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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

“Honor all men…” (1 Peter 2:17)

I observed in an earlier post that America cannot be great again if “We the People of the United States of America” fail to bind ourselves to the idea of “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.   

 For a half-century, “We the People” have pursued a path of self-destruction and I fear we might be nearing the tipping point of no return. Should we continue defying God’s Laws, we cannot with a sincere conscience pray, “God bless, America.”  Should we continue to sacrifice patriotism and love of country for partisan politics and political expediency, we will never be indivisible.  Should we entertain the demand, “equality for all” (equal pay, equal reward), we do so at the sacrifice of the individual and our liberties as a free people.  Should we make every man and woman a victim, we prejudice the judicial system and render justice for none.

How did America get to this sorry state? I believe Christians bear responsibility for this nation’s decline and its moral decay.  We have failed God and our nation.

The founders of our nation aspired to the highest ideals of self-rule and gave us a Republic to inspire the noblest qualities in her citizenry.  Should we desire our nation to become great again, we who call upon the LORD must dare embrace four mandates of Christian citizenship:

1 Peter 2:17 – “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

This is my second post on the first mandate, “Honour all men(1 Peter 2:17a).  “Honor” ascribes worth to an individual by one’s words and actions.  I made the following observations in my earlier posts: 1) “Honor” is universal in scope and blind to race and ethnicity; 2) Honor is not without discretion; 3) Honor another does not negate the fact some are more deserving of honor than others; 4) Finally, the nature of virtue calls for honor.

That brings me to another consideration.  While all men are to be honored, some are purposely and specifically honored.  Consider three instances where the scriptures charge God’s people to honor others.

The first, children are to honor their parents. The fourth commandment reads, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORDthy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:15).  Indeed, to honor one’s parents was so fundamental to Hebrew society that the penalty for dishonoring one’s parents was death (Mt. 15:4; Mark 7:10).  The command to obey and honor one’s father and mother comes with a conditional promise, “That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Husbands are commanded to honor their wives.  Men make much of the wives submitting to them; however, as much should be made of the husband’s duty to honor his wife.  Peter instructed believers, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them [wives] according to knowledge [understanding]giving honourunto the wife, as unto the weaker [i.e. physical strength] vessel [because she is a complement to her husband]…”  (1 Peter 3:7a).  Wise is the husband who cherishes and honors his wife.

Thirdly, we are to honor our elders.  Too many families warehouse their Senior citizens in institutions and make too little effort to oversee the care of their loved ones.  The gray head (i.e. “hoary head”) saints are to be prized and valued.  Paul instructed Timothy to give particular attention to widows, especially those who are “widows indeed” (meaning those having no children, grandchildren, or family).

The honor due “widows indeed” was personal, practical, and even sacrificial.  In a day when there was no social welfare system, the cares and financial needs of the widows fell upon their families.

Another aspect of honoring one’s elders is the instruction to stand up in the presence of an elder.  The children of Israel instructed their chidlren, “Thou shalt rise up [lit. stand up; i.e. indicating value] before [in the presence of] the hoary head[old, gray-haired], and honour [favor; respect; defer; value] the face presence] of the old man, and fear [be afraid; revere] thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32).

I close today’s challenge to “Honour all men” with a story from the life of George Washington, the commander of America’s revolutionary army, father of our nation, and first president of the United States of America.

One morning while riding his horse on his plantation in the company of the French General Lafayette, a slave approached Washington on foot and greeted him with “Morning, Sir.” 

Washington, acknowledging the slave’s greeting, tipped his hat and said, “Good morning, my dear friend.”

Lafayette was astounded and asked, “Why is it that you, General and President George Washington would speak and tip your hat to a common slave? 

Washington replied, “Why sir, I could not allow him to be the better man!”

What an inspiring outlook on life; to live in such a way you aspire to be the better man or woman.

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

“What Beautiful Feet You Have, My Love!”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Song of Solomon 7-8

Today’s reading brings us to the close of our Old Testament “Read Thru the Bible” daily scripture reading assignments.  What a wonderful accomplishment on your part!  Not only did you persevere in your commitment to read the scriptures, many of you followed the daily meditational meanderings of this pastor’s daily devotional commentary.

As a reminder, there are three methods of interpretations for the Song of Solomon.   The Allegorical interpretation suggests the Song of Solomon describes God’s relationship with His people and is a story or parable meant to describe either God’s relationship with Israel or Christ’s relationship with His bride, the Church.  A Typical interpretation suggests the bride of Solomon is a type or picture of the Church and the groom is Jesus Christ.

The third, and the one I settled on for my devotional commentary, is a Literal interpretation.  In other words, I suggest the Song of Solomon is a true love story; the romance of Solomon as a young king and his love for a young Shulamite peasant girl who will become his queen.

The phrase, “Love is blind”, is often credited to William Shakespeare who employed it on several occasions in his plays; however, the phrase first appears in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Merchant Tale (1405) and states in the old English, “For loue is blynd alday and may nat see.” [i.e. “Love is blind all day, and may not see.”]

Author Pauline Thomason, perhaps more realistic than the previous quote, weighed in with her own observation: Love is blind, marriage is the eye-opener.”

An anonymous author states a sentiment for the state of blind love more fitting to the love expressed by Solomon in today’s scripture reading:

“They are wrong who say that love is blind. On the contrary, nothing – not even the smallest detail – escapes the eyes; one sees everything in the loved one, notices everything; but melts it all into one flame with the great and simple: I love you.”

I will not take the time to write an extensive commentary on Song of Solomon 7; however, anyone who has been in love will no doubt identify with the king’s words.  Solomon is “in love” and he takes no time to notice, let along number, the blemishes of his beloved wife.

Some might spin an interpretation of the opening verses of Song of Solomon 8:1-3, into an insidious attempt to suggest an incestuous love; however, I assure you it is not!

The Shulamite’s desire for Solomon to be as her brother, one whom she could show public affection, reminds us her husband is king and his office demands a certain reserve and decorum in public.  Of course, her’s is a young love and she yearns to shower her love upon Solomon; he is not only her king, he is her beloved husband (8:4)!

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 states what should be true of every marriage; the covenant of marriage is singular in nature… “forsaking all others”.  “Love is strong as death” (8:6b) and only death can quench its flame.  The love of husband and wife is a lifelong passion whose embers can never be quenched, save by death alone (8:7).

This wonderful portrait of love and romance between the young king and his queen concludes with a beautiful sentiment…

Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices” (8:14).

Hollywood’s portrayal of love and marriage is lust and a far cry from what the Creator intended for husband and wife.  Sadly, the Millennium generation’s demand for instant gratification and pleasure has embraced lust.  Having no moral boundaries, young men and women are sacrificing innocence, passion, and joy for empty, no commitment “one night stands” that inevitably leave them hollow and abandoned.

It is my observation the testimony of the 21st century church is hardly better.  I have known many portraits of lasting love and romance in the course of my ministry; however, this generation is a different story.  In fact, the rate of divorce in Bible-preaching churches rivals the world.  What a sad testimony of love and marriage we give the world.  After all, Christian marriages should be earthly portraits of Christ’ love for His Church…self-sacrificing, passionate, honorable, and enduring.

Ephesians 5:25, 33 – “ 25  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it… 33  Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”

I close by taking liberty that comes with being the author of this devotional commentary… To the wife of my youth, who remains my joy after 40 years of marriage, “I love you more than ever!”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Personal Reflections on This Christmas Day

December 25, 2017

Dear family, friends, and Heart of a Shepherd Readers,

Merry Christmas!  I plan to post today’s devotional commentary (Deuteronomy 32-34) later this morning; however, feeling somewhat nostalgic, I wish to post a personal note on this my 61st Christmas Day.  (This is a personal blog post, neither theological or ethereal, and I am not offended if you pass this by without reading).

The quiet of my home this Christmas morning invites reflections on Christmas’ past when this day brought joy as childhood dreams were fulfilled.  Oh, the joy of waking up early Christmas Day morning and finding under the tree gifts my parents had purchased, far exceeding anything they experienced in their childhoods.  I smile when I remember how politically incorrect gifts abounded…Cowboy cap guns, Daisy BB Guns, and my first 20-gauge shotgun.  My favorite gift of all…a 26-inch red bicycle with its own headlight!

God blessed my parents with health and longevity and I am able to express to them today my gratitude.  I appreciate their effort to fulfill childhood dreams when I know my frivolity came at personal sacrifice I could not have known nor did I appreciate at the time.  I love you mom and dad…and, in the words of the late actor Bob Hope, “thanks for the memories”.

Another reminiscence of childhood is my wonder how my maternal grandparents, Roland and Sadie Whitley, presented every grandson and granddaughter a special gift at Christmas (I believe the number was 17 grandchildren).  My grandfather was a hardworking, honest man who was a farmer by day and a factory worker at night.  My grandmother, taking my grandfather’s modest income, spent the year shopping in anticipation of her large family gathering in the living room, unwrapping gifts with childhood glee.  Memories indeed…

My love and gratitude to Sheilah, the beautiful wife of my youth (Proverbs 5:18), who worked within the humble salary of a youth pastor our first 18 years of marriage.  Somehow, you made Christmas a special time for our children, stretching dollars, but filling the space beneath the tree with a myriad of wrapped gifts and surprises (and no, we did not give the fat jolly man any credit for our sacrifice).

Finally, a word of gratitude to our parents, Ted and Fairis Smith and Archie and Sylvia Ipock.  Sheilah and I raised your grandchildren in Michigan and Florida, but we seldom failed to make the long trek home to the Carolinas for Christmas.  Thank you; thank you for sacrificial love, opening your homes to our family, and sacrificing to give our children coveted memories.  Thanks for sweet memories…

With the love of a son, husband, father, and grandfather,

Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith