About Scott Jeffries

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

‘The World He Claims, Claims Him’

I shared this several years ago and need to make it an Easter tradition. Don’t let this Easter go by without reflecting on the cross.

I continue sharing some excerpts from Francis Spufford’s book Apologetic. I hope this helps you see the sacrifice of Jesus in a fresh way so that Good Friday and Easter are profoundly inspiring to you. I would suggest that you read the words below as a meditation on Christ’s work, his death, the reason for it, and the great sacrifice he carried out for you and for me. This is hard work and we often avoid this kind of dark reality but we do enough avoidance of reality. It is true, the joy of Sunday is coming so maybe you need to linger on Friday a bit more to make Sunday that much sweeter.

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Photo by Eric Smart on Pexels.com

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And yet he goes on taking in. It is not what he does, it is what he is. He is all open door: to sorrow, suffering, guilt, despair, horror, everything that cannot be escaped, and he does not even try to escape it, he turns to meet it, and claims it all as his own. This is mine now, he is saying; and he embraces it with all that is left in him, each dark act, each dripping memory, as if it were something precious, as if it were itself the loved child tottering homeward on the road. But there is so much of it. So many injured children; so many locked rooms; so much lonely anger; so many bombs in public places; so much vicious zeal; so many bored teenagers at roadblocks; so many drunk girls at parties someone thought they could have a little fun with; so many jokes that go too far; so much greed; so much sick ingenuity; so much burned skin. The world he claims, claims him. It burns and stings, it splinters and gouges, it locks him round and drags him down.

…There is nothing to keep him company there but the light he’s always felt shining beneath things. But the light is going. He’s so deep down now in the geology of woe, so buried beneath the mountains’ weight of it, that the pressure is squeezing out his feeling for the light. There is nothing left of it for him but a speck, a pinpoint the world grinds in on itself, a dot dimming as the strata of the dark are piled heavier and heavier on it. And then it goes out…This is the first time in his life he’s ever felt alone. Now there is no love song. There is no kind father. There is just a man on a cross, dying in pain; a foolish man who chose to give up life and breath to be a carcass on a pole.

Easter Doesn’t Lose Its Power Because You Are in Your Pajamas

When we gather for Easter this year some of us may be in our pajamas instead of our latest store bought outfit. Most of us will be gathered around a TV rather than an altar. Our communion bread might be cinnamon toast. Nothing will feel like a holiday or a time of rejoicing.

A friend of mine posted this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“We always used to think: it was one of the elementary rights of man that he should be able to plan his life in advance, both private life and professional. That is a thing of the past. The pressure of events is forcing us to give up ‘being anxious for the morrow’…Thinking and acting for the sake of the coming generation, but taking each day as it comes without fear and anxiety – that is the spirit in which we are being forced to live in practice. It is not easy to be brave and hold out, but it is imperative.”

As we deal with an odd threat that is invisible, often distant, and yet seemingly creeping into our neighborhoods, we must find ways to face each day without fear and anxiety.

What does that mean for Easter?

Well, it means that Easter, despite the bazaar virtual nature of its services and commemorations, will need to be embraced with a special intensity this year. It means that the truth of Christ’s resurrection will need to be proclaimed and celebrated with all the conviction that we can muster. Why? Because the promise of the resurrection is the promise that sickness and death does not have the last word. It is the promise that evil and brokenness does not win.

Roger Bennett, in a newsletter called The Raven, shared these words sent to him by a reader. I have modified them to include what I think is the only piece that matters, Christ Jesus.

“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break and all things can be mended, not with time as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is (in) you. [The light of the resurrected Christ’”]

Thank God that Easter will fall during a spike in coronavirus cases and even deaths. For it will be a deep reminder that the mending we need and the resurrection we long for is available and ever present. The power of Easter is greater than the power of a virus or economic collapse. Embrace this fact and don’t let the odd circumstance of your personal Easter celebration hinder your worship and celebration. You need this Easter more than any other year and so does everyone else.

 

We Have Entered The Coronavirus Sabbath

In 44 years of life, I have never seen anything like this – the complete shutdown of all aspects of society. No segment of society is unaffected by COVID-19. I am working from home for the first time in my life, no churches are meeting in a building, March Madness is canceled, schools are shuttered, and traffic is eerily clear.

I find it very profound that this is all happening during Lent, that six week period where Christians prepare for Easter by solemn services, prayer, repentance, and self-denial. God appreciates our humble attempts to forgo caffeine or TV during Lent but this year he may be forcing us to sacrifice much more. He may be forcing us into an extended Sabbath.

If you are unfamiliar with Sabbath, it is the ceasing of work for one day, usually Sunday, to worship, rest, and learn to trust God with our time and energy. The idea in Sabbath keeping is that we follow God’s example of resting on the seventh day of creation and make a “radical statement that we are not God, and we trust him to hold the world together.”

Those that do not practice Sabbath can face a terrible toll. Peter Scazzero, in his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, says, “If we do not keep the Sabbath, we are incurring a deficit and God himself will stop us, through a crisis, a health issue, an emergency, or anything that gets our attention.”

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Has God stopped us to get our attention?

I am very limited in knowing what God is up to but I can tell you that I have struggled in the past two weeks to accept my inactivity. I have struggled surrendering my time and agenda. I have struggled losing the routines that give me a sense of control over my life. I have struggled not being king over my little kingdom.

God is certainly using this disruption to get my attention; to cling to him for my next move even if that move is to do nothing. I look around my house and see the people that are the most precious to me and remember that they need me and I need them. I come to grips with my tendency to live out of a sense of scarcity rather than abundance. These are all lessons that I need to learn and work on and I would not be working on them right now if it wasn’t for this extended Sabbath that we are all in.

I want to lean into this time; learn to rest; learn to trust; and let God be in charge and receive this gift of Sabbath that can come in no other way.

How is God getting your attention during this extended Sabbath? Have you committed this time to him or are you still clinging to your own wants and stubbornness? How might this Sabbath get you to Grow Up?

God Is Not Practicing Social Distancing

As if modern life wasn’t isolating enough, experts are telling us that in order to avoid a raging virus and to save our own health and that of others we must isolate ourselves and distance ourselves from fellow humans and their contact.

How depressing and lonely.

May we find encouragement in the nearness of God. “Yeah, Yeah,” you might say, “he is in heaven and that seems like a far off place.” This is not true. The Greek word that is at the root of the word “heaven” means “to cover” or “to encompass.” Heaven surrounds us and it is literally the air we breathe. When we pray, “Our father, who art in heaven…” we have to understand that heaven, where God is present, is in the farthest reaches of the cosmos but also near to us, as near as the particles of oxygen that we survive on.

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Frederick Buechner said, “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and with the world.”

You may have to work from home but God is closer than the air you breathe. You may not be able to worship with your church family but God is closer than the air you breathe. Your favorite restaurant may be closed but God is closer than the air you breathe. You may be quarantined but God is closer than the air you breathe. You may be isolated from family and friends but God is closer than the air you breathe. Six feet of social distancing may feel like a canyon between you and others but God is closer than the air you breathe.

God is there to listen to you, to speak to you, and to be present with you. Embrace the nearness of God and draw comfort, peace, and a way to live in these isolated times.

 

This post was inspired by a daily reading from The Reservoir: A Spiritual Formation Devotional, Renovare, 2019.

 

Three Ways To Grow Up

Last week, we discussed how our interaction with God progresses and changes because God wants us to grow and mature and not stay at just one level of commitment and experiences. Here are a few ways for us to step out of a child like existence with God and begin to experience a deeper and advanced spiritual life.

  1. Find Examples of Mature Christians– Our default in most areas, is to find a minimal effective dose when it comes to change we are trying to make. We want just enough nutrition, just enough exercise, just enough commitment, and just enough better choices. Anything more means that we may have to face up to our limitations and weaknesses and that is not pretty. We do the same with who we model our lives after. We gravitate towards people that have managed to find a way to do just enough in their Christian life but still not really sacrifice their status quo or extend themselves for the good of their own life and those around them. Christians that are truly Growing Up are out there but they may be harder to find because their growth may be more subtle and less sensational then some of the example that get applause at our churches. Find one and let them mentor you in Growing Up.
  2. Serve – For those of us that like to keep our lives smooth, easy, and free of challenges being asked to serve others in any capacity is often not welcomed. Yet, serving is a great way to let God show us something about ourselves that we need to work on. Yes, we might have to sacrifice our time and humility and then face the reality that we have a lot of growing up to do. That is the point.

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    Smithsonian American Art Museum

  3. Study Jesus – In most western churches, Paul often gets brought up more than Jesus. Sometimes pastors get so enamored by the studious and deep theology of the later New Testament that the life of Jesus found in the Gospels barely gets studied. This is a real shame. If Jesus is our divine exemplar wrapped in human flesh then we need to learn how he talked with people, how he prayed, what upset him, what he taught, and so much more. We can’t be more Christlike if we are not seeing what Christ was like. Then, when we get to passages that tell us that Christ is in us and we are indwelt by him we will know that he not only gives us an example but also helps us be more like himself.

Doing these things takes work but most real growth requires commitment and intention. If that commitment and intention doesn’t exist then we will remain in our less mature and small faith.

Is God Absent? Maybe He Just Wants You To Grow Up

An aspect of Growing Up physically and as a human that we often ignore is the role our parents play in that process. In the same way, the role that God plays in our spiritual growth cannot be ignored.

Just as our parents interact with us much differently at age 15 than they did at age 5, God’s interaction with us now will be different than it was when we first began to know him. If we miss this fact, then we will think that God has changed or that he doesn’t care for us now in the same way that he once did.

How might God respond to a maturing believer different from a young believer? A young believer needs attention, reassurance, direction at multiple turns, and signs of care and love. A maturing believer is already aware of these things so they need transformation of the heart, a deeper closeness, a mission or calling, and the reality of God’s love even in dark times.

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Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans

Jesus had times that he taught multitudes and served them and performed miracles for them but he also had times that he just spoke and taught and revealed himself to his disciples. The approach and messages were different because of the intimacy that he had with each group. Many of the first group progressed to become “disciples” but only as their relationship grew and morphed into something more than simply responding to a lesson or a sign of God.

If you are wondering why your spiritual life has become halted or if you feel like you are clinging on to a faith that seems distant and inappropriate for your stage in life, then maybe it is time to follow Christ into a deeper, Grown Up life. You have progressed from infant formula and need solid food.

Next time, we will look at some simple ways to start your Grown Up life.

An Ash Wednesday Challenge For Those Who Didn’t Know It Was Ash Wednesday

You may not care a lick about Ash Wednesday and think people that would put ashes on their forehead or go without chocolate for 6 weeks are strange but let me challenge you anyway.

There are six weeks until Easter. There are six weeks to get to know Christ, to understand who he is, why he came, and what the cross means. Open up the Gospels and consume the information and the good news of Christ.

There are six weeks until Easter. Six weeks to bury your wrongs and mishaps and high propensity to mess things up. Bury these things with Christ in that tomb so you can fully understand the power of his resurrection and your own.

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There are six weeks until Easter. Six weeks to share in Christ’s suffering. Because he suffered for you, what would it look like for you to suffer with Christ? Why would that be important? This sharing in suffering will cleanse you and refine you for obtaining resurrection.

There are six weeks until Easter. Six week to become like Christ in his death. We need to die to self and crucify our old self so our new self can emerge.

For when that day comes, when Easter arrives, we can celebrate the resurrection that puts death to death. That turns the world upside down. This resurrection that we can obtain and will obtain.

 

Spiritual Growth Is Not A Hobby

I have a proclivity towards self improvement plans. I gravitate towards contemplation. I embrace silence. I am fascinated by anything spiritual. The phrase spiritual disciplines does not scare me.

But there have been times when I have been slightly embarrassed by my interests in spiritual formation and discipleship. I can be cynical about these tendencies.

Was this just a personal preference of mine that didn’t really mean much except giving me something to do, like a hobby? Was I just tinkering around with Growing Up like others like to tinker around in a wood shop or with an old car or playing guitar?

In other words, I was unsure if all of these books I read, all of these spiritual practices, all of these conferences and retreats I desire to attend had any real bearing on my life other than personal enjoyment? Was I truly being shaped and transformed by these things or were they just some things I liked to do?

Soon, though, life started to present me with real, truly difficult obstacles. I was handed a leadership position that I didn’t want in the midst of one of the most troubling times of transition, challenge, and loss our organization had ever seen. My dad suffered with cancer for more than two years and eventually died. Plus, I faced some dark, personal struggles that ripped me a part and tested every aspect of my being.

I have not been done in by these things. I have not lost my faith, in fact, it has become stronger. I have been able to minister to those around me in the midst of their own struggles, grief, and loss. At my best, I have been driven by things like love, grace, joy, forgiveness and surrender to God. At my worst, I have acted out of fear, resentment, and pain but have not been destroyed by these things and remain rooted to hope and the promise that this is just a season and that perseverance is an essential part of the Christian struggle. I have not lost myself, my God, or my love for others. I may be torn, defeated, and bruised but I still look to God and I still make Jesus my Lord. I am going to be okay.

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

It took trials and hardships to realize that all of my interests, tinkering, study, writing, and practicing of Growing Up has actually shaped me. I have actually matured and have tools to counter the challenges and I have built up the capacity to face deep, dark, overwhelming times. I am not some kind of mystic that is floating through life in a spiritual cloud. I bleed, I cry, I rage, and I lash out at God and others in ways that I am not proud of but I am not broken. I sometimes say more than I know and behave better than I am not as an act but because Christ is working through me in grace filled ways. He is changing me and growing me. I can feel it and am gaining strength from it.

So, if you think your Bible reading is a waste of time or that your prayers are barely reaching the ceiling or you can’t bear one more day of service. Maybe you want to just give up on Growing Up because there is little hope in change let me tell you to keep going because these things ARE shaping you. You ARE meeting Jesus in these practices, you ARE giving grace a chance to work in your life to accomplish what you cannot accomplish on your own.

You may not see it now but every effort at becoming Christlike is honored by God and essential to your transformation. Don’t lose heart, there will come a time when you too will know that you are okay, God is love, change is possible, and joy and peace are right around the corner.

 

 

You Have Nothing To Fear

Followers of Christ should not be fearful people.

What is it about the gift of the Holy Spirit, life in the Kingdom, the promise of eternal life with Christ, and the deepening of God’s love would indicate that fear should be a characteristic of our current existence? Yet, so many Christians seem to live in fear and constantly have their guard up, ready to respond out of fear. This response usually manifest itself in anger, a characteristic that we are commanded not to indulge in.

Fear may be a way to protect our self and keep us safe but it also forms us in specific ways, usually in negative ways. James Bryan Smith states in the Good and Beautiful Life, “I certainly have many unmet expectations each day, but when fear is not present, anger does not arise.”

If not fear, what should be our overriding characteristic? How about love? Stanley Haurwas says, “This love that is characteristic of God’s kingdom is possible only for a forgiven people—a people who have learned not to fear one another. . . . Only when my self—my character—has been formed by God’s love, do I know I have no reason to fear the other.”

Emily P. Freeman tells the story of a decision she had to make concerning a trip to the Philippines. She was weighing all sorts of factors to help make her decision when she talked with the trip leader. The leader told her, “There may be many reasons why you shouldn’t go on this trip but don’t make fear one of them.” This changed Freeman’s entire outlook and she instead made her decision based on love rather than fear.

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Photo by Wildan Zainul Faki on Pexels.com

The only way to overcome our tendency to fear is to recognize our identity as a child of God. In that identity we know that we are forgiven, we know that we are loved, and we know that the kingdom we belong to is strong and unshakable.

Remember, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”

Personally, I could fear all of the wayward choices our kids could make; I could fear the shaky ground my current industry seems to be in; I could fear the loss of a relationship; I could fear the hurt and disappointment that seems to be on the horizon; I could fear and blame people that I disagree with. But, all that fear just feeds things that I want no part of  such as anger, prejudice, a sense of scarcity, and a desire to hurt others before they hurt me.

I have lived in fear before and largely suffered emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. I want to choose love instead.

So, if you are being formed by the love of God then fear has been pushed to the periphery of your existence. Let’s not give in to fear,“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

How To Complete A Fast

Here are some things to keep in mind so that you can complete a fast and reap the spiritual benefits that I mapped out in my last post. I have made some mistakes in my efforts at fasting and this is what I have learned.

  1. Check your motivation. If you are more interested in the health benefits and the possibility of weight loss then you are not fasting in the spiritual sense. In fact, that mindset might be counterproductive. One of the reason that you participate in a fast is to take the focus off yourself and put it onto God. Instead, pray before you start that nothing will come out of the fast except what God wants. My problem was not with focusing on the physical benefits but trying to mark something off my spiritual achievement list. I saw completing a fast like I saw completing a Half Marathon or Marathon, it was a mountain to climb, something difficult that some never do and I was going to be a guy who got it done. “Kudos to me. Aren’t I special.” Again, the focus was on anything but God.
  2. Batch your fast. As I discussed last week, the fasting we find in the Bible is almost always centered around a sacred moment – some heavy repentance, mourning, a deep request for God to intervene and was always fasting from food. When my dad died, I took a day and fasted to work through some of my grief and remember his life and God’s gift to me through him. As you are first beginning to take up fasting, find a day or event that has some sacred meaning to it or combine it with a deep prayer need. Choosing a random Tuesday to fast just to fast will not give you the intentionality you need to make it work as you starting out.
  3. Add an activity. Similar to the one above. Combine your fast with an activity. One of the reasons fasting is so difficult is because we can get bored. Eating, thinking about eating, and preparing to eat take up a lot of our day. To eliminate that is to bring on a lot of time where it seems we are just sitting on our hands doing nothing. This can make a challenging thing even harder. I like to walk during my fasts. This is a good way for me to combine prayer with my fasting and to be present in nature where it seems we are often better able to reflect and hear from God. Warning: don’t make your activity too strenuous on your weakened fasting state. Other activities that might be good with a fast: worship, playing or listening to music, writing, watching an inspiring and moving film, or sleep.

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    Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on Pexels.com

  4. Start small. With anything we start a new, we have a tendency to plan for more than we can actually carry out. Or, we get through the first time but at such a cost physically and emotionally that we have zero motivation to do it again. With fasting, I would just start with one meal and then work your way to a 24 hour fast. You may think you are such a wimp to just fast one meal at a time but again, we aren’t interested in spiritual achievement but giving God a chance to work and dedicating ourselves to the practice to begin to reap the spiritual benefits.
  5. Don’t gorge yourself at the end of the fast. I have learned this one the hard way. I may be so famished that I think that my next meal has got to be some big taco plate or that BBQ sandwich. After living off of water for a day, dropping a big fatty meal into your stomach is a shock to your system and your body will probably react negatively. I like to make my next meal breakfast (a meal that is smaller anyway) and include some small protein and some fruit. If I respond well to that, I might add something a little more substantial an hour later. Resist the urge to feast.
  6. Give yourself a break. This may be cheating but I will stick with water throughout the day but will give myself a little tea with a little milk or honey in the afternoon of my fast. This is usually just enough of a pick me up to take the edge off of my sluggishness and gives me some motivation to stick it out the rest of the fast.
  7. Listen for God. Remember that you are doing this to place yourself in front of God and to learn to rely on him for everything. He is with you and you will learn from him as you make fasting a regular practice. If your first time is nothing but a challenge, that is normal. You and God will begin to find each other during your times of fasting and you will have sweet moments together.