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Preaching Through Their Defenses: An Interview with John Ortberg

By Michael Duduit |

Since 2003, John Ortberg has served as senior pastor of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California. Prior to that, John spent nearly a decade as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. But most of us likely know John best from his best-selling books. Preaching editor Michael Duduit recently visited with John to talk about writing and preaching.

Preaching: First, let me say that you have some of the most creative book titles around—like Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them and If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat.

Ortberg: They tend to kind of write themselves as the books come along!

Preaching: You've recently published When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box. I heard you speak recently on that topic. Explain what is behind that title.

Ortberg: Actually in some ways it's really ancient. There were manuscripts back in the Middle Ages that compared life to chess. They said, "Pawn or king—they all go back in the same bag." But the particular metaphor that I talk about, I had actually heard used first by James Dobson. It reminded me of playing Monopoly with my grandmother back when I was a kid. She was this ruthless Monopoly player. She would always win. She understood that money's the name of the game. You've got to acquire everything. I would always lose. I'd have to give her all my money and get really depressed and disappointed.

And then one summer I played all summer long with a kid who lived in my neighborhood, and I gradually learned what it took to actually win at the game. I was finally able to defeat my grandmother—my moment of great glory—until the final lesson came: when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. All the houses, all the hotels, Boardwalk and Park Place, all that money—everything is going back in the box. That really is sort of the central metaphor for the whole deal of life.

We get messages from the media, from ads, from school, from our peers that life's about nothing more than trying to become master of the board. That money is how you keep score. It will give you identity, make you secure. And there are very bright people who play the game really well. They only forget this one small detail: that the game is going to end; and when it ends, it all goes back in the box.

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