Challenge Winners 2017-10-13T16:16:53+00:00

2017 Forgiveness Winners

Charity Sandstrom

Charity Sandstrom has served the past 11 years as pastor of the First Friends Church of Emporia, KS (EFC-MAYM). She loves walking through life with Richard, her husband of 19 years. Parenting a teen, a tween and a kindergartener fills every corner of their lives with excitement. Fueled by a love of Jesus, and lots of coffee, Charity lives each day to love those God brings across her path. “I want every person to know that God is closer than they think and loves them more than they could possibly imagine.”

What inspired you to write this winning sermon? 

Forgiveness is a key component of our faith and such an important pathway for moving forward in life. Without forgiveness lived out in our everyday existence, we get stuck. We all need forgiveness and we all need to practice forgiving others. Forgiveness brings freedom. I know what it is like both to hold a grudge against other people and to struggle forgiving myself, often for things that do not matter. Learning to forgive and receive forgiveness has set me free. I want others to know the same freedom through receiving God’s forgiveness, forgiving themselves, learning to apologize well and forgive others.

What helpful personal hints can you share for preparing a sermon?

Sermon-writing requires some basic commitments from each of us. Information from the Bible, life experience, and other sources forms the foundation. Application of the information in our lives shows us how to build on that foundation with practical steps. Motivation to build, to incorporate the application into our lives, or the “so what?” of the message makes the difference between information received and lives transformed by the message of the Gospel. God desires make all things new, building new lives on a solid foundation. If we fail to paint a compelling picture of that new life we cannot expect those who listen to embrace the truth we proclaim.

Brandon Penn

Brandon Penn is in a love relationship with the Lord and is passionate about serving God’s people. Completing undergraduate work in Religious Studies & Music at UC Santa Barbara and then a dual-Masters program at Fuller Theological Seminary, he is committed to preaching that embraces the character of faith amidst complex parts of life. Having endured life experiences of his own that invited pain and disequilibrium, Brandon has grown keenly aware of the freedom wrought in forgiveness. Even more, Brandon maintains a wholehearted commitment concerning the truth of Christ, and its transformative power to rescue us from darkness and lead us into the Marvelous Light.

Serving as Associate Pastor at Bethany Church in West Covina, CA, Brandon is 30 years of age and enjoys everyday with his wife of 8 years, along with their 2 daughters. As spiritual disciplines, Brandon is intentional about spending time with family, growing a garden, and exploring the beauty of God’s earth and universe.

Response to Questions:

The intersection of faith and science marks a place that begs my curiosity, and incites my sense of wonder for a God who is deeply involved & concerned for such a place. Out of this comes my suggestion to others preparing sermons: Ask more questions along the way, because the Spirit of truth is faithful to guide you into full and complete truth. (John 16:13)


Rev. William (Bill) Dohle

Rev. William (Bill) Dohle serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois. He graduated from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota with a Master of Divinity degree. Bill has been in ministry as a pastor for seventeen years, serving congregations in Southern California, Colorado, Montana, and now Illinois. He is a published author and playwright, writing devotions for The Word in Season and plays through Contemporary Drama Service. He is the husband of a preschool teacher and the father of two high schoolers, a middle schooler, and a preschooler. When Bill is not chasing after his children, he enjoys reading science fiction, writing plays and fiction, and camping, especially in the mountains. 

What inspired you to write this winning sermon?

Recently the cry for revenge and retribution has been overwhelming. More and more, people are finding forgiveness an impossible goal. With riots breaking out in St. Louis and marches and counter-marches springing up around the country, we need ask ourselves what is our goal. If our goal is peace, we cannot follow our instincts and seek retribution. We must work for reconciliation through forgiveness. I was surprised to find how science affirms what we have always said as people of faith. Retribution does nothing but make people worse. We must learn to forgive.

What helpful personal hints can you share for preparing a sermon?

Don’t talk over their heads. Don’t assume they have as much interest or knowledge of the subject or text as you do. Don’t assume they all have a college education and can understand every word you say. They don’t care about Greek nor do they care what it meant to people long ago. They care about now. Explain things basically. Think of how Jesus taught the crowds. He used parables and stories to teach them about the kingdom of God. Dive into those stories in a way that invites others into it as well. And laugh! Find the divine humor in the text if there is some. People remember what they can laugh about.

Do speak clearly the good news of God and repeat your message over and over again. There’s a reason in school the basic subjects repeat the basics every single year. People forget. Throw out your three-point sermon outline and focus on the ONE point you want everyone to get as they leave. What ONE thing do you want them to understand? Now repeat one thing over and over again in new and exciting ways so that by the end your people can give your sermon for you.

2017 Purpose and Cosmos Winners

The Rev. James P. Haney V

Jim is a 4th generation Episcopal Priest, a medical school dropout, and a former high school science teacher. He attended seminary at Seabury-Western in Evanston, Illinois. He has been ordained for 22 years serving in Kansas and Northwest Texas, and since 2008 he has been rector of St. Paul’s on the Plains Episcopal Church, the closest Episcopal church to his undergraduate alma mater, Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In July 2017, he assumed additional ministerial responsibilities as the chaplain to the Episcopal campus ministry at Texas Tech. Jim has been married to his high school sweetheart, Renee, for 32 years, and has two college age children. Between 2005 and 2013, the Haney family somehow managed to visit all 50 states: 48 by land, 1 by air, and 1 by sea. In addition to travel, Jim enjoys computers, cooking, movies, music, and quality time with his family and their mini-pack of 3 rescue beagles.

Adam Jones

Adam Jones hails from Washington state and is a Presbyterian Minister who received his M.Div. form Fuller Theological Seminary in 2013. He spent three years as a Hospice Chaplain before working with the Presbytery in church assessment and consultation. He has lived in LA for 8 years and is also an actor and dance instructor. He currently lives in Highland Park with his beautiful wife Jenny. 

Reed Metcalf

Reed Metcalf is Assistant Pastor of Teaching at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA, where he is being ordained in the Free Methodist Church USA. A PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary, his research focuses on the New Testament and the intersection of the Christian faith and science. He resides in Garden Grove, CA with his wife Monica and son Finn.

Rev. Dr. Stuart Merkel

Rev. Dr. Stuart Merkel (“Pastor Stu”) has been serving Faith Community Church since April 2009.  He studied at Fuller Theological Seminary earning a Masters of Divinity (1987) and Doctorate of Ministry (2009).  His doctoral study focused on spiritual disciplines and practical church growth and development. He has served Congregational churches of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches for over 30 years in four states including Wisconsin, Connecticut, Illinois and California. In 2009 he started the regional ministry of ALPHA USA in Wisconsin. He served on the Gurnee, Illinois  District 56 School Board for 10 years and as the Gurnee Police Chaplain.  He is also a High School and adult baseball official for fun!  Pastor Stu, and his wife Lynn, make their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and have two boys and a daughter-in-law.

2015 – Gratitude Winner

2015 Gratitude Sermon Winner – Alex Wright

Alex is a child of God, husband, father, and adventurer (in that order). He lives in Davis, California, where he has made his home since 1990. He studied Biological Sciences and Psychology at the University of California at Davis and received his Masters in Theology from Fuller Seminary. He loves spending time with his family, reading, running, cycling, kayaking, climbing mountains, cooking, baking bread, working with computers, photography, working on his car, building things, working with wood, tinkering, drawing, and doing random science experiments with his kids. He is married to Erica, who makes her living as a Marriage and Family Therapist and runs her own private practice in Davis. Prior to meeting each other, Alex and Erica both served independently as mountain guides and youth ministers. Alex and Erica have two daughters, Karis (5) and Sophie (3), who seem to be every bit as adventurous as their parents. The girls love kayaking and mountain climbing themselves and will do anything to get out of the house.