And the Stars Sang Together

I suppose I may have actually gone for a year or two without looking at them.  I really can’t remember.  I may have.

It’s not that I ever stopped believing in them.  I just never saw them, so they almost didn’t matter.  To me, they didn’t matter.

It’s funny when I actually write the words.  No, not funny.  Stupid.  And, sad.  Mostly sad.

I looked at them tonight.  The stars, I’m talking about.  I walked out into the winter night, just as the temperature showed thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, and simply stood there staring at the spectacular light show in the sky.

Do you think the light show was good at the last concert you attended?  I don’t get to many rock concerts, but they’ve changed a little over the years.  Besides the obvious increase in volume, I mean.

The light arrays on the stage are astonishing in their scope, utilizing everything from LEDs to old-style incandescent spotlights to pyrotechnics, all operated by one man sitting at a control board, or perhaps even pre-programmed and actuated by computer software at the proper time. 

The lights move up and down or side-to-side, oscillating and flashing all the while.  They don’t just highlight the musicians on stage, either.  Some are aimed at the audience and, from time to time, shine so brilliantly in their eyes that the band members onstage are not even visible at all.

Still.  The gaudiness and brilliance of those stage lights fade into a dim memory as the attentive human wanders under the night sky.  

I stood in my shirt sleeves tonight, the glory of the heavens spread out above me, and, for a few moments, forgot how cold it was.  The blue-black canopy of space overhead was overwhelmed by the constellations and galaxies, and the night sky was alive with light.  Pure, brilliant, untouched Creator’s power.

For the better part of twenty years, the Lovely Lady and I lived in a house which was part of a commercial zone in our little town.  We could often see the big orb of a moon as it rose on the eastern horizon, or hung like a giant smile overhead.  And, the sun had no problem showing its face day after sweltering day through the long humid summers. 

But, to walk out the door and look up at the stars in the sky was never as easy as that.  The man-made lights shone garishly in our eyes like so many rock-concert LEDs obscuring the main act, the stars, if you will, overhead.

It’s easy, when you don’t often see the stars, to forget how spectacular that light show is.  Over a period of years, one might be forgiven if it’s not on their top ten list of the most important things in creation to take time for.

It would be foolish, however, to decide that the stars are no longer shining in the sky.  Just because we don’t take the time, or make the effort, no one would aver that they don’t exist anymore.

I wonder.  Do you suppose any of those stars gave up on me in the years when I wasn’t able to walk out under the dome of the heavens in the middle of winter and be blown away by their splendor?  Maybe just one called it quits.

No?

The faithful in northern Greece were encouraged to stay just that—faithful—in the letter written to them by the apostle Paul. He described them as stars that shone in the sky, in the midst of a damaged and deceived generation. (Philippians 2:15)

Nearly every day, I read of someone else who is advancing the claim that our time—those of us who follow Christ—is ended.  We’re not needed anymore; not relevant to our culture.

I could have made the same claim during all those years of living under the halogen glare of parking lot and street lights on poles.  Who needs stars when you have automatic lights that shine on demand?

Who needs stars when you have streetlights? Click To Tweet

The stars are irrelevant!

And yet somehow, they’re still shining.  Still in their constellations.  Still wheeling across the cosmos in synchronization with every other ball of burning gas set into motion all those centuries ago by our Creator.

And our sun, dwarf star that it is in a galaxy of giants, ushers in each new day, and season, and year, just as if it is as relevant today as it was on the day when the stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy at the marvelous creative power of our God. (Job 38:7)

Somehow, I think I’ll keep shining too.  

No one may be looking at the little light right now.  There may never be a single voice that testifies to the power that makes my light visible.

It doesn’t matter.  He made us to shine.

Not like the fake, gaudy light of the stage array, nor even like the brilliant, confusing glare of Gideon’s lamps in the enemy camp. 

But, simply with the bright, steady light of His love and grace, we shine.

With the bright, steady light of His love and grace, we shine. Click To Tweet

Lighting the way to Him.  For a world blinded by too many lights that illuminate nothing at all, we are lighting the path to Him.

We shine.

                               

And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
(from The Peace of Wild Things ~ Wendell Berry ~ American farmer, author, and poet)

 

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
(Isaiah 40:26 ~ NLTHoly 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.

Treasure in the Dumpster

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

Not today.

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

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

I got up.

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

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

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

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

Treasures from trash.  

The concept hasn’t left my head all day.

Trash.  Treasures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is like that.

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

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

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

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

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

And still, they dive in.

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

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

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

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

Still trash.

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

Ashes.

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

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

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

It wasn’t.

It isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

Every time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sets us in higher places.

He sets us in higher places. Click To Tweet

Higher.

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

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

In a place it will be safe.

In a place where we’ll be safe.

It’s time.

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

Trusty

She had stored the instrument in an attic.

Attics are hot.  

I know.  I spent most of an hour in one today.

Sweat poured from my face and body—almost as if I were melting—while I completed my task.  When I finally crawled out, filthy and soaked through, from the sweltering darkness I wanted nothing else but to escape outside to the relative coolness of the mid-eighty degree afternoon temperatures.

Attics are hot.

As I sat and drank down a cold bottle of water, my mind, as it tends to do, brought back the picture of the old lady, who has long since left this life.  Thirty years ago, she wandered into my music store, carrying the large container that looked almost like a suitcase.

Her head shook up and down as she spoke in a squeaky voice.

“I’ve been holding on to this for a long time, but it won’t play anymore.  Can you fix it?”

I opened the huge case and lifted out the ancient accordion.  As I shifted it to sit on the countertop in front of me, there was a clatter from the interior of the instrument.

That wasn’t good.

The lady had left the squeeze-box with a friend she trusted for safe-keeping and the friend thought it would be safest in his attic.

Attics are hot.

All the reeds—the part of the accordion that air blows through to make the sound you can hear—are held in with beeswax.  That’s all—beeswax.

You do know what happens to wax when it gets hot, right?.  You know, like when you light a candle?  

Sure, you do.  It liquefies.

Every single reed had fallen out of place and into a huge pile inside the center of the instrument.  It wouldn’t make a sound.  Well, except for the jangle of loose reeds bumping against each other, it wouldn’t make a sound.

Useless.  Absolutely useless.

Somehow, the remembrance of the experience—one that eventually had a happy ending, with a repair being effected and the instrument being saved for the lady—the remembrance brings to mind another story of great heat and complete failure.  

The mind does run on, doesn’t it?

I have always loved to read.  In my childhood, I was especially drawn to myths and fantasies, a juvenile escape, I suppose, from the hard and sometimes unhappy realities of life.

One of my favorite myths, probably a favorite because I have always dreamed of what it would be like to fly, was the story of Icarus.  In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father were imprisoned on an island, but escaped by flying away on wings they fashioned from feathers and wax.

Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and, trusting the make-shift wings too much, flew higher and higher until the sun melted the wax, causing the feathers to fall off.  He fell into the ocean below and drowned.

Both stories reminded me that good intentions—and even solid planning—don’t always work out the way we expect.

As I sat outside today, nearly back to normal, I realized words were running through my head—either the result of the strange line of thought or, perhaps, the cause of it.  It’s hard to tell sometimes.

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true, but the feathers fell from our wings.

A week ago, a friend shared the song.  I had never heard it before.  The words hit hard as I listened, and moved me as much as any I’ve heard in recent memory.  I found myself agreeing with the artist throughout.

Even though it’s not a Christian song, its truth is still profound.

I want to be dependable, to act as one who has proven, time after time, to be trustworthy.

I want to be trusty.  

I do.

But, again and again, I do the thing which shows the disaster I really am.

Flapping for all I’m worth, my feathers have all melted away and I’m going down.  Again.

The Apostle, my namesake, tells us he had the same problem, as well.  The things I say I want to do, I don’t seem to be able to accomplish.  The acts I want to avoid at all costs—those are the ones I find myself performing.  (Romans 7:15)

Somehow, the heat is always on.  Somehow, our feathers never will stay put.

And, the harder we try, the more the notes won’t sound.

Some would say we’re trying too hard.

I just say, we’re trying.  And, we can never succeed in the strength we have.  Never.

The problem is not that we're trying too hard, it's that we're trying at all. Click To Tweet

Every attempt we ever make at being trusty on our own will ultimately end in failure.  Every one.

We fly, only when He gives us wings to do so.  We make music because He puts the reeds into place.

He saved us, not because of our own righteousness, but because of His unending mercy.  By the washing and renewing of His Spirit, we are His.  (Titus 3:5)

Even when the heat is on, our faces dripping with perspiration and lungs filling with the filth of this world, we are His, saved by His Grace.

Time to fly.

Fly high.

The only One who is Trusty and True has us.

We just have to come.

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true
But feathers fell from our wings
And we’ve wanted to be worthy of you
But weather rained on our dreams.

And if all that you are
Is not all you desire,
Then, come.
(from Trusty and True ~ Damien George Rice ~ Copyright © 2014 Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

 

 

So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.
(Revelation 3:18 ~ NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.

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

The Storyteller

So I says to him—I says—that’ll never go through this door.

My grandfather died the year I graduated from high school, but still, I hear his voice, telling another of his stories.  Always—always, they were punctuated with spaces.  

They were spaces in which he caught his breath.

When he walked from the front porch to the kitchen, he always stopped at the desk behind his easy chair.  Every time.  Leaning with his big hands on the edge of the desktop, he breathed deep, his powerful chest muscles expelling the bad air and drawing in good.

I felt the tell-tale tightening in my chest earlier today, a sign that my own bronchial issues may soon overtake me again.  I couldn’t help but think of the old man.

Experience tells me that, even should I succumb to the malady completely, I will breathe freely again very soon.  But, these moments remind me of folks who’ve gone before—people I have loved and who have loved me.

They remind me of other things, as well.  

My grandfather, he of the interrupted sentences, was a storyteller.  He loved a good story.  More than that, he loved being surrounded by people who listened to the stories he told.  The gaps for breathing, at first an annoyance to both the teller and the listener, soon became room for thought and reason for suspense.  

A good storyteller uses the tools with which he is provided.  

Grandpa was a good storyteller.  Health impediment or not, he was going to tell his stories.

I’m a storyteller too.  You might say, it’s in my blood.  Kind of like the lung issues.  From my grandfather to my son, the males in my family have experienced similar problems of varying degrees.  Without a say in the inheritance, we have each passed down the frailty to the succeeding generation.

May I talk about the storytelling and passing things down for a moment?  I promise to be nearly succinct.  The reader will have to be the judge of whether the time is well spent.

Did you know our Creator commanded us to be storytellers?  And, He expected us to pass the love of telling stories down through the generations?  His instructions—oddly enough, passed through another storyteller—were clear.  

Parents tell your children.  Tell them in your home, as you’re hiking on a trail, and when you’re in the shopping centers. Through all the ages, tell them.  Give them reason to believe and to trust in a God who provides and protects. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20

The testimony of previous generations is a bridge over which we cross the raging floods of cultural deception and shifting doctrine.  If we fail to provide those bridges for our children, our progeny will be washed away in the roiling currents and howling rapids.

Tell the stories!  Use words that are accurate and attractive.  Put them to music, rhyme the syllables, and give them rhythm.  Paint them on a canvas, or carve them in stone.

Tell the stories!

12745592_10206853935720800_2029702514110622443_nThe Lovely Lady—my favorite walking companion—and I wandered along an abandoned roadbed just a few days hence.  We had a goal in mind, a century-old bridge, now abandoned, but still standing.  It has not carried traffic for a number of years.

A monument to the past, the framework stands.  There is even a roadway across, but a few steps onto it and one soon realizes that it will never support the weight of a vehicle again.  

A monument—nothing more.

Bridges are meant to be more than monuments.  Properly maintained and kept, they smoothly move traffic from the place left behind to the destination.  Abandoned, they serve no purpose, but rust and rot into the landscape, forcing the traveler to choose a different route or be carried away in the flood.

I will build bridges.  

With my last breath, I will tell the stories.

With my last breath, I will tell the stories. Click To Tweet

As my lovely companion and I wandered, almost sadly, away from the beautiful old span, I realized that my faulty lungs might make the half-mile trek back to the road difficult and wondered about the wisdom of making the trip.  

I needn’t have worried.  Companions are made to help each other on the road.

We don’t walk the road alone—don’t build the bridges alone—don’t cross them alone.

Surrounded by a great cloud of storytellers, we press on.

To our last breath.  

Tell the Story.

 

 

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit!
(Hebrews 12:1,2 ~ The Message)

 

For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
(from A Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English author ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

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

Where Will We Go?

My old friend came in and sat down.  It seemed like a morning for remembering the past.  

It turned out to be a morning for looking to the future.

Somehow though, there are always more important things to consider than those that are most obvious.  We talk about life as we know it, but larger truths lie waiting to be appropriated.

Our conversation was interrupted a time or two by customers, come to replenish their supply of guitar picks, or banjo strings.  Then she came in trombone-513806_640lugging a case that could only hold a trombone.  I remembered the young lady from her visit just days ago.

“I did what you suggested.  I brought it by to be sure it’s not going to be a bad horn for my son.  Do you mind taking a look at it?”

I didn’t mind.  It was a good horn and I told her so,  suggesting a few things she might do to keep it in that condition.  She thanked me and left.  

As I returned to my seat, my friend, who had listened and watched the interlude carefully, stared at me—a mixture of surprise and annoyance written on his face.

He wanted to know how she had the nerve to walk in with an instrument she had purchased elsewhere and ask me to help her determine its suitability.  He had also noted that there was no request on my part for a fee, nor had she offered one.

I brushed his concerns aside.  

“I told her to do it.  I want to be sure as many kids as possible get good instruments, even when I’m not the one to provide them.”

He sat in silence for a moment or two.  Mouth hanging open in disbelief and hands waving in the air, he digested the concept.

In a return—of sorts—to our earlier conversation, he asked one more question.

“Where are they going to go to get that done when you’re not around anymore?”

My friend avers that we offer a service no other business would offer.  I’m sure he’s wrong, but I can’t prove it.

I do wish I could answer his question.  It bothers me.

I have thought about it before.  I thought about it more after he left today. 

It’s an odd thing, though.  That more important truth I mentioned earlier keeps intruding on my consideration.

Peter said to the Master, “Lord, to whom would we go?  You have the only words capable of giving life.  There is no one else.” (John 6:67-69)

A large number of people who had been following Jesus were deserting Him, not able to accept the truths He was teaching.  He had wondered aloud if the original disciples were also going to abandon Him.

Peter and his comrades knew the truth.  There was no one else to turn to.  No other person who walked the earth, no other teacher who offered his version of truth, had words that could give eternal life.  There was no one else.

There was no one else.

There never will be.

You know, my friend is wrong.  

Others will come behind me.  If they don’t do the same things, the new methods will suffice.  

The music will not die.  It didn’t really need me in the first place.

The same cannot be said of those who follow Jesus.  There will never be a different Savior.  There will never be another Son of God.

No one else will ever offer the words of life.

Ever.

No one else will ever offer the words of life. Ever. Click To Tweet

And unlike me, He won’t be retiring.  His offer stands.  To every generation.  Until the end of days.

Come unto me, all who are weary and burdened with care, and I will give you rest.  (Matthew 11:28)

Leave your money at home.  You can’t afford this service.  

He wouldn’t accept it anyway.

 

 

 

The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
(Charles DeGaulle ~ French statesman ~ 1890-1970)

 

Your eternal word, O Lord,
    stands firm in heaven.
Your faithfulness extends to every generation,
    as enduring as the earth you created.
(Psalm 119:89-90 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

Disruption

She’s no better than she ought to be.

The proper English lady sniffed pompously as she said the words.  Quite obviously, she considered the woman about whom she was speaking beneath herself.  I don’t have many British friends, so I’ve never heard the phrase used in conversation.

I am happy to say the BBC comedy program the Lovely Lady and I were watching has provided the impetus for many trips to the dictionary of origins for me. 

I suppose I may be a little odd (perhaps, more than a little).

I have always loved words.  Big words.  Little words.  Obscure words.  I want to know where our language came from.  If it comes to that, I want to know where it is going.  Still, I didn’t have to do much research to figure this one out.

The female person about whom the words were spoken was quite clearly poor and uneducated.  Her morality was also suspect.  Somehow, for quite a few people, the two states are inseparable.

They believe poor and uneducated leads to immoral, every time.

Apparently, if you get a bad start, you aren’t expected to rise any higher in the years which follow.

If you are born disadvantaged, you’ll never be any better than you ought to be.

And, that might be a true statement.

Except. . .

Did you know that every one of us was born disadvantaged?  

Did you know that not one of us has the ability to become good?  

We can never be any better than we ought to be.  None of us.

All of us have sinned.  All of us fall short.  It is the norm—the common condition of man.  (Romans 3:23)

Except. . .

Except, the Disruptor came along.  He made us better than we ought to be.

You know what a disruptor is, don’t you?  In the jargon of today’s marketplace, a disruptor is someone or something which has the ability to change forever the item or entity with which it intersects.

It’s not that things are done in a different way; things actually are different.

For all of history before the Disruptor’s coming, our Creator, knowing that we were disadvantaged, and understanding where we came from (He fashioned us, after all), overlooked our sin.

Oh, it had to be covered; that’s what the sacrifices were for—a covering for sin—but God, understanding we were made from dirt and would always act like dirt, loved us anyway. (Psalm 103:8-14)

He loved us anyway.

And, in His time—at the perfect juncture in history—He sent the Disruptor.  Because He loves us, things would be different forever.

We will be better than we ought to be.

Will be!

No more will we be able to point to our heritage and suggest that we are just as good as they were.  Never again will we know the limitation of being only as good as our past allows.

He makes all things new!  Disruption means that nothing will ever be the same again.

We have been re-created.  And, not out of dirt!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The very thought of it makes me sit up straighter.  This new reality changes everything.  I don’t have to go through life trapped in the same state as when I was born.

But still, the lie intrudes. 

You’ll never be any better.  Never.

Somehow, even in the truth of newness, and in the reality of not-dirt, we begin to believe the lie that we are worthless.  And, being human, we find ways to build our own worth.

Bolstering our own worth always involves diminishing the worth of others.  Always.

She’s no better than she ought to be.pebbles-1209189_640

Still, we say the words.  The lie prevails.  Pride rules in our hearts.  And, as we take aim at others, we hurt ourselves.

He changes the rules.  It’s what He came for.

Go ahead then; stone her.  But the first stone must be thrown by one who has never sinned.  (John 8:7)

Do you think He came to leave us in the same condition in which He found us?  Without question, the most disruptive person in all of history is the Son of God.

He calls us to follow Him in his disruptive ways.  

He calls us to love each other anyway.

We are the hands and feet—and heart— of the Disruptor here on earth.

Where we walk and serve, nothing should ever be the same again.

Perhaps, it’s time for us to get started.

 

 

 

Dust are our frames, and, gilded dust our pride.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson ~ English poet ~ 1809-1892)

 

The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die
The wind blows, and we are gone—

    as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever

    with those who fear him.
(Psalm 103:13-17 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

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

Hunting Cats Don’t Purr

He doesn’t hate cats.  He never has.

It’s just that my Dad thought cats should earn their keep.  In an environment rich in prey for the furry felines, he expected them to do what God created them to do.

We didn’t feed the cats a lot.  

They did their jobs.

cat-220490_640Many hours were spent in my childhood, watching the sneaky critters hunt mice and lizards around the various buildings on the property.  Stealthily and patiently, they would wait for just the right moment.  Any error in  calculation would result in missing the kill.  Hunger was the result.  

They became quite skilled at their task.  

Even the most elusive of prey can be caught.  

On several occasions, I would notice the cat giving up after waiting for a long period of time, only to return the next day or week.  Nothing escaped them forever.

A few times, they were even lucky enough to find the nest of a cottontail rabbit.  The fat little bunnies were no match for the cunning hunters.  We were always unhappy to see the result of these forays.

But we were never as sad as the lady of the house was when she found the feathers of her beloved songbirds scattered in the yard, the result of some stealthy, sneaky kitty’s hunt.  A slink—a crouch—a spring in the air, and the deed was done.  I think she would have rather fed the cats daily than have the sweet songs of those winged creatures fall silent.

Nevertheless, I also remember the times when we set the feast out for the brood of feline hunters.  Scraps from the table, perhaps the leftover from one of our fishing trips, would find their way out to the porch on saucers.  

The purring kitties would devour the meal in seconds, with heads raised immediately to see if more was forthcoming.  When it wasn’t, the cats would wander away to lie in the shade, still purring, those plump mounds where their hungry bellies had been now gorged with the bounty.

Funny thing.  The next day they would return to the place they had been fed, in hopes that the generosity would be repeated.  When it wasn’t, they slunk away disappointed.  Usually, after the second day with no repetition in the feeding, they would return to their usual activities, once more catching mice and other prey.

It wasn’t a bad system.  My father believed that things should work the way God designed them to.  Cats are hunters.  

Some may think it cruel to have let them fend for themselves.  In this day and age, we pamper our pets, providing beds and central heat/air for them.  Offering them gourmet meals, we wouldn’t think of making them hunt.  

Dad believed them capable, and they proved themselves to be all that and more.  Not one ever starved.

But beyond the discussion of our treatment of pets, I have to wonder:  Do things actually work the way God created them to?

There is a deeper truth to be found here.  We may have to hunt for it a little while.

It may take some skill.  

Truth is so elusive at times.

Why is it that sometimes we have to struggle so hard to find it?  I have questions—questions for which I need answers—but they are nowhere to be found.

Years, I have sought the answers in some cases.  It is true that many have been revealed.  

But many more, I still seek for.  

And perhaps, that is the deeper truth we can learn from the feline creatures.

The hunt for truth, God’s truth, is a lifelong quest.  Wisdom and knowledge, of who He is and what He desires of us, depend on it.

Our relationships depend on finding it.

Why then is it so hard to find sometimes?  There are seasons when I feel I’m wandering in a desert, with nothing to be found.  There is no truth, no direction, no comfort to be seen anywhere.

africa-1170036_1280

But, I remember the words of the Teacher, the one who wandered in the desert Himself, hungry and thirsty:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  They will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

In the desert, we can still find His truth.  The water He provides still quenches thirst, even if it does have to be wrung from the cactus plant.

I remember too, that He has plans to bless us, and not plans to harm.  He wants to train us for a future, and a hope.  If we seek Him with everything within us, He promises—promises—to be found. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

There will be time for rejoicing later.  The day is coming!  

Until then, we hunt.  We seek.  We examine.

It is enough.

Before you get depressed about the desert, I wonder if I can remind you of something?

The same God who designed us to hunt in the desert also leads us by the still waters and prepares a feast for us. (Psalm 23)

The same God who sends us to wait in the wilderness sometimes simply puts the saucer down on the floor and calls out, “Here Kitty, Kitty.”

Taste it!  Taste it and find that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)

Full is good.

Is that purring I hear?

 

 

 

Where I found truth, there I found my God, who is the truth itself.
(Augustine of Hippo ~ Early Christian theologian ~ 354-430)  

 

 

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
(Psalm 63:1-2 ~ KJV)

 

 

 

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

Own the Music

He taught me more about playing the French horn than any other teacher I had.  That said, I can remember clearly only two things he taught me.

Funny isn’t it?  All that instruction and all I recall can be summarized in two sentences.  What can I say?  These gems of wisdom came from Mr. Marlar when I was in my early twenties.

It was a time in my life when I already knew everything.

I wish I had been a little more ignorant.  That wouldn’t come until later.

Mr. M’s wise words:

“You will make mistakes; play them loudly so everyone can hear them.”

“If you can hear the pitch in your head, you can play it on your horn.”

The first statement made me laugh—then. It’s not as amusing now as it once was.  Perhaps we’ll talk more about it another time.

But the second thing Mr. M taught me—that bit of brilliance has been more useful than even he could have thought.  Again and again in my work and personal life, I have proved the truth of the idea.

I was still his student when I played horn for the local university production of the musical, Brigadoon.

I’ve related the story before of my disastrous introduction to the tenor lead’s solo—the too-high pitch I played leading the vocalist astray and causing him to start his solo in the wrong key.

He started on the wrong note!  Because of me!

What a catastrophe!  A few measures into his solo, he had to stop and restart on the correct note.

If looks could kill, the Lovely Lady would have been a widow that very night.

My solution to that disaster was to show up the next evening with a pitch generator connected to an earphone so that I could indeed hear the pitch in my head and then play it on my horn.

It was, I believed, an ingenious solution, and worked splendidly.

For every subsequent night of our performances, my entrance on the opening phrase was impeccable and the tenor followed suit.

I heard the pitch.  I played it.

I was proud of myself.

I am less proud than I once was.

You see, in the years since, I have matured a little (only a little).  I have also become a better musician, understanding some of the foundational principles which escaped my youthful brain back then.

The electronic pitch in the ear missed the point of Mr. M’s statement completely.

If one is to be a successful musician, the sense of pitch, the center of the tone, must be in one’s head, not in their ear.  When I listened to the tone and then played it, the pitch wasn’t mine; I just borrowed it.

I have to own the music!  It has to come from inside of me.  It has to be a part of me.

The principle works in all of life.

Don’t believe that?  Watch what happens when kids leave home to go to college or into the work place.

For too many, the principles and beliefs they learned at their parents’ feet are shed left and right as they realize that such things have always come from somewhere outside of themselves.

They have heard the whispering (and perhaps shouting) of morals and creeds in their ears and believe them only as long as it takes to get out of range of their parents’ voices.

Instantly, there is silence where those things are concerned.  If they hear the echo at all, it is easy to ignore as the clamor around them grows in support of different ideologies and moralities.

Suddenly, they have to make decisions themselves, have to determine the appropriateness of choices in what amounts to a vacuum.

Unless we ourselves own our values and our faith, unless they speak from deep inside of us, we will never hit the mark when it comes time for the performance which will occur in the public eye.

If, deep down, all we hear in the moment of our engagement is silence, any mark will do, and we’ll hit exactly what we aim for.

Nothing. Or anything.

Either way, the result will be the same.  We will miss the mark.

The wrong note will sound and those who take their cue from us will also miss their mark.

Suddenly, I realize that anything else I write here will just be a sound coming into your ear through a head phone.

The manufactured pitch may aid temporarily, but it will have no permanent effect.  I also realize that most who are reading this already have the pitch solidly in mind and are hitting the mark on a daily basis.

It’s high time that I turn off the tone generator and get down off this soapbox.

Come to think of it, it’s time to go home and practice the horn for awhile before heading for bed.  I think I hear a high G coming on.

I only hope the neighbors won’t mind.

 

 

 

Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.
(Carl Von Clausewitz ~ German military leader/theorist ~ 1780-1831)

 

For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
(1 Corinthians 14:8 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

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

 

The Magical Sky Fairy

Thinking that some magical sky fairy will take care of your problems is a problem in itself.  

The words appeared in my Twitter feed today in response to a recent article I posted there.  I have seen them before, or at least similar words.

The young lady who wrote them doesn’t believe in God.  She is not alone in her unbelief.

I want to strike back.  Ugly words come in response to her mocking ones.  I can’t help it.  They rise without permission—a natural reaction from a human standpoint.

Immediately, I realize I will never say them. It is not who I am—or, more to the point—not the person He is making me.  But, I want to examine her motivation, to wonder publicly why someone who claims there is no God would be so vigilant to mock those who believe in Him.  Perhaps, I should write about that.

But I wonder.  I wonder.

What if this is not about her?  Do I really believe in some sky fairy?  Is that what God is to me?

Click your heels together three times and repeat the words, there’s no place like home.

Is that all this is?  Is it all humbug?  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

My mind races as I review the evidence.  I want desperately to be able to speak intelligent and convincing words.  I know I’m supposed to be ready to give an answer—to explain the hope I have deep inside.(1 Peter 3:15)

But then, I remember that I can’t convince anyone; it’s not my job.  I will give the answer.  That is my job.

The convincing?  That’s way above my pay grade. (John 16:8)

So?  Is it real?  Do I live as if it is?

A few weeks ago, I came back from my childhood home with treasures. They are items which have little value to any other human being on this planet, but which are priceless to me.  My memories are tied up in many of them.

Last Sunday, three generations of my family gathered, as we do each week, to sit around the dining room table and make new memories.  I thought perhaps it was time to inject an old one into the conversation.

As I prepared the table earlier, I cleaned and filled a glass and aluminum container with little white granules.  Then I set the old salt shaker down in the center of the table to await the arrival of our guests.

Five generations.  Five generations of my family have used that salt shaker now.  I flavored mashed potatoes and vegetables from that shaker at my grandmother’s table when I was not even as old as my youngest grandchild is now.

Five generations.  Lovely folk I have personally interacted with.  Members of each of those generations have asked their questions and made their decisions to follow the same God.  I’m sure there were others before them.  I trust there will be more to follow.

IMG_3999 [1904502]Wanting to save a photo of the shaker on the table, I set it out the other day.  As I snapped the shutter, I noticed the reflection on the table’s surface.

I can’t help it.  My brain just works that way.  The mental picture was more real to me than the actual photo.

Salt.  Light.

 

The Teacher made it clear that His followers were exactly that.  Salt.  And light.  Salt to help preserve the world.  Light to show them the way.  (Matthew 5:13-16)

We must keep our lives fresh and relevant.  We can’t hide the light that shines from within us, or fade into the background.

Funny.  The instructions I remember better right now have to do with the words we say.  Let speech be flavored with grace, as though seasoned with salt. (Colossians 4:6)

The other instructions have to do with how we act.  In the middle of a world bent on evil and twisted living, we need to shine like stars beaming out of the blackness of the universe.  (Philippians 2:15)

It’s real.  The God I follow is not fake, not made up.  Of that, I am convinced.

I’ve asked the questions.  Again.  And again.  I’ve asked the questions and had them answered.  Like those before me and those who are coming after me, I believe because I’ve seen the evidence in walking, talking witnesses.  Folks who are salt and light.

I will follow in their footsteps, because others are following in mine.

And others are watching from a distance.

They are watching.  And mocking.

And perhaps, asking their own questions.

I hope it’s not too much to ask if they can be preserved long enough to see the light shining in their own darkness.

I want to be salt.  And light.

You?

 

 

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
(Colossians 4:5-6 ~ NASB)

 

Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.
(Karl Barth ~ Swiss theologian ~ 1886-1968)

 

 

 

 

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