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.

Groundhog Day

Each year the United States and Canada observe Groundhog Day on February 2. The rather bizarre holiday stars its namesake: the lowly groundhog.

According to legend, the large ground squirrel possesses mysterious, prognosticating abilities. If the rodent sees his shadow, then he retreats into his burrow in fear, predicting six more weeks of winter. If cloudy weather prevents the furred forecaster from seeing his shadow, then he leaves his lair, signifying the advent of spring.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania hosts the most renowned Groundhog observance in America. The resident rodent known as “Punxsutawney Phil” presides over the affair.  Over 40,000 pilgrims gather for the annual festivities.

Not to be outdone, Atlanta’s General Beauregard Lee resides at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, Georgia. The distant-cousin-of-a rat has received two—count them, TWO—honorary doctoral degrees from local institutions. The University of Georgia awarded him a “DWP: Doctor of Weather Prognostication.” Georgia State University honored the General with a “Doctor of Southern Groundology.”

 Authorities disagree about the accuracy of Groundhog Day’s prognostications. Rodent supporters claim that groundhogs possess a 75% to 90% accuracy degree—far exceeding the success rate of their TV colleagues. The folk at the Yellow River Game Ranch assert that General Lee boasts an astonishing 94% success rate.

The National Climatic Data Center reports a more down-to-earth average of 39% accuracy for groundhogs nationwide. One scientist laconically observed that regardless of predictions, spring ALWAYS arrives on March 20 or 21—about six weeks after Groundhog’s Day.

Bill Murray starred in a 1993 movie entitled Groundhog Day. He played an egocentric weather reporter named Phil Connors. His producer assigned the weatherman to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Inexplicably, Connors finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. After a series of misdeeds and misadventures, Phil recognizes that fate has granted him the opportunity to change his life. The movie ends when he . . . well, you need to watch it for yourself!

January 1st inspires people to make New Year’s resolutions. Many of us need a second chance at a second chance. If 01-01 didn’t work for you, then try 02-02. Regardless of sunshine or shadows, it’s never too early or too late to claim God’s power to start anew.

Harmony and Habitat

“Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:16)

Northside Church completed a Habitat for Humanity house last winter. Hundreds of volunteers worked together to make the dream come true. The ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 26th celebrated a new home for Miss Belinda.

I hauled supplies, cut lumber, hammered nails, attached siding, and installed blinds. Three of us made an easy-to-assemble shed look hard. We blamed it on the hieroglyphic directions but installing the floor upside down didn’t help!

The men and women on the worksite ranged from teenagers to septuagenarians. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents served side-by-side. No doubt the groups could have argued every side of any political or societal issue.

AND . . . we built a home together in eight weeks!

People assume church harmony means mutual agreement. Experience teaches us otherwise. Those seeking a church where everyone agrees will be disappointed. Whenever two or more gather in Jesus’ name, the Lord promised to be present because he realized how much conflict would occur!

Our heavenly Father adopts us into God’s household without the option of selecting our siblings. We crowd into the station wagon for a long road trip with the Lord’s admonition, “Now, you kids get along!” The Holy Spirit calls us to live in peace with one another.

The church is not a human institution but a supernatural creation. Losing sight of this fundamental truth causes us to focus on our differences rather than our commonalities. What binds us together surpasses whatever might pull us apart.

AND . . . we built a home together in eight weeks.

Northside Church begins its next Habitat Build this Saturday, January 28! Visit https://www.northsideumc.org/habitat for details.

It’s 7:10 Somewhere

I wear a titanium Seiko wristwatch. The watch cannot display emails, send texts, measure heartrate, track fitness, map routes, or track sleep. The timepiece simply keeps time. It’s an analog oddity in a digital world.

The battery died last fall with the hour and minute hands frozen at 7:10. (I would add AM or PM but see the analog note above.) I continued to wear the watch in hopes of visiting a jeweler, but two weeks passed before I finally got the battery replaced. The experience taught me several lessons.

We are creatures of habit. I knew the watch didn’t work, but I glanced at it reflexively throughout the day. What other subconscious routines and practices rule our lives?

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I entertained myself by checking the time in the morning and evening at 7:10. The experience reassured me that the watch wasn’t broken, just inaccurate sporadically! I think of friends (certainly not me!) who are occasionally in error but never in doubt.

It’s perfectly acceptable for a technological device to perform one function well. I already spend too much time on my personal computer and cell phone. I don’t need a wrist manacle that displays emails, sends texts, measures heartrate, tracks fitness, maps routes, or tracks sleep. I just need it to keep time accurately.

The new battery should power my Seiko for several years. We look forward to a good time together in our analog world.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

A group of older men stare daily through my office doorway. The wall across the hall features the portraits of my predecessors. Ten photographs depict the previous pastors appointed to Northside Church. The portraits of the nine men (Bill Floyd served twice) testify to the congregation’s rich pastoral heritage.

 Seven of the nine clergy have died, going from the church militant to the church triumphant. The two surviving pastors retired years ago but continue to serve in various ways. My antecedents’ example inspires me to honor a legacy of leadership in this congregation and community.

The pictures promote a spirit of humility in my soul. I am but the latest in a line of clergy to serve Northside Church. One day my photograph will hang on the wall, too. I will stare across the hallway at my successors.

The Lord calls us to serve faithfully in our appointed place and time. We remember the past and anticipate the future, but we serve God here and now. Our work is for the moment, which will quickly pass; but we trust that our words and deeds carry eternal import.

A group of older men stare daily through my office doorway. One day I hope to earn the right to join them. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-1)

New Year’s Resolutions

New Years REsolutionsOn January 1, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. During the holidays, we overindulged in too much of too much. The birth of a New Year inspired plans of diet, exercise, and thriftiness.

Resolutions born at midnight on December 31st, however, seldom survive the first weeks of January. Habit is a hard master to overthrow. By mid-month, the new and improved model greatly resembles the old and not so improved model!

We can scoff at the idea of spontaneous resolutions leading to lasting change. However, we serve a God of fresh starts and second chances. Today can be different from yesterday; and tomorrow can be different from today.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Our “re-creation” in Christ is both event and process as we grow into the image of our Savior.

Jesus began his ministry preaching the message, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel.” The time has come for repentance rather than resolutions. This year can be new in more than name alone!

The Day after Christmas

Dec 26

Each year I share my one attempt at poetry entitled “The Day after Christmas.” It reminds us that Christmas is not only a day or a season but also a lifestyle. May we celebrate the good news of Christ coming into the world year-round. 

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all were asleep

The twenty-fifth had left them all tired and beat.

The stockings were slung carelessly on the floor

Stripped of their contents and of interest no more.

The children were exhausted, collapsed in their beds,

With visions of sleeping-in fixed in their heads.

And mama in her flannel and me with my mate,

Were in hopes that we too might get to sleep late.

When out in the front there arose such a racket

I sprang from my bed like a frightened jackrabbit.

I stubbed my big toe on the way to the door,

And set off the alarm system on the first floor.

The early sun’s light shone bright on the toys

Left in the front yard yesterday by my boys.

Then I saw a car splashing right through the muck,

A red, white and blue delivery truck.

My head was aching and my stomach felt ill,

As the postman delivered a hand full of bills!

The charges were listed in dollars and cents,

Payment would empty the United States’ mints.

Now, Visa! Now, Penney’s! Now, Macy’s and Rich’s!

On, Walmart! On, K-Mart! On Abercrombie and Fitch’s!

November and December we had a great ball,

Come January, we owe something to all.

I made my way through a maze of presents piled high,

Looked again at the bills and gave a great sigh.

Turkey bones roosted on the dining room table,

Yesterday we ate all we were able.

I tried to turn on the new espresso maker,

Complete with a digital, alarm clock waker.

My family stumbled slowly down the stairs

As cordial as a den of hibernating bears.

I bent down to pet our faithful dog, Carl,

But he snapped at my fingers and let out a snarl.

My wife dressed quite quickly and shouted to all,

“I’m going bargain hunting all day at the mall!”

The children slammed the door behind them as well,

Going to friends’ homes for Christmas show and tell.

And I collapsed in my brand new easy chair,

To see how my favorite football teams would fare.

I held a glass of Alka-Seltzer firmly in my fist

Regretting last night’s snack I should have missed.

During halftime I arose from the recliner,

My team was ahead and the world seemed much finer.

Wading through the wrapping paper piled knee high

Something on the mantle piece caught my eye.

Half hidden beneath discarded ribbons and bows:

The manger scene had been placed weeks ago.

Carefully clearing the bright paper away

I witnessed the reminder of that first Christmas day.

The Christ child rested in a bed simple and small

Sent by God into the world to save us all.

Nativity figures of that first silent night,

Made it quite clear what had been lost to sight.

“A Happy Christmas to all!” is because of God’s son,

On the day after, our Christmas has only begun.

  

Christmas Worship at Northside Church

I invite you to join us for Christmas worship at Northside Church.

Thursday, December 22

  • *6:00   pm       Contemporary Service in the Faith & Arts Center

Saturday, December 24

  • 10:00   am       Family Service in the Sanctuary
  • *12:00 noon    Family Service in the Sanctuary
  • 2:00 pm           Family Service in the Sanctuary
  • 4:00 pm           Contemporary Service in the Faith & Arts Center
  • *6:00 pm         Traditional Service in the Sanctuary
  • 8:00 pm           Traditional Service with Communion in the Sanctuary

Sunday, December 25

  • *10:00 am       Combined Service in the Sanctuary

Sunday, January 1

  • *10:00 am       Combined Service in the Faith & Arts Center

*Services that will be live-streamed and archived at www.northsideumc.org/worship.

O, Come Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Bubble Lights

My grandmother’s home possessed a magical appeal during the holidays. A live fir adorned the living room with antique ornaments and glittering tinsel. Strings of bubble lights draped the tree, granting an illusion of liquified fire flickering within glowing candles.

The bubble lights possessed a dark side. The candles grew hot to the touch, threatening to turn dry limbs into flashfire tinder. Shattered globes inflicted razor-sharp cuts. The ornaments contained methylene chloride, a toxic liquid if ingested, inhaled, or touched. The lights diminished in popularity during the 1970s, replaced by safer “fairy bulbs.”

Several years ago, a coworker found a novelty bubble light online. It plugged into an outlet and bubbled after a few minutes. I expressed my admiration of the ornament, and my personal Christmas light appeared at the church a few days later.

The ornament holds a year-round place of honor in my office. It highlights a collection of manger scenes that surround it. It bubbles constantly during the holidays, but I randomly turn it on throughout the year.

The bubble light invokes the Christmas spirit in my soul. It reminds me of an innocent age when I thought my grandmother’s home bordered the North Pole. The mélange of holiday memories makes me smile as I recall absent family.

I pray that you experience the holidays as Holy Days during this season of childlike wonder. If you need some help, then drop by the church and bask in the nostalgic glow of my bubble light.

Christmas Traditions

My childhood, holiday traditions included watching three MUST-SEE specials on primetime TV: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They aired only once during December, and I carefully noted the dates and times.

IM always HO, the mid-1960s represented the Golden Age of Christmas TV specials. Computer-generated images cannot compete with traditional animation or stop-motion photography.

But.

The Grand Miss Haisley has introduced me to a new generation of holiday specials. Note I said “holiday” and not “Christmas.” Even Charles Schulz would not get away with reciting Luke’s Christmas story on prime-time TV today. Nevertheless, I actually like some of the newer shows.

Our granddaughter and I agree that Olaf’s Frozen Adventure tops the list. The cast of Frozen reunited for the holiday adventure. Olaf the Snowman discovers various families’ traditions associated with Christmas, Hanukah, and the Winter Solstice. The show culminates with a Disney-they-lived-happily-ever-after ending.

The animated special emphases the importance of traditions. Rituals shape identity, meaning, and purpose. They inform who we are in relationship with others. Seemingly insignificant customs contain great import. The rites often begin with little intention but become part of a family’s legacy.

Parents and grandparents recognize they are making memories with their children and grandchildren. Investments of time result in priceless returns. Some day our children will share family traditions with their children in turn.

The Bible implores parents to raise up children in the way they should go. Therefore, I have introduced Haisley to some old friends, including Charlie Brown, Rudolph, and Cindy Lou Who.  I have met Olaf, Anna, and Elsa through her in turn.  

This Christmas keep some traditions and make some memories. They last a lifetime and beyond.  

An Early Christmas

I am republishing this blog from last year. It reminds me to enjoy the Holy Day Season before it slips away.

A Hallmark display at a local store caught my eye. The sign above the holiday greeting cards declared, “Christmas is December 25th.” Huh. Good to know!

Many bemoan how the holidays arrive earlier each year. Retailers anxious for Christmas sales begin Black Friday sales on July 4th. Costco erected a winter wonderland of snowmen and penguins in September. XM Radio premiered their holiday stations on November 1.

And Hobby Lobby . . . well, the home goods store celebrates three seasons: Last Christmas, This Christmas, and Next Christmas.

I’ve always resisted the Hallowthankmas holiday madness, choosing to observe the day after Thanksgiving as my personal advent of the holidays. However, I’ve experienced a Dicken’s-like change of heart.

December days rush by so quickly with over-committed calendars and hectic schedules. December 26th always dawns with an awareness that I never accomplished everything hoped for or planned during the holiday rush.

Therefore, this year I’m celebrating an early Christmas.

I’m decking the halls, listening to Christmas music, and singing “The Twelve,” well, I draw the line at singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Seven Nativity Scenes adorn my office. A candle ornament plugged into an outlet bubbles merrily away. I’ve been sipping egg nog since mid-November. If I had some chestnuts, they would be roasting on an open fire. 

Oh, I fight the occasional urge to say, “Bah, humbug.” I’m a recovering Scrooge with occasional lapses. However, life’s too short to miss the advent of the Holy Day Season.

Christmas is December 25th this year. But why wait? Start celebrating an early Christmas today!