Tag Archives: Devotional

Bible Reading Plan for 2018

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Readers and Hillsdale family members,

The opportunity for studying the scriptures in a systematic, daily discipline has never been easier than it is today.  While the internet is unfortunately a place of grave temptations, it also provides believers resources and opportunities to study the Bible, with commentaries and devotionals only a few mouse clicks away from any who have a computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Of course, the universal problem for us all is making time and exercising the self-discipline required to study the scriptures.  The apostle Paul challenged Timothy,  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

I announced in an earlier post that, while I plan to write and post devotionals periodically, I am discontinuing my practice of posting daily devotional commentary this New Year.  I do, however, want to encourage you to continue reading the scriptures daily and am suggesting you consider following the attached “One-Year Bible Reading Plan” published by iBelieve.com (this is not an endorsement of that organization since I am not familiar with them).  I will have copies of the plan available to the Hillsdale church family this Sunday; however, I am also attaching a copy of the same plan to this post.

God bless you dear friends as we stand at the threshold of a New Year and embrace King David’s conviction, 14  But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God. 15  My times are in thy hand…” (Psalm 31:14-15).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Esther 6-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Here Comes the Bride!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Song of Solomon 5-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The frailty of old age is not an excuse for tolerating sin.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Deuteronomy 29-31

Having declared God’s Covenant with Israel as His chosen people (Deuteronomy 5-28), Moses concludes with a challenge for the people to affirm the covenant they entered into at Mt Horeb 40 years earlier (Exodus 24) and acknowledge their obligation to the LORD to obey the His Laws and Commandments (Deuteronomy 29-30).

The basis of Israel’s obligation to honor the Covenant with the LORD was not only the sacrifices they offered to seal the Covenant at Mt. Horeb (Exodus 24), but also the LORD’s loving care of the nation over the course of their wanderings in the wilderness (29:2-9).

The nation, its leaders (“captains…elders…officers”) and “all the men of Israel” (29:10), representing every man, woman, boy and girl…even “thy stranger that is in thy camp” (those in the midst of the tribes, but not Hebrews by lineage) were to affirm the covenant with God (29:11-15).

Moses warns the people (29:16-29), should they turn to idols and follow in the sins of the heathen nations and fail to keep their covenant with the LORD and obey His Laws and Commandments, the nation will be punished with plagues and sickness (29:22) and the ground cursed (29:23).

True to the nature of God, having promised in His justice He would punish Israel for breaking covenant with Him (Deuteronomy 29:24-29), He promises in Deuteronomy 31 to be merciful should the people repent and restore them to their land (30:1-14).

Deuteronomy 30 concludes with a strong challenge to Israel to know the Word of the LORD is sure and He will bless the people when they keep His covenant; however, He will surely bring judgment upon the nation should they disobey His Laws and Commandments (30:15-20).

Mindful of his own mortality and knowing the days of his earthly sojourn were coming to a close, Moses reminds the nation he is “an hundred and twenty years old” and the LORD had said, “Thou shalt not go over this Jordan (31:1-2).  In the tone of a loving, elderly father who knows his days with his children are coming to a close, Moses encouraged the people, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not” (31:6).  The same God who delivered Israel out of Egypt and preserved them in the wilderness, “He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (31:6).

Affirming his role as the leader chosen by the LORD to take the nation across Jordan, Moses publicly affirms Joshua’s ordination “in the sight of all Israel” (31:7-8).

Turning from Joshua, Moses challenged the spiritual leaders of the nation, “the priests the sons of Levi”, to be the custodians and teachers of the LORD’s Law and keep the Law and Commandments before the people (31:9-13).

Reminded He is Omniscient, the LORD revealed to Moses the days would come after his death, that the people would break their covenant with the LORD and “go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land” (31:14-18).  The LORD commanded Moses to write a song that would remind the people of their covenant with the LORD (31:19-22).

Deuteronomy 31 concludes with Moses giving a final charge to Joshua as he assumes the leadership of the nation (31:23).  Gathering the people, Moses challenged the Levites, to take the record of the LORD’s Law and “put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD” (31:24-26).

There are many lessons we can take from today’s scripture reading; however, for me and my generation it is:  The frailty of old age is not an excuse for tolerating sin.

At one hundred and twenty years old, Moses was “feeling his age” and was conscious of his physical weakness and the inevitableness of his death.  The pressures of leading a rebellious people “forty years in the wilderness” and old age had taken its toll on the man (Dt. 29:5).

In Deuteronomy 31:2, Moses confessed, “I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in” (31:2).  In Deuteronomy 31:14, “the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die”.   We read again in Deuteronomy 31:16, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers”.

Moses was old and frail; however, the fire of his convictions and dedication to the LORD had not abated.

I am afraid the same can not be said of my generation.  There is a growing tolerance of sin and carnality in today’s fundamental Bible preaching churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and Universities that is disconcerting.  In an effort to appease rebellious children in their own households, leaders of this generation, men like myself in their 50’s and 60’s, are compromising spiritual disciplines and precepts of the institutions they are leading.

A spirit of tolerance (i.e. softness in the matter of sin) is eroding the spiritual character and heritage of churches, schools, and institutions.  The fears Moses expressed in Deuteronomy 31:29 are, I believe, a foreshadow of what will become of many fundamental churches, schools, and institutions.

Deuteronomy 31:29 – “For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.”

It is my observation, when spiritual leaders accommodate and tolerate sin, the institutions they lead become a shadow of their former character or suffer demise.

How about you my friend?  Does the fire of godly convictions still burn in your spirit and soul?

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

“Harden Not Your Hearts”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Acts 23-24

Paul, after declaring his testimony of conversion in Acts 22 and how he who was once persecutor of Christ and the church (22:1-8) became an apostle and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles (22:9-21), faced an uprising of the Jews led by members of the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:22-23).

Led away from the tumult, a Roman commandant ordered soldiers to question Paul by first scourging him (22:24).  However, the order for scourging was withdrawn when Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen, knowing scourging without conviction was a violation of his civil rights (22:25-29).

On the next day, the commandant summoned the Jewish Sanhedrin (22:30) and Paul continued his defense before them (23:1).

Paul’s courage in confronting the Jewish leaders is admirable (23:2-9).  Never one to cower, he declared the hypocrisy of the high priest Ananias who, on one hand pretended to judge him according to the law, but on the other acted in contradiction to the law (23:2-5).

Knowing two factions of the Sanhedrin were bitterly divided over the doctrine of the resurrection (23:6), Paul introduced the question of the resurrection leading to an uprising and forcing Roman soldiers to remove Paul less he be slain by the Jews (23:7-10).

We know Paul as a great preacher of the Gospel, fearless in his demeanor; however, the LORD, knowing his servant better, came to him at night and encouraged him, revealing he would be His witness in Rome (23:11).  Foiling a plot by the Jews to kill Paul (23:12-22), the captain of the guard ordered Paul be provided with an escort of two hundred Roman soldiers (23:23-32).  Conveying Paul safely to Antipatris (23:31), a town thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, the soldiers returned to Jerusalem (23:32).

Far from the volatility of Jerusalem, Felix, governor of that province who resided in Caesarea and was the Roman commandant’s superior, determined to hear the matter that caused such an uproar among the Jews in Jerusalem (23:35).  Acts 24 continues Paul’s trial, this time before Felix (24:1-27).

Five days later, Ananias the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin gathered in Caesarea and put forward “a certain orator named Tertullus” (24:1) who accused Paul of sedition, a crime that would demand his death (24:2-9).

Paul sat in silence as false accusers brought charges against him; and when beckoned to answer them, Paul addressed the Roman governor with diplomacy and discretion deserving of Felix’s office as his civilian authority.  We read,

Acts 24:10 – Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself [i.e. make his defense]:

Pauls’ defense answered the accusations brought against him by the Jewish Sanhedrin (24:11-20) proving the only dissension between him and the Jewish leaders was not that he had provoked sedition, but he had challenged them on the doctrine of the resurrection (24:21).   After all, it was the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead that was the central doctrine of the church…that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world, buried and raised from the dead on the third day!

In his letter to believer’s in Corinth, Paul writes of Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 – For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 – But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.21  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Acts 24 concludes with Felix retaining Paul in prison, though giving him liberty to have guests (24:22-24).  Having heard Paul, Felix and his wife Drusilla, “which was a Jewess”, came to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ (24:24).  For two years (24:27), Paul had opportunity to converse with the Roman governor regarding the matter of man’s sin, Christ’s righteousness and God’s judgment (24:25).  Though Felix trembled at the thought of God’s judgment (24:25), he delayed his decision to accept Christ as Savior, waiting until it was too late and he was reassigned elsewhere, leaving Paul bound in prison (24:27).

I close with a few brief observations. Paul’s passion and boldness in declaring the gospel is one of the many things I admire in the man; however, we should also note his tact, prudence, and patience in preaching Christ to those who will listen.

Too many 21st century Christians go to extremes in the matter of their witness.  Some are simply silent; when opportunity arises to give testimony of their faith in Christ they mute their lips and allow an opportunity to share Christ to pass that might never come again.

Others witness for Christ, but do so in a manner that is often crude and petulant.  Having spoken before several government bodies over the years, including City Councils, County Commissioners, School Boards, and State Hearings, I am often embarrassed by professing Christians who are rude and offensive in their words and demeanor.

While Paul was bold in addressing the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders, he was wise, discerning and patient when speaking to the Roman commandant in Jerusalem and Felix, the governor.

Rather than offensive, those who witness for Christ should be inviting and passionate for men’s souls.

Hebrews 3:7-8 – Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, 8  Harden not your hearts…”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Choices Always Have Consequences

Monday, December 11, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Deuteronomy 26-28

Our scripture reading is Deuteronomy 26-28 and continues Moses’ final challenge to Israel before his departure.  As noted in previous devotional commentary on the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is charging Israel with laws and spiritual principles that are to guide the people as they become a nation in their own land (Deuteronomy 26:1).

Moses reminds Israel when they come into the land God has promised, they are to give tithes of the fruit (or profit) of their labor.  Remembering the blessing of the harvest comes from the LORD (Dt. 26:1-11), the firstfruits offering was taken to the place of worship, given as a sacrifice and supported the priestly tribe of Levi and their households.

In the third year, a special tithe was given coinciding with tither’s confession he had honored the LORD’s commandments and obeyed them.  The tithe given in the third year was used locally to meet immediate needs in one’s own community and to support “the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled” (26:12-15).

Beginning with Deuteronomy 26:16 and continuing to Deuteronomy 31:13, Moses expounds to the nation the benefits of obeying the LORD and keeping His commandments.  With the promise God had chosen Israel “to be His peculiar people…and to make thee high above all nations…” (Dt. 26:16-19), Moses admonished the people to “be an holy people unto the LORD thy God” (Dt. 26:19b).

Lest the people forget all the LORD had done for them, the elders of Israel were to erect a memorial pillar of stones on the west side of the Jordan River serving as a reminder of LORD’s promises and commandments (Dt. 27:1-2).  An altar was to be built to sanctify the place and the laws and commandments were to be inscribed on the stones as a lasting testimony (27:2-10).

Reminding the people “Choices have Consequences”, the elders of the twelve tribes were charged to teach the people obedience to the Law brought the LORD’s blessing and disobedience His curse and judgments (27:14-26).

Moses pronounced a series of twelve curses should the people disobey the LORD and reject His Law and Commandments (Dt. 27:15-26).  The following sins invited God’s judgment:

1) Idolatry, a violation of the first and second commandments is cursed (27:15).

2) Dishonoring one’s parents is cursed (27:16), a violation of the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:12).

3) Stealing the property and possessions of another by deceit is cursed, a violation of the sixth commandment (27:17; Ex. 20:15).

4) Taking advantage of one infirmed or disabled is cursed (27:18).

5) The fifth curse is upon one who is unjust in how they treat “the stranger, fatherless, and widow” (27:19; Ex. 22:21-24).

The sixth through ninth curses address sexual purity, a violation of the  seventh commandment (27:20-23; Ex. 20:14).

6) Incest with one’s stepmother is cursed (27:20; Lev. 18:8-9, 17; 20:11).

7) Bestiality is cursed (27:21; Lev. 18:23).

8) Incest between siblings and parents is cursed (27:22).

9) Incest with one’s mother is cursed (27:23).

The fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13), is the subject of the tenth and eleventh curses (Dt. 27:24-25).

10) Intentional murder of one’s neighbor is cursed (Dt. 27:24).

11) Hiring an assassin to kill another is cursed (Dt. 27:25).

The twelfth and final curse is addressed to any child of Israel who failed God’s Law and Commandments (Dt .27:26).

Deuteronomy 27:26 – “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them…”

Deuteronomy 28 enumerates God’s blessings for the people and nation who obey His Laws and Commandments (Dt. 28:1-14).  The promise of God’s blessings on Israel if the people obeyed His Law and Commandments is stunning!  The nation had so much to aspire to, if only they obeyed the LORD.

If Israel “observe and to do all His commandments”, God promised He would “set thee on high above all nations of the earth” (28:1).  The blessings of the LORD are described as so great Israel would be overtaken by them (28:2)!  Every area of the nation’s life would be blessed… “in the city…in the field” (28:3).  Universal fruitfulness was promised to Israel…the womb of women, cattle, sheep and the fruit of the fields would reap a harvest of God’s blessings (28:4-6).

Israel’s enemies would fall before them and their storehouses and treasuries would overflow (28:7-14).  All this was promised to Israel, if the people obeyed the LORD’s Law and Commandments.

The balance of Deuteronomy 28 predicts the curses that would come upon Israel should the nation turn from the LORD and disobey His Law and Commandments (28:15-68).  In the same way God promised to bless the nation if the people obeyed Him, the opposite was true should they disobey Him.

If the nation continued in the LORD’s Law and Commandments, the LORD promised His blessings would overtake them (28:2); however, should they disobey the LORD they were assured “all curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (28:15).  The city, fields, storehouses, wombs of wives and livestock…all cursed (28:16-18).  The coming and going of the people…cursed (28:19)… “until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly” (28:20).  The promise of God’s judgment for disobeying His Laws and Commandments continues another forty-eight verses!

Sadly, Israel would turn from the LORD and all the curses noted in today’s scripture reading befell the nation!

Friend, it is not popular and few preachers have the courage to state it so, but “Choices Have Consequences” and no nation, people, or family should expect to disobey the LORD’s Law and Commandments and be blessed!

The message of the scriptures is one of redemption through the blood of Christ!  The Gospel is a message of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness…and there is nothing required of a sinner to be saved than believing Christ, the sinless Son of God died for their sins, was buried and raised from the dead victorious over sin and the grave. The apostle Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus,

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace [God’s unmerited favor] are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

However, “Choices Have Consequences” and ignoring that truth does not change it. 

 The pulpits of fundamental churches, schools and Bible colleges are filled with a generation of preachers failing to remind the saints while salvation is “by grace”, God’s blessings are conditional.  “Good works” is evidence of the genuineness and sincerity of our salvation.  Paul writes,

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we [believers] are his workmanship [product; result of God’s grace], created [made and renewed] in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them [i.e. our life in Christ is to be a testimony of good works].

I close with a reminder of the manner of people believers are to be:

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 2017 – Travis D. Smith