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Camp Porch Wisdom

January 30, 2014

I try to make it a habit to have “Open Line Fridays,” a whole class period devoted to no-holds-barred Q & A time where the students are allowed to ask any question they like. It has led to some very interesting conversations, like the following…

Last semester this question came up, as it always does each school year. Ray asked me, “Back in the Old Testament, did people have to earn their salvation? How did people get to Heaven in the Old Testament – before Jesus went to the cross?”

“In the same way people get saved after Jesus went to the cross,” I replied. “By faith. We look back by faith to what did happen. The Old Testament people looked forward by faith to what was going to happen.”

I then take them to Romans 4:3 – “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” I point out that Abraham did not try to earn salvation on his own merit. “That Greek word righteousness is dikaiosynē and means ‘the condition acceptable to God’. Abraham’s faith changed his life. His behavior, his thinking, his attitudes were all made new by that faith, and that is the human condition God is looking for. He did the work of making Heaven accessible through the sacrifice of Jesus. Look, trying to earn salvation is taking the emphasis off the work of Christ and aiming it at me. It’ll never work.”

“In a way, it takes a load off of us,” said Ray.

“You got it,” I replied.

I reflected back to six years ago when I was the speaker at another Christian school’s senior retreat, held at a rural camp setting in northern Tennessee. I love the opportunity to speak to teens, especially whenever I get to sit with them imagethroughout the day and hear their reflections and thoughts about the Lord.
The camp was quite rustic, with a true Tennessee log cabin appearance. I had finished speaking that night on a rough-hewn stage about my childhood and the path that led me to Christ. The evening service then concluded and the teens were milling about, some heading to the snack shop, others organizing a pick-up game of sand volleyball in the moonlight.

I was strolling past the dining hall and I heard a noise. One of the girls sat on the porch on a bench and was crying as deeply as I had ever heard anyone cry. These were gut-wrenching sobs, literally shaking her as she choked on tears.

“Holly, what’s the matter?” I asked as I sat down on the porch step.

She was gripping her Bible and shaking her head as she looked down. “I can’t do it. I just can’t make it!,” she cried, pointing at the Bible. “I try and I try, but I just can’t get to that point!” She broke into another series of sobs.

“Get to what point?” I asked.

“To Heaven!” She shook her head. “I try and I try but I can’t make it. I’m just so exhausted.” She wiped her nose and looked out over the middle square of the camp. “I’m involved in charity work, in Bible memorization, in working in the church nursery…” She looked at me. “But I can’t get to the point that you talked about. I haven’t been able to make God happy.”

“You’re thinking you have to score brownie points in order to make Heaven?” I asked.

“Well, yes,” Holly replied. “You need to measure up. You need to please God, the Bible says that.”

“Listen, Holly, your dedication is amazing but it’s not what gets you to Heaven. You’ll never earn it on your own. I’ve got good news for you. You don’t need to enter every day with the burden that Jesus is holding a spiritual clipboard and marking whether you do enough to measure up to acceptable Christianity.”

I quoted Romans 4:3. “You see, Abraham did many a great thing, but it was his belief that made him righteous and gave him a pleasing walk with God.”

She stared at the lawn. I could see it was registering.

“Hey, look up 1 Corinthians chapter 13. I think the porch light is bright enough for you to read it,” I said. That’s the best way for you to see how Christ feels about you.”

She looked it up and began reading it aloud.

“Right there, the fourth verse,” I said. “‘Love is patient, love is kind…’ This is a special love, agape love. This means that Christ was committed to loving me, no matter how bad I am and how unlovely I appear to be. I came to Him by faith and that put me in His family. This means that he was – and is – determined in His decision to love me, which nothing will sway.”

Holly looked at me and looked back at the Bible. I could see her shoulders relax.

I continued. “This one is always a challenge for me to wrap my mind around. 1 Corinthians 13:4 clearly states that the best kind of love – agape love, which is a determined, serious love – is a kind love. It’s a kindness that is interested in the good of others and is eager to make itself helpful or available for serving others. It is beyond emotion – it’s a commitment. That’s Jesus’ love for you, Holly. You don’t need to earn it. Your faith and commitment to Him are what He asks for.”

We sat on that porch for another hour, talking and looking up Scriptures.

Holly slowly smiled. She understood the freedom Christ brings. On that porch, that night, Holly made a decision to trust Christ by faith. His works did it. Not hers.

Holly finally learned how to relax in the Lord.

So can we all.

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  1. This brought me to tears. Love you for what you do and who you are, Doctor Zockoll!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Kacie. I love your blog thoughts as well, and hope to be able to see you soon!

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