The Submissional Life // Matt Tebbe

living in submission, leading from below, loving as mission

  • Covenant Triangle Questions

    Below is the Covenant Triangle. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Covenant Triangle, see this by Mike Breen). Every story, every teaching, every book of scripture is written through the lens of relationship (Covenant) and responsibility (Kingdom). Below is a teaching tool that summarizes the reality of Covenant from scripture:

    Some questions I use personally to align myself  rightly in the Covenant Triangle:

    1. Do I measure my closeness to God by how little I’m sinning? Or by my trust that, to the extent the Father loves Jesus, the Father loves me?
    2. Do I understand my primary identity as “saved sinner” or “saint who sins”?
    3. When I talk to God do I spend more time rehearsing my failures or enjoying His presence?
    4. What sort of preaching/teaching do I connect with? Am I drawn to pastors who are “tough on sin” and “let me have it” or those who encourage me to trust what God says about my identity in Jesus? Does their teaching reverse the flow of Father -> Identity -> Obedience?
    5. When I sit under this teaching/preaching do I get caught up in the Cycle of Religious Enslavement? Or does this teaching set me free to enjoy the ‘easy yoke’ of Jesus and live out of who God says I am?
    6. Do I believe that one day, with much effort and striving, I will eventually please God? Or do I believe that he is already pleased with me?
    7. Where is my focus: on overcoming sin or giving and receiving love from God and others? What do I measure? What do I count?
    8. When I engage in spiritual disciplines am I trusting them to fix me? Or – do I experience a spaciousness and opening up of my heart in them to receive grace?
    9. Do I believe that God has yet to change me? Do I still believe that my heart is desperately wicked and untrustworthy? Or do I believe that I, in fact, have been given a new heart by God and he is in the process of maturing (not changing) me?
    10. When I read commands in scripture do I internalize them as: “you ought…you must…you should…why can’t you…when will you…” or as “You may…you are able…you can…this is who you are now”?

     (Adapted from “The Cure” by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall, p. 47-48)


    Do any of these questions resonate with you?

    What indications or signs do you look for that you aren’t rightly aligned in God’s covenant in Jesus?

    Do any of these questions cause disorientation or disagreement in you? Why is that? Feel free to ask questions and we can learn together!

  • Difference Between Prayerful and Neurotic Reflection: Working the Learning Circle with Jesus

    I’ve been using a discipleship vehicle at River Valley Church for about 18 months called a huddle. The foundational tool for this discipleship process is the Learning Circle.


    The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news. A fundamental assumption is that “today is the day of salvation” – every day, countless times a day, we are given opportunities/invitations to repent and believe the good news of the kingdom in Jesus. So – in huddle we learn to pay attention to these oppportunities so we can repent and believe. The Learning Circle tool looks like this:

    If at this point you’re completely lost, see more on the Learning Circle here. Then come back to this post

    The point of right side of the circle is to repent (see this and this post on repentance ). The second ‘step’ on the circle is Reflect. Reflect asks the question “why:”  Why did I feel like that? Why did I respond that way? Why does this keep happening? Why is this so hard for me to accept? The point of asking why is to get at the underlying or core issue/belief – what God wants to get his hands on. This all serves the purpose of hearing clearly from the Lord, “What is God saying to me?” So that I can turn toward the truth/reality of his Word and away from the illusion/sin/lie I’m living.


    I’ve noticed, though, there are two ways we can reflect:


    1. Prayerfully reflect = a conversation with God. I have compassionate concern for myself. I am mindful of what I am feeling/thinking w/o judging or condemning or fixing. I allow myself to be right where I am at b/c “God is so real he can only meet us where we really are.” (Thomas Merton) – My posture is one of curiosity, discovery, and compassionate concern for myself. In this practice I learn to treat myself as though I really believe that it’s the “kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance” (Rom 2.4; see also 2 Peter 3.9) If we can’t be kind to ourselves in the midst of our desire to repent, then how can we experience the kindness of God? I’ve noticed in my life and in the lives of others that how we treat ourselves indicates who we think God really is AND inhibits how God actually is from entering our lives. Some prayers, phrases I use to prayerfully reflect are:

    • “Lord, teach me about ____________”
    • “I see this happening Lord and I don’t understand. I need your help.”
    • “I long to have your mind and heart on this, but right now I can’t get past this. Come, Lord Jesus. Be present in this now.”
    • “I trust your love and acceptance of me in the midst of my failures and shame. Uncover where I need to receive your lordship right now.”


    2. Neurotic reflection = looking for the next insight or tool that will fix me, or treating myself as though I have no Savior who loves me. This can turn into ‘navel gazing’ and become hopelessly self-centered, neurotic, and spiritually stifling. When I see a need to repent I am quick to judge and seek a fix to what I THINK my problem is. I end up telling myself what to do and never really repent b/c I never enter into a dialogue with Jesus to gain the “mind of Christ.” I miss out on what God is saying to me b/c I can’t get past what I’m saying to myself. And usually what I say to myself in neurotic reflection sounds like this:

    • “I’m such an idiot! I can believe I did this (again).”
    • “If I could just try harder next time this won’t happen (again).”
    • “God, I don’t know why you love me and put up with me. If I feel sorry enough will you forgive me?”


    Prayerful reflection trusts the character and work of Jesus more than whatever sin I’ve committed.

    Neurotic reflection trusts my sinful character and work more than the righteousness of Jesus.

    Prayerful reflection leads to bearing fruit, abiding in Christ, obedience, surrender, and the fruit of the Spirit (joy…peace…patience)

    Neurotic reflection leads to a harsh, critical posture with ourselves that spills over into others. Pressure mounts to conform, anger at sin is wrapped in self-loathing.

    Prayerful reflection understands that grace, love, forgiveness come to us in an experience with Jesus.

    Neurotic reflection keeps grace, love, and forgiveness safely distant as ideas and concepts we have to try harder  to believe in.


    What is your experience with repentance? 

    Can you relate to the distinction of prayerful vs. neurotic reflection? What words would you put to your experience? 

    What am I missing here? Any questions? 


  • Submissional Parenting: God’s Great Gift

    I’ve always felt pressure as a dad. Phrases reverberate in my mind: “spiritual leader of the home,” “model of manhood for my son,” “…as Christ loved the church…”. Some of them are helpful, some harmful – others just stress me out. Part of the marriage preparation I learned at Life on the Vine (and that I’m now adapting for River Valley) is the truth that Christian marriage is spiritual formation. Indeed, so is Christian parenting. (In fact – did you know that all of life is spiritual formation? :))God is teaching me to embrace Deacon (almost 4) and Celeste (5 months) as instruments of sanctification in my life. They teach me about Christ, reveal my weaknesses, show me how to trust and take heart, give me opportunities to “not be afraid, just believe!” It’s an at-home Holy Spirit P90x workout. So – with Deacon – here are two things God has been teaching me lately:


    1. I am really good at impulsively noticing and parenting bad behavior in Deacon. But God is showing me that he doesn’t parent my behavior – he Father’s my heart. He knows me, he searches me, he seeks me out in my hidden places, he speaks to me in my inmost being. He doesn’t want me to be a good-boy moralist, he wants me to be the Father’s Beloved. So, with Deacon, I’m learning to father his heart, not his behaviors. When I see behavior that needs to be corrected, I pray for insight and wisdom on what is going on inside of him so that I can help him sort out his feelings, thoughts, emotions…rather than just get him to do the right things via bribes, punishments and threats. There are still punishments – and promises of punishments – but instead of the key to behavior modification they are the results of his poor decisions (see #2 below). I don’t want to create a moralist…I want Deac (and Celeste) to grow up with awareness of what is happening to them in the midst of sin, weaknesses, difficult choices, and disappointments. And give them language to identify and describe it and meet God right there where they really are living. This is an insight I initially received from my friend Winn 4 years ago and I’ve been working it out with fear and trembling ever since.


    2. My mom used to say, “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”. I always thought that was a load of hooey…until I had kids I had to discipline. Teaching Deacon that he has power to choose – even when his feelings, thoughts, emotions are telling him to do something. We talk about repentance (changing our minds about things) all the time. I try to talk him through it – help him process using words an almost 4 year old can grasp. But when poor choices are made there HAVE to be consequences. And it does hurt me – sometimes because I see how upset he is…but sometimes because his punishments cost me what I want. LIke when we have to leave a friends house early, or go sit in the car after a tantrum, or he loses privileges that I really enjoy. Not making the good decisions for him – or shielding him from the consequences of his bad decisions – is a discipline of self-emptying love. Right now we’re learning being patient (he’s getting really good at that) and delaying gratification (not so good, yet). I honor his power – his choices matter. He knows that every time he chooses he is taking responsibility in his life.


    So – these are two ways I’m growing as a parent right now. How about you?

    What is God teaching you about parenting? 

    What is God revealing to you about himself through your kids?

    What truth about yourself has God shown you as you parent?

  • Jesus Revealed Video Series



    I remember when I first saw a Nooma video: I was a youth pastor at my first church looking for a way to provoke the imaginations and hearts of my kids. I was tired of ‘speeching ‘ at them and asking them questions and getting “Jesus/God/The Bible” sort of answers. Nooma was the first conversation starter I came across that wasn’t embarrassingly cheesy, boring, or cheaply produced in a way that left one thinking the Christian God had something against art. And yet, some Nooma videos were too cute; others, not enough substance. (others – were downright fantastic – it was a mixed bag). What I really wanted was a more historically rooted and biblically based conversation starter and teaching tool that had the production value and artistic cleverness of the Nooma series.


    Jesus Revealed is that video series. It consists of seven 12-15 minute clips narrated by Andy Frost on location in Palestine. Some of the narration is dramatically portrayed with incredible realism and artistic excellence. The man who plays Jesus in these videos (while a 5-10 too old, perhaps) is the best portrayal of our Lord I’ve seen on screen. Each clip comes with a discussion guide and can be broken up into 3-5 segments. It’s rare that a resource like this could appeal to youth and adults alike, but I think this one can. Our Jr. High Youth Pastor plans to show them during some small group times this summer and I plan to make them available to our adult home groups this fall and utilize them in other discipleship contexts.


    I highly recommend checking out the free clips that are available here.


    If you’re interested in ordering them you can do so here.



  • Jerry Springer, Chinese Buffet, and the Untimely Death of a 24 year old

    How do you deal with grief? When your soul has sorrow that words cannot express? I like to cry. And eat. So, after staff meeting a slew of us pastors loosened our belts and went down to the Chinese Buffet. I think I had 2 plates full. Just 6 pastors Kung Paoing the General Tso’s.But conversation was labored because, well, we were sad. This past Sunday morning a 24 year old in our community, Evan Sobecki, died in a tragic one car crash. Died instantly when his car struck a tree and caught on fire. 2 of us played softball with Evan. All of us know the family. So we were sullen, quiet, shoveling in the crispy fried, sticky, chickenesque meal before us. Oh – and Jerry Springer was on the 45 inch flat screen just to our right. Sound blaring. I counted 3 slap fights, 45 expletives, and one sanctimoniously delivered monologue by Jerry. I didn’t even know Jerry Springer was still on TV.

    Jerry Springer, chinese buffet, and dealing with death. Random just got a new dictionary entry.

    I vacillated between watching Jerry Springer voyeuristically and shaking my head and condemning the spectacle. One moment I couldn’t look away (the slap fights, the audience member flashing everyone) and another moment I condemned the entire enterprise (and myself) to hell.  I simply have no compassion for the guests on the Jerry Springer show. I’m either leering or judging.

    That’s the same way I treat my sorrow. It feels wrong, out of place, something I need to fix or get rid of. I don’t think I have the language of lament. Processing pain, finishing sorrow, facing hurt – it’s easier to eat chinese food and watch Jerry Springer – to be satiated and titillated than to befriend grief and submit sorrow. I suck at that. I hate it.

    Befriend…such an odd word that came to mind today as I prayed about how to deal with the loss and sadness I feel. How do I make space for something that feels like it wants to eat me up from the inside?

    Can loss teach me to love myself and others? Sorrow breath into me space in which I can receive better what the Lord gifts me today? I have a choice – more Jerry Springer and chinese food – or – spacious grief.

    Take out and Tivo…or…tenderness and tears.

    Come, Lord Jesus. Make sense of this sorrow, parse this grief. Help me to not simply answer and move on, but fully feel and process. I cannot help this. I cannot solve it. I fear facing it. Come, Lord Jesus.


  • “Multiplying Missional Leaders” by Mike Breen – Prophetic, Engaging, and Practical


    Having read “Building a Discipling Culture” I highly anticipated diving into 3dm’s latest offering: “Multiplying Missional Leaders.” I’ve read more than an handful of leadership books by secular and religious ‘gurus’ and I must say this is the most theological sound, anthropologically robust, and, frankly, ‘do-able’ book on leadership I’ve ever read. From start to finish Mike Breen and his 3dm staff bring years of on the ground real-life practice to the quandary of how do we equip and multiply leaders who live lives on mission with God and others in the local church?

    Breen begins by helping us see the difference between leaders and managers. Managers, he says, are those who’ve learned to lead in the business world. Because most pastors are overwhelmed and stretched in their day-to-day responsibilities it is often far too convenient to simply ‘drag and drop’ business or civic managers into church leadership positions. Or – if business leaders are in short supply to simply look for enthusiasm and a willingness to work and give those people a ‘job’ in keeping programs or fill slots in church life. But Breen brings us back to the core responsibility of the Christian leader: to make disciples who make disciples. And he doesn’t just tell us to do it, but he describes and fills out the imagination on how to do it from scripture, observations in culture, and his own experience. This is a manual for leading and living; an urgent call to value character over talent, calling over charisma, and wisdom-producing failure over playing it safe.

    Are you struggling with finding the right ‘program’ for discipleship in your church? Tired of doing all the work alone? Wanting a mentor whose life and experience you can learn from as you find your bearings in your context? This is a great place to start. I strongly recommend reading this book in tandem with “Building a Discipling Culture” as field guides for weary disciplemakers.


  • Learning to Pray (Part 4) with Henri Nouwen

    One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11.1)


    We’ve been discussing our need to learn to pray and Jesus’ desire to teach us how to pray like he did. In doing so we’ve covered praying the Lord’s Prayer as a training in trust rather then simply a rote liturgy of communicating to God. The assumption driving this series is that we really do need to learn how to pray: in humility, abandonment, and openness. Even if we’ve prayed for 30 years we have much to learn.


    I came across this prayer by Henri Nouwen from his book A Cry for Mercy. Pray it with me as a consecration and dedication to learn how to pray from Jesus this day:


    Listen, O Lord, to my prayers. 

    Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell  in your house, and to let my whole being be filled with your presence.

    But none of this is possible without you. 

    When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you.

    Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author.

    O Lord, thinking about you, being fascinated with theological ideas and discussions, being excited about histories of Christian spirituality and stimulated by thoughts and ideas about prayer and meditation, all of this can be as much an experession of greed as the unruly desire for food, possessions, or power.

    Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.

    But, Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen. 


  • God’s Story Becoming Our Story – Bible Memorization

    I’m reading “The Great Omission” by Dallas Willard and came upon this quote on Bible memorization:

    Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to – and of course I don’t have to – choose between all the spiritual disciplines of the spiritual life and take only one, I would choose Bible memorization. I would not be a pastor of a church that did not have a program of Bible memorization in it, because Bible memorization is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what we need, “To have the book of the Law ever before us” (Joshua 1:8) (p. 58)


    I’ve spent considerable time on Bible memorization and have a few observations from my own experience:


    1. It takes time. Lots of it. Focused, intentional, non-hurried time. But our brain is hardwired to memorize things and if we practice it becomes easier

    2. Just because I memorize something doesn’t mean I trust it. Memorizing passages on humility and grace does not prevent me from taking unholy pride in my accomplishment.

    3. I can memorize an entire epistle of the New Testament and in a month forget much of it.

    4.  I do not have control when I have access to what I’ve memorized. Sometimes it’s there when I want it, sometimes not. Sometimes it just comes to me, sometimes it does not. Passages I forget when I try to think of them will suddenly “come to me” when I’m preaching, counseling, or having a conversation.


    True confession: I’m a pastor of a church where we DON’T have a program of Bible memorization. Is this because I think it isn’t as important as Dr. Willard? Who am I to disagree with what he says about Bible memorization? He’s DALLAS WILLARD. I would hazard to guess that my title would not be “Pastor of Spiritual Formation” if it wasn’t for Dallas Willard. THAT we memorize scripture is essential, but HOW we memorize it is where I have questions. I want to explore these questions in future posts on the blog:

    “Is there a systematic, programmatic way to memorize scripture in a local church in which the program/system doesn’t undo or undermine all the benefits of the discipline of memorization? What would that look like?

    How do we guide this as Pastors/leaders in a way that leaves room for organic, personal growth and engagement rather than a one-size fits all approach?

    How do we use what we’ve memorized in our spiritual formation?

    What is the relationship between memorization and the story we tell ourselves about God, others, and ourselves? IN other words – how does memorization influence imagination?

    Included in the exploration of these questions will be a few of the passages I’ve memorized and why. Most of these will be passages I’ve already committed to memory – some will be those I’m actively memorizing now. But right now I’m looking for your thoughts on this:


    What is your experience of memorizing scripture? Have you found it edifying? Helpful? Burdensome? Frustrating? 

    What would a program at a church for scripture memorization look like? 

    What method or tool do you use to memorize? 

    Which passages have been most helpful for you in your discipline? 


  • Learning to Pray (Part 3)

    One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11.1)


    We’ve unfolded how prayer is a training in trust  in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. In Part 1 we talked about how if we approach prayer as simply “saying what you want” to God in honesty and authenticity we miss the aspect of prayer that forms and shapes us as Christians. In other words – praying whatever we feel like can simply reinforce what we already feel, what we already think, and how we already see God. But the Lord gave us a prayer to pray “when you pray, say this” (Luke 11.2) as a way to order and shape their theology, their way of relating to God, and how they see themselves. Prayer is a training in trust. In Part 2 we discussed how to pray the Lord’s Prayer “when we don’t feel like it” or “when i don’t really mean it.” I have one example of how this prayer could look for me. Actually – when I was writing the post I just prayed the prayer and allowed it to be an honest dialogue with God.


    Today we’re going to look at learning to pray in simplicity and trust, not in an accumulation of words and anxiety. Did you notice how simple and uncluttered the prayer Jesus taught us is? Pray it again, now, and notice:


    hallowed be your name,

    your kingdom come

    Give us each day our daily bread

    Forgive us our sins,

    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

    And lead us not into temptation. 


    This simple, unworded way of praying is hard for me. I came to faith in a community where prayers were passionate, heartfelt, and wordy. I’m talking about LOTS of words. Many of my prayers as a young believer sounded like this:

    Precious Lord Jesus we just thank you precious Jesus for this day precious Jesus and all that you’ve done and are doing precious Jesus. Sovereign Lord of Heaven and earth, Lord of wind and rain, sea and sky: Holy, Awesome, Powerful, Merciful, True God,  I just ask right now Sovereign Lord to be with me Precious Jesus this day and to help me, Strong and Powerful Father, to trust you in all that I do and say and think, o Good Father…

    I could go on, but I think you get the gist. I would enter prayer fairly anxious and amped up and I would leave prayer the same. There was no stillness in my praying, no simplicity, and frankly no surrender. For me – this prayer led me to act as though my words controlled what God did and I needed to keep throwing the right words up to him in order to get him to do what I wanted him to do. Additionally, I don’t think I actually trusted that God was listening. So my words also served as sort of a “noisy brainwashing” to convince me – and those listening if it was corporate – that God was truly listening. Plus – I think I felt really smart and holy for praying this way. Little did I know that I was praying like a pagan.


    “And when you pray, do not keep babbling like the pagans, for they think they wil be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray…” (Matt 6.7ff) 


    Notice two things about this:


    1. We are not heard in prayer because of our many  words. We are heard in prayer because we trust that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  It is the pagans who must get god’s attention through sacrifices and words and ministrations (see, for example, 1 Kings 18). The God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is always present and at work. The last words Jesus says to his friends are, “Look! I’m with you the whole of every day right up until everything is accomplished” (Matt 28.20). We can’t use the Lord’s Prayer as a fail-proof prayer that will please and honor God. Prayer isn’t to be used; prayer is communion (and communication) with God. If we see prayer as the method or tool to get what we want, get God to hear us, or anything other than the simple (and profound) reality of being with Jesus in trust we are missing the presence and power of God available to us. The Lord’s Prayer is a training in trust, not the magical words given by God’s Son to rouse God from his otherwise apathetic or disappointed posture to act on our behalf. “The Father knows what you need before you ask it.” We should then pray as though this is true.


    2. We don’t pray a litany of words, requests, and entreaties to God because prayer is not a monologue but a conversation. The trust we are invited into in prayer is that “your Father knows what you need before you ask.”  How often my stream of consciousness, wordy prayers were based on my assumption that “I know what I need before I ask.” We are invited to “make our requests known to God” throughout scripture (see Phil 4.6f). But in what spirit – what posture – are we doing this? In Phil 4, Paul says “with thanksgiving” and this brings “peace that passes understanding”. He is describing what happens when we enter prayer as a conversation of training in trust. We trust that our Father knows what we need before we ask – we make our requests and petitions – and then trust him with them. And then we LISTEN. We are still – quiet – holding our requests in our hearts and minds with open hands. And we LISTEN. We stop speaking and expect God to move – to actually communicate with us as we communion with him. And this brings peace that passes all understanding – not from getting what we want, not by getting answers or everything resolved – but because we commune with the Living God. Praying like the pagans, however, doesn’t give God any room to talk, nor are we open to really drink in his presence.


    How then shall we pray? The Lord’s Prayer trains us to trust that our Father knows what we need – and – that he is waiting right here with us to give us what we need. The Lord’s Prayer trains us to trust that reality and to enter more fully into it in our actual, everyday lives. Sometimes it may take me 5-10 minutes to pray the Lord’s Prayer – not because I have lots to say and my words are many – but because as I pray it and listen I receive from God what I need (which, often,  I didn’t know I needed) and that takes time. I am simply still, in a posture of openness, receiving from my Father who knows what I need.


    Have you experienced a prayer life made up of many words? Of leaving prayer more anxious and cranked up than you entered it?


    How does this invitation from Jesus to pray simply and in trust change the way you think about what prayer is for? 


    As a prayer experiment enter into prayer with the trust that your Father knows what you need before you ask. Allow this reality to shape and order what you say and don’t say. Give yourself over to this reality as the foundational truth of your time in prayer. Notice what changes in what you say, what you hear, and how you feel after your time of prayer.

  • Prayer of Consecration for Mission

    Lord – Thank you that you are already active in the lives of all whom I shall meet today. You desire that every human being hear and respond to your good news. Help me to discern the right time to speak about you. Grow within me your gifts of insight and wisdom that I may possess your sense of timing in all that I do and say.

    – Trevor Hudson

    This prayer sits on my dashboard in my car. It’s an expansion of the Lord’s Prayer: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” I pray it as I drive to wherever I’m going as an act of consecration (‘offering my body as a living sacrifice’). When I submit to it well is serves as a part of my training to see all of life as spiritual formation; to expect that God is active and present wherever I’m going, not only in me but in the lives of people I meet. As I pray I find a spaciousness opens in me – a welcoming hospitality to God’s will that I can’t manufacture or produce apart from his abiding grace. I find that I benefit greatly from turning myself over to God’s mission multiple times a day.

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