Did I ever tell you that I was in theater in high school? Collinsville High School, Thespian Troupe 643. Good times. Great memories. I worked House Management, Set & Stage, Lights & Sound, and was on stage for 2 plays and a Christmas special my senior year. I dabbled in community theater after I went off to college, but I didn’t really have the time to pursue it. Over the years, I’d gotten away from it. I had no idea that Hollywood has been keeping tabs on me all that time, but now my acting talent and long years of waiting is clearly paying off.
A couple years back, though a series of miraculous circumstances and some intentional vision-casting by our pastor (James MacDonald), my church (Harvest Bible Chapel) began to pursue making Christian movies (a la the Kendrick brothers). We started by making a couple short films, which were really quite good and which received some significant acclaim: The Ride and Once We Were Slaves. When these attracted Hollywood interest, Director Dallas Jenkins — on staff at our church and a really great guy, both in the skill of his craft and in his character and personality — set about last year to direct (and help write) a feature length film … about ME!
This fall, Vertical Church Films will be releasing (likely in theaters) The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. It’s a movie all about me. It’s got some other names in it you might recognize as well, like Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD), Emily Eruraviel and Shawn Michaels, which is great for getting my acting career back off the ground after a bit of a break. You know, good for my resume. I’m not playing Gavin Stone in the movie — Brett Dalton is doing that — and I still can’t figure out how my name isn’t in the title, but I understand a lot changes in the editing process, so I’m sure they’ll fix that in due time.
I got the call from VCF last year to come star in the film, when they invited the whole church to sign up to be extras. I decided not to quit my job right away, because I know it’ll take a while for the real money to start flowing in. Instead, I took a few days off work, packed plenty of pens and paper for signing autographs, and hung out for a few days on our Elgin campus with the team. The place was abuzz with movie-making activity, which explains why I didn’t get many autograph requests or interview opportunities. But because my support staff was so good and had been there for a while getting things ready for me, we got to work right away filming the the scenes with me in them. It was really great working with Dallas, Brett and the others too, even if I was a little disappointed with how they kept running off to talk about the film and shoot scenes without me. But I suppose it takes a lot of background footage and supporting assistance to make an epic film like this possible. I can’t wait to see how they’ll edit me into all that.
When I signed the contract, I couldn’t find anything in it about how much I will be getting paid, but I’m sure they’ll be sending that in the mail soon. It is odd, though, that it’s been a few months now, and I still haven’t heard back from them. Oh well, I’m not worried. Guess it’ll be even bigger than I expected when it final comes! I was thinking I would splurge and get that Lamborghini I’ve always wanted with the huge payout from this thing. Or maybe put in a pool. Do you think it’d be pretentious for me to buy a yacht after only one film? It’d have to be pretty big, because I love to have people over, and now I have to start including my fans in evites. Ugh! Maybe I’ll hire someone to take care of that.
Speaking of fans and such… while onsite, I met all kinds of people who were involved in one way or another in the movie. They all seemed great. At least, I think they were going to be in the show; I didn’t really ask them too much about themselves. But that does remind me … check out this amazing promotional picture they took of me! I assume the production people, whoever they are, will be making a promo poster from this shot. And they should too, ’cause I think it really captures my … well, I don’t want to sound too self-absorbed, but let’s be honest here … my awesomeness. Observe…
On stage shot of ME, with my supporting cast
Okay, seriously, I can’t take it anymore. This is just ludicrous, and I’m sure you get the point. In fact, I feel a little dirty having written it, and a little nervous that someone like Dallas or Brett might stumble across it and read that ridiculousness. VCF really is making this movie, and I really am an extra in it. But only an extra. When they referred to me (and the other extras with me during filming), we were collectively called “background” — an exceptional label for what we were: little different from the furniture on the set. Obviously, I don’t think I’m the star of the movie. Obviously, I’m wildly exaggerating to make a point.
So, what is my point? What do we learn from this totally farcical account of my role as an extra in Gavin Stone…
1) The movie of your life is not about you.
Notice, I didn’t say “the movie of life”, I said “the movie of your life”. Of course the movie of life is all about Jesus. That should be obvious. If you actually think the entire universe revolves around you, you might need to see a doctor. But what I think a lot of us perfectly sane types also miss is that the movie of Jeff Block’s individual life (and yours) is not about me either. In God’s universe, “my” movie would not be called “The Great and Wonderful Adventures of Jeff Block”. It would be called “The Life and Glory of Jesus, the Son of God, as Reflected by God’s grace in the Life of Jeff Block”.
Or something like that.
My life, your life, all our lives, even those who go to their grave cursing God… everyone’s life in all of history… everything is about Jesus.
He is the image of the invisible God [God’s perfect self-expression], the firstborn of all creation [the eldest Son and Heir to all that God enjoys – from transcendent power to quantum time to turnips and turtles]. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead [the cause, prototype and supreme example of our pending resurrection to eternal life], that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
Amen, and amen! We are not stars in any sense, except what God makes of us. He condescends to give us bit parts in His incredible drama of redemptive history. Even then, we will always be playing the moon to God’s star (to reflect the light, not to generate it), never the star itself.
But most of us act like we’re the stars of our individual shows. Especially here in the West. I love the picture I highlighted above which shows the corner of my head sticking out from behind the real stars of the movie. It’s humbling. And it should be. That’s a far more accurate depiction of who’s who in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. And the analogy holds in the real world. It’s God’s world, not mine. He’s the one in the front of the pack on the poster. And plastering me, or you, or anyone else all over the marquee under neon lights is just as ludicrous as looking at that picture of the Brett Dalton (with a half inch of my head sticking out from behind him), and claiming that the movie is about me. But don’t we treat God exactly like that — as if somehow we should be the ones prominently receiving top billing?
We see God as a vending machine or a genie. We treat Him like He’s just one part of our oh-so-important busy schedule. We talk about Him like He’s our supporting cast. But there is NO sense in which God is somehow fitting into your life or that you have God in your back pocket (such that you can pull Him out when you need divine backup). God is to be feared and worshiped and adored. Period. He is to be treated as He really is: transcendently holy, awesome in power, dwelling in unapproachable light. It’s amazing that He comes to us and pursues us and establishes relationship with us. It’s amazing that He doesn’t strike us down where we stand for our insolent rebellion and ridiculous self-importance. But that doesn’t make Him tame. And it doesn’t make Him, in any sense, less of the absolute beginning, center, and end of everything.
2) Life makes a lot more sense when you get that
Did you notice, in my silly little parody, how confused I was? Why are those guys being shot in a scene without me? Why does my contract read this way? Why don’t I have an IMDB page yet? Why am I all the way in the back of the crowd for this shot?
That’s the way life is too, when we don’t understand Who life is really about. If I’m the hero, if the movie’s all about me, then I should be strong enough and smart enough to get what I want when I want it. I should live in the big house, always get the girl, lead the team to victory in the big game, and get the promotion at work — all while the stock market does nothing but careen northward. I certainly won’t get cancer in the middle of the second scene, or experience bankruptcy, or end up divorced … and if I do, then surely by the 2nd half of the movie, I’ll be well on my way to miraculous recovery, and everyone involved will have crystal clarity as to why all those things happened up front to create drama or deepen the plot. Right?
Real life doesn’t work that way. Horrible things happen to people that don’t seem like they deserve it. Despicable people win big and brutally oppress kind and decent folk every day. Cancer, bankruptcy, and divorce are seemingly everywhere. Some people really do die before the second commercial just to prove the situation is serious!
So if you think the movie is all about you, and that God is your supporting cast or the makeup artist who’s here to make you look good or the sound guy back stage amplifying your melodious voice, then you’re going to be terribly confused and continuously disappointed by your life.
But if you understand that God is sovereign and holy, that the movie is entirely about Him, and that you’re a bit part who is only aware of every 104,792nd scene in the show (approximately), then you might be a little more willing to let go of your crazy expectations and demands. Maybe you have no idea what’s going on because God doesn’t intend you to. Have you considered that it might be more loving for God NOT to cater to your wishes or explain Himself to you? And either way, God has the right to play this out any way He chooses. And if you believe the first thing the Bible says about His character, then you know His goodness and love and faithfulness warrant complete faith in His plan, regardless of how little we understand it.
3) Comparing yourself to others distorts your view of yourself
Notice also that my perspective of myself in comparison to the others who were involved in the film was completely skewed. I repeatedly referred to Brett Dalton, Emily Eruraviel and others as my “supporting cast”, when in fact they were the stars, and I was “background”. I just assumed that everyone around me was there for me. I didn’t even mention the other extras, except to dismiss their invitation to be a part of the movie, assuming I was special among them. See what I mean? I was SO much more important in my own mind than I really was.
That too happens in life. When we boot God off the throne of our hearts and climb up there ourselves, we inevitably start believing our own press. In my life (and in observing the lives of people around me), one key indicator I use for this is assessing what I (or others) really mean when I say, “Excuse me.” It sounds silly, but it works. Have you noticed that “excuse me” can mean either “I’m sorry I’m in your way” or “Get out of my way”? Interesting, isn’t it? When we perceive ourselves to be at the center of the universe, then we start demanding that others serve us as they establish their orbits around us … even in something that simple.
And it could go the other way too. Without God’s voice ringing in our ears to tell us who we are, all we need is to find one thing someone else has that you don’t — a skill, a physical trait, a toy, a membership, a bank account, a husband, whatever it is — and suddenly they’re a giant in our eyes, and we’re small and insecure and … not behaving like a child of the King. But when we realize that all of us planets orbit the Sun together, we get a much healthier view of ourselves and one another. And it frees us to worship God rightly, to love and serve each other well, and to let all the stupid stuff roll off our backs.
I can’t wait for Gavin Stone to be released. Some friends on staff at the church have already seen early cuts of it, and they say it’s great. I was gunning to see it before I got involved, and even moreso once I played a tiny role in making it. And I am in it, which is exciting, humbling, and a little bizarre and disconcerting all at the same time. I hope you see it too; obviously not because I’m in it, but because Dallas is über talented, and I’m quite sure it’s going to be amazing and powerful. And in general I want to support projects like this which exalt the name of Jesus!
When you see the film, if you catch a glimpse of me, may that moment serve to remind you of how exceedingly great our mighty God really is, how central He is in the story of our lives, and how much we are NOT the stars in His show. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass” (1 Peter 1:24-25), which is hear for a moment, then dies, withers, and blows away in the wind. Life is a vapor. But standing over all of history is the God who made you (Genesis 1:26-27), loves you (John 3:16), redeems you (John 3:17), and has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11).
What many of us need most is to get over ourselves. Stop demanding (whether in word or deed) to be the center of the universe. Stop asking “why” all the time, or insisting that you need one more thing to be happy. Focus instead on cultivating a moment-to-moment appreciation for how amazing it is that God has invited you into His story in the first place. Then trust Him, walk with Him, and give Him glory. The movie He’s making is going to turn out to be … awesome.