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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Phil Vischer

Discovering Jellyfish Faith

Phil Vischer is best known to the Christian world and the world at large as the founder of Big Idea Productions and leader of the team that brought VeggieTales to life. Ken Peckett, director of Church Ministries Marketing for the Assemblies of God, recently met with Vischer and talked about Vischer’s newest projects aimed at communicating biblical truth to today’s family.

evangel: What are some of your memories of the impact of VeggieTales?
The greatest joy was seeing the difference it made for kids and families. I remember Thomas, a 9-year-old boy dying of cancer in a hospital. During his last conscious moments, he wanted to watch “Where’s God When I’m S-scared?” with his family. I learned of a non-Christian dad who watched some VeggieTales episodes his family had in the house. He had been wrestling with depression. His kids were at school and his wife was at work, and he had decided he was going to kill himself. But he had watched VeggieTales, and the voice he heard in his head was Bob the Tomato saying, “God made you special, and He loves you very much.” So he prayed and said, “I want to be as certain of that as that tomato is.” And God revealed himself to him. It’s those kinds of stories that make me feel like I could die today and I would know God had used my life.

evangel: How have you dealt with personal disappointment since giving up the administration of VeggieTales?

For a while my regret was that I didn’t do more with it. I always wondered if I could have made it even bigger. And God really worked on that in me as I prayed about it. I felt like He said to me that everything He wanted to accomplish through me with VeggieTales, He had accomplished. It had nothing to do with what I wanted to accomplish, but everything to do with what He wanted to accomplish. And that let me realize it was OK to move on.

But on a personal level, I believe I have a healthy regret for how it affected people’s lives inside the company when we were going through a difficult transition. Things were falling apart as I pursued my own dreams rather than God’s will.

evangel: Of course, VeggieTales continues to impact countless families, and you have a new vision for family ministry. Please talk about Jellyfish Labs.

I realized, looking back at Big Idea, where things had kind of gone off the tracks. I started making 20-year plans of what I was going to do for God, and then basically telling Him to show up and bless my plans. One of my big lessons was, if I’ve given Christ lordship of my life, where I am in 20 years is none of my business. Where I am in five years is none of my business. My business is, what is God asking me to do today?

To use an aquatic analogy, with Big Idea I had been acting like a barracuda. I felt strong and powerful and in control of my plans. In reality, as a Christian, I’m much more like a jellyfish. A barracuda slices through the ocean. Jellyfish can’t locomote; they can’t choose their own course. They can kind of float up and down, but they need to stay in the current and trust that the current will carry them where they need to go.

A jellyfish on the beach looks like nothing; it looks like a sandwich bag. A jellyfish in the water, suspended in the current, is gorgeous. That’s where it gets its form. So if I keep myself in the center of God’s will, in the current of His will, what comes out of me is beautiful. It’s amazing. But it’s all about me realizing I’m not that big barracuda. With Jellyfish Labs, every morning when I walk into my office I remind myself that I am not in control.

evangel: What is your goal with Jellyfish Labs?
In one respect, the goal is not to have a goal. I remember a friend writing me and telling me that I had lost my dream. And I had to explain that I still have a lot of ideas, but I’m discovering that as soon as I take hold of one of my ideas and make it my dream, I’m holding onto it too tightly. The goal at Jellyfish Labs is to keep track of all the ideas, but to start every day in prayer and in God’s Word instead of obsessing over all the ideas. I hold the ideas loosely and then watch what God does with them. I hang onto God rather than my ideas.

evangel: What’s in the Bible? is one result of that approach. Tell us about that.
Once I became convinced God wanted me to teach kids the Bible in a systematic, organized way, we began to work on that. The idea is to take God’s message and surprise people with it in a new form so that the whole family sits down and watches it in the living room together. Generations ago, families sat together and read the family Bible. That’s increasingly rare.

What’s in the Bible? is planned as a DVD series that creatively takes families from Genesis through Revelation. The first two DVDs are out and cover Genesis and Exodus. We’ll be combining some book groups on one DVD — such as the Books of Wisdom, the Minor Prophets and the Gospels — so there are 13 DVDs planned for the series.

evangel: How would you describe your personal ministry?
Walt Disney had a gift for taking information and putting it in a format that all of America could enjoy. I’m not going to go out and write another commentary of the Old Testament. There are other guys who are way better at that than I am. I believe my calling is to get some of this key information out of the books and into a format that’s as widely accessible as possible. At one point, a study showed that one-third of all American households with young kids had at least one VeggieTales video. I hope to take what VeggieTales did with individual Bible stories and do something like that with the entire Bible.

evangel: How do you present that kind of a project in a way that will reach people from many different backgrounds?
I wanted to develop something that would be more unifying than dividing. I was working on the third DVD about Leviticus and someone said, “You really need to read this person’s book about Leviticus.” And I didn’t, because any one person’s book about any one part of the Bible would color my thinking. I want to know that what I’m teaching has been fully vetted through every major evangelical denomination. So I really focused on widely recognized study Bibles, Bible encyclopedias and commentaries. As I go through the Bible, I play the role of the really mischievous kid in the back of the Sunday School class who asks the last question the teacher wants to hear. We let a puppet ask that question, and then we answer it.

evangel: Any final thoughts?
This isn’t about just another Christian product. This is about looking at the subject of biblical literacy and realizing that we’re in trouble. Christian colleges will tell you that every year the incoming freshmen know less about the Bible. I heard Chuck Colson at a conference a year ago basically say, “We have to re-evangelize the church in North America.” And I think the key to doing that is focusing on children. If you go to adults and talk to them about their Christian beliefs, they’ll claim that they already know that. But if you go to parents and offer to give them resources to pass on their faith to their children, they’ll say, “Oh, do I ever need that!” It’s like the dad who won’t visit a doctor even if his arm’s nearly cut off. But let his kid get a nosebleed, and he’s rushing to the emergency room.


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