Tag Archives: Holy

“The Fearless, Fearful and Foolish” (Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9

History gives abundant testimony of the tension, conflict, and hostility the world holds toward God, His Word, and His people. In today’s Scripture reading (Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9), the animosity of human authority toward God and His prophet takes center stage.

The ministry of John the Baptist had been powerful, and the prophet had not minced words when confronting the sins of his day. Not even the most prominent politician in Israel had been spared the prophet’s condemnation (Matthew 14:4).

Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great, was “the tetrarch” of Galilee, a tetrarch being a ruler of one-fourth of a Roman province (Matthew 14:1). Herod had divorced his wife and married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 6:17). Their incestuous marriage had not only been an affront to God (Leviticus 18:16), but also to the Jewish people.

John the Baptist had tenaciously condemned such wickedness in Israel and said to Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4). Herod became so exasperated with John’s public rebukes that he had the prophet bound and imprisoned (14:3). Though he wished to put him to death, Herod “feared the multitude, because they counted him [John] as a prophet” (14:5). Herodias, on the other hand, had no political qualms and she “would have killed him; but she could not” (Mark 6:19), “for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy” (Mark 6:20).

Now a great banquet was held for Herod’s birthday, and the daughter of Herodias, after being instructed by her mother to dance before Herod and his guests, had instructed her to ask for the head of John the Baptist when the king offered to reward her (Matthew 14:6-7). Following her mother’s instructions, the daughter of Herodias, demanded, “Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger” (Matthew 14:8). Too proud to confess his error, Herod complied with the daughter’s wicked request, and “sent, and beheaded John in the prison” (Matthew 14:10).

The news of Christ’s ministry and His miracles had reached the ears of the king (Mark 6:14) and Herod “said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him…he said, It is John [the Baptist], whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead (Mark 6:14–16).

Herod’s alarm, that Jesus was John the Baptist, struck fear in the heart of the wicked king. He was haunted by guilt knowing he had murdered an innocent man, and a prophet of God. Rather than confessing his sin; however, Herod wrestled with guilt, and was troubled by fear (Proverbs 29:25). He feared John when he was alive (Mark 6:20), and he was terrified when he heard of the miracles of Jesus, believing John the Baptist was raised from the dead. The king had silenced John’s tongue, but he could not quiet his own guilty conscience.

Later on, when Jesus was arrested, He would have one meeting with Herod (Luke 23:6-11); however, at that time the LORD “answered him nothing” (Luke 23:9). The blood of John the Baptist was on his hands, and the soul of the king was damned by his wickedness.

Let us take a spiritual lesson from Herod: We might find temporal solace in the diagnosis of a psychologist or psychiatrist, and even salve our conscience with prescription drugs or other enhancers; however, if the root problem is sin, there is only one answer:

“Submit [subdue; yield] …to God. Resist the [temptations] devil”…acknowledge your sins, and let the tears of mourning pave the way to God’s forgiveness and joy (James 4:7-10).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Calling All Sinners (Matthew 9; Luke 7)

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Scripture reading – Matthew 9; Luke 7

Christ’s authority as the Messiah King was demonstrated throughout Matthew 8.

He healed the leper (Matthew 8:3), and the paralytic servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), and established His authority over physical illness. When He stilled a storm, and the winds and waves bowed to His will, Jesus demonstrated His authority over nature (Matthew 8:23-27). He had cast out demons with a command to “Go,” and the devils departed, proving Christ has authority over Satan and his evil minions (Matthew 8:16, 28-33).

Today’s devotional study reveals Christ has authority to forgive sin.

Matthew 9 – Consider what a difference faith came make!

In Matthew 9 we see once again that it was the faith of some friends, and their compassion for one who was “sick of the palsy [paralyzed], lying on a bed,” that moved Jesus to heal the man (9:2).

Jesus had returned to Capernaum, his home base of ministry in Galilee, and a man who was “sick of the palsy [paralyzed], lying on a bed” was brought to Jesus (9:2). We are not told how this man came to be paralyzed, but it is revealed why he was the victim of paralysis, his sin. Jesus observed the faith of his friends and said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (9:2).

Matthew records that there were scribes present, men who were experts in the Law of Moses. Hearing Jesus pardon the sins of the paralytic, the scribes whispered among themselves, “This man blasphemeth” (9:3).

Once again evidencing divine omniscience, we read, “4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (9:4) What a powerful rebuke of proud, unbelieving experts in the Law!

Jesus, confronting their murmuring and evil thoughts, said, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (9:4b) and then proposed, a question: Is it easier to say to a man his sins are forgiven, or command a paralytic to, “Arise, and walk?” (9:5)

To prove He had divine authority to forgive a man’s sins, Jesus commanded the paralytic to do what no other man could; “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house” (9:6). His sins forgiven and body made whole, the paralytic man rose from his bed and walked home (9:7). What an incredible moment, not only for the man who had been healed, but for those who “marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (9:8)!

The LORD proved He was a friend of sinners when he called Matthew, a despised publican (i.e. tax collector) to be His disciple (9:9-10). Revealing divine grace, Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me,” and that evening dined in his home with “many publicans (tax collectors) and sinners” (9:10). We read, “11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” (9:11)

Publicans were among the most despised men of Jewish ancestry in the first century. They were the ones who exacted taxes for Rome on their own, and were often guilty of skimming money off the top to enrich themselves. In the estimation of the Pharisees, Jesus eating with publicans was a brazen act of compromise. For Jesus; however, it was a demonstration of abundant grace.

Why eat with publicans and sinners? (9:11)

For the same reason the sick, not the strong and healthy, seek a physician (9:12). Men who are too proud to see their sin, are too blind to see their need of a Savior. Jesus did not come into the world to persuade self-righteous scribes and Pharisees to repent (after all, they are unwilling to confess their sin). His burden was for sinners, humbled under the weight of their sin, and ready and willing to repent (9:13).

I close with the words of the apostle Paul, who once boasted of his self-righteousness until he was confronted by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus:

1 Timothy 1:15 – “15This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Are You Blessed? If so, You Will Be Persecuted! (Matthew 5-7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 5-7

Considered as Christ’s inaugural address to His followers, the “Sermon on the Mount” is an exposition of the heart of Christ the King, and a declaration of the character of those who would be citizens in His kingdom.

I do not believe it is an overstatement to declare, that, apart from the Law and Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount embodies some of the greatest truths ever known to man.

The Sermon on the Mount is not the means of salvation, but an exposition of the attitudes and character of believers who are spiritual citizens of the “Kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The sermon is Christ the King’s declaration of His will regarding the actions and attitudes of the citizens of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes

Sitting down on a hillside that overlooked the Sea of Galilee (5:1), Jesus taught the people a series of eight inspiring truths that we identify as the Beatitudes (5:3-12). In essence, the Beatitudes define the character of those who are sincere followers of the LORD Jesus Christ. Each Beatitude begins with the word, “Blessed,” which I suggest is a state of settled joy and contentment; a promise of joy and peace that surpasses one’s circumstances.

The Beatitudes are heavenly attitudes that are not only contradictory to society, they are in direct conflictwith the spirit of the world.

Christ taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3); however, the world says, “believe in yourself.” We read, “Blessed are they that mourn” (5:4); however, the world says, “don’t let them see you weep.”

Christ encouraged His followers, “Blessed are the meek” (5:4); but society advises, “stand up for yourself!” “Thirst for Truth, hunger for righteousness” (5:6) was the example Christ gave His disciples, but the world cheers, “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful,” (5:7); however, society dares, “Do it to them, before they do it to you!” Christ urged, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (5:8), who seek only Him; but the worldly crowd warns, “You only go through life once.”

The world says, “Be a peacekeeper,” and be willing to compromise; however, Christ taught His followers, “Be a peacemaker,” (5:9) and seek to bring others to the Prince of Peace.

Finally, Jesus assured His followers who would find themselves as the object of derision and persecution:

Matthew 5:10–11 – “10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

The righteous face three forms of persecution (5:11).

To be reviled, is to be mocked and have disparaging things said about your character and motive.

The word “persecute” is indicative of personal attacks. Persecution may come as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual confrontations. Persecution is often relentless and is intended to drive the believer from his home, family, friends, and work. Persecution can come as threats to the believer or his loved ones.

The third form of persecution is verbal: “and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (5:11). The arsenal of this form of persecution comes as lies, innuendoes, and sowing questions on one’s motive or sincerity. As difficult as it may seem (and it is), the attitude of the persecuted is declared in this:

Matthew 5:12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad [jumping and leaping for joy]: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

How can a believer rejoice when he is persecuted? He can rejoice in this confidence: Troubles and trial have their purpose in the providence of God.

James 1:2-4 – “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into [encounter] divers temptations [various sorts of troubles and trials]; [3] Knowing this [understanding], that the trying [proving & testing] of your faith worketh patience [steadfastness]. [4] But let patience have her perfect [complete & thorough] work, that ye may be perfect and entire [without defects], wanting [lacking] nothing.”

As much as persecution may hurt (and it does), a believer must remember that persecution is the training ground for spiritual maturity and broader spiritual opportunities. Paul challenged his spiritual son in the faith: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Believers who are committed to living out the Beatitudes will experience persecution.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

You Are Invited to Hillsdale’s Wednesday Evening Dinner and Bible Studies

You are invited to Hillsdale’s Wednesday Evening Family Ministries beginning with Family Dinner (5-6pm; $4\ea), Teen Bible Study and Activity at 6pm, and AWANA Clubs at 6:15pm.

Adult Classes begin with a time of Prayer at 6:15pm.

Following prayer, Bible Study Classes begin around 6:35pm.

Pastor Smith is continuing his Character Study Series in the Book of Proverbs with tonight’s study focusing on Proverbs 7. Pastor’s class will be broadcast live on Hillsdale’s Facebook Page and at www.HillsdaleBaptist.org. Tonight’s Student handout is available here: A Cancer Called Adultery – Proverbs 7 student blank without verses

“Ancient Paths,” a study of Bible Covenants, is a ladies’ class taught by Mrs. Sheilah Smith in the Friendship Hall.

Travis and Tanya Henry are teaching a Family\Parenting\Marriage Class that is practical in its focus on Scriptural principles

For more information, call the church office at 813-884-8250, ext. 0.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

They Would Have Destroyed Him (Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6)

Scripture reading – Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6

Today’s Scripture reading entails parallel readings of the same events. Each Gospel account gives us an individual record of the life and ministry of Christ from the perspective of its human author, but as a whole, they evidence the inspiration of the Holy Spirit presenting us with a harmonious view of what appears to be a three-dimensional portrait. Today’s devotional commentary is from Matthew 12:1-21.

Matthew 12

Though the public ministry of Jesus was still in its infancy, nevertheless, the enemies of the LORD were present from the beginning. Performing miracles as a sign that He was the long-awaited Messiah foretold by the prophets of Israel, Jesus was enjoying a great following of the people. There was, however, antagonists who viewed Him as a threat to their position and influence among the people.

The Pharisees were Christ’s principal adversaries, and they would plot to discredit and destroy Him throughout His earthly ministry, up to His divine appointment with the Cross. It was their antagonism and hatred for Jesus that was the catalyst of the confrontation we find in Matthew 12.

The LORD’s fourth commandment to Israel, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), was the issue the Pharisees raised against Jesus when they accused Him and His disciples of breaking the Law (12:1-2) according to their standards. Passing through a farmer’s field enroute to the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples were hungry and “began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat” (12:1). Ever looking for an occasion to accuse Jesus of wrong doing, the Pharisees seized upon the opportunity to accuse His disciples of breaking the Sabbath Day commandment based on their oral tradition.

Rather than bow to his critics, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the issue was not the fourth commandment, but their stringent interpretation of the Sabbath Day commandment.  The fourth commandment did not prohibit a man from providing for his physical hunger (after all, David had taken bread from the Temple and ate that which was dedicated to God, 12:3-4), and the priests ministered on sabbath days as their service to the LORD, (12:5-6) as outlined in the Levitical standards in the Torah.

Entering into the synagogue on the same day, Jesus encountered a man whose hand was paralyzed (12:9-10). Rather than show compassion for the man, the Pharisees demanded of Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? That they might accuse him” (12:10b).

Citing a common practice in that rural culture, Jesus demanded of His critics, would you not save a sheep that had fallen into a pit on the sabbath? Is a man not better than a sheep? (12:11-12) Jesus then declared, “it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (12:12b). He then spoke to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thine hand,” and his hand was healed completely (12:13).

And how did the enemies of Jesus respond not only to His teaching, He being “LORD even of the Sabbath” (12:8), but also the healing of the man with the paralyzed hand? (12:13)

Matthew 12:1414Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. (note – Mark 3:5-6; Luke 6:11)

Oh, the hypocrisy! On one hand they demanded their interpretation of the Sabbath Law should usurp the will of God; and in the other they plotted to destroy Jesus and violate the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

How did Jesus respond to the wicked, malicious intent of His enemies? He “withdrew himself” from them (12:15).

I have found the decision to withdraw oneself is a difficult one, especially when an enemy is unrelenting in his plot to “destroy” you. The manner of Christ is one we should emulate, after all, the Spirit of God is gentle, not brazen.

Romans 12:18–19 – “18If it be possible [knowing is not always possible], as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath [God’s anger]: for it is written, Vengeance is mine (Deuteronomy 32:35); I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Note from the author: For those following the chronological Scripture reading schedule, remember that some events in the Gospel accounts are not in chronological order. Also, chapter and verse numbers have been added by editors to assist us in studying the Scriptures, but sometimes those helpful numbers break up the flow of events. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 5-7; however, the Gospel of Luke records a portion of that same sermon in Luke 6:20-49. None of those facts take away from the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures; however, I hope my explanation might give you some rationale for the reading schedule.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Passing the Test: Overcoming Temptation (Matthew 4; Luke 4-5)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4; Luke 4-5

Matthew 4 – Overcoming Temptation

Having been baptized by John the Baptist, and confirmed by the voice of God the Father, Who said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:17), we read: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness [desert] to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1)

Jesus was isolated in the wilderness for the next forty days where He was “tempted,” meaning tried and tested, by the devil (4:2-11).  Notice that Jesus faced three tests or temptations.

The first test was an attempt by the devil to tempt Jesus to question God’s providential care for His Son. The devil tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger by performing a miracle and turning stones to bread, apart from God’s will (4:3-4). Jesus answered the temptation with Scriptures saying, “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The second temptation questioned the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God. Daring to provoke sinful pride in Jesus, the devil demanded, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down” (4:6). Notice that the devil quoted Scripture saying, “for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11, 12). Like sinners who know enough Scripture to be a stumbling stone to others, the devil left out the phrase, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all Thy ways” (Ps. 91:11b).

Jesus once again answered the devil’s temptation, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God.”

The devil came to Jesus a third and final time, and endeavored to entice Him, offering Him the “kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (4:8). Jesus answered the temptation, remembering the Law, “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 10:20a).

I close with a couple of insights. The first, notice the devil tempted Jesus with things that were common: Hunger and physical desires (4:3-4), pride, by distorting the Scriptures (4:6), and lusts for possessions (4:8). When you face temptations, you may well find they rise from the mundane choices of every day life.

Finally, notice that a knowledge of Scripture and an ability to quote relevant verses is the way to overcome temptation. Jesus responded to each temptation with a Bible principle founded upon the Law and Commandments.

I close with an exhortation you and I would do well to heed:

Psalm 119:9–119Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11Thy word have I hid in mine heart, That I might not sin against thee.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

God Restores Failures and Uses Imperfect People. (Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3)

Daily reading assignment – Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

Today’s Bible reading assignment consists of three chapters in three of the four Gospels, and is also the first taken from the Gospel of Mark. Having introduced you to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, it is my joy to introduce you to the Gospel penned by John Mark.

Who was John Mark?

Unlike the authors of the other Gospels who were numbered among Christ’s Twelve apostles, John Mark was not a disciple.  The Book of Acts identifies him as a citizen of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).  Some believe he was the man whom Mark identified as “a certain young man” (Mark 14:51), who fled into the night without his robe when Jesus was arrested in the Garden (Mark 14:50-52).

Mark became a traveling companion of Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) when that dynamic missionary duo set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:1-5). Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for John Mark, his journey with Paul and Barnabas became a spiritual crisis and ended abruptly when we read that, “John [i.e. Mark] departing [going away; deserting] from them [Paul and Barnabas] returned [turning his back]to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).

The cause for John Mark’s sudden departure is not revealed. It could have been the hardships of travel; however, I believe it was the ever-present threat of persecution. John Mark reappears in Acts 15 and became a point of conflict and division between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). That dynamic missionary duo was preparing to depart on their second missions’ trip when we read, “Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 15:37).

Paul, however, “thought it not good [desirable] to take [John Mark], who departed from [quit; deserted]them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (15:38).  The dispute over John Mark’s company became so contentious that we read, “they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (15:39-41).

What became of John Mark?

We do not know what transpired in John Mark’s life after he departed with Barnabas and set sail to Cyprus. We do know that he went on to distinguish himself as one of God’s faithful servants, and is the author of the Gospel of Mark!

How did John Mark go from a man with whom the apostle Paul was unwilling to travel, to becoming the author of the second Gospel in our New Testament?

Paul regarded John Mark as a disappointment, however, Barnabas had looked on the young man through the eyes of a mentor, and lovingly restored Mark to ministry.  Perhaps it was this real-life lesson that moved Paul’s heart when he wrote:

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. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

I close with a spiritual lesson that we should take from the life of John Mark:

God restores failures and uses imperfect people to do His work.

Remember, God has not called you to be perfect, but He has called you to be faithful!

1 Corinthians 4:22Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“I Have Loved You, Israel” (Malachi 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Malachi 1-4

Today’s Scripture is our 273rd, and brings our year-long chronological reading of the Bible to the final book of the Old Testament. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Malachi 1.

The Book of Malachi was written around 400 B.C. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. His ministry was to the remnant of Jews that had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.

Cyrus, king of Persia, had made an emancipation decree in 536 B.C., fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Jews would return their land after a seventy-year captivity. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt around 446 B.C.  Less than a half-century later, we find Israel once again having broken covenant with God and facing the consequences of their sin and rebellion.

Malachi’s prophecy is the last word from the LORD recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, until the nation heard the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).

Malachi 1

Malachi described his ministry as, “The burden [weight and importance of the prophecy] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi” (1:1), and declared to Israel on God’s behalf, “I have loved you” (1:2a). God’s love is unconditional (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 5:8), everlasting, unfailing love (Jeremiah 31:3-4).

Rather than acknowledge God’s love, the people obstinately asked, “Wherein has thou loved us?” (1:2b). In spite of the love and grace He had extended to Israel, the people questioned God’s favor (1:1-5).

Malachi reminded the people how the LORD had chosen Israel (Jacob), but rejected Esau. (1:2-3). He had left Edom impoverished, but had blessed the land of Israel. And yet, the people questioned the LORD’s love!

The people had dishonored the LORD’s name (1:6), and the priests were rebuked for offering sacrifices that were less than the covenant that bound them. God’s Law required perfect sacrifices (Deut. 15:19-23; Leviticus 22:17-33); however, the priests had offered “polluted bread” (food), and animals that were blind, lame, and sick (Malachi 1:7-8, 13). They dared offer to God what their own human authorities would have rejected (1:8b).

Malachi admonished the priests, it would be better to “shut the doors” of the Temple and offer no sacrifice, than to make a pretense of sacrifices that were less than their best (1:10, 14). 

Malachi then prophesied that there would be a future day (the Millennium Kingdom), when the Gentiles would worship the LORD and His name would be “great among the heathen” (1:11).

Sadly, the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He established His covenant, had once again turned from the LORD and despised His offerings (1:13). The LORD, faithful to His Word and covenant, warned, “cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, And voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (1:14).

Friend, what attitude do you have toward the LORD in giving Him your tithes, time, and talents? Do you treasure the things that are eternal, or covet the things of this earth that are temporal and fleeting? (Matthew 6:21, 31-33)

Have you given Him your heart?

Romans 12:1 – “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.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Ezra: Man of Faith” (Ezra 7-10)

Scripture reading – Ezra 7-10

* Note from the Author: I begin with a brief apology to those who follow my daily devotional posts. A dear friend brought to my attention that I had overlooked Ezra 7-10 (which chronologically should have come after Esther 6-10, and before Nehemiah 1-5). Tomorrow’s devotional in Malachi will conclude our Old Testament readings! Thank you for your patience and faithfulness.

Where do you look to for encouragement and spiritual inspiration?

Hebrews 11 is full of heroic, spiritually inspiring examples. We find Noah, an example of faithfulness in a wicked generation where he stood alone as a man of faith (11:7). Abraham, a man of incomparable faith, who left his family and country, to go to a land he had never seen, but which God had promised Him for an inheritance (11:8-10). Jacob was an example of the foresight of God, who saw in him, not what he was (a self-centered, deceitful man), but who he would become—Israel and a prince with God (11:21). Joseph serves as a model of inordinate forgiveness: He had unwavering confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when he was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave (11:22).

Though not mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” Ezra should be one of our spiritual heroes. He was not a great soldier, nor a descendant of blue blood royalty; however, he was a great man because he was faithful.

Who was Ezra?

Ezra was, as his name suggests, a “Helper.” He was a man of godly character. He was “a ready [trained, experienced; skilled] scribe in the law of Moses,” and “had prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach [instruct] in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:6, 10).

Four Stages for Becoming a “Spiritual Giant” (Ezra 7:6, 10)

Ezra had a passion for studying God’s Word. He was a “ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and was a disciplined student and teacher of God’s Word (7:6).

Ezra “prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (7:10). He had a right attitude and focus because he made preparing his heart a priority. Solomon taught his son, “The preparations of the heart in man [belong to man],and the answer of the tongue [the outcome of a matter], is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). Ezra was ready to serve God because he had prepared his heart.

The third stage of becoming a “spiritual giant” is perspiration. Ezra was committed to not only “seek the law of the LORD,” but “also to do it” (7:10). He understood that what practiced was just as important as what he knew (James 1:22, 25).

We have seen Ezra was passionate, prepared, perspiring, and fourthly – a proclaimer:

He taught “in Israel statutes and judgments” (7:10). Our world is in desperate need of spiritually committed men and women. I fear there are many who lack spiritual disciplines and commitment, and are what the writer of Hebrews described in Hebrews 5:12-14 – “12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Remember: Like an oak that requires a good foundation to grow tall and become a giant of the forest, you will never be a “spiritual giant” until you have the right foundation…faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior\Redeemer.

Psalm 1:1–31Blessed is the man That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Overcoming Your Critics! (Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137)

Scripture reading – Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137

Seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar had taken the first Jews captive to Babylon, God had moved on the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and restore the people to their land (Ezra 1:1-2).

Mount Moriah, the place where the Temple was being rebuilt, had been strewn with the rubble of Solomon’s Temple for nearly fifty years. That glorious place, once called the “house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1) and served as a physical reminder of God’s presence among His chosen people; had become a testimony of God’s judgment against Israel for breaking covenant by disobeying God’s Laws and Commandments.

As we come to today’s Scripture reading (Ezra 4-6), we find the first remnant of Jews who had returned to Jerusalem, encountering both disappointment and discouragement. “The ancient men, that had seen the first [Temple],” perhaps remembering the glory of the previous Temple, “wept with a loud voice” (3:12). There were also enemies without who were determined to stop the effort to rebuild the Temple (4:1).

Reminding us only two of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had accepted King Cyrus’ proclamation that they were free to return to their homeland, we read, “the adversaries [enemies; foes] of Judah and Benjamin heard [took notice] that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel” (4:1).

Under the pretense of friendship, non-Israelite enemies who had been resettled in Israel by Assyria, came to Zerubbabel (perhaps identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”) and said, “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (4:2).

Evidencing godly wisdom and discernment, Zerubbabel and other leaders of Israel, answered, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us” (4:3).

Undeterred in their opposition, those same enemies continued their antagonism for sixteen long years (Ezra 4:7-23; Haggai 1:1) and “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (4:4).

Ezra 4 reminds us that when God’s people are doing God’s work they will face opposition.  Israel’s enemies employed four methods of discouraging and hindering God’s work.

The first, they suggested Assimilation, an unholy alliance, a partnership that God would not have blessed (4:2-3). Zerubbabel recognized his enemies for who they were, “the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” (4:1)! In his letter to believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul stated the principle Zerubbabel employed: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Aggravation was a second means Israel’s enemies employed in opposing the work on the Temple. Ezra and the leaders of Israel were strong and confident when they first confronted their adversaries (4:3); however, as time passed, “the people of the land weakened [made them weak and feeble] the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled[terrified; paralyze with fear] them in building, 5And hired counsellors [advisers; consultants; conspirators] against them, to frustrate [to cause to cease; bring to an end] their purpose” (4:4-5).

The enemy discouraged Israel with Adjudication, challenging the legality and legitimacy of the work on the Temple (4:6-10).

Fourthly, Israel’s adversaries prepared Accusations: Deception, suggesting the Jews were “building the rebellious and bad city” (4:12); Distortion, attacking the character and integrity of God’s people (4:13); and Deceit, questioning their motives (4:15).

Dear friend, there will always be critics. Some people have a negative, critical outlook on life. They can become a constant source of discouragement and if you allow them, they will hinder your service and God’s work. There are many who are spectators, not participators; they are watchers, and not workers.

Take a moment and reread Ezra 3:12-13 and notice the ones who were weeping as they remembered the past, and those who were shouting for joy and living in the triumph of the moment.

It was the “ancient men” (3:12), the “priests and Levites and chief of the fathers,” who were looking back and weeping. Old friend, memories can be cherished and pleasing; however, they can also turn you into nothing more than an old critic.

I challenge you who are faithfully serving the LORD, Be Not Discouraged!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith