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: What's on Your Bucket List?

by Ardith Hoff

Not everyone has a bucket list naming the things they most want to do before they die, but maybe we should. In the movie “Bucket List” a band of old friends decided to get together and do all of the stuff they had on their list. Their list was: To witness something truly majestic; Help a complete stranger; Laugh until I cry; Drive a Shelby Mustang; Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world; Get a tattoo; Go Skydiving; Visit Stonehenge; Drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China; Go on a Safari; Visit the Taj Mahal; Sit on the Great Egyptian Pyramids; and Find the Joy in your life. 

Some of the things on the list seem like worthy goals and some are downright ridiculous and dangerous for old men to try.  Yet, in the movie, they did them all, even though some items might not have been accomplished in the way the men originally anticipated.  For example, (spoiler alert) in a final scene, one of the men thought he would never complete the list by kissing the most beautiful girl in the world or finding joy in his life. To his surprise, he found both when he reunited with his estranged daughter and was able to kiss her beautiful baby daughter.

Bill Kerley reported having read an article titled "100 Things To Do Before You Die” and was surprised that "Yell for help" wasn't one of them. Houston Chronicle, 2/25/18, p. G14

We might not all need to “yell for help”, but I think we would all be better off if we paused to pray for help before we even start a bucket list.  If we put “Do God's Will” at the top of the list, it is much more likely to make our lists more meaningful.  It is when our goals are based on following God’s plans that we are most likely to find true joy.  When we seek pleasure in the things of this world, we sometimes take great risks and experience great exhilaration, but the trills are short lived and the memories soon fade. 

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

The poet C.T. Studd got it right when he wrote: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Food for Thought: Fear vs Faith

by Ardith Hoff

The cartoon character Charlie Brown always seems to be concerned about something.  In one comic strip in the series Charlie comes up with a new idea for dealing with life.  Charlie explained, "I've developed a new philosophy: I will dread only one day at a time.": Reader's Digest, November 2014, p.28

 This begs the question, why is he, or are we, in a state of dread at all? Yet some of us seem to hold onto the idea that things are getting worse and worse and there seems to be little hope of getting better any time soon.  Once we get into a state of paranoia it is hard to think differently.  Instead of seeing the possibilities for positive change, we tend to wake up dreading each day.  Chronic health problems, relationship problems or even just a series of dreary days in the weather can all too easily get us down.  It can be hard to see our way out of a funk, especially if many things are going wrong at the same time. We might start to think that there really is no way out––that there is no hope.

We humans seem to like to dwell on the negative.  Somehow, playing the victim helps us feel like none of what happens to us is within our control.  It gives us an excuse to look for someone or something to blame.

On the other hand, if we can have hope in the love and saving grace of God, that empowers us to reject anxiety and self-pity.  When we are anxious about something that has happened or feel fearful about what's coming, we often respond in self-destructive behavior, which are just the opposite of love.  We might think: "Well, if things are going to be bad tomorrow, I may as well get what pleasure I can today.”  We might resort to something like overeating, drinking or drugs or even stealing.  And the result of this is that we are so worried about ourselves that we have no incentive or strength to care about others, which is what God calls us to do.  To counteract this kind of reaction, we need to put our faith in God and His power, presence and provision of grace.  Whenever faith in God looks to a better future, it is called hope.  And whenever hope rests on the grace of God, it is called faith.

Psalm 46:1-3 tells us: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble....”  Let us opt in favor of faith instead of futility.

Food for Thought: Trading Places

by Ardith Hoff

In the 1983 movie “Trading Places”, a snobbish businessman, played by Dan Aykroyd, is forced by his boss, who had made a bet with his brother, to trade places with a homeless man played by Eddy Murphy.  The film touched on a variety of social issues such as stereotypes about race, homelessness, and materialism.  In the story, all of the main characters learned a lot, but in the end the two underlings teamed up to defraud the two rich guys so that they could become wealthy at the expense of the rich brothers who were known to engage in insider trading.  The movie was entertaining and satisfying to watch because it showed that the underdogs could win.  However, the “moral” of the story was lost as it could lead some to believe that cheating is the way to win.

In a national survey, people were asked to finish this sentence, "For one day, I would like to trade places with...."  Over 1,000 people contributed and here are some of their responses: My autistic child, just to see the world through his eyes; My heart donor –– I would love to know what he or she was like; Billy Graham so I can feel his faith; My husband, to see just how it is to live with me –– I know I would learn a lot of ways to improve!  Uniquely, one participant's comment revealed a different perspective.  She said, "No one –– I am happy to just be myself!” Hopefully we're all happy to be ourselves, but it is helpful to consider how others might feel.  Reader's Digest, February 2012, p.34

Who would you like to trade places with, or are you happy just as you are?  If not, how do you think you might be able to find contentment?  Many of us are trying to fill a void of some kind in our lives, and unfortunately we try to fill that void with things that can't satisfy us. We look to fill the void with possessions or money, but we only end up wanting more.  We try to fill it with relationships or other distractions, but we end up feeling even more empty and depressed than when we started.  Only the love of God, through his son Jesus, can fill that void.

The Bible calls us to allow our convictions, not our circumstances, to govern our sense of contentment.  True biblical contentment is a conviction that God’s power, purpose and provision are sufficient for every circumstance.  In Proverbs 19:23 we read: “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

Reminders: Is Jesus with Us Literally or Figuratively?

by Ardith Hoff

A little boy was afraid of the dark. His mother asked him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom. The little boy turned to his mother and said, “Mama, I don't want to go out there. It's dark!”  The mother smiled and said, “You don't have to be afraid of the dark. Jesus is out there. He'll look after you and protect you.”  The little boy looked at his mother and asked, “Are you sure he's out there?”  “Yes, I'm sure. He is everywhere, and He is always ready to help you when you need him,” she said. The little boy thought for a minute, and then went to the back door and cracked it open a little. Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus? If you are out there, would you please hand me the broom?”

We chuckle, but what do we mean when we say, “Jesus is always with you?”  Adults sometimes make it more difficult for children to learn to distinguish between fantasy and reality. We tell them Santa sees if they are naughty or nice, then leave it to them to figure out that Santa can’t possibly deliver presents to every child on Christmas Eve. Children love to pretend. Do they think we are asking them to pretend that Jesus is with them, guiding and protecting them? If not, why wouldn’t they be skeptical, just as they are about Santa Clause.

Pastor Jeff Wells explains it this way: “Jesus is with us––God is with us––literally in every moment of our lives. In fact, God is in every electron and atom. We humans have the ability to experience God’s presence. When we experience Jesus deeply, as the basis of our being, our lives can become like music improvised by a jazz combo.

Jazz is largely about improvisation. The musicians always have some structure and a sense of where they are headed with the music, but they are also free to be creative and playful as they go.  In this scenario, think of God as the lead player. God is the one who shapes the music, we are to be in concert with Him.”

Reminders: Erasing Regrets

by Ardith Hoff

“A German high school teacher was struggling to rewind a DVD for her class, and in frustration she blurted out, ‘Where's the fast backwards button?!’  We've all had moments where we wish that button existed.” Reader's Digest, November 2014.

Some of us would like a fast backward button to return us to an earlier time when our lives were (or seemed) better.  Some of us would also like the button to have an erase feature to blot out past mistakes.  Many of us have regrets we would like to get rid of, some of our own making and some that were beyond our control.

Worry is closely related to regret.  People with regrets often worry that they actually are bad people or that they deserved the terrible things that happened to them.  Some worry that they can never make amends for the damage they may have caused or that they can never be forgiven for what they have done.  They worry that the results of what they regret will have future repercussions for themselves and the person or people their actions have harmed. 

A poem I wrote for a friend titled “Worry and Regret” speaks to that situation.  It reads as follows: “Just as worry can’t change the future / Regret can’t change the past. / Once you have made amends and learned from your mistakes / Lock regret in the same strong box as worry, because / Just as regret can’t change what has happened/ Worry can’t change what might.” 

In other words, neither regret nor worry can change things.  The only actions that can effect change are repentance and forgiveness.  While regret leads to guilt and remorse.  Repentance leads to changes in behavior and potentially to forgiveness.  If we take responsibility and confess our part in a regrettable situation, God is gracious to forgive. 

But if we confess our sins to God, He will keep his promise and do what is right: He will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing.” John 1:9   If we have been harmed, we need to be the one who forgives, just as God has forgiven us.

Reminders: God is Missing!

by Ardith Hoff

Two little boys were known “troublemakers” who were stealing everything they could get their hands on, even stealing from a church.  One day the pastor stopped one of the boys and asked, “Where is God?” expecting him to know that God is everywhere.  Instead, the boy shrugged and the pastor repeated, “Where is God?”  The boy ran out of the church crying to his home, where he hid in a closet.  Eventually, his brother found him and asked, “What's wrong?”  The distraught boy sobbingly replied, “We're in BIG trouble!  God is missing, and they think we took him!”  

When we are trying to teach children (or adults for that matter) a lesson, we sometimes ask a question the person knows the answer to instead of stating what we want them to grasp.  The idea is that the answer to the question will cause the person to discover the concept for him or herself.  By asking the question, the pastor was hoping that the boy would realize that God is everywhere, and is able to see what he is doing.  Instead, the strategy backfired.  Though the boy discovered his guilt, he drew the wrong conclusion.  It’s what makes the story funny.

But it isn’t funny when God is missing from our lives.  We need God to point us in the right direction, to help us know that we are on the right track, and to assure us that what we are doing will have the right outcome.  When God is missing (meaning we have shut Him out) we wander foolishly into all kinds of mischief.

Even if we grew up in a Godly home, and have been taught right from wrong, temptations present themselves.  If we leave God out of the equation, it is way too easy to get involved in things we shouldn’t.  When we keep God at the core of our being, He is there to guide us.  Jesus tells us: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26   We need to welcome the Holy Spirit back into our lives, if He has been missing, and renew a right relationship with God.