The Day the Westboro Baptist Church Shows Up in my town

I’m not Baptist but I’ve got plenty of friends who are and these folks coming next week to town aren’t them. The Baptists I know love God, love their neighbors and even love their enemies (just like Jesus told us to love). The Westboro (I refuse to attach “Baptist” to their name) folks spew hate. They hate America, hate this and hate that. They hate anyone who disagrees with their distorted view of God and the Bible.

The Westboro folks must not sing the song we sang a lot in the church where I grew up that said, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” They must skip that one in their chorus books.

They think that the best way to transform culture is to hate and condemn it. I think Jesus calls us to a better approach— to transform culture through love and servanthood. Jesus never picketed the Romans or the Pharisees. He didn’t dispense hate. Instead He reminded us, “For God so loved the world he sent His one and only Son” (John 3:16).

I don’t want to imitate culture; or stick my head in the sand oblivious to the various troubling happenings in the world, but that doesn’t cause me to look for a permanent marker and poster board to ready a sign with which to picket. Instead, seeing a culture in desperate need of a Savior makes me want to follow the Master’s lead and love and love and love some more. It makes me want to love my neighbors and enemies alike, to follow the Jesus model and see God recreate and transform our world until heaven and earth are one.

So when the Westboro folks show up dispensing their drool next week, I will be praying for them. I’m not arguing or organizing a counter protest. But I do hope they see in us the love that is strangely missing from their message. I hope they see Jesus in us.

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I hate what politics is doing to our America

I hate what politics is doing to our country. I hate how politics have made us look at our fellow Americans.  I hate how political talk has pushed everyone to their respective corners ready to fight anyone who might slightly disagree.  I hate how politics have made us so unkind, untrusting and uncaring.  Blue and Red are equally to blame. The tactics used by one side today and decried as evil and horrible by the other side, were used by the other side yesterday when (in their minds) their actions were completely justifiable.  The hypocrisy would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious and sad. The divisiveness that exists is discouraging and dare I say it unpatriotic.

Our Founding Fathers envisioned a separation of powers, they didn’t envision a separation of peoples. They referred to us as the “United” States of America not the “Divided” States of America that we have become. Such division and vitriol should cause people of faith to cry out to God to heal our land of this scourge. We need to constantly pray that God’s kingdom (not the Red or Blue kingdom) come and God’s will done on earth (in America) as it is in heaven.

It’s just a fact with 325 million people living in the country, we will not always agree. But in our disagreement, do we have to be so disagreeable?  Do we have to vilify the other?  Do we have to use harsh and critical words?  Do we have to be so quick to get angry and so slow to listen? Is there no room for love or compromise?

Social media has not made the lame walk, but has given a platform for the dumb to speak. Cable news driven by advertising dollars and talking heads (shouting heads) have helped create this mess. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune from jumping into the fray. Too few honorable people have stepped up and said, “For the good of the country this must stop.”  Too many people of faith have added fuel to their respective side’s fire, instead of following Jesus lead of being full of grace and truth. We have been all too eager to be bearers of truth (from our perspective) but have not been dispensers of grace. Too often we think Jesus said to disgrace our enemies instead of loving them. May God help us.

May God help us to be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be.  May we refuse to see our neighbors as the enemy but look on everyone no matter their political leanings as people loved by God.  May we regain the courage to be people of faith in this time of political divide.

 

Breaking Up with your Church

We live in divisive times. As such this era of angst, red states, blue states, choosing sides and picking enemies has filtered into the church and has made pastoring more challenging than ever.  Blame consumerism, politics, sinfulness, or selfishness for the discontentment that has led many folks to break up with their church by either walking completely away or seeking greener pastures.

I have had people leave because they didn’t like my preaching; felt that we talked too much about money; or didn’t like the style of music in the worship service. Some folks didn’t like the denomination’s stance on (pick the topic):  the Bible, women in ministry, homosexuality, speaking in tongues, social justice, our colleges, evangelism or the end times.  Once a lady broke up with the church because she received a thank you note and she didn’t like the way the thank you was worded.  I’m not kidding, she left over a thank you note. One week, two different families told me they were leaving the church. One was breaking up because they thought we were too liberal.  The other was breaking up because they thought we were too conservative.  Go figure.

When people break up with their church, usually there is a stated reason and then there is the real reason. For example, people know that if they gave the real reason (i.e. “my kid didn’t get picked for the lead role in the Christmas program”), it would make them look like a church version of a wacked out Hollywood parent. So instead of being honest (“I really don’t want to tithe and don’t want to be reminded of my disobedience!” Hmmm… maybe I do talk too much about money), they give a more spiritually sounding reason. My favorite is: “we aren’t being fed.”

The “we aren’t being fed” excuse is a popular church break up line. Usually, it’s spoken by someone not involved in a small group, not reading their Bible on a consistent basis, not tithing (there I go again) and/or not spending time in prayer. If their actual eating habits mirrored their spiritual disciplines they would have starved to death long ago. But it’s easier to blame the pastor’s meatless sermons. “We aren’t being fed” sounds so deeply spiritual. You can’t argue with someone who is simply looking to grow in the Lord, can you?  Another popular exit reason is given when their adolescent child is unruly. Again, it is easier to blame the youth pastor for the misbehaviors of their Jr. Genghis Kahn rather than accept responsibility for their parenting skills (or lack thereof) or the free will being exercised by their little tyrant.

Listen, if you are looking for the perfect church. Good luck. It doesn’t exist, not as long as people attend. I tell people all the time, “our church isn’t perfect because they let me pastor and I am not perfect.”  No one has hollered an “Amen” to my “not perfect” confession, but I think a few disgruntled folks have wanted to express it.  The truth is our Enemy loves it when people storm off or quietly slip away from a church that is attempting to follow after God. As long as they are gone, the Enemy is happy.

Instead of church shopping when you don’t like something in your church, how about trying this tactic instead: pray and serve. Pray for your church. Pray for your pastor. Pray, serve and love with a Christ-like attitude. Pray that you can be part of the solution instead of problem. Determine that you are going to love, love and love some more.  You’ll be surprised to discover how great your church really is when you are praying, serving, loving and giving.

Ministering in Flint, Michigan

According to a report released this week, Flint is the nation’s poorest city.  45% of our neighbors live below the poverty line. Moreover, Flint also ranked first in childhood poverty: an estimated 58 percent of Flint residents under age 18 live below the poverty line compared to a national average of 18 percent. That’s the bad news. Here’s the Good News from the Good Book:

Psalm 34:6:  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. God knows. God hears. God works in Flint.

 Psalm 140:12:  I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. God sides with the poor.

Proverbs 14:31: Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. We who are not poor side with God when we show kindness to the needy.

Proverbs 19:7: Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. We will never regret what we do for the poor.

Proverbs 21:13: Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.  To the question “if we are going to help the poor or not,” there is only one answer for those who are godly.

Jeremiah 22:16:  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. If we want to know and experience God, we will advocate for the poor.

Of course, we must mention Jesus words when he described his mission and ministry in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus came to set all those who are oppressed by sickness, injustice, or poverty free. Likewise, if we are going to be about the work of Jesus we will do the same.

What these Biblical passages (and several others I could have cited) say to me as we minister in our nation’s neediest city:

God loves the city of Flint.

God has not abandoned us.

God is for us and not against us.

If we want to be on the side of God, we too will be on the side of our poor neighbors.  We will work, give, love and pray with them and for them. We will not stop until poverty has ended and God’s Kingdom comes to Flint as it is in heaven.

Root Canals, Wisdom Teeth and a Date with the Grim Reaper

Would you rather have a root canal or have a wisdom tooth pulled?  I am so “lucky” that on Monday I don’t have to make that choice.  I get both.  Cue the violins with their woe-is-me music!

In a moment of full disclosure, please know I am not a fan of the dentist.  This fact has absolutely nothing to do with my current dentist and has absolutely everything to do the pain machine, tooth driller that I had as a child (Think: If the Bride of Frankenstein had married Batman’s arch enemy, the Joker, and together they had a child who went to dental school—that was my childhood dentist).  My flash backs to the horror show (i.e. dental appointments) have left me with little thrill in having any dental work done, let alone a root canal AND a wisdom tooth pulled on the same day.

My Monday date with destiny is a result of the fact that my regular dentist thought I needed a wisdom tooth pulled, so he sent me to a specialist. The oral surgeon thought I needed to also have a root canal on another tooth done by an endodontist.  So bata boom, bata bing, in one morning to remember I will have a root canal performed by one guy and a wisdom tooth pulled by another guy in a different office across town. If I survive the ordeal, the day will go down in history, “as the day Rob Prince thought he was going to die.”  If I don’t survive, well, when Karla gets to heaven the first words she will hear from Jesus is “well done my good and faithful servant,” but the first words she will hear from me will be, “I told you so.”

Bad days happen to everyone (even if they do not include the dentist). Sometimes far worse things happen than having a wisdom tooth removed on the same day as a root canal. Not every day is easy. Some days are terribly hard. Jesus address this issue in Luke 13.  He gives two examples of bad things happening. 1) Pilate executed a group of people in the temple, and 2) a tower fell in Siloam that killed 18 people.  Referring to the victims of Pilate’s actions Jesus said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:2-3).  Both of these days qualify as far worse than a trip to a dentist or two.

The logic of the day was bad people suffer, good people don’t. According to Jesus words, that is not the case.  Sometimes bad things just happen.  Moreover, our attention should not be on the gossip surrounding questions of “what did the bad people do wrong?” Rather the question we should be asking ourselves is, “What am I doing right?”  It’s a question that Jesus seems most interested especially if my bad day turns really bad and results in my demise (sooner or later we all have a date with the grim reaper). One Day we will all stand before the Throne and give an accounting of our actions. Jesus seems to be saying, don’t sweat what happened to others, have you repented and do you know where your eternal accommodations will be?

I am sure that there will be dentists in heaven. There will even be crowns, just not dental crowns. There won’t be any drills, probes, swish and spitting into the bowl, Novocain, or anything like it. No wonder we used to sing, “When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be.” I want to go to heaven one day, but I hope it’s not Monday.

Amovig and Me

Today I am trying out a brand-new medication for migraines.  It’s a once a month injection.  For the next couple of months, I will go to my neurologist and they will give me a shot. If all goes well, after two months (the good Lord and my health insurance company willing) I will then start giving myself the injection.  Like a heroin dealer, the drug company makes the first two injections free, and then after that, my insurance company and I start paying for it. Unlike a heroin dealer, the pharmaceutical company doesn’t make me pick up the drugs from a seedy corner in Flint, but will mail it directly to my house (coincidently I think the medication may cost as much as my house payment).

Maybe this drug will end my migraines.  Maybe my daily headache reminders that I am human will be coming to an end. Or maybe not. If I sound skeptical, I probably am. In the last 11 years, I have been on probably 20 different migraine medications; received a summer full of IV treatments, have had close to 1500 Botox or Xeomin injections, a few nerve blocks, MRIs, CT scans, EEGs, been hospitalized and have seen more doctors than I can count.  Welcome to the life of a chronic pain sufferer.

I write this not to make you feel sorry for me, not at all.  I don’t feel sorry for me, so why should you?  Here’s what I know: I will not suffer from migraines one second longer than the Lord’s desire for me.  While my migraines have certainly increased since my brain hemorrhage in 2007, I have always had them (As a pre-kindergartener I can remember having migraines, going in a dark room and being sick to my stomach).  Paul had a thorn in his flesh, I have had lots of needles in my neck, arms, legs, and melon. The Lord helped Paul and the Lord helps me and the Lord will help you. While I haven’t been completely healed like blind Bartimeaus in the Bible…

I believe in a God who answers prayer (even though my prayer hasn’t been answered);

I believe in a God who heals (even though I haven’t been healed);

I believe in God’s timing (even though my timing says, “olly olly oxen free! Time’s up.”); and

I believe that God has great things in store (even though there are “migrainey” days when I don’t want to be in a store or any place that has lights, noise or smells).

I know God loves me.

I know God is at work.

I know I can trust Him.

Whether you deal with chronic pain or any other trouble, my message is the same: We live in a fallen, sin sick world.  Bad things happen to good people.  Far worse things have happened to far better people than me. Still with Paul we all can say:  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Here’s my point:  Life is short. Sometimes life isn’t easy. But God is big and His Love is free, easy and everlasting! He can do “immeasurably more than all we ask,” so hang in there, your answer might be right around the corner or in my vernacular for today, “your big shot may be coming soon.”

P.S.  Shameless Plug:  If you’d like to read more on Chronic Pain get my book:  Chronic Pain:  Finding Hope in the Midst of Suffering, The Foundry Publishing.  Get it on Amazon or ask your local bookseller.

 

Warm Churches vs. Cool Churches (part 2)

Last week, I wrote that warm churches trump cool churches. That’s important to know (especially if you attend a not-so-cool church) because:

Not every church can be a cool church (While there are cool and warm churches, it seems to me that there are more uncool churches than cool ones. But that’s not the end of the world, read on…).

Not every church can be in a neighborhood where the population is booming.

Not every church can afford lights and fog machines.

Not every church can remove their pews for chairs.

Not every church can change their orange carpet for polished cement floors.

Not every church wants to decorate with wood pallets but has dusty plastic ferns.

Not every church serves cappuccino and lattes.

Not every pastor is hip (The usage of the word “hip” should tell you I’m not “hip” or whatever the new word is that implies “hipness.”).

Not every church can have a worship leader in skinny jeans (one of our worship leaders has recently lost 130 pounds or so, and told me that he is wearing “skinnier” jeans, but he’s still not wearing “skinny” jeans).

Not every church can change the outside of their building to look like a warehouse instead of their circa 1957 church building.

Not every church wants to change their name from Podunk First Church of the Nazarene or Timbuktu Baptist Church to “Sonshine Church” or “The Clift.”

Not every attender wears clothes like they just stepped out of a J Crew catalogue. Sometimes, parishioners’ dresses and suits look like they came from Montgomery Ward and probably weren’t in style even when purchased.

Not every church likes to sing Hillsong United songs but prefers Charles Wesley hymns.

Not every church is cool.

But…

Every church can be warm.

Every church can love their neighbors.

Every church can be welcoming and hospitable.

Every church can act like visitors are their long-lost relatives.  (I told one of my churches that had plenty of older folks when I arrived, that they needed to pretend that new comers were their grandkids who hadn’t been in church for a while.  They bought it. They loved new people.  Offered the newbies to sit in the pew with them and never complained about their attire. They were kind and loving. They were warm).

Every church can have a pastor who models warmth in his/her mannerisms and words.

Every church can help people find Jesus.

Every church can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Every church can be a lighthouse to those in the dark, a hospital to the hurting, a repair shop for the broken and a loving example of God’s grace to anyone who comes through the doors.

Every church… Every. Single. Church can be warm.

With so many lonely and getting lonelier people, with so many hopeless and discouraged people, with so many faithless people all around us– warm trumps cool.  Cool might get folks in the door, but warm is what keeps them coming back. Even if the church you attend isn’t cool, the good news is that every church can be (should be) warm!  Maybe your church is both (warm and cool), but if I had to choose one, I’d choose warm. People need warm, they don’t need cool.  Let’s determine to be like the believers in Jerusalem who Luke mentions in Acts 21:17, where everyone who walks through our doors can say:  When we arrived at Jerusalem (or in your church), the brothers and sisters received us warmly.