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!

$25,000 Fine for Storming the Church!

I watched South Carolina pull off the upset of #1 Kentucky in basketball and was so ecstatic. If I had been there I would have stormed the court, $25,000 fine or not. But then perspective hits me – how many poor people could be helped with $25,000? How many Haitian orphans could have their lives changed? Why don’t people storm the church? Interesting!

Why do we spend so much money on coaches’ salaries; i.e., Lane Kiffin? It’s a big business when we see players jump ship to the NFL like Sidney Rice, or the three “one & done” freshmen players for UK who were being scouted by a dozen or more NBA scouts the other night. SO, college athletics is very often NOT about an education. It’s about making a buck for the school, the player, the agent, or somebody.

Yet, so many people love sports! I’m one of them! Sports events are distractions from everyday life. Maybe the reason sports figures are so overpaid is that they give us a taste of immortality, a momentary, if fleeting, adrenaline rush, a release of endorphins that carries us beyond the mundane difficulties of daily life. Why else would we call Super Bowl Sunday “super”?

I have wondered for some time about the connection between sports figures’ salaries and the salaries of people in helping professions. The teachers who help the players make the minimum score to even play ball are paid a miniscule amount in comparison. Is there a valid reason for the difference in pay? Is it the danger that athletes face, or is it the difference in the pay-off for the spectator?

Unfortunately, I think it is the latter more than the former. Why don’t people get as excited in classrooms and sanctuaries as they do in stadiums and arenas? I was often thrilled with being in a classroom, at least in the subjects that resonated with my passions. Often it was because the teacher was an exceptional communicator or person. If the teacher or preacher was dull it was hard to be enthused. Using the criteria of relevance or quality of teaching, being thrilled in church should be an automatic occurrence.

Jesus Christ is far superior to any teacher, preacher, or sports star ever known. And Jesus is better than any coach, too. Former football great Henry Jordan was quite revealing when he talked about playing under coaching great, Vince Lombardi, the coach for whom the super Bowl Trophy is named. Henry Jordan said about Lombardi, “He treats us all the same – like dogs!” That was his most quoted line, but Henry Jordan had others almost as good: “I play for the love of the game, the love of the money, and the fear of Lombardi.” He also said, “When he says, ‘Sit down,’ I don’t look for a chair.”

What do we say about Jesus? Does talk of Christ and the Kingdom salt our conversations? What are our stories of Jesus like? Do they reveal our passion and hero-worship? Does Jesus command our respect, our loyalty? Does He get our adrenaline pumping and our endorphins flowing? If He doesn’t, then it’s not Jesus’ fault because Jesus is no wimp.

Jesus is like a legendary coach, superstar player, and Teacher of the Year rolled into one. Coach Bum Phillips once philosophized: “There’s only two kinds of coaches, them that’s been fired and them that’s about to be fired.” Jesus supersedes both categories and is beyond compare! He’s never had a losing season. He’s always a winner, and there’s nothing that He can’t handle. As Christians, we’re playing for the Jesus Trophy! People should sense that kind of excitement in our sanctuaries, our homes, and our schools – wherever we might be. Maybe then sports will become just one of many ways that people get their juices flowing. Maybe then everyone in every job will be paid for how well they represent Jesus, the Author of Greatness. I’m waiting for a $25,000 fine for people storming a sanctuary. What an idea!