Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

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.

 

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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:

 

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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.

 

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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).

 

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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

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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

 

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Surprise Me! October 29, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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I love going places with my sister where there is ordering of any sort involved. That’s because almost without fail, when she places her order, she drops the line “Surprise me” at some point in the conversation.

 

If she’s getting a cappuccino and the barista asks what flavor she’d like, Meghan will give her trademark dimpled grin and say, “Surprise me!” If she’s ordering a salad and is offered various dressing options, her response is the same: “Surprise me!” If I’m getting her something to drink out of Mom’s fridge, I can almost guarantee her refrain will echo once again: “Surprise me!”

 

I always stare at her, wide eyed. “What if you get something you don’t like?”

 

She just flashes a grin at me and shrugs. “That’s part of the fun of the surprise.”

 

Me, I’m a planner. I like to map it all out, write a script. I cling to the illusion of control. Truth be told, I’d rather do the surprising than the being surprised.

 

But this sister of mine, she lives with her arms wide open. She embraces life, holds out her hands to accept the surprises God has for her, just the way she does with her coffee.

 

So when the time approached for Meghan’s baby to born, I should have expected that this surprise-loving sister of mine would make room for as many surprises as possible.

 

“Girl or boy?” I asked over the phone, breathless, after her ultrasound.

 

“We’re going to be surprised!” she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

 

“What names are you thinking about?”

 

“We’re keeping it a surprise!”

 

And of course, the details of the birth itself were a surprise. Two days before her due date, Meghan went to the doctor. “You’re progressing right along,” he said. “It should be any day now.”

 

But the next day nothing happened. And nothing the next day either, or the day after, or the whole week after.

 

And then, ten days past her due date, just when the doctor was ready to speed things along, surprise! The baby decided to make a grand appearance. And the new mom and dad unwrapped their surprise package right there in their hospital room…a little gift of a girl named Addie Mae.

 

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And when I first looked into the face of that sweet surprise, I wondered what other surprises God might have up his sleeve. What do I miss out on when I try to make the plan and script it all out myself?

 

This little girl, this eight-pound bundle, she is teaching me already. Her life whispers, as soft as breathing, This is life! This is joy! This is a whole new world of divine surprises.

 

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So here I am, God, with my eyes squeezed shut and my arms wide open. Surprise me.

 

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Gospel Story: Mike & Amy October 22, 2013

Filed under: Gospel Stories — Stephanie Rische @ 8:09 am
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Two of my great passions in life are helping other people share their stories and seeing God’s extraordinary grace at work in ordinary people. So when I was given the opportunity to be part of the Gospel Stories project at my church, it felt like a beautiful collision of those passions.

 

Today I’d like to share Mike and Amy’s inspiring story with you.

 

In those quiet moments, when you stand back and take an honest look at yourself—the things you regret, the ways you’ve fallen short, the people you’ve let down—what words flash before your eyes? Selfish? Dishonest? Defeated? Unforgiveable? Maybe you’re afraid that your most significant relationships have been fractured beyond repair, and even worse, you’re too far gone for God to rescue.

 

Mike has been there. He got to a point where he thought his marriage was over and he was beyond hope. But then, after he got a tangible glimpse of God’s grace through this wife, Amy, Mike came to see himself as God sees him: forgiven.

 

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. . . . But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
—Titus 3:3-5

 

You can watch the video of Mike and Amy sharing their incredible story here.

 

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Sweet Sundays: Part 6 September 20, 2013

Filed under: Sweet Sundays — Stephanie Rische @ 8:07 am
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I woke up to the sound of rain last Sunday, and the to-do list started pummeling faster and harder than the drops against the skylight.

 

  • The sink has acquired that nasty yellow scum line on it again. Must clean this afternoon.
  • When’s the last time I got in a good workout? Must connect with the treadmill at some point today.
  • Oh yeah, I’m scheduled for coffee duty at church. Must get out of bed and caffeinate the congregation.

 rain1

 

As the day wore on, the rain let up, but not so my inner taskmaster.

  • The well-meaning friend at church described the dinner she was making for her husband that night. (I couldn’t pronounce most of the ingredients, let alone do any sort of alchemy with them in the kitchen.) Must cook something more exotic than tacos tonight.
  • The freelance project deadline is looming. Must make a dent in that today.

 

But finally, ever so quietly, I heard a subtler voice beneath the deluge of my to-do list. It was a voice reminding me that today was the Sabbath. The day that flies in the face of productivity. The day that in some counterintuitive way recharges me to be whole and refreshed so I’ll be ready to face the six days ahead. The day that’s intended to be devoted to Someone else’s agenda rather than my own.

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C. S. Lewis knew what it’s like to be pummeled with “fussing and frettings” from the moment our feet hit the ground:

 

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

 

It was a battle—I’m not going to lie. For once, though, the Sabbath won, and this was a battle I was happy to lose. The sink still sports its yellow ring, the treadmill accumulated dust all day, the freelance project was categorically ignored, and I reheated leftovers for dinner. And you know what? Nobody died. The world didn’t end.

 

I’m writing this down in hopes that I’ll remember. Next time, when all the to-dos rush at me like so many wild animals, I want to take my cues from Lewis and let that larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. I invite you to join me.

 

Come on in, out of the wind . . . and rest awhile.

 

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Raspberry Harvest September 17, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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Among the mental snapshots that defined summer for me as a child were those 100-degree days at my grandparents’ house. We’d spend all day outside—playing shuffleboard, running through the sprinkler, and going boating on the river.

 

But some of my most cherished memories were the afternoons in my grandfather’s raspberry patch. I loved the sweet tang of Grandpa’s raspberries in all forms—in homemade raspberry jam, in a bowl with cream, in Grandma’s array of luscious pastries and desserts. But my favorite way to eat the raspberries was straight off the vine, under the hot desert sun.

 Grandpa 2

***

 

My grandpa’s dementia has been creeping in over the past decade or so, and his once immaculate garden has now almost entirely surrendered to weeds and grass. There are no more army-straight rows of tomatoes or cucumbers, and his herb patch is no more than a memory. But somehow his raspberry bushes are still there—still producing fruit, still offering their ripe summer gifts.

 

I went to visit my grandparents over the summer, and on one 100-degree afternoon, with the desert sun smiling down on neck just the way I remembered from my childhood, I went out to the raspberry bushes with Grandpa to fill our little green baskets.

 

Grandpa struggles with basic tasks now, and on the way from the garage to the raspberry patch, he turned to me more than once to ask, “Now what are we supposed to be doing?”

 Grandpa 1

 

But the moment we got to the raspberry bushes, his motor memory kicked in, and he started picking like the efficient gardener I remember. I’d finish a raspberry bush, feeling confident I’d gotten all the ripe ones, and Grandpa would come along behind me, quietly filling his basket with all the hidden berries I’d missed.

 

***

 

We celebrated my grandparents’ 60th anniversary while I was there, and one night at dinner, as I looked around the huge table filled with their family—all the people who wouldn’t have been possible without them—I marveled at the harvest they are reaping after more than half a century together.

 

I looked at Grandpa’s daughter and her two children who all share his love of singing and who grace others with that gift as well.

 

I looked at my cousin with the mechanically wired mind, the curiosity to take things apart and put them together again—just like Grandpa.

 

I looked at my brother—the leader with the servant-heart—and saw my grandpa reflected in another generation.

 

I looked at my sister and my cousin—the ones with the big hearts and much love for people—and felt sure Grandpa must be proud.

 

I looked at his daughters who have sacrificed much and loved their families well, just as their father before them has done.

 

And as we toasted Grandma and Grandpa with generous slices of chocolate cake, it struck me that although Grandpa isn’t able to do much sowing right now, he’s reaping a harvest of all he’s planted over these 80-plus years. All those labors of love, all the watering and tending and patience and gentle pruning—it’s paying off now in the legacy he leaves to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren.

 

So thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for all your years of faithfulness. Because of you, future generations will keep reaping what you planted. I’m so grateful to be one of the shoots tended in that soil.

 Grandpa 3

 

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

—Galatians 6:9

 

Learning to Fall September 10, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 8:16 am
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Daniel and I recently attended a family celebration in honor of his nephew’s first birthday. Colin himself was underwhelmed by the occasion (although he was pretty excited about the chocolate cake and the ensuing opportunity to make a mess with the frosting). Eventually, with some enticement from us grown-ups, he did start getting into the gifts (or at least the wrapping paper and boxes), but for the most part he didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about.

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After the birthday boy went to bed, the rest of us sat around the table reflecting on how much Colin had changed over the past year—and how much he had changed us. As we talked, it occurred to me that the celebration of the first year is as much about the people who love the kid as it is about the kid himself.

 

We went around the table listing adjectives that describe our 15 pounds of charm and came with this list: adventurous, determined, focused, sweet, flexible, curious, daring, funny, hammy, independent, cuddly. And fearless.

 

There was no question about fearless. In fact, he’d proved it earlier that day at his own party.

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Perhaps we owe Colin’s impeccable timing to the fact that he’s a bit of a ham, but sure enough, he waited to take his first steps until there was an adequate audience. Then, right between cake and presents, he stood up on the blanket in the grass and showed off his first steps to the adoring crowd, over and over again. The more we clapped and cheered him on, the braver he became, the more consecutive steps he took.

 

As I watched him learn to walk—toppling to the side, lunging forward into his mom’s arms, or plopping backward with only his diaper for padding—I thought how smart God is to have us learn this rather treacherous skill as babies. Colin doesn’t have enough life experience yet to be afraid. He doesn’t know that falling and failing are pretty much guaranteed when you’re learning something new. And he doesn’t know how much it can hurt sometimes.

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I have a few years on Colin, but there are some things I need to learn from him (or maybe things I need to unlearn). Because here’s the thing: when I try so hard to prevent myself from falling—to self-protect from failure and pain—I miss out on the next steps, the new adventures God has in mind for me. And I deprive myself of the thrill of lunging forward, childlike, into the arms of grace—into the arms of someone who loves me.

 

So here’s to Colin. Here’s to being one, to being fearless. Here’s to toddling—to falling and failing. If that’s what it takes to learn the next baby steps before me, then count me in.

 

But I still may look into some padding for my backside, if it’s all the same to everyone else.

 

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We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.

—2 Corinthians 4:9