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FIRST PERSON: An irreverent NASCAR prayer
by Brett Maragni
Date: Jul 29, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--Last weekend at Nashville Superspeedway, Pastor Joe Nelms made quite a splash with his unconventional invocation, thanking the Lord for “these mighty machines You brought before us ... the Dodges, and the Toyotas, thank You for the Fords...”

Perhaps forgetting about the Chevys, he continued with his list, thanking God for “GM performance technologies, RO7 engines ... Sunoco racing fuel and Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track.” At this point in the prayer the TV cameras were showing some of the drivers bowed in prayer, battling to keep straight faces.

That battle was soon lost as Nelms continued: “Lord, I wanna thank You for my smokin’ hot wife tonight ...” For probably the first time in NASCAR history, the crowd erupted in yelps and applause during a pre-race prayer. He saved his best for last: “ Jesus’ name, boogity, boogity, boogity, amen.”

For those unfamiliar with NASCAR, racing legend Darrell Waltrip, who provides color commentary for FOX Sports, starts every NASCAR Sprint Cup race with the phrase, “Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys!” The NASCAR nation immediately made the connection with Nelms’ closing words.

The proverbial 15 minutes of fame soon followed, as national news outlets raced to interview America’s newest celebrity preacher.

Eddie Gossage, president of the Texas Motor Speedway, wrote a column for ESPN, chastising the critics for condemning Nelms’ prayer instead of praising NASCAR for actually having invocation prayers, when no other major sport has such. He stated confidently, “I know there was absolutely nothing wrong with Nelms’ invocation.”

Really? Absolutely nothing wrong? Gossage has a point regarding the mere presence of the invocation. To see Bible-believing Christian pastors praying in the name of Jesus before these races is indeed an encouraging and refreshing change from the norm in today’s culture.

But to hear a pastor take that opportunity and turn it into a moment of jocularity is sad. To see most of America respond with approval is tragic.

Whatever happened to reverence? Where is the gravitas?

God is holy and deserves and even demands to be approached with reverence. Many Scriptures come to mind, including these: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66.2). “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12.28-29). Jesus told us we were to pray like this: “Hallowed be Your name.” To hallow is to sanctify, consecrate, venerate, make sacred.

Sacred and slap-stick are at odds when entering into the holy of holies.

According to Time magazine, Nelms said he wanted “to show non-Christians that church folks know how to have fun, too.” I have read the New Testament several times and have yet to come across the “show them God is fun” evangelistic strategy.

To stoop to this kind of approach in evangelism is to turn our backs upon the power of the message itself. Instead of trying to show the world we are like them, let’s show them that we’ve got what they need: forgiveness of sins. If they are not interested in that, then they are not ripe for the Gospel. The biblical approach to evangelism is to declare the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ, which exposes the wicked deeds of those who are lost and points them to the wondrous and amazing grace of God in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

For the pastors who pray along these lines, the NASCAR crowds probably won’t hoot and holler, and the interviews on FOX News surely won’t follow. Among the hearers, many will find it foolish, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
Brett Maragni is senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville, Fla.

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