Category Archives: Music

CONGREGATIONAL SINGING, if not dead, is dying. 

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Follower,

Across America are churches that were once bastions of Bible preaching, but have become mere shadows of their past. Churches where great songs and hymns of the Christian faith once resonated, are host to congregations mumbling their way through “7-11 choruses” (seven word choruses repeated eleven times).

Usually led by a “Vocal Team” and backed by a band pounding out a deafening beat, CONGREGATIONAL SINGING, if not dead, is dying. How did we get here?

I am writing to commend to you an excellent article on Hymnody authored by Dr. Theodore Martens.

Dr. Martens is a man whom I respect for his love of the LORD and his many years of faithful ministry.  He is a scholar of the Scriptures and a great communicator. A retired Pastor, College Professor, Seminary Teacher, and Writer; Dr. Martens is a member of Hillsdale Baptist Church, a regular teacher in Hillsdale’s Wednesday night Bible Institute, and my revered friend.

On the subject of song, hymn, music, and context, Dr Marten’s writes in his article:

“A song brings one back to the context, the days it was first heard, learned, loved, memorized, and FELT.”

“One cannot divorce the lyrics & musical score from the context in which it was first and foremost heard, repeated, learned, and felt without losing the richness which that “song” / “hymn” carries to its listeners and/or singers..Lyrics and “music” cannot be unhinged from each other and accomplish the same ends.”

Rhetoric & Homiletics: All Communication Is Contextual

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

What Many Call Worship is “Strange Fire” (Leviticus 8-10)

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 8-10

The Levitical priesthood was established in Exodus 8. Remembering Moses and Aaron were of the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe; the LORD commanded Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons to serve as His priests before the congregation (8:1-3).

The process of ordination was explained, beginning with the ceremonial washing of Aaron and his sons with water (8:6). Aaron, serving as the high priest, was distinguished by his robes (8:7) and his breastplate (referred to as “the breastplate of judgment” in Exodus 28:30) upon which twelve precious stones were mounted, each engraved with the name of a tribe of Israel (Leviticus 8:8; Exodus 28:21).

Housed in a pocket behind the breastplate was “Urim and the Thummim” (8:8), believed to be some form of dice the high priest cast in matters of judgment, asking the LORD to answer as difficult decisions were made for the nation (such as going to war – 1 Samuel 23:2). Urim and Thummim provided a special means for the high priest to offer counsel and the nation to know God’s will specifically.

A word of caution to any tempted to adopt some manner of the same in making decisions (either tossing dice or “putting out a fleece” – Judges 6:36-40).

God has given believers a means of determining His will and making good judgments…His Word!

King David wrote, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Peter declared, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed…” (2 Peter 1:19).  (I fear many believers have so neglected the study and teaching of God’s Word, they lack discernment to make righteous decisions in weighty matters).

Chosen by God and arrayed in priestly robes, nevertheless, Aaron and his sons were sinners and themselves in need of blood atonement. With the congregation looking on, the LORD commanded Aaron and his sons to lay their hands on a bullock that was sacrificed as their sin offering (8:14-17).

Seven days Aaron and his sons remained at the tabernacle while Moses offered sacrifices as their consecration to the LORD as priests (8:31-36).  On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons began ministering and offering sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the nation (Leviticus 9:1-24).

Displaying His glory and accepting the sacrifices in the sight of all the people, “there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (9:23-24).

One would hope the display of God’s favor might encourage the people to maintain a perpetual spirit of humility and obedience before the LORD; however, such was not the case.

Tragedy soon fell on the tribes of Israel when “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange [foreign] fire before the LORD, which He commanded [charged] them not” (Leviticus 10:1).

Given the infancy of the priestly office and the privilege of the priesthood; the sin of pride may have moved the sons of Aaron to disobey the LORD and exalt themselves before the people. Whatever the motive, the LORD was swift to judge and “there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD” (10:2).

Aaron, no doubt devastated by the sinful actions of his sons and their deaths, “held his peace” (10:3).The bodies of Nadab and Abihu were removed from the camp (10:4-5) and Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s surviving sons, were warned to make no public display of their sorrow and to remain at the “door of the tabernacle” (10:6-7).

What “strange fire” might be present in your church under the pretense of worship?

Entertaining the masses has become the aim of worship leaders as hallowed, sacred hymns of faith are displaced by beat-driven music emulating society’s contemporary music.

What many call worship is “strange fire.”  What must the LORD see when your “worship” leaders and music teams move an audience to cavort about under the pretense of worship?

God commands His people to be holy, because He is holy (Leviticus 11:45; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and we are to be imitators of Christ and not imitators of the world (1 Peter 1:14; Romans 12:2).

If what you call worship looks, acts, and sounds like the world…it is not holy!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Loosey-goosey, Half-hearted Worship is Unacceptable! (Exodus 39-40)

Daily reading assignment – Exodus 39-40

The stunning colors of the “holy garments” worn by the high priest as well as the breastplate embedded with twelve precious jewels are defined (39:1-2).  Each jewel was engraved with the name of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (39:8-14). The bindings of the breastplate and other articles of clothing (39:15-31) are given in detail.

The high priest wore a turban bearing a plate of gold engraved with the words, “Holiness to the LORD” (39:30-31).

In Exodus 40, the LORD directed Moses to oversee the assembly of the Tabernacle and its implements,  and dedicate the garments to be worn by the high priest and his sons.  Having insured all was done “as the LORD had commanded” (39:43), “a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (40:34)!

As we close our study of Exodus, consider the phrase, “as the LORD commanded Moses.” That phrase is found fifteen times in the Book of Exodus; seven of those times in Exodus 39, and six in Exodus 40.  Is it important to do “as the LORD commands”?

Absolutely! It was important that Moses obey the LORD in everything, and this was especially true in the preparations for the people to worship the LORD.

Worshipping the LORD was not to be treated in some loosey-goosey, half-hearted manner. 

Our God is holy, and our lives and worship should reflect His character!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

The Centrality of Music in Worship and Praise

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 149-150

Our year-long reading of the Psalms come to a close today on an appropriate theme… “Praise ye the LORD”.  Psalm 149 and Psalm 150 begin and end with a call to worship.  What an incredible thought that the LORD, our Creator Who is Almighty desires we His people praise Him.

Dogs bark, cats purr, lions roar, and eagles screech…but man alone has the means to communicate in words, song, and musical instruments his worship of the LORD through songs of praise.

I have taken liberty to add to today’s psalms my amplification of the closing chapters in this wonderful book of songs of worship and praise.  As one who loves music, I invite you to especially note the prominence of music, musical instruments, and trained musicians in worshipping the LORD.

Psalm 149:1-9 – Praise [Glory; Celebrate; Sing; Boast] ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new [fresh] song, and his praise [hymn of adoration; song of praise] in the congregation [Assembly] of saints [the godly; pious].
2  Let Israel [lit. “He will rule as God”; another name for Jacob] rejoice [be glad; joyful] in him [i.e. the LORD] that made [Created] him [Israel or Jacob]: let the children of Zion [mount upon which Jerusalem was found] be joyful [be glad; rejoice] in their King.
3  Let them praise his name [the name of the LORD] in the dance [i.e. round dance; dance in circular motion]: let them sing praises [psalms] unto him with the timbrel [tambourine] and harp [the string instrument].
4  For the LORD taketh pleasure [delights; pleased] in his people [people of His congregation; like Israel]: he will beautify [glory; boast] the meek [poor; humble; lowly] with salvation [He will deliver; prosper].
5  Let the saints [the godly; pious] be joyful [i.e. jump for joy; rejoice] in glory [or splendor bestowed on them by the LORD]: let them sing aloud [rejoice; shout for joy] upon their beds.
6  Let the high [exaltation] praises of God [Almighty God] be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;
7  To execute [work; create; make; show] vengeance [revenge] upon the heathen [Gentile nations], and punishments [chastening; rebuke; reproof] upon the people [nation];
8  To bind their kings [rulers of the Gentile nations] with chains, and their nobles [those who exercise authority] with fetters [chains; manacles that bind] of iron;
9  To execute [make; create] upon them the judgment [law; ordinance] written [prescribed]: this honour [glory; majesty; splendor] have all his saints [godly]. Praise [Glory; Celebrate; Sing; Boast] ye the LORD.

Psalm 150:1-6 – Praise [Glory; Celebrate; Sing; Boast]  ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary [holy; sacred place dedicated to the LORD]: praise him in the firmament [in the heavens] of his power [strength; might; majesty].
2  Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent [abundance] greatness.
3  Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery [lyre] and harp.
4  Praise him with the timbrel [tambourine] and dance [i.e. round dance; dance in circular motion]: praise him with stringed instruments and organs [flute; pipe].
5  Praise him upon the loud cymbals [large, clashing cymbals]: praise him upon the high sounding [jubilant; loud noise] cymbals [i.e. perhaps like a ringing bell].
6  Let every thing that hath breath [breath of life] praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

It saddens me to witness the diminishing of congregational singing and choral anthems in the 21st century church.  

In today’s church, the choir, a central part of worship dating to the time of King David, has become little more than a backup for spotlight hungry semi-professionals vocalists.   Even worse, congregations singing great, majestic hymns of the Christian faith are relegated to audiences mumbling in almost muted silence, “Seven-Eleven Choruses” [seven words repeated eleven times].  Worship today is a far cry from the worship the psalmist describes in today’s psalms.

I praise the LORD He has blessed Hillsdale with skilled musicians who voluntarily give and use their talents when our congregation worships the LORD with hymns of worship and praise.  What a joy to have musicians and choir members who, week after week, dedicate their time and talents to serving the LORD and praising Him!

Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Take Time to Be Holy

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ecclesiastes 5-6

When I was young and with a lifetime ahead of me, reading the Book of Ecclesiastes was a chore.   I confess; I read its verses, but did not relish its truths.  The ponderings of Solomon, his youth spent and his heart laden with the weight of sin, was depressing.

Solomon’s counsel in his old age stands out in sad contrast to the proverbs of wisdom he taught his sons when they were young.  Rather than exhortations of wisdom and cautions to walk in the way of the LORD, Ecclesiastes calls to mind the counsel of foolish parents who say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Such is the counsel of too many fathers and mothers in our day.

Ecclesiastes, the Book I found discouraging in my youth, has become a challenge for me to examine my walk with the LORD and walk in wisdom.  I hope you will find today’s reading, Ecclesiastes 5-6, will be the same for you.

Solomon stated his counsels in Ecclesiastes 5 so clearly there is little commentary you need from this country parson to grasp and apply them to your life.  Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 instructs us regarding the preparations of our heart and attitude when worshipping the LORD.

Permit me to suggest four ways we offend God when we worship Him.

The first, we offend the LORD when we open our checkbook before we open our heart to Him (5:1).  

Ecclesiastes 5:1 – “Keep [guard; watch] thy foot [i.e. be careful] when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear [listen; obey], than to give the sacrifice of fools [silliness]: for they [fools] consider not that they do [commit] evil [sin; wickedness].

The definition and practice of “worship” in American churches has changed dramatically in the past 30 years.  What was once a deliberate act of solemnity, conscious a holy God “looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b) and knows our thoughts and motives (Jeremiah 17:10), has become raucous entertainment with “worshippers” dancing to the beat of drums and the blare of deafening music.  Oh how far we have strayed from the call to, Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

Secondly, we offend the LORD when we speak before we think (5:2).

Ecclesiastes 5:2 – “Be not rash [hasty; eager] with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty [swift; quick] to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”

God may seem distant; however, He hears every word!  Too many of us are so busy making requests and “doing ministry” we fail to take time to be quiet and listen to the soft voice of God’s Spirit.

Saying one thing and doing another is a third offence committed by those who worship the LORD in haste with little thought of heart preparation (5:4-7a).

Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 – “When thou vowest [promise] a vow unto God, defer not [dont be slack] to pay [perform] it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay [render] that which thou hast vowed.
5  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
6  Suffer not [do not allow or permit] thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel [i.e. a messenger or servant of God], that it was an error [mistake]: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work [labor] of thine hands?   7  For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities [meaningless; no purpose]: but fear thou God.”

God remembers every prayer, every vow, and every thought.  Before you open your mouth and make a vow, remember, God will not forget the vows you make.  Jesus taught His disciples:

Matthew 12:36-37  – But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Finally, we offend God when we fail to revere and worship Him in humility and sincerity.  We read, “but fear thou God” (5:7b).

When you come before the LORD to worship Him, whether in the quietness of your daily devotions or in the congregation of His saints on Sunday, slow down, take time to be quiet, weigh every word, and humble yourself before Him.

Psalm 46:10Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Devolution of Church Music and Worship

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 96-98

The psalms in today’s scripture reading are beautiful in their message and majestic in their tone.  Psalm 96 and Psalm 98 begin with the exhortation of singing a “new song” to the LORD (96:1; 98:1) and conclude with the LORD coming to reign and “judge the earth” (96:13; 98:9).

What is this “new song”?  I believe the “new song” is the song of salvation, the song of redemption.  We read in Psalm 96:2 that the song to the LORD is to “shew forth His salvation”.   Psalm 98 states the same, “The LORD hath made known His salvation” (98:2); “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (98:3).

Psalm 96 is an evangelistic psalm of praise not limited to Israel.  The psalmist writes, “Declare His glory among the heathen” (96:3); “O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength” (96:7); “fear before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth” (6:9-10a); “let the earth be glad” (96:11); “He shall judge the world with righteousness” (96:13).

Psalm 97 continues the theme of the LORD’s Second Coming when He will reign and judge the earth in righteousness.

Psalm 98 returns to worshipping the LORD in music and song for His salvation and righteousness (98:2).

As is often my practice, I close today’s devotional commentary on a personal note (after all, these daily commentaries are my own meditations which I share with those who follow www.HeartofAShepherd.com).

The Book of Psalms is as its name implies, a compilation of songs of praise and worship employed in daily worship in the Temple.

Nothing took the primacy of reading and teaching God’s Word; however, the centrality of instrumental music and song is obvious throughout the Psalms and in other passages of scripture in the Bible.   Apart from the custody and stewardship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the preaching and teaching of the scriptures, the churches influence on music and song is preeminent.   No other religion or institution has so profoundly inspired or left an indelible impression on the art of music.

Sadly, the music of the 21st century church has succumb to a secular culture’s demand for entertainment, betraying its purpose to lead the congregation of the saints in worshipping the LORD in music and song.  Every genre of 21st century “music”, regardless of how detestable, is employed in “worship” at the sacrifice of the highest ideals of musicianship and musical excellence.

As one who loves the LORD and loves music that moves the heart and soul, I mourn the devolution of worship and music in our churches.

Psalm 98:4-6 – Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
5  Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
6  With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Antithesis of Worship: When the Masses Demand Excitement and Entertainment

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Daily reading assignment – 1 Kings 5-9

Fulfilling his father’s dream and honoring his legacy, Solomon set about acquiring the building materials necessary for constructing the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5).  Requesting the assistance of his father’s friend, Hiram king of Tyre, Solomon ordered cedars from Lebanon and skilled laborers “to hew timber” (5:6). Hiram agreed to supply cedar and fir timbers for the Temple, floating them on the Mediterranean Sea to a port designated by Solomon (5:7-10).  In turn, Solomon gave provisions of wheat and pure oil to Hiram (5:11-12).  Thousands of laborers employed in acquiring construction materials (5:13-18) reveals the size and scope of the Temple project.

1 Kings 6 describes the exterior dimensions of the Temple and the details of its interior chambers (6:1-10).  The beams of the Temple rested on the walls of the building (6:6). Because God prohibited the use of tools on the building site, the large stones of the Temple walls were pre-cut at the quarry  (6:7-10).  In the midst of the construction, the LORD assured Solomon, if he would walk in His statutes and keep His commandments, He would dwell in the midst of Israel and keep His promises (6:11-14).

The exact dimensions and description of the “Holy of Holies”, the small room where the Ark of the Covenant, would be concealed is given.  The beauty of the room with its ceiling and floor of cedar and carved paneled walls featuring flowers and all overlaid with a veneer of pure gold was exquisite to behold (6:15-30).

Because his reign was one of peace, Solomon was able to dedicate himself to many construction projects.  While the Temple required seven years to build (6:38), Solomon’s palace was under construction for thirteen years, the details of which are given in 1 Kings 7:1-12.  Solomon’s second house, described as “the house of the forest of Lebanon”, is also described (7:2-8). Solomon built an additional house for a wife who was “Pharaoh’s daughter” (7:8).

Enlisted to make intricate, elaborate pieces of brass, silver and gold was an artisan named Hiram, but not the same Hiram who was king of Tyre (7:13-51).

1 Kings 8 records Solomon’s dedication of the Temple along with the leaders of Israel (8:1-2).  After moving the furnishings into the Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant representing God’s throne in heaven in the midst of His people, a “cloud filled the house of the LORD” (8:10).  Indeed, “the glory of the LORD” so filled the Temple the “priests could not stand to minister” (8:11).

Why? Why were the priests unable to minister in the Temple after the LORD’s glory filled the house? 

I remind you the God of Heaven is a Holy, glorious God with whom mortal man dare not trifle. We read in Exodus 24:17 that the “glory of the LORD was like devouring fire”. Deuteronomy 4:24, “the LORD thy God is a consuming fire”.

What passes as worship in the 21st century church with its focus on entertaining the masses with strobe lights, head-banging music and a driving drumbeat is the antithesis of the worship we find in 1 Kings 8:11 where the presence of God was so powerful and convicting the priests “could not stand to minister” (1 Kings 8:11a).

The dedication of the Temple continued with Solomon sharing how his father had longed to build the Temple of the LORD, but God prohibited him.  That privilege passed to David’s son (8:12-21).  Solomon offered a prayer of thanksgiving and dedicated the Temple before the people (8:22-53).

1 Kings 9 is God’s response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple and His promise to  bless the king if Solomon would be a man of “integrity [upright; innocent] of heart, and in uprightness [honesty; walking a straight path], to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep [observe; heed] my statutes [ordinances; rules; laws] and my judgments [verdict]” (9:4).

God warned Solomon, should he or his children disobey His Law and commandments and serve idols, the nation would be “cut off” and everyone would know they had “forsook the LORD their God” and He brought judgment against Israel (9:5-9).

The closing verses of 1 Kings 9 detail for us the cities Solomon built with Gentile slave laborers (9:15-24). With the assistance of Hiram, king of Tyre, Solomon built a navy of ships (9:26-28).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith