Category Archives: Depression

The Key to Overcoming Trials and Troubles (James 4; James 5)

Scripture reading – James 4; James 5

Continuing our study of trials, troubles, and temptations, we consider today’s Scripture reading, James 4 and 5. This devotional is taken from James 4.

James 4 opens with a provoking question: “From whence [where] come wars [battles; conflicts] and fightings[disputes; quarrels] among you?” (4:1) Sadly, that question was not addressed to the unsaved, but to those who professed to be believers and were members of the church. Twenty-one centuries later, churches find themselves asking the same question, as some are embroiled in conflicts and disagreements.

Why do conflicts arise in a body of believers, when they are commanded to love one another? (4:2-3)

We noticed in James 3, how the tongue is a primary candidate for inciting trouble in friendships, marriages, families, and churches (3:2a, 6, 8). An unbridled, undisciplined tongue will exasperate, infuriate, and bring envy and strife. Unfortunately, the “tongue” is no longer confined to whispers and gossip. The 21st century has given the tongue new means of expressing itself, sowing discord, and provoking conflict through texting, emails, blogs, and social media posts (4:1).

It comes as no surprise that the “wars and fightings” of the 21st century have their origin in the same source as the 1st century. James writes, “Come they [“wars and fightings”] not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (4:1b) The author cited unfulfilled, selfish desires as a root of frustration. James wrote, “2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain… ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (4:2-3).

Why are so many church members frustrated and unhappy? (4:4-6)

Although the culture of the 1st century was very different from our day with its technology, conveniences, and amusements; nevertheless, the issue was the same: spiritual infidelity (adultery) and worldliness, which produces unhappiness (4:4-6). James warned, embrace the world and its sinful lusts (1 John 2:15-17), and you will find yourself “the enemy of God” (4:4). Walk humbly, and the Lord promises grace, but be forewarned: He “resisteth the proud” (4:6; Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5).

Ten Commands to Overcome Temptation (4:7-10)

James presented us with the problem (man’s sinful pride), but he did not leave us hopeless. Understanding trials and temptations are ever present, James stated ten commands that encourage a righteous response to trials and troubles (James 4:7-10).

1) “Submit…to God, by accepting His sovereign authority in your life (4:7a).
2) “Resist the devil” by opposing him, “and he will flee” (4:7b).
3) Maintain an intimate fellowship with the LORD: “draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you” (4:8a).
4) “Cleanse your hands,” submitting to His conviction (4:8b).
5) Have spiritual integrity, “and purify your heart,” knowing a “double minded” man is unacceptable to God (4:8c).
6) “Be afflicted” and broken over your sin (4:9a).
7) “Mourn,” expressing a genuine sorrow for sin (4:9b).
8) “Weep” tears, and express outward sorrow (4:9c).
9) Set aside silliness, and “let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (4:9c).
10) “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (4:10).

Closing thoughts (4:11-17)

Believer, you are not exempt or insulated from trials; however, you have something the world does not—the Lord. He longs for you to submit to His will, obey His Word, and cling to Him. Remember, unhappiness and conflicts arise when we become proud and self-sufficient (4:11-12). Remember: Your life is “even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (4:14). Be wise, acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (4:15).

Proverbs 3:55Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; And lean not unto thine own understanding.

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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.

Turn Your Sickness or Trial Into a Backdrop for God to Display His Glory (Acts 3)

Scripture reading – Acts 2; Acts 3

Attitudes toward the physically handicapped have evolved over the years, as has our vocabulary to define them.  The words crippled, lame and physically challenged evoke mental pictures of men and women who overcome extraordinary obstacles to live productive lives.  Fortunately, 21st century society has accommodated the infirmed and given them opportunities of independence never dreamed of only a century ago.

Accommodating favor has not been the case throughout history. From first century culture and throughout successive generations, those with maladies and deformities were looked upon negatively by every generation. In the first century a physical handicap was often seen as a judgment from God, and the Greeks considered the sick inferior. So when we come to the passage in John 9:1-3, we see the disciples questioning Jesus regarding a man “blind from his birth.” They asked Jesus, “who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:1-3).

The subject of our reading in Acts 3 had no doubt experienced the self-righteous judgment of many who passed through the gates of the Temple.  Some pitied him, but many gave little notice and considered him scarcely more than a daily nuisance when they made their way to the Temple for worship and prayer.

Consider what we know about the man whose miraculous healing caused a great stir among the Jews and their religious leaders.

He was forty years old and “lame from his mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2; 4:23).  He had never known the joy of walking, running or playing with his peers.  He was a burden to his family, who carried him to the gate of the Temple where he begged for coins to feed himself and his family (Acts 3:2).  He was well known in Jerusalem. Begging daily at the gate of the Temple (Acts 3:9-10), he was an object of charity for some and scorn for others who wondered out loud if his malady was not caused by sin.

There is much we might consider in this man’s healing and the events that followed it; however, let us ponder one question and some principles we can derive from it.:

Why was he born a cripple and what good did his life serve?

God allows afflictions in our lives as opportunities for His power and glory to be displayed.  Job said of his afflictions, “[the LORD] knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).  For some, the will and glory of God are accomplished through healing; for others, sickness, suffering and even death.

The miraculous healing of the man who was a paralytic from birth gave undeniable proof of God’s power and anointing on Peter and John’s lives and ministry (Acts 3:6-7; 4:14-16). Seeing a man whose paralysis had made him an object of pity or scorn for forty years suddenly walking, leaping and praising God filled the people “with wonder and amazement” (Acts 3:10).   They were dumbfounded, stupefied, astonished and “all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.” (3:11).

Closing thoughts (3:11-19) – First, consider the powerful testimony of loving compassion.  Peter and John lacked “silver and gold;” however, they gave what they could and declared, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (3:6).

Notice also the powerful testimony of sincere gratitude: “And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John…” (3:11).  The man who was healed “held” to Peter and John…meaning he clung to them, held fast with all his might.  They might have slipped away unnoticed, however, the man would not release them from his grip!

The backdrop of loving compassion and sincere gratitude opened an opportunity for Peter and John to deflect attention from themselves, and put the focus of the miracle where it belonged…Jesus Christ. We read, “[Peter]answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? 13The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go” (3:12-13).

Peter used the opportunity to glorify God and declare Jesus Christ holy, just, crucified and raised from the dead (3:13-15).  Enumerating their sins, Peter declared the Jews guilty, and called them to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ (3:13, 19).

Challenge – When you are tempted to complain about some infirmities, sickness, or sorrows, take time to pray, and ponder how God might use them as a testimony of His grace and for His glory.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

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.

Dead Man Walking (John 11)

Scripture reading – John 11; Luke 18

The Resurrection: Dead Men Will Walk Again! (11:1-45)

Bethany, the hometown of three siblings, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, is the setting of our devotional study in John 11. Verse 2 reminds us this was the same Mary who anointed Jesus “with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair (11:2). The scene is one of a crisis and desperation, for “Lazarus was sick” (11:2). His sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus, and said “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (11:3).

Surely, Mary and Martha believed Jesus would come quickly to their home in Bethany, and heal Lazarus whom they believed was terminally ill. Nevertheless, Jesus expressed with certainty: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (11:4b). Though He tarried, John 11:5 assures us, Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Still, Jesus’ love did not spare Lazarus of his illness, nor move Him to leave with haste to where Lazarus resided. Two days passed, when Jesus suddenly announced to His disciples, “Let us go into Judaea” (11:6).

The mention of going to Judaea raised alarm with the disciples. Knowing the village of Bethany was to the east of Jerusalem, the disciples desired to dissuade Jesus from going (11:8). They reminded the LORD His enemies had threatened to stone Him (John 10:31; 11:8). Then, Jesus announced plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (11:14).

After a day’s journey, Jesus and His disciples arrived on the outskirts of Bethany, about “fifteen furlongs off” (i.e., 2 miles out, 11:18). They were met by some who informed Him Lazarus was dead, and had been “lain in the grave four days already” (11:17). When Martha heard Jesus was close by, she came to Him and complained, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:21). Nonetheless, Martha expressed her faith that, with God’s power, Jesus could perform a miracle. Jesus answered her faith, “Thy brother shall rise again” (11:23).

Martha stated her faith in the “resurrection at the last day” (11:24); however, Jesus encouraged her weak faith saying, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (11:25-26)

Confessing faith that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God” (11:27), Martha rushed back to the house, and finding Mary, whispered, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee” (11:28). Mary instantly rushed out of the house, and came to Jesus overcome with sorrow, and through tears said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:32). Moved by her tears and sorrow, Jesus asked, “Where have ye laid him?” (11:34). The Scriptures, wonderfully and tenderly recorded the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (11:35).

Martha protested when Jesus commanded the removal of the stone that sealed the cave where Lazarus was buried (11:39), saying, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days” (11:39). Jesus lovingly rebuked Martha when He asked, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (11:40).

Then, lifting His eyes up to heaven, Jesus prayed, and with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (11:43). Miraculously, Lazarus came from the tomb, his hands and feet bound “with graveclothes: and his face…bound with a napkin” (11:44a). Jesus then said to the people, “Loose him, and let him go” (11:44b).

An Intolerable Crisis (11:45-57)

Looking back, the apostle John realized Jesus raising Lazarus after he had been dead four days was the zenith of Jesus’ miracles. Two responses to Lazarus being raised from the dead are noted (11:45-46). The miracle gave cause for many Jews to believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (11:45).  For His enemies, however, the miracle was intolerable and they determined Jesus must be die, or else their power and position among the people would be lost (11:46-53).

Jesus withdrew from Jerusalem, for He knew the hearts of His enemies were against Him (11:54). Only when it was time to present Himself as the Passover Lamb did He return to Jerusalem, and present Himself as the Christ, the Son of David, and heir to the throne of Israel (11:54-57).

Closing thoughts – God has appointed a day when Christ will return, and on that day: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Are You Ready for His Coming?

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

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.

Guidelines for Living, and an Attitude of Gratitude (Luke 17)

Scripture reading – Luke 17

Our chronological reading of the Scriptures continues with today’s devotional in Luke 17. We will consider two spiritual truths in our study.

Four Spiritual Principles (guidelines) For Life in a Sin Cursed World (17:1-10)

As we draw nearer the Cross, we find Jesus’ teaching moving from employing parables, to teaching His disciples specific spiritual principles. Consider four guidelines, or cautions the LORD taught His disciples regarding their lives, relationships, and sojourn in the world.

The first: “It were better for him [a man or woman] that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (17:2). Understanding offenses are inevitable in a sin cursed society, Jesus warned: Offend, discourage, or lead astray a younger or weaker believer, and you will invoke God’s wrath (17:1-2).

A second principle was a command to address offences when they arise: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (17:3). Some offenses are so grave we dare not overlook them, otherwise, we give place to bitterness. What should we do when we are offended by the words and sinful actions of another believer? We are to go with a spirit of meekness (Galatians 6:1), “rebuke him” (meaning to address the sin, 17:3), and be ready to forgive (17:4).

The essential of faith, was the third spiritual guideline, and it was summed up in this: “Faith as [i.e. little or small as] a grain of mustard seed,” is powerful (17:5-6). The final guideline was in the matter of obeying God: As a servant is duty bound to serve his master (17:7-9), so is a believer to serve the LORD (17:10). A believer has no cause or grounds for pride or boasting. When we have served the LORD faithfully, let it be said, “we have done that which was our duty to do” (17:10).

Gratitude: A Blessed Attitude (Luke 17:11-19)

Luke 17:11 reminds us Jesus was on His way, His final journey, to Jerusalem. Knowing the shadow of the Cross was growing nearer, Jesus passed “through the midst of Samaria and Galilee” (17:11). As He traveled with His disciples, He encountered ten lepers who appealed to Him from afar crying, “Master, have mercy on us” (17:12-13).

Jesus commanded the lepers, “Go shew yourselves unto the priests” (as was required by the law), and “as they went, they were cleansed” (17:14). Though ten men had been healed of that horrific, disfiguring disease, only one “turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan” (17:15-16).

Notice the phrase, “he was a Samaritan” (17:16).

“Misery loves company,” is a trite saying that might aptly describe the unity of the ten lepers. They had all experienced the shame and sorrow of outcasts, but when they were miraculously healed, only one, a Samaritan expressed sincere gratitude. As a Samaritan, he had known a life of rejection in Israel. He had borne not only the scars of leprosy, but the scorn of Jews who looked upon his lineage with disdain. Yet, he alone was thankful, and demonstrated the humility of one profoundly aware that he was the object of God’s grace. He turned back to the LORD, “and with a loud voice glorified God” (17:15).

Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” (17:17); “18There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger” (17:18).

Why a “stranger?” He was a Samaritan. Unlike the nine ungrateful men who were apparently Jews by lineage, he was born a “stranger” from God’s covenant promises with Israel. He felt his unworthiness, and was sensitive to his need. Though a “stranger,” he had been transformed, not merely physically, but spiritually.

Jesus commanded the Samaritan, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (17:19). He was whole! Not only delivered from leprosy, but delivered from the curse of sin, by his faith in Christ!

Closing thought – Are you whole? Not merely physically, but spiritually whole. You can be whole, by turning from sin, putting your faith and trust in Christ, and receiving Him as your Savior.

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

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

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.

Peace in the Storm (Mark 6; Luke 9)

Scripture reading – Mark 6; Luke 9

Note – The length of today’s Scripture reading (118 verses) encourages me to be brief in commentary. In addition, you will find we have covered similar content in the Gospel of Matthew.

By now, the term, “Synoptic Gospels” has become familiar as we continue our study of the Gospels by that term (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). You will notice in our Scripture reading a parallel of events that were considered in Matthew 13. For instance, we have seen Jesus rejected by the people of Nazareth, His hometown (Matthew 13:53-54), and the same rejection was recorded in Mark 6:1-6.

Matthew and Mark observed the tragic result of Christ’s final visit to Nazareth. Though His neighbors were astonished at His teaching, and had heard of the “mighty works…wrought by His hands,” they nevertheless rejected Him (Mark 6:2). They knew Him as “the carpenter, the son of Mary,” and knew His brothers and sisters (Mark 6:2-3). By the way, Mark 6:3 debunks the perpetual virginity of Mary, the false doctrine espoused by the Roman Catholic Church. Mary was the virgin mother of Jesus (He being of the seed of the Holy Ghost); however, she and Joseph were blessed with sons and daughters after our Lord’s birth (Mark 6:3). Tragically, because the people of Nazareth did not believe, Jesus “could there do no mighty work” (Mark 6:5).

A second example of a parallel event discovered in today’s Scripture reading is of when Jesus sent out the Twelve as apostles (Mark 6:7-12; Luke 9:1-5, Matthew 10:1-14). A third parallel event recorded in the Synoptic Gospels was the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-20; Matthew 14:1-12).

The news of John’s fate, and the return of the disciples with news of their ministering to the cities and villages of Galilee, gave impetus for Jesus to seek a quieter place in the desert (Mark 6:30-32), yet the people followed Him along the seashore until they came to the place where He and the disciples anchored (Mark 6:33-34; Luke 9:10-11; Matthew 14:13-14).

Hardheaded, Hardhearted Disciples (Mark 6:35-52; Luke 9:12-17)

Two other events found in today’s study have captured the imaginations of children for two millennium: “The Feeding of the 5,000” (Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; Matthew 14:15-21) and Jesus “Walking on the Water” and saving the lives of His disciples who were caught in a great storm (Mark 6:45-52; the same was recorded in Matthew 14:22-33).

Closing thoughts – Time and space do not allow a thorough study of today’s Scripture; however, I close with a question to ponder: After the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 (with only two fish and five loaves), why did Jesus send His disciples into a great storm where they feared for their lives?

Answer – The disciples “considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:52). Of course, Jesus knew the condition of their hearts. Though they had witnessed the miracles, and served the bounty of the miracle to the people, they were spiritually blind. They missed the significance of the feeding of the 5,000, though that miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power and authority over nature. When they saw Jesus walking on the troubled waters of the Sea of Galilee, they “worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).

Are you in a personal storm of doubt, disappointment, sickness, or sorrow? Is your trial about to overwhelm you? Think for a moment and consider, as the storm worked God’s purpose in the lives of the disciples, so too did the words of the Savior, when He spoke: “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” and the “wind ceased” (Mark 6:50). You may find the extremity of your need is the window of opportunity for the LORD to speak into your life, and give you His strength and comfort.

Psalm 18:30 – As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

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.

Hope for the Hopeless (Mark 5)

Scripture reading – Mark 5

We continue our study of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and our focus today is Mark 5. Once again, we have the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and arriving on the other side in an area identified as the Gadarenes (5:1). Matthew 8:28 recognized the same region as Gergesenes (Gadara was the name of a nearby city, while Gergesenes was the name of a lake on that side. There was also a city in that area named Gergesa). Another difference between Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels is the prior states there were “two possessed with devils” that met Jesus (Matthew 8:28), and the latter states the LORD encountered “a man with an unclean sprit” (5:2). The difference in the two accounts is not a contradiction, but only that Mark chose to record the event of one man, not two.

Let us consider, that harmony in content is one of the great testaments to the inspiration of the Gospels. While the Holy Spirit used different human authors, and employed each man’s unique perspective and language, nevertheless the accounts harmonize as a whole (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Together, the Synoptics give us a deeper dimension of the same events.

Today’s devotional will focus on Mark 5:1-20, and the terrible toll sin took upon one man’s life. Jesus and His disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, and arrived on the eastern shore. There, they were met by a hopeless, tormented, demon possessed man described as having an “unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2).

The Condition of a Desperate Sinner (5:1-5)

Consider the physical appearance of the demon possessed man: The man was described as having “fetters” (ropes) and chains that hanged about his body, showing the desperate attempts family and friends had made to control him (5:3-4). His body was scarred with self-inflicted wounds for he had cut “himself with stones” (5:5).

He was a troubled man, socially isolated from his family, friends, and neighbors. He had made his abode among the caves and tombs of the hillsides in the area (5:5). Imagine the sorrow his condition had brought upon his loved ones, for he had been driven into the desert leaving behind his family to bear the sorrow and shame of his condition. His emotional condition was exhibited in his tormented screams that echoed off the hillsides “always” (5:5). “Night and day” the wild, tormented screams of his anguish were heard (5:5).

Salvation and Transformation (5:6-15)

He was “possessed with the devil, and had the legion” (a legion was a Roman name of a company of soliders that might number in the thousands, 5:9, 15).  We are not told how the man came to be possessed by demons; however, sin had overtaken every part of his affections and thoughts. The evil, unclean spirit had degraded and destroyed his life, family, and future (James 1:14-15).

In a fleeting moment of desperation, the man ran to Jesus and worshipped Him (5:6); however, the demons that ruled his soul wanted nothing to do with Jesus (5:7).  Jesus, evidencing His power and authority over evil spirits, cast the demons out of the man and permitted them to enter a herd of swine that could not abide the indwelling of such wickedness (5:10-13).

Rather than the protracted steps and methods of “reformation” that is the methodology of secular psychologists and psychiatrists, the demon-possessed man’s life was immediately changed by his spiritual encounter and faith in Jesus. His life gave evidence of his conversion and the radical transformation was undeniable (5:8, 15). The change was so transformative his family, friends, and neighbors observed him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (5:15). He was “sitting,” at peace, and no longer bound by sin or needing chains and ropes.  They found him “clothed,” no longer a violent man crying and cutting himself. He was “in his right mind,” repentant and rational (5:15), and longed to go with Jesus (5:18). God’s power not only overcame his rebellious, evil spirit, it transformed his thoughts, mind, and affections.

Closing thoughts – Tragically, and in spite of the undeniable transformation in the man’s life, the citizens of Gadara begged Jesus to “depart out of their coasts” (5:17). They would not embrace Him as LORD, nor would they welcome Him in their homes or country. Jesus, knowing the man of Gadara could go where He would not be welcome, commanded him to, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (5:19). The change in the demon-possessed man’s life was undeniable evidence of his salvation. Can that be said of you?

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2And 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.”

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

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.

Who Are You Following? (Matthew 8)

Scripture reading – Matthew 8

A word of explanation is in order as our chronological reading of the Scripture brings us to Matthew 8. You will notice we are momentarily passing over Matthew 5-7, but this is only a temporary adjustment. The Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe events in the life of Christ from comparable viewpoints; however, they are not always chronological in their order. There are some who suggest that is the case with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Matthew 4 concluded with Jesus ministering “throughout “Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (4:23). As His fame grew, Jesus was followed by “great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan” (4:25). The record of the LORD’s travels paused as He “went up in to a mountain” (5:1), where He taught His disciples and the crowd that followed Him (Matthew 5-7). Coming “down from the mountain” (5:1-16), we find Jesus returning to His travels throughout Galilee (8:1).

Matthew 8

Several healing miracles are recorded in Matthew 8, and attest to Jesus’s divine power and authority over nature.

Healing a Leper (8:1-4)

Coming down from the mount, Jesus met a leper, who came “and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (8:2). Leprosy was a dreaded, incurable skin disease of that time, and eventually ate away at the flesh and appendages of its victim. The leper in our story would have been miserable, and desperate (Isaiah 1:5-6), an outcast and alienated from family and society. He came to Jesus seeking compassion, and believing he could be healed. Jesus, reaching past social norms, touched the leper and said, “I will; be thou clean” (8:3). We read, “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (8:3). Jesus then commanded the man, “See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (8:4; Leviticus 14:1-3).

Healing the Centurion’s Slave (8:5-13)

The leper having departed, Jesus came to Capernaum, and was met by a centurion (a Roman officer who commanded 100 soldiers, 8:5). Though a battle-hardened soldier, the centurion was a man who had compassion on a servant whom he described as “sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (8:6). Once again, defying norms and the prejudice of the Jews, Jesus consented to the officer’s plea, and said, “I will come and heal him” (8:7).

With humility, “the centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (8:8). Humility is rare (especially among the rich and powerful), and the centurion’s faith was extraordinary (8:8b-9). The LORD was astonished at the centurion’s faith, and commended His faith as superior to any He found among Jews (8:10b).

Turning to His disciples (8:11), Jesus foretold the Gospel would be received by many Gentiles (“from the east and west”), and foretold the Centurion was one of many who would become citizens of heaven (8:11). Tragically, many of the Jews (“children of the kingdom”) would reject Jesus and be sentenced to “outer darkness: [where]there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12).  The scene with the centurion concluded with Jesus assuring him his servant was healed (8:13).

Matthew 8:14-17 chronicles miracles of healing we have considered in Mark 1:29-31 and Luke 4:38-39.

First Claim Principle (8:19-22)

With great crowds pressing, Jesus “gave commandment to depart unto the other side” (to the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, 8:18). As they boarded their boats, two men came to Jesus and proposed they would go with Jesus. One said, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest” (8:19). He was a scribe, an expert in the Law of Moses, but when Jesus promised him a life of ministry that would be one of poverty (for the Son of man [Jesus] hath not where to lay his head”), he turned and walked away (8:20).

A second man, apparently accompanied the first, and he answered Jesus’ invitation to follow, saying, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father” (in essence saying, when his father died and he received his inheritance, he would follow Him, 8:21). Jesus refused the man, saying, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (8:22). Luke writes there was a third man who proposed to follow Jesus, but like the others, he was not ready to depart (Luke 9:61-62).

Peace in the Midst of a Storm (8:23-27)

Jesus and His disciples set sail across the Sea of Galilee, only to find themselves in the midst of a great storm, and their boats taking on water (8:24). With Jesus fast asleep, the disciples battled to save the ship until in desperation they cried, “Lord, save us: we perish” (8:25). Jesus then asked the disciples, Why are ye fearful. O ye of little faith?” (8:26) Rising to His feet, Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (8:26). Stunned by the sudden quiet, the disciples said among themselves, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! (8:27).

Closing thoughts (8:28-34) – We have seen the LORD have power to heal lepers, restore a paralytic, and demonstrate authority over nature to calm a storm. Yet, He recognized the free will of men to choose to follow Him, or reject Him (8:19-22). Like many, there were three who expressed a desire to be followers of Christ, but they were unwilling to sacrifice selfish ambitions and plans (8:18-22).

Our study ends reminding us the LORD also has power and authority over demons (8:28-34). Jesus freed the souls of two wicked sinners from the devils that possessed them, and not even a herd of swine could abide the evil spirits that those men had tolerated (8:28-32). Tragically, when their neighbors heard how Jesus cast devils out of the men, they rejected Him, and “besought Him that He would “depart out of their coasts” (8:34).

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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 New Beginning (Ezra 6, Psalm 137)

Scripture reading – Ezra 6, Psalm 137

We are continuing our study of Israel’s history after the Jews returned from exile. With the decree of king Cyrus to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (1:1-3), one might think the work on the Temple would be without opposition. After all, God’s people came to Zion with the affirmation of the king, his assurance of financial support, and the command for those Jews not returning to support those who were (1:4-11).

Fifty thousand Jews responded to the prospect of going home to the land God had promised Israel (2:1-70). After arriving in the land and settling in their homes, the people set about the task of building an altar (3:1-4) and laid the foundation of the Temple (3:5-11). A celebration began when the last stone of the foundation was set in its place, (3:11); however, rejoicing was soon followed by sorrow. There arose enemies who opposed the work on the Temple (Ezra 4). When they failed to halt the work (4:1-11), they appealed to the king of Persia (4:11-16) and accused the children of Israel of plotting a rebellion against the king.

Artaxerxes, king of Persia, ordered a search of the archives of the kings (4:17-22). Finding Israel and Judah had a history of rebelling against the occupation of their lands and cities, the king decreed the work on the Temple to cease (4:23-24).

Sixteen years passed, until the LORD sent His prophets, Haggai and Zechariah (5:1), who “prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem (5:1). “2Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God…and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (5:2). Again, the enemies of God’s people rose up to oppose them, and then appealed to the king (5:3-17).

Ezra 6

King Darius commanded a search be made of the archives (6:1), where it was discovered Cyrus, king of Persia, had commanded the Temple be built (6:3). Additionally, the king  had made provision for sacrifices, and given the dimensions and material composition of the Temple (6:3-5).

In a twist of humor, and serving as a testimony to the sovereignty of God, the attempt of the enemy to derail the work on the Temple concluded with the Jews being favored by the king. King Darius not only commanded the Jews’ enemies financially support their work, but also supply what was needed for food and sacrifices (6:6-10). Giving warning to any who might oppose them, the king proclaimed, “I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this” (6:11).

Ezra 6 concluded with a glorious celebratory dedication of the new Temple (6:15-17). The priests and Levites were divided and assigned their duties “as it [was] written in the book of Moses” (6:18), and the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were renewed (6:19-22).

What a wonderful, providential turn of events in the lives of God’s people! Knowing a king of Persia could not rescind a law once it was avowed, the LORD had preserved Cyrus’ decree for the Temple to be rebuilt. Darius was bound to the king’s edict, and moved to ensure it was fulfilled.

Closing thoughts – Notice Psalm 137 affords us a perspective on the sorrows the Jews bore during their years in Babylon. The children of Israel took for granted the grace and mercies of God, and continued in their sins until there was no remedy but the judgment of the LORD. God raised up many prophets to warn Israel and Judah, should they continue in their sins He would deliver them to their enemies.  Yet, they would not heed the warnings of His prophets, but continued in their sins until all was lost.

Arriving as captives in Babylon, the Jews were haunted by the memories of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Temple destroyed by fire. So, we read, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion” (137:1).

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.

Discouragement: The Devil’s Favorite Tool (Ezra 4; Ezra 5)

Scripture reading – Ezra 4; Ezra 5

With the foundation of the Temple laid, the air was filled with the sound of trumpets and cymbals, and the people “sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel” (3:11). The shouts of the younger generation, mingled with the tears of the “ancient men” (3:12), were “heard afar off” (3:13). Unbeknown to the people, their adversaries heard the noise of the celebration, and determined to halt the effort to rebuild the Temple (4:1). Ezra wrote, “the adversaries [enemies; foes] of Judah and Benjamin heard [took notice] that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel” (4:1).

Ezra 4 – Four Methods the Enemy Employed to Discourage God’s People (4:1-16)

On the pretense of friendship, the adversaries came to Zerubbabel (whom I believe was identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”), and suggested Assimilation. These enemies had been a part of the Assyrian policy to resettle a conquered land with people of other nations. Though they were a wicked, idolatrous people, they said to Zerubbabel, “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (4:2). Zerubbabel and Jeshua, joined by “the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel” (4:3), rejected the pretext of assimilation, saying, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us” (4:3).

Undeterred in their desire to hinder rebuilding the Temple, the enemies began a campaign of Aggravation (4:4-5). As time passed, “the people of the land [foreigners occupying Judah’s land] weakened the hands [the resolve] of the people of Judah, and troubled [terrified] them in building” (4:4). They even “hired counsellors [conspirators; agitators] against them, to frustrate their purpose” (4:5).

When assimilation and aggravation failed to stop the work on the Temple, the enemy turned to Adjudication, and addressed a letter to the king of Persia, and challenged the legality and legitimacy of the work to rebuild the Temple (4:6-10).

When all else failed, the adversaries of the people made a fourth attempt to impede the work on the Temple, and brought false Accusations against the Jews. The enemy employed two tactics in their spurious charges against the Jews: Deception; though the people were building the Temple, the enemy charged them with “building the rebellious and bad city” (4:12). The second tactic was Distortion, for the enemy questioned the integrity of God’s people, and implied the Jews were rebuilding the fortress of Jerusalem to the end they might rebel (4:13-15). The false accusations against the Jews were so serious, they eventually moved the king to send a letter to Jerusalem that demanded the work cease (4:23-24).

Closing thoughts – The antagonism and unrelenting attacks of their adversaries not only discouraged the people, but eventually halted the work on the Temple. Succumbing to spiritual lethargy, it seemed the enemies of Judah and Benjamin had succeeded. The work on the Temple ceased for 15 long years (Haggai 1:2-11), and the jubilation of Ezra 3, turned to sorrow and discouragement (4:24).

Lesson – Of all the implements in the devil’s toolbox, the most effective is discouragement. Believer, faithful servants of the LORD will always have detractors. Sadly, there are some in the church who feel their calling is to be a critic (by the way, they are usually the ones sitting on the sidelines of ministry).

Ezra 5

The work on the Temple had ceased, but the LORD had an answer for discouragement: He sent His prophets! “Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, [who] prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them” (5:1). Haggai preached messages that convicted (Haggai 1:5, 7, 9-11), while Zechariah preached messages of comfort and exhortation [dreams and visions]. Stirred by the prophets of God, Zerubbabel and Jeshua returned to the work, and “began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (5:2).

Closing thoughts – No sooner had the work on the Temple begun, than the adversaries returned, asking, “Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?” (5:3). Recognizing there was nothing they could do or say to appease their adversaries, the men working on the Temple answered the question with their own question: “What are the names of the men that make this building?” (5:4) Stated in another way: What business is it of yours, who has commanded us to build? We do not see your name on the list of contractors!

The elders of the people determined they would not be stopped from building the house of the Lord. They were confident “the eye of their God was upon” them (5:5). Once again, their enemies accused the Jews to the king (5:4-5). Unwittingly, they gave him cause to search the historical records of the kings of Persia, remembering the decree of a Persian king could not be rescinded (5:6-17).

As you will see, the tide will turn in Ezra 6 when the enemies opposed to rebuilding the Temple, will be forced to finance it with their own offerings.

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 End, of The End is Come (Ezekiel 7; Ezekiel 8)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 7; Ezekiel 8

Continuing our study of the book of Ezekiel, we remember he was a young priest (1:1-2) when the LORD called him to be His prophet. He was among the first removed from Jerusalem before the fall of that city, and was commissioned to prophesy to the Jews of the captivity in Babylon. In Ezekiel 7, the message to the children of Israel was a message of doom and judgment.

Fourfold Warning to Worshippers of Idols (7:1-4)

With the words, “An end, the end is come,” the fate of Israel and Judah was sealed (7:2). God’s judgment was imminent, the land of Israel would fall to Nebuchadnezzar’s army (7:2). God’s patience with the sins and abominations of His people was exhausted, for they had provoked Him to anger, and the LORD declared He would not show them pity (7:4). All of this, that the people might “know” and acknowledge Him as LORD (7:4).

God’s Purpose for Executing Judgment (7:5-9)

Declaring “an evil, an only evil, behold is come” (7:5), we read the emphatic announcement of judgment: “the end is come…the morning is come…the time is come, the day of trouble is near” (7:6-7). What was the basis of God’s judgment? It was to reward His people for their sinful ways and abominations (7:8-9).

The Description of God’s Judgment (7:10-27)

Though prophesied more than two and one-half millennia ago, there is much to be learned from the decay, death, and destruction of Judah as a nation. As you read this passage, remember Ezekiel is prophesying to the Jews living in captivity in Babylon, while Jeremiah was prophesying in the midst of Jerusalem and warning the people of that which was to come. Provoked to anger by the pride of His people (7:10), none living in Judah would be spared God’s judgment (7:11).

We find here several tragic traits of a rebellious people, and a dying nation. (7:12-27)

The first, a failed economy. The general trade of buying and selling failed (7:12), and the seller could not recover or be made whole (7:13). A dying nation refuses to hear and heed the warnings of prophets (portrayed here as the blowing of the trumpet, 7:14). There is a prevalence of death, as “the sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within” (7:15). Death became an ever-present reality, as the sword was symbolic of violence and war, pestilence is sickness and disease, and famine caused by failed crops and an inability to import food (caused by the siege).

Troubles and trials had brought with them a perpetual state of sorrow, for the moaning of the people sounded like the cooing of the “doves of the valleys” (7:16). Uncertainty and anxiety were portrayed as physical weakness, as fear, sorrows, and shame overtook the nation (7:16-18).

Ezekiel 7:19 returns to the failed economy of Judah and Jerusalem, for the people realized too late their wealth and possessions could not save them (7:19a). With food shortages and little provisions to “fill their bowels,” the people cast their gold and silver in the streets of the city (7:19b).  Their once beloved gold which had adorned their women and decorated their shrines, became spoils for the wicked (7:20-21). Even the LORD’s Temple was plundered and defiled (7:22).

Impoverished, and defeated, the LORD instructed Ezekiel to “make a chain” that served as a symbol of the captivity (7:23). Lest some accuse Him of injustice, the LORD declared, “I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them; and they shall know that I am the LORD” (7:27).

Ezekiel 8

Ezekiel 8 gives us again a supernatural revelation of God’s glory. Ezekiel was in his house, and with him the “elders of Judah” (8:1), when “the hand of the Lord God fell there upon [him]” (8:1). As He had when He first appeared to Ezekiel (1:26-28), the LORD displayed the likeness of His heavenly glory (8:2). In the vision, the Spirit of the LORD lifted Ezekiel up, and he was taken to the Temple where he beheld an idol he described as “the image of jealousy” (8:3).

Ezekiel saw “the glory of the God of Israel” (8:4) like that he had seen before, but as he lifted up his eyes, he also saw the “image of jealousy” in the LORD’s sanctuary (8:5-6). In the next verses, the LORD revealed to Ezekiel the desperate wickedness that was practiced by the elder and religious leaders of Judah (8:6). The Spirit of the LORD commanded the prophet to look through a hole in the wall of the Temple, and enlarge it where he peered into, and passed through a door into a secret chamber (8:7-9).

In the chamber, which was a secret room in the Temple, Ezekiel spied on the walls drawings of creatures, beasts, and idols (8:10). Then he saw 70 religious’ leaders of Jerusalem worshipping idols and offering incense to them (8:11), who declared “The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth” (8:12).

Yet, Ezekiel was to see an even greater wickedness in the Temple, for in one room there were women worshipping Tamuz, a fertility god whose worshippers were known to practice gross immorality. In another room of the Temple there were 25 men who worshipped the sun (8:16).

Closing thoughts – Though the LORD need not justify His ways and judgments to any man, yet, He asked Ezekiel, “Hast thou seen this, O son of man?” (8:17). Consider how far the nation had departed from the LORD, His Law and Commandments. They had defiled the Temple with idols (8:1-18), and their elders who were entrusted with teaching the Law and exercising righteous judgment, were guilty of idolatry in secret places. There was no hope for the nation, and in His anger, God declared He would not have pity on the people, and neither would He hear their cry. It was too late.

I cannot say if it is too late for you or your nation to repent. Nevertheless, do you see the signs of God’s judgment in your world? Violence, wars, natural disasters, disease and pandemics, gross immorality, and rumors of impending hunger…

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.