Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Grace on the Streets of Bangkok March 20, 2012

Filed under: Leviticus — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
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Jubilee. The word itself sounds like a party on the tongue.

This celebration is spelled out in the book of Leviticus: once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, every fifty years all debts would be forgiven, all slaves would be released, and there would be “freedom throughout the land for all who live there” (Leviticus 25:10). That year would be set apart as holy, and no work was to be done on the land for an entire year.

I can just imagine servants checking days off on a calendar, longing for the year of Jubilee, when their time of captivity would finally be over. Since the Jubilee came just twice in a century, most people probably experienced only one in a lifetime. Maybe the younger generation heard rumblings about the previous celebration and looked forward to the next one with great anticipation, half wondering if it was too good to be true.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a slave desperately longing for freedom. But I once got a glimpse of something similar through the eyes of a young woman on the streets of Bangkok.

I was on a short-term trip to Thailand, working with an organization that helps free women from the sex industry in Bangkok’s red-light district. Our group’s ultimate goal was to connect women to the ministry and let them know another way of life was available to them.

We did that by buying women out for the night so they wouldn’t have to work. For the equivalent of $20 in US currency, the woman (or in most cases, young girl) would be free to go home and just be a human being, with no pressure to belong to another person for the evening.

I’ll never forget the look on Buk’s face when our group bought her out the first night we were there. She kept trying to figure out what the catch was, what our hidden agenda was. Surely this was too good to be true. But when we finally got through to her that we’d paid her bar fee simply because we wanted to show her God’s love—because we, too, had been set free, redeemed—her smile was so bright it dimmed the garish neon lights of the strip.

I wouldn’t have been able to put it into words then, but I know now what I was seeing. Buk’s face told her own tale of Jubilee, if only for one night.

I don’t know where Buk is today, but I pray that one day she will experience permanent Jubilee—the eternal freedom we can experience knowing that Jesus paid the fee—for all of us.

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.


God as Party Planner March 16, 2012

Filed under: Leviticus — Stephanie Rische @ 8:09 am
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When I think of my favorite family memories, I’m struck by how many of them revolve around holiday traditions. My siblings and I are grown up now (chronologically speaking), but we hold as tightly as ever to those old nostalgic habits whenever a holiday rolls around.

There’s the annual Turkey Bowl football game, played by three generations of family members; the “midnight moonlight walk” every Christmas Eve, when we get bundled up for a hike in the woods, whatever the weather; the New Year’s Eve time capsule, where we make outlandish predictions for the year ahead; and of course the egg-cracking contest that happens around the table at Easter brunch, complete with brackets and elimination rounds.

As I was making my way through Leviticus, with all its rules about sacrificial offerings, clean and unclean foods, purification rites, and even regulations about mold, I have to admit my eyes were glazing over a bit. So I was sufficiently taken off guard when I hit Leviticus 23. In the midst of all the talk of laws and consequences, God had another command for his people: declare a national holiday! (Seven, for that matter.)

It’s easy for me to think of God (especially as he appears in the Old Testament) as a rule maker, an enforcer, a judge. But a party planner? Hardly.

As I reflected on the celebration instructions God gave his people, it occurred to me that he knows we aren’t made to work nonstop, going through the motions day in and day out. He also knows that left to our own devices, we’ll just keep trudging along in the everyday, not taking the time to pause and appreciate the things he’s done and the people he’s placed around us. So he encourages us—no, commands us—to celebrate.

The word celebrate is used six times in one chapter: “Celebrate,” God tells his people. “Celebrate each year”; “be careful to celebrate”; “celebrate with joy” (Leviticus 23).

I’m not sure God had family football specifically in mind, but I do think he envisioned the memories, the laughter, the connections that occur when families and friends gather together.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’d best get to work on organizing the bracket for that egg-cracking contest in a few weeks….

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.


Counterintuitive Washing March 13, 2012

Filed under: Leviticus — Stephanie Rische @ 4:51 pm
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One of my pet peeves about winter in the Midwest is the salty cars. Specifically, my salty car. (Yes, I know it’s currently 70 degrees outside, but I haven’t quite made it to the carwash yet.) At any rate, it isn’t uncommon for me, about halfway through the workday, to look down and realize my black pants have inadvertently brushed against my dirty car.

As someone who grew up with all the glories and messes of the four seasons, it isn’t hard for me to relate to a certain aspect of the regulations about sacrifices described in Leviticus: the idea that once something clean touches something unclean, the once clean object or person is now defiled (Leviticus 5:2-3).

I’ve been around long enough to know that when a mud-splattered puppy bolts through the living room, it’s not the freshly vacuumed carpet that rubs off on the dog; rather, the rug takes on the dirt and grime. When a kid falls onto the grass in his brand-new pants, it’s the pants that get the stain, not the other way around. And it’s not that different with sin, I suppose. If sin so much as sneezes in my direction (whether I’m seeking it out or not), I know I’ll get its tainting effects on me.

So as I read God’s instructions to the priests about the impure making the pure dirty, it made sense to me. That’s just the way our world works. But I stopped in my tracks when I got to this part: “Anyone or anything that touches these offerings will become holy” (Leviticus 6:18).  Now this doesn’t jive with my understanding of the world. How could touching something pure cleanse something that was dirty?

That is, I suppose, the counterintuitive nature of grace.

Thankfully, we no longer live under the system of animal sacrifices. But it is much the same for us today. When I come into contact with Jesus, the pure and perfect Sacrifice, he isn’t tainted by my uncleanness, my sin. Instead, I am made clean and whole by touching him. It’s only then that I can stand confidently before a holy God.

My soul’s own carwash. Spot free.

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.