Have you ever heard the phrase ‘running off to join the foreign legion’? The French Foreign Legion is the stuff of legend because of its amazing feats of courage and bravery; on the 30th April 1863, for instance, at the Battle of Camarón, 65 legionnaires defended a position all day against 2,000 Mexican troops. They defended it literally until it was two of them standing back to back to face down enemy charges. So who were these crack troops? The cream of the academy? The best men from Sandhurst? Well, not exactly. For many years the legion was what one historian described as ‘an ideal repository for the scum of the earth’. With little in the way of questions asked of new recruits it attracted murderers, failed revolutionaries, fugitives from justice or debt – all of the sections of society that no one else wanted. If you were in trouble you might escape it by running off to join the foreign legion.
What made the legion a great unit was the fact that it’s culture was stronger than the individual problems of those who came into it. There is a similarity here between what the legion did and what church should be doing, we should be reaching to those that are struggling or that society has written off and building them up through culture that refines them into something amazing. When we look at another crack military unit, David’s mighty men, we see just this happening.
David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
– 1 Samuel 22:1-2 (ESV)
When David fled from Saul to the cave of Adullam people heard it and gathered to him. I love these verses because they foreshadow what would later happen when Jesus came and what should be happening now with the church; all kinds of people were gathered to Him and all kinds of people should be gathered to us. I love what God does to turn this gathering or crowd of outlaws into a band of brothers with a sense of loyalty, courage and purpose. In 2 Samuel 23:8-39 we get just a small taste of what the mighty men of David achieved, feats of bravery and excellence that helped establish David as King and maintain his kingdom against all odds. These guys became the very best and bravest in the land, they changed the world.
We’re called to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, it says as much in the Lord’s prayer, so who are we working with to do so? Who is drawn into gathering in our churches, our groups, and around our lives? And are they being changed by what we do, or do we lose our identity? The first thing that happens when David comes to the cave is that his brothers and his father’s house joined him.
A group of people was established and it grew from there with all those who were in distress, in debt or bitter in soul. Both groups of people are essential, we need community with other kingdom minded people in order to keep ourselves connected and build a culture that can draw people to Jesus and support the transformation He makes in their lives. Our church family and our house need to be the kind of place where people devoted and dedicated to the cause of His kingdom can provide a place for those desperate and in need to come; we need to be a place where people not only have their needs met but are able to grow in their potential and to become part of that family.
It’s interesting that in 1 Samuel 30:6, after the Amalekites have raided Ziklag, we find this same group of people and once again they’re described as bitter in soul. It’s a demonstration of the continuing need for grace in a community; these guys had came together, their lives had been turned around by the culture, the esprit de’ corps, but when something terrible happened they once again slipped into a problem from the past. It took God’s strength and intervention to keep them on the right track and transform the situation. I know that I’ve been in the position before so many times where situations and circumstances pull at me and I start to slump and need the grace and strength of God to bring me back round; those who gathered at the Cave of Addulam and were transformed did not go on to be perfect – they slipped up and they had bad days and under pressure they showed cracks and needed the ongoing grace of God.
At my church, NCLC, Pastor Jon speaks about church being a place that grace runs through no matter how many times people fall. There are times when all of us; whether we’ve been in church for years or for weeks, and regardless of our background, feel down or that life is on top of them but Christian communities should be places where this can happen and people can be encouraged and lifted. Being gathered together doesn’t mean problems never arise, or that people don’t screw up, but it does mean that when they do people are in a place where they can be met with saving grace and not condemnation.
If our churches, small groups and individual lives are just full of comfortable, middle class, well-behaved, Christians then they’re not really fitting their purpose. That is not even remotely Christ like. Like the cave of Addulam, wherever Christians gather should become a place where the hurting, the sinners and those rejected by society can come and experience transformation. The great commission sent us out to make disciples of all nations but the challenge for all of us is who are we asking to come? Who are we inviting into our house? Is it just the people we know would make a smooth and quick transition into faith, so we can boost how we feel about ourselves by bringing in an amazing friend? Or is it anyone and everyone who is in need? Are we willing to be turning up with the drug-addled old school friend? Are we willing to be the one who brings someone desperately in need of a shower and a change of clothes? What about the one with the chequered past? The former robber or prostitute? Or will we let the prospect of being seen with those in desperate circumstances stop us?
I’m not writing this because I in any way have this sorted, I’m writing this because it’s a big challenge to me and I suspect to some of you too. I’m writing this because I don’t think God wants us to just invite our mates and become a little club. Inviting our friends is the start, not the end. It’s not job done once our close mates are disciples. When Jesus said ‘come to me all who are weary’ He spoke to those who had lived through things, who had circumstances that had worn them down, He spoke to people in desperate need of grace. When Jesus first reached out to us, were we not the debtors, the distressed and the bitter in soul? And we’re certainly still dependant on His grace.
When we want to see change in our communities, our cities, our worlds, if we’re looking for people who are already the finished item then we’ll be looking a long time. When God changes things up he so often uses the least of these, the ones society has labelled and rejected. Like the French foreign legion we should be a point of gathering for people who have no other hope and let them enter a culture that will encourage them and support them. Right now many of the world changers of tomorrow are probably smoking pot, filing for bankruptcy or seeking a way out of their depression. Let’s live in a life style that positions us, as Jesus taught, like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden and that all those people can gather to.