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World Without End: Unpacking a Perplexing Lyric

Try as I might, it's hard not to be a teacher.  So, with apologies for giving way to the pedantic, I'd like to help explain a perplexing phrase used by many churches in one of the oldest praise songs still is wide use today.

While some evangelicals may not know it, a large number of believers regularly sing a doxology called the Gloria Patri:

(Traditional musical setting by Cynthia Clawson)

The problem comes from the second to the last line.

When Worship Leaders Worship: A Call for Comments

Over the next several months I will be involved in conversations with several local worship leaders (whether called worship pastors or ministers or whatever).  A part of the conversation will be to dialogue about our worship needs.  Is the worship they lead on Sundays enough?  If they were able to go to a worship service they had not planned as nothing other than one of the worshipers, what kinds of things would they hope to find in that service?

The Problem with Praise

Amanda was pretty excited to find out her husband, Jack, was reading the new bestselling book in marriage enrichment, A Praise Centered Marriage.  It wasn't that their relationship was bad or anything.  It just wasn't always as good as Amanda had hoped it would be.

Her hopes seemed to all come true  when, that next Tuesday evening, Jack looked at her across the dinner table and said, "You are wonderful.  You are simply the best.  I love everything about you. You fill my life with joy."

What more could a woman want out of a marriage?  At least, that's what Amanda thought six months ago when the process started that would eventually ruin their marriage. 

Meditations on the Typewriter

  Like some ancient creature that does not know it
is long extinct, the typewriter plods along.  Once
 the cutting edge of technology, the MacBook Pro of
 some past age, it stands now only as a curiosity -
 a relic of forgotten years.

 Yet, when animated by human flesh and muscle, the
keys still miraculously snap shapes on to blank pages -
Preserving thought and idea for some future mind not
yet born to read and ponder.

 All the trinkets of the now, with their bright pro-
mise of a better world, have not deepened the mind or
 made tender the human heart… although now our rage
and violence can be communicated at light speed to
 thousands of others who live vicariously through light
emitting diodes.

 But still, somewhere, hands guide ink over paper or
push keys that force metal forms over inky ribbons.  Words,
at times, need to be slowed . . . backspaced . . .
 corrected . . . easing out in a trickle, not a flood.

Slow us down, O Lord.  To write and read and live deeply
may be better than to live quickly.  Too many words may
 be worse than none at all.

 May the value of words not be measured by volume, but
 by their depth.

-Tom Lawson


Sixty-nine years ago today...

The small speaker crackled with static, and then they heard it.  “Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne blessent mon coeur D'une langueur Monotone.”  The poem by Paul Verlaine was well known.  Many listening had learned it in childhood.  The melancholy words spoke of the long slow weeping of autumn’s violins. 

This time the words held sensus plenior (fuller meaning).  This time they were announcing, somewhere out there in the darkness, ships were plowing their way through the waters of the English Channel  – among them a thousand Higgins boats – the landing craft that would bring soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force onto the beaches of Normandy, beginning the liberation of France. 

Dancing in Church

Around the year 1900, Plymouth Brethren missionary Dan Crawford asked a Congolese woman why she got up and started dancing in church,  "Oh! it is only the praise getting out at the toes."

Dancing is a form of art that you do.  And I mean that in an absolute sense.  You dance.  You become the art.  It is not something you do to someone or something else.  People can play a piano, beat a drum, paint a canvas, lead a choir, carve a statue, or write a praise song.  But, for people to dance you do not have to have a piano or a drum or a canvas or pen and paper.  You just need willing and able to move your own body.

Banning Prostitution in the Church

A man once mistook me for a hooker.  I know what you're thinking.  No, I was not dressed in drag and I was as surprised and ultimately pretty offended by the mistake.  Perhaps more surprisingly, it all happened over the telephone.

The Solicitation
There I was, peacefully sitting in my office grading exams when the phone rang.  The man introduced himself.  He was an elder at a rather large and very well-known church.  The conversation began with small talk but quickly got around to the exchange of money for services.

Disappointing Church

I am part of a disappointing church.

They weren't a disappointing church at first. They were once welcoming, warm, loving, spiritual, worshipful, and generally fun to be around. That was then. This is now. Now they are a disappointing church. I've had time for a good long look behind the scenes, and some of what's there just isn't very pretty.

The Theory of Relativity

"Lord, listen, if you won't make me skinny, then just make all my friends fatter than me."

We see ourselves through the lens of relativity. Relatively speaking, we are people of faith. Relatively speaking, we are active in church. Relatively speaking, we like to study the Bible. Relatively speaking, we are pretty much the kind of Christian that the Christian people around us pretty much think is the kind of Christian a Christian person pretty much ought to be.

The Future of Today's Christianity by Galli and Crouch

The current issue of Christianity Today (online or paper edition) has an article well worth digging out and reading in its entirety.  Here's a excerpt:

Telling Victoria Secrets

Is there a untapped connection between retailers like Victoria's Secrets and evangelism?  I'll let you decide.  Before I start, here's a promise: the story below is entirely true.  

How Charles Finney Ruined Worship Part 3: Worship and Church Growth

In this final post on the subject, I will explain how the changes introduced into Sunday worship by Charles Finney will ultimately damage both worship and evangelism in many American churches.

By 1850, Charles Finney had fully incorporated his three-stage revival structure into the Sunday worship of the First Congregational Church in Oberlin, Ohio. His "new measures" for revivals were already widely known through his writings. Most American churches had no set structure or liturgy for Sunday worship. Merging Sunday night revivals into Sunday morning worship was an idea whose time had come.

Treading Very Thin Ice: Cheap Grace Redivivus

This may step over the edge into the abyss of controversy...  But, does anyone seriously think, on balance, the majority of large and dynamic American churches face the constant danger of being overly legalistic and narrow?  I have no doubt I can dig up quotes and stories to support that idea.  But, it's obvious that's not representative of where things are heading.

How Charles Finney Ruined Worship 2: Reviving Worship

No man will change American evangelical worship as thoroughly or as radically as Charles Finney.  How widespread and thorough are these changes?  So thorough, in fact, that what many Christians today expect and would defend as biblical worship rooted in the first century is, at a fundamental level, unbiblical worship rooted in the nineteenth century.

How Charles Finney Ruined Worship 1: Sola Scriptura

In order to understand how it is that Charles Finney ruined worship, we need to look at what happened at First Congregational Church in Oberlin, Ohio in the 1840s and 1850s.

But, for us to understand how Finney changed worship, we need to first understand what the Sunday worship of ordinary Americans would have been like before Finney changed it.

Introducing: "How Charles Finney Ruined Worship"

There are some instances when things we learn from history can clarify or even revolutionize fundamental assumptions. In these times, history is less about old facts than current faith. It is discovering the lenses through which we have been seeing everything are distorted. Distorted lenses change how the world looks. Sometimes these distortions don't matter much. Other times, they matter a great deal.

In three upcoming posts on, I am going to examine how events in the early 1840s in a church in Oberlin Ohio will fundamentally change how millions of Christians practice Sunday worship.   

Following in Strange Places

This is an excerpt from the Ash Wednesday sermon Stephen shared at the Hopwood Christian Church.  It is well worth taking the time to read.

Crazy Worship

Love sometimes gets a little crazy.

In college, a friend of mine wrote the love of his life a long and deeply romantic letter on an entire roll of toilet paper (you realize this is no small feat if you've tried to write anything on toilet paper). Other people in love have rented out huge billboards or hired advertising blimps. That's just crazy. There's something about love that pushes the boundaries.

In Luke 7.36-50, Jesus is having a nice lunch with a nice group of very nice people. It is a pleasant moment. No one has called him names. The conversation has been civil and respectful. All the proper boundaries have been preserved. Simon, who is hosting the luncheon, has not joined other Pharisees in dismissively attacking Jesus. Simon isn't like that. He has opened his home, his table, his hospitality, and has been decidedly respectful to the less educated Nazarene.

The pleasant lunch abruptly changes when the town's best known whore aggressively shoves her way into the room. Before anyone can stop her, she throws herself at Jesus' feet and starts holding and intensely kissing them over and over. 

February Fields and the Euchairst

The Superbowl commercial using Paul Harvey's "And so God made a farmer" was very moving, although I'm not going out to buy a Dodge pickup.

The truth is this has been a warm limp brown snowless winter in southwest Missouri. Not far from where I sitting right now, spreading acres of dry dirt fields look sadly abandoned. They would look much better covered under a while blanket of snow. But, for now, the fragments of the remains of last fall's crop lie mingled acres of  dirt. No one would call it a pretty sight. No one makes a landscape painting of a Missouri field in February (unless there's snow).

Loving Monsters (A Sermon)

How can "blessed in the one who dashes your babies against the rocks!" and "love your enemies" both be part of the Bible?  How is it that "love your enemies," a doctrine so central in Christianity it is widely known by those outside the church, seems to have had so little power to change the world?

In this message, I will explore the seductive attraction of hatred and the challenging teachings of Jesus in light of the real-world events that foster hatred in our lives.  It is not message about the rightness or wrongness of war (a very important topic), but focuses on that area where we find Jesus' teachings the most difficult to live out: our own daily lives.

In addition to serving on the faculty of Ozark Christian College, I am also the interim pastor at the Christian Church of Liberal (MO).  The message comes from our Advent to Holy Week series of messages through the Gospel of Luke.  This sermon was given on Feb 3, 2012.

Download: Sermon: Love Your Enemies

Good Bad Worship

"So, you got your wife a diamond ring for your 25th anniversary?"
"I sure did. Two and half carets."
"That's great, Bill. One thing though, I thought you said she wanted a new SUV?"
"She did. But, where was I going to find a fake jeep?"

Accidents and Substance

Gifts of love are wrapped in marvelous subtlety and nuance that dramatically change them. The change is more fundamental than the fabled curse of King Midas, turning ordinary cheap tableware into solid gold with a touch. To employ the Aristotelian language Thomas Aquinas brings to play in his teachings on the Eucharist, we can wholly change the substance of a gift, while leaving the accidents untouched.*

Facing the Ugly Truth about Jesus

People will not let the reality of the Jesus they encounter in scripture see the full light of day.  For many, it is plain ignorance.  For others, including those deeply committed to biblical truth and regular Bible readers, it is surprising that they also join in remaking Jesus of Nazareth into the Jesus of Hollywood.  They learn to take scripture quite seriously and ignore some of it all at the same time.

The Growing Gap in Worship

Welcomed or not, the contemporary music-centered approach to worship that has been both dominant and effective most large and mega church worship service is being challenged.  This challenge, however, does not come from traditionalists who are still demanding a return to the Hammond B3 and southern gospel.  This challenge, which has been slowly growing over the past decade, is coming from the same age-group that once pioneered praise bands and raising hands:  Teens and young adults.

Calvin was Right

Is the Lord's Supper just a memorial?  Calvin says absolutely not.  And, he's right.

Ironically, on something as central to the Christian life as the Eucharist, many Protestants would find Calvin's views sound surprisingly un-Protestant.  As noted in an earlier post, Escaping Zurich, many evangelicals, actually hold views of the Eucharist consistent with Ulrich Zwingli (a reformer from Zurich a generation before Calvin), rather than Calvin.  As such, this Zwinglian approach to Communion, one that is neither biblical nor consistent with the understanding of John Calvin, has come to be widely accepted as both biblical and Reformed.

Le Résistance: The Subversive Church

The small speaker crackled with static, and then they heard it.  “Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne blessent mon coeur D'une langueur Monotone.”  The poem by Paul Verlaine was well known.  Many listening had learned it in childhood.  The melancholy words spoke of the long slow weeping of autumn’s violins. 

This time the words held sensus plenior (fuller meaning).  This time they were announcing, somewhere out there in the darkness, ships were plowing their way through the waters of the English Channel  – among them a thousand Higgins boats – the landing craft that would bring soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force onto the beaches of Normandy, beginning the liberation of France. 

My Church Looks Like a Bar

When people walked into First Christian Church on a Sunday morning not long ago, most of them were not prepared to see the newest fad in popular worship music sitting in the front of the sanctuary.  Some of them had enough musical background to know they were looking at a percussion instrument.  For a lot of people, the one thing they knew was it made their church look like a bar.