“That Sam I am, that Sam I am! I do not like that Sam I am!
Do you like green eggs and ham?”
Thus begins the classic kids rhyming book by the doctor of rhymes, Dr. Seuss himself. My kids love these books and I honestly love reading them and while I know it’s not literature in the classical sense I wanted to take a bit of a deeper look at this.
So you have unnamed dog-like fellow who apparently has had some previous encounters with Sam, who’s last name apparently is “I-am.” It must have been changed at Ellis Island from something like “Iamovich” or “Iamsky”
He expresses his displeasure to the reader about this man Sam, who is in the habit of carrying signs with his name on it around the house. Maybe they are roommates? And perhaps it’s Sam’s listening skills that are the problem because as soon as he hears the statement “I do not like this Sam I am,” he changes the subject. “Do you like green eggs and ham?”
Now Sam had a plate of green eggs and ham ready for such a moment. He apparently had tried them himself and loved them. He wanted to share his delicious discovery at any moment. And he was ready.
“I do not like them,” came the reply. This leads us to the big problem here. Mr. DogFace says he doesn’t like green eggs and ham but is that really his problem? No. He’s never tried green eggs and ham. The problem was that he didn’t like Sam I Am!
Sam had his own problems – he obviously had a delicious product but he was pretty oblivious to some of the things that were keeping him from achieving success as a green-eggs-and-ham pusher. Namely:
- Culturally speaking, green is neither the color for eggs nor ham and to be presented with such takes some getting used to.
- Sam was operating out of relational deficit. He was annoying and had no credibility so even if he had in his possession the most delicious food ever known, it wouldn’t have made a difference.
So he needed to be a better student of the culture he was in and he needed to be a better student of himself. Now sure, the story ends right – and Sam badgered his target into finally tasting the food – I would say persistence and creativity are 2 of Sam’s strengths. Would you eat them on a boat? Would you eat them with a goat? The guy was trying and was willing to do anything to get his mark to try the food. Admirable persistence to be sure. But he and Dogface would have been saved a great deal of trouble if he worked on those two things – understanding the culture and understanding himself.
Okay so here’s the payoff.
“The messenger of Christ must speak to the condition of his hearers; otherwise he will speak a language known only to himself. His message must be not only timeless but timely. He must speak to his own generation.” AW Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy
We are in a unique historical moment. While Christians in the first century were known for their love and since then with a few historical exceptions have had a positive perception in the community. Currently we are widely known as intolerant, hateful and bigoted. I’m not saying that’s what we are, but some of us sure are! And the missiological reality is that we are often operating out of a relational deficit.
Anytime you are talking about communication, context is extremely important. I speak Turkish. I’m not fluent, but I’m conversant. I could crudely communicate my faith in that language and I have on several occasions. But if I’m in Hungary, it’s not going to do me any good. Or if I’m in Greece where they hate the Turks, it might even be worse.
Even in our own culture, it’s important for us to think missiologically. We need to become learners of the culture. To know that in a segment of society how Christians are perceived should help us as we approach people to engage on spiritual topics. Not that we should water down our message, but maybe our lead foot shouldn’t be argument but love. Listen to people, serve people, live out the gospel and preach the gospel.
I am clearly not advocating that my life is the message – the message is the message and my life is broken. And it is in this brokenness that God’s glory can be made manifest.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from ourselves.”
The second point I am pulling from this story – Sam I am was pushy and ultimately, what makes his pushiness annoying is that the product he was pushing was just eggs and ham. Now they turned out to be delicious and the guy was really thankful but what we are preaching is much more than eggs and ham.
I think I can sometimes get lost in the idea that Christians are really annoying and that the gospel message is really inconvenient. That somehow we’re like annoying people selling Tupperware or Amway or seed packets or timeshares or something.
Over and over and over the gospel is called a treasure. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels – in jars of clay. In 2 Timothy we’re reminded to guard the treasure entrusted to you. The gospel is of inestimable value. We are not selling insurance – not even fire insurance!
We’re not just talking people into conforming to a moral lifestyle – you are lost in your sin. Join me and become lost in self-righteousness! If that’s all it is, forget it. Who needs it?!
I was sharing the gospel in Santa Monica and I met a man from Europe. We began a survey, what’s your spiritual background, what’s your spiritual interest etc. And before I got very far into the survey he interrupted with a question of his own.
What’s the big deal? So why is it so important to talk about having a relationship with God?
I said to him, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot… Imagine just for the sake of argument that there really is a God. And this God person is all that we say that he is. He is huge and powerful, the creator of the universe, all knowing, all wise, all loving and this God person says to you, Marco, I know you. I want you to know that I’ve been observing your life and I have seen the things that you do and I am so proud as I see the areas of your life where you are excelling. And I also want you to know that I see the areas where you are struggling. I see the hurt and pain in your heart and it breaks my heart. I want to come alongside of you and help you through this pain and help you to grow into the epitome of the person you were created to be. Would you want to have a relationship with this God?”
Marco said of course he did and I was able to explain the gospel to him. He didn’t accept Christ that evening but by articulating this to him, it took my own appreciation of the gospel to greater levels – In a way I led myself to Christ that evening!
We are offering people peace with God! We are offering them God himself to indwell them and abide with them and sanctify them entirely and bring them home with him forever! We are offering them the most beautiful relationship in the whole stinking universe, not some annoying little trinkets.
I want to encourage you to follow Sam’s lead in terms of persistence – keep after it. It’s important. Become the learner that Sam wasn’t – become a blessing to those around you. So that people will “taste and see that the Lord is good” and they will respond and experience life-change and say, “Thank you. Thank you Sam I am!”