Thinking Out Loud

April 14, 2014

Should Couples Hold Hands in Church?

Church behaviorDifferent denominations have different ideas as to the appropriateness of what is sometimes called PDA — public displays of affection — in the context of Christian camps or youth group meetings. Any rules that might exist are usually put in place with the intention of applying them to teens and twenty-somethings. Some churches have very strict standards on this, while in others, you’re probably wondering why this topic is here today.

Hand holding is a mark of commitment. If people want to know if it is true that the divorced usher on the east aisle is seeing the alto in the choir, walking in arm and arm should clear up that mystery in a hurry. In the context of gay relationships, in addition to being a gesture of affection, hand holding is really making the statement, ‘Yes, we are gay;’ and so doing this in church is a bold declaration of that situation.

But today I’m not looking at PDAs as physical status updates nor am I as concerned with the puppy love in the youth group. I’m talking about couples who have been married for some time and have nothing they’re trying to broadcast by being affectionate.

Yesterday I attended three different church services. I am always aware of men who put their arms around their wives during the service — and sometimes it’s the other way around — and there are times I do this myself. Whether the church in question has pews or chairs, I like to stretch out anyway, so whether there is an empty seat or it’s my wife sitting next to me, I am likely to do this, though I probably have my arm around her less than half the duration of the sermon.

On the other hand — pun intended — there are the couples who sit really close and the hug lasts the duration of the sermon.  (Except in summer in one church I visit which has no air conditioning.) I always see this as a church service = movie date type of posture. I would hope that in worship we see ourselves as standing before God individually even though as we sing we are worshiping corporately. The worship time is our personal response to God, and not something I can do with my spouse. (A possible exception might be if the worship leader invites everyone to join hands and sing a classic like “We are One in the Spirit,” or “Father Make Us One.”) I would also like to believe that in an ideal world, during the sermon we are busy taking notes, or looking up passages in our Bibles, even when the words are on the screen.

I also believe that during the actual time of the service, our “arm around” is broadcasting more than we realize.

  • It says to everyone that we are happy and committed. (Oh, if only they could see the chaos just ten minutes before we left home!) So in that sense, we are modeling what we consider to be the normal husband/wife relationship. We’re saying that the church family is a place where we are free to express that. It might be the only time we’ve had all week to just sit together.
  • It possibly serves as a major distraction however to singles. It could be a jarring reminder that they are sitting alone; that they have no such relationship; no hand to hold. I’m not sure this is the intention, but with all the other things the church does which tends to cater to couples with 2.4 children, I’m not sure we need one more. (Especially the one where, at the end of the benediction, the couple shares a quick kiss.)
  • It does equate to something we might do at a concert, play or movie. In that sense, we are saying that we are observers; that we are the audience; when the worship environment should be one where we are participants.
  • It gives the aforementioned kids in the youth group unspoken permission to do the same, which when combined with the current trend toward low lighting levels in our modern auditoriums, should beg all kinds of other questions. Can teens with raging hormones get all turned on while the preacher is discussing righteousness and judgment? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

HandsSo while I realize the intentions and motivation in the first case may be pure enough, and while I hate to be The Grinch that ruined the only moment of affection you and the significant other had all week; the second, third and fourth points seem to suggest a more conservative approach. I’m not saying you won’t catch me next Sunday with my arm around my wife, but it’s good to occasionally stop and think our actions through.

What do you think?
Any stories to tell on this subject?



April 5, 2014

Happy Birthday to Mrs. Thinking Out Loud

Filed under: family — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:55 pm

Happy Birthday - Another YearHappy Birthday! You know who you are. And I’ve saved you the hundreds of congratulatory notes you would have received had I put this up earlier in the day, by posting it near the very end of the day. You can thank me later. Hope your day was relaxing and you’re looking forward to a day a few weeks from now when, like the Queen, you have the ‘official’ birthday.

August 25, 2013

Just in Time for Back-to-School

Filed under: family, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

From Bobwama’s Wallpaper of the Day –

August 5, 2013

Christians Should Be More Procreative


Oh…my spell check approves. I thought I’d just made that up. Okay, maybe I have heard it before. Either way, it’s a good lead in to Adam Roe’s article, Why Christians Should Have More Children. Here’s a couple (meaning ‘three’) of highlights:

At some point the church bought into the idea that 2.3 kids is the ideal.  In speaking with an older and wiser friend about this the other day, I was informed that this might be a sort of generational bleed-over.  When everyone was worried about overpopulation after the baby boom, Christians joined in the cause and largely kept their families at about 2.3 children.


Even our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are having difficulty in this area.  In a 2008 article by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Monsignor Vittorio Formenti noted, “while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer.”


Child rearing is the ideal in the Bible, and no reading of Scripture I am aware of, in connection with historical interpretation (Protestants concluded), can lead one to conclude otherwise.  God’s first command before all other commands is to be fruitful and multiply.  To separate children from marriage is as artificial as separating God from the Creation narrative.  God created because it is in His nature to do so.  God calls on humanity to be fruitful because we exist in His image.  To live in the image of God is to love in the image of God; within community and fruitfully.

So why are you still reading this. Time to turn off the computer and…

Otherwise continue reading here.

July 5, 2013

Saturate Your Home With Christian Media

Since my 72% US audience are all off celebrating the time they told England to get lost in 1776, here’s a repeat item from a year ago about which I am still very passionate…

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in the Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Over the past few days I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

Yesterday we listened to sermons from North Point and Crosspoint. We tried to find another “point” but left it at those two, plus what we heard in church that morning. The day before I listened to one at Mars Hill (MI), a few days earlier it was a conference talk streaming at Elevation. You can find all these churches linked in the sidebar of this blog.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus some teachers, like Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House often do a separate podcast. But there’s also CD audio and of course books.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like GodTube, Vimeo and YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs that you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Maybe it’s because I was playing in the band yesterday, but one particular song — an original song written by our guest musician — stuck in my head for hours yesterday, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

June 2, 2013

My Wife is Awesome!

Filed under: family, personal — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:52 am

I told my wife that for my birthday I wanted a mix CD of all the songs I listen to regularly on YouTube. But then I never gave her a list of those songs. So while we had a picnic birthday lunch in the park — note to readers: candles don’t work at the beach with offshore winds — she handed me a small wrapped present which contained two very homemade looking discs.

Radio CarolineTurns out it was better than a mix CD. It was an hour each of two programs from Radio Caroline, the onetime pirate radio station that broadcast from a ship off the coast of England. She recorded an oldies show and a contemporary show.

But then, as happens quite often, our CD player in the car wouldn’t give back the disc we had listened to on the way. So yesterday, I finally got to hear a bit of the oldies show.

We were driving along the freeway and the host was reading off requests he’d received when suddenly, there was a shout out to us. By name. And location. Broadcast from London. It turned out he didn’t have the song she requested for me, but that’s okay. The whole concept was perfect with or without the song.

Most. Awesome. Gift. Ever.

May 12, 2013

On Mother’s Day, Remember Married Women Who Aren’t

One of the things that struck me when reading Pete Wilson’s book, Plan B, was the mentions of infertility. I remember thinking, ‘This is a big issue among people in his congregation.’  And maybe for some of you. For Mother’s Day, Russell Moore has written on this subject. We link to Russell quite often here, but I don’t know if we’ve committed wholesale theft of one of his blog posts before. But this needs to be seen. You are encouraged to click through to read it.

Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows.

Mothers Day and the ChurchIt is good and right to honor mothers. The Bible calls us to do so. Jesus does so with his own mother. We must recognize though that many infertile women find this day almost unbearable. This is not because these women are (necessarily) bitter or covetous or envious. The day is simply a reminder of unfulfilled longings, longings that are good.

Some pastors, commendably, mention in their sermons and prayers on this day those who want to be mothers but who have not had their prayers answered. Some recognize those who are mothers not to children, but to the rest of the congregation as they disciple spiritual daughters in the faith. This is more than a “shout-out” to those who don’t have children. It is a call to the congregation to rejoice in those who “mother” the church with wisdom, and it’s a call to the church to remember those who long desperately to hear “Mama” directed at them.

What if pastors and church leaders were to set aside a day for prayer for children for the infertile?

In too many churches ministry to infertile couples is relegated to support groups that meet in the church basement during the week, under cover of darkness. Now it’s true that infertile couples need each other. The time of prayer and counsel with people in similar circumstances can be helpful.

But this alone can contribute to the sense of isolation and even shame experienced by those hurting in this way. Moreover, if the only time one talks about infertility is in a room with those who are currently infertile, one is probably going to frame the situation in rather hopeless terms.

In fact, almost every congregation is filled with previously infertile people, including lots and lots who were told by medical professionals that they would never have children! Most of those (most of us, I should say) who fit into that category don’t really talk about it much because they simply don’t think of themselves in those terms. The baby or babies are here, and the pain of the infertility has subsided. Infertile couples need to see others who were once where they are, but who have been granted the blessing they seek.

What if, at the end of a service, the pastor called any person or couple who wanted prayer for children to come forward and then asked others in the congregation to gather around them and pray? Not every person grappling with infertility will do this publicly, and that’s all right. But many will. And even those too embarrassed to come forward will be encouraged by a church willing to pray for those hurting this way. The pastor could pray for God’s gift of children for these couples, either through biological procreation or through adoption, whichever the Lord should desire in each case.

Regardless of how you do it, remember the infertile as the world around us celebrates motherhood. The Proverbs 31 woman needs our attention, but the 1 Samuel 1 woman does too.

May 3, 2013

Reblogging: Some Core Values

I can’t think of any parent who doesn’t want to pass on to his/her children their “value system” or, in the case of Christian parents, their faith. There is nothing more important that I am trying to transmit both formally (as in during our nightly Bible study time) and informally (though example). Yesterday I got a note from my oldest son who was invited on a weekend trip that was described in such a way as to suggest there would be some drinking. He passed and I am proud of him for doing so.

But it has occurred to me lately that I haven’t done such a good job of passing on my core values to my blog audience. Sure, there are some heated topics where I weigh in decisively, but there are also others where I tend to take a middle ground position. Who is this guy and what does he stand for? Here are some answers…

Theology – I remember learning to type, and one of the sentences was “We must know and know that we know.” Doctrinal certainty can be risky unless we’re certain that some elements of the Christian faith belong to the realm of mystery.

God – A word that means so many different things to so many people. Better, initially anyway, to talk about Jesus. That tends to narrow things down to a single definition.

Ethics – We should attempt to aim for the very highest standard, and never do anything that could cause anyone else to stumble on our account. This includes business ethics, social ethics, sexual ethics, and any other adjective you want to add.

Salvation – Sinners prayer, no; a ‘before and after’ story, yes. There has to be a point where we know we passed from death into life, even if the date isn’t written somewhere in the front cover of a Bible. But as C. S. Lewis noted, it might not all happen in a single heartbeat; there are also ‘process’ conversions.

Family – In any given situation there can be good choices, but many things in life are a matter of good, better and best. To repeat, a good choice may not be a best choice. This kind of filtering is tested in the decisions we make about our families and within our family units.

Ministry – One does not have to choose vocational ministry to be in the ministry. Yes, God does call some to be ‘set apart’ for a career in Christian service, but to understand holiness is to know that everyone who desires to be a Christ-follower is called to be ‘set apart’ from the broader culture.

Church – Yes, I know this refers to people, but what about the Sunday thing and the building? For all its faults and failures, I think we’re better to go than not to go. We need that short retreat from the world which is too much with us the other 167 hours of the week; we need to pray and be prayed for; we need to worship corporately; we need people to do life with.

Denominations – Not necessarily that bad thing that some would potray. We see different schools of thought on things emerging even during the times of the original disciples. Christianity probably functions better in smaller faith families, and God probably knew this going in and built it into the design.

Mission – We’ve got the hottest news on the rack. Of course we’re going to share it. We need to take the Jesus story to everyone, and they will respond to it if we present it in its purity. When we mix it with western culture or denominational bias, it won’t work.

Charismatic Gifts – We should seek the giver and not the gifts. But I believe that God is continuing to give supernatural gifts to some people. Not necessarily the ones on television, though.

Tithing – Do your best, but don’t go into debt over tithing. God owns it all, so to set formulas and percentages seems to miss the point. See next entry.

Generosity – The hallmark of the church as described in the concluding verses of Acts 2 and Acts 4, and noted by early church historians. Very hard to do today in a western environment that practices cocooning, but very much at the heart of I Cor. 13.

Worship – In any demographically mixed group, worship should be blended; a mixture of various styles brought together in a seamless way so that no one style seems out of place. The reasons can be more theological than musical.

Prayer – Necessary to keeping the lines of communication open, and thereby keeping the relationship with God active. God delights even in our long laundry lists of requests because it means we’re talking.

The Bible – Not so much a collection of books as it is one continuous story. The more we read it that way the less of a ‘continuity problem’ we’ll have between the First Covenant and the New Covenant. And read it we should. And commit it to memory. And always be ready to share it.

Prophecy – Great for looking back, but things can get confusing if we try to use it to look ahead. The fulfillment of all things represents a point in what we call the ‘future’ where those of us who exist within the constraints of time are able to look at Him who exists out of time.

Heaven – A place we tell our kids is out there somewhere, and then writers like Randy Alcorn make us realize that New Earth is probably closer to what most of those scripture verses were referring to.

Faith – Not, as the visiting preacher illustrated, the belief a wooden chair can support you, but the belief that an old lawn chair with worn out webbing that’s in my garage can support you. It doesn’t look secure in the least, so will you trust yourself to it? Faith is the concreteness of things that don’t look so solid.

Discipleship – The ultimate commitment to lifelong learning. Just as living things grow, so also should Christ followers grow in both knowledge and the operation of grace.

…I could probably keep going, but that sums up a few important things. I hope now we know each other better!

March 17, 2013

Mutual Submission

Wedding Foot Washing

This picture appeared on Wednesday at, and it arrested me in my tracks. It’s the kind of thing you probably wouldn’t expect if you were an invited wedding guest, and an image that would probably stay with you for a long time. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful foundation on which this couple started life. The rest of the piece was actually about baby dedication. You can read it here.

November 30, 2012

I Got Nuthin’

Filed under: blogging, family — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:54 am

Sandwich GenerationDear Readers,

I rarely miss a day here, but today I am finding myself mentally exhausted. The effects of being caught in the sandwich generation — usually defined as having to care for both children and aging parents — is sometimes more than I can bear. I think it’s taking its toll on my mental health. Plus I’m also caught sandwiched between family issues and work issues; the business stress of having to close our other location and not having anyone who can help us with the packing up of stock, the storing of unsold inventory, and the ripping apart and liquidating of store fixtures; not to mention the personal sadness that it’s over.

So keep me and our family in your prayers.

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