About Bill Burch

Theology literally means "words about God." The divine Word described in human words--heavenly treasure in jars of clay. Bill is a practical theologian sharing his worldview. To misquote Lucy van Pelt: "Theological help 5¢--the doctor is IN!" Bill serves as the senior pastor at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is married to Tracy who is a school teacher, and they have two adult children: Katie and Will. Their third "child" is a Yorkshire Terrier named Sam.

America the Beautiful

In 1893, a young English professor at Wellesley College traveled cross-country to teach in Colorado. She viewed the “alabaster city” of Chicago’s World Fair and the “fruited plains” of the Midwest with awe and wonder. Inspired by the journey, Katherine Lee Bates wrote a poem later retitled, “America the Beautiful.”

Over the past months,  a stanza of the hymn has taken on additional meaning.

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

In my lifetime, our nation has made progress towards racial equality, but we still have a long way to go. Join me in a prayer for our country:

God mend your every flaw.

Confirm you soul in self-control,

your liberty in law.

Amen.

 

 

Songs in the Key of Life

Our next Worship Series at Northside Church is entitled, “Songs in the Key of Life.” A 1976 Stevie Wonder album inspired the title.

Songs in the Key of LifeDuring July, we are exploring the Book of Psalms. The Psalter served as Israel’s hymnal, containing songs of faith written by various authors in different times and circumstances.

The Psalter expresses the spectrum of human emotion and experience—heights and depths, joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, faith, and doubt. Songs in the Key of Life is an apt description of the Psalms. The hymns play every note of human life.

As a part of your devotional practice, join me in reading and praying a Psalm each day over the next five months. There are 150 Psalms, so we can complete the entire Psalter by Thanksgiving. I have read the Psalter multiple times in the past, and I promise that the spiritual discipline will bless your life.

This Sunday we begin with Psalm 122, which declares:

“I rejoiced with those who said to me,

Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Join us this Sunday for online worship at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 through FaceBook or the church website at www.northsideumc.org.

May God grant us the grace to sing a new song to the Lord!

To Do List

During a recent  sermon, I shared an old preacher’s story.

An apocryphal tale describes a self-pious man who loudly prayed, “Lord, if you’re there, then please tell me what to do!”

A voice from heaven answered, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, proclaim the Gospel.”

Taken aback by the response, the person replied, “Oh, well. Just testing.”

God said, “Me, too.”

If we ever wonder what to do, God’s Word offers a clear answer. Listen to the words of the prophet Micah:

 God has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Once we’re done with this “To Do List,” then we can come back to God for more directions.

Circle Logic

A meme recently appeared in clergy social media groups. The image featured a middle circle labeled, “PASTOR.” Seven circles surrounded it, representing congregants’ opinions about returning to church. Examples included:

  • “We need to open the church building immediately—what are you waiting for?”
  • “You cannot open the church building. It’s a huge risk, and you’re wrong if you do.”
  • “It’s all a big hoax and conspiracy—click this link to get the truth!”
  • “Here are 25 things to do before reopening your buildings.”
  • “My family member or friend just died of COVID-19.”

In reaction to the meme, many pastors commiserated with each other, bemoaning how tough we have it.

Call me insensitive, but I have little patience with clergy who complain about the demands of ministry. EVERY vocation involves challenges, pressure, and stress. Crying “Woe is me” because “Reverend” is in the job title feels a bit self-indulgent.

Having said all of this, WOE IS ME! 🙂

Whether someone leads a church, nonprofit, business, or other group, the past NEVER trained us for such a time as this. We are navigating unknown waters without a compass or guide. I keep recalling apocryphal stories of ancient maps declaring, “HERE BE DRAGONS!”

Here’s my simple suggestion. Assume that people are doing the best they can. We do not have to agree with the decisions others make, but let’s cut each other a little slack.

I also recommend someone with artistic ability redraw the meme. Put “GOD” in the center circle rather than “PASTOR.” Even if we find ourselves with polar opposite opinions, drawing closer to God means that we also draw closer to one another.

Sail on!

These Three Remain

It has been a chaotic year. Five months ago, no one had heard of COVID-19. Today the Coronavirus pandemic is our new reality. People have learned a second language with phrases like “shelter in place,” “social distancing,” “Protective Personal Equipment,” and “N95 masks.”

We grieve our losses during the pandemic, mired in the depths of depression. We brood over lost opportunities, including events, reunions, worship, fellowship, baptisms, weddings, funerals, graduations, trips, vacations, and more.  The pandemic has reduced our lives to the most basic elements.

As I planned the June worship series at Northside Church, I repeatedly returned to the question, “What remains?” As the current crisis changes our lives, what stays the same? When the storms wash away our elaborate sandcastles, what bedrock remains?

The Holy Spirit kept bringing to mind Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13:13:

“These three remain: faith, hope, and love.

But the greatest of these is love.”

Therefore, our June worship series is entitled “These Three Remain.” We are exploring the fundamental Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Much has been lost, but what’s essential can always be found. Join us each Sunday for online worship at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 as we claim and proclaim, “These three remain: faith, hope, and love.”

These Three Remain

The Game of Life

The Game of Life invented by Milton Bradley in 1860 was America’s first popular board game. The modern version we grew up playing debuted in 1960. The game has changed over the years, but the basic concept remains the same.

the game of lifePeople drive plastic cars with pink and blue pegs, representing players, spouses, and children. Participants choose paths for “College” or “Career.” Spins of a plastic wheel determine each move. A bank provides money and loans.

The Game of Life first introduced me to the concept of insurance. Players have the opportunity to purchase auto, life, fire, and homeowner coverage. As a young consumer, I disliked paying for policies that I might never need. However, one accident quickly convinced me that the premiums were a wise investment.

I later learned three important principles about insurance:

  • Insure what you cannot afford to lose.
  • Insurance is always a balancing act between what you need and can afford.
  • Buy enough insurance to sleep well at night!

Northside Church just finished a May worship series entitled For the If in Life. We explored how our faith insures us FOR—not FROM—whatever may occur. Christians live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people. However, God’s grace is sufficient for anything we might face.

There’s not a song in the hymnal entitled, “Blessed Insurance!”   However, there is a familiar hymn entitled, “Blessed Assurance.”

Our faith insures us for the IF in LIFE. We sing with confidence, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine.” 

Bill Burch’s All Time Top 20 Movie Countdown, Part 2

During the COVID-19 crisis, sheltering at home includes an inordinate amount of TV time. As a public service announcement, I am sharing “Bill Burch’s All Time Top 20 Movie Countdown” for the information and inspiration of my dear readers.

10. Father of the Bride. I’m talking about the remake of the classic movie starring Steve Martin and Diane Keaton. The women in my life adore this film, and we’ve watched it dozens of times. The sequel (creatively named Father of the Bride 2) is just as good. I cannot even begin to describe Martin Short’s performance as Franck.

9. Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s classic kept my generation out of the water and on the beach. After seeing the huge shark, Chief Brody delivers one of cinema’s greatest lines, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

8. Tootsie. Dustin Hoffman the actor plays an actor who plays an actress for the work. Bill Murray (who appears several times in my Top 20 list) steals his scenes.

7. E. T. Spielberg once again evokes the marvel and magic of childhood. Many have noted the plot’s parallels to the Gospel story. The main character descends from the heavens, performs miracles, heals the sick, dies, miraculously comes back to life, and then ascends back into the heavens. Sound familiar?

6. Ghostbusters. A movie that combines the comedic genius of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, and the Stay-Puff-Marshmallow-Man has got to be good. The sequel . . . not so much. “Who ya’ gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!”

5. Alien(s). Terror and sci-fi combine in the original Alien starring Signourney Weaver as a take-no-prisoners heroine. The critter in the movie would devour E. T. in a Martian minute. In a rare occurrence, the sequel (creatively named Aliens) is even better than the original. However, I strongly advise against the rest of the series.

4. Harry Potter and . . . . Pick a movie out of the franchise. Sue me—I’m secure enough in my manhood to admit that I like the Harry Potter novels and movies. My favorite remains the first film that magically portrays Hogwarts School in all its glory.

3. Indiana Jones and . . . . Harrison Ford redefined the action hero genre with his brimmed hat and cracking whip. Movies 1 and 3 in the series rank high—movies 2 and 4 do not deserve the proud name of Indiana Jones.

2. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This is a twofer—actually a sixfer since it combines two trilogies. Yes, I am a confirmed nerd—I’ve read Tolkien’s trilogy along with The Hobbit multiple times (I am embarrassed to publish the exact number). Peter Jackson surpassed all of my expectations with the film versions of the books.

1. Star Wars. I’m talking about the FIRST Star Wars movie back in 1977 before George Lucas started tinkering with titles and numbers, before CG took over special effects, and before Lucas abandoned any semblance of a plot. Decades later the special effects look dated, but who wouldn’t want a cool light saber and X-Wing fighter?

When it comes to movies, I favor pure escapism. I get enough of real life in my profession. I love comedy, adventure, science fiction, and fantasy. If Bill Murray ever costars with Harrison Ford in a sci-fi adventure set in Middle Earth, then I’ll be the first in line.

Otherwise, I prefer reading a good book. Most of the stuff out of Hollywood is not worth the time.

 

Bill Burch’s All Time Top 20 Movie Countdown, Part 1

During the COVID-19 crisis, sheltering at home includes an inordinate amount of TV time. As a public service announcement, I am sharing “Bill Burch’s All Time Top 20 Movie Countdown” for the information and inspiration of my dear readers.

20. The Matrix. The sci-fi notion that humans live in a virtual, computer-generated reality blew my mind. Consider it a modern retake of the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, which poses the question, “What’s real?” Well, except for special effects, high-tech weaponry, and software viruses that will kill you. The franchise should have stopped with the original.

19. Toy Story. Pixar’s first feature length film redefined animated movies. I saw the movie at the theater with my five-year-old daughter, and it was magical. Buzz Lightyear discovers love and friendship truly define life.

18. The Princess Bride. OK, the fantasy isn’t a manly-man’s sorta movie, but I rest secure in my machismo. The fairy tale cum children’s book features priceless scenes and quotes. The sword duel. Rodents of unusual size. “As you wish.” “Inconceivable!”

17. Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks portrays a simple man whose life shapes the major events of his day. Life really IS like a box of chocolates.

16. Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hanks makes a second appearance in my list as a platoon officer during World War II. I watched transfixed when the movie abruptly shifted from black and white to color during the Normandy D-Day invasion. The scene vividly portrayed the sacrifices of those who fight to protect our freedoms.

15. Die Hard. I hesitated to include the first in the Bruce Willis film franchise due to the language of the uncut version. However, the film redefined the action movie; AND I’ve never heard Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy in quite the same way again.

14. Caddy Shack. It’s a risqué movie one wouldn’t watch with school age children. However, Bill Murray as Carl the Groundskeeper steals the show. I’m laughing as I type this blog, recalling the scene where Carl fantasizes about playing in The Masters while lopping off the tops of flowers. “I got that going for me, which is nice!”

13. American Graffiti. The 1973 film featured a galaxy of future stars, including Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Phillips, Cindy Williams, and, of course, Wolfman Jack. The movie captures the wonder and angst of adolescence.

12. Young Frankenstein. I’m not a huge Mel Brooks fan—his humor exceeds even my admittedly high silliness quotient. However, Gene Wilder shines with pure genius as Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson. “Werewolf? THERE wolf.” “Put the candle BACK.” “Frau Blucher!”

11. The Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a time-traveling robot from the future—need I say more? I must admit the sci-fi flick appears 11th in my list so that I can end this week’s blog with the Arnold’s favorite line, “I’ll be back!”

Nametags

The Northside Church staff wears nametags with the church’s logo. It allows members and guests alike to identify staff members along with the areas in which they serve.

nametagDuring hospital visits and offsite meetings, I wear my nametag in the community. The practice facilitates visits at hospitals and other institutions; and at times, it has led to impromptu conversations about church and faith.

However, sometimes I forget I’m wearing a nametag.

Last year a group of five staff members went to lunch at a local eatery. Although the restaurant was not crowded, food service took forever. We expressed our disappointment to the server. Then we realized that each of us was proudly sporting a Northside Church nametag!

For those who call ourselves “Christian,” we constantly live with the tension of claiming the name of Christ but acting all too human. People are always watching to see if our practice equals our profession. Although I’m not prone to amnesia, wearing a nametag reminds me of who I am . . . and who I am called to be.

Suppose you wore a “Christian” nametag this week. How would it transform your words and actions?

Psalm 91:1-4

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord,

“He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

under his wings