Thursday, April 09, 2009

Betty and Easter's Good News

Black Betty (my 124,000 mile, 1992 Chevy Impala) is sick. I am neither a mechanic nor the son of a mechanic, but there are a number of reasons for my diagnosis:
• She doesn’t take bumps in the road with the smooth comfortable ride as she once did. Each crack in the pavement seems like I just ran over the grand canyon;
• She’s a little cranky when I crank the engine in the morning especially on cold days;
• She moans and groans and rattles like her arthritis medicine stopped working long ago;
• Occasionally, she just won’t start (that is a really annoying habit of hers by the way);
• I no longer lock the doors because I think there is a problem with the security system (see above comment on occasionally not starting);
• The “needs oil changing” light doesn’t go off—even after I have had the oil changed;
• One interior light on the control panel is out;
• The Lenexa police officer that pulled me over a while back said the license plate light is out too. I didn’t know Betty had a license plate light. I’ll take Officer Friendly’s word for it—why would he lie about such a thing? (By the way, in case you are wondering… no ticket for Rob, just told not to roll through stop signs. Thank you Officer. I wonder if telling him that I pastor the church next to the police station helped my cause.).
• Her carpet is ripped and there are scratches and dents and chips all over her exterior—and there’s a little green paint on the rear right panel that looks eerily similar to the garage door trim paint. I wish those garage doors were just a wee bit wider;
• And most recently her check engine light periodically comes on. It’s not always on, just some times on. As of this writing, it is on, but yesterday afternoon it was off.

I know one day Betty is going to drive her last mile. I know it’s bound to happen sooner or later (as I have exactly zero car payments right now, I hope it is later. Much later.) I am unsure how to measure the life of a car, but I think it’s kind of like dog years. The formula goes something like this: Every 10,000 miles is like one dog year which, as you know, is like seven people years. So when calculating the life of Betty using the “10,000 miles = one dog year = seven people years” formula then she is 86 years and 9 months old by my reckoning. That might not be ready for hospice, but I am looking for their phone number.

One day Black Betty is going to die. And while I refer to her in human terms (notice she is “Betty” not “the Impala” or “the Chevy” or “the rattle trap from Detroit”; and further notice my use of personal pronouns in reference to her—Betty is not an “it”) still, I understand that she is an automobile and not a human. She will not go to “the great parking lot in the sky” when she drinks her last quart of 5W30 motor oil, but rather she will go to the dump. That’s where dead cars go. When they are dead, they are dead (Profound, I know).

Not so with people.

My dad who “died” less than a month ago (on Easter Sunday it will be exactly one month), is more alive now than ever. His faith has been made sight. He is enjoying all that God has promised to those who have allowed Jesus to enter his or her life and establish a relationship with him. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are so wonderfully true. He said: “My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. Then you won't grieve over them and be like people who don't have any hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back again, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 CEV). In other words, ol’ Bob Prince is doing pretty good these days. No pain. No cancer. No troubles. So I need not grieve like those without any hope. I have great hope in the One who died and is alive again!!!

And that is the GREAT news of Easter! And that is why this Sunday is the day to celebrate like no other day. And that is why I am so excited about Sunday. And that is why I can’t wait for Sunday. And that is why I want all of my friends to celebrate too--Jesus is alive! That’s the best news of all time!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Al Kaline and my dad

In my office I have pictures and memorabilia of my favorite baseball player of all time, Al Kaline. Al Kaline played for the Detroit Tigers and retired back in the early 1970’s. In the sixth grade, I was hospitalized for a ruptured appendix and my sister waited in a long line to get my hero’s signature at an autograph signing. That picture is on my wall along with his jersey, several signed baseballs, other pictures and a collage of several of his baseball cards.

You’ve seen baseball cards. They have a picture of the ball player on the front of the card and all of their important baseball statistics on the back. On Al Kaline’s card, you could read about his 3007 base hits and 399 homeruns, how he was a perennial all-star and gold glove winner.

Al Kaline was my baseball hero, but my dad was my real hero. As far as I know, my dad never played baseball, never swung a bat, and never slid into home base. In fact, he said more than once, “I wouldn’t walk across the street to see those bums (the Tigers) play.” So he certainly never had a bubble gum card with his picture on the front.

But I got thinking… what if my dad did have a bubble gum card with his picture on the front? I think you would be able to flip the card over and read some stats that are even more impressive than Al Kaline’s hits and homers. You would read…
• Lived on this planet for 81 years.
• Married to my mom for 56 years.
• Worked for the Ford Motor Company for 43 years.
• Served his country in Germany during World War II.
• Became a Christian 49 years ago following a life of motor cycle gangs and alcohol abuse
• Father of four kids—all graduates of Olivet Nazarene College. A lawyer, a nurse and two preachers.
• Grandfather of eight—five of whom have graduated from Olivet (a lawyer, school social worker, teacher, and two in graduate school) and three who are still in school.
• Sunday school teacher, church board member, willing worker in all things church related.
• Recipient of numerous awards for his volunteer service in Detroit’s inner city.

I suppose if my name were Al Kaline Jr. I would have known how to hit a baseball a little better than I do. If my name were Michael Jordan Jr., I would have had a better jump shot. If my name were Bill Gates Jr., my bank account would be much bigger. But my name is Robert Samuel Prince Jr., and I wouldn’t change that name for any other name. My dad left me an example and legacy of faithfulness, loyalty and love. He taught me the important things of life—not simply through his words but more importantly through his actions.

A little more than a month ago, my dad walked into his doctor’s office with a tummy ache. A week after that, he had a test to determine the extent and the exact nature of his condition. A week after that, he was told he had pancreatic cancer. And two weeks later he died. My brother and I officiated at his funeral. While it was the most difficult funeral service I have ever participated in – still we were able to rejoice in the life my dad lived and the promise of eternal life that he is now experiencing.

Tag Team Wrestling

Before WWF, before Hulk Hogan, before Vince McMahon, before any of today’s over-the-top wrestling events and characters there was Big Time Wrestling. Every Saturday afternoon as a boy I would tune in our 15 inch, rabbit eared, turn the channel with needle nosed pliers, black and white TV to channel 50 in Detroit and watch Big Time Wrestling. I couldn’t name for you one current wrestler, but from my childhood wrestling days there were guys like BoBo Brazil, Haystack Calhoun, Pompero Ferpo (the 8th Wonder of the World), Andre the Giant, Dick the Bruiser and the Sheik.

My brother and I would faithfully watch the Saturday afternoon wrestling matches. And following some particularly exciting matches on TV, we would transform our family room into a Big Time Wrestling ring (minus the ropes and referees) and have our own Big Time Wrestling Brouhaha. Although I was a willing participant, this was usually not a healthy choice for me.

My brother Fred is seven years older and seven years bigger than me. Hence, the resulting wrestling match in the family room usually consisted of Fred pretending to be BoBo Brazil and I was the poor wrestling fodder that was the recipient of BoBo’s signature move “the Coco Butt” (in case you are worried, the “Coco Butt” had nothing to do with anatomy but was a “head butting” type of move). Rarely would our wrestling match end without me running and tattling to my mother that Fred was: a) mean; b) not fair; c) pretending to be BoBo Brazil and I wanted to be BoBo; or d) all of the above. The most frequent result from my whining to my mother was a several week ban of Big Time Wrestling in the house or on the 15 inch Philco TV.

I think I would have fared better (and with less bumps and bruises) had my brother and I been a tag team, rather than him acting as if he were Bobo Brazil and me acting (although I wasn’t really acting) as the guy beaten up by BoBo. Of course, the question is who would we have teamed against? My sisters were much to wise to ever participate in the family room Big Time Wresting matches. Still, I would have liked being part of a tag team. As all wrestling fans know, a “Tag Team Match” is when two wrestlers pair together to wrestle two other wrestlers. In such an event, only one wrestler from each pair is in the ring at a time (unless the wrestlers are unruly, unfair and downright un-American wrestlers like the Sheik or Pompero Ferpo, the 8th Wonder of the World), and when the non wrestling wrestler wished to get into the foray he would tag the hand of his partner and the two wrestlers switched places.

Why the wrestling trivia?

I think church should be a tag team event. Not so that we can beat up the Baptists or the Episcopalians (I’ve seen some Episcopalians and I think we could take ‘em, but the Baptists? I am not so sure. Just kidding, I don’t want to body slam anyone or any church), still we need to be a tag team so that we might impact our world. When Central folks walk in church, they tag our worship team and me (the preacher) and say, "Go for it." Meaning: Help lead us to a place of worship and praise and connecting to God. When Central folks walk out we tag them and say, "Go for it." Meaning: take the light of Christ and the things you have learned and the peace you have experienced and the joy in your heart to the dead and dying world. Don’t keep it to yourself.

As all tag team loving wrestling aficionados know, the best wrestling tag teams trust each other. They know that once tagged their partner won’t let them down. In our church tag team—I hope we can have the same confidence. So that when you invite a friend or neighbor and walk into church and tag us and say “Go for it” you will have confidence that we who are leading in worship will be real and authentic and prepared to lead us to God. Then when we tag you back and say, “Go for it!” we will have the confidence in you that you will keep being faithful and keep inviting, and keep being real and honest, and continue to live before your friends a Christ-like life.

By the way, Mr. or Ms. Newly-Tagged-member-of-the-Central-Tag-Team, the best form of advertising always has been and always will be word of mouth. For what it's worth, most Central folks came to Central because a friend invited them. It's as simple as that: friends inviting friends. This Easter we've invited several thousand people in our surrounding area through a direct mailer. And a few may come through that effort. Others will come to Central for Easter services simply because they drive by our church and will drop in or they will have hopped on-line and checked out our web-site and decided we are a nice place to visit. But most new folks will come to Central because somebody invited them.

This Sunday we will have touch cards (should I have called them “tagged” cards?) available so you can invite friends, neighbors, waitresses and sales clerks. You’ve been tagged to reach out-- think of it as one way of "going into the highways and hedges" and "compelling to come in" (Luke 14). And then this Sunday (or on Easter) when you walk through the doors you will tag us—and we will do our best to lead us all to the place where we can encounter a holy God!
OK… you’ve been tagged! Go for it!