Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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

Filed under: John — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
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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.

 

Jesus’ Litmus Test November 9, 2012

Filed under: John — Stephanie Rische @ 12:35 pm
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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.

 

The Pages In Between October 9, 2012

Filed under: Joel,John — Stephanie Rische @ 5:04 pm
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I was surprised to turn the page of my Bible the other day and discover that I’d jumped straight from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Since I’m reading the Chronological Bible, I didn’t have the usual clues like divider pages or those handy-dandy little thumb tabs to alert me.

 

According to canonical order, Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, but scholars think Joel was actually the last of the prophets to give a message before the arrival of the Messiah. If that’s the case, then these are the final words God spoke to his people before the new covenant was ushered in. They are words full of hope and promise, grace and truth:

 

Judah will be filled with people forever,
and Jerusalem will endure through all generations.
I will pardon my people’s crimes,
which I have not yet pardoned;
and I, the Lord, will make my home
in Jerusalem with my people.
—Joel 3:20-21

 

With a simple turn of the page, I was amazed to see that promise directly fulfilled in the person of Christ:

 

The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.
—John 1:14

 

God’s last words in the old covenant consisted of the promise to make his home with his people. And sure enough, in the book of John, Jesus is revealed as God in human form, moving into our neighborhood.

 

But things weren’t so clear cut for the people living in those years between Joel’s final prophesy and the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ arrival. They couldn’t just turn to the next chapter to see the fulfillment—they had to wait. And wait. And wait.

 

They waited for some 400 years, in fact. Think about it—for us that would be like getting a promise in the 1600s, in the days of Galileo or Shakespeare, and not seeing the results until now. With each passing generation, it must have gotten harder for the Israelites to hold on to this promise of Immanuel, harder to feel the truth of it, harder to believe it would actually happen one day.

 

It had to be hard to live in those blank pages between the two testaments.

 

And although today we have both the BC and the AD parts of the story, we often find ourselves in a similar spot, wondering and waiting on our own blank pages between the promise and the fulfillment. We have God’s words in broad strokes—that he will save and redeem and make all things new again—but there are so many things we don’t know while we wait. What, exactly, will it look like when the promise is fulfilled? Why do we have to wait? And perhaps most of all, for how long?

 

I don’t want to grow weary as I wait. I don’t want to forget the promise. I don’t want my belief to fade into little more than a distant memory. I want to wait well.

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Make your home among us. And in the meantime, let us wait with patience and hope whenever we find ourselves on the blank pages in between.

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.