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ERWIN MCMANUS AND HIS "JOHN THE BAPTIST"


As we begin today I would like to read a true account of an experience that pastor, speaker, and author, Erwin McManus had in the early years of his ministry. Listen to what he says...


"I got a message through the urban grapevine that I was dead. It might surprise you that in the dark corridors of the urban jungle there are many prophets -- mostly prophets of doom. This angel of death went by the name William. Through my work in one of the projects, his common-law wife had come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. He was in prison and heard the news of her conversion. He did not consider this good news. I had trespassed onto his territory. A crime punishable -- yes, that's right, you got it -- by death. So I got the word -- several times actually -- that when he got out of prison, I was going to be his first stop. He had spent most of his adult life behind prison walls, and by his own description he had broken all of the commandments. This time he had gone to prison for slitting a man's throat. That man was the brother of his common-law wife, whom we will call Lupe.


"When I heard he was released from prison, I decided to find him before he found me. He lived in a small apartment complex surrounded mostly by dilapidated houses and run-down storefronts. The complex was walking distance from the skyscrapers downtown and sat in the middle of what had once been one of the city's most prestigious neighborhoods.


"You don't ever forget meeting someone like William. He was in some ways an ethnic anomaly. He was a white guy in the middle of a Latin community who had a reputation for being good with a knife. He was in his mid-thirties, and life had made him as hard as stone.


"We sat face-to-face in a dingy apartment filled with loud children and usually inebriated neighbors. But before I knew it, we were there alone -- just William and me. I don't recall how it happened. I never noticed the exodus. It was only the silence and discomfort of the moment that made me aware of how everything had changed. Metal bars on the windows, the door soundly shut. We were alone.


"He swiftly reached into his jacket, pulled out a knife, and with a quick move of his wrist opened it where its position made the metal gleam in my direction. Like someone remembering a secret pleasure he smiled and said, 'This is the knife I slit his throat with. The police never got it.'


"A thousand thoughts were rushing through my mind. But I really didn't have any material in the category of 'witty responses to use shortly before dying at knifepoint.' I remember entertaining the thought that Lupe's brother didn't die; William just cut off his vocal cords. That thought was not at all comforting. I knew my next, my first, perhaps my last sentence was of utmost importance. And then the words came. It was as if I heard them for the first time even as he heard them.


"'William, that knife is going to send you to hell!' I looked straight into his eyes, and I knew he was shocked that I said it. To be really honest, I was shocked that I said it. But I was still breathing, which allowed me to gain courage. And so I proceeded: 'You think you're tough...' Halfway through my sentence I heard a scream in my head, What are you thinking? So I adjusted. 'Well, William, you are tough, but you're not free. You're not in prison, but you're still a prisoner. Behind every shadow there's someone waiting to kill you.'


"Somehow William's normal approach to life, one of violence and retaliation, was restrained that day. He listened, and we established a strange kind of friendship. I wish I could tell you that William's life changed that day or that it changed some other day in the future, but best I can tell, William's life never changed. But what did happen I'll never forget. William became my John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for me throughout the streets of south Dallas. He often boasted that he and I were friends because, as he would put it, he was radical for evil and I was radical for God" (Erwin R. McManus, Seizing Your Divine Moment (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee, 2002), 128-130).


McManus took a risk. Rather than cowering at the threats of impending death by a crazy-man, he confronted William head-on. Now you may think that he's out of his mind -- that he's just plain stupid for doing what he did -- but the reality is he faced his fears with the boldness and strength that can only come from God. McManus seized a divine moment that was given him by God, and the result was an open door of opportunity for the gospel to spread into the inner city of Dallas, Texas.


(From a sermon by Eric Lenhart, Seizing Your Divine Moment, 8/16/2010)

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