Friday, July 17, 2015

The Unlikely Missionary

Ellen White says of the incident of Naaman the leper,

"In accordance with the custom of the times, Naaman now asked Elisha to accept a costly present. But the prophet refused. It was not for him to take payment for a blessing that God had in mercy bestowed. "As the Lord liveth," he said, "I will receive none." The Syrian "urged him to take it; but he refused.

"And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.

"And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way."

Gehazi, Elisha's servant, had had opportunity during the years to develop the spirit of self-denial characterizing his master's lifework. It had been his privilege to become a noble standard-bearer in the army of the Lord. The best gifts of Heaven had long been within his reach; yet, turning from these, he had coveted instead the base alloy of worldly wealth. And now the hidden longings of his avaricious spirit led him to yield to an overmastering temptation. "Behold," he reasoned within himself, "my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but . . . I will run after him, and take somewhat of him." And thus it came about that in secrecy "Gehazi followed after Naaman."

When Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well? And he said, All is well." Then Gehazi uttered a deliberate lie. "My master," he said, "hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from Mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments." To the request Naaman gladly acceded, pressing upon Gehazi two talents of silver instead of one, "with two changes of garments," and commissioning servants to bear the treasure back.

As Gehazi neared Elisha's home, he dismissed the servants and placed the silver and the garments in hiding. This accomplished, "he went in, and stood before his master;" and, to shield himself from censure, he uttered a second lie. In response to the inquiry of the prophet, "Whence comest thou?" Gehazi answered, "Thy servant went no whither."

Then came the stern denunciation, showing that Elisha knew all. "Went not mine heart with thee," he asked, "when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed forever." Swift was the retribution that overtook the guilty man. He went out from Elisha's presence "a leper as white as snow."

Solemn are the lessons taught by this experience of one to whom had been given high and holy privileges. The course of Gehazi was such as to place a stumbling block in the pathway of Naaman, upon whose mind had broken a wonderful light, and who was favorably disposed toward the service of the living God. For the deception practiced by Gehazi there could be pleaded no excuse. To the day of his death he remained a leper, cursed of God and shunned by his fellow men." (PK 250 252)

Gehazi forgot that since God gives freely, we receive freely, therefore we should freely give.


Freely Receive, Freely Give

A young woman had just given birth to a baby. After the required 6 week waiting period, she again attended church, this time with her baby. In between the lesson study and the 11 o'clock hour, there was an opportunity for the congregation to meet and greet each other. The members were so pleased to see the mother and her baby, that they flocked to her side. All too soon, the call to be seated for the 11 o'clock hour was given, and the service began. But within just a few minutes, the once contented baby began to cry. His mother, however, was not alarmed, for this was the baby's scheduled meal time. Pulling his blanket out of the diaper bag, she carefully placed it over her shoulder, arm, and baby. With her free hand, she cautiously and discreetly prepared herself to feed him. In just a few minutes, the baby was fed, burped and placed in his seat. Pulling out a notepad, and pen, the mother began to write as she glanced at her watch. "How curious," thought the pastor, as he observed her unusual behavior. Not wanting to be distracted, he did not continue to look in
her direction. 

At the end of the service, the pastor, as was his custom, positioned himself by the main door to greet the departing congregation. Seeing the young mother approach, the pastor hoped he'd be able to discretely ask what she been writing. Quietly, he asked her how she and the baby were doing. Not quite satisfied with her answer, the pastor then queried her as to her note taking in church. "Oh," she responded, "I'm keeping an account as to how much milk the baby drinks and how long he feeds." "What
ever for?" questioned the pastor now thoroughly intrigued. "Well," she answered, "I intend to bill him when he grows up." Thinking that she was joking, the pastor laughed. She however remained serious, and added, "I have worked out a formula whereby I can calculate how much he will owe me for the next few years of breast feeding, as well as wear and tear." "At the rate he's going, he already owes me a few thousand dollars." "I'm actually planning to add interest, but since he's my son, I want to keep the rate low, so I haven't decided how much, but I do know that it will be compounded, after all, I think it's only fair, don't you?" Speechless, the pastor stood there in amazement, his mouth open. The young mother, taking that as her opportunity said, "goodbye, I'll be back next week." And with that she left.

"Preposterous!" you say. "How can a mother be so ridiculous as to bill her baby for services of love that should be free?" "How could she even think to charge him interest, after all he didn't ask to be born." Say this, and you'd be right. That young woman's actions should be considered outrageous. And if she actually goes through with her plan, it would be scandalous. How, we wonder, could anyone be so foolish as to think that it is good to sell something as a commodity which was received freely. It may be profitable, yes, but good? No way.

The Jewish priests in Jesus time were selling to the people, that which should have been given to them free of charge. This was especially true of the animals slated for the sanctuary service. Why? Because, the animal sacrifices and the gift of salvation had literally been given to them of God by grace. Sister White says,

What was it that He saw as He looked upon that temple court converted into a place of merchandise? They were selling oxen and sheep and doves to those who would offer a sacrifice to God for their sins. There were many poor among the multitude, and they had been taught that in order to have their sins forgiven, they must have an offering and a sacrifice to present to God. Christ saw the poor, and the distressed, and the afflicted, in trouble and dismay, because they had not sufficient to purchase even a dove for an offering. The blind, the lame, the deaf, the afflicted, longed to present an offering for their sins, but the prices were so exorbitant they could not compass it. It seemed that there was no chance for them to have their sins pardoned. They knew that they were sinners, and needed an offering, but how could they obtain it? (E. G. white Notes, page 59).

The Sadducees controlled the temple business and they profited immensely. They had money- changers exchanging the Roman coin for the temple coin, this exchange was done at a profit to the Sadducees. When the people were to buy an animal for the sacrifice, it was sold at an exorbitant price so that only the wealthy could afford the purchase. This kept the poor believing, as is said above, that they could not ask for forgiveness and that therefore God did not favor them. The pain and misery of the poor, along with the greed and malice of the wealthy, broke Christ's heart and angered Him. Forgiveness of sins, iniquities and transgressions was to occur through the living sanctuary parable. It was the only place where sinners could find refuge, peace and rest. The Sadducees, through their avarice, effectively closed the door of hope to poor. This is why Mark 11:15-19 states,

Mark 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and
began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and 
overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that 
sold doves;

Mark 11:16 And would not suffer that any man should carry [any] vessel 
through the temple.
Mark 11:17 And He taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house
shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it 
a den of thieves.
Mark 11:18 And the scribes and chief priests heard [it], and sought how they might destroy Him: for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His doctrine.
Mark 11:19 And when even was come, He went out of the city.

"Outrageous! Scandalous!" you say. "You wouldn't see that happening now." You are right, not in the same manner. We can all go to the temple, but how about the education centers. Many families cannot afford to have their children attend, so they find other options. They either send their children to the local public school or if they can afford it, they find a parochial school of another denomination and send their child there. What happens to the children of parents who fall behind in their school payments? The children are asked not to return, and depending on how old the child is, he or she may be sued. (This happened to someone I know personally but goes against what Christ teaches in the scripture through the Apostle Paul). 

"Outrageous! Scandalous!" you say. But by assimilating to the world's standards and practices regarding education and the accumulation of possessions, we have driven up the prices of our own literature, speakers, singers, vegetarian products and acute health care, till it is barely affordable. 

Christ says in Matthew 10:8, "freely ye have received, freely give." This is merely another portal through which to view the gospel, which is "love to God supremely-- with your whole heart, soul, body, strength and mind, and your neighbor as I have loved you." But, many of us don't want to practice this, because we want to profit as did Elisha's assistant, Gehazi. Just as he converted God's blessing (the healing of Naaman's leprosy) into his personal financial commodity, we too as a group, do the same. We've unwittingly adopted the belief system of the world regarding our commodities, " Whoever can afford what we are selling, and will pay for it, can have it." How pitiful. The poor brother who truly needs the blessing is often kept in the dark, and on the fringes, because he cannot afford the repackaged blessing. Yes, you may say that many who are employed by the denomination are not wealthy. But as an institution, the Church is rich. It believes it is in need of nothing, for it has this message and that message, and this program, and that evangelistic thrust. "The world church is growing, can't you see?" Yet, while we as a group are pleased with our condition, Christ is not. We have yet to have the soul temple cleansed again, and its sins blotted out for the time of the refreshing. Christ has given us, freely, the gift of repentance and forgiveness. He has simply asked us to believe and receive it, that the blessing may rebound to others. Freely He has given! Freely are we to receive and give again-- that our collective joy may be full!

Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes