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Chapter 6: Beggars' Bonanza

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Parsonage

A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint
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As Jim began reading at verse twenty-four of second Kings six, he instantly felt the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. His earlier question about prayer support from the pews was already being answered.

"There are three scenes on which I would like us to focus. The first is the starving people of Israel inside the besieged walls of Samaria. This scene is described in verses twenty-four through twenty-nine of chapter six. In the second scene, we see four beggars with leprosy sitting outside the walls at their favorite begging spot by the city gate. This scene is described in chapter seven, verses three and four. And then the final scene is what I have chosen to call the 'Beggars' Bonanza' and this is described in verses eight through eleven.

"Now let's look at each of these scenes individually and there will be something to learn from each. In scene one, we see a normal situation for a time of siege. Walling in a city was a common means of defense until gunpowder and modern warfare made walls obsolete. And an equally common military strategy for attacking a walled city was the siege, especially if the aggressor had plenty of time. A siege was very simple. The opposing army merely closed off all gates to the city so no one could get in or out. If the opposition could maintain the siege long enough, the walled city would have to surrender to starvation as much as to the enemy general. This is pretty much the situation in which Samaria found itself as today's story opens. Look at verse twenty-five of chapter six and you'll see that a donkey's head was selling for the equivalent of about eighty shekels of silver. There are two things wrong here. First, a donkey was unclean according to the laws of Moses because it doesn't have a split hoof. And second, even if a donkey was considered edible, it's head would be the last thing to be sold at the local meat market. And in verse twenty-five we read that a half pint of pigeon droppings was going for five shekels. To be honest, I have to point out that the NIV at this point does say that this may have been "seed pods" instead of actual pigeon droppings. Either way, the point of high prices and low quality is well taken.

"But things get much, much worse. Look at verse twenty-eight. Here we see that two mothers have entered into contractual cannibalism. The first day they would cook and eat the first mother's son. Later, the same thing would be done to the second mother's son. But, the second mother defaulted on the contract and hid her son so he couldn't be eaten.

"Now let me make the application. Benhadad and the Syrian army clearly represent Satan and his demons. They are the forces of evil. The poor starving Samaritans inside their walled city represent people in today's society who are besieged by the forces of evil and starving for the Bread of Life and the Living Water. And the beggars on the steps, who are they? They are us, the evangelical Christian church."

Jim noticed that many people in the congregation were jotting down notes as he spoke. Some had regular note books, others were writing on the back of their bulletin, which had a lined area just for note taking. Still others were making marginal notes in their Bibles. Rather gratifying. The Ashtabula people were not great note-takers.

"Now I'd like to spend some time talking about the starving people in our society who are besieged by sin. Weren't you a little put off by the idea of the Samaritans eating pigeon droppings, no matter how hungry they were? But look at people in our society today. Some are drinking poison. Some are inhaling poison. Some are sniffing it up the nose or shooting it in an arm. Beverage alcohol, nicotine, and every illegal drug you can name are all deadly poisons. These substances were never meant for human consumption, with the possible exception of certain drugs which may be used in medicinal quantities and by a doctor's prescription only.

"Tell me. Don't each of you know at least one person who has died in the last year because of lung cancer, or cirrhosis of the liver, or a drug overdose, or AIDS which was sexually acquired. Our society is indeed eating pigeon droppings and donkey's head, and it's killing us!

"Now stay with, me people. There's more to come and it gets worse, much worse. Let's talk a little about the mothers who made a contract with each other to eat their baby boys. There isn't a person in this building or who will eventually listen to the tape of this service who is not totally repulsed by the idea of eating baby boys or baby girls. Am I right? You can't even stand the thought of it! It's that repulsive. But it's happening all around us in Mechanicsburg, right this very minute. 'No way,' you say. And I say 'yes, it is!' Oh, maybe babies are not being consumed with a knife and folk. But they're being consumed, never the less. The classic example, of course, is the practice of abortion. And by the way, please don't defend abortions by talking to me about rape and incest. Of the thousands of babies who are legally aborted every year, how many of those children would you suppose were conceived through rape or incest? I submit that the percentage of such conceptions is very, very low. So what's the real reason which causes mothers to kill their own babies. The real reason is convenience! Yesterday during my interview over in the Fellowship Hall, we talked about this a little. I'm going to repeat myself for about the next sixty seconds, so those of you who were in Fellowship Hall yesterday afternoon may take a short nap." There was light laughter across the congregation. "But the rest of you better pay close attention because I means business on this point.

"What are the reasons a mother uses when she makes the decision to kill her baby? Well, I'm telling you these reasons have a lot to do with convenience. A career woman finds it inconvenient to interrupt her climb up the corporate ladder to have a baby. The working woman finds it inconvenient to lose the second income and incur the financial burden of raising a child. The unmarried woman finds it inconvenient period. You know, I was just thinking . . . Being very hungry is inconvenient, too, isn't it?

"Let's move on. How else does our sin-besieged society destroy our children. How about mothers who continue to drink beverage alcohol while pregnant? We now are seeing a generation of fetal alcohol syndrome children coming up through our school systems, permanently impaired by the uncontrolled appetites of their mothers during pregnancy. The same thing is true of crack babies, and babies born with AIDS! And why are these terrible things happening to our children? Because our society is besieged by the forces of Satan and his demons, that's why!" Strong and sustained applause flowed across the congregation.

"You may not like my next point quite as much," smiled Jim. "But I must talk about another type of child destruction which is also a product of the wish of parents to have convenience. And that is divorce! Now let me say at the beginning of this discussion that I am not talking to those of you who have already experienced divorce yourselves. A divorce is the direct product of sin in the life of one or both of the marriage partners. But if you are born again, and your sins are under the blood, then the sins which caused your divorce are under the blood of Jesus Christ, also. If there were children in your previous marriage, you need to pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit so you can continue to relate to those children at the highest level practical.

"Now I'm talking to those of you who are still single and you married people whose marriages are still strong. If you are a born-again Christian, the word divorce is not in your vocabulary as long as you remain true to the Lord. Why? Because divorce itself is against God's law and the forces within a marriage which threaten to tear that marriage apart are spawned by Satan's demons themselves. And selfishness is Satan's favorite weapon for destroying your marriage. If you think your marriage may be threatened right now, you need to pray together for the power of the Holy Spirit to repel those demons which are assaulting you. And if you can't work things out by yourself, get to a Christian marriage counselor now!"

Jim paused and reached for a cup of water which was sitting on a shelf under the pulpit. "I started on this divorce topic because I wanted to talk to you about damaging children. A marriage which ends in divorce where no children are involved is a tragedy. But a marriage with children which ends in divorce is a crime! It should be, at least. Human beings are highest in the order of creatures which God has created. And as members of the highest order, our young require the longest time to grow and mature to the point where they can function independently. That's why God has such rigid rules about human sexual behavior and about marriage and divorce, also. God knows that the family is the primary building block of any successful society and that's why it must be protected. And by family, I mean an intact family with children growing to maturity under the protective guidance of both a mother and a father.

"Satan knows this too. Satan knows that our Christian culture will fall if the family fails. So, he has launched a massive assault on family values. Christian family members are being bombarded on all sides by forces which have the potential to tear the family apart. We've already talked about divorce. Add to that homosexual liaisons under the label of marriage, free sex, single women seeking sex in order to give birth to a child, singles seeking to adopt a child, and this includes homosexuals-- all these negative and destructive forces represent Satan and his demons' best effort to destroy the traditional family unit. Friends, the siege Satan and his demons have laid around the walls of our society are truly causing us to destroy our marriages and our own children.

Again there was an approving ripple of applause, and Jim took another sip of water. "Now let's move outside the besieged walls of Samaria and take a look at four beggars sitting on the city steps. These four leprous, homeless beggars had a meeting. They considered their options and death seemed certain, no matter what they did. There was nothing for them inside the city. The people in there were already starving to death. If they stayed where they were, they would starve to death with no one to beg from and no garbage to pick through. Now look at verse three of chapter seven of second Kings. 'They said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?' The Bible doesn't use the word 'beggar' but it does say these men had leprosy, or some other infectious skin disease, which rendered them unclean under the laws of Moses. Therefore, the only way they could sustain themselves would be by begging. Now in normal times, they probably eked out a meager living by sitting by the gate and receiving coins dropped into their beggars' bowls. And I suppose after dark, they went out to the landfill and rooted around for scraps of food. But these days, there was no traffic in or out of the city gate so they couldn't beg. And the people inside the city were eating every scrap of garbage they produced so nothing edible had been found on the dump for weeks.

"The leprous beggars did have one other option. The camp of the Syrians. Look at verse four. 'Now let us fall on the host of the Syrians'. Maybe the soldiers would have mercy on them and let them have the scraps from one of their famous evening meals. Armies in the days of Benhadad didn't travel on field packs and K-rations. They lived pretty high on the hog, especially when in a long-term siege situation. They came with their tents, and provisions, and cooks, and slaves. The Syrian siege camp was a self-contained city. Why sit we here till we die? We won't! We'll go down to the Syrian city-camp and try to beg from them.

"So off they went, four leprous beggars stumbling along in the twilight, their bodies badly ravaged by their disease." Up to this point in his sermon, Jim had stayed pretty close to the pulpit, although he was completely wired for sound with a transmitter on his belt which broadcast everything he said to a matching receiver back on Dick Allen's console in the sound room. Now, as he talked about the leprous beggars, Jim began to enjoy his freedom and used the full width of the platform.

"I see one beggar swinging along on a pair of crutches made out of two forked branches," and Jim mimed this man's gait for a few feet. "And then I see another beggar using a cane made out of a crooked stick," and again he demonstrated the gait of this beggar. "And then I see two beggars badly bent over, with their arms around each other's shoulders, helping to hold each other up as they stumble along." At this point, Jim grabbed Jason Mattern by the hand, pulled him to his feet, and together they showed what the last two beggars might have looked liked as they crossed to the far end of the platform." When the laughter died down, Jim continued to preach from there.

"And then a miracle happened. God took the sounds of the staggering, stumbling steps of the four beggars as they scraped and thumped along and ran it through Heaven's master sound system. He called in some of the Angels who were into high-tech sound and said, 'Juice it up a little, boys'. And they did. They jacked up the highs and boosted the bass until the sounds of those beggars really had pop!. And they went to their sound effects library and mixed in some recordings of a massive army on the move. The thunder from the hooves of ten thousand mighty draft horses pounding the ground. The rumble of hundreds of chariot wheels. The shouts of the men, the jingle of the harnesses, the clarion calls of the trumpets, urging the soldiers to charge. And all recorded on location, of course. Next they went down to Circuit City and cleaned them out of the biggest boom boxes they had in stock. And they planted those huge boom boxes throughout the Syrian camp and set them to full volume. And finally, the angels ran their enhanced signal through a fifty thousand watt clear-channel radio station with a transmitter tower on a hill right behind the camp. Now, when Michael began broadcasting at full power, what do you suppose came out of the speakers of all those boom boxes? You can read it for yourself. Look at verse 6: 'For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host.' Isn't that marvelous? And when they heard the sounds of a mighty army rushing down upon them, they took off! They thought that the King of Israel had hired a bunch of mercenaries from the armies of the Hittites and the Egyptians and they weren't about to hang around long enough to eat their evening meal and pack their duffel bags. In the language of the King James, they left their camp 'as it was and fled for their life'.

"Let me ask you a question, those of you who are born again through the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Do you still remember how it was right after you got saved? The peace. The release. The sense of purpose in your life for which you had sought in vain for years. Well, that's about how the leprous beggars felt when they stumbled into the hastily-vacated Syrian camp. They were completely stunned. They couldn't believe their eyes. It was truly a 'Beggars' Bonanza'! Verse eight shows they acted in a rather predictable fashion for a while. The tables in the first tent were set with roast beef, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, corn on the cob . . . It had been years since they had even smelled food like this so they did the natural thing. They pigged out. Then they went to another tent and there was a seafood buffet. King crab legs, baked oysters, broiled swordfish steaks, shrimp, scallops, clams. You name it, it was there. So again, the beggars ate beyond the point of pain.

And then the beggars came to their senses. Look now at verse nine. 'We do not well. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.' Can you see what's happening here? Can you tell what's beginning to stir in their hearts? I can. They're starting to feel a sense of evangelism. They're starting to think 'revival in the land'. They're beginning to remember the starving people back in the walled city of Samaria who are still eating pigeon droppings, and donkey's head, and even their own children. And they're saying to each other, 'Hey, man, we have good news to tell, and we better get on with it.' And they do.

"Now some of you have difficulty witnessing about the glorious freedom you have in your life through the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. But look at the job of witnessing these four leprous beggars have to pull off. First, they're on the lowest level of the socio-economic scale; they're beggars. Second, they're under permanent quarantine because of their leprosy. And third, and most important, they have an utterly preposterous story of good news to tell. The Syrians are gone. The siege is over. The famine is over. Prices will return to normal. Let me show you what it could have been like. On our way back from the Syrian camp, my three beggar buddies have elected me as the spokesman for our group. By now, it is completely dark and we get up close to the city wall, right below where the night watchman has his station."

Here, Jim stepped down from the platform onto a lower level behind the altar rail. And then to the amazement and amusement of the congregation, he tore off his suit jacket and tie, loosened the top two buttons of his shirt, unbuttoned both cuffs, and pulled out half his shirt tail. Next, he jerked off both shoes and socks and rolled one pant leg half way to the knee. Finally, he spread the fingers of both hands in his carefully combed hair and pulled straight down and out. There was general laughter throughout the congregation and a few flashes were seen as the merciless got a picture of this for the grandchildren. When he was finally in costume for his beggar role, he dropped to his knees, cupped both hands, leaned back, and called in the direction of the top of the pulpit above him.

"Hey, man! Man! I have good news for you." Then he leaped up behind the pulpit, leaning on one elbow and looking down to the level below.

"Who's there? I say, who's there? Oh, it's you, you crazy old beggar. Go away. Get out of here before I get what you've got.

Back on the floor below, kneeling and looking up. "No, man! Wait! I really do have good news for you and everybody in this whole city!"

"I thought I told you to scram out of here. Keep it up and I'm going to pour hot oil on your head."

"Please, man. Listen to me. I really do have good news. The Syrians all ran away and their camp is empty. Open the gates. The siege is over. The famine is over, too. Me and my buddies just had roast beef and a seafood buffet. All you can eat, too. And clean plates every time you go back for more." The entire congregation was in full laughter now but Dick Allen compensated by jacking up Jim's audio level as the laughter got louder and louder. Many were crying as well as laughing as the Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts through Jim's antic role-playing.

The porter on the city wall remained stubborn. "You're crazy, man. Eating too much garbage. And if you and your buddies don't get out of here and let me have some sleep, you guys are going to be the blue-light special at Mertz's Meat Market by noon tomorrow!"

Jim retrieved his jacket and tie, turned and spoke briefly to Cliff Graham, and exited the platform through the door into the hallway. Cliff rose, said "Key of F" to the pianist and organist, and began leading the chorus in Bill and Gloria Gaither's "Get all excited, go tell everybody, that Jesus Christ is King!"

Jim stepped across the hall into his office and quickly restored his appearance to normal. As he strode back to the pulpit, Cliff and the congregation were just finishing the second chorus. "...Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings.

As Jim returned to the pulpit and Cliff took his seat, the entire congregation rose in a sustained standing ovation. Jim let it go for a few seconds before spreading his arms to restore quiet. "I'm going to remember that very positive response if I become your pastor and start a door-to-door witnessing program. More laughter, but scattered this time.

"You can read the rest of this fascinating story before you take your afternoon nap. The watchman finally passed along the beggars' report to his supervisor and eventually it made its way up the chain of command to the king. The king thought it was an ambush at first so he only sent out a scouting party to check the Syrian camp. Later everyone went out and enjoyed the Beggars' Bonanza. This story has a rather interesting twist which I haven't had time to discuss this morning. So when you read this after dinner, be sure to watch for a character who appears in two verses. First, verse one of chapter seven, and then again in verse seventeen.

"I'd like to close this message by making the application right where you live. Who are you? Are you one of the beggars as they're down in the Syrian camp, pigging out on the seafood buffet. You go to church on Sunday morning and Sunday night. You go to Christian concerts and church social activities. But you never get too far from the banqueting tables of God's great blessings.

"Who are you? Are you one of the beggars as they're standing at the foot of the wall and trying to convince the watchman that the siege is over and there's food for everyone.

"Who are you? Are you living in the city besieged by Satan and his demons, feasting on pigeon dropping and donkey head. Consuming your own children in your search for satisfaction and meaning in life.

"Who are you? Maybe you're the watchman on the wall who is looking down into the face of a person whom you feel is well below your station in life but who has a preposterous message of freedom and plenty.

Jim knew it was close to nine forty five and he had to move quickly to minimize interference with the Sunday school hour which was scheduled to begin at ten. Of course, when the Holy Spirit began to work in the lives of people, schedules should take second place.

Jim had already told the pianist, organist, and Cliff that if he wanted to use an invitation song, it would be 'Just As I Am'. Now he made a small rotating signal with his index finger down at his side. Instantly the organ began to play softly 'Just as I am, without one plea...' The piano joined in but Dick Allen kept it well below the organ, the way it should be during an altar invitation. Jim moved down to the lower level, standing between the communion table and the altar.

"If you're living inside a walled society which is besieged by the forces of Satan and his demons, I have good news for you. Right down here at this altar is freedom from addiction to alcohol and drugs and tobacco. Right down here is the strengthening of our family relationships. Right here at this altar is the expulsion of the demons which are forcing you to practice a homosexual lifestyle, or to engage in sexual sin, or maybe even to molest little children, even your very own. Right here is the ability to stop physically or psychologically abusing your wife or your children."

As Jim spoke, the aisles were filling with people moving toward the altar. And as each seeker arrived, a praying Christian was there to greet that person and they knelt together in prayer. After the pastors were all engaged in praying with seekers, the choir members began to serve as prayer warriors and fill in the ranks.

Jim shifted his invitation somewhat. "Perhaps you're not living in the walled city of sin this morning. Perhaps you're down in the abandoned Syrian camp, enjoying all the good things the Lord is supplying. Perhaps you haven't gotten to the point in your spiritual growth where you can say as the beggars said in today's story, 'We do not well. Today is a day of good tidings and we hold our peace.' If you have been holding your peace, and if you have not been sharing the good news of freedom and plenty with the starving people in the walled city besieged by Satan and his demons, you may want to come down and pray, too." This revised invitation brought another wave of seekers, many weeping, husbands and wives walking with arms around each other, whole families walking down together as they clutched each other or held hands. Jim's pastor's heart was broken again and again as he viewed the needy people, kneeling to pray and crying out to God for the forgiveness provided through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Or, praying for the spiritual power to be able to tell a sin-shackled world that there's a full-course roast beef dinner and a seafood buffet just waiting for them if they'll only voluntarily leave their walled city of sin.

"In just a moment, I'm going to pray, and I'd like to include you in that prayer. Perhaps you felt the Holy Spirit moving in your heart this morning but did not choose to come down to this altar for prayer. I'd like to pray for you, right where you are. If you would like to be included in this final prayer, please raise your hand. Everyone's eyes are closed and all heads are bowed. May I see your hand, which is your request for prayer?" Raised hands were seen throughout the congregation, including the balcony. "Thank you. You may put them down. "Heavenly Father, we thank you for who you are, a God great enough to create the entire universe and yet small enough to know our names and know where we live. Pour out the mighty power of your Holy Spirit on these seekers right now. Some are seeking for salvation, for freedom from the walled city of sin. Some are seeking for more power to be better witnesses of the fact that freedom and plenty are available for all who are willing to accept your Son, Jesus Christ, as a personal savior. And we pray also for the many people who raised their hands for prayer. Lord, you know each need represented by the forest of hands I saw a moment ago. And if some of those hands belong to people who have not yet experienced the new birth, may the Holy Spirit continue to convict them until they, too, kneel, and confess, and accept the blood of Jesus as their personal sin sacrifice. Bless the remainder of this day and all its activities and we'll give you all the praise and glory for whatever is accomplished. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen."

 

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