I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven. (Philippians 3:12-14)

I guess I’m now officially in the older set — I spend more time looking for good shoes than I do good suits. I like a lot of things done in routine — same TV shows, same places to eat, and same morning routine. So I understand not wanting a bunch of unnecessary changes, and when changes come, I want them to be done well and carefully. However, I was reminded several years ago how frustrating it is to hold up the progress of everyone else just to keep things going at a manageable pace.

We were coming home from a vacation and we had driven for 6 or 7 hours on all sorts of highway surfaces. Some of them were smooth and uncluttered. Some of them were full of cracks, holes, lane closures, and traffic re-routing. Toward the end of this bad surface driving marathon, we finally reached the best surface of the day — freshly paved, perfectly striped, and in perfect condition. To my utter amazement, there was only one noticeable problem with the surface; we had to drive 20 miles with one lane closed and the speed limit reduced by 20 mph ... for no apparent reason. There was even a highway patrolman using radar to stop folks who fudged on the speed limit! Traffic backed up as the trucks had a hard time keeping up their speed on the hills and all of us had to drive well below what should have been the legal speed limit on the best paved, striped, and shouldered highway of the 1100 mile trip!

Somewhere about half way through this frustrating and dangerous mess, a powerful conviction swept over me. "This reminds me a lot of church thinking. We're all set to go, we have great opportunities, and we're blessed talented people to carry out the Lord’s mandate, but we’re stuck going too slow for too long. Why? Because someone doesn’t want to take the time and the risk to set God’s people free to be all he wants them to be and to do all that he wants them to do!”

I know this problem isn’t anything new. God had to use the persecution that broke out against the church in Jerusalem to get them to evangelize Samaritans and begin to reach out to Gentiles! (Acts 6;  Acts 8;  Acts 11) God had to use a vision, angels, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit to get Peter and the Jerusalem church to baptize and include a gentile in his circle of Christian fellowship. (Acts 10;  Acts 11;  Acts 15)) It wasn’t easy breaking out of the familiar and comfortable mode of doing things, even for apostles who had been with Jesus and had received his Great Commission mandate. (Matthew 28:18-20)

How are we going to reach the lost?
While so much of what gets passed off as outreach in much of today’s church-talk is really just a push for self-interest, let’s also realize that our world stands in need of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ. Our mandate is to begin where we are, to reach out to those nearby, and then see our influence as world-wide. (Acts 1:8) We’re never going to get there in any of those three dimensions by keeping the highway closed down to one lane when God has paved the way, striped the lanes so we can see where we should go, and made sure the road is ready for his traffic. Instead of always asking who is going to be uncomfortable with an outreach effort, let’s ask the question Jesus wants asked: how are we going to reach lost sheep, broken hearts, and forgotten people of our day?

Dear Father, never let me live so long that I make it harder for your people to answer your call to go forward to embrace your mission of reaching a lost world and reclaiming your lost sheep. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.