Hip-hop artist and pastor Trip Lee offers a light-hearted and thought-provoking look at the Christian desire to withdraw from the culture, encouraging listeners to instead be the light of Christ to the world.
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Trip Lee: You know, so many people have never seen a Christian actually living faithfully. Have you ever gotten into conversations with people and the mere fact that you love Jesus and you’re not insane blows them away?
It’s like, “Man, it’s like you can think.” Like, yes, we have brains.
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John Fuller: Yes, we Christians do have brains, and we know how to use them. Well stay with us for a refreshing look at being a good witness for Christ in our culture on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus President Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I’m excited to introduce today’s guest to our audience, because he is a young man who is wise beyond his years. He is a husband and a father, a pastor and a church-planter, and a hip-hop artist. It may not all go together in someone’s mind. Trip Lee began rapping at the age of 12, gave his life to Christ at age 14, and preached his first sermon at the ripe old age of 17!
And as a hip-hop artist, Trip Lee’s music has received critical acclaim. His last three albums have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Gospel charts, and his most recent album, Rise, debuted at #2 on the Billboard Rap charts. I mean that’s big. And I’m sure you’ve already figured it out from the clip you just heard, he’s a very refreshing and engaging speaker. Trip has written two books,and his latest, . And today Trip is going to encourage us to boldly, yet lovingly, live out our Christian faith in the wider culture.
John: He’s really gifted, and here now is Trip Lee speaking at an ERLC National Conference, the group headed up by Russell Moore, on today’s Focus on the Family.
Trip: Good afternoon. Y’all good? All right, just making sure. My name is Trip. I am a rapper and a pastor in Atlanta. I have a wife and two kids. And I would usually say more. But that’s all I’m gonna say ‘cause I only have 15 minutes so - giving a preacher 15 minutes is like, you know, telling Russell Moore he can only write one “think piece” a year. It’s unjust.
And it’s also unrealistic. But I’m gonna go ahead and start. And we’ll see how close we get. Uh, I want to talk about engaging culture, which is a buzz-phrase that we hear a lot, that Christians like to talk about a lot. And what I want to do is - I talk about is - I want to demystify the whole concept just a little bit. When people think about engaging culture, what they’re normally thinking about - is they’re thinking about some grand scheme, some huge, innovative, earth-shattering thing that regular people can’t really do. They think, “Changing the world with the next bestseller.” They’re thinking about having, you know, closed-door meetings with - with world leaders.
And while those are good things, when I talk about engage in culture, I have something a little more ordinary in mind. I’m thinking about a friend of mine who’s a - who’s a teacher in a rough neighborhood at a rough school. And I’ll tell what she does. She - even though it’s hard, she goes to work every single day. She tries to do her job well. She tries to educate her students. She shows them the love of Jesus, tells them about Jesus when she has opportunities to. And she strives to be faithful to Jesus in public.
And I say in public, I’m not just talking about on stages like this or on social media. When I say in public, I mean in our daily lives in front of other people - right? - as opposed to just in private - right? - because often our cultural engagement is not going to look like those big grand schemes and those grand plans and campaigns but really just being faithful to Jesus in the world.
Please do not underestimate what your personal faithfulness can say about the Lord Jesus who saved you, right? And when we fight for that personal faithfulness, it says the right things about Jesus. So that’s my only point really – is just that if you want to engage culture, be faithful in public. Usually, when we say culture, we know what we’re talking about. We’re talking about these shared values and assumptions and worldview that we have and also the stuff that we make.
And so when we think about culture, it is a beautiful thing. And if culture is a beautiful thing, why is it that when Christians talk about culture, we’re always on the defensive? You must have got that from the culture?
Why are we always on the defensive when we talk about it? Why do we need to engage it? And as is because culture is as complex as people are, right? There are good things and there are bad things about every culture. And that reflects the truth about us that we are beautiful creatures made in the image of God but that we’re sinful. And here’s the thing: the main problem with culture is that all cultures are made by other sinful people. And anytime you put things in the hands of sinners, they go wrong at least just a little bit. And it’s the same thing with culture. So what happens is those agreed upon values and assumptions and worldviews - we begin to agree upon godless values and assumptions and worldviews. And then a lot of stuff we make is offensive to God. And so as Christians, we find ourselves in positions where we don’t know what to do because our culture doesn’t always love our Christ.
I notice firsthand as a rapper. Hip-hop is not exactly known for its moral uprightness and robust theology.
Why are you laughing?
Instead, it’s known for materialism and violence and treating women as sexualized props to stand behind men while they look tough. That’s what hip-hop is often known for. And as a side note, those things - materialism and violence and misogyny - those are core values of American culture. Hip-hop is just more in your face about it. That’s a side note.
You know, so - so here’s the thing, as a rapper then, I get the opportunity to try to show off Jesus when it’s not expected. Because that’s not the first thing that people expect from rappers, I’m put in that position where I get to point people to Him and because I’ve had a little bit of success, I have a platform where I can influence. And so instead of, you know, using that platform to reinforce those ugly things in hip-hop, I wanted to paint a different picture. But that’s not unique to me because real faithfulness to Jesus is almost never expected in any scenario. So all of us have the opportunity to engage others in unexpected ways.
Anytime you see faithfulness to Jesus, it feels unexpected and refreshing. And I assume that everyone here understands that we are to engage culture. We’re not to completely withdraw from it. We’d do better not withdrawing if we stop panicking like, “What happened? The world is awful.” Have you have you read Genesis 3? It’s been that way for a while. And that doesn’t mean that we should withdraw. Withdrawing because our world is broken is like if a contractor went to renovate a home and he was like, “Man, this house looks terrible. I ain’t messing with this.” It’s like, “That’s your job. That’s what - that’s why you’re here.”
And that’s what I want to say to my brothers and sisters sometimes. That’s why the Lord Jesus left us here, right? When He saved us, we didn’t immediately ascend to heaven. And it’s been clear in Scripture that one of the reasons is because He wants us to shine, to engage as light-bearers. Scripture doesn’t call us to disengage, right? Scripture calls us to trust in the true light Jesus. It’s called us to walk in the light - 1 John 1. And it says that we’ve been made the light of the world and we’re to shine it. We’re to purposely make sure other people see it - like on purpose in front of people.
Jesus points out lights are no good if they’re hidden. God has called us to show it, to display. And that’s very basic Christian teaching that we’re supposed to shine our light. But we don’t always know how so we stumble around. And I think here the - two of the most common approaches we go for under the titles of two American heroes, Batman and Iron Man. Stick with me for a second.
You have Batman. Batman is very secretive, right? People have no idea that Batman is really the billionaire Bruce Wayne, right? They don’t know that that’s the same dude who beats up villains at night. And Bruce Wayne, when he’s out, he works hard to make sure nobody gets on his trail. He acts crazy, gets drunk, makes sure nobody thinks he’s serious. And so nobody knows. And I assume the main thing that keeps it hidden is his grisly, bat voice so that no one could possibly tell that those are the same people.
And here’s the thing, for many of us in this room, people would never know that the person that you would see at a church gathering or at a conference like this is the same person that they see in the halls of the workplace. They would never know. And it’s because we work hard acting like we’re secret agents. Like, “God, I want to do good things. But nobody can know that has anything to do with Jesus.” We work really hard to make sure nobody knows we love Jesus. We sneeze. Somebody’s like, “Bless you.” We like, “Who told you I was blessed?”
We don’t want nobody to know. We don’t want anybody to know the motivations behind our hard work and integrity. The other approach is the Iron Man approach. Iron Man - he does good things as well. Everybody knows who he is. Everybody knows. Every time he goes, there’s Tony Stark. And it’s because even though he does good things, he does them in such an obnoxious way and brags about it so often that even though he saved the world a few times everybody hates him because he’s so obnoxious. Some of us are like that. Not only do we want to do good things, we want all the credit. We want to be arrogant and in your face about it at all times, so obnoxious about it that nobody ever wants to be around us. Somebody may come up to you and be like, “Hey, how you doing today?” You’re like, “How are you going to be doing on the last day when Jesus comes back?” Like...
You could pull it back a little bit.
That’s the Iron Man approach. And those are the two extreme approaches that we’re usually tempted towards, being overly secretive or being overly obnoxious. And I just want to say there’s another way to engage culture. And that way is being faithful in public.
I think we often think, “Man, our world is going so much worse” - which is debatable. We say, “Oh, it’s getting so much worse. So we got to come up with a new, more grand, more innovative ways to engage it and to show off Jesus.” And I’m not saying there’s no room for innovation. But I think it means we should more deeply embrace the simple. Innovation is fine. But not at the expense of the simple because we overthink it. Think about the way that Paul talks about it. Think about these passages. Paul in 1 Thessalonians, he’s commending the Thessalonian church for loving one another. And he says this Chapter 4. He says, “For that indeed, is what you were doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you brothers to do this more and more and to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands as we instructed you so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” Brothers and sisters, that’s cultural engagement, walking properly before outsiders where our world often walks improperly and without integrity, right? We’re called to walk properly and with integrity in public before outsiders, right? He’s saying work hard even so you don’t have to depend on other people. That’s a good witness when you work hard for your own money, and your only interaction with people isn’t asking them for money. He’s saying that is engaging.
1 Peter 2:11 and 12 - Peter says this: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when they speak against you as evil-doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” That’s cultural engagement, right? It says, “Keep your conduct honorable among them so that when they see that they’ll glorify God.” And I’m not saying draw attention to yourself all the time, like, “Hey, everybody. Watch me being faithful.” We’re to do it so that God gets the glory.
You know, so many people have never seen a Christian actually living faithfully. Have you ever gotten into conversations with people and the mere fact that you love Jesus and you’re not insane blows them away?
It’s like, “Man, it’s like you can think.” Like, yes, we have brains, right? The Christians that you see in TV shows and on the news are not always the best representation of us all. But even the fact that, you know, we would try to be faithful to our spouses, even the fact that we would try to love our neighbor, sometimes that alone is mind-blowing for people. When my last album came out a couple years ago, I was doing a bunch of interviews. And I love doing interviews with Christian outlets. But I also love interviews with mainstream outlets, especially hip-hop sites and magazines because they are always very confused at the concept that I’m a devout Christian, I love Jesus, I read the Bible and I think it’s all true and I love hip-hop and I’m kind of good at it. That’s too much for their minds.
One interview, you know, I was there to talk about my album, but he just kept asking me about my Christianity. He was just - could not - he was like, “Okay. You’re - you’re married. What? When you and your wife were dating, it’s like, oh - when you’re in the studio, do you smoke weed? Do you like strippers in the studio? Like, what? Do you have rap beef with other Christians?” And he had all these questions he couldn’t figure out. I wanted to talk about my album. But I was fine to talk about this - right? - because I have the opportunity to say, “Hey. I’m not a crazy person, right? I’m a dude who loves hip-hop like everybody else. But the Lord Jesus saved me. And it’s changed the way that I live.” Right? And just the witness of me being someone committed to Jesus, faithful to him, faithful to my wife, was enough to make a big impact in that particular situation. In that situation, I’m engaged in culture, not because I’m a rapper but because I’m being faithful in public spaces.
At the end of the day, rappers engage culture in the same way everyone else does by being faithful to Jesus in the midst of a culture where unfaithfulness is celebrated. So when I write songs about marriage instead of womanizing, I’m trying to engage culture. But that’s not much different than what I do when I’m not on stage. I’m trying to be faithful. And that means it’s the same for you, that engaging culture means fighting for purity in an age when impurity is celebrated. That means fighting for justice in a time when injustice is so common and systemic. That means fighting for unity when bigotry goes mainstream. That means loving God and loving your neighbor in public spaces. And one of the things I love about thinking of cultural engagement is being faithful in public is it doesn’t in any way mean that a Christian has to be some special person or you have to have some master’s level understanding of culture to engage it. You’ve just got to follow Jesus in public. That’s how we engage it.
Some of us have mass influence. Some of us have a more mundane influence. Mass influence - you have a lot of Twitter followers. People read our books or whatever, or buy our albums, right? That would be more kind of mass influence. More mundane influence is most everybody in the world. We have neighbors. We have family. We have kids. We have a spouse. All right, we have co-workers. And we want to live faithfully. But whatever our influence is, mass or mundane - right? - we want to engage by being faithful to Jesus exactly where we are.
Another thing I like about thinking of engaging culture as being faithful in public is it helps us to be a little less obsessed with fighting people. When we hear “engage culture”, we like, “Yeah. I’m trying to pick a fight with somebody who’s wrong.” But I think it will be more helpful when we think about it as faithfulness that we’re not called to fight more people. We’re called to love more people, right? We’re not trying to pick fights everywhere we go. And that doesn’t mean we gotta agree with everybody. But that means even in the midst of disagreements, we interact with love. We want the love of Christ to drive us. We want to be faithful to Him. So we are not out looking for fights with people who disagree with us. We want to love them. We don’t want to look for reasons to hate political leaders. We want to find ways to love them. That’s what engaging culture is often going to be.
And for the church leaders in this room, we have some of the most important roles because we haven’t been called to do all the ministry. We’ve been called to equip the saint for the work of the ministry so that we get an opportunity to equip them to wherever they are, whatever their spheres are - to equip them to be faithful in those public spaces to the glory of Jesus, to remind them you don’t have to have a massive platform in order to do this. And it’s what all of us have been called to do - not only to be faithful and public with our actions but also without words. We have been called to tell people the actual news of Jesus. It’s news that has to be proclaimed. That’s part of our faithfulness in public spaces. And I’ll just close by saying this: engaging culture isn’t always hard and doesn’t always require great gifting. It’s all different kinds of people in different places. Some of y’all are introverts like me. Some of y’all are extroverts. Stay away from us, please.
Some of us have massive influence. Some have mundane influence, right? Some of us have great gifts. Some of us don’t. Whatever your gifting or wiring, the size of your platform - right? - we’ve been called to do the same thing. And we should not underestimate the power of being faithful to Jesus in public spaces. And there’s this growing fear that the church will be left behind and become irrelevant. And I just want you to know that the church being left behind him being irrelevant is impossible, right? The only time our mission will become irrelevant is when Jesus has come back and he’s already completed His work.
Until Jesus is back and he’s completed His work, that means He’s still working in us and we still have plenty of work to do. And by God’s grace, we also have the weapons to do it. Amen? Amen. Let me pray.
Father, we thank you so much for your son Jesus. And we thank you God for the call to be faithful to him. Give us grace to do that, Father, to do it in a loving way and a Christ-honoring way. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus. Amen. Amen.
John: Well, Jim, you and I are going to agree with that prayer from Trip Lee on today’s edition of Focus on the Family.
Jim: Yeah. We do, John. And I love what Trip said there at the end. Until Jesus returns and has completed his work, he’s still working in us. And we still have plenty of work to do. Let’s do it. You know, that’s part of the point. I - there are some challenging Scriptures when you look at it.
Of course, I wrote a book a while back called. And it talks about this interchange between the public square and our faith and how we need to behave. It’s a challenge because in that space, there can be deeply held positions and arguments that take on a lot of emotion.
But let me read a couple of Scriptures to center us. And really, what I was trying to communicate in the book- one out of 2 Timothy right there in chapter 2 verses 24 through 26. Just listen to this and apply it to today. The Scripture says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” I wish it said most people. It doesn’t say that. It says kind to everyone – “able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. And they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.”
I mean, that is an insightful Scripture right from Paul’s pen to us today to say, “This is how you engage the world that does not embrace Christ.” That’s how you win someone. And it’s right there again in Romans 2:4. “Don’t you know it’s the kindness of God that leads one to repentance?” And we’re the ones that show and express that kindness. Does it always come naturally? No. I would say it rarely comes naturally. And usually, if we’re coming at something with anger or hatred or bitterness, that’s the fruit of the enemy of our souls - Satan himself. That’s the fruit of the devil. And we have got to determine in our own hearts the distinction between the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, mercy - and then the other bad fruit. It’s hard to do. I’m not capitulating on principle. But when you’re engaging people, they need to see kindness and tenderness.
And I think one of the great Scriptures when I’m reading where Jesus encourages us - commands us to love our neighbor, sometimes, we brush by that. Of course, I love my neighbor. If my neighbor was hurting, I would do something to help my neighbor. I think it goes far deeper than that. As I’ve engaged the same-sex community or the abortion community, I’ve met with some of these people. When they feel sincerity from you, when they feel a neighborly love for them, it’s amazing what happens to their heart. And I’ve seen it. It cracks open just like that Scripture is talking about. That snare that the enemy has them by - it loosens its grip when they feel understood and - not agreement, but they feel understanding that you know their pain. And I think that’s the depth of what Jesus was saying when he said, “Love your neighbor.” It’s not a cup of sugar. It’s being able to look beyond those things that irritate you and to express to somebody, who may be unlovable, an amazing love from God. That’s got to come through us.
The point of it all is we need to extend grace. In a culture right now that finds it hard to find grace for their enemies, it needs to be the Christian community to model the way forward. Let me read a quote from Blaise Pascal, who lived in the 1600s. He said, “There are two kinds of men - the righteous who believe themselves sinners, the rest sinners who believe themselves righteous.” I mean, that is a great statement. And what that really is - is remember, we are all sinners saved by grace. That would be the scriptural way of what Pascal was saying - that there is evil in all of us, and we do things out of our flesh like lying or bitterness or jealousy or those things that are described in Galatians 5:19 that are rooted in the wrong fruit - the bad fruit. And we have got to know our hearts well enough to say “Okay, Lord, how do I become more like you?” And what the Lord is saying - it is love and joy and peace and goodness and kindness. And we as Christians should never demean those who are using those tools of the spirit to confront others.
John: It’s a challenge to bite your tongue and um, and to - I loved what Trip said earlier about, you know, some people are surprised when Christians have brains. As you’re talking, Jim, I’m thinking...
Jim: That right there irritates me, I got to tell you. My flesh wants to respond to that.
Jim: I get it. They think we’re brainless because we believe in faith of a God who is unseen.
Jim: But I’ll put that up against anybody.
John: Well, yeah. And the parallel for me was I was thinking a lot of people think Christians are the ones who judge. And as you were talking, I’m thinking there’s not much room for me to go around judging other people, especially the world. I think the Scripture’s pretty clear that I’m supposed to judge myself, and I might have some room to help some brothers and sisters stay accountable, but it’s not my job to be the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives.
Jim: Well, and this is going to stir a lot of emotion. People are gonna respond to this, and I get that. But you’re on it, John. I think the problem the Pharisees and the Sadducees had in Jesus’s time is they looked down on sinners. They thought of themselves as close to God, perfect perhaps, certainly more perfect than those around them like the tax collectors and the sinners. And we have got to be careful not to repeat that very same human-heart attitude that - because God’s grace has been extended to us, because we can see the truth of Scripture. We can see it in our own heart. We see it in others. But it’s not license to lord that over others - to say, “I am better than you.” Man, you’re in dangerous territory when you have an attitude like that about other people. And so we, of all people, as Christians, should understand that we’re sinners, saved by grace, that we are no better.
I love Paul. Yeah, think of Paul the Apostle. This man trained in the Jewish traditions. And yet he said, “I am the greatest sinner.” Man, that took humility for Paul to do that - to say, “Even though I am learned, even though I am the Pharisee of all Pharisees and learned at the knee of the best, I’m the least of us because of what I have done to the church.” He was encouraging the killing of Christians, and he had to take that to his grave as a born-again believer. That had to be a heavy moment for him.
Let me land on this admonition out of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Doesn’t say some circumstances. It’s not only when your neighbor’s treating you right or those of the opposite political party are treating you right. The Scripture is saying and the Lord is saying through that, “Give thanks in all circumstances. I’ve got your back. I’m God. I will take care of it. Don’t own it. Just be my ambassador.”
And if you believe in the mission here at Focus on the Family to reach people in the name of Christ - I’m so pleased, John. Last year, our research indicates that over 200,000 people came to Christ or rededicated their life to the Lord through Focus. That is wonderful, and I want to say thank you to all those who pray for us and who support the ministry. We are doing this together, and I hope that puts a smile on your face that people are coming to faith in Christ through what we do together.
John: And we want you to be a part of that effort. Pray for us and contribute as you can. I’ll mention of couple of books that we have that we can send. One is Jim’s book,- he mentioned that - is about living a life that reflects God’s heart. It’s about engaging with the culture in meaningful ways and showing God’s heart. And then, of course, Trip Lee’s book, - that’s written to inspire young adults particularly. We’ll be happy to send either of those books to you when you make a generous contribution of any amount to the work here. Donate and request the book of your choice at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY - 800, the letter “A”, and the word “FAMILY”.
You know we’ve talked about how Focus on the Family wants to help impact the culture and we do that through families. If we’ve inspired you or helped your family, please tell us your story. Look for details on the website.
Next time, we’ll talk about the importance of having a positive attitude in your marriage.
Rhonda Stoppe: Falling in love is all in your mind. You think on what is good, right, honorable, praise-worthy. You think on the best about that guy that’s going to walk in the door, that girl that’s going to walk in the door. Falling out of love is all in your mind. So it’s really focusing on what you’re thinking on.
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