The Day God Spoke to Me

Does God speak to us today? I never remember a time when the audible voice of God spoke to me. I’d experienced Him speaking to me when I’ve been reading or praying or through discussions with others, I’d get a sense in my spirit that God was telling me something, but never had I heard a clear call of God’s audible voice. Never, that is, until I met an unemployed man begging for a job on the side of the road.

Last fall we were leaving Bloomington, IN after several hours of shopping and eating and some quality time at the coffee shop, and as were heading onto the highway, to go back home, I noticed a man standing on the side of the road at the opposite on-ramp. We had some water bottles left over from lunch that I had been looking for someone to give some of them to, but I thought ‘well, we’re on our way home now, I’ll just keep going.’ But as I was starting to head down the highway I sensed an urging to turn around and get off at his exit and give him a water bottle and possibly a few dollars that I had in my pocket. (You may have different thoughts on giving ‘beggars’ money, sometimes I do it sometimes I don’t, or I’ll offer food or something else, I try to let God lead me in that.) It took a couple of minutes to get turned around and headed towards his exit, but as we were getting closer to the spot he had been, I noticed that he was still there (another confirmation that this was from God). When I stopped, he asked if I had a job for him, which I did not, but I offered a couple of water bottles to him, he took one, and I also gave him the $5 bill I had.

It was at this point I expected him to thank me, possibly say something like ‘God bless,’ and I’d feel good about doing a good deed and he’d have something positive from me, but that’s not what happened, and it’s what he said in response that struck me. He did thank me, but as we were about to pull away he said, “I love you.”

Yes, this could be dismissed as a crazy man saying something crazy, but I believe, deep in me, that this was the very voice of God delivering a simple but powerful message that I needed to hear. You see, I’d been really down the few weeks before then, struggling with feelings of failure in life and ministry. I’d really been down on myself and doubting who I am, and if I can do the things I’d been called to do, and God, who created me and knows me better than anyone possibly could, wanted me to know that I am His precious child. He wanted me to know that He is my Father, that He is the one who strengthens me, equips me, guides me, and all ultimately for His glory. And the power to be who I really am, the strength to lead, to dare, to risk is fueled by His great love. And God, who has always identified with the poor, used this man, standing on the side of an off ramp of Highway 37, in Bloomington, IN, to deliver a sacred message, to me, an unworthy and cracked vessel, that I am made worthy and made right, not because of what I have done, but because of His great love, because of His great power, because of His great worth.

I don’t know the man’s name, and I may never see him again, but God brought us together, in a perfectly timed moment, so that I, in some small way could bless him, and that he, as a faithful and obedient servant of God (at least in that moment), was a mouthpiece of God Almighty to proclaim His great love for me. It was humbling and meaningful, and I am grateful to this man, and eternally grateful to the God whose grace and love are beyond what I could earn, but are poured out on me – He is good.

God I thank you for your love – may it drive me to be the man, the husband, the father, the pastor, that you have created and called me to be.

The Broken Plate

Corelle Plate

Growing up we had these great Corelle dishes, white with green floral trim.  We loved them, but there was one significant problem with them, they broke easily.  When you dropped one or knocked it off of the table, it would not just break, oh no, these things would shatter into dozens and dozens of pieces.  Shards scattered all over the kitchen floor from one end of the room to the other.  The broom would immediately come out and the floor had to be meticulously swept in order to save everyone’s feet from an unfortunate encounter.

This past weekend we celebrated the highest and most significant day for the Christian, Resurrection Sunday, also commonly called Easter.  So what does a broken plate have to do with Jesus’ Resurrection?  As I was reflecting on the meaning and significance of what Jesus did, and what His resurrection accomplished, the word ‘restoration’ came to mind.  Jesus restored  what was broken.

Brokenness extends to all of creation, as Paul writes in Romans 8, “creation has been groaning” in its “bondage to decay,” but you see, we have each broken our lives as well.  We have all ‘dropped the plate’ of our lives and broken the connection and relationship with God.  We have all made a mess of our lives.  We all have sin and decay.

I never attempted to glue any of our shattered plates back together, there were just too many pieces scattered all over that even if you could gather all of them together and start assembling them it would be a fool’s task to set it all back together for even if you managed to do it, the plate would not be very nice and it would not be strong and stable like it was before being broken.

I recognize how foolish and wasteful it would be to try and put a shattered plate back together, yet, so often, I try to put the brokenness in my life back together by myself.  I think if I can just be nice enough, if I can just be a decent guy, then people will like me and all will be good.  And, the more I think about this, I believe what we tend to do is that as we are trying to put the pieces of our lives in place, when we think we’re doing a pretty good job of it, we look down on others whose plates don’t look as good as ours, all the while the brokenness remains, the frailty remains, the pride remains.

The deep truth that I, and every other human, must understand is that I stand broken before a Holy God.  I have broken that relationship and no amount of ‘glue’ (good works, nice words to others, acts of charity, church attendance) in my life can restore that relationship, can make me who God made me to be.  I stand broken before Him and I have no defense on my own.  This is the power and majesty of the Resurrection in our lives.  Only God, through Christ, can restore the brokenness.  Sin only causes death and decay in our lives and hurts our relationships with those around us, and breaks our relationship with our Holy God.

But He, and He alone, takes my shattered life, my frailty, yes, even my stubborn pride, and brings life and healing and true restoration.  It is only through the power, grace, and work of Christ that He accomplished through His death and resurrection, that I, or any of us, can stand before God as His child.

God, may You take the brokenness in my life, the sin, the decay, the hurt I’ve done to You and to others, and bring true healing, restoration, and life.

You’re Worth It!

This past weekend something incredibly meaningful happened about 60 miles down the road from where we live.  At the 35th Annual Rodes City Run 10K in Louisville, KY on Saturday morning, one of the participants was a lady named Asia Ford.  Asia’s story, even before the race, is very inspiring; the mother of three wanted to lose weight and get healthier, not just so she could be there for her children, but to help inspire them to be all that they could be.  This race was to be one great example to herself and to her children that each of us is valuable and we can achieve more than we ever thought possible.  But as the race progressed, things were not going as planned.  Having recently gotten over pneumonia, Asia, at about mile 4 of the 6.2 mile race, did not feel like she had the strength to finish.  Her son TJ with her, she was praying for the strength to make it a few more steps.  Soon they had made it to mile 5, and it was at this point that the story turned into one that has already touched millions of lives.

Seeing Asia Ford struggling, Louisville Metro Police officer, Lieutenant Aubrey Gregory, on duty the morning of the race, stepped in to see if he could help her.  As he neared, she took hold of his hand and, in this gesture of kindness and help from the officer, she gained the physical, and more importantly, emotional, even spiritual support that she needed to finish the race.  Photographer Jonathan Roberts captured the beautiful moment of triumph as Asia, Officer Gregory, and TJ, crossed to finish line together, hand-in-hand.  Truly a beautiful and powerful image.

I love this story, and other stories like this, for what they are on the surface, but also for the deeper places in our lives that they point towards and shine light on.  In knowing the meaningful moment was captured on camera, and, in an insightful way, sensing that the image would possibly be seen by many people, Asia Ford offered these deeply important words to all of us:  “When you see the photo, just know that you’re worth it. And you can do anything that you put your mind to.”

Just know that you’re worth it.

These words, in a serious way, harken to the words that Jesus speaks to us.  In what is probably the most well-known Bible verse of all, we find the bold and powerful proclamation that “God so loved the world.”  But it’s in the next verse, John 3:17, that Jesus goes on to say, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”  Now, that word ‘condemn’ carries with it the imagery of what we today would say about a dilapidated building.  The building inspectors would ‘condemn’ the building, saying it’s not worthy of use, it’s not even worthy of being repaired, the only thing left is for it to be destroyed.

God did not look at our broken, sin-stained world, at our broken and sin-stained lives, and say, “Forget it, I’m sick of these people, just get rid of the whole thing.”  Oh, praise God that He didn’t!  Rather He saw people whom He created, people whom He loved, people made in His very image, and His heart cried out – “Save!  They need to be saved – they are worth it.”

Lieutenant Gregory looked on Asia Ford, not as someone who unfortunately didn’t have the strength and ability to finish the race she started.  He did not see her as someone who was just another face in a crowd.  He saw her and he saw worth, he saw a fellow human who was struggling, and he reached out and became a part of something so much bigger than himself.  Whether he knows it or not – he gave us all a beautiful picture of the Kingdom.  He gave us a glimpse of what God Himself did.

Now, I don’t want to over-spiritualize a moment or put Lt. Gregory up for sainthood, but what we see in that picture, I believe, is a picture of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.  It’s the kind of picture, that as we seek God’s Kingdom, we’ll see is happening all around us.  When we live in the Kingdom, when we take on the character and heart of our God we look at those around us not as people who need to get their act together, not as people who are different than us, as people who we don’t need to bother with, but rather we look at those around us and say, “You are worth it.  You are worth my time and attention.  You are worth my affection.  You are worth it, not because of what I can get from you, but because God has created you uniquely and wonderfully.  And you are worth it because, in God’s eyes, when He looks at me, somehow He says ‘My child, you are worthy of my love.'”

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why and how God does that.  I do not measure up to a holy God.  I am not adequate enough to receive any good thing from God’s hand.  Yet God, through the worth and sacrifice and triumph of Jesus, makes me worth it.  Wow.  And as I think about this, I realize, this needs to be the driving force in our mission as His followers, that people are worth it.  The mess and sacrifices of life are worth it because people matter to God, and none of us have the right to look down on others because without God we would be nothing.  Praise God for His great love!  May His Kingdom break into our lives more and more.  May we reflect His heart and His character more and more in our relationships.

Holding Out the Vision of the Kingdom

I’ve been a full-time pastor for almost 10 years now.  I’ve been in more church buildings and church meetings than I can count.  I’ve helped start programs and run church activities.  I’ve met with people in their best of times and in their worst of times.  I’ve led Bible Studies and preached hundreds of sermons.  I’ve devoted a good portion of my life to serving God and His people.  But in the midst of all of that, I have a nagging sense that I’ve missed something; that there is something deeper and more meaningful that I haven’t yet fully lived in and held out for others.  I sense that I’m not traversing the depths of my own soul or helping others do the same.

The realization of that fact came on me like a blast of wind in my face that could not be ignored when I read this quote from the early 20th century French poet and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In many ways the church in the United States is struggling.  For many of our churches our numbers and giving are down.  We don’t do the same programs we did years ago, we don’t have the same life and vitality we once had.  I see it in the churches I’ve been privileged to serve, and I see it in my own discouragement.  What I believe I have been missing and what many of my efforts have been lacking is the clear vision of the Kingdom.

It’s ultimately not my job to “drum up” church workers and church activities, rather, by God’s Spirit’s leading and enlightening, I must traverse those deep and dark recesses in my own soul, I must understand who I truly am as God’s child, I must gain a clearer picture of what “Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven” really means, and then I must hold that grand and mighty vision of the Kingdom out for others to see.

Just trying to get people to do things is not very inspiring to me or to them.  It doesn’t capture our imagination, we don’t want to devote our lives to programs.  But I believe God’s Kingdom is breaking into our world more and more.  God’s Spirit is alive and moving, but if our eyes aren’t focused on it, we miss where He is at work redeeming and restoring what has long been broken and damaged, and we miss the opportunity of being a part of that great redemptive work.

I want to give people hope.  I want to help people live meaningful and purposeful lives.  I want our churches to touch as many lives as we can.  I want my own life to matter, and I want others to know that their life matters.  And where I believe the great depths of our meaning and purpose come from is in our identity as a beloved child of the King living fully in His Kingdom for His glory.  That is where I want to live because that is where true life and true love reside.

For His glory,

Ian McMillan