The Rock Eternal

1-bf1b485523(Chatter Letter from the Editor, August)

“Why did Jesus die on the cross, Maddie?” I asked my two-year-old. We were in the car heading out of the church parking lot.

My five-year-old son interrupted: “He died because the Roman guards were mean.”

Maddie disagreed. “No! He died because he fell and skinned his knee!” Skinning one’s knee is the worst possible fate she can imagine for herself, and since first-century crucifixion really doesn’t hold any real meaning in her little pink brain, a skinned knee sums up the horror rather nicely.

Of course, I couldn’t leave it at that. “Jesus died to save us from our SINS!” I declared, feeling every bit like a godly mother, minus the cardigan. Because godly moms wear cardigans a lot.

I knew that “sin” was a hard concept to understand even for adults, but I’ve always been taught to talk to your kids above their level. They’ll catch on eventually. We all do.

I’ve gotten pretty used to the idea of Jesus dying for my sins. I mean, it’s been about 25 years since I asked Jesus personally to save me from them, so while I’ve been regularly rescued and retrieved from all manner of snares and pitfalls and temptations — or fallen woefully short and asked yet again for grace and strength to move into healthier waters — I never thought to look out for the other things Jesus is saving me from.

Jesus saves us from our sin, but he also saves us from our lesser saviors.

I do not mean The Oprah, as our Idle Chatter columnist Jason Fox calls her. I do not mean The Joel Osteen either. I mean those good and beautiful things that are all around us, those activities, things or people that promise a level of redemption and freedom in our day-to-day lives, and actually deliver pretty consistently. It’s a dirty little secret, but there are a lot of basically happy people out there driving along 635 who are operating apart from Christ. (OK. Bad example. Most everybody is miserable on 635.) These people, maybe even you, are operational because they’ve got a little handful of lesser saviors that take them through life like stepping stones, one day to the next.

I’ve got my own stepping-stone saviors. I wake up and smell the coffee and the idea of that first sip propels me out of bed. Then I remember it’s the day I’m going shopping for some fabulous new yoga pants that won’t make me look TOO mom-ish, and the thought gets me into the shower. Then I step-stone on into lunch (just wait, we’re renting a Red Box tonight!), sit down in the afternoon to work on Chatter (just wait, we’re meeting up with friends for dinner this weekend), and go to bed thinking about the next book on my list that I’m going to read, or the next show I’m going to see. An entire day will go by and I have been definitely, rather painlessly, propelled by something. But the fuel is low-grade.

In a recent Facebook post, wild and witty Anne Lamott bemoaned the sub-par performance of lesser saviors: “My entire life I have believed that there was something I could achieve, own, lease or date that would make me feel permanently whole…I want it to be out there, where I can go get it, and put it in my car, with the seatbelt buckling it in so I will never be without it again. Like it would be so much skin off God’s teeth to let me track it down in the realms of power, prestige, stature, money, weight, and Macy’s. But nooooooooooo…”

God isn’t satisfied to leave us to the lesser saviors, but he often waits patiently for them to run their course: The yoga pants don’t fit, the movie is sold out, the promotion turns out to be golden handcuffs, the boyfriend is kind of a dud. Lesser saviors get us along the suburban roads, but then come the mountains and the oceans and the cliffs. What happens then?

Jesus saves us yet again. And again. And again. We turn away from the chocolate for a millisecond, and he’s there. We look up from the dying applause, and he’s waiting for us. We come out from under our new clothes, and find a friend. All lesser saviors are usually good blessings, but blessings only bless. They never save. And we humans need major rescue.

We need to repeat with every breath, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:4). The emphasis is clear: the Lord, yes the LORD (and not a lesser lord) is the Rock, and not just the Rock, but the eternal, forever Rock.

He’s a rock. Not a stepping stone.

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