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.

Sugar Is Good For You

It was just an overheard conversation.  

Funny, how a few words directed at someone else can change the tenor of the day.  A thought, tucked away in a vacant corner of the brain and carried through the afternoon unnoticed, gives a different perspective which can’t really be explained. 

The earlier parts of the day hadn’t worked out at all as I had planned.  

A trip into the attic to correct a simple problem had turned into three trips into the attic.  I had planned to be up there only during the coolest hours of the morning.  

When I finally tumbled out at noon, drenched in sweat and nearly choking on the dust from the rock wool insulation, the mood was set for the rest of the day.

That’s the way it seems to go, isn’t it?  I’m not saying it has to; it’s just what we expect after a morning filled with disappointment.

I was gloomily mowing in the hot afternoon sun when my labor was interrupted by a message from the Lovely Lady.

He says we should come over now if we want it.

She had found a cabinet she wanted that someone in a town thirty miles away was selling.  Did I mention it’s the weekend for one of the biggest motorcycle gatherings in the country?  

The busiest weekend of the year as far as traffic goes, and we were going to be on the highway.

Great!  Just great!

I told you it would only get worse.  You just watch!  We’ll get behind a bunch of those bikers out cruising and will be stuck for miles.  Miles!

We stopped at the ATM to get some cash for the purchase.  The machine only gives cash in twenty dollar increments.  We would have to stop and break the bill to have the amount of the asking price.

Frustrated and ready to do something desperate, I suggested we just buy a couple of Cokes.  It was, I suppose, my way of making a statement of protest while demonstrating my problem-solving abilities.

I do like to solve problems.

Well?  It’s in my nature.  I am a man, you know.  This fit perfectly.  I could break my self-imposed no-sugar rule while getting the correct change into my pocket.  

It was a rotten day already.  Why not just wallow in it?

Someone had different plans.  I would like to say it was to show me that sugar is good for me.  That’s probably not it.

Inside the convenience store, I walked back to the cooler and picked out a couple of twenty-ounce bottles, carrying them back to the counter.  The two ladies behind it were just talking. With each other.

I wasn’t included in the conversation.  Except, I was.  

I was intended to hear every word.  I’m certain of it.

“We were listening to the news last weekend and they reported that the boy with autism was missing.”  

I set my items on the counter and she scanned them without missing a beat.

“My little boy wanted to pray for him to be found, so we did—right then.  That’ll be three dollars and sixty-three cents, please.  The next morning we heard he had been found.  My son was so excited!  So excited!”

I pocketed my change and walked out the door, a different person than I had been when I walked in.

It took us almost two hours to go over, pick up the cabinet, and come back.  And, just as I had predicted, we did get behind a group of touring bikers on the way back.  They rode about forty-five miles per hour on the winding two-lane road all the way home.

What a great afternoon!   No.  What a perfect afternoon!

There might still be some who would credit the sugar-high from the Cokes.  They’d be wrong.

The apostle who loved to write letters said it this way as he closed his missive to the good folk at Philippi: Whatever is great news and worth talking about, that’s what you need to keep in your mind. (Philippians 4:8)

He wasn’t talking about the power of positive thinking.  He never said you could name it and claim it.

The reality is this world is an unhappy place.  We wrestle with things we don’t understand.

When we dwell on those things, we are overwhelmed.  

Overwhelmed with fear.  

Beaten by pessimism.  

Conquered by worry.

But, I’m sure of this one thing:  The truth we know is bigger than the doubt we feel.  

The truth we know is bigger than the doubt we feel. Click To Tweet

When we fill up the corners of our mind with the reminders of His love and power, His peace reigns.

Sometimes, it’s no more than the knowledge that He cares about little boys who pray, as well as the little boys who wander away. 

Just in time, I stood at that counter to overhear, eavesdropping on a conversation I wasn’t part of.

I’m saving up those worthwhile stories, squirreling them away in the vacant corners of my memory.

It may be time to sweep out some other cluttered nooks and crevices to make room for more.  

It has become so easy to collect darkness and gloom from almost every source we see.  Our lives will be swept away in those currents if we allow them to take root.

Courage to walk on is born in the corners where excellence is stored.

Courage to walk on is born in the corners where excellence is stored. Click To Tweet

Peace along the road is the product of true and honorable thoughts. 

I do wish it had more to do with the sugar.

I’m fixing my mind.

                             

 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
(Romans 12:2 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)

 

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.
(from The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English novelist/theologian ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Where is the Queue?

Sunday night late—the stoop seems as good a place as any to ponder.
Big things, I always choose.  Tonight, all I see is the moon, and it is big enough.
Full, bright, and orange it was when earlier I stood with my love, taken with wonder.
Now murky and circled with clouds, it only warns of rain to come in the soon dawning day.  Monday with rain.

How does the joy and wonder turn so suddenly to foreboding?
Where does the elation go when I am overcome with dread?
It is not only the moon and not only the night that bring the sudden turnaround.
Still.  The questions remain.
How so suddenly changed?
Where can I go to retrieve the joy?
Where is the queue to reclaim peace for my soul?

I wrote the words a year ago.  They were never meant to share.  Not with anyone.

Two nights ago, he called me—the man who is the rock.  No, really.  The Rock of Gibraltar.  Or, so I have believed.

His close friends, two of them, have died in the last week.  Another, even closer to him, is in the terrifying uncertainty of awaiting the doctor’s report.

He is shaken.  Shaken.

We talked for some time and agreed on this certainty at the end of the conversation: We know the Peace-giver.  In our prayers and gratitude, He gives His peace that we cannot understand.

The Prince of Peace gives Himself.  

The Prince of Peace gives Himself. Click To Tweet

His words, fear not, are not meant as a command to be followed religiously, in fear of offense.  They are the assurance of a loving parent—a promise of safety, of wholeness, of perfect rest.  

They are words to comfort and not to condemn.

And, as children are wont to do, we forget.  We do.  

And, like a Father, He reminds again.  And again.  

His words are fresh every time.  His arms of protection cover—every time.

Peace.  I am leaving it with you.  Not the kind of peace the world offers, brokered by the powerful and ensured by weapons and threats.  No, my peace is a gift to hold in your heart, where no man and no circumstance can plunder it.  (John 14:27)

Where anger rules, peace dissolves.  Where terror dwells, peace cannot live.  Where worry spreads, peace is no more.

Does it mean our hearts will never be touched by these things?  By no means.

Fear may pass through, anger may swell up, anxiety may worm its way in.

But His peace reigns.  Just as Peter, when we begin to sink beneath the waves, we remember who rules those waves.  

As we walk through the valley of the shadow, we recall who waits for us over there.

You know—over there.  Where our home—our real home—is being made ready for us.

Here is the queue to reclaim peace—in exactly the same place it was the last time.

We’re next in line.  Every time.

Peace.

Shalom.

 

 

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British theologian/author ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:7 ~ KJV)

 

 

 

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

 

Smooth Sailing

Battered and beaten.

It’s the only way to describe them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair winds, and following seas.

Peaceful, isn’t it? It’s meant to be.

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

I want it now. Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrified. Tired. Confused.

They rowed frantically, making no headway against the storm.

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

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

It means the same thing.

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

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

The harbor lies up ahead.  Really.

The waves and wind still know His voice.

Rest.

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Voice Calls

Ahhhh.

I lean back as I sink into in my comfortable chair, coffee cup in hand. The music that gently floats in the air quiets and pacifies the very soul.

Outside, it is raining, the rain-258991_640drops gently drumming down onto the metal roof above me.

This is the life!

Only moments ago, I untied my shoes and kicked them under the desk, wiggling my toes in joy at being free of the constraints. I don’t know of many moments that feel better than that instant in which the shoes are kicked off.

I sit and soak in the mellowness. Here, I could stay forever.

But, something nags at the edges of my mood. Almost, I hear a voice calling me.

C’mon! There’s no time to waste! There are things to do. We have people to see. C’mon!

I shrug my shoulders, in a vain effort to quiet the badgering call. What is that emotion I’m starting to feel? It’s ruining the ambiance in the room.

I know what it is.

Guilt.

I am a believer in being up and about—in taking action. I am an advocate for achievement. A life spent in dissipation and indolence is a life wasted.

Perhaps, I should tackle the jobs I see waiting for me. I really should get busy, shouldn’t I?

And just like that, without even the benefit of an apology for offending my mellow frame of mind, I am instantaneously on edge.

Ready for action.

Like a bull in the rodeo pen right before the cowboy alights on his back, I mentally paw the dirt, achieving nothing, but giving the appearance of readiness.

Let me out of here!

I reach for my shoes.

But then, I remember. I worked today.  I worked!

Customer after customer, problem after problem–all dealt with, and all served. Lunch was in stages, a bite here and another bite ten minutes after. People come first. I can always eat later. I can always relax later.

This is later.

The Teacher looked at His close friends. They were exhausted. He looked beyond them to the crowds which were following—always there, always needing something.

He said two words that echo down through the centuries since. The words yet speak to us in our busy-ness here and now.

Two words.

Come away.

Into our frantic lives He speaks peace. Come away. Click To Tweet

Ah, I like that Voice better than the one in my head.

I believe I’ll leave the shoes on the floor. But, I may need to get another cup of coffee soon.

When I decide to get up from here. Or if.

Listen to the rain falling on the roof.  

Come away.

 

 

 

Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.
(George MacDonald ~ Scottish author/minister ~ 1824-1905)

 

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
(Mark 6:31 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

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

Two Sides

Starts. 
Stops.
I write words.
They’re not right.

Peace.
Fear.
I claim one.
One claims me.

Justice.
Violence.
In my prayers.
Still it preys.

Love.
Fear.
It casts out.
Outcasts makes.

Love.    
Fear.
It casts out.
Outcasts makes.

Love.

 

 

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without, and know we cannot live within.
(James Arthur Baldwin ~ American playwright/social critic ~ 1924-1987)

 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
(1 John 4:18-21 ~ NIV)

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

I Remember Peace

They were kind enough to invite me to ride with them recently.  The seasoned riders have trekked many miles together in the years I’ve been aware of them.

I usually ride alone.  

It’s not that I don’t like being with people, but simply that the logistics are less complicated when I’m the only one who has to agree to the time and length of ride.  

It would be just another ride for me, I thought, but one spent in a group of men who, like me, enjoyed the spinning of the crank and wind of freedom blowing on their faces.  

I never expected to be transported back fifty years as I rode.

It was my own fault really.  One kind member of the group, noticing my problem, rode beside me for a few moments and explained the theory I obviously didn’t grasp.

“You don’t ride much with groups, do you?  If you’ll stay with the other riders, the ride will be a lot easier.”

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand his meaning.  Riding in a group reduces the effect of the wind, making the ride much less taxing.  One has only to watch a professional bicycle racing team to grasp the idea.  Drafting, following each other closely, is only a part of the benefit.

I never have been good at that—staying with the group.  I’ve got my own ideas of what works, what corners to turn, how fast to ride on the downhills, and how hard to pedal up the steep slopes.  But, perhaps the kind fellow is right.

I tried to follow his advice—really, I did.  

But, they went slower than I wanted on the downhill parts.  Then they went faster than I was ready to try on the uphill sections.

And, besides that, my mind was already a thousand miles away and fifty years in the past.

I guess I’ve always done it—ridden at my own pace.  Still, the fear that knotted my insides on that long-ago day should have taught me a lesson to remember for life.  

There were usually at least five of us who rode together—sometimes more.  Through neighborhoods and across fields, down into canals and over levees, we pedaled our nondescript bikes.  Brothers, neighbors, schoolmates—it didn’t matter.  Whoever wanted to ride went along.

I heard the voices calling and jerked back from my daydreaming.

Oye vato!

The four young men standing at the corner toward which I was heading had suddenly become aware of my presence.  It took only an instant for me to realize what was going on.

As I was riding ahead of the group of ragtag boys, I had turned the corner into La Paloma without knowing it.  La Paloma was a barrio, or neighborhood, in my hometown famous for the gang that wandered its streets.  It has gotten much worse since my childhood, but even then, we knew better than to meander down its avenues idly.

The young men were headed into the street, coming straight for me.  I remembered passing someone at the corner behind as well, and glanced back.  Sure enough, he had moved onto the pavement, blocking my quick escape that way.

I was terrified.  No other word describes it.  

Terror.

I was also alone.  I can only imagine the conversation of my comrades as they gathered around the corner, just outside the neighborhood.

Can you believe he went in there?  What was the idiot thinking?  I’m not going in!  No way!

Fortunately for me, they didn’t take long to decide that somebody had to come in after the idiot.  Just in time, all of them came riding around the corner, about the moment I was trying to decide which one of the guys in front of me I might be able to knock over if I rode at him full speed.  I never found out.

As soon as the rest of the group came into view, the other boys moved back onto the verge of the parking area and simply watched us ride past.  

We rode, nonchalantly and quietly, down the street, turning the corner and riding straight home.  After fifty years, my heart still beats a little faster, remembering the fear, but also the relief.

To this day, I remember the peace that rode around the corner with those brothers and friends.  We weren’t out of danger—not by a long shot—but the relief I felt was almost palpable. 

One might think the lesson I learned on that day was of strength in numbers.  I know the truth of that, but it’s not what I remember.

I remember peace.  While still in danger, I felt peace, full and complete.

Odd, isn’t it?  The name of the barrio and its gang, La Paloma, means The Dove.  Thoughout time, the dove has been a powerful symbol of peace.  And there, in frightening circumstances, with disaster just moments away, peace fell over this young boy.

In danger, peace lives, unafraid.

Peace is not the absence of danger, but it is the assurance of safety.

Perhaps I’m not the only one who feels the danger crouching outside my door today.  I hear it in the words, see it in the eyes of both friends and acquaintances. Fear can stalk us as we see death take those we know and love.  Terror is set to spring as the world around us grows more unfamiliar and threatening.

And yet, the Savior told us He was leaving us peace.  It’s not the peace the world craves—the complete absence of danger and of conflict of any kind, but is a peace that supports in the middle of the storm.  (John 14:27)

He was about to be tortured, tried in court, and put to death.  And, He told His followers not to be troubled and afraid.  Their world was about to crash down around their shoulders and they were to continue on with peace in their souls.

It doesn’t make sense. It never has from a human perspective.

2016-07-02 17.27.40-2Once in awhile, the Lovely Lady and I feel the need to retreat.  The world presses in, its cares overwhelming the spirit.  Last weekend, we went to the mountaintop for a day or two.

We stood, overlooking the world below and heard the wind blow gently over the treetops.  In quietness, God speaks eloquently to our spirits.

Creation reminds us that our Creator is as He has always been.

We walked the hillsides of a green valley in the morning, as raindrops began to fall.  The sound of the water from heaven on the canopy of leaves and pine needles above soothed the hurts and fears in our souls.

Ah, sweet peace.

The solitude reminded me that peace has already been given us long ago.  We have only to remember where our strength comes from and realization of our certain salvation is renewed.

The psalmist wrote of it in his own contemplation.  I lift my eyes up to the hills and I realize where my strength comes from.  It comes from God the Creator, who made the heavens and the earth. (Psalm 121:1-2

Not only in the quiet, but in the hubbub, in the tormented days, and the fear-laden nights, peace can be ours.

Not only ours, peace can reign.  In our very beings, the terror is silenced, the fear put to flight.  Peace reigns.  (Colossians 3:15)

When all about us, men whisper of danger and terror in the dark, we don’t disagree.  They do exist.  They do have power.  

But, our safety is not in weapons, not in hoarded wealth, nor even in governments.  The peace those bring isn’t peace at all.  It never has been and never will be.

Peace comes only from the Giver of all good gifts.

Safety itself is ours.

Even when we ride ahead of the pack.

 

 

 

The Dove, on silver pinions
Winged her peaceful way.
(from The Pelican Island ~ James Montgomery ~ Scottish poet/hymnwriter ~ 1771-1854)

 

 

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
(John 14:27 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

The Weapon

The prince of this world is not a liberal or a conservative.
He is both. And neither.
He is nothing.  Nothing.

His power is now only in his voice—his charisma. He is smooth and attractive.
His logic is brilliant.  He plays all sides of the convocation.
He attracts. He distracts. He detracts.

And in the end, he simply attacks.

All roads lead to his hell. All of them.
No.  Not all.  There is one that leads elsewhere.
Only one.

The way was opened by God Himself, who is not a liberal or a conservative.
He is both. And neither.
And that’s where the similarity stops.

He is All and in all. His power is not in a voice nor in logic, but in Love.
Love—that most illogical, and logical, reality.

For love should never have led to a terrible cross on a lonely hillside.
And, love could never have led anywhere else.

The prince is indeed, nothing.  He is beaten already.
Yet, defeated, still he marshals his forces against each other.
And many, who today do his bidding, claim allegiance to Another.

When do we, who have chosen the solitary way, recall the only weapon which will ever vanquish the prince?
Indeed, it is the only weapon which has ever yet defeated him.

They’ll know we are His by our love.
Not our brilliance. Not our voting power. Not the fierceness of our defense for all good things.
In the end, there is nothing else, save Love.

Love.

Perhaps the end is already upon us.
Is it time to show our weapon yet?

Is it time yet?

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You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.
(from The Great Divorce ~ C.S.Lewis ~ 1898-1963)

 

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood…
(Ephesians 6:12 ~ KJV)

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
(John 13:35 ~ NLT)

 

 

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

Bells Ring

Nearly Christmas.  All is well.

That’s what I’m supposed to write, isn’t it?

Am I the only one who isn’t happy?

It’s hard to write when one is gloomy.  My mood matches the weather lately.  Cloud-bound and gray.

The world around me is angry.  Races are pitted against each other.  The wealthy and the poor are caught up in a war of the classes.  Friends battle with friends and brothers are angry with their brothers.

What’s not to be sad about?

I wonder.  Would it be okay for me to just  share a poem tonight?  The writer of these words had reason to be sad.  He had reason to be angry.

His wife had died from burns she received when her clothing caught fire.  In putting out the fire, he himself had been burned badly.

The next Christmas, he wrote this:  “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

The year after, at Christmas, he penned these words, “‘A Merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

War raged in the countryside and his son was seriously injured in battle.  At Christmas that year, he was silent.

Silent.

Ah!  But the next Christmas–the next Christmas, these timeless verses came.  And, with them–hope.

And, peace.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
     And wild and sweet
     The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom
     Had rolled along
     The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,
     A voice, a chime,
     A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
     “For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;

“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
     The Wrong shall fail,   
     The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

He wrote the words exactly one hundred fifty-one years ago this Christmas. Death and war, pain and hatred, were the language of the day.  

The intellect of the poet said exactly what mine echoes today.

What’s the use?  Nothing changes.

But the heart–no, the very soul–of the believer knows.  It knows that the Child who was born on that first Christmas day brought with Him a message of Hope and Peace.  And Joy.

Joy that shall be to all people.  All people.

I think I’ll listen to the bells.

All is well.

 

 

 

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
(Luke 2: 10,11,13,14 ~ KJV)

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

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

Still, My Soul

Floodwaters

 Angry, a voice cries out.
Bitter, the answer screamed.

Words in a torrent, released from the dam
Overflow of hearts filled with pain.

Voices clamor, bluster of a wounded band;
Hurt, combatants proclaim superiority.

Floodgates opened, unspeakable filth teems over.
The ugly deluge splatters all in its path.

Good intentions seek the flood to slow,
Sandbags slung before the unstoppable rampage.

Words prohibited; banners torn from halyards,
Pointless posturing, no visible effect.

We stand agape, terror claiming our souls.
Eyes on the carnage, courage flees.

Overwhelmed, I am
Seeing only the flood.

I hear my own voice, raised in anger.
Raucous ranting, it but adds to the cascade.

Lost, pulled under by the unyielding surge,
Twisted and broken, spirits surrender.

Soft, the voice speaks from nearby
Peace. Quietness is yours.

Not in the flood, but on it;
Untouched by anger, standing apart.

Words yet fly; sides are chosen, battles fought.
He quiets them not, nor fights for any.

Peace reigns in His kingdom,
Kingdom of the heart.

 

 

Sometimes He calms the storm.
And other times, He calms His child.
(Scott Krippayne ~ Singer/Songwriter)

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
(John 14:27 ~ ESV)

 

 

 

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