I’ve known Michael Shank for the better part of a decade, and we both “cut our teeth” doing fill-in preaching for the same little congregation in Southern Illinois. So, it was with great pleasure that I wrote the first real review of his first book, Muscle and a Shovel (you can read the review/article at BrotherhoodNews.com). A few years have passed, and God has used Muscle and a Shovel in ways far beyond what I–or anyone else–could have imagined.
Soon after it began to spread through the brotherhood, Mike began work on his second book, When Shovels Break. It has taken a few years, but it’s finally ready.
And let me tell you this: It is powerful.
While Muscle and a Shovel was written for the non-Christian, to help show them the biblical path to life in Christ, When Shovels Break was written for the struggling Christian, the wayward Christian, the unfaithful brother or sister in Christ. It is a stirring testimony that no matter what you have done, no matter how far you have fallen away from Him, God is always ready to take you back and forgive you.
But there’s more to When Shovels Break than that–a LOT more.
When Shovels Break acts as a sequel to Muscle and a Shovel in many respects. It follows the life of Michael Shank and his wife where the previous book left off.
But it also introduces us to one of Mike’s oldest friends, a man named John. John and Mike had a lot in common: both came to Christ around the same time (both converted by “Randal”), worked in the same industry, lived in the same neighborhood, even liked the same kinds of food. In fact, John and Mike were as close as two friends could be.
The book begins [and this isn’t much of a spoiler, since Mike posted the first chapter on Facebook months ago] with John distraught over his sinful life, absolutely certain that he’s lost forever, not seeing any way of hope, and Mike trying to help him. Then John lifts the gun to his head.
What could bring a man–a baptized believer in Jesus Christ–to such desperation that he thinks the only way out is to kill himself? Could God ever take him back after all the sins he’s committed? After he’s insulted his Savior by going back headlong into a life of sin?
A Message for the Church
Muscle and a Shovel was written for non-Christians, but it became a great tool to teach faithful members of the Lord’s church that evangelism doesn’t have to be hard! It gave a clear and simple method to help show others God’s path to salvation. It served to energize once-inactive Christians into active service for their Lord. It helped remind experienced brethren of what they were fighting for, and the Lord’s church has become stronger as a result of God’s use of that book.
When Shovels Break is also a great tool for members of the Lord’s church. Throughout the story of Mike and John’s life, you will see very clearly the importance of having brothers and sisters in Christ who care. You will see the damage that can be done through a brother’s (or a congregation’s) indifference and the discouragement it can cause others.
This new book is also an example of God’s providence. In the later part of the story, we get to see how God worked so many unexpected (and sometimes frustrating) things out in Mike’s life to bring him to the point of writing and publishing Muscle and a Shovel. That bit of information is a nice little bonus to those who like to know “the rest of the story.”
You’ll also probably chuckle as Mike tries to show the Jule Miller Filmstrips to a bunch of drunks.
The Road Back Home
I surprised Mike when I told him that I thought the final dozen or so chapters were just as good–if not even better–than the story itself. But I stand by it.
After concluding the story itself, Mike dedicates several chapters to a straight-forward conversation with Christians. He devotes time to showing wayward members the way back home, but he also writes to encourage brethren whose strength may be faltering. He describes some of these chapters as “God’s plan to keep you from ever falling away again–ever.”
And they are good.
I’m not a prophet, but I believe the part of the book that will have the most impact within the church is where Mike gives the results of a survey he conducted, interviewing 400 people who have left the church. It is an eye-opener–and it shows that the church itself must take at least part of the blame for their departure.
Even though I was already privy to part of the story (a side benefit of being friends with Mike since before Muscle and a Shovel), I got goosebumps reading through it. Mike writes with a clarity and emotional power that makes you instantly identify with his struggles. You hurt when he hurts. You get frustrated when he is frustrated. And you rejoice when he rejoices.
And you will never look at the Ego Board the same way again.
[note: I was not asked to write a review, but I thought it needed to be done]