I serve in a military community. There are several naval bases within the reach of my church. I have officiated an untold number of military funerals. I have been a part of a small number of military retirements. I admire those in the navy. They enlist (or are commissioned) knowing that they will be deployed. They must drop all other plans when their country calls them to service. They must leave their families behind when deployed. They have children who are born while they are away serving their country. They put their lives on the line to protect their country and ultimately their children.
Most civilians do not know the sacrifice of those serving in the military. Sure, they applaud them when they come home and honor them a few times a year for their service but the time they this will never pay for the time they have been away from their families in which their children knew of them as "the telephone call" or "the letter." Their whole families entered into the service with them. The families, too, should be honored.
Paul charged his son in the faith, Timothy, to act as a soldier because of his calling. The example of the military around me has helped me understand what that really means.
I have heard so many ministers excuse their lame work in the ministry as "making sure that my family is taken care of." They come in late, leave early and mark every extra moment they have spent in service to the Lord for comp time. They expect the regular members to put in a full days work and come to the church to serve a couple more hours but they do not expect to put in one more minute than absolutely required. They are unfit for the ministry according to Paul. They are "hired help" according to Jesus. They will always be "called" to a place that pays them a higher salary.
How can the congregation ever learn what it means to be committed to Christ when the ministers are serving at their convenience? It will create a whole congregation of people who serve at a minimal level and get out of service as soon as they can. They will never understand what it is to be a soldier of Christ if those who have been called into vocational ministry do not exemplify that service to the congregation.
Many of the people in the National Guard were appalled that they would be called up in Gulf War I. They had signed up to be "weekend warriors." They never expected to serve outside of the country. They expected them would be called in to help during a weather disaster but not fight an enemy who would shoot back at them. They did not know what it is to be soldiers. They acted like many Christians who are surprised that they have been asked to serve. They expected to come and enjoy the benefits. They will give a little so that they pay their dues but they are not about to lay down their lives.
Many Christians have become "weekend warriors." They will come to church several weekends of the month. They never expect to be pressed into service. They never expect to fight a battle. They are like soldiers who train for an enemy that they never see or fight. The enemy is just a mythical being. They don't even notice that he has already attacked through their complacency.
The calling to the Christian faith is one of a battle. It is fighting against an enemy who is often unseen. It is one which requires hours which the soldier would rather be doing something else. The service steals sleep. It takes the soldier away from his or her family. The family also feels the call for they endure the hardship of the one called away. The children understand the calling by the way their parents serve. They know it is not something to be trifled with. They know that their faith is not something that can be done at convenience. They know that it is a battle. They may resent the service for some time but they will only know it is necessary if they can see their parents involved in the battle.
I have never heard of a battle that was won when it was only fought when it was convenient. I have never seen a battle won in which there was not hardship and sacrifice. I have never seen any of the soldiers (sailors) in my community fail to understand that they could be deployed, yet I have seen many Christians fail to understand that they are called into an inconvenient service.
This is no video game.
What would Jesus say to this: Luke 14:26-27 (NIV)
26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.
27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
What would Paul say to this: 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer.