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.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Although 2020 has been filled with crises and challenges, the months have provided unexpected blessings. The pandemic has taught us that health is fragile and life is transitory. Therefore, we should note what is important and ignore what is trivial. However, this fleeting lesson is soon forgotten.

I invite you to join me in a spiritual experiment. Commit Psalm 90:12 to memory. For the rest of the year, begin each morning reciting the verse. May God grant us the grace to number our days so that we might gain hearts of wisdom.

Psalm 90: A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

Augmented Reality

In 1990, a Boeing researcher named Tom Caudell coined the phrase “augmented reality.” In layman’s terms, it is technology that superimposes computer generated graphics over a real world view.

Military Jet HUD

One example is the Heads Up Displays used in advanced aircraft, which display critical information on the airplane’s cockpit or the pilot’s visor. Car manufacturers make similar tech available in automobiles. For instance, my GMC Yukon features a HUD with a windshield display for the speed limit, current speed, radio selections, and more.

The Christian faith graces believers with an augmented reality. Our spiritual faith is superimposed over the physical world. It enables us to distinguish between the important and the unimportant along with the eternal and the temporal. Such information guides our steps and informs our actions.

Although we are citizens of both heaven and earth, our ultimate allegiance is pledged to God’s kingdom. We live in an augmented reality that reveals what is truly real.

Election Day

Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Today is Election Day in the United States of America.

We will elect the President of the United States along with other national, state, and local offices. As we prayerfully await the results, consider a lesson from history.

In the 1830s, French author, Alexis de Tocqueville, toured the United States and later reflected about his experience. He wrote:

I have toured America, and I have seen most of what you offer. I’ve seen the richness of the fields and the wealth of your mines. I’ve seen your industrial might, the beauties of the rivers, the streams, the lakes, and the grandeur of the mountains. I’ve noticed the abundance of the forests and the marvelous climate with which you are blessed.

In none of these things did I see the cause for the greatness of America.

It wasn’t until I went into your churches that I saw the reason for America’s greatness. America is great because America is good; and as long as America is good, America will be great. If it ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.

Today, let us pray for our nation.

May God bless America, land that we love.

DST Forever!

DST Fall

Twice a year our bodies adjust to the abrupt change of Daylight Saving Time. In the fall, we “gain” the hour “lost” last spring. Although we welcome the additional hour of sleep, it takes days to readjust.

Standard Time is like the weather—everyone complains about it, but no one does anything about it! In six months, we will revisit the debate yet again.

Here’s my simple plan: Daylight Saving Time Forever! Yes, there are more important issues in the world, but this is one we could easily fix.

Quit messing around with the calendar and clock. I’ll gladly trade an hour of sunlight in the morning for an additional hour in the evening. And no one would miss the semiannual shock to our biological clocks.

I’m sure Congress will get right on it, along with a balanced budget, reduced deficit, and funded entitlements. On second thought, I’ll plan to “Spring forward one hour” again next March.

Lessons Politicians Teach our Children

While watching political-attack ads and debates on TV , I began to reflect on the lessons that politicians of all parties are teaching our children on-air.

  • If you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all something mean, nasty, hurtful, hateful, defamatory, and derogatory. Interrupt others because your opinion is more important.
  • Never take responsibility for your own actions. Always blame someone else for your faults and failures.
  • Take credit for others’ achievements. Never recognize anyone else’s contributions. Pride is for winners and humility for losers.  
  • Lie. Lie BIG. The bigger the lie, the better the lie. Lie more when someone responds with the truth.
  • Call others liars. If someone does not agree with your version of the truth, dismiss their opinions as fake news or false delusions.
  • Bully people. Use your power and position to torment and tyrannize other children.
  • Appearance is more important than substance and looks supersede character.
  • Look out for #1. Treat everyone else like, well, #2.
  • Finally, never trust national media outlets or local blog authors.

The Wisdom of Samwise Gamgee

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back. Only they didn’t, because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” by Newline Cinemas

Classic Film Lovers

Recently, I accidentally joined the Classic Film Lovers Facebook Group. I must have clicked when I meant to swipe. Regardless, I now belong to a group of 27,276 devotees of old movies.

I don’t like old movies.

Recent, riveting discussions debated the merits of Catherine Deneuve versus Jacqueline Bissett, Cary Grant versus Jack Lemmon, and Westworld (1973) versus Westworld (2016). I have no opinion on any of these matters; however, I enjoy the posts.

In part, the passionate opinions of the participants intrigue me. Some people out there really LOVE classic films. They ardently champion various films, actors, and genres.

However, no one feels a need to denigrate another’s opinion. Whether you’re a Catherine Deneuve or a Jacqueline Bisset fan, it’s all good. Let’s agree Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon were both great actors. Westworld (1973) or Westworld (2016)? Enjoy them both!

Compare and contrast the attitudes of my Classic Film Lovers pals to the rest of Facebook. Someone recently shared that everyone on social media is walking around with two facts and a baseball bat. We defend our opinions with zealous fervor and demonize others’ ideas with spiteful glee.

In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advised, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is a timely principle in the midst of a polarizing, political season.

Listen and reflect rather than ignore and react. Who knows, we all might learn something along the way.  

Meanwhile, I remain a proud member of the Classic Film Lovers Facebook Group. Does anyone know how to stream “Casablanca?” Here’s looking at you, kid!

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.