The day my book arrived

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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…

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

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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.

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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.

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I want her to know that Jesus is for everyone.

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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

A sneak peek inside The Story of King Jesus

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Yesterday I saw the final proofs for my book, The Story of King Jesus. Two years, three months, and I don’t know how many drafts since the original… and it’s finally off to the printer.

My book.

Well… no, actually. It’s not “my book.” Before anything else, The Story of King Jesus is the book I wrote for my daughter. I started writing it because I wanted to introduce her to a vibrant, living faith—instead of a formula for getting out of hell.

Recently, I’ve been reading the story to her. I’ve listened as she whispers some of the words to herself. I’ve watched her trace the images with her fingers. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to suppress a big, stupid grin when she asks me to read it to her “three more times.” (I don’t care if you’re just stalling before bed, Elizabeth. That’s one request I’ll gladly indulge.) And I’ve felt a mix of responsibility and excitement as the book prompts conversations about how we get to be part of making God’s world right and good again—right here and now.

It’s not “my book.” It’s also the work of an amazing illustrator named Nick Lee, who’s put about as much of himself into the design as I put of myself into the words.

Nick’s art inspires me. He captures all the things—the wonder, the hardship, the struggle, and the hope of the biblical story.

We all have a mental picture of Jesus in our heads. Unfortunately, for many of us, that picture looks something like the Norwegian supermodel Jesus of Hollywood films. (No offense to any attractive Norwegians reading this.) All I can say is, if my daughter’s mental picture of Jesus is influenced by Nick’s art, I’ll be pretty happy with that.

It’s not “my book.” I hope it will be yours and your kids, too.

Here are some of the first few spreads from the book, where our story begins. I can’t wait to share the rest with you.

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You can pre-order The Story of King Jesus on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Photo credit: Nick Lee

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

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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…

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In which my book has a title, a cover, and a release date

So this is real, friends.

Yesterday, I saw the final cover of my book. With my actual name on it.

Apparently, they’re really letting me do this. (Yeah, I’m surprised too.)

As of today, my book has a title, a cover, and a release date.

The Story of King Jesus will be published on March 1, 2015. Five days before my 38th birthday. A month to the day before our son turns one. Exactly two hundred days after our daughter turns four.

She’s the first of two very good reasons I have for doing this book. I wrote the first draft when she wasn’t even two years old. Back then I had no idea it would ever become a book. I just wanted something we could use to nurture her spiritual curiosity and introduce her to a more holistic gospel story, the kind of thing Scot McKnight calls for in his book The King Jesus Gospel. Something that’s more than just a set of spiritual laws. A gospel that’s not about escaping from this world but something much better: the story of God making this world right and good again.

I’m thankful I get to share the end result with you. Thankful that David C Cook is taking a chance on this first-time author (one who never thought his first real book would be a kid’s book). Thankful that a talented illustrator named Nick Lee has thrown everything he’s got into making this story come alive with his captivating artwork.

And, of course, thankful to any of you who end up buying a copy or sharing it with someone who’s wondering how to introduce their kids to their faith.

This is coming March 1.

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How today’s the day I send my book to the publisher

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Today is manuscript day. The day I officially send my book to the publisher.

Today is the day I let go after who-knows-how-many dozens of revisions. You would think a children’s book wouldn’t take this much effort. (OK, well I would’ve thought that once.) But when you only have a thousand words in which to captivate a child’s imagination with the story of Jesus,

every

word

counts.

So this is the scary part. Handing it over to someone else and waiting to see what they do with my book. It’s weird. I’ve been on the other side of the editor-author relationship many times, but this is my first seeing it from an author’s point of view.

I think it would be harder to let someone else leave their mark on my book if there weren’t so many sets of fingerprints on it already. There’s my mom, the first to see a writer in me and to nurture that potential. There’s Brian, my first boss at World Vision, the first person who actually paid me to write, who took a chance on hiring a writer without a professional writing background. There’s Sandra, who edited almost everything I wrote at World Vision, who scared the crap out of me a little at first, but who helped me become a better writer and gave me the confidence to put myself out there. There’s Rob, the Welsh writer and actor who saw creative potential in everyone he met — so much so that each time we were together, even the last time when his cancer had nearly run its course, he wanted to know what I was writing, what I was creating. (Rob, I finally have an interesting answer.) There’s Scot, who was the first to share what started as a simple blog post written for my daughter, and also the first to tell me I should turn it into a book. There’s my agent Linda, who has patiently put up with more revisions of this thing than I think either of us anticipated — and has added immense value to each. There’s my wife, who’s done more than anyone to give me the confidence to write — and who has a knack for telling me when something doesn’t make sense or when I should find a better way to express myself, all while managing to make me feel good about it.

And of course, there’s my daughter Elizabeth. This will always be her book. (Though I’m sure she won’t mind sharing it with others, too.) It will always be the book I wrote to try, in my own faltering way, to express to her what God is doing in our world and how she can be part of it. If it does that for her, then I don’t really care how many copies it sells.

(OK, well maybe I care a little.)

—//—

Not long ago, a politician caused a controversy (imagine that) by saying to a room full of successful businesspeople, “You didn’t build that.” By which he meant: You didn’t build that on your own. There were others who helped lay the foundation for your success.

His opponent tried turning his statement into a political advantage, as all politicians are wont to do, even making a slogan (and merchandise) out of its antithesis: I did built that.

Setting politics aside, along with debates over the role of government in our success (or lack of it), I appreciate perhaps more than I used to the truth that “I didn’t build that.” I can see the delusion in thinking that any of us got where we are on our own.

This realization helps me to let go of my work. (Which is not to say that letting go is easy.) It helps me to realize that it’s not really mine to begin with. I didn’t create it on my own. I wouldn’t have been capable of creating it if it weren’t for the investments made in me by others. And I didn’t write this book for myself, either. I wrote it for my daughter and others like her who need to be introduced to the story of Jesus in a more authentic, more compelling way.

So it’s not really “my” manuscript. It’s not “my” book.

(Now if I can just remember that when the time comes for others to add their mark to it…)

How I unexpectedly wound up writing a children’s book

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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…)

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Rick Mansfield’s open letter on the TNIV, part 1

Rick Mansfield has posted an open letter to Zondervan on his blog, encouraging them to step up their support for the TNIV.

I’ll write about the TNIV soon, but for now I’ll just say that I think Rick makes several good points. I hope my friends at Zondervan take his letter to heart.