God Can Use You Too
About the Guest
God can use anyone for His purposes. Especially the imperfect. Mike Howerton points to the life of Jonah, a man who knew God had a call on His life, but who ran in the opposite direction. God redirected His steps by putting Jonah in the belly of the whale. Mike tells of a time when he tried to do life on his own as well, but shares how God lead him in a different direction, despite his past junk, reminding us that we can't out-sin God's grace.
Mike Howerton reminds us God can use anyone for His purposes. Especially the imperfect.
God Can Use You Too
Bob: Have you ever made a mess and, then, tried to pray your way out of the mess you have behaved yourself into? Mike Howerton knows how you feel.
Mike: I was a sophomore at Pepperdine University, and I stole a mattress. I didn’t need the mattress. My buddy needed the mattress, but I had the truck. So, I’m being chased. We just pull into a parking stall. I get out and put my hands behind my head, and the public safety surrounds me. I mean, I was caught red-handed.
But you know what? God didn’t give up on me, in that moment of stupidity. I mean, that was really a moment where I was praying my way out of a mess I behaved my way into. Yet, God, consistently, will meet us in those moments. He will grace us and love us. He doesn’t write us off. The story doesn’t end when we make some bonehead move like that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Nothing, including your messes, can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Where I go to church, we—here’s part of the language we use with one another. We say that part of life is you’ve got to be drinking in; but you also have got to be pouring out. We say that we ought to be able to go up to anybody at church and say: “Where are you drinking from? What’s pouring into your life?” Then, you should be able to say, “And where are you pouring out?” There ought to be an immediate answer to both of those questions.
As I’ve talked to people about this, I’ve said: “If you’ve got a body of water—and there’s not something pouring in and there’s not something pouring out—you’ve got a swamp that’s going to start to stink. You’ve got to have that flow for the lake to stay healthy.”
Dennis: Yes. Jesus did say, “Come to me and drink for out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”
Dennis: So, it wasn’t just an intake.
Dennis: There was an—
Bob: There’s an output.
Dennis: There was an outlet, as well. And we have a pastor with us, who, I know, agrees with that principle. Mike Howerton joins us again. Mike—welcome back.
Mike: It’s great to be here.
Dennis: He pastors Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington, where he lives with his wife, Jodie, and three children. Mike, you’ve written a book called Glorious Mess. You talk about the need for Christians to not believe other Christians who tell them that God could never use them.
Mike: Absolutely. Yes.
Bob: In other words, there’s nobody who shouldn’t be pouring out somewhere; right?
Mike: Right; right.
Bob: No matter how messy your life is—there is a way for you to pour out for the Kingdom.
Mike: And it’s been my experience in ministry—and I think there are people, listening to this broadcast right now, who are thinking to themselves: “There’s still just no way that God has a plan for me. There’s no way that God’s grace is big enough to wrap me in. And there is no way that I’ve got anything worthy to offer anyone else.” Those are just wrong. Those are just lies that the enemy seeks to tell us.
I think some of the things we do in our church world—present this picture—that unless you are perfect, and unless you’ve got it all wired-down, and unless you drive a paid-for-Volvo®, and vote with a clear conscience, and have a home—clipped out of Better Homes & Gardens—better than my home—
Mike: —you know—that kind of thing: “Unless you are at that level, then, you can’t offer the Kingdom anything.” It’s just untrue.
Dennis: You talk about hitting the brakes, in your book, Glorious Mess. What are some of the brakes that we hit that keep us from really engaging in and entering into the adventure that God has for our lives.
Mike: Well, when I talk about hitting the brakes, it’s more in the context of Jonah, running from God. So, I would say this to anyone, who is actively running from God—they know that God desires a relationship with them or they know that God has called them to do something—and yet, they are running, specifically, from God’s call. It’s to those people that I would say, “Hey, it’s time to hit the brakes.”
You can actually make a decision to change your life—to change your relationship with the Lord or to change the trajectory of your life without hitting—what they say in Celebrate Recovery® circles—“without hitting rock bottom”. Unfortunately, Jonah didn’t do that until he hit rock bottom; but I would encourage anyone, who is actively running from God: “Hit the brakes now. You don’t have to wait until that very painful moment.”
Dennis: I’m thinking back to a time when I was single young man. God had gotten a hold of my life. This was the day of mini-skirts, and I happened to notice girls.
Bob: You hit the brakes; didn’t you?
Dennis: I hit the brakes. I hit walls. I hit trees! [Laughter] But after I gave my life to Christ, what I ended up having happen is—God did not give my dating life back to me immediately.
Dennis: I still saw the girls in the mini-skirts, and was attracted, and wanted to go out; but God said, “Uh-uh.” The reason was because my dating life, as a single guy, was what I call missionary dating.
Dennis: I didn’t necessarily date women who were followers of Jesus. I thought, “I’ll go share Christ with them.” You know?
Bob: I know what you were thinking—very little to do with sharing Christ with them; come on?
Dennis: They’re good-looking. It’s kind of like Samson, “Go get her for she looks good to me.” [Laughter]
Bob: “See if we can work Jesus into the conversation somewhere.”
Dennis: Yes, there we go. It was a good thing God didn’t give my dating life back to me immediately after I became a Christ-follower because my life needed to be disciplined to be ready to handle this noble creature of a woman in the way she was designed, by God, to be treated. I had not been treating women the way I should have.
Mike: That’s a great practical example. In the book of Jonah, we read that, “Out of the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord.” I use that phrase as a great example that no matter what has swallowed you—no matter what has just absolutely enveloped you in your life—that even out of the pit of that moment—that the Lord will hear your prayer—just like the Lord heard Jonah’s prayer.
So, that’s a great example of dating life: “Hey, this dating life had kind of enveloped me. It had swallowed me whole; but when I said, ‘Yes,’ to the Lord, then, He changed me.”
Dennis: What about you? You started your spiritual life kind of on the run. You had to hit the brakes, occasionally, as well; right?
Mike: Actually, Dennis, it’s exactly the same kind of scenario with you. I had only done dating relationships based on how a relationship made me feel and what I could receive from a relationship. I was incredibly selfish. So, I took about a year-and-a-half of just: “Hey! Let me walk with the Lord and experience the relationship with Jesus.” Then, after that, the very first person I met was the woman that God wanted me to marry, Jodie.
Bob: You have met people who will sit down in your office or they just say: “Mike, my life is a mess—my personal life, my relationships, my work. Before I can really help anybody else, I’ve got to deal with my own mess.” Is there validity to that, or is part of the way they deal with their own mess by helping other people?
Mike: Well, that’s a great question. I think that you can do both, simultaneously. I mean, I do think there is a first step. I think that first step has to do with true humility before Jesus, where you really just say, “Jesus, I have made a mess of my life,”—and this is where we see Jonah—“But on my own, I have tanked this thing. I have driven my life right into the belly of the beast, and I need You. I need to cry out to You for rescue. I need to cry out to You for salvation. I need Your grace to cover my life.”
Bob: Yes, tell our listeners about the mattress story from college because that’s kind of the making a mess of things; isn’t it?
Mike: Absolutely. Well, the funny thing is I made a list, when I was writing this book, of all of the ridiculously shameful and stupid things I had ever done. The list was way too long to confess on the air. I really—I only had a few things that I could share, outside of my counselor’s office.
So, this is one of those—sort of safe-to-share stories—where I was a sophomore at Pepperdine University, and I stole a mattress. I didn’t need the mattress. My buddy needed the mattress, but I had the truck. You can see where this is going. It was the first day of school. We drive my truck onto campus. The supply dorm is there. We go. We get the mattress, and we put it in the truck. We were spotted by the fuzz—it was public safety. They weren’t real cops, but they were sort of the—
Bob: The campus police.
Mike: —campus equivalent. So, we drive off in my Nissan®—3.5 cylinder Nissan truck. They give full chase, lights blaring, in their golf cart. [Laughter] Then, I start to realize that there are only two exits to the campus. They both have gates, and they both have public safety at them. So, I’m being chased. We just pull into a parking stall. I get out. I put my hands behind my head, and the public safety surrounds me. But I was busted. I was caught red-handed. I was absolutely thrown the book at. I got more community service hours than a human can possibly fulfill. [Laughter]
Mike: But you know the reason why I share that story is because God didn’t give up on me, in that moment of stupidity. I mean, that was really a moment where I was praying my way out of a mess I behaved my way into. Yet, God, consistently, will meet us in those moments. He will grace us and love us. He doesn’t write us off. The story doesn’t end when we make some bonehead move like that.
Bob: So, we don’t have to be afraid to go to God and make the list and say: “Look, I have made a mess. I have done this, and this, and this, and this.” We can’t make a list long enough that God goes, “Oh, that! I was ready to go here; but when you got to number 72, it’s all over now.”
Mike: You are exactly right. That’s why it is called unconditional love. There is no way you can out-sin God’s grace. In fact, I just think we have the whole paradigm wrong. The reason why God doesn’t want us to sin is—it’s for our best. He knows that every time we sin, it’s like we are wounding ourselves—we’re burdening ourselves, we are lading ourselves down—and He wants us to be free to live this life of adventure and joy that He’s created us and called us to live.
Bob: How do we start to unpack the mess that we’ve made? I mean, once—confession is Step 1—but what are the steps that follow that as we start to confront the mess of our lives?
Mike: Certainly, it might depend on what circumstance we are talking about; but I believe a safe church environment is really key. I believe walking with Jesus, with a community of people who are also on the journey with you, is absolutely essential for that kind of reality.
Dennis: What if you are part of the church, though, that is not safe—where you sense that there is more finger-pointing than there are arms welcoming—
Dennis: —when somebody confesses a sin? What do you do in that situation?
Mike: Well, if you sense that you are in a place where there really is a kind of a judgment—a condemnation, or even what I would call a religious spirit, like the Pharisees, where Jesus was in Jesus’ day—I think you only have two options, really.
You can either—stay and invest your ministry time—to help make that paradigm safe: “Hey, we need this be a safe place to be on the journey. I’m on the journey, and you’re on the journey. So, let’s just call it what it is.” Then, really try to enact change there. But if you can’t enact change there, then, you’re going to need to find a safe place to be on the journey yourself because God really does have good things in mind for you. If you can help make a change there, do it. If you can’t make a change, then, find a safe place.
Bob: So, somebody—and when you talk about finding a church—you’re not just talking about finding a place where you can go on Sunday morning, hear a sermon, hear the praise band, and then, go out to lunch afterwards; right?
Mike: No way; right. We are the Church. I think, in America, we really do have a broken paradigm about church because church is not the—the word that we use today—church—comes from an Anglo-Saxon word, circe, which means a place of worship—that’s not what Jesus died on the cross to initiate. He died on the cross to give birth to His Church—which is the ecclesia—the gathering of people, who are covenanted together under His Name and His calling. So, don’t attend church—be the Church. Wherever it is you go, don’t just go. You’ve got to be the Church.
Bob: And that means you’ve got to get involved in the lives of other people there—get into the small groups. This is a place where you can start to say: “Okay, I’m here. I’ll help.” You can start to, even in your mess, serve in some way. It may be cleaning up after the potluck supper. It may be helping out with the fifth- and sixth-graders. I don’t know what that serving looks like, but part of the way that God’s going to help heal the mess is by getting you engaged.
Mike: We have a ministry, at our church, called Celebrate Recovery. It is an incredibly dynamic and safe place to be on the journey, where we see people who are supporting one another and caring for one another in very authentic and transparent relationships.
I try to share my testimony in that ministry about once a year. There are really hundreds that are just getting free from all kinds of bondage and all kinds of messes. It is just getting sort of sorted out in that ministry setting. And then, we have a pathway for those who are receiving healing—to then begin to sponsor and care for others who are entering into that ministry.
Really, it is something that we try to do with our student leaders—caring for younger kids in our elementary ministry—those younger kids leading worship and caring for even younger children. I mean, it’s just kind of a part of this process—wherever you are, you have something to share.
Dennis: You’ve been talking about the call of God taking us to places that we may or may not thought we’d ever go. I want you to share, with our listeners, the story of going near a little boy whose name is Duzi—and that’s spelled D-U-Z-I.
Mike: Well, Duzi is my son. I had the great privilege of adopting Duzi into our family. My wife and I felt like God was calling us to adoption, a few years ago. We started the process in the state of Washington. About half way through that process, one of our ministry partners, in South Africa, contacted us and said: “Hey! We hear that you’re walking a road of adoption. In our children’s home, we’ve got this incredible little boy named Duzi. Would you be interested in praying about whether God might have him for your home?”
Jodie and I prayed about that. Then, we ended up interacting with Duzi, and meeting him, and just falling in love with him. It’s been a great story of how God has built our family through adoption—has not been challenge-free—but it has been absolutely fantastic.
Dennis: How did God call you and Jodie to adopt? I mean, that’s a specific thing. Had you thought about that, as a young man growing up? Had you talked about it, perhaps, as a couple, early on, when you were married? What’s the story behind the story?
Mike: I don’t think that I had ever thought about it until I began to talk about it with my wife. We had two biological kids—absolutely, incredible. My daughter, Alex, is 13 years old. My son, Caleb, is 11. For a while, I thought that we were done. You know, I had the whole set; right? I had the entire collection; right?—boy / girl. Everything was good.
I believe it was my wife who said, “You know, I’m sensing that God is not done growing our family.” That began a conversation. I think the Lord just worked on both of our hearts to open our hearts for adoption.
Dennis: Then, to create the opportunity—
Dennis: —to go ahead and execute it. You didn’t stop there. You talk about a concept of the rescue of adoption.
Dennis: Did that come about as a result of you going near a little boy?
Mike: Yes. Well, that’s a great question, Dennis, because I, absolutely, now view the Gospel—and I view salvation—very clearly through this lens of adoption. It’s exactly what the Lord, God Almighty, has done for you and for me. He has adopted us into His family. He has given us His name. He has given us His home. He has given us full rights, as sons and daughters, of the Most High King. I just see it so, so clearly.
In fact, let me tell you the story. When I was over in the children’s home in Africa, I had the privilege of watching another little boy be adopted. His name was Thomas. As Thomas was being adopted, they told me the story that, ten days before the adoptive parents arrive, they are to send a photo album. In that photo album are pictures of the child’s new family and their new home—their new bed, their new bedroom—if they have pets, you know, the new pets.
For days, Thomas was walking around the children’s home, showing everybody his book. He would say: “Look! I have a family. Look! I have a brother. Look! I have a dog. I have a bed. I have a backyard.” He was telling everybody from this book, “Look at my new life.” It’s the clearest picture of adoption that I’ve ever seen because we have a book—it’s called the Bible. As we open that book, we say: “Look! I have a new name. I have a new Dad. I have a new home.” We can see clearly what it means for us to be adopted into the family of God.
Bob: And when you adopt a child, you do bring them out of what, many times, is the mess that they are in; but the reality is—some of that mess stays with them. Again, I’m back to your metaphor of the Glorious Mess.
Bob: God is at work in the middle of that; isn’t He?
Mike: Absolutely. There is a mess—where the children are coming into a home from. Duzi was five years old when we adopted him. So, he had a paradigm. He had a life that he had come to know. It was—there was some mess in that—but then, there is also a mess, on our end—
Mike: —right? So, we’re messy; and we’re a messy family. There is a messy paradigm there, as well. Then, you bring one paradigm into another paradigm. The conjunction of those two messy scenarios creates even more mess. That’s really where the challenge of adoption does come—is that sense of: “How do you build one family unit out of two paradigms—that are sort of in conflict—coming together?” But I want to say that I’ve just seen God’s love and His grace totally work in powerful, powerful ways that really becomes just the canvas for His glory to shine through.
Dennis: Barbara and I adopted one of our six.
Mike: Oh, wow!
Dennis: And I have to say the same thing you just said—that it was through that process—and not just the act of getting a little a girl, who was an infant at the time, and enveloping her into our arms and into our family, and giving her a name and—it was not just that.
It was doing life with her and understanding that—even as noble a thing as adopting a child can be, in the minds of the adoptive parents—because we do tend to kind of think that way of ourselves: “We gave this child a home. We gave them a family. We gave them a name. We gave them a book. And they’ve got a daddy and a mommy and all.” There are lessons for the mommy and the daddy in this.
Mike: Not only lessons but blessings!
Dennis: Oh, absolutely!
Mike: I mean—it’s just amazing!
Dennis: Absolutely. And one of the things that I think Barbara and I have kind of come to embrace through this—as you enter into the call of God, as you are obedient to Him to do what He’s called you to do—there are blessings. There are going to be benefits to you, that you could never have anticipated; but it takes that first step of faith, where you step out. You don’t see the end—you take a step—and you begin to step up on a staircase, where you don’t see all the way to the top, and you don’t know where it’s leading you—where it’s taking you. All you know is that the God, Who created the staircase, is with you.
Dennis: And He wants to guide you every step of the way—whether it be adoption, whether it be stepping out and doing a ministry, having an impact on another person, starting a small group study with a group of couples / a group of guys. All of these things can really, I think—well, it’s not that they can—they will benefit you in some way, somehow, and make you a better person, as a result.
Mike: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the adventure that we were talking about.
Dennis: It is the adventure. And I want to thank you for kind of putting your—I think it’s your heart, as well, as your life between two covers—
Dennis: —the Glorious Mess.
Mike: That’s it!
Dennis: Bob started out, here earlier, talking about me being the glorious mess. As I’ve read your book, I really see your life laid bare and being authentic with people—talking about how you found God’s will in the midst of your mess. Mike, I really appreciate you and the ministry of Overlake Christian, up in the Northwest. Thanks for standing strong up there, and trust you’ll come back and join us again sometime.
Mike: Dennis, thank you so much. It’s been so, so fun to be here.
Dennis: Great to be with you.
Bob: And let’s hope, too, that our listeners will get in touch with us to get a copy of your book, Glorious Mess. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Folks can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy. FamilyLifeToday.com is the website. You can also request a copy of the book when you call. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. So, if it’s easier to call: 1-800-358-6329, 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask for the book, Glorious Mess, when you get in touch with us.
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And we hope you will be back with us again tomorrow. Our friends, Michael and Hayley DiMarco, are going to be here. We’re going to talk about a book they’ve written to challenge young people to make their faith their own. It’s a book that’s featured prominently in a movie that’s coming out on Friday night called Grace Unplugged. We’ll talk about the book and the movie tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
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