Yesterday, the movie "Heaven Is For Real" came out. Yesterday, I mentioned a video to see. If you are interested in more info, here is an article to read. You can find the original article HERE.
It's odd and troubling that the best-selling evangelical book of the past decade is a fanciful account of heaven spun from the imagination of a four-year-old boy. (Believe it or not, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Prayer of Jabez are both now more than a decade old.) Peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction is the current Next Big Thing in the world of evangelical publishing.
Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo, tells the story of Burpo's son, Colton, who says he visited heaven while anesthetized for an appendectomy at age 4. Colton, now 13, says in heaven he got a halo and real wings (though they were too small for his liking). He also claims he sat on Jesus' lap while the angels sang to him; he saw Mary standing beside Jesus' throne; and he met the Holy Spirit (who, according to Colton, is "kind of blue").
More than seven million copies of this book are now in circulation, and the publisher has been assembling a sizable catalogue of spin-off products, including a planned movie version (to be produced by televangelist/prosperity preacher T. D. Jakes).
That book is not to be confused with The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, by Kevin Malarkey—another runaway best-seller. Malarkey's book is about his son Alex, who at age 6 was nearly killed (and left permanently paralyzed) in a devastating automobile accident. In the immediate aftermath, and then during his rehabilitation, Alex says he made multiple trips to heaven and back.
The Malarkeys' version of heaven is considerably darker and not as full of details as the Burpos'. "There is a hole in outer Heaven," Alex says. "That hole goes to hell." The devil evidently uses this portal freely, because he is a major figure in Alex Malarkey's description of paradise. Alex says he has personally seen Satan many times, first at the accident scene and then later in heaven.
Indeed, this is perhaps the most vivid part of Alex Malarkey's whole account: "The devil's mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I've never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don't know about the color of the skin or robes—it's all just too scary to concentrate on these things!"
Those books are part of a burgeoning genre, currently one of the hottest trends in publishing: imaginative tales purporting to be eyewitness accounts of heaven and the afterlife. (Blogger Tim Challies has labeled the genre "Heaven Tourism," candidly dismissing one bestseller in the category as "pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity.")
Examples of these works include My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . .A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man's Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese; and many others. Several of these titles have appeared on various bestseller lists, and most of them are still riding high.
This is not a totally new phenomenon. Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie's Embraced by the Light was number one on theNew York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.
What's different about the current crop of afterlife testimonies is that they are being eagerly sought and relentlessly cranked out by evangelical publishers. They are bought and devoured by millions who would describe themselves as born-again Bible-believing Christians. Every book I have named in the above list comes from an ostensibly evangelical source. Many of them are old-guard mainstream ECPA publishers, not vanity presses or dilettantes from the charismatic fringe.
These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn't even be necessary. No true evangelical ought to be tempted to give such tales any credence whatsoever, no matter how popular they become. One major, obvious problem is that these books don't even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.
But the larger issue is one no authentic believer should miss: the whole premise behind every one of these books is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about heaven.
In an upcoming book dealing with this subject, John MacArthur says,
For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4). Answer:"No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.
Only four authors in all the Bible were blessed with visions of heaven and wrote about what they saw: the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, and the apostles Paul and John. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55). As Pastor MacArthur points out, all of these were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from the dead in the Old or New Testaments ever recorded for us what he or she experienced in heaven. That includes Lazarus, who spent four days in the grave.
Paul was caught up into heaven in an experience so vivid he said he didn't know whether he went there bodily or not, but he saw things that are unlawful to utter, so he gave no details. He covered the whole incident in just three verses (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
All three biblical writers who saw heaven and described their visions give comparatively sparse details, but they agree perfectly (Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1 and 10; Revelation 4-6). They don't agree with the Burpo-Malarkey version of heaven. Both their intonation and the details they highlight are markedly different. The biblical authors are all fixated on God's glory, which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God's holiness. Notably missing from all the biblical accounts are the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller lists.
Every week, I answer e-mails and inquiries from evangelicals who are confused by the barrage of afterlife travelogues. Why Christians who profess to believe the Bible would find these stories the least bit compelling is an utter mystery, but it is a sure sign that many in the evangelical movement have abandoned their evangelicalconvictions. Specifically, they have relinquished the principle of sola Scriptura and lost their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Why else would they turn from clear biblical teaching on heaven and seek an alternative view in mystical experiences that bear no resemblance to what Scripture tells us?
This trend away from biblical authority was even noted earlier this week by a secular reporter in The New York Post. Consider the implications of this quotation:
Lynn Vincent, who ghost-wrote "Heaven is for Real" on behalf of the young boy Colton Burpo and his father, said that she was initially reluctant to include Colton's description of people in heaven having wings. "If I put that people in Heaven have wings, orthodox Christians are going to think that the book is a hoax." She did and they didn't.
Evangelical readers' discernment skills are at an all-time low, and that is why books like these proliferate. Despite the high profile, high sales figures, and high dollar amounts Christian publishers can milk from a trend such as this, it doesn't bode well for the future of Christian publishing—or for the future of the evangelical movement.
Watch for an all-new edition of John MacArthur's classic book The Glory of Heaven coming from Crossway next spring. The book will include thorough critiques of Heaven Is for Real and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, plus extended evaluations of a few other bestsellers in the same vein. More importantly, it gives a thorough exposition of what Scripture teaches about heaven.
Spoiler alert: Heaven's a lot more glorious than any of these current bestsellers suggest.
There is a movie being released today that I would avoid and encourage you to avoid. It is called "Heaven Is For Real." Below is a short video about it - if you are interested in more information.
Here is a video by David Platt about these types of movies and books:
If you don't see the video above - go HERE to see the video.
Tomorrow, I will post an article about it.
Ok - that title is a bit strong, but close to how I feel.
Christian movies never win Oscars and it isn't because of prejudice or persecution. They don't win awards because they don't deserve to.
Christian movies for Christ-followers are often like family vacation photos. Everyone in the family loves reviewing them and talking about them. But if you invite a friend over to look at them - they might not tell you, but more than five-minutes of photo viewing and they are bored and they can't wait for the pain to stop. Christian movies are best for "insiders." Please don't invite your non-Christian friends. You just embarrass the family.
If you take away some Bible-themed movies ("Son of God" "Passion of the Christ") it seems that perhaps many feel that the "best" of the Christian movies in recent years are "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants." But I think only "insiders" really thought they were of good quality. Again, it is like our children. Only a parent thinks their child's junior high piano recital is worthy of Carnegie Hall. Others will be polite, but they won't be impressed.
I haven't seen "God's Not Dead" but it is coming out soon. My guess is - those who are already convinced (of Christianity) will love it. Those who aren't, will think it is unrealistic and corny. And too often, the already convinced just can't believe everyone doesn't love this movie. And they wrongly think that any unbeliever will see it and become convinced. No, they won't.
By the way - my mom worked for the company that made the "Thief in the Night" movies back in the 70s. If you grew up in a church like I did - you know what I'm talking about. It was "the" movie at every jr. high lock-in for years. Thousands were saved watching that movie. Some for the first time! I know my corny, Christian movies.
I often feel guilty about how I feel about Christian movies. Sometimes, I've felt unspiritual. What about you?
Last month NorthridgeServes.blogspot.com put out a blog post poverty in female headed households. I thought you might be interested in taking a look at it. If you are interested in subscribing to the Northridge Serves blog, you can register HERE. To see the original blog - check it out HERE.
Take a look at this chart created by the Rochester Area Community Foundation, Inc.
This chart shows the poverty rates for families with different characteristics, specifically highlighting female headed families (families with no husband present). Female headed families have the highest poverty rate in Rochester, where 64.2% of female headed families with children under 5 years old are poor. That’s an astounding number.
A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy can be said to have different risk factors that would push them towards abortion. One of the higher risk factors is finances. “I can’t afford to have this baby.” Another high risk factor is that her partner is threatening to leave her if she doesn’t get an abortion. “I can’t have this baby alone.” Couple these two fears together and the risk is huge. She doesn’t want to be part of the 64.2%. CompassCare works towards erasing the need for abortion by transforming a woman’s fear into confidence. Having this child doesn’t mean she has to be a part of the 64.2%. There’s help, and CompassCare helps each woman connect with the help she needs to carry her child to term.
Consider being a part of a MotherCare Team by mentoring her and adding to her support network, or consider any one of the opportunities found here: http://northridgeserves.com/compass/
According to the Correctional Association of New York, “80,000 children have a parent in a New York prison”. If the parent is the father, then there’s a high likelihood that his now female headed family is in poverty. The Good News Jail & Prison Ministry strives to meet the spiritual needs of both inmates and staff through ministry that includes evangelism, discipleship, and pastoral attention. In a place where their normal lives are disrupted, the Good News Jail ministry works towards meeting their spiritual poverty which often leads to a better way of life when they renter their families’ lives.
Consider taking a tour of the jail to learn more or consider any one of the other opportunities found here: http://northridgeserves.com/goodnews/
“Reentry is tough. Two-thirds of release prisoners will be arrested again within three years.” Grace House strives to provide men recently released from a correctional facility a smooth transition to community life by providing a residence of safety and structure, and equipping them with the life skills necessary to successfully complete parole. In a sense, Grace House picks up where the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry ends, adding both spiritual and physical help to these men. They help them re-engage with their families, prevent homelessness for the men and help prevent future criminal behavior- ending old cycles and equipping men to start new ones. At Grace House, only one-fifth of released prisoners will be arrested again.
Consider being a maintenance volunteer for any of the five houses used in the program or consider any of the other opportunities found here: http://northridgeserves.com/gh/
Email email@example.com to get involved.
Brenden Eich became the CEO of Mozilla on March 24. This week he resigned. And everyone seems to agree that it was because he donated $1000 to the Proposition 8 campaign in California. That was the campaign to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The proposition was passed but eventually overruled by the courts.
How far has our culture moved since 2008? In 2008, a majority of Californians agreed that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman. In 2014, it seems a CEO loses his job because he gave $1000 to the campaign.
And I'm nervous. I'm not nervous about persecution toward Christians. I'm nervous about Christian's response to the resignation of Eich. So here are some thoughts I would love all devoted Christ-followers on social media to consider:
Ultimately, I'm guessing that the way many Christians will respond to this will embarrass me. And I don't want to be thrown in with Christians who don't seem to believe that being persecuted is to be blessed by God and that we should expect it.
If we could just respond calmly, kindly, and with careful dialogue - I think we can easily win this "argument." But I'm guessing this is (or will soon) be exploding on social media and it will drive people like me into silence because making a difference is more important than making a point. And the Gospel is more important than any job.
We have started for home... It will just take a while to get there.
Here are the guys I've spent a lot of time with in Chad. From left to right: Mark Lamb (World Concern employee who lives in Seattle), Emmanuel (World Conern program director of Chad), me, Asshambur (our Muslim driver who we enjoy a lot), Anthanase (World Concern director of Chad), and Nate. All of us (except Anthanase) went to the field every day to visit Maramara.
This is the airport "terminal" at Goz Beida. :) It is just for UN flights.
With the luggage - Nate and Anthanase had to squeeze together in the back.
We will stay in the capital city tonight (N'Djamena) for our flight Tuesday morning.
We should be home Wednesday afternoon and on Sunday we will give you a video update of what we saw and experienced and what is next.
Thanks for your prayers!
On Sunday we went back to the church we were at six months ago.
I stopped by Saturday night to meet with the pastor. He was away last time I was here. This is the building empty. It is hard to believe that Sunday morning - over 360 adults will fit in here!
The service starts at 8:00AM to avoid the heat. It is tight and hot! It started at 8:00 AM and ended at 11:30 AM. I'm so Americanized - that felt long. Oh - and no, my sermon wasn't long.
Everyone goes to the front to give their offerings. Single file - one row at a time.
Emmanuel translated for me again. And WITH the translation - I was 25 minutes. I bet you are impressed and shocked.
After church - the women go out the back door and the men go out the side. And you greet every person then you get in the line so that by the end - everyone shakes everyone else's hand. Beyond the 360+ adults in the room and outside on benches (because it was full) - there were 150 children in the school buildings on the property.
This is what the outskirts of Goz Beida look like. We went to look at the one hospital in the entire region (22 regions in the entire country).
We also drove through town to look at the market.
It is quite an exciting place. And when we are the only white people in town (and almost the only vehicles driving) - it gets attention.
This is a common site. These are people from the refuge camp (a couple miles away). They come to get supplies and walk back to the camp.
And of course, one of my favorite scenes - the donkey parking lot! Hundreds of donkeys people brought when they came to the market. And people do pay to leave them here. This is about 100 yards from the gate to World Concern.
Tomorrow we begin to head home. It will take us about 58 hours from our first flight until we touch down in Rochester, NY.
For the third day we made a visit to Maramara. I have been surprised at how joyful the people are. They respond very differently than most Americans respond after losing all of their possessions. We might think "Well, they didn't own much." That is true, but it is all they had.
But they are full of thanks for the two months of provisions we have given and they are full of joy!
Here is a summary of today.
On the way out - the driver made an offer of friendship to Nate. After a brief negotiation, Nate asked if he could drive the vehicle. And our driver accepted and Nate drove for five or ten minutes - even through a wadi (dry river bed).
We have been there for three days and we have never seen the well not being used. People come from neighboring villages to use it. One mother told me that before the well - she used to have to go at night to get water because it took too much time to put buckets down and pull them out of their "well." It is so exciting to see them fill these jugs (that we gave them) with water in about a minute.
If you look at the photo above, you will see that the pump is up and she is ready to push it down with her weight.
And this photo shows when it is all the way down. You can fill one of these jugs in about a minute.
This is the way most babies are carried around. This woman was getting water. I saw the same type of situation for women building their homes.
I wish every single generous person from Northridge Church could come and experiencing using the well that has changed the lives of this village.
Nate has the ability to make friends in any culture and language. He was intentionally overexaggerating his well pumping to get the kids to laugh. And they did.
The bricks had to made quite a distance away (before they had a well). Then World Concern helped them transport the bricks to this place (right near where the school is being built).
I had a lot of fun with the children today. We will show a video of it at church. The village has over 400 children. It is mainly children who get the water. Probably it is still a cool novelty, but they are using the well and gathering water more than the women.
He was running around naked until his mom saw our cameras. Then he came back out with clothes on.
You've seen some footage of our "Go Pro" camera in previous videos. I leaned out the window to take a photo of it so you can see what it looks like.
This is us approaching the town of Goz Beida. Where the village only has "grass huts" - the town of Goz Beida is "advanced" in comparison. There is no electricity of course, but many people have generators.
More on our trip tomorrow...
We went back to the village on Friday. Here is a brief summary.
This sign indicates that a school is being built in Maramara in partnership with World Concern and Northridge Church.
The school is coming along quickly. They want to be done before the rainy season when all the builders will need to focus on planting.
I am standing at the school. To the left side of the photo you can see the well (approximately 500 yards away). Another 200 yards beyond the well you can see the village. So it isn't a long walk to the school. And it is certainly shorter than their former walks to the well used in the driest part of the year. The building on the right is for storing grain. Sadly, they weren't using it so most of their food burned (I will tell that story another time).
We had a chance to sit down with two of the same women we interviewed in October. We wanted to hear about the fire and about the difference the well has made in their lives.
Mark Lamb (from World Concern) taking photos of the kids and showing them. They love doing that!
It is amazing to see them working on rebuilding their homes! They have rebuilt several shelters and about ten homes (or perhaps ten households, I couldn't tell which they meant). One family can have several homes. The men have multiple wives and many, many children.
As they build their home - before they put on the walls - they let the kids use it as a swing-set. It is awesome to watch! They kids have so much joy!
You can see the black circle in the photo. That is where a house stood. In the far background you can see homes that we unaffected by the fire.
Our HighPoint ministry took photos of each service at High Point and many of them signed a letter. I read it to many of the children. They loved looking at the photos and were shocked that the children at our church knew who they were. This man (one of the village leaders) is thanking us again for the food that was distributed to them this week. It was an honor to represent Northridge Church to this village.
When the temperature is over 110 - shade is the place to be. Some of the men from the village sat in the shade near our World Concern vehicle just to get out of the sun.
The roads back to the village are interesting. We have to travel through many wadis (dry river beds). It is a very bumpy journey!!
Tomorrow (Saturday) we will head back to the village one more time.