I love the scene in the movie “Shrek” where Shrek and Donkey are talking about who they are. Shrek finally gets frustrated and tells Donkey that he is like an onion: he has many layers.

That analogy holds true for all of us. I know people who like to call themselves self-made, but the truth seems obvious. If you take a long look at yourself, you will realize that nearly everything you think or hold dear has come to you through the influence of another person. My parents, my grandparents, my adopted mom and many others have influenced my life in ways I don’t always understand. Today, I want to tell you about one of these influencers.

Clifford Wrisinger was my mentor and pastor at Calvary Church in Chillicothe, Mo. As a young teenager, I surrendered to the ministry under his leadership. This month, he turns 89 years old. To celebrate, his family is hosting a gathering of people whose lives he has touched.

Clifford is an unusual man. He loves Jesus more than anyone else I know . . . and he loves lost people as much as he loves Jesus. In fact, I have never met a man who truly loves the lost the way Clifford does. He never sees them as a project or a problem, but as people whom God loved so much that He sent His only Son to die for them. I guess Clifford decided that if God loved them that much . . . then he would, too.

On many occasions, he and I have been on visitation together and pulled up to a house I would have passed right by. You know the kind: screen door half off its hinges; a group of dirty, half-clothed children running around; a lazy dog lying on the front porch. Clifford walked right up to the door only to find the man of the house sitting in his undershirt, beer in hand. He never even knocked; he just opened the door, walked in and let the man know he had come to tell him about the wonderful love of Jesus. The man’s embarrassment showed on his face, but this precious pastor put him at ease. He told him the beer can did not bother him at all, but the fact he did not know Jesus bothered him tremendously. Before the evening was over, I watched that same man put down his beer and go to his knees, asking Christ into his heart.

Clifford always shouted his sermons in that old-time preacher style. One day, I made a comment about that to a friend, who told me Clifford was a drill sergeant before he got saved. I don’t know whether or not that was true, but it made sense.

Another story people told about Clifford showed his deep burden over cities without churches, especially those in the Pacific Northwest. He boarded a Greyhound bus and rode along, passing town after town until the Holy Spirit prompted him to stop. Then, he spendt a week in that city to see if he could start a church.

One of the other things I remember most about Clifford is that he was never impressed by a man’s position. I spoke with him not long after I moved to Tulsa to serve on the pastoral staff of the great First Baptist Church. When I told Clifford I had been called to this sizeable congregation, he didn’t say a word about it. Instead, he simply asked, “How many lost people have you shared Jesus with this week?” Clifford had a way of keeping the main thing . . . the main thing.

I’m not sure what has happened over the past few years. It seems we have made “the lost” the objects of a program. Too often, we see them as the enemy when they are really victims of the enemy. We talk about winning the lost and reaching the lost, but seldom do we talk about loving the lost . . . as Jesus did.

These are the ways Clifford Wrisinger influenced a host of other “preacher boys,” as he still likes to call us, and . . . me. We know what it means to follow Jesus because Clifford modeled, demonstrated and lived his faith out loud. Maybe that is why I have a heart to share Jesus with unreached people groups around the world.

If I examined my onion more deeply, I’m sure I would see that Clifford’s influence extends through more than one layer. I pray that someday, my own influence will be as deep-and as life-changing-as . . . his.

Happy 89th Birthday, Clifford Wrisinger!