Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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.

My Top 10 Books of 2019

This last year has been a difficult one for me in regards to reading. I have started back to seminary for my MDiv. and have been mostly reading books for school. However, recently I have taken to audio books to so that I can listen to books for pleasure while having to read books for school. That being said, some of these books on my Top 10 list were listened to and some were actually read. None of the books below are new books. Some are decades old and a few are over a century old. I’m slow to the “classic” book scene. So, without further ado:

10. Jackson by Ralph K. Andrist (Audio)
A biography about Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States: Old Hickory.  This was a very quick, introductory type biography that went from his parents’ arrival from Ireland to the Battle of New Orleans to his presidency, the paying off of America’s debt and the Trail of Tears, concluding with (obviously) his death. If you’re an Andrew Jackson fan, this is not the biography for you. However, if you are wondering who the man was and not sure about diving into a longer biography, this is the one for you. It’s not a boring read; at times it’s funny and other times surprisingly captivating.

9. A Bully Father: Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children by Joan Patterson Karr
The actual biography in this book was not at all bad. Joan Paterson Kerr, who wrote the biographical essay (80 pages), did an excellent job writing the highlights of TR’s life. For anyone who isn’t too familiar with the 26th President, but doesn’t want to wade into the waters of a more well-known bio, like Edmund Morris’s trilogy, this would be the one I would recommend. My favorite story she told of the president was when Roosevelt went up into the attic to play with his children and their friends. One young boy turned out the lights and TR banged his head on a board. He chided the children and went down to clean the blood off his forehead. When he returned, he found the boy (Looker) who turned off the lights, stuffed into a trunk with the others sitting on it. Roosevelt could hear the fear from within the trunk and ordered the children off it. “‘Suddenly the lid opened,’ Looker recalled, “and TR looked down into my face. He was quick with his handkerchief, too, wiping my face, and almost as quick to say, “He’s broken out in a sweat! The moth-balls have got into his eyes, and may them water!” This he said, to explain his wiping away the tears which I thought was fine of him,'” (pp 79-80). I think that was fine of him as well.

For a full review, click/tap here.

8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Audio)
Who hasn’t read this book before? Me! That’s who. I have heard this book ridiculed or mocked my entire life; I mocked it as well–in ignorance. This book is actually quite simple in its approach to treating people. In some ways, it can seem that Carnegie is advising manipulation, but the goal is simply to make sure everyone gets a win-win situation. What is nice about the book is that after explaining (or even while explaining) a technique, Carnegie gives multiple examples for different aspects of people’s lives (parents, supervisors, friends, etc.). If you’ve never read it, pick up a copy (or listen on audio).

7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Audio)
Again, I’m late to the game on this. That being said, it is an interesting read. It reads as if you’re listening to someone tell the story in person. It’s as if you’re sitting by a fireplace and listening to a friend who stops and starts and makes sure you’re understanding what he’s saying. It got somewhat annoying at times, but not enough to detract from the story. However, I would say that if you’ve seen the movie (especially the Disney version with Jim Carrey, you’ve essentially read the book).

6. Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution by Myron Magnet (Audio)
This was two books rolled into one. It was a biography of sorts, but for the purpose of telling how Justice Thomas was made into the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court. From his impoverished early years and moving in with his grandfather to his short stint of liberal ideology to his becoming a justice, the reader finds such detail as to understand why Thomas is the way he is. Along with the biography is an explanation of how America has gotten into the liberal/progressive mess it is in, in which the Constitution is all but ignored, and new rights suddenly get found. I heard two interviews with the author and read a speech by him, that pulled me to read (listen actually) to this book. Definitely recommend it.

5. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
The Bible has a lot to say about how Christians are to be growing in their Christian walk. The only way to do it though is through discipline. Disciplining the body is difficult; disciplining the soul is that much harder. Whitney walks the reader through the various ways that a Christian is to be disciplined in order to grow into and maintain a healthy Christian life.

4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Audio)
What a fun book! My favorite part was when Long John Silver and his mutineers were shooting up the cabin on Treasure Island with the Captain, doctor, and Jim Hawkins. My eyes were as wide as saucers wondering what would happen next. I’ve only heard bits and pieces as to what the book was about. I didn’t even know if the treasure was found. All that to say…If you haven’t read this book, pick up a copy and read. It is the quintessential adventure story.

3. Turning Every Day Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins
In seven quick chapters, Scroggins and Wright take us on a journey of evangelism. Because of my wanting to know about how to transition better, I jumped to chapter three (apparently missing that chapter four was titled “Transition to the Gospel”). Chapter three was about “Everyday People and Conversations”. The premise is that if one is having an actual conversation with someone, a problem or unwanted circumstance will eventually come up. That’s the cue to transition to the gospel. “Our conversations are never completely random or altogether open-ended. People are often looking to us to offer meaningful responses,” (p. 52). The only question is: can we give the most meaningful response? With the help of this book, the answer is yes.

For a full review, click/tap here.

2. Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney
Don Whitney has done it again. He takes something that seems to bewilder most people and simplifies it and yet enhances it all at the same time. From the first chapter, Whitney understands the struggle that most Christians have with prayer. “We can be talking to the most fascinating person in the universe about the most important things in our lives and be bored to death,” (p. 12). That statement isn’t so much an indictment against those who struggle to find prayer meaningful, but an acknowledgement that something has happened to our understanding of what prayer is. One thing I found humorous about this book is that Don Whitney says the same sentence time and again, and I am sure he did it for effect. If you pick up the book and read it, you’ll understand; I won’t give it away.

For a full review, click/tap here.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (Audio)
This was my favorite book of the year. It is also now my favorite fiction book ever written! Ain’t no way I actually read the 1,000+ pages. That’s what audio books are for. It took 48 hours for this book to be read by a professional actor. If you’ve seen the movie, as good as it was, it is not even close to the book! It’s a completely different story line (almost). The way Alexander Dumas was able to interweave every part of this book was just fascinating to me. Parts that seemed to have nothing to do with the story line suddenly show how important they were twenty chapters (I’m guessing) later. I was not as impressed with The Three Musketeers that I had listened to earlier, so I went into this book with some reservation. I’m glad I took the time to listen all the way through. It was an immensely satisfying book.