The Power of the Paperclip

For the past few months I have been working on a seminar to teach at the church I attend on how to overcome fear in evangelism. To say that I have a few notes is a gross understatement. I have papers, post-it-notes, and things everywhere around my office; and of course they are not in order. It was a hot mess.

After trying to organize my thoughts in a cohesive manner I failed miserably. I opened the door of my desk and pulled out several paperclips. Wow, what a difference that made. Suddenly, my fleeting thoughts turned into an intelligible pattern which could be understood by anyone who happened to come across it. Especially me who wrote it.

Brief History of the Paperclip

Squirrel!

The paperclip was invented in 1899 by Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian with degrees in electronics, science, and mathematics. Since Norway had no patent laws at the time, he received his first in Germany, then one with the United States in 1901. Through the years the paperclip has evolved with different designs and functionality. Here are a few US patents courtesy of Google Patents.

Paperclips have a power all their own. These tiny pieces of wire are able to bind thoughts into a comprehendible fashion and make even the most jumbled mess, understandable. They can’t talk, teach, or translate; but even though they don’t have arms or legs, they organize and keep paper together.

What’s the Point?

The fact that they are small, cost so little, and do so much. Even when paperclips are unraveled and misshaped they can get CD’s out of computers, and eject SIM cards out of phones. A paperclip saved Ethan Hunt’s life in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol when he used one to pick the handcuff lock and escape from the Russian Detective.

How does such an insignificant piece of metal do so much.

We think of how great the Apostle Paul was and how God through him changed the world. But one Greek Scholar described him as, “A man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were far apart; he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met; his nose was somewhat long.” Hence, he was a small, bald, bow-legged man with a big nose and an eyebrow that resembled a large caterpillar. In Scripture it’s said of him that, “his letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are worthless!” (2 Corinthians 10:10 NLT) I wonder if we lived in his time, would we even recognize him? Probably not.

When I got saved I didn’t know anything. I was as green as green could be. I didn’t know anything, couldn’t lead a Bible study if I wanted to, and extremely shy. But, I had a servant’s heart, and just wanted to be a blessing to others. I started mowing the church lawn, washed dishes, and cleaned up messes. I came along side Tony and just listened as he shared his faith so he wouldn’t go alone. Over time, I grew up and you know what? I still do the things I did before, only more of them, and in different ways.

I would love some company as I share my faith on the streets. The person wouldn’t even need to speak; but listen, and lift up their hearts to God in prayer for the salvation of the person I am speaking with. There is much power in prayer. Like paperclips, we shouldn’t underestimate the help of seemingly small and insignificant people. Not only that, but you shouldn’t underestimate yourself. Too many times we think we can’t do anything right, that we are pointless and small. But that is not true. Each of us is useful to the Lord for something, and together we can change the world.

A Tale of Two Dogs

Several months ago I heard this story mentioned on the radio, and I thought it would be a good reminder to us. In case this story is ever deleted, I posted it here from Dustin Dedrick of God Updates.

The Story

“Once upon a time, there was a dog that lived in a sprawling house in the middle of the city. Though the house had plenty of doggie toys and plenty of room for play, the city dog hated being cooped up inside. Day after day, it looked longingly out the window and past the fenced-in yard around the house to the street where cars zoomed and pedestrians rushed by. The dog made little use of its spacious accommodations, choosing instead to focus on the doors that were always closed and the curtains that were always drawn.

Every evening, the city dog anxiously awaited the arrival of its master, not because it loved the master but because the master’s arrival provided an opportunity for escape. As soon as the dog heard the master’s keys jingle outside the door, it attempted a mad dash out of the house and into the yard. But without fail the good master, with a pained expression of disappointment, made sure the dog stayed inside where no harm might befall it. Wearily the dog would retreat to a corner of the house and start planning its next escape.

A dozen miles away, there was another dog. This dog lived in a one-room house set on a sprawling country farm. At one edge of the farm’s borders was a cliff overlooking a rushing river. On the other side was a dark forest. But no fences were present. The country dog was free to roam the farm, but it usually preferred to stay close to the front porch. It worried that if it strayed too far, it might miss its master’s arrival.

Every evening, the master’s arrival was the highlight of the country dog’s day. As soon as the master came into view, the dog would bind to his side to greet him. It followed close behind him, wanting to get into the house, not because of anything special inside but simply because it was where the master stayed. Each day without fail, the master showered his love and affection on the country dog and then led it inside the tiny farmhouse, where it wagged its tail with great contentment. Even in a shack, it was so satisfied to be in the master’s presence that the outside world held no power of attraction for it.”

The Moral of the Story

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

John 8:36 NKJV

Many people believe God’s Word limits and restricts instead of protects; that we are enslaved and not allowed to do anything or go anywhere fun and exciting. That is the furthest from the truth. There is much freedom when it comes to Christ, but also that freedom is free of fences as well. When we focus on the Master, we don’t need fences.

Take into consideration porn blockers like, “Covenant Eyes“. I’ve tried it many years ago when I was new in my walk. It is a good concept, but when I really needed to do some research on a story or bible study, I couldn’t access certain web content because of the advertisements. Not to mention that it cost money and every time I hit something that wasn’t really bad at least in my mind, it triggered a warning from my accountability partner. It was not only annoying for me, but then dragging someone else into my mess was counter-productive. We spend more time focusing on the boundaries than we do the Master to whom we want to please.

But, when we focus on the Lord, we are free to roam, run, and play; for when I look to Him and His Word, I know where the danger spots are, the places not to go, and I freely stay near the safety of the porch. Fences may keep us from harm, but love for the Master and wanting to serve Him is what keeps us from fences.

…And an Elder in a Bear Tree: A look back at 2022

At the end of 2022 I started following another WordPress website called, Chasing Faith and Love which has some great ideas about writing and life. Her title of her 2022 recap summed it up for me: “Merry Crisis, Happy New Fears.”

To say that all my plans and goals were not completed was an understatement. I managed to finish the Bible in a year, a goal that I accomplished with my wife; and to be honest if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t have gotten it done.

The year started off great, becoming an Elder in my church with new roles and goals. Then celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary along with 50th birthday reliving our engagement at an Alice Cooper concert. I had big ideas and leading evangelism teams, I was starting to think the Lord’s work was unstoppable.

Things took a major turn when my father was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) which turned into Leukemia and then he quickly passed away. The rest of the year was major trips back and forth to my parents, dental work, and along with major anxiety which I haven’t been able to shake except in small doses. Can’t imagine why.

I would like to say that through it all I have this insight into what had happened. But I don’t. Hindsight is not always 20/20; sometimes its like Clarice Starling in “Silence of the Lambs” groping for a light switch in a pitch black room with a serial killer.

New Year, New You

My wife has a saying that makes me laugh every New Year: “New Year…New You!” But it’s the way she says it that makes me crack up — with sarcastic joy in her voice looking like Wayne from Wayne’s World with a canary-eating smile, thumbs pointed to the sky. But I tried that last year and it didn’t work. I try that every year.

This is coming from a woman who’s favorite Bible book is Ecclesiastes; a close second is James.

But then that’s the point isn’t it? In my article, “Time Flies By,” I go through a section of Ecclesiastes and look at how the body and mind ages over time. But with that there is no difference between a believer in Christ and an unsaved person. The body deteriorates the same way. Life is made up of having no control, having responsibilities, responses to life, displaying affections, having possessions and relationships with others, to having no control again (Ecc 3:1-8). A life without God is vanity; a life with God remains forever (Ecc 3:14).

At the beginning of the day…start with the power of God in prayer.

In the middle of the day…keep trying through the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day…look back with no regret if all is done with God.

As the day’s keep counting down, the more we see life slip through our fingers…the more precious it becomes to us.

What is My Prayer?

Looking into this year with all the planning I did last year, I have to say that it’s not always about how much we got accomplished; but seeing the world through the eyes of God. This year my prayer is this:

The clarity of God along with the urgency of God will bring about unparalleled productivity for God.

My prayer is that as I focus on Him and His kingdom and not with the things of this life that God is not in, then whatever I plow without looking back, God will make it grow in His timing and in His will.

How will you spend 2023 serving the Lord?

What Does God Want From Me? Obedience

The following was taken from my journal, written December 21, 2015

You ever have one of those bible studies where the Lord has been working in each of you throughout the week and then when you get together you all have had the same thoughts? Not only that but then each of you talk about what the Lord has been pressing on your heart and then gives you even more ideas on what you had been thinking about? This happened recently to our regular weekly fellowship with some friends after dinner.

I have been thinking about obedience all week long, especially since I had lost my job in November. Between posts like Airport Dreams and Visions, and recently, Make Me!, my prayer for myself has been, “I just want to do [for work] what the Lord wants me to do.” What does that look like? Well, I know that I don’t want my job to come between men and the Lord, my wife, or my purpose in life. I don’t want to work weekends so that I can be free to do ministry with my church, and I can have a day of rest. I don’t want to work nights because let’s face it, bad things happen at night. Not to mention that the body was designed to sleep at night. And I don’t want to travel long distances or stay overnights because I have a wife that I worry about and also a Precept Inductive Bible Study that I teach at 7pm. My previous job was getting in the way of some things and I just know the Lord has something better for me. I have to be open to what He wants me to do. Even if it means changing careers at 43 years old.

Another person in our group, who came from a legalistic background, also has been thinking about the difference between obedience and sacrifice. He asked the questions, “What does obedience look like and what is the difference between obedience and sacrifice?” “Does God help those who help themselves?” One section of verses that I was reminded of throughout the week was the destruction of Jericho in Joshua 6.

It is the Lord’s Work

First, it was the Lord’s work and we are to just be a part of it. God said to Joshua, “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.” (Joshua 6:2). We must realize that it is God’s work and fight. He has done all the hard work and we are to just reap the blessings.

God gave specific instructions

Second, God gave them specific instruction on what to do (Joshua 6:3-5).
Men of valor march around the city once a day for six days with seven priests bearing ram’s horns before the ark. The seventh day march around the city seven times. The priests shall blow the trumpets, the people will shout, and the wall will fall, and you will take the city.
Third, they obeyed the Lord and did what they were told (Joshua 6:6-20). And the result of their obedience? Blessing and a fulfillment of the promise God gave them. This could have only come from obeying the Lord.

All God wanted was their obedience

Now, let’s think about this in laymen’s terms. God told them to march around a city a bunch of times, blow some horns, and yell at a wall, and then the wall will fall, and then after you walked around a city all day, you are supposed to have enough strength to fight and wipe out all people inside with the exception of Rahab and her family? Makes alot of sense, right? But here’s the thing…you mean to tell me that the blowing of ram’s horns or their shouts had anything to do with the wall falling? Did God need Israel to shout at a wall to make it fall? No. I can think of about 20 ways off the top of my head to make a wall fall, and shouting at it is not one of them. What did the Lord want from them? Their obedience. What does God want from us? Our obedience. 2 Samuel 15:22-23 states, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And the stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD…” The difference between obedience and sacrifice is that obedience is what we do that God commands us to do. Sacrifice is what we do for God that we want to do. Obedience, God chooses what we do. Sacrifice, we choose what we do.

Sometimes the Lord will tell you to do something. Sometimes it will sound absolutely ridiculous, like walking around a city and shouting at a wall. God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything He wants to do. He doesn’t need me to witness to people to save them. He doesn’t need me to give to my church to keep the lights on and the doors open. He doesn’t need me to fast and pray for people to overcome major adversity in their lives. But when we do what He says, blessings will come. And if you don’t, there will be consequences, like in the next story of the battle of Ai (Joshua 7). There are no shortcuts with God. We are to do what He wants, His way; quickly, thoroughly, and cheerfully.

So where does that leave me today? No matter what the Lord wants for me I need to be open, obedient, and willing to do whatever. Even if it means doing something I think is really stupid, insignificant, or crazy. It may mean switching careers, moving, doing ministry full time, or whatever. But with anything I ask prayer for guidance and clarity.

The Danger of Cynicism In Ministry

Sometimes you don’t see how far you’ve come until you see how far you’ve been. Once in a while I read old journals and thoughts I had about things in the past. This was one of those times.

In December 2013 I was miserable in ministry. All of 2012 I had been seriously contemplating leaving my fellowship. I was sad that people didn’t care about evangelism the way I did. We were in a perpetual decent into complacency and apathy; nothing I tried seemed to work. That sadness turned to resentment, bitterness, and at moments — anger.

My new pastor that took over the ministry in 2012 had some big ideas and was motivated to make some real positive changes. He had shared with me his vision for the fellowship, and I was actually getting excited. There was hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to give it one more year, and if things didn’t go in the positive direction, my wife and I would leave. This was the account of my last straw.

Reading through my 2014 journal entries, it was a miracle I survived at all. During a leadership meeting to kick off the Pastor’s vision, an elder set the tone and said in front of the entire congregation that he was not going with me to evangelize on the street and that he opted out to do other things. Shortly after that, two people on my team left the church to seek fellowship elsewhere. Depressed, discouraged and tired of hearing people say, ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t,’ I was zealously determined to push forward and take care of the outreach portion I was asked to. Even if it meant doing it by myself.

At this time, my mentor who left the fellowship a few years prior was temporarily staying with me as he looked for a place to live. One afternoon I was watching the Way of the Master Basic Training Course (WOTM) that I was preparing to teach. Coming home from work, he walked through the front door and asked, “What are you watching?”

“The Way of the Master Basic Training Course, ” I said confidently.

“People aren’t going to do that. You’re wasting your time. ” And proceeded to tell me how may times he’s tried to do it, how complacent the church was, and how they much rather feed people behind a counter as they go to hell not knowing anything about the gospel.

Welcome to month one.

The several months that followed got worse and worse. Work was beyond stressful, and my boss was coming down on me for the first time in my career. The day I started the WOTM, I got hit with a lawsuit for something I didn’t do, and debt collectors were calling for a loan I never made. I was beyond stressed. People in my Romans bible study were encouraging me to pack it in, that I’ve had enough, and I just needed to give up for my own health and sanity. My cats, who are brothers started fighting really bad, and we had to separate them for a while, one had to go to the vet hospital. Less than a month later I got hurt at work and broke a finger on my right hand. To make matters worse, my wife looked at me at the end of all of this and said, “I miss the man I fell in love with back in 1996.” Even though I wasn’t saved back then, I missed him too. I had trouble in every area of my life, and there was nowhere to run but up. I was beyond disappointed; I was bitter, cynical, angry and I was ready to pack it in and be done. I was broken and no matter what I prayed it felt like God wasn’t listening either.

In a last ditch effort, I called my friend and former Pastor to talk even though he was in another country. He gave me some advice that resonated with me even to this day that he learned from an older missionary couple in Costa Rica.

“There are two types of missionaries: those who get bitter, and those who get better.”

Yes, I was going through a real tough time. Yes, there were things that was happening in my life beyond my control. But it was how I was reacting to those things that really was the problem in my life. I had to focus on what I could control: my cynicism. Nothing kills ministry more effectively than cynicism. You cannot lead a healthy ministry when your worldview is jaded by disappointment, lethargic people, and bitterness. Here are some of the consequences cynicism will severely hinder your ministry over time, and take a toll on it’s leader most of all.

It will cause you to not love others the way you should.

There are so many reasons why this is number one. We do ministry to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love others as ourselves. We can’t do that when we are cynical towards them. A cynical heart and mind tells you that you cannot trust anyone, can’t forgive them when they wrong you, can’t hope for the better, and that people are incapable of changing for the better.

But what would we be without hope? We would be unsaved. According to 1 Corinthians 13, hope is wrapped in love. Hoping for the best is a part of love. It helps us move forward and look with optimism towards the future. It keeps us from giving up. When we have that optimism we know that we are not doing ministry in vain. What we do matters, even if we do it alone.

We, the church are the hands and feet of Christ, and we need to work together. It starts first with love, which is the glue that holds it all together. When I’m cynical towards my brother and sister, things unravel, and that three-fold cord unravels.

You’ll be Afraid or Unwilling to Take Risks

Risk is a part of any ministry, especially evangelism. There is so much risk involved, but if we are afraid of doing something because we are tired or dismayed by the rejection we may face by my brother or sister in the faith, we will miss great opportunities that the Holy Spirit is wanting to do with us. We cannot dwell on past failures, or how people reacted to things you wanted to do prior to the latest idea. Dwelling on the past always leads to cynicism, but being optimistic and moving forward is the key to maintaining steadfastness in the faith.

People sometimes frustrate our ideas and plans because they are afraid themselves, don’t want to do the work, or even lazy. As an Evangelist or leader in ministry — that is not your problem. You need to motivate and help them as much as possible, see the added benefit of what you plan to do. If they don’t see the benefit, fellowship with other believers who do. Maybe their testimony will be the fire that is needed to set the spark of your ideas aflame.

Cynicism Will Frustrate Your Creativity

Frustration in the simplest terms is not a feeling, it is a verb — something that happens. The people perish with a lack of vision. There is a saying among Evangelists towards the church; that we belong to a group called: Club Frustration. It’s a dance club, where the Evangelist dances to the beat of the Pastor and Elders and are not given the freedom to do what he knows he needs to do. The constant barrage of, “No’s” leaves the Evangelist feeling as if he or she is a second-class Christian. All their good ideas are filed away in the trash can.

But does this have to be this way?

Staying disillusioned and distrustful of others will not bring life to your vision — but kill it. Sometimes we have to step back and regroup. Maybe the idea is too grand or big for others to get onboard or even see that it is possible. Instead of eating the whole cake of our big idea, perhaps all we need to do is take a bite-sized piece and give it to someone to taste. Let it melt in their mouth, savor the flavor of the idea, and when their eyes widen in amazement they say, ‘You know, that was really good.’

We are not “Spinal Tap;” our amps don’t go to 11. When we feel like we are not being heard, we don’t yell louder. We need to step back, regroup, and try a different approach for others to see the benefit of our ideas.

What if your idea really does suck?

We need to take creative criticism on the chin. Maybe what we really need is to look in the mirror and ask if it’s us. I’m not saying give up on your idea, but more often than not, we need to swallow our pride and get ourselves out of the way.

There were times in my life I frustrated my own walk. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m probably still doing that. Self-sabotage is our own fault, not others — hence the name. If someone is willing to give us the hard truth, we need to be willing to listen to it.

Ten year fog

In the beginning of this article, I shared frustrations half way through my sanctification. That was then, this is now. Now, I am one of those leaders in my fellowship. As I look back on how I felt ten years ago, I have to honestly look in the mirror and ask, “Was I ready?” Even more so, I have to answer, “No I wasn’t.”

But, like the advice I gave earlier, it’s time to move forward.

Valuable lessons have been learned through the past decade. Besides not letting myself become cynical, allowing the process to take place. Taking risks and making my own path was helpful. But most of all — not quitting. Not allowing my anger or frustration to overtake me. I wouldn’t be in the trusted position I am now.

When inside a thick fog it is impossible to see. We can’t control the fog; we just have to wait for the sun to shine through and shed light on the situation. Time can heal many wounds — if you let it.

Why Do You Write?

The first morning of the Iowa State Fair, I bounced into the Answers In Genesis booth with a brand new cup of joe, excited and full of life and energy ready as ever to take on any question that was asked of me from any atheist or unbeliever in the area. I was so pumped up. I was doing what many evangelists dream of doing. After I put my stuff away under the train cabinet I got up and started catching up with my friends who I haven’t seen in a while. It not only gets me talking, but building confidence with every word that comes out of my mouth. After a few a hand was extended to me, a new colleague, with the words: “Hi, I’m Dr. So-and-so. So…what do you do?”

I looked back at him and said, while still shaking his hand, “This, sharing the gospel to unbelievers and encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“No,” glaring at me with distain, “I mean what do you do to make money.”

Oh, that’s what I thought you meant. If you ever want to derail my good day and watch me squirm as I slither to the nearest hole I can find, ask me what I do for a living. Ask anyone for that matter; it makes people uncomfortable. I answered, “I help people lift their burdens and share the love of Christ as He loves me,” to which he turned towards someone else who was more interesting. And to think this was a guest worker on our team.

I just got done with a book about writing called, Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. It is a very interesting read about the writing process, how to handle stress, people problems, and get on with your writing even when you find it extremely difficult. But there was a fascinating passage towards the end. It read:

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird (231)

I probably will never be famous, make lots of money, or even be on the New York Times Best Seller List. My wife on the other hand thinks otherwise. But I honestly didn’t have money or fame on my mind when I started this journey; it was helping people and loving God. Whatever money I receive is what the Lord wants me to have. I am content (Luke 3:14; Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:8).

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6NKJV

What do writers want more than anything? Then want to be read. They want to be heard. They want to be understood. To take my human experience and help another through it so that they don’t struggle as much as I did; if there is something out of my life that could be gleaned for another. That someone will one day read my story, and be delivered from fear, sin, heartache, pain; towards deliverance and to walk with their Creator. So much more important than money, don’t you agree?

Lessons You Cannot Learn From Reading a Book

As you can see from my Goodreads account, I love to read. But, even reading has it’s limitations. There are several things you cannot learn from reading a book. Here are a few:

  • Humility
  • Sacrifice
  • Servanthood
  • Hospitality
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Kindness
  • Self-control

What do all of these have in common? The greatest lesson no one can learn from reading a book: LOVE. Love is the glue that holds all of these together, for without love, none of these could ever be possible, or even make sense.

If I have missed any, please feel free to add them into the comment section below.

Time Flies By

The great philosopher Ferris Bueller once quoted: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” He was right. Life does move pretty fast.

The picture above is of my father and I taken across the street at my aunt and uncle’s house. I was told to bring my dad over to surprise him for his 50th birthday; he was told to bring me over to celebrate my leaving for Indiana State University at the end of the month. The funny thing is that we were both right, and did our diligence to get the other one there on time.

Time has a funny way of showing you things as you step back and evaluate all that you’ve done, gone through, and accomplished. It also has a nagging way of letting you know how much more you have to do. But what is interesting in this picture, is that I am now the same age as my father in the picture. I look at this picture and remember how old he seemed to me. Still having some energy, but starting to wear out, things starting to hurt, and tired more frequently.

Time flew by the next twenty-eight years. I went to college and graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree and a fiancé. Moved back to New Jersey with a good job only to leave for the Midwest again for a slower and less expensive life. Got married, but even though were never able to have children I used the time for work, which became ministry after things fell through later. Picking up the pieces, trying new things; serving the Lord and loving others, especially my bride, are my main focus.

My dad continued to serve in the fire department and worked until he retired in 2001. He poured his time into working at his church and driving part time for Hanna’s Florist and then Campbell Supply. He spent most of his time with family, friends, and poured himself into his grandchildren. Fifty turned to sixty and tragedy struck when he lost his daughter Jenni. His life was highs and lows. Sixty turned to seventy, then seventy-five, and gone. He was the oldest living Chirico male until seventy-seven even surpassing his brother at seventy-four and his dad at fifty-one.

Fifty-one — exactly this time next year for me. I look back at myself in this photo. Happy, full of energy, wanting to take on the world, and to make something of myself. I had a full head of hair and not a strand of grey in it. Now, I have more hair on my back, and whatever I do have on top has turned to grey.

My point to all of this is not self-loathing, sappy dribble full of regret and anger at myself or what had happened; or taking chances instead of taking the safe route, staying home and not exploring the world. When dad visited me he always commented on what a nice life I had, a good church full of people who loved me, and a home I called my own.

My mother sent me two birthday cards for my 50th. This one moved me to tears:

A son leaves your home
but never your heart. 
He discovers his own happiness
which, in turn, 
becomes yours. 

Life changes. 
Love does not. 

Happy 50th Birthday to a son
who's loved so much. 

Love you more, 
Mom

Even though I don’t have any children of my own, I would imagine all a parent wants is to see their child happy no matter what stage of life they are on. Maybe even if it means not seeing them every day. Maybe. But my point to all of this, is that life moves pretty fast. King Solomon said it best:

Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, 
Before the difficult days come, 
And the years draw near when you say, 
"I have no pleasure in them": 

While the sun and the light, 
The moon and the stars, 
Are not darkened, 
And the clouds do not return after the rain; (failing sight)

In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, (aging body)
And the strong men bow down; 
When the grinders cease because they are few, (loss of teeth)
And those that look through the windows grow dim; (loss of sight)

When the doors are shut in the streets, 
And the sound of grinding is low; 
When one rises up at the sound of a bird, 
And all the daughters of music are brought low. (hearing loss)

Also they are afraid of height, (afraid of falling)
And of terrors in the way; (afraid of normal things)
When the almond tree blossoms, (hair turns grey)
The grasshopper is a burden, (small things are a nuisance)
And desire fails. (sexual desire diminishes)
For man goes to his eternal home, 
And the mourners go about the streets. (death)

Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, (spinal injuries)
Or the golden bowl is broken, (brain / mind fades)
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, (heart problems) 
Or the wheel broken at the well. (Vein / blood issues)
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it. (death)

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, 
"All is vanity." [Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 NKJV] (emphasis mine)

How are you making the most of your time while you still have it?

Fake Plastic Christians

During the pandemic I read this hilarious true story about a woman in California who had been watering a beautiful succulent for two years that she loved and took great care of. She was so proud of it: gave it the right amount of water and sunlight, washed its leaves and probably even talked to it. It was absolutely beautiful and truly the perfect plant. She pointed it out to people who visited her home and even her friends said how lovely it was. But, it wasn’t until she tried to transplant it from its original pot, that she realized it was a 100% fake plastic plant stuck in Styrofoam and sand. This 24 year-old stay-at-home mom concluded, “I feel like these last two years have been a lie.” Even though this was a humorous story, it got me thinking about something I’ve been seeing for far too long in the church.

When you hear the word, fake, what words come to mind? Fake, phony, hypocrite, man-made, impostor, artificial, counterfeit, fraud, disguised, imitation, synthetic, faux, con, sham, pretender, prosthetic, manufactured, and baloney.

Just as there are many types of fake plants, there are also many different fake Christians. They come in all different shapes and styles. Some are obviously fake, where others — as in this story — are very life-like. Sometimes it is really difficult to spot a fake, and the prettiest ones are the hardest to spot. Just like a fake plant is pretending to be a real plant; a fake Christian is pretending to be a real Christian.

Fake Christians Have No Roots

It wasn’t until Ms. Wilkes exposed the roots of her plant that she realized it had none. All there was Styrofoam and sand. It is the same with fake Christians.

The heart is a person’s root system. This same root system is the roots in which nourishment feeds a person’s soul. That nourishment comes from God’s Word, and like plants, true Christians crave desire the Bible as a newborn baby desires milk (1 Peter 2:2) or a deer pants for fresh water (Psalm 42:1-2). The Christian craves reading the Bible and desiring to know more.

Not only does roots provide nourishment, they also keep plants grounded and from falling over. Jesus explains that the seeds of the gospel cannot live on stony ground.

"But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; "yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (Matthew 13:20-21 NKJV)

Christians are rooted in Christ. As the roots of a plant keeps them from falling over when the wind blows or the rains melt the ground, so does Jesus keep us from falling over when tribulations, persecutions, and the things of this world want to knock us over (Matthew 7:24–29).

Fake Christians Have No Life In Them

Just as fake plants have no life in them, the same is true of fake Christians. Since fake Christians are not saved, that means they are still dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13). They are not dead to the world, but dead to Christ and the things of God.

As the sun gives life to plants, so does the Son give life to Christians. Jesus said, in John 1:4, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” In Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4).

Not only is the light the life of the Christian, but the blood of Christ is what gives us life, because life is in the blood. In John 6, Jesus used symbolism to show that life comes from Christ. We need to partake of Him every day by reading His Word and allowing it to change us that we receive life.

Fake Christians Cannot Bear Fruit

Because fake plants are not living organisms, they cannot bear fruit. Plastic is toxic to humans, and if a fake apple or bannana is eaten, it would send a person to the hospital — if they can get it past their mouths. Like fake plants, fake Christians cannot bear fruit either, or at least good edible fruit.

Jesus said,

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "Therefore by their fruits you will know them. [Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV]

Even though Jesus is speaking about false prophets, we can also use this to spot out fake Christians. What is the fruit of their lives? Is it good or bad? Sometimes like plants, you can’t just look from afar at a tree and see its fruit; you have to pull it off, examine it, cut it open and take a look. Maybe even taking a bite. One way to examine the roots of a Christian is to see what he or she talks about. Jesus warns us in a few chapters later,

"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." [Matthew 12:33-37 NKJV]

Fake Christians Don’t Feel Remorse Over Their Sin

Fake plants are easy to take care of, and impossible to damage. You can’t kill them, damage them, or mistreat them.

Fake Christians feel no remorse or hurt from their sin. They do what they want, how they want and when they want. It is all about them; their conscience is seared, or dulled to the point of feeling.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, [1 Timothy 4:1-2 NKJV]

Fake Christians Are Not Changed by God’s Word

Fake plants are pretty rigid; some are difficult to bend and even move to stay the way you want them. Fake plants look the same, and no need to prune. Fake Christians are pretty rigid too — in their beliefs, their thinking, and how they feel. The pruning of a fake Christian’s life doesn’t matter to them. In many ways it would make them look worse. Pruning is done so that it would allow for more growth; but if the plant cannot grow anything, it would eventually look as full as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Fake Christians Cannot Absorb Nutrients That Real Christians Can

Just as fake plants cannot absorb sunlight, fake Christians cannot absorb the Son, the Light of the World.

Like fake plants, no matter how you care for them, it does them no good, or you for that matter. You can feed a fake Christian with the Word, pray for them, spend time talking to them, and they will still stay the same. No matter what you do, they will not grow or produce any fruit. They may be pretty on the outside, but there is no life in them. If you leave a fake plant by itself it will not change or die. At the very least it will collect dust. Same as a fake Christian.

Fake Christians Cannot Give Nourishment, But Are Toxic to Others

There is no nourishment in a fake plant, and if someone would be able to consume a fake pear or bananna, the plastic and toxins in that would, at the very least, send a person to the hospital. Worst — it would kill them.

Fake Christians cannot give nourishment either, and can be quite toxic. From the outside, their fruit would seem ok. They may be wise with philosophy, worldly wisdom, and scholarly intellect. But when it comes to the live giving nourishment of God’s Word, it is completely missing; thus people starve and perish (Hosea 4:6).

Fake Christians Cannot Convert

Real plants are here not only for our enjoyment, nourishment, and health; but also to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. It is an amazing thing that the toxins we breathe out as humans are food for plants, and vice versa.

As in fake plants, fake Christians cannot convert anything or even reproduce. Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel; to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Fake Christians don’t see the value in converting or sharing Christ with others let alone advancing the Kingdom of God. They always remain the same never adding to the value of a field.

Can a fake plant change?

Even though a fake plant cannot change, God is in the business of making miracles out of people and giving them life. We seen this imagery when Aaron’s rod turned into a serpent (Exodus 7:10) and later produced buds (Numbers 17:8). Not to mention giving life to dead bones (2 Kings 13:21) and raising the dead in various ways throughout the New Testament.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

As the text says, anyone means anyone. It doesn’t matter what class, race, nationality, language, or level of intelligence. Anyone can be a new creation in Christ Jesus made for His glory. As long as we have breath in our lungs and a heartbeat…there is a chance.

Being a new creation doesn’t mean that we are perfect either. It means that we are changed and are continually being changed into the His likeness so that others may see Christ in us. To continually being pruned to produce more fruit for the Vinedresser and His glory for His purposes.

Lessons Dad Taught Me

It has been a week since we laid my dad, Frank J Chirico to rest; food people brought is almost gone, birdfeeder that attracted birds he watched on the deck is empty, and the only thing you can hear in the house is the sump pump running. It really is the first time I’ve been able to sit and think since arriving over a month ago. During the service the Funeral Director asked if anyone who wanted to say a few words or share a story about Dad. I really wanted to, but couldn’t find the words until now.

I don’t want to give the illusion that he was perfect; like the rest of us he had many flaws. He was the king of procrastination and too often said things like, “later,” “tomorrow,” or “not right now.” He may have been a king, but I’m definitely a prince in this area. Something I still struggle with, and still learning. But he worked hard, and because of this, he just didn’t have the energy for the things that could be done later. I’m sure things seemed overwhelming at times; pressing issues needed priority then forgotten about. Eventually many of those things couldn’t be put off any longer. But he took pride in the things he did accomplish. If he was anything like me, the fear of failure most of the time wins in the end.

Remember good times

Dad saved everything. In trying to clean out the garage two years ago he told me not to throw anything out without asking him first. I wanted many things to find its way inside a trash can, but respecting him I asked first. Like the Boy Scout Motto says: “Be Prepared,” he thought things would be needed later.

Most items he kept were attached to those he loved and reminded him of happy moments, those he worked with, and when us kids were little. Crawling around the attic I stumbled upon my Dad’s putt return from Sears, still in the original box. I picked it up and instantly remembered how Jenni and I tried to get golf balls in from one end of the house to the other — succeeding many times. Our red wagon he pulled us in, my first motorcycle his father gave me when I was a year old, not to mention my Uncle Don’s Johnson boat motor from when he loved to water ski. It didn’t run, but only the memories it brought to mind.

One particular lesson

I’ll never forget I was eight years old in the fall of 1981 and I had been doing chores around the house like raking leaves, cleaning my room, and those things a boy can do. As far back as I can remember we learned by example. Dad not only cleaned our sidewalks after snowfalls, but our neighbors as well — especially the elderly ones. During lunch time at school I couldn’t believe that some of my friends had money, saying they got paid for the work they did for their parents. So one night before bed I walked up to his room to get in on this thing called “allowance”.

After laughing really hard for about five minutes the laughter didn’t last long, and he got mad realizing I was wasn’t joking. But I’ll never forget what Dad said. “I’m not going to pay you for something I can do myself. Not only that, but we all need to do our part in this family. We are a team, brudder (sic) — and this is your part.”

I’m sure he thought a while how to encourage me and teach me a valuable lesson without further discouraging me after sending me to my room without really understanding why. But I remember him sitting on my bed and said something profound. He asked me how much my friends were getting. I told him. His eyes widened at first and then said, “What if I told you you could make 10 times that much on your own?” So we discussed how as young as I am could do something I enjoy and get paid for it. Through trying several things for weeks we decided on lawn mowing.

I took all my money I received for my birthday and bought some equipment with it all on my own. I bought my first lawnmower for $25 at a “Friends & Family Sale” at Jefferson Ward where my aunt worked, along with an electric weed-whacker, extension cord and gas can. The following spring Dad taught me everything I needed to know about mowing lawns, trimming bushes and so on, making attention to detail a top priority. I mowed both my grandparents lawns as well. The more responsibilities I had, the more I liked it. The neighbor next door asked me to mow his 3/4 acre property. Before I knew it there were people pulling their cars over asking for my business. By age 11 I was making roughly $500 a week.

For a while I had saved every penny I earned and stashed it away under my bed. One night I gathered it all up and dumped it all over Dad as he laid down for bed. He was beyond right, way more than he could ever give me. What he gave me in good advice was priceless. I enjoyed it and many times we did it together, always helping me when I needed it. I had the tiny business until I was 19 before going to college out of state.

Are these lessons lost?

Today, kids don’t have that drive and motivation to do anything except play video games and get to the next level. Dad used to work on cars, replace engines, and race. What will become of this and the next generation; will they survive? Part of the problem is that many of our laws are killing this country and against incentivizing youth to work, explore, make money, learn about finances, and be productive. I couldn’t have imagined someone calling the police on me for using a lawnmower or selling lemonade for $.50 a cup.

I understand that the world in which we lived in as kids has changed dramatically. Fentanyl and angel dust put in Halloween candy, sex trafficking, and a myriad of other adult dangers they need to beware of. It’s not the same world that I grew up in and sadly probably will never experience again.

But those things that dad saved brought to mind memories of better days, happier times, when life was simple as a 10 year old can understand. Pop Warner Football, Little League, and Cub Scouts were places us boys first understood respect, teamwork, ingenuity, winning, and not getting trophies for participating. We had to try out for positions, and many were not selected, only to provoke them to work harder next year. Yes, girls played in Little League and even Pop Warner, but kids knew there was a physical difference.

Fathers and mothers — tell stories to your children and grandchildren of these happier times. Not only teach them skills and trades; but preserve history, culture, and where they came from. Since my grandfather died so young, he never had the opportunity to pass along skills: how to make dandelion wine, speak Italian, or fix furniture like his brother, Ralph. Hope for the future does so much to warm the soul and motivate youth to strive forward. Understanding our past can help us to live in the present and be better equipped for our future. Precious lessons from those we love who can never be replaced.

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