All posts in “Sermon Series”

Wisdom for hospitality

by Jessi Uran | 5-minute read

 

Someone asked me once if I was ever nervous that my husband was going to talk about me or tell an embarrassing story about me in his sermons. I said, “No. I’m not nervous. Because he knows who makes his lunch for him when we get home.”

All joking aside, I have a smart man who is not about to expose his wife’s weaknesses from the platform. So I thought I’d take matters into my own hands and take off the filter that might be applied to anyone in full-time ministry with their spouse — that we have it all down when it comes to Biblical hospitality.

In the name of transparency, here are the top five things I am currently learning or re-learning when it comes to the transformational practice of hospitality. Read More

Bridging boundaries

by Jim Killam | 5-minute read

 

Before First Free moved to its current location in 1980, it was a fixture in a vibrant Rockford neighborhood called Midtown.

Today, Bob and Jill Campbell spend most of their waking hours continuing to invest in the spiritual health of that neighborhood — their neighborhood.

For most of the last 30 years, the Campbells have been part of the Christian Community Development Association. One of the organization’s keystone values is to live in the neighborhood where you serve. Bob and Jill have lived in two Rockford neighborhoods: first for 10 years in Coronado Haskell and now for the past 15 years in Midtown. Bob serves as executive director for Zion Development Corporation, the ministry working to transform Midtown. Jill serves with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ), running a newsletter mailing service from a Seventh Street office. Read More

Common ground

by Jim Killam | 5-minute read

 

Community and understanding thrive in this unusual Life Group

Newly married and living in a Rockford neighborhood, Brennan and Jade Hailey knew what they were looking for: Close-knit community. Accountability. A chance to learn and grow. A chance to extend the love of Jesus to others, and to work past our culture’s stereotypes about Christians.

But they were having trouble finding all that, especially with people their own age (late 20s). First Free’s Life Groups were fine and all, but what else might they try?

So they thought: We have friends who go to different churches. We have other friends who don’t consider themselves Christians. We know them all pretty well. What if we invited everyone to hang out at our house and talk about faith together?

So they started inviting people. This would mean foregoing a regular life group with church friends to do something that felt a little riskier. Brennan and Jade saw the decision not as sacrifice, but as opportunity cost.

To their surprise and delight, people said yes. Read More

Tea in the time of war

by Jim Killam | 3-minute read

 

In 2013, a colleague and I were sent to Jordan by ReachGlobal, the Free Church’s world mission agency, to find stories of God at work. The war in Syria was almost two years old and Jordan was overwhelmed with refugee families. The church there represents a tiny minority population, but it has led the way in extending the love of Jesus.

Pastor Nour Sahawneh greets Syrian women arriving at the Christian Mission Alliance Church in Mafraq, Jordan. 2013 photo: Jim Killam

As journalists, we found more stories than we could ever tell — in makeshift apartments, in refugee tents and in churches serving as relief stations. We interviewed families who had just crossed the border after nightmare journeys out of Syria. Some showed us cellphone video of their homes being burned. We saw desperation in parents’ eyes as they arrived at a church, kids in tow, UN refugee papers in hand. Letting people tell us their stories was a way to extend dignity. Read More

Coffee in the driveway

by Rob Ullrich | 4-minute read

 

“It’s hard to believe, but this used to be a nice place to live.” 

My dad’s car crawled past sagging houses, half hidden behind waist-high weeds. 

“There. That was our place. Over there, the Olsons and there, the Zimmermans.” He went on naming the whole block, narrating his old neighborhood legend. “See that addition on the house? We put that up in one day. Every guy on the block was there.” 

I didn’t think much of those stories at the time. But my neighborhood experiences have been very different. I definitely don’t know the whole block. We haven’t built anything together. In fact, I only know many of our neighbors as the lady with the dog or the guy with the sunflowers or the house with the oversized election signs. Others I’ve never seen.  Read More

First Free Rockford book spotlight recommendation header image

Book Spotlight: February 2020

Evangelism books never sell very well.

There are some good ones out there, usually written by extroverts with the spiritual gift of evangelism. They make the reader feel guilty. Inadequate. The gist is, “Here’s what I did, and here’s how many people came to Christ. Go and do likewise.”

I’ve read a few of these books. I even wrote one. Ghost-wrote it, actually, for a husband and wife who were better at neighborhood hospitality and evangelism than anyone I have ever known. People who read the book (I think there might have been eight) told me it convicted them, but they could never do what Norm and Becky did. God then used this incredible couple to build a neighborhood hospitality ministry in India. Thousands have come to faith. It’s a wonderful story.

The Simplest Way to Change the World by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements.

The Simplest Way to Change the World is written by two people who sound more like me: a guy who would sooner unclog a toilet than host a block party. Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements confront this immediately:

Half of all people identify as introverts, so if you are one, we realize you may be thinking, Yeah, but I really can’t practice — I don’t want to practice — hospitality because I’m an introvert. It would be too draining. Please do not read this book thinking the message is, Force yourself to be an extrovert because of the gospel! Please don’t let your personality type be a barrier to living out a God-ordained calling that is actually tailor-made to suit your personality type.

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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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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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