Last Saturday night, the NASCAR Nationwide Series made its second and final stop of the year at Nashville Superspeedway. Carl Edwards won the race completing a season sweep of the year's Nationwide Series races at the track. However, Edwards' win was not what has had people talking this week - the invocation given by Pastor Joe Nelms has been the "buzz."
If you have not heard or seen the video of the prayer, you can do so by clicking here. Some have said that only a NASCAR fan can really appreciate it, and that may be true. I attended the Nationwide race at the track back in April when Nelms gave a similar invocation thanking God for the drivers of the past whom have passed on. I've heard and read differing opinions of Nelms' prayer. Some have loved it, while others have referred to it as "irreverent" or even "blasphemous." I even know of one Baptist preacher who referred to Nelms as an "ignoramus" (and to any of my church family reading this, it was not our pastor.) Was Nelms' prayer different from most prayers ? Yes, and I can see how some people could be offended by it. The question is - who's right ? Is it Pastor Nelms or his critics ? Please indulge me as I offer my two cents, for what it's worth.
There is no doubt that Nelms is a big NASCAR fan. You can hear his enthusiasm for the sport and feel the heart and energy that he puts into the invocation. He is correct that the Bible teaches that we should thank God for everything. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, it says, "In every thing give thanks : for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (King James Version). Based upon this scripture, I don't think Nelms' invocation was irreverent, though it was different. Pastor Nelms loves racing and he was thanking the Lord for it. If he was blasphemous, then I guess some would think some of my prayers are, too. For instance, when I'm in the deer woods or the turkey fields and I harvest an animal, I usually thank the Lord for that deer or turkey because it is healthy food He has provided for my wife and I. I also thank Him for blessing me with the quality shotgun or rifle I used to harvest the animal. Does that make me "blasphemous," too ?
Some have implied that Nelms was just trying to be funny or entertaining with his prayer and wasn't really sincere. That is possible, but I've learned through the years that God has a sense of humor, too. He has revealed that to me in some of the lessons He has taught me. However, as Nelms explained in response to his critics (click here), this type of invocation is something he has done before. He wants these pre-race invocations to be different hoping that they might get someone's attention that needs the Lord. The fact is that whether Nelms was trying to entertain or praying from the heart is something none of us will never know. Only he and God do, and it's between them.
Personally, I don't see a problem with Nelms' prayer. Many today don't want anything to do with church or Christians. It may be because of a previous bad experience with church or because Christians are perceived as not having any fun because they have to follow too many "rules." They may view "church people" as hypocrites. Therefore, I think Pastor Nelms is refreshing because he shows that Christians are just regular people like everyone else. We have interests outside of church, and we do have some fun. Plus, his prayer may have touched someone who was in the stands or watching on TV who isn't a Christian nor attending church but going through a tough time. They might need something to hang onto, and Nelms' prayer might be the one thing that draws them to church where they can find the peace they're looking for in Jesus Christ.
Lastly, I've been going to church since nine months before I was born. Over the years, I've learned that each Christian's faith is a little different. Each of us relate to God a little differently and our relationships with Him are as different as each of us are. Sometimes I think that the fact that we take the time to communicate with God and spend time with Him in prayer is more important to Him than the actual words we say. At a time when it seems that God is being pushed out of every aspect of our society, I'm thankful that we still have the freedom to worship Him as we see fit. I'm thankful that NASCAR still welcomes Him to the race track with a special pre-race "invitation" each weekend, and I'm sure God is thrilled to receive it and that He always honors it, even if sometimes it's a little ..... different.