by Jim Killam | 6-minute read
As a tumultuous year draws to a close, we spoke with Lead Pastor Luke Uran about spiritual lessons he will remember from 2020, and looking ahead to a new sermon series to start 2021.
Is there a theme or two from the It’s a Wonderful Life series that has especially stayed with you?
The first and obvious one would be that this wonderful life we have is because of Christ. We make that choice to put to death the old self and put on the new in Christ Jesus, as Paul tells us in Colossians 3. Even with the circumstances of 2020 and everything that’s come with it, we have a choice. We don’t have to wake up every day and feel beaten down. We have a choice to truly live this wonderful life in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of all that is taking place around us.
The second thing is, what is my view of praise? Am I viewing it from a bottom-up approach, through the lens of what is happening around me? Or am I looking at it from a top-down approach and saying, “God, despite what is happening around me, you are worthy to be praised. You are in full control. Despite the circumstances, despite the fact that people in our family are struggling, God, you are in control and you are worthy to be praised.”
It’s kind of taking a step back to realize there is a much bigger picture, right?
At least for me, there are times when I am completely blinded to that. Whether it’s the tyranny of the urgent, or problems that turn into emergencies. Several times throughout 2020 I felt like I was more playing whack-a-mole than I was being intentional and purposeful. So it’s taking that step back to be intentional and purposeful about my view of praise, and how I am going about doing that. So yes, lessons learned.
You mentioned in your Christmas letter to the congregation that God went before us this year. Can you think of a time or two when that was most clear to you?
It was those moments when we gathered in prayer together. Our prayer on the lawn, going back to June. Those were powerful times of worship in prayer, and it was actually the beginning of us meeting again. I believe that was the catalyst for worshiping the remainder of the summer out at Summerwood, being able to gather together when a lot of churches weren’t meeting.
And then the Payroll Protection Program loan. That was one where the Lord definitely went before us as a church, and as an Executive Elder Board, to vote to give it all back.
How much money was it?
It was $311,082.70. Almost a tenth of our annual budget, which is about $3.5 million. At the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We wanted to make sure that our staff members were taken care of. So we decided as an elder board to take part in this Payroll Protection Program. We did receive the money and we qualified and met all the criteria for being able to keep it. And yet, as we looked at the way in which the Lord continued to faithfully provide through the giving of the church, we just saw that the Lord, in a way that only he can do, provided above and beyond what we had actually spent.
That was quite a step of trust to give the money back.
According to the world’s standards, it would have been very easy to keep it. I think there would have been a temptation to try to justify keeping it. And yet here we are, practicing what we preach and wanting to walk in faith and say, “God, we could hold onto this money, not knowing what next year is going to look like. But we are going to trust you, that you are going to provide for us this next fiscal year the same way that you provided in the midst of a pandemic and shutdowns this fiscal year.”
It was just one of those miraculous moments, as a pastor, to be able to witness.
Do you have some points of optimism looking into 2021?
First and foremost, I am very excited about the series that we’re going to be kicking off the year with, as we go through Ephesians. I think that’s going to set our direction in a lot of ways for the year. Paul is writing encouragement to the church to continue to be the church. But he’s also telling the church how to conduct themselves. And these mysteries that are revealed in Jesus Christ—we ought to have a proper understanding of them, but then also properly apply them.
Another point of optimism is the new set of opportunities that continue to present themselves. Obviously, none of us want to be in the midst of a pandemic anymore. But I also believe that people need the hope of Jesus Christ now just as much as they did yesterday, 10 years ago, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. People need a relationship with their Heavenly Father.
That could mean putting into practice what we studied this year, like The Simplest Way to Change the World, and putting into practice what we studied through the book of Acts, about actually going out and being the hands and feet of Jesus and looking at how the church, this movement, began. Putting those things into practice and continuing to do so, there’s opportunity all around us. It’s just a matter of us being passionate enough in our relationship with Jesus Christ that we are willing to take risks at times, to go and tell and show the love that God has for the city of Rockford and ultimately the world.
So yes, I’m optimistic about this year. And that’s not just me saying that because I’m a pastor. It’s going to be exhausting, just like 2020 was. But I ultimately know that the Lord will give strength. He will give us continued boldness, courage and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to continue with the mission he’s given to the church.
Do you sense God saying something about the state of his church, and in particular First Free right now?
I’ve asked, “Lord what are you doing in the midst of this? Are you preparing the church universally to have more of a movement mentality, where we are finally understanding the importance of the church not being a building? The church gathering in life groups, adult communities, whatever it may be, gathering in smaller groups and then taking the good news of Jesus Christ with them as they go about living their lives?” Obviously, that would apply to us at First Free.
I also think the state of the church now is that we are continuing to have to acknowledge that we are in a battle. There are forces of evil against the church. As a church, this is where we need to remember to pray through that armor of God daily as we begin our days, and pray that the Lord will give us strength through the Holy Spirit. It’s been one of those years where people are starting to have to acknowledge that yes, there are principalities and dominions of darkness in this world that are at war against the church. We need to continue to move forward on the offensive, not taking a defensive stance and cowering in a corner.
One last thing: The Urans have a new family member. How’s it going so far?
We got a golden retriever puppy on Dec. 11. His name is Thor. We love him to death. He’s a cute little guy, but he is very much a puppy. I grew up in a family with dogs, and we always had two dogs in the house at a time. Jessi didn’t grow up with dogs at all. And we had adopted Ranger (their previous golden retriever) from you, so Jessi never went through the puppy stage, ever. We are all rediscovering the puppy stage, and that it is equivalent to having a newborn baby in the house. Instead of changing diapers you are using Resolve on rugs.