Monthly Archives: February 2023

How a Dentist Visit and Jesus are Not the Same

Last week I went to the dentist. This Prince got a crown (not heavenly one mind you. It was the $633-dentist’s-temporary-crown variety). I left with a frozen lip and a lighter wallet. 

I’m pretty sure hell could be like sitting in a dentist’s chair and hearing that high pitched drill for all eternity. I have biblical proof for my theory. Didn’t Jesus say the bad place had “weeping and gnashing of teeth”? That sounds an awful lot like me in a dentist chair. Ugh! (Actually, my dentist is a wonderful man and a good dentist. My experience wasn’t as bad as I anticipated). 

Are you like me when going to the dentist? Before going, I brush my teeth a lot more than my normal routine of morning and night. As the dentist appointment approaches, I start brushing in the morning, mid-morning, after lunch and always just before the appointment— brush, brush, brush. I even floss. I tell the dentist I “regularly” floss. By “regularly” I mean, the day before and on the day of the dental appointment, I make sure to floss. I don’t know if a dentist can tell if one brushes extra hard and flosses only before the visit. Does the dentist know that I approach the office visit like cramming for a final exam? He probably does.

Does Jesus know when we approach him with the same mindset? No “probably” involved with the omniscient, omnipotent One. He knows. Yet, how often do we attempt to clean ourselves up; have a smile pasted on; and act like there are no problems— as if Jesus wouldn’t know or wouldn’t look too deeply into our troubled heart? We know that’s not how it works. We simply can’t fool Jesus. 

People try to fool everyone else. But why? We’ve all sinned. Everyone knows this. No one, but Jesus, has lived a sinless life. There’s no healing or help when putting on a front or wearing a mask. True help and healing come as we are honest, authentic and vulnerably confess our sins and humanity. Jesus never abuses or manipulates us when we are being real with Him. True followers, likewise, offer grace and mercy as we confess our sins to each other. James put it this way: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16). Healing comes through confession and prayer. 

Earlier in the same letter James writes: God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12). That’s the crown I’m after – the crown of life. More good news, one doesn’t have to sit in a chair listening to the ear-piercing, high pitched drill to get it! 

Migraines, Cancer, Lent and All of Us

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday but thanks to icy roads, we didn’t have a service. My job was going to be imposing ashes on people as they exited the building and to say to them, “From ashes you came and ashes you will return.” Rich Villodas says, “Ash Wednesday is the annual reminder that we are far more weak, frail, broken and sinful than we think. It’s also the reminder that God is far more gracious, merciful, present and loving than we can believe.” I really love that service, because I need both of those reminders. 

None of that happened. Michigan weather don’t remind me how nice you are in the summer. I am not your friend today.

While it was snowing and icing yesterday afternoon, I was recording The Pastor’s Table podcast with Dr. Mark Quanstrom and Rev Tara Beth Leach. We talked about migraines in ministry (podcast #1) and living with someone dying of cancer (podcast #2). Ironically (maybe I should write “Typically”), I had a fairly significant migraine as we were recording. Talking about migraines while experiencing a migraine is a weird thing to do. (FYI… the podcast will be posted on March 6).

Immediately following the podcast interview, I need to move things around in Lisa’s room to accommodate a sleeper sofa so Karla (or whomever might be spending the night with Lisa) would be able to be in the room and assist her. Lisa’s legs and ankles are swollen. Karla told me she can feel the tumors on Lisa’s body growing. Lisa can barely hold food down. Last night for the first time, she started wearing the oxygen tube thing-a-ma-bob that goes around one’s nose. Karla and I prayed with her because it’s scary when you can’t breathe. The disease is progressing. Oh how I hate cancer.

Migraines and cancer on Ash Wednesday– what better reminder that we are weak, frail and broken? So often, we try to hide our ailments or brokenness or sinfulness. We paste on a smile and tell the person asking, “How are you doing?” “Fine, I’m fine.” But we aren’t fine. Migraines and cancer reveal we aren’t fine. Our world is broken. It’s full of frailties. Mine is migraines. Lisa’s is cancer. Your bug-a-boo is something else. All of us are sinners in need of a Savior. 

This Lenten Season that we have now entered is a call to look at ourselves and see that we need help. There are mountains too high for us to climb (read: cancer, migraines, sinfulness). There are valley’s too deep and wide (read: depression, loneliness, brokenness). There are circumstances that we can’t fix. Diseases we can’t cure. Sins we can’t absolve. We need a Savior. We desperately need a Savior. 

Lent is generally a time when we give up something (i.e. chocolate, coffee, social media). So that when fasting, we remember those things missed and we are likewise reminded of our need for a Savior. It’s a good 40-day practice. But can I also urge you to look in a mirror. Take a good long look. See yourself for who you really are. What you will see is that you are not fine, you need a Savior. We all do. 

Turn to Him. Seek His face. Confess your sins. Admit your frailties. There’s a Savior who is far more gracious, merciful, present and loving than we could ever believe.

Forget Me. Remember Jesus!

Yesterday, Rev. Dr. Deirdre Brower-Latz preached at Central Church. I was not present in the building, instead, I was an on-line worshipper. But even via the internet, Dr. Brower-Latz message came through loud and clear. She did not disappoint. It was a powerful sermon. In it, she talked about a Jordanian pastor, Raja, who went to Lebanon. He was a great pastor who followed Jesus’ call. She asked us to do the same. What she didn’t tell is that Raja died tragically and five years later his widow married the best man in Karla’s and my wedding. But that’s not what captured my attention. (By the way, Dr. Brower-Latz wasn’t exaggerating. Raja was a great pastor and his widow, Seta, is a great lady).

In yesterday’s sermon, Dr. Brower-Latz asked, “If you were to preach your last sermon, what would it be?” 

Probably most folks just heard her say it and moved on. Most folks listening are not preachers. I am. It’s what I do. She captured my imagination. So, I thought long and hard about that question. It’s a good one. What would I preach, if I knew shortly after sermonizing, I would kick the bucket? What is the most important thing that I could say?

I must have some Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf in me. Zinzendorf, the founder of the Moravians, was also a pioneer in modern missions. It was Moravian missionaries that played a role in John Wesley’s sanctification experience as he crossed the Atlantic on a ship. Zinzendorf reportedly said, “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” In other words, it’s not about the preacher. Zinzendorf would be shocked by preachers today who ‘build platforms,” are known as “celebrity preachers,” and are living a lifestyle of the rich and famous. Zinzendorf would be outraged by preachers who make it all about themselves or build megachurches based on their personality. It’s all about Jesus. “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”

With that in mind, here’s my last sermon title: Forget me. Remember Jesus. When people look back on my life, I don’t want them to mention sermons preached, books and articles written or anything else. I want them to say, “Rob Prince modelled his life after Jesus. The decisions made, sermons preached and life’s purpose reflected Jesus.”

Have I done that perfectly? Of course not. Neither have you. There have been plenty of mistakes along the way and more to come (should I not croak following this posting). But I don’t ever want my preaching or life to be about me. I want it to be about Jesus. Forget me. Remember Jesus.

Lisa Marie’s Birthday #58 Shows Being Pro-Life means Pro-Dignity for the Dying

Monday was our house guest’s, Lisa Marie’s, birthday. She turned 58. Last year when she turned 57, we threw big shindig at the church. Food. Punch. Taco Bar. Cakes. Testimonials. Even a video clip of Mark Lowry (her favorite of the old Gaither Band guys) to sing Happy Birthday to her. We went all out. We didn’t think Lisa would have birthday #58. She did.

Lisa has been defying the odds ever since she was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2018. The doctors thought she would live 6 months, at best. Four plus years later, we were celebrating #58.

This time the celebration was more subdued. A group of folks came over to our house and had a mini-singspiration for Lisa. I’ll be honest when we were singing “Because He Lives,” I was watching Lisa. She was moving her lips, more than singing. She was not bursting out the way she used to sing the Gaither hits. Lisa was so thankful for the folks coming over– as much as you can appreciate a group of people when you were in the bathroom throwing up before they arrived and were barfing as soon after they left. Lisa loved the evening, but I was wiping away tears. Ugh. Cancer sucks. It is literally sucking the life out of our dear friend. Karla and I have had front row seats to the devastating effects of cancer.

As you may know, Lisa came to live with us permanently in November of 2021 (I wrote a book, “Got Cancer? There’s Help” about our journey with her). When she first came, of course, she was sick. Some weeks the chemo made her really, really sick. But she was still mobile, still able to get around. She is a neat freak and often she would clean our house and wash the dishes. Sometimes, only her bald head reminded us that Lisa was battling cancer. It’s not like that now. She is not the same gregarious Lisa Marie, not Pressley. She is in pain. She is taking a lot of medicine. It’s a battle of knowing how much to give her. Did I mention how cancer sucks the life out of a person? It does.

But we are not alone and neither is Lisa. Of course, Jesus is with us and so are many church folks. Besides hymn singing times, church folks have sat and cared for Lisa; brought her special treats; and spent the night so Karla can sleep. Many have sent encouraging cards, texts and voice messages. The church folks have offered her so much support. It’s living into Paul’s words to the Romans: 

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5. 

Lisa belongs to us. She is part of the body– the sick and dying part these days. Soon she will be seeing Jesus face to face, but before she does, she is seeing the hands and feel of Jesus at work through so many people of the church of Jesus Christ. They’ve proven that pro-life is much more than pro-birth, it’s pro-dignity at the end of life too. Thank you, Central Church. You’ve blessed Lisa, Karla and me.

What can a 1936 Nazarene Sunday School Rally teach us? A Lot Actually 

A lady from our church, while in used book store, found a 1936 Central church flyer buried in a book (see above). It announced a Sunday School Rally focused on “The Causes of Crime Among Youth.” Not sure what crime youth were committing 87 years ago, but some of the subjects covered were: Why Boys are not in Sunday School; How one teacher saved 1000 boys; and last, but surely not least, “How Young People Commit the Unpardonable sin” (Yikes… I hope not). Not sure how many youth were grieving the Holy Spirit back in 1936. Apparently, it was a problem, and, from the week’s topics, it looked like it was a mostly a boys’ problem.

The flyer is a fun little blast from the past. Quaint, even. 

But it tells me a few things about Central Church in 1936.

  • They were concerned for young people (it was a “youth” rally)
  • They were evangelistic (the theme, The Causes of Crime Among Youth, was surely evangelistic)
  • They sought excellence. (Other lessons included: How to build a Sunday School; Four Essentials to Building a Sunday School and the Sunday School teacher who succeeds)
  • They set goals and made a plan to achieve it (the target: 100 souls)
  • Leaders were held accountable. On the side tear-off portion of the flyer, the information collected was: the prospective youth’s name, address, age, whether they already were attending Sunday School and at the bottom, (here’s my point) the name of the “solicitor.” They were tracking which lay leaders were actually inviting young people to the rally. Interesting.

The world has changed a lot since 1936. The methods used 87 years ago, will not work today. Still a 1936 youth rally can teach us a few things in 2023:

  • Without young people the church dies (maybe that’s why Central Church is in year 103 and going strong).
  • Sin is real and evangelism is important. (see the above parenthetical statement).
  • Wishful thinking doesn’t achieve results. (Needed are: strategy, goals, and those willing to execute the plan)
  • Church members must be responsible for the growth of the church (it’s not just the pastors’ job).

Most churches understand (even if they aren’t acting upon) the truths of the first three bullet points. What seems to be missing is the personal involvement by everyday members in the mission of the church. Too often the evangelism onus is on the pastor’s shoulders. Pastors alone (even with a large staff) cannot be the sole evangelizers in a church. Individual members must be given the tools (even if it’s a flyer with a tear off accountability section) to be witnesses in our lonely world. In a previous blog, I quoted Dr. Stan Reeder, who said, 95% of Nazarenes have not led one person to Christ. Pastors can’t evangelize alone. For growth to occur, more than 5% of believers must be inviting, sharing and leading folks to Jesus! 

The numbers are numbing. Church attendance across America is in deep decline. More people than ever are stating that they are atheists, agnostics or have no particular religion. Maybe those 1936 Central Church folks were on to something:

  1. Prioritize youth;
  2. Recognize sin;
  3. Believe Jesus changes everything;
  4. Make an “all-hands-on-deck” appeal for participation;
  5. Pray, plan and execute a strategy for making disciples

I hope in 87 years (2110) someone finds what we were doing In 2023 and says, “It’s kinda quaint, but they were being faithful to Jesus.”

36 and 95: The Numbers That Help Explain What’s Happening in Our Country

I live in Michigan. It’s a beautiful state with many nice people. In 2008, 26 percent of my fellow Michiganders said they were either atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” as it relates to religion. In 2020 that number was 36%. (see the chart for the statistics of your state). That is a huge increase and should rattle us to our core. A 10% jump in 12 years? Social scientists say that number is on the rise. It hasn’t flat lined. In fact, thank you, Covid, no doubt that number is higher than ever in 2023.

This means, when I go to the grocery store, more than one in three people have no context, no understanding, no feelings one way or the other for the Good News of Jesus. They literally have no clue of the peace Jesus offers or the freedom that could be had. It’s sad. Terribly sad. More than sad, we believe in a heaven and hell. At least we say we do. Shouldn’t that make us consumed with a fire deep in our bones to do whatever it takes to reach these people?

If we were on a boat and it was sinking, we’d turn on the pumps or grab buckets, while trying our best to repair the hole. We’d do whatever it takes to make that boat float or to get folks into life rafts or to toss them a life preserver. We’d want to save as many as we possibly could. Shouldn’t we take the same approach to our society? Shouldn’t I care for my fellow Wolverine-or-Spartan-shirt-wearing neighbors in the grocery store?  Of course, we should. 

Want another number? Maybe it’s worse than the fact that 36% or more of my neighbors are atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particulars.” 95% of Nazarenes (so says USA/Canada regional director, Dr. Stan Reeder) have never led a person to Christ. Maybe that’s why the number of atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particulars” is on the rise. Only 5% of us are tossing out life preservers. Here are the steps to leading people to Jesus. It’s easy. 

1. Pray that the Lord would lead a non-believer to you (He probably already has).
2. Be that person’s friend. Love them. Care for them. Earn the right to share Jesus.
3. Be open to the Lord’s prompting. (The Lord will open that door, of course, Jesus will).
4. When the door is open, share your story. What has Jesus done for you?
5. Tell them having Jesus in their life is as simple as A-B-C
 A.  Admit you need Jesus.
B.  Believe Jesus is who he says He is: The Savior of the World.
C.  Confess your sins and commit your life to him. 
6. Pray with them. Simple is good. “Dear Jesus. Help my friend. Forgive all their sins and set them on the road of following You all the days of their life. Give them a fresh start, a new life, a hope and a future.” 
7. Don’t stop. Keep praying for this new believer. Help them. Disciple them. Keep on loving them. Answer their questions. Bring them to church with you. Set them up in a small group. 

The numbers are staggering. Wake Up my fellow believer. Get to work. Our world needs Jesus. Let’s share Jesus with our friends and neighbors! 

Does it really matter who is elected as General Superintendent?

Proviso #1: I love our current Church of the Nazarene (CotN) General Superintendents (GS). They are all are qualified and have had distinguished ministries prior to their election as GS. Their love for the Lord and for the CotN is undeniable. 

Proviso #2: The GS life is a difficult one. It’s not a cushy job. The schedules we ask them to keep are terrible. It’s not glamorous. Those that serve in this role sacrifice much. Too much? Maybe. Thank you Board of General Superintendents (BGS). We love and appreciate you!

Proviso #3: The title seems to indicate that the following article is a little like Ecclesiastes 1:2: Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless. That is not my intention. I have hope (even if it doesn’t sound like it). This hope springs from a belief that the message of holiness is still what our world desperately needs to hear.

Acknowledging those three provisos, here’s the point:

We have elected great people to be General Superintendent. Prior to their election all have been capable, wise and independent. All have a certain amount of entrepreneurial innovation. They’ve been visionary. They’ve been wonderful servants of the Lord. You don’t rise to be a Regional Director, great pastor and Sunday School ministries director or seminary president without many gifts and abilities. 

Here’s the problem: Something happens when these gifted leaders pass through the doors of the Global Ministry Center and take their place at the BGS table. They lose something. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. I don’t think it is intentional. Maybe it’s inevitable. Whatever the reason, they lose something.

It’s hard to be innovated and creative when sitting on a committee of six people. Prior to their election, in their various positions often they had the final word in decision making. The buck stopped with them. Now there are six people with equal input. It’s hard to be a prophetic “voice crying out in the wilderness” when you need the approval of five other voices before one can speak. The necessity (either real or perceived) to be united in all things from the BGS board room reduces imagination and originality. 

Moreover, there is a certain amount of trepidation that comes with the job. No one wants to be the GS if/when the wheels come off the church and all is not well. No one wants to make a “big mistake” (whatever that might be). Leading from a worst-case scenario mindset is not freeing. Cultural, moral and denominational shifts and movements seems to be the enemy feared, not the challenge excepted.

The subtle change from innovative leader to disaster-avoidance-manager might occur from the weight of carrying the denomination on one’s shoulders. So, instead of innovation we get inertia. Instead of prophetic wisdom, too often profit and loss seem to be the concern. Instead of vision, a level of blindness (maybe that’s too harsh), a looking back to the old ways of dealing with today’s challenges seems to takes over. The desire to be globally minded (a worthy aspiration), fails to acknowledge (like it or not) the fate of the denomination rises and falls with the health (and wealth) of the USA/Canada Church (95% of WEF comes from USA/Canada). We place a lot on the shoulders of the BGS and the weight of the job changes them.

Who will get elected? Who knows? Will it even make a difference?  No doubt, a very capable set of leaders will be elected. I’m worried that no matter how innovative and creative they are in their current capacity, when elected they will walk through the sacred doors of the GMC and they will change. But maybe not… (you see, I do have hope).

Let’s pray for the two new GSs who will be elected in just four months. Let’s pray that these two individuals will have visionary and prophetic voices that the denomination and our world desperately needs.

Why We Should Be Worried about General Assembly 2023

In June Nazarenes from around the world will gather for the 30th General Assembly. The meetings should have taken place in 2021, but our microscopic “friend,” covid, delayed our gathering.  Because of this interruption, General Superintendent David Graves will need to retire because of his age. Had the assembly taken place as scheduled, he would not have been able to serve two additional years. Covid cheated us of Dr. David Graves, which is disappointing, because he has served the church so very well. But that’s not the biggest problem with the upcoming General Assembly.

Many of our elected delegates will not be able to obtain visas. This happens every year, but this year will be especially challenging. Less international delegates mean, a more USA/Canada influenced General Assembly. The numbers are usually skewed in favor of USA/Canada anyway (because of the preponderance of North American leadership that is included in the delegate count), but this year’s assembly will be even more laden with a USA/Canada tilt. As big of a problem as this is, it’s not my biggest worry.

I am apprehensive because it seems that the church is fracturing into various camps to express their perspective upon the Church of the Nazarene. There have always been factions (not a particularly healthy admission), but in our social media age splinter groups form quicker, gather supporters more rapidly, and take on a strength that was difficult to accomplish in the non-digital age. I’m worried that the 1908ers, Holiness Partnershippers, Progressives, fundamentalists disguised as Wesleyans, the “Signs and Wonders” charismatic-ish crowd and who knows who else will come with an agenda to “change” the Church of the Nazarene. 

Change isn’t bad. The Church of the Nazarene changes every four years. We don’t believe the Manual is divinely inspired and every General Assembly, corrections are made; new paragraphs added, wording is made more understandable. Agreement and unity is a beautiful thing as together we take steps forward.

The difference is that in years past, maybe a few delegates from a district or region would get together to discuss resolutions submitted or their preferred candidate for General Superintendent. Talk among friends always happens. But in a social media age, this chatter is raised exponentially. Splinter groups with their preferred agenda are more tempted to strategically plan to “purify” the church to their liking. In essence, it moves the Church of the Nazarene away from a “big tent” family to multiple “little tents” pushing various agendas. It hinders unity and augments division. We need only to look at the United Methodists to see the results of a church that lacks unity.

People are more and more influenced by the social media vacuum in which they live. This phenomenon is true as it relates to politics, sports loyalties, and even the church. Listening and reading only those who agree with one’s pre-determined ideas, hinders diversity and unity. In Post-Christian America and Europe, the church faces enough challenges without having splinter groups disrupting unity. The General Assembly emphasis on “Jesus is Lord” should be unifying as we “Go, Follow, Worship, Share and Love.” “Jesus is Lord” is a message that must be heard by all who gather no matter the faction of which they most closely align. 

Let’s return to P.F. Bresee’s charge (and several others before him): “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  A church that is not united will not survive. 

Don’t be like that Pennsylvania Groundhog.

Apparently, a rodent, whistle-pig, woodchuck or if you prefer, a ground hog will awaken this morning somewhere in Pennsylvania– without the aid of weather maps, Doppler radar, wind vanes, weather satellites or balloons, barometers, thermometers, and not even the Farmer’s Almanac–  and declare whether (no pun intended) we will experience six more weeks of winter or not. Evidently, this furry creature with no college degree or meteorological credentials of any kind is the great predictor of climate happenings across our varied states. What is the basis of his potentially horrid declaration?  His shadow. The varmint awakens; ventures outside his abode; and should he see his shadow then pull out the parkas and mittens because we’ve got more freezing wintery blasts on the way. That’s it. His fearful response to his own shadow dooms the rest of us to endure ice and cold for six more weeks. Ugh!  I hate that pretentious, overgrown rat!

Are we any different from Punxsutawney Phil? I’ve known plenty of people who base their decisions on fear. Their fear-based decisions and actions occur primarily because of being afraid of the potential outcome. There is the fear of not being liked (people pleasing); fear of conflict (don’t rock the boat even if the boat is being swamped by poor decisions); fear of someone different (can’t love your neighbors if you’re avoiding them); fear of being rejected (can’t delve into any evangelism– what if the person says, “no thanks”); fear of not enough (is the recipe for greed not generosity), fear of death (leads to a conflicted and worried heart) and so many, many more fears. 

Unlike the furry, fraidy-cat-like, Pennamite, Christians know that “perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Believers remember Jesus’ words, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” (John 14:1) and “Fear not, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The author of Hebrews wrote: “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Moreover, Bible believing followers of Jesus have probably heard that the Scriptures say to “fear not” exactly 365 times (once for each day of the year). In other words, Christians are to be the most fearless people on the planet. 

Sorry, O Abysmal-prognosticator-of-the-Keystone-State, I choose to not make decisions like you—based on fear. Instead, I’ll follow the faithful Way of Jesus. What would Jesus say? Where would Jesus go? How would Jesus respond? Would Jesus be generous in this circumstance? Life is a giant game of follow the Leader (although it is no “game”). My Leader does not cower to fear but is the One who left the majesty of heaven to save us from our fears and to bring us into glorious hope. Don’t follow the way of a fearful groundhog on the 2nd of February. Follow the Way of Jesus all year long.