Mike Howerton is a stud. Seriously, he’s one of my favorite people and has spoken into my life in significant ways over the past 12 or so years. I’m not blowing smoke when I tell you that I wouldn’t be who I am in ministry today without some wise words of counsel from Mike and people like him along the way.
Mike’s newest book, Glorious Mess, is free today on Kindle. Even if it weren’t free, it’s worth picking up a copy. If you buy it and don’t like it, let Mike know and he’ll give you your money back (actually, I don’t think that’s true, but I’d love to see you try, plus it makes for good advertising).
Mike let me post a portion of his book here for you to get a vibe of what it’s about. Read it, get a copy on kindle for free today and then buy a copy to give away…
I am a pastor.
I work in a church.
I am also a mess.
I went with a buddy to Gold’s Gym one time. One time. Everyone there looked like Ahhh-nold. Even the women had muscles and a gap in their front teeth. Each one bronzed, glistening, cut, and lifting more than I could wrap my mind around. (I understood there would be no math at the gym.) I went over to the pink weights, looked in the mirror, and was startled to realize that someone had replaced my biceps with those of a third-grade girl. I didn’t belong. This gym was for the Big Dogs. I wasn’t even a dog, really. More like toy poodle, which science reveals is predominantly rodent. I never went back, opting instead for an intense workout program that consists of wrestling (on the floor with my kids) and surfing (the internet).
I wonder how many times this experience happens in a church setting. A spiritually interested person decides to go to church. When they get there, they are overwhelmed with the fact that no matter who they look at, they don’t measure up. The teaching is from a guy who apparently hasn’t wrestled with a single sin issue in his life since he became a follower of Jesus, at age 5, when he had to repent of making a frowny-face after his folks asked him to clean his room. Everyone seated around them is dressed to the nines, votes with a clear conscience, drives a paid-for Volvo, and has children who probably smile demurely from homes that look snipped out of Better Homes and Gardens. Better than whose home and garden? Mine, for one.
Who can measure up? This is an obvious exaggeration, but the view from the outside is very one dimensional, unless we take the pains to change it from the inside.
With three elementary school kids, a dog, multiple sports teams and dozens of neighborhood friends, my home is continually in a Defcon 5 state of disarray. I’m personally bringing the harried, wrinkled look in, praying it catches on. My children are wonderful gifts from God Himself, and I wouldn’t trade them, but they have rarely nodded demurely. They tackle demure kids. It’s pretty messy where I live.
The truth is, no matter how it looks, most everyone is a bit of a mess.
When I first moved from California to Washington I drove a ’79 suburban. It had no heater. Mostly I think a car is perfect if it gets me from point A to point B, but now I am convinced that a heater is also essential. One night that first winter, I walked out from my office late, and the entire truck was iced over. I tried to get in, but the driver’s door was frozen shut. If you’re from someplace warm (and sane), take a moment to let that sink in. Frozen. Shut. So I walked around the car, and yanked the passenger door open. The frozen handle literally broke off, so the door opened but would not stay closed. This did not improve my mood. I noticed my fingers had become icicles. I was carrying a cup of coffee that I brought to keep my hands warm (since my heater wasn’t functional) but then I noticed my windshield was iced over, impossible to see through. I poured the coffee onto the windshield to melt the ice, because I didn’t have an ice-scraper. And I didn’t have an ice-scraper because I’m from Southern California and I hadn’t used an ice-scraper on my car out of necessity in a long, long time. Like never. So coffee was my plan.
It was a dumb plan. The whole cup froze instantly on the windshield. The passenger door was yawning wide open. My fingers felt brittle, ready to fall off any moment. I crawled into the driver’s seat, fixed the loop of my backpack over the passenger door lock, and I drove with one hand holding it closed, with my head out of the open driver’s window because the only thing I could see through my windshield was the brown liquid that was supposed to keep my fingers and my belly warm on my cold ride home, but instead it was frozen solid, like my fingers, like my face quickly became except for my eyes which were bleeding rivers of salt joy down my face, and forming tiny icicles off of my chin. But hey, I was making progress. A mess but moving toward home.
We live life like that. We limp along. We tolerate ourselves. We survive our foibles. We put up with our stupidities, with the messes we make and we roll our eyes at ourselves, swearing under our breath, wishing we didn’t make things quite this messy. Personally, relationally, and spiritually messy. I wonder if we aren’t missing something profound. I wonder if we don’t see that in that moment, in that mess, just there where we’re stuck, frustrated, or otherwise not all that impressive…I wonder if that’s the place where God is free to bring His glory. I wonder if that’s exactly where His grace is sufficient.
I don’t know where you are in all this…how you view your life, your struggles, your trials, your sin. Do you view your imperfections as a canvas for God’s glory to be on display?
All throughout the Scriptures, you see examples of God loving imperfect people, forgiving imperfect people, and using imperfect people for great and glorious things. God’s love for imperfect people is unrelenting. In fact, the bigger the mess, the more glory God seems to get. And of all the glorious messes in the Bible, few are messier than Jonah.
Everywhere I go, people grab me and say, “Pastor, give me some Jonah! I need more Jonah! I’ve got a fever, and there’s only one cure…Jonah!”
Ok, not exactly. And there’s probably a reason for that:
It’s one heck of a fish story.
It’s a whopper of a tale.
The flannel board Sunday School story of Jonah smacks of the incredible, the miraculous, and the supernatural. Because it has been viewed in that light, the Book of Jonah is too often dismissed as an ancient fable with little practical value for our lives. I “bing”ed the word “Jonah” and the top ten sites were for children’s books and ancient biblical commentary (well, and Jonah Hill, the actor).
It’s tragic because one way or another, Jonah’s story is our story. He’s a mess, just like us. I’m a Jonah. You are too.
When God calls us, many times we run from the thing we know He is gently prompting us to do. When we run, the storms hit. When the storms hit, we turn back to God. When we turn back to God, we see an absolutely incredible return on our obedience. And even after we’ve experienced God’s grace, we need to be reminded again to share it.
God loves both the reluctant prophet and the repentant people.
God has a plan for us, even in the midst of our mess, to showcase His glory.
And God has given us the book of Jonah to learn all about it.
In the five acts of Glorious MESS you will encounter no new evidence that the Book of Jonah records fact…no scientific studies proving a grown man can actually utilize the oxygen from giant gills to survive; no bizarre but true tale about a sperm whale that was caught and opened up to reveal a family of four living comfortably inside with their twin hairless cats.
If you believe in God, who spoke all things into existence, who holds the galaxies at His fingertips, who is intimately involved in human affairs, who is capable of loving even the most stubborn human, then this story is a factual non-issue. I know thoughtful Christians who choose to view Jonah as a potent myth, a fable with a heavenly truth built in. I won’t argue that point here (although I believe in the historicity of Jonah), but I know we can agree on this: to an infinite God, commanding a fish and sustaining life for a wayward prophet are no big deal. It’s harder for me to cook a package of Top Ramen noodle soup than it is for an infinite God to perform a miracle.
Now, if you don’t believe in that infinite God, then Jonah is the wrong book to convince you. Our foundational view of God’s infinite nature is found throughout the Scriptures, but perhaps most clearly stated in Luke. It goes like this:
For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 NIV
If you believe, as I do, that the Bible has proven itself to be a trustworthy source again and again and again; if you’ve found, as I have, that this dusty desert tome reveals the heart of God and the character of me, then this verse speaks volumes. More than any stat or study I could quote is the realization that God can and does accomplish the AMAZING, whether we are willing or ready to believe it.
That’s good news.