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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: 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

Forward Today: A Light to enlighten

Dear friends in Christ,

a group of white taper candles, lit, against a dark backgroundToday the church celebrates one of the great feasts, the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. We recall the time, told in the second chapter of Luke, that Mary and Joseph took young Jesus to the Temple to present him to God. This was to fulfill the law set forth in Exodus 13 commanding the firstborn to be offered to God.

When Mary and Joseph got to the Temple, they encountered Simeon, a man who had been waiting to behold his Savior. Seeing the Savior would be the culmination of his life. When he held Jesus, Simeon offered the beautiful praise we now know as the Nunc dimittis (from the Latin of the opening words).

Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Nearly every time I pray evening prayer, I repeat this canticle. I think of that man, essentially waiting to meet Jesus, a moment that will mark his readiness to leave his earthly pilgrimage and move on to his heavenly home. What was it like, waiting day in and day out to see his Savior? I ponder how his heart must have nearly burst with joy, holding the young child who was destined to change the world. I wonder if Simeon expected to greet his Savior as a child, or if he had been waiting for a powerful grownup? What a moment this must have been!

Simeon’s lovely song of praise reminds us that Jesus, the Light of the world, shines on every nation, on every person. Jesus’ saving love is for everyone.

I wonder if we are open to meeting our Savior in ways we might not expect? And I wonder if we are prepared to share the light of Christ’s grace, mercy, righteousness, peace, and love with the whole world?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Pray this canticle tonight: An Evening at Prayer podcast 
From Grow Christians, our family blog: Simeon sang – and we still sing today 

Forward Today: Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday’s epistle brings us one of the greatest hits of the New Testament, mostly because it’s one of the readings of choice at just about every wedding. St. Paul writes in the first letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” In the context of weddings, it’s easy to read that as advice for marriage. And that’s not totally wrong.

But that’s not really what St. Paul was getting at. He was writing about Christian love – the self-sacrificing, generous, beautiful work of loving others as Christ first loved us. Of course, that love is essential in marriage. But it’s bigger than that.

We live in a noisy, chaotic world. It can often feel like our world is spinning out of control. This is what happens when love isn’t the foundation. St. Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” He’s talking about life in the church in this particular moment, but his passion to call us all to love is obviously bigger than what we do among other believers.

The scriptures call us to live always by the rule of love. It’s easier said than done. It’s easy to forget that Christian love is primarily action, not feeling. It’s easy to forget that we are called to love in every moment, with every person.

There’s a lot of loveless clanging and gonging in the halls of government, the studios of cable news, and, yes, even in the sacred walls of churches.

I can’t fix the world. But I can fix my heart, by God’s grace. If I can manage to love others as Christ first loved me, our world becomes a tiny bit more beautiful, that much more grace-filled.

This Sunday, I’m looking forward to hearing these familiar words. Not long before we remember that Jesus Christ called us to remember his outpoured love for us until he comes again, we will be reminded that day by day, we are called to make love our way.

I aim to gong and clang a bit less, and proclaim love a bit more. Will you join me?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: The Conversion of St. Paul 
From the RenewalWorks blog: What we believe and refuse to believe
Get your Lent calendar today: Join the Journey through Lent

Forward Today: Challenges and gifts

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday’s epistle comes from 1 Corinthians 12, in which Saint Paul reminds us that we Christians together are the body of Christ, and that each one of us is a member that has a crucial role to play in the body.

I was thinking about how this works out at Forward Movement, a ministry of the church that has a different calling than a local congregation. Our work is to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. We do this in lots of ways. We host conferences, publish books, create apps, provide websites, offer podcasts, and more.

Doing our work requires a variety of gifts. We need people whose spiritual calling is finding missing commas. We need people who are patient and persistent to make sure that our orders ship on time. We need people who can tell the story of Forward Movement and what we have to offer the church. And that’s not even getting the list started!

The pandemic has pushed us hard. At times, it has felt futile to struggle against the tide of adversity. And at other times, I think we’d all say the pandemic has challenged us to work in new ways that will help us be more effective in our ministry. Our whole staff is weary, but I’m also amazed by the resilience of every single person at Forward Movement, as the staff has pressed onward to carry out our mission. We know that just as this has been tough for us, it’s also been tough on the individuals and congregations we serve.

Dozens of shipping boxes and mailing envelopes, stacked in the back of a large hatchback car.One of our latest challenges is that our warehouse has struggled to ship orders. You’ve read about all the issues with the supply chain and the world of logistics. Well, it’s no abstraction for us! To get things out on time, our Cincinnati customer service team has worked tirelessly to ship orders from our offices in Cincinnati.

This photo shows a carload of orders heading out. That’s just one of many batches. These orders—and hundreds more over the last few months—were all hand-packed by folks who stop every day at 10:00 a.m. to pray for our work and the ministry of the whole church.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about logistics and shipping! And we’ve had to change how, where, and when we work. We’ve improved our technology. We’ve learned to support one another in new ways. We’ve learned to go with a flow a bit more readily. Someday when the global health crisis is over, we’ll work better because of the challenges of the last two years.

Why am I telling all this? First, while I fully acknowledge and grieve very real costs of the pandemic in terms of death, illness, and personal struggle, I can also see that it has pushed us in some ways we needed to be pushed. I wonder if that’s true in your congregation? Second, we couldn’t have gotten through the last two years without the support of the whole church. I know that you have been patient with us. You have prayed for us. And you have supported us with an outpouring of donations to sustain our ministry. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We’re going to get through this. Things will change, but we have each other and we have the abiding Holy Spirit with us along the way.

Blessings to you. May you have the strength and the courage to do the work God is calling you to do in this strange and challenging time, and may we never forget that Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit’s companionship with us on our journey.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Who is Jesus to you?
Get your Lent calendar today: Join the Journey through Lent
Help make this work possible: Donate to Forward Movement

Forward Today: A grand adventure begins tomorrow!

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow is a big day! Among other things, it is the Feast of The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches will gather (online or in person) to celebrate the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the whole world. If for some reason, your church isn’t celebrating this important day, you can join my friends at St. James’ Church in New York, NY for Epiphany Lessons & Carols online at 6 p.m. EST.

Tomorrow is also the day that the Good Book Club for Epiphanytide 2022 kicks off. This time around, you are invited to join Episcopalians all over the country in reading the first half of the book of Exodus. Perhaps your church is hosting a group that will read together. If not, you can join folks from all over the church.

The Good Book Club is simple. The idea is that Episcopalians everywhere join in reading a book of the Bible. Because Exodus is pretty long, this time we’ll just read the first half. (There’s also a reading plan for the second half if you want to keep reading during Lent.)

Pick your favorite Bible and use the free reading plan. If you don’t have a paper Bible you love, you can find the whole Bible online for free at Bible Gateway – lots of versions and lots of languages. There are several free resources for individuals and groups listed on the Good Book Club website. You can sign up for free emails and updates about the Good Book Club.

Meet with other students from around the world for a live, online class on the Book of Exodus with Vicki Garvey, a respected teacher and author and canon for lifelong education at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. In this free class, Vicki will teach about the context and themes of the Book of Exodus. Classes will meet live on Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST starting tomorrow, January 6. Register here. 

Sometimes the news of the world can seem overwhelming, and with good reason. How can we find peace? How can we find our way? The scriptures won’t solve all our problems, but they will remind us that God is sovereign and that our true joy and peace is found in God’s presence. I’m especially looking forward to time with scripture this Epiphany season.

Exodus tells us about God’s liberating love. Exodus teaches us about God’s steadfast love for us, even when we turn away. Exodus reminds us that God has revealed to us laws that help us live well. It’s just what I need this January, and it might be good for you, too.

Maybe I’ll see you online as we journey through the book of Exodus together.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Dive into other books of the Bible: The Bible Challenge series
Start the new year with daily prayer:  prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today in 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

Our marketing team had a fun idea for this week’s Forward Today. What if we reviewed the “greatest hits” from the last year? They found the most popular messages from our blog and social media, and I’m excited to share them here as a way to celebrate Good News as we’ve encountered it over the last year, even amidst trying times.

Speaking of the end of the year, at Forward Movement we’ve worked hard to serve the church during a tumultuous period. We’ve continued to give thousands of free copies of Forward Day by Day to those in prison, in hospitals, in nursing homes, and serving in the armed forces. We’ve offered free resources to equip the saints and strengthen congregations. If you have the ability to make a donation to support this work of hope and encouragement, your gift will change lives through the transforming Good News of Jesus. Thank you for your gifts and for your prayers. All of us are sustained by your constant support.

Blessings to you in this Christmas season.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Most popular on the blog:

A detour on the journey: “If you are an exhausted person who can’t muster the energy to be part of your church in the way you were two years ago, it’s OK. Rest. Even Jesus needed time for refreshment and prayer, so take the time you need. The church depends on Christ alone; the church will carry on as you rest.”

What to do when there’s too much: “What are we Christians to do in the face of impossible problems and insurmountable suffering? I believe our response begins in prayer.”

Can we understand the Trinity? Does it matter? “On Trinity Sunday, I hope we can simply enjoy the glory and majesty of God.”

Most popular on Facebook: 

Advent and beyond: “[Advent Word] is an ideal social media devotion—a way to claim an often unholy space with the holiness of preparation and repentance.”

All things may prosper (St. Michael and All Angels): “Michael is a warrior for good, someone who rights wrong and seeks justice.”

The spiritual practice of gratitude: “Thanksgiving reminds us that God’s grace defines our world.”

Most popular on Twitter:

Stir up thy power: “I am so ready for God to stir things up.”

Discovering a deeper practice of prayer: “When I was a parish priest, every now and then someone would say to me, “I want to pray, but I’m just not sure how to begin.” If this book had existed back then, I’d have given it to all sorts of folks.”

You CAN make a difference: “Don’t accept ‘there’s nothing I can do’ as reality. There’s work for you. And there’s work for your church. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, and our neighbors around the world need our love.”