Monday, September 19, 2011


I've been privileged to speak at Emmanuel Church, Enid Oklahoma this past Sunday as well as the upcoming September 25th Sunday. 

They asked me to write a brief article for the bulletin on the concluding service of my being with them. I was glad to do so. I just sent it to be published next weekend. 

What I said I would like to pass along to you as well. I'm making a point that is very valuable, it seems to me, concerning those times the church gathers for worship. Do you agree?

I'm so glad for a fellowship that is real. Mary and I have traveled rather extensively and are experienced with attending every size and flavor of local congregations. Not all are real.

What I mean by that is that, all too often, "going to church" takes on a "mask" kind of mentality. Whatever shape or form that mask takes, its purpose is to hide the real person, especially if pain, hurt and struggle are all part of that person's journey. Who wants to be real when real isn't too pretty? Right?

Well, real is beautiful, if the truth be known, and the alternative of pretense and fakery are about as ugly as people can get.

Jesus lived in reality. The woman at the well was a benefactor of that reality. Her failures and hurts didn't turn Him away and were some of the stuff that made the reality of Jesus so potent in that encounter.

Every time Mary and I attend Emmanuel we go away with that sense of reality the woman at the well must have experienced in the Lord. Mary and I struggle and fail, [and are open about it] but just keep going in our journey together.  But that doesn't seem to bother you folks at Emmanuel. In fact, you seem to thrive on accepting people who are on that kind of messy journey. 

Well, here is a "thanks" from two who love sharing the real journey with you. It's been our joy to be with you the past two Sundays.

Paul B.


Johnny D. said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: from I know of Emmanuel and the pastor there, it is almost enough to make me want to sell everything, retire from my job and move there.

I'd love to find it exactly as you say, Paul. I don't hide myself much anymore. I think that I have noted here before how, this go round, I have a real sense of my own fallibility. I drink deeply at the well of God's grace. Man, that's some cool water. :-)

Paul Burleson said...

Johnny D,

I really like your comment and especially this...".I have a real sense of my own fallibility. I drink deeply at the well of God's grace. Man, that's some cool water. :-)"

That, my friend, is the cry of anyone honest in their journey of Grace. Thanks.

Aussie John said...


I reveled in your article, but had strong pangs of envy. How wonderful "fellowship that is real" truly is!

I, also,was about to comment on Johnny D's words which you quoted. He obviously knows what genuineness truly is.

It is many years since my wife and I have found "real" fellowship, apart from personal relationships with individual families and members of the Body of Christ.

A long time ago, we were invited to a Greek speaking Baptist church. We sat through the service only recognizing a word here or there (far too fast for my brain),and a few tunes, but afterwards we were overwhelmed with the reality of fellowship in that community of believers. The grace and love was absolutely tangible.

"Mary and I struggle and fail, [and are open about it]". My friend: Didn't you know that elders and their wives are supposed to be perfect, or, at least, pretend to be so?

Such an admission would bring down wrath from the higher echelons of church hierarchy, to whom I would pose your tongue in cheek question, "Who wants to be real when real isn't too pretty? Right?"

Christiane said...

"Who wants to be real when real isn't too pretty? Right?
Well, real is beautiful, if the truth be known, and the alternative of pretense and fakery are about as ugly as people can get."

good words, Paul

reminds me of something I read from a children's story where the oldest, most worn-out toy, the Skin Horse,
is speaking with a new toy, the Velveteen Rabbit:

""What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day . . . .

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time.

That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

(from the 'The Velveteen Rabbit')

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J, Christiane,

I'm always so moved by what you both share. You two live continents part, have never met, are from differing spiritual journeys, but are in the same rarified atmosphere of spiritual reality. What a blessing you both are to me!

Kate Johnson said...

Paul, it is because of your living in realness that the pastor of Emmanuel lives in realness and teaches his flock to live in realness.

You are so right, who wants to live in reality? It is why our ministry has such a hard time getting into the churches. Domestic abuse is too real for them. Sad, just sad.

The skin horse has it right (my favorite all time story) once you are real, you cannot be unreal again. It lasts for always... if only there were more churches who wanted it. My husband and I keep looking...

Paul Burleson said...


I appreciate your kind remarks. But the truth is it may be more of a chicken and egg thing with us and all our kids. [Did we come to some reality and assist them or did they come to reality and assisted us?]

It REALLY could be either way. I'm just glad we're all on the journey together.

It sounds like you and yours know the journey as well. Thanks for commenting.

Becky Dietz said...

I had to sit and let this percolate for about 24 hours after reading it.

There's something about our human nature to want to cover up--ever since my sister, Eve, I suspect. But where we're deceived is to believe we're presenting a beautiful facade. Covering up is still messy. I think of the churches who hide things under the carpet to appear to their community to have it all together. What they don't know is that their community knows the truth--and openly talk about it over coffee. And the stuff under the carpet grows and grows over time (because we're sweeping more and more under there) until we trip all over it when we try to walk on it. Nothing is truly hidden....maybe for a time, but eventually it's all exposed for what it really is.

How I wish we, as churches, were all real. I think in these days the pretenders will close their doors. If anything, this generation is searching for REAL and they quickly and wisely know if it is or isn't.
Blessings on Emmanuel! God bless us all with realness.

Aussie John said...


It's a blessing, and so interesting to read this conversation.

On the other hand it causes me sadness because so many of those who have gone before us, have, even with their pressing for the apex in performance, missed the joy of New Covenant living.

How sad it is that so many had to "help Christ out" in fulfilling His Father's purpose.

I know you once experienced what I did so long ago, of striving with an eye on the ten commandments, and whatever rules and regulations the church added, literally unaware of what Jesus meant when He said,"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me (be real), for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

That final cry from the cross,"Tetelestai", means nothing to believers if they continue to live the pretense that is so universal.

That one word is the most beautiful of words, and should set us free to be real, loving God and our neighbor as ourselves.

Kate Johnson said...

Paul, so it is a reciprocal relationship, yes I agree. We learn as much from them, if we are willing to do so. And that is the key which makes you a good dad and model. They may teach, but you are willing to listen and learn.