Friday, January 21, 2022

Best Reads from 2021: Fiction

This is part 3 of my annual list – this time the best fiction books I read this year.  The pickings were a little slimmer on this list, but I did have a few good ones.

I am already looking forward to 2022’s fiction options, which include an epic fantasy from one of my favorite thriller writers, diving into James Corey’s Expanse series (I have been enjoying the Amazon Prime series) and part 3 of Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction series on Thomas Cromwell.

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson  Sanderson is probably my favorite contemporary author.  Rhythm of War is part 4 in his immense, absorbing Stormlight series.  The writing is great, the characters are fascinating, the plot twists and turns, and the world-building is great.  I cannot wait until part 5 is written and released.

 

The Mage-Fire War by L. E. Modesitt Jr.  Modesitt’s books tend to be somewhat similar and slow-moving, but for some reason I enjoy them immensely. The Mage-Fire War is set in the world of Recluse, a place where magic is order/black or chaos/white based.  This book is the third featuring Beltur, an order mage who is growing in power but struggling to find a home where he and his family and friends can really call home.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan  This is Anthony Ryan’s first novel and it is magnificent.  Vaelin Al Sorna is a fascinating hero and the world-building is great.  Unfortunately, as with many other first novels, part 2, Tower Lord, was good, but definitely not as good.  I am looking forward to reading more of his books in the coming years.

Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan  Many years ago, I read Sullivan’s  Ryria series and greatly enjoy the two main characters, Hadrian and Royce.  Age of Myth and its 5 sequels (see below) are set in the same world, but thousands of years before.  I read Age of Myth a few years ago and thought it was just okay.  Now that the whole series was finished, I began again and really enjoyed the scope and plot of the 6-book saga.

 

 


2nd Tier books – still recommended.

Black Order by James Rollins

Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Death by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Empyre by Michael J. Sullivan

The Obsidian Chamber by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks

Shadow’s Edge by Brent Weeks

 

 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Best Reads from 2021 - Ministry-oriented books

This is part 2 of my annual book list.  In this post, I have briefly reviewed the best ministry and ministry related books I read this past year, as well as a list of the rest of the books in this category.

Discontinuity to Continuity:  A Survey of Dispensational and Covenant Theologies by Benjamin Merkle.  There are a number of ways people look at theology and the big story of the Bible.  One of the ways is to emphasize either discontinuity or continuity, especially between the Old and New Testaments.  Merkle’s excellent survey takes the reader from classic dispensationalism (discontinuity) through to Christian reconstructionism (continuity) and most views in between, helping us see both the strengths and weaknesses of these varied views of Scripture.

Micah by Stephen G. Dempster.  This past year, I finished a series of sermons on the prophetic book of Micah at our church.  It may seem strange that I would put a commentary in a list of best books of the year, but I do it for this reason – Dempster’s book is an example of how commentaries should be written, or at least commentaries that are useful for pastors and teachers.  It is filled with meaty exegesis and expository/application-oriented insights.  I look forward to using other volumes of this commentary series.

The Care of Souls:  Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart by Harold L. Senkbeil.  Senkbeil is a retired Lutheran pastor.  As a result, I don’t agree with some of his views of pastoral ministry and especially the place of the sacraments in that ministry, but don’t let that deter you from reading this book or giving it as a gift to your pastor friends.  His tone is warm, his heart is gentle and his focus is fully on shepherding the flock, which is a lost “art” today.

Irreversible Damage:  The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters by Abigail Shrier  I do not believe Shrier is a Christian, but her topic has vital ministry implications.  She pulls back the curtain on the recent explosion of transgenderism in pre-teen and teen girls, tying it to the advent of social media and YouTube “influencers.”  She details the unwillingness of most authorities to speak up, even as thousands of girls do irreversible damage to their bodies.  Every parent who has a young daughter needs to read this book! 

Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith.  If you have ever been confused by your emotions, you are not alone.  In this book, Groves and Smith give the reader an excellent, biblical perspective on our emotional lives as Christians and human beings.  Their advice is Scripture-centered and gospel-oriented.  I thought the best chapters were the ones in which they focused on specific emotions like anger, fear, grief and more.

New Morning Mercies:  A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp.  This is how devotionals should be written.  Tripp’s daily write-ups are short, but deep, thought-provoking and application oriented.  He continually brings the reader back to the foundation truths of the gospel upon which our faith is built. And he has additional reading at the bottom of the page for those, like me, who like to have extended passages of Scripture attached to their devotional reading.

Lead:  12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church by Paul David Tripp.  Like many of Paul Tripp’s books, this book contains 12 variations on the theme of leadership.  And his specific focus is on the culture of leadership among pastoral staff and elders in the church.  What drives decision-making or even conversations among church leaders?  Is it an earthly principle or a gospel principle?  The book is chock full of sound ways to reorient our thinking and practice as leaders to line them up with the truth of God’s Word.

What God has to Say about our Bodies:  How the Gospel is Good News for our Physical Selves by Sam Allberry.  This is a wonderful survey on what the Bible has to say about our bodies.  While Allberry only occasionally addresses sexual identity issues, this book contains the foundational, Scriptural truths that we all need to begin to understand and biblically address our culture’s obsession and confusion over those things.  What does God say about our body’s present and future?  Read and be encouraged!




2nd Tier reads, still excellent and recommended:  

The Cross Before Me:  Reimagining the Way to the Good Life by Rankin Wilbourne and Brian Gregor

Micah for You by Stephen Um

A Commentary on Micah by Bruce K. Waltke

The Heart of Christ in Heaven towards Sinners on Earth by Thomas Goodwin

The Day Approaching:  An Israeli’s Message of Warning and Hope for the Last Days by Amir Tsarfati

God Dreams:  12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing your Church’s Future by Will Mancini and Warren Bird

Running Scared:  Fear,  Worry and the God of Rest by Edward T. Welch

Spurgeon’s Sorrows:  Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine

Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathon K. Dodson

Deacons:  How they Serve and Strengthen the Church by Matt Smethurst

Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp

Family Discipleship:  Leading Your Home Through Time, Moments and Milestones by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin

Faithful Endurance:  The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson

The Missionary Theologian by E. D. Burns

A Holy Minister:  The Life and Spiritual Legacy of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Jordan Stone

Faithful Leaders and the Things that Matter Most by Rico Tice

Simply Trinity:  The Unmanipulated Father, Son and Spirit by Matthew Barrett

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Best reads from 2021: History and Biography

It is that time of year again when I look back at the best books I have read in the past year.  This has been a rather pathetic year for my blog.  I have not posted anything since last year’s book lists.  There are a lot of reasons for that – pastoral struggles and parenting an emotionally draining 4-year-old top the list, in addition to pulling off the weddings of our two oldest children and various COVID-19 complications.

Life may have been pathetic with regard to my blog this year, but I did carve out some time to read some very good books.  As always, I have divided my year in review book posts into 3 topics – history/biography, ministry and ministry related, and fiction.

Thanks to everyone who has shared with my how much they appreciate these lists.  I have had people remark that they have used them to guide their own reading, as well as their gift buying for the readers in their family.

Here are brief descriptions of the best history/biography books I read in the past year as well a list of the rest of what I read.

The Brothers York:  A Royal Tragedy by Thomas Penn.  I have always been fascinated by medieval history, and although I have read a book or two about the Wars of the Roses in England, the history of those events have never been brought to life like they did in this book.  Penn tells the tragic story of the York Brothers with tremendous detail and great writing.

 

Coolidge by Amity Schlaes.  I did not know much about Calvin Coolidge before I read this book.  After reading this wonderful biography, I wish we had more Calvin Coolidges in public office in America.  What made Coolidge so special?  Schlaes does a wonderful job explaining what made him tick – a faithful, lifelong commitment to smaller government, public thrift and personal integrity.  He is probably the one president who cut the government budget year after year while in office.

 

The Fall of the Ottomans:  The Great War in the Middle East by Eugene Rogan.  When we think about World War 1, often the only thing we know is the trenches in the Western Front of France.  (See below)  But World War 1 was truly a global war.  Rogan tells the story of the war in Ottoman Empire, places we know today as Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Israel, and provides a fascinating and at times disturbing survey of those events.

 

The Western Front by Nick Lloyd.  As noted above, the Western Front is usually all we think about when we think of World War 1.  And what we assume is that it is a boring story of static, trench warfare.  Nick Lloyd, while not hiding the grisly price paid in lives on the Front, lets us take a peek behind the scenes at the decision-making behind the battles.  As each side dug in, both sides were surprisingly creative in trying to find ways to break the deadlock and achieve victory. 


Race and Culture:  A World View by Thomas Sowell.  I am ashamed I have not read much of Thomas Sowell’s writings baring an occasional newspaper column.  Sowell is a brilliant thinker and a trained economist with the ability to see things most people do not.  In this book, Sowell ruminates on both races and cultures and pokes holes in many of the modern assumptions we hold about those topics.

 

Fateful Lightning:  A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction by Allen Guelzo.  I have read a number of American Civil War surveys.  This is one of the best.  If you are looking for a Civil War book about campaigns and battles, look elsewhere.  If you want someone to guide you through the origins, politics and motivations of the War or to show you how people lived their personal and religious lives during the war, this is your book.  And the epilogue was actually the best part.  In it Guelzo unpacks the roots of the Confederate Lost Cause that still affects our country today.

 

Robert E. Lee:  A Life by Allen Guelzo.  Allen Guelzo begins this biography with a question – how do you write a book about a traitor?  While Lee had many sterling qualities, at heart Guelzo sees him as a traitor to his own country.  The biography is exhaustive and well-written, covering his whole life, not just his Civil War battles.  He ends the book discussing our modern-day culture’s rejection of Lee, not because he was a traitor but because he was a (very reluctant) slave owner, having received slaves in his father-in-law’s estate. 

 

The Last King of America:  The Misunderstood Reign of George III by Andrew Roberts.  Roberts is one of the best biographers out there right now, and this book is revisionist biography at its best.  Recently hundreds of thousands of pages of George III’s papers have been released for study, creating a treasure trove of new material.  Roberts argues that George was not the tyrant Thomas Jefferson made him out to be, but a moral, kind-hearted ruler who woefully misunderstood the attitude of the American colonists and who at pivotal times, struggled with a form of manic depression.

 

2nd Tier reads, still excellent and recommended:

Philip and Alexander:  Kings and Conquerors by Adrian Goldsworthy

The Habsburgs:  To Rule the World by Martyn Rady

Great Society:  A New History by Amity Schlaes

Island of the Lost:  An Extraordinary Story of Survival at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett

The War of the Copper Kings by C. B. Glasscock

Blood and Treasure:  Daniel Boone and the Fight for American’s First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

Germantown:  A Military History of the Battle for Philadelphia, October 4, 1777 by Michael C. Harris

Double Crossed:  The Missionaries who Spied for the United States during the Second World War by Matthew Avery Sutton

Madhouse at the End of the Earth:  The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night by Julian Sancton

The Road to Jonestown:  Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

The Arsenal of Democracy:  FDR, Detroit and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War by A. J. Baime

Seven Days in Hell:  Canada’s Battle for Normandy and the Rise of the Black Watch Snipers by David O’Keefe

A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood:  The Bible and the American Civil War by James P. Byrd

War on the Border:  Villa, Pershing, the Texas Rangers, and an American Invasion by Jeff Guinn

Until Justice Be Done:  America’s First Civil Rights Movement, From the Revolution to Reconstruction by Kate Masur

The Crooked Path to Abolition:  Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution by James Oakes

The Indispensables:  The Diverse Soldier-Mariners who Shapes the Country, Founded the Navy and Rowed Washington across the Delaware by Patrick O’Donnell

The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah:  Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville by Wiley Sword

Land of Tears:  The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa by Robert Harms

Sicily ’43:  The First Assault on Fortress Europe by James Holland

The Black Prince:  England’s Greatest Medieval Warrior by Michael Jones

To Rescue the Republic:  Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union and the Crisis of 1876 by Bret Baier

 

3rd Tier reads, disappointing in some ways:

The Company:  The Rise and Fall of the Hudson’s Bay Empire by Stephen R. Bown

Winter King:  Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

Summer of Blood:  England’s First Revolution by Dan Jones

 

Uggh!  I am amazed I finished it….

Alaric the Goth:  An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome by Douglas Boin

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Best Books of 2020 - Fiction

This is the last of my 3 annual posts about the best books I read in the past year.  This last post focuses on the fiction books I read.  Here are the best and the rest.  Please forgive the formatting issues - Blogger has recently decided to make it near impossible to make text wrap around pictures.





Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel.  Although it is a bit difficult to get into because of the writer’s style and perspective, Mantel’s amazing trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell is a classic.  She follows Cromwell’s early life and rise to become one of the most trusted servants of the volatile King Henry VIII of England.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  This is part 2 of Mantel’s trilogy, another amazing book.  In this volume, Cromwell, now flush with power, has to manage the rise and subsequent removal of Queen Anne Boleyn.



The Burning White by Brent Weeks.  This book brings Weeks’ 5-part Lightbringer series to an end.  The conclusion is exciting, absorbing and satisfying.  If you like epic fantasy and interesting world-building, this may be a series for you to check out.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini.  Paolini, a fellow Montanan, burst on the scene as a teen with his Inheritance Cycle, featuring Eragon and his dragon Saphira.  He became the Guinness record holder for the youngest author of a best-selling series.  This book is different; it is Paolini’s first science fiction novel.  While the book moves slowly at times, it is a wonderful read set in a fascinating future universe.

Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson.  Sanderson has become one of my favorite authors and is in the middle of a huge series of books, the Stormlight Archive.  Dawnshard is book 3.5 in the series, an e-book that bridges the gap between books 3 and 4.  It introduces new characters, fleshes out existing characters and adds layers to an already intricate but immensely interesting plot.  Look for Rhythm of War, book 4, to top my best fiction books list next year.

2nd Tier Reads, but still very good books:

In the Region of the Summer Stars by Stephen R. Lawhead

Sandstorm by James Rollins

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

Map of Bones by James Rollins

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Best Reads of 2020 - Christian and Ministry

This is part 2 of my annual summary of the best books I read in the past year.  This post will focus on books pertaining to the Christian faith and ministry.  I set a goal to read 20 books in this category each year.  I barely made it this year.  Need to be a bit better in 2021.



The Gospel-Driven Church:  Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace
by Jared C. Wilson.  I don’t have much time of day for the church growth movement.  It is a movement that always seems to be tempted to over-apply business models to the church of the living God.  Wilson takes another approach.  What might it look like if we approached church growth with a gospel-driven perspective?  Read the book and find out.

Hearers and Doers:  A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer.  Disciple-making should be a central focus in any church.  Vanhoozer’s book is an insightful study of the pastor’s role in making disciples, through teaching and consistently reminding the congregation to be hearers and doers of the truths of Scripture.


A Big Gospel in Small Places – Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters
by Stephen Witmer.  The only ministry we often hear about is mega-church ministry.  Those are the churches who frequently make the headlines, for both good and ill.  Witmer’s book is a gentle push back against the assumption that ministry only happens in big places or big churches.  All you small town pastors and Christian workers – read it and be encouraged and challenged.

Sons in the Son:  The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ by David B. Garner.  This is a book for anyone who loves to dive deep into theology and the riches of the gospel.  Garner’s argument is that adoption, which at best is under-taught, at worst basically forgotten, is a central piece – perhaps THE central piece - necessary in our understanding of the salvation found in Jesus Christ.


Did America Have a Christian Founding?
By Mark David Hall.  Hall presents a well-argued and passionate defense of the Christian roots of America.  While he does not assume all of the founders were evangelical Christians, he pushes back strongly against the assumption that the pivotal founders were deists.  He takes scholarly consensus to task for their unwarranted assumptions, as well as their selective use of the evidence available.




Gentle and Lowly:  The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund.  Apart from the Bible, easily the best, and most encouraging, Christian book I read this year. Ortlund focuses on the many varied but always merciful and compassionate heart of Christ for those who belong to Him.  Jesus does not only love you, he likes you and his heart is continually and eternally bent in compassion and mercy toward you.  Believe it!

2nd Tier reads – still very good books, just did not make the “best” list:

Paul’s Vision for the Deacons: Assisting the Elders with the Care of God’s Church by Alexander Strauch
Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word by Matt Smethurst
In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilken
A Praying Life: Connecting with God is a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller
How to Walk into Church by Tony Payne
The Power of Vision: How You Can Capture and Apply God’s Vision for your Ministry by George Barna
Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward
Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
1 Timothy by Phillip Graham Ryken
One to One Bible reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian by David Helm
The Case for Biblical Archeology: Uncovering the Historical Record of God’s Old Testament People by John D. Currid
Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp
Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper
Journey Through Colossians: 36 Day Verse-by-Verse Devotional by Tara Barndt

 

Best Reads for 2020 - History and Biography

I am finally getting to my annual blog posts about the best books I read in the past year.  Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a shut-down, reading time was still at a premium this year.  Pastoral ministry does not shut down in a pandemic.  Between that and having a preschooler (and for 2 months an additional toddler foster child) in the house, it has been a bit of a challenge to find time to read.  That said, here are the best books I read this year, starting with History/Biography books.


Vicksburg:  Grant’s Campaign that Broke the Confederacy
by Donald L. Miller.  I have read a lot of books on the American Civil War, but Miller’s book is one of the best I have read in a long time.  He traces the origins of Grant’s campaign all the way to his final victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

 The Second World Wars:  How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won by Victor Davis Hanson.  Hanson is one of my favorite authors, in that he always seems to find a way to think out of the box.  This book, a top-down analysis of World War 2, is a prime example.  Organized thematically, Hanson does an amazing job of unfolding the what’s and why’s of these pivotal events.

 


The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
by David Kertzer.  Kertzer’s expertise is the early modern Papacy.  He has a knack for bringing seemingly forgotten events that changed the world to new light.  In this book, he tells the tale of how the abduction of one Jewish boy played a part in the unification of Italy and the loss of the Papal States, the country the Pope governed in central Italy.

 



The Road Not Taken:  Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam

by Max Boot.  Edward Lansdale was a CIA operative who had great success bringing fair and peaceful elections to the Philippines.  The US government sent him to Vietnam to do the same, without giving him the tools to make his ideas a reality.  It is fascinating to speculate what could have happened had he been provided with more support during his time in the war-torn country.

 


JFK:  Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956
by Fredrik Logevall.  I am not a JFK fan necessarily, but this is a spectacular biography of Kennedy’s early years.  Logevall analyzes Kennedy’s early life, unpacking the influence of his father, his continual health struggles and even his frequent moral failures.  This is not a hit piece – it is a balanced biography of a flawed man that inspired America with his leadership.

 



Tower of Skulls:  A History of the Asia-Pacific War, July 1937-May 1942 by

Richard B. Franks.  In this book, part 1 of a planned 3-part history, Franks examines the origins and beginnings of World War 2 in the Pacific.  Instead of starting with Pearl Harbor, he begins where the war actually started – with Japan’s invasion of China in 1937.  This volume ends with the fall of Corregidor and the Bataan Death March, the events that were probably the lowest point for the Allied side in the Pacific conflict.

 


The Anarchy:  The East India Company, Corporate Violence and the Pillage of an Empire
by William Dalrymple.  Today entities like Google and Facebook have a powerful effect on our culture, economy and politics.  Dalrymple looks back in time to the approximately 50 years (about 1750-1800) when the East India Company, a private corporation, went from a small trading outpost to ruling the Indian subcontinent.

 



2nd Tier books – Very good books, worth a read, just not as good as the one’s previously listed.

Normandy ’44: D-Day and the Epic 77-Day Battle for France by James Holland
Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands
Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final year of the American Civil War by S. C. Gwynne
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance during the Blitz by Erik Larson
Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage by Ken McGoogan
When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom by Christopher Klein
Forgotten Victory: First Canadian Army and the Cruel Winter of 1944-45 by Mark Zuehlke
The Desert Generals by Correlli Barnett
The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950’s by William L. Hitchcock
Crusaders: An Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands by Dan Jones
The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-47 by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan
Chiang Kai-Shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost by Jonathan Fenby
Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor by Russell S. Bonds
The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi by Timothy B. Smith
Destination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage and the Battle for North Africa in World War 2 by Meredith Hindley
Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen who led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943 by James Holland
Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads and the Making of Modern America by Michael Hiltzik
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and their Battle for Speed and Glory at LeMans by A. J. Baime
Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland

3rd Tier reads – not bad, but somewhat disappointing:

Countdown 1945:  The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days that Changed the World by Chris Wallace

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What is God doing through the Coronavirus?

At this moment, I am sitting in my house, theoretically enjoying my remaining vacation days left, but in reality, my family and I are in close-contact quarantine because of coronavirus exposure.  Having some time on my hands and unable to really go anywhere, I got to thinking about how COVID-19 has affected our lives so profoundly this past year.

Each of you reading this has experienced it.  Fear, especially at the beginning, of the unknown regarding this virus.  Loved ones dying or becoming seriously sick because of the virus.  Our lives being shut down and constrained to prevent the spread of the disease.  Enduring the social distancing that is required.  Suffering with the discomfort of wearing a mask in public settings.  Vacations being cancelled and visits with loved ones limited to phone or video calls because of travel restrictions or border closure.  Disagreements between families and friends over COVID-19 “facts” and mask wearing.  And now, with vaccines becoming available, being told time and time again that the vaccine is our salvation for this thing.

All of these things and more are reminding me that, as believers, we need to have a proper theological perspective on this whole matter.  I don’t see a lot of that happening.  I see a lot of angry Christians.  I see a lot of fearful Christians.  I see a lot of Christian spending a great deal of time and energy figuring out ways to skirt government mandates like mask-wearing requirements.  I hear Christians grumbling about how this whole virus situation has been politicized.  I see Christians putting their own comfort ahead of the safety and health of the corporate body.  But I don’t see a lot of Christians resting in God, assured of his sovereign control in the midst of a pandemic.  I don’t see a lot of Christians that reflect an assurance, deep in their hearts, that God is big enough to use even this for his great and gracious purposes.  And admittedly, I have been guilty at times of a number of the things I just listed.  It is hard in these circumstances to rest in God.

But rest in God is what we must do.  This is a prime opportunity for believers to show
the difference Christ makes in a heart.
  This is a prime opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of a mind that is being renewed (Rom. 12:2).  This is a great time to display the transformation that comes as part of the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  And those things involve trusting that God is in charge, that God is purposeful and that we can live our lives trusting in His plan.

Recently I finished an excellent little book entitled Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper.  John Piper seeks to assure us that though times are not normal, and sometimes life seems to be spinning out of control, God is still worthy of our trust.  He is still righteous, holy and good.  He is sovereign over the coronavirus.  And he can use even the coronavirus to fulfill His good purposes.

At the end of the book, Piper lists 6 things that he believes God is doing amidst the coronavirus pandemic.  I want to share them with you to remind us of how we should be looking at this pandemic as believers.

 What is God doing through the Coronavirus?

1.         God is giving the world in the coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God-belittling sin.  Human sin has corrupted everything.  The coronavirus is another picture of the horror of that sin.

2.         Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.  Not all individual suffering is a specific judgment for personal sin, but some is.

3.         The coronavirus is a God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ.  The pandemic is part of the birth pangs (Matt. 24:7-8), evidence of the groaning of creation awaiting the full redemption of the people of God (Rom. 8:18-25).

4.         The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ.  God is showing us – graphically, painfully – that nothing in this world gives the security and satisfaction that we find in Christ.

5.         The coronavirus is God’s call to His people to overcome self-pity and fear and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God.

6.         In the coronavirus God is loosening the roots of settled Christians, all over the world, to make them free for something new and radical and to send them with the gospel of Christ to the unreached peoples of the world.  The pandemic will ultimately serve God’s invincible global purpose of world evangelization.

Is this all God is doing through the coronavirus?  Surely not.  But this is enough to rest on right now, enough to assure ourselves that God is sovereign and righteous and holy and good and that He is worthy to be trusted, even in the midst of a pandemic.