How to Raise Readers by Sarah Hamaker, Guest Blogger

Sarah HamakerBy Sarah Hamaker

What’s the best predictor of a child who reads well? Hint, it’s not teaching him to read at a young age.

I’ve always loved books. I read voraciously as a child, churning through biographies of famous Americans and Nancy Drew mysteries (especially the first editions set in the 1930s and ‘40s). I read classics like Jane Eyre and frothy teen romances. I gobbled up Agatha Christie and biographies of missionaries.

That love of reading continued into my college and young adult years. I would read at least a book a week, if not more, while commuting on the Metro to work in downtown Washington, D.C. I didn’t slow down until I had children…and didn’t have as much discretionary time as I once had enjoyed.

Nowadays, I, along with my husband, still read as much as possible, and our home is packed with books. We must have hundreds, if not a thousand, books on shelves scattered around our 1960s rambler.

Our four children also spend much of their free time with their nose in a book. How did we manage to raise readers in a world that has embraced technology and hand-held devices with gusto? Here’s our secret…and how you too can encourage reading and a love of books in your own home, no matter the age of your kids—or yourself.

Instill a Love of Books

Reading to your kids of all ages is important to getting them to forge connections with books, even when they can’t read themselves. When our kids were toddlers, I often sat them down with a stack of age-appropriate books for them to look through on their own. That became my go-to when the child got fussy or needed down time—I brought out the books. We also didn’t push reading, and as a result, while our two oldest (who happen to be girls) learned to read by the time they entered first grade, our two youngest (boys) didn’t master reading until well into first grade. That didn’t worry me—they were interested in books, loved to be read to, and didn’t exhibit any signs of learning disabilities that might make reading difficult. The boys simply blossomed later when it came to reading. I didn’t want to turn them off a love of books, so didn’t push them to practice reading when they clearly weren’t interested or frustrated by the process.

Limit Screen Time

From computers to video games to YouTube to movies, screens have invaded the average American household. Many families have more devices than household members, and we’re not alone in that. But, every since our kids were babies, we’ve restricted the number of hours they spent in front of a screen. With two teenage daughters and two upper elementary school sons, we continue to monitor and limit the amount of technology consumed in our household.

Visit the Library

We go to the library on at least a weekly basis, sometimes, more often if a book someone put on hold arrived. We’ve been known to visit the local library when vacationing (most cities offer a “visitors” library card in which you can check out books). Frequent visits allows us to know the library collection and find new authors we would probably have missed if we only browsed online.

Show by Example

As I mentioned above, my husband and I read. We talk about books we’re reading or have read, we maintain our own household library, and our kids see us reading on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. We put down our own devices to pick up a book, and that speaks volumes as to the importance of reading.

If you’re reading this, and you haven’t incorporated reading into your life, there’s still time, no matter how old or young you are. Try this: tonight, put down your electronic devices and pick up a book to read for 5 minutes. Then each successive day, lengthen that by 5 minutes. Soon, you’ll be spending more time reading and less time browsing online. This works for kids and teens too.

Remember, it’s never too late to learn to love books!

About Sarah Hamaker

A freelance writer and editor, Sarah Hamaker is the author of Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace (Beacon Hill Press, 2014) and Hired@Home (DPL Press, 2008). Her stories have appeared in several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and her articles on parenting have been published on and on the Washington Post’s On Parenting blog. She also won the 2015 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for romantic suspense. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children, and is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™. Visit her online at, where she blogs about parenting issues.

How to Raise Readers by Sarah Hamaker, Guest Blogger

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

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Shape Your Wish List to With Ideas to Boost Your Self-Care Goals by Julie Morris

Photo by Pixabay

By Julie Morris, Guest Blogger

Julie Morris (read more) is a life and career coach. She thrives on helping others live their best lives. It’s easy for her to relate to clients who feel run over by life because she’s been there. After years in a successful (but unfulfilling) career in finance, Julie busted out of the corner office that had become her prison. Today, she is fulfilled by helping busy professionals like her past self get the clarity they need in order to live inspired lives that fill more than just their bank accounts. When Julie isn’t working with clients, she enjoys writing and is currently working on her first book. She also loves spending time outdoors and getting lost in a good book.


With New Year’s looming just around the corner, you may find yourself brainstorming resolutions that will help you become a better you. Even if you aren’t comfortable making resolutions, a brand new year offers the perfect time to focus on self-improvement, and the right holiday gift can help get you started. Whether you are looking to stress less or simply carve out more time for yourself amongst your busy schedule, these suggestions will help you create the ultimate self-improvement wish list.

Strive for Stress Reduction

Let’s be honest, we would all love to stress a little less, but we often find ourselves stressing about finding a way to stress less. A great way to melt away worry and gain some perspective along the way is by writing in a journal. A journal is a wonderful tool for self-reflection and a great way to gain insight into your unspoken wants and needs. Perhaps you would prefer a journal filled with inspirational quotes to promote self-discovery through guided reflections or a journal that speaks to your ever-organized personality by prompting a daily list of what makes you happy.

If you don’t enjoy writing, an adult coloring book is a good option. Whether you prefer to color intricate designs, soothing illustrations, or even bring to life your favorite film, you’ll find something that captures your attention and lets your creativity run wild, all while helping you enter a meditative state of bliss. There are plenty of stress-relief gifts you can put on your wish list such as bath bombs, massage gadgets, or a leather-bound keepsake Bible – check out this list for more ideas.

Find More Time

Right up there with stress-relief is the desire for more time. It seems there is never enough time in the day to get everything done, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and frazzled. While you can’t be given the literal gift of time, there are ways to help you reorganize the 24 hours you currently own each day. Start by looking at the areas in your life that you struggle with the most. Perhaps you’ve found yourself opting for the ease of fast food rather than preparing a home-cooked (and healthy) meal. In today’s world, we can get just about anything delivered, including meals. A home delivery service, like Blue Apron, takes out the meal planning and grocery store trip, delivering ingredients and easy-to-understand instructions right to your door. Blue Apron tops Redfin’s list for the perfect gifts for folks who prefer to stay at home.


Maybe you could use some help being more productive with a customized planner or online personal development course in a topic of your choice. A few ideas are organization, productivity, and mindfulness. As your craft your list, don’t forget to think about the things you wish you had more time to do such as exercise or read. A fitness tracker will encourage accountability, making it less likely that you’ll skip out on the gym or your weekly yoga class. You could even turn it into a friendly competition by including family and friends. If your goal is to read more, a tablet or e-reader may help. You can read whenever and wherever you have free time.

This year, mold your list to help you achieve your personal or spiritual goals. You have the power to shape any area of your life you choose, so make sure your wish list reflects your goals and aspirations. There is never a wrong time for self-improvement, and combined with the holidays, you have a recipe for success.


Shape Your Wish List to With Ideas to Boost Your Self-Care Goals by Julie Morris

Also see:

Self-Care: A Prayer for the Little Things 

Prayer for Shalom 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

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Lenten Study Guide 2017: The Small Catechism of Martin Luther

The Small Catechism of Martin Luther



Introduction: DAILY PRAYERS

Ash Wednesday – March 1


As soon as I get out of bed, I say (and may bless myself with the sign of the cross

to remember that I am baptized):             

“In the name of the Father, and of + the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Then I say the Creed and pray the Lord’s Prayer.


 I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary, 

suffered under Pontius Pilate, 

was crucified, died, and was buried;  

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

               he is seated at the right hand of the Father, 

and he will come to judge

the living and the dead. 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

 the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

               and the life everlasting. Amen .



 Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,      

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,      

as we forgive those   

who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,    

but deliver us from evil.      

               For thine is the kingdom,                  

                             and the power, and the glory,                       

  forever and ever. Amen.

I may end with this prayer (or say it with my family):

I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have kept me through the night from danger and harm. I pray you to keep me by your grace today from sin and every evil, that in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may serve and please you.  Into your hands I commend my body and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil one have no power over me. Amen.

After that, I do my daily work with joy. 

Thursday, March 2


When I go to bed, I say (and may bless myself with the sign of the cross to remember that I am baptized):             

“In the name of the Father, and of + the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Then I say the Creed and pray the Lord’s PrayerI may end the day with this prayer (or say it with my family):

               I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have kept me through the day from danger and harm. I pray you to forgive me my sins and all the wrong I have done.   Keep me through the night by your grace. Into your hands I commend my body and soul and all things. 

Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil one have no power over me. Amen.

After this, I go to sleep with joy.

Friday, March 3


I say Psalm 145:15

“The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give everyone food at the right time. You open your generous hands and satisfy the hunger of all living things.”

Then I pray a prayer like this:

Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these gifts which we receive from your generous hands, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Saturday, March 4

The First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods.”

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear, love, and trust God more than anything else.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me when I forget you and love myself more than I love you; or when I put things and people above you. Help me to fear, love, and trust you more than anything else. Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent, March 5

The Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”                                                  

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not use his name to curse, swear, lie, deceive, or try to use magical powers. We must speak God’s name to pray, praise, and thank him in all times of trouble.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, how should I talk about Someone who loves me as you do? How should I talk about Someone I love?  Help me through your Son and the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Monday, March 6

The Third Commandment: “Remember the Lord’s day, to keep it holy.”                                                                              Q.

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not look down on the preaching of God’s Word. We must treat it as holy and listen to it gladly.

Prayer: Father, I do not always listen to the pastor as I should. Please don’t stop preaching to me the Law that points out my sin and the Gospel that forgives my sin through your Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 Tuesday, March 7

   The Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother.”

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not look down on or irritate our parents and other authorities. We must respect, serve, obey, and love them.

Prayer: Lord, there is no peace in this sinful world without parents, teachers, police officers, and others to enforce the laws. Please keep them from love of power, and keep me from rebellion and resentment. Amen.

Wednesday, March 8

      The Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill.”                                                                                             

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not harm our neighbors. We must protect and help them in every need.

Prayer: O God, I do not keep your commandment just because I never murdered anyone. Forgive me when I have killed with my words or my silence or my coldness towards others. Amen.

Thursday, March 9

           The Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.”                                                       

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that our words and actions are clean and decent in matters of sex. Husbands and wives must honor and serve each other.

Prayer: Lord, you created us male and female. Protect our children and youth who grow up in a society that is indecent and dangerous in matters of sex. Wash away my sins, and bless marriage and the family. Amen.

Friday, March 10

                                             The Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.”                                                                           

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not take our neighbors’ money or possessions, or try to cheat them. We must help our neighbors to protect their possessions and employment.

Prayer: Father, I steal from you the worship that I owe you when I take what is not mine.  Use the work I do to meet the needs of my family, my church, and your world, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saturday, March 11

               The Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”    

 Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not hurt our neighbors by lying, betraying, or insulting them. We must defend our neighbors, say good things about them, and explain what they do in the best possible way.

Prayer: God, I confess that my tongue is like a deadly snake that bites and poisons my neighbor! Clean my mouth and fill it with words that give grace and peace. Amen.


2nd Sunday in Lent – March 12  

 Ninth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”                                                                             

Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not envy or try to take our neighbor’s house, property, or personal belongings, or claim to have a right to them. We must help our neighbors to keep what belongs to them.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me when I envy others. Sometimes I ask, “Why can’t I have all those things?” I even start to feel sorry for myself. Help me to count my blessings and to be happy for other people, and to fear and love you more than anything else. Amen.


Monday, March 13

The Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s husband or wife, family, friends, workers, or even pets and animals.”  

 Q. What is this?

A. We must fear and love God, so that we do not interfere in our neighbors’ relationships. We must urge them to stay and be loyal.

Prayer: Father, you are trustworthy and loyal. Please put to death the part of me that is not always loyal and true. Help me to be faithful like you. Amen.

Tuesday, March 14

The Conclusion to the Commandments

Q. What does God say to us about all these commandments?

A. “I am the LORD your God, and I am a jealous God. I punish the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who hate me with their ancestor’s sin. But I bless those who love me for a thousand generations” (Exodus 20:5-6).

Prayer: Father, you are jealous for what is yours – your holy name, your Word, your people, your world, and all that you have made. You hate sin. You punish sin until it is gone. Help me to fear, love, and trust you so that my heart may be set to obey your commandments, through Jesus Christ, your Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 15

Q. What is this?

A. God threatens to punish everyone who breaks these commandments. We should be afraid of his anger, because of his righteousness and not violate his commandments. But God promises grace and every blessing to those who keep his commandments. For this reason, too, we should love and trust God, and willingly obey his commandments.

Prayer: Father, you punished and destroyed my sins in the body of your dear, true Son, Jesus Christ. I would be afraid every minute and never have peace in my life, if I could not believe that I am righteous in your eyes through your Son.  In myself, I am a sinner and deserve nothing but wrath. Instead, you do not punish me as your enemy, but as your child, you love, correct, and discipline me. Keep me in your Holy Spirit that I may trust and love you in all circumstances, and gladly do what you command. Amen.

Part Two: THE CREED 

Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17

The First Article: “I believe in God the Father.”

Q. What is this?

A. I believe that God created me and all creatures. He gave to me and still preserves my body and soul – eyes, ears, and all the other parts of my body, as well as my mind and all my senses. He gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and land, spouse and children, daily work, and all I own. He protects me against all danger, and he shields and defends me from all evil. He does all this because of his pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, not because I have earned it or deserved it. For all of this, I must thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true!

Prayer 3/16: Father, you have created everything through your eternal Son and the Holy Spirit. Humble my foolish pride and call me to sincere worship. Amen.

Prayer 3/17: Father, everything is a gift from you! You cause the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all people, both grateful and ungrateful. Help me to show goodness to others who don’t deserve it, because neither do I. Amen. 

 Saturday, March 18, and the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 19, and Monday March 20

The Second Article:  “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” 

Q.What is this?

A. I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father in eternity and true man,  born of the Virgin Mary. He is my Lord! He has saved and redeemed me – a lost and condemned person. He bought and freed me from all sins, death, and the power of the devil. It did not cost him silver or gold, but his holy, precious blood and his innocent, suffering body – his death! Because of this, I belong to him. I live under him in his kingdom and serve him. I share forever his righteousness, innocence, and blessedness – for he is risen from death and lives and reigns forever. This is most certainly true!

Prayer 3/18: Dearest Jesus, you are the eternal Son of God, but at Christmas I see you as a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in your mother’s arms. I see how you grew up and became a man – how people followed you to hear what you said; how you were loved by those who knew you; how you healed the sick; how hungry people were fed when they were with you; how little children sat on your lap; and how you called all people to enter the kingdom of God. Thank you for being my Lord and the Savior of all the world. Amen.

Prayer 3/19: Holy Jesus, your flesh and blood are divine and more valuable than all the money in the world! You were innocent of all sin. You did not have to die. You chose to be punished in place of the guilty. You truly are the Lamb of God who takes away my sin and gives me peace with God. Amen.

 Prayer 3/20:  Come, Lord Jesus, I am your sin, but you are my righteousness, innocence, and blessedness now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 21 and Wednesday, March 22

The Third Article: I believe in the Holy Spirit.” 

Q. What is this?

A. I believe that – by my own understanding or power – I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. Instead, the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps us united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.In this Christian church, day after day, the Holy Spirit fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead. He will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true!

Prayer 3/21: Come, Holy Spirit, that my unbelief may be driven out. I cannot be a believer on my own. Amen.

Prayer 3/22: Holy Spirit, sustained by you, I may gladly bear and suffer all things, for you will raise me from the dead. Amen.



 Thursday, March 23

Introduction:  “Our Father who art in heaven.”

Q. What is this?

A. God invites us to believe that he really is our Father and we really are his children, so that we will pray with trust and complete confidence, in the same way children come to a loving father with their requests.

Prayer: It is your will that we should not individually name you Father, but together call you our Father.So give us a united love that your name will be holy on our lips. Amen.

Friday, March 24

The First Petition: “Hallowed be thy name.”

Q. What is this?

A. God’s name is holy in and of itself, but we pray that his name will be holy among us.

Q. How does this happen?

A. God’s name is holy among us when the Word of God is taught clearly and purely, and when we live holy lives as his children based on the Word. Help us, heavenly Father, to do this! But anyone who teaches and lives by something other than the Word of God dishonors God’s name among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

Prayer: Father, guard us by your holy Word, that we may remain your children and not commit an offense by which we might prove ourselves to be your enemies and so make of you a dreadful judge. Amen.

 Saturday, March 25

The Second Petition: “Thy kingdom come.”

Q. What is this?

A. God’s kingdom comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray for his kingdom to come to us.

Q. How does this happen?

A. God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we believe his holy Word by his grace and live godly lives here in this world and in the kingdom of heaven.

Prayer: Father, this world is full of sin and death, but your kingdom is a kingdom of grace and life in which the only Lord is your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us the Holy Spirit and faith, that sin may no longer rule us and we may live obedient and acceptable lives, now and forever. Amen. 


4th  Sunday in Lent, March 26

The Third Petition: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Q. What is this?

A. God’s will is done without our prayer, but we pray that God’s will also will be done among us.

Q. How does this happen?

A. God’s will is done in two ways. First, his will of law and justice is done when God destroys and interferes with every evil will that would prevent his kingdom from coming on earth – that is, the will of the devil, the world, and our own sinful desires. Second, his will of grace and peace is done when our Father strengthens us by his Word and Holy Spirit and keeps us living faithfully until the end of our lives. 

Prayer: Ultimately turn us from all sins, Father. Even now, grant that we may obediently serve you according to your will and not our own will. Amen.

Monday, March 27

The Fourth Petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Q. What is this?

A. God gives daily bread even to evil people, even without our prayer. But we pray that he will help us to recognize his generosity and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

Q. What is “Daily Bread’’?

A. “Daily bread” is everything that nourishes our body and meets our needs – such as food, drink, clothing, home, employment, education, health, good weather, money, and possessions. “Daily bread” also includes a godly family, faithful friends, good neighbors, dependable coworkers, honest government, peace, discipline, honor, and other things like these.

Prayer: Our Father, forgive us for taking your gifts for granted! Please allow us to eat our daily bread undisturbed by worries and strife, and with thanks to you for everything. Graciously comfort and tend all who are poor, hungry, and miserable. Amen.

Tuesday, March 28

The Fifth Petition: “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Q. What is this?

A. We pray that our heavenly Father will not look at our sins and so refuse to hear our prayers.  We are not worthy, and we do not deserve the things for which we pray. Yet he wants to give these to us by his grace, even though many times each day we sin and truly deserve only punishment. Because God forgives us, we also want to forgive from our hearts and willingly do good to those who sin against us.

Prayer: Father, I now forgive those who have sinned against me. Forgive each one of us our trespasses. Amen.

Wednesday, March 29

The Sixth Petition: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Q. What is this?

A. God tempts no one. We pray that God will protect us and save us, so that the devil, the world, and our sinful desires will not mislead us into false beliefs, despair, or other serious and shameful sins. Even if these attack us, we pray for grace so that we will win and be victorious in the end. 

Prayer: Our Father, your people will suffer trials and be tempted by the devil until the end of the world, when your Son will return in glory. Forgive us for doubting your goodness and power,

and lead us by the Spirit to believe and trust that you have overcome the world. Amen.


Thursday, March 30

The Seventh Petition: “But deliver us from evil.”

Q. What is this?

A. We pray, as a summary, that our Father in heaven will save us from every kind of evil that threatens body, soul, possessions, and honor. We pray that when our final hour comes, he will grant us a blessed death and in his grace bring us to himself from this valley of tears.

Prayer: Help us to trust your will, Father. Sometimes we wonder, is it your will that a friend is killed in a car accident, or that a mother dies of cancer, or that people go hungry? When you permit bad things to happen, teach us to know for sure that all things work together for good for those who love you. Amen

Friday, March 31

The Doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Q. What is this?

A. We must be certain that such prayers are acceptable to our Father in heaven and will be granted. He himself has commanded us to pray in this way, and he promises to answer us.   “Amen” means, “Yes, it will happen this way!”

Prayer: O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you see how the world insults your name and keeps the honor due you to itself. They also take the power, might, wealth, and glory which you are supposed to serve you. We are not helped by their ruin; we would rather see that they be saved with us and worship your name in your kingdom. Amen.


Saturday, April 1

Q. What is Baptism?

A. Baptism is not just plain water. Baptism is water used according to God’s command and united with God’s Word.

Q. Which Word of God?

A. The triune name of God. Our Lord Christ says in Matthew 28:19 – “Go, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Prayer: We are your children, Father, through your Son and Holy Spirit. Keep me in your family always, and don’t let me be an ungrateful son or daughter of yours. Amen.

5th Sunday in Lent, April 2

Q. What gifts does baptism give? What good does it do?

A. Baptism gives to us forgiveness of sins. It redeems us from death and the devil. And baptism gives eternal  salvation to all who believe this– just as God’s words and promises declare.

Q. What are these words and promises of God?

A. As our Lord says in Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be damned.”

Prayer: Father, your Son’s baptism delivers me from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Baptism is not a powerless ritual. It is salvation to me and to all who believe what your words declare. Help us to believe this, Holy Spirit! Amen.

Monday, April 3

Q. How can water do such great things?

A. Water cannot make these things happen, of course. Everything is done by the Word of God that is with and in the water. Without the Word of God, the water is plain water and not baptism. But with the Word of God, it is baptism – a grace-filled water of life and a bath of new birth in the Holy Spirit.

Q. Where is this written in the Bible?

A. St. Paul says so in Titus 3:5-8 – “God saved us… through this bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. He poured out the Holy Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, so that we are justified by grace and we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”   This is most certainly true.

Prayer: You have bound yourself to your Word in baptism, dear God, so that I might find you and cling to you. Thank God, I am justified by your grace and not my efforts! Amen.

Tuesday, April 4

Q. What is the practical use of Baptism?

A. The “old Adam” in me is drowned every day by sorrow for my sins and repentance. This is how the old “me” dies, with all my sins and evil desires. Then a new “me” comes to life every day by faith and rises up from death.  My new “self,” cleansed and righteous, will live forever in God’s presence.

Q. Where does God say this?

A. Romans 6:3-4 – “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death. Just as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too live a new life.”

Prayer: Lord, kill my will and bring your will to life in me, every day, until my will is completely dead and only your will remains. Amen.



 Wednesday, April 5

Q. What is “the power of the keys”?

A. The power of the keys is the authority which Christ gave to the church to forgive the sins of those who repent and to declare to those who do not repent that their sins are not forgiven.

Q. What does Christ say?

A. In John 20:23, our Lord Jesus Christ says to the apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive their sins, they are not forgiven.”  Also in Matthew 18:18, Christ says: “I tell you, whatever you hold accountable on earth will be held accountable for God’s judgment in heaven.  Whatever you set free on earth will be set free by God in heaven.”

Prayer: Father, your Spirit entered my life when I was baptized in the name of Jesus. But sometimes I feel trapped by my own sin – trapped with no way out. Thank you for the pastor’s words of forgiveness  that set me free and renew the Spirit in me. Amen

Thursday, April 6

Q. What is individual confession?

A. It has two parts. First, I confess my sins to the pastor in private. Second, I receive “absolution” – that is, forgiveness from the pastor who is speaking for God. I must not doubt, but firmly believe that, in this way, my sins really are forgiven by God in heaven.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, don’t let me doubt the words of the pastor who is speaking for you when the pastor says the Father’s name and tells me my sins are forgiven through the Son “absolutely.” Amen.


Friday, April 7

Q. What sins should I confess in private?

A. In the presence of God, I should confess that I am guilty for all sins, even sins that are not known to me. This is what we do in the Lord’s Prayer and when we confess in church. However, in my individual confession, I should confess only the sins that are known to me and that trouble me.

Prayer: Lord, I am embarrassed to admit my sins to another human being. But you give me the chance to be forgiven all by myself – to wash away my shame and lift me from my fear of condemnation! Amen.

Saturday, April 8

Q. How shall I examine my conscience?

A. I must look at my daily life in light of the Ten Commandments. How do I act towards my family? How did I treat people today? What are the other “gods” that receive more of my time and attention than God does? I should think about specific situations when I have not loved God with my whole heart, or my neighbor as myself.

Prayer: I love you, heavenly Father, and I know that you love me. Sometimes when I’m angry or disappointed, or even when I’m having a good time, I forget that you even exist. Let me hear your voice again and the words that take me back to my baptism. Amen.

Sunday of the Passion (“Palm Sunday”), April 9

Q. How do I make my individual confession?

A. I ask the pastor for time to talk. We will use the service that is in Evangelical Lutheran Worship on page 243. The pastor is not allowed to tell my secrets to anyone else. The pastor is there in the name of Jesus Christ to help me.

Prayer: Lord, won’t the pastor think I am a bad person? Or is the pastor a human being like me, a sinner who needs the words of forgiveness, too, and does not judge me? Amen.

Monday in Holy Week, April 10

Q. What if I am not bothered by any special sins?

A. I should not torture myself or invent imaginary sins. I don’t have to name particular sins if I really can’t think of any (but that hardly ever happens).   I don’t have to go into all of the details. I may receive absolution after making a general confession.   Are there any sins that don’t trouble me as much as they really should?

Prayer: Father, how can I not be bothered by my sins when I remember how Jesus suffered on the cross to atone for my sins? Amen.

Tuesday in Holy Week, April 11

Q. How can I be sure that I truly am forgiven?

A. The pastor will say the absolution: “God is merciful and blesses you. By the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I, a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  I am to have absolute trust in God’s Good News! Also, the pastor will offer to me other words of advice from the Holy Scriptures when my conscience is heavily burdened, or if I feel trapped in a pattern of sin, or need help to do better.

Prayer: O God, my sins were buried with Jesus and remained in the tomb when he rose from the dead.

 Help me to leave the old life behind and to live the new life in the Holy Spirit, until the “old Adam” in me is dead and buried, and has no more power over me. Amen.



 Wednesday in Holy Week, April 12

Q. What is Holy Communion?

A. It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and drink.

Q. Where is that written in the Bible?

A. The holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke write this, and also St. Paul – In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks; broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” Again after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.”    

Prayer: Father, you give me the body and blood of your Son. Jesus is more than a memory! Jesus claims and grasps this bread and wine, and promises to come to his people. Help me with the Holy Spirit to remember with thanksgiving that Jesus is really here! Amen.


Maundy Thursday, April 13   

Q. What good does this eating and drinking do?

A. These words tell us: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our sins are forgiven and also life and salvation are given to us through these words in the sacrament. Where sins are forgiven, there is also life and salvation.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, you give me forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in the very same body and blood

that was crucified for me and now saves me from hell!  Amen.

Good Friday, April 14

Q. How can physical eating and drinking do such great things?

A. Eating and drinking (without the Word of God) do not do such things. The words and promises of Christ do it: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  These words, along with the act of eating and drinking, are the important part of the sacrament. Anyone who believes these words has what they say – the forgiveness of sins.

Prayer: Lord, who am I, a sinner, to doubt the way that you come and pardon my sins? If your Word commanded me to jump up and down for forgiveness, I should believe your words and jump up and down – and be confident that my sins are forgiven. Amen.

Holy Saturday, April 15

Q. Who, then, receives such a sacrament in a worthy way?

A. Fasting (going without food) and other preparations (prayer or singing hymns) are excellent disciplines for the body. But anyone who believes these words – “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” – is really worthy and well prepared.  But whoever doubts or does not believe these words is not worthy and is unprepared, because the words “for you” demand a heart that fully believes.

Prayer: Help me to listen and believe that you, the Son of God, are risen and giving me a foretaste of the feast to come in your kingdom. Glory to you, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever! Amen.

Sunday of the Resurrection of our Lord (Easter), April 16

So let us keep the festival to which the Lord invites us; Christ is himself the joy of all, the sun that warms and lights us. Now his grace to us imparts eternal sunshine to our hearts.  The night of sin is ended. Hallelujah!

Martin Luther’s Easter hymn – “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Chains”

 A suggestion for celebrating the Great Fifty Days of Easter –

read and pray through the Small Catechism again every day!

 Or offer your copy to someone who doesn’t go to church!


Special Thanks to Rev. Jonathan L. Jenkins

St Michael’s and Zion Lutheran Churches

Klingerstown, PA

Lenten Study Guide 2017: The Small Catechism of Martin Luther



Lenten Study Guide 2017: The Small Catechism of Martin Luther

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Jenkins Foresees a Famine of the Word of God

jon_jenkins_11202016Today’s guest blogger is Rev. Jonathan Jenkins. Jon is pastor of the Klingerstown Lutheran Parish in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. He was one of four presenters at a public forum of the Tri-Valley Ministerium on the question, “Can the church survive?” About 100 members of the public participated.

Public Forum: “Will the church survive?” Response #1: “A Famine of the Word of God” October 30, 2016

By Pastor Jonathan Jenkins, Klingerstown Lutheran Parish

On the Lutheran church calendar today is “Reformation Sunday.” 499 years ago, Martin Luther is remembered for nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther called for reformation related to our question today: “Will the church survive?”

Some would praise Luther and some would blame Luther for bringing about division of the holy church. For his part, Luther hated the idea of a church named after him or called “Lutheran.” Praise him or blame him or both, Luther would remind us that the condition of the church was and is determined, ultimately, not by human beings, but by God, through our interaction with God’s Word. “Will the church survive?” is a question that comes from God. For Lutherans, the answer is, “Yes!” It is a matter of the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ. According to the Lutheran Confessions: “There will be and must continue to be one holy church” forever, “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.”

That’s the Good News. Now the bad news: there’s no guarantee that the church will continue here, in our place, our home. In our discussions today, I expect us to recognize the superabundance of God’s grace as well as the reality of God’s wrath. The wrath of God is my subject. The righteous anger of God against sin, death, the devil, and the worldand the church, too, to the extent that the church remains “of” the world.

I believe that is what we are experiencing.

God’s wrath as it is described by the prophet Amos (8:11)

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the landnot a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”

Because the people have rejected and ignored God’s Word, they will receive their just “desserts”the LORD will no longer provide “the bread of life,” his life-sustaining Gospel. “They shall run to and fro, to seek the Word of the LORD, but they shall not find it,” because the LORD has sent a famine on the land.

Martin Luther was afraid that a famine of the Word of God would be sent in his time and placethat people would become complacent about God’s grace and lazy know-it-alls, too uninterested to listen to the Bible, let alone thankful and obedient. Luther was afraid that God, despite his patient loving-kindness, would take away his Word where it was not wanted and send a famine.

Allow me to give a current day  example from my denomination. Before my denomination voted in favor of marrying and ordaining homosexual persons, the LORD sent a preacher to our church-wide assembly. The preacher was the Roman Catholic archbishop, Gregory Wilton:

“…We Catholics and Lutherans can profess together our faith in the blood of the cross, which is Christ’s work of grace that alone justifies us, even as it equips us and calls us to the good works of justice and love…”

“Our unity in Christ is always a gift before it is our shared task. But this unity is fragile, much like the infant Christ who is cradled in the arms of his holy Mother. This week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America faces a set of decisions that may have weighty consequences for the unity of your own church and for its relationships with the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies. At stake are the teachings of Scripture and Tradition that safeguard the noble purposes of human sexuality and the fundamental meaning of marriage, which is a reflection of God’s covenant with us in Christ. Our prayer for you, as brothers and sisters who journey with you in hope, is that you remain open to the Holy Spirit who binds our consciences to truth, biblical truth that echoes through the ages…  Pope Benedict XVI (has) asserted that without this adherence to Holy Scripture, ‘our communion with the Church in every age is lost—just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel…’ My brothers and sisters, let us profess the biblical truth in love. Why? So that the world might believe.”

So the Catholic archbishop fed us with the Word of God. Martin Luther would have given his eyeteeth to hear Catholic bishops and popes who could speak such words of biblical truth; Luther devoted his life to that cause. But we modern Lutherans, to our great shame, did not listen when our dear God proclaimed his Word to us, and we did not eat this bread of life, and we trampled it underfoot.

Will the church survive? Yes! In this place, our home? May it be so. Let us pray that God, in his wrath, would not send upon our land a famine of the Word of God. To conclude, would you please pray with me using Luther’s words?

“I pray for myself and for the whole world that the gracious Father may preserve us in his holy Word and not withdraw it from us because of our sin, ingratitude, and laziness… May he send faithful and honest laborers into his harvest, that is, devout pastors and preachers. May he grant us grace humbly to hear, accept, and honor their words as his own Words and offer our sincere thanks and praise. In the name… Amen.”

What do you think?

Jenkins Foresees a Famine of the Word of God

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Martinez Family Ministry: OASIS Mission in Manassas Virginia

Today’s guest blog is by Julio Martinez. Pastor Martinez and his family were called as missionaries from Mexicali, Mexico to Manassas, Virginia, where they have established a mission church to local Hispanic people.

Martinez family“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV)

Hispanic Community

The United States has experienced rapid growth of the Hispanic population over the past 20 years, growing from 9 million to 50 million according to the U.S. 2010 census. The population of the City of Manassas is around 40 thousand, of which 21.4 percent is Hispanic. Of the roughly 800 houses in the Georgetown South Community, more than 75 percent are Hispanic.

OASIS Outreach

For the last several months, we have prayerfully sought God’s leading into a mission outreach in the Manassas area. Our objective is personal evangelism with everyone that we meet, focusing in particular on the Spanish speaking population. We call our outreach OASIS, as it is such for the hungry, unemployed, poorly housed, but spiritually thirsty immigrants in the greater Manassas area. OASIS is an acronym which means:

Organization to
Assist the physical and spiritual needs of
Spanish speaking
Immigrants to ultimately find
Salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Mission

We meet individuals and families through our food pantry deliveries and community center meetings. We now have weekly worship with more than 10 families in the Georgetown South Community Center. My wife, Ana, ministers to the women and our two 17 year-old daughters care for the children and are involved with food distribution, which now feeds 20 families each week. We invite individuals and churches to participate in our outreach efforts.


Our Mission Goals are to Win, Build, Serve and Send.

Win individuals to a personal faith in Jesus Christ, as the only Savior and Lord.

Build individuals in their faith through personal and group fellowship classes in preparation for baptism. This is done through weekly appointments, meetings, Bible study, and prayer.

Serve and Send—equip each to eventually share his/her personal testimony, the Gospel, along with food and clothing as needed, while helping others as they seek to meet in the Name of Christ.

Our Work in 2015

• We hold worship services every Thursday evening at Georgetown Community Service.
• We have established 3 small groups in Manassas to disciple members.
• During 2015, we distributed more than 600 food baskets.
• Over Thanksgiving in 2015, we distributed 175 turkeys.
• During Christmas in 2015, we provided more than 100 dinners.

2016 Mission Goals

1. We must line up local evangelical church and individuals to support us with donations and gifts so we are freed up to minister.
2. We need to expand our food pantry distribution to assist more concerned evangelical churches to channel some of their charity help to immigrants through OASIS.
3. We plan to expand our Thursday night meetings at the Community Center from 10 to 20 families.
4. We plan to do a camp for 30 kids from Georgetown South in April at Arcelay’s Farm.
5. We plan to do baptisms in May.

6. We plan to use our format of teaching leadership skills and management to these immigrants as a means of outreach as well as assisting them to assume leadership in the Hispanic Community.
7. Expand OASIS Advisory Community to include more representation of interested evangelical churches of all denominations in the area, who share or desire a Spanish ministry outreach vision.
8. Eventually plant a Spanish church with 20-25 families to serve the unchurched Spanish diaspora in this area.
9. To set up a 501c (3) non-taxable charitable organization when we are given a legal “religious visa” or “green card”.
10. Since we are required to return to our point of entry into the U.S. every six months to renew our visa, we will need 4 airline tickets to San Diego by July 15, 2016 (About $1,500).

Advisory Committee

OASIS has an advisory committee consisting of representatives of these organizations:

New Life Church, Centreville, Virginia
Iglesia Shadai, Mexicali, Mexico
Grace Life Community Church, Bristow, Virginia
Members of the U.S. Army
Greenwich Presbyterian Church, Nokesville, Virginia

Our Testimony

After receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord, being baptized and joining Iglesia Shadai church in Mexicali, Mexico, we became involved in their evangelism ministry. Over the next 5 years, we were trained by Youth with a Mission organization for two years of Bible School (2002-2003) in Sinaloa, Mexico and then 3 years of evangelism, which included 16 months of practical mission vision and training.

This training involved 6 months in Morocco, one month in Spain (2001), 1 month in Norway (2002), 2 months in Guatemala (2002), and 6 months in Ireland (2003).

In Mexicali, we established a restaurant outreach for local evangelism through our church. I have a Business Administration degree from UABC (Universidad Autonoma de Beja California). My wife, Ana, also has a degree in Business Administration from UAN (Universidad Autonoma de Nayarit). With this educational background as well as our on-the-job experiences in business leadership management, we established out non-profit organization in Mexico called “Rescatando lo Valioso”, and we started a television program on Management and Leadership in Mexico for 9 months.

Why Manassas?

While in Mexicali, Baja in 2013 we met a visiting Christian Mexican businessman residing in Washington DC, who shared the desperate plight of 1 million immigrants in the DC metro area.0

As we prayed about this, we felt strongly called to meet this need. We have a great burden for those who don’t know our Savior and are lost.

Realizing we have a gift for evangelism and have been given practical training as well as experience, we felt the Lord compelling us to go to these lost sheep in the Washington DC area. This commitment was to prove to be challenging, as it would involve resigning our financially secure and prosperous leadership position jobs within the American company, Valutech, where I was the production manager and Ana was the human resource manager at Mexican company SerCapital. We also turned over our two owned homes to local churches to provide shelters for immigrants evicted from the U.S. with no income to be able to return home. Our home church approved and commissioned us for this mission, but is unable to finance this outreach.

We arrived in Washington DC on April 3, 2014.

How to Help?

Consider supporting OASIS and the Martinez family: financial support, with ministry support, with prayer support, or just being in contact.

Financial support: The current need is for finances of roughly $52,000 annually or $4,345 monthly, to support the family.

Ministry support: We need support from local churches to expand our ministry with gifts of food, Bibles, Christian books, and so on.

Prayer support: We covet your prayers for our family, ministry, and the Hispanic community.

Listen to Radio Broadcast


Radio Vida VA 97.7 FM los martes a las 8:30 p.m. hasta 9:30 p.m. EST (toca)


(Radio Vida VA 97.7 FM Tuesdays from 8:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. EST (link))


Julio and Ana Martinez
11100 Ravine Drive
Manassas, VA 20111

Thank you! Muchas Gracias!

Martinez Family Ministry: OASIS Mission in Manassas Virginia

Also see:

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

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Reid Satterfield Commencement Address at GCTS


GCTS Commencement Address by Reid Satterfield

Reid Satterfield is an editor for T2Pneuma Publishers LLC, the former director of the Pierce Center at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) in Charlotte, NC, a guest blogger on (link),  and a good friend.  He commenced in May 2015 and gave the address on behalf of the graduates.  I commend it to your listening (press here).

Listen to audio.

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

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Live Radio Interview Today on Life Issues Show with Lloyd Rosen

Available on
Available on

This afternoon I will be guess on the Life Issues Radio Show with host, Lloyd Rosen.

I will be talking about my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality.

The interview is from 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time).

Listen online at: The Life Issues Radio Show.

The Life Issues Radio Show appears on the Tough Talk Radio Network which comes to us from Katy, Texas.

Lloyd Rosen is the author of a book himself, Search for Happiness: My Journey from Darkness into the Light

(ISBN: 9781434368706:, which chronicles his struggle with depression.

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Guest Blogger David Wilkinson: Answer the Call!

David_Wilkerson_05232014Our guest blogger today is Chaplain David Wilkinson of the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue.

Answer the Call!

The recruitment campaign for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue has a double meaning for those who serve as Chaplains. We answer not only the call to help people, but also a call from God.

Without the call from God, we would struggle during emergencies to keep our faith and sanity. First responders face numerous stressful situations as they run into burning buildings and deal with other life-threatening emergencies. It should come as no surprise that they often need to talk about it. Unfortunately, it is a surprise to most people who idealize first responders thinking that they are tougher than the rest of us.  Statistically, first responders (police, fire, rescue, military) have a high incidence of divorce and suffer numerous other stress-related problems because of their work. What is perhaps most surprising is that hundreds of volunteers in Loudoun County accept this risk without out pay or other compensation just for the satisfaction of helping those in need.

Rescue chaplains not only aid the emergency medical services (EMS) staff their stress, they also work along side of the EMS staff in aiding family members experiencing these emergencies—injuries, loss of life, and property damage.

The hardest part of an emergency is dealing with the unknown. We typically want answers that only God can supply. What is taking so long? What is EMS team doing? Is there hope for full recovery?  Simple things are not so simple during emergencies. Still, chaplains are trained to be a nonanxious presence in these stressful circumstances.  The Apostle Paul writes:  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13 ESV).

Medalian_05282014My call story is most personal.  My father was a fireman. One day as he worked under a car it slid off the jacks onto his chest. I was right there.  Being young and naive, I struggled to lift the car. Then, I heard a voice saying:  “Jack the car! Jack the car! Jack the car!” I did, and pulled him out, still living but bleeding internally. Waiting in the hospital for 10 long hours to hear from the surgeons exhausted me emotionally, but I realized that the voice that I heard during the accident was not a neighbor but God.  At that point, I realized that God was calling me to help not only my father but also other people.

What is God calling you to do?


David Wilkinson grew up in Milford, Connecticut. He accepted God’s call on December 16, 1961 at the age of 14. He is now married with two children and six grandchildren. David is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary [1], a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church [2], Herndon, Virginia, and a Stephen Minister [3].

David has been a member of the Sterling Voluntary Rescue Squad [4] for 7 years.








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The Potter’s House Ministry by Chris Looker

First Presbyterian Church of Annandale, VA
First Presbyterian Church of Annandale, VA

Our guest blogger today, Pastor Chris Looker, invites us to consider the potter’s work by learning the fine art of pottery throwing on the pottery wheel.

Potter’s House Ministry

The Potter’s House ministry began at First Presbyterian Church of Annandale this past September as a pilot program for 8 weeks.  The objectives of the program were to learn more about pottery, each other, and the Lord through prayer, listening to Taize music, and breaking out into small groups to throw, trim, glaze, and fire ceramic forms. Before it was over, we produced more than 100 finished and glazed pottery pieces.

The Original Potter

When God created the heavens and earth, God was like a potter at the wheel.  The Prophet Jeremiah wrote about a vision that he had saying:

[The Lord said] Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words. So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel (Jeremiah 18:2-7 ESV).

But pottery is not just the prophet’s imagination.  We are told in the Book of Genesis that:  the LORD God formed the man of clay [dust] from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).  From that which was formless, God created many beautiful things. From the clay of the ground, God created and formed life!

But God did not stop there!  God’s Holy Spirit formed Jesus in Mary’s womb out of nothing!  In Luke’s Gospel we read:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus … And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God (Luke 1:30-31, 34-35 ESV).

This is our potter at work.  God formed Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  It was not an accident; nothing was left to chance.  God was involved in each and every step.  He was born as the perfect Savior, fully human and fully God, all because the Creator himself was perfect.  Jesus Christ was and is and will always be a miracle of God’s handiwork–and so are each of you!  In Jesus Christ, God has shown Himself to be the greatest Artist of all.

God formed us from the clay of the ground.  We know this because in Hebrew the word, Adam ( הָֽאָדָ֜ם (Genesis 2:20 WTT)), means alternatively: Adam, man, or clay (soil, dust, dirt, or ground).  At funerals we are reminded of Adam’s curse for his sin:  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are clay, and to clay you shall return (Genesis 3:19).

What do we say?  Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  We live in certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.


Chris Looker in Jerusalem
Chris Looker in Jerusalem

Dr. Chris Looker is the Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Annandale, Virginia ( where he has served for the past 8 years.  He and his wife, Genny, live with their two boys, Ben and Sam, in Vienna, VA.

In the 50 plus years since FPCA was chartered, the community has morphed from being a Caucasian suburban community into an ethnically diverse, urban community.  FPCA has risen to meet this challenge by forming a partnership agreement with the First Korean Presbyterian Church of Virginia (FKPCV). This partnership involves a growing number of people in decision-making, financial support, mission, and worship.  FPCA and FKPCV have worked together to renovate the main sanctuary and much of the physical infrastructure. FPCA and FKPCV are also active in Christian Mission Service jointly supported the building of a 50 kilowatt hydroelectric dam in Lubondai, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the building of a Mission School in Catamayo, Ecuador.

First Presbyterian Church of Annandale (FPCA) is located in Annandale, VA off of Little River Turnpike (route 236) adjacent to Annandale High School ( at 7610 Newcastle Drive, Annandale, VA 22003-5422.

FPCA prides itself on its commitment to musical excellence.  On Sunday April 13, 2014 at 7:00 P.M., the Mormon Choir of Washington, DC ( will perform a concert in our sanctuary, as the second concert in our concert series.




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A New Life in an Old Land by Thomas Smith

King Tomislav
King Tomislav, Zagreb, Croatia

By Thomas Smith

Our guest blogger this week is Pastor Thomas Smith who works with his family as a missionary to the reformed churches in Croatia, a part of the former communist country of Yugoslavia.

A New Life in an Old Land

Sparkling crystal clean water along pristine beaches on hundreds of islands and inlets loom large on the tourist promotions for Croatia.  Rightly so, Croatia’s Dalmatian and Istrian regions really are spectacular.  If you have not yet visited Croatia, you should. Visiting a country like Croatia for vacation is one thing, living and working here year round is a different experience.

Over much of the past two years, I have lived in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia where I have been a theology lecturer and helper to a Protestant church.  This is the first time I have lived outside the United States.  I am still adjusting to the culture and rhythm of life here.


Croatian culture puts more value on family, traditions, and relationships than does American culture.  While Croatians value convenience, pragmatism, efficiency, and quality, they do not rate these quite as highly as Americans.  So as an American living here, I find myself feeling frustrated at times with products, services and rules because they are different than in America.  So, I am learning to change my expectations and my ways of thinking and doing.

I remind myself that I want to be here, I am called to be here to help the evangelical community in general and the Protestant Reformed Christian Church ( in particular.  The Protestant community is small, less than one percent.  Roman Catholicism is woven into the fabric of society.

Identity Issues

Here church membership is about identity. Church membership is not about being a disciple of Christ. If you are Orthodox, then you must be Serbian. Or if you are Muslim, then you must be a Bosnian. Croats are Catholic. But, Protestants are just odd and don’t fit any hole–it would better if you were an atheist.

The Croatian people are wonderful friends.  They are kind, helpful, generous and hardworking.  Most work at their jobs and are paid very little. The transition from communism to capitalism has been rough and inhumane.  My friends tell me life under Tito’s communism was better than conditions today.

While there is plenty of despair to go around, the people are great and love life. They love children, dogs, a good cup of coffee, conversation, and a good story. They appreciate home-made food, fine wine, music, and dance.  Enjoying the same things, I feel at home here. Like death and taxes, frustration and bureaucracy are unavoidable no matter where you live.

Croatian History

Croatians are primarily a Slavic people, but through the centuries they have absorbed the Illyrians, Romans, Celts, Germans, and other ethnicities.  The Slavic tribes came to this part of Europe in the early 600’s.  The first united kingdom arrived in 925 AD, but the royal line died out by 1100 AD.  They later merged their kingdom with Hungary until the 1500’s when they joined the Austro-Hungarian Empire to avoid being overrun by the Turks.


During the 1500’s Luther’s ideas about reforming the Roman Catholic church across Europe because of Gutenberg’s printing press.  The Protestant Reformation came to the edges of the country. In this time period, Croatia was a battleground between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  Due to the military and political situation, the Protestant Reformation was unable to penetrate Croatia. During the 16th and 17th centuries diffe

rent Popes assembled Catholic nations to battle the Ottoman Turks and, as a consequence, the Croatians saw the Vatican as their best defender and friend.  Catholicism became an important part of their identity and Croatians remained loyal to the Roman church. The Counter-Reformation led by the Jesuits effectively reduced and eliminated the Protestant presence.

Reformation in Croatia

Nevertheless, during the Reformation in eastern Croatia a priest named Michael Starin embraced Luther’s ideas. He introduced people to Christ; spread the idea that the Bible alone is the highest authority in the church; and proclaimed “Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” in the region.  A total of 130 parishes converted.  For example, in the village of Tordinci, a Protestant church was created in 1551 and remains active today–despite the Counter Reformation and persecution–463 years later!  In 2001, it voted to leave the Reformed Calvinist Church (which is mostly Hungarian), along with some other parishes.

Friends in Christ

The pastor at Tordinci, Dr. Jasmin Milic, is a close friend and he invited me to join him as a church planter in Zagreb. Much like Paul’s vision of the Macedonian begging him to “come over … and help us” (Acts 16:9), I prayed and felt God’s call to join this church.  In 2011 and 2012, I transitioned from being a Pennsylvania pastor to working as an evangelist inside the church in Croatia.

My task here is to preach, teach and do outreach, but I also mentor young church leaders and teach seminary classes.  Friends, family and churches in America feel called to support my family and work through contributions to the International Theological Education Ministry (ITEM).  As our expenses grow and our savings shrink, new partners in Christ step forward to support my wife and I in this work.  The crystal clear waters of the Adriatic remind me of the waters flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1).  Here is the crystal sea and before it are every tongue, tribe, and nation worshiping the Lord!  The Lord beckons:  come to Croatia; see the crystal sea; make disciples; join the new life in Christ!

Tom and Anna Smith
Tom and Ana Smith


Rev. Thomas J. Smith grew up in York, PA.  A graduate of Penn State University and Covenant Theological Seminary, he has been an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America since 2004.  He is married to Ana with whom he has three daughters, Katherine, Kristina, and Evelyn.  Tom and his family have been living and working in Croatia since 2012.

Financial contributions (designated for Tom Smith) may be sent to ITEM, Inc., P.O. Box 31456, St. Louis, MO 63131-0456  or through PayPal at .

A New Life in an Old Land by Thomas Smith

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