It All Goes Back in the Box Print E-mail

- By John Ortberg (Used by permission).

Anybody besides me notice that life just seems to keep getting faster? And we'll pay people to help us hurry. Citicorp became the number one lender of money in America when they said they'd cut in half the amount of time it takes you to find out whether or not you get a loan. Denny's experienced a big explosion in the restaurant business because they said they would get lunch to your table in ten minutes or less.

Dominos became the number one seller of pizzas in America because they guaranteed they would deliver a pizza to your house in 30 minutes or less. And we loved that. The CEO of Dominos said, "We don't sell pizzas, we sell delivery."

The L.A. Times had an interview a while ago with a Dominos Pizza driver. And he says when he puts the Dominos sign on his car and drives, other drivers pull over to the side of the road to let him go past, like we used to do for ambulances. We don't do that for ambulances any more, we do it for the Dominos guy. Why? Is it because he's in a hurry?

We'll pay for anything that we think might free up some time. We're surrounded by fax machines, Fed Ex's, ATM's, cell phones, beepers, pagers, Palm Pilots, modems, e-mail, and we think all that stuff is going to save us, but it ends up enslaving us. Newsweek had an article about a guy that went on vacation for two weeks and came home to over 1,000 e-mail messages that he had to answer. We're just enslaved by this stuff.

A sociologist did a survey some time ago and asked people, "If you could have one more hour in the day to do anything that you wanted to, what would it be?" Do you want to guess what the number one answer was? Sleep. An hour a day to do anything – climb mountains, dream great dreams, do great deeds, live life to its fullest. Sleep was number one.

If I could just make a little more

A father would come home from work every day, and always bring his briefcase home. The son is kind of troubled by this, and a little confused. And he finally says to his father, "Dad, how come you bring home your briefcase every day?" And the dad says, "Well, son, it's because I can't get all that work done at the office." And his son said, "Well, dad, couldn't they put you in a slower group?"

Jesus, one time, wanted to talk about this tendency that even real smart human beings have - to go real fast and do lots of stuff and miss out on what's central, not attend to what really matters. So in typical fashion as a master teacher, he told a story. This really is in the Bible. Read Luke 12:16-21. What I'd like to do is kind of retell it the way that I think Jesus might tell it if he were telling it in our day, in our culture.

This is a story of a man who would be very much at home in our society – kind of a workaholic adventure capitalist. He knew the odds are against getting any venture up and running over a number of years, and he was committed. He was willing to do whatever it took to succeed, and it took everything. He found himself consumed by his work – 12-14 hour days, working weekends. He joined professional organizations and boards of directors to expand his contacts.

And even when he wasn't working, his mind was always drifting towards his work. So it wasn't just his occupation, it was his preoccupation. His wife would often try to get him to slow down, to remember that he had a family. And he was vaguely aware that life was passing, that his kids were growing up and he was missing it. From time to time, they would complain to him about games of catch they weren't playing or books that he wasn't reading to them or lunches they weren't eating together.

But after awhile, they stopped complaining because they stopped expecting it would ever be any different. He would tell himself, "I'll be more available to my family in six months or so, when things settle down." And although he was a very bright guy, this man in Jesus' story, he didn't seem to notice that things never settled down. "Besides," he'd say to himself when he felt guilty, "I'm doing it all for them."

One morning, about 1:00 in the morning, he was awakened by this twinge in his chest and his wife made an appointment for him to see the doctor. They told him he'd had a slight heart attack. They warned him. He had all the classic symptoms – elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol. There needed to be some serious changes in his routine. And for a while, there was. He got a lot of very expensive, very sophisticated equipment to track all of his health issues – percentage of body fat and everything.

When things settle down…

Well, for a while, this guy in Jesus' story has all this equipment and works on it. But after his symptoms go away, his motivation to change goes away. He says to himself, "There'll be plenty of time for that in six months or so when things settle down."

He recognizes that his life is really out of balance. He thinks occasionally about God and about church. There's one down the street and he intends to go sometime. But Sunday morning seems to be the only time he can crash. "Besides," he says to himself, "I can believe without going to church. There'll be time for church when things settle down."

One day, the CEO of his company comes to this guy. And the CEO says, "You're not going to believe this, but things are booming to such an extent that we can't keep up. This is our chance to strike the mother load. If we catch this wave, we'll be set for life. But it will require major changes. We've got inventory headaches around here you would not believe. Orders are coming in so fast that supply cannot keep up with demand.

"Our software is hopelessly outdated. And if we don't overhaul this company from top to bottom – if you don't do something, it's going to be a disaster." Now, from that time on, this man is a man possessed. And he devotes every waking moment to this once in a lifetime opportunity. And then, it hits him. He'll put his company through a technological revolution. They'll go dot-com. They'll go wireless, paperless, e-commerce, high-tech, total reorganization, set the date for the IPO.

When he goes home that evening, he says to his wife, "You know what this means, don't you? Once I've put us through this reorganization, we can relax, because our future will be assured. We'll be set for life." He says, "I know the market. I've covered every base. I have anticipated every contingency. We will be financially secure." But she has heard this song before. She didn't get her hopes up. About 11:00 that night, she decided to go up to bed, and she asked him, "Are you coming with me?"

He said, "No, you go ahead." He was sitting in front of his computer. "I've got a little more stuff I want to do. I'll be up there in just a couple minutes. You go first. I'll be right there." She did and she went to sleep. When she woke up, she looked at the clock. It was 3:00 in the morning and he still hadn't come to bed. She walked downstairs and she could see he was still in front of the computer terminal, his head resting on his arm.

She said, "This is ridiculous. It's like being married to a little kid. He'd rather fall asleep down here, in front of the screen, than come up to bed." She went to wake him up to bring him to bed, but his skin was cold to her touch and he did not respond to her voice. She got this sick, panicky feeling in her stomach and she dialled 911. But by the time the paramedics got there, they told her that he'd had a massive coronary and had already been dead for hours.

Successful, wealthy and dead!

His death was a major story in the financial community. His obituary was written up in Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. And it's too bad he was dead, because he would have loved to read the wonderful things they said about him. Then, they had a memorial service, and because he was so prominent, the whole community was there. They all filed past the casket, and they all made the same stupid comment people always make at funerals. "He looks so peaceful," they said. Rigor mortis will do that to a body.

They had this big service. They got up to eulogize him. "He was an innovator, a master of new technology systems," one of them said. Somebody else said, "He was one of the leading entrepreneurs of his day." "He was a man of principles," said a third person. "He was a straight arrow." "He would never cheat on his taxes or his expense account or his wife."

Somebody else noted his civic achievements. "This man was a pillar in the community. He knew everybody. He was a networker." And they erected a memorial to this man and they wrote inspiring words on it: "Leader;" "Innovator;" "Entrepreneur;" "Visionary;" "Success." Especially that word, because he gave his life for that word – success.

They buried his body, they put up the marker and they all went home. When it was dark and there was no one present to observe, unseen, unheard, the angel of God comes to this cemetery and makes his way through all of the other grave stones. He comes to the marker, and there traces, with one finger, the single word that God chose to assess this man's life. Do you know what it was? "Fool." "You fool," God says. That's Jesus' story.

Now, you have to ask yourself the question, "Why such harsh language? Jesus doesn't usually use language like that." Well, I don't think he's engaging in name-calling. I think Jesus, here, is making a tragically accurate diagnosis, because for all of this man's entrepreneurial brilliance, through all of the cost-benefit analysis and cash-flow projections he ran, what's the one scenario he forgot to take into account in his forecast? It was death. He forgot he was going to die.

And God stands amazed at the folly of any human being, no matter how smart, who painstakingly prepares every contingency, covers every base for every eventuality, no matter how unlikely, and then forgets the one inevitable certainty that stares all of us in the face, which is, "I'm going to die one day." He neglected to plan for the most obvious and inescapable fact of human existence.

"What other word," Jesus asks, "do you use to describe such folly?" A human being so busy building up his little kingdom as if it were to endure forever, he doesn't have any time for the kingdom of God, which will endure forever. He’s so busy making a living he doesn't make a life. This is a rich fool's syndrome. It's characterized by two illusions that were very prominent in this man's life, and are very prominent in our day.

The first one is captured by this man's favourite phrase, "When things settle down." "I’ll get around to what matters one day, when things settle down." Let me ask you a question, friends. When will things settle down? The answer is, when you die. Things will settle way down when you die. You will be amazed at how much the pace of your life is going to slow when they put you in the ground, but probably not until then.

Hurry will kill you

When I first moved to this church, to this area, I called a friend of mine – the wisest man, spiritually, that I know back in California. I told him a little bit about what life was like here and asked him the question, "What do I need to do to be healthy spiritually? What do I need to do to guard my heart?" And there was a long pause and I'll never forget these words that he said to me, "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."

Then, there was another long pause, and I said to him, "Okay, I wrote that one down. Now, what else do you have to tell me, because I don't have much time and I want to get a lot of wisdom out of this conversation." He said, "There is nothing else." He said, "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. It has had other enemies in other days. In our day, in our world, hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life, because you can hardly do anything the way that Jesus did it, in a hurry. You cannot love in a hurry. You cannot listen to a child in a hurry. 

Continued on Page 2...