Monday, April 28, 2008

The price of Admission

A couple of nights ago, I was looking for something to read that didn't have to do with the church, or theology. My life is so centered on New Hope and what God is doing and wants to do through all of us here, that I don't really read anything else. In years past I spent a lot of time bring drawn into the stories of Mark Twain's characters, William Faulkner's Mississippi, Steinbeck's California, and the military fiction of W.E.B. Griffin and Tom Clancy - and others, lots of others.

But as time has passed, I've spent more and more time in books about church.

Well, Tuesday I went out in the garage, where boxes of books still lie packed up from our move almost two years ago (the rest are in the attic or at church) and found "Flags of Our Fathers." I remembered reading it a while back and how it helped me understand a little bit of what my own father had gone through in that era.

So I picked it up and started reading again. The author is the son of one of the men forever immortalized as the "flag raisers" on the island of Iwo Jima. After his father's death, his family finds a couple of boxes in the closet with clippings about that event. They discover things they never knew about their father's courage and his relationship with the men he shared that "mountain top experience" with that day. Great book I highly recommend.

One of the men whose life he examines had come into military service the same way my father, who passed away a couple of years ago, did. When the war broke out, this individual was in an outfit called the Civilian Conservation Corps. The author explains how it was created to help men whose families were impoverished out of that hole called the Great Depression, and served as an intro to the rigors of Army life.

Here's what caught my attention. In order to participate in the program, that would lift your family out of poverty...

You had to admit you were poor.

That you were in need.

That was the price of admission, and I suspect there were some whose pride would have kept them from participation. My father and his family must have done that, or they wouldn't have gotten helped. I'm so thankful that they did. For my father's joining the CCC was their first step up from poverty - a poverty so bitter that decades later my father would point out certain weeds and explain to his boys that "those were all we had to eat." Times were hard, but hope was available - if you paid the price of admission, and swallowed your pride and said "I need help."

Funny how similar that organization is to this one - the Church.

I've been reading with interest Ed Stetzer's posts on the future of the SBC, as well as a few of the posts examining what the findings mean.

What has amazed me frankly are those who are rushing forward to claim that declining membership doesn't mean anything is wrong. There's so much wrong that for once I do not think any church growth guru can possibly design the next Lifeway program to help us pretend to fix it.

I'm reminded of one pastor's encounter with some Nob Hill socialite who was recounting a litany of woes. The pastor patiently hear her out and suggested that the woman needed to admit she needed help and call upon God.

"Has it come to that?", she is said to have replied.

Yes brothers and sisters, it has come to that.

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