Published On: December 27, 20215295 words26.5 min read

Phil Callaway is a prolific author, speaker, and radio host of Back to the Bible Canada’s Laugh Again. Phil has a gift for storytelling and helping people rediscover the hope and joy that can be found in a daily walk with Jesus. Join Phil and indoubt host Daniel as they discuss the need for hope in challenging days, particularly as we enter the Christmas season.

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*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the indoubt podcast, where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s word. For more info on indoubt visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com.

Daniel Markin:

Hey, welcome to indoubt. My name is Daniel Markin, and welcome back to the show. Today I’m joined by the one and only Phil Callaway. Phil good to see you, good to be with you. How are you?

Phil Callaway:

Real good, great to see you Daniel you’re looking good.

Daniel Markin:

Excited to be with you today Phil. We have a few things to talk about, but first, why don’t you let our audience know who you are? Because Phil Callaway first thing I’m thinking is this guy’s a golfer, you got to be like a golfer.

Phil Callaway:

I am, I love golf. I actually had a book come out this year called Under Par, which is a golf book. It’s my third golf book and love golfing. It is the most maddening, hysterically awful wonderful sport that I’ve ever played. I’ve written quite a bit about golf and been able to golf in a lot of countries, and telling my stories of golf and people seem to respond well to those so the publisher asked me, “Would you write one another one?” I said, okay. You mean the last one sold enough? Yeah, it did, so we want more. I’m a golfer. My last name’s Callaway people say do you own the company? Do you think I would be dressed like this with horizontal pinstripes? No, I don’t own the company. My great, great uncle Ely started Callaway Golf, never put me in the wheel at all. It’s so sad, otherwise I would be miserably rich.

Daniel Markin:

Wow, so you actually are connected to it.

Phil Callaway:

Yeah. There aren’t many Callaways that are spelled Callaway like Callaway Golf. Mostly there are O’s and different things in it. But yeah golf is, I’ll tell you what, golf is all about hope man. It’s the hope that the next shot something will go right despite all I have done for years. It’s a really cool sport. That’s the one four letter word that golfers need to use more of on the course is hope. But yeah, so you asked me about golf and what do I do, who am I? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Phil Callaway:

I’m approaching 50 now, I won’t tell you from which side Daniel, but I’m getting up there. Who am I? More than anything I’m a child of God who is redeemed and loved and forgiven and died for. It’s incredible to me to find out the truth of the resurrection and it has changed my life. That’s I guess the deepest thing about me. I’m also a dad of three and a husband of one and a grandpa of 13. I’m really not old enough to be that. But suddenly in five years 13 grandkids, this year three have been adopted into our family and it’s such a cool thing. That’s stuff that I’m most thankful for I think.

Daniel Markin:

That’s incredible. You’re a golfer, you’re a grandad, but you’re also a comedian. Why don’t you tell our audience a little bit about what that’s like, because most of your life’s work, I mean other than writing about golf is making people laugh. I’m sure making the grandkids laugh is probably like the main priority these days. But beyond that, you’ve been involved with a program called Laugh Again. Why don’t you tell us quick about that before we jump into talking, because I want to pick your brain a little bit on some of the humor that we see even in the Bible.

Phil Callaway:

Yeah you bet. Laugh Again began as an idea about 18 to 20 years ago. Ben Lowell at the time was working with another ministry across Canada. He said to me, “You know what? I have got this dream of having a short, humorous program that gives people hope and getting that across the country. Not just so that Christians hear this, but so that everybody does.” I said, “Ben, I have been dreaming about that for the last few years.” That was many years ago. It took us a very long time to get it going, but sometimes I’ve discovered that every closet is a walk-in closet if you try hard enough, if you kick it down. That’s what we had to do. Then there was a time of us saying we just gave it over to God and said it isn’t going to happen and that’s okay, and boom, the door opened. Here we are and it’s on, I don’t know, it’s on something like 300 stations in the US, it’s on I think 125 in Canada and it’s overseas in quite a number of markets. We’re very thrilled.

Phil Callaway:

I just, man, I just had an email from a lady I could pull it up here now, but she just said how it has changed her life and went on to tell me. I think man, if God can use a guy like me, there’s hope for anybody in this world. He used a donkey in scripture and so He can use me. But this program it’s really that, it is humor with a point. What we don’t do is we don’t tell jokes and then switch gears. It’s a story that’s funny, and it lends itself to some truth, and so we want to talk about that. It’s not really a tack on of well now we’ll have a Bible verse and everything will be fine. It’s not that long it’s real stuff. Some of it’s sadness too. People say I laugh and then I cried. I say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that to you.” When my wife says that to me, then I know she’s telling the truth. She laughs and cries at our house as well.

Daniel Markin:

That’s wonderful. We’re talking about humor, and one of the questions that I have for you is why use humor? Sure it’s good to laugh all the time, I’m playing devil’s advocate, but yeah we like a good laugh, but oftentimes I think in Christianity we want to just be serious about the Bible all the time. We want to be like look humor that’s good for the television, but when we approach the scriptures we need to be very serious about it. Why would we use humor in the first place Phil?

Phil Callaway:

That’s a great question Daniel. I hear that more often than you might think.

Daniel Markin:

Really?

Phil Callaway:

I grew up that way. I grew up in a situation where there were tremendous godly people who love Jesus, but it was very serious and there wasn’t a whole lot of time for any humor in our meetings, in our public gatherings. It occasionally happened where somebody laughed and then they were dealt with. But I grew up thinking that Christians were sour people. I remember a preacher getting up he said that, “We’re going to spend eternity together,” and I’m looking around going oh man really? I got to spend eternity with these people? That didn’t come as good news to me because some of them were cranky. Some of them told me off, I’d get in trouble for all kinds of things. We used to sing the song I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Then they would say where? Down in my heart, where? I thought yeah, they have to keep asking because they can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.

Phil Callaway:

I thought joyful Christian was an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp and military intelligence and Microsoft Works right. Sorry about that Microsoft but it often doesn’t. Yet as time went by, I began to discover through hardship of my own and through my parents’ lives and dealing with their Alzheimer’s and dementia and all that. We of all people have the greatest reason for joy. Number one I’ve been forgiven. That is the greatest punchline in all of history. That despite all I have done in my life, God loves me. It is just absolutely preposterous. I think sometimes He has no taste that He could love a guy like me and He does. I just have to laugh about that Daniel, I just do. That aside, people ask me all kinds of questions about humor and it’s interesting because I never set out to do this. I found in grade two that I was making people laugh. Like everybody would laugh except the teachers, they didn’t appreciate that. They would put me out in the hall or over by the pencil sharpener or whatever it was.

Daniel Markin:

I’ve been there yeah.

Phil Callaway:

Yeah you’ve been there I know, and see that’s the irony of all this and that’s what gives people hope. I speak to public school teachers, I was speaking to 5,000 of them not so long ago. They come up to me after and they say, “Thank you, I’ve got a crazy kid like Daniel in my class. If there’s hope for you, there’s hope for anybody.” I say absolutely, it’s so true. What I’m unable to say in those situations so much is to talk specifically about my faith. I’m thankful that I get to do that on a program like Laugh Again. The comedy, it opens up the door I think in situations like we’re going through right now with dealing with a pandemic. There are opportunities where people see your joy and your humor, and they want to know how? I’m full of fear, how come you aren’t?

Phil Callaway:

Humor opens the door, and I’ve seen that over and over. I’ve seen sitting on an airplane where a guy sits down next to me, I’m in a middle of a book tour and I’m thinking, okay, this is my fifth flight in four days, I’m just tired. I don’t want to talk about anything to this guy right now God, just no divine appointments. This guy turns to me and he says, “What do you do?” I tell him, “I’m a writer.” He said, “What do you write?” “I write books.” He said, “Do you have one with you?” Bummer I did, I had one in my briefcase. Pulled it out, handed it to him.

Phil Callaway:

He looks at this thing he looks through and he goes, “You’re a Christian.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’ve had bad experiences with Christians.” I turned and I grabbed his hand and I shook it and I said, “Really, me too.” This guy started to laugh. We had a four hour conversation about faith and about hope and about joy and about Jesus as a result of that goofy little comment. I think we believers, man, most people that don’t share our faith don’t immediately think of joy when they think of Christians and I think that’s very sad.

Daniel Markin:

Well, and I think one of the reasons too for humor is I personally believe, and there’s a number of other people who also have mentioned this exact thing is I think comedians are some of the best communicators today. If you were to look around our culture and say who are the people captivating audiences holding them for hours on end it’s comedians. Just the way they string along stories, and they draw you into it and then they bring a point out of it. But I think the use of humor and comedy is actually as a rhetorical device something that’s really powerful because who doesn’t like to laugh? It’s engaging. You want to be around laughter, you want to be around that joy.

Daniel Markin:

It’s just part of what it means to be a human. I think when you see communicators use that they draw people in and open themselves up too, and they do that different ways, self-deprecating humor or making fun of the things that we all find ironic. But I think from a humor standpoint, it’s a really engaging tool that we can actually leverage. It’s unfortunate to hear about your story and growing up where the church wasn’t that, but I hope that there’s others out there who are actually using the Christian gospel and what you’re doing, using humor to communicate it. Because I think that’s what Jesus did.

Phil Callaway:

Well and He as you know was always asked why are you telling stories? I shouldn’t say He was always asked, He was asked by His disciples, “Why do You always tell stories?” Always is in there. It actually early on when I started doing this, I was scared out of my mind because I wrote a book that was a hit. It was called Honey I Dunked The Kids. It was stories of my own children. People bought the thing. I couldn’t believe it, I thought my mother would buy eight copies and give it to aunts I had never met and it’ll all go, and I can do something, I can have a normal life. Instead it was a hit. They said you better get ready to be on radio, television, you better get ready to speak. It scared me out of my mind. But I remember the first time I finally agreed to do it because a lady called me and she said, “Would you come and make us laugh?”

Phil Callaway:

All the others had said, “Would you come and speak? Would you come and preach?” I would say, “No, I can’t.” She said, “Would you come make us laugh?” I thought, well, I’ve been doing that for a while, ask my teachers they couldn’t stand me some of them. I got up in front of this group. I had written down every word, but most of it they were stories. I began to read my stories and they started to laugh. I realized at the end when one of them came up and said, “You should have gone longer, we really wanted you to go,” well man, I went 45 minutes. You should have gone longer.

Phil Callaway:

People, we love a story and we love to laugh. You just don’t hear people say, “I don’t really want to hang out with Christians, they’re just too much fun.” People wanted to be with Jesus, they just did. I’m not talking about the Pharisees. I’m talking about the sinners, about the reprobates. They wanted to be with Jesus. We need to ask ourselves what was that like? What can we do to make sure that people say, “Yeah, I want to be with them. Not because they condemned me, but because they loved me.” There will be a time when we get to some of those things issues that are going on, But mostly the Holy Spirit’s going to deal with that and humor can be a real help I agree.

Daniel Markin:

Totally. Where in the scriptures have you seen humor used? As you look at the Bible, what are some areas that you’re like oh yeah, you can point to that story, that story, that story, so people will be like totally, actually I can now see some of the humor. Because it occurs to me that like again, we can read the Bible as super wooden, but those authors had senses of humor as well.

Phil Callaway:

Yeah. Well they were people, we forget that. I had a letter from a guy in California, and this is what it said to me, I’ll never forget this. It said, I’ve got it here somewhere in my files, “Jesus never laughed, why do you? There is no record of anyone laughing.” Of course my first response is hey, the bulk of scripture obviously this is serious, serious truth. The Bible deals with the most essential questions you’ll ever ask. Where do I come from? What in the world am I doing here and where am I going? Just the story of how God so loved the world. But serious though that is, there is humor in the Bible, and I don’t think most people understand this. A little kid came up to me and sometimes this is funny they’ll just tell you jokes because they’ve been listening to you on the radio. Little guy said what was it? He said, “Did you know why Jonah wouldn’t go to Nineveh?” I said, “No, I don’t know.” He said, “Because he knew there was something fishy about it.”

Daniel Markin:

That’s right.

Phil Callaway:

But that’s not Bible humor. There’s an author by the name of David A. Peters who counts more than 1,000 humorous lines and stories in the Bible, and people say what? Let me just give you a few examples. There’s 1st Kings 18. We have stood in the spot where this story took place, where Elijah is facing off with the priests of Baal in this contest to prove which God is stronger. We read this as English speaking Canadians or Americans, and we don’t get a lot of the things that are going on culturally. Well it’s Elijah facing off with the priests of Baal to prove whose God is stronger. Baal doesn’t react to the prayers of the priests and Elijah he says, “Pray louder, maybe Baal is taking a nap, maybe he’s away on vacation, maybe he’s sitting on the toilet.” That is the exact rendering of what he said there. Imagine that being said. That’s what he said.

Phil Callaway:

Elijah he was one of the first standup comics to ridicule his audience. Fast forward to Acts 12. Here’s the apostle Peter gets tossed in jail, I love this. An angel shows up sets him free, and immediately Peter heads over to this house where these believers are gathered for a prayer meeting. What are they doing? They’re praying that Peter will be released, and who knocks on the gate? Peter. The servant girl her name is Rhoda she answers. She recognizes Peter’s voice, it’s distinct must be. She gets so excited she forgets to open the gate. She runs off to tell the prayer group and says, “Peter, here he is.” They’re going, what? No, he couldn’t be. They refuse to believe that it could happen these people of great faith.

Phil Callaway:

Peter’s standing forgotten at the gate he’s knocking hey guys it’s me stop praying, let me in. You have to see it from that standpoint as you read the story, that’s funny. Genesis 17 God speaks to Abraham. He says you’re going to be a father. This is a funny statement, Abraham is 99. Verse 17 says, “He fell on his face and laughed,” as in ROTFL rolling on the floor laughing for you texters. Hebrews 11 comments on I love this Abraham’s age. The author says when he became a father it says he was, “As good as dead.” Isn’t that beautiful? When his wife Sarah, of course she heard the news way back she laughs out loud. Imagine your 90 year old grandma giving birth. You’re going to be paying for diapers with pension checks for years and-

Daniel Markin:

They’re paying for all sorts of diapers, their own diapers, kids diapers.

Phil Callaway:

You got [inaudible 00:18:39] you got everything. Her son is born. She names him what? She needs names him laughter, Isaac. Sarah says, she said, I think it was God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears of this will laugh with me. Of course, well Daniel you know the book of Proverbs how do you read certain portions without smiling? Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. What a great way of putting it. That’s Proverbs 11 I think. Here’s Solomon he’s got 100,000 wives roughly, this plethora of wives and he writes, “Better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” You got to smile.

Phil Callaway:

“The sluggard says there is a lion outside.” I tried that verse on my mom one morning, hoping I wouldn’t have to go to school it didn’t work. But yeah, I don’t know if that helps. The Bible contains tragedy and sorrow in abundance from day one. We are sinful people and we see it. But the backdrop of it all is triumphant joy. You see it when David slays Goliath and proves that anyone who mocks God has rocks in his head. “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.” There was an old preacher who, I can’t remember his first name, Brown was his last name. He said, “The great note all through the Bible is joy.” I love that, I love that.

Daniel Markin:

Where would you say is a place that we should not find hope? Because we obviously as Christians find hope in God, but I want to hear through your life story, what are some areas that it has not been helpful to try and find hope in that thing or in that person?

Phil Callaway:

Great question. I think someone said to me the other day, and this was a believer, he said to me, “My only hope in this whole COVID thing is that we’ll find a vaccine.” I’m looking at it and I understand what he’s saying, but I just simply said, “Hey, it’s not found there.” I’m sorry, but I won’t philosophize on vaccines or anything like that. But what I will say is that hope has never been found in our circumstances changing because they may not, it’s never been found in our health because it may fail. It’s not found in our bank account because everything can crash. Those are places we tend to put it. We tend to put it maybe in our own abilities, in better politicians getting into office.

Phil Callaway:

I think this is a time when certain people look around the world and it seems to almost be leaderless, and they’re saying, boy, if one of them would just come along that would be a great leader we could all follow him. I think, yeah, well, I don’t know, start reading about that in scripture and see what kind of scenario that is. I think you could probably chime in on other things that we really can’t put our hope in. I can’t remember the verse in I think it was Psalms that basically said hope is not found in chariots. At that time it was basically-

Daniel Markin:

Strongest weapon of the day.

Phil Callaway:

Exactly, and horses and all. It’s not there. I think it took me a long time to discover some of these things because for one thing, I’ll just be really frank with you. I remember having walked with Jesus for a very long time growing up in poverty, thinking that if I could just have not a lot more money, but enough to do a lot of things I wanted to do and go on trips that I wanted to take, and do some things for my wife, then that would be really cool. Now I didn’t necessarily put all my hope there, but in time I came to discover through some difficulties we went through that money promises not all the things, but many of the things that God promises. God promises us peace, the assurance of almost immortality, money does. We think we can stave off death if we have enough of this stuff. Friends, relationships, which is what God promises us.

Phil Callaway:

It’s this relationship that will fulfill you. We think, well, if I could just buy enough acquaintances stuff, then it’s going to be good. I began to put my hope there, and we started getting book royalties that just blew my mind. I wrote a book called Making Life Rich Without Any Money, and suddenly it sold 100,000 copies and I’m going, wow I never in my life fathomed cashing checks like that, and it happened. Then suddenly there’s this realization that you’re standing on a beach in Hawaii with your wife and your children and it’s fantastic. You have this thought which CS Lewis so eloquently talked about where, how did he put it? If I find in myself a desire that nothing in this world will satisfy it’s because I was made for another place. It just nailed me. That was a kind of a turning point of realizing I want to spend my life on something that will outlast me.

Phil Callaway:

I want to spend my life living for eternity. What does that look like? Well, number one, it brings joy I never expected, and probably a lot of hardship I never expected. But hope is found in Christ. Here are just a few verses I wrote down when you told me we were talking about hope. “To them has God chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. Ephesians one, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people.” Man, the riches of that inheritance, now that is true wealth because it’s never going to be taken away, it’ll never fade.

Phil Callaway:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober,” 1st Peter, “Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming.” Those are just three verses and scripture is just rife with these. Isaiah 40:31, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Because we think that strength will come from whatever else it is because I’m just such a wonderful, I’m an exercise buff. If I just do enough of that, then I’m going to have health. If I have enough apple cider vinegar every day, then my health will be great until I’m 130. I think part of this COVID thing is that we think we are immortal, we can live forever, and any thought that we won’t we’re going to do anything in the world to remove. Anyway I went on way too long there Daniel, but you’re gracious thank you.

Daniel Markin:

That’s fantastic. I guess just as we come in for a landing here, because I’m in agreement and nodding with everything you’re saying here. How do we begin in just small ways bringing that hope to other people? Even at Christmas time there’s a lot of opportunities, but what ways do you see that can be really practical for us to bring that hope to people?

Phil Callaway:

I think it’s not as big as we think it’s small stuff. Our kids growing up, one of the coolest things that they loved about Christmas was every year we would get some boxes of groceries. We’d find out a needy person in our little town of 3,500, and we would go to their place and we would put it on the doorstep. We would ring the doorbell and then we would just run like crazy. Only once did I slip and that was the only time we were discovered. Other than that, it was just so much fun. They still talk about it. They’re in their 30s, they talk about this and they want to do it as well.

Daniel Markin:

Well Phil this has been amazing. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to chatting soon.

Phil Callaway:

Sounds good to me, God bless.

Daniel Markin:

Thanks again Phil for spending that time with us. If you want to find any more resources from Phil Callaway, or you want to laugh a bit, you can actually go to laughagain.org and all of Phil’s content is on there. I want to encourage you to check that out. Thanks for listening and we will see you next time.

Speaker 1:

Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ben Lowell:

Hi Ben Lowell CEO of Back to the Bible Canada’s indoubt. If you listen to today’s program, you’re either a young person looking to understand how the Bible speaks to current issues of life, faith and culture, or you’re someone passionate to see young people grow in their walk with Jesus and understand the Bible. We want to thank you for being with us and encourage you to touch base by emailing info@indoubt.ca. Or in the US info@indoubt.com. Also, we want to let you know that indoubt is a ministry that only exists through the support of donors. Every gift of any amount means so much. For more information, visit indoubt.ca or in the US indoubt.com.

Phil Callaway
Phil Callaway
Phil Callaway is the host of Back to the Bible Canada’s, Laugh Again as well as an award-winning author and speaker known across the globe for his humorous and perceptive perspective on life. He is the best-selling author of over twenty-five books, including Laughing Matters, Who Put My Life on Fast Forward?, Making Life Rich Without Any Money, and most recently Laugh Again’s 31 Days of Hope and Humour. Phil lives in Alberta, Canada, with his patient and gracious wife, Ramona. He also has three adult children and has been blessed with more grandkids than he can count.

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