Storybooks as Gifts? Yes! (Time to Order.)

watercolor-Scott Freeman

Three years ago I launched a kids’ storybook company. As an artist, writer, and father of five I became very excited about the possibility of producing beautifully illustrated storybooks that would help parents and grandparents instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the children they love.

One thing that is different about my company is that it is all online, through my website. Books are printed “on demand,” as they are ordered, which means I’m not selling my books through stores. (I tried that with my first book, Naomi’s Gift, and it wore me out!) I hope ordering through my website will be more convenient for you as well.

I’m sending this post out now because Christmas is coming, and if you are thinking of giving a storybook as a gift, now would be a great time to order to ensure delivery in time for Christmas! (The official ordering deadline for my storybooks in hardcover is December 3rd.)

My newest book is called, The True Story of Christmas. I wasn’t able to deliver this book in time for Christmas last year, so if you passed on it then, it’s ready to go now.

The concept behind The True Story of Christmas:
Our family has accumulated a nice collection of Christmas books over the years. But I saw a place for a beautifully illustrated Christmas storybook for kids that would
1) place Christmas in the context of the bigger picture and explain why Jesus was born, and
2) tell the Christmas story in fidelity to the biblical narrative.

The True Story of Christmas is the result. The book begins with the story of God’s good creation and the subsequent fall of man, and frames Christmas as part of God’s plan to “fix His broken world”:

“The story of Christmas is about how God still loves us.
Christmas is about His good plan to create a way for us
to receive His love, light, and life again.”

The story continues, briefly introducing children to the nation of Israel and the Hebrew prophets, building anticipation for the coming of a promised child who would grow up to bring salvation and establish a good and eternal kingdom.

prophets watercolor storybooks bible

As for fidelity to the biblical narrative, much of our understanding of the Christmas story comes to us from extra-biblical traditions, Christmas carols, and greeting cards. Without sounding picky or pretentious, The True Story of Christmas aims to remain true to the biblical account while retaining the excitement and charm of the Christmas story.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of an extra-biblical tradition would be the Magi arriving at the manger on the night of Jesus’s birth, rather than at the house of Jesus as a small child in Bethlehem, as the scriptures say.

Watercolor-The True Story of Xmas

Watercolor illustrations of the shepherds, and the wise men, from The True Story of Christmas.

Here are a couple of customer reviews that made me happy:

“This is a remarkable book. It is a children’s book and his presentation of the Christmas story is presented in a way that will be very engaging for children. But the book is also a simple, powerful summary of the whole theme of redemption. It is a good read for anyone. I also love the illustrations, and the Christmas Carol at the end. Really, this is a book every Christian could read through at Christmas to get a reset on what it is we have to celebrate.” – JM

“This book is wonderful and the very best Christmas storybook I have ever read or seen! Everyone should have a copy of this. The script and the artwork are amazing!” – CT

CLICK HERE to order The True Story of Christmas!

Some other Christmas Items:
For those interested, this year I was able to upload some new designs for Christmas cards on the Zazzle site that Mollie and I share. This is a site that takes our original artwork and puts it on nice quality cards and other products. Visit our site and browse around. Also, as a gift idea, I will mention that I have ordered coffee mugs from Zazzle, and they came out GREAT! You can check out my coffee mug designs on the site as well. panda-mug

As you will see, some of the Christmas cards (as well as some everyday cards) use imagery from my kids’ books. Below are some of the new Christmas cards:

scotts-christmas-cards

CLICK HERE to visit our Zazzle store.

An update on my storybook business:
If you’ve been subscribed to my BigPicturePublishing.com site for long, you may have noticed that I did not release a new storybook this year. The reason is that 2015 was an unusually trying year for Mollie and me as we both lost very close family members and experienced a number of other difficulties. Consequently we’ve taken a break from the stress of self-employment for a while, and are both working full time for the first time in 15 years. This has been a great time of catching our breath and catching up, but unfortunately has not allowed me much time to work on new books.

However, my next title, The Friendly City, is written and ready to illustrate. I’m quite excited about it and I’ll keep you posted as the painting begins. I think I’m getting close to being able to start the artwork. If you haven’t already done so, please visit the BigPicturePublishing.com site and sign up in the blue box to receive notification of when new books are ready, as well as an occasional blog post. Signing up does not obligate you purchase anything.

As the world grows more confusing for children and more hostile to followers of Jesus, it’s more important than ever that we instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids that are in our care. I would love to play a part in that task by providing great tools for parents and grandparents. CLICK HERE to see descriptions of all my kids’ storybooks.

Thank you again for your interest and support!
Love rules,

Scott Freeman

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Harmonizing the Resurrection Accounts in the Bible

Mary Magdalene-Scott FreemanI could wallpaper my house with skeptics’ claims of how impossible it is to harmonize the resurrection accounts in the Bible. Muslim apologists also use the “inconsistencies” in the four gospel accounts to prove that the resurrection of Jesus is a fabricated story. A few years ago, after hearing an overconfident atheist repeatedly proclaim the impossibility of harmonizing the resurrection accounts in the gospels, I accepted his challenge. He was so confident that the biblical accounts were hopelessly contradictory that he offered to personally help anyone who could harmonize them to claim a $10,000 reward offered by the Skeptics Society.

I sat down over breakfast, and saw how they fit together after about 15 minutes of reading. Just sayin’.

I’ll concede that these critics are all more intelligent and educated than I am. But this doesn’t seem to be about intelligence. There’s gotta be something else going on here. I’ll show you what I found, and you, be you skeptic or believer, can see what you think for yourself.

Courtesy to you prevents me from addressing all thirty-something supposed contradictions. But once I explain the key, you’ll be able to resolve them all for yourself.

The Problem in a Nutshell
For those unaware of the “glaring,” “mutually exclusive” contradictions, here are the biggest ones, supposedly making it “impossible” and “ludicrous” to attempt to harmonize the Bible’s own account of its most pivotal event:

  • How many women went to the tomb on resurrection morning? Was it one (John)? Two (Matthew)? Three (Mark)? Or more (Luke)?
  •  Did the woman/women arrive at the tomb while it was still dark (John)? Or as the sun was coming up (Matt and Mark)?
  • Who did the women see at the tomb? One person (Matthew and Mark,) or two (Luke and John)?
  • Did Mary Magdalene cry at the tomb (John)? Or were the women filled with joy (Matthew)?
  • Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus (Matthew)? Or not (John)?
  • Did the women tell the disciples immediately (Matthew, Luke, John)? Or did they say nothing to anyone (Mark)?

The key in a nutshell
The key to harmonizing the four gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus lies in recognizing that the Gospel of John describes a separate, earlier event from that which the Synoptic Gospels recount. The 3 Synoptic Gospels generally agree in what they report, with only minor variations. It is clear from an open-minded reading of the four accounts that Mary Magdalene, by herself, had already been to the tomb twice before the events described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke occur. By contrast, every skeptic I’ve read assumes that all four gospels are describing the same trip to the tomb. As we shall see, the answers to their criticisms have been there all along.

Is there textual evidence is to suggest that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb earlier than the other women? Yes, this is plainly stated. Two explicit references point to this scenario. First, John’s account begins, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark (Jn 20:1.) The three other gospels describe a group of women, and mention dawn, or sunrise. Also, John’s text indicates that Mary was alone, and does not say that the purpose of her visit was to anoint the body.

A second clear reference to Mary’s visit is found in the gospel of Mark. He begins his abbreviated account with the group of women going to anoint the body at dawn, and ends with them fleeing the tomb in astonishment (v8.) But then, in verses 9-11 he states, “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…She went and told those who had been with them…But when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (16:9-11.) This is a reference to Mary’s earlier trip described by John, and summarizes his account perfectly. To attempt to read verses 9-11 as a continuation of the first 8 verses of Mark’s account makes little sense.

Bearing this scenario in mind, following is a chronology of the resurrection story wherein we will see all supposed contradictions resolved.

Mary Magdalene’s first two visits to the tomb
We begin with John’s account, “while it is still dark.” The stone has already been rolled back, the guards have already been dealt with, and the resurrection of Jesus has already occurred. Mary arrives to find the stone rolled back. This is her first visit to the tomb that morning. She goes no further, but turns and runs to get Peter and John, telling them that the body has been taken (v 1-2.) The men race to the tomb, look inside and see the empty grave clothes. John records that he believes, but that “as yet they did not know the scripture, that He must rise from the dead” (v 3-9.)

The perplexed men return to their homes, but Mary remains, alone and weeping, outside the tomb (v 11.) This is now her second visit. She looks inside the tomb and two angels appear and speak to her (v 12.) She turns to see Jesus, but does not recognize Him (v 14.) This is understandable as it is dark, she is weeping, and she believes Him to be dead. He reveals Himself to her and sends her to the disciples with a message. Mary finds the disciples, says, “I have seen the Lord!” and delivers the message (v 17-18.) This corresponds exactly with Mark’s summary in Mk 16:9-11. Note that Mark adds the detail that the disciples would not believe Mary. We will see why this is important shortly.

The Synoptic Gospel accounts: Mary Magdalene joins the other women
Now the Synoptic Gospels pick up the story. Mary M has now seen the empty tomb, angelic messengers, and the resurrected Jesus, but no one believes her. Does she simply go back to bed? Of course not! She had made a prior arrangement with the other women to anoint the body, after the Sabbath.

We know this from Luke’s account of the burial of Jesus:
“The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. They returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Lk 23:55-56.) Since the entombment, these women had been waiting to return to the tomb to prepare the body for proper burial.

Verse 10 of the next chapter tells us who these women were: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some unidentified women. This is the most comprehensive description of the women. There were at least five. This accords with the remaining two accounts. Mark mentions the two Marys plus Salome, and Matthew only mentions the two Marys. The fact that they only name the two and three most prominent women is not a contradiction; it is simply the omission of detail. (Matthew does fill in these details earlier in his burial account, mentioning “many women” and naming “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt 27:55,56.) It is reasonable to assume that this group accompanied the two Marys on resurrection morning.

So we have Mary M now joining the company of women who plan to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Note however that no one believes her story. Mary M, though frustrated, goes along with them because she knows they will soon see the truth for themselves. The three accounts agree that it is now dawn. This will be Mary M’s third visit to the tomb.

Mark 16:3 says that on the way the women were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” Is there a contradiction here? After all, Mary had already seen the stone rolled back, and Jesus Himself. There is no contradiction. Assuming Mary M has told them what she has seen, we’ve already been told that no one believes her crazy story. The picture that emerges is this: as the women rush to the tomb, most, if not all of the women are blowing off an exasperated Mary M; planning to anoint a body that Mary knows isn’t there, and asking who will roll away a stone that she knows has been rolled away.

Upon arrival, all accounts, (with the possible exception of Matthew,) say that they found the stone rolled away. We can reconcile the supposedly conflicting reports as follows:

The Stone and the Soldiers
Matthew describes an angel descended from heaven who rolled the stone back and sat upon it. The purpose of this first angelic appearance seems to have been to deal with the problem of the guard of Roman soldiers. They are not mentioned at the tomb again in any account, and it is reasonable to assume they remain unconscious (“like dead men” v4,) or have left to report to the chief priests (v11.) Obviously the earthquake and this angelic event had to have occurred before Mary M’s first visit.

There is nothing stated in Matthew’s account to contradict this scenario. Matthew states that the soldiers saw the angel roll back the stone (Matt 28:2-4.) He does not say that the women did. The angelic messenger was there, making himself visible to the women when they arrived.

We already know there were two angelic spirits present because Mary had already seen them inside the tomb earlier that morning. Notice, also, that Peter and John had been inside the tomb perhaps minutes before Mary looked in, and saw only empty burial clothes. A skeptic may think this business of angels appearing and disappearing at will is a very convenient device for someone attempting to harmonize resurrection accounts. However, if disappearing and reappearing is in the nature of what incorporeal beings do, a skeptic may not like it, but he cannot say it is inconsistent when they do it. It is therefore consistent to assume that one of the angels Mary saw earlier was the one who rolled back the stone, mentioned by Matthew.

Matthew does not tell us that the women entered the tomb, but it is reasonable to assume they did for two reasons: 1) a very shiny and fearsome angel had just commanded them to enter, and 2) the other 2 accounts say that they entered. Matthew simply omits this implied detail.

Critics see a contradiction in that Matthew has the angel giving his message outside of the tomb, while Mark has the angel giving the same message, thought for thought, inside the tomb. But at this point such criticisms are wearing thin. Given the emotional state of the women – fear, astonishment, lack of sleep – it seems completely reasonable to me that the angel would’ve repeated the message. Had I been an angelic messenger I probably would’ve written it down for them.

All of the other typically cited “contradictions” – the number of angels, whether they were sitting, standing, inside, or outside of the tomb – are easily reconcilable. The mention of only one angel when two are present is not a contradiction, but the omission of a detail. The angels were not frozen in position. Luke has the angel giving a different, but not contradictory, message. It is possible to conceive of omissions or additions that would be irreconcilable, but those in the gospel accounts simply do not fall into this category. (One such example might be: “…upon entering the tomb, they saw seven little men dressed in green, dancing around a pot of gold and singing songs to Zeus.”)

What is noteworthy is that two of the accounts have the angels insisting that the disciples see for themselves the place where Jesus lay, and the other two accounts record everyone doing just that. This is because faith as described in the Bible is evidential. The angels did not send the disciples away, saying, “Trust us. We’re angels. He’s risen.” No, they wanted human belief in the resurrection of God’s promised Messiah to be rooted in reliable, corroborated, eyewitness accounts. And, I would add, Jesus brilliantly revealed Himself to the women first, at a time when a woman’s testimony was not considered to be as credible as a man’s. This would be an unlikely strategy if a group of liars wanted to invent a popular new religion in a strongly patriarchal culture.

The Response of the Women
Finally, there is an oft-repeated “contradiction” that critics cite, which deserves a response. Upon leaving the tomb, what did the women do? Again the three accounts differ, but not irreconcilably so:
Matthew has the two Marys departing from the tomb with “fear and great joy,” running to tell the disciples. But on the way they are intercepted by Jesus. They take hold of His feet and worship Him, He reiterates the last part of the angel’s instruction, and sends them off (v 8-10.) Matthew is the only writer to recount this incident.
Luke simply states that after remembering the words of Jesus concerning His crucifixion and resurrection, they returned from the tomb and “told all this to the eleven and to all the rest” (24:8-12.)
Mark contains the seeming contradiction. He says “they fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid (16:8.)

Skeptics argue that the two Marys’ interaction with Jesus is significant and, if true, unlikely to be omitted from the other gospels. And at any rate, if Jesus met the women leaving the tomb as Matthew describes, then Mark’s account makes no sense. Mark says they told no one because they were afraid. These women had obviously not met Jesus. I’m inclined to agree.

The scriptures provide a clue for a plausible explanation. In John’s account, after Peter and John leave the empty tomb, he says “the disciples returned to their homes.” This indicates that the disciples – and there were many besides the eleven – were not staying together on a communal farm, but in individual lodging places. It is perfectly reasonable to posit that the company of women leaving the tomb split up to spread the message of the angels to the disciples. Possibly the two Marys then encountered Jesus apart from the others. It is reasonable to assert that not all of the five or more women were in the same frame of mind. Some, especially the ones who had not yet encountered Jesus, were too afraid to speak to anyone, while others felt “fear and great joy” as Matthew states.

Finally, skeptics attempt to make much of Mark’s statement, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8.) As if this must mean they never spoke of the resurrection to anyone for the rest of their lives. This is a goofy objection. Obviously, they were temporarily overcome with trembling and fear, and when they had collected themselves, they spoke of what they had seen, concurring with the other gospel accounts. Possibly, in stating this, Mark’s gospel is underlining the distinction between the fearful group of women, and the account of Mary M in the very next verse in which she immediately tells the disciples. The author wants to clarify that the Mary M event was an earlier incident.

In harmonizing the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, the most glaring inconsistencies come from attempting to read John’s account as the same incident as that described in the Synoptic Gospels. However, there are good and sufficient reasons, plainly stated in the text, which indicate that they are separate incidents. None of the accounts, recounted by four different authors, tells the entire story, yet taken together they complement each other beautifully.

Much of what Jesus did is now lost to us. One example would be His appearance to Simon which is referred to in Luke 24:34, but which is never detailed in the gospels. John plainly tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (20:30-31.) We have enough to get the picture.

As for me, I’m going to go and attempt to claim my $10,000 from the Skeptics Association, again. I’ll let you know how that goes. Until then, may our awesome Creator reveal Himself more clearly to you during this coming Passover season.

Please sign up at www.bigpicturepublishing.com to be notified of my new, beautifully illustrated kids’ storybooks, designed to instill a biblical worldview!

Why the Magi Did Not Follow the Star to Bethlehem, and Why it Matters

Magi,Magus-Scott FreemanI’m not out to ruin Christmas for anyone. In fact, I hope to make Christmas more awesome for everyone who reads this. And by “awesome,” I actually mean “awesome.”

Even children know that it’s part of the Christmas story that three Wiseman followed a blazing star which led them to Bethlehem, to the manger where the infant Jesus lay; a “star of wonder…of royal beauty bright…westward leading…guiding,…” We get this idea from Christmas carols and greeting cards, which are supposedly derived from the Christmas story in the Bible.

Does it matter that the Bible doesn’t actually say any of this?

Stay with me. I’m not a theologically anal-retentive party pooper. I love Christmas and Christmas carols. But I’ve also noticed that the traditions that have sprung up around the Christmas story and “Christianity” make it challenging to see what the Bible actually says.

For instance, did you ever notice that Luke never says that the angels sang to the shepherds? We get that idea from carols like Hark, the Herald Angels. See for yourself: Luke 2:13. (Michael Card agrees with me.)

Now, I’ll be first to admit that this business of control-freakish-Bible-verse-correcting can be pedantic and super annoying. Those of us who grew up in evangelical sub-culture have heard a million times: “You know, it doesn’t actually say there were three Wiseman.” And, “It doesn’t actually say it was an apple that Eve ate.” And, “It doesn’t actually say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”

So freaking what?

However, in the case of the star of Bethlehem I do actually have a serious reason for being picky. On December 22, 2012 I published a blog post called, The Star of Bethlehem – A Fairy Tale? This post summarized the research of Rick Larson, who has produced, in my opinion, a very compelling video entitled The Star of Bethlehem. Larson’s video and website shows the correspondence between the observable, testable universe and the Bible regarding the Star of Bethlehem story. Modern computer software can show us the precise configuration of the stars at any point in history, from any location on earth. We can know exactly what was going on in the sky around the birth of Jesus. And what was going on will blow your socks off.

After I published that post, a PhD physicist with degrees in mathematics and astronomy replied. His name is Aaron Adair, and he has a special interest in the Star of Bethlehem. He had just published a book claiming to debunk Larson’s theory. For Bible “skeptics,” he is apparently considered the go-to guy regarding the Star of Bethlehem.

So the next year, on December 22, 2013, I published a blog post entitled, Answering a Debunker: The Star of Bethlehem. In response, Mr. Adair cordially visited my blog’s comment section where he and I engaged in a rather lengthy but respectful debate. (Those interested can view the entire conversation HERE.)

A brief summary of why interpretive accuracy matters in the case of the star:
Mr. Adair claims to have debunked a naturalistic interpretation of the biblical story of the star of Bethlehem. He claims to have proven there was no clear, natural, astronomical sign in the heavens around the time of Jesus’s birth that fits the story in the Bible. We now know what the ancient sky looked like, and there was nothing in the heavens that would have told the Magi that a king in Israel had been born. Furthermore, there was no star “dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite” that could’ve led the Magi to Jerusalem, then to Bethlehem, and then to the child. But then, I contend that the Bible doesn’t actually say that this is what happened. I contend that Mr. Adair has merely done a great job of debunking nonbiblical traditions passed down through Christmas carols and greeting cards. I think the actual biblical account of the star only becomes more amazing under modern scrutiny.

Following is a brief summary of what the Bible actually says about the Magi and the Star:

  • The story begins hundreds of years earlier when Israel is in exile under Babylon and Persia. While in exile to these foreign powers, the Jewish prophet Daniel is given miraculous revelation from God concerning the coming of an eternal kingdom and an eternal king from Israel. Daniel provides a specific timeline as to when these events would occur. Hundreds of years later, when the Romans, (the fourth kingdom prophesied in Daniel ch 2,) came to power, the Persian Magi would’ve been watching for some sign that the prophesied king of the Jews had been born. We now know that in 3 and 2 B.C. there were, in fact, remarkable, rare and repeated astronomical signs having to do with the birth of a king.
  • So upon “seeing His star in the East,” the Magi left for the capital city of Israel – Jerusalem – assuming that’s where they would find the young king. They didn’t need to follow a star to get there, especially considering the history between Persia and Israel.
  • Upon arriving, the Magi were probably surprised to learn that no one in Jerusalem seemed to know about the birth of Israel’s own king. In fact it says the entire city was troubled by the statements of the Magi. It is clear that King Herod didn’t know about the star either (Matt 2:7.) So the Bible is not describing a blazing star leading Wisemen around the Middle East. Whatever the Magi were seeing would’ve been easy for others to miss.
  • A troubled King Herod assembles the chief priests and scribes to learn where the messiah would be born according to the Jewish prophets. Then, King Herod, (not a star,) sends them to Bethlehem (2:8.) Bethlehem was five miles down the main road. Again, the Magi did not need a star to guide them.
  • He tells them, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word…” (2:8).
    This is significant because there was obviously no blazing ball of fire leading the Magi around. Why would Herod have directed them to diligently search if he could see that the Magi already had a magical star to guide them to Jesus? Better yet, why would he not have sent his own guys to follow the star directly to the child?
  • As the Magi start out to Bethlehem, “lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy…” (2:9,10.)
    Can heavenly bodies appear to move in the sky and then stop over towns? Yes, they can. In fact, we know that in 2 B.C. Jupiter performed a retrograde loop and was stationary over Bethlehem on, interestingly, December 25th. This was only one of many significant planetary movements involving Jupiter. (See full explanation HERE.) While I understand how this one sentence has been interpreted over the centuries that mean that the star was guiding the Magi to the house where Jesus was, this is not the only way to see it. It can also be seen as a divinely orchestrated coincidence; an affirmation to the Magi that the young king was indeed in Bethlehem. Of course the Magi would’ve been overjoyed at this heavenly sign.

The reason all of this matters to me is that Christmastime has become one more occasion for Bible “skeptics” to come out of the woodwork, claiming they have debunked the Bible, claiming that science is at odds with the Bible, and claiming that biblical faith is irrational. I enthusiastically disagree.

There is one loose end in my dialogue with Mr. Adair, having to do with the Greek text, which I promised to check into, so I’ll briefly take the occasion of this blog post to respond. Mr. Adair claims the Bible implies that an unnatural star led the Magi to Bethlehem, and that the Magi followed it to the very house where Jesus lived; that the star was literally over the house in close proximity. I contend that the Bible does not say this. But then, I readily admit that I’m no Greek scholar. I welcome anyone who is to weigh in here.

Mr. Adair claims that when the text says, “the star…went before them” (proago), the Greek is clearly saying they were being led by the star. Not necessarily. Just because there are people going before you in the checkout line at Walmart doesn’t mean they’re leading you. In fact, after the resurrection, both Matthew and Mark have an angel telling the disciples that Jesus “… is going before (proago) you to Galilee; there you will see him” (Matt 28:7; Mk 16:7.) In the same way, the Magi were not relying on the star for directions. The words “went before” can simply mean “went before.”

Mr. Adair claims that when the text says the star went on before them “until it came and stood over (epano) where the child was”, the Greek must mean “on top of or slightly above.” As in, “…and they put up above (epano) his head this charge against Him…” (Matt 27:37,) speaking of the sign placed directly over the head of Jesus at His crucifixion. However, the same word is also used here: “…[he] threw [the dragon/Satan] into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over (epano) him…” (Rev 20:3.) Epano comes from epi – on, upon, and ano – up, above. In the case of the star, understanding epano to mean “in the sky directly over Bethlehem” seems to be within the range of allowable meanings. This is true especially considering that the text has already told us that the Magi needed no starry guide to get them to Bethlehem, that the Magi would have to diligently search for the child when they arrived, and that apparently no one else noticed the star. I favor letting scripture interpret scripture.

Conclusion
Am I arguing that there was nothing supernatural about the Star of Bethlehem? Am I sucking all of the mystery and wonder out of the Christmas Story?

Of course not. The entire thing is miraculous and supernaturally orchestrated from top to bottom.

The Christmas story only matters if it is true. Part of the beauty of it is that we can look back and see the correspondence between events recorded in scripture, and verifiable planetary movements using modern computer software. Yet it is a mantra of “New Atheism” that no evidence for God exists. Therefore the Star of Bethlehem must be assigned fairy tale status.

Adair elsewhere appeals to tradition in saying “all ancient commentators” speak of the star as a supernatural (unnatural) phenomenon. But they didn’t know what we know today. Modern astronomy combined with the plain biblical text reveals an astonishing series of events that, in the sovereignty of God, can only have been scheduled when the stars were first created and set in motion.

God’s fingerprints are all over the Christmas story. The Magi were acting by faith on Jewish prophecy that had been handed down for some five hundred years. The Creator of the stars did announce the birth of His universal Messiah on the canvas of the observable universe, with amazing specificity. The Magi were a foreshadowing of the gentile nations coming into a salvation that would be for “the Jew first, but also to the gentiles.” After leaving Herod for Bethlehem, the Magi rejoiced to see the star going before them and stopping over Bethlehem because they knew that they were a part of a divinely ordained, world-changing chain of events. The invitation has been sent, and you are invited:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim 2:5,6.)

May God reveal Himself more clearly to us all this Christmas season!

(My new fully illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus’s birth in fidelity to the biblical narrative, beginning with creation and the fall. ORDER HERE.)

Introducing Our New Greeting Card Line…

Many of you know that I worked at Hallmark Cards for almost a decade before moving to Colorado to pursue a living as a fine art painter. Well, recently, after decades of creating original fine art and illustration, I realized I have lots of nice work sitting around in computer files, not doing me or anyone else any good. So Mollie and I have decided to make the best of this work available in the form of greeting cards, note cards, apparel, and other gifty stuff. Digital technology now makes it super easy and affordable to do this. If you’re a fan of our work, I hope you’ll go to our Zazzle page and check out what we’re offering to you.

We’re resurrecting a business name I was toying with when we first moved to Colorado – The Loveland Company. Originally I wanted to open a store in Loveland selling art, creative gifts, great local music (by locals such as Taylor & Rebecca Mesple, and Dave Beegle,) and other cool stuff. Fortunately, I realized that I really didn’t have the capital and business savvy to open a brick and mortar store. We still don’t, so we’re opening an online store. If we get a decent response, we’ll keep adding new stuff.

Why The Loveland Company?
Because:1) I love the name of our town – Loveland, Colorado, 2) I love the fact that The Loveland Company initials happen to be “TLC,” 3) My town, Loveland has developed a reputation as a great little art town. There are proportionally a ton of artists of all types living here. So how fitting to name our little art & design company after our little artsy town, 4) I love love, 5) I hate hate.

I’m timing this announcement a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day, since I’m featuring a Valentine’s Day card design. Since I’m a (possibly obsessive) storyteller, I thought I’d tell you the story behind this design. (I promise not to do this every time we add a card to the offering.)

The Time Angel
I tried to push a very different version of this idea at Hallmark, but they rejected it. Then, when I got to Loveland, I learned that the City holds a citywide contest each year to pick an official Loveland Valentine card, which is then sold all over town at local businesses and stores. At the risk of sounding like an art snob, I will say that some of these designs seemed to me to be just a wee bit amateurish. Which is fine. It’s a small town. Whatever. So one year I decided to submit my Time Angel idea, which Hallmark had rejected. You know…since I had worked as an artist for the number one greeting card company in the whole freakin’ world. I spent a couple of days creating a new watercolor painting, which I was quite happy with. I submitted the design.

The Loveland Chamber of Commerce Valentine’s-Day-Card-Picking-Committee also rejected my submission. (Sigh…)

So I later sold the little original watercolor at a studio tour, and moved on to the next thing. But I still have a great digital scan, and I still like concept. Whether ANYONE ELSE LIKES IT OR NOT!

LOVE RULES, MAN!!!

Here is the card design, blank inside, suitable for giving to anyone you love, available on Zazzle:

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A Note About Loveland’s Valentine Re-mailing Program
Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal in Loveland, because of the town name. Loveland is also known as The Sweetheart City. You may or may not be aware of Loveland’s re-mailing program, the largest of its kind in the nation. Each year more than 160,000 cards from all 50 states and over 100 nations are re-mailed through Loveland so that they can be postmarked with Loveland’s Valentine cachet. This year marks the 68th anniversary of this program.

You can have your mail stamped in Loveland by following these 2 steps:

1)     Pre-address and pre-stamp all valentines, and enclose them in a larger 1st Class envelope.

2)     These envelopes should be sent to:

Postmaster – Attention Valentines
446 E. 29th St
Loveland, CO 80538-9998

All valentines will be removed from the larger envelope at the post office, postmarked with the official Loveland Valentine’s Day cachet, and sent on their way!

To ensure delivery by Valentine’s Day 2014:
> Foreign mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 4

> U.S. destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 7

> Colorado destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 10

> Proper postage must be affixed, especially for foreign mail.

Colorado residents have the option to drop off their pre-addressed, pre-stamped valentines to local King Soopers or City Market food stores, where you can find special drop boxes for this purpose. Feb. 8 is the final day to drop off valentines at these locations to ensure on-time delivery.

Below are some examples of past Loveland cachets. They’re all designed and written by locals, as part of the annual contest.

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More Interesting Details
This year, 2014, the cachet stamp slyly references the floods that buffeted a segment of our community last fall:

From the Sweetheart City
Scenic, Safe and Strong
Comes a flood of Valentine wishes
To you, where they belong.

Here’s something else I just learned from the Loveland Chamber of Commerce website. Apparently, there is a waiting list for people who would like to be one of the 60 plus volunteers who “lovingly hand-stamp” each card with the Valentine cachet during the first two weeks in February. Check out this video. At one minute and forty-one seconds, it’s almost too long, but it’s so stinkin’ cute. Go ahead! Click here and get a glimpse of some local color! (ie: red and white.) When I saw it, it hadn’t quite gone viral yet, at 474 views…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P296xn4b70

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“Retro Family”
Here’s a card design I put on Zazzle that was yanked because I apparently violated John Wayne’s privacy/celebrity rights. (‘Sorry, John.) It’s adapted from a cover I designed for a now defunct alternative newspaper – KC Jones. I thought you’d like to see it before I give the Duke a makeover.

Thank you again for stopping by our ZAZZLE STORE (click here.) Please bookmark the link as we will be adding cool stuff periodically.

Angels: My Quest to Paint a Masculine Angel at Hallmark

It’s the Christmas season, so what could be more appropriate than a story about angels and Hallmark? Okay…I’ll admit I can think of a couple of things, but I thought that was a pretty Christmassy opening sentence.

For me, as a Bible-lover, working on Hallmark holiday product was like walking a tightrope over a yawning vat of pink cotton candy and glitter. On one hand I was excited to be a part of contributing to the shaping of American popular culture in some small way. But on the other hand, it was like trying to deliver a healthy meal as a burger-flipper at McDonalds.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, you might assume that the Bible and Hallmark would go together like a hand and glove. But as a Hallmark artist who often submitted ideas for religious product, I learned that it was almost impossible to find a “nice,” Hallmark sentiment in the Bible. Even though Jesus was all about love and light, He did not seem to have the greeting card industry in mind when proclaiming His message.

It’s way easier to find statements by Jesus that do not work as greeting card sentiments:

To Our Wonderful Son,
“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matt 18:9)

Congratulations on Your Promotion!
“Truly, I tell you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:23)

It was in a Hallmark store at headquarters that I once saw the worst example ever of a Bible verse twisted into a commercial greeting card sentiment. There was a bookmark with an illustration of a smiling little girl gardening. The bookmark said, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees.” The Bible reference for this gentle environmental sentiment was Revelation 7:3. Wait a minute…Revelation? I had to look that up. Here’s the context:

“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel…”

This passage is describing the apocalypse during the end times destruction of the earth. It immediately follows the opening of the seven seals that include the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” who destroy a fourth of the earth by sword, famine, plague, and death. In the next chapter seven more angels are given trumpets, the first of which introduces the burning up of a third of the earth and trees, and then it gets more horrible from there.

Which brings me back to the subject of angels in the Bible.

They’re not the pastel, Disney-princess-like characters that appear on Hallmark cards. In the New Testament, whenever there is a waking interaction between a human being and an angel, the angel’s first words usually are, “Do not be afraid.” Or, sometimes they have to instruct people not to worship them.  Apparently there is something so imposing about an angelic appearance as to inspire fear and worship.

We see this in the Christmas story when the herald angel appears to the shepherds in the fields. It says the sight of this angel filled them with fear. The book of Hebrews says angelic messengers are like fire and wind (Heb 1:7,14.) Often they are simply described as men with an “appearance like lightning” (Matt 28:2-5.) Never are wings or halos mentioned, and never are angels described as women. In one instance, Jesus seems to indicate that angels are androgynous (Matt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35,36.)

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“Annunciation” – Advent Calendar Stencil, Scott Freeman
Here I experimented with making an angel’s hair resemble flame.

Wings and halos seem like reasonable visual symbols for depicting spirit-beings of light. It doesn’t put my shorts in a twist if somebody wants to depict angels that way. But to depict angels as fragile, placid women from a Jane Austin novel seems to me to mess with the substance of what is depicted in the Bible. As a Hallmark artist, I figured that if I noticed this, then Hallmark’s religious consumer probably noticed it as well. Since Christmas is, after all, a Christian holiday, I thought these consumers might appreciate Christmas cards depicting angels more in fidelity to what the scriptures actually describe.

So I submitted a couple of Christmas card ideas depicting more masculine angels.
I know…I’m such a radical.

I didn’t make them hulking, sweaty warriors with AK-47s, or have them smoking cigars. I simply leaned them away from the popular archetypal Hallmark girly-angel. In other words they didn’t look like Bob Haas angels.

You may rightly ask, “Who is Bob Haas?” If you were a Hallmark artist in the 80s & 90s, you knew who Bob Haas was, even if you had never actually seen or touched him. Bob Haas was one of a handful of artists who dwelt at the misty pinnacle of Hallmark’s elaborate hierarchical creative pecking order. In the world of Hallmark artistdom, Bob Haas bore the title of Sr. Master Designer. This was similar to being knighted. In layman’s terms this meant that Bob had made boatloads of money for Hallmark. He was a legendary greeting card artist.

Bob Haas was known for his angels. In fact Bob practically was an angel. Bob was especially known for his popular Christmas angels. He produced a whole series of them while I was at Hallmark. If you are reading this in America, there is a good chance you’ve received a Christmas card bearing one of Bob’s angels. I just got another one last Christmas. You can see it below. You’ll notice it is very girly.

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Why am I going on about Bob Haas? Well, it turns out that both of my masculinized angel card submissions were accepted for production. Guess who my manager picked to shepherd me through the creation of these 2 projects? That is correct – Bob Haas – the King of girly angels; the very guy whose work I was specifically hoping to not resemble. Why did I need to be shepherded? Because at the time I was a mere Redesign Artist 2, well below the halfway point on the hierarchical Hallmark pecking order.

Newer Hallmark artists were mentored by seasoned Hallmark artists so that we would not commit greeting card sins. I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to consider it an honor to be mentored by Bob Haas. Silently, I determined to do my very best to treat him as a full equal. Cheerfully, I set out on this adventure, to boldy go where no Hallmarker had gone before; to plunge fearlessly into the crucible of wussy Hallmark angeldom and face the King of girly angels himself.

I must say that my story would be more entertaining if the girly angel King had turned out to be a butthead. Or if he had insisted on making me put mascara, nail polish, and print dresses on my manly angels. But in fact, I ended up liking Bob Haas. He turned out to be an interesting and reasonable person, as well as a knowledgeable artist with a very cool library. It was indeed an honor to work with him.

Happily, my angels ended up going into production (mostly) unneutered. Large, sparkly, greeting card snowflakes began to fall lightly as I saw three ships come sailing in. On Christmas day, bells chimed as I carved the roast beast and everyone joined hands and sang together joyfully in the town square. The Mouse King was dead at last. God blessed us, everyone. It was a wonderful life, and the best Christmas ever. And my angels got their wings. The end.

Manly Angels

Here are the 2 angels as they appeared as finished, boxed Christmas card product…

All Hallmark images are reproduced without permission, for educational purposes. Hallmark: Please do not sue me.

New Watercolor Painting: “Muse”

This week I’m hoping you will do me the favor of casting a vote between two versions of the final painting I just finished for an upcoming exhibit. After finishing the first version, I wasn’t completely happy with it, so when the Loveland Museum moved our turn-in deadline back a few days, I started a second version of the same composition. This painting will be my smallest piece in the show, and also my only watercolor.

I use a crazy watercolor technique which is very fun, but darn near impossible to control, so there’s really no way to get the same result twice. I typically work on two watercolor paintings at the same time anyway, partly because working on a second one keeps me from messing with the first while successive stages are drying. Usually I’ll abandon one partway through and stay with the one I feel has the most promise. I this case, I completed them both, but am unsure as to which one I like best. I can’t exhibit them both because I only have one frame prepared.

When I started the second version of “Muse,” I was happy enough with the result that I decided to photograph some successive stages of the painting, for those interested in the process. I would summarize the process by saying that the painting is composed of successive layers of very wet glazes, so that the paint literally rolls around on the watercolor board. I’m grateful to Craig Lueck and John Richardson at Hallmark Cards, for introducing me to this technique, which made watercolor enjoyable for me.

(You can see a younger me using this technique in my 4 ½ minute watercolor video on Youtube. Simply type scott freeman watercolor in the Youtube search bar. My apologies for not yet being set up to link videos on this site.)

Here’s the first version of the painting. Mollie says I should put this one in the show:

Muse 1

Following are some stages showing the development of the second version.

Muse-stages

Below is the final result. Please let me know which painting you think should go in the show, (though I’m definitely leaning toward one of them.) Vote the first or second version. I’d be interested in your reasons if you’d care to share them:

Muse 2

The subject matter of this painting comes from one of my favorite evenings during our trip to Germany last year. After Mollie and I spent the day in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, our wonderful German hosts took us to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Then we went for a walk and a glass of wine at the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin’s most beautiful square, featuring domed German and French Cathedrals facing each other across the expansive plaza with the restored Konzerthaus Berlin (Berlin Concert Hall) rising up between them.

When we entered the square, the sky was beginning to turn Maxfield-Parrish-blue. The weather was still and lovely, and a street musician was playing saxophone on the square under an ornate street lamp that was just coming on. His music echoed through the square, making the moment all the more transcendent for me. To be carried away to Europe by the generosity and grace of our new international friends, and to now be in their company on such a beautiful night in one of the world’s historic cities was extraordinary. This overwhelming memory will always be with me.

Berlin-Soldier Market Platz

Street musician on Soldier Market Platz – photo by the author

On our walk to Lutter & Wegner’s Winehouse, we passed the Concert Hall with its grand stairway. Great statues framed the stairs. On one side was a lion, on the other a lioness, each mounted by a cherub playing a musical instrument. Our hosts waited patiently as I took more photos, one of which became the source for this painting. Back at our hotel, my night ended when I couldn’t sleep from excitement, and Mollie excused me to take a midnight walk in the city (recounted here.)

Scott Freeman and Mollie Walker Freeman will be presenting a two-person art exhibit themed around their Germany trip, entitled, “Zeitgeist: Paintings inspired by Germany.” The show opens with a reception at the Loveland Museum-Gallery on November 8, 2013 at 5pm, and will be on display through February 23, 2014.

Favorite Handmade Christmas Tree Ornaments

One of the perks of being an artist married to an artist is that we sometimes make cool stuff for each other. After 28 years of marriage, plus 5 kids making things around Christmastime, I used to think we  had the most Christmassy Christmas tree in the history of Christmas. But then, our German exchange student told me that they still use real, lit candles on Christmas trees in Germany. So now I have German Christmas tree envy. I think it’s a plus anytime one can involve actual fire in a holiday celebration. In fact, just a few weeks ago when I was cooking our Thanksgiving turkey, I was visited by the Loveland Fire Department.
But I digress…

Following are a few of my favorite homemade Christmas ornaments. You may even find some gift ideas if you enjoy making your own gifts. If so, have fun and let me know how they turned out!

Deer Mollie

This is an ornament I made for Mollie out of paper mache. This was a particularly eventful year in our early marriage, so I made the deer autobiographical: Using an extremely tiny paintbrush (the likes which I will never use again,) I wrote a significant event for each month of the year, using tapered strokes that were supposed to resemble hair. For instance: ...”September – Our first wedding anniversary…October – Surprise! We made our first baby! And how’bout those Royals…, and so on. Notice the nose has the year – 1985.

Xmas Handprints

When each of our 5 children were still small, I put his or her hand print in white on a big red ornament, (which was more difficult than it sounds.) This was their gift to Mollie for those years. I can still remember the reactions of each of our very different children as I brushed paint on their tiny hands:

Caleb, who is legally blind and very tactile got a big grin on his face

Lee became very serious about the importance of the task, and did his best to carry it out perfectly

Sierra giggled and said it tickled, and that the paint was cold

Joel kept making a fist, once he figured out I didn’t want him to make a fist

Renee freaked out because she thought it was gross, and I had to reassure her that the paint would wash off

Found Object Angels

I really like found-object art, though I don’t think I’m very good at it. These angels were made while I still worked at Hallmark. Part of the fun is identifying what the objects actually are. The blue angel’s body is an antique bottle I found, with a fake pearl necklace stuffed inside. The head is an old glass bottle stopper. The small angel’s body is a curtain-pull-thingy. I think the depiction of spirit-beings in human junk has an interesting irony.

Indian-House-Turned

Mollie likes dolls, so I gave her the ornament on the left a couple of years ago. It’s made from a cheesy souvenir that I found in a thrift store. There was a second, scarier-looking figure, along with a chunk of wood bearing the name of some tourist destination, all glued onto a little wooden platform. I really liked this little figure though, so I threw everything else away, gave her a make-over, and made her hang-able.

The house is a replica of our first home in inner-city Kansas City, MO. Cool house, nasty neighborhood. We have stories. Inside the house is a little hand-cranked music box that plays I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.

On the right is an ornament made at a wood-turning (lathe) workshop I took when I worked at Hallmark. It’s about 6 inches high.

Bell Dancer

One of our daughters has been dancing since age 4, so every Christmas we’ve given her a ballerina/dance ornament. This is one Mollie made for her. Made out of sculpey. About 2 inches high. This is one of my all time favorites.

Joel-Renee

Left: Riding a bike was too normal for Joel, so he became obsessed with unicycling, and became quite a skilled rider. However, unicycle tree ornaments are pretty hard to find, so I made this one for him.

Right: One year Renee wanted a chinchilla for a pet. So I made one for her. It’s still cute, but it doesn’t poop, pee, bite people, or die. Next year she’s getting a car for Christmas. Heh, heh.

Fabric ornaments

One year Mollie made stuffed ornaments out of fabric for everyone, and hand-painted them. I think these are cooler than snot. Our dancer got the dancer. The middle one was for  me, because I collect angel ornaments….

Kid Angels

…Here are some that she helped the kids to make.

Nativity

OK…I realize this is not a tree ornament, but it’s close enough.

As I’ve become increasingly interested in the ancient Jewish culture into which Jesus was born, I’ve also become a bit bugged by traditional Nativity scenes. Bugged because Jesus was born into a devoutly Jewish family, and was Himself an observant Jew, and I have pretty much never seen a commercially produced American Nativity scene that didn’t look like a family of wealthy Greek philosophers. Or, if it’s a Kenyan Nativity scene, then everyone looks African. If it’s made in Mexico, then they all look Mexican, with little Sombreros, or whatever. I get it – Jesus is for everyone, and different cultures want to make Him relatable. Nonetheless, the fact that Jesus was born into Judaism in fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy is a detail that matters. If you go re-contextualizing the story, a great deal of content and meaning is lost. I’m not losing any sleep over ethnically incorrect Nativity scenes, but I just wanted to make one that would make me happy, and hopefully make the idea of a Jewish Jesus seem normal to my children. Someday I’d like to add more figures, but for now, this is all I have, due to lack of time.

Thanks for viewing part of what makes the season meaningful for our family. I hope this wasn’t too much like watching someone else’s family vacation videos!

Angel Moon