Tag Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: Discipleship Matters

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers what real discipleship entails—and why it’s so essential.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Sometimes in our churches, I think we forget our marching orders, the ones given to us by Jesus. It’s easy to become a Preservation Society or a Museum of Maintenance or a Social Club of those we love. No one wants this, it just happens over decades. But our directions from Jesus couldn’t be more clear:
 
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
 

These verses often show up as a sound bite around the edge of baptismal fonts, but we shouldn’t stop with the exhortation to baptize. Jesus instructed his followers (that’s us!) not only to baptize, but to teach. And we are not just meant to teach, but to teach people obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Commandments are not very chic these days, but we Christians are bound to obey and to teach them. And what are these commandments? Jesus told us to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbors as our selves. Jesus told us to love others as he loves us.

Practicing this kind of love is impossible on our own. We need God, and we need to be steeped in the life of discipleship – hearing, learning, and practicing this radical, loving way of life. Churches should be places where we explore what it means to love God fully and to love our neighbors fully as well. If church is going to move from being a place of comfort and familiarity into being a place of transformation, challenge, and sacrifice, we’ll need to work hard at creating a culture of discipleship.


This discipleship is not navel-gazing or internal focus or vapid spiritualized faith. No, the first clue something else is happening is that Jesus’ exhortation starts with “Go!” We are meant to leave our easy places and go into the whole world bearing Christ’s love and his message of hope and redemption. Discipleship means not only daily prayer and weekly worship, but regular service and great generosity. Discipleship is how our church might address many of the challenges of our time.
 
Forward Movement, along with our RenewalWorks ministry, is offering the Discipleship Matters conference next month. It’s an entire conference focused on discipleship. I hope you will consider coming to St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, near Philadelphia, October 16-18. Send your congregation’s lay and clergy leaders or anyone who wants to learn more about discipleship and how to make it the main thing in your church. You can learn more online, and you can register here.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is Table Graces and Family Graces—just $11.57 for both!

Forward Today: Being our best selves online

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on the flooding in Houston, and how in the wake of disaster, we’ve seen the best of humanity on social media.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I’ve been thinking about social media lately. Last week, my Forward Today was about my eclipse experience. One aspect I did not write about was the social media side of it. Nearly everyone who posted, at least until the traffic problems, was writing about how delighted they were. Awe and wonder were the words of the day. What I realized as I watched all this is that we were united in something wonderful online. Instead of the usual partisan rancor, social media allowed us to share a common experience.
 
This week, we’ve seen awful images of devastation coming out of Houston and South Texas. Harvey has left thousands without homes, and recovery will take years. There is no way to sugar coat that or to pretend there is a silver lining. I do hope you will consider making a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development in support of their work.

 

Photo by Texas National Guard, via Flickr / Creative Commons
Without ignoring very real suffering, I also want to acknowledge something else. In the wake of this disaster, social media have allowed us to see humanity at its best. People have been generous with one another. People have offered care and shared their need for care. People have offered their prayers and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and work.
 
And the church has been at its best. Clergy have been amazing pastors on Facebook. Churches have offered online prayers when in-person services weren’t possible. Members have taken care of each other. Churches have rallied to open their buildings up to shelter strangers. It’s just what the church should be doing.
 
After sharing something similar to this on my own Facebook wall, a commenter wrote, “Not sure why it takes a disaster to show our best side, but so proud of so many kind people.” Yes. Let’s not wait until the next disaster to be kind to one another. And as long as people in Houston are suffering, let us continue to give, to work, and to pray.
 
While I do think we need to speak boldly to challenge oppression and injustice, I also think we need to offer kindness and compassion. How can social media allow us to reveal our best selves, whether that’s prophet or pastor? How can we be our best selves online?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is Pathways of Faith: An All-Ages Coloring Book—a unique way to explore the simple joys of creation.

Forward Today: The Gift of Common Prayer

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott suggests a practice for prayer: “Perhaps you might find a collect or two from our prayer book and memorize them. Then when your heart demands it, you will have the words at hand.”

And to help you get started, today in our Wednesday sale, take 25% off Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as Guide to a Spiritual Life.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

There are as many ways to pray as there are people on earth. I don’t really think there is a right or a wrong method of prayer, though some may be more suitable for us at particular times.
 
Impromptu prayer leaves room for us to say to God what is on our heart at that instant. Contemplative prayer opens us to hear God’s still, small voice. Walking prayer helps us use our whole bodies in prayer. And of course, we Anglicans know a thing or two about common prayers. Our tradition is rooted in the idea that prayer forms us, and one of the ways we are formed us a community is that we all say the same prayers.

 

Most of the time, I prefer to say these prayers – ancient and modern litanies, collects, and other prayers – because they give me the words to say so that I can focus on my intention and on God’s response. Take, for example, this gem from the back of our prayer book:
 
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
The elegance of expression is a gift, is it not? However you pray, treasure the gift of prayer. Perhaps you might find a collect or two from our prayer book and memorize them. Then when your heart demands it, you will have the words at hand. This certainly isn’t the only way to pray, but I find there is a priceless gift in filling our minds with lovely prayers.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Forward Today: Bless Our Land

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes about Independence Day–and the prayers we say for this Major Feast day.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Early next week, the United States will celebrate its Independence Day. The day is more than the sales that will probably keep malls and stores busy this weekend. The day is more than a few fireworks. Independence Day is a day to give thanks for the blessings of this nation and to recommit to treasuring and building up the ideals of our country.

 

Photo by Flickr user Celso FLORES / Creative Commons

As Episcopalians will know, this day is a red letter day in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a Major Feast day, and churches are meant to have celebrations of the Holy Eucharist on this day. Our prayer book provides a couple of prayers and a set of readings for the occasion. There’s another prayer I quite like, a prayer that we might all say on or near Independence Day. It’s not specific to the United States, so readers from other nations might use it also.
 
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, page 820)
 
This prayer reminds us – both as citizens and as people of faith – that we must remember both our rights and blessings and our duties and obligations. In particular, we have a sacred duty to look out for the lost, the least, and the last. As Emma Lazarus wrote for the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
 
Ours is a nation of people yearning to be free. Let us all seek to make a nation where all are free. And when we see that oppression and captivity are preventing freedom, let us open our hearts and the doors of our churches to give sanctuary to those in need of protection and safety.
 
This Independence Day, let us indeed celebrate our many blessings. But let us also remember that righteousness and justice demand constant vigilance.
 
However you use your time this summer, may God bless you.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Forward Today: Slowing Down for Summer

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes about slowing down during the summer season–and how we can find a new pace in our spiritual lives.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Next week is the official start of summer, but for many people, the rhythm of life will have changed already. If you have students at your house, they’re probably done or close to done for the academic year. Many congregations’ program lives slow down for the summer. Children go to camp. Vacation plans are made. We might spend more time outdoors on the porch. Life slows down a bit.

 

 

What will you do with extra time–time that comes from the slower pace of summer, vacation time, and more hours of daylight? Maybe “nothing” is a good answer. Lord knows, in our always-on, endlessly busy culture, we need the rest. If that’s your plan, I salute you.
 
You might want to spend some time this summer taking up new habits or reading new books. Maybe this is a good time to try out the daily office as you sit on the porch. Or maybe you’ll want to do some reading that helps to deepen your faith. Lots of publishers have great titles, fiction and nonfiction. If you’re looking for suggestions from Forward Movement, I’d offer The Path or Inwardly Digest. The Path takes you on a journey through the great narrative of scripture. Inwardly Digest beckons you to encounter our Book of Common Prayer with depth and devotion.
 
We’ve also just published The Power of Imperfection. “Many of us go through life feeling as if we are failing to be the person we could be. But as this liberating book explores, there is power to be found in imperfection.”
 
However you use your time this summer, may God bless you.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Pray Always

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott ponders the power of unceasing prayer.


Dear friends in Christ,

Today’s assigned readings include a passage from James, with these instructions, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).

In my limited experience talking with people – and reflecting on my own life – too often we tend to pray to God when we want something. The scriptures suggest another approach. We should, instead, pray without ceasing. We should pray to give thanks, to praise God, to seek God’s will, and, yes, to implore God’s action in the world. Sometimes I’m better at this than other times. Does prayer work? Absolutely. I know that when I pray more often, I discover a sense of God’s grace in the world and in my life that I might not otherwise find.

Man prayer in church

A rich prayer life moves beyond asking God to do things for us and toward a life in which we commit ourselves to God. We pray not for God to fix everything for us, but for God to accompany us in our brokenness and in the broken places of the world.

Forward Movement has all kinds of resources on prayer, but today’s message won’t point you toward something to buy. Instead, I invite you to try a kind of prayer you haven’t used lately. Haven’t spent time telling God thanks? Try it. Or try praising God in prayer. Or asking for God’s direction. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to pray, but I do believe we are blessed when we push ourselves toward a deeper life of prayer.

How will you pray today?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Inspiring Disciples, Empowering Evangelists

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes about Forward Movement’s shift from print-centric ministry to one that covers many platforms and digital initiatives. We hope you’ll help us in this effort!


Dear friends in Christ,

 

This week, on Monday and Tuesday, the Forward Movement board of directors met in Cincinnati. Twice a year the board meets to hear reports, to set policy and strategy, and to pray together. I’m always grateful for this time together and for such gifted leaders who give their time and skill to Forward Movement in service to the wider church.
For the past few years, Forward Movement has been transitioning from print-centric ministry to a ministry that seeks to meet needs across many platforms and channels. It’s exciting and challenging to do this work. Just as pamphlets were the right technology when we started in 1935, today we seek to inspire disciples and empower evangelists on social media, with digital products, with websites and online conversation, and more. Our board has courageously allowed us to invest in new initiatives so that we can serve the needs of today’s church. 

 

Take, for example, RenewalWorks. This ministry allows congregations to understand, in great details, the spiritual needs and strengths of a local community. And as we step back and aggregate data from thousands of Episcopalians across the church, we now understand well where our church is strong and where we need to grow. 

 

As I am grateful for our board, so I am grateful for our readers and friends who pray for our work every day. It matters. Thank you. 

 

If you are passionate about making disciples and sharing the Good News of God in Christ, I hope you might also consider a financial gift to support digital and online efforts for which we cannot get sales income. Our work in social media and online — sharing hope and offering resources — relies on your gifts. 
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Forward Today: Christ’s Vision of Unity

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concept of “cheap grace,” and asks: do we often pursue “cheap unity” as well?


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today, as I was praying morning prayer, I was struck by the assigned gospel reading, from the 17th chapter of John. Verse 20 has Jesus praying to the Father on behalf of his disciples, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
 
That they may all be one. Of course, Jesus is talking about us, his disciples, just as surely as he was talking about his followers seated around that table twenty centuries ago. What does it mean to say that we may all be one?

 

 

It seems to me there are a couple of dangers lurking here. One would be to say that we are all different, and so the quest for deep unity is pointless. On the other hand, we might be tempted to work for a kind of false unity that obscures or ignores our very real differences, creating an illusion of unity. I see quite a bit of the latter in our churches today.
 
Much as Bonhoeffer talked about “cheap grace,” I think there is such a thing as “cheap unity.” The antidote to cheap grace is costly discipleship, and I think the same cure works for cheap unity. If we see ourselves as followers of Jesus, people who give everything over to following him, I believe Christ’s vision of unity may be possible. To be bound together by baptism, by grace, by discipleship, and by our place in the Body of Christ, is to be bound together in unity. When we see ourselves in this kind of unity, we can acknowledge and even celebrate our differences and our unique giftedness.
 
Jesus prayed that we may all be one. What would need to happen in your life for Jesus’ prayer to be fulfilled? What would our world be like if the church were truly and deeply at unity?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Happy Easter! It’s a Season, Not a Day!

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on spending Holy Week in Jerusalem, and the ways it inspired him to think about the fullness of Easter.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I wish you all a very blessed and joyous Easter! I am still basking in the glow of my pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where I celebrated Holy Week and Easter with Ethiopians, Greeks, Armenians, Russians, and Anglicans. You can see photos from my pilgrimage on my flickr page. It was inspiring to walk through Holy Week in the places Jesus and his disciples inhabited.

 

 

One thing that struck me is the exuberant way people shouted the Easter Greeting. “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!” That’s Greek. Anglicans of course shouted, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” These shouts came in sets of three and they were repeated many times throughout liturgies. These were not the subdued liturgical speech that I’ve come to expect among my fellow Episcopalians. Rather, people shouted with reckless abandon, befitting the absolute triumph over death, fear, sin, and destruction that Christ’s Resurrection represents.
 
I wonder what our lives would be like if we celebrated the fullness of Easter for the fullness of the entire Easter season. Our church has set side 50 days for Easter. You might follow along on a wonderful website, 50 Days of Fabulous (www.50days.org). Or maybe you’ll take on an “Easter discipline.” Read a book, maybe one of Forward Movement’s 50 Day Bible Challenge readings of the gospels. My favorite habit to suggest is one that comes from some of our Orthodox friends. During the entire season, instead of greeting people with a hello or a good morning, they greet everyone with “Christ is risen!”
 
However you choose to celebrate Easter, I do hope you’ll make the joy and the transformation last longer than a day or a week. Easter isn’t just one day with full churches, extravagant music, and beautiful flowers. When we celebrate Easter, we are celebrating God’s absolute victory over death and our captivity to sin. Easter means that there is always hope, and that is good news, indeed.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Holy Week for Holy Lives

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes from his Holy Week pilgrimage in Jerusalem, where he’s reminded that Holy Week isn’t just historic–it’s “very much about today.”


Dear friends in Christ,

 

As I mentioned last week, I’m in Jerusalem on pilgrimage for Holy Week. You can follow along on Twitter or Instagram or Flickr (where I’m posting lots of photos). It’s been an extraordinary experience. On Palm Sunday, I marched with tens of thousands along the traditional route from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem. I suppose much like the original parade, there was both joy and sorrow, hope and dread.

 

 

Later in the week, the group I’ve joined from St. George’s College here will worship with Anglicans here in the Diocese of Jerusalem. Perhaps if you are an Episcopalian, your church will take part in the Good Friday Offering for the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem. If so, please be generous. They do much good and vital work under very difficult circumstances.
 
This week, something has struck me in a particularly strong way. Holy Week is not, of course, just a re-enactment of past events, even here in Jerusalem, where some of the processions and services take place in the very locations the commemorated events took place some 2,000 years ago. No, Holy Week is very much about today.
 
This week, our liturgies draw us toward a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. They invite us afresh to glorify God. Maundy Thursday, for example, surely reminds us of an ancient meal. But it also invites us to glorify God for God’s great mercy and love for us. Maundy Thursday invites us to loving service in our whole lives. Here in this week, past, present, and future all meet.
 
How will you move through Holy Week? What will it show you about God?
 
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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