April 13, 2008
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The Early Sabbath
ventured North in late spring 1974, and in this Pipeline boom period, jobs for
Sabbath keepers were scarce: the expectation of both employers and employees
was working seven-twelve’s [i.e., seven days a week, twelve hours a day].
But because I wore stagged jeans, suspenders, and a
hickory shirt, the day I arrived I got a job falling the stumpy white spruce
that gyppos in the
But when I returned from Sukkot, the gyppo for whom I had been working was on his last legs financially: he couldn’t get skidded felled timber for which he had put out money, and he couldn’t collect for logs delivered to the mill at Seward. He was behind on payments for his equipment; he could borrow no more money. He couldn’t make another payday; yet, he asked me to fall a mile of merchantable birch his other cutters, then laid-off, had left because the trees were leaning over power lines. I needed the work; so I spent a day cutting leaners, then went looking for another job.
Louisiana-Pacific, who wasn’t paying their gyppos, decided to log two sections of better than typical spruce near the Old Believers’
On Friday morning of the first week that I worked for Tommy Simmons, the gyppo who had contracted to log the forty acre piece, I told him that I would be knocking off at 2:00 o’clock. By now, it was the middle of December. Snow was knee deep. Daytime temperatures were hanging around minus 25° F. Sunset was before 2:30 pm.
When he hired me, Tommy knew that I kept the Sabbath so all he said was, “That’s right, you’re under the bondage of that old law.” At the time I didn’t know how to answer him without engaging him in more of a theological discussion than the situation warranted, so I agreed: “I am.” And about this occasion I wrote the following poem:
sunset was at two—
all day I cut
white spruce and
black; found a moose,
all but its hooves
eaten by wolves.
I worked until
the early Sabbath
stopped my saw. Now
my boots by the door,
my chair near the stove,
I eat dinner
while the red skidder
roots gritty snow.
After shedding coat, an insulated sweatshirt and a second shirt, a second pair of pants and snowpaks, I sat beside the stove, soaking up its warmth, as I listened to Tommy and his choker setter trying to skid a few more turns in the fading twilight, and I wondered who was really in bondage.
Two years later, I was working for Ron Swanson of Ron’s Rent-all, Kenai, Alaska; I was repairing chainsaws for him … during the summer of 1975, I had purchase a Homelite 650 from him, and the saw had spent most of its first two weeks of service in the shop being repeatedly rebuilt. He tired of seeing the saw coming back in, and he said that if saw me back in his shop again he would put me to work. I asked him if he was serious. He thought about it for a few minutes, then said, “Yes.” And I went to work repairing saws instead of using them.
In Ron’s shop, we washed parts in open buckets of gasoline, a practice frowned upon by OSHA. Typically, we had air hoses where we could trip over them. We were a little lax in following safety regulations. But before going home on Friday afternoons, we cleaned the shop, dumped the buckets of gas, and generally made the place look good.
When I went to work for Ron, he knew that I kept
the Sabbath; so he said nothing about me taking off early on Friday afternoons
during the winter. He didn’t like it, but those were the terms on which I
went to work for him, and he faithfully abided by these terms regardless of how
much my taking off early Fridays irritated him. In fact that year he had won a
week-long vacation in
Ron had a long time rivalry (going back to high school) with the regional OSHA inspector, who at 3:00 pm on the Friday just before the solstice pulled a surprise inspection.
When I came in Monday, Ron was smiling for the first time in a month. He told me about the surprise inspection, and he said that as he was walking back toward the shop, he figured he would be fined at least $50,000 for violations about which he knew—and he wasn’t sure he would be able to stay in business. But when he rounded the corner into the shop, I was gone and the shop was cleaned. The parts buckets were dumped. The hoses were coiled, tools put away. And there was no fine. He received only a warning about a handrail for the stairs going up to an overhead storage area.
And why these stories: Alaskan disciples were somehow managing to keep themselves fed and their families clothed even though keeping the Sabbath from sundown to sundown presented some hardships through the 1970s and 1980s. I opened a chainsaw-outboard dealership a month after that OSHA surprise inspection; so I controlled the hours that I worked. Others fished commercially, were building contractors, a lumber yard owner, a sawmill owner, a hardware store owner and an insurance agent—a few worked for hourly wages. Most worked for themselves in small or very small businesses. But this all changed in 1990.
Although disciples within church of God Alaskan
fellowships kept the Sabbath from sundown to sundown, disciples within the
church of God European fellowships kept the Sabbath as rabbinical Judaism did
in high northern latitudes, from 6:00 pm (or 5:30 p.m.) to 6:00 p.m., a
practice whose justification comes solely from convenience. Two standards, two
practices within the
No one can honestly argue that there was a need for Alaskan disciples to adopt the European practice of beginning the Sabbath at a fixed hour. Certainly some jobs were unavailable to disciples who would not work after sundown Friday evening, but there were far more jobs not available to disciples because they would not work seven days a week during the summer months. The prince of this world is not a friend of anyone who would obey God; so why should anyone be surprised that most of the better paying jobs required a person to work seven days a week?
Every person drawn from this world by the Father (John 6:44) becomes suddenly out-of-sync with his or her surrounding culture. It cannot be any other way if the person is truly drawn from this world.
Most people cannot see themselves living as the Amish do, or as Russian Orthodox Old Believers do. They want to be unique by being the same as their peers, but different from their parents and grandparents. But a disciple, a former son of disobedience (Eph 2:2-3) who was consigned to disobedience (Rom 11:32) as a bondservant of sin—must change his or her ways and not continue as the person was doing. The disciple, after being born of spirit, must make a journey of faith that cleanses the heart so that it can be circumcised, euphemistic expressions for the person separating him or herself by faith (the practice of belief) from the world that continues on consigned to disobedience. Thus, the person who grew to maturity with no belief in anything other than what can be seen with the eyes will make a journey of faith when professing that Jesus is Lord and believing that the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 10:9–10); whereas the person who grew to maturity in a household professing that Jesus is the Lord makes no journey of faith by continuing in the belief of the household. This second person, like the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, must “journey” in faith past the expectations of the household and of the culture in which he or she grew to maturity. This second person must, by faith, move closer to how Jesus lived as he or she imitates Paul (Phil 3:17) as Paul imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1)—and Paul said of himself that, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (Acts 25:8). If Paul would have lived as either Amish or Old Believer, he would have committed many offenses against the law and against the temple. He would have committed many more offenses if he had lived as a Southern Baptist or as Roman Catholic.
Being born of spirit does not get a disciple into heaven, especially if after being so born the person returns to sin [lawlessness] and returns to being the bondservant of sin at a time when sin has no dominion over the person (Rom 6:16, 14).
Paul writes, “Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom 6:15). And while sin is certainly missing the mark as an arrow shot awry, the mark that is missed is keeping the law; for sin is lawlessness, or the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). King Solomon wrote, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man [alternate reading: the duty of all mankind]. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl 12:13–14).
And one of the commandments that sinners transgress—the commandments that most Christians consider least—is the Sabbath commandment:
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the
Lord [YHWH] your God [Elohim] commanded you. Six days you
shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord
your God. On it you shall dot do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your
male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock,
or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your
female servant may rest as well as you. You
shall remember that you were a slave in the
You shall remember that you were a slave, a bondservant of sin, sold into disobedience by the lawlessness of the first Adam, and the Father has given you life by raising you from the dead, the spiritually lifeless (John 5:21), and the Son has liberated you from the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by nailing these demand for death to the cross (Col 2:14) … so why, why are you returning to sin by transgressing the Sabbath which is the weekly commemoration of your liberation—of you receiving grace—when you are free to keep the commandments?
The New Age guru, the Buddhist, the Hindi, the
atheist—none of these claim that the only way to the Father is through
Christ Jesus. But Christians of all denominations claim that there is no other
name by which a person can be saved but that of Jesus the Christ. And many of
these “Christians” claim to be born of spirit, meaning that they
have received a second birth, a life received when they received the spirit of
God [B<,Ø:" 2,@Ø], a life that has come down from heaven in a
manner analogous to the Logos as Theos entering His creation (John
1:1–3) as His only Son (John 3:16), the man Jesus of Nazareth (John
1:14). Yet, despite being born of spirit, these Christians absolutely refuse to
walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). They will not live as Peter taught Gentile
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day [when judgments are revealed — 1 Cor 4:5] many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness [<@:\"<]. (Matt 7:21–23)
You workers who are against the law [<@:\"<] will be denied when your judgments are revealed despite all of the good works you have done in the name of Jesus Christ … how bluntly does Christ have to put a matter before you who profess that Jesus is Lord will actually believe His words?
Jesus told Jews seeking His life because He healed a man on the Sabbath and because He claimed His birthright as the Son of God [the only Son of 2,ÎH, and the firstborn Son of 2,`<] that, “‘If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words’” (John 5:46–47) … well, how will you believe Jesus’ words if you reject Moses’ writings? You can’t! You will do mighty works in Jesus’ name. You will take a message about Jesus to the farthest corners of this world. You will stake your life on Jesus being the Christ. You will bring many to Jesus. And you will murder those whom you have brought to Jesus by teaching them to transgress the law. So it is no wonder that you will be denied when your judgment is revealed. You will have done far more harm than good.
Those “Christians” who, without scriptural command to do so, in 1990 resolved to fix what wasn’t broken in Alaska taught disciples to transgress the law of God, and they will receive what has been promised to every Christian who teaches disciples to return to sin.
The administrative headquarters of the Worldwide
Church of God in
Once compromise is made on one small point when it comes to keeping the law, the floodgate is open. The person will inevitably compromise on major points; thus, Jesus’ admonition that the person who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. The person who will compromise in little things will compromise anything. Separation from this world dictates that no compromises are made.
When I returned to the university in 1988 as a
midlife graduate student, Ambassador College [University] was beginning to send
its faculty members to secular universities to get terminal degrees so that Ambassador
could be accredited … I knew what the outcome would be of this move for
accreditation, for I knew the pressures imposed by the university community to
produce educational conformity. I was then experiencing those pressures, as
were my three daughters all baptized by ministers of the former Worldwide
Church of God: one daughter is now a Buddhist, one a Charismatic Christian, one
a traditional Christian. But I had fished commercially in the
The change in Sabbath observance dictated by the administrative headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena came from an acquired need for conformity; a need received from the broadcast of the prince of this world; a need reinforced by Ambassador’s faculty seeking graduate degrees from secular universities; a need that didn’t require scratching, that would have passed if left alone, that would have increased faith and magnified God in the eyes of infant sons of God.
My middle daughter Kristel, for her degree in
Chemistry, needed a lab that University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) offered every
other year, on Fridays, between 2 pm and 5 pm. When she began the Chemistry
degree program at UAF, the faculty knew that she, like me, kept the Sabbath.
And plans were made for how the university could offer Kristel the
upper-division lab she needed without Kristel having to take it on Friday
afternoons. But when headquarters in
The faith Kristel professed apparently came from being under the authority of men, not God, not necessarily something I want to say. But she was a spiritual infant. She was (and is) typical of too many other spiritual infants who would obey God if they were not taught to transgress His commandments by sincere but lawless teachers who will be denied by Christ when judgments are revealed.
How much compromise did Jesus undertake to do? Any? None? You’re right: He never compromised the law. And if you are to walk as He walked, you too will never compromise the law. You’ll fail often enough when trying to keep it that you will need the mantle of Christ’s righteousness to cover your sin, but to willfully choose to sin excludes you from being under grace. Yes, it does. Only when you do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness (Rom 6:13) are you under grace (v. 14). Otherwise, sin has dominion over you by you having returned to sin as its willing slave (v. 16).
There is never any reason that justifies transgressing the law of God. Oh, there are plenty of reasons why a person sins, with most of these reasons coming from weakness to resist the demands of the flesh. But none of these reasons excuses the person. All sin does is reveal to the person how far the person must grow to be like Christ—and the place where every disciple can show this growth is through Sabbath observance.
The journey of faith that every Mennonite, that every Christian of every denomination must make begins with figuratively crossing the Jordan and entering into God’s rest by beginning to observe the Sabbath (Heb 3:16–4:11; Ps 95:10–11; Num chap 14), which doesn’t begin at 6:00 pm, but at sunset Friday evening. And yes, this will produce hardships in this world. Suck it up, and get on with your life: do you believe that God will provide for His own? If you do, then why fret when things are not going well? Count your trials as opportunities. There just aren’t that many times in your life when your faith will truly be tested. Understand, whatever is occurring will pass, whether prosperity or trial. Even the Tribulation only lasts for seven years although these will be exceedingly difficult years. Just don’t compromise with the oracles of God. You will never have to! You will only think that you have to.
Jesus said not to think that He came to bring peace (Matt 10:34). He came to bring a sword; He came to cause division, to separate a father from his son, and a daughter from her mother (v. 35), and a father from his daughters … He said, “‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’” (v. 37). It is the sons of disobedience, Gentiles, who love family more than they love God.
Christianity is really all about separation. It’s about being different. It’s about living as a person who keeps the Sabbath in a world committed to working and shopping on the Sabbath, then resting on the first day of the week. There is no better way available to a disciple to show that he or she is no longer a son of disobedience than for the person to keep the Sabbaths of God, weekly and annual.
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."
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