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.

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Mishearing God February 8, 2013

Filed under: Following God — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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Have you ever felt like you heard something so clearly, but the message must have gotten garbled somehow along the way?

 

I have voice recognition software at work that translates phone messages into text, but let’s just say the technology still has a ways to go. Case in point: yesterday it translated “Stephanie” as “Brian” and interpreted “just going to” as “jazz orchestra.”

 

It’s rather entertaining when communication breakdowns are of the lighthearted, technical variety. But when it comes to spiritual messages, the stakes are a bit higher.

 

A while ago I felt prompted to buy a Bible, and not just any Bible—one of those big, classic, leather-bound numbers. I didn’t know why or who it was for, but the message was undeniable: Buy this Bible. And so, despite feeling rather foolish, I made the purchase, wondering when I’d get my next set of instructions.

 

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Not long after, my husband and I were packing for a nine-hour train ride to visit his family. We were carrying everything on with us, and our bags were stuffed. Just as I was wrestling with the zipper on my bloated carry-on, another prompting came out of nowhere: Take the Bible with you.

 

I was pretty sure I’d misunderstood, and I haggled with God over it. Surely he didn’t mean I’d have to take it with me on the train! Couldn’t I compromise and take a smaller Bible, one that wouldn’t cause permanent spinal damage? Or once I met the person I was supposed to give the Bible to, couldn’t I just write down their address and mail it to them? But the directions felt unambiguous, so I obliged.

 

All through the trip my eyes were peeled, searching for the person in need of a Bible. Maybe it would be someone sitting in the aisle across from us or a fellow passenger we met in the dining car. Maybe it would be one of Daniel’s relatives or his parents’ neighbors. Perhaps it would be a stranger we encountered at some point on the trip. As silly as I felt, I was eager to see what God would do, to have a testimony about how I’d carried that Bible around and then God had led me to just the right person at the precise moment.

 

It never happened.

 

I lugged that big Bible home again—all nine hours—and never got another nudge about what to do with it. Did I miss the person I was supposed to give it to? I wondered as our train pulled into the station. Or did I miss the instructions in the first place?

 

I’ve been pondering this mystery ever since—not just the Bible carry-on, but other times I’ve apparently misheard God over the course of my faith journey, times that have left more significant damage than a sore back. What am I supposed to make of those times I’ve stepped out in faith and everything dead-ended unceremoniously…or blew up in my face?

 

Then I came across this story, taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book These Strange Ashes:

 

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One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation.

 

So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket.

 

Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey.

 

About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.”

 

In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up.

 

He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.”

 

This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.”

 

Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up.

 

Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did.

 

Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk.

 

Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded.

 

Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”

 

The story got me to wondering: maybe it wasn’t that I’d misheard after all. Maybe the truth is that obedience is a reward in itself. Maybe I was supposed to carry this load for Jesus, even if I never understand why. Just because he asked me to.

 

What if sometimes God just wants to see if I’m willing to say yes?

 

What burden are you carrying right now?

What would it look like to be obedient, even when you don’t know why you have to carry such a heavy load?

 peter2

 

 

The Ultimate Book Burning August 28, 2012

Filed under: Jeremiah — Stephanie Rische @ 1:37 pm
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The images looked like scenes from an apocalyptic movie: the smoke looming dark and angry on the horizon, marching onward like an unstoppable army. Hungry flames devouring everything in their path, from the most modest of homes to the most palatial, form pricey furnishings to irreplaceable keepsakes.

As tragic as those images from the Colorado fires were earlier this summer, I found the recent Oklahoma fire even more devastating in a certain respect. It’s one thing for natural disaster to strike thorough the fault of no one in particular. But to see such a savage wake of destruction because someone intentionally threw a burning newspaper out of a car seems not only heartbreaking but utterly senseless.

When I read the story of King Jehoiakim of Judah in the book of Jeremiah, I had a similar reaction. The king received a special message from the Lord, intended just for him. The prophet Jeremiah had compiled all of God’s messages since the days of King Josiah and sent them directly to Jehoiakim, warning him to repent before God’s judgment came upon him and his country.

But instead of receiving this as a wakeup call and humbling himself before God, King Jehoiakim did something rather shocking. He had one of his officers read the scroll to him piece by piece, and each time he finished a section, the king took out his knife and burned up the very words of God.

Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll. He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up. Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard.

—Jeremiah 36:23-24

He heard the truth, and he threw it in the fireplace.

When I talk to people who don’t know God and his Word, I ache for them, knowing what they’re missing out on. But it’s also understandable. After all, they don’t know anything different. But perhaps the more purposeless tragedy is when someone like me, who has direct access to God’s Word, cuts it apart, piece by piece, and sets it aflame.

Oh, I’d never burn the pages of my Bible, of course. But each time I decide that one little lie won’t hurt, I take a knife to what God says about truth. Whenever I deem his laws about gossip irrelevant for my particular situation, I might as well be tossing that part of Scripture into the fire. Every time I rationalize my worry, turn a blind eye to the poor, or act out of selfishness, I’m destroying God’s Word in my life, piece by piece.

Sometimes it seems inexplicable that any of us would choose God’s judgment instead of embracing grace. But as King Jehoiakim realized, grace, by its very nature, means that we have to change. We can’t stay where we are; we can’t stay who we are.

No matter how you look at it, Scripture must involve a knife and a fire. The question is, will I cut away and burn the parts I don’t like? Or will I allow the Word to cut away and burn the ugly parts of me?

 

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.