Category Archives: Christian Contemporary Music

Bob Jones University: A Reflection from the “Back Pew” and Lessons Learned from the Front Pew

From the author:

This article is a brief departure from my daily devotional commentaries; however, it is a necessary one to sound a warning knell to some of my readers. I am not publishing this piece to stir up controversy or heap sorrow upon sorrow. Yet, I dare not be silent when my beloved alma mater has come to what may be the final crossroads that I have long warned was inevitable.

Recent and shameful events at Bob Jones University (BJU), my alma mater, have brought to mind an article I penned in June 2015 on the eve of the closure of Clearwater Christian College (CCC). Therefore, I am republishing a brief revision of that article, not to heap sorrow upon the alumni of CCC but to serve as a reminder to Bob Jones University and other fundamental Bible colleges:  

Forget your fundamental legacy, and reject your base, and you guarantee your demise.

(The following was penned in June 2015 and has been edited for this post.)

Although I am not an alumnus of Clearwater Christian College (CCC), my heart was heavy on June 6, 2015, after it was announced that the college would close its doors at the end of that month. CCC’s closing followed in the wake of several former conservative fundamental Christian institutions [Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University – to name a few examples].  I have a distant knowledge of the changes in administration and philosophy that drove those institutions to extinction; however, as a pastor in Tampa Bay for 38 years, I had the sorrow of watching the demise of Clearwater Christian College from the proverbial “front pew.”

CCC was a small, nondenominational liberal arts Bible College founded by Dr. Arthur Steele (1920-2011), who was a successful businessman, an officer in the Corps of Engineers in World War II, a seminary graduate, professor, and college president before he had a vision for a fundamental Bible college on the West Coast of Florida. In his mid-70s, Dr. Steele set his heart on finding a man who would assume the helm of his small college of 200 students and steer her into a new era while maintaining the college’s unique nondenominational, biblically fundamental stripe.

Dr. Steele found his successor in Washington, DC [Dr. George Youstra and his wife Pat were part of the Reagan administration from 1981-1987].  Dr. Youstra (a graduate of Bob Jones University and former faculty and administrator at BJU) resigned as the special assistant to the secretary of education on January 2, 1987, and assumed the presidency of CCC. Under Dr. Youstra’s leadership, the college enjoyed 15 years of consecutive growth. At its peak, the student body numbered nearly 700, necessitating renovations to existing buildings and the construction of new dorms and classrooms.

Like his predecessor, Dr. Youstra exhibited a kind, gracious, self-sacrificing spirit reflected in the administration, faculty, and student body. Under his leadership, CCC became a prominent educational Christian institution and earned respect and admiration of fundamental pastors, churches, and families [the church I pastor had as many as 17 students enrolled at one point during Dr. Youstra’s tenure. In addition, Hillsdale enjoyed the ministries of several faculty and students over the years].

CCC reflected a fundamental biblical worldview in its philosophy and practice.  Serving as a board member for a few years, I witnessed firsthand Dr. Youstra’s leadership and his ready response to the pastors’ concerns. In the summer of 2002, he transitioned to president emeritus and was a part-time professor of graduate studies while his wife Pat continued as a professor until her retirement.

Lessons learned: “From the front pew,” it became my sorrow to observe CCC’s decline.

As CCC strayed from its legacy as a fundamental Bible institution, it did so at the sacrifice of the support and following of pastors and churches. Many would cite factors that contributed to the doors of the college closing. Some will mention economics, a dwindling number of conservative churches, low student enrollment, and competition from other Bible colleges. Although all of the above undoubtedly contributed to CCC’s demise, I suggest the death knell of the institution was its leadership steering the college from its founder’s purpose, philosophy, and vision.

Rather than an institution dedicated to educating, challenging, and equipping young people to be “soldiers of Christ,” CCC evolved to a pragmatic philosophy of accommodation. Void of institutional integrity, the college leadership strayed from its founding principles, lowered its standards, and adopted and adapted CCM music in its chapels and athletic events.

I continue to sorrow eight years later because the beautiful campus by the Bay is no longer there.

A Current Application to Bob Jones University

I have observed “from the back pew,” a repetition of the same failures at Bob Jones University that initiated the demise of CCC and other Bible fundamental colleges. Unfortunately, led by the current president of the university and his administrators, the same compromised ideologies (and many of the same personalities) that drove those institutions to their demise are perpetuating the same at BJU. They have rejected the university’s fundamental Bible legacy and voided the disciplines that shaped and instilled Christian character in generations of graduates.

A Message from the “Back Pew”

I speak for scores of conservative, Bible-fundamental pastors and thousands of graduates who long to see BJU survive and thrive. We long to see the fire of an unapologetic passion for Truth thundering from the pulpit rather than the catering to carnality that has characterized the past two decades. We long to see BJU’s board demonstrate integrity, confess that the school has strayed from its separatist legacy, and return the university to its founding principles. But, finally, we cannot support the school if its leadership continues to reject and is ashamed of BJU’s unapologetic, Bible-fundamental heritage as a separatist institution. Warning:

Forget your fundamental legacy, and reject your base, and you guarantee your demise.

With the heavy heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith
Senior Pastor
Alumnus of Bob Jones University

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

* You can subscribe to the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone). You may also email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com

The Internal Revenue Service recognizes Heart of A Shepherd Inc as a 501c3 public charitable organization.

Mailing Address:
Heart of A Shepherd Inc
7853 Gunn Hwy
#131
Tampa, FL 33626-1611

You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Is There Any HOPE? (1 John 3; 1 John 4)

Click on this link for translations of today’s devotion.

Scripture reading – 1 John 3; 1 John 4

We continue our devotional study of the Epistles of John, and come today to 1 John 3 and 4. John was writing to believers near the end of the 1st century, and who found themselves living in a world becoming increasingly hostile to them and the Gospel. After admonishing believers to “love not the world” (1 John 2:15-17), the apostle warned that there were “many antichrists” in the world and tragically, within the congregations (1 John 2:18-23).

Who were the antichrists? Some professed to be believers and were intolerant of sound doctrine (1 John 2:19). Others were false teachers (1 John 2:22-23), who purposed to seduce believers and lead them astray from the truth (1 John 2:26). John assured believers, if they would abide [literally sin not] in Christ, and were sensitive to the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, they would discern truth from error (2:27-28). The focus of our devotion will be 1 John 3:1-3.

1 John 3

Recalling chapter and verse numbers were not in John’s original manuscript (these being added by editors), John’s letter continued in chapter 3 with a wonderful, affectionate reminder: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not” (3:1).

A Message of HOPE (3:1-3)

Believers are not only the object of God the Father’s love (3:1), we are “the sons of God” (3:1a), and therefore strangers in the world. Knowing the world rejected Christ, and “knew Him not” (3:1b), we who are “the sons of God” do not look to the world for our identity or affirmation. As we heed God’s Word, and yield to His will (Romans 12:1-2), we grow spiritually and are changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Believers who look in anticipation for the coming of Christ, will find “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (3:2).

In fact, the believer’s HOPE motivates him to be ever purifying his soul of sin, that we might be pure and holy, “even as He is pure” (3:3).

What is HOPE?

Hope, in my opinion, is something you might have and do not appreciate, until it is lost. For instance, it is easy to define “hopeless.” Despair, despondent, dejected, downhearted, downcast, depressed are all terms that describe a state of hopelessness. HOPE, however, is a challenge to define. Words like anticipation, aspiration, and expectation might capture some of the essence of HOPE; however, they fall short in accurately defining it. Generally, the world considers HOPE to be little more than wishful thinking. Interestingly, the ancient world had many gods (gods of war, love, light, fertility, healing, death, beauty, and agriculture); however, to my knowledge no civilization worshiped a “god of hope.”

The God of Hope

HOPE occurs 143 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Twenty-six times in the Psalms, the LORD and His Word are referred to as the believer’s object of HOPE. We are to “Hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:24), “Hope in [His] mercy” (Psalm 33:18), and “Hope in [His] judgments,” because the LORD is just (Psalm 119:43).

The prophet Jeremiah identified God as the believer’s object of HOPE, writing, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is” (Jeremiah 17:7). HOPE was also a frequent theme of the apostle Paul, who in his letter to believers in Corinth, wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Believer, our God is the God of HOPE!

The Believer’s HOPE

The world defines hope as probabilities and wishful thinking; however, the believer’s HOPE is a confident expectation in God’s faithfulness and His ability to keep all He has promised. In other words, the LORD and His promises are the object of the believer’s HOPE.

Two Dimensions of Biblical HOPE: Faith and Action.

HOPE was one of three virtues Paul employed when he defined the essence of a believer’s character: “And now abideth faith, HOPE, [and] charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In his letter to believers in Rome, Paul prayed, “Now the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in HOPE” (Romans 15:13a).

Application – Biblical HOPE is an active expectation the LORD will fulfill all He has promised. HOPE accepts circumstances and challenges as from the hand of the Lord (Romans 8:28). HOPE believes God, and makes the best of one’s circumstances. HOPE trusts, and obeys the LORD even when all seems hopeless.

Closing thoughts –An Old Testament example of Biblical HOPE is identified in the lives of four young Jewish men. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among the first Jews taken captive to Babylon (Daniel 1). Their last memories of family, the city of Jerusalem, and their homeland were of a fallen, defeated people. Humanly speaking, all hope was lost. Yet, how did they respond to their circumstances? Did they follow their brethren, embrace the culture of the world, and bow their wills to the commands and idols of a pagan king? No!

Those four young men followed Daniel’s example, who “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). They determined to keep God’s covenant, and obey His Law and Commandments, and HOPE in the LORD.

Biblical HOPE aspires to a pure life, even as the LORD is pure and holy. (1 John 3:3)

Have you any HOPE?

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization.
Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625.
You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Gnosticism and Four Proofs of Genuine Faith and Salvation (1 John 1; 1 John 2)

Click on this link for translations of today’s devotion.

Scripture reading – 1 John 1; 1 John 2

Today’s Scripture reading is 1 John 2, but I am taking liberty to review 1 John 1 and give some background to this wonderful letter to believers of the latter years of the 1st century. Lord willing, we will consider 1 John 2 in the future.

Introduction

Scholars suppose The First Epistle of John was written near the close of the first century between A.D. 85-90. The apostle John was an elderly man, and in the last years of his remarkable life. While he failed to identify himself by name, the beauty and style of the writing is similar to the Gospel of John. John’s name also does not appear in his Gospel either; however, he references himself on several occasions as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20). The same pattern holds true in the  Epistles of 2 John and 3 John. In addition, the historical details presented in the introductory verses were written by a disciple who had intimate knowledge of our Lord.

An Eyewitness Account of the Person and Earthly Life of Christ (1:1-4)

Consider the following eyewitness account regarding the historical evidences of Christ’s incarnation: “That which was from the beginning [Eternal God], which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1:1; John 1:1-3, 14)

Many reading John’s letter were the children and grandchildren of believers who had been contemporaries of the apostles. With assertive, apostolic authority, John was writing to second and third generation believers. Imagine being part of that generation, and receiving a letter from John giving his eyewitness account of Christ’s sufferings, crucifixion, death, and resurrection! (1:1-4)

The Existence and Nature of Sin (1:5-6)

By the time of this letter, persecution was an ever-present threat, and several apostles were martyred. Adding to the danger was the presence of false teachers in the congregations. The doctrine of Gnosticism (a blend of paganism, Greek philosophy, Judaism, and “Christianity”), had created doubt among some. Heretics were spreading that doctrine, boasting spiritual enlightenment, and proposing a progressive, amoral view of what some call today, “Christian liberty.”

Purveyors of Gnosticism suggested sin was no longer an issue, and taught believers were free of any concern for God’s Law and Commandments. Adding to their heresies was a rejection of Christ as the pre-incarnate Son of God made flesh, and His virgin birth, bodily crucifixion, and resurrection from the dead.

If you are reading today’s devotion and doubt your salvation, or wonder, “Is it possible for a man to know he is saved?” The answer is yes, and John stated four conditions that authenticate the sincerity of a man’s salvation and profession of Christ as Savior.

Four Conditions Test the Authenticity of One’s Salvation (1:7-9)

The first condition of authentic salvation is a sincere believer will not continue in sin. Of the Gnostics, John warned, “God is light [altogether righteous], and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him [Christ], and walk in darkness [continue in sin], we lie, and do not the truth” (1:5-6). In other words, a person is a liar, if he claims to be a believer and follower of Christ, and continues in sin.

Another test involves fellowship with other believers. We understand that sin inhibits our fellowship with other believers. John wrote, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1:7a). Fellowship with God and fellowship with others are dependent on our commitment to “walk in the light” of God’s truth.

A third test of one’s sincerity is an understanding that, sin deceives, and if tolerated, will snatch away the truth. Again, John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8).

Lastly, true believers accept only by confessing sins are we forgiven, cleansed, and “walk in the light” (1:9). So, we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9)

Closing thoughts (1:10) – Though under a different name, and perhaps more sophisticated than it was in the 1stcentury, Gnosticism has been revived. Today’s Gnostics are more subtle in their denials, but what they do not say with their lips, they demonstrate with their lies and lives. The Gnostics of the 21st century preach and follow a grace and liberty that denies the holiness of God. Regardless of what some profess, be forewarned: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1:10).

Warning – Unconfessed sin will blind you spiritually, and leave you in darkness.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Danger: Celebrity Preachers are the Curse of the Church (1 Corinthians 3; 1 Corinthians 4)

Click here to read translations of this devotional.

Scripture reading – 1 Corinthians 3; 1 Corinthians 4

Our study of Paul’s first epistle to Corinth continues with today’s Scripture reading, 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. Our devotional will be taken from 1 Corinthians 3.

We noticed in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 1, how Paul lovingly affirmed the congregation of believers in Corinth (1:1-10). Sadly, it was divisions and conflicts in the early church that prompted the letter, and became the primary focus of 1 Corinthians.

Remember, the first point of conflict Paul addressed was the factions that occurred as believers aligned themselves with dominant personalities of the early church. There were some who said, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1:11-12). To that point, Paul asked, “13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1:13) Paul picks up that same issue in 1 Corinthians 3.

1 Corinthians 3 – The Carnal Church

The opening verses of 1 Corinthians 3 are a wonderful reminder the Scriptures are timeless, and a sad reminder the sinfulness of man is the same from generation to generation. It may surprise you, but the sin that plagued the 1stcentury church is the sin that is the bane of the 21st century church—man-centered, rather than Christ-centered.

Passionate and honest, Paul was led by the Spirit to boldly identify the root cause of division and strife in the congregation –carnality (3:1-3).

What is carnality? It is an affection for the world rooted in the sinful flesh of man, and is constrained by sinful lust and passions. In other words, it is natural, and contrary to the Spirit of God and the likeness of Christ. Look at today’s church and you will observe a membership that professes to be followers of Christ, yet in reality evidences little desire for spiritual truth. Why? Paul diagnosed the problem in these words: I “could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk [Spiritual ABC’s], and not with meat [the appetite of mature believers]: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal” (3:1-3a).

The Manifestation of Carnality (3:3b-9)

How is carnality manifested in a congregation? Once again, Paul diagnosed the problem, writing, “there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions” (3:3). Before we rush on in our study, take a moment and reflect not only on your church, but on yourself, your family, and fellow-believers. Paul asked his readers, “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (3:3b). Might that be said of you?

Notice also how carnality was not only evidenced in the presence of conflict, but was manifested in polarizing around personalities. Paul continued, “4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (3:4)

A Spiritual Perspective for the Carnally-minded (3:5-9)

After addressing the root sin of believers (carnality), and the evidence of that sin in the congregation (turmoil that was provoked by following men, rather than Christ), Paul challenged the congregation to a spiritual perspective. The apostle asked, “5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” (3:5).

The spiritual perspective of those who are pastors is to remember they are ministers, servants whom the LORD appointed to their task. Though they are loved by their congregation, they are nevertheless servants, and each is gifted and called by the Lord to their task (1:5). Paul asserted, he had planted (the seed of the Gospel), and Apollos had followed him in Corinth and watered, “but God gave the increase” (3:6). Paul and Apollos had their callings (the former was an apostle, the latter a minister), but it is God that blesses and is the cause for spiritual growth.

A godly pastor will deflect praise to the Lord, for he will know he is nothing apart from God’s blessings (3:7). Indeed, the ministry of the church and growth of believers should be to the glory of the Lord. Those who minister ought to labor understanding that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (3:8). All who serve the Lord have their gifts, and place, and we would do well to remember “we are labourers together [fellow servants] with God: ye are God’s husbandry [garden; field], ye are God’s building” (3:9).

Closing thoughts – Let’s not make celebrities out of those who are nothing more than the servants of God. Pastors, evangelists, teachers, and missionaries have their place, and should be honored for their faithfulness. However, following a popular personality is detrimental to the spirit and unity of a congregation. To do so is carnal.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

What Does God Require? Cool or Holy Ministers? (Ezekiel 41; Ezekiel 42)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 41; Ezekiel 42

Our consideration of the new Temple of the Millennial Kingdom continues with a description of the outer and inner sanctuaries of the Temple (Ezekiel 41-42). Rather than belabor the dimensional details of the Temple (height, length, breadth), I will highlight the various aspects of the Temple grounds that includes the walls, doors, courtyards, buildings, and the Temple itself.

The Outer Sanctuary of the Millennial Temple (40:48-41:26)

The heavenly messenger led Ezekiel up the steps and through the portico of the Temple (40:48-49), and into the outer sanctuary (41:1-2) which measured 70 feet long and was 35 feet wide (41:2).

The Inner Sanctuary – “The Most Holy Place” (41:3-5)

The inner sanctuary was a perfect square that measured 35 feet by 35 feet. Unlike the Tabernacle and the earlier Temples (Solomon’s, and Zerubbabel’s built after the Babylonian captivity, and Herod’s Temple), the Millennial Temple did not have a veil that separated the inner sanctuary from the outer sanctuary.

Other Details of the Temple (41:6-26)

Ezekiel noticed there were side rooms of the Temple that stood three stories, with 30 rooms on each floor (41:6). Connecting the floors was a winding staircase that extended from the ground floor to the upper floors (41:7). The foundation of the Temple was elevated, and stood 10.5 feet high (41:8). There was a separate building at the west end of the Temple, but its use was not identified (41:12). The measurement of the Temple was 175 feet square (41:13-15).

The Décor of the Temple (41:16-21)

The walls, floor and ceiling of the Temple were covered with wood, as were the long, narrow windows (41:16-17). The walls of the Temple were of paneled wood (41:17), and were carved with an alternating pattern of cherubim and palm trees (41:18-20).

Before going further, let’s visit the subject of the missing veil. Beginning with the Tabernacle and continuing through the Temple era, a veil separated the outer court of the sanctuary from the innermost room of the Temple known as the Holy of Holies (also the “Holy Place” and the “Most Holy Place”). The veil represented a barrier of separation that was between sinful man and God who is holy. It served the purpose of preventing men from seeing or entering into the presence of God (Exodus 26:31-35). When Jesus Christ died on the Cross, the veil was torn from the top to the bottom, for His sacrifice removed the barrier between God and sinners (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45; Romans 5:1-2; Hebrews 10:19-23; 1 Peter 3:18).

The Furniture of the Temple (41:21-26)

The tabernacle and earlier Temples were furnished with the Ark of the Covenant and its Mercy Seat, upon which there were two cherubim that faced one another (all gold-plated, Exodus 25:10; 37:1-9). This was the place of God’s presence on earth. In the Temple of the Millennial Kingdom, only a wood altar (perhaps used for burning incense), 3.5 feet square, and standing 5.25 feet tall was found in the most holy place (41:22).  Double doors served as the panel between the outer and inner sanctuary (41:23-24).  Carved cherubim and palm trees decorated the panels of the doors, and the narrow windows were decorated with palm trees and wood overhangings (41:25-26).

Ezekiel 42 – Buildings for the Priests (note 40:44-46)

Located in the outer court of the Temple, and against the wall of the inner court, were buildings for priests. We are given the dimensions of the buildings (42:2-3), as well as the fact they stood three stories tall (42:3b). The upper floors of the buildings were narrower than the first, making room for walkways (42:4-6). A wall separated the priests’ building from the outer court (42:7-9). On the south side of the Temple was a second building for the priests, and its dimensions were identical to the first (42:10-12).

The Purpose of the Priests’ Buildings (42:13-14)

The buildings for the priests provided a place to prepare for their ministry in the Temple. They were described as “holy chambers” (42:13), for there the priests prepared to minister before the LORD. It was in the “holy chambers” that food offerings were stored, and to be eaten (42:13). This was also the place the priests were to change out of their priestly “garments wherein they minister; for they are holy; and shall put on other garments, and shall approach to those things which are for the people” (42:14). The priests were not to wear their priestly robes outside the Temple complex. Also, they were not to wear the clothes of their secular lives when ministering for the LORD in His holy Temple.

Closing thoughts (42:15-20) – Our study concludes with the angelic messenger leading Ezekiel out the east gate, where he measured the wall that surrounded the Temple area. It was perfectly squared, with the north, south, east, and west walls being 5,250 feet in length (42:15-20). The outer wall of the Temple complex provided a separation between the world, and God and His holy Temple.

The Holiness of God and the Doctrine of Separation – I suggest the overriding lesson from today’s study is the reminder God is Holy, and deserves and demands we be the same. Today’s churches advertise, “come as you are,” and even pastors have succumbed to being “cool” and wearing ripped jeans, and even shorts. While the clothes of the priests reminded everyone the LORD required holiness (Leviticus 20:7), it appears that preachers and believers of this generation are more interested in looking “cool” than they are in being holy.

1 Peter 1:15-16 – “15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“Woe to the Pastors” (Jeremiah 23; Jeremiah 24)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 23; Jeremiah 24

Jeremiah 23

After addressing the failures of the kings of Judah (Jeremiah 22), Jeremiah was tasked with confronting the failure of the pastors. In the broadest use, the “pastors” were both the religious and civic leaders of Jerusalem and Judah.

Jeremiah 23:1-2 – A Denouncement of Unfaithful Pastors

 “Woe be unto the pastors [shepherd; leader; religious and civic leaders] that destroy [lead astray] and scatter [drive away] the sheep of my pasture” (23:1; note, Ezekiel 34:1-10).

Like the shepherd whose work is to lead, protect, and feed his sheep, so is the calling of a “pastor” to lead His people to better places spiritually. Judah, however, had been plagued with derelict pastors (23:1). Rather than gathering and guiding the nation to the LORD, the pastors had destroyed, abused and scattered the people. The LORD admonished the pastors, “Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited [inspected; nurtured] them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord” (23:2).

Jeremiah 23:3-8 – The Messiah King and the Millennial Kingdom

Remembering His covenant with Israel, the LORD would not leave His people without hope. He had scattered Israel in His wrath, and determined the same would befall Judah, yet, He had not forgotten His promises. The LORD declared there would be a day when “the remnant of my flock” (Israel and Judah) would be gathered “out of all countries whither I have driven them” (23:3). In that day, the LORD promised to appoint spiritual “shepherds…which [would] feed [His people]: and they [would] fear no more…neither [would] they be lacking” (23:4).

Leaving no doubt who will be King in the Messianic Kingdom, we read, “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12).

Who was this “righteous branch” of David’s lineage? (23:5) Only one man could fulfill that prophecy, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten, virgin-born, Son of God (Isaiah 9:6-7; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-5:11).

Jeremiah 23:9-32 – False Prophets and Their Error

Jeremiah, realizing the judgment Judah would suffer, wrote, “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets” (23:9). False prophets had become the curse of Judah. In a searing indictment of their sins, Jeremiah identified the ungodly character of the false prophets and their effect on the people. Jeremiah prophesied, “The land is full of adulterers” (23:10) and prophet and priest were “profane” (godless, wicked, polluted, and corrupt, 23:11, 23:13).

The sins of Judah had become so egregious, the LORD likened them to “Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah” (23:14).  Gripped by their sins, and lacking spiritual discernment, the people believed the assurances of false prophets who said, “No evil shall come upon you” (23:17). The LORD declared, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (23:21).

Jeremiah 23:33-36 – Judah’s Contempt for the LORD’s Message and Messenger

Having embraced the lies of false priests and prophets, the people ridiculed Jeremiah. When Jeremiah was asked, “What is the burden of the LORD?” (23:33), he was instructed to say, the “burden of the LORD” was that He had forsaken them (23:33b).

Jeremiah 23 concluded with a stern warning against the false prophets, saying: “I will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and cast you out of my presence: 40  And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten” (23:39b-40).

Closing thought – The work of the pastor is a great calling, as is the privilege of teaching and preaching God’s Word. Yet, such a burden is not to be taken lightly. All who aspire to teach the Word of the LORD must remember they will face the greater judgment.

James 3:1 – “My brethren, be not many masters [teachers; instructors], knowing that we shall receive the greater [larger; greatest] condemnation [judgment; punishment; i.e. sentence].”

Jeremiah 24

Illustrating the imminent judgment of God, Jeremiah told a parable concerning “two baskets of figs” (24:1). The parable was spoken at the time Jeconiah, the second to the last king of Judah, was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (24:1). The two baskets of figs represented the people of Judah. One basket of figs was described as “good figs” that could be eaten, and the other “very evil, that cannot be eaten” (24:3).

Interpretation – The LORD promised the “good figs” would be carried away by Babylon, but would one day be restored to their land (24:4-7). The bad or “evil figs” represented king Zedekiah, and the officers of his court (24:8). Zedekiah was a wicked king, and the last king of Judah before Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were taken captive (24:9).

Closing thought –The “pastors” of Judah (the king, his officials, and religious leaders) had denied the LORD, and failed the people. Therefore, God had determined His judgment against Judah, and foretold He would scatter that nation among the “kingdoms of the earth” (24:9). God’s people would be afflicted, and the heathen would taunt and curse them (24:9b). Sword, famine, and pestilence would be their lot, until there were no more of the people left in the land (24:10).

The Jewish people have known the highest privilege as God’s chosen people; however, they have rejected the LORD, and their eyes are blind. Perhaps as none other, they have been hated as a people. Yet, the LORD has not forgotten His people and will one day all the earth will know, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” reigns in Israel (23:5-6).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

A Primer in Congregational Worship (Psalm 33; Psalm 36)

Scripture reading – Psalm 33; Psalm 36

Worship in the 21st century Church is far from the reverential worship you would have known and experienced had you worshiped the LORD in the courtyard of the Tabernacle or at the Temple in Solomon’s day. Like all of the psalms, Psalm 33 has the LORD as its central focus, and its theme is a contemplation of God’s majesty as Creator, Almighty, Jehovah, Eternal God. * Today’s devotional will be taken from Psalm 33. As in earlier devotions, I have taken liberty to amplify word meanings in brackets.

A Study in Congregational Worship (33:1-5)

Psalm 33:1 – “Rejoice [sing; shout for joy] in the LORD, O ye righteous [just; lawful; innocent; blameless]: for praise is comely [beautiful; suitable; fitting] for the upright [righteous; right].

Psalm 33:1 emphasizes the DUTY of believers (the righteous and the upright) to worship the LORD. Old Testament saints understood to be righteous in the sight of the LORD, required obedience to His laws and commandments in both spirit and practice. The righteous have both cause and duty to “Rejoice in the LORD” and praise Him (33:1).

Psalm 33:2-3Praise [give thanks] the LORD with harp [lyre]: sing [sing praise] unto him with the psaltery [lute] and an instrument of ten strings [ten string instrument]3 Sing unto him a new song; play [make music]skillfully [well; good; pleasing; beautiful] with a loud noise [shout; i.e. like the sound of a trumpet].

The Father also desires His people to worship Him out of a heart of DEVOTION. With both instrument and voice, the righteous are able to express their love and devotion in congregational music and song (33:2). The psalmist called upon the congregation to sing a “new song” (33:3a), and “play skillfully with a loud noise” (33:3b).

While “a loud noise” might be an apt description of some 21st century “praise music,” it falls short of the message portrayed by the psalmist. As an explanation: Often overlooked in the phrase is the word “skillfully,” meaning beautiful and well-pleasing; and something that cannot be achieved apart from years of disciplined practice. The “loud noise” implies the sound of wind instruments, such as a trumpet.

DECLARATION is another word that describes congregational worship. Believers are to declare in their music and song the majesty of the LORD who is worthy of praise and worship (33:4-5).

Psalm 33:4-54 For the word [spoken word; discourse] of the LORD is right [righteous; just]; and all his works [acts; deeds] are done in truth [faith; faithfulness]. 5 He [the LORD] loveth righteousness [justice] and judgment [right]: the earth [land] is full [filled; overflow] of the goodness [mercy; kindness] of the LORD.

God’s glory is also revealed in His Word and works. His Word is right, and His works are honest and true (33:4). He is holy, just, loving, faithful and good (33:4-5), and if we look, we can see the LORD’S loving and faithful hand in the world around us, and hopefully reflected in us.

An Affirmation of the Character of the LORD (33:5-19)

Remembering Psalm 33 is a song, notice the focus of the verses is upon the divine character and attributes of the LORD (33:5-19). The LORD is righteous (33:5a), good (33:5b), omnipotent (33:6-9), omniscient (33:10), and His counsel (Word) is eternal and immutable (33:11).

The LORD is vigilant, and He “looketh from heaven; He beholdeth all the sons of men” (33:13). He knows what lies within the hearts of men, and “He fashioneth their hearts alike; He considereth all their works” (33:15). The LORD is sovereign over all nations (33:16-17), and He is the protector and provider for them who fear and revere Him (33:18-19).

Three Benefits That Come to Those Who Worship the LORD (33:20-22)

Psalm 33 concludes with a doxology, that boasts of the LORD’s care for His children, and the benefits that come to them when they worship the LORD. When worship, and song focuses on the character of the LORD, believers who worship Him in Truth acquire three virtues: They learn patience, for they “waiteth for the LORD” (33:20). Their faith is increased, for they “have trusted in His holy name” (33:21). Finally, because they know the LORD is merciful, they are never without hope, for they “hope in [the LORD]” (33:22).

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Those Who Minister Before the LORD in Music (1 Chronicles 23-25)

Scripture Reading – 1 Chronicles 23-25

The opening verses of 1 Chronicles 23 remind us that David is an old man and is setting both his house and kingdom in order. David has reigned 40 years (1 Chronicles 26:31) and has “made Solomon his son king over Israel” (23:1).

Today’s Scripture reading registers the king’s charge to organize the Levite families who will lead the worship of the LORD.  I invite you to especially notice the prominence of music, musicians, and song in today’s Scripture reading.

1 Chronicles 23 – A Census of the Tribe of Levi

The census of Levi found there were 38,000 heads of house who were thirty years and older (23:3). The organization of the men of Levite is stated by their employment: 24,000 men to assist the priests; 6,000 to serve as “officers and judges,” 4,000 who were porters or keepers of the doors, and another 4,000 men who were musicians and called to praise the LORD with “the instruments” (which David had apparently supplied – 23:4).

1 Chronicles 24 – The Aaronic Priesthood

Twenty-four classes of priests are identified in chapter 24.

1 Chronicles 25 – Twenty-four Orders of Levite Musicians

David was intimately involved in the music of the Tabernacle and the organization for the music ministry in the Temple. As both a poet and musician, the king realized the important role music would have in worshipping the LORD.

David appointed the sons of Asaph to serve in the ministry of music (25:1). Of Asaph’s sons, one named Heman stands out not only as a chief musician, but the father of eleven sons (25:4) who were powerful in song and instruments (25:5-6).

In addition to musicians who were skilled in their instruments, we find another two hundred eighty-eight men described as “cunning,” skilled singers who were trained and instructed “in the songs of the LORD” (25:7).

Godly character and musicianship are essential traits for those who minister in music before the LORD and His people.

Heman, the father of eleven sons who were gifted musicians (25:4-6), had one quality we dare not overlook: He was “the king’s seer in the words of God to lift up the horn” [the “horn” being a symbol of power and authority] ().

Heman was a man of God and served the king as the voice and prophet of the LORD (25:5).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“You Call that Worship Music?” (Psalms 95, 97-99)

Scripture Reading – Psalms 95, 97-99

Our Scripture reading for today is four psalms of praise. Though the author of the psalms is not identified, most scholars assign them to David because of their style and content. We know David authored Psalm 95 because the writer of Hebrews quoted the psalm and identified the king as its author (Hebrews 4:7).

Today’s psalms are too rich for one devotional commentary to adequately address them all; therefore. I will limit this devotion to Psalm 98.

Psalm 98 – “Sing Unto the LORD a New Song”

Like Psalm 97, I believe the theme of Psalm 98 is the Second Coming of Christ. Hymnwriter and preacher Isaac Watts, cited Psalm 98 as the inspiration of his hymn, “Joy to the World.” Although most often sung as a celebration of Christ’s birth, “Joy to the World” is in fact a celebration of Christ’s Second Coming.

Psalm 98 is an invitation to worship the LORD in song, rejoicing in His salvation and righteousness (98:2). Let us consider the instructions in worship music we find in this psalm as a basis for judging the music style your church has implemented in its worship services.

We find that Psalm 98 consists of three stanzas, each three verses in length. The first is a call for Israel to worship and rejoice in the LORD (98:1-3). The psalmist writes,

Psalm 98:1 – O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.

What is this “new song?” (98:1-3)

It is a victory song, for the LORD through His strength and power had given His chosen people salvation (98:1-2a). It is a song of redemption and praise for God’s grace (98:2b). It is a song praising the LORD for His faithfulness for He had not forgotten Israel.

Do you realize of all ancient people, the Jews are the only identifiable people from ancient times? The smallest, most insignificant people in all the earth have been preserved by the LORD.

The second stanza calls upon all nations of the earth to worship the LORD (98:4-6).

As one who loves music, and in particular congregational singing and choral anthems, notice with me that singing and playing on instruments was an essential part of worshipping the LORD.

The musicians who ministered in the Temple were trained, skilled, and dedicated musicians. The sound of their voices and instruments was not noise, but an energetic expression in music and song. The literal meaning of “noise” in vss. 4 and 6 is a “shout” or cry or triumph.

The music of the Tabernacle and Temple was never meant to entertain the masses or the congregation. The focus of worship music was the LORD, and His holiness was reflected in both words and music. The singers and musicians did not perform for the applause of the people. Singers were accompanied by string instruments (the harp, vs. 5) and wind instruments (trumpets and coronet, vs. 6). The focus of worship was “the LORD, the King” (98:6).

The final stanza in Psalm 98 calls on all Creation to worship the LORD (98:7-9).

All creation will rejoice (95:7-8) and be freed from the curse of sin when the LORD comes to set up His millennial kingdom. Romans 8:18-25 reveals the devastating effect of man’s sin on creation. Creation awaits its deliverance from the curse of sin (Romans 8:19), but will be delivered “from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21) when the LORD comes again.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and yes, pandemics remind us that “creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together” (Romans 8:22) until the LORD comes to set up His earthly kingdom. He will right the wrongs for He is “to judge the earth” and will judge the earth in His righteousness (98:9).

An Observation

The Book of Psalms is a compilation of songs of praise and worship that was employed in daily worship in the Temple. While nothing took the primacy of reading and teaching God’s Word, the centrality of instrumental music and song is obvious throughout the Psalms and in other passages of Scripture in the Bible (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16-17).

Sadly, I fear today’s church has taken the command, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD…make a loud noise” literally and not figuratively. While the priests and Levites were dedicated and consecrated to serve the LORD and lead God’s people in earnest worship, today’s “hip-worship leaders” evidence a greater affinity for the world than the holiness of God. Employing every music genre of the 21st century world, the church’s attempt to satisfy the palate of carnal Christians and a secular culture’s demand for entertainment has come at the sacrifice of sincere worship.

Challenge: – Make Colossians 3:16-17 the standard for your worship music.

Colossians 3:16-1716  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17  And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

CONGREGATIONAL SINGING, if not dead, is dying. 

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Follower,

Across America are churches that were once bastions of Bible preaching, but have become mere shadows of their past. Churches where great songs and hymns of the Christian faith once resonated, are host to congregations mumbling their way through “7-11 choruses” (seven word choruses repeated eleven times).

Usually led by a “Vocal Team” and backed by a band pounding out a deafening beat, CONGREGATIONAL SINGING, if not dead, is dying. How did we get here?

I am writing to commend to you an excellent article on Hymnody authored by Dr. Theodore Martens.

Dr. Martens is a man whom I respect for his love of the LORD and his many years of faithful ministry.  He is a scholar of the Scriptures and a great communicator. A retired Pastor, College Professor, Seminary Teacher, and Writer; Dr. Martens is a member of Hillsdale Baptist Church, a regular teacher in Hillsdale’s Wednesday night Bible Institute, and my revered friend.

On the subject of song, hymn, music, and context, Dr Marten’s writes in his article:

“A song brings one back to the context, the days it was first heard, learned, loved, memorized, and FELT.”

“One cannot divorce the lyrics & musical score from the context in which it was first and foremost heard, repeated, learned, and felt without losing the richness which that “song” / “hymn” carries to its listeners and/or singers..Lyrics and “music” cannot be unhinged from each other and accomplish the same ends.”

Rhetoric & Homiletics: All Communication Is Contextual

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith