October 13, 2014

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Biblical Illiteracy

What is it?

In this blog I would like to discuss illiteracy; in particular, biblical illiteracy.  To begin let me first define terms.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, illiteracy, is “the state of not having knowledge about a particular subject.”  

Biblical illiteracy is the state of not knowing what the Bible teaches.  When I came to know Christ I did not know what the Bible taught about justification by faith and not by works.  I didn’t know what it meant to be “born again,” or any of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.  I was biblically illiterate.

This condition––sad though it is––is understandable in countries where the Bible is not permitted, or in cultures where the gospel has not yet penetrated.  It is understandable if the Bible has not yet been translated into a particular language of a remote people group.  But what about a culture where there is an average of four Bibles per household?

Like America?

Stats & Figures

I’m not one who likes to quote statistics or polls, but I think that a few here will be helpful to grasp this crisis.  

According to the Barna Group (the go-to research pollsters on this kind of stuff), 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more.  That’s not quite four out of ten.  It includes Christians.  Of those four who do read, only 57% apply what they’ve read to their daily lives.  Do the math.  That’s just a little over two in ten people that make use of God’s Word in their lives.  

In America, God’s revelation of Himself is mostly ignored, and is all but irrelevant, practically speaking.  

Here are a couple of zingers.  Another poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.  A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.  A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

Heaven help us.  

And then, according to one more poll, “82% of Americans believe that the phrase, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ is in the Bible.  Think that’s bad?  81% of those who consider themselves born-again Christians believe the same thing!  That’s eight in ten Christians who really don’t know their Bibles. 

Enough polls.

History Lesson

I think we can all agree that biblical illiteracy in America is at an all-time high.  That is to say, there are more people in America today who either do not read the Bible or consider what it teaches to be relevant to their daily lives.  Sadly this is also true of those calling themselves Christians.

This is nothing new for the people of God.

There was a time in Israel’s history when its knowledge of God was woefully barren.  It was a spiritually dark time during the divided kingdom of the kings.  Worship of Yahweh had nearly ceased to exist.  There was a spiritual vacuum in the land, one that was filled by idolatry, and by the worship of pagan deities.  Sexual immorality and violence were rampant.  Israel’s borders were opened to invasions by the Assyrians.  This is what happens when the people of God reject His Word, and thereby reject Him. 

How could it have happened?    

The Israelites had had it all!  They were God’s chosen people, a people whom Yahweh had brought into a special covenant relationship with Himself––a people to whom He gave the promises, and to whom He revealed His Word through the prophets.  They were a people through whom, and to whom, Messiah would come. God had blessed them immeasurably.  

And yet, because of their neglect of and disdain for this great privilege of knowing God through His revealed Word, the people of God created a self-imposed famine of knowledge.  A drought of spiritual health.

And then came Josiah, an eight year old boy who became king of Judah, following the death of the wicked King Amon.  The Bible says that Josiah

“did right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Chron 34:2).

When Josiah was twenty-six years old Hilkiah the high priest discovered the Book of the Law, hidden in some dark recess of the neglected temple.

Imagine that, prior to that discovery, neither the high priest nor any in the priesthood––Israel’s spiritual leaders––had a clue as to what God’s Word had to say.  They didn’t have four Bibles per home, they had none!  Talk about your biblical illiteracy. It was like an earlier time when

“every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).   

When the Book of the Law was read to King Josiah (a young man no older than one of our “millennial” generation), he tore his robes and repented before God.  Then he commanded that the Book of the Law be read to the entire nation.  Following that, he tossed out the mediums, tore down the pagan altars, and reestablished proper temple worship (you can read about his reforms in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35).

What then should we do?

Brothers and sisters, if you look around at our own culture and wonder why there is so much darkness in the land, why there is such violence in our schools and in our towns, why sexual promiscuity has increased to disgusting proportions, why the foundations of our Christian heritage are being challenged and removed from every area in the public arena, then learn the lesson from Israel’s history.

Let us not forsake His Word.  

Our God is an awesome God.  He is compassionate, He is slow to anger, He is full of grace and truth.  With outstretched arms He beckons us to come and fellowship with Him.  The thought of such a thing to me is mind-blowing.  Imagine, God who is infinite, holy, righteous; God who is all powerful, who is all knowing, all wise; God who is without beginning or end, who is everywhere Present; God who is Sovereign over the universe, who is transcendent over His creation, and yet condescends to fellowship on an intimate level with His children, how can we neglect to read His Word that might know Him better?

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  I wrote about this in my last blog (3 Ways to Teach Your Child the Bible), but I must speak to it again.

4  Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  5 You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. 6 These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, 7 and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road,  as you lie down, and as you get up.    

You and I have the power to reverse the downward spiral of biblical illiteracy and its consequences in our country by simply obeying God’s Word.

“If My people, who are called by My Name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My Face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14).

Dear ones, there is hope for us, and for our children.  There is hope for this generation of millennials, if we will but guide them into the refreshing truth of God’s Word, backed by the authenticity of our lives.

Let us dust off our Bibles and commit to reading a chapter, or paragraph, or even a verse of Scripture every day.  Not just read the Bible ourselves, but read it to our children––when we sit in our homes, when we walk along the road outside, when we rise in the morning and in the evening at bedtime.

And let us commit to memorizing verses, meditating upon them.  For when we do we will agree with the psalmist who wrote,

“Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11).

And we will have the light of truth to guide us through the obstacles in our paths.

For “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

October 09, 2014

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God's Classroom

Autumn MountainsThe holy Scriptures tell us time and again that God’s glory and power are revealed in His creation. Most of us have ventured out into the world and have been in awe at the sheer grandeur of the heavens and the earth, the incalculable power and beauty of everything God has made. His fingerprints are everywhere evident—the petals of a bird of paradise, the flight of a bird, the stars in their courses. Whether we are walking along a beach and reveling in the sheer magnitude of the roar of ocean waves, or cresting a mountain top to view the incredible panorama of mountains against sky, God’s majesty is all around us, drawing us to worship Him.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote that all of creation is held together by the powerful word of our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Heb 1:3). Isn’t that amazing? The very word of God the Son sustains the entire universe. What awesome power!

The world of nature is God’s “classroom.” We may learn so much about our God, as well as the lives of faith He desires us to live, by “considering the lilies of the field,” or “observing the birds of the sky” as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:26-29). And so the question becomes why don’t we spend more time in the classroom? Demands of work and home, of course, compete for the precious hours of our days. The culture in which we live creates many distractions. Even so, we must find time to pause, to rest, to wonder at the beauty of the world about us, and marvel at the Author of it—the God who spoke it into existence.

Each day brings with it a sunrise and a sunset, events which are nothing short of opportunities for worship and thankfulness. It’s almost as if the sky itself is caught up in a devoted routine of worship, where it begins and ends each day with ascribing the proper glory to God, for as the Psalmists continues,

“day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Ps 19:2)

—speech and knowledge of our Creator.

Fall is the ideal season for us to spend time in the classroom of God’s great outdoors. The heat has finally dissipated, the leaves are turning with a spectrum of colors from God’s limitless palette. So let’s go. Let’s take hikes together with family and friends, or drives into the country to witness God’s canvas of Autumn, His masterpiece! The Bible says,

“Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth” (1 Chron 16:33).

Let’s get outside and listen to their praise of the Creator. Let us join them in holy anthem!

September 30, 2014

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Belfry's Christmas Gift Out Today!

Belfry's Christmas Gift Book Product Image

We are excited to announce that our new book is out today!

In this heartwarming Christmas story from Theo's Tales of Little Overhill, Belfry must think of something to give Theo at the Christmas party. He soon discovers that the best gifts are not those wrapped in ribbons and bows. Belfry's gift is one that changes the life of a gruff and lonely clockmaker, someone shunned by all of the village animals. It is the gift of love!

Belfry’s Christmas Gift is a beautiful hardcover board book. The story is written by Theo creator Mike Joens and beautifully illustrated by Len Simon.

You can find out more about the book on our website.

Belfry’s Christmas Gift is available today at your local Christian Bookstore and online.

Merry (early) Christmas!

September 22, 2014

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First Day of Fall: Visiting the Pumpkin Patch

The first day of fall is September 23rd. The first day of fall is an exciting point in the calendar, particularly for families with children. The shift from the freedom of summer to the rigid schedule of the school year, somehow crammed packed with activities and responsibilities, can be a tough transition. The first day of fall, though, seems to mark a breath of fresh air. The kids are finally adjusted to their new bedtimes, the nightly routine has taken a definitive shape, and the heat of summer is finally starting to slip away into the distance. This is why we consider the first day of fall to be such a refreshing time of the year; it’s almost like a new year in and of itself.

Don’t miss out on the incredibly opportunity that the first day of fall offers to you and your family. This is a chance to celebrate your children and their hard work in school. Fall is a new season, and it brings new opportunities with it, so be sure to seize the day with your family.

Whether you want to celebrate your family’s accomplishments or simply let your kids know that you love and cherish them, creating a special surprise celebration is a terrific way to usher in fall. We tend to think that a family trip to the pumpkin patch is the ideal way to welcome in this chilly season. Bundle up, pack yourselves in the car, and head to the most exciting pumpkin patch you can find. Take a hay ride, pick a few pumpkins to carve together, and play whatever games the pumpkin patch features. You could even consider stopping for hot chocolate on the way home!

These small outings are vitally important for a family. It’s nice to celebrate change and accomplishment together, as a family unit. And its important for your kids to see you treating them to good things, simply because you love and care for them. So don’t miss out on the opportunity that the first day of fall is providing.

So get out there, and get chilly!

April 24, 2014

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3 ways to teach your child the Bible

Boy Reading the Bible

Teaching our children the Bible can be challenging in today’s busy world. Work schedules, long commutes, television, Internet, video games, iPhones, all compete for our time. But teach them we must. Children a

re a gift from the Lord, and if we wish to love our children as God would have us love them, then we must do it. Let me share three ways that we can teach our children about God.

Natural Revelation

Natural Revelation describes how God has revealed Himself through creation. Did you know that whenever we step outside, night or day, we are entering God’s classroom? Backyard, city park, or in a nearby forest or beach, it doesn’t matter; God’s fingerprints are visible everywhere.

In the opening verses of Psalm 19 we see that God has revealed quite a bit about Himself through His creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.

In Romans 1:20, the Apostle Paul agrees:

For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.

God’s awesome power is revealed in the size of the universe, the myriad stars, the waves of the sea, the crash of thunder and lightning. God’s kindness is manifested in giving us rain and fields to grow food. Who can look at a puppy and not see the great and tender heart of our Creator? Who hasn’t been in awe at the spectrum of colors in a sunset, or marveled at a rainbow arcing over a rain-soaked sky? Yes, indeed, the heavens declare the glory of God’s glory!

I love the outdoors. I love walking through the woods with my binoculars, spotting a western tanager or lazuli bunting. Or pausing beside a stream to hear to the gurgling rush of water.

God made these for our pleasure. They teach us about Himself, if we will look, and listen.

A great way to teach young ones about God is to get them out of the house, away from video games and television, and take them outdoors into His classroom. When you come upon a beautiful flower, or mountain vista, say, “God made this. Isn’t He a big and powerful God?” When you see a colorful bird or butterfly, ask them, “Why do you think God made such beautiful creatures?”

Each pause to observe God’s handiwork can be a teaching moment; each teaching moment can awaken a sense of wonder in a child’s heart. Too often we don’t take time to stop and smell the roses. We should, and we should take our children with us.

Special Revelation

Special Revelation describes God’s written word of Himself to us, His plan of salvation, His Son Jesus. It describes what pleases God, His will for our lives, how we ought to train up our children. We must daily teach our children what the Bible says about God.

These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road,  as you lie down, and as you get up (Deut 6:6-7).

God tells Moses that parents should be proactive in teaching their children about Himself. When? When we are in our homes, as we walk along the path, as we go to bed, as we wake in the morning. We are to teach them throughout the day.

If we leave the teaching of our children to others then it will be others who will mold their lives, for good or for ill. Some parents may say, but I take my child to Sunday School each week. That’s commendable, but your Sunday School teacher has your child for one hour. There are 167 more hours in the week. Who will teach them if their parents don’t?

Living Epistles

Finally, our lives and lifestyles speak volumes to our children. Regardless of what we say or teach, our daily lives are powerful testimonies of who we are and what we believe. If we tell our children that it is wrong to lie, then we must not lie. If we tell them to love God with all of their hearts, mind and strength, then our lives should reflect such teaching. Our children won’t believe us otherwise. 

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God. (Corinthians 3:2-3).

We are living epistles to our children. If our lives are consistent with what we teach they will believe us. If we model Christ’s character they will see Jesus in our lives. This is not to suggest we live sinless lives, but lives that are filled with humility and grace. Our children will see your light and be drawn to Christ because of it. As they mature into adulthood our words will remain a treasure in their hearts that will bless them throughout their lives. So then let us teach our children through the world that God has made, through His special word to us, and through the godly example of our lives.

March 04, 2014

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February 21, 2014

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Fishers of Men

One of Theo’s favorite pastimes is fly-fishing.  The River Coln flows gently past his cottage on its way through the Cotswold Hills of southern England, and is filled with lovely brown trout.  Such a pastime allows one to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and spend time in a quiet stream or lake, relaxing in the beauty of God’s creation.  Great for us humans, not so great if you’re a fish.

Fishers of Men

Fly-fishing is the art of catching fish with artificial lures that resemble real bugs, or “flies” as in mayflies or stoneflies.  Like most sports or activities there’s an art to fly-fishing, a skill which is learned.  Some people are better at it than others, of course; some are naturals, some never develop a love for it and prefer other types of fishing.  People like me have to work very, very hard at it, and only catch fish with dogged determination and much prayer.  Not a joke.  

Also, the fly-fisherman must think like a fish.  If you were a fish where would you hang out?  Rivers have personalities; some are easy-going and gentle, some are treacherous, some meander with endless loops of cut banks and eddies.  The fly-fisherman must learn to read the river. A fly-fisherman must have a fair knowledge of the stream he or she wishes to fish, as well as a fair knowledge of the fish itself.  Not all rivers are alike, and neither are fish.  For example, barracudas don’t have the same diet as rainbow trout.  You won’t find a marlin in a trout stream.    

Finally, there are different seasons, as well.  Trout are bug eaters, but like all creatures great and small, bugs have life-cycles (egg, nymph, emerging adult, dun, spinner, etc.), so it’s best to know what’s hatching bug-wise.  The knowledgable fly-fisherman will “match the hatch,” by selecting an artificial fly from his fly box that best resembles the bug of choice.

What’s my point to all of this?  Temptation, of course.  Did you know that the devil is a professional with centuries of experience when it comes to fly-fishing?  He’s been around a long time, and knows what artificial flies will tempt us.  He’s basically got three types: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life.  He bagged our great ancestors Adam and Eve with these three, and hasn’t added any new flies to his flybox.

He knows what artificial lure to use to entice the believer into sin.  James 1:14 reads, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away and enticed by their own evil desire” (NIV).  The word for “enticed” is deleazo in the original language.  It’s a fishing term that means to lure.  

A wary trout may “sniff” at a lure, but then pass on it.  He knows it’s a fake.  I’ve had this happen many times in my own experience.  What do I do?  I’ll try a different fly.  Maybe he’ll go for this one.  If he does, I’ve caught him.  I’m a catch-and-release guy; that is, after I catch a fish I let him go.  The devil releases no one.  There are no “limits” he must abide by.  The devil knows his fish.  he knows what lure to use for every kind of human fish, for every kind of water condition––stream, lake, ocean––and in every season of the year.

February 14, 2014

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First Love

Mike and Cathy Joens Wedding Day Picture

February is a very special month for me, for in February I met the first love of my life and the second love. On February 11, 1972, I was introduced to Jesus at the Marine Barracks in Naples, Italy. That day, almost forty-two years ago to the day of this blog post, I became a Christian. It was the most joyous relationship I have ever entered into.

From the moment I surrendered my life to Christ I couldn’t get enough of Him. I devoured the four Gospels, drank in the epistles, walked 

joyfully through the Book of Acts, sang through the Psalms, stood in wonder at the Book of Revelation. Jesus was my first and only love. Whenever the church doors were open for services I was there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I shared Christ with fellow Marines, many of whom became believers. Jesus consumed my every waking thought!

And then I met my second love.

In February, 1974, Cathy Correll was an incoming freshman at Bethany Bible College in the Santa Cruz mountains, arriving midyear for the Spring semester. When she introduced herself to me in the foyer of the women’s dorm (one of my favorite hangouts) I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. A willowy brunette with hair cascading down her back and big hazel brown eyes, she was beautiful! She still is, forty years later.

From that moment on we were inseparable. We ate meals together, we went on walks through the redwoods, went down to the beach in Carmel, we strolled along the Santa Cruz boardwalk. I couldn’t get enough of her. When we were apart at nights my heart ached for her. I’d stare at her photo every night before turning in. I’d wing off a few prayers, thanking God for His gift, then awaken in the morning anxious to see her again.

I was in love! 

What was interesting, sadly so, is that each day I was with Cathy the ardor that I’d once had for Jesus imperceptibly cooled. I was the old frog-in-the-kettle, but in reverse, going from hot to cold. I still did my morning devotions, I still prayed, I still went to church, but there had been a shift in my devotion. I was no longer single-minded. My affection was divided. Though I had once been like Mary, sitting at 

the feet of Jesus and hanging on His every word, I had gradually morphed into her sister Martha, who was distracted by many things (Luke 10:38-42). In my case, Cathy.

Cathy had become my first love.

Something strange happened then. The more I pursued Cathy the less she seemed to care. She seemed aloof, distant. I asked her to marry me but she wouldn’t commit. I was bummed! And confused. “What gives, Lord, isn’t this the right girl?”

In Jesus’ address to the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7), He commended the church for many things; most notably their hard work for the sake of Jesus’ name. They were a church that didn’t tolerate evil, and rooted out the false teachers in their midst. Pretty good appraisal, wouldn’t you say? But then He says this:

But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent.

Whoa! What’s this? Weren’t they working hard for Jesus? Weren’t they studying their Bibles? Weren’t they contending for the Faith? Surely this proved their first love, didn’t it?

Apparently not!

The Ephesian church had loved Jesus fervently in the early days. They gathered at the lecture hall of Tyrannus daily to hear the Apostle Paul teach about Jesus (Acts 19:9-10), so that in a short two year period all of the province of Asia had heard about Jesus!

Paul commended them for their faith, and for their love for the brothers (Eph 1:15). But in the decades following, something happened. Where there had once been a fervent love, a gap had widened between Jesus and them. Jesus hadn’t moved, they had! The ardor of their first love had cooled.

It’s easy to fall into the trap. If I just do more things for God––read the Bible more, do more activities in the church, witness to others––it will show that I love Him. Although these services are good and approved by the Lord, they must not substitute for our devotion to Him. Martha, busy with meal preparations, fell into the trap; Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet had chosen the good part.

How can we regain our first love?

Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “Repent, and do the works you did at the beginning.” In essence, go back, renew your vows, rekindle your love. Put Him first in everything you think, speak or do. If you love Him, pursue Him with your heart, mind and strength! Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

As much as I love Cathy, Jesus must be my first love. What is interesting is that the more I love Jesus, the more my love for Cathy grows. When the Holy Spirit revealed this to me forty years ago, I repented. That very day Cathy accepted my proposal for marriage!

Have you left your first love? If so, Jesus is calling you to repent, to put Him first in your life!

O God, help us to redo the deeds of faith and love that so characterized our early walk with you. Fill us anew with the Spirit of life and joy and zeal for Jesus and His kingdom. Help us to rekindle the love for Jesus that was preeminent in our souls, first in our thoughts, first in our words, first in our deeds!

So this Valentine’s Day, let’s all renew our vows to Jesus first, and then take our honeys out to dinner!

November 27, 2013

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What are you thankful for?

This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for?

By Mike Joens

The First Thanksgiving

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions Thanksgiving Day?  Perhaps you will think that it’s a day of family get-togethers over a bountiful meal; getting off a day or two at work may come to mind.  Or you might think of traveling to visit family and friends.  Perhaps you’re history-minded, so you think back to the time when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for His plentiful harvest in the New World.  There are many who regard Thanksgiving as the beginning of the Christmas season.  Others think of it as a day of endless football, of raking leaves, or regard it purely from a consumer perspective––the Black Friday kick-off that doesn’t end until the day after Christmas.   

Whatever comes to your mind first, I think most of us will agree that we are a people with much to be thankful for.  Most will agree that it is God who has blessed us.  Granted, this mindset has eroded over the past decades; even so, we are still a free people that can worship without fear, speak without fear, go to bed without fear.  We remain a nation of incredible wealth––the most giving nation in the world in times of national and global crises.

Are we a thankful people?  I hope so.  

The Bible says that we are to “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good” (Ps 136:1).  We are to “Enter His gates with thanksgiving” (Ps 100:4).  Paul says “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).  The scriptural references are too many to list here.  Suffice it to say that “in everything we are to give thanks.”  Put simply, we are to be a thankful people.

Why?

Because God is our Creator, He is our sustainer, provider, savior; He is our Lord, King, the lover of our souls, and so much much more.  For as James says, “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  He is a good and kind and loving Heavenly Father.

Every breath we take is a gift from God for which we should be thankful!  When we are thankful, our eyes are fixed heavenward and the weighty burdens of our hearts are given wings.  

Though Thanksgiving Day began as a religious celebration in the early Puritan days, it became celebrated by the nation as an annual tradition during Abraham Lincoln’s term in office, regardless of one’s religious inclination.  President Roosevelt signed Thanksgiving Day into law as a federal holiday in late December, 1941, the holiday to occur on the fourth Thursday of November.

Was this good or bad?

I think good.  Thanksgiving Day gives believers the opportunity to give thanks openly to God when they gather with their families, whether or not everyone at the table knows Jesus as their Savior.  What an opportunity as well to share our faith!  

I think it’s a good practice to have everyone sitting at the table, young and old, share one thing that they are thankful for.  Perhaps you are thankful for our servicemen and women, past and present, or for a new job, or for an answered prayer.  Personally, I am thankful that the Lord Jesus saved me out of darkness when I was a young Marine stationed in Naples, Italy, 1972.  O the blessings that have flowed into my life since then!  

Now it’s your turn.  What are you thankful for?

November 05, 2013

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Behind the Scenes of the Theo Series - Post Production

POST-PRODUCTION

The term post-production refers to the final leg of production, where everything comes together in a kind of grand finale. Although post-production implies something that happens after production, “Post,” as it is simply called, is very much a part of the actual production process. Many elements that contribute to the finished picture occur in Post: ink and paint, compositing, music score, sound effects, and final mix.

As I mentioned in my last blog on Production, elements of Post will overlap the production phase. For example, once an animated scene has been cleaned up and scanned into the computer it moves, technically, into post-production. To wait until all scenes in an episode were finalized before beginning Post would cripple a production flow and extend the schedule needlessly.

The Post phase is the most technical production-wise. As I mentioned in my first blog Whitestone Media is a “tradigital” studio; both traditional and digital. Post is where we mostly handle the digital in tradigital.

Let’s begin our discussion with Ink and Paint. Inking, first.

INKING

Back in the Old School days (1920s - 60s), once a scene was completed by the animator and cleanup artist it was hand-inked onto clear celluloid sheets (cels) with brush and pen, usually by someone with a keen eye and very steady hands. What I mean by this is that a blank cel was placed over an animation drawing and traced by the inker, using a black ink line for the entire character. This inking might also been done in what was called a “self-color” line. The self-color lines were chosen to match, accent or compliment, the various colors of a character––skin and hair tones, clothing, etc. Very time consuming, very expensive.

Very beautiful!

All of Disney’s early feature films (until 1961) were done this way, as were many of the Warner Brothers, MGM and Walter Lantz shorts (Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, etc.); however, the less expensive shorts were mostly hand-inked with a black line.

Still very expensive, still a classy look.

When Xerox arrived on the scene in 1960 with the Disney theatrical short Goliath II, and then in 1961 with the theatrical film 101 Dalmatians, most hand inking went out the door. Using Xerox, the drawings were copied onto a cel with a fraction of the time and cost. The animators liked this approach, because their actual pencil line work––the life of the line––was preserved on the cel; whereas the hand-inked line approach was, of course, second generation and very clean. 

Today, for our Theo production, we actually have the best of both worlds available to us. Not only can we maintain the life of the animator’s actual pencil line, but we can do so using the self-color approach, without losing a generation. I love the look and feel––the richness––of the old self-line approach and insisted that Theo be treated this way. Next time you watch a Theo episode study the lines of the different characters, and you will see what I mean. You will get a glimpse of this in the Theo character shown here.

Belfry with Self Color and Black lines

We can achieve this self-line look because of available computer programs like Toon Boom, and the computer wizardry of my Technical Director (Brandon Joens) and his crew. It still costs more than if we went with a solid black computer-generated line, but the more natural self-line look was worth it. Don’t ask me how these guys do what they do––probably because whenever Brandon wants to give me a tutorial I’m usually hiding under my desk.

So much for line work, now onto cel painting. 

CEL PAINTING

Again, back in the Old Days, once a drawing was inked or Xeroxed onto a cel, it went to a cel painter. As a point of interest (to me anyway), my very first job in the industry, while taking an animation night class, was that of a cel painter at the Hanna Barbera studio. The job is usually handled by women (I hope this doesn’t sound sexist). They’re just better at it than men! When I worked as a cel painter there were 3 of us guys and 150 women. It’s a tedious job. Women have the patience and dexterity to do it well, and my hat’s off to them.

Ink and Painter

Once a cel painter received a scene full of celluloid drawings, she (or he) turned each one over and, using a cel-vinyl paint, painted (or floated) the colors into place––kind of upside down painting-by-the-numbers––then placed them on a shelf to dry. This process is now completely handled in the computer.

Nowadays a pencil-on-paper drawing is scanned into the computer. It is then cleaned up in Photoshop; that is, any lead smudges, or imperfections on the paper itself are digitally washed away. Once a scene is cleaned up it is dropped into the Toon Boom program and “vectorized” (don’t ask me what this means). Once all of the drawings in a scene are vectorized, the scene is ready for the digital painter. Zip, bam, boom. Done! Techie talk for it takes about 1/10th the amount of time as it did in the Fred and Barney era.

Very sad for the loss of jobs, but in this case the computer does it faster, less expensively, and without loss to quality. Hard to compete with that. 

The next phase in Post is Compositing. 

COMPOSITING

I never cease to be amazed at what the compositor can do today. Once a scene has been digitally “inked and painted” it is composited (or married) to the appropriate BG, which has been digitally “painted” in After Effects. At this point the compositor adds shadows and highlights onto the animated character, as well as what are called “drop shadows” beneath the character’s feet, planting it to the BG. This gives the character a real 3D look and feel, adding verisimilitude (techno term for “Man, that looks cool!) to the scene.

The compositor can also give a scene a real depth of field. If a character is walking in the scene with the BG panning (moving) behind him, the compositor can create a simulated parallax effect. What do I mean by this?

Multi-Plane

Imagine you are looking out the window of a car as you are zipping along the highway. Objects in the foreground––telephone poles, cows, trees, hitchhikers, appear to be moving faster than objects in the distance, don’t they? In reality they are moving past your eyes at the same speed. This is called the parallax effect. Today we can create this in After Effects. In 1937 Walt Disney’s William Garity and Ub Iwerks developed what was called a multi-plane camera, with several levels on which drawings, overlay paintings were placed, to help create a sense of depth and parallax. It took several technicians to operate it, but it created a cool verisimilitude. Check out the opening scene in Pinocchio to see what I mean.

For Theo we have used this parallax effect in several scenes throughout the series. The one shown here (photo A) shows the scene from the viewer’s point of view. This is a still photo, of course, so you don’t actually see the parallax effect in motion. However, we have provided a behind-the-scene look (or “behind the curtain,” as Brandon likes to say) at the many levels that are composited together, each moving at a different speed, to make this effect happen (photo B).

Parallax Flat Parallax Behind

Finally, the compositor will color balance the scene/scenes, so that the picture, color-wise, all works together smoothly. Also, he can make scenes darker, lighter, moodier––whatever––and really “plus” the episode.

Now for the icing on the cake––Music and Effects

MUSIC COMPOSING

At the point when every scene in the episode has been composited and given a final edit by the director, the film is “locked down;” that is, it is finished/completed to the frame and won’t be added to or subtracted from. At this point the picture will be uploaded to our music composer.

In the case of a television series, a music composer will write several music cues––dramatic music, spooky music, happy music, traveling music, etc––and build a music library. A music editor will then select a particular cue to fit a scene or sequence, drawing from the library. This helps control cost, and is time efficient. But it is not action or scene specific. Next time you watch a modern cartoon (or live-action TV sitcom or dramatic series for that matter), you will hear music cues being used and reused. The process works, of course, much as a mass-produced piece of furniture works, but there is nothing like the quality of a handmade piece of furniture.

A musical score is the handmade approach. More expensive, but what a difference! Feature films are usually scored; that is, a composer will write music specific to the picture. No libraries.

The old Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons were scored back in the golden age of cartoons. One of the great composers was a man by the name of Carl Stalling, who worked for several of the big studios. Carl would score to picture, sometimes using musical instruments to accent a comedic moment, or to give a particular character a “signature” music theme. If you ever watch Disney’s Peter and the Wolf, you will see––rather hear––what I mean. This is the kind of approach I wanted with Theo. Each episode of Theo is individually scored to picture. There are no Theo music libraries. 

We are blessed to have John Sponsler work with us.

John Sponsler

John is a brilliant film composer who has worked with Hans Zimmer on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and many other television series and films. He is also very Kingdom-minded, and has made himself available to write the score for every Theo episode. Next time you watch an episode turn up the volume and look away from the picture. There are several episodes, particularly in the Shoebox Bible Theatre sections, that are so moving that they bring tears to my eyes.

SOUND EFFECTS

Once the score is completed we send the episode to our sound man who adds sound effects (SFX) to the picture. We wait until our music is completed, because John Sponsler might have treated a moment on the screen with a musical effect, made by an instrument––woodwind, percussion, horn, etc––as Carl Stalling often did.

SFX come in two categories––effects and foley.

FOLEY

Foley (named after Jack Foley, who worked back in the silent film era) covers sounds like footfalls or doors opening, usually taped in a foley studio by a guy actually opening doors or making footfalls. Foley effects give necessary weight and sound to a scene. The old piano falling ten stories ending with a horrendous crash? You guessed it, foley! The helmet scooting over the floor in Theo’s “Armor of God” episode (God’s Grace)? Foley! The effect was created by our sound man, Brad Brock, in his foley studio, by sliding a pale over the floor. Not funny, per se, but without it the scene would be dead, sound wise.

EFFECTS

The other category of SFX is simply called effects. Effects accent the cartoon scene with sounds that are funny to listen to. They give a cartoon comedic punch. It’s the effects that make us laugh.

For example, an animated scene––say, the bulldog biting the bad guy on the fanny in our episode on “Salvation” (God’s Heart)––is funny to watch by itself. But when a wacky effects editor like Brad enters the scene, and adds the old “Bone-bite” effect to the precise moment, I guarantee it will evoke a belly laugh.

There are other scenes, like the swarm of bees attacking Luther at the end of the episode in “What is the Church” (God’s Truth), that utilize several layers of effects piled (layered) onto each other to create a specific sound. The sound I wanted was something like that of a WW2 fighter plane strafing a target (I know, I’m weird). Rising to the occasion, Brad combined the effects of various machine guns, jack hammers, buzz saws and who-knows-what-else, to create a very funny sound. Throughout the sequence the bees, shaped like an huge arrow, give Luther his just dues on his fanny as he runs away from the camera. (see photo) I can’t watch that sequence without laughing out loud (LOL to you social media users).

Luther and Bees

THE MIX

Finally, the last element of Post takes place in the Mix. Brad also does our mixing for us. He has worked as a professional mixer and sound guy in the cartoon industry for years (go to the IMDB site and check out his nearly interminable list of credits).

The job of the mixer is to “mix” or balance the various sound track levels––dialogue, music and SFX––so that everything sounds good and proper. For example, if the music is played too loud over a dialogue scene, then we won’t hear what the character is saying. Not good. Similarly, if a dramatic music score is played too low, we could lose the emotional underpinnings of the scene. Bummer. If a sound effect is played too high or low, then we may lose the scene’s comedic intent.

This brings me to tears.

And there you have it––the broad strokes, at least, of what goes into the making of a Theo episode. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I will address the making of our Shoebox Bible Theatre (the Bible story sequence) in a future blog. For now, this should suffice to either whet your appetite for a more detailed look into animation production, or cause you to run out of the room with your hair on fire!

God’s best,

Mike

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