Category Archives: Death

Do You Believe God’s Word, and Trust His Will is Best? (Acts 26; Acts 27)

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Scripture reading – Acts 26; Acts 27

Background and Introduction (24:27-25:27)

Paul was confined to prison in Caesarea for two years. Though he was not convicted of any wrongdoing, Felix the Roman governor of Judaea, imprisoned him because he saw it pleased the Jews (24:27). When Festus, the diplomat soldier who replaced Felix as governor, was come to Jerusalem (24:27; 25:1), he entertained accusations brought against Paul by the “high priest and the chief of the Jews” (25:1-2). Unwilling to transport Paul to Jerusalem to be tried, Festus invited the apostle’s enemies to Caesarea where they could state their charges against the apostle (25:3-5).

After he successfully defended his innocence, Paul’s appeal to be judged by Caesar moved his case from Judaea to Rome. (25:6-12). Soon after, king Agrippa’s visit to Caesarea gave opportunity for another authority to hear Paul’s case (25;13-21). Therefore, Festus appealed to Agrippa to question Paul and assist him in determining the charges for which he should be sent to Caesar for trial (25:22). After hearing Paul speak, Agrippa was confident he had committed no crime, and would have been set free had he not appealed to be heard by Caesar (25:23-27).

Acts 26

Agrippa gave Paul liberty to freely share his testimony, including his former life as a Pharisee and persecutor of the followers of Christ (26:1-11). Then, Paul declared his salvation, faith in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and his calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles (26:1-18). He defended himself against the charges brought by the Jews, and proclaimed he was held in prison for no crime other than preaching the Gospel: “That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (26:23).

Hearing Paul speak, Festus suddenly interrupted the apostle’s oration, and asserted, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (26:24). Paul answered, “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness” (26:24). The apostle then appealed to Agrippa, who was himself a Jew, and asked, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” (26:27). Agrippa answered, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (26:28).

What a tragic confession, but how many sinners have been almost persuaded? Some suggest Agrippa’s response was meant to mock the apostle. I believe the king acknowledged the words Paul spoke were true (26:28). Paul then lifted up his voice in a passionate appeal, and confessed his passion that all who heard his voice would have faith (26:29).  Chapter 26 concluded with Agrippa agreeing with Festus’ judgment: Paul was innocent, and had he not appealed to Caesar, he “might have been set at liberty” (26:32).

Acts 27

Paul’s Journey to Rome (27:1-8)

Arrangements having been made for Paul to sail to Rome along with other prisoners, he was assigned a military escort with “one named Julius, a centurion of [Caesar] Augusts’ band [regiment]” (27:1). The ship stopped at several ports in its journey, including Sidon where Luke noted the centurion’s favor in allowing Paul to fellowship with other believers (27:3). Departing from Sidon, the centurion transferred Paul and the other prisoners to a “ship of Alexandria [i.e., Egypt]“ that was sailing to Italy (27:4-6).

Paul Warned of Danger (27:9-20)

The sailing was slow (27:9), and knowing storms would soon make sailing dangerous, “Paul admonished” the captain of the ship and the centurion guard to seek safe harbor (27:9-10). Dismissing Paul’s concerns, the ship set sail until the vessel was caught in a great storm, and in Luke’s words, “all hope that we should be saved was then taken away” (27:11-20).

Paul’s Courage (27:21-44)

God revealed to Paul the ship would be lost, but all aboard would be saved (27:21-24).  Blown several hundred miles off course and hearing the roar of waves upon the shore, some shipmen arranged to abandon ship, and prepared to cast off in a small skiff (27:30).  Heeding Paul’s warning that any who abandoned ship would be lost, the soldiers cut away the ropes of the small boat (27:32). Miraculously, all 276 men on the ship were saved (27:33-44).

Closing thoughts – Ever wonder why God allows His people and choice servants to go through difficult trials? Believers are not spared sickness, disappointments, accidents, sorrows, or losses. Nevertheless, we may not rightly see God’s purpose; however, we are surely no different than Paul. He was falsely accused, arrested, and tried; however, he turned the occasions into opportunities to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Festus (Acts 25) and then Agrippa (Acts 26). When he was a prisoner on a ship sailing for Rome, Paul turned the occasion of the storm and shipwreck into an opportunity to share God’s revelation that all lives would be saved. The Lord revealed he “must be brought before Caesar” (27:24), and Paul confessed, “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (27:25).

Do you believe God’s Word, and trust His will is best? (Romans 8:28-29)

* 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.

Praise God for His Sovereign, Providential Care (Acts 23)

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Scripture reading – Acts 23

Claudius Lysias (23:26), the “chief captain” and commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, had saved Paul from a riotous mob that would have killed him (21:30-35). When the chief captain learned Paul was a citizen of Rome, he was afraid, knowing “he had bound him,” and violated his civil rights (22:25-29). The next morning, the captain determined he would investigate the cause for the tumult against Paul (22:30).  Summoning the members of the Sanhedrin (“the chief priests and all their council to appear,” 22:30), the captain “brought Paul down, and set him before them” (22:30).

Acts 23

Paul’s Courage and Defense (23:1-5)

With the Roman garrison as his backdrop, and the captain of the Roman guard his judge, Paul was given opportunity to address his accusers (the chief priests and the Sanhedrin). Paul began to speak to the council (of whom there were at least 70 members), and said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (23:1). Paul’s speech was suddenly interrupted when “the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him [Paul] to smite him on the mouth” (23:2). Then, Paul rebuked his antagonist, and declared, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” (23:3) Some who stood near, challenged Paul, saying, “Revilest thou God’s high priest?” (23:4)

The apostle’s response to that question has been a subject of debate, for he answered, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest” (23:5a). Perhaps Ananias was not adorned in the robe of the high priest, and therefore Paul did not recognize him. (An interesting fact of history recorded by Josephus, the Jewish historian, is that there was a vacancy in the office of the high priest at the time Paul was tried. Ananias had served as high priest, but was succeeded by another priest named Jonathan. Soon after he became high priest, Felix, the Roman procurator of Judaea, became a bitter enemy of Jonathan. Felix plotted Jonathan’s assassination, and the office of the high priest was vacant at the time Paul was tried.)

Sadducees vs. Pharisees (23:6-10)

Knowing two factions of the Sanhedrin were bitterly divided over the doctrine of the resurrection (23:6), Paul provoked the Sadducees (who rejected the resurrection), and pitted them against the Pharisees. Identifying himself as a Pharisee, Paul said, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question” (23:6). Suddenly, there arose a bitter clash between the two Jewish factions, until the scribes of the Pharisees declared Paul was innocent, saying, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God” (23:9). The conflict became so threatening, the chief captain ordered Paul be taken to the castle (23:10).

A Comforting Assurance from the Lord (23:11)

Lest Paul wonder what would become of his life, the Lord came to him in the night, and “stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (23:11). With the assurance the Lord was with him, Paul was commanded to not be afraid, and be a ready witness in both Jerusalem, and eventually in the city of Rome.

A Conspiracy to Kill Paul (23:12-22)

The next day, more than forty Jewish men plotted to kill Paul, and with a solemn curse, invoked God’s judgment on themselves should they fail (23:12-13). Those same men came to “the chief priests and elders,” and revealed their plot to kill Paul (23:14). They intreated the help of their religious leaders, and requested a meeting with Paul that they might lie in wait and kill him (23:15).

Somehow, a young man identified as Paul’s nephew (his “sister’s son), learned of the plot and told Paul (23:16). Paul then sent for “one of the centurions,” and requested his nephew be taken to the chief captain, and the plot to kill him be divulged (23:17-22). When he learned of the plot, the chief captain called for two centurions (each a commander of 100 men), and ordered, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night” (23:23). The chief captain, identifying himself as Claudius Lysias, penned a letter to Felix the Roman governor, and explained the cause for Paul’s transport to Caesarea.

A Military Escort of Nearly 500 Soldiers (23:23-35)

With nearly 500 soldiers escorting him, Paul and his company were conveyed to Antipatris (23:31), a town thirty-five miles from Jerusalem. The next morning, Paul was escorted to Caesarea, and delivered to Felix along with the letter of explanation from the chief captain (23:33). Far from the volatility of Jerusalem, Felix, governor of that province, promised Paul a speedy trial, and determined to hear the matter when his accusers were come to Caesarea (23:35).

Closing thoughts – So much more might be written concerning the events recorded in today’s Scripture reading. Let us acknowledge that purveyors of truth are not exempt from trials and persecution. Paul had done no wrong, but his testimony and bold preaching of the Gospel and grace of God, provoked bitter hatred. If not for the intervention of Roman soldiers, Paul would have been killed by the ones he identified as his brethren. Praise God for His sovereign, providential care of His servants.

* 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.

Pray for the Peace and Salvation of Israel (Romans 10; Romans 11)

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Scripture reading – Romans 10; Romans 11

Our study of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans continues as we come to chapters 10 and 11.

Romans 10

Although writing to all believers, Paul appeared to address in particular believers of Jewish ancestry when he wrote: Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (10:1). King David wrote the same longing when he wrote, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee” (Psalm 122:6). Of course, Israel as a nation, and Jerusalem as her capital have not known peace, for the Jews rejected Jesus Christ, the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Sadly, rather than praying for Israel to be saved, a spirit of “Antisemitism,” a hatred or prejudice for Jewish people, is on the rise within and without the churches. In my opinion, a major contributing factor for an increase in discrimination and hostility toward the Jews is a misunderstanding of Israel as a nation and people. The Israel of the 21st century is a nation with a secular government. Not all, but many in current day Israel identify as Hebrew or Jew, while a host of others are secular in faith and practice.

Nevertheless, as believers and followers of Christ, there should arise within our hearts an affection for God’s chosen people. Though a majority of believers are not of Abraham’s physical lineage; we are of his spiritual lineage (by faith in God’s covenant promises made to him and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Genesis 12:1-3). We are also debtors to the Hebrew people, for they were chosen to be caretakers of His Holy Scriptures.

While praying for the salvation of Israel as a people, Paul observed the Jews were religiously zealous, but “not according to knowledge” (10:2). I am afraid they were like a lot of religious people of our day, “ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (10:3). They were self-righteous, and in their zeal to prove themselves righteous, were blind to the reality they had violated God’s Law and Commandments. They failed to submit “themselves unto the righteousness of God” (that is a righteousness that may only be found by yielding to God’s plan for redemption (10:3c).

What is God’s plan for salvation? It is to accept by faith that Christ, by His death and resurrection, fulfilled all the law demanded. He “is the end [the completer] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (10:4). Notice the last phrase: “every one that believeth” (10:4b). A sinner is not saved by his works, or religious fervor. We are saved by confessing and acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord (10:9a), and believing in our “heart that God hath raised Him from the dead (10:9b).

How important is faith? What a man believes regarding Christ determines his eternal destiny: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (10:10).

* 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.

The Battle is Not Over, but the Victory Is Won! (Romans 8; Romans 9)

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Scripture reading – Romans 8; Romans 9

Today’s Scripture reading continues to challenge us with theological terms that define the fundamental doctrines (i.e., teachings) of our faith in Christ Jesus. Once again, we find a chapter break obstructs the flow and substance Paul discussed in Romans 7. Describing the believer’s spiritual warfare between the flesh and spirit, Paul wrote, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (7:24)

Romans 8

Paul’s spiritual warfare was not over; however, he knew victory over sin was promised and declared, writing: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (8:1). The apostle continued, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (8:2).

What did Paul mean when he wrote, those who are “in Christ Jesus” are “free from the law of sin and death?” (8:2)

We who believe Christ died paying the penalty of our sin, and rose from the dead, are free from the condemnation of the law (8:1). Yet, that does not mean we are free from the requirements of the law. We understand the law and commandments were not the means of salvation (8:3); however, they instruct sinners in God’s perfect standard for moral uprightness and holiness (Galatians 3:24).

Knowing a man’s desire reveals his spiritual character, we understand, a sinner by nature follows the sinful lusts and desires of the flesh (8:5a). Thus, the heart, mind, and affections of the natural (i.e., sinful) man are “enmity against God” (not only opposed, but hostile to Him, 8:7). Such a heart “cannot please God” (8:8).

Nevertheless, when the Spirit of God indwells the believer, he will desire “the things of the Spirit” (8:5), and is promised “life and peace” (8:6).

What do you desire? What do your thoughts and passions reveal about your nature?

Romans 9 – Is God Fair?

We have learned that no man, Jew or Gentile, is justified in God’s sight by keeping the law; indeed, Paul declared, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

How might a sinner merit God’s favor and be justified and accepted in His sight?

Paul answered that important question, declaring salvation is not determined by physical lineage or good works (9:6-13). The Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were proud of their physical heritage and election as God’s chosen people.  They were heirs of God’s covenant promises and stewards of His Law and commandments (Romans 9:4-5).  However, they were not spiritual children (i.e., “children of God”) by lineage (9:6-10) or by keeping the law and good works (9:11-13).

A sinner becomes a child of God, not because he has kept God’s law and merited His favor, but because of God’s mercy (9:16).  As an illustration of God’s sovereign will in the matter of salvation, Paul shared the example of God’s dealings with Pharaoh and Moses (9:17-18).   Both men were sinners; however, Moses believed God and He bestowed His mercy on him.  Pharaoh heard Moses’ declaration that the God of Israel was the One True God; however, the king of Egypt refused God’s Word, hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15, 19, 32), until God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27).

What was the spiritual lesson from this passage?  It was that God is sovereign over all men, Jew and Gentile.  He is merciful and longsuffering toward sinners (2 Peter 3:9).  As sovereign God, He is just and shows mercy to one sinner while hardening the heart of another (that fact does not remove human responsibility for one’s sins, but declares the sovereignty and wisdom of God).  Man is, in God’s hands, like clay in a potter’s hands; as long as the clay is soft it is pliable and conforms to the will of the potter (9:20-21). Such is the heart of man; as long as a sinner’s heart is tender and not hardened by sin and rebellion, God is able to extend His mercy and grace.  Reject God and you become the object of His wrath (9:22).

Closing thoughts – The promise of salvation and the forgiveness of sin is a matter of simple faith (9:30-33).  We were born sinners and the nature of sin and rebellion is deeply rooted in our souls from conception (Romans 3:10, 19-20, 23).   Apart from God’s mercy and grace, we are subject to His wrath and judgment (Romans 6:23). Nevertheless, through faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, we become the objects of God’s grace and mercy (Romans 10:10).

* 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.

Are You Guilty of Pursuing a Lawless Grace? (Romans 7)

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Scripture reading – Romans 7

The apostle Paul’s observations concerning the law continues in Romans 7. In my opinion, today’s Scripture reading is one of the most misunderstood chapters of the book (and is surely what I would describe as a “hot topic” chapter). For two decades I have heard banter about the law, and listened as preachers and believers hurl the charge, “legalist,” against believers who dare call upon the 21st century church to repent of its sin, turn to God, and pursue holiness.

“Grace, Grace” has become the message of the church, but is there a genuine understanding and appreciation of God’s grace, when there is a void of teaching regarding the Law and Commandments? “Free from the law,” is the theme of most churches, and that spirit has introduced a carnality that is veiled in a piety of pseudo-spirituality. Tragically, the grace that is being preached in the pulpit, and practiced in the pew, is a “lawless grace,” and knows nothing of God’s holiness.

Paul wrote to believers in Romans 6, “ye are not under the law, but under grace” (6:14). Sadly, many have taken that phrase, and abandoned teaching the law and commandments. As a result, we are confronting a generation that is lawless, trumpeting grace as a cover for all manner of sin and wickedness. Paul proposed, if we “are not under the law, but under grace…shall we sin?” (6:14-15). Paul’s answer was emphatic—“God forbid” (6:15). In other words, God’s grace is never a license to sin! With that truth settled, what role does the law have for believers?

Romans 7

Paul appeared to address believers of Jewish descent when he asked, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? (7:1)

Using an analogy of marriage, Paul illustrated the role of the law and the believer, drawing a contrast with a wife married to a husband (7:2-4). We know the covenant of marriage binds a wife to her husband, “till death do us part.” Therefore, a wife is married to her husband by law, and only death may free her to marry another man (7:3b).

Using the wife’s covenant relationship with her husband as an illustration of the law, Paul wrote concerning believers, “ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (7:4). A sinner is bound, or in bondage to the law, and under obligation to pay the penalty required of the law (7:1), that being “the wages of sin is death” (6:23).

Yet, because Christ died for our sin, His death redeemed us from the curse of the law, and by His resurrection we are judged “dead to the law by the body of Christ” (7:4a), to the end “we should bring forth fruit unto God” (7:4b). We might suppose that fruit is borne out as we love, and serve God, bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which in essence can only come from walking in the perfect Law of Liberty (i.e., the Law).

A Spiritual Struggle (Romans 7:14-25)

Paul identified an internal spiritual warfare that he, and all believers face within themselves (7:14-25).  He was conscious of an inner struggle with the power of sin (7:14, 19), which he identified as “my flesh” (7:17) and an “evil…present with me” (7:19). Contemporary with the power of sin and the presence of evil, was the Spirit of God that moved Paul to “delight in the law of God” (7:22).

Identifying the spiritual conflict in his soul between an “evil” that had power, and a renewed heart that delights in the Law of God (7:22-23), Paul exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (7:24)

What was the resolution to Paul’s spiritual conflict? Jesus Christ!

Paul wrote, “25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (7:25). In other words, while Paul’s spirit and mind desired to “serve the Law of God,” he found his flesh was not yet free from “the law of sin” (7:25).

* 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.

A World Gone Mad: The Tragedy of Moral Depravity (Romans 1)

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Scripture reading – Romans 1

This devotional is a follow-up to my earlier introduction to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and one I believe the importance of chapter 1 warrants. Paul’s letter to believers in Rome expressed not only his love for them, but also his longing to fellowship with them for a season (1:10-11). Though his journey to Rome had been prevented (1:12-14), Paul assured the believers, “15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. 16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:15-16).

Paul was aware of the dark clouds of persecution already visible on the horizon, and would soon engulf the Roman empire. Tens of thousands of believers would be sent to martyrs’ deaths, and Paul felt an urgency to ground them in the faith.

The Sin of Man, and the Wrath of God (1:18-21)

We find in the balance of Romans 1, a depth and breadth of fundamental truths that humanity denies, but are universally shown. While men deny the evidences of the Creator and Divine design, nature itself gives testimony of the handiwork of God; therefore, Paul declared, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (1:20). Creation serves as a testimony of perfect design, yet, man’s sin and rebellion has introduced a chaotic, self-destructive state, and provoked God’s wrath “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).

We have not seen the depth of depravity to which men will go when they deny God, and suppress righteousness and truth. Yet, we are witnessing in the 21st century a denial of the undeniable (an example, some of this generation have denied the biological evidences of two sexes—male and female). What is the lesson? Deny the Creator, and there is no end to man’s wicked imaginations (1:21).

An Attitude of Ingratitude (1:21-22)

The hardness and darkness of man’s heart is visible, and undeniable (1:21). Though the Creator is the source of life and well-being, man has rejected him and proposed an evolutionary process that has no scientific basis, and is as irrational, as it is foolish (imagine, an intricate design, but no designer…the thought is preposterous).

While the concept of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory would not be written for 1800 years, Paul diagnosed man’s spiritual crisis, writing of men, they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (1:21-22). The classrooms of schools, colleges and universities in the 21st century are instructed by men and women who imagine they are wise philosophers, and lovers of wisdom (1:21). Yet, having denied their Creator, they have become fools, incapable of understanding truth or making moral judgments (discerning between good and evil, 1:22).

The Depth of Depravity (1:23-27)

How foolish are men who deny the revelation of God in His creation? In Paul’s day they worshipped nature, “and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (1:23). What becomes of a world that rejects God?

There is no limit to the depths of moral depravity to which men will descend. In fact, men become slaves to sin, and “dishonour [shame] their own bodies between themselves” (1:24). Because they reject God’s truth, they worship and serve nature (1:25). Rejecting the Creator, and natural design, men and women turn to sodomy, as “women did change the natural use into that which is against nature [contrary to nature]: 27And likewise also the men, leaving [forsaking; abandoning] the natural use of the woman, burned [inflamed; raged] in their lust one toward another; men with men working [doing] that which is unseemly [shameful; indecent], and receiving in themselves that recompence [penalty] of their error which was meet [demanding the judgment of God]” (1:26-27).

Closing thoughts (1:28-32) – What a tragic portrait of man’s rebellion, and moral depravity! Man has cast aside the knowledge of His Creator, and God has abandoned him to destructive passions and lusts. Recorded in Romans 1:29-31 are twenty-three signs or indications a man, people who have abandoned God.

Romans 1:29All unrighteousness (all manner of sin); fornication (sexual immorality: adultery, prostitution, pornography); wickedness (malice; meanness); covetousness (greed; love of wealth and possessions); maliciousness (desire to hurt or harm another); envy (jealous; despising the success of others); murder (taking innocent life); debate (quarreling; contentious); deceit (lie; guile; entrapment); malignity (dishonorable; evil); and whisperers (slander; gossip).

Romans 1:30Backbiters (slanderers); haters of God; despiteful (scoffers); proud (haughty, arrogant); boasters(braggers); inventors of evil things (new means of sexual debauchers); and disobedient to parents (treating parents with disdain and disrespect);

Romans 1:31Without understanding (foolish, ignorant of God and His Law); covenantbreakers (breaking contracts, covenants, and agreements); without natural affection (lacking a natural love for family); implacable(refusing to forgive and be reconciled); and unmerciful (lack compassion; without mercy)

Sinful man is “without excuse” (1:20, 32). In spite of having the judgment of God written upon his conscience, man not only continues in his sin, but takes pleasure in watching others sin (1:32).

* 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.

A Promise of Grace (2 Corinthians 12)

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Scripture reading – 2 Corinthians 12

Our devotional study of Paul’s epistles to the believers in Corinth is nearing its end. I have been encouraged by the transparent nature of both 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and reminded the church has always faced challenges from within and without the congregation.

Of necessity, Paul’s first letter to Corinth was strong as he addressed sins and schisms in their midst, with some taking offense and verbally attacking the apostle. Some questioned his calling and authority as an apostle, and inferred he was a coward in person, but bold in his letters (10:1). Lest some be discouraged, Paul reminded believers they were in a spiritual battle, and one that must be waged with spiritual weapons (10:4-5).

Answering those who challenged his apostleship, Paul denounced them as “false apostles, deceitful workers,” for they pretended to come as “ministers of righteousness” (11:13-15). Because some had been led astray by those who pretended to be apostles, Paul was forced to declare his heritage (11:22), and all he had suffered for Christ (11:23-33).

1 Corinthians 12

The nature and practice of false prophets in Paul’s day was as it is in our day. There were some who bolstered their religious credentials, and claimed to have received some unique vision or revelation from God. (Unfortunately, the internet has afforded false prophets an opportunity to have a perpetual presence in our lives and homes. Tragically, shallow preaching and teaching, and an ignorance of truth, have exacerbated the void of spiritual discernment.) Though reluctant to say anything of himself, the attacks on Paul’s character and calling had made it necessary for him to prove his apostleship (12:1-10).

Paul’s Heavenly Revelation (12:1-6)

Paul did not name himself, but writing with humility in the third person, he described a heavenly vision of the Lord: “2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 3And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)” (12:2-3). Paul could not write with certainty that his vision was in body or in spirit, but he was snatched or “caught up to the third heaven” (12:2). The first heaven being the sky above our heads; the second heaven the planets and stars; the third heaven was the place of the throne of God (12:2).

Paul recalled hearing words too wonderful to convey in human language (12:4). Yet, though he might have cause to boast of God’s special revelation, he did not want that experience to be the defining moment of his ministry in the churches (12:5). With characteristic humility, he desired to be judged by what others had seen and heard as they observed his response to his sufferings and infirmities (12:5).

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (12:6-10)

Paul was blessed with a vision of “the third heaven” (12:2), but the Lord in His infinite wisdom permitted “a thorn in the flesh” (12:7). The “thorn” was not identified (perhaps because believers of the time knew what it was), but the apostle did identify its effect in his life: “lest I should be exalted above measure” (12:7). In other words, lest he be given to pride and glorying (12:6), the “thorn in the flesh” served to humble Paul. (There have been a myriad of speculations concerning what the thorn was, and I need not add my own to them; yet, I suggest the thorn might have been a “messenger” or demon of Satan that troubled him, 12:7).

Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove the thorn, but the answer to his prayer was God promising His grace: “9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (12:9a). The Lord would not remove the thorn, but promised His apostle grace (God’s favor and blessings) to endure it. Accepting the thorn was God’s plan, to the end Christ might be glorified in his life, Paul determined to be content, writing: “10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (12:10).

Closing thoughts – The key to Paul’s spiritual victory was faith, and an eternal perspective. He did not flee the thorn, or become embittered by it. He endured weakness, insults, distress, persecutions, and difficulties “for Christ’s sake” (12:10b). Knowing the Lord was accomplishing His purpose, in his weakness Paul found the promise of God’s strength (12:10c; Philippians 4:13).

I close today’s devotional, knowing there may be some going through a struggle with a “thorn,” trial or time of trouble. Remember–though you pray for deliverance, it may be God’s answer to your prayer is the grace to endure.

* 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.

Don’t Threaten Me with Heaven! (2 Corinthians 5-6)

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Scripture reading – 2 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 6

Our study of the Second Epistle to Corinth continues with a reminder, this earthly life is temporal, while the spirit of man springs eternal after the likeness of his Creator. The closing verses of 2 Corinthians 4 reminds us our physical bodies fail as they grow old, but believers have the hope and promise of eternal life (John 3:16). Though Paul had suffered persecutions and afflictions, he was not without hope. With confidence in the promises of the Lord, the apostle wrote, “we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (4:16).

In light of eternity, the troubles Paul suffered were, in his words, “our light affliction…but for a moment” (4:17). In fact, as he considered the rejections and persecutions he suffered, he believed the eternal reward far outweighed that which he experienced (4:17). He looked past the temporal (“the things which are seen”), and set his focus on “the things which are not seen” (4:18).

2 Corinthians 5 – An Eternal Home

After reminding his readers this life is temporal, he challenged the congregation with the hope of a heavenly, eternal home: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1).

The “earthly house of this tabernacle” was an analogy to our physical bodies. The word tabernacle, is essentially a tent, a temporal dwelling. So, while our bodies are being dissolved (growing older and frail), Paul promised God will give His people a glorified body, “a building of God [a spiritual body], an house not made with hands” (5:1b). Unlike our “tabernacle” of flesh, God has promised us an “eternal in the heavens” (5:1c). No wonder Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul acknowledged, as long as we are clothed in a body of flesh, we will “groan, being burdened” with many cares and sorrows (5:2-4). Nevertheless, we should not sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We must pass through the veil of this mortal life, until the day our “mortality might be swallowed up of life” (5:4b). Finding himself in the midst of trials and afflictions, Paul confessed he longed for the day when he would lay aside his frail body, and be clothed in his eternal, resurrected body.

Confident Faith (5:6-8)

The apostle found himself in a dilemma. On one hand, he longed for heaven and to be in the presence of the Lord; but on the other, he was “at home in the body…[and] absent from the Lord” (5:6). He took solace, writing, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (5:7). Though facing persecution, rejection, and threats, Paul assured believers: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (5:8).

The word “confident” means full of hope, and courage; in fact, it might be defined as a “courageous hope.” There are some who claim to believe there is no hope, and no life after death. The lives of those poor souls are defined by a fatalism, that believes in soul-annihilation. That is, there is no hope, nor life, beyond this mortal world. What a tragic concept! Paul, however, assured believers, “to be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord” (5:8). Believer, death is not the end, it’s the beginning!

Closing thoughts (5:9-17) – Paul challenged believers in Corinth to live and labor for the Lord with an eternal focus (5:9). He warned, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (5:10).

God’s judgment is certain, and His justice is sure. Knowing the promise of God’s judgment and the “terror of the Lord,” should motivate us to share the Gospel, and “persuade men” (5:11). We are “constrained,” and compelled by “the love of Christ” who “died for all…and rose again” (5:14-15). Not only does His death and resurrection promise eternal life, it gives us an assurance of a transformation that is promised and possible only in Christ:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (5:17).

* 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.

A Challenge to 21st Century Believers (1 Thessalonians 5; 2 Thessalonians 1)

Scripture reading – 1 Thessalonians 5; 2 Thessalonians 1

With today’s devotional we conclude our brief study of Paul’s 1st Epistle to Thessalonica, and introduce his second letter which is believed to have been written soon after the first. The focus of today’s devotional is 1 Thessalonians 5.

The subject of the latter verses of chapter 4 was the anticipation of what would become of the saints who had died (“them which are asleep,” 4:14). Lest hopelessness take hold of those who buried their loved ones (4:14b), Paul assured, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (4:14). What a wonderful, blessed promise! Yet, the promise did not end there!

Paul continued, “we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (4:15-17). Persecution, rejection, afflictions, hardships were the immediate state of the saints. Nevertheless, Paul encouraged the 1st century believers “comfort one another with these words” (i.e., promises and assurances, 4:18). In the words of the old Gospel song, “Blessed Assurance…Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!”

1 Thessalonians 5

With the promise of the Lord’s coming, and the assurance of the resurrection of the saints, Paul continued: “1But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you” (5:1). In essence, Paul did not need to expound further on the coming of Christ; however, he warned when Jesus comes, it will be sudden and unexpected, for “the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (5:2). Sadly, some have a false security, and say, “Peace and safety,” and Paul warned: “then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail [labor or birth pangs] upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (5:3).

The Believer’s Life in Light of the Imminent Return of Christ (5:4-7)

Knowing the revelation of Christ’s coming, believers are not to stumble about as though we are walking in darkness (5:4). After all, we have been  enlightened by our salvation and the revelation of Jesus Christ, and are “the children of light, and the children of the day” (5:5). Knowing the Lord might come at any time, Paul urged believers, “watch and be sober” (ie., be wide awake, calm, and watchful, 5:6).

Tragically, there were some in the 1st century, even as there are many in the 21st century, who professed to be followers of Christ, but their behavior is contrary to their profession. They live like children of the darkness of this world, and their behavior is like the “drunken in the night” (5:7). (Unfortunately, there are many who profess to be believers today, whose life offer little evidence they are sincere in their profession of Christ as Savior.)

The Preparations and Duty of those Who Look for the Coming of Christ (5:8-9)

Including himself in the exhortation, Paul challenged, “let us, who are of the day [walking in the light of Truth], be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (5:8). Believers are to be “sober” (temperate; putting off liberty and strong drink), his heart guarded by “the breastplate of faith and love,” and his mind protected by “an helmet, the hope of salvation” (5:8; Ephesians 6:17). Though the unsaved will face the wrath of God, we have the assurance of “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Who died for us…that we should live together with Him” (5:9).

The Believer’s Relationship with Others (5:11-15).

Paul urged the saints to minister to other believers, comforting, encouraging, strengthening, and building them up in their faith (5:11; Romans 14:19). The believers are also to take time and effort to know those who are their pastors and ministers (5:12-13). Know and appreciate those whose lives are called by God and dedicated to serving the saints (5:12). Know the needs of those who are “over you in the Lord,” and called to “admonish you” (5:12). Cherish them for their calling (“in love for their work’s sake,” 5:13).

Closing thoughts (5:14-22) – Paul concluded his first letter to Thessalonica, with a rapid fire of brief commands (challenges) that need no explanation. After encouraging believers to cherish those who were their spiritual guides and teachers, Paul commanded: “warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (5:14). Don’t be vengeful (5:15a), “but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (5:15b). Rejoice (5:16), persevere in prayer (5:17), grateful for everything (5:18), never quenching the Spirit (5:19), nor despising “prophesyings” (warnings, preaching, 5:20). Hold fast to the truth, and test everything you hear (5:21). Avoid anything that has even the appearance of wrong (5:22).

Our study closes with my prayer for you, even as it was Paul’s prayer for the believers in Thessalonica: “23And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. 25Brethren, pray for us. 26Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. 27I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (5:23-28).

* 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.

Persevering in Trials, and Overcoming Temptations (James 1; James 2)

Scripture reading – James 1; James 2

Our two-year chronological study of the Scriptures continues with a brief departure from our readings in the Acts of the Apostles, and picks up in the book of James. Completing our prior study of Acts 14, we found Paul and Barnabas returning from their first missionary journey to towns and cities in Asia Minor (an area we know today as modern Turkey). Jews and Gentiles were professing faith in Christ, being baptized, and added to the church daily. That diversity, Jew and Gentile (many of them of Greek and Roman backgrounds), introduced differences that arose between the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles. (That will be a topic of study in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas journey to Jerusalem and account for their ministries to Gentiles.)

Why interrupt our study of the Book of Acts, and focus on the Epistle of James? That question is answered by identifying its author.

Introduction (1:1)

The “Epistle of James” is a letter that bears the name of its author. The writer introduced himself and his recipients in the opening verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes [the Tribes of Israel] which are scattered abroad [dispersed], greeting [rejoice; be glad]” (James 1:1).

With humility, James identified himself as “a servant,” a slave to “God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). There are several men identified as James in the New Testament; however, this James did not feel the need to introduce himself, perhaps because he needed no introduction. By the time this epistle was penned, the apostle James, brother of John and the son of Zebedee was martyred (Acts 12:2), and thereby eliminating him as the author. Most scholars identify the writer as James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), being born of Joseph and Mary. We know James and his siblings were not followers of Jesus until after His crucifixion, death and resurrection (John 7:5). Acts 1:14, however, identified Jesus’ “brethren” among those who assembled in “an upper room” after He ascended to heaven.

This same James was recognized as a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). In a future devotional, Paul and Barnabas will give account to the believers in Jerusalem, and it will be this James who addressed the assembly (Acts 15:13) of apostles and elders. James was also mentioned by name with leaders of the church in Acts 21:18. The letter was addressed “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (some of the captivity who never returned to Israel, and others recently scattered by persecution, 1:1b). You will find the Epistle of James is practical, insightful, and convicting.

A Righteous Attitude Toward Trials and Temptations (1:2-4)

James opened his letter with a bold exhortation for believers: “My brethren, count [regard; judge] it all joy [a cause for rejoicing] when ye fall [stand in the midst of] into divers [various] temptations [trials]; Knowing this, that the trying [testing] of your faith [what you believe] worketh [performs; works out; produces] patience [steadfastness; endurance]. But let patience [steadfastness; endurance] have her perfect [maturing; complete] work, that ye may be perfect [mature] and entire [complete], wanting nothing [i.e. lacking not one thing]” (James 1:2–4).

Means to Overcome Trials and Temptations (1:5-12)

What should you do when you face hardships and persecution? Ask God for wisdom (1:5), trust Him (never give in to doubts and fears, 1:6), and rejoice (1:9). Whether you are brought low by poverty, or tempted to be exalted and dependent on riches, remember wealth is temporal (like grass that withers, or flowers that fade, 1:10-11). Do not forget, the person who loves the LORD will be blessed, when he endures trials (1:12).

Origin of Trials and Temptations (1:13-18)

Among the great truths we might take from trials and troubles, is foremost the promise God will never tempt you to sin (1:13). In fact, when you are tempted to sin, remember temptations arise from within the heart: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (1:14). Some might whine, “the devil tempted me;” however, the appeal to sin arises from lust seeded in the heart of sinners, and comes with a death sentence: “sin, when it is finished bringeth for death” (1:15).

The effect of lust and sin is death (Hebrews 9:27). Sin deals a death-blow to marriages, families, careers, hopes, and one’s health. Sin ends with physical, spiritual, and eternal death (Romans 6:23). Remember: God is the source of only good (1:16-18).

Closing thoughts (1:19-27) – How might believers prepare for trials and temptations? I find three major principles that answer that question in the closing verses of James 1.

1) Be Quick to Hear the Word of God, and Slow to Speak (1:19-21). In other words, obey God’s Word (1:19), restrain your anger (1:20), and renounce any sin that comes between you and God (1:21).

2) Be a Doer of the Word, not a Hearer Only (1:22-24). Hearing, but failing to obey God’s Word ends in self-deception (1:22). The Word of God is a perfect, flawless spiritual mirror of man’s soul, if he will remember what it reveals, and obey its truths.

3) Bridle Your Tongue (1:26). Some appear pious, and spiritually devout; however, if they do not bridle their tongues, they are self-deceived and their religion is vain and empty.

A devotional study of James 2 will need to wait for another year.; however, I conclude our study of James 1, by spotlighting the qualities of a sincere heart: Selfless and compassionate (caring for orphans and widows), and unstained by the sins of the world (1:27).

How’s your heart?

* 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.