Category Archives: America

Don’t Be a Fool: Character Does Matter!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Daily reading assignment – 2 Kings 11-15

My first memory of a public debate over the importance of a man’s character in public office dates to 1992 when President Bill Clinton was first running for President of the United States.  Twenty-five years later, I am still stunned the obvious would be a matter of debate.

The moral values rooted in the heart of a man define his character and drive his disciplines in thought and deed.  Character is the compass that charts a man’s course in conduct and life and a leader’s character profoundly affects his sphere of influence. A man’s character will either bless or curse his home, marriage, ministry, business and public office.

The opening verses of 2 Kings 11 are illustrative of the matter of character and indicative of the depths of depravity a soul will descend when driven by a covetous heart set upon power, position and possessions.   Athaliah, a murderous wench and the mother of Ahaziah king of Judah, seeing her son was dead, (2 Kings 8:25-26; 9:27), directed the murder of her grandchildren so she might succeed her son to the throne of Judah (2 Kings 11:1).

In spite of his grandmother’s murderous rampage, Joash, the infant son of king Ahaziah was spared when his aunt hid he and his nurse in her house for six years (2 Kings 11:2-3).   In the seventh year of queen Athaliah’s reign, Jehoiada, a commander of Judah’s army revealed a son of the late king Ahaziah had survived the slaughter of the king’s sons (11:4-11).   Swearing allegiance to Joash, the military leaders crowned him king of Judah (11:12) and executed queen Athaliah  (11:13-16; 2 Chronicles 23:12-15).

Following the death of Athaliah, the nation of Judah enjoyed a season of spiritual revival (2 Kings 11:17-21).   Jehoiada, the high priest, renewed the nation’s covenant with the LORD “that they should be the LORD’S people” (11:17) and directed the destruction of the altars of Baal (11:18).   Although only seven years old (11:21); Jehoash (i.e. Joash), was profoundly influenced by the high priest and “all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was in quiet” (11:20).

The revival in Judah was far reaching and “Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him” (2 Kings 12:2).   The king directed renovation of the Temple that had fallen into disrepair; however, when Jehoiada died, the king neglected the Temple and apostasy once again took root in Judah (2 Chronicles 24:15-22).

Sadly, the life of Jehoash ends tragically in 2 Kings 12:17-21.   Without his godly mentor, Jehoash evidenced shallowness in both his faith and character.   When the king of Syria threatened Judah, rather than look to the LORD, Jehoash bribed the heathen king of Syria by giving him the tithes and offerings in the Temple treasuries.   Soon after, two servants assassinated Jehoash.

Does a man (or woman’s) character matter? I will allow the Word of God to answer that question.

Proverbs 29:2 – When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

God’s Call to Holiness

Monday, July 17, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 16-18

After addressing the issue of leprosy (Leviticus 13-14), the opening verse of Leviticus 16 reminds us of a tragedy that occurred in the priesthood when two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, “offered strange [foreign] fire before the LORD, which He commanded [charged] them not” (Leviticus 10:1) and were slain for their sin against the LORD (Leviticus 10:2).

Reminding us the office of high priest was a holy office and Aaron’s ministry before the LORD on behalf of the people was a sacred duty; the LORD instructs Moses the high priest was only to enter the holy place, the “holy of holies”, once a year (16:2) on “the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month” (16:29).   The Day of Atonement, known as “Yom Kippur” and the “Sabbath of Sabbaths”, is the most holy day on the Jewish calendar and was the day the high priest offered sacrifices for nation’s sins against God.

The pattern of blood sacrifices was necessary to remind all sinners the penalty of sin is death and there is no forgiveness of sins apart from the shedding of blood, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).

Once a year and every year, the high priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the people.  Under the new covenant, this annual ritual is no longer needed following Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for sin, His burial and resurrection from the dead. We read in the Book of Hebrews,

Hebrews 9:24-28 – “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
25  Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
26  For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
27  And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28  So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

Leviticus 17 continues the LORD’s instructions to Moses concerning sacrifices the priests were to offer for the people before the door of the tabernacle.   Thirteen times in chapter 17 the centrality of blood sacrifices for sin is mentioned and explicit instructions are given regarding the offerings to the LORD, including the prohibition regarding the consumption of blood (17:10-14).   For those curious regarding the meaning of “Kosher” meats; they are meats derived from animals slaughtered and the blood drained according to Biblical guidelines.

Morality and the sanctity of marriage is the subject of Leviticus 18:1-30 and one that should be a subject of teaching in the 21st century church.   Several moral issues are addressed including the prohibition of incest (18:6-19), adultery (18:20; Exodus 20:14), homosexuality (18:22), and bestiality (18:23).

The wicked immoral practices the people might remember from Egypt and the immorality that might observe in the new land were prohibited.  In other words, the world was not to be the standard of God’s people in conduct and lifestyle.  Israel was to not follow in the ways of Egypt and Canaan (Leviticus 18:3; 24-29).  The LORD commanded His people, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God” (18:4).  Excommunication from fellowship and living among the people was the judgment against any who chose to walk contrary to the law and commandments (18:29).

Friend, there was a time the church and God’s people set the moral standard for these United States and defined a godly lifestyle according God’s Word, law and commandments.   It troubles me to observe the average Christian home in America has an appetite for the world and looks to society, politicians, judges, and liberal media for their moral judgments.  Our homes, churches and schools will not be blessed until we allow our consciences to be disciplined by God’s Word, law and commandments (18:30).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Warning: God is Jealous for His People!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ezekiel 25-30

The historical context of today’s reading finds both Israel and Judah in captivity after God’s people rebelled and turned away from His law and commandments.   Having rejected the warnings of His prophets, the LORD judged those nations as He promised; however, He never forsook them.  Ezekiel 25 reminds us God is jealous for His people.

After destroying Jerusalem and the Temple, Nebuchadnezzar’s army took the people of Judah captive to Babylon.   Witnessing the calamity of God’s people, the heathen nations rejoiced in their sorrows and sufferings.  The LORD, however, took no pleasure in judging Judah and despised the heathen’s joy in the sorrows of His people.

Through His prophet Ezekiel, God warned the Ammonites (25:1-7), Moabites (25:8-11), Edomites (25:12-14) and Philistines that His judgment of Judah should serve notice of His wrath against the nations that found pleasure in the sufferings and sorrows of Israel and Judah (25:15-17).

Ezekiel 26-30 continues the prophet’s warning to the nations that their pleasure in the sufferings and sorrows of Israel would be rewarded with their own judgment.  Tyrus, the sea capital of Phoenicia would fall to Babylon (26:1-21; 27:1-36; 28:1-19).  Zidon, a city north of Tyrus, would also suffer the calamity and destruction that was the fate of Tyrus and neighboring nations who reveled in the destruction of Jerusalem (28:20-24).   Ezekiel 28 ends with the blessed promise God would gather His people from Babylonian exile and restore them to their land (28:25-26; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1).

Egypt too would be judged for her sins against Israel and her treasures would be the reward of Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 29:1-16) as Babylon served God’s purpose for bringing judgment against that nation (29:17-21) and her neighbors (30:1-26).

There is a lesson in today’s reading that nations of the 21st century would be wise to heed:

There are grave consequences for those people and nations that take joy in the sorrows and sufferings of the Jews and Christians.

The atrocities committed against the Jews in the Second World War and the virtual annihilation of those nations that perpetrated them (Nazi Germany and fascist Italy) stands as a testimony that God loves His own, even when His people turn from Him.

Many reading this brief devotional are unaware those nations and people occupied by the Soviet Union and overwhelmed by Communist oppression in the years that followed World War II were guilty of crimes against the Jews on a scale that is unfathomable.   Eastern European nations that fell into the Soviet bloc of nations and suffered under communism were themselves guilty of murderous acts against the Jews and suffered their own sorrows until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

I close with illustrative verses of God’s love for Israel and a warning for all who harm His people.

Zechariah 1:14 – “…Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.”

Zechariah 2:8 – “…he that toucheth you [Israel] toucheth the apple [pupil] of His eye[meaning the eye of the LORD].

Zechariah 8:2 – “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.”

Warning: Mistreat God’s people and take pleasure in their sorrows and you will inevitably suffer the same, for God is a jealous God.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

“Idle Hands Are The Devil’s Workshop”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Proverbs 10

The following study is taken in part from my devotional commentary post on the Book of Proverbs dated December 10, 2014.

Today’s study in proverbs features what I will call three “stand alone proverbs” – three proverbial statements of “Uncommon Common Sense” communicating three distinct observations.

Proverbs 10:15  “The rich man’s wealth [property; possessions; savings] is his strong city [a fortified city]: the destruction [ruin; dismay; terror] of the poor [needy; helpless] is their poverty.”

“You didn’t build that!”, was an adage employed by liberal politicians in the 2012 election cycle in the United States.   Hoping to stir up class envy, the statement taunted the successful while dismissing the sacrifices and risks taken by employers and business owners.  I accept the statement if the intent is to acknowledge divine providence; however, an ideology that taunts hardworking entrepreneurs, spawns an expansive welfare state, inevitably makes citizens debtors and slaves of big government.   How tragic!   While excoriating the successful, the poor are left weak, dependent and one crisis from destitution!

Proverbs 10:15 is a statement of fact—a rich man finds comfort and security in his wealth.   In the same way citizens of a medieval city found refuge behind the walls of a city, a rich man finds security in riches providentially provided to him by God.   By contrast, the working poor are often a crisis away from desperation (an incentive to be a “saver” and not a “spender” or “debtor”).

Proverbs 10:16 – “The labour  [wages; reward] of the righteous [just; law-abiding] tendeth to life [strength; satisfaction]: the fruit [result; reaping] of the wicked [ungodly; guilty] to sin [punishment; i.e. leads to greater sin].”

Though the curse of sin left man laboring for food by the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:19),  the reward of an honest day’s labor brings its own satisfaction.   I am not sure who to credit with the quote, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”; however, there is a lot of truth in that statement.   The prevalence of depression in our society is, I believe, directly related to the gross amount of leisure time we enjoy as a society.  Too few of us come to the end of a day and enjoy the reward of having accomplished anything that is lasting!

Proverbs 10:17 – “He is in the way [path] of life that keepeth [heeds] instruction: but he that refuseth reproof [refuses to hear and heed correction] erreth.”

Solomon continues a common theme in verse 17—God blesses a man who heeds correction and rebuke; however, a rebel will inevitably follow a path to his own destruction.

As Solomon challenged his son to take the path of righteousness, it is the duty and responsibility of parents and spiritual leaders to challenge men and women with the same enduring truths from God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2)!

Two questions to ponder: What path are you taking?  Is your heart open to correction? 

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Warning: God is the Final Judge and Justice Will Prevail!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalm 81-83

We continue in our reading and study of the Book of the Psalms each Wednesday and today our assignment is Psalms 81, 82 and 83.   Of course, these psalms are hymns of praise Israel would sing as they worshipped the LORD in His Temple.

Psalm 81 calls the people together to worship, reminding them of the LORD’s love and providential care for Israel.  The occasion is a Jewish holiday (81:3); however, the exact holiday is not stated.   I believe it might have been the Passover since the psalm makes reference to Israel’s sojourn in Egypt (81:5-6) and the nation’s journey out of Egypt and in the wilderness (81:7-10).

Psalm 82 focuses on the failure of judges  to exercise righteous judgments in the affairs and disputes arising among the people.   The psalmist reminds the judges and others in positions of leadership, God is the final judge (82:1); “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?” (82:2).

Reminding us nothing has changed concerning the hearts of sinners, the leaders and judges in Israel were apparently accepting bribes and granting favors to the wicked, at the sacrifice of the good and well-being of the “poor, fatherless, and needy” (82:3-4).   The psalmist admonishes the judges; “do justice to the afflicted and needy… rid them out of the hand of the wicked” (82:3b, 4b).

Psalm 82:5 reminds us when the balances of justice are weighed in favor of the wicked, darkness prevails (82:5a) and the principles of truth and righteousness are “out of course” (82:5b).

On a personal note: Though founded upon spiritual principles that are foundationally Biblical, it is my observation America’s judicial system is skewed by unjust politicians, lawyers and judges who too often rule in favor of the wicked.   Sadly, justice is for sale to the highest bidder in some courts and the poor, needy, and middle class suffer injustices.

Psalm 82:6 reminds those who judge (and I believe this is applicable not only in civil courts, but also when judgment is required of the church in matters of discipline) they are to weigh judicial matters of law and justice as God’s earthly representatives (“…all of you are children of the most High” – 82:6).

Let all who are in authority and bear the trust of God and the people in civil, academic and spiritual matters be reminded God is the final judge and all will be held accountable for their sphere of influence and judgments (82:7-8).

Romans 14:11-12 – For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

An imbalanced emphasis on “Grace” and “Liberty” has encouraged a culture of carnality and produced lawless believers.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ezekiel 19-24

Dear “From the Heart of a Shepherd” readers,

Today’s devotional reading is Ezekiel 19-24. I may have opportunity to post a devotional commentary before this day passes; however, in the absence of one I encourage you to read my past posts on the Book of Ezekiel as an introduction to today’s scripture reading.

On a personal note, I am preparing to preach both Hillsdale’s 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM worship services this Sunday and need to devote my thoughts and energies to preparation.  I am continuing my series on “Lessons of Faith from the Life of Abraham” in Hillsdale’s 6:00 PM services; however, I am beginning an entirely new series in Hillsdale’s 10:30 AM services.

The topic of my new Sunday morning series is “The Commandments of the LORD”.   The impetus for the series is a brief command, the third part of the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:20– Teaching [i.e. to learn; instruct] them to observe [hold; keep; preserve; watch; guard] all things [everything; all manner] whatsoever [all; as many as] I have commanded [charged; give commandment] you…”

Two questions have haunted me for the past two weeks.  The first, What “all things” were the disciples to teach (Matthew 28:20)?   The second, What had the LORD commanded His disciples that they were to be “teaching” believers in “all nations” to “observe” (Matthew 28:19)?

The answer to those questions is essential to the mission of the church and the individual responsibility we share as members of the body of Christ.  I have heard hundreds of messages on Matthew 28:19-20 and referred to them myself hundreds of times; however, I cannot recall anyone systematically addressing the commandments the LORD’s disciples were to teach others to observe (Matthew 28:20).

I propose an imbalanced emphasis on “Grace” and “Liberty” in Bible fundamental churches has encouraged a culture of carnality and produced lawless believers.  It is my observation the carnal condition of today’s fundamental churches, Bible colleges, Universities, and Christian institutions is directly related to the failure of pastors, preachers, evangelists and Bible teachers to do exactly what the LORD commanded: Teach the commandments of the LORD and teach believers to “observe” them (Matthew 28:20a).

Thus, I have begun an in depth study of the commandments of the LORD and am compiling what the disciples were to teach believers to observe, keep and guard.  Some will attack me and my premise that we are failing to fulfill the Great Commission if we are not teaching our churches the commandments of the LORD, exhorting and admonishing believers to observe them.

I answer that criticism with the words of our LORD:  “If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Two Things God Hates: A Covetous Heart and Lying Lips

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Daily reading assignment – 2 Kings 1-5

Today’s scripture reading contains stories that have enriched the hearts, lives and imagination of children in Sunday School for centuries.  The book of 2 Kings picks up where 1 Kings finished with no introduction.  The old prophet Elijah is in the last days of his earthly ministry and his protégé Elisha is prepared to take up the “mantle” of Elijah, literally and figuratively (2 Kings 2:13).

Due to the length of today’s reading, I will content myself with a few highlights.  Ahaziah, king of Israel, became deathly ill after falling through the lattice-work of his upper chamber.  Wondering if he would recover from his fall, the wicked king sent servants to enquire of the pagan god Baalzebub (2 Kings 1:2).  God, however, intervened and sent Elijah to send word to the king that his decision to enquire of Baalzebub would result in his death (1:3-4).  The king’s messengers described Elijah as the bearer of the news concerning the king’s death (1:5-8).

Three occasions the king sent a captain and fifty soldiers demanding Elijah come to the king.  The first two times the captain and the soldiers arrogantly demanded the prophet come to the king, and each time the captain and soldiers were slain (1:9-12).  The third captain and his soldiers humbled themselves before God’s prophet and requested their lives be spared (1:13-14).

2 Kings 2 records the momentous occasion God sent a fiery chariot to take Elijah to heaven.  Elijah promised Elisha he would receive a double portion of the old prophets spirit if he saw him taken up (2:9-11).  A “double portion” was that amount of inheritance that would be allotted to a firstborn son.  In that sense, it was Elisha’s longing that he would be the inheritor of Elijah’s ministry, and indeed he was!

God promotes the ministry of Elisha as God’s prophet before three kings in 2 Kings 3.  The king of Israel, Judah, and Edom all learned God had a prophet in the land and that prophet was Elisha.

Elisha performed four miracles in 2 Kings 4.  The first, multiplying a widow’s oil to pay her debts and save her sons from becoming bond slaves (4:1-7).  The second miracle, blessing a childless, elderly woman and her husband with a son as a reward for serving as Elisha’s benefactors (4:8-17).  The third miracle was raising that same elderly couples’ son from the dead (4:18-37).  The fourth miracle was turning a poison pottage into one that nourished the “sons of the prophets” (4:38-44).

I close with Elisha directing the healing of a leper named “Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria” (2 Kings 5:1).   The description of Naaman’s character aids us in understanding why his welfare was so important to his king.  We read, he “was a great man [noble; but perhaps great is size as well] with his master, and honourable [exalted; respected]…a mighty [heroic; valiant; champion] man in valour [virtuous; strong], but he was a leper” (5:1).

Every man has his flaws and challenges; however, for Naaman his was an illness…leprosy.  There was no cure for leprosy and a leper would eventually face exclusion from the living as the disease slowly took hold on the face, limbs and extremities of the body.

Providentially for Naaman, a slave girl from Israel waited upon his wife and shared with her there was a great prophet in Samaria who could heal her husband (5:2-3).  When the king of Syria heard there was hope for Naaman’s healing in Israel, he sent a letter with Naaman and gifts requesting his captain would be healed of leprosy (5:4-6).  Knowing the request was impossible for him to fulfill, the king of Israel “rent his clothes” fearing the king of Syria was provoking a conflict with Israel (5:7).  At his request, the king sent Naaman to Elisha (5:8).

Naaman, feeling slighted by Elisha’s refusal to greet him and perhaps expecting some great, ceremonial act of healing, was instead directed by Elisha’s servant to wash himself in the Jordan River seven times (5:9-10).  The thought of the great warrior of Syria humbling himself to wash in Israel’s small river infuriated Naaman who at first refused (5:11-12).  Fortunately, his servants prevailed upon him and persuaded him to obey the prophet.  When Naaman came forth from the Jordan “his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (5:13-14).

Following his healing, Naaman offered to reward Elisha for his service; however, the prophet refused his gifts (5:15-16).  Naaman responded to the prophet and his miraculous healing with a moving statement of his faith that his sacrifices would forever be only unto the LORD, Jehovah, the Self-existent, Eternal God of Israel (5:17-18).

Reminding us a spirit of covetous (Exodus 20:17) might take root in the hearts of those who serve the LORD, “Gehazi, the servant of Elisah” set his heart on a portion of the reward Naaman offered to Elisha (5:20-22).

With a greeting of shalom, “Is all well?” (5:21) and Gehazi responding with shalom, “All is well” (5:22), Gehazi lied suggesting Elisha had sent him for a portion of the reward.  When Naaman granted his request, Gehazi hid the gifts (5:23-24) and took his place before Elisha (5:25).

When Elisha asked Gehazi where he had gone, he lied (5:25); whereupon, Elisha cursed his covetous heart and his unfaithful servant was smitten with the leprosy that had plagued Naaman (5:26-27).  Leprosy marked the end of his ministry to Elisha and became Gehazi’s lifelong reminder God hates covetousness and lying lips.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith