My friend was so kind, slowly wheeling me through the mall in my wheelchair. Patrons in the mall had mixed reactions as I came by with my oxygen mask, IV and eye patch. My head was tilted down at an angle, my hands were trembling. My white hair, old-man hat and pajamas rounded out the picture.
I was clearly a man with not long to live.
Lest you worry, please allow me to put your mind at ease. I am actually quite well and have been remarkably healthy for all of my 47 years. There will likely come a day when I have to send out a request for people to pray for God to heal me if it is his will. But on the day in question, I was actually in disguise — and for a very good reason.
It was our fourth annual Mall Tease Manhunt. Two teams of young people from our church are sent out on a two- or three-county chase, following one clue after another, until they finally arrive at a large mall somewhere. When they arrive, they must come into the mall and find me, and the first team that does earns 100,000 points for their yearly competition. My task is to disguise myself so well that, even when out in plain sight, they will not know who I am.
In this case, it was mission accomplished. In fact, the disguise was so believable that I achieved something almost unthinkable: A family member who has known me literally my entire life did not recognize me. I wheeled right by him, and he thought I truly was a sick old man.
It gets even better. A moment or so after I wheeled by him, one of the teams came by him, and he stopped them.
"Listen," he said, "I know you are going to be stopping people and talking to them to see if they are the preacher. But there is a really sick old man in the mall being pushed around in a wheelchair. Whatever you do, don't bother him at all. That isn't the preacher."
When the other team finally discovered me, the team he warned away from me was, to put it mildly, annoyed with him. Their laughing yet pointed instruction to him was, "Next time, do two things: Drive faster, and don't talk to us!"
Things like this take an enormous amount of work, literally weeks and weeks worth of preparation. But investing in the lives of young people is worth it a thousand times over.
For me, though I enjoy the fun as much as any of the kids, God made sure there was much more to it than just fun. As my preacher friend was wheeling me quietly around, those silent moments brought a very loud thought to my heart: One day this will be real. If Christ tarries his coming, I will one day literally be facing death. We all will.
Hebrews 9:27 says, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
Every one of us lives in dying bodies. Since Adam himself we have all been born with an expiration date to these fleshly containers that house our souls. We will have an accident and die, or be killed and die, or get sick and die, or get old and die. The question is: Will we be ready for death and for what comes next?
As a minister, I have been around death and the dying for many years. I can tell you with certainty that not everyone meets death with the same attitude. I have been at the bedside of those with a look of sheer horror in their eyes. I have also been at the bedside of people who lifted their arms to heaven, smiled and breathed a last breath here only to inhale celestial air a split second later.
Paul did not fear death. The former Christ hater came to know him as his Lord and Savior. And after spending the rest of his life serving him, right before he died said, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand."
That is the kind of fearlessness that a real child of God can have as they meet death.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at email@example.com.