Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

10 Minutes with God January 10, 2014

Filed under: Psalms,Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 8:00 am
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Over the past week, I’ve had the privilege of writing daily reflections about Psalm 119 for my church’s 10 Minutes with God initiative. You can read the devotions (or listen to an audio recording of me reading them) here.

 

psalm 119-1

 

Here are some things I’ve been learning along the way:

  • Did you know that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible?
  • Did you know that Psalm 119 mentions God’s Word in some form in all but one of the 176 verses?
  • Um, really? That’s what my voice sounds like?
  • There are apparently a lot of words I know how to read in my head but don’t know how to pronounce out loud. My apologies to Noah Webster and my first grade phonics teacher for any butchering of the English language.

 

Here’s a sneak peek from one of this week’s devotions:

 

The Way of Truth

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
—Psalm 119:103

 

If you looked down the aisles at a grocery store, you’d likely find a smattering of products with the word delight in them: Kellogg’s Chocolatey Delight Crisps, International Delight Iced Coffee, Quaker True Delights Bars, Yoplait Parfait Delights, Hershey’s Air Delight Kisses, and the list goes on.

 

Likewise, if you leafed through the pages of a cookbook, you’d find countless recipes featuring the word as well (allrecipes.com turned up 917 results with the word delight in the title—everything from Chocolate Delight to Raspberry Delight to Turkish Delight).

 

It seems that in our culture, delight is something we tend to associate with food, with our taste buds, with sweetness.

 

And in a way, that’s precisely what the psalmist says about taking delight in God’s Word. In part of his long prayer to God in Psalm 119, he exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

 

Stay tuned—I’ll be writing the devotions to go along with this whole sermon series (for the next five weeks).

 

psalm 119-3

 

A Chronic Case of Bible Reading July 20, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 12:21 pm
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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.

 

Why God Loves a Good Story June 5, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
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Oh great, here we go again… My little brother and I shot a glance at each other across Grandma and Grandpa’s extended dining room table. Dinner was long over, but we sensed that the aunts and uncles were gearing up for yet another nostalgic storytelling marathon.

 

We were antsy to be excused so we could play games or explore the basement with its endless hiding places. But we knew that once the stories started flowing, one tale would lead seamlessly into the next, and we’d be trapped at the table all evening.

 

My dad is one of 12 children in his family, all within an 18-year span. As kids, they pretty much had free reign of the outdoors, so there’s no shortage of wild tales. There’s the infamous account of the time they caught a rattlesnake and put it in the binocular case for safekeeping, the time they lowered my uncle Danny through the second-story window—in his underwear—during bridge club, and the time they launched off the swing into a trash can filled with water.

 

Then there were the countless trips to the ER—the time the tricycle ramp experiment went awry and Aunt Ruthie broke her arm, the time Uncle Paul ended up with stitches in his head after swimming in the off-limits city fountain. And of course there was the time they tried to cross the swollen Yakima River in an old playpen.

 

We grandkids heard the same stories over and over from the time we were old enough to sit at the table, and even the most dramatic of the tales had become commonplace. Nothing changed in the retelling, except perhaps for a few embellished details here and there, or my poor grandmother’s fresh horror at the things her children had kept from her until they figured they were no longer in danger of a spanking.

 

It wasn’t until recently, when we started adding in-laws to the family mix, that I started to appreciate our “family canon” of stories. With fresh ears to hear the antics of our fearless (if slightly masochistic) relatives, the post-dinner storytelling sessions became the highlight of our get-togethers. My siblings and I suddenly found ourselves itching to tell the stories too—begging our aunts and uncles to fill in the latest in-law about one event or another, and interjecting any details they might have left out.

 

Recently in my Bible reading I came across this passage in Psalm 78, which talks about a family canon of sorts:

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.

 

It strikes me how important it was to the Israelites to pass on stories to the next generation. They wanted to leave their children and their children’s children with a spiritual legacy—the stories of God’s faithfulness and miracles in their lives. I imagine there were times when the kids rolled their eyes long after their lentil stew was gone, thinking, Oh great, here we go again… Those stories, nevertheless, became woven into the fabric of their souls. And I have to believe that as the younger generation grew older and as more place settings were added around the table, those stories started to take on an even richer meaning than before.

 

I wonder about my own spiritual canon of stories. Do I keep a record of the times God has come through for me and worked in powerful ways in my life? Am I sharing those stories with the next generation?

He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.

 

I guess that means I’d better be ready to share my “God stories” with my niece and nephew, my godson, my friends’ kids, the girls I mentor, and anyone else God may bring into my life. Chances are they’ll roll their eyes at some point and think, Oh great, here we go again… But I’ll just imagine that big dining room table at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And I’ll tell the stories. Again.

 

Question: What story in your spiritual canon do you need share today?

 

{This photo is of my dad, his parents, and his siblings, recreating the dinner table seating arrangement from when they were kids.}

 

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.

 

{Note: A version of this story originally appeared on Kyria.com.}

 

Saying Grace June 1, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:11 am
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Whenever we ate a family meal at my grandparents’ house, there were two things I could always count on: Grandma’s homemade rolls (accompanied by jam made with raspberries from their garden) and Grandpa’s trademark prayer before we ate. Without fail, he’d quote these verses from the Psalms:

 

The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

—Psalm 145:15-16

 

His voice was resonant, backed by a rock-solid faith. It was the same prayer his own parents and his grandparents before them had said around the table, only they’d spoken the blessing in German. I confess that as a kid, I’d open my eyes during the prayer just so I could see Gramps’s face, a mysterious blend of humility and confidence.

 

Gramps grew up on a farm without much money—he loved telling us grandkids stories about how his family made do without electricity and running water until he was well into his teen years and how he and his cousin had to create their own Monopoly game out of cardboard and scrap paper. But he believed in hard work and education, and he managed to clock enough hours on the job to put himself and his three daughters through college.

 

Yet through it all, he never credited his abilities or his hard work for the provision. He knew that everything he and his family had, including the meal on the table, was a gift from the open hand of God.

 

I’m ashamed to say that in the thousands of times I’ve “said grace,” I’ve never thought through what that actually means. Sure, I’ve made it a habit to pause and thank God for the food, but I tend to miss the fact that each meal is indeed grace—undeserved blessing from the hand of God. Maybe I cooked it myself and maybe it was my paycheck that bought the groceries, but on deeper reflection, I have to admit that it was my Creator who gave me the hands to chop the onions, a mind to read the recipe. And he’s the one who gave us the ability and the opportunity to bring home the proverbial bacon in the first place.

 

***

The last time I was at my grandparents’ house, Gramps wasn’t the same man I used to know. He now suffers from dementia, and although he is as quick as ever with a witty pun or a compliment about how lovely I look, he can no longer remember why he walked into the kitchen or how I’m related to him.

 

But when it came time to pray, he knew just what to say:

 

The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season….

 

I opened my eyes as Gramps prayed, just as I’d done as a child, so I could memorize his face. Still faithful, after all these years. Yes Lord, I echoed silently. Our eyes look expectantly to you, even now. Even in this season.

 

I’ve always loved this quote by G. K. Chesterton:

 

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

 

Chesterton knew what Grandpa knows: grace isn’t just meant to be received; it’s also meant to be said. Not so much for God’s sake, to tickle his ears, but as a reminder for us. There’s something about the saying of the grace, about acknowledging it out loud, that makes it more real.

 

Whether I’m sitting at the dinner table or at the opera, may I never forget to speak the grace. And may I never forget—through every day, in every season—the one who faithfully opens his hand to us.

 

Note: This is a picture of my mom with Gramps, taken last May.

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 the Romantic May 30, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:12 am
Tags: , ,

It was the longest my husband, Daniel, and I had been apart since we got married—approximately 61 hours (not that I was keeping track). I’d been out of town for work, and although the conference was well worth my while, by the time my coworker dropped me off at my car, I was ready to be heading home.

 

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked to my right and saw a guy on a bicycle. Wow, I thought, that looks a lot like Daniel’s bike. I checked to see if the light had changed, then glanced at the cyclist again. Hmm, he’s built a lot like Daniel too. I did a double take. Wait…that IS Daniel!

 

Sure enough, he had ridden the 20 miles from our home just so he could see me at the soonest possible moment. On a pragmatic level, it didn’t make much sense. All that time and energy could have been poured into something more productive, more practical. Something that would have offered a more tangible payoff than merely the look of shock and wonder on my face.

 

Once we got Daniel’s bicycle loaded in the back of my car and the decibel level of my squealing came to a decrescendo, we headed home together. The sun was just starting to set, and we were driving straight toward it. It was one of those skies you’d be hard pressed to describe with definable colors, even with the help of one of those 150-crayon Crayola boxes. The clouds out the passenger window were on fire with iridescent oranges and yellows. Straight ahead, rays of light were bursting through a curtain of purply clouds.

 

And in that moment I was reminded that, like Daniel, our Creator is a romantic. Sure, he made this world operational and scientifically coherent, but I appreciate that he also made it beautiful. Impractically so. He could have made a perfectly functional black-and-white world…one without sunsets and 20,000 varieties of daisies and 339 species of hummingbirds.

 

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
—Psalm 8:3-4

 

I have to wonder if God, too, delights in surprising us. He must figure it’s worth all the effort to create something so breathtaking that we are jolted out of our routine, forced to double-take, compelled to look at him with fresh eyes.

 

That night as our car rolled westward, I found myself amazed that the Creator-God, who could have been doing anything at all in our great big universe, would choose, in that moment, to be with “mere mortals” like us.

 

In the presence of such majesty, we can only join with David in his psalm of praise:

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

—Psalm 8:9

***

Question: What part of God’s creation causes you to do a double-take?

 

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.

 

 

Songs of Lament May 25, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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As I’m reading the Psalms, one of my favorite things is how emotionally honest they are. David and the other psalm writers don’t whitewash their feelings—they put them out there, raw and “unspiritual” though they may be. Some psalms soar in choruses of joy; others pound out refrains of anger. And then there are the ones that are pretty much sobs put to paper.

 

At least 50 of the Psalms fall into that last category. These songs of anguish are frequently referred to as laments—cries of grief intended to go straight to the Lord’s ears. I recently heard this definition of a lament from Gregg DeMey, a pastor in Chicago: “To lament is to tell the difficult truth to someone who loves you in the hope that it will make a difference.”

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
—Psalm 31:9-10

 

How often do I get at least one of the pieces of that definition wrong? Sometimes I’m not transparent with God, and my prayer never gets past the surface to how I’m really feeling. Or maybe at times I tell him the difficult truth, but I don’t really think he cares. Or maybe, if I’m honest, I’m not convinced he can do anything about it.

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of these laments is the way they tend to make an emotional pivot before the psalm wraps up. Despair turns to hope. Fear turns to faith. Doubt turns to praise.

But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
—Psalm 31:14-15

 

So how do we get to that crucial but? How can we turn the corner from lament to trust? I’m noticing a surprising trend in these laments: while they begin with I, they tend to land closer to we. When I’m hurting, my default is to shrink inward, turtle-like. But if these psalms are any indication, we need community to process pain.

Love the Lord, all you godly ones!…
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord!
—Psalm 31:23-24

 

Here’s a challenge for all of us in the week ahead: Let’s tell God the difficult truth. Knowing that he loves us. In the hope that it will make a difference. And let’s not do it alone.

 

***

Question: Which part of lament do you find the trickiest?

 

The Joy of “Again!” May 22, 2012

Filed under: 2 Samuel,Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:06 am
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“I can’t go to sleep, Daddy,” Lyla said. “My heart is crying.”

My brother and his family were on vacation in Florida, and he’d gone in to check on my three-year-old niece, who was supposed to be napping.

He put his hand on the top of her head. “Why is your heart crying?”

“My heart wants to go in the water. It won’t stop crying until it can go swimming again.”

Never mind the fact that she’d been splashing in the pool all day yesterday, she’d been out the entire morning that day, and tomorrow would be more of the same. Her little heart never tired of this bliss. Again, Daddy!

I have to confess that at this point I’m getting a bit bogged down in my chronological reading. Yes, I love the fact that the psalms are right next to the events that inspired them, and David has enough drama to put Days of Our Lives to shame. The part that’s getting to me is the repetition.

Ever since I hit the book of 2 Samuel, I’ve been getting waves of scriptural déjà vu. About halfway through my daily readings, I find myself stopping to wonder, Didn’t I just read that? And then I realize I’m getting the story a second time, this time from the 1 Chronicles perspective.

I wish I could say I jump at the chance to ingest these truths a second time around, soaking them in over my cup of coffee, but that’s not how things typically pan out. I find myself skimming the repeated sections, my mind wandering toward my ever-lurking to-do list. My sense of efficiency takes offense at such repetition.

 

But my brother’s story stops me short. Is this what it means to have a childlike faith? To be a child, after all, is to love repetition, to be fully present in the moment. To be a child is to beg your father, “Again! Again!”

G. K. Chesterton poses the idea that children may be onto something spiritual in their love of repetition:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough….It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I just read David’s song of praise twice—once from 2 Samuel and once from the Psalms. But this time when I got to the repeated bits, I tried to approach them like a child—with delight in the repetition.

I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name. . . .
You show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.
—2 Samuel 22:50-51

I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name. . . .
You show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.
—Psalm 18:49-50

May I take my cue from little Lyla: Again, Daddy! Again!

***

 

Question: What do the little people in your life teach you about childlike faith?

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.