Category: Updates

A Mind One Day Made New

One family’s story of coping with mental illness.

By: Connie Vandeman, daughter of the late George Vandeman, the founding Speaker/Director of It Is Written

vandeman coverThe March 11. 2002 Newsweek cover story, “The Schizophrenic Mind,” juxtaposes two faces of the disease. One, the very public face of Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children and two, the hidden face of John Nash, the man behind the movie A Beautiful Mind. An award winning movie and a famous murder trial have finally brought the tragic disease of schizophrenia to the public’s attention. For me, the disease has been a terrifying yet somehow inspiring reality for the past four decades.

My brother Ron has been suffering from schizophrenia, the chronic, paranoid variety, since age 21. He’s now 60 years old. Ron is the middle son of George and Nellie Vandeman; I’m their youngest child and only daughter. Since both of my parents have now passed away (George in November 2000 and Nellie in July 2001), I’ve prayerfully come to the decision to share Ron’s story. I think they would both agree, were they here, that his story will prove to be a blessing and a source of encouragement to families struggling with mental illness, particularly Christian families.

Schizophrenia remains one of the most tragic and mysterious mental illnesses. Its cause is largely unknown, and doctors and scientists cannot accurately predict who will contract the disease. Only one percent of the population suffers from schizophrenia, but that percentage translates into approximately 2.5 million Americans. The disease is no respecter of persons. It transcends economic status, religious beliefs, education, and the emotional stability of families.

Old notions held that poor parenting was to blame, with the finger of guilt pointed at the mother. I remember my mother sobbing, feeling that somehow she was to blame for Ron’s illness. However, it has been discovered that the disease is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s not the mother’s fault; it’s not the child’s upbringing; it’s not anybody’s fault. The neurons in Ron’s brain probably took a wrong turn during fetal development.

Why Ron? Why our family? I struggled with the “why” questions for years dealing with Ron’s illness. Now I’ve come to the comforting, life-changing acceptance of these three facts: my brother had a beautiful mind; he’s living with a tortured mind; but, thank God, his mind will be made beautiful once again.

At Andrea Yates’s murder trial, a doctor testified that she suffered from a combination of schizophrenia and depression when she killed her five children. John Nash, on the other hand, in the early stages of his illness developed his Nobel Prize-winning economic theory. Hence the great paradox of the disease. It can inspire great feats of creativity in one person while the voices, the psychic pressures, can drive another to commit murder.

The Family Secret

vandeman2Ron was a perfect child. I remember my mom telling me that. He was the perfect baby and almost never cried. He excelled in school. I remember her saying, in hindsight, that he was almost “too good.” Ron won the Columbia Union temperance oratorical contest when he was a student at Takoma Academy. He was popular, a vice president of his senior class. He was the son that my parents hoped for, and they dreamed would be the minister who followed in Dad’s footsteps. He “had it all”: good looks, charm, a beautiful Christian experience, and did I forget the p word? Yes, he was perfect!

The details of his breakdown and the subsequent journey over the next 40 years could fill a book (which I may write someday). Schizophrenia typically manifests itself in early adulthood and is triggered by a stressful event. For Ron, it was a complete nervous breakdown at age 21 while he was in college. My father flew to California to bring him back to our family home in Maryland, where our family embarked on a long, perilous journey into the unknown. Along the way there were small miracles, new treatments, major setbacks, amazing friends, and a loving church family. We kept his illness a secret for many years, except to our closest friends and my parents’ colleagues. It was at times embarrassing, horrifying, and baffling. And every morning and night, day in and day out, year after painful year, my parents’ prayers and the prayers of so many friends ascended to heaven for “Ron’s complete recovery.” Long before we knew the official diagnosis of his illness, we prayed for the miracle of God’s healing.

A Father Attacked

Along the way, Ron spent time at Wildwood Lifestyle Center in Georgia, at Harding Hospital in Ohio, in a variety of state hospitals for the mentally ill, and much of his time at home. During those years my father led the It Is Written television ministry, held evangelistic meetings, traveled worldwide, preached, and wrote books. My mother spent her time assisting Dad, raising me, and doing the thousand and one other things she did so well. All the while, all of us were also dealing with, living with, Ron’s disease. I was 7 years old when Dad brought my catatonic, broken-spirited brother home from California following his breakdown. I was 30 years old when Ron tried to kill my father.

On April 11, 1985, Dad nearly lost his life at the hands of his own son. It resulted in the most dramatic miracle in our family’s history. As a family, we never spoke of it publicly or wrote about it. Because of the publicity surrounding the event, my father alluded to the incident only briefly in his autobiography, My Dream. Yet in order to tell even a small part of my brother’s story, it’s too important of a miracle to omit.

There are a number of reasons I’ll never forget that April day. I had given birth to my son Craig just 16 days earlier. Craig, my husband, and I were scheduled for a photo shoot at the Thousand Oaks office of It Is Written on April 11. We had some wonderful pictures taken that morning. A favorite of the family is framed and sitting on my desk; it’s a group shot of my mom, my husband, Dad holding the baby, and me. Every time I look at that photo I’m reminded of God’s miraculous intervention. That picture could very well have been the last picture of my dad ever taken. The attack occurred just 30 minutes later.

Dad excused himself from the photo session to go home, a 10 minute drive from the office. He had promised to take Ron to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new ID card. Ron didn’t have a driver’s license, but he needed to carry an identification card. He had been living at home with my parents for a few weeks following a bout of hepatitis. He normally lived on his own in a small apartment in Glendale and took new medication for the treatment of his schizophrenia. We had all been pleased at how the new medicine seemed to control his behavior.

My mother decided to stay at the office and visit with my husband and me and play with her newest grandson. They had come in two cars, so Dad drove home alone. The baby began to get restless, and I wanted to get him home for a nap. We lived 30 miles away and left the office shortly after Dad left. My mother arrived home just 15 minutes after Dad.

The whole incident lasted only a few minutes. Dad parked the car in the driveway, opened the garage door, and dashed into the house to get Ron. As he entered the house, he called out for Ron to come out to the car; then Dad walked back out the door to get in the car. In hindsight, we all shudder to think what would have happened had he stayed in the house even a few more seconds. As he walked to the car, he felt a blow to the back of his head. Later he said he thought the garage door had fallen on him. The blows continued and propelled him into the street, where he ended up lying facedown in the gutter at the end of the driveway. Ron was on top of him, brandishing a six-inch knife from the kitchen.

At the exact moment that Dad was driving into his garage from the office, Harold Reiner was sitting at his computer in his home just a few blocks away. Instead of going to work in his office that day, he was working from home. Harold had been my father’s associate years before and was a close family friend who knew of Ron’s illness from its inception. As he was sitting in his study, he got a sudden overwhelming feeling that he should go to Radio Shack. He got up from his computer and, still in his bedroom slippers, went to get in his car. He didn’t even stop to put on his shoes. As he drove down his street to the intersection, he turned left instead of turning right, the shortest route to Radio Shack. When he drove by my parents’ home just a few seconds later, he saw Ron stabbing at Dad repeatedly in the gutter.

A Rescuer Sent by God

Harold later told us that strange things go through your mind during a crisis like this. He admits that he never would have physically intervened had he come upon two strangers. He would have called for help, but he wouldn’t have jumped out of his car and rushed to assist had he not known Ron and Dad. He remembers taking off his watch and throwing it back into his car. He doesn’t know exactly why he did that, except that it was a brand-new watch, and he didn’t want it to get scratched in the confrontation. It was as if the whole event were taking place in slow motion. The scene was chaotic and horrifying, yet Harold remained calm and had absolutely no fear. He pulled Ron off my father and ordered him to sit on the curb.

“I’ve just killed my dad,” Ron said.

“No, I don’t think you have, Ron,” Harold answered. “We’re going to have to get him some help.” Ron had always liked Harold. When Harold calmly instructed him to sit on the curb, he obeyed. Dad was in shock and bleeding from his back and face. Harold gently placed Dad in his car and returned to Ron. Together they went back into the house, and Harold called an ambulance. Ron wasn’t agitated. He just did whatever Harold asked him to do.

Ron told Harold that he was going to get a lot of money and run away to New York. Harold listened to him, placated him, and agreed with everything Ron said. He was given exactly the right words to say to keep him calm. Any other person would have been terrified in those circumstances, but Harold understood Ron’s illness and the “voices” that tormented his mind.

Just then Mom drove up to the house. When she arrived, police cars were already on the scene and an ambulance on the way. Harold gently asked her to go and be with Dad in his car. She understood in a horrifying instant what had happened, but she didn’t want to believe it. The police arrived and drew their guns. Harold spoke calmly and asked that they put the guns away. Ron would go with them peacefully, he told them. While an ambulance rushed Dad to Los Robles Medical Center, Harold was able to deal with the police and assist them in taking Ron into custody.

My father was released from the hospital after only two days. Miraculously, he had suffered only minor cuts and bruises on his face and back. The knife wound in his back had missed his vital organs by a fraction of an inch. Physically, he recovered in about two weeks. Emotionally, it took a while longer. Being assaulted by one’s own child remains one of the most unfathomable things to comprehend.

The Father’s Forgiveness

vandeman3Did Dad forgive Ron? Of course. He forgave him the instant it happened. In fact, Ron begged his forgiveness during Dad’s first visit to him in prison following the attack. Dad understood the nature of the chemical imbalance in Ron’s brain; he knew of the voices that tormented him. Another “cause” became clear when we discovered that Ron had stopped taking his medication for a number of weeks prior to April 11. Ron was taken to prison for a brief time, and he pleaded “no contest” to the charges filed by the state. He has resided in a halfway house in Ventura for the past 17 years and is back on the medication that helps to control his behavior. After 1985 he continued to see my parents several times a year, but always under supervision. One result of that fateful day was that my parents became even more cautious and aware of the potential for future violence. Nothing, however, diminished their love and capacity for forgiveness.

The story was splashed all over the local television news, with follow-up stories in the newspapers in the days ahead. All hope of keeping Ron’s illness a secret from the world ended that day. It’s still a painful story to relive, but God’s dramatic intervention that beautiful spring day makes it an important one to share.

We later discovered that Ron had been planning the attack on one or both of his parents for a couple of weeks. He had decided that April 11 was the day and that whoever walked into the house first, Mom or Dad or both, he would kill. Although it may seem strange to find things to be grateful for about that day, there were many small miracles that took place, culminating in the dramatic miracle of God’s deliverance. I’m thankful my mother stayed to visit with us at the office and went home those few minutes later. Ron was a large, six-foot-two-inch, 200-pound, 44-year-old man at the time. Dad’s walking in and then out so quickly forced him out to the street, where Harold could intervene. We all know that God impressed Harold to go to Radio Shack at that precise moment. Why Harold and not another good samaritan? He was the one person who knew Ron and exactly how to handle him.

Dad thanked Harold privately for his role in saving his life that day, and Harold, in his sweet, self-effacing way, gave all the credit to God. God was certainly not finished with my father yet. He had a brand-new grandson to watch grow up, and he had seven more wonderful soul-winning years with the It Is Written ministry. And his story didn’t end with his retirement. His contributions to the church and to his family were enormous. I thank God for the 16 additional years of his life; I thank God for using our dear friend Harold Reiner; and I thank God for the lessons I’ve learned from my schizophrenic brother.

Odd, maybe, to thank God for Ron’s illness. But I’m grateful for the compassion, understanding, and acceptance of the mentally ill that I’ve gained from my experience with Ron. I no longer expect or anticipate that he will be completely healed on this earth. His disease is being managed, and I’m grateful he is in a place well suited to deal with his special needs. I’m grateful that I no longer ask the “why” questions about Ron.

What I’m sure of is that my brother’s original “beautiful mind” will be made new once again, in that place where there will be no more evil “voices,” no need of medication, no pain, no fear, no uncertainty, no tears, no more tortured minds: Heaven!

_________________________

Note: Ron Vandeman was well enough to attend the funeral services for his father on November 12, 2000, and for his mother on July 28, 2001

Ron Vandeman passed away at the age of 68 – on April 5, 2010

Greetings from Bolivia!

Dear friends,

All is going well in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where teams of It Is Written partners are conducting five evangelistic meetings. In spite of the the expected minor technical/translator issues, everything is actually going exceptionally well. Thank you for your prayers. By the way, the mission informed us that they are expecting over 800 baptisms during this week. John and Robert are both conducting extremely successful evangelism caravans in diverse parts of the country.
Next week (yes, next week) John is starting (April 11) a month-long evangelistic series in Edmonton, Alberta. The pastors and church members have been hard at work preparing everything for opening night. More than 380,000 handbills are being mailed this weekend and coming week. In addition to that, our media director has arranged for the airwaves to be inundated with advertisement for the meetings. The church members are also presently inviting their friends and acquaintances to attend. Please pray that many people will decide to attend and hear the everlasting gospel.
The Edmonton project coordinator, shared with me an exceptional story today. One of our Bible workers received a phone call this morning as he was getting ready for the day. The person calling was a lady who indicated she was returning a missed call from his phone number. He told her that he had made no phone calls that morning and that she must be mistaken. However, just before hanging up he had an amazing inspiration. He asked the lady whether she’d been thinking about God that morning. She said YES. Immediately, he told her he was a Christian and wanted to share something very special from God. Thus, an arrangement was made for him to provide her with a Bible study lesson. And just like that, a wrong number might turn out to be a soul for Jesus.
Good things are happening in Edmonton and a lot more in the works.
Have a blessed week,
Yves Monnier
Director of Evangelism
It Is Written
Another colorful friend in Bolivia. This man sang - beautifully - for the gospel meetings.

Another colorful friend in Bolivia. This man sang – beautifully – for the gospel meetings.

We were warmly welcomed a few minutes ago in Tarija, Bolivia.

We were warmly welcomed a few minutes ago in Tarija, Bolivia.

In Riberalta, Bolivia we were blessed with a great night. The adults with me are all deaf and speak sign language. The man beside me was baptized. Inspirational!

In Riberalta, Bolivia we were blessed with a great night. The adults with me are all deaf and speak sign language. The man beside me was baptized. Inspirational!

Another warm Bolivian welcome!

Another warm Bolivian welcome!

The scene at our meeting in Monterro, outside Santa Cruz, Bolivia. What a great evening.

The scene at our meeting in Monterro, outside Santa Cruz, Bolivia. What a great evening.

The Snowflake and You

Did you know that snow is mentioned in the Bible?  There are verses that tell us that when Jesus washes away our sins, we become whiter than snow. (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:7) Then there are verses about Naaman and Miriam having leprosy (a symbol of sin) as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:27; Numbers 12:10) Other verses tell us that God’s hair and garments are white as snow. (Revelation 1:14; Daniel 7:9) Snow is mentioned 24 times in the Bible!

There are so many fun things you can do in the snow.  Build a snowman, construct an igloo, make a snow angel, and go sledding or skiing. But what makes up all that snow that we enjoy playing in so much?  Well, it is an accumulation of individual snowflakes.

Recently, I was helping my daughter with a science assignment that was about snowflakes.  Have you ever heard the phrase “no two snowflakes are alike”?  Well, a gentleman named Wilson A. Bentley, from the small town of Jericho, Vermont, made this discovery.

In 1885, after combining a microscope and a camera, he became the first person to photograph a single snowflake. His many years of diligent work saw him eventually capture more than 5,000 snowflake pictures in his lifetime.  Never did he see two snowflakes that were the same.

This is what Mr. Bentley said about the snowflakes: “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.  When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

I love the part that says, “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.”  It reminds me of the care that Jesus took in creating us.  Just like a snowflake, each one of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation and not one of us is ever repeated.  Even twins are not exactly alike.

You are very special to Jesus.  Only you can be the person Jesus created you to be.  In Psalm 139:14, David said that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God.  And just as the beauty of every little snowflake gives glory to our great Creator, each person has been “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:10)

By simply falling to the earth, a snowflake adds beauty to its surroundings and speaks of its Maker.  And as you allow Jesus to live in you, others will “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Today, remember you have been made unique.  You are special in God’s sight, and like the beautiful snowflakes, let your life add beauty to the world around you!

– Melissa Bradshaw

A Woman of Love and Service

Inspiration is one of those things you can’t expect. It just happens when it happens. It’s like a double rainbow or the northern lights – they just appear, unexpectedly, and it’s marvelous when they do.

Inspiration often presents itself in the least anticipated places, which makes it all the more profound. I collided with inspiration shortly before Christmas in 2014 on a frigid Michigan day, at the funeral of a truly remarkable individual.

Dolores Slikkers was in her mid-80s when tragedy intervened in the form of a motor vehicle accident and cut short her earthly sojourn. “Cut short” isn’t what you’d normally hear said about someone of Dolores’ age, and one of the speakers at the funeral made that very point.

“Normally, at the funeral of someone in their 20s, someone will say, ‘she had her whole life ahead of her,’” he said. “But that was true of Dolores. Even at her age, she did so much living that it was as though she had her whole life ahead of her.”

Dolores did as much living in one lifetime as most people could do in two or three. Together with Leon, her husband and best friend of 67 years, she raised a family of exceptional children, who in turn have raised outstanding children of their own.  She was the rock of her family as Leon founded a successful business, and her life was characterized by service. In addition to having been a respected member of It Is Written’s Executive Committee for over 20 years, Dolores volunteered in a wide variety of administrative roles in her church, including at the world church level, as well as on the board of a Christian university. She poured hours of her time into the life of her church in a multitude of ways.

She was instrumental in founding a Christian service organization that has blessed and improved the lives of multiplied thousands of people around the world, and yet what inspired me most of all was that she continued to be involved as an integral part of the life of her local church. Her church pastor spoke of still being able to ‘see’ her standing in her customary spot in the church foyer, waiting to greet people as they arrived at church each week. While Dolores was able to breathe the rarified air at the highest levels of church administration, she was equally at home at the lower altitudes inhabited by the every day church member.  She was a woman of faith who not only had a genuine connection with Jesus, but who lived that faith as she invested in the lives of countless others.

At one part of her funeral service, it was mentioned that it was Dolores’ practice to write encouraging notes to others. The pastor asked everyone who had received one of her personal, hand-written notes to stand. I looked around the crowded church and couldn’t see a single person seated. Everyone was on their feet. More than one person had to have wondered where Dolores found time to write all those notes.

Another of her ministries was to hand-make blankets for people in need.  And in the last conversation I had with Dolores, she told me how excited she was about her local church’s evangelistic outreach to her community. And yes, Dolores was on the front lines of that outreach. Involved. Doing. Giving. Ministering.

Among those who spoke at her funeral were academics, administrators, pastors, ministry leaders, friends, and family members. Each person testifying of a woman of real inspiration. This was someone who not only cared about people, but made a difference in their lives. One university professor shared that Dolores had ‘adopted’ him when he was a young man, enabling him to complete his doctoral studies in the United States, far from his home in Europe.

At funerals the word of God is especially poignant. Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians comes alive where grief and faith collide. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Yes they will, and Dolores will be among them. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,” John wrote in Revelation 14:13. David declared, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15.

As I sat in that crowded church, I couldn’t help but be inspired. It seemed to me that the most impressive degree she had earned was the doctorate she received from the school life. Her most outstanding achievements called her “Mom”.  Perhaps the most glowing tribute anyone had ever paid her was expressed in two words: “I do”, expressed well over half a century later as “I still do.” She influenced a denomination, provided guidance to a university and to generations of scholars, and – one blanket at a time, one card at a time – showed real, everyday people that they were special, valued and loved. 

I remembered the many times she had sat opposite me at It Is Written Executive Committee meetings, and I imagined her standing at her spot in the foyer waiting to warmly welcome saints and sinners into the house of God. God had blessed so many people through Dolores Slikkers, myself included. It just didn’t seem possible that at 85 years of age, the life of this mother in Israel had been cut tragically short.

She still had her whole life ahead of her.

Heavenly Hoax

Some years ago I stopped to use a pay phone and found the phone booth had been virtually wallpapered with pink tracts, which turned out to be excerpts from a book written by someone claiming to have visited hell. The author’s description of hell was partly graphic, somewhat entertaining, quite incredible and entirely un-Biblical.

In 2010, a book was published which claimed to be the story of a young boy who had visited not hell, but heaven. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was the spectacular story of a child’s visit to heaven after he “died” in a car wreck that left him a quadriplegic. Alex Malarkey’s story sold over a million copies and was developed into a TV movie, gripping hearts around the world. But several days ago Alex admitted that his story was nothing more than a heavenly hoax.

Following the accident which almost claimed his life, Alex – six years old at the time of the accident – spent two months in a coma. The wonder of Alex regaining consciousness was overshadowed by the incredible account he gave of what he experienced while he was unconscious. He claimed angels had escorted him through the gates of heaven, that he heard heavenly music, saw the devil and talked with Jesus Himself.

But Alex recently wrote an open letter that was published on the Pulpit and Pen website in which he flatly said, “It was all a lie.” Alex now says he didn’t “die” in he accident, and he never at any time went to heaven.

“I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention,” Alex said in a brief statement. “When I made the claims I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to.”

The book has been taken out of print by its publisher, and bookstores have stopped carrying the book.

Of course the bigger question is, “Should the book have been published in the first place?”

From a Biblical point of view, the clear answer is No.

The Bible speaks nothing of people dying, going to heaven and returning to the Earth to tell people what they have seen. Paul spoke about his own experience of seeing heaven in vision (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), and the prophets Daniel and John wrote of visions of heaven they had experienced (Daniel 7:9,10; Revelation 4:1-11). Jesus returned from heaven to Earth, but like Moses – the only other person the Bible discusses who died, went to heaven and returned to Earth – He was silent about what heaven is like.

What’s alarming about The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and stories like it is that they directly contradict the plain testimony of the Bible. The Bible clearly states that death is a sleep, not a condition in which people can travel to heaven or any other place. Jesus spoke of Lazarus as being asleep (John 11:11), which he clearly interpreted as meaning “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14). The Bible is remarkably consistent on the subject. Paul wrote that the dead sleep until Jesus wakes them at the second coming (1 Corinthians 15:51,52), and that the saved who are alive when Jesus returns will go to heaven at that time, along with those who had previously died in faith and slept the sleep of death. While such a view may come as a surprise to someone who has not carefully investigated this subject, it is certainly biblical.

Numerous times the Bible refers to death as a dreamless sleep which lasts from the moment of death until the first resurrection takes place (Revelation 14:13; John 5:28,29).

Over the years there has been a very deliberate and carefully-orchestrated campaign conducted by the enemy of souls to confuse people regarding death and life after death. Like the majority of Christian believers, I was taught as a child to believe that those who die are ushered immediately into either heaven or hell (or in certain other cases, purgatory or limbo). And rather than this being a minor theological point of debate or discussion, the twisting of truth on this subject leads to at least two extremely serious theological problems: the marginalizing of Jesus, and the opening of the door to spiritualism.

Spiritualism is serious business – literally and figuratively. Millions are spent on psychics and mediums and related materials. And a person who entertains thoughts of contacting a spiritist medium is entertaining thoughts of getting into very close contact with the devil himself. Such was the experience of King Saul (see 1 Samuel 28).

The Bible makes clear that spiritualism will be a major influence in Earth’s final days in preparing people to accept Satan’s final deceptions (Revelation 16:13). A friend recently told me that following the tragic death of his 23-year-old daughter, if he had not understood what the Bible says about death, he would undoubtedly have sought to contact his daughter through a spiritist medium. Such involvement with the enemy has disastrous consequences.

And while a misunderstanding of death opens the door to spiritualism, it also reduces Jesus to being less than He actually is. In John 11:25, Jesus explained to the sister of Lazarus that He is “the resurrection and the life”. Without Jesus the dead have no hope of life beyond the grave. Only through Jesus’ direct intervention at the time of the second coming can anyone be raised from the dead. Without Jesus waking the sleeping dead, the grave will never release its prisoners. Even the giants of faith listed in Hebrews 11 – with the exception of Moses and Enoch – “did not receive the promise (Hebrews 11:39.)” They also wait for the return of Jesus to take place before they can be raised from their various places of rest (see verse 40).

If people go to heaven immediately upon dying then a resurrection is unnecessary, and Jesus is no longer “the resurrection and the life.” Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV – “O grave, where is thy victory?” – is a question not worth asking. We can travel to heaven without a resurrection having taken place.

Stories like that of Alex Malarkey are extremely popular. 90 Minutes in Heaven, published in 2004, spent over 5 years on the New York Times bestsellers’ list and sold over six million copies. Heaven is for Real – the story of a four year old who visited heaven – has sold over ten million copies. A 2014 movie based on Heaven is for Real has grossed over one hundred million dollars. This publishing phenomenon is now a genre of its own, having been dubbed “Heavenly Tourism.”

A story published by National Public Radio quoted a blog post written by Alex’s mother, Beth, in which she said, “There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read ‘success’ books to try to build bigger and better… ‘ministries/businesses.’ “ And Phil Johnson, the Executive Director of the media ministry led by author and broadcaster John MacArthur said, quoted in the Washington Post, “The idea that Alex suddenly recanted is just not true. There was proof everywhere that he did not stand behind the content of this book. But it was a bestselling book. Nobody in the industry wanted to kill it.”

The publisher of the now-recalled book said at the time of publishing that the story was “a supernatural encounter that will give you new insights on Heaven, angels, and hearing the voice of God.” Alex Malarkey is now saying something very different.

So how could this heavenly hoax have happened? Some say Alex’s father – the co-author of the book – saw an opportunity to make money from his son’s vivid imagination. There seems to be little doubt that Alex was a genuine soul who had no idea of the harm his creativity was going to cause. But informed by a flawed belief system, Alex was able to believe that an out-of-body escape to heaven is entirely possible. Multiplied millions believe the same thing around the world.

Similar stories have been prominent in pop culture and within religious circles. Moves dealing with out-of-body and other paranormal experiences have played to audiences in all corners of the planet. And claims of mystical occurrences such as apparitions of the Virgin Mary continue to encourage the faithful, even though they have gain no support whatsoever from Scripture.

A number of years ago while I was praying in a small group at a convention for Catholic youth, my eyes opened wide when a young man from my church started ‘prophesying.’

“My people,” he began. “I have a message for you, my people…” It was well known that Peter was a plumber. What was not known was that he was a prophet. Few of us were convinced. Several of us tasked a young nun with talking to Peter about his ‘prophesying’, but before she had a chance to approach Peter, Peter came and spoke with our small group and admitted his ‘prophesying’ was nothing more than a case of misjudged wishful thinking.

“I just wanted it to be real, and… I’m sorry. That won’t happen again.” As far as I know, it never did. Peter had been exposed to Pentecostal worship services where ‘prophesying’ is common or even expected. His desire to possess this type of spiritual gift got the better of him.

Alex Malarkey admits his desire for attention prompted him to tell a story that simply wasn’t true. Now 16 years old, Alex offers some sound advice. “[People] should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

The hope is that many will take his take his counsel as seriously as they took his story.

(Originally published in the Adventist Review online)

Costa Rica: Countdown

Prayers Needed: It Is Written Team to Preach in 11 Cities Across Costa Rica Starting Tomorrow!

This year is shaping up to be one of the busiest in It Is Written’s history. On the heels of powerful meetings in Southern Mexico, the ministry team is headed to Costa Rica today to hold 11 series across the country—including the capital city of San Jose.

From Feb. 22 – March 2, It Is Written staff members and a team of dedicated volunteers will preach in cities such as Hatillo, Pavas, San Pedro, Leon XIII, Monte de los Olivos, Los Guido – Desamparados, Jose Maria Zeledon, Dimension Profetica, Cartago, Heredia and San Ramon.

Costa Rica, a country slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia, is located between Nicaragua and Panama, and is home to 4.3 million people. All across this beautiful land, people are searching for the hope that can only be found in Jesus.

This series is being held in coordination with It Is Written’s Spanish ministry, Escrito Esta, and this effort is part of It Is Written’s evangelism push for the year.

“This is a really exciting project. We’re privileged to be partnering with some very committed Christians who are serious about making a huge impact on their country. We’re going to see God do great things!” said It Is Written Speaker/Director John Bradshaw.

The event speakers will include Pastor Bradshaw, Victor Pires, Olan Thomas, Yves Monnier, Royce Williams, Edwin Bravatti, Paul Hawks, Rob Kearbey, John Casillas, Dr. Charles Wilkens, Alan Swope and Wanda Vaz, and translation by Escrito Esta Speaker/Director Robert Costa and others.

Please pray for this team as hearts are opened in this country. The pre-work efforts have been strong, and the team is praying that many people will make a decision for Christ in the coming days!

 

Almost Time

Revelation Today Dayton is just two days away from starting. Please keep this event in your prayers.