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THE RICH FOOL


Ortberg writes (and I have abridged it and translated it into proper English)


Once upon a time in the Silicon Valley, there lived a very important man.He routinely logged in 12-14 hours a day work and sometimes at weekends. He went to the Harvard School of Management, where he got top honours. He qualified in his chosen field and broadened his horizons by joining thge board of his professional institute. Indeed he joined a number of boards of directors to expand his contacts. He read business books on keeping up with the sharks and took leadership courses from Genghis Khan. Even when he wasn’t working, his mind would wander back to his job, which became not just his occupation but his pre-occupation.


He found the forty-hour work week such a good idea that he’d often do it twice a week. His wife tried to slow him down to remind him he had a family. He knew they were not as close as they had once been. He had not intended to drift away. It just seemed that she wanted time from him and that is just something he did not have time to give. Instead, he gave it all at the office.


He was vaguely aware that his kids were growing up and he was missing it. From time to time his kids would complain about the books he wasn’t reading to them and the games he wasn’t playing with them. "I am doing it all for them" he said. "Things will get better soon and our future will be assured."


He knew he wasn’t taking care of his body. His doctor told him that there were some very serious warning signs–-high blood pressure, high cholesterol-–and that he had to cut down on the chocolate, red meat and cigarettes, as well as start to exercise. So he stopped going to the doctor. There will be plenty of time for that he thought once everything settles down.


One day his chief operations officer came to see him and said: "You won’t believe this but business is booming so much that we can’t keep up with it. It’s a miracle. But with the present technology we just can’t keep up and make a killing." So he put the company through a technological revolution: New software, new computers. The buzz phrase was "24/7 accessibility," so much so that that he put phones and video conferencing into the toilets.


But as he sat at his computer rearranging the company, there was one microscopic detail that he had overlooked. An artery that had once been as supple as grass was now as dry and brittle as old cement. For more than half a century his head had been pumping 70 mililitres of blood with every contraction, 14 thousand pints each day, 100 thousand beats in 24 hours--all this without him ever sending a memo or giving it a performance review. Now it skipped a beat. Then another. And a third.


He gasped for air and clutched his chest. For a moment he was given the gift of blinding clarity. Even though he sat on the top of hundreds of organisational charts, it turned out that he wasn’t in control of his own pulse. Funny thing: thousands of employees on multiple continents would obey his every word with fear and trembling. But a few ounces of recalcitrant muscle brought him to his knees.


His wife woke up at 3am and he was still not in bed beside her. She went downstairs to drag him up to bed and saw him sitting there in front of the computer head on his desk. "This is ridiculous," she said the herself. "It’s like being married to a child. He would rather fall asleep in front of his screen than come to bed!"


She touched him on the shoulder to wake him up--but he did not respond and his skin was alarmingly cold. Panicking she rang 911 with a sinking heart. When the paramedics got there they told her he had suffered a massive heart attack.


His death was a major story in the financial community. His obituary appeared in the Times and the Telegraph. It was too bad that he was dead because he would have loved to have read what they said about him.


Then came the funeral service. Because of his prominence the whole community turned out. People filed past the open casket and commented how peaceful he looked. Rigor mortis will do that. Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down. They’d ask the same foolish question that people ask when a rich man dies: How much did he leave behind. He left it all - everyone leaves it all!!


People got up to eulogise him. Mostly they talked about his accomplishments because everyone knew about him but no one really KNEW him. "He was one of the leading entrepreneurs of the day." "He was an innovator in technology." "He was a man of principles: He never cheated on his taxes or expense for form or even on his wife."

"He was a pillar of the community, he knew everybody and was a great networker." They commissioned a large marble monolith in his memory. They wrote on it: Visionary, Innovator, Leader, Entrepreneur. And at the top they wrote: Success.


But when it was dark, and no one was around, the Angel of God was sent to the cemetery. Unseen and unheard the angel made his way past all the other tombstones until he came to the man’s wonderful memorial stone. There the Angel traced with his finger the single word that God had chosen to summarise the life of this wealthy, busy, respectable business man – FOOL.


God said: "You fool, this very night your soul will be required from you."


Perhaps there is a parallel in this parable and to our crushing recession. We are so busy accumulating – that we no longer take a day off to say "Thank you" to God. Our advertising on TV and on the radio tells us we need more – and more and more...bigger and better! The challenge I have this morning is this: Am I making efforts to be richer towards God or am I more interested in getting "stuff"?

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