Category Archives: Church Articles

The Parable of the Lost: Part 1 (Sheep)

Jesus loved to tell parables in order to open up the eyes of the people. Some parables confounded his hearers and some were figured out pretty quickly. The three parables that we are looking at for the next three days were, I think, those that were figured out pretty quickly. Today’s is the parable of the Lost Sheep.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance, (Luke 15:1-7, ESV).

It was well-known that God’s people, in this case the Jewish people, were often called sheep. Often the prophets of old would refer to the people in such a way. At the same time, their leaders were considered to be shepherds. They watched over the common-folk. When the shepherds (the Pharisees and scribes) reacted badly to Jesus’s eating with “sinners,” Jesus asked the question as to which of them, having lost a sheep, would not go find it.

If we were to stop and think about it, we might think for a moment that it would be ludicrous to risk losing all the other sheep and go search for the one. Ninety-nine are more valuable than one measly little sheep. That may be true if we were simply to see them as a group, but if we were to stop and think of these 99 as individuals, we may realize that each has value on its own. How many sheep must be lost before the profit-to-loss ratio turns on its head? Two? Four? Thirty? To the shepherd, at least a good shepherd, that number is one. That sheep has value all by itself.

Think for a moment. If it were you or I, we may not have even notice a sheep was missing. There are 100 sheep out there to count. We might wonder if we miscounted. We may not even count them at all; they look like they’re all there. But to a good shepherd, who knows his sheep by name, and whose sheep hear his voice and follow him, he notices when one of his sheep are missing. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote, “A poverty comes to their owner when they are missing. There is a wanting in the owner’s heart. The owner feels their absence. That’s why he can’t remain with the ninety-nine but must go after that solitary sheep.”* That’s true even though it may have been a “problem-sheep.” After all, we are talking about Jesus eating with “sinners.” Maybe this sheep wanders away often. Maybe it doesn’t stay with the flock. Maybe it gets caught in the brambles and has to be released and then have all the pickers and pokers and thorns pulled from its wool. Why bother?

The Pharisees and scribes were probably more like us than we care to think. These were not the right kind of people to hang around, let alone go after. Let them go. We’ve got enough. We’ve got plenty. No need to bring back the “problem-sheep,” those “sinners.” But a good shepherd doesn’t think that way. That’s why he not only goes after the sheep but places it on his shoulders. He keeps it close so it can hear his voice clearly, be comfortable, hopefully stay out of as much trouble. Caring for the sheep–the sinner–is no chore for the shepherd, but a delight. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”

As co-heirs with Christ and as ambassadors of the Father, we are to care as much about the lost sheep as the Good Shepherd does. We are to seek and save those who are lost just as he would. We are to rejoice at their being found and brought back to the flock. After all, if we are followers of the Good Shepherd, it is only because he found us and brought us back.

*Thabiti Anyabwile, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Luke, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2018), 233.

 

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.