All posts in “Community”

Women’s Retreat: A Closer look

First Free Rockford’s Women’s Retreat, “Closer,” starts Friday evening, Oct. 25, and ends at noon Sunday, Oct. 27. The site is Fox Valley Christian Action’s Riverwoods Family Campus near St. Charles. Register here. Registration deadline is this Sunday, Oct. 13.

We spoke with retreat coordinator Brandy Pardee.

 

What has your own spiritual journey looked like over the past few years?

I got to a point where I had been doing all the things that were recommended for a Christian to follow Jesus. Good things. Serving regularly, attending church regularly, doing a Bible study. Heck, I had my Bible degree. I married a pastor. All those things. But at the end of the day, I didn’t see lasting and real transformation.

Over a period of time … I finally just said, I’m still angry. I’m still prideful. I still go on this cycle all the time, trying to repent or do better. I get caught up in my own pride and performance and ego. There has to be a different way. If I’m supposed to do all these things, and this is how they make me feel, I don’t really want to do them.

Brandy Pardee and her family.

I also saw a disconnect among Christians. What we were supposed to act like — deeply caring for and loving one another and actually walking it out — wasn’t happening. We’d go to church and I’d come home angry and sad. I felt worse, and more shallow and unseen.

So after my oldest son, Teigen, was born, and I was changing diapers and tired all the time, I just said, God, if you are really alive and active and if you are who you say you are, you either need to show yourself or I’m ready to peace out. This isn’t worth it anymore.

 

So what happened?

A big, defining verse for me then was in Luke Chapter 1, where it says of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Ultimately I just started to filter everything through a new lens: If he really is this, then I either choose to live this way and believe it, or not. So we just continued to press into living what we felt like were the ways of Jesus. That led me to become part of a spiritual formation community. I went on four retreats over the course of a year. Ultimately the Lord showed himself. He is alive and active, and he began to take me to those deeper places to breathe life and security in me for just being loved. I realized I don’t have to serve or do another thing for the rest of my life in order for God to love me.

 

What were those retreats like?

Ladies from First Free recently gathered to pray for the women’s retreat and practice some spiritual disciplines together.

Authentic, transparent community and mentors. We could go deep and talk about what was really going on. The retreats were about new or deeper ways of looking at who God is and what it looks like to walk that out with the Spirit. And then embracing so much more of a contemplative posture: solitude, silence, stillness.

Some of it was just practice and encouragement from people to just sit and linger. I’d pray something like, I’m just going to sit here and I’m asking you to make me more aware of your love. And maybe that was my prayer for a whole week. Over time my eyes started to adjust. I could see it. He was just moving all of that great, true, biblical head stuff into my heart.

 

What’s your hope for this upcoming Women’s Retreat?

We want it to be a time where women can come and encounter the Lord, encounter others and just have space for the weekend to be exactly what they want or need it to be. Maybe it is just a great, soaking time through worship and being in the Word.

It’s so great to get away from normal routines, habits, pressures, expectations … what we know as familiar. That might feel a little uncomfortable or even a little shaky or risky, but I think it helps open us up to being aware of things that we’re not normally aware of — like the Lord’s voice or presence.

 

What might be transformational about the weekend?

Knowing that I am not only fully known, but also fully accepted and loved. If I were just fully known, that would feel really risky and produce shame or guilt or fear. But the fact that I am fully accepted, while being fully known, grounds me in that deep place of being rooted and grounded in his love.

It’s about embracing both of those and opening yourself to God’s truth and his presence. That’s very different than just trying to attain Bible knowledge or perform as a Christian. It has allowed me to be real with my shortcomings – my ego, my pride, all of those things that I am not proud of. But it’s also allowing me to come into his gentle tenderness where he meets me and ultimately says, I love you so much right now, where you are, but I’m not going to leave you right there. We’re going to keep walking that out.

 

•••

Register for the retreat here. If cost is prohibitive, scholarships are available!

Floral illustrations by Emily Anderson, 2019.

 

Fall forests: A few places to lose yourself

A few lesser-known places in and around Rockford where you can take a quiet walk in the woods this fall:

Atwood Park

Atwood is 334 acres of forest, marsh and prairie along the Kishwaukee River near New Milford, with hiking and biking trails. The trail system eventually will grow to about 20 miles on both sides of the river. Atwood Park is also the site of the former Camp Grant artillery range.
Brian Wahl says: 
“Atwood park holds a very special place in my heart. It’s a true hidden gem in the area. I’ve been hiking out there since I was in high school, and now I take my kids there. Not only are there great hiking trails and different ecosystems to explore, but there’s also great history there with the remnants of Camp Grant, and the CCC and of course the unique Birds of Prey exhibit. If you time your visit right, you may even be lucky enough to catch a feeding.”

Severson Dells

Severson Dells Nature Center on Montague Road offers a 2.5-mile, self-guided nature trail. The 369-acre forest preserve provides habitat to more than 180 species of native and migrating birds. You can even register for a free, naturalist-guided Fall Color Walk on Oct. 24.
Jessica McDonald says:
“Severson Dells is a gift. A pocket of quiet, an oasis of calm. In a day where we live with so many dings, beeps and whistles, it’s hard to come by a place, even outside, where one can hear the birds or the rustle of leaves. Severson Dells offers that to me. The Lord’s creation speaks to me deeply and to have a place to steal away and to be able to focus my thoughts, prayers and senses deeply refreshes my whole being. Bill Watterson conveys this so perfectly through his good-natured and thoughtful character Hobbes, when he says to Calvin, “Every minute outside and awake, is a good minute.”

Nygren Wetlands

The Carl and Myrna Nyrgren Nygren Wetland Preserve, just west of Rockton, is a 721-acre floodplain near the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers. The amount of wildlife here is astounding, especially during spring and fall bird migrations. Hiking the 2.5-mile main trail you might see bald eagles, sandhill cranes, egrets, white pelicans, bluebirds, otters, beavers, muskrats, turtles, deer, foxes and minks.
Dave Hugdahl says:
“Nygren Wetlands is a great place to experience God’s wonderful world. In addition to the wildlife, there are beautiful fields of natural prairie grass and wildflowers. There are times when I have been there and not experienced much wildlife, but there is something about being surrounded by God’s glorious creation that settles the soul and draws you closer to him.”

Piscasaw Fen

Illinois once had 22 million acres of prairie full of tall grass and wildflowers. Today there’s barely any … but habitat restoration projects are happening around the state. If you want to see one up close, visit the Piscasaw Fen Conservation area east of Poplar Grove off Edson Road. Non-native plants are being systematically removed and hiking trails have been cut through the 177 acres of prairie, wetlands and oak savanna. Note: The area closes for hunting several weekends in late October and November, so check before you go.
Jim Killam says:
“My parents’ farm is adjacent to the Piscasaw Fen, so I grew up exploring this area when it was cow pasture. Today it’s a walk back in time to when most of Illinois was prairies, forests, wetlands and oak savannas. You’ll find quiet solitude here and be immersed in the restoration of creation.”

Reuben Aldeen Park

Hidden in plain sight at 623 North Alpine Road, the park offers 88 acres of maple and oak woodland, prairie and creek, right in the middle of town. An extensive system of trails — some paved — winds through 40 of those acres. Be careful of flooding, especially after this fall’s rains.
Tricia Magers says:
“Almost every day I get the opportunity to hike the trails from Spectrum School to Aldeen Park with my preschool class. When I am in the woods with my littles, I am given the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Where others see a dead log, they find life.  Where others see sadness in a fallen tree, they find joy in a new place to climb. On my worst days, my heart becomes full as they show me the way the water flows under the frozen creek, or point out the way the vines grow to create a hiding place, or when they notice the flattened prairie grass where the deer have recently been sleeping. It is an incredible thing that I get the opportunity to spend my days in the park with little people who always have joy for life from the juiciest worm, the slimiest slug or the puffiest mushroom.”
More:

Walk in the woods

By Jessi Uran

I rummage through an old backpack in the trunk of my car. What a mess back here. Camping blankets, a few bins to take to Goodwill. Ah, there it is. I grab my fleece that was resting on a piece of “art” I purchased weeks ago at Home Goods. The red clearance sticker is still stuck in the upper right-hand corner, half peeled from when I impatiently tried to scratch it off. The quote that enticed me, centered over an image of faded trees, reads:

“Into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

That’s John Muir. Naturalist and conservationist. Father of our national parks. A life devoted, as one biographer put it, to “saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism.”

All a little easier said than done, John, I whisper, shoving the Home Goods bag to the side. Home Goods. A store designed to keep my attention anywhere but on the woods.

I check my wallet for some extra change. Enough for a cup of coffee later. I didn’t dare make coffee at home. The plaster walls of our “house with charm” would send the caustic whirr of grinding beans through every wooden floorboard and wake my sleeping family. It’s not that I don’t want to see or talk to them yet, I told myself. But it’s also just that I don’t want to see or talk to them yet.

I shut the trunk and fill the tank. The early hour is quiet and still but already my mind and heart are loud and harried. Any onlooker would see a middle-aged woman pumping gas. But inside? Inside is a mind marathon of Olympic proportions. Pathways and synapses have been engrained to quickfire as soon as my feet hit the floor. Such well-worn paths. Circuits paved by unbridled worry and the weighty responsibilities of all the things I feel I must DO.

Set up calendar meeting … review budget deadline … print recipe … make grocery list … set up oil change … cancel subscription … catch up on podcast … RSVP to invite … email back … text back … call back … catch up on study … look up weather.

Sixties and overcast. Good. Hiking in the heat is a discipline all its own. This morning is a welcome respite to the humid tem-

The gas pump handle pops. Tank’s full. I finish, turn the key and drive. The radio is on, but I don’t really hear it. I’m listening to something else, a station I never remember tuning to and that most days I forget to shut off. It continually emits frequencies like: thaw the chicken … dust the fans … order the checkbooks … prepare the lesson … bleach the toilet.

Into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

• • • 

Twenty-five minutes later, I park … and marvel that I’ve arrived at yet another location where I don’t remember the process of getting there. While I gather my keys, I argue with myself about whether to make a veggie tray for a staff function or buy one. Which commodity is more important, time or money?

Then I open the car door.

A strong, fall breeze whips strands of hair across my face. I inhale the aroma of dirt and decaying leaves. I am snapped out of my veggie platter trance. The scent of the woods acts as a smelling salt to my psyche.

I breathe again, eyes closed. Another strong gust of wind. I zip up my fleece and the burr oaks overhead clap their leaves in rippled waves. The bending trees beckon me to the trail covered in moss and acorns and scattered leaves. I smile.

Into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

• • •

The birds are wide awake this morning. They call to one another and share languages I do not know. I pick up a leaf. Veiny and battered. I think of my high school biology teacher.

Mr. Beckman always struck me as an odd sort of man, with a belly round and taut against the same style button-up oxford shirt he wore every day. Teaching at a private school was no lucrative job to be sure. And while he was constantly writing up students and sending them to after-school detention, he did possess a certain charm. He loved what he taught. And he tried to love us best by teaching us to be fellow learners.

“I’m not going to spoon feed you this information for the test,” he’d always say. “You’re going to need to glean it yourselves. Nowadays everything is spoon fed to kids. Far be it from me to do the same.”

I never took him too seriously back then. But now—36 on a fall morning and remembering things from 10th grade biology class—well, he wasn’t so odd at after all.

I walk beneath a canopy of trees and remember my old notebook, littered with countless drawings and diagrams Mr. Beckman would have us make. I see the maple leaf and remember its food-making process. How most everything the tree needs for food is made in the cells of a leaf, all of which contain chlorophyll that gives them their green pigment. My mind retrieves more old files: factors like daylight, temperature and water tell the tree winter is coming, so its leaves know to conserve their energy and stop making food. This ceasing production of chlorophyll starts showcasing other pigments within the leaf. I even recall the “leaf scar,” where each stem seals itself off from the tree and allows the leaf to drop rather than require any further nutrients.

A fellow hiker approaches. I can see from a distance that he is older. Binoculars swing from his neck and he uses a walking stick. His pace slows as he approaches, so I slow mine. We smile, say hello and exchange ritualistic pleasantries about the cooling weather. He remarks what a “fine morning we’ve been given” and tells me to look out on the trail ahead. “Lots of mud from all the rains,” he says.

All the rains. I think on this as we part.

• • •

Last week, Ellen told me about the specific types of trees here at Severson Dells. She is a strong-hearted woman, with kind eyes and silvery gray-and-white hair, most often tucked under a bandana. Ellen was the director for my daughter’s nature camp this summer. She does not know this, but because she encouraged my daughter’s imagination, taught her about plants and bugs and sent her home to me with dirt under her fingernails and waterlogged creek shoes, I harbor great love for her.

I asked her what kinds of color we would get this autumn. She wasn’t sure. She’s seen a lot of leaves simply dropping already, or turned brown. She said it had to do with the amount of stress they’ve been under this year.

Stress?

Indeed. Over the past year they’ve experienced great extremes–times of intense, dry heat and times of heavy rain that has left them waterlogged. She spoke of last year’s polar vortex and how no blanket of snow for insulation meant the roots took the brunt of the elements.

I look at the trees above me now. I see golds and reds, but also lots of browns. Dead leaves are scattered on the ground everywhere.

So often I have come here in fall, expecting golds and coppers and rubies to be thrown at my feet, a fiery splendor all for my own visual entertainment. But Ellen tells me of a barren beauty that I did not expect. The trees know they have neither the energy nor the luxury of time to end food production slowly. They know what needs to happen in order to preserve and protect. They must let go. And in so doing, they do not apologize for their barrenness or their scars.

• • • 

Into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

I’ve walked the trails now for near an hour?

It is hard to say.

Time moves differently here.

I tread steadily past

Shagbark hickory, hackberry and black cherry

White oak, burr oak

Black walnut.

Lost in the poetry of their names,

I revel in their company.

I owe them nothing

other than that I am simply here.

To BE.

• • •

In this restful, breathing state, I find myself back at the car. Every hike seems to end too soon.

I hold my coffee now and sit near the espresso machine. The shop door opens often. Friends exchange hellos. A man pours over a newspaper. The drink is warm in my hand and tastes like flowers and chocolate when I sip it slowly. Why have I never noticed this before? My comings and goings here are so rushed between pick-ups, drop-offs or scheduled meetings. What else have I been missing?

I watch people come and go and feel the pull back to my own world. I cannot live in the woods like John Muir any more than I can live in coffee shops like Hemingway. But this pull is not unwelcome. I’m returning as someone different than when I set out.

My family greets me in the driveway with hugs and tales of their daddy/daughter pancake date. My leaving now and then is just as good for them as it is for me.

Before heading inside, I pop the trunk and grab the picture frame.

After a little dish soap and patience, the clearance sticker is gone.

I hang Muir’s words next to our bathroom sink.

 

I understand them a little better now.

• • •

Photos by Jim Killam


Want to take a special hike or two this fall? We have recommendations.

 

 

Life, community and … vegetables?

For Philip and Kelli Anderson, the mission field has never felt more real. A decade ago, they returned from missionary work in Africa to start Anderson Organics on Philip’s parents’ farm. It hasn’t turned out exactly as they envisioned; a 2010 tornado made sure of that, destroying the barn they had envisioned as a church. But God has still used what seemed at first like a crazy idea to build community and make disciples. To Philip and Kelli, the agricultural setting feels like it leaped off the pages of Scripture.

We visited the Andersons’ farm near Loves Park to talk about ministry, community and calling. As we recorded the interview, we all realized this was a holy moment. Watch the videos and you’ll see why. 


Anderson Organics received a Jeremiah Fund grant from First Free Rockford. Wait until you see what they bought with the money, and what an encouragement the grant was to Philip and Kelli.


What should you do when you have an outside-the-box idea for ministry? Philip and Kelli Anderson offer wise words based on their own experience.

Prayer for the new school year

A community prayer of dedication and blessing

During worship at First Free Rockford’s Chapel venue recently, several schoolteachers led the congregation in this liturgical prayer. Feel free to share it, use it and adapt it.

 

Chapel Service at First Free Rockford

A time of Prayer and Musical Worship in the Chapel Venue.

Reader 1:

Eternal God, as this new academic year begins, bless our schools, home schools, colleges, universities and trade schools. Let them be centers for sound learning, new discovery and the pursuit of your wisdom.

Reader 2:

For all who are beginning or renewing the wonder of learning and teaching — let our schools be places of love and wisdom, sound learning and new discovery, anchored in your truth.

Reader 3:

Jesus, you are our great teacher and example. Please give our teachers your dedication, insight, creativity, patience, peace and joy. Let their lives, and their students’ lives, be enriched and enhanced by learning.

Congregation:

Guide us, Lord, by your truth.

Reader 4:

We pray, Lord, for our students, teachers and administrators in an unsteady and confusing world.

Reader 1:

In our divided nation and culture, let them be peacemakers.

Reader 2:

In a world filled with and motivated by fear, give them your courage.

Reader 3:

In a world filled with lies and confusion, guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Grant them discernment to recognize truth and to recognize that you are the source of all truth.

Reader 4:

Father, we plead with you for an end to violence in our schools and our communities, and for relief from the fear of being harmed. Keep evil far from our students, teachers and administrators. Help them to trust you as their refuge and strength. Give them your peace that goes beyond all understanding.

Congregation:

Guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Reader 1:

For those young ones who are on a destructive path, Father, please turn them toward you. Let education steer them to hope and faith in you. Give our teachers special wisdom in helping them.

Reader 2:

For students whose home life is broken or dangerous, let school be a place of refuge. Give us compassion and generous hearts. Prompt us in specific ways we can help.

Reader 3:

For those students who are on your right path, Father, let them be lights for you. Give them perseverance and joy, curiosity and a contagious hunger for learning.

Congregation:

Lead us, Lord, by your love.

Reader 4:

Father, for our school administrators: Give them godly wisdom and leadership. Help them to work for the common good of all students and teachers in school policies, contract negotiations and public policy.

Reader 1:

Strengthen us, Father, as we begin this new school year. Comfort us when we are unsure of our new surroundings. Strengthen us when we stumble. Help us to remember that your light shines in all places.

Congregation:

Father God, help us to support those who teach, lead and coach our students. Give us thankful hearts and prayerful spirits.

Reader 2:

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus.

All:

Amen

 

Sharing burdens: a countercultural mission

Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

That flies in the face of our culture’s obsession with self-reliance … which ultimately is about pride. True Life in Community looks different.

John Piper interprets the Galatians verse this way:

Here is a vocation that will bring you more satisfaction than if you became a millionaire ten times over: Develop the extraordinary skill for detecting the burdens of others and devote yourself daily to making them lighter.”

Need an example? Consider what happens every day at Rockford Rescue Mission. Their mission statement: Rockford Rescue Mission shares hope and help in Jesus’ name to move people from homelessness and despair toward personal and spiritual wholeness.

Sounds a lot like Galatians 6:2, doesn’t it? The “homelessness” aspect is Rescue Mission-specific, of course. But aside from that, could this serve as a mission statement for any Christian who wants to “obey the law of Christ”?

We spoke recently with Joy Wilson, lead coordinator for the Mission’s Women’s Life Recovery Program. In the video above, Joy talks about her own hard path, and how God uses community to work in the lives of hurting people. Meaning, all of us. 

Faith, work and lunch

How do faith and work converge for Life in Community? A group of local business leaders meets monthly for lunch, networking and exploring that question together. Here’s their story:

Friends, Life Groups and community

What does Life in Community look like? Chad and Megan Clauson’s Life Group started when most of them were part of First Free’s young adults ministry, Rooted. Now that members’ lives have taken different paths, the group still sticks close.

 

First Free Rockford book spotlight recommendation header image

Book Spotlight, September 2019

Here are two book recommendations from Pastor Luke Uran related to First Free Rockford’s current sermon series:

 

Life in Community by Dustin Willis

Our current sermon series plays off this book. We are recommending it for Life Groups and for anyone who wants to dig further into the question of what community looks like for 21st century Christians. The chapters are simple and relatable. Willis includes practical suggestions on how to put principles into action.

This past Sunday, Pastor Luke referenced Willis’ chapter, “Your Best at the Table.” First Free Rockford offers a free, online spiritual gifts assessment. This is an excellent starting point if you’re not sure where you fit. But, as Pastor Luke mentioned, it’s a starting point, not a final conclusion. Willis writes:

“The best tool for discerning your spiritual gifts is not a test, but the body of Christ. There you will find out what you bring to the table. As others to speak into your life and be willing to listen to their insight. Ask them to observe where they see God using you most significantly.” (page 72)

The book is available in The Scroll Resource Center for $8, which is better than you can do on Amazon. There’s also a free Leader’s Guide download available from Moody Publishers. Life groups who study this book will find unusual depth in the group questions.

 

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident. He wrote Life Together while part of the underground Christian community during World War II. Accused of being part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Bonhoeffer was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945.

His thoughts about prayer, worship, work and service remain thoroughly relevant today. A sample:

A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” 

 

For kids: Go deeper into science with …

 

Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God and Science by Louie Giglio.

If you and your kids or grandkids enjoyed The Amazing Chemistry Show last month at First Free, here’s a follow-up resource. The book contains fascinating facts and hands-on activities, all with a devotional approach. Topics include space, earth, animals and the human body. The regular price is $17.99 but you can get it in The Scroll for $11.99.

The Scroll Resource Center is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays.

Mickey Mouse only real when shared

Life in community is important.
By Jim Killam | Illustration by Nathan McDonald

As a newspaper reporter, I once attended a media event at Walt Disney World. We journalists would attend morning press conferences about new rides and attractions, and then the rest of the day was our own.

For three days, I was treated like a Disney princess. I could ride any ride, see any show, eat at any restaurant … all on Mickey Mouse’s dime.

The catch was, I was by myself.

A statue of Walt and the mouse demonstrating life in community.

Even Walt had a mouse to pal around with here.

There is a definite place in life for solitude. That place is a long way from Walt Disney World. As I watched Indiana Jones blow up an airplane, rode Space Mountain in the dark or got dropped from the Tower of Terror, I’d never felt more uncomfortably isolated. I’d get off the rides with hundreds of people and there would be no one to talk with, laugh with … even barf with.

I’d just had exactly the same experience as all of those happy, laughing people around me, but all I felt was alone and self-conscious — and that I definitely shouldn’t walk anywhere near small kids. I know solo travel has become a big thing, and maybe it works for some. No rules, no compromises, no agenda but your own. For me, the experience was just … empty. I couldn’t wait to go home, and to come back later with people I love. 

Leaving it all behind

In the true 1996 book and 2007 movie, Into the Wild, Christopher McCandless graduates from college, disillusioned with materialistic society. He leaves home without telling anyone where he’s going, gives away everything he has and embarks on a solo quest to find meaning and purpose. That leads to random stops around the country, all with an eventual goal: Alaska. The ultimate wilderness.

Image of man walking in snow from Into the Wild.

Paramount Pictures

Before embarking on the last leg of his journey north, Chris tells his friend, Ron Franz: “You are wrong if you think that the joy of life comes principally from the joy of human relationships. God’s place is all around us. It is in everything and in anything we can experience. People just need to change the way they look at things.”

Near the end of the film, Chris’ opinion has changed. His rejection of family, church and society has left him dangerously alone. To find himself, by himself, has been no answer. Facing starvation in the Alaskan wilderness, he writes in the margin of the book, Doctor Zhivago: “Happiness only real when shared.”

Church and elder brothers

During a time of family struggle a few years ago, we stepped away from church and small groups for a few months. We felt defeated, disillusioned and let down. A holy discontent, we reasoned. Church felt less like a close community of believers and more like one continuous argument over worship and preaching styles.

So we just stopped going. I never came close to abandoning my faith, but church felt empty. For the time being, the thought of just God, me, a Bible and a journal sounded pretty attractive.

Chris McCandless’ story haunted me those months away from church. What did my faith mean apart from the messiness of community? Did this all really just begin and end in my own head? What’s the end game in loving God but not the church?

Around that time I also read Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, in which he drew on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Churches can be so unpleasant, he wrote, because we can see them as being filled with elder brothers — self-righteous, jealous, graceless jerks. Yet when I stayed away because of that, I had to come to grips with my own self-righteous jerkiness.

Keller also said this:

“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t find the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.”

Long story short: We didn’t stay away for long. In fact, not long after we came back to the church, we felt God’s call to missions. Loving God but not the church had left me with an incomplete faith, and fewer people to share it with. Holy discontent didn’t stay holy for very long.

Life in Community

This month, First Free Rockford is engaging with a sermon series called Life in Community. Whether we’re married, single or widowed, it does us all good to realize community is where we thrive. God placed us in community to worship, grow and serve together — not to ride life’s roller coasters alone.

Views expressed on this blog are those of the writer alone. References to films, music or other works should not be considered an endorsement by First Free Rockford.