Justification

I am offended.

The note was polite, but to the point.  The writer needed to express something that had been in her mind for awhile.  To be fair, the words weren’t I am offended, but it seems offensive to me.  There is little difference.

Something I have done—language I have used in my business for years—was offensive.  I selected the language.  I placed it in a prominent place in my advertising.

I offended.

I don’t know the person.  Someone else in the church she attends has made numerous purchases from my company over the last few years.  The writer of the note is not even my customer.

And yet, I read the words on my screen and my spirits sank.  What would I say?  How would I respond?

Do you know how easy it is to believe one has been attacked?

Is it not a simple thing to take offense at the one who has taken offense?

My mind, as it does, piled up the words with which to defend myself.  I know how to use the English language.  I am accomplished in the skill of bickering.

I want the chance to justify myself.

Why is that my first reaction?  Is it true for everyone?  When we sense that we have been admonished, do we all want to deflect the blame?

I wanted to look better than I did in that moment.

I knew I could come out on top.  I knew it.

Sleep hardly came that night.  I would present my argument to the imaginary jury I had collected in my head, letting loose with the big guns and obliterating the enemy.  I win!

But, a quiet voice from deeper inside asked a one-word question.  Just one.

Enemy?

With a mental shrug, I’d decide to think about it tomorrow, only to find myself, moments later, facing the imaginary jury once more.

Time after time I built up my defense against the enemy, only to face that one-word question again.  And, again.

Enemy?

But he, seeking to justify himself, replied, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Neighbor.  That’s the word I wanted.  Not enemy.

Neighbor.

And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus said it was the second most important commandment, essentially part of the first.  The lawyer who wanted to justify himself (in Luke’s passage) knew it by heart.

I do, too.  Yet, every time I am confronted with my own shortcomings, my reaction is the lawyer’s.  Every time.

I want to justify myself.  I want to make myself look better.  And, more often than not, that is accomplished by making someone else look smaller.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply. Click To Tweet

We use words like snowflake, over-sensitive, entitled, and coddled

Or, we use words like arrogant, insensitive, and bully.  

Either way, the result is the same.  We tear down our neighbors to build up ourselves.

Words were the cause of my offense.  My next words would either increase the offense, possibly making me feel justified, or they would begin the healing process.

What to do?

Over forty years ago, a wise man wrote, in his beautiful script, in the front of a new Bible he and his wife were giving to their youngest son.  He knew his son well, having spent nearly twenty years in close proximity to him. 

The words, still quite legible today, were exactly what the argumentative, impatient youth needed.  I can attest that he was more annoyed than overjoyed to read them the first one hundred times or so he saw them written there.

The Preacher said the words, thousands of years before.  Their truth has not faded one iota.

A gentle answer turns aside wrath, but argumentative words only stir up more anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

I haven’t always lived by the exhortation.  In truth, I haven’t lived by it even a majority of the time.

I’m learning. Finally.

Still—I want to know.

Why do we add offense to offense over and over?

Why is it so difficult for us to bind wounds instead of making them bleed more?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors, instead, identifying them as enemies, almost without fail?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors? Click To Tweet

In a world filled with hate and vitriol, we—all who follow Christ—are called to bind up, and carry, and treat, with the same love we have for our God and Savior, all who walk the same ground we do.

It’s not optional. 

It’s not.

I’m justified.  By Him.  I don’t do that myself at all; it’s what He does. (Ephesians 2:8)

How I respond to others is how I show them what’s really in my heart—in my very soul.

Gentle words.

Peace.

 

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.
(from Poor Richard’s Almanac ~ Benjamin Franklin ~ 1706-1790)

 

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
(Philippians 2:14,15 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Calloused

My hands hurt. Most of the time, these days, they hurt.

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. Well, maybe just a little. And, I certainly don’t think it’s my fault. But then, if I stop to think a moment, it could be.

A quick search of Google shows that I need to have soft hands for them to be considered beautiful. Or, is that just women? I really can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure gnarled and scarred hands aren’t all that attractive, regardless of which gender they belong to.

I’ve never worried much about the appearance of my hands, but recently I’m a little more aware of it. Having worked with my hands all my life (and talked with them, too), the osteoarthritis now settling in my joints is beginning to mar the symmetry of my once-straight fingers.

Other things are conspiring to make them less physically attractive, as well.

In just the last week, I’ve pinched them with pliers (twice), cut them with a saw blade, with the sharp edge of an air conditioner duct, and the corner of a file. While I was at it, I smashed a knuckle using a power sander, and sliced the tip of my thumb with a utility knife (just tonight). I even have a jammed thumb on one hand, although I have no recollection of how that one happened.

The mind wanders—as it does—and I recall my last day of working for an electrician in another life, decades ago. I was leaving that job to return to the music business full-time, and the electrician I worked with mentioned he’d be calling Johnson & Johnson to warn them they might need to make some adjustments to their business plan. The puzzled look on my face led to his tongue-in-cheek explanation.

Since you won’t be working for us anymore, we won’t be purchasing all those bandages. They’re likely to face bankruptcy soon, I’d think.

When I work with my hands, I bleed. It’s a given. And yet, I keep working with my hands. Blood washes off. Cuts and scrapes heal.

Even now, as I sit and write, my hands hurt again. I rub them gently, feeling a few new callouses ,and again my mind wanders—further back, this time.

I was in my twenties. With young children, money was scarce, but we took the trip to South Texas anyway. Babies need to see their grandparents, and vice versa.

The car didn’t make it all the way to my childhood home in the Rio Grande Valley. Well, it did, but we could only drive 30 miles per hour the last sixty miles of the trip.

I spent my vacation under the hood of that old car. By the time it was running right again, my callouses had callouses, as the red-headed lady who raised me would have described it.

One afternoon after the problem was sorted out, my dad introduced me to a friend of his. As I shook his hand, he looked down at mine, then back up at me and smiled.

It’s nice to meet a young man these days who knows how to work with his hands.

Callouses. On callouses. I was embarrassed. And proud—if you understand how that could be true as well.

Lend me a hand.
Get your grubby hands off!
I’ve got to hand it to you.
He knows this town like the back of his hand.
We’re just living hand to mouth these days.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Give your hand in marriage.
My right-hand man.

These are only a small sampling of the phrases in our language in which the word hand plays a major part.  Hands are important to us.

They are important to our God, as well.

His Word is full of hands.

Hands that took the fruit and put it to the mouth—original sin. (Genesis 3:6)

Hands that blessed a young man who was wearing animal skin on his own hands, to deceive—the father of the Children of Israel. (Genesis 27)

Hands that stretched over the sea, parting the waters—a journey begun to freedom. (Exodus 14:21,22)

Hands that built a tabernacle—a place for God to dwell among men. (Exodus 25:8)

Hands that played a harp to calm the soul—and later, to compose psalms of worship which endure until this day—a sacrifice of praise. (1 Samuel 16:23)

A hand that wrote on a wall—a warning to God’s enemies. (Daniel 5:5)

Hands that were stretched wide in love. Hands through which spikes were driven—the blessing of God’s saving grace to all mankind. (Isaiah 53:5)

There are more.

Thousands of them. Hands. Doing good.

And yes, thousands doing evil.

I’ve heard the words of God to Moses innumerable times.  (Exodus 4:2)

What do you have in your hands?

I’ve always thought the important thing was the answer to that question. Moses had a staff. I have other things. But, here’s the deal.

God doesn’t need my things.

He needs my hands.

My hands. 

To be willing to be open. For Him.

Or, holding on. For Him.

My beaten up, scarred, stiff, sore hands.

With our hands, yours and mine, He will touch the world—perhaps one person at a time—perhaps thousands.

On second thought, I’m certain that hands don’t have to be soft to be beautiful.

Hands don't have to be soft to be beautiful. Click To Tweet

Hearts. Hearts have to be soft.

The hands—cracked, calloused, gnarled, and stiff—are beautiful simply because they serve. Wiping away a child’s tears, touching the cheek of a newborn baby or a nervous bride, stroking the hair of a frightened mate, reaching out in love to serve.

And sometimes, they hurt. His did, too.

His did, too.

 

Oh, be careful little hands what you do,
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Oh, be careful little hands what you do. 
(from Oh Be Careful ~ American children’s song ~ Anonymous)

 

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
(Psalm 90:17 ~ NASB ~ Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation)

 

 

 

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

What if my Best Isn’t?

Don’t you know that’s a youth song?  You sang it like an old hymn!

The silver-haired lady didn’t actually shake her finger in my face, but I had a vision of it being waggled there.

I almost laughed.  It was an old hymn.  To me, it was.  Why—right there on the page, beside the author’s name, it told when he wrote it.  1902.  

Really. 1902

It was an old song.  For old people.

Then I read the words again.  And again.

Give of your best to the master.
Give of the strength of your youth.

I apologized to the dear saint.  The next time I led it, with the Lovely Lady accompanying me, we sang the song with a tad more pep, and just a little more vigor.

I learned a lesson that day.  It’s profound.  You’ll want to save this.

Old people were young once.

Most of them still remember it.  Some, vividly.

I know young Timothy’s instructor didn’t mean for me to take it this way, but I can’t help but think it.

Let no man despise your youth.  (1 Timothy 4:12)

It is disrespectful to the aging and elderly for us to disregard the experiences they had as young folks.  The things that shaped the adults they would become haven’t diminished in importance in all the ensuing years.

It is a youth song.  Written in 1902.

I dare not speed on past without revisiting the words our old friend, my namesake, had to say to his youthful protegé, though.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. (1 Timothy 4:12

I wonder how many times a day I hear—or read—disparaging words directed at the younger generation.  The generalizations are rampant, the vitriol nearly universal.

All coming from old folks.  Okay, aging folks.  People who once were young themselves.  People who can’t stand to have the days of their own youth ridiculed.

I’ve done it myself.  

These kids today. . .

I repent.
                              

A young friend sent me an invitation a few weeks ago.  The local university, as it has for a number of years, was sponsoring an evening dedicated to promoting writing and the arts in a faith-based environment.

I glanced at the two guests who were on the schedule.  A comic-book illustrator and a spoken-word artist.

Lightweights!  This is what passes for writing and art?  Pass.

I repent.  Did I say that already?  It doesn’t matter.  I may do so again.

The Lovely Lady encouraged me to go.  Friends were going to be there.  There was ice cream.

I went.  Don’t tell the friends, but the ice cream is what tipped the scales (no pun intended).

May I tell you what happened?  

Surrounded by young folks who could be my grandchildren, I saw respect.  They were attentive.  They were appreciative.

My eyes were opened.  Well, when they weren’t filled with tears, they were opened.  The tears were a surprise.

I detest spoken-word poetry.  All angst and anger and foul language, it falls somewhere on a scale with rap music, without the music.

I thought.

The young man, in his jeans and untucked shirt, skull-cap pulled over his head tightly, looked for all the world like a street punk to this old man’s eyes.

I sat back, arms folded across my chest, and dared him to move me.

I dared him.

He moved me.  

No.  That’s not right.

The Spirit moved me.

It was all I could do, when the young poet, arms windmilling above his head and waggling in front of his face and hanging down at his side, spoke the names of Jesus—it was all I could do—not to jump up and shout like a Pentecostal in a Holy Ghost revival.

And, I’ve never been to a Pentecostal Holy Ghost revival.

I looked down and I was sitting on my hands with my legs to keep them still, the tears streaming down my face.

There is a power that comes, not from experience, nor from age, nor from practice, but from the Word.  From the mouths of babes, through the writings of old men, by the witness of all who are His, He speaks.

From mouths of babes, writings of old men, & witness of all His own, He speaks. Click To Tweet

Disregarding our differences, ignoring our preferences, and brushing aside our objections, He will be heard.

Disregarding differences, ignoring preferences, brushing aside objections, He will be heard. Click To Tweet

I wonder if it’s time for us to realize that our Creator uses—He always has—the methods He thinks best to ensure an audience for His words.

I wonder if it’s time for us—young and old—to close our mouths about those methods we don’t especially like.  

I haven’t always given of my best for Him.  Sadly, I may have left it a bit late to give of the best of my youth.

I’m grateful that all the young folks aren’t waiting around until their golden years to work on it seriously. 

Still, I have begun to look at youth a little differently.  I wrote recently about that great cloud of witnesses the writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament describes.  I realized that these men and women are my peers.  

Really.  Moses, Abraham, Rahab, Sarah, and all the others—all of them, my peers.  Yours, too.  

We’ll join them one day, to live without any time limit there. 

If we’re to live forever, and I believe we will, we’ve only lived a minuscule percentage of all the days we have ahead of us.

I’m still young.

There’s still time.

I’ll give it my best.

                              

I invite you to watch the video linked below.  Powerful words—from the heart of the poet and directly from God’s Word.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
     Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
     Than when we’d first begun.
(from Amazing Grace ~ English clergyman ~ 1725-1807)

 

 

 

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

Treasure in the Dumpster

I usually punch the snooze button on my alarm once—maybe twice. Okay.  Three times.

Not today.

The noises outside my second-story window had been going for awhile.  You know how sounds creep into your slumber, disturbing your dreams, especially in the moments just before the alarm begins to sound.

 As I reached for the alarm button, a clatter from the dumpster reached my ear.  

I got up.

I stood at my upstairs bedroom window and watched the shirtless man for some time.  The dumpster had been almost full—or so I had thought.

He had stirred through the entire container, moving the larger items from the top to the bottom and around the sides.  By the time I was aware of his presence, he was standing on the bottom of the dumpster, just like Moses in the middle of the Red Sea, with the mountains of debris piled up on either side.

Items (my trash!) he wanted to keep were carefully balanced around the edges of the steel container.

I decided I wouldn’t interfere with the man’s treasure hunt.  I hadn’t wanted the items.  Why should I keep him from taking whatever he thought he could use or profit from?

Treasures from trash.  

The concept hasn’t left my head all day.

Trash.  Treasures.

It’s nothing new.  We don’t even have to say the entire maxim and most will finish the thought.  One man’s trash. . .

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

The underlying premise is that one is no better than the other. 

I have no intention of demeaning the homeless man foraging in my dumpster.  He is doing what he knows to do to provide for himself.

Additionally, I have no desire to point a finger at any person, comparing them to others for the reader to make a judgment of character.

It’s just that I know something of dumpster diving.  

I don’t know quite how to put it.  Well, yes, I do.  It won’t make some people happy. 

The truth is like that.

I know two things about looking for treasures in the trash bin:

1.  Even if useful items may sometimes be found in the trash, most of the time, there’s nothing but trash to be found.

2.  If one digs for treasures in the trash long enough, eventually that person begins to forget that it’s trash they’re digging through.  

It will most likely become evident soon—if it hasn’t already occurred to the reader—that I’m not really that concerned with dumpsters and the practice of digging through the ubiquitous receptacles.

There are some who spend their lives dredging through the garbage.  Their lives and hearts are filled with the stench.

And still, they dive in.

A friend, many years ago, regaled me with the story of his sister-in-law and her experience at the local casino.  

The first time—the very first time—she entered the casino, against her better judgment and at the urging of her friends, she won a large sum of money while gambling.  

Willingly, eagerly, she returned to the gaudy, glitzy place again and again, certain she would find treasure once more at its tables.  She never did.  Even if she had, the losses could never have been surpassed by her gains.

There was never treasure to be found there—never more than false promises and empty hopes.

Still trash.

As to the second point, I can’t help but think of the Tolkien character of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  He had lived in the dark and stinking places of the world for so long that when he, starving and weak, was offered the delicate cake of the elves’ lembas, he choked on it and called it ashes.

Ashes.

As I write this, in the wee hours of the night, the sun will be rising soon on another Independence Day in the United States.  I’m saddened by what I see in the hearts of many in our country, even in my little town, and I have to wonder, what do we have to celebrate this July 4th?  

We, and I include most folks I know—Christians and otherwise, liberals and conservatives, politically active and indifferent—seem to revel in the trash pile.  We delight in all that is negative and hateful, dredging it up again and again, in whatever form we find it in the garbage container, only to throw it in the faces of our used-to-be friends and acquaintances.

It almost seems we believe this is how we were meant to live.

It wasn’t.

It isn’t.

In our interactions with others, we must—absolutely must—rise above the garbage and restore community.  If we don’t, our country is lost, I fear.

And yet, there is an even more essential element to this conversation.

The Teacher,  imploring His followers to set their affections on more important things, warned against the garbage.  

Where the source of your treasure is located, your heart by nature will turn to.  (Matthew 6:21)

If we do things the way we’ve always done them, the result will always be the same.  

Every time.

Soon after that astounding Day of Pentecost, the disciples Peter and John were going to the temple to worship.  A lame man sat there, in the place he had sat every day for as long as he could remember.  It was all he knew, this detestable begging for his living.  And yet, as the two men passed him, he looked at them, expecting nothing more than a few pennies to extend his unhappy misery an hour or two more.

Peter looked at him and said, “It’s time you stopped dumpster diving.”

Well, that’s not really what he said.  What he told the lame man was that they had no money.  I assume the disappointed man would have turned his eyes toward the next party approaching.  Well? He wasn’t going to get what he needed here.  Why shouldn’t he?

We have no silver, nor do we have any gold.  Here’s the thing:  What we do have, we’re going to give to you.  Get up.  Walk with us into the temple to worship.  (Acts 3:6)

You know, there’s no treasure in any dumpster worth more than what God offers every single one of us.

His Grace and mercy will lift us out of whatever garbage receptacle we’ve been digging through to find our worth.

His love reaches down right where we’re searching, whether ankle deep or neck deep in refuse.

He sets us in higher places.

He sets us in higher places. Click To Tweet

Higher.

It’s time to stop hoarding trash that looks like treasure to us.

It’s time to begin storing away the real thing.

In a place it will be safe.

In a place where we’ll be safe.

It’s time.

 

 

I lived through the garbage.  I might as well dine on caviar.
(Beverly Sills ~ American opera singer ~ 1929-2007)

 

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:2, 8-9 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

© 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.

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. 

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.

Only What’s Mine

The preacher came to check on me today.  His brother passed away last week, but he came to check on me.

He’s not my pastor.  Well, what I mean is, he’s not the man who is the pastor of the fellowship where I attend services.  My pastor checks on me too, but I’m not writing about him today.

The preacher came to visit me because he owes me.  That’s the way he sees it anyway.  It’s his way of paying a debt.

Did you know that on the worst day of his life, Jesus stopped to help a fellow who was just doing his job—and also having a bad day?

Jesus was being arrested, said arrest to be followed by a mock trial and, soon after, a very real execution.  Yet, He stopped everything to make life easier for a man He had likely never even seen.  (Luke 22:50,51)

He, who was about to die, stopped to heal a slave’s ear.

I marvel at the capacity to love.  But, I have seen it again and again.  The human heart, pummeled and battered by loss and sorrow, beats the stronger for those around who also hurt.

Did I say the preacher is paying a debt?

It’s a debt we all owe, one that will not go unsettled.

The Apostle, in giving instructions about temporal matters, gave us the words we must live by.  The one debt we will carry throughout our whole lives is the debt to each other—to love one another.  (Romans 13:8)

We love—because He loved us first.

And yet, I had other things to speak of with my friend.  You see, I am struggling with many things right now, things I don’t want to accept.

There are people I love making choices I would change for them if I could.  I’m sure if I could just lend them a bit of my brilliance, they’d understand and repent of their error.

And, as I suggest that to him, I suddenly remember that I don’t have a mandate to change people.

Lamely, I say the words:  I guess that isn’t mine to fix, is it?

He smiles.  But, as he smiles, he remembers why he stopped by.  I’ve gotten him off track.  He knows I’m still unhappy—perhaps even a little angry—at God for the changes which are being made in my life right now.

Looking around the music store where he sits, he waves his hand in a circle and asks a question I really don’t like.

Is this yours?

I don’t like the question because I know the answer.  You do too, don’t you?

I smile, a faux-smile if ever there was one.  I give him the right answer, the answer I know he wants to hear.  I don’t grit my teeth as I say it, even though it is all I can do not to.

No.  Not mine.

And then he is gone.  He leaves me standing in the doorway of a music store that soon won’t be.

Worse than that, he leaves me with a revelation I didn’t want and never asked him for.

I  only want what’s mine!

I’ve sulked all day.

I cleaned my French horn in preparation for upcoming events and the pride I have taken in the beautiful instrument dimmed as I realized it’s not mine.

After I closed the music store (still not mine) for the day, I climbed up into the driver’s seat of my pickup truck and thought, as I turned the key, this isn’t mine.

I helped the Lovely Lady clean up after supper and as a sparkling kitchen reappeared, I realized that none of the beautiful little home is mine.

I only want what’s mine.

I’ve been sitting here moping about what I’ve lost on this day of revelation, thanks to the preacher.  I’ve come to a conclusion.

If I can lose it, it was never mine.  Never.

If I can lose it, it was never mine. Never. Click To Tweet

You might think it would be a sad realization.  It’s not.

The freedom that comes from knowing what is mine and what isn’t is life changing.  If my treasure is bound up in things which can be taken from me, I am the poorest man you’ll ever meet.

hot-962139_640I’m not a poor man.

I only want what is mine.

Faith is mine.

Hope is mine.

Love is mine.

There are more things to add to the list.  Gifts, every one of them—given by the Giver of all good things.  They are things that can never be taken from us.  And, in the words of that great theologian, Casey Stengel, you could look it up. (1 Corinthians 12)

We’re told that the greatest of these gifts is love.  The more I consider it, the more certain I am it is true.

Funny, isn’t it?  If we can lose it, it isn’t ours, and yet we’re told we must give away love.

So, is love ours or not?

Most decidedly, love is ours.  You know what makes love the greatest gift?  The more you give it away, the more there is to give away.

The more we give love away, the more of it there is to give away. Click To Tweet

God has poured His love into our hearts in a never-ending stream.  It should be pouring out in the same manner.  (Romans 5:5)

I’m thinking that wealth which can’t be stolen or misplaced is worth more than any treasure trove to be found on this planet.

And, we get to give it away and keep it, too.

Funny.  I still only want what’s mine.

And, like my preacher friend, I want to give it away.

Again and again.

Give it away.

 

 

Spread love everywhere you go; let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.
(Mother Teresa ~ Albanian/Indian nun & missionary ~ 1910-1997)

 

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13 ~ NLT)

 

 

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

Say the Words

How was I supposed to know?

Perhaps they could wear signs.  Cautionary words are always helpful.

Warning!  Traumatic life event in progress!

That should do it.  Now, there’ll be no untimely jests—no teasing sales pitches—no words to regret, as my friend walks away minutes from now.  Give me a heads up; I’ll take it from there.

But, life’s not like that, is it?  

No signs.  No colored lights—green, yellow, and red—to keep us out of the danger zone.  We’re on our own.

clasped-hands-541849_640Or, are we?  On our own, I mean.  We’re not really.  Those of us who are students of the Word, followers of Jesus, have already spent a lifetime in training.

Everything—every single thing—we have learned of following Him, has been to prepare us for the relational interactions we will have on every day of the time we have on this earth.

Love God.  Love people.

Doing the first teaches us to do the second.  More than that, choosing to fulfill the former gives us no option but to fulfill the latter.

Loving God gives us no option but to love people. All people. Click To Tweet

Love is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Always.

Always—Love is kind.

The young man came in a few days ago, with his sweet wife and well-mannered children.  I have known him for many years now, a relationship developed through his pursuit of becoming a musician.  He was a boy when first I sold him a guitar.

That was several instruments and many additional accessories ago.  On this day, I would break the news that our business relationship of many years is about to end.  I didn’t like doing it, but I owed it to him.

As others have done, he reacted strongly, but perhaps, a bit more emotionally than I expected.  The face that turned to me suddenly was covered with sadness, his eyes almost grief-stricken.

Almost without thinking, I reminded him that, as with all of my life, I trusted a God who had proven Himself trustworthy.  For some reason, it seemed important to me to reiterate this truth I am convinced of.

“God didn’t bring us here just to walk away from us.  He’s still got good things ahead.  Good things.”

A short time later, as he and his family walked out the door, he stuck out his big, strong hand and held my slender one in that familiar strong, almost painful, grip.  It’s happened many times before. Then, smiling at me, he walked out with his family, not saying another word.

If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was afraid to say anything else because he didn’t want tears to come.  No.  That couldn’t have been it.

I was busy with another customer when he came back the next day.  Maybe, it was a good thing.  He asked the Lovely Lady to give me a message.

It seems he had received news on the previous day, right before I had seen him, that a young friend had died a horrible death.  He was overwhelmed.

He told the Lovely Lady to relay to me the message that the words I had said on that afternoon had been exactly what he and his wife needed.  Exactly the message that would give comfort and hope, not regarding my temporary inconvenience, but for the very real pain they were already experiencing.  They had left my store that day with renewed hope—renewed courage.

Even since that day, the number of folks who have shared their pain at losing loved ones has multiplied.  A lady whose father died and left her with no opportunity to attain closure of a tragic situation.  A man who doesn’t know how to comfort his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, less than a month ago.  The father whose son died suddenly.  The grandfather who will never go horseback riding with his grandson again.

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

And suddenly it occurs to me—we don’t need the warning signs I wished for.  No words of explanation are ever necessary for us to know who needs help.

We are all members of a fallen race.  Every one of us carries our pain around inside.  No one escapes the pain.  It is our birthright.

We all need help.  And, kind words.

And yet, we who carry this pain and horror inside have been called to be ministers of healing and ministers of grace.  It is who we must be.

We, who carry this pain, are called to be ministers of healing to others who carry pain. It is who we must be. Click To Tweet

Comfort ye.  Comfort ye my people.  (Isaiah 40:1) God said the words to Isaiah centuries before our Savior came.  The message he carried was of comfort and hope.

And, what a hope!

At the end of your waiting on God, you will regain your strength and your resolve.  You who are now weary and defeated will rise up on wings of eagles.  (Isaiah 40:30,31)

We who follow Jesus carry the same message.

Perhaps, it’s time for us to deliver it.

We already know who the message is for.

Say the words.

 

 

 

 

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:4 ~ NLT)

 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
(Francis of Assisi ~ Catholic Friar ~ 1181-1226)

 

 

 

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