck blind in seconds.  The terror was nearly instantaneous.  There is no other word to describe what I felt.

Shaking, I held onto his shoulder all the way across the mezzanine and back down the stairs.

Did you know the chemical in onions that makes you cry is the very same component that lends the edgy flavor which livens up so many dishes?

This seems a strange thing to write about on a day when we talk about love, doesn’t it?  

Be my valentine.

Roses and chocolates.

Diamonds and gold.

Love is more than the fluff.  

Not less.  More.

Spicy and playful.  Stinking and bitter.

Laughing.  Crying.

To get through it, we have to stay close.

Love is more than the fluff. To get through it, we have to stay close Click To Tweet

Standing on the mezzanine of life, we stay close to the ones we love.

And, they are there.

He promised that, too—the One who gave His lifeblood to show us the way.

I’ll be with you always.  Even though the world around you disintegrates, I’ll be there. (Matthew 28:20)

He’s a Promise-keeper.

You’ll want to stay close.  He won’t walk away.

He won’t.

 

 

Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
(Carl Sandburg ~ American writer/poet ~ 1878-1967)

 

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

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

I Feel Better Now

She asked me about it this afternoon.

Is it time to get going on that little project yet?

She knows I’ve been thinking about it this week.  I told her I was.  Thinking about it.

What I really meant was I was thinking about how I was feeling guilty about not doing it.

So, this afternoon, we stood around—the Lovely Lady and I—and talked about the project.

Well?  It is what one does.

Oh, I know I could just do the project.  When I say we stood around and talked about it, I don’t pretend that there were any special revelations.  It was all information I had a firm grasp on already.

Still, I feel better about it now. 

I haven’t started the project yet; I’m just not feeling guilty about not starting it. We planned. We organized.

Really.  I feel much better now.

Planning and organizing.  It’s what we do best.

We are far more competent at discussing the process than we are at actually getting the job done.

Well.  I am, anyway.

His followers did it too.  You know, the Teacher’s rag-tag group of outcasts and blue-collar laborers. His disciples.

They had a discussion about what to do.  This was serious stuff.  They needed to wrap their heads around it.  What they did was pray. (Matthew 14:13-21)

Well, kind of.  They begged their Teacher to fix the problem for them. It was a prayer—of sorts.

These people, Teacher.  They need to eat. We need You to take care of this.  Send them home.  Please.

We call the story: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand.  We always have.

It isn’t what happened.

The name of the story is: Twelve Men Feed Five Thousand.

You’re skeptical.  I understand that.  But, it’s right there in the Book.

He looked at them and said, You feed them. (Matthew 14:16)

You feed them.

And, they did.

They did.

I wonder.  Why is it so difficult for us to understand?  We know what to do.  What keeps us from accomplishing it?

The Teacher told of a wealthy man who prepared an amazing feast.  The hall was ready. The food was on the table.  All that was missing were the folks who needed to eat. The chairs were empty.

Go out there and give them every reason—every reason—to come and eat.  Every person you see.  Compel them to come in. (Luke 14:23)

Love compels.  It doesn’t sit and write plans.  It doesn’t draw flow charts.  It doesn’t ask for direction when direction has already been given.

Love compels.

Love compels. It doesn't sit and write plans. Click To Tweet

Love that compels is love that grabs a neighbor by the heart and draws them inexorably to the God who forgives.

Love that compels is love that brushes aside the insult of ten minutes ago and the bitterness of ten years ago and holds tight in an embrace that forces out all but itself.

But, we have to start.

The time to plan has passed.

The time to pray for guidance has passed.

It’s time to act.

Today.

Oh.  And, I’ve still got that little project to get started on.

But, I do feel better about it now.

 

 

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.
(Lord of the Rings ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist/educator ~ 1892-1973)

 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
(2 Timothy 4:7 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

Parenthesis Closed

Three of these things belong together.
Three of these things are kind of the same.

From childhood, we learn it.  Things that are similar belong together.  Even educational television programs teach the concept.  Things that do their own thing don’t belong.

From our youth, we have followed the theory.

Somehow, we misunderstood the idea.  With disastrous results, we misunderstood, thinking it could mean people, when it only meant things.

                            

A subset. 

That was the word he used.  Subset.

It was the night of the Super Bowl.  I don’t live for sports, but it seemed to be the thing to do, so I watched the game.  Exciting action.  Really.

I didn’t watch the halftime of the game.  I had work that needed to be done before I went to bed that night.  I said as much.  But, I also made the mistake of posting a comment that seemed to denigrate the halftime entertainment.  It was intended to be a comment about the hype leading up to the act, but several took it as criticism of the entertainer herself.  And, as could be expected, there were a few folk who echoed the inferred slight.

Then one friend, who held a different viewpoint, entered the conversation.  Not understanding, nor agreeing with, the direction the comments had taken, he suggested that I and my other friends were an interesting subset of our society.

We’re still friends.  He didn’t mean it to be an insult and said so, apologizing.  I believe him.  He is my friend.

And yet, I’m concerned.

A subset?

Really?

What if he’s right?  

The big thing in our culture right now is to find your tribe.  Writers. Artists. Musicians. Professionals. Gamers.

Like the folks in the television bar, Cheers, we want to be where everybody knows our name. 

So we really are subsets.  We gather in groups where we have things in common.  We don’t waste time on those who don’t fit the pattern.

Oh, I know the gurus insisting we need a tribe add the thought that we need diversity, but what they mean is we’ll accept diversity in non-essential aspects.  Just as long as folks pass the litmus tests for the really important things we stand for.

Tribes.  Subsets.

I remember learning a concept when I was very young. It was one of the most effective principles in winning any game.  

Centuries old, the phrase was known before the time of Christ.

Divide et impera.  Divide and rule.  Commonly, we quote it as Divide and conquer.

The concept assumes the invading enemy, the power that intends to rule, will divide those it has come to war against.

In our day, we who claim to be followers of Christ, have made it our duty—yes, our duty—to do the deed for the enemy ourselves.

Subsets. Closed.

Liberal believers write oceans of words condemning the evangelical church to hell for abandoning the poor and downtrodden.  Conservative believers publish scathing papers trashing anyone who could consider homosexuals as part of the Body, and denying the possibility of salvation to anyone who would support abortion.

Tribes. Locked in battle.

I have asked the question before, thinking about a different situation, but I ask it again now:  Does God cry?

Do you suppose this would be enough to bring tears to His eyes?  Is He weeping over us today, as His Son did over Jerusalem? (Luke 19:41)

I’m no mathematician.  I don’t understand sets and subsets.  

This I do know:  God never closed the equation.

If X = (Recipient of God’s grace), then X = (Anyone

Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Revelation 22:17b)

It may be bad mathematics, but it is seriously good grace.

It may be bad mathematics, but it is seriously good grace. Click To Tweet

Every tribe.  Every nation. Every language.  Every people group.  (Revelation 7:9)

All of these things belong together…

What a gathering!

It’s time to break out of our subsets.

Who’s going over the wall with me?

 

 

 

I am in them and You are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent me and that You love them as much as You love me.
(John 17:23 ~ NLT)

 

In real life, I assure, there is no such thing as algebra.
(Fran Lebowitz ~ American author/public speaker)

 

 

 

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

Lightly Tread

Ahhh!  I slide my sore feet out of the leather shoes—the best moment in my day.  As I revel in the relief, a rhyme flashes through my thoughts, and I laugh.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.

What?  You don’t think that’s funny?

I suppose, in the poisoned political climate of the last several days and weeks in our once-great country, it might be a private joke I should keep to myself—my daily introduction of my feet to freedom from their leather prisons.

But, as I sit in the old oak office chair and gaze at my stocking feet and the shoes on the floor beside them, I hear other words.

Take off your shoes, Moses.  You’re standing on holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)

I wonder where that came from.

No, I know where it came from originally.  Few of us have not heard the story of Moses and his burning bush at Mount Sinai.  Well, I call it his, but there is no question the bush belonged to God—as did the flame that engulfed it and yet didn’t burn it up.

Still, I don’t know what that ancient story has to do with me—or you—today.  All I did was take off my shoes.

Taking off our shoes doesn’t make the ground holy.  There, in that desolate place, that mountain in the solitary desert, it wasn’t even the bush afire that made the ground holy.  

There was one thing that made that place holy.  One thing.

God was there.

Where God is, the expectation is that we will act in a different manner.  Pride, arrogance, wickedness—all are shed and left behind.

We tread lightly on holy ground.

We tread lightly on holy ground. Click To Tweet

Some friends of mine wrote a song a few years ago that is sung across the world today.  It speaks of the air in our lungs and where it comes from.

It’s Your breath in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise.

The realization that we are dependent on our Creator for even the air that we breathe requires that we must offer it back to Him in praise.

How is it any different with the earth we stand upon?  The food we eat?  The clothes on our backs?

I claim to be a follower of Emmanuel.  His Spirit lives in all who believe in Him.

God With Us.

Holy Ground.  Everywhere you can see.  Holy Ground.

It is clear we don’t believe that.  Crystal clear.

We seem more like adherents to the Church of Nancy Sinatra.  

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

Don’t believe it?  Read a newspaper.  Turn on the television news.  Click on the so-called social media.  I know; it seems more like anti-social media these days.

I could cite example after example of friends and acquaintances—believers, every one—who think nothing of tearing down fellow believers, demeaning and questioning their relationship with God because their understanding of the Word is different.

Ah.  But, let me say this:  

All we have to do is turn our faces away from the ugliness of mankind and look into the face of God.

And, take our shoes off.

It’s His dirt under our feet.

His.

I think I’ll walk barefoot for awhile.

Maybe, you’d like to walk beside me.

 

 

Turn your face away from the ugliness of mankind and look into the face of God. Click To Tweet

 

 

 

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
To You only

All the earth will shout
Your praise
Our hearts will cry
These bones will sing
Great are You, Lord
(from Great Are You Lord ~ Ingram/Leonard/Jordan ~ American songwriters)

 

 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” Cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
(From The New Collossus by Emma Lazurus ~ American poet ~ 1849-1887)

 

 

 

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

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.

Well?  

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.