Forward Today: Of sunshine and rain

Dear friends in Christ,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the back yard under the shade of an umbrella on a sunny day. The birds are singing. Bees are buzzing about. Our dog is surveying his realm. It’s one of those glorious days that makes me grateful to be alive.

The heavens are telling the glory of God, the psalmist writes. And so too do the bees, the flowers, the grass, the birds, and the whole of creation. But it’s not just on sunny days.

Some years ago, I was in Jerusalem for the first time. I’ve told the story before: I was excited to be in this most holy place. My little group drove around the city getting an orientation tour. Instead of the sunshine I expected, it was a gray, rainy day. The windows on the bus kept fogging up. My view of the city was spoiled, I thought.

We stopped to get out of the bus at a scenic overlook. In the drizzle. I was grumpy. Then I saw the faces of the local people. They were all abeam in sheer joy. “Isn’t it wonderful,” one of them asked me, “that we’re getting this beautiful rain today?”

Of course! In a very dry climate, rain is seen as a blessing. I suddenly felt very humbled. And I realized afresh that God’s glory is revealed not just in sunshine and in things that happen to please me personally. God’s glory is revealed in the whole of creation – sun and rain, warm and cool, forest and desert. And God’s glory is revealed in the joy of God’s people.

The photo here is from that same trip to the Holy Land. I took this photo in the Golan Heights, near Mount Hermon. My time in the Holy Land helped me understand Psalm 133 in a new way:

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

Let us all give thanks to God for dew and wind, for sun and rain, for joy and sorrow, for noise and silence. Blessed be our God, who gives us every blessing.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From the Grow Christians archives: God grows me as I tend my place in Creation

Explore scriptures about God’s creation: The Creation Care Bible Challenge

New from ChurchNext: Christians and Climate Change with Bill McKibben

Forward Today: Caring for God’s creation

Dear friends in Christ,

Last Friday was Earth Day. An annual reminder of the need to protect this beautiful world in which we live is a good thing. We do even better to keep a constant focus on our environment and our attitudes toward God’s creation.

Surely there can be little debate that human activity has sometimes harmed our world. Forests are shrinking. Pollution increases. Garbage litters our oceans. The climate is changing.

What are we to do?

  • We can always begin and end in prayer. Prayer helps our relationship with God, and that may in turn teach us to be more grateful for all the gifts God has given, including our amazing planet.
  • Advocate for public policies that protect the environment and discourage polluters.
  • Support businesses and organizations that are friendly to the environment.
  • Reduce our own consumption of goods and energy.

As a church, there are several steps we can take:

  • Choose green energy providers and reduce energy consumption in our churches.
  • Build carbon offsets into budgets.
  • Provide electric vehicle chargers and bike racks.
  • Pray for and teach about our relationship with creation regularly.
  • Study the scriptures. Forward Movement has just published the Creation Care Bible Challenge, which is ideal for individual devotion or group study.

At Forward Movement, we have switched to recycled paper where possible. We are looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. My personal hope is that we can become carbon neutral in a short time.

Let us give thanks for this amazing world and for all the plants and creatures who live with us. And let us seek to leave the world in better shape than when we inherited it.

What can you do to protect God’s creation? What is your church doing?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians: The Challenge of Earth Day

From the archives: Easter in the Compost Bin

Pray with the Earth for “daily bread” in Bold to Say

Forward Today: May we show forth

Dear friends in Christ,

Thanks be to God we have a whole season to celebrate with joy the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s just too much to fit into one day. So for fifty days we can bask in the glow of resurrection light as we seek to understand how this gift changes our lives and our hopes.

Every day of this first week of Easter is a major feast day according to our prayer book. That means each day has its own assigned lessons and its own collect. I love several of them, but tomorrow’s collect really struck me as I was writing this message.

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isn’t that lovely? In Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, God has established a new covenant. And we who follow Jesus should show in our lives what we believe!

How are our lives changed by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus? What does it matter that God has decisively acted in our world to defeat sin, evil, and death? In this sometimes chaotic world of ours, can Easter joy help us to be bearers of mercy and grace? These are questions we might grapple with in this Easter season.

We spend a lot of energy on our Lenten disciplines, rightly so! But Easter disciplines might also help us live as people who follow a risen Lord. Easter disciplines might include prayer, thanksgiving, sharing, proclamation, worship, or whatever helps you grow into the full stature of Christ.

Forward Movement is here to walk with you through the fifty days of Easter. You can read daily reflections at 50days.org. These are short reflections written by a group of folks, many of whom write for Grow Christians. The blog features Easter music on Monday, throwbacks to ancient writings on Thursdays, and lovely reflections on Easter joy the other days of the week.

You can get an ebook or paper copy (Forward Movement or Amazon) of my latest book, Easter Triumph, Easter Joy: Meditations for the Fifth Days of Eastertide. You can cultivate a habit of daily prayer with extra alleluias on our free prayer site. You can read the Book of Acts or meditate daily on one of the great Easter icons.

Whatever you do, I hope you and I will not go back to “business as usual” now that we’ve celebrated Easter Day. The world can never go back to business as usual now that death is defeated! Let us spend the next 47 days exploring the joy and transformation of Easter.

Blessings to you all. Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Easter at Grow Christians: Every Last Thing Is a Season

Spend 50 days exploring scripture: The Way of Love Bible Challenge

Easter at ChurchNext: Finding the Resurrected Jesus

Forward Today: Gather in vigil and prayer

Dear friends in Christ,

On Saturday evening, many churches will have gathered to celebrate on Easter Eve. The celebrant begins the service in darkness by saying, “Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer.”

The whole of Holy Week could be seen as a gathering in vigil in prayer. At this most holy time, we spend time remembering God’s great love for us as shown forth in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Study for Crucifixion” (1947) by Graham Sutherland — in the Vatican Museums.

While we tend to love others when it feels convenient and good to us, we recall how Jesus taught us to love others as he loved us: completely and sacrificial. Instead of turning away from the cross, we spend time gazing at it. And we then we revel in the utter and shocking victory of God’s victory over fear, sin, and death.

I hope you will join me in spending lots of time in church this week. Though we are dispersed throughout the world, we will be together in hearing God’s promises to us. We will share in the drama and awe of the ancient liturgies of the church. We will meet Jesus in the scriptures and sacraments. And we will find our hearts gladdened with the good news that no person and no place is beyond God’s redemptive love.

Blessings to you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From the Grow Christians archives: Talking about the Cross with Young Children 
Find the right prayer for the right time: Prayers for All Occasions
Pray through Holy Week with us at prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today: Let us enter with joy

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday, we begin our journey through Holy Week. It is the heart of our liturgical life, and in these few days, we see and experience so much of God’s vast love for us.

Our week begins on a high note with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was an occasion of much hope. Hosanna! Save us! People might have hoped that Jesus would persuade his Father in heaven to vanquish their oppressors. Jesus indeed came to bring freedom, but not in terms defined by the powers and principalities of the world.

Later in our Palm Sunday service, we will hear the passion gospel from St. Luke. Near the end, Jesus has a series of poignant and revelatory conversations. In one exchange, the authorities say to Jesus, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.”

But Jesus is not there for a debate or a rhetorical demonstration. Rather, he is about how show forth his love as he offers himself for us and for our world on the cross. Where people wanted words, Jesus offered himself. As the letter to the Hebrews says, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” He didn’t need to engage in pointless words because he himself is the Word.

This tragic disconnect is one of many we will hear and see in Holy Week. We sinful humans simply weren’t – and aren’t – able to grasp the immensity of God’s love for us.

I love Holy Week because it all moves beyond words. In the scriptures and liturgies of the week, we meet the God who loves us more than we can imagine. We meet the God who shows us perfect love in Christ Jesus enfleshed. We meet the God who did finally vanquish evil, but on a cross and in an empty tomb. We meet God.

The height and depth and breadth of God’s love is manifest on the cross. Let us enter with joy into this week in which we contemplate and see God’s saving love.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From the Grow Christians archives: Parenting – when every day is Palm Sunday 
Prepare for Easter with our new devotional: Easter Triumph, Easter Joy 
Order Easter materials TODAY (Wednesday 4/6) to ensure delivery by Easter Day!

Forward Today: Let us pray

Dear friends in Christ,

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s a lot going on in the world these days. The news brings us word of distressing events each day. As I’ve said many times here before, prayer is never the wrong answer.

I think it bears repeating that prayer is action. Don’t accept the premise that we must “pray and also take action.”

For some people, it’s easy to find the right words to pray. For me, I often prefer to savor the words that others have crafted. I especially love ancient prayers. I guess that’s why I’m a happy Episcopalian!

If you are like me and like to speak time-tested prayers, there are lots of resources. Of course, the Book of Common Prayer is a treasury of lovely prayers. Look especially in the back at page 814 onward for prayers relating to many occasions and subjects.

Forward Movement has a free prayer website at prayer.forwardmovement.org. On that site, you can find all the prayers I mentioned starting at page 814 along with others. You can find daily devotions for individuals and families. You can even keep your own prayer list to pray the intentions that are important to you. Everything on our prayer website is also available in free prayer apps for Apple or Android.

If you want some inspiring collections of prayers, Forward Movement offers several. I encourage you to check out the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, Hour by Hour, Prayers New and Old, or Prayers for All Occasions. Each of these volumes offers a carefully chosen collection of prayers. Samples are available on our website.

Finally, if you’re a person whose prayer time often happens on your commute, we have some free podcasts to support your practice of prayer. You can enjoy Forward Day by Day, A Morning at the Office, or An Evening at Prayer.

Prayer is an essential practice for those of us who follow Jesus. Prayer helps us to love God and love our neighbors. Prayer allows us to give voice to our hopes, praises, sorrows, and regrets. And when we can’t find the right way to pray, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

But, for God’s sake, let us pray.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Pray through Easter with our new devotional:  Easter Triumph, Easter Joy 
From Grow Christians, on the heaviness of this moment: Weary and Burdened
Try a new prayer practice: Seek and You Will Find

Forward Today: Prepare with joy

Dear friends in Christ,

Our prayer book says that Lent is a time to “prepare with joy for the Paschal feast” among other things. This season of repentance helps us to bask in the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection, as we turn away from earthly things and toward things heavenly.

Lent still seems new, but if we are to be ready for Easter, we have to look ahead. Many of us tend to put more focus on Lenten practices than on Easter practices.

Last year, I decided to focus on my own Easter practices, and I ended up writing a book of daily devotions for the Easter season. The whole book asks the question, “How might our lives change if we took seriously the astounding reality of the empty tomb?”

Whether you use my book or something else, I encourage you to consider an Easter devotional practice. The reason I mention this today is that you might want to get it selected and ordered so it arrives on time.

Easter Triumph, Easter Joy: Meditations for the Fifty Days of Eastertide is available as a book or ebook. If you buy directly from Forward Movement, there are also bulk discounts if you want to invite your whole church to consider an Easter practice. At a time when the world’s news often seems hopeless, this might be just the year to dive deeper into a season that’s all about ultimate hope.

Forward Movement also has colorable Easter calendar posters (Alleluia! 50 Days and 50 Ways to Celebrate Easter) by the inimitable Jay Sidebotham. Your church can buy packs of 25 calendars and then give them away, perhaps on Easter Day, to help people celebrate the Easter season at home.

You don’t have to spend money, of course. You can read the Book of Acts. Or take up a joyous prayer practice. Or find another way to keep the full fifty days of Easter. Whatever you do, it’s time to start planning.

Meanwhile, I wish you every blessing of this season of Lent. We still have plenty of Lent left to repent and renew in our walk with Christ.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Try a practice of simple Lenten joy: Play Lent Madness
Follow along as the church reads Acts in Easter: A Journey Through Acts

Forward Today: Simply showing up for Lent

Dear friends in Christ: This week’s Forward Today is written by Margaret Ellsworth, who started working on the Forward Movement team in our marketing department in August 2021. From time to time, I hope Forward Today readers will enjoy a perspective from others on our team. – Scott Gunn

Today we are officially two weeks into Lent. And for those of us who are practicing a Lenten discipline this year–whether that’s giving something up or taking something on—we are coming face-to-face with how that practice is working in our lives so far.

Maybe you’re satisfied with how your practice is working—maybe you’re noticing how it’s leading you into self-examination and repentance. Or maybe it’s been a struggle.

Maybe you gave up chocolate for Lent and then remembered with chagrin that you’d already pre-ordered some delicious Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts next door. Maybe you picked a discipline last week and promptly forgot about it after the ashes were washed from your brow.  Maybe a Lenten practice feels like just one more thing to add to your plate, and after two years full of work and worry your plate’s just… full.

In a culture that tells us to optimize our lives for maximum productivity, it’s easy to see Lent through that lens. Easy to think our prayers and fasts are failures of will.

But what if our practices don’t have to be perfect? What if simply showing up could be enough?

In this season of my life I’m finding that a small and simple practice is more likely to be done consistently, and thus bear more fruit, than a thorny ambitious one. Take dishes, for example: the bane of my housekeeping life. When I set out to clean the whole house in a day, it stays messy. When I set out to wash one dish, more often than not I move on to empty the sink—and if that isn’t possible, at least I have a plate to eat off of for dinner.

So too with habits of prayer. I have tried for many past Lenten seasons to pray the Daily Office every day. Some hectic days I can’t find the full thirty minutes it would take to pray the whole service aloud. But I can try the small and simple version of that. Perhaps I’ll just pray the five-minute “Daily Devotions” service from the BCP instead. Or even just one psalm or canticle. Maybe just the Lord’s Prayer.

The Forward Day by Day app (available on iOS and Google Play) makes this easy. The readings and prayers are already there for me without any flipping through pages or looking things up. I can move from the long Morning Prayer service to a shorter prayer or devotional with just one tap. And for days when I can’t sit still, I pull up the Morning Prayer podcast (right there in the app as well) and let the prayers and readings wash over me as I get the dishes done.

So wherever you are with your discipline this week, I pray that God is meeting you there. I hope you show up with me this week, no matter how small or simple your practice may be—because after all, it is not our work but God’s that draws us into holy presence.

Margaret Ellsworth serves as Marketing Coordinator for Forward Movement. She holds an MA in worship and the arts from Claremont School of Theology. Margaret lives with her husband and two young children in Boise, Idaho.


More from our ministry:

Prayer practices in everyday life: Seek and You Will Find
Try a practice of simple Lenten joy: Play Lent Madness

Forward Today: The neglected commandment

Dear friends in Christ,

I lead a Bible study on Tuesday evenings. Not long ago, we looked at the Ten Commandments in Exodus. One of the things we talked about is how we mostly respect and try to keep nine of the commandments. We don’t murder, steal, or lie. Or at least we agree that those things are bad!

But we don’t rest very well, do we? Christians have varied understanding of what Sabbath means and how to keep it. But in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament, it’s pretty clear that God wants his people to rest! There are myriad ways this is lived out in the scriptures. Jesus, too, kept the Sabbath, though he sometimes got into squabbles about how to keep it.

Jesus rested. He kept the Sabbath – though perhaps not the way others expected. God commands rest. Jesus rested. So why is it so hard for us?

In short, our culture promotes the idol of productivity. We live in a world that teaches us that our value comes from what we produce or accomplish. But that’s antithetical to the Gospel. The Gospel teaches us that we are precious regardless of what we produce. The scriptures say that we are worthy of God’s love and redeeming grace.

Taking a day to rest – not to check off a list of errands, but to really rest – is countercultural. When someone asks you what you’re doing today, try answering, “Nothing. I’m resting.” See what kind of reaction you get!

The pandemic has blurred lines of home and work. We all need rest more than ever, and it’s harder than ever to get away. I hope you’ll find a way to rest regularly. God literally made us hardwired to benefit from the gift of rest. When we rest, we can simply enjoy our creation and preservation by almighty God. We can remember what is truly important.

At Forward Movement, we try to model the practices of discipleship. We pray every day at the office. We practice generosity by giving away thousands of free books and booklets every year. We study the Bible together. And we rest.

We rest in several ways. Our lay staff and clergy have taken sabbaticals. Our full-time staff have every other Friday off, yielding a three-day weekend. We work hard while we’re on duty, but we also do our best to give folks time away from work for family time and other activities.

This week, we’ve closed our office. All week long, Monday through Friday, our whole staff is enjoying a week of refreshment and rest after a very stressful few months with pandemic-related issues. I hope you’ll say a word of prayer to give thanks for my hard-working and amazing colleagues at Forward Movement, that they can rest well. We love our work, and that’s why we’re all taking a few days away from it.

How are you doing at rest? How is your church doing? Can you allow your hard-working and probably exhausted staff and clergy to have some real rest time?

Rest. It is God’s command, and God’s commandments are good for us and for our world. Rest.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians: Sabbath by sprain
Fill out your bracket at the new Lent Madness website

Forward Today: Make in us new and contrite hearts

Dear friends in Christ,

It seems like the world is spinning out of control. Lies fill the airwaves. Nations invade nations. Greed seems endemic. Division abounds. Fear spreads.

Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to know what to make of all this. It would be easy to lay all the blame at the feet of others. If only THEY would change. To be sure, all of those people do truly need to repent.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed that all Christians have in common: we love to talk about other people’s sins.

Lent invites us to see things differently. I can’t control others, but I can open my own heart to God’s transforming grace. I can turn away from my own sins and turn toward the merciful God who loves me more than I can imagine. I can seek to be a bearer of God’s mercy and grace in this upside-down world.

I very much hope you’ll make it to church today if you can. Receiving that gritty, ashen cross on our foreheads reminds us that we are mortal. That cross also reminds us that we are not defined by what we do, but by the God who offers redemption.

By God’s amazing grace, the world can change one heart at a time. We defeat evil with love. We crush fear with hope. We hollow out greed with blessing. This Lent, let us all focus on the things that truly matter.

Blessings to you all. I wish you a holy Lent, for Christ’s sake.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Fill out your bracket at the new Lent Madness website