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: Mercy and Compassion

by Ardith Hoff

There are many stories in the Bible that demonstrate the concept of mercy.  The first one that comes to mind is the story of the Good Samaritan. That story is particularly instructive in light of the history of the time. Jews and Samaritans were not on the same social level. The Samaritans were considered inferior. Yet when a Jewish man was beaten and left for dead, it was not his own who came to his aid. It was a person who by all rights might have hated him. The story illustrates the fact that help came from someone who had been discriminated against by the very group from whom the wounded man came. The Samaritan had compassion, provided aid and comfort and extended his help even further by providing lodging as a place for the man to heal.

Another story is in the book of Ruth. As you may know, Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, a widow who sought help from Boas, a relative of her dead husband. Ruth, the widow of Naomi’s son, went with Naomi to assist her, even though she was from an entirely different culture. Ruth worked so hard at trying to provide for her mother-in-law that she attracted the attention of the landowner, Boas. He, in turn extended unusual generosity and mercy toward the two women by allowing Ruth to glean extra grain from his fields. 

In both stories we see people crossing ethnic lines to help strangers. We see God opening the hearts of people who had no obligation to extend themselves, so that they not only helped those in need, but also went above and beyond what was normally expected. The lesson for us in these stories is that no matter who someone is, we are to come to the aid of anyone in need if we can. God is at work in both stories. He opened hearts, and he can open ours too if we let Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4  

Reminders: Inside-Out Thinking

by Ardith Hoff

Two teenagers were at the mall killing time until they could go see a movie at the adjoining theater.  One said to the other, “Let’s buy popcorn and candy at the grocery store before we go.  It’ll be a lot cheaper.”  To which the other teen said, “Haven’t you seen the sign at the theater saying, “NO OUT-SIDE FOOD IN THE THEATER?”  To which the first teen answered, “Yes, but we are already inside the mall, so technically, it would be “inside food”.

Whenever we hear, “Yes, but…” it might be a clue that someone might be trying to use a technicality to justify less than perfect reasoning.  It is not unusual to think that there might a way around the rules to do what we want to do.  Sometimes we try to justify unseemly behavior by saying, “Yes, but everyone else is doing it.”  Of course, the problem with that is that as Christians, we are to be set apart from the world.

Jesus set the example for us to follow.  The bumper-sticker/bracelet movement of a few years ago asking, “What would Jesus do?” is a good reminder of what we should think before we act.  Just because social “norms” seem to have accepted certain behaviors, that does not mean we should accept such behavior as appropriate for us. 

Thinking from inside our own desires is the opposite of how God has commanded us to think.  We are to think outside of ourselves to know what is right. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and the perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 

We are to turn to God in prayer, to look in the scriptures and to heed the advice of the mature Christians God has put into our lives.  If we think from inside our own reasoning, we might be looking for loopholes to get us what we want, but if we think from God’s perspective we will know what is right and good in His sight. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Reminders: What Keeps You Going?

by Ardith Hoff

In a previous article in this series, the topic of hope was put into the context of the ultimate hope of life after death.  In this treatment of the topic the focus is on hope as a means of dealing with the problems of everyday life, i.e., hope vs. hopelessness.

A person, let’s call her “Jane,” has endured such an array of difficulties, that if there were a book detailing her life, no one would believe it.  I have been helping this woman for over 30 years and can tell you that her story of constant horror is absolutely true.  Some of her problems, by her own admission, are the result of bad decisions on her part, but her resilience is the result of some fundamental decisions she made early in life that somehow see her through each unbelievably horrendous situation.

Jane is the oldest daughter in the large family of alcoholic parents.  She rejected their way of life, and more or less raised her younger siblings.  As a high school student, she was introduced to a young man whom her mother encouraged her to date, and when she became pregnant insisted that she marry.  Constantly beaten, berated, and threatened with being murdered, she lost all confidence.  Nine children later (the last four by spousal rape) she finally was able to divorce him while he was in jail. 

She started a new life raising the children with remarkable grit and gumption, and that was just the beginning.  One horrific thing after another, right up to the present day, has continued to plague her.

She is a deeply religious person, and says she doesn’t understand why God keeps allowing such terrible things to keep happening to her.  Yet she never gives up!  What keeps her going is her fervent hope that some greater good can come from all that she has endured, not for her in this life, but for her children and grandchildren. 

Love keeps her going, both her steadfast belief in God’s love, and the love she has for her children, even though some of them have grieved her greatly.  “We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 “Let Love be without hypocrisy; Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9