New Release: The True Story of Christmas

Christmas storybook-shepherds at mangerAfter 30 years of marriage and raising 5 kids together, Mollie and I have accumulated a beloved little collection of illustrated Christmas storybooks. When I worked at Hallmark Cards, the Creative Library there would bring in some of the best Christmas books on the market, and I ordered a few of my favorites for my kids (and for Mollie and myself!)

Some we bought for the great artwork, some we bought for the story. The best ones combined both. An important part of our Christmas season included slowing down, snuggling up, and reading Christmas stories to the kids in the evenings in December.

But I could never find a book like the one I’m making available to you and your family today.

Special care has been taken in The True Story of Christmas to remain as true to the biblical narrative as possible while still keeping the story accessible and engaging for children. The book seeks to reinforce the biblical narrative rather than the extra-biblical traditions that have grown up around the Christmas story.

For example, the scriptures do not say that a blazing star led the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. (The Magi arrived in Jerusalem, where Herod eventually sent them to Bethlehem to search for the child. Bethlehem was just a few miles down the main road.) The scriptures also indicate that the Magi visited Jesus as a toddler in a house in Bethlehem, not in a stable on the night He was born.

Bible storybook-The Wise Men

The Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem, from The True Story of Christmas

While these details may or may not be significant, to me it seems best to be in accord with the scriptures regardless of how harmless such extra-biblical traditions may seem. Learning the true narrative at a young age will help to keep faith in the reliability of the Bible intact when such extra-biblical traditions, (and there are many,) are debunked later in a child’s life. The biblical narrative stands up to scrutiny – the extra-biblical traditions do not.

Perhaps more importantly, The True Story of Christmas gives the big picture context of the birth of Jesus according to the Bible. The book begins with God’s perfect creation, followed by the tragic consequences of the fall for humanity – the reason we are all in need of a Savior in the first place. After Noah’s flood, God’s restorative plan begins with His choosing of Abraham and the people of Israel. Kids are introduced to Israel’s prophets and their foretelling of a special child who would be born to Israel to set up a good and eternal kingdom. The Christmas story is the beginning of the fulfillment of this long-anticipated promise.

Following are some of the book’s illustrations and copy:

Christmas storybooks for kids-Malachi

“The very last prophet to speak of the promised messiah was named Malachi. After Malachi there were no more prophets at all in the land of Israel until it was time for the Messiah to be born. Israel had to wait 400 years after Malachi for God’s promise to come true. That is a very long time! But then, it finally happened!”…

Here’s an example of how the type appears on the page:

Birth of Jesus storybook

To Order:
The True Story of Christmas is now ready to order! In order to ensure delivery before Christmas, my printer has informed me that HARDCOVER orders should be placed by December 3rd. To order now, CLICK THIS LINK

Christian Christmas storybooks

The flight to Egypt, from The True Story of Christmas

Thank you so much for your support!
May you and your family have a joyous Christmas season!

All images copyright Scott Freeman, 2015
Special thanks to my 3 favorite teaching pastors – John Meyer, Pat Sokoll, & Jonathan Williams – for consulting with me in the making of this book.

Preview: New Christmas Storybook in Progress

Does the world need another Christmas storybook for children? I think so!

The book I’m currently at work on is called, “The True Story of Christmas.” If that title sounds presumptuous to you, I’ll only say that I believe the Bible gives us the true story of the birth of God’s Messiah – an event that we have come to call Christmas. The book I’m working on seeks to recount the story for kids, with as much fidelity to the Judeo-Christian scriptures as possible.

For example, I don’t recall having seen a kids’ Christmas storybook where the Magi show up in Bethlehem at Jesus’s house when he is a toddler, as the scriptures tell it.

I’ll explain more when the book is released. I’m not at all sure I’ll be able to get it done in time for ordering for this Christmas but I’m sure trying!

Survey Update:
A couple of weeks ago I did an informal survey on Facebook around the styling of the characters in the book. I was just about to start painting the first illustration when a thumbnail I had previously done caught my attention, and I suddenly had second thoughts about the styling I had developed for the characters. So I roughed out a couple of samples in a more elongated styling, posted them side by side, and asked people to vote on their favorites. I asked parents to get their kids’ input as well. There were lots of interesting comments.

Here are the roughs I posted:

Illustration roughs-Scott FreemanSurprisingly, the votes were fairly evenly split, but a significant majority of adults voted for the squattier figures. However, many did so because they felt this styling would appeal more to kids. Interestingly, slightly more kids voted for the elongated figures. However, the very youngest kids did seem to favor the squattier characters.

I promised to post my final decision and the finished version, so here it is:

Joseph Mary Donkey BethlehemOne of the other distinctive aspects about this Christmas book is that it puts the Christmas story in context, and explains the reason why there is a Christmas – the Big Picture. It tells of the nation of Israel and introduces children to Israel’s prophets, and their foretelling of a child who would be born to bring peace to the world. I like the way the illustration of the prophets came out. You might recognize the surrounding symbols from various prophetic biblical passages:

Christian storybooks-Scott FreemanAnd now, I need to get back to work if I’m going to get this done in time for Christmas! I’ll keep you posted…

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New Storybook Release: Bear Island

Kids' storybooks-Bear Island

I’m excited about this one!

Over the past few years, thanks to some great teaching by a couple of pastor friends, I’ve come to appreciate that one of God’s primary attributes is that He is relational in nature. As human beings created in His image, we are relational as well; created to live in loving relationship with Him, and with each other. Since our triune God exists in relationship within Himself, we can say that our need for loving relationship is not a shortcoming or flaw, but is rather an essential part of our Creator’s design for us.

The idea of a personal God who is loving and relational is not as inevitable as it might seem. This is unique to a biblical worldview. For example, the Allah of the Quran has always existed as a solitary being, and there is no indication that he desires relationship with man. Furthermore, Allah’s eternal aloneness suggests that love could have only existed in theory until man was created. In contrast, Jesus describes being in perfect loving relationship with the Father from before creation (Jn 17:22-24.) Thus the scriptures can truthfully say that God is love, and always has been.

Marriage is one picture of the relational unity-in-diversity that God designed us for. The creation story explicitly states that “oneness” is God’s intent for marriage. Family is another picture. The church is meant to be yet another manifestation of loving, relational unity. The greatest commandments of Jesus reflect all of this. Even on a worldly level, everyone on the planet seeks community and unity in some form. This is all from God, and Jesus claims that His salvation is what makes relational unity – first with God, and then with our neighbor – truly possible. In this way we can say that our deepest desires are met in Jesus.

Bear Island is a simple story that was designed to capture these truths at the simplest level. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family.

Bear Island tells the story of an island that should be a wonderful place for bears to live. Unfortunately, all of the bears are lonely because they mistakenly believe that the way to be happy is to be selfish. The strongest bears push the smaller bears around, and there’s generally lots of fighting and grumpiness. Bear Island is not a very nice place to live.

Stories about bears

One day an enormous, new bear visits the island, and the other bears are immediately afraid of him. However, rather than behaving selfishly, as they expect him to, he brings love and friendship to the island, eventually transforming the whole island.

Books for kids-Bear Island

Children's book illustration“…Every day Burly Brown Bear made a new friend by being kind to another bear. Soon there was a whole party of brown furry bears sharing their berries and sharing their days together. Bear Island was becoming a more heavenly place!…”

Biblical Worldview for kids

 

 

 

 

Bear hug

 

 

As a side note, the idea for this story came to me after my wife and I had completed a marriage class through my church that deeply affected us. This was also during the Ferguson riots, (near where I grew up.) At the time, I was struck with how seldom fatherlessness and the decline of marriage were a part of the ensuing discussions on race relations in America. I think the story of Bear Island came out a little differently because of all of this than it otherwise would have. I mentioned in a previous post that the characters in the story were designed so that children of any ethnic makeup would be able to identify with them. My hope is that this book can make inroads into the Black and Hispanic communities. Eventually I hope to offer a Spanish version as well.

So there you have it! Thanks again for your support – I hope you and your family are having a great summer!

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Storyboo-love & friendship

Biblical Worldview for Kids

Christian worldview books for kidsIn doing an online search for biblical worldview, I get the impression that most people think of worldview as a topic for adults. Yet as parents, consciously or not, we are shaping our children’s view of reality in our world every day. I say this is a good thing, and that we should be intentional about it!

Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could impart a true and sustainable view of reality to our children that would serve them well for the rest of their lives? A worldview that won’t need to be traded in later for something truer, better, and more compatible with the real world?

I think that’s precisely what a biblical worldview is: a view of reality that is true; that works in the real world; that is based on our Creator’s revelation to us about His world. How could such a view be improved upon by finite minds attempting to figure out the shape of reality based on their own incomplete understandings?

A worldview is a lens through which we view the world. No matter who we are, we all bring beliefs, assumptions, and preconceptions to our understanding of the world. Some of these beliefs are legit. Some are not. As followers of Jesus, we can expect that the Bible will give us true presuppositions that will far surpass those derived from a strictly materialist viewpoint. Despite expectations to the contrary from my Bible skeptic friends, the case for the reliability of the Judeo-Christian scriptures is stronger than ever in the 21st century.

But how does a biblical worldview affect our day-to-day living? Following are just a few examples of truths from the Bible that must shape the way we live as disciples of Jesus. These concepts can easily be imparted to children.

First, a brief reminder about how the Bible is written.

Biblical revelation is both linear and progressive
It is important to recognize that God’s revelation in the scriptures is linear and progressive. That is, certain truths were not known or understood under the Torah of the Mosaic covenant that were understood later under the new covenant of Jesus. This is not to say that the earlier writings contain falsehoods, but that the new covenant of Jesus was new in substance, not merely in time.

One clear example is that the terms of the Mosaic covenant made no promise of a resurrection and an afterlife. The promises to Israel under the Mosaic covenant were physical in nature. So the writer of Ecclesiastes could correctly ask, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?” (Ecc 3:21.) The idea of an eternal soul had not yet been clearly articulated in the scriptures. Even at the time of Jesus this was not a settled question. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, because they held to the written Torah only. It was Jesus who first spoke plainly about resurrection and eternal life.

It is important to remember that revelation in the Bible is both linear and progressive because Bible critics often attempt to discredit a biblical worldview by offering spurious arguments. For example, critics charge that a biblical worldview would require believers to execute adulterers and homosexuals. But the Torah was given uniquely to ancient Israel until the time was fulfilled for something better to appear. Paul explicitly states that the Torah was a “custodian” until Jesus came bringing salvation and new life in the Spirit (Gal 3:23-29; Ro 7:4-6; 2 Cor 3:5,6.) Read as a whole, the scriptures simply do not allow the random taking of Old Covenant commands, out of context, and applying them to a New Covenant situation.

Having said that, there is much of value in the Torah that we should impart to our kids. Here are a few worldview-shaping ideas:

Creation
The first few chapters of the Bible say much about the shape of reality in our world today.
1) Human beings were created, male and female, in the image of God. We are not an accidental result of mindless evolutionary processes. Therefore, all human beings have transcendent, innate value by virtue of bearing God’s image. This concept alone is worth the price of embracing a biblical worldview.
2) We see that being in the image of a triune God also means that we are relational beings. Even though man existed in paradise and in companionship with his Creator, God still declared it “not good” for him to be alone (Gen 2:18.)
3) We see that God designed the binary, heterosexual reproductive system in humanity, and called it very good (Gen 1:27-31.)
4) We see marriage described as the creation of a new family unit, with “oneness” as the ideal (2:24.) This unity in diversity is yet another reflection of God’s image.
5) We see that there was both work and rest before the fall, therefore both are good and have their place.

Fall
The Fall of humanity into a state of separation from God is central to understanding the human condition and the world we live in. Because of human sin, with the Fall, disunity, death, disease, violence, and corruption entered the world. In the Bible, everything that follows the Fall is part of the story of God making a way to restore humanity to relational unity with Himself.

Flood
The Noahic flood demonstrates that our Creator has the right and the will to judge evil in His creation. The flood described in the Torah would’ve been the most unforgettable and horrific catastrophe in human history, permanently altering the surface of the earth. There are some 500 legends from around the world that speak of a great flood, many of which bear similarities to the biblical account. There are millions of land and sea creatures buried in layers of sediment all over the world – an observable testament to this event.

Israel
With Abraham, and then Moses, the establishment of Israel shows that our relational Creator has taken initiative to establish covenants with humanity. Israel was created to be a blessing to the nations and to point to the one true God (Gen 12:2,3; Lev 26:45.) God has not left humanity to fend for itself, but has prepared the world for salvation through Israel. Through foreshadowings in the Torah and through Israel’s prophets, God promised that a Messiah would come from Israel who would bring salvation to the world and set up an eternal kingdom.

Savior
Jesus fulfilled these messianic promises, bringing salvation to humanity, and establishing a New Covenant and the promised kingdom of God. By His sacrificial death on a cross Jesus perfectly satisfied the judgment of God, while also perfectly expressing His love for humanity. This salvation and entrance into His covenant and kingdom is by faith in the work of Jesus, through spiritual rebirth. It is received as a gift undeserved, not as something God owes us.

Faith
Contrary to the claims of “New Atheism,” biblical faith is not “belief in spite of evidence” (Dawkins.) This may be true of other types of religious faith, but biblical faith is not described this way. Biblical faith is relational and evidential – it has an object, God, and He goes out of His way to demonstrate His trustworthiness. So the idea of faith being “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11) does not teach us to ignore observable evidence. Rather, read in context, one sees that this passage gives historical examples of people who believed what God had promised despite circumstances that made it difficult to trust Him. The point is relational in nature. There is no conflict between biblical faith and rationality.

Love
Love must be foremost for anyone embracing a biblical worldview. The Bible describes God as love, and as light in whom there is no darkness (1 Jn 1:5; 4:8.) Jesus declared the greatest commandment in the Torah to be love for God, and then love for neighbor, saying all of the Torah and the prophets depend upon these two commands (Matt 22:36-40.) He stated that the way people would recognize His disciples would be by their love for one another (Jn 13:34,35.) He claimed to have existed in perfect love with the Father before the creation existed (Jn 17:23-25.) His chosen apostle Paul exalted love above all else in His New Covenant writings. Paul stated that he would be nothing, and would gain nothing, without love (1Cor 13:1-3.) He called love the fulfilling of the Torah (Ro 13:8-10.) We are to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15.) We are to walk in love, in the example of Jesus (Eph 5:1,2.)

Worldview and the critical role of kids’ storybooks
Storybooks are one of the best ways to instill a biblical worldview in small children because stories can show them, rather than merely tell them, how the world works. Stories engage the whole person – mind, will, and emotions. By engaging the mind and the heart in a non-abstract and enjoyable way, stories reach the deepest part in all of us. Bullet points and abstract principles do not engage the emotions. Stories do. And they stay with us. If you would like to be notified of new, creative storybooks for kids that are designed to instill, reinforce, and normalize a biblical worldview in the children you love, you can sign up on the homepage of this site.

Dinner Table Tales

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner with our foreign exchange student – 2012

Sharing a meal with others is one of life’s great, relational, creative expressions. It goes without saying that mealtimes serve an essential practical purpose – that of nourishing our bodies – but at the same time, sharing a meal is (or can be) a spiritually meaningful and life-enhancing act.

Of course, growing up, I didn’t appreciate this. Our family ate dinner together every evening. This seemed to me to be a routine, mundane part of suburban life. I was more interested in finding a way around eating my helping of canned peas than in relating to my family in a positive way. But I believe the habit of eating together had a lasting and positive effect on me.

There is a proverb of Solomon that says, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov 17:1.) We now know scientifically that stress and strife is bad for the digestion. By contrast, relaxing around a table as a nourishing act of mutual enjoyment, and as an expression of unity, is a God-ordained pleasure. It’s interesting that with the establishment of the New Covenant 2000 years ago, Jesus used a meal as a sign by which to remember the covenant; a covenant that was intended to be characterized by love and unity. This meal is often referred to as “the communion meal.”

On an everyday level, one of the best practices we can share as families is to practice the habit of sharing a meal together around the table, looking into each other’s faces, and seeking to enjoy each other’s company.

Meal sharing is an act of communion.

I read an interview in the late 80’s that for some reason stuck with me. Dweezil Zappa was talking about his then-upcoming TV show, “Normal Life,” co-starring his sister, Moon Unit. He said something like, “Our show is going to be about real families, where everyone eats their food in separate rooms in front of a TV.” As though families eating meals together is a cheesy Ozzie and Harriet thing that cool people don’t do.

Whatever. Being cool is overrated.

Eating with actual human beings
Sure, it takes more effort, but relationship is what life is all about, after all. Even as an unmarried college student in midtown Kansas City, when I lived in a 3-story house sharing rent with 6 other art students, this ethic came through. Enough of us had been raised this way that we determined that we wanted to create a community rather than simply serve as a cheap boarding house. One of the first things we decided toward this end was to share a meal together at least once a week.

When Mollie and I got married, we decided early on as our young family began to grow, that we would try to make it a practice to always eat meals together around the table as a family, with TVs and electronic devices turned off, and earphones pulled out.

A Story About Dinner and Art
Many years later, Mollie and I moved our family to Colorado so that we could pursue careers as fine artists. Some of our old college friends from the 3-story house, now a married couple and living in Loveland, had offered to let us stay with them for a few months until we could get ourselves established. They had 3 kids, and we had 5, and their house was probably too small for this endeavor. But they welcomed us in nonetheless.

One of the first things we did was to fix the situation with the dining room table. We knew we wanted to share meals together, and our host’s dining room table was too small for all 12 of us. So my friend Mike got a nice 4×8 ft board, and, since we were all artists, we decided to turn the table into a community art project involving all the kids.

We thought it would be fun to get everybody’s handprints on the table, as a small monument to our love and friendship. We had all the kids and adults interlace hands and arms around the table, something like this:

Tabletop design ideaThen we spray-painted over everyone’s hands to create a handprint border around the edge of the table. (We first applied lotion to everyone’s hands so that the paint would come off easily.) On the underside of the table, each kid wrote their name under their handprints to identify them. Then, back on top, we helped the kids stencil some primitive animal shapes running through the center of the table to complete the design. I designed the stencils to be suggestive of Native American art imagery.

Below is a shot of the finished tabletop.

colorado animals-tabletopI will always fondly remember that crazy season of starting over in Colorado, made possible because of the friendship of this family.

Some sad observations from across the pond
I recently read an article by British doctor and psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels, who has worked extensively in some of Britain’s deeply impoverished areas. His duties required him to visit the homes of his patients, and to personally interview them. Daniels recounts some universal patterns he saw in Britain’s underclass:

“Everyone lived in households with a shifting cast of members, rather than in families. If there was an adult male resident, he was generally a bird of passage with a residence of his own somewhere else. He came and went as his fancy took him…

I should mention a rather startling fact: By the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living at home…Few homes were without televisions with screens as large as a cinema – sometimes more than one – and they were never turned off, so that I often felt I was examining someone in a cinema rather than in a house. But what was curious was that these homes often had no means of cooking a meal, or any evidence of a meal ever having been cooked beyond the use of a microwave, and no place at which a meal could be eaten in a family fashion. The pattern of eating in such households was a kind of foraging in the refrigerator, as and when the mood took, with the food to be consumed sitting in front of one of the giant television screens.

Surveys have shown that a fifth of British children do not eat a meal more than once a week with another member of their household, and many homes do not have a dining room table. Needless to say, this pattern is concentrated in the lower reaches of society, where so elementary but fundamental a means of socialization is now unknown. Here I should mention in passing that in my hospital, the illegitimacy rate of the children born in it, except for those of Indian-subcontinental descent, was approaching 100 percent.”
(
Imprimis: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass)

What a sobering glimpse of a government welfare state. The government has essentially become the household provider, the nuclear family has disintegrated, and there consequently isn’t even a table around which to share a meal.

Rise up and share a meal!
My purpose here is not to criticize Dweezil Zappa, or the underclass of Britain, or TV watching. My point is simply to encourage connection and communion within households. Whether you are living with family or friends, if you are currently not connecting with those around you, why not start the adventure now? If you are already committed to meal sharing with those you love, then may these thoughts serve as affirmation that you are doing a good thing. Keep it up, you crazy radicals!

Sometimes we do good things almost by accident, or by inertia, or habit. This is certainly better than not doing those things at all. However, at times I have found that doing those same things with intentionality and purpose reminds me to make the most of the moment. Meal sharing is one of those things. Reinforcing your values by reading stories regularly with your kids or grandkids is another. In this blog I’ll periodically share encouragement on other life-enhancing practices.

May God strengthen you to create a culture of life and love within your own family!
A Happy Thanksgiving to you,

Scott

Animal stencils-detail

(Tabletop detail.) Feel free to share a dinnertime story or memory below…