Tag Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: For all the saints

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on All Saints’ Day–a day for remembering, celebrating, hoping, and praying.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today the church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. Today we exult in the triumph of the glorious witnesses who have gone before us, saints who testified to Jesus Christ by word and deed.
 
Today, we remember. We remember the ways in which women and men have shown forth Christ’s light. Some were political leaders who governed with equity. Others were clergy or lay people who called the church to renewal and, sometimes, repentance. Doctors and farmers and parents and students have all witnessed to God’s love. We grow in our own journey because we see their example.
 

 via Toward Emmaus

Today, we celebrate. We celebrate how God’s love has triumphed over the powers of evil in many ways. We celebrate the communion of saints, the reality that our earthly lives are enriched by the presence of so many saints around the eternal throne of God in glory everlasting.
 
Today, we pray. We pray to God, but we might also ask the saints to pray for us. While our teaching is clear that Jesus is our only mediator and advocate, our tradition also can encourage us to invite the saints’ prayers. It’s a bit like asking a neighbor or a friend to pray for us. In this case, we might ask a particular saint to pray for us because of their witness or their experience.
 
Today, we hope. We have hope that we too will join the heavenly company of saints. To celebrate All Saints’ Day is also to celebrate God’s promises that we can dwell in light everlasting.
 
That covers today. Tomorrow we will mourn. On what is often called All Souls’ Day (formally, the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed), we remember those who have died and who are dear to us personally. We mourn their loss and pray that they are enjoying God’s presence eternally.
 
I would be remiss if I did not also mention the day which follows All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. The next day, November 3, is the day we unveil the line-up of saints for Lent Madness in the coming year. Lent Madness, if you haven’t heard of it, is a slightly irreverent online Lenten devotion in which saints compete for the Golden Halo. Each day of Lent, people visit the Lent Madness website (lentmadness.org) and vote for a saint. It’s fun, but it also teaches us about the saints in a refreshing way. We call the unveiling day All Brackets’ Day, because it is the day the bracket (match-ups) for the saintly competition is unveiled. Visit the Lent Madness website this Friday to see which saints will be battling for the Golden Halo during Lent 2018.
 
On a more serious note, on this All Saints’ Day, I invite you to remember, celebrate, pray, and hope. You will be blessed.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is Lent Madness drinkware–take 25% off classic Madness mugs and glasses!

Forward Today: The hard work of listening

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers how, in a culture of talking, we might work to become better listeners.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I’ve been thinking about listening lately. It’s not something we as a culture do well. When I was a parish priest, I sometimes struggled with this myself. A person would stop by to chat about a pastoral issue, and I was always tempted to jump right into problem-solving mode. But mostly what I needed to do was listen. I think I got better at this, but it took work. And I still need to work on this.
 
We don’t have many examples. News programs are filled with people who shout over each other. Regular television shows have carefully scripted and always-witty conversations. There’s not much listening there, and never silence. Talking with someone is entirely different when we open ourselves up to listen, as opposed to thinking of the next thing we’ll say when our conversation partner is still talking.
 
And then there’s God. I notice that across the ideological spectrum, we love to declare what God thinks. We read the Bible looking for scriptures that agree with our pre-conceived ideas. We pray readily for affirmation of what we hope will happen, but perhaps less readily for God’s wisdom about what to do. In other words, our conversations with God, in my observation, are too often lopsided. We do the talking, and God does the listening.
 

 

When I manage to listen – really, to listen – whether it’s to God or to another person, I find it illuminating and often transformational. This is especially true when I manage to set aside my agenda to make room for God’s agenda. I’m still working on getting better at this, and I hope you’ll do the same. If you’re a person for whom listening comes naturally, encourage those around you and model your well-formed habit for others to see.
 
I wonder how different our church and our world would be if we listened more attentively for the still, small voice of God.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is the 2018 Episcocat calendar, crowdsourced for the first time from Forward Movement readers’ own faithful felines—and just $7.50 till midnight!

Forward Today: Cultures of discipleship

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on St. Luke the Evangelist, whose feast day we fittingly celebrate today, at the close of Discipleship Matters.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

As you receive this, we are finishing up the Discipleship Matters conference in Philadelphia. Lay leaders, clergy, and church members from across the country have gathered to focus on how we might create cultures of discipleship in our congregations. In other words, how do we move past maintenance into mission, from preservation into formation, from status quo into transformation. How do we make sure our churches are first and foremost about Jesus?
 
I hope you’ll hear more in the coming days about what we have shared and learned. As I write this, I am struck by the example of St. Luke the Evangelist. We know more about him from tradition than history, but scholars do agree that he wrote Luke and Acts, a one-two bunch of transformational witness to the power of God the Father working in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
 

 

Our faith today is strengthened because St. Luke knew his story – and God’s story – and passed it on. Our journey as disciples is strengthened because St. Luke shared the story of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. St. Luke captured the story of the Holy Spirit’s power in the early churches.
 
Maybe discipleship and evangelism are not complicated after all. Maybe it’s hard work, but very simple work. We know quite a bit about how to follow Jesus from reading the Gospels. We know that it’s anything but easy, but it also brings a joy that cannot be surpassed. We know how to grow the church: we need to share the Good News of God in Christ in both word and deed. Again, this isn’t complicated, but it takes a serious commitment.
 
Do you know God’s story and how it shapes your story? Do you have a story to tell? Has Jesus changed your life in a compelling way?
 
Let us all draw inspiration from the witness of St. Luke.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is What Are You Waiting For, Christine McSpadden’s collection of Advent meditations on the theme of waiting. Just $3.75, today only!

Forward Today: Admitting our shortcomings

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers a lesson from Matthew: If the disciples doubted, we can admit our own doubts, too.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today the church remembers Philip the Deacon. While his life and witness are very interesting indeed, I want here to comment on the assigned Gospel reading for this feast. The lectionary gives us a couple of verses from Matthew:
 
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by the Deacon Philip / Public domain

 

Now, we could talk about this all day long. We could talk about how Jesus has given us, as a church, our marching orders. Our first and primary task is making disciples. How are we doing at that? Or we could talk about baptism. Maybe we could have a lovely conversation about what it means to teach people everything that Jesus has commanded us. But I want to back up to the verses immediately before this assigned reading.
 
Beginning at verse 16, we read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” This all takes place immediately after Easter. The disciples had seen Jesus perform signs and wonders; he had told them he would be raised on the third day after his death; and here he was, in the flesh. How could they doubt?!
 
This is reassuring, is it not? If even those disciples could have doubts, maybe it’s understandable that we have doubts too. To their credit, they got on with it. They responded to new signs and new wonders, to the prompting of the Spirit. They didn’t dwell in doubt, but they allowed it to well up and be expressed.
 
St. John Chrysostom, in his sermon on this passage, observes that it is noteworthy how the disciples are able to share their doubts. They are able to be themselves. And Jesus does not chasten them. He challenges them, and they respond.
 
I hope that we can admit our own doubts and shortcomings. Jesus will not chasten us, but stands ready to embrace us and walk with us on our journey as disciples.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is Broken, the new essay collection by Ryan Casey Waller. Just $13.50, today only!

Forward Today: St. Francis, pray for us

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on St. Francis, writing that it’s not wrong to associate him with animals–but it’s missing the main point.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. We often think of him as the “animal saint” who is depicted with cute birds and such. He is often associated with animal blessing services this time of year. To associate Francis with animals is not wrong, but it misses the main point of his life.
 
Francis was born into a family of means. Over time, he gradually came to reject financial wealth and to embrace poverty. Once, while praying before an image of Christ Crucified, he heard a voice tell him, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” Though he first believed it was a command to repair that particular church building, he eventually realized it was a call to restore the church to its Gospel call.
 
To put it bluntly: Francis was a radical. He wanted the church – a place of wealth – to be concerned primarily with the poor and marginalized. Francis had a vision of Christlike living, and he didn’t stop with words. Though he was a lay person, he preached boldly and constantly, calling people to become committed disciples of Jesus Christ. To follow Jesus meant not following the way of material goods. Francis was a person who practiced what he preached. That is, he practiced and he preached.
 
I wonder what Francis would say if he showed up today. Looking at the challenges of our time – economic disparity, war and violence, racism, consumerism, fear – would he challenge the church to respond differently? Would his vision of a beautiful creation that praises God challenge us to respond more fully to climate change and environmental degradation?
 
Today, I encourage us all to look at our beloved church. Are we as a church fully committed to following Jesus? Do we favor things over people? Are we willing to practice what we preach? Do we need to repair our churches, not our buildings but the identity of our communities?
 
St. Francis, pray for us. We need it. The world needs it.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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For the Beauty of the Earth, Kathrin Burleson’s beautiful new book of Creation-themed daily devotions, launches today!

Forward Today: I will try this day

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes on A Morning Resolve, a prayer that has meant so much to so many. Have you tried this practice?


Dear friends in Christ,

 

As I travel across the church, I am blessed by many conversations with Forward Day by Day readers. Quite often, a reader will quote for me, from memory, one of two prayers. Regular readers will know that each issue of Forward Day by Day includes A Morning Resolve and For Today. They work well as devotional prayers to set us right each day. A Morning Resolve reads,
 
I will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God. In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right. And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
I love the reliance on God’s gracious presence to live this vision of the Christian life. I love the specificity of it. I love the pledge to have a childlike faith in God, because I think this does not mean simplistic faith but rather a faith that is sincere and trusting.
 
Hundreds of thousands of people pray these prayers every day. (You can find For Today on the Forward Movement prayer website.) Any habit of daily prayer is commendable, and any habit of daily prayer will make a difference in our lives.
 
A Morning Resolve has made such a difference to many people. Some months ago, Patrick Allen asked me to write the foreword for a new book on this prayer, appropriately titled: Morning Resolve, To Live a Simple, Sincere, and Serene Life. I was delighted to do so, and I think his book could enrich the daily prayer experience of anyone who uses the prayer regularly.
 
Aside from book recommendations, I urge every Christian to have some kind of daily prayer life, whether it’s silence, the daily office, free intercessions, or the lovely prayers that accompany Forward Day by Day. These daily conversations with God remind us who we are and who we are called to be.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Morning Resolve, To Live a Simple, Sincere, and Serene Life is 25% off, today (9/27) only.

Forward Today: The Gospel isn’t fair

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on grace, writing that “the church isn’t a social club with membership tiers. The church is a grace factory where we never run out.”


Dear friends in Christ,

 

This coming Sunday, the lessons include the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. You probably know the story: a landowner hires some day laborers. Some work all day, but near the end of the day, the landowner hired a few laborers. When it was time to pay them, they all received a day’s wages. Those who had worked all day were upset, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But the landowner reminded them that they too had received a day’s wages for doing a day’s work.
 
It’s a parable of grace. You see, in God’s economy, there is no zero sum reality. Those who worked all day got fully paid for their work, and there was still enough to pay those who came at the last minute. It isn’t fair, for sure. But it is abundant. There was enough for everyone. Thanks be to God.

 

If you start to work out the meaning of this way of thinking, it is astounding. When we repent, God offers forgiveness to all, no matter what we have done. That works for me, and it works for you, and it works for those whose sins we loudly or quietly condemn. The fact that God embraces someone else does not detract from God’s embrace of me.
 
The person who shows up to your church this Sunday looking for air conditioning or some free coffee or some good music or a moment of silence or whatever…that person has just as much claim on belonging in God’s house as the person who has been a faithful servant for decades. The person who knows the Bible and the prayer book and all the rules is no better than the person who isn’t quite sure about all of this and is seeking some kind of peace–those people are both beloved in God’s sight. The church isn’t a social club with membership tiers. The church is a grace factory where we never run out. All receive their share.
 
Today, think about how there is always more than enough. Ponder that in your own life, and look at those around you. God’s grace comes from a well that never runs dry. Drink deeply, and maybe you’ll offer an invitation to someone else who is thirsty. There is always more than enough.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale items are Jesus Movement car magnets and stickers.

Forward Today: Holy Cross, holy love

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on tomorrow’s Holy Cross Day, and his hope “that the Cross of Christ will be more than an abstraction for us.”


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Tomorrow, the church celebrates Holy Cross Day, a commemoration of events from the fourth century. It was on this date in the year 335 that the Emperor Constantine dedicated a large church on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. That building was ravaged by time and armies, but you can visit Jerusalem today and pray in a later (and now ancient) building on the same site.
 
When Constantine had ordered construction on the building, his mother, Helena, was entrusted with overseeing the work. During the construction, tradition says that fragments from the True Cross, that is, the cross on which Jesus had been crucified, were found. It sounds fanciful, and perhaps it is. What is not fanciful are the fervent prayers of pilgrims from around the world in that site every day.

 

Calvary Chapel, the traditional site of Jesus’ Crucifixion. scottagunn via flickr

Recently, the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection was renovated. During the construction, another miracle of sorts happened. It turns out that under more modern layers of marble, ancient, first-century stone was discovered. This is the latest in a series of archeological finds which support the idea that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the actual sites where the actual events of Good Friday and Easter Day took place. It is almost overwhelming.

I have had the privilege of visiting this church several times, and each time has been a profound experience. Speaking for myself, I think it’s tempting to think of the cross and the resurrection as abstract events. I know they are “real” but they are too amazing to sink in, as it were. When I visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, something changes in my heart and in my mind. You can touch the stone. You can pray where Christians have been praying for nearly twenty centuries.

Tomorrow is Holy Cross Day. I hope that that the Cross of Christ will be more than an abstraction for us. On the Cross, we see living and dying proof of God’s love for us and the whole world.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is John Ohmer’s Slaying Your Goliaths.

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.