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A Brief Note from the Heart of a Shepherd

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Reader,

We are following the Blue Letter Bible Chronological Reading Plan.  Today’s devotion begins our study of the Book of Numbers and is the fifty-fourth Scripture reading of the year.

There are many making this journey with us through the Bible, and I hope you will benefit much through the process.  My target audience is every person who desires to know God more, and grow in wisdom.

Prayerfully penned and intended to enlighten the mind, inspire the heart, and make practical application for life in the 21st century, my eventual goal is to compile these daily devotional commentaries into both a paper and electronic format.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith, Pastor

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Warning: What You Promise the LORD, Is the LORD’S!” (Leviticus 26-27)

Devotional reading assignment – Leviticus 26-27

Inviting the nation to obey His laws and keep His commands (26:3), the Lord promised to bless the land and make it fruitful (26:4-10).  Reminding Israel His promise of blessings was conditioned on their obedience, the LORD warned His judgments for their sin and disobedience will be seven times greater (26:18, 21, 24, 28).

Why “seven times” greater?

Because one dare not trifle with the LORD’S laws and commandments nor despise His grace. Disobey His law and reject His favor, and you not only face the consequences of sin, but the greater judgment for rejecting His grace (26:25-39). Having heard and received the commandments, the people of that generation were warned to not trifle with the LORD, but to obey Him.

The LORD warned Israel and it would come to pass…reject His law and commandments and a host of judgments would befall the nation: Pestilence (26:25), famine (26:26), cannibalism (“eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters” – 26:27-29), cities wasted, places of worship abandoned (26:31), and exile from the land (26:33-39).

Leviticus 27 concludes our study of Leviticus and reminds us the LORD holds sacred the vows we make to Him (27:1-2). Whether young or old, a covenant vow to the LORD is a serious and sacred matter (27:3-8).

A full discussion regarding the LORD’S tithe is found in Leviticus 27:9-34.

The LORD required a tenth of the livestock, both clean and unclean, be brought to the sanctuary (27:9-13).  The clean was dedicated to the LORD while the value of an unclean beast was established and sold to support the sanctuary (27:11-12).

An important lesson is the matter of an owner redeeming or purchasing that which he had dedicated to the LORD but desired to retain.

To purchase what one dedicated to the LORD (examples include beasts, a house, crops of a field) required a priest establish its monetary value. For an owner to claim what he dedicated to the LORD required paying not only its value, but one-fifth part more to redeem (27:13, 15, 19).

The summary of this “value plus one-fifth more” is expressed in this:

Leviticus 27:30-31 – “30  And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD. 31  And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.”

The lesson for Israel was, whatever one dedicates to the LORD is sacred and His alone.

Refuse to give the LORD His part and you forfeit His blessing. If you change your heart and desire to keep what you have dedicated to the LORD, He requires not only its value, but also one-fifth more.

What about you, have you kept your vows to the LORD?

Have you forgotten the vows you made to Him, whether publicly or privately? Do you remember the decision you made to surrender your life to Him? Could your struggles be related to this principle; your failure to fully give all you have vowed to the LORD?

Ecclesiastes 5:4-54  When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Remember, what you vow to the LORD He will not forget!

Romans 12:1-21  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

You Can’t Take It With You! (Leviticus 24-25)

Scripture reading assignment – Leviticus 24-25

A beautiful picture of corporate worship is introduced in Leviticus 24 as the children of Israel are invited to bring “pure oil olive beaten for light” to the Tabernacle (24:1-2). The people each had a part keeping the light continually burning in the sanctuary (24:3-4).

A spiritual crisis is recorded when the son of an Israelite woman, a man whose father was Egyptian, is guilty of cursing and blaspheming the name of the LORD (24:10-11).  Accused of violating the third commandment and taking the LORD’S name in vain (Exodus 20:7), Moses ordered the man held while he sought the LORD’s will (“the mind of the LORD” – 24:12).

Understanding the weight of their testimony, those who heard the man blaspheme the LORD’S name laid “their hands upon his head” and the people carried out God’s judgment, stoning him to death outside the camp (24:14).

Expanding God’s demand for justice and restitution, we read, “Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again” (24:20).

Leviticus 25 instructs the children of Israel in matters concerning the land the LORD promised would be a perpetual inheritance for Abraham’s lineage (Genesis 12:1; 13:14-15; 17:8).

Two occasions are discussed in this chapter, the seventh year Sabbath and the fiftieth year of “Jubilee” (25:2 -4, 8-13).

The “Sabbath year” occurred every seven years and was, as its name implies, a year of ceasing from labor for the farmers and their lands.  The people were instructed to labor in their fields for six years, but on the seventh year they were not to sow seed, prune their vineyards, or harvest any fruits or vegetables that “groweth of its own accord” (25:3-7).

Seven “Sabbath years” were to pass (numbering forty-nine years) and the fiftieth year would be to the people a year of “Jubilee” (25:8-13); an additional Sabbath, meaning the lands and vineyards were idle for two years, the forty-ninth and fiftieth years (25:11). The year of Jubilee was also a year of celebration and restoration. Impoverished families who had sold their plots of land had them restored. (25:23-28).

The year of Jubilee was a year of liberty for those who, because of poverty, had become indentured servants (25:39-43).  The children of Israel were not to enslave their brethren, but treat them as hired servants; however, all indentured servants were set at liberty and restored to their families in the year of Jubilee.

The Sabbath years and year of Jubilee are foreign concepts to us in our 21st century economy; however, there are some principles in Leviticus 25 we should not lightly pass.

The Sabbath year (25:2) was more than a year of rest from labor in the fields; it was also an acknowledgement that blessings and prosperity come from the LORD.  The Sabbath year served as an opportunity for the people to reflect on the goodness and provision of the LORD (25:20-22). The LORD promised to so bless the harvest of the sixth year that there would be plenty for the Sabbath year (25:20-22).

Reminding us we are temporal owners of the things we possess, the LORD instructed the people, “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (25:23).  While we do not follow the pattern of Sabbath years or the year of Jubilee, the principle found here is nonetheless true and invaluable!

Whether you live in a mansion or a shanty, count your millions or your pennies; you are at best a temporal owner of your possessions.   Estate sales and auctions are perpetual reminders…You cannot take it with you!  After all, you will go to your grave and others will eventually claim your possessions.

Matthew 6:20-21 – But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:21  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Hey Millennial Pastor: God has not called you to be “real”; He has called you to be “holy”! (Leviticus 22-23)

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 22-23

The opening verses of Leviticus 22 remind ministers that God sets the highest ideals for those who minister before Him.

Understanding the immediate context of Leviticus 22 is its application to the priesthood; we nevertheless observe spiritual standards for all who serve the LORD.

The first principle is in how priests were to treat the sacrifices brought to them by the people (22:2). 

While a portion of some sacrifices supported the priests and their households (Numbers 18:11-19, 26-29); there were other sacrifices wholly dedicated to the LORD and never to be shared or treated as common by the priests (22:2).

There was also the danger of a priest failing to assess his spiritual standing before the LORD (22:3). 

The people might fail to discern a priest who was merely going through the motions; however, the LORD knows the heart and He requires holiness of those who serve Him.

CCM Frontman for Skillet

A third example of treating the priesthood as common was the temptation to be lenient in who might share the portions set aside for the priest and his immediate family (22:10-16).  I suggest a parallel of this temptation is the 21st century church diminishing the preacher’s sacred portion as the shepherd\teacher and apportioning an ever increasing role and influence to musicians lacking the spiritual qualifications to stand before the LORD and His Church.

Finally, sacrifices offered to the LORD were to be of the highest standard (22:17-32).  There was the temptation to offer animals for sacrifice that were deformed, ill or injured.  God’s standard was “there shall be no blemish therein” (22:21).

Leviticus 23 served as a reminder to keep the Sabbath Day holy (23:1-3) and identifies various feast days the nation was to observe during the calendar year:  The Passover (23:4-14); the Feast of Pentecost (23:15-22); the Feast of Trumpets (23:23-32) and the Feast of Tabernacles (23:33-44).

Believer, God’s standard of holiness for those who serve Him has not changed .

Pastors failing to take the high road and live above reproach have become a leprosy in the 21st century church. Projecting an ideology of being “real” and approachable, many pastors are sacrificing holiness in the pulpit, embracing carnality, and leading believers to do the same (1 John 2:15-17).

1 Peter 1:15-16 15  But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16  Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Infanticide and Five Other Capital Punishment Sins” (Leviticus 20-21)

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 19-21

* This is the second of two devotionals for today’s Scripture reading.

The LORD’s command for His people to be a holy people continues in Leviticus 20 listing six sins that were punishable by death.

The first sin demanding capital punishment was the sacrifice of children to a pagan god identified as Molech (20:2).

Scottish born minister of the 19th century, Andrew Bonar, writes in A Commentary on the Book of Leviticus, “Molech was worshipped by revolting cruelties, the cries of the sufferers being drowned in loud noise. An image of red-hot glowing brass was the form in which he was adored, and his arms received the children offered to him, forthwith consuming them by their red-hot touch. The child was put (“εἰς τὸ χάσμα πλῆρες τυρός”) “into a gaping hole, full of fire,” says a historian. Everything was savage and demoniacal; fiendish tyranny and hellish hate.”

Five additional sins demanding capital punishment were:

1) Consulting with witches (20:6)

2) Cursing and abusing one’s parents (20:9)

3) Committing adultery (20:10)

4) Committing incest (20:11-12, 14, 17, 19-21)

5) Sodomy (20:13)

5) Bestiality (20:15-16)

Leviticus 21 gives us additional guidelines God required of the High Priest and others who served in the priesthood.  The paramount demand for all priests was for them to be holy (21:6), consecrated (21:8), and without physical blemish before the LORD (21:16-23).

I close being reminded you might be surprised by the horror of parents sacrificing their children to Molech (20:2-5) in ancient times.  

I suggest, however, that abortion in our day is no less barbaric! 

Over sixty million children have been aborted since the United States Supreme Court upheld abortion in the 1973 case, Roe vs. Wade. Abortion procedures have the same end as sacrificing sons and daughters to Molech…terminating a child’s life.

The barbarity of abortion defies vindication. In many cases a powerful vacuum suctions the infant from its mother’s womb limb by limb.  In other instances, a doctor uses forceps to pull the baby from the birth canal piece by piece. In addition, there are others who advocate leaving the infant to die after birth.

Surely a silent scream is heard in heaven when a mother sacrifices her baby.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“The Character of a Holy People” (Leviticus 19-21)

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 19-21

* This is the first of two devotionals for today’s scripture reading.

Leviticus 19 introduces a detail review of the commandments of the LORD beginning with the sum of all the commandments: Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

From that command flows a series of laws that define the essence of what it means to be a holy, sanctified, people. For brevity, I will offer a summary of three series of commandments (19:9-37).

Leviticus 19:9-18 – Moral Guidelines Concerning One’s Neighbor

A holy people will:

19:3 – Fear and revere father and mother and keep the Sabbath holy.

19:4 – Not worship idols

19:9-10 – Be compassionate to the poor

19:13 – Pay day laborers their earned wages at the close of a work day

19:14 – Show kindness to the disadvantaged (deaf and blind)

19:15 – Be impartial in judgment

19:16-17 – Not gossip, slander, or hate another

19:18 – “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Leviticus 19:19-32 – Natural Laws

A holy people will:

19:20-22 – Not disgrace a slave

19:29 – Shelter and protect a daughter’s virtue

19:32 – Stand in reverence and honor the elderly

Leviticus 19:33-37 – Judicial Matters

A holy people will:

19:33-34 – Be compassionate and loving to a stranger and a foreigner

19:35-36 – Be fair and just in business and commercial matters

God’s command for His people to be holy is practical, instructive, and clearly stated. 

21st century believers would do well to recognize the LORD’S command for His people to be holy touches every area of life…marriage, family, neighbor, employee\employer, even business principles of just and fairness.

How do you measure up to God’s holy standard?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

CONGREGATIONAL SINGING, if not dead, is dying. 

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Follower,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhetoric & Homiletics: All Communication Is Contextual

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith