Posts Tagged ‘heaven is for real’

(This is part of a series based on my interview with Heaven Is For Real Screenwriter and Director Randall Wallace of Braveheart, Secretariat, Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers fame.)


For me, there was an intensive three-year manhood program that was a stepping stone to my masculinity. Next was the long road to becoming a C.E.O. followed by an even scarier highway to Hollywood and Nashville. And now, as I age, the movie Heaven Is For Real has me thinking about the next step on my way to becoming a man after God’s own heart.

It was during those three years in the National Institute of Kingdom Manhood that I first figuratively met Heaven Is For Real screenwriter and director Randall Wallace. Or did I meet William Wallace of Braveheart notoriety? Perhaps it was a bit of both. Maybe it was some of me. Yes, on all accounts. That’s what Braveheart did for me. It pulled something out of me that I either feared or I had buried or was ignorant about or all of the above.

“Writers and artists have described [extracting a story] for over a 1,000 years,” Wallace said, “the Greeks have their concept of The Muse and the different Renaissance artists would say that the angels came and whispered to them. A story finds you, a story calls you out into something greater and deeper and you make the journey and you say to yourself, ‘This was in me all along and I didn’t know it.’ It’s that interplay of the divine voice that finds us and speaks to us and the way we answer that voice. You have to have both sides to have that conversation.”

The story of Braveheart, for example, came from a trip to Scotland in which Wallace was searching for his roots. He found his story in the legend/history of a namesake and Scottish hero and came back with a blockbuster in his heart.

“I didn’t write Braveheart for money,” he said. “I wrote it to express the kind of movie I wanted to see. Did I want a lot of people to respond to it? Sure, I had that hope but the biggest thing was, ‘Did it tell my story my way?’ ‘Did it tell the story I was made to tell?'”

And, because I had shared with Wallace what a profound effect it had on me, he said: “Braveheart helped heal and find a way through the battleground of your own heart. That’s what it is for me and that’s something I want to share.”

And then, he slipped and said, “William Wallace said…or what I wrote for him in Braveheart…” Yes, it’s that real for him. As a screenwriter and author, I know what it’s like to have your character live for you or for you to live through him. These stories and characters that come to us writers change us indeed. When we are moved, it’s only natural to want to share them with others, as if to say, “You gotta meet my friend. He’s amazing.”

I found that “story” that Wallace says comes to all of us. In his case, it was in Scotland. In my case, it was in San Diego as I was passing by a giant veteran’s park cross that was ordered down by a federal court. Both are David and Goliath tales which tend to be THE story of all of our lives. And this is the book and movie that came to me in the form of Gamaliel’s Advice, based on the true events surrounding the Mt. Soledad cross.

While Braveheart and William Wallace may be household names, “Kelli Peters” and “Robert Peters” are not. Kelli is the young heroine in my movie. Robert is her World War II grandfather. While I live through Robert’s sentiment, I cannot lay claim to having “veteran” status, especially of his kind. He is a composite character who fought at Iwo Jima. Robert Peters is also a combination of my first name and my Confirmation name of “Peter” – the disciple who had to go through quite a character arc himself in order to be the man who would help change the world.

Kelli is loosely based on the rock-solid character of my Marine-pilot niece and carries a perseverance throughout the screenplay that I could only hope to possess. Her nickname is “Never-Give-Up Kelli” and she never does in the movie and doesn’t in real life.

Kelli’s alter ego lived in my mind long before she became a Marine for she was just a girl when I began sketching out the plot. For 17 years, I had thought about characters that would do justice to the true story of the Mt. Soledad Veteran’s cross, the subject of the longest-running lawsuit of its kind in the history of the United States. Kelli and her composite grandfather came out of me or at least who I wanted to be. That’s the characters. And they must live to die.

That’s where the quote that Randall began to recite for his namesake comes in: “Every man dies, but not every man really lives,” says William Wallace in Braveheart. So if I must figuratively die so that this project lives, I will do so. I draw strength from the fictional “Never-Give-Up Kelli” and the real one, as well.

With my story, I literally received a cross to bear and almost two decades later, I could use a Simon of Cyrene to help me carry this burden of making my book into a movie. I am on the way. Yet, crosses usually include a long road.

If you would like to help shoulder the story of the Mt. Soledad veteran’s cross because like myself, the story has come to you, please contact us at norepcom@gmail.com or call 518-435-1250 and ask for Robert Peters…uh, I mean Robert LaCosta. Now I know how Randall feels about William Wallace, the character that helped bring me my brave heart – the very one that was needed to bring Robert and Kelli Peters to the big screen so that it can enlarge the heart of a nation.



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(This is Part 2 in a series on my interviews with Heaven Is For Real Screenwriter & Director Randall Wallace of Braveheart, Secretariat, Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers fame.)

Randall Wallace is a writer’s writer. That may mean different things to different people. To me, it’s a matter of being real. For example, in Heaven Is For Real, Wallace reaches for his general philosophy on faith and writes it into each scene like a movement in a symphony that takes his audience one melodic step nearer to his conclusion.

“My belief is that all people have the same relevant issues,” Wallace says. “We’re all dealing with the same crucial internal needs, the need to be connected with what truly matters, the need to be set free; that ultimate freedom comes from the belief that God’s love is what brought us into this world and God’s love will continue beyond this world.”

Heaven Is For Real certainly fits hand and glove with that concept. It’s so universal that it fits every man, woman and child, and, for Wallace, every script. It’s no wonder he was drawn to a story so poignant and yet so simple that “a child shall lead them,” as it states in Isaiah 11:6. This is literally the case in Heaven Is For Real because the true-story film centers on a four year-old boy named Colton who visits heaven while undergoing an appendix operation. In heaven, he sits on Jesus’ lap, meets and talks to relatives that he shouldn’t know about, sees pets and colors and hears angels sing – although they wouldn’t sing, “We Will Rock You.” The child does, in fact, lead an entire church and community into a confirmation that God loves and most certainly loves beyond this life.

For Wallace, Heaven Is For Real is a more literal work of his faith because it is blatantly about Christianity and the Christian view of heaven. But how does he write more general movies with Christian themes while avoiding universalism? Perhaps Solomon’s universalistic tone in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God sets “eternity in the heart of man” gives Wallace his intrinsic guidance for what some would call “crossover” art.

“God is bigger than my understanding of God,” Randall explains. “He is not impressed by our labels by ourselves. I see Christianity as a question of identity, that Jesus says, ‘Follow me.’ Our question is: ‘What does it mean to follow Jesus?’ When I look at the lives of all great people…there are times when they walked in darkness; people like C.S. Lewis who identified himself as an atheist for much of his life but he was still in the hands of God who was working on him. One of my favorite parables in The Bible is the passage where the father has two sons and tells them to go work in the field. One says he will but doesn’t and the other says he won’t but does. Which one did the will of his father? I like telling the stories that are not trying to convince someone to believe with the same understanding I have, but allows for someone to be open to the working of God in their life and the identity that God can bring to them.”

While little Colton helped adults step beyond their theology to conclude that heaven is for real, Wallace is helping many conclude that God is real right here on earth.






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(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.)


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.







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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.



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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.



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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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