And Are We Yet Alive?

The North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church meets this week at The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia. Laity and clergy will practice “holy conferencing” and do kingdom work. Annual Conference sessions include reunion, worship, business, debate, beginnings, and endings.

Annual Conference traditionally begins by singing And Are We Yet Alive? Charles Wesley originally published the hymn in 1749. John Wesley began using it around 1780 during the opening worship services of annual society meetings. The practice continues today.

The stanzas recall the past twelve months since the conference gathered last. The stanzas celebrate those “yet alive” to do God’s work, and those who “the crown obtain” in heaven’s kingdom.

The hymn’s lyrics have grown increasingly poignant and meaningful over the years. I enjoy the family reunion atmosphere of greeting old friends; but I mourn the absence of God’s saints no longer present. I remember and celebrate brothers and sisters who have gone from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.

Reflect upon the power of the hymn’s lyrics:

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?

Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past,

Fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!

Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain,

And gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.


Last Day of School

I am reposting this article in honor of the last week of school.

I loved the last days of school. The final week celebrated the best elements of education without the needless distractions of books, lessons, or tests. Students spent the hours helping teachers prepare classrooms for summer break.

The boys carried armloads of textbooks to the storage closet. We embraced the manual labor as a badge of honor. After delivering the dusty tomes, we roamed the halls before reluctantly returning to class.

The girls washed the chalkboards and stripped the bulletin boards. All of us joined in dumping the year’s debris from our desks. We scrubbed the desktops until they gleamed.

Teachers sent trustworthy children outside unsupervised to clean the chalk erasers. We banged the felt pads against the building and scrubbed them on wire boxes. Clouds of white powder filled the air. No doubt the inhalation of chalk dust caused many of my generation’s ills.

The cafeteria closed early for its annual degreasing, and the school provided grab-bag lunches with mysterious contents. In the days before peanut allergies, they often served peanut butter and honey blended sandwiches—a terrible defilement of the traditional peanut butter and jelly classic.

When the last bell of the last class of the last day sounded, we erupted from the classrooms like escaping POWs. Whoops of joy resounded down the hallways by the teachers. Bursting through the exits, we exalted in our newfound freedom.

An endless summer stretched before us, enchanted with magical promise. Who knew what new adventures awaited us? Life stretched before us filled with limitless possibilities.

Sometimes I imagine that the final day of my life will feel like the last day of school.

The Chosen

I finally watched Season One of “The Chosen” this spring. The historical drama portrays Jesus of Nazareth’s life. The first eight episodes highlight the beginning moments of the Lord’s public ministry.

Religious movies typically seek to balance Biblical accuracy with entertainment value. The 1997 film, “Jesus of Nazareth” came the closest to maintaining the dynamic tension in a creative way. Other works have not impressed me

Church members and staff encouraged me to watch the show. I binge-watched Season One, which inspired mixed thoughts and emotions:

  • I celebrate the series introduced millions to Jesus’ story
  • The core of the episodes preserves the Lord’s words and deeds.
    The writers took great dramatic license adding large amounts of non-Biblical content.
  • The use of idiomatic English felt jarring.
  • The show depicts Matthew with Asperger’s Syndrome, which provides an intriguing explanation for the first Gospel’s length and detail.
  • The casting director appropriately chose non-white actors to portray Jesus and the disciples.
  • Unlike other New Testament movies, the Roman soldiers did not speak with British accents!

“The Chosen” possesses poignant moments that touched my heart and soul; but much of the extra-Biblical material and character development fell flat for me.

Here’s my advice: if you like the series, read the Book.


A. A. Milne wrote about the whimsical exploits of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. They enjoyed adventures with a cast of colorful characters in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Tigger bounced through the forest with wild abandon and childlike glee. He saw the best in everyone and everything. Perhaps we shared his enthusiastic optimism as children, but the fallen world can beat the stuffing out of our souls.

Eeyore the rainy-day-grey donkey munched thistles and warned about earthquake weather. He possessed the uncanny ability to see the dark lining in every silver cloud. We too fight the temptation to see the worst in everyone and everything.

Hi, my name’s Bill Burch, and I am a recovering Eeyore. I struggle to cultivate an eternal perspective that spies God’s grace all about.

I preached a sermon during Lent about possessing the mind and attitude of Christ. The message boomeranged and convicted the preacher’s soul. I committed myself anew to focusing on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). I recite this verse regularly during my personal devotions, seeking to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  

Colossians 2:6-7 traces the Christian journey from salvation to sanctification. The passage describes disciples who are “overflowing with thankfulness.” The phrase inspires images of a tiered fountain filling from above and brimming over below.

Perhaps Piglet should be our Christian model. Milne wrote, “Piglet noted that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.”

This article appeared previously in the Northside Summer Quarterly Newsletter.

Top Gun: Maverick–Graduate Sunday, May 7

I spoke at a high school baccalaureate service in the 1990s. I have heard more than my share of boring graduation speakers, so I brought a camo fanny pack used for deer hunting. I discussed the meaning of the pack’s contents, including a whistle, compass, knife, bandage, and lighter.

My best friend and fellow pastor, Glenn Ethridge, developed the idea into a creative series of Graduate Sunday sermons. He dressed up as different characters each May and shared Godly wisdom with the congregation’s seniors.

I decided to borrow the idea back from Glenn at Northside Church. I have spoken to our high school seniors on the first Sunday of May wearing various guises:

  • 2018    Camos and boots with my original 1990s fanny pack
  • 2019    Two Atlanta Braves jerseys featuring a pro’s name along with my own
  • 2020    Suit and tie delivering a David Letterman Top 10 List
  • 2021    1970s, 100% polyester, bright orange, leisure suit
  • 2022    State Farm’s Mayhem with black suit, tie-bar, bruises, and bandages

This year I feel the need for speed! Top Gun’s Maverick will appear at this Sunday’s Graduate Service. Check out the Northside Church’s social media platforms for videos starring yrs trly as Tom Cruise’s body double.

I hope you’ll join us onsite or online this Sunday, May 7 at the 9:00 Contemporary Service as we honor our seniors. Visit the church’s website for the live stream at The sermon will be archived for future viewing, too.

It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot.