All posts in “Resources”

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.

 

What do you want the takeaway value of this series to be for our congregation?

Three main things. One, to have a better understanding of the birth and the growth of the church. Two, to know that we, too, have been given a mission like the early church to go and make disciples. And three, to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the church.

 

Luke wrote the book of Acts very methodically, and yet at the end of chapter 28 he just kind of stops in the middle of a story. What do you make of that?

We are still living between that 28th chapter and Christ’s glorious return. It’s very open-ended — almost like Luke is saying, “OK, write your own ending.” As a church, our mission is to bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ. Our vision is to go, tell and show the love of Christ in the city of Rockford and around the world. Those statements drive home that the 29th chapter of Acts is us.

 

What would you suggest as a quick way for someone to get a big-picture view of Acts?

The Bible Project has two animated videos that take you through the whole book in about 8 minutes each. We even showed these to some of our staff as we started thinking and praying through developing this series.

 

Any suggested reading to go along with this series?

There’s a seven-day Scripture reading plan from the Bible app themed around The Forgotten God by Francis Chan. We’re doing this one in our Life Group. It doesn’t focus specifically on Acts, but on the Holy Spirit.

Also, The Spirit-Filled Life by Dr. Charles F. Stanley. This is one of my recommended books available in The Scroll Resource Center.

And then of course you can read ahead for the coming Sunday’s sermon. The weekly email sent on Thursdays always contains the sermon preview and text.

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:

Tweaking the EFCA’s Statement of Faith

Teaching during the next two Sunday Evening Praise services will address the recent change in the Evangelical Free Church of America’s Statement of Faith. First Free Rockford is a member of the EFCA,  an association of autonomous churches united around 10 theological convictions.

At the June conference, EFCA delegates approved a change in Article 9. The change substituted the word “glorious” for “premillennial” in the EFCA’s doctrinal position about the return of Jesus. The statement now reads:

“We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.”

First Free’s Paul Geddes will teach about this and related topics during the next two Sunday Evening Praise services, Sept. 29 and Oct. 6. The services begin at 6 p.m. in the Chapel.

For our church, adopting this change requires approval by the congregation — which is why the old version still appears on our website. Discussion and a vote are planned for the next Meeting of the Members, Feb. 23.

For background on the EFCA change, which was supported by 79 percent of the delegates, here are two helpful resources:

  • An article by Greg Strand, EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, also points to several other articles that help explain the change and the reasoning.
  • Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen podcast addresses the issue and the related conversation that’s been taking place in the wider evangelical world.

 

 

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.