Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

10 Minutes with God: The Way of Salvation February 11, 2014

Filed under: Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 8:08 am
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This week I wrap up my writing of the online devotions for my church. After being immersed in Psalm 119 for the past six weeks, I have a new appreciation for this longest chapter of the Bible and a deeper love for God’s Word.

 

Here’s a peek at today’s devotion:

 

airplane

 

Imagine you’re a pilot, taking your small plane out for a quick flight. When you took off earlier in the day, the sun was shining and conditions seemed ideal for flying. But now the wind is starting to pick up, and before you know it, a dense fog has rolled in. Visibility is low, and it’s becoming more difficult to see landmarks—particularly the horizon.

 

Then it happens: suddenly your body is saying you’re going one direction, while the instruments are telling another story.

 

You’re heard warnings about this before—spatial disorientation, they call it. Which voice will you believe? Your inner ear, which is convinced that you’re flying straight, or the plane’s instrument panel, which clearly says you’re banking left? What will you use as your standard to determine which way is up? Your choice could very likely mean the difference between life and death. . . .

 

To keep reading, click here. And to hear the audio version, read by me and recorded by the talented Daniel Rische, click here. May you, too, fall in love with God’s Word! 

 

10 Minutes with God: Obedience February 7, 2014

Filed under: Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 12:28 pm
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I had the privilege of writing the devotions for my church’s website again this week. Here’s a peek at one of the posts about obeying God’s commands.

 

ocean2

 

Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.

—Psalm 119:5-6

 

Let’s just say for a moment that the standard for getting into heaven is being able to long-jump all the way across the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. (It’s not, of course, but just humor me for a moment here.) Imagine that the standard has been set, and everyone knows the expectation. Some people train for this moment from early childhood, building their muscles and doing exercises to improve their jumping abilities. Some athletic types are inherently better suited for the event than others. And some people have longer legs, giving them an inborn advantage over their peers.

 

When it comes time to jump, however, no one could ever come close. Maybe the person with short legs who hadn’t trained at all would make it a few feet. Perhaps the person with the strong quads would make it a foot farther than the average person. And maybe the Olympic long jumper would set a world record, launching his body a whopping 29 ½ feet.

 

But do you know what? It wouldn’t matter, because none of them would come anywhere near the goal. None of them would get far enough to even see the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, let alone jump there. Even if one person jumped three times as far as everyone else, they would all be so far from the target that the difference would be practically indiscernible. Whether you made it one foot across the ocean or 30, the more important issue is the thousands of nautical miles you have yet to go.

 

To read the rest of the devotion (or to listen to the audio), click here.

 

10 Minutes with God, Part 2 January 28, 2014

Filed under: Scripture Reflections — Stephanie Rische @ 7:59 am
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I had the privilege of writing the devotions for my church’s series on Psalm 119 again last week. The theme for the week was “The Way of Understanding.”

 

Here’s a peek at the beginning of one of the devotions:

 

compass

 

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

—Psalm 119:130

 

As we look back over the course of human history, it’s striking how universal the quest is to find direction for our lives.

 

Horoscopes and the zodiac calendar have been around since the sixth century BC as methods of divination.

According to some estimates, Americans spend about $300 million a year on psychic hotlines.

Around one million Magic 8 balls are sold each year.

 

These attempts at seeking guidance range from pure nonsense to practices God has specifically commanded his people not to dabble in. But their very existence indicates two truths about human nature: (1) we want someone wiser than we are to show us the way and (2) we want the quick answer, the shortcut….

 

To read more, you can click here. You can listen to the audio version here.

 

 

God’s Favorite January 24, 2014

Have you ever wondered if God plays favorites? I’m over at Pick Your Portion today, writing about Genesis 25.

Gods favorite

 

Time magazine recently ran a cover story with the evocative title “Why Mom Liked You Best.” In it Jeffrey Kluger makes the claim that all parents—even those who vehemently deny it—have a favorite child. Since Kulger’s Time article came out, scientists, psychologists, and parents have engaged in heated discussion about whether this is indeed the case for all parents. It may be difficult to prove his theory scientifically, but there is no denying that parental favoritism has been around since nearly the dawn of time.

 

In ancient Greece and Rome, parents who knew they couldn’t care for all their children would commit infanticide, killing their newborn daughters in favor of their sons.

 

Princess Amelia, the youngest of George III and Queen Charlotte’s fifteen children, was widely known to be her father’s favorite, and she was treated as such from her birth.

 

Author Charles Dickens felt the effects of not being the favored child. His family didn’t have enough money to send both him and his older sister to school, so they sent his sister to school while he slaved away in boot-blacking factory.

 

But perhaps one of the most well-known cases of parental favoritism dates back to the book of Genesis.

 

To read the rest of the piece, you can visit Pick Your Portion here.

 

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

 

6 Gifts You Need This Christmas December 20, 2013

Filed under: Christmas — Stephanie Rische @ 8:07 am
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The words of the great prophecy came not in a time of triumph, trumpeted from the rooftop of a palace or on a victorious battleground. Instead, they were whispered in the dark, underneath the rumblings of an enemy invasion and a sweeping defeat. They trickled underground, slow and quiet, to a people huddled in the cold—a people whose hopes had been crushed, whose candle had all but been extinguished.

 

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

—Isaiah 9:2

lights2

 

Today Christmas meets us wherever we are, too, whether in a patch of light and joy, or stumbling along without a lantern, trying to fend off the encroaching darkness. And so this Christmas, here are the six gifts all of us need—the six gifts I wish for you, no matter how dark the night may be.

 

For those times when life is a gerbil wheel and you find yourself going through the motions day after day, wondering where the joy went . . . may you know Him as WONDERFUL.

 

For the times when you’re seeking clarity, but all the paths before you are overgrown with weeds . . . may you know Him as COUNSELOR.

 

For the times when you feel powerless, trampled down by the very ones who were supposed to protect you . . . may you know Him as MIGHTY GOD.

 

For the times when you have to say good-bye too soon . . . may you know Him as EVERLASTING.

 

For the times when you are lonely and scared and longing for someone who will love you unconditionally . . . may you know Him as FATHER.

 

For the times when your world is spinning faster than you can keep up, with your soul close behind . . . may you know Him as the PRINCE OF PEACE.

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.

and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

—Isaiah 9:6

 

lights1

 

Do You Want to Get Well? November 12, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 7:59 am
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My nemesis has always been the easy question, the short answer.

 

In school, I despised true/false questions on tests. I’d have been happy to write you an essay, but heaven forbid I had to nail it down to one lousy word. I always managed to overthink it—agonizing over nuances, seeking out potential loopholes, and doing mental gymnastics until my mind (and my eraser) wore thin.

 

When I’m taking opinion surveys, I get equally stressed by number rankings. On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the service? Out of five stars, how much did you like the book? On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling? Again, I could give you a full narrative, brimming with details, but for the love, please don’t make me commit to a cold, hard number.

 

Now that I’m married to a man who is economical with his words, I’ve noticed this pattern of mine rearing its head in less than flattering ways. He’ll ask me a simple question requiring a one-word answer (Yes? No?) and I’ll tell him a story instead, leaving him adrift to translate my answer into checkboxes.

 

The problem seems to be the worst when it comes to admitting I need help. My servant-hearted husband asks things like:

 

Do you need me to run any other errands?

Would you like me to parallel-park the car?

What else needs to be cleaned?

Can I help you?

 

And what should I do in these situations? I should whip out my short answers of YES PLEASE and THANK YOU. But instead I make excuses, give explanations, try to pretend I can handle all of it, all the time.

 healing3

 

I’m sure I’ve read the account of Jesus healing the blind man a bunch of times since my Sunday school days, but something new struck me when I recently read it again.

 

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

—John 5:6-7

 

Did you catch that? Jesus asks him a simple question—Would you like to get well?—and the guy answers a different question altogether, explaining why it’s impossible.

 

The answer is YES, dude. Yes, you want to get well.

 

Take it from someone who tends to get it wrong: if Jesus asks you if you want to be healed, don’t make excuses. Don’t tell him why it’s impossible. Don’t list all the reasons it won’t work. Don’t go on and on with a story. Just say yes, and let him figure out the rest.

 

So what about our own ailments? Not all of us are battling physical blindness, but there’s no doubt something we need healing from.

 

Do you want to be healed from the worry that plagues you when the clock is stuck at 2 a.m.?

 

Do you want to be healed from the fear that chokes you from spreading your wings to do the very thing you were made to do?

 

Do you want to be healed from the unforgiveness that’s gnawing away at your gut?

 

Do you want to be healed from the wound that was left by the betrayal, the unkind words, the severed relationship?

 

YES. The answer is yes—you want to be well, and so do I. That doesn’t mean all our prayers will magically be answered just the way we want them to. But Jesus is asking. He is ready to heal.

 

Will you say YES?

healing1

 

The Mother-Love of God May 13, 2013

Filed under: God's love — Stephanie Rische @ 1:24 pm
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My friend Sarah had a baby shower not long ago, and I was asked to share something before gift-opening time. I found myself stymied at first, not knowing firsthand what it’s like to be a mom, but as I pondered more, I realized I do know what it’s like to have a mom. I’ve been given the incomparable gift of a mom whose unconditional love has pointed me to the love of God. So whether you are a mom or have had a mom, I’d like to share Sarah’s shower message with you.

***

When we think about God, we usually picture him as a Father, and it’s true—he’s everything a good dad should be: loving, protective, strong, fair in his discipline. But who knew? The Bible also says that God is like a mother. Apparently there’s something about the love of a mom that shows us a side of God’s character nothing else can.

 

1. Like a mom, God loves his children before they’re even born.

Sarah, when you and John announced that you were expecting a baby, the room could barely contain your excitement. We could tell how overjoyed you were about this little person, even before you met her. Even when you were so sick you could barely get out of bed, you were already forming a special connection with her. The truth was obvious to the world: you loved your little girl.

 

God feels the same way about us, his children. He knew us even before we were born, just as he knows your baby girl even now, all four pounds of her. He knows every little detail about her—what color her eyes will be, if she’ll be musical or artistic or social, what will make her giggle, what will make her cry, what will make her heart pound with passion, what will make her heart break. And God loves her, even now.

 

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body

and knit me together in my mother’s womb….

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

—Psalm 139:13, 16-17

 Kruse3

 

2. Like a mom, God loves his children when they’re completely dependent on him.

Sarah, when that baby is placed in your arms in the hospital, the love will be a little one-sided at first. She won’t be able to pay you for taking care of her, she won’t be able to do any chores around the house to earn her keep, she won’t even be able to say thank you. But you know what? You’ll love her anyway, even though she can’t reciprocate your love.

That unconditional mother-love is the kind of love God has for us. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, and we’re totally dependent on him. Yet he showers his love on us anyway.

 

Can a mother forget her nursing child?

Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

I would not forget you!
—Isaiah 49:15

kruse2

 

3. Like a mom, God loves his children as they grow up.

Sarah, as your daughter grows up and starts to spread her wings, your love for her will only grow deeper. The way you show her love will look different—you won’t be changing her diaper or feeding her mashed peas anymore—but your love won’t change. You’ll always be her mom.

 

Psalm 131 talks about the beautiful bond that takes place between a mother and a child when the child chooses to be close—not because they need something, but just because they love their mom.

 

I have calmed and quieted myself,

like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.

Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
—Psalm 131:2

 

Sarah, I see that in your relationship with your own mom. You talk with her, you laugh with her, you share things with her—not just when you need something, but because she’s your friend. The same is true in our relationship with God. He wants us to come to him with our needs, yes, but he also delights when we come to him simply because we want to be in his presence. Like a weaned child.

 

So, Sarah, as you enter motherhood and as your daughter goes through each stage, I pray that you will grow in your love for her. And along the way, I pray that God will give you new glimpses into his own love. His unconditional, extravagant, mother-like love.

***

Postscript: Sarah and John’s baby girl, Hannah, entered the world two months ago. Happy first Mother’s Day, Sarah!

 

SarahK

 

April Book Discussion May 3, 2013

rachel1

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club for April (which I introduced here). April’s selection was The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.

 

I’ll throw out some discussion topics, and you can post your feedback in the comments section—about these topics or about other things you’d like to talk about.

 

Discussion #1: Nailing the Issues

In my estimation, this book’s greatest strength is that it hits on hot-button issues for Christian women and starts a much-needed conversation. As I flipped to the table of contents, I was struck by how many of the topics evoked visceral reactions in me (modesty, submission, purity, fertility). I don’t think I’m alone in this—these are charged issues for many women because some churches have a history of coming down hard and graceless in these areas. I appreciate that this book encourages us to be intentional as we contemplate what biblical womanhood really looks like—what’s culture, what’s tradition, and what’s truly biblical.

“We dishonor the original intent and purpose of the Epistles when we assume they were written in a vacuum.” (p. 260)

 

Throughout these pages, Rachel extends an invitation to the Church to allow God to be creative in the way he gifts and equips women. She says that women can follow God in ways that look different for each person and encourages us to make use of our gifts, even the ones that aren’t traditionally seen as “feminine.”

“The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.” (p. 295)

 

Are any of the topics addressed in this book hot-button issues for you? How do you feel the Church has handled these topics—both historically and now?

 

Discussion #2: Entertainment Value

I’m a sucker for books about people who sign up to make their everyday lives an experiment, so I enjoyed Rachel’s premise. I appreciated her sense of humor in her retelling of events—especially her Martha Stewart cooking adventures, her backyard camping trip, and her introduction to parenting with Baby Chip.

 

What did you think of Rachel’s experiment? Would you ever embark on a similar journey?

 rachel2

Discussion #3: A “Slap-Bang” Approach

Having read my share of A. J. Jacobs, I was hoping Rachel would really dive in and explore biblical womanhood. Some of her experiments felt gimmicky and halfhearted—something of a “slap-bang” approach, to borrow her mom’s phrase.

 

On a related note, I would have liked to see more nuanced arguments to engage a conservative perspective. I usually agreed with her nuggets of wisdom at the end of each chapter, but it felt like she set up straw men at the opposite extreme (polygamists, misogynists, the Amish) without exploring what a more balanced approach might look like. Her claims stemmed from a pragmatic starting point (what worked for her), not from a biblical standpoint. For example, this is where she lands in the submission chapter:

“Life happened, and Dan and I quickly realized that we functioned best as a team of equal partners.” (p. 204)

 

It feels too easy to me to brush off parts of the Bible because they don’t “work.” After all, carrying your cross doesn’t seem like a particularly practical premise to build a religion on. How do you distinguish what scriptural teachings are unchanging standards and which ones are relevant only for a rachel5particular cultural context?

 

Discussion #4: The Highlight

My favorite chapter is the one on valor. Rachel offers authentic, credible insights into Proverbs 31 that I found freeing and life giving.

“Eschet chayil [woman of valor] is at its core a blessing—one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally.” (p. 88)

 

See my post here for more thoughts on women of valor.

 

Did you have a favorite part of the book or something that particularly resonated with you?

 

 

Rating

I commend Rachel for bringing these tough topics to the forefront of conversation among Christian women, and for that I say to her, “Eschet chayil!” Even so, I would have liked to see a more balanced, wholehearted approach. I would give this book 3 stars.

3 stars

 

 

 

 

What rating would you give this book?

 

{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}

 

Women of Valor March 26, 2013

I don’t know about you, but every time I read Proverbs 31, I feel tired. Maybe a little incredulous too (Seriously? This woman wakes up early, stays up late, weaves blankets, cooks, works outside the home, helps the needy, makes savvy business deals, wears a purple dress she made herself, and then probably posts it all on Pinterest? Who is this woman?).

 

Mostly, though, I just feel weary. And then I skip over to the next book in the Bible (Ecclesiastes) to remind myself that everything is meaningless anyway.

 

But I’m currently reading The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, and she has given me a new perspective on the Proverbs 31 woman.

rachel1

Apparently this chapter was written as an acrostic poem, intended as an ode to honor women, not a bunch of to-dos. In Jewish culture, this wasn’t a checklist for women to strive for; instead, men praised women with the phrase “Eshet Chayil” (“Woman of Valor”), taken from the first line of the poem.

 

In other words, this depiction isn’t intended to describe one woman, and it certainly isn’t meant to capture a single day of her life. Rather, it’s a shout-out to all women.

So today I want to take a moment to acknowledge all of you women of valor out there. I see you, and I honor you.

 

You give of yourself—your talents, your time, your tears—and usually do it without getting much thanks. Eshet Chayil!

 

You wipe bottoms and blow noses and get up in the middle of the night. Eshet Chayil!

 

You work inside your home and outside your home, in your career and in your kitchen and in your relationships, and my guess is that you’re tired. Eshet Chayil!

 

You are fierce in your love, zealous in your protection, tenacious in your prayers. Eshet Chayil!

 

You hug well, you comfort well, you bring life and goodness and joy. Eshet Chayil!

mom and me

You don’t know it, but you shine. So here’s to you, you Woman of Valor! Eshet Chayil!

 

***

P.S. A special Eshet Chayil to my mom, Cindy, who just celebrated her birthday. Mom, you showed me when to stand up for myself and when to stay on my knees. You showed me how to how to make homemade snickerdoodle cookies and when to rip open a box of Keeblers. You taught me that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. You showed me how to follow through, how to clean an oven, how to knit a family together, how to giggle on waterslides, and how to fall in love with God’s Word. No woman fulfills the entire Proverbs 31 picture, but I have to say that you come pretty close. Happy Birthday, Mom of Valor!