Sitting beside his bed I could hear only his breathing. The lung cancer had slowly eaten away on the inside and now, even with the aid of oxygen, every breath was a struggle. Otis Lundgen* was in a coma, and we were all waiting for that one last labored breath for it all to be over. There isn’t much to do in situations like this. I quietly read Scripture in his ear and whispered prayers. Hoping that in the twilight of consciousness he might hear, I assured him again of God’s tender mercy to forgive and hoped that he would respond.
Mr. Lundgen was the wealthiest man I had ever known. A top executive in an international company, he had lived in several foreign countries and visited more than he could remember. He was a genius in investments and had a knack for knowing when to buy one stock, sell another, or invest in bonds instead of the stock market. His first million grew into his second, and then those two gave birth to several more. But Mr. Lundgen remained the poorest man I new.
He had three sons. One worked for the company from which his father retired. Another had become a CEO of a growing public relations firm. A third was just finishing a military career, soon to retire as a brigadier general. But Mr. Lundgen spoke of his sons only with barely concealed hostility. Although I came to know the father and two of the sons well, I never discovered the exact nature of the fallout. I only knew it was about 35 years ago when two of the boys were in college, the youngest still in high school. Despite numerous attempts by his sons, Mr. Lundgen refused to be reconciled with them.
It was not only his sons who found him difficult. When his wife succumbed to a rare blood disease that took her in a fortnight, he lost the only warmth in his life. The only relationships that existed were tied to him by his money. No one called him their friend. No one would deal with him who wasn’t receiving a fee. Although his Christian attorney tried to reach out and witness to him, he rebuffed all such attempts as irrelevant.
From seemingly nowhere he contacted me about his desire to give the Army some money. Even the receipt of this gift became difficult as he insisted on a press conference, then no publicity, then a picture in the paper and then, finally, settled for a press release. Because of his way of dealing with people, I soon learned that one did not make suggestions to Mr. Lundgen. Those on the other end of the line simply listened and agreed with whatever he outlined.
There was never a time I talked with him when the subject of money didn’t come up. I soon realized that he had lost all ability of talking with people without reference to his assets. It was also clear that though he had millions, it wasn’t enough. Not that he was living a lavish lifestyle. He had a simple one-bedroom house with the most basic furniture. Mr. Lundgen only left home to go to his doctor’s or visit his attorney. In interest alone his fortune was earning $2,000 a day but he lived on less than $50. Still he lived in fear of dying penniless, of his millions evaporating. Perhaps he knew the truth – that money alone defined his worth. Not family, not friends, not the assurance of God’s love.
He did allow me to witness to him but I can’t say that anything I said made a difference. Mr. Lundgen lay there, emaciated by cancer, virtually alone at the moment when a person most needs someone near. If I didn’t know who this was, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish him from a dying homeless man. Mr. Lundgen, despite his wealth and his ability to manipulate those around him, was the most pathetic figure I had ever seen.
Do you remember what Jesus said? “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26 NKJV). How different from Paul, in poverty and in prison, who wrote triumphantly, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1?21).
*Names and facts have been altered to protect the identity of those mentioned.