The day my book arrived

IMG_7126

I remember reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter for the first time, earlier this year. I’d just seen it in layout, and the publisher let me keep the printouts. I couldn’t wait to get home from Colorado to show it to Elizabeth.

I’m not sure if it was a stalling tactic, but that night before bed, she made me read it twice. (I didn’t object.) The second time through, she began repeating bits of the story under her breath.

Afterward, she asked, “When will it be put together?” I thought she was asking some deep spiritual question, as in, “When will the world be put back together?” (One of the recurring themes of my book is how God is making the world right and good again.) She cut me off after a few seconds of fumbling for an answer and said, “No, dad. When will your book be put together?”

Well, at last I have a good answer. Because this came in the mail yesterday…

IMG_7073

I was so excited, I forgot to change her into her PJs before saying goodnight.

IMG_7088

We read the book at bedtime—this time the proper, bound-up version—because I want Elizabeth to know that even though there is much in our world that’s not as it should be, God made it good, and he is making it good once more.

IMG_7102

I want her to know the gospel is more than just what happens to us when we die. It’s about what we do while we’re alive. That Jesus not only defeated death; he made it possible for us to live.

IMG_7109 - Version 2

I want her to know that Jesus is for everyone.

IMG_7122

I want her to know that the gospel is liberating and life-giving. That if something is oppressive and soul-destroying, then it isn’t the gospel. I want her to know that God invites us all to join him in making the world right and good again.

I can already see glimpses from my daughter that the story is beginning to sink in, that it resonates, that it is life-giving for her.

And that is the best Christmas present I could ask for.

The Story of King Jesus is available for preorder now

On reading my book to my daughter for the first time…

9781434707727_HI

Last night I read The Story of King Jesus to my daughter for the first time. Well, I read printouts with not-quite final art that my publisher gave me last week. Still, it was a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

It’s been two years since I shared the first draft of what became The Story of King Jesus. Then Scot McKnight picked it up and shared it on his blog. Many, MANY rewrites later, it was a book proposal…and finally (after more rewrites), an actual book with a publisher and a release date and everything (ahem, March 2015). But it’s always been—and always will be—something I wrote for my daughter. This is how I want to introduce her to our faith.

She’s picked up bits and pieces about Jesus over the years. She knows Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, though she wonders why she’s never seen him in person before. We’ve read some Easter books together, as well as excerpts from The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu. But this was her first time hearing the whole story of Jesus in one sitting—including the story of Israel, which he brings to fulfillment.

I think one of the reasons we reduce the gospel to a handful precepts or sound bites is because we’re not sure our kids are up for something bigger. Or because we don’t think of the gospel as being primarily a story. Or maybe we worry our kids won’t have the attention span for something more than a few quick bullet points about sin and salvation.

I want to prove these assumptions wrong—because, frankly, this kind of gospel doesn’t work. It doesn’t stick. Stories stay with us for life. Bullet points, not so much. Our kids need a better story.

Last night, my daughter stayed with The Story of King Jesus all the way through, even though it’s longer than most of her bedtime books. She even had me read it a second time. OK, that may have been a bedtime stalling tactic. And granted, she’s a focus group of one. But she’s also a bit younger than the target age group (4 to 8) for my book, so I was thrilled to see how she engaged with it.

She was absorbed in the story and the art (thank you, Nick Lee). When we got to the part about the crucifixion, she grabbed her owl nightlight and held it close to the page so she could look more closely. On our second time through, she started repeating some of the key lines—completely on her own.

I have no illusions that everything got through on the first or even the second read. But she was absorbing, processing, engaging with the story. After we finished, she said it was her favorite story she’s ever read. (Though earlier that evening, she said the meatless chicken nuggets we had for dinner were her favorite food she’s ever had. The night before, peanut butter sandwiches were her favorite.)

As for the “most clueless dad” moment of the night… afterward she asked me, “When will it be put together?” I assumed she was asking a deep spiritual question about the state of the world. After all, God fixing the world—putting it back together—is one of the recurring themes of The Story of King Jesus. So I proceeded to stumble my way through a response…until she cut me off and said, “No, dad. When’s the book going to be put together?”

But she also asked me when Jesus is coming back, which gave us a chance to talk about how we get to be part of making the world right and good until he returns. We talked about how God gave us a job to do: love each other with all we’ve got.

The bottom line is, last night, I got to talk to my daughter about bringing heaven to earth.

I know it can be terrifying to talk to your kids about faith. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing and screw it up for them. But it can also be a wonderful, rewarding experience. It can be like bringing a little bit of heaven to earth right here and now—especially when we let go the pressure to extract a decision from our kids now and just tell them the story and watch it begin to click in their own imaginations.

I think—I hope and I pray—that’s what started happening for my daughter last night.

UPDATE: I just found out you can already pre-order The Story of King Jesus through Amazon…

IMG_4704

IMG_4707

IMG_4710

IMG_4715

How I unexpectedly wound up writing a children’s book

9781434707727_HI

UPDATE: The Story of King Jesus is now available!

One Saturday when I was 5, I got down on my knees and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I only remember a few details from that day — mostly trivial ones like what we had for lunch.

(Tuna fish sandwiches, in case you were wondering.)

For many Christians, faith is all about The Decision. The earlier it’s made, the better. But if the stats are to be believed, more than half of my friends who prayed the same prayer as kids are no longer practicing Christians.

So maybe it’s time we reevaluate a decision-based approach to the gospel. Maybe we’re shortchanging our kids, who in many cases aren’t old enough to even know what they’re signing up for. Yes, Jesus said, “Let the little children come.” But he also told would-be followers to “count the cost” of discipleship.

When I prayed the sinner’s prayer, all I knew was I didn’t want to go to hell. And I wanted to eat my tuna fish sandwich.

But a decision-based approach also shortchanges the gospel by confusing the decision with the gospel itself. It reduces the gospel to a tool for sin management or hell avoidance.

The New Testament paints a more expansive picture of the gospel. It’s not merely a decision you make. It’s not a set of four spiritual laws. It’s not a wordless color book. It’s not something that can be reduced to a formula or an incantation.

It’s a story. It’s the story of God rescuing the world, bringing heaven to earth, advancing his kingdom. And it’s an invitation to become part of that story, to become citizens of a kingdom characterized by loving God and loving others.

As Scot McKnight writes in his book The King Jesus Gospel,

The gospel is the Story of Jesus as the completion of the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures, and that gospel story formed and framed the culture of the earliest Christians.

I believe it should form and frame ours, too.

Now it would be to easy for me to sit back and just be another armchair critic, judging others for how they’ve sought to pass down their faith. But there’s at least one important thing a decision-based approach to the gospel gets right: the fact that we owe it to our kids to start telling them about our faith when they’re young.

That doesn’t mean we should settle for a reductionist gospel. It doesn’t mean we should employ tactics that border on the manipulative in order to coax a decision from them.

Our kids deserve better when it comes to the gospel. 

Some of the first people to follow God had another way of passing down their faith; and it’s time we rediscovered it. The ancient Israelites passed their faith to each generation by telling their story:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (from Deuteronomy 6)

Tell your story.

—//—

Three years ago, I became a parent.

Suddenly these questions — What is the gospel? How do we pass it on to our kids? — took on a new sense of urgency. Suddenly the stakes got very real.

Could my wife and I live our faith in a way that would nurture our daughter’s spiritual curiosity? Could we tell the story of our faith so that someday she would come to embrace it as her own?

Inspired in part by the depiction of the gospel set out in Scot’s book, I began writing my own sketch of this story — the whole gospel story — for my daughter. I meant for it to be something we could read together when she’s a bit older, a first introduction to our story of faith.

About a year ago, I shared an early draft on this blog. Then it got shared on a few other blogs, including Scot’s. A few people said I should try turning it into a children’s book. I’ve always thought I would write book someday. I just didn’t think it would be a children’s book.

But I gave it a shot. With the help of a good friend, I found an amazing agent. Together, we crafted a proposal. Then re-crafted it. And re-crafted it again. Finally, we sent it off to some publishers. And waited.

Then one day I signed a two-book contract with David C. Cook.

(Believe me, there was plenty of nail-biting in between.)

The thing about Cook is, well… they’re awesome. They share this vision for communicating a more holistic gospel to our kids. From our very first meeting, I wanted it to be them. Can I just say? I am SO excited to work with everyone at Cook.

So the first book will tell the whole gospel as a single story — starting with God’s good world, which he made for us to share with him, and telling how God set out to rescue us from exile so he could be our king once more, making the world right and good again.

Unlike most storybook Bibles, it will be something parents and kids can read together in a single sitting. But it’s not a quick fix. It’s not a replacement sinner’s prayer. It’s not primarily a tool for coaxing a decision. It’s something that can help you to begin this journey with your kids, to start telling the story of your faith.

In the end, this will always be the book I wrote for my daughter. But my hope (and prayer) is that it will help a few other kids take their first steps of faith, too.

More details to come! (Including figuring out what that second book will be…)

IMG_1689