Published December 6, 2011

Paul's Epistle...
"The Boarding Pass"

As you've heard on my radio broadcast, Jackie Wilburn of the Wilburns passed away suddenly November 18th. He had been enjoying a vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with his wife, his son Jonathan and Jonathan's family. He suddenly complained of chest pains, collapsed and could not be revived.

I'll never forget the first time we met Jackie and Elaine Wilburn. It was back in 1987 in the National Quartet Convention exhibition hall in the basement of Nashville's old Memorial Auditorium. Shelia and I just started talking with them and immediately struck up a lasting friendship, based in large part on Jackie's quick wit and wonderful sense of humor. Specifically, what I remember is....laughing! We were, as they say down South, "tickled."

Jackie – a strong Christian, committed preacher and dedicated family man – will certainly be missed by all who knew him. As Jonathan wrote, his dad "loved his family, he loved people – especially the people of Gospel music – and he loved preaching. But most of all, he loved his Savior."

Jackie, who had several health issues over the years, told me several times that – whenever the Lord comes or calls him home – he was more than ready to go. Back in 1997 he told me this story to illustrate his point:

"I used to be on the board of directors for the local power company in Carthage, Tennessee. And every year we would go and lobby with the senators and the congressmen for the rural electrification administration...

"We spent our two or three days up there... And so we got back to the airport and it was about ten minutes before time for our plane to leave. And I got to looking for my boarding pass. I checked inside my coat pocket, and I mean I searched myself. And I could not find my boarding pass. Well I had a little old briefcase with me. I mean I went through that thing. I mean there were papers flying everywhere trying to find my boarding pass. And I couldn't find it. The sweat was beginning to come out on my forehead because I could see all of my buddies that I was up there with. They were going to be in Nashville, Tennessee, and I was going to be sitting right there calling somebody to try to help me to catch another flight into Nashville.

"But for some reason I looked back into my coat pocket. I said I'm going to check everything one more time. And, Paul, so help me, I reached into my coat pocket. And God does things to teach us a lesson. I reached in there and I felt this piece of paper and I said, man, that feels like it, and I jerked it out. And sure enough, there was my boarding pass. I couldn't believe it because I had searched that pocket. I mean I had checked all my pockets.

"Needless to say, I took off running because I didn't have but five minutes to get on the plane. I took off running and barely got on there.

"Well, to begin with, my boarding pass told me what flight I was going to be on. It told me what time the airplane was going to leave. It told me what seat I was going to sit on. And it told me whether or not I was in either the first class or general seating. Well, I was in the general. But, man, I would have been willing to have a seat in the tail end of that thing on a stool. Because, you know, I thought I was going to miss the airplane. So I was thrilled to death to find my boarding pass and I was glad that I was in the right seat and I was on the right flight – and I was heading home.

"Well, you see, when you get saved, God gives you a boarding pass. To begin with, you don't have to have the first class seating [indicated] because everybody's going to be on first class seating. And it's going to be stamped with the right word, with the right name. And it's going to be at the right time. And whenever He comes back, or if we leave out before He does, we're going to really have a good time realizing that we're going home. Because we're not home yet. We're on our way. But we're not home yet.

"And so that little experience is one God gave me maybe 20 or 25 years ago. But, Paul, that lesson – it taught me something. You better not try to check out of here without a boarding pass, buddy. Because the Lord died for you and He gives it to you. You can't buy it. He gives it to you. It's written in His blood. And I mean, folks, if you think getting out of Washington, DC, is going to make me happy, you wait till I check out of this ol' world. I'm going to really be happy then."

So based on Jackie's own words, this Christmas will be his happiest ever – finally at home with his Lord Whom he served so enthusiastically and capably for so many years.

By the way, do you have your boarding pass?

- Paul

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