Category Archives: America

The Church, Her Spiritual Leaders and Their Failures

On a personal note: By God’s grace I recently celebrated four decades of ministry and have been blessed to serve on the pastoral staff of Hillsdale Baptist Church for thirty-four years.  The following article is written from my perspective as a pastor and graduate of a Christian University that historically made no apology for its Bible fundamental, separatist stance.

For two decades I have pondered the waning of conservative, independent, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges in our nation.  While I pray for a spiritual awakening in America, I see little hope when our own families and ministries are following the spiritual erosion of our culture. Indeed, should we who identify as Bible-believers continue our flirtation with sin, I fear Bible-preaching is at risk of being silenced within a generation.

Having experienced social media vilification in the past, I fear my perspective will offend some and is not shared lightly or with a desire to offend. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my concerns, not as a provocation, but as an exposé of what I believe is the primary factor contributing to the failure of historic, conservative Bible-Christianity in America.

Across our nation, a millennial consortium of progressive preachers is assuming the pulpits of conservative, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges.  Preaching a message of grace without a call to personal sanctification and holiness, they have spawned a pseudo-piety and tolerance of sin and carnality the generation before them decried.  

A brief history lesson on conservative, fundamental Bible Christianity

From the 1950’s to the closing years of the 20thcentury, Bible-fundamentalism inspired a Gospel awakening (not so much a spiritual revival) in America.  Veterans of World War II returned to America with an evangelistic zeal giving rise to conservative, fundamental Christian Colleges whose student bodies experienced phenomenal growth until the late 1990’s.

Tens of thousands of young men enrolled in Bible colleges and became pastors across America and missionaries around the world.  That generation inspired the School Bus Ministry movement in the 1960’s and began the Christian School movement in the 1970’s continuing through the 1990’s.  The birth of the Home School movement in the 1990’s revived the prospect of a generation of youth who might surrender their lives to the LORD and dedicate themselves to serve as pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

The 21st century; however, has proved disastrous for conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches and institutions.

Failing churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries dot the American landscape.  Spiritual apathy has taken hold on our homes, churches, and schools.  Aging congregations, falling church attendance, and a precipitous decline in young men going into ministry now threaten the future of conservative Biblical Christianity.

While there are many explanations for the spiritual erosion we are witnessing in our Bible-believing churches and institutions, I will limit myself to a few.  The first, cultural wars within and without our homes. Some will argue the church has failed to adapt to cultural changes.  Others will argue, in an attempt to be relevant, the church lost its identity and has become irrelevant.  The disparity between what the Bible teaches and what our homes, churches, and institutions practice is another reason for the diminishing of our churches. We are hearers of the Word, but are we doers?  Christian educators fault the churches for pervasive spiritual apathy in the students, while pastors accuse those same institutions of accommodating carnality at the sacrifice of spiritual zeal.

Believing everything rises and falls on leadership, I conclude the responsibility for the spiritual failings of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and universities, and seminaries rests with the spiritual leaders of this, my generation. 

My peers have served as the spiritual leaders of our institutions for more than two decades.  Unlike any generation before, my generation has faced and grappled with an unprecedented intrusion of technology.  While the pastors of my youth sounded the alarm regarding the secular influences of radio, television, movies, and rock music; the ministers of my generation pastor congregations that, with a few clicks of a mouse, surf the internet and introduce to their families every imaginable influence… doctrinally, culturally, and socially.

Cable television, internet, social media, and cell phones are seducing the hearts of our children and empowering the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology.  While Christian parents prove either ambivalent or ill-prepared for the seduction of “worldliness”, their spiritual leaders are encountering a radical cultural shift and failing to address the intrusion of sin in their own homes and ministries.

Facing a spirit of rebellion in their homes, churches, and Christian schools, the spiritual leaders of my generation, in an attempt to parley peace with their own youth, have accommodated their sins. The consequence is an extra-biblical liberty that embraces the sins of the world, its pleasures, and inevitable consequences (1 John 2:15-17).

Warning: Spiritual leaders who accommodate the sins of their children will invariably compromise the core values of the ministries entrusted to their care.

To understand why Bible-believing churches, Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries are forsaking spiritual disciplines, one need only to look to the pulpits and the leaders who occupy them. My generation has failed to call the church to sanctification and holiness because we have succumbed to a paralysis induced by our own spiritual failings.

Almost without exception, the failure of churches and the compromise and eventual closure of Christian institutions in my sphere have one thing in common… leaders who sacrificed their spiritual integrity to accommodate the sins of their children.

Consider Paul’s admonition to Titus.  Having declared the virtues and spiritual qualifications of the leaders of the church (Titus 1:6-9), including “blameless”, the principal, indispensable qualification of the pastor that includes his role as the “husband of one wife” and “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6), Paul warns:

“For there are many unruly [disobedient; rebellious] and vain talkers [empty, useless talk] and deceivers [impostors; seducers]…whose mouths must be stopped [silenced; bridled], who subvert [overturn; destroy] whole houses [families], teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake [dishonest gain]…Wherefore rebuke [reprove; convict] them sharply [cut off; severely].” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13)

Principle – Leaders deficient in the spiritual qualifications of their office will invariably lack the spiritual power and authority “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” [opposed to Truth and sound doctrine](Titus 1:9)

I close this introductory article on spiritual leaders and their failings, urging you to take away three lessons from the failed example of my generation:  

1) Technology will seduce the hearts of your children and empower the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology; 2) Accommodate the sins of your children and you will invariably sacrifice your core values;   3) Compromise your convictions and you will lack the spiritual power and authority to exhort and rebuke those who oppose sound Biblical truths.

1 John 2:15-17– 15  Love not the world, neither the things that arein the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him
16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 
17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

* For future posts by the author, you are invited to subscribe to http://www.HeartofAShepherd.com.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

You Can’t Take It With You! (Leviticus 25)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 25-26, Psalm 42, and Mark 14. Our devotional is from Leviticus 25.

Leviticus 25 instructs the children of Israel in matters concerning the land the LORD promised would be a perpetual inheritance for Abraham’s lineage (Genesis 12:1; 13:14-15; 17:8).  Two occasions are discussed in this chapter, the seventh year Sabbath and the fiftieth year of “Jubilee” (25:2 -4, 8-13).

The “Sabbath year” occurred every seven years and was, as its name implies, a year of ceasing from labor for the farmers and their lands.  The people were instructed to labor in their fields for six years, but on the seventh year they were not to sow seed, prune their vineyards, or harvest any fruits or vegetables that “groweth of its own accord” (25:3-7).

Seven “Sabbath years” were to pass (numbering forty-nine years) and the fiftieth year would be to the people a year of “Jubilee” (25:8-13).  The year of Jubilee was an additional Sabbath, meaning the lands and vineyards were idle for two years, the forty-ninth and fiftieth years (25:11) [although some scholars argue the “Jubilee” was actually the 49th year].   The year of Jubilee was also a year of celebration and restoration. Families who, due to poverty, sold their plots of land had them restored to their original owners (25:23-28).

The year of Jubilee was also a year of liberty for those who, because of poverty, had become indentured servants (25:39-43).  The children of Israel were not to enslave their brethren, but treat them as hired servants; however, all indentured servants were set at liberty and restored to their families in the year of Jubilee.

The Sabbath years and years of Jubilee are foreign concepts to us in our 21st century economy; however, there are some principles in Leviticus 25 we should not pass by lightly.

The Sabbath year (25:2) was more than a year of rest from labor in the fields; it was also an acknowledgement that blessings and prosperity come from the LORD.  The Sabbath year served as an opportunity for the people to reflect on the goodness and provision of the LORD (25:20-22).

Reminding us we are temporal owners of the things we possess, the LORD instructed the people, “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23).  While we do not follow the pattern of Sabbath years or the year of Jubilee, the principle found in Leviticus 25:23 is nonetheless true!

Whether you live in a mansion or a shanty, count your millions or your pennies; you are at best a temporal owner of your possessions.   Estate sales and auctions are perpetual reminders…You cannot take it with you!  After all, you will go to your grave and others will eventually claim your possessions.  As someone has observed, you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer to the cemetery.

Matthew 6:20-21 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:21  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

* A fitting reminder given this devotional is my 2,000th blog post to www.HeartofAShepherd.com.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

A Lesson in Biblical Morality (Leviticus 17-18)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 17-18, Psalm 40, and Mark 12. Our devotional is from Leviticus 17-18.

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.  The centrality of blood sacrifices for sin is mentioned 13 times in chapter 17 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 I deem 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 remembered from Egypt and the immorality they might observe in the new land were prohibited.   In other words, the world was not Israel’s standard in conduct or lifestyle.  The people were not to 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 from 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 set the moral standards for these United States and God’s Word, HIs Law, and Commandments defined the lifestyles of His people. It is troubling to see 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.

God will not bless our homes, churches, and schools until we return to the LORD and His Word becomes our guide and standard (18:30). 

Psalm 119:9-11 – 9Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

In the words of Dwight L. Moody, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Is a “Strange Fire” in Your Place of Worship? (Leviticus 10:1-7)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 9-10, Psalm 36, and Mark 8. Our Bible devotional is from Leviticus 9-10.

Our study in Leviticus continues with the ordination and consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood.  While Moses offered sacrifices to the LORD, Aaron and his sons remained at the Tabernacle for seven days (8:31-36) and on the eighth day began ministering before the LORD offering sacrifices on behalf of the nation (Leviticus 9:1-24).

What a glorious day for Israel when “the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people” (Leviticus 9:23) and “there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (9:24).

One would hope the visible display of God’s favor would induce a perpetual spirit of humility and obedience; however, such was not the case.  Tragedy soon befell the tribes of Israel when “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron…offered strange [foreign] fire before the LORD, which He commanded [charged] them not” (Leviticus 10:1).

We are not told why the eldest sons of Aaron offered strange fire; however, I suppose the privilege of the priesthood incited pride.  Whatever the motive, the LORD was swift to judge and “there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD” (10:2).

No doubt the sinful actions of his sons and their deaths devastated Aaron and Moses reminded him how the LORD sanctified the priesthood (Exodus 19:22) and demanded He alone be glorified before the people.  Of Aaron we read, he “held his peace” (10:3), meaning he was silent.

To add a greater solemnity to the tragedy, the LORD commanded the bodies of Nadab and Abihu be taken outside the camp of Israel for burial (10:4-5) while Aaron and his younger sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, remained at the “door of the tabernacle” (10:7).  Lest the people be tempted to sorrow and grieve over the deaths of those who sinned against the LORD, Moses warned Aaron and his sons to not make a public display of their grief (10:6-7).

I close today’s devotional wondering if there is a “strange fire” (10:1-7) in your place of worship. 

 “I lost my church sitting in the pew”, has become a familiar refrain from saints longing for the days when, in the words of evangelist Dr. Ron Comfort, “Preaching was king and music was queen”.  With rare exception (in fact, I cannot think of an exception), those saints point to a subtle change in music as the commencement of their churches drift from its historical conservative, Biblical roots.

I believe the “strange fire” of our day is music and pastors of my generation and the one following have failed God and His church.  We have given “worship leaders” a prominence in our ministries akin to the pastoral office, but failed to require of them Biblical virtues and spiritual discernment requisite of elders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

Our failure has permitted a flood of music from ministries whose doctrine we would never tolerate in our fellowships and associations, let alone in our pulpits!  We allowed an integration of music from those movements, albeit repurposed and arranged to make it palatable to churches and institutions historically fundamental, but the slow creep of carnality and the erosion of spiritual values has followed.

“Strange fire?”

Do you remember when the “new music” was introduced to your church?  Do you remember the sensitivity in your spirit that something was not right?  Do you remember being told, either verbally or tacitly, “You’re being an old fuddy duddy!” and the church needs to adapt for the sake of the youth?

I have come to realize music is and has been the catalyst for a drift in the culture and doctrine of our families, churches, Bible colleges and seminaries.  (I highly recommend a new book on the subject of worship music by Evangelist Ben Everson titled “Fusses, Fights, and Funerals”).  Like Nadab and Abihu, we are offering “strange fire” from religious movements foreign to the historical character of our fundamental churches and institutions.  Unlike the swift judgment of fire experienced by Israel (Leviticus 10:2), I fear our compromise in music and preoccupation with the taste of the masses has resulted in God removing His power from our pulpits and blessings from our ministries.

“Be Holy!”

God commands His people to be holy, because He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  We are to be imitators of Christ and not imitators of the world (1 Peter 1:14; Romans 12:2).  If what we call worship finds its origin in religious movements that look, sound, and mimic the world, it is not holy.

Like Israel bewailing “the burning which the Lord has kindled” (Leviticus 10:6), I fear there are many who too late, mourn the decline of our fundamental churches and the erosion of institutions that once sang with passion, “Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry”.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Tragedy When Children Are Left to Themselves (Psalm 36)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 9-10, Psalm 36, and Mark 8. Our Bible devotional is from Psalm 36.

A rising tide of lawlessness, violence and moral depravity is afflicting our society.  Fatherless homes, perpetual generations of welfare mothers and grandmothers, and children left to their own wicked devices (Proverbs 29:15) has become a scourge for our nation.

The writer of Hebrews employs the term “bastard” to describe those who profess to be believers, but whose lives continue in a pattern of sin contrary to the Word of God, showing no evidence of the chastening hand of God.  Drawing a parallel with a loving father who chastens his children to bend their will to a path of obedience and righteous living (Hebrews 12:7), the author of Hebrews states: “if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons”(Hebrews 12:8).

In other words, in the same manner a loving father bears the responsibility of teaching and chastening his children, a professing believer who continues in sin without chastening is a “bastard” and not a spiritual child of God.

Consider David’s description of the wicked in his day and how it parallels the youth of our day.  David writes,

Psalm 36:1 – “The transgression [sin; trespass; rebellion] of the wicked [immoral; lawbreakers] saith [declares] within my [his] heart, that there is no fear [dread] of God before his eyes [sight; note Romans 3:18 ].”

The sins of the wicked prove they have no fear of God.  Like the fool of Psalm 14:1, they say in their ways, “There is no God(Psalm 14:1).  Their ways are “corrupt” and their works an abomination before a holy God.

Psalm 36:2  – “For he [the wicked] flattereth [favors] himself in his own eyes [opinion; sight; note Romans 3:18], until his iniquity [sin; punishment; guilt] be found [i.e. found out] to be hateful [detest; despised].”

The wicked convince themselves their sin is not bad.

If ever there has been a generation that has an inflated sense of self-worth it is this generation.  People are full of themselves and social media has afforded them a platform to boast over sins an earlier generation would have blushed.  Rather than discipline, the parents of this generation fawn over their youth and fail to address the flaws in their character.  

They are blind to the truth that every sin bears consequences.  In the words of one of my heroes of the faith, “Every dissipation of youth must be paid for with a draft on old age” (Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.).

Psalm 36:3 – “The words of his mouth are iniquity [sin; wickedness] and deceit [fraud; treachery]: he hath left off [failed; lacked] to be wise [act wisely], and to do good [well; be pleasing].”

The wicked place no value on civility, nor speak with discretion. They have no interest in godly wisdom or righteousness.

Psalm 36:4  – “He [wicked] deviseth [imagine; fabricate; plot] mischief [sin; wickedness] upon his bed; he setteth [stand; presents; places] himself in a way [road; path; course of life] that is not good [best; right]; he abhorreth [spurns; despises] not evil [sin; wickedness].”

Finally, we note the wicked are slaves and sin is their master. Their waking thoughts plot all manner of evil. They purpose to do evil because it is their nature.

Believer, don’t allow the ways of darkness and the amusements of the wicked beguile you.  Turn to the LORD and remember,

Psalm 36:9 – 9 For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.

Have a blessed day!

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Strange Fire: The Music of the 21st Century Church (Leviticus 9-10)

I am working on a devotional thought from Leviticus 9-10 that I plan to publish next Tuesday.  In my meditations I am pondering:

What is the “strange fire” of the 21st century church? (Leviticus 10:1)

What has the substance of worship, but lacks the hallowed holiness God requires?

I have come to the conclusion:

Pastors of my generation have failed God and His church:

We failed to demand pastoral virtues (1 Timothy 3:1-7) in worship leaders and have tolerated music that is a “strange fire” to discerning believers (Philippians 4:8).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Hipster, Skinny-jean Worship Leaders are the Trend, But Who is Their God? (Exodus 37-40)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 39-40, Psalm 33, and Mark 5. Our Bible devotional is from Exodus 37-40.

Because the Tabernacle was a constant reminder of the LORD’s presence in the midst of His people, He gave precise details of its design and furnishings; including the construction and exact dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant that represented God’s heavenly throne on earth (37:1-9; note – Psalm 80:1; 99:1).

The Ark would be transported by means of “staves” (i.e. rods) overlaid with gold (37:3-5).  Gold overlaid the entirety of the Ark, including the “mercy seat” upon which two cherubim faced with their wings outstretched toward one another (37:7-9), reflecting the purity and holiness of God’s throne of judgment.

Exodus 37:10-28 itemizes other furnishings employed in the tabernacle including a table overlaid with gold, and dishes, bowls, spoons, an elaborate candlestick and “altar of incense” (37:25-29), all of pure gold.

Exodus 38:1-20 gives the design of an “altar of burnt offering” and the vessels of brass used in offering sacrifices (38:1-8).  The outer court of the Tabernacle, including its construction, curtains, and rings on which they were to hang is given in exacting detail (38:9-20).  The enormous sacrifice of the people reflected in the vast amount of gold, silver and brass they gave for the furnishings of the Tabernacle is recorded (38:24-26).

The stunning colors of the “holy garments” worn by the high priest is described (39:1-2) as well as the breastplate embedded with twelve precious jewels, each engraved with the names of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (39:8-14).  The bindings of the breastplate worn by the high priest is given as well as other articles of clothing worn by him (39:15-31).  Fastened to a turban worn by the high priest was a plate of gold engraved with the words, “Holiness to the LORD” (39:30-31).

Moses directed the construction of the Tabernacle, the forging of its implements, and the dedication of the high priest, his sons and the garments worn by them (Exodus 40).  Insuring all was done “as the LORD had commanded” (39:43), Moses dedicated the work (40:33) and the outward manifestation of God’s approval was “a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (40:34)!

I close drawing your attention to the phrase, “as the LORD commanded Moses”.  That phrase, repeated thirteen times in Exodus 39 and 40, reminds us that worship was not treated in some loosey-goosey, half-hearted manner. There was a preciseness in the preparations of the place of worship and the order and conduct of the spiritual leaders was to reflect God’s holy character.

Compare that to what most American churches call worship today where the bold declaration of God’s Word has decayed into an entertainment venue of strobe lights,  deafening music and tight-jeaned, tattooed spiritual leaders who are more concerned with reflecting the carnal culture of the masses than the holy character of the God they portend to serve!

Let’s remember what God requires of His servants!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which isin you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith