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: Selfishness vs. Selflessness

by Ardith Hoff

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences has tracked a unique statistic: how many people have died while taking a selfie.  Their research confirms at least 259 such deaths around the world in the last six years.  Drowning is the leading cause followed by transportation (taking a picture as a train/car approaches).  Other causes are falling from cliffs, waterfalls and buildings.  Fixation on self can be deadly. The Week, 10/19/18, p.16

Most of us do not consider ourselves selfish, but most of us are actually quite self-centered at times.  This is a good thing if we are taking care of ourselves so that we remain healthy and are learning to do better.  It becomes unhealthy and even dangerous when we become so self-centered that we ignore our surroundings and become oblivious to the presence and rights of others.

Even when we use our phones inappropriately, other than to take selfies, we often show a disregard for others.  Talking too loudly while in a public setting is rude and selfish to those around us.  Not watching where we are going can be dangerous for us as well as to others, to say nothing of texting or dialing while driving. 

Our phones are wonderful and can even be lifesaving in times of emergency.  They are wonderful for keeping in touch and reaching out to others.  Even the occasional selfie to send to Grandma or an old friend, can be delightful.  What we have to remember is that there is a time and place for everything and finding the appropriate time and place is the opposite of selfishness and is moving in the direction of selflessness.

Philippians 2:3-4 says: “Do nothing from vanity or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Getting beyond ourselves and thinking of others is how we are meant to live as Christians.  Self-indulgence and inattention can not only cause problems for others, they can cost us our self  respect and even our lives.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8

Food for Thought: Overcoming Challenges

by Ardith Hoff

At some point in our lives, we all face challenges of one kind or another.  Some challenges are welcomed and some might not be quite as easy to accept.  We like challenges such as playing a game to win, or of accomplishing something we take on willingly like making something for ourselves or someone else.  Even completing mundane chores can bring satisfaction, once they are completed.  But a challenging illness, or a challenging relationship can be much harder to deal with, and we might be tempted to complain, fight it or even give up.

Joshua Marine said, “Challenges are what make life interesting.  Overcoming challenges is what makes life meaningful.”  If we accept challenges with the attitude that with God’s help, we will overcome them, we can look forward to the time when we have conquered the challenge and can rejoice afterwards.  

One of the rewards of approaching challenges with a positive attitude is that we don’t let the worrisome thing get us down.  I have noticed that some people who are going through cancer treatments are often of the happiest people.  Once they have accepted the challenge of beating the disease, they seem to take great comfort and courage in knowing that they are doing everything they can to fight for a return to a healthy lifestyle.  Once they have beaten the disease, they seem to be more alive and grateful for their lives than ever before.  Having overcome a challenge often changes a person in positive ways. 

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that believers can rejoice in our sufferings since suffering produces perseverance, character and hope.  God has given us the Holy Spirit whereby He pours out His love upon us.  If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t need God as much.  We tend to seek Him more and seek to understand Him and His ways better in our suffering.  Otherwise, we’d be complacent in our faith.  Remember that if there were no raindrops, there would be no rainbows.

James 1:12 tells us: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised.”

Food for Thought: Kindness Matters

by Ardith Hoff

Through research conducted by Coca-Cola it was discovered that 83% of young Americans (age 17 to 24) were inspired to do a random act of kindness for someone else after having received one themselves.  Kindness is contagious! USA Today, 7/24/18, p.1D

I was on my way to a meeting in a city a few hours from home and stopped at a restaurant near the meeting site to get a bite to eat before I went to my meeting.  It was a little later than the usual lunchtime, and I was hungry after driving for so long.  Whereas I usually would have settled for a simple salad, I actually ordered both soup and salad that day. 

To my surprise, when the waiter brought my bill, he said that it had already been paid.  I looked around, but there was no one left in the booths.  Apparently, whoever had paid my bill had done so on their way out of the restaurant.  They obviously did not want me to know that they were paying for my lunch.  It was a truly random act of kindness in the spirit of the once popular “Pay it forward” movement.

God has commanded us to show kindness to everyone, regardless of their circumstances, as he said in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Yet those sentiments do not seem to come naturally to some people.  Even when they see someone obviously in need such as a homeless person. 

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead.  She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama.  Then, she asked the class, ''If you saw a person lying on the roadside, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?'' A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, ''I think I'd throw up.” 

Most of us are somewhat repulsed by the site of the homeless, especially if they look or smell bad.  While it may not always be safe or well advised to approach people who appear down and out, there are organizations through which we can safely help.  There are other people to whom we can offer help directly.  No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Reminders: Perception vs. Reality

by Ardith Hoff

A school board was interviewing a person for a job as a high school science teacher.  One of the board members asked, “Do you believe the earth is flat or do you believe it is round?”  The candidate replied, “I can teach it flat, and I can teach it round.”

What the prospective science teacher knew is that when we stand on the earth, and look around, we perceive the earth as relatively flat.  Yet, no matter how far we go, we know we will not suddenly fall off the edge because when we get to one horizon there is always another one in sight.  When we wake up early, and see the sun rise, we perceive it as rising, even though it has been shown that it is actually the earth that is moving, not the sun.  Perception is our response to what appears to happen.  For us, perception is reality! 

Even though we can intellectually conceive of something being different from what we seem to be experiencing.  We tend to interpret things as they appear not always as they are.  A quote from the Talmud puts it this way, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”  If we are depressed, we tend to see the world in negative terms.  If we are feeling optimistic, we tend to see the world as positive.  The interesting thing is that we actually have a choice.  We can choose how to interpret what is happening around us. 

Political divides are a good example.  If you watch TV news commentary on one side of an issue, you hear very well reasoned interpretations of events one way, but commentators on another network have equally well reasoned arguments on the other side.  The truth is probably somewhere between, but we are being asked to choose.  Each commentator passionately defends his or her point of view.  Each of them wants to convince us that their perspective is correct.  We would all do well to look at things from God’s point of view.  We need to keep an open mind and ask His guidance. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

Reminders: Developing Our Spiritual Gifts

by Ardith Hoff

It’s easy to confuse gifts and talents.  They are often lumped together.  Talents are innate abilities such as natural aptitudes passed down and nurtured in families for such things as math, music, mechanics, etc., while gifts are from God, and are by definition “spiritual” because they are transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit once we accept Jesus as our savior.  The two sometimes work in tandem when, for example, a talented teacher is also able to use his or her teaching ability to reach people for Christ.

Spiritual growth (the recognition, development and practice of our gifts) is essential to becoming a mature Christian.  But how does one recognize the gifts God has bestowed upon us?  How do we know the plans He has for us?  How do we know if we are living up to our full God-given potential? 

Many young people go to college with big plans of becoming something specific.  They may have talked with their high-school guidance counselor about potential trades or professions they could go into.  They may have taken some tests to determine their aptitudes.  Yet research shows that 75% of college students change their major at least once before graduation.  Some start taking the courses in a particular field of study and realize that the path they have chosen is not for them.  In some cases, it might be a lack of maturity and discipline that detours them.  Other times they might realize that they don’t have the natural ability and desire to complete the required courses.  It sometimes takes a while for them to get it right.

The same can be true of people who start down a particular spiritual path and realize that they are not able to use God’s gifts effectively.  Just as students must ask God’s help to find the right vocation and complete a course of study, we also need to ask His guidance and open ourselves to development (study and practice) in order to fulfill our spiritual potential.  By prayer, hard work and trial and error, we can find our appropriate roles in God’s plans.  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Reminders: How Lucky Are You?

by Ardith Hoff

When my brother and I were 4-H club members, there was a tour of farms, where the members lived, to observe our projects.  When the tour group came to our farm, they critiqued our 4-H projects, but they couldn’t help also noticing our mother’s gardens.  She raised a large variety of vegetables, and an even more impressive variety of flowers.  One of the 4-H leaders commented on how beautiful her gardens were, and then added, “But you are so lucky not to have as many weeds as we have.”  What she didn’t know is that there was a reason we didn’t have any weeds.  Mom had hoed them up, shook out the roots, and gotten rid of every one of them.

Have you ever noticed that the harder you work, the “luckier” you get?  The Midwest work ethic has a good reputation nation wide.  Employers look for people who grew up here because they know that hard work is part of the culture of the region.  Part of the reason for the strong emphasis on diligence is the influence of our churches.

The word of God is replete with passages urging us to give an honest days work for an honest days pay.  For example, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for a human master.” Colossians 3:23   When we framework in that context we know that we are working out of gratitude for what God has given us.  We are working to provide for our families needs, and to give back toward God’s purposes, and to do our duty as good citizens and helpful neighbors.  We work to provide money for ourselves and our families.

Beyond our regular jobs, Christians are also called to work in God’s harvest of souls. “Then He said to His disciples.  The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Therefore I beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." Matthew 9:37

The Midwest work ethic and God’s harvest of souls might both be in jeopardy of disappearing with declining church and Sunday school attendance.  Children learn by example.  If they observe hard working adults, and are given responsibilities of their own, they learn to work hard, but if they do not see adults who also work for God, they do not learn the true value of work.