John Piper ruined my vacation this past weekend.  Let me explain.

At the OneDay2000 meeting, John Piper preached a message entitled, “Boast Only in the Cross.”  I have watched (on DVD) and listened to that message numerous times.  During his message, Piper gives two stories.  Here is the first one:

Three weeks ago we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon. Ruby was over 80. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: To make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing 80 years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over the cliff, and they were both killed instantly. And I asked my people: was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ—two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico. No. That is not a tragedy. That is a glory.

Immediately following this story, Piper follows up by saying this:

I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest (Feb. 2000, p. 98) 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.

Friday afternoon, my wife and I saw the shells. 

We decided to go to the beach, and it was recommended that we check out Sanibel Island (just a few miles south of Punta Gorda), “the seashell capital of the world.”  My wife and I walked just a short distance down the beach and saw the scores of people walking away with buckets of shells and loads of smiles. 

I wasn’t smiling.

I couldn’t smile because all I could think about was that message seven years ago that Piper preached on that open field outside Memphis, Tennessee.  My mind was taken to the judgment seat of Christ and the picture of my life epitomized by the offer of seashells!  I know this sounds funny, and I did laugh at myself about this (no, I did not take any shells home).  But in the midst of a ruined vacation, I began to praise God for the influence of such an illustration.

‘Tis better to have a ruined vacation than a ruined life.

Isn’t that something worth thanking God for?  To know that my life will hopefully one day amount to more than shells?  Indeed, I praise God and thank John Piper for encouraging me to not waste my life with trivial pursuits in the Disneyland of America.  There aren’t many life lessons that stick for a lifetime, but I know one that has lasted for seven years in mine.  And I do not know what is the span of my lifetime, but I do know that I want it to be spent for the glory of God.

So thank you, John Piper, for ruining my vacation and teaching me not to waste my life.