"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Lord, Be Thou My Vision - A Thanksgiving Poem

The Bible says, “In everything give thanks,”
but this is hard if I may be frank.
In my life there’s so much tension,
for this to happen, “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.” 

Luther cried “this world with devils filled,”
a knowledge that seems to take away the will
to accept my “giving thanks” mission.
So I ask, “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.”
The darkness hides Your smiling face.
Pressing on requires amazing grace.
I cannot see good with any precision,
I must pray “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.” 

Your power and love to me please show,
and grant that I'll be able to know,
 that when I make a “thanks giving” decision
I am experiencing “Lord, Be Thou My Vision.” 

So I pause and choose to give thanks today,
and join with my family and friends to say,
“We trust Your gracious, abounding provision,
for You have become our Thanksgiving vision.”

Wade Burleson
Dedicated this Thanksgiving 2014 to our friends, the Bakers, the Classens and the Shamburgs!

Four Things I Do When People Make Me Blue

Life is all about relationships. Relationships with people are as risky as they are beautiful. The people you and I love are seemingly capable of hurting us the most. Over the course of a lifetime of experiencing both helpful and hurtful relationships, I've learned a few things that help me when I'm in the middle of a rocky relationship with a friend or loved one.

I will focus on the trouble within me.

Every external action by me is the result of an internal reaction in me. I can't control the thoughts, actions, perceptions, or character of others I love, but I can trust the promise that "Jesus, who began a good work in me, will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:7). The problem I face is a heart problem, and the Great Physician is the only One who can give me a heart change. I am by nature selfish, vain, indulgent, and deceitful. Jesus alone can change me internally into a selfless, humble, disciplined, and transparent person. It requires the grace of God to transform me from what I am by my nature into what I am becoming by His grace. My focus needs to be on the trouble within me and the only Hope I have for real change. When I am only focused on the problems I perceive in others, I am never moving toward any real and lasting solutions for me.

I will believe the truth about me.

The world in which I live sends me all kinds of messages about me that are not true. When I am rejected for my poor performance, I am sent the message "People who perform are the only ones worth accepting." When I am abandoned because of the struggles occurring within me, the message sent is, "People who are perfect are the only ones worth loving." As long as I look to the world for the messages about me, I will never find true happiness or satisfaction. Like the Apostle Paul I must come to the place where I believe "I am what I am by the grace of God" (I Corinthians 15:10).  Until I understand that the only thing worth believing about me is what the One who created me thinks of me, I will never find true soul satisfaction and happiness. So, what is it that is true about me by the grace of God in Jesus? I am loved. I am forgiven. I am accepted. I am guided. I am blessed. I am ... all this and more by the grace of God. That's the truth about me, and that is who I am - regardless of what others say. And, by the way, if others don't think this about me, that's not my problem. My problem is the internal need to have others think good things about me instead of depending solely on what Jesus thinks.

I will pass the test before me.

Uh-oh. I hate tests. Hate them. What test am I talking about? It's this one: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32).  How free am I really? This is the test.  How free am I from having to depend upon the actions, words, or moods of others for my happiness? How free am I from the need to manipulate and control people to do what I need in order to feel good about myself or my situation? How free am I to live life and love people regardless of the choices that other people make? Freedom is a result of truth. When I am focused on the trouble within me, refusing to believe my problems are the people around me, and when I believe the truth about me as Jesus declares it, then I pass the freedom test. When I fail the test, I am known for the bondage I create. I put people in bondage through my deceptive manipulations and selfish control. I put myself in bondage by worrying and fretting over what people are thinking about me or perceiving of me. So I must ask:  Are the people I love free to be _____? (fill in the blank). Or, am I creating bondage by manipulating and controlling people to make them  _______?  (fill in the blank).  When I can't pass the test of freedom I am not focusing on the problem within me nor I am believing the truth about me.

I will rejoice in the trials around me.

There's a huge difference between 'enjoy' and 'rejoice.' My tribulations are not always enjoyable (sometimes they suck big time), but in every affliction I can rejoice! Rejoice is a choice. "I will rejoice in my tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about ... character!" (Romans 5:3). Every trial that comes my way is not caused by Jesus, but Jesus guarantees me that He 'orchestrates' all things for my good (Romans 8:28). Jesus is not so much interested in my pleasure or comfort as He is my personal character. Remember that trouble that is within me? My character is such that I am a needy, greedy and often seedy individual that Jesus (by His grace) is transforming into a loving, giving and serving character who looks a lot like Him. "And we all (we Jesus followers) ... are being transformed into His image" (II Corinthians 3:18). It's definitely a work in progress, but when I do these four things during difficulties in a human relationship, I keep the emphasis where it needs to be - on God doing a work in me!

The Artificial Divide Between Secular and Sacred

Like every religious organization, Emmanuel Enid does some things that require 'announcements.' We've chosen for a variety of reasons to play our 5 Before announcement videos five minutes before the worship services begin. Most of the time, these announcement videos are pictorial, with a musical underscore.

Several months ago we noticed very few people were paying attention to the announcement videos. So one Sunday, we experimented a little and played the song Let It Go from the movie Frozen to underscore the announcements. An amazing thing happened. The instant Let It Go began playing, every child under 14 looked up at the screen and began paying attention to the announcement of a new AWANA children's program we were launching.

Since that day, we've played music during the announcements that you normally wouldn't hear in a 'religious service.' We've played Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" from the movie Despicable Me, Imagine Dragons song "I'm on Top of the World," and we will possibly use Ceelo's and the Muppets song "All I Need Is Love" for December, or maybe music from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I recently received a letter from a church member who asked some excellent questions about playing "secular" music during the announcements. Another person who watches our services online also wrote and asked similar things. A summary of their queries include: (1). What about character of the artist that is singing? (2). What about other songs that the artist may sing? (3). Though 'secular' music is enjoyed by all, should a 'secular' song be played in a sacred church service?

I responded to our church member with the following email.

Thanks for your kind email. I appreciate your transparency on the auditorium. We did have a purpose in the redesign, and it was not for the small portion of the congregation that attends REFUGE,  but the large portion of Enid that doesn't attend church anywhere. We feel that in the few weeks we've been in the auditorium that several unchurched people are beginning to attend REFUGE. I have some specific illustrations, but I think I'll move to the question about secular songs in the pre-service music.
There is a reason behind the decision. The first time we used secular music in the pre-service announcement slide we chose the song Let It Go, I did an unscientific survey that morning and watched the kids. An amazing thing happened. Nobody was paying any attention to the announcements, but when we started the title song from Frozen, every child within my view looked UP and paid attention to the announcement about the new AWANA'S Program. Our decision to play secular music is based upon people paying attention - it seems some tune out the songs that are traditionally played in pre-service announcements.
I agree with you that the lives of some of the artists (including Pharrell Williams) don't always reflect Christian character. In addition, OTHER songs that the artist sings don't always reflect Christian values. We agree.
However, we think you'll find that many Christian artists have the same issues. Not always do Christian artists lives reflect Christian character. In addition, there are SOME songs that are sung by Christian artists that we would not agree with theologically. Nevertheless, our disagreement with the artist's OTHER songs doesn't necessarily mean we can't express agreement in the message of some of their songs.
Finally, it's our desire to not separate the 'secular' from the 'spiritual' (or sacred)." Personally, we believe  in life and all life is spiritual - even when a Christian is listening to country music. We want people to feel that what you do in a church building is no different than what you do in a truck or car. So if it's fine to listen to some country music in your car, it would be fine to listen to that same country music in a church building. With that said, I'd suggest you offer us a country song that we can choose to play in the pre-service portion of our worship service for December or January.
We do go over the words of songs VERY CAREFULLY and discuss what is being said before the song is approved. If we feel there is something in the song that does not reflect our 'values' or mission statement, then the song will not be played.
I hope that answers your question!
I'd like to focus one phrase I used in the above email: - "It's our desire to not separate the 'secular' from the 'spiritual' (or sacred)."

The word 'sacred' comes from the Latin "to make holy.' It is the root word for 'sacrament' which is something that 'is made holy' by a priest's blessing. To the religious crowd of the Middle Ages, the sacred was segmented from the profane (Latin: "before the fence"). Contrary to the New Testament teaching that the ekklesia is the body of Christ, and wherever we go, Christ is, Christians in the Middle Ages began to compartmentalize their lives. The 'sacred' things they did occurred 'inside the fence' of the church (building) and everything else they did (outside the fence - i.e. 'profane') was NOT sacred. So, in the mind of a Christian during the Middle Ages, he could do things outside of 'church' that he would never consider doing 'inside' a church (building).

We think that divide between secular and sacred is artificial. Our belief, which we believe is biblical and inspired of the Spirit, is that if it is okay for a believer in Jesus Christ to listen to music outside a church building, then its okay for a believer in Jesus Christ to listen to the same music inside the church building.

Our kids listen to the music from Frozen.  Our members work out at the YMCA with Happy playing loudly as they lift weights. Our radio stations will play constantly All I Need Is Love this Christmas season, sung by Ceelo and the Muppets. If we aren't offended with the songs outside the church building, then there's no reason to be offended with them inside the church building.

We are the church.

We live life, and the presence of Christ in us makes this life very special.

As Michael Stewart eloquently writes:
Many people (wrongly) view their lives as divided into separate, unrelated parts. There are the parts that some view as secular, such as work, hobbies and recreation. These parts occur outside a sacred place, such as a church, and therefore are not related, in their minds, to faith. Then there are parts that are usually identified with a sacred place. A subtle dualism has developed among many people that divorces the sacred from anything that is considered secular.
Living out one's faith should be a natural overflow of the soul-stream within. Faith is interwoven into life, not reduced to a mere Sunday ritual. The principles of the Bible guide decisions, plans and actions.
This understanding of the unity of the sacred and the secular means, for the believer, nothing is secular. Everything one does, thinks or feels has something to do with God. The Bible presents a challenge: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
The challenge is to live in the fullness of this unity. The marketplace and the church hold opportunities to fight the dualism of thought and live as a whole person for God.