Sunday Serve

By Dee Swanson

It’s 8:45 a.m. on Sunday morning, and you are scurrying around to get three children fed and dressed. Since you live a 15-minute drive from the church, you know that you must leave by 9:15 if you have any hope of arriving on time for the 9:30 service.

8:52 a.m.: Everyone is fed and dressed. Then your three-year-old trips over a toy in the hallway, cutting his lip; blood is spurting everywhere—on his clothes (and yours), the floor, the walls. Quick change of clothes for him (and you).

9:00 a.m.: It now appears that you are ready to make a dash for the car, but your seven-year-old begins screaming at his ten-year-old sister who has just eaten the last one of his favorite Halloween candies. “You knew that was my favorite. Why did you eat that one?” Using your best negotiating skills, you convince the seven-year-old that just because the candy was the last one in the bowl of Halloween candy, it is not the last one in Virginia Beach. You can find more at the store and will drive there after church.

9:08 a.m.: Out the door on the way to Virginia Beach United Methodist Church.

Scenarios like this are replicated every Sunday morning in many families. The details may differ, but the challenge of getting everyone ready for church is the same, so families frequently arrive harried and rushed. However, harried young families are not the only ones who attend our services. Many arrive harboring other concerns. We cannot know what someone is going through. We don’t wear signs taped to our foreheads that illustrate our struggles that say, “Just diagnosed with cancer,” or “Lost a parent this week,” or “Facing a divorce,” or “Suffered a serious car accident,” or “Fighting drug addiction,” “Can’t pay my bills,” or “Lost my job.”

If we did display such signs, perhaps those around us would be more empathetic. Even though we have no signs displayed on our foreheads, there are Christian volunteers wearing brightly colored vests standing in the parking lots of VBUMC who greet you with an infectious friendly smile as they scour the lot to help you find an open parking spot. Whether a first-time visitor or a member who attends regularly or a person carrying a heavy burden, everyone is greeted with a “Good morning. We’re glad you’re here today!”  

For most families, the parking assistants are the first contact they have with VBUMC on Sunday morning. The goal of the parking assistants is not only to help you find a parking place, but also to demonstrate genuine Christian hospitality, “mirroring Christ’s outstretched arms.” This year that volunteer brigade is being helped by the Aldersgate Sunday School class. Recently, the group decided that they wanted to give a boost to their service to the church, so they established what they refer to as Sunday Serve. Instead of meeting for Sunday School on the first Sunday of each month, they choose to volunteer in some special capacity where their services are most needed–ushering, communion helper, nursery assistant, or parking attendant. 

Alice Parrish, the leader of the Aldersgate class, explained that the group voted to try the Sunday Serve routine for a year. As a member of VBUMC since 1992, Alice confided that she was impressed with the church from the first time she attended because “everybody seemed so happy to see each other.” That tradition has not changed over the years. Whether you are a first-time visitor, arrive at the last minute with rambunctious children in tow, or a deliberate soul who arrives in time to claim the first parking spot in the lot, the parking assistants will welcome you with the passion, power, and purpose that only come through their faith in Jesus Christ, yearning for an opportunity to answer a call greater than themselves. Our thanks to the Sunday Serve volunteer parking attendants who extend the hand of Christian fellowship to all who attend our Sunday services.

The Skill of Awareness

The Skill of Awareness

Awareness is an essential skill required for healthy relationships.  Awareness is required in three dimensions: Self-awareness, Others-awareness, and God-awareness.

Self-awareness requires us to be aware of our personality traits, temperament, tendencies and talents.  It is also important to be aware of those areas where we need to improve and grow as people, because our weaknesses as well as our strengths can impact our relationships.  There are lots of helpful tools to help us grow in self-awareness (personality tests, evaluations from co-workers or supervisors, professional counseling, etc).  But one of the best ways to grow in self-awareness is to sit down with someone you love and trust and invite feedback.  Ask those closest to you: “What is it like to be on the other side of me? How do I typically come across?  What are my relational strengths, and where do I need to do some work?”  The purpose of these questions is not to beat ourselves up, but to make ourselves more aware, so that we can get better as people.  The better we become, the better our relationships can become.

     Others-awareness requires us to be aware of the personality traits, character qualities, temperament and tendencies of other people in our relational world.  This helps us to better understand why others say what they say and do what they do.  Learning the stories and background of other people can help us better understand who they are and how they relate to others.  This can help us build stronger and more healthy relationships with the important people in our lives.

     Finally, there is God-awareness.  Ultimately, the goal of our lives is to be so aware of God’s loving presence in our own lives that we are able to love others with the love that God provides.  In the Old Testament, God promises “I will be with you.”  But in the New Testament, God promises “I will be in you.”   It is the loving presence of God working within us that enables us to love others.  But we must be aware of that love and allow it to flow through us.  One of the important purposes of the Church is to help people become more aware of God’s love in their lives, and commit themselves to love others with the love of the Lord.

If we want healthy, happy, God-honoring relationships, we need awareness in all three dimensions (self, others, and God). When we become more aware, we become better at loving others, and that’s the whole goal of life!  Listen to the sermon “Reality Skill: Awareness”

Pastor Mark Miller


Love Is A Skill

Love Is A Skill


Love is a skill we develop, not a feeling we feel.  It is true that there are many wonderful feelings that can inspire love and accompany love; feelings of affection, admiration, connection, euphoria, joy and gratitude.  These are wonderful feelings.  But the feelings themselves aren’t love, because love is not a feeling.  When you read the Apostle Paul’s famous definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, you quickly realize that he describes love in terms of behaviors and attitudes, not feelings.

The Biblical idea of love is that we behave in a loving way toward the people in our lives.  We choose to be kind, patient, encouraging, honest, forgiving and gracious.   These behaviors are not feelings, but they often do produce feelings and reinforce feelings.  The goal of true love is to treat people in a loving way even when we do not particularly feel like doing so.  This is a level of emotional maturity we should all seek to attain.

Ultimately, life is about loving relationships.  Love is “the main thing” in life.  But love is a skill we must learn to develop and practice.  Let’s devote ourselves to developing the skills that love requires.  Then the feelings will come along for the ride.

Pastor Mark Miller


The Value of Work

The Value of Work

This past weekend was Labor Day weekend.  A holiday we often associate with the end of summer vacation and the beginning of another school year.  But originally, this holiday was a time to celebrate the value and goodness of work, or labor.  After being declared an official holiday in 1894, Labor Day was typically a day set aside to reflect upon the positive ways that work enhances our lives, families and communities.  Parades, speeches, and other observances were designed to remind us all that when we engage in meaningful work, when we labor with diligence, when we serve with excellence, everyone benefits.

    The wisdom of the Bible reinforces this idea.  Christians are encouraged to do their work as unto the Lord.  To do all things “in word or deed” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17).  The Christian view of work is not that it is a curse, but that it is an opportunity to demonstrate love for God and love for others.  Through work, we help to solve problems, meet needs, and serve others.  Through work, we alleviate suffering and create new opportunities for human flourishing.   Through work, we demonstrate how we are created in the image of God who is always working (John 5:17) to advance His Kingdom purposes.

     Christians should be known for working diligently and demonstrating excellence.  The Christian who shows up to work with a good attitude, encourages co-workers, takes personal responsibility, meets deadlines and provides a full day’s work without complaint is declaring the glory of God without ever preaching a sermon or quoting a Bible verse. 

      For those who are students in school, getting a good education is their job. The Bible encourages us to “study, to show ourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15).  To pay attention in class, to do the homework with diligence, to take on assignments with a commitment to excellence becomes a means of shaping our character and preparing us for a future career.

      Those who do not have a paying job still have work to do.  Whatever responsibilities or challenges we face in life become part of our “work.”  To develop ourselves, to build our character, to volunteer our time and invest our energy in worthwhile pursuits; these are all part of the work we are called to do.

     May we be willing to do hard work, and work diligently with a good attitude.  Because when we embrace our responsibilities with a commitment to excellence, God is glorified, others are blessed, and we become instruments of grace and goodness to all those around us.  Do the work, and enjoy the blessings that result.  Listen to the sermon, “A Labor of Love”.

Pastor Mark Miller


Did Jesus Destroy the Law?

If you asked most Christians to list their relationship to the laws of the Old Testament the way they do on social media, some might fall under the category “In a relationship.” Others might describe the relationship as “Separated.” But the most accurate—even if it’s the most uncomfortable—would have to be “It’s complicated.”

Many Christians imagine that Jesus offers complete freedom from the restrictive laws of Old Testament faith, and that’s true to some extent. Jesus broke the religious laws of his day over and over again. He allowed his hungry disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath. He didn’t observe the ritual hand washing that the Law required. He healed on the Sabbath, even though that was against the Law.

So it comes as a surprise to many of us when Jesus doubles down on the Law, saying “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Why does Jesus sound less like a rebel and more like a rule follower? Why is Jesus warning us that not one letter, not even one stroke of a letter, will pass away from the law?

One of the most helpful things we can do when we try to answer big questions like this is to consider the context of these words. We have to remember that Jesus was a first century Jewish Rabbi speaking to first century Jews living in first century Palestine. So when we hear the expression “the Law,” it helps to understand Jesus’ words in their original context before we apply them in ours. When a first century Jewish teacher like Jesus used the expression “the Law,” it could mean a few different things: the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), the first five books of the Bible (Torah), the 613 commandments (mitzvot) found in the Torah, the Law and the Prophets (the Christian Old Testament), or the scribal law. This last understanding of the Law was an added layer of interpretation, application and clarification from later generations of Rabbis.

The oral tradition of scribal law was still being composed in Jesus’ day, and he is weighing in on a heated debate between religious and legal scholars. Some say all of the Law is binding, including the scribal law, while others want to go back to basics. Jesus falls into the radical center, the extremely moderate position that respects the Law and faithfully tries to discern when it is and is not binding on the believer.

Faithful Christians then and now have struggled with the meaning of Jesus’ words. They have tried to figure out what it means that he fulfilled the Law, and many times they are looking for a checklist or a recipe for salvation. But Jesus offers something more difficult, but also more rewarding. He says, “It’s complicated.”

A pastor for the early church named Augustine summarized the Law this way: “Love God, and do what you like.” Far from granting permission to do anything and everything, his words instruct Christ’s followers to follow God’s will. Because when we love God with all that we are, then what we like to do will be in line with God’s law, God’s will and God’s instruction.

The Law is ultimately a call to love. In saying that he has fulfilled the Law, Jesus hands each of his followers a blank sheet of paper and asks us a few simple questions. He asks if we will reject evil and repent of our sins. He asks if we will accept the freedom and power from God to resist evil, injustice and oppression. And he asks if we will confess Jesus as our Savior and follow him as our Lord. Listen to the sermon, “Did Jesus Destroy the Law?”

Pastor Matt Potter