Category Archives: Friends

A Salute and Challenge to Gray-headed Saints

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 69-71

Note from the author of “From the Heart of a Shepherd”:  Today’s post is the 900th blog post by this simple shepherd.  I pray the thoughts and spiritual ponderings of this pastor continue to be a blessing.  

Our scripture reading for today is a gold mine of truths and spiritual principles found in Psalms 69, 70 and 71; however, for the sake of brevity my focus will be two golden nuggets of truths taken from Psalm 71:9, 17 and 18.

Some believe king David is the author of Psalm 71 and I am inclined to lean that way; however, others make an argument its author is the prophet Jeremiah.  I will leave the debate of its authorship to others and am content it was written by a man of faith; a man who by God’s grace was young in spirit, but chronologically old in years.  The psalmist, confident in God’s providential care, had faith God’s hand had been upon him from his mother’s womb (71:6), through his youth (71:5) and was with him in the frailty of his old age (71:18).

Of the many fears that potentially haunt the elderly, surely the fear of being forgotten and forsaken is foremost.  The dynamics between youth and the aged presents a challenge; however, the technological revolution of the past 30 years with computers, iPads, cell phones and social media has made the generational divide a precipice.  The fast pace mobility of our 21st century society and an attitude of narcissism that dominates this generation has strained family ties and sadly, left as its victims millions of elderly who feel forgotten and forsaken.

Complicating the interaction of familial generations and contrary to what some aged might think, one is never too old to sin!   Many elderly fall into a sinful pattern and become cantankerous and difficult.  Because a negative, critical spirit only exasperates our loved ones and caregivers, let us who are grey-headed consider the prayer of the ancient psalmist to the LORD.

Psalm 71:9 – Cast me not off [down] in the time [season] of old age; forsake me not when my strength [power; vigor] faileth [consumed; finished].

The aged psalmist petitions the LORD for two things in verse 9. The first, “cast me not off in the time of old age” (71:9a).  Strength of youth inclines one to pursue independence…independent of family, friends and sadly, independent of God.  However, when the vigor of youth fails and the frailty of old age advances, we are reminded how much we need the LORD’s grace.

The second petition expressed by the psalmist is, “forsake me not when my strength faileth” (71:9b).  Visiting the elderly in nursing homes has been a pattern of my life from childhood.  I remember fondly accompanying my maternal grandparents, Roland and Sadie Whitley, in their Saturday visits to family and friends in nursing homes.  It comes as no surprise that, when they found themselves in those same beds, the Whitley’s were never lacking in visits from family and friends.

As a pastor\shepherd, my calling has me making frequent visits to hospitals, nursing homes and homes of shut-ins.  Sadly, there are many in those places that not only feel forsaken, they are all but forgotten.  At a time when their strength is gone, their eyesight is dim and hearing has failed…they are alone.  What a tragedy that our society looks upon its elderly as a burden rather than a blessing!

The elderly psalmist continues his prayer:

Psalm 71:17-18 – O God [Elohim; Mighty God], thou hast taught [instructed; goad or disciplined] me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared [tell as a messenger] thy wondrous works [miracles; acts that surpass human skill or works]. 18  Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed [declared; informed] thy strength [power] unto this generation, and thy power [might] to every one that is to come.

The psalmist declares in his old age, LORD, the things you taught me in my youth I continue to declare in my old age!  My elderly friend, when life affords you an opportunity to praise the LORD, whether in private or public, be among the first to declare God’s love, salvation, mercy and grace.

The psalmist’s prayer moves from affirmation and adoration in verse 17 to petition and purpose in verse 18.  Unlike the old sassy commercial that declared, “I’m going to wash the gray right out of my hair”, the psalmist acknowledges, “I am old and grayheaded” and petitions the LORD for His power and presence in his life (“forsake me not”).

Finally, the psalmist declares his purpose for living: “until I have shewed [declared; informed] thy strength [power] unto this generation, and thy power [might] to every one that is to come” (71:18b).  The old psalmist’s thoughts turned to his spiritual legacy.  Thirty-eight years of ministry has brought home to me the sad realization that few give any thought to the spiritual legacy they are leaving for the next generation.  They have their wills written, their possessions planned for parceling, but the urgency of declaring a lifetime testimony concerning God’s faithfulness and blessings seems forgotten.

Elderly believer, I know you and I share the sentiment of the psalmist…Oh Lord, don’t forsake me when I am old and frail; however, will you also purpose to declare to all who will listen God’s faithfulness? I close with an appropriate quote and challenge:

“How many people in our churches, at an age when they ought to be tearing the world apart, are instead sliding home?” – Dr. Howard Hendricks

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Having a midlife crisis?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Daily reading assignment – 1 Kings 10-13

With the Temple built and his palace and homes finished, Solomon became an international sensation in 1 Kings 10 when we read, “the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions” (10:1).  Solomon’s wisdom, the wealth and splendor of his kingdom, and God’s blessings became known far and wide.

There are many fables and legends that surround the visit of the Queen of Sheba; however, this is a devotional commentary and we will consider the only reputable source we have…the Word of God (1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chronicles 9:1; Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31).

The kingdom of Sheba is believed to have been in the southern end of the Arabian peninsula known today as Yemen.  The Queen had received news of the remarkable wisdom of Solomon and the wonders of his kingdom and set upon a journey from her kingdom in the south to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel in the north.  Rather than travel via ship on the Red Sea, the scriptures indicate she came with a “very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones” (10:2a).

The purpose of the queen’s visit is summed up in this, “she communed with him of all that was in her heart” (10:2b).  Whatever questions she proposed to Solomon, he was able to answer (10:3).  She was amazed at the beauty of all he had built (10:4), the splendor of the meals served in his palace, his boundless wisdom, the rich raiment worn by his servants (10:5) and their privilege to serve a king of such wisdom (10:6-8).   1 Kings 10:10-13 records the wealth the queen bestowed on Solomon as well as the gifts he bequeathed to her out of his royal treasury.

The lavish wealth of the king’s palace, the tributes paid to him by other nations, his shields of gold, his throne made of ivory and overlaid with gold (10:18-20), gold vessels and exotic animals, chariots and champion horses are all detailed (10:21-29).

The grandeur of Solomon’s kingdom is tarnished when we read in 1 Kings 11, “Solomon loved many strange women” (11:1).  Disregarding the LORD’s admonition concerning the danger of wives who worship “after their gods” (11:2), Solomon’s “wives turned away his heart” (11:3).

The king’s sins provoked God’s wrath (11:9) and his family and nation suffered for his apostasy (11:10-13).  Israel became a troubled nation with enemies without (i.e. Pharaoh and Egypt – 11:14-25) and enemies within (i.e. Jeroboam, a “mighty man of valour” who Solomon recognized too late as a threat to his kingdom – 11:26-40).   Jeroboam fled Israel into Egypt where he stayed until Solomon died and “Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead” (11:40-43).

Learning that Solomon was dead (12:1-2), Jeroboam returned to Israel and petitioned king Rehoboam on behalf of the tribes of Israel that the heavy burden of taxation and servitude placed upon the people by Solomon’s ambitious construction projects be lightened (12:3-4).  Rehoboam, though having the advantage of his father Solomon’s wise men as his counselors (12:6-7), foolishly dismissed them and heeded the advice of his peers who stoked his pride and ambition (12:8-11) setting in motion a rebellion that divided the kingdom (12:12-33).

1 Kings 13 gives the history of a divided Israel, the ten tribes of the north rebelling against Rehoboam and ceding from his reign as king.  The rebellious tribes followed Jeroboam into idolatry and all manner of sin and wickedness (13:1-34).

I invite you to consider in closing the great and tragic end of Solomon’s reign.  The wisest man who ever lived, when he was old, disobeyed the LORD.   “His heart was not perfect with the LORD his God” (11:4) and he “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (11:6).  Notice the statement concerning Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4, “it came to pass, when Solomon was old.

Old enough to know better!  Old enough to not play a fool!  Old enough to understand the consequences of sin, wicked choices on himself and his family.

Sadly, there is a great possibility someone reading this devotional commentary is doing the same.  Some might call it a “mid-life crisis”.  Call it what you will; however, if you fail to abide in God’s Word, saturate your heart with spiritual principles, and sit under the faithful preaching of God’s Word; it may one day be said of you, “when he was old…his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God” (11:4).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Betrayed!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Daily reading assignment: Psalms 54-56

The kiss of betrayal is a bitter experience for any who place their trust in others.  Betrayal thrusts its point deep into the soul and, contrary to the adage, “Time heals all wounds”, leaves its victims feeling hurt, vulnerable, and often bitter.  I find in Psalm 54 four different responses that victims of betrayal entertain:  Fear (55:1-5), Flight (55:6-8), Funk or frustration (55:12-14), and Faith (55:16-18, 22).

Author Warren Wiersbe writes concerning Psalm 55:  “It’s likely this psalm was written early in Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam. 15-17), when David was still in Jerusalem (vv. 9-11) and the revolt was gathering momentum. If so, then the “friend” of verses 12-14 and 20-21 had to be David’s counselor Ahithophel who had sided with Absalom.”

Given the content of Psalm 55, I side with Wiersbe, believing the rush of emotions and contemplations David was feeling are those of a broken man whose son has stolen the affections of his people and his closest advisor, Ahithophel, is confederate with Absolam in the rebellion (2 Samuel 15:31).

David’s first response to betrayal was Fear and the broodings that accompany that emotion (55:4-5). David writes:

Psalm 55:4-5 – “My heart [mind; thoughts] is sore pained [troubled; tremble] within me: and the terrors [fear] of death are fallen upon me. 5  Fearfulness [terror] and trembling [shaking] are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.”

Flight is the second response David contemplated as he came to terms with betrayal (55:6-8).  If he could, David would have retreated and found a hiding place far from his troubles.

Psalm 55:6-8 – And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away [flee], and be at rest [i.e. find shelter]. 7  Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. 8  I would hasten [hurry] my escape from the windy storm and tempest.”

Funk or frustration is the third reaction I recognize in David’s response to betrayal (55:12-14, 20-21).  Other words that describe the king’s emotional state are despair, disbelief, and dismay.  David writes:

Psalm 55:12-14 – “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: 13  But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. 14  We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.”

Psalm 55:20-21 – “He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant. 21  The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.”

Fear, Flight and Funk are natural reactions to betrayal and troubles.  We fear consequences.  We long to flee hurts and put as much distance as we can between those who have wounded us and ourselves.  When we are unable to flee, we are tempted to retreat into depression and nurse our wounds.

David was king and, though he might retreat from his throne for a season, he could not escape the responsibility that he was God’s anointed and the challenges he faced were “God-size” problems from which only the LORD could deliver him.  That brings us to David’s fourth response, Faith.   David turned his thoughts from his hurts and disappointments and prayed (55:16-18).

Psalm 55:16-18 – “As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. 17  Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. 18  He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.”

I close with David’s invitation to all who suffer betrayal and bear the scars of disappointment.

Psalm 55:22 – “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Christian Leaders are Often No More Than a “Flash in the Pan”

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Daily reading assignment: 2 Samuel 1-4

As we open our Bibles to 2 Samuel, we find David and the nation of Israel entering into a new era.  King Saul and his son Jonathan are slain in battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 31) and news of their deaths reach David in Ziklag a Philisitine town where he and his men had found refuge from Saul’s threats.   An Amalekite soldier came to David fabricating a claim that he had slain Saul in an act of mercy to spare him the indignity of falling into the hands of the Philistines (2 Samuel 1:1-10).  The truth was that Saul had fallen upon his own sword (1 Samuel 31:4).

Three times David lamented the deaths of King Saul and his sons (2 Samuel 1:19, 25, 27).   Rather than rejoicing in the death of Saul, David mourned the death of the king and ordered the man who claimed to have slain him put to death (2 Samuel 1:11-16).

The closing verses of 2 Samuel 1 express in poetic tones the grievous loss of Jonathan, David’s confidant and friend (2:25-27).  There are some who try to paint David’s lament for the loss of his friend as a twisted validation of sodomy…it is not!   The Old and New Testament scriptures condemned homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:17; Romans 1:26-27) and it was surely not a practice to put to music for people to sing.  David’s love for Jonathan was one of mutual trust; such a friend is rare indeed!

Israel has been a divided nation and David has waited more than a decade to be king. With Saul dead, David turned to the LORD for wisdom, asking, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” (2 Samuel 2:1). With the LORD’s blessing, David went up to Hebron and the men of Judah crowned him king (2:2-4).

David faced opposition immediately from Abner, Saul’s nephew who moved to make Ishbosheth, a surviving son of Saul, king (2:9-10).   Abner’s opposition to David coupled with Ishbosheth’s weak character plunged the nation into a civil war (2:10-11) that would last over 7 years.  In spite of the opposition, God blessed David and he “waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker” (2 Samuel 3:1).

Three principles are evident in David’s patience in the midst of conflict. The first, time is always on the side of the righteous. The prophet Isaiah assured God’s people:

Isaiah 54:17 – “No weapon that is formed [fashioned; made] against thee shall prosper [succeed]; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn [show to be in the wrong]. This [triumph of righteousness] is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness [vindication; victory; success] is of me, saith the LORD.”

The second principle, truth will triumph!  Men like Abner and Ishbosheth play the fool and when they oppose the will of the LORD are doomed .

A third principle is an admonition: Lust for power, position, and influence is self-destructive…whether it is in politics, business, or religion.

Three manner of men rise to power and position in our world: the weak who, like Ishosheth, have connections; the strong who, like Abner, are driven by greed and manipulate others to promote themselves; the third, God’s anointed who, like David, are called, equipped, and dependent on God for promotion.

It is my experience that churches and Christian institutions fall prey to a fallacy in leadership that bloodlines (a man’s sons) or relationships (a man’s friendship) somehow assure success.  Too often churches and boards of Christian institutions look for flashy, well-spoken, charismatic leaders and learn too late they chose the proverbial “flash in the pan” and failed to choose God’s anointed.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Sunday Services at Hillsdale and You’re Invited

I am continuing my series, “Innocence: Tried, Condemned and Crucified” in the Gospel of Matthew this Sunday morning.  Tomorrow’s study is from Matthew 27:26-37 and my topic is “Perspectives on Christ’s Crucifixion”.  Time allowing, we will review the perspectives of Pilate, the Sanhedrin and continue our study examining the perspectives of Barabbas, of Christ Himself, the callous soldiers, the spectators in the street on the road to Golgotha and the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the Cross.

In the 6:00 PM service I will be sharing with Hillsdale a ministry vision “From the Heart of the Shepherd” for two potential ministries.

The first is the possibility of Hillsdale serving as an “Online Distance Learning ‘Bridge’”, a satellite site, for live classes from an accredited Bible College\University.

The second potential ministry grows out of my burden for a Medical\Patient Advocacy Committee for our church membership.  I have observed a diminishing in medical care as a result of ObamaCare policies and the guidelines of Health Insurance companies.  Too many of us accept without question the advice of doctors and hospitals and fail to challenge the care our loved ones are receiving.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Two Sins That Will Bring a Man to Ruin

Monday, April 17, 2017

Daily reading assignment: Job 31-32

Job 31 records the conclusion of Job’s defense against his three “friend’s” accusations that his sufferings are the consequence of unconfessed sin.

The opening verse of Job 31 is one every man should vow before God: I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1)

What a powerful statement for 21st century believers to embrace and commit themselves to…purity in heart, thoughts and emotions!  The violation of moral and marital fidelity is one of the greatest sins of the 21st century church and I doubt there is a pastor who comprehends the degree to which his members have titillated their lusts and emotions with lewd and pornographic images in the privacy of their homes and hearts.

I remind my readers of the following commands and principles regarding adultery; the first, our Lord’s summation on this subject reminding us that to look on another with lust is adultery.

Matthew 5:27-28 “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: [Exodus 20:14 – 7th Commandment] 28  But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

God’s people are not to tolerate adultery and its punishment under the law was severe:  “the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).

Adultery destroys a man’s reputation, scars his life, brings reproach he will carry to his grave and wrecks his marriage, home and family.

Proverbs 6:32-33 – “But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding [without moral principle]: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul [life]. 33 A wound and dishonour [disgrace] shall he get; and his reproach [shame] shall not be wiped away.”

Declaring his innocence and integrity, Job asserts, let me suffer the dreadful consequences of my sin if I have lusted after another man’s wife (Job 31:9-12).

Job 31:12 – “For it [adultery] is a fire that consumeth [eats; devours; burns up] to destruction, and would root out [pluck up; uproot] all mine increase [good; income].”

Elihu, a fourth and younger “friend” of Job, joins the others in Job 32, not only condemning Job, but also his “friends” who had failed to convince Job of his sin. It is interesting that the youngest of the five, Elihu, begins a monologue of judgment and condemnation that will continue for six chapters (Job 32-37).

Elihu’s introductory statements to his elders are sadly familiar for they are reflective of the proud, untempered spirit of inexperienced youth (32:1-3, 5).  In his own words, Elihu confesses, “I am full of matter…my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst” (32:18-19).  That statement, dear friend, is the gushing of unrestrained pride.  In the words of Solomon, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).   When the LORD addresses the contention that rose between Job and his “friends”, He will disregard everything Elihu said.

In a parting observation, the sins I have addressed in this devotional commentary are prevalent, not only in our culture, but also in our churches and homes.  Adultery is destroying lives, marriages, and families.  Webroot.com estimates that 40 million Americans visit pornography sites regularly and 2.5 billion emails a day contain pornography.  That same website estimates pornography is a problem in 47% of American homes.  In other words, you, your spouse, your children, or your friends are struggling with the putrid effects of pornography.

The other sin in today’s devotional is the besetting sin of today’s youth…Pride!  Pride has been the curse of man from the fall; however, this Millennial generation is enslaved to it like no other before it.   The pride of this generation is manifest in their self-centered, unteachable, demanding, narcissistic spirit…a sin that will inevitably bring them and our nation to ruin.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Remember the Good Old Days?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daily reading assignment: Job 29-30

Do you remember the “Good Old Days”?   You know, the days when you were young, strong, carefree and naïve?   Remember what life was like before you learned how much life could hurt?

In today’s scripture reading (Job 29-30), Job continues his argument against the insinuations of his “friend” Bildad (Job 25) that the losses he has suffered are a result of a hidden, unconfessed sin he is harboring in his soul.   Job began his defense in chapter 27 and continues his sad monologue through chapters 29, 30 and 31.

Preacher and author Warren Wiersbe writes of Job’s defense:   Job “climaxed his speech with sixteen ‘if I have…’ statements and put himself under oath, challenging God either to condemn him or vindicate him.  It was as though Job were saying, “We’ve talked long enough!  I really don’t care what you three men think, because God is my Judge; and I rest my case with Him.  Now, let Him settle the matter one way or another, once and for all.” [The Bible Exposition Commentary – Wisdom and Poetry].

Like many elderly I have known in my lifetime, Job began reflecting on what many call “the good old days”.  He recollected the blessings and joys he took for granted before trials and troubles robbed him of everything…his family, possessions and health.  He remembered the days of his youth and how God had favored him (29:2-4a).   He remembered the sweetness of fellowship he had with God and the joy his children brought to his life (29:4b-5).  He looked back on the standing he once had in the city; how young men retired from his presence, old men stood to honor him (29:5-8), and nobles weighed his counsel with gravity (29:9-11, 20-25).  He cherished with joy the opportunities he had to bless those less fortunate (29:12-16).

Job 30 marks a decided turn from cherished reflections of the past to the horrid reality of Job’s present condition.  Though his character had remained unaltered, he had lost everything that once defined his outward man.   Facing the challenge we all invariably face, Job made a wise choice; he refused to dwell on past memories and honestly assessed his present condition.  He faced the derision of the very men who once honored him (30:1-15).  He had been charitable to others, but now faced his own poverty and helplessness (30:16-25).  He had ministered to others, but was now in need of pity and help (39:26-31).   Job’s life had become fodder for fools and sorrows threatened to drown his soul in tears (30:27-29).

The state of hopelessness is a miserable place to abide for when hope is lost, all seems lost.  Such should never be the case for believers!   Paul challenged believers living in Rome to be “fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope” (Romans 12:11-12a).  To believers in Corinth, Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

Those who put their faith in Christ and trust His promises have the potential of enduring, abiding hope.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith