I was first introduced to John Piper at One Day 2000, a massive gathering of college students (although I was a high school senior) outside Memphis, TN. It was an incredible experience…one that I cannot even describe very well. You are in the middle of a huge farm with thousands of students. You have been sleeping in tents and using porta pottys for three days–rain has been coming down, leaving everything and everyone soaked and covered in mud. You gather with the crowd to lift your voices in worship and you wonder how much better heaven must be than this, the single most awe-inspiring event in your life thus far.
Well, it was at this event that I heard a sermon that has stuck with me. Piper took the stage amidst the drizzle and fog and preached a sermon that pretty much changed my thinking from then on. This was a turning point in my life and my faith. From there, not long after, I met Jason and then Eric, who became my pastor. God slowly opened my eyes to the doctrines of grace and the beauty of his sovereignty. I don’t think I have shared this event with many people or even thought fully of it’s impact on my life, but last week it was brought to the forefront of my mind.
I will share some of the points of the sermon that hit me the hardest…
You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or EQ; you don’t have to have to have good looks or riches; you don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.
But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants your life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you – you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Of if you could just have good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell – if you could have that (minus God) – you’d be satisfied. THAT is a tragedy in the making.
Piper goes on to talk about an example of such a tragedy…
I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest (Feb. 2000) what a tragedy is: “Bob and Penny… took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” The American Dream: come to the end of your life – your one and only life – and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator, be “I collected shells. See my shells.” THAT is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it.
Piper looked out on the crowd and you could see the compassion in his face, the wisdom in his eyes, and the sincerity in his voice. It’s not every day that you hear a sermon that utterly shakes you to the core and makes you realize you don’t have a clue what you believe and what you do believe may not even be the right thing to believe.
So I look out on you as sons and daughters and I plead with you as a father – perhaps the father you never had. Or the father who never had a vision for you like I have for you, and God has for you. Or the father who HAS a vision for you, but its all about money and status. I look out on you as sons and daughters and I plead with you: Want your lives to count for something great and for eternity. Want this. Don’t coast through life without a passion.
Then Piper said these words…
One of the reasons we are not as Christ-centered and cross-saturated as we should be is that we have not realized that everything – everything good and every thing bad that God turns for the good of his redeemed children was purchased by the death of Christ for us. We simply take life and breath and health and friends and everything for granted. We think it is ours by right. But the fact is that it is not ours by right.
We are doubly undeserving of it.
1) We are creatures and our Creator was not bound or obligated to give us anything – not life or health and anything. He gives, he takes, and he does us no injustice.
2) And besides being creatures with no claim on our Creator, we are sinners. We have fallen short of his glory. We have ignored him and disobeyed him and failed to love him and trust him. The wrath of his justice is kindled against us. All we deserve from him is judgment. Therefore every breath we take, every time our heart beats, every day that the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs is free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgment.
And who bought these gifts for us? Jesus Christ. And how did he purchase them? By his blood.
And I was opened to a truth I had never before embraced. And I was set free. I will not have only shells to show. I will not.