Tag Archives: church

“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.

The Tongue and Its Nature (James 3)

Scripture reading – James 3

Our study of the Epistle of James continues with chapter 3, and the focus is three major themes of the book: Trials, Temptations, and the Tongue. Wonderfully practical and convicting, the overriding subject is the tongue and the trouble it is for all mankind.

A Warning to Teachers (3:1)

James 3 opens with a warning to all who aspire to be teachers: “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (3:1). The word “master” is in essence the teacher (an experienced professor may be called a “master teacher”). James included himself in the admonition, saying, we [teachers]shall receive the greater condemnation” (3:1b). Because the tongue is the tool of all who teach, James warned: We will face God’s greater judgment.

The Tongue: Its Characteristics and Dangers (3:2-12)

The author identified man’s tongue as an instrument for both good and evil. The tongue has the power to bless or curse, to affirm or offend, and to cause some to err. In fact, the tongue is so powerful and influential, only a “perfect man” (one mature and spiritually disciplined) has the power to restrain and bridle his tongue (3:2).

Though small, the tongue boasts much and has power and influence. Consider two analogies James drew upon to illustrate the influence of the tongue. The first compares the tongue to a small bit in the mouth of a horse. Small in size, the horse’s bit has the power to harness the strength and direct the will of the horse to submit to the authority of its rider (3:3). The same is true of the rudder of a ship (3:4). Though a small mechanism in proportion to the ship, the rudder can guide a massive vessel through “fierce winds” and troubled seas.

The application: What the bit is in the horse’s mouth, and the rudder is to a ship, so is the tongue to mankind. Though small, the tongue can boast, and destroy lives, marriages, families, and institutions (3:5). “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity [evil]: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth [inflames] the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (3:6). Like a spark can turn into a raging forest fire, so the tongue unchecked can destroy everyone and everything.

The tongue of man is also restless, and untamed (3:7-8). Men have been able to capture and tame different “beasts…birds…serpents, and of things in the sea,” but man has never been able to tame his tongue (3:7-8a). Why? For the tongue is by nature, “an unruly evil” and full of venomous poison (3:8b). Treacherous and hypocritical by nature, men pretend to bless God, and curse men; yet, man is made in the likeness and “after the similitude of God” (3:9b). James then declared, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10).

Three Things that Cannot Be (3:10-12)

To illustrate the intolerable nature of a tongue that pretends to worship God, and curse men, James proved his point with three things that are unnatural. The first, it is unnatural for a water fountain to spew both sweet and bitter water. It is impossible for a fig tree to bear olives, or a vine to bear figs (3:12a). Finally, it is impossible for a fountain to “produce salt water and fresh” (3:12b).

A Contrast Between Earthly and Heavenly Wisdom (3:13-16)

This passage began with an admonition to teachers (3:1), and I suppose the “wise man” in the passage is the teacher. Consider then, teachers with heavenly wisdom will epitomize three qualities: Their conversation [not just their words, but their ways] should uphold the highest, moral good, and their works should reflect meekness, and wisdom (3:13b).

Worldly wisdom is the antithesis of heavenly wisdom—it is neither good, nor wise. The wisdom of the world spues bitterness, and envy (3:14a). The wisdom of man is selfish, ambitious, proud, and deceitful (3:14b). Such wisdom is born in the bowels of the hearts of evil men, and is worldly and demonic. The Spirit of God does not abide envy and strife (3:15). Warning: Reject implementing the Word of God and confusion and evil will prevail (3:16).

Closing thoughts (3:17-18) – True wisdom has it source in God, and its character reflects His nature. True wisdom is morally pure, peaceable (pursues peace with others), gentle (kind, patient), reasonable (“easy to be intreated”), merciful (compassionate, caring), bears “good fruits” (caring, loving actions), is impartial and just(“without partiality”), and honest and sincere (“without hypocrisy)” (3:17).

What is the effect of godly wisdom? Righteousness [obeying God’s law and commandments] that results in peace with God and others (3:18).

Are you wise or foolish? Which wisdom is characteristic of your heart and life?

* 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).

* 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 Fury and Death of Herod, Enemy of God (Acts 12; Acts 13)

Scripture reading – Acts 12; Acts 13

Acts 12 begins with the phrase, “about that time,” and gives us cause to consider “the time” that was the setting for today’s devotional. Putting our Scripture reading in its historical context, it was “the time” that followed Peter learning the Gospel was to be preached to all men, Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:1-48). Peter had given a defense of his doctrine before the believers of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18), and they “glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).

The church in Jerusalem commissioned and “sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch” (11:22). The work was so great that Barnabas determined to travel to Tarsus, and invite Saul to minister with him in Antioch (11:25-26). It was also at the time when a believer named Agabus prophesied the world would experience a “great dearth” (a time of famine, 11:28). Exercising love and compassion for their brethren in Jerusalem, the believers in Antioch “determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea,” and “every man [gave] according to his ability” (11:29). Barnabas and Saul were sent with an offering for believers in Jerusalem (11:30).

Acts 12

Perhaps for political reasons, and to distract the people from the famine, king Herod (the grandson of Herod the Great), began a systematic pattern of persecuting the church. The king “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (making him the first of the apostles to be martyred, 12:2). When he realized his actions “pleased the Jews” (12:3), he determined “to take Peter” and would have put him to death had God not intervened (12:3-4).

With Peter in prison, the believers of the church began to pray “without ceasing” (12:5). While they prayed, “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison” (12:6). What faith, and confidence Peter had in God’s care and providences. Then, God miraculously intervened, and sent an angel who struck Peter in his side to awaken him, and commanded him, “Arise up quickly” (12:7). So deep was his sleep, the angel instructed him to put on his shoes and his garments. Even then, Peter believed it wasn’t so, and he was having a vision (12:8-9).

Peter was delivered from the prison by the angel, and then made his way through the streets to where believers were gathered to pray at the home of Mary, whose son was named “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12). (This is the same John Mark who would be the author of the Gospel of Mark).

Arriving at the house, Peter knocked and a young lady named Rhoda, answered the door (12:13). Hearing and recognizing his voice, Rhoda was so excited she neglected opening the door for Peter to enter the house (12:14). She told the believers Peter was outside the gate, but they accused her of being “mad” (literally out of her head or mind, 12:14). Some suggested she had seen Peter’s angel, though Peter continued to knock (12:16).

Finally opening the door, the believers rejoiced to find Peter standing before them! (12:16) He quieted their enthusiasm, and explained how he had been delivered from the prison (12:17). He then instructed them to send a message to “James, and to the brethren” (this is probably James, the half-brother of Jesus, and the son of Joseph and Mary, 12:17b). By this time, James appears to be the leader of the believers in the church in Jerusalem. Wisely, Peter departed from Jerusalem, “and went into another place” (12:17c).

Herod’s Fury and Death (12:18-23)

When it was day, the soldiers and keepers of the prison discovered Peter was missing (12:18). Those who slept in his cell, and those who stood guard at the door of the prison, had no explanation for Peter’s absence (12:19). Herod then ordered the execution of those men who failed to keep Peter prisoner (12:19).

The king then departed for Caesarea (a city on the Mediterranean Sea), and remained there (12:19b). Proud of his position and power, the king set a day of pageantry for himself, and “arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them” (12:21). The people flattered the foolish king, “saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man” (12:22). Herod accepted their blasphemy, and even as they praised him, an “angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (12:23). Imagine the horror of seeing the king struck down, and worms consuming him till he was dead! (12:23).

Closing thoughts (12:24-25) – While the persecution of believers increased, so did the reach of the “Word of God,” which increased more and more (12:24). Acts 12 concluded with Barnabas and Saul departing Jerusalem and returning to Antioch, and this time in the company of “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12, 25).

Though today’s Scripture reading continues with Acts 13, and the historical record of the beginning of modern missions, I must leave that study for another time.

* 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 Only Solution to Racial Prejudices (Acts 10; Acts 11)

Scripture reading – Acts 10; Acts 11

We are continuing our study of the Acts of the Apostles with today’s Scripture reading, Acts 10 and 11. What exciting times those were following the ascension of Christ (Acts 1), and the coming and baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The powerful, unapologetic preaching of the Gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, 3:12-22)) spawned a movement that saw thousands trust Christ as Savior, be baptized and added to the church (2:41).

Yet, that same message of hope enflamed a conviction among the enemies of Christ, who determined to silence the preaching with threats and persecution (Acts 4-5). While persecution brought sorrow and physical suffering, it was the martyrdom of Stephen that was the catalyst for believers at Jerusalem to be “scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria” (8:1). Saul, the great persecutor of believers, was the instrument God used to thrust believers out of Jerusalem, preaching Christ wherever they went (8:3-4). Of course, Saul’s salvation and transformation (Acts 9) became a powerful testimony of the Gospel to believers and the unsaved. Those with whom Saul once consulted in his persecution of believers, then “took counsel to kill him” (9:23).

Acts 10

A Centurion Named Cornelius (10:1-8)

Acts 10 opened a new era in God’s redemptive plan, as a “man in Caesarea called Cornelius” (10:1) received a vision from God (10:3). Who was Cornelius? He was a Roman soldier, a centurion, an officer over 100 soldiers (10:1). Though a Gentile by birth, Cornelius had come to believe and “feared God with all his house” (10:2). He was “a devout man” who cared for the poor, and “prayed to God always” (10:2).

To Cornelius, a man of faith, God gave a vision of an angel who affirmed the Lord had not only seen his good works, but heard his prayers (10:4). The angel commanded Cornelius to send men to Joppa (modern Tel-Aviv), where they were to go to the house of “Simon, a tanner,” and find Peter (10:5-6). He was assured Peter would tell him “what thou oughtest to do” (10:6). Obeying the angelic messenger, Cornelius sent two servants and a “devout soldier” to Joppa (10:8).

God Prepares Peter’s Heart (10:9-23)

Unbeknownst to Cornelius, God was preparing Peter’s heart with a vision that forever changed not only his heart, but also the preaching of the Gospel. We find Peter praying on the housetop about the noon hour (10:9), and as he became hungry, he witnessed heaven open and a “great sheet” being lowered on which there “were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air” (10:12). Then, the Lord spoke and commanded him, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (10:13). But Peter answered, saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (10:14). The Lord spoke again, and then a third time, saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (10:15-16).

Providentially, as Peter wondered what the vision meant, the men sent by Cornelius arrived at the house where he was staying. Standing at the gate of the house, they “asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there” (10:18). Peter, not knowing men were at the gate, was commanded by the Spirit, “Behold, three men seek thee. 20Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (10:19-20).

Peter went down from the housetop as he was told, and found three men waiting as he had been told. Remember, though he knew he was commanded to go with the men, he did not know they were Gentiles until he saw one of the three was a soldier of Rome. They introduced themselves as men sent by Cornelius, a centurion whose testimony was great “among all the nation of the Jews” (10:21-22). No doubt taking a lesson from his vision of the unclean animals on the sheet, Peter invited the three men to lodge with him that night, promising “on the morrow” he would accompany them to Joppa (10:23).

Cornelius’ Preparation (10:23-33)

The next day, Peter and six other Jewish witnesses traveled to Caesarea, and came to Cornelius’ home where he waited with “kinsmen and near friends” he had called to hear Peter (10:23-24). Even “as Peter was coming in [into the house], Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him” (10:25). Peter, evidencing humility, said to him, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (10:26). Peter, reflecting on his vision of the unclean beasts and the command, “kill and eat” (10:13, 28), understood the interpretation of the vision and said, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (10:28).

Cornelius shared the vision he had received, and the command for him to send for Peter (10:30-33). In a wonderful testimony to the working of God’s Spirit, Cornelius humbly confessed, “we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (10:33).

The Breadth and Power of the Gospel Message (10:34-43)

Peter began to teach the Gentiles who had gathered in Cornelius’ house, and confessed, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (10:34-35). Declaring Jesus Christ “is Lord of all,” Peter realized the Gospel was not for Jews only, but was a message for all sinners, Jew and Gentile (10:36). He reminded his audience how Christ’s coming was first published among the Jews by the “baptism which John preached” (10:37), and the ministry of “Jesus of Nazareth” was manifested by good works (10:38).

Peter’s message reached its pinnacle when he declared he was a witness “of all things which [Christ] did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: 40Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly” (10:39-40). Confirming Christ’s bodily resurrection, Peter declared he “did eat and drink with [Jesus] after He rose from the dead” (10:41). Even the prophets were witnesses of those things, “that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (10:43; Isaiah 53:11; Jeremiah 31:34; Zechariah 13:1).

The Salvation and Baptism of Cornelius’ Household (10:44-48)

As Peter concluded his message, the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and his household, for they had not only heard his words, but believed (10:44). The Jewish witnesses with Peter were astonished, as Gentiles began to manifest the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, speaking with tongues and glorifying God (10:46). Peter then, commanded Cornelius and his household “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (10:48). The hunger for truth was so great, the young believers begged Peter to stay with them for several days (10:48b).

Closing thoughts – Take time to read Acts 11, and consider Peter’s glowing defense and declaration that salvation had come also to the Gentiles (11:1-18). Acts 11:22 gives us the record of the first missionary sent out by the church, and once again it is Barnabas who was chosen (Acts 4:36; 11:22-25).

* 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.

Amazing Grace: From Saul the Persecutor, to Paul the Preacher (Acts 9)

Scripture reading – Acts 9

Our previous devotional concluded with Stephen being martyred for Christ (Acts 7:54-60). Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, records those who participated in the stoning “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (7:58). We next read, “Saul was consenting [approving] unto his death” (Acts 8:1). Yet, the persecution of believers had the effect of not only seeing them “scattered abroad” (8:4), but also “preaching the word” everywhere they went (8:4).

Coming to Acts 9, we find “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, [and going] unto the high priest” (9:1). Under the deluded pretense he was serving God, Saul requested letters of authority to go to Damascus synagogues, and arrest men or women who identified with “this way” (9:2).  (The “way” being the name of any who identified Jesus Christ as the Messiah.) Driven by a religious zeal contrary to the Law and Commandments (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:16), Saul planned to drag followers of Christ out of the synagogues of Damascus, and take them bound by ropes and chains to Jerusalem, a journey of 175 miles.

As Saul “came near Damascus” (9:3), he encountered a light from heaven” (9:3). Blinded by the light (9:8), he fell to the earth “and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (9:4a). With humility, Saul answered, “Who art thou, Lord?” Then Jesus revealed Himself to Saul by name, and identified his persecution of believers as an offense against Himself.

“The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (9:5b). Like an ox that is goaded with a long stick to prod it to obey its master, Saul had foolishly been goading God. “Trembling and astonished [amazed]” (9:6), he realized he had been persecuting the Son of God. Blind and shaken, Saul surrendered his will to God, and acknowledged Christ as Lord, saying, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”(9:6a).

Unable to see, Saul was guided to Damascus by the very men he had chosen to persecute the followers of Christ. Though rendered “speechless” (for they had heard a voice, but saw no man), they were unchanged by the experience that transformed Saul’s heart and life (9:7). Saul arrived in Damascus; with the Lord’s promise he would be told what he must do (9:6c). For three days, the great persecutor of believers found himself blind, and with no appetite for food or drink (9:9).

While Saul waited, the Lord moved on the heart of Ananias, a devout man, and a follower of Christ (9:10). He learned the LORD had chosen him to restore Saul’s sight. He resisted the LORD, for he knew Saul’s reputation, and the path of death and destruction he had blazed. Ananias prayed, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (9:13-14). Then, the Lord revealed to Ananias how Saul was “a chosen vessel” and would bear Christ’s name “before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (9:15). As he had persecuted believers, Saul would himself become an object of persecution, for the Lord would reveal to “him how great things he must suffer for [His] name’s sake” (9:16).

Ananias obeyed the Lord, “and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (9:17-18).

Closing thoughts – Because he was a Pharisee and trained in rabbinical schools, Saul had extensive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. With not only his physical eyes restored, but his spiritual eyes open, he believed and began to preach Christ “is the Son of God” (9:20). The Jews of his day were amazed at the transformation in Saul’s life.

The transformation in Saul’s life was nothing short of radical. He had been transformed from the great persecutor of the followers of Christ, to a faithful apostle and preacher. What a testimony of saving, transforming grace! No wonder Paul would later write, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

* 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.

Join me for tonight’s final “Uncommon, Common Sense” lesson from Proverbs 31

You are invited to join me for tonight’s final lesson from the Book of Proverbs.

This verse-by-verse, proverb-by-proverb study began in 2020 (of course, with many interruptions along the way). To my knowledge, it is a “one of a kind” study that is “Uncommon, Common Sense.”

Tonight’s study will be taken from Proverbs 31:13-31, and the subject is The Virtuous Woman. The class will begin at 6:30pm, and be broadcast live on www.DailyTestify.com and www.HillsdaleBaptist.org.

In the near future, I hope to publish this study of Proverbs in a format that will be a useful  resource for personal and family devotions, and group Bible studies.

See you tonight at 6:30!

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith
Senior Pastor

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Rejoicing in Suffering and Persecution (Acts 5; Acts 6)

Scripture reading – Acts 5; Acts 6

Our Scripture reading in the “Acts of the Apostles” continues with today’s study, Acts 5 and 6. Acts 4 chronicled the early stirrings of persecution against followers of Christ, and concluded with a testimony of love, unity, and selfless, sacrificial giving among the believers (4:32-35). One prominent example of generosity was displayed by Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus, and a wealthy man. We read concerning Barnabas, he, “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37). (This is the same Barnabas who will be Paul’s fellow missionary.) Our devotional is taken from Acts 5.

Acts 5

There was a man in the Jerusalem congregation named Ananias, whose wife was Sapphira. Perhaps not to be outdone by Barnabas and others, it appears Ananias and Sapphira vowed to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the apostles. Tragically, they determined to portray they were giving all the earnings from the sale, and deceive other believers. Peter, though, discerned the disingenuousness of Ananias, and asked the man, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (5:3)

Ananias did not deny the deception, and Peter continued, “4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (5:4). God’s judgment was swift, and when “Ananias [heard those] words [he] fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things” (5:5). We are not told the physical cause of his death, but the spiritual cause was that he lied to the Holy Ghost (5:3).

Three hours past, and unknowingly Sapphira, now the widow of Ananias, entered the meeting. Sadly, it was apparent she was complicit in her husband’s sin (5:7-8), and Peter asked her, “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out” (5:9). Because her sin was public, so was Peter’s judgment, who publicly denounced her sin, and Sapphira fell dead (5:10).

The effect on the congregation concerning the consequences of lying to the Holy Ghost, was immediate and understandable. We read, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (5:11).

The balance of Acts 5 chronicled a single-hearted, vibrant growing body of believers (5:12-15). Yet, the blessing of the Spirit on the congregation was also accompanied by a growing persecution (5:17-27). Once again, the apostles were arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin, and questioned by the high priest (5:27). Stirred with indignation, the high priest asked, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28).

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men!” (5:29) What a great model of courage, faith, and fortitude! Fearless and faithful, the apostles condemned those religious hypocrites, and ascribed to them the slaying of Jesus, and declared: “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (5:31-32).

Closing thoughts (5:33-41) – What was the effect of that bold, unapologetic confrontation with the men who were guilty of the blood of Christ?

We read, “they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them” (5:33). They were convicted, but rather than humility, they were infuriated and renewed their determination to add to their guilt the blood of the apostles. There was no reasoning with calloused-hearted, wicked men of Jerusalem. They were murderers, and the spirit of murder was in their heart (John 8:44). Confronted by a message of truth that was powerful and unapologetic, they were incensed, and beat the apostles, warning them “they should not speak in the name of Jesus” (5:40).

How did the apostles respond? “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (5:41-42).

Lesson – If you find yourself suffering for your faith in Christ, remember to rejoice that God has chosen you to suffer for His name (5:41).

* 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.