Heaven is for Real

Over the last week or two, I’ve read several online articles from pastors that I esteem about the new movie Heaven is for Real. Each one seemed to be a warning of some sort about the movie and advising against seeing it.

I had read the book after its release a few years ago because a number of my daughter’s friends were reading it and she wanted to read it. I figured it was probably fairly benign — if it wasn’t accurate, it probably wasn’t harmful — but I did want to read it myself. It happened to be around the time of the death of a close friend of ours when I was also reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn and thinking about heaven more. 

While I realized the book was written quite simply and might not be true (though I found myself wanting to believe that a “pastor” is telling the truth, but also realizing that a not-quite 4 year old can be into make believe and perhaps there could be many other explanations), the book, combined with Randy Alcorn’s book which is far more biblical, did make me think bigger thoughts of heaven and wonder more about heaven in a way I had not before.

However, I will tell you this. Before I ever read it, I knew heaven is for real because I have God’s Word, the Bible. I knew without a doubt where my friend Jeff was because he had trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation from his sins, had accepted God’s free gift of grace, and had followed Jesus. I also knew how we have access to heaven – through faith in Jesus Christ, His death on the cross and resurrection, not because of any works that we can do.

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been studying Galatians which gives us the true gospel of God, the gospel of grace. There is no ambivalence about its truth. We see the apostle Paul writing to the Galatians because they are turning away from the gospel as others are trying to pervert it. Paul is bold to speak the truth because he recognizes his own salvation and apostleship and this gospel are all from God, not man, and Paul is therefore God’s “bondservant,” living to please God, not man.

In Galatians, we see Paul (formerly “Saul”) recount the story of his life and dramatic conversion. The one who had persecuted the Christians would become the one persecuted. This gospel truth was worth living and dying for, worth being bold to speak about and to warn against false gospels, gospels that add or take away from the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was with all of these things in my mind as I considered seeing the movie Heaven is for Real. Because my daughter had the day off school yesterday, she wanted to do something fun together and suggested the movie. As before with the book, I didn’t expect it would be harmful — if this child’s account was not true, it might be encouraging in some way.

However, whatever truth the book may have held, it all seemed lost in this movie. I realize we can’t expect a movie to necessarily give a clear gospel presentation, but if you are going to tell about heaven, shouldn’t you tell the true way to get there? The fact that the movie gave another gospel is what was so distressing to me.

Church was about hearing a homily or some good thoughts from the pastor whose faith was unsure and uncertain. The pastor was shaken by the thought that his son might have gone to heaven as though the thought of heaven prior to that wasn’t even real to him! We see him reassuring a woman that her older son who had died would be in heaven because of love. Really? Was Jesus’ death on the cross unnecessary? Are we left wondering how we can get to heaven with no assurance more than love?

Toward the end of the movie, the church service becomes all about the story of the boy going to heaven. What is church? What is true worship of Jesus Christ? This movie did not give you glimpses of that. A holy God, a sinful people, a Savior – Jesus, Son of God, fully God, fully man – coming to die for our sins, His death and resurrection that we just celebrated this weekend. Salvation through faith in Jesus, and true worship of Him! All of it missing from this!

Suddenly, this all seemed completely unbelievable. I wanted to stand to my feet at the end of the movie and tell everyone not to believe it! There is a way to heaven, and it is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

We have the living Word of God to show us the way. We don’t need a young boy’s unreliable word from a near death (not even death) experience. It could nonetheless be encouraging perhaps if it could be confirmed as truth, but this movie does not match God’s Word, which is reliable and true.

Before seeing the movie, I wanted to think it would at least be an encouraging, uplifting kind of thing, if nothing else. But it wasn’t. Jesus was not exalted in this movie. As our pastor says in his book No Other Gospel, “God has designed things to exalt his Son at the cross. Any gospel that doesn’t center on the cross of Jesus Christ is not truly God-centered.” We didn’t see Christ exalted. How can heaven be considered without Christ?

Praise God this morning for pastors who preach the Bible and the true gospel of God, for churches that are gospel-centered and Christ-centered, for pastors willing to warn us and direct us by the Word of God! I left the movie realizing with sadness how many churches are lacking in this, giving warm thoughts, feel good thoughts, things humans might want to hear, but not teaching the Word. I was also sad thinking how easily people are led astray and turn aside to other things that sound good or to things that “tickle the ears.”

Millions of copies of this book sold. People eating it up. But what of the Word of God? Let that inform us, teach us, be the thing we measure other things against. Study it, know it, believe it. It is reliable and true. By faith in Jesus, through His finished work on the cross, His death and resurrection, we have life, both now and eternally. That’s a message that should excite us, bring us to our knees in worship, and one we want to share with others.

Journey to Joy

I wrote in my last post about moving from complacency to joy. It brought to mind the book I’m reading now. It’s actually a new book, Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent, that’s being released officially on April 30.

Our pastor preached through the Psalms of Ascent in early 2011, and this book was based on that series. It’s 15 chapters that walk through the 15 Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) as 15 steps on a journey to joy. Not only does it provide meaningful commentary on each psalm, but it also gives practical application for much of what we face in daily life, from when we need help or face injustice or are looking for peace. The book gives insight into family life and church life and touches on all kinds of practical matters in life, taking us to God to find true joy and meaning for it all. This book would be great to use for a Bible study or to give to a friend.

I can so highly recommend it because of the work God did in my life through hearing the sermon series two years ago. Week by week, the Lord used these psalms to walk me through a time of transition in my life. It was actually quite extraordinary how God used these messages to speak to my heart and so directly to my present circumstances. You don’t have to be sensing a lack of joy in your life to enjoy this book. It’s beneficial for anyone and has a very devotional quality about it. I’m personally being challenged and encouraged again as I read through it.

Through today, you can take advantage of a great deal on the Kindle edition which is only 99 cents!

Learn more at www.thejourneytojoy.org.

Spring Break and Easter

We had a wonderful Spring Break! My friend who lost her husband to cancer last year came to visit with her two daughters. We took the girls downtown to a hotel with an American Girl package. Our three girls had so much fun shopping, swimming, eating Chicago pizza, and spending time together. Then they came out and spent a couple of nights here. It was such a relaxing few days!

Thankfully, my daughter ended a weeklong fever virus a couple of days before they came! I was so thankful we were all well to enjoy the visit.

Easter was wonderful at our church. The Good Friday and Easter services are always such special ones, definitely my favorites of the year, and it’s always amazing to end Easter singing In Christ Alone and the Hallelujah Chorus! It was a special day, too, with family, and I’ve been so happy to have my mom here this year for days like these.

Easter Sunday

I’ve had lots of ideas for blog posts, but am keeping this one simple tonight. I’ll just give a couple of books I’ve been reading.

I read this book last week in less than 24 hours. I knew it would be a quick read and something I would enjoy. I actually bought it for my daughter after we heard about Katie Davis’ ministry at a girls’ conference a few weeks back. I’m not sure what words would even accurately capture it: inspiring? challenging? It was exactly what I expected, and I was blessed by her story.

I’m also reading now Carolyn Mahaney’s book Feminine Appeal which was a “book of the month” at church last month. I didn’t know what to expect, and I sometimes pre-judge a book like this thinking I won’t like it. So far, I’ve been surprised by her straightforward, simple encouragement from Titus 2. She’s stating some things that I suppose should be fairly obvious, but to be honest, things I’ve lacked a vision for in my life (a mentoring relationship, mentoring others, etc.)

I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night (do you ever wake up anxious for no reason?), so I came downstairs to pray and read. At the end of praying, I was about to go back to bed but checked Facebook. Do I really need to do that at 3:00 a.m.? But I saw a post from a friend that linked to a blog of a Christian woman writing about Titus 2, the exact same verses I read about in Mahaney’s book before I went to bed last night.

Since I don’t believe in coincidence, I’m memorizing Titus 2:3-5 now, and I’ll continue to pursue some of this reading and the new thoughts that are flowing through my mind. So with that, I may go read a bit before bed.

Titus 2:3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

2012 Reading

I thought I’d track some of my reading this year. It could serve as my motivation to read good things that I could enjoy blogging about.

I must admit I think I only read two books in full in January, and they are not what I would have expected! In recent years, I’ve been inspired to read things that stretch me and grow me, that are intellectually challenging and full of rich ideas. This is part of the fruit of watching my children have a classical education and seeing the things they are learning and reading. Working in the school also encouraged me to be a lifelong learner as we would often read and discuss meaningful books amongst ourselves, be it about education or spiritual growth or culture, etc. I’ve also tried to read some classics like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I thoroughly enjoyed last year.

But this year started out differently with two easy and unexpected reads that don’t necessarily fit my above criteria. First, my son, along with every other 13 year old boy in America, I suspect, got this for Christmas, so I picked it up to see what he would be reading:

I was impressed by many things in the book, but particularly how Tebow has loved and respected his parents and has also had a desire to be himself, not having to be like anyone else, but free to use the gifts God has given him for His glory. I think there were a lot of things in this book that could serve as encouragements to young boys, as long as they don’t get discouraged that they won’t be a superstar quarterback!

Then my daughter got this book for Christmas, so I wanted to read it through, too:

I admit to being very skeptical, but I found the family to be seemingly very sound and believable. I don’t know that I could necessarily put confidence in all that was written, but what it did do was give me encouragement to think more about heaven, to imagine it in ways that I had never considered, and if nothing else, to see the power of prayer. It unexpectedly and positively impacted me.

A friend has asked me to read with her a biography on Amy Carmichael, so that is next up.

As long as I’m on the subject of books, another book I thoroughly enjoyed late last year (but let’s pretend it was in 2012 because I want to add it to this reading list) was Surprised by Oxford. It’s Carolyn Weber’s  conversion story that tells how she found faith at Oxford. I read it in less than a week and would highly recommend it!

I’m off to read a book on Jonah before bed. I stumbled upon this, and we had just studied Jonah last week at Women’s Bible Study at church. I can’t wait to see how this book reinforces the beauty of that short book that tells of Jonah’s resistance and God’s incredible mercy and love.