Charm Is Deceitful


This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Layman about the readings for the 18th Sunday After Pentecost (Proverbs 31.10-31, Psalm 1, James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a, Mark 9.30-37). Alan serves as the pastor of Grace UMC in Parksley, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including pastoral titles, staying connected in a global movement, senior superlatives, wicked advice, true prosperity, faithful habits, visions of the kingdom, the absence of the devil, and hot dogs with popsicles. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Charm Is Deceitful 



Sticks and Stones


This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Layman about the readings for the 17th Sunday After Pentecost (Proverbs 1.20-33, Psalm 19, James 3.1-12, Mark 8.27-38). Alan serves as the pastor of Grace UMC in Parksley, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including a small church with a big presence, being “off the map”, the femininity of wisdom, prevenient grace, perfect law, the good side of fear, pre-preaching prayers, righteous anger, and speaking without thinking. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Sticks and Stones


The Original OG


This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Jason Micheli about the readings for the 16th Sunday After Pentecost (Proverbs 22.1-2, 8-9, 22-23, Psalm 125, James 2.1-17, Mark 7.24-37). Jason serves as the senior pastor of Annandale UMC, in Annandale VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including dawgs, big buts, long car trips with your mother-in-law, new names, sowing injustice, being surrounded by God, gratitude for the Word, incompatibility, and Jesus’ sighs. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Original OG


Devotional – Mark 9.47


Mark 9.47

And if your eye cause you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.
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I was sitting in a classroom at James Madison University when one of my peers raised her hand to ask a question. The lecture had been focused on the reliability of the New Testament writers/witnesses and a debate had erupted over whether or not to take the bible literally. I sat patiently near the front of the class watching the comments fling back and forth like a ping pong match between the students and our professor when the girl finally raised her hand.

She said, “I just want everyone to know that I take the bible literally because Jesus is my savior.” The rest of us stared at her and then slowly turned to watch our professor’s rebuttal. “Really? You take the entire bible literally all the time?” he asked rhetorically. The silence was palpable. He continued, “Well then, let me ask you this: Are you a sinner?”

With an obvious look on her face, she said, “Of course I am, but Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.” The professor responded, “Yes yes, but do you sin, even though Jesus died for the world?” “Duh,” she said, “everyone sins, and that why we need to let Jesus into our hearts.”

The professor then sighed and brought the point home, “So you say you’re a sinner, but I notice that you have two hands, two legs, and two eyes… Jesus told his disciples that if their hands or feet cause them to sin, they should cut one of them off, and if their eyes cause them to sin they should pluck one out. So you see, I’m having a hard time understanding how you take the bible literally, affirm that you’re a sinner, and still have both your hands, both your feet, and both your eyes all at the same time.”

I don’t remember the girl’s name, but I will never forget the way she looked as she slumped back down into her chair thinking about what our professor had said.

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The bible is full of different literary forms that give it life. There are epic poems that retell the great story of the past in order to teach a lesson to the present. There are long genealogies that connect different characters throughout the centuries. There are parables of everyday situations that are meant to leave us scratching our heads in wonder. There are metaphors used (just like we do) to convey meaning in a way that is memorable and effective. There are proverbs, psalms, and poems that contain wisdom beyond their literal words.

The bible is not a historical narrative to be analyzed and redacted like a modern textbook. It is not a perfect collection of rules to live life. The bible is not a text to be read literally all the time in every situation; otherwise we would all be stumbling around with missing appendages.

The great beauty of scripture is that it opens up the strange new world of what it means to be in relationship with God and with our fellow human beings. The greatest moments in our lives cannot be conveyed in simple words to be taken literally, but are in fact so profound that we must use differing literary forms to even begin conveying what our experience was like. The bible is full of wonder and that’s why we keep coming back to it every day and every week to learn more about who we are, and whose we are.

This week, let us open up our bibles to discover the strange new world of God’s kingdom, and start letting it become incarnate in the way we live.

O To Be Wise – Sermon on Proverbs 1.20-33

Proverbs 1.20-33

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity come like a whirlwind, when distress and anger come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, there they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”


Wisdom is standing on the street corner shouting at anyone within distance. In all the town squares she is that preacher standing on a box yelling at the crowds to repent from their ways. At the entrance of the largest cities she is the one holding up the signs about our idiocy and the power of God’s wrath. She is all the preachers, prophets, and teachers that weep in sadness that their words are no longer heeded. Wisdom is frightening and demanding.

How long, all you simple minded people in this congregation, how long will you love to remain being so simple in your thoughts and reflections? How long will you enjoy scoffing at the events in your life and hate the knowledge that is given to you in scripture and in church?

Listen to Wisdom right now, because she is pouring out all her thoughts to you and making all of her words known in this place.

Yet, she has called and called, she has screamed and screamed, and none of us have listened. We ignored her words and demands, and now she laughs at our suffering and at us. She will relish in the calamities that come like a whirlwind, she will delight in our frustration and anger. She knows that when we are at the end of our ropes, when we have nowhere else to turn, that we will turn back to her, but it will be too late.

Because we have so consistently hated knowledge and did not fear the Lord, we will eat the fruit of our way, and be sated with our own devices.

Wisdom cries out from the streets, yells at us in our cars and in our pews: “Waywardness kills the simple, and our complacency as fools will be our undoing. But whoever listens to Wisdom will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Are you feeling uncomfortable yet? When you heard me rambling up here about Wisdom’s disposition, did you squirm in your pews? This is one tough scripture precisely because Wisdom does not mince her words and comes with a clear and stern warning. We can continue in our stupidity that leads to suffering, or we can listen to Wisdom and live in peace.

For a long time, the book of Proverbs has been marginalized and forgotten in contemporary American Christianity. Similarly the church might confess that our wisdom has suffered a similar fate in culture. Many of us no longer read our bibles, we no longer know what it means to pray, and we live in fear rather than in hope.

But are we really at fault? The church has not done the best job of equipping Christians for the work of discipleship, and the world is full of other options for Wisdom. We are constantly overwhelmed with choices and advice. For instance: The front of our church right now is filled with most of the books that I was assigned to read in seminary. You can read about what it means to do church, you can read books about preaching and teaching, you can read about suffering and temptation, but none of those books taught me the true wisdom of what it means to be a pastor.

Any of us can read about the importance of praying for our enemies in scripture, but the words cannot possibly prepare us for the moment when someone grabs us by the hands and actually asks us to pray for them.

Any of us can turn on the news, or search online to hear about the refugee/migrant crisis happening in Europe right now, but all we hear and learn means very little unless we ourselves are forced to flee our home in hopes that someone else will welcome us in.

So it’s not so much that we have not been given the chance to learn and become wise, but because there are so many options out there, we run the risk of feeling like we just walked into at an all-you-can-eat-buffet prepared for people who ate before they arrived.


Books and television shows and lecture halls can point us in the right direction, but lady Wisdom will more often show up in the places where we live our lives. She shows up in the busy streets, in the public squares, and at the bustling intersections. Wisdom appears in our simple experiences, in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it advice from an acquaintance, and in the quick responses of our children.

On Wednesday night St. John’s hosted the first meeting of “The Circle.” It was designed as a space where the youth of the church can feel comfortable sharing reflections on their own discipleship and partake in communion with one another. Our first meeting went pretty well, the conversation flowed naturally, and I was incredibly impressed by the youth’s ability to convey how Jesus is real for them.

But toward the end of the meeting, I saw the youth really come alive. We were sitting around the table with our bibles opened to Proverbs 1.20-33. We read together about Wisdom yelling out from the streets and then I asked them to share pieces of advice they wished they could tell their parents without fear of getting in trouble.

Up to that point I thought all the youth were really enjoying The Circle, but with one question about advice for their parents, they all became animated and had more advice than I could possibly write down. We went back and forth for at least fifteen minutes before we were able to agree on a solid list that everyone agreed on and, in the true spirit of Wisdom, I am now going to share the list with all of you.

Disclaimer: Parents, your children were vulnerably honest about their responses and they knew I would be sharing them in church. I will not tell you who said what, but listen carefully, because the advice might be for you…

I wish my parents knew that nobody is perfect.

            I wish my parents knew that is not worth it to takes things so seriously all the time.

            I wish my parents knew that they could trust me; after all, I trust them.

           I wish my parents knew how much it hurts when they interrupt me.

            I wish my parents knew that patience is still a virtue, even when you’re old.

            I wish my parents knew that I am smarter than they think I am.

            I wish my parents knew that if they tell me “not to have an attitude,” I am DEFINITELY going to have an attitude.

            I wish my parents knew that I love them, but sometimes I don’t love their cooking.

Wisdom is a tough pill to swallow. But even as difficult as it is to hear Wisdom speak to us this way, whether it be the dreadful warnings in scripture or the advice from our children, it is difficult to argue with her warnings. The advice the youth offered was so profound that it not only applies to parents but to all people. We could read about how we are supposed to behave as rational human beings, but having a youth tells us that patience is a virtue, and to remember that nobody is perfect actually affects us in all the right ways.

It shocks us to hear something so right from someone we least expect. It bewilders us to hear Wisdom crying out in the streets when we would otherwise like to ignore her.

To walk in the way of Wisdom is incredibly demanding. We cannot claim to be wise by reading a lot of books and watching a lot of television, true wisdom requires us to act and move in the world.


When Wisdom cries out, when we hear about what our children wish they could say to us, it hurts (or at least cuts deep), but it makes sense. When we forget about who we are and whose we are, when we forget about the ways of God built on love, we often get ourselves in terrible predicaments. We say things without thinking, we act without conscience, and we believe we are smarter than the people around us.

I regularly discover wisdom in the people from this church who listen for the still small voice of God while the world is screaming and spinning. I will be in my office after a difficult phone call, or standing outside shaking hands following worship, or walking through the grocery store, when one of you will come up to me and say something that just reorients my entire being. Something like: “Remember God loves you too

Wisdom is all around us, particularly in the people in the pews next to us, calling to us to start behaving like God wants us to. Because Wisdom is finally approachable and possible as we participate in the practices of God, who is Wisdom. We start to see and hear the Wisdom around us as we search for ways to love like God, listen like God, and even laugh like God, in the complicated and ordinary places of life.

I experienced the depth of Wisdom this week when our youth spoke far beyond their ages and dropped some important knowledge on me. In them I experienced a power greater than my own, and realized that if I gave up my false assumption that I was greater than, or wiser than, those youth, I would start to recognize the true wisdom around me and actually listen.

Where do you hear Wisdom? Do you hear her in the scriptures you read? Do you find her in the worship services at St. John’s? Have you seen her shouting through a parent or a spouse or a child? Does she make you uncomfortable when she shows up?

Wisdom speaks to us all the time; we only need the patience to hear her, and the strength to respond. Amen.

Devotional – Proverbs 22.2


Proverbs 22.2

The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.

Weekly Devotional Image

The way a community responds to a particular event demonstrates where they place their priorities. In the wake of the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a group of Christians gathered in Staunton to pray and mourn for the lives lost. After a fire that broke out in an apartment complex on the other side of town, the community rallied together and raised money for the families that had been displaced. When a community, regardless of theological differences, can join together in harmony it is a reminder of the power of God’s kingdom here on earth.

However, many of us are often quick to respond to certain events with: “What does it have to do with me?”

I remember hearing a wonderful sermon from a peer of mine about our overwhelmingly insatiability during the holiday season, in sharp contrast with Mary and Joseph making their way toward Bethlehem. Yet, while people were departing from the sanctuary, I listened to numerous Christians making quick comments about all the Christmas presents they had already purchased, or were looking forward to receiving.

Scripture constantly reminds us, and implores us, to look at one another the way God sees us. Yet, more often than not, those of us with stable economic futures look down upon people of lower socio-economic statuses. We do things like avoid the particular streets corners with people begging for money, or we are quick to assume that if they only worked harder, they would be able to pull themselves our of their current situation.

The writer of Proverbs has a good reminder for all of us: “The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.” We, whether we like it or not, are caught up in this great mystery called “life” together. As human beings we are part of God’s great community regardless of socio-economic situations, races, genders, sexual orientations, and any other identifier that we use to divide, rather than celebrate.


John Donne, the famous English poet, puts it this way: “No person is an island, entire of itself, every person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… any death diminishes me, because I am part of humankind…”

This week, let us remember that God has created us in God’s image, that we are all connected in the body of Christ, and when something happens in the world, it has everything to do with you and me.

Family and Faith: God – Sermon on Proverbs 3.1-8 & Ephesians 4.1-6

(Preached at St. John’s UMC on 9/8/2013. I am indebted to Will Willimon’s sermon “Don’t Think For Yourself” for inspiring parts of the following sermon (Willimon, Will. The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 123-127.))


Proverbs 3.1-8

My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.

Ephesians 4.1-6

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.


Is that really written in Proverbs? Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight? I was always taught to think for myself. Haven’t we been told to do that all of our lives? We can assign you the right books, we can help you get into college, we can show you the door, but you’re the one who has to walk through it. Think for yourself! We can teach you all about God, politics, or even healthy eating habits, but freedom is important, make your own choices.

Be independent, employ your true freedom; create your own way of life. Go out and get your hands dirty, lose yourself in something beyond yourself, fight for something worth fighting for but above all think for yourself. What a perfect bumper sticker for our culture. All I need to get through this world is me, my thoughts, my opinions, and my beliefs.

When I read through our scripture for today it made me think about a time I was helping a church in Michigan. Now this church was HUGE. While I was attending the services there were easily over 1000 people in worship on Sundays between their multiple services. You could choose between different styles of worship and at different times, you could choose between preachers and types of sermons. When I started helping out, there were five pastors on the staff each working in a different area within the church. They offered activities every week from Bible Studies, to service opportunities, to Yoga classes. In fact the first week I was there I served on a panel to discuss the theological virtues of the hit series The Hunger Games for concerned parents and parishioners. They had a lot going on.


Even though on the surface it seemed like everything was great at the church, there was something missing. There was basically no one in their 20s attending the church. Now, perhaps they assumed that because I was 24 I could explain this phenomenon they decided to give me the results of their recent questionnaire to make sense of it all. The church had recently done a massive survey of the congregation, the community, and members who had left the church. They asked all the typical questions: Has you attendance increased or decreased over the last year? Why or why not? Do you prefer to receive information from phone calls, text messages, mail, or email? Etc. But what they were really trying to discover was why none of the young people were in attendance.

What I discovered surprised me, and I believe it greatly reflects our current culture, and the scriptures for today.

Indeed, the 20-30 year age group was the lowest number for attending church, but they did not need to use a questionnaire to discover that fact. Do you know what surprised me the most? The largest group to decrease in attendance over the last year was the 45-55 year age group. Why?

As far as I can tell here is the common cycle for church attendance: A lot of people grow up in the church, when they go off to college they stop attending until the get married, have kids, realize they have no idea what they’re doing and so they start attending again. This cycle has been true for many people that I have met in my life but there is a newer trend developing. A significant portion of parents stop attending church once their children leave for college. That’s why they went back in the first place, they went back for their kids, and now that they’ve grown up, there’s no reason for them to keep attending. So that child comes back home for the first time, maybe at thanksgiving break: “Hey Mom and Dad, what time are we leaving for church tomorrow?” “Oh honey, we haven’t been recently, but I guess we can go tomorrow…


Think for yourself. Isn’t that what we want for our children, for our friends, for our families? We don’t want to push people too far, no indoctrination, we want everyone to be free to do anything they want… but thinking for ourselves, only for ourselves, often gets us in trouble. Thinking for ourselves has led to the current situation in Syria where we spend days and weeks debating whether or not to drop strategic bombs, thinking for ourselves has led to the growing number of impoverished people across the world and even in our own neighborhoods, thinking for ourselves has led to great numbers of people no longer attending church because they can handle life on their own…

God speaks to us through the writer of Proverbs: “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.” Paul similarly speaks to us in his letter to the Ephesians: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

In many ways, God is pleading through these verses: Do not think just for yourself. Think beyond yourself. I know that sounds drastic and remarkably contradictory when compared to the American dream, but to be followers of Jesus Christ requires us to orient ourselves and our thinking toward God, and not the other way around.

God begins by addressing us as we truly are: his children. We all have one heavenly Father who is above all and through all and in all. God has called us to lead worthy lives with humility and gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love.

Being a part of this church community carries with it the responsibility to remember God’s teachings, and to keep his commandments. During the time of the Old Testament the Israelites were taught to remember and keep God’s commands: Deuteronomy 6.4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Remember these words, because they are an alternative for the world’s desire to isolate us from one another; They calls us to be in unity as a body. They call us to remember. We can maintain our individuality but we must not lose sight of our interconnectedness as the body of Christ. It’s important for us to remember how unique each of us are, but we are all in this together.

Instead of commanding us to think for ourselves, God calls us to keep his words! Teach them to your children and your friends. Live out your vocation as a Christian in your actions, words, and deeds. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. Do not rely on your own insight, do not think for yourself alone, do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Where God sits in your life will extend to people outside of you. When you keep his words and live out you’re calling as Christians your families and your friends will notice. Be holy just as God is holy…

When I discovered the decrease in attendance of parents whose children had grown up, I was surprised, but it made so much sense. Think about what it says to those around you when you decide that church is no longer a priority, what it says when God is no longer at the center of your life? Our words and behavior are powerful things, not just for ourselves but also for those around us.

I met a man once, perhaps you know someone just like him. He lived a good life, came to church at Christmas and Easter, and made it through day after day by relying on himself. Sure his family was a little dysfunctional, but whose isn’t? His kids had grown up, went off to college, and had little contact with their father. He assumed everything was normal until one day, out of the blue, one of his friends invited him to a group that met before work hours at the church to pray and enjoy coffee together. He went, reluctantly, sat in the back, and kept his head down. But the more he attended the meetings, the more he started to notice little changes in his life. After reaching a certain comfort level with the other men he started to share his own prayer concerns, his own questions about the bible, and even his own disappointments in his life. His prayer life grew outside of the group and he began to regularly commune with God.

When I met him, he had been attending the group for five years; he told me that his entire disposition toward life had been transformed. He spoke with his children regularly, he found pleasure in his career, and above all he had discovered his relationship with God. “It changed everything,” he told me, “praying like this, reading scripture, opening up. It changed my work, it changed my family, but most importantly it changed me. I realized that I’m not going through life all on my own and its not up to me to do everything; God is with us.”


Families of Faith: that’s the title of this sermons series. What does it mean today to be a family of faith. One of the greatest joys of being part of a family of faith, like this church, is realizing that we have been freed from the burden of having to always and constantly think for and care for ourselves alone.

Can you imagine how truly freeing that is? Have you ever experienced that kind of relief in your lives? Having a relationship with God does not guarantee that everything will be completely turned around like the man that I met, but it can at least bring newness and a sense of peace previously undiscovered.

Families of faith contain three important priorities: God, the family itself, and others, but it must first begin with God. By heeding the words of scripture from Proverbs and Ephesians, we can teach and remind our family and friends the commandments that were first handed to us. If we write the love of God on the tablet of our hearts it will be conveyed to the people around us.

One of the ways that we can live out our relationship with God in the family is to reclaim our commitment to reading scripture and having a regular prayer life. When I was growing up the only time we ever prayed as a family was before meals, and we certainly never read the bible aloud. How can we convey faith to our children, our parents, or our friends? Unlike the families that leave their children and friends to “think for themselves” in isolation we can show how wonderful it is to trust in the Lord. It is my hope that starting this week we can all start to read a little more and pray a little more and maybe, just maybe, we’ll start to see the fruitful value of these practices in our lives.

Trusting in the Lord and not relying on our own insight is a challenge because the world has always been telling us to think for ourselves. However, there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

What a great God we have: the one who freed us from the loneliness of the world.