Many Blessings

A message from Mark Sponseller
on behalf of the Stewardship Team of Asbury UMC

March 29, 2009

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Mark Sponseller and my wife Christy and my son Trevor joined Asbury United Methodist last fall. Since joining the church, I have also become involved in the finance and stewardship committees, which brings me here today, this third Sunday of our Stewardship campaign, to talk to you about my views of what faithful giving means to me. I feel it necessary to warn you up front that I am an accountant and CPA by trade, so there is a chance some of this could get a bit dry. I’ll do my best, but wanted to issue this disclaimer just to be safe. I thought about also handing out pillows and blankets to make you more comfortable in those instances, but my wife talked me out of it. This is one of the many examples of why I married her.

I want to discuss two broader topics today. One, I want to give you an overview and perspective of some of the costs of running Asbury and perhaps shed some insights on the financial picture as I feel many of you might find this interesting. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have a good sense of this. Prior to joining the finance committee, I certainly did not. Yes…this may be the “drier” stuff for some of you, but I will try to keep it interesting. Two, I plan on discussing some of my thoughts on why we give – specifically, what motivates me and my family towards giving and much more broadly, why we as a congregation give. My hopes are that this part of my discussion will be a bit less dry, but again would refer to the CPA caveat previously mentioned. I’ll do my best.

Part I

Using some very round numbers for simplicity, I wanted to paint a picture of the costs of running Asbury United Methodist. Roughly speaking, we spend about $400,000 a year, give or take, operating the church and related programs. This covers salaries, heating, electricity, office supplies, church outreach, real estate taxes, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, grounds maintenance, etc. To give some more illustrative examples, it costs about $900 each time we have the snow removed, $650 for a spring clean up of the leaves, etc., $3,500 a month for fuel oil, $800 a month for electricity, $5,200 for drainage repair, $3,100 for new oil tank installation – these are just a few examples. To break things down further, week in and week out it takes approximately $7,500 to keep things moving here. Some weeks are higher some weeks are lower, but that’s the average. How do we do it?

Your weekly and special giving are a large piece of the puzzle. The remaining ways we make ends meet come from the Asbury nursery school, the Asbury foundation, “leasing” our location to outside parties and also programs such as Musical Munchkins, etc. Nevertheless, the largest of any of the pieces which fund our needs comes from you (accounting for about 45% of the total operating needs of Asbury). You are critical to making it happen each year and given the wonderful thing we have here at Asbury United Methodist, I believe this is something we all should be proud of.

If you consider we have about 100 “giving units” or families, on average we need about $138 per member per month or $30 per week. That’s not to say that is what each of you should give or will give – that is a decision that is a function of many things, including your own personal situation. At least for me, when I break the numbers down this way, it further supports in my mind that we have set up a very achievable goal when taken as a whole. We think about tackling our contributions goal as if we were trying to eat an elephant…..in doing that you wouldn’t try to do it in one giant gulp but instead you would take a bunch of small bites. I would ask you to think about your giving in the same way.

Part II

I think I will start off the second part of my discussion by talking a bit about the spiritual aspects and also the struggles we encounter with stewardship and giving. I want start off on the spiritual side of things by talking a bit on Paul’s letter to the Galatians and then relate that to the motivations for giving. His letter was an attempt to refocus the message back towards the true gospel – to get the Galatians “back on track” – something we all need from time to time. In Paul’s letter, he emphasizes some of the most basic principles of the Christian faith, such as:

• Justification by grace through faith;

• Our adoption and inheritance as God’s children;

• The equality of Jew and Gentile in the new covenant

• The call to remember the poor

I reference Paul’s letter to the Galatians to expand on the spiritual drivers and motivations behind why we should give. In Galatians one of the main themes is that we, the body of Christ, find our salvation through Christ, not through acts, deeds, giving, etc. Thus, our connection with God transcends these things and is not a result of our generosity or the good things that we do; rather, his love for us comes without strings attached; pretty amazing, huh? So I guess what this means to me is that God’s love is not a result of our generosity, however, our generosity should be a result of the love God has for us and the tremendous gift he gave us; namely, Jesus Christ.

However, now comes the trickier part. With all of this said, I, like I imagine many of you, struggle with the topic of giving. Not the act of giving, but the amount. How much is enough? How much is too little? I’m not going to stand up here and say otherwise as that would be disingenuous (particularly with the economy as it is currently). But what I will say it is ok to struggle. Christianity is complex. The bible is full of complexity. I remember losing myself in I and II Samuel and I and II Kings for a semester back in college. You want complexity; just follow the stories in those books; particularly that of David and you’ll realize that even someone with a direct bloodline to Christ and who knew and spoke directly with God, still struggled in living in faith consistently. Job is another good (and maybe obvious) example and of course, the New Testament is full of stories and parables regarding the everyday application of faith in life and the related struggles with the world at large. Even Christ asked for the cup to be taken from him.

Essentially, giving is just another area where we struggle with our faith. Kind of like when I used to hear the NPR pledge drive come on the radio every six months or so and I would kind of turn down the volume during their requests for pledges – to avoid the calling for help and support. It took some time, but they finally got me this year, so I guess you can’t run forever. I guess what I would ask is that you not let the struggle with giving cause you to “turn down the radio” when the call to giving comes. Much like NPR, God continues to catch up with me in my life on giving and other areas of faith.

I still continue work towards getting to tithing and I continue to feel God’s presence in my life and that of my family. My struggle with giving and other aspects of Christian life is a happy one and not one that shuts me off from God, but actually brings me closer to him. I am pleased to say I find myself in a good and growing place with both my faith and my giving.

So in summary I will leave you three final thoughts as you contemplate giving during this year’s Stewardship campaign.

1. Don’t let the struggle with the decision on what to give, how to give, how much to give; get in the way of giving. Make a commitment during the process, even if only a small amount and symbolic. Get into the game and sign up and support the Church. We are striving for 100% participation.

2. Think of the many blessings you have received and allow those to motivate your giving. Near the beginning of his gospel, John makes a wonderful statement about Jesus regarding Christ’s gifts to us: “From the fullness of his grace we have received one blessing after another” (John 1:16). God’s capacity for giving knows no boundaries. Challenge yourself to return God’s gifts by not only meeting your commitment, but to also to offer above that level as your economic situation allows for it and as the spirit moves you to do so.

3. Giving can take many forms. To quote Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It’s more than about giving money – your talents hold value as well. Think broadly of giving and challenge yourself in supporting the congregation in many ways. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). OK, I will concede those are a little tough to deliver; however, I can recommend a number of less lofty goals which are still very meaningful to supporting the congregation – Sing the songs, Cook the food, Visit the sick and shut ins, Mentor the young, Rake the leaves, Paint the walls, etc. Keep your heart and mind open as to where your talents can help the church. It is not by mistake that I became involved in the finance committee being someone who likes to work with numbers.

I close with this – we give because Jesus first gave to us. We love because Jesus first loved us. Each person should give what he / she has decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7). I would leave you with that.

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