Erwin McManus believed God.
In his book An Unstoppable Force, Erwin McManus shares the story of how prayers resulted in what can only be called a miraculous re-creation. While ministering in South Dallas, McManus’s small congregation began to grow. Looking for a place to build a larger church building, the leadership spotted an acre of land for sale. Given its location near downtown Dallas, it seemed strange that the property was available. Excited at their good fortune, this small group of people—many on welfare—began to pray that the site would soon be theirs. Eventually, they were able to purchase the property after receiving financial help from an association of churches. As the congregation began the process of obtaining building permits, they discovered the property had been declared “unbuildable.” The acre of land in a prime location was nothing more than a worthless landfill. McManus grieved over this waste of precious time and money. He writes: “We had bought an acre of garbage. Several core samples were taken. From what I understood, they went at least twenty-five feet deep and found nothing but trash…All I could do was ask our congregation to pray with me and believe that God was with us and that he would even use the worst of human mistakes to perform the greatest of miracles.” After months of prayer, a woman from the congregation told McManus that since they had asked God to turn the land into something useful, surely it had been taken care of. Feeling God’s confirmation of her words, McManus asked for more core samples to be taken. This time the researchers found soil. McManus writes: “How did this happen? Was it because the core sample was in a different part of the land? Or could it be that God had actually performed a miracle and changed the landfill to good land? What I do know is that the same realtor who sold the property to me came back and offered me three times the amount he had sold it for once he heard the clearance to build had actually come through. What I do know is that the previous owners could not build on the property, but we could. What I do know is that we were told the property was worthless and unusable. What I cannot tell you is what happened beneath the ground at 2815 South Ervay Street. All I can tell you is what I know—and that is that God took my failure and performed a miracle. Today Cornerstone worships on that acre of land in a sanctuary built by our own hands.”
We are called to be the presence of God in the world. Prayer leads us to discern specifically how, who, where, and when that engagement occurs.
Jesus is here and invites us to participate in that mission. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God. The Bible is the written Word of God. The injustices, selfishness and hate that fill life experience is staggering. The texts in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8 announce the need for persistent faithfulness and sacrificial giving from one’s life wallet. Why? Because sacrificial giving and loving through our cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources demonstrate justice overcoming injustice through being strong and courageous in what we firmly believe about God and Christianity. 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 instructs us to exhibit love, patience, endurance and consistency for the life we have been called to live in Jesus. Our lives are to interpret and affirm the message, life, and witness of Jesus Christ. The text in Jeremiah 31:27-34 indicates that the ways and will of God is written on our hearts. And Luke 18 tells us that unjust judges neither fear God nor respect people. And widows have neither power nor authority in society.
The function of Scripture is to impart knowledge and how to use it in remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus. The written Word of God introduces to the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. It also challenges and nurtures us in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. Both the written Word and the living Word matter. Not just in our personal lives, but also in our daily interactions in the public square. Our lives testify to who God is and what God has done for us and for our salvation. And prayer discerns the how we are to open our life wallet in the giving and loving that equals justice.
Those who call Geneva Presbyterian Church home are encouraged to believe and act upon the Bible’s teaching. The Bible teaches followers of Jesus to tithe. Tithing is giving 10% of one’s cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources from their life wallet. Indeed, God is doing good things at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Yet, how our church serves the Saddleback Valley and World in 2020 depends on the opening up of your life wallet. The Bible’s message is simple. Until you respond to God’s electing choice of you in Jesus Christ, you will continue to make a mess of the world God’s created. When you submit to Jesus Christ, you’ll gratefully give your life to God through the opening of your life wallet.
The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is an ability to give and love for the sake of another person. And the outcome of such giving and loving is the ending of some form of injustice. Thom Rainer says this about churches that mobilize around giving plus loving equals justice when he writes, “We are to be servants. We are to be obedient. We are to put others first. We are to do whatever it takes to seek the best for others and our church.” And how do we do that? We resist focusing on our preferences such as “My music style. My desired length and order of worship. My desired color and design of buildings and rooms. My activities and programs. My need of ministers and staff. My, my, my.”
Where is the landfill in your understanding and experience of giving and loving from your life wallet? Pray that you…recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community, let go of the past as hero for it does not fix anything, build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community, focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others, practice the Great Commission and take note that a congregation which continues to be motivated and guided by member preferences hastens its march to death.
God was doing something new in Paul’s, Jeremiah’s and Luke’s day. And God is doing something new in our day as well. Are you aware? The new thing in all times is…giving plus loving equals justice. Say with me, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Giving plus loving from the wallet of your life equals justice. The Reign of God is revealed more and more. Like in the case of Edwin McManus, prayer will lead you to see God perform miracles. Living into legacy, the legacy of Jesus, is a life worth living.
This illustration was submitted by John Beukema, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Mr. Beukema submitted this illustration to preachingtoday.com. It is adapted from Erwin McManus, An Unstoppable Force (Group, 2001), 151-153.
In this paragraph, I have benefited from the thinking of David W. Johnson, Cleophus J. Larue, Tim Meadowcroft, Fairfax F. Fair, Vanthanh Nguyen and Stephen I. Wright in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 399-401, 401-402, 391-393, 393-395, 403-404 and 405-406.
Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 50.