An opening torn

Casting Away Stones – Ecclesiastes 3
Week 7 – Ecclesiastes 3:7

Day One: An opening torn
Day Two: A God who sews
Day Three: Foot in mouth, rams horns, and blessed silence
Day Four: a time to speak
Day Five: Mending with words

Heart verse:
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
                                                        Proverbs 16:24

Photo credit to

Day 1 – An opening torn

My friend, Sarah, is a seamstress. 

I am so impressed with her. I do not sew. I can do buttons, or even a patch, but to turn on a machine and create something wonderful is not my forte. She creates all kinds of garments – skirts for her goddaughters, fun bags for friends, and very ornate historical costumes. I’m in awe. One minute it’s a piece of fabric, another minute it’s something wearable, fitted perfectly to an individual, making someone feel loved and beautiful. She’s also the artist for our prayer card this week. (Check it out under the Casting Stones tab at the top of this page.)

Ecclesiastes 3:7 –
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

The word for tear in Hebrew is from the root word “qara” (kaw-rah).*
This word can mean to tear, to rend, to tear apart, to split apart. It is notably used in the Old Testament in relationship to grief and loss. It sounds like we moved back a couple of weeks to a time to weep and a time to mourn. All over the Old Testament, and even a little in the New Testament, people are tearing their garments out of grief or distress. Have no fear! While these are commonly related, we are not going to work through that again. Just know that they are related. If you’d like some examples to look up, here are a few:

Genesis 37:29-36 – Rueben tears his clothes in response to the brothers misuse of Joseph
Ezra 9:1-9 – Ezra tears his garment in grief over Israel’s faithlessness
1 Kings 11:7-13 – Solomon’s kingdom is torn from him, because he has been unfaithful to the Lord

But God, He does a different kind of tearing.
We don’t want to miss it.That is the tearing we are going to look at today. There was a time for tearing in response to grief and loss, and there will be a times of grief and loss in our own lives. God has also revealed something new, though. He has torn the Old away and ushered in the New. Let’s look at Matthew 27:45-54 –

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The temple curtain torn. The New has come.

Hebrews 10:14-23 helps to clarify this –
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”
17 then he adds,
I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

He who promised is faithful. All I can say to that is Amen! Let’s look at some of the language in the passage as explanation for the significance of the temple curtain, torn in two. Top to bottom, torn.

Look back through the passage above for these phrases. If you have your Bible out, let’s do a little underlining…
a single offering”
the Holy Spirit also bears witness”
the covenant that I will make”
where there is forgiveness”
the new and living way”
full assurance of faith”

Which one of these phrases speaks Grace into your life this day?
Find a phrase and breathe it in. Each of the words feel fresh off the page for me as I write this, even though they are centuries old. Bask in the mercy of the New Covenant. And listen to this phrase in particular, hear it with freshness –
since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain…”

He has opened the holy places for us. The curtain torn in two means that we no longer need to rend anything. Joel 2:12-13 is a beautiful passage with another tearing –
Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

We can only see the mercy and grace of this passage through Christ’s tearing. Nothing can compare to the riches of Christ’s new covenant, Christ’s new tearing. The message of Scripture, within the framework of Christ’s new covenant for us as believers, is not simply in the tearing, but what the tearing does…the opening.

With Christ’s death on the cross (“through His flesh” in Hebrews 10:20), everything holy is open wide. Doors flung open, but even more torn open. The tearing is painful, but Christ took that tearing for me. And when that temple curtain was torn in two, open wide, out came forgiveness and mercy, in a way the world had not even begun to consider before.
Rend your hearts and not your garments…” says Joel 2:13, because we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance…” We stand before God and ask Him to open wide our hearts. Open wide our hearts to Him, to His children, to His work, to everything that is eternal and gracious, and just.

When we read tear, we ask God to tear open anything that stands between Him and us, because He has already torn that down once and for all. In Christ, we stand assured. Oh He is faithful. Faithful.

Father, we thank you for your work in our lives. We thank you for your death and resurrection. We thank you for offering yourself. Your very self – for us. We lay our hearts before You, praising You. Asking you to keep working on us. To keep us firm in the knowledge of your continual work in our lives. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Discussion questions:
What expressions of grief have you seen or experienced that were helpful in the mourning?
What Old Testament stories do you remember about the temple?
What has God opened your heart to over time and what do you think He is asking you to open your heart to currently?

A God of waiting

Day 5 – A God of waiting

Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!

10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

In this passage we are introduced to a psalmist waiting. Is this psalm also a pep talk for himself? For his men? Is it internal or external dialogue?

We don’t really know the occasion of the psalm, but we do know that it offers encouragement to the reader in distress and hardship. Matthew Henry’s Commentary references the encouragement to Hope in Him that others receive from the psalm, and implores the reader to “let our hearts be thus affected in singing the psalm.”

Encouragement in the waiting. I like that. I need that.

Are you in a season of waiting? What are you waiting for? Sometimes we know and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we can only see the season of waiting in hind sight. We look back and say, “Oh we were waiting! God was doing His thing and here we are.” At other times, we feel stuck in the waiting process. We can literally feel the waiting pressing in. We are acutely aware of something coming and God’s call to wait on Him, to sit with Him for this moment, to be still and wait.

Let’s look back at the psalm for understanding –
In verse 8, the dialogue between the psalmist and God is gorgeous!
God asks us to seek Him, we respond with the heart cry, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
There is an assurance in that dialogue. We can return to it over and over again.

Verse 9 has the psalmist asking “cast me not off!” This is a prayer for protection in the waiting. Protection from adversaries, from life’s troubles, from loneliness and anxiety. We also can pray for protection.

In verse 10, the author focuses on the promises of God –
O God of my salvation… (others have forsaken me)… the Lord will take me in.”

When have you felt forsaken by others? When have you felt misunderstood? When have you struggled with where you were placed for a certain time? God hears your heart and understands. God takes us in through the waters of Baptism and never lets go. He hears us. He never forsakes us.

In verse 13, the author proclaims, “I will look on the Lord in the land of the living…” Essentially, the psalmist tells us, no matter how this shakes out, we have hope, we can trust, we stand on the solid rock of Eternity.

And finally, verse 14. Wait for the Lord.
I firmly believe that God finds so much value in the waiting. That is so often where His work is done, in the deep places of our hearts. It takes courage, girls, but we have it in abundance from a resurrection God.

Remember the promise of our Heart verse:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16

Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, find mercy and help.
Help! We have help!

Keep approaching the throne, whether your season is challenging or ravishing, or wonderfully abundant, or lean and tight. God is in the waiting, He is God of the waiting. He invites us to rest in the waiting.

Discussion questions:
What is the hardest part for you about waiting?
What comes to mind when you picture God sitting on His throne of grace?
What would you like to ask God for help with today?

Cast Away, a lesson on change

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Day 4 – Cast Away, a lesson on change

I love throwing stuff away. It’s an actual problem. One time I threw away a small pile of bills that Dave had set on the counter to pay. He was not very happy with me and several years down the road, my family still reminds me to “check first, throw away later.” Thank you, family. Thank you.

The idea of simplifying, as you can probably tell, then speaks to the inner me. What can we get rid of? What around me is piling up and creating internal anxiety seeping in from my external world? The question I am not so great at addressing is not what needs to go then, but what is God calling me to keep? We need to be aware of both of these questions before we begin casting away.

The two stories that comes to mind when I think of the word “casting” are as different as night and day, at first glance. I think they can help us begin to delve into these questions in our own life, what is God calling me to keep? What is God calling me to cast away? So keep those two questions in mind as you read below.

First, read Luke 4:31-37 –
And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching themon the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
Jesus calls us to cast the things out of our lives that are in opposition to Him. Jesus, himself, casted demons out of people, because he cared for them. As the body of believers, we have the difficult responsibility of helping one another identify and cast out the “demons” in our own lives. Addiction, selfishness, greed, lust, hatred, bitterness, slander, gossip, envy, hurtful words, discontent. This list is not exhaustive. The problem is very complex, this casing off with our neighbor, because we constantly also need to be doing this in our own life for any of our good intentions with one another to be heard. Verse 36, above, is not to be missed, “They were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word?’” What is this Word? Who is this Jesus that we have to share with one another that casts out the hurt and the wounding words, the resentfulness from our lives? When we testify about His Word to one another, this work of casting out is done together, in Him.

Second, let’s read John 21:1-12 –

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.  Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Highlight or underline the word “cast” within this passage in your Bible.
Read those particular verses again.

This is an invitation to change something up.

The Hebrew word for cast away in Ecclesiastes 3:6b can also be translated to throw or to fling. It immediately brought to mind the men casting out those nets, throwing them into the water and continuously coming up with nothing. Hearts confused after Jesus’s death and resurrection, searching for answers, and deciding to go back to the same ol’, same ol’.

Many people have this experience in their walk of faith, in the searching. We know that we have a God who finds, who seeks us, but that doesn’t stop us from casting our nets out into the world, searching, hoping, waiting, seeking. While that sounds negative, I don’t believe that it necessarily has to be. God has placed that internal desire to seek and search in us, because we exist in this recepricol relationship with Him. We live as found people, able to move to the other side of the boat, to throw our nets of fear, and struggle, and doubt into other waters because He is the same God on both sides, and the same Jesus is waiting on the beach to rejoice with us over breakfast at the miraculous catch of His work in our lives.

Praise Jesus! Praise Him! Can you see the nets, stretched taunt with the fish of His faithfulness, His goodness. Be warned, that abundant catch may look a lot more like struggle from the world’s perspective. Our catch that we await isn’t necessarily a bigger house, or a brand new BFF that adds sunshine and joy to our daily lives. It might be, but in God’s economy, it might also be a challenging new ministry opportunity, a new insight that causes us to change something that prunes us, or time spent on a relationship that takes time and energy.

How do we decide when something needs to be cast away or our nets cast into different waters?

We pray. We read His Word.

There is this therapeutic idea called “giving it space.” This is when something in life is pressing in, a decision, a relationship, a discussion. Sometimes we don’t have an answer, a solution, and God calls us to wait. We can give it space, give it breathing room. We can pray and seek His word. We needn’t press down on the issue and squeeze the life out of it, as I am so often guilty of. We can let it sit. God has is in His hands, and He will alert us when the time comes to cast away. And when that time comes, let’s do it! Let’s be faithful and strong in heart in the Lord.

In it together, sisters, whether in the waiting or in the casting away. In it together.  

Discussion questions:
Are you a keeper or do you easily throw things away?
What was something you have gotten rid of that you wish you would have kept?
When have you had to change something up in life, and it wasn’t easy?

*All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV translation.