Feb 18

What is Lent?

What is Lent?
It is the 40-day period of repentance and renewal preceding Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. Holy Week commemorates Christ’s last week of life on earth. Lent is a special time for prayer, meditation and penitential practices. It provides a time for repentance and renewal. We are given this season to reflect with increased intentionality on Christ’s sacrifice and the resurrection, and it calls us to a renewal of our baptismal vows and to a recommitment to our Christian discipleship.

Where did Lent get its name?
The word “Lent” is derived from the Middle English “lente” which means spring or springtime. Because the church season always fell at that time of year, the name began to apply to it as well. The Lenten period allows Christians time to recall the Easter story and embrace its meaning. We affirm that Christ lived and died to redeem the world from sin.

How did Lent come to be part of the liturgical season within the church?
The Lenten period and its emphasis on penitential practices evolved slowly over the centuries. In the early church, baptism and penance were key Lenten themes. During Lent, candidates prepared for Easter baptism, and people did public penance for serious sins. In later years, the emphasis gradually shifted to private penance. Lent became a time of forgiveness and reconciliation for those who acknowledged their sinfulness. During the Middle Ages, strict 40-day fasts (abstinence from meat and other foods), not attending festivities, parties, etc., were obligatory for Christians. Gradually these practices became less rigid. Today the emphasis of Lent has shifted from long periods of fasting to prayer, meditation, and reflection on the meaning of Easter. Lent remains important as a time of preparation for and renewal of our baptism. We are invited to remember, repent, and reflect. Today, as in the past, the heart of Lent is inner penitence and reconciliation with God. It begins with self examination—a time to evaluate your life and seek spiritual renewal. The apostle Paul encourages us that achieving inner transformation, inner change, is the responsibility of each Christian and the church as a whole. We are ambassadors for Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Why does Lent last for 40 days?
The early church celebrated Lent for only a few days before Easter. Over the centuries, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at 40 days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11, Mark 1:12–12, and Luke 4:1–13). Fasting and prayer have been important observances since biblical times. They have often preceded great religious revelations or events. Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days. During that time, God gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:17–28). Elijah fled for his life through the wilderness, fasting 40 days and nights until he came to Mount Horeb. There God appeared and instructed him on how to overcome his enemies (Kings 19:1–18).

What does reconciliation with God look like?
It involves being sorry for our sins. Changing our life begins when we admit that Christ suffered and died for our sins. It involves commitment. Committing to God is more than attending worship on Sunday morning. It carries out God’s will daily, in all our circumstances. It requires perseverance, knowing that there are times of testing, trial, and temptation. And it involves spiritual growth. Our maturity begins when we acknowledge dependence on God and accept and seek to live out His will for our lives.

What are penitential practices?
Traditional Lenten practices include: fasting, special commitments, good deeds and almsgiving, prayer and reflection, studying Scripture and special study, and participation in special worship services.

How did the tradition of giving up something for Lent start?
Lent began as a time of purification and preparation. In the early church, baptism was performed on Easter Sunday. An entire year’s worth of converts to the faith would be baptized and brought into the church on that day. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ’s church. Over the centuries, the church began to baptize and confirm people on days other than Easter Sunday. Lent was no longer a time of preparation for these events, but it remained as a special time of prayer and fasting. After the Reformation, the discipline of fasting became less popular. As a way of preserving Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, the church leaders encouraged people to give up something (that they enjoyed) during Lent.

How do Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday relate to Lent?
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” and is the last day before Lent. Since Lent was traditionally a time of fasting, the day before it began was always a feast day. People had to use up eggs, butter, and other perishables that would not last through the Lenten season, and “Fat Tuesday,” also known as Shrove Tuesday, was celebrated with many traditional and tasty baked goods. The next day, Ash Wednesday was the official beginning of Lent. After much time in prayer, people would have their foreheads marked with ashes as a sign of repentance and humility.

What does Lent mean for us today?
Lent is still the season in which we prepare for Easter Sunday. It is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And it is a time to ready ourselves in humble thankfulness for the joy of Easter morning. We are given this time to prepare to meet our Risen Lord once again! Welcome to this season as we examine ourselves, wait and listen, study and worship, and get ready to celebrate the promise of the empty tomb.

Feb 16

Lent Devotional 2015

Dear Bel Air Family,

This Lenten devotional has been prepared for you as a way of inviting us all to take the 40 days of Lent in an intentional time to reflect and to prepare to celebrate the Easter victory. The Lenten devotional has become a way for us to journey together in this season and to connect with the Lenten sermon series and small group study.

This booklet is a “gift” to you. It offers you a devotional reflection every day starting with Ash Wednesday through to Easter morning. In the tradition of the early church, Lent was 40 days not including Sundays. Sundays in Lent traditionally were considered feast days or days of celebration. Some even say Sundays are like “mini Easters,” a time weekly to remember and celebrate the promise of the resurrection. So in this devotional, you will not have a devotional on Sundays.

This year our theme is “Invited: Participating in God’s Passion” where we will take a closer look at some of Jesus’ most significant interactions during the week leading up to his death and resurrection, as recorded in the book of Mark. What is it that Jesus was looking for and hoping to see—in the temple, in religious leaders, and in His disciples? What is Jesus passionate about, and how is He inviting us into those passions as His disciples and church today? During this season of Lent, we take some time together to explore this invitation and find our place in Christ’s mission for the world.

Whether the notion of marking Lent is new to you, or a liturgical season with which you are well acquainted, we invite you to use this devotional as a guide and challenge you to make an intentional commitment to practice a spiritual discipline in the days before Easter. Especially, we encourage you to not just read this and your other devotional and study material, but to be in a spirit and discipline of prayer for Bel Air Presbyterian Church. These are exciting and challenging times in our life together. The Lord has so much in store for us in months and years ahead!

So what follows is an offering of reflections from the pastors, some of our staff and elders and friends in the family at church who were willing to help with this project. I am grateful to them and express thanks for their “gifts of reflection” for us all! Our hope and prayer is that this will be a blessing to you and move you closer in your fellowship with the living Lord.

Bless you in these days ahead.

In Christ,

Rev. Care Crawford
Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care

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Devotional will be posted each day, starting Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

Dec 25

December 25 :: Merry Christmas!

I hope that this Advent Devotional has blessed you with the presence of Jesus each and every day and that the reflections shared on these pages have been used of God to make your heart ready for your Christmas celebration. What a gift to have these four weeks to focus and prepare to look again in the manger and see the incarnation made known to us in the form of the Christ Child! This one birth, this One baby has changed everything!

I want to thank each person, again who participated in this devotional. And I especially want to thank the staff with whom I work in the Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Department, specifically Ashley Wood and Rebecca Burchett Morgan. Our Communications Department, Heidi Launer, Donna McNamara and Julie Sather, have provided the layout, editing, printing, and production of this booklet. It is a blessing to work with all of these women.

A very Merry Christmas to you and joy in the New Year ahead, too!

 

Warmly,

Rev. Care Crawford

 

Dec 25

December 25 :: Christmas Day

For a Child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and His kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6–7

 

He is born!

Yet, He has always existed.

What a thought. The eternal Son of God sent from heaven to us here on earth to be born and live among us. As the prophet Isaiah reminded God’s people hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, “for a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” The birth of Jesus was unlike any other in so many ways, including the fact that He was born not for His earthly parents or His heavenly father, but for us.

Throughout the world on this Christmas day, gifts will be given. Some wrapped, some purchased, some handmade, some re-gifted.

As a child, I always loved unwrapping gifts. In the moment of tearing apart the patterned wrapping, fumbling with the tied ribbon, and pulling “the gift” out of its box, my heart would be racing. What could it be?
The possibilities were endless. Was it something on my list, or a surprise? I would observe the shape, feel the weight, and shake it as I wondered what it was.

In fact, not knowing the full extent of the gift kept me unwrapping.

However, something changed once I saw what the gift was. Once I had opened it, I never would open it again. With nothing else to discover, my excitement would move to the next unopened gift.

Even though I was thankful for all the gifts I received, there was always a twinge of disappointment when it was all done.

I think we do the same with Jesus.

After receiving Jesus and “unwrapping” Him, we mistakenly think we know the full extent of the gift that He is and our excitement wanes.
We eventually stop unwrapping. Our excitement moves on to something else to discover.

What if receiving the gift of Jesus meant that you had the opportunity to spend the rest of your life in a continual unwrapping of the depth, height, and width of his presence in your life? What if every morning was Christmas morning in your relationship with Him? What if every day you chose to continually unwrap the truth that Jesus is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace”? The Jesus that this Advent devotional points to is as accessible in July as it is in December. Let’s keep unwrapping the gift that Jesus is!

 

– Rev. Dr. Drew Sams

Dec 24

Evening December 24

From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,who is close to the Father’s heart,who has made Him known. – John 1:16–18 (The Message)

16-18 We all live off His generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made Him plain as day.

 

I have always been struck with this phrase, “grace upon grace.” How can you get more grace “heaped upon” than grace already is? John says we ALL receive this gift…everyone…not the good or righteous, not those born into privilege or born in this country—rather, all people receive from GOD. Advent gives us time to focus our gaze toward Bethlehem, to a manger where grace and truth are born. In that birth, that unlikely birth, in an unlikely town, through an unlikely virgin, God makes Himself known—how very unlikely! This vulnerable, dependent new born, the God of the universe, points us to, what Eugen Peterson describes, “This one-of-a-kind God-expression.” Jesus is a one-of-a-kind picture of God…in flesh, in diapers—human and God together. Through this infant, grace and truth are born.

What do grace and truth look like for you this Advent season? How do you define grace? In seminary I remember someone describing it as our only true “free lunch.”

Tonight is Christmas Eve. The carols we sing, the presents we offer are all part of keeping the Christmas tradition as we know it. Tomorrow we celebrate Jesus birth. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in that one tiny event, in a tiny village, when a tiny Baby was born—Immanuel,

God with us, Grace and Truth…these are just some of His names.

How do your plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas day enable you to receive grace upon grace? It isn’t wrapped in a package under the tree. It has to do with what your soul can receive. It is about the interior life…where grace does its work and where truth has its roots. Our creative God…whom we have not seen, decided to create again when Jesus was conceived. What does the environment of your heart need to look like for you to receive this gift? Tonight you can prepare your heart to receive—“Prepare Him room!”

Born for you…grace upon grace. Born for you, grace and truth! May you have a truth filled and a grace filled Christmas.

– Rev. Care Crawford

 

Dec 24

Morning December 24

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to Him and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because He was before me.’”)  – John 1:14–15

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas amid the rampant commercialism, hectic shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and frayed nerves, may we pause to reflect on the significance of John 1:14–15 to our celebration.

Here in this text, the Apostle John distills the entire message of the Bible and declares that the Word—the eternal God who existed before time and history, who spoke into existence the universe and all living things—became flesh and appeared among us as a human baby! The invisible, infinite, supernatural Creator became the visible, finite, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth! In one sentence, John covers the 33-year life span of Jesus and reminds us that we actually saw the glory of God in Jesus.

Just as the Shechinah—the glory and presence of God—appeared among the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 16:10; 24:16; 40:34), so was God’s glory revealed in Jesus at his birth (Lk. 2:14, 30-32), transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:3), death, resurrection, and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 12:16, 23, 28; 13:31, 32).

The glory seen in Jesus came from the unique Father-Son relationship that he had with God before the universe was created (Jn. 17:5), and permeated His earthly life and ministry. We not only saw the glory of God in Jesus, but also the fullness of God’s grace—the limitless mercy, kindness, and love of God for sinners—and the embodiment of the truth of God’s nature and characteristics.

And as Jesus prepared to return to His Father, He promised that He would not leave us alone, but that His Holy Spirit of truth would be with us to teach, guide, comfort, and help us.

So as we gather with our families and friends this Christmas, may we find time to give thanks to God that He did not stay remote and aloof from us in His heavenly realm. Through Jesus, God identified with our humanity, loved us, suffered for us, and ultimately died for our sins in order to redeem us and give us fullness of life—now and for all eternity.

– Derrick Coy

 

Dec 23

Evening December 23

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12–13

When you think of “birthright” you often think of the English monarchy and the birthright of a royal family. Because of their blood line, they have access to the king or queen and many privileges.

Throughout the Bible we read of the lineage of Jesus, the blood line of David; an individual was introduced as the brother of … the son of … their birthright and their lineage established their identity. Your mother, your father, brothers and sisters, your family defined who you were.

In John 1:12-13, John made it clear that when he spoke of becoming a child of God that he wasn’t speaking of a natural birth so there would be no confusion about a blood line or ancestry, but that being a child of God and belonging to the family of God is a matter of faith, and your identity is in Jesus Christ. When you, in faith believing, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become a child of God. You have access to the King! As a child of God you will hunger to know Him better and will desire to be with your brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is in that time when we share with one another as we worship, study and pray, united in heart, that we learn to become more like Him. We grow in faith and demonstrate love for one another because of His love for us. Our love for one another identifies that we are a child of God.

Our birthright may not be through the British royal monarchy, but it is through a King. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us remember that our identity and “birthright” is in Christ; for those who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become a child of God.

– Marianne Silva

 

Dec 23

Morning December 23

He [John the Baptist] himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him. 11 He came to what was His own, and His own people did not accept Him. – John 1:8–11

The very first words spoken in the Bible, and in creation itself, occur in Genesis 1:3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” According to this morning’s text in verse 9, the world came into being through the True Light. That Light is the Word made flesh—Jesus. The difference between the beginning verses of Genesis and the beginning verses of John’s Gospel is that John doesn’t juxtapose light in the usual way with darkness. Instead, he focuses on the fact that creation is blind to the Light’s existence, rejecting the very Light that created it. We easily identify the Israel of Jesus’ time as “His own people [who] did not accept Him.” John’s Gospel is often referred to as the universal Gospel. If it is to be understood as universal, then his words must apply to us as well.

From the earliest days of human history, people recognized the importance of light for life. December 21st marks the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year. As the days grew shorter, many in the ancient world feared that the sun would cease to provide the light needed to sustain life. They feared darkness. By the 23rd of December, however, they were able to observe that the sun’s rays were once again growing stronger, and notice the days lengthening. But these people who were obsessed with light, and who understood its necessity for life, did not recognize the Light of the World.

In 21st century Los Angeles, we suffer from light pollution. We live in a city with so much ambient light that, even on the clearest of nights, most of the stars are obscured by light of our own making. This is a metaphor for our self-sufficiency. Even worse than being blind to the Light’s existence, we are blinded from recognizing the brilliance of the True Light. At church, we boast about the “million dollar view” we have from the patio and parking lot, marveling at the twinkling lights of the valley below. Yet we easily forget that the true Light of the World was born so that we might have a relationship with Him.

In reflecting on these verses, I was reminded of one of the most disturbing and distressing images I ever saw in L.A. On the morning of January 17,, 1994, I experienced my first earthquake. After contacting family to let them know that we were okay, Care and I got in the car to check on some of the older members of the congregation. As we reached the crest of the Sepulveda Pass on the 405, we were both struck by the lack of light emanating from the valley. The only visible light came from fires that had started as a result of broken gas pipes.

I was too shaken at the time to process the sight. Looking back, I now recognize God’s lesson for me. On a daily basis, in ways big and small, I refuse to listen to and receive Christ. The Voice, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible, comments on these verses this way: Jesus, as the Light, does not call out from a distant place, but draws near by coming into the world.” The only begotten Son of God, “God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God” in the words of the Nicene Creed, came so that we could draw near to Him and experience the light of His love. This is the universal lesson of these verses. This is the gift of God to each of us. Today, I challenge all of us to be like John the Baptist and “testify to the light,” not with our words, but with our lives.

– Steve Madaris

 

Dec 22

Evening December 22

If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:6–7

I walk alone

No light before me,

Satisfied with ambient rays to accompany my days.

These streams of light are not true Light, they tease in my darkness.

I stumble and stare- into a shadowed place,

No hope to share a life with One who promises and redeems.

The lies I tell myself are hidden deep in a false self I know well.

I construct a self apart from you. I am not worthy, I cannot dwell.

You call me in my confusion “Crawl to Me child, I am here, I am He.”

“I will not let you walk alone.”

I am invited- Light to shine, Light to offer. Light to reveal.

“My birth brings freedom and fellowship,” His infant face radiates a message too good not to be true.

Just sit by my cradle, and look. Be still my child, see the light reflect on your face.”

All is well. All is lifted. All is Light.

“Just sit and rest.”

“Dwell with Me.”

 

Reflect:

Where is you shadow place? When do you feel in the dark?

When do you experience the Light of Christ within? How do you recognize it?

What does Jesus ask of you?

How will you respond to Him this advent?

 

– Rev. Care Crawford

 

Dec 22

Morning December 22

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:5

 

What is it about the darkness that is so scary? When we are little and lying in bed, it is as if we can feel the monster about to jump out of the closet or reach a hand up from under the bed. A night light helps us feel secure. When there is a power outage we light candles and use flashlights so we don’t trip over things as we maneuver through our home. We take every precaution to be safe in the dark. Why is it that we don’t do the same when walking out into this world? It isn’t hard to see how dark our world is. Just turn on the news and you will hear stories of violence, pain and distress. At times I find myself stuck in darkness. How can that be when as a believer I have the light of Jesus pouring over me? My life gets so busy that I forget to pray or can’t make it to church or small group regularly. Or I disregard Biblical teaching and try to handle a situation my own way. It is no wonder I can’t cope! I am trying to maneuver through chaos without seeing the light!

I am so grateful that Jesus is my Savior. He realigns me. Just as we would do for a little kid afraid of the dark He says, “Come back, let Me put the night light back on for you.” Or, “I know it feels dark right now but follow Me, I’ll guide you through.” He has overcome the darkness. His light can’t be put out. And Jesus wants to shine upon us!

In this season of Advent I ask you to think about what area of your life might be hidden in darkness. How are you keeping them hidden and what can you do to bring them into the Light?

Father, thank You for guiding us when we are willing to follow and guiding us back when we go astray. Thank You for giving us the Word to light our path. I pray that You will help us see our own darkness so that we can heal and be able to better shine Your light through to others. Amen.

– Teri Proulx

 

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