Reminders for Everyday Living!

"Reminders" is a column written by Ardith Hoff, Westby UMC member and contributor for the local Westby Times newspaper.  Ardith's weekly "reminders" offer insight and guidance for our everyday lives.  We wanted to make her column available for everyone beyond the subscribers of the local paper. After finishing the "Reminders" series, Ardith started another series of articles entitled "Food for Thought". These articles continue to provide thought provoking points for us to take into consideration.

We hope you enjoy these articles and find them insightful and helpful, not only in your everyday life but specifically in your walk with the Lord!

In the summer of 2018, Ardith decided to compile the "Reminders" articles into a book, 101 Faith-Based Reminders, which has been published and available to purchase. The proceeds of the book sales will go towards local missions and outreach projects. The cost of the book is $10. If you are interested in purchasing a book, please contact the Westby United Methodist Church at westby-umc@driftlessministry.org.

Food for Thought: Why Does Anyone Join a Church?

by Ardith Hoff

The reasons people give for why they join a particular church vary from, “Because it’s the church I grew up in.” to “Because I like the music.”  Many people may never have given much thought to why they attend the church they do.  Some people go to the church where other members of their family have gone for years, while others go to a particular church because they were invited by a friend and found something that was missing in their lives and continue to attend.  There is often an emotional reason that propels people to want to be in a particular church on Sundays.  What propels people to want to be the church, beyond the church walls, is often less emotional and a more thoughtful process.

When my husband and I retired and moved to a very small town where we didn’t have any emotional ties, we knew that we wanted to continue our practice of being part of a church.  We decided to visit all of the churches in the area and see how we felt about each one. 

What we found is that each church had something to offer.  Some were very structured and formal while others were more casual and free spirited. We liked the people in all of the churches.  They were warm and friendly, and all seemed welcoming and sincere.  What tipped the balance in favor of the church we chose was that we realized that the people in that church did not just attend church on Sunday, they lived their faith through service the rest of the week.  They were the ones who worked at the food pantry on Saturday mornings.  They were the ones who served in leadership roles in charitable organizations.  They were active in the service clubs; they volunteered; they visited the sick and provided for the needy.  In other words, they demonstrated God’s love for others disproportionately to members of the other churches we visited.

As Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you show love toward one another

Fellowship with people who do God's work without hesitation not only felt right, it inspired us to want to do more to fulfill Christ’s command to: “ Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

Food for Thought: With Freedom Comes Responsibility

by Ardith Hoff

Two guys went to the lake for the day.  They drank way too much beer.  They got very drunk and lost their ability to reason.  Since they were by a lake and it was dark, they impulsively decided to steal a boat.  Not long afterwards they fell asleep and drifted into deep waters.  Several hours later they awoke with the boat nearly halfway submerged.  The wiser of the two yelled in panic, "There's a hole in this boat!"  His buddy calmly replied, "So, what do you care?  It's not our boat." AARP, November 2016, p.58

What that man, in his drunken haze, missed is that his utter disregard for responsible behavior might cause him to drown.  We all need to remember that lesson.  Freedom does not mean that doing whatever we want will get us to where we want to be.  Behaving responsibly and following God’s will for us is the only way to achieve true freedom. 

It seems contradictory that we are free to decide for ourselves, yet it has to be according to God’s will.  But think of this way.  We are free to run a red light if we choose to, but we know that we might get into an accident or get a ticket if we do.  Traffic laws are there for a reason.  God’s laws are also there for a reason.

When we follow Jesus' teachings, we are not only free to do what will make us happy by serving others, we are also free from being imprisoned by fear, because we know He is always with us.  We are free from the emotional bondage of guilt and regret because we know that He has forgiven us.  We are free from anxiety and worry, because we know that He will lead us through whatever comes our way.  We are free from hopelessness because we know that Christ died to save us and we will be with him in heaven forever.  We are free to enjoy a life of fulfillment because we have every reason to want to live the kind of life Jesus taught us would ultimately bring us true happiness––a life of serving others.

Freedom is not having everything and doing everything we want.  It is the ability to manage our own lives within the bounds imposed by the laws of governments and God Himself.  Galatians 6:2 tells us to: “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Food for Thought: Change

by Ardith Hoff

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, "If you really want to do something, you'll find a way.  If you don't, you'll find an excuse." Reader's Digest, April 2015, p.152

We all resist some types of change, but change is usually a necessary step toward progress.  Thankfully, transportation has changed since May 20, 1899.  That's the day taxi driver Jacob German became the first American to be arrested for speeding.  He was cited and arrested for racing down Manhattan's Lexington Avenue in his electric car at 12 mph when the speed limit was 8 mph.  Beaumont Enterprise, 5/20/18, p. 2A

There is something comfortable about being able to count on things staying the same.  Our routines and longstanding habits help us keep life predictable.  When we encounter unexpected change, it is almost automatic that we resist, at least until we can determine whether the change is to our benefit.  Disruptions cause us to have to make adjustments to our usual ways of thinking and doing things. 

Most of us don’t mind change if it is gradual or planned for.  It’s when we encounter sudden or drastic changes that we didn’t see coming that throw us for a loop.  What we need to remember is that we have an immoveable anchor that we can count on.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13: 8   We can be secure in the knowledge that the Lord will guide us.  “I will teach you the way you should go; I will instruct you and advise you." Psalm 32:8

When we find ourselves afraid of changing, and feel ourselves resisting, we can have confidence that with God’s help we can find an opportunity in each new situation.  With Jesus at our side, we can make the best of whatever comes our way.  We need to trust God to help us grow. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

When we welcome change as an inevitable part of growing as a person, and especially as a Christian, we can rejoice in knowing that change can not only be good, but is also necessary in becoming the person God wants us to be. 

Reminders: Feed a Good Conscience; Starve a Bad One

by Ardith Hoff

“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs.  One of the dogs is mean and evil.  The other dog is good.  The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.  When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, the one I feed the most.”―George Bernard Shaw  

In other words, we need to strengthen our resolve to do what is right in order to keep our conscience working well.  Once we let our conscience get weak, it becomes too easy not to listen to it, and the “bad dog” wins.  It was George Washington who said, “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

Guilt is a mighty motivator, but no matter how much good we do, we are not able to overcome the wrongs we have done.  The only way to get rid of guilt is to first recognize and take responsibility for our wrong doings, and then ask God to forgive us.  The second step is of no use without the first step.  If we do not fully acknowledge that we have done wrong, we cannot expect God to forgive us.

It is a natural tendency for people to rationalize, and to say something like, “Yes, I did it but…” and then come up with a number of excuses for why we might have been justified.  The hardest part is to be honest with ourselves––to become humble before God and confess our sins.  If we try to pretend it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t our fault, it keeps bubbling up, and eventually destroys our self-esteem.  Denial might allow us to live with ourselves for a while, but eventually, if we don’t face the facts, we cheat ourselves out of a guilt free, happy and productive life.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Acts 3:9   The word “refreshing” is an appropriate word for the feeling of relief and joy that come with forgiveness.  We can each feel like a new person, free of guilt and shame.

Reminders: Be Slow to Anger

by Ardith Hoff

Everyone gets angry, even God, “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger and of great mercy.” Psalm 145:9  

Oh, that we should all be more gracious and compassionate and like God, “slow to anger”.  Counting to ten (a favorite way to slow ourselves down) does not always work, but it is always worth a try.  It gives us a few seconds to consider our response.  It gives us a chance to choose not to respond in an angry way.  It gives us a chance, in some cases, to laugh it off.  Laughter and anger are opposite responses.  It is impossible to do both at the same time.  A little good humor goes a long way toward defusing “anger bombs”. 

An article in Readers Digest described an amazing observation on an Amish school playground.  The author said that none of the children ever screamed or yelled at each other.  When he inquired why, the teacher said, “Have you ever heard an Amish parent yell at their children?”  Obviously, angry responses are learned and are not instinctual.  Children learn what they live.

Getting angry is not good for our health.  A medical study compared the stress levels of people during physical activity (running on a treadmill), mental stress (doing math in their heads) and negative situation responses (defending themselves for a hypothetical shoplifting charge).  The stress levels of people who were defending themselves who responded in angry ways was much higher than for people who showed less outrage and more calm reasoning.  What’s more, anger seemed to cause much more damage to the heart than any of the other activities. 

Remaining calm in stressful situations takes practice, but with God’s help, it can be learned.  When we are angry, we lose the ability to think clearly.  We do and say things we later regret.  The antidote for anger is not only calmness but also empathy.  Lashing out never accomplishes anything good.  “Rather… be hospitable.  One who is self controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” Titus 1:8

Reminders: What is Compassion?

by Ardith Hoff

There is an oft’ repeated story of unknown origin about a problem that confronts Sunday school leaders every year when they get ready to cast the Christmas play––what to do with that awkward little girl or boy who cannot handle a very complicated role.  What to do with little “Petunia” or “Pan”?  His teacher wanted to give her “Pan” a role he could handle and be proud of.  She cast him as the innkeeper in the nativity scene.  He was delighted!  All he had to do was shake his head at the appropriate time and say, “I’m sorry, there’s no room.”

At the practice, all went well, and he performed the part perfectly.  However, on the night of the program, the much more confident boy playing the role of Joseph wanted a little more time in the spotlight.  He kept insisting that since his wife was about to have a baby and was very tired that the innkeeper should find them a room.  After repeating his one and only line several times, “Pan” finally felt the plight of poor Joseph and Mary, and with a tear rolling down his cheek said, “You can have my room.”  Though it was not in the script, “Pan” had perfectly demonstrated what compassion is all about.

Most of us feel compassionate when we see people who are hurting, but we don’t always know what to do.  Pity is not the same as compassion.  Compassion is a verb.  It calls for action.  Churches and other organizations across this country help the less fortunate.  If we have the means to donate money or goods, most of us are willing to give.  However, not everyone can donate, and even if we are willing and able, there are an overwhelming number of requests for donations. We can’t possibly give to them all. 

We must look for organizations that have the best record of doing the most good with what they receive. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” Proverbs 11:23   If you can’t donate money or goods, you can always find a way to cheer someone up.   Even a smile at the right time, can lift someone’s spirits.  As Mother Theresa is quoted as saying, “You never know how much good a simple smile can do.”