Category Archives: Christian Contemporary Music

The Centrality of Music in Worship and Praise

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 149-150

Our year-long reading of the Psalms come to a close today on an appropriate theme… “Praise ye the LORD”.  Psalm 149 and Psalm 150 begin and end with a call to worship.  What an incredible thought that the LORD, our Creator Who is Almighty desires we His people praise Him.

Dogs bark, cats purr, lions roar, and eagles screech…but man alone has the means to communicate in words, song, and musical instruments his worship of the LORD through songs of praise.

I have taken liberty to add to today’s psalms my amplification of the closing chapters in this wonderful book of songs of worship and praise.  As one who loves music, I invite you to especially note the prominence of music, musical instruments, and trained musicians in worshipping the LORD.

Psalm 149:1-9 – Praise [Glory; Celebrate; Sing; Boast] ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new [fresh] song, and his praise [hymn of adoration; song of praise] in the congregation [Assembly] of saints [the godly; pious].
2  Let Israel [lit. “He will rule as God”; another name for Jacob] rejoice [be glad; joyful] in him [i.e. the LORD] that made [Created] him [Israel or Jacob]: let the children of Zion [mount upon which Jerusalem was found] be joyful [be glad; rejoice] in their King.
3  Let them praise his name [the name of the LORD] in the dance [i.e. round dance; dance in circular motion]: let them sing praises [psalms] unto him with the timbrel [tambourine] and harp [the string instrument].
4  For the LORD taketh pleasure [delights; pleased] in his people [people of His congregation; like Israel]: he will beautify [glory; boast] the meek [poor; humble; lowly] with salvation [He will deliver; prosper].
5  Let the saints [the godly; pious] be joyful [i.e. jump for joy; rejoice] in glory [or splendor bestowed on them by the LORD]: let them sing aloud [rejoice; shout for joy] upon their beds.
6  Let the high [exaltation] praises of God [Almighty God] be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;
7  To execute [work; create; make; show] vengeance [revenge] upon the heathen [Gentile nations], and punishments [chastening; rebuke; reproof] upon the people [nation];
8  To bind their kings [rulers of the Gentile nations] with chains, and their nobles [those who exercise authority] with fetters [chains; manacles that bind] of iron;
9  To execute [make; create] upon them the judgment [law; ordinance] written [prescribed]: this honour [glory; majesty; splendor] have all his saints [godly]. Praise [Glory; Celebrate; Sing; Boast] ye the LORD.

Psalm 150:1-6 – Praise [Glory; Celebrate; Sing; Boast]  ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary [holy; sacred place dedicated to the LORD]: praise him in the firmament [in the heavens] of his power [strength; might; majesty].
2  Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent [abundance] greatness.
3  Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery [lyre] and harp.
4  Praise him with the timbrel [tambourine] and dance [i.e. round dance; dance in circular motion]: praise him with stringed instruments and organs [flute; pipe].
5  Praise him upon the loud cymbals [large, clashing cymbals]: praise him upon the high sounding [jubilant; loud noise] cymbals [i.e. perhaps like a ringing bell].
6  Let every thing that hath breath [breath of life] praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

It saddens me to witness the diminishing of congregational singing and choral anthems in the 21st century church.  

In today’s church, the choir, a central part of worship dating to the time of King David, has become little more than a backup for spotlight hungry semi-professionals vocalists.   Even worse, congregations singing great, majestic hymns of the Christian faith are relegated to audiences mumbling in almost muted silence, “Seven-Eleven Choruses” [seven words repeated eleven times].  Worship today is a far cry from the worship the psalmist describes in today’s psalms.

I praise the LORD He has blessed Hillsdale with skilled musicians who voluntarily give and use their talents when our congregation worships the LORD with hymns of worship and praise.  What a joy to have musicians and choir members who, week after week, dedicate their time and talents to serving the LORD and praising Him!

Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Take Time to Be Holy

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ecclesiastes 5-6

When I was young and with a lifetime ahead of me, reading the Book of Ecclesiastes was a chore.   I confess; I read its verses, but did not relish its truths.  The ponderings of Solomon, his youth spent and his heart laden with the weight of sin, was depressing.

Solomon’s counsel in his old age stands out in sad contrast to the proverbs of wisdom he taught his sons when they were young.  Rather than exhortations of wisdom and cautions to walk in the way of the LORD, Ecclesiastes calls to mind the counsel of foolish parents who say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Such is the counsel of too many fathers and mothers in our day.

Ecclesiastes, the Book I found discouraging in my youth, has become a challenge for me to examine my walk with the LORD and walk in wisdom.  I hope you will find today’s reading, Ecclesiastes 5-6, will be the same for you.

Solomon stated his counsels in Ecclesiastes 5 so clearly there is little commentary you need from this country parson to grasp and apply them to your life.  Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 instructs us regarding the preparations of our heart and attitude when worshipping the LORD.

Permit me to suggest four ways we offend God when we worship Him.

The first, we offend the LORD when we open our checkbook before we open our heart to Him (5:1).  

Ecclesiastes 5:1 – “Keep [guard; watch] thy foot [i.e. be careful] when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear [listen; obey], than to give the sacrifice of fools [silliness]: for they [fools] consider not that they do [commit] evil [sin; wickedness].

The definition and practice of “worship” in American churches has changed dramatically in the past 30 years.  What was once a deliberate act of solemnity, conscious a holy God “looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b) and knows our thoughts and motives (Jeremiah 17:10), has become raucous entertainment with “worshippers” dancing to the beat of drums and the blare of deafening music.  Oh how far we have strayed from the call to, Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

Secondly, we offend the LORD when we speak before we think (5:2).

Ecclesiastes 5:2 – “Be not rash [hasty; eager] with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty [swift; quick] to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”

God may seem distant; however, He hears every word!  Too many of us are so busy making requests and “doing ministry” we fail to take time to be quiet and listen to the soft voice of God’s Spirit.

Saying one thing and doing another is a third offence committed by those who worship the LORD in haste with little thought of heart preparation (5:4-7a).

Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 – “When thou vowest [promise] a vow unto God, defer not [dont be slack] to pay [perform] it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay [render] that which thou hast vowed.
5  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
6  Suffer not [do not allow or permit] thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel [i.e. a messenger or servant of God], that it was an error [mistake]: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work [labor] of thine hands?   7  For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities [meaningless; no purpose]: but fear thou God.”

God remembers every prayer, every vow, and every thought.  Before you open your mouth and make a vow, remember, God will not forget the vows you make.  Jesus taught His disciples:

Matthew 12:36-37  – But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Finally, we offend God when we fail to revere and worship Him in humility and sincerity.  We read, “but fear thou God” (5:7b).

When you come before the LORD to worship Him, whether in the quietness of your daily devotions or in the congregation of His saints on Sunday, slow down, take time to be quiet, weigh every word, and humble yourself before Him.

Psalm 46:10Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Spiritual Bullies and Silent Saints

September 2, 2017

Scripture Reading – John 10-12

Today’s Bible reading sets the final stage for Christ’s appointment with the Cross.   I am always struck by the wickedness of the religious leaders in Christ’s day.   While there were some who were sincere in their practice and a few who believed Jesus was the Christ (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea), the majority of the leaders of Judaism were wicked men who would argue ad infinitum matters of the Law, but in secret plot the murder and death of Jesus.

John 10:31 – “…the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.”

John 10:39 – “Therefore they sought again to take Him …”

John 11:8 – “His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?”
John 11:47-53 – “Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles…53 they took counsel together for to put him to death…”

After the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish leaders not only sought to kill Jesus, but also Lazarus.

John 12:10-11 – “But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; 11  Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.”

While many believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, there were many others that “believed not on him” (John 12:37).

I close today, not pondering why religious leaders would reject and plot to murder Jesus, but why there were some among them who believed and failed to openly confess their faith in Him.  The apostle John writes:

John 12:42-43 – Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:  43  For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

Some believed Jesus was the Christ; however, they remained silent when their peers plotted to murder Him fearing their confession of faith would be detrimental to their place and positions of power and influence in the synagogue and community.

I find that same dynamic in the 21st century church.  There are “spiritual bullies” in the pulpits and pews who confess a piety of faith in Christ, but deny Him with their lives loving sin and the pleasures of the world (1 John 2:15-17).

Question the conflict between their profession and the command we are to be “obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts… 15  But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” and they attack, slander and libel their critic (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Sadly, like the religious leaders who believed Jesus was the Christ and remained silent, there are many saints who, fearing criticism, loss of favor or position, sit silent in churches, Bible colleges and parachurch institutions as sin and carnality take hold.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

“The end never justifies the means.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Daily reading assignment – 1 Chronicles 10-14

I stated in an earlier commentary that the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles was largely devoted to the genealogical record of Israel and Judah.  1 Chronicles 9 concluded with a brief summary of the lineage of king Saul and his sons (9:35-44).

We noted the reign and death of Saul, Israel’s first king in an earlier commentary in 1 Samuel 31:1-10.  1 Chronicles 10 gives us another perspective of Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines and the tragic deaths of Saul and his sons on the battlefield (10:1-6) and their humiliation that followed (10:7-10).

1 Chronicles 11 gives us a record of the coronation and reign of Israel’s beloved king, David.  Although a brilliant strategist in war and surrounded by mighty men (11:10-47) and loyal servants (12:1-40), the secret to David’s success was found in neither.  David was a great king for only one reason… “the LORD of hosts was with him” (11:9).

Unlike leaders of our day who strive to unite a people around the strength of their personality and ideas, David sought the unity of Israel, not around himself, but around the LORD.   Heralding a call for revival, David commanded the “Ark of God” [also known as the Ark of the Covenant] be brought to Jerusalem, noting the nation had “enquired not at it in the days of Saul” (13:2-3).   The celebration of the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem was cut short when a man named Uzza “put forth his hand to hold (or steady) the ark” that was being carried on a cart pulled by oxen (13:7-10).

“WHY?” becomes a question we should address.  Why would God punish Uzza whose actions were not only instinctive, but arguably innocent?   After all, was it not a good thing that the desire of David and the elders of Israel was to have the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence in Jerusalem the capital city?

An insightful quote of the late evangelist Dr. Bob Jones Sr. comes to mind when addressing the tragic death of Uzza:  “It is never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.”   Uzza was not struck down because he was insincere or impassionate in his desire to see the Ark moved to Jerusalem.   Uzza died because the manner in which the Ark was transported was a violation of God’s instructions to the Levites (Numbers 4) and touching the sacred Ark to steady it defiled that which God had declared holy and sanctified for Himself (Numbers 1:51; 4:15, 20).

I close this devotional with a personal observation:  

I am observing a steady, progressive departure from institutional convictions and principles that were the foundation of vibrant churches, schools, Bible colleges and Christian universities in the 20th century.

Well-meaning, zealous men are stepping into the pulpits of fundamental churches and Bible colleges who, driven by a passion to see their institutions successful, adopt a pragmatic approach to ministry that is a departure from their institution’s guiding principles and core convictions.   Suggesting “times have changed” and believing their sincerity is enough, good men are leading our churches and schools down a path that inevitably sacrifices Christian disciplines and Bible convictions that are at the core of spiritual distinctives.

Like Uzza, our dying churches and Bible colleges are a sad testimony that, “The end never justifies the means.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Devolution of Church Music and Worship

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 96-98

The psalms in today’s scripture reading are beautiful in their message and majestic in their tone.  Psalm 96 and Psalm 98 begin with the exhortation of singing a “new song” to the LORD (96:1; 98:1) and conclude with the LORD coming to reign and “judge the earth” (96:13; 98:9).

What is this “new song”?  I believe the “new song” is the song of salvation, the song of redemption.  We read in Psalm 96:2 that the song to the LORD is to “shew forth His salvation”.   Psalm 98 states the same, “The LORD hath made known His salvation” (98:2); “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (98:3).

Psalm 96 is an evangelistic psalm of praise not limited to Israel.  The psalmist writes, “Declare His glory among the heathen” (96:3); “O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength” (96:7); “fear before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth” (6:9-10a); “let the earth be glad” (96:11); “He shall judge the world with righteousness” (96:13).

Psalm 97 continues the theme of the LORD’s Second Coming when He will reign and judge the earth in righteousness.

Psalm 98 returns to worshipping the LORD in music and song for His salvation and righteousness (98:2).

As is often my practice, I close today’s devotional commentary on a personal note (after all, these daily commentaries are my own meditations which I share with those who follow www.HeartofAShepherd.com).

The Book of Psalms is as its name implies, a compilation of songs of praise and worship employed in daily worship in the Temple.

Nothing took the primacy of reading and teaching God’s Word; however, the centrality of instrumental music and song is obvious throughout the Psalms and in other passages of scripture in the Bible.   Apart from the custody and stewardship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the preaching and teaching of the scriptures, the churches influence on music and song is preeminent.   No other religion or institution has so profoundly inspired or left an indelible impression on the art of music.

Sadly, the music of the 21st century church has succumb to a secular culture’s demand for entertainment, betraying its purpose to lead the congregation of the saints in worshipping the LORD in music and song.  Every genre of 21st century “music”, regardless of how detestable, is employed in “worship” at the sacrifice of the highest ideals of musicianship and musical excellence.

As one who loves the LORD and loves music that moves the heart and soul, I mourn the devolution of worship and music in our churches.

Psalm 98:4-6 – Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
5  Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
6  With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

God’s Call to Holiness

Monday, July 17, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 16-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

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

Friday, July 07, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ezekiel 19-24

Dear “From the Heart of a Shepherd” readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith