Methodical Sheep

Lately, I’ve been taking a hard look at many of the statements that Jesus made. The more I dig, the more I realize that Jesus made so many definitive statements, but the fascinating part is that He hardly ever qualifies them. What do I mean by that? Take John 10:27 for example: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Now, that’s a passage that many people are familiar with, and anyone can argue that it’s a strong assertion made by our Savior. However, when you dig a little deeper, how many can fully identify how it works on a practical level?

What does Jesus mean when He says his sheep ‘hear’ His voice? Do Jesus’ sheep hear His voice audibly? Is Jesus always ‘speaking’ to His sheep? I can ask question after question, and even after digging into the original language and context, I’m still left with quite a bit of intrigue.

We as humans put a lot of stock into our minds. It is very easy for me to project what Jesus’ intentions were behind His many statements, but in reality – and if I’m intellectually honest – I really cannot put a solid method in place for what Jesus is saying, and many times that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable. My mind wants to figure it out. I want to know the formula for hearing Jesus’ voice and then pass that secret onto others.

Sheep Formula1

Ultimately, I’ve come to believe that Jesus was very deliberate about the way He said things. He knows our minds, and He knows our hearts. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are constantly looking for ways to figure out this Christian process, which can very quickly turn into a religious attitude, similar to what the Pharisees struggled with. Not fully knowing what Jesus’ statements mean causes us to do one thing: press deeper into Him! If our heartcry is to encounter Jesus, then I believe His sheep will know on an individual level what ‘hearing’ Him really looks like. It may not look the same for everyone – and that’s okay. Stop trying to slap a formula on Jesus’ statements. He never did, and if we maintain the heart of a simple-minded sheep, then we won’t either.

stripping away

VOICE history

VOICE through the years (1999-2013)

You’d think that growing up in a Christian family meant I had it easy. I can’t ever remember a day that I didn’t believe in God. I rarely missed going to church on Sunday. I’ve read through the Bible numerous times. I attended a Christian school. I even spent 13 years as a missionary in Taiwan. You’d think that if anyone knew God, I did.

I don’t think I ever said those things out loud, but deep in my heart, that’s what I believed. I knew what to say, how to act, and even how to think about my life and the problems I (or others) faced. I had Christianity packaged in a nice little box all tied up with a bow.

That is also how I went about serving Christ for many years. When others had problems, I had answers, and so I would offer them my little box. It made sense. It worked for me.

Sadly, that is how VOICE (then known as CLEC) first began. I was 15 years younger with much less ministry experience but a whole lot of spiritual ego. I didn’t know what I was doing, but somehow, I helped create a month-long conference that offered Christianity in a box. But after just a few years, I burned out. I grew tired of enforcing rules, tired of trying to convince others that my version of Christianity was better than theirs.

God was merciful. He used what little I had to offer to touch a few lives—not the least of which was my own. In 2004, when we were asked to host a TESOL training for English teachers from Taiwan, we said yes as long as we could run a student conference at the same time. That marked a significant turning point for VOICE—one in which our focus went from selling a specific version of Christianity to deliberately finding ways to introduce the Gospel through various events. That was how the ever-popular holiday dinners were born.

Here we are 10 years later. If I could tell you what has changed, it is this—I may have more ministry experience, but a whole lot less spiritual superiority. God has since brought problems into my life that I couldn’t resolve. He has allowed me to wrestle with anger and bitterness—and find absolutely no way to “fix” myself. Through these hard situations, I began to understand—maybe for the first time—how utterly helpless I am in my sin, how very little I actually understand about my God, and how much I am in need of His grace. As He has been stripping away the things I once used to prop up my Christian faith, so He has been stripping VOICE of those things as well.

As we look ahead to VOICE 2014, we are facing yet another stripping—perhaps the deepest one yet. As I write this blog post, the IBLP board is investigating a number of serious allegations against Mr. Gothard and has placed him on administrative leave. We are deeply saddened by this news and concerned for Mr. Gothard and everyone involved. We don’t know how things will turn out, but here’s what we do know—

1)    “God is real. Live like it.” This is true, even when the integrity of someone we respect is under fire. This is a time to allow God to strip away more of our misconceptions, so that we learn to place our faith solely in Him.

2)    No matter the outcome of this investigation, those of us who serve on the VOICE staff team are committed to living and proclaiming the Gospel in its purest form to the best of our ability.

Christianity is not about Mr. Gothard. It’s not about VOICE. It’s not about any one of us. Christianity is about a God who loved a world of pathetic, helpless sinners so much that He left His glory to become like one of us, to suffer and die an unjust death at the hands of the sinners He came to save in order to give us life and hope that we don’t deserve. I can’t fathom a God like that. He doesn’t fit in any box.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
Christ alone…

Squirrels, Girls, and the Gospel

Savannah & Sissa“SAVANNAH, WHAT DID YOU DO?!” I was in shock. Sissa, the little baby squirrel that we had helped raise for the last few weeks was now laying in my hand, shaking violently and unable to stand up. Even after questioning my 4 year old daughter some more, it was apparent that Savannah was oblivious to how Sissa became injured. She claimed that they were “just playing together!”

Although this appeared to be an accident, inside my heart, I was boiling. I didn’t realize that I was so attached to our pet squirrel; however, my emotions now were revealing what this really meant to me. I could not believe that my cute little girl could do something so tragic, and worse yet, not even seem sad about it. My wife and I had told Savannah many times to be gentle with Sissa, and now here we stood, with an innocent baby squirrel struggling with an obvious spinal injury. Why hadn’t I trained my daughter to take better care of animals? Why wasn’t I more specific with how she should play with a baby squirrel? How could my own flesh and blood not show any remorse with what she had done?!

I knew what I had to do, and deep inside, I was furious. My wife and daughter went in the house, and I tried to get the courage to take care of Sissa and help him quickly get out of his misery. “I should make my daughter watch me do it,” I surprisingly thought to myself. “Why do I have to be the one to do the hard part?” It was then God spoke so clearly to me: “It’s not easy is it? Pouring your love into someone and then watching them make decisions with such devastating consequences – and then they don’t even see how much it hurts you.” My heart softened a bit and instantly I was convicted. How many times had I intentionally abused the gift graciously given to me from my Savior, and here I was angry at my daughter’s accidental carelessness?

This still wasn’t going to be easy. Burying Sissa’s lifeless body was very difficult, but even then, I was gently reminded that the heart of my little girl is much more valuable than many squirrels. Parenthood has provided many opportunities to observe what the Gospel really looks like, but going through this specific journey with Savannah has brought me to an even greater place of awe and thanksgiving for all that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice really means.

The Addiction of Being Liked

A few years ago, I probably would have felt that I had things all together (maybe that should have been my first hint that something wasn’t quite right!). I was busy and fulfilled with my teaching job, volunteering several nights a month, teaching missions classes, and being involved with programs of all kinds. 

After I got married and had my daughter, my priorities and my schedule changed. At first, the shift in focus was exciting – something I had looked forward to. Over time, though, I began to miss my old activities and how they made me feel needed and appreciated. Now I had to say “no” a lot. I couldn’t be involved in things like I used to. In some ways I felt like I had been forgotten. When I wasn’t busy doing these “good” things, I felt like a lesser Christian.

Then several months ago, I started reading a book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. In this book, among a lot of other good things, the author stresses the sufficiency of Jesus – not just for our salvation, but to rescue us from self-reliance, fear, insecurity, and so on.  Tchividjian says, “. . .the gospel alone can free us from our addiction of being liked. . . Jesus measured up for us so we don’t have to live under the enslaving pressure of measuring up for others” (p. 23). (If you want a reminder of Christ’s sufficiency in all things, check out Colossians 1.)

Since I realized this, I have had such freedom from the slavery of making myself more “qualified.” It doesn’t mean that I live however I want – my love for Jesus should me to obey Him. But instead of being self-absorbed and preoccupied with my own efforts, focusing on what Christ has done transforms my life and fashions both the details and overall purpose. For me, living like God is real means daily reminding myself of all that I already have in Christ!


Loving His Voice

© 2012 Elizabeth Anderson

A few days ago I was hiking through the woods with my family.  As we walked, we passed a father and his little son on the trail.  The father was sharing something with his son and the little boy was listening with shining eyes. The boy could not have been older than six or seven, but every part of his being was enthralled by his father’s words.  He was so eager to hear that he walked as closely to his father as he could and kept looking up into his daddy’s face.  As they passed, I realized that the father was saying something important: he was sharing a vision, a dream, that he had for his son.

Even now I do not want to forget the image of that little boy’s shining eyes.  Do I listen to my heavenly Father’s voice with the same excited attention?  Do I walk as closely as I can so as not to miss a word?  Have I caught the vision that He has for my life?  Is every fiber of my being bent on hearing and obeying Him?  Sadly, I am often not like that little boy: I stumble through my devotions, try to walk as closely to the “line” between right and wrong as I can, and push His vision for me to the side, while focusing my energies on the things I enjoy.

Our heavenly Father’s main vision for every Christian is to live like He is real and like His Gospel is powerful.  The Lord will direct each person to accomplish that vision in different ways.  Do you love to hear His voice?  Have you caught the specific vision He has for you?  If you do not know what it is, ask Him!  Then be like that little boy and treasure your Father’s every word.  Let’s humble ourselves as little children, like Jesus told His disciples, and listen to our heavenly Father’s voice as if we can’t get enough.

Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually.” 1 Chronicles 16:11


Saving Edmund

When we were little, my mother would gather us together at bedtime to read a chapter from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I remember wondering what Turkish Delight tasted like; I worried that the wolves would catch Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Peter, Susan, and Lucy; and I cried when the White Witch killed Aslan on the Stone Table. But perhaps I remember best of all how much I despised Edmund for allowing selfishness to turn him into a liar and a traitor.

Over Christmas break, when we were visiting Luke’s family, we watched bits and pieces of the three most recent Narnia movies with his sister Sarah. In the first movie, Lucy and Susan wake up to discover that their brother Edmund had been rescued in the night. Even though I had seen the movie multiple times, I found myself strangely gripped by what they saw…

Even now, this scene draws me in. I want to know what Aslan was saying and how Edmund felt. I want to know what that first encounter between the Lion and the traitor was like.

Often times when I watch movies, I find myself identifying myself with one or more characters. I don’t know that I ever identified strongly with any of the characters in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe— maybe a little of Lucy and a little of Peter? This time, however, I realized for the first time that I was not Lucy, not Peter, not Susan– but Edmund.

I am the one who is selfish. I am the one who puts my wants before the needs of others. I am the one who cares more about now than eternity. I am the one who needs to be rescued. I am the one who cost Jesus His life.

Too often we read the Bible and go through life thinking we are really not that bad. We can always point our finger at someone who is a much worse sinner than we are. But that is not what the Gospel tells us. No, we are Edmund. We are Zacchaeus. We are Judas Iscariot. We are Barabbas. We are Saul of Tarsus. As long as we think there is any good in us, we will never truly grasp the wonder of the Gospel. Christ died for sinners– and that is why I owe Him everything.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Turn the Light On!

A man ran through a pitch dark room shouting, “I hate you, darkness!  Go away!  Stop being dark!”

Silence.  The darkness didn’t go away.  In fact, it didn’t even budge.  For hours the man ranted and raved against the darkness in the room, but the darkness never wavered.

Finally another man walked into the room.  He did not scream and curse the darkness.  Instead, he walked resolutely across the room and turned on the light.  The darkness was gone.

Sometimes I get so frustrated with the evil in the world that all I do is complain about how dark the darkness is.  There are so many issues that I can get upset about, but there is only one solution: Jesus, the Light of the world.

A few days ago, as I was reading in the Gospel of John, I was excited to find Jesus’ description of how He “turned the light on” for the world.

   “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
“If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin…”  John 15:22, 24a

Jesus spoke and lived in a way that set Him apart from everyone else.  However, Jesus was not just trying to be unique.  The purpose of His set apart life was so people would know that they had sin.  Unless light shines into a room, there is no way to tell what is in the room.  Similarly, unless the light of Christ shines into a person’s life, that person will never know the true state of their heart or see their need.

Think back to the day you accepted Jesus as your Savior.  Think about how different your life would be now if you had never done that.  I remember what I was like.  I remember feeling miserably hopeless – and I grew up in a Christian family!  I would never have had peace, I would never have gone to VOICE, and my life would be a wreck right now if it weren’t for Jesus in me.

“But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared” (Titus 3:4).  No one becomes a Christian without the kindness and love of God “appearing” to him.  That’s “turning the light on!”

As we learn to see unsaved people the way God sees them (see Joel’s post for more on this), let’s look for ways to “turn the light on” for them.  How can we speak and live in a way that will shine Jesus, the Light of the world, into the lives of others?


Preparing for VOICE 2011

Twelve years ago, I found myself in Chicago, trying to plan our first summer conference. It wasn’t known as VOICE yet—back then, it was called CLEC (Character Leadership English Conference). I really had no idea what I was doing. My father wanted a conference that would provide training in character, leadership, and English, and so I learned to make his dream come true—one call, one spreadsheet, one day at a time.

Now, nine conferences and hundreds of spreadsheets later, I must confess that I care a lot about the logistics. I care about our design. I care about the order of events. I care about how things are presented. But sometimes, I care too much.

This year, God has blessed me with a daughter who needs love and care. The time I once devoted to details must now be shared with her.

So as we prepare to dive into VOICE 2011, I find myself having to give up certain aspects of the conference that were (and still are) important to me. I have to remind myself that God cares far more about the people involved in VOICE than He cares about my perfectly planned details. While good logistics may make for a smoother conference, only God can change a person’s life.

If you’ll be at VOICE this year, I need you to help me remember that. And if you won’t be there, please pray that God will continue to use VOICE to clarify the message of the Gospel.

Here’s to another great conference!


Shaken by the Gospel

“Shake well. Settling is natural.”

Have you, like I, ever ignored that warning of shaking first – only to find that it would’ve been much better had we listened? Smoothies & life might not have a lot in common, but, this “warning” label is just as important in our spiritual life as it is in reality.

Sometimes I like January 1st; other times, I truly resent it. This year, I was taken aback. I saw myself in a way I had never before. Desperate. I had become desperate for change. I realized the mundane had affected my life, heart, and soul. My passion & zeal for life needed to be more than a spark – I wanted a burning flame.

God doesn’t want us to be stuck in the ordinary. He may have us there for a season, but, it is for only that – a season. He will interject times of ‘shaking’ where everything we know might be changed – for us to thrive & flourish with passion; fulfilling the purpose that He created for each one of us to do. Prepare now for that time – it will come.

For the past three months, He has been doing a lot of ‘shaking’ in my own life. I’ve seen Him place me into situations outside of my comfort zone, and realized the potential for new growth. New church; meeting other young people from my area who have the desire to live like God is real in their own life; taking a course on missions & culture, and loving every minute of it . . . with all of this being only the beginning!

Peter challenged the early Christians in Acts to believe the things they had seen & heard, and drove the Truth of the Gospel into their hearts & minds. His encouragement and the passion in his soul transformed their lives, and ours as a result. After being shaken by the Gospel, they became open and willing to do whatever was necessary to spread the good news of Jesus and to take care of one another. {Acts 2:42-47}

That first Christian church in Acts had two goals: 1) Meet each other’s needs; 2) Take the message of the Gospel to the world. With these two goals they turned the world upside down.

Almost 2,000 years later, what are some ways you think our generation can turn the world upside down just like those early Christians did?

Is Jesus Christ Good Enough?

How many of you take Jesus at His words? I don’t mean with just the promises and the sayings that make us feel good, but I mean the really hard words. Let’s look at Luke 9:57-62. A guy came up to Jesus and said something like, “I’m going to go wherever you go, Jesus.” And what did Jesus say? He bluntly told him to expect homelessness! Picture the next verse, where another guy wanted to go bury his father before he followed Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus telling you to not go to your mom or dad’s funeral?! But that’s what Jesus did say, and if we look closely at the words of Jesus throughout the entire four gospels, you’ll see that Jesus said extremely difficult things time and time again.

Now, although following Jesus hasn’t really put many of us into hard situations, this is reality for many around the world, especially in countries where they don’t have the freedom to become a Christian. Has living in a free country like Taiwan, America, or even Hong Kong made us not understand what the gospel is all about? I don’t really have a solid answer for that. But what I am chewing on is this: is Jesus Christ enough for me? I mean, if He did tell me point blank to become homeless (Luke 9:58), not go to my father’s funeral (vs. 60), and not even say goodbye to my family (vs. 62) and to just follow Him, would I, or could I do it?

Our beloved Father
Please come down and meet us
We are waiting on Your touch
Open up the heavens
Shower down Your presence
We respond to Your great love

We won’t be satisfied with anything ordinary
We won’t be satisfied at all

Open up the sky
Fall down like rain
We don’t want blessings
We want you
Open up the sky
Fall down like fire
We don’t want anything but you

(Deluge Worship, 2008)