Our family moved to Missouri from Arkansas in January. By the time spring rolled around I had made a number of new friends. I vividly remember the first time the neighborhood grade school boys assembled to choose sides for a baseball game. Bobby, who had become a good friend, was chosen last. During that spring and summer we chose up sides several times a week. Each time Bobby was chosen last. He would talk to me about how it hurt that he would be passed over several times until finally chosen last. No one likes to be left out, do they?
I’ve remembered Bobby several times since Missouri Baptists’ launch of GPS (God’s Plan for Sharing) across Missouri this past spring. Churches from 50 Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) associations prayerfully placed the Gospel on the doors of 750,000 Missouri homes before Easter. Though we exceeded expectations in this effort, we only made it to one out of every three homes in our state. In other words, 1.5 million of Missouri’s 2.3 million homes did not get the Gospel brought to them. They were left out. They were missed. They were overlooked. You could say they were not “chosen” to receive the Gospel this spring.
This reality drove me back to re-read the “lost” chapter of the Bible – Luke 15. Remember our Lord’s parables concerning “lostness”? The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost boy? Most striking to me is the parable of the lost sheep. Why? The Shepherd had 99 of his sheep safely in the fold yet one was lost and he went out looking for that one. I can understand him looking for 50 of the 100 sheep. Certainly 25. Or, even 10. But one? I spotted a pence on a London Sidewalk and stopped to pick it up. A native laughed at me saying, “It’s only a penny!” Would he have ridiculed me if it had been coinage worth 100 times more?
We have forgotten the importance of one. Our Lord was never too busy for one. He took time for the woman at the well (John 4). In His final hour he spoke to the dying thief about eternal life (Luke 23). “It is not God’s will that any (that’s one!) perish, but that all come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). People matter to God! Individuals matter to God! I still remember the scratchy handwritten note we received at church. She was requesting prayer for her marriage. She was in need of medicines. She was jobless. Her husband was in jail. I visited their home a week or so later and in the conversation asked why she wrote our church. Her answer: “I wrote every church in town. You are the only one who showed up.” We later saw them pray to receive Christ and be baptized. Thank God for a church that was concerned for individuals.
We have forgotten what it means to be lost. Oh yes, we know what it means to be lost physically. We know what it means when one loses his health or his wealth. But do we know what it means to be lost spiritually? That’s the condition every believer was once in. That’s the condition of three out of four people in Missouri. That’s 4.3 million of our 5.8 million residents. Have they rejected Jesus? No, the truth is most have never been told about him. Surveys indicate one-half of the unchurched Americans would welcome someone telling them their story of finding Christ. Most people – even the most hardened of skeptics – respond positively to a winsome and compelling witness. Case in point: Penn Jillett is the talkative half of Penn and Teller, the Las Vegas comedy-illusion team, now with their own program on cable TV. Penn is an outspoken atheist. But he posted a video blog on his personal website about a man who gave him a Bible. He said:
“At the end of the show… we go out and we talk to folks … sign an occasional autograph and shake hands … there was one guy waiting over to the side …and he walked over to me and he said, ‘I was here last night at the show, and I saw the show and I like the show. …’
“He was very complimentary… and then he said, ‘I brought this for you’ and he handed me a Gideon pocket edition. I thought it said from the New Testament. … And he said, ‘I wrote in the front of it, and I wanted you to have this. I’m kind of proselytizing.’
“Then he said, ‘I’m a business man. I’m sane. I’m not crazy.’ And he looked me right in the eye and did all of this. And it was really wonderful. I believe he knew I was an atheist. But he was not defensive. … He was really kind and nice and sane and looked me in the eye and talked to me, and then gave me this Bible.
“And I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there is a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell … how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?”
I wonder how many Penn Jillett’s there are in the two-thirds of Missouri we have yet to give the Gospel? Let’s not leave anyone out. We must complete the task of taking the Gospel to every home in Missouri by the end of 2011. No Home Left Behind is our theme. Why wait – let’s tell someone today! (Gary Taylor is the Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of evangelism.)