Devotions

Author Archives: Josh Combs

Ezra

Lesson Twelve | Devotion #2: Ezra
Joshua Combs | Lead Pastor 

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra 7:10

Around 722 BC, the nation of Israel fell to the Assyrian empire and was taken into brutal captivity. While the nation of Judah, just to the south, remained a nation longer (around 586 BC), the Babylonian Empire besieged Jerusalem, and the nation soon fell. The nation of Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity (this is where we get stories of Daniel and his three friends) and for the next several generations that are where they would languish. They experienced quite a fall from the heights of the reigns of David and his son Solomon to now ceasing to being a nation. The people were enslaved or slaughtered, and the temple was pillaged until all that remained was just a shell of its former glory.

The love of the Lord is steadfast. God raised up crucial leaders at pivotal times to preserve and restore His people, among the most important were Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, Esther, and Ezra. Each of them served a particular cause that the Lord had laid out for them. Nehemiah was used to restore the social infrastructure of the city of Jerusalem and thereby the stability of the entire nation. Zerubbabel led the people back to the nearly abandoned nation. Esther rose to the heights of Persian power and preserved the people from a holocaust type execution by the vicious Haman.

Ezra was the spiritual leader. The Scripture, throughout the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (probably both written by Ezra), details the crucial role of not just social structure and preservation of life, but the nations wholehearted return to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ezra was both student and teacher. He was a brilliant student of Scripture. The Bible says that he, “…set his heart to study the Law of the Lord….” It was not just to learn for personal pride; he longed to draw the people back to God. Nehemiah chapter 8 records Ezra proclaiming the words of God from “…early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand.” He stood upon “a wooden platform” and without any hesitation called the people to repentance, by simply telling them what God said. According to Nehemiah chapter 9, the people repented.

However, for all of the public ways that God used the priest, Ezra, there is a small phrase in Ezra chapter 7 that must be true of all God’s people. The Scripture says, “…Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Notice Ezra was a brilliant student and powerfully used teacher, but the phrase in between is crucial. He had a personal commitment that he was going to do what God’s Word said. He was not simply going to learn what God said and pass that along to others; he was first going to be obedient to the Lord himself.

To truly to be used by God, we must not just hear what He says to do and then pass that along. We must make a personal commitment to be a hearer of the Word and then a doer (James 1:22).

Hezekiah

Lesson Ten | Devotion #2: Hezekiah
Joshua Combs | Lead Pastor

2 Kings 18:5 says, “…there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.”

Here the Scripture declares Hezekiah as the greatest king in the history of Judah. The question is why? What distinguished him from among the twenty total kings the nation would have? The answer is found in the same passage. Hezekiah was certainly not flawless, but to understand why the Lord would crown him, not just king, but the best of all kings is a powerful lesson to each of us. Here are a few reasons the Bible gives for King Hezekiah’s success.

1. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord – 2 Kings 18:3
2. He removed the high places and all other idols – 2 Kings 18:4
3. He trusted the Lord – 2 Kings 18:5
4. He held fast to the Lord and kept the commandments – 2 Kings 18:6
5. The Lord was with him – 2 Kings 18:7

That is a stunning spiritual resume. As noted earlier, Hezekiah was not perfect; however, the Lord prospered this great king.

We live in a time far removed from the culture, geography, and history of Hezekiah, yet our differences of principle are not too far off. Like Hezekiah, we too must choose whose standard of right we will follow. One of the great indictments of the Scripture is the idea of people doing “…what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). A purely subjective and relativistic view of right and wrong has always doomed society. God’s objective truth must always be the standard by which we determine right and wrong.

Similarly, Hezekiah had to deal with pagan idol worship along with religious idol worship (See 2 Kings 18:4). The people had begun to worship both pagan gods and goddesses, but also they had begun to worship the bronze serpent that Moses had lifted up in the wilderness. Something God had used had been perverted and transformed into an idol. When we honestly look at culture and the church, the number of idols is stunning. They certainly go by different names and look differently than Hezekiah’s time, but are nonetheless idols that we have given our worship (See Romans 1:25). We must strike them down and remove them from our lives. God refuses to occupy the same space or compete with an idol.

The Scripture tells us that Hezekiah “prospered.” Many people, both Christian and non-Christian, desire to prosper. Sadly, however, we want God’s blessings and presence without trusting Him or obeying Him. Other kings before and after Hezekiah felt entitled to God’s provision, blessings, and protection, yet God refused to bless them because they were prideful, rebellious, and wicked. More and more we encounter this today in the church. We find “God’s people” living sinful and rebellious lives, demanding with an entitled mentality God’s help. We have turned God into a waiter who must meet our every need when we call for His attention. This is simply wrong and not the way “it” works. We must, as Hezekiah did, “hold fast to the Lord.”

Joshua

Lesson Five | Devotion #1: Joshua
Joshua Combs | Lead Pastor

“And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes.” Numbers 14:6

For obvious reasons (I was named after him), Joshua has always been one of my favorite Bible characters. His story starts with birth into slavery in Egypt and ends with a victorious “retirement” in the Promise Land. He was a son, national leader, Moses’ assistant and successor, and a spy.

From within the twelve families of Israel, a leader was chosen to go and spy out the Promised Land. After 40 days, those twelve men returned with stunning reports about the land and the natural wonders they found there. Ten of those men quickly told of giants, walls, and insurmountable obstacles that would keep the people of God from success. Two of those spies attempted to rise above the fear and anxiety that was quickly getting out of hand. Joshua and Caleb were those two spies. But the people refused to listen, and the judgment of God would soon fall upon them. Within this national moment of tragedy, a unique and powerful partnership was born. Over the next 50 plus years, Caleb and Joshua would be living reminders to the people of the horrors of Egypt, the glory of God at Mt. Sinai, and the reality of the Promised Land that was before them. Their partnership and faithfulness to the Lord would inspire the people of God to cross over the Jordan and into God’s promise. Caleb, even as an old man, never seemed to lose his desire to fight for the Lord (Joshua 14:10-12), while Joshua, surely reminded of his time on the mountain near the glory of God (Exodus 24:13), kept drawing the people back to the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15). These two men were undoubtedly world changers, but the key is that they did not do it alone. A partnership is a key to changing the world.

In a book I read several years ago by Michael Eisner called “Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed,” I began to realize what the Scripture was saying. While Eisner says, “Working together is much better than working alone…” the Scripture simply says, “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). Lone Rangers never change the world. A single individual may get the credit, but they never accomplished their goals alone (other than Christ on the cross).

I am extremely grateful for some amazing partnerships in my life, such as my wife, fellow staff and Pastors, and others. But this story in Numbers always brings me back to my brother Caleb. As teenage boys, we ran a lawn business together, and now years later we get the privilege of serving the Lord together. We do not always agree, but our partnership and friendship, ironically in the same way as our biblical namesakes, seeks to point folks to horrors of sin, the glory of God at Mt. Calvary, and the reality of the Promised Land that is before us.

Aaron

Lesson Four | Devotion #2: Aaron
Joshua Combs | Lead Pastor

“What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” Exodus 32:21

The relational and leadership dynamics between the great leader Moses and his brother Aaron (the first high priest) are fascinating. As Moses stood before the burning bush, God ordained him as the deliverer of Israel, the hand of God’s power, and the mouthpiece of God’s holy words. Yet, Moses, a man who the Scripture calls “…mighty in his words and deeds…” (Acts 7:22), trembles at the thought of speaking before tyrannical Pharaoh. So God, on the back side of the Sinai desert, righteously rebukes this trembling shepherd, and then graciously offers the speaking assistance of Moses’ brother, Aaron.

From that point, Aaron and Moses are a two man, tag team act that God uses to gloriously bring the Egyptian empire to its knees. Plagues would rain down, God’s glory would be seen, and standing in the middle of this catastrophe and rescue mission were two brothers. When hard-hearted Pharaoh finally relented, Moses and Aaron led the people across a parted Red Sea to the base of Mount Sinai. Moses ascended the mountain with his servant Joshua, where God gave Moses the law and the structure for Jewish society. But while Moses was away, the people panicked and Aaron led them to nearly be annihilated.

Pressured by the impatient Israelites, Aaron led the effort to assemble gold that he would fashion into the image of a golden calf. He declared that the following day they would celebrate and worship this image and praise it for the exodus from Israel (Keep in mind that while they worshiped a golden calf of their making, God’s glory was currently burning on top of Mount Sinai in such a dazzling display that everyone could still see). When the following day came, the noise of celebration reached the ears of Moses and the Lord. Disgusted, the Lord moved to destroy Israel for their blasphemy. One man stood between the angry holy God of Heaven and the people. It was Moses.

Aaron, however, had not interceded for the people but had unwittingly led them to the brink of disaster. Moses confronts his brother, “‘What did this people do to you,’ Moses asks, ‘that you have brought such a great sin upon them?’” (Exodus 32:21). Of course, the answer had very little to do with the pressure of the people and significantly more to do with the weakness of Aaron. He could not stand for the Lord, his brother, or even oppose the people for their safety and well-being. Aaron would repent and stand with the Lord, but the cost of his poor, idolatrous leadership was the loss of 3,000 men’s lives.

What kind of leader are you? Are you willing to stand for the Lord and hold to His holy standards? When opposed by others, do you stand firm? Most importantly, when you fail as a leader, do you repent, acknowledge the failure and then change?

Abel

Lesson One | Devotion #2: Abel
Joshua Combs | Lead Pastor

Hebrews 11:4 ends with “…he stills speaks.”

The words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 23 must have stung and angered even the hardest hearted Pharisees. In what was the “final showdown” between the religious, hypocritical managers of the temple, Jesus preached His harshest sermon to date. The sermon was both a blistering attack on the Pharisees and the hypocritical ritual that had overtaken Judaism. Known by many modern commentators as “The Seven Woes,” Jesus stood in the temple and pulled back the curtain on the Pharisees religion and revealed their godless and loveless hearts. Seven times Jesus calls them hypocrites and brings to light a different charge in which they were guilty. Nearing the end of His sermon and just before the Lord’s final exit from the temple and subsequent rejection of Israel, Jesus indicts the Pharisees as the persecutors and murderers of God’s righteous servants. In doing so, He shows us and honors Abel as the world’s first martyr.

Abel’s story is given to us in Genesis chapter 4. The institution of sacrifice was given by the Lord to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden and then presumably given to their children. Two sons of Adam and Eve brought sacrifices to the Lord. Cain, Abel’s brother, brought a sacrifice to the Lord that was not accepted, while Abel brought a sacrifice to the Lord that was honored and acceptable. In a brooding temper tantrum that grew into a murderous rage, Cain killed his brother Abel. Abel was a righteous, worshipper of God. It was a testimony to the glory of God demonstrated through his faithfulness in following God’s sacrificial principles.

The writer of Hebrews, following Jesus’ lead, continues elucidating the legacy of Abel. The Scripture says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). Abel, though ancient in history, still speaks. His righteous blood declares the truth that faithful and obedient followers of God will be persecuted. Abel is more than just a follower; he is a type of Christ. In Genesis chapter 4, Abel is righteous and is unjustly killed by the angry Cain. Cain offered to God a sacrifice of works, hoping to impress a Holy God with his abilities. The similarities are startlingly clear to Jesus, who was innocent, yet hated and ultimately murdered by the self-righteous “Cains” of His day, known as the Pharisees.

Abel’s story is certainly old, but his legacy of obedience, martyrdom, and faith “still speaks.” The truth and challenge are to examine what message our life declares to the world. What is the legacy of your life? If your life were to end today, what would the lasting legacy be? What would, though passed into eternity, your life speak?



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