o n t h e t r a c k s


Lessons from the Journey III

This one is a very simple one. The lesson is Servanthood.

Simply put, it's been the discovery of the joy that can be found in serving others. This has found expression in a lot of ways. But a big element of it has been the fact that, after 15 years focused on my pastoral ministry, God gave me a season in which my role was to add value to the ministries of other people - our pastors (Al, Doyle and Brian), our Worship and Music specialist, Mark; our specialists in other ministries such as youth and childrens' ministries (John, Tamara and Bernadette); even the seminary interns (Lutherans call them vicars) who served with us for one year at a time. These guys weren't even finished with their degree, they were only with us a year each, none of them had even hit 30 yet - it woul have been easy to feel as if I'd been set aside (and sometimes I did feel that way). But over the last 10 years I have learned the blessing of lifting up the ministries of others instead of my own - to ask "How can I serve you today?" and really mean it. This is not the kind of lesson that came easily to me - not natural for me - but necessary. And I am grateful for the opportunity I had to learn it.

Lessons from the Journey II

Grace. That's all. Grace.

Sometimes Grace is a theological concept. The basic idea being that our Creator gives us what we do not and cannot deserve. 

In its ultimate expression, Christians believe that we do not and cannot earn or deserve a relationship with God, but because of God's grace, we can have a relationship with God through faith in Christ. That is the essence, the big idea, of Christian faith. Two key passages underscoring this idea are:
"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19) and 
"By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Sometimes Grace is a theological concept. But if that is all it is, we are missing out on the good life.
Grace is intended to be a way of life, a way of living. A way of interacting with other people. We are intended to be people of grace, behaving graciously towards others - giving them what they do not and cannot deserve. 

But here's the deal: we can't give what we do not have. And if all we have is grace-as-theological-concept, all we can give is lip service: cheap talk about something we read about somewhere.

Grace is intended to be "lived out" of us, into other people. But before that can happen, grace has to be "lived into us" by someone else. Now the ultimate "someone else" is the God who gave up His heavenly stature and became man, in the person of Jesus.

But we need other people who can "live grace into us" by example. And that is important; and it is more important if there have been people who lived "un-grace", the opposite of grace, into us. 

Wounds have the capacity to bleed the grace out of us. And even if grace has been lived into us by parents, siblings, friends and others, those wounds, left untended, can drain the grace right out of us.

Ten years ago I was, in the words of Jackson Browne, "running on empty". I needed a serious transfusion of grace. And I received it in many ways and from many sources, but predominantly from a small group of people with whom I worked day in and day out for about 8 1/2 years. I was spoon-fed grace.

Now remember that definition. Grace is about receiving the undeserved. So to be spoon-fed grace, you have to come face-to-face with your own un-deservedness. To be specific, you have to blow it. And I did. Many times, and sometimes in huge ways. And life had taught me that "blowing it big-time" leads to "crash-and-burn".

Only it didn't lead to that. It led to Grace being lived into me, which had the effect of re-training my mind, my limbic system, my lower nervous system, into believing that grace really is more than a theological concept. It is a way of living. Maybe a way that I had never learned beyond the theological concept; or maybe a way that I had forgotten or had been bled out of me. But I learned it by having grace lived into me.

Back into the present: people have looked at me in the past 18 months and have said "We are noticing this about you". They are seeing grace in me. And I am thankful - but I know it's not about me. It's about what I have learned, by the way others have lived their understanding of grace into me. What has gone around is coming around again.


Lessons from the Journey I

When we concluded our ministry at Deerbrook Covenant Church in Humble, TX, the earnest prayer of our heart was that God would open a door to a new opportunity for pastoral service, and quickly. God opened many doors - but that one would remain closed for about a decade.

You often hear the remark that "God's Timing is Perfect", and I've always believed it - even though it rarely feels perfect when you're waiting. But earlier this week I began to reflect on all the things I would've missed out on in the past 10 years if God had provided quickly, what I waited until this week to receive - a pastoral call to a Covenant Church.

I can't list everything - the blessings of the last decade are too numerous to count - but just a few:
-the incredibly positive experience I enjoyed serving on the ministry staff at Christ the King
-the friendship I still enjoy with the staff as well as countless members and attenders both past and present
-the pleasure of my involvement with CentreStage Theatrical School and Company and the friendships I treasure among its many participants
-the amazing grace of God poured out through so many people who have prayed for us and supported us in so many ways over the past decade and especially the last 18 months
-the satisfaction of having spent over 12 years in one community and one house (I've been a bit of a gypsy)
-many spiritual lessons - not the least of which is - when God's answer is delayed, you can focus on what's lost or on what's left. And the choice you make will change your life.


The day Rick went to a mosque

With all the chatter about the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero and the Qur’an burning pastor in Florida, I thought it might be worthwhile to offer the perspective I bring to Christian-Islamic conversation.
I had a unique opportunity in May of 2006. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association invited me to a Symposium on the topic of “The Existence of God and Human Suffering”, at a Mosque in Houston.

The day was marked by speeches by three guest speakers, one each from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. (Each presenter speaking for 15 minutes). I was the guest Christian presenter.

It is the muslim tradition to have separate events for men and women. Consequently I spoke only to men. There was a parallel meeting for women at the same time, with female speakers. Tea and refreshments were served afterward.

It was, if nothing else, a very unique cross-cultural experience. It was also an opportunity for me to communicate the message of Christ.

My Christian faith tells me that the God I worship is a God who is intimately familiar with suffering because He Himself chose to suffer. Here, I realize, is where I part company with my muslim and jewish friends, but it is a very important part of the way I as a Christian process my understanding of the existence of God and human suffering. I therefore planned to conclude by explaining how this uniquely Christian doctrine informs my thinking on the crucial question that was the focus of our conversation.

My goals for the day were to learn from the other presenters and the people with whom I interacted; and to communicate clearly on my assigned topic with a distinctively Christian flavor.

I came away with a new appreciation of what it feels like for someone with no experience attending a Christian Church to walk into that environment for the first time. I’ve never been in a mosque before.

I was not concerned for my safety. Through my conversations with my host, Shahed, and my reading on the Ahmadiyya website, I knew that this muslim community, which is spread across 178 nations, utterly rejects violence and terrorism, recognizing that the word “jihad” refers to the individual’s inner struggle to live out a life that honors Allah.

My main concerns were that I would not unintentionally offend my hosts through my ignorance of their customs. I needed not be concerned. They were more than helpful and welcoming – truly delightful and friendly people who showed me where shoes could be placed during the symposium (since they are not worn in the mosque). Many of the 35 or so men present were quick to come forward and welcome me.

The program began with “a recitation of the Holy Qur’an”. If there was an element in the service that had me on pins and needles, this was it. What would I experience?

The Qur’an is always read in Arabic, and so one man came forward to read. I could not be absolutely certain about whether he was singing, or whether the rising and falling tones are reflective of the tonal nature of the Arabic language. The only experience I could compare it to was hearing Arabic over loudspeakers in Iran or Iraq, such as one sometimes hears on a television news program.

The reading was followed by a translation in English – certainly for guests like me, but I wondered if it was also for those whose Arabic is rusty.

Next were three 15 minute addresses by the three speakers – first the jewish guest, then myself, then the muslim speaker.

In my presentation, I observed a careful balance. On the one hand, I had been invited to speak on the assigned topic from a Christian perspective. I also wanted to faithfully represent the message of biblical Christian faith. On the other hand, I was a guest, and did not want to communicate in a manner that would offend my hosts. I think that I effectively hit the mark.

The next 30 minutes was a time of question and answer. The moderator requested that all questions be directed to all three panelists so that each of us could answer, so that was the way the afternoon flowed on.

However, when the moderator said there was time for one more question, a man rose to the microphone and said “I have a question I would like to direct only to Rick: You said in your presentation that the sufferings of Christ could alleviate the sufferings of humanity, and I am not clear how that could happen. Could you explain your meaning please?”

For me, this was a wonderful moment, for it seemed to me that I was being invited by my hosts to be more specific in describing the nature of my faith as a Christ-follower. And so I took several minutes to answer the concluding question.

After the symposium, many people came forward to graciously thank me and express appreciation for the content of my talk. One man said that he’d had many questions about Christianity, and I had managed to answer several of them. I was grateful. My secondary goal in being there was to help the listeners to learn and understand the day’s topic from a Christian perspective. I am grateful that this goal was met.

My primary goal had been to learn, and I certainly learned, from both the jewish and muslim people I encountered. I was struck by how similarly we approached the topic, and several times in the Q&A, I responded and then one of my fellow panelists said “I was going to say the same thing Rick said”.

If I’d had a third goal, it was to enjoy a very different, cross-cultural cuisine in the time of refreshments that followed. Alas, I might as well have been at a Texas Baptist pot luck: there was fried chicken, cole slaw, pasta salad, pizza and Coke. However, there were two desserts that were culturally distinct, and they were wonderful!


Jesus would not burn a Koran

Even mentioning this story gives  more profile than it ought to have. Jesus did not hesitate to speak truth, but he also extended every opportunity to receive grace - especially to those who were outside of his own tradition. In fact, his harshest criticisms were saved for those who were of his own background and believed themselves above critique or reproach.


September 3, 2010

• Where are the 10 best cities to live in during the next decade? Here are Kiplinger's picks.

• Best cities for raising families? Here's that list. (Discerning eyes will note a similarity.)

• Gary Walter continues to inspire as he unpacks and re-articulates the identity of The Evangelical Covenant Church. He's doing a series of columns in The Covenant Companion and it's great stuff. Here are his columns available online (so far): March, April, May, and June. I am proud to call him friend and leader.


August 18

-A great article about my family, The Evangelical Covenant Church, in a Duke Divinity School publication. (via Don)

-Miles had a great week this summer at Lions Camp. They do camp weeks for kids with cancer, kids with disabilities, kids recovering from burns - and kids with diabetes. It was Miles' first stay-over camp. He was resistant for years and went under protest this year - but came back with plans in place to return next year. If you know anyone who is a member of the Lions Club, tell them they are doing a great thing with their camps.

-Something big is happening in my life on August 30. God is teaching me how much I need to learn patience - by showing me how impatient I am.


Peter and Christine Kyhn is blogging on worship

This will be worth following...

My Utmost - May 31

My favorite line from today's reading:

God came as a baby, giving and entrusting Himself to me. He expects my personal life to be a “Bethlehem.”

A great turn of phrase. Bethlehem was the place into which God the Son was born. It is the place where His presence on earth was first revealed, and from which He moved, into other places, living a life that would grow in influence and extend God's gradce, love, healing, blessing and forgiveness to all.

MY life (and yours) is intended to be like Bethlehem - revealing Christ's presence on earth, carrying God's presence with us into other places, allowing our lives to influence the world in good and gracious ways, communicating love, healing, forgiveness and blessing.

Some days I definitely feel that I am doing that. What would the world look like if everyone who loves Him could live that way all the time?


My Utmost - May 27

My Utmost for His Highest

I resonate with this. "Tarry"... Wait. I don't like waiting. But the disciples are told to wait.

Oswald writes "Our waiting is not dependent on the providence of God, but on our own spiritual fitness."

I don't like reading that but I accept it as true. There is work God is doing in me right now that He feels is necessary.

"The attitude of receiving and welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives is to be the continual attitude of a believer. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive reviving life from our ascended Lord."

Had a friend in England who I remember for saying that if someone asks if you are filled with the Spirit, the correct answer is "If you have to ask, I must not be".

Remember the illustration: What does a glove do when it is not filled with the hand? Nothing. But when the hand fills the glove, the glove's actions are identical to the hand's intent and action.

Let me be a filled glove today.


My Utmost • May 19

My Utmost for his Highest
I love this passage about being secure in the love of Christ. And I like where Oswald takes us: to realize that our experience of being "more than conquerors" comes to use when we are in all of these trying experiences.

I don't like going through trying experiences. But the times I have most experienced God's power to save and lift me have all been in times of trials. And what greater trial is there than the knowledge that I am lost? What greater lift than the lift I experience by trusting in Him?


My Utmost - May 18

My Utmost for His Highest

I can't count the number of times when I have been stressing about some circumstance or other in my life (and like everyone, I have plenty) as I am driving down the road, when my attention will be caught by the flight of a bird, and I will recall the words of Jesus:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
...and I think to myself, how small is my faith. How quick I am to question, to doubt God's faithfulness. I like Oswald's remark,
So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful. Jesus said there is only one way to develop and grow spiritually, and that is through focusing and concentrating on God. In essence, Jesus was saying, “Do not worry about being of use to others; simply believe on Me.” In other words, pay attention to the Source, and out of you “will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38 ).


My Utmost • May 17

I remember processing with a friend years ago the whole concept of the ascension of Jesus. Something about it just seemed not quite right. What was it? Was it that it seemed so other-worldly? So different from any experience we might have? That felt like part of it. After all, a Jesus who goes fishing with friends, I can relate to. A Jesus who eats bread and drinks wine with his buddies, I can understand. I've fished; I've enjoyed bread; I've shared evenings with friends over a glass of wine. That part, I get.

But on further reflection, that's not the "bind". I've gone fishing, but I haven't calmed a storm, or any of the other miracles Jesus did, and yet they don't bother me.

Finally we arrived at the real issue. I didn't like the idea of Jesus leaving - being gone - in essence, what feels like abandonment.

And once I named it, I realized this was the turning point. Because the Jesus who ascended, seemingly leaving His friends, is the Jesus who said "I will never leave you or forsake you".

My friend Doug Hanks wrote about it in a song that I've always appreciated. The chorus:
"I'll never leave you or forsake you;
You will never be alone;
I'm with you always,
until I bring you home".
The presence of Jesus is mine through the person he promised and sent: The Holy Spirit of God. And that's Oswald's point today. Because Jesus was ascended, he through the Holy Spirit is present to me moment by moment. And to you as well.


My Utmost • May 15

I have been away from blogging for a season and considering how to jump back in and decided that I am going to resume by responding to Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest", which I read almost daily.

Today's reading is in many ways an expansion and continuation of yesterday's counsel. There I read these words:

It is adversity that makes us exhibit (Jesus’) life … The only thing that will enable me to enjoy adversity is the acute sense of eagerness of allowing the life of the Son of God to evidence itself in me. No matter how difficult something may be, I must say, “Lord, I am delighted to obey You in this.”
You must keep yourself in the proper condition to allow the life of the Son of God to be manifested in you, and you cannot keep yourself fit if you give way to self-pity. Our circumstances are the means God uses to exhibit just how wonderfully perfect and extraordinarily pure His Son is. Discovering a new way of manifesting the Son of God should make our heart beat with renewed excitement. It is one thing to choose adversity, and quite another to enter into adversity through the orchestrating of our circumstances by God’s sovereignty. And if God puts you into adversity, He is adequately sufficient to supply all your need.

Delighting in obeying, in following - even when difficult, even when painful. That is a challenge. I have gotten pretty good at accepting, at following. But not at finding joy in it.
So today Oswald coaches us on "rising to the occasion". For me these are the key words:
May God not find complaints in us anymore, but spiritual vitality—a readiness to face anything He brings our way. The only proper goal of life is that we manifest the Son of God; and when this occurs, all of our dictating of our demands to God disappears ... We are here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. Once we realize this, He will make us broken bread and poured-out wine with which to feed and nourish others.
And this is precisely my cutting edge. Incredibly, once I get that into my head, a change in attitude is following, and joy is more readily showing up.
The one passage that causes me to wrestle is this:
You did not do anything to achieve your salvation, but you must do something to exhibit it. You must “work out your own salvation” which God has worked in you already ( Philippians 2:12 ).
How does this challenge to "work it out" relate to the reminder of Galatians 3:3 -
After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
In other words I wrestle with the call to invest energies into the process of sanctification, while also wanting to embrace the certainty of Philippians 1:6 -
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.


Groundhog Day plus 1

• Here is a great little piece by my friend whom I have always called "Stevie Baby". (I don't think anyone else does. Don't ask me why, I just have.). He is a terrific guy, a great man and a great blogger, and this is worth reading.

• Miles is preparing a display. The assignment is supposed to simply tell about himself, and here are some awesome pictures he chose to tell his story:


Now the hard work begins

The emergency rescue efforts in Haiti will be wrapping up in the next day or two. This week the efforts will start to shift more toward creating longer term relief systems to care for the earthquake survivors. In the months which follow community development projects will emerge to help people not only rebuild but also to improve on what they had.

I am priveleged to be a part of Covenant World Relief, an extremely efficient compassion and mercy network which works through all phases of such crises. Before most of us were aware of the magnitude of the Haiti earthquake there were already CWR operatives en route. Within hours, through our partners, we were busy rescuing men, women, and children. Now we're providing water, food, and shelter to thousands. In the coming months and years CWR will be there to assist in rebuilding -- just as we were after the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, the tsunami in Asia, the turmoil in Sudan, and the list goes on.

Covenant World Relief is a grassroots Christian relief agency. Because we work with churches and through in-country partners we don't have a lot of the overhead expenses incurred by many organizations. Because we operate through the natural bonds and connections within the Evangelical Covenant churches we don't have to spend a lot of money or energy in marketing. This means that donations go quickly, quietly (without a lot of hype and fanfare), and directly to areas of need.

If you would like to share in this ministry you can:

1. Make an online donation to the CWR Haiti relief effort. (Do it now - even if it's only 5 bucks)

2. Read more about CWR at their website.

3. Follow their blog.

4. Pray
(via) - Thanks Brad for expressing this so well!


What a good article

Thanks, Beth B and Brad B (no relation) for linking to this wonderful article and for getting my attention with this quote:

" Jesus doesn't call us to make a difference in the world, let alone to transform the world. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:13-16), he does tell us that we will be "salt"—that is, we will preserve the world from complete self-destruction. ...Salt and light—that's about the extent of our ...effectiveness. Nothing about transforming the world through our efforts. Make no mistake: Jesus does indeed call us into the world to do stuff: preach, baptize, teach, and heal. But he does not promise results. Faithful diligence in such tasks will sometimes change lives and change communities. Whenever this happens, we can rejoice that God has permitted us to see him at work! But a lot of times when the church has obeyed faithfully, we've only received hardship—violence that seems to make things worse for victim and perpetrator alike."

Thanks, John Michael Talbot, for a wonderful evening of music last night. (John is in Houston for all of January, and will be doing small concerts like last night many more times; also doing THursday night teaching which ElenaClaire and I hope to attend at least once.


Word of the year: Global

"The dangerous idea that the democratic accountability of national governments should simply be dispensed with in favour of "global agreements" reached after closed negotiations between world leaders never, so far as I recall, entered into the arena of public discussion. Except in the United States, where it became a very contentious talking point, the US still holding firmly to the 18th-century idea that power should lie with the will of the people." Read more

An "18th century idea". My, aren't we backward here.


Help us serve a family in need

When we met her 11 years ago she was a single mom who had escaped an abusive ex-husband. She's lived a hard life but was finding strength to rise above the circumstances of her past. Life is still challenging but she in walking in faith. Yesterday her house and all its contents burned to the ground. She and her teenaged kids lost everything including 2 pets.

Help us redeem this tragedy. Make a paypal donation to rlindholtz@yahoo.com or write to us at that address if you can help in other ways. Details are still coming in. The kids are a boy, 18-19, and a daughter, 15-16. Donations can also be made to Christ the King Lutheran Church designated for the "Christensen Fire". Donations made in that way are fully tax deductible.