Category Archives: Church

The Power of an “Amen!”

Back in 2006, I had the privilege to preach in a predominantly African-America Baptist church. My wife was with me and we had a very unique experience, at least unique to us. The service began with singing, a lot of singing. It started soft and slow, and got louder and faster as the songs changed and progressed. I remember looking at the bulletin and wondering exactly where we were in the order of service. After studying for a few moments and coming to the conclusion that the church had sung six or seven songs, I projected that it was about time for me to preach. Sure enough, a man got up to the podium to introduce me. Except, he didn’t. He welcomed everyone to the church. Stupefied, I looked back at the bulletin and realized we had only gone through the prelude. It would be another 30 or 40 minutes before I got up to preach. Maybe longer.

Let me tell you, I love to preach. I love to proclaim God’s Word and I seek to do it in prayer and in faithfulness. I enjoy preaching though sometimes if I had my druthers, I would skip passages as they are sometimes hard to digest. Like Ezekiel and John, taking in the Word can have a bitterness though it be sweet. But I digress. I love to preach. Yet, in this particular church on this particular Sunday, I had fun preaching. “Fun” is not the word I typically use for preaching. But it is the correct way of describing that pulpit experience.

Why was it so fun? I was encouraged to preach. This is not something that typically happens to me. Like I said, this was unique. Having preached for 20+ years, this was the only time I experienced this kind of encouraging. “Preach! Preach it! Amen! Bring it!” and many other comments came from the congregation as I proclaimed God’s Word. There seemed to be an excitement about the receiving a Word from God.

I don’t think about that time much, but I recently heard a conversation in which the idea of encouraging a musician through claps and shouts could be applied to encouraging the preacher through “Amens” and claps as well. That took me back to my experience 13 years ago. Since then, I have been thinking about the power of an amen, and I’ve come up with three empowering marks of an amen.

  1. It encourages the pastor/preacher. Imagine being a preacher who has prepared a sermon, having studied for hours. Words were chosen to be used and others thrown out. Illustrations were found or made and carefully put in the right place. He gets up to preach, believing he has what God desires for him to preach. He proclaims his message to people completely silent. He’s not sure if anyone is taking in what is being said or not. He’s not sure if there is silence out of respect and wanting to hear every word spoken, or if there is silence because no one is listening. An “amen” here and there tells the pastor that people are listening.
    Brian Croft has likened weekly preaching to a nightly supper. Most sermons are that way. They are nothing “special.” Try to remember what you ate for dinner last Wednesday. It’s not that easy. It was a meal. It nourished you. It kept you going, but it was nothing special. That’s what most sermons are like. Rarely do we eat a meal that is memorable. Rarely do we receive a sermon that is memorable. I like that illustration. But to take it a little further. At some point, in at least some of the meals, someone in the family will say as they are eating (as they are being fed), “this is delicious, mmmmm, wow! That’s good,” or something like that. It is a response to the goodness of what was received but it is also an encouragement to whoever cooked.
  2. Which leads to the second empowering mark: it is a response to the goodness of what has been received, but it is a response not only to the preacher, but to God. If the sermon preached is a biblical sermon, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit has been at work long before you heard any of it. He was at work in the preparation of the message and at work in the preparation of your heart to receive it for what was said. Thus, in saying, “Amen! Yes!” clapping or whatever, it is reaffirming the work of the Spirit in your own soul. One could say that it is a little prayer. “Amen” means “that’s true” or “truly” or even “So be it.” In this way, saying “Amen” is praying that what was said be seen and known as true in your life.
    At the end of Revelation, John quoted Jesus, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” Then he responded: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV). Amen. So let it be. Let me see it happen; come, Lord Jesus. There was an inward response that came out as a word: Amen.
  3. Lastly, just as it testifies to your own soul, it testifies to others in the congregation. Let’s face it, we all begin, at some point, to have our minds wander. Something in the sermon causes us to chase a rabbit of our own. An “Amen” can actually bring us back to the sermon. Something was just said that affected someone in the congregation. What did I miss? I had better pay attention. It tells visitors, non-believers, and others that God’s Word preached from that pulpit is alive and well. It is like a two-edged sword laying bear the soul. It just laid something to bear in your own soul. Everyone needs to know that the Spirit is moving in the service through the Spirit-filled preaching of the Word of God written by men who were moved by the Spirit.

I readily admit that this is coming from the perspective of a pastor who preaches on a near weekly basis. This is not an indictment on the church I am pastoring or any church in which I have pastored previously. It is simply an explanation of what I have been thinking about recently when it comes to saying “Amen” or something similar during the service. And these responses need not only need be during the sermon. If a biblically-sound song is sung and someone wants to say amen at the end, raise hands during, or clap when its over, I don’t know why that would be wrong.

I don’t think that services should become a circus or like a sporting event. You can read my thoughts about that here. But I do think there is something to be said about the power of an “Amen” or a clap of praise.

I’d love to hear form you, if you’d like to respond. Whether you agree or not, please leave a comment.

Apostolic Faith

I am in the process of reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life  by Dr. Donald Whitney and I was reminded yesterday of the importance of not only Scripture memorization but of meditation as well. I have allowed both of these two disciplines fall by the wayside over the last year and decided that this morning would be different. I would both meditate and seek to memorize Scripture. I’m glad I did because through meditation on God’s Word, I noticed two great truths, one of which I will write about tomorrow. The other is the topic of today’s blog.

The second bout of meditation came because of my attempt to memorize Scripture. My daughter is trying to memorize all of 2 Peter for her Bible Quizzing competition, so I thought why not do it with her. In all transparency, I was supposed to be doing it with her a while ago. So I opened up to 2 Peter 1 to memorize the first verse. Here it is in the ESV: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” What a verse!

Unlike 1 Peter, we don’t know where this letter was headed. The only addressees are those who have obtained a faith of equal standing. One could rightly say that any and every believer is the recipient of this letter from Peter. There are certain words that need to be focused on in this short verse: 1 – Obtained, 2 – equal standing, and 3 – by.

Obtained

The first word that we need to let sink deep into our souls is the word obtained. It could also mean received. But this is not the usual word in the Greek for receiving something. This word means to receive by lot. As the New American Commentary on 2 Peter states, “Zechariah obtained by lot the privilege of offering incense in the temple (Luke 1:9). Roman soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus’ garment (John 19:24). Judas was appointed to serve in an apostolic ministry (Acts 1:17). In each instance receiving something by lot is a give that one receives,” (p. 285). That isn’t to say that it was by sheer luck that this faith came to people. Remember what the Proverb states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD, (16:33, ESV; italics mine).

What does all this mean? That if you are a believer you have become one by divine decision. As Peter Davids wrote in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on 2 Peter, it “thus indicates that faith is something that God has given them, a favor from tehir heavenly patron,” (p. 162). You obtained your faith. You didn’t conjure it up out of no where. While some would find this as bad news, this is absolutely fantastic news. If faith relied upon me to develop, I’d be waiting for eternity. There are so many dry seasons in life, so many painful moments, so many losses and broken dreams that my faith would be non-existent. Yet God has granted me faith. I have obtained it from God, not myself, and for that reason, though storms or droughts may come, my faith shall continue, not because of my strength, but because of His.

Equal Standing

Here is the meat of my meditation. This faith is of equal standing with the apostles’ faith. Another way of saying it is that it is of equal honor. We tend to see the apostles as those with faith that is better or bigger than our own. That may be somewhat true, only in that the apostles faced circumstances that grew their faith that we may not ever experience. But bigger does not mean more valuable. Stronger does not mean more blessings. Peter wanted to assure his readers that their faith was just as valuable to God as Peter’s or Paul’s or John’s or any of the other apostles.

Here is why I think it is just as valuable. The value of faith is not based upon who is believing, but upon who is being believed upon. Since Jesus is the object of our faith and since God has granted the faith to us (thus both originally from and going back to the Godhead), the faith of the believer–an believer–is equal to the faith of any other believer. We shall not receive less blessings or privileges than others. As Tim Keller once said and many before him, “It is not the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” And I would add “and by which your receive all your spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (cf. Eph 1:3).

Do you realize, fellow-believer, that your faith is on equal standing, equally honorable, as that of the apostles. The faith that they obtained was no greater, no more valuable, no more stronger than yours. As Peter wrote in his first letter, “In this you rejoice (that God has given you faith unto salvation), though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV). We see the apostles’ faith as greater or bigger or more valuable, but in reality it is shinier. The dross has been removed and it shimmers and shines. Trials removed the dross and impurities that this fallen world and fallen bodies have mixed within it. We all want the apostolic faith, and we have it, but what we don’t have yet is the shine. Only trials will bring the shine as they remove the dross. But let us remember that the faith we have, they too had, no more, no less.

By

The last word is the word “by.” This faith again comes by our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Specifically by His righteousness. There is debate as to what this phrase means apparently. I originally took it to mean that God’s grace came through the righteousness of Christ and because of His righteousness we were granted faith. That is one idea. The other is that righteousness here means fair or just. Thus in Jesus’ fairness, we are each given an equal standing of faith. I say, why can’t it be both!?

Jesus is equitable; He’s fair, but He is also gracious. He willingly and graciously gave of His righteous standing a equal standing of faith. Because this faith is by His righteousness, we cannot lose it any more than He could lose His righteousness. There may and probably will be times when our faith is weak, but that doesn’t make it less valuable and it doesn’t make it cease to exist. As Paul stated to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (1:6, ESV).

In conclusion, the faith that we have, it is from God by the gracious and fair righteousness of Christ. It is just as valuable and honored as that of the apostles whom we tend to look at as giants in the faith. Let us know that God will be removing impurities and shining and buffing this faith that he has given to us. It is part of the process. Jesus is going to present us, “holy and blameless and above reproach,” (Col 1:22) and “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” (Eph 5:27). May it be so, and may God grant the strength along with the trials.