The Submissional Life // Matt Tebbe

living in submission, leading from below, loving as mission

  • 2 Discipleship Commitments that Changed my Life

    What Frederick the Great can teach us about discipleship.

    Rory Sutherland recounts in a TED Talk the story of how potatoes were introduced to 18th Century Prussian peasants in what is modern day Germany. Frederick the Great wanted to bring potatoes to Prussia because at the time the only source of carbohydrates was wheat. His thinking: Introducing potatoes would diversify and stabilize the economy, making it less susceptible to inflation and drought.

    At first he tried to enforce people to eat/grow potatoes and peasants resisted. Potatoes weren’t all that appealing; aesthetically they look pretty gross when you pull them out of the ground, and tasted bland.

    There are records of people choosing to be executed rather than grow potatoes.

    The Inefficacy of Legislating Behavior

    Enforcing behaviors with rules and laws – even when it’s good for people – is not very effective for lasting change. In fact, it tends to antagonize and make people more committed to their existing way of life.

    And even if people DO change because of rules and laws, they usually do so out of fear of punishment and reprisal.

    We have ENTIRE CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS AND CHURCHES who go all in on rules, punishments, and behavior modification. Not to mention many parents – Christian and non-Christian – have only this kind of imagination for what it looks like to raise well-behaved children.

    Change the Story and Behavior will Follow

    Frustrated by his inability to legislate dietary carbs, King Fred decided on a different strategy: He rebranded the potato.

    Frederick declared potatoes as the ‘royal vegetable’ and planted scads of them in his royal veggie patch. They became ‘exclusive’ – the caviar/quinoa of 18th Century Germany.

    He directed soldiers to guard the veggie patch; now, not only were the veggies exclusive, but the soldiers guarding it communicated how valuable they were as well. All peasants know, “if anything is worth guarding it’s worth stealing.”

    The story on potatoes transformed from ‘ugly and bland’ to ‘exclusive and valuable’. 

    Pretty soon there was an underground market for the royal veggie – potatoes – and everyone wanted to get their hands on it.

    Discipleship is the Potato and we are the Peasants.

    King Frederick knew the potato had an image problem. No amount of legislation or punishments would change the way people perceived them. In fact, the more rules and punishments he made the more people resisted and resented potatoes.

    The American Church can learn a lot from King Frederick.

    Discipleship is American Christianity’s potato. It seems bland and boring, and efforts to legislate, bribe, bait and switch, add-on, back-door, or mandate Christ-following has led to similar resistance and resentment among many people who have tried (and tried, and tried and tried) to make. Discipleship. work. but. just. it. just. doesn’t.

    Tried…and Tired…are so easy to confuse when typing. (I did it twice composing that sentence just now)

    Also, one leads to the other: Tried, then tired – the story of many well-meaning, earnest Christians in discipleship.

    Try —> Tired —> Give Up —-> Feel Guilty —-> Tried —> Tired —-> Give Up —> Feel Guilty (and on and on and on)

    Where is King Fred When you Need Him?

    Tell a Better Story

    Sharon and I have used similar cibarious tactics at the dinner table with Deacon (6) and Celeste (3): At one point carrots were dubbed “Buzz Blasters” and cauliflower rebranded as “white broccoli”. But we need to extend the usefulness of this illustration past dinner to discipleship.

    The church needs a paradigm shift when it comes to discipleship. We need to tell a better story about following Jesus.

    Because King Fred teaches us: If you change perception, you change the reality one can perceive.

    What we need is a rebranding of discipleship: from trying harder, straining, trying not to sin, looking for the next emotional ‘hit’ from CCM, a sermon, a one sentence daily devotional, or a short blog post (!) to….

    1. God is already present and at work.

    How is God at work in your life right now? How do you know? What evidence do you have that he cares more about your growth and maturity and ability to love and live like Jesus than you do? What significant relationship or situation is he waiting to meet you in right now, today?

    Rebrand: The life of Christian discipleship is something we enter into already ongoing… rather than kick start or manufacture.

    I notice: Half of the time my impulse to read a book ABOUT God is my frantic striving to get God to DO something. As this awareness comes (I call it a Kairos Moment), I put the book down (palms down) and turn over my efforts to make something happen. I then surrender to God’s goodness and presence (palms up) and ask: what is going on in me -or around me- right now that you want speak to, God?

    Becoming sober-minded and fully awake. Becoming present to myself and others. Settling down. Bringing focused attention back to right now and what God wants to do. This has changed everything in my discipleship. It is no longer a bland, boring pursuit of chasing after God, longing for him to show up; rather, it’s a quickening of my spirit to come alive right here, right now. It’s being caught up in his pursuit of me. 

    2. God continues to bring good news to us even after we become a Christian.

    What good news – what gospel – is the Lord seeking to give you? What bad news are you living in? What lie do you trust as true?

    Sometimes the rebranding we need is to wake up to the story we are living in (potatoes are gross) so that we can repent (potatoes can be delicious).

    Rebrand: The life of Christian discipleship is a continual repentance – a turning and learning and receiving – the way IN is the way ONWARD…rather than repentance being ‘bad news’ that I shouldn’t have to do anymore- or- at least much less than I used to.

    “Repentance” – that’s a scary word for many of us. At its most basic level, repentance is simply ‘agreeing with God about reality’. It’s going from what I think/see/know about life to what God knows. It’s putting on the mind of Christ – it’s being renewed in the spirit of our minds.

    God’s commitment to you in Jesus Christ is to never – EVER – stop hunting down and un-truthing the bad news that wages war against your soul.

    I notice: When I wake up in the morning the bad news begins without my permission or endorsement. My bad news is one of scarcity, a haranguing of “NOT ENOUGH’S!” that resound in my mind and taunt my emotions:

    Not enough sleep. (For instance, last night I slept 10:30-2:30, awake 2:30-6:30, napped 6:30-8:30 – Can anything good come from that kind of sleep?)

    Not enough energy. (“If I have coffee now…and some before lunch…and skip my work out to sleep until 8:30…will I crash at 3pm?”)

    Not enough time. (“If I sleep in and don’t do my time of silence and prayer, I’ll have to do that later, which means I won’t have the time to finish my blog post…”)

    Not enough motivation. (“With that kind of sleep, no WONDER I have such a hard time focusing and getting things done…I wonder what’s happening on twitter?”)

    Not enough food. (“I can’t eat Frosted Flakes for breakfast! I’ll have a blood sugar crash at 10am and be starving and exhausted!”)

    It’s bad news – no doubt – because it keeps me from wonder, appreciation, and joy. Robs me of worship. Convinces me to clench, grab, and control.

    Is it possible for me to experience God’s goodness on 6 hours of sleep? I say no – but God says YES.

    Is it possible for me to enjoy my morning if I don’t have every detail work out according to my wishes for maximum alone time and reading? I say no – but God says YES.

    What bad news threatens to rob you of the fruit of the spirit? What tape plays in your head?

    Today – see if you can trust 2 things: God is already present and at work – and – you are living in some kind of bad news that God wants to speak to.

    It just may wake you up – rebrand how you see life with God – from something boring and unappetizing to something valuable and nourishing.

  • Failed Discipleship Strategy #1: Trying to Sin Less

    In a previous post I suggested that the central defining characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ is our capacity for and competency in love. The Scriptures are resounding and resolute on this point: Without love all right behavior and right knowledge are nothing (1 Cor 13.1-3). And so – we must (<—–Not too strong of a word there, right?) MUST develop some metric by which we measure and quantify the maturity of the Christian disciple on their capacity for and competency in love.

    But love doesn’t exist on it’s own: Love integrates and enables our knowledge and obedience.

    Love is the WAY in which the WORD (Knowledge) gets to WORK (Obedience).

    Here’s the diagram we used to keep these ideas in relationship with each other:


    WORD = Knowledge/Understanding

    WORKS = Obedience/Behavior

    WAY = Love

    Love as the WAY of Jesus integrates and orients the WORD (Knowledge) of Jesus and the WORKS (Obedience) of Jesus into wisdom and power in the kingdom of God.

    If love is the only thing that counts (Gal 5.6) let’s find some way to count it! Who’s with me?

    But before we get to how to measure love…Let’s take stock of ‘what is’ in the current landscape of discipleship in America.

    My observation is that we have developed quite an elaborate justification for how WORKS (Behavior) is the measure of discipleship. In fact I’d argue the dominant strategy for growth in Christlikeness in most churches and Christian groups is trying to sin less. But the question seldom is asked: Does sinning less enable one to love more? Let’s look together at the attractiveness and effectiveness of this strategy.

    I got that ‘Ole Fashioned Accountability Group Religion’

    I became a follower of Jesus during my third year of college (I’ll tell more of that story in a subsequent post). And six months after becoming a follower of Jesus I joined what was called an Accountability Group. 

    If you’ve been a Christian (of the Evangelical ilk, especially) for more than 20 minutes you know how these groups function (I can only speak for dudes- have yet to be involved in a woman’s accountability group).

    Every Tuesday night in college for 2 hours we’d sit around and confess our sins to one another. 97% (+/- 3%) of the time our sin fell into one of 4 categories: 

    1. Sex
    2. Drugs
    3. Laziness in Spiritual Life
    4. Coarse Language (i.e. ‘Swears’)

    Weeks went by when I failed at all 4; Some weeks I only had 1 or 2 to confess. But the liturgy of this Accountability Group taught me, from very early on in my Christian walk, that maturity and holiness in the Christian life basically consisted of: Avoid sexual sin, avoid inebriation from substances like tobacco and alcohol, be diligent in reading my Bible and prayer, and don’t use swears.

    I practiced saying “Frigging A” in front of a mirror to break my habit of saying the F-word.

    I opened my Natty Light half way at the frat party so the beer came out slower, to lessen my chances at inebriation.

    I used all the tips and tricks for staying sexually pure: bounced my eyes off of woman, developed the skill of the side hug, turned my TV off when Baywatch came on,  etc.

    Accountability group taught me Christian discipleship was all about sinning less. 

    The weekly liturgy went like this: identify the sin, come up with a strategy to overcome it, tell others about it so they can hold you accountable, report back next week on your effectiveness.  Everyone who had been a Christian longer than me seemed to believe this was the pathway to purity, the road to maturity, the highway to heaven.

    So – for the next two years at college I intentionally and systematically sought to eradicate (certain) sin from my life. The assumption was clear: Discipleship is about sinning less and the way we sin less is by working on our sin. More work on our sin = sinning less = maturing in the Christian faith.

    But, here’s what I found: Saying less swears, drinking less beer, being more sexually pure, being more consistent in my bible reading and prayer times gave me a sense of accomplishment and relief from guilt. I enjoyed a measure of self-control that previously eluded me. Failure continued to happen, but less and less frequently as I submitted to the communal process of conviction, commitment, confession.

    But – sinning less did not empower me to love more.

    Some of my friends say it so well so I’ll just quote them here: If we sin less we may not love more. But if we learn to love more we will sin less.

    Here’s what I discovered when I lived my Christian life trying harder to work on my sin:

    1. My focus on (fetish with?) certain sins blinded me to others. Socially acceptable sins such as gluttony, pride, greed, hypocrisy, etc. become less and less noticeable (to me and those in my accountability group- but not to those outside our group, I’m sure). When I elevated certain virtues in the Christian life above others I became insensitive to other, more devastating sins (Matt 23.23-28).
    2. I became more judgmental, condemning, and accusing of myself and others. My internal tapes in my head- and often my voiced opinions to others- became increasingly antagonistic, angry, brittle, impatient, accusatory, and intolerant. I became more like an adversary and accuser of myself and others than an advocate for them. Translation: I became more like the satan than Jesus (Rev 12.10; Job 1; 1 John 2.1-2).
    3. The motivation to sin less often derived from the desire to avoid punishment, shame, or release from guilty feelings. The levers I responded to were fear of punishment, embarrassment of being found out and exposed as a fraud, and a guilty conscience. Focusing on my external behaviors led me deeper into that which Christ came to save me from! The weapons of hell are fear, guilt, and shame- the very thing Christ came to set us free from. The tools of heaven are faith, hope, and love. I noticed I was living as a dead man trying to overcome my sin rather than living as a new man training in righteousness (2 Cor 5.17; 10.3-7; Heb 9.14; 10.2).
    4. My fight against sin left me worn out, exhausted, and under a lot of pressure. Jesus said his yoke was easy and his burden light (Matt 11.30), but it sure felt like a millstone trying to not sin. Is this really the life Jesus came to bring? The fruit of my flesh was guilt, shame, fear, exhaustion, irritation, anger, hard-heartedness, and being short-tempered. The fruit of the flesh lives much different than the life-giving, freedom-enjoying fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-25) Would Jesus say ‘come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden’ only to then make me more worn out trying to please him? 
    5. The ‘victory’ I experienced (i.e. saying fewer ‘F words’) felt like bondage, not freedom. I gained my victory from sin by relying more on my flesh- my natural ability apart from the supernatural power of God. Using flesh to fight the flesh leads to greater condemnation and misery, not life and peace (see Romans 8.1-17). I found myself caught in the cycle of religious enslavement:

    cycle of religious enslavement
    This can’t be the abundant life Jesus came to bring because I can do all this (and more, with the appropriate ascetically rigorous practices) without the power of the Holy Spirit. 

    6. When I failed (most often in the sexual sin category) I eventually stopped telling my accountability group. Focusing on my sin- using the weapons of the satan to overcome it- led me deeper into darkness. I hid my worst failures, shared the ‘best/safest’ ones, because I obeyed my shame, pivoted out of fear, and knew I’d be strangled by my guilt. Hiding sin doesn’t defeat it; it makes it stronger. Only in the light- fully exposed to the power of love- does sin whither and become increasingly powerless (Eph 5.6-17)


    Every accountability group I’ve ever participated in has ended one of two ways:

    1. Everyone stops coming because they can’t perform under the increasing pressures of (failed) moralistic purity.
    2. Everyone continues to come and we stop policing behavior so vigilantly and just hang out.

    Eventually accountability groups either crumble in a call out culture or collapse in a hang out culture. 

    But what if…there was a kingdom correlation to all the bad work I experienced from accountability groups? What if there was good news for that ‘bad news’?

    What if…

    1. We created communities who don’t go to war on certain sins but learn how to gather around God’s grace whenever/wherever he is at work? What if we train to notice how God’s grace convicts and converts?
    2. We learn how to experience God as our advocate- he REALLY wants his kids to enjoy his Life- rather than as an accuser or adversary? And- what if we begin to treat ourselves and others with that same empowering compassion? 
    3. Our motivation to sin less comes not from the weapons of the satan, but from the love of God in Jesus Christ? What if love actually is the strongest relational force in the universe? 
    4. The journey into holiness and love left one feeling empowered, refreshed, recreated, and restored? What if redemption and new life was empowering, not draining?
    5. Victory over sin feels like freedom, not bondage? And what if that freedom brings an ease, humility, and increased embrace of everyone and everything with it?
    6. Me ‘telling on myself’- letting others in on my badness- is a way to get MORE love, not less? What if confession and repentance was the BEST thing that could happen to me today – and – having a community that can bear my badness with grace is actually possible?


    I think it’s not only possible, but vitally crucial for discipleship and mission in our world today. This is why Ben and I work with church leaders; this is why we are starting a church on the north side of Indianapolis (<<——– That’s a pre-announcement announcement, btw…) where these sorts of commitments are foundational in the life of a Christ follower.

    Later this week I’ll post more on how we take Behavior/Obedience – the WORKS of Jesus – seriously in a life of discipleship that is oriented in the Love (WAY) of Jesus. But first…


    How have you experienced accountability groups in your Christian discipleship? In what ways is your experience dissimilar to mine? Similar?

    In what ways have you experienced this truth: Sinning less does not lead to loving more. 

    I’m suggesting that both obedience and disobedience can be enslaving bondage – do you agree? Have you experienced that? 

  • I Need Your Help…And a Brief Update!

    I’ve been away from my blog for about a year pursuing other endeavors, but last week I returned with a blog post and plan to write more. A LOT more. There’s not enough time in the week for me to push out all the content I’d like and so I need your help. 

    Recently, my good friend Ben Sternke and I have been conspiring together to create new content, training, and resources for you, and we want to make sure it’s all as helpful to you as it can be, and that means I need to know more about you to know which ideas we should pursue!

    So, to get to know you a bit better, I’ve created my first-ever Reader Survey. You can access it by clicking on the link below:

    Would you please take a few (no more than 4) minutes to fill out the survey? By doing so you will ultimately be helping yourself. Why? Because you will directly contribute to the content Ben and I create and help shape future conversations around ideas, trainings, content development, resources, etc. 

    I hope you’ll take the time to do this. The survey is easy to fill out, the results are completely anonymous, and it will only take a couple minutes to finish. Here’s the link again:

    Thanks in advance for your help! I can’t wait to share the new stuff with you.

  • The One Thing We Fail to Measure in Discipleship

    What’s the thing you look for as the distinguishing mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ?

    How do you measure the quality of ones discipleship?


    The Case of Calvin

    Calvin, one of my small group leaders when I was a Jr. High Youth Pastor, was late for our meeting…really late. Like 45 mintues late. On one hand I was ticked off: I had gone to bat for him a few times before this and he was making it harder for me to stick up for him. On another I was relieved he hadn’t shown up yet because I was anxious about the confrontational nature of our meeting that evening.

    Six months prior to this, Calvin had finished a year long internship at a discipleship training institute. The irresponsible and immature Calvin who left returned disciplined and grow up. His mom (with whom Calvin lived) remarked upon his return that the change was striking: the disrespectful boy had come back a polished and polite young man. A year away studying the bible, being around other Christians, and working on discipline and diligence in his personal habits seemed to have paid off.

    But now – waiting on the increasingly tardy Calvin – it was clear to me that the polish was rubbing off. He’d promised to get a job once he returned but months and months of listlessness and laziness prompted his mother to kick him out of the house (he knew this would be the consequence; she had been crystal clear about her expectations). He moved in with a friend (single lady #1) and her roommate (single lady #2) and Calvin took a shining to her (SL #2). After a few weeks of the “2 Single Ladies and a Jobless/Homeless Calvin” reality show – you guessed it – Calvin began dating the friend of the friend. So – he’s kicked out of his house, living with the single lady he’s dating – and he’s leading a small group in my Jr. High Ministry.

    I wasn’t looking forward to this conversation.

    Two phone calls and numerous texts later Calvin finally arrived 60 minutes late to our meeting. He entered my office, and as he swung his hand out his pocket to shake my hand, out tumbled a pack of cigarettes onto the floor.

    He looked down at his cigs, then back at me, and giggling muttered, “Oops” as he scooped the pack up and shoved it deeply in his interior jacket pocket.

    The cigarettes were the last straw for me. I told him he couldn’t be a youth coach anymore. He said Ok and promptly left my office.

    The meeting I’d waited 60 minutes for lasted all of 60 seconds.

    I never saw Calvin again. As far as I know he no longer considers himself a Christian.


    “The Measure You Use…”

    I didn’t have a clear metric to measure the quality of Calvin’s discipleship when I was 25; I did, however, have a vague understanding that dishonoring your parents, living with your girlfriend, and sucking on cancer sticks was usually outside the realm of ‘bible study leader’ protocol. I knew those behaviors weren’t becoming of a disciple. I had the knowledge Calvin didn’t that his behaviors weren’t acceptable.

    In my experience these are two primary measurements we use to evaluate disciples:

    Knowledge and Behavior.

    Some Christian traditions look for an agreed upon knowledge typically referred to as doctrine. In these traditions understanding doctrine is emphasized and rational cognition (i.e. the intellect) serves as the medium through which we mature as disciples. The coursework of the Masters of Divinity degree I received from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School largely focused on the domain of my intellect and understanding. Tests measured my ability to answer questions, defend positions, and argue propositions deemed correct and true.

    Other traditions focus more on behavior; morality and even charismatic demonstrations punctuate the journey of growth in discipleship. If knowledge can be characterized as internal, then behavior would be the external realm of the Christian life. For some this is speaking in tongues, for others its evangelistic fervor; for me as a 25 year old Jr. High Youth Pastor it was sex and drugs. Behavior – external conformity to the internal knowledge of God – is evaluated according to the standard laid out in scripture.  

    Understanding and Obedience.

    Knowledge and Behavior.

    Or…to break it down another way…WORD and WORKS.

    I’m probing not the necessity of such measures but their sufficiency: Do knowledge and behavior tell us the whole story?

    Are they the measurement that Jesus used?


    Discipleship Defined: “Faith Working through Love”

    Discipleship is the ‘intentional process of becoming more like Jesus. It’s being with Jesus to learn from Jesus how to live like Jesus.’ (Definition proudly borrowed from Dallas Willard)

    If we desire to ‘be with…to learn from…how to live like Jesus” then what Jesus knows (WORD) and what he does (WORKS) are vitally important! I’m not sure how we get around the fact that a disciple of Jesus Christ will need knowledge AND obedience, WORD and WORKS.

    Indeed Paul assumes their importance, but insufficiency in a oft quoted text:

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels (WORD), but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers (WORD/WORKS) and understand all mysteries and all knowledge (WORD), and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains (WORKS! Shout out to James, the brother of Jesus, who gives a hearty ‘AMEN!’ to calling faith a WORK), but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have (WORKS), and If I deliver up my body to be burned (WORKS), but have not love I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13.1-3)

    Knowledge (WORD) and behavior (WORKS) are vital, but woefully insufficient. In fact if left animated by something other than love, Paul says miraculous displays and revelatory insights are nothing.

    So, we need knowledge of Jesus (WORD) and the behavior of Jesus (WORKS) – as Dallas and St. Paul affirm – but we also need the love of Jesus, what we could call his WAY.

    The WAY (love) is the manner in which he knows, the animator of what he does.

    The WAY (love) describes:

    1. the condition of ‘being with Jesus’ and
    2. the how of ‘living like Jesus’ that Dallas describes above.

    We’re ready to put this all together:

    Discipleship is growing in what Jesus knows (WORD of Christ), what Jesus does (WORKS of Christ) animated and held together by how Jesus is (the WAY of Christ).

    Here’s a graphic illustration I first learned from my friend Dave that helps me keep these three dynamics in relationship:


    Word corresponds to the UP dimension, revelation and knowledge from God.

    Way corresponds to the IN dimension, presence and posture (love) from God

    Works corresponds to the OUT dimension, behavior and power from God.


    Love at the Center

    If we desire to produce people who live like Jesus – who consistently grow in what he knows and what he does – we need to develop a means to measure our love. Permit the scriptures to speak again on the centrality and primacy of love in our discipleship:

    • Love is the WAY on which all of the law and prophets hang (Matthew 22.34-40)
    • Love summarizes (Galatians 5.14) and fulfills (Romans 13.8-10) the entire law
    • Love is the aim of all instruction and training (1 Timothy 1.5)
    • Love is the WAY that enables all knowledge (WORDS) and obedience (WORKS) to be something rather than nothing (1 Corinthians 13.1-3)
    • Love is the only thing that counts (Galatians 5.6)
    • Love is the WAY we know we’ve passed from death to life (1 John 3.14)
    • Love is the WAY that everyone around us will know we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13.35)
    • Love is the WAY we are filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.19)
    • Love is who God is; our love is evidence we are becoming more like him (1 John 4.8)


    I contend- and feel free to pushback on this- that we have largely assumed and/or ignored the WAY of Jesus and focused primarily on the WORD and WORKS in our discipleship. I did this with Calvin; I noticed (rightly so, I think) his behavior didn’t comport with the authority I’d given him as a leader in our youth ministry. But, because I didn’t handle the situation in love, I failed to bring the Word of God to bear faithfully in that situation. And I’ve done this countless times since.

    I think I come by this honestly. Historically, Christians have been much more adept at measuring knowledge and behavior. Take a look at human history and note how many people were excommunicated/put under church discipline or burned at the stake for their beliefs (heresy, or simply being a Quaker in a Puritan Boston in the 1660’s) or behavior (I.e. Witchcraft)? We seldom (if ever?) burned a heretic – or even proclaimed anyone a heretic and excommunicated them – for their lack of love.

    Now, I’m no advocate for heretic burning. FAR from it. Nor am I in an ecclesial position to excommunicate anyone (not that I would have a list even if I was!). I simply want to point out that Christians have paid much closer attention to the WORD and WORKS of disciples and less attention to their WAY and this has had crippling consequences on the quality of disciple we produce in most churches.

    We get what we measure, and since we’ve largely evaluated discipleship on WORD and WORKS metrics, what we’re left with are people who know the right things, sometimes do the right things, but know them and do them apart from the love of Jesus. 


    Next week we’ll talk more about why it’s so tempting to measure our knowledge (WORD) and behaviors (WORKS) apart from the WAY of Jesus. And- I’ll delve in a bit more about how all 3 are needed and how they’re all interrelated. But first:


    1. Am I alone in seeing this phenomenon or do you see this tendency in Christian discipleship: To assume or sideline love in favor of knowledge and behavior? Why do you think that is?
    2. If love is so important and crucial to Christian discipleship, how do we measure and quantify it? How do we honestly assess if we are, indeed, more loving today than we were last week?
    3. What are some of your thoughts about how WORDS, WORKS, and WAY interact and inform one another?
  • Why Jesus was so Smart (and it’s not ‘because he was God’)

    There was an experiment done about 20 years ago with two kittens. From the time they were born they were kept in absolute darkness – no light whatsoever – except for 60 minutes a day. During this 60 minutes, the lights were turned on, they could see reality as it really was. One kitten was allowed to walk around, to seek and sniff, to get close to objects, to paw at smaller objects. He was allowed to interact with this new environment – to cautiously enter into the world opened up to it because of the light. The other kitten was kept in a box about two feet off the ground. All it could do was sit and look around. The 60 minutes of light was much more safe for this kitten – it couldn’t cut it’s paw on the sharp objects, it would stumble, or lick things that shouldn’t be licked. But this kitten also didn’t respond in any meaningful way to the light. It sat there, blinking, watching but not entering in to this new world given by the light.

    After 2 years of this happening every day, the now adult cats were released to live “normally” in full light. The one cat who had been allowed to interact with the environment in the light adapted fairly quickly to its new world of light all the time…it was ready for this new world because of how it had responded to the light in its former. But the cat who was kept in a box, the cat that “knew” the light, had “watched” the light, but hadn’t responded or interacted with the light, this cat lived the rest of its life as though it were blind. Its eyes worked perfectly fine, but it could not see. Researches discovered that sight is as much about learning and growing as it is about just seeing. The brain needs to learn to see the light. Sight is an interactive discipline – not just biological, not just cognitive, but involves how we relate to what we see.

    “Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.  The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

    John 7.14-19

    How was it that Jesus was so smart without being taught? Look at his own words: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God…Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law”

    Those who questioned Jesus in John 7 knew all about God but didn’t actually DO what he said. Their eyes worked perfectly fine, but they couldn’t see. When they saw light they sat analyzing, watching, questioning, pondering, theorizing, theologizing. They stayed 2 feet off the ground. Safe, detached, unencumbered by the challenges of DOING so they could devote all their time to THINKING. But sight is an interactive capability. We learn by doing, not merely watching.

    Jesus on the other hand knew all about God because he interacted with him. Lived with him daily. The law was written on his heart. He learned obedience through what he suffered, you know – lots of bruises, scrapes, bumps, close calls, near misses. Jesus was smart because he acted on what the Father taught him. He didn’t sit 2 feet off the ground. He responded and interacted with the light.

    But how about you and me? How do we become wise and learned? Put down the book, step away from (this) blog – by all means finish that seminary degree ASAP – and focus on these 2 things:

    1. Today – right this minute – resolve to surrender to love BY responded to God’s voice in your life. Not in generalities, abstractions, safe, detached ways (i.e. “I need to be more patient”) but in concrete, situational, particular lived in realities (i.e. “When I get home tonight I’m apologizing to my wife,” “I’m going to tend to this anxiety and allow it to lead me to prayer rather than surf the internet as a distraction,” “What would you have me do right now Father?” And when he tells you, do it). Blaise Pascal says, “Inattention is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life.” I believe this is what he meant. Cultivate the ability to be present to God’s voice in your life – ruthlessly eliminate distraction and practices of inaction. This will make you smart like Jesus. 

    2. Failed obedience is better than successful passivity – If while we were yet sinners Christ died for us – if while we were hell-destined enemies he was heaven-bent on making us his friends – how much more gracious and patient and kind will the Lord be as we seek to step out in trust? We must learn to be fearless about failure and fail forward when we do. Give it a go – step into fear – lick things you haven’t tasted, trip over the step, bump into the wall. Anything worth doing (like following Jesus) is worth doing badly until you get better. And you don’t get better in the shoebox, you only train yourself to not see. This will make you smart like Jesus.

    We like explanation before experience – but – what if we don’t figure it all out before we leap? If the cats teach us anything it is we can only see what we experience. Learn to treat doubt, fear, and feeling distant from God as growing and not withering. God is looking to entrust us with more authority, more responsibility, more of his grace and wisdom and must draw us out of our shoeboxes into the dazzling, beautiful, scary world around us. Take a step- not any, but the next – and you’ll find you could see more light than you did before. This active response to the light will make you smart like Jesus.


  • Parenting the Heart – Learning to Parent from the Father

    Two times the Father speaks audibly to the Son, each before the Son was to endure great suffering (Baptism – Matt 3, Mount of Transfiguration – Matt 17), both times saying the same thing. Did he give him a pep talk? Threaten him with punishment if he flinched? Tell him to “man up” and “not act like a sissy”? Did he dangle the the implications of his failure before him as leverage to motivate obedience? Did he preach a sermon on the Father’s sovereignty and holiness and how, if Jesus failed, he would have to reject him because of his inability to look on imperfection? Read, again, how the Father parents the Son:

    As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

    Matthew 3.16f

    While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

    Matthew 17.5

    No- both times the Father spoke words of identity (You are my son) and love (whom I love) and grace (with you I am well pleased). The second time he added authority (listen to him). At the most crucial times in Jesus’ life – when he would ‘learn obedience through what he suffered’ and would be assaulted and attacked by Satan, sweat blood, and endure all the schemes of hell and power of man – the Father parented Jesus by speaking words of vision, empowerment, and blessing. The Father trusted the gift of his own love – and the identity and authority that came with that gift – as sufficient motivation for obedience. 

    Can we – mere humans – learn how to parent our children from God the Father? 

    I say, yes, we can; In fact, we must if we are to raise children who grow up to become loving, free, confident adults.

    But many of us don’t. Instead of parenting the way God the Father parents the Son, we experience a different God: a harsh, distant, demanding, disappointed, shaming, angry God. But is this how God is towards us? Those of us in Christ Jesus have been adopted as children of God. We have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. All Christ has is ours – not just his righteousness but also his inheritance, his kingdom, his authority, his power. The Father longs to parent us as he parented his son. Speaking words of Vision, Identity, Love, Pleasure, Empowerment.

    Here’s my theory: How we experience God parenting us is how we will parent our children. 

    So – you want to become a better parent? Become aware of how you hear the Father’s voice in your life? How does God parent you? Do you hear condemnation? Judgment? Pressure to perform? Guilt and Shame? Or do you hear identity, pleasure, and that God believes in you! It’s so scandalous and brutally un-human to hear the Father speak that way. Do you trust that the Father parents you in the same way he parented his Son, Jesus? Dare to believe it, friends. Dare to believe.


    In the next post I’d like to describe some of our temptations as parents to parent our kids badness (i.e. behavior modification) rather than parenting our kids to trust us with their badness (i.e. identity transformation). But first:


    How do you see God parenting you? 

    Do you see this reflected in your parenting?

  • New Season Upcoming for The Tebbe’s

    For several years now I’ve been serving as a Frontier Leader and Coach with 3dm (

    3dm’s vision statement is:

    Changing the world, by changing America, by changing the church, by training leaders to put discipleship and mission back into the hands of ordinary people.

    If you’re not familiar with 3dm I encourage you to check out their website.

    Over the last 6 months or so I’ve discerned with the leadership at River Valley Church and 3dm that God is calling our family to take on an expanded role in training and equipping local church leaders in discipleship and mission. We will transition out of River Valley in December and move to Pawleys Island, SC  to be a part of the 3dm team!

    It is a bittersweet season: we have life-long friends and co-laborers in ministry in Mishawaka that we will dearly miss. As always in these circumstances, we are excited to go and sad to leave. The amount of work God has done in our lives through this discernment is immeasurable: refining identity, clarifying calling, building faith, speaking words of blessing, challenge, and trust.

    We are excited about the new season God has called us to with 3dm and hope-filled that God has incredible plans for River Valley in the future.

    We tell Deacon every night “God has created you for love, joy, adventure, and relationship”.

    Well – here’s an adventure, Deacon. Get ready, boy. Get ready.

  • The Truest Thing I Know About Me

    Each week I give Deacon the option of how he’d like to spend time with me on my day off: hitting golf balls at the range, chopping wood, or going for a hike. Last Friday, seemingly without weighing every option, he erupts with, “Go for a hike!” And so, last Friday, we set off to “the woods.” It really is worship for us to hike together – I verbally praise God for creation, acknowledge the beauty and harmony of everything we see. Deacon listens, we walk, we worship. Sometimes I also intentionally try and start meaningful conversations. Often we have them, sometimes we don’t. This week my attempt – and his response – went like this:

    As we hiked I turned to Deacon and asked: “Son, what is the truest thing you know about you?” Instantly I judged my question in my mind: Don’t you know he’s five years old!!??! He can’t answer a question like that! Nice work, dad.

    But Deacon’s response surprised me: He stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Hmm let me think about that for a minute…” And put his finger up to his cheek. We stood there looking at each other for a few moments as he puzzled my thoroughly inappropriate question for a five year old preschooler. I was about to rephrase the question when he grinned at me and said with his head cocked to the side, Lots of people love me.” 

    Stunned, I blurted out: “Like who?”

    Instantly he responded: “You, mommy, Cece, God, Nick (his cousin).” 

    Tears (even as I type this) wetted my vision. I looked him dead in the eye and said: “That’s right, buddy. You are deeply loved. Deeply.”


    How easy it is as a parent to forget this precious insight: before sin entered our world, before our child accomplishes or achieves anything, he/she is loved with an eternal, matchless, glorious love. There will be time for Deacon to learn that he is sinful (already he is in touch with his inability to know good or do the good he knows), already he looks to find self-worth in how many goals he scores in soccer, or how many toys he has that others don’t. Too often as a parent I’m tempted to function purely in this world between his sinfulness and self-esteem. But underneath his brokenness and around his esteem of self is the Love of God that took on flesh in Jesus Christ and continues to have flesh in his friends and family. In our world of only knowing self-esteem to deal with brokenness and shame, I’m learning- with and through my son- the importance of love holding one despite failures and shame.


    I sensed the Spirit saying to me, “Yes. This is good he knows this. Nurture and shepherd and protect this deep truth in him. This understanding is where his life will flourish and be blessed.” 

    But Father – I can’t…I don’t…I think it’s truer for him than it is for me.

    Come along, son. I’ll show you…

  • Making Disciples: What’s a Church to do?

    As the Spiritual Formation Pastor at River Valley Church I spend my time thinking, planning, praying, and shepherding towards the goal of Christlikeness in our congregation. It’s my ‘job’ but it’s more than that; I’m thoroughly convinced that if we don’t succeed in making disciples who make disciples in the local church we don’t really have a church – we have a well-meaning, but misguided, colossal waste of time.


    Is your church making disciples? 

    How would you know? How do you evaluate, measure, celebrate this process? 

    If someone asked you what your plan was to be discipled and make disciples in your own life what would you say? 

    What are you doing as a church that specifically focuses on this calling? 

    What are you doing as a church that hinders or interferes with this calling?


    One of my good friends, Bryan Marvel, is a pastor at Dunwoody Community Church in Atlanta, GA and they are asking exactly these kinds of questions. And January 25-27th I have the pleasure to spend some time with him and some passionate people of this church to have a focused conversation around the reality of making disciples. Do I recognize God’s presence and activity in my life? How do I learn to welcome God’s voice and respond to him? Am I the only one who cares about growing and maturing in the faith – or does God really care about that too? :) It’s going to be a fantastic weekend meeting new friends and drawing strength and encouragement from old ones. I hope during our time together we can gain a vision for what discipleship looks like in our everyday lives – not a high-minded theological ideal that we must attain, but a simple, reproducible, ordinary way of being with Jesus in our own world. The kind of understanding that can scandalize our lives, our families, and our neighborhoods with God’s love in Jesus.


    Praying even now that the Holy Spirit would work and move among us. And prepare our hearts now for what he has to show us, teach us, do in us to make us more like Jesus. For spiritual formation geeks like me, it doesn’t get any better than this!

  • Not all Doubt is Created Equal: The Significance of Questions and Doubt in our Faith

    “A questioner wants the truth. A doubter wants to be told there’s no such thing.” Cormac McCarthy


    Watching The Sunset Limited Sunday evening stirred some thoughts in me on the spiritual benefit of doubt. I’ve swung pretty dramatically from opposite poles with my doubts in my life as a Christian. Early on, there weren’t any. Then, as I began to ask questions and think and probe I found that doubts clawed and scratched at the fabric of my belief. They were threatening, awful – doubts were faithless and to be avoided at all costs. So I sought to destroy my doubts with truth (i.e. facts) or try to push them out of mind. But I noticed two things about this method of destroying/denying/ignoring doubts:


    1. They didn’t go away. Even with facts that answered doubts I seemed to create new doubts. Or – answers to doubts that seemed to work on closer inspection didn’t.


    2. I developed a fearful posture towards reality and truth. I sought to protect and defend ideas and lost the goal of the Christian life: love towards me that transformed my love. Hard to receive when you’re defending; hard to listen when you’re arguing; hard to love when your scared of doubt.


    When I lived destroying/denying/ignoring my doubts I became sort of a quasi-fundamentalist. Doubt was the enemy, certainty the ally. The only way to cure the poison of doubt was to inject the vaccine of answers. I became rigid and brittle in my thinking and engagement with other (competing) thoughts, ideas, truth claims, etc. My relationship with doubt stayed this way until I came across this quote from a pastor friend, Rich Vincent. He said:


    “Remember, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but a demand to control all things…Willfulness, not doubt, is the opposite of faith…Doubt is faith taking itself seriously.”
    – Rich Vincent


    “Doubt is faith taking itself seriously…” That is where I’ve been for the last 10 years. But Cormac McCarthy helped give me language to tease out what I’ve been chewing on for awhile now, namely: Not all doubt is created equal.


    For the sake of discussion, let’s propose there are (at least) two kinds of doubt: A doubt that questions and a doubt that attacks.


    1. A doubt that questions seeks to investigate reality in an open-handed way. This is the doubt I believe Rich is talking about – the kind of questioning that Mary exhibits when she asks the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1.34) This kind of doubt – a questioning, seeking posture of openness – is full of hope and love. It is a surrender of control and self-willfulness so that one can be united with One who is Great Mystery. A heart humbled by truth sees doubt as the doorway to dependence, questions as the path of righteousness and peace.


    2. A doubt that attacks seeks confirmation of skepticism and cynicism. Doubt that attacks is perpetually seeing through everything and never arriving at a vision OF something. Deconstruction that never evolves anywhere past itself often leads one to a doubt that attacks. This is the kind of doubt that doubts all things except Doubt itself. When I lived scared to death of doubt (as a quasi-fundamentalist) I had A LOT in common with this mindset. There is a brittleness, a hardness, a rigidity that sets in. Attacking doubt masquerades as honesty but in in fact a codified hardness against all challenging realities. Self – the controlling, self-willful posture that is the antithesis of abiding faith and abundant life – is King.


    It’s the difference between honoring doubt and feeding doubt. When we honor doubt we  listen to it, stand with Jesus in the midst of it, bring patience and kindness and love to ourselves and our doubts. Honoring doubt isn’t afraid of where it will take us because honest questions uncover the truth and lead to more faith. Feeding doubt never doubts doubt, but seeks to confirm and validate a posture of skepticism and distance. Feeding doubt ultimately ensconces Self as the one in control. Feeding doubt leads to Doubt being the only thing we trust. Honoring doubt allows our questions to be the miracle-grow for an abiding, abundant faith.


    What is your relationship with doubt and questions on your Christian journey? 

    Do you see the same (ironic) similarities between those who war against doubt with truth and those who give themselves over to it (i.e. doubt as attacking)? Why do you think that is? 

    In what ways is your experience different here? How would you articulate a questioning that leads to faith vs. a doubt that leads to despair? 



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