Blood Moon Eclipse from Bel Air’s Parking Lot

eclipse041414God’s poetry to us this Holy Week:
See Amazing Pictures of the Eclipse from Bel Air’s Parking Lot
(pictures of the eclipse April 14, 2014, courtesy of Gaston Hinostroza)

“He covers the face of the full moon, and spreads over it his cloud. He has described a circle on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at his rebuke. By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways; and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26: 9-14)

The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  (Acts 2:20)

Job remarks, “How small a whisper do we hear of him!”

During the lunar eclipse this week, many in the western hemisphere turned their faces skyward to watch this celestial event.  How many remarked, “This is Holy Week” or “This is Passover”?  We humans stop and pause. We watch and wonder. Yet many of us do not even whisper of HIM.  Even as heaven and earth proclaim the Truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, may we start with a whisper and end in a roar: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!!”

We’ll see you on Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl (11 a.m.) to continue to celebration! #easteratthebowl

by Rev. Kim Dorr-Tilley

Why go to the Hollywood Bowl on Easter Sunday?

A Memo to the Session: Easter at the Hollywood Bowl

From Dr. Bob Paul, Pastor of Discipleship

For several years, Bel Air Presbyterian Church has vacated its campus on Mulholland Drive in favor of holding an Easter worship celebration at the Hollywood Bowl. This practice is not without its problems, and critics.

For some church members, going to the Bowl is a practical impossibility. Beyond the inconvenience of transportation and parking, some who suffer physical limitations or disabilities simply cannot handle the Hollywood Bowl. For others, worshipping in the vast open-air venue simply does not “feel” like worship. It is more like attending a concert, complete with picnic lunches, rather than a meaningful spiritual experience. Utilizing the Bowl is also expensive, and offerings received at the Bowl fall short of covering the church’s monetary outlay.

Despite these difficulties, we have justified going to the Bowl as a matter of Bel Air’s “mission.” I’m not convinced that our congregation is clear about the mission. In fact, I’m not sure we have been completely clear about it as church leaders. I think there is a need to re-think WHY we go to the bowl, because getting clear on this might change HOW we go about it. What exactly is our mission, or purpose, in going to the Bowl?

One answer might be that we can “reach” more people in one service at the Bowl than in multiple services in our sanctuary. The numbers support this, and partnering with Christian Alliance last year definitely boosted attendance. So, is the main goal of our mission “outreach,” or “evangelism,” or “gaining more members for Bel Air”?

Last year, special effort was made to invite a response to the message, something like a Billy Graham Crusade. However, the number of people who actually got out of their seats and “came forward” were very few. And as far as we know, only a tiny handful of people found their way to Bel Air in the following weeks because of the Bowl. If the primary “mission” was evangelistic outreach, the results were not impressive. Indeed, it is likely that the vast majority of people who came to the Bowl for Easter were already believers, and already involved in some church (Bel Air or another). They came to the Bowl for Easter, and went back to their own church the next week. That would be my take on it.

So, is it worth going to the Bowl if it contributes very little to either evangelism or member-increasing outreach?

I want to suggest another way to define the missional purpose of Easter at the Bowl.

We live in a culture and a city where it is easy for Christians to hide from public view in our relatively private enclaves. At the same time, there are other churches around the country who attract a lot of public attention by the extremist ideologies they represent (Westboro Baptist is a notorious example). Such churches represent a theological viewpoint and an attitude towards society that is aberrant relative to mainstream evangelicalism, and abhorrent to most Christians. Yet they too often become the “public face” of Christianity.

There is a need for Christians to stand up and bear witness to their faith in the public square—and to do so in a way that does not degenerate into antagonistic shouting over political issues. In Los Angeles, the Hollywood Bowl comes as close as anything to being a town square.

Easter is the Christian festival that celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—the very center of the Good News we proclaim. What better time than Easter to stand up in a public place and bear witness to the Resurrection?

The mission of bearing public witness to the Resurrection does not need to be justified in terms of numbers, or evangelistic impact, or some kind of cost-benefit analysis. Some things are worth doing for their own sake. If we saw a lone Apostle standing in the middle of a public square, facing the skeptics and critics, yet boldly telling the story of Jesus crucified and risen, we would admire the courage and applaud the effort regardless of cost or results.

It is always worthy to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is good for our souls to get out of the sanctuary and into the public square with our witness, at least once a year.

Our Lord, after all, was crucified in public and he made it clear that the gospel is to be shared with the world. Our mission is to keep telling this story—out there, in public places—and to do it in a way that honors the name of Jesus.

If God has given us the vision and capability to make this happen once a year in one of the most iconic public venues in this great city, and perhaps the world, it is a worthy thing to do. Indeed, we ought to consider it a privilege to serve our Lord’s gospel in this way.

Why go to the Bowl at Easter? Because bearing public witness to the Resurrection of Christ is a high honor and a worthy act of mission.

The Cell Phone

by Rev. Keenan Barber :: I was at my niece’s Holiday Chorus performance this week. Lots of adorable kids dressed in their very cute and brightly colored Holiday best. The ages of the kids ranged from 2nd to 5th grade, and so there were all kinds of awkward moments in the short span of the 35 minute concert. As much as girls playing with their dresses and boys yawning and kids in general just being not-quite-aware that they were in front of a big group of people – nothing was as stark as the man sitting in front of me.

He got a phone call during the concert, answered the call, stood up from where he was sitting, and all the while talking left the room to continue his “very important” conversation. All of this while, the kids on stage were singing, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” His daughter looked at mom and mouthed something like, “Where’s dad?” Mom just annoyingly shrugged her shoulders and basically communicated that she didn’t know.

A few days before that I was at my daughter’s band concert. There were five different levels and flavors of bands performing and so the gymnasium was actually pretty full for a week night middle school music concert. On the back of the bulletin, there was an entire paragraph outlining audience etiquette.  At least half of the paragraph was about cell phones – don’t text, don’t email – i.e. leave it in your pocket as your use may distract other people.

The woman sitting in front of us never put her phone away the entire hour show, and with the exception of about five minutes, she was using the phone virtually the entire concert.
The point I am going to make is simple and you already know it. Put away your phone and be present to what is happening right in front of you. Does the phone call in the middle of the choir concert really all that important that it couldn’t wait 20 minutes? Can’t we enjoy the instruments at the band concert playing some great tunes without the cell phone on for the entire concert?! If you want to read more on the subject in terms of cell phones effect on a marriage, read more here.

There are so many things this Christmas season that have the ability to distract from the fact that the Advent season about our God entering into our world to radically change the way we do life. The incarnation of the Christ child is easy to miss – and with so many more distractions these days, it becomes a real discipline to stay focused on the things of the season that God would want our attention to be on. Put down the phone. Pick up a Bible. Pick up the Church Advent devotional or read it at belairdevotions.com. Read the Christmas story with your kids. Enjoy family. But for crying out loud, have wisdom when it comes to using your cell phone.

Going Deeper

by Dr. Bob Paul :: Several months ago, a congregational survey of Bel Air Church was conducted by the Barna company. Among other things, the survey identified a significant hunger among our members (and some former members, who were included in the survey) for greater depth in our preaching/teaching ministry.

This is a good thing to know because hunger, after all, is a sign of life.

When I wake up in the morning, I want something to get me going — a cup of coffee, a bowl of cereal, or maybe a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast.

Hunger motivates us, and lets us know our body needs nourishment. The extreme hunger of starvation is a terrible form of suffering, but even then the sensation means that people are alive and craving what they need to live.

Spiritual hunger serves a similar purpose. When the Holy Spirit draws people towards Christ they often feel an inner sense of hunger. It signals their desire to live spiritually. As Blaise Pascal, the brilliant Frenchman of the 1600s, said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known in Jesus Christ.”

The pastors and staff at Bel Air, with our elders and lay leaders, are working every day to create opportunities where people can receive substantial spiritual food. You could liken the effort to a large culinary team that creates wonderful dishes for people to enjoy. Considering the abundant “feeding” opportunities Bel Air makes available on a regular basis, I sometimes wonder how it is that people could possibly feel hungry?

One possibility, of course, is that our “culinary team” isn’t very skilled. Okay. There’s always room for improvement. But it’s also possible that some people just want “fast food”, and don’t have a clue how to appreciate (much less prepare) a real meal.

There’s a proverbial saying that goes like this: “Give a hungry man a fish and feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and feed him for a lifetime.” A good question for the future of Bel Air, in regard to the kind of spiritual nourishment we offer, is whether we want to be a fast-food franchise or a training center that teaches people how to fish — how to develop the attitudes and skills and practices that will keep them well-nourished and satisfied for a lifetime.

If it were up to you, what would you aim to do?

Dr. Bob Paul
Pastor of Discipleship

Winter Vision

by Rev. Keenan Barber :: No one travels to California in the Fall to see the changing of the colors. It happens for sure, but not in the dramatic fashion as it does in other parts of the U.S. Still, leaves do fall off trees, and a new “season” is ushered in. Here in California, the season is more about limited-time offer beverages at their local coffee shop, not so much about a drastic change in the temperature.

From my office at church, for most of the year, I have a view of a pretty large tree which obstructs the view of the San Fernando Valley. I kind of look forward to the fall/winter when the tree loses its leaves, and I can see the valley much more clearly. Some might say the valley is not much to look at, but when it’s a really clear day, it can be quite beautiful.

Today, as I looked out my office window, and the leaves are starting to disappear, a thought occurred to me. In the winter season, I can see things more clearly. Huh. It struck me. In the winter seasons of my life, when life is really not going the way I thought it would it go. When things are being stripped away, those are the moments in my life when I see some of the important things God is trying to show me most clearly.

Now, do I want to always be in the winters so that I can “see clearly”? Not really. But, I need those seasons to see the important things. To see the essential things. To see the God who carries me through those things. It’s harder to see God sometimes when all is going well.
Scripture tells us: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Thanks God, that in the darkest of valleys and in the coldest of winters, you are with us.

A Path for Our Mission and Ministry

by The Rev. Dr. David G. McKechnie, Interim Senior Pastor :: Princeton sociologist, Robert Wuthnow, says millions of Americans are wreaking psychological havoc on themselves because they have no clear signpost to guide them in the matters of money. In his book, God and Mammon in America, he takes a shot at people like me because he says pastors have abandoned the traditional church role of financial shepherding. His study suggests Americans are spiritually adrift when it comes to making decisions in the realm of personal economics.

2 Corinthians 9:7 says: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

We make an offering to God from the best we produce. The question for us is not how much we earn, but how do we manage what we earn.

As Interim Pastor at BAPC, I hope you agree with me that our financial welfare can profoundly affect our spiritual well-being. Two thirds of the parables of the Gospels show Jesus focused on money. He knew what would get our attention.

Our leaders are working on a proposed operating budget for 2014. This budget creates a path for our mission and ministry.

I believe God wants us to experience financial authenticity. God wants us to control our money rather than have our money control us. The biblical standard is that we are to give ten percent tithe to God’s redemptive program.

On Sunday November 10th, you will be invited to make a financial commitment in response to God’s blessing in your life. I urge you, before writing any number on a pledge card, pray about your part. What number would honor Christ? What would you hope to do financially in 2014 to enhance the mission and ministry of this great congregation? Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Factor God into your decision. I take that seriously. I hope you will do the same.

 

God bless you!

Dave Mckechnie

 

Reflections on Beach Baptism

Reflections on Beach Baptism

by Rev. Care Crawford :: Two Sundays ago the church had an opportunity in worship to share in the sacrament of baptism … at the BEACH!

beachbap13 beachbap13aThis Beach Baptism has become an annual tradition at Bel Air Church. We began doing this when the temple nearby used our church’s sanctuary for high holy days. We seek to be good neighbors and shared our worship space for their needs that day. So we held a 6pm service at the beach one year and included the sacrament of baptism, offering for those who prefer the experience of “immersion” for baptism.

At Bel Air, we use water symbolically (in a bowl) and sprinkle on the heads of the one being baptized. Yet we read in Scripture that Jesus Himself was baptized in the river Jordan by being immersed in the river. The tradition and symbol of immersion is that we die to ourselves as we go under the water and are resurrected in Christ as new people when we come up from the water.

Well anyway, a few Sundays ago the In N Out burger truck arrived and people gathered to enjoy a burger and attend this worship service.

I love this day. It was a particularly stunning and beautiful day—sun was bright, neither too hot nor too cold. There were hundreds of pelicans in the water, feeding on a swarm of fish seemingly. We watched these birds fly in the sky and then head down to the water like an airplane diving into the sea. The splash they made was amazing and their presence in such numbers was even more amazing. We also had dolphins who were in the water right in front of where we were gathering for worship and the baptism.

How beautiful it was to look at this scene from up near the parking lot: a few hundred people gathered in worship and praise, a few more hundred pelicans swimming and flying nearby, the dolphins dancing in the water… I looked at the beauty of the ocean, listened to the crash of the waves and the songs our people sung and was blessed by this picture of the church. And I thought how lovely it was of God to give the pelican and dolphins that day— both Christian symbols from the early church! Did you know that? The pelican and the dolphin were symbols of the early church that you can still see carved into cathedrals and part of early Christian art.

“According to legend, in a time of famine a mother pelican would draw blood from her own chest and give the blood to her chicks. Thus the pelican symbol in Christianity, also called pelican-in-her-piety, symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (because He gave His blood for others) as well as the Eucharist (because it represents Christ’s blood and provides spiritual nourishment).”

The dolphin as a Christian symbolism, conveys an aspect of Christ. “Dolphins seen in Christian art are symbolic of resurrection. Some artists utilize the protective, stabilizing, compassionate demeanor of the dolphin as a message of well-being to the pure of heart.” Some say the dolphin is a symbol of Christ’s baptism as well, going into the water and coming up again… can’t you picture a dolphin in the ocean going under the water and coming up again?

Beach Baptism Sunday was a gift in so many ways, the beauty of the day, the symbols as reminders of Christ, the family of God gathered in worship, and then finally, one of my favorite things about beach baptism is this… after someone goes out to the pastors waiting for them in the water to share this sacrament, and they are lifted back (dunked) under the water and helped back up… the sacrament proclaimed over them and the name of the Triune God spoken, …from the shore you hear shouts and cheers! The people of God are celebrating each baptized soul—the joy of the community and the reminder when someone is baptized of our own baptism. The early church has a service for the renewal of baptism that says, “Remember your baptism and be glad!” Those cheers and shouts of joy for the newly baptized person are cheers and shouts of joy at our own baptisms and echo the cheers of Heaven!

It was a brilliant and beautiful day. I’m so happy to get to be a part of it!

If you have never been, come next fall and experience it all. I can’t promise dolphins and pelicans, but I can promise the joy of the Lord all over the place!

 

Pray for our Seminaries

Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena is the largest seminary in the world with approximately 4500 students. This non-denominational seminary has seven regional campuses; Phoenix, Seattle, Sacramento, Menlo Park, Orange County, Colorado Springs and Houston. Fuller prepares men and women to engage their culture from a Christian perspective. The intent is to have leaders equipped to reach to a world hungry for hope. The faculty includes renowned authors, scholars and pastors who challenge, encourage, engage and teach our future leaders.

I have had the privilege of nurturing Fuller Texas, which has approximately a 150 students enrolled in degree programs in Houston.  Communal and individual spiritual formation is an important part of the seminary experience. A deliberate effort is made to not only have students know their classmates but also enjoy community through worship, retreat, recreation and prayer.

There are a number of Bel Air members who are very engaged with Fuller. Dr. David Fung, former elder here at Bel Air, being one of them. Dr. Fung is currently a Fuller trustee. We also have a number of staff members who are currently enrolled in classes at Fuller. These staff members, in addition to working full time at Bel Air, also commute to Pasadena, go to classes while working towards their theological educational goals.

Why do I tell you this? I urge you to pray for our seminarians. Their education is not only demanding but also expensive.  These feel called by God to prepare for leadership roles in the body of Christ. Your affirmation and your prayers for these students is a source of encouragement.

Blessings,
Dave

Autumn Awakening

a·wak·en·ing əˈwāk(ə)niNG/<

noun: awakening; plural noun: awakenings

an act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of something.
formal: an act of waking from sleep.
the beginning or rousing of something.

adjective: awakening

coming into existence or awareness.
“awakening desire”

For me, the season of autumn means fall leaves and back to school, days with less daylight that usher in a new beginning, a new season for new classes, new school clothes, new opportunities, new awareness of who I am and WHOSE I am!

This is an opportunity for a new season in your journey with God.

Bel Air Presbyterian Church’s Women’s Ministry invites you to Autumn Awakening, a one day mini-retreat for women of all ages and stages. One day, one place and all of us together with workshops and seminars to awaken your inward journey with Jesus.

We all are busy. We all are involved. Autumn Awakening gives us a few hours together to be challenged and refreshed, to take care of our whole selves…body, mind, and spirit. “You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.” Deut. 6:5

In a city which is isolating and a church which has programs for varying life stages, few opportunities for women to come together and share life, good food, fellowship and conversation exist. Autumn Awakening is such a place. With options to choose a way of awakening your body with a morning stretch or your spirit with stories from Scripture or whatever seminar/workshop you choose- come give your WHOLE SELF an opportunity to have moments where the Lord touches you, awakens something in you or a new awareness of who YOU are or who GOD is! As I listen to women of this church I hear a longing for a deeper and fresh experience of God and a yearning to be lead, taught and to be known. Autumn Awakening is designed to help you do that.

I hope you will join us Saturday, September 28 from 9 a.m.–1 p.m.

$20 registration includes a gourmet catered brunch. >> belairpres.org/registration

JOIN US…and let your spirit awaken to all God has for you this coming season!

Rev. Care Crawford

Search Me and Stretch Me

searchmePsalm 139 begins with David’s recognition of God working intimately in his life and ends with him praying similarly for God’s initiative in his deepest being: “Search me, God, and know my heart…and lead me in the way everlasting.”

It was a privilege to guest preach at Bel Air and over 700 people responded to dare to pray this week “Search Me and Stretch Me” as they toured the Sacred Streets exhibit.

How is God stretching you into a new area of ministry, perhaps inside the walls of a church or outside in your everyday life? As He searches you have you considered the “ways of pain” that you are stuck in that are keeping you from seeing your inherent value that God has created you with? Are you stuck in a cycle of toxic thinking, unhealthy relationships and limiting yourself from believing God wants to use you to be a blessing in the city?

Search me and stretch me is a prayer for all of us and I’d like to hear what God is revealing to you as you pray this. I trust you’ll rediscover a God who not only had to come to save you from your sin and brokenness, but One who wanted to come because of deep love for you and His joy in inviting you to partake in His kingdom expansion here on earth as you bless others in His name.

Search me and stretch me…

into new ministry…

into moving on from habits that hinder me…

into courageous trust in God who surprises us with plans and dreams that we would have never come up with on our own.

How is God stretching you? Let us know!

communications@belairpres.org