Reaching the 'Nipsey Hustle' Generation

Over the last several days I have had a restlessness in my spirit.

Some of you may know, a rapper or hip hop artist named "Nipsey Hustle" was gunned downed in Los Angeles a few days ago.

His story is somewhat of a classic case in the Hip Hop world.

He was successful in a difficult industry. He had come from a tough part of town in Los Angeles. He had gotten involved with the wrong crowd as a youth and had seemingly redeemed the challenges of his past by doing well.

He didn't just do well financially, but he also, all things considered, seemed relatively squared away in his personal life. He was the father of two kids. In interviews, he seemed grounded and wise for his age. He seemed to genuinely care about others, especially people who had come from challenging circumstances as he had.

To his credit, he had established a youth center to get kids off the street and directed to technology. With these skills, the young people could pursue a better life. Just around the time of his death, he was scheduled to meet with city officials in Los Angeles to work together to try to find a way to curb gang violence in the region.

He was soft-spoken, respectful, and reflective. In one interview he spoke about his clothing brand "Marathon." The name had his goal of longevity in mind. He recognized, and wanted to teach young people that life was not a "sprint", it was a "marathon".

He also had a spiritual sensitivity as well. After hearing about his death, I looked up one of his more well-known songs and looked at the lyrics. It was ladened with classic hip hop themes, of crime, drugs, and women. However, he also referred respectfully to God, and he mentioned prayer. He even named his son 'Kross.” Perhaps now those who were close to him are realizing how prophetic of a name that will be for the boy who will sadly grow up without a father.

His life was poetry. Both literally and figuratively. He was an overcomer, a community leader and a man who loved his family. He was also an avowed gang member, and as much as he was a good example, he also led people astray. Gangs, drugs, violence, and criminality were promoted in his lyrics and lifestyle and were ultimatley, sadly, his demise.

It seemed his lot was Romans 7:18

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." 

He no doubt had some kind of church background. He knew some of what was right and wrong. He feared and honored God to a degree. His neighborhood taught him life was fragile. The created world made him aware of the Truth. Like we see in Romans chapter one creation itself shows who God is. 

Nipsey wanted to help. At the same time he wrestled and he struggled with the evil within him and around him. He tried to clean himself and his neighborhood with a dirty cloth. After all, without Christ, that is all we have.

In looking at his interviews you can see his desire to do right, to help, to love. Still, it seemed ‘a beating against the wind.’  Despite our desire to do good, we can never fix ourselves, our cities, our nation of our family on our own. We must have Christ. The law just shows us our sin. Nature testifies to the reality of God. So we know what is wrong, but without God we can't do anything about it.

Not without the cross, not without Christ, not without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

As many of you know, he was gunned down in front of his store, "Marathon" in Los Angeles. The man who seemed to defeat the odds, made an effort to do good, and overcome his environment, in the end, didn’t. He became another sad statistic of gangs, violence, poverty, and anger. He wanted to overcome, but he could not, nor can anyone, without Jesus.

It's sad when anyone is killed, known or unknown, successful or not, talented or ordinary, anyone taken before their time is a tragedy. And while it is sad, it is also common place. Still, however common it may be, this death and killing has not left me.

It seems to nag at me day and night.

I had heard the man's name before, maybe seen a photo or video of his, but I had not, known his music or much about him. I was definitely not a fan. Nevertheless, for the last several days, his face has kept coming to my mind. His name keeps echoing in my thoughts and an unexplainable sadness has stayed with me over this. 

Tonight I prayed more and felt I received a sense of why. 

I believe, to a degree, this generation that is coming up is a "Nipsey Hustle" generation. After seeing this I realized it is the Father’s heart that we must learn how to reach them.

Whether known to them or not, this generation is influenced by biblical standards.

Growing up in the West, the Judeo-Christian ethic, even to the atheist, is the default morality.

However, beyond a "do unto to others" and "don't lie or steal", they wouldn't give a lot of credence to God's word. They would never want to be seen as bible thumpers. Their morality would value the modern day view of "tolerance" over the mandates of scripture. This generation wants ‘truth,’ kindness, spirituality, and love, but the church and the bible would be one of the last places they would look for it.

Politics, academia and the rise of the internet giving a platform and voice to anyone with a wifi connection has made the church and the bible out of fashion. They hunger for God, but on their own terms.

Having this stage as our theater of challenge, what do we do? By we, I mean people who love Jesus, hunger for God's word, and are filled with the Holy Spirit.

How can we reach the "Nipsey Hustle" generation? We know following Jesus is the answer, but how can we communicate this effectively to them?

As this sad tragedy displays, they are dying. They are trying to help, but they are dying. They are trying to love, trying to find the truth, trying to heal, but alas they lay in a pool of their own blood. They are figuratively killed in the neighborhood they are trying to redeem, by the kind of people they are trying to help. They desperately need a Savior. How can we share Christ with them?

The church of Thyatira.

I once heard Bob Jones say that a rabid dog won't drink water. They are afraid of water, and they will die of thirst, laying next to the bank of a river. Bob said that the religious church is like a rabid dog. They are so thirsty and so wanting to drink, but they refuse. They live and die next to the river and do not drink. I believe this applies to this Nipsey Hustle generation as well. 

They have their own morality. They have no or little respect for the church or the bible. They have style, they have creativity, but they don't need Christ, or so they think. They want Him, but they are afraid. They will die in their thirst like the rabid dog, so close, yet so far away from the waters that heal.

This challenge we face reminds me of the church of Thyatira.

Jesus said to them. "I know your deeds, your love, your faith, your service and perseverance and that you are now doing more than you did at first."

In Revelation the second chapter, Jesus is saying “I recognize the good things.’ In reaching the Nipsey Hustle generation we need to acknowledge the good things.

They care about the environment, they care about bullying, in many cases, they care about the poor.  They care about peoples feelings. They care about justice. They are often kind and they are seeking some version of the truth.

Jesus did not want to judge the church of Thyatira, He wanted to correct them. He wanted to get them on the right track. So he told them what they were doing right. Sometimes the church is so "anti" this and that, we forget to see the good in people. We forget to see their efforts, and what they are doing right.

We sometimes forget to acknowledge their value and their contributions. In our own effort to maintain a standard of holiness or orthodoxy, we rush to show what people are doing wrong. Instead of seeing their good deeds. As Jesus did, I think we would do well to start with that.

While starting with that is a good approach, we can’t stop there. The Love of Jesus requires more.

One thing about the love of Jesus is that it doesn't just make us feel good. It doesn't just tell us we are great or acknowledge what is right, it also corrects us. An ideology that this generation has wrong is that it equates love with acceptance. It is so focused on not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, that it doesn't tell them the truth.

Jesus didn't love like that. Jesus knew that love only exists where truth is. Love doesn't just want people to feel good, love wants people to get free. Jesus didn't come just to make people feel good about who they are, He came so that we could be transformed into His likeness, which is the definition of good.

So to the church of Thyatira Jesus continued. I believe to this Nipsey Hustle generation He continues as well.

"Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching, she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food 'sacrificed to idols."

Here you have 3 things that the church of Thyatira embraced that this generation also embraces. Jesus is saying that by embracing these things the judgment of God will come. Despite what good we do, or a generation does, or a rapper does, there is still judgment for embracing what God hates. Your credit for good doesn’t stop the judgement, obedience to Christ is the only way.

The 3 sins of Thyatira.

1. Jezebel. This is manifested today in radical feminism.  Today we have a demonic move in the name of "women's rights" that are so power hungry, so power grasping that they advocate the slaughter of innocent babies, even after they are born. These babies are slaughtered on the altar of "freedom and empowerment of women". This "shout your abortion" Jezebel crowd ignores their God-given honor of motherhood, replacing it with rebellion and disrespect towards men, their babies and even who they are themselves. This must be corrected or great judgment will come.

2. Sexual Immorality. One of the greatest clarion calls of our day is for "tolerance" of any and all kinds of sexual expression or identity. Things that are accepted and even promoted today, would have been illegal and abhorrent one or two decades ago. I think it's interesting that Jesus said that "You tolerate" and then He goes on to list the sin the church has not come against.

He didn't even say they were doing the sin. Sure some were, but the overall sin of the church was that they tolerated what God abhors, calls sin, and rejects.

Many segments of the church are tolerating perversion, some are engaged with it true, but even the tolerance of it in others is a sin that will bring judgment.

It is important to note at the same time Jesus is breathing out the judgment of "striking them dead" He also has given time for repentance. Jesus isn't bloodthirsty and angry. He is loving, but He is a loving judge. Time for repentance is given, then the harsh judgment will come. The church, the Nipsey Hustle generation, must repent of tolerating sexual immorality.

3. Idolatry. In Revelation chapter two the church was not worshiping or sacrificing to an idol. They were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, which had been forbidden earlier in the book of Acts. Was it convenience? Was it a flirtation with an affinity for the world? Was it a desire to see “how much can we get away with and it still be ‘ok’”? I don't know.

I do know that this nearness to the world, to the flesh to sin and the things that God hates, is what was going to bring the judgment of God to Thyatira and to this generation.

Today there are popular teachings that invoke "grace" whenever the church wants to flirt with the world. It makes sense that this would be a popular teaching because man always wants to "have their cake and eat it too."  They want to comfort of salvation or the idea thereof, they want the idea of spirituality, they want the philosophy of "karma" or God's love without any commitment. They don't want to the cross, they don't want denial of self, and they don't want obedience. They see the value of ‘not buying the cow, when the milk is free.”

So many teachers recognizing a market for a comfortable Christianity or Churchianity, teach false grace. In doing so, they have tickled the ears of this who choose compromise.

No fasting, no repentance, no hell, no tithing. At every turn that scripture teaches us to make a sacrifice or obey, these false teachers have led the way to a crossless Christianity. This was the sin of Thyatira. They flirted with the world with idols. Oh maybe they didn't go to a temple and sacrifice, but their affiliation through laziness or curiosity was there. They ate of that which they should not have. We must escape this and teach others to do the same.

To reach this precious generation, we must see these sins as traps. We must also like Paul did in Athens, speak in the "Mar's Hill' of our day, and find a good starting place. Paul started with a talk about 'the unknown God". He referenced what they knew, what they were familiar with, and their hunger to know a God they admittedly knew nothing about.

We need to become better at this. It is said that "The world tells a lie well, and the church tells the Truth poorly."

We have to get better. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit. We must let our light shine. We must be uncompromised, and we must be lovingly truthful.

The church of Thyatira is today's Nipsey Hustle's generation. Enough death, enough “morality” without Christ, enough ‘tolerance’ that will bring God’s judgment.

We must answer the call to be the light and do so with wisdom and grace.

True grace doesn't excuse sin, that's a coward’s copout. Real grace empowers us to do what we cannot do on our own. This is what we must walk in.

Let's pray that the Lord will release the grace in this hour to reach this generation. They are dying. We need to show them Jesus in a way they can recieve.

David Tomberlin

April 7, 2019

Degreasing Your Grace Series Part 1 - Are Christians "Sinners"?

A question that comes up quite often today is “are Christians sinners ?”

Many have sat in church and heard the preacher say in humble sounding tone,

“I'm just a Sinner saved by grace.”

Ringing his hands, looking up in despair, he unknowingly equates his life before the cross, to the same as after the cross. There has been, forgiveness, or so they believe, but no transformation. Such a person has misunderstood forgiveness for salvation. The goal of the cross is not just forgiveness of sin, but also freedom from sin. The law of sin and death is literally that your sin will cause you to die, eternally, but the gift of God is to be free from the law of sin and death.

Many misread and therefore misinterpret Romans chapter 7 as the condition of a believer. They understand that the believer is in turmoil to those things listed, “that which I wish I do, I do not do, those things which I do, I don’t want to do.. oh what a woefull man am I” and then they stop reading.

Many don't understand that Romans 7 and Romans 8 were not divided up into chapters during the writing of the scripture. The Bible, in its original form, did not have any chapters or verses. There are no sectional headings and very little of what we understand as punctuation. The book of Romans is written as a letter and originally was in what we would understand to be letter form. It was later divided into chapter and verse to give a point of reference for instruction and study purposes. This has confused some of it’s readers.

The description that the author of Romans is writing is a description about a person who has not received the Holy Spirit, and who has not given their life to Christ. The turmoil of a sinner is what Paul is describing. Sadly, many leaders combine this false teaching on Romans 7, with a false humility and a low standard. In doing this they, unintentionally, lead many astray. They mold in them a “sinner saved by grace” identity instead of a “son saved and transformed by grace, with a new life and a new lifestyle to show for it.”

So in keeping with those false precepts, the wrong teaching continues and says ‘we're all sinners.’ “I'm a sinner, you're a sinner but thank God Jesus is a Great Savior.” That sounds pious, that sounds like somebody who appreciates Jesus’ work on the cross, that sounds humble and good. However, when we look at scripture, we find these concepts are far from the biblical teaching, the standard of Jesus or the heart of the Father.

The scripture says that while we were “yet” sinners, Christ still loved us.

The understanding in that text is that we were at one time ‘sinners.’ The implication is clear that our status and identity of being ‘sinners’ is past tense. We are now in a state called righteous or right standing with God. Those who have truly been born again are not “sinners” but categorically “saints.”

The bible teaches that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. He came to call sinners and lead them to a state of righteousness. The goal of the gospel is not just to forgive, but to transform. In scripture there is a clear distinction between sinner and saint, between the righteous and unrighteous .

Important to this discussion are a couple definitions. What is a “sinner”? What is a saint, or a righteous person?

The New Testament uses several Greek words that we simply translate as “sinner.” These words bring a more descriptive measure of understanding of what the Lord and the authors meant.

opheiletés  —debtor, one who had done wrong to others.

hamartólos  - a depraved looser, that falls short of what God approves

asebés  - failing to honor the things of God: irreverant.

plané  -someone who has departed from God’s truth, thereby they have stepped into deception and error.

The second use, hamartólos, is the most common, being used 151 times in the New Testament in one form of the root word or another.

It is used in the two verses that we will consider here.

“…while we were yet (past tense) sinners (hamartolos), Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

also “The one who continues to practice sin (hamarian) is of the devil...” 1 John 3:8

Then John continues

“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” 1 John 3:9

The first scripture shows that being a “sinner” is a past tense. This is a pre-Christ state for the Christian. It is a current state for those who have not yet been born again, though they may have been a church attender, elder, deacon or pastor, they are not walking with God if they continue a habitual life of sin.

The second and third scriptures clearly show that living in blatant, unrepentant sin is not a lifestyle option for the follower of Christ.

So there is a pre-Christ state known as being a “sinner.”

There is also a post-salvation state known as being a “saint” or someone who is “righteous.” Let’s dig a bit deeper into the use of these terms.

The word “saint” comes from the Latin word “sanctus”, which means holy. It is the same place where we get the word “sanctified” and “sactimonious” for that matter.

The Koine Greek word here is “hagious” which means “holy ones”. Notice he doesn’t, address them as “sinners” which was their former state, he addresses them with who they are now, that is ‘saints.”

I love that when Paul writes he addresses those in the Philipian church, “hagious en Christo Iesou” Holy ones or Saints ‘in Christ Jesus.’ As John Piper has taught, the only way we can be holy is to be ‘in Christ Jesus.” Trying to produce holiness on our own is an often repeated, failed ugly state. This state is know as ‘self righteous.”

I love what Jesus taught about the vine and the branch. In me you ‘can do all things” without me “you can do nothing.” This “all things” includes holiness.

Some saints try to be holy through their own rules and regulations. They make law after law, like the Pharisees. No make up for ladies, no card games, no dancing, no sports, no this or that until you end up with a bitter nasty group full of self righteousness for themselves and condemnation for others. This group often believe they, and their church are the only way to get to heaven. It is easy to see why the world would rather go to hell that suffer eternity in the company of this crowd. They appear to have been baptized in lemon juice, and their man-made efforts become a stench all but the very least discerning. These are the most miserable people I have ever seen.

On the other side of the ditch you find compromise. This group says ‘we are sinners” lets plunge right into it. They call any standard of righteousness “the law.” You see this with many “cheap grace teachers.” They have no fear of hell, as they go against the teaching of Jesus that says, “hell is a place of torment where the flame never goes out.” These who have become ‘wise in their own eyes” would have you believe they are wiser and more enlightened than Christ. They like the self righteous have many rules, no fasting, no tithing, no repenting. Any effort on behalf of a believer to hold to a biblical standard or lifestyle is referred to as “works.” They have become a law unto themselves. Many delve into perverted lifestyles and drug us all under the guise of “grace.”

So what is the remedy? Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

The key to walking in the biblical requirement of holiness, to stop living as a sinner, stop shaming the Lord’s name with cheezy churchy platitudes like “I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great savior” is simply to remain in Him, and let His words remain in you.

The key to being a saint, a holy one, a Christian, is to stay close to Jesus.

We cannot theologize His words away, that call us to fast, to pray. It is not ‘legalism” or “works” to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him or to repent when necessary, as the New Testament teaches. It is not “old testament” or ‘giving into ‘the law’ or a “Greek construct” to crucify our flesh, or to resist the devil so that he will flee from us.

We must embrace all of scripture and not try to wiggle our way out through cleaver engineering of the text with the thoughts and philosophy of man, which are corrupt as they are carnal.

In short, we must abide in Him. In doing so we will become like Him, which is holy. In this connected relationship we will be able to do what we could never do on our own.