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: 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.”

Food for Thought: How Like a Tree Are We?

by Ardith Hoff

There is a beautiful poem by May Sarton that sums up what we should all wish for ourselves.  It reads as follows: “I would like to believe that when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows its seeds every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to future life.  It is the tree’s way of being.  Strongly rooted, perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind.”

I have several soft maple trees near my home.  In the spring they drop those seeds that some people call “helicopters" or “whirlybirds” or "whirligigs”.  They are shaped like half a propeller or one wing and the wind carries them all over the neighborhood and propels them into my eve troughs.  The leaves do not turn pretty colors in the fall and they shed twigs and branches year round.  I have never appreciated those trees, but now that I read the poem, I am beginning to see how God designed them to be constantly giving.  I see that each thing those trees offers is a gift to the earth if not directly to me.  The mature trees provide shade for my car and for me. The seeds plant themselves and sprout and cause new trees to provide new sources of shade.  The leaves provide compost for my lawn, and the roots help soak up the excess water after a hard rain.  What’s more those trees provide safe homes for birds and squirrels.

This goes to show that even something that has some less-than-attractive features can teach us that God does not make mistakes.  Like a tree, there are people whom we might overlook, who also have redeeming qualities.  We should look for those qualities in others, and we should look at ourselves to find out what we can give and what we can do to make this a better world for ourselves, and how we can give of ourselves to others.

 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord.” Leviticus 27:30 (ESV)

 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?  Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand.”  I Chronicles 29:14

Let us thank God for his gifts to us, even some of the things we don’t always appreciate.  Let us also give back a portion of what we have.

Food for Thought: What Does It Mean to Succeed?

by Ardith Hoff

It depends on what your definition of success is.  We traditionally assume that success means having a great career that pays very well.  We all want enough income to provide a comfortable present and a secure future.  Being free of financial worries seems like a pretty good definition of success to most of us.  Some synonyms for success are: to attain, achieve, accomplish, thrive, prosper, flourish, thrive, win, triumph, and grow.

We can divide them into two categories.  One set of words pertains to getting and having and the other set of words refer to feelings.  To attain, prosper, and win, are on the side of getting and having.  Achieve, accomplish, thrive, flourish, and grow are more indicative of how we will feel if we have success. Which is more important to us will determine how we define success.

Each person may have a different definition for what success means to him or her at any given stage in life. Bob Goff has wisely written, "I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I'm more afraid of succeeding at things that don't matter." Love Does, Bob Goff, 2012, p.25

Is it more important to have a lot of money and comfort, or is it more important to feel like we have accomplished something worthwhile?  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Those who get and have can use what they have to do good and those who do good, in spite of not having a lot, can both feel fulfilled.  The key is in doing good.  The Bible directs us to do good, for example in: Galatians 6:9: Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Psalm 37:3:  Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should do them.

If success means realizing our hopes and dreams, it is up to us what we hope and dream for, whether for what we can have or what we can give.

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.

Reminders: Where is the Power?

by Ardith Hoff

“The Consumer Technology Association hosted their global trade show in Las Vegas and discovered their Achilles’ heel on January 10, 2018.  A two-hour power outage completely incapacitated the coolest, newest electronic products from giants like Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, and Intel.  Without power, every gadget was worthless.  Such experiences are good reminders of who we are without God.” USA Today, 1/11/18, p.5B 

The article seems to imply that God was not present during the power outage.  While God does not cause bad things to happen, He does allow them to happen.  In this case it might have been to teach us how vulnerable our devices are.  The truth is that we have become so dependent on technical devices that when they fail, we are virtually unable to function.  For example, if the computer in your dentist’s office is down, you may not be able to pay your bill. 

Before they had computers, businesses wrote out an invoice and we paid it.  The charge for services does not change just because the computer is down, but the computer is the only device the receptionist has to tell her what to charge and how to record the payment.  We all need to have the skills and knowledge to work around our devices.  There is no doubt that we would all hate to give up our cell phones, but we need to remember that God is with us, whether we have one or not. 

Our link to God is the best wireless connection of all time.  We don’t need a smart phone, or the Internet to communicate with Him.  We can speak to Him in prayer, any time, anywhere. “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 

This tells us that if we follow Gods commands, He is always with us.  He will help us through difficult situations, but He expects us to anticipate problems, and to be prepared.  Employees need to know how to make transactions without depending on a computer.  Institutions like hospitals that depend on computerized equipment, know that they need to have back-up generators. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46-1   We can always trust in God’s power.  It never fails!

Reminders: Proportionate Responses to Problems

by Ardith Hoff

“An unidentified man in Tucson, Arizona used a blowtorch to eliminate some unwanted spider webs under his mobile home.  The resulting fire on October 15, 2017 required 20 firefighters to fight the blaze that torched his house.  Addressing problems proportionately can prevent a lot of unnecessary damage.”  World 11/25/17, p.15 

Most people have overreacted to situations in ways that have caused them additional problems.  Losing our patience, or our temper, is a fairly common experience.  Once that happens, the actions that follow can not only make things worse for the person who caused the original problem, but also for the person who responds in a disproportionate way by saying or doing something that they might later regret.

Road rage is one example of how a person who feels somehow disrespected or mistreated by another driver can quickly get out of hand.  The first driver might feel justified in catching up with a driver who cut him off and “teaching him a lesson”.  But we all know that those incidents often end with people getting hurt, including the second driver and anyone who happened to get in his way while he was trying to take revenge. 

Some people think that the Old Testament “eye for and eye” way of dealing with problems is appropriate.  But in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus rejected that idea.  “Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.  But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  That seems like an opposite extreme, but let’s remember that the original, “eye for an eye” edict in Exodus 21:23-25 was not meant for personal retaliation.  It was a call for proportionate responses in the judicial process. 

While Jesus calls for us to forgive our enemies, that does not preclude remedies in our judicial system.  Those who have been harmed are not to take matters into their own hands.  Only the courts should determine punishments.  It also does not mean that we cannot defend ourselves, and our families (self defense), or that we should shy away from making victim impact statements, but ultimately, our job is to forgive.