Standing at the Gate

He did it with a smile on his face.  I saw it happen.

We were waiting for the nice lady at the bank to make a copy for us.  I can’t help it; I watch people.  So, while we waited, I watched.

I watched him lock himself and his dad in the vault.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t the big door—you know, the thick slab made of concrete-filled steel and secured with a time-lock.  This was what they call the day gate—a lighter affair, made with open metal rails that can be seen through.

Even so, I watched the little guy, all of three or four years old, swing the barrier back and forth a time or two.  It moved smoothly and noiselessly, so his dad, engrossed in his own activity inside, had no idea of what was happening.

The lad swung it and let go, reaching quickly to hold it and flip it back.  Looking up at me, he smiled.  There was no forethought or malicious intent in his face, simply the joy of being a child and a moment to entertain himself.

He swung it again, reaching for the edge, but missing.  I held my breath, hoping he’d catch it before it reached the end of its arc.  He didn’t.


The little fellow gave a tug at the door, but it stayed put.  He didn’t.  With one last sheepish grin, and an almost pleading look at me, he turned and dashed back into the room where his dad was still taking care of the task he had come to do.

The nice lady came back to our table and my attention was diverted from the scenario in the vault.  Even so, as she talked, it nagged at my consciousness.

I never heard a sound.  Still, moments later, I knew something was amiss.  I turned around and, there at the metal gate, saw the boy and his father standing.  This time, the pleading eyes were in the father’s face.  He didn’t say a word, but shrugged his shoulders and grinned—that same sheepish grin I had seen on the boy’s face earlier.

I suggested to the nice lady that she might want to let them out of the vault and she gasped, rushing to get the key and open the gate.

Not a single word passed between the man and me.  He needed help. I did what was in my power.  It wasn’t much.

Still, I haven’t been able to get the picture out of my mind.  The man, standing behind the gate, waiting for freedom.  In my memory, I see nothing but bars—that, and his face behind those bars.

Almost. . .Well—almost as if he were in prison.

I know it’s a stretch, but I can’t help but wonder if there are bars that lock me in, again and again.  Then again, what if the bars actually lock me out, too?

Prison isn’t only being locked in and held against my will.  Sometimes, prison is a place of my own making—the freedom of going where I want and doing what I have chosen.

Bondage can look a lot like freedom to us, if we’re not careful.  The little boy swinging the gate in fun found that out.

I’ve locked myself in more times than I care to count.

Just tonight, I read an email and slid home the bolt on the prison of fear.  Tomorrow may bring an unhappy encounter, so I  entered the cell tonight willingly, muttering to myself as I pulled the gate shut behind me.

The fear of what tomorrow may bring is a barren cell, fraught with pain and distress.  And yet, I may lie sleepless in this dreadful place the entire night.

A conversation with someone earlier today brought about the opportunity of making personal comparisons.  Without a thought, I acknowledged my superiority and in doing so, firmly latched myself into the prison of pride and arrogance.

The incarceration of the prideful may seem to be, at worst, a low-security lock-up.  But, like most hardened criminals, we return again and again, never reformed, to hear the gate click behind us as we fall into the habit of a lifetime.

There are so many prison doors.  Greed.  Gluttony.  Bigotry.  Selfishness.  Lust.  The list stretches as far as the cells in the cell block above.

Sometimes, it seems that others close the doors for us, just like the little boy in the bank.  It matters not.  The lock snaps closed and we are trapped once more.

I’ve spent enough time locked in those cells.  Maybe that’s true for more than just me.

I remember that there is One who holds the key to every door.  Every single one.

Isaiah, the one who seemed to see Him clearly through all the centuries that lay between, said the words first.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the prisoner—to open the locked gates behind which they await freedom.  (Isaiah 61:1)

Jesus used the same words to describe Himself.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors. Click To Tweet 

Locks, prison doors, barred gates—they mean nothing to Him.

I’m ready for better things.  Easier than the lady at the bank opening that gate, the prison doors will swing wide.

Time to walk free.



What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty? I have a key in my bosom called Promise that will (I am persuaded) open any lock in Doubting Castle.
(from Pilgrim’s Progress ~ John Bunyan ~ 1628-1688)


The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
(Luke 4:18 ~ NKJV ~ Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)





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

Can You See Jesus?

Someday your heart will be asking, What will He do with me?

I grew up singing those words, the closing of a song entitled, What Will You Do With Jesus?   I hadn’t thought about the song for a few decades.

A Catholic priest brought it to mind again today.  I wish I could remember his name.  I saw his words in print for a few seconds.  The words are burned into my brain; his name, unfortunately, is not.

When you look at the refugees, can you see Jesus?

The news and social media have been full of the stories for the last few weeks.  Refugees from the ethnic and religious purging in Syria have been displaced into surrounding Middle Eastern countries, a process which began almost four years ago.  Now, they are pouring into Europe by the hundreds of thousands.  There seems to be no end in sight for the crisis.

Over the last few days, I have seen many individuals claiming that it is our national responsibility to take in a large number of these refugees.  The argument is that as Christians, we must do our part.  

What would Jesus do?

I won’t argue with them.  Time will tell what is to be done there.  

I have bigger problems.

Or possibly, smaller ones.

I don’t want to talk about the millions of refugees.  I don’t want to discuss the millions of babies being slaughtered by abortion.  I don’t want to argue about which ethnic or civil group’s lives matter.

You think me cold?  Insensitive?  

I’m not.

It’s important to tackle the larger issues facing us as a nation—as a world—as people of faith.  The problem is that, too often, our participation in that discussion is a cop-out.

You see, for most of us it’s just that—a discussion.  

We talk.  We get angry.  We get self-righteous.  

But, we never get dirty.  Our hands never once touch the people who need a human touch.  All we want to do is to make our point and win the debate.

And, when the government agencies have done their part, when the monies designated to give relief are delivered, when the temporary housing has been fabricated, we will breath a sign of relief and, with one last self-righteous toss of our heads, we’ll turn again to our clean, sterile lives.

We talk a good game, don’t we?

After all, that’s what the Teacher commended His good servants for, wasn’t it?

I was naked, and you gave money to UNICEF.  I was sick and you checked to see where Doctors Without Borders were docking next.  I was in prison and you signed petitions to the government for my release.

What?  You don’t like my paraphrase?

Millions of refugees in the Middle East?  Easy-peasy!

African-American brothers and sisters seeking justice in urban areas?  You have my full support!

I read the words I have written and realize it seems as if I think we should abandon our concern for a world in need.  I don’t.

I don’t!

goodsamaritanBut, what I know—know beyond any argument—is that we have been given tasks which require our hands to get dirty.  When we finish the task we’ve been assigned, we will stink.

We don’t get to stand, like some politician who has just blinded the opposition with his brilliant rhetoric, clasping our hands above our heads in victory.

We get to stand, dejected in the rain as the ambulance pulls away, because the drug addict we tried to help just overdosed and lost her battle with the demons inside—and outside—her.  

We get to sit on the edge of our elderly neighbor’s front porch, sweaty and exhausted, and look over the neatly trimmed landscape we’ve just finished mowing.  After we had already done our own lawn.

We get to spend our Sunday afternoon with that young lady who has a black eye, finding a shelter for her and helping to fill out police reports.

We get to stand with an arm around the drunk man in the emergency room waiting area as, down the hall, his wife fights for her life after a failed suicide attempt.

The opportunities will never end.  The people who need our touch—our touch, not our words—will stretch out from here to the end of our lives.

Because every single one of them looks like Jesus to us.  Every single one of them.

The priest had the right idea.  

And the Teacher said, “If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.

The words still echo in my head.  Forty years since I last sang them, and certainly with a different perspective, they still echo.

What will you do with Jesus?



Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
(Matthew 25:37-40 ~ NLT)


Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall,
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all;
Hearken! what meaneth the sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be;
Someday your heart will be asking,
“What will He do with me?”
(A B Simpson ~ Canadian theologian ~ 1843-1919)




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