Category Archives: Devotional

Know That a Prophet Hath Been Among You (Ezekiel 33:33)

After enjoying a vacation in the Smoky Mountains, I look forward to being back in Hillsdale’s pulpit this Sunday.  We will return to our verse-by-verse study of the Gospel of John, taking up our study with the closing verses of John 9 and introducing one of the most beautiful and beloved passages of the Gospels… the Parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

Knowing the shepherd is a metaphor for a spiritual leader and the sheep is a metaphor for God’s people throughout the scriptures, I invested several hours focusing on the role of the shepherd and his relationship with the sheep.  In the Parable of the Good Shepherd we identify not only the character of the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ), we also see the evil characteristics of Israel’s spiritual leaders portrayed as “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) and as the “hireling” who flees “and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13).

Israel was cursed with spiritual shepherd’s like those described in John 10.  When the nation needed shepherds to boldly declare the Word of the Lord and condemn the sins of the nation, she instead promoted men to be her pastors who not only failed to lead the nation spiritually, but also exploited her vulnerable state.

The prophet Jeremiah warned the “pastors” (spiritual shepherds) of Israel, “1Woe be unto the pastors [lit. shepherds] that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD…I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1-2).

Ezekiel prophesied “against the shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:1-2), condemning the spiritual leaders for putting their self-interests before the needs of the people (34:2).  Israel’s pastors had taken the best of everything for themselves (34:3), neglected the weak and injured (34:4a), failed to seek the lost, pursued sinful pleasures, and failed to call God’s people to be a holy people (34:4).  Israel had become an immoral, lawless nation and God determined to turn the nation and their shepherds over to be afflicted (Ezekiel 34:10).  God, however, did not leave His people hopeless and promised them He would one day deliver them (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

The task of a faithful prophet is not a popular one and God warned Ezekiel he would become the object of scorn (Ezekiel 33).  God challenged the prophet, “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7).  Ezekiel was admonished, should he fail to warn the wicked in his sin and the wicked man “die in his iniquity”, the blood of the wicked would be on his hands (Ezekiel 33:8).

Ezekiel 33 closes with a malady that in my observation is present in fundamental churches and colleges of our day…a generation that is “talking against” the prophet, expressing a faux-piety of hearing “the word that cometh forth from the LORD” (33:30), and “with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (33:31).  God warns Ezekiel, “they hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32).

From a perspective of outward results, Ezekiel was a failure for Israel did not repent of her sins and her pastors continued in their wickedness.  Ezekiel was promised, when God’s judgment falls upon Israel, all would “know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33).

The words of a faithful, prophetic (forth-telling), uncompromising preacher are not welcome in most pulpits and one need not look far in our churches, colleges, and seminaries to understand there are many who “hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32).  I pray God might find me faithful and some “shall know that a prophet hath been among them” (33:33).

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

Hillsdale’s First Disaster Relief Team Is In Panama City…A second to follow this Wednesday

Natural disasters are terribly inconvenient and come at the untimeliest moments.

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Friends and Followers,

Last Wednesday, Hillsdale was finishing four days of blessings after hosting, housing many, and feeding 200 guests for Baptist World Mission’s Annual Meeting.  At the time, we had no way of knowing the devastation Hurricane Michael had created in Panama City and outlying coastal towns of the Florida Panhandle.

Our church family is tired, many of our members having taken vacation days to assist with the BWM conference.  News of the suffering in the Panhandle followed by an invitation and request from Dr. Jan Milton, founder of Operation Renewed Hope, that Hillsdale organize to assist brethren and neighbors in northern Florida, motivated us to arise to the occasion in light of this principle:

1 John 3:17-18 – 17  But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassionfrom him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18  My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

Some have said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Our current goal is to send three teams to the Florida Panhandle.  Our first team is focused in Panama City at Central Baptist Church and assisting Lighthouse Baptist Church.  I am advised our second and third team will thrust out from Panama City to small coastal towns that have not received aid or assistance.

Hillsdale’s policy is to work with and through local churches that are like-minded and can continue as a Lighthouse of the Gospel long after we are gone.  As I told our church family on Sunday, “We are not interested in taking credit for any effort. We are working with local churches for them to shine for Christ and minister to their families and neighbors.”

The expense of renting a large box truck, purchasing pallets of water, cases of non-perishable food, paper goods (including diapers), and cleaning supplies is enormous. In addition, the cost of fuel for hauling in trailers and heavy equipment if needed is beyond one local churches effort. The expense of our first team has exceeded $5,000 and we believe the second and third teams might be near the same.

(Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

I close with two challenges. The first, if you can GO, call our church office and request to speak to Family Pastor Eric Peterman to volunteer.  The second, if you cannot go, GIVE. You can give online to Hillsdale at http://www.hillsdalebaptist.org, look for the Donations button in the upper righthand corner, select Other and designate to Disaster Relief Fund. 100% of your gift will go to defray the expenses incurred in our ministry in the Florida Panhandle.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

Hillsdale Baptist Church

HELP US HELP THE VICTIMS OF HURRICANE MICHAEL

October 12, 2018

Hillsdale family and friends,

As many of you know, Hurricane Michael left a path of destruction this week when that storm, packing near Category 5 winds, directed its fury on Panama City and outlying areas along the coast of Florida’s Panhandle.  The pictures coming out of the area are described as having the appearance of a war zone.

The devastation from the winds was so great in that area that details are only now slowly emerging.  Operation Renewed Hope, an organization Hillsdale has worked with in the past has found it impossible to establish a staging area for assistance since it appears the churches contacted in advance of the storm were themselves destroyed.

One of Hillsdale’s men, a man with extensive background with the military and an expert in disaster relief, is leaving Tampa this afternoon and driving to Panama City.  Fortunately, he has credentials to go into secured areas not open to residents and the general public (by the way, a “thank you” to the good people at Veterans Fordand manager Lorenzo Pena for supplying our man with a vehicle elevated enough to go into those areas).

Hillsdale, in cooperation with Operation Renewed Hope, will send in men and supplies after a safe route is found and a secured staging area is established.  Our goal will be to find a church that will commit to housing supplies and working with us, allowing us to minister to churches and their neighbors in Panama City and surrounding regions.

Departure time is uncertain, pending the survey trip; however, Hillsdale’s youth pastor, Justin Jarret, is acting as our point man for putting together the first team which is already forming with skilled and unskilled volunteers.

Hillsdale members will be given an opportunity this Sunday to designate financial gifts for the Disaster Relief effort.  You can also bring cases of bottled water this Sunday morning to be transported by our team to Panama City.

If you want to be a part of our Disaster Relief effort, you may donate to Hillsdale Baptist Church, knowing 100% of your gift will go to the expenses and supplies in our effort to minister to those in need in the areas impacted by Hurricane Michael.  Please look for the “Donations Button” and follow instructions.  Of course, you can also mail your financial gifts to Hillsdale Baptist Church, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL, 33624.  Please designate to “Disaster Relief”.

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. smith

Senior Pastor

COPYRIGHT 2018 – TRAVIS D. SMITH

At the Risk of Being Misunderstood

John McCain’s death has drawn tributes from all quarters of the world…political and religious; however, I fear we too easily overlook the one lasting lesson we might take from his life … “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Lest I be accused of callousness, I extend to John McCain’s family sincere condolences, being reminded the grief and sorrow of death is a universal certainty. Indeed, death is no respecter of persons and we all, great and small, live under the shadow of death, “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

I am not privy of John McCain’s spiritual relationship with God at his death.  Commended by many for his service to our country, the only commendation that has lasting, eternal value is whether or not God received him on the basis of his faith in the redemption found in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Of all the acclamations expressed to a man for a life-time of service, the most important is not one he deserves, but one promised as an expression of God’s grace: “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

United States Naval Academy graduate, naval aviator, tortured prisoner of war, and life-time politician…all earn the acclaim of an adoring public, but I wonder if God received John McCain as a believer saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  After all, “there is no respect of persons” before God’s judgment (Colossians 3:24-25).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

To My Critics

I realized my earlier blogs stating my observations and concerns regarding Bob Jones University  would not be received well by some.  While I expressed my thoughts in a spirit of love and sorrow, I was aware I might be greeted with a vitriol that might turn personal and caustic.

Like the culture we live in, I have found many believers infected with a strident spirit that maligns and attacks. Indeed, it is that harsh vindictive spirit that chides many into silence.

I have no interest in debating ad nauseam my concerns, nor do I have time to address every critic.  My concerns are my concerns. If you do not share them, that is fine by me; however, do not attack me for daring to express them.

My blogs were not written with a spirit of malice, but as an expression of a shepherd who loves his sheep. After nearly 33 years of ministry at Hillsdale Baptist Church, I am content with being a pastor and have no interest in being a crusader for or against any institution.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

A Failure to Stay the Course

Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018

Institutional erosion often begins slowly, perceived by only the most discerning, and too often explained and dismissed as harmless and inconsequential change.  When the signs of decay are apparent, it is often too late to correct without a major, often expensive, and sometimes impossible attempt to salvage.

Like the disaster that follows a ship at sea when its captain fails to stay the course only by degrees, so too is a Christian institution’s end when it departs from the very distinctives that instilled discipline and character in its student body.

For more than 15 years I have observed a pattern of change at Bob Jones University that is all too familiar.  Like a ship slowly, imperceptibly drifting from its course, the University is adrift from the disciplines that shaped the character of generations of Christian students in its past.

While the University has failed to stay the course in its disciplines, its alumni have failed to hold its administration accountable for its direction.  Fundamental pastors, so quick to point out the flaws and failures in other ministries in the past, have been all but silent while the board and leadership at BJU steers the University away from its fundamental moorings.  Why the silence?  Why the accommodation of changes we know are not welcome in our own ministries, but are being thrust upon us and our children by an institution we loved and trusted?

The University recently announced changes to this year’s Student Handbook that include allowing women to wear pants to class and athletic shorts raised to 2 inches above the knee.  Other changes in the clothing standard are summed up as “too many changes to write”.

Admittedly, there were some things in BJU’s Student Handbook that did not make sense in my era (for example, guys wearing ties to classes in the morning, but not in the afternoon; men wearing suit jackets to dinner and ties to go off campus; women wearing hose year round).  All of those irritants are gone now, but so are many of the disciplines that instilled distinctive Christian virtues in the student body.

In a video Facebook post, Dr. Steve Petit addresses the dress code changes that  take effect in this Fall’s 2018 Student Handbook (see pp. 29-32) and gives his reasons for the changes.  Some changes in the handbook are practical and merely an adaptation of institutional policy taking advantage of new technology.  Other changes are, in my opinion, a continuing pattern of pragmatism evidencing a drift from core principles that were once the trademark of Bob Jones University.

It is not the individual rule changes that are bothersome as much as it is the continuing pattern of change that is eroding the core values that once shaped the character of the student body at BJU.  The distinctive disciplines that set BJU apart from the likes of Furman University, Liberty University, and Cedarville University are eroding as is the polished character that was BJU’s hallmark.

The board and administration of Bob Jones University are following its smaller predecessors to its own ruin.  Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University, and Clearwater Christian College (to name a few), all drifted from their distinctive character as fundamental Bible Colleges and because of that drift their demise became inevitable.  I am afraid their end will be sadly the same for the University. 

For too long we have given liberty to the BJU board, administration, and faculty, believing they shared the same convictions and core values as our churches and families.  It is with sorrow I confess, while many of the University’s alumni have stayed the course, the board, administration, and faculty have not.

The erosion and decay of BJU has manifested itself openly.  The institutional drift has taken the University far from its distinctive moorings.  I fear Bob Jones University is too far gone and what was once the flagship of Bible fundamentalism is a shadow of her past.

With the heart of a shepherd and a 1977 alumni of Bob Jones University,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

  • An Addendum (09\07\18) – I became aware some of the critics of my original post have tried to paint me as an old “fuddy-duddy”, anti-pants pastor; however, my article on the dress-code change at BJU was not an anti-pants rant, but a question of where the institution will draw the line in holding to its disciplines and distinctives.  I believe BJU’s decision on the matter of women wearing pants to class and chapel removes yet another discipline for teaching young women godly modesty and appropriate decorum.  BJU was at one time all about training, discipline, and developing a sharp product.  I fear that philosophy continues to be sacrificed at my alma mater.
  • On a personal note, every organization of any worth will have established policies for appropriate decorum.  While Hillsdale Baptist Church requires men on our platform to wear suit jackets and women to wear modest dresses, we do not expect the same of our audience (although the overwhelming majority of our membership follows the lead of our platform dress).

Note from the author: The concerns expressed in this blog are the latest of a series I have published expressing my concerns with the drift of our Bible fundamental institutions and churches. For more background, please refer to: 1) From the Front Pew; 2) A Travesty of Abandonment; 3) A Travesty of Abandonment: Christian Schools that Have Left the Ancient Landmarks; 4) Warning: Cater to the Carnal and You Do So at Your Own Peril; 5) What Were They Thinking?; 6) Catering to Carnality; 7) Hijacked: You Can Lose Your Church; 8) Where is the Christian Westpoint of this Generation?

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

Silent No More

This brief blog post serves as an introductory post to one that will follow titled, “A Failure to Stay the Course: Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018”.  I am a 1977 graduate of Bob Jones University and one who has been a loyal alumnus.  

I arrived at Bob Jones University as a 16-year-old freshman in the fall of 1973 and was overwhelmed with a culture shock like none I have experienced since.  This son of the South, born in Lancaster, South Carolina and aptly self-defined as a country-boy was unacquainted with the graces of culture and the refinements of art.  I was a rough, crude piece of coarse clay; a public-school graduate who loved and longed to serve the LORD and desired the training and polish of a Christian education.

My childhood home was loving and disciplined. I knew the rigors of rising early on a small farm, working hard, and appreciated the sacrifices of my loving parents. My desire to go to a Christian college was foreign to my family and the culture of my community; however, it was a seed planted in my heart by the visit of a missionary to Alaska.

A child of the hippy culture of the 1960’s and the anti-war, anti-establishment of the 1970’s, I was unaware of my immaturity as a believer, the deficiencies of my education, or my cultural backwardness.  I knew little of the scriptures and nothing of Christian Fundamentalism, Keeping the Faith, or Fighting the Good Fight.

The administration and faculty of Bob Jones University gave no accommodation to this southern boy’s worldly-wise ways and even less provision for my academic failings.  I found myself, in a proverbial sense, thrown into the deep-end of the pool where I found little empathy for my struggles. BJU had somehow insulated itself from college-campus riots and “panty-raids” that were dogging other college campuses. The school was not only unapologetically Christian, it was doggedly adherent to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

There were many irritants in the BJU culture that were not only exasperating, but provoking.  There was a discipline that gave little grace and even less understanding for the excuses and failures of youth.  Outside the campus fence my generation was bold and rebellious; casting aside disciplines and morals that had shaped the “Greatest Generation”.  Inside the campus fence little had or would change for another twenty-years.

I thank God it was that culture of discipline, tough-love, and unapologetic convictions that were present to shape and prepare the pliable heart of this Christian teen.  I learned my superiors were not concerned with fairness, but rightness.  I also knew there were times they were wrong; however, the rules were the rules and institutionally the approach was “one size fits all”.

I have learned rules and regulations, often inconvenient and at times inexplicable, are necessary.  Patterns of personal and academic disciplines thrust upon us in our youth shape attitudes and strengthen character.  When we cast off or adapt rules and standards to accommodate youthful immaturity or to enhance cultural assimilation we do so at the peril of a generation that will never know the enrichment of exhortation or the powerful influence of loving correction.

I close with a brief dedicatory of names whose lives provoked me in my youth and whose influence follows me to this day: Dr. Bob Jones, Jr; Dr. Gilbert Stenholm; Dr. Richard Rupp; Dr. Gunter Salter; Dr. Walter Fremont; and Dr. Dwight Gustafson.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Note from the author: You will find the observations expressed in this blog mirrored in several posts I have published in recent years regarding the drift of our Bible fundamental institutions and churches.  For more background, please refer to: 1) From the Front Pew; 2) A Travesty of Abandonment; 3) A Travesty of Abandonment: Christian Schools that Have Left the Ancient Landmarks; 4) Warning: Cater to the Carnal and You Do So at Your Own Peril; 5) What Were They Thinking?; 6) Catering to Carnality; 7) Hijacked: You Can Lose Your Church; 8) Where is the Christian Westpoint of this Generation?

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith