"It's just the truth," said Burpo, whose popular book recounts the story of Colton's journey into heaven while undergoing surgery in 2003.
Colton was four years old when he survived a serious illness to astound his parents with his vivid description of heaven, where he saw family members, including some he had never met. "He says I will have wings, but I will still be short," quipped Burpo, a pastor in Imperial, Neb.
"He has grown up with his God encounter from an early age," said Burpo of his now 13-year-old son, adding that the experience didn't shape Colton, "but started him."
Burpo said he waited eight years to write the book in order to protect Colton, who now often stays home to attend school when his parents, including mom Sonja, take to the lecture tour. "But, he gives a better interview than I do," said Burpo.
Burpo told about an ABC network interview with Colton that included a reference to scientist Stephen Hawking's stated view that there is no heaven. The segment ended with anchor Diane Sawyer asking viewers who they believed: a scientist or a 12-year-old. At the end of the broadcast, more than 80 percent of the respondents had sided with Colton, said his dad.
The author urged his Legacy League audience to be honest with God, to know that God is very personal, and know that God wants people to help those who need a lift.
"There's something about honesty that is very attractive to God," said Burpo, referencing a rage-filled "non-pastoral" prayer he prayed when Colton was very sick. His son later said that God told him that he was answering the dad's prayer. "God is often waiting on us to get honest with him about our problems."
"God wants to have a personal relationship with us, not a generic relationship," said Burpo, stressing that God values each person equally, and has "something important" for everyone to do.
He noted that when he kept a journal of his prayers, they all started with "give me." "In America, our culture has affected our faith, not vice versa. We need to pray 'use me, not give me.'"
Church people should be about picking up the fallen who may be troubled and hurting, said Burpo, who said he was encouraged to write the book after God asked him to share the peace he had found from Colton's experience. "We have been able, through our hurt, to share and give people some of the peace that we have had," he said, telling his luncheon audience that "Anyone here could be someone else's answer to prayer."
A #1 New York Times best seller for seven consecutive weeks in early 2011, Heaven is for Real has spawned an illustrated Heaven is for Real for Kids book with scripture, and a DVD-based study and participants guide for use by churches and small groups.
Burpo's Birmingham schedule also included a talk at Samford as part of an evening of testimony and music. Both events were to benefit the Legacy League's scholarship fund for Samford students.