Insights through Illusion for Daily Living

Posts tagged “Houdini

When the Scam Artist Enters the Church

Deception from the Pulpit

Last week I revealed a few techniques used by “psychics” to con people into believing a lie.  The worst part is, and one of the things I stress during my show, is that their customers for the most part knew what they were doing was a lie.  They knew that they were paying money to be lied to, but it made them comfortable.  That’s just like our culture.  We trade in what we know to be true for something we know to be a lie for comfort.

It’s a sad thing, but it’s even worse when it enters the church.

Let me preface this by saying, I fully believe that God can heal someone.  In God’s power He his able to heal and interact in this world, but when He does so, it is for His glory not the vessel or instrument He is using.  God’s works are done to lead the most people to freely choosing to follow Him.  Some people however, hijack God’s name and slap it on their brand of con artistry.  When this is done, hundreds of thousands of people are fooled into believing a lie.  It’s dangerous, but it is oh so common.  I can think of a place in town right now in which the events that I am describing are happening.

As an evangelist, it really chaps me to see someone claim to have some special “healing” power granted just to them.  They use this “power”, not to bring glory to God (sure they may say that), but to bring glory and fame to themselves.  This kind of false teaching is worse than an ordinary false doctrine because of what it purports to do.  “If you send me a seed of $1,000 you will be blessed by God, and if you are not blessed it’s your fault and your faith is weak.”  Okay you never hear anyone come right out and say those two things together….they wouldn’t get any money.

As an illusionist it makes me quite angry because I can see through the techniques used to con these people.

Peter Popoff

The video at the top is a prime example of someone who is abusing the name of Christianity and bending it to his own will to con people out of their money.  This is just a quick video, but listen to the techniques it reveals that I mentioned last week in my exposing the psychic blogs.  There is hot-reading and cold-reading.  There is the tell-tale sign of failure it’s never his fault, but the fault of the person in the congregation.  They don’t have enough faith.

You can see how dangerous this kind of thing can be.  Look at the followers in the auditorium.  He is standing in front of them and lying in Jesus name.  He could say anything he wanted to and because of his “signs and wonders” people would believe him.

We are not called to sit idly by when false-teachers and false-prophets run rampant.  We are called to stand up against the lies and the counterfeits this world offers.

Have you heard stories of “Faith-Healers”

What were the circumstances?


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?

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?

How to Make an Impact by Embracing Your Strength


You’ve just done something that no one has ever seen before.  In fact it might be the most impressive thing in your career, or any of your contemporaries.  5,200 people are watching live as you vanish a giant elephant in the middle of an open stage.  You wait with baited breath, as you make the motions to display that the elephant is in fact gone.  You then hear it.  The sound you have been building to for the last 10 minutes, the reaction of 5,200 mouths, 10,400 hands.

But instead you hear what sounds remotely like mumbling….shrugging….and polite failing applause.

You are Harry Houdini, and you are the worst magician of the 1920s.

Now to most people what I just described sounds like an alternate universe, but to Houdini, it was real.

The New York Hippodrome was home to the grandest entertainment available.  Not pompous or pretentious like Broadway, but the working man’s entertainment.  Acrobats, magicians, Vaudeville.  It was the stage to perform on for variety entertainers.

What happened?

Why was Houdini the worst magician, yet the one that everyone still hears on a regular basis nearly 100 years later?

It’s because Houdini, discovered his weakness, and in doing so discovered his strength.  Houdini’s memory lives on today as the greatest magician of all time. That’s only because of the technicality that magicians and escape artists are now synonymous. Houdini was famous for escaping from everything they could put in front of him.  Prison cells, handcuffs, straight jackets, and anything else made to restrain, couldn’t hold Harry Houdini.

The problem is though he wasn’t happy with that, he wanted to be known as a magician. He had zero showmanship, which was vital to an illusionist during the era.  He was brash.  He wasn’t elegant like his contemporaries.  The question remains though, why has every household in 2012 heard of Harry Houdini, and not T. Nelson Downs, or Harry Keller, or Howard Thurston?  The reason is that Houdini recognized his weakness, and played to his strengths.  Escapes.

Houdini left a legacy because he put aside his weakness.  He embraced his strengths.  The things that he could do that others couldn’t, the things that made him different.

We are not Superman

Weakness.  It’s something we don’t like to talk about because we are invulnerable. We have no weakness, we can’t be touched.  Weakness is for…..the weak, and we are strong…..right?  I’m not weak am I?  This insecurity, it’s not weakness is it?

We all have weaknesses that we can embrace and attack, or that we can embrace and succumb to.  The thing is though, no matter what our weaknesses are, God has given us strength.  He has blessed each of us with abilities and gifts that we can use for His glory.  Too many times we hear people say, “I have nothing to offer.”  The problem is that we have told ourselves that lie so many times that we believe it.  Think about it for a minute what are you good at?  What is a way in which God can use you?  We gloss over strength sometimes because we think of physical strength.  That’s not what it’s about at all.  You have a gift that you can use to glorify God.

Use Your Strengths

We all have strengths, but we all have weaknesses.  Ways that we can be attacked and led to a place where we do nothing positive for the cause of Christ.  I think of Hebrews 12.  Lay aside the weight and the sin which so easily entangles us or holds us back, and run with endurance.  Use your strengths to run this race.  Use your strength to make an impact for the kingdom.  Put down the weight of sin and weakness that holds you back, and get to running.  I don’t want the reaction from God to be a shrug and a groan.  I want to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant”

Well done, that’s what I’m racing for, what about you?

What strengths do you have?

What weaknesses?

How can you put away the weight of that weakness?

For more info on Harry Houdini:

Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear

by Jim Steinmeyer

Being Real=Being Unforgettable

The Last Great Magician

One of my favorite things to study is the history of stage illusions. The golden age was from roughly the 1870s until TV was invented. The most famous illusionist of the time is virtually unknown today, not Houdini, but Howard Thurston.

His masterpiece was the levitation of a woman right in the middle of the stage. We are talking 1920s to 1930s. The amount of trouble he had to go to to produce this effect would stop anyone from performing it this way today. Because of the lighting of the Vaudeville theaters (or lack of) and the general distance from the audience to the stage, Thurston rigged hundreds of wires both above and below the woman to hold her in place.

They were invisible to the audience, but his convincer was bringing a random child from the audience (not a stooge, or confederate) on to the stage. Thurston picked the boy up, and pointed at the woman and whispered with a smile something only the child could hear. The child’s eyes went wide and his mouth gaped. Truly a miracle had taken place……well obviously not.

In the 1980s all grown up, a boy lucky enough to see Thurston’s show and be brought on stage said what actually happened was that when Thurston whispered in his ear he said, “if you touch one of those ****** wires….” and then threatened him. The boy having never heard someone talk like that naturally looked amazed. The audience applauded and everyone loved it.

What does this have to do with anything? Am I advocating that we start living obscenely to make our point? Student ministers, should we be shock-jocks? No, not at all, but the idea is that instead of telling the child that it was all an illusion, Thurston was real with the child (albeit a bit too real), but the child never forgot for the rest of his life what Thurston said to him.

When we treat the world with a facade, or student ministers when we sugar coat the Gospel, it becomes forgettable, it becomes weak. The cultural meme is to not offend anyone. This causes a blind eye to everything that we should stand against. It’s precisely this reason that students who have been taught meat of scripture and real lessons instead of fluff, remember and retain, and can use what they have been taught.

What ways are we real with the people we come in contact with? We have the greatest truth known to mankind that God, the creator of the universe, loves us personally so much, that He gave us a second chance. He sent Jesus to die in our place for what we owe, and rise again. He did this for one single reason, and that is because He loves us. Period. There can be no greater news, and yet we keep this to ourselves and try to make everyone smile.

The Gospel might shock people. The Gospel might offend people, but guess what that’s what it takes reach people. To be real. We can give the world what it wants, and not give them Jesus. That is the greatest crime we can commit as believers.

How can you be real today?

What are some ways that we are fake?

How do we eliminate that?

For more info on Howard Thurston, or any stage illusion history, check out:

Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear

by Jim Steinmeyer