2018 Bracket Challenge

Good evening!

We’ve done this before, so that makes it a tradition. We are Baptists, after all, and tradition is tradition, even if the times they are a-changin’. So, without further ado, here’s the link/information for the 2018 Bracket Challenge and the SBCVoices18 Group:

Go to ESPN and sign up for the Tournament Challenge. Search for the SBCVoices18 group to join. The group password is:


Please understand that this is strictly in reference to the New York Baseball team and its newly acquired farm team in Miami and is not meant as a slight at those who live north of the line. It’s all about annoying Dave Miller, which has become kind of a hobby of mine these past few years. It’s cheaper than fishing and requires no license.

Prizes will be determined after I figure out if I’m going to win. All are welcome, even if you did a CBS Bracket with Scott’s league.

Please keep in friendly, unless you are annoying Dave and then go all-in.



Paint on some stripes

I learned something from the Internet this year, even though it came from a few years ago. The National Air and Space Museum has a post about D-Day where they explained the stripes painted on Allied aircraft during the Normandy Invasion in World War II. (It’s here. I thought about borrowing a picture and linking it, but I don’t know if that’s fair-use or not.)

To summarize the historical material, originally the aircraft of the Allied forces relied on a basic Identify-Friend-Foe system that was automated. Ground crews and naval forces accessed the same system, but it was neither super fast nor perfectly reliable. As a result, to prevent friendly fire, gun crews were supposed to identify aircraft by silhouette and be certain before they fired. That worked, for the most part, until it was time for the “Great Crusade,” as General Eisenhower put it, to liberate Europe. The largest amphibious assault in history required a better system, one that was much more reliable.

After all, the D-Day invasion used the combined forces of a large number of nations, many of which did not speak the same language! I’m looking for the book that named all of the countries involved, though definitely present were British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders, Free French, expatriate Poles, and more. The communications confusion is staggering.

Now, if they were modern-day consultants, millions would have spent on newer electronics. Or on complicated plans of corridors of safe transit, and so forth. Instead, being people fixated on a crucial task and needing the most effective solution possible, they went with this:

They painted extra stripes on the airplanes. Big, black, and white stripes were painted on the wings or the fuselage of the aircraft. Everyone was given the basic instruction: “Don’t shoot planes with stripes.”

It was that simple. There was no sense of “take a shot at the Canadians if they get into our airspace” or “I’ve never liked the French.” There was a common decision that the enemy was on the other side of a defined line and the simplest plan was put in place to identify the good guys.

Then it was simply a matter of recognizing the obvious: the striped planes are for us. Leave them to their work, and we’ll go about our work.

Now, what has this to do with us? Obviously, none of us are headed to fly the Normandy invasion. By the grace of God, I hope our world never sees the need for that again, though I am pessimistic.

However, take a look at Ephesians 4:4-6 from the CSB:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope, at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

At this point, you can see where this is going. So, let’s finish it out:

We meet as the Southern Baptist Convention next week. There will be sniping and whining, some in-person and some on-line about many things that go on. We have retained a habit of shooting at our own.

But we ought not be that way. Let us remember that we are gathered together–some Traditionalist and some Calvinist, some rock-and-roll and some hymnic, some skinny jeans and some suits–for a greater purpose. Yes, our communications are complicated. Our interactions are challenging at times, and sometimes folks wander out of their lane and maybe even into the way.

Let’s take a look for the stripes, though, ladies and gentlemen: whosever is part of the one body, following the one Lord through faith, they are with us. Let’s paint on our stripes and point our swords at the enemy.

See you in Phoenix.

Oh, and I’ll let you do your own thinking about the idea that all of your fellow Christians in church with you? They’re in stripes, too.

Fruit Trees and Failures

A week from now, I leave for the Southern Baptist Convention. I know many of you who read and interact here will be doing so as well, and if you came here for the reason I first started coming here a decade ago, you might be disappointed. This isn’t going to address the latest and greatest controversy in the SBC. It won’t even celebrate the good progress related to the SBC Pastor’s Conference that we have going on.

Instead, it’s about trees. Well, trees and me.

A few years back I left one church and went elsewhere as a pastor. Why I did so takes a long explanation. It wasn’t for the money and it wasn’t because I screwed anything up and had to leave. It was just, well, time. When we left, it felt more like leaving home than leaving a workplace, but at the same time there were several areas that kept me feeling like my time there had been a failure, my departure was a failure, and that nothing I had done was really worth doing.

A couple of years of passive-aggressive criticisms from members back there through social media didn’t change my perspective. Instead, it intensified. It was one of those overly introspective moments that I think we all need to approach: when there are competing views about whether or not what I have done is right, how do I determine it?

Now, some of you dwell on a spiritual level that I don’t approach, and you’re able to be settled in your own conscience without any outside input. That’s not me on my best days. The last few years, I haven’t been at my best. So, I’ve been praying and seeking some clarity from the Lord about whether or not I followed Him well in those years.

Then the same social media that had chipped away at my confidence brought a stunning visual image that pointed me to what good God was doing through me in my time there. It was a picture of a tree in a front yard. A peach tree.

Laden with fruit. As in, enough to make peach ice cream for the town and still save enough peaches for a good cobbler this fall. (Which, rightly consumed, will be covered in another ice cream. Notice a common theme here?) Why would the peach tree make such an impact?

Simply put: it’s my peach tree. After we had been in that parsonage for a year, we planted peach trees in the front yard. One year they nearly died. One year we got about a half-dozen peaches off of them. One snapped in a windstorm and I carefully nursed it back together. In the process, I learned a lot about grafting and tree healing.

In short, that fruit was partially my fruit. True, the new resident of that parsonage has had to do some work to keep the trees going. And he’s had to have the good sense not to cut the trees down. But the fruit in his front yard is the result of a work started several years before he moved in. And he gets to enjoy it almost immediately.

At which point, the Lord God hit me over the head with a stick. Or, perhaps, slapped me with the flat side of a two-edged sword. How?

1: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God granted the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, CSB) and…

2: “What does it matter? Only that in every way….Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18, CSB).

I was reminded that my responsibility is to be faithful to God, love His people, and obey His word. Through doing this, I helped set the possibility of a harvest later. Of good fruit, later. And to realize that I have no right to bitterness that someone else sees the joy of that fruit, because it’s not my fruit any more than it’s really his fruit.

It’s all Jesus’ fruit.

Now, why share this here instead of on my own corner of the Internet? To point out a couple of things that I hope end up encouraging you:

  1. Some of you in ministry wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Whether your ministry is to be the “super-duper-special pastor” or your ministry is serving the poor under the bridge, guess what? Obedience to Jesus and love for the ones He loves define success. Not special stats or even plaques from the high-and-mighty. (Keep in mind, there’s barely more than a jot between a plaque and a plague.) Put down roots. Water, bind up the broken. It’s long work. It’s tiring work to prune and trim and rake away fallout when you see no fruit. But God is in charge of that.
  2. Even more important to keep in mind is this: you think your work is hard? You’re bearing this burden and that burden? You don’t deserve the criticism that you’ve received? Guess what? Most of us don’t, but more than that: the hard work was already done. You don’t even carry your own cross alone: Jesus took your sin, your debt to God, and paid for it. He substituted for you in the face of the wrath of God. That someone is angry with you for what someone else did pales in comparison.

Try to be encouraged: the fruit will come in due season, when the Lord of the Harvest brings it. And, from time-to-time, tune out the social media, hug your kids, and go pray with someone who needs a friend.

In Defense of Study Bibles: Why Dave Could Be Wrong

So, we have a good discussion going on about the pitfalls of Study Bibles over at this post. I did chime in on the pitfalls that I found, for me, when preaching out of a Study Bible. My first pastorate I had a tendency to chase rabbits, even in the pulpit, and given my restricted prep time as a bi-vocational pastor, there were weeks that my outline was so skeletal that He-Man would have taken pity on it. At times, I would preach out of my NASB Study Bible and see notes that I hadn’t caught before, and then go off on that tangent—then I learned better. Now, I transfer all the rabbits into my outline and chase them while preaching from a plain-text Bible.

Does that mean, though, that we ought to set aside the Study Bible? I would offer a counterpoint to the dangers that were highlighted in the first post.

First of all, we need to acknowledge that not every one has access to top-level hermeneutics courses. Unfortunately, too much of our time in church is spent on program promotion, fundraising, and internal strife rather than equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. And that equipping should be more than just the end results of pastors, teachers, and authors doing the Biblical study. Every church should be training Christians to read and understand the Bible for themselves–even if that means congregants reach different conclusions from church leaders. It won’t hurt you to have an amillennialist, a Calvinist, or a dispensationalist in your pews even if you aren’t one.

Since we haven’t done a great job with this, really and truly we have left our fellow Christians with two options: rely on preachers, teachers, and authors to do the hard work or drift through Scripture and hopefully hit on something.

Now, at this point, a word of note about the work of the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit can and does illuminate Scripture and you can grow as a follower of Christ with your Bible, the Holy Spirt, and precious little else. However, the isolated Christian is an anomaly in the New Testament and we should note that a fair bit of the material in the New Testament itself was written in correction of people’s misunderstanding of what God had already said (cf. Paul’s rebuke of Judaizers and James’ rebuke of idle, dead ‘faith’). God works not only directly but through the one-anothers of the Body of Christ.

So, what does this have to do with Study Bibles? While we must acknowledge that the authors of study notes are just as likely to make mistakes as pastors in pulpits and teachers in Sunday School classes, there is value in having the observations of men and women who have diligently studied and examined the text of Scripture fresh and at hand. There are many who God has enabled to dedicate a lifetime of study in His Word, and we would be poorer for neglecting that gift.

Therefore, I would suggest that not only are Study Bibles helpful, but they should be recognized as useful tools for those who are working to understand the Bible themselves. The strengthening of a person’s understanding of Scripture benefits if they are gathering information and being challenged by more than just one or two sources–a Sunday sermon and a Tuesday night fill-in-the-blank discipleship course will help some but being able to, day-in, day-out, see extra insight into the Word of God is invaluable. And the stronger the individual believers are in the Word of God, the better off the church will be.

Now, this is not to say that some Study Bibles are better than others–and that some are really just awful and should never have been made. I have several on the shelf right behind me, and a few more here and there in the study at church. I recommend the Bibles by reputable scholars that provide textual insights above most others–the newer Zondervan NIV Study Bible (edited by D.A. Carson) is a good one, though I’d love to see it with the NASB or CSB. The ESV Study Bible is another good one, and I liked my old HCSB Study Bible. I haven’t seen the new CSB one (yet). There’s an older NASB Study Bible which I loved, and I’m enjoying the full-color Faithlife Study Bible and NLT Study Bible.

There are also some specialty ones, like the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible and the Archaeological Study Bible that, really, should have just been one-volume commentaries. The information is useful but not primary in most of these. As to “bad” Study Bibles, none come to mind at the moment, but I know they exist.

So, without being too blunt, it’s possible that Dave is wrong and we should all dust off our Study Bibles and read a few extra insights from others alongside what we can find ourselves.