The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Nails

Today, I’m continuing my series on the symbolism found in the illustrations of my children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. I’ve had the privilege of partnering with artist Terri Melia Hamlin, and together we’ve put together a story that is both appropriate and entertaining for the youngest of readers, yet contains deep theological truths for adults.

In the illustration above, we see the hands of Jesus holding nails as he continues work on a project. The picture is meant to remind us of the nails that would pierce Jesus’ hands and feet as an adult. Jesus’ childhood hands are open as he submissively accepts the fate he must one day endure.

Think about it. The same hands of God, that formed man from the dust of the ground, would be punctured by nails as he died to forgive man of his sins. The hands that healed adults and held children would be held in place by such cruel and rudimentary instruments. The very hands that spread wide to embrace the most wayward of sinners, were extended fully in love and sacrifice on the wooden frame of the cross.

Our hands, by contrast, abuse our fellow man, bruising his body and shedding his blood. They are far too often clenched in fists. Our hands steal and destroy and point accusing fingers at others.

The amazing news of God’s grace, however, is that Jesus solved the problem of our sin. He took our spiritual dilemma into his own forgiving hands along with the nails that pierced his flesh. He died to free us from our inability to keep and shear defiance of his perfect commands and rose again to offer us a new way of living, forgiven and free and held in his resurrected and nail-scarred hands. We are his people, both created and forgiven by him.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Submission

In my last post, I discussed some of the symbolism found in the cover illustration of my first Christian children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. Today, I’m continuing the task of looking at some of the nuances and spiritual truths found throughout the images of the book.

Before I begin, I want to express my sincere appreciation to artist Terri Melia Hamlin for her work. Terri brought the pages of “Finished” to life with her passion and artistry. The book we created together would not be the same without Terri’s skill and devotion.

In the illustration above, we see Joseph constructing a pen for the family’s animals. Jesus is working, too, just a few feet away, on a very different sort of project. In the dust of Joseph’s workshop, Jesus has fashioned two small boards in the shape of a cross. Notice Jesus’ submissive posture as he kneels before the cross. The symbolism here reminds us of Jesus’ willingness to one day suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Notice also the stormy skies seen through the window of Joseph’s workshop. We’re reminded here of the darkness that “…came over the whole land…” (Luke 23:44, NIV) as Jesus suffered his ultimate fate on the cross.

The book “Finished” is a fictional story of Jesus’ childhood innocence. Still, the real-life story of Jesus is one that is hardly fit for the pages of a children’s book. The intense suffering and gruesome crucifixion of the Savior demonstrates all that Jesus must go through for people. The words of this event, as they are found in Scripture, do not seem to offer any hope of a happy, storybook ending. But, then comes the Resurrection and the entire narrative changes!

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Relationship

Recently, I completed my first Christian children’s book. “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth” is the story of four-year-old Jesus and his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary. In the story, Joseph must construct a pen to hold the family’s animals. As Joseph works, Jesus is also building something. At the end of the story, Joseph ponders Jesus’ words that his project is “finished”.

I find that one of the most impactful elements of “Finished” is the artwork done by Terri Melia Hamlin. Terri’s illustrations capture the essence of the story while illuminating more subtle themes found throughout the book. Although “Finished” is a fictional tale, it contains deep spiritual truth, foreshadowing the cross that Jesus must one day endure and the victory of the empty tomb of the Resurrection.

In this series of writings, we’ll explore together some of the illustrations found in “Finished” and the Biblical truths they convey. To begin, I’ll use the cover illustration found at the beginning of today’s post, the image of Jesus hugging and riding piggy-back on Joseph.

This picture, to me, is all about the love shared between father and son. Each of us were made for relationship, and Jesus exemplified a loving relationship with his earthly parents. We see this most intimately in the Gospel writings of John, specifically Chapter 19, where Jesus, from the cross, tends to the needs of Mary and arranges an informal adoption between Mary and John.

While little is mentioned in Scripture concerning Joseph’s interactions with Jesus, we can infer the unconditional love and incredible respect between Jesus and his earthly father. Imagine the hours Jesus undoubtedly spent by Joseph’s side learning the family trade of carpentry. Think about the many conversations and lessons learned in the shadows of Joseph’s work bench.

Yes, Jesus loved his parents, Joseph and Mary. He understood and fully embraced the instruction of his Heavenly Father to ” ‘…honor (both) father and mother’ ” (Genesis 20:12, NIV). Even more importantly, Jesus loves all people and desires a relationship with them. His unconditional and sacrificial love is evident in the remaining pages of “Finished”.

I want to thank again artist Terri Melia Hamlin for her amazing work with this book. Further, I want to thank you the reader for your support of this project. May you be blessed!

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NIV).

I’ve always found the words of this first verse in the Gospel of John to be interesting. As a kid, it was one of the easier passages of Scripture to memorize for my church’s Wednesday night Catechism class. The verse had a certain rhythm to it. It didn’t have any big words, and it was relatively short. I could recite John 1:1 in short order to my teacher and receive my sticker on the memorization chart. I suppose, at the time, I didn’t realize the significance of the words I was articulating.

One of the things to notice about John 1:1 is that the “Word” is capitalized. John comments that this “Word” was present in the beginning, that it was with God, and actually was God. The “Word”, you may know by now, is none other than Jesus himself.

Yes, Jesus, was present at the dawning of all Creation. We don’t always think about the Jesus of the Old Testament, but he was there. In the New Testament, of course, Jesus would take on human flesh and live among people. Still, Jesus made his first appearance at Creation.

John says that the Word was with God and was God. If you’re like me, you find the concept of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – difficult to understand to say the least. Jesus was, at the same time, God, but he also had his own identity as one-third of the Trinity. Again, such understanding is challenging and doesn’t ultimately save us from our sins. It just makes us look smarter than we probably are.

Perhaps you find additional difficulty in referring to Jesus as the “Word”. I, too, have struggled with this concept, intellectually wrestling with it, and have come to the following conclusion. I think John calls Jesus the “Word”, because Jesus is the ultimate message, the word, of God to mankind. Jesus is the Gospel message of God’s goodness and grace personified. In fact, if we want to truly understand the character of God, his justice and mercy, his love, and his kindness, we need not look any further than the “Word” that is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus is God’s Word to mankind. He has freed us from our sins and has given us the promise of life, both here on earth and eternally in Heaven. God is for you, not against you. He loves you. He forgives you. He sets you free.

The Fall (Part 3)

flowers orange

Adam chose carefully his answer to God’s “Where are you?” question.  “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  Making no mention of his bite of forbidden fruit, Adam focused instead on the result of his sin, his nakedness.  Adam’s answer was one-step removed from a complete and honest confession to God.

God further questioned Adam concerning his newfound awareness of his nudity.  So, Adam offered his confession, albeit one laced with excuse.  First blaming God for placing Eve in his life, then blaming Eve for offering him the forbidden fruit, Adam’s admission of sin was tainted.

Still, God loved Adam.  God loved Eve as well.  They were God’s children after all.  Although the sinful couple would be banished from the Garden of Eden, God would still care for each of them.

God tailored new clothing for Adam and Eve as their fig leaf outfits were no longer adequate.  In creating their attire, however, death came to the Garden.  An animal became the necessary sacrifice to cover the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that would one day be made by another of God’s children, Jesus.

Paradise, once lost, would return one day to another garden, this one with an empty tomb and a cross in the background.  Satan would deal a death blow to Jesus, but Jesus would have the ultimate victory over Satan and sin.

The Fall (Part 2)

trees with oranges

The physical death that Adam and Eve would now experience was hardly the worst consequence of their sin.  The rebellious couple was faced with the prospect of eternal separation from God.  Their disobedience had caused almost irreparable damage to their once intimate relationship with their Heavenly Father.  Sin and death had come to the garden.  Paradise was ended.

Adam and Eve saw that they were naked as they stood before God and one another.  It wasn’t that they hadn’t noticed this before, but now they felt guilt.  What was meant to be beautiful took on an ugliness all its own.  The couple hurriedly gathered fig leaves and sewed them together in rudimentary attire.  They desperately tried to cover their bodies, soon discovering, however, that no amount of clothing could compensate for the shame they felt.

Adam and Eve heard the familiar sounds of God walking in the garden, so they did what children so often do when they’ve done something wrong – they hid.  Imagine attempting to deceive the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God of Creation.  This informal game of hide-and-seek was doomed from the start.  As Adam and Eve cowered behind the trees of the garden, God called out to them, “Where are you?”

This question must have penetrated Adam and Eve to their very core.  A strange concoction of fear, shame, and uncertainty gripped the couple.  How God’s heart, too, must have been breaking as he called out to his fallen children.  The question, “Where are you?” demanded a response, and Adam could not delay.  Should he be honest and face the consequence of his sin?  Or, should he further attempt to deceive?

The Fall (Part 1)

apple the fall

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).

We were made for eternity.  We always have been.  Our spiritual great-grandparents, Adam and Eve, were never meant to die, but to live forever in the Garden of Eden, their God-ordained Paradise.

Formed from the barely settled soil of Creation, Adam took his shape in the skilled hands of his God.  His frame was carefully constructed, its proportionality determined by his Creator.  Sinews and ligaments connected Adam’s muscular frame, every inch measured to perfection.  His forehead was dimpled, where eyes would be placed, their hues of color unmatched by anything else in all of creation.  Every detail of Adam’s design was considered, from the tiny wrinkles on his brow to the distinguishing prints on the tips of his fingers.

And then, with a mighty exhale of his breath, God breathed life into Adam’s still body. Adam’s heart pounded, and blood pulsed through his arteries and veins.  His senses awakened to the beauty of the Paradise that surrounded him, and his eyes beheld the first faint glimpse of his Maker.  Whispering in his ears were the soft sounds of the Garden, the leaves rustling and the birds singing.  The fragrance of flowers and morning dew enlivened his sense of smell.

Paradise was God’s extravagant gift to man, and Adam had all of eternity to enjoy it.  God even made Adam a partner named Eve, formed from the very flesh of Adam.  Waking from a deep slumber, Adam would behold the beauty and practicality of a helper.  They would live and work together in the Garden forever.

There was but one rule in Eden.  All things were permissible with the exception of the fruit from one tree located in the middle of the Garden.  God forbade it.  Not even the tiniest of nibbles was allowed.  The one thing Adam and Eve could not have, however, was the one thing they came to desire the most.  The fruit was so captivating, so alluring in its simple beauty.  Surely a small taste wouldn’t hurt anything.

Then, supported by the moral authority of a deceiving serpent, Eve took a bite, and with it, she tasted death for the very first time.  It was not that the fruit tasted deadly, but death was the very thing that her sin bore.  She shared the forbidden fruit, along with her sin, with her partner, Adam, and he took a soul-defeating taste.  Immediately, too, his body began to die, slowly, but with all certainty.

Forever (Part 3)

church pews and stained glass

In my teenage years, I became a Pharisee (before I even knew what a Pharisee was) in my ritualistic and overzealous compliance to the laws of God as I understood them.  I was a dotter of i’s and a crosser of t’s when it came to God’s rules for right living.  I devised a scrupulous mental list of spiritual dos and don’ts and was nothing short of obsessive-compulsive in my attempt to adhere to each of them.  I confessed every sin, as I imagined it to have occurred, yet, just as I would confess one sin, another would rear its ugly, condemning head.  I became more frustrated with God, and downright angry at his insistence on perfection and my inability to comply.

My college years were an on again, off again spiritual crisis as well, especially the early college years of freshman and sophomore.  I attended a private Christian college, where I was surrounded by classmates who, from my perspective, were living the Christ-like life much more successfully than I was.  How much I despised their joy, as I felt little of what they were feeling.  In my sin-clouded eyes, they were the ones who had it all together, unlike me with my struggles.  Depression and anxiety were my twin foes, who would not leave me alone.

I recognize now that the grace I was searching for in my childhood, adolescence, and young adult years was the very thing that kept me from totally losing my mind.  While I yearned for a watershed moment in my understanding of God’s unconditional acceptance and grace, God supplied me more subtly in the form of encouragement from family members and friends.  These were the precious pearls of the Gospel of Christ. They were the left-over scraps from the Lord’s table of grace.  They sustained me, or at least held me over, until I could fully feast on God’s undeniable goodness.

Today, I’m an adult and the pastor of a small church in a medium-sized city.  My heart hurts for those who have yet to experience in its fullness the grace God offers in Jesus.  I’m especially sensitive to those who live in fear and confusion about what God is truly like.  I guess that’s, at least in part, why I’ve written these words.  I’m amazed at the grace-filled love of God and awestruck at the notion of spending eternity in a relationship with him, and I want everyone to know this reality.

Forever (Part 2)

stained glass colors

I know now that I hated God.  It’s not that I wanted to hate him or would have ever let it show.  Perhaps, hate is too strong of a word.  Still, I was certainly frustrated in my relationship with God.  I found myself in a spiritual conundrum.  I had to love God in order to be a good Christian boy, one whom the older ladies in the church would be proud of and smile at for no apparent reason, but the more I tried to love what I viewed as a judgmental and wrathful God, the more hopeless I became.  I couldn’t force myself to love God as he desired, especially when he so loosely held my eternal destiny in his hands.

Now, it would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was a complete spiritual train wreck.  Each Sunday I dutifully took my place in the church pew seated next to Grandma, evermore craving the afore-mentioned candies from her purse.  I attended weekly Wednesday night classes as required by our pastor and church board, where we learned all about loving our neighbor as ourself, then afterward played “Kill the Guy with the Ball” until someone began to bleed or cry.  I lived the typical life of an adolescent male, albeit one who had deep theological misgivings.

I guess I had sort of a fairy tale, Santa Claus-like brand of theology.  I had no problem believing all the stories of the Bible, even the hard ones in the Old Testament like Jonah spending three days in the belly of a fish and Samson fastening torches to the tails of foxes.  I accepted such stories in child-like faith and wonder.  It was the other stuff I had difficulty with.  I viewed God as just, but struggled with his compassion.  I had no problem thinking of God as fair, but apparently skipped over the parts of the Bible that talked about his mercy.  This is what I mean by my Santa Claus-like theology.  I was certain that God rewarded good deeds and punished bad behavior, and that the good boys and girls would get the gifts of his grace, while the bad kids would receive the proverbial lump of coal, which, in this case, only stoked the Devil’s fiery flames.

(To be continued…)

Forever (Part 1)

church pew

My earliest thoughts around the idea of eternity occurred to me as a child.  Sitting on one of the hard, wooden pews in the small country church I attended, I found myself wrestling with this most challenging of concepts.  I was a religious kid, at least on Sunday mornings, when my family and I would don our Sunday best and travel several miles to our place of worship.  We picked up Grandma on the way, whom I would sit next to during the hour-long service, mostly because she would share with me the candies she had wrapped in the white silk handkerchief discreetly hidden inside her purse.  It was there, beside Grandma, that I would ponder all manner of things pertaining to God, where time and again I would return to my thoughts on eternity.

I’d like to say that my budding theology around this subject led me to a greater sense of awe at the mystery of God.  Then, I would worship him in child-like amazement, having the clearest of understanding that my eternal destiny lie in the presence of my Creator in a wonderful place called Heaven.  My childhood fear, however, was that there was the ever-growing possibility that I might spend eternity, not in Heaven, but in the place of perpetual torment called Hell.

To say that Hell frightened me would be a gross understatement.  The idea of Satan and his demons, a fiery pit, and everlasting pain and suffering terrified me.  Fear was a constant childhood companion, one that would only ease its cruel-hearted harassment once I received my first, sweet taste of God’s infinite love and undeserved mercy.  Still, sitting next to Grandma, I felt hundreds of miles away from any sort of grace that God had to offer.

(To be continued…)