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My Final Newspaper Column

I launched it 26 years ago after being in Hayward only a couple of weeks.  Since I had written a column for teens in California called “Teen Talk”, I brought a few samples to the editor, Gary Pennington, to see he he would like something similar for the Record.

He enthusiastically gave me the invitation to write, and so my column, “Teen Talk” began.   The first week someone complained about it, but Gary shut them up and stood with me.  I’m so glad he did!

After a few years, I realized that besides a few English classes, teens weren’t reading it.  The only feedback I received from the column came from people at least five or six decades past adolescence.

We decided to make the column reflect reality:  but didn’t want to call it “Old Folks Talk”.  Therefore, I changed it to “Positively Speaking.”

That has been my goal with this column:  to be a source of encouragement and positive energy for people.  As far as I can remember, I only used the column once to rant — and regretted that one.

People deal with so many negative things in life, I felt that if I could just bring a little ray of sunshine, it would be helpful all the way around.

Positive juice beats negative juice any day.  People who run on negative juice don’t appreciate my column so much — but I’m not writing it for them anyway.  There’s plenty of other media to give them their fill of negativity.  Sources of positive juice are in short supply.

Though my focus on the positive has led a few naysayers to misinterpret and accuse me of being shallow, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  I’d rather be accused of being shallow than shrill — and in my book, depth is measured by love anyway. Depth, in my mind, is combining a singleness of intent with a wideness of spirit.

I deeply appreciate the editors of the Record who have stuck with me down through the years and allowed me the opportunity to bring this message of hope.

I’ve tried to keep the message wide enough for everyone.  This is why I didn’t use a lot of “churchy” language or Christian jargon.  The newspaper is a public domain, and I wanted to respect all my readers regardless of their views.  The column does not express the totality of who I am or what I represent — but,hopefully, it does reveal the attitude of my heart towards everyone.

“Positively Speaking” opened doors I never would have imagined!  For instance, Famous Dave became my dear friend as a direct result of the column.

John Beebe, National Sales Manager for WGN in Chicago, used “Positively Speaking” to inspire his sales force.  He invited me to bring my boys to be his guests for a game at Wrigley Field as a result.  I’ve met several other great business leaders through the column.

Quotes from “Positively Speaking” appeared in a couple of books, as well as newsletters and other publications across the nation.  I’m amazed at how wide the reach was — far beyond Sawyer County.

We’re still working on the idea of compiling some of the best articles into a book.

Thank you!  Thank you for taking the time to read my column.  From the depth of my heart, I want you to know how much I appreciate you and the relationship connection we have had.

And now a few final, parting words:  Love well!  Pray much!  Give thanks!  Stay sweet!  Serve others! Dream big!  Keep humble! Finish well!

From Dust to Dust

In honor of Ash Wednesday, I’m re-posting the following story from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out:  How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.

Northern Wisconsin is Lutheran and Catholic territory, and this means two things: Lutefisk before Christmas, and Lent before Easter. I didn’t know much about either growing up. Until moving to Hayward, I had never heard of Lutefisk, and figured Lent was stuff you trap in the dryer.

Living in the Northwoods, I’ve discovered that Lutefisk is a piece of cod that passes all understanding. (Actually, it’s a rather unappetizing, gelatinous Nordic dish made from dried, salted whitefish and lye.) We’ll let the Lutherans keep it.

Lent, however, is something we’ve happily pilfered from our more liturgical brethren. We start with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter. I smudge ashes on the foreheads of willing parishioners, repeating, “From dust you’ve come, to dust you shall return.”

For a few years, I drove over to St. Joe’s a couple days before the Lenten season and borrowed ashes from my Catholic priest buddy, Father Bill. He pulled my leg when I asked him where he obtained the ashes. “From the funeral home, of course.” He said it with such a straight face that I believed him at first.

When Father Bill retired, I lost my ash stash. Before leaving town, he finally divulged that the ashes come from last year’s Palm Sunday branches. So now I hoard dead palm branches in my filing cabinet.

The first time I tried to burn palm branches, I nearly set the house on fire, and our smoke alarm shrieked. Cathy sent me and my pan of smoking palm fronds out the back door, and instructed me to never burn them in the oven again. So, I’ve had to take my cremation operation outdoors.

It’s fitting that the ashes are leftovers from Palm Sunday. We can’t depend on yesterday’s praises to get us through today’s problems. Former glory fades to ashes and dust.

A couple of years ago, while smudging foreheads, I decided what to sacrifice for Lent. Normally, people give up stuff like candy, coffee, television, and Facebook in order test their spiritual resolve.

I gave up doubt. I determined that for forty days I would respond to every situation with this question: What would great faith have me do?

This commitment was tested immediately. In fact, I still had the ash smudge on my forehead when our high school pastor, Loretta, came bursting into my office with an exciting but expensive idea. Her enthusiasm bubbled over. “So, what do you think?” she asked eagerly. Dollar signs rolled in my head. How on earth were we going to pay for that? But I needed to keep my vow. What would great faith have me do? I gulped, grinned through gritted teeth, and replied, “Sure, what a splendid opportunity. Let’s go for it.”

And that’s the way it went for the next forty days, responding to every situation with the greatest faith I could muster. Was I ever glad when Easter came, so I could go back to my old pattern of doubting and fretting!
An excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose : Purchase via Wesleyan Publishing House or Amazon

How Not To Spend Your Time

“Spend your time in nothing which you know must be repented of; on nothing which you might not pray for the blessing of God;  in nothing which you could not review with a quiet conscience on your dying bed; in nothing which you might not safely and properly be found doing if death should surprise you in the act.”

—  Richard Baxter

Hollow Words

“Every abstract word is hollow until we pour life into it. Honor, glory, sacrifice, loyalty, love, joy, peace, courage and endurance, faith and faithfulness, democracy and brotherhood, justice and mercy- what are these?

Words. Abstract words. Hollow words- until we fill them with deeds, with life, and hence with meaning…

The great words of the Christian faith—grace, forgiveness, redemption, faith, hope and love—are all hollow words until we pour our Christian experience into them.

Yes, the great words are hollow; and yet filled full of life, they could shake the world again as they have done in the past, not as disembodied sounds, however correct, but as poured-out life penetrating to the heart of the world.”

—  J. Wesley Ingles

Whose Neighbor Are You?

One day, a rule-bound lawyer, hoping to get a checklist to prove he was good enough, approached Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Like a wise rabbi, Jesus didn’t give an answer, but countered the question with his own question, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”

The lawyer was thrilled, because he knew the answer to that one!  Proudly, he rattled off something he learned in the synagogue  as a child years ago, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”  Then he added, “And, love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Bingo!” said Jesus.  “You nailed it!  You said it right.  Now, DO it!”

The lawyer was startled.  The conversation was moving fast from theory to real life application.  He wasn’t so sure he liked the direction this was going, and got defensive.”

“But. . ..  But. .  . who is my neighbor anyway?”

He wasn’t asking in order to find a neighbor to love.  Instead, he was asking “who is NOT my neighbor?  Who can I exclude?”

Jesus would have none of that, so he responded with a story.

“A man, traveling to Jericho, was attacked by robbers, beaten and left for dead beside the road.

A priest hurried by.  He was late to church.  When he saw the broken, bleeding victim, he thought, “That’s sad.  I wonder what he did to deserve that” and passed on the other side.

Another religious guy a local politician, approached him, and, horrified when he was the battered man, thought, “We need to have a discussion about violence in our community.  At the next council meeting, I’ll see if we can form a committee to look study it.”  Then, he scurried on his way.

Finally, a Samaritan passed by.  (Samaritans were considered half-breed outcasts in their culture.  All the characters in the story so far would have looked down their noses at him — especially the lawyer who asked the question in the first place.)   The Samaritan stopped and helped the injured man.  He bandaged his wounds, put him on his own donkey and carried him to a safe and comfortable place to heal.

Now, who was the neighbor in this story?”

The lawyer realizing there was only one correct answer here, replied, “The one who showed mercy.”

And Jesus smiled and said, “You are right — and THAT is what you need to do.”

The lawyer started the conversation by asking “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus ended the conversation by asking, “Whose neighbor are you?”

100 Preachers

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”

–John Wesley, Letter to Alexander Mather

A Life that Preaches

Daddy was a preacher.  On Sunday mornings, he thundered truth from the pulpit — and sometimes the thunder came in a whisper.  He whispered a word of grace which quietly entered our hearts and then thundered on the inside.

Some preachers yell because there’s no substance.  It’s loud, but hollow and doesn’t sink any further than the earmuffs.  But Daddy’s message always sank deep into the soul and then exploded.

He wasn’t eloquent.  Reading was a struggle for him, and he never attended seminary.  Sometimes, he felt inadequate.  But Daddy was equipped.  Although he never finished high school, he was admitted to God’s Bible School, and graduated with honors and served a full life of effective ministry.  His sermons, though simple, were always powerful and transforming.

I think the main reason for Daddy’s effectiveness in the pulpit was not his oratorical or homiletical skills.  Instead, it was because his whole life preached.  What he was on Sunday morning behind the pulpit was what he was Monday through Saturday.  He lived a life overflowing with holy love, gratitude and praise.

As he put life into his words, he put his words to life.

I thought of Daddy when I recently read these words by J. Wesley Ingles:

 “Every abstract word is hollow until we pour life into it. Honor, glory, sacrifice,loyalty, love, joy, peace, courage and endurance, faith and faithfulness, democracy and brotherhood, justice and mercy- what are these?

Words. Abstract words. Hollow words- until we fill them with deeds, with life, and hence with meaning…

The great words of the Christian faith—grace, forgiveness, redemption, faith, hope and love—are all hollow words until we pour our Christian experience into them.

Yes, the great words are hollow; and yet filled full of life, they could shake the world again as they have done in the past, not as disembodied sounds, however correct, but as poured-out life penetrating to the heart of the world.”

Especially in this day and age, it would pay Christians to practice what they preach.  Rick Warren said that often when people observe Christians, they don’t see the hands and feet of Jesus.  Instead they just see a big mouth.

Mary Ruth Penn, my Sunday School teacher during my high school years said, “what you do speaks so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.”  The truth of that teaching just floated on the surface and didn’t sink in for quite some time.  But eventually, like Daddy’s sermon, it detonated in my heart and now, almost 40 years later, it is at work in me.

The other day, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my father staring back.  As I age, I look more like him and hope, when I grow up, I’ll look more like him on the inside too.

Truth remains just a concept that doesn’t change anything until we bring it to life.