A Mighty Band of Men & Women
December 31, 2006
Do you enjoy adventure stories? Like Treasure Island , the Hardy Boys , Robinson Crusoe , and Zorro ? I think that most people do. Several years ago one of my favorite childhood stories made the Big Screen. Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves , starring Kevin Costner.
The true story begins much earlier than the movie version. As the story goes, young Robin was driven to the forest after his family had its land taken away by the corrupt government. Now Robin Hood was a master marksman with a bow and arrow. One day he is on his way to a shooting match when some of the king's soldiers met him in Sherwood Forest and began to taunt and tease him. "Why a boy like you couldn't even slay a deer!" taunts one of the soldiers. In response, young Robin shoots and kills one of the King's stags. (For which the penalty was death!) So immediately the king's men try to capture him, but Robin Hood escapes. From that point on he lives as a fugitive and becomes the leader of other landless and hunted men like Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, and many others who came to be known as his band of merry men. There are countless adventure stories that tell of their tremendous courage and daring deeds on behalf of the poor.
Now of course Robin Hood is just a legendary folk hero. Today, I want to talk about another hero, a person whose real-life adventures are remarkably similar to many of those attributed to Robin Hood.
Almost overnight young David became a national hero - a kind of "boy wonder." After killing the Philistine giant, Goliath (which catapulted him to fame), he entered King Saul's service. In ISamuel 18, we read, "Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul's officers as well." But it didn't take long before Saul became jealous. The very king that David served so well turned against him. In fact, Saul determined to kill him!
So David had no choice but to run for his life. Like Robin Hood, David soon developed a following. ISamuel 22:2 describes his tag-alongs: "All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader." A chapter later we learn that his band of misfits grew to about six hundred.
Under David's command, this bunch of motley men were fine-tuned and developed into courageous warriors. Numbers of them came to be known (years later) as David's mighty men , and they continued to serve David even after he was established as the new king following the death of Saul.
In I Chronicles 11 we're given a long list of some of their names. And we read in verse 10: "David's mighty men...together with all Israel, gave his kingship strong support." My point is - from the original rag-tag gang, from that motley bunch of misfits, came David's might men, and they contributed significantly to the success of the kingdom.
Note with me at least two of the outstanding characteristics of David's mighty men. First was their unquestioning loyalty to their leader. And second, they eagerly, enthusiastically exceeded what was required of them.
It's my conviction that these same two qualities should characterize the spiritual lives of all of us who are believers. Number one: unquestioned loyalty to Christ; and number two: eagerly exceeding basic requirements.
But I have a hunch (and I don't think I'm overstating here) that it would be more accurate to describe the spiritual life of most believers in North America today as, number one; a turn-on/turn-off commitment to Christ-based primarily of feelings or issues of personal convenience; and number two: exerting low-level effort to meet minimal requirements.
Take a moment with me right now to do a simple exercise. I'm sure you've been called upon at one time or another to fill out a recommendation form for a friend applying to a school, or for a job, or whatever. Often such forms have a rating scale with various categories. One that's almost always included is the category labeled Industry or Initiative. The norm usually reads: "Does assigned tasks." Then there are two other possible ratings toward the "outstanding" end of the scale: "Seeks additional work," and best of all, "Consistently goes beyond what's required."
If you were to apply this scale to your initiative in spiritual matters, where would you rate yourself? Does assigned tasks? Seeks additional work? Or, consistently goes beyond what is required? How would you answer for yourself?
Professor Elton Trueblood wrote, "It's an affront to our maker to live on the level of mediocrity when we could exhibit excellence." If you want your life to please Christ (and I'm sure you do, I know I do) then probably like me, you too need to move up the scale - from the mindset of being content to simply "do assigned tasks" (or meet the minimal requirements), to a more eager attitude of pursuing spiritual excellence!
I don't think anyone would disagree that we are living in a rapidly changing world. The political and economic upheaval; we're seeing in governments around the globe is mind-boggling. In this country, we're reminded daily of the unprecedented social and cultural changes we're experienced in recent decades-shifts in gender roles, the changing face of business, questions about values, the sexual revolution.
On a personal level, most Americans regularly face major changes, perhaps more than any previous generation. Switching jobs, moving cross-country, family crises such as divorce or a runaway teenager-events like these are common occurrences in our society today.
Our experiences as parents and grandparents are like that of Tevye , the poor Jewish dairyman in Fiddler on the Roof , who is caught between the tradition of his people and the will of his more modern daughters. Times are changing. These five young women no longer want marriages arranged by the matchmaker in their small Russian village.
In one scene, Tevye is told by his daughter Chava that she is fallen in love with young Russian man who is not Jewish. Tevye anguishes over the thought of her marrying outside the faith. "If I try to bend that far," he says, "I will break!"
One of the great characters of Scripture is a handsome young student when we first meet him. Raised to be part of the royal court, he is instead deported to Babylon after his home city of Jerusalem is invaded. But because God has given him the ability to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar's dreams, Daniel receives a high position within the Babylonian government. Several times he faces close calls with death because he refuses to worship foreign gods. Once he sees the entire political backdrop change design. What was Babylonian, in an overnight coup, becomes Persian. As we read the account, we hold our breath until Daniel, an experienced survivor, is again made a high ranking official in this new regime.
It's Daniel who prayed these words (after God revealed to him the substance of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream): "Our Lord changes times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning." That's what we need in our day - wisdom and discernment.
You see, in recent decades we have witnessed tumultuous changes throughout the world. Few observers would have predicted the speed by which some of these transformations took place. Atheistic Communism was suddenly overthrown in the Soviet Union and the next thing we knew, leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States were asking the West for economic, moral, and spiritual help.
At the same time in many of the Eastern European countries, worn out old backdrops were done away with and new sets were lowered into place - with scenes the church had a hand in painting. God had deposed rulers and changed times and seasons. For us in North America, what will the next several years bring about? Will we experience a major economic earthquake, as some are predicting? We can't help but observe that in many ways our society is starting to unravel, just as Eastern regimes have come apart. Our families are in serious trouble. Children say, "We don't want to live by the traditions of our parents." Concerned dads and moms respond, "If we try to bend that far, we'll break!"
One way or the other, you can count on this: Change is difficult, even when it's change for the good. It tends to throw people off balance. So how, like Daniel and like David, do we remain faithful to the Lord in the process? My personal belief is that God makes it possible for His people to be spiritual survivors, even in days of great change. And like it or not, there are many more changes to come. Hopefully and prayerfully, in this coming year, 2007, we will become difference-makers and impact players for Christ and his kingdom.
Let's pray our way into the New Year together......