Written by David Teo
The voice of my childhood spoke in chapel a couple weeks ago; but Phil Vischer—the founder of Big Idea Productions, creator of VeggieTales, and voice of Bob the Tomato—spoke less of how he provided Christian entertainment to children, and more of how he carried a precarious burden he was never meant to carry. In the late 1980s, Phil Vischer found the developing field of computer animation and knew he could use it to positively impact kids for Christ. Hearing this calling, Vischer invested his time and money to produce these groundbreaking cartoons but ended up sacrificing his family and health to get there.
Vischer desperately wanted to influence children for God, and the success of VeggeTales suggested he was doing so, but not until a counseling session in 1999 did Vischer realize the depth of this desire. He wanted to share a message that was so powerful that it would impact every child in America. And when he heard about tragedies like Columbine, he felt like a failure for not having prevented it. This failure heaped guilt onto Vischer’s shoulders—a burden he was not meant to carry. This burden finally caught up to him when he found himself laying on a gurney in the emergency room with a serious heart condition; doctors concluded his condition was induced by stress.
Vischer’s desire to save every child crippled him. He explains that his idea of God’s will for his life was lopsided. Vischer thought that creating meaningful messages in VeggieTales was all that God wanted from him, and his burden weighed down his heart. In chapel, Vischer explained that we must exchange our self-imposed burdens for Christ’s burdens, as explained in Matthew 11:28, 30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The key to living life is to live the life God gives us, carrying His burden. We may have a burden of expectations, ego, or success, but can we let them go?
“If God is really in me, the fruits of the spirit will flow out of me.” When Vischer first heard this idea, it took hold of his soul. He was so focused on doing God’s will, that he forgot about God. Vischer says, “An apple tree never accidentally bears grapes, and says ‘Ohhh I’m an idiot!’—apple trees bear apples because that’s what they are—similarly, Christians bear the fruit of the spirit, because that is what they are.” Because of this, Vischer started questioning whether he was still a Christian because he no longer saw the fruits of the spirit flowing out of him. After some deep thought, Vischer asked himself, “Can I take the outcomes I’ve been carrying around, nail them to the cross, and let them go?” Vischer wanted Big Idea Productions to succeed, but this desire was no longer parallel with God’s desires; his ego had taken over. In his chapel talk, Vischer reminded us, “Ego is a tool that is profoundly powerful to keep you out of God’s will.”
After this realization, he let Big Idea Productions go, asking only for a small commission off video sales. Vischer’s website explains, “Phil’s ‘big idea’ died under the weight of Phil’s own ambition. Even though it was ambition to do ‘good,’ it still amounted to a failure to allow God to lead him on a daily basis… So he picked the name ‘Jellyfish’ [for his next creative project]. Why? Because jellyfish can’t choose their own course. They can’t locomote. They can go up a little, they can go down a little. But overall, they’re completely dependent on the current to carry them wherever they’re supposed to be… And so it is with us. Rather than crafting their little plans and laboring to force things to go ‘their way,’ Phil and his new cohorts at Jellyfish are committed to seeking and following God’s direction, each and every day—committed to staying in the ‘current’ of God’s will.”
Vischer closed his talk by talking about Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This verse is focuses on the idea that taking up your cross means you are going to die. When Jesus asks us to pick up his cross, this means we must let go of our lives. Only by letting go, can we live in Him. In closing, Vischer said, “Stay in the current of God’s will. Do what God asks. Walk with Him.”
Phil Vischer spoke at Montreat College on April 5 and 6, 2016, as part of the college’s Calvin Thielman Lecture Series.