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.

 

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.

Good Faith

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

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

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

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

His gamble wouldn’t pay off on this day.

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

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

They didn’t wish to move it again.

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

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

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

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

Why did they blame me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven wasn’t awaiting.

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

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

Vanity.

Useless and empty.

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

The disappointment was almost palpable.

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

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

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

Now—that’s good faith.

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Simon Says

 

Take one step forward.

I loved rainy days.  As a kid in third grade, any change from the monotonous routine was welcomed.  Recess in the hot sun consisted of games of tether ball or freeze-tag. One might get a turn on the swings, but that was for the little kids.  And, it was always hot.  Always.

No. Rainy days were great. We took our recess in the combined cafeteria/auditorium.  The long dining tables were shoved to the walls and the concrete floor between them was our playground.  Instead of the usual every-kid-for-himself chaos, we played organized games there.

On the day my old brain is reliving tonight we were all playing the game called Simon Says.  

Sixty-some participants stood side by side, awaiting instructions.  The teacher called out the order.  

“Take one step forward.” 

From one end of the cafeteria to the other, no one moved.  Except me.  One step forward. 

Well?  That’s what she said to do.

“No.  I didn’t say ‘Simon says.’ You’re out, Paul.  Go sit on the edge of the stage.”

One step.  Just one and I was disqualified.  The game lasted the whole period.

“Simon says, ‘Jump on one leg.’  Simon says, ‘Stop.'”

 I sat, joined eventually by others who were also foolish enough to make a move without the authority of the mysterious Simon.  For the whole hour, I sat.

I remember now.  

I hate rainy days.

That was many years ago.  A lot has happened since those days—some good, some bad.  I’ve done some things I am proud of, and more than a few of which I am not.

Sometimes we get chances to make amends.  I have learned that most of those chances have to be approached purposefully.  Still, I don’t always know if I should make those moves or not.  Often, I wish there were someone standing to the side, saying stupid words like Simon says to give me the nudge I need—perhaps, even permission, or at least, someone to blame.  

Just a couple of months ago, I had one of those times.

While wandering through the never-never-world of Facebook one evening, I happened to look up the name of an old friend.  I say he is an old friend, but I only knew him for a bit over a year’s time, nearly forty years ago.  We were in a bible study together during that year.  

I was a know-it-all kid, certain I had all the answers.  I had a concordance and I wasn’t afraid to use it!  When my friend and I disagreed in our group about a certain passage in the Bible (and there were many such disagreements), I wasn’t adverse to attacking the character of the man, rather than sticking to a rational discussion of the meaning and context.

I’ve spent most of the forty years since wishing I had treated him better.  I wondered if I would ever get a chance to apologize for my arrogance and insensitivity.  Our Teacher told us if we knew of anything another person had against us, we were not even to offer our gifts to God, before we went and made things right.  (Matthew 5: 23, 24)

I have placed my offering in the basket many times since that day.

But, on that evening when I found my friend’s name on Facebook, suddenly the never-never-land turned into a haunted house, with ghosts and scary memories galore.  It is easy to be petrified in such a place and simply do nothing.

I could just close the browser window on my computer and get on with my life.  No blood visible, no foul committed.  Keep playing!

It was my move.  And, wouldn’t you know it, there was no teacher around to say Simon says, ‘Move one step forward.’

I never was all that good at waiting for the Simon says instructions, anyway.

I took the step.  Friend request sent.

The next morning, there was an answer.  Friend request approved.

And then—nothing happened.

Nothing.  Until this morning.  I received a personal message that said in effect, Who are you?  Do I know you?

He didn’t remember me!  He’s not angry.  He can’t even remember sitting with me in that living room.

I sent a reply.  Sorry.  Request sent in error.  Then I clicked the unfriend function.

That’s the end of that.  I’m washing my hands and moving on.

You know that’s not how this works, right?  Obviously, I didn’t do any of that.

But, here was my problem:  Where was the person who would tell me Simon says to take another step?  When would I get some clarification?  My old friend wasn’t angry at me.  Did I still need to make things right?

I took the step.  Hard as it was, I jogged his memory and accepted the responsibility for my actions.

Can I let you in on a little secret?  Obedience is always the correct response to God’s prompting.  Always.

Does it always turn out with a storybook ending?  

No. 

But today, I have gained back a brother.  We’re going to get together the next time either of us is anywhere in the vicinity of the other.  We’ll eat a meal together.  We’ll shake hands.  We may argue over something, but it will be over something and not about the other person in the discussion.

Values are important for us to hold onto.  They don’t require that we beat people over the head with them.  Speaking the truth in love will never look any different.  If a personal attack is involved, love is not.

I have gained back a brother.  It took a step on my part.  And, one on his.  And, another on mine.  That’s the way it works.

Do you have something you know needs to be accomplished?  Resolved?  Repaired?

Take one step forward.

Oh, sorry.  

Simon says, “Take one step forward.”

 

 

 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
(Ephesians 4:15,16 ~ RSV)

 

What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it. 
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ~ French author/poet ~ 1900-1944)

 

 

 

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

Angry

angryfistI said the words today. I’ve never said them before.

Never.

I’m mad at God.

Not what you expected, is it? Me either.

The preacher and I sat today–not my preacher, just a preacher–and we talked about things we don’t understand. Yes, the preacher has things he doesn’t understand, too. It is a difficult thing to remember sometimes, but they are on the same road as we–still stumbling, often taking wrong turns, and at times, falling into the very ditches from which we are attempting to climb out.

I told him about my troubled young friend who believed that he had run out of options, save one. My young friend took that option, the final act he would perform in this world. The alcohol to numb the fear and the pistol to end the pain were the only tools he needed to do the deed.

I have mourned the loss of my friend. The tears have flowed and been wiped away again and again. As I considered how to express my thoughts tonight, they came again. But, in a strange way, his death is not the reason for my anger.

I am still learning how to be a friend. I am still learning how to reach out to people who are unlovely and unloving–folks who are outcast and lonely.

I have written of my first meeting with the tormented young man. I was afraid to touch him, worried that he was a lost cause from the start. There seemed a good chance that my first encounter with him would also be my last. I thought he was a heartbeat away from doing what he took the next two years to work himself up to.

Two years.

Two years, during which he stopped by with some frequency. Two years, I picked up the phone any number of times to hear his voice. I thought he was doing much better.

He was better!

I said that, in a strange way, his death was not my reason for being angry. It actually was about his death, but I finally came to realize today that I am angry because I was dragged into a relationship which was always going to end the way it did.

God knew it. He knew it and yet, He brought the man into my life. For two years, I would believe the situation was getting better, and then, one day a simple phone call would tell me that it had been for nothing.

And today–today, as I talked with the preacher, I finally said the words right out loud. 

No. I didn’t, did I?

I whispered them.

I’m mad at God.

The whispered words sounded like a shout in my ears. They still do, even as I sit in the quiet of my office and listen to peaceful music tonight.

The preacher knows better than to hand out pat answers to the big questions.  He listened. I talked, spilling my disappointment with God out in plain sight.

And as I talked, what I had known all along became clear. That’s the way it often is, isn’t it? The truth lies mingled in among the lies. We just have to peel the lies–our lies–away and God’s truth remains. 

Right there where it was all along.

The truth is that He faces the same disappointments with man’s failure, and has faced it from eternity past. He knows rejection of His love is right around the next bend and yet He reaches out His hand again and again.

The pain must be excruciating.

How should we expect any other result if we do His will? What He asks of us is not that we continue in obedience to Him as long as success is guaranteed.  He wants us to walk in obedience. Period.

It seems an ugly truth.

I’m still a little mad. Better men than I have been in the same boat. Job, for instance. And, Jonah. Even Elijah had his moment of sulking.

But, here is what I know. God loves me. Even when I’m angry. Even when I’m wrong. He understands my pain, because He has felt the same pain.

We’re talking about it, He and I.

I’ve got an idea that I’ll keep heading along the same road I’ve been on for more than a few years now. There is more work to be done; there are more people to be ministered to.

I wonder who will shove open my door tomorrow?

 

 

“There was a man here last night–you needn’t be afraid that I shall mention his name–who said that his will was given up to God, and who got mad because the omnibus was full, and he had to walk a mile to his lodgings.”
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist ~ 1837-1899)

 

“The Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?'”
(Jonah 4:4 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

 

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