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Archive for April, 2014

(This is the second and concluding part of an interview with Sony Studio Executive DeVon Franklin who was one of the producers of Heaven Is For Real.)

ImageDEVON FRANKLIN

At 5:30 a.m., this interview was Franklin’s second of the day. Why that’s important is because it speaks to the level of commitment he has for his job. If this were Saturday, it would be a different story because the Seventh Day Adventist preacher not only doesn’t give interviews on the Sabbath, he doesn’t conduct any studio affairs at all until after sundown. That speaks to the devotion he has for Jesus Christ.

Why both are important is that he feels no tension between his role as a minister of the gospel and his job in Hollywood. There is no secular/sacred dichotomy swirling around his head when he boards a plane to preach or when he sits down at his desk in what some Christians call, “Hollyrude.”

“It’s very satisfying to be a Christian in Hollywood,” he explains.”The Bible teaches me that my ultimate accountability is God. We’re touching millions of lives. The good news is that we take people back to the book [Heaven Is For Real] and The Bible and that’s what our intention was through this movie.”

In his earlier years, many urged Franklin to become a full-time minister. Instead, he felt led into the entertainment field. And it’s at the studio where he can comfortably don his preacher’s hat. Fellow workers know where he lands with regard to his faith and they will often talk to him about various concerns.

It’s with the same ease that he can be help drive projects like Heaven Is For Real. He doesn’t feel that mainstreaming the gospel has to always have a “bridge illustration” (a classic drawing that uses a cross as a bridge from a sinner to Christ and heaven).

Franklin points to a specific part in the movie where a poignant cemetery scene could have veered off into such a salvation cliche. While that may have appropriate in a different story, it didn’t fit in this case because the woman was already a Christian.

“She was grieving the death of her son and the pastor was dealing with the issue of resolving her anger with God,” Franklin says.”We didn’t want to put a message that was unauthentic to the message of the movie.

“There’s no qualification for films of faith that says if there’s no altar call, then it’s not true to the gospel,” he says. “There are films that simply deal with vice and virtue. It’s  all part of the faith experience. Our goal in Heaven Is For Real was to be true to the story.”

In the end, little Colton Burpo walks up to his pastor-father’s computer screen and identifies a painting of Jesus as the same Jesus he saw in heaven.

“The movie finishes with that portrait of Jesus with markers on His hands,” Franklin says. “It’s a confirmation that Jesus is alive.”

To Colton, it wasn’t  just because The Bible told him so.

BELOW: PASTOR BURPO (GREG KINNEAR)  AND GRIEVING MOTHER (MARGO MARTINDALE).

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(This is the first in a two-part series based on an interview with  Sony Studio Executive and a Heaven Is For Real Producer DeVon Franklin.)Image

There’s more than a little consternation in the Christian community about sticking to the evangelistic script of filmmaking. This school of thinking always drives the story home that sinners need a savior and that the movie must end in an altar call or else.

Putting an evangelistic sermon in front of a camera generally doesn’t make for a good movie. Heaven Is For Real put a story in front of that philosophy and the gospel was well served on account of that decision.

Helping to shape such judgments is Sony studio executive DeVon Franklin who was a producer on this movie. Before you think Hollywood sold anyone out in this project, please note that he is an ordained minister and he sees the either/or evangelistic argument as a false dichotomy.

“All of the parables of Jesus don’t end in an altar call,” Franklin says. “In Heaven Is For Real, the dilemma is not whether the father should believe in Christ, it’s whether he believes his son’s account of visiting heaven. Todd [the father] and most of the people in the story have already received Christ.”

So, while the movie lacks the standard line, “Receive Jesus as Lord and Savior,” it does go a long way toward touching a a couple of nerves that Christian and non-Christian audiences alike will relate to: life after death and faith under testing. 

The book and movie are based on the true story of a pastor’s four year-old son named Colton who said he went to heaven while nearly dying during an appendix operation.

Franklin said there was a bit of a lag in Colton’s story coming to life on the screen. It took a few years before the young boy’s experience was put into a book and then a few more years before the onset of the writing of the script, which was two years in the making. Moreover, the book is written in a more chronological fashion, whereas movies are usually constructed of a three-act story wherein the main character has to grow from point A to Point B by movie’s end in what is called a “character arc.” That role was given to the father, who genuinely questioned the validity of the little guy’s account.

“In real life,” Franklin explains, “Todd kept trying to trip his son up; to see if all his stories lined up as he was going through the process of asking, ‘Did my son really go to heaven?’ So the stereotype that a pastor should never doubt humanizes him all the more because everyone doubts at some point. We didn’t want a movie that was unauthentic to the message of the book. In the end, the skeptics are converted and the congregation’s dilemma is settled through the drama.”

That’s good story.

Yet, Franklin and his studio are also pragmatic.

“We needed a script that was appealing so that we could draw a good cast,” he says.

With the lead going to Greg Kinnear, that was accomplished, and then some. Having Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter Randall Wallace (Braveheart) on board didn’t hurt either.

In doing so, Franklin’s studio succeeded in mainstreaming a message while holding true to verifiable Christian convictions and the audience that appreciates those values.

With regard to the evangelistic vs. story debate, there is an almost humorous story in The Bible about a boy falling asleep during a sermon:

Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.” Act 20:9

Fortunately, this story ends well, although its moral may well be about keeping our audience engaged.

While some sermons (“On The Mount” excluded) don’t always make for good stories, a good story can make for a good sermon…especially if it’s for real.

BELOW: EYE-CATCHER CONNOR CORUM PLAYING COLTON, DIRECTOR RANDALL WALLACE MAKING EYE CONTACT AND THE REAL COLTON BURPO, NOW A TEEN. HIS SISTER SAYS, “HE IS NO ANGEL!” 

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Heaven Is For Real

The tiny disclaimer reveals a huge problem. “Do not use if imprinted safety seal under cap is broken or missing.”

In the greater Chicago area in 1982, a 12 year-old named Mary Kellerman died after taking Tylenol in a capsule form. This was when you could get into the bottle, remove a capsule, open it up and put poison in it, put the capsule back together again and put the cap back on the bottle. Shortly after, six others died. Over thirty years later, this tragic cyanide killing remains a mystery. One of the effects of the murders is that the sealing of bottles was changed forever.Image

It’s hard to conceive of one human doing this to another human. Think of it. The person had to come up with the idea, figure out how much poison would be enough to kill and plan a way of doing it without getting caught and live their life the rest of their days with a stone cold guilty conscience and never say a word. It’s all pretty sick. And our prisons are filled with those who do get caught.

On September 11, 2001, after years of grotesque planning, several jihadists caught flights that resulted in the 911 tragedy that forever changed the way we would travel.

Whether you’re taking a pill or being practically frisked in an airport security line, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that people are sinners. These reminders begin to fade and we become accustomed to the results of sin.[Note that you can barely read the warning on the side of the bottle.] We puncture the top of our sealed pill bottles and leave a couple of hours early for our flights and then succumb to being stripped darn near to our underwear in front of everyone at the airport.Image

Flash forward to a book and a movie called “Heaven Is For Real” in which a beautiful little boy with wide eyes begins to unveil his story about visiting heaven after nearly escaping death during an appendix operation. But even to his own parents, there is more than a slight air of disbelief.

We have become so used to the effects of sin that heaven doesn’t seem so real. The pollution of the human condition is what we accept as “real.” Folks in business are so wary of handshakes that lawyers have become their bodyguards and who do you know who really trusts the motivations of bureaucrats and politicians?

The encounters that the “Heaven Is For Real” boy reported line up with scripture’s description of heaven. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:3-5 

Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.…” John 14:1-3

No more sealed bottles. No more frisking. I thank God heaven is for real.

BELOW: LITTLE PRECURSORY SNAPSHOTS TO REMIND US:

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Good Friday.

Looking at my family’s fifty-plus-year-old home movies, I frequently notice one thing about my parents’ eyes. They see joy before them in the seven of us. They are consistently, and I dare say insistently, smiling. It rubbed off on the kids. We are all smiling.

It’s a comfort to look at these old films in light of my mom and dad going to be with The Lord some thirty years ago. When I review those clips, all I can think of is diapers, gas in the car, home mortgages, the checkbook and the food budget for a family of nine. I don’t know how they did it. 

It occurred to me that someone always “dies” for someone on this earth, even if to an orphan it’s the very act of the mom just giving birth and no more. Most have faired better. Most of us have had people who sacrificed for us. Even in baseball, players get to be the beneficiary of a “sacrifice bunt.” 

Although old Brownie Camera movies don’t have sound, I see how God wrote a speechless script through my parents, siblings, relatives and friends.

Who has died for you? Who put himself or herself second so you could be first?

Every once in a while, I hear someone claim that they had to make it on their own; that they are the proverbial “self-made man.” I never believe it. I think they are like history revisionists who rewrite the past to suit the currents of opinion. Someone, or some people if you’re really lucky, died that you might live.

So, the obvious question is: “Who are you dying for?” Usually, this is a moment-by-moment thing. At other times, it’s longer range. Why does death always precede life when we grew up thinking that death follows life? 

Scripture says that Jesus is life and that life is the light of men. He specifically came to show us that “giving is living and living is giving” – that’s the “as it is in heaven, let it be done on earth” of His teaching. No life really comes out of selfishness. Life breeds life and life always comes out of giving, always out of dying to ourselves.

Life only ends in death when one doesn’t believe in resurrection.

Whenever I want to see life in action, I’m going to be like a football coach and review the films. I’ll see the “joy that was before their eyes” has become the me, my siblings and all of our offspring a half century later who learned that life has been resurrected out of their respective deaths. What a witness!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross… Hebrews 12:2,3

BELOW: MY SMILING MOM, LUCY, HOLDING ME 57 YEARS AGO. ME, HOLDING MY GRANDKIDS, YESTERDAY. 

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It’s Easter week and we wake up to what looks like a white Christmas. Cold weather descended and frosted the already headless daffodils with white hair. Oh, how it seems that Spring will never make it this year. A record chill settled in our region and has refused to give in.

But before it was light enough to see the snow, the birds were louder than normal as if to tell Ole Man Winter to take a hike. Birds don’t know much about calendars, but what they do have is a confidence that Spring always trumps Winter.

So, perhaps we shouldn’t use the term “birdbrain” with derision for we were once told to deliberately “look at the birds of the air.”

Some of us aren’t the most confident people. We tend to look at circumstances. Others are worry warts. If there’s a future, there’s a list in their minds of what could go wrong. Still, others love to go into a day intending to break what ain’t broken due to some self-destructive stronghold or personal “black cloud” syndrome. And there are some who have had their hearts broken so many times that they have sadly set up shop in the silent cellar of self-defense for fear of not getting their hopes up. Maybe there are people who are an amalgamation of all of the above.

Scripture does not relate whether the birds were singing on Easter morning. My guess is that they were at their best. But the people were not. “They [the women going to the tomb] worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?” Mark 16:3

They probably couldn’t hear the birds. Their focus was on Winter’s grip on humanity or what was in the literal way of reaching Jesus. 

You know the rest of the story. Knowing theirs and all of our frailties, precious Jesus Christ rolls away not just the stone, but every doubt that plagues the human psyche.

Let us jerk our way approximately 1,950 years ahead to the Miami Orange Bowl. There are six seconds left on the clock and the “home town” crowd is already celebrating Boston College’s defeat when the clever quarterback Doug Flutie deliberately scrambles to buy some time for his receivers. Against all odds, he throws what has become known as the “Hail Mary” pass into 30 mph headwinds into the hands of Gerard Phelan for one of the most stunning and sudden turn-of-events endings in the history of American sports. Certainly, unbelievable happenings are meant to make us believe the unbelievable. 

Listen to what the quarterback says at the very end of the following video. Flutie couldn’t hear any birds singing over the roar of the crowd. But he must have had practice believing in the coming of Spring from being raised during his teen years outside of chilly Boston.

To watch the “Hail Mary,” copy and paste this You Tube video:      www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-qkpsygNYo

BELOW: DAY BEFORE STORM, DAY OF, BUT NOTE DETERMINED SUNRISE, FROSTED DAFFODILS AND SPROUT-LESS WISTERIA, SHIVERING POOL, UNDETERRED BIRDS, “.O1 CONFIDENCE.”

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Over the night there will be a blood red moon. According to CTV News:

“Early Tuesday morning, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow for the first time this year, visible across the Western Hemisphere from approximately 3 a.m. ET to 4:24 a.m. Experts predict that the moon will glow an eerie red-orange shade, a phenomenon astronomers call a “blood moon” or “hunter’s moon.” The color is caused by the light from sunsets and sunrises glinting off the surface of the Earth. As sun light bends around outer edges of the planet, the light beams into the Earth’s shadow, transforming the Moon into a rust-coloured orb. The effect is similar to that of the sun turning the clouds red or pink during a sunrise or sunset.”

No doubt many of you are scared of blood red moons because of these verses in The Bible: “The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” Joel 2:31 Also, “There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair. The whole Moon turned blood red.” Revelation 6:12

“The terrible day of the Lord…” Yeah, that’s pretty scary. Nobody ever feels perfectly prepared. Some know they are not living the lives they should. Others don’t have any idea whether God is terrible (The Judge) or great (Merciful). Still others have seen too many sic-fi movies.

Whatever does happen, God is one serious Dude. He has the power to bring it all to an end. Judging by our individual and collective behavior, it’s obvious that He’d be justified in being “terrible.”

The real point has nothing to do with the “when” of the great day. We need to hone in on the “Who.” If you’ve been a misbehaving kid and Dad is coming back from work, you might be more afraid if you hadn’t had some other experiences with him. But if you know him to be fair, just, forgiving and loving, you’ll be more at peace. If your room is clean and you helped Mom with the dishes, perhaps you’re looking forward to Dad shooting hoops and helping you with your homework.

My spiritual dad drilled into my head that we must always look at the “full” counsel of scripture. So, if you’ve seen too many sic-fi movies and read too little of The Bible, perhaps this next verse will give you a little more “full” counsel:

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.” Ephesians 1:3-10

Bingo! Those who receive Christ are the center of God’s attention, love and planning (which includes the “deepest heavens” which would include blood moons). There’s nothing wrong with a little fear. But when you really understand that Dad can’t wait to get home to see youBlood-Moon and that you’re the focus of his life, fear takes on a different light and a red moon reminds us of the color of His blood.

 

 

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“Heaven is For Real” is a book and movie about a four year-old boy who went to heaven, came back and described with impossible accuracy things he saw there and could not have made up, especially for his age. It has riveted a lot of attention on the prospect of the afterlife.

There is a fascination with heaven for most people. Yet, others believe that we live, die and are “eaten by worms.” There was an old song that Peggy Lee made famous that carried the fatalistic chorus, “Is that all there is, is that all there is, If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing, Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, If that’s all there is.”

It’s actually perilously close in some regard to attitudes that Jesus explored in a parable where He tells about the foolish man who builds big barns so he can store up cash, retire and just cruise through the remainder of his life. The little clinker in the man’s self-obsessive theory is that he dies the day after he makes these plans. (From Luke 12:19…  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’) Poor dude, didn’t even get a chance to “break out the booze.”

However, most people believe in heaven. But the bigger question has always been: “How is one able to enter heaven?” If you don’t want the real answer, check out the internet and you’ll get some great laughs. The only trouble is, some people will get steered down some very dark roads and I can tell you those paths lead to hell.

According to Jesus, He is the only way, the only truth and the only life. (John 14:6) In fact, eternity is described in such simple terms that no one could really claim a good excuse: Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

What? One Sentence? You’ve got to be kiddin’.

Actually, I think such simplicity is in keeping with God’s character because 2 Peter 3:9 also says that He wouldn’t want even one to perish. So, He made it as clear as He could.

Progressively, we move to the next question. If Jesus is the way, what does He require “in order to get in?”  If all that you have to do is believe in Jesus, then we really can break out the booze. Perhaps Jesus will join us! It’s pretty inviting to purchase a cheap ticket to salvation by saying that you believe in Jesus. “Well, then, sign me right up!”

One little problem: there is asterisk on the ticket that says we must obey His commands and receive His sacrifice on the cross. In other words, we must be “in Christ” and live like Him: “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

This is where many people get tripped up. They really believe that God is dumb enough to set up a system to get to heaven where all you have to do is believe in Him. Then, you can go your merry way and sin against Him and everyone else and you still get into heaven. BTW, scripture also says that the demons believe in God! (James 2:19)

We’ll continue this discussion on why it’s a law of heaven that no “unholy” thing can be in a holy place where a holy God resides. Would you have a beautiful white rug in your home and let everyone who had just been rolling around in mud to come in without getting “changed?”

Heaven is for real. It should fascinate us. It should also make us think a little deeper.

We’ll continue by exploring why heaven is exciting and who it’s centerpiece, Jesus Christ, is and how that can actually affect the way we live down here so we won’t be “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.”

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