Forward Today: A right, and a good and joyful thing

Photo by Dawn McDonald on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

The usual messages we hear in our culture go something like this: “Be afraid! You don’t have enough! You need more things to be happy!” Given the din of these messages of consumerism, it’s practically a miracle that even the commerce machine pauses for a day, and we still set aside time for Thanksgiving.

No pun intended, but I am so deeply grateful for this holiday of giving thanks.

At most celebrations of Holy Eucharist, the celebrant says, “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” In the spirit of keeping the main thing the main thing, I hope you’ll find your way to a church. The best way we can give thanks to God for all the blessings of this life is to gather with other Christians and express our adoration and gratitude.

We offer our thanks and praise, and God reminds us of his grace and mercy as we receive the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. It’s simple and beautiful, almost discordant in this age of shiny things and the endless drumbeat of shopping. (I have nothing against shopping! It’s just that it’s not the main thing of life!)

When families gather, it’s customary to express gratitude. I hope you’ll do this, whatever the size of your family. If you aren’t able to gather with others, perhaps you’ll write a note or an email to someone else expressing gratitude for God’s blessings. It’s good for our souls to say thank you to God and our neighbors.

Imagine if we could fulfill the vision of the lovely line from our liturgy, “always and everywhere” giving thanks. In that sense, Thanksgiving Day is a foretaste of the feast of gratitude to come.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Weave prayer and thanksgiving through your day: Hour by Hour

Give the gift of common prayer: BCP Gift Edition

Help us share what we have been given: Become a donor today

Forward Today: Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest

Dear friends in Christ,
Each year, I look forward to the Sunday nearest November 16. This Sunday we pray one of my very favorite collects:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Thomas Cranmer originally wrote this one for Advent, but I like its new placement in our liturgical year. I am grateful for this annual reminder of the purpose of scripture. We love the scriptures not just for the texts themselves but for the hope to which they point: everlasting life given to us in Jesus.
Forward Movement’s RenewalWorks data tells us that not very many Episcopalians read the Bible regularly. I’m not here to shame anyone or make you feel guilty! One of the core messages of the Gospel is that it’s never too late. So why not make time in your life for regular reading of scripture?
If you’re not sure where to start, there are chapters about the Bible and how to read it in two books I co-authored with the Rev’d Melody Shobe, Faithful Questions and Walk in Love. Or you can ask your priest or a wise spiritual friend for guidance. If you want a suggestion of what to read when you pick up a Bible to read on your own for the first time, I suggest reading the psalms or maybe one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).
At Forward Movement, we offer several tools to help you read the Bible regularly.
  • You can use any of our Bible Challenge books for companion reflections as you read some part of the Bible.
  • Bible Women offers every word spoken by women in the Bible along with the back stories.
  • This January, you can join the Good Book Club (for free!) to read Genesis with folks from around the world.
  • Forward Day by Day offers a reflection on the assigned readings of the Episcopal Church each day.
The Bible is perhaps the most important and most misunderstood book. But the good news is that you can read the Bible for yourself and discover its wonders and the hope to which it points.
Happy reading!
Yours faithfully,
Scott Gunn's signature
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Last chance: Get your copy of Preparing the Way before Advent begins!

Find practical tips for following Jesus: The Way of Love

Discover scripture in the Book of Common Prayer: Inwardly Digest

Get ready for the Good Book Club: A Journey through Genesis

Forward Today: Obedience and sacrifice

Dear friends in Christ,

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Philadelphia area for a meeting. Since I had some time, I paid a visit to the Rev’d Clarke French, a friend, who is serving as interim rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. It’s a thriving congregation meeting in a colonial-era building.

There are many things I appreciated about the lovely and ancient worship space, but I was particularly struck by the lights for illuminating the scriptures as the lectors proclaim them. The lamp shades say (facing the people and also facing the lector) SACRIFICE and OBEDIENCE.

These powerful words are central to the Gospel and alien to our consumer culture. In the world that says “get what you can and be your own person,” the Gospel calls us to another way. We are called to give freely—for the glory of God, for Christ’s sake, for the good of others, and for the wellness of our souls. We are called to obey our Lord Jesus, who calls us to take up our cross and follow him—to die to old ways and be alive in the new creation of Jesus Christ.

This coming weekend brings us to November 11, kept in the US as Veterans Day, when we remember the sacrifice of many for their country. Christian sacrifice can surely be seen in the lives of martyrs, but it can also be seen in more mundane expressions—forgiving others, in sharing what we have with those in need, in turning the other cheek, or in yielding our own privileges for the well-being of others.

Then there’s obedience. This is positively counter-cultural! For those of us to say we follow Jesus, we need to obey him as our leader. The Gospel loses its power if we try to fit it into the gaps of a comfortable consumer lifestyle. Jesus knew this when we said you can’t serve two masters. We either serve the gospel of consumption or the Gospel of grace and mercy. We either orient our lives around greed and self-determination or toward sacrifice and obedience.

I invite you to consider the wisdom and power of OBEDIENCE and SACRIFICE. What do they mean in your life?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Countercultural teachings on wealth and service: The Unjust Steward

Order your 2023 Advent Calendars today

Christian practices for Advent: Preparing the Way

Learn about heroes of the faith this Lent: Lent Madness

Forward Today: A fellowship of love and prayer

Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs

Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church celebrates one of its principal feasts, All Saints’ Day. On this day, we remember all those who have gone before us, those who now spend eternity dwelling in God’s presence and glory.

Part of this day is certainly a time to remember the example of saints of all times and places. It may well be a good time for us to learn from their example and improve our lives. But this day is chiefly a celebration of Jesus Christ and his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.

The one thing all saints have in common is that these flawed humans opened their lives to the power of Jesus and his grace and mercy. In Christ, death is defeated and sin is put to flight. That’s true on a cosmic scale, and you can see Jesus at work in each transformed life and warmed heart.

Today we can also give thanks that we are never alone. Those who now wear the crown of righteousness are still our companions, for all are all members of the mystical body of Christ, the eternal communion of saints.

Let us give thanks for saints, but let us first give thanks for the light that kindled the love which burned brightly in their lives. And let us pray for the strength and courage to be transformed by Jesus Christ, who can work in all sorts and conditions of people.

Let us pray for our own lives and for the renewal of the whole creation.

Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Order your Advent devotional today: Preparing the Way

Color in your cartoon calendars for Advent and Christmas

Welcome new believers into the church with the BCP Gift Edition

Pray with authors and readers across the church: Forward Day by Day

Forward Today: Getting our armor ready

Dear friends in Christ,

In a few weeks, we will begin our annual walk through the season of Advent. On the first Sunday of the season, we pray a lovely collect in which we ask God to give us grace to “put on the armor of light.” This phrase comes from Romans 13, which sets out the meaning as putting on Jesus Christ and not the ways of the world.

Every year I think I say the same thing: I’ve never needed Advent more than this year. With the world seemingly tearing itself apart at the seams, I need the anchor of Jesus Christ in my life. Maybe you do, too. Advent invites us to turn away from the evil and distraction of the world and toward the most important things: a life transformed by God’s grace and mercy.

Of course, you can observe Advent on your own and with your church. But you may want some support for yourself, and your church may want to provide some resources for groups and individuals. With Advent coming, now is the time to make a plan and get ready.

Forward Movement offers several ways to enrich your Advent experience. Families may especially enjoy the Advent calendar poster with cartoons by Jay Sidebotham, ready for you to add color and your personal touch. (They’re sold in bundles of 25.) Individuals or book groups may find this year’s new Advent devotional, Preparing the Way: Christian Practices for Advent, helping in navigating the seasons of Advent and Christmas with daily reflections and invitations to go deeper in Christian practice. We have plenty of other Advent resources, too. Order soon to make sure your Advent help arrives in time!

You don’t need to spend a penny to savor Advent. You can enjoy our free podcasts of Forward Day by Day or the Daily Office. But sometimes printed resources really hit the spot.

Part of my point today is to encourage the sale of the materials Forward Movement has printed. But my bigger point is to invite you to think about how you’ll enjoy the gift of Advent and to be ready to dive in to this season.

Jesus is our light. And I’m so grateful for this time to remember that and give thanks.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. With the arrival of Advent, we enter a new liturgical year. Year B draws extensively from the Gospel of Mark, so you might like to read A Journey with Mark to hear this gospel afresh.


More from our ministry:

Try our online Advent devotional: AdventWord

Get your calendars for Christmas as well: Christmas. It’s a Season

Pray beautiful collects from the Book of Common Prayer, Gift Edition

New on our blog: A review of Devotions for People Who Don’t Do Devotions

Forward Today: Celebrating St. Luke

Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church commemorates St. Luke the Evangelist. We give thanks for Luke for many reasons. He is remembered for having written the Gospel of Luke and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. He is commemorated for his healing work as a physician. And for many Christians, he is venerated as the first iconographer.

On this day, I am especially grateful for the Gospel of Luke. His witness to the power, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ still inspires people to turn toward salvation 2,000 years after it was written. Each of the four gospels offers a unique perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. But they are united in testifying to the passion, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus.

Luke’s gospel has been called the “Broadway gospel” because it offers some of the great canticles of praise: the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, and the Benedictus domine. Here we are, twenty centuries after they were recorded, still singing these glorious songs of praise and thanks.

The narratives that Luke shared in his gospel and in Acts might inspire us in all sorts of ways. But perhaps we might also on this feast day be inspired to follow Luke’s example. Let us all be quick to share the Good News. We might not have Luke’s eloquence, but we can all testify to God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How can you be a witness?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Explore Luke’s writings: Luke Bible Challenge & Acts Bible Challenge

Now available: A brand-new Christmas Calendar from Jay Sidebotham

Reflect on baptism as a call to evangelism in our Lent 2024 devotional

Sing the Spirituals and pray for justice: Face to the Rising Sun

The world doesn’t need one more devotional book…

The Rev. Laurie Brock, rector of St Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky and author of God, Grace, and Horses, recently reviewed our new release, Devotions for People who Don’t Do Devotions. Here’s what she had to say:


The world really doesn’t need one more devotional book. We have devotional books for people who do too much, devotions for people who want to do more, devotions for animal lovers, devotions for pizza lovers, and devotions for people who love putting Ikea furniture together.

Okay, so maybe not the last one, but I’m sure someone just got an idea for another devotional book.

Hopefully, the plethora of devotional books are a response to our very human yearning to connect to something bigger than we are and to find meaning in the moments of life that are troubling, awe-inspiring, and confusing. More and more people are not members of a traditional faith community, and yet that yearning to understand, to find meaning, and to experience comfort continues.

Whether you are someone who is a member of an active member of a faith community or who is simply seeking some time each day or week or whenever you find space to spend a few moments, Tim Schenck meets you where you are with quirky, humorous, and insightful reflections on life and the bigger than life invitation of God to love ourselves and each other. From the angel’s share to garbage time, Tim invites us to see awe in everyday moments, to rest in the wisdom of life gone not quite right, and to find love written in life each day.

While the world doesn’t need one more devotional book to remind us we aren’t enough, we always need one that reminds us the world is messy and lovely, if we just remember to notice, to look, to listen, and to be. Devotions for People Who Don’t Do Devotions is exactly that.

– The Rev. Laurie Brock, Rector
St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church

Forward Today: Renewing the church

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

In the last two weeks, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. As I mentioned in last week’s Forward Today, I went to Vancouver to talk with folks about how our church does well to get back to basics. In this post-Christendom era, we shouldn’t assume that people magically know how to pray or to use a Bible.

Bishop Doug Scharf asked me to come speak at the annual convention of the Diocese of Southwest Florida last weekend. He is seeking to guide the diocese toward congregational revitalization efforts. What I appreciate about his approach is that there are no gimmicks. Renewal of the church comes from the renewal of lives, and THAT comes from a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ.

In my keynote address, I spoke about the reality of decline our churches are facing. And I shared some RenewalWorks data to show that many of us in the church are in need of spiritual growth. We’re all always in need of spiritual growth, but our church has some folks who are stuck in a spiritually early stage of growth. The point of this isn’t to shame or blame anyone, but rather to encourage practices that lead to growth.

We all need to get unstuck sometimes. Read the Bible, and you encounter a whole book full of people who almost never followed a straight-line journey of faith. That’s one of the beautiful things about reading God’s word. We can realize that when we stray or mess up or doubt, we are in excellent company. And we can also read the scriptures to know how to get unstuck.

First, getting unstuck requires God’s grace and mercy. Good news: they’re never in short supply! And the practices of daily prayer, regular scripture reading, and weekly church attendance are the foundations of a healthy spiritual life.

If you want to watch my whole keynote to hear what I had to say, the diocese has made the recording available online. It’s about 90 minutes, so I won’t expect you to sit through it all! But in the talk, I hope you’ll find some encouragement both for you individually and for your church.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. I mentioned two books in my talk. You can find both my book, The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus, and Jay Sidebotham’s book, Signs of Life: Nurturing Spiritual Growth in Your Church at Forward Movement or your favorite bookseller.


More from our ministry:

Revitalize your spiritual life with daily prayer: Forward Day by Day

Get ready for Advent with our new devotional: Preparing the Way

Scripture to support spiritual practices: The Way of Love Bible Challenge

Forward Today: It’s about the basics

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

As I write this, I’m returning home from a wonderful weekend with Anglicans and ecumenical friends in Vancouver. While I was there, I offered a workshop at Vancouver School of Theology, entitled “The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail: Why We Don’t Need to Save the Church.” I also preached and taught at Christ Church Cathedral.

Sometimes people look at the precipitous numerical decline in the church and declare, “We need to save the church, or it will disappear!” In my workshop, I reminded us that Jesus has promised that nothing will defeat the church. And Jesus’ promises are steadfast and reliable.

We do need to prepare for the church to change, to look different. In North America, the church is likely to be smaller and to lose prestige. That’s fine, because Jesus didn’t tell us to have impressive institutions and to be powerful. He told us to make disciples of all nations.

I always enjoy my time with Anglicans in Canada. In many ways the Anglican Church of Canada is quite different from the Episcopal Church, but in many other ways it is similar. In both churches, I have seen a desire to return to the basics. For generations, we didn’t always equip people for lives transformed by spiritual disciplines. It’s time to remedy that.

The basics are… basic. Forward Movement’s RenewalWorks data teaches us that we do well to promote three core practices as a foundation for Christian life: weekly attendance at church, daily prayer, and regular scripture study.

In Vancouver, I heard several stories of lives changed by these basic practices. And I heard about congregations that have seen growth as people know God’s love and share it with the world around them.

What about you and your church? If you want support for a life in Christ, you’ll find plenty of resources at Forward Movement to help you enjoy a life anchored in daily prayer and regular Bible reading.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Follow the core story of the Bible: The Path

Data-driven tips for spiritual growth: Signs of Life

Daily prayer practices for any routine: prayer.forwardmovement.org

Basic beliefs and practices, tailored to both churches:
Walk in Love (United States) or To Love and Serve (Canada)

 

Forward Today: Immersing myself in the Bible

Dear friends in Christ: This week’s Forward Today is written by Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator. From time to time, I hope Forward Today readers will enjoy a perspective from others on our team. – Scott Gunn

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

When I first saw the syllabus for my Intro to New Testament class at seminary, I wasn’t sure what to think. The reading list listed only one book (the professor’s own, obviously). For the rest of the class, we just needed to read the New Testament three times through by the end of the semester. There would be a final exam—full of short-answer questions whose answers would be taken directly from the biblical text. But the professor assured us that if we listened in lectures and read the Bible, the exam would be easy. As a student with a tendency to over-prepare for every test, I wasn’t so sure!

Ten years later, I have forgotten many of the specifics I learned in that class. I’ve lost my lecture notes that called out specific historical facts and literary devices. But I am still reading the Bible, passage by passage, cover to cover. And immersing myself in the Bible has changed my spiritual life for the better.

For nearly two years now, I’ve been starting my day with Morning Prayer. Which I have explained to Episcopal-curious friends as “thirty minutes of basically all scripture.” The way I encounter the Bible in the Daily Office is more like my old professor’s approach to the Bible than the way student-Margaret expected to learn. The lectionary takes me through the Bible, book by book, not to prove a point but to follow the story. The worship service weaves together those Bible readings with songs and poems from scripture. Nearly every day, I end my prayers with some verse or phrase stuck in my head.

Unlike my classmates, I don’t have to use my Bible knowledge on a weekly basis to preach sermons or teach classes. In my regular layperson life, though, I do encounter questions about faith and the Bible. Most often these questions come from my kids, who are old enough now to ask hard questions about love and death and suffering. Lately I’ve also gotten questions from friends who are finding their way back to church, or curious about what Christian practice looks like for me.

In those conversations, I don’t turn to professor-approved answers. I tell the stories that are stuck in my head. I think about the words of hope and promise I’ve come to know so well, and the narratives of calling and repentance and return. I come to understand my own story anchored in the Story I read every day.

The RenewalWorks team’s research has found that “engagement with scripture is indeed one of the most effective catalyst for spiritual growth in congregations.” That deeper understanding of scripture is a gift for all of us—not limited to the folks with fancy collars and seminary training. From Education for Ministry groups to accessible Bible study resources, there are plenty of ways to increase engagement with the Bible. No final exam required.

I wonder what habits of prayer and study will bring you deeper into the Bible this fall?

Yours faithfully,

Margaret Ellsworth
Marketing Coordinator

P.S. We recently released our 10th Bible Challenge book, A Journey through Genesis. To celebrate, we’re giving you an extra 10% off ANY Bible Challenge book through the end of September. Use the code BIBLECHALLENGE on our website for 10% off our (already discounted) prices through September 30.


More from our ministry:

Pray with often-unheard voices in scripture: Bible Women

Follow the narrative of God’s love: The Path

Begin at the beginning: A Journey through Genesis

Join us for Morning Prayer: A Morning at the Office podcast