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.

Discover Pastoral Care

I am serving as the executor of my father’s estate. Since my degree is in theology rather than jurisprudence, its been a steep learning curve. Here are but a few experiences along the ofttimes perplexing way.  

When I called companies to cancel services, most representatives expressed heartfelt condolences over my father’s death. One woman in particular sighed and said, “I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost one of my parents.” I learned the simple kindness of strangers possesses an impact beyond proportion to their words.     

Other exchanges felt much more transactional. After waiting on hold for 50 minutes (yes, I counted!), an ATT operator finally deigned to disconnect my father’s land line, which the company assigned us in 1973. She brusquely handled the request without a sympathetic word.  

Another interesting exchange occurred with Xfinity (Comcast in sheep’s clothing). After only a 40-minute hold, I spoke with a representative who spoke English as a third language. The woman declared the company required my father’s death certificate to CANCEL CABLE TV! Since the account was still in my mother’s name, I would need to submit her death certificate from 2013, too!! Thirty minutes later a slightly less insane supervisor finally approved the cancellation.

Discover proved to be my best encounter. My father worked in management with Sears-Roebuck and obtained one of the first Discover credit cards. The agent expressed her appreciation for his loyalty and sorrow over my loss. She cancelled the card immediately and mailed his accumulated, cash rewards.  

Pastoral care does not require education, degree, or experience. However, it does involve compassionate people who care deeply for those who are hurting. We may never know how much a simple word, text, call, card, or email may mean in another’s life.

A credit card representative helped me re-discover this simple truth.  

The B2 3-Step Diet Plan

America’s favorite winter pastime is dieting. Following Halloween candy appetizers last fall, the nation went on a holiday eating binge. Ounces became pounds as clothes mysteriously shrunk on their hangers.

The weight-loss industry is big business. However, most diet plans are too complicated. Few possess the discipline to sustain a Doctor-Jenny-Low-Carbohydrate-South-Beach-Rotation-Nutri-Weight-Watcher-Atkins-Craig regime.

I possess NO qualifications to give advice about weight loss. Lack of expertise and experience, however, never stopped other diet gurus. Therefore, I am marketing the B2 3-Step Diet Plan!

Step One: Eat less.

After extensive study, scientists have linked food consumption and caloric intake! The serious weight-watcher must eat less food. Less food leads to less calories and less weight.

Step Two: Eat better.

The US government spent a gazillion dollars designing a Food Pyramid. Allow me to summarize. Eat more fruit, vegetables, grains, and stuff that tastes like cardboard. Eat less salt, sugar, saturated fat, and deep-fried Twinkies.

Step Three: Exercise more.

Historians will link the decline of Western civilization to the invention of the TV remote control. We have become a sedentary society. Study after study, however, shows the benefit of aerobic exercise. Most experts recommend a vigorous workout a minimum of three times weekly. However, simple steps like walking more and climbing steps can help.

The best results come from combining Steps One, Two, and Three. If you eat less, eat better, and exercise more, then you will lose weight and feel better. Results guaranteed, or your money back!

The Cruelest Month

T. S. Eliot described April as “the cruelest month.” With apologies to the poet, a British April cannot compare to a Georgia January. The first month of the New Year is dreadful, dreary, and dull.

Post-holiday blues fade to black. After the extraordinary holiday season, ordinary days feel so bland and boring. Gifts charged during December visit us like Ghosts of Christmas Past. Stores that offered easy credit now expect cold cash.

North Georgia’s climate is no winter wonderland. Temperature and humidity yoyo. Shirt-sleeve weather follows down-coat storms. If you don’t like the weather in Georgia, just wait—it will change tomorrow!

However, January could qualify as “the kindest month,” too. The New Year offers fresh starts and new beginnings. The future glows bright with promise. With a little discipline and determination, resolutions can come true.

The bleak landscape boasts a beauty all its own. The fractal outlines of oaks against a winter sky are breathtaking. The intricate etchings of frost rival the grandest artwork. Seeds nurtured in Mother Earth’s womb prepare for birth in the spring.

Southern comfort can be found beside a warm fireplace with a mug of cocoa. Simmering vegetable soup served with piping hot cornbread nourishes the soul. When snow threatens, lining up to buy milk and bread makes the season merry and bright.

Every season has a beauty all its own that is enhanced in comparison and contrast with the other three seasons. Winter, spring, summer and fall—along with every season of life—possess both cruelty and kindness. Our perspective determines what we experience.

January? There’s no finer time to live in Georgia!

Fit!

Each fall I prayerfully choose a focus that will serve as a churchwide emphasis for the coming year. In 2021, the Northside Church’s theme is Fit! During our January Fitness Challenge, we are exploring how the Holy Spirit makes Christians “fit for service” mentally, fiscally, relationally, physically, and spiritually.

I selected Luke 9:57-62 as the primary Scripture for the series. The passage describes three would-disciples who wanted to follow Jesus. The Lord challenged each one’s reservations and conditions.

Jesus harshly told one man, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Christ’s response troubles me. I have never done any plowing. However, a cursory examination of my spiritual life would reveal times that I’ve looked backwards, sideways, up and down, in fact, any direction except forward. Words from an old hymn cut to the heart of human inconstancy:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.

I constantly rediscover the essential need for divine grace in my life. Although Christian disciples seek to make ourselves fit for service in God’s kingdom, we cannot succeed on our own. Thank God, we are not on our own! Divine power infuses our human efforts; and the first and last word of the gospel is always GRACE!

Join us onsite or online each Sunday at Northside Church as the Holy Spirit makes us Fit!

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.

  

Online Christmas Eve Worship at Northside Church

Our Advent Worship Series recognizes that We Need a Little Christmas! This week we anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. With the shepherds, we travel to Bethlehem to behold what God has done!

Northside Church is offering three exceptional, online experiences for Christmas Eve. The Prerecorded Christmas Eve Services are available at www.NorthsideUMC.org/Christmas  beginning on December 23, including:

  • A Traditional Worship Service of Lessons and Carols features the Chancel Choir singing Christmas favorites. The service culminates in candlelight while singing Silent Night.
  • A Contemporary Worship Service puts a modern spin on traditional carols. This service also concludes with singing Silent Night by candlelight.
  • The Northside Express is new, animated experience for children of all ages. Participants will board a special train bound for Bethlehem to witness the Nativity.

May the Babe of Bethlehem bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into your life.

Nativity Scenes

Eight Nativity Sets adorn my office shelves year-round. Each holds special meaning and memories in my life.

My sister gave me the musical, turntable creche from Berlin as a Christmas gift in the 1980s.

I presented the Department 56 set to my wife in the 1990s when our children were young.

I purchased two handmade sets of wood and clay on a mission trip to Honduras.

A local potter in Cartersville crafted a vase with the Manger Scene cut into the side.

A large, olive wood creche with fourteen human and animal characters came from a visit to Bethlehem in 2014.

A “Precious Moments Nativity” from a coworker presents a highly sanitized version of Jesus’ birth.

A smaller tableau of the Holy Family also came from Palestine during a 2019 Holy Land trip with Northside Church.

In contrast, the Gospel stories of Jesus’ actual birth are simple and unpretentious. A woman accompanied only by her husband gave birth and laid her firstborn in a manger.

In faith, the church points and declares,

“This is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.”

With the shepherds, magi, angels, and all creation, let us come to Bethlehem and join the Nativity Scene.

Family Christmas Traditions

This season I have been reflecting on childhood, holiday memories. Following my father’s death in November, I am the sole survivor of our nuclear family. It’s a sobering experience to become the lone repository of the jokes, stories, mores, values, and traditions that made us . . . US.

The holidays began with the selection of the perfect tree. We set out in our Ford Fairlane Station Wagon like characters from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The experience always mutated into a scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Next came the decorating of the tree with the bald spot facing the wall. School-made ornaments made priceless by our hands adorned the branches. Trains of tinsel along with strings of popcorn and cranberries girdled the tree.

Our father worked as an executive with Sears-Roebuck on Ponce de Leon, and it turned out that Santa used the Sears’ catalog as well. My sister and I spent countless hours dogearing pages and circling gifts in The Wish Book for the Jolly Old Elf’s attention.

Each December we piled into the car to view the neighborhood Christmas lights. The short ride typically ended with the children squabbling while our parents scolded, “Don’t make me come back there!”

On Christmas Eve, stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We prepared a note to accompany Santa’s midnight snack of milk and cookies. Then we settled into bed while visions of sugarplums toys danced in our heads.

Christmas morning dawned bright with wonder. When we opened the door to the living room, it felt like a Polar Express had magically transported us to the North Pole. We fell asleep exhausted that night, already anticipating the next Christmas a long year away.

We cannot travel back into the past. However, we can make memories with our loved ones in the present. May God grant all of us a grace-filled Advent and Christmas season, full of laughter, love, and joy.  

An Early Christmas

Dec 25

A Hallmark display recently caught my eye. A sign above the holiday greeting cards declared, “Christmas is December 25th!” Who knew?!? This is certainly helpful information!

Granted, Christmas Creep causes the holidays to arrive earlier each year. Retailers anxious for holiday sales rush the season. In September, Costco erected a Winter Wonderland of snowmen, penguins, and trees. Amazon launched Prime Days for early shopping in October. Sirius/XM radio premiered its holiday channels on November 1. And we are the midst of 40—count them, 40—new movies on Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas and Miracles of Christmas.

Personally, I have always resisted the Hallowthankmas madness, choosing to observe the day after Thanksgiving as the advent of the holiday season. However, this year I have experienced a Scrooge-like change of heart.

2020 has been a rough year: global pandemic, political polarization, racial unrest, social distancing, and economic challenges. To add insult to injury, A Charlie Brown Christmas will not be broadcast on network TV for the first time since 1965!

Therefore, this year I have decided to celebrate an early Christmas. I’m decking the halls and listening to holiday music. Eight Nativity Scenes adorn my office with a plugin, bubbling, candle ornament. I’ve been sipping eggnog since mid-November, and if I had some chestnuts, they would be roasting on an open fire!

I’ve also changed my Advent sermon plans. The revised Worship Series is entitled, “We Need a Little Christmas!”

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.