July 16, 2020 / 0 471
by Jim Killam | 6-minute read
The 1997 sci-fi film Contact, based on the book by Carl Sagan, made an unusually good attempt to reconcile science and faith. Both share a search for truth and “a thirst for wonder” that sometimes neither wants to acknowledge about the other.
Sagan himself was deeply agnostic, saying he could find no scientific evidence for belief in God. Yet in Contact he searched for common ground — and found some. Sure, from a Christian point of view we could poke some holes, but when a scientist’s novel and then a major Hollywood offering help their audiences think hard about faith, I’d call that a cultural win.
The film is a generation old, but I’ve been thinking about it during COVID-19. We all feel an alarming lack of control. No one knows what our society will look like in a month, let alone a year or two. Will we be locked down again? Can our economy withstand more? When is a vaccine coming? Read More
The Patriotic Celebration has been a First Free Rockford summer tradition since 1970. Of course, this year’s event, which would have been our 51st consecutive, has been canceled by COVID-19.
For those who are missing the event this summer, we are happy to present an encore video of last year’s 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration. The evening celebrated our heritage and honored our veterans and active military members … all in a spirit of thanks to God for our true freedom in Jesus Christ.
You can also download the printed program from last year (see below), and follow along with the long list of special music and performers.
Enjoy! And Happy Independence Day.
by Rob Ullrich | 5-minute read
Occasionally, when my seventh graders are working in my classroom, I’ll play jazz. They don’t know they’re hearing Django Reinhardt, the guitar giant who shaped a genre around himself. They couldn’t trace his influence to the musicians on their YouTube channels. They can’t tell the story of his terrible accident and miraculous comeback.
It’s an anonymous background tune for them, but a time machine for me. Reinhardt’s style is frequently featured in World War II movies and dramas of that same period. Picture that scene in a smoky, low-lit jazz club.
For the past few months, there has been no jazz crooning from my classroom speakers. Teachers had to improvise to transform their classrooms into remote hubs for e-learning. This task took extemporaneous technique. It was a jazz number and I was playing it by ear. Read More
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
A beautiful film speaks volumes to a broken culture
By Jim Killam
About halfway through A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, journalist Lloyd Vogel is interviewing Fred Rogers in a restaurant booth. It’s another in a series of conversations where, really, Mister Rogers has been interviewing Lloyd, uncovering deep pain from a torn relationship with his father.
“You love people like me,” Lloyd concedes.
“What are people like you?” Fred asks.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on real-life journalist Tom Junod’s encounters with Mister Rogers for a 1998 Esquire magazine issue about heroes. The premise is cliché, but in this case true: a cynical journalist assigned to interview “the nicest man in the world.” And a throwaway, 400-word “fluff” assignment becomes a friendship that changes a man forever.
Junod wrote a wonderful essay for The Atlantic to coincide with the film’s opening. Lloyd Vogel’s storyline is fiction, which is why Junod asked that his and his relatives’ real names not be used. But his deep interactions with Fred Rogers were real and, he writes, reflected accurately:
“A long time ago, a man of resourceful and relentless kindness saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He trusted me when I thought I was untrustworthy, and took an interest in me that went beyond my initial interest in him.”
That thought forms the movie’s story line, which is wonderfully framed as an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Getting there takes a few minutes, though. Tom Hanks’ singing entry made me laugh aloud. In the 1970s and ’80s, Mister Rogers might have been best known for the parodies by comedians like Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. This seemed like another of those, for about 30 seconds. Then I forgot I was watching Hanks and was absorbed into a story that centers on the kindness of a man who seemed too good to be true.
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IT’S HARD TO WATCH this film and not think about the gospels’ stories of broken people encountering Jesus. How he quickly moved past cultural differences and people’s own defenses. How he made the person to whom he was speaking feel like the most important person in the world. “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did,” the woman at the well told her friends.