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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

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

A Portrait of True Love

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Song of Solomon 3-4

Today’s scripture reading continues in the Song Solomon, chapters 3-4.  As a reminder of my approach and interpretation of this book, I have chosen to take a “Literal interpretation”, meaning I believe Solomon penned this romantic book as a king to a young woman who had become the object of his love. For the sake of brevity, my focus will be Song of Solomon 3.

We find the young bride-to-be dreaming and longing for her unknown suitor in the early verses of chapter 3 (remember, she had first met Solomon when he was alone in the countryside dressed as a common shepherd). Allow me to suggest the following outline.

I. The Dreams of Young Love (3:1-3).

Solomon’s fair young maiden dreams of her groom “upon her bed” (3:1) and, because time has passed, she fears she has been forgotten by him (3:1).  She dreams she went out to seek her suitor (3:2-3) and when she finds him, she brings him to her “mother’s house” (3:4). Her dream continues in verse 5 with my second observation:

II. The Patience of Young Love (3:5).

Rejoicing she has found her beloved she encourages young maidens (“ye daughters of Jerusalem”) to Be Patient in the matter of love and marriage… “stir not up, nor awake my love” (3:5b) and Wait “till he please” (3:5c).

We have seen the dreams of youth and the exhortation that true love is patient and waits.  Notice thirdly, the romantic beauty of the maiden’s wedding day.

III. The Joy and Happiness of Young Love (3:6-11).

Our young maiden has dreamed about her mysterious shepherd. He has courted her lovingly and patiently and she dreams of the day he will come with his wedding party to claim her as his bride, but not knowing the day or the time of his coming.

One day she lifts her eyes towards the horizon and sees a cloud of smoke, coming “out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke” (3:6a).  The air is laden with the fragrance of burning incense, “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense” (3:6b).

In the midst, she sees the royal litter, the “bed, which is Solomon’s” (3:7) borne by sixty “valiant men”, war heroes, men of renown in Israel escorting the king with swords upon their thighs (3:8).

Our young maiden realizes her suitor is not a shepherd, but the king of Israel who is coming for her as his bride (3:9)!  The moment is filled with pageantry; while the soldiers bear the bed meant for his bride, the king is in their midst carried by a chariot made of the finest “wood of Lebanon” (3:9).

As with a bride of our day who plans her wedding down to the minutest detail, even the limousine that will carry her away, our young bride observes the beauty of the bed (or chariot) that will convey her and the king to his palace.  The canopy over the bed supported by beams overlaid with silver (3:10), the canopy of gold, and its cushions of purple, all adorned for the king by “the daughters of Jerusalem” (3:10).

Our young bride, overwhelmed by the joy her groom is Solomon the king, urges her attendants, “ye daughters of Zion” (3:11a), to behold their king wearing the crown given to him by his mother (3:11b), perhaps specially adorned by her on her son’s wedding day.

What an incredible story of love and marriage!  Was this not, in days past, the dreams of innocent young girls?  Stories like Cinderella abound with a fairy-tale storyline of a peasant girl who falls in love with a young prince or king and whose courtship with a stranger is rewarded with her own crowning as princess and queen.

Sad to say, but our society has robbed little girls of their innocence and discretion; and parents have failed to instill in their sons the qualities of a genteel, caring spirit.

I am afraid Christian homes have followed the same; unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to guard the purity of sons and daughters, our youth know little about young, innocent, pure love that is patient and waiting.

Too many weddings in our churches lack innocence and tenderness because brides and grooms have indulged in lusts at the sacrifice of true love.

God has given us not only a portrait of love (the sacrifice of His Son for our sins – John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:25), but also the definition of love in action

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5  Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8  Charity never faileth…”

Young person, true love is patient, kind, serving, self-sacrificing, pure, honest, long-suffering, hopeful, lasting, and perpetual…never ending…and never stops loving.

 Wait…wait…wait…and you will never be sorry when true love finds you!

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith