(Because we all do.)
When I picked up the phone one evening just over ten years ago one of the last people I expected to hear on the other end was my magician friend Scott Wolf. It’s very possible you’ve seen him before. A video of one of his magic routines gone horribly wrong went viral on YouTube and was seen by millions more on TV.
I was in the audience a few years prior to his phone call when Scott set his entire head on fire. Not on purpose. But because he deceived himself into assuming that playing with fire—even as a seasoned and highly trained fire-breathing magician who had performed the trick countless times—would never result in severe burns over his entire face.
I’d seen him perform the trick flawlessly many times before. I say “trick” but it’s no trick in the sense that it wasn’t real fire or any real danger. Scott’s fire breathing act is dangerous and, yes, it is real fire. Holding a blazing torch in one hand and two others not yet set aflame, he opens his mouth, sticks his tongue out and touches it with the ignited torch. Then, with his tongue on fire, he sets the other two torches aflame. Repeatedly blowing out and reigniting the torches with his mouth, with no apparent harm, Scott has duly petrified the audience. But he’s just getting warmed up, if you’ll excuse the pun. Then, in an explosive conclusion, Scott chugs a couple of ounces of lighter fluid, holds one of the flaming torches at arm’s length and blows a massive ball of fire the size of a couch into the air.
But the night of the accident Scott got a little careless, lighting up his face and head like a six foot candle. Frantically patting his face in a vain attempt to extinguish the flames, he ran off stage while the audience gasped in stunned horror.
I was the first to reach Scott offstage. I found him face down in the stage right wing, the fire now extinguished. His first words were, “I can’t believe I did that.”
He was rushed to a nearby hospital and, after several painful procedures over the next few weeks, made a full recovery.
A few years later Scott, who had dedicated his life and talents to Christ, began touring with a Christian performance ministry. Although in his younger days he had abused alcohol and drugs, he’d been clean for several years and was determined to keep it that way. But with the boredom of life on the road and little accountability Scott let his guard down and the deceptive thought, I can handle it, gained a foothold in his resolve and soon his old habits returned.
After being forced to leave the ministry, Scott moved to Alaska where his downward spiral accelerated, sucking him into a seemingly hopeless life of meth and cocaine addiction. It was at that point that he picked up the phone and called me.
“Rod, I’m in trouble.” His trembling voice told me he wasn’t kidding. “I need help. I have to get straight.”
I hadn’t seen Scott in quite some time, so he filled me in on his descent into drug-fueled deception. For a second time he had played with fire. And for a second time he was burned badly. This time not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
I told Scott I would help him under one condition. “I’ll see if I can pull together some plane fare from some of our magician buddies and fly you to Tucson where you can get some help and accountability. But you have to promise me one thing. When you get off that plane you’re going straight to Teen Challenge treatment center and enter their program.”
Scott happily agreed. I called Teen Challenge and told them Scott couldn’t afford their program but he desperately needed them. They agreed to accept him and, true to his word, Scott stepped off the plane and into a new life.
His years-long road to recovery was not without its stumbles, but today Scott is the Director of Teen Challenge Ministry Institute where he oversees interns at eleven campuses across the Northwest. By God’s grace and Scott’s determination, a magician who himself was badly deceived now helps men find their way out of the darkness of deception by introducing them to the Way, the Truth, and the Light, Jesus Christ.
In our book Unmasking the Masquerade we focus on psychic deception to help illustrate the nature of deception itself and our vulnerability to it. When I began writing this book and invited my friends Adrian, Toby, and Andre to contribute, I hoped that it could be more than merely an exposure of deception as it relates to apparent paranormal phenomena, as fascinating as that topic is. I wanted that kind of deception to act as a poignant metaphor for whatever deception you and I struggle with daily. It’s tempting to view people who are trapped in various types of psychic deceit as naïve and caught up in something we could never fall for. But the type of deceit we fall for isn’t really the point. The real point that I hope you take with you when you read the book is that we do fall for it…every day. Being aware of our own propensity to lose our footing when deceit crosses our path makes us much more aware of it when it does, inevitably and repeatedly, cross our path.
The Bible makes it clear that there is an enemy of our souls whose malevolent passion is to not only deceive us but, in the process, to destroy us. Here’s how one of Jesus’ closest followers, Peter stated it: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I Peter 5:8
That can be a terrifying realization and has, indeed, struck fear in the hearts of millions who have read those words over the centuries. Yet, as we’ve learned in our journey together, the Bible also tells us, rather paradoxically, that we are not to fear that roaring, deceiving enemy, “… because, the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world [the spirit of the anti-Christ.]” I John 4:4
It’s been said that the phrase “fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times—one for each day of the year. But that’s not entirely accurate. While that phrase and “be not afraid” appear 103 times in the King James Version, there are hundreds more that tell us to fear God alone, do not be anxious, and do not worry. Regardless of the phrase count, it’s abundantly clear that we don’t need to fear Satan when Christ is the King of our lives.
Beyond the assurances from Scripture that we need not be afraid, there is ample description of our enemy in the sacred pages to lead us to the conclusion that his stock-in-trade is deception and fear. Not God-like powers, but deception and fear. Not conferring miraculous powers to humans as popular lore would have us believe.
Ultimately, our liberation from deception and fear is not dependent upon what our enemy can or cannot do. It is anchored firmly on what our sovereign God, the Creator of the universe, alone can and does do. He provided us all a Way out of that deception and fear through the Truth and Light–His Son. It is our hope and prayer that whether you know—as Jesus called Himself—the Way, the Truth, and the Light or are merely one seeking a way forward toward truth and light, that you’ll continue on that path, “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)