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.

Then Again, I Could be Wrong

I have a running joke with a select group of friends. I will conclude a discussion with the statement, “But as I end all of my sermons: ‘Then again, I could be wrong!’”

Of course, I don’t end ALL of my sermons with this disclaimer. In fact, the opposite is true. I may be in error, but I’m never in doubt! A genius is naturally someone who agrees with my opinion. 😊

In my humbler moments, I realize that no one holds a monopoly on the truth. Good people possess differing opinions. In the best of worlds, we discuss our differences and learn from the exchange.

 However, we live in a polarized age with little middle ground. The world is divided into US and THEM. Communication has become a blunt tool used to beat others into submission.

Certainly, we should hold passionate, informed beliefs about what’s important in life. However, there’s also wisdom in the simple statement, “I could be wrong.” This creates some space in which we might learn and grow.

Mark Twain said, “The trouble with the world is not that pepole know too little; its that they know so many things that just aren’t so.”

We can be so convinced that we’re right that there’s no room to admit that we might be wrong. Therefore, the next time we disagree with others, consider the possibility that our “opponents” might have something to teach us.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Synchronicity

The 20th century psychologist, Carl Jung, coined the word, “synchronicity.” The term refers to “meaningful coincidences” in life. An individual experiences profound significance in seemingly random events.

For example, I recently wrote a pastoral letter that highlighted Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The following Sunday’s anthem planned weeks ahead of time by the music team echoed the same passage. The next week a devotional from another source quoted the verse.

The world might call this happenstance. However, Christians experience a spiritual synchronicity that sees divine meaning in worldly coincidence. The Holy Spirit wanted to impress Christ’s words upon my heart.

“God-winks” occur on a daily basis for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. However, we are a goal-oriented people who have no time to turn aside for burning bushes. The tyranny of the immediate blinds and deafens us to theophanies along the way.

In John 12, Jesus called out to God, and the Lord answered. Some said they heard an angel speak. Others said it had thundered. The crowd experienced the same event in two radically different ways.

Pay close attention to the coincidences of life. We might just spy the Holy Spirit hovering in the wings.

The Pain of Discipline or Regret

Business consultant, Jim Rohn, wrote:

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

The bad news is there’s pain regardless of choice. The good news is we have the freedom to choose.

Discipline requires an upfront payment for a delayed payoff. Regret requires little investment with no future return. Because we are a short-sighted people who enjoy immediate gratification, we often choose delayed regret rather than immediate discipline.

However, remember: discipline weights ounces, regret weighs tons.

The principle applies universally to every aspect of life: sleep, exercise, diet, alcohol, drugs, sexuality, education, work, marriage, parenting, friendship, spirituality, and discipleship.

The bad news is there’s pain regardless of choice. The good news is we have the freedom to choose.

Hallelujah!

During August, Northside Church’s worship series explored five words in God’s Word. We began with the term “Hallelujah, which combines two Hebrew words. “Hallel” means praise, and “jah” is an abbreviation for God’s name, “Yahweh.” The word is often translated in English as “Praise the Lord.”

hallelujahWithin the Psalter, “Hallelujah” is not only an exclamation of praise but also a command to worship. In essence, it declares, ‘HEY, YOU! PRAISE THE LORD, NOW!”

Hallelujah’s directive is a needed reminder in our faith walk. We are an absent-minded, scatterbrained people who forget to glorify God in personal devotion and corporate worship. The Holy Spirit regularly taps us on the shoulder with a reminder to glorify God.

At times, we say it with an exclamation point. Other times with a period. Sometimes with a question mark. Then there are times when we silently wait to say it all.

We sing and shout it. We sigh and pray it. We whisper and whimper it. But still we say it.

You—me—praise the Lord! In all times and all places. Now and forevermore. God’s people choose to say, “Hallelujah!”

Scat, cat!

The Grand Miss Haisley, our exuberant two-year-old granddaughter, has learned to say “Bless you” after a sneeze. Whether the sneeze originates with herself or someone else, Haisley blesses all concerned.

bless youAfter she blessed herself during a recent visit, I replied, “Scat, cat!”

Haisley looked at me askance and said, “Pops, there’s no cat here.”

(I lobbied to be called “Superman but was overruled. Yet and still, I’ve grown to love the sound of “Pops” in her lilting voice).

I tried to explain “Scat, cat” was an acceptable, Southern substitute for “Bless you.” However, she remained unconvinced.

Out of curiosity, I explored the Internet, the source of all certifiable knowledge, for the origins of the curious phrase. Several authorities confirmed that saying “Scat, cat” was a Southern thing, but none could agree on the phrase’s origin.

According to one superstitious belief, sneezing somehow makes one vulnerable to evil spirits. Therefore, a “Gesundheit” or “Bless you” serves as a preventative exorcism. Maybe “Scat, cat” serves the same function.

Regardless, I have performed many benedictions and blessings during my years as an ordained pastor. None surpasses the “Bless you” that my granddaughter casually dispenses.

Sermon Prep

When Northside Church suspended onsite services in March, I considered ways to maintain connections with the congregation. The idea for “Sermon Prep” came to me in the middle of the night.

Sermon 5Creating a sermon is like building a house—there’s always materials leftover. Instead of lumber, nails, shingles, and tiles, preachers keep unused research, illustrations, quotes, and jokes. Newly ordained pastors make the rookie mistake of using extraneous material that should have been left on the editing floor.

Therefore, I decided to make use of these leftover scraps. Each Wednesday I publish a video that provides background on the upcoming Sunday’s sermon and Scripture. It gives viewers a homiletical preview along with contextual information.

The entire endeavor is fairly low-tech. Think more public-access than Hollywood-slick. With the help of a desk tripod and a wired mic, I record the videos on my I-phone. Then our amazing Production and Creative Services teams take over. They magically transform the clip into a Vimeo video link emailed to the congregation.

The medium may change, but the message remains the same. The church must learn how to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love in new, engaging ways. Therefore, this preacher who is no longer a puppy is learning some new tricks.

 

Water with a Dash of Arsenic, Please

This summer Consumer Reports warned that bottled water sold by Whole Foods contains potentially harmful amounts of arsenic. Tests revealed levels three times higher than other brands.

Starkey waterWhole Foods prides itself on offering healthy, clean food for consumers. In response to the report, the company responded that the water meets “all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals.”

Bless their hearts.

This raises an interesting question. Just what amount of arsenic is acceptable in drinking water? Call me crazy, but I’m thinking NONE! Some elements are so toxic that even a little bit is too much.

Consumer Reports noted that a single bottle would not harm consumers. However, long-term consumption of even small amounts of heavy metals can cause significant harm.

Turns out arsenic is a lot like sin: toxic even in small amounts and small quantities cause big consequences.

Therefore, here’s my advice:

  • Whole Foods, just quit trying to justify arsenic in your water, and clean up your supply.
  • Christians, just quit trying to justify sin in our hearts and clean up our lives.

Slow Down

Over the past months, I have contemplated posting on social media, “When does the Georgia State Patrol plan to retake our interstates?”

The pandemic has resulted in reduced traffic on highways and byways. However, many of the remaining motorists are recklessly speeding. Vehicles easily exceeding 100 mph pass me regularly.

I read a news story featuring a local body shop. The proprietor stated that business was down with the reduced traffic. Then he added, “And the cars we do see are typically totaled due to high speed impact.”

Slow down.

Slow down not only on the roads but also in life. Even when the destination is important, enjoy the journey along the way. Otherwise, we might miss the most important part of the trip.

Last month I watched a rerun of a reunion concert by The Eagles. They introduced a song that I had never heard before entitled, “Learn to be Still.” Reflect on some of the lyrics.

Now the flowers in your garden
They don’t smell so sweet
Maybe you’ve forgotten
The heaven lying at your feet

There are so many contradictions
In all these messages we send
(We keep asking)
How do I get out of here
Where do I fit in?

Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin’
It’s waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-

Learn to be still
Learn to be still

Slow down, and learn to be still.

It’s a Dog’s Life

We came home to find this letter on the counter from Sam the Yorkshire Terrier.

Dear Kibble and Treat Providers,

While you were gone . . .

Someone accidentally had an accidental accident in the house accidentally. However, don’t worry. It took place in the guest bedroom closet where no one will notice for days.

Sam at the LakeSomeone tore all of the stuffing out of my friend, Frog, and strewed it across the floor like polyester snowflakes in August.

Someone jumped up on the neatly made bed and scratched the bedspread into a comfy nest for napping.

Someone scattered dog food across the kitchen floor in order to find just the right kibble to nibble.

Someone sloshed water out of the dog bowl while getting a drink.

Someone left nose prints on the glass while barking at the evil mail carrier.

Someone perched on top of the sofa pillows as a watchtower to guard the house.

Someone raided the bathroom wastebasket AGAIN and dumped Kleenex, Q-tips, and cotton balls on the tiles.

Someone grabbed the end of the toilet paper roll and ran through the house with it streaming behind him.

Someone couldn’t wait to greet you at the door with twists, turns, yips, and doggy-breath kisses.

Someone promises these things will NEVER, EVER happen again. Well, at least until you are gone the next time.

Love,

Sam