Jesus Saves? (From Ersatz to Emmanuel)

I recently read someone’s belief that if God did nothing other than save us from hell, we’d have nothing to complain about.

The argument is that even if our lives were left an absolute mess, how could we complain to the Jesus who created us and saves us from eternal condemnation?

It’s not that I disagree.  I get the argument that if God is God (and we aren’t) then by definition anything He gives us is grace.

But a save us and leave us God would be hard to follow.  (If you’re freaking out about the theologically suspect state of my soul, let me explain.)

The whole statement just made me wonder what people think about my Jesus.  With Easter right around the corner, what do people think it means that Jesus saves us?

How many times have you seen a billboard or church sign with “Jesus Saves!” on it?  And how many times has that sign prompted you to deep gratitude or action or even a Hallelujah? (If you’re a hallelujah person, rock on, friend.  It’s just not my M.O.)

I promise I’m not boycotting Jesus Saves signs…but maybe for you, like me, “Jesus saves” gets filtered out with the rest of the background noise of life.  I’ve seen it a million times.  I’ve heard it my whole life.  As a kid I even laughed over that cheesy joke about when the power goes out suddenly but Jesus doesn’t lose any of His computer files because- you guessed it- Jesus saves.

But what exactly does that phrase mean?  I’m all for avoiding eternal misery, but if being saved from hell were the only thing that made Jesus appealing to me…I’ve got to be honest, He’d be more of an insurance policy than a savior.  Still good…still sovereign…but so different from what I know of Him.

Is Jesus just some symbol of hope to ease my fear of death?  Is He just a plastic placeholder to get me through the junk of this world?  Is He a cheesy salesman trying to sell me on a boring life I’m going to regret later?

Sometimes there’s so much veneer over our idea of Jesus that he seems either too holy to understand or too contrived and cheesy to be real.  So let’s just come right out and ask it: Who is this guy people make such a big deal over and what exactly is he saving us from?

If I were to ask you right now what you thought about Jesus, what would come to your mind?

Would you think of stained glass and Latin, something a little too distant or holy for the regular guy?

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Would you scoff as you pictured Jesus in the white robe and blue sash (apparently his fashion of choice) of children’s bibles- would he feel to you like just another childhood myth?

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Would you think of words like sin and redemption and righteousness…words that sound weighty but don’t quite connect with the bread and butter of your world?

Before you can think about Jesus as redeemer or rescuer or radical or …you have to know Him as relevant.  Relevant to you.  Relevant to your life.  Relevant beyond heaven and hell.

Does Jesus fit into now?  If we’re just holding on, eyes clenched shut, till an afterlife when everything is OK…then God isn’t relevant till later.

I’m not here to diminish what Jesus did on the cross; in fact, I think what He accomplished is far more significant than we even imagine.

Because the cross to me is no longer a mere symbol of heaven and a happy escape post mortem.  And this may sound sacrilegious, but “Jesus saves” is not the phrase that keeps me from ditching church and God and everything with it.

I’m pretty stuck on the phrase “Jesus with” because it tells the why behind Jesus saves.

God created us to be with Him.  Jesus came wearing our flesh not to infiltrate and spy on his creation or to judge us…but to be with us.  And He died for us to be with us in a way we never could be otherwise.  It was never out of obligation or charity alone- God wants us.  And he doesn’t just want us later- to gather us up in heaven and take a giant awkward family picture on the streets of gold.  He wants us now.

The reason I hold onto Jesus and love Him even is because one day He stopped being an idea or a slogan and I felt Him like He was right in the room with me…closer even.  I’ve sensed Him even in the moments when my fear is so suffocating I don’t think I’ll make it through.  I’ve felt Him in the rush of wind and waves and the stillness of dew peppered grass at dawn.  He’s with me with in my children’s laughter and in the daily finger pricks of my diabetes, in the dish washing and the writing.  Nobody else can quite enter all my moments like He does.

When I’m not focusing on Him for awhile I end up chasing myself and what feels right to me and I end up angry, irritable and unsatisfied.  But when I actually acknowledge Him…for real…and do what He says…there’s freedom and peace that shouldn’t make sense.  That’s what “God with” does.

He’s not my band-aid.  Trust me.  There are so many times I just wish I could wear Him to feel better in the moment, but He’s not some genie that I snap my fingers at to fix every problem in my life.  And sometimes I kind of hate that I can’t just ask for what I want and get it because He’s Jesus after all.

But deep down, I know that “with” is better than fixed.  Because no matter what changes in this life…I have with.  Emmanuel (God WITH us): that’s His name and also one of the most powerful theological statements I know.   And yes, I believe His with will follow me even in death, but it means He’s also right here, right now, no waiting required.

Jesus saves? Yeah. I believe that.  But He doesn’t just save me from sin, from death, from hell even.  He saves me from emptiness, self-destruction, purposelessness, and loneliness of soul.

“Jesus saves” speaks to his power and position.  (No…I don’t care to argue with that.)

But “Jesus with” speaks to my identity in Him. (And I find it’s even harder to argue with His heart.)

What about you?  Have you always wondered how church signs and billboards might relate to your life?  What is your picture of Jesus?  Whatever your honest thoughts, I’d love to hear!  So don’t be afraid to add to the conversation…



Faith (Friend Post Friday #5)

It may be difficult to perfectly sum up today’s “Friend-poster”.  One of the very first times I met her, Lexi Mcguigan’s vulnerable words made me cry as she poured out her soul in a Breaking Silences girls’ play at Epoch Arts.  This is the place I’ve watched her invest so many precious pieces of herself in others through art and her servant’s heart.  She’s got this infectiously genuine personality and she’s present and invested in each moment.  One of the best things about Lexi (aside from the fact that she’s willing to babysit my three children!) is that she never wants to stay stagnant- she’s always thinking deeply, allowing herself to be shaped by God and others, desiring to grow even through the most difficult seasons.  And as she’s grown, she’s gleaned poignant wisdom to pass on to us.  I hope you’ll be inspired by her heart today…here’s Lexi!


by Lexi Mcguigan

When I was asked to write for the blog I was super excited, I love sharing my perspective and
view of things. I had already decided at the beginning of the month what I was going to write about and I thought that was that…. But boy was I wrong. What I felt the need to write about now was faith.

complete trust or confidence in someone or something
synonyms:​ trust · belief · confidence · conviction · optimism · hopefulness · hope

Faith is a strong and powerful word, before looking it up in the dictionary I knew what it was, but I decided to look anyway and what I found interesting and kind of a call out was that a synonym of faith was conviction. I feel convicted of sin all the time, I am not a perfect christian nor do I claim to be, my only goal is to give God all of me. And I fail at that more than I succeed. I feel most people can relate to that because we are all human, we make mistakes, we falter and stumble. My main issue that I come upon is myself, I am my own worst enemy, the critic I can’t escape, the only one that can truly destroy my mind. So how do we escape from our own thoughts? Well through prayer, and I learned that through trial and error, through running away, and finally through just realizing the only one I can truly turn to is God. I have never before experienced the chaos and shake up of God in my life like this.

I have always had issues with control, I am very aware that I have no control and God always will but that does not stop me from trying. I’m stubborn and want things to go a certain way and I always seem to be telling God “I know your way is best but let me try” or “God I trust you, I give you all of me… except for this because I really think I need to do this.” I have this need to have everything stay the same or go in the direction I believe it should instead of trusting God’s plan. I have never been hit so hard in the face by my own actions and words as I have this past month. I never realized how much the word faith meant to me, God has stripped people for my life, moved me, changed me and altogether shown me that I am loved, I am his and yet I can’t give him my complete faith because I hold onto fear.

Fear itself is something we all feel at certain times, some more than others. I personally have been living in fear for most of my life. I believe that it is so easy to fall into fear which can lead to countless amounts of things. This past week we’ve been having some issues with our landlord, and only last night did I see what it was truly like to not live in fear or what might happen or to hold onto a grudge but to see this person through God’s eyes, this person God created just as he created me and he loves just as much as he loves all his children. For me to see this person as less than that itself is faithlessness in my opinion, to not try to understand my enemy, to not imagine them as my brother or sister; is a sin. In the bible it says “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.”(Psalm 34:4) So why do we still hold onto fear? When we give it to God are we truly giving it to him? I can answer this truthfully and say that not always do I fully give it to God and then I wonder why it still eats at me. At times I blame God for my own faults. And I think the hardest part about it, is sometimes when I blame him I am fully aware that I am to blame. Yet I am forgiven. Why then do I have fear?

As much as I wish I didn’t have fear I know it goes hand and hand with faith, without the trials and different stops I have made in fear I wouldn’t have the faith I have. Along with the the other things that have contributed to my faith, fear has played a big part. I know God has me on a path of for beautiful and amazing things, he would never abandon me so I am putting my trust in him. To quote tobymac. “It’s a little bit overdue, but I’m putting my trust in you. I refuse to backtrack because God has me on a road and it’s a one way street, no u-turns, and backing up on a busy road is illegal. He’s got mighty plans for his children and it all begins with faith. Fully giving yourself over to your Father, Your maker, the creator of all things.

I am a complete mess with God in my life, thinking about it now; I’m not even sure how I
survived without him. My journey with God is far from over and I am bound to fall down at times but I have the faith and trust that God will pick me back up, dust me off and tell me to get back in the game. And there’s times I feel like giving up, It’s hard to be in a world so full of negativity and anger, sometimes we start to be in the world instead of being of the world. We as christians need to spread this faith, I remember during the hartford project this month the pastor of South church said something amazing that sticks to my heart. “It’s like we’re in a battlefield, were clothed in this amazing armor of God and we’re watching others go out into battle unprepared. We are letting people die because of fear.” Yes it is scary but our God is always with us, we are only here for a moment. I want to see my friends, family acquaintances and strangers in heaven rejoicing because of our God. The only way we’re going to do that, is by faith.