What do "Quaker Oats and Belonging" have to do with one another? Good question. I was thinking about this today for some reason...not sure why it was on my mind...but since it was, I might as well tell you about it.
Quite a few years ago my husband had finally reached one of his life goals: to be a Bible College Professor. We had labored through the many years of seminary, ministry, and all that goes along with that. He had finally obtained his doctorate degree, with the primary thought of becoming a professor at a Christian college or seminary. The dream had been illusive and mystifying. No sooner would he receive one level of education that had previously met the desired qualifications for teaching...and the schools would change their criteria...first a Master's Degree was all that was necessary...so he got that. Then it was a doctorate...so he got that...then they wanted a Ph.D., not a D.Min....so on and so on, and we knew that we could not keep going back to school trying to reach the impossible dream.
Then one miraculous day we received a phone call from a friend of ours who had just been named the President of a Bible College out in the midwest. He remembered that my husband had always wanted to teach at such a college...and he wanted to know if he would still be interested in doing so now...
Wow! Was this an answer to a long sought prayer? Was this the fulfillment of a life long dream? Could it be that finally we were going to reach the pinnacle of everything we'd ever hoped and prepared for? Of course he said, "Yes, I'd love to do that!" No matter that it was 1500 miles from our then present location and our young adult children who would most likely not be able to or want to go with us. No matter that it was in the very flat, hot, dry, tornado ridden midwest...a place that only Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" could call home! No matter that it was a very small, practically unheard of Bible College, and owned by a church denomination that we were not familiar with and had no previous connection to. No matter! It was a call to do something we had always dreamed of doing! An apparent answer to prayer. After all the years of preparation and chasing fleeting butterflies, we were finally going to be able to do what we had set out to do so many years before! Of course we would go!
So, we flew out for the interview with the college administration. The trip out there was perhaps a glimpse of what we could expect if we made such a move. The college van that met us at the airport broke down on the way back to the college, and we were stranded in 105 degree heat 20 miles from nowhere! Thankfully a couple of vehicles stopped alongside our broken down van and offered us rides immediately. Must be the code of the land to help stranded motorists, knowing that in that heat they could perish quickly. We were most thankful for the assistance, and everything went fine from then on. My husband passed the interviews, and he was offered the job. The only thing was, our friend who had called him initially was nowhere to be seen. Apparently he had decided NOT to accept the presidential position afterall, and was not going to be moving there as expected. We had to really think about what that meant...were we going there because of him, or because we were being called by God? We chose the latter thought, and accepted the job.
Once we settled into our new home (college housing, but very nice) and jobs, we then set about to "fit in" to this close-knit, cloistered community. As I said before, this was a denomination to which we had no previous connection. They were Quakers. Not the old fashioned "Thee and Thou" Quakers, but a more modern evangelical variety..."Friends". The people were wonderful and they treated us very kindly. I really can't find any fault in the people. They were friendly, helpful, and good. But they had a bond that we did not share. We had not grown up in their faith and doctrine and churches. We didn't know any of the people that they knew, nor did we embrace the heritage of their historical church. We felt like outsiders.
For reasons that I will not go into, we did not stay there at that college for very long. The lady was right...it would take a lot more than a set of "Quaker Oats" cannisters to make us belong. Besides, we were needed back home with our family, and in a few months we were back on our way to be reunited with the people we knew and loved and belonged with.
I've heard it said that people think that going to church regularly will make one a "good Christian". That is no more true than living in a garage will make you a car. Kind of like having a set of "Quaker Oats" cannisters doesn't make one a good "Quaker". We sometimes have misconceptions about religion and beliefs and what it takes to be a "good Christian". Being a "good Christian" does not require conforming to a set of rules or maintaining perfect attendance at church or doing good works thinking that it will earn you a place in heaven. The Bible says:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
What that says to me is that it is NOT my good works, my set of "Quaker Oats" Cannisters, my knowledge of Bible verses or the prayers that I say loudly for the benefit of others that is going to gain my salvation...or make me a "good Christian". My Christianity, my Salvation, comes ONLY from the GRACE of God, through faith in Him, in Jesus Christ my Lord, and believing that He is my source, my only hope of ever gaining heaven. It is a free gift...I can't do anything to earn it. I can only choose whether or not to accept the gift. The rest is up to Him.
Does that mean that I don't need to go to church and do good works to prove my faith in God? Correct...I don't "need" to do those things...I do things for my Lord because I want to. I love Him, therefore I want to serve Him. I don't have to prove anything to Him. He has already accepted me, just as I am. I already belong. I don't have to buy "Quaker Oats" cannisters to belong. I am His and He is mine. Pure and simple...free and clear.
Whew! What a relief! I can go back to being "me". God has already taken care of all the rest. It's a good thing, because somehow I've lost most of those "Quaker Oats" cannisters along the way.
One other thought: Church Denominations really aren't a requirement or qualification for heaven either. The only qualification for entrance into heaven is this: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?" if the answer is Yes, you may enter in. If not, well, you'd better start thinking about that now. There's a free gift waiting for you...all you have to do is accept it."Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:19-22