This is my first summer since 2004 without VOICE. Even without VOICE this year, many of us past VOICE staff gathered in Saint Louis for a wonderful reunion hosted by Luke and Karen. Part of each day was spent sharing about the lessons God has been teaching us, and through it, I noticed a surprising common denominator: the shadow of a little friend lurking, nagging for our attention, gnawing away at our emotions. You may not yet be aware of it’s presence, but trust me, it can creep upon you in surprising ways.
So a common question that my VOICE friends have asked since this summer’s conference is “What’s your life like now?”
Good question. Mostly, I am learning what it looks like to be a stay-at-home mom—with no other competing priorities. “That is the most rewarding work—you won’t regret it,” others tell me. And I know that.
But at the same time, VOICE was my first “baby.” I didn’t just work on it—I dreamt about what it could become. Now that I’ve stepped down, there’s a big empty hole in my heart, like part of me has died. Most days I’m too busy doing the next thing to notice, but when I try to articulate how I feel, the tears come.
Back before I had little kids underfoot, I joined everyone for the faith challenges at the Northwoods. That first year, I crossed the log without batting an eye. When I faced the log in 2006, however, my knees started shaking uncontrollably. I tried blocking out the well-meaning cheers coming from different sides of the pond (which meant that more and more people were watching). I inhaled deeply and coached myself with the words I’d used to coach dozens of others—”Don’t think about falling. Focus on the opposite end of the log.” I didn’t fall, but I couldn’t walk—so I ended up scooching awkwardly on my bottom.
Leaving VOICE has felt a little like that. Realizing that God was calling me out of VOICE was like taking that first step onto the log. Following Him out of VOICE—saying good-bye to something I loved so dearly, redefining my identity apart from it, and learning to live ordinary life for Him—has been hard.
But friends, this I know—Jesus gave up everything to make me His, and He deserves nothing less from me. I may no longer be the VOICE Conference Coordinator or the V2 instructor, but I am a child of God, and that will never change! Whether you are running, walking, or scooching in your Christian life, remember—we are not defined by what we do but by what He has done for us.
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)
I once had the opportunity to ask well-known missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot one question: “What do I do when I have feelings for someone that won’t go away?”
“The things we love best,” she replied, “are substance for sacrifice.”
That two-minute conversation encapsulates a lesson that God has been teaching me throughout my life.
Many of you have heard me share my testimony at VOICE about how God asked me to give Him my love for volleyball, my hopes for education, my security at home in America, my feelings for someone I thought I’d marry… And now, God is asking me to give up one of my greatest passions: VOICE.
I spent the last twelve years developing VOICE into what I thought might be my life work. I made a lot of mistakes, but I got to see God do incredible things in your lives and mine. A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to take care of my sick family and get ready for this conference when God used a book I was reading to ask if I would be willing to give it up for Him.
“What?! Give up VOICE? How? Why?”
I write this with tears in my eyes. I wrestled with this decision as one can only wrestle with an idea that seems completely contrary to reality, but at the same time, it felt so familiar because I had been in this situation before. So I cried. I prayed. And I asked Him to confirm it to me through my personal devotions the next morning, and He did. In the words of a song, “Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss…”
So what does this mean for VOICE? It means that #VOICE2016 may be our last conference. We hope you’ll pray with us that God will bring the people He wants to grow from the VOICE experience. If you have family or friends who have been thinking about attending “some day,” tell them this is the year they should go. If you’ve been wanting to come for V2, let me know.
Lastly, remember, VOICE is just a tiny chapter in God’s story of the world. We did everything we could to help you understand the Gospel and develop a personal relationship with Jesus. So now it’s your turn.
God is real. Live like it.
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.
2013 has been a year of dramatic change for me and my family. On June 7 my first son, Lewis, was born. Watching him grow and learn has been one of the greatest joys of my entire life. I could easily bore you with far too many tales of his exploits, but I’ll try not to…
Having a son has also opened up my eyes to new ways of understanding old truths of the Bible. I have always known that God is a father, but I only knew about one side of the father-child relationship. I always understood that Jesus was the Son of God, but I didn’t know what it was to be the father to a son.
Lewis is a dare devil. He is, as yet, unafraid of anything. He dives, lunges, crawls, topples, and bonks his way through every day, pleasantly unaware of all the near-pain experiences he has. Today he learned a new trick. As my wife and I were sitting on the floor with him he would pull himself up on us from sitting to standing and then let go, falling into our hands. He did this over and over for 20 minutes, slowly learning how to stand up, but still not capable of balancing on his own. Never once did he fall and hurt himself, because his mom and dad caught him every time.
This amazes me when I think about my Heavenly Father. Scripture says that God’s love for us is greater than a mother [or father] for her child. (Isaiah 49:15) I love my son enough that I will catch him when he [almost] falls off the couch or can’t quite balance on his own. Usually Lewis isn’t even aware that I’m hovering over him, alert to keep him safe.
God loves us enough that He promises, not to catch us every time, but to turn every situation for our good and blessing. (Romans 8:28) I don’t have a clue how this promise will work out for me or for you, but I do know that it cost Him deeply to fulfill it. The only way He could was to send His Son to Earth, to live a perfect life and to die in our place, as the Redeemer.
It grieves me that I cannot protect Lewis from pain or suffering, but I am so grateful that God would give His Son to care for mine!
This past month I had the privilege to be part of the VOICE conference. As most of you know, sports activities at VOICE can be quite competitive at times. One afternoon at the Northwoods, I joined in a game of capture the flag. The game was going along rather well until I discovered I am not as fast or as coordinated as I previously imagined. This discovery was introduced to me through a full speed, literal head-on collision with a student. After crashing to the ground and rolling a few times, I eventually began to regain my senses enough to ensure I was in fact, still alive. As I lay on the ground watching the last few scenes of my life flash before my eyes, I prayed that the pain in my leg did not indicate a broken leg, and that my face was not bleeding too much. Thankfully, all that was required was a bandage and a few painkillers.
The next day or so, we had a church service in the tower. Going up that many stairs was a bit difficult as I tried to disguise the pain and act normal. As I sat in my chair, I was thinking about how much my body hurt, and frustrated at myself for not being able to avoid the collision. About that time, David L. began our worship service by reading Isa. 53:5 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” When I heard that verse, the insignificance of my minor pains almost caused me to laugh at myself. At the same time, I had a tiny realization of the incredible physical and spiritual pain Jesus went through on the cross to pay the penalty required for my sins. The significance of Christ’s willing sacrifice out of love for me nearly brought me to tears. I had previously watched movies depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, read the Biblical account, and even heard testimony from medical professionals describing the intense physical pain Jesus went through on the cross, but at that moment the physical suffering of Jesus became real to me.
In living my life in a relationship with a real God, do my actions match my words? As imitators of Christ, we should be willing to love others the same way Jesus loved us. He was willing to suffer incomprehensible pain on my behalf, and yet I am often not willing to suffer embarrassment or rejection from others to stand for what I believe. This experience helped me to realize that nothing should hinder me from the responsibility I have of sharing the love of God with others that they too may know Jesus Christ personally.
Be bold to tell others what God has done in your life!
So, I had the privilege of meeting a moderately influential individual a couple of months ago. However, what impressed me more than who he knew was the attitude he displayed in connecting God’s people with some of his influential/prominent friends. If you happened to share with him your vision to, let’s say, head to Africa to be involved in missions trips, or even look for a new area of the country to hold the VOICE Conference, he would immediately begin thinking of ways to link you with one of his other friends who would be able to help you with your vision.
Why was this so noticeable to me? Mainly because his example of humility to bless God’s people helped reveal some of the pride that was hidden in my own heart. You see, this man lived life with the perspective that what is good for the Kingdom is good for him. Meaning, his personal agenda was not going to get in the way of advancing God’s Kingdom. Can I say that about myself? How often have I wanted to hold onto my friends, so that I could keep my cool connections to myself? How many times do I live life with the outlook to advance my own selfish “spiritual” ambitions?
A pastor I listened to the other day stated that it isn’t very difficult to uncover the majority of sins that lie deep in our heart…except for pride. Pride is the carbon monoxide of sin – it virtually is impossible to discover on our own – we need the Holy Spirit’s help! It’s a silent killer and it works its way into every area of our life – especially in our spiritual interaction. Can you honestly say that what is good for the Kingdom is good enough for you?
At each post VOICE staff discussion time, I can count on someone giving me the same criticism that I receive every year. Each time, I nod my head wearily in agreement, and try to keep from rolling my eyes in frustration.
“Next year, you need to finish the musical BEFORE VOICE starts.”
|Writing last year’s musical while on an outing|
Yes, I could imagine the great advantages of finishing the musical before VOICE started, and no one knew better than me how brutal the process of scrambling to finish the musical is on my mind and body. During VOICE last year, I only slept an average of 2 to 4 hours in order to get everything finished in time for rehearsal each day.
At the same time, no one understood how impossible it is to write a scene when the ideas aren’t clear in your head. I can’t write blindly, hoping something good will come out. I need to know where the scene takes place, what people are in the scene, who they really are, what needs to happen in the scene, how it fits in with the rest of the musical…
I became resigned to my fate, rationalizing that it was just the way I worked. Besides, wasn’t it always exciting to see how God would work it out so that we would still be able to practice and learn everything on time?
However, after barely managing to survive the pressure cooker of the musical last year, I finally took time to really think through my writing process, and I suddenly had an epiphany: I had never seriously prayed for God to help me finish writing the musical before VOICE started. Why? For some reason, I felt like the task of finishing the musical on time was ultimately my responsibility. If I failed, it wasn’t God’s fault, it was my own. In that case, why should I bother God by praying for something that was my own responsibility?
|My writing workspace for this year’s musical|
By identifying this underlying attitude, I realized how arrogant I was. Did I really think that the LORD God who created heaven and earth in six days wasn’t able to help me create a musical before VOICE started?
Right now, I’m in the middle of trying to get Act I finished. I currently have about 2.5 scenes out of ten left to write, but since I’m currently stuck on a point, I decided my time could be better spent writing this blog post instead. Even though I don’t know how to write the scene I’m working on, I know that my great Creator knows, and that He is able to work through me to actually finish the musical on time this year.
Pray for me!
But none of that was part of my plan. I had life all figured out—until my parents decided to start home education my junior year of high school. When the rest of my friends went off to college, I found myself going to Taiwan for a “short-term missions trip” with my family. No one ever told me it would last 13 years.
For this post, I want to share something I wrote a couple years after high school. I didn’t know what the future held, but I can tell you now that knowing the One who holds your future makes all the difference.
We huddled together on the curb, sheltered from the drizzle by a few umbrellas. I looked back and forth between the long graceful calla lilies just peeking over the edge of plastic buckets and the wire-fenced field six to twelve inches deep with water where I could pick my own. I pulled on rubber boots and overalls, then sloshed down the aisles, choosing the tall ones, just beginning to show their white petals, but not yet in bloom. My fingers followed the stem to its base beneath the water and carefully tugged upward until the prize came free into my hands. Three elegant hand-picked lilies now bloom in plastic juice bottles in our dining room. They remind me of something I recently read in My Utmost For His Highest:
“‘Consider the lilies of the field’—they grow where they are put. Many of us refuse to grow where we are put, consequently we take root nowhere. Jesus says that if we obey the life God has given us, He will look after all the other things.”(Oswald Chambers)
For the past couple years, I have been praying that God would reveal His purpose for my life. Why did He take me out of school? Why aren’t I in college? Why did He move me to Taiwan? Will people look down on me, because I don’t have a “proper education”? Will I ever get a “real job”? What in the world am I doing here?
As I looked at my lilies, I realized my faithlessness. If centuries of lilies have blossomed under the kind hand of our Creator, how much more my Father cares for me! Through the years, He has given me the same answer to my questions, “Seek ye first My kingdom…and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) So I am the Lord’s lily, and He wants me to grow and blossom for His glory no matter where He chooses to place me.
I’ve been reading the book With by Skye Jethani. I have not finished it yet, but just the first few chapters have been keenly insightful to my relationship with God.