Tag Archives: Separation

The Holy Calling of the Pastor\Shepherd (Leviticus 7-8)

Today’s Bible reading and devotional are from Leviticus 7-8.

The institution of sacrifices began in Leviticus 1 and continues today through the ordination of the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 8).  Our study of the sacrifices continues with the “law of the trespass offering”, a sacrifice identified with an individual’s sin (7:1).  A “peace offering” served as an acknowledgment of God’s grace and an offering of thanksgiving (Leviticus 7:11-21).  The portions of the “peace offering” not consumed by the fire were given to the priests for their households.

Some portions of the sacrifices were forbidden to be eaten including the “fat of the beast” and the “blood” (Leviticus 7:22-27).  Blood was never to be consumed because it was the means and object of atonement (Leviticus 17:11).

Leviticus 8 establishes the Levitical priesthood, publicly ordaining and consecrating Aaron and his sons to serve as priests before the LORD on behalf of the nation (8:1-5).  Each step of the ordination is described beginning with the ceremonial washing of Aaron and his sons with water (8:6).

Aaron, the first high priest, is distinguished by his garments (8:7).  The high priest would wear a breastplate (8:8), referred to as “the breastplate of judgment” (Exodus 28:30), upon which was mounted twelve precious stones bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  “Urim and the Thummim” (8:8) are believed to be so form of dice that were cast by the priests in matters of judgment, trusting the LORD to determine the outcome.

As a word of caution for some tempted to adopt a manner of the same in making judgments, either tossing dice or “putting out a fleece” (Judges 6:36-40); God has given us a superior means of determining His will and making good judgments…His Word!

Moses continued to offer sacrifices for seven days while Aaron and his sons remained at the tabernacle as they consecrated themselves to the LORD as priests (8:31-36).  On the eighth day Aaron and his sons began ministering before the LORD and offering sacrifices on behalf of the nation (Leviticus 9:1-24).

I close today’s devotional, reminded of the great responsibility borne by those who minister for the LORD before God’s people.

An offering of sacrifices is no longer necessary because Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross, is our sacrifice and high priest ever making intercession for us before the throne of God (Hebrews 7:25-28).  Nonetheless, God has called and ordained men He has set apart for the purpose of shepherding His church.  The apostle Peter challenged pastors,

1 Peter 5:2-3 – “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”

Such is the great calling of the pastor…teacher, shepherd and spiritual leader.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Strange Fire: The Music of the 21st Century Church (Leviticus 9-10)

I am working on a devotional thought from Leviticus 9-10 that I plan to publish next Tuesday.  In my meditations I am pondering:

What is the “strange fire” of the 21st century church? (Leviticus 10:1)

What has the substance of worship, but lacks the hallowed holiness God requires?

I have come to the conclusion:

Pastors of my generation have failed God and His church:

We failed to demand pastoral virtues (1 Timothy 3:1-7) in worship leaders and have tolerated music that is a “strange fire” to discerning believers (Philippians 4:8).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Unmasking Hypocrites (Mark 7)

Today’s Bible reading is Leviticus 3-4, Psalm 35, and Mark 7. Our devotional is from Mark 7.

An oft criticism of churches and one of the primary excuses given by non-believers for not attending church is, “There are too many hypocrites in the church!” After 40 years in the ministry, I have to agree:  “There are too many hypocrites in the church!”

Hypocrisy, however, is not limited to the church or Christianity. Indeed, I am certain all religions and belief systems have their hypocrites, including non-religious institutions and associations.

The word “Hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for a stage actor – someone who plays a part or role in a play.  Actors in ancient plays would portray more than one character by wearing masks that identified a character’s role.  When playing a comedic character, an actor would wear a mask with a silly smile.  For a sad character the actor would wear a large frowning mask and quote tragic lines inducing sorrow and weeping from the audience.

In effect; a hypocrite is an actor who wears a mask playing one part while in reality being another.

Mark 7 records one of Christ’s most stinging rebukes of the Pharisees, the religious legalists of the day whom He exposed as hypocrites. I invite you to join me in an honest and transparent study of Mark 7.

Jesus’ growing popularity incited a backlash among his enemies. Thousands were following Him in Galilee and the situation for the scribes and Pharisees was intolerable. While the scribes were experts in the Law of God; the Pharisees were its enforcers and the most influential religious group in Israel (Mark 7:1).  Outwardly zealous in matters of the Law, the Pharisees instituted hundreds of man-made laws in an attempt to interpret the Laws and Commandments.

The Pharisees came to Jesus criticizing His disciples’ failure to “wash their hands” before eating (Mark 7:2-3).  The issue was not that the disciples were eating with dirty hands, but they had failed to practice “the tradition of the elders” in ceremonial cleansing (7:4).

Jesus answered His critics quoting the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13) and accusing the Pharisees of being hypocrites (7:7-9).  While professing to be teachers of God’s commandments, they were in fact, advocates of man-made rituals and traditions (7:7-9).

Exposing their hypocrisy, Jesus addressed the Pharisees’ violation of the fifth commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12).  Allowing a man to pronounce an oath, It is Corban”, meaning it is an offering, the Pharisees applauded men who dedicated their wealth to the Temple at the neglect of their parent’s material and financial welfare.  Such an oath, they argued, freed a son from honoring and caring for his parents.

What hypocrites!  To enrich the Temple treasury, they applauded men violating the fifth commandment, but judged the disciples harshly for failing to conform to petty traditions. They supplanted God’s Law, hiding behind their traditions.

Friend, are you hiding behind a mask of religion? Are you judging others by your self-imposed standards, while failing to keep the precepts and principles of God’s Word?

Don’t forget “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Hipster, Skinny-jean Worship Leaders are the Trend, But Who is Their God? (Exodus 37-40)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 39-40, Psalm 33, and Mark 5. Our Bible devotional is from Exodus 37-40.

Because the Tabernacle was a constant reminder of the LORD’s presence in the midst of His people, He gave precise details of its design and furnishings; including the construction and exact dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant that represented God’s heavenly throne on earth (37:1-9; note – Psalm 80:1; 99:1).

The Ark would be transported by means of “staves” (i.e. rods) overlaid with gold (37:3-5).  Gold overlaid the entirety of the Ark, including the “mercy seat” upon which two cherubim faced with their wings outstretched toward one another (37:7-9), reflecting the purity and holiness of God’s throne of judgment.

Exodus 37:10-28 itemizes other furnishings employed in the tabernacle including a table overlaid with gold, and dishes, bowls, spoons, an elaborate candlestick and “altar of incense” (37:25-29), all of pure gold.

Exodus 38:1-20 gives the design of an “altar of burnt offering” and the vessels of brass used in offering sacrifices (38:1-8).  The outer court of the Tabernacle, including its construction, curtains, and rings on which they were to hang is given in exacting detail (38:9-20).  The enormous sacrifice of the people reflected in the vast amount of gold, silver and brass they gave for the furnishings of the Tabernacle is recorded (38:24-26).

The stunning colors of the “holy garments” worn by the high priest is described (39:1-2) as well as the breastplate embedded with twelve precious jewels, each engraved with the names of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (39:8-14).  The bindings of the breastplate worn by the high priest is given as well as other articles of clothing worn by him (39:15-31).  Fastened to a turban worn by the high priest was a plate of gold engraved with the words, “Holiness to the LORD” (39:30-31).

Moses directed the construction of the Tabernacle, the forging of its implements, and the dedication of the high priest, his sons and the garments worn by them (Exodus 40).  Insuring all was done “as the LORD had commanded” (39:43), Moses dedicated the work (40:33) and the outward manifestation of God’s approval was “a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (40:34)!

I close drawing your attention to the phrase, “as the LORD commanded Moses”.  That phrase, repeated thirteen times in Exodus 39 and 40, reminds us that worship was not treated in some loosey-goosey, half-hearted manner. There was a preciseness in the preparations of the place of worship and the order and conduct of the spiritual leaders was to reflect God’s holy character.

Compare that to what most American churches call worship today where the bold declaration of God’s Word has decayed into an entertainment venue of strobe lights,  deafening music and tight-jeaned, tattooed spiritual leaders who are more concerned with reflecting the carnal culture of the masses than the holy character of the God they portend to serve!

Let’s remember what God requires of His servants!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which isin you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

God is Faithful, His Promises Are Sure (Genesis 12-14)

* Today’s Bible Reading assignment is Genesis 13-14.  Today’s devotional addresses events in Genesis 12-14.  Though longer than most, this devotional will give a representation of Abram’s faith and failures and God’s grace and faithfulness.

Genesis 12 is one of the great pivotal crossroads in the Scriptures’ narrative of God’s plan of redemption.  Genesis 11 closed with Abram (Abraham) departing from “Ur of the Chaldees” with his father Terah (Genesis 11:32).  [The site of Ancient Ur was in today’s Iraq, some 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf, in the vicinity of what became ancient Babylon].

God came to Abram in Genesis 12 and commanded him to separate from his country, his relatives, and his extended family (12:1).  If Abram obeyed, God promised to covenant with him and bless him (Genesis 12:2-3).  God promised Abram he would bless him with a son, make him great, his name famous, and he would be a blessing to all people through his lineage (a promise ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ).  Abram obeyed God and traveled to Canaan, the land God promised He would give him as an inheritance.  When he arrived at Bethel, Abram built an altar and worshipped the Lord (12:7-8).

Realize God had purposed to fulfill His promises to Abram, including giving he and his wife Sarai a son in their old age; however, Abram’s faith in the LORD was soon tested when we read, “there was a famine in the land” (12:10).  Rather than trust the LORD, Abram abandoned his faith in God’s promises, left Canaan and journeyed to Egypt, putting in jeopardy God’s covenant promises (12:10-13).

Sarai, Abram’s wife, was beautiful and, fearing for his life, he asked her to tell others she was his sister and not his wife (12:11-13).  Pharaoh noticed Sarai’s beauty and took her into his harem to become one of his wives, putting at risk God’s covenant promise of a son and heir to Abram.  In spite of Abram’s faithlessness, God spared Sarai, sending a plague of judgment on Pharaoh’s household and revealing to the king that Abram had deceived him (12:17-20).

Genesis 13 reminds us Abram was a mere mortal, though a man of faith and an object of God’s grace, he faced the consequences of his failure to leave all of his father’s household (12:1).  Contrary to God’s command, Abram had journeyed from Ur with Lot, his brother’s son.  Both men were wealthy, owning great flocks and servants to tend them, there arose a strife between the servants of Abram and his nephew Lot (13:1-7).  To avoid conflict, Abram suggested they divide their households, servants, and flocks, graciously offering his nephew the first choice of the land (13:8-9).

Failing to defer to his elder, Lot betrayed his covetousness and chose the best of the land for himself; 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 Abram (13:14-18).

Genesis 14 gives us a history of the nations that inhabited ancient Israel in Abram’s day (around 4,000 BC).  A conflict arose among those nations and we read, “the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled…And they took Lot…and his goods” (14:10-12).  Suggesting how rich and powerful Abram had become, we read he led three hundred and eighteen armed servants of his household (14:14) in a successful attack on the kings who had taken the citizens and material possessions of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (14:15-24).

Abram returns victorious and a king identified as “Melchizedek king of Salem” [Salem perhaps the ancient name of Jerusalem] greets him (14:18).  Melchizedek, described as “the priest of the most high God” (14:18), pronounced a benediction upon Abram and rewarded him with a tithe, a tenth of the spoils (14:19-20).

The king of Sodom, likewise, offered Abram the riches he had recovered in battle (14:21); however, Abram refused the wealth of Sodom.  Jealous of the name and testimony of “the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:22), Abram confessed he would take none of Sodom’s riches less the king of Sodom boast he had “made Abram rich” (14:22-24).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Know That a Prophet Hath Been Among You (Ezekiel 33:33)

After enjoying a vacation in the Smoky Mountains, I look forward to being back in Hillsdale’s pulpit this Sunday.  We will return to our verse-by-verse study of the Gospel of John, taking up our study with the closing verses of John 9 and introducing one of the most beautiful and beloved passages of the Gospels… the Parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

Knowing the shepherd is a metaphor for a spiritual leader and the sheep is a metaphor for God’s people throughout the scriptures, I invested several hours focusing on the role of the shepherd and his relationship with the sheep.  In the Parable of the Good Shepherd we identify not only the character of the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ), we also see the evil characteristics of Israel’s spiritual leaders portrayed as “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) and as the “hireling” who flees “and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13).

Israel was cursed with spiritual shepherd’s like those described in John 10.  When the nation needed shepherds to boldly declare the Word of the Lord and condemn the sins of the nation, she instead promoted men to be her pastors who not only failed to lead the nation spiritually, but also exploited her vulnerable state.

The prophet Jeremiah warned the “pastors” (spiritual shepherds) of Israel, “1Woe be unto the pastors [lit. shepherds] that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD…I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1-2).

Ezekiel prophesied “against the shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:1-2), condemning the spiritual leaders for putting their self-interests before the needs of the people (34:2).  Israel’s pastors had taken the best of everything for themselves (34:3), neglected the weak and injured (34:4a), failed to seek the lost, pursued sinful pleasures, and failed to call God’s people to be a holy people (34:4).  Israel had become an immoral, lawless nation and God determined to turn the nation and their shepherds over to be afflicted (Ezekiel 34:10).  God, however, did not leave His people hopeless and promised them He would one day deliver them (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

The task of a faithful prophet is not a popular one and God warned Ezekiel he would become the object of scorn (Ezekiel 33).  God challenged the prophet, “I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7).  Ezekiel was admonished, should he fail to warn the wicked in his sin and the wicked man “die in his iniquity”, the blood of the wicked would be on his hands (Ezekiel 33:8).

Ezekiel 33 closes with a malady that in my observation is present in fundamental churches and colleges of our day…a generation that is “talking against” the prophet, expressing a faux-piety of hearing “the word that cometh forth from the LORD” (33:30), and “with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (33:31).  God warns Ezekiel, “they hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32).

From a perspective of outward results, Ezekiel was a failure for Israel did not repent of her sins and her pastors continued in their wickedness.  Ezekiel was promised, when God’s judgment falls upon Israel, all would “know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33).

The words of a faithful, prophetic (forth-telling), uncompromising preacher are not welcome in most pulpits and one need not look far in our churches, colleges, and seminaries to understand there are many who “hear thy words, but they do them not” (33:32).  I pray God might find me faithful and some “shall know that a prophet hath been among them” (33:33).

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

Silent No More

This brief blog post serves as an introductory post to one that will follow titled, “A Failure to Stay the Course: Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018”.  I am a 1977 graduate of Bob Jones University and one who has been a loyal alumnus.  

I arrived at Bob Jones University as a 16-year-old freshman in the fall of 1973 and was overwhelmed with a culture shock like none I have experienced since.  This son of the South, born in Lancaster, South Carolina and aptly self-defined as a country-boy was unacquainted with the graces of culture and the refinements of art.  I was a rough, crude piece of coarse clay; a public-school graduate who loved and longed to serve the LORD and desired the training and polish of a Christian education.

My childhood home was loving and disciplined. I knew the rigors of rising early on a small farm, working hard, and appreciated the sacrifices of my loving parents. My desire to go to a Christian college was foreign to my family and the culture of my community; however, it was a seed planted in my heart by the visit of a missionary to Alaska.

A child of the hippy culture of the 1960’s and the anti-war, anti-establishment of the 1970’s, I was unaware of my immaturity as a believer, the deficiencies of my education, or my cultural backwardness.  I knew little of the scriptures and nothing of Christian Fundamentalism, Keeping the Faith, or Fighting the Good Fight.

The administration and faculty of Bob Jones University gave no accommodation to this southern boy’s worldly-wise ways and even less provision for my academic failings.  I found myself, in a proverbial sense, thrown into the deep-end of the pool where I found little empathy for my struggles. BJU had somehow insulated itself from college-campus riots and “panty-raids” that were dogging other college campuses. The school was not only unapologetically Christian, it was doggedly adherent to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

There were many irritants in the BJU culture that were not only exasperating, but provoking.  There was a discipline that gave little grace and even less understanding for the excuses and failures of youth.  Outside the campus fence my generation was bold and rebellious; casting aside disciplines and morals that had shaped the “Greatest Generation”.  Inside the campus fence little had or would change for another twenty-years.

I thank God it was that culture of discipline, tough-love, and unapologetic convictions that were present to shape and prepare the pliable heart of this Christian teen.  I learned my superiors were not concerned with fairness, but rightness.  I also knew there were times they were wrong; however, the rules were the rules and institutionally the approach was “one size fits all”.

I have learned rules and regulations, often inconvenient and at times inexplicable, are necessary.  Patterns of personal and academic disciplines thrust upon us in our youth shape attitudes and strengthen character.  When we cast off or adapt rules and standards to accommodate youthful immaturity or to enhance cultural assimilation we do so at the peril of a generation that will never know the enrichment of exhortation or the powerful influence of loving correction.

I close with a brief dedicatory of names whose lives provoked me in my youth and whose influence follows me to this day: Dr. Bob Jones, Jr; Dr. Gilbert Stenholm; Dr. Richard Rupp; Dr. Gunter Salter; Dr. Walter Fremont; and Dr. Dwight Gustafson.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Note from the author: You will find the observations expressed in this blog mirrored in several posts I have published in recent years regarding the drift of our Bible fundamental institutions and churches.  For more background, please refer to: 1) From the Front Pew; 2) A Travesty of Abandonment; 3) A Travesty of Abandonment: Christian Schools that Have Left the Ancient Landmarks; 4) Warning: Cater to the Carnal and You Do So at Your Own Peril; 5) What Were They Thinking?; 6) Catering to Carnality; 7) Hijacked: You Can Lose Your Church; 8) Where is the Christian Westpoint of this Generation?

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith