Monday, November 30, 2009

Fear of the End – Part 3

In earlier posts I wrote about the fear of dying and the fear of the End Times. In this post I continue about the End Times and then wrap up.

2. Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid

If we are getting close to the End Times, shouldn’t we be afraid? I believe one major reason why we shouldn’t be afraid is that followers of Christ will be removed from the scene before things get really bad. The Apostle Paul clearly tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. NIV

This taking up in the air is called The Rapture. The hymn “I Know Whom I Have Believed” refers to the Rapture:

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air. (emphasis added)


Life on earth is difficult, although we have the assurance that this life ends in triumph for followers of Jesus Christ. We go on to something much better. As we approach the End Times, there will be an intensifying of the bad things that already happen too much on this earth already. But we won’t be around when things really get nasty, because of the Rapture. Eventually those End Times events give way to final victory in Christ, and we read about what will take place in Revelation 21:1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

So as Christians we have nothing to fear from death or the End Times, but instead we can look forward to the fulfillment of God’s plan. And thanks be to God, we are beneficiaries of that plan, and we share in Christ’s victory over sin and death. So let us look forward with eager anticipation to feasting at long last at that heavenly banquet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fear of The End – Part 2

In an earlier post I talked about fear of death. Now I want to discuss fear of the End Times.

Fear of the End Times

Another fear some Christians have is the fear of the End Times. Hollywood cashes in on these fears with such movies as 2012, coming soon to a theater near you. Listening to the news, it appears that the frequency and severity of natural disasters is increasing, which also feeds our fears. In reality, the frequency and severity of natural disasters may not really be increasing, it’s just there is better and more timely reporting of them. However, things will get worse as we approach the End Times, and we have been warned in the Bible so we can be spiritually prepared.

1. What Jesus Said

In Matthew 24 Jesus mentions several things about the End Times, so let’s briefly look at each one:

a. Temple Destroyed

The first thing Jesus mentions is that the temple will be destroyed. This is not an End Times event, but was apocalyptic for the Jews when their beautiful temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

b. Deception

Next, Jesus said there would be widespread deception (Matthew 24:4b-5):

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” NIV

While there always has and always will be such deception, it will get worse as we get closer to the End Times. Technology allows deception to be disseminated widely.

c. Wars and Rumors of Wars

Next, Jesus warned of wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6-7a):

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” NIV

Wars are constantly happening, and Jesus said the end is still to come. Therefore, we shouldn’t be alarmed because war is a natural state of affairs, although the world situation will really deteriorate towards the end.

d. Natural Disasters

Jesus warned of natural disasters (Matthew 24:7b-8):

“There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” NIV

Natural disasters have always been with us, so there is no cause for alarm. When there is a huge increase in their frequency and intensity, then we can assume we are getting close to the beginning of the End Times. I personally think that it will be very obvious to believers when we get close, as Luke 21:25-27 tells us:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” NRSV

e. Increased Persecution

Next, Jesus said that persecution of believers will increase (Matt 24:9-11):

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” NIV

Persecution of Christians has always been with us, although it did increase significantly in the 20th Century. Notice that Jesus warned that false prophets will appear and deceive many people, one of many such warnings in the Bible. We should always be on the lookout for such false teachers and prophets masquerading as ministers of the Gospel. They mix just enough truth with false doctrines to seem trustworthy, but they are to be avoided.

f. Reached the Whole World

Lastly, Jesus says that the Gospel must be preached throughout the world (Matthew 24:14):

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” NIV

With radio, TV, Internet, and many missionaries, this is becoming a reality.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fear of The End – Part 1

Many people are afraid of dying and many are afraid of the End Times. In these posts I’d like to explain why Christians shouldn’t have these fears.

Fear of Death

Let’s first take a look at dying and why we fear it. Shakespeare put these words about death into Hamlet’s mouth:

“The dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose [domain] no traveler returns.”

Aristotle called death something to be feared because “it appears to be the end of everything.”

1. Jesus’ Promise

Yet as Christians we know that death is not the end of everything, but actually a beginning. It is a passageway to something better, a corner to be turned. We know this because it is the major theme of the New Testament. This theme is expressed well in what Jesus said to his followers in those familiar words of John 14:1-6:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” NRSV

Jesus didn’t just promise us an afterlife, but a better life in heaven basking in the glory of his presence. Your final glimpse of this life will open the door to your first glimpse of your Savior, Jesus.

2. Nature of Our Fear

We know this, so why do we still fear death, even after placing our trust in Jesus for our eternal destiny? After all, our reservation in heaven is guaranteed because it is not dependent on our good works or anything we have done, but by our faith in Jesus. We get to heaven only on the merits of Jesus Christ, not on our good deeds outweighing our bad or anything like that. We read in one of my favorite passages (Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV):

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own do-ing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

We also read in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10:

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. NRSV

So why are we still apprehensive about death? Three possibilities come to mind.

a. Too Good to Be True

One possibility is that we believe that salvation by faith alone is just too good to be true. How can placing faith in what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf result in our going to heaven? There must be more to it than that! Where’s the catch? That leads me to the second possibility why we still fear death.

b. God’s Grace Is Insufficient

Second, we fear death because we may think God’s grace is insufficient, despite what we read in the Bible. Certainly there must be some works we must do in order to gain entrance into heaven. After all, we live in a performance-based world, and many of us grew up in churches where works were necessary to assure our salvation. So questions arise about what works and how much must be done. Yet nowhere in the New Testament does it say we must do certain things to assure our entrance into heaven. Quite the opposite, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:57:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV

The Bible states clearly we are to do good works, but those works don’t give us the keys to the kingdom. Once saved by grace through faith, our works store up treasures in heaven, but they don’t get us there.

c. Fear of the Unknown

The last possibility why Christians may fear death is fear of the unknown. When asked whether he feared death, Billy Graham answered, “I don’t fear death, but I’m not looking forward to the process.”

I think that expresses the feelings we all have. We may be confident of our salvation because we have placed our faith in Jesus, but that doesn’t guarantee our passing from this life will be pleasant. Often our fear is of the process, not of what will happen when we leave this life.

Of course we really don’t know what heaven is like, but we have been assured that it is much better than here. It is a joyful place in the presence of Almighty God, and there is worship of God and pleasant work to do for the Lord. Rick Warren says that this life is really preparation for the next. So let us be diligent in serving the Lord in this life, as Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. NRSV

More on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Health Clinics

There are free health clinics scattered around the country providing basic health care to those who are not insured. They are run by churches and other charitable organizations, and have been very successful, working with volunteers and donated drugs.

My question is, why haven’t the geniuses in Washington considered a network of such health clinics to provide basic coverage for those who can’t afford insurance? This would take the pressure off hospital emergency departments, which are overwhelmed by the uninsured who use them as free clinics.

Of course such clinics couldn’t take care of more serious problems requiring surgery or other advanced treatments. Therefore, I would suggest that the government make available insurance for catastrophic health care needs, with the more routine care provided by the clinics. Those getting insurance from their employers would receive conventional care through the existing system.

These clinics would receive government support, so they wouldn’t have to be shoestring operations. The government could buy the drugs more cheaply. Because these clinics would be low overhead operations, they would be much more cost-effective than providing comprehensive insurance for our expensive existing system.

Hopefully our existing system would become less expensive because hospital emergency departments could be just for emergencies, hospitals wouldn’t have to cover the uninsured in various ways, and fraud would be reduced because these clinics would be monitored and audited.

Come to think of it, why not include Medicaid patients in this plan? There is so much fraud in that program that going the clinic route – with adequate safeguards and monitoring – would save the government substantial money. There is so much more we could do to improve the system, but Congress and the President aren’t even considering them, such as tort reform.

Write your senators and congressman and ask them to consider the clinic idea and tort reform.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Working with the Elderly

There are some things we should be aware of when working with the elderly, especially when it comes to talking about dying.

Grandma might start talking about dying soon or wanting to talk about her funeral, and what’s our usual reaction? “Oh grandma, don’t talk like that.” That’s the wrong attitude. The next big thing in grandma’s life will be her passing, and she’s thinking about it. She wants to discuss it, to make sure everything is in order. Let her talk. It’s not being morbid, just practical.

I work with the elderly, and another thing I’ve found is that sometimes they think God is punishing them by letting them live for so long or letting them live in a less than desirable condition, such as unable to walk, confined to a nursing home, or in discomfort. It is difficult assuring them that this is not God’s punishment. When you work with the elderly, you should be aware of this belief.

Lastly, you might observe that occasionally the elderly blow things totally out of proportion. You may be shocked by such an inappropriate reaction, yet this is how they perceive things. The reason for this is that they don’t have much going on in their lives. As a result, they have plenty of time to dwell on things, and molehills frequently become mountains.

Make sure the elderly know that you love them, you care, and you want them to be as comfortable as possible. Visit them often, make sure they are getting proper care, and work with their caregivers to let them know you want to be involved in any decisions that are to be made (if you are the appropriate person).

And lastly, be nice to your kids. Remember, they’ll be choosing your home when you’re old.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Cancer Guidelines

The recent change in guidelines for mammograms and breast self-examinations highlights one aspect of science that is frequently ignored. Science is ever-changing. New research results in new hypotheses or theories. Yesterday’s scientific “fact” becomes today’s discarded theory.

That’s why it makes me angry when people base many of their opinions and beliefs on “science” as if it were infallible and unchanging. In fact it isn’t infallible and it is constantly changing. Moreover, there is a lot of bad science out there. Studies are seriously flawed from a methodology point of view or are manipulated to fit a preconceived result. For example, it could turn out upon closer examination that this study had flaws in methodology, assumptions or interpretation of data.

While science is good in many ways, we must remember its limitations. Biblical principles are unchanging, handed down by God to guide us in our living. When “science” conflicts with biblical principles, we should go with the biblical principles.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Quality Medical Care

There’s a lot of talk about the quality of medical care in the United States these days. Some say it’s terrible, and some say it’s the best in the world. Having just experienced two surgeries and a brief hospital stay (see my earlier post on protecting your skin), let me make a few observations on health care.

I believe our health care is the best in the world if you have decent insurance coverage or you have plenty of money to pay for expensive treatments. I don’t think the issue is quality so much as it is availability. I have great insurance coverage, so I have good quality care. Those whose coverage isn’t very good don’t always get the best care, or are very limited in their choices. So availability is limited for many people.

The uninsured do get some sort of coverage, but it is inadequate. What we need is not health care reform, but insurance reform and tort reform (as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts). But we have to do it in such a way that quality care is available to most people, not just those fortunate enough to have good insurance plans. Let’s hope our politicians will ignore special interests and do the right thing. We can tap into the experience of most industrialized nations and avoid their mistakes and take the best of their systems. Pray that our leaders in Washington do the right thing and don’t destroy what we already have.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Protect Your Skin

I just underwent a bit of an ordeal to treat skin cancer. These were basal cell carcinomas, the most “benign” form of skin cancer. Nevertheless, having any form of cancer in or on my body doesn’t not appeal to me. There were two lesions on my scalp and one on my face. I’m sure these resulted from childhood exposure to the sun. I had a crew cut, was blond and fair-skinned, and rarely wore a cap. As an adult, I became aware of the risk posed by exposure to the sun, and took precautions. But it was too little, too late.

I’ve had a number of precancerous growths removed over the years, but never skin cancer. These lesions required Mohs surgery which is a marvelous invention. The dermatologist removes cancerous tissue, and then tests the site to see if there are any cancer cells remaining. If so, he goes back in and removes more. This goes on until there are no more cancer cells left at the site. I went through five cycles before he “got it all.” This is done in the doctor’s office under local anesthetic.

Because these three wounds were rather large, I then had to have a plastic surgeon close them so they heal properly and scarring is minimized. That procedure lasted for about three hours and required general anesthesia in a hospital. Fortunately it was same day surgery and since I didn’t have any adverse reactions to the anesthesia, I was home by 6:00 that evening.

I felt comfortable going through these surgeries because I had many people praying for me and I had confidence in the skills of the surgeons, nurses, the anesthesiologist, and the technicians. I was also pleased with the quality of the care I received at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, where the plastic surgery was done. But having all those prayers said for me gave me tremendous comfort. And yes, I’ll be wearing a hat a lot more from now on. Not only because my head is now shaved, but also because I don’t want to have to go through this again.