Category Archives: Devotional

Lunging Toward the Cliff of “No Return”

More than a year has passed since I first published my concerns regarding the direction the board and administration of Bob Jones University is taking my alma mater.  “Silent No More” and “A Failure to Stay the Course” tallied a pattern of compromise that has taken the University far from its historical moorings as a separatist institution.

BJU Seminary Seminar, November 11-12, 2019

Board members, administrators, and faculty who have any longevity with the University are well aware they have taken the institution down a path far from its historic legacy as an unapologetic bastion of Biblical fundamentalism.  For over a year I refrained from addressing the drift until I learned of yet another example too egregious to ignore.

The latest conference identified as the “Stewart Custer Lecture Series” (November 11-12, 2019) is illustrative of how far and how fast Bob Jones University is lunging toward the cliff of “no return”.

Who is Andy Naselli? 
Andy Naselli is an associate professor of New Testament and theology at John Piper’s Bethlehem College & Seminary and a pastor\elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN where Piper served as pastor for 33 years (Piper is the founder and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary).  

Staff Leadership Photo; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN

While I hate to admit Naselli was trained in the vein of a fundamentalist (BA from Baptist College of Ministry  MA & Ph.D. from Bob Jones University), I can at least take some solace that he has followed the path of his most recent institution, with a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

For perspective: John Piper is a non-cessationist and believes in the present-day employment of Charismatic gifts (tongues, healing, and prophecy).  While Piper believes the office of the Apostle has ceased, he does believe in some sense of the prophetic gift.  Understanding Andy Naselli serves as a pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and is employed by institutions associated with John Piper, it is safe to say…Andy Naselli is not a Biblical separatist fundamentalist.

Make no mistake… Andy Naselli was privileged to serve as the highlighted guest speaker at BJU’s Seminary and the University and its administrative leadership has accepted the baggage that goes with Piper and his cronies—The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, to name two. 

Under Dr. Steve Petit’s leadership, Bob Jones University continues to follow a path of ecclesiastical compromise, embracing the spirit of Neo-evangelicalism, and rejecting its historical legacy as a Bible fundamental, separatist institution.

Dr. Bob Jones, Jr.

At least we who were in classes and privileged to be challenged by separatists like Drs. Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones III, Gilbert Stenholm and Richard Rupp can take consolation in this:   While the current administration has sadly tarnished the reputation of Dr. Stewart Custer, they have so far spared the Jones’ that humiliation.

Jude 1:3 – 3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Spiritual Qualifications of the Pastor and the Failure of the 21st Century Church (Titus 1:6-9)

One of the great failings of the 21stcentury church is men in the pulpit and positions of church leadership who are not spiritually qualified.

This past week, Josh Harris, a former mega-church pastor of the Sovereign Grace Movement (becoming pastor at age 30), former leader of The Gospel Coalition, and best known for his best-seller book on dating titled, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (published when he was only 21 years old), announced on social media, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

Harris’ announcement of his “falling away” from the Christian faith was preceded by an announcement two weeks prior that he and his wife of 21 years were ending their marriage.  

Harris’ most recent announcement grabbed national and international headlines as he not only repudiated his book on dating and rejected Christianity, but also made an apology to the LGTBQ community writing on Instagram, “to the LBGTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry.”

Behind the latest headlines is some old news…Josh Harris and his mentor, C. J. Mahaney, the former leader of the Sovereign Grace Movement, were exposed in May 2014 for their failure to prevent or stop sexual abuse in their Maryland church, Covenant Life when they learned a youth leader was sexually abusing three boys in the church.  That same man was later convicted of sexual crimes against minors.

While the secular and Christian media, along with a legion of bloggers, are focused (and some celebrating), Harris’ rejection of Christ and the authority of God’s Word in faith and practice, I suggest there is a greater disgrace than one man’s “falling away”; the 21st century church’s failure to examine its leadership in light of the spiritual qualifications for the office of pastor\teacher (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 3:1-12; Titus 1:6-9).  

What lesson might we take from this ecclesiastical humiliation?  A spiritually unqualified man in the role of pastor\teacher will inevitably disgrace a church, it’s ministries, and testimony in the community and world.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The Church, Her Spiritual Leaders and Their Failures

On a personal note: By God’s grace I recently celebrated four decades of ministry and have been blessed to serve on the pastoral staff of Hillsdale Baptist Church for thirty-four years.  The following article is written from my perspective as a pastor and graduate of a Christian University that historically made no apology for its Bible fundamental, separatist stance.

For two decades I have pondered the waning of conservative, independent, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges in our nation.  While I pray for a spiritual awakening in America, I see little hope when our own families and ministries are following the spiritual erosion of our culture. Indeed, should we who identify as Bible-believers continue our flirtation with sin, I fear Bible-preaching is at risk of being silenced within a generation.

Having experienced social media vilification in the past, I fear my perspective will offend some and is not shared lightly or with a desire to offend. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my concerns, not as a provocation, but as an exposé of what I believe is the primary factor contributing to the failure of historic, conservative Bible-Christianity in America.

Across our nation, a millennial consortium of progressive preachers is assuming the pulpits of conservative, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges.  Preaching a message of grace without a call to personal sanctification and holiness, they have spawned a pseudo-piety and tolerance of sin and carnality the generation before them decried.  

A brief history lesson on conservative, fundamental Bible Christianity

From the 1950’s to the closing years of the 20thcentury, Bible-fundamentalism inspired a Gospel awakening (not so much a spiritual revival) in America.  Veterans of World War II returned to America with an evangelistic zeal giving rise to conservative, fundamental Christian Colleges whose student bodies experienced phenomenal growth until the late 1990’s.

Tens of thousands of young men enrolled in Bible colleges and became pastors across America and missionaries around the world.  That generation inspired the School Bus Ministry movement in the 1960’s and began the Christian School movement in the 1970’s continuing through the 1990’s.  The birth of the Home School movement in the 1990’s revived the prospect of a generation of youth who might surrender their lives to the LORD and dedicate themselves to serve as pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

The 21st century; however, has proved disastrous for conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches and institutions.

Failing churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries dot the American landscape.  Spiritual apathy has taken hold on our homes, churches, and schools.  Aging congregations, falling church attendance, and a precipitous decline in young men going into ministry now threaten the future of conservative Biblical Christianity.

While there are many explanations for the spiritual erosion we are witnessing in our Bible-believing churches and institutions, I will limit myself to a few.  The first, cultural wars within and without our homes. Some will argue the church has failed to adapt to cultural changes.  Others will argue, in an attempt to be relevant, the church lost its identity and has become irrelevant.  The disparity between what the Bible teaches and what our homes, churches, and institutions practice is another reason for the diminishing of our churches. We are hearers of the Word, but are we doers?  Christian educators fault the churches for pervasive spiritual apathy in the students, while pastors accuse those same institutions of accommodating carnality at the sacrifice of spiritual zeal.

Believing everything rises and falls on leadership, I conclude the responsibility for the spiritual failings of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and universities, and seminaries rests with the spiritual leaders of this, my generation. 

My peers have served as the spiritual leaders of our institutions for more than two decades.  Unlike any generation before, my generation has faced and grappled with an unprecedented intrusion of technology.  While the pastors of my youth sounded the alarm regarding the secular influences of radio, television, movies, and rock music; the ministers of my generation pastor congregations that, with a few clicks of a mouse, surf the internet and introduce to their families every imaginable influence… doctrinally, culturally, and socially.

Cable television, internet, social media, and cell phones are seducing the hearts of our children and empowering the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology.  While Christian parents prove either ambivalent or ill-prepared for the seduction of “worldliness”, their spiritual leaders are encountering a radical cultural shift and failing to address the intrusion of sin in their own homes and ministries.

Facing a spirit of rebellion in their homes, churches, and Christian schools, the spiritual leaders of my generation, in an attempt to parley peace with their own youth, have accommodated their sins. The consequence is an extra-biblical liberty that embraces the sins of the world, its pleasures, and inevitable consequences (1 John 2:15-17).

Warning: Spiritual leaders who accommodate the sins of their children will invariably compromise the core values of the ministries entrusted to their care.

To understand why Bible-believing churches, Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries are forsaking spiritual disciplines, one need only to look to the pulpits and the leaders who occupy them. My generation has failed to call the church to sanctification and holiness because we have succumbed to a paralysis induced by our own spiritual failings.

Almost without exception, the failure of churches and the compromise and eventual closure of Christian institutions in my sphere have one thing in common… leaders who sacrificed their spiritual integrity to accommodate the sins of their children.

Consider Paul’s admonition to Titus.  Having declared the virtues and spiritual qualifications of the leaders of the church (Titus 1:6-9), including “blameless”, the principal, indispensable qualification of the pastor that includes his role as the “husband of one wife” and “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6), Paul warns:

“For there are many unruly [disobedient; rebellious] and vain talkers [empty, useless talk] and deceivers [impostors; seducers]…whose mouths must be stopped [silenced; bridled], who subvert [overturn; destroy] whole houses [families], teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake [dishonest gain]…Wherefore rebuke [reprove; convict] them sharply [cut off; severely].” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13)

Principle – Leaders deficient in the spiritual qualifications of their office will invariably lack the spiritual power and authority “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” [opposed to Truth and sound doctrine](Titus 1:9)

I close this introductory article on spiritual leaders and their failings, urging you to take away three lessons from the failed example of my generation:  

1) Technology will seduce the hearts of your children and empower the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology; 2) Accommodate the sins of your children and you will invariably sacrifice your core values;   3) Compromise your convictions and you will lack the spiritual power and authority to exhort and rebuke those who oppose sound Biblical truths.

1 John 2:15-17– 15  Love not the world, neither the things that arein the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him
16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 
17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Daily devotionals from “The Heart of a Shepherd”

Dear friend,

Greetings from the author of the “Heart of a Shepherd” and the Senior Pastor of Hillsdale Baptist Church, Tampa, FL.

In addition to the burdens and responsibilities that are the nature of the pastorate, I have realized the need to assess the time and labor invested in producing daily devotions. With the exception of Sunday’s, I have been writing and posting daily devotions based on this year’s “Read Thru the Bible” schedule since January 1, 2019.

Because my primary obligation in ministry is foremost to the church I pastor, my goal in writing daily devotional commentary is to encourage Hillsdale to study the scriptures daily.  Of course, the broader blessing for me is there are many around the world who also follow the devotions.

In my assessment, I feel a need to lessen my daily labor in writing, producing and publishing the devotions (taking on average at least 90 minutes a day) and prioritize my daily labor for studying in preparation for preaching on Sundays.

I intend to publish regular devotionals during the course of a week; however, I ask your understanding as I relax from the burden of doing so daily.   I hope you will continue to follow the Bible reading schedule in the absence of my daily devotionals.

Sign up as a subscriber to my Heart of a Shepherd blog where you can search by scripture reference over 1200 devotionals (including an extensive devotional commentary on the Book of Proverbs).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Who is Responsible? The One with the Axe over His Neck! (Numbers 29-30)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 29-30, Psalm 54, and Luke 10. Our devotional is from Numbers 29-30.

As a reminder, the geographical setting of the closing chapters in Numbers is on the east side of the Jordan River at the threshold of the Promise Land.  Israel is encamped once again where the previous generation had turned back forty years before.  Knowing his days with Israel are numbered (Numbers 27:13), Moses set his heart on the task of preparing his successor, Joshua, to lead the nation (27:16-17, 23).

Making vows and being bound by them is the subject of Numbers 30.   Vows and covenants are not to be treated lightly and once they are made, without the intervention of a superior authority, they are binding with few exceptions.

One exception is a girl or young woman living under her father’s roof.  In explanation: A father who discerns a daughter’s vow to the LORD has the right and authority to cancel the vow.  Should the father be silent, his daughter’s vow stands (30:3-6).

Another exception is the vow of a married woman.  Should a wife make a vow to the LORD, her husband is empowered to cancel the vow and accept responsibility for his decision, while his wife’s obligation to the vow is absolved (30:6-8).

Widowed or divorced women were bound by their vows to the LORD and could not cancel them (30:9).  Reminding us the husband is the head of the wife and home, the husband had authority to cancel the vow of his wife or allow it to stand (30:10-16).

Friend, it is the bent of our nature to focus on the authority aspect of this subject and fail to see the protection and accountability a father and husband bears in the sight of God.  In God’s plan, a father and husband bears not only the authority as head of his household; he is also directly accountable to God for acting as the shield, the watchman, and counselor of his family.

In other words, fathers and husbands are accountable for the vows and decisions of their households and the axe of God’s judgment will fall upon their necks.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

“When You Know Your Time is Up” (Numbers 27-28)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 27-28, Psalm 53, and Luke 9. Our devotional is from Numbers 27.

Numbers 27 marks the end of an era and inevitably, a changing of the guard for Israel.

Numbers 27 opens with Moses bringing a problem before the LORD (27:1-5), seeking His wisdom, and returning to the people to state God’s will in a matter (Numbers 27:6-11).

Knowing Moses was nigh 120 years old, the immediacy of his death was a given; however, such is rare in the human spirit that is deeply invested in this world.  With what seems a unceremonial abruptness, the LORD reveals to Moses his death is imminent and commands him saying,“Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. 13 And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered” (Numbers 27:12-13).

With meekness that has characterized his life (Numbers 12:3), Moses accepted the consequence of his sin without protest” (27:14; 20:7-13) and wisely requested the LORD “set a man over the congregation before his death (27:15-16).

Evidencing his love for the people in his charge, Moses desired to prepare the nation to move forward in his absence.  He did not want his successor to be a man chosen by a popular vote of the people; he wanted the man of God’s choosing.  A man who would “go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd”(27:17).

Israel needed a leader with a shepherd’s heart and God chose “Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit” (27:18).

Moses confirmed Joshua before “all the congregation” (27:19) and challenged the people to honor and obey him (27:20).  Making certain “Eleazar the priest…and all the children of Israel” (27:21) understood Joshua was God’s man, Moses “laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the LORD commanded” (27:23).

Moses was one of the greatest men to ever walk the earth; however, his death was inevitable (Numbers 27:13).   Miriam, Moses’ sister was dead.  Aaron his brother was dead.  Because he had sinned before all the people, Moses would die short of the Promise Land (27:14).

My friend, I close reminding you, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).   This earthly life is temporal, like “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14b).   The author of Hebrews writes, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

In our youth we dream and plan for careers, marriage and family.  We make vocational choices and set goals.  Too many of us are guilty of failing to plan for the inevitability of our own death.  What about you?  Is your household in order?

Wise men and women plan for the future.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

“Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap” (Numbers 25-26; Galatians 6:7)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 25-26, Psalm 52, and Luke 8. Our devotional is from Numbers 25-26.

Today’s reading assignment (Numbers 25-26) sets the stage for the beginning of the end of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.  

Reminding us “evil communications (companions) corrupt good manners (morals)” (1 Corinthians 15:33), Numbers 25 opens with a tragic decision made by some in Israel.  We read, “the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (25:1).  The influence of the Moabite women did not stop with the lust of the flesh, for we read in the next verse they invited the men of Israel to share in sacrificing, eating, and bowing down to their gods (25:2).

Consider three spiritual lessons from today’s Bible reading.

The first, familiarity with the ways of the wicked leads inevitably to the Temptation of Sin.  Having cast aside all moral restraint (Numbers 25:1-3), the people provoked the LORD to wrath, worshipping Baalpeor, the Canaanite god of fertility represented as a bull (25:3).

A second lesson is the Tragic Consequences of Sin (25:3b-5, 9).  The sins of the people were so egregious they provoked the LORD to anger and He demanded justice (25:3b-4).   Placing the responsibility for the sins upon the “heads of the people” (25:4), the LORD demanded they be slain and their bodies hanged in the sun as a warning to the nation (25:5).

One sin led to another until one man was so brazen in his sin he “brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:6, 14-15).  Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, and grandson of the late high priest Aaron, was so moved with godly zeal, he rose up and slew the man and the woman, and the LORD stopped the plague leaving 24,000 dead in Israel. (25:10-13).

Numbers 26 opens with a reminder of the plague that had taken 24,000 lives (26:1; 25:9) and closes with a review of an entire generation that perished in the wilderness, save two men, Caleb and Joshua (26:65).

The LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to take a second census of the males, 20 years and older, by tribe and household, before they crossed the Jordan River.  The census served two purposes: The first, to number men by tribe who were old enough to go to war (25:2).  The second, to use the count of each tribe as the basis for assigning geographical territory in the Promise Land (Numbers 26:52-56).  With the exception of the tribe of Levi, twelve tribes of Israel are named and include a total of 57 families (26:5-50).

The priestly tribe of Levi and its households is also named and numbered (26:57-62).  Unlike the other tribes that will be assigned lands, the Levites were assigned forty-eight cities in the Promise Land (Numbers 35:1-8).

A third lesson from today’s Bible reading is, the LORD is faithful to His Word and promises.

“The LORD had said…They shall surely die in the wilderness” (14:29; 25:65a).  Murmuring, faithlessness, and a love for the sins and idols of Egypt had dominated the affections of the first generation and all had died with the exception of two men, Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 26:65).  I close with a timeless truth:

Galatians 6:7 – 7  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith