Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The Red Danger Zone November 30, 2012

Filed under: Galatians — Stephanie Rische @ 5:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

gpa bday 4

 

When my dad and his 11 siblings were growing up, they had very specific seating assignments around their big table. Grandpa had custom-built a bench on one side of the table, so long it took up almost the entire wall. The three little girls were grouped together with the more responsible older siblings seated strategically around them, and one particularly energetic brother was Grandma’s “special project.” But the dreaded spot was always the Red Danger Zone—the seats that fell in arm’s length of Grandpa. Because rest assured, if you were misbehaving during dinner, you did not want to be within swatting distance.

 

Earlier this month we celebrated Grandpa and Grandma’s 90th birthday party. It would have been a noteworthy celebration under any circumstances, marking almost a century of life and love for two people adored by so many. But we had even more reason to celebrate since Grandpa had just gotten out of the hospital. He proudly walked into the room next to Grandma aided only by his walker (under no circumstances would he allow himself to be seen in a wheelchair, since those are for “old people”). I’m pretty sure the grin remained on his face until long after he fell asleep that night.

gpa bday 1

 

Grandma and Grandpa’s friends streamed into the big party room at their assisted-living facility for three hours…some 200 friends and neighbors, not counting all of us kids and grandkids. I didn’t need convincing about what wonderful people Grandma and Grandpa are, but it warmed me to my toes to have scores of gray-haired ladies and a handful of older gentlemen tell me how much they loved playing bridge and going to book group with Grandma and Grandpa, how they have seen God’s love shining through Grandma and Grandpa’s lives.

 

And as I watched each friend, each son and daughter, each grandchild flock to Grandpa and Grandma’s table to receive hugs and smiles, not to mention lipsticky kisses from Grandma, a thought washed over me: now everyone want to be in the Red Danger Zone.

gpa bday 7

 

In my Bible reading, I just arrived at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As I read, I’m struck by the thread of freedom that weaves through the book. Paul takes issue with the religious contingent that has been sucked in by legalism and is looking to rule-following for salvation. He paints an alternate vision for them—an analogy of a loving father with his children. We are no longer slaves, Paul contends, but children. We don’t have to live in fear, obsessed with the letter of the law; instead, we can live in relationship with God, our Father.

 

We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son…so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

—Galatians 4:3-7

 

Under grace, we no longer have to fear the Red Danger Zone of God’s wrath. Instead, we can call him our Abba, our Daddy. And he invites us to come close, ready to offer us his love and his warm embrace. After all, we are his children.

 

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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The Night I Was Excommunicated from Youth Group November 28, 2012

Filed under: John — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
Tags: , , ,

Not to brag, but I have a near-professional ability to sleep. I have been known to snore through alarm clocks, sonic booms, thunderstorms, even the rare earthquake. On one notable occasion I was sleeping on the couch in my friends’ living room, and apparently their two boys were up sick all night, just feet from my makeshift bed. But I didn’t make that discovery until the next morning, because sure enough, I’d remained blissfully unconscious through the whole ordeal.

 

Under normal circumstances my champion sleeping skills have served me well. But there was one time they got me into some real trouble.

 

I was an awkward freshman, trying to adjust to high school and break into the firmly established cliques in my youth group, when our church announced it was hosting an overnight retreat for a number of youth groups in the area. I was nervous since I didn’t know anyone well and I was mortified to display my nighttime braces headgear in public. But I talked myself into going, figuring it would be a good chance to get to know people.

 

Everything was going well…until roughly 3 a.m., when I awoke to fluorescent lights glaring and all the other girls out of their sleeping bags. As my heavy-lidded eyes adjusted to the brightness, I realized there were two clearly marked camps of girls shouting at each other from each side of the room. To my horror, I found that I was lying on the ground between the two groups, in some kind of battlefield no-man’s-land.

 

“Are you from this church?” one girl demanded.

 

I squinted up at her, utterly baffled as to what had transpired while I’d been sawing logs. Desperate to snuggle back inside my warm sleeping bag, I mumbled, “Uh…no…”

 

There was a pause, and for a moment I dared to believe my brilliant strategy had been successful.

 

Then a shout came from the back of the room. “Yes, you are! I know you go to this church.”

 

And before I knew it, my sleeping bag and I were unceremoniously thrown out of the carpeted room and into the cold tile hallway. But as soon as I got there, I faced another unexpected wrinkle.

 

“Hey, you said you weren’t with us.” Ten sets of beady eyes glared at me. Shoot. The girls from my church.

 

And I found myself in the midst of a 14-year-old nightmare: wandering the halls at 3:00 a.m., utterly friendless…and wearing dorky headgear.

 

 

I had denied my people, and they had rejected me.

 

Maybe that’s why I resonate with the biblical account of Peter’s denial of Jesus:

The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”

“No,” he said, “I am not.”

—John 18:17
Twice more it happened: the same question, the same denial.

 

But Peter’s story didn’t end there. God, in his flair for redemption and a good dramatic arc, gave Peter another chance. Peter had denied Jesus three times, but then Jesus gave him an opportunity to proclaim his love three times.

 

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

—John 21:17

 

Jesus didn’t write Peter off or relegate him to the cold, lonely hallway after his denial; instead, he showed him mercy and restored the relationship.

 

In his grace, God does the same for us. Even when we fail him and deny him, he invites us to proclaim our love for him. He pulls us out of the warzone…and gives us another chance.

 

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.

 

What My Two Favorite Toddlers Taught Me about Faith November 20, 2012

Filed under: Mark — Stephanie Rische @ 9:04 am
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If I were to imagine how Jesus would describe how we need to come to him, I might expect any number of analogies. Maybe we should come to him like a scholar, eager to study and learn more about him. Or as a martyr, passionate and ready to follow him, even to the point of death. Maybe we should we come as a theologian, with all the right answers. Or as a hero, full of bravery and triumph.

 

But no . . . Jesus says we should come to him, of all things, like a child.

 

In the past when I’ve read Jesus’ words about coming to him childlike, I had a sort of fuzzy notion that he was referring to innocence and dependence. And while that may be part of the picture, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s more to it than that.

 

I recently had the auntly delight of spending a few days with my four-year-old niece and my two-year-old nephew, and thanks to them, the whole notion of childlikeness is no longer theoretical. Here are some things Lyla and Tyler taught me about how Jesus wants us to come to him.

 

1. Ask questions. Lots of them.

At four, Lyla is at the stage where she’s taking the pieces of her world and trying to make sense of them. “Why can’t Aunt Eppie play with me instead of going to work?” “Why won’t they let the birdies at the zoo fly?” “How come Grandpa Joe can use potty talk and I can’t?” “What does canoodling mean?” We tend to assume that faith means not having any questions, but maybe it just means we’re secure enough in the relationship to ask the hard questions.

 

2. Trust your dad.

When we went to the pumpkin farm, Tyler delighted in freefalling off the hay bales into my brother’s arms, utterly confident his dad would catch him. Where I would have been screaming in terror, he giggled in delight. He knew his daddy wouldn’t let him down. And it left me feeling convicted: why don’t I trust my Father that way?

 

3. Find joy in the right-now.

As adults, we get bored easily, always ready to move on to the next thing. But Tyler followed Fermi the dog around endlessly, squealing in delight every time he was on the receiving end of a slobbery doggie kiss. As for Lyla, she’d say, “Tell me a story!” some eighteen times a day, never tiring of the yarn-spinning, even when my stories started sounding suspiciously like recycled fairy tales. Can I see the good gifts God has placed in my life, or am I always looking ahead, wishing for the next thing?

 

4. Be close to the people you love.

Lyla was my little shadow for a couple of days, which was just fine with me…except when it was time to use the restroom. “Aunt Eppie, why do you have to shut the door when you go to the bathroom? Why do you need your pribacy?” Restrooms aside, it warmed my heart to know that this precious child wanted to be near me. And I have to wonder…does God wish I would be a little more eager to follow him around?

 

I have no doubt Jesus had the likes of Lyla and Tyler in mind when he gave this mini sermon about childlikeness:

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

—Mark 10:13-16

 

I want to receive the Kingdom of God that way. Like Lyla and Tyler, I want to come to God with my tough questions. I want to trust him with utter abandon. I want to bubble over with joy at the little gifts he brings into my life. I want to be as close as possible to the God I love.

 

I want to come to him with my whole heart.

 

The way a child does.

 

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.

 

Grace Spotting: The Prodigal God November 16, 2012

Filed under: Book reviews,Grace spottings — Stephanie Rische @ 7:58 am
Tags: , , ,

 

The story of the prodigal son is one of the most well-known parables Jesus told. So when my small group decided to read it and discuss The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, I admit to being a bit skeptical. Really? An entire book about twenty-some verses of the Bible?

 

But before I’d even navigated my way out of the introduction, I realized I had a whole lot to learn. Keller suggests that this parable told by Jesus in Luke 15 shouldn’t really be called the parable of the lost son; it should be the parable of the lost sons, because in fact, both sons are lost and separated from their father—the younger brother as a result of his rebellion, and the older brother as a result of his own self-righteousness.

 

Interestingly, Keller says that the true prodigal in the story is the Father himself. If prodigal is defined as “recklessly extravagant; having spent everything,” then our gracious God certainly fits the bill. “Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children,” Keller points out. “God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope.”

 

Whether you are an older brother or a younger brother or somewhere in between, you will come away from this book with a fresh appreciation for our prodigal God. When we are reckless, he responds with reckless grace.

 

For more thoughts on this parable, take a look at my musings on dumpster diving.

 

Beauty in the Dying November 13, 2012

Filed under: Matthew — Stephanie Rische @ 5:04 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I was walking through the woods the other day with a million things on my mind—making mental to-do lists, replaying recent conversations in my head, worrying over the usual things I have no control over. Then I glanced up for a moment and literally stopped in my tracks, right there in the middle of the path.

 

My jaw came unhinged as I took in the sight. Fiery maples, golden elms, and burnt-orange oaks melded together in a kaleidoscope of colors just in front of me. The October-blue sky peeked out from behind the trees, and the sun shone a spotlight onto the autumn-hued rainbow.

 

I couldn’t help but think about the quote by that endearing redhead, Anne of Green Gables: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (Don’t ask how many times I’ve read the books and watched the PBS special. Suffice it to say, often times enough to quote liberally.)

 

As I stood rooted to the spot on the trail, a cyclist whizzed past me, no doubt annoyed I was blocking the path, but my feet were rooted to the spot. The scene was so beautiful I ached. Partly because I couldn’t hold all that beauty inside of me. And partly because the thing about fall is you know it can’t stay.

 

Then a rather morbid thought occurred to me: the leaves are beautiful because they are dying. Their chlorophyll is slowly leaking out, no more sustenance is going their way, and the trees are slowly shutting down the processes of life.

 

We think of death as the worst-case scenario. But we rarely stop midstep to acknowledge the beauty that often accompanies it.

 

Jesus, in his usual upside-down way, made this counterintuitive statement:

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

—Matthew 10:39

 

My grandpa was just in the hospital again. He and Grandma have been planning their 90th birthday bash for some time, and now it’s just weeks around the corner. They have a guest list that’s fitting for a couple as charming and delightful as they are—200 of their closest friends, their dozen children, and a slew of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

Thankfully, Grandpa is home from the hospital now. He’s a pretty tough guy, and just stubborn enough (having 12 kids will do that to you) that I have no doubt he’ll be raring to go by party time. But Grandpa’s recent stint in the hospital was one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks, causing me to reflect, autumn-style, on his life.

 

As his strength on this side of eternity fades, his faithfulness for all these years—to his wife of 60-plus years, to his family, and to his God—blazes all the brighter. His life is an example of the beauty that can come with endings. The knowledge that his time here is wrapping up only directs a spotlight on those lovely, shining parts of his character.

 

If I hope to ever have a life that blazes like Grandpa’s, I first have to die to my own way of doing things, to my own agenda. Because it’s only when I surrender that I can embrace the beautiful life Jesus offers. It’s only by dying that I truly live.

 

Thanks for your life, Grandpa. Thanks for the beauty. It’s going to be one grand party.

 

How beautifully leaves grow old,
How full of light and color are their last days.
—John Burroughs

 

 

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.

 

Jesus’ Litmus Test November 9, 2012

Filed under: John — Stephanie Rische @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , ,

If someone from the outside looked around our nation, especially in the aftermath of our recent election, I have to wonder what conclusions they might jump to about what makes someone a Christian. How would they be able to recognize those among us who follow Christ?

 

Would it be by how we voted?

By our stance on abortion?

By our views on same-sex marriage?

By our precisely pinned-down theology?

By how perfectly we’ve got our lives pulled together?

 

No, it’s none of those things, according to Jesus. He said they’d know we’re Christians by our love.

I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

—John 13:34-35

 

That’s not to say those issues aren’t important, or that we should gloss over truth. But those shouldn’t be the identifying factors about us. They shouldn’t be the first things that come to mind when people think about followers of Christ.

 

What if we were known for loving liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Communists and nonvoters and everyone in between?

What if we were known for loving abortion providers…and young girls who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant?

What if we were known for loving same-sex couples?

What if we were known for loving people who don’t believe the same way we do…and people who don’t believe at all?

What if we were known for loving people whose lives are a mess…with the acknowledgment that our lives are a mess too?

What if we were known for our love?

And more to the point, what if I were known for my love?

 

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.

 

Dumpster Diving November 5, 2012

Filed under: Luke — Stephanie Rische @ 1:07 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Six months after we got married, Daniel discovered, to his great dismay, that his wedding ring had accidentally been thrown in the trash.

 

He was just wrapping up after a long day at his full-time position and then a stint at his part-time job when he looked down at his finger and realized it was bare. He mentally retraced the events of the day, when all at once it dawned on him: the gloves.

 

In his job working with special needs students, Daniel often has occasion to wear disposable gloves, and somewhere around midday he remembered turning the gloves inside out and tossing them in the trash. Had he seen the ring since? He frantically made some phone calls, hoping to stop the trash before it was taken to the dumpster.

 

No such luck. The next morning he arrived at work before the sun came up, bedecked in his grubbiest clothes and his most determined expression.

 

The ring was important to Daniel—not just because of its objective value, but also because it represented the commitment he’d made. The ring was a tangible symbol of our wedding day: “With this ring, I thee wed” and all. He was willing to go to great lengths to scavenge for it, despite the obstacles and grime he’d have to wade through in the process.

 

 

As I read Luke 15, I’m struck by God’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and dive into our grimy world to bring us back to him.

 

Jesus tells three parables in this chapter—one about a shepherd who leaves his whole flock to chase down a runaway lamb, one about a woman who loses a coin and turns her entire house upside down to find it, and one about a father who runs to greet his beloved son who once was lost but now is found.

 

God is willing to dive into the dumpster on our behalf because he sees value in us, even when we’re covered in muck. And besides, he has made a commitment to us. No amount of garbage will hold him back.

 

An interesting side note about each of Jesus’ parables is that once each item has been found, a party ensues. There is much rejoicing—over the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.

 

I got a phone call from Daniel later that morning, and sure enough, he’d found the ring! And yes, there was much rejoicing (after a bit of scrubbing and Clorox). The lost had been found.

 

Thank you, God, for going to great lengths to bring us back to you. Thank you for keeping your commitment to us. And thank you for diving into the dumpster on our behalf.

 

Question: Have you ever lost something and gone to great lengths to find it 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.