God Uses Messy People
About the Guest
Our lives can get messy. But fortunately, God loves using messy people. Author Mike Howerton tells Dennis Rainey how his life began to change after he told the Lord in earnest that he?d like to be His. Although the clouds didn't part and he didn't hear God audibly, He knew that God had a plan for his life and that God would use him. Mike talks about hearing God speak, and shares a story about a time when a unknown woman called him in the middle of the night asking for prayer for her comatose husband. Mike's obedience would add another soul to God's heavenly ranks.
Author Mike Howerton tells how his life began to change after he told the Lord in earnest that he’d like to be His.
God Uses Messy People
Bob: Mike Howerton is a pastor who confesses there have been times when God has called him into service, and Mike’s been looking to see if there was an escape route somewhere.
Mike: I remember one night, at 3:00 a.m., I get a phone call. I don’t know about you guys, but I do not feel very pastoral at 3:00 a.m. It was a challenge. I take this call; and the girl, at the other end of the line, is telling me a story that her ex-husband is in a coma at the hospital. She doesn’t think he has very long to live. Would I come down and present the Gospel to him?
I just want to confess to you that I was asking her questions like: “Wait a second! He’s been in a coma for how long?” and, “You think that I need to come right now?” and, “Did you say ex-husband and not current husband?” and, “How does this all work?” I was this close to just saying, “Can I just pray for him on the phone right now?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Have there been times when you’ve missed what God had for you because, when He called, you looked for an escape? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, when I first picked up a copy of the book we’re talking about today, I thought immediately of you! [Laughter] I know, it’s kind of a low blow, given the title of the book; but it wasn’t just the fact that it’s about people being messy—it’s about the fact that God uses messy people.
Dennis: Well, the name of the book—this’ll give you a little bit of an insight into Bob’s jab with me—the name of the book is Glorious Mess. You know what? I think that is true of me! [Laughter]
Bob: You think that fits?
Dennis: I think God is delighted in taking a mess and, you know, He uses whatever. Here’s what I want you to know about the book—this book is worth about 16 hundred bucks.
Bob: You mean, you’d have to pay—you don’t have to pay that much when you—
Dennis: No, no. Here’s what I’d encourage our listeners to do—get this book. Then, take it and turn it in to a precious metals company because Rick Warren said, “This is pure gold.” [Laughter] I weighed it—it’s a pound. It’s worth 16 hundred bucks.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: Now how’s that for an introduction, Mike?
Mike: That’s a huge endorsement! Thank you, Dennis. I appreciate that.
Dennis: Mike Howerton joins us on FamilyLife Today. Mike is the lead pastor at Overlake Christian Church, in Redmond, Washington. He and his wife, Jodie, live up in the Northwest. They have three children.
He really has put together a good book. I want to ask you about your own mess. When did the King of kings invade your mess?
Mike: I think my story’s like many in that I think God was knocking on the door of my heart for many, many years. I happened to grow up in a home where I was taken to church with regularity; but I remember thinking to myself, around age 17, “You know, if my parents were Buddhist, I’d end up being Buddhist. If my parents were Muslim, I’d end up being a Muslim.” So, when I went to college, at Pepperdine, I thought, “I’m going to figure this thing out on my own.” That’s exactly what I did not do.
I entered into the philosophy program there. I read a ton—I embraced all sorts of comparative religions. When I was a senior, on a beach in Malibu, California, in the rain, I remember praying to Jesus: “Jesus, if You are real and You would still want me, I’d love to be Yours.” I had one of those experiential moments where I felt like the arms of heaven were wrapped around me in love. It just changed the whole trajectory of my life. It met me in the middle of my mess, and then started a new trajectory for me.
Dennis: What was the first evidence that your life had been invaded by heaven?
Mike: I lived in a home which was very much like a fraternity kind of a setting. We had a 44-gallon trash can in the middle of our living room, filled with stale, empty beer cans. When that got full, I remember my roommate just—instead of hauling it off—he just pulled another 44-gallon trash can in the middle of the living room. That was my context.
The next day, after that experience on the beach, my roommate came. He banged on my door, and it opened because we had broken the latches earlier that year. I was there, on the floor of my room, with my journal out and a freshly-dusted-off Bible. I had my guitar, and I was strumming some Humble Thyself praise song kind of a thing. He looked at me; and he just said, “What the bleep are you doing?” That was the evidence that there was, obviously, something had changed in me. My priorities had changed. My interests were now back on an entirely different trajectory.
Bob: Part of the premise of your book—and really, the heart of your book—is that where you were on that day—Day One of your conversion—God was ready to put you to work. You didn’t have to finish off some program to be useful for the King.
Bob: Did you realize that, at the time? Did you go right to work; or did you feel like, “I’d better get cleaned up before I get busy.”
Mike: I have always felt like my journey with Jesus is incredibly real, and tangible, and life-giving. But I also feel like I would be giving you a false reality if I tried to pretend the mess away from my own life.
Part of my own experience has just been that I hear Christian testimonies—all the time—that were like: “Once I was blind, and now I can see,” “Once I was this, bad, bad, baddy-bad, and now I’m this, good, good, goody-good.” It just seems rather inauthentic to me. Certainly, I don’t think it’s true to the experience that so many of us have.
Now, it’s true that we are profoundly changed and eternally changed, in a moment. But I think a more accurate testimony sounds like: “Once I was a mess 53 ways. Then, I met the grace of Jesus. Now I’m a mess 37 ways, but God’s glory is shining through this whole thing.”
Bob: And in your life, it began—that incremental—theologians call it sanctification—God, at work—conforming you to the image of Christ. Did you get busy in service right away; or was the thought in your mind, “I have to get better before I can get busy”?
Mike: I don’t know that I ever had either of those thoughts. I always knew that God had a plan for my life. I really did. I felt like—even as I was walking my own path and trying to figure out the truth—I knew that, if I ever did bow the knee to Jesus, that He would have something for me. But at the time, you know, I was still a senior in college. I still needed to finish my degree.
As soon as I did finish, I went into a form of Christian ministry. I went to work at a Christian camp and conference center in Washington State. I kind of needed that for a little bit of philosophy detox—I tell people. I just, you know, “Go to the nature—to live deliberately—kind of the thing.” So, I was able to just really experience, then, the presence of Jesus and the power of Jesus. But I didn’t do that because I felt like I needed to somehow get better before I could start serving Him. I did it just because I was interested in being with Him more.
Dennis: You know, I’ve talked to a lot of people who had an experience, growing up, where God intersected their lives—they had an encounter with Jesus Christ. They had a sense, at that moment, just as you talked about, that God had a plan for them. He was up to something special; but obviously, it takes their obedience to ultimately surrender to Christ and get with the program.
I drew a picture, when I was in the second grade, of what I was going to do when I became an adult. I drew a picture of a guy preaching,—
Dennis: —holding the Bible up. God’s mark, I think, was on my life, as a young person. There are those, listening to us right now, who may or who may not have had a call of God on their lives; but they’re in need of freshly visiting it. What you’re writing about, in your book, is how people, who may not be tied into the middle of God’s will today, can experience it.
Mike: Absolutely. Yes.
Dennis: Where do they start?
Mike: The first section of the book is called “How to Hear God Speak” because the reality is—and again, this is my own view. It’s a view, I think, that’s really backed up in Scripture—is that God is speaking to us and He is calling us. I would say that that’s true in terms of our life-time purpose—like a big capital “C” Call—but I also am one of those believers that God speaks to us, even daily—that His interaction with us is much more frequent than I think we ever dare to imagine. I’ll give you a couple stories.
My friend, Tracy, was driving home from work one day. She really felt like God was nudging her to go to a diner called Ruby’s. I don’t know if you have Ruby’s out here. We have some Ruby’s on the west coast. She honestly thought, you know, “God, is this You?” because she thought it might be herself since she really likes the Ruby’s milkshakes. So, she wasn’t totally sure, at first. [Laughter] She really felt like God was prompting her, “Go to Ruby’s.” So, she goes to Ruby’s. She ends up walking into the restaurant. On the way to the counter, where she’s going to order a milkshake, she sees a girl in a booth alone—an older girl. She feels like God’s prompting her, “Speak to this woman.”
Tracy kind of wrestled with God for a moment. Then, she said, “Okay, God.” She said: “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m so sorry to interrupt you. I have the strangest sense that God wants me to say, ‘Hello,’ to you today. My name’s Tracy; and I just want to say, ‘Hello.’” The woman looked up at her, just like a deer in the headlights. She said: “Tracy, you don’t know me, but I lost my husband six months ago. He was the one who would take care of our finances. He was the one who would take care of all the logistics in our home. I’m feeling very lost. I’m feeling very confused; but mostly, I feel lonely. Five minutes ago, I was praying that God would give me someone to talk to.” So, Tracy sat down with her. They had an incredible conversation—both really convinced that God was meeting them, in that moment.
I just want to tell you guys—I’m not the guy, who’s always hearing God say that. In fact, I think God needs to hit me on the head or even call me on the cell phone. One of my experiences is at a church that I used to serve at. We had a pastoral care phone. All of the rookie pastors would get the care phone. It was a 24-hour phone. So, any time—night or day—somebody had a problem—they could always get a live pastor. Well I remember one night, at 3:00 a.m., I get a phone call. I don’t know about you guys, but I do not feel very pastoral at 3:00 a.m. [Laughter] I’m barely a Christian before my second cup of coffee.
Bob: Right, right.
Mike: It was a challenge. I take this call. The girl, on the other end of the line, is telling me a story that her ex-husband is in a coma at the hospital. She doesn’t think he has very long to live, but she knows he’s never accepted Christ. “Would I come down and present the Gospel to him?”
I just want to confess to you that I had this incredibly pastoral conversation with her in that moment. I was asking her questions like: “Wait a second! He’s been in a coma for how long?” and, “You think that I need to come right now?” and, “Did you say ex-husband and not current husband?” and, “How does this all work?” Thank God that He pressed through, and I realized that He was somehow a part of this. So, I got out of bed. I got my clothes on, drove down to the hospital, and I met with the guy.
It was exactly as she’d said. He was absolutely comatose—wires and machines everywhere. I just began to present the Gospel to him. I just began to talk to him about how God has a plan for everybody’s life; but all of us have walked away—all of us have rebelled against Him. I talked to him about how it’s not the good things that we do but it’s the good thing that Jesus has done on the cross.
I preached to him for like ten minutes. The whole time, he was absolutely comatose. It felt just like youth ministry to me. [Laughter] I mean, it was, you know, no response! At the end of that time, I said: “Now listen. I’m going to pray a prayer. If you want to accept Jesus into your life, you can do that however you want to—you can squeeze my hand, you can blink your eyes, you can say, ‘Yes,’ shake your head—however it is that you’d like to do this.”
Suddenly, my hand was in a vice grip. He was moaning, “Yes, yes.” There were tears streaming down his eyes. I have never been surer of a humble acceptance of the grace of Jesus Christ than I was in that moment. So, we prayed together. Meanwhile, his ex-wife is there and just jumping up and down—praising, praising—praising Jesus. It was incredible.
I just thanked her for giving me a call. I said: “Now listen. I’m going to go, but why don’t you give me a call and let me know how things turn out.” About 30 minutes later, I’m getting back into bed. I get a phone call, and it’s her. She wanted to thank me for coming down to the hospital. She wanted to inform me that her ex-husband had just passed away, into a joy-filled eternity. I almost missed it!
I believe that the Lord was absolutely present—in that moment—calling me into adventure, and into life, and into Kingdom work. I was this close to just saying: “Can I just pray for him on the phone right now? You realize it is 3:10 in the morning. Maybe, I can just come around at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning.” You know, almost just dismissing that.
But it just started to feed this kind of foundational framework—that I believe God is infinitely more present than we give Him credit for—and infinitely more invitational into a greater sense of life—a greater quality of life in Kingdom work—than we can imagine.
Dennis: Yes, and I want to just speak to that. First of all, two things about what you just said. Number 1: I think every listener, whether you are a follower of Jesus Christ or not—God does have a call on your life. He had a reason why He made you.
Dennis: The first call may need to be for you to come into a personal relationship with Him so you can get with the program. All the others—who already know the Savior and are in the family—they may need to get with that big “C” Call and have a sense in which, “I’m doing what He made me to do.”
But the second thing you talked about—and I’m glad you used the word “adventure”. Bob knows Stephen Curtis Chapman—is a good friend of mine, of FamilyLife’s, Bob’s. We’ve had a chance to rub shoulders with him, on a number of occasions; but any time he’s got a guitar, I ask him to sing this one song. And that song is, Bob?
Bob: The Great Adventure.
Dennis: The Great Adventure.
Mike: Saddle up your horses, man.
Dennis: Saddle up your horses!
Mike: Come on! Let’s go!
Dennis: I mean, I get emotional about this because the Christian life is not a boring, dull walk-around with a sour puss face, and live this meaningless life. It is the intersection of Almighty God with a mess—a human mess—who, in His amazing grace, does end up using in a powerful way! I do call that the “Great Adventure”.
Dennis: I’ve been doing it now, however imperfectly, since I was about 20 years old. I can’t imagine getting up in the morning and just punch the clock in—just put your time in. You have to be about what He’s got for you and how He wants to use you!
You don’t know this, probably, about FamilyLife; but one of the things we’ve been pounding the table about here is—the breakdown of the family is not a parachurch organization’s responsibility. It, ultimately, is the Church’s responsibility; and the Church is you. I’m not talking about you—the pastor—I’m talking about you—the listener, who goes to church, who is a part of the Church.
You are a part of the solution to turning around the breakdown of the family. We’re calling men and women to step out and say, “I’d like to make a difference in marriages and families where I live,” and begin to be used by God to see Him change lives, change marriages, change families, change legacies, and begin the great adventure.
Bob: And they can be messy men and women, too?
Dennis: Absolutely; oh, absolutely! In fact, you know Scott and Sherry. I mean, we’ve told their story, here on FamilyLife Today, before. Their lives were big-time mess. I think there were drugs—there was adultery, at least by him. What a mess!
Bob: They got a divorce.
Dennis: Yes! And their marriage was redeemed. They went to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway and plugged into their local church. Now, they’ve hosted 19 Art of Marriage® events and have impacted—I don’t know—1,500, 2,000 people? They’ve decided to take it to military bases, prisons, churches, businesses. They’ve even rented, I think, a Carnival cruise ship that has power! [Laughter] They’ve got 60 state rooms—called The Art of Marriage Cruise.
So, here’s the thing—you got a church-full—I mean, 6,500 people go to your church, up in the Northwest—which makes your church a mega church, no matter what. But if you’ve got 6,500 living souls, in the Northwest, proclaiming Christ, that’s a miracle. You have to see tons of them making a difference in other people’s lives.
Mike: Absolutely. It starts—right, with an individual. It starts with a dad saying that, “God is calling me into this adventure of being a father and truly fathering my own children;” right?
It starts with a wife saying that about her marriage to her husband, and a husband saying that about his marriage to his wife. There has to be an individual listening to God—calling them into the adventure of the role that they have already committed themselves to—marriage or of fathering and mothering. That’s where it begins; but absolutely, there’s all of these opportunities that God has for us to influence our friends and our neighbors—how we can be an encouragement to one another, in the process.
Dennis: And I’m glad you started where you started—needs to start at home. That’s where the first call occurs. But then, as God uses a person—as a husband, as a daddy—as a wife, a mom—you can then begin to think about, “How could God use me beyond the four walls of our home to impact others?”
Bob: Yes. How many people, at your church—6,500 people coming on Sundays—what percentage would you say are kind of distracted from the adventure versus those who are living throughout the week, engaged with the adventure?
Dennis: And we’re not talking about paid staff.
Mike: No, no, I got you; I got you.
Dennis: We’re not talking about having to go into the ministry—“the ministry”. Just talk about people—who recognize where they are is where God put them, and they want to be used up for Him.
Mike: I think we have a high percentage of folks that have that mindset. I’m thinking of a gal—she’s just a dear friend. She has eight children of her own. She, also, is a key leader in our student ministries. We’re just laughing because we’re like: “You don’t need to come to church to invest in student ministries. You have one in your home!” you know.
Mike: But you know, she’s a great example of that; right. I’m thinking of another couple, who are raising their own kids. They’re passionate about their marriage, and they have decided that they’re going to be mentor couples for other couples—who are walking the same road.
Mike: I think that the answer is—“a high percentage.” I am a little uncomfortable giving you a number—
Mike: —but I think there are a lot of folks that get it. The more joyfully, I believe, that Christians, who get it, can live and have that language as a part of their daily kind of a life, then, I think others are drawn to it.
Dennis: And I have to summarize what we’ve been talking about here today with Paul’s words. He said this: “For we are His workmanship.” I have written down, at the bottom of my Bible, where this passage is: “We are God’s work of art,”
Dennis: We are God’s artwork.
Dennis: Yes, masterpiece. It goes on to say, “created in Christ Jesus to just be stared at.” [Laughter]
Bob: I don’t think that’s exactly how it goes.
Dennis: It doesn’t say that—no, it doesn’t say that. It says, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I have—at the bottom of the passage, I said: “It’s we—it’s all.” This is not just for an elite class of followers of Christ. We are hard-wired with a spiritual DNA to be world-changers—interacting with other human beings—other souls that you’re going to spend eternity with.
Bob: And the person who would say: “I’m too messy. I’m no masterpiece. I’m just too messy.”
Mike: That’s why I wrote this book.
Bob: There you go! I’m going to say they should get a copy of this book. [Laughter]
Dennis: And if you don’t like the book, you can sell it for sixteen hundred bucks because Rick Warren said, “It is worth—it’s pure gold—pure gold!” [Laughter]
Bob: Pure gold. Just take it to Rick and say, “I’d like to cash this in for what it’s worth.” We have copies of Mike’s book, Glorious Mess, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by phone. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
You know, our goal, here at FamilyLife—our mission is to do all we can do so that every home becomes a godly home. That’s a big mission; but every day, we’re making inroads. We’re making steps. We’re reaching more people with this radio program, through our website, with the tools and resources we have available. God is blessing the efforts of FamilyLife Today.
And we want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who make it possible—those of you who are shareholders in this ministry. We could not do it without you. We appreciate your partnership with us, here, in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. This month, if you can help us with a donation, we’d like to send you a book that challenges you to pray an unusual prayer. In fact, the author of the book, Jennie Allen, said this was a prayer she prayed that had a profound impact on her life, on her marriage, and on her family.
The title of the book is Anything. It’s our gift to you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone; and ask how you can get a copy of the book, Anything, by Jennie Allen. Or request the book when you mail a donation to FamilyLife Today at P. O. Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. The zip code is 72223. And let me just say how much we appreciate you joining with us, and we look forward to hearing from you.
And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow when Mike Howerton is going to be here again. We’re going to talk about how God is at work in our lives—calling us into His service, in spite of our messiness. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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