During this season of COVID-19, we are asking you to set aside time each Wednesday afternoon for fasting and prayer. Each week we’ll provide a short video devotional to get you started. Here’s the first one, from Pastor Luke and Jessi Uran.
Snow Camp 2020 was packed with fun winter activities and powerful experiences with God and our community of high school students and staff.
Filmed and edited by David Peterson, Technical Arts Director
Interviews conducted by Meredith Domanico, Director of Student Ministries
Music by Awoltalk (“We Rise” / Musicbed license)
Clayton Ganziano has served First Free Rockford for two years as middle school coordinator. Now he’s also coordinating Rooted, our young-adults ministry. Clayton and Hannah just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.
We talked with Clayton about church youth groups, what kids are looking for … and how middle school and young adult ministries actually have a lot to do with one another.
What did your faith look like, growing up?
I grew up in an EV Free church. My family was very involved there. But once I was in high school, my older brother and I just didn’t connect well in the youth group. So we tried a lot of different churches, places that our friends were going or that we had heard about.
The Chapel, a multi-site church in the Chicago area, had just opened a campus at my high school, McHenry High School. We checked it out as a family and it was a place we were OK with going. My mom wanted us to get plugged into the youth group, but I didn’t want to go. That was a whole lot of new people. It was a bigger church and that youth group was going to be big and overwhelming.
The group met in Grayslake, so for the McHenry campus, the students would gather at a Burger King. Then a church bus would pick everyone up and drive them to youth group. So at my mom’s insistence, I tried it one night. As I’m sitting in Burger King, this lady walks in. And she’s like, “Hey, are you getting on the bus?” And I’m like, “Yeah … who are you?”
First Free Rockford Hosts Community Choir Festival Experience
Event caters to both singers and the public
ROCKFORD, Ill. (Feb. 7, 2019) – First Free Rockford invites singers and the public to worship through music and song during its annual Community Choir Festival taking place this month.
Singers, who need not have a choir affiliation, will practice together on Friday, Feb. 22, and Saturday, Feb. 23. They will then present a free concert that’s open to the public at 6 p.m. Feb. 23.
Dr. Gary Bonner, an internationally recognized conductor and trainer of conductors, will lead the rehearsals and the performance. First Free is excited to host the event to bring together singers from across the region, said festival coordinator Renee Cooper, First Free’s Classic Worship Director.
“Church choirs aren’t what they used to be – a reflection of the resources needed to run them and the amount of time people have to be part of them,” Cooper said. “We are so blessed to have a choir here at First Free, and we want to encourage anyone who loves to sing to be part of a choir again.”
Choir members will practice and learn about a dozen songs – a process Cooper called challenging, exciting and fun. Bonner chooses the music, which is typically a mix of traditional and contemporary Christian songs.
“It pushes people out of their comfort zones,” she noted of the experience. “You don’t have to be a great reader of music, though. It’s amazing what you pick up with the group around you. We laugh a lot, have fun and work hard.”
The event is expected to draw singers and attendees from around the Midwest. Rehearsals are scheduled from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 23.
Rehearsals and the performance will take place at First Free Rockford, 2223 N. Mulford Road. Cost to participate as a singer is $30 for adults and $20 for students, which includes lunch on Saturday. Admission to the performance is free.
By Jessi Uran
The other day as I was dropping my daughter off at the Mom’s Day Out program here at church, a dear mentor of mine saw me in the lobby and walked straight over to give me a hug. She asked how I was doing (how I was REALLY doing) and then told me specific ways that she would be praying for me that week. It wasn’t until I walked out to my car after our interaction and headed off to work that I noticed something different about myself. I smelled incredible. I was even tempted to pull over and close my eyes to take it all in, I smelled THAT GOOD.
Maybe this has happened to you before? You embrace someone, maybe your mom, or the love of your life, and whatever perfume or cologne they were wearing at the time rubbed off on you and you could smell it the rest of the day?
Here’s the thing. Something else rubbed off on me that morning too. You see, this particular woman is one of those people you walk away from and because they know the Lord and walk with Him so closely, you feel like you’ve been in the presence of Jesus. It may seem small, but the Holy Spirit really used that lingering aroma from her perfume to teach me something. He used it to tell me, “Jessi, my sweet daughter, I want you to know me so well and to enjoy spending time with me so much that when people walk away from an interaction with you, no matter how great or how small, they can’t help but breathe in and notice my “scent”.
It’s the kind of thing that can’t be duplicated or created any other way than by simply being at His feet and delving into His Word. Here’s to a week of encouraging one another along the way as we seek to know Him and obey- offering up our lives as an aroma pleasing to our Lord.
Editor’s Note: Since God truly is our “all in all” (Col. 3:11), He rightly has unfiltered access to all of who we are: the parts we’re happy to display, and the rest that we’d rather not. This is the foundation of the relational intimacy for which we’ve been made; our Lord settles for nothing less than all of us. We are made for Him, and He sets the standard.
Today’s blog post reminds us that there are times when Jesus must set Himself against our inclinations to wander, and this is for our good and His glory.
When I was in college, I volunteered as a Young Life leader. That meant I spent my afternoons driving to a local high school, only to awkwardly walk through the cafeteria, trying to befriend high school girls, and eventually, tell them about Jesus.
Every summer, we took hordes of high school students to a camp in Colorado, where we promised they’d have the “best week of their lives.” Midnight obstacle courses, pool parties, and delicious family-style meals were all punctuated by “club,” a gathering where we’d scream songs at the top of our lungs, and then later quiet down and listen to a speaker talk about God and this man called Jesus. About three days in, the speaker stopped talking about God and started talking about sin, something he told hundreds of teenagers they were powerless to fix.
That day was never fun. And neither is today’s passage from Hosea… To read this post in its entirety, please go to the “She Reads Truth” website SHE READS TRUTH
by Jessi Uran
Summer 2016: A letter to our daughter drafted in light of the recent shootings and terrorist attacks throughout the world. It is our fervent prayer that when she is older and reads each line, that it will be through the lens of knowing Christ as her personal Savior.
My Sweet Girl,
In the face of death and evil, you may weep and feel fear rising in your chest like the swell of a great wave…
Remember that it is God’s Word that gives us strength. Your body may be hurt, or sick, or hungry, and you may see horrific loss; but if you are a child of God, having proclaimed your need for forgiveness of sins and placing Christ on the throne of your heart, no one can claim your soul. The Spirit alive and living inside you is the same Spirit that holds the world together and who gives breath and life and meaning. You are different. The world fears most things, but you fear nothing. Fear is not in our redeemed and sanctified DNA. Every piece of armor you could ever need on this earth to combat the enemy of your heart has already been given to you. It is the very armor of Christ Himself.
Boldness and strength, this is the character He calls you to. You are never alone. He is always with you. The wind and waves obey Him and He will make a way. He has done it for our family, and He did it for the Israelites. He will do it again. We do not cower in the face of death. Because if we die, we gain eternity. And if we live, we gain Christ Himself. This is your identity.
When a great shadow seems to hide His face, and you wonder what is to come of this world…
Remember that it is God’s creation that points to His sovereignty. He is on the throne, and we surround ourselves with His beauty even when the world seems ugly. It is in your bones to pursue distant lands and go on brave adventures. We fill deep the well of our souls with the works of His hands and all it has to offer. We watch sunsets and feel the salty mist of the sea on our skin. We inhale the smell of pines and listen to the loons at dusk. We venture out, and we are better for it. We love the earth and care for it, but not for the earth’s sake. We love it because of Who made it, and Who it reflects. When we see big things, it reminds us of our big God.
Every trip we take and every road we travel reiterates the boundless perfection of our Creator. He holds the balance. In Him, our tendons move and our lungs expand. Nothing exists and nothing is sustained without Him. You’ve seen this for yourself. You were kept safe, but you were not kept locked down. We do not live our lives in fearful retreat. We are cautious with what we see, what we read, what we hear, and with the friends we keep…but when it comes to this bright and shining world, we leave caution at the door and keep adding to our passports. This is your responsibility.
If you experience persecution or rage towards another threatens to consume every fiber of your being…
Remember it is Christ’s sacrifice that shows us true Love. None of us can claim righteousness. We are no different from our neighbor in our need for God. He is the true King who will bring forth justice at the right time. Talk of race, or gender, or beliefs may muddy the waters and cause us to lose focus; but we must always come back to our need for forgiveness and the privilege we have to forgive. If you know Jesus and His redeeming work, then you were drawn by His cords of loving kindness, and nothing else. Shame and judgment have no place in the way we interact with others or lead them to the Cross. We are not condemned; therefore, we do not condemn. His love for us is not contingent upon our love for Him; therefore, our love for others is not contingent upon their love for us.
How easy it is to care for a soul who is docile and grateful. That requires nothing. But we lace up our boots and care for the ones who may hurt us in their hurting. We don’t confuse our burden with our battle. Our burden is for the lost to come to saving knowledge of Who God is and what He did for them. Our battle is against spiritual forces that have nothing to do with our neighbor. Each immortal soul is to know your heavenly stamp of Christ through your love. This is your commission.
His Word, His World, and His Work on the cross. By these thing we are to wage our war. For darkness will never prevail where the True Light abides.
We love you always,
Mom and Dad
Editor’s Note: This post is printed, with permission, from Cheri Swalwell’s “Spoken from My Heart to Yours” blog, https://journeysfromtheheartofawifeandmother.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/truth-and-friendship/
Cheri Swalwell is a Christ follower who thoroughly enjoys her calling to be a wife, mother, and writer, in that order. She has a degree in Psychology from Illinois State University and enjoys writing regularly for Book Fun Magazine and LIFE TO THE FULLEST. Cheri is also a contributing author for the book, 31 Devotions for Writers as well her book series, Spoken from the Heart”.
June 9, 2016 by Cheri Swalwell
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” I Peter 3:15 (NIV)
I’ve been reading a great book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. This is a book that cannot be read lightly because when read slowly, it causes one to think, really think about the struggles Muslims face when introduced to the truths of Christianity. For three years, Mr. Qureshi sought after the truth and that path led to his choosing to accept Jesus into his heart, fully submitting to God despite what it would ultimately cost him in his culture and with his family.
I believe that God used that book in my life to remind me of a few things. First, I am incredibly blessed. When I gave my heart to God at six years old, I didn’t have to make a choice between my Heavenly Father and my earthly Father. I wasn’t sad because I had a family who rejected me and my “religion” but instead I was brought up in a home where God was the center and learning about Him and His truth was something to be embraced, not rejected.
Second, I believe God used that book to remind me of a truth I have always believed in and tried to implement in my everyday life: to live a life that imitates Christ means to love others, build relationships and fellowship with others. Not judging their choices but living side by side and showing them God’s love through my actions more than my words.
However, that brings me to the third point I think God wanted to show me. There needs to be more. I can’t just rely on the fact I’m showing others Jesus’ love by my actions – I have to know the Truth behind what I believe in because people are hungry for the Truth. While an emotional connection with God will come because God is very much alive and so incredibly personal to every human being who seeks Him, for many, it starts with Truth. Why do I believe what I believe? Can I back up my beliefs with facts? People aren’t impressed and many don’t change their way of life, their cultures, and their practices because of a “feeling.” They want to know that if they have to risk everything, who and what they are risking it for.
Mr. Qureshi stated that one of the major factors that helped lead him to Christianity was the deep friendship he and his college buddy, David, had with each other. David wasn’t afraid to confront Nabeel with the truth and Nabeel was able to accept it because of the solid friendship that was already established between the two of them.
I will admit that I am not where I need to be with that third Truth. I need to learn more of why I believe what I believe and be able to explain that coherently to others who are truly seeking. I believe that is one of the best gifts we could give our children too – knowing how to defend their faith and knowing why they believe what they believe. It doesn’t have to be scary but it will require time and effort to uncover those answers.
I’m an emotional person. If given the choice, I would rather read a biography about a person’s life than a text book. And that’s okay. God created me to be relational with people for a reason. However, it’s time I start digging a little deeper so that when people ask, I can give them facts that back up the Truths I know to be reality. May God help me balance out building relationships with people so that when we have discussions about God’s Truth, they will see my heart. I’m not here to force them to choose my way. I’m just here presenting them God’s Truth to allow them to make that choice for themselves.
© Cheri Swalwell 2016
We are in the midst of our first annual Family Summit. This is an opportunity for us to come together of all ages to worship and learn together. Our goal is to encourage all families of our church to look to Jesus together. Last night we discussed how we can look to Jesus while parenting in a technological world.
I was privileged to be able to teach the parents on this topic. My primary goal was to give very practical resources to the parents to help monitor and protect their student from addictions and dangers. But before I summarize those resources, I want to remind us of why we need to set up boundaries and rules with technology.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in the house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.
As parents and the leading adults in a child’s life; your job is to create an culture in your home that is centered on loving God. In all things, at all times, you must be encouraging your student to love the Lord with everything they have. And that includes technology.
These resources below are suggestions to help protect and monitor your student. You best know your student and their habits, so you decide what is helpful.
Movies and TV:
Have you ever wondered if the show or movie your family is about to watch is appropriate? Well with these two apps, you can not only learn what the movie is about but also what inappropriate content is in the movie. Both of these apps are free!
- Plugged In: This app comes from “Focus on the Family”. This app gives you a plot summary, the positive elements, the negative elements, and the potential spiritual elements. This app is really solid for recent movies.
- IMDB: This app is a big go-to for me. This app shows you all the actors, trailers, and information you could ever need on a movie or show. But the best part is that for each TV show and movie, there is a section called “parent’s guide”. This will tell you all of the inappropriate content in the movie or show. And in some shows, it goes episode by episode.
Built In Phone Settings:
Your smart phone and tablet have settings built in that just need to be turned on. I am going to share two settings in an iphone or ipad. There are several more and here is a link for more information.
- Guided Access: This setting, when turned on, only allows the user to remain in a single app. So if you have a child who loves to play a game on your ipad, but you are fearful they will accidentally send an email or delete something, turn on guided access. The only way for them to turn off this feature is to put in your customized pin code. This feature also allows you to set up time limits so that your child or student doesn’t play the game too long.
How to turn it on: SETTINGS –>GENERAL –>ACCESSIBILITY –> GUIDED ACCESS.
- Restrictions: This setting is a must for all apple devices in your house. Under this setting, you can restrict adult content from being searched on websites. So if your child or student is trying to search for something inappropriate, it will block them. Also, this setting allows you to turn off the ability to download apps, movies, facetime, etc.
How to turn it on: SETTINGS –>GENERAL –>RESTRICTIONS –>WEBSITES
Programs, Filters, and Monitoring:
Laptops and Home Computer Filtering:
If you have a home computer or a laptop in your home, you may want to make sure that there is a program installed to monitor and filter all internet activity.
- Covenant Eyes: This is a solid program that filters out content and sends you, the parent, reports of what your child is searching for online. It costs $15 a month and is worth it.
- X3 Watch: This is a free program that works great. It does not filter but it tracks Internet activity and sends reports of inappropriate searches.
Limiting Time on Devices:
If you have a phone or tablet addicted child, then you may want to look into setting up time limits.
- –Screen Time: This app allows you to set up time limits, schedules, and shut down on devices. There is both a paid and free version.
This is the big one. With the continually rise of pornography, we must be doing all that we can to protect our student. If you have a filtering app for their phones, this will protect them from accidental searches and addictions.
- Mobicip: This is the best one out there. This program costs only $40 a year. And this program sets up content filters, time limits, and sends you internet history reports. I recommend this app even with the built in settings on your phone…because there are always loopholes.
The last bit of practical advice I can give is to set up technology house rules. Things that you set up that everyone in the family must abide by. Here are a couple examples:
- –Time Restrictions: Maybe you don’t want anyone on their phones after 9pm. Maybe you don’t want to watch more than 3 hours of TV a day.
- –Charging Stations: I would recommend setting up a location where your kids’ phones and devices can be charged overnight. This well help your child be able to get the sleep they need without being distracted by their device. But also, it protects your student from inappropriate searching when no one is looking. Set up a power strip in your bedroom or in the kitchen and you have your charging station.
You know your family best. So if any of this is helpful for you, then great! If there is anything that we can do to help you in this area, let us know. Thanks for helping your family look to Jesus.
Editor’s Note: If you’ve found yourself discouraged by the inroads the enemy is making in our world, on many fronts, you are not alone. Today’s post, from Lina AbuJamra’s blog helped recalibrate my perspective with God’s truth; and all Truth is God’s truth. Below is an excerpt from Lina’s post. If you’d like to read it in its entirety, please go to this link: LINA
“When I was growing up in Beirut, my pastor used to give us the same illustration over and over again. He would ask us if we knew how the Department of Treasury recognized a fake dollar. He would then pause for a minute and deliver the punch line. The secret that the Department of Treasury had to identify a fake dollar, he would say, was simple: they made it their mission to study the real thing. Then when they saw the fake, they easily recognized it.
They could tell the fake because they knew the real deal.
When it comes to our relationship with God, many of us claim to be Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. But are we really the real thing? And if we are, why are our lives so weak?
- We say we believe God, but we live in constant fear.
- We say we love people, but we can’t seem to stand the church.
- We say that giving is essential, but few of us do it while people all around us suffer.
- We say we believe in eternity, but our lives are focused on our plans for today.
- We say that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, but our hands are hurting from holding on to our stuff so dearly.
- We say that fullness of joy is ours, yet we walk around with glum and worried faces.
- We say that hope is alive, but we look like the walking dead.
In a world that’s shaking, we’ve forgotten that Jesus is solid.
In a world that’s hurting, we’ve forgotten that Jesus is our healer.
In a world full of fakes, we’ve forgotten what is real…
…Over the past few months we’ve watched our country torn apart with the craziest political atmosphere imaginable.
We’ve seen a steady moral decline in our nation. We’ve witnessed a global crisis of mammoth proportions expand before our very eyes with millions of people now looking for home.
It’s time for us who call ourselves Christians to wake up.
It’s time for us to resolve to live what we say we believe.
Our God is a God of resolve. He has resolved to love us without limit, to stay with us no matter what, and to give us everything we need to live an abundant life.
You and I have the real deal. We know the truth. We are the light in this world. It’s time to get serious about it.
Let’s not waste our time focused on all the fakes out there and why they’re not the real deal. Let’s instead make it our mission to resolve to be real.
Life is not as complicated as we make it out to be. Jesus died for us and He lives for us. Now it’s time we wake up and live for Him with everything we’ve got.”