Tag Archives: church

The Church, Her Spiritual Leaders and Their Failures

On a personal note: By God’s grace I recently celebrated four decades of ministry and have been blessed to serve on the pastoral staff of Hillsdale Baptist Church for thirty-four years.  The following article is written from my perspective as a pastor and graduate of a Christian University that historically made no apology for its Bible fundamental, separatist stance.

For two decades I have pondered the waning of conservative, independent, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges in our nation.  While I pray for a spiritual awakening in America, I see little hope when our own families and ministries are following the spiritual erosion of our culture. Indeed, should we who identify as Bible-believers continue our flirtation with sin, I fear Bible-preaching is at risk of being silenced within a generation.

Having experienced social media vilification in the past, I fear my perspective will offend some and is not shared lightly or with a desire to offend. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my concerns, not as a provocation, but as an exposé of what I believe is the primary factor contributing to the failure of historic, conservative Bible-Christianity in America.

Across our nation, a millennial consortium of progressive preachers is assuming the pulpits of conservative, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges.  Preaching a message of grace without a call to personal sanctification and holiness, they have spawned a pseudo-piety and tolerance of sin and carnality the generation before them decried.  

A brief history lesson on conservative, fundamental Bible Christianity

From the 1950’s to the closing years of the 20thcentury, Bible-fundamentalism inspired a Gospel awakening (not so much a spiritual revival) in America.  Veterans of World War II returned to America with an evangelistic zeal giving rise to conservative, fundamental Christian Colleges whose student bodies experienced phenomenal growth until the late 1990’s.

Tens of thousands of young men enrolled in Bible colleges and became pastors across America and missionaries around the world.  That generation inspired the School Bus Ministry movement in the 1960’s and began the Christian School movement in the 1970’s continuing through the 1990’s.  The birth of the Home School movement in the 1990’s revived the prospect of a generation of youth who might surrender their lives to the LORD and dedicate themselves to serve as pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

The 21st century; however, has proved disastrous for conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches and institutions.

Failing churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries dot the American landscape.  Spiritual apathy has taken hold on our homes, churches, and schools.  Aging congregations, falling church attendance, and a precipitous decline in young men going into ministry now threaten the future of conservative Biblical Christianity.

While there are many explanations for the spiritual erosion we are witnessing in our Bible-believing churches and institutions, I will limit myself to a few.  The first, cultural wars within and without our homes. Some will argue the church has failed to adapt to cultural changes.  Others will argue, in an attempt to be relevant, the church lost its identity and has become irrelevant.  The disparity between what the Bible teaches and what our homes, churches, and institutions practice is another reason for the diminishing of our churches. We are hearers of the Word, but are we doers?  Christian educators fault the churches for pervasive spiritual apathy in the students, while pastors accuse those same institutions of accommodating carnality at the sacrifice of spiritual zeal.

Believing everything rises and falls on leadership, I conclude the responsibility for the spiritual failings of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and universities, and seminaries rests with the spiritual leaders of this, my generation. 

My peers have served as the spiritual leaders of our institutions for more than two decades.  Unlike any generation before, my generation has faced and grappled with an unprecedented intrusion of technology.  While the pastors of my youth sounded the alarm regarding the secular influences of radio, television, movies, and rock music; the ministers of my generation pastor congregations that, with a few clicks of a mouse, surf the internet and introduce to their families every imaginable influence… doctrinally, culturally, and socially.

Cable television, internet, social media, and cell phones are seducing the hearts of our children and empowering the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology.  While Christian parents prove either ambivalent or ill-prepared for the seduction of “worldliness”, their spiritual leaders are encountering a radical cultural shift and failing to address the intrusion of sin in their own homes and ministries.

Facing a spirit of rebellion in their homes, churches, and Christian schools, the spiritual leaders of my generation, in an attempt to parley peace with their own youth, have accommodated their sins. The consequence is an extra-biblical liberty that embraces the sins of the world, its pleasures, and inevitable consequences (1 John 2:15-17).

Warning: Spiritual leaders who accommodate the sins of their children will invariably compromise the core values of the ministries entrusted to their care.

To understand why Bible-believing churches, Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries are forsaking spiritual disciplines, one need only to look to the pulpits and the leaders who occupy them. My generation has failed to call the church to sanctification and holiness because we have succumbed to a paralysis induced by our own spiritual failings.

Almost without exception, the failure of churches and the compromise and eventual closure of Christian institutions in my sphere have one thing in common… leaders who sacrificed their spiritual integrity to accommodate the sins of their children.

Consider Paul’s admonition to Titus.  Having declared the virtues and spiritual qualifications of the leaders of the church (Titus 1:6-9), including “blameless”, the principal, indispensable qualification of the pastor that includes his role as the “husband of one wife” and “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6), Paul warns:

“For there are many unruly [disobedient; rebellious] and vain talkers [empty, useless talk] and deceivers [impostors; seducers]…whose mouths must be stopped [silenced; bridled], who subvert [overturn; destroy] whole houses [families], teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake [dishonest gain]…Wherefore rebuke [reprove; convict] them sharply [cut off; severely].” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13)

Principle – Leaders deficient in the spiritual qualifications of their office will invariably lack the spiritual power and authority “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” [opposed to Truth and sound doctrine](Titus 1:9)

I close this introductory article on spiritual leaders and their failings, urging you to take away three lessons from the failed example of my generation:  

1) Technology will seduce the hearts of your children and empower the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology; 2) Accommodate the sins of your children and you will invariably sacrifice your core values;   3) Compromise your convictions and you will lack the spiritual power and authority to exhort and rebuke those who oppose sound Biblical truths.

1 John 2:15-17– 15  Love not the world, neither the things that arein the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him
16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 
17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Who is Responsible? The One with the Axe over His Neck! (Numbers 29-30)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 29-30, Psalm 54, and Luke 10. Our devotional is from Numbers 29-30.

As a reminder, the geographical setting of the closing chapters in Numbers is on the east side of the Jordan River at the threshold of the Promise Land.  Israel is encamped once again where the previous generation had turned back forty years before.  Knowing his days with Israel are numbered (Numbers 27:13), Moses set his heart on the task of preparing his successor, Joshua, to lead the nation (27:16-17, 23).

Making vows and being bound by them is the subject of Numbers 30.   Vows and covenants are not to be treated lightly and once they are made, without the intervention of a superior authority, they are binding with few exceptions.

One exception is a girl or young woman living under her father’s roof.  In explanation: A father who discerns a daughter’s vow to the LORD has the right and authority to cancel the vow.  Should the father be silent, his daughter’s vow stands (30:3-6).

Another exception is the vow of a married woman.  Should a wife make a vow to the LORD, her husband is empowered to cancel the vow and accept responsibility for his decision, while his wife’s obligation to the vow is absolved (30:6-8).

Widowed or divorced women were bound by their vows to the LORD and could not cancel them (30:9).  Reminding us the husband is the head of the wife and home, the husband had authority to cancel the vow of his wife or allow it to stand (30:10-16).

Friend, it is the bent of our nature to focus on the authority aspect of this subject and fail to see the protection and accountability a father and husband bears in the sight of God.  In God’s plan, a father and husband bears not only the authority as head of his household; he is also directly accountable to God for acting as the shield, the watchman, and counselor of his family.

In other words, fathers and husbands are accountable for the vows and decisions of their households and the axe of God’s judgment will fall upon their necks.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

“Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap” (Numbers 25-26; Galatians 6:7)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 25-26, Psalm 52, and Luke 8. Our devotional is from Numbers 25-26.

Today’s reading assignment (Numbers 25-26) sets the stage for the beginning of the end of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.  

Reminding us “evil communications (companions) corrupt good manners (morals)” (1 Corinthians 15:33), Numbers 25 opens with a tragic decision made by some in Israel.  We read, “the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (25:1).  The influence of the Moabite women did not stop with the lust of the flesh, for we read in the next verse they invited the men of Israel to share in sacrificing, eating, and bowing down to their gods (25:2).

Consider three spiritual lessons from today’s Bible reading.

The first, familiarity with the ways of the wicked leads inevitably to the Temptation of Sin.  Having cast aside all moral restraint (Numbers 25:1-3), the people provoked the LORD to wrath, worshipping Baalpeor, the Canaanite god of fertility represented as a bull (25:3).

A second lesson is the Tragic Consequences of Sin (25:3b-5, 9).  The sins of the people were so egregious they provoked the LORD to anger and He demanded justice (25:3b-4).   Placing the responsibility for the sins upon the “heads of the people” (25:4), the LORD demanded they be slain and their bodies hanged in the sun as a warning to the nation (25:5).

One sin led to another until one man was so brazen in his sin he “brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:6, 14-15).  Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, and grandson of the late high priest Aaron, was so moved with godly zeal, he rose up and slew the man and the woman, and the LORD stopped the plague leaving 24,000 dead in Israel. (25:10-13).

Numbers 26 opens with a reminder of the plague that had taken 24,000 lives (26:1; 25:9) and closes with a review of an entire generation that perished in the wilderness, save two men, Caleb and Joshua (26:65).

The LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to take a second census of the males, 20 years and older, by tribe and household, before they crossed the Jordan River.  The census served two purposes: The first, to number men by tribe who were old enough to go to war (25:2).  The second, to use the count of each tribe as the basis for assigning geographical territory in the Promise Land (Numbers 26:52-56).  With the exception of the tribe of Levi, twelve tribes of Israel are named and include a total of 57 families (26:5-50).

The priestly tribe of Levi and its households is also named and numbered (26:57-62).  Unlike the other tribes that will be assigned lands, the Levites were assigned forty-eight cities in the Promise Land (Numbers 35:1-8).

A third lesson from today’s Bible reading is, the LORD is faithful to His Word and promises.

“The LORD had said…They shall surely die in the wilderness” (14:29; 25:65a).  Murmuring, faithlessness, and a love for the sins and idols of Egypt had dominated the affections of the first generation and all had died with the exception of two men, Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 26:65).  I close with a timeless truth:

Galatians 6:7 – 7  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Many follow pastors, but few encourage them. (Luke 7)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 23-24, Psalm 51, and Luke 7. Our devotional is from Luke 7.

Luke 7 records some of Jesus’ greatest miracles: Healing a dying servant in response to a Roman centurion’s faith (Luke 7:1-10; note also Matthew 8:5-13) and raising the son of a poor widow from the dead in a village identified as Nain (7:11-17).

We are also made privy to an intriguing interview when the followers of John the Baptist, the forerunner and maternal second cousin of Christ, come to Jesus desiring on John’s behalf the affirmation that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 7:18-35).  Lest we be tempted to criticize  John the Baptist, we should remember John was in prison after boldly confronting king Herod’s adultery (Luke 3:19-20).  There is little doubt the hardships of prison, his isolation from the people, and knowledge his own life and ministry are nearing the end moved John to seek assurance Jesus was the promised One, Israel’s Messiah.

Rather than rebuke John for doubting, Jesus responded to the questions with reassurances. The first response was in deeds; we read, “in that same hour He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight” (Luke 7:21).  Having performed many miracles, Jesus sent the Baptist’s followers away commanding them, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22).

Turning to the people, Jesus affirmed the ministry of His forerunner (7:24-28) and hailed his character saying, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

I close with an exhortation to believers: If John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets (Luke 7:28), could succumb to doubts and fears, realize the same is true of your pastor. 

The number of disciples who followed John the Baptist is uncertain; however, in his most vulnerable hour there were “two of his disciples” (Luke 7:19) to whom he expressed his earnest desires and “sent them to Jesus saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19b).

I have learned there are many who follow faithful pastors, but few who encourage them.

John the Baptist had at least “two of his disciples” in whom he confided (Luke 7:19-20); however, I am afraid that number may be two more than many pastors feel they have.

Many pastors quit the pastorate prematurely and the pulpit of many Bible-believing churches has become like a revolving door. Why? Why is the minister retention rate so deplorable in our churches?  I am of the opinion many pastors feel taken for granted and there are few church members who make an effort to encourage them.

A hurting pastor in the midst of his sheep might raise the anxiety level of a church; however, loving, understanding and compassionate church members will get their pastor through dark days and trying times.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Muzzle the Ox to Your Own Detriment (Numbers 18; 1 Timothy 5:17-18)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 17-18, Psalm 50, and Luke 6. Our devotional is from Numbers 18.

The challenge to Moses and Aaron’s authority led by Korah, the son of Koath of the tribe of Levi, had tragic consequences (Numbers 16:1).  While the earth opened up and carried to their deaths the small circle of rebels who followed Korah (16:31-33), another “two hundred and fifty princes…men of renown” lost their lives for participating in the uprising (Numbers 16:1-2, 35).

When the congregation of Israel gathered and “murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD” (16:41-49), the LORD descended visibly in a cloud upon the tabernacle and urged Moses and Aaron to depart from the congregation. The LORD sent a plague among the people and, in spite of Moses and Aaron’s intervention, another 14,700 lives were lost before the plague was stayed (16:41-49).

In Numbers 17 the LORD determined to leave no doubt the priesthood would descend from Aaron’s lineage and no other.  The LORD then commanded Moses to instruct the heads of each tribe to bring a wooden rod, a symbol of authority, to the tabernacle with the names of the elders of the tribes inscribed on them (17:2).  Aaron’s name was inscribed upon the rod for the tribe of Levi (17:3).  A visible testimony of God’s favor was the rod of the man whom God had chosen would blossom (17:5-7).

On the next day, of the twelve rods representing the twelve tribes, the rod of Aaron alone miraculously budded and “bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” (17:8-9).  Moses displayed Aaron’s rod to the children of Israel as a sign his lineage alone would lead the priesthood (17:10-13).

Numbers 18 records the charge and ordination of Aaron’s household, including the responsibility of the tribe of Levi over the tabernacle, vessels, and sacrifices (Numbers 18:1-7).  Unlike the other tribes whose labor and the fruit of their labors would sustain them, the tribe of Levi would derive a portion of the sacrifices brought to the LORD by the people as the means of providing for their households (Numbers 18:8-19).

Because the provision for the households of the tribe of Levi was a portion of the sacrifices brought to the tabernacle, the tribe of Levi would “have no inheritance in their land” (18:20-24).  The Levites were in turn to give a tithe (literally a “tenth part”) of the portion that fell to them as an inheritance (18:25-26).

I close with a reminder the principle of providing for the priesthood found in today’s scripture does follow over into caring and providing for those who minister in the church. The apostle Paul writes,

1 Timothy 5:17-18– “17  Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18  For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer isworthy of his reward.”

While all who minister to the church are to be well cared for, those whose lives are especially dedicated to laboring in, preaching and teaching “in the word and doctrine” are to be particularly honored (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

You Are Never Alone! (Numbers 9-10)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 9-10, Psalm 46, and Luke 2. Our devotional is from Numbers 9-10.

The first chapters in Numbers are a record of Moses leading the tribes of Israel out of Egypt, instructing and organizing them into a nation dedicated to the God of heaven.

Numbers 1-4 chronicles a census of the tribes of Israel. Numbers 5-6 state the specifics for addressing disease and sin among the people.  Because worship and sacrifices were central to Israel’s life as a nation, the Tabernacle of the LORD was located in the heart of the encampment (Numbers 7).

Numbers 9 establishes the Passover as an observance of the nation, serving as a perpetual memorial to the LORD for delivering Israel out of Egypt (Numbers 9:1-14).  

Assuring His people, He would never abandon them, the tribes of Israel were comforted by a reminder of the Lord’s presence in their midst; a cloud overshadowed the Tabernacle in the day and a fire was present at night (9:15-16).  Making it clear the LORD alone dictates the “starts and stops” of His people, the people followed the movements of the cloud and fire in their journey (9:17-23).

Friend, I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that, though the LORD no longer leads His people with a cloud or fire, He does lead, direct and guide His people by His Word and the wooing of His Spirit.

Paul challenged New Testament believers that we should derive spiritual lessons from our study of His dealings with Israel.  Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them [Israel in the wilderness] for ensamples [a pattern]: and they are written for our admonition [warning]…”

Understanding the LORD was Israel’s guide during her journey through the trials and temptations of the wilderness, we find comfort in this promise:

1 Corinthians 10:13“There hath no temptation [trial; test] taken you but such as is common to man [i.e. many others have faced the same]: but God is faithful [trustworthy; true], who will not suffer [permit; allow] you to be tempted [tried or tested] above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape [i.e. pass through], that ye may be able to bear it [endure].”

What a blessed promise!  While the cloud by day and fire by night served Israel as a reminder of God’s presence, He has given us His Word and promise that He will tenderly care, protect, strengthen and be with us.

Whatever test or trial you may face, be assured, God is faithful and you are never alone!

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Here Comes the Bride!

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 3-4, Psalm 45, and Luke 1. Our devotional is from Psalm 45.

The heading of Psalm 45 identifies this psalm as “A Song of Loves” that was sent to the chief musician and set to a tune for worship. The tune is identified in the setting as “Shoshannim”, meaning “Lilies”.

Psalm 45 appears in the first reading as a love song composed by a king for his bride; however, the fact verse 6 states, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre” (45:6) and the song was used in worship means its application rises above that of a love song composed for a bride.

Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes Psalm 45:6-7, identifying the “Son” as Jesus Christ; therefore the bride of Psalm 45 is the Church, the bride of Christ.  What a wonderful thought!  As a groom loves his bride, even so does Christ the King love His bride, the Church.

Notice the idyllic description of the Church and the manner of people her members ought to be: “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness” (Psalm 45:7).

As a godly groom anticipates his bride to save herself, a virgin and morally innocent; so it is the duty of believers to be pure and holy in the sight of the King of kings and Lord of lords (Psalm 45:10-17).

Romans 12:1-2 –“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 2019 – Travis D. Smith