Tag Archives: church

Strange Fire: The Music of the 21st Century Church (Leviticus 9-10)

I am working on a devotional thought from Leviticus 9-10 that I plan to publish next Tuesday.  In my meditations I am pondering:

What is the “strange fire” of the 21st century church? (Leviticus 10:1)

What has the substance of worship, but lacks the hallowed holiness God requires?

I have come to the conclusion:

Pastors of my generation have failed God and His church:

We failed to demand pastoral virtues (1 Timothy 3:1-7) in worship leaders and have tolerated music that is a “strange fire” to discerning believers (Philippians 4:8).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Unmasking Hypocrites (Mark 7)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 3-4, Psalm 35, and Mark 7. Our devotional is from Mark 7.

An oft criticism of churches and one of the primary excuses given by non-believers for not attending church is, “There are too many hypocrites in the church!” After 40 years in the ministry, I have to agree:  “There are too many hypocrites in the church!”

Hypocrisy, however, is not limited to the church or Christianity. Indeed, I am certain all religions and belief systems have their hypocrites, including non-religious institutions and associations.

The word “Hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for a stage actor – someone who plays a part or role in a play.  Actors in ancient plays would portray more than one character by wearing masks that identified a character’s role.  When playing a comedic character, an actor would wear a mask with a silly smile.  For a sad character the actor would wear a large frowning mask and quote tragic lines inducing sorrow and weeping from the audience.

In effect; a hypocrite is an actor who wears a mask playing one part while in reality being another.

Mark 7 records one of Christ’s most stinging rebukes of the Pharisees, the religious legalists of the day whom He exposed as hypocrites. I invite you to join me in an honest and transparent study of Mark 7.

Jesus’ growing popularity incited a backlash among his enemies. Thousands were following Him in Galilee and the situation for the scribes and Pharisees was intolerable. While the scribes were experts in the Law of God; the Pharisees were its enforcers and the most influential religious group in Israel (Mark 7:1).  Outwardly zealous in matters of the Law, the Pharisees instituted hundreds of man-made laws in an attempt to interpret the Laws and Commandments.

The Pharisees came to Jesus criticizing His disciples’ failure to “wash their hands” before eating (Mark 7:2-3).  The issue was not that the disciples were eating with dirty hands, but they had failed to practice “the tradition of the elders” in ceremonial cleansing (7:4).

Jesus answered His critics quoting the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13) and accusing the Pharisees of being hypocrites (7:7-9).  While professing to be teachers of God’s commandments, they were in fact, advocates of man-made rituals and traditions (7:7-9).

Exposing their hypocrisy, Jesus addressed the Pharisees’ violation of the fifth commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12).  Allowing a man to pronounce an oath, It is Corban”, meaning it is an offering, the Pharisees applauded men who dedicated their wealth to the Temple at the neglect of their parent’s material and financial welfare.  Such an oath, they argued, freed a son from honoring and caring for his parents.

What hypocrites!  To enrich the Temple treasury, they applauded men violating the fifth commandment, but judged the disciples harshly for failing to conform to petty traditions. They supplanted God’s Law, hiding behind their traditions.

Friend, are you hiding behind a mask of religion? Are you judging others by your self-imposed standards, while failing to keep the precepts and principles of God’s Word?

Don’t forget “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Old Testament Sacrifices and What They Teach Us About God’s Character (Leviticus 1-3)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 1-2, Psalm 34, and Mark 6. Our devotional is from Leviticus 1-3.

Leviticus 1-3 states what God required of Israel in sacrificial offerings and it serves as a lesson for the 21stcentury believer: God demands His people be a holy, sanctified people.

Preacher and author, Warren Wiersbe writes in his “Be Series” on the Book of Leviticus: “Leviticus tells New Testament Christians how to appreciate holiness and appropriate it into their everyday lives. The word holy is used 91 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.”  [BE Series – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – Pentateuch]

The sacrifices offered in the Old Testament were a pre-figure of which Jesus Christ was the perfect, complete, “once and for all” sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10:10).

The first offering required in Leviticus is the “burnt offering” (1:1-17).  The head of each household was to bring to the Tabernacle “a male without blemish”(1:3); placing “his hand upon the head” of the bull, sheep or goat, the worshipper identified with the animal’s death as the substitutionary sacrifice for his sin (1:4-5, 10, 14-15).   The sacrifice was then killed and the priest would take the blood and sprinkle it on the altar (1:5, 11).

The second sacrifice noted in Leviticus is the “meat offering” (a better translation would be “meal” or food offering) (Leviticus 2).  Also known as an oblation (meaning “gift” or present); it was a non-blood offering that consisted of grain (“fine flour”), oil and frankincense (2:1).  The priests were to take a portion of the “meal offering” for their families and the rest was to be offered as a burnt offering (2:2).

The third offering was a “sacrifice of peace offering” and was a blood offering (Leviticus 3).  Unlike the “burnt offering”, the “peace offering” could be male or female; however, the standard, “without blemish”, applied and the priests inspected the offerings to ensure they were acceptable sacrifices (3:1, 12).  As with the “burnt offering”, the worshipper would “lay his hand upon the head of his offering, kill it at the door of the tabernacle” (3:2), and the priests would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the altar.  We will continue our examination of sacrifices in our next devotional commentary from Leviticus.

I close highlighting the “without blemish” standard the LORD required of sacrifices under the Law.  Sacrificial offerings were to be of the highest quality; however, I am sure the temptation for many was to give the LORD something, but not necessarily the best.

The apostle Paul had in mind the same “without blemish” standard for believers when he wrote:

“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” (Romans 12:1-2).

The LORD required the best and He requires no less of His people today.  Our bodies and our lives are to be “holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).   Holy, sanctified, set apart and dedicated to the LORD.  Acceptable, pleasing and conforming to the will of God.

Anything less than our best is unacceptable to a holy God!

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

God restores failures and uses imperfect people. (Mark 1-2)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 29-30, Psalm 30, and Mark 2. Our devotional is from Mark 1-2.

I have heard it said, “Bible believers are the only ones who shoot their wounded!”

If true, that is a tragic statement!   We should be compelled to forgive and restore others by the reality we have been forgiven much by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:8).

I fear many who grew up in church or have known the LORD for years forget the sinful muck out of which God saved us.  We forget the command to forgive others to the extent we have experienced forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32).

Today’s Bible reading takes us to the Gospel of Mark and the ministry of John the Baptist; however, before we plunge into that study, let us take some lessons from the life of its human author, John Mark.

Who was John Mark?   Unlike the authors of the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, Mark was not one of the twelve disciples.  He was a citizen of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12) and some believe he was the young man who fled into the night when Jesus was arrested in the Garden (Mark 14:50-52).  He was also a traveling companion of Paul and Barnabas when they set out on their first missionary journey to Antioch (Acts 13:1-5).

Mark’s journey with Paul and Barnabas came to an abrupt end when we read, “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing [going away; deserting] from them returned [turning his back] to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).  The cause for John Mark’s sudden departure is not revealed (I speculate the hardships and threat of persecution was the cause).

John Mark reemerges in Acts 15 and his desire to travel once again with Paul and Barnabas becomes a source of conflict and division between the two (Acts 15:36-39).  We read “Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 15:37); however, Paul “thought it not good [desirable] to take [John Mark]…” (15:38).  The dispute became so great Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways (Acts 15:39-41).

That brings us to the question:  “How did John Mark go from being a man with whom Paul was unwilling to travel to the author of the Gospel of Mark?   We do not know what transpired in John Mark’s life after he departed with Barnabas; however, we know he went on to distinguish himself as one of God’s faithful servants.

It is believed Mark penned his Gospel while in Rome, leading me to ask,“What brought John Mark to Rome?”   The answer to that question is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  Paul writes, “…Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable [good; worthy] to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

When Paul viewed John Mark as a disappointment; Barnabas looked through the eyes of a Mentor and, at the risk of his friendship, lovingly restored Mark to ministry.  Perhaps it was this lesson that moved Paul’s heart when he penned:

Galatians 6:1-2– “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

As you read the Gospel of Mark, remember one of the great spiritual lessons we take from its author:  God restores failures and uses imperfect people.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Does A Casual, “Come as You Are” Style Reflect the God of the Bible? (Exodus 27-28)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 27-28, Psalm 29, and Mark 1. Our devotional is from Exodus 27-28.

Having given the people His Law and Commandments, the LORD instructed Moses to collect materials necessary to forge implements used in worship including gold, silver, bronze, spices and oils, and cloth for priestly robes.

While the Tabernacle served as the visible symbol of God’s presence in the midst of Israel’s encampment (Exodus 25:8), the “Ark”, its top known as the “Mercy Seat” and adorned with two cherubims facing one another represented the throne of God (25:17-22) and served as the central place of worship within the Tabernacle.

A beautiful veil (Exodus 26:31) divided the interior of the Tabernacle and the innermost place beyond the veil was “the holy place and the most holy” (26:33) where the Ark of the Covenant sat.  The veil of the Tabernacle symbolized the separation between man and the Mercy Seat that represented the presence of the LORD (26:34).

Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his sons were sanctified (set apart) for serving as priests to Israel (28:1).  Priestly garments are described in detail (28:2-43) and great attention was given to the robes of the priesthood.  There was meaning and purpose in every detail, from the breastplate over the priest’s heart that represented God’s judgment (28:15-30) to the bells about his robe whose sound gave witness to the movement of the priest within the Tabernacle and his acceptance in the LORD’s presence (28:31-26).

I close with an observation of a sad irony I see in the casual nature of pastors and preachers in today’s 21stcentury church.  While pastors most assuredly do not serve as priests for the New Testament Church, Christ being our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:26; 9:11), we nevertheless do bear in our demeanor and appearance a reflection of the God we worship and His person.

Surely the LORD is no less holy today than He was in Israel’s day!  “Dressing down” has become the style of those who occupy the pulpit and its influence reflects not only in the pew, but in the whole atmosphere of contemporary worship. 

Friend, if your idea of acceptable dress and demeanor for worship is shorts, sandals and a t-shirt, I am left wondering what became of the God who demanded beautiful robes, holiness and sanctification of His priests!

What is the nature of the God you worship so casually?

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Call to Our God, He is The LORD of Creation! (Exodus 7-8)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 7-8, Psalm 21, and Matthew 21. Our Bible devotional is from Exodus 7-8.

Exodus 6:28-7:13 records the second confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh.  Of Pharaoh we read, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and stubborn and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said” (Exodus 7:13).  The stage is set for ten judgments identified as ten plagues that will gradually bring Pharaoh to yield his will to the will of the LORD God of Israel (7:14-12:36).

Realizing today’s scripture reading is limited to Exodus 7-8, I will list briefly four of the ten plagues that troubled Egyptian households, but from which the Hebrews living in Goshen were spared (8:22-23).

1) The Nile and waters turn to blood and fish die. (7:19-25)

2) Frogs die and the stench of their dead carcasses fill Egyptian households. (8:1-15)

3) Lice, most likely gnats or other biting insects, afflict the Egyptians. (8:16-19)

4) Flies distress the people (8:20-24). Today’s Egypt has biting “dog flies” (probably similar to “deer flies” that inhabit southeastern United States).

Here’s a question to ponder: Why did the Lord bring plagues upon Egypt?  Why did God not simply defeat Egypt and deliver His people out of slavery?  I believe the answer to those questions is twofold.

The first, God’s desire was to break Pharaoh’s will so he would allow the Hebrews to depart out of Egypt.  The second, the plaques demonstrated to the Hebrews that their God was Lord of creation Whom they could trust.  It is that knowledge, the personal, demonstrative knowledge of the LORD that will strengthen and carry them through the Red Sea and the Wilderness to the Promise Land.

Pharaoh offered to compromise with Moses and permit the people to sacrifice to the LORD in Egypt (Exodus 8:25).  Moses wisely refused to yield God’s will to please the king, stating the sacrifices would offend the Egyptians (8:26-27).

Pharaoh offered a second compromise, begged Moses to pray for the LORD to remove the flies out of the land, and he would allow the Israelites to depart and offer sacrifices (8:28-31).  Moses prayed and God removed the flies; however, “Pharaoh hardened his heart” and would not “let the people go” (8:32).

The LORD’s answer to Moses’ prayer reminds us He hears and answers the prayers of His people.  Pharaoh’s response is typical of many who, cry to the LORD in times of trouble, but when the distress passes they turn from Him and return to their sinful ways putting their souls in peril.

2 Chronicles 15:2a– “…The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Whatever the task, when God calls, Do It! (Exodus 1-4)

Today’s Bible Reading and devotional study is Exodus 3-4.

A period of change, especially in leadership, is a perilous time for churches, institutions, corporations, and nations.  Inexperienced leadership combined with a failed appreciation for legacy and history invariably leads to decisions and changes that often prove detrimental.

Such is the case in the opening verses of Exodus 1 when we read, 6Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation…8  Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:6, 8).

The new Pharaoh did not know Joseph or his service to Egypt; however, he recognized the population growth of the Israelites in the midst posed a threat to his nation (1:9-22).

Some might ask, “Why would God allow His people to suffer such calamity?”   My answer: The sorrows and suffering Israel faced was God’s plan to move the Hebrews from the comfort and riches of Egypt to the land He covenanted to give the descendants of Abraham.

The children of Israel were slaves when Moses was born under the threat of infanticide (1:15-22; 2:1-4).  Risking her life, Moses’ mother “hid him three months” (2:2), eventually making a small vessel of reeds and setting her son adrift on the Nile River, entrusting him to God’s care (2:3-4).  Providentially, infant Moses found favor in the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter and she, having compassion on him, employed his mother Jochebed as his nurse (2:5-10).

Moses spent the first 40 years of his life as an Egyptian prince and favored with the finest education and training of the age (Exodus 2:10; Acts 7:21-22).  In spite of his Egyptian facade, the heart of Moses was knit with the suffering of the Hebrew people (Exodus 2:11-15a; Acts 7:23-29a) and in an act of vengeance, he took the life of an Egyptian (2:11-13).  Fearing Pharaoh would soon know his crime (2:14-15), Moses fled into the wilderness, spending his next 40 years as a shepherd (2:16-22; Hebrews 11:24-27).  Moses, the prince of Egypt, accepted the humble life of a hireling shepherd and married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite shepherd, who bore him two sons (Gershom– 2:22 and Eliezer– 18:4).

Now the children of Israel began crying out to God and He “heard their groaning, and… remembered His covenant” (Exodus 2:23-24).  In spite of his solitude in the wilderness, God had not forgotten Moses and when the time came, He summoned His servant (3:4-6).

Exodus 3:5-6 – “5 And [The LORD] said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6  Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.”

Forty years in the wilderness had changed Moses.  The once proud prince of Egypt was content to live as a shepherd and wondered aloud, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh…?” (Exodus 3:11).

Alone, Moses knew he could not deliver Israel from slavery and his question was sincere.  How can one man challenge the most powerful man leading the most powerful nation in the world?  God gave Moses the assurance he needed… “I will be with thee”(3:12a).  The God of Israel was his commissioning officer (3:16-22)!

God answered Moses’ fears of inadequacy with three signs… a rod turned to a serpent (4:2-5), a leprous hand restored (4:6-8), and the promise of turning the water of the Nile to blood (4:9).  When Moses protested his inadequacy to speak, God commissioned his brother Aaron to speak for him (4:10-16).

“Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel…[and] spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people…. And the people believed…and worshipped” the LORD (Exodus 4:29-31).

I close encouraging you, whatever the task, if God has called you, you can do it with His help and strength!   The apostle Paul, living out the same principle, would write, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

In the words of the NIKE athletic shoe commercial, when God calls, “Do It!”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith