A visionary leader gets betrayed and kicked out of his spiritual community. He is deeply hurt and confused. He cannot see a way forward. Can anything good come out of that?

A decorated war veteran gets court-martialed, ruined by the Army and the country he seeks to serve, simply for telling the truth. Can anything good come out of that?

The world succumbs to a global pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t happened in a hundred years. Can anything good come out of that?

Several conversations, books, and documentaries posed the same question: A disaster happens. Maybe it is personal. Perhaps it is public. It could be global, but it happens, and all that people in the middle of it can see is the downside.

I’m learning that if we watch and wait, if we trust God and keep a positive attitude, there can be an upside. I’m looking for that with Covid-19, and here’s what I’ve found.

Remarkable advances have happened in medical technology and vaccine development. Scientists and pharmaceutical companies produced vaccines in record time with new methodologies. Global trade almost guarantees that more viruses, perhaps much worse, are coming. We now have the medical science to combat them.

Many people heard the phrase “supply chain” for the first time in 2020. Everyone in the logistics business is figuring out how to do it better. We also have a deeper appreciation for truck drivers, grocery store clerks, and toilet paper!

Forced isolation created powerful opportunities for personal reflection on what matters. Too many of us go thoughtlessly through life. Covid-19 forced us to slow down and consider how we spend our time.

Fear of death caused all to pause momentarily to think about our eternity. That is never a bad thing.

We appreciate and support the performing arts. Great music performed by gifted artists is a uniquely uplifting human experience. I plan to attend more concerts.  

Public worship. Nothing can duplicate the experience of the gathered church in worship. I can’t wait till we can all be together again, singing our hearts out to God and experiencing his presence in our praises.

The visionary leader was Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery. God used him to save his family and Israel, from whom came the Savior of the world. Joseph is a model for several people I know today, whose stories are still being written.

The military leader was General William “Billy” Mitchel. He foresaw the role of airpower in the 1920s. He publicly accused the War and Navy departments of “incompetency, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable administration of the national defense” for refusing to recognize it. He predicted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and his followers successfully led the Army Air Force through WWII. In 1946 the U.S. Congress authorized a special medal in his honor; it was presented to his son in 1948 by one of his disciples, Gen. Carl Spaatz, chief of staff of the newly created U.S. Air Force.[1]

The greatest disaster happened to the man from Nazareth on what we now call Good Friday. Or was it a disaster after all?

What good can you find from Covid-19?



She’s going to break my fingers! But I can’t tell her to stop!

That debate ran through the back of my mind while the front tried, and failed, to help my dear young wife face the panic and pain of her first birth. She was holding the fingers of my left hand all in a bunch, sitting on the sofa of our little apartment, and squeezing the daylights out of them with every contraction. We had already been to the hospital once and sent home. “She’s not ready. Come back tomorrow morning.” That had been hours ago. I thought she might pass out. Heck, I thought I might pass out. But the nerves, and the pain, and the anticipation kept us up all night. By the time the doc decided on a C-section, she’d been in labor seventy-two hours, but that’s another story.

I think about that when I think about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Like many of our contemporaries, we were having our first baby in a brand-new birthing center, with all the latest science, and comforts at our disposal, supervised by an obstetrician with decades of experience. Of course first century mothers had none of that, but Mary had reasons to expect better than she was getting.

Remember what the angel had told her? “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

With that kind of information about the child in her womb, it would be understandable for Mary to have high expectations. What kind of birth arrangements would God engineer for His Son? How would the Son of the Most High make his entrance?

But the birth of Jesus was a true worst case scenario for Mary and Joseph.

It came at the most difficult of times. The census had the whole country in upheaval. Roads were jammed with travelers; the price of 90-octane donkey fuel went through the roof. Tempers were short and lines were long. Everybody was stressed to the max and they had no choice about making the trip. Their son’s first day on earth would be a day marked by an act of oppression. He was born with a Roman boot on his neck.

It came at the end of a draining day. The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is only sixty miles as the crow flies. Maybe two hours by car. But it was a three-day journey for them–Joseph on foot, Mary at full term on a swaying donkey’s back, camping out under the stars, eating sparse meals. Even if Mary was a teenager, she was no doubt extremely tired and sore. They probably traveled alone as well, because by now it was known that Mary’s condition was not a result of her marriage to Joseph. Both must have felt a sense of isolation. There would be no joyous family celebration like the one at John the Baptist’s birth.

Finally, the baby came in the most desperate of circumstances. Joseph was still searching for a room when Mary’s labor pains began. The inns in Bethlehem were full of other census pilgrims who had traveled faster than an expecting mother could manage. As a last resort they took shelter in a stable, filled with the pungent smells of pack animals. The first air that would fill the nostrils of the Son of God was the air that peasants breathe.

I wonder what Mary must have thought of all this as she remembered the Angel’s words, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” I know what I think. The Son of the Most High came to Earth as the “son of the most low.” God engineered the birth of His Son so that all who believe, from the lowest to the highest, could come to Him without fear, and experience the best gift He has for man, a life giving relationship with Himself.


In late December 1983 I was a newly engaged, newly minted seminary student, living in a rented room in Memphis, Tennessee, four hundred miles away from family and fiancé. The semester was over, but I had to stay a couple of days to teach a Wednesday night Bible study down in Batesville, Mississippi, about an hour south. I was living on $400 a month and saving up for a honeymoon, which being translated means I was hungry most of the time, and lonesome all the time in that pre-cellphone, pre-internet era. I planned to drive home to Atlanta the next day.

Rain was falling and the temperature with it as I finished the study, fired up my decrepit 1971 Fiat 128 and headed up I-55 North, fiddling with the radio as I drove. “A major winter storm will be on us by mid-night,” said the weather man, “with up to 12 inches of snow and ice accumulation.”

No way am I hanging around for that! I thought, and pushed the car to its top speed, 65 mph (62 uphill), and roared into town around 9:00 PM. I grabbed my stuff, waved goodbye to my landlady, and headed southeast on 78, the old, two-lane Arkadelphia highway, toward Birmingham, I-20 East, and home.

I cannot remember a colder, wetter, nastier night of driving. And did I mention I was hungry? But I couldn’t stop to eat, not only because I was broke, but the storm, according to the radio, was moving faster than the Fiat. By the time I reached the Alabama line Memphis was icing up and my windshield was trying to, the defroster barely staying ahead of the rapidly freezing rain. Visibility was less than fifty yards as the rain iced up the windshield wipers too, which fluttered every time a big rig passed in the opposite direction, scattering ice as the little car buffeted in the wake. If I can just make it to Birmingham, I kept saying to myself, I can make it all the way.

Every Christmas we relive the journey another man took to his hometown, pursued, not by ice storms, but by tyranny and doubts, accompanied not by a radio in a poorly heated car, but by an oddly-pregnant wife on an unheated donkey. And while Bethlehem was his hometown, no one would be waiting on him with hot food and warm beds. Quite the contrary, the best he could get was an animal shed for his wife and newborn son. Not much, but enough in his obedience, for God to turn the world upside down.

Makes us think, does it not, about how we treat others forced to flee from tyranny and about what our obedience might do.

The drive from Memphis to Atlanta usually took eight hours in that little car. That night it was closer to ten, but none of it mattered when the front door of Mom’s house opened before I reached it, and instead of Mom, my beautiful wife-to-be kissed me and hugged me tight, as the smell of frying bacon wafted out the door behind her.

“Surprise!” she said. “We knew you wouldn’t stay in Memphis, so I came down and spent the night with Mom!”

“Merry Christmas,” I said. It was the best Christmas trip ever.