Devotions

Author Archives: Pastor Caleb Combs

Gather • Devotion #1: Rights

I love America. I love the rights we have in America. I am forever grateful for the men and women who have sacrificed so much so that I can have these freedoms. I am thankful that God has placed me in this country; I am free. I think bred in every American is the idea of personal rights, and we do not like people telling us anything different. I, much like you, do not like being told what to do. I am also quick to respond with something along the lines, “I have my rights!” I can remember trying that as a kid when told do to something I did not agree with. I shouted, “I have my rights!” which was quickly met by my parents as, “You have the right to obey.” It did not work out very well for me.

The concept of rights is something that we as Americans have trouble laying down. I myself can tend to convolute my American rights with my walk with Christ. Now before you stop reading and angrily bunch me in with the anti-American cancel culture group, we need to remember that I said I love America and I believe God has enormously blessed us, but our American citizenship is different than our spiritual identity. Our priorities as Americans are different than our spiritual priorities. Just as the Bill of Rights, Constitution, and each Amendment clearly spell out those rights and priorities as Americans, the Bible spells out what should be our spiritual priorities. 

In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, the Apostle Paul is having a conversation about rights and freedoms. Is it not crazy that they were having similar conversations 2,000 years ago? Paul shows us as Christians what our priority should be. In 1 Corinthians 9:12b, Paul says, “Neverless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” Though Paul understood that he had the right to monetary support from the churches, he laid it aside for a greater goal. By doing so he shows Christians that our ultimate priority and mission is the Gospel and seeing it change people from the inside, save them from their sins, and free them from the bondage of hopelessness that comes with that sin. Even if it gets in the way of our benefits, this must be our mindset.

What exactly is this Gospel that I am talking about? The Gospel simply translated is “the good news.” You may have been in church all of your life or only a few times and have heard this term and wondered, “What does this mean?” The good news of the Gospel is that God created a perfect world with nothing bad in it. He created a perfect man and woman and had a perfect relationship with them. Despite the perfect world in which they lived, they chose to disobey God’s command and do what they wanted. Because of this, their perfect relationship with God was broken, sin entered the world, and every person ever born was and is born into that bondage (Romans 3:23). The punishment for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). God saw our brokenness and sin and still desired to save us and so He sent His perfect son Jesus to die on a cross in our place (John 3:16). Jesus died so that we could have life. God now offers that free gift of life to whoever would ask and receive it (Romans 10:13). The Gospel is as simple as realizing our sin, desperate need for a Savior, and receiving that free gift of salvation that was paid for by Jesus. How incredible is that! It is not just good news, but the best news!

I do not want to offend you, and I realize that by bringing up our “rights” I may have already done so. I love you and would never want to do that! However, Paul is really clear that for us as Christians, the priority of the Church is not our rights and the benefits that come from them. While I encourage you to stand up for candidates and political systems you believe in, and I am so grateful to have this freedom, if these rights get in the way of the Gospel, we need to reprioritize. We are to lay them down. I know that is hard, and not something we like to do. Paul continues in this conversation and closes it powerfully. In verses 19-23, He writes, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

There are two phrases I want to leave you with. The first is “that by all means I might save some.” What an incredible mindset. I lay down my rights when I need to so that maybe one person may see and experience the changing power of the Gospel. The second phrase should be our priority as Christians, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel.” As a believer, are you doing everything for the sake of the Gospel? I am not sure I can answer that question with a solid yes. It is convicting! It is challenging. It is transforming. I encourage the Church to realize our number one priority is the call to the Gospel. It is not just in the church building or when we are gathered with our Growth Communities, but every single day with every action, exchange, and interaction we have. We need to do everything we can to advance the Gospel, regardless of what it may cost us. May God continue to bless the United States of America, but more importantly, may He use His followers to reach the world with His wonderful good news! 

Freedom

Moses Challenges Pharaoh | Devotion 1: Freedom
Pastor Caleb Combs

In Exodus chapter 6, we see God speaking to Moses and telling him to go to the children of Israel and let them know that they can and will have freedom. For a few hundred years, the Israelites were slaves under Egyptian rule and were treated very harshly. From the killing of their children to their horrific work conditions, the Israelites were brutalized by their oppressors. Moses did not see himself as qualified to lead the Israelites, and yet God still chose him. I am so thankful God chooses to use unqualified people. He qualifies the unqualified and calls the ordinary to do the extraordinary! I certainly love the fact that God uses me in spite of my faults and failures, just like He did with Moses. Moses went to God’s people and declared to them their freedom and that God had sent him to free them from the bondage to the Egyptians.

While this should have been a time of rejoicing, their response is heartbreaking. Exodus 6:9 (NLT) tells us, “So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.” What a heartbreaking verse. “I am here to set you free,” Moses said, and yet they refused to listen because their circumstance had become too disheartening to handle. These children of God had come to identify themselves as slaves. God heard their cries and sent a way of deliverance, yet because of their difficult situation, they relegated themselves to being in bondage forever.

The 19th century in America revealed the greatest darkness in our country’s history, slavery. The American culture had permeated this disgusting concept that whites were superior to blacks and would buy and sell human beings. However, in the mid-1800s a change began to happen, and our country was thrown into a civil war. President Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation and the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery, and yet while the slaves were set free, many stayed on the same plantations where they continued to work under harsh and brutal conditions. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” The American slaves were beaten, raped, killed and yet they stayed. Why? Perhaps it is for the same reason as the Israelites in Egypt. Exodus 6:9 shows us a glimpse of pain by telling us that “their Spirit was broken.” They had become too discouraged with the environment around them to seek and accept their freedom. The brutality they faced was something most of us reading this will never physically understand; however, the Bible talks about a type of slavery every human being will face – the slavery to sin. The enemy wants to destroy our identity, just like the captors of Egypt and early America. He wants to take our spirit and discourage us enough to give up. But God has granted us freedom from sin by what Jesus has done on the cross. His Word tells us not to lose heart in our situations and struggles and to know that God has given us freedom.

You may know someone who struggles with this, or maybe you struggle with it yourself. The enemy has discouraged you to the point of giving up because your situation seems to have no way to get better. DO NOT GIVE UP! Jesus has set the captives free from sin and leaves the enemy with no control! His Word is full of these promises. John 8:36 says that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Galatians 5:1 reminds us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” God has removed the bondage of sin from our lives, and yet often times we run right back to it.  We need to live as free men and women by the power of Jesus Christ, as free children of God.

“The Lord Will Provide”

Sequel | Devotion #6: “The Lord Will Provide”
Pastor Caleb Combs

The story in Genesis chapter 22 is one with which I have always struggled. God had just blessed Abraham and Sarah with a baby when all signs pointed to them being too old. Yet, now God challenged Abraham with the blessing. He told him to take Isaac to Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. Now, this is where I struggle. This seems totally opposite of the character of God. Yet, Abraham was obedient. He took his only son, some supplies, and headed to the mountain. On the way, Isaac asked his father, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham responded that God would provide. Several times Isaac asked his father on the journey, and every time the response was the same, “God will provide!” I am not sure if you have children, but if God asked this of me, I am not sure I would have responded the same way Abraham did. I would ask, “Really God? I prayed for years that you would give us a child, and now you want to take him away?” Abraham had to be thinking all of these thoughts, yet his actions showed a resilient faith. When they reached the top of the Moriah, Isaac built the altar and then his father laid him on it. The Bible tells us that when Abraham lifted the knife, God called to him, “Abraham, Abraham, Abraham, don’t lay a hand on Isaac, I have provided the sacrifice.” Just as God said, there was a ram stuck in a bush nearby, and Abraham and Isaac made a sacrifice to God. Genesis 22:14 says, “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide;’ as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’”

This is an incredible story of God’s provision and testing, yet I have always struggled with understanding the desperation in which God put Abraham. Ultimately, it was a calling by God to Abraham for him to trust Him. Recently, I was able to travel to Durban, South Africa to serve at Key of Hope. Key of Hope is a ministry that works with children throughout Durban. It is an incredible ministry, founded and run by Dan and Rachel Smither. Before we went to South Africa, I thought it would be a great idea to bring some supplies. We brought suitcases packed with school supplies to be distributed by Dan and Rachel. I also know how big soccer is there, so I called in a favor. My friend, Caleb Stanko, plays professional soccer in Germany and he has a huge love for missions, and so he provided soccer equipment and jerseys for me to take with us.

On our first day in South Africa, we dumped all of the bags out in Dan’s office, and he was excited about all of the supplies. That same day the director of his soccer programs came to him with a dilemma. He had spent most of his soccer supply budget on something other than supplies. He came to Dan and explained that his team had been unable to train and even play in games because they had not eaten. You see, most of them barely have enough money to eat once a day, and that was not close to enough nourishment for them to be able to play games or practice. The soccer director decided to use the supply of money to feed them and now was not sure how he was going to supply the needed soccer equipment. In the same response Abraham responded to Isaac, Dan responded, “God will provide!” Dan told him to turn around and see the very equipment he needed had already been provided by God. The young man was absolutely amazed at how real God was and is.

As I sit typing this devotion, I am challenged by that exact statement, “Do you realize how real God is?” I am ashamed of my unwillingness to trust that God will provide. I want to take control of situations myself and not trust that God will intervene. Maybe you are just like me and are a “control freak.” Or maybe you have no issues in trusting God. I know in the easy situations, I have no problem trusting. But when the rubber meets the road, and our situations turn dire, that is when we truly see the extent of our faith. Do you trust that God will provide? I can say definitively that God will provide! It may not look the way you thought or imagined, but we have a real and active God working for our favor.

The Gift Giver

The Gift of Blessings | Devotion #4: The Gift Giver
Caleb Combs | Gathering Pastor

Are you a good gift giver? I view myself as a good gift giver. For me, the key to being a good gift giver is by listening and writing down things so that I will remember when the time comes to choose a gift. I have tried to do this over the years when buying gifts for my wife, Sierra.  However, I can tell you of a time I bought her a “do not buy” gift. You see, no one warned me about the “do not buy” list. It is like buying your wife a nice new vacuum for her birthday or a new set of pots and pans for Christmas. Take it from me guys, do not do it. Do not get sucked into their trick, even if they read this devotion and say they want it. Trust me, do not do it. 

My wife and I started dating in college. I was a sophomore, and she was a freshman at Grace Bible College. It was love at first sight (at least for me). It took me a while to win her over. Gifts in relationships are an important thing, and when you find yourself in a new relationship, there is a lot of pressure, especially on a dumb college guy who has no idea what to buy his girlfriend. Valentine’s Day was coming up, and the pressure began to mount. I had no idea what to buy her. While thinking and agonizing over what to get her, I remembered a conversation we once had. She mentioned that she would like to start working out. Side note: My wife does not work out. She gets in these phases where she gets inspired to work out and says she is going to start but in all our years together, she never actually has. To make things totally unfair, she eats whatever she wants and yet has stayed the same size since high school, eliminating much of the motivation. It must be nice! She got this crazy idea that she was going to become a fitness guru and so I got my own crazy idea. Now that I have been married for over 13 years, I have realized that work out things are on her “Do not buy” list. However, I had no idea of this at the time. So, I decided I would go buy her an exercise outfit for Valentine’s Day. I went to a sporting goods store and spent around $125 on a sweet Nike workout outfit. I got her the matching pants and top and a jacket to go over it, so she would at least look the part even though she had no idea what she was doing (I love you, babe! I probably should not have said that). The day came, and I wrapped the present and gave it to her. I knew instantly that I had made a mistake. The look on her face was a look of horror, followed by the question that no man ever wants to be asked, “You think that I need to work out?” Do not, I repeat, do not answer that question. I am a Combs, and I can talk all day, but that moment left me speechless. Needless to say, I will never get sucked into buying her something on the “do not buy” list again. My gift was far from great, and though it was thought out and prepared, it was a total fail.

 James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This verse talks about all of the gifts and blessings God gives us. Man, we are so blessed! We are getting ready to celebrate the greatest gift ever given (Jesus Christ) by giving gifts to our loved ones. I know we can get caught up in the giving of these gifts and whether they are great gifts or not so great gifts, but let us never forgot the perfect gift that was given to the world in a small town and in little barn, born to Mary and Joseph. There is no way they could even comprehend the magnitude of how incredibly perfect this gift was. They were blessed by the gift of their first son, but the world was blessed with the Savior of the world. What an incredible gift!

The Making of a Gathering Pastor

Define It | Devotion #6: The Making of a Gathering Pastor
Caleb Combs | Gathering Pastor

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV) 

I have had many “aha” moments in my life when it comes to my walk with Christ. I think one of the most monumental was watching God direct my path in the ways He wanted me to go, once I finally gave in and let Him. In 2006, I was a 22-year-old newly married immature kid who did not know what I was doing with my life. I had just taken a sales job across the country and decided to move with my wife to a place where we knew no one and had no connections to any sort of church. Growing up, we were both church kids to the core. Being extremely involved in the church was a part of our everyday lives. It was who we were. Yet, even though we went to a Bible college (where we should have been spiritually thriving), we both fell out of the church kid lifestyle. Throughout college and the first year of my marriage, I began to backslide in my walk with Christ. I knew that by following my own path, I had lost my way. I knew this move to Florida was bringing me to a crossroads, and I could go one of two ways. Would I make the Christian faith my own, not just something my parents made me do as a kid? Would I make Christ the center of my life and my marriage? I knew I believed in Christ, but would I make Him Lord of my life? The simple answer was yes, of course, that is what I wanted. Yet my actions up to this point did not portray it. I knew that it was time to make a choice. As a control freak, letting God direct my steps was very difficult. I enjoyed the benefits of having Him in my life, but I still wanted that control. So here I was at the crossroads. Would I give my life to God? Would I let Him be real and active in my life? 

Sierra and I looked at many houses throughout the central eastern coast of Florida and ended up settling on a little beach town called Edgewater. I would be traveling for work, so I wanted to be close to the interstate, and my southern California raised wife wanted to be close to the ocean and not too far from Disney. Edgewater seemed to be the perfect fit. When we found a house just a couple miles from the beach, Chick-Fil-A, and a really good Chinese takeout place, we were instantly sold! My wife and I committed to making church apart of our lives again, which we had let slip over our years in college and beyond. We had attended periodically, but truly getting involved in a church was not something we had done. So when we arrived in Florida, it was a commitment we decided to make. We began to acknowledge our need for God in our marriage and understood we could not do it on our own. We tried a little church down the street on our first Sunday and knew right away it was not for us. I began to get discouraged and prayed, “God I am trying to follow you, but you need to help me here. Please show us where to go and lead us to the place where you want us!” All that was left to do was trust. Wow, did He come through in answering that prayer quickly and specifically!  

The following Saturday, I felt an intense and unusual urge to exercise (yes, I realize I need to get this urge more often). Our neighborhood had a clubhouse and gym, so I headed there for the first and maybe the only time in the whole time we lived there. I began to workout and minded my own business. I was not there to talk to anyone, and I was a little annoyed when I saw a lady coming over to start a conversation. Out of the blue, she asked, “Where do you go to church?” At first, I was stunned and then realized I was wearing a Providence Church t-shirt. It was a ministry of a friend of mine in Pontiac, and he always hooked me up with gear to wear. I told her that we had just moved and did not have a church as I went back to my workout. She interrupted me again and said, “You should go to Edgewater Alliance Church, they have a lot of families your age there.” I instantly felt in my heart that God was telling me that this was the place for us and He was leading us there. I later found out that that lady did not even go there. In fact, she was not even a believer! How cool is it that God can use whatever and whoever He wants to deliver a message?! The next day, Sierra and I walked into that church like most visitors do, timid and keeping to ourselves. We enjoyed the service, but what really hooked me was the announcement that today was softball sign up day. Another confirmation that this was the church for me. The service ended, and before we could even exit our row, a lady and her husband came over and asked us if we were new, where we lived, and basically our whole history. She then began to walk us around the auditorium and introduced us to couples. It was horrifying, but I knew it was exactly what God wanted for us (I am forever grateful to you Steve and Michelle for being used by God to connect us!). 

It was like an instant connection with these people. We had dinner with several families during the first week. I started softball, and as it turned out, most of the families we had met on Sunday were on the softball team and invited us to Orlando to go to Universal Studios the following Saturday. By the end of the Universal trip, we had made ten new best friends. God instantly grew us close with our new church family, and through growing close to them, we grew in His Word and as a couple. We began serving in the student ministry, ushering, and hosting a small group. God truly directed our paths to this church. Most of the people we met there have become family and lifelong friends. I can truly say I would not be in ministry today if God had not directed my paths to that gym and then to that church. 

It is amazing to see God direct our paths when we give up the control. We went into this journey not knowing what the future held, but He knew exactly what He was doing. I encourage you today to let go of your past, your failures, and your mistakes, and trust God for your future. Though you may not know what tomorrow will bring, when you place your trust in Him He will prove faithful and direct your path according to His perfect plan.



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