"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it's shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Heb. 12:2 & 3
I have mentioned numerous times that I primarily work with students who are, shall we say, "Difficult" or have numerous challenges towards their academic success. More often then not, I actually enjoy them a great deal. I find people like them to be very interesting. Let's face it, I get bored easily, so they tend to be a cure-all for that problem. My preferred term when referring to said classes are that they are "The Island of Misfit Toys."
Once upon a time I had a student who could make or break my day. She was quite the character. And like me, she had almost no filter on what came out of her mouth...which explains a great deal as to why I liked her so much. (Peas in a pod, I suppose.) In the case of this young woman, if she was a part of the island of misfit toys, she was perhaps the "Charley in a Box," or more likely the little "Dolly for Sue" who felt rather unloved quite often.
But the fact remains that back then, and to this day, and on into the distant future she is greatly loved by one who is above all others. When this one looks on her, he does not see what this world sees, no. Instead, when this one looks on her, he sees his own image...because he created her in his image. As a result, this student should know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that regardless of what the world whispers in her ear or shouts in her face, she beautiful, greatly loved...and someone worth dying for. And this song is for her.
A while back this student contacted me and asked me some questions about faith. Specifically, she wanted to know what I knew about the denomination known as "Quakers." My first impulse was to say that I often enjoy their oatmeal for breakfast on cold winter mornings. But I felt that explanation to be a bit limited, so I had to wait a bit. That, and the fact that I have been going through my own time of spiritual trial. So I thought it best to wait.
Well, for reasons I will explain in a later post, I now feel up to the task. So here goes...
You can click on that link to see what Wikipedia has to say about Quakers.
The first thing you might notice is that the Quaker denomination is as wide and varied as any other protestant denomination. So you could find thoughts, ideas and positions all across the spectrum.
I use the term "Denomination" because that is what "The Society of Friends" are. They are not a separate religion. Denominations are merely branches of protestant christianity...like Baptists, Evangelical Free, Lutherans or Methodists. All of them have their own unique customs with theological "Tweekings" that distinguish them from other branches. But at their core, they all revolve around the centrality of Jesus, his death & resurrection...and that's what I'll come back to in a little bit.
In the mean time...
Quakers are an interesting lot because of their emphasis on collective social piety. That's a fancy way of saying that they believe that christians should be very active in areas of social justice. It is interesting to note that William Penn, who founded the colony of Pennsylvania way back in the day, did not screw the indians out of their land when he set up the colony. (Or at least not as much as the other colonists did.) Quakers were also very active in the anti-slavery movement. To this day, Quakers tend heavily towards pacifism and encourage non-violent peace making.
Unlike some, I actually believe that Jesus doesn't have a favorite denomination or theological strain. I fully believe that God uses all his people in all their varied ways to spread the gospel of his grace. One size does not fit all. If going to a "High Church" Anglican assembly with lots of bells & smells is what causes you to grow closer in your relationship with Jesus, then I'm all for it. If dancing in the aisles of your church while doing call & response causes you to grow closer to Jesus, then I'm all for that too. Not everything has to fit my tastes...but it better fit Jesus.
Here's my main thought...and this goes for Quakers and everyone else: IF, if it doesn't SOUND like the things that Jesus would say...IF, if it doesn't LOOK like the things Jesus would do...IF, if it doesn't display the attributes and CHARACTER that Jesus displayed...then it probably isn't OF Jesus. If that is the case, then it will never, ever result in a growing relationship WITH Jesus. So get away from it at once!
Your relationship with this resurrected Jesus is the most important thing you can ever have. Anything that detracts or distracts from that is a complete waste of time. Sad to say, but you will often find items that appear important in a denomination or local church, but are actually side shows from the main event.
BTW: You will only know that by actually studying the bible...the four gospels in particular. Yes, you should seek the wisdom of others when studying. But don't ever let that be a substitute for your own diligence. No one human will ever get it all correct, regardless of their G.P.A., degree or how many books they may have written. You need to make the effort to study for yourself. Scripture is "God Breathed," it's alive. If you read the bible with a seeking & honest heart, God will speak to you through it. I promise!
It's at that point when you can discern whether or not something in your particular body of worship is legit, or just wishful thinking. Believe me, there is plenty in the bible that I "Wish" wasn't true...because then I have to alter my behavior. (Which is always a bummer.)
If the bible is to be believed at all, then we have to acknowledge the fact that Jesus is the central figure in all of human history. I love how one translation of Hebrews puts it; "But now he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." Heb. 9:26-28
At the end of your days, you will never find your salvation in a particular denomination, church or theology. Those things might be wonderful tools to help you along your way, but never mistake them for an idol. What matters in the end, when you stand before Jesus...the author & perfecter of our faith, is that you offered him your broken and contrite heart. (Read ALL of Psalm 51, and then Isaiah 57:15 & 66:2) When you do that, you are admitting that you are not God, and that he IS, and that you want an actual relationship with him...to follow him into his kingdom as he cleans you up and heals you along the way.
Don't worry about being perfect. You wont be. But understand that he dealt with all of humanities' shit on that cross, and that would include yours...both past AND future. And know, know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he loves you, he's got you, and that he's with you for the rest of your days and into the age to come.
So, with what ever tiny amount of faith you have, keep it. Keep that tiny faith knowing that his faithfulness is even greater than you can ever possibly imagine. Why? Because he loves you, Alicia.
I love ya, Ali