Advent: A Norwegian family tradition

Written by Jennie Wilkie

Written by Jennie Wilkie

Recently, my son came home from school asking me about his heritage.  He had to do a project in a cardboard box with different symbols of family traditions (no, he is not in Elementary School, this is actually High School!)  I promptly stated that his dad is more than one quarter Norwegian, as am I, so that would be a good place to start.  I started sharing with him about all the Christmas traditions I had as a child, such as wearing a Norwegian apron that my grandma made me on Christmas Day , the Norwegian prayer I got to memorize and recite since I was the youngest grandchild, the opening of presents on Christmas Eve (this one was Mark’s), and the krumkake that was made every year (both of us), yum.  I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that Isaac had no idea what I was talking about.  His comment was, “How come we didn’t do that? What were our traditions?” 

Guilt, guilt, guilt.  As every parent knows, this is a total recipe for parental guilt.  Why DIDN’T we carry on those traditions for Christmas?  Did we do any traditions with the boys?  What were we thinking?  Were we thinking? And then I remembered ADVENT.  Yes, we did have a Christmas tradition, and it was one that I loved, and I could also claim it was a tradition in Norway- a little bit of heritage.

Advent means “coming” and is the preparation for the coming of Christ.  Our tradition involved lighting a candle on an advent wreath every Sunday, for the four Sundays before Christmas, with the 5th and central candle, being lit on Christmas Eve.  It was a build-up to Christmas- to the ultimate celebration.  For us it was family time.  We put out our advent wreath on the Sunday, a week after Thanksgiving, and then made sure to sit down for a meal together, light that week’s candle and then have a short bible reading/discussion about what the candle symbolized.  We started this tradition at a time when the boys were really small.   Mark wrote a devotion for each week, talking about God’s character and His gift to us.  

The first candle, lit on the first Sunday of December, symbolizes God as our Creator.  We read Genesis 1:1- “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them: male and female he created them.”  We then talk about creativity and how can we be creative-creative in our work, our hobbies, our lives, and how this points others to our Creator.

Week two is a devotion about how God is our Father.  1 John 3:1 says “Behold, what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”   John 1:2 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  God’s love for us is overwhelming. He loves us so much that he gave His Son, Jesus, whose coming we are celebrating (for the entire month.)

God is our friend.  John 15:15 says, “no longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” We have been entrusted with the message of Christ- not as servants but as dearly loved friends of God. He loved us first, and our relationship with Him brings joy, both to us and to Him.

God is our Savior, through Jesus’ birth and resurrection.  John 3:16- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”  And this is the gospel- the good news!  Because of Christ’s birth and resurrection, we are forgiven and brought back into a right relationship with our God.

And finally, the central candle is lit on Christmas Eve, and the nativity story is read.  The culmination of what we have been looking forward to.  We talk about God’s present (Jesus) and then open our presents.  And eat cookies and drink hot cider.  Of course.

I’ve seen many wonderful meanings of the candles when looking up advent online.  The weeks may symbolize hope, preparation, joy and love; or the colors represent different things-3 purple candles for prayer, penance and preparation with the pink representing rejoicing. And there were others, but they all point to the same thing- the birth of our Savior.

So come, Lord Jesus! 

Advent Series (Part 3): For You we wait

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For You we wait and watch and pray; oh come Lord Jesus come…

This line is from a song I heard when I was young that I think of every Christmas. Growing up in the Catholic church, I always looked forward to celebrating advent; lighting a new candle each Sunday leading up to the final one and saying the appropriate prayer for that particular week. As a family we would talk about the anticipation of Jesus coming to save the world as a tiny little baby in a manger. Equally, if not slightly more exciting, was the great expectation for the coming of the fictitious bearded man in the red suit who would carefully place the gifts we had hoped for under our Christmas tree. Somehow these two stories managed to coincide just fine in my small mind. Christmas was both magical and holy.

We read the Christmas story and try to imagine what it must have felt like so long ago to be waiting for a savior; the one, who it was told, would come to save the world. But we don’t really have to imagine the anticipation as we are in the waiting right now. We eagerly wait for Jesus’ return, to save us from this world and take us to be with Him for eternity.

I remember putting our little ones to bed on Christmas Eve and being overjoyed at the excitement on their faces. They knew that the morning would bring joy and surprises. Many times they would talk of going to sleep just as fast as they could so time would go quickly and morning would come. Every door had been ripped off the advent calendar, every chocolate eaten.

A kid only has to wait twenty-four days (or 365 depending on how you look at it) building up to the joy and fulfillment that Christmas morning brings. But how do we wait in eager anticipation for Jesus’ return when our wait is much longer than an advent calendar?

Waiting is hard. Waiting for something so spectacular as meeting our creator face to face, ending any pain or sorrow that we feel here and now, is beyond difficult at times. We long for something better than the suffering that takes place on this earth.

How do we manage? I think we live our lives with a sense of expectancy, all the while staying busy with what Jesus commanded us to do; loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we sit still closing our eyes and plugging our ears to the chaos around us, just praying for Jesus to come back now, we miss many chances to love, to give, to listen, to pray, to hope.

I love the verses in Matthew 25 when Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” This is how we spend our time waiting with hope. We keep our eyes open for those in need of the greatest love and then we love and give and pray, even when we don’t want to. We serve others because in doing so we are serving Jesus.

This is what I want to be busy with in the waiting.  In the book of Luke we are told to be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour we do not expect. I want to spend my time doing things that are important to Jesus, not sitting around complaining about the state of this world and counting the minutes until His return. 

I recently heard a pastor define hope as confident expectation. I think this is a perfect description of how we live in a world full of darkness and sometimes despair. We have hope, not only in Jesus coming again, but hope in how He wants to work in us and through us right here and right now.

Advent Series (Part 2): The Life of Jesus

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I remember the fall and winter months growing up in Seattle. It’s cold and wet outside so you get a lot of time inside. I only have one sibling so for me that meant a lot of time playing games, arguing, and wrestling with my brother. There is one distinct memory that I will bet most of us with brothers share. It is that hilarious yet terrible split second when playful; energy releasing wrestling turns into pure, uncontrolled anger. That switch from playful to angry is not a slow one! I vividly remember the circus like facial contortion act that happens in this instant. And his strength that somehow, miraculously multiplied by at least 3, maximum of 6ish (depending on the level of anger). But the most important part that I remember is pushing the wrestling a little further and further to see where that break is.

Being the older brother (and a selfish human sinner), I pushed and pushed the boundaries every chance I could get. Completely unaware of how my actions could effect what is happening around me. From degrading my brother down to a stricken angered state to somehow eating an entire Costco pizza and everything in between.

We can all agree that as we get older we build awareness to the specifics of situations and gradually build a stronger understanding of what is really happening around us. And now, finally, after 26 years on this earth, I feel like I have finally had a small growth spurt in relation to this. I have caught myself looking back at situations with friends and family or even strangers and thinking to myself “wow I was awful there” or “I’m pretty sure they felt unloved and uncared for by me” etc. It is empowering to look at these times, journal a bit, and unpack them to learn more about myself and find out what it is God wants me to take from that memory. Naturally, looking back I feel like it’s too late to learn from my mistakes so I cringe a bit, and move along as fast as I can. So rather than just moving on I want to see how God can use these things to strengthen myself and my awareness.

Romans 1:16-18

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

As a Christian, every year I think the same things during Christmas. Fairly simple thoughts like “I need to focus on how grateful I am that Jesus died for me” and “I really need to constantly be thinking of ways I can show more love to my friends and family”. But as cliché as it sounds, the significance of His coming is so much more than words can describe. Throughout Romans Paul explains the significance of Jesus coming to the earth and how Jesus set an example of righteousness for us through His ministry. That ministry would later be fulfilled through His death, so that we can have a fulfilled life. 

The concept of righteousness took me a bit to understand. The definition of the root of righteousness is “in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God”. It is us in our purest form, free of sin and all inequities. It is being people of integrity.

During the Christmas season we spend so much time trying to figure out the easiest and fastest path to becoming a righteous person. We do this by buying each other nice things, by praying more, by being more generous. We have created a Christmas culture that expects us to be these things. These are all good things, but we miss the point. The secret to living a righteous life is not to be all these things once a year, but like Jesus, to love people constantly. It is His life and His life only that is the perfect image of righteousness because He is the perfect image of love.

I’m 26 and just now finally starting to understand what it means to truly love. I can look back now and learn from my mistakes in relationships. Rather than seeking the code to righteousness, living a life that draws from Jesus’ love to build a genuine love.

Advent Series (Part 1): Before Jesus


When I was little and had to get shots, I would really work myself up. No matter how much time my mother gave me to prepare (from a week to just a few minutes) I would use those moments to torture myself in anticipation of the darn things. My mother would tell me, “Don't think about it! The anticipation makes it that much worse!”.  I know it's odd, but sometimes I think about that memory at Christmas time. Just as the anticipation of a shot can make it that much worse, so does the advent of Christmas make it that much more joyful.

The word advent means “coming” but it means more than just the 25-day countdown to Christmas. Rather, it uses the four Sundays in of the month of December to anticipate the second coming of Christ. As the first to write for Calvary Ballard’s traditional observing advent through blog posts, I get to write about the history leading up to Christ’s coming.

I’d like to think that after Abram and Sarai’s long life together they had become contented with their lot in life. I imagine that they were a tribe with the rest of their family, living close and depending on one another. I imagine they would gather together often to recount the stories of how the earth was created; how their ancestors survived  after the great flood that the creator God sent in his anger 400 years ago. Or how this God scattered them across the earth by changing their language. The telling and retelling of these old stories might have been what kept them bound to God. Unlike rest of those who were descended from Noah and should have remembered and feared God. They spread out and forgot. Possibly it is for this reason that God chose Abram and Sarai to be the mother and father of His people.

I don’t think we realize how little was known about God back then. Just the stories shared by word of mouth. He must have seemed so mysterious and tangibly powerful. Closer to what we imagine Greek gods to be like then how we see the God of the Old Testament. It’s not even until Abraham's descendants are were uprooted from the promised land, Canaan and moved to Egypt, where they multiplied for generations, considered a threat to Egypt and then enslaved, that God even tells them his name: Yahweh. It was then that He began to fulfil the promises He made to them. For 400 years, they held the urn of Joseph’s bones, and just… waited for God to take them home.

God led them as a pillar of light and a cloud of smoke to the promised land, but they turned to golden statues. He tore down nations before them, but they still disobeyed and intermarried with those God told them to stay pure from. He prospered their kingdom for them but they couldn’t obey. Eventually they rejected God as their Sovereign and asked Him for a King. The Kings couldn’t lead the people any better, and finally they were conquered and dispersed by other nations.

God wanted to live amongst his people, He wanted to guide them by His own hand. He wanted to conquer their obstacles and show them His might. He wanted to bless them and show them his unending love. And He wanted the other nations to know that He is Yahweh through them. But in their own power, they couldn’t manage to obey and stay close Him.

Even in their ultimate failure, Yahweh never stopped trying to redeem them. And ultimately us, His people. His plan to be close to, provide, and love us, had only just begun. For all her faults Israel must have known this. After being exiled they gathered themselves back together, rebuilt the temple, started trying to live for God as best they could, and waited another 400 years for Christ.

In that 400 years other earthly powers rose and fell. Eventually Rome came into power over Israel. Herod was Caesar, the Roman tetrarch of Galilee and Pilate was prefect (governor) over the Hebrew people. I imagine that the Hebrews were feeling akin to their ancestors living in Egypt. Even though they weren't enslaved, they also weren’t entirely free either. We know that when they remembered the prophecies of Jesus the Messiah, they generally expected a warrior or king to vanquish Rome and make them a powerful nation again.

As time tends to do, I am sure that the people of Israel lost touch with the flavor of the power and might of Yahweh. The oppression of Rome compared with the miracles Yahweh worked for them before, was nothing. If the promised Savior prophesied over was sent to merely free them from Rome, he would be one more miracle among many. But the Savior they anticipated was going to free them from a much greater oppression.

Systems of the Enemy

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The Old Testament is filled with stories. There are portions of teaching and instruction, but in general, the Old Testament is divided into stories, prophecies, and poetic or wisdom literature. Even when God gave Israel the Law through Moses, the Bible recounts it in the context of a story. Too often, Christians feel intimidated by the Old Testament. Subconsciously, if not purposefully, we write it off as “the part that doesn’t apply to us”, and skip to the New Testament. To fully understand Jesus, and to understand everything in the New Testament, we have to understand what they were rooted in. We were never meant to disregard the Old Testament, but to learn from it. Paul said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”(1 Corinthians 10:11) When I read the Old Testament, I try to always be on watch for the concepts and lessons that can be drawn from the story, and learn from the examples and instructions that it has to give.

In the last couple weeks, the biggest story I’ve learned from is in 2 Chronicles 32 (and is also told and mirrored in 2 Kings 18-19). An Assyrian king named Sennacherib comes against Judah and their king Hezekiah. The story is interesting in itself, but I’ve learned a lot about recognizing how the devil tries to attack us by seeing how Sennacherib tried to intimidate and overwhelm Judah.

Sennacherib came against Judah with great threats. He sent people to Hezekiah, but before long it became apparent that Hezekiah had found his bearing in God, and wouldn’t be a push over in the face of an invading army. In verses 7-8, Hezekiah calls his people to strength, resolve, and trust in God. I’m especially drawn to verse 8. “With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” Here Hezekiah reminds his people of something that God has been trying to get across to them for generations, especially since Saul (the first king of Israel): their strength is not found in greater numbers, stronger weapons, or better planning, their strength comes from God and His favor. The people accept this call to strength, and it says they “took confidence from the words of Hezekiah” (vs. 8). King Hezekiah called the people to trust God, and they followed his lead.

Instead of sending messengers privately to interact only with Hezekiah one on one, Sennacherib sent people to shout in the common language of the Judeans (despite requests that they use a language only the leaders understood) in a direct attempt to threaten and intimidate all the people. He was using mass propaganda in the best way he could at the time. He tried to influence Hezekiah’s stand, but his words weren’t aimed at Hezekiah, they were aimed at the soldiers and the people. He accused Hezekiah of misleading the people and lying about their hope in God. He told them it was hopeless. He tried to shake their faith.

Pause the story of the standoff in Judah for a minute and skip ahead to the time of Jesus. Before Jesus’ public ministry really began, Matthew 4 tells us the Spirit led Him into the wilderness. Jesus was there fasting, and the devil personally showed up to tempt Him. The devil tried to offer what he could to trip Jesus up, to make Him sin, and to destroy the plan of God. It didn’t work, and Jesus stood strong in faith and the Scripture, rebuked the devil, and sent him away. The Bible says Jesus was tempted in all ways, as we are, yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15), so no doubt this was not the only time the enemy tried to trip Him up, but this is the earliest and one of the most direct examples we get of Jesus standing strong under temptation.

The devil couldn’t trip Jesus up. This greatly limited his perceived options for overtaking God’s Kingdom. Sennacherib couldn’t trip Hezekiah up. This greatly limited his perceived options for overtaking Hezekiah’s kingdom. The devil and Sennacherib were both left with one option: If you can’t take down the King, go after the soldiers.

Sometimes we forget the role we play in the plan of God. We are His children, yes, but we are also soldiers in the Kingdom of God. Paul encourages Timothy to act as a “good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). We are on earth as soldiers for a King who is not of this world. The devil tried to tempt our King, he tried to mess up the Royal plan, but he failed. Now, his only hope to slow down the plan is to tempt, discourage, and distract us, the soldiers of the Kingdom.

Sennacherib and his people didn’t stop at questioning Hezekiah’s choices, but moved to directly challenging God’s abilities. In doing so, it says, “they shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.”(2 Chron. 32:18) This is the same plan the enemy uses in my life, and in your life.

The devil can’t take down our King, so he tries to shake our faith and make us ineffective. He yells outside the walls of the Kingdom, telling us lies that feed our insecurities and our fears. He tries to frighten us and terrify us. He tries to shake our faith in the King. If you look at the nature of the questions and accusations Sennacherib threw out against the Judeans, I think you’ll find them very close to the thoughts you find thrown against your faith in God: “Who do you have to trust? Isn’t your king misleading you? He’s setting you up to fail. He’s going to leave you dying and destitute. You won’t have what you need to survive. Haven’t others tried this and failed? Don’t you remember the last person who tried this? Do you think you’re special? You’re just like everyone else who failed. You won’t make it.”

When Hezekiah heard the threats of Sennacherib, he was distressed. Twice he received word of the things Sennacherib was saying and had to take it before God. Both times, God’s reply to him was encouragement and the promise of protection. God told him through Isaiah, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” (2 Kings 19:6). God took their words against His abilities personally, and he personally sent an attack against the Assyrians that drove them away. Judah’s army never had to go out in war against Assyria; they only had to hold their faith in God’s ability to protect them.

If you listen to the screaming coming from over the Kingdom wall, the onslaught can seem overwhelming. The enemy’s plan is simply to combine lies and questioning insinuations with great volume. It’s a system refined over a long period of time, and it’s fair to say we have all fallen for it in some way at one point or another, but if you know the game plan, it makes the lies a little easier to deflect. God didn’t need Judah to fight the lies of the enemy; he just wanted them to stand secure despite them. He wanted them to trust in His power, not their own.

When I think about God’s desire that I trust His protection, my normal next reaction is to fall to the enemy’s lies and condemnation about the past. Sennacherib liked to repeatedly remind the soldiers of Judah that his people had conquered a multitude of nations all around them, and the other nation’s idol gods had been of no help. He brought up the past’s failures, and promised they could not be overcome. In the same way, our enemy likes to bring up any past failures we feel we’ve had, or anyone around us has had, to assure us that we are doomed. He promises that the future’s fate is the same as the past’s mistakes. If we lean on our own strength to overcome the enemy, he may be right, but if we lean on God’s strength to help us through, we will overcome. Judah stood against Assyria because of God’s strength, and we will stand against our enemy because of God’s strength. Jesus knows what it’s like to stand against the lies of the enemy, and we have the promise that He is merciful with us in our stand.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

The enemy may yell you are hopeless because of something in your past. If you trust in your past choices to make you worthy, you make the enemy right; your past does not make you worthy.

The enemy may yell you are hopeless because you are weak. If you trust in your strength to get you through, you make the enemy right; your strength will not get your through.

These are among the most deceiving lies, because they suggest you are supposed to be good enough or strong enough to trust in Jesus.  If you have faith in your own ability to be good enough and strong enough, you will fall. Without Jesus, you aren’t worthy, and you aren’t strong. Jesus is your forgiveness and your strength. Ask Him to give you His forgiveness and His strength. Run to Jesus when the enemy tells you to stay away from Him. If the enemy says you aren’t worthy, run faster.

The enemy may tell you that Jesus can’t pull you through, and this is the greatest lie of all. When the devil stops saying you aren’t good enough, and starts saying God isn’t powerful enough, then you he’s running out of lies. When the Assyrians questioned Hezekiah’s ability, God let them keep talking. When the Assyrians questioned Judah’s strength, God still let them go on. When the Assyrians questioned God’s power, he ended the discussion.

If you can hear the enemy over the wall screaming lies about you and your King, remember that’s why God built the wall. Forget what lies behind you. Take heart that you have a loving King and High Priest who knows what it is to face down a loud threat, and rest in the fact He will stand with you, He will stand for you, and He will always have mercy and grace in your time of need.

Stick with the King, ignore the enemy’s screaming, and rest in the mercy and grace of our loving High Priest, Jesus Christ.

I Just Clean the Bathrooms

*Jen writes about her experience volunteering at the "Aurora Commons* a shelter for women involved in prostitution, and homeless individuals.* 

*Jen writes about her experience volunteering at the "Aurora Commons* a shelter for women involved in prostitution, and homeless individuals.* 

I go to this place just to clean the bathrooms. The woman who normally does this job is in the hospital and my friend, who invited me, says there is a need. With cleaning supplies in hand, I step over the dirty, sleeping man to enter the building. I don’t want to admit my fear, but it’s right up front. It stays there until the moment I step into the warm room, which smells of bacon and feels like love. There are only women there at this time sharing a meal, many of them smiling. The line is blurry between who is giving and who is receiving.

Introductions are made as I watch each woman. I see the brokenness intertwined with the beauty. It’s a small little place on a dirty highway where the deeds done right outside its doors are ugly. But inside, music plays, food is served, and women are given the love, respect, and dignity that’s been lost out on those streets.

I make my way to the back where the two bathrooms are. They’re both occupied, leaving me standing uncomfortably looking out the locked back door. A man sits with a woman, half-dressed, sitting on his lap. She looks tired and worn, marks on her body, as she struggles to hold up her head. Maybe she’s drunk, or high, or sick. Or maybe she’s so beaten down she doesn’t know what to do. Maybe it’s all of these things. It’s no matter to the man who pulls her closer, kissing her pale face and neck. I look away, nervous to make eye contact.

I talk with more of the women who regularly volunteer here while I wait to clean. As uncomfortable as I am, I love this place and I know I want to come back. Finally, I see the women come out of each of the bathrooms, dressed to go back to their work on the streets. They both look exhausted and annoyed that my friend and I are waiting to clean. It’s closing time and they can’t stay in this safe place forever. I don’t talk to them. I don’t know what to say. I’m just here to clean the bathrooms.

We go to work, picking up the trash, the press-on nails, the remnants of the women getting ready. It’s filthy and gross, but I’m not disgusted. I feel a sense of happiness that I can help in this small way. I think about what I’ve seen so far and I’m glad I’m here. With the two of us working together, it doesn’t take long to finish. I talk to a few of the women that work there and ask questions. They introduce me to a couple of the “regulars”. All of these women thank me for cleaning their bathrooms.

I leave to walk back to my car, nervous of all the men lingering around the building. I climb in and lock my doors. I don’t like it that I’m so untrusting of everyone I see outside. I have no idea of their stories, what they do, who they really are. I drive away feeling the satisfaction of filling a need for such a great cause, mixed with my shame of feeling like I’m somehow better than these people. I know I’m not.

I return every week, cleaning supplies in hand, less nervous each time. I talk with new women and listen to a little bit of their stories. I look them in the eyes and I smile. I see their beauty and their thankfulness in the middle of sadness. I am here for much more then just to clean the bathrooms.

*To learn more about the Aurora commons go here

Writing off the people of God

I believe that God’s ways of reaching out to us, His people, are entirely dependent on our willingness to hear Him. While He does not speak to us the way we want him to, he speaks to us in a way that will allow us to actually hear Him. For me, the way God speaks into my life is mostly through my friends.

Last Thursday, I was not having a particularly bad day, it was just one that was…slow, and somewhat boring. I had done some homework, eaten lunch, listened to a podcast, and written a few pages. For some reason or another, I decided to call Connor, one of my good friends. Connor and I hang out a ton, and have for the last six years. About two and a half years ago, Connor invited himself to come to church with me, and got saved shortly after. Connor and I, however, are not as close as I am with several other friends, for a variety of reasons. He is a bit more reserved, a bit less emotional than many of my friends, which is fine, but can make personal conversations difficult to start. All this to say, he’s normally not the person I call when I’m feeling down.

Anyway, after a bit of catching up, he told me that one of the reasons I have lost friends over the past three years is because I am constantly looking at reasons not to hang out with people. At first, I didn’t listen, (surprise, surprise). There’s no way I, of all people, push people away. I’ve always had friends and I like to think of myself as a nice guy.

I tried to defend my reasons for not being better friends with one specific person from our church, then another, but by the fourth or fifth specific example my friend gave of me of me rejecting people, I ran out of excuses. He was right. I push people away. 

Connor and I typically don’t call each other out on stuff like this. For all the crap we give each other, we are quite tolerant of — and perhaps we feed into — each other’s faults. Normally, I would be angry with Connor for being so blunt. I would attribute his actions to him being sad, or jealous, or any other negative attribute that we project on our friends when we feel wronged or slighted. But I did not expect to end a conversation with my friend Connor, whom I talk to 2-5 times a week, nearly in tears. I felt awful, not because he was mean, but because he was right.

Yet here I am, almost a week removed from the situation and I’ve realized something: We, as Christians, need to be willing to hear the words of God when our friends are the communicators of His word. Connor and I are close, yes, but our relationship has never involved a lot of rebuking. It reminded me of this passage on Godly council:

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. It is not the most elegant proverb, but it is helpful and true. Proverbs 27:5-6

For the past six years, I’ve viewed my friend Connor as a bro, but never as a brother. We can chill together, watch TV, go rock climbing, and even play music together. I perceive him as being emotionally closed-off, and I have completely pigeonholed our relationship into a box marked fun instead of a box marked truth. Stupidly, I have never even considered the possibility that he can speak any wisdom into my life.  

We need to watch out for our biases when it comes to the people in our life. Our weaknesses and insecurities are exploited by our sinful nature, and our friendships are held back because of it. I have spent an entire two-plus years not engaging with my friend on a spiritual level, because I didn’t want my fun friend to become my truth friend. If the Holy Spirit is present whenever two or more are present in His name, I’m not sure He’s ever been around when Connor and I gather. 

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

I’ve often heard that as we get older, our social circles get smaller. It makes sense. As we grow older, we decentralize, and our youth group, or school, or whatever it was keeping us tied to our friends, gives way to adulthood and the friends we keep are the ones that matter most to us. But a friend loves at all times, not just when it is easy, or makes you happy. We have brothers, as shown in that verse, to help us through our adversity, not in spite of our adversity. 

Ben Finley, a good friend, and I were talking a few weeks back, and he said something I really didn’t expect, “Why can’t Christians talk openly, like they do in the TV show How I Met Your Mother?” At first, I was completely shocked, but I realized that while these fictional characters do live in an isolated bubble, they are brutally open with each other. In ways that are both good and bad, they can talk about things, as a group, in a way that I have not seen in real life. They talk about everything; relationships, work, family, sex, clothes, and music. I realized that this show, and some others, which I had usually criticized, are not all bad. They offer a model, tainted though it may be with its subject matter, of how we should talk to our close friends. They are constantly pushing each other to do better in their careers, to move forward in their romantic relationships, and they even respect their parents in a pretty meaningful way.

Obviously these shows are fictional, and dramatized, and way more about sex than real life is, but Ben’s comment made me wonder. Why aren’t we more open with our friends, about everything? We need to talk about how things are going, in our careers, friendships, families, but most importantly, we need to know where our friends stand with God. 

Connor and Ben, two of my best friends, showed me similar things in drastically different ways; our friendships need to be more like Jesus'. Jesus did not care if this guy was dumb, or if that women was a prostitute, he just gave of himself to everyone. Jesus' social circles didn't narrow as he grew older, he basically didn't even have a social circle until he was 30. For the last 3 years of his life, He hangs out with everyone, and more importantly, He talks to them, about everything, no matter who they are. We need to be more like that. 

*Author: Thomas Bourne*

The Danger of a Critical Spirit

Author: Sparky Ellis

Author: Sparky Ellis


Around two months ago, I started feeling God leading me to be less critical, and to stop talking badly about people. I felt like it would be fairly easy to stop at first, but I soon found I was the author of a perpetual stream of fault finding and criticism I didn’t realize was going on in my head. Often, the critical mindset I was in escaped through my conversations with people around me. Sometimes it was talking bad about people to coworkers, sometimes it was online, and it covered a variety of issues, but it was always aimed at tearing something or someone down instead of building something or someone up. When I tried to stop the criticism I was letting out, it didn’t take long to realize how entrenched I was. It left me embarrassed, hoping those around me weren’t altogether aware of my faults the whole time. I only now feel like I’m starting to make headway at curbing the internal and external criticism. I don’t know how many times in the last two months I’ve had to go back to a family member, a coworker, or even to a conversation online and apologize for saying critical things to or about someone.

In seeing my own faults, it made me sensitive to the same issue going on around me. I started noticing how prevalent the problem is in our culture at large, even amongst Christians. How many television shows and internet conversations are aimed at insulting, criticizing, and mocking others? A quick turn to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and many blog sites, and you can easily find this. It’s easy even to find Christians verbally assaulting one another and other Christians over personality based or non-essential theological issues. I’m not talking about civil discussion, or even well-meaning debate between brothers and sisters in the faith, I’m talking about a war of words in the Body. James was speaking out against this kind of infighting when he used the tongue to represent the things we say: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”(James 3:9-10) Too often, we have fallen to a culture of criticism, division, insults and mockery. We are not honoring God and creating unity by attacking other Believers. Please understand, I’m not claiming to be innocent of that. Far too often I have been involved in these very things. These are the very actions I started by saying I felt called to repent of.

Often, I have returned to Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The word translated “scoffers” means to scoff, mock, or deride. It’s the same word translated “deride” in Psalm 119:51 when the writer says, “The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.” I don’t know about you, but I like the thought of being blessed. If my own attitude about people gets in the way of doing what God wants, and also gets in the way of God’s blessing in my life, it seems like a good reason to change what I’m doing. In looking up the concept in the Bible, I also found it discussed in Jude:

These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 1:16-23, NASB)

Now it’s important to say, I’m not saying I think I was among the people Jude was speaking of, and I’m not saying if you struggle with the same things I’ve struggled with that you’re one of them. I’m saying when you or I do the things Jude talked about, we’re acting like those people. We are joining in on actions that don’t honor God, and are against his desires for us. If you have accepted Christ as Savior, then you are in the second group who are told to build themselves up in the faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep themselves in the love of God, and to wait anxiously for the mercy of Christ to eternal life. The point is to avoid the actions of the first group. It’s difficult to read the first list, though, and not see an accurate description of the culture around us. It’s difficult for me to read the first list and not see the worst parts of myself. Some of the traits listed are practically considered positive in our culture. We make people famous if they’re good enough at finding fault and speaking arrogantly. We pay good money to watch movies about people following after their lusts. If you get good enough at flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage, we put you on magazines, read your books, and desire your success. As followers of Christ, we’re to move out of those traits, to recognize them as being against God’s ways, to not be associated with them, and even to hate them.

As Christians, we’re called to a different standard, and a different goal. Paul said we are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11) Our goal is to be to lift those around us up. The Church doesn’t need more critics, it needs more encouragers. Paul also said, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10) A critical spirit is dangerous to our spiritual health, and I’ve found it easily gets in the way of my closeness with God. This is true in our overall outlook, but it’s especially damaging when it becomes critique of other Believers and ministries. This is exactly the opposite of the direction we should move. As Christians, our goal should be to encourage and build up those around us, and be united behind Christ as the head of the Church. In that mindset we can move forward personally in our relationship with God, and corporately as a united Church.


Choosing to Praise in the Midst of Grief

*Author - Heather Falk*

On a sunny Friday, I excitedly went to the drug store and picked up a pregnancy test. I was late and extremely excited about it! There were glitter explosions all in my heart when I saw that positive pregnancy test symbol! Yet, admittedly part of my heart felt like it was too good to be true and I was a little scared. We had only been trying a short while to get pregnant. And I knew, due to my hormone imbalances, it was challenging for me to get pregnant. But there it was, those two beautiful pink lines. I told my husband that night and we immediately began to celebrate! We bought our almost two year old son the cutest “big brother” shirt, planned how we would tell our parents, and for three days, everything was beautiful and exciting. We felt so sneaky being around our friends, holding in the news until the perfect moment. I still hold these days so close in my heart, because I was pregnant. 

My son and I were on a play date the following Tuesday, when grief knocked on our door. I began bleeding, and called my doctor right away. They sounded concerned and wanted to get blood work to check the pregnancy hormone levels in my body. There was a hellish amount of back and forth between the doctor’s office while trying to hold onto any hope of this baby surviving in my body through the amount of blood I was losing. 

We went in for an ultrasound, confirming my empty uterus and our hearts broke into a million tiny pieces like a beautiful chandelier falling in an empty ballroom. It was confirmed that my pregnancy was ectopic, in my fallopian tube. The egg was not healthy and could prove to be life threatening to me if we did not take rapid action. We had an appointment the next morning that would give us the answer for what the next step would be.

I knew that night was the last night with my baby. That night I imagined what his or her little face might have looked like, what their little laugh might have sounded like. I took time to play with them in my mind and in my heart. I believe Jesus allowed me to see those things to bring my heart comfort and to prepare me for the days ahead. I spent the night, trying my hardest to fall asleep, talking to my baby. I told my baby how much I loved them, how both mommy and daddy loved them. Then I told them, if they need to go be with Jesus, it's okay. He would take such good care of them and they would not have to suffer. I wrote this letter:

"My baby, I take such comfort in Jesus knowing that the only thing you ever felt was love. Your daddy and I know that you will never have to feel pain and now you are in the presence of Love Himself. That is the best place for you to be. Thank you for the time we had together; for listening to your big brother giggle as he jumped all over us. Thank you for helping me see that having another baby wouldn't be so scary, but instead, it would be amazing. Jesus has taught your daddy and I so much through the five weeks we had with you, you made more of an impact than anyone I've ever known for such a short time. My baby, I trust your heart is growing bigger every day as you worship our King. It could not grow down here with us. Jesus needed you to be with Him. He is so pleased with your little life and all you were on this planet. You touched so many people, and you will continue to make an impact as your parents do their best to be brave and speak about you and how important you are. You are perfect and just how God intended you to be. He had a plan, it was not the plan we all wanted, but the plan you needed. Now you are free! You are free of pain, free of fear and free to just receive love and praise Jesus. Your life will be remembered, we will honor you, we will share the love of Jesus on your behalf, we will be brave for you and we will celebrate you. My baby, so loved, so special, always in my heart. You are a legacy; you are my tiny treasure, thank you for everything. I can't wait to see you in heaven."

The next morning, I was sent to the hospital to be given methotrexate shots, a type of chemotherapy that is the least invasive way to treat an ectopic pregnancy without surgery. This was it, the hope was over; the fight was finished. We were going to lose this baby. All I could do was surrender and receive Jesus’ love. 

 In the hospital, I was sent to the infusion room on the oncology floor. I sat in that cold, sterile room with six cancer patients each hooked up, receiving their chemo. I was there for three hours. During that time, I’m not sure I was supposed to, but I overheard each of their names, their type of cancer, and how long they had been fighting. It hit my heart like a ton of bricks. Jesus allowed me to be in that room, with those special heroes, and I felt privilege. I sat with tears streaming down my face begging Jesus to heal each of them. Even in that time, Jesus assured my heart, “I am good even in this. I am using even this moment.” 

Jesus ministered greatly to me in these moments of waiting to receive this medication. He spoke His love over me, reminding me that He had a plan in this and I wasn’t alone. He knew my pain and He had a purpose for this little soul. He assured me that He knew our baby by name and they were created to worship Him. With that assurance, He invited me to praise Him. I've never felt so hallow and so whole at once. My uterus was empty, yet my heart and my mind were full; full of the promises of Jesus, full of His peace, and full of His love.

Grief is important. The way that we can use it to our advantage is to let Jesus invite us into praise; directly into heaven’s gates! We have the amazing advantage of tapping into heaven when we know Jesus. That is the advantage of grief, WE SEE JESUS! Jesus, the man of many sorrows, who is acquainted with our grief. 

Isaiah 53:3-5 tells us,

“He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.”

Jesus wants to use our grief to make us whole in Him and this is the message the world needs. We all need this hope! I cannot fathom the terror of facing any pain without Jesus. This world needs His hope. 

I recently spoke with a friend who had lost her husband to cancer two years ago. She said, “I am not mad at God for taking my husband because I feel so connected to Heaven now, in a way like I would never be able to. Half of my heart and my soul is in heaven.” How beautiful! This woman took that invitation seriously and it has brought her to a place of wholeness even in the midst of horrific grief and pain. 

Grief is an invitation from heaven to draw closer to Jesus.


What is Calvary Ballard?

From our first night of prayer back in September of 2013 to our first church service in our new building in Ballard in August of 2015, God has done amazing things. When the Lord first spoke to Andy about stepping out in faith and starting a new church, it was clear to begin with prayer. We began weekly prayer meetings in our home and looked forward to what the Lord would do. We prayed for many things, including a place to meet once we started Sunday services, but above all, we prayed for God to go before us and prepare the path ahead. God answered our prayers and then some.

For our first year and a half we met at the Laurelhurst Community Center every Sunday morning. We started off in the smaller of two rooms there, and sometimes shared the building with a yoga class, but we were blessed with the use of a kitchen and some storage as a bonus. As we grew, we moved into the bigger meeting room. We continued to meet on Thursday nights praying for individual needs of people in the church along with our church as a whole.

In May, our church was presented with the idea of merging with a small Baptist church in Ballard. Merging would mean that we would join our fellowship with Grace Fellowship, gain ownership of the building, and become Calvary Ballard. The idea sounded a little crazy and almost too good to be true, but isn’t that how God works sometimes? Through many meetings, paperwork, and more prayer it was very clear that the Lord was giving us a gift by just dropping it in our laps.

August 2, 2015 was our first official Sunday morning in our new building. We were and continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude for what God had given us. Our church building has a rich history that began back in the 1920s with a little Baptist church. Almost 90 years later, we have the privilege to continue that history as a group of people who love Jesus and want to spread His love, not only to anyone who walks through our doors, but outside to our community as well.