Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2016

Sermon Topics in the 1950s

The Peoples Church was Canada’s first and for many years only megachurch, and this long before the term existed. The Toronto church was also independent, a rarity in its time. It was founded by Oswald J. Smith whose ordination was Presbyterian and had also founded an earlier church with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Smith had been turned down by several missions agencies because of his health, but ended up living to 96 and traveling all over the world.  You can read more at Wikipedia.  (As a young child, I attended Oswald Smith’s funeral, where Billy Graham spoke.)

Yesterday we were going through a number of family photographs and papers related to my father’s sister, Audrey Wilkinson who died on the mission field in India before I was born and was a missionary of The Peoples Church. Oswald’s son Paul B. Smith had succeeded him as pastor and continued his father’s tradition of colorful, topical and even controversial church services. Critics referred to the place as “a three ring circus.” (At a later age, Paul Smith baptized me.) But I had never seen the advertisement below.


The thing is, you could preach this sermon today as well. There are, among more conservative Christians, people who would not be caught dead in the cineplex watching certain genres of movies, but have no hesitation to own them on DVD (or more recently, stream them on Netflix.) Add to that the current proliferation of faith-based movies in national release, and for many Christians, the theater has become a second home. (I don’t think I am exaggerating to say there is one new title a week at

But back to the premise of the sermon, there are many cultural things the church refused to embrace — ballroom dancing, bridge and other card games, drinking wine or beer, etc. — which later became more acceptable. Only one thing, the conservative Christian acceptance of Halloween, seemed to run the opposite way. The sermon teaser also raises the question of context. Is it more acceptable to have an alcoholic drink in a family restaurant than in a bar? Is there a stewardship component in waiting for the DVD release as opposed to paying the money to see the film on its release?

You can have a lot of fun with this one.

June 23, 2015

When Christian Authors and Artists Lives Get Messy, Should Retailers Pull Their Product?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

no longer availableAs someone who has spent time leading worship in several different churches, I still get excited when I hear a new song. If the song really captures me — as one did recently — I’ll tell everyone I meet about it.

About a month ago I found such a song. It was a beautiful worship song that also contained teaching and exhortation — the best of all possible worlds worlds — and reminded me of some classic Andrae Crouch, or at least what he might write in 2015.

And then everything crashed. I was telling a group of people about the song and they proceeded to tell me a whole load of details about the artist, an affair, a marriage breakup and more. Hours later I went online only to discover everything they said was true, not that I should have doubted.

While I should have grieved over the artist’s sin (and my own), at that point my thoughts were entirely selfish. “Darn;” I thought; “I really liked that song.”

Two weeks later I decided to play the song on YouTube one more time. Still resonates. Then my wife and I had a discussion about whether or not the composition is in any way invalidated by the fact that the writer, like all of us, is flawed.

On Sunday night the discussion came up again in reference to an author. (See yesterday’s blog post.) Should Christian bookstores and online vendors simply pull his product off the shelves? If they do so, should this be permanent or just for a season? Is the truth contained in those books in any way invalidated by the author’s moral failure, or does the transgression disqualify it somehow?

Back in the day, Christian booksellers went through this when Amy Grant and Sandi Patti each were divorced. When Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out as gay. More recently, when Mark Driscoll admitted he plagiarized large sections of his books.

Of course, sometimes, the truth just isn’t there. The boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven now admits he was never there in the first place. That’s a different type of situation. But last time I checked, those classic Amy and Sandi albums are back on the shelves, and this time around, some stores didn’t bother pulling Driscoll product at all.

I really like the song with which I began this discussion. I don’t wanna go all Charismatic on you and say it’s anointed, but it’s certainly special, at least to me. Does it not remain valid despite all the back-story? Didn’t God use a donkey once?

September 8, 2014

Varying Perspectives on Tobacco

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am


If you grew up in what is simply called The South — the U.S. southern states — it’s possible that various tobacco products for smoking and chewing were part of life, even among fellow Christians. For the rest of us, it’s more likely that tobacco and Christian faith did not mix, with the exception of what I call Christianity’s ‘smoking section,’ the Christian Reformed Church.

This topic came up on the weekend I was listening to episode #13 of The Happy Rant podcast, where one of their topics was the relationship that Reformed people seem to have with it.

Ted Kluck mentioned that he had coauthored a book on the subject for a boutique publishing company he operates, Gut Check Press.  While continuing to listen, I checked out the book description:

You knew it would happen eventually. You knew the guys who brought you Kinda Christianity and Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder would someday deliver the comprehensive guide-to-slash-celebration-of cigar and pipe smoking for the discerning Christian. Well that day is here.What will you find behind that handsome cover? Lots of essays, quotes, interviews, humor, insight, instruction, meditations, reflection on cigar and pipe culture, and a basic primer on the fine art of smoking. Ever wonder . . .

  • how to pick a humidor?
  • which member of the Newsboys makes and sells high-end pipes on the side? (We’ve got an interview with him!)
  • which Puritan wrote a poetic sermon that uses smoking to illustrate the Gospel?
  • which Reformed theology icon wished he had taken up cigars?
  • what your favorite classic movies and novels would have been like if the main character was replaced by Cigar Aficionado editor James Suckling?

You’ll learn all this, plus what different cigar brands say about the smoker, the difference between a Claro and a Maduro, the best places to enjoy a smoke to the glory of God on any given day, and much, much more.

Recognizing that the book was semi-serious, I simply posted the link to Twitter with the single line, “I am not making this book up.”

Immediately, I got a response that basically said, “So…?”

I wrote back, “Enjoying tobacco to the glory of God ought to strike some as, at the very least, a bit of a curiosity.” And I meant that; I thought the cover would make a great graphic for Wednesday’s links, though the book is not new.

This brought this response, “It would strike some that way, yes. It didn’t seem to bother Spurgeon, until a local tobacconist used his name in ads.”

But then, we had a much longer discussion as a family about this. The key verse was obviously I Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I think this is where the dividing line occurs. To southern state Americans, tobacco is just another agricultural product for consumption. The idea that the verse is talking about food and drink would include tobacco products, whereas my non-South friends would want to immediately exclude it.

This then led to a discussion of Romans 14. Verses 2-4 read, “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” and in verse 14 Paul continues, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”

Then there’s the question of new information. We now are aware of the carcinogenic properties of tobacco. Surely that’s a game changer, right?

Anyway, I invite you to check out the podcast, read the book description, and play the home version of this discussion.

November 29, 2012

Responsibility in the Light of Truth

So there we were walking through the grocery store when I saw a display for 30 cents off those little dessert pies that come in a little cardboard box that I remember from my younger days. I quickly tossed one apple pielet — they’re small so I’m coining a new word right here, right now — and one cherry pielet in our shopping cart.

Not this brand, but you get the idea…

We enjoyed the apple one on Monday night. On Tuesday our evening treat was a square from my wife’s butter tart bar. If you live in the U.S., and do not know that uniquely Canadian experience called a butter tart, you are less likely to know the non-tart version.

Then Wednesday we returned to the second pie — or as I hear they’re now called, pielet — the cherry one.

That was when I discovered these are not the lunchbox treats of my childhood. They look the same. They taste the same. However…

The modern version comes with a twist which appears on the packaging. What we have now that we didn’t have then is nutritional labeling. My beloved treat apparently contains something like 150% of my daily allotment for fat, based on a serving size of one bite.

Okay, it’s closer to 46% based on a serving size of one piece; but this is a guy who generally won’t touch anything if any of the nutritional percentages are in the teens, let alone 46.

Turns out the thing about these confectionery delights that I enjoy so much is trying to kill me. I could have happily eaten several dozen of these in one sitting, but I couldn’t responsibly digest the dessert after digesting the information outlined in the white box on the back of the package.

That’s when it hit me.

To understand this principle is to understand the book of Romans in the Bible. Paul is saying that apart from the law, we don’t know we are missing the mark with God, but once the law is introduced, we suddenly find ourselves confronting a standard or a plumb line by which our lives are measured.

The law wasn’t intended to be God’s final word, but even in an age of grace, the law shows us where we’re falling short. Once we have that knowledge — that truth — we’re responsible for how we live with that information.

…Just as I am now responsible for how I live knowing that those fruit pies just aren’t good for me.

You could say they’re sinful.

October 2, 2012

Details, Details

I don’t hear voices. But on Monday I felt an unmistakable prompt to put a devotional here on Thinking Out Loud. My first response was, “No, that’s what Christianity 201 was created for.” But sometimes you do better to listen to those prompts. So here it is. The author, Cloudwatcher writes from a land down under, is a frequent contributor and comment-er at C201, and at 74-years young, is possibly the eldest writer in this blog’s blogroll with her blog, Meeting in the Clouds.  To read this at source, click here.

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote,

“A year or so ago, on the cover of the New York Herald Tribune Sunday magazine, I saw a picture of the Statue of Liberty, taken from a helicopter and it showed the top of the statue’s head. I was amazed at the detail there. The sculptor had done a painstaking job with the lady’s coiffure, and yet he must have been pretty sure that the only eyes that would ever see this detail would be the uncritical eyes of sea gulls. He could not have dreamt that any man would ever fly over this head. He was artist enough, however, to finish off this part of the statue with as much care as he had devoted to her face and her arms, and the torch and everything that people can see as they sail up the bay.”

We can well ask WHY?

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was the sculptor. He went from France to Egypt in 1856 and was awestruck by the grandeur of the pyramids and the beauty of the stately Sphinx of the desert. His artistic mind was stimulated. Taken by the concept, he decided to design something out of the ordinary. He worked on the concept for 10 years, changing the design many times until he was satisfied.

The result was a colossal robed lady that stood taller than the Sphinx. She held the books of justice in one hand and a torch lifted high in the other.  After Bartholdi returned to France, the French government sought his artistic services. His 10 years of planning and designing culminated in the Statue of Liberty lighting the New York harbor.

The statue of Liberty was built in the late 1800’s. The Statue was completed in France in July, 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor in June 1885. In transit, the Statue was reduced to 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The Statue was re-assembled on her new pedestal in four months. The dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place in front of thousands of spectators October 28th 1886. President Grover Cleveland, the former New York governor, presided over the event.

The Statue of Liberty stands 305 feet 1 inch or 93 meters in height from the base to the top of the torch.

No planes flew at that time. There were no high rises.  It was not until many years later that airplanes were able to fly above it and the exquisite details and beauty of the top of the head could be observed. Bartholdi could have reasonably argued that such detail on the top was not necessary.

WHY did he, on such a massive job, take so much trouble
on something that he thought would never be seen?


We see another example of such integrity in the work of MICHELANGELO in his four years labor (1508-12) in painting the very high ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The painted area is about 40 m (131 ft) long by 13 m (43 ft) wide. This means that he painted well over 5,000 square feet (460 m2) of frescoes, carefully perfecting the tiniest details of each figure he painted.

A friend asked him WHY he took such pains, since the figures would only be seen from a great distance, and no one would be able to discern such perfection.

The artist simply answered “I will!”


Integrity is MORE than NOT being deceitful or slipshod.
For the Christian, it means doing everything ‘heartily as unto the Lord‘

Colossians 3:23-24
And whatever you do, do it heartily,
as to the Lord and not unto men;
knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward;
for you serve the Lord Christ

We are not called to build a sculptural masterpiece or a great work of art, but the same principle applies.  If no one ever knows of our efforts, our work ethics should be the same.

When it comes to ANYTHING in Christian service,
whether it is ministering to a lonely or needy person,
or sharing the Gospel message,
or singing in the choir,
or teaching children,
or cleaning the Church,
or working behind the scenes,
or playing a major role,
or whatever we do,
we should give 100-plus percent even to the tiniest detail
which “no one will ever notice”.
Our Father will and we serve Him.

1 Corinthians 15:58
Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

April 26, 2011

Reader Survey: Am I Too Conservative?

I ask the question fully aware that “conservative” is not a label generally applied to me. But I have an online friend who sends me e-mail forwards that are always a little edgy. Which is fine. Laughter is by definition a variant on the emotion of surprise. It’s gotta catch you off guard a little. If you see the punchline coming ahead of time, it’s not necessarily working. But many of his e-mails tend to deal with issues of gender or sexuality, and as often as that’s the case, I see the punchline coming.

Let’s start with this recent one, which followed an exchange with him about the nature of the forwards in question, and where I thought I’d made my wishes clear:

Arrival in Heaven!

All arrivals in heaven have to go through a bureaucratic examination to determine whether admission will be granted. One room has a clerk who inputs computerized records of what each applicant did on his or her last day of life.

The first applicant of the day explains that his last day was not a good one. “I came home early and found my wife lying naked in bed. She claimed she had just gotten out of the shower. Well, her hair was dry and I checked the shower and it was completely dry too. I knew she was into some hanky-panky and I began to look for her lover. I went onto the balcony of our 9th floor apartment and found the SOB clinging to the rail by his finger tips. I was so angry that I began bashing his fingers with a flower pot. He let go and fell, but his fall was broken by some awnings and bushes. On seeing he was still alive I found super human strength to drag our antique cedar chest to the balcony and throw it over. It hit the man and killed him. At this point the stress got to me and I suffered a massive heart attack and died.”

The clerk thanked him and sent him on to the next office.

The second applicant said that his last day was his worst. “I was on the roof of an apartment building working on the AC equipment. I stumbled over my tools and toppled off the building. I managed to grab onto the balcony rail of a 9th floor apartment but some idiot came rushing out on the balcony and bashed my hands with a flower pot. I fell but hit some awnings and bushes and survived, but as I looked up I saw a huge chest falling toward me. I tried to crawl out of the way but failed and was hit and killed by the chest.” The clerk couldn’t help but chuckle as he directs the man to the next room.

He is still giggling when his third customer of the day enters. He apologizes and says “I doubt that your last day was as interesting as the fellow in here just before you.”

“I don’t know” replies the man, “picture this, I’m buck naked hiding in this cedar chest…..”

…Still with me here?  Would Jesus laugh at it?  Maybe.  But that’s not the issue for me today.  So I write this short note back, reminding him of our earlier changed that the e-mail clock verifies took place just ten minutes earlier:

You seem to have sent this one just ten minutes after our other exchange.  Hey [name],  I’m starting to worry about you!

This one has nudity, adultery and language (SOB) issues.   There are some other things online that are worth celebrating and sharing, but this isn’t one of them.  Yes it is funny, but it’s funny in the way that U.S. network half-hour sitcoms have to put the humor on the lowest shelf to get a laugh.   I think this one would fall into what the Bible calls the “coarse talk, foolish jesting” category, and not the “whatsoever things are pure…lovely…of good report” category.

Again, I’m no Baptist, but I really feel that any attempt at personal holiness demands that we aim somewhat higher than the world.

Did I overreact?  Here’s his reply:

But like I said at the beginning of that joke, my MUM sent it to me. and she IS a Baptist, mother to a Baptist minister, sister to a United Missionary pastor. Which is why I sent it; to demonstrate that humor of the “Blue” persuasion is universal. I thought that particular joke cute, in a suggestive sense while not being explicit.
Paul, I get that you think that all humor pertaining to man’s basic instinct is “coarse talk, foolish jesting,” but if you think about it, ALL humor is at the expense of someone else. Newfie  jokes, Polish jokes, Red-neck jokes, blonde jokes, Baptist jokes, Catholic jokes,… even when they are clean, they are in a very real sense debasing someone else. 

Maybe we shouldn’t even laugh at the guy slipping on a banana peel, or at me for for falling asleep with a mouth full of coffee and drooling it all over my lap, because joking about it points out our foolishness, and is ” foolish jesting?” Maybe we should all just return to the strict Puritan standard of being so serious about everything we don’t crack a smile at anything at all?

Okay, so my sense of humor offends your sensibilities. Obviously I don’t and can’t live up to your standards.

Am I really Puritanical?  Is it possible to share a story that is genuinely funny that is not at someone’s expense?  Could the joke above still work without the suggestion of adultery?

Feel free to use the comments section including examples of something you think I would, pardon the redundancy, enjoy enjoying.

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