Let me set it straight from jump: This book is not an attempt to convince anybody to convert to Christianity. I could never do that. I don't possess those skills. Only God Himself can speak to you. Only the Holy Spirit can convict your heart. I'm just puttin' it down so that whatever choice you make, it will be a more informed one. This is not even an attempt to make you believe in Jesus' diety. That is my belief. This book simply explains why I believe. If you agree, good for you. If you don't, more power to you.
Here's what I know. Out of all the major religions the world over—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism—no one ever came to earth and declared himself God. And for those of you not knowin', Jesus did not claim to be the son of Allah. He did not call himself a prophet or even a "good man." He declared himself to be one with God, the Father, Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, El Shaddai, Jehovah Jireh/ Tsidkenu/Shammah/Shalom—you get the picture (John 17:11). He proclaimed himself to be "the Way," "the Truth," and "the Life" (John 14:6—capitalization mine). He did not offer to show us a way, tell us some truth, or point us in the direction of life. He declared that "before Abraham was born, I am," a statement that really pissed off the religious leaders of the day (John 8:58). "I Am" is the same name Jehovah gave to Moses, when during ol' boy's burning-bush encounter, Moses asked God's name. Make no mistake: Jesus claims equal status with God the Father. And for good measure, in case fools didn't get it, he explained that "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
If you don't believe me, good. Go read it for yourself. The entire account can be found in the gospel of John. And even if you do believe me, go read it for yourself anyway. There's a gang of Christians out there that are just as ignorant as non-Christians. Fools be claimin' Jesus as Lord and Savior, but live foul and don't know jack about the Word of God. That's why it's so easy to lead us astray. If I meet one more former Baptist who is now a member of "the Nation," I'm gon' flip out. I'm sick of fools spouting out to me some rehearsed rhetoric that they heard in mosque, on the street corner, or from the pulpit. My nigga, did you read it for yourself? Did you interact with the text one on one? And please, Christians, don't come at me asking me to study the Koran. I'll leave that to Muslims. A true Christian needs to adopt the principles of the Canadian Mounties. When being trained to identify counterfeit bills, they don't examine the details of the counterfeit. They commit the real deal to memory so that they can then spot the fakes. Study God's Word so that you can't be punked by imitators! 'Cause there are a gang of cults and false religions out there.
Would-be-informed brothas, don't come at me with the lie that Christianity is the white man's religion. Just to set the record straight, Jesus was a Jew from Africa. And although most of the Jews in his day rejected him, the very first Christians were Jews. The first church consisted of people of many races, ethnicities, and cultures (Acts 2). Have some Europeans and white Americans misused and misrepresented Christianity in order to justify atrocities, such as the Crusades in medieval times and slavery in the antebel lum South? Yes, of course! No one denies that. But their misuse does not negate the power of God's Word incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. Be mad at white people if you must. Work through your issues with racism and discrimination. But know this: Jesus Christ is neither white nor American. He transcends them both. As a matter of fact, he transcends all cultures. He's just "AM." That's "bad grammar, but good theology, y'all," as Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, often says. And on top of that, please don't think He don't know what a brotha is going through when you get pulled over by the po-pos for DWB (drivin' while black). You sittin' on the curb, with your pride in your hands (which are handcuffed behind your back, by the way), sportin' your Prada, next to your V-1-2-6-0-0, while ol' boy checks your glove box for "tobacco and firearms" because you—ahem, let me make sure I get it right—"fit the description." Yeah, yeah, to all that I say that J.C. has been there, done that, and come back with the T-shirt and the hat. Again, if you don't believe me, I encourage you to read it for yourself. Pick a gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all chronicle the account. See what He went through at the hands of the Pharisees (the religious leaders of the day), the Romans, and His fellow Jews. Mock trials in the middle of the night, a kangaroo court, back shredded with a cat-o'-nine-tails, whupped up from head to toe, beat down, spat upon, cursed out— and if that wasn't enough, then nailed to a tree in His draws in front of His mama and His boys (the ones who didn't bone out) and crucified for no real crime. Oh, yeah, J.C. knows a little bit about civil rights violations. He knows about loneliness, abandonment, being lied on, gettin' beat down, and literally being left for dead, too. So don't come at me with that "white man's religion" crap—that just makes me wanna give you the boot. But—so that we're clear—I wouldn't do that, because to do so would not glorify the God I serve. I'm just sayin' that's how pissed I get at that widely accepted lie. But alas, I digress.
Moving on, like I said, Jesus makes some pretty bold claims in the four gospels and in the book of Acts, and every last one of them lines up with the prophecies spoken about Him in the Old Testament. And no matter what anyone tells you, no matter how much "proof" you amass, no matter who witnesses to you, no matter how many sermons you hear, no matter how many theologians bombard you with apologetics, the truth is this: Belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, the alpha and omega is, at the end of the day, a choice. You hear the gospel, the good news, and make a decision.
Understand that even no decision is a decision. Jesus is pretty clear about this. You are either for Him or against Him. You either gather with Him or scatter. You in or you out. You down or you ain't. There is no in-between. There is no riding the fence; there is no "well, let me think about it and get back to you." Jesus presents Himself in such a fashion as to force the choice. He claimed to be God. Not a prophet. Not a good man. God. And that's it. Either He was: a) telling the truth, b) a nut with a serious messiah complex, or c) a jackleg, like that preacher who got my grandmama. Whatever you choose to believe is on you. But the choice is yours, and so are the consequences of it. Don't say you believe because "Mama an' dem" told you to. Don't reject Him either because Haikim, that brotha down the way, been spittin' some mad knowledge at you. Read the Word, the Holy Bible. Better yet, start by just reading the book of John. Pray and ask God to help you understand it. Then decide for yourself. Just understand that whatever your ultimate choice is, even if it's by default, you will live with the consequences of that choice for eternity. Again—don't believe me? Look it up.
Okay, so the first thing people usually say to me is this: "But I'm a good person. I don't steal or rob or cheat on my spouse. I'm an upstanding member of the community . . . blah, blah, blah." Translation: "God wouldn't possibly condemn me to hell, because I'm one of the good guys." Alternate translation: "I'm cool, so I don't need a savior." I usually address these types of statements with an analogy that I heard a long time ago. The human condition is like being a guy who has a long-standing debt over three generations at his local grocery store. His family has been so poor for so far back that the store owners for three generations have just allowed them to do business "on credit." The debt has grown so large that no one in the current generation can ever pay it off. Then one day the guy gets a job and starts paying cash up front for all his groceries. The owner is geeked, accepts the money, and allows the man to continue to do business. The only problem is that the man still has an unpaid debt. Who is going to cover that? Clearly since the man just started working, he can't make up for all those generations of debt. To attempt to do so would break his family. So he just continues to pay cash, knowing that one day someone will have to settle his account. In essence, this is what it means to be human. You may have become a good person (which I maintain is an oxymoron), but you weren't always one and you can't always be one every minute of every day. At some point you slip. You have slipped. You do slip.
If you even think about it in terms of karma, what goes around really does come around. Think it don't? Well, get this. One day you will die, and you will have to settle your account. You will stand before God and have to answer for every wrong thing you have ever done in your entire life. Think about that. Every lie, every time you talked about somebody behind their back, (when as a shorty) every time you disobeyed your moms, every girl you ever sexed (who wasn't your wife), every scam you ever pulled (even if you got caught and did time, you still got to answer for all that, yo), gettin' yo' hustle on, chasin' that paper at all costs, that shorty you left yo' moms to raise, that nigga you shot ... all dat. In the end—and we all have one—you will have to answer for all your dirt. And here's what it comes down to: God will exact payment.
Now here's where your choice today comes in. You can pay for all your dirt with your soul—that's right, here comes the fire-and-brimstone part—by going to hell (a place not created for human beings, by the way), or you can consider the debt paid in full by Jesus' death on the cross. It seems like a simple choice to me. But again, that's just me. And the cool part about that "debt paid" stuff is that it cancels out that karma thing once and for all while you're still living. What goes around stops coming around once you get saved, because you are no longer under law, but under grace. Now that's some deep stuff, right there.
That's not to say that you won't reap what you sow, that you won't harvest what you have planted. Some consequences of sin cannot be erased. You been sexin' it up outside of marriage; then you contracted AIDS. That's simply a consequence. Yes, God could cure you. But your getting the bug is simply a consequence of sexin'. You can't be mad at nobody but you on that one. You stole a car with your boy and now you're behind bars. Choice followed by consequence. The fact that you were sexin' a billion times before and never got the bug, that you have stolen a gang of cars and never got caught, is just evidence of God's mercy. You should have recognized it and stopped when you had the chance. Now, unless God reveals to some scientist how to cure the bug or moves the heart of some judge to pardon you, you just stuck. If you are in Christ, you don't have to live under God's wrath, but you do have to deal with the results of your behavior. What you don't have to do is live in fear of every wrong deed catching up to you, because you no longer live under God's wrath. You are forgiven. Your slate has been wiped clean. Your account is settled. Jesus picked up your tab. You feelin' me? So again, the choice is yours. There's a gang of other benefits of following Jesus, like peace (even though you may feel like you goin' through hell), true love (as opposed to—forgive me, ladies—pu-y), living up to your worth as a human being, operating in your purpose, and living free from fear, poverty, or emptiness. But like I said, I ain't tryin' to convert you; I'm just tryin' to break it down so that you can understand where I'm coming from with the rest of this book. I just want to make it clear to you, so that whatever you choose, your choice is an informed one.
I made my choice to embrace Christ only after finally admitting to myself that the best the world was capable of offering could never satisfy me. For a long time I stayed away from the "Jesus thing," as I used to call it, because the church met me with judgment, condemnation, and condescension. Religion disappointed me. But eventually, even after that drama at my grandma's church, I gave Jesus one more try because my life sucked.
Truthfully, my "return" was really a first attempt. When I had been a part of my grandma's church, it had been against my will. I had no say in the decision to "come to Christ," in part because I was a minor. My opinion as to which congregation we belonged didn't matter. She wasn't listening. Mama, as we used to call her, was straight old-school. Just to clarify the matter, I don't harbor any resentment against her. If anything, I support her decision to bring me up in the Lord. The fact that she got duped by a phony is really too bad, but it does not invalidate her desire for me to know the Lord. That was right and good. She was my acting guardian at that time. To her, taking me to church and introducing me to Jesus Christ was as essential as teaching me to read, which she also did. I agree with her decision to "train [me] up ... in the way [I] should go" (Proverbs 22:6, King James Version). I agree so much that I'm doing the exact same thing with my children. It's no more an option for the Mitchell children to attend church than it is for them to learn to speak English.
Although the way we rock the church thing is real different from the way Mama did it, the basics are the same. My children's relationship with the Lord is the most important one they will ever have, so Sheeri and I do our best to cultivate an environment that reflects His Lordship in our lives. We instruct them whenever possible. We live out our faith in front of them. They are free to ask questions about what they don't understand. We do our best to explain God's mysteries as clearly as we can in a manner they can grasp. That's no joke either. You try explaining the concept of free will versus predestination to a six-year-old who's really listening. As parents we would be really triflin' if we never took the time to help our children cultivate a relationship with the most important Person who has ever existed and will ever exist. I don't get parents who don't pass on their beliefs to their children. How could you not? I've actually heard people say, "I'll let them decide what they believe when they're older." As though that relieves the parent of the responsibility to teach their children right from wrong. If you are convinced that something is right and good, you've got to share it with your children, or you set them up for failure. They may never embrace your values. They may even hate you for "forcing" your values on them. But, hey, suck it up. Parenthood is not a popularity contest. You are not put here to be your children's friend. You gotta set the standard and expect your kids to meet it. Otherwise you're just a punk. That's what Mama did for me. She set the standard.
I regret that I never made the effort to thank her while she was alive for making me go to church. I never thanked her for her prayers for me. But I am grateful to God that she lived to see me personally embrace Jesus Christ. Even though He no longer had her heart, she believed she had done right by me and told me as much. She had contributed to my becoming a good man. Her attitude was, if I couldn't be a Jehovah's Witness, being a Christian was the next best thing.
So like I said, my "return" was really a first attempt. I had reached a plateau. I had made as much money as I was gon' make—doin' what I was doin', if you feel me. I had all the gear, all the trinkets, all the bells and whistles, all the women I wanted, all the fine dining, and all the cash to make me happy. Except I wasn't. I had done all the stuff people tell you to do that supposedly makes you happy. I had done it all, or at least I had done enough to know what "all" would look like if I persisted. I could see where it was leading; I wasn't impressed.
So at the point when I began to thirst for something more than the expensive toys, the fly gear, and the expensive girlfriends, God began to do a work in me. I can't explain it, but one day I looked up and I saw it all for what it was: death. I looked at the fools I was smokin' with, dying . . . slowly dying. Some of them still are. I looked at the women I was running. Educated though some of them were, they were just stupid ... no woman who knew her real worth would let a man treat her the way I treated some of the women I dated. I looked at some of my colleagues—more death. Folks selling their souls in exchange for paper. And the ones with legal jobs were no better. Still exchanging their lives for a regular biweekly paycheck. It became so clear. It was all so useless. All of it. I was sick to my stomach and had had enough.
So I just sat back. I pulled out. I kept doing my thing, but all the frivolity stopped. No more clubs, no more ho'in', no more scammin', no more shopping sprees. For about six months I just stopped. And I started going to church. It was a pathetic experience, so I won't share where, but I got some Truth out of it; enough to know I needed to be going somewhere else. The problem was, I was still met with the looks. You know the looks. In some white people, it's when their eyes become dime slits and their pupils slide to the side to get a better view of you as you stroll by. For them, it's that look that allows them to see all they can without actually having to turn around and call attention to themselves. From some older black folks the "look" is much more pronounced. It's that one where, when someone first catches sight of you, he looks you up and down from head to toe and back again before rolling his eyes, pursing his lips, and turning his back to you. Those were the looks I got. And in my carnal state, they pissed me off. And you know what? In my more spiritually mature state, they still piss me off. Because now I know enough about Jesus to know that when He walked the earth, He never looked at anyone like that. And seated at God the Father's right hand, He still doesn't. He never viewed me the way the "saints" did and, if the truth be known, the way the saints still do in some parts. I know now that He looks at a man's heart, not his clothes. And that He would never turn anyone away from His house of worship because they didn't look holy. That would totally defeat His purpose for having come!
I'm thankful that at that point in my life, my heart had purposed to do right. Had I been any less determined a man, those looks might have been enough to send me back to my old lifestyle. But thank God that He had instilled in me the determination to persist. And He rewarded me big-time by deepening my relationship with Him, by leading me directly to the woman who would become my wife, my best friend, and the mother of my children (I knew she was the one by our third date), and to a church home where I was fed, groomed, and discipled by real, authentic black men, themselves lovers of Christ, who embodied everything positive in men, and who embraced me just as I was, baggy jeans, tatts, pierced ears, and all. They were the first men ever to show me what Jesus means in Matthew 11:28, where He entreats, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (emphasis mine). I already knew I was weary. And burdened didn't even begin to describe the weight I was operating under. But the real Christian men I met made me understand that all applied to me, too. The love they showed a brotha was just like the love I got from other heads, except much more so because it was rooted in the very source of love (1 John 4:7, 16). So I came to Christ and never looked back.
My boys also schooled a brotha. They helped me to understand that I didn't have to stop listenin' to hip-hop in order to be an authentic Christian. This was news to me. A lot of people, especially many Christians, believe that hip-hop and the Gospel of Jesus Christ have nothing in common. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have actually heard people call hip-hop the music of the devil. They maintain that Christians should have nothing to do with it. Plain and simple, that's just not true. Let me explain.
Hip-hop as it exists today has become its own culture. It has its own values, its own language, its own style of dress, and most notably its own music. But hip-hop, like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is all-inclusive. It easily exists side by side with other cultures and for the most part is an "equal opportunity employer," for lack of a better phrase. Even though its origins are in black American culture (or African-American culture, if you prefer—honestly I get confused sometimes), its universal appeal speaks volumes. I remember when I hosted an online hip-hop show from Hollywood, California, we would get listeners/viewers from as far away as Israel and Japan. Hip-hop and hip-hop heads really don't discriminate against anybody except posers or Johnny-come-latelies. All heads want to know is, Are you down from the beginning? Do you remember and/or give props to the original playas, like the Treacherous 3, Melle Mel, Slick Rick, and Red Alert? And I tell you, it doesn't matter if a cat is from Harlem or Warsaw. If he's authentic, if his love for hip-hop is real, if he is down, and especially if he (or she— lest the ladies think they get no love) has got skills, (s)he will be welcomed. It's really no more complicated than that.
Jesus is the exact same way. The biblical accounts of His dealings show Him forever in the company of whoever wanted to be down. He didn't care if His followers were male or female. It might be difficult for Western women or men of this day and age to appreciate how radical that fact is. In our culture men and women operate side by side. Women lead almost as often as men. We haven't gotten the equal-pay thing right yet, but the rights Western women enjoy today are certainly closer to God's plan than those of the women in Jesus' day. The culture He operated in had a view of women similar to that of modern-day conservative Muslim nations. Women had very specific duties and roles, which were designed to keep them apart from men. They did not enjoy the same basic rights men did. In every sense they were second-class citizens. In many cases they were considered just barely a step above slaves and livestock. They had no political voice, no authority, and no relevance in society beyond their ability to marry as virgins and to bear male heirs. No one bothered to educate them. Jesus ignored this practice. It was common for women not only to follow Him, but to sit at His feet, a position traditionally reserved for students. Jesus taught women alongside men. He allowed them to ask questions and to engage Him. He didn't merely tolerate them; He welcomed them. He valued them. You might call Him the first feminist.
Another group that Jesus valued was children. If women were given no regard back in the day, children were virtually ignored. Jesus even had to check His own disciples. On one particular occasion recorded in the tenth chapter of Mark's gospel, word was out that Jesus was in town. Folks were bringing their little ones to be blessed. Probably thinking they were doing Jesus a favor, the disciples rebuked the people. Verse 14 in the NIV reads "When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.' " Verses 15 and 16 continue: " 'I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." I have to say, this is one of my favorite accounts. Jesus loves children! But what messes me up is that not only does He halt the practice of shoving them aside; He charges us to be like them! Throughout the gospels He's always doing that. He takes what society then and now says is important and what's unimportant and swaps them out. Children were of no consequence in biblical times. But Jesus says they are the perfect models of the human spirit. I won't go into all the virtues of children. That topic all by itself is a sermon fit for someone with a much more scholarly background. But I can tell you this: Jesus didn't trip about what most of society tripped about. He still don't.
He didn't trip about the sick. He sought them out. He em braced lepers. Today that would be the equivalent of hugging somebody who you know has AIDS. I know AIDS is communicable only through the exchange of bodily fluids, but when was the last time you kissed somebody on the cheek who had stage IV lesions on their forehead? Yeah. That's what I mean. Leprosy, on the other hand, is contagious upon contact. But again, Jesus wasn't trippin'. He hung with tax collectors (ancient versions of loan sharks and bank robbers), prostitutes, and the multitudes of unclean people—those who weren't fit to commune with God or His people. He taught the ignorant. His chosen twelve were not scholars. They were longshoremen; they fished for a living. And you can tell by a lot of the questions they asked Jesus, they were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. I worked the docks one summer with them cats. I can tell you from firsthand experience, we didn't always smell so good. And that's with deodorant. I'd bet good money the apostles were not a fresh-smelling bunch. But Jesus didn't care. He ate with them, traveled with them, slept side by side with them. Why? Because He loved them. He had purposed for them, before they were ever born, that they would carry His message of good news to the world. And He took the time to train and equip them for the task. And he did it all in three years! Talk about the accelerated course. The point is, He handpicked them. He could have chosen kings, priests, philosophers, scholars, but He didn't. He deliberately chose common men, because He is not a respecter of persons. He knew their hearts and He knew that whatever He had purposed for them, He was more than adequate to enable them to achieve it. The results speak for themselves. Twelve ragamuffins started out with a message. Two thousand years later . . . well, you get the point.
I love an underdog. Give me the kid on the street who don't know what's goin' on, but he's got a dream. Show me the 'round-the-way girl who is determined to start her own business, not the debutante. I prefer David to Goliath any day. That's really why I
love hip-hop. It's the underdog that rules the world. It started out with some dudes who had nothing but a beat and some rhymes. Now it's an empire. When hip-hop started, it was all about the music, all about the flow. But as its fans have matured and taken on different roles, like parent, spouse, business owner, they have brought the concerns that those roles foster to the forefront, and hip-hop has expanded to address those concerns. And what's cool is that hip-hop's fans bring their sensibilities to those roles. So, for instance, when my kids ask for a story before bedtime, it isn't beyond me and my wife to recite Slick Rick's "Children's Story" in unison from memory (a task made more enjoyable by the fact that the song contains no profanity). And believe you me, the irony of it all isn't lost on us. (If you don't understand, get your hands on a copy.)
As my personal roles have grown to include spouse, parent, literary agent, entertainment/marketing consultant, publisher, and now writer, my concerns for my business, my home, my children, my marriage have all surfaced. And what I have needed and sought for so long is Someone who can relate to me in all these areas without judgment, condemnation, or worse, condescension. I need a reliable source to go to for truth, not hearsay, wives' tales, popular opinion, or myth. I need an immovable, unchanging standard by which to align my life, my values, even my thoughts. Most of the stuff I'm doing now I have never done before in my life. And I don't mind tellin' you, I don't know what I'm doing most of the time. I have never been a husband, a father, an owner of multiple businesses. I have never had to deal with balancing family and ministry. I have never had to think about how to effectively raise children of privilege or how to verbally correct my daughter in a way that doesn't bring her to tears. I need real, applicable answers to my very real, hard questions about my life as it is right now, as well as how it will be. How do I handle a disobedient child? How do I structure my business? What does it take to make my marriage a screaming success? My need for answers to these questions makes me no different from any man in any other generation. And like so many men before me, I turn to Christ for insight, confidence, and provision. The only difference is that the way I rock mine is distinctly, undeniably hip-hop, a fact for which I refuse to apologize. And from what I gather from the Gospel, it is a fact for which no apology is expected (at least not from God Almighty).
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