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Amazing stories from times past

On conmen and other masters of deceit

God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices (Eccl. 7:29)

There are vagabonds and there are villains; there are crooks and there are victims; and sin and temptation are present in the hearts of all. Listen to the story of a man who stood behind an old woman just ahead of him at the checkout counter at his local supermarket. The woman was crying. She was well-dressed, although a bit on the shabby side. He tried not to pay attention but could not help but notice that she was in distress. Eventually compassion overcame him and he spoke to her, tapping her on the shoulder: "What is the matter? Can I help you?" She turned to face him, looking surprised, tears visible on her wrinkled face. "Oh, I'm sorry to have disturbed you," her voice, soft and genteel, awoke more pity in his heart, "I've recently lost my son. He died last month." "Oh, I'm so sorry," the man murmured. "The truth is," the woman continued softly, "that he worked here." She stopped to blow her nose, and the man thought of his own mother. "He worked here," the shaking voice went on, "and I would see him every time I bought my groceries." "It must be quite painful for you," the man replied, overcome with sympathy. "The most difficult thing," the bereft woman added, "is remembering that he would always wave to me after my groceries were packed and when I reached the door with my cart he'd say, 'Bye, Mom. See you soon.'" She bent her head and two tears rolled down her cheeks before she looked up at him again. "I don't suppose," she said tremulously, "that you would say, 'Bye, Mom', and wave to me after my groceries are packed and I reach the door, just to help me this first time?" "Of course, I will," the man agreed instantly. The woman's turn at the checkout arrived. The bus-boy packed her things and wheeled her cart to the door. At the door she turned and looked the man in the eye. He waved to her with his right hand and called out loudly, "Bye Mom. See you soon." This single act made him feel good inside and a bit emotional. He began unpacking his own items, placing them on the counter, and thought about how he should call up his own mother that very evening to ask how she was doing. Lost in thought, he was startled when the checkout girl told him the bill was more than $300 dollars. "You must be wrong," he said, "I didn't buy that much." "Oh, but your mother did," she responded with a smile, and instantly he knew he'd been had. Yes, there are crooks and there are victims, and evil resides in the hearts of all of us. When we hear questions like, "How do you keep from getting parking tickets?" and laugh at the answer "By removing your wipers," that is because there is something within us which resonates with getting the better of someone. A master of deceit One of the most infamous masters of deceit and trickery was a man by the name of Victor Lustig. Born in 1890 in Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic, Victor was gifted with a brilliant mind. Part of an upper-middle class family, his father was the mayor of a small town, so small Viktor's future was, humanly speaking, rather secure. In school he studied languages, easily becoming fluent in Czech, German, English, French and Italian. Victor could have used these talents to become a wonderful teacher or diplomat. Instead, he opted for gambling, turning his abilities to billiards, poker and bridge. In his early twenties he went on pleasure cruises and cheated many gullible, wealthy people out of their money. However, when World War I put a stop to these cruises, he headed for the US. Giving himself the title of "Count," his devious mind conned many in the States out of huge sums of cash (including the gangster Al Capone). The story that really put the native born Czechoslovakian in the news occurred in 1925 when he was 35 years old. Lustig was in Paris at this time and he read in the newspaper that the Eiffel Tower was in great need of repair. The cost of fixing the monumental fixture seemed rather prohibitive. There was even a brief footnote in the article which mentioned that the French government was considering scrapping the tower as it might be cheaper for them to tear it down than to repair it. Upon finishing the article, Lustig's fertile and calculating mind literally saw huge sums of money floating by. His connections with other nefarious characters enabled him to acquire official French government letterhead giving himself the title of "Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Mail and Telegraphs." He typed up letters in which he said that he had the authority to sell the 7,000 ton steel structure to the highest bidder and sent this letter to five leading scrap metal dealers in the city. He instructed the recipients of the letter to keep the matter secret as the public would most likely be upset about the demolition of such a landmark. All five scrap metal dealers showed up and Lustig carefully picked the one most apt to be his patsy: a man by the name of Monsieur Poisson. Poisson gladly paid a handsome amount of money for the privilege of obtaining the contract, and upon receiving it Lustig quickly retreated to Austria. Hearing no news of the swindle, he concluded that Poisson had been too embarrassed to have told anyone. Boldly Lustig returned to Paris and tried to sell the Eiffel Tower a second time. This time, however, the police were made aware of the swindle. The conman barely eluded authorities and was forced to flee to America. Ten years later, in 1935, after having flooded the US with counterfeit bills, and having cheated many more people, the Secret Service finally caught up with Lustig. They reacted to an anonymous phone call made by his mistress who was jealous because Victor was cheating on her. He was arrested and sentenced to twenty years in Alcatraz. Although he initially escaped from jail, he was re-apprehended and spent the next twelve years behind bars. A set of tips, known as the "Ten Commandments for Conmen," are attributed to Lustig. They are:

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a conman his coups) 2. Never look bored 3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions; then agree with him 4. Let the other person reveal religious views; then have the same ones 5. Hint at sex talk, but don't follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest 6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown 7. Never pry into a person's personal circumstances (they'll tell you eventually); 8. Never boast - just let your importance be quietly obvious 9. Never be untidy 10. Never get drunk

There is accounting In 1947 Victor Lustig contracted pneumonia and died after a two-day illness. His last enemy, death, was not to be conned out of its prey. Having shunned God's commandments, and the One Who kept them perfectly, he had no place to hide. Although proficient in languages, he was forced to clap his hand over his mouth. Perhaps our lives do not compare with Viktor Lustig's life; perhaps our deeds shine when we hold them up next to his obvious deceitfulness; but we do well to remember that we ought to

...fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including a short story collection/devotional available at Joshua Press here. She has a new novel - historical fiction - coming out Spring 2017 called "Katharina, Katharina" (1497-1562) covering the childhood and youth of Katharina Schutz Zell, the wife of the earliest Strasbourg priest turned Reformer, Matthis Zell.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the mystery of the molecular machines

Documentary 60 minutes / 2016 RATING; 7/10 Revolutionary is a fantastic documentary about what a quiet professor did to get Darwinian evolutionists very, very upset with him. Now, Michael Behe is not a creationist – he seems to believe in an old earth and that some sort of evolution may well have occurred. So why would Darwinians be so very disturbed by him? Because Behe doesn't believe the world came about by chance. While studying the human cell he realized the microscopic machines within it are so intricate and complex it's inconceivable they could have come about via only random mutation and natural selection. The cell's outboard motor and "irreducible complexity" While Behe is the subject of this documentary, the real "star" of the show is one of those "micro-machines" that so fascinated him: the bacterial flagellum motor. As the documentary's narration explains:

Perhaps the most amazing propulsion system on our entire planet is one that exists in bacteria. It is called the flagellum, a miniature propellor driven by a motor with many distinct mechanical parts, each made of proteins.

The flagellum's motor resembles a human-designed rotary engine. It has a universal joint, bushings, a stator, and a rotor. It has a drive shaft and even its own clutch and braking system. In some bacteria the flagellum motor has been clocked at a 100,000 revolutions per minute. The motor is bi-directional and can shift from forward to reverse almost instantaneously. Some scientists suggest it operates at near-100% energy efficiency.

All of this is done on a microscopic scale that is hard to imagine. The diameter of the flagellum motor is no more than 5 millionths of a centimeter.

In his book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe argued that Darwinian evolution could not account for micro-machines like this because Darwin required all complex living things to have evolved through a step-by-step process from simpler lifeforms. Behe couldn't see how these micro-machines could have developed in stages. They were, as he put it, "irreducibly complex" – take one piece out, and they don't simply function less efficiently, but instead seize functioning at all. The flagellum motor is astonishing, and yet it's only one of many "molecular machines" scientists have discovered in the last several decades, all of them operating with a single cell. Some of the others include: "energy-producing turbines, information-copying machines, and even robotic walking motors." (The title of Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, is a reference to how, when Darwin presented his theory,  he didn't know how incredibly complex the inner workings of the cell were – they were only a "black box" to him. Would Darwin have ever suggested his theory if he'd had an inkling of how complex even the simplest life really is?) The documentary shows that since Behe first poised the problem of "irreducible complexity" many have tried to address it, but with no real success. Cautions The ID movement is sometimes caricatured as being creationism in disguise. But it is made up of a very diverse group of scientists. There are Christians, cultists and atheists too, and while it seems most believe in an ancient earth, there are also 6-day creationists. What unites the ID movement is the shared belief that the evidence shows there must have been intelligence – an Intelligent Designer – behind the formation of the universe. But because they are trying to avoid being labelled as a religious movement they won't name the "Intelligent Designer." This is the ID movement's greatest flaw: in this refusal they are not giving God the glory that is His due! Since the "good guys" in this film hold to a wide variety of views on the age of the Earth, Who made it, and to what extent He made use of evolution, this is not a film for the undiscerning. Conclusion That said, this is an important and well-made documentary. Revolutionary shows how Behe became one of the fathers of the Intelligent Design (ID), and in documenting his history, they also provide a overview of ID movement itself. That's the best reason to see this film – to get a good introduction to a movement that questions unguided, Darwinian evolution, on scientific grounds. In just one hour it traces the impact Behe has had on the Darwinian debate since his pivotal book, Darwin's Black Box, was published two decades ago. There's a lot packed in here, and it is well worth repeated viewings. While Revolutionary is important and has some wonderful computer animations of the inner workings of the cell, it is not for everyone. Since the central figure is a mild-mannered sort, it just isn't going to grab the attention of children or other casual viewers. However, for anyone interested in the sciences and the origins debate, it is a must-see! And – bonus! – it is now available to be viewed online for free! (See below) https://youtu.be/7ToSEAj2V0s

Science - Creation/Evolution, Theology

The cost of an old earth: Is it worth it?

Until recently, most Christians believed that the Bible teaches us that the earth was only a few thousand years ago. This contradicts mainstream science, which holds that the earth is billions of years old. Consequently, many Christians, have modified their reading of the Bible accordingly. At first sight, this may seem rather harmless. The age of the earth hardly seems to be a doctrine essential to the Bible's main message of salvation. Yet, much more is at stake than first meets the eye. Accepting mainstream science on the age of the earth entails that we accept the reliability of its dating methods, with all the underlying presumptions. It entails also that we should likewise accept other results of mainstream science that are based on similar assumptions. Let’s see what this implies. The order of creation  We note first that mainstream science challenges not only the timescale of the Genesis creation account but also its order. Genesis 1 says: Day 1 – Water, earthly elements, then light Day 2 – Firmament, then oceans, atmosphere Day 3 – Dry land, then land vegetation, fruit trees, grass Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars Day 5 – Marine life, then birds Day 6 – Land animals, then humans Mainstream science says: 14 billion years ago – light/light elements, then stars/galaxies, then heavy elements/water 4.58 billion years ago – Sun 4.54 billion years ago – earth 550 million years ago (mya) – first fish 440 mya – first primitive plants 360 mya – first land animals – reptiles 245 mya – first mammals 210 mya – first birds 140 mya – first flowering plants 70 mya – first grasses, fruit trees 2 mya – first tool-making humanoids Note that the two orders differ at many places. For example, Genesis has fruit trees first, then birds, and then land animals; mainstream science has exactly the reverse. Genesis has the earth before the Sun and stars; mainstream science has stars and Sun before the earth, etc. Since it does not help to simply recast the creation days as long periods of time, most commentators trying to accommodate mainstream science now advocate that Genesis 1 has to be taken as a purely literary structure, with no real historical information – other than stating that God created the entire universe. The effect of the Fall A second consequence concerns the Fall of Adam. Calvin (and Kuyper) believed that predation, death, disease, thorns, earthquakes all arose as a result of the Fall. Viewed in terms of the traditional reading of Genesis, the fossil record reflects events that all happened after the Fall. Acceptance of an old earth, on the other hand, entails that the fossils we observe mostly reflect life before the Fall. Predation, pain, suffering, disease, earthquakes and the like, must then have existed already before the Fall. The fossil record, thus viewed, implies that the Fall did not have any observable effects on the earth or on non-human life. It follows that proponents of an old earth must minimize the physical consequences of Adam's fall. Traditionally, all animal suffering is seen as a result of human sin. But now it must be seen as part of the initial “very good” creation. Further, if the current world is not a world that has fallen from a better initial state, how can there be a universal restoration (cf Romans 8:19-23; Col. 1:16-20)? There are other difficulties. For example, how could Adam name all the animals if by then more than 99% had already become extinct? Human history Consider further the implications for human history. According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created directly by God (Gen. 2) about 4000 BC (Gen. 5 & 11). They were the parents of all humans (Gen. 3:20). The Bible describes Adam as a gardener, his son Abel as a shepherd, and his son Cain as a farmer who founded a city (Gen. 4). Tents, musical instruments and bronze and iron tools were all invented by the offspring of Cain (Gen. 4), who were later all destroyed by the Flood (Gen. 6-9), which destroyed all humans except for Noah and his family (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5). Within a few generations after the Flood there is a confusion of language and people spread out to populate the earth (Gen. 11). Mainstream science, on the other hand, gives the following outline of human history: 2 million years BC – homo erectus, anatomically very similar to modern man 200,000 BC – oldest anatomically human Homo sapiens fossils (Ethiopia) 40-50,000 BC – oldest artistic and religious artifacts 40,000 BC – first aborigines in Australia (and continuously there ever since). 9000 BC – first villages 7500 BC – first plant cultivation, domesticated cattle and sheep (neolithic era) 5000 BC – first bronze tools 3000 BC – first written records 1600 BC – first iron tools The Biblical account is clearly at odds with the mainstream interpretation of the archaeological and fossil evidence. For example, if Australian aborigines have indeed lived separately from the rest of the world for 40,000 years then the Flood, if anthropologically universal, must have occurred more than 40,000 years ago. But Genesis places the cultivation of plants and cattle, metal-working, cities, etc., before the Flood. Mainstream science places these events after 10,000 BC. Hence, according to mainstream science, Noah’s flood could not have occurred before 10,000 BC. Consequently, an old earth position forces us to demote the Genesis flood to a local flood that did not affect all humans. Likewise, the tower of Babel incident (Gen.11) must now be localized to just a portion of mankind. Consider also the origin of man. Since Adam’s sons were farmers, mainstream science sets the date of Adam no earlier than 10,000 BC. This entails that the Australian aborigines are not descendants of Adam. Thus Adam and Eve are not the ancestors of all humans living today. This undermines the doctrine of original sin, which the confessions say was propagated in a hereditary manner from Adam to all his posterity (Belgic Confession 15-16; Canons of Dordt 34:2-3). This, in turn, undermines the view of Christ’s atonement as a penal substitution where Christ, as a representative descendent of Adam, pays for the sins of Adam’s race. Many of those who accept an evolutionary view of man have thus re-interpreted the work of Jesus as merely an example of love. Further, given the close similarity between human fossils of 10,000 and 2 million years ago, it becomes difficult to avoid concluding that Adam and Eve had human-like ancestors dating back a few million years. But that entails that Adam and Eve were not created directly by God, contrary to Gen. 2, and that human suffering and death occurred long before Adam’s fall, contrary to Rom. 5:12. Conclusions To sum up, embracing mainstream science regarding its assertion of an old earth entails the following consequences: Both the timescale and order of the creation account of Genesis 1 are wrong. The Flood of Gen. 6-8 must have been local, not affecting all humans. The Babel account of Gen. 11 must have been local, not affecting all humans. Adam’s fall – and the subsequent curse on the earth – did not significantly affect the earth, plants, animals, or the human body. Adam, living about 10,000 BC, could not have been the ancestor of all humans living today. Hence the doctrines of original sin and the atonement must be revised Adam had human ancestors Hence human physical suffering and death occurred before the Fall and are not a penalty for sin. These, in turn, entail the following constraints on the Bible: 1-11 does not report reliable history. Hence the Bible cannot be taken at face value when describing historical events, in which case we cannot believe everything the Bible says (cf. Belgic Confession 5; Heidelberg CatechismQ/A 21). In sum, acceptance of an old earth has dire consequences for the rest of Gen. 1-11, for Biblical clarity, authority and inerrancy, and for the essentials of salvation. Worldviews come as package deals. One cannot simply mix and match. Logical consistency dictates that those who do not whole-heartedly base their worldview on the Bible will ultimately end up rejecting it. A better course of action would thus be to hold fast to the full authority of the Bible, to re-consider the presuppositions leading to an old earth, and to interpret the data in terms of scientific theories that are consistent with Biblical truths.

This article first appeared in an Oct. 24, 2009 post on Dr. John Byl’s blog Bylogos.blogspot.com and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. John Byl is a Professor emeritus for Trinity Western University, and the author of "God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe" and "The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning.”

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Silver Fleet

Drama/ Black and White / War 1943 / 88 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is well-done, almost unknown World War II film told from the Dutch perspective. As the occupation begins the Nazis ask Dutchman Jaap van Leyden whether he would like to continue on in his job as shipyard manager. They want him to complete work on two half-built submarines that were originally intended for the Dutch navy. When he decides to accept the position both his workers and his wife question his patriotism – why was he willing to be a collaborator? But while van Leyden may not have the courage to stand up to the Nazis, someone else does. The workmen have started receiving anonymous messages outlining a daring sabotage plan. The notes are all signed "Piet Hein," a historical Dutch hero from the 17th century, and stirred by the memory of Hein's great deeds done long ago, and their own strong love of country, the workmen are happy to help this mysterious figure. Cautions Silver Fleet doesn't fully explore why these men were willing to risk their lives. Their love of country is the expressed motivation, but for Christian viewers, who know that our country can do nothing for us after death, patriotism should strike us as a wholly insufficient reason to risk one's life. But while God is not mentioned in the film, we know that it was their love of God that prompted our Dutch grandparents and great grandparents to take the risks that they did. So, with that in mind, Silver Fleet can be enjoyed as a secular tribute to the bravery of Dutch men who, whether the directors cared to acknowledge it or not, were willing to risk their lives for love of God and country... in that order. Conclusion The Nazis are at times more buffoonish than threatening, but overall the acting is quite good. The Silver Fleet is a solid World War film that I would recommend to any 1940s film enthusiast, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the War from the Dutch perspective. There seem to be no trailers available for The Silver Fleet, but the 3-minute clip below gives a feel for the film. While it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere online, cheap copies on DVD are readily available.

AA
In a Nutshell
Tagged: Dating, featured, spanking, statistics, Tidbits

Tidbits – March 2020

It’s so easy to get things wrong

While doing evangelism, Christian apologist Ray Comfort will often ask his conversational partner a series of quick trick questions. The goal is to provoke a little humility by highlighting how easy it is to get things wrong. So take this quiz (or better, yet, give it to a friend…who can take a joke) and then look at the bottom of this page to see how well you really did.

  1. How many of the unclean animal did Moses take onto the Ark?
  2. What is the name of that raised print that deaf people use?
  3. Spell the word shop. What do you do when you come to a green light?
  4. It’s noon. You look at the clock, and the big hand is on the three, and the little hand is on the five. What time is it?
  5. You are the driver of a train. There are 30 people on board. At the first stop, 10 people get off the train. At the next stop, 5 people get on the train. Here is the question: What is the name of the driver of the train?
  6. Spell the word silk. What do cows drink?

And here’s one Comfort doesn’t use, but should:

What mouse walks on two legs?
  I don’t know.
Mickey Mouse! What dog walks on two legs?
  Goofy?
Right! And what duck walks on two legs?
  Donald Duck!
All ducks walk on two legs!

Troublemaking

Bruce Jenner, who now goes by the name of Caitlyn, was an Olympic decathlete in the 1970s, and his personal best in the 400-meter is still better than any woman has ever run. If feelings can determine a person’s gender, then why doesn’t Caitlyn own the women’s 400-meter world record?

Lies and statistics, and spanking…

Every now and again the mainstream media will splash news of the very latest spanking study, which will report that spanking is “linked to aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem, and a host of other negative outcomes.” That study will then be used as evidence that spanking needs to be banned.

But if we look beyond the headline we’ll find that whatever the latest study might be, it makes two fundamental errors.

  1. First, it will label as “spanking” anything physical that a parent did as a punishment for their child. That a child who is regularly beaten by his drunken father will have problems at school, is presented as evidence that a child who sometimes gets three smacks to his behind will also have trouble at school.
  2. Second, despite knowing that correlation does not imply causation, the press will report as if this is the exception to the rule, instead of looking for any sort of possible alternate explanation for the findings.

What might an alternative explanation be? If I were a betting man I would put all my fortune down on this: were we to do a study of children who crayola the hallway wall, and then go outside to make mud pies so they can feed them to their napping, open-mouthed big sister, we would find that they are more likely than their peers to get spanked. In other words, it might well be that spankings don’t lead to these “negative outcomes” but rather that a child’s disposition to negative outcomes requires a parent to spank them more often.

As any parent with two or more children can tell you, one of their kids will require more discipline than the others. And it isn’t the especially good one.

Get ready to be reviled

“Pastors need to teach their people about how to handle with grace being looked down on more then ever before. I heard of John Stott reflecting that as a young man at Cambridge when people said ‘O he’s a Christian,’ what they meant was that he was a goody-two-shoes. But now to be called a Christian means that you are viewed as a morally-deficient person, because you have not swallowed the gay agenda.”

– Dr. John E Benton, Evangelicals Now, July 2012, on how the world will change as gay marriage becomes the norm.

More troublemaking

Our culture is insane, as is on clear display with what they think about sexual education. To put that insanity on better display here’s an idea from frequent RP contributor Rob Slane that lays out a couple of pointed questions a brave troublemaking Christian could ask university professors or sex-ed teachers.

“I imagine a teenager in a sex education lesson asking the following question: ‘Miss. Assuming I take precautions, would it would be safer for me to have 3 partners or 300?’ No brainer of course, and even the most progressive of teachers would have to admit that 3 is ‘safer’ than 300. Simple mathematical probabilities this one: the lower the number, the ‘safer the sex.’

“In which case a really mischievous teenager – a true rebel you might say – might ask the following question: ‘Miss, is it safer to only have 1 partner for life, or multiple? And if it’s 1 – which it is – and if this is a safe-sex lesson – which it is – why do you not advocate it?’”

Faint heart never won fair lady

“Many a man has known a great woman, yet did not win her because, out of fear, he failed to pursue her.  Every man understands this, both the brave man who has risked it all (and won or lost) and the timid man who did not dare.  The battle to take the great action required at these ‘make it or break it’ moments is won or lost privately, deep in the heart.”
– Patrick F. Fagan

Answers for “It’s so easy to get things wrong”

  1. Moses didn’t take any animals on the ark; Noah did.
  2. Deaf people don’t need special raised print; Braille is for the blind.
  3. You certainly don’t stop.
  4. We told you, it’s noon.
  5. Remember, you are the driver of the train.
  6. While calves might drink milk, cows drink water.

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