All posts in “Resources”

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:

“This is the book that the Executive Elder Board is currently reading and discussing. This book was recommended to me by our church chairman, Paul Geddes. I appreciate the way in which Charles Stanley honestly and biblically assesses the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.”

Aaron Biby (one of our elders) says:

The Spirit-Filled Life is an easy read, but a challenge to process. Identifying the Holy Spirit as the person through which we are able to bear the fruit of the Spirit is a life-altering idea that can take some time to wrap your head around. The freedom comes in discovering that no matter how hard we try, we cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit out of our own strength. Rather, if we focus on nurturing our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit can and will begin to produce that fruit in us naturally.”

 

Acts 1-12 For You; Acts 13-28 For You

By R. Albert Mohler. Part of the God’s Word For You series, these guides are intended to help regular people, as the introduction states: to read, to feed and to lead. If you want to go deeper into Acts and apply the book’s truth to your life, or if you’re leading a Life Group, these books are a great resource. And you don’t need a theology degree to keep up.

Pastor Luke Uran says:

 “I found these easy-to-read commentaries as I was preparing to preach through the series in Acts. I appreciate the way that these commentaries help the reader delve deeper into the passages and make some of the understanding and application a little bit more practical in nature.”

 

Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church

Keith and Kristyn Getty  are noted hymn writers, worship leaders and they host the annual Getty Worship Conference, which several of our church staff members attended this past summer in Nashville. From the book description, here are their five key goals for readers:

  • To discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing;
  • To consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives;
  • To cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life;
  • To equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity; and
  • To inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world.

Renee Cooper, Director of Classic Worship, says:

“First of all – throughout the Bible we are commanded to sing. This book is about the importance of the congregation singing, based on Biblical principles. Worship is not a passive, spectator sport. It requires active participation. That means everyone – not just the leaders on the platform.

As a worship leader, I want to do just that: lead in worship. When we come together as God’s children, and we lift our voices in praise and worship of him, there is not a sweeter sound that can be heard! I want to hear the congregation singing!

Often we will leave a service humming one of the songs we have sung that morning. That music stays with us. So, we need to be careful to choose songs that are theologically sound. Those songs help us to remember what we believe, and to learn more about Who we are worshipping.”

 

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

From the book description: Peter Scazzero learned the hard way: You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. Even though he was pastor of a growing church, he did what most people do:

  • Avoid conflict in the name of Christianity
  • Ignore his anger, sadness, and fear
  • Use God to run from God
  • Live without boundaries

Eventually God awakened him to a biblical integration of emotional health, a relationship with Jesus, and the classic practices of contemplative spirituality. It created nothing short of a spiritual revolution, utterly transforming him and his church.

Pastor Josh Pardee says:

“In Christ we are new creations, freed captives, but the author explains that our history stays with us and impacts us unless we learn about it and learn to operate from a place of biblical awareness, in love with God and with compassion toward ourselves. This allows us to be real with our sin and actually deal with it as opposed to sweeping it under the rug.”

 

The Best Gift Ever Given

By Ronnie Martin, illustrated by Nathan Schroeder. This is a great Christmastime devotional guide for families: “A 25-day journey through Advent, from God’s good gifts to God’s great Son.” These are short, family devotionals for Dec. 1-25, and are aimed at families with kids from kindergarten to about grade four. Each day’s entry begins with a Scripture, then a short piece about the day’s topic, one or two discussion questions and a prayer.

Pastor Luke Uran says:

“We bought this book for our daughter for Advent and we are looking forward to going through it together as a family. I appreciate the way Ronnie Martin brings forth the message of Jesus on every page in a way that is understandable for young readers and listeners, and the book’s great illustrations back it up.”

 

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.”

Photo: Jim Killam

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.