Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Johnny Depp, Andy Stanley and the door shut in my face repeatedly.

Johnny Depp, Andy Stanley and the door shut in my face repeatedly.

In this month’s issue of GQ there is an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather. Coppola tells a story of how he originally cast Johnny Depp in Dracula but the studio refused to work with him. He had to sit down with Depp and then girlfriend Winona Ryder and essentially fire him. Depp’s response, which Coppola has never forgotten, was simple, “We thought you were God.”

Wow, what an honest statement of anguish. Under the care of Coppola, Depp felt untouchable. He was working with one of the greatest directors of the last 100 years. Everything was going to be alright. Nothing could harm him. And then one afternoon he got fired.

Have you ever felt like that? Thought you understood how the day was going to go? Thought the pieces were in place. Thought you were in the right place and the right time only to have everything turned upside down? I have.

A while ago, Andy Stanley gave a sermon on praying big prayers. I decided that one of mine would be to work full time at Stanley’s mega, mega, mega, really quite large church North Point. In the very depths of my heart I thought this was where God wanted me. Every Sunday I felt like he was calling me there. This was the right place and the right time. Boy was I wrong.

The first sign that maybe North Point wasn’t the place for me was when I had a creative brainstorming with some of their idea folks. I had been invited to help them work on the Christmas Eve service. Before the meeting started I told the leader of the group (one of perhaps the most talented people I’ve ever met), that I was waiting to see if God called me to a church.

This was such a shameful plug for me to work there that it’s embarrassing. But instead of hiring me on the spot, this is what the woman said, “Oh no, you should never work for a church. You’re an idea guy. You need to be working at lots of different churches. We never hire people like you.”

I swear I had been in the building 11 minutes and was already being told that they would in fact never hire me. Awesome. She was incredibly compassionate with those words and I’d later see she was right, but that didn’t stop me from trying with North Point. For the next few months I kept trying to get in good at North Point. I worked with three other departments, writing scripts, working on branding, whatever they needed. And the result was always the same. I’d come in for a meeting, get a check in the mail and then never hear back from anyone. At one point I even had a meeting with Andy Stanley himself, but again nothing long term materialized.

At first this felt like God was slamming the door shut in my face. There are four people in my 12 person small group that work for North Point. They do what I thought God wanted me to do. And still, I can’t for the life of me get a job there. Over Mexican the other night Joel, arguably one of the most important people I know in ministry, said, “Yeah I don’t think you’d do well at North Point.” Awesome number two.

What’s the point of all this? Is God still God? Or is he like Coppola? Bigger than me and powerful to a degree but at the end of the day still with his own limitations? I’m not sure, but I read something in Daniel the other day that felt like an answer.

After refusing to bow down to a statue of King Nebuchadnezzer, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are told they will be thrown into a furnace. Here is their reply:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

The part of that response that struck me was “But even if he does not.” I don’t know if that idea is even in my vocabulary, if that concept has ever even lighted upon my tiny little brain. Basically, they knew God was able to save them but even if he didn’t they were still going to be faithful.

Maybe that’s what North Point is about. Maybe instead of saying, “I thought you were God” I need to say, “But even if he does not get me a job at North Point I will not worship something else.” The scarier exploration of that concept is of course the book I am writing. I hold that one much closer to my heart. What if I never get to publish it or grow an author’s beard and get patches on the elbows of my sports coat? What if telling people like Ben in Atlanta and Kris in Boston that God’s love is bigger and cooler than they could ever imagine is the furthest my words ever travel? Can I say, “But even if he does not” to that?

I think so and there’s tremendous freedom in that.

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