I was married at high noon in Montgomery Alabama, at First United Methodist Church, to Anne Elizabeth Upchurch (thank goodness in our culture the bride takes the groom’s name; can you imagine the Reverend Dr. Chuck Upchurch?!)  on August 27, 1983. We have just celebrated our 30th anniversary; I think we’ll make it.

It was explained to me at the time that a noon wedding is as “high” a wedding as an eight o’clock PM wedding, so the men all wore white dinner jackets, and thank you very much, we looked pretty darn good.

The wedding was the third one in Lib’s family in three years, so they pretty well had the wedding thing down. While I’d been “schooled” in weddings, this was the first one I’d been in, so I just did what I was told. I was told what time to arrive at the church, dressed, and where to go, so I cooled my heels as best I could.

On your wedding day, you wake up earlier than you want to. This was the case with me, as I recall, so once I was up and moving, my brother and I went for about a four-mile run so I could deal with some of my jitters. I arrived back at the motel, and Hunter went on for another mile or so. I chatted with a friend by the pool, but was starting to get excited/nervous, so I asked my Dad to bring me a biscuit from the restaurant, and went to my room. I did not have much of an appetite, but knew I needed to eat something.

After showering and dressing, the next thing I knew I was at the Church, and after a flurry of pictures, it was “time.” I have vague recollections of the ceremony, I know I was there, because I’ve seen the pictures, but it was a blur. We walked down the center aisle, out of the church into a limo, and straight to the Country Club. The rest of the wedding party and our families did the same, we shot a few pictures, and the party began.

It, too, was a blur. I have some faint memories of seeing a few particular people, but for the most part, it was a lot of smiling and nodding. Then someone told us it was time to leave, so we headed upstairs to change clothes.

Why can men change in three minutes, but it takes women a good half hour?

Anyway, Lib came out, all the bridesmaids massed downstairs, Lib threw the bouquet, we ran through a shower of rose petals to a car, and my brother-in-law Sam Campbell drove us to where we’d stashed a car.

We got into Lib’s Honda, and headed for Atlanta, where we were to spend the night before flying out Sunday morning for our honeymoon in Jamaica.

About halfway to Atlanta, I told Lib I was hungry; she reached into the back seat and got one of the box lunches that the Club had given us, and opened it. There was a scoop of chicken salad in there. Not a sandwich, a scoop. No fork, no spoon, I don’t think there was a cracker in there. Inedible while driving a stick shift on the Interstate.

We arrived at the Ramada Renaissance (I think it’s Westin now), and we were taken to the Honeymoon Suite on the Concierge Level. We walked into our spacious room, with flowers, candles, champagne, and the Concierge left.

Lib opened her suitcase, and there was a note there from her brother (who’s been married a year) telling her how wonderful marriage is, and how happy he was for her. She got a little misty, but then turned and looked at me with a “come hither” look and said, “Well; what do you want to do?”

I said, “Let’s go get something to eat.”

Lib said, “WHAT?!” And this other head grew out of her neck. It sprouted horns, and had long fangs, and breathed fire. “WHAT?!” It said.

“Look, Lib,” I said, “I’m hungry. I really did not get breakfast to speak of. I did not get anything to eat at our reception. And I’m smart enough to know that if I don’t eat something now, I’m not going to get anything else to eat tonight.”

She begrudgingly agreed that I may have a point there. If I’d had half a brain, I would have called room service; but no, we went downstairs and ate in the restaurant.

Do you know what is on the top of the list of things that brides do not want their groom to eat on their wedding night? A Reuben Sandwich. I mean, who wants sauerkraut breath in their face on their wedding night? But guess what I had that night? Yep, you guessed it. It’s a great sandwich, but not the wisest choice I’ve ever made.

So we ate dinner, then went upstairs, and the rest is now 30 years of history.

If you’re reading this and planning a wedding, make sure you think through eating after the ceremony. And leave Reubens off the menu.

That was just plain stupid.

Thirty Years of Ministry

August 21, 2013

It was thirty years ago today, in the sweltering midday heat of Augusta, GA (seriously-it was 108 degrees), at the end of a Sunday morning worship service at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, I was asked to stand before the congregation and respond to the following questions:

1. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

 2. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

 3. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

 4. Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

5. Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?

 6. Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?

7. Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

8. Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

9. Will you be a faithful minister, proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith and caring for people? Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the governing bodies of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

In the intervening 30 years, I have served in four churches (two “tours of duty” at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, where I am now); I have baptized more babies than I can keep track of, officiated at well over 300 weddings, who knows how many funerals, memorial services, and interments, taught countless Bible studies and Sunday School classes, administered the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in more cities, places and situations than I can recall (everything from formal worship with silver and robes to riverside camps), preached way too many really bad sermons and a few good ones (I hope!), served on committees, commissions, and task forces, laughed, cried, done things that Seminary never prepared me to do, and hopefully, along the way, made a little difference in a few lives.

As I look the questions of ordination over, while I hope I have kept true to them all, what I MOST hope I have faithfully kept is 1, 2, 6, and 8. I think if I hold those, the rest will fall into place.

Thirty years down, I figure I have another 12 to 15 in me. That’s enough time to finish strong.

Read the Book!

August 7, 2013

A number of years ago, I really don’t recall how many, but I know it’s been over 25 years, I decided to tackle the Bible. For however long, I’d had conversations with people—mostly older folks, I’ll admit, who had the sense about them that they were “cramming for their final exam”—who had read from Genesis to Revelation. I thought that sounded like a good thing to do. I mean, I was (and still am) a Pastor.

But I could never get through it, I’d get bogged down somewhere, and just give up. It is simply so big, so long, that it felt like I could never make it from stem to stern. I felt defeated, and less of a follower of Jesus. I felt sub-par.

Then one day I stumbled across a “Through the Bible in a Year” reading guide. It broke the Bible into roughly 4-chapters a day, seven days a week, and between January 1 and December 31, you could read the entire Old and New Testament.

So I did it. And while there were some days, admittedly, when it went in one eye and out the other (those “begats” are simply mind numbing, and the laws in Leviticus can rob your soul), there were other days when I sat in amazement as I rediscovered the amazing love of God, the Lord’s capacity for grace, humanity’s inclination to run from God, but the shocking reality of the love of God.

A couple of years later I found a “Chronological Read Through the Bible,” and made my way through that. When serving churches, I have consistently sought to encourage people to “read the Book.”

But what I heard so many times was that there were people who were having a similar struggle as the one(s) I’d had. It felt like too much, too hard. Or they would fall a few days behind, and feel that they could not (or would not) read 16 chapters in a day to get “back on track.” Or the laws just made them quit, or some other excuse. They quit.

One morning, I the midst of my own private devotions, I was meditating on this, reflecting on it/praying about it. I thought, “If I could only get people to get a taste of Scripture, maybe they would read the entire Bible.” There is simply this core conviction that if people are exposed to Scripture with consistency, intentionality, and regularity, God changes them, for His good.

I wondered what a “Through the New Testament in a Year” would look like (in another faith tradition, I would need to say “The Lord spoke to me,” but I feel arrogant saying that.) I went to the Dining Room table with my Bible and a calculator, and in short order discovered that if you read one chapter a day, five days a week, you could read through the New Testament in a year.

We started publishing that guide, and adjusted it every year (then added a Through the New Testament Chronologically) because since it involved reading only Monday through Friday, the readings had to be changed annually to match days instead of dates.

And people started reading the New Testament! And some have gone on to to tackle the entire Bible.

So what’s next? Glad you asked. I’m in the initial stages of working with some folks to establish an email system whereby a portion of the Bible would be sent daily, so all you have to do is open an email, read what’s in it, and if you do that daily (for the whole Bible) or simply through the work week (for the New Testament), Scripture would be rooted in you.

No links to click, pages to search, books to carry. If you have a smartphone, it would be in your hand when you picked up the phone and opened your email.

I want to make Scripture, and reading it consistently, as simple and as accessible as possible. Make sense?

Stay tuned; I have to negotiate copyright terms now!