We spoke this week with Pastor Luke Uran about the new sermon series, and our annual Christmas Traditions event.
Can you tell me a little about the “Names of God” series? What have you been hearing from God to prompt a series like this for our church?
During my sabbatical, one of the things I was studying during personal retreat times was a book called Sanctuary in Time, by an EFCA pastor from Williams Bay, Wis., Chuck Cervenka. In the book he asks: “How well do you really know God and what God thinks of you?” And that is the main thing that led to the series. Many of us know some of the common names of God, and would be able to list some of those. But do I actually know the names of God? And do I know how, because of who he is, he is ministering to my life in that area? Or to the community of Christ in that area?
The first one, this past week, was Jehovah-Nissi or “the Lord is my banner.” What are those areas where we tend to lift up the wrong banner, so to speak, or rally to the wrong point? Or even the church today: What banner are we as followers of Jesus collectively returning to? What is our rallying point, our standard? Is it Jesus, or is it something else or someone else?
As I started studying some of these names more and more, I felt the Lord leading us to this sermon series.
Other than knowing what some of these names mean, what are some ways that we can use these names of God?
One of the ways, of course, is through prayer. Another comes when we look at the Old Testament in particular, because those are the names of God that are likely not as recognizable as what we would see in the New Testament. When we see that term Lord Almighty, we can understand the context behind it to mean that he is the all-sufficient one. And also there’s this underlying truth that he is also the Lord of the mountain—meaning that mountain we are facing in our life is not a mountain to him. He knows it’s a mountain to us and he cares about that. He is the one who is with us when we are going up that mountain and when we are coming down as well.
In our personal times of Bible study we come across these names—like we saw in Exodus 17 where Moses called this place The Lord is My Banner, or when we see that phrase Lord Almighty, or when we see “on the mount the Lord will provide” in Genesis chapter 22 with Abraham and Isaac.
So we are able to recognize: “Oh, the Lord will provide. That’s likely that the Hebrew author there is using Jehovah-Jireh.” And I know a little bit more substantial meaning behind that name rather than just what’s in our Bible translation that we have today. So hopefully it will give us a little more substance.
There’s a long, long list of names of God. How did you settle on the ones that you did?
I wanted to use some that people already knew, and also some that were a little less known. For instance, Jehovah Jireh is well-known—the Lord will provide. I wanted to start out with one that is a little lesser-known, Jehovah-Nissi—the Lord is my banner. As we read through that, it’s easy to skim over. But that has significant meaning, especially as it relates to our own walks with Jesus Christ and how Christ is the one who is lifted up and is drawing people to himself.
So some of the names are more well-known. Some are less-known. Some, honestly, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in my own life studying and I wanted to be able to do that as I was preparing these sermons.
What sort of impact would you love to see this series have on our church family?
I’d love it to create deeper intimacy with God. In the same way as I would have different names for my wife, those different names are based on experiences I have had with her, on connections and deeper intimacy I’ve had with her. For me, the same is true of the Bride of Christ in relationship to our Heavenly Father. So as I think of this, the more that I know of God, the deeper intimacy in my own personal life that I will have with him. And so my hope is, through this, people fall more in love with God and the work that he is doing in their lives.
You just finished the Revived series. It feels like we could revitalize a dry faith by using this list of God’s names as an ignition point.
Typically, when I’m starting out and scratching the surface, I want to go deeper in things. Hopefully this will be something that maybe spurs someone to do a names of God study on their own, or spurs someone to do a Life Group study on their own about the names of God.
OK, change of subject. Christmas Traditions is coming up faster than we think, Dec. 10. What kind of an opportunity is that for our church family?
Especially at such a pivotal time of year, I see it as an opportunity for us to be light in darkness. One of the reasons we put up white Christmas lights around the church property every year is that we believe Jesus is the light and he has come to pierce through the darkness. Christmas Traditions is an opportunity for us to point people toward the person and work of Jesus. When people come here, they’ll receive three different opportunities to respond to the gospel—the stage show, the live Nativity and their take-home passport books.
And so it’s really a way for us to love and serve our community. It’s an opportunity for us to share the good news of Jesus Christ . And it’s an opportunity to be a light in darkness. In our community and our state and our world, especially around Christmastime, we can think of no better way to do that. It’s doing something festive that shows the power of Jesus in community.
It’s no secret in any church that volunteer numbers are down. This is a very easy on-ramp, right?
Yeah. Some of us might be saying, I just don’t have the time right now to commit to serving four times a month or whatever. But I can mark Dec. 10 on my calendar and have my entire family there for a couple of hours serving and loving our community in this way.
Some people get a little intimidated with the idea—“Well I’m not a teacher. I don’t feel called or prepared to teach a lesson of any kind, whether it’s with kids or students or adults.” But they can show up and serve. They can love people through the way they work in the parking lot, or help greet people, or put a stamp on a passport book. Those are ways we can all tangibly show how excited we are that visitors and guests are here being loved and served in hearing the Good News.
There’s just so much pain and hurt in the world today. So if we have an opportunity to do something good, Paul’s letter to Titus commands us to be people who do good and bring about good in the communities we’re in. And this is an opportunity for us to do that.
What are some ways you would like our church to pray in advance of this event?
First and foremost, pray that the Holy Spirit would regenerate people’s hearts and minds, those who are going to be there that evening. Second, pray that seeds are sown. We certainly want to present the gospel clearly, so people have the opportunity to respond.
Third, pray for follow-up. We know that today, with the way culture is shifting, it’s not so much these grandiose altar calls of gospel presentations where you’re having people by the thousands coming and surrendering their lives to Christ, though of course that can happen. But more and more, it is gospel conversations, not gospel presentations. So pray for those who bring or invite people to come to be part of this event—that they would have the opportunity to follow up and have those gospel-centered conversations.
And then pray that people in our community feel loved by First Free Rockford. That this is something they get excited about, something that they’ll even say, “There’s something different about those people. There’s something different about that church that’s exciting and loving and encouraging.”
Find out more about Christmas Traditions, including volunteer opportunities.