Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nehemiah 13:1-14 - Giving: Important Things to Remember

Opening thought
Some people don’t like a preacher to talk about money from the pulpit.  In the Bible, there are 40 verses on baptism, 275 verses on prayer, 350 verses on faith, 650 verses on love -- and 2,350 verses that relate specifically to finances and material possessions.[1]
Two men were marooned on an Island. One man paced back and forth, worried and scared while the other man sat back and started sunning himself.  The first man said to the second man, "Aren’t you afraid we are about to die?" "No," said the second man, "I make $100,000 a week and I tithe faithfully to my church every week. My pastor will find me."
Contextual Notes:
Nehemiah rebuilding JerusalemImage via Wikipedia
Nehemiah rebuilding the Wall
Nehemiah, one of the greatest leaders in the Bible, had pulled off the building of the city walls of Jerusalem in fifty-two days – unbelievable.  After a 12-year tour of duty as governor of Judea, Nehemiah returned in 433 BC to report to Artaxerxes on his work (Nehemiah 2:6; 13:6). While he was gone, the people gradually abandoned their “binding agreement” to obey carefully God’s Torah (Neh. 10:28-39).
Upon returning for a second term as governor, Nehemiah was shocked to find how much Israel’s obedience had deteriorated.  The high priest Eliashib (by now an elderly man, Ezra 10:6), had given guest quarters in the Temple complex (Neh 13:4-5) to no less than the infamous Tobiah the Ammonite, the enemy who had threatened war on Israel for rebuilding the wall! (Eliashib’s granddaughter had married Tobiah the Ammonite’s son.) He also learns that services at the Temple have been abandoned because God’s tithes had not been paid, and the Levites who served at the Temple have been forced to go back to their farms in order to survive (Neh. 13:10-14). The people are working on Sabbath (Neh. 13:15-22), and marrying foreign wives (Neh. 13:23-31). It was a common ancient practice to store valuables in a temple complex. It is the origin of banking in the ancient world.
Key Truth: Nehemiah wrote Nehemiah 13:1-14 to explain to believers how God works through obedience in giving, to invest resources, tithe regularly, and
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about giving.
Pray and Read:  Nehemiah 13:1-14

Sermon Points:
1.   Invest resources for Kingdom benefit (Neh 13:1-9).
2.   Tithe regularly for Kingdom benefit (Neh 13:10-12).
3.   Entrust resources to Kingdom people (Neh 13:13).
4.   Cover all giving in prayer and viewpoint of eternity (Neh 13:14).

Exposition:   Note well,

1.   INVEST RESOURCES FOR KINGDOM BENEFIT (Neh. 13:1-9).
a.   The people had heard the Law read (Neh. 8:1-8) from Deuteronomy 23:3-6 that because the Ammonites and Moabites had refused them access (Num. 22:22-24) to their resources to cross to enter the Promised Land hundreds of years before, that none of them would be permitted in the assembly (Neh. 13:2; Ezra 8:29).  (Unless of course, like Ruth the Moabitess, you choose to follow the Lord.) Deuteronomy 23:3-6:  3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. 4 For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. 5 However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. 6 Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.
b.   Nehemiah found that resources were being used to benefit someone personally at the Temple, that resources were not being invested to honor the Lord. And benefits were being accrued even to Tobiah, an enemy of the very Temple in which he lived for free! Nehemiah did not hesitate. He did not seek an intermediate solution. He did not compromise. Nehemiah had a Kingdom mindset and was not going to compromise by allowing the personal benefit of an enemy of God’s people to continue. Reform the way the church spends money and reform the church.
c.   Nehemiah’s action is a foretaste of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13): 12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13"It is written," he said to them, “'My house will be called a house of prayer,'[a] but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'[b]
d.   ILLUSTRATION: Indulgences to pay out of purgatory. When the Catholic Church needed money for building projects re: rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Leo X came up with a great funding strategy.  In 1517, they began selling indulgences, certificates which cut your time in purgatory, a pre-Hell holding pen of fire and torture in which you can get a second chance at heaven. Want to pay your way out? Want to pay Mama’s way out? Want to pay your wayward child’s way out?  Buy Indulgences!  Various indulgences would pay you out from several years to 10,000 years. The aggressive marketing practices of Johann Tetzel in promoting this cause provoked Martin Luther to write his 95 theses, protesting what he saw as the purchase and sale of salvation. According to tradition, he nailed these theses to a church door in Wittenberg.Martin Luther went back to Scripture and found that we are justified by faith alone, not by paying our way out of an imaginary purgatory.  From this controversy the Protestant Reformation was launched.
e.   APPLICATION: We must spend funds on Kingdom priorities. We will be audited at the Judgment.
f.    The Church’s Squandering of Resources: Today, 85% of every dollar given in a church offering stays at that church. Is that missions? In 2000, 97 dollars of every 100 of the entire income ($269.61B) of all Christian organizations was spent on, and primarily benefited, other Christians at home or abroad: spent on ministering to Christians, $2.90 ($7.8B) on already-evangelized non-Christians, and 3 cents ($0.81B) on unevangelized non-Christians,[2] in 2010 that has dropped to 2 cents.[3]
2.   TITHE REGULARLY FOR THE KINGDOM’S BENEFIT (Neh 13:10-12).
a.   Services at the Temple had been abandoned. The Levites and priests had to feed their families, so when the people stopped tithing, the funding ran out, and they had to find other work farming or otherwise. (Neh 13:10). Nehemiah rebuked the officials (Neh. 13:11), restored the sacred duties and reintroduced the practice of tithing (Neh. 13:12).
b.   ILLUSTRATION: I like the old story about the guy who came to church with his family. As they were driving home afterwards he was complaining about everything. He said, “The music was too loud. The sermon was too long. The announcements were unclear. The building was hot. The people were unfriendly.” He went on and on, complaining about virtually everything. Finally, his very observant son said, “Dad, you’ve got to admit it wasn’t a bad show for just a dollar.” Isn’t that reality? It seems the ones who give the most complain the least and vice-versa. When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.
c.   APPLICATION: The Church’s Great Storehouse of Wealth. In 2000, American evangelicals collectively made $2.66 trillion in income.[4] Total Christian [including nominal] income in the United States is $5.2 trillion annually, nearly half of the world’s total Christian income.[5] The average donation church member in 2000 who attend U.S. Protestant churches was about $17 a week.[6] The average amount of money given by a full or confirmed member of a U.S. Christian church in 2004 was $691.93. This comes to an average of $13.31 per week.[7] Only 1/3 to ½ of church attenders give anything at all.[8]
d.   Among church members of 11 primary Protestant denominations (or their historical antecedents) in the United States and Canada, per-member giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2000 than in either 1921 or 1933. In 1921, per-member giving as a percentage of income was 2.9 percent. In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, per-member giving grew to 3.3 percent. By 2000, after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity, giving had fallen to 2.6 percent.[9]
e.   Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of Americans who donate money to a church tithe (give a tenth of) their incomes, though many more claim to do so.[10] Thirty-three percent of U.S. born-again Christians say it is impossible for them to get ahead in life because of the financial debt they have incurred.[11]
f.    The Potential for Funding the Harvest: If members of historically Christian churches in the United States had raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving (10 percent of income) in 2004, an additional $164 billion a year would become available.[12] Eighty percent of the world’s evangelical wealth is in North America—and the total represents much more than enough to fund the fulfillment of the Great Commission.[13]
g.   Tithing as a practice continues to decline.
“The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church—that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry—has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002. Born again adults, who represent 38% of the nation’s population, also sustained a decline in generosity during the past couple of years. In 2000, 12% of all born again adults tithed. The percentage rose to 14% in 2001, but dropped to only 6% in 2002. Reasons for this decline include concern about financial security, fear about terrorism, failure of parents to pass along this practice to their children, the Catholic church’s pedophilia scandal,
the rise of para-church ministries and the rapid growth of Hispanics, very few of whom give generously to their churches.[14]
h.   20-35% of church attendee giving records are blank ($0 of recorded offerings given). In 1999, ~$3 billion was given to 600 Christian mission agencies, $60B to local churches.  Compare this to $58 billion for soda products, $24 billion in jewelry store sales, $8 billion for movies theaters, $13 billion for chocolate products, $38 billion in vending machine sales, $11 billion for comp/video games, $7 billion greeting cards, $23 billion for toys, $91 billion in lawn/garden industry, $40 billion for pets, $60B on weight-loss.[15]
3.   ENTRUST KINGDOM RESOURCES TO RELIABLE PEOPLE (Neh. 13:13).
a.   Nehemiah appointed four reliable men to be in charge of the storerooms where they were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their brothers.
b.   No one person without accountability should ever have control of the finances in a church. There must be checks and balances. There must be accountability.
c.   It seems sometimes like the church has a hard time spelling the word prophet/profit.
d.   Mark Murnan, a criminal defense investigator, says that many Christians fail to heed Jesus’ admonition to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). As a result, scams such as Financial Federated and Baptist Foundation of America have swindled Christians of billions of dollars. Using examples of past religion-based scams, Murnan points to five common elements of fraud: promises of high returns over a short period, recruitment of fellow church members, appeals to Scripture, complicated explanation of the investment, and suspect phrases and tax strategies.
e.   Columnist J. Lee Grady writes of his growing sense of alarm over the financial practices of some within the charismatic circle. Citing examples of faith preachers with extravagant expenses and televised preachers who promise miracles and blessings for donors, Grady says “we've been taken hostage by what I call the charismatic cartel.” He asks his readers to “boycott those who are turning God's house into a den of thieves.”
4.   COVER ALL GIVING IN PRAYER AND VIEWPOINT OF ETERNITY (Neh. 13:14).
a.   Remember: Heb zakar – not only mental activity but behavior appropriate to memory. Nehemiah asks God to remember him not b/c God forgets, but instead to request Him to respond in an appropriate fashion. He is expressing faith that God will reward him. Nehemiah turns in prayer to God, his signature leadership characteristic, not seeking glory for himself, but rather seeking to serve God with all his heart.
b.   ILLUSTRATION: Ann Landers had an interesting letter in her column once. It was from a girl who wrote about her aunt and uncle. She said, "My uncle was the tightest man I’ve ever known. All his life, every time he got paid he took $20 out of his paycheck & put it under his mattress.  Then he got sick & was about to die. As he was dying, he said to his wife, "I want you to promise me one thing." "Promise what?" she asked. "I want you to promise me that when I’m dead you’ll take my money from under the mattress & put it in my casket so that I can take it all with me."  The girl’s letter went on with the story. "He died, & his wife kept her promise. She went in & got all that money the day he died & went to the bank & deposited it, and wrote out a check and put it in his casket."
INVITATION:

[1] Brian Kluth, “Twenty Financial and Generosity Facts Impacting Churches,” http://www.kluth.org/church/20%20Financial%20and%20Generosity%20Fast%20Facts2.pdf
[7] John Ronsvalle and Sylvia Ronsvalle, The State of Church Giving through 2004: Will We Will? 16th ed. (Champaign, Ill.: Empty Tomb, 2006), 17.
[8] The United Methodist Foundation of Los Angeles, Money and Religion, rpt. in “Lifestyle Stewardship: Learning the Freedom of Generous Giving,” Alliance Life (January 2001), 13.
[15] Source: Empty Tomb Research, www.kluth.org