The Good Book Club: Reading God’s Word Together

By Richelle Thompson
Forward Movement Deputy Director and Managing Editor

Reading scripture changes us. Encounters with God and God’s word transform us. Every time. Whether we’re looking for answers or think we’re doing just fine on our own, God’s word still speaks.

This fundamental and profound truth lies at the heart of the Good Book Club, Forward Movement’s invitation to the church to read the Book of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles together throughout the seasons of Lent and Easter. We believe engaging in scripture brings us into deeper relationship with our Savior—and that reading God’s word together will bring us into closer relationship with one another.

Throughout Lent and Easter, Forward Day by Day will move through Luke and Acts instead of our regular practice of following the lectionary. (Don’t worry: We’ll still offer the lectionary readings on our website.) I am honored to be one of the four featured writers during this time period, alongside talented, faithful colleagues, the Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman (March), the Rev. Marcus Halley (April), and Miguel Escobar (May). As always, our Forward Day by Day meditations will be available in Spanish, as a podcast, online, on an app, in Braille, and large print.

In addition, we will offer free downloadable Bible studies for individuals and congregations to explore some of the stories in more depth. We continue the Bible Challenge series with A Journey with Luke and the newly released A Journey through Acts, daily meditations by noted theologians and faith leaders from around the world. With RenewalWorks, we also present a Good Book Club calendar featuring the inspirational and thought-provoking cartoons of the Rev. Jay Sidebotham.

Reading scripture is both deeply personal and an act of community. We invited Episcopal organizations from across the church to partner in the Good Book Club initiative. The response was overwhelming. More than twenty-five organizations stepped up to partner with Forward Movement, committing time and talent to develop resources for the wider church. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued a video invitation for all Episcopalians to join the Good Book Club. In my twenty years of local, diocesan, and church-wide work, I have never seen so many organizations come together for common cause. God is doing a new thing indeed.

Episcopal Migration Ministries will offer a special podcast, featuring voices from across the U.S., the church, and the immigrant and refugee community. A blog will accompany the podcast featuring written reflections, art, photography, music, and videos from podcast guests and others. ChurchNext has developed a free, five-course video curriculum for Lent called Luke the Liberator. United Thank Offering (UTO) has prepared a downloadable booklet with meditations on the readings, questions for personal reflection or group discussion, space to keep a gratitude journal, and a story of a ministry supported by UTO. Forma will offer a weekly Faith-at-Home series, featuring reflections and activities for families, and Building Faith will publish a series of articles to help Christian educators and parents read and study Luke and Acts with children and teens. These are just a sampling of the wide variety of resources that offer an opportunity for people to engage wherever they are—geographically, spiritually, emotionally. A full list of the partners is featured below, and links to the resources can be found at www.goodbookclub.org.

In addition to organizations, entire dioceses are onboard, making scripture engagement a priority. So too several congregations have committed to reading and exploring Luke and Acts together. If you’d like for your congregation or organization to be included as a partner or want to know more about how to get involved, send me an email at rthompson@forwardmovement.org.

As we began making plans for this project, we discussed our goals and what success might look like. We have some quantitative and qualitative measures, but we’re also not willing to limit how God might work in and among us. We can only dream and imagine how the Good Book Club might shape and transform us as individuals and as a church. God already knows.

Excerpt from Forward Day by Day, February 2018

Luke 2:10-11. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

You have probably heard these words dozens of times. Perhaps you were a shepherd clad in an ill-fitting sheet or a young Mary holding a burlap-wrapped baby doll. Maybe, propped on elbows on the family room floor, you watched an earnest Linus tell Charlie Brown—and us—what Christmas is all about. Maybe wax burned your fingers as you held a candle at midnight mass, listening to these words said by a priest or sung by a choir.

Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ is the familiar favorite: The emperor sending out a decree; Joseph and Mary setting out for Bethlehem on a donkey; Jesus sleeping (and crying, I suspect) in a manger.

Whether this is your first or fiftieth time hearing this story, may you meet each telling with wonder and awe. The birth of any child is amazing, but the birth of this one is miraculous. Just twenty-one verses change the course of the world. One story in a sea of stories that is the greatest one ever to be told, offering good news of great joy for all people.

MOVING FORWARD: Read the lesson out loud today. Savor the memories this story calls up for you.

Forward Today: I can change my heart

“Is it easier to repent,” asks Scott in the new Forward Today, “or to point the finger at someone else’s need to repent? What practices will you take on when Lent starts in a month?”


Dear friends in Christ,

Everyone loves to talk about the sins of other people. This is not a new problem for Christians. But it’s a big problem, since it’s not what the Gospel asks us to do.
 
Jesus is pretty clear. We are to confess our sins. We are to keep humble. We are to love others. We are not supposed to judge others. It all goes together.
I think Jesus taught this, again and again, because he knew that focusing on the sins of others is a serious temptation. And 2,000 years later, we humans haven’t evolved on this front. We still love to focus on the sins of others rather than think about our own.

 

 

It’s easy to pretend that racism or sexism or any other kind of bias is a problem that other people have. It’s easy to pretend that when Jesus challenges the rich, he’s not talking about us, despite how our income might compare with the global standard. It’s easy to pretend that other people fail to forgive, because we convince ourselves that we will forgive when the other person deserves it. It’s easy to point at the contradictions in someone else’s political views, but it’s harder to admit our own. It’s easy to think that repentance is something that other people need to do. You get the idea.
 
Lent is coming. It’s a whole season devoted to repentance. Usually, around this time of year I think about what practices I might take on during Lent. But maybe there is a prior step. Maybe I need to think about my sins, so that I know how I need to focus this season.
 
What about you? Is it easier to repent, or to point the finger at someone else’s need to repent? What practices will you take on when Lent starts in a month?
 
I can’t change the whole world, but I can change my heart. That’s where I’m looking these days.

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Our featured sale product today is Ashes and the Phoenix. This book of meditations for Lent is just $3.75, today only!

And I reminder that the For the Beauty of the Earth Wall Calendar is now just $5. It’s not too late to start enjoying this beautiful liturgical calendar—a companion to the daily devotional For the Beauty of the Earth, featuring the watercolors of Kathrin Burleson.

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Evangelism Matters: Early Bird Registration extended to February 1st!

Did you miss out on the sold-out Evangelism Matters Conference of 2016? Join Episcopalians from across the United States at the 2018 Evangelism Matters Conference this March. Share in three days of workshops, panels, worship, and a keynote from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

The conference will develop tools required to spread the Good Word and foster techniques for growing the community of faith. Speakers include Michael Curry, Gay Clark Jennings, Stephanie Spellers, Carrie Borne Headington, Mary Foster Parmer, Scott Gunn, Frank Logue, and others. Select plenary sessions will be live-streamed and available online.

Learn more and register here: http://www.evangelismmatters.org/

Download the conference flyer with full details here: EvangelismMatters2018-flyer

When: March 15–17

Where: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, OH

Hosted by: Episcopal Church’s Evangelism Initiatives Team and Forward Movement

 

New Pamphlets

Fresh off the press:

Baptismal PromisesBaptismal PromisesGrow Christians
Episcopal priest Jeremiah D. Williamson ponders the Baptismal Promises that are made as members are welcomed into the church. He examines how these promises strengthen our relationship with Christ and solidify our bonds to each other.

Grow Christians
Grow Christians: Faith and Families offers ways to foster faith at home and to help families grow spiritually. Interested in more literature on the intersect of faith and families? You may also like the Forward Movement blog, GrowChristians.org.


In case you missed it:

Practicing EvangelismEvangelism for Everybody
Scott Gunn, author and executive director of Forward Movement, suggests ways to share the Good News with those in our lives, including easy conversation starters.

 

Evangelism for Everyone
Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Georgia, ponders the importance of sharing our faith and how to use our gifts to do so.


Revamp:

Morning,Noon,Night PrayersMorning, Noon & Night Prayers
Love these classic prayers from The Book of Common Prayer? We now offer these prayers in pamphlet form, with a beautiful, new cover.

Forward Today: Shine Forth in Our Lives

“It’s easy to be demoralized about the state of the world,” writes Scott in the new Forward Today. “Maybe we can’t fix much at all. But we can change ourselves, and we can show forth Christ’s light in our lives.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Is your life radiant? I’ve been thinking about this question lately. On the First Sunday after Christmas Day, we pray this collect:
 
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

Isn’t that a lovely prayer? It reminds us that God has poured life and light into the world in Jesus Christ. And if this light takes hold in our hearts, it will be visible in our lives. So I ask again, are you radiant with Christ’s light? I ask myself this question too.
 
It’s easy to be demoralized about the state of the world. There is plenty of work to do as we grow toward God’s peace, justice, mercy, and righteousness. We can’t fix everything now, and maybe we can’t fix much at all. But we can change ourselves, and we can show forth Christ’s light in our lives. This is not empty piety. Christian love is fierce. It speaks truth in the face of falsehood. It feeds the hungry. It loves the unlovable. It welcomes the stranger. It prays amid cacophony.
 
This is the time of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you are going strong, or maybe you’ve failed. Maybe you never got around to making them. Or think of Lent. We’re coming up on a whole season focused on repentance. Now is the time. How can you be radiant? How can you shine forth with Christ’s love?

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Our featured sale product today is Dust Bunnies in the Basket, a humorous and useful Lent and Easter resource from Tim Schenck and Jay Sidebotham.

And I reminder that the For the Beauty of the Earth Wall Calendar is now just $5. It’s not too late to start enjoying this beautiful liturgical calendar—a companion to the daily devotional For the Beauty of the Earth, featuring the watercolors of Kathrin Burleson.

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Forward Today: Merry New Year and Happy Christmas!

In the new Forward Today, Scott offers a message for the Christmas season and this new year: “Celebrate whenever you can, repent when you are able, and keep Jesus in the center of it all.”


Dear friends in Christ,

This is a funny time of year. By now, all the stores will be on to Valentine’s Day. They’re always ready to sell you the next thing for the next occasion!
 
But for Christians, it’s still Christmas. We keep this feast for twelve days, and our count just started on December 25. So while everyone was celebrating Christmas and shouting Christmas greetings for much of December, we were keeping Advent, preparing ourselves for the party. So let’s have the party. It’s not too late!

 

 

Today is the tenth day of Christmas. Wish someone a Merry Christmas today, and see what strange look you get in return. Have a conversation about how we celebrate the wonder of Jesus’ birth for a while, especially when we’re not distracted by gift-buying and gift-receiving.
 
Of course, it’s also the new year. We celebrate…using a new calendar. OK, really what we are responding to is the human desire to start over…again and again. New year’s resolutions are the secular equivalent of repentance, and repentance is always a good thing. So why not add that?
 
Meanwhile, people who work in churches will be thinking about…Lent! It’s just over a month until we move into a season of preparation of Easter. It hardly seems possible, but there it is. So while the stores want us to buy things for Valentine’s Day on February 14, we will be thinking of February 14 as Ash Wednesday. Not exactly a gift occasion!
 
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Valentine’s Day. Aside from the fact that he’s a possibly made-up saint and that the day can elevate unhelpful ideas of romantic love, it is also another opportunity to talk about love, and that’s always helpful. So why not celebrate Valentine’s Day too, if you like. (Just don’t bring chocolates to church when you go for your annual ashes.) Oh, and look up St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Those are the amazing saints the church celebrates on February 14, and they’re even more interesting than St. Valentine.
 
So, happy new year/Christmas/Lent/Valentine’s Day. Celebrate whenever you can, repent when you are able, and keep Jesus in the center of it all.

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Our featured sale product is the For the Beauty of the Earth Wall Calendar—now just $5. It’s not too late to start enjoying this beautiful liturgical calendar—a companion to the daily devotional For the Beauty of the Earth, featuring the watercolors of Kathrin Burleson.

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Forward Today: We have all received, grace upon grace

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on making time for grace this season—and “leaving space in this chaotic time for the still, small voice of God to speak or sing of the wonder of Christmas.”


Dear friends in Christ,

As we get closer to Christmas, the pace of life seems to quicken. Those last-minute gifts need to be purchased. Grand meals with family need to be planned and prepared. People who work in the church are readying for larger-than-usual attendance at splendid Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.
 
Amid all that frenetic work, it would be easy to lose sight of the thing we are celebrating.

 

 

I invite you to do two things, right now. Read the Christmas story in Luke and then read John’s wonderfully poetic prologue, setting forth the meaning and the glory of Jesus’ birth, the Incarnation of God. Seriously, spend five or ten minutes and just bask in the radiance of what you have read. If you can manage it, find even more time. Enjoy 30 minutes or an hour of silence, leaving space in this chaotic time for the still, small voice of God to speak or sing of the wonder of Christmas.
 
Let us who follow Jesus not lose sight of what we celebrate at Christmas. Christmas is amazing: the lights, the gifts, the family traditions, the beloved songs. But if we allow commerce or family tradition to govern our celebration of Christ’s birth, we are missing out on the most amazing parts of this feast.
 
Two thousand years ago, God lived among us. That mystery takes some time to soak in. Luke says how, but John says why. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
 
Make time for grace. You need it. I need it. God knows, our world needs it.
 
Have a happy and grace-filled Christmas.

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s featured sale product is Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, which makes a wonderful gift as well as a handsome addition to your own prayer book collection.

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Forward Today: Preparing the way

In the new Forward Today, Scott considers John the Baptist, noting that we’d be well served to follow his example this season (clothing choices excepted!).


Dear friends in Christ,

Last Sunday, and again this Sunday, we encounter John the Baptist in our Gospel readings. Every year, his voice comes to us from the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and inviting repentance. Sometimes when I’m at the mall this time of year, I imagine what it would be like for John the Baptist to stand in the food court announcing the coming of Jesus.
 
It would be easy for us to miss the core of John the Baptist’s message amid all his eccentricities. The locusts and honey, the hair shirts, the exotic wilderness locale, the miraculous birth narrative, and the whole picture are extraordinary. But none of those things exactly defines him.

We would do well to hear his call for repentance. In the midst of this season, we are invited to turn away from evil and toward the good. We are invited to reject the temptations of Satan and turn toward the costly path of following Jesus. We need to hear this message in Advent, and we need to hear this message at a time in our world when some flourish beyond imagining while others starve for lack of resources. We need this message.
 
There is still a more basic reality of John the Baptist, one that we should emulate. John the Baptist always pointed toward Jesus. His message was not about him, but about Jesus. His deeds mattered, but Jesus’ deeds mattered more. His proclamation was compelling, but Jesus’ proclamation was all consuming.
 
Just as John told people about Jesus, so should we. I don’t think we need to put on hair shirts and move into the wilderness, but I do think we need to be bold in our proclamation. We are meant to invite people to follow Jesus, to tell people about the Good News of God in Christ, and to announce that our true joy comes in loving God and our neighbor.
 
Do you know someone who could use a word of Good News? Do you know someone looking for hope and purpose? There’s no better time than Advent to offer an invitation. “Come celebrate Christmas with me. Come feast in the radiant glory of God’s love for us, as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ.”

 
Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Gift Guide to a Merry Christmas & a Spiritual New Year

Broken coverThe Latest and Greatest

Broken
In essays both humorous and achingly vulnerable, author Ryan Casey Waller urges us to join him in pouring out our brokenness, not just to God but to each other. Waller takes us through the trials of following Jesus during seasons of doubt and disbelief, anger, shame, and even hate, but always brings us back to the amazing news that Jesus blessed the bread before he broke it.

For Families and Children

Family and Table gracesPathway cover

 

The Path Family Storybook
Pathways of Faith
Meet the Saints
Family & Table Graces

 

For the Nature Lover in Your Life

For the Beauty of the EarthRabbit watercolor

 

 

 

 

 

For the Beauty of the Earth
Join watercolor artist Kathrin Burleson and diverse voices from across The Episcopal Church in exploring the wonders of Creation and the beauty of the Creator. Burleson’s Creation-inspired watercolors offer inspiring visualizations that enhance the book’s 365 daily meditations, written by authors like Minda Cox, Jason Leo, Mary W. Cox, Bishop Barry Beisner, and many others.

For the Beauty of the Earth Calendar
Featuring the stunning watercolors of Kathrin Burleson, this 13-month liturgical calendar is color-coded and features all major and lesser feasts. Months run from December 2017 to December 2018.

For Lent Madness Enthusiasts

Saintly Scorecard (single or bulk) -Check out Lent Madness’ fresh new look!
Bracket
Mugs

For your Favorite Car

Jesus Movement Bumper Stickers or Magnets
bumper stickermagnet

 

 

 

 

 

For the Social Justice Advocate in Your LifeSocial Justice Bible Challenge cover

The Social Justice Bible Challenge
“Disciples wishing to spend more time engaging the Bible on topics from poverty, hunger, displacement, and the care of widows and orphans will have their cups filled over and over again by the words of Scripture and meditations from people across the Church who engage with these realities each and every day.”

 

 

For those Wishing to Delve Deeper into the Bible

The Path:  “The Path is a perfect entry point for people who want to know more about the Bible but don’t know where to start.”
-Jana Riess (author of Flunking Sainthood and The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less… Now with 68% More Humor!)

Bible Women
The Bible Challenge
A Journey through Matthew
A Journey through Mark
A Journey through Luke
A Journey though John

 

Or the Book of Common PrayerInwardly Digest

 

Prayer Books (who doesn’t love a leatherbound prayer book?)

leatherbound prayerbooks Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book is a book of prayer and practice – with disciplines, habits, and patterns for building a Christian spiritual life. It will help you to develop strong habits of prayer, to prepare for and participate in public liturgy thoughtfully, and to nurture a mind and soul ready to work and give and pray for the spread of the kingdom.
Hour by Hour
Prayers for All Occasions
Prayers New and Old 

 

DevocionesProductos en español

Etiquetas autoadhesivas
Juntos en el camino con Cristo
Devociones del Pueblo de Dios
Este devocionario recoge unas trescientas oraciones, la mayoría de ellas del Libro de Oración Común. Son oraciones y devociones apropiadas para casi toda situación en la vida. Son válidas para todo hispano o latino de cualquier tradición. El devocionario tiene ocho secciones, devociones tradicionales (el rosario y el vía crucis); una selección de salmos; oraciones por los enfermos y en el momento de la muerte; por la nación, la sociedad y la creación; por la vida familiar y personal; y varias oraciones de acción de gracias, además de una letanía. Al inicio del libro, un amplio índice ayuda al lector a encontrar fácilmente la oración que busca.

 

 

 

 

Forward Today: Inspiring and empowering

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on a recent retreat with the Forward Movement leadership team–and inspiring projects to come.


Dear friends in Christ,

This week’s Forward Today is a bit later than usual. Sometimes I work ahead, but this week I did not. In fact, I was away Monday and Tuesday on a retreat with the leadership team from Forward Movement. So here I am, just now writing my weekly message.

Perhaps it is because I just spent two days thinking about our work at Forward Movement, but I want to share with you a few thoughts about life on the staff of Forward Movement.

 

 1) I am blessed to serve with wonderfully gifted and faithful colleagues. When people compliment me on the work of Forward Movement, I always say that our good work is because we have a good team. If you read Forward Day by Day, enjoy Lent Madness, get inspired by reading our books, use our apps, or attend our conferences, you are the beneficiaries of extraordinary people doing extraordinary work.

2) Much of what we are doing relies on the support of our readers and friends. We surely do offer plenty of traditional products which have traditional revenue. But more and more of what we are doing to support the needs of today’s church is made possible by generous gifts and sustained prayers. Today’s church needs resources to be free online. Today’s church needs resources in Spanish. Today’s church needs to be able to serve people in prisons. Without traditional revenue, we have to look for creative funding. As a staff we are grateful for the support that makes possible our work.

3) Serving an evolving church in the evolving world of publishing is hard! Anyone who works in the church can tell you about the challenges of the church. Anyone who works in publishing can tell you about the challenges of today’s market. Church and publishing! Thanks be to God we all love a compelling challenge and we see the higher purpose of our work. We know that figuring out how to serve today’s church with today’s resources is important to draw people into a transformed life with Jesus.

4) We are the heirs of a wonderful legacy. For more than eighty years, Forward Day by Day and other vital resources from Forward Movement have enriched the church. Don’t worry friends, we’ll try not to mess up what is working well!

5) Our future will be better than our present. We have big plans for new resources to offer the church. Stay tuned.

Please do pray for us. And stay tuned for news and inspiration. We love doing what we’re doing, and we can’t wait to tell you about our next resources!

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.