Advent: God’s Prophecy Fulfilled, Marked by a Star over Bethlehem

BLCF: wisemen_and_star

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

Advent: God’s Prophecy Fulfilled, Marked by a Star over Bethlehem’ 

© December 7, 2014 by Steve Mickelson

Revised Sermon from © December 8, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF: Bulletin December 7, 2014

BLCF: o-come-emmanuel

 

BLCF Call to Worship and Prayer:

Responsive Reading #615 (Adoration of the Magi – from Matthew); Prayer                 

Opening Hymn #100: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel 

Choruses                                          

Scripture Verses: Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7; Matthew 2:1-15

Let us pray…

Before I begin today’s lesson, let me briefly share with those in the congregation who missed last Friday’s BLCF Café Volunteer Appreciation Potluck Supper. We had just shy of 40 volunteers at the supper. Brother Rawle James was our Master of Ceremonies, and as MC asked each volunteer to share the name of place of birth and how Christmas is celebrated back home.

BLCF_Cafe_Volunteer_Potluck_1

One of our volunteers, a former captain, now working on her post graduate degree shared that she came from China and that she had accepted Jesus as her Saviour, and currently attends a local church. This Christmas she will return home for the first time in two years, as a Christian, bringing a whole new perspective to the meaning of the Holiday.

BLCF_Cafe_Volunteer_Potluck_2

Earlier this week at the café, a former regular guest of the Cafe, dropped by to say hello. This gentleman is only a few years younger than myself, had endured a hard childhood in in Belarus, suffering frequent beatings by his parents. My friend shared with me that he first came to the Café by happenstance, as he was walking by the church saw our invitation sign on the sidewalk and for some unknown reason, (which I believe was the Holy Spirit), decided to come inside.

 

As a new guest, he admitted that he was in a bad place, because of a severe pain in his lower back, causing his mood to be tempered by the nagging ailment. He then shared that on two occasions, volunteers approached him, perceiving that he had a problem. He said in both occasions, the volunteer took several minutes to pray with him for healing, referring to the volunteers as that lady who plays the piano (Margaret) and then pointing to the other volunteer who is in charge and is always rushing around (Sophie). The prayers were answered in three days, where our friend experienced a complete healing, with no pain. Something the doctors could not provide. This guest, like our volunteer, had accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, crediting to the love and compassion that he experienced at the dinner as the catalyst to his faith decision.

BLCF_Cafe_Wide

These two faith testimonials, along with that from a single mother who was a former long term guest, which I shared a few weeks ago, was God’s Holy Spirit giving the volunteers a blessing in appreciation for the ministry of the BLCF Café. God IS good! It is wonderful how God reveals Himself right here in the heart of Toronto.

BLCF: God_reveals_Himself

Now back to today’s lesson.

Today we celebrate the both Second Advent Sunday prior to Christmas Day and Communion Sunday, where we observe Jesus’ sacrifice prior to the advent of his return.

On this day we light candle commonly called the Peace Candle, also known as the Bethlehem Candle. Bethlehem being the birth place of the Christ child was foretold in Micah, chapter 5:

          Micah 5:2 (ESV)

2 [a] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.                                                                                                                                               

Footnotes: a. Micah 5:2 Chapter 5:1 in Hebrew

BLCF: Nativity scene

You may recall from accounts from the Scriptures, which are also expressed in Christmas Hymns or Carols, and portrayed in both paintings and diorama like the Nativity Scene, several significant events occurred in the early life of our Lord Jesus Christ in the town of Bethlehem.

Having worked as a field supervisor for the last Canadian Census, I observed quite a different way to collect information for the government today than in the time of Jesus. For the census today, instead of returning to our respective place of birth, all we have to do is fill out a government survey/questionnaire either online or submit a hard copy by mail.

Most Canadians were required to complete census survey as a short form. However, roughly one in seven, including me, was given a longer form to complete. In spite of the relative ease and convenience of filling out a modern census form today, there is a greater resistance or reluctance to complete the census than in the time of Joseph and Mary. I think that perhaps the penalties given by the government of Rome at that time for refusing a decree from Caesar were far more severe than those given in Canada, today.

That is the reason why Joseph obediently brought Mary, who was due to deliver her first born, to their birthplace of Bethlehem to complete Caesar’s census, at a time that was close to her delivery date. They did not have the benefit of any legislation, such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to protect them from being subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

BLCF: marry-on-donkey-and-joseph-travel-to-bethlehem

In Luke 2:1-7, we see that due to a decree from Caesar Augustus, everyone in the known world, living under the rule of Caesar, had to go to the town of their birth to register, Luke 2:1-7 (ESV):

 The Birth of Jesus Christ

the-adoration-of-the-magi-jean-pierre-granger

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.                                      

Footnotes: a. Luke 2:2 Or This was the registration before b. Luke 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married

Mary, being aware that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, was likely was unaware of God’s timing of her pregnancy and delivery of the Christ child in Bethlehem was a fulfillment of the prophecies.

Speaking of the prophecy, we have the account of the visit of the Magi, or the Wise Men, as we see in today’s second Scripture verse, Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV):

 The Visit of the Wise Men

BLCF: Three Kings

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

BLCF: three_wisemen_star

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

BLCF: Mary,Joseph,Jesus

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”                                                                                                                       

Footnotes: a. Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16  b. Matthew 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

What conclusions can we draw of infer from the Scripter’s account of the Magi found in Matthew 2?

The Wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, apparently outside the jurisdiction of Rome and were not participating in census registration decreed by Cesar Augustus. Arriving in the city, the Wise Men were granted an audience with the local King Herod, which indicates that the Magi had an elevated status from commoners, who would not likely be able to go into the royal court to talk to even a minor king. It troubled Herod that the Magi had observed the star of Christ and had come to worship the new born king of the Jews so greatly that he consulted the chief priests and scribes of the Jewish people and found  that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in Bethlehem of Judea.

Here Herod conspires to kill the Christ Child, who posed a possible threat to his local rule, by asking the Wise Men to let him know the location of the Christ child under the ruse of worshiping him as well. However, the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and chose instead to go home by another route.

The account of the Wise Men is only found in Matthew’s Gospel, which does not diminish its significance to Christianity.  We often refer to the number of Magi or Wise Men as three, which we infer from the three gifts given to the Christ child, the Scriptures do not specify their number. For many Christians, the account of the Magi, found in the second chapter of Matthew, is included in their respective Epiphany Observances. Epiphany is a church holiday which ranks third importance on the Christian calendar, ranking behind below Easter and Christmas, respectively. But that is a topic for another lesson.

Lighting the Second Advent Candle: Bethlehem/Peace:

BLCF: Bethlehem_candle_of_love2

At the beginning of today’s message, we described the second candle, which is lit on the second Sunday of advent along with the first candle, as the Bethlehem or Peace candle, reminding us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and reminding us that it was a King, who was born in the manger, and as we read in Isaiah 9, Christ brings light into a dark world, as the Prince of Peace. Let us read from Isaiah Chapter 9, as we light the Second Advent Candle:

Isaiah 9:2-6 (ESV)

2 [a] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon[b] his shoulder, and his name shall be called[c] Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.                                                                       

   Footnotes: a. Isaiah 9:2 Chapter 9:1 in Hebrew b. Isaiah 9:6 Or is upon c. Isaiah 9:6 Or is called

BLCF: animation_candle_flame free

May we thank God for the Prince of Peace, who gave the promise of salvation, forgiveness and peace in the little town of Bethlehem underneath the guiding light of a start of Christ.

Let us pray…

Communion Observance: 1 Corinthians 11:22-27 (ESV):

BLCF: communion

22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for[a] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[b] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

Footnotes: a. 1 Corinthians 11:24 Some manuscripts broken for b.1 Corinthians 11:24 Or as my memorial; also verse 25

Closing Hymn #121: O Little Town of Bethlehem

BLCF: blessed-advent

Benediction – (Romans 15:13)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

BLCF: Isaiah 9_2-6

Volunteer For The Holidays And Help The Homeless Right In The Heart Of Toronto

Volunteers, (individuals or groups), are needed to help at the BLCF Cafe Community Dinner, a weekly dinner that feeds over 150 homeless and marginalized people, every Wednesday Evening. Relying on fundraisers and private donations, BLCF Cafe receives neither government grants nor corporate sponsorship. BLCF Cafe does rely on the dedication of volunteers to serve over 7,500 dinners, annually.
Volunteers serve each guest a wholesome dinner, with dignity and respect. If you are able, why not  contribute a couple of hours of your time for a great cause? You will be glad you did, when you see the smiles on the faces of the people we serve.
 
For more information: Contact Sophie Mickelson at blcfcafe@yahoo.ca 416-535-9578 see us on facebook under BLCF Cafe: BLCF Cafe Facebook Link or our BLOG: BLCF Cafe BLOG. BLCF Cafe Community Dinner was established in January 2008 by, and is operated under, the auspices of,  Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church: BLCF Church Web Page
Last year Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both came on Wednesday, so we served lunch at the café from 1PM until 3PM. This year Christmas Eve and New Years Eve fall on Wednesday, so we plan to serve luncheon on those days as well.Prior to and after Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, the BLCF Cafe will serve dinner at the usual time of 6-8PM.

We would be happy to have you or your group help as a volunteer at the BLCF Cafe. Our volunteers help at various times of the day between 12PM and 8:30PM and help in all aspects of running the dinner, from food preparation, serving, setting up tables and chairs, and clean up.

To find out how you or your group may help the cause of feeding the homeless and marginalized right in the heart of Toronto, please contact us at BLCF on any Wednesday anytime after 12:00PM and before 5:00PM. Or call and leave a message.Please use the side door, as we do not open the front doors until after 6PM and we need our volunteers to arrive by 5:30PM to be briefed before we serve dinner.

Sophie Mickelson

Director/Coordinator BLCF Cafe Community Dinner

416-535-9578

Charity Village Link for Info: Volunteer Detail

Thanks for volunteering!

 

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped serve meals at the BLCF Café on Christmas Day 2013 and New Year’s Day 2014, both holidays happened to fall on a Wednesday. With the help of these and other dedicated volunteers, our Community Dinner has not missed serving meals to the homeless and marginalized since opening day in January 2008.

BLCF Café needs volunteers to help feed the homeless and marginalized in the heart of Toronto. If you or your group is interested in helping at the BLCF Café Community Dinner, contact Sophie at blcfcafe@yahoo.ca or 416-535-9578. Here is a link to our info brochure: BLCF Cafe Info Brochure

community-dinner-BLCF

 

Melissa_and_Des_at_BLCF_Cafe_Community_Dinner

Special Holiday Hours at the BLCF Cafe Communiy Dinner: Volunteers Needed!

BLCF Cafe needs volunteers for Christmas Day and New Years Day, where instead of
dinner we will serve lunch from:
12:00Noon to 2:00PM.
Contact: Sophie at 416-535-9578 or blcfcafe@yahoo.ca

ATTENTION BLCF CAFÉ HOLIDAY HOURS:

 

12NOON-2PM

 

CHRISTMAS DAY and NEW YEARS DAY


BLCF Cafe was established in January 2008 by BLCF Church and is run solely under the auspices of Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church. BLCF Cafe Community Dinner serves dinner to over 150 homeless and marginalized people every Wednesday evening,(over 7,500 annually). If you or your group are interested in helping the cause of feeding the homeless in the heat of Toronto, contact us: BLCF Phone: 416-535-9578 * BLCF email: blcfcafe@yahoo.ca * BLCF Web Page: http://www.blcfchurch.ca

 


 


Volunteers needed to feed homeless and marginalized people in the heart of Toronto at BLCF Cafe

BLCF Cafe Community Dinner

BLCF Cafe needs volunteers

 

Bloor Lansdowne Community Dinner – BLCF Cafe – Needs Volunteers to Help Feed Homeless and Marginalized People in the Heart of Toronto

Volunteers, (individuals or groups), are needed to help at the BLCF Cafe Community Dinner, a weekly dinner that feeds over 150 homeless and marginalized people, every Wednesday Evening. Relying on fundraisers and private donations, BLCF Cafe receives neither government grants nor corporate sponsorship. BLCF Cafe does rely on the dedication of volunteers to serve over 7,500 dinners, annually. Volunteers serve each guest a wholesome dinner, with dignity and respect. If you are able, why not contribute a couple of hours of your time for a great cause? You will be glad you did, when you see the smiles on the faces of the people we serve. For more information: Contact Sophie Mickelson at blcfcafe@yahoo.ca 416-535-9578 see us on facebook under BLCF Cafe: BLCF Cafe Facebook Link or our BLOG: BLCF Cafe BLOG. BLCF Cafe Community Dinner was established in January 2008 by, and is operated under, the auspices of, Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church: BLCF Church Web Page

BLCF Cafe

BLCF Cafe in the heart of Toronto

 

Serving 200 Homeless and Marginalized People in The Heart Of Toronto at BLCF Cafe Community Dinner

BLCF Cafe Community Dinner in the heart of Toronto

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – Serving Christ right in the heart of Toronto

Serving 200 Homeless and Marginalized People in The Heart Of Toronto at BLCF Cafe Community Dinner

Last night’s BLCF Cafe served over 200 dnners to the homeless and marginalized people in the heart of Toronto. Support the cause of helping the homeless by volunteering at BLCF Cafe or attending the fundraiser at BLCF on Saturday April 6 at 7PM. For more information about BLCF Cafe Community Dinner’s Fundraiser; check the following link: https://charityvillage.com/directories/events/search-results/event-detail.aspx?id=270248&l=2

 

Transformed by the Touch of a Homeless Man – A True Story by Kent Holland Kent

BLCF AvatarTransformed by the Touch of a Homeless Man –  A True Story by Kent Holland

I had just sat down in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station and tucked myself comfortably behind a newspaper to await my train to Washington, D.C., when, to my dismay, I saw a homeless man walking up to me. His approach was slow and deliberate. He stood before me, waiting for me to make eye contact. When I finally looked up to acknowledge him, I was discomforted by this man, probably in his mid-forties, with dirt and grease on his hands and unkempt clothing.

What struck me most about him, though, were his indescribable eyes. Eyes that seemed to know me, that seemed to penetrate right through me; that appeared be full of love, compassion and sorrow. Being a rational, unemotional lawyer, I tried quickly to put those thoughts out of my mind. I thought I must be imagining things.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment and then he asked, “Sir, may I speak with you?”

My first thought was, “Oh no, here we go again, another bum begging for a handout.” I had never appreciated the plight of the needy. They made me uncomfortable and perhaps a bit afraid. I felt they should stop bothering people, and go out and get a job like everyone else. I had apparently never learned (or perhaps I had forgotten) the Scripture that tells us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18.

I wasn’t inclined to give this man any attention, and I certainly didn’t want to give him any money. But he hadn’t asked for money. He asked only: “May I speak with you?” What kind of a question was that? As I pondered him and his question, his incredible eyes gripped me. Finally, I couldn’t remain seated any longer. I stood up to face him.

“Will you feed me?” he asked.

I wasn’t prepared for that question. As he continued to speak, his language seemed peculiarly articulate, and his words became increasingly strange and disquieting. He spoke like a well-educated and intelligent man, not at all like what I would have expected based on my image of him.

All around me, finely dressed men and women hurried off to dinners, shows, and business meetings. Others, like myself, looked forward to getting home to their families. Many milled about in the cathedral-like structure, with its spacious halls and its magnificent columns rising to meet beautifully carved and painted ceilings high above. Others slept. Some chatted with colleagues or friends. Others sat idly, lost in thought, daydreams or fantasies.

I wondered why he had so intentionally picked me out of this mass of people. So, I asked him, “With all these people sitting around daydreaming, why did you choose me? Why did you pick me from behind a newspaper?”

“Because,” he answered, “you look like a gentlemen with whom I should speak.” Those were his actual words.

This homeless man actually used better grammar than I normally do. He sounded like an English teacher and I wondered, “What’s going on here?”

Even stranger than his speech was the fact that instead of asking for money, he said his purpose in approaching me was that he thought he “should speak” with me. Now, this got my interest. What could he possibly have to say to me? In my cynical heart, I was disdainful and critical of this man. He looked like he was perfectly capable of working for a living, but had chosen to live the life of a bum instead. I just came right out and challenged him, saying,

“You’re obviously a well-educated man. You speak better than I do. Why aren’t you working instead of being on the street?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” he replied. “I hoped that you would permit me to share something with you. I’m a pharmacist by training. For twenty years I was employed as the pharmacist at a hospital right here in town. Life was good. I had a wife and two children. I had a nice house. I thought I had it all. Yes, life was good. Until the day I received a phone call at the pharmacy telling me that my house had burned down and my wife and children had perished in the flames.”

Perhaps his story would have made me suspicious since it had obvious potential as a good come-on for a beggar to use. But truth was in his teary eyes. Even the genuine sadness in the matter-of-fact way he told his story made it impossible for me to doubt its truth. He went on to explain his situation.

“After losing my family, I could no longer think clearly. I couldn’t concentrate well enough to make a prescription. But even if I could, I no longer had any desire for my job since I had lost my whole reason for living. Everything I lived for was gone. I’ve been on the streets ever since, talking to men like you who need to know. I share with them, and eat with them, but I never ask for money. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten, and I’m very hungry, will you feed me?”

Looking back on the scene now, I’m embarrassed to say that by this point in the conversation I was still clueless about what was happening here. My insensitive and foolish response was to offer a couple dollars so he could buy something. He looked at me with kind eyes and gently declined my offer of money.

Once again, he asked: “Will you please feed me?”

Did he mean this literally and, if so, what did he expect me to do? I asked if I could buy him a burger and fries at the McDonald’s located in the station. But this was not what he had in mind. Instead, he asked me to join him for lunch at the small atrium-like cafe located in what might be described as a chapel hall just off the main cathedral of the station.

At this point, I didn’t know what to say. What could I say to this increasingly mysterious man who had picked me out a crowd and then confidently directed me to the specific café where he expected me to join him for lunch?

I had a train to catch but, as I considered the homeless man, my heart was strangely moved. What began as a passing thought that perhaps I might as well sit down with this man for a few minutes became a compelling desire to do just that. The train could wait. There would be another one later. Talking with this man had become the single most important thing I could do at that moment, even though I didn’t understand why.

We went over to the cafe and ordered a good meal. We sat together and talked for quite a while. Our conversation touched on issues that I wouldn’t normally discuss with an acquaintance of many years. He asked me questions about myself and what I was doing with my life. Perhaps my guilty conscience made me imagine things, but it seemed that he knew things about me that I didn’t want him to know. I felt like he could see the immorality that was ruling my life, and that I was well on the way to destroying my marriage and family. Without actually saying so, he seemed to know that I was living for my own self-gratification, driven by the desire for prestige, power, and enough money to gain financial independence. My life style could be described by the motto: “I want it all, and I want it now!” One of my friends even printed that saying on a large button and fastened it to the lampshade in my law office.

Finishing our meal, I rose to leave. He turned to me then and asked: “Will you make me a promise?” I must have given him a surprised and bewildered look. He held my eyes with his as he said, “Think about this. The next time you see someone who is poor, needy or homeless, remember me! I once had everything you have now. I had a wife, two children, a good job and a home. I lost them all in an instant. The difference between you and me is so small. You could lose everything as quickly as I lost it. Remember me. And remember that all you have is by the grace of God.”

When he spoke of the grace of God I thought of how often I had heard preachers, parents and teachers speak similar words. They had always seemed so trite. Coming from this man, however, I was awestruck by the simplicity and truth of this statement. In that moment, I experienced an odd sensation. I felt that his words had hit hard right where I needed to be hit. Even as I stood there, I found myself thinking that this man got to me like no preacher or teacher ever managed to do. I had often quoted the scripture saying “It is by grace you are saved, through faith … it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9). But I had forgotten the very next verse which states that we are created by God to do good works (vs.10). Then there is the Scripture in the New Testament book that says: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-16). I can tell you that as I stood before the homeless man my eyes were opened to the fact that my own faith was bogus. It wasn’t real. It was mere words. It wasn’t backed up with action. My faith was dead.

The homeless man wasn’t even done with me yet. Looking steadily into my eyes, he asked: “The next time you see a homeless person or a someone in need, will you feed them, will you care for them, will you clothe them, will you meet their need? Don’t give them money. That isn’t what they need. They need you. Will you give them of yourself? Will you love them?” This final question stunned me.

An uncomfortably long moment passed while I thought about it. Quietly, almost reverentially, I replied, “I will.” His eyes gleamed as he smiled and wished me well. As I boarded the next train for Washington, the impact of what had happened to me in Philadelphia and how it was going to fundamentally change my life had not yet dawned on me. This homeless man had ministered to me in a powerful and moving way. A day has rarely gone by since then that I have not remembered him with his incredible, loving eyes, peering into me. I often wonder about him and whether he could have led me to such a change without this being a divine appointment. As a new love and compassion seemed to well up inside of me from depths previously unknown, I realized that when I said “yes” to the homeless man, I had said yes to God.

As the days and weeks passed after that, I found myself practically walking on air with a deep sense of peace and joy. I began talking to people and taking an interest in people that I previously would have crossed the street to avoid. While traveling in other cities since then, I have found myself asking homeless men to join me for dinner, buying bus and train tickets for men who claim they need to get home, and spending time listening to them and talking with them. That might seem like odd behavior for even a man much more spiritual than I. It was certainly extraordinary behavior for me.

Having no rational, reasonable explanation for my transformation, I concluded that I had experienced a spiritual encounter of a most dramatic kind. In my search for the source of this new experience, I bought a copy of an easy to read version of the Bible, The New International Version (“NIV”). One of the first passages to catch my attention was in the first book of the New Testament, at Matthew, chapter 25, which describes a scene when people will be brought before the “heavenly throne.” Two large groups of people are standing before the King. One group He blesses and the other He rejects.

To those He blesses He says: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” To the surprise of the good people who say that they don’t know when they did any of these things for the King, He will respond: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And for a final irony, he turns to all those people standing at his other side and tells them they are cursed and must depart his company because they didn’t care for Him when He was in need.

The startled outcry of these people is that they attended religious services and were good and decent folks, and surely there must be some sort of mistake because they never saw the King hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or needing clothes, or otherwise needing help. But the King responds, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

As I think about all the homeless and needy people I have ignored and passed by, while secure in my belief that I was acceptable to God because I put my faith in Him and attempted to live a good life, my heart aches with the knowledge that by ignoring these people who needed me, I have ignored and rejected God.

Much of organized religion today makes a great show of pomp and ceremony but seems to be lost in empty words, lacking any godly purpose or mission. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God tells the people “Stop bringing meaningless offerings. Your incense is detestable to me. . . When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers I will not listen.” (Is. 1:13). This is rather dramatic. In fact, it’s how I felt in my own life. Just as he wasn’t listening to their prayers, He wasn’t responding to my prayers either. Why? God rejected their empty worship, and told them the kind of religion he wants to see. He says: “Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (Is. 1: 17). So what is the Religion that God accepts? “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….” James 1:27.

The Bible states that we are to live by the Spirit of God and bear the fruit of the Spirit, including “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). If we take this seriously and ask ourselves whether we are genuinely experiencing and bearing these “fruit,” I believe we will see that each of us needs to accept the homeless man’s challenge, to make the decision from the depths of our being, to say yes to those in need, and to give consistently of ourselves (a listening ear, a helpful hand, and a compassionate heart). This includes sharing ourselves and God’s compassionate love with not only those who have physical needs but also with those who have spiritual and emotional needs — not only those who are strangers to us, but those who are our colleagues at work, family members, club members, and neighbors. This radical personal transformation of bearing fruit: giving of ourselves (not just our money and our words), is the natural result of answering the call of the homeless man; answering the call of God.

When I said yes, my life dramatically changed. An empty chasing of success has been replaced with a life of significance. I still earn my living as a construction lawyer, but where I find true peace, contentment and joy is through the experience of God’s love – especially when I share that love with others in meaningful ways. How about you? Have you heard the call? How are you answering? Are you saying yes?

J. Kent Holland, Jr.
6505 Chesterfield Ave.
McLean, VA 22101
703-623-1932
Kent@KentHolland.com

Serving the homesless at BLCF Cafe Community Dinner:
Every Wednesday evening, BLCF Cafe serves over 150 homeless and marginalized guests a wholesome dinner in a safe, friendly environment. Compassion, dignity and respect are the watchwords of the community dinner. You or your group can make a difference in the life of the marginalized in the heart of Toronto by volunteering to help at the BLCF Cafe. For more details about helping the cause, contact Sophie at BLCF Cafe: blcfcafe@yahoo.ca   or 416-535-9578.
For more information about BLCf Cafe or Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church, go to www.blcfchurch.ca or drop by on ay Wednesday evening between 6PM and 8PM.
BLCF Cafe, 1307 Bloor Street West, 1 block west of Lansdowne Avenue (Lansdowne Station on the Bloor West Subway Line), on the south side of Bloor, right in the heart of Toronto.
Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship in the heart of Toronto

Serving the homeless at BLCF Cafe in the heart of Toronto