Things to Do during a Sermon

  • Daydream
  • Post on social media
  • Count the organ pipes
  • Doodle on the bulletins
  • Study the stain glass windows
  • Draw caricatures of the preacher
  • Create a To Do List for next week
  • Rank the worst songs in the hymnal
  • Determine where to eat Sunday lunch
  • Play Hangman with yourself—and cheat
  • Time how long you can hold your breath
  • Tally how many times “just” is used in prayers
  • Check whether the flag and cross stands are straight
  • Furtively play Candy Crush on your muted smart phone
  • Critique the preacher’s annoying hand and speech mannerisms

Or . . .

  • Be where your feet are and hear God’s Word

We choose what things to do during a sermon.

Be Deep-Spirited Friends

Sue Allen serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at Northside Church. She also publishes a daily devotional that I thoroughly enjoy. With Sue’s permission, I am sharing one of her recent posts.

Good morning . . .

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing . . . not healing, not curing . . . that is a friend who cares.”

This Henri Nouwen quote reminds me of the “Three C” wisdom of the twelve-step program. When pain ravages the life of a loved one, we must remember:

  1. I did not cause it.
  2. I cannot control it.
  3. I do not possess the power to cure it.

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusin, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing . . . not healing, not curing . . . that is a friend who cares.”

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. (Philippians 2:1-2, MSG)


If you would like to read more of Sue’s blogs or receive her daily devotions, visit

Blessing of Breathing

I recently discovered a prayer called Blessing of Breathing by Jan Richardson. The selection can be found in her book entitled The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief.

That the first breath will come without fear.

That the second breath will come without pain.

The third breath: that it will come without despair.

And the fourth, without anxiety.

That the fifth breath will come with no bitterness.

That the sixth breath will come for joy.

Breath seven: that it will come for love.

May the eighth breath come for freedom.

And the ninth, for delight.

When the tenth breath comes, may it be for us
to breathe together, and the next, and the next,

until our breathing is as one,
until our breathing is no more.


Disposable Sermons

Since 1979, I have preached on a weekly basis. Say 50 sermons per year . . . 39 years . . . that’s roughly 1,950 sermons. Makes you sleepy just thinking about it, doesn’t it?

Many church members assume pastors accumulate sermon manuscripts that serve them for decades. Preachers simply open a folder or file and: VOILA—instant sermon.

If only this was true.

Like perishable food, sermons possess an expiration date. Homilies are written in a specific context for a particular people in an explicit time. In my personal experience, any sermon 18+ months old is as stale as week old bread.

sermonDespite this knowledge, I own a couple of four drawer file cabinets filled with sermons going back to Jimmy Carter’s presidency. I’ve faithfully hauled them from church to church in the certain knowledge they would one day prove useful.

I’m not sure why.

Perhaps my future biographer would reference the preserved manuscripts. Maybe literary agents would outbid one another to publish Volume 1 of Bill Burch’s Sermons. Surely my grandchildren would treasure these homiletical masterpieces.

I was wrong.

So I’ve started the laborious task of sorting through the sermons. The process is relatively straightforward:

  • Sermons composed on a typewriter—TRASH
  • Sermons printed on a dot-matrix printer—TRASH
  • Sermons yellowed with age—TRASH
  • Sermons with rust-stains from paper clips—TRASH
  • Sermons written before 2013—TRASH
  • Sermons . . . well, you get the idea.

So I’m throwing away most of my files; however, the process has filled me with a spirit of peace. Sermons are designed to be disposable. Like the daily news, the good news is relevant, fresh, and hot off the press.

I also have a lot more room in my file cabinets.

Spring Training

Winter’s dreary days drag a gray blanket over the cold world. Spirits plunge along with the mercury in thermometers. Bare branches, brown grass, and pale skin long for the sultry touch of sunshine, but all they receive is the chilly comfort of February rain as winter blues fade to bleak black.

Then one hears those four mystical, marvelous, miraculous words: “Pitchers and catchers report!” The magical incantation causes Old Man Winter to vanish into thin air. Suddenly, the light pierces the clouds with golden streams of promise. Morning temperatures receive an early wakeup call from spring. Branches bud, lawns green, and the sun shines.

The Boys of Summer are back, and spring cannot be far behind.

Spring Training BravesWinter does not officially end until March 21. However, an early harbinger of warmer days is the advent of baseball’s Spring Training. The American and National League teams practice in the sunny climes of Florida and Arizona in preparation for Opening Day. The first to arrive are the pitchers and catchers to warm up their arms after the off-season hiatus.

John Fogarty, former lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, sings a baseball anthem entitled Centerfield.  The rock beat declares:

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone—the sun came out today!

We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.

A-rounding third and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;

Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Then the chorus expresses a sentiment that any child of the game intuitively understands:

Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.

Look at me, I can be, centerfield!

Our Lenten Worship Series at Northside Church is entitled Spring Training as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. Join us each Sunday at 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00.

Preachers and laity report!

Ash Wednesday

People keep time in a variety of ways. The calendar year runs from January to December. Businesses operate on a fiscal year. Families with children follow the school calendar. Kindergarten students learn about the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

The church marches to the beat of its own time. The church year begins with Advent—the four Sunday season prior to Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas celebrate Christ’s coming into the world. Epiphany begins with Jesus’ baptism and recounts Christ’s early ministry.

During the forty days of Lent, believers prepare their hearts for the events of Holy Week. Easter proclaims that Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Fifty days later the festival of Pentecost recalls God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

The annual cycle rehearses the story of Christ and the church. The seasons recall Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Christian calendar baptizes ordinary time with sacred meaning.

This year Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14. The 40 day season (excluding Sundays) concludes the Saturday before Easter. The somber, reflective time calls Christians to prepare their hearts to hear once again the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

During Lent, many believers “give up” something as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. Others “take up” a spiritual discipline or charitable cause in imitation of God’s love.

Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. During the service, the minister marks believers’ foreheads in the sign of the cross. Traditionally, ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds are used. Since Old Testament times, God’s people have observed penitential times with “sackcloth and ashes.”

During the imposition of the cross with ashes, the minister typically says: Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the gospel. The ashes and words serve as reminders of humanity’s mortality and sinfulness. However, the sign of the cross recognizes God’s gifts of eternal life and forgiveness.

On Ash Wednesday, we begin the journey to the cross and empty tomb. During this 40 day journey, let us walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Growing Older If Not Up

Recent signs in my life that I’m growing older—if not up:

  • I drive around town with Sam the Yorkshire Terrier sitting in my lap.
  • I fall asleep in my favorite easy chair watching TV after 9:00 p.m.
  • I have a favorite easy chair.
  • On Saturday mornings, I cannot sleep past 6:00 a.m.
  • I bought blue jeans on sale at Costco (sign 1). Then I discovered they had a stretchy waist band (sign 2). After trying them on, I decided to keep them (sign 3).
  • The candles on my birthday cake indicate that I missed any chance to have a mid-life crisis.
  • I find myself using phrases like “Back in the day,” “In my time,” and “I don’t understand young people today.”
  • Putting on a sweat shirt and pants after supper makes me happy. If supper is before 6:00, then I’m even happier.
  • If I fall asleep warm and pain-free, then it’s been a GOOD day.
  • I often awake at 2:00 a.m. to ponder the problems of the world.
  • And staring at the dark ceiling does not generate any solutions.
  • I lift with my legs.
  • I try not to lift at all.
  • I think before bending over . . . and then consider what else to do while I’m down there.
  • I watch athletes and think: “They’re going to regret THAT in thirty years!”
  • I no longer know all the answers. Some days I forget the questions.
  • God has used the years to make me wise enough to know that I’m not wise enough.

So I’m growing older—if not always up. MOST days it beats the alternative.