DIY kids’ books

Cleaning out the filing cabinet is always a revealing experience. I was sorting through some cards, letters, artwork and other stuff, when I discovered a couple of my earlier book manuscripts! That’s right, I’m an author. This particular book was never published and was probably only read by four people. So here’s my chance to self-publish for a wider audience!

I was motivated to be teaching my kids (two young boys at the time) about God in a creative way. I’d been thinking about some of the question/response catechisms of yesteryear and this led to an idea for a DIY book for kids. I would write the text and my kids would do the artwork. Having written the words, I printed them into an A5 booklet, and invited my kids to draw the pictures. Below is the Limited First Edition entitled, Who made everything? God. Written by Dave McDonald and illustrated by Matt McDonald. Given that there is a baby either growing inside one of the family members, or in her arms, it must have been written around 1996, when Matt was 4 or 5 years old!

I produced another of these called Jesus is Special, where the text on every page began “Jesus is special because…“. We explored things Jesus said and did, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, and his exaltation – in simple words and sentences.

These books weren’t hard to do, we had fun together, and it was a creative way of getting our boys to learn about God. Why not give it a go, or share some of your own creative ideas.

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The Jesus Storybook Bible

jesus-story-book-bibleThis afternoon I sat down and read the Bible from cover to cover. Well, not the whole Bible precisely. It wasn’t the King James or the New International Version. It wasn’t exactly the full text or even the actual text of the Bible. What I read was The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. It’s a paraphrase of the main message of the Bible. It’s a birds-eye view of the whole landscape with stopovers to take in the major landmarks along the way. It’s written with younger children in mind and offers a wonderful summary of the Bible’s big idea. The words are excellent, the pictures are delightful, and it was cool to be able to read 350 pages from beginning to end in one sitting! I loved it!

What makes this so awesome is that the author understands that the Bible is ultimately a book about Jesus. The Old Testament points to Jesus and finds it’s fulfilment in him. The New Testament showcases Jesus and the impact he makes on others. It’s one coherent story about God’s big rescue plan, where Jesus ultimately comes into the world to bring people home to God.

Obviously the complete message of the Bible has been dramatically condensed to create this storybook Bible. What I appreciate are the wise selections of what’s been put in and what’s been left out. You come away from reading this with a good handle on the overall message of the Scriptures. It hangs together, it builds momentum, and it reaches an important climax. In reading the full version of the Bible we’re not dealing with a book of independent short stories, but an historical narrative with a coherent message. It’s one story. It’s God’s story. It’s his-story.

Let me try to summarise the summary! We start with God, who creates an awesome world, makes people who relate to him and all is perfect. The people are quickly deceived into not trusting God, things fall apart, and life seems hopeless. God promises to put things right, he works through a family line, he overcomes every setback, and we keep looking forward in anticipation to his coming into our world to rescue us. This is half the story, what gets described as the Old Testament, and it’s desperately waiting for its conclusion.

The second half, or the New Testament, announces the arrival of God in the person of Jesus. We learn the significance of the Christmas story, see the extraordinary things he does, hear his amazing words, and marvel at the way he treats people. We discover that the cruel execution of Jesus is actually essential to the plan. Easter is the climax. Jesus will rescue people by dying in their place and God will raise him to life, opening the way for us to return to God. God gives his Spirit to Jesus’ followers, they’re transformed by the message of Jesus, and the news of what God has done begins to spread throughout the world. An awesome story and it’s true!

I love lots of things about The Jesus Storybook Bible. You truly get the sense of promise and fulfilment. The heart of God to rescue, rather than destroy, his people comes through at every point. The pictures are wonderful, but it’s the love and generosity of God that really colours this book. The best thing is that this storybook accurately communicates that the Bible is a book about Jesus. He is the focal point of all God’s purposes. He’s the key to understanding ourselves and God and the purpose of life.

One of the great dangers of many kids Bible books is that they can reinforce the misunderstanding that the Bible is a book of cute and not-so-cute stories and that Christianity is a message of ‘doing the right thing so God will like you’. These ideas are false and dangerously misleading. The The Jesus Storybook Bible steers us away from such errors. It stays on message, that the Bible is a book about God’s amazing grace revealed in Jesus. Consider these words…

“It’s not about keeping rules!” Paul told the people. “You don’t have to be good at being good for God to love you. You just have to believe what Jesus has done and follow him. Because it’s not about trying, it’s about trusting. It’s not about rules, it’s about Grace: God’s free gift – that cost him everything.”
What had happened to Paul? He met Jesus.  (p340)

Lloyd-Jones uses a wonderful refrain throughout the book speaking of…

God’s Never Stopping
Never Giving Up
Unbreaking
Always and
Forever
Love

I highly recommend this storybook Bible. Adults will benefit from reading it through in one sitting. So will teenagers. But its intended audience is young children from 3 or 4 up to the end of primary school. I’d encourage parents and children’s ministry leaders to get a copy. Read it through first and then take it a chapter at a time. It’d be worth reading through with your children at least once every year. Each chapter also has a reference to the passages of the Bible that are being described. It’d be worth the adults reading over these texts before they read the storybook version to the children. Maybe read the full version in the mornings and then read to the kids before bed.

For adults who want to explore the overall message of the Bible for themselves, I’d recommend following a guided Bible reading plan. It’s also helpful to read According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy or God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. These books give excellent Bible overviews. You might also like to download a series of talks that offer a 10 week overview of the Bible’s message or work through the 8 studies in Full of Promise by Phil Campbell and Bryson Smith.

Come to think of it, there are many contexts where this book would be an excellent gift. If you’re invited to become a god-parent, then why not buy a copy for your god-child? Grandparents, add it to your Christmas list. Pastors, grab copies to offer parents at kid’s clubs or when they enquire about getting children baptised. Maybe, you could buy a copy for your kindergarten or primary school library. Get your children’s ministry leaders to read over it and use it for a training weekend. Use your imagination!

A legacy of words

Words can be very powerful. They’re how we connect. They’re the way we get to know one another. The absence of words makes relationships very difficult. They reveal what’s on our minds, what’s on our hearts, what we’re thinking. Sometimes they express our feelings and emotions. They’re a vehicle for revealing our values, our beliefs, our convictions. Care must be taken with words because once offered they’re hard to take back. Words can be weapons that wound or even kill. Words can offer healing and forgiveness and kindness and love. Words, whether written or spoken, can leave an important legacy long after their author has gone.

Over the past month I’ve read a number of deeply helpful books written by people dealing with serious illnesses. Each of these books have been inspiring and I’ve wanted to review and promote them so that others can be blessed by them also. With three of these books, I described the authors, their experiences, their attitudes and their words in the present tense. I just assumed each one was still living and continuing with the challenges and struggles they described in their books. I was wrong.

Lori Hope, the author of Help Me Live, who had lung cancer, and who had written to me only weeks before, had died the day before I read her book. Rhonda Watson, the author of Remember, who lived with Motor Neurone Disease, had died only weeks before. And I discovered yesterday that Jim Stallard, the author of You owe me dinner, a quadriplegic who battled with diabetes and other disabilities, had died only last year.

The news of each of their deaths was very sobering for me. Once again it reminded me of the future. One day every one of us will take our last breath. We can’t escape this fact. And for those of us with serious illnesses that day may well be sooner than we’d like.

Each of these people have no doubt left many important legacies. I haven’t met any of them personally (other than an email from Lori) but I feel that I know each one, at least in part. I’ve got to know them through their books, through their words. I feel I’ve had a glimpse of each person, something of what they’ve been through, what they believed and hoped for. They continue to speak to me, even in their absence. And, in my heart, I thank them for their words.

I added it up the other day. Just under 80,000 words on this blog since March. Ouch, that’s a lot of words! I’ve sought to give a window into my experience, what’s been on my mind and heart, what I care about and appreciate. I’ve attempted to highlight the valuable words of others as I’ve reviewed books on a range of topics. And I’ve often quoted the words that matter to me more than any others – the words of the Bible. I’ve been amazed at the reach and impact of some of these words, and have been blessed by many wise words in response. My prayer is that I will leave a legacy with these written words.

In my case, I can do more than leave a legacy of words on the page or screen. I’ve been a preacher and Bible teacher my entire working life. This means that there are cassettes, CDs, and mp3 recordings of my talks. No vinyls or reel-to-reels! Without exaggeration, that adds up to hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of talks. Some might say, if I’d kept them shorter there’d be a lot less! People can go to our church website and continue to listen to my words. The digital footprint I leave will mean that I will be able to continue speaking for years and years to come.

Big deal, you might well say! Words, words, words! Lot’s of people have written books. Lots of people have left recordings. Lots of people get quoted, but far more are simply forgotten. And I agree with you! It’s not the volume of words or the fact that they’re recorded that matters. It’s the message they contain.

I’m keen to leave my children, and my children’s children, a legacy with my words. It’s kind of nice that each of them currently follow the blog and they’ll be able to read back over things once I’m gone. It’s pretty special that they’ll even be able to listen to my voice if they download talks. But it’s the content of what I say that’s important. My prayer is that I’ll leave a legacy that flows from my words and is supported by my life. I desire to point beyond myself to the one and only God who loves each one of them. I want to share the good news of Jesus, his life, his words, his death, and his resurrection, and show them why I believe it. I want to speak about the goodness of God in the face of suffering and evil, and show the true joy that comes from confidence and contentment in God.

I know that even if I were to write books and archive my talks in the safest of places, there will come a time when my words are no longer remembered. That’s just the way things go. But there are also some words that will never be wasted, words that will always achieve their purpose, words that will endure and live forever. The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians in the first century…

23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God24 For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25     but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.
(1Peter 1:23-25, my emphasis)

He quotes words that were spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah 800 years before. He speaks about the message of Jesus. He describes the impact of the message of Jesus on other people years afterwards. This is the same Peter who was a close personal friend, an eye and ear witness witness to Jesus, who had one time spoken to Jesus saying…

68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69, my emphasis)

This very same message continues to change lives today and it will tomorrow. I’m persuaded that God’s words are life-giving and life-transforming. I can testify to it personally, and I’ve seen it it countless others. The legacy I want to leave my children and my children’s children, is not ultimately my words, but the true words of God himself.