That’s how St. Louis rapper Marcus Gray, aka FLAME, describes his younger self.
At 16, he became a Christian and admittedly may have been a bit overzealous at times. He bought a briefcase for his Bible and notebook, followed by a big Jesus chain.
Before long, FLAME was disrupting class, standing on desks to get his point across about heaven and hell. That landed him in the principal’s office. But the passion never stopped.
“Career criminals—I’m bringing them to church with me. I would fill up a whole row; 15 dudes hearing the Gospel,” he said. “I’d bring sermons over. We’d play basketball, and I’d say, ‘Let’s go listen to this sermon.’”
FLAME’s heart for street ministry led to one of his closest friendships, with fellow rapper, Thi’sl.
Thi’sl ran the entire west side of St. Louis. And after a shooting, FLAME entered his turf to pray with people and pass out Bibles. That’s when the two met.
“I literally rapped Romans 7 [to him],” FLAME recalled. “He said, ‘Man, you do the same thing I do, you just don’t curse!’”
And with that small common ground, “I watched the Lord save him, and now we’re co-laborers in sharing the Gospel.”
Getting Past the Weird
With so much division today, it’s easy to overlook commonality. But, “We’re all really very similar,” FLAME says.
“One culture may call this bread chapati or naan, another may call it a tortilla. But it’s all flat bread we all like to eat, and it tastes good when you put it over fire,” he explained.
Relating even over the simple things is especially key when people are asking tough questions and challenging religion, which FLAME addresses in his music.
“We live in a time where being a Christian isn’t cool. It’s strange, it’s weird, it’s uncomfortable,” FLAME said. “[But] now that people are straying away from a traditional Christian background … this is a prime time for the church to be engaging.
“Sometimes, we have to get people lost first before we can get them found.”
FLAME, who has performed at several Franklin Graham Festivals, came to Christ shortly after a difficult time in his life. He’d been in a tragic car accident, then two weeks later, his grandmother—the matriarch of his family—died of a heart attack.
It’s proof that tough times and wake-up calls can lead to breakthrough.
“God is saving people, man. And it’s from people just being out there, being normal and giving answers with love.”
Justice for an Unjust World
FLAME grew up in St. Louis, a city he says is very segregated and has been for decades. So when Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot dead in the middle of his Ferguson, Missouri, neighborhood by a white police officer, the unrest that ensued was about more than that day.
The same can be said about similar shootings as recent as last week that have sparked emotion and tension.
“Satan has done a fine job of finding these pockets and these different ways to divide us, and racism is one of those things,” FLAME said.
“But this is a fallen world. There’s racism here, there’s corruption here, there’s hatred here on both sides. And unless God works in us … there’s always going to be chaos.”
Shortly after the Michael Brown shooting, FLAME and his wife Crystal were driving down a main street in Ferguson and saw a familiar logo—the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains were in town. They wound up joining the chaplains in going out to pray and share hope with residents.
“We met a guy from Ferguson. He was hurt, frustrated, confused, and we were able to share the Gospel with him. To this day, I keep up with him. I bring him to church with me,” FLAME said. “I just want to help him understand the world and his own self.”
FLAME and his wife now run the record label Clear Sight Music. In addition to his latest album, “Forward,” he also recently released a book about living out your faith called All In.
His challenge to changed people like himself is to share God’s story by connecting and forming relationships. And it doesn’t have to mean awkward encounters or aimless debates that leave people more confused than before.
“We have to be on deck as the church explaining the faith in such a tangible way that it’s not just transcendent information but it actually touches people where they live.
“People are hurting and looking for answers, and we have those answers.” he continued. “The Bible is always relevant. We just have to show its relevance.”
Are you looking for answers? Find peace with God today.