I graduated Hillcrest in 1959.
Many years later, I drew from my Hillcrest experience when I had to select a password for a computer program. I entered “Romans45” It was my senior verse printed in the Hillcrest Beacon.
It seemed a perfect password because it is my password to enter heaven one day. Romans 4.5 is, "to the one who does not work but trusts God, who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
I believed in Jesus for salvation before I came to Hillcrest as a sophomore. During my three years at Hillcrest, my faith developed something like a brick mason’s wall, one brick at a time. I can think of many student and faculty conversations that nurtured my faith, but I can’t recall one or two major events as many students do.
In fact, I don’t remember how I selected Romans 4.5 as my senior verse, but I know it was, and continues to be, a liberating message for me. It encapsulates the good news of grace that I needed at that time and every day since. Grace is undeserved gifts from God or from others.
I felt unqualified and undeserving of close friendships, being on teams, and certainly, I was not deserving of Jesus Christ. These would be mine only if someone gave me these gifts. I could not earn them. I needed grace, but it was not easy for me to accept grace.
I vividly recall an experience of grace in my first year at Hillcrest. I had tried out for the traveling choir and waited for the day the traveling roster would be posted. Finally, it was. To my delight my name was on the list! I made the choir!
But there is more to the story. Another student on the list who had traveled the previous year, was a tall, outgoing, fun-loving, senior. He was the captain of the basketball team and a quality student. His name was Wes Vall.
To my great surprise, Wes asked me to be his roommate on the choir trip. Maybe shocked is a better word than surprised. I didn’t know if could believe him, but he assured me he was serious.
I had a delightful time rooming with Wes. He was a gracious house guest, led choir devotionals, played practical jokes on other members, and took time for Bible reading each evening. I was honored to be his roommate! After each concert, someone would read the names of the hosts and their choir guests. How neat to hear them call “Wes and Joel, you will be going with this family.”
Why Wes invited me to room with him is a question I can’t answer except that the Lord wanted me to experience grace and Wes was the Lord’s servant to give it to me.
These types of experiences made Romans 4.5 meaningful to me. Grace is for those who do not earn it, do not qualify, who do not deserve the blessing.