Forward Today: Remember, rest

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday, we’ll hear the Ten Commandments as the first lesson in church. And, at least in the church I’m serving on Sundays, we hear those commandments recited at the start of the liturgy every Sunday in Lent.

I love hearing this succinct set of laws that tell us how to live as God’s people. There are commandments to honor God and to honor other people.

It always strikes me that right up there with “do not murder” and “do not steal” is this one:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.

As a culture, I think we’re pretty good at ignoring that one. We feel like we need to stay productive all the time. There’s always a to-do list. Emails and notifications are always waiting.

But when God set out to boil down the ways to live to just ten laws, the commandment to rest was included. That suggests it’s pretty important.

To rest is a completely counter-cultural idea, and that’s why we need to do it. Resting means that we believe there’s something more important than what we accomplish. Resting means that we can simply bask in the glory of God’s love for us and all creation.

When Bishop Michael Curry introduced the Episcopal Church to the Way of Love, he identified seven spiritual practices that are essential for following Jesus. Rest is one of the seven, and I have a chapter with concrete advice on how to rest for busy people in my latest book, The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus.

I know rest is a struggle for me, and, looking around, I know I’m not alone. But it is God’s will for us, and God knows what is best for us. I hope we can all slow down and rest, for God’s sake and ours.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Forward Today: We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing

Dear friends in Christ,

Did you ever play hide and seek as a child? I did! One of the rules was that the seeker had to yell out, “ready or not, here I come!” before the search began. I feel like our liturgical year is saying to us, “ready or not, here Lent comes!”

As Fr. Tim Schenck and I wrote in our annual Ash Wednesday reflection over on Lent Madness, it may seem like it’s always Lent and never Easter, to echo C. S. Lewis. But we know that, regardless of our state of mind, the tomb was empty on Easter morning, and Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

Still, it’s hard for many of us to wrap our minds around this Lenten season. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, in which many thousands of people have died. At the moment, thousands of people are without electricity and suffering from extreme winter weather. We’ve all seen political turmoil. Most of us are deprived of our usual church gatherings and rituals.

How can we go about our usual Lenten disciplines? Should we?

This is a year to remember the essential core of Lent. It is not, primarily, a season of deprivation. It is not, fundamentally, a season of programs and familiar habits. It is, instead, a season in which we reorient our lives toward Jesus.

Perhaps in the midst of a pandemic, simply getting through the days and weeks is enough. We can’t be disciples if we are missing basic human needs. Perhaps in a time when we are deprived of so much, this is a time to savor what we have. I’m not telling you fasting is bad! Far from it. But I am saying this won’t be the usual Lent for any of us.

St. Paul knew plenty about suffering and deprivation. Allow me to quote at length a bit from today’s assigned epistle reading from 2 Corinthians.

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

This Lent, let us remember that even as we sorrow, we can rejoice in the mighty power of God. The Spirit abides with us. Jesus has offered us all his saving grace.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m not an athlete, but I’m married to a runner. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about running and about training. To be clear: I learned these things from the sofa.

Sherilyn, my spouse, decided several years ago that she wanted to run a full marathon, 26.2 miles. She started a training program. She had to work out. She had to adjust her eating. It was a big deal. And I’m proud to say she managed to run several marathons!

One of the things I learned about running marathons is that you have to set your pace. You have to run mile 1 at about the pace you want to run mile 25. If you run too slowly, you’ll have a lousy time. But if you run too fast, you’ll flame out and might not be able to finish. Successfully running a marathon is about a lot of things, but getting the right pace is pretty important.

I’ve been thinking about that lately with regard to the pandemic. Unlike a marathon, which is a predictable 26.2 miles long, we don’t know how long things will stretch on. At times, I have believed we were rounding the corner and the finish line was in sight. But with new variants of the virus and with ongoing issues with people not practicing safe social distancing and mask-wearing, this could drag on for quite a while.

There are some days I’m feeling pretty good, and I’m optimistic about the future. On those days, the losses and grief of the pandemic are manageable. But on other days, I become dismal about the future, and that spills over into my view of the present. In other words, I’m not keeping a steady pace.

And it’s not just managing my expectations. In all sorts of ways, this pandemic is surprisingly exhausting. I’ve heard that from people again and again. Parents are weary from home schooling. Churches are weary from managing remote or hybrid gatherings. Workers are weary from disruption to familiar workplace patterns. Elderly people are weary from isolation. And on and on.

Hebrews 12 begins with some powerful images:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

In other words, this life of following Jesus is hard. But we need not despair. As we suffer, we know that those who have gone before have suffered before us, and they cheer us on. Jesus carries the burden of our faith, and he will intercede for us with God the Father. How do we get through challenging times? We “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

This pandemic, like life itself, is a marathon, not a sprint. Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Image: Unsplash


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: It’s almost time

Dear friends in Christ,

Lent is almost here. Just two weeks from today, we will begin our Lenten journey.

This will be an unusual Ash Wednesday. Some churches won’t use ashes to mark the beginning of Lent this year, while those who do impose ashes will probably do so differently because of the dangers of disease in our time of pandemic.

Fortunately, our Book of Common Prayer does not require ashes. In fact, “The First Day of Lent” is a valid title for what we usually call “Ash Wednesday” according to our prayer book. The primary focus of getting our Lenten journey started is our awareness of our need to repent. And the whole season flows from that.

We are deprived of our usual Lenten customs this year. But perhaps there is an invitation for us to focus on our need of repentance, of our need to draw closer to Jesus Christ. Maybe we will have a deeper experience of growing into the full stature of Christ as we depart our comfortable, familiar places.

What will your Lenten journey be like? Now is a good time to make sure you and your church are ready for this time of preparation for Easter and embarking on the “spring cleaning of our souls.”

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

P.S. You don’t need to buy things to make your Lenten journey, but resources can be helpful for congregations, small groups, and individuals. Forward Movement has a wide variety of Lenten resources, and today is the last today to order to be sure you’ll get things sent by USPS standard shipping.

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Image: Scott Gunn, flickr


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: Staying connected

Dear friends in Christ,

It’s not easy to stay connected in the midst of a pandemic. The need for physical distance means that we can’t spend time with groups, and we can’t do many of the things that we might usually do to stay in touch with friends.

I spend lots of time talking with church leaders about how they are fostering community during this time. Online worship is common, and lots of churches are running classes by video. I myself find it enlivening to teach a weekly Bible study online.

But not everyone has internet access. How are churches staying connected with people who aren’t online? It’s not just an access issue, either. Parents of young children might be so frazzled with keeping their kids’ schoolwork going via zoom, not to mention their own work meetings, that a church meeting online feels like a major burden.

I was impressed when I heard Jason Leo talk about how the church he serves used Forward Day by Day to keep people connected to their faith and to God. You can watch him speak in a brief video. It’s so simple and yet effective.

With Lent coming up, some churches are sending out Lent bags or “Lent in a box” to each home in their church. Leading Ideas offered some excellent ideas for what churches can mail out to keep members connected during Lent, though I don’t love all of their suggestions. Plenty of good advice here though.

We have lots of good Lenten items at Forward Movement. Whether it’s a poster, a devotional book, a children’s book, or a copy of Forward Day by Day, there are lots of tangible ways you can keep your online and offline members connected to God and to their community.

What are you doing to stay connected?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

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Forward Today: Pray for our nation

Dear friends in Christ,

I suspect that most Forward Today readers are living in the United States of America. Today is a big day in our national life. If you are living outside the USA, we could still use your prayers.

We normally celebrate the peaceful transfer of power, but this month has been anything but peaceful. Certainly, I hope you will join me in praying for a peaceful inauguration ceremony today, but we have more praying and working to do once the ceremony is over. Some things change with a new president, but most of our national challenges continue.

As Christians, I hope our view is always toward the well-being of all people, especially those at the margins. We can work and pray for righteousness and peace among all people. We can pray and work for a spirit of mercy and truth.

Please join me in praying for the United States government and for all people. This prayer is “For the Nation” and it’s found on page 207 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord God Almighty, who hast made all the peoples of the earth for thy glory, to serve thee in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with thy gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As we move into a new chapter in our national life, I invite you to stay connected with the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations for suggestions about engagement with our government. In this time of division, you might also want to check out Make Me an Instrument: A Guide to Civil Discourse, a free course from ChurchNext.

Let us pray for President Trump and President Biden and for all who hold authority. And let us never cease to work and pray for the good and well-being of all people.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Photo: Unsplash


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

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Forward Today: Discipleship and citizenship

Dear friends in Christ,

Yesterday, I was invited to join a conversation about discipleship on a regular series called Pew & Beyond. It’s run by Neil Mancor and Lisa Vaughn, friends who work on congregational vitality in the Anglican Church of Canada. We had a good time talking, and there were lively comments from the viewers. If you have an hour to watch Neil, Lisa, and I talk amongst ourselves and interact with viewers, I commend the video to you.

During the conversation, we talked about lots of things, most especially spiritual growth. How do we move from being spiritual couch potatoes to being spiritually healthy? We also talked about a new offering from Forward Movement, Revive for Lent. Check it out if you’re looking for a way to engage spiritual growth using a video-based series this Lent.

Someone asked about the relationship between discipleship and citizenship. Given recent events, in which violence was perpetrated by people claiming to be Christians, I thought it was a timely topic. It wouldn’t be hard to write a book on this topic, but in today’s email, I just want to share a few quick thoughts.

Discipleship is about the journey of individuals in following Jesus, but it can only be done in community. In other words, for a disciple there is always personal accountability and accountability to a wider community. So too it is with citizenship. There is work I must do as a citizen, but I must also attend to the well-being of my community.

It strikes me that this balance of individual and community is something that we often get wrong with disastrous results. In the church, if we fail to teach personal ownership of our spiritual journey, we end up with churches full of people who do not have a prayer life or an immersion in the scriptures. Conversely, if we fail to emphasize community, we end up with a selfish focus on personal spiritual achievement, which is quite the opposite of the sacrificial love that Jesus taught and lived.

So too it is with citizenship. If we fail to emphasize personal accountability, we effectively abrogate our leadership to any number of people who would hijack a nation for their own personal interests. And if we fail to emphasize community, we see a selfish view of citizenship that does not care for those at the margins.

In the coming weeks, I hope we can all reflect on our work as disciples of Jesus and as citizens of whatever nation we inhabit. We have many blessings to enjoy, but we also have much work to do.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: Proclaim the Gospel of the boundless riches of Christ

Dear friends in Christ,

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. The familiar story is told in the Gospel of Matthew, a story of Christ’s presence being made known to the whole world. On this feast day, the assigned epistle reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

St. Paul writes about the grace he has been given by God and about the mission he shares with the whole church.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

On this feast of the Epiphany, we do well to remember not only God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ, but our mission to proclaim the love, wisdom, mercy, justice, and grace of God to the whole world.

The magi left behind their familiar world because they saw a sign. After a great and dangerous journey, they adored Jesus when they saw him. Are we willing to look for signs and respond to God’s call? Are we ready to adore Jesus Christ when we see him? Are we ready to make God’s grace known to the whole world?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

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Forward Today: Our hopes and fears are met in Jesus

Dear friends in Christ,

I love several lines in Phillips Brooks’ beloved Christmas carol, “O little town of Bethlehem.” The last phrase in the first verse is especially poignant to me this year, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Our God came to dwell among us, and in so doing, our hopes and fears met their redeemer. Ancient people had hopes and fears, and Jesus knew them. Today, we too have hopes and fears, and Jesus knows us and our hearts.

The year that is past certainly brought out many fears. If you’re like me, you are looking ahead in hope right about now. Of course, it’s never that easy. Hope and fear often come together.

 

At Forward Movement, it’s been a challenging year. We have tried valiantly to offer signs and words of hope. We created new materials to support Christians finding their way at home. We continued to send tens of thousands of copies of Forward Day by Day to people in prison, to nursing homes, to hospitals, and to military bases. We completely shifted how we work so that our ministry could carry on and we could be there when you call or write for help or to place an order.

I haven’t been afraid for Forward Movement’s long-term survival. We will be here for you and the church for decades to come. I’m sure of that. My fears have been simpler: are we really shifting in the best way possible? Are we providing what people need? Can we continue to innovate and create free podcasts and websites during a time of reduced income?

My hopes are much larger than my fears. I hope for a vibrant future for the church, and in some ways this challenging time is pushing all of us in ways we needed to be pushed. I hope the pandemic helps us be more aware of our interconnectedness. I hope when this strange time ends, we live in gratitude for things we might have taken for granted. Of course, I hope suffering is minimal and healing for people and nations comes quickly.

This time of year, you’ll be hearing from a lot of organizations asking for your financial support. At Forward Movement, we always hope you support your local church first and foremost. I also know you might not be in a position to make a financial gift now, and if that’s the case, I’ll ask for your prayers.

If you are able to make a gift to support the ministry of Forward Movement in sharing the love of Jesus Christ who knows all our hopes and fears, I would be most grateful. Your online gift will help us continue to offer what the church needs, even when those needs require us to make something free of charge. Your gift will help us stay strong now, so that we emerge from this pandemic time in good health.

If you have hopes or fears that Forward Movement can address, please let me know. Meanwhile, I wish you every blessing in the year to come.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


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Forward Today: Christmas can’t be canceled

Dear friends in Christ,

This Christmas will be like no other in recent memory. There will be no packed churches, no Christmas carols belted out with brass and choirs, no acres of poinsettias in the chancel, and not even any large family gatherings.

It would be understandable if we focused on our losses this year. Our losses are considerable, both in the thousands and thousands of people who have died in the pandemic and in the loss of familiar habits and rituals.

For Christians there is always Good News, even amidst our struggles and suffering. We know that evil is defeated on the cross, and we know that death is vanquished in the empty tomb. And then there is Christmas.

Some 2,000 years ago, the world suffered mightily under the yoke of oppressors. God’s people yearned for deliverance, ached for a word of hope. That hope came into the world in Bethlehem, an insignificant town in the middle of nowhere, at least according to the powers-that-be. God’s deliverance was born into our world in a birth that was precisely as beautiful and messy as any other.

Of course, not everything was normal about this birth. Sure, it was a human mother giving birth to a human son. But we know it was Mary the God-bearer bringing Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, into the world.

An angel proclaimed glad tidings. The host of heaven praised God. Shepherds hastened to meet their savior.

Nothing can change that story, for that story has changed the world. We would do well to be like those shepherds. Let us hasten to welcome Jesus into our world and into our very lives. And then let us glorify and praise God, for our world yearns for deliverance and aches in hope.

Perhaps with all the habits and rituals pared away, we can find the heart of the Gospel message of Christmas. God never abandons us and always finds us in our struggles. God-among-us is still very much our savior.

May we all, like Mary, treasure the Good News. And may we, like the shepherds, hasten to meet Jesus and proclaim his love to the world. I wish you a blessed Christmas.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

 

Subscribe to receive Forward Today in your inbox.


Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!

 


In case you missed it…

The Good Book Club: Epiphany 2021 begins January 1st

Available in print and as an eBook: A Journey with Mark | Forward Movement

Register for free live course, Introducing Mark | ChurchNext

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