Prayer and Passion Week

Palm Sunday is almost upon us and tonight is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game. You might ask what in the world does Passion Week and Basketball finals have in common. They both say something about prayer in my mind this morning. I know people who’ll pray for all kinds of stuff that doesn’t mean a hill of beans and won’t pray about things that have eternal consequences! There will be people tonight praying for Kentucky or Connecticut to win, but won’t be giving a thought to praying their way through Jesus’ sufferings.

Frankly, I have a hard time understanding why people pray about sports any way, except to pray that no one gets hurt. Being a loyal Gamecock fan hasn’t helped my desire to pray because my prayers have largely gone unanswered! I figure God has better things to do, and our results, except for the past few years, have been more than spotty. So why pray too much about sports? Why not pray for world peace, homelessness, hunger, an elimination of domestic violence, the eradication of racism, family harmony…?

I must admit that I’ve been tempted to pray against some teams that shall remain nameless. But all this is peripheral to Passion Week and Prayer. Jesus prayed as if great drops of blood flowed from his body during Gethsemane’s long hours. The New Testament Greek word used for his efforts in praying is agonizomai whence comes our word agonize. Jesus agonized in prayer while his disciples slept!

Why do we have such a difficult time joining Jesus in such heartfelt prayer? We get worked up over our favorite sports team and fret over all kinds of superfluous things. We innocuously tell people, “We’ll be praying for you,” as if it were a semi-greeting or salutation like “Hello” or “Goodbye.” Agonizing with someone in prayer is far from our usual meaning. Sad!

My solemn promise as Holy Week approaches is not to get bent out of shape and waste spiritual and emotional energy on basketball, baseball, the Masters Golf Tournament, or spring football scrimmages. I want to pray like Jesus over things that matter eternally. I love sports and they matter to me, but, no offense, this week they’re going to take a back seat to more important things.

Three neighbors were talking and discussing the proper position and attitude for prayer. One said, “You should be on your knees with your head bowed in reverence to the Almighty.” The second man spoke up and said, “Remember that you were created in God’s image. The position in which to pray is to stand up looking at the heavens into the face of God and talk to Him as a child to his father.” The third man spoke up and said, “I don’t know much about these other positions, but the finest praying I ever did was hanging upside down in a well.”

Let’s do our best praying in the coming days before Easter! The world needs it! I do hope the best teams win and no one gets hurt in whatever the sport, but my priority over these last days of Lent is going be about bigger things.

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Trash Talk and Thanksgiving During Rivalry Week!

Thanksgiving Week is perennially a time for major trash-talking in the state of South Carolina. This is the week year in and year out that Carolina and Clemson sometimes literally slug it out on the football field, and unfortunately repeat the same scene in the stands or living rooms. This week will be even tenser because both teams are in the top ten in college football polls. In all our years of playing football this has never happened! This week’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium could be one for the ages. My hope is that it’s for all the right reasons. I have been hearing and participating in the banter for years. “Fear the Thumb!” is my favorite quip this year. Since the USC Gamecocks have won 4 in a row, the thumb represents number 5!

Pretty much wherever you live in the US this is Rivalry Week for your favorite college football team, and it couldn’t come at a worse time: Thanksgiving! On Thursday we will gather as family, friends, and loved ones and share a common meal, but more than a few people will raise their smack talk to a higher level and back it up with small or large wagers on Saturday’s games. There’s enough stuff to divide families that we have to add football, too? Rivalry Week becomes sibling rivalry and more – ad infinitum.

I live in a divided house myself. I graduated from South Carolina and rarely miss a game. Cindy graduated from Winthrop University, but was born at Clemson when her parents were there. She was baptized at Clemson Methodist Church, and when her Dad went back years later for another degree, she was confirmed at the same church and got her driver’s license at Clemson, too. Although she did get a Master’s degree in counseling at USC, her blood pretty much runneth orange. However, she does feel sorry for poor hurt animals and underdogs. That typically means that she has pulled for Carolina over the years. I am grateful for her Christian sympathy and USC has usually earned it.

My kids are really mixed up. Narcie graduated from Winthrop and Candler School of Theology and is a natural Carolina fan, except that she is the Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida and says, “Go Gators!” Her UF hat she was wearing last night got interesting stares in a local grocery store. Our middle child was raised right, but, thanks to his maternal grandfather’s influence and a scholarship, Josh graduated from Clemson with an engineering degree, though he’s now a UM minister. Caleb, our youngest, is the only one besides me with a USC degree. Thank God for Caleb! He helps even the odds.

Narcie and Josh did recently go to a USC game and Narcie talked Josh into humoring her and allowed her to put a Gamecock logo on his cheek. He caught heck for that from a lot of his Clemson buds. He was just being kind to his sister and loves Clemson, but the photo below is more than a pretty sight for me because this Thursday I will definitely be in the minority.

Our extended family is overwhelmingly Clemson! This Thursday when we all gather together for Thanksgiving the trash talk will be out of control. Point spreads and smack about the differences between the ACC and SEC will abound. Of course I like the SEC better! It makes sense to me, “I love God, sweet tea, and the SEC!”

But how do we get through Thanksgiving without a family squabble? How do we handle the trash talk of Rivalry Week without losing our cool or our kin? It all comes down to the use of our tongues and love. There was a conversation between a 4-year-old boy and the mail carrier about the child’s little sister. The mail carrier asked, “Can she talk yet?” “No,” the little boy responded, “She has her teeth, but her words haven’t come in yet.” This Thanksgiving will prove that a lot of us have teeth in our conversation, but the right words aren’t there yet! The frightening thing is that our bitter words may not just be about football. I’m afraid that most of our trash talk has little to do with football and is about underlying jealousies or tensions.

Now here’s a challenge: Try to make it through Thanksgiving Day without saying anything negative or derogatory about anyone or their team. Also take note if you say something about someone who isn’t present. Keep track when others say something negative and what your reactions are. Notice whether you rebuke the verbal attack, or invite people to spill all of their “dirt” about the other person. Watch your speech and ask the Lord to bridle your tongue.

Foremost, let us season our speech with lots of love. Remember and put into action the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 4:29-5:2, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Be a R.E.A.L. family this Thanksgiving: RespectingEncouraging AffirmingLoving. I hope your Thanksgiving is more about God than goal lines. Everybody calm down and take a deep breath! I’ll try, too!

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Thanks-Giving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in the upcoming Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. Yes, the last few years as a Gamecock fan have been beyond my highest expectations – Steve Spurrier has tied Rex Enright for the most wins; this senior class has won more games (36) than any other in USC history; the Gamecocks have won 11 straight home games, a new record; the baseball team won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011, and was runner-up this year. It’s been great but can we beat Clemson in football 4 years in a row? That is what’s on the line this coming Saturday. I feel like I’m being greedy because I would have settled for one in a row not too long ago.

Need I say more about praying for sports teams? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine, especially with Connor Shaw limping and Jadeveon Clowney gimpy, too. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. Gosh, We’re 9-2! The same could be true for Clemson folks at 10-1, too, and perhaps for fans of about every team except Kentucky and Tennessee. I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, but more so as a human being.

There are so many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do. My biggest thanks is that Narcie is two and half years away from Brain Tumor surgery on a oligodendroglioma and she is doing great! Please keep praying for her!

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? In a village in Denmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. There’s no better day to get ready for Advent and Christmas when we especially need to remember the Guest-of-Honor at His own birthday! As I think about churches trying to catch up on their budgets and connectional giving responsibilities, I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $10,000.

“What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $10,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

Count and account for your blessings!

Don’t Let Worry Kill You, Let The Church Help!

My Daddy was a worrier. He had his reasons thanks to barely being a survivor of the Great Depression. He had a long list of concerns, but in retrospect he was pretty much an optimist. After having to quit school in the 8th grade to help his family earn a living, he ended up in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He learned valuable skills and earned a little bit of money to send home. He took a chance and learned how to auction and scraped together enough money to go to Reppert Auction School in Decatur, Indiana. He did well with his big risk. He took chances all his life when I think about it – too many to chart right here. Having 3 sons was one of his biggest!

But, you know what gave him the most worrying fits – University of South Carolina sports. Gosh, Daddy would get so worked up over a game that sometimes by the time he got to the stadium he would be so nauseous from his nerves that we had to take him home. It’s one of the reasons to this day that we’re early birds to sporting events and most everything else. You’ve got to have enough time for unexpected contingencies so you can go home and make it back to the stadium in time for the game to start!

And here I am just back from Annual Conference and about to head to Omaha for the College World Series. Sure I could sit at home and watch it on TV, but I’ve been every time USC has gone under Coach Ray Tanner – 6 trips. In the last 2 years my youngest son Caleb and I were there for the duration as the Gamecocks brought home back to back National Championships. So here we go again about to get in the car. Our tickets will be at will-call and I have campsite #33 at Lake Manawa State Park reserved. I’m a bit frugal so the $11 a night fee isn’t too much of a stretch.

The side benefits include Father’s Day with Caleb, good baseball, and lots of time to read and reflect before Jurisdictional Conference starts on July 17. Since this isn’t the first time I’ve been the conference’s Episcopal nominee I do know what to expect. I know it will be both stressful and exhilarating. I trust the Lord and the process, but it’s scary. Going to Omaha is just what I need. If I stay at home the fear factor may kick in. I would imagine that some of you can commiserate with me about worries and stress.

They say it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you. Imaginary or not, fears can catch up with us. Fear can be paralyzing. One church sign was frighteningly near the truth: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help!” It’s almost not funny! For clergy, worry and church can often go hand in hand. What do we do with our worries? Do we bury them, or let them bury us? Do we have enough faith to take risks for God?

One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking a corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?” “Ain’t got none,” was the answer as he continued, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid of the boll weevil.” The visitor then asked, “Well, how’s your corn?” The farmer replied, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid o’ drought.” The visitor continued his line of questioning, “How about potatoes?” The reply was familiar, “Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.” The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?” “Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”

Playing it safe can be downright disastrous. Divine motivation demands our willingness to go out on a limb. Fear has to be defeated. Some of us anticipate the worst and don’t try anything. God wants us to put on our wave-walking shoes and get out of the boat of our comfort zone. I know that we all fear the unknown. I like routine as well as the next person. I’m infamous for ordering the same dish in restaurants. It’s simple really. I don’t want to be disappointed, but if I’m not willing to try something new, think what delights I’ve missed.

When a person fears the worst will happen, their own thoughts may help bring it about. Someone once wrote, “Fear is the wrong use of the imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.” The story has been told about a salesman who had a flat tire while driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night. He opened the trunk and discovered that he didn’t have a lug wrench. He looked around and could barely see a light coming from a farmhouse. With relief in mind, he started walking through the driving rain toward the house.

The salesman began to think all kinds of thoughts. He thought, for instance, that the farmer would surely have a lug wrench that he could borrow. Next he thought about how late at night it was, and, of course, the farmer would be asleep in his warm dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. And so on and on his thoughts went as he was walking to the farmhouse. Being soaking wet didn’t help his thought process, either.

He pondered that even if the farmer did answer the door, he would probably shout some rude vulgarity at him. This thought made the salesman mad. After all, what right did the farmer have to refuse him the loan of a simple lug wrench? He was stranded in the middle of nowhere soaked to the skin, and the farmer was a selfish clod! Fuming, the salesman finally reached the house and banged hard on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” His face white with anger, the salesman called out, “You know darn well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!” Anticipating the worst can become self-fulfilling prophecy. With fatherhood, sports, and the workings of the church, let’s give God a chance and stop worrying! Look for me in Omaha! I’ll write another blog when I get back. Catch me on Twitter and Facebook and Go Gamecocks!

United Methodist Leadership and Football

Whether you are a Blue Hose, Paladin, Bulldog, or Terrier fan, you have got to admit that Clemson and South Carolina’s football teams have made dramatic improvements over the past several years. Why? The players are much the same, so what’s different? Both schools have lost a few headliners as specialists, but the big difference to me is in the coaching staffs. South Carolina has added John Butler as Special Teams Coordinator and Shawn Elliott as Offensive Line Coach. Clemson has added Chad Morris as Offensive Coordinator. All three of these are known to have proven success, vision and the ability to articulate it so that their players are motivated and enthused. Both teams are in the top 25 and are 4-0!

Leadership matters whether we’re talking about college football or the church. Lay and clergy leadership from bishops to the pew is so very important. It’s more than just showing up! It’s having expertise for sure, but in my mind it’s mostly about relationships whether with coaches and players, bishops and the annual conference, or clergy and local churches. Leadership has to be real, relational, and relevant.

Take Bishop Francis Asbury, for instance. I’ve been reading John Wigger’s biography of Asbury, American Saint, and I’ve noticed that Asbury wasn’t known for his preaching but for his time spent with people. African-American Harry Hoosier was the better preacher and got a better response than Asbury. What Asbury did well was stay in people’s homes and share the Gospel in authentic relational ways. He was a great story-teller and he met people where they were. This is one reason why, up and down the eastern seaboard, there are homes with Bishop’s chairs, Bishop’s rooms, and Bishop’s tables in them. People remembered him for his presence in their homes and their lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if coaches and current church leaders had that kind of feel for people’s pulses? Talking about being relevant! It would take motivation to a new level, wouldn’t it? Charles Schwab, former president of U.S. Steel, had a mill manager whose men were not producing their quota of work. “How is it,” Schwab asked, “That a man as capable as you cannot make this shift turn out its quota?” “I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I have coaxed the men, pushed them, but nothing seems to work. They just will not produce.”

This conversation took place at the end of the shift, just before the night shift came on. “Give me a piece of chalk,” Schwab said. Then, turning to the nearest worker, he inquired, “How many turns of the furnace did your shift produce today?” “Six,” he said. Without another word Schwab chalked a big figure “6” on the floor, and he walked away. When the night shift came in, they saw the big “6” and asked what it meant. “The boss was here today,” the day shift said. “He asked us how many turns we made, and chalked it on the floor.” The night crew talked among themselves, “We can do just as good a job as those guys, even better!” The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again and noticed that the night shift had rubbed out the “6” and replaced it with a big “7.” That inspired the day shift not to let up, so by the end of the day they left behind an impressive “10” for everyone to see.

Shortly, the mill which had been lagging way behind in steel production was turning out more work than any other company plant. Without yelling a word or making any threats Schwab had made his point. He said, “The way to get things done is to stimulate a desire to excel.” Good coaches inspire others to dream big and get the job done. My hat’s off to Clemson and U.S.C. Would Jesus “tip his hat” for us as church leaders? One has to be real, relevant, and relational!

Questions:

What is your dream?

Is it God’s dream for you?

What is your strategy to fulfil your dream?

How do you connect with people?

Time Will Tell

Six days until the Gamecocks play East Carolina and we find out if the pre-season hype is reality. Time will tell, right? I have had time on the brain after getting an email yesterday from the Ball Watch Company. They’re the makers  of the watches that have been the standard for accurate time ever since the heyday of railroads when being on time could literally be the difference between life and death. Think the recent movie “Unstoppable.” Ball watches are the source of the saying about “being on the ball.” Somebody who is “on the ball” is with it, on time, and a hard worker.

I’m a fan of satellite music and get caught between listening to the 60’s and 70’s so I usually split the difference and listen to “The Blend” or “The Bridge” stations because they include my favorite songs from both decades. Here’s my theory. I’m fairly convinced that the type of music that we like is connected to when we were in high school all the way through our sophomore year in college. Little wonder that I’m a fan of the Mama’s & Papa’s, the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Three Dog Night, the Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Carole King, The Who, and, especially, the Moody Blues, who I repeatedly listened to as I read and reread The Hobbit  and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whenever I think of Middle Earth I can’t help but think of the mystical sounds of the Moody Blues.

Here I am more than a bit past middle age, and life’s bookends are staring me square in the face. I have great hope that I’m aligned with God’s future for me but I can see plenty of potential pitfalls. I can look back at my youth and see a bumpy mixture of triumphs and wounds, too, from first loves gone wrong to broken bones, winning seasons to a Charlie Brownish missing of the ball. It’s hard at whatever age to keep one’s mind off the before’s and after’s  of life.

This is when I’m helped by thinking about time from God’s eternal perspective. With God, age is always ageless. There is always immediacy! For God, time is always kairos not chronos. “Kairos” is one ancient Greek word for time that defines time by the content of the moment. “Chronos” defines time in the manner that I mostly use. By definition “chronos” time is spatial, chronological, and linear. Chronological time views things as “fifteen minutes UNTIL something,” or “thirty minutes AFTER something.” Conversely, “kairos” time is more digital than spatial. It is defined by the God-moment, the experience rather than by what comes before or after.

It’s not so great that I like clock faces that are more “chronos” than “kairos,” even though my phone and TV time displays flash the time of the moment in a great “kairos” way. “Chronos” time is antithetical to living in the moment. If our favorite music can be defined by the content of certain life stages, may we dare give another listen to the sounds around us right now and hear God? My prayer is that I will grasp God’s “kairos,” this critical moment that God offers as a gift sublimely called “the present.” There just might be enough God-presence in the sounds of a loved one’s sigh, the arthritic creaking of our own joints threatening us with our own mortality and hopeful maturity, or the sweet-baby noise unintelligible yet profoundly clear in their message of love.

Here’s the message for me: Time is of the essence, literally! As much as I find Ball watches and their spatial “chronos” faces both familiar and comfortable, and I spatially can’t wait until next Saturday’s football game, I pledge this week to think and live digital in God’s “kairos” time. Time will tell!

For Love of the Game

Wow – This is the longest that I’ve gone without blogging. Where have I been? Good Question. On the Wednesday after Annual Conference, Caleb and I headed to Omaha, Nebraska to watch great baseball, and to follow the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. This is my fifth trip since 2002. We usually do things on the less expensive side so we usually stay at Lake Manawa Stake Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Well, God bless the people up and down the Missouri because the flooding this year has been the worst in decades. Lake Manawa and it’s $11 a night fees was shut down because of it. We ended up staying at the West Omaha KOA for around $30 – still better than the $375 a night accommodations near TD Ameritrade Ballpark.

Just like last year when Caleb and I said that we would stay as long as the Gamecocks did, we ended up being there for 13 nights, went through horrific storms, tense close games and watched one extraordinary play after another to see South Carolina win back to back National Championships! Wow! Man, the 13-inning marathon against Virginia and getting out of bases-loaded jams was UNBELIEVABLE! We may not have had the best of anything except what won it for us – scrappiness! These guys have grit and they love the game. College baseball is the closest thing to a true sport in my opinion. Only a handful of players get any scholarship money. Most will never play for the Big Leagues. So why do they play? They play for love of the game.

Goodness, what if everybody did what they did for the love of the game – whatever the game, the calling, the job,  the hobby. Mediocre is not USC Baseball. Mediocre doesn’t make you just one of 6 teams to win back to back championships, or set a record for CWS or NCAA wins. “Medi” means “middle.” “Ocre” means “mountain.” Therefore, “Mediocre” means “halfway up the mountain.” My Daddy would have said it another way and, boy, was he a Gamecock fan! Nobody needs to settle for mediocre. Halfway doesn’t cut it! The Gamecock Baseball Team proved that ordinary can be extraordinary if  one gives their all, for love of the game! Go Gamecocks!

Flying the Team Flag

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How ’bout those Gamecocks! Most of your know that I’ve been a frustrated University of South Carolina Gamecock fan forever. I say “frustration” because they have been worse than hapless, but I was in Omaha for the College World Series when we won the national championship and I was there this past Saturday when we knocked off the vaulted #1 Alabama in football. I still can’t believe it. You’ve probably heard someone say to someone else’s mix of glee and doubt over the next shoe dropping, “You can’t stand prosperity.” I never quite got what that meant until now. I’ve never been here before.

Now football matters and next week’s USC-Kentucky game is looming large when I never really cared that much before. Wow, what a difference a big win makes. It adds jubilant joy and more than a tinge of sheer fear. Expectations are taken up a notch, and the absolute magnitude of the event is staggering. Do I yell, do I walk away and say “I’m good. It doesn’t get any better than this so I’m not watching next week,” or perhaps, just perhaps, I get so jacked that I am willing to make a road trip to Kentucky? Hey, people, driving to Lexington ain’t nothing compared to driving all the way to Omaha, Nebraska, and I’ve done that 4 times to watch USC play.

Wait a minute – Ah, now I get a sense of the see-saw of the disciples after the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Go back to Galilee or to the ends of the world? Stay on the Mt. of Transfiguration or go down into the valley and tell everybody about the Jesus team? I don’t own a USC car flag, but somewhere somehow today I’m going to get one, and I’m going to fly it! Who knows, maybe someone has a Jesus flag, too.

Pre-Game Jitters and Prayer

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Should I pray about the Gamecocks’ game against the University of Southen Mississippi tonight? I’ve got the jitters. It’s 5 hours or more before the kick-off and I’m already dressed in my team colors, hat is on my head, and my “Beat Southern Miss” sticker is on my favorite Gamecock shirt. I’m going to pick up my brother at Bojangles and head to our parking spot and I’m a little freaked. Our mantra year after year is “Wait until next Year!” Well, this is next year. I’m going to pray, but I hope with some priority perspective.

The longest prayer I ever heard, and I mean ever, was at a high school football game. A pastor in that small town had evidently been saving up for his big chance to pray under the “Friday Night Lights.” He prayed for the football players, the referees, the coaches, the assistant coaches, the cheerleaders, the bands, the parents, the teachers, the school administrators, and the highway patrol officers who were directing traffic. No joke, he prayed so long and for so many people that the game started 20 minutes late!

Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for prayer, and “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is one of my favorite hymns. Nevertheless, prayer at sporting events bothers me, and it’s not just because I’m such a stickler about the separation of church and state. I think my problem stems from being a University of South Carolina Gamecock fan. I grew up going to all the games. I heard Dr. Lauren Brubaker of U.S.C.’s Religion Department pray at every game year after year. Here’s my problem as a U.S.C. fan. If you pray for the best team to win, that’s probably the other team. If you pray for nobody to get hurt, that might negate Carolina’s only hope of winning. Bottom line, I agree with Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra. Once, when a batter stepped into the box and made the sign of the cross, Yogi said to him, “Let’s just leave God outta this, okay?”

Okay, I yield. I know prayer helps us in everything, but really… should we pray for our team to win? There’s an anonymous tongue-in-cheek story that puts this question in perspective: “Jesus Christ said he had never been to a football game. So we took him to one, my friends and I. It was a ferocious battle between the Protestant Punchers and the Catholic Crusaders. The Crusaders scored first. Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. Then the Punchers scored. And Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. This seemed to puzzle the man behind us. He tapped Jesus on the shoulder and asked, “Which side are you rooting for, my good man?” “Me?” replied Jesus, visibly excited by the game. “Oh, I’m not rooting for either side. I’m just enjoying the game.” The questioner turned to his neighbor and sneered, “Hmm, an atheist.”

Is God an atheist when it comes to sports? What harm is there in praying for good results about a game, a great round of golf, or a super outing on the lake? The answer is, “Nothing,” unless we take God’s apparent disregard or ambivalence to our request as indifference. God cares, for sure, about every facet of our lives, but maybe God has bigger fish to fry than who wins the game, and God expects us to be the cooks. Luke DeRoeck put it this way in a letter to the editor of Sports Illustrated, “To suggest that God really cares about the outcome of a sporting event is preposterous. Conservatively, 20 million people in the United States went to bed hungry on Super Bowl Sunday. A God who cares about the outcome of the Super Bowl is not a God I ever want to meet.”

Being a good sports fan is great. I know I love my team. Being a disciple, however, is more important than anything! That God is God and the Gamecocks are not will hopefully calm my pre-game jitters. We’ll see.

John Wesley Dropped His Assumptions, Can’t We?

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Assumptions are dangerous. Just when I have thought I knew what to expect out of something or someone, surprise, assuming has made an idiot out of me. When there’s the quiet guy in class who you assume is just biding his time, then, wham, he writes the most insightful paper imaginable; egg on my face. Oh, it’s not the first time that assuming has gotten me into trouble. Gosh, assuming is so darn Calvinistic, predetermining a predictable outcome. If I’m a true Wesleyan, and I certainly try to be, then I should have a flexibility, and openness to what God might do – no pigeonholing allowed.

Predictability doesn’t suit God and shouldn’t suit us if we’re believers in change and redemption. Hey, the USC Gamecocks did win the National Championship in baseball! So, there goes the old chicken-curse assumption. Who knows, the football team may win 9 games this year. In 116 years of football they have only won 8 or more 3 times in the school’s entire history. So if I follow the assumption route then there’s no way it will happen, but what if I follow the route of faith?

Isn’t faith about having an open mind? With faith it doesn’t matter if the doctor is Hindu or Muslim. If the medicine is good, it had to come from the God who provides every good and perfect gift. Can I have an open mind about someone even if they are huge, anorexic, uncomely, smart-*****, slow, manic, slothful, wrinkle-shirted, starched, black, white, mixed, whatever? I sure hope I can keep an open mind. If I can then maybe, just maybe, I can see past the assumptions to the possibilities.

Don’t you like the United Methodist “ReThink Church” T-shirts. They’re cool, and we really do need to rethink church if we’re going to be relevant to today’s society. The United Methodist Call to Action group just posted at http://www.umc.org/calltoaction their research findings that we have a crisis of relevancy. That’s not how we got started. When John Wesley began the Methodist Movement it was because the Anglican Church had retreated behind parish boundaries and made unfair assumptions about the real needs of real people, especially the marginalized. Wesley dropped his assumptions about preaching out in the fields, assumptions about the poor, assumptions about lay preaching, assumptions about ordination and apostolic succession, and the list could go on and on. By dropping his assumptions the Spirit moved.

Go to

http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.6125881/k.83A1/Comments_on_the_Operational_Assessment_of_The_Connectional_Church.htm and make a comment on the findings of the Call to Action Committee. Of course, you’ve got to read it first. Anyway, let’s quit assuming that somebody else will speak for our perspective and do it ourselves. There’s a world of hurt all around us. I think that if we quit making assumptions and open ourselves to truly rethink church then the USC Gamecocks just might make it to the SEC title game and the UMC will start making disciples for Jesus Christ. John Wesley dropped his assumptions, can’t we?