The Kingdom of God Excites Me Every Day

kingdom of god parable

“The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat,” oil painting by Scott Freeman

When I was a college student, I heard a teaching series at my church on the kingdom of God that changed my life. Somehow, even though I had grown up in a Bible-believing church and considered myself a lifelong student of the Bible, the topic had mostly escaped my notice. Even though Jesus spoke on this topic more than any other. Decades have passed since then and I would say that the topic of the kingdom of God continues to consume my attention and define my life, informing everything I do.

But it’s not quite accurate to say the “topic” consumes me, because the kingdom of God is much more than a mere topic of discussion. I would say it’s a reality in which we as Spirit-born believers live. In a nutshell, one could say the kingdom of God refers to the “reign of God” on earth. In practice, God has designed His kingdom so that citizens live in voluntary, relational unity with Him, living life led by His Spirit.

The Hebrew prophets spoke of this coming eternal kingdom with anticipation, but when the Messiah arrived, his implementation of the kingdom perplexed everyone. It was not until after His resurrection from death and a great deal of patient explanation that His followers understood how the kingdom had entered the world. The new covenant scriptures repeatedly refer to the mysteries of the kingdom as things that were formerly “hidden” but have now been made known to us.

We who are alive today have the remarkable opportunity to live out God’s plan for us in a way that old covenant prophets and kings longed for but could only dream about. Aspects of living life in the kingdom of God, right now, include: a new covenant with our Creator; new birth with a new access to God through Jesus; a new indwelling of the Spirit of God for everyone in the kingdom; a new relationship as sons and daughters as co-heirs with Jesus; a new relationship with Jesus as friends rather than slaves; a new life in the Spirit that fulfills and transcends a written code; and a new hope of resurrection and the ultimate fulfillment and completion of all that God has imagined for His creation.

Aspects of of life in the kingdom of God in the future include the ultimate uniting of all things, in heaven and earth, under the authority of Jesus (Eph 1:9,10.)

Several years ago I painted the above painting for my church’s foyer as an expression of the kingdom. I like the image of the sower because it is an image that Jesus chose to describe Himself in this particular kingdom parable. It says a great deal about how the kingdom has come, and how it continues to expand over the earth. Below is my description from the plaque that accompanies the painting. I hope it excites you as it does me! :

mysteries of the kingdom of GodThe kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned; but gather the wheat into my barn.’    Matthew 13:24-30

During the time of Jesus, Israel’s expectation was that the long-awaited kingdom of God would come as an unmistakable, apocalyptic event. God’s promised messiah would appear, judging and doing away with every source of evil and suffering, and ushering in an eternal kingdom of peace.

Upon His arrival, however, the Messiah inaugurated a different kind of kingdom – a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of this world, but also different from what the Jewish people were expecting.

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus identified the sower as Himself. At the establishment of His kingdom the Messiah came not as a warrior, but like one planting seed. His is first and foremost a revolution of love, light, Spirit, and grace rather than one of military might.

In explaining the parable, Jesus identified the good seed as “the sons of the kingdom.” The good seed is sown in the midst this present, corrupt age, growing up right alongside “the sons of the evil one” – bearing fruit over time for the King. Contrary to the expectations of His time, the King Himself withholds judgment until the end of this age, rather than bringing all things to completion at His first appearing (v 36-40.)

But the harvest time is coming. At that time “all causes of sin and all evildoers” will be destroyed, but “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v 41-43.)

We, the Church, are the good seed – God’s manifestation of His kingdom in this present, evil age – in the world, but not of it. Though in many corners of the world His followers suffer greatly, still the good news of His kingdom goes out. The revolution continues…”And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14.)

 

My children’s storybook, The True Story of Christmas, presents a basic telling of the biblical narrative that kids can understand.

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Why a Giant Community Mural in Downtown Loveland?

Loveland sweetheart city arts

Loveland’s “Creation,” by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, with help from local residents.

Loveland, Colorado, nicknamed The Sweetheart City, has developed a reputation as a city supportive of the arts. In recent years, citizens here have braved the cold to participate in an outdoor Valentine’s Day festival called Fire & Ice. The festival includes an ice sculpting competition and also metal sculpture involving lots of fire.

Despite brutally cold weather this year, people still bundled up and showed up. Lots of great musicians still managed to play and sing. And people still showed up to express themselves in paint even though the paint was freezing on the panels. ‘Word is that there were about 40,000 participants this year.

As an arts town, Loveland is best known for its sculpture and bronze foundries, so sculpture is a big part of the festival. But I’m mostly a painter, so this year the folks at the church I attend agreed to once again step up and help me facilitate a huge public art project for festival-goers. Beggars’ Gate pastor, Pat Sokoll, has insisted on the church footing the bill so that this event can be free for everyone.

This year we doubled the size of the final image to 15 x 27 feet. The image consists of 405, 12 inch square tiles. The way it works is that an artist (yours truly) translates the image beforehand into light, medium, and dark values. Each square tile contains a piece of the larger image with the correct value marked accordingly. Participants can express themselves as they wish so long as they use the correct value of paint in each designated area.

Last year we spoofed perhaps the best-known painting in the world – The Mona Lisa. We gave her a Loveland twist. She held a Valentine that says, “With love, from Leonardo,” and I put Long’s Peak in the background. (Click here to see her.) This year we spoofed another iconic image from art history – Michelangelo’s Creation from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Since participants don’t know in advance what image they are helping to create, it seems reasonably safe to me to spoof a well-known and loved image from art history.

Why we do this
Several people have asked me about the inspiration for putting on such a large, free event. I think this is worth doing for a couple of reasons:

Community-building
I think our country has experienced a serious loss of civility and unity. I like this project because participants can express themselves individually while being an integral part of a larger picture together. It’s a great metaphor for community. An art project will certainly not solve our problems, but it can be a nice reminder that we all have a place here, making the community of Loveland what it is.

It’s just fun to look at the diversity expressed on the wall; to appreciate the creativity and to see the differing personalities of each individual coming through. I know the stories of many of the participants. I see tiles painted by a husband and wife who are physical therapists, a dad and his small kids, a retired school teacher who loves the arts, a child with Down Syndrome, a college student home for the weekend, a friend struggling with an unsettling medical diagnosis, and a competitive distance runner.

Every tile on the wall represents a person with a story. Maybe we can all get better at getting to know each other despite our differences this year. Maybe we can learn to be slower to shut each other down when we disagree.

public art community

Detail of local color…

Radical Inclusivity
Some tiles are quite complicated and require a bit of time and careful attention to complete. Others are completely blank and are impossible to mess up, so long as the correct value of paints are used. This means that even a child barely old enough to hold a brush, a person with a physical or mental disability, or even a blind person can participate. This is personally meaningful to me as a father of a child with a disability and also as a father of a very gifted child, both in the same family. I know how rare it is to find something everyone can engage with as equals

We made it free because we didn’t want anyone to be excluded for financial reasons. As an artist couple raising 5 kids, often below the poverty line, my wife and I often avoided events like this festival. Or if we attended such an event, we had to tell our kids in advance that we weren’t going to buy anything there. It was gratifying to see parents of large families smile to see that our event was free.

art and math

One of my favorite tiles, just because it is so different from anything i would ever do. The mathematical equation creates the heart shape shown on the tile. This tile appears near the head of God in the mural.

What do you think of having a permanent art wall in Loveland?
It looks as thought this may be our last year, as things now stand. The boarded up building on 4th Street where the mural is situated is scheduled for renovation in late spring. I think it would be a unique addition to downtown Loveland to have a permanent, rotating art wall for projects like this. Maybe at the Feed & Grain, or on the side of some other well-exposed building, visible from 4th Street. Or possibly a large billboard type structure reserved for 2D art display.

It could be another way for the city to support the arts.

Thanks again to the small army of volunteers at Beggars’ Gate for your service and ingenuity, and for sticking it out in the cold weather. Thanks to everyone who came by and painted a tile. I love being part of this community.

— Scott Freeman

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art for kids

A small artist with his tile.

Preview: Upcoming Kids’ Storybook

kids book illustration funny cars

This month I want to give you a glimpse of the new kids’ storybook on which I’ve been working.

But first, you may have noticed that it’s been well over a year since I’ve released a new storybook, so here’s a brief personal update:

Over the past couple of years, due to the deaths of some very close family members, some other family events, as well as the need to pay off some debts, I’ve been working a “real job” 4 days a week. I feel this is necessary for now in order for Mollie and me to get our financial house in order. Frankly, it’s been a nice break from having to generate self-employment income after 15 years of pursuing a fine art career.

The downside is that it’s making book production much slower.

Nonetheless, my next storybook, The Friendly City, is well under way. Following is a summary of the story:

The story is about a town called New Burbia. New Burbia is home to the best, safest, and most polite drivers in the world. One of the best things about living in the town is that the citizens drive fun and fanciful cars. Everyone follows the rules of the road and is able to get where they want to go. All of this makes New Burbia a great place to live.

One day a new mayor is elected and he has an idea that will make New Burbia even better. Since New Burbia is home to the best, safest, and most polite drivers in the world, he reasons that there is no need for the road signs and traffic lights in town. (Road signs are for bad drivers.) He has the signs removed and tells the people that they are free to drive how they feel is best. Of course, chaos ensues and the town becomes less friendly.

Eventually, some citizens come together and form The Caring Drivers Group. They commit to remembering the rules of the road and to treating other drivers with patience, respect, and kindness. Even though most drivers don’t join them, their presence makes New Burbia a better place to live.

Here are some of the New Burbian cars that were driven before the Mayor’s plan was implemented:

illustrated kids storybook

storybook illustration

illustration, rockets, vikings, hamsters

The Caring Drivers Group is a metaphor for the Church. The Church of Jesus exists, in part, to be God’s manifestation of His kingdom in the midst of a corrupt age. Rather than attempting to “fix” our broken world, the church exists as a light and an example as we invite people into relational unity with God and His people.

I thought it would fill a need to have a fun storybook that reinforces for kids the idea of a body of people that is not trying to fix the world, or forcibly impose a political or otherwise utopian solution onto society. Rather, we live as “aliens” within a broken culture, creating a subculture of love, caring, and truth, inviting people to join us.

I expect that The Friendly City will be released early next year (2018.) Of course I will keep you posted!

Please share your opinion with me on upcoming books!
I’d love to have your input as to future planned book releases. My plans include:

  1. The Drinkan original metaphorical story about a boy wandering the desert, checking out various water wells as he searches for “the living water” he has heard about. Based on Jesus’s description of himself as the living water.
  2. A New Familya storybook that positively articulates God’s design for marriage as described by Jesus. This story is narrated by a little girl who is watching a wedding ceremony.
  3. The Emperor’s New ClothesAn updated/revised version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. I remember how this story made an impression on me as a child, and it remains as relevant as ever in a culture that seeks to pressure children to accept false assertions about life.
  4. An Easter/Passover storybookNot written yet, but as a parent I found it difficult to find great picture books that celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
  5. A Kingdom of God storybook Also not written yet. I would love to do a storybook for kids that explains in simple terms the kingdom of God that Jesus preached. This would include explaining His kingdom parables and other statements about the kingdom.
  6. The Kingdom of Light (Not to be confused with the previous book) An original story about a stained glass window maker who lived in a dim kingdom. The villagers can’t see the beauty of the windows until light shines through them.

I would value your feedback on which of these storybooks you would like to see made available first. Do any of these in particular stand out as being more important to you, or as being more helpful to you as a parent, grandparent, or person of influence?

Please reply in the comment section. Thank you for your input!

Kids storybooks steam punk car

Looking for gift ideas for the kids you love? Visit my online BOOK STORE and order before the December deadline!

What I’ve Been Learning About “Father Wounds”

Married mom and dad best for children

I’ve been mildly obsessing over this topic for the past few months.

Recently I went to an intense and unusual men’s conference. There was almost no verbal teaching there. Instead it was very hands-on and experiential. That weekend I saw man after man experience emotional release around the issue of his relationship with his father. Some of these were mature Christian men who had been stuffing their feelings down for decades. Since then I feel I’ve been noticing the father wound issue everywhere, in friends, family, and strangers, and in seemingly every movie I see.

On the ride home from the conference, our carload of guys debriefed each other and compared our experiences for 12 hours. When I got home I wanted to learn more. I began meeting with all of my adult children to be sure I hadn’t wounded them as I had seen so many others wounded. I thought I’d share with you some encouraging thoughts that have come out of all of this.

First, it would be more correct to speak of “parent wounds,” because it’s not only dads that mark their children with unmet relational needs. But it is true that it is more often dads who are absent, whether physically or emotionally, from the lives of their children. However, I want to hasten to add here that the point of this post is to encourage you! Whether you are a parent, or whether you aspire to be one, I would like to hold up the following vision before you:

It is not unusual in Christian circles to think of children as a gift from God. In fact, the scriptures explicitly say this (Psalm 127:3-5.) I don’t know that Mollie and I would’ve had 5 children if not for believing this. However, I think it is also true to say that we as loving parents are a gift to our children. If this was too obvious to point out in earlier generations, I would suggest that is no longer the case. As a parent I hope that you can see yourself this way. If you fulfill your parenting role well, your children will certainly grow up to see you as among the greatest of their earthly gifts. More importantly, they will have a much better chance of entering adult life without the emotional baggage that weighs so many people down.

What a parent wound is and is not
As I’ve talked with other dads about this, I’ve sometimes sensed some uneasiness around the topic. Perhaps this is because we are all aware that none of us are perfect parents. We all know it is inevitable that we will let down or hurt our children. But when I speak of parent wounds I am not referring to the occasional mistakes that we all make. Parenting well is not about being flawless. Furthermore, sometimes we’ll intentionally need to make decisions that will disappoint our children. But our children can understand and forgive these hurts if they occur within an overall context of love and affirmation in our family culture.

Rather, when I speak of parent wounds I’m referring to wounds that occur as a result of a regular pattern of deprivation; the withholding of good, healthy, emotionally rich relational expression from parents. If parents do not give their children a secure sense of being loved, accepted, and valued, those children will very likely seek these things elsewhere in a variety of unhealthy ways.

Since we all do make mistakes, humility is an essential part of loving, in both marriage and parenting. A parent who will admit a wrong to a child, and ask forgiveness from that child, is an amazing role model! Apparently there are a lot of people in the world who have never heard the words, “I was wrong” from a parent.

What was your “normal” as you were growing up?
To a great extent, much of family culture seems to be passed down, for better or for worse. For obvious reasons, we tend to repeat what was normal in the home in which we were raised. Think of your own upbringing. If you had a parent who rarely or never verbally expressed his or her love to you, it is likely that parent grew up in a home where love was never verbally expressed. For such a parent, verbally expressing love may feel awkward, forced, or perhaps unnecessary.

Realizing this can help us break the cycle of deprivation with our own children. We can learn from our own parents either way – whether their example was great or poor. Rather than conforming to a poor example, we can commit to be conformed to the image of God in our parenting. I would like to think that parents who are followers of Jesus would naturally excel at creating a family culture of love and acceptance, but unfortunately, dysfunctional patterns from our upbringings can easily assert themselves if we don’t keep our heads in the game.

It IS possible to do this well!
I recently finished a book by PhD psychologist, John Trent, and Gary Smalley entitled, The Blessing. It’s not a new book but I think the message is timeless. The authors contend that children naturally look to their parents to confer a blessing on their lives. If this blessing is withheld for whatever reason, those children will almost certainly feel a deficit in their being, and may spend a lifetime seeking to compensate for what they feel they never received from their parents. Trent and Smalley describe the parental blessing as consisting of 5 parts:

  • Meaningful and appropriate touch
  • A spoken message (because silence creates uncertainty)
  • Attaching high value to the one being blessed
  • Picturing a special future for him or her
  • An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Do these things resonate with you as they did for me? If not, imagine withholding one of these things from your child. Think of your own upbringing. Can you think of ways that your parents expressed these things to you? My parents were better at some of these than others, but I can clearly remember feeling, for example, their “active commitment,” not only to me but also to my three siblings. One of the ways they did this was by attending our events and involving themselves in the things we enjoyed.

My daily reminder
Over the years when our kids were still young, Mollie and I attended several parenting conference with our church. During one of them in particular, I consciously chose to take home a practical suggestion from one of the speakers. He said,

“Every day, give each of your children a loving look, a loving touch, and a loving word.”

I figured even if I only managed to do this once a week for each kid, the cumulative effect would be very great. So I wrote out a small reminder in abbreviated form and kept it on my nightstand where I would see it. It’s been there now for years. I felt a little sheepish that I needed a written reminder to express love to my kids, but I know I am prone to getting busy and forgetting things. I wrote it in abbreviated form because I was afraid one of them might wander into our bedroom someday and see my reminder, and feel like my expressions of love were items on a “to do” list and not from my heart. I still have my note, now a bit worn:

reminder to love every day

Do whatever it takes to remember. I wish you all the best in creating a rich culture of life and love for your kids! You can do this as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or caregiver as well.

I can testify to the power of parental blessing. My dad was an “uneducated” construction worker, while I was a skinny, weird, sensitive little artist kid. My mom was only schooled as far as the eighth grade and never even learned how to drive. I doubt if my parents ever read a parenting book. Nonetheless, they created a home environment that met my and my siblings’ relational needs as small human beings created in God’s Image. That truly is a profound gift.

Soon I’ll share some research on how wounded people have shaped our culture.

If may offer a postscript that might appear to be just a wee bit self-serving, reading storybooks to your kids every day is an enjoyable way to cover at least 3 of the 5 aspects of blessing our kids.
(They don’t even have to be my books!)

What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

Mona Lisa public art Loveland CO

Actually, a lot happened, with lots of local sculptors and musicians, but I’m going to tell you about a community art event that I and my church, Beggars’ Gate, put on there.

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know how troubled I am over how divided and uncivil our nation has become. I got an idea for a project that would bring diverse festival-goers together in a fun, creative process that would end in an exciting collaborative result.

With my peeps at church and the Festival organizers on board, we contacted the owner of a boarded-up building downtown. He gave us permission to beautify his blank wall. Already there was lots of trust going around.

I should mention that Fire & Ice is the city of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival. Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal here in Loveland, Colorado.

Here’s how it worked:
We laid out a giant 13 x 15 foot grid of 12 inch squares on the wall and painted a gold frame around it. We numbered the squares 1 thru 195. On my studio floor I transferred a (secret) design to 195 wooden foot square tiles. So each tile had part of giant drawing on it. I designated how each area of each tile must be painted in order to make this work: “L” for light, “M” for medium, and “D” for dark paint. Plus a few rare tiles with white, black, and red areas.

At the festival, our small army of volunteers instructed festival-goers in the process. Some of the tiles were impossible to mess up, provided the right color values were used, so even very small children and people with disabilities could (and did!) participate.

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

Unfortunately, this being our first time, there was a lot of guessing and estimating going on. We ran out of tiles and completed the image before the end of the second festival day. But Fire and Ice is a three day festival. So…one of my peeps ran out and purchased a stack of floor tiles. Another one cut some that needed cutting until we had another 100 blank squares. We contacted the building owner again for permission to attach a second mural to his wall. I worked into the wee hours to put together a (much simpler!) second design, and we were all ready for day 3 on Sunday.

A pastor friend, (who ended up hanging most of the Mona Lisa image on Saturday,) must’ve been struck with some deep thoughts while nailing up the creative expressions of nearly 200 people. What follows is what he wrote when he went home Saturday night. He read it to our little Beggars’ Gate congregation on Sunday morning. His name is John Meyer, and here are his thoughts:

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

This community art piece is a great picture of one of the good things we believe about life.

Everyone is an individual, with different talents, different experiences, different likes. It is those differences that make this picture fun, interesting, and a bit unexpected.

But there is a bigger picture that comes together in a way that makes a beautiful whole out of all the individuality. It happened because each individual brought his or her own expression within the plan of an artist who had an intention from the beginning. It would have been nearly impossible for hundreds of individuals to make the Mona Loveland by talking among themselves. But by accepting (even without understanding) the greater plan of the artist, the unique expression of each individual created something that included everyone, and has a greater meaning and beauty that only exists because everyone came together.

We think this is a good picture of God’s plan for life. Each of us is made wonderfully unique by Him. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two sets of fingerprints are alike, every person has unique and wonderful traits that are found in no other life.

But none of us are meant to be a complete picture alone. We are made for community. The Designing Artist has had a plan from the beginning to allow us to experience both our individuality and the greater good of a community living together.

It is from both living out who we are, and expressing that uniqueness within the “lines” and plan the Designing Artist has for each life, that allows us to experience the beautiful picture of human community to come together.

Our goal is to help individuals appreciate their own uniqueness, and to understand the plan of God that allows all of us to experience His good and bigger picture together!”

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

blg-loveld-monalisa-fnl

The finished mural: “The Sweet Heart City’s” own Mona Lisa, painted by local citizens…

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the army of volunteers who enabled this event to happen for the community. They gave time, energy, and resources to make this event free for everyone else. ‘God bless em’ all!

If you’re new to this blog, please visit my KIDS’ STORYBOOK WEBSITE and sign up in the blue box to hear about my upcoming new storybooks!

Love peace dove mural scott freeman

This is the completed second mural.

Guaranteeing Time for Family in the Midst of Busyness

Sabbath Keeping-Big Picture PublishingI admit that I might be a work-a-holic, just a wee bit.

Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.

At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.

What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.

Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.

Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.

Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”

We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.

Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional, Saturday Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.

We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.

At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made.

Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”

We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people!)

For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m never burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.

If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.

My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!

Why It’s Impossible for Followers of Jesus to Hate Gays

T-shirt design by Scott Freeman

Because gays are people.

Several years ago I stopped referring to myself as a “Christian” because I felt the term was too broad. It simply doesn’t communicate very well. So I started referring to myself as a “follower of Jesus” because it’s descriptive and actually communicates something that anyone can understand: a follower of Jesus tries to follow what Jesus said and did. Simple.

On the other hand, “Christian” is such a broad label that it can encompass pretty much anyone who wants to claim it, which can be confusing. It includes me, but it must also include:

  • Cults of unorthodoxy such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, whose extra-biblical authoritative writings depict Jesus as a created being, among other things. Yet, I think we have say if the central figure in a person’s religion is a version of Christ, then their religion is a Christian religion.
  • Members of liberal Christian denominations, who don’t believe in the virgin birth or the miracles of Jesus, and who discount many statements of Jesus in the Bible. Same as above.
  • Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, whose message is that God hates the world; especially gays, apparently. Same as above.

All of these people can be said to be Christians in some sense, but none of them can be said to be followers of the Jesus of the Bible.

It’s impossible for followers of Jesus to hate gays, because if they hate gays, then they’re not following Jesus. Boom. Jesus simply doesn’t give His followers the option of hating people.

Jesus inseparably linked loving both God and people with following Him. He stated that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and then to love people (Mt 22:35-40; Mk 12:28-31.) He said those who keep His commandments are the ones who love Him (Jn 14:21.) The Apostle John says that he who does not love does not know God, for God is love (I Jn 4:8.) He also equates loving others with following the commands of Jesus (2 Jn 1:5,6; 1 Jn 5:2,3.) In a definitive statement, Jesus claimed that all people would know who His followers are by their love for one another (Jn 13:34.)

Furthermore, Jesus is like no other moral teacher in that He didn’t merely talk about love in His teachings. He demonstrated love in an ultimate way, and in doing so He literally created a new option for humanity: He made it possible for us to freely love each other by creating the possibility of internal change through spiritual rebirth (Jn 3:1-7; 1 Pet 1:23.) By spiritual rebirth we receive a new identity as children of God, receiving His very Spirit into our hearts (Gal 4:4-7; Ro 8:9, 14-17.) By His redemptive death and resurrection, Jesus made possible for us a restored, unified, and loving relationship with our Creator, whose image we bear. Thus we are motivated to obey His commands, not out of fear, or guilt, or to earn points. Instead we obey from the best possible motive: that of wanting to please someone we love. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19.) It’s a brilliant plan.

So, no. Followers of Jesus can’t hate gays, even if the natural, redneck part of them wants to.

But then, what about all of those stories in the news about Christian business owners discriminating against gays out of anti-gay hatred and bigotry? Aren’t the Christian butcher, baker, and candlestick maker discriminating against gays simply because they’re gay?

Actually, no – they are not discriminating against gays simply because they’re gay. The proof is that these businesses had been knowingly serving gay customers for years. Here’s the issue: These businesses all drew the line when they were asked to essentially become participants in a ceremony that would violate their religious beliefs.

The same Bible that defines all people, including gay people, as bearing the image of God also defines marriage as a heterosexual institution designed by God having something to do with sexual complementarity (and therefore, the probability, at least, of procreation and child-rearing.) These businesses often explained to their gay customers that they would be happy to provide other services for them, just not wedding services. In other words, they were not willing to become a party to the redefining of something they consider sacred; something that had already been defined by their God.

So these cases are about religious liberty, as guaranteed in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. They have nothing to do with “anti-gay hatred,” or even personal dislike of gays.

Underneath it all, for these business owners it’s a question of authority.

A True Story About Lying
I once joined a respectful, online group discussion about gays and the church. An older gay participant frequently claimed that an average of one gay person per week is assaulted, raped, or murdered by evangelical Christians. He repeated this in the discussion several times. This was news to me.

I finally called him on it, told him it was ridiculous, and asked him to provide some proof. I told him it was like saying most vegetarians eat raw squirrel once a week. Or that two thirds of Mormon housewives home brew their own beer. His claim was self-refuting. He immediately provided a link to the US government annual FBI hate crimes statistics.

The FBI. That certainly sounded credible. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the church of Jesus Christ was actually a hate organization after all, and it had somehow escaped my notice.

I thought of the evangelical families I knew. I pictured the dad coming home after work, exhausted. I pictured the mom, also exhausted after simultaneously homeschooling 7 kids all day, and then preparing a nutritious meal for 9. They all gather around the table, say grace, and then talk about the day over dinner. Afterwards, the kids clear the table and load the dishwasher. Then the dad announces, “Okay kids! Everyone into the mini-van! It’s time to find some gays to beat-up, rape, or murder! Hurry up – we still have to do baths tonight before bedtime!…”

I don’t think so.

I checked out his FBI link. Um…first of all, the FBI does not track the religious identity of perpetrators of hate crimes, only the racial identity. My gay acquaintance was simply assuming the offenders must be evangelicals. Second, in 2006, (the latest year that completed stats were available when I had this discussion,) there were 0 rapes and 0 murders of gays recorded in the FBI stats. That’s rare – the next year there were 0 rapes and 5 murders reported. That’s still too many, but it certainly isn’t a weekly occurrence, and if it was, I guarantee we’d be hearing about it. As always, there were hundreds of assaults reported across the board, including verbal assaults. Of all hate crimes reported each year, nearly 50% are still racially motivated, with the remaining crimes divided up between the categories of sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and disability. It turns out you are still far more likely to be a hate-crime victim in America if you are black than if you are gay. Here is THE LINK to the latest FBI hate crime statistics, for those interested.

Was That Guy an Exception?
Perhaps you’re wondering what my point is in telling this story. Obviously the guy falsely accusing Christians was an unscrupulous butthead. So what am I doing? Painting all “marriage equality” supporters as liars because of one exceptionally dishonest guy’s propagation of a vicious lie?

But was he exceptional?

I don’t see how. It has now become routine for the media to characterize any opposition to redefining marriage as motivated by hatred. Disagree with the politically “liberal” position on this topic and you are “spewing anti-gay hatred and bigotry.” If you believe that marriage is a uniquely heterosexual institution, you are a hater, period. My question is: Really? And what do people who hate people do? Well, we can look at groups around the world who actually do hate people, and see what they do. They assault, rape, purge, and kill the people they hate. Think ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and Hamas.

I suspect that most of the Left knows better than to believe that Christians hate gays. I think repeating these accusations of hate is a political tactic intended to manipulate and shame Christians into shutting up and leaving the field. Fortunately, the if-you-repeat-a-lie-often-enough-people-will-believe-it tactic has its limits. In this case the Left is lying about too large a percentage of the population. It’s like trying to convince the nation that all brown-eyed people smell bad. Except that a lot of us are brown-eyed, and we all know lots of brown-eyed people who smell nice.

I get why my liberal friends support “marriage equality.” I think you honestly believe you are standing for civil rights and equality. I totally understand how it seems bizarre, backward, and hateful to you that anyone would think otherwise. But the fact remains that there are some very stubborn problems around the issue, and the interests of adult gays do not trump the interests of everyone else. We’re going to have to all settle for the freedom to respectfully disagree. Liberal bigotry and intolerance is no more virtuous than conservative bigotry and intolerance.

For further non-hateful reading, here’s a great non-religious case for marriage as a heterosexual institution.

Art from The Swimsuit Lesson-Scott FreemanOn a lighter note, check out my newly released storybook, The Cocky Rooster, available only through MY WEBSITE.