About Scott Jeffries

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

I’ll Take The Blame

I originally posted this two Easters ago but it is such a great reminder for me I may just make it an Easter tradition.

I have spent so much time in the last few months reflecting on the teachings and miracles of Jesus that I felt like I was ill prepared for Easter week. I wanted to feel connected to the reality of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion, and resurrection. I immediately thought of a book I read several years back called Unapologetic by Francis Spufford. His chapter on Jesus is one of the most powerful things I have ever read. His description of Jesus’ crucifiction is the kind of raw, stark, and beautiful thing I needed this week. So, I thought I would share a few of Spufford’s words and offer a little meditation for us to get in line with the level of love and sacrifice present in Easter week. More to come this week.spufford

Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration…

Place yourself in the crowd that morning. What is going through your head as Jesus stumbles by? Are you saddened? Angry? Ashamed? Disappointed? Relieved? Glad? Are you being swept away by the jeers and cat calls from those around you? Do you want to spit at him like the person beside you? Or are tears rolling down your face? The pure humiliation of Jesus’ parade through the streets is shocking compared to the promise of just a few days before. Isn’t that just like us humans. We will turn on a person for no good reason other than our personal preferences weren’t met that day and we might as well take it out on something or someone.

…he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told… I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness…

What do you fear you deserve? What has my sin done? What should be in store for me? Jesus takes the blame. He embraces our faults and takes them in on himself. That is the picture of Jesus as he heads to the cross.

 

 

When Adults Are Dumb

Have you seen the Still Face experiment? It is movingly powerful. It shows a mom and baby happily interacting, connecting and enjoying each other’s company. Then the mom is instructed to turn back to the child with zero expression on her face. Then for two minutes the infant starts to stress out and is visibly disturbed that the mom is not showing the affectionate attention that the baby expects. The point is to show the power of engaged, loving attention and the damage it can cause when it is not present. (See the video below)

I had this video in the back of my mind recently when I read Mark 10, which contains two stories that seem to have nothing in common but actually are connected to one another beautifully. The first story is of Jesus surrounded by children who seem to be getting on the disciples last nerve. Then, in the story that follows, Jesus is approached by a young, rich and powerful man who wants to know the secrets to the spiritual life.

I had never compared and contrasted the story of Jesus with the little children and the story that follows it. In the first story, the children are being rebuked by the disciples but Jesus makes the statement that no one will enter the Kingdom of God unless they receive it like little children. He says that the Kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” You see, these children couldn’t stay away from Jesus. There was something about the way that Jesus interacted and accepted them that seemed to make all of the difference in the world, despite the disapproval of the adults on the scene.

If the point of the scene with the children is hard to grasp, it is perfectly illustrated by the story of the rich young man. He is an obedient, faithful person who still wants more and can’t even recognize when what he wants is right in front of him. In a moment of tenderness, Jesus even looks on him and scripture says, “loves him.” The children would have taken this look and that love and been perfectly content but the man ignores Jesus’ look of love and the words that come with it.

The man, the adult, has lost the ability to accept Jesus’ love and life as all that he needs. He has Jesus’ full attention and even an interaction of love and acceptance, exactly what the children knew was worth being present for, and that wasn’t enough.

For us, we dismiss the interactive, loving, and present Jesus for things that we conclude we really need. Instead of, with childlike eyes, take what is right in front of us. Our adult preferences, pride, and know-it-all nature cloud the simple, yet transformative, presence of Christ looking at us and loving us. Jesus’ look and love are enough, I don’t need to add-on to that.

Like a baby who craves a parent’s affectionate attention, what we need is Christ and his attention and he so longs to give it to us.

No One Said The Christian Life Wouldn’t Require Work

I don’t always enjoy reading scripture. Some days the thought of spending one minute in silence sounds excruciating. If prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, then my side of the conversation is haphazard, stunted, disjointed, and superficial. What I am trying to say is that the spiritual life isn’t always pleasant or full of rich experiences. Sometimes it just feels like a chore.

What has fascinated me recently is the process more than the finished product.

Established artist and writers understand the process much better than others. David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book, Art and Fear, state, “To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping the artwork.” Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t set out to write stand-up comedy routines, he just tries to write a joke a day. Success for him is his calendar full of red X’s showing each of the days he was able to write a joke. Similarly, writing tips talk about sitting down daily and just writing and not trying to perfect or edit until you have gotten a set number of words or pages completed. What is important is the act, the discipline, the reps, the practice.

So, why is it in our spiritual life, we read a couple of scriptures, say a couple of prayers, read a devotional whenever we get around to it and expect the finished product of our lives to be developed and mature and noteworthy? Was great art or a great athletic team or a great leader developed by just dabbling in their craft?

The spiritual life, so much more than other areas, requires off-the-spot training. For example, by spending time understanding Jesus’ sacrifice or studying love or working through our need for humility, this allows us preparation off-the-spot that assists us to be Christlike on-the-spot.

It is like Danny LaRusso from the original Karate Kid toiling away washing Mr. Miagi’s car and painting his fence. It all seemed pointless and ineffective until Mr. Miagi began sparing with him and the moves he had ingrained in his body through the chores of washing and painting were able to withstand and react with precision and effectiveness. The practice off-the-spot allowed him to perform on the spot.

I have seen this happen in my own life. Not in every case, for their are many areas where there is still great work to do, but when faced with deep struggle or challenge, I realize that have some of the spiritual resources and capacity to handle these obstacles because of the work I have done in practice and developed through the process.

If you are not seeing the spiritual results you expected God to have changed by now, perhaps you are not paying enough attention to the process of devoting energy, intention, time, and resources to Growing Up in Christlikeness. Care about this process, be committed to it. God will honor it and the Holy Spirit will guide you in it. Not just for achievement sake but for benefit of your personal well-being and those around you.

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.