All posts in “Acts”

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?

Read More

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.


Digital sketch in ProCreate using an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

So you identify the stories or scenes you want to highlight. What then?

For this type of video, I start with pencil sketches. Not literally — I’m actually drawing digitally on my iPad using an app called Procreate. That allows me to move really quickly with the illustrations. Then I take them into Adobe Illustrator on my laptop where I turn them into vector drawings. That’s the format the animator will need.


So you are basically taking a pencil sketch and digitally animating it without having to draw every single frame of the animation, right? How many illustrations did you give to the animator?

Seven or eight.


The animation process sounds Hollywoodish, but artists here in Rockford are doing this kind of thing. What happens?

I just give him the illustrations and my notes. I trust Dustin Bankord, the animator I have worked with for a couple of years. As long as I can give him the stuff in the way he needs it, I can leave some things open for him because I trust he will make really good decisions. And for this one, he went above and beyond my expectations.


We are talking about a process that a generation or two ago would have taken months. That’s amazing.

I started the pencil sketches on a Wednesday afternoon, and the final video was done by Saturday morning. It had to be. There were some things holding up our timeline that month.


Two stages of vector drawing: outlining (right) and coloring (left).

You mentioned The Bible Project. How did their work influence you on this video in particular?

I love what The Bible Project is doing, and it’s not just because it’s about the Bible. They are pulling some of the most talented illustrators and animators in the world to work for that organization. I appreciate that the work stands alone, whether in church culture or outside it. I’m attracted to their ability to pull stories together in a memorable and accessible way.


At the level of a local church, what motivates you to take the work to a different level like that?

My dad was an art educator and a printmaker and he’s a very talented illustrator. In the last several years he’s been doing some incredible painting. Being raised in my family with the type of vocation that he had, instilled that in me. And then I have my mom, who is a ballet dancer and ballet teacher and ran her own school for a while. So I grew up in an arts family.

And then that is all in the context of wanting to honor the Lord. If we have a certain skill or talent, we are going to take the time to learn how to do it the best that we can, whatever that craft or skill is. 


There is a portion of the Acts video, near the end, that I know you guys put a lot of thought into. Maybe not everyone has noticed it. What should we watch for and what does it mean?

That last scene starts with Paul looking out on Rome. And then it flips upside down, and you see Paul in chains, sitting at a table, and there is the ascended Christ on his throne. The idea was to quickly make an inference to the upside-down kingdom. Pastors Luke and Josh have used that phrase a lot. So it was kind of neat to do something that would visually represent that idea.


That’s quite a deep thought packed into about four seconds.

What we are seeing take place in this world is not what is taking place in the heavenly kingdom. These two are at work simultaneously. So here is Paul in chains. And in everyone’s eyes, they think this is a loss. Paul is under house arrest and not able to travel any more. The story’s over. The movement is done. But actually that’s how God works in the world. Paul is identifying with Jesus being arrested and then on the cross, and that changed everything. If we are just looking with earthly eyes at our circumstances, we’re going to miss what is actually taking place in the spiritual realm.


Any communications director is in a bit of an assembly line environment, too. How do you balance the need to produce multiple and varied projects versus spending the time and thought you would like to on every single one of them?

I don’t think I figured it out yet (laughs). I’m always having to make decisions to not go a certain direction or take something to a certain level because you just don’t have the time. I’ve always appreciated when my canvas is well defined. People sometimes think of creativity as this open-ended expanse with unending possibilities. Actually, we do better work if we can define the limits of the canvas more clearly.

And then you think about resources. I have a certain amount of time and there’s a specific goal in mind. Creativity means taking those limited resources and coming up with the best possible solution with what you have. I actually find that more fun. I get overwhelmed when there are too many possibilities. That’s also why I like collaborating with people. For me, it helps narrow down where we want to go.



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.

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.

Read More

First Free Rockford book spotlight recommendation header image

Book Spotlight: November 2019

The weather’s cold now. Darkness falls before dinner. No one’s too happy about that, but it does leave more time in the evenings to settle in with a good book. Here are recommendations from some of our church leaders. All of these books are available in The Scroll Resource Center.


The Spirit-Filled Life

Beloved pastor and author Charles F. Stanley turns his attention to the power, joy and meaning brought by the Holy Spirit. He also answers tough questions: who the Spirit is (and isn’t), how being filled with the Spirit works, and what the Bible teaches about spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues.

From Chapter One: “For too many believers the Christian life boils down to simply doing the best they can. There is no power or distinction that sets them apart from the way everyone else in the world exists. The good they do can be attributed to their own discipline, determination, and devotion to God, rather than His activity in their lives. … The real tragedy is that we have lost our ability to function in our society the way God originally intended.”Stanley then unpacks what the Spirit-filled life looks like, how to have it … and why so many Christians don’t.

This book is recommended as a complement to our current sermon series on the book of Acts.

Pastor Luke Uran says:

Read More

And then the whole world changed

In Sunday’s sermon, Pastor Josh referenced YouTube videos where people who are colorblind try on EnChroma glasses and see full color for the first time. A wonderful illustration, but I sat there thinking, Why doesn’t he just show the video?

Now that I’ve watched a couple of these, I understand why not. Josh would have reduced our congregation to a quivering, sobbing mass.

Here’s one of the videos, under the heading, “Try Not to Cry Challenge.” I held it together until the 8:50 mark, when a dad puts the glasses on his colorblind son. And all I could think about was: Imagine the day when God shows us the world as it was meant to be.

I like to think I’ll do the same thing the boy in the video does.



Acts series: The church then … and now

Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke UranA new sermon series, focusing on the book of Acts, starts Sunday, Oct. 6. We spoke with Lead Pastor Luke Uran about this series, which will run through January 2020.


Why Acts? Why now?

As I was praying through the preaching calendar for the upcoming year, one of the books that kept coming to mind was Acts — the work that the Holy Spirit does through the early church, and the way that the church back then was truly a movement. It was growing and healthy and full of life. That’s not to say the church can’t be like that today. But I also look at the early church and think it looks very different than it does today.


Do you think today’s American church typically misses something in this book?

We tend to think, “That was the church then. Those kinds of things aren’t for the church now.” And yet the same Spirit that indwelled the church then indwells us now. The disciples preached, taught, healed and showed the love of God in schools, homes, marketplaces, roads, courtrooms, streets, hills and even on ships. Wherever God sent them, lives were changed. Now it’s our turn.

Read More