Author Archives: Sierra Combs

Pain and Promises

Excuses | Devotion 6: Pain and Promises
Sierra Combs

Sometimes we bring a lot of pain upon ourselves. We sin, we do things we know we should not, and we have to pay the consequences. Yet other times, we just get a bad deal. Sometimes the storms of life or wrath of other people just beat down on us seemingly out of nowhere and for no reason. Maybe you are experiencing this right now. You might be trying your best, working hard, and doing everything you are supposed to do, but the trouble keeps coming.

A similar scenario happened for the Israelites in Exodus chapter 5. Here they were, a giant group of people enslaved by the Egyptians, doing their daily job of making bricks, when the trouble came. In the previous chapters, we see God telling Moses that he is the guy who God was going to use to free His people. God told Moses exactly what to do and what to say to Pharaoh, asking him to let the Israelites go so they could worship God. God even told Moses that Pharaoh was going to reject his request and make things difficult for him and the nation of Israel before the promise was fulfilled. This is exactly what happened. After hearing from Moses, Pharaoh not only rejected his request but also decided to take it out on the Israelites by making their work impossible. He immediately took away the materials they needed to make bricks while demanding they make the same amount as before. When they did not meet the quota, they were brutally beaten and abused. To say the Israelites were unhappy is an understatement. Instead of running to God or even to Moses, they instead ran to Pharaoh in hopes of finding a solution. “Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, ‘Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people’’” (Exodus 5:15-16). Pharaoh basically told them that it was not his problem, to stop being lazy, and to figure it out or pay the consequence. As terrified and angry as the Israelites were with Pharaoh, they were even more furious with Moses, who they had just warmly welcomed as their deliverer. When they see him they yell, “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!” (5:21 NLT). Here they were, wishing curses and judgment upon Moses, the one who was sent by God to liberate them. Unfortunately, bad attitudes did not stop with them. Verses 22-23 (NLT) tell us, “Moses went back to the Lord and protested, ‘Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!’”

We can see that when the trouble came, Moses and the Israelites did not respond well. Notice how quickly they had forgotten what God had promised them. Not only did He promise to deliver them, but He also warned them that it was not going to be a simple path. Pharaoh was not going to make it easy. It was going to take some time, and it was going to be difficult and chaotic. Even though they did not bring this chaos on themselves, they quickly let their bad attitudes and lack of faith get the best of them.

The same is so often true for us. God has given us some pretty amazing promises, all of them true and all of them worth it. But He does not promise that the road to their fulfillment will be easy. Instead, He gently reminds us that in this world we will face a variety of trials and tribulations. This world is full of trouble and chaos, some of which we bring upon ourselves and some that are a natural result of the fallen sin-filled world that we live. It is unavoidable, and the enemy is not going to make it easy for us. But God’s way is always the best way! I encourage you today to keep pressing forward. Do not forget or doubt the promises He has made to you. Trust in His perfect plan, and I promise that it will be worth it in the end!

You’ve Never Failed Me Yet

Commit | Devotion #4: You’ve Never Failed Me Yet
Sierra Combs | Women’s Ministry Director

Recently, the mother of a sweet friend of mine had a massive brain aneurysm and stroke, which led to her being unresponsive in the hospital for a month. This month was filled with prayer: prayers from her family and friends, from the girls in our Wednesday night Growth Community, and from pastors both here at the River and at other churches in the community. We prayed that God would miraculously heal her, knowing that He has complete power and authority to do so. We also prayed that He would bring comfort and peace to those who loved her and trusted in Him, knowing that He would be faithful to deliver on that promise. My friend spent much of the month at the hospital, and every Sunday she sat right next to her mom watching the live gatherings online, singing along to the worship. One Sunday she sent me a text during the message, and I told her that I would soon be closing with one of my favorite songs which include the lyrics: 

“I’ve seen you move the mountains,
and I believe I’ll see you do it again.
You made a way when there was no way,
and I believe I’ll see you do it again.
Your promise still stands,
great is Your faithfulness.
I’m still in Your hands,
this is my confidence-
You’ve never failed me yet.” 

Since I could not be praying with her in person, I figured the next best thing I could do would be to dedicate that whole song in my heart in prayer for her mom, and as she sang along with me from the hospital, it could be like we were praying together. Even though it can be difficult, placing our trust, lives, and the lives of those we love in the hands of God, it will always be for our benefit. He is so faithful, even when we cannot see it or understand His ways. Friend, I assure you that you can trust Him. 

I was really hoping that God would choose to heal her, but after a month it was clear that the time had come for the family to let her go. Like many of those other Sundays, my friend spent the morning in the hospital next to her mom, watching the gathering live, and worshiping with us. This time I closed with another favorite song, singing over and over about how good God is and how He will never let us down. The whole family was in that room that morning, singing those words with me. As we sang, my friend’s dad, the high school sweetheart to his beloved wife, sat and whispered those words in her ear as she passed on from this life and leapt straight into the hands of her Heavenly Father.

I am so thankful for what Jesus did on the cross. Without it, there would be only death. However, because of what He did, we have the opportunity to leap into the arms of the Father when it comes time for us to leave this Earth. Jesus acknowledges this as He drew His final breath on the cross, “Calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’” (Luke 23:46). Surely there is no better place to be than in the arms of the Father. Whether committing our spirit to the Lord when we leave this Earth, or placing every single worry, fear, and situation right into His hands while we are still here, I can promise you this: He is good, He is faithful, and He will never ever let us down.

The Comma

Paradise | Devotion #5: The Comma
Sierra Combs | Women’s Ministry Director

English was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I have always enjoyed writing, and while I have lightened up considerably over the years, there was a time when I was a bit of a grammar and punctuation snob. Commas, in particular, are something that I have always been extremely fond of, as they can enrich the structure of the sentence and give room for added color. They really are extremely important. There are a few internet memes that stress this importance. Take for example: “I like cooking, my family, and my pets.” Now take out the commas: “I like cooking my family and my pets.” This is problematic. Another example: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” versus “Let’s eat Grandma!” As the internet meme wisely points out, commas save lives! 

All joking aside, you might be interested to learn that the scribes who recorded Scripture in its origin did not use punctuation, as is did not exist yet in the Hebrew and Greek that the Bible was originally written. It was not until many centuries later when translators would study the context and meaning of the passages and add punctuation as they saw fit. There are a few places in the Bible that have comma discrepancies. Usually, they really are not that big of a deal and do not theologically alter the meaning of the passage. However, in the book of Luke, we find one passage that has two differing opinions and they revolve around the comma placement. Luke 23:43 tells us the dialogue between Jesus and the thief next to Him as they both awaited their deaths on a cross. This thief believed that Jesus was the Messiah and boldly asked Him to remember him when Jesus entered into His kingdom. Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This is likely how you have always read this verse, as every major Bible translation inserts the comma before the word “today,” all agreeing that Jesus was telling the thief that he would be in paradise with Him on that very same day. 

However, there are many theologians who argue that the comma is misplaced, which changes the entire meaning of the verse. They argue that the verse should read “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise,” implying that while the thief would indeed one day see Jesus again in Heaven, it would not necessarily be that very day. Instead, he would go to the grave like everyone else, waiting to one day be resurrected upon Jesus’ return, and enter into His Kingdom at that point. It really is quite an interesting debate, one in which I will not get into here. In the end, only one thing matters. Over 2,000 years ago a sinner hung on a cross next to the Savior. Even though he was wretched, even though he was condemned, and even though he was sentenced to death for his sins, he recognized his desperate need for a Savior and realized that this Savior was Jesus. 

Here is the best part! Aside from recognizing his need and asking Jesus to remember him, this man did nothing to earn the response Jesus gave him. He did not have to do a bunch of good works, or pray a very specific prayer in a certain way, or have someone come and take him off the cross for a couple of minutes so that he could get baptized. No. All he had to do was recognize that he was a sinner in need of a savior, and call upon the name of Jesus. 

Whichever side of the theological fence (or comma!) you land, remember that what really matters is this great promise of the Gospel – for those of us who have called upon Jesus to be our Savior, we will be with Him forever in Paradise!

Puppy Love

The Gift of Eternal Life | Devotion #4: Puppy Love
Sierra Combs | Women’s Director

Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love the lights; I love the music. I love the sights, the smells, the cheer, the snow, and the excitement in my kids’ eyes. I love the presents under the tree. I love the bells that ring at grocery store doors and the cheesy movies that play on the Hallmark Channel. I just love it all. As soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over my heart jumps straight into Christmas and for the whole next month, I feel like a giddy little child.

I remember when I was around 11 or 12 and I just had to have a puppy. I begged for what seemed like years. I wrote lists of every single responsibility that came with being a dog owner and promised to do them all. I even rewrote Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” into “All I want for Christmas is a dog.” It was a full-length version that I performed with choreography for my parents several times from probably October to December. My talent for song and dance clearly must have shown through because sure enough, that Christmas morning I was awakened by the cutest little beagle puppy with a giant red bow licking my face. At that time in my life, there was no greater gift that I could imagine receiving. It was something that I had longed for, I had begged for, and here it finally was. It did not take long before it was apparent that I did not deserve that gift. The puppy grew and quickly lost its luster. Everything that I said I would do to take care of it soon became the bane of my existence. I probably should not admit this, but it took me the last 15 minutes to even remember the dog’s name.  

When I think back to so many other years, I recall similar stories. We have the best time in the world opening our gifts on Christmas morning only just to toss them aside and forget about them a few weeks or months later. We tend to get so wrapped up into what we are giving and receiving, that we forget about the perfect, everlasting Gift that was given to us a couple of thousand years ago. It is a gift for which the waiting world had been longing. It is a gift that will never lose its luster. When the gift arrived, it was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. His name is Jesus, and He is the most amazing gift that was ever given to the world.

Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here we see some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that there is a penalty for sin, and that is death. Guess what? We are all sinners. We are all deserving of complete and eternal separation from God because of our sin. But praise the good Lord, there is a “but” in there, “But the free gift of God is eternal life.” 

Think back to the gifts you have been given throughout the years. You did not have to pay for them and did nothing to earn them. You just had to open and receive them. While our wage (something that we have earned) is death, Jesus gives us the gift of eternal life. That gift is totally free! We do not deserve it, and we can never earn it. If we could, it would be a reward, not a gift. All you have to do is receive it. Jesus loves you so much that He saw that wage on your life- the one you earned by your sin- and paid it for you. It cost Him His life. He died that death on a cross to pay that penalty for you. He loves you and wants to have a relationship with you! If you have yet to receive this free gift of eternal life, today is the day to unwrap the most incredible gift ever given! Merry Christmas! 


Remember It | Devotion #4: Five-Year-Old
Sierra Combs | Women’s Ministry Director

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Most of us know those words. We know the tune and sing it every so often in church or in the shower. “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” If you are like me, maybe you belt it out in the car and add a few soulful runs in there (which is funny, because in a corporate worship setting you will rarely find me doing soulful runs. But if I am by myself in the car, you can just go ahead and call me Mariah Carey). I have been singing this song since I was a child, and the words are so good and so true, but if I am honest, I tend to pay more attention to my fun, soulful singing than to what is actually being sung. Amazing is the grace that saved a wretch like me. Am I a wretch? A quick trip to the dictionary tells me that a wretch is a miserable, despicable, or contemptible person. Its synonyms are words like a villain, criminal, miscreant, and good-for-nothing. Those are strong words. I have known the amazing grace of Jesus since I was very young, and I do not always relate to the above words from back in my BC (before Christ) days. Actually, I do not even remember many of my BC days. Sometimes pride will sneak in and say, “I mean yes Sierra, you are a sinner. But certainly, you were not a 5-year-old miserable villain. That seems exaggerated.” Then I am quickly reminded, “Yes, that cute and sweet little gap-toothed 5-year-old was still a wretch in desperate need of a Savior.” 

Maybe you have a completely different story than mine and can remember your BC days well. You can totally remember the completely wretched state of life before Christ, and the absolute joy that came from Him breaking the chains of all of your bondage and shame. Those memories are a gift, and I pray that you never forget them. Use them to share your story and to remind people of what God rescued you from. Use them to keep your passion for Christ at the forefront of your mind. He saved you, and that is the most miraculous gift you will ever receive! Or, maybe you are like me. Maybe God stirred in your soul and convicted you of your sin at such a young age that you do not really remember life without Him. This is also a gift. I am so thankful that I have had the Holy Spirit living inside of me for so long, guiding me and convicting me of my sins before I let them grow and follow a path that only leads to major pain and major problems.

I am thankful that while my sin was heavy, my baggage is light. I owe that to Him and am forever thankful. But often times I still forget the gravity from what I was saved. Without Christ, we are all absolutely hopeless. In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells the church at Ephesus what not to forget, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). This non-Jewish group of people seemed to be forgetting that before Christ had come, they had no hope. They did not even know who the true God was. When Christ came, He opened the door of salvation to not only the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, but also to every other human being on the planet. He gave them and us full access to God the Father and a ticket out of what we all deserve – total and eternal separation from Him in Hell. The Ephesian church, and often times many of us, tend to forget how absolutely miserable our lives were and would have been without Him. Verse 13 goes on to say, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He meets us where we are at, saves us from a hopeless existence, and brings us near to God by His shed blood on the cross. That is something I want to cling to and remember every single day of my life!

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