Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Trashed July 31, 2012

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

My husband, Daniel, has the heart of an artist. By that I don’t just mean he can turn an ordinary piece of paper into something beautiful with just a brush and some paint, or that he has an eye for what will be aesthetically pleasing. (Although he’s a master at both.) No, his true artistry shines through in the way he views his creations.

I love seeing the final product of something Daniel has made, but what brings me equal enjoyment is hearing about the entire artistic process—from the conception of the idea (often in a series of drawings in his sketch book) to the rough template to the final revision, with just the right colors. I relish watching Daniel’s eyes, bright with boyish animation, as he takes me through each stage of the process. He beholds his finished creation with an almost fatherly mix of pride and tenderness.

Daniel’s job isn’t specifically art related, but he still finds occasion to put his creative skills to work there. Recently one of his projects was to design a greeting card on behalf of his company, which was a success by all counts.

Several months later, when the office was having a clean-up day, Daniel happened to walk by the trash can. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted an unmistakable color scheme, a familiar fold of paper. He could tell immediately that it was one of his cards. Who knows how it ended up discarded—if it had been damaged somehow or if it had gotten misplaced with a stack of papers—but regardless, it had somehow been thrown away.

When Daniel saw his creation trashed, his first instinct was the same as any true artist’s: he wanted to rescue it. It grieved him to see his beloved creation tossed aside, devalued. The person who originally put it there may have thought it was trash, and everyone who passed by afterward may have considered it worthless too. But not its creator. He wanted to see what he’d made being used for the purpose it was intended for. He was ready to dig into the trash can himself—to rescue the card, to smooth out its crumpled edges. To redeem it.

As I read the book of Isaiah, I’m struck by the number of times the prophet uses the word redeem. One of the most frequent names for God in the book is Redeemer, and the word redeem shows up in some form more than twenty times.

All this redemption talk makes sense, I suppose, knowing the context—that Israel was on the cusp of defeat and exile by their enemies. The Assyrians saw them as so much trash, while the other countries around them barely batted an eyelash at their demise. If ever a people needed redemption, it was the Israelites—God’s chosen people.

Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob,
don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you.
I am the Lord, your Redeemer.
—Isaiah 41:14

 

Maybe right now you find yourself in the trash can, like Israel did thousands of years ago. Maybe someone said something that made you feel worthless, devalued, unloved. Or maybe it was through pure neglect that you find yourself feeling forgotten, pushed aside. And perhaps along the way no one has stopped to pull you out of the rubbish, to smooth out your creases, to get you back to what you were meant to be.

But I am here to tell you that in God’s eyes you are not trash; you have utmost value. Your Creator sees you there in the trash, and it shreds his heart. And what does he do in response? He rolls up his sleeves and digs into the trash himself. He enters our world, knowing we can’t get out of this mess ourselves.

In all their suffering he also suffered,
and he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them
through all the years.
—Isaiah 63:9

Because of Christ, you don’t have to stay in the trash. Because of Christ, you can be used for the purpose we were made for.

He has personally redeemed you. All because he is your Creator, and you are his beloved masterpiece.

Writer’s Note: This blog was co-written with Daniel Rische.

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.

Advertisements
 

The 12th Hour: Praying after It’s Too Late July 27, 2012

Filed under: 2 Kings,Micah — Stephanie Rische @ 11:08 am
Tags: , ,

Every Thursday I have the privilege of meeting with an amazing group of praying women. Most of them are older than me, wiser than me, and have a longer track record with God than me. I can’t quite explain it, but there’s something about the way they pray that makes my breath catch in my throat every time.

Their prayers have a certain unshakable quality to them—a kind of quiet confidence. They’ve seen God prove himself faithful so many times in the past that they know they can trust him, even when disaster is nipping at our heels.

One Thursday a few weeks ago we felt calamity’s hot breath panting closer than ever. We’d been praying a lot of “11th hour prayers” in recent weeks—asking God to intervene in desperate situations that were growing increasingly dire. Each week we came before God, asking him to step in at the final hour and prevent these worst-case scenarios from happening. We knew he could intervene. We’d seen him do it before.

But on that particular Thursday, all the things we’d been dreading became reality.

The woman with the two young daughters succumbed to cancer.

The marriage we were interceding for fractured beyond repair.

The prodigal we were praying for cut off communication with his mother and moved across the country.

The young immigrant who was struggling with depression took his own life.

As we gathered in our little meeting room, our hearts were heavy. How do you pray after it’s too late? How do you pray when the worst thing has already happened? How do you pray when the clock strikes midnight and God has just stood by, silent?

 

The Israelites knew this feeling of desperation well. The prophets had predicted that judgment was coming and that Israel—God’s chosen people, the very people who had been blessed with his special protection for generations—would be overtaken by their greatest enemy, Assyria. They were on the cusp of their worst-case scenario. Would they still have faith when the thing they dreaded most loomed large and inevitable?

In the midst of everything, the prophet Micah made this statement of quiet confidence:

As for me, I look to the Lord for help.

I wait confidently for God to save me,

and my God will certainly hear me….

Though I fall, I will rise again.

Though I sit in darkness,

the Lord will be my light.

—Micah 7:7-8

Micah didn’t insist that God would prevent disaster from coming his way. He didn’t assume that if he was faithful, God wouldn’t let him fall. But he did hold on to the belief that if he fell, God would help him rise again.

Hezekiah, the king of Israel during Micah’s day, didn’t let the promise of coming judgment skew his view of God either. Even when his world was on the verge of falling apart, he believed that God could still see what was happening, that he would still listen to his prayer:

 

O Lord, God of Israel…you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see!

—2 Kings 19:15-16

 

When our worst fears become reality and we no longer know how to pray, may we take our cues from those who have gone faithfully before us. Like my praying ladies, who continue to gather each Thursday, no matter which side of the disaster we’re on. Like the prophet Micah, who believed that God would raise him up again after he fell down. Like King Hezekiah, who believed it was never too late to ask God to bend down and listen.

We have passed the 11th hour, Lord. Yet still we pray. We beg you to bend down your ear to listen. Even when we don’t know the words to say.

Question: Have you passed the 11th hour in prayer before? What did you do?

 

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year (not to be confused with chronically) 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 Wasted Feast July 24, 2012

Filed under: Isaiah — Stephanie Rische @ 1:16 pm
Tags: , ,

For an assignment during my freshman year of college, I was required to watch a film called Babette’s Feast. I wasn’t happy about it—partly because it was a foreign film with subtitles (with nary a Leonardo DiCaprio to be found) and partly because I had to watch it in the library (which meant popcorn was out).

But somewhere before the final credits starting rolling, I got sucked into the story. There were no flashy special effects, and the plot was minimal. But I couldn’t help but get swept up by its undercurrent of grace—shocking, wasteful grace.

The movie is set on a remote island in Denmark, and the cast of characters consists of aging adherents of a strict religious sect. Their lives are sparse: they eat simple meals of fish and broth, and their days are marked by pious activities like caring for the poor and meeting to sing hymns and pray. There is no drinking, no dancing, no dating. No fun.

Babette is the loyal servant of two of the sisters who live on the island. No one knows much about her past, except that she misses her beloved homeland of France. Babette watches silently as the community begins to fracture, succumbing to petty squabbling and in-fighting. On an otherwise ordinary day she receives a letter from home and discovers she has won the lottery. Ten thousand francs—enough for her to go back to France and retire comfortably.

As the community prepares for a celebration honoring their founder, Babette makes one request: she’d like to prepare a feast for the celebration. The people are horrified—they never share meals at their gatherings. Much less French meals! What if the feast turns out to be of the devil and leads them into sin? But since it’s the only thing Babette has asked for in all her years there and they know she’ll be leaving soon, the members concede. Privately, however, they promise they won’t say a word about the meal.

The day of the celebration arrives, and Babette serves a five-course meal that would be beyond extravagant by any standards, let alone for sheltered island people whose diets formerly consisted of nothing but fish and broth. They have no idea what to make of the likes of gourmet turtle soup, caviar, Cornish hens, amaretto cake, fine French wine, and champagne.

True to their word, however, they say nothing about the food, even as their eyes widen in surprise and veiled delight. But something interesting happens as the evening progresses. As their mouths fill with bite after bite of each exquisite dish, old wounds start to dissipate. Bickering is gradually replaced with kind words and warmth.

When the meal is over, Babette splashes water on her face, exhausted but satisfied, seemingly oblivious to the lack of praise she received for her feast. The sisters address Babette sadly, knowing that now that the celebration is over, she’ll be heading back to her homeland.

“Oh, no,” Babette says. “I won’t be going back. I don’t have any money.”

The sisters look at each other, utterly baffled. Didn’t Babette just cash in the check for the 10,000 francs?

Gradually realization dawns. Babette spent all the money—every last penny—on the celebration feast. Ten thousand francs, wasted on people who didn’t know they were getting the finest meal by the finest chef Paris had ever boasted. Ten thousand francs, wasted on people who never even said thank-you.

It’s interesting to note that one of the common pictures God paints when depicting his goodness and favor is a feast. In the midst of the prophet Isaiah’s talk about God’s judgment, he describes this scene of a shared meal:

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will spread a wonderful feast
for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet
with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
—Isaiah 25:6-8

I am not, after all, so different from the guests at Babette’s feast. By human standards, grace is wasted on the likes of me. My palate is so accustomed to blandness that I can’t grasp the extravagant gift I’ve been given—a gift that cost the giver everything. And even I could somehow comprehend the sacrifice, I certainly wouldn’t be able to express adequate appreciation.

But in the beautiful mystery of grace, God invites me to his feast anyway. No doubt it will be a delicious banquet. But even better than the menu will be the one who has prepared it with such love—and with the ultimate sacrifice.

 

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 Chronic Case of Bible Reading July 20, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 12:21 pm
Tags: , ,

When Daniel and I got engaged, we decided to count down to the big day by reading the psalms together—going backward from Psalm 150. We started with the final psalm 150 days before our wedding and read one each day until the morning of the ceremony, when we read Psalm 1. In the midst of all the decisions about venues and guest lists and cupcake flavors, it was a grounding ritual, a way to keep us focused on what was really important. It was a simple way for us to stay connected.

Until, that is, we hit Psalm 119.

The day we were slotted to read that psalm, Daniel had to work two jobs and we weren’t able to see each other at all. We’d decided in advance that when that happened, we’d read the verses to each other over the phone. But when I opened my Bible to Psalm 119, I was shocked to discover that unlike the psalms we’d read thus far, which ran just a few stanzas, this one went on for pages—176 verses, to be exact.

I dutifully called Daniel’s phone while he was at work, reading the psalm to him on message after message until an electronic voice told me his mailbox was full. It wasn’t until I hung up for the final time that it hit me: I’d spent the past half hour quoting Scripture, but I had no earthly clue what I’d just read.

It’s the middle of the year, and the longest days of summer are upon us. It seems like no coincidence that at the same time I’m reflecting on the midpoint of my chronological reading, I’ve also hit Psalm 119—aka the longest chapter in Scripture.

As a recovering perfectionist, I frequently find myself battling the temptation to allow my Bible reading to become merely an item to check off my to-do list, a legalistic chore to make God happy or to help me feel better about myself. That’s not the way I want it, though. I long to read from a place of grace, with the joy I’ve found in Christ dripping from every word.

I want my view of Scripture to look more the psalmist’s—lighter on duty, heavier on delight:

How I delight in your commands!
How I love them!
—Psalm 119:47

 

Your laws are my treasure;
they are my heart’s delight.
—Psalm 119:111

A few months ago, I made one of those eerily subliminal typos in my post about Ruth:

“I’ve been reading my Bible chronically,” I wrote.” Chronically, as in “settled or confirmed in a habit or practice, especially a bad one; hardened,” as the dictionary puts it.

Certainly, there’s something to be said for establishing good daily routines and choosing a lifestyle of healthy discipline. But I don’t want to become hardened. I don’t want to lose sight of grace in this dance of discipline and delight.

I want to find joy in his Word and then share it with other people. And I want to keep doing that as long as I can—at least until their voicemail fills up.

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year (not to be confused with chronically) 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.

 

Grace Spottings, Take 2 July 17, 2012

Filed under: Grace spottings — Stephanie Rische @ 4:53 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Today I’d like to share a few grace spottings I’ve come across lately. Enjoy!

Grace Spotting #1: Redeeming Love

This book by Francine Rivers is a retelling of the story of Hosea and Gomer, set in California during the gold rush of the 1850s. Not only is it a romantic story of boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy wins girl back, but it will also stun you with its portrayal of the kind of pursuing love God has for you.

Grace Spotting #2: Women at Risk International

This organization is dedicated to providing safety, dignity, life skills, and job opportunities for women and children around the world who have been rescued from various kinds of abuse, including human trafficking and sexual slavery. My friends Michael and Kay Killar and their three children serve women and girls trapped in such situations in Thailand, and there they show God’s redemption in a tangible way.

Grace Spotting #3: Corrie ten Boom

If anyone ever had a right to withhold forgiveness, it would have been Corrie ten Boom. She was sent to a German concentration camp for hiding Jews during World War II, and she suffered unspeakable horrors there, including the death of her father and beloved sister. After the war she devoted her life to traveling and speaking on God’s faithfulness and grace. At one of these speaking engagements, she came face-to-face with a guard who had inflicted on her some of the most brutal torture at the camp. Would she run away, like Jonah did, or would she live out the message of grace she preached? Watch this compelling interview for her firsthand account.

 

Wooing in the Desert July 12, 2012

Filed under: Hosea — Stephanie Rische @ 5:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

  Picture this: It’s the third century AD, and the persecution that has plagued Christians for hundreds of years has finally lifted. For the first time in the history of the Roman Empire, it’s safe to be a Christian. After an era marked by torture and martyrdom, those who follow Jesus are being welcomed into society.

 

You’d think that on the heels of such persecution, Christ-followers would bask in their newfound freedom and the comfort of being able to live their lives in peace. But shockingly, it was out of that positive cultural shift that the monastic movement was born. The Desert Fathers (and Mothers), as they were called, went into the Egyptian wilderness not to avoid a difficult situation but to avoid one that was too comfortable.

 

In my chronological Bible, I just read the heart-wrenching love story of Hosea and his relentless love for his wife, Gomer. She cheats on him again and again, but he keeps taking her back, pursuing her and wooing her back, knowing even as he does that she’ll reject him for lesser loves as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

 

The story is outrageous, flying in the face of everything I deem just and right and fair. I find myself wanting to shout some sense into Hosea across the pages of Scripture—Why would a nice guy like you keep taking back this woman who is clearly not good enough for you? But I’m barely into the story when it becomes clear that this isn’t just an account about a long-dead prophet. It’s about how God’s people have “acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods” (Hosea 1:2).

 

That cheating woman is me.

 

I have found true love in God, yet I give my heart to unworthy substitutes: Comfort. Security. The stuff of this world. The approval of others. People and things that aren’t meant to step into the role only God can fill in my heart.

 

But here’s where the beautiful part comes in. Hosea doesn’t wait for his fickle bride to come back to him, groveling for forgiveness. No, he pursues her, using every courting trick in the book to win her back. And God does the same for his people, for his bride. For me.

 

The Lord says…

“I will win her back once again.

I will lead her into the desert

and speak tenderly to her there.”

—Hosea 2:14

 

At first the desert strikes me as an odd choice for wooing. It doesn’t have quite the romantic appeal of, say, a candlelight dinner or a walk along the beach. Why would God do his courting in the desert?

 

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the Desert Fathers were onto something. Maybe when you’re in the wilderness, it’s easier to have an honest talk about your relationship. In the desert, life moves at a slower pace. You have limited creature comforts. Less noise. Fewer distractions. And maybe then, in the uncomfortable quiet, you can sit down and really talk. Maybe then, you can pause long enough to hear the words your beloved is tenderly speaking to you.

 

Abba Cronius, one of the Desert Fathers, put it this way: “If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it.”

 

If you find yourself in the desert right now, consider this: What if the desert isn’t a punishment after all? What if the desert is a place where there’s finally room for the One who loves you to invade your heart, your soul?

 

What if the desert is actually the best place to be wooed?

 

{Note: If you want to find out more about the Desert Fathers and how they make sense in today’s world, I highly recommend the book Holy Fools by Mathew Woodley.}

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.

 

Out of True July 10, 2012

Filed under: Amos — Stephanie Rische @ 5:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

  There are good things and bad things about being married to a cyclist who can zip down the street fast enough to break the speed limit in school zones. The good things: the man and his bike. The bad things: all other moving objects in his path.

 

I know Daniel is conscientious about being safe and following the rules of the road. But I have no such guarantee about the other people behind the handlebars—or behind the wheel—he may encounter along the way.

 

So when he was late returning home from a recent ride, I admit to being a little nervous. I was relieved when I heard the back door open and he came in to give me his customary sweaty hug. But then I saw that his leg was scraped up and he had a decent-sized gash on his elbow. I immediately started fussing, but it became clear that he wasn’t the least concerned about his body. All he could talk about was his bicycle.

 

Apparently he had been clipping along the trail when another cyclist darted in front of him. There was no way he could stop in time. Fortunately neither party sustained significant injuries, but Daniel’s bike had taken a beating in the collision.

 

“Now my bicycle is out of true,” he lamented.

 

“Out of true?” I asked. I wasn’t familiar with the expression, but something about it resonated with me. “What does that mean?”

 

“Well, if your wheel is out of true, it no longer rotates straight,” he said. “There’s something just a little off about it.”

 

I came across a similar concept in the book of Amos, of all places. This prophet was called by God to deliver a difficult message to Israel and Judah about the coming judgment. Amos received several visions from the Lord—analogies of sorts to give the people a visual about their sin and the consequences. One of these visions was of a plumb line—a measuring cord that has a weight attached to it. Apparently, before the days of high-tech gadgets, builders used plumb lines to test if something (like a wall) was perfectly upright. Or out of true, you might say.

I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

I answered, “A plumb line.”

And the Lord replied, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins.”

—Amos 7:7-9

 

Out of true. It’s not just bicycles and walls and ancient people groups that veer off ever so slightly until they’re no longer upright. So do we. We get out of alignment just a little bit, and before we even realize it, we’re off course. We need to get adjusted—and the sooner the better.

 

Thankfully we have a God who doesn’t just wag his plumb line at us, pointing out our crookedness. He willingly rolls up his sleeves and does the repair work necessary to get us in line again. Because of his grace, we can be back in true again.

 

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.