Why I Pray

Do you pray? Do you know why?

A study was released in 2006 that seemingly proved that prayers for healing were ineffective. This is the largest study of its kind and to many it seemed to prove that prayer was a useless escapade and that if there is a God, he doesn’t seem to be listening. My first reaction was depression. I thought “God! – Why didn’t you show up?” and for a little while I let it affect my faith, but then I did some of my own research both in the scriptures and elsewhere and I realized that this study doesn’t change anything because that’s not why I pray.

So how do we as Christians react to this study? Well, we could point out that most of the studies before this one seemed to show the opposite to be true – such as a similar study in 1988 which showed that people who were prayed for anonymously needed fewer meds than those in the control group. Or we could point to the fact that statistically those who are involved in church are more likely to heal from diseases. But I really don’t think any of these prove anything. I’m not saying I don’t believe that the most recent study is conclusive; I think none of them are, and I don’t think any of them ever will be.

Why?

If someone asked a wise and generous millionaire for $100 randomly, he might say yes, he might say no – he could have good reasons for both. Perhaps he knows that the person in question is just going to waste that money or perhaps he knows that if he doesn’t give his money to that person, they’ll have the opportunity earn it themselves and in the process learn something. He might even say no and then offer them a job and in the long run, give them way more that $100. He also might give to people who didn’t even ask for it. If someone with whom he’s close asks him for $1 wouldn’t he be more likely to give them the money? Even more so if they were asking for that money so they could use it to help someone else in need? Obviously this analogy has its limits, but I think it changes things we you stop thinking of God as a giant slot machine and start thinking of him as a person. You can measure the statistical likelihood of a slot machine giving you a jackpot and it will not change over time. God is dynamic and while his character is unchanging, in scripture it’s clear that he’s not a slot machine.

So is it useless to Pray?

Medically prayer is shown to be effective for the person praying in that it promotes healthy blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and lowers heart rate. So regardless of what you believe, it is not useless to pray.

But do all of the effects of prayer have to be measurable by numbers? Think of your best friend, your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend – do you find a conversation with that person to be ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’? Do you only consider it a ‘success’ if you received something from them? Do you quantify all of your relationships in statistics – saying that the relationship isn’t ‘effective’ if you’re not receiving what you ask for? I hope not – most people wouldn’t stand for that. Why do we expect a relationship with a living God to be any different?

The Real Authority

A few years ago there was a distinct drop in pretty much every car’s estimated miles per gallon. Why was this? Did every car actually get less efficient? No, It was because the testing standards became more realistic – the auto industry realized that their mode of testing wasn’t really testing anything real – instead it was just measuring what the MPG would be if a professional driver on a closed course were driving their car. They had to actually study what they were trying to study. I’d suggest that in addition to the fact that prayer isn’t quantifiable, these studies are much the same as the original MPG test; the conditions didn’t actually consider what real prayer looks like – what its purpose is or even simply, how to do it. That brings us to the question, “What then should prayer look like?” For the answer to that question we have to go to where we should have started: Scripture.

If you’re like me, you never think “I wonder if I’ll have enough water today”

While at catalyst this year I was reminded of one of my favorite charities. Charity:Water is one the many charities that’s helping provide people in developing countries with drinking water. I’d heard about it last year at catalyst, but this year Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity:Water came and spoke at the main event. His testimony of God’s faithfulness in his own life was powerful enough, but his story of bringing water to over a million people in developing countries was one of my favorite talks given at the conference this year.

Dirty water kills more people per year than any form of violence, including war. But by donating even $20 to charity water you can give clean water to one person for 20 years! $5,000 is enough to dig a well for a whole community! Today is ‘blog action day’ wherein bloggers are chellenged to write about an issue and this week’s issue happens to be – you guessed it, Water. So I decided to use this opportunity to launch a campaign to build a well.

You can help me raise money by visiting my charity water page

Click here to donate

Charity water is an awesome charity for several reasons:

  1. 100% of what you donate goes straight to drilling water wells in developing countries, giving people clean water who never would have otherwise. All the administrative fees are paid for by private donors, so if you donate to Charity:Water you can know that all of your contributions are helping people get water, not for office furniture or travel expenses.
  2. Branding – Charity: Water has created a brand that people recognize – if you haven’t seen their ad campaign you should take a look at it. They do a good job of bringing the need home, not just guilting people into donating.
  3. The movement – In addition thousands of people making small donations – many more are collecting donations towards goals. This was made much easier by the launch of mycharitywater.com which is one of the first social-networking style donation sites run by a Charity
  4. Perhaps the coolest thing to me about Charity:Water is that it’s founder, Scott Harrison is a Christian. His amazing story at Catalyst was a testimony of God’s faithfulness to us.

So that’s it

Please, take some time and donate – you can donate as little as one dollar. In the words of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 25,

“…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

If I had to describe catalyst in 300 words, I’d write “Awesome” 300 times.

Catalyst 2010 was awesome. There are no two ways about it – the only real disappointment I had they didn’t hand out LED key chains this year. That may not sound like much, but it was one of the biggest ‘wow’ factors of last year – when they turned off all the lights in that arena and 12,000 little red,blue and white LEDs start twinkling 360 degrees around that enormous room – wow. It really added to the crowd participation during  the performance songs.

But, this year was awesome in its own ways. So I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite things about the conference in 2010.

My favorite parts of Catalyst this year

  • Andy StanleyI don’t think that I could pick out a favorite talk. They were all so incredible, but I really appreciated both of Andy’s talks. His first message focused on setting aside our appetites for  God’s plans while his second was about tensions within the church and how some tensions don’t need to be solved, but they do need to be managed.
  • Tim Elmore – Of the Labs that I went to this year, Tim Elmore was without a doubt the coolest speaker. He talked about the differences between generations, specifically focusing on the younger half of Generation Y. I was so impressed with him that I bought his book, “Generation iY” before they handed them out free to everyone there. So someone in my family is getting this book for Christmas.
  • Randall Wallace – After lunch on friday they surprised us by having Randall Wallace, screenwriter of Braveheart and director of Secretariat which released that day. Randall turned to the crowd of Christian leaders and admitted that he would probably meet with trouble in his industry for coming to such a conference but then said to the crowd “I’m with you.” It was very encouraging to know that there are still Christian people in Hollywood.
  • Michael Junior – I’d never heard of Michael Junior, a comedian who has appeared on Jay Leno and numerous comedy clubs. Michael had been a Christian since a young age when one day he was praying before going out on stage and he felt God was calling him to use his gift as an outreach. Now he does comedy in rehab centers, children’s hospitals and even prisons. He made a documentary about the different places he went and a played a segment of it, but more than anything – he was just funny. I’m usually pretty snobby about humor and he made me laugh out loud several times.
  • Scott Harrison – The founder of Charity:Water, Scott Harrison has a great story. I can’t do it justice in just a few lines, but the most amazing part was that his mother, whose immune system was destroyed due to carbon monoxide poisoning, was miraculously healed after he decided to start Charity:Water.

So those were a few of my favorite parts this year – Catalyst basically inspired this whole blog, so it won’t surprise you to know that I expect it to inspire four or five more posts before the month is out. There were lots of great videos, ministries and charities showcased there and I’ll be featuring those in the weeks to come.

What I, as a creative, took away from Catalyst this year:

  • Theme, Theme, Theme – It’s not a new lesson, but like most lessons worth learning, it’s always good to be reminded. Many of the big events (church or other-wise) that I’ve been a part of producing have had a theme of some kind. Most of those events didn’t follow through with the theme in any way beyond the graphics. This year’s theme was “The Tension is Good” – which upon first hearing, I thought was too wordy and thus made for poor branding. When I got there I realized that they followed through with this theme in many of the talks, the interviews and creative videos throughout the conference. From beginning to end we were being taught that ‘the Tension is Good’
  • Nobody’s perfect (I know, I was shocked too) If you’re like me you have to put many of the most important elements of church work in the hands of volunteers. Let me say that my volunteers are awesome and I literally couldn’t do what I do without them, but there’s a reason why calling someone a ‘pro’ is a compliment while ‘amateur’ is not. Generally we have at least one small but significant flub in any given worship service and sometimes it can be pretty frustrating, but take heart! There were several technical snafus at Catalyst, from feedback over the PA to totally wrong lyrics on the screens. I don’t know if they did it on purpose to make the rest of us feel better, but I certainly thought “you know, if these guys can’t get it perfect at this one event, I think I can accept a few mistakes on a weekend service.”
  • Content is King – I know this one isn’t new either, but Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson made a pretty good statement about this, he said “Good product is the new marketing – Good marketing just makes a bad product fail faster” In other words – if you don’t have content worth communicating, it doesn’t matter how cool it looks or how well stated it is, if you don’t have anything to say it’ll come through. My boss, Ken Roach – the communication director here says if he ever writes a book on communication it’ll be called “First, have Something to Say”  (© Ken Roach 2010) I think we need to make sure we’re spending as much time on our message as we are on our medium.
  • Lots of great ideas for creative elements – Videos, crowd participation and great sermon illustrations galore! One of my favorites was during Craig Groeschel’s talk he played a video of  ”An Interview With the Devil” which I think he may have done as a series back at life church.tv Either way, it was very funny and very simple. There are lots of great crowd participation elements at Catalyst every year. Like I mentioned, last year they handed out LED key chains (which are surprisingly inexpensive) when the lights get turned out, all the LEDs come flashing. It created a really cool effect. Our church is planning on borrowing this play in an upcoming series. There were too many great sermon illustrations to mention, you’ll just have to come next year to get the experience.

It was a blast! I can’t wait until next year!


Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

This review was made in August of 2010, and edited for release on this blog in May of 2011

Most people will think that I’m exaggerating if I say that Scott pilgrim is the kind of modern-day epic that comes about once a generation, but I truly believe it. While it wasn’t a large financial success, I’m sure it will be a cult classic for years to come. I would put it in the same category as Wayne’s World in that it acts as both a survey and a commentary on the culture of the 20-something culture of the day. Before I continue I should say that it is not a family friendly movie. And I struggle with how much I enjoy this movie. The sexual lifestyle portrayed through several of the films scenes is directly contrary to scripture. If you read my entry regarding my personal rules for watching movies you’ll know that I don’t watch movies flippantly – when considering a movie, I take it very seriously. While there are several scenes that make solid strikes against it I do believe that you will see the hipster subculture values displayed, for good or ill and that there is much to learn about identifying with this culture by observing its values and while entertainment value alone cannot redeem a movie, it does have great entertainment value. If you totally ignore a movie because of its content you may miss what is happening in the culture and this film changes the game in some ways. Perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment is that it cannot be defined by anything other than itself: it’s truly original. Placing it in a single genre is impossible. The best that I could say is that it’s 3 parts kung fu, 4 parts comedy, 3 part super-hero, 2 parts romance, 1 part musical and 100% comic book. It exemplifies what high quality, fast-cut editing can do for the pace of what could’ve been a trilogy of movies and the incorporation of the comic-book onomatopoeia and the different uses of written text as an added layer throughout the movie flows so well with the comedy of the story that you almost ask your self “Why hasn’t every comic book movie done this?” It’s a feel good movie that moves at a breakneck speed, which begs to be watched again as it’s nearly impossible to catch every subtly, every popular culture reference, every sound bite that is taken out of a video game, every witty throw-away line. It’s a well-written and well-produced collage of 2010’s 20-something je ne sais pas. Some people will be overwhelmed by the pace of the movie coupled with suspension of disbelief required to really enjoy the movie; one friend of mine could only say “That movie was all over the place.” It is not going to reach as wide an audience as most summer blockbusters, but within the culture that it depicts it will continue to be influential in a way that most movies will never be. Any fan of the original comic series (a Canadian work that largely draws on video games and other mid-90’s popular culture) would love it, as it goes out of its way to be true to the text. It replicates exact moments in the book down to pain-staking detail as small as the motion lines around a character’s head. Based on the source material, the casting is perfect and every character is lovable – even if in an antagonist’s role. In summary, for entertainment value I give it 5/5 stars, for family friendliness I give it 1/5. It’s very clever and extremely fun to watch, but much of it is based on a post-modern morals that are equal parts distracting and humorous, so its easy to overlook them, but they are no less prevalent. In short, it’s a geeky 20-something’s dream and for better or worse, will likely to be considered one of my favorite movies if it stands the test of time. Though I can’t whole-heartedly recommend it due to some of it’s content, the very least I can say is: It’s definitely worth a viewing. If you see one movie this summer – you have to see Inception, it’s the best movie of the summer, but if you see two – this should be the second.

Review: Sherlock Holmes

This review was originally written in December of 2009 it was edited for this blog in May of 2011

Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes greatly exceeded my expectations. While it definitely has that cotton-candy hollywood quality to it, it actually has a complex and thoughtful plot. And as you should expect it has plenty of twists, enough that you’re likely to get caught off guard at least once or twice. Its exceptionally entertaining, but has a slight intellectual edge that I wasn’t totally expecting.

Any strict fans of Holmes will likely not be satisfied with this incarnation who is equal parts action hero and sleuth. Though, I personally think that all additions to the character only made the movie more enjoyable. Robert Downey Jr does a great Job in his portrayal of Holmes and Jude Law is a great sidekick. This dynamic was very different than past depictions of the Holmes/Watson relationship, but as far as I can find it is actually more accurate to the books. Watson is never painted as a bumbling old man, rather an uptight and structured foil to Holme’s seemingly whimsical nature. Bringing this element to their partnership allows for the whole of the story to have a more energetic feel.

RD Jr.’s greatest success might be his british accent – I can’t think of a recent movie where I have heard an American actor more successfully pull off a british accent. It certainly seems like every British and Australian actor is fully capable of doing an American accent. I think after Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Robin Hood the Queen probably threatened to gather the Knights of the realm and attack us if we had another bad American actor portray a beloved British character. (Only to realize that most of the Knights of the realm are merely mediocre british actors themselves)

The biggest surprise to me was how un-steampunk the whole movie was. Giving the director, I expected there to be a more ‘spray paint and bubblegum’ quality to both the scenery and plot. My concerns were abated early on however, when the first scene opens with harpsichord music. Anachronisms were minimal and tasteful, and the plot didn’t suffer much obvious imposition of postmodernism on the industrial age.

Over all I give it a 4/5 stars; 5/5 for entertainment value and quality of production and 3/5 for family friendly-ness. It is PG-13 for a reason – the depiction of spiritualism of the 1800s is a rather mature theme for one. It is also not without its fare share sexual innuendo, language and violence – though for the most part I would say that it is surprisingly tasteful throughout. Ultimately it is really nothing but a fun movie and I think that most movie goers will enjoy it thoroughly.

Review: Star Trek

Many people who know me are surprised to find that I was not a an avid Star Trek fan before now – I did watch a little bit of the show, both the original and “The Next Generation” but I myself am not a huge fan of sci-fi. I am, however a fan of sprawling movies with scale to them and this, my friend is a true epic.

Now I know even the previews tell you that this isn’t your daddy’s Star Trek, but the first thing that impressed me about the film was the way it maintained what charm there was in the original TV show. All of the same hokey catch-phrases that you know and love from the original appear in the film. J.J. Abrams did a phenomenal of crafting a story that both Trekkies and Human movie-goers alike will enjoy by having both the edgy, effect-driven, adrenaline-pumping action scenes and the comical nods to the original – like one brief scene where we find Kirk in bed with a green woman, at which point even I, with my near-zero tolerance for thematic material, had to chuckle.

The movie starts with an event that takes place roughly 25 years before the rest of the plot. We see a federation starship being attacked and the 1st officer forced to take command. To save most of the people on the ship (including his wife who is giving birth as the attack is happening) he is forced to stay on the bridge while all others board escape pods so that they will get away safely while he kamikazes his way into star-fleet history.

Fast-forward a few scenes and about 20 years later and we find that that man’s son has grown up to be an arrogant, smooth and talented young James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine who will be one of Holly Wood’s sexiest men this year – mark my words. After a scuffle in a bar with some star fleet cadets A recruiter grabs Kirk and in a matter of minutes convinces the young rapscallion to enlist in Star Fleet. We’re introduced to all the Iconic characters one by one. First Uhura then Dr. McCoy who immediately befriends Kirk. Karl Urban, who plays “Bones” McCoy has a name you don’t recognize, but a face you will – considering he had principal roles in two Lord of the Rings movies and one of the Borne movies. His portrayal of Dr.McCoy is nothing more than an impersonation of the original Actor, and I loved it.

We’re also introduced to Zachary Quinto portraying perhaps one the most recognizable characters in all of Science Fiction, that lovable vulcan, Spock. Quinto’s name might not ring a bell for you, but if you, like me can’t miss an episode of that Monday night shamless X-men rip-off known as Heroes – you might know him by his other name: Sylar. You’ll probably be surprised to know that Quinto does a phenomenal job of actually making the character of Spock quite . . . well . . . human.

The Rubber hits the road when a distress call is sent out from the planet Vulcan and, since the primary fleet is engaged elsewhere in the galaxy, the cadets at star fleet have to take point on this assignment. The enterprise, the fleet’s newest flagship, is no different, and all at once we meet the rest of the crew. This element of having most of the major characters being rookies forced into action is a great way of handling the otherwise improbable course of action that lands Kirk the position of captain two-thirds of the way through the movie.

We find out that the same space craft which initiated the attack resulting in the death of Kirk’s father has returned, and as the plot thickens, we discover that they are actually from the future and so all the events that take place in this movie are, you guessed it, are a deviation from normal-space time, resulting in an alternate reality. If that was too heady for you let me put it this way: in one fell swoop the writers have not only explained what has taken place in the plot, but they are also explaining to all the Trekkies that it is perfectly acceptable for this course of events to be inconsistent with those in the existing Star Trek canon. Brilliant.

Appropriate for all ages? No. I’d say that the rating is quite accurate that children under 13 should probably wait a few years, but all in all the movie doesn’t ever go over-the-top with any of the ‘big 3′ (sex, language, violence) I’d say that I was impressed with the level of propriety and that I wouldn’t discourage anyone with a moderate stomach for violence from seeing it based on content. It is all handled fairly well and is no worse certainly than once should expect.

Over all Star Trek has the full package: Great effects, good acting, pithy dialogue, lovable characters and the most die-hard fan base this planet’s ever seen. Perhaps the only thing that I was slightly disappointed in was the lack of even a brief cameo from William Shatner. But in all reality, this movie wins, through and through. Don’t wait for the blu-ray. Go see it now, because weather you like it or not, its the next big thing. Move over sliced bread- you just got owned by Star Trek!