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

“He’s Got the Whole World, In His Hands”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Esther 6-10

I introduced the Book of Esther last week stating, “Divine providence is one of the overriding themes of the Book of Esther.”   That observation is illustrated in a hilarious and tragic way in today’s scripture reading, Esther 6-10.

The world call its, “Instant Karma”; derived from an ideology attributed to Buddhism and Hinduism.  “Karma” represents a principle we might define as “Cause and Effect” suggesting, whether disparaging or showing grace, you should anticipate “instant karma”, in other words…payback!

“Instant Karma”, suggests a fatalism that belies, even belittles the “Providence of God”… that He is sovereignly directing the course of humanity to His purpose and end.  The apostle Paul summed up the doctrine of God’s sovereignty writing, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Solomon taught his son the same; “The king’s heart is in the hand [power; rule; authority; under dominion] of the LORD, as the rivers [streams] of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will [pleasure; desire; favor] (Proverbs 21:1).

Esther 6 is a beautiful example of God working in the heart of a king.  King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes), finds himself in a place many of us have found ourselves…enduring a sleepless night.  We know by revelation the king’s insomnia (Esther 6:1) was used by God to direct the thoughts and the heart of the king to His divine end; however, from the king’s perspective, it was a sleepless night and he determined to have his servants read historical records chronicling his reign.

Providentially, the name of Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, came to the king’s attention and how he had intervened to foil a plot to assassinate the king.  Recalling that event, the king wondered, “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?” (6:3).  Realizing the Jew named Mordecai had not been rewarded for his service, the king determined to immediately correct that slight and reward him for his service.

Providentially, in that very moment, Haman, the adversary of the Jews who successfully plotted to have the king sign a decree for the extermination of all the Jews, entered the king’s court to request that Mordecai be hanged from the gallows he had constructed in his courtyard (6:4-5).

In a wonderful twist of what some might call “Instant Karma”, Haman listened as the king sought his advice on the means of honoring a servant in “whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:6).  Haman, believing he was the man to be rewarded, suggested a very public honor, parading the servant in “royal apparel”, riding on the king’s horse, and wearing the “crown royal…set upon his head” (6:8-9).  Ah, the irony when Haman was commanded to be the one to honor Mordecai, the man whom he was plotting to hang (6:10-11)!

The balance of Esther 6 and the remaining chapters (Esther 7-10) give testimony to the sovereignty of God as He providentially directs the thoughts, plots and plans of men to His divine purpose and end.  Haman’s wicked designs to annihilate the Jews was not only foiled, but he falls himself victim to the gallows he constructed to hang Mordecai (Esther 7:7-10).

Friend, man is a free will agent and not a robot; however, God can and does steer the course of human choices to accomplish His plan and purpose.  King, president, governor, judge, sheriff, employer, teacher, parent, son or daughter…none are beyond the sovereign purpose and reach of God.

Remember: “He’s Got the Whole World, In His Hands!”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Personal Reflections on This Christmas Day

December 25, 2017

Dear family, friends, and Heart of a Shepherd Readers,

Merry Christmas!  I plan to post today’s devotional commentary (Deuteronomy 32-34) later this morning; however, feeling somewhat nostalgic, I wish to post a personal note on this my 61st Christmas Day.  (This is a personal blog post, neither theological or ethereal, and I am not offended if you pass this by without reading).

The quiet of my home this Christmas morning invites reflections on Christmas’ past when this day brought joy as childhood dreams were fulfilled.  Oh, the joy of waking up early Christmas Day morning and finding under the tree gifts my parents had purchased, far exceeding anything they experienced in their childhoods.  I smile when I remember how politically incorrect gifts abounded…Cowboy cap guns, Daisy BB Guns, and my first 20-gauge shotgun.  My favorite gift of all…a 26-inch red bicycle with its own headlight!

God blessed my parents with health and longevity and I am able to express to them today my gratitude.  I appreciate their effort to fulfill childhood dreams when I know my frivolity came at personal sacrifice I could not have known nor did I appreciate at the time.  I love you mom and dad…and, in the words of the late actor Bob Hope, “thanks for the memories”.

Another reminiscence of childhood is my wonder how my maternal grandparents, Roland and Sadie Whitley, presented every grandson and granddaughter a special gift at Christmas (I believe the number was 17 grandchildren).  My grandfather was a hardworking, honest man who was a farmer by day and a factory worker at night.  My grandmother, taking my grandfather’s modest income, spent the year shopping in anticipation of her large family gathering in the living room, unwrapping gifts with childhood glee.  Memories indeed…

My love and gratitude to Sheilah, the beautiful wife of my youth (Proverbs 5:18), who worked within the humble salary of a youth pastor our first 18 years of marriage.  Somehow, you made Christmas a special time for our children, stretching dollars, but filling the space beneath the tree with a myriad of wrapped gifts and surprises (and no, we did not give the fat jolly man any credit for our sacrifice).

Finally, a word of gratitude to our parents, Ted and Fairis Smith and Archie and Sylvia Ipock.  Sheilah and I raised your grandchildren in Michigan and Florida, but we seldom failed to make the long trek home to the Carolinas for Christmas.  Thank you; thank you for sacrificial love, opening your homes to our family, and sacrificing to give our children coveted memories.  Thanks for sweet memories…

With the love of a son, husband, father, and grandfather,

Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Earnestly Contend for the Faith

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Jude 1:1-25

The theme of the book of Jude, only 25 verses in length, is summed up in two words, exhortation and admonition:  Jude exhorts believers to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3) and admonishes the church to beware of apostasy.

A century ago, the pulpits of most Baptist and Protestant churches in America unapologetically preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There were differences in the mode of baptism and church government; however, the preaching of the cross was almost a universal theme in America’s churches.

By the 1920’s a spiritual apostasy crept into many denominational churches and began eroding fundamental Bible doctrines.  Bible colleges and Seminaries became hotbeds of liberalism and apostasy.  In a generation, mainline Protestant churches departed from the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.

Christ taught His disciples a sign of His Second Coming would be, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matthew 25:5, 11).

The apostle Paul warned Timothy, “For the time will come when they [professing believers in the church] will not endure [tolerate] sound doctrine; but after their own lusts [sinful desires] shall they heap [invite] to themselves teachers, having itching ears [desiring to hear something that tickles, scratches or pleases the ear]; 4 And they shall turn away their ears [stop listening] from the truth, and shall be turned [aside] unto fables [myths; false teaching]” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

The book of Jude, written to the late 1st century church, warned believers apostates were already in their midst.  Sounding a warning reminiscent of a bugle playing “Charge” for the Calvary, Jude challenged believers to engage in spiritual warfare.

“Earnestly contend for the faith” is a call to spiritual battle (1:3). To wage war for the faith is to be intolerant of doctrinal error and compromise.   Some argue, “Times have changed and Christians should not be so dogmatic about their faith.”

Times have changed; however, the Truths and Doctrines of the Word of God are timeless!

Psalm 119:160 – “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.”

1 Peter 1:23 – “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

1 Peter 1:25 – “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.  And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

To “earnestly contend for the faith” is to stand and agonize unapologetically for the TRUTH.

Paul challenged Corinthian believers, “Watch ye [Stay awake; be alert], stand fast [persevere; adhere] in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Paul exhorted Timothy, “Fight [agonize; be disciplined] the good fight of faith…” (1 Timothy 6:12).

The balance of Jude’s epistle describes the challenges confronting the churches at the end of the 1st century.  Jude described the character of apostates: Denying the truth (1:4-7), immoral (1:8b), rejecting spiritual authority (1:8c), and irreverent (1:8d-10).  The apostasy of the 1st century church is a mirror image of the decadence found in many 21st century churches.

Vigilance is the cause of the hour; however, rather than “contending for the faith”, I am afraid the majority of believers and churches are in full retreat.

The greatest threat to the Church is not persecution without, but false teachers within. 

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

A Special Note from the Author of “Heart of a Shepherd”

Dear Hillsdale Family and Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

The Scripture reading for this Saturday, December 23, 2017 is the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 25-26.  If you are following our “Read-Thru the Bible” in a year schedule, congratulations…you and I are nearing the end of a year-long journey in the Word of God!   I trust you sense God has blessed you abundantly for your faithfulness and perseverance in His Word.

On a personal note: I began writing my daily devotional commentary January 1, 2017 and confess, it has been a journey requiring far more of me than I ever intended.  Most devotional authors pen what I call a “little ditty” consisting of a scripture assignment, a brief illustration, and a thought for the day.

For me, I set about on a task of writing a layman friendly devotional commentary with application for each day’s Bible reading.  I am afraid my zeal sometimes taxed you the reader as much as it did me the author.  It may surprise you to know a typical posting of my daily commentary required up to two hours of effort; this included my Bible reading, meditations, deciding on a principle, making an application, and then choosing appropriate pictures to illustrate the devotional.

The demands of ministry, especially on Sundays, meant I was sometimes unable to devote the time necessary for a Sunday devotional.  There were also interruptions of travel and illness that took me from posting devotional commentary.  However, in spite of those interruptions, this post marks my 1,100th post on “Heart of a Shepherd”.  In addition to this past year’s “Read-Thru the Bible” devotionals, I have also catalogued hundreds of devotionals based on the Book of Proverbs.

In my initial devotional commentary last January 1, 2017, I wrote the following:  As a pastor, it is my goal to shepherd the flock God has entrusted to my care and use this “Heart of a Shepherd” blog as a platform to amplify and write a devotional thought or challenge that corresponds to each day’s devotional assignment.”

I will continue to post periodic devotionals in the coming year; however, I will not continue the daily grind and discipline of writing daily Bible commentary.  I pray the devotionals posted on this blog have been and will continue being a blessing to believers around the world (estimate around 170 countries are represented in this blog’s readership).

I plan to dedicate my time, energy, and study in God’s Word to the task of writing sermons and ministering to the members of Hillsdale Baptist Church, Tampa, FL, where I have ministered for over 32 years, 22 years as the Senior Pastor.

Should you wish to contact me, you can e-mail me at pastorsmith@hillsdalebaptist.org or by mail at: Hillsdale Baptist Church, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33624.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Devil is Behind the World’s Hatred of the Jews and Israel

Friday, December 22, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Revelation 12-17

Today’s scripture reading is a prophecy of the last half of the Tribulation years.  Because the length of the assigned reading is far too long for a brief devotional commentary, I will limit today’s devotional to Revelation 12.

From the time of his fall, Satan and the angels who followed his rebellion (described as “the third part of the stars” who were cast out of heaven – Revelation 12:4; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17), have warred against God.  Satan’s failed rebellion in heaven continued on earth when he, in the form of a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God (Genesis 3).

Revelation 12 is a prophetic portrait of the war of the ages and is set in the second half of the Seven Years Tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22).

The woman described in Revelation 12:1 is the nation of Israel; identified by the twelve stars in her crown representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  It is this woman, symbolic of Israel, that is the focus of Satan’s final stand against God.  Israel, pictured as a woman with child suffering labor pains, is an image of persecution (12:2).  The birth of the child being delivered is symbolic of Israel’s coming  Messiah.

The “great red dragon” is Satan (12:3-4) and the “seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads” (12:3) represent nations and thrones that are confederates in the devil’s unrelenting attack on Israel.

Revelation 12:4 describes the rebellion Satan led among the angels in heaven when his heart was lifted up in pride (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17).  After being cast out of heaven (12:7-9), the devil’s focus was to destroy God’s promise of a Savior Redeemer by annihilating the Hebrew people.

The woman (Israel) gives birth to a son in Revelation 12:5b, describing Christ’s birth (His virgin mother Mary being a daughter of Israel of the tribe of Judah) and His ascension to heaven, “caught up unto God”  (reminding us of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and ascension – Acts 1:9).

Revelation 12:7-12 turns our focus back to heaven and the rebellion of one-third of the angels led by the “great dragon…that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (12:9a).  The devil “was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (12:9b).

Adding to the Devil’s deviant resume’ is his title, “the accuser of our brethren” (12:10). We understand from Job 1-2 that Satan, although cast out of heaven, has access before the throne of God and is the persecutor of the Jews and believers.

The cross, rather than a symbol of defeat, became a symbol of victory and salvation with the resurrection of Christ from the dead (12:10b-12a).  Having failed to prevent Christ’s resurrection, the devil pours out his wrath on Israel and “persecuted the woman [Israel] which brought forth the man child” (meaning Christ, 12:13).

Israel’s flight from persecution during the Tribulation is described as “the woman …given two wings of a great eagle”, possibly drawing upon the picture of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt “on eagles’ wings” (Exodus 19:4).  As the trials and troubles of the last years of the Tribulation increase, some of Israel will find a safe place in the wilderness and be spared (12:14); others will become the object of the devil’s wrath as the nations of the earth align against the Jews (12:15-17).

The Hebrew people have been, and continue to be, the object of hate and persecution in the world.  Anti-Semitism is increasing dramatically and its horrid head is visible in the Middle East, throughout Europe, and in the United States.  None of these facts should surprise us. Christ warned His Disciples The Great Tribulation would bring a time of trouble like the world has not seen (Matthew 24:21).   The spirit of anarchy, rioting, violence, and terrorist attacks we are witnessing in our society are ominous signs the Tribulation years are upon us.

Friend, take courage; we know the end of the story and the defeat of Satan’s rebellion is certain.  When Christ comes again, he will defeat Satan and crush the nation’s aligned with him (Rev. 19:11-21).  After the Millennial years, the devil and his demons will be condemned to the lake of fire for ever (Revelation 20:3, 7-10).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Here Comes the Bride!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Song of Solomon 5-6

We continue our study in Song of Solomon reading chapters 5-6 for our devotional study. As a reminder, I have taken the approach this is a literal, romantic story of a bride’s love for a shepherd, a shepherd whom she realizes on her wedding day is King Solomon!  The king and his wedding entourage came for his bride in Song of Solomon 3 and in chapter 4 he took her for his wife.

Song of Solomon 5:1 concludes the glorious wedding day feast as the king bids his guests good night and retires into his palace with his beautiful Shulamite bride.

Song of Songs 5:1 – I [the king] am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends [members of the wedding party]; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

The love story of the bride and her groom continues with Song of Solomon 5:2.  King Solomon rejoices in his young bride; however, as it is with all marriages, the honeymoon has ended and life takes on the ebb and flow of routine.

The king comes to his new bride’s bedchamber after a long day.  Anticipating the love and greeting of his wife, he knocks at the door of her chamber, but she has retired for the night and at first does not want to be disturbed (5:2b-3).  She hears him trying to open the door and her heart yearns for him (5:4); however, when she opens the door she finds he has departed (5:5-6).

Longing for the company of her husband, she goes out into the night to find him.  In the absence of the king, the guards and watchmen, do not recognize her and answer her inquiry roughly (5:7).   Longing for her husband, she confides to her attendants, “I am sick of love” (5:8b) and ponders in her thoughts the allure of his physical beauty (5:10-16).

The bride’s lonely night and search has passed in Song of Solomon 6 and she rejoices to find her husband, the king, in his royal gardens (6:1-3).  

 Seeing his wife approach, the king romances her with declarations of his love and praises her for her beauty (6:4-7).  He assures her, though there are many wives, concubines, and virgins in his harem (6:8), there are none to compare with her (6:8-9).

What a beautiful picture of love and romance in a marriage!

I close today’s devotional commentary with a few observations.  

The first, marriage is more than a covenant; it is a blending of two lives into one.  The life experiences and backgrounds of Solomon and his bride could hardly be starker.  He is a young king and has known the life of the palace from his infancy; she is a commoner, a poor commoner who knows nothing of a queen’s life.  He is a vibrant, confident king; she is quiet and insecure in her new role as the queen.

A second observation is the king’s loving patience extended to his young bride.  He came to her bedchamber, but she had retired.  He could have forced his way into her room; however, he retreated.  When she came to him the next morning, the king greeted her lovingly, reassuring her with loving words and praising her for her beauty and virtues.

On a personal note: When I was a young pastor, an older and wiser pastor told me, “Look into the faces of wives sitting in a church congregation and you will know if the marriages and families in that church are healthy and happy.”  I have found that is true.

Pressures of family and work can steal a couple’s joy and quench their romance; as a result, many married couples lose their passion.  The young bride in our love story urged her attendants, tell the king, “I am sick of love” (5:8b); literally, I am “love sick”…longing for her husband’s love.

Honeymoons end, but a happy marriage will preserve romance and courtship.

Take a lesson from today’s scripture:  A happy marriage demands the dedication of two souls and a lifetime of patience and romance.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith