Category Archives: Theology

Redeemed, and able to cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4; Galatians 5)

Scripture reading – Galatians 4; Galatians 5

Today’s Scripture reading is packed with doctrinal content, and I hardly know how to begin. For brevity’s sake, I will limit our devotional to a portion of Galatians 4.

In Galatians 3, Paul presented “the law [as] our schoolmaster [instructor, teacher] to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (3:24). The law of God instructs man regarding sin, and shows him how to live to please God. It is the revelation of God’s promises of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that brings sinners to saving faith. As God’s spiritual instructor [schoolmaster], the law serves to lead sinners to Christ as Savior Redeemer (3:24; 4:5).

From Slavery to Sonship as a Child of God (4:1-5)

The introductory portrait found in the opening verses of Galatians 4 contrasted a servant\tutor with the law of God. It was common in that day for a wealthy master to choose a servant who was charged with the responsibility to instruct his son. Though the son’s standing was as his father’s heir, as a child he was nevertheless subject to the servant\teacher. Only when the father declared his son mature enough to oversee his inheritance and matters of the home (4:2) was he no longer subject to the servant.

Keeping in mind the illustration of the master’s son being subject to the servant, consider Galatians 4:3-7.

Every one was born into the world under the bondage and curse of sin (for we are sinners by nature, 4:3; Romans 3:10, 23). God the Father, knowing man’s bondage to sin, sent His Son into the world when the law had fulfilled its purpose. Having instructed man concerning his sinfulness, “the time was come” on God’s timetable when Jesus was born (4:4a).

How did God’s Son come? (4:4)

The implication of God sending His Son is that He was with the Father eternally, before He was sent forth “made of a woman, made under the law” (4:4). The Son of God was in essence Eternal God, and “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). Being “made of a woman” (4:4) he became flesh (“form of a servant…likeness of men,” Philippians 2:6), and was therefore “made under [subject to] the law” (4:5). By being “subject to the Law, Jesus was subject to the demands of the law, and yet He was “without sin (Hebrews 4:14; 9:28).

Why did God’s Son Come? (4:5)

“To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (4:5). As sinners, we are born in bondage to sin, and condemned by our own sinfulness.  The law and commandments serve to convince man of his sinfulness, and bring him into a right standing with God. Because we are slaves to sin, no amount of works or “deeds of the law” can justify us in the sight of God (Romans 3:19-20; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), nor indeed ever could. The Law was never intended to save mankind. Only God can save.  The law was given to help us walk pleasing to the Father.

God the Father, seeing man’s universal need of a Redeemer, sent His Son to “redeem them that were under the law” (4:5). Who needs redemption? Every one of us, for “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:19). We also know from the Scriptures that “all the world [is] guilty before God” (Romans 3:19), “for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

What does redemption accomplish?

Those who receive the gift of God’s redemption by faith, the sacrifice of His Son, are no longer slaves to sin, but adopted as sons (4:5). We read in John 1:12, “But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

Through our redemption in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin or aliens to God. We are “sons” (or children of God), and have the assurance “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into [our] hearts” (4:6). Because we are sons, we are able to cry, “Abba, Father” (4:6). We who are redeemed are no more slaves to sin, but sons and heirs “of God through Christ” (4:7). When we sin, we must confess our sin (1 John 1:9), knowing “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Closing thoughts“Abba, Father”—what a loving, wonderful expression of a believer’s personal and intimate relationship with God. We are no longer slaves bearing the burden of a spiritual debt we cannot pay. Instead, we are through Christ, redeemed, adopted as children of God, and through our relationship with Christ, able to pray, “Abba, Father!” What a wonderful, blessed relationship!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Contending for the Gospel of Grace (Galatians 2; Galatians 3)

Scripture reading – Galatians 2; Galatians 3

We are continuing our study in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Our Scripture reading is Galatians 2 and 3 with the focus of this devotional being limited to chapter 2. We considered in our prior study Paul’s defense of his apostleship (1:1-2, 10-24), and a fundamental doctrine of our faith, salvation by grace (1:6-9; Ephesians 2:8-9). Galatians 2 introduces us to two events in two geographical settings. The first event recalls Paul and Barnabas’ meeting in Jerusalem with the apostles and elders of that church (2:1-10; Acts 15). The second event was the drama that unfolded in Antioch when Paul confronted the hypocrisy of Peter (2:11-21).

Galatians 2

Our study of Acts 15 considered the meeting of the Jerusalem council with Paul and Barnabas. Paul acknowledged that same meeting in Galatians 2, which had taken place 14 years after his first missionary journey through Asia Minor (modern day Turkey, 2:1).  Many Gentiles turned from worshipping idols, were saved, and churches were established. As a reminder, the subject of Paul’s teaching was the Old Testament Scripture, which laid the foundation of the Gospel of Grace he preached.

Paul’s Private Conference with Church Leaders (2:1-2)

In Paul’s absence, false brethren had entered the churches in Asia Minor and attacked Paul’s credibility as an apostle. Those same enemies taught salvation ideas that conflicted with Christ as Messiah, which included circumcision of the flesh to be saved (1:1, 6-7, 15-17). When Paul confronted the false teachers, the contention was so great he and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to conference with the apostles and church leaders (2:1-4; Acts 15:4-6). I invite you to consider three primary points in the opening verses of Galatians 2.

Paul states he went up to Jerusalem “by revelation,” and followed the leading of the Lord (2:2). Notice Paul first addressed the leaders of the Jerusalem church privately, and acknowledged they were men “of reputation” (2:2) and “pillars” of the church (2:9). His motive was to not risk being publicly discredited, though he confessed he was passionate about his ministry among the Gentiles (2:2). Paul and his peers were “received of the church,” and with that reception was an acknowledgment of his apostleship to the Gentiles (Acts 15:4). Paul observed, Titus, a peer of Paul who was a Greek, was not “compelled to be circumcised” (2:3).

Paul’s Public Confrontation with his Adversaries (2:4-5; Acts 15:5-7a)

Paul did not make the mistake of failing to define his enemies (2:4). In fact, he described them as “false brethren” 2:4), and in Acts 15:5 as “of the sect of the Pharisees. Those “false brethren” came in secretly, and demanded Gentile believers observe circumcision to be saved (2:4).  The debate was heated, for the “false brethren” caused “much disputing” (Acts 15:7). Refusing to yield to the enemies of the Gospel, Paul writes, he gave no “place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (2:5).

Public Confirmation [affirmation] of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. (2:6-10)

Paul was not awestruck nor intimidated by men (2:9). He had not come to Jerusalem to seek men’s favor. Yet, he did desire the Jerusalem leaders would acknowledge God’s grace and favor on His message and ministry to the Gentiles (2:7). The apostles and elders affirmed Paul’s ministry (2:7-8), and Peter, James and John publicly affirmed Paul and Barnabas as ministers of the Gospel to the Gentiles (2:9).

Contending for the Faith (2:11-16)

Galatians 2 also chronicled Peter’s visit to believers in Antioch (2:11). This event occurred before Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). Following the first Jerusalem council, Peter came to Antioch where he fellowshipped and “did eat with the Gentiles” (2:12). Later, a second delegation from Jerusalem came to Antioch, and was comprised of believers who “came from James” (the leader of the Jerusalem church, 2:12). Sadly, in the company of the men from Jerusalem, Peter “withdrew and separated himself” from the uncircumcised Gentile believers (2:12).

Paul, a passionate defender of the faith, would not allow Peter’s hypocrisy to pass, and “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (2:11). Paul observed, Peter feared “them which were of the circumcision” (2:12c). Unfortunately, others followed Peter, including Barnabas who “was carried away with their dissimulation [hypocrisy]” (2:13).

Paul’s Controversy with Peter (2:14-16)

We take away many lessons from Paul rebuking Peter. Notice his rebuke was specific, and pointed, “because [Peter] was to be blamed” (2:11). We also learn that Paul, an apostle, was Peter’s equal (2:11,14). He openly opposed and reproved Peter whose public failure demanded public correction.

Closing lesson (2:14-21) – The most important lesson was Paul’s zeal for keeping the “truth of the Gospel” (2:14). Peter had failed to walk “according to the truth of the gospel,” and Paul openly challenged his hypocrisy, saying, “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (2:14). Error demands reproof; public error demands public reproof. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“The Gospel: God’s Grace Through Christ” (Galatians 1)

Scripture reading – Galatians 1

Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to Paul’s Epistle to believers living in Galatia (modern Turkey). Ancient Galatia was due north of the isle of Cyprus, and was a thriving Roman province in the 1stcentury. The Greeks referred to the people of that region as “Gauls,” a name derived from the Latin word, “Gallia.” They were believed to have been Celtic, a Germanic tribe of western Europe. Major cities of the southern region of Galatia included Antioch of Pisidian, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.

Paul’s Defense of His Apostleship

Judging by the subject matter of the Epistle to the Galatians, we find false teachers had infiltrated the churches. Those heretics called into question Paul’s credibility and authority as an apostle, and were undermining the doctrine of grace that is central to the Gospel. Paul had two objectives in writing the epistle: The first, a defense of his apostleship. The second, a defense and declaration of the Gospel of Grace through Jesus Christ.

Paul commenced the letter introducing himself as its author, and boldly declaring his apostleship was “not of men, neither by man” (1:1b). In other words, he did not look to a council of men for his office. Paul proclaimed his apostleship was from God, and wrote: “Paul, an apostle…by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised [having raised] him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (1:1c).

Four Qualifications of an Apostle (1:1-2)

The Scriptures reveal a man had to meet four qualifications to be an apostle. The first, he had to have seen the LORD after His resurrection (Acts 1:22; 9:3-5; 22:6-8; 1 Cor. 9:1). Secondly, he had to receive His calling from Christ Himself (Luke 6:13; Acts 9:6; 22:10; Galatians 1:1). The third qualification was that his teaching had to be divinely inspired (John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 9:15; 22:14; 1 Thess. 2:13). Finally, he must evidence the power to perform miracles as a sign of his apostleship (Mark 16:20; Acts 2:43; 14:8-10; 16:18; 10:10-12; 1 Cor. 12:8-11).

Paul met the four requisites of a man divinely appointed as an apostle. Not only had he been commissioned “by Jesus Christ” (1:1b), he was called by “God the Father, who raised Him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (1:1c). He had the witness of “all the brethren” (1:2), which were traveling with him. Though not named, it is certain the believers in Galatia were aware of those men who labored with Paul.

The Recipients of the Epistle (1:2b)

In the custom of formal letters of his day, Paul introduced himself as the author, and addressed the intended recipients of the letter: “unto the churches [assemblies or congregations] of Galatia” (1:2b). The letter served as a general message to the believers of “the churches of Galatia,” and would have been read publicly, and shared with each of the assemblies of believers.

The Historical Context (1:6-9)

Having formally greeted the Galatian believers, Paul moved to address the provocation of the letter, stating: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (1:6). Like a loving shepherd, Paul was concerned some believers had been so easily led astray. Not only had some lost confidence in his authority as an apostle, but there were some who even defected from the faith and followed “another gospel” (1:6b). Yet, it was not another gospel, but a contradiction of the gospel of grace Paul had preached (1:7a).

Who were those false teachers? They were known as Judaizers, men of Jewish descent who troubled the congregations, and perverted the “gospel of Christ” (1:7b). They were men who taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1, 5). Paul was not opposed to believers following the Law and Commandments (Acts 15:20-21, 29); however, he was passionately opposed to teachers who contradicted the “gospel of grace.” Paul declared, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (1:9).

Paul’s Spiritual Authority and Biography (1:10-24)

We have followed Paul’s life through the Acts of the Apostles: From his zeal as the persecutor of the church (Acts 8:1-4; 9:1-2), to his dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and his salvation (Acts 9:3-22). Galatians 1:11-17 fills in the blanks in Paul’s personal testimony, and gives us how he was taught, not by man, but by the Lord Jesus in the desert of Arabia for three years (1:17-18a). He writes he “went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother” (1:18-19).

Closing thoughts (1:20-24) – Rather than look to man for his authority, Paul looked to the LORD and the authority of His Word. The first chapter of our study concludes with Paul’s transition from the persecutor of the Church, to becoming its greatest preacher (1:21-24). Though he was known best among the believers in Asia Minor, his reputation as a preacher of the faith proceeded him to “the churches of Judaea” which he once persecuted.

Paul’s life and testimony should inspire believers of which, Paul writes, “glorified [magnified] God in me” (1:24).

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Marvelous Grace! (Acts 15; Acts 16)

Scripture reading – Acts 15; Acts 16

I introduced you to James, the author of the Epistle of James, in a prior devotional. He was believed to be the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). That same James appears in today’s Scripture reading in the role of the senior pastor\elder of the congregation in Jerusalem.

Acts 15

Today’s Scripture reading chronicled the growth pangs of the 1st century church. While the church began with Jewish converts, the growing number of Gentiles who believed presented a theological crisis. Because there were historic prejudices between the Jews and Gentiles, it was inevitable that conflicts would arise in the Antioch congregation that was comprised of both Jews and Greeks. The arrival of “men which came down from Judaea” (15:1a) created a conflict that threatened not only the unity of the church, but questioned the foundational doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The men of Judaea taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (15:1b).

Paul and Barnabas confronted the dissension that was created by those men, and it was determined they, along with other men, should “go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about [the] question” (15:2). The same debate soon raged in Jerusalem as believers “of the sect of the Pharisees” maintained that Gentile believers must not only be circumcised to be saved, but also be commanded “to keep the law of Moses” (15:5).

The Jerusalem Council (15:6-21)

The apostles and elders gathered as representatives of the congregation, and listened as the dispute over circumcision raged (15:6-7a). Peter finally arose, and declared what had already been agreed upon in an earlier council (15:7b). It had been determined the Gospel was not only for the Jews, but for all men (Acts 10:1-48). When Cornelius, a Roman centurion heard the Gospel and believed, God gave him the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44-48). Peter observed how God had “put no difference” between the men of Jewish ancestry, and those who were Gentile. All sinners come to salvation by faith (15:9).  Peter declared, whether Jew or Gentile, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (15:11).

Then, the people fell silent, as Paul and Barnabas shared how the Lord had validated their preaching and teaching by “miracles and wonders” that only the LORD could have produced (15:12). James, whom I believe was the senior pastor\elder of the Jerusalem congregation (Galatians 1:19), declared he was in agreement with Peter (i.e. Simeon, 15:14). He reminded the believers how the prophet Amos had foretold that Gentiles would be a part of God’s kingdom (Amos 9:11-12). James counseled the members of the church to accept the doctrine of salvation by grace though faith alone, and not overburden Gentile believers with instructions that were not required for salvation (15:19-21).

There was a consensus to accept James’ summary, and affirm the decision in writing. Furthermore, two men of the Jerusalem congregation were chosen to accompany the letter, and act as representatives of the church to believers in Antioch (15:20, 22-23). The letter also urged Gentile believers to, “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (15:20), truths from the Old Testament they needed to know and practice.

The Effect of the Letter Addressed to Antioch Believers (15:31-41)

The letter affirming salvation by grace alone stirred up a spirit of rejoicing among believers (15:31). Silas, one of the two men sent from the Jerusalem congregation, remained in Antioch, and became a missionary peer of Paul (15:34). Paul and Barnabas “continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord,” and “many others also” became teachers and preachers (15:35).

Closing thoughts (15:36-41) – The concluding verses of Acts 15 remind us that, though Paul and Barnabas were giants of the faith in the early church, they were nevertheless human. With the dissension over the doctrine of salvation by grace resolved, Paul announced his desire to journey and visit believers in the cities and towns where he and Barnabas had “preached the word of the Lord” (15:36). Yet, Barnabas insisted on bringing John Mark (15:37), whom Paul opposed for he had deserted them in Pamphylia (15:38). The quarrel between the two men was so great, they separated themselves, “and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus” (15:39).

There has long been a debate regarding who was right concerning John Mark, Barnabas or Paul? I could make several arguments on this point, but because Paul was an apostle and Barnabas was not, I wonder if Barnabas failed to submit to authority? Another point in Paul’s favor is, when he and Silas departed, they were “recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God (15:40). The same affirmation was not said of Barnabas and John Mark. Nevertheless, at the end of his life and ministry, Paul wrote of John Mark: “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

In the providence and sovereignty of God, John Mark not only came to Paul’s aid, he would later author the Gospel of Mark! What marvelous grace!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Persevering in Trials, and Overcoming Temptations (James 1; James 2)

Scripture reading – James 1; James 2

Our two-year chronological study of the Scriptures continues with a brief departure from our readings in the Acts of the Apostles, and picks up in the book of James. Completing our prior study of Acts 14, we found Paul and Barnabas returning from their first missionary journey to towns and cities in Asia Minor (an area we know today as modern Turkey). Jews and Gentiles were professing faith in Christ, being baptized, and added to the church daily. That diversity, Jew and Gentile (many of them of Greek and Roman backgrounds), introduced differences that arose between the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles. (That will be a topic of study in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas journey to Jerusalem and account for their ministries to Gentiles.)

Why interrupt our study of the Book of Acts, and focus on the Epistle of James? That question is answered by identifying its author.

Introduction (1:1)

The “Epistle of James” is a letter that bears the name of its author. The writer introduced himself and his recipients in the opening verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes [the Tribes of Israel] which are scattered abroad [dispersed], greeting [rejoice; be glad]” (James 1:1).

With humility, James identified himself as “a servant,” a slave to “God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). There are several men identified as James in the New Testament; however, this James did not feel the need to introduce himself, perhaps because he needed no introduction. By the time this epistle was penned, the apostle James, brother of John and the son of Zebedee was martyred (Acts 12:2), and thereby eliminating him as the author. Most scholars identify the writer as James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), being born of Joseph and Mary. We know James and his siblings were not followers of Jesus until after His crucifixion, death and resurrection (John 7:5). Acts 1:14, however, identified Jesus’ “brethren” among those who assembled in “an upper room” after He ascended to heaven.

This same James was recognized as a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). In a future devotional, Paul and Barnabas will give account to the believers in Jerusalem, and it will be this James who addressed the assembly (Acts 15:13) of apostles and elders. James was also mentioned by name with leaders of the church in Acts 21:18. The letter was addressed “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (some of the captivity who never returned to Israel, and others recently scattered by persecution, 1:1b). You will find the Epistle of James is practical, insightful, and convicting.

A Righteous Attitude Toward Trials and Temptations (1:2-4)

James opened his letter with a bold exhortation for believers: “My brethren, count [regard; judge] it all joy [a cause for rejoicing] when ye fall [stand in the midst of] into divers [various] temptations [trials]; Knowing this, that the trying [testing] of your faith [what you believe] worketh [performs; works out; produces] patience [steadfastness; endurance]. But let patience [steadfastness; endurance] have her perfect [maturing; complete] work, that ye may be perfect [mature] and entire [complete], wanting nothing [i.e. lacking not one thing]” (James 1:2–4).

Means to Overcome Trials and Temptations (1:5-12)

What should you do when you face hardships and persecution? Ask God for wisdom (1:5), trust Him (never give in to doubts and fears, 1:6), and rejoice (1:9). Whether you are brought low by poverty, or tempted to be exalted and dependent on riches, remember wealth is temporal (like grass that withers, or flowers that fade, 1:10-11). Do not forget, the person who loves the LORD will be blessed, when he endures trials (1:12).

Origin of Trials and Temptations (1:13-18)

Among the great truths we might take from trials and troubles, is foremost the promise God will never tempt you to sin (1:13). In fact, when you are tempted to sin, remember temptations arise from within the heart: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (1:14). Some might whine, “the devil tempted me;” however, the appeal to sin arises from lust seeded in the heart of sinners, and comes with a death sentence: “sin, when it is finished bringeth for death” (1:15).

The effect of lust and sin is death (Hebrews 9:27). Sin deals a death-blow to marriages, families, careers, hopes, and one’s health. Sin ends with physical, spiritual, and eternal death (Romans 6:23). Remember: God is the source of only good (1:16-18).

Closing thoughts (1:19-27) – How might believers prepare for trials and temptations? I find three major principles that answer that question in the closing verses of James 1.

1) Be Quick to Hear the Word of God, and Slow to Speak (1:19-21). In other words, obey God’s Word (1:19), restrain your anger (1:20), and renounce any sin that comes between you and God (1:21).

2) Be a Doer of the Word, not a Hearer Only (1:22-24). Hearing, but failing to obey God’s Word ends in self-deception (1:22). The Word of God is a perfect, flawless spiritual mirror of man’s soul, if he will remember what it reveals, and obey its truths.

3) Bridle Your Tongue (1:26). Some appear pious, and spiritually devout; however, if they do not bridle their tongues, they are self-deceived and their religion is vain and empty.

A devotional study of James 2 will need to wait for another year.; however, I conclude our study of James 1, by spotlighting the qualities of a sincere heart: Selfless and compassionate (caring for orphans and widows), and unstained by the sins of the world (1:27).

How’s your heart?

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Commencement of the Mission of the Great Commission (Acts 14)

Scripture reading – Acts 14

Continuing our study of the Acts of the Apostles, we observe an ever-rising tide of persecution. Paul and Barnabas had left the believers in Jerusalem, and took with them John Mark (12:25). Returning to Antioch, the Holy Spirit moved on that church to “separate” and consecrate Barnabas and Saul to be sent forth as the first missionary team (13:2-4). Traveling with that dynamic duo was John Mark; however, he soon deserted their company and “returned to Jerusalem” (13:13). (John Mark’s departure would later prove to be a divisive issue between Barnabas and Saul, Acts 15:38-40).

Paul and Barnabas came to another Antioch, known in the Scriptures as “Antioch in Pisidia” (13:14). This Antioch began in Asia Minor as a Roman outpost, but by Paul’s day was the capital city of Galatia in modern day Turkey. Antioch’s population of Jews was large enough to have a synagogue, and as it was their custom, Paul and Barnabas worshipped there on the Sabbath (13:14). As was the tradition, as guests of the synagogue, Paul and Barnabas were invited to give a “word of exhortation for the people” (13:15).

Trained in the Scriptures, Paul was a powerful, persuasive speaker, and he began to declare God’s providential work and care for Israel (13:18-22). He beckoned them with his hand saying, “26 Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent… 28And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. 30But God raised him from the dead” (13:23-41).

At that time there were many Jews and Gentiles who heard the Gospel, believed and were baptized (13:42, 47-48). Nevertheless, there were many who rejected Christ, opposed Paul and Barnabas, and “expelled them out of their coasts” (13:45, 50). In turn, Paul and Barnabas rejected their rejectors, and “shook off the dust of their feet against them” (13:51). Yet, though rejected by man, those preachers “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (13:52).

Acts 14 – Preaching the Gospel in Iconium (14:1-7)

Paul and Barnabas continued their missionary journey from Antioch in Pisidia to Iconium (a distance of approximately 120 miles). As they spoke in the synagogue, there was once again “a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed” (14:1). Isn’t it interesting, how the same message that convicted and moved Jews and Gentiles to repent and believe, stirred up others to reject and persecute? (14:2).

In spite of the opposition, Paul and Barnabas persevered and remained in Iconium “a long time…[and] speaking boldly in the Lord…gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders [miracles] to be done by their hands” (14:3). Yet, “the city was divided,” and some followed the Jews, and others believed the apostles (14:4). The opposition was so great, that some were determined “to stone them” (14:5). They fled Iconium, and came unto “Lystra and Derbe” where they “preached the gospel” (14:6-7).

A Crippled Healed (14:8-17)

Paul healed a crippled man in Lystra, who had been so from birth, and had never walked (14:8). Paul, saw the crippled man “had faith to be healed,” and “said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked” (14:9-10). The people of Lystra saw the miracle, and their thoughts shaped by their mythology, began praising Paul and Barnabas as gods (14:11-12). Indeed, the “priest of Jupiter” came, and would have offered the apostles sacrifices had they not protested and said, we “are men of like passions with you” (14:15).

Paul then declared the true God had made Himself known in creation:  “The living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein… left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (14:15, 17).

Persistent Enemies (14:19-21)

Though they had traveled 120 miles, Paul’s enemies from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra, and proved the fickle nature of sinners, and stirred up the people who “stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead” (14:19). Left for dead, Paul regained consciousness, “rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe” (14:20).

Closing thoughts (14:21-28) – Bold, courageous, and Spirit-filled, Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities where they had preached (14:20-21). They instructed “the souls of the disciples” and exhorted “them to continue in the faith” (14:22). They made their journey back to Antioch, (of Syria) where they “rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (14:21). Perhaps tired, and weary, Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time with the believers in Antioch (14:28).

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

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

Scripture reading – Acts 2; Acts 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Calling of a Shepherd: “Feed my sheep” (John 21; Acts 1)

Scripture reading – John 21; Acts 1

Today’s Scripture reading concludes our study of the Gospels, and introduces us to a book titled, “The Acts of the Apostles.” John 21, the final chapter in the Gospel of John, presents a unique perspective into the days and weeks that followed Christ’s resurrection, before His ascension to heaven. Jesus had promised to meet His disciples in Galilee, and they were to go “into a mountain where [He] had appointed them” (Matthew 28:16). Only seven of the eleven disciples are named (21:2), with no indication where the others might have been.

“I Go a Fishing” (21:3-11)

Simon Peter, ever the impulsive one, and possibly weary of waiting on Jesus, announced to the others, “I go a fishing” (21:3a). Rather than dissuade him from leaving the place Jesus had asked them to wait, the other disciples said to Peter, “We also go with thee” (21:3). So, they all went down to the “sea of Tiberias” (the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee), and fished through the night and “caught nothing” (21:3).

When it was morning, the disciples saw a man standing on the shore, but did not know “it was Jesus” (21:4). Jesus called to the men, “Children, have ye any meat?” (21:5), and then commanded them, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find” (21:6). Desperate and weary, the disciples did as they were told, and the catch of fish was so great “they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes” (21:7).

John, once again describing himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord” (21:5a). Without hesitation, Peter gathered his outer robe (for he had probably worn only a loin cloth in the boat), and “did cast himself into the sea” (21:7) and came to Jesus. The other disciples followed Peter by boat, “dragging the net with fishes” (21:8). When they came to shore, “they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread” (21:9) Jesus asked, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught” (21:10). Then, Peter went to assist the disciples, and dragging the net to shore, found they had drawn up 153 large fish, and “yet was not the net broken” (21:11).

What lessons might we take from this occasion? (21:9-13)

Several spiritual truths come to mind, with the first being particularly obvious…Peter and the other disciples had failed to wait on the Lord. They were commanded to go “into a mountain” (Matthew 28:16), but instead they abandoned their place and went to the lake to fish. Having disobeyed the LORD, the disciples fished all night, but all they had to show for their labor were empty nets.

As they came to Jesus, they heard Him say, “Come and dine” (21:12). Jesus had wonderfully, and graciously prepared to care for their needs. Fish and bread warmed over hot coals were waiting for them! What a wonderful reminder, God will supply our needs if only we will trust and obey Him! (21:13) We are reminded, this occasion was “the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead” (21:14).

Closing thoughts (21:14-25) – The balance of the chapter records the dramatic moment between Jesus and Peter, when the LORD asked, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (21:15) More than what? Perhaps it was the boat and nets of Peter’s former profession, for he was a fisherman when Jesus called him to be His disciple (Matthew 4:18-19).

Three times Jesus asked Peter, “lovest thou me?” (21:15, 16, 17). We read, “Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (21:17). The essence of Jesus’ question was this: Do you love me enough to leave everything, and be a shepherd to my sheep?

I wonder, have you been called to serve the LORD, but like Peter, have left His will and said, “I go a fishing” (21:3)

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

I Serve a Risen Savior! (John 20)

Scripture reading – John 20

We are once again privileged to reflect on the stunning revelation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead (John 20). Like the Synoptics, we find John’s Gospel in perfect harmony with Matthew, Mark, and Luke (a wonderful testimony to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

John was an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, ministry, and agonizing death on the Cross (John 19:33-35). What a blessed joy to share in his firsthand account of Christ’s resurrection, and His physical appearances that followed Him being raised from the dead! I believe John remained near the Cross until Jesus “bowed His head, and gave up the ghost” (19:30, 35). With love and compassion, he led Mary, the mother of Jesus from the Cross (19:26-27), as other women followed Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38-39), who placed the body of Jesus in Joseph’s tomb (John 19:39).

John 20

The other Gospel writers focused on two or more women who found the tomb empty, John, however, focused on Mary Magdalene (20:1). She came to the tomb early on the first day of the week, “when it was yet dark” (20:1). Much to her grief, she found the stone that sealed the tomb was “taken away from the sepulchre” (20:1). Without waiting on the other women, she left the tomb hastily, and ran to “Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, who Jesus loved” (John’s typical reference to himself, 20:2).

Mary left before the angels revealed themselves to her, and thought the worst had happened. Supposing Jesus’ body was stolen, she said to Peter and John, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (20:2b). Peter and John ran to the sepulchre, and the latter apparently being younger, came to the tomb first and stood without peering inside (20:4-5). Peter entered the tomb, and found it empty, and the linens that had wrapped Jesus’ body in place, and the napkin that had been about his head “in a place by itself” (20:7).

Peter was perplexed, for if the body had been stolen by Jesus’ enemies, surely, they would have taken it away wrapped as it had been buried. Though the Lord had often foretold His death and resurrection, those disciples did not understand “the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (20:9). We read how Peter and John departed, and “went away again unto their own home” (20:10).

Mary lingered “at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre” (20:11). She “seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (20:12). The angels asked Mary, “Woman, why weepest thou?” (20:13). Because they appeared as men, she did not yet understand they were angels (20:13). In her anguish, Mary confessed, “they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (20:13).

Then, turning from the tomb, Mary came face-to-face with Jesus. With her eyes clouded by tears, she did not recognize Him and supposed he was a garden keeper (20:15). Jesus then asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” (20:15). Mary implored Him, saying, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (20:15).

Jesus then said her name, “Mary,” and her heart resonated with joy and affection. She answered Jesus, and said, “Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (Rabboni being a title of honor and deep respect, 20:16).

Closing thoughts (20:17-18) – Of all men and women, Jesus chose to first appear to Mary (Mark 16:9). Imagine Mary’s profound joy when she understood Jesus was more than an apparition! Surely, she might have clung to Him out of joy, but He said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (20:17). Obeying Jesus, Mary departed immediately and “came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her” (20:18).

Like many who hear, but refuse to believe, the disciples doubted Mary and the accounts of the other women. When Jesus appeared to His disciples that evening, He rebuked them for “their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14). Of course, Thomas even doubted the witness of the disciples (20:24-29).

I close, inviting you to put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, raised from the dead, and victorious over sin and the grave! (20:31)

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Eyewitness Accounts of Christ’s Resurrection (Mark 16; Luke 24)

Scripture reading – Mark 16; Luke 24

With the cry, “It is finished,” Jesus “bowed His head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). Soldiers were ordered to hasten the deaths of those on the crosses, and they broke the legs of the thieves to speed along their demise. When they came to Jesus, they found He was already dead. Rather than break his legs, a soldier thrust his spear through Christ’s side (John 19:34-37), and thus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy, “they shall look upon me whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).

Departing Golgotha

The chief priests, Pharisees, and scribes, must have been the first to leave Golgotha. Like politicians, they had plotted Jesus’ death, and stirred the people to consent, crying, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13-14; Luke 23:21; John 19:6, 15). Those who lifted their voices against Jesus, went to their homes with hands stained with the blood of an innocent, sinless man. Spiritually blind, they observed the Passover, not understanding they had sacrificed the “Lamb of God,” Jesus Christ (John 1:29, 36).

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who “had not consented to the counsel (Sanhedrin) and deed of them” (Luke 23:51), had gone to Pilate and courageously “begged the body of Jesus” (Luke 23:52). With love and tenderness, he claimed Jesus’ lifeless body, and “wrapped it in linen, and laid it” in his sepulchre (Luke 23:53). With the tomb sealed and guards posted, the high priests and elders were confident the tomb was secure. They had done what they could to ensure Jesus’ followers would not steal His body, and then claim He had been raised from the dead as He had taught (Matthew 27:62-66).

He is Risen! (Mark 16; Luke 24:44-49)

We have considered the historical details that give numerous proofs concerning the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Matthew 28). Mark 16:1-14 and Luke 24:1-12 offer us a perspective of their authors, and together the absolute harmony of the greatest event in human history… “Jesus was risen early the first day of the week” and He appeared to Mary Magdalene (16:9), two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus (16:12; Luke 24:13-32), and then to “the eleven as they sat at meat” (16:14).

The fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead forever changed the lives of His disciples.  They were commissioned to preach the news of Christ’s suffering for sin (24:26), and to preach in His name a message of repentance and remission of sins “among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:47). Of those things, Jesus commanded, “ye are witnesses of these things” (24:48). With a blessing, and promise they would go in His power and authority, Jesus ascended to heaven (24:50-51). The hearts of the disciples were filled with joy, and “they worshipped” Him, “and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (24:53). With the exception of John who was exiled (Revelation 1), each of the disciples faced a martyr’s death. Yet, their tongues could not be silenced, and each died giving testimony that they served a risen Savior!

Closing thoughts – Christ’s resurrection was the pinnacle moment in God’s redemptive plan. Jesus was crucified, died for our sins, was buried, and on the third day was raised from the dead as He foretold. His sacrificial death paid the penalty of sin in full (Romans 6:23), and His resurrection promises hope to all who believe.

I close with the apostle John’s eyewitness testimony:

1 John 5:1313 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Is Jesus Christ your Savior?

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.