Dr. Howard has crafted a careful and balanced blend of Bible exposition, theology, real-life illustrations from his vast ministerial experience, and practical applications to those who yearn for their lives to be transformed from a messy situation to a message that honors and glorifies God.
Each chapter expounds the miraculous way God used an unlikely individual with a messy life and turned his or her life into a positive message. The woman at the well, Zacchaeus, Jabez, Ruth, the thief on the cross, and Jephthah all faced challenging circumstances. Sin, genetics, the unexpected death of a spouse, rebellion, and poor family heritage placed these Bible characters in the "most likely not to succeed" category. All had three strikes against them.
God, in His infinite mercy and grace, had a plan for each of these lives. He turned their mess into a positive message. Regardless of what mess you find your life to be in, this book gives practical ways of how to get out. Everyone faces trials and difficulties in life. Dr. Howard likens the trials and difficulties in life to "potholes." Potholes appear out of nowhere - unexpectedly - and can be destructive and hurtful and take away our joy and sense of well being. Dr. Howard says, "Being a Christian does not mean that we will not be faced with trials and tribulations, which are like potholes in our lives (some are big while others are small)." Regardless of how messy your life is or how many potholes are causing you concern, Turning Your Mess into a Message will give you hope and lead you to the Savior, who alone can turn your life around. He did it for the six Bible characters expounded upon in the book and He continues to change and transform messy lives into a message today.
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Turning Your Mess Into A Message
By Josef A. Howard
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Dr. Josef A. Howard
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42) God Turns a Messy Life of Sexual Sin into a Message of a Second Chance
When I take a retrospective look at my life, I find it quite embarrassing that I have made some very poor decisions of which I am not proud. Some of these decisions were made when I was under pressure to impress others, live up to someone's expectation of who I ought to be, or simply being naïve. The fact that I did not know who I was, Whose I was, and what I stood for, made others feel they had the right to redirect, realign, reconstruct, remodel, or reprogram me into the person that would suit their taste. This led people to begin to tell me what to do and who to become. They also felt it was their God-given right to tell me how to walk and with whom to walk; how to talk and to whom to talk; how to laugh and with whom to laugh; and how to befriend others and with whom I could become friends. I thank God from the depth of my heart that He helped me to break that level of control others had over my life, and I was able to develop an independent spirit under the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Quite honestly, it would be very easy and self gratifying for me to blame others (family members and friends) for all of the bad decisions that I have made, but I know that I would be doing you and myself a disservice and I would be lying. Indeed there have been many individuals in my life who have helped me make some very positive decisions that turned my life around. Without those individuals and obviously the leading of God's Spirit, I am not sure where I would be today. It means that most of the decisions I have made, both negative and positive, have either been influenced by others or by my own doing.
I have not conducted a scientific study to know what percentage of the bad decisions can be attributed to others or myself. However, I do know that I have immensely contributed to both the good and bad decisions I have made in life, and I take full responsibility even if others influenced my behavior in the past. What is interesting is the fact that almost every time I made a bad decision, I always sought to undo what had already been done. Of course, it was not always possible to undo it, but that did not stop me from thinking about having a second chance in order to redeem myself.
Have you ever had a strong desire to be given the opportunity to start afresh in life after making some bad decisions that resulted in devastating consequences? I am sure you have. Or perhaps for you, it is like receiving a fresh start in life especially after a bad day, week, month, or year.
It is quite common to hear people make resolutions at the end of the year that the coming year will be different: bad habits will be broken, weight will be lost, better jobs will be found, or that he or she will become a better husband/wife or Christian. The problem, however, is that while our intentions are good, our will and our ability are not, and we too often fall back into the same habits, the same actions, and the same pattern that brought us to where we were in the first place. Like Jesus said to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41-42). When failure occurs enough times in our lives, we are tempted to believe and feel that our situation has become hopeless and that we will never succeed or make good decisions in life. It is at this point in our lives that God desires to step in. When the enemy has whispered lies about our ability to make a good decision and stick to it, and we begin to believe him and succumb to his lies, then it's time to call upon the name of Jesus. The Bible declares in John 8:44 "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
If indeed you do not belong to the devil, then you should not allow his lies to penetrate your spirit and take residence there. You need to refuse or reject his lies (in Jesus' name), then hold onto the truths found in the Word of God and declare them over your life. This is a fact that needs to sink into your spirit man. Even if what the enemy is accusing you of is true, you can still reject it if you have confessed your sins to God. The Bible describes the devil as the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). He will accuse you even after you have confessed your sin before the Lord, asked for His forgiveness, and abandoned the confessed sin. Thank God that we have the ability to overcome the accusation of the devil. In the same verse, the Bible says that we can overcome the accusing words of the devil by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. Let's examine what it means.
Our successes and victories in our Christian walk depend on a clear understanding and application of the power of the blood of Jesus in our lives. I am convinced that a Christian will never enjoy the full benefits of being a child of God until he or she gives the blood of Jesus its rightful place in his or her walk with the Lord. In Hebrews 9:22, we read, "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin."
This means that because of the blood of Jesus, I have been forgiven of my sin. If I have confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead, I am a child of God (Christian). It is not based on my righteousness, holiness, or past life. It is not based on my affiliation with a particular local church or my financial contribution to a given local church or a charitable organization. It is simply based on the fact that Jesus paid the price with the blood He shed on Calvary's cross. Consequently, my life has been redeemed and my sins have been forgiven. All I have to do is accept that fact and become an overcomer! There are several blessings that I could, therefore, enjoy as a Christian who has been washed by the blood of the Lamb. Because of the blood of Christ:
1. I could experience atonement for my soul (Romans 5:11)
2. I could experience remission of my sins (Hebrews 9:22)
3. I could experience life and peace (Colossians 1:20)
4. I could experience redemption (Ephesians 1:7)
5. I could experience justification (Romans 5:9)
6. I could be brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13)
7. I could experience a pure conscience (Hebrews 9:14)
8. I could experience cleansing from sin (1 John 1:7)
9. I could experience sanctification (Hebrews 10:10-14)
10. I could become a part of a new and better covenant (Matthew 26:28)
11. I could experience a new birth (1 Peter 1:18-23)
12. I could have overcoming power (Revelation 12:11)
13. I could experience deliverance (Zachariah 9:11)
14. I could experience healing (Isaiah 53:4-5; 1 Peter 2:24)
15. I belong to the body of Christ - the Church (Acts 20:28)
16. I receive salvation (Hebrews 9:15)
The second way we can overcome the accusation of the devil is by the word of our testimony. Everyone has a testimony. Yours may not be as drastic as mine, but it is your testimony. Don't despise yours! It is critical that we understand that each test God brings us through is another testimony to His power and work in our lives. What God has done for you should serve as a constant reminder of His goodness as well as a faith builder for what He can do in your current situation. Isn't it true that one of the major reasons why many of us are overburdened by life's difficulties is because we forget what God has done and can do for us? Psalm 78:9-11 and verses 40-43 remind us that the generation of Israelites who had seen God's power displayed time and again was guilty of forgetting God and how He had worked so powerfully on their behalf. As a result, they angered the Most High God and didn't receive their inheritance. Basically, it is safe to say that an overcomer is a believer who sees his or her current test as an opportunity for God's power to produce another testimony. Hence, he or she stands on God's word and is not moved by the situation simply because God is in control. Consequently, that person (the overcomer) experiences the peace of God that surpasses human understanding and he or she can sleep peacefully in the midst of a stormy situation. In Proverbs 3:24, we are told that as servants of the Lord who obey Him and His word, when we lie down, we will not be afraid and our sleep will be sweet.
Given all of the above, when the devil comes to remind you of a sin that has been forgiven, you should say to him, "Satan, I have been washed by the blood of the Lamb, and I am no longer guilty of the sins I committed. Jesus paid the price for those sins and I have been cleansed by His blood. God remembers my sin no more and therefore, I am free in Jesus' name." When we get into the habit of leaving our sins at the altar and reminding the devil that we know of our covenant rights in the Lord, we will then begin to live victorious lives in the Lord.
There are primarily two ways in which the devil accuses us. The first is through our conscience and the second is through others. In the story found in John 4:1-42, we see that the woman is being accused by others. Analyzing this story from the woman's point of view might help us to see how it was the plan of the devil to destroy her. Fully understanding some of the cultural manners and customs that were prevalent at the time will assist us in understanding why Jesus reacted the way He did and why He decided to turn this woman's mess of sexual sin into a message of a second chance.
Here are a few things that need to be mentioned initially about the story. John states that Jesus "had to" go through Samaria. It is noteworthy that He could have gone around Samaria, because that is what most Jews did, but John says that He "had to" go through Samaria. The primary reason given by John (if we want to be true to Scripture) is because Jesus wanted to avoid being arrested before His time. John notes in 4:1, that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. There was a sense of antagonism against Christ and He decided to withdraw immediately from Judea and go back to Galilee. However, in order to get to Galilee, John states, He "had to" go through Samaria, the shortest route that unfortunately was a semi-hostile territory whose inhabitants, the Samaritans, had a strained relationship with the Jews because they were believed to be outside the covenanted mercies of Israel.
As a result of the strained relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans, it was expected that Jesus, a Jewish teacher, Rabbi, and religious leader, would avoid going through Samaria on His way to Galilee even though it would have meant taking the longer route. Thus, it is only wise and exegetically accurate to admit that Jesus went through Samaria because it was the shortest route and He was not going to conform to the petty quarrel that existed between the Jews and Samaritans. But, the other reason (not stated by John and the writers of the other synoptic gospels), and I believe that it is the most important, is that Jesus had to go through Samaria because He had a mission to accomplish. There was a woman and an entire village that needed to hear the gospel of salvation; there was a Messiah that needed to be revealed to those who had been waiting in anticipation of His coming.
As John begins to tell the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, he states that it was about the 6th hour. That would make it around noon time. I come from a society where women and children go to the "river" or "well" to fetch water for the family. This is done early in the morning between the hours of 6:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. There are a couple of reasons why that time is ideal. Allow me to name a few.
The first is the fact that going early in the morning allows the women to fetch water before the family leaves for the farm. Customarily, in such a society where there is communal farming or cattle-rearing, members of the family leave early to work the earth or take their cattle into the field. When they return in the evening, they immediately begin preparing the meal for the day. Since water would be needed, it is only expedient to have it already at home.
Second, the water is at its best in terms of quality and quantity during the early morning hours. If an entire village is using a given well, the residue, mud or sand at the bottom of the well mixes with the water after several individuals have drawn from it. That is why it is better to fetch your share of the water as early as possible.
Third, when the water supply is scarce or the well is running low because of the "dry season" and there is insufficient rain to provide the necessary quantity of water everyone needs, families try to get their water supply early in the morning before it runs out.
Fourth, in a village like the one in which the Samaritan woman lived and some of those that are in my country of origin, when women went to the well in the morning, it was also an opportunity or avenue for communication and fellowship. It was during those long walks to the "river" or "well" when the latest news in the village was shared. It was the forum for gossip, encouragement, and discussion of women's issues. It was like listening to and participating in the CBS Early Show or TMZ (Celebrity gossip and entertainment news). What also happened at the "well" or "river" was a coordinated effort among women to help each other in loading the "bucket" or "pan" on each other's head in order to carry it home. The bucket or pan used to fetch water was usually too large for a woman to place on her own head; therefore, it was prudent that she went to the well when someone was around to help her place it on her head. It also meant that if a woman was arrogant, selfish, and rude or living a life that was a disgrace in the community, the other women would use this time to give her pieces of advice, encouragement, or even chastise and rebuke her if what she had done or was doing was outside of the village's norms and customs. If she refuses to listen, they would refuse to help her load her pan or bucket on her head. She would be forced to return home without water and her husband would then become aware of her behavior and she would be in big trouble (given the fact that it was a male dominant culture and the rules were different).
Fifth, the distance to the well or river where water is fetched is sometimes far and dangerous for a single woman to travel alone. Hence, women would usually go in a group to provide protection for each other.
Finally, during the morning hours or early evening hours, it is cooler and the sun is not as hot as midday. That is why it is difficult to understand and mind-boggling to read that this woman chose to go to the well at a time when the sun was extraordinarily hot or at its peak.
Given all of the reasons mentioned above, it is therefore strange, for those who know about village life, to read that the Samaritan woman went to the well at midday, a time when women usually would not go to fetch water in a village.
Obviously, the question is: Why did this woman decide to go to fetch water at the worst time of the day? Allow me to paint a picture in your mind about what may have happened. I want you to think about what she may have been feeling and experiencing as she went to get some water.
It probably started when she was in her room and she realized that she needed some water. Interestingly, she knew from the moment she awoke that morning that she had to get water, but she deliberately waited until midday, she picked up her clay jar (pan), opened the door and not surprisingly, the heat of the day hit her in the face. Taken aback for a moment, she exited and looked up and down the dusty street. It was relatively quiet. It was not really a good time to fetch water. In fact, it was not a good time to be outside. The sun was at its peak and it was beating down on her. She could have gone earlier, when it was cooler, but that would have meant facing the other women there. Also, chances were that if she had decided to wait until early evening when it was also cooler, she would have had to encounter other women. That's why she was going now. She didn't want to face the other women at the well.
She was the town's "bad girl." She was sleeping with a guy to whom she was not married and, as Jesus pointed out, she had already been married five times and none of those relationships worked out. She had tried for a fresh start before by trying to change her circumstances, but each time something was not right; something went wrong. Each of those five times she entered into a relationship, it was with the hope of having a different life, making a vow that things would be different and that life would be better. Each time, things turned out to be the same. It was never different. Her expectations were always cut short. Her energy was wasted, and her hopes dashed not just once, but on five different occasions. She had probably given up on marriage, living a decent and normal village life, and being one of the "good" or "normal girls" in the society within which she lived. She was simply existing from day to day and living the life of a shadow. That is the description that David gives when he spoke of a life without hope. In 1 Chronicles 29:15 we read, "We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope." Our shadows exist, but they don't live. They can be seen, but they lack importance and significance. They can be ignored, stepped on, disregarded, or erased depending on the location of the sun or the reflection of the light that makes our shadow visible.
Excerpted from Turning Your Mess Into A Message by Josef A. Howard Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Josef A. Howard. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter I: The Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42) - God Turns a Messy Life of Sexual Sin into a Message of a Second Chance....................1
Chapter II: Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:9-10) - God Turns a Mess of Pain into a Message of an Enlarged Territory....................31
Chapter III: Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) - God Turns a Messy Life of Corruption into a Message of Honesty, Trust, Restitution, and Redemption....................41
Chapter IV: Ruth (Ruth 1:1-4:22). - God Turns a Messy Situation of Death and Hopelessness into a Message of God's Kinsman Redeemer....................65
Chapter V: The Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:39-43) - God Turns a Messy Situation of Eternal Separation into a Message of Abiding Presence....................83
Chapter VI: Jephthah (Judges 11:1-40) - God Turns a Messy Life of Being an Outcast into a Message of Being a Hero, but ....................101
ABOUT THE AUTHOR....................141