We’re living in a trailer.
There’s not enough room in our trailer for a file cabinet. That’s why, several days before I was supposed to fly to a conference in Canada, I went out to my son’s garage (where many of our things are stored) and found our temporary file box. I pulled out my passport, took it back to the trailer, and tucked it into a basket next to our bed.
It was a challenge packing for my first plane trip since our Great Trailer Adventure began. It took longer than usual, and we ended up leaving for the airport uncharacteristically late.
As my daughter Bethany drove me to the airport, I mentioned my nagging feeling that I was forgetting something important.
“Do you have your passport?” she wisely asked.
“Yes.” I had taken it out of the basket and put it in my purse when I first started packing, and I had my purse in my lap.
“You have your passport. You have clean underwear. You’ll be fine.” That was comforting.
Usually Bethany just drops me off at the door. Today she parked and went in with me. It was unusually quiet as we rolled my suitcase up to the ticket counter. The attendant pointed out that I only had five minutes before the cut-off for checking in. That was cutting it way closer than my overly-cautious nature likes to do. Good thing we made it!
I handed the man my passport.
He handed it back.
“This is not a passport.”
He was right. There on the counter was a benign-looking, dark blue, same-size-as-a-passport Moleskine notebook (a smaller size of what I use for my Bible study notes).
Frantic pawing through my bag confirmed that I had unknowingly taken the Moleskine, instead of the passport, out of my basket. I was supposed to board a plane in less than two hours and I had no passport.
They wouldn’t let me on that plane without my passport.
It didn’t matter how much I thought I had brought my passport with me.
It didn’t matter how sincere I was.
It didn’t matter that a generous person had donated their flyer miles to buy my ticket or that I was supposed to speak at the conference or that the conference was a fundraiser for a pregnancy resource center.
It didn’t matter how badly I wanted on that plane. I didn’t have what the airline required and they didn’t let me on. So I missed my plane.
After a stressful hour of trying to reschedule my flight before my plane took off and we lost the credit from my original ticket, I had twenty-two hours to mull over my humiliating mistake before returning to the airport.
I thought about how easy it is to grab hold of counterfeits in life.
We don’t have what God requires. That’s why He sent His Son to die for us. He did what we could not do while we were dead in our sin.
That’s the good news of the gospel!
Most of us would readily agree with this truth. We need Jesus’s perfect sacrifice if we’re going to come into God’s presence.
But it’s easy to live as though it’s all up to us. We start trying to hand God our Moleskines instead of our passports.
- We overcommit because we’re afraid we’re not doing enough.
- We think we have to do something great for Him, something better than quiet, everyday faithfulness in the roles He has given us.
- We make up rules we think we can follow in an attempt to prove we’re good enough, or to prove that other people aren’t as good as we are.
- We walk around with a load of guilt over past sins, convinced that God couldn’t possible love us.
In practice, in our daily lives with our daily struggles and our daily failures, we often try to give God the wrong thing.
We go to Him and lay our Moleskines on the counter – our own works and our own strength – when what He is asking for is our passport – our complete and joyous trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn His gift of salvation.
And there was nothing I could do to earn my seat on that plane.
I had to call my friend, the lovely lady who was organizing the conference I was supposed to speak at, and admit that to her. The travel agent I was talking to on the phone was quoting horrendous prices to reschedule my flight in time to be there.
I had to tell my friend that we had a half hour to schedule another flight or we would lose the credit for my ticket.
I felt terrible. And stupid. And totally helpless.
It took several phone calls back and forth while her husband was on the phone pleading with Air Canada. But eventually this gracious, patient lady called and told me it was all taken care of. I was scheduled for the same flight the next day.
I don’t know how they did it. She wouldn’t tell me how much it cost when I told her I wanted to pay for it.
Right then I saw that her response was a picture of God’s grace to me.
She quietly told me to quit feeling bad. It was all taken care of.
That’s what God wants us to know.
Our sin is all taken care of.
We can quit feeling bad. We can admit our helplessness.
We can quit trying to earn our salvation, even after we claim we’ve placed our faith in Jesus.
We can set aside our burden of guilt and rest in Christ. Then we’re free to serve Him out of love and gratitude, not out of fear or duty.
We’re about to step into a new year. Let’s go into it with our Passport in our hands. Let’s not rely on counterfeits. Let’s steep ourselves in the Word, where we’ll see God’s holiness and God’s grace over and over, and where we’ll be reminded again and again that our sin is taken care of, that in Christ — not by our own works — we are made righteous. Let’s serve Him with joy because we love Him.