The Infinite Game

THE INFINITE GAME

GENESIS 45:1-15

Listen to The Infinite Game

Greater lyrics

Perhaps many of us have been on some sort of sports team at some point in our life.  And perhaps after losing a game your coach came up to you and said, “it’s okay it’s not about winning, it’s how you play the game.” I have always felt that saying to be a bit hollow.  Yes, I suppose we can’t win in sports or in life every time. But it sure feels good to win. And it sure feels bad to lose all the time. In sports and in life when we are crushed by a series of devastating loses, words about how life isn’t about winning are little more than platitudes that people say because they don’t know what else to say. In life we want to win. Perhaps we even need to win. Winning helps give vigor to life. “It’s not about winning it’s about how you play the game,” rings hollow in our ears. Yet, I think there is truth in this saying.  Life is about how you play the game. And perhaps we feel like we are losing because we are playing the wrong type of game.

Simeon Sinek, a best selling author of leadership books, makes this point in his talk to the New York Times promoting his upcoming book The Infinite Game.  Sinek asks in the world of business, politics, and education, in these different spheres of our lives, what game are we playing?  To quote Sinek, “ there is no such thing as winning business. There is no such thing as winning global politics. And there is definitely no such thing as winning education.  But if we listen to the language of too many organizations they don’t know the game they are in. They talk about being the best, they talk about being number one, they talk about beating their competition. The problem is there is no such thing. And any metrics that we choose whether it is a ranking in a magazine that has made arbitrary choices about how to rank your universities or colleges, you had no say. Or one university declares itself number one in X and another in Y, we haven’t agreed upon the time frames or the metrics, in other words, it is all smoke and mirrors. Right?

Which means if you are playing by those rules it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain the resources to stay in the game, money is becoming more difficult it is becoming what seems to be the primary objective, which it never was. Even the will of the people to commit their blood sweat and tears to see that your organization advances into the future, the staff, the teachers, the students, it becomes more and more difficult.”

This is what happens when we are finite players in a finite game. We get frustrated with our failures. We become obsessed with comparing ourselves to others.  But Sinek argues that an infinite player is different. To quote Sinek, “ the infinite player understands that sometimes your competitor has the better product and sometimes you have the better product and sometimes your ahead and sometimes you are behind. But there is no such thing as best or first or beating your competition. There is only ahead and behind.” The reality of an infinite game, Sinek argues, is we are only competing against ourselves. And the goal is growth. The goal is growing ourselves, the goal is building a healthy culture, the goal is staying in the game. Because when we don’t grow as people, and when we don’t build a healthy culture, we will drop out of the game, and those around us will win by default.

God is playing an infinite game. He is so far ahead of us that we can never fully understand his plans. Out of His mercy he comes down to our level and invites us into His plan, he invites us to play the infinite game.

Joseph was a man who was playing the infinite game. At age 17 he was betrayed by his brothers who first tried to drown him in a ditch. But then his brother Reuben saved him and when Reuben wasn’t looking the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. By age 30 he was ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. It was not a straight line from the pit to the throne. There were many setbacks. And yet, God raised Joseph up to deliver not just the brothers who betrayed him, but a remnant of God’s people, and a nation that wasn’t even his home, from a famine that would have otherwise whipped them off the face of the Earth.

Through Joseph’s trials God was teaching Joseph God’s heart, which is the heart of a Father.  We know this because scripture tells us that Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, needed a father, someone to go to for council, someone to go to for encouragement. Joseph became the most powerful man in the known world not by leading a coup against the most powerful man in the known world but by becoming a father to him.  And it is the heart of a parent, the heart of our heavenly Father, that allows us to play the infinite game.

The Good News: When we embrace the Father’s heart His love will lead us in the infinite game.

  1. Knowing God’s Part in our Lives
  2. Knowing Our Part in our Lives.

First we see that God works in our lives through the law of sowing and reaping. While many feel the phrase you reap what you sow has negative connotations that is not necessarily the case. As Paul says in Galatians, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9). Sowing and reaping is a farming term. I got to know some farmers in my last church and they are by far the hardest working people I have ever met. Think about it. 1% of our population feeds 99% of our population.  They work year round to reap a harvest. They put huge investments into their farming equipment. A combine can cost between $300,000-$500,000. And most farmers replace a combine every five to ten years.  And they can’t be sure they will ever recoup that investment.  They are very dependent upon the weather and international trade. They are dependent upon factors beyond their control. Yet, I found the farmers I knew comfortable with the uncertainty.  That me really uncomfortable because I am uncomfortable with uncertainty. Yet, they reap a harvest if they don’t give up. Sometimes in life famines come. We can prepare for it but we can’t do a lot about it. If we invest in our spiritual lives and God is generous and brings the rain we will reap a harvest. In the same way if we negate our spiritual lives and let weeds get into our spiritual lives we will reap that too. But the good news today is it is not inevitable. If you are not reaping a harvest now that doesn’t mean you won’t reap a harvest in the future. It takes work and there is something that is out of our control

 

We see this in Joseph’s life. His first attempt at dream interpretation ended pretty badly. He boasted that one day his brothers would bow down to him. While Joseph was correct, he was prideful and this led to his fall. His brothers planned to throw him into a ditch to drown, only his brother Reuben saved his life. It was God who saved his life. But Reuben was used by God to save Joseph’s life. But Joseph kept trying to use his gift of dream interpretation. And when he learned to use his gift, not for himself, but to interpret the dreams of others, he reaped a harvest. We will reap a harvest when we learn to use our gifts for others. Not out of need but out of a deep love for others.

Once we know God’s part in our lives then we must know our part.  How can we work with God and give him control to direct our lives? I think this scripture suggests we must become spiritual parents to each other. To young and old. To the powerful and the meek. As Joseph became a father to Pharaoh, we are to become spiritual parents to those who need our wisdom and support.

Our passage today focuses on Benjamin as a particular focus of Joseph’s compassion and forgiveness. Joseph’s father Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah. Jacob loved Rachel more the Leah. I know it is bad idea. That is why we got rid of polygamy in the New Testament. Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin. So Joseph’s 10 other brothers were his half brother’s.  Only Benjamin was his full brother. And in our passage today we see that Benjamin is the one he cares about the most. When they are finally reunited Joseph weeps on his brother’s neck and Benjamin does the same with Joseph.

But strangely, scripture tells us that Benjamin was in on the plot to kill Joseph.  Joseph’ brothers originally planned to throw him into a pit filled with water so that he would drown. But it wasn’t Joseph’s full blooded brother who saved him. It was his half brother Reuben who suggested that the 10 brothers throw Joseph into a dry pit so he would not drown. While Reuben was away the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Scripture implies that Benjamin was part of both the group that tried to kill Joseph and the group that sold him into slavery. Only Reuben tried to stop these things from happening. Why in the world would Joseph’s full blooded brother join in a plot to kill Joseph?

Well I can’t be sure. But scripture tells us that Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Joseph lost his mom when his brother was born.  And I would imagine that because of this perhaps Joseph blamed Benjamin for his mother’s death even though it wasn’t his fault. And perhaps that caused some tension between the two of them which is why Benjamin participated in the plot to take Joseph’s life.  Not only did Joseph forgive Benjamin for trying to kill him. He forgave him for something he wasn’t responsible for and yet was involved in, the death of Rachel, their mom. And we too must forgive others for the things they can not control. And we must forgive ourselves for the things we cannot control. And when we do we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.

God works through the law of sowing and reaping. But a lot of us are afraid he works through Murphy’s law which is the common expression that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  And I have been thinking a lot about Murphy’s law this week.   Last week we prayed for a friend of mine named Amy Cornell, a minister in Wabash Indiana. She was a minister and a Judge, married to another minister friend of mine Jonathan Cornell. She passed away Tuesday from a long battle with melanoma. And you think after having a week like that I would come to believe in Murphy’s law. But I think my friend Amy’s life shows us that we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. And I would like to share a little about Amy’s life today.

Amy was a Chaplain at White’s residential home, a foster home in Indiana that provides services for those who age out of the foster care system and for those who have gotten in trouble with the Law.

In a sermon that Amy gave on July 23, 2017, she recounts her experience at White’s as a Chaplain.  She first went to law school and then went to Seminary. And she ended up in Indiana with my friend Jonathan. For Amy’s first mother’s day at White’s she was specifically told that she was not to make a big deal out of mother’s day with the kids. Because many of the kids didn’t have mothers or their mothers had abused them. To quote Amy from her sermon, “ And so for mother’s day instead of honoring mothers I spoke to young people about the fact that it was time for them to stop lamenting the family they did not have and start thinking about the family that they wanted to have. What type of family, what type of mother or father they wanted to be.  So for mother’s day my point was how to be a great mother when you may not have had a great example.”

And though Amy was not a perfect person, she did the best she could to set that example for her family and for those foster kids.  She organized a talent show for the kids at White’s, I think that was in 2012 and in 2014 I was invited to that event and I first met Amy and Jonathan. I distinctly remember Amy getting up on the stage to lead her kids in a dance routine to the Christian song, “Greater” by Mercy Me.  Here are the lyrics if you are not familiar with the song.

“Greater”

Bring your tired and bring your shame
Bring your guilt and bring your pain
Don’t you know that’s not your name
You will always be much more to me

And everyday I wrestle with the voices
That keep telling me I’m not right
But that’s alright

‘Cause I hear a voice and He calls me “redeemed”
When others say I’ll never be enough
And greater is the one living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world
In the world
In the world
And greater is the one living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world

Bring your doubts and bring your fears
Bring your hurt and bring your tears
There’ll be no condemnation here
You are holy, righteous and redeemed

And every time I fall there’ll be those
Who will call me “a mistake”
Well that’s OK

‘Cause I hear a voice and he calls me redeemed
When others say I’ll never be enough
And greater is the one living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world
In the world
In the world
And greater is the one living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world

He’s greater
He’s greater

There’ll be days I lose the battle
Grace says that it doesn’t matter
‘Cause the cross already won the war
He’s greater
He’s greater

I am learning to run freely
Understanding just how He sees me
And it makes me love Him more and more
He’s greater
He’s greater

That was one of the greatest performances I have ever seen by teenage foster kids.  They danced with the life and vigor of the one leading them. After seeing Amy lead those kids I thought to myself, “I got to get know this couple.” There was living water flowing out of Amy and her husband Jonathan and many came to drink

After Amy’s first mother’s day sermon to her kids, some of the house moms at White’s home took offense at her message. One of the points of her message is that her kids should seek men who love the Lord. Some single moms at White’s thought that Amy meant that they needed a man in their life to be a good parent, which is not what Amy meant at all. One house Mom lambasted and shamed Amy on facebook, even calling her an idiot. And other house parents joined in publicly shaming Amy online.

Amy was hurt and humiliated. And her first thought was, “I want to quit.” A few days later Amy contacted that house parent and apologized for hurting her. And the parent cried and said it was okay. But she never took that post down. During that time Amy would get up in the morning and get on her face to pray. And she heard the Lord speak, “ who are you doing this for? Why did you get into ministry? To please people? To get accolades from them? To get your ego stroked? Or do you love me? ” If you love me you will feed my sheep.  “Keep your eyes on me.” To quote Amy, “So each morning at 6am in the morning as I drive on to that campus to do Chapel with those kids I would say over and over again, “I’m not quitting today. My eyes are on you Jesus.”

Amy goes on to say in her sermon, “I know that it gets hard. I know following Jesus gets lonely and there is conflict and your stance is not popular……….when you want to quit when it is so hard that you can’t see your way out, keep your eyes on Jesus. He is the author and perfector of our faith. And Finally, my friend said in July 2017, “loving Jesus means serving out of your acknowledged depravity because at the end of your life I believe that you will realize that it was not you who did anything at all. You just show up where the Holy Spirit is already at work. At this point you love and trust God so much you are willing to die for him. You know your life is worth nothing without him.”

Amy never quit. She just went home. She knew what game she was playing and thus she was a wellspring of life. And she has received the crown of life which is available to all of us here today. So let us not grow weary of doing good.  Let us take hold of that which is truly life. Let us live like we are going to live forever. Let us raise up a generation of Joseph’s that will not see themselves as orphans but will see themselves as children of God.  As it is with Amy Cornell let it be so with us. Let us take hold of that which is truly life. Let us raise up a generation of Joseph’s who are not orphans but will see themselves as children of God. Let us embrace his love, his divine dance, that he may lead us in the infinite game.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

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