Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Grace of Passing Over February 28, 2012

Filed under: Exodus — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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My friend Liz is Jewish—“real Jewish,” she’d tell you, meaning she grew up in Israel. She and her mom moved to the United States when Liz was in high school, in large part so Liz wouldn’t have to serve in the Israeli army—something of an automatic draft for all 18-year-olds, male or female, in her country.

I met Liz shortly after she moved here, near Passover time. Since most of the people I knew of who celebrated Passover were long-dead guys like Moses, I was intrigued to hear how she and her family marked the holiday.

The thing that usually struck me when I read the account of the first Passover was the rather somber tone of the event. Honestly, it didn’t sound like my idea of a holiday to be packed up and ready to flee, eating “with urgency” (Exodus 12:11). Not quite a relaxing family gathering at Grandma’s house.

On a deeper level, the premise itself seemed less than festive: blood painted around the doorframe of each Israelite home, and with it the dark undercurrent of knowing every household in Egypt would be visited by the angel of death that night.

I asked Liz about Passover, in all my Goyim ignorance. Does it ever seem strange, I wondered, to celebrate a holiday whose main event is a nation-wide slaughter? Liz bit her lip, trying unsuccessfully to hide her smile.

“It’s not about the death,” she said. “It’s about getting passed over.”

Oh, right. Hence the name.

If you don’t know what you’re getting saved from, I suppose the grace, the celebration, doesn’t mean much.

And now, many generations after that first Passover, the same can be true for us—Gentiles and descendants of Moses alike. The blood of the Lamb has covered the doorframes of our hearts. And as a result, the angel of death no longer has power over us.

We, too, will be passed over.

Now that’s a reason to celebrate.

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

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Pantry-less Grace February 24, 2012

Filed under: Exodus — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
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I might as well be up front with you from the beginning: I have a pantry problem. And a freezer problem too, for that matter.

I guess you could blame it on the fact that I come from an ancestral line of farming women who knew how to can and pickle and pantrify and store up for winter with the best of them. Even today, if you went to my grandma’s house, you’d find a stuffed freezer upstairs, plus another full freezer and a huge deep freeze in the basement—all of them stocked with goodies.

I missed the farming and canning gene, but I sure got the freezer gene.

If my husband and I don’t have a backup of everything in the pantry, and if our freezer door can close without heroic efforts, I start getting vaguely antsy. I do realize I live in the era of Costco and Super Walmart, not Little House on the Prairie, but I can’t seem to help myself.

That’s probably, I’ve been realizing lately, because there’s a spiritual component to my neurosis. The stocked pantry and freezer give me a false sense of security…like if I can control what’s on the shelves, I somehow have more control over my life.

I wonder if that’s why God implemented the manna diet for the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert. At first glance, this story in Exodus seems to one of straightforward provision: the Israelites are hungry; God gives them food. But on closer reflection, I find it interesting to note his process. He doesn’t give them a yearly or monthly or even weekly supply of food to store up on. No, he gives them what they needed for today.

They try to hoard it, of course, and put in their pantries. But here’s what happens:

Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell.
—Exodus 16:19-20

Every morning when the people woke up to find manna scattered on the ground, it was a reminder that they weren’t in control, that they could stock their pantry all they wanted to, but ultimately they were dependent on their Provider.

And so it is with grace. I want to hoard it, stockpile it, stash backup supplies in my pantry. But God says, “No, my child. I know you, and I know that if you stored it away, you would forget the one who gave it to you in the first place. I will give you the grace you need. Just enough for today.”

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

Cinematic Grace February 21, 2012

Filed under: Job — Stephanie Rische @ 1:38 pm
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Before we started watching The Tree of Life, our friend warned the group, “This isn’t your typical movie. It’s more like a poem in visual form.” We looked at him rather skeptically—even more so when he mentioned the twenty-minute segment with no words. Okaaay…this was clearly not going to be your traditional Hollywood “boy meets girl” flick or your “bad guy tries to blow up the world” movie.

I was surprised to see that the opening quote came from the book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (38:4). The story traces a boy’s growing-up years as he wrestles with the tension between grace and nature. His mother, the personification of grace, swirls him around in the backyard, playfully squirts him with the garden hose, and showers his life with laughter. His father is nature—embodying the idea that you get what you earn in life, that if you work hard enough, you’ll end up on top.

The movie poses this unspoken question: what happens when life isn’t fair, when you get what you don’t deserve? Is it possible to keeping clinging to grace, despite all seeming evidence to the contrary?

This is, when it comes down to it, the underlying question posed in the book of Job as well. Yes, Job’s technical question is Why? But there seems to be a deeper layer to his queries. The truth is, no answer would have satisfied him. There is no reason, no explanation that from Job’s human perspective would have justified the devastating losses, the crushing defeats, the deaths of the people he loved.

So God, in his mercy, responds to a different question.

He reminds Job of his credentials—essentially that he holds nature, in all its mystery and splendor, in the palm of his hand—but also that he treats his children with compassion and gentleness (Job 38-39).

For all those chapters of back-and-forth between Job and God, the book pretty much boils down to one simple exchange.

Job asks God, “Why?”

And to Job’s amazement, God responds with another question altogether: “Who?” 

Who determined the earth’s dimensions?
Who kept the sea inside its boundaries?
Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
Who laid out the path for the lightning?
Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground?
Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind?
Who is wise enough to count all the clouds?
Who provides food for the ravens?
—from Job 38 

In my quest for grace, it just may that I’m sometimes asking the wrong question. Maybe when God seems silent, it’s not that he’s not answering. It’s that he’s answering a different question.

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

The Grace of the Middle Man February 17, 2012

Filed under: Job — Stephanie Rische @ 8:02 am
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If you met my dad under normal circumstances, he’d prefer to have you assume he’s a plumber. He doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes that go with his profession, and as a matter of fact, he does have a knack for fixing leaky faucets.

But if one of his kids is in trouble, he doesn’t hesitate to pull out the tricks of his trade. In my early twenties as I was venturing out on my own, if he felt someone was trying to take advantage of me—whether it was an insurance company, an employer, or some shady individual—he was there for backup.

“You tell them your dad will call them,” he told me. “And if that doesn’t work, tell them your lawyer will call them.” Lucky for me, I had two for the price of one.

Job lived in an era when there were foreshadowings of grace—little whispers leading up to the coming of the Redeemer—but the fulfillment was still fuzzy. As he cried out in the aftermath of his string of personal tragedies, he found himself desperate for a middle man, a lawyer, a mediator—someone to stand between him and God and plead his case.

If only there were a mediator between us,
someone who could bring us together. . . .
Then I could speak to [God] without fear,
but I cannot do that in my own strength.
—Job 9:33, 35

I suspect Job had no idea how prophetic his words were. In Christ, we have just that—a mediator to graciously plead our case before a holy God.

So the next time our sin plagues us, we can say with confidence, “Talk to my Dad.” And if that doesn’t work: “Talk to my Lawyer.”

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

The Grace of True Love February 14, 2012

Filed under: Love — Stephanie Rische @ 7:52 am
Tags: ,

“There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. It is the finger of God on a man’s shoulder.”
—Charles Morgan

As much as I denied it at the time—especially to myself—I’m pretty sure I started falling in love with Daniel by date #2.

From the very beginning, I knew he was different from other men I’d dated—men who were quickly looking more like boys in comparison. For starters, I was awed by all the planning and detail he put into our time together. After just one date’s worth of research, he’d noted my affinity for Thai food and our mutual love of peanut butter, and he lost no time making those things happen.

After picking me up for our second date—an auspicious beginning already—he took me to a cute little Thai place and surprised me later with peanut butter cookies that he’d made himself. (He also brought an envelope full of embarrassing childhood photos, sparked by something of a bet we’d made on date #1, but that’s a topic for another post.)

For the first time in my life I felt truly pursued…in awe that such a quality man would put himself out there for me and go through metaphorical fires on my behalf. I felt chosen, singled out, desired…which was all the more spine-tingling coming from someone like Daniel.

*  *  *

I’ve believed in God for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I’d lie in bed looking at the glow-in-the-dark cross on my dresser, believing with all my childlike heart that God was watching over me as my heavenly Father. In junior high, I clung to the belief that he was the Friend who would never fail me, even when my earthly friends were fickle at best. When I got my first real job and moved out on my own, I started seeing God as my Provider. Over the years, I’ve come to see God as my Lord, my Redeemer, my Rock.

But never as my Pursuer.

It wasn’t until true love snuck up on me that God unveiled his pursuing, grace-filled side in a whole new way. To have someone see inside me and love me anyway—for him to get to know the real me, ugly parts and all, and still accept me—has given me a window into the even more mind-boggling grace of God.

Wherever you find yourself today—whether you’re longing to be loved by someone or whether your heart is so full it could burst—know that you are loved. You are chosen. You are being pursued. And the One who pursues you is just waiting for you to say yes to date #2.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life.
—Psalm 23:6

 

From the Hand of God February 10, 2012

Filed under: Job — Stephanie Rische @ 1:14 pm
Tags: ,

Newsflash from my chronological reading: apparently Job comes after Genesis! Who knew?

I opened up my Bible all ready to turn the page to Exodus, but to my surprise, Job supposedly dates to approximately the time of Abraham and the patriarchs.

I have to admit I gulped a bit when this revelation struck. I mean, it’s one thing to trace the thread of grace through some of those classic Old Testament stories, but honestly, where’s the grace in this account? Almost the entire book feels like a series of one-two punches for our poor buddy Job.

Here’s the scene: God starts bragging on Job to Satan, and what happens? Job promptly loses his livelihood, his possessions, and his children, all in the course of 24 hours. Then he loses the one thing he has left: his health. Where’s the mercy in a story like that? Doesn’t Job, at the very least, deserve some kind of extreme circumstances caveat? Three KOs in one day, and you’re permitted to have a breakdown—or least do some serious bellyaching?

But to my surprise, here’s how Job responds in the wake of his tragedies: “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10).

Youch.

I like to think of grace as the hug after the bike spill, not the tumble itself…the rainbow, not the preceding storm…the spoonful of sugar, not the medicine.

In light of Job’s story, I wonder if there’s something a little off about my definition of grace. Am I able to take what comes from the hand of God, even when it falls outside of what I consider gracious?

I’m not quite there yet. But when it comes down to it, I guess I’d rather have what comes from the hand of God, whatever it is, than to walk away from him, empty-handed.

All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou mightiest seek it in My arms.
—The Hound of Heaven

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

A Soft Place to Land February 7, 2012

Filed under: Prayer — Stephanie Rische @ 7:55 am
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For one hour every Tuesday, no matter how wildly the storms of life are howling around me, I have a soft patch of grass to land on. Every girl should be so lucky.

It all started rather bumblingly, to tell you the truth. My friend and I were both feeling the need for someone to pray with, but we didn’t quite know how to go about it. I mean, really, who wants to intentionally set themselves up to be vulnerable and self-conscious on a weekly basis? Besides which neither of us felt like particularly good pray-ers, and I for one knew I’d never be able to deliver organized “bullet-point” prayers. My requests, such as they are, tend to come more in the form of rambling emotional spew than neatly packaged prayer points.

But God was hounding us, and we couldn’t seem to escape the idea. So one Tuesday we started meeting during our lunch hour. We unceremoniously told God that our end of the deal would be to show up, and he would be responsible for the rest.

That first meeting was precisely two years ago, and we’ve been meeting every week since.

Over the past 100 or so Tuesdays, my prayers haven’t really gotten better. I’m still rambly, still unpolished, still haphazard (and un-bulleted) in my approach. But to my surprise, my friend accepts me, rambly prayers and all. Even better, I have found through this messy process that God isn’t necessarily looking for polish either. I don’t think he minds that we put our prayers out there in their rawest form, trusting that he’ll sort them out somewhere between here and his ear.

So wherever you are in your prayer journey, I encourage you to take a leap and find your own Tuesdays-at-noon buddy. I trust you’ll find the landing cushioned by grace.