Q&R: Acts 29 – Now we get to change the world

This month, pastors Luke Uran and Josh Pardee are wrapping up a 17-week sermon series on the book of Acts. Today they look ahead to where this leads our church family next.

 

So, there’s one more sermon from Acts. How does it end?

Luke: This week, Josh is going to be driving home the idea that we are now the 29th chapter of Acts. The book’s ending was left unfinished. We have this mission that we have been given, to go and make disciples.

 

That sounds like another good jumping-off point.
Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke Uran

Lead Pastor Luke Uran, First Free Rockford

Luke: Yes. As we look to this spring and the launch of our Life Groups, the sermon series we will be doing next is based partially on another book by an author we looked at last fall, Dustin Willis. This book is called The Simplest Way to Change the World.

What the series is going to focus on, and the reason we’re doing it next, as a follow-up to Acts, is because if we want to see all generations go, tell, and show the love of God here in the city of Rockford and around the world, then we need to be ones who are willing to be out and present in our community. We’re going to focus on that idea of being present, being active, being involved, being available and out in the community. Our primary purpose behind that is, let’s put hands and feet to this now. Today, not at the time of Acts. What does this look like? How do we apply it?

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Behind the Acts video

For the past four months, every Sunday sermon has opened with the same short, animated video that draws from the book of Acts. Nathan McDonald, First Free’s communications director, produced that video with local animator Dustin Bankord. We spoke with Nathan about the creative process.

 

Nathan McDonald Avatar

Nathan McDonald, Communications Director

What’s the purpose of an introductory video?

It’s mainly used so that they can change over the stage from the music portion to the preaching portion of the service. But if that’s the only way we look at it, just as the need to fill 45 seconds, we can miss an opportunity. Especially when the video is being shown week to week. I want it to fit within the flow of the service, so it doesn’t feel like too much of an intrusion and so it helps serve to bridge that gap between corporate worship and the preaching.

Sermons can be 25 to 40 minutes long. Typically people walk away with one or two highlights—something significant that stuck out to them. But if there is a song that we do in worship that is tied to the series, you’re going to remember that song really well. And I think the sermon intro video also can serve in that way. It’s a short, simple thing that uses visuals and music. So you can walk away remembering parts of that short video. And hopefully it’s helping you recall something from the corporate worship, and some of the actual meat from what was being preached and taught that day.

  

When you are presented with the need for an introductory video for the Acts sermon series, where do you start?

For this one in particular, we looked at The Bible Project and their approach to animation. Since this series was going to take four months, it seemed to make sense that we would approach the introduction video as a narrative as opposed to just a theme.

So for me, the first part was looking at some of the highlights in the narrative of Acts. You take certain chapters and kind of lump them together and say this is one part of the narrative, and then here is the next part. I had to start broadly and then work my way down to specific scenes. Oh, and we are shooting for the whole video to only be 45 seconds to a minute long.

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Q&R: Looking back at the Acts series

This month, pastors Luke Uran and Josh Pardee wrap up a 17-week sermon series on the book of Acts. Today they talk about what God showed them, and our church family, through this series over the past four months.

 

This has been a long sermon series. What was your thinking behind extending it even through Christmastime?

Luke: We wanted to go a little more in-depth, especially in the beginning part of Acts where the church got its start. Not so much the individual missionary journeys of Paul. Those are important, but for me personally, the Lord has been teaching me what it means to live by the Spirit and to listen to the Spirit and to open the Word and continue to allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate that. Especially in those beginning portions of Acts, we see the apostles all being Spirit-led. That was one of the primary qualifications for any laypeople who wanted to be a part of the movement.

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‘His mercy is more’

On Sunday, the congregations at all three of our main campus venues sang the modern hymn His Mercy is More. The refrain goes:

Stronger than darkness, new every morn
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

Written by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, the hymn draws from a 1767 letter and sermon by John Newton. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you?
But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear?
Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.

True to his letter, Newton’s sins were many. Read More

Home Makeover: Philippi edition

A reminder from Acts about what truly matters

 

By Cherice Ullrich

If your December looked anything like mine, you’re tired.

We shopped for gifts. We watched my son hold up the three French hens in his kindergarten Christmas concert. We hid the elf (when we remembered). We decorated our house, inside and out.

If you’re really like me and you have little children, you had to do all of the decorating after they went to bed and finish it all in one shot because they’d get into the boxes the next morning if you weren’t done. So you may or may not have stayed up ’til midnight and then had to pile all of your other decorations on a table so you could put them away three days later because that’s when you had time.

This year, as in many others, we prepared our house for family to stay with us over Christmas: two sets of family, one with a dog. December is fun, hectic, exhausting, and somewhere in there, we remember Jesus and how all of this is for his birthday.

Which was probably in April anyway.

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Photo of Pastor Josh Pardee with Q&R title

Q&R with Pastor Josh: Redemption starts with Christmas

A conversation with Pastor Josh Pardee

At the Christmas Eve service, Pastor Josh Pardee used the story of the infant Jesus’ presentation in the temple as an introduction to the theme of redemption. We thought a follow-up conversation might be in order.

 

With this sermon, what were some questions you wanted to help us think about at Christmas?

We talk about how it’s Merry Christmas and how it’s a happy time of year, but yet as we look at our lives, we see brokenness around the world. What enables us to actually say Merry Christmas? Why do we look at this season so differently?

 
Josh Pardee Avatar

Josh Pardee, Pastor of Congregational Life

Focusing on Anna is an unusual approach. How does Anna’s portion of the story speak to you?

Anna was widowed after just seven years of marriage. Now in this passage she is 84. She has spent her whole time in the temple praying and fasting and worshipping. And then as soon as she gets a hold of the child, she is declaring to anyone who will listen that he is the redemption of Jerusalem, and how that story extends to the world. And so the reason that we do celebrate, even amid the brokenness, and amid the pain in life, is knowing that there is redemption to come. It’s already and not yet.

In the sermon I mentioned Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem coming. Now we’re going to see the climax of that story . And that’s why we can experience hope. It’s not that pain and brokenness and suffering aren’t a part of our story. They are just no longer the focus of our story. Redemption is the story that’s being written.


What’s the significance of Anna being highlighted like this? Especially as a woman?

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Glimpses of glory

Earthly surprises can point us heavenward

By Jim Killam

On January 30, 1969, the Beatles went to the roof of their Apple Corps studio building in London and began to play. In the film shot that day (hard to find online now because of copyrights), people smile and point five stories above when they realize what’s going on. Some climb fire escapes for a better vantage point. This was, after all, the band’s first concert since 1966.

Others walk resolutely, never looking up or acknowledging what’s going on. Some are ticked off because their predictable day has been interrupted. Almost 51 years later, the whole world remembers that concert, how the London police busted it up when the band might have played much longer … and how it turned out to be the Beatles’ last public performance.

Like everything in popular culture, surprise concerts have been so overdone that they usually feel cliché. Subway platforms are particularly popular venues (U2, John Legend, Elton John, Miley Cyrus), along with fans’ wedding (Ed Sheeran) and even a middle school class (Beyonce).

Former Beatle Paul McCartney did one last year with James Corden on The Late Late Show — a program that almost no one really watches but which has an enormous YouTube following. Toward the end of a “Carpool Karaoke” segment, they sneak into a Liverpool pub. When someone puts a coin in the jukebox, the stage curtain opens and Paul starts playing Beatles songs. It’s pretty great.

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So what does any of this have to do with Christmas Eve? Read More

Staff memories: Our own Christmas Traditions

Seven members of our church staff responded to two questions about their family’s Christmas traditions.

 

What was your family’s most meaningful Christmas tradition?

 

Kendra Johnson AvatarKendra Johnson

As young siblings, the three of us put on a short program for our parents. One of us read the Christmas story from Luke, we all sang a Christmas hymn and one of us prayed. It was the same every year but that is what made it a tradition.

Kari Heckler AvatarKari Heckler

Decorating Christmas cookies with my grandma. We always used the powdered sugar and food coloring to make the frosting. We ate a lot of the cookies as they “accidentally” broke. I love that my kids are keeping that tradition going!

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Christmas in the Congo featured image

Christmas in the Congo

With First Free Rockford’s strong connection to the Congolese church and to Tabitha centers in the capital city of Kinshasa, Christmastime unites us even more.

ReachGlobal missionaries Jim and Ruth Snyder and their family lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1985 to 1996, back when the country was called Zaire. (ReachGlobal is the world mission agency of the Evangelical Free Church of America.) We spoke with Jim via email about his family’s memories of Christmas in the Congo.

From a Nativity play: Herod’s soldiers after receiving the decree from Caesar Augustus. They especially enjoy brandishing the wooden swords. Photos provided by Mike and Julia Anne McCord

Is Christmas a big deal in DRC? It’s a public holiday, right?

Christmas is a VERY big deal. Employers generally give food stuffs (chickens, rice, fish, salt, sugar) to their employees and often have parties in early December which include a meal and the distribution of these. The closer one lives to Kinshasa, the more commercialized it has become. China’s influence (believe it or not) has introduced plastic Christmas trees, lights of all sorts and decorations that are now in many homes and churches. In general, people look forward to the holiday as it affords time off from work and with extended family.

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