Thabiti Anyabwile|1:20 am CT

Ja Rule Exposes My Sinful Heart

This week Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live interviewed rapper Ja Rule about life after a two-year prison sentence, his new movie, “I’m in Love with a Church Girl” and his newfound faith. Much of the hip hop community has been abuzz with the news of Ja’s faith. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the full 19-minute segment.

00:50   Introduction to his new movie, “I’m in Love with a Church Girl”
02:00   Parallels between the movie’s main character and his own life
04:50   How he feels about his career right now?
05:40   Perspective on his prison experience
07:30   Talks about his new music projects
09:10   Relationship with 50 Cent and obligation to be a role model
12:10   Was he ahead of his time?
13:23   His new relationship with God
15:38   First impression of Hillsong Church (NYC)
18:20   What he teaches his sons and daughter as privileged children

When a young brother at the church asked if I’d seen the interview, I quietly suspected Ja Rule’s profession might be like a long line of incredible testimonies by celebrities looking to turn over a new leaf. I confess: I’m somewhat jaded by awards shows and interviews featuring artists whose work glamorizes sin while they claim to know God. From Al Green’s on-again-off-again relationship with R&B and gospel to Kanye West’s “I’m a Christian,” I find it difficult not to be skeptical.

But as I watched Hill’s interview with Ja Rule, I found a number of things working in my heart that it’s better to confess than suppress. I kept blinking at some logs and thought I’d share a few.

1. I realized I didn’t know and wasn’t interested to know Ja Rule. More than likely I heard his music and with mild disdain or self-righteousness turned it off and blamed him for destroying the community.

2. I never prayed for Ja. His conversion has nothing to do with my petitions for I never petitioned for his conversion. I’m aware of how often I’ve used my lungs to complain about and criticize secular hip hop and how little I’ve used my lungs to cry to God for the men and women involved in it.

3. I was struck by the surprising reversals and cunning providence of God. Ja said when he was poor he was sure he would go to jail; then when he was successful he was sure he would never go to jail. In His rich mercy, God spared him jail when he had nothing to lose and sent him to prison when he had everything to lose. The ways of God are not my ways; His thoughts are far higher than my own. “He who observes providence will have providences to observe.” (Flavel)

4. Legalistic religion “puts a black eye” on the gospel. I was surprised to learn Ja grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. I was saddened to hear, once again, how deeply bruised and resistant legalism left him. The Law kills. Yet I suspect my inner Pharisee makes himself known more often than I’m aware.

5. I’m tempted to not celebrate the work of grace in a sinner’s life. I’m tempted to doubt their testimony and conversion. I’m like those members of the early church who heard of Paul’s conversion and responded with more than a little apprehension and doubt.

6. I’m tempted to doubt the power of the gospel to save. Even though I know and I preach the ability of the gospel to save terrorists. Why would I doubt that a man like Ja Rule (which is to say, a man like every other man in sin) would not be saved when they came under the sound of the gospel?

7. I’m tempted to judge the methods of other churches and to doubt God’s use of them. I hear “Hillsong” and I squint that suspicious disapproving squint. As if God’s hand is shortened that He can’t reach people in a service unlike the service I think is “right” or at least “more faithful.” By the way, I know nothing about Hillsong. There’s that Pharisee again.

8. I might even be mildly disappointed with God for using Hillsong rather than a “solid church.” I’ve got my own Jonah thing going on.

9. Sometimes it takes radical difference to awaken people to the power of the gospel.

10. The authenticity of the church continues to be a significant stumbling block for some outside the church. Does the church really mean “come as you are”?

11. I sometimes underestimate the ability of multi-ethnic churches to reach people steeped in mono-ethnic subcultures. There’s a little homogeneous unit principle assumption sneaking around in my thoughts, especially when it comes to cats steeped in hip hop culture. I would never have put Ja in a Hillsong church. But God did. And praise be to God that’s where He chose to work!

So Ja Rule exposed me. And I’m glad. Now I’m happy for him and I’m praying for Him. I’m praying for Hillsong and the preaching of God’s word there and the fellowship of God’s people. May they be used of the Lord to bring many sons to glory through the preaching of the cross of Christ.

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