That we might become His righteousness

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

How is this possible? How can we possibly be called the “righteousness of God?” The truth is, it isn’t possible through human effort, but God made it possible through Christ.

This is the great exchange. We were sinful, separated, and dying, but Christ took our sin, our separation and death, that we might become  the righteous children of God having eternal life. The sinless Savior became sin that we might become God’s righteousness.

Receiving Christ, we receive His righteousness. Our spiritual account was overdrawn and accumulating service charges, but receiving Christ, our account was reconciled and paid in full.

Yet, this reconciliation is not all that results from receiving Christ’s righteousness. The Scripture says that “we might become.” The Greek word for “might become” has the sense not only of “possibility,” but also of “growth.” God has already made it possible, but we must receive this righteousness in order to obtain it. And having received it, we are also to “grow” in His righteousness. As Paul told Timothy, we are to pursue it.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV).”

Why “pursue” that which has already been given to us? We were given a body at birth, yet it still needs to grow. Receiving Christ, we are given His righteousness, yet we are to continually yield our lives to Christ, so that we grow in displaying God’s righteousness in our lives. This is the sanctifying work that God is doing in us. He has made, is making, and will make us His righteousness!

As you listen to an old favorite recording of mine by the group Acappella, consider what it means that “we might become His righteousness.”

Do you have a generosity plan for 2016?

Baseball“He who has a generous eye will be blessed” (Proverbs 22:9 NKJV).

What does it mean to have a “generous eye?” The Hebrew word translated “generous” might also be translated as “bountiful, merciful, or good.” A generous eye is a good eye.

When I played Little League baseball as a kid, and stood fast at bat on a bad pitch, the coach would yell, “Good eye Combs!” Referring to the way I didn’t swing. You see, to have a “good eye” in baseball means that the batter is looking for a good pitch to swing at.

But what does it mean to have a “generous eye?” I think it means to be looking for an opportunity to be generous. It means to live with a predisposition for intentional generosity. Just as a good batter visualizes the type of pitch he wants to hit, so the one with a generous eye has a plan for being generous.

A generosity plan?

Who ever heard of having a generosity plan? Plans to save, plans to pay off debt, plans to buy a house or fund your children’s college education… these are plans we’ve heard of and hopefully made. But a plan to give stuff away? That’s crazy!

Yet, God’s Word promises that the one with a “generous eye will be blessed.” Those with a predisposition towards generosity will experience the blessing of God. It is God Himself who promises to generously bless the one, who in generosity, blesses others.

So, how might we make a generosity plan? Here are a few questions to consider that may help:

  1. How much did you give to your church, to missions and other charities last year?
  2. Did you give what you think you should have given?
  3. What would a generous amount have been? (Keep in mind that 10% of our income belongs to God as a tithe to our local church. This is an expression of faith and obedience. So, generosity has an eye to exceed this amount in giving.)
  4. Where do you need to reduce spending on yourself in order to make margin for generosity this year?
  5. Do you have a plan to keep some money on hand for those moments when God stirs your heart to give or help someone in need? (I try to keep some cash on hand with me that I call my “Jesus money.” When Jesus stirs my heart, I give it away.)

Those who desire to receive God’s blessing have to stop blessing themselves so much to make room for blessing others. This won’t happen by accident. We must be intentional about it. As the apostle Paul said, “… arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift” (2 Corinthians 9:5).

I’m evaluating my 2015 generosity and asking God to enable me to be more generous in 2016. I want to experience the blessing of God that comes through having an eye for intentional generosity. I’m making a generosity plan.

Will you join with me in praying to have a more “generous eye” in 2016?

Do you know the grace of generosity?

Christmas Missions Offering“You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT).

“Generosity is what keeps the things we own from owning us” (Anonymous).

Many of us begin thinking and planning what we will give to our families for Christmas months before the day arrives. Gift giving is the climax of Christmas. Certainly, this practice must originate in the greatest gift of all, which is the gift of Christ. Did you know that God planned to give us the gift of His Son not just months before, but centuries before His birth?

“Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live” (Galatians 1:4 NLT).

With all the time and money we spend preparing to give gifts to those we love, have you considered what you’re going to give to Jesus this Christmas?

This coming weekend we are offering four services, two on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning. I don’t know which service you’re planning on attending, but I hope you’re also planning to bring two gifts:

  1. Your tithe. This is your regular giving back to God of a tenth of your income  which expresses your belief that God is both the Source and the Owner of all things. Your tithe goes towards the church’s ongoing gospel ministry work.
  2. Your Christmas offering. This is a sacrificial gift given above and beyond your tithe. Pray about an amount that would stretch you in your generosity. Our church is giving this entire offering away to help support our international mission partners.

Generosity doesn’t come naturally. It is a grace we receive from Jesus. Having received this grace, it is a spiritual habit that must be developed by planning and then acting with generosity.

What are you planning to give Jesus this year? After all, it’s His birthday!

Why we’re doing “Rockin’ Christmas”

Rockin' Christmas“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (which means, God with us)”(Matthew 1:22-23 ESV).

Some have been wondering why we’re doing an event that has such a secular feel to it. With a promotional title like “WCC’s Rockin’ Christmas,” a tagline saying, “A Holiday Experience That Will Rock Your World,” and well, the program itself, that begins with secular Christmas music and feels so performance driven… Some are saying, “This doesn’t feel at all like church!”

Our answer: It’s not supposed to feel like church.

We’re not trying to reach “church people.” We’re trying to invite people who celebrate Christmas, but don’t go to church. We want this event to be something that WCCers can invite their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to as a gift to them at Christmas. We promise that they will hear Christmas music that is both popular and familiar, all presented with excellence. We hope to entertain and inspire. But most of all, we hope to offer them the greatest gift of all…

… a clear presentation of the gospel within the Christmas story.

Which, by the way, includes the reality that God sent His Son as Immanuel (God with us). Christ Jesus left the eternal worship service taking place in heaven and came to us. He revealed the Father to us by becoming one of us. He communicated the love of the Father to us in a language we could understand. So, now we’re hoping to communicate the love of Christ to our community in a language that they can understand.

Our “Rockin’ Christmas” event is our way of offering the true gift of Christmas to our community. So, when you’re thinking about who to invite, consider that person who celebrates Christmas, but doesn’t go to church. That’s who this event is really hoping to touch.

 

Reprinted from December 2014.

I don’t feel any different

Checkin“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13 ESV).

My wife and I married when were very young. When we arrived at the hotel to check-in to the honeymoon suite that I had reserved for us on our wedding night, I was very nervous. I had never been in charge before. The few times I had ever stayed at a hotel some grownup had always checked in for me. But now, I was supposed to be the grownup. As we approached the check-in desk, the lady behind the counter said, “May I help you?”

Even though I had been mentally rehearsing my response from the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, my voice croaked as I replied, “Yes, um… we’re Mr. and Mrs. um… Gary Combs and um… we have reservations…”

I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but the clerk looked at me like she thought I was lying. I felt like she was going to ask for proof or something. Like she might want us to show her our rings or produce our marriage license. But she simply said, “Ah yes, we have it right here. Yes, the bridal suite for Mr. and Mrs. Gary Combs for three nights. And by the way, congratulations!”

“Thank you.” I muttered, relieved that she had actually believed me.

Right after our wedding day, I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel married yet. Intellectually I knew that I was married. I knew that we had taken all the appropriate steps of commitment together. We had said the “I dos.” But my feelings took a little longer to catch up.

Sometimes new believers express a similar sentiment. Right after they commit their lives to Christ, they have doubts about their salvation, saying, “But I don’t feel any different.”

Perhaps they expected to have an experience like the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. In their minds, they wonder, “Where was the bright light and the audible voice?”

Yet, God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We are to put our faith in His promises, not in our feelings. Feelings are fickle, but God’s Word is firm. When we trust God’s Word, our feelings will eventually follow.

Perhaps the recipients of the apostle John’s first letter were struggling in the same way. They needed assurance of their salvation. So, John wrote to them to give them confidence. He said they could “know” that they had eternal life because they had “believed” into the name of God’s Son. They didn’t have to worry or work to be sure. They could “know” that they were saved because they had believed in Jesus.

In many ways, getting saved is like getting married. Have you given your life to Jesus? And do you believe that He has already given His life for you?

Good. Now, stand on that profession of faith. Walk it out. For some people, the feelings will wash over them like a flood in the very moment they commit. Yet for others, the feelings will follow later.

Why Eastgate?

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Eastgate’s 1st preview service on June 28, 2015!

“But He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:38 NKJV).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV).

This coming Sunday, September 27, 2015, we are launching a new church location in Rocky Mount, North Carolina called Eastgate Community Church. We have been planning and working on this launch for two years. My son, Jonathan Combs, will be the Lead Pastor. He worked with us as a church planter intern for a year, learning about church planting and leadership, doing demographic studies of nearby towns, raising startup monies, and other ministry tasks, all while still working full time at a drugstore in Wake Forest, NC and serving as a Chaplain in the North Carolina National Guard.

11703297_1687075254849194_7042805752606223722_nThis past year, Jonathan and his wife, Nicole moved to Rocky Mount. They took over leadership of our Castalia community group, whose members were driving an hour to attend WCC. And they have now helped launch two new groups in the Rocky Mount area. In June, they held their first public worship service at Rocky Mount Academy. This was the first of three “preview services” that they have held. The purpose of these preview services is to attract interest, train volunteers and to build momentum before the launch. A lot of work has gone into preparing for this coming Sunday!

As we pray and prepare for the Eastgate launch this coming Sunday, there are still some who may have questions about why and how we’re doing this. Questions like…

“Why plant another church? Isn’t there enough to do in Wilson?

When the Lord was asked by his disciples about focusing on ministry in one town, he answered, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

Jesus was crystal clear about his purpose. He came to preach the gospel throughout Israel. Then, after his resurrection, he commissioned his disciples to carry the gospel throughout the whole world. He even gave them a strategy as recorded in Acts 1:8, to be witnesses of the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In other words, start at home, then to your region, remember the people groups near you, but not like you, and finally reaching out to the world. Applying this strategy to our setting we might say, “We want to be witnesses in Wilson, in Eastern NC, to unique people groups near us, and to other nations in the whole world.”

“Why Rocky Mount? Don’t they already have enough churches?”

The short answer is: Rocky Mount is in our “Judea,” it’s within our Eastern NC regional assignment. It’s the “next town” near us. But there are also many reasons that we felt called to go to Rocky Mount over another Eastern NC town.

One reason is demographics. At a population of 57,136 (Wilson’s is 49,610), it is the largest city within a 30 minute drive of Wilson. According to surveys, over 31,000 of them don’t attend church. We’d like to change that. The current churches in Rocky Mount have reached 45% of the population. There is not only a need for one more church, there’s room for many more.

Another reason is that we already had people driving from the area to WCC. We wanted to go towards them, so that they would have access to a local church and so that they could actually help us plant and grow Eastgate.

Christ’s command to reach out to our “Judea,” the evidence of demographics, the people already driving from there to us, these all contributed to our decision to go to Rocky Mount. Yet, the most important reason was a sense of confirmation from God through prayer. Our leaders have been praying about this for several years now. We feel called to Rocky Mount.

Of course, as we continue to answer Christ’s call to reach out to Eastern NC, we will be prayerfully considering other locations for future church plants. Recent studies indicate that Eastern NC is the most under-churched region in North Carolina. We need more gospel centered churches here!

Is Eastgate a separate church from WCC?

No. We are one church, three locations (Don’t forget our Hispanic service). Eastgate will have its own pastor, local leaders, volunteers, and budget, but they will follow the same leadership and DNA culture as WCC. What we are doing is called “multisite” church planting. But we will not be doing video broadcasting of my sermons in all locations as some multisite churches do. We have developed a preaching team that will preach the same sermons live in all locations. If I’m preaching on prayer, then Pastor Jonathan will be preaching on prayer (and so will Pastor Miguel).

How can WCC afford to plant another church?

How can we afford not to? We haven’t been called to build our own kingdom, but to join Christ in His work of kingdom building. Yet, we are being very conservative in our finances as we seek to grow. For this reason, up until now, other than sending volunteers and sharing physical resources that we already owned, like trailers and sound equipment, we haven’t had to support Eastgate financially. They have raised their own financial support.

Pray for our “Judea.”

I don’t know if I’ve answered all the questions you may have about Eastgate. We’ve tried to be transparent and clear about our process all along the way. If you have more questions, let us know. We want you to be confident and clear in our vision to follow Christ’s Acts 1:8 strategy.

So, will you join us in praying for our “Judea.” There are many who are far from God in our region of Eastern NC. We have a calling on our lives to share the gospel with them. And especially pray for our Eastgate launch this Sunday!

“Let us go to the next towns” that we may plant churches and preach the gospel there!

 

 

 

 

 

Books I’ve recently recommended…

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV).

While I know that I am at risk of going against Solomon’s advice and recommending too many books, I would like to list several in response to the many requests I have received. These are all books that I have recommended in connection to our last two sermon series.

Books I recommended during our “Faith and Family” series…

… on parenting:

ShepherdingShepherding a Child’s Heart by Dr. Tedd Tripp

This is one of the best books on parenting from a biblical perspective that I have in my library. Dr. Tripp teaches parents how to aim their efforts at heart change, rather just behavior change. We want more than just good kids, we want saved kids. Dr. Tripp teaches us how.

 

DontMakeMeCountDon’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard

In a book that Hubbard refers to as “a mom’s look at heart-oriented discipline,” she follows Dr. Tripp’s approach, while offering even more specific discipline strategies for moms. For those that want more than theory, this book is as practical as they come.

 

LeadingKidsLeading Kids to Jesus: How to Have One-on-One Conversations about Faith by David Staal

So many parents have question about this topic. Staal addresses questions of when and how to have spiritual conversations that your child can understand. Every Christian parent should read this book.

 

 

…on marriage:

SpeakingNow You’re Speaking My Language: Honest Communication and Deeper Intimacy for a Stronger Marriage by Dr. Gary Chapman

Dr. Chapman, also the author of The Five Love Languages, offers a very helpful book on communication in marriage. In my experience, poor communication is the number one cause of marital distress.

 

GraceGrace Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel

Kimmel, who has also written an excellent book entitled, Grace Filled Parenting, has written a very helpful book for couples that helps them understand the importance of grace and forgiveness in their marriage. A marriage without grace will eventually lead to bitterness.

 

 

…on singleness:

SingleSingleness: How to Be Single and Satisfied by June Hunt

I found Hunt’s book to be very helpful in preparing my sermon on how singles can live spiritually fulfilling lives. I think our singles will find this book very encouraging.

 

 

RedeemingRedeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak

Our church has often overlooked the singles in our fellowship, but we are trying to change. Reading books like this helps. Danylak makes a very insightful case for the biblical significance of singleness.

 

 

Books I recommended during our “The Rhythm of Prayer” series… 

PrayerPrayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster

Foster’s book is one of the most helpful on prayer that I have in my library. His insightful way of organizing types of prayers according to three prayer movements is particularly encouraging. Read this book to change your prayer life and to learn new ways of praying.

 

PrayerKellerPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller

Keller writes as a pastor to his flock, but also as an academic to his students. This book is both for the one who needs help in their prayer life and also for the one who would understand the purpose and practices of prayer more fully. A very readable and helpful book.

 

FreshFresh Encounters: Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer by Daniel Henderson

My son, Stephen, recommended this book to me. I took it on my first of the year study break. It was the inspiration for our prayer series and prayer emphasis for this season. Henderson has convinced me that our church needs to grow in its commitment to corporate prayer, not just teaching on prayer, but actually spending time together in prayer.

Well, that’s all for now. I hope these books are an encouragement to you as you seek to grow in your faith.

Boda-boda gospel partners

” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV).

As I traveled with Pastor George Mbonye to reach out to the Batwa Pygmies near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the Kanungu District of Uganda, it became clear to me that transportation is a key ingredient to effectively carrying the gospel to this region. The roads there are terrible and barely deserve the name. Most of the pastors either walk or ride bicycles to visit their churches and their members.

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Pastor George Mbonye & Johnny Kinton

Pastor George is one of the fortunate few that own a dirt bike. Or as the people of Uganda call them, a “Boda-boda.” This gives him the ability to traverse the difficult terrain and visit the many people groups that he is trying to reach with the gospel and plant more churches.

One of the pastors that helps George lead the churches in the Kisoro Baptist Association, is Pastor Wilson. He tries to visit all of the 20+ churches regularly on his bicycle. But as you might imagine, this is very physically demanding. And it also means that he can’t get around to all the churches as often as is needed.

One of the prayer requests that Pastor George and Pastor Wilson asked me to remember is this need for transportation. When I asked Pastor Wilson how much he needed to get a Boda, he replied, “My church has already raised 2 million shillings, but we need 4 million more to get a Boda that can handle the terrain.”

As I quickly checked my currency converter app, I realized that 4 million Ugandan Shillings is only about $1200. So, I told Pastor Wilson that I would ask WCC members to not only pray, but to partner with him for a motorcycle.

After all, with a name like “Pastor Wilson,” shouldn’t we already recognize our partnership?

If you desire to partner with us in this, please designate your offering “Uganda Boda-boda.” We’ll make sure Pastor Wilson gets it, so the gospel can be carried with greater effectiveness in Uganda.

Of gentleness, scarves, and neckties

RuthBut we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ESV).

We just returned from our second two-week mission trip to Uganda. My wife, Robin, and I led a 4-day Pastors and Pastor’s Wives Conference in Kisoro, Uganda for the Kisoro Baptist Association. On the last day of the conference, we gave out a few small gifts that church members in America had donated.

Pastor George Mbonye was our host again this year. He asked me to teach leadership principles from Nehemiah and he asked Robin to teach the book of Ruth.  So, my partner, Mike Laramee, and I spent the first two days of the conference teaching from Nehemiah and the final two days teaching how to preach through a book of the Bible using the book of Jonah as an example. Robin and her teaching partner, Donnas Kinton, taught a chapter a day from Ruth for the four days.

RobinScarfRobin gave the women small bottles of lotion and crochet scarves to illustrate the way that Ruth had prepared herself before going to Boaz on the threshing floor in Ruth 3. The women were very thankful and excited to receive these gifts. Robin said they actually danced after receiving their scarves. The joy and gentleness with which they responded was very moving. Robin felt such affection for these women.

GeorgeWe gave Pastor George several preaching books for the Bible school he is building for local pastors. We also gave each pastor a journal notebook, a WCC pen, and a copy of Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. The surprising highlight of our gift giving time was the suitcase full of neckties that we gave away. We told the pastors to pick two ties each. They took great care in choosing ties that they thought would match their clothes.

NecktiesThere was only one problem: Most of them didn’t know how to tie a necktie. So, Mike and I ended up doing a necktie-tying clinic. My problem was that I can’t really tie a necktie on someone else, so I had to tie it on myself and then slip it over my head onto theirs. There was much laughter and good-natured fun during this time. The Ugandan pastors are so humble and gentle in their demeanor that it keeps me coming back to invest in them and in their gospel ministries.

In America, we can often be so brash and sarcastic in our communication with one another. But the Uganda Christians are so humble and gentle. The way they would introduce us to their church members was so honoring to us.

Intro“This is Pastor Gary from Wilson Community Church in North Carolina, USA. How many of you remember him?” Pastor George would ask at each church, as hands shot up and smiling faces nodded. Followed by, “And who remembers his wife, Mama Robinah?” To which many hands would go up around the church.

They made us feel like family. As the apostle Paul said, we shared not only the gospel with them, but our own selves because they have become very dear to us.