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The Consequences of Faithlessness (Genesis 16-18)

Daily reading assignment: Genesis 16-18

Today’s Bible reading brings us to not only a crisis of faith in the lives of Abram and Sarai, but also to a crossroads for humanity as we realize the failure of one man’s faith in God’s promises bears consequences that shadow the world in our day…twenty-three centuries after Abram’s sojourn on this earth.

Years passed and Abram’s longing for a son went unfulfilled.  Abram complained, “I go childless…to me thou hast given no seed” (15:2-3).  God patiently assured him his posterity would be in number as the stars of heaven (15:5).

Genesis 16 introduces a crisis of faith for Abram when we read, “Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children” (16:1).  Eighty-five years old (16:16) and his wife seventy-five years old, Abraham’s faith waned and the complaints (the word “voice” in Genesis 16:2 indicates a constant complaining, like the bleating of sheep) and barrenness of his wife Sarai moved the man to make a faithless decision.  Contrary to God’s will, Abram turned his back on the LORD’s promises and yielded to Sarai’s proposal that he have a son by her Egyptian servant Hagar (16:1-3).

Hagar conceived Ishmael (16:4); however, instead of joy, the conception and birth of Ishmael brought division and sorrow into Abram’s household (16:4-10).  Ishmael, the son of Abram born of Hagar, would become the father of the people of Arabia, many of whom are followers of Mohammad and Islam.

The character of Ishmael and his lineage is described as “a wild man [lit. “wild donkey”]; his hand will be against every man [i.e. a man of hostility], and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Genesis 16:12).  The fulfillment of that prophecy is evidenced in today’s world as we see the perpetual turmoil afflicted on Israel and the world by Ishmael’s lineage.

God renewed His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 and ten years later when he was nearly one hundred years old, God announced the impossible: His ninety year old Sarah “shall be a mother of nations” (17:15-17).  Abraham laughed, saying in his heart, “Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (17:17)

Willing to content himself with less than God’s best, Abraham suggested Ishmael should be his heir (17:18); however, God refused the son of Hagar.   Comforting Abraham with the promise that Ishmael would be father to a “great nation” (17:20), God renewed His covenant and assured Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son and his name would be Isaac (17:19).

Genesis 18 contains the fateful message from the LORD that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were to be judged and destroyed for their wickedness (18:20-22).  Knowing Lot, his wife, and their sons and daughters lived in Sodom; Abraham made intercession to the LORD that Sodom be spared if ten righteous people would be found living in the city (18:23-33).

Of course, the rest of the story will be found in Genesis 19 and we will consider its lessons tomorrow.  I close with a reassuring quote concerning God’s promises.  Some has observed:

Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and receives the impossible.”  (Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times)

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

God is Faithful, His Promises Are Sure (Genesis 12-15)

Daily reading assignment: Genesis 12-15

Genesis 11 closed with Abraham (Abram) departing from “Ur of the Chaldees” (located in the vicinity of what would become Babylon) with his father Terah (Genesis 11:27-32). Journeying north from Ur, Abram stopped in Haran where he remained until his father’s death (11:32).

Genesis 12 is one of the great pivotal crossroads in history and God’s plan of redemption.

The LORD commanded Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (12:1).  The LORD set a covenant of seven promises He would fulfill in and through Abram’s lineage (Genesis 12:2-3) if he obeyed.

Although he was elderly (“seventy-five years old” – 12:4) and childless, Abram believed God’s promises and obeyed; departing from Haran, he traveled to Canaan.  Arriving at Bethel, he built an altar and there he worshipped the Lord (12:7-8).

Soon after Abram faced a crisis of faith when we read, “there was a famine in the land” (12:10). Abandoning the land and his faith in the LORD to provide and keep His promises, Abram journeyed to Egypt; a decision that put in jeopardy God’s covenant promise of a son (12:10-13).

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, was a beautiful woman.  Fearing for his own life, Abram requested she to tell others she was his sister (12:11-13).  Sarai’s beauty was soon noticed and Pharaoh took her into his harem putting into jeopardy God’s covenant promise of an heir she was to bear to Abram. The LORD mercifully intervened and sent a plague of judgment on Pharaoh’s household and revealed to the ruler he had been deceived by Abram (12:17-20). Sarah was spared and Abram led his household out of Egypt and back to Canaan.

The vastness of their wealth and possessions soon provoked a conflict between Abram’s servants and those of his nephew Lot (13:1-7).  To avoid strife, Abram suggested they divide their households and possessions, graciously offering to Lot the first choice of the land (13:8-9).  Rather than defer to his elder, Lot revealed the covetousness of his heart and chose the best part of the land that included the cities in the plain; among them the wicked city of Sodom (13:10-13).  Lot departed and God again renewed His covenant promises with Abraham (13:14-18).

Genesis 14 gives us a history of the nations that inhabited the land of Israel in ancient times; in the midst we read, “the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled…And they took Lot…and his goods” (14:10-12).  Abram had become rich and powerful; arming 318 servants (14:14) he led a mission that saved Lot, his household, and the citizens and material possessions of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (14:15-16).

Genesis 15 begins a narrative regarding Abram’s longing for a son and heir.  The LORD assured Abram he would have an heir, a son born to his wife Sarai (15:2-4) and his lineage would be as great in number as the stars in the heavens (15:5). In spite of their age, Abram “believed the LORD; and He (the LORD) counted it to him [Abram] for righteousness” (15:6).

God also revealed to Abraham that his heirs would be “strangers”, foreigners, in another country for 400 years (15:13); however, when the 400 years were fulfilled, they would return to Canaan with great possessions (a prophecy fulfilled when the Twelve Tribes of Israel departed Egypt after 400 years of servitude – Exodus 12-14).  Genesis 15 sets the boundaries of the land the LORD promised to give Abram and his heirs (15:18-21).

I close today’s devotional commentary with this promise:

God assured Abraham he had no cause to fear, for the LORD was his “Shield”…his protector and defender (15:1). 

Friend, you may be at a time in your life that is a place of “spiritual famine.”  You are tempted to resign to fear or plan and plot your own course…Don’t abandon your faith.

Trust God to be your “Shield”, your protector and Savior.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Adultery is to a Marriage What Fire is to a Home” (Job 31)

Job 31 is the conclusion of Job’s defense against the accusations of his “friends” that his sufferings must be the consequence of unconfessed sin.

The opening verse of Job 31 is one every man should vow in his soul before God:

I made a covenant [a binding agreement] with mine eyes [i.e. within his soul]; why then should I think [consider; inquire] upon a maid [a virgin; an unmarried woman]?” (Job 31:1)

What a powerful vow for 21st century believers to embrace…purity in heart, thoughts and emotions! Pornography over the internet via computers, tablets, and phones is destroying the innocence of our youth and the pervasive nature of that sin has become a cancer to marriages and families. It is not an exaggeration to conclude…

Marital infidelity is epidemic in the 21st century church.  

Some might protest that pornography is not as “bad” as adultery; however, our Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:27-28 – “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: [Exodus 20:14 – 7th Commandment] 28  But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Adultery was not to be tolerated among God’s people and under Old Testament Law was punishable by death: “the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).

Adultery destroys a man’s reputation, scars his life, and brings reproach he will carry to his grave.

Proverbs 6:32-33 – “But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding [without moral principle]: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul [life]. 33 A wound and dishonour [disgrace] shall he get; and his reproach [shame] shall not be wiped away.”

Asserting his innocence and marital fidelity, Job declared, let him suffer the consequences of his sin if he had lusted after another man’s wife (Job 31:9-12)!

Job 31:12 – “For it [adultery] is a fire that consumeth [eats; devours; burns up] to destruction, and would root out [pluck up; uproot] all mine increase [good; income].”

Too many learn too late the truth Job declares in verse 12—

Adultery is like a consuming fire and divorce will rob you of the fruits of your labor.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

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

Saying, “I’m Sorry”, is Not Enough! (Exodus 21-22)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 21-22, Psalm 26, and Matthew 26. Our devotional is from Exodus 21-22.

Moving beyond the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) that are the foundation of God’s Law, we find specific applications of God’s judgment and the bases of democratic law and order in Exodus 21:1-23:19.

In matters of servitude, Exodus 21:1-11 states God’s Laws for masters, slaves, and indentured servants.  Regarding the sanctity of human life, Exodus 21:12-17 draws a distinction between murder (21:14-16), a violation of the sixth commandment (20:13), and manslaughter (taking a human life without intent).

Violating the commandment to honor one’s parents (the fifth commandment, 20:12) was such a grave offense that to curse a parent was a capital crime mandating death of a son or daughter (21:17).

In case of accidental injury, the law mandates proper compensation and punishment (Exodus 21:18-32).  Should a beast cause injury or death and the owner be proved negligent, the beast and its owner could be put to death.

The agricultural nature of ancient societies meant one’s livestock were an essential part of a man’s livelihood and the well-being of his family (21:33-36). The negligent injury or theft of oxen or sheep was a serious crime requiring compensation (22:1-4) as was damage to a man’s crops (22:5-6).  Personal responsibility and liability were important issues among God’s people and He demanded fair compensation (22:7-15).

The closing verses of Exodus 22 address other moral and societal issues including rape (22:16-17), witchcraft (22:18), bestiality (22:19), and idolatry (22:20).

In the matter of borrowing, the law condemned “usury” (charging excessive interest) because it imposed an unnecessary hardship on the poor (22:25-27).

I close stating an important principle in the matter of personal integrity;  Saying, “I’m Sorry”, is not enough when someone has suffered loss or personal injury (22:14-15).

An illustration: A farmer borrows another man’s ox and the beast is injured or dies.  Under such circumstance the borrower is debtor to the lender and under obligation to “make it good” (22:14); in other words, repay or replace.

In summary: God’s law requires honesty and integrity. Borrow or rent another’s property or goods, you are under obligation to make whole any damages or loss suffered by the lender.

In other words,“I’m sorry” is not enough!

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

What is in Your Heart? (Genesis 7-8)

It is not too late to take up the challenge of reading through the Bible in a year.  You can download the Bible Reading Plan at www.HillsdaleBaptist.org. Today’s assignment is Genesis 7-8, Psalm 4, and Matthew 4.

The historical narrative of the universal flood begins in Genesis 6 where we read, “5the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…7And the LORD said, I will destroy man…” (Genesis 6:5, 7).

Out of all the earth, one man “found grace [divine favor] in the eyes of the LORD”(Genesis 6:8).  “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).

The last four words of verse 9 answers the question, “Why did God spare Noah and his family?”  He was a man of faith “and walked with God”.  While wickedness and rebellion were universal, Noah believed God, called upon Him, and walked with Him.

A testimony of Noah’s faith and God’s grace is he and his family were saved from the greatest cataclysmic event to ever come upon the earth.  It rained 40 days and 40 nights (7:12,17) and when the rains stopped the waters covered the earth another 150 days.

The story of God’s universal judgment is interrupted with a phrase that is a joy to read; “God remembered Noah…”(Genesis 8:1).  Altogether, Noah and his family remained in the Ark 370 days until the waters receded (Genesis 8:14-16).  When God commanded him to leave the Ark, Noah’s first act as spiritual leader of his household was to build an altar and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God (Genesis 8:20-21a).  The LORD accepted Noah’s sacrifice, promising He would never again destroy the earth.

We read an ominous statement regarding the heart of man after the flood;  “the imagination [thinking; inner thoughts] of man’s heart [mind; understanding; center of his thinking] is evil [sinful; wicked; ] from his youth”(Genesis 8:21b).

The pre-flood world had been laid waste and the face of the earth scarred as a lasting reminder of God’s wrath [example – the Grand Canyon]; however, one thing had not changed…the heart of man.

God’s observation before the flood was, “every imagination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  The same malady was true of the heart of man after the flood (Genesis 8:21b).

Sadly, that reality will be too soon apparent in Genesis 9.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

The LORD Hears the Cry of a Broken Heart (Psalm 3)

You will notice in your Bible an editor’s note identifying Psalm 3 as a psalm of David composed when his son Absalom rose up against him forcing the king to flee his throne and the capital city of Jerusalem.  Recorded in 2 Samuel 15, this event is the culmination of years of rebellion on the part of Absalom against his father.  Absalom conspired against his father and stole the affection of the people by implying his father the king cared little for them (2 Samuel 15:3-6).  Psalm 3:1-4 records David’s cry to the LORD.

David, once the champion of Israel, finds himself surrounded by enemies who had once shouted his praises. The loneliness of the king and his desperate cry to God rouses the heart of any who have been in leadership and felt the blow of betrayal and the burden of humiliation.  The king’s flight emboldened his enemies to deride, “not even God will deliver him!” (Psalm 3:2)

Betrayed by his son and rejected by his people, David took solace in the character and promises of God (Psalm 3:3).   He remembered the LORD was his “shield”, Defender, and Sovereign.  Though driven from the throne by his enemies, the king was confident God would exact vengeance and justice would prevail.  Humiliated and discouraged, but not defeated; David was confident God saw his plight and heard his cry (Psalm 3:4).

My friend, I am afraid the delusional, wicked spirit of David’s son, Absalom is characteristic of our generation.  As Absalom was devoid of a son’s natural affection and respect for his father (Romans 1:30-31), this generation mirrors the same disregard of its elders in its lusts for rights and privileges it has neither earned nor deserves.  Like Absalom, too many of this day are a grief to their parents.

No doubt there are parents reading this devotional who, in their own circumstance, identify with David’s sorrow.  To face an enemy is sorrow enough, but when that enemy is your own son or daughter, mere words fail to express the grief and anguish of a parent’s broken heart.

I close with a word of encouragement—God hears and answers the cry of His people in the night.  The LORD is for you, Who he was for David, your Shield and Defender.

Psalm 3:8 – 8  Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith