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Jay Sampson Christian Blog and Commentary

Jay Sampson

Blogspot for pastor and humorist Jay Sampson

Every now and then piles of nostalgia that surround my workspace or crowd my attic need to be culled through and either consolidated or cast off. As I get older, it seems like the frequency with which I need to sort the breadcrumbs of my past increases. It sounds quite monotonous, but I find the personal archeological quest to my recent past to be extremely informative.

Some of the things I find on those excavations are kept – relics that bring a particular joy in remembering the events that surrounded their procurement. Other items are unceremoniously tossed with little tinge of regret. What makes the difference?

Of the things that find a new home in the scaled-down Crypt of Sampson Lore there are many pictures. Pictures (being worth a thousand words and all...) have the capacity to capture many memories that cannot be adequately penned. There is emotion and nostalgia trapped on paper in vivid color. Pictures of family, friends and special occasions just tell too much of a story to my soul to get rid of them. The four-by-six inch footprint in a box represents a twenty or thirty year imprint on my life. I remember coming across one picture in particular in which I am standing next to my first car outside of my paternal grandparents' house. So many things flood in from that one captured frame of my life: how much I loathed and loved that first car; the incredible love of my grandparents; the now painfully too-obvious delusions I had about myself as a teenager... Pictures possess a power little else in the box will. After a bit of sorting (so long, old kind-of-girlfriend who never really knew you were my kind-of-girlfriend...), pictures: check.

Also invited to my remember-this party are cards, letters and awards. There are many, many notes in my box written by my now-wife while we were dating. I'm not sure why I hold onto them – when I see them in the box I rarely read them. There are a few that are very significant, but many are simply the trail of relationship-building between two people deciding to learn to love each other. THAT is why I keep them. Just seeing my name written on the envelope of so many letters in my wife's distinctive handwriting ushers in a host of thanks for who she is, where we have been, and where we are now in our relationship. Sometimes I have to smirk at the former version of myself and say, “man, I could SO help you out...” So, into the box goes a hundred or more envelopes filled with the trail maps and signposts of the most significant relationship of my life. I don't need them to remember her. I don't long for the relationship the way it was when they were written. I choose to keep them not because of what they say but because of who wrote them. Past letters remind me of God's present gift. Letters: check.

Other various items fill out the capsule: many, many, many (read: three) awards and accolades for my prodigious athletic prowess as a youth (of particular pride is a Little League Baseball trophy recognizing me as “participant.” I'm pretty sure that was code for “MVP.” At least that's what my dad told me...); a poster-sized photo of one Crosswalk editor on stage with me our freshman year of college mimicking New Kids on the Block (I have no fond memories of that day – I simply need blackmail information); a styrofoam cylinder of old marbles for no particular reason; a high school letter jacket I hardly wore because I received it at the end of my SENIOR year (note the aforementioned prodigious athletic talent) and a hand-made item from the man who taught my grade school Children's Church. It was from an Easter Sunday. Jim was a very gifted artist and he regularly made things to give to one child at the end of each Sunday. I ALWAYS wanted one, but it came with the prerequisite of being “good” during Children's Church... so my coveted prize usually eluded my grasp. But that particular day I must have either been tired or all the other kids stayed in church with their parents – because this bad boy took home the prize!! It is a plastic wall-hanging in bright colors with a blue background and a vivid yellow half-circle sun on which is painted, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1” Evidence that I was once well-mannered in a group setting and someone noticed: check.

What didn't make the cut? The greatest difference I find between things that become great memories and things that become great compost is this – memories were the stuff of real life that actually happened, compost is the stuff of diversion and busyness. I thew away an impressive collection of To Do lists that never “did.” I kept a few scribbled ideas just for the sheer entertainment value of my unfettered mind. I have a knee-high pile of unfinished journals that were written by some guy who sounded like he was trying to impress some future version of me. The items that endure are real. They were real events. They were real impressions of a real God – not some recycled ideas of someone I read and thought was smart. They were real struggles and real joys. And I scripted precious few of them. In fact, one thing that struck me was the fact that, of all the things on To Do lists that didn't get done – none of them were missed. But I'm pretty sure some memory-worthy things were missed while I was writing down the things I was going to do.

I'm no advocate of shunning planning or of not ordering your time. I have had my fill of unproductive days. But rummaging through the shrapnel of the day-to-day to determine what will last has given me more perspective on the importance of not missing today for the sake of tomorrow. I think I would do well to start my day looking at a well-aged reminder to “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you” than looking at my planner.

May we live today thankful for the things we will want to remember.

[In an exercise to remind herself to be thankful for today's events that will become valued memories, my amazingly gifted wife writes a daily (she's much more dependable than I) blog you might like: 365picsofgratitude.blogspot.com.]

I had written a completely different article. I was initially writing directly in response to something that had been written recently by a "Cool Dad" about his approach to finding that his son had been viewing inappropriate media on the Internet. But as I wrote I began to realize that the issue at heart was not merely a "how do I talk to my son about porn?" question but really it was a question of how we address sin at all levels.

 

If you haven't read the post in question I recommend that you take a few minutes and do so. That will give you an idea of the alternative that this particular father chose to use. I'll summarize my take on what he wrote. He does a great job of approaching his son with respect and taking into account what might open further conversation. His reply was loaded with grace. I am fairly certain he and I may be trying to accomplish different things with our sons, though. Our differing goals will give some context to my further analysis. In his approach, Cool Dad goes beyond grace to facilitation. In essence, he downplays the action and rather tries to redirect it to more acceptable perversion. It might be something like trying to get an alcoholic to switch to 2.0 beer. 

 

I think his approach may be more effective than the all-out guilt barrage to which we as parents sometimes default, but in truth, neither of them provides a true remedy for victorious living in the battle against sin. At this point I need to diverge from dealing with Cool Dad's approach because he apparently does not view his son's activity as sin (or at least didn't communicate as much on the internet) and therefore won't address it the same way. 

 

My goal with my kids (and for myself) is not moral conformity devoid of reason nor is it "more acceptable" sins. My goal is that my kids and I grow more and more in our knowledge of Christ and our understanding of and love for his surpassing glory and what He has done to show us that glory. 

 

To that end, it seems to me that I have a few wide categories of responses to sinful activity in the life of my son that are at my disposal:

 

  1. Man-centered guilt: I can go the route of shame. I can talk about how disappointed I am and how disappointed God is. In fact, with religious kids, I don't even have to talk about God being disappointed. They will project the reaction of their earthly father onto their Heavenly Father on their own.  The problem here is that while knowing the gravity of sin is essential, it is not the Gospel. Often what is bred in heavy-handed shame is not a desire for righteousness but compartmentalizing, secrecy and deceit. If my actions bring pain to the ones I love, then I will not be honest about them but rather try to battle them in seclusion - which is where our accusing adversary the devil thrives. He pulls us out of relationship with each other and with God and feasts on us with shame and guilt while whispering to us that sin is "just who (we) are."  Soon we find ourselves estranged from God, seeing him as a disappointed father while we endeavor to win back his love by being good - only to find that we can't be. 

 

  1. Man-centered grace: This is the best way I could categorize Cool Dad's approach. I could be so supposedly concerned with my son's sense of acceptance that I completely disregard or downplay an action in his life that could lead to his spiritual death. In truth, this is not graceful at all. If I take this approach, I communicate to my son that his feeling accepted by me is more important than his KNOWING he is accepted by God by virtue of the accepted Christ. It is something more than curiosity that leads us to pursue sin. My son is looking for his identity. He may be looking for the acceptance that he does not know in the vaporous facade of two-dimensional images. If I merely assuage his guilt and point him in a "more-acceptable" direction I only push him further down the fatal path of chasing a shadow of wholeness in idols that will steal his life.  It is a bitter irony of our age that, in order to combat what we see a low self-esteem, we have esteemed ourselves higher than ever and the one thing that cannot be tolerated is that I “feel bad” about something I have done.

 

  1. Gospel-centered grace: A third alternative is the one I believe God employs with his children and therefore the one I want to aim at with my own. The problem that is presenting itself my children or I or anyone is seeking identity from something outside of Christ is not simply of wrong action, but of wrong affection. Simply, as C.S. Lewis coined, “We are far too easily pleased.” God employs conviction. God expresses grace. But He does both for a reason that is not centered on man but on Himself. HE is the satisfaction for his children. When I pursue sinful behaviors, I am sacrificing the ultimate for the immediate. The remedy is not to feel bad or to re-double my efforts in abstinence nor is it to simply assume that these passions are “who I am” and therefore acceptable to God. What is being revealed in a pursuit of sin is that I am not satisfied with the glory of Christ. Scripture's prohibitions come with a promise of something greater. It is a “this not that” admonition, not simply a “don't do that” command. To the issue at hand – when I discover that my son (or anyone) has been lured by pornography, my response is not simply “don't do that or I will punish you...” or “it's totally natural, God understands...” but “let's not settle for less. Sin gives Satan the open door he wants to separate you from the all-encompassing, beyond-comprehension love of God. Let's not give him that opportunity.”

 

For you moms and dads who may be dealing with the issue of pornography either personally or with your children or both, let me encourage you that the true remedy takes time. Guilt and giving up are “quick fixes” that fix nothing. That said, be wise. Build in some safeguards for both you and your children WHILE you seek to cultivate a love for Christ in you both. I highly recommend a resource that we have recently begun using at our house. OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) provides a free, router-based (meaning all the devices in your house that access the internet will have the same protection) utility that is customizable even with time restrictions. It's easy to set up and appears to be very effective.

 

Rather than guilt, let's talk about promised freedom. Rather than man-centered grace, let's talk about Christ-purchased redemption. Above all, pray for your children. Pray for yourself. Pray that the love for God will dwell in us richly and the sweetness of uninterrupted relationship with Him be the surpassing desire of our hearts.

The trunk of my car has become a dusty den for baseball equipment. Every now and again I get adventurous and dive into it to try to secure some long cast-off relic of diamond lore, only to get distracted by the tokens of my past that lead me down memory lane like bread crumbs. If I ever have a flat tire, my plan is to simply abandon the car rather than try to sort out all of my trunk treasures to get to the spare tire.

Amidst the gathering of gear sits no fewer than three sets of catcher's equipment. Complete with mask, chest protector and shin guards they remain at the ready to enter the fray at any moment. But they don't. They remain in the trunk. A hidden away gem of potential protection. They are designed to transform the pint-sized catcher into a fearless gladiator clad with armor of plastic and metal. As they collect dust in the back of my car, they remain plastic and metal but they are far from providing defense. The bits of athletic armor offer the promise of deflecting fastballs and foul tips but remain little more than a theory. They are a likely source of usefulness on the baseball field that are yet unrealized. They could as easily be on the shelf of the used equipment store as in my possession – their impact is the same.

What I see often in my own life and in the life of others is that there is a correlation between the tangible yet ineffective catcher's gear in my car and the true yet unused presence of our spiritual protection. You see, when I trot a kiddie catcher out on the field, I don't send him out there with a, “Go get 'em! Don't be afraid of the ball! I have equipment in my car that is designed to protect you!” I put the equipment on him! I make sure he knows how it fits. I make sure it's snug. I make sure he knows how to use it – when to take off his mask, how to properly use the chest protector to block a bad pitch. Simply, the presence of protective gear is pointless unless the little guy uses it.

In Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul takes on the stance of a coach or manager, as it were, to explain to his beloved Ephesian friends that they are in the game! (That may be the first step. We're not all spiritual Little League right-fielders that should have to be reminded that there is a game happening.) And not only are they in the game, there is an opponent! And that opponent will stop at nothing to win. There is no sportsmanship in him. BUT, they have at their disposal protection against every kind of offense the opponent may try to use against them. Not only that, but they have an OFFENSIVE weapon to use against him so that, at the end of the game there will be one combatant standing and one defeated. If they use the protection given to them, they will “be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

The analogy of a baseball game to the spiritual battle is a pretty weak one. We don't shake hands after our spiritual battle in a show of sportsmanship. The victor of the spiritual battle doesn't get a trophy, they get life. The loser is destroyed. But that makes it all the more important that we understand the importance of having not just knowledge of our spiritual armor, but that we USE it. The fact that there is protection against all of the adversary's tactics is of no benefit if it is merely a theory. If I send my big boy backstop out to play and he squats behind the plate without his equipment – he's going to get ABUSED! He will take so many shots off of his chest, arms and face that he will come back to the dugout, shoot me a nasty glare through partially swollen eyes and leave the field thinking that is what baseball is like. In the spiritual battle, we may have a similar experience if we take to the field unprotected and unaware while dusty armor rests in the trunk of our memory.

Let us be aware of the battle and stand in the protection of the “strength of his might.”

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