The Spiritual Discipline of Submitting: Not Getting What You Want, But What You Need

A disclaimer, of sorts: This isn’t a note about reclaiming submission as a good ideal or doing away altogether with submitting to one another. While I do believe “submission” has gotten a bad rap, it’s also clear through friends and others that abuse far to often occurs because of evil attitudes and behavior that masquerade as submission. This is neither.

What I want to say, to you and to myself, is to hold lightly to how life and work and ministry or whatever will turn out. They will be good, because the yearning of the universe is one of justice, mercy and peace. It will ultimately be good and lovely even though it may be messy and ugly. The kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven, some day in completion. But “how” that will happen, only God knows. And this is where I can become scared, and then if I don’t submit, anxious. Perhaps the way then is through submitting?

Submitting to God in Jesus and knowing that I am also beloved.

Submitting to one another in love, while still loving God and our neighbor as ourself.

Submitting to speak the truth in love and act justly.

It’s a paradox, but when I submit this way I actually experience something greater. Life everlasting. Peace that passes understanding. I may not get what I want, but I get what I need. (I know I’m not the first, but thanks Rolling Stones.) Our neighbor’s response might not be what we hoped, but the story – including their story – is not over.

It really does seem that laying down one’s life in love means that life is returned. We just might not know the detailed outcomes along the way, but we can buoyed by peace and knowing the heavenly outcome is secure. Because, well, because we are beloved.


Missional Community: Life Together – Ask the Question

Last week I wrote that Life Together – an integrated spiritual life – formed after Jesus’ actual life and teaching is crucial for Christ-centered living and worship. This means that churches might need to reimagine and re-organize how they operate, what they do when they gather for worship, how to fellowship with one another and be on mission (i.e. serve) in their communities and the world.

These are the foundational issues I hope to address – and hopefully live some answers – as an ordained Evangelist in my denomination and as pastor of The WordHouse. Oh heck, just as a person seeking to follow in the way of Jesus.

But how do we do this? How do we live Life Together? It’s easy to offer suggestions, and if it primes the pump, that’s wonderful. But to answer the question well – if it’s to be organic and derived from the Source – it needs to be asked individually in Jesus-inspired community, with scripture of course (our history of God’s unfolding story). Otherwise, from the start, my discernment of God’s inspiration is not fully realized. The flow is blocked. Presbyterians – it’s literally “out of order.” And for everyone, the “priesthood of all believers” is not being lived out to its fullest.

The first question is simple, if we believe we have a connection with God and in some way possibly comprehend what God may desire for us in the moment. That question then is this: What is Jesus saying to me? (Or, How is God leading me? Or, What is the Spirit doing in my life? Or, What is the Divine sparking within me? Or… something along these lines.)

In community, in prayer, this is where to begin. Others can help, or provide a model, or point to scripture, or influence for good or ill, but without this question asked by yourself in some fashion you fail to make your relationship with God personal and intimate. Philosophically speaking, you cut yourself off from acting like a full-fledged (Adult) Child of God.

Cry and whine as I do, I’m tired of spiritual milk when there’s so much more taste and see. Understanding what Jesus is saying strengthens my weary bones.

Next time then, I’ll offer some ways that this question is informing how myself and a few others are living Life Together.

Missional Community: Life Together

While it’s the title of the popular book on Chirst-centered community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who tangled with Hitler and his Nazis and was subsequently executed, Life Together captures an important notion of living…


Too often it seems, our churches draw distinct lines between different aspects of life, instead of holistically incorporating and therefore celebrating all of God’s gifts to us, i.e. all of life. Worship happens once a week. Fellowship, as well. Learning about the bible and God’s word, where the individual is a participant and not just a recipient, once a week too. Service and/or mission perhaps once a month or once a year. Discipleship is a periodic rotating class among many topics, instead of the core of our spirituality.

I have growing fondness for “smells and bells” as the incense tickles the nose and the chimes cling to the ears. I used to think these were so foreign and far away that it didn’t connect with me. Growing up they didn’t help me worship God in community. I have realized though, that I don’t want something other-wordly or up-in-the-sky heavenly in my worship service or gathering. I want the breeze that flutters the leaves of the trees. I want the playful laugh of friends and loved ones. I want recognizable sounds and tunes that resonate within me. I want to hear others’ stories and understand their relation to Jesus’ story. I want my life to be opened up once again to God’s here-and-now grace and truth, that is just waiting to be revealed.

The remedy then, at least for me is to model Jesus’s life and worship God in all and through all aspects of everyday life. I know, however, I am predisposed to worship in certain ways while others might be different. I need to know my neighbor and care about the things that concerns them. For me, I can do this better through living life together within a place-based community, in a particular neighborhood and area. Where conversation can flow freely and unexpectedly because we have ample time and space. I need a meal, not just for physical and emotional sustenance, but for building and bridging community. I need something more than a mysterious token at Communion, and I’ve had some deeply impactful moments with Jesus here, whether a wafer or one square inch of a loaf dipped in grape juice. I want to cook together, and break bread across the table from you. I need to be able to see you and even work with you throughout the week, not just at specific times and in religiously set apart places. Your home, or the office, or a local establishment, or the park would do wonderfully.

There’s certainly a whole lot more that can be said about Life Together. We’re talking about the means for following the way of Jesus and living the good life as it is in heaven, after all. Can our churches and communities form themselves to accomplish this life, to embody the incoming and already present Kingdom of God? I believe we can, with God’s help of course. Perhaps the first thing to do is talk with one another, and we’ll see what can come together.

Washing Feet: Beautiful Humility, Beautiful Life

Today is Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar. I am struck and stuck by the image of the Teacher and Holy Man stooping to gently wash his students and apprentices feet. Feet get gross, and when you walk around in just sandals and bathe only occasionally – well you can imagine how humbling this is for both the servant and those who are served.

There’s so much crap in this world. People hating people. People thinking they don’t harm anyone. People hating people for hating people. People dying and losing parents and loved ones. People struggling to live a good, free and noble life. Put simply, this world is a mess.

So then subtly and yet noticeably comes this image – the Master becoming lower than his Students. What kind of love is this? What manner of love?  It cannot be contained. It’s only partly understood. It lovingly overwhelms if you let it.

In our world today – on and offline – I yearn for this beautiful humility, this beautiful life. Can it be found in our neighborhoods and networks?

Feelings – Don’t Ignore Them

Growing up I’ve been taught – sometimes not on purpose, and sometimes to my face – to ignore my feelings. Even in the church. Feelings lead you down dark paths for which hell and/or hammering another nail into Jesus’ wrist on the cross would be the end result. Either option is scary. And feelings are for weak-willed and feeble-mined people. And you’re strong, right?

I see this kind belief and teaching still creep its head or be the basis for one’s relationship with God in Jesus. Oh that this were not that the case. See, quite the opposite is true. It takes a lot of courage to feel your feelings.

Have you heard Jesus’ emotionally-charged and compassionate Sermon of the Mount? Have you read about him weeping and being disturbed in spirit? Have you seen him sweat drops of blood before being arrested?

Perhaps our feelings are like spiritual antennas. If you hear them, stay and learn from them, instead of trying to ignore, you might find your feelings are an appropriate response to something going on in the world or in your life. To continue the analogy, you may find a connection with the Spirit of God even as a life-long Christian you have not encountered before.

Spiritual reservoirs open up to us when we aren’t afraid of our feelings. Your feelings may, thanks be to God, save you, and just as importantly save someone else from a particular form of hell on earth. Or maybe you will just stay true and pure of heart. “God has given you a heart of flesh, and not of stone.” Don’t harden your heart. Wade into the waters.

Church and The WordHouse (End of Year Support)

Greetings, friends!

Many of us in the Church have heard that the “sky is falling.” Perhaps we’ve seen it in the dwindling attendance numbers and the low membership rolls, especially among younger adults and young families. Devotion to the church has seemingly become something of the past. Where did they go? Why do they not care about God, we may ask?

People are forming community among friends and neighbors, gathering in homes, coffeehouses, pubs and restaurants with others who are open, honest, and loving.

Many younger people are focusing their energy in civic areas of life, working for the good of all and caring for their city among those who respect and value their gifts and talents.

We’ve also noticed some people of all ages live without a Jesus-inspired community, because their church experience has not helped them journey in the way of Christ.

If you take a closer look, however, the sky is not falling. The skies are opening up.

God is in the neighborhood. The Holy Spirit is in the places people work and play, and surrounds the activities done for the good of all. Fresh visions of communal life and discipleship are inspiring God’s people to live like Jesus. God’s Spirit is pouncing upon cracked earth causing new life to sprout.

During the Advent and Christmas Seasons we not only wait for the Lord but we prepare the way, make his paths straight and then graciously see Christ humbly arrive. At The WordHouse, we are making a way for Jesus Christ and for many young adults to know him and experience Good News. Won’t you partner with us? Your support will help us provide places for voices to be heard and to make disciples who make disciples in this exciting, Spirit-filled day. To God be the glory.


Check: Presbytery of Sacramento, The WordHouse, 9983 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento CA 95827

Grace and peace,

Rev. Jeffrey O. Richards


For me, this is the gospel: The incarnation, or an entering into and inhabiting, turning bad into good or proclaiming that what is believed to be bad is actually good. Hence the ancient spiritual phrase, the good news of Jesus Christ. So, I attempt to live out and embody this incarnational gospel.

But I’m not very good at it. Perhaps that’s because Jesus requires everything. Not just some of my time or effort or ability, but all of it. All of me. Yes, that’s probably why it’s difficult for me and perhaps for you as well. I don’t like anything that requires everything.

Now, bad might actually be bad or it could be something (or someone) understood as bad or even depending-on-the-context bad. You follow? It’s not enough, and it’s not right, to assume everything and everyone is bad. Particularly when the Judeo-Christian scriptures are clear that some (the bad) oppress others (those the bad think are bad or treat as bad). Am I still making sense? Is there bad we all – the oppressor and oppressed – experience even if it’s two sides of the same crap? I think so.

It’s a sticky mess, yet really simple. Some are bad and some are treated bad(ly). Perhaps many of us in a democratic republic feel, as I do, like we have bits of both or are equally able to deliver- as well as receive- damage from the wickedness of badness.

But I’m digressing, I think. Or at least getting carried away.

The incarnation declares all flesh, all people are inherently good, which includes our bodies and I’d say even our body’s needs. “For God created man…and called it very good.” “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…not to condemn the world but to save the world.” “God humbled himself and took the form of a slave or servant.” “Creation groans.” “Jesus poops.” Oh wait, that last one could be a paraphrase.

See, it’s not bad it’s funny (I hope).

There is goodness, maybe even complete goodness in our bodies. It’s just the truth. God says so by creating it and then even being one like us. This is very good news. This is the incarnational gospel. Even news in the flesh.

I am participating in Uncosynchro, a blogging project started by UNCO 2014 participants. Check out all the blogs here.