About Scott Jeffries

Christ follower, son, husband, father, brother, friend, librarian, neighbor, sports fanatic, music lover, reader,

I Need More Play In My Life

Wednesday mornings are my writing days. This is the day that I try to bang out a blog post from start to finish. I didn’t do that this Wednesday. What did I do instead? I researched and filled out my NCAA Tournament brackets.

Is there value in play as a spiritual practice or is that just a 21st Century American Christian way of rationalizing their addiction to entertainment and superficiality?

My life has been full of heavy thoughts and difficult situations of late. So many mornings and times throughout the day, I have things churning and churning in my mind. Plans I am trying to make and situations I am attempting to solve. I have been praying and reciting scripture but I recognized that I sometimes need to give my mind a break and just play.

man dunking the ball

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Surprisingly, when you are in a difficult time, this can be easier said than done. Dallas Willard describes play as “creation of values that are not necessary.” I remember playing nightly with our kids. We created all sorts of value that wasn’t necessary and it was great. Still, in my grumpier moments and with a sense of scarcity, I would demand that our play time be limited to 10 minutes. I, apparently, am not very open to play.

Still, you may be wondering, what does this really have to do with my life with God? Play helps practice abandonment to God. Watch a kid and it is apparent that they are wired for play, it is in their very nature to play. They do not let the worries and cares of the world crush out their sense of play. Nothing is too heavy to diminish play. Willard says that, “Creation was play for God, and so when we play, we experience that same sense of creation.”

One of the appeals for me of studying spiritual formation is the chance for discipline in my life, even control. But in my control, I lose that sense of abandonment to God that play provides. So, yesterday, I put aside my troubles, I laid down my prayer list and my devotional materials and played something that I have enjoyed most of my life. I created something that was not necessary but it is valuable to me.

What is God wanting you to create or play or listen to or read that isn’t going to impress spiritual gurus but might actually draw you closer to the God, who like you, plays.

 

 

You Don’t Have To Wait For Eternal Life

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have eternal life right now. We don’t have to wait for eternal life later. Don’t believe me?

John’s gospel says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

If I know God then I have a clearer sense of what he is doing in the world and in my own life and I get to participate in that activity. That is eternal life – participation in God’s kingdom and doing what God wants done.

clear light bulb planter on gray rock

Photo by Singkham on Pexels.com

If we only think of eternal life as what happens the moment we die then we twist this life into a mere holding room or worse – a form of Christian nihilism where nothing real means anything because we are promised something else after we die.

No one in the early church belittled our life now the way that many modern Christians do in thinking and discussing eternal life. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave his life for me.” Could he have used the word life or live anymore in that verse?

What is the life you now live? Is it an eternal one in God’s kingdom, where what God wants done is done? Or is it barely living because you are just pursuing your own agenda and doing what you want done and counting on the promise of eternal life to do its thing when the time comes.

Start living your eternal life now. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand, it is here. Our life with Christ is an interactive, yoke sharing, abundant existence far beyond a common life. Why do we settle for some narrow, limited version of eternal life when Christ’s promises express something greater, more fulfilling, and full of his presence?

When you put on your new life in Christ, you put on an eternal life that starts now. It will take its full form at another time but, in Christ, it starts to develop and exists and reward now.

The Story of the Three TVs

I have wanted to tell this story for years but have hesitated because I was afraid that it would reflect badly on me and make me appear superficial and immature. I was afraid that others would think that the gospel could be reduced to just God granting wishes and providing prosperity. I think those versions of the Gospel are dangerous and have done great harm. Still, this story did happen to us and I did learn great lessons from it and maybe you will too.

I wanted a HD TV and I had started to stop in at Best Buy on a weekly basis to look at and price small HD televisions. I started to try to justify the expense and figure out how to fit it into our budget.

At the same time, I was reading Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity. In the book, Foster discusses the hold that material things can have on us and how practicing frugality develops our trust in God. Foster has some very practical ways to approach these material wants that we have. One suggestion is if you think you need to purchase something to wait 24 hours and see if that desire or need is still present. This way, you shake off the impulse buys and bring a more measured response to your purchases. Another suggestion is to actually ask God for the item and wait to see if he will provide it for you.

Even though I wanted to sweep in and buy that TV, I decided to take Foster’s suggestion and ask God for it. If he provides then great, if not, I have my answer on whether we should have the TV or not. I did force God’s hand a bit when I asked for a TV for Christmas that year. This is where the story starts to get crazy.

That year, my side of the family decided to have a White Elephant exchange. Through faulty game management on my part, I failed to obtain the giant item in the corner and ended up with a hat or something while my 19-year-old nephew walked away with a large HD TV. I was so irritated. This is what I had been asking for and my parents put it in a White Elephant exchange? And my nephew gets it? OK God. You don’t have to provide a TV for me but do you have to rub it in my face? But, after I calmed down, I took the hint from God and resigned myself to quit obsessing over it and move on.

Even though I wasn’t pleased with the results, I felt like I had approached my wants with a level of maturity and some faithfulness and learned that God does want to be included on the day-to-day workings of our lives and has something to say about our use of money and our attachment to material things. Though, I wasn’t going to get a new TV, I had learned an important lesson and felt closer to God in the process. I was glad that I hadn’t jumped the gun and, instead, had tried to let God be in charge for once. But then March came and everything changed.

First, my Mom, who does great interior decorating, came to work on our bedroom. The entire room got an overhaul and the sad, small, boxy CRT TV we had sitting on a dresser was not going to work with the new decor. My mom decided to buy us a new small HD TV for our room. Wow, this just happened. I didn’t ask for it but I had finally gotten the TV. We were now enjoying our TV and I learned that God provides in ways we wouldn’t expect.

But then, a few days later while I am at work, my wife calls me and ask, “Did you order a TV?” I told her no and asked why? She said that there was a TV that had just been delivered to our house. We thought it was a mistake and I tried to check to see if this was something that was delivered to the wrong house and whether I needed to return it. My efforts were not fruitful and the customer service guy just said, “Well, it looks like you have yourself a new TV.” Someone had anonymously ordered a TV for us and had it delivered. I just laughed at the comedy of this;  that in the matter of days, we had gotten two TVs as gifts. God was having fun with this one but he wasn’t done.

The following Sunday, I was walking our dog while one of our daughters was riding her bike. I got to a corner house and I see two big screen TVs laying by the curb (in our community you lay out stuff by the curb for garbage collection or for anyone that wants it). I tell my daughter to stay with the TVs while I went and got my car to haul these TVs back to our house. I got both of them home but I didn’t know if they worked or not. I plugged them both in and sure enough one did not work but the nicer one, a Sony Bravia HD 46”, worked great. Though my wife wasn’t pleased with me bringing home other people’s garbage, I convinced her to let me bring it in to our living room. We now had a big screen TV that the whole family could enjoy and I just found it on the side of the road! Every week, I think about how God gifted us with not one, not two, but three TVs in a matter of days.

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The TV found on the curb in our neighborhood

The ways these things showed up were absurd and were hard to believe but yet I knew what was going on. God was teaching me that he not only wants to provide what we desperately need but sometimes he wants to provide what we don’t need simply because he is loving and joyful and likes to show his power in creative and even humorous ways. I learned, when it comes to material things, I don’t have to rush out in haste to make a purchase. Most of the time, that is not the right course of action. I also learned to include God in all of my decisions, big or small, and to give God space to work. Sometimes he might convict us of our materialism and greed but other times, he might just provide three TVs in 7 days.

What If Success Was Something Else?

Is there a more loaded word in the English language than “success”? The types of people we like to tag as successful center around a narrow list of characteristics. Money is usually the first marker, followed by acclaim, and then maybe influence.

But am I truly successful because I have money? What about acclaim?

close up photo of man wearing black suit jacket doing thumbs up gesture

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

I heard, recently, about social media heroes who have had mental breakdowns trying to handle the pressures of managing their acclaim and influence. Would we say they are really successful if their acclaim leads to destructive thoughts and behaviors?

Peter Scazzero says that, “Success is first and foremost doing what God has asked us to do, doing it his way, and in his timing.” There is nothing about money or fame in his definition. In many ways, money and fame might be easier than Scazzero’s view.

Doing what God has asked us to do requires us to understand scripture and to pray, and most importantly, listen. These tasks are not easy.

Then, when we understand what we need to do we have to do it God’s way and in his timing. This is the part that is most challenging to me. I like to develop a plan, to devise a series of steps, and to begin taking action immediately. So many times, especially over the last few months, I have had to battle my desire to execute my plan, in my way, in my timing. The reality is God often moves slower than I would like and his way of managing a situation may not really look anything like the way I think it should be done. So, even if I am doing what God wants but do it in my own way and in my own timing then I am not being successful at it.. You need all three, God’s will, God’s way, and God’s timing.

So, it goes back to the practices of understanding scripture, developing a listening ear for God, and prayer. Also, I would recommend celebrating small successes and not just focusing on the big wins. This way, we get out of the mode of marking our success by the world’s standards.

 

The Christian Life is Hard and That Is A Good Thing

COMCAM Sailors Take On Tough Mudder

I wrote this nearly three years ago and still believe it. I am asking God to change me no matter what it takes. If he needs to tear me down or remove things from my life or bring failure to help me see him and only him, I want him to do it. To encounter the presence and power of Christ is enough for me. That is what I long for.

(Originally published in May 2016)

Have you noticed that in spite of countless listicles and click bait slide shows that give you “Five Tips To The Perfect You” or “This One Thing Will Change Your Life Forever and Its Jaw Dropping,” we are more attracted to difficult achievements than cheap shortcuts that have no substance?

How else can you explain the rise in participation in marathons, Tough Mudders, and Spartan Races? Why are CrossFit and Fitness Bootcamps so popular and P90X before them?

Conventional wisdom would say that no 21st century person would be tough enough to commit to these things despite the positive results. Could it be that the we actually prefer a challenge over short cuts?

American churches have tried for the last 30 years or so to make the Christian life seem easy. Either by reduction of the message or making the hard parts seem unnessary, the idea was that if we portrayed the Christian life as difficult then no one would try it.

It was Chesterton who said, ““The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” But it is that difficulty that you really need. You want to feel as if you are really committing to something that is rich, deep, hard, life changing, and worth it.

A product that is given away or comes cheap seems disposable or lacking but something that you pay a large sum seems worth it because you worked hard to pay for it.

The Christian Life isn’t hard for hard sake but it is hard because nothing else in life is worth more than life transformation and growth. To discipline and die to self and see what Christ can do with our humble efforts has so many more benefits than taking the easier path.

Do the work and see what Christ does with it.

Need A Cure For Insomnia? Try the Psalms

Can’t sleep? The weight of your thoughts and worries keeping you up at night? Does your mind churn and churn with repeated images and doomsday scenarios?

I found a way to beat these midnight demons though I never believed that it would really work. Dallas Willard has said on multiple occasions that if you are down and having trouble sleeping to start reading the Psalms. He would make this suggestion and then say, “try it, you’ll see.”

This sounded like a nice thing to try but I have read the Psalms and they are inspiring, life-giving, wise, honest, and full of praise but could they really bring peace and needed sleep for the weary insomniacs? I was skeptical.

Mad Kitty Media

But then, I found myself in a situation where there was much on my mind and my penchant for pessimism had turned to depressive thoughts and barely controlled worry. I was stuck in a mind loop that I couldn’t get out of and it was keeping me up at night. So, I started to try Dr. Willard’s remedy. I just started reading the Psalms.

I didn’t have a plan, I just kept reading. I tried to let all of the promises, all of the cries for help, all of the moments of praise, all of the laments just wash over me. I didn’t try to interpret all of the meanings. If there was a section that didn’t apply to me, I didn’t sweat it because I knew that a few moments later there would be lines that were as if the Psalmist knew my inner thoughts and the fine details of my situation. As I read, and it didn’t take long, my anxiety, that included a disturbed stomach, began to dissipate and the heaviness of the moment turned to calm and a sense of relief. I found myself relaxing and dozing off.

J.R. Briggs, in his book Fail, tells of pastors who said that the Psalms felt like ointment rubbed on their wounds. That was what I was experiencing. I tried it the next night and it worked again. Why would I ever doubt the wise counsel of Willard? He obviously had spoken from experience. So, if you find yourself in a dark time and it is affecting your sleep, try opening the Psalms and just read. The words and the Holy Spirit should do the rest.

The Truth About Sloth

I have had the nickname Sloth since I was a teenager. There are people in college that probably never knew that my real name was Scott.

You would have to ask my friend David why he started calling me Sloth but apparently the name fits my approach to life and general countenance. It is interesting that Sloths are trending now. You can’t walk into a store without seeing stuffed Sloths, t-shirts with Sloths on them, or flip around the web and not see sloth videos and sloth references.

Strangely enough, the term sloth also makes the list of deadly sins. This has obviously nothing to do with the animal but is a life characterized by lack of motivation and effort. But are we just talking about work ethic and productivity?

sloth

Rebecca DeYoung, in her book Glittering Vices, points the reader to the ancient Christian view on sloth. That the vice of sloth is not just a lack of diligence but a lack of diligence in matters of the faith. It is the unwillingness to work to care for Growing Up.

This lack of effort is a demonstration of a limited level of love for God. For if love for God was truly present then the person would have the motivation to work on their spiritual life and apply the discipline to take on hard tasks for the benefit of God and our own development. DeYoung states, “Both inner and outer manifestations of sloth are thus linked to one’s religious commitment and one’s attitude toward the demands of the spiritual life.”

And it is not just the couch potatoes that can be accused of slothfulness. The over-busy and the go-go overachievers can be just as slothful because in their constant effort towards productivity and industriousness they fail to take the time or the intention to devote themselves to God and develop into Christlikeness.

How does one remedy a slothful tendency to neglect love’s demands on our self? One thing that can be done is to stop treating God as a means to get what I want without any personal responsibilities of my own. Just like an effective marriage requires work and effort and sacrifice to cultivate the relationship, our commitment to God is not all mountain tops and worship highs and comfort zones. We need to take the long view and develop a sense of intention that sees past the immediate for the greater reward of a lasting, sustainable, and eternally rewarding commitment.

I am proud of my nickname for it reminds me of those incredibly interesting, monklike creatures but it also reminds me of the necessity of commitment, true love, and even sacrifice needed for a healthy Christian life.

How My Journey As A Chick-Fil-A Cow Led To An Exercise In Faith

The last two years has been a pile-on of difficult, trying, desperately sad, and draining circumstances.

About a year ago, I began searching for a healthy escape, an outlet, that was not going to be dangerous to my health, my spiritual growth, or my family. Sometime in the Spring, I saw an announcement on Facebook calling for auditions for a Chick-Fil-A promotion called the Herd of Cows. This marketing team needed more people to serve as Chick-Fil-A Cows (in full costume) at birthday parties, sporting events, and community gatherings. Beyond my need for an outlet, I was instantly intrigued. One of my secret ambitions has been to be a professional sports mascot. Sometimes at games, I almost spend more time watching the mascot as I do the actual action on the field. This was my chance to fulfill a dream and to do something a little crazy and maybe let off some steam and frustration.

The audition turned out to be more a training than a rigorous assessment of my mascot chops. I was in and was ready to attend my first event. But there was one big problem.

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When I put on the cow head for the first time, I panicked. I didn’t expect to not be able to see, to not be able to breathe very well, and for the tight, trap like quarters that giant head would present. Even writing this description gives me a slight sense of dread and unease bordering on panic. The claustrophobia was real and I had the base desire just to tell everyone thanks for the chance to do this but no thanks on the actual costume and that I had made a poor choice. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Still, I wasn’t going to give up that easily.

It would be a month before I had a chance to participate in my first event, so I had time to work on my anxiety and develop some kind of strategy to overcome this. I was determined. I wasn’t going to let this tiny thing ruin something I knew I would enjoy and if I could overcome this, I would have a testimony about not being defeated by fear and anxiety.

My anti-anxiety regiment leading up to my first event included listening to inspirational podcasts, exercise, hot baths, and visualization. Yes, I went all in on this thing, as I am prone to do. But the single most effective means of overcoming my claustrophobia was something I had already been doing and had done in previous high stress situations – meditation and the Jesus Prayer. On the day of my first event, I laid down, closed my eyes, began breathing slowly and reciting the Jesus Prayer:

Lord, Jesus Christ,

Son of God,

Have mercy on me,

A sinner.

I would say the first two lines on my inhale and the last two on my exhale and just repeat for the time allotted. I don’t believe in magic formula prayers or some kind of repetitive number of prayers that will bring a resolution to a problem but in my base fear and human anxiety I needed something short, easily repeatable, soul-stirring, and rhythmic.

The meditation session was helpful and I was relaxed and ready to give this a go. And the beauty of this prayer is that I could repeat it very easily in the midst of putting on the costume and doing the thing. So throughout the lead up to the event and as it began to be showtime, I just kept saying the prayer and it remind me that God is with me, that I am perfectly safe in his hands.

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The time came to put on the head and the rush of panic started but I kept breathing, began intentionally noticing the things around me to get my bearings, and praying. The last thing I remembered as the doors opened and I had to perform was the thought, “Lord Jesus Christ…I am a cow.” As soon as my “hoofs” hit the ground there was no anxiety, no panic, and I was in the moment and having a great time.

I danced, I played tag with the kids, I pretended to want to eat all of the birthday cake, and tried to swing in a tire swing in my giant costume. I did it and it was tremendous fun and a big achievement for me. I did not let anxiety overcome me, I trusted God down to the second and let him answer my prayers, all for the chance to be a cartoonish cow for 30 minutes. It all was ludicrous yet glorious at the same time. I learned that God desires our good and wants to help us, even in the most silly of costumes.

Books, Music, Podcasts and Practices That Helped Me Grow Up in 2018

If 2016 was full of challenging and unwanted surprises and 2017 was full of struggle and hardship, 2018 may have been worse. But each moment of pain and disappointment was met with a moment of sweet discovery and refreshment from the Lord. God uses music to comfort and inspire me; he uses books to inject wisdom and awareness; and even technology to shape and structure my days. Here is a list of what God used this year to help me Grow Up.

Music

Waylon Live – Jennings was from the same home town as my parents, Littlefield, Texas. I have always been more of a Willie guy but this album is pure country rock and one great song after another. I can’t say any of the songs helped me Grow Up but each time I listened to it, I got a little buzzing in my chest and was able to break the scales off of some of my stress for the day. Music has the power to sooth and ease a burdened spirit, this album did it for me.

Podcasts

Renovare PodcastEpisode 111– I ended up listening to this podcast several times and even played it for my staff at a moment of deep despair and hurt. This episode is full of wonderful stories of the great saint Corrie Ten Boom. We can never be reminded enough that God is more powerful than our circumstances and deeper than our lowest points.

Things Above – I talked about this podcast recently and make a point of listening to it weekly. Hosted by AE creator James Bryan Smith, the focus is on mind discipleship, where we place our mind. Most episodes are less than 20 minutes and full of holy thoughts and keen insight to help with the spiritual life’s most difficult task – setting our minds on things above.

Tim Ferriss Show – Episode 319 – This is a special episode where Ferriss plays clips from the audio version of Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is The Way. I faced a debilitating fear during the summer that I desperately wanted to overcome. I listened to this episode over and over to help me to see that fear wasn’t going to win and if I could work through this, I would have a great sense of accomplishment and growth.

black tablet computer behind books

Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Pexels.com

Technology

Kindle, Audible, Readwise – As a librarian, you would think that I would be partial to the printed work and in some ways I am. This year, though, I embraced eBooks and Audiobooks like never before.

Audible allows me to listen to books on my way to work, while Kindle allows me to always have books with me while keeping a better record of what stood out for me in the text.In addition, I discovered that my Kindle stores all of my highlights in one spot, so I can scroll through them without having to go page by page looking for highlighted sections. When I finished the Apprentice Experience, I went back through all of our readings and re-read my highlights using the Kindle. I don’t think I would have done this with paper copies.

Then, just last month, I discovered Readwise. This app accesses your Kindle highlights and sends you five randomly selected highlights in a daily digest email. I look forward to reading these everyday and have started to share some of my favorites on Social Media.

Practices

Miracle Hour – This manual for spending an hour with God has been exactly what I was looking for. Worship, scripture, confession, and surrender, it is all here. I have only done the full hour once but I will take one section a day and devote about 10 minutes to it as part of my meditation time. If you have the desire for a deeper devotional life but need structure to make it work, this practice is for you.

Small Group – God orchestrated the creation of a small group at my workplace with very little effort or organizing on my part. In fact, people started to approach me out of the blue to make it happen. This was a classic case of if it is to be, it will not be from me. I just facilitated what God was already doing and provided a little intention to it, God did the rest and our times together have been wonderful, convicting, encouraging, and Spirit-filled. This has been one of the great treasures of my year.

Books and Reading

Articles – I always think that I will have added time in my day to read articles that I have discovered while browsing the internet and social media. I often collect things to read that I never get around to. This year, I made a point to read one short article (about 3-8 minutes) and 10 minutes of a longer article on a regular basis (about 3 times a week). This has given me access to great stories, important issues, and helpful wisdom.

As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire, Eugene Peterson – A collection of Peterson’s sermons from his more than 35 years of pastoring a church, As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire helped me connect with scripture in new and fresh ways and helped me see God more and more in the day-to-day of life. I finished this just before Peterson died in October. I am glad I was able to appreciate him to such an extent in his final moments on this earth.

Becoming Dallas Willard, Gary Moon – I approached this book with caution. Being such a devotee of Willard, I was preparing myself to be disappointed or underwhelmed. Plus, I knew so much about him, I thought I would appreciate the book but not discover anything particularly new. Instead, I was transformed by the book and inspired to live a more personal, direct life with Christ. God working in and through Willard is miraculous and also rather ordinary, just they way all of us should want God to work in and through us.

Needed Words For Needed Times

Things are busy this week as we find the new normal for our daughter after her surgery. Everything has gone better than expected and she is recovering nicely but has a way to go before she is up on her feet and feeling at her best. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I truly appreciate it.

As God often does, he has provided needed words at exactly the needed time. I came across this meditation as I was listening to The Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. It is by Luis Espinal. May it encourage you as it has encouraged me:

Meditation by Luis Espinal

There are Christians
Who have hysterical reactions
As if the world had slipped out of God’s hands.
They are violent
As if they were risking everything.

But we believe in history.
The world is not a roll of the dice
On its way toward chaos.
A new world has begun to happen
Since Christ has risen?

Jesus Christ,
We rejoice in your definitive triumph
With our bodies still in the breach,
Our souls in tension;
We cry our first “Hurrah!”
Till eternity unfolds itself.

Your sorrow now has passed.
Your enemies have failed.
You are the definitive smile for humankind.
What matter the wait now for us?
We accept the struggle and the death,
Because you, our love, will not die!

We march behind you on the road to the future.
You are with us. You are our immortality?

Take away the sadness from our faces;
We are not in a game of chance?
You have the last word!

Beyond the crushing of our bones,
Now has begun the eternal “Alleluia!”
From the thousands of openings
In our wounded bodies and souls,
There now arises a triumphal song!

So teach us to give voice
To your new life throughout the world,
Because you dry the tears of the oppressed forever?
And death will disappear.