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.

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 www.northsideumc.org. The sermon will be archived for future viewing, too.

It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot.

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.”

Discipline requires an upfront payment for a delayed payoff. Regret requires little investment with no future return. Only one choice provides a return on investment; but we are a short-sighted people who enjoy immediate gratification. Therefore, we often choose delayed regret rather than immediate discipline.

Remember: discipline weighs ounces, regret weighs tons.

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

Christian disciples choose the pain of discipline.  

Life Pattern

My mother sewed clothes for my sister during childhood. She pinned cut fabric to McCall’s patterns. Mom used a Singer sewing machine to stitch the separate pieces into a whole garment. Paper, cloth, thread, scissors, pins, and needles magically combined to make beautiful clothing. 

Patterns provide simple steps to successful outcomes. A graduated process leads to desired results. An old adage advises, “Plan your life, and live your plan.” Pick a pattern and follow the instructions.

Jesus Christ sets the pattern for Christian disciples. Romans 12:2 declares:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (NIV)

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold. (JB Phillips)

Christians set their minds on things above, not earthly things. In order to do so, I recommend memorizing Philippians 4:8 and meditating on its meaning:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  

May the Holy Spirit enable us to obtain the mind and attitude of Christ.  

Easter Monday

Clergy joke that we observe Easter Sunday on Monday morning!

Lent culminated with a Holy Week of worship services, special meals, and egg hunts. Northside Church offered five worship services between 8:30 and noon on Easter morning. I spent Sunday afternoon with family before finally collapsing into bed.

I awoke on Monday, believing what I preached on Sunday! The Holy Spirit regularly reminds me to claim what I proclaim. Jesus Christ is risen, indeed.

The Gospel accounts vary, but Jesus appeared to his followers 40 days following the Resurrection. Paul provided the first written account in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8:

Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas (Peter) and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, thought some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.   

His followers and friends did not always recognize Jesus. He identified himself by calling Mary’s name, breaking bread in Emmaus, and revealing his wounds to Thomas.

Let us claim and proclaim the Easter good news on days after the Resurrection. For those with ears to hear, the risen Lord calls our name. For those with eyes to see, Jesus Christ is with us in the breaking of bread. For those who struggle, the Savior shares our wounds.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!

Easter at Northside Church

Join us this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the good news of the Resurrection! Northside Church is offering five opportunities for worship:

  • 8:30                 Traditional Worship               Sanctuary
  • 9:00                 Contemporary Worship          Faith & Arts Center
  • 9:45                 Traditional Worship               Sanctuary
  • 10:30               Contemporary Worship          Faith & Arts Center
  • 11:15               Traditional Worship               Sanctuary

The 8:30, 9:00, and 11:15 services will be live-streamed on the church’s website at http://www.northsideumc.org. Easter animals will be present before and after the services.

I look forward to worshipping together as we hear the ancient words that are forever new, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”

The Art and Science of Eating Church Donut Holes

Northside Church provides refreshments on Sunday mornings that feature Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins. The comfort food of carbohydrates and sugar tastes like God’s goodness. Caffeinated coffee ensures everyone stays awake during the sermon.

Dunkin’ Donuts donutologists claim that 4.5 to 5 Munchkins equal one donut by net weight and caloric content. I find this information reassuring while visiting the hospitality table. A handful of donut holes feels gluttonous while one donut displays commendable restraint.

To paraphrase a Raymond Chandler quote about whiskey, there is no such thing as a bad donut. There are only some donuts that aren’t as good as others.

The pastor’s personal favorites (donuts, not whiskeys) include jelly-filled, glazed-chocolate, and powder-sugar. My OCD forces me to take two of each, exceeding the 5 Munchkin equivalency rule referenced above.

Black suits and powdered donuts don’t mix, so I’ve designed an ingenious solution. I fill a disposable cup with Munchkins and spear the fried pastries with a coffee stirrer!

Follow me for more fine-dining tips.

Psalm 34:8 declares, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the one who takes refuge in God.” Join us Sunday mornings at Northside as we dine on God’s Word and donut holes!