Monthly Archives

5 Articles

Layman's Walk

The Joy of Games with Kids

Posted on

Yesterday, my oldest daughter was at a youth group event for the night (Be Like Jesus).

Once the littler kids were put to bed, my oldest son saw the opportunity to play a game with Mom and Dad!

If you know me, you’d know I’m a gamer.  I love video games, board games, card games, serious games, leisurely games–basically all games.

Isaac decided he wanted to play “Beat the Parents,” a trivia game that puts (as you have probably deduced) the kids against the parents.

Since Kari and I were taking on only one kid, we had two pawns to move across the board while our son only had one.

What does this story have to do with anything?

So glad you asked!

In Matthew 19:30, Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Now, in full disclosure,. I know that the application of this verse that I’m going to use is at best a stretch and at worst, a joke.  However, I think the concept helps us to reconcile a concept we have difficulty understanding: aparrent paradoxes in scripture.

My wife and I are both competitive when it comes to games and our children are no different.  

We arguably could have beaten our son in the game we were playing, but he does the normally win. (You read the part about our being very competitive, right?)

But last night, he was within reach of victory, so we gave a few extra hints for his last question and he cinced the win.

If you could have seen how excited he was, you wouldn’t have believed it.

We have played so many games with just him or with him and his sister where he hasn’t been the winner (Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc.)

Seeing him celebrate a win, even one that was slightly in his favor, was a joyous occasion that boosted his confidence and made him believe it was possible for him to win. (I’m convinced his biggest obstacle to this point was his thinking he couldn’t ever win.)

And it was this that made me think about Jesus’ statement.  He didn’t say the last would be first and the first would be forgotten.  The last will get the joy of being first, and the first will also receive joy, just after those now before them.

This was how I thought about playing our game. Our son, who could have lost, was made first and Kari and I took a backseat to his victory.  

But at the end of the evening, we all received the same joy we had hoped to receive: a fun time with each other.
Again, I realize this is a distant interpretation of this message.  But if you’re trying to understand that “first is last and last is first” paradox, this might give you some insight.

It helped me.



Layman's Walk

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Posted on

This is good advice I received from a friend several years ago.

And I was reminded this morning to take my own advice.

According to Dale Carnegie, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”

Well, I was wrong.

This morning I reviewed a Facebook post I had made last night, and after having slept on it, I realized that I had made quite a mistake, and determined that I needed to pull it down.

Mmmm…..who doesn’t love the taste of crow? (I don’t, but this isn’t the first time I’ve eaten it–and God knows it won’t be the last.)

My post was in response to a video I saw of Pat Robertson, a well-known and controversial televangelist, who claimed that the result of the election was “God’s will” and anyone who opposed the administration or its policies were “opposing God.”

I was immediately incensed by this and quickly pecked out a response to the post, which I put on this blog’s Facebook page, describing how God did not determine the election, and thus any resistance to the acts of the administration certainly did not go against God’s will. I compared the election results to the results of the Super Bowl and claimed God had as much of a hand in one as the other, and that God’s level of involvement was none.

I fell for the televangelist’s red-herring, argued the wrong point, and missed the opportunity for something of greater relevance and meaning.

My error was in stating that God had no hand in the election, or frankly, in the Super Bowl. As unlikely as I personally think it is that God directly intervened in either of these, who do I think I am to claim it one way or the other? Do I comprehend the mind and ways of God?

No, I do not. And making a comment that implied I did was not only incorrect but wrong.

And that’s why I get to have the filet of crow special for lunch today.

In hindsight, I should have left the post up and put a response to it, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get around to writing a coherent response until much later in the day and I did not want anyone else to read it, make the same error that I did, and further share my wrong to others.

I mentioned that I fell for the red-herring and missed the bigger point. Here it is:

It is irrelevant whether God determined the outcome of an election, a game, or any other purpose.

There are things that happen in our world that could be influenced by God, and things that are not. Reading scripture, we see examples of events where God intervened, including in the selection of Israel’s leaders.

I also personally believe that God does not have a direct hand in everything that happens in our world. I don’t believe that a loving God intentionally subjects a child to abuse, a person to cancer, or anything like that. I believe those things occur as a result of creation’s (read: our universe’s) separation from God, but not as God’s direct action.

Having said that, I do believe that God is more than capable of taking those bad things that happen and using them for good.

I’ve heard stories of cancer patients finding themselves being closer to their families, being more loving people, and truly appreciating life at a level they had never experienced prior to their diagnosis.

I’ve read accounts of people who have been through terrible abuse and affliction, who emerged on the other side as stronger, more powerful people who have become role models and activists who help others.

In the case of the televangelist’s claim, I cannot say whether the result of the election or any event is influenced by God’s hand.

But what I do feel confident in claiming is that God can use the circumstances that exist in our world for good.

And in the resistance I have witnessed to some of the inhumane and un-Christ-like actions of the current administration, I see that goodness sprouting like a lily from a barren field.

And that’s because God is good, all the time.

I was reminded not to believe everything I think. Sometimes the conclusions we rapidly come to are not the ones we need to come to.

And sometimes, that also applies to our long-held opinions and beliefs as well.

God did bless humanity with the ability for critical thought. We should use it.


Layman's Walk

The Enigma Who Was Alan Turing

Posted on

A few weeks ago, I watched the movie The Imitation Game on Netflix.  It’s the story of Alan Turing, the man who lead a team of Brittish mathematicians who broke the Nazi encryption system known as Enigma.  This group’s work was top secret in the highest degree and the story wasn’t declassified until the 1970s.

I’d definitely recommend you to watch this show–the acting is great. The plot is exciting.  Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Mr. Turing is outstanding.

One thing the movie strikes on, sadly, is how poorly society treated this incredibly gifted and talented hero–because he was gay.  During the World War II era, homosexuality was illegal in Great Brittan and after the way, Mr. Turing was convicted of this “crime” and was forced to undergo chemical castration.  Side effects of the treatment and the torment he faced eventually led Alan to take his own life.

And because his mission was top secret, no one knew of his contributions to the Brittish and the Allied Forces.  No one knew it was he who was responsible for bringing down Enigma.

Great Brittan had persecuted a man that no one realized was a national hero for a wholly unworthy reason.


Pope Francis recently stated that Christians should apologize to gay people and others that the church has historically oppressed.  I hope you were as happy to see this as I was.  Christians owe that apology to any who have been hurt by the church.  It’s exactly the opposite of the church’s mission.  Christians are called to love others, not to condemn them.


But how often do we do similar things to others?  I have often wondered:

“How many wonderful people have I overlooked for reasons that were immaterial, petty, or just plain stupid?”

“How much talent has our society missed out on because we have ostracized people for ‘a good reason?'”

“How much greater could our world be if we were to focus on inclusion and the merits of each individual, rather than excluding that which we see as different or strange?” 

I know I’ve done this myself.  I see it happen in the world around me.  Have I missed out on a rich friendship because I overlooked someone for foolish, petty reasons?  Have people with the potential for greatness been shut out, denied rights or opportunities because he or she were deemed “unfit” by society?


In the 1940’s, the Allies were fortunate to have Alan Turing–a genius ahead of his time–to crack the Nazi Enigma code.  Alan’s work is often given credit to enabling the Allies to shorten the war, save millions of lives, and even to ultimately prevail over Nazi Germany.  (Forbes, NYT ).


The machine he made that broke Enigma became known as the first “Turing Machine.”

Today we call them “computers.”





Layman's Walk

Jekyll and Hyde

Posted on

Back in, oh, probably 1997 or so, a student-teacher of either my chorus or band director introduced me to the soundtrack from the Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde.” (I think his name was Josh? Maybe? Heck, it’s been twenty years.)

The following year, our high school chorus took a trip to Chicago to see the show. While the soundtrack had already sold me on the show, actually seeing it cemented it as one of my favorite musicals.

The score was driving, fast-paced, largely in minor keys, and gave the lower-registered instruments of the orchestra a lot of the focus. It really did a great job of highlighting the darkness and evil associated with the J&H story. Interspersed within the dark musical themes are brief bursts of excitement, joy, anticipation, hope, love, and even lament that are sung in bold anthems and passionate ballads by the lead characters.

In this version of the story, Henry Jekyll is an impassioned physician who is desperately seeking a cure for his father’s dementia while trying to balance the life he has with his fiancee, Emma.  Upon having his proposal for treating his father’s illness rejected by the Board of Governors, he decides to inject himself with the solution as a test candidate.  This results in an extreme change in Dr. Jekyll’s behavior as he “becomes” another person, Edward Hyde.  Mr. Hyde is someone who has no qualms about sinister behavior and operates solely on his primitive impulses and desires.

The musical highlights the duality of humanity, as expressed in the characters of Jekyll and Hyde in a theme that is heard throughout the show:

There’s a face that we hide
Till the nighttime appears,
And what’s hiding inside,
Behind all of our fears,
Is our true self,
Locked inside the façade!
So, what is the sinister secret?
The lie he will tell you is true? –
It’s that each man you meet
In the street
Isn’t one man but two!
Nearly everyone you see –
Like him and her,
And you, and me –
Pretends to be
A pillar of society –
A model for propriety –
And piety –
Who shudders at the thought
Of notoriety!
The ladies and gents here before you –
Which none of them ever admit –
May have saintly looks –
But they’re sinners and crooks!
One or two
Might look kinda well-to-do –
Hah! They’re bad as me and you,
Right down they’re boots!
I’m inclined to think –
Half mankind
Thinks the other half is blind!
Wouldn’t be surprised to find –
They’re all in cahoots!

As the lyrics imply, it’s not only Henry Jekyll who is fighting a battle within himself–good vs. evil.  In fact, it’s the battle that takes place within each of us–conflicting desires and wants, knowing right from wrong and still consciously making the wrong decision, or even simply unconscious behaviors and habits that are based on selfishness, greed, passion, or anger.

I bring this up because this idea of “each man you meet on the street is isn’t one man, but two,” is precisely one of the recognitions of the Christian faith, particularly as defined by Martin Luther.

It is high time that we as Christians not only recognize this truth but ensure it is applied to our lives and our congregations–and in how we treat other people.  Luther held that a Christian is someone who is “saint and sinner at the same time.”  Yes, the idea is a paradox, but it makes sense.  We are both at once saved by the grace of love of Christ, yet continue to exist in an imperfect universe, with imperfect minds and bodies that will continue to be disobedient, regardless of how much self-discipline we possess.  This understanding is not to be taken as an invitation to engage in immoral behavior.  However, it does illustrate that those who profess a faith in Christ will still screw up, sin, do wrong things, have lustful or hateful thoughts, hold grudges, and otherwise exhibit behaviors that are “unChristian.”

It is critical that this idea is at the forefront of our minds as we deal with others.  When we as Christians exclude the “other,” we are not drawing a line between “them” and “us,” we are drawing a line between “us,” and Christ.  Remember that Christ came for the sinner–the thief, liar, the adulterer, the murderer.  He did not come for those who held themselves in high regard; in fact, he repeatedly spoke against those people.

When we selfishly draw lines between “us” and “them,” Jesus will always be with “them.”

When we look at someone and judge them harshly, we must remember that we are no better than they are.  Whatever the other person’s “problem” is, we have plenty of our own baggage as we are most certainly still sinners while we strive to be saints.

The fact is, we are “both evil and good.” Wearing a “facade” and pretending otherwise is foolish and wrong.

Even as Christians, we are still both Jekyll and Hyde; Saint and Sinner.

And so is the rest of humanity.




Layman's Walk

Sick Day

Posted on

Well, it was a very long day. The Gosteli Traveling Circus (as Kari and I like to call our family) got hit with a flu bug today and it was pretty rough.

But to take a page from my wife’s book about finding the positive in everything, I can list several things for which I’m thankful about today.

  • No one was in much of a hurry to do anything, so we finally slowed things down a bit instead of rushing around like crazy.
  • Addison, who was lucky to be feeling the best of all of us sick people, took on some major responsibility today and insisted that she feed the kids breakfast and lunch so Kari and I could rest. She went on to help out in a variety of other ways as well. We are so proud her for her empathy and generosity. When we told her that it really wasn’t necessary, she responded that this is what Jesus would do, and doing these things made her happy, too. What a kid.
  • I was reminded that work and other projects will survive without my undivided attention. It’s OK to take the necessary time to take care of yourself. And this isn’t just when you’re physically ill. Consider you mental, social, and spiritual wellness also.
  • I’m grateful for the quality of relationship that Kari and I have. While not an earth-shattering event, dealing with a sick family and the frustrations associated with it is a challenge. But we, even in our gross, ill, arguably stinky state, want to cuddle up at night and be as close as we can as we fall asleep. God has truly blessed our marriage.

Life is good. God is good.