Eleven years ago, John Piper boldly proclaimed these words:
I was a college student then, about to embark on my life as someone called to proclaim the gospel Jesus Christ. Never had I imagined then that I would be living in the communities comprised of tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.
I live and minister 15 minutes from the place John Piper speaks (Punta Gorda, FL). I have never been in an area that is more challenging to advance the gospel. In a city of 165,000 people, I am told that we have less than 6,000 people who attend church on any given Sunday, meaning that roughly 5% of our city consider themselves a part of any church.
A large percentage of our city is comprised of retired people who have moved down from New England or states like Michigan or Pennsylvania. They also bring with them their New England religion, or lack thereof. They are a people whose hearts have been hardened through the years, jaded and disillusioned by nominal Christianity, and fortify their tragic lifestyle with gates, fences, and security systems. They have everything this life could offer them, as Piper explains, and they will soon stand before God for a life they have wasted.
It is tempting to believe there is no hope for such people. After all, how many old people are converted to Christ? If they are “happy” with all that life offers them, why would they need sea shells, boats, golf courses, AND Jesus? And all the obstacles that must be overcome to simply have access to these people . . . it seems virtually impossible. YET, we do not have the luxury to think this way when it comes to the gospel. We cannot live and act as though the power of the gospel is somehow incapable of overcoming the obstinate and rebellious ways of man. We cannot surrender the Great Commission because we might have to go the extra mile or make a greater sacrifice in order to bring the gospel to those who think they don’t need it.
What a testimony it would be if God did a sovereign work among those who have realized they have wasted their lives?! What a testimony it would be if they came to treasure Jesus more than their retirement, more than their toys, more than their life of comfort and ease? What if several became missionaries to their own people who lay aside their shell collection and instead spend their time sowing the good seed of the gospel?
Because Christ is risen, I am filled with hope for my city and Southwest Florida. Though I have very little in common with most of these people, I want to reach them with the gospel that they might treasure Jesus. I want their to be a video for Jesus’ fame that shows the lives of those who have wasted it who are now giving it away for the glory of God. Yes, I want the tragedy of their lives to become a triumph of the gospel.