A Call to Arms

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When I was told that I was being appointed here to Calvary I certainly had a lot of excitement that overcame me. I was excited for new ministry opportunities, to serve in a full-time capacity, to live in a town, and especially to be so close to Gettysburg. The Civil War has always been something that has fascinated me, and moving here really put me in an area riddled with Civil War history.
A few years ago, right about the time Larissa and I started dating, I had been invited to attend a military dinner with a group called the “Honorary First Defenders” out of Allentown. A few of the people in my National Guard unit were going, so I went along.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself looking more into the original first defenders. On April 15th, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call-to-arms and requested the presence of several militias to help protect the nation’s capital from Southern forces. The first of which to respond were a group of men from Allentown, later called the Allen Infantry or Allen Guard. It’s said that:
One of the first companies to respond to the call of the President were the Allen Guards, Captain Thomas Yeager of Allentown … offered their services to the Governor, April 17th, and mustered into services April 18th, arriving at the same time at Harrisburg were Ringgold’s Light Artillery, Captain McKnight of Reading; Logan Guards, Captain Selheimer of Lewistown; Washington Guards, Captain Wren and the National Light Infantry, Captain McDonalds, of Pottsville; and Co. H, Fourth Artillery Regulars under Lieut. Pemberton, (afterwards a general of the Confederate army). They all started for the seat of war on the 18th of April. The Regulars for Fort McHenry and the others for Washington
The company’s historian, James Schaadt stated that:
“Men, especially young men, left furrow and workshop and office in obedience to the call, and it was not long before the muster-rolls were full.”
These men dropped their professions, dropped their way of living, dropped their “normal,” and accepted the call to do something greater than they had ever dreamed to do. They enlisted and went on to serve as guardsmen for the nation’s capital. And, among those men who responded to the call was Larissa’s 4th great-grandfather, Private Nathaniel Hillegess. While he made it out of the nation’s capital unscathed, he would eventually die during the battle of Lynchburg Virginia at the age of 34, leaving behind his wife, Elizabeth, and children Alfred and Sarah.
While this bit of history was incredibly interesting for me to learn, and very exciting, I wanted to bring to your attention an event that started Larissa’s 4th great-grandfather’s military career…a call to arms.
Lincoln saw the uprising danger, the potential catastrophe that could come, and he called on every day, ordinary men to take up arms, join together, and defend the capital of our nation. It was a call that surely required bravery to accept.
But, what exactly is a call to arms? What did it mean for Lincoln to issue one of these? A “call to arms” is defined as “a demand for a group of people to fight against an enemy.” Lincoln was calling these men to fight, to participate in battle, to run towards danger rather than away from it.
This morning, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read about a call to arms, but not quite the same as President Lincoln’s.
In the closing chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul is encouraging Timothy to keep fighting the good fight, to continue on in his ministry even though things are hard, complicated, and maybe not what he expected coming into it all.
From this 6th chapter we learn about a few more of the problems that Timothy was facing with people in his church, namely, money. Money was causing people in Ephesus to act in non Christ-like ways, and this was destroying the ministry of the church.
Likely after hearing of these issues from Timothy, Paul writes to the young pastor and describes some characteristics and actions of people who are not in line with who Christ is and what He taught.
1 Timothy 6:3–5 NRSV
3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5 and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Paul highlights these negative things here:
Understanding nothing
“Morbid craving for controversy”
Disputes about words
He says that from these things comes:
Base suspicions
Wrangling who are depraved in mind and lacking truth
Thinking that godliness = personal gain
After discussing this, Paul transitions into talking about those who seek riches, fame, fortune, and things in this world. He says those who desire riches “fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Yikes...
Here, Paul says what is infamously misquoted… “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” of which he connects an eagerness and desire for riches.
But then, Paul brings about this call to arms. After listing all of these negative things, Paul says, “But! But as for you, man of God...”
Which means he’s about to list out a few opposing ideas and instructions to all of the negative ones.
“But as for you, man of God, shun all this.” He’s commanding Timothy and the righteous of the church to avoid doing all of the above, to flee away from those negative and Christ-absent actions.
“But as for you, man of God, shun all of this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life.”
Paul then goes on to talk about those who are already rich, and he commands them to not be haughty in their richness, but to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, to be ready to share. So, all hope is not gone.
But, after reading through all of this, and unpacking it a little bit, I want to ask you something this morning...
Have you responded to the call to arms? Christ has called upon his church to live within this broken and painful world and to not live like it, but opposed to it. To live life in a way that looks different, that looks like Christ.
I think we know many people in our lives who say that have responded to this call to arms, but have yet refused to drop what they were doing or who they were and charge into the battle. And, maybe the person in your life who has done this is you...
If we wish to respond to this call to arms with a faithful, passionate, and awakened “YES!” then we must, daily, pursue what Paul wishes us to pursue.
Think for a moment about your own lives. How are you, in every situation, pursuing righteousness?
How are you pursuing godliness?
How are you pursuing faith?
How are you pursuing love?
How are you pursuing endurance?
How are you pursuing gentleness?
Some of us are great are pursuing some of these things, but it is our goal, our duty, our command to pursue them all as we flee from the evils of this world. As we continue to deny ourselves daily and pick up the cross of Christ. As we continue to die to our selves and live in Christ.
This week I spent a few days in Murfreesboro Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, for a conference called New Room.
This year the theme of the conference was "How to start a fire.”
In presenting this theme to the conference, one of the speakers brought up forest fires. Did you know that there are forests around the world that, around every hundred years or so, have a fire? This seems counterintuitive to growth, to health, to benefiting the ecosystem, but it actually does something good. An article from 2017 by Lakshmi Supriya says:
“Wildfires are a natural part of many environments. They are nature's way of clearing out the dead litter on forest floors. This allows important nutrients to return to the soil, enabling a new healthy beginning for plants and animals. Fires also play an important role in the reproduction of some plants. For example, seeds in some pinecones are sealed with a resin that melts in fires, releasing them and allowing new growth.
But fires are only good if they serve their specific purpose. If they burn too long, or the ground stays dry too long, ecosystems can't recover. Given that climate change can lead to more fires and longer droughts, researchers have wondered how forests are coping, and whether they are getting a good start on their way to becoming a new generation of trees.”
In the time that I’ve been here at Calvary, and through multiple conversations, I’ve heard about and seen a deep and passionate desire to see Calvary become and exist as a church on fire for Jesus. A church that focuses everything on being Christ-like. A church that is building up the kingdom of heaven, and bringing forward new leaders and passionate disciples.
There is a passion and a calling here at Calvary that is mighty, bold, and big. We are a community, a family of believers that is seeing the community around us grow, and we are here with a life saving message.
But, in order for us to do this, in order for us to cultivate an environment of Christ-centeredness… maybe it’s time to start the fire. To allow God’s purifying fire to ravage our pews, our classrooms, our ministries, our worship services. Maybe it’s time to allow God to clean up the dead litter on our church floors, melt away the resin, plant the seeds, and reap new life in the church.
Brothers and sisters, I say all of this with the understanding that we are well on our way. We are well on our way to being the most Christ-centered church that we can be. But, the moment that we as a church look around and say, “wow, we’ve done good work and we can stop,” is the moment that we put out the blaze that God has created and rest in a dying and decaying forest.
The work and life of the church, of our church, is never ending. I refuse to believe that we are a stagnant church. Instead, I believe that when all of us strive to answer passionately to God’s call to arms, that our church will benefit beyond imagination.
So, I ask you now...
How is Calvary pursuing righteousness?
How is Calvary pursuing godliness?
How is Calvary pursuing faith?
How is Calvary pursuing love?
How is Calvary pursuing endurance?
How is Calvary pursuing gentleness?
This pursuing language is incredibly intentional from Paul. To pursue something isn’t to just stumble towards something, or walk slowly, or even jog… it’s a full out sprint. It’s a passionate, deeply yearning desire to get to the goal. For us, here at Calvary to pursue these things we must be willing to lay aside our comforts, our ‘we used to’s,” our complacencies… and look at the new life that God creates in the forest after a cleansing fire.
When I met a few new people this week at my conference, and as I caught up with a few old friends, I want to let you know that I was proud to say that I pastor this church. They all asked, “how are things at your church going?”
I was able to answer that question with the following:
“We are currently dealing with denominational strife, in a climate of hostility all around. We are in the midst of a Satanic Temple trying to infiltrate our schools and the minds of our children, and the world around us is growing in hostility towards us as Christians. But, my church is focused on being the hands and feet of Jesus. They are loving Him, each other, and are eager to do the work.” At a conference where many pastors shared frustrations with their churches, I shared the good news of baptisms, growing membership, new visitors each Sunday, and a growing desire to provide for others and help our community. Folks, this church is on a trajectory towards of not only exponential growth in size, but in maturity in Christ.
And, that can only continue, and only become a reality, if we as the church say yes to God’s call to arms. The more that we as a church pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness the more that our light will attract others in this dark and decaying world. All it takes is for us to trust in God’s protection as his cleansing fire sweeps through.
And, if the idea of a fire sweeping through our church and community seems frightening due to the destructive nature of a fire, listen to the prophet Isaiah who shared these words from God,
Isaiah 43:2 NRSV
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
My prayer this morning is that we as a family of believers set aside our pre conceived notions of what it means to be a successful church. That we lay aside the “we’ve always done it this way” statements and say “YES” emphatically to God as he calls us to arms in this new day of battle against darkness in this world.
So, I have a two part homework assignment for you this week...
1) I want you write down how you and our church are pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.
2) I want you to write down how you think we at Calvary can start God’s holy, purifying fire in our church and community.
I ask that you take this serious, that you pray about this and actually do it. You can email me your responses or bring them to church next week.
But, no matter, it’s time for us to respond to God’s call to arms, to leave behind what’s familiar and comfortable to us, and to charge headfirst into a season of church growth where we reach the lost, feed the hungry, cloth the poor, and show to our community the limitless, unconditional, and never ending love of God our father.
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