Longer ago than I care to admit, I was a student at Arkansas State University, and I was the head equipment manager for the football team (we were the Indians back then, and they are the Red Wolves now thanks to NCAA political correctness, but I’ll not go into that now). My parents had come into town for the weekend to see our football game, and I’d been out at the hotel where they were staying, eating dinner and visiting. It was getting late (for them, not for me), they were ready to turn in, so I said my good-byes and was headed back to campus.

That’s when Dad asked me to fill the ice bucket for him before I left. I went down the hall, filled the bucket, walked back and gave it to him, when he asked if I minded filling it again.

Not a problem. It took maybe thirty seconds to fill it again and return the bucket to their room. He thanked me, I said goodbye again, and was off.

As I neared campus, I was in the outside lane of traffic on a four lane road; I was nearing a Pizza Hut, and the car in front of me signaled to turn right into the parking lot. That car slowed down, then stopped, and as I drew nearer, I switched to the inside lane to keep going, around and past them.

As things turned out, the car that had been in front of me was stopped and had waved a car trying to turn out of the parking lot into traffic, to head in the opposite direction that I was going. Which means it pulled out into my path.

Yep; I plowed right into them. No one was hurt, thankfully, but my car was out of commission, and we had to call the police to get a report. The other driver was cited for failure to yield the right of way.

I called Dad at the hotel, he drove down to take me back to campus, and life continued.

Until the next day, when we got together after the football game, and I pointed out that had I not gotten that second bucket of ice, I would have passed the restaurant sooner, and not had the accident. Until he died, Dad and I joked about that, with me always telling him that the accident was his fault. Thirty short seconds.


This morning, I rolled away from my house on my bike (bicycle, not motorcycle) at about 5:35 AM, a moment or two later because I stopped to say something to my wife. Just about three quarters of a mile from our house, when I’d crested a hill and was riding about 18 miles an hour, I heard a cracking sound; looking forward, I watched as a large (about 4 inch diameter) limb fell in front of me, about eight feet away. There was no time to avoid it, I had a flashback to almost exactly a year ago when a similar limb laid me down (see Two Kinds of Cyclists on this page-August 2011), and managed to get through the limb without going down. A second later, and it would have come down ON me. Two seconds later, and it would have been behind me.

Which got me to thinking about all of the (unfortunately, many) near-misses I have had in life, whether on foot, behind the wheel (thinking about the day I rolled a dump truck while pulling 7 tons of asphalt still leaves me amazed), or on a bike. Like the time Kim Lee and I were camping, and we realized the sound we were hearing was bullets flying through the air. Or when I decided to cut down a tree in our back yard, and it fell where I did not want it, and almost hit the slide that our daughter was coming down. Yeesh.

Life is lived in an endless sequence of split seconds. I’m grateful today that I dodged that tree (a broken spoke was the worst of it, and the wheel is already repaired); I’m even more grateful that in the timelessness of eternity, God claimed me in a split second.

May He do so with you, as well.

Yesterday (August 21) happens to have been the anniversary of my ordination as a Minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s been quite a few years, I’ll only say here and now that it has been more than twenty, but less than thirty. While much of that morning remains shroulded in the fog of a significant day, there are two things that stand out.

One is the fact that it was 108 degrees that morning in Augusta, GA, and here we all were, crammed into the church, we clergy in those heavy black robes, chancel lights beating down on us. In all candor, I don’t recall the heat of the morning, but I have heard my wife talk about it so much that I sweat whenever I remember the day. And I remember my mother commenting on Dan McCall, the Senior Pastor of the Church (Reid Memorial Presbyterian) inviting the men in the church to take their jackets off because of the heat. Mom said that she’d wished he had invited the women to take their pantyhose off!

Of course, my family and Lib’s family were all cramming into that tiny apartment I’d rented after church, and the air conditioning there was not doing any better than the A/C at the church that day.

The other memory of that morning–and this one is clear as a bell; comes from the middle of the worship service, as the choir was preparing to offer their anthem. It was an arrangement of “Be Thou My Vision,” the hymn attributed to two nineteenth-century Irish women, basing their hymn on an 8th century Irish poem. As the organ was playing, Sandra Patton (the choir director) leaned over and whispered to me, “This is for you.” I was in such a blur that had she not said anything, I think I would have missed it.  But the hymn’s message–for God to be the guiding vision of life–has remained my vision for these years.

That was Sunday, but Saturday was coming.

After a flurry of family and activity, on Wednesday we piled into a car and drove to Montgomery, AL. That Saturday, I made the single wisest move I have made since I decided to let God be cantral to my life; I married Lib Upchurch (geez, it’s a good thing the wife takes the husband’s name; can you imagine the tongue fumbles that “Rev. Chuck Upchurch” would produce?!) at noon at First United Methodist in Montgomery. It was hot that day, as well, although fortunately not as hot as Sunday has been in Augusta. That day is pretty much a blur, as well, but I do remember that as a part of the reception we had a build-your-own-sundae bar, and the ice cream was all soup.

Ordained on Sunday and married the following Saturday. Not exactly a low-key week. Quite stressful.

In fact, I am in the middle of a stressful week right now. A late meeting last night, we are hosting a conference this week which will have me out two more nights, then a wedding rehearsal and wedding this weekend, followed by Sunday (all things considered, a normative Sunday morning), but we are hosting around 20 people at our home for lunch to pitch a discipleship idea to them. And I have not yet called the caterer, or planned the pitch. And I, folks, am a plan-ahead kind of guy.

So I reflect on that stressful week, and look at this one, and realize I have learned a few lessons:

1. Anticipate that there will be stressful days, weeks, maybe months in your life. To think that there will not be stress is simply unrealistic. So anticipate those times, and draw on the strength of having survived them in the past to carry you through.

2. Plan ahead. The people who carry stress in the healthiest ways tend to look at the next weeks upcoming in their calendars, and they can make plans to be able to deal with the stress. A thirty minute zone-uot self-appointment in the middle of the week may seem a waste of time, but it’s not if it helps you. This is Stephen Covey “sharpent he saw” stuff. Plan lunch with some one who builds you up, or will simply listen to you complain.

3. Be flexible. Soon after my parents married (1945), they woke up one Saturday morning, and Mom said, “Let’s go to Little Rock today.” Dad said, “We can’t.” Mom: “Why not?!” Dad: “We haven’t planned to do that.”

Let’s all admit that is a stupid reason. Plans will change, something will go wrong (I tell the mothers of Brides that “A wedding isn’t right until something goes wrong.”), opportunities will presnt themselves. Relax and be flexible.

4. Have fun when it’s all behind you.

I am planning to go see “The Expendables 2” Sunday afternoon. Good old blow em up, shoot em up, beat em up, cut em up, fun.

And, of course, take Lib out to dinner next Monday to celebrate that “other” anniversary!

Raw Nerve and Vitamin B

August 15, 2012

Some years ago–YEARS ago–there was a Christian recording artist named Terry something-or-other. He was pretty significant when I was in college, and for several years after that. When I interned in college ministry at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX, we had him come and do a concert one weekend.

I recall heading out after the concert with our ministry team to take him to dinner, I think we went to this great place called Frank Tolbert’s Chili Parlor (pretty embarassing that I can recall the name of the restaurant, but can’t recall this guy’s last name), and as we were sitting around waiting for, then enjoying dinner, Terry told us about a song that he had written that was about the kind of thing we were doing that very moment. The chorus, imprinted in my mind, ran this way:

“Fried food and fellowship are murdering me

My dinner’s at midnight, my bedtime’s at three

I’m living on raw nerve and vitamin B

Fried food and fellowship are murdering me.”


Terry explained that most every week, he was on the road somewhere, playing for some church or church group, which meant a nightime concert, for which he did not want to have a full stomach, thus he was eating after the show (midnight), getting to bed really late (three AM), and then waking up and getting moving the next day.

I understand. For reasons that I can’t explain today, I went out last Friday and rode 45 miles on my bike (that’s human powered, not a motorcycle), and then the next day humped a 25-pound pack around and up and over Blood Mountain (the highest spot on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia). And I wonder why I am still dragging, today, four days later.

I feel like I’m operating on raw nerve, and I did not take my multivitamin today, which means no Vitamin B. Lights out at 10:00 last night, the alarm went off at 4:30 this morning, private devotions and an hour bike ride later I was headed to the office, and tonight will be (another) late night, getting home maybe around 9:00, to greet the out-of-town guests who arrive today for two nights.

Somehow I doubt I’m the only one. Something tells me that there are a LOT of people out there burning the candle at both ends and in the middle. My attorney friends talk about the hours they put in, I’m married to a public elementary school teacher who regularly puts in 12 hour days, and I see the exhaustion in the faces of people as I talk with them, listen to them, or look out over a congregation on Sunday morning.  We are slap “wo’ out” as a family friend used to say.

And to lives like this, Jesus, the Son of God, Savior of sinners, Friend to all who will acknowledge Him, says “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” I recall a friend (who is also a Pastor) telling me about going to spend a few days at a Monastery to get some reading and thinking and praying done, and spending the first 36 hours doing nothing but sleeping. I think about that, I have stayed at that Monastery, and the beds are NOT comfortable. I think my friend was tired.

I once heard life referred to as the “three eights” you have. The first eight is the hours you spend working; the second is the eight hours you spend sleeping (yeah, I know, but let’s use it for the metaphor, OK?). The final eight is the set of hours you have available for what you choose to do with them. Admittedly, there are many days when you work more than eight and sleep less than eight. Bbut I find myself wondering what would happen if we really invested in that third eight, and spent it renewing our souls, resting (as well as exercising) our bodies, and went deep into the lives of people who really matter to us, rather than turn our minds off in front of the TV.

When you get right down to it, raw nerve and vitamin B is no way to fuel life. What we need–what you need–OK, what I need–is to slow down and listen to the Creator of all that exists. If God took a day off from creation, and rested (the word “sabbath” literally means “stop!”), maybe we would all do better with a little bit of rest.

In her book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva Dawn tells the story of a wagon train on its way from St. Louis to Oregon. The members of this wagon train were all devout-VERY devout-Christians, so the entire group observed the practice of stopping on the Sabbath. However, winter was rapidly approaching, and some among the group grew convinced that they would not reach their destination before the heavy snows. Thus, several members proposed that they cease their practice of stopping on the Sabbath, and drive onward seven days a week, to avoid those snows.

This proposal sent a shock wave through the entire group, and they argued so long and hard that it was finally decided that the group would break in two. Those who wanted to observe the Sabbath would make up one group, and those who wanted to travel seven days a week, the other. The proposal was accepted.

The two groups continued to travel together the next day, and for several days, until the Sabbath rolled around. On the Sabbath, one group continued, while the other group remained behind, and chose to rest.

Guess which group got to Oregon first.

That’s right, the group who kept the Sabbath.

Both the people and horses were so rested by their Sabbath observance, that they could travel at greater speeds and distances the other days of the week.[1]

Ditch the vitamins, and take a good dose of Jesus.

[1]Dawn, Marva. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 65-66.

This past Sunday, August 5, I was scheduled to preach at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, in our three Sanctuary services. We are nearing the end of a series of messages that is looking at parallels between the modern Olympic Games and the faithful living of the Christian life. While reading the Scripture passage (1 Corinthians 9.24-27), I “hit the pause button for a moment and pitched a little bit of a hissy fit on something that is a burr under my saddle: so-called “participation trophies.” Here is what I said:

Together, let us hear the Word of God:

   1CO 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. [If I may, I want to pause here for a moment, and quit preaching and go to meddling. Did you note that Paul points out that only one person gets the prize? We live in a day in which if a child sits on the sidelines of the fifth-place team in a division of any sport, they get a trophy. Being a parent, I understand why we may want that, but folks, we are doing our children a horrific disservice. We are raising a generation of underperforming people who think they are entitled to everything they want, with no effort. If you are a coach and you support this practice, I’d have you run the stadium steps until the geese fly over and the cows come home if I could. This needs to stop, people, and our children need to learn that if they want something in life, 95% of it has to be earned. Undeserved trophies are an injustice to our children and will undermine our society. Other than that, I don’t feel strongly about it.] 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

May the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writing and preservation of these words, inspire them for our understanding, as well.

To my surprise, at the 10:00 hour, the congregation erupted in applause. It’s the first time in 29 years of ministry that has happened. I think I hit a nerve there.

Should you struggle with insomnia, here is a link to the sermon on our wesite: http://peachtreepres.org/MA_Viewer.aspx?ID=658