Friday, November 30, 2012

Truth in Dialogue: A Model for Evangelical Conversation with Other Faiths

My new friend Emre Celik,, President of the Rumi Forum in Washington, D.C.

Last night, I was given the honor of addressing the 5th annual Dialogue Dinner sponsored by the Maryland Turkish American Inhabitants.  This annual event is attended by people from a multiplicity of faiths and background in Maryland, so the room was filled with business leaders, academics, politicians, and others who have worked closely with this organization over the years.  My relationship with these dear people began a little over a year ago, as an attempt by both sides for Christians and Muslims in central Maryland to understand more about each other.

Since our initial meeting, a group of pastors from our network of churches was invited to their country, and we toured the Republic of Turkey together for nine days.  I've written more about that trip here, and was asked last night to speak to a diverse audience about our experiences there.

So there I was, a follower of Jesus, an evangelical preacher of the Gospel, and a regional leader of local and global missions, standing in front of a room full of mainline Protestants, Muslims, secularists, state political leaders, and other public servants.   What on earth do you say in a context like that?

I didn't have all the answers, and I still don't.  However, I'm happy that the evening went very, very well.  I was afforded the opportunity in this environment to share my faith, as well as talk about how adherents to various faiths and no faith can live together in the same nation.  This is the essence of religious freedom, and the perfect environment to ensure that conversion, if it happens, is genuine and no coerced.  I was delighted afterwards at the positive reaction of our Muslim friends, but even more so, I was encouraged by fellow pastors who confirmed my  accurate representation what our churches believe.

I continue to learn much through this continuing conversation, and I'm grateful to my Muslim friends for giving me the opportunity to stretch myself.  I'm still an evangelical follower of Jesus who would like nothing more than to see the whole world recognize Him as God very God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  But even as I share my faith, I do it realizing that these folks are not my "projects."  They are, and are still becoming very dear friends.  

As we continue to walk together, three dominant principles have emerged that I think have helped our conversation.

1. Don't compromise your faith.  For one thing, if we all did that, the whole "peace through understanding and dialogue" movement would be a moot point.  The fact is that we have some very, very deep differences; differences in which eternity hangs in the balance.  But what I've found in this experience is that our Muslim friends have much more respect for you if you are simply honest about what you believe.  Just be sure when that truth comes out that it is accompanied by the "gentleness and respect" 1 Peter 3:15 demands.

2. Seek to understand the real distinctions.  Don't argue over the fake ones.  I spoke last night toward our national propensity to see Islam as an inherently violent faith, and how that propensity creates a dangerous myopia that can actually stoke more violence.  Let there be no mistake; our differences center around the person and identity of Jesus, not terrorism. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that genuine love assumes the best (see verse 7), which means that when we begin a conversation automatically assuming our Muslim friend is exactly what FOX News says he/she is, we never really get to know that person.  When it comes to people of other faiths, spend time with them.  Live life with them.  Assume you don't understand where they are coming from, ask them questions, and LISTEN.

3. Commit to a friendship that is unconditional.  I love the way my friend Bob Roberts expresses this sentiment when he says "don't serve to covert, but serve because you have been converted."  I have family members who do not know Jesus, yet I continue to take their phone calls, visit them at the holidays, and love them because of who they are.  Likewise, those who follow other faiths are very much a part of our larger human "family."  No, they are not "brothers and sisters in Christ," but we are nonetheless tied together by our common humanity.  They are created in God's own image and likeness, and we should love them unconditionally.  That kind of love and acceptance is the ideal atmosphere in which genuine friendships can be developed, and our faith can be shared.

I'm still far from having all the answers on this issue, as the speech transcript below will no doubt reveal.  But my hope is that the wider body of Christ can produce more models for reaching out to our neighbors in other faiths, and that in the process we can learn to honor Jesus, and each other.

Speech to the Maryland Turkish American Inhabitants
“Peace through Education and Dialogue”
Thursday, November 29, 2012, Pikesville Hilton Hotel, Baltimore
Joel O. Rainey, Ph.D.

            It is truly a pleasure to be standing in front of you tonight, and to share some recent experiences that our group of pastors had in the Republic of Turkey with our new friends.  And tonight, I think it is very important that I be clear how much I mean that.

            An interfaith dinner is a strange place to find an Evangelical Christian.  For anyone in the room who follows professional football, it’s a little like finding a Pittsburgh Steelers fan at M&T Bank Stadium wearing purple, but I am brave enough to stand in this room tonight and admit to you, both that I am, and I have. So I am very accustomed to being in places you wouldn’t expect me to be.  I trust that this admission won't result in my being tarred and feathered after this event.  After all, your team has already done enough damage to mine this season.

            But I do stand here as an evangelical Christian, who leads a network of more than 60 evangelical churches, and typically, we just aren’t the sort to be found at events like this.  And I think my presence speaks well of our Turkish friends, and their high capacity for developing unlikely relationships. They have modeled for me what it means for two people of very different faiths to walk together, and I am very grateful to them for their example, and for their friendship.

            It was through our new friends that I first heard the name Fetullah Gulen.  The trip I and our pastors took two months ago was largely for the purpose of seeing with our own eyes how Mr. Gulen’s influence is shaping not only Turkey, but the wider Muslim world for the better, and so my curiosity was raised even more about this man.  Who is he?  And why would he want those who follow his example to reach out to people like me?   

            I spent a good deal of time reading Gulen’s writings, and I was particularly interested in his theology.  After all, I am a pastor and those tend to be the circles in which I walk.  And what I discovered is that from the perspective of belief, Fetullah Gulen is very much an “old school” Sunni Muslim preacher.  Many of his writings aggressively defend the Koran as the written Word of God.  I discovered a man who is serious about his own faith, and who believes deeply and profoundly in the following words from the Koran; “Say he is Allah, the one and only.  Allah, the eternal, absolute.  He begets not, nor is He begotten.” [Surah 112]  And initially, I found it strange that a man who believes such things would want to reach out to me.  I serve a network of churches that believes God not only had a Son, but that the ultimate way in which He has demonstrated His love for the world—including everyone in this room--is by giving that Son to die and bear the wrath of God as our substitute so that we can be redeemed.  But as I continued to research Mr. Gulen, I discovered a man who is anxious to reach out to people of other faiths, regardless of significant differences, and I have gained a profound respect for his ability to balance strong conviction with a desire to promote peace among all people.

            I love this quote from his book Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, “With the blessings and beneficence of God, we are going to do our best to help this breeze of tolerance and dialogue to continue blowing.” Among those who have answered Gulen’s call to this vision are those who host us tonight, and they are people who I am honored to call friends. 

These friends recently hosted a group of our pastors for a nine day visit to Turkey, and because of their hospitality, we were able to witness first-hand the good that is being done by our friends in this part of the world.  We saw things transpiring in that part of the world that I honestly have never read about in the Baltimore Sun, or seen on CNN.  I understand that it takes bad news to sell papers and increase Nielsen ratings, but the good things we witnessed there stand in great contrast to how most Americans perceive the so-called “Muslim world.” 

Among the great things we saw were Gulen-inspired institutions of higher learning.  In Konya, home of the 13th century philosopher Rumi, we visited Mevlana University, where students from all over the world come to study education, law, medicine, engineering and business.   In Sanliurfa, less than 30 miles from the violence that has recently occurred across the Syrian border, our pastors and I spent the day in a place where Turkish, Arabs, Kurdish, Jews and Christians have lived in peace for 1000 years.  One young pharmacist who lives there and is part of this movement told me “I want to take what we have done in this city, and spread peace across the border and throughout this part of the world.  I want my city to be the starting gate for peace!”  I love his heart, and I’m hopeful for a world where that heart is shared by all of us.

It was Istanbul where our pastors were introduced to an organization called Kimse Yok Mu, a non-profit disaster relief organization that since its inception in 2002 has brought help and relief to more than 60 countries.  We were also introduced to the good people at the Journalists and Writers Foundation, an organization that provides six very distinct platforms for dialogue and the promotion of peace among adherents to the world’s religions.

One of the most impressive things we learned about was their food.  I’m more than just an evangelical Christian, I’m also a Baptist, and we Baptists place a high value on food!  And theirs was amazing!  I have never tasted better lamb, and ever since returning to the states I’ve been on a seemingly hopeless search for mirash, which is a form of ice cream that has left me completely dissatisfied with what my local grocery store offers.  And of course, there is the baklava, which makes me believe our Turkish friends have stumbled onto the recipe for the manna that God provided Moses and his followers in the Egyptian wilderness.  It was exquisite!

Of course, the real benefit of a meal is the opportunity to get to know those with whom you are dining.  My primary role in my work is to be  a mobilizer of churches for intercultural work here in the Baltimore-Washington region, and around the world.  This means that I’ve had the opportunity to be in the company of people from almost every nation and tribe.  But I can tell you that when it comes to hospitality and graciousness, my Turkish friends cannot be matched!  By hosting us in their home country, they have given us an incredible gift, and an experience that I think has changed all of us for the better.  As I reflect on what we have learned from each other thus far, there are some lessons that my friends taught me on this trip that I want to share with you tonight.

The first lesson is this; the movement we witnessed in Turkey, while appearing on the surface to be a “young man’s movement,” actually embodies the power of cross-generational effort.  Many young people have responded to Fetullah Gulen’s call to service, but while in Turkey we also observed older generations responding to that young passion for world-change with financial support, and other resources necessary to accomplish their goals.  It was not uncommon for us to see this kind of cooperation carried out by three or four generations of Turkish people, all of whom were committed to these goals of peace and prosperity for their nation.

Second, these are people who speak quickly, boldly, and loudly to the violent elements of their faith, and in doing so, they teach all of us to speak against the violent tendencies within our own spheres of influence.  Our group landed in Istanbul less than a week after the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, and our friends were quick to condemn the violence.  And as we have discussed this and other issues, I have discovered that our friends genuinely abhor violence committed in the name of their faith.  It is their strong opposition to these elements that has challenged this Christian to examine my own responses to violence that is sometimes committed in the name of Jesus.

When most of what we see of Islam in the media consists of images like masked men shooting a young girl for no more than simply wanting an education, the temptation is to see such violence as inherent in Islam itself.  But when we look at a picture like that and simply conclude “That is Islam,” we are too quickly forgetting that extremists of every sort and kind often appeal to their faith of origin as a source of authority.  I am a native southerner, and have examples of such violence in my own family tree: individuals who also intimidated minorities and the weak, and did so while hiding behind a white mask, and with a burning cross in the background.  As a follower of Jesus, I’m thankful that no one pointed at that picture and said “There is Christianity!”  And I’m grateful to be in agreement with Muslim friends who believe with me that neither of our religions should be defined by the cowards among us who would commit such atrocity, nor should we tolerate those within our own ranks who seek to do harm to others created in God’s own image and likeness.

Third, the dialogue they advocate is the very kind of “public square” discourse that makes for a healthy society.  As Americans, we rightly resist what Evangelical social critic Os Guinness calls a “sacred square,” wherein our social standards and body of law are based on one specific religion.  In a pluralistic and democratic society, the sacred square is impossible to maintain peacefully.  But while we are wise to resist “theocracy” as more progressive pundits have called it, neither can we have what Guinness calls a “naked square.”  Somehow, many of us in the U.S. have developed the idea that religious conviction isn’t just personal, but private, and therefore should not be an appropriate subject of national discussion.  The problem with that assumption is that faith touches the deepest and most meaningful part of who we are as human beings.  From a personal perspective, my relationship with Jesus Christ isn’t limited to what I do on Sunday.  It defines the totality of who I am, so if I can’t talk to you about my faith, you can’t really get to know me. Similarly, if a person sincere in any faith isn’t allowed to share that faith because of perceived cultural taboo, we never get to truly know and understand each other. 

While abroad, I experienced people who are quick to speak of their faith in God, who are willing to hear about our faith, and wrestle with us through the implications of our differences in a way that is respectful of each other.  This is the kind of atmosphere that illustrates well what Christian social observers call a “civil public square,” and in an ironic way, I was delighted to find its full expression in a nation whose predominant religious affiliation is Islam.  If done with respect for the image of God stamped on all of us, talking about our differences, and even urging each other to consider the truth of our respective faiths out of concern for each other can build a strong, healthy relationship of the sort we need so badly in our own country. After our visit, I’m convinced that our Turkish friends are highly qualified by their own experience to teach us how to have precisely this kind of conversation. 

Our group learned much while abroad with our new friends, and we look forward to learning even more as we continue to walk together.  We look forward to engaging with them in matters of common interest, and to building the sort of genuine friendship that demonstrates our common humanity in powerful ways.  If invited by these precious people to visit their country with them, I urge you to accept the invitation.  Clear your calendar and go!   And when you do, be prepared for the world to open to you in ways you may not have thought possible.  I’d like to thank my friends at MARTI for allowing me to share our experiences, and thanks to all of you for being here tonight.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

At Least One Good Thing to Buy This Weekend!

To my pastor-friends, and other serious students of Scripture, my good friends at Lifeway recently sent me a new copy of the HCSB Study Bible for review.  I like it, and wanted to share a way that you can get it cheap this weekend!

Just this morning, I used it in preparation for a message I'll be preaching in late December.  The hardback edition comes with all the standard "bells and whistles" one would expect from a comprehensive study Bible (study notes, bullet points, cross-referencing tools, maps, book introductions and timelines) but also includes a fairly comprehensive word study tool.  Its a great edition to the library of any serious student of Scripture, and also a great resource for pastors.

You can click here and buy it on Amazon.  Or, if you are willing to brave Christmas shopping traffic (or if you already planned on being one of the crazies out in it anyway!) you can pick it up at any Lifeway store this Friday or Saturday for $10.00!

The HCSB is not my preferred translation (I use ESV when I preach), but it is certainly a solid and accurate reflection of both the Greek and Hebrew texts that I often consult when comparing translation approaches.  Plus, the exegetical tools that come included with this study Bible make it well worth much more than the $10  you can get it for this weekend!

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday, and be careful out there on Friday!   :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How a Repentant Racist Became the Father of a Multi-Ethnic Family

I love the above video for several reasons.  Though I grew up two decades after "separate but equal," insipid racism was still very present in my childhood hometown of Greer, South Carolina.

Which meant that for me, racism was normal.  My attitudes toward African Americans as a child growing up in the south didn't seem wrong to me, because I never knew any other way to relate to those whose skin tone was different from my own.  Thankfully, I grew up in a Christian home where I was taught that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and are therefore equal, and this teaching, like a thorn in my side for years, continued to convict me when these issues would arise.  Unfortunately, my culture of origin was still struggling with the idea of actually applying said Biblical teaching to race relations.

One of the last vestiges of this mentality was my belief that interracial relationships were sinful.  In fact, South Carolina law until around 1990 made it illegal in the state for two people of different races to wed, and I believed this was justified on the basis of some horrible exegesis of very select Scriptural texts.  It was only in college while studying for the ministry that a godly Professor challenged my thinking and did so on the basis of the inerrancy of the Bible.  "If you really believe the Bible is completely authoritative," he said, "then you had better re-examine your opposition to interracial relationships based on what Scripture alone teaches!"

Funny thing about Biblical inerrancy: it often challenges some very entrenched, very traditional, very conservative beliefs!  By God's grace, I was a changed man.

Two years ago, with the adoption of our daughter into our family, we became a multi-ethnic family.  Just recently I was asked by someone from my hometown how I would handle the "dating years," given that our little girl is Asian and we are white.  "What are your expectations on who she goes out with?"  My answer was quick and clear.  "If she honors her father, then my expectations will be met when she dates and/or marries a Christian man who loves Jesus with all his heart.  The color of his skin does not matter to me.  The condition of his soul means everything."

How can someone who just two decades ago rejected interracial relationships as sin say something like that?  The simple answer is, the Gospel!

The video above is about a year old now, and the outstanding book it promotes can be purchased here. I love and appreciate men like John Piper who came before me, and who challenged the cultural thinking of 1960s south.  Likewise, this story in many ways echoes my own journey.   I encourage you to watch, and worship God for how He has used, and continues to use the Gospel to bring together every nation, tribe and tongue.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Prayer for our President

Father, thank you for the humble confidence you have given me to come directly to your throne through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  I come to you at this early hour, and in the wake of last nights election results, to ask your richest blessings on President Barack Obama, his family, his staff, his cabinet, and others who advise him.

I thank you for living in a nation where, even in the current environment of hostility, the transfer of power comes at the ballot box and not at the end of a gun barrel.  And I thank you that last night in your infinite wisdom, you directed events and ultimately anointed this man to lead our country for another four years.  I bring him to you because we who are your followers are commanded to do so, but I thank you for the grateful heart you have given me to obey that command.

I pray, first of all, for the President personally.  I ask that you continue to bless him with good health, and with the wisdom and knowledge necessary to lead this great country.  I pray for his continued abilities as a husband and father.  I thank you that, with whatever disagreements I may have with him, I can point my two sons toward the White House and our President and say to them "this is how a real husband and father treats his family."  I can direct my daughter's gaze toward our President as an example of the kind of caring, family-centered man for whom she needs to wait.  Thank you for his example, and I pray that you would multiply that example throughout our nation in a way that heals the family brokenness that permeates our land.

I pray for his wife Michelle, and for their two daughters, who must live in a house of glass, and who must hear their husband/father criticized and ripped apart on a daily basis.  Give them strength to endure, and to be a blessing to him.  I pray that you would protect this entire family from harm, from sickness, and from hostility.  May they grow in love toward each other over these next four years in a way that will prove your presence in their lives.

I pray for wisdom as he begins a second term in the midst of a troubled country. I ask you to grant a spirit of cooperation between the President and our Congress, and that you would give them the collective wisdom to solve our economic problems.  In the midst of this, I pray for the courage to, when necessary, even look at the country that elected him and to speak prophetically about our greed--individual, corporate, and government--which has brought about much of the misery that we now experience.  I thank you for a President that wants to serve his country, not worship it, and ask that this same boldness would be directed at us in a way that challenges us to be a better people

I pray that you grant him wisdom as he seeks to relate to other nations.  Give him strength and resolve as he deals with the enemies of human rights and freedom around the world, and grant him prudence as he leads a nation that, too often, has sought to bring "peace" by flexing the muscles of our military.  I ask these things with the recognition that I am not in the "situation room" and therefore am largely ignorant of the complexities of what transpires in that room.  But I do realize that your own wisdom is needed in so many of these situations, and I ask you to grant that wisdom to President Obama.

I also ask that you give him moral courage that would cause him to sometimes be found in opposition to his own party.  Where abortion is concerned, I thank you for the way he has focused the attention of many "pro-life" people on the plight in which so many women find themselves, and I ask you to give us the collective wisdom to minister effectively in the midst of such moral complexity.  At the same time, more than 1.5 million human beings created in your image and likeness are murdered every year with the blessing of this President's administration.  Over the next four years, this issue will play a major role in everything from foreign aid to Executive orders to the abortifacient mandate to the appointment of Supreme Court justices.  In those moments, I ask you to change his heart by shattering it as his eyes are opened to the carnage caused by our current culture of death.  Likewise, his earnest and sincere desire for "fairness" and "equality" have clouded a clear and God-honoring view of marriage and the family.  I ask that you give him changed convictions, and accompanying moral courage to stand rightly on these issues.  Make him a prophet to his own party and to our entire nation on these issues.

Finally, I pray that over these next four years, you would draw President Obama closer to you.  I ask that in the midst of long hours and unspeakable stress that you would give him rest.  I also ask that you would burden your people to pray for him daily.  When we are tempted to criticize, help us to pray instead.  When we are tempted to show disrespect and withhold honor from this man to whom you have commanded we show honor, bring us to repentance.  When he makes a decision that we believe honors you, may we publicly applaud him regardless of party affiliation.

I bring all of this to you, knowing that it is you who make entire Kingdoms to rise and fall.  It is you who holds the hearts of kings in your hand and give them direction.  It is you who directs the affairs of men and nations.  And it is in you and you alone that all of us, including our President, find our ultimate hope.  Such hope is undeserved by people such as we, and so I thank you for giving it in your grace, and pray that you would give more in the months to come.  I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, before whom all of us, including our President, will one day stand, Amen.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Country Music and a Broad View of the World: Having a Healthy, God-honoring View of Culture.

I'm from the south, where the tea is sweet, the people are hospitable, the kudzu spreads like a wildfire in California, and where pickup trucks are considered essential for survival.  Even after living in the northeast for nearly a decade, my accent still quickly reveals my geographic roots.

One other important hallmark of my culture of origin is our love for country music--something that most people in the churches I serve are willing to tolerate in their Director of Missions.  Working with 9 different ethno-linguistic people groups who are in turn trying to reach the 51 additional people groups in our area will force you to appreciate cultural diversity, and I do.  But at heart, I'm still a redneck from South Carolina who often finds himself missing his home, but simultaneously loving the people God has surrounded me with here in Maryland.  And thankfully, a recent single in the country music world has hit airwaves and ipods everywhere that expresses this sentiment well, and also reflects a healthy understanding of our cultural roots juxtaposed against the cultural diversity that exists in this world our God has created.

The song of which I speak is "Southern Comfort Zone," written and performed by Brad Paisley.  Though I'm a big fan of his, this is the first time I've mentioned him on the blog.  For one thing, after 16 straight #1 hits and several handfuls of awards, Brad hardly needs a guy like me to promote his art.  But this particular song is spot-on in its description of how a broader view of the world is developed without abandoning or rejecting outright one's culture of origin.  And for anyone who is called to missions, this balance is critically essential.

Another colleague who oversees church planting in the northeast region and I were talking about three weeks ago, and anecdotally comparing profiles of the best--and worst--church planters we have worked with over the years.  And when we compared these guys solely against the broadness of their worldview, we came up with the following generalized taxonomy:

Best Church Planter:  Someone who is from the area where he wants to start a church, but has lived at least a part of his life in another part of the world.
Good Church Planter:  Someone who is from an area outside of where he intends to start a church, but has lived in at least one other part of the world besides his culture of origin.
Fair Church Planter:  Someone from an area outside of where he intends to start a church who has never lived anywhere else.
Worst Church Planter:  Someone from the area where he wants to start a church who has never lived outside that area.

Now, it should be stressed again that this taxonomy ONLY takes into account the issue of cultural exposure, and there are many more factors that combine with this to determine the propensity for success or failure.  I should also state that I've seen guys who belong in the "worst" category above who have done a fabulous job of reaching people with the Gospel and congregating them into churches in their own context.  But generally speaking, this is what we have observed.

And notice the difference between categories three and four.  Generally speaking, in my area I'd  have someone from the south who has never lived outside the south plant a church in Maryland before I'd have someone from Maryland who has only lived in Maryland.  And the reason for this is simple. The first guy will be forced by his new surroundings to become more culturally aware, while the second guy will more easily remain in his "comfort zone" and as a result, never effectively penetrate areas of lostness, even if those areas are located in surroundings that are very familiar to him.

In other words, exposure to areas and people outside one's culture of origin broadens your view of the world, and the broader the view, the more potent one's cross-cultural skills can become, and the more healthy, balanced, and God-honoring one's view of culture is likely to be.  Conversely, an unbalanced view of culture can easily lead to one of two extremes.  

On the one hand, there is the tendency towards cultural syncretism; a view of culture that assumes no ultimate standard by which all people and cultures should be judged and thus, which thoughtlessly accomodates even the unhealthy values and mores of a culture.  On the other hand, many evangelical Christians are more prone to cultural isolationism.  To a large extent, this is because of a confusion between "culture" and what the Bible describes as "worldliness."  "Worldliness" is simply a description for attitudes and actions that are opposed to the values of the Kingdom of God.  Greed, selfishness, sexual immorality, and other things which betray a disregard for God and His laws are, by Scriptural definition, "worldly."  But not everything that is cultural is worldly by that standard and, in fact, most things aren't!  As my friend Ed Stetzer has often stated, indiscriminately screaming at culture is like screaming at someone's house.  Its just where they live.

A balanced and God-honoring view of culture, by contrast, understands that cultures, like the people who create and maintain them, contain values, mores, assumptions, and practices that reflect the image and likeness of God, and also contain things that reflect the fall.

I have little doubt, for example, that the strong Protestant work-ethic, stress on keeping one's word, chivalrous views of how women should be respected, hospitality, and sense of community promoted by my culture of origin all reflect the image of God.  I'm equally convinced that our racist history, stubbornness, and tendency to feel culturally superior(among other things)  are a reflection of the fact that rednecks are fallen in sin too!  That awareness will bring an appropriate balance when seeking to bring the Gospel to bear on that culture.  

It will also keep us from a sense of cultural superiority.  I love my culture of origin, but it is no better than any other human culture on the planet.  On a micro-level, this means that while I personally appreciate biscuits and gravy more than kim-chee, I have no cause to feel superior to my Korean brothers and sisters in Christ.  On a macro-level, it means I will bristle at a phrase like "American Exceptionalism" when I know its being used to forward the idea of this nation as inherently superior to all other sovereign nation-states on the planet.  As a Christian, I believe in an eternal Kingdom that will one day supplant all earthly ones, including the United States of America.  So I don't have time for games of cultural and national one-upmanship.  The King is coming, and He expects me to have higher aspirations than this.

But that same King has also, through the Gospel, declared an ultimate standard by which all peoples and cultures will be judged.  Therefore, sin must be confronted wherever it is found, and in whatever culture it is found.  Striking this balance is not easy, but it is the essential work of those who presume to be active in God's mission of bringing the whole world back to Himself.

All of this brings me back to Paisley's newest single.  What I appreciate about the song is the way in which it aspires to the very kind of balance I've described above.  It is not only possible to be connected to your roots while simultaneously seeing the beauty of the whole world, it is healthy.  And when all of these observations are viewed through the lens of the Gospel, that balance leads to genuine worship.  I've personally had the privilege of engaging in missionary work on five continents, and our Association is involved in missions on every inhabited continent on the globe.  Through this exposure to the myriad of cultures that exist, I've seen the beauty of God's own image shine like a multi-faceted diamond.  Conversely, I've witnessed and experienced the ugliness of sin in a way that brings physical nausea, and I've become more convinced than ever of the truth of the  Christian Gospel.  Outside the Bible itself, nothing will give you a passion for God and His mission any more than being exposed to the world He created and is in the process of bringing back to Himself.

I love the culture of my roots.  Like everyone else, much of who I am is the direct result of my culture of origin, and those life experiences make that part of the world, and the people who live there very precious to me.  But many years ago God moved my family and me outside that "southern comfort zone" to experience people and places that have broadened our view of what He is doing in that world.  Revelation 7 declares that in the end, every nation, tribe and tongue will worship Jesus.

He loves them all, and so should we!  So take a moment and enjoy a taste of music from my culture of origin!  And in the process, internalize the lyrics you hear in a way that allows you a broader view of the world Jesus died to save.