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: Expect Miracles

by Ardith Hoff

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

I prefer the latter!  Theologians may argue whether the miracles in the Bible are illustrative figures of speech or actual happenings and whether there are modern-day miracles or not.  From my point of view, it really doesn’t matter because in either case, miracles are evidence of God’s love and power.  In other words, we see evidence of what God can do all around us.  The things we take for granted every day are events that God allows to happen.  Every good thing is from Him.

Every day that the sun shines or the rain comes down to make things grow so that we can eat, live and enjoy life are from God.  When we look for them, we can see miracles all around us.  They aren’t always the big, dramatic sudden healing of a person on their deathbed that we sometimes pray for, though dramatic, unexplainable things sometimes do happen. 

Seemingly chance meetings or unexpected recoveries, or the fact that something intervenes to keep us from being at the wrong place at the wrong time, are also from God.  The point is that God is in control and if we give ourselves over to Him, we can be assured that whatever happens will be for His purpose.  As it says in Romans: 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the lord and are called according to his purpose.”

This does not mean that bad things will never happen to good people.  We know that they do.  But no matter what happens, it is in God’s power to turn it into good.  This may be hard to understand when we are in the middle of dealing with a difficult situation.  But in time, we can trust that some greater good will come of it.  We may never figure out what it was, but that does not mean that it won’t happen.  If we trust in God, we know it will.  Sometimes, years later we might even discover what it was.  But even if we don’t, we can be sure God knows why it happened.

Mysterious things happen, and sometimes there are logical scientific explanations, but since God has the power to work in any method He chooses.  We should not discount his hand or try to limit his power in anything, whether it can easily be explained or not.

Food for Thought: "Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones"

by Ardith Hoff

It is said that to succeed in life one needs three things: “a wish bone, a backbone and a funny bone.”  Reba McIntire

In Ezekiel 37 we can read the story of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones in a valley.  The chapter details a vision revealed to the prophet Ezekiel, conveyed in a dream-like scene.  “In his vision the Prophet sees himself standing in the valley of dry human bones.  He is commanded to deliver a prophecy.  Before him the bones connect into human figures, then the bones become covered with tendons, tissues, flesh and skin.  Then God reveals the bones to the prophet as the people of Israel in exile and commands the prophet to convey another prophecy in order to revitalize these human figures, to resurrect them and to bring them to the Land of Israel.” Wikipedia under “Dry bones”

The relevance of Ezekiel’s vision for today is that when, like the Israelites, we feel isolated and hopeless in our own wildernesses of despair, we too can count on God to bring us back into a spiritual awakening.  He has given us hope and a promise of a new life in Christ, here on earth and forever in heaven.  We just need to grasp it.  “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them all.  He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.” Psalm 34:17-20

When we feel like we have been abandoned and are at our wits end about what to do next, we can turn to God.  He will provide the means to a better future, just as he did for Ezekiel and in turn the Israelites.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” Romans 15:13

One of the best ways to get out of the doldrums is to be thankful for what we have, and to do something nice for someone who is worse off than we are.  Too many of us hold onto bones of contention instead of learning to seek peace with our adversaries and to put meat on the bones of kindness.

Food for Thought: Demonstrating Who We Are

by Ardith Hoff

A story is told about the famous Bible illustrator Paul Gustave Dore who was traveling in Europe back when everyone had to show their passports to cross borders. The artist faced a predicament of reaching a border crossing and discovering that he had misplaced his passport. Without his papers, the officials wouldn’t allow Dore to pass. Finally, Dore was given a test to prove his identity.  The official gave him a piece of paper and a pencil and requested that he draw a group of nearby workers. Dore did so with such ease that the official was convinced that he was indeed the famous artist he claimed to be.

Paul Dore’s identity was affirmed through his ability to demonstrate his artistry. How can we identify ourselves and prove who we are and what we are all about? Are we Christians in name only or can we prove it?

In John 12:34-36 Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  In other words, it is when we realize that God’s love is the greatest love of all that we start to understand what love is. We start to understand that because he demonstrated His love through the sacrifice of his only son to save us all, that we are able to pass that love on.  It is then that we have identified ourselves as God’s children, capable of extending His love to others, even in difficult situations.

We can demonstrate godly love by joyfully giving of our time, talents, energy, and resources to mission projects such as welcoming, listening, volunteering, donating, comforting, and witnessing.  It is even more effective in demonstrating our love for God and our neighbors, if we show love to those who irritate us such as telemarketers or even those who hate us.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you show love to one another.” John 13:35   That is how we demonstrate who we are.

Reminders: "Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional" (the Dali Lama)

by Ardith Hoff

If we touch a hot stove, it’s going to hurt.  If someone we love leaves us, or dies, it’s going to hurt.  We know what pain is!  We are not as familiar with what suffering is.  Suffering is what happens as a result of pain.  Suffering is generally thought of as a negative response.

We hear that plaintiffs in court cases are sometimes awarded punitive damages for both pain and suffering.  But suffering can be either positive or negative depending how we respond to pain.  If someone hurts our feelings by pointing out one of our flaws, we can either thank them for pointing out something we might be able to correct, or we can get defensive and react out in anger.  We may learn something valuable and do something about it, or we can allow ourselves to act inappropriately, and live with the consequences.  Either way we have allowed what takes place.

When Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…” He meant to allow, the children to come to Him.  He went on to say, “…for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” meaning that children are innocent and eager to learn.  He was telling us that we should be more like children.  We don’t often hear the word “suffer” used that way, but it is appropriate.

For example, parents might allow themselves to make sacrifices in order to help their children have a better life.  They allow themselves to experience the pain of not having everything they might want, but it is pain for a good purpose.  Suffering (allowing themselves to make sacrifices) for their children’s future is a positive form of suffering.  If, on the other hand, they decide not to allow themselves to sacrifice, they may suffer negatively by watching their children struggle through life. 

Suffering is either a positive or negative consequence of how we respond to pain.  We have options as to how we will respond.  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 2:3-4   Paul is telling us to allow positive results to come from pain.

Reminders: Life Isn't Always Fair

by Ardith Hoff

A baker sued a farmer for cheating him.  The baker and the farmer had a bartering agreement.  The farmer was to give the baker one pound of butter in exchange for a one-pound loaf of bread.  The baker was suspicious that he was being cheated and decided to weigh the butter.  He found that he was not in fact getting a full pound of butter and sued the farmer.  The judge in the case asked the farmer to explain. 

The farmer replied that he was not trying to cheat the baker.  He said, “I am a simple man.  I do not own a scale, but I do have a balance beam with two pans.  When the baker brings me the loaf of bread, I put it on one side of the balance, and that is how I know how much butter to put in the pan on the other side of the balance.”  Needless to say, the judge dismissed the case.  

The obvious moral of the story is that you get what you give, but in real life, it doesn’t always seem to work that way.  Some people, who are suffering, actually have made bad decisions.  Others see that and assume they are just getting what’s coming to them.  Yet we all know decent, hard working folks and innocent children to whom bad things happen, through no fault of their own, while others who are profiting from dishonesty and greed seem to sail through life without a hitch.

We tell our children that, “Life isn’t always fair.”  We encourage them not to try to figure it out, but to just accept that, “It is what it is.” and move on.  We know that God works in mysterious ways, and we are promised that someday we will understand fully.  Until then, we are asked to trust God. 

Proverbs 16:11 tells us, “A just balance and scales are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are his work.”  The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How un-searchable are His judgments and un-fathomable His ways.”  We need to remember that God does not cause our difficulties, but He will help us through them.  We just need to ask.

Reminders: Humility is the Key to Lasting Success

by Ardith Hoff

“If only I had a little humility, I’d be perfect,” said Ted Turner, American media mogul and philanthropist––a man well known for his lack of humility. He said it to get a laugh. He is also the same man who said, “The Christian religion is for losers.” 

Ted Turner is also well known for his generosity. He boasted: “I don't measure success in numbers, but I consider my contributions of more than $1.3 billion to various causes over the years to be one of my proudest accomplishments, and the best investment I've ever made. Those dollars have improved lives, saved species, fought disease, educated children, inspired change, challenged ideas, and opened minds; at the time of my death, virtually all of my wealth will have gone to charity.”

Someone like Mr. Turner might even think of himself as favored by God if he believed in God. But his kind of “success” is temporary. God’s view of success is different: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:2   In other words, people who take pride in their accomplishments and generosity have already had their earthy honor and glory, but eternal glory is reserved for those who humble themselves and follow the will of God.

God wants us to be generous, but we are to do it for the right reasons, not to gain honor for ourselves or to gain favor with God, but because it is the right thing to do.  How do we know if we are appropriately humble? The following quotes might be helpful: “Pride is concerned with who is right not what is right” – Ezra T. Benson. “A fool tells you what he will do. A boaster tells you what he has done. A wise man does it and says nothing.” – Unknown. And finally, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” – C. S. Lewis.