One evening while enjoying a beer with my good friend and fellow pastor Justin Woodall, I heard a song come over the sound system at Beef O’ Brady’s. It was “Handlebars” by the Flobots. At the time I’d never heard of them, but I immediately liked the hard driving rap and, as I caught bits and pieces of the lyrical content, I felt that the song was saying something important. Later, Justin and I downloaded the song and “wow”. What a powerful message. We were blown away.
Just to be clear, Justin and I are pastors, on staff at Surfside Presbyterian Church. Not only do we love Surfside Pres, but more broadly, we love the Church of Jesus Christ. That is why we are in the ministry. That is why I personally have been in the ministry for 20 years and why Justin works as a Pastor of Student Ministry. We LOVE the church. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!!! In fact, we love the church so much that we want her to be what Christ has called her to be – His body made manifest upon the earth. We long to see the Church operate, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as the hands and feet and mouth of Christ.
However, over the last several years of my ministry, I have seen the church digress away from Christ, away from the Gospel, and away from loving people. Why is it that they Flobots seem to understand somethings with a clarity that the church does not? Over the last several months I’ve tried to find some proof as to whether or not the Flobots are a Christian band. Nothing seems to indicate that they are. However, what we see in the Flobots is a secular rock band saying things and doing things that I think the Church should be doing and saying. Why is it that the Flobots seem to understand some Gospel principles better than most pastors do. Below are just a few thought that I have…
1. First Thought: Does the song “Handlebars” reveal a better understanding of Total Depravity than most Evangelical Churches. The song, “Handlebars” describes sin as something that originates in the heart of a child (original sin) and it discerns sin as something that grows from childlike pride (I can ride my bike with no handlebars) into a dangerous will to power with no regard for human life (I can end the world in Holocaust). Certainly the Flobots’ view does not take into account the essence of Sin – which is hatred of God, yet, in an age where sin is often viewed by the Church in the most simplistic and truncated way, (ie. – sin is forgetting to wear your WWJD bracelet), I find “Handlebars” to be a very theologically intelligent song. How is it that these guys understand Depravity better than most seminary trained pastors?
2. Second Thought: Is the Flobots’ work in the inner-city reflecting the love of Christ better than building bigger and better church steeples. When they are not performing, the Flobots work with inner-city kids in an effort to foster social change in Denver, Colorado. Justin and I make the point that their work looks more Christian, than ministries of most American Evangelical Churches. It looks and feels more like what Jesus said in Matthew 25:37-40…
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
When a young Christian sees work that looks like this, wouldn’t he draw the conclusion that this work is more “Christian” – more loving – than building bigger steeples. So may I raise the question, ‘Why is this band doing what we should be doing?’ In saying this I do not mean to discount any great ministries like “Samaritans’ Purse” or “Cross International” or “WorldVision”, but rather to admonish local evangelical churches across the country to involve themselves in their own community, on a personal level, in this kind of ministry.
3. Third Thought: Is Jesus using organizations (bands, movements, etc.) to shame the Church into action? In Luke 19:40, the Lord indicates that if we (the Church) becomes silent, the rocks will cry out. In the old testament a donkey preaches to a prophet. Maybe God is using secular organizations, such as the Flobots, as a subversive means – ‘as rocks crying out and donkeys preaching’ – to shame the Church; to show us what love looks like, to tutor us back to our Savior. I believe that the Flobots (among others) are doing “feebly” what the Church should do powerfully by the Spirit of Christ.
4. Fourth Thought: Is the American Evangelical Church allowing itself to be subverted by an American political agenda? I do not mean to communicate political hate here. I do not hate Republicans or Democrats. However, I do believe that the Church in America seems to be getting “highjacked” by both sides of the Liberal and Conservative political aisle. As a result, the Church is ceasing to preach the Gospel of Jesus and instead we have turned to preaching a perverted ‘Gospel of Politics’ or a ‘Gospel of Legalism’ or both. I feel that the enemy is using political agenda and rhetoric to split the American Church right down the middle. Liberals, motivated by fear and anger on one side. Conservatives, motivated by fear and anger on the other side. Red v. Blue. It seems that a new Civil War has developed and is using the Church as a pawn to legitimate their respective positions AND using the Church’s Pulpits to shout at one another. This is wrong and dangerous.
The Church, should not allow itself to get politically high-jacked away from the Cross or the Gospel. Nor should we allow our pulpits to be used for preaching something other than the Gospel. Christ is the Messiah – not George Bush, not Hillary Clinton, not Barak Obama, not John McCain or Sarah Palin. Jesus is our Blessed Hope – not Bill O’reilly, not John Stewart, not Sean Hannity, not Al Franken, not the Pope, and not even Bono (ha-ha). Let’s keep Jesus as the Messiah – Jesus: Our Lord, Our Master, Our King. As the hymn so beautifully states, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness…on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Our hope is not built upon the Democratic platform or the Republican platform or the Presidential nominee. Our hope is built upon Jesus. Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
In the meantime, please join me in praying that things change in the American church so that our understanding of sin, justice, and idolatry will at least be as good as the Flobots’.
Link: Lyrics to “Handlebars”
Link: Listen to “Handlebars”