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.


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.


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

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


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.



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.

I Like Mike

The big man looked uncomfortable, waiting there on the sidewalk for me.  I don’t suppose he could have been waiting too long.  

was mowing my lawn, focusing on keeping the lines straight, but I could hardly have missed him for even one pass of the lawn.  

He waved a big, ham-sized hand at me when he knew I had seen him—a clear message he wanted me to stop and talk with him.  

Never one to miss an opportunity to shirk my lawn tending labors, I complied.

“Do you have a power screwdriver I could borrow?”  

The question seemed a little odd.  

I looked around, but saw no car or, for that matter, any other indication of which direction the unfamiliar man had come from.  I don’t normally loan tools to strangers walking down the street, so I looked back at him and wondered aloud what he needed the tool for.  

He waved that same large hand over his shoulder and explained sheepishly:

“I’m visiting my mother-in-law up there, and was backing out of her driveway, but I hit the mailbox across the street.”

Glancing up the direction he indicated, I saw the mailbox lying on the grass and nodded.  

“No one is home and I want to fix it, but I don’t have any tools at the house at all.”  He thought for a minute as if to be sure he wanted to say the next words.  

“I’ll pay you.”

I brushed aside his offer and told him I wouldn’t take money for helping neighbors.  Leaving the mower where it sat, I went inside and grabbed my handy-dandy battery-powered screwdriver, with attachments.  

damagedmailboxHeading across the street to where he was standing by then, I spent the next half hour reconstructing the mailbox with him.  We talked as we labored, making the short job go by even more quickly.  

Mike is a rough-cut retired trucker, who understands that neighbors are high up on the scale of significant people, even when he is not in his own neighborhood.  

I liked him.  

We laughed as we worked and sweated in the hot sun, enjoying the camaraderie which comes from accomplishing a worthwhile task together.

I bent down to put away my tools and as I stood again, he stuck out that big hand to shake mine, which was completely engulfed in his grip.  As I took my hand away and looked down at it, I saw he had left a ten dollar bill in my palm.

“No.  I’m just helping a neighbor, too,”  I protested.

He wasn’t listening.  “You didn’t have to help me, but you did.  Thanks.”  

I shoved the bill in my pocket, telling him as I did that I would pass it on to someone else who needed it worse than I.  He nodded, smiling, and waved, a huge gesture in the air above his head, as he walked toward his mother-in-law’s front door.  

I headed back across the street to start my mower again, still grinning to myself.  But, somehow, there was the shadow of a negative thought gnawing at the back of my brain.

I saw another mailbox in my head, years ago–now where did that come from?

Oh, yes.  Thirty -five years ago, it was.

“He just knocked it over!  Never told anyone–just drove away.”  

The irate voice on the telephone belonged to a lady I knew only slightly.  She had attended our church off and on—more off than on at the time.  

I asked for more information to fill in the gaps and fill them in, she did.  

“That preacher came and got the church bus last night.  It’s parked right next door, you know.  Well, when he backed out, he hit the mailbox across the street.  He knew he did it too, because he got out and looked at the back of the bus.  Then he glanced around to make sure no one saw him, got back in, and drove away.”  

Obviously, she was angry–with good reason.  I didn’t know what to tell her.

Thirty-five years later, I still don’t.  

And, that’s the reason for my pesky negative thoughts, as I consider my new friend Mike and his actions that hot summer day.  

You see, Mike isn’t an intellectual man, hasn’t spent a lifetime studying the scriptures, but he understands that neighbors are important people.  

No one saw him back into the mailbox.  He won’t be back to visit for months, yet he wouldn’t think about driving away without making amends for his accident.

The preacher, on the other hand, had all the knowledge necessary to understand, without any ambiguity, what was required of him.  

What made him drive away instead?  Was it arrogance?  Fear?  Impatience?  Did he just have more important things to do?  

I can’t answer the questions.  

And, maybe that’s a good thing, since it keeps me from pointing my finger too squarely at him.

I do know more is required of me.  I know more is required of each of us.

I wonder if I need to clarify that we are no longer talking about mailboxes and next-door neighbors.  That is a tiny part of it, but there is a much bigger picture.  

The cautionary tale of the old truck driver and the preacher should serve to knock apart any preconceived notions we may have about who really understands right and wrong.

If God’s love hasn’t reached into the depths of our hearts, what comes to the surface, embodied in our actions, will be ungodly, regardless of our claims of a personal relationship with Him.  (Luke 16:10-15)

A degree in theology scribbled behind our name doesn’t void this; a lifetime spent in church won’t alter it.

Only a clear sense of our own debt to love can lead to the realization that we must–absolutely must–extend that same love to our neighbor.  

I’m pretty sure that if they breathe the same air I breathe, they are my neighbors.  

There is no human being to whom I do not owe the great debt of love.  Not one.

I’ve backed over some mailboxes myself.  

Okay, not actually mailboxes.  But still, I’ve done a good deal of damage in my lifetime.  I’ve driven away time and again without a backward look.

No more.

I want to be like Mike.

How about it?  I wonder if someone out there has a tool or two that I could borrow.  

Maybe, if I ask a friend,  I could even get a helping hand.

I’m asking.


But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

(Luke 10:29~NIV)

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

(from The Weight of Glory ~ C.S. Lewis~English educator/author~1898-1963)




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

Restless Heart

It wasn’t what woke me, but my guilty conscience certainly was what kept me awake until the first rays of the sun broke over the horizon on that recent morning.

What woke me was the dogs barking in the backyard.  It’s not all that unusual.  They are dogs, after all.  Normally, it’s just a squirrel in the sweet gum tree, right above their heads.

squirrel-832893_1280Squirrels are such undisciplined creatures.  They run up and down the trees, simply to tempt fate it seems .  Then, when they have the treasure they sought, a nut or the stalk of some plant, they carry it in a rush up the trunk of the tree.  Right in front of the snapping jaws of death they scurry, chattering as they go.  

The dogs, creatures of habit, want nothing more than to have order in their world.  No animal is safe within their reach, simply because that is one of their rules.  Nothing walks where they walk.  There is a penalty for doing so.

The penalty is death.  They have meted out the penalty numerous times.  Moles, birds, o’possums, even a squirrel or two have met the end of their undisciplined ways at the jaws of the law-keepers.

Hmmm.  Like the squirrels, I seem to have wandered a bit.  I meant to tell you that the dogs were not barking at a squirrel on that early morning, but had bigger law-breakers to attend to.

The neighbors up the street a block or so were the reason for the ruckus.  He, sitting in his roughly-idling truck, and she, standing in her bathrobe outside the front door, were shouting at each other.  Again.  

I stood at the kitchen window and remembered that time, a few months ago, when the police were at that front door because of a complaint.  And still, at all hours of the night or day—mostly night—the noisy disturbances are likely to erupt.

On this particular morning, I, standing at the kitchen window, listened for a few moments, fuming.  The nerve!  Don’t they know people—No, strike that!—law-abiding people are trying to sleep?  

I was angry.  Then, I realized I was proud.  Yes, proud.

I would never do that.  Never.  I know better than to shout at the Lovely Lady.  I certainly wouldn’t do it in public.  And, you can bet it wouldn’t be at four-thirty in the morning!

Mentally, I went down the list of things they do I would never do.  It was significant.  I was proud.

As the truck finally backed out of the driveway and roared up the road, laying rubber for a fair distance, I spun on my bare heel and headed back upstairs—to sleep, I supposed.

Not that morning.  Sleep had fled.

I lay there beside the slumbering Lovely Lady and I crumbled.

Pharisee!  Hypocrite!  

In the dark right before dawn, the words were whispered into the blackness, but they sounded as if someone had shouted them throughout the entire house.  I looked at the face of the sleeping woman beside me, but if she heard, she didn’t let on.

Do you know what I learned, in the darkness of my thoughts that early morning?

 Nothing new.  

That’s right.  Nothing I hadn’t already known.

I heard the Teacher say, “The second is like unto the first.  Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)  I’ve heard the words a thousand times, or more.

I’ve used them in my writing so many times, I can’t remember all of them.

Here’s the other thing I didn’t learn that I already knew, that morning: If you’re a dog, you think you’re better than the squirrels. 

Perhaps, I should rephrase that.  When you work hard to follow the rules, you begin to look down on those who don’t.

It’s really hard to remember that you love someone when your mouth is full of the words I told you so.

It’s hard to pray—really pray—for a person if you think you’re superior to them.

Do you realize how difficult it is to lie still and be quiet in a bed when the disaster that is your soul is revealed to you?  If the pre-dawn night was dark, how was it that I saw the filth of my heart so clearly?

The evil servant who forgot how great was the debt that had been forgiven him, grabbing the man who owed him a mere pittance by the throat while demanding payment couldn’t have known more torment.  (Matthew 18:21-35)

Ah, but even as I made my promise to be a different person, I remembered.  

I recalled that it would never come—could never come—from me.  If I try to be good—if I try to do right—I run right back to the trash I vowed to never dig up again.

It is all because of grace.  All of it that matters.

I can’t do this.  No one can.

And, that’s the whole point.  If I can claim to be good, I have a right to look down on others who walk this path with me.

I’m not good.

Grace changes that.  For any who come.

Funny.  When I remembered what I am—what I am and who He is—I thought about my neighbors again.  The anger was gone.  Almost instinctively, I found myself praying for them and thinking of ways to show them the love of Jesus.  

They are my neighbors, after all.

And finally, sleep came.  

It’s true:  The heart is restless until it rests in Him.

It’s time for rest.



I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer ~ German theologian ~ 1906-1945)


You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
(Galatians 5:13-15 ~ NIV)




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

The Marketplace

There are times when you just know.  Beyond a shadow of doubt, you know:  This is why you are here.

This moment.  This person.

The Lovely Lady had first crack at her today.  The lady, like many others we see this time of year, is struggling with acquiring a musical instrument for her aspiring band member.  No money.  No knowledge of what constitutes a good instrument, nor how to tell if it is in good condition.  No one she can trust to be honest with her.

She does have a clarinet in her hands as she enters the music store.  She also has a discouraged look on her face.  I never heard the full story of how she came by the clarinet, but I do know she wants us to make it play correctly for her sixth grader.  She is not optimistic.

“I’m sure it needs a repad.  Can you do that for me?”

The Lovely Lady opens the case and looks over the horn, expecting the worst.  Since I am busy with another customer, I leave her to handle things by herself.  It is obvious she is a little confused, and I expect a call for help momentarily.  What I hear is her suggesting the lady is mistaken.

“Well, a repad is quite expensive, but I’m not sure that’s what you need.  Let’s wait for the expert.”  (She always says that, but it’s not really a good description of my abilities.)

As soon as I can break free, I head for the counter where the diminutive lady is waiting, still with an unhappy visage.  I’m prepared to point out the problem areas and make an estimate for the nervous mom.  Taking the individual pieces of the horn in my hand one after another, I look for something to point to.  Nothing.

That can’t be right.  This lady came in expecting big problems.  Surely I can find something.  

I look again.  Testing the sealing ability of the pads, I find no sign of any leaks anywhere on the instrument.  The corks are fine.  A little dingy, but completely intact.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the clarinet.  

I have a dilemma.

The lady came in expecting to leave the instrument with us for repair.  She assumes there will be a sizable charge due when the repair is finished.

I’m in business to make a profit.  How hard can this be?

“Oh yes, Ma’am.  We really do need to replace quite a few pads here.  And, the corks—they’ll need to be changed also.  It won’t cost as much as a repad, but still, it will take a good bit to get this horn into shape for your daughter.”

So easy.  She would never know.  It’s what she expects anyway.  

The decision is made without hesitation.  It is who I am—who we are.  Now.

“No Ma’am.  The horn is in excellent condition.  What?  Oh no.  No charge.”

You would hardly have recognized the woman who walked out that door as the same lady who had come in moments earlier.  A smile shone across her face, the like of which hadn’t likely been seen there recently.

I felt good.  I felt bad.

It was almost the same feeling I had a day or two ago, when a girl and her mom had come in to purchase a small item.  The lady spoke no English.  None at all.  Her daughter translated every word for her as the transaction was made.

The two were still in the store when a regular customer of mine walked nearby shaking his head.  His eyes shot daggers at the two, as he spoke the words to me.

“I hate that!  Why don’t they learn our language?”

Do you know how easy it would have been for me to simply nod my head?  Just a nod.  No words would have been necessary.  

But, this also is why I am here.

I explained to him my admiration for folks who leave their land in search of a better life for their families.  Struggling to be at home in a strange place, they walk out of their door into a battleground every day.  I will not participate in the hatred of another human being.  

I say the words kindly to him, but he rolls his eyes in disgust as he walks out.

I may have lost a customer.  I hope not,  but I would do it again.

I felt bad.  I felt good.

This is why I’m here.  It’s why you’re where you are.  

To do the right thing.  Even when we’d rather do the easy thing.

To show a life that is different because of what God has done in us.  

It is how He works in this world—how He has always worked.

I don’t necessarily want this to be why I’m here.  Sometimes, I wonder why God won’t leave me alone to make a comfortable living like any other red-blooded American.  If that means taking advantage of folks who have their wallets in their hands, so be it.  If I have to walk on a few people to gain the approval of others, why not?

And then I remember a God who told His Chosen People that their scales were to be honest, their weights to be accurate, their measurements to be correct.

Thousands of years ago, He made it clear.  

The world has one standard: Every man for himself.  All is fair in love and war.

God has another standard, a standard which has never changed:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Period.

The standard applies in our family life; it applies to our friendships; it applies in our churches.  And, no less than any other place, it applies in the marketplace.

opensignPerhaps, more.

The marketplace is where who we really are is on display for all to see.  It’s where our integrity comes out of the dark of night, and into the light of day.

It’s where our talk of following a Savior is proven, or else belied, by our walk.

Can I let you in on a secret?  I have kept my mouth shut too many times.  I have found myself letting folks spend more than they should on things they didn’t need.  

I don’t write about the two interactions above to draw attention to my stellar accomplishments, but rather to draw attention to who we need to be—who we must be in our marketplace.

We all fail in our determination to walk in integrity—I, as often as anyone I know.  

But.  Grace.

Grace is a wonderful thing; its beauty is in its resilience.  Failures become victories.  Timidity becomes boldness.

Selfishness becomes love.

The Teacher spent a good bit of His time in the marketplace.  

Doing good. Showing love.

Our turn.



I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the Church.
I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles; but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at the crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek… And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ’s men ought to be and what church people ought to be about.
(George Macleod ~ Scottish minister/theologian ~ 1895-1991)




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