The Gospel

Of course, of all the examples of God’s provision, the greatest is Jesus.

Of course, right? Then why do I feel like I too often have to convince myself?

I’ve been struggling with this lately – believing I don’t need God. And not needing God breeds apathy. I know my Bible pretty well, I’m saved by Jesus, my sins aren’t that bad, I can take care of this myself, in a way that’s right for me…

What happens too often is that I forget the height from which I have fallen. I forget where I’ve been.

What I actually know to be true is that I can’t take care of things on my own. On my own, I spin laps chasing after my desires, I make decisions based on how I feel, and ultimately, I drown.

Weeks back, my 20 month old son was in the hospital for pneumonia. He was dehydrated, so they needed to get an IV in him. Except they couldn’t get it into his tiny little veins. So they had to try again and again and again. Twelve attempts before they could finally secure the line. In the middle of it all, I remember being at the top of the hospital bed, up by his head, face red from crying, hair damp from sweating, my heart broken into a zillion pieces. I stood there whispering to him that I would fix this all if I could, that I would take his place in a second if I was able to. I thought, God, you are able. Why aren’t you fixing this for him? And God responded, Jen, this is what I did for you. I saw you in your suffering, and I did take your place.

This is the gospel of Jesus.

God saw me in my sin, drowning in a mess of trying to do life my own way. He saw me dependent upon things of this world, things that don’t satisfy and don’t measure up. He saw me forever away from him because of it. And He fixed it.

What I love most about Genesis 22 is how it foreshadows the gospel. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son to him, his only son who he loves (vs 2), and Abraham prepares to do it. “Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife” (Genesis 22:6). Abraham carried the fire and the knife. In his hands, he held the means for killing his son.

God himself had the fire and the knife when it came to the sacrifice of Jesus. God himself would pour out his wrath, his holy and righteous anger for all evil and all sin, my evil and my sin, on his perfect, blameless son.

“Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven… ‘Don’t lay a hand on the boy,’” (Genesis 22:11-12). I can’t imagine Abraham’s relief.

Abraham was spared from having to kill his son. God provided a ram. But when God lifted up his fist to pour out his wrath on his son, there was no voice of authority over him, no one to tell him to stop, no one to provide an alternate sacrifice.

Jesus was there in my place. Jesus, God’s own son, whom he dearly loves (Mark 1:11).

How could I ever walk away from a God who loves me that much?

What would I have if I didn’t have His stability, His Word that never fails? What hope would I have in approaching this holy and righteous God if I was on my own?

“At three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Mark 15:34). And “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51).

The curtain that use to separate God from his people was ripped up. Access to God was granted. My life, forever changed.

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Stepping in: What do these verses tell you about God? What do they tell you about people?

Romans 3:23 – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Romans 6:23 – the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord

Hebrews 9:22 – without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness

Acts 16:31 – Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household

Ephesians 2:8-9 – for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast

John 3:16 – for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life

Journeying further: Think about your story – what was your behavior and attitude like when you first decided to follow Jesus? How have things changed?

Revelation 2:4-5 – You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen!

How do these verses help if we are tempted to be apathetic towards the gospel?

When it doesn’t work out

I know. It isn’t always so simple. Praying with requests and thanksgiving may not lead to instant peace. And just because you pray about something doesn’t mean God will automatically bend an outcome in your favor. So then what?

Months back, I was sensing a nudge to take action on something, but I was hesitant. My theory was that maybe if I just ignored the problem, it would fix itself. Instead, all over the place in scripture and in sermons, I kept hearing things that confirmed my nudge. I got everything ready to take this step of faith and actually began to grow excited about the way that God might use it. I needed one last thing and spent much time praying over it. But in that final piece, everything fell apart. My step of faith was shut down entirely.

I felt stupid, upset. I was so confused.

“I don’t get it, God. I felt so sure about direction from you… and now I’m stuck. Was it a test?…”

I sat in my basement and flipped open my Bible, heading for the story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis, where God is introduced as El Roi, the God who sees. I needed to know that God saw me in that moment, that I wasn’t entirely foolish.

Instead, my attention caught Genesis 22, titled “Abraham tested”. I had just journaled about being tested, so I started reading the story of Abraham and Isaac, a favorite of mine and one I had been through many times before. Abraham had been commanded by God to sacrifice his son. When they got near the area for sacrifice, Abraham “said to his servants, ‘stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). We. “We will worship and we will come back”. Abraham knew he was coming back with Isaac. Even though the command was to sacrifice his son, the original promise was that God would bless Abraham through Isaac. And Abraham hadn’t lost hope. He knew that God would provide, even when it looked like everything was falling apart. I journaled that night, “Abraham trusted that you would be faithful, because that is your character. And you were. Of course you were faithful. Of course you can be trusted.” His character never changes. He is Jehovah-jireh, He is the God who provides.

I think back over my life and can recount so many ways God has provided, ways that he has been faithful. Some responses seemed immediate, some came after waiting much longer than I would have liked. But He has always come through. And yet I still needed the reminder that night.

I continue to wait on God to take care of the original thing that I was never able to take action on. But I think back to that night often, that night he met me in my basement, answering my prayer to be seen, and even more, reminding me of who he is. While I wait, I see him move in different ways, in unexpected ways. I’m reminded that he is faithful. He can be trusted. He will provide.

Read: Genesis 22:1-19

Stepping in: Who are some people you trust and why do you trust them? Why do you think Abraham trusted God? How can this passage help you trust God?

Stepping in: Who are some people you trust and why do you trust them? Why do you think Abraham trusted God? How can this passage help you trust God?

Journeying further: In your life, what does it look like to obey God without delay? What gets in the way of that immediate response, and how can this passage help remind us of truth? How can we remember pieces of our own stories to remind us of God’s character?

A story

One summer night, I was washing dishes and thinking about the weekend ahead. We were planning to head to my in-laws, and my husband and I were in a bit of disagreement as to when we would travel. He wanted to go Friday night; I wanted to leave Saturday morning. I started scrubbing dishes harder and harder as I thought about how stupid I considered his idea to be. It obviously made most sense to do things my way and leave at a time best for the kids, which would ease every other aspect of travel. Why couldn’t he see that?? As I stood there, scrubbing and stewing over how I couldn’t believe that this was even an issue, God reminded me of a verse I had studied earlier in the week. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable…” (Philippians 4:4-9 NLT). Ugh. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible sigh as I rolled my eyes and considered how much I didn’t want to think about things that were pure and lovely in that moment that I was mad and certain I was right. But I had a choice – I could give this moment to God, stop worrying and pray, or I could continue to fight for what I wanted.

I give my kids a hard time when they act like it is physically painful to take a nap, get their hair washed or eat a bite of spaghetti, but I’m not sure I’m always that different. If anyone could have seen my inner fit, they would have thought it physically painful for me to step away from those dishes and walk into my front room to pray. What if I gave this to God and didn’t get my way? How would my husband know I was right? If I had to stop and redirect my thinking, shouldn’t my husband have to, too?

I surrendered, “God, your Word says I don’t have to worry about anything, that instead I can come to you. I am commanded to come to you. Would you take care of this? Would you let us know when to travel? And if we go Friday night, would you please let the kids sleep well so I can sleep?”

I went back to my dishes and focused on things that were true: if we leave Friday night and the kids have a fit in the car, we could pull over and stop somewhere; if they sleep terrible, I could take a nap the next day; if I forget something while I’m packing everything up myself, we could go to the store… sometimes I hate being rational.

The verse also says that when you put his words into practice, “The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). It was true. By that next morning, I had a peace about when we would travel. It wasn’t for me to worry about. I had given it to God, and he would take care of it. I told my husband we could do whatever he wanted, and I genuinely was okay with it.

We left Friday night.

And my kids slept fine, and I slept fine, and we had a wonderful weekend with family.

But what really put me in my place was during the nearly 3 hour drive Friday night, my husband talked the whole way about his job and the rough, stressful week he had. The entire time, I couldn’t stop thanking God for intervening, for reminding me of his Word and for keeping me from picking a fight and being one more stressor to my husband’s already-awful week.

Read: Philippians 4:4-9

Stepping in: How does your perspective change if you come to God, telling him what you need and thanking him for all he has done? How does your perspective change if you fix your thoughts on things that are true, honorable, right, etc.?

Journeying further: There are a lot of commands within this text. Are some easier to obey than others? What lies get in the way of obedience to them all, and how do we overcome those lies?

The invitation

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I teach the elementary kids on Sundays, and the other week, we were studying Mark Chapter 6, the story of Jesus feeding 5000. I take teaching very seriously, so naturally, I jump to the most important aspect and hit up Piggly Wiggly to buy 5000 pretzels for the cheapest visual I could come up with. Sixteen family sized bags!

But as I set out the bags all over the floor for the kids to see and hold out the two crackers and five goldfish crackers that represented what the disciples had, I myself was humbled by what little those men had to offer Jesus. No way could they have been able to serve the crowd. In fact, they didn’t even want to try (Mark 6:36). But Jesus invites them in. “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). You. He instructs the disciples to take care of it. He doesn’t offer, “I will feed them”, even though he was the only one who actually had the power to provide. He invited them into his work.

I started dumping out some pretzels onto our picnic blanket and asked the kids how on earth we could possibly get enough cracker pieces to match each pretzel. They thought maybe if we smashed the crackers small enough, we could evenly distribute the crumbs. Just what I would have wanted at the end of a long day with Jesus, a breadcrumb.

But the miracle here isn’t just that Jesus looks up to heaven and multiplies the bread and fish to barely be enough. He doesn’t even multiply it to be exactly enough. And he’s God, so I’m sure he knew exactly how much the people were going to eat. No, Jesus takes a small, seemingly worthless offering, and he multiplies it into abundance. Twelve baskets of leftovers were collected.

While I think it would have been amazing to have been a part of that scene, I almost think it is more amazing to witness this in our own lives. A simple prayer, a deep breath and patient response during conflict, a phone call, a text… all small, seemingly worthless offerings that I have seen God multiply into abundance.

It’s crazy to me. The gospel of Jesus continually blows my mind. Over and over, I find myself thinking it just doesn’t make sense that this God who doesn’t need a thing from his people would willingly choose to pour himself out for us, would continually choose to invite us in. And even when it seems like all we have to offer is worthless, we can still see him move in abundance, because it is never about what we have to offer.

Read: Mark 6:30 – 44

Stepping in: What do we learn about Jesus from this passage?

Journeying further: The disciples saw a need and wanted to push it away, but Jesus told them to take care of it. What is a need that you notice around you? What could you bring to Jesus that he might use you to fulfill the need?

The Journey Begins


“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Jesus

Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

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