Like Sand Through the Hourglass

Like sand through the hourglass… seems like the hole between the upper and lower chambers of the glass has gotten wider these last few years.

By Ross L. Riggs, D Min.

Those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s often heard a familiar voice in the mid-afternoon come across the television. For me, it was usually  as my mother was ironing clothes. (For those of you who are much younger than I, ironing was something a mother, usually, would do using a steam iron and an ironing board. The purpose was to take clothes, particularly shirts, which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard [I’ll explain that another time for sake of space] and iron the wrinkles out of them before folding and placing back in the drawer or, for dress shirts on a hanger)

The voice solemnly told us, “Like sand through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives” the introduction to the soap opera  Days of Our Lives. Soap operas were great for those who were hooked on them because even if you missed a few days, or weeks, even months, you could come back and find the storyline not very far advanced from when you left it. But, I digress.

The Bible also speaks of the fleeting nature of life. Solomon, a man who was given more wisdom than any man before or since once bemoaned, ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity..” He found little purpose in striving in life because no matter what, one was not getting out of life alive and whatever you had accomplished was left for someone else to claim. A pretty depressing line of thinking. Still, the Bible does give us analogies such as “For He Himself knows [a]our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer.” (Psalm 103:14-16) A great analogy, though editors are always cautious about the use of the word but; whether it is a adjective or a noun, of course spelling helps to clarify.

There is Jack Nicholson who, in Bucket List, declared life to pass like smoke through a keyhole. Of course, the origin of the thought is somewhat less clear. Google lists 166,000 answers as to the origin of the term.

James, the brother of Christ, a leader in the early church and co-author of the Book of James in the New Testament writes, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14 NASB)

What got me thinking about the brevity of life, or rather, the speed with which life seems to pass by came as I left Bethany Nursing Home, the finest facility  with the nicest folks where I had been watching the All Star Game with my brother Rod. The neighborhood around was apparently the night before trash pick up because the street had numerous trash receptacles out to the curb and some bags of trash awaiting pick up. Have you ever noticed how quickly you get from one trash day to the next? The week in between just blows by and the amount of stuff  you have to throw away from the week is incredible.

Allow me to go back to those childhood years when Mom was ironing and the man was solemnly warning us about the sand in our hourglass, we had something in our basement not uncommon in those days; but, now a thing of the past, an incinerator. Think of it as a family size crematorium for trash. You, (meaning the children in the house old enough to reach the top of the incinerator which was about the size of a washing machine) had the job of taking the bag of trash each evening, just after supper, to the basement to be thrown into the incinerator which had a gas fed fire always burning in the bottom, like a port-a-hades. The evening air in the neighborhood was always tinged with the smell of the days garbage being destroyed by the third element of nature. Later, we moved to a newer housing allotment and surprisingly the new homes did not have incinerators. Rather, in the back yard of each home was a burn barrel  and it was exactly what the name disclosed.

Now the children of the house old enough to handle matches unattended would carry  the bag of trash out to the burn barrel and light it up and standby long enough to know the days garbage was nothing but flecks of black soot rising into the air. Not bad duty on a cold winter night but not the best chore in the middle of summer unless you really enjoyed, perhaps too  much, watching things burn. I suppose it was the environmental movement of the 70’s which brought an end to burn barrels and a new suburban glimpse into city life, the appearance of garbage trucks! Still, life revolved, to some degree over the trash pick-up. My Mom would only fry chicken on the nights before trash pick-up so as to not have the bones lying in the garbage for several days…

The trash of our week gets tossed out and forgotten, hopefully being composted or recycled so my great-grandchildren don’t have to live on the waste dump we created. The weeks for which the trash accumulates go by more quickly with each passing year. Going out to retrieve the garbage can and taking the garbage can out, one begins to feel like the guy in the old “Dunkin Donuts’ commercial, who finally meets himself at the door he is coming and going so quickly and so often…

Solomon’s warning of life like a flower, the wind passes over it and it is remembered no more. We should acknowledge the brevity of life and rid ourselves of the trash which accumulates around our lives and we must do so prayerfully and purposefully. We need, at the same time to hold on to what really matters. Hang on to the precious moments which will fill our lives if we allow them .

When visiting the Philippines back in 1998, I was impressed with a part of  their culture which celebrated events rather than be slave to a clock. In the U.S., a time to meet with a friend for coffee is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and is expected to be finished by 10:45, even placed in our cellphone calendar with a reminder ding and perhaps, too, an alert when time was up, next appointment. In the Filipino culture the event was time with a friend. Set for 10 but maybe it will begin at 10:30 or 10:45, whenever the parties arrive and it will last for as long as it possibly can, the friends taking over an hour to say goodbye even if it meant the next event would have to wait. Of course, a wait wouldn’t matter because the next meeting was also based on the event not the time.

I create for myself, now, a priorities list which is designed to help my sometimes failing memory with what I would like to accomplish each day. Notice, like to accomplish not need to accomplish? A few things have been on the list every day for a month, I’ll get to them; but, I won’t be driven by the list. It reminds me things I would like to do and often an article on it will be a hammock nap. I always include a prayer-time and some reading time. When life changes how the list will go on a given day, no worries, tomorrow will have a new list. When I have a chance to hang with a grandchild, I want to really be there with them not just be in the same place they are but completely disengaged. When they say, “Papaw” I want my eyes to meet theirs and they know they have my full attention. It doesn’t always work and sometimes ol’ Papaw is just too pooped to pop; but, they know my intention is to be part of their moments. When  I was with my one grandfather, my papaw, I knew I was the most important person in the world to him at that moment. He might have six grandchildren lined up for a ‘toopie-too’ ride on his knee; but, for that moment his attention was fully mine and I want my grandkids to feel that same specialness.

Like sand through the hourglass… seems like the hole between the upper and lower chambers of the glass has gotten wider these last few years.

The Bible gives some truly great advice when it comes to living life. Karin and I are about to celebrate 40 years of marriage. Solomon wrote, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has give to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes with this:

Reflections in the Dark

In the Balkans they have a name for beings that are the offspring from a human and vampire union, it is dhampir

According to lore, vampires do not cast a shadow nor do they present a reflection. Because of their ‘undead’ status, when photographed, no image appears. You can see examples of this in the opening scenes of the children’s comedy Hotel Transylvania 2. They can, also according to lore, turn into bats as Bela Lugosi proved to us time and again as Count Dracula.

I had the opportunity to spend a good amount of time in the Balkans and visited the castle of Vlad the Impaler, the medieval psychotic sociopath from whom the Count Dracula’s legend is formed. He defended his castle and lands by impaling those who trespassed on long stakes and left them for others to see as a warning for all who might venture into his wooded lands.

Vlad

In the Balkans they have a name for beings that are the offspring from a human and vampire union, it is dhampir. According to ‘The Great Archives’ if I were to become a vampire through being bitten and eventually undead, I would be Lucas Montgomerie, also known as the Father of the Thirsty. The Archives claim that I would be, or was… depending on how you believe, “strangely cheerful for monsters and a prankster of the night.”

Before you pass this off as the senseless ravings of simple, superstitious and backward people; think again.  Consider some basic points… ‘Father of the Thirsty’ – for anyone who has gotten between me and a pitcher of sweet tea, you KNOW the results! ‘Strangely cheerful’ – believe it or not, in high school I was voted, out of all the males in our senior class as ‘happiest’. As for the ‘strangely’ part – anyone who knows me also can vouch for that! Then comes the ‘prankster of the night’.  For most of all my police career, I was on midnight shift. That is where I belonged, even now I am writing to you during the still hours of the late night. As far as ‘prankster’ – until the statute of limitations runs out; you are not getting any confessions from me!

On the doubting Thomas side of the ledger, once I learned the name I would or did have, I immediately looked for the Facebook page with the same name and YES, there is a Lucas Montgomerie but … there are two reasons to doubt. First his picture was there (which it should not be, remember?) And secondly, he didn’t look anything like me!

Now, before you begin to think that my cork is not all the way down in the bottle, let me explain to you my point. The legends and folklore of the Middle Centuries did come from a great deal of superstition and fear. They were called the Dark Ages for a very good reason. Men like Vlad were not the exception. There were many more evil, dark, demented people living out lives which were very likely demon driven. Demon possession has been a historic fact for millennia. I venture to say that as we get closer to the End of Time, the darkness will once again attempt to envelope our world.  Jesus dealt with many people who were possessed by demons.

On one occasion, Jesus had just finished teaching folks along the Sea of Galilee and that night He and His disciples got in a boat to cross to the other side of the sea. During the night a vicious storm erupted while Jesus slept. Awakened by His frightened followers, Jesus calmed the sea and they soon arrived in the Gadarenes. Mark chapter 5 tells us, “immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.” (NKJV)

You have heard, no doubt, of the numbers of young people now being called, ‘cutters’ because of their urgent need to cut themselves. Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. The ‘Gothic’ craze of recent decades, the continued  infatuation with demons and dark spirits, cult practices and things that go bump in the night is not unexpected.

The Dark Ages from 456 to 1000 was a time when most people were illiterate. Poverty and disease was rampant. Only the most educated had access to books and no one but the priests, if there were any in a region had the ability to read the Latin text of the Bible and it was only they who could speak on God’s behalf.

Our own century has seen a great many diseases cured or annihilated. Still cancers rage and disrupt families each and every day. We have more ‘knowledge ‘ available at our fingertips than ever in history. Just ask Google, it will tell you. The search, though, for true knowledge, understanding of the great classic works sorely lacking. A bogus claim that Albert Einstein said, “The day that technology overlaps our humanity we will have a generation of idiots.” There is no evidence that he ever said that but the logic of it does make sense. That we are becoming a generation that could be more susceptible to demonic influence is not at all out of the realm of reasoned thought.

The Book of Mark relates that when the demon possessed man saw Jesus, he ran after Him and worshipped Him.  When Jesus asked him his name, the demon replied, “Legion, for we are many.” (NKJV) James, the half-brother of Christ and author of the book bearing his name in the New Testament writes, “You believe that God is one. You do well, the demons also believe and shudder.” (NASB) There are still parts of the world where people are unable to read the Bible in their own language. Here, in the United States, Bibles can be found just about anywhere and many are free. For Americans, particularly those who claim the name of Christ, to not be familiar with God’s Word but to take a face value what a pastor, priest or the Internet claims to be truth is an open doorway to the same superstition and ignorance of the first Dark Ages. What will be your first step toward preparing your children or others of the next generation to live lives in the Light of God’s Word? Just something worth some reflection!

 

רָחַב and Psalm 4:1

It is God that does the pushing, the stretching, and the enlarging with the distress as His tool.

Rachab  Ra-kav’

to be or grow wide, be or grow large

  1. (Qal) to be widened, be enlarged
  2. (Niphal) broad or roomy pasture (participle)
  3. (Hiphil)
    1. to make large
    2. to enlarge

In the short letter written by James, the brother of Christ, he extols his readers to “count it all joy” when they face various trials. That is a lot easier to read than it is to live through. What is it about trials that can make it so? Can the exercise our faith encounters in the midst of such trials be the strengthening and stretching of our spirit that allows joy to enter when there is no room for much else?

Recently, I had a short devotional reading that focused on Psalm 4:1 and I noticed something that was such a minor point prior to the study, but became so relevant after. The words used in the translations other than the KJV were accurate in a general way but, they did not convey the meaning, I believe, the psalmist had in mind. In even the NKJV, Psalm 4:1 reads:

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.”

The word that I focused on was translated “relieved.” The inference was that God, when we are in distress, can be the relief we seek. It is true enough that such relief is often brought to us by the Holy Spirit; but, I kept thinking about how the psalmist. Even in this case, when it is believed to be King David; he did not have the always present indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did assist believers in the times prior to Christ’s post-resurrection ascension; but it was not a daily filling, not a fulfilled indwelling and certainly not all believers. So, what was it from David’s perspective that such trials brought to him that could lead him to worship God with such enthusiasm? The answer lies in the Hebrew word that the NKJV translates relieved. The best translation of the Hebrew Rachab is “to be widened, enlarged.” The verse becomes: “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.”

Distress enlarges us. It stretches our faith and pushes us to the very brink of ourselves and drives us into something so much more than who we are in ourselves. We may have heard someone say that to go through difficult times will make you be a ‘bigger man’ for it or it will ‘grow you’ as you go through the difficulty.

That is exactly what King David is writing when he says that God has enlarged him when he was in distress. However, we must be clear that it is not the distress, the trouble or difficulty that enlarges the believer. It is God who does the pushing, the stretching, and the enlarging with the distress as His tool.

I cannot help but think of every veteran that I have ever spoken to concerning their basic military training. Every single one hated going through it.  The remarkable part is that those same veterans are unanimous that they would not trade that growing, refining of themselves for anything. That difficult time helped to make them into who they needed to be.

We will never long for the pain that comes with such hardship, but once we have experienced God’s stretching of us through it; we will never regret having been brought down that path. We come away enlarged, grown and grateful when we see our trials through God’s eyes.

cardiac

Right now a missionary couple is going through just that kind of stretching. Their stretching is taking place in 5B North, the Cardiac Services Nursing Unit in St. John New Brunswick. With some vessel surgery planned this week and a triple by=pass scheduled for next, Brad and Bethany are learning more about faith without even barely leaving the hospital floor even as they did as they traveled half-way across the world in the heart of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nothing can prepare a young married couple for such an ‘enlargement’ but God can hold them through it and we as brothers and sisters in Christ can uplift them while they are in the midst of it. Please remember them as you read this blog and take time with God in prayer to encourage Brad and Bethany in their time of stretching.