For The Sake Of Having

by David Sisler

Pick a sport. Any sport--high school, collegiate, or professional. Imagine it is the final game of the season, the championship game. And now the contest is over.

It was, everyone agrees, the greatest game ever played. It will make the high light films for generations. Brilliant strategy. Flawless execution. Unthinkable heroics.

Did I fail to mention, your team lost?

As the victors celebrate, your team's cheerleaders leap enthusiastically into the air, toss their pom-poms high above their heads, do perfect mid-air splits, and, with obvious pride, shout, "We're Number Two! We're Number Two!"

A celebration of second place?

If a celebration of second place does not excite you, perhaps you can understand the driving force behind Lawrence J. Ellison.

He failed in one college, entered a second university and then dropped out. He nearly died in a surfing accident, and went through a financial scandal which threatened to ruin his company. A high school sweetheart refused to marry him because her father thought Ellison was below their station. Today he is ranked as one of the two dozen richest people in the world--his personal fortune is more than $3 billion.

Revenues for his company, Oracle Corp., are expected to jump 50 percent this year and add another billion dollars next year.

Business Week describes him as "an impeccable dresser, a notorious ladies' man, a physical-fitness fanatic, a gourmet, and an adventurer."

But all of that is good enough only for second place. Lawrence J. Ellison and Oracle are competing against William H. Gates III and Microsoft.

Ellison believes that the Information Superhighway is the road to passing Bill Gates. He sees a worldwide network of information and entertainment services and he wants Oracle to supply the software.

"Microsoft is the past. Oracle is the future," Ellison says.

"Oracle's not doing that much," Bill Gates counters.

All of this may be put into perspective by a conversation Larry Ellison had with his sister two decades ago. One day she asked him which was more important, to be loved or to be respected.

Larry said, "Respected." She retorted, "Wrong!" and left the room.

Reflecting on that day, Larry said, "With wealth and fame, you get respect. But 20 years later, I figured out she was right. Ambition is a false god."

A well-known doctor wrote about an enormously successful agricultural engineer. There was no suggestion that the husbandman was not a good family man and a good neighbor. He was not lazy. He planned a building project which would give lucrative employment to architects, contractors, and laborers. The construction would be a good thing for the community, and while profiting the agronomist, would at the same time help business conditions. But the night that the farmer finalized his plans, he died.

Luke, the beloved physician, in his chronicle of the parable of the Rich Fool, recorded Jesus' indictment: "Tonight you will die. So who will get those things you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be for anyone who stores things up only for himself and is not rich toward God."

Jesus did not condemn the farmer for having great wealth. Jesus never condemned the possession of wealth. But He did condemn the perspective of greed which says a man's life is measured by the things he owns.

"Money cannot be trusted," Paul wrote, "but God takes care of us richly."

Isaac D'Israeli, the father of British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, wrote, "It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us."

The Bible does not counsel its readers to live in mediocrity. Paul wrote, and expected us to follow his example, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

The Bible does not condemn ambition, but it does warn against the acquisitive social order which so dominates modern society. John singled out a church member named Diotrephes as a bad example, because "Diotrephes loves to be first."

Would Jesus celebrate second place? I don't think so. Would Jesus advise someone to settle for mediocrity? Definitely not. Would Jesus agree with Larry Ellison's assessment that ambition is a false god? You bet your eternal life, He would.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/29/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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