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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

Justice for All, and A Whole Lot of Separation (Exodus 23)

Scripture reading – Exodus 23

The instructions that gave practical applications of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) to Israel’s daily life continues in Exodus 23.

Exodus 23:1-9 addressed the demand for Judicial integrity – Justice for All.  The ninth commandment stated, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (20:16).

Exodus 23:1-9 emphasized God’s mandate for Israel’s judges to be above reproach, and intolerant of any who might pervert justice. A witness must not bring a false accusation against an innocent man in a judicial matter, nor lie to spare the guilty their due punishment (23:1-2). There was one law, and one standard, and not even the poor were granted a charitable judgment nor spared the weight of the law (23:3).

There are some 21st century leaders in the broader latitude of “American Christianity” that are guilty of teaching that the Old Testament is all Law, and no grace. Those who express such a sentiment are either ignorant of the Word of God, or purposefully, and intentionally misleading believers. For example, Exodus 23:4-5 commanded Israel to be ready to show kindness to an enemy should he suffer harm (23:4; Proverbs 25:21-22), and be ready to express sympathy and assistance to even one who hates you (23:5).

Exodus 23:6-9 returns to judicial matters, and the demand for impartial judgment in legal matters. Under God’s Law, the poor were not to be denied representation or justice (23:6), and judges were to see that righteous judgment prevailed for all (23:7). Judges were not to be bribed (23:8), and non-Hebrews (“strangers”), were to be judged fairly (23:9).

The Sabbath Year (23:10-12)

Emphasizing the significance of “Sabbath Rest” (20:8-11), Israel was commanded to observe a “Sabbath Year.” The land would not be plowed, and crops would not be planted (23:10). The land was to rest, and if seeds volunteered and grew to bear fruit, the poor and the “beast of the field” were given liberty to eat (23:11).

Three Festivals to be Observed by Israel (23:14-19)

The men of Israel were commanded to observe three annual festivals (23:14-19). There was the “feast of unleavened bread” and the Passover (23:15, 18), that commemorated the Passover in Egypt when the LORD spared the firstborn of Israel. The “feast of the harvest,” known as the Firstfruits, and later celebrated as Pentecost, was observed at the beginning of harvest (23:16a). The first fruits of the harvest were to be offered to the LORD (23:19a). There was also the “feast of the ingathering,” observed at the end of the harvest season (23:16b), and was a time of thanksgiving.

Three Promises (23:20-28)

The LORD made three promises to Israel, whose fulfillment was conditioned upon the people hearing and obeying His Law and Commandments (23:20-28).

He promised to “send an Angel” before the nation. The LORD’S Angel was sent to “keep” Israel in the way, and bring them into the Promised Land (23:20), if the people obeyed the “voice” of the Angel (23:22; I am of the opinion this “Angel” was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ).

The LORD also  His “Angel” would “go before” the nation, and cut off those nations that occupied the land of Canaan (23:23). The Angel would give Israel protection (23:23), provisions (23:25), and posterity (i.e. future generations; 23:26).  Unlike other nations that adopted and sacrificed to the gods of the land they conquered; Israel was to destroy the idols of the people (23:24).

God promised to set the boundaries of the land He had covenanted with Abraham (23:31), and He warned that His people were not to befriend or make any covenant with the people they conquered, nor worship their gods. God warned Israel that, the conquered people “shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee (23:33).

This principle of radical separation is found throughout the Scriptures, though it is rarely preached in the pulpit, nor practiced the pew.

Israel was admonished: Fail to drive the ungodly out of the land, and the people would invariably adopt the sins of the heathen (23:33). That same principle is true for today’s believers. We are commanded, 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17a).

1 Corinthians 15:33 warns, “33Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” We are commanded, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

As Israel was called to separate from the wicked nations they conquered, and to destroy their gods, believers are to separate, and put a distance between themselves and the ungodly, lest we become like them!

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

Hey Millennial Pastor: God has not called you to be “real”; He has called you to be “holy”! (Leviticus 22-23)

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 22-23

The opening verses of Leviticus 22 remind ministers that God sets the highest ideals for those who minister before Him.

Understanding the immediate context of Leviticus 22 is its application to the priesthood; we nevertheless observe spiritual standards for all who serve the LORD.

The first principle is in how priests were to treat the sacrifices brought to them by the people (22:2). 

While a portion of some sacrifices supported the priests and their households (Numbers 18:11-19, 26-29); there were other sacrifices wholly dedicated to the LORD and never to be shared or treated as common by the priests (22:2).

There was also the danger of a priest failing to assess his spiritual standing before the LORD (22:3). 

The people might fail to discern a priest who was merely going through the motions; however, the LORD knows the heart and He requires holiness of those who serve Him.

CCM Frontman for Skillet

A third example of treating the priesthood as common was the temptation to be lenient in who might share the portions set aside for the priest and his immediate family (22:10-16).  I suggest a parallel of this temptation is the 21st century church diminishing the preacher’s sacred portion as the shepherd\teacher and apportioning an ever increasing role and influence to musicians lacking the spiritual qualifications to stand before the LORD and His Church.

Finally, sacrifices offered to the LORD were to be of the highest standard (22:17-32).  There was the temptation to offer animals for sacrifice that were deformed, ill or injured.  God’s standard was “there shall be no blemish therein” (22:21).

Leviticus 23 served as a reminder to keep the Sabbath Day holy (23:1-3) and identifies various feast days the nation was to observe during the calendar year:  The Passover (23:4-14); the Feast of Pentecost (23:15-22); the Feast of Trumpets (23:23-32) and the Feast of Tabernacles (23:33-44).

Believer, God’s standard of holiness for those who serve Him has not changed .

Pastors failing to take the high road and live above reproach have become a leprosy in the 21st century church. Projecting an ideology of being “real” and approachable, many pastors are sacrificing holiness in the pulpit, embracing carnality, and leading believers to do the same (1 John 2:15-17).

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

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith