Monday, September 14, 2015

The Review of "90 Minutes In Heaven" You Don't Need

At the end of August, I received an invitation to a private luncheon showing the film 90 Minutes In Heaven. The movie was free, and best of all the lunch was free. I was tempted to accept the offer, not because I actually want to see 90 Minutes In Heaven. I very much don't want to see it. And that's why I wanted to see it! A chance to offer a preemptive review of a bad movie with bad theology before it comes out? For a free lunch?! I'm there.

However, the lunch was on a Tuesday which is the day I help feed lunch to high school students and share with them the gospel. It's an opportunity that I treasure and I hate missing it. Thinking about accepting the invitation to see 90 Minutes In Heaven lasted for about as long as it took you to read that first paragraph. Then I declined. When it comes down to it, I know all I need to know to tell anyone why they should not bother seeing this movie...


1. It's a lie.
I'm going to present five reasons here about why someone doesn't need to see this movie, but the number one reason is enough. The whole premise behind 90 Minutes In Heaven is a lie. The author did not visit heaven, but he presents his tale as truth and the film is pitched as an "Incredible true story."

On January 18, 1989 (as it says in the trailer), author Don Piper (not John Piper), died in a car accident and went to heaven for, you guessed it, 90 minutes. There he saw everyone who preceded him in death, greeted first by his grandfather (apparently everyone who has an afterlife experience authenticates it as genuine by seeing a grandparent). Then he came back to write a bestseller about it.

I have Don's book. It's sitting in the heresy section of my study next to the Book of Mormon and Blue Like Jazz (John's books are on a completely different shelf). Despite the title, it doesn't have much to do with an afterlife experience. The account of Don's heavenly visit lasts all of fifteen pages. The book and the film are mostly about his journey of recovery from his accident.

If that's all this was about, I'm sure it would make a compelling and inspirational story. But the selling point is centered around the false notion that Don visited heaven. He didn't. I know he didn't because I read the Bible which says something completely different about heaven than what Don says it is (coming up in point 2).

Don's account of heaven is like that of every other American who's never been there: being greeted by dead friends and relatives, angel's wings, pearly gates, beautiful sights and sounds, time and space have no meaning, light everywhere, light and more light, increasing light, going towards the light, and incredible heavenly music (which gets its own chapter, pg 29 to 36).

And that's pretty much it. Don didn't see God. He wasn't even in his presence. He says, "If I had actually seen God, I would never have wanted to return. My feeling has been that once we're actually in God's presence, we will never return to earth again, because it will be empty and meaningless by comparison." (pg. 33)

So his theology about heaven is based entirely on "feeling," not at all grounded in truth. Not once in his 15 pages is the Bible ever quoted. Time and space have no meaning in Don's heaven, and apparently God's word doesn't either, though God has said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

Even if Don's story was true, and he actually visited heaven and came back to tell us about it, Jesus said that such stories have no credibility. If a person will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe someone who comes back from the dead (Luke 16:31).

2. It makes a mockery of the Bible.
The thing about books like 90 Minutes In Heaven, Heaven Is for Real, Flight to Heaven, The Boy Who Went to Heaven, Proof of Heaven, and other heaven-tourism tales is that experience trumps fact. The authors require their readers to accept whatever they have to say over what the Bible has to say.

I'm going to say that again another way because it is so important: The authors of books about visiting heaven and coming back are demanding that we take their word over the word of God. Therefore, a four-year-old boy (Colton Burpo, Heaven Is for Real) has more authority than the apostles themselves, on the beaten backs of whom Christ built his church (Ephesians 2:20).

A person who believes and eats up these kinds of stories believes in their heart that the Bible is merely a helpful guide but cannot hold a candle to experience. Experience is the real gospel.

John MacArthur confronts such heaven-tourism accounts in his book, The Glory of Heaven, where he says the following:
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.
Adds David Platt, "Four biblical authors had visions about heaven and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. All of them were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from the dead in the Old Testament or the New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven, including Lazarus who had a lot of time in a grave for four days."

Heaven is the place where God dwells in all of his magnificence and holiness, unabated in all his glory. When we read the biblical accounts of those who saw heaven, in the very presence of God they become terrified (Isaiah 6:5), fall on their faces (Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 1:17), or are silenced (2 Corinthians 12:4). They do not embrace friends and family members or have these self-gratifying experiences they can regale us with like they just returned from vacation.

Seriously, I don't see much of a difference between Don's account of heaven and the caricature of angels with halos sitting in the clouds playing their harps.

3. There will be no gospel.
The gospel is the message that God is reconciling all things to himself, in heaven and on earth, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the grave so we can know that in him, we are rescued from death and will live forever with God. No such message will be presented in this film.

While stumping for the movie, Don has said, "It's about learning to embrace the new normal and that's where people get hung up. People have to realize that you must turn your test into a testimony, and turn the pain into purpose." He said at one point he was angry with God, but heard God telling him, "Take the fist you are shaking at Me and open it to extend as a hand to others."

Turn your test into a testimony? Turn the pain into purpose? Turn your fist into an open hand? Ugh. It's the tired trend of the American pastor trying to be a motivational speaker. Though Don's testimony is peppered with mentions of "God" and "Jesus," his story is not about God. Don's ministry is about giving people the warm-fuzzies. It is not about winning lost souls.

The difference between a film like 90 Minutes In Heaven and the latest Pixar movie Inside Out (which I highly recommend, by the way) is that the latter incorporates real experiences into a work of fiction, while the former incorporates fictional experiences and presents them as truth. Both are feel-good movies. But Inside Out is honest in their approach while 90 Minutes In Heaven is not. (I can't believe I just said Disney was the less-exploitative one.)

Ephesians 4:15 says to speak the truth in love. If a person is lying, they are not loving, no matter how genuine their intentions. Even if Don saw something resembling heaven and he is convinced that what he saw was real, it's still a lie. He does not care enough for those he shepherds to test his experience against the Bible and know whether or not it lines up with God's word. Worse yet is he doesn't love God's word enough to test his experiences by it.

4. The acting is just terrible.
I know, this reason is a lot more subjective, but there's a point. The big-name star of this film is Hayden Christensen, most recognized as little orphan Annie Skywalker in Star Wars, Episodes II and III. If you've seen them, I doubt I need to comment on his acting chops. The actress playing his wife is Kate Bosworth whose most notable work is Superman Returns. "But Gabe, I happen to know you liked Superman Returns." I did. The acting was still terrible.

They're not in this movie to be professional. They're Hollywood names meant to draw in an audience. I was very disappointed to see Michael W. Smith was a part of this cast. Hey, I grew up a Smitty fan. I had hoped his presence in The Holy Ghost was just a fluke, like he didn't actually know the Wanderlust crew making that joke of a documentary were frauds. But you'd have to be irresponsibly naive to not know what 90 Minutes In Heaven was about before signing up for it.

Don't be fooled into thinking any movie is legit by the names of big stars, even if those stars are commonly associated with the Christian genre. The Bible tells us to test everything, clinging to what is good and doing away with what is not (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

5. If you buy a ticket, you're a sucker.
There is money to be made in heaven-tourism books, and business is a-boomin'. The best-selling Christian book of the last decade is Heaven Is for Real, which has sold over 10 million copies. Don's book, 90 Minutes In Heaven, has sold over 7 million copies. Both books have been made into movies and are now making money off of the movie-rights.

Someone could argue, "Wait, I heard that Giving Films, who produced 90 Minutes In Heaven, is giving 100 percent of profits to charities!" Sure, they probably are. But not Samuel Goldwyn, the film's distributor, or the actors or the screenwriter or anyone else behind this production. The only reason the movie got made was to bank off of the success of a false-teaching book about heaven.

Again, it doesn't matter how great anyone's intentions are. It doesn't matter how many lives they claim they've made a difference in. They could be building fresh water wells for poor families in Africa. It's noble work, but they're leading people to hell in the process by presenting something that claims to be greater than God's word.

Who goes to a movie to donate to charity? If that's important to you, then take it upon yourself to give to the charity that you feel led to give to. These filmmakers are just suckering you into a film. They play off of the sympathies of others first by making a movie about heaven that's not actually about heaven, then they double-down by announcing the proceeds go to charity.

It's all a con, orchestrated by the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). It has the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). The Apostle Paul wrote, "Avoid such people." Or in this case, avoid such films.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Don't Be Anxious, Be Thankful!

The following is a chapter from the book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean). You can pick up a copy here. Since we've been going through Philippians in the podcast (find the podcast player on the right), I decided to post this chapter...

Philippians 4:6
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (NIV)

Generally when you see an online list of the most searched-for verses, Philippians 4:6 is clumped together with verses 7 and 8. This being at the conclusion of the letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul brought to their attention the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon On the Mount: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

The ten verses in Matthew 6:25-34 are where we read Jesus' teaching about not worrying. The Lord cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. How much more will he also care for you? God knows what you need. We are to, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." If we seek God first, and we know that he will provide for us all things, there is no need for us to worry.

Worrying displays a lack of trust in God. Philippians 4:6 actually starts right in the middle of a sentence. By adding in the portion from verse 5, we get this: "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything." If we believe the Lord is in control, there's no reason to worry. Then when we pray, we can come to him with thanksgiving—not in a panic, which would display a lack of appreciation for God, thus hindering our prayers.

Thanksgiving is a full-on assault against worry. Anxiety cannot thrive when we have thankful hearts. There's not a letter Paul did not write without expressing or calling for some form of thanksgiving. It is the will of God in Christ Jesus for each of us to give thanks in all circumstances. It is the expression of a heart that is satisfied in its Creator and Savior for all things.

If we follow the instruction of verse 6, then we gain "the peace of God" mentioned in verse 7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Wow! A peace that "surpasses all understanding" guarding our hearts and minds. What's that like? Some of us can be so anxiety-laden that we can't even imagine such a feeling.

The "peace" being talked about here is not simply relaxation or being stress-free. That is certainly a blessing from God, but it's not the point. We're talking about a peace that is afforded to us only through Jesus Christ, and no other way. As New Testament scholar Leon Morris once said, "The peace the Christian enjoys has no existence in its own right; it is possible only because of the presence of the Lord."

Again, as mentioned earlier, it is rooted in the peace we have with God. Christ's death on the cross has appeased God's wrath which was burning against our sin and unrighteousness; our former selves before we came to Christ and the knowledge of his sacrifice. As it says in Colossians 1:20, he made "peace by the blood of his cross."

"Soteriology" is the word that's used to describe the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. Burk Parsons, editor of Tabletalk Magazine and co-pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel, has a great way of summarizing soteriology. He puts it, "Soteriology simplified: God saves us by himself, from himself, unto himself, for himself."

And in him, we have peace—peace from the world, peace from the future, peace from guilt and the burden of our sins, peace with God. It's an eternal peace. It's not something that will be here for the moment but tomorrow we're back to stressing again. It's a peace we will have always because we can be confident and assured of God's total deliverance and unrelenting faithfulness.

Because it is a peace that's eternally significant, it "surpasses all understanding." How can we possibly fathom such a peace with our finite minds? Understand it or not, the blessed assurance that results will "guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." As we read in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Therefore, let us put our hearts and minds, guarded in Christ, toward things that are pleasing to the Lord. Philippians 4:8 goes on to say, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Now, we could start going through examples of what we should put our minds toward and what we shouldn't. I often see Philippians 4:8 come out when someone starts talking about what television shows we shouldn't watch or the movies we shouldn't see or the music we shouldn't be listening to. Those sermons have their time and place.

For now, let's consider it this way: If we devote our hearts and minds to the good things of God, we are able to help others in cases of urgent need and keep ourselves from being unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Whatever inspires us to worship God and share his love with others, let that be our full investment. And the God of peace will be with us (Philippians 4:9).

Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
To whom? The Christians of the Philippian church.
What was the setting? Read aloud to the Philippian congregants who were likely meeting in the house of Lydia.
When did this happen? Approximately 62 A.D.
How did he say it? Through a letter.
Why did he say it? To encourage Christians to trust in Christ in any and all circumstances.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Yes, Kim Davis Is Being Persecuted

Kim Davis is the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. "On whose authority are you not issuing such marriage licenses?" she was asked by the media. "On God's authority," she replied. Same-sex marriage goes against the laws of nature, she clarified, which have been set by God and stated in his word, the Bible.

Yesterday, Judge David L. Bunning ruled that Davis was a dangerous criminal who needed to be put behind bars. After sentencing her to serve time in jail, cheers went up outside the court house, rainbow flags waved in the air, and gay men celebrated outside the clerk's office by making out. None of that was sensationalized or exaggerated. Davis was yelled at and spat upon as she was ushered past the crowd. "Love wins!" my foot.

Good thing we got this criminal off the streets and locked away. Amiright, folks?

Upon her sentencing, Judge Bunning said, "The idea of natural law superseding this court's authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed." Yes, he really said that. Expect Judge Bunning to rule next week against gravity, a law that sets a dangerous precedent.

Said Rachel Held Evans of the ruling, "No one's being jailed for practicing her religion. Someone's being jailed for using the government to force others to practice her religion." In case you're not familiar with her name, Evans claims to be a follower of Jesus.

But make no mistake: Kim Davis is being persecuted. She is being persecuted for being a follower of Jesus, and no other reason.

Folks, it has been said to us that this was coming. None of this should take us by surprise. We read in 2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." There's no "if" about it: by standing on godly principles, you will be persecuted for it, some even put in jail as Kim Davis has been.

Consider something shared by evangelist Paul Washer in the previous decade: "The church in America is going to suffer so terribly. We laugh now, but they will come after us and they will come after our children. They will close the net around us while we are playing soccer mom and soccer dad, while we are arguing over so many little things and mesmerized by so many little trinkets. The net even now is closing around you and your children and your grandchildren and it does not cause you to fear.

"You will be isolated from society as has already happened. Anyone who tries to run for office who actually believes the Bible will be considered a lunatic until finally we are silenced. We will be called things we are not and persecuted not for being followers of Christ but for being radical fundamentalists who do not know the true way of Christ which of course is 'love' and 'tolerance.' You'll go down as the greatest bigots and haters of mankind in history.

"They've already come after your children, and for most of you they got them. They got them through the public schools and indoctrination and the university and indoctrination and then you wonder why your children come out not serving the Lord. It's because you fed them right into the devil's mouth. So little by little the net is closing around, and then it's not little by little. Look how fast things are going downhill just in a matter of weeks.

"But at the same time, know this: Persecution is always meant for evil, but God always means it for good. And is it not better to suffer in this life to have an extra weight of glory in heaven? You must settle this in your mind, this is the one thing I want to say over and over.

"Down through history, you have a wrong idea of martyrdom and persecution. You think that these men were persecuted and martyred for their sincere faith in Jesus Christ. That was the real reason, but no one heard that publicly. They were martyred and they were persecuted as enemies of the state, as child molesters, as bigots, as narrow-minded stupid people who had fallen for a ruse and could contribute nothing to society.

"Your suffering will not be noble, so your mind must be filled with the word of God when all people persecute you and turn on you. And then the Spirit of God and common grace pulls back and you see even your children and grandchildren tossing in the lot that you should die. This is no game. You want revival and awakening, but know this: for the most part, great awakenings have come only preceding great national catastrophes of the persecution of the church.

"I believe God is bringing a great awakening, but I believe that he is raising up young men who are strong in trust in the providence of God to be able to wade through the hell that is going to break loose on us, and it will be on us before we can even recognize it -- unless, in God's providence, he is not done.

"This is not silly talk. Apart from a great awakening, these things are going to come upon you. Be ready to lose your homes and your cars and everything."

So you can stand on the side shouting down Kim Davis for "not doing her job." Or you can stand with Christ. A day will come when he will judge the living and the dead. Those who by the power of his Spirit remained obedient to his word, he will welcome into his eternal kingdom. But those who did not love his own and obey his word will be under the wrath of God, cast into eternal fire (Matthew 25:46, John 3:36).

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother or sister is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). Everyone who hates, as people are hating Kim Davis, even so-called Christians, is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15). Anyone who says "I love God" and hates a brother or sister is a liar. If he can't love a brother or sister whom he sees, he cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God. Whoever does evil has not seen God (3 John 1:11). Pray for Kim Davis. May we be as bold to follow the convictions of God as she is.

Oh, and in case the word of God has not been enough to convince you, though it should be, perhaps this will blow your mind: Kim Davis actually isn't breaking the law. She's an innocent woman, jailed though she has not even broken the law of the land.