I could do without the pharmaceutical warnings. I understand their purpose, mind you. Medical manufacturers must caution against every potential tragedy so that when we take their pill and grow a third arm or turn green, we can’t sue them. I get that. Still, there is something about the merger of happy faces with voice-over advisories of paralysis that just doesn’t work.

Let’s hope this practice of total disclosure doesn’t spill over into the delivery room. It might. After all, about-to-be-born babies need to know what they are getting into. Prebirth warnings could likely become standard maternity-ward procedure. Can you imagine the scene? A lawyer stands at a woman’s bedside. She’s panting Lamaze breaths between contractions. He’s reading the fine print of a contract in the direction of her belly.

Welcome to the post–umbilical cord world. Be advised, however, that human life has been known, in most cases, to result in death. Some individuals have reported experiences with lethal viruses, chemical agents, and/or bloodthirsty terrorists. Birth can also result in fatal encounters with tsunamis, inebriated pilots, road rage, famine, nuclear disaster, and/or PMS. Side effects of living include super viruses, heart disease, and final exams. Human life is not recommended for anyone who cannot share a planet with evil despots or survive a flight on airplane food.

Life is a dangerous endeavor. We pass our days in the shadows of ominous realities. The power to annihilate humanity has, it seems, been placed in the hands of people who are happy to do so. Discussions of global attack prompted one small boy to beg, “Please, Mother, can’t we go some place where there isn’t any sky?”1 If the global temperature rises a few more degrees . . . if classified information falls into sinister hands . . . if the wrong person pushes the wrong red button . . . What if things only get worse?

Christ tells us that they will. He predicts spiritual bailouts, ecological turmoil, and worldwide persecution. Yet in the midst of it all, he contends bravery is still an option.

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 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. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

 “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. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 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.” (Matt. 24:4–14 NIV)

Things are going to get bad, really bad, before they get better. And when conditions worsen, “See to it that you are not alarmed” (v. 6 NIV). Jesus chose a stout term for alarmed that he used on no other occasion. It means “to wail, to cry aloud,” as if Jesus counseled the disciples, “Don’t freak out when bad stuff happens.”

The disciples were making a big to-do over the buildings of the Jerusalem temple. Impressed with the massive hewed stones—some of them nearly twenty-four feet long—the followers applauded the awesome structure with its variegated marble that resembled the waves of the sea. Jesus was not so impressed. “ ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’ ” (Matt. 24:2 NIV).

Imagine someone forecasting the collapse of the White House, Buckingham Palace, or the Louvre. Wouldn’t you want some details? The disciples did. “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (v. 3).

Sitting on the Mount of Olives, in full view of the temple and the City of David, Jesus issued a “buckle your seat belt, no kidding, life can be fatal to your health” warning.

He began with “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (vv. 4–5 NIV). Note the twofold appearance of the word many. Many deceived and many deceivers. Churches are petri dishes for self-serving egomaniacs who masquerade as ministers of God. They will do so “in his name,” claiming a special status, a superior spirituality. They boast of insider information and adorn their teaching with phrases like “God told me . . . ,” “God spoke to me . . . ,” “God led me . . . ” They present themselves as religious gurus, code breakers, members of an inner circle, implying that they have access to knowledge unavailable to the common person. Some even position themselves as Jesus himself, “saying, ‘I am the Christ’ ” (v. 5).

Max Lucado, Fearless (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).

Check out the six-week Bible study exploring key topics from Max Lucado’s book, Fearless. It is available on Amazon, as well as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking.