Friday, November 19, 2010

Counterfeit "heaven" stories deceive even Christians

They believe they really went to heaven, you believe they really went to heaven, but have you made any effort to compare what they said with scripture or are you uncritically trusting in your own emotional reaction?

Out-of-body experiences and experiences of "heaven" are fairly common these days -- seems we hear of one every few years at least. Now there's the story of Colton, a boy who had such an experience during a life-or-death surgery at the age of four, met family members he'd never known, including a sister his mother had miscarried although he'd known nothing about that, and saw "God" and "Jesus." He's now seven and talking about it to the press.

The most distressing thing about these reports, it seems to me, is that sometimes Christians believe them. There are usually plenty of signs that the experiences are bogus but what happens is that people become dazzled by the mere idea of being out-of-body or transported to another dimension.

Part of the experience may be the kind of out-of-body experience in which the person, lying unconscious on an operating table, finds himself above the scene looking down on it, can see himself unconscious, can see other people in the area and hear what they are saying. Afterward those other people report that the unconscious person's observations were correct, and what happens then is that others believe the story and think such details make the whole thing valid.

So then if during that same episode there is also an experience of going to "heaven," that is also believed. In this boy's case there are the apparently validating elements of his having talked to someone who claimed to be his sister that his mother had miscarried, and a great grandfather he had never met. Afterward his parents confirmed both stories. It turned out that the boy recognized a picture of the great grandfather when he was young though not when he was old, the idea being that "in heaven" everyone is young, and in the case of the sister his mother's miscarriage was confirmed by his parents.

I have the bad habit of spending time studying something, such as this phenomenon of visits to "heaven," only to leave it behind for something else so that when it reappears it catches me off guard and I'm surprised that anyone still takes it seriously. Years ago I was a member of a charismatic "parachurch" organization and heard the "testimony" of other members which usually include supernatural elements and in one case involved an experience of "heaven." I accepted these stories, including the one of heaven, but found over time that I had an increasing unease about much of what was being said, which finally came to such a pitch that I prayed for clarity and was then able to see the errors in them.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Clues to deception come to light when you pray
The credulity with which these stories are so easily accepted does have the effect of suppressing criticism, in spite of the fact that scripture counsels us to "test the spirits" and not be gullible. I was finally led to pray over my doubts and began to recognize deceptions that convinced me finally to leave the organization -- and the charismatic movement in general. The questions I was having were all about the supernatural experiences, including the experience of "heaven."

It had occurred as so many of them do, when she was very sick. She was taken out of her body and supposedly shown the throne room of heaven. She gave teachings to the group based on her experience, and the main tip-off to its counterfeit nature was her teaching on the "steps to the throne of grace." I hadn't questioned it when I heard it but when I prayed about it I saw that it contradicts the call in scripture to "come boldly to the throne of grace," instead of having to laboriously meet the requirements of a series of "steps" to get there.
Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Then other elements of the story also showed themselves to be counterfeit, although unfortunately I don't have any notes handy to remind me of them so I can't be very specific about them. As I recall, however, the Holy Spirit in this person's vision was reduced to an empty image rather than a Person, in the form of a corner of a great train that was part of the garment of God that "filled the throne room" -- a piece would break off and fall in the shape of a dove down to earth. I think imagery may be an important deceptive element in these experiences as it can mislead people into accepting a falsification of major doctrine, in this case the Trinity, by charming them with fascinating irrelevancies. That is, the common idea that "seeing is believing" is a perfect set-up for deception. There was also a part of this person's vision that involved pigs, which I think ought also to have been a tip-off but unfortunately that part is less clear in my memory than the reduction of the Holy Spirit to a piece of cloth.

These things are most likely demonic
Since everyone in the group accepted this story without criticism, including me until I prayed about it, I appreciate how easily even Christians are deceived by such demonic shenanigans. And that is without doubt what they are. I don't doubt that people have such experiences, and that they are REAL experiences, experiences of another dimension of spiritual reality, not hallucinations and not inventions of the human psyche, but I have learned to expect that they will turn out to be the work of demons.

In some cases there may be fraud involved, but there is no need to assume this as so many unbelievers do. For instance, Fox News has been ridiculed for accepting Colton's story so uncritically, and rightly so but for the wrong reasons. They are sure it must be fraud. Well, it COULD be, but there is no reason to assume that it is. On the surface it sounds more like other experiences along the same lines that have the marks of demonic manipulation. And there are the usual "test" elements, his meeting people he knew nothing about otherwise.

There is nothing beyond the powers of demons to convey such knowledge to a little boy, and nothing beyond their motives to deceive either. They can easily impersonate people. That's how the spirits of "dead people" appear in "haunted houses." They are demonic impersonations of the people who once lived there (people who were most likely actually possessed by the demons who now impersonate them). In Colton's case they also included in their deception false images of "God" -- visualized as so "big" he can hold the Earth in his hands, and of "Jesus" "whose smile lights up the heavens" and has "sea blue" eyes. What disgusting poppycock, but CHRISTIANS believe this pap? Colton himself doesn't even seem to believe it as he just rattles off the empty phrases by rote. Perhaps he actually experienced them and is simply tired of repeating it -- or maybe as some suggest it's a sign that it was made up and imposed on him. I don't know. His father is supposedly a pastor. A deceived pastor obviously. But whatever the source, the images of God and Jesus are ridiculously phony.

It's similar to what psychics practice
This is typical of the work of psychics too. Again, much of that may also be fraudulent but to the extent that there is reality to some of it the source of that reality is demonic activity. That is, psychics really can have knowledge of things that their clients know nothing about, OR can know things that ONLY the client knows, because demons convey the knowledge to them. I've wondered if sometimes there may also be a merely human psychic power that for some reason is developed in certain individuals and not others, but I think the most common cause is demonic intervention. This seems to have been the case with the "witch of Endor" who had a familiar spirit (a demon) who supplied the knowledge or perhaps even faked the appearance of a dead person to deceive her clients, just as all mediums have, but in the case of King Saul was pre-empted by the appearance of the REAL prophet Samuel, to her amazement and fear.

Some think a child is too innocent to be deceived by demons but this is a big mistake. Children are members of the fallen human race, after all, and may also inherit a special vulnerability to demonic activity through their fallen ancestors as well. They are in fact the perfect set-up for demonic deception because people do sentimentalize them as innocent. Satan and his demons have no scruples. They are out to deceive and kill and they have no tender feelings for humanity. There are many stories out there of people who had frightening experiences as children, of demonic beings that would visit them at night, shake their beds and do other frightening things. Demons do not leave children alone.

Sometimes special talents are imparted, even to children
There is another story about a four-year-old's visit to heaven, the story of Akiane Kramarik now a teenager, whose unusual talents as a painter and a poet she ascribes to that visit. Her experience and amazing talents convinced her own atheistic family of the reality of "God" and she has dedicated herself to bringing her message of "God" to the world.

Can demons impart such talents? Well, Akiane says she sometimes simply receives her poetry fully written as it were. This is the same way the channelers of the religious doctrines, A Course in Miracles, the Seth Books, Urantia, and the teachings of Rael, also received their messages. As for the painting, I once talked to a woman deeply involved in Hindu / New Age practices who was also an artist and created similarly impressive realistic images, in her case sculptures, a talent she also attributed to "God."

But the main problem with Akiane's art is that her message is New Age although people mistake it for Christian because it includes images of "Jesus." This is a romanticized "Jesus," just as Colton's "Jesus" is, a Jesus without the cross, a Jesus who didn't die for sin but just mushily "loves" everyone. She even believes and promotes the New Age lie about Jesus' supposed "lost years" in which they claim he went to India and was taught Hinduism. The truth is that Jesus grew up as a Jew, studying Torah in the Temple, learning carpentry from His earthly adoptive father Joseph. It is ridiculous to put Him in India instead, but that's what the demons who inspire New Age phony religion have done. ANYTHING TO DECEIVE, even deceive the very elect who aren't paying attention or who aren't well taught by their pastors.

Take it to the Bible with prayer
A place to start to recognize such deception may be the few Biblical reports of experiences of heaven and supernatural realities. Start with Paul's experience of visiting the "third heaven." He said it was unlawful to describe it -- there is a reverence for holy things in that attitude we simply do not find in any of the recent claims to have seen heaven. Then there is John who was taken up to the throne room of God, as he reports in Revelation chapter 4. He also saw the Lord Jesus in chapter 1, who gave him the messages to the seven churches before he was called up to heaven. Even encounters with true angels of God inspire awe and the impulse to worship from mere mortals because of their dazzling beauty and power, as both John and the prophets of the Old Testament attest. Encounters with the true God inspire even deeper awe, and a profound sense of personal sin and fear of judgment. Take a look at Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and more. There is NOTHING of this sort of feeling in the recent spate of out-of-body experiences. Instead we get the most casual of descriptions and a sort of breathless excitement over their mere supernatural unusualness. Or we get the nonsense of Shirley MacLaine who was taught through her encounters with otherworldly beings that SHE is "god." Oh brother. NonChristians who reject the Bible may fall for this demonic deception, but Christians should not. And yet some do.

"Christian" sources are guilty of promoting these lies
Here's an article on the popularity of books on these things which indicates how far Christians may be deceived by them and not warned by people who should warn them:

Interest continues to grow in afterlife books Written by Eric Tiansay
Tuesday, 19 October 2010 10:02 AM EDT

New offerings on heaven and hell titles target people 'fascinated' with eternal subjects

Publishers continue to release and market titles on the afterlife as interest on the topic show no signs of dying.
Sounds like they are willing to feed this continuing "interest" just because there is a market for it, quite apart from whether the books have any real value in a Christian life. Of course they must have rationalized the topic as having such value, although it's a pretty thin rationalization when examined in the light of scripture.

This month, Thomas Nelson releases Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. In the book, Burpo recounts the near-death experience of his 4-year-old son, Colton, who began surprising his parents with detailed accounts of Jesus, places described in the Scriptures and departed relatives, including meeting his sister in heaven—a girl lost in a miscarriage before he was born.
Got to comment here that Christians are called to faith in what scripture teaches us, and that includes knowing that Heaven is "for real" without having to have it experienced by anyone. Scripture gives us the story of Thomas who refused to believe what he was told by those who had seen the risen Christ and would only believe when he himself actually saw Him. Jesus graciously granted him that experience but when He did He also admonished him that it was more blessed to have believed the reports. That is an admonishment to all of us, to believe the testimony of God's word, including that story. Jesus also told a story about a rich man who died and went to Hell and begged to be allowed to come back long enough to warn his family of its reality, but Jesus answers him that if they hadn't believed Moses neither would they believe even someone who came back from the dead. Faith means having ears to hear, not seeing. And a pastor, Colton's father, ought himself to have recognized that immediately. Was he carried away by its being his own son who had the experience?

The book follows the July release by Tyndale House Publishers of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven—co-authored by Kevin Malarkey.
What a GREAT name for the author of such a story! The story is very sad, however, and it's doubly sad that the malarkey in it is being exploited.

The book details the story of Malarkey's 6-year-old son, Alex, whose skull was detached from his spinal column in a car accident. While comatose, the boy says that he experienced God's voice, otherworldly music and heaven's gates.

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven reached the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction best-seller list, with more than 97,000 copies in print after three printings already, Tyndale officials said.

Meanwhile, Bethany House Publishers/Baker Publishing Group released in May Ken Gire's Flight to Heaven, an account of Capt. Dale Black's near-death experience in a plane crash at age 19. Bethany House then followed that with the August release of Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife by James Garlow and Keith Wall—a collection of stories of the afterlife inspired by the pair's 2009 Bethany House release, Heaven and the Afterlife.

Elsewhere, Strang Book Group's Charisma House 2006 title, 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese, recently passed the 1 million mark in sales.
I have to admit that I'm more likely to believe an experience of Hell than of Heaven, just because it seems less likely to gloss over the danger faced by those who are not saved by Christ, but since I don't know what the book says I can't be sure its impact is what I imagine it to be, and the same rule applies anyway -- we are to believe God's word and not believe anyone's experience over that.

Matt Baugher, vice president and publisher of nonfiction for Thomas Nelson, told Christian Retailing that there are "surface similarities" between the two new books about two boys experiencing heaven, but they are "actually quite different."

"The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is more about a traumatic experience in the life of a family and trauma, which continues to this day because of Alex's ongoing physical struggles," Baugher said. "It's also more a book written for people who are already committed Christians. Heaven is for Real was written for a wide audience, and for those who are curious and yet unsure."
Are these really Christians who are saying such things? How can they be so gullible? Whatever happened to the authority of scripture and the admonition to walk by faith and not by sight?

He declined to say the number of the first printing for the book, but "it is significant." "We expect strong sales, and the buzz is already developing," Baugher said. "We expect the pass-along rate on this title to be very high."

Heaven is for Real features a tie-in with Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry—a 2006 Nelson book by Akiane Kramarik, a child prodigy who at age 8 had painted a picture of Christ. In Heaven is For Real, Burpo's son, Colton, detailed accounts of Jesus matches the portrait of Christ painted by Akiane.
Sigh. You don't think demons get together and compare notes? If they don't, at least they take orders from up the chain, and their superiors are going to concoct such similarities to deceive the gullible.

"To have another child who had actually been to heaven verify the accuracy of the portrait was astounding," Baugher said. "This connection sealed the deal for us as a company. Since we had published (Akiane's) book, we not only knew the family, but were partners in sharing their story. Akiane is now 16, and (along) with her parents, Mark and Foreli, (want) to help us with the continuing conversation about Christ."
OK, now I'm suspecting this isn't really even a Christian publishing company (I guess now I have to research it). This degree of gullibility is too much.

Meanwhile, a Spanish edition is in the works for The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, and a documentary DVD was released by Tyndale House in conjunction with the book.
Going to have a LOT to answer to God for there, Tyndale House, and all the rest of you, in misleading Christians, and worse, most likely misleading others away from Christ when you should be leading them TO Him.

"It's probably an overstatement to say that books about kids dying and going to heaven have become a trend," Tyndale Associate Publisher Janis Long Harris told Christian Retailing. "But it's clear that people are fascinated with and find comfort in the topic of heaven. We've certainly seen that here at Tyndale."
You should be pointing them to scripture for that comfort instead of leading them down the primrose path to this bogus "heaven" of mere experience and demonic plots.

Harris cited Randy Alcorn's Heaven, which has been through 17 printings, totalling more than 675,000 copies, since it was released in October 2004,

Joel Kneedler, a literary agent for Alive Communications, told Christian Retailing that he pitched Heaven is for Real to Nelson because he thought "it needed to be told." He added that both the book and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven "are remarkable and deserve to be told."

"I do not see a specific trend," he said. "Books about heaven have a way of comforting Christians and increasing our faith. It's natural to wonder about heaven, what it will be like, who we will meet. … I think Don Piper's book opened a door in the trade book market for books on heaven."

Following its release in 2004 by Revell/Baker Publishing Group, Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven was a mainstay for three years on the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction best-seller list. It has more than 4.5 million copies in print in softcover, Spanish, hardcover, audio and large-print editions.
Here is a gospel-centered review of Piper's book, and here is the crux of that review:

But what true, lasting assurance can we find in the dubious experiences of another mere human? Our assurance is to be in God and His promises through Scripture, not in man.

I do believe Don Piper is a sincere man and one who loves God. He seems to sincerely believe that he experienced heaven and has been called by God to share his experience with others. But I do not believe that he did see heaven. I cannot say what his experience was, whether it was purely psychological or whether it was even some type of demonic deception. What I do know is that the Scriptures are wholly sufficient for believers. We do not need to see or experience heaven in this life. Nor should we desire Don Piper’s heaven.

I see no reason to believe that God wants us to know more about heaven than He has revealed to us in His Word.

Christian Retailing concludes:

"God always has a message for us, but it seems right now it's about the hope we have in Him—the hope of heaven," Baugher said. "We've come to understand that many people have these near-death experiences, but not all get to see as much as Colton did. "
Again, how sad it is that Christians are so willing to abandon faith for sight -- which always sets us up for deception.

And why should we trust publishers either? Something comes to mind about the love of money ...

But since it is so hard to get anyone to listen to any of this who is enamored of these stories, I also have to comment on how sad it is that there are so many Christians who think Christians aren't supposed to judge one another on Christian doctrine, or judge whether someone is a Christian or not. Where is that in scripture? We are told we will judge angels, so much the more we are to judge true and false Christian doctrine. Christians accept others as Christians who are not Christians and show it in many ways, even in the grossest of false doctrine. This is SO sad. All one can do is pray that God will give light. But such basic gullibility also explains why there is no discernment about bogus visions of "heaven" as well.

Perhaps the worst thing about all this is the PRIDE these gullibles show who react indignantly against anyone who tries to set them straight. All they can do then is keep digging themselves further into deception and getting further from recognizing the truth. OK, best I not accuse people of pride or other attitudes that can't be proven. Maybe it isn't always pride, but just naivete. The problem is it's such a stubborn naivete that won't yield.