Local Meeting Updates
The Columbia, Northern Virginia and Richmond congregations will all be meeting in-person at outdoor venues tomorrow! I'm overjoyed to join the brethren in Columbia for the first time since March. In-person services for all three churches will be at 10:30 am this Sabbath - the addresses and details have all been sent out previously, but please contact me directly if you have any questions.
Richmond and Northern Virginia will begin meeting at their usual times and locations next Sabbath, July 4. As for Columbia, we are now awaiting official clearance from the Hawthorn Center, but are hoping to return there starting on July 11.
Transitioning to indoor services will hopefully proceed without too much difficulty. The numbers in both Virginia and Maryland continue trending down, even as some other parts of the country are now on the upswing. Virginia will enter Phase 3 next Wednesday, and Maryland has been in Stage 2 of its recovery plan for a full week now. Full guidelines and what to expect when we go back to our usual venues will be sent next week.
For those who are not yet ready to return to in-person services, the local webcast at 11:30 am will continue from the Philadelphia congregation using GoToMeeting.
Pure and Undefiled Religion - Part 1
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27)
This verse cuts to the heart of Christian life. Though brief, it contains much wisdom that every one of us needs to be working on constantly in our walk with God.
First, we must ask ourselves: am I motivated by the desire for "pure and undefiled religion"? Being called by God to our unique understanding of His law comes with the notion that we cannot choose to worship Him any way that we see fit, but must learn the right way to show love to God. So, to begin, we change how we worship in some very clear and dramatic ways - namely by cutting out pagan-inspired holidays and worship traditions and replacing them with God's commanded Sabbath and Holy Days.
But the way of God is different from the way of the world in every respect of how we live, not just how we worship - we are called to a totally different way of thinking! If we want to attain pure and undefiled religion, we must be in a continual process of refinement through testing. We must face the question again and again: do I really want to be right with God and to have every fault and impurity removed?
It's easy to say or believe that we do, but the proof is in a lifetime of learning God's way and putting it into practice to overcome sin.
Psalm 19:12 teaches us to cry out to God for this purpose rather than relying on our own perceptions: "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults." Left to our own understanding, every person is right in their own eyes! But living God's way of life means that we subject ourselves to thorough and ongoing testing for the purpose of being completely purified. Every test, trial and temptation we face serves to reveal our lingering imperfections - our "secret faults."
Our own thinking and judgment naturally leads us to be self-righteous. In reality, we often transgress in ways that we are not aware - but God knows! And though we know this to be true, we can very easily fail to see it in the moment.
What is to be done about this? God is not content for us to remain as we are when He called us. He commands us to abide in the vine, Jesus Christ, and to bear fruit - to change, to grow and produce something beautiful, life-giving and delicious!
Psalm 19:13 continues, "Keep your servant back from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression." Several translations render the phrase "presumptuous sins" as "willful sins" - to convey the sense of doing wrong when we know better. However, "presumptuous" is really the better translation since it carries the full meaning of the Hebrew - presumptuous sins are those involving pride or arrogance, which can either be committed knowingly or unknowingly. It includes not only willful sin, but also sins of ignorance due to pride.
Repenting of and fighting against the sins that we know and see in ourselves is vital. But we must also continue to search inwardly, using the light of God's commandments, to root out sins that we have not realized we suffer from or have caused damage to others. Sometimes, a problem in our way of thinking, even if it has not yet manifest itself as sin, remains hidden until we are tempted or tested in a particular way. Pride has a tendency to blind us to our faults, which is why it is of highest importance that we humble ourselves before God, as Jesus taught, to become humble like little children if we want to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:4).
Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 10:12, "let he who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall" - just because we have not been tested in a matter does not mean we have no overcoming to do or change to make. For example, a person may have never experienced a strong urge to steal, but they may also have never had a strong test as to whether or not they would do so - the truth of one's character is only revealed by the test! And this is true of all sin.
"Who can understand his errors?" The person who fears God and humbles himself. That is a lifelong process, not an overnight one! Thank God that He is merciful and forgiving toward us in leading us to more complete submission to His way! And we too are called to be merciful and forgiving toward each other, as God leads and transforms each of us.
Just because we have been in the faith for some time does not mean that we have totally rooted out sinful ways of thinking or fully understood the depth of our need for God. In fact, that false sense of security is a dangerous pit that can lead us into presumptuous sin - it's part of the pull of human nature and a strong current that we have to constantly be swimming against!
How can we be free of presumptuous sins? Rather than being self-righteous, we must ask and seek: God, what impurity have I not yet seen in myself? Reveal it to me, humble me and teach me to do better!
When we face trials of any kind, we should be looking for what we can learn. Most often, our trials are personal - limited to us individually or our family based on personal circumstances. More recently, we've faced trials as a nation - first with coronavirus and then with racial injustice. I would identify the highly politicized rhetoric associated with each of these as another major test of our time.
In what ways have these things caused us to reflect on the values we hold personally and compare them to the Word of God? Do we have "secret faults" on these matters that influence our thinking contrary to the way of God? Have we been presumptuous and sinned in pride that we didn't know we had?
The beginning of "pure and undefiled religion" is the humility to recognize that we are still impure and in need of help from God. The good news is that God doesn't leave us impure, but refines and works with us! As He revealed to Daniel concerning the saints that will inherit His Kingdom, "many will be purified, made spotless and refined" (Daniel 12:10).
Especially as we approach the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ, let's make every effort to root out and overcome sin - not to allow ourselves to be blind to it or think we have transcended the influence of the flesh, but to come before God humbly as His children and heirs to His promise of eternal life, seeking always to please our Heavenly Father.
May God grant you all peace and rest on His Sabbath this evening, as we look forward to the peace in His Kingdom that we desperately need!