Insights through Illusion for Daily Living

Archive for June, 2012

Why I do What I do

How it Started

I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a Christian Illusionist. At fifteen years old, my life changed from the inside out.  I chose to follow Jesus Christ.  Shortly after that I felt called into ministry.  That was where things got hard.  I didn’t know what direction God was leading me into. I took a position at my home church as Jr. High minister.  I learned quite a lot about ministry through this and decided I wanted to get my degree in Christian Studies.  I went to University of Mobile and fell in love with the study of Apologetics.  There were several opportunities and doors that were presented to me. The problem was, none of them seemed right.

At the same time, I was following an interest and hobby of mine. Magic, illusions, or whatever people preferred to call it.  The thing was that as an illusionist I knew that it was all a trick. That everything had a method behind how a trick was done. Some people get hung up on this notion and immediately put up blinders to what we do.  This is something that I am quick to put to bed because my goal is not to be a stumbling block.  I am a Christian Illusionist, but my goal is to share the Gospel first and foremost.  There will always be friction when following Christ.

Use me

I realized that God could use this interest and hobby to break down walls in people’s lives. God was asking me to follow Him.  When I wasn’t sure where He was leading me, He basically said, “Trust me.”

I discovered that there were people out there who would never darken the door of a church, but would come see an illusionist.  After gaining their trust by performing a fun and entertaining show, they were willing to listen to the message of Christ. This opened my eyes to the fact that God could use this crazy hobby that I had to reach people with the greatest truth and news known to mankind.

One of my favorite verses became,

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Christ in Me

If we are willing to let Christ live through us, He will lead us into opportunities to share His name.  Not everyone is called into full time ministry.  Not everyone is called into bi-vocational ministry.  However every single person who follows Jesus Christ IS called to share His name with everyone we come in contact with.

Whatever gift or ability you have use it for the glory of God.  Some of the things I’ve seen God do has been amazing.  I’ve seen people come to know Christ who have told me that they have never prayed before.  Things that we take for granted. That they would not have come to hear an ordinary speaker, but because I was an illusionist they came.

Whatever talents or gifts that you have, if you are willing to give them over to be used by God, He can do some awesome things through us.

The question now is why do you do what you do?

Do you glorify God through your gifts and abilities?

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How to Deal with the “Heckler” Part 4

How to Pick

If you have been following my heckler series, then you should pretty much be up to speed. For those of you who have not, then check out the rest of the series here

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The number one tip thus far is for you to stay in control of your stage.  Whether you are an illusionist or a student minister, or anyone who has to get up in front of a tough crowd, you have to remember that when you are on stage it’s your stage.  You own it.  Because if you don’t own it, you will get walked all over.  It’s a confidence issue that has to be overcome.  I’m not saying that you have to be the most outgoing person offstage, but when you are onstage, you should be at home.

The Approach.

One of the things I learned through trial and error a long time ago, is that when you ask someone to help you onstage, the first thing that runs through their mind is, “they are going to embarrass me.” Naturally no one likes to be embarrassed, to we have to put that fear to rest before it raises its ugly little head.

The best way to do that is to assure the audience you are not going to embarrass them.  How do you do that?  The best way to pick someone out of a crowd is not by standing onstage and pointing at someone.  It’s the easiest, but the least effective.  Get down to where they are, but continue to own the room. Walk into the crowd and evaluate using the steps from Part 3.  Once you have made your selection, walk over to the person and ask them to help you out onstage.

It sounds over simplistic, but it’s not. Your approach has everything to do with them following your instructions onstage.

The Ask.

What happens is that you ask them to help you out, in a way that is not a question but more of a command.  That sounds crazy, and on paper it will be hard to explain, but it is without a doubt the best approach period.

This is what I say.  There is an effect where I need to have a spectator write something down. I approach them, lock eyes with them and say, “Do you have pretty good handwriting?” They answer and it doesn’t matter what they say at this point because you are mainly illustrating your control of the situation.

This is the secret right here. I then say, “Great, can you help me out onstage with something?” I don’t wait a beat for an answer, but instead address the audience and say, “Give her a big hand as she makes her way on stage!”

If I were to merely ask if she wanted to help out, and wait for her response, she could flatly turn me down. Now though but not giving her an option she is the center of the rooms attention and she can’t let them down by sitting there.  She knows she is now expected to get onstage, and she will.  100% of the time.  I have never had this fail, ever.

The social ramifications of them staying in their seat while I turn my back and make my way to the stage are too much for them to stay seated.  She comes on stage, and is now primed and prepared to follow my instructions to the “T.” They literally have no choice but to help you out and follow instructions at this point.

You can still lose it from here, but that is where staying in control really comes into play.

Next week we will talk about what happens when they are on stage.

How do you approach students to help you on stage?

Is this effective?

What can you do differently?

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Did Jesus Merely Pass out on the Cross? Part 1

Escape from DeathCriss Angel Building Implosion

Imagine someone being locked away and left for dead.  Only to see that same person alive and well 3 days later.  You know that you saw this person die, yet here he is again.  How do you react to this?  What explanation can there be? Famous Illusionist Criss Angel locked himself in an imploding building a few years back.  It looked as if he was just going to make it out until, something happened and he apparently was crushed inside the building.  A few dramatic seconds later he shows up on the screen unscathed and unharmed.  No one doubted that this was going to be the result of the famous illusionists stunt, but he still managed to shock some.

Smoke and Mirrors

The difference is, we watch Criss go into the building knowing that he will come out in the same state, alive. However we know all along that it’s an illusion. However when Jesus disciples watched His brutal beating and crucifixion, many of them lost hope in their Messiah. That is until they had an encounter with the risen Jesus that changed their lives forever. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, seems to think something else happened.  Something that takes much more faith to believe.

However skeptics claim that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead after all.  In fact they try to come up with any “natural” explanation possible for Jesus rising from the dead.  They claim that people can’t “naturally” rise from the dead, therefore Jesus could not rise from the dead.  The problem with that line of thinking is that we are not claiming Jesus “naturally” rose from the dead, but supernaturally.  That God reached down into creation and raised Jesus from the dead.  Silencing the critics of Jesus for all time that He was anything but what He claimed to be. God incarnate.

As we’ve seen HERE and HERE even the most skeptical and liberal New Testament scholars (including Gerd Ludemann and John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar) agree on certain facts.  Mainly here we have and will continue to deal with the first agreed on problem of the empty tomb.

Swoon Theory

The next theory we are going to debunk is called the Swoon Theory.

Basically the gist of the theory is that Jesus didn’t actually die, but fainted on the cross, and was placed in the tomb.  Somehow because of the climate and type of tomb He was in, His healing was much faster than normal.  He escaped from the tomb, and healed up until He made His reappearance to the 12 and His followers….

On paper as a naturalist, that’s just about the best you can do.  The problem is the theory is so full of holes that it seems Frank Turek couldn’t be more right in that it takes much more faith to be an atheist.

Tomorrow we are going to look into the crucifixion process and the moments leading up to the death of Jesus through the lens of history.  We are going to examine what would normally happen to anyone being crucified, and apply the same to Jesus.  We will see how plausible it is that Jesus merely passed out or how preposterous the claim really is.

Do you think it’s even remotely possible that Jesus merely passed out?

Have you ever heard anyone try to say this?

Have you ever heard anyone try to quote The Da Vinci Code as fact?

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How to Deal with the “Heckler” Part 3 Who to Pick

Good Intentions….

Before I was an illusionist, my first foray into ministry was being a Jr. Youth Minister at my home church. I had this great

illustration that I wanted to show (at least I thought it was great). Basically I would turn out the lights and have a student stand with his arms outstretched like a crucifix. I then took a flashlight and shown it on him. I then lowered the flashlight which caused the shadow of the crucifix to rise. I then raised the flashlight, and the opposite occurred. The idea was to exalt Christ you humble yourself, and vica versa.

I was really stoked about this illustration and about how easy it was for the students to grasp. The problem was that the student I picked to help me out, absolutely didn’t care about what I was trying to do.

The whole thing was ruined. I learned a lot that night about picking students to be involved on stage (as well as how middle schoolers still shrieked when you turn the lights out….but that’s another blog)

As an illusionist, I mentioned how easily it is for an effect to be ruined by someone on stage who has their own agenda. Check out last weeks Heckler entry here

The person on stage with me didn’t care about the effect I was doing, or what the end was that I was trying to achieve. All they cared about was that limelight for just a minute. This is an annoying thing, but it is a problem that can be worked through and avoided for the most part.

Who are you looking for?

One of the very first things I do in my show is to set up a prediction that occurs much later. The message portion of my show is built around this prediction being right, so it’s crucial that there are no mistakes or purposeful sabotage. When I go into the audience I ask a simple question, “Who’s good with numbers?” Some hands will shoot up immediately because they didn’t listen to the question, others because they are dying to be in front of everyone. The number one tip here is that I never pick someone with their hand raised. Ever. Is everyone who is raising their hands a heckler waiting to wreck the night? No, but it’s better to hedge your bets and avoid over eager people.

I generally look for someone who looks slightly nervous (not in a “I’m going to pass out if he picks me” way, but a “he’s awfully close to my row” type of nervous). I look for people who generally have a focused look on their face, and at this point I 95% of the time will pick a girl. Why? Because in the past Since this is early in the show, I’ve found that guys want to show off for their buddies, where as girls want to get off of the stage. I haven’t 100% gained their trust yet, but it comes through this.

For student ministry it’s a very similar issue. You may have some of your go to students who you can count on always showing up, but even they fall prey to the “I gotta make everyone laugh” bug. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I still talk to my youth pastors about how they could probably have strangled me sometimes. Your go to guy or girl, may not be the best choice for a serious illustration. You have to gain their trust. You have to let them know that you are not going to embarrass (unless you are….different blog) or make them uncomfortable, but that you need their help.

Next week in Part 4 I am going to be talking a little bit more about who to pick, but I will be moving on to the next step of, “How to Approach”

Hope you enjoy and use these Heckler blogs to strengthen your ministry. Also if you missed last Thursday’s Trimming the fat blog, check it out here. It’s a guide to effectively manage your time during a service, and remain in control.

When have you had a bad experience with an illustration?

What caused it?

How could it be avoided?

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Is the Resurrection a Delusion Part 2

If missed yesterday’s post about the Resurrection, then check it out here Is the Resurrection a Delusion Part 1

Feeling Delusional yet?

I didn’t think so

Jesus was not an escape artist as some would have us believe.  He didn’t create a clever Houdiniesque method of fooling everyone into believing a very long con.  Jesus had an authority that He validated in the resurrection.  Skeptics have tried to shoot holes through that for ages. We are going to weigh the evidence and let truth shine on its own.

I want to start with the resurrection and empty tomb because even the most skeptical biblical scholars agree on very specific things.  These facts give us some foundation of common ground with the skeptic.  The facts agreed on by most scholars are that Jesus…

  • Lived
  • Had followers
  • Was a miracle worker
  • Was Crucified under Pilate
  • Left an Empty Tomb
  • And that His disciples believed Him to be risen from the dead.  Even to there own deaths.

Hoax Hallucination or History?

There are several theories out there that claim to answer the question of what happened after Jesus was crucified.  All of these theories boil down around one simple fact.  The body of Jesus is not in the tomb.

Think about that for a minute. The ramifications of that are pretty huge.  Jesus claimed He would rise from the dead, and His tomb is now empty.  There is a vacuum that needs to be filled, but too many times people have ruled out the supernatural and created outlandish ideas to explain away the empty tomb of Jesus.

Empty Tomb

The glaring thing though that many people just pass over is that even the most skeptical believe that the tomb of Jesus is empty.

Where does that leave us to start from?

Here is why it’s so ridiculously important that the tomb is empty.  The rise of Christianity is unexplainable any other way.  Here is what I mean by that. If on the day of Pentecost Peter had gotten up to start preaching, and Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, then Christianity could have been shut down in 15 minutes.  From the place Peter was preaching to the burial site of Jesus was a 15 minute walk.  Out of all of the people standing there, notice that none of them said, “Come on let’s take a walk and shut him up.”  They couldn’t.

The same thing for the Sanhedrin.  They could have easily produced the body of Jesus to shut down these Christians on the spot, but they couldn’t.  This leaves us with the fact that Jesus’ tomb is empty.  The next question, and albeit a much bigger one is…

What did Happen?

Over the next few blogs, I’m going to rule out some of these theories, from the crazy to the almost plausible ones.

Starting with the…

The Wrong Tomb.

Some say that while stricken with grief, the women who discovered Jesus’ tomb to be empty, merely went to the wrong tomb.

On the surface you could say…that’s plausible, but let’s dig for a minute.

Just a few days earlier, these same women had helped embalm the body of Jesus.  They knew where His tomb was.  Even if they didn’t, and were somehow mistaken, the tomb’s owner, Joseph of Arimathea, would have known his own tomb.

Let’s just say that even he might have gotten confused….(really grasping now) This was his own private tomb that was brand new, not just a massive grave area of hundreds of tombs.

Joseph himself lends credibility to this story as being historical anyway.  If the 1st century Jews who wrote the New Testament, were going to make up a legend about Jesus, they would never have included a member of the same council that crucified Jesus as a good guy.

All of these objections fail to have the power to explain how the women could have gone to the wrong tomb.

What did happen to Jesus body?

He rose from the dead.

He is alive.

What theories have you heard about the resurrection?

How did you respond to these?

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Is the Resurrection a Delusion?

Cheating Death

Although he was a man that cheated death nearly every day, Harry Houdini was afraid of it.  He was afraid in particular of one illusion.  Burying himself alive. At the time, this would have been the penultimate escape.  He would place himself into a casket into the ground, only to escape before suffocating.  He billed this as his next great escape, even so far as commissioning a poster of his illusion, which is still seen in pop culture today.

Looking at the poster though, you’d never know that Houdini, didn’t performed the escape.  A dear friend and famous performer, Harry Kellar, told Houdini that it was too dangerous and he should not attempt it.  Houdini listened to the wise council of Kellar, but the image still remains.  The image is a reminder to those that know the story, that even Houdini couldn’t escape the grave, but most people don’t know the story.  To the average lay person, if they saw the poster they would naturally assume that Houdini performed the illusion, without digging further.

The Real Escape from the Grave

Why start at the Resurrection?

Here’s the parallel.  As Christians, we are followers of Jesus.  Everything that is central to our faith in Jesus, hinges on His death and resurrection.  Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 15 about how if there is no resurrection of the dead, then we are merely wasting our time.  If His body is in the grave, then everything is a sham about Him, we have no hope.

But His body isn’t in the grave

Jesus’ resurrection is a game changer.  We don’t believe the story to be an escape or illusion like something Houdini would do, but Jesus death and resurrection was His proof to everyone that He was God. However there are many claims about Jesus resurrection that try to explain away the supernatural.  Under close inspection though, these claims don’t hold water.

The Game Changer

Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented authority.  He claimed that He was God, and that His proof would be the resurrection from the dead.  Naturally this is a pretty big claim, but it’s something so significant that if true, changes everything.

If Jesus really rose from the dead, then He is alive today, and offers eternal life.  If not, then Christians are misguided and foolish.  To the world we are foolish for following Jesus, but they need to hear His message, His truth.  We have to be able to answer people when they ask they tough questions about Jesus.  The first main question is, “what happened to the body of Jesus?”

Body of Evidence

If Jesus’ body is still in the grave, then you and I are wasting our time and should just move on.

I don’t believe His body is still in the grave.  I believe that He is alive, but that is based more on digging and looking at history and evidence than what the world deems as “blind faith.”  Faith is not blind.  Jesus doesn’t call us to have blind faith.  Blind faith doesn’t convince people to change.

There are a lot of claims that people have made about the resurrection and about “what really happened.”  Over the next few days we will look at some of these claims and deconstruct them piece by piece until you are left with the building blocks of each theory, and can decide for yourself who is really delusional.

Tomorrow we will look at the question about His body, and why it’s the biggest hurdle for skeptics to clear, and why they haven’t been able to clear it yet.

Have you ever heard any claims about Jesus death?

What do your non-believing friends say about Jesus?

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Be Deliberate and be Effective by Trimming the Fat

Effective

Let’s face it we have all experienced this whether it’s performing or speaking in front of students.  You have something important to say, but you look at your time that you have left and see….you have two minutes left.  It’s a feeling that is highly irritating.  The thing is though the person we can generally point the finger at is ourselves.

Time is Everything

If someone is bringing me in (or anyone for that matter) they have a time set for the show/event. If I were to go off on a tangent and cram a 45 minute show into an hour and a half on a Wednesday night….the hosts would not be happy. Often, events are scheduled down to the minute, because students have other family members waiting on them, younger siblings and/or parents (their transportation.) The event host would be unhappy if I held their service over, because they are on a schedule.

Often, the same can be said for youth ministry. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that Wednesday night time slot is long enough to get in everything you need to say. As much as you would love to keep going sometimes, invariably a parent is going to get their student out to leave which causes a distraction.  The best way to combat this, is to stay on schedule by trimming everything unnecessary out of the night.

Be Deliberate

In my show, everything I do is deliberate. Every action on stage has an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever I say or do on stage will directly affect the audience crowd. Every action or word should bring about one of 3 reactions in illusion.

  1. Laughter
  2. Awe/Amazement
  3. Rapt Attention

I would say this list is similar to that of a student minister’s job. For Student Ministers, you could sub out #2 for Interest/furthering of knowledge. If you are doing or saying anything that doesn’t cause one of these things then it is deemed “fat” and should be trimmed from your service.  If you have to trim your “news and updates” section down, then so be it. We don’t want to get lost in the “fat.” God has given you a message, and you have to make sure that message is the focus of your youth service. I have never heard anyone say that their life was changed from the “News” section.  It’s important and has merit, but it also has a time frame.

There may be the occasional time when you are being introduced as a guest speaker, and you are waiting to go on.  The emcee spends way too much time on their game or video or announcements.  If you follow the above steps, you should still be in the clear.

Plan ahead.

Trim the fat.

Think about that in your regular schedule. 

Are there things that you do or say that might cause distractions?  It may be unintentional. In fact, you may have great intentions for something, but is it something that can be trimmed to make your night leaner and more effective?

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