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: Uncertain Certainty

by Ardith Hoff

In 1997, the book Into Thin Air became a bestseller. Author Jon Krakauer chronicled the disastrous 1996 Mt. Everest expedition that resulted in the deaths of eight climbers. Charlotte Fox was a part of that summit. She made it to "the top of the world" and survived the harrowing journey down. On May 24, 2018, Fox fell down the stairs of her home in Telluride, Colorado and died at the age of 61. The shocking news made a friend say, "it's just so wrong." How can you survive one of the most dangerous climbs on earth and then die on the stairs in your house? Death is both uncertain and certain, which warrants our thorough preparedness for its coming. Examiner 6/21/18, p.28B

We all know that we are going to die at some point. But we humans are very good at convincing ourselves that we can put off even thinking about it for a very long time. But, time has a way of slipping away and we start to experience the loss of acquaintances who are our age or younger, passing away, some suddenly and some after long illnesses.

Gilda Radner (1946-1989) was an American comedienne and one of the original cast members for Saturday Night Live. During her 3-year battle with ovarian cancer, she wrote about the challenges she faced. Of her situation she wrote, "I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next." Beaumont Enterprise, 5/20/18, p.2A

The good news is that even thought we don’t know when or how the end of our life will take place, we can know that no matter how life on this earth ends for us, there is a better life to come if we believe in salvation through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. There in is the certainty in our uncertainty and the blessing in believing. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25-26

We all need to ask ourselves; do I believe this?

Food for Thought: Responsible Churching

by Ardith Hoff

In recent years parenting has been tagged with plenty of labels: tiger, helicopter, elephant, free-range, etc.  The school year of 2018-19 began with a new moniker, "lawnmower parent."  A post that went viral on We areTeachers.com explained how lawnmower parents mow down all of their children's challenges, struggles and discomforts.  Editorial Director of the website, Hannah Hudson, shared a few examples.  A high-school student's parent asked a teacher to walk her teenager to class to assure he wouldn't be late.  One parent requested that someone in the cafeteria blow on her child's hot lunch to cool it down.  In their attempts to help a child succeed, lawnmower parents take away virtually every opportunity for maturity and resilience to emerge.  Hudson suggested it's not an emergency unless the cell-phone-totting student would be willing to go to the school office and use the secretary's phone.  All parents want to help their child succeed; we just need to make sure we're really helping. USAToday.com, 9/19/18

This makes me wonder if churches haven’t also become lawnmower churches.  After all, most churches today provide pre-written prayers, prescribed rituals for worship, and familiar hymns to keep us comfortable with worship.  Do we make it too easy for the people in the pews to skate through Sunday morning services without having to think about or take responsibility for much of anything? 

I am not advocating that we should make worship an onerous experience, but I think that like lawnmower parents, we might be making it so comfortable that parishioners do not even have to think for themselves about what God has ask us as Christians to do.  Yes, a good preacher can inspire his or her audience toward thoughtful action and cause them to realize that there is a need for accomplishment, but do we really require people to have to follow through?  Are we too afraid that people will not want to be part of a church that lays too much responsibility on them?

Don’t we as churches bare some responsibility, just as parents do, to help people become more mature and responsible adults?  Don’t we need to inspire people to want to do God’s work?  As it says in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In other words, we have to ask people to walk the walk.

Food for Thought: What Imprisons You?

by Ardith Hoff

The Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy houses Michelangelo's statue of King David.  People wait for hours to catch a glimpse of this masterpiece, which was created half a millennium ago.  On their journey to the featured exhibit, tourists pass a number of unfinished statues known as Prisoners.  The Hall of Prisoners displays works that Michelangelo never completed.  Erupting from the marble you can see a hand, or a torso, a leg, or the beginnings of a head.  It looks as if the rock is holding some unfortunate being captive.  The magnificently completed sculpture of David is just beyond the wall, but these statues are forever encased in stone.  Strongholds make us feel like we're permanently imprisoned, but the divine power of Christ can demolish every stronghold and set us free (2 Corinthians 10:4). Soul Print, Mark Batterson, 2011, p.11

 I have been interested in Michelangelo since junior high when my art teacher assigned us each to write a 1000-word theme about a famous artist. I chose Michelangelo.  I must have gone to the library and read about him and in the process saw pictures of his work and became a fan for life.  It is hard not to admire the sheer volume and perfection of the work of this painter, sculptor, architect and poet of the High Renaissance.

When I saw his paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the other statues there and his statue of David, as well as the Prisoners blocks in Florence, I was astounded!  The article above calls them “unfinished works”, but it is my belief that Michelangelo saw the so-called unfinished pieces as complete.  I think he left them as they are on purpose.  He is quoted as saying: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”  He also said: “I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”   I think he realized that people tend to imprison themselves. To help us experience that he left the “figures” inside the stone, perpetually trying to escape.

Michelangelo was a man of God, but even he knew that he was imprisoned by his popularity.  We too can fall prey to our obsessions or anything or action that keeps us from doing God’s will.  Galatians 5:1 tell us: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  What might be keeping you enslaved or imprisoned?

Reminders: Who Are You?

by Ardith Hoff

A thought-provoking plaque in a gift shop reads: “Learning changes your mind.  Exercise changes your body.  Who you choose to love changes who you are.”  Think about that!

We didn’t have a choice about who brought us into this world, but at some point in our lives, we do have a choice about who we hang out with and who we choose to allow to influence our lives.  Parents worry when they see their children gravitate toward people with a reputation for being, “up to no good”, and try to point them toward more wholesome friendships. 

We take our children to church and encourage them to love God and to find friends who will keep them on the right path.  We encourage them to date people who will help them live a good life, but eventually, it is beyond a parent’s ability to choose their children’s friends and whom they choose to love.  If we have done our job in bringing our children up to love God and follow Jesus’ example, we have given them the basis for choosing good influences.  The ability to resist harmful influences has to be learned, sometimes the hard way.  Ultimately, everyone has to make his or her own choices.  

When Joshua of the Bible said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua 24:15.  He was speaking for the household he had control over.  What we have to realize is that, at some point, children leave the household, and have to choose for themselves whom they will serve.  Those of us who had opportunities to make our own choices – good and bad, and have lived with the consequences of our poor decisions, learned some valuable lessons.

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:11. “The commandments…are summed up in the one command, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  If you love others, you will never do them wrong, to love, then, is to obey the whole law.”  Romans 13:9-10.  Choose who you will love, and decide who you will be.  If we choose to love the Lord, He will put the right people in our lives.

Reminders: The Seven Wonders of Faith

by Ardith Hoff

Most thinking people can’t help but wonder why we exist, and what it all means.  Rev. Charley Reeb, preacher and author, has compiled a list of seven questions people want answers to: “I wonder if God Exits.  I wonder why bad things happen to good people.  I wonder why my prayers go unanswered.  I wonder about God’s will for my life.  I wonder about the miracles in the Bible.  I wonder about the end of the world.  And finally, I wonder about life after death”.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the answers to all of those questions?  It would help us understand how God works, and how we fit into the big picture.  Pastor Reeb has prepared a series of sermons on those questions.  He bases each of the sermons on Bible verses that speak to each of the questions.  He does not promise to provide complete answers to all of the questions above, but he gives reasons for hope now and eventual clarity.  You can find his sermons online by Googling, “Rev. Charley Reeb’s sermons” and selecting, “Day1.org.” 

In one sermon Rev. Reeb says this: “What does the Apostle Paul say happens to Christians when bad things happen to them?  Not only did he say that we will never be separated from God's love, but in Romans 8:28 Paul wrote something truly remarkable: ‘All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’  This means that evil and pain is never the will of God, but God can take evil and pain and use it for good.  Over and over again in life we see this.  When evil attacks with pain, God uses it to build character.  When evil shows resistance, God uses it to build strength.  When evil cripples with tragedy, God finds a way to victory.  When evil destroys with death, God restores life.  God is in the transforming business.  God can turn our trouble into triumph!” 

Bad things will happen, and we have no control over that.  We do have control over how we respond.  We can complain and try to find someone to blame, or we can look for the good God will make of it.

Reminders: Why Am I Here?

by Ardith Hoff

Have you ever wondered why you are here?  Not the old “senior moment” joke where you go into a room and can’t remember why you are there, but the bigger question of why you were put on this earth. 

It’s the kind of thing that sometimes comes up when we feel like we could be doing something more fulfilling and meaningful.  The interesting thing is that whatever we are doing, we can bring meaning to it.  For example, a person whose job is to harvest vegetables all day might feel that the job is backbreaking and monotonous, and for what?  So that some cook somewhere will just take that onion he just pulled for granted, and slice it up into the stew without a thought of all the work that went into it?  Or do we look at what we are doing as a vital part of the grander scheme of things, and rejoice in the fact that we are providing a valuable service to others. 

There are no unimportant jobs in God’s plan, and the lowlier the job, the more important it might be.  Someone has to pick up the garbage and clean the toilets.  Otherwise, those who appear to be doing the so-called, “important” work might not survive.  In God’s view, there are no hierarchies, only precious souls of whom all have an equal opportunity to inherit salvation and eternal life.

We can find meaning and purpose in not only our make-a-living job, but in the other job God has given us––that of harvesting souls for His kingdom.  We may not become a famous preacher of the Gospel, but we might have opportunities that the famous preacher will never have.  

We can witness to someone who works along side us and tell him or her what being a Christian means to us.  We can show, by our joyful attitude, that we value the job we have.  We are able to show great empathy for someone who is suffering because we have suffered.  We are all here to serve God and our fellow human beings wherever we are, however we can. “As for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” 2 Chronicles 15:7