Apr 05

A Letter from Drew Sams

As Christians gather around the world today to celebrate Jesus and the powerful reminder that He defeated death and despair, there is one thing that I want us to remember—the best celebrations aren’t ones that you sit back and watch but that you actively participate in. When we respond to the invitation to participate in God’s passion, we are actively joining God in living into an existence that dramatically impacts ourselves, our friends, our families, and our neighborhoods. Over the last seven weeks, we have explored the various invitations that Jesus gives us to live and love like him. In the same way as Jesus, our story doesn’t end at Easter, it is just the beginning. There are so many ways through our Bel Air church family that we can continue to participate in what God is passionate about. As always, belairpres.org is a great resource to explore and learn and I hope that this season ahead is one where you participate even more in what God is doing in and through our dynamic church!

 

On the journey with you,

Rev. Dr. Drew Sams

Senior Pastor

Apr 05

April 5, 2015 :: Easter Sunday

read | Mark 16

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

[[And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]]

 

[[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

 

After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

 

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and

if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

 

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.]] 

 

Apr 04

April 4, 2015

read | Mark 16:7–8

“But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

 

When I read these words from Mark, it initially made me think of the story from Mark chapter four, where Jesus’ disciples were completely convinced that they were going to drown in a fierce gale of wind and waves that were filling their boat. Their first reaction was to believe that Jesus didn’t care. With all the challenges in this world, it’s easy to believe the outright lie that God is perhaps indifferent or merely an observer to the pain and struggles in our own faith journeys. We need to keep reading because, when they woke Jesus, He merely needed to speak, “Hush, be still,” to the storm. His authority over all creation became so obvious to them that they wondered, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?” 

That sense of trembling and astonishment as to who Jesus really is took a hold of those who first came upon the empty tomb as well. What strikes me the most about this passage is that God’s angel said specifically to “tell His disciples and Peter.If I’ll just slow down long enough and allow this “and Peter” to sink in, it gives me further insight into the heart of my Savior. At the moment the angel had spoken these words, I can only imagine the sense of shame and spiritual weakness Peter had been feeling. In Luke 22, we see that Peter denied Jesus three times and that Jesus even looked at Him after the third denial. The fact that our gentle Savior seeks to reach down and redeem even our deepest of failures takes this angel’s message to a new level; it is not a mere accident. It makes this passage much more personal. It’s as if it now reads to me as “and me,” and by the same token “and you.”

No matter what you’ve thought, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how deep the shame, God’s grace is deeper still. He sees it all, He knows it all and He loves us still.

From eternity past, He has seen what you are going through, and excels at bringing dead things, like our hearts, our hopes, and our faith back to life. If we let Him, He can make us so full of His love, joy, peace and meaning that our cup will not be able to contain it.

If God is for us, who is against us? – Romans 8:31b

 

– Jerrold Launer

 

Apr 03

April 3, 2015 :: Good Friday

read | Mark 16:5

“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe,
sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.” 

 

I’m a details person. I want to know who, what, when, where, why. I want step-by-step instructions, clearly and accurately spelled out. I enjoy looking at the minutia that drives big-picture people crazy.

So I love it when Scripture lets us look at an event in more than one way. Here are other Gospels’ accounts:

Matthew 28:1–4

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.” 

Luke 24:1–5

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.” 

John 20:1–13

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.” 

So, was Mary Magdalene alone, or were there one or two or more women with her? Was there one angel or two? Were they seated or standing? Did the disciples come running before this, or did that happen after? And what about the stone…and the earthquake…and…

And then I stop, and smile, and realize my interest in how the message is delivered is nowhere near as important as the message—JESUS ISN’T IN THE TOMB! I shake my head. The most important news in history, and I’m looking at the details instead of grasping what this means. He has risen! He is alive—then, now, and forever! OK, big-picture people, I joyfully concede this one.

Happy Easter, everybody!

 

– Ellen Baker

 

Apr 02

April 2, 2015 :: Maundy Thursday

read | Mark 16:4

“When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.” 

 

Each of us has experienced times when significant obstacles or difficulties occurred as we tried to follow our chosen path.

Sometimes those obstacles remained firmly in place preventing us from our achieving our personal goal.

Those obstacles may have caused us to choose other paths, which ultimately proved more successful or fulfilling than our first.

Perhaps that was because the first path was not in alignment with God’s plan for our lives, and He wanted us to take a different path.

Other times those anticipated obstacles seem to vanish quickly with our faithful efforts, especially when we are following a Christ centered life.

The women going to the tomb that morning were definitely following God’s plan for their lives as they were a part of the confirmation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, so significant obstacles like the large stone were removed from their path, allowing them direct access to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid to rest.

They were the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection.

God has given us the ultimate gift, when He rolled away the stone and raised His son Jesus from the dead, promising that whoever follows him will also be raised.

He rolled away the stone at Jesus’ tomb and will roll ours away as well.

 

prayer

Gracious Father, thank you for clearing those obstacles we encounter in our life, and thank you for rolling the grave stone away at the end of our human life, promising us eternal life through your son Jesus Christ. Amen

 

– Tom Damask

 

Apr 01

April 1, 2015

read | Mark 16:3

“They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” 

 

It’s very early Sunday morning and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are on their way to the tomb of Jesus. Their Lord whom they had followed, and who had been with them daily for three years to answer their questions, and to teach them about the Kingdom of God, was gone. Dead and buried.

They are confused by these events, even though Jesus had told them He would rebuild His temple in three days. They had been rushed on Friday to place Jesus into the tomb before sundown. Now they had to prepare His body properly for burial. But perhaps they hadn’t really thought things through well enough and considered all the details.

No matter. They went with the appropriate oils and linens in hand, as it was their intention to go inside and anoint the body of Jesus. But did they go with a smaller measure of faith than they had just three short days ago?

As they are walking to the tomb, the obvious dilemma hits them. They worry about who would be there to roll back the stone for them. This is no small matter. It might take up to 20 men to roll the stone away from the opening to the small tomb. How would three women accomplish this task alone?

Yet they proceed, with still enough faith and confidence that they will be able to gain access to the tomb.

Would I have been capable of such an act of faith? How often do we proceed when the obstacles before us seem insurmountable? What obstacles or stones do we allow that prevent us from placing our trust in God?

This verse reminds me to heed the words of Jesus:

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

 

prayer

Dear Lord, give us lives of faith. Teach us to be a praying church. Do the impossible here and in me. Amen.

 

– Karen Mizrahi

 

Mar 31

March 31, 2015

read | Mark 16:2

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.” 

 

Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun rises…where do you go with your thoughts? With your hands, feet, and lips? With your heart?

On that third and miraculous morning, Mary Magdalene went with Mary, mother of James, and Salome to anoint Jesus. They went to be near Him, to remember Him, to show reverence to Him. With their hands, they had bought spices—for HIM. With their feet, they had traveled—to HIM. With their lips, they had spoken—of HIM. In their hearts, they were filled—with HIM. And though they were in tremendous despair, they sought and stood before Him…on the first day, on the second day, on the third day, and always. In all ways. And though they were grieving, under the rays of the righteous and rising sun, God’s mercies were surely made new.

When the sun rises, when the sun sets…where do you go with your thoughts, hands, feet, lips, and heart?

In this season of new life and hope, we celebrate the Risen King. And because of this triumph, we have an invitation to participate in God’s Passion; in intimate prayer, in healthy relationships, in purposeful activity. Where will you go? With whom will you go?

 

– Joanne Marcos

 

Mar 30

March 30, 2015

read | Mark 16:1

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Him.” 

 

On first read, this verse did not speak to me in any clear way. But when I meditated on it, I began to see a sense of sweet love and friendship in this little scene. I saw the three women carrying their burial spices along the road…Were they walking hurriedly, eager to anoint the lifeless body of their Master, anxious to just see their Friend one last time? Or were they walking slowly, arms locked in shared grief, dreading the encounter that would make His death real and permanent?

I don’t know. But I do know that however they did it, they did it together. They weren’t related, but they were family. And it was this sense of familial love that the Spirit led me to focus upon.

Christ taught us how to create a new, spiritual family: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

He told us to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)

God’s word instructs how to walk through life’s journey together: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

There are many of us in Los Angeles who are far away from extended family. Today I focus on my spiritual family and how grateful I am to have those I can laugh and cry with; how even when I don’t “feel” very loving, I can choose to love my brother or sister for Him who commands me; and most importantly, how privileged I am to have Jesus include me as a member of His family.

 

– Charlie Shahnaian

 

Mar 29

March 29, 2015

read | Mark 11:1–11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 

Mar 28

March 28, 2015

read | Mark 11:9–11

“Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when He had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” 

 

When I read this passage I start to get swirled up in the excitement and anticipation that those who were there that day must have felt. I can feel the celebration and community rallying around Jesus, our Savior, and I think about the buildup of similar excitement I have experienced either soaking in the awesome creation of the Hollywood Bowl on Easter Sunday or when the kids from the Sunday School classes are singing Hosanna and waving Palm leaves in the sanctuary on Palm Sunday.

Reflecting on this, I wonder how we can feel that same energy and enthusiasm for Christ’s presence everyday that we are able to experience in those instances around Easter? And better yet, how do we exude that into our surrounding environments?

As we read this passage, I challenge us all to be prayerful about ways we can be filled with the excitement of what we already know, and that we too can ignite and spread the power of God’s love and presence in everything that we do. God has blessed us and we should rejoice…each and EVERY day.

 

– Lori Tabb

 

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