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.





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:35 am CT

“I Am a Whore and Jesus Loves Me”

I love this video testimony from Leonce Crump, Senior Pastor at Renovation Church in Atlanta, GA. It’s part of a series of testimonies they’re filming with persons at their church. Watch, pray, and enjoy!

Jesus Loves Whores & Hypocrites – Pastor Leonce Crump II from Renovation Church on Vimeo

Here’s another video from Ethan Seifred called “I’m a Hypocrite and Jesus Loves Me”:

I’m watching these videos and I’m thinking the evangelical world could use more public confession, profession, struggle and rejoicing like this!

John 4

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

4 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:49 am CT

And Such Were Some of You

If we’re Christians, we’re not now what we once were. A great change has been wrought in our souls and our future. The apostle Paul captures it well:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

Which of the nouns describe your past? Most of them fit me: sexually immoral, idolater, adulterer, thief, greedy, drunkard, reviler, and swindler. I was not destined for the kingdom of God but for hell. “And such were some of you.”

I still marvel at God’s great grace and salvation. I marvel that I was that lost. I shudder when I remember that I was lost and I was confident I was right. “But….” The gospel and our evangelism is about that “But….” It’s the sweetest three letter word in the Bible. It turns the entire direction of a text and introduces a possibility so unlike the past or present it can sometimes hardly be believed. But God still interrupts people with “Buts….”

I was encouraged in my own evangelism by this account of a woman who was a thief and swindler. She was also a Muslim in danger of not inheriting the kingdom of God. “But….”

Miriam is one of Julia’s friends. She’s the one who severely stole from us a little over a year ago. Julia caught her, but also forgave her. Miriam stealing from us has been the best opportunity we’ve had to speak and show the gospel to Miriam. She later watched some evangelistic films we gave her and began reading some Scripture. At the end of the summer, however, she announced a new found desire to dive deeper into Islam, and even placed her niece into the local Muslim school. This new push into Islam also included a distancing from us, so that we had very little contact with her between August and December. All of a sudden, the week of Christmas, she came over for tea, unannounced.

It wasn’t exactly the best timing for Julia to drop everything and play the hostess for hours. But Julia’s angst and the bad timing only underscored the sincerity of what was taking place. Miriam poured out her heart to Julia: “Islam can’t help me. It doesn’t have the truth like Jesus does. Islam and Jesus are different!” She declared that she wanted to follow Jesus, and intuitively recognized that it meant breaking from Islam and joining a church. Julia asked her, “Who is Jesus to you?” to which she immediately replied “My Savior!” Miriam didn’t actually say “Son of God” or “God” during their conversation, but Julia again taught her about Jesus and the gospel very clearly, and it seems evident that Miriam regards Jesus as more than a mere prophet.  She pleaded to come to church with us that weekend!  She came with us to the local worship gathering on Sunday, December 30th. She seems to have genuinely converted. Her characteristic arrogant demeanor has markedly changed. We could never have imagined a Miriam this humble! Please pray for her growing grasp of the gospel and the divinity of Christ, that she will attend the church gatherings faithfully, that she might be baptized very soon, and finally that the church members would more warmly receive her.

I love how the Father met this woman as she was running headlong in the opposite direction! I love that though she seems to have tried delving deeper into Islam, He scooped her out of her sin and showed her the glorious difference in Jesus! Lord, show that difference again and again and again! Help me tell others in a way that they see the difference, too.





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:47 am CT

Two Things We’re Told Never Change, But Actually Do

This past week I enjoyed a couple of really engaging and useful videos. The videos seem to be on wildly different topics: the Roman Catholic Church and homosexuality. But they did share one thing in common. They both discussed issues or people we’re told never change or shouldn’t change, but actually do.

In the first video, Robert Godfrey briefly reflects (7 minutes) on a recent article in Modern Reformation about the changes of the  Roman Catholic Church over its history. Of course, one can’t be exhaustive in 7 minutes, but Godfrey clearly and succinctly refutes the notion that the RCC maintains an unbroken consistency from its beginning. Helpful.

In the second video (HT: JT), Marvin Olasky interviews Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a wife, mom, former English professor at Syracuse and a former lesbian. Her recent book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, tells part of her story and provides some helpful insight into the gay and lesbian community. We don’t get many glimpses into the lives of persons with same-sex attraction, and Butterfield provides a look that shows us how possible change really is and how much work we need to do to be welcoming in the best sense.

I hope you’re helped and encouraged with these discussions.





Thabiti Anyabwile|8:29 am CT

Don’t Forget: Never Under-Estimate the Power of the Gospel

Been cruising back through some of the testimonies of conversion we heard at T4G ’12. What a wonderful encouragement of God’s work in the lives of sinners! If you missed them, or if you need a reminder of the power of the gospel to convert sinners, here’s a taste from Mez McConnell:

You can hear a longer discussion of Mez’s life, testimony, and ministry in this 9Marks interview. Be encouraged! The gospel is the power of God unto salvation–and God is still saving!

If you’re interested in learning more about Mez’s ministry to the poorest neighborhoods in Scotland, check out the 20 Schemes initiative. You’ll be encouraged to pray for the Lord’s blessing on this work.





Thabiti Anyabwile|8:01 am CT

Videos from the 9Marks at Southeastern Conference on Conversion

One of my favorite conferences each year is the 9Marks at Southeastern event. I love the warm family atmosphere of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s campus, the good natured ribbing between speakers, the laid back fellowship with those who attend, and most of all the opportunity to sit under the preached word of God. I’ve felt refreshed and enlivened every year of this conference!

This year’s conference theme was ‘conversion.’ Each of the speakers took a pass at some aspect of conversion from the scripture. The SEBTS staff were as quick as anyone I’ve seen at getting the videos posted. If you missed the conference or you’d like to revisit some of the talks, you can find them below.





Thabiti Anyabwile|2:56 pm CT

“What About Altar Calls?”

I’m sometimes asked by people why we don’t do “altar calls” at our services. Like the people who ask the question, the churches in my personal background pretty much all practiced “altar calls” at the conclusion of a sermon or service. I’ve seen them done in very poor fashion, and I’ve seen some pastors be really clear about the gospel, repentance, faith, and the fact that “coming forward” does not save. I date my own conversion to the preaching of Exodus 32, which concluded with an altar call.

So, why don’t we practice “altar calls”? I don’t think the pastor who practices an “invitation” at the end of a sermon is in sin, but he may not be acting wisely either. This list of reasons, compiled by Pastor Ryan Kelly of Desert Springs Church, is a pretty good summation of some of my thinking (HT: Z).

1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.

2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”

5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.

6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”

7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.

8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.

9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).

10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.

Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10 of Ryan’s list are the most compelling reasons in my opinion. These would seem very serious objections for anyone who takes seriously the idea that our Christian lives and gatherings should conform to what the NT commands, models, and prohibits. Perhaps I would add an 11th: The “altar call” teaches the congregation to evaluate the “success” or “effectiveness” of the ministry on outward, visible actions and results.

Further, the need to be pastorally careful and sensitive with the souls of men needing to repent and believe couldn’t be more urgent. So, anything that obscures the reality of God the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion and the necessity of repentance and faith must be regarded–at best–a practice with potential to undermine the very work we’re giving our lives to.

Do people “respond” to the word of God at our services? They do. And we give them a number of ways they may follow up on what they’ve heard, from talking to an elder or Christian friend after the service, to scheduling an appointment during the week, to letting us know they would like us to visit with them, and so on. One thing I appreciate about our approach is that it allows us to meet, listen, question, encourage, teach and pray in a much more thorough way. By God’s grace we’re seeing people converted and profess their faith in baptism as the Spirit opens their hearts. We’re not perfect by any means. But I do hope we’re being faithful to the scripture’s commands, examples, and restrictions.

What do you think about Kelly’s list? Are you “for” or “against” and why? Would you add anything to or challenge anything on the list?





Thabiti Anyabwile|3:01 pm CT

Seriously Encouraging Conversion Testimony

From Tom Martin of Covenant Life Church (HT: Josh Harris)

Reminded me of the opening verse of the hymn, “Love Lifted Me”:

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!





Thabiti Anyabwile|10:28 am CT

Why Was I…?

Even though I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of the Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”–of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was show mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example to those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.  Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God be honor and glory forever and ever. (1 Tim. 1:13-17)

Do you ever wonder–even aloud or in writing–why you were shown mercy and made a guest at the Lord’s feast?

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”






Thabiti Anyabwile|2:59 pm CT

God the Holy Spirit’s Use of a Choice Word

I’ve recently finished reading Ian Murray’s biography The Life of Arthur W. Pink.  I’ve not heard or read much about the life of A.W. Pink until reading this biography.  I hadn’t realized that one good reason for that is that so little about his life is known at certain periods, and Pink himself left sparing biographical details.  The biography combined some good detective work with a wonderful treatment of Pink’s sermons and writings in his periodical Studies in the Scripture.  In the opening chapter, “A Spiritualist Becomes a Christian,” Murray recounts the early period of Pink’s life when he was dedicated to the occult and was fast becoming something of a star in the occult circuit.  Pink had been raised in a Christian home with faithful Christian parents, but along with his two siblings rejected the faith as he grew.  He began to devoutly practice Theosophy, an anti-Christian cult headquartered in Madras, india that promoted esoteric eastern ‘wisdom’ beliefs, denied the personality of God, claimed to unify all religions, and promoted communication with the spirits of the dead.

We can imagine the heartbreak Pink’s faithful Christian parents felt at seeing all their children wander from the Truth, and at seeing Pink wander into serious spiritual darkness.  Murray tells the story of a father’s faithful prayers and witness to his erring son, and how a brief word hurriedly spoken turned Pink from idols to serve the true and living God.  In Murray’s words:

The date when the Besant proposal [Pink had been invited by Annie Besant (1847-1933), leader of the Theosophic movement, to come study with her and assume major leadership in the movement] came to Pink is not known.  It was probably early in 1908, for we know that in that year he was still in Nottingham.  He was not twenty-two years of age, and so deeply involved in the occult that he later recorded, “Five years ago I was a medium,” practising “clairvoyance, psychomancy, and magical healing.”  All this time Pink was earning a living in business.  He also continued to live at home, which tells us something about his patient parents.  Hey grieved, prayed and were not altogether silent.  His father always waited up until his son returned from meetings late in the evening and to Arthur’s annoyance often accompanied his “Good-night” with some brief but telling word of Scripture.  One such evening, in the year 1908, as Pink hurriedly passed his father and dashed upstairs to his room, the text which he received was, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).  As he shut the bedroom door, intending to do some work on a speech for an important annual meeting of theosophists that was to take place on the Friday evening of that same week, the text remained with him and so disturbed his concentration that work was impossible.  The story continues int he words of Charles and Elsie Pressel:

A.W.P. decided he was fatigued, and would take a bath to relax, but during this process all he could see “mentally” was “There is a way that seemeth right, etc.”  Again he returned to work on his speech and all his mind brought forth was Proverbs 14:12.  He, A.W.P., told us he could not longer reject the God of the Bible and began to cry unto the Lord in prayer, convicted by the Holy Spirit and his power to bring a soul to see his lost condition and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour.  His early training taught him about the Lord, but now, like Paul of old, was the appointment with a Holy Sovereign God.  For almost three days he did not leave his room to join the family, but his father and mother prayed, and in late afternoon on the third day A.W.P. made his appearance and his father said, “Praise God my son has been delivered.”

A.W.P. kept his next appointment before the Society of Theosophists; the speech he was preparing was never completed but by God’s grace he made known to them the God of the Bible.  A ‘groan’ went up from the listeners.  Many remarked that he had ‘gone mad’ and needed a rest, for they were aware of his plans to join Madame Besant. (pp. 11-12)

The last speech Pink gave the theosophists was a straight gospel message on the true God and Jesus Christ, his Son, and the great salvation found only in His Name.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Pink’s sudden and radical conversion was evidenced by his daily reading of ten chapters of Scripture, daily memorization of Scripture, an immediate sense of call to the gospel ministry, a long ministry of preaching and especially writing on three or four continents–all for the glory of the Lord. 

The first book I read by Pink was The Sovereignty of God.  It would be theologically one of the most formative, provocative, and worship-producing books I’ve ever read.  It settled a lot for me about the centrality of God in all of life, His utter sovereignty in all things, and my need to bow in praise of His name.  God put me on my knees before Him as I was reading that book.  I hope never to get up.

I thought of this anecdote from Pink’s life because I know a lot of parents worry about the eternal prospects of adult children who appear spiritually dead.  Take heart: God the Holy Spirit may use a choice word spoken in passing to wrestle the wretch into an awakening that leads to everlasting life, fruitfulness and glory.  Pray and speak.  The Lord is at work.