PRAYER: God’s Prescription for Troubles

Wednesday, December 12, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 143-145

King David is the author of the three psalms assigned for today’s scripture reading, Psalms 143, 144, and 145.  Psalm 143 is a penitential, sorrowful psalm; Psalm 144 and Psalm 145 are psalms of worship and praise.  Although not the last of the psalms, Psalm 145 is the last of the psalms attributed to King David.

For the sake of brevity, my focus for this devotional commentary is Psalm 143.

We have seen a pattern and practice of prayer throughout David’s life.  When assailed by enemies, he prayed (Psalm 13:2; 61:3).  When trials came and troubles threatened to overwhelm him, he prayed (Psalm 120:1).  When faced with the scourge of his own sinfulness, David called upon the Lord, confident God would hear and answer his penitent prayer (Psalm 51).

Psalm 143 continues David’s habit of prayer.  Psalm 143:1-6, he prays for God’s grace in judgment (143:2) and, remembering the LORD’s works in the past (143:5), he asks Him to quench the thirst in his soul for the LORD’s presence (143:6).

Notice the personal, intimate petition of David’s prayer.  The king prayed to the LORD, “Hear me (143:7)…Deliver me (143:9)…Teach me…Lead me (143:10)…Quicken me (143:11)”.

I am not sure what “trouble” David was in when he prayed, “bring my soul out of trouble” (143:11); however, he knew the only place he could go to have his soul delivered from sorrows was to the LORD (143:11b).

Perhaps you are where David was spiritually and emotionally when he prayed, “Quicken me” (143:11).  Too many believers fail to follow David’s example when they are troubled.  The word “Quicken” was an entreaty for the LORD to encourage, revive and restore his joy.

Friend, don’t allow your troubles to mount up and you become so overwhelm you resort to counselors, doctors, psychologists, prescription drugs, vices, and amusements… turn to the LORD, claim His promises, and pray, “Hear me (143:7)…Deliver me (143:9)…Teach me…Lead me (143:10)…Quicken me (143:11)”; after all, the LORD is jealous for His servants (143:12).

I close with promises that were David’s meditations in his final psalm (Psalm 145:18-21).

Psalm 145:18-20 –18  The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.
19  He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
20  The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.”

What a great God we serve!

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Is Your Child a Pedigree or a Mutt?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 10-13

Our scripture reading in the book of Nehemiah comes to a close today focusing on chapters 10-13.

Nehemiah 10 gives us the names of eighty-four men, spiritual leaders, politicians, husbands and fathers, who made a solemn oath and put their names to a covenant they made with the LORD (10:1-29).  Having sealed their covenant with the LORD, they “separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God” (10:28).

Israel’s dedication to the LORD was absolute, affecting every area of their lives…their families (10:28-30), businesses (10:31; 13:15-21), and finances (13:32-39). 

Having built the Temple and completed the walls of the city, the next need was for some to commit themselves to rebuilding and repopulating the city of Jerusalem; after all, you cannot have a great city without a great population.  Jerusalem was a “holy city” (11:1), a city dedicated to the LORD and the citizens of that city were to live stricter lives than their fellow Jews who lived outside the city.  With much of the city still in ruins, Jerusalem was more a place of poverty than it was a place of privilege.

Three segments of Israel’s populace were required to repopulate the city:  1) The “rulers of the people” (11:1); 2) A tenth of Israel’s population that was drafted by casting lots (11:1); 3) And others who volunteered and “willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem” (11:2).

Nehemiah 11-12 presents us with a great list of men, some named and others known only by their deeds; men whose names Nehemiah inscribed in his book lest they be forgotten. Four hundred and sixty-eight described as “valiant men” (11:6).  Eight hundred and twenty-two men who ““…did the work of the house” of God using their talents and gifts for the LORD’s work (11:12).  There were men who “…had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God.” (11:16); some serving as counselors, teachers, and others the general ministries of the Temple. Others described simply as “porters” (11:19); describing the menial nature of their ministries as doorkeepers and janitors,  but all important and noted by the LORD!

Friend, don’t make light of the menial tasks some bear in their service for the LORD and His church.  “Valiant men” and “porters” had their role and ministry in the Temple and were necessary to fulfill God’s purpose that Jerusalem be restored to her glory as the “holy city” (11:1).

Nehemiah 12 gives a chronicle of priests and Levites (12:1-26) and the worship service when the walls of Jerusalem were dedicated (12:27-47).

Nehemiah 13 closes with a reminder the work of ministry and serving the LORD and His people is never finished.  Nehemiah’s task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was complete; however, he had no time to glory in his success!  Evidencing the character of a great servant of the LORD, Nehemiah began another phase of ministry…addressing and confronting the spiritual compromise already taking hold in Israel.

Consider four spiritual leadership qualities found in Nehemiah’s character in Nehemiah 13. 

The first leadership quality is courage; Nehemiah was a courageous leader (13:4-9).   As governor of Israel, Nehemiah traveled to Babylon to report to the king of Persia the state of affairs in Jerusalem; however, when he returned he found an “evil” allowed by the high priest Eliashib.

Nehemiah 13:7 – And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him [Tobiah] a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

Imagine finding Tobiah, an Ammonite and enemy who had opposed Nehemiah rebuilding the wall (Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 4:3) living in the Temple!  Nehemiah did not wait for a committee to make a decision or seek a diplomatic solution…He courageously confronted Tobiah, throwing him and his possessions into the street (13:8), and ordered the Temple rooms cleansed (13:9).

A second leadership quality is discernment (13:10-14).  Nehemiah writes,

 Neh. 13:10 – And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.

A good leader gets the facts and ask questions when he perceives a problem.  Nehemiah rebuked the leaders and the people (13:10-14) when he comprehended their failure to give tithes and offerings forced those employed in the Temple to labor in their fields to the neglect of their public ministries.

A third leadership quality is Nehemiah maintained spiritual priorities (13:15-22). Finding the Jews had secularized the Sabbath, treating it like any other day of the week (13:16), Nehemiah confronted the leaders and said, “What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?”

Nehemiah did not trifle with the matter of sin. He labeled their actions an “evil thing”, a profaning and defilement of the Sabbath, the LORD’s Day.

Finally, Nehemiah was a man of conviction and boldly confronted compromise (13:23-28).  The compromise of God’s people was so grave they had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with the heathen in the land.  Nehemiah observed,

Nehemiah 13:24 – And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ [Hebrew] language, but according to the language of each people.

Some of the Jews lost their children to the ways of the heathen; speaking a mixed language of “Ashdod” (the Philistine language) and Hebrew, Jewish youth had assimilated not only the sinful ways and customs of the ungodly, they had also adopted their language.  Being the candid spiritual leader he was, Nehemiah took their sinful compromise as a personal affront to himself and to God.  Nehemiah writes,

Nehemiah 13:25 – And I contended [treat with contempt] with them, and cursed [reviled] them, and smote [physically struck] certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

I fear there are few Nehemiah’s in Bible fundamental churches, Christian schools and Bible colleges.  We are in short supply of courageous men who are discerning, focused on spiritual priorities at the expense of personal sacrifice, and conviction who refuse to compromise with the ungodly.  Pulpits that once thundered with sermons calling a generation of youth to personal holiness and sanctification, now whimper with a message of accommodation that sacrifices and minimizes personal spiritual disciplines.

Nehemiah contended with the people for allowing the ungodly to influence and marry their sons and daughters (Nehemiah 13:25).

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but after 38 years of ministry, it has been my observation dog breeders of champion pedigrees give more attention to the selection of the dam (i.e. female) and sire (i.e. male) for breeding their dogs than many Christian parents give to the character of friends who eventually date and marry their sons and daughters.

What a tragedy!  No wonder the divorce rate in the church is as high as the world!  Nehemiah challenged the people, “we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons” (Nehemiah 10:30).  The tragedy is, many families failed to heed Nehemiah’s admonition and lost their children (13:25).  I am afraid the same is true of our homes, churches, and schools.

2 Corinthians 6:14 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Choices Always Have Consequences

Monday, December 11, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Deuteronomy 26-28

Our scripture reading is Deuteronomy 26-28 and continues Moses’ final challenge to Israel before his departure.  As noted in previous devotional commentary on the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is charging Israel with laws and spiritual principles that are to guide the people as they become a nation in their own land (Deuteronomy 26:1).

Moses reminds Israel when they come into the land God has promised, they are to give tithes of the fruit (or profit) of their labor.  Remembering the blessing of the harvest comes from the LORD (Dt. 26:1-11), the firstfruits offering was taken to the place of worship, given as a sacrifice and supported the priestly tribe of Levi and their households.

In the third year, a special tithe was given coinciding with tither’s confession he had honored the LORD’s commandments and obeyed them.  The tithe given in the third year was used locally to meet immediate needs in one’s own community and to support “the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled” (26:12-15).

Beginning with Deuteronomy 26:16 and continuing to Deuteronomy 31:13, Moses expounds to the nation the benefits of obeying the LORD and keeping His commandments.  With the promise God had chosen Israel “to be His peculiar people…and to make thee high above all nations…” (Dt. 26:16-19), Moses admonished the people to “be an holy people unto the LORD thy God” (Dt. 26:19b).

Lest the people forget all the LORD had done for them, the elders of Israel were to erect a memorial pillar of stones on the west side of the Jordan River serving as a reminder of LORD’s promises and commandments (Dt. 27:1-2).  An altar was to be built to sanctify the place and the laws and commandments were to be inscribed on the stones as a lasting testimony (27:2-10).

Reminding the people “Choices have Consequences”, the elders of the twelve tribes were charged to teach the people obedience to the Law brought the LORD’s blessing and disobedience His curse and judgments (27:14-26).

Moses pronounced a series of twelve curses should the people disobey the LORD and reject His Law and Commandments (Dt. 27:15-26).  The following sins invited God’s judgment:

1) Idolatry, a violation of the first and second commandments is cursed (27:15).

2) Dishonoring one’s parents is cursed (27:16), a violation of the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:12).

3) Stealing the property and possessions of another by deceit is cursed, a violation of the sixth commandment (27:17; Ex. 20:15).

4) Taking advantage of one infirmed or disabled is cursed (27:18).

5) The fifth curse is upon one who is unjust in how they treat “the stranger, fatherless, and widow” (27:19; Ex. 22:21-24).

The sixth through ninth curses address sexual purity, a violation of the  seventh commandment (27:20-23; Ex. 20:14).

6) Incest with one’s stepmother is cursed (27:20; Lev. 18:8-9, 17; 20:11).

7) Bestiality is cursed (27:21; Lev. 18:23).

8) Incest between siblings and parents is cursed (27:22).

9) Incest with one’s mother is cursed (27:23).

The fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13), is the subject of the tenth and eleventh curses (Dt. 27:24-25).

10) Intentional murder of one’s neighbor is cursed (Dt. 27:24).

11) Hiring an assassin to kill another is cursed (Dt. 27:25).

The twelfth and final curse is addressed to any child of Israel who failed God’s Law and Commandments (Dt .27:26).

Deuteronomy 27:26 – “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them…”

Deuteronomy 28 enumerates God’s blessings for the people and nation who obey His Laws and Commandments (Dt. 28:1-14).  The promise of God’s blessings on Israel if the people obeyed His Law and Commandments is stunning!  The nation had so much to aspire to, if only they obeyed the LORD.

If Israel “observe and to do all His commandments”, God promised He would “set thee on high above all nations of the earth” (28:1).  The blessings of the LORD are described as so great Israel would be overtaken by them (28:2)!  Every area of the nation’s life would be blessed… “in the city…in the field” (28:3).  Universal fruitfulness was promised to Israel…the womb of women, cattle, sheep and the fruit of the fields would reap a harvest of God’s blessings (28:4-6).

Israel’s enemies would fall before them and their storehouses and treasuries would overflow (28:7-14).  All this was promised to Israel, if the people obeyed the LORD’s Law and Commandments.

The balance of Deuteronomy 28 predicts the curses that would come upon Israel should the nation turn from the LORD and disobey His Law and Commandments (28:15-68).  In the same way God promised to bless the nation if the people obeyed Him, the opposite was true should they disobey Him.

If the nation continued in the LORD’s Law and Commandments, the LORD promised His blessings would overtake them (28:2); however, should they disobey the LORD they were assured “all curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (28:15).  The city, fields, storehouses, wombs of wives and livestock…all cursed (28:16-18).  The coming and going of the people…cursed (28:19)… “until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly” (28:20).  The promise of God’s judgment for disobeying His Laws and Commandments continues another forty-eight verses!

Sadly, Israel would turn from the LORD and all the curses noted in today’s scripture reading befell the nation!

Friend, it is not popular and few preachers have the courage to state it so, but “Choices Have Consequences” and no nation, people, or family should expect to disobey the LORD’s Law and Commandments and be blessed!

The message of the scriptures is one of redemption through the blood of Christ!  The Gospel is a message of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness…and there is nothing required of a sinner to be saved than believing Christ, the sinless Son of God died for their sins, was buried and raised from the dead victorious over sin and the grave. The apostle Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus,

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace [God’s unmerited favor] are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

However, “Choices Have Consequences” and ignoring that truth does not change it. 

 The pulpits of fundamental churches, schools and Bible colleges are filled with a generation of preachers failing to remind the saints while salvation is “by grace”, God’s blessings are conditional.  “Good works” is evidence of the genuineness and sincerity of our salvation.  Paul writes,

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we [believers] are his workmanship [product; result of God’s grace], created [made and renewed] in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them [i.e. our life in Christ is to be a testimony of good works].

I close with a reminder of the manner of people believers are to be:

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Scripture Reading for Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Scripture Reading – 2 John

Dear Hillsdale family and Heart of a Shepherd followers,

Today’s scripture reading is the Second Epistle of John.  For those following our “Read-Thru the Bible” plan for 2017, we are 21 days from completing this spiritual discipline together!  Well done!  I will not post a devotional commentary this Sunday so that my time and meditations can be dedicated to preparing for Hillsdale’s 10:30 AM worship service.

You are invited to join us for tonight’s 6:00 PM service when Hillsdale will be presenting and broadcasting a live performance of “Home for Christmas”.  The play is written by our own Mrs. Cindy Herlocker and directed by Dr. Melissa Cancel.  Mr. Travis Henry is directing the music as Hillsdale’s children’s choir joins the adult choir for a heart moving performance of “Home for Christmas”.  Admission is free.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Christmas Series at Hillsdale – “Five Portraits of God’s Grace”

Dear Hillsdale family, friends and Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

My Christmas Series this year, taken from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, is titled, “Five  Portraits of God’s Grace”, based on the five mothers named by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus.

The story of Christ’s birth is essentially the story of Redemption: God’s love for sinners, expressed in sending His Only begotten Son Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, who lived a perfect, sinless life, was crucified for our sins, and raised from the dead on the third day.  The five women named in Christ’s lineage remind us of God’s grace extended to sinners.

My focus in the 10:30 AM service this Sunday, December 10 is on Rahab the harlot (Matthew 1:5), the second object of God’s grace named by Matthew.  I look forward to sharing how God in His grace moved on the heart of the harlot of Jericho and, hearing how God blessed and preserved Israel, came to believe Israel’s God was “God in heaven above, and in earth beneath”  (Joshua 2:11).

God was at work in Rahab’s heart, drawing her to saving faith.  Because she believed in the LORD, she tied a scarlet cord about her window as a sign of her faith, trusting God to save her and her family. We read,

Joshua 6:25 – And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

By God’s grace through her faith, God saved the harlot Rahab from death and she came to live in the midst of Israel (Joshua 6:25), married Salmon, a man of the royal tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5), and is wondrously named as a mother of the lineage of Jesus Christ.

My friend, Rahab came to be named among Israel in the same way all sinners are saved…God’s grace through faith!

Romans 4:5 – “But to him that worketh not [knowing no works of the law save], but believeth on Him [Jesus Christ] that justifieth the ungodly, his faith [in Christ’s blood] is counted for righteousness [justified and forgiven].”

I trust you will join us this Sunday as we continue our study of “Five Portraits of God’s Grace”.

Don’t forget, Hillsdale’s Fine Arts Ministries will present this Sunday night, 6:00 PM, “Home for Christmas”.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Are You Passionate and Faithful to Your Calling?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Acts 21-22

You might remember our last devotional commentary in the Book of Acts concluded with addressing Paul’s determination to return to Jerusalem for the Passover (Acts 20:17-38).  Knowing the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin were determined to arrest and put Paul to death, believers along the way did all they could to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem.  Paul’s journey to Jerusalem continues in today’s scripture reading (Acts 21-22).

Paul arrived in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-14).  Because there is more than one Caesarea in the scriptures, this one on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea is known as “Caesarea by the Sea”.  A beautiful, picturesque location northwest of Jerusalem, in the first century, “Caesarea by the Sea” served Roman governors of Judea as a retreat from the capital city.  Saved by the sands of the desert, the ruins of the Roman fortress, a beautifully preserved amphitheater, and Roman aqueduct are visible today.

It is at “Caesarea by the Sea” that Paul renews his fellowship with Philip.  Philip, formerly a deacon in the church of Jerusalem, was one of seven men chosen to assist the apostles in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-6; 21:8).  Our last knowledge of Philip was when the Lord commanded him to leave Jerusalem and go into the desert near Gaza where he met an Ethiopian eunuch of “Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure” (Acts 8:26).

This Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte of Judaism, was reading the prophecies of Isaiah when Philip came upon him (Acts 8:26-30).  Asking the man if he understood what he was reading, Philip began to share the meaning of Isaiah’s’ Messianic prophecies of a suffering Messiah, and declared they were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:30-35).

Desiring to be baptized and identified with Jesus Christ as his Savior, the eunuch declared, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:36-37), and Philip baptized him (Acts 8:38).

It is that same Philip with whom Paul renews his fellowship as he makes his journey to Jerusalem for the last time.  Philip, rather than return to Jerusalem and continue serving as one of its deacons, had made his way to Caesarea where we find him aptly titled, “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8).  True to his testimony in Jerusalem as one of seven men “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), Philip raised a godly family in Caesarea of whom four daughters are described as “virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:8).

We could focus on many things in today’s scripture reading (Acts 21-22); however, I limit myself to one.

Philip was a young man faithfully serving the LORD in the Jerusalem church when we first meet him in Acts 6.  He was distinguished as “one of the seven”, the first men chosen to assist the apostle in ministering to the church (Acts 21:8).

When the LORD called Philip to be an evangelist in Acts 8, he obeyed the LORD’s command.  What a joy that twenty years later he continues in the same and is known as “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8)!

Christian friend, what title or designation would your family, friends, and peers give you?

When acquaintances hear your name, what adjective or attribute comes to mind?  What would they say compels or drives you? What is your passion?   What is your calling?  Are you today, plying the trade, the ministry, the vocation to which God called you?

It is with growing sorrow I realize there are few who, like Philip and Paul, continue in their calling and vocation. There are few who accept Paul’s challenge to Timothy and follow the apostle’s example:

2 Timothy 4:5-7 – But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
6  For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Scripture Reading for Friday, December 8, 2017

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Followers and Hillsdale Family,

Today’s Scripture reading is Revelation 1-6.  I hope to post a devotional commentary later today; however, for now I encourage you to continue our “Read-Thru the Bible” schedule in the absence of my commentary.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith