I am a rule keeper. I am sure I learned this very early and it has been such a part of my life and character that I never gave it serious thought until this trip to Alaska; then I was made painfully aware of just how much of a rule keeper I am.
Our first morning in Anchorage we woke to find our hotel had closed their breakfast bar. No problem they said, just go down the street to_____and you can find a great home style breakfast; the fact that our Alaskan friend did not want to go with us should have been a clue but we were famished and so we went.
This was one of those greasy, way more than you can eat places with stuff all over the walls and Polar Bears standing around for local color. We were waiting in line for a table and noticed a large oak barrel on a stand and it had written on it "Do Not Look Inside This Barrel" right above a peep hole. Okay...how many of you would go look in the barrel? You're not a rule keeper. It would never enter my mind to go look in the barrel because it said not to. But I had one free spirit in my company and the very first thing she did was move to go to look in the barrel. Which is when my rule keeping morphed into something else; fear/control took over and I said "oh no, you aren't supposed to do that". Seriously I did this!
The much saner and freer person said "Why not? Don't you get it, they want you to look in the hole!" Well we won't go into the logic of the reverse psychology operating here but it was clear that my rule keeping had been exposed. Not to others; they have probably long been aware of it and tolerant of me. No it was exposed to me. All of a sudden in a real epiphany I saw the silliness of the rule and how my rule keeping not only wanted to keep me in line but desired to keep others there as well.
A week later we were staying in a private home in Seward and by total coincidence another friend from the Carolinas arrived in Alaska and came over to the hosts home for dinner. After she arrived everyone was out on the deck taking in the seldom seen Alaskan sun and looking at Mt. Alice when this lovely lady who brought the wine for everyone said"How about a glass of wine?" Oh this is painful.....my response was "it's not 5 o'clock yet". Yes, I really did say that. Do not ask me where I got the rule you cannot drink a glass of wine before 5 o'clock. I did not know it was in my personal rule book until that moment. "Why not?" said the lovely lady; a very kind way of saying "where is it written?"Or more importantly who's rule is this?
Exposed again. God really.....you bring me all the way to Alaska to show me what a rule keeper I am? And aren't rules important? Yes, sometimes they are. A few days later we were down at the local airport and our Alaskan friend said "oh you can go walk down there". "Really?" I said, for there was a large sign warning us not to. And just as if on queue a black bear came out and crossed the runway. We ended up getting a cheap thrill and some nice photographs; but the man who ignored the rules in Denali that week was not as fortunate, he lost his life.
So how do you know when to obey and when not to? When are the rules silly and when are they vital? And what about God in all of this? What about His rules? Didn't Adam and Eve break a rule to get us into this mess? And didn't Jesus break rules to get us out of it? How do we know what to do?
Well I don't think rule keepers like me are going to like my answer nor do I think rule breakers will especially like it either. You see rules are easy. We want rules because it makes life easy. We can go by the rules and be self satisfied or we can break the rules and be self satisfied, it really doesn't matter. What is hard is relationship. What is hard is being real. What is hard is love....Love? Yes, let me explain.
Adam and Eve did not break a rule. They broke a relationship. They turned from loving God to loving self and the moment they turned they began to re-image the creature rather than the Creator. Their life union with God was broken and their relationship with each other, with the animal kingdom and with the creation was shattered. Had they maintained their union with God and continued to walk with Him they would have received His knowledge, His wisdom, and His truth about each and every thing that crossed their path. This is what we see in Christ. He lived and modeled a life in loving union with His Father. He said "I'm telling you this straight. The Son can't independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does. The Father loves the Son and includes him in everything he is doing ( John 7:19-20 The Msg.) He lived by relationship not by rules. Was it easy? Obviously not...it led to the cross.
When we reduce Christianity from a relationship (loving union with God) to a religion we get rules. The rule breakers exit the Church and the rule keepers stay and make more rules and unfortunately like me they tend to project their rules on everyone else. Some of you are probably still asking how we could have been drinking wine in the first place regardless of the hour.
So what is the answer? Christ. He has given his life not to save us to go to heaven when we die; but that we might be restored into loving union and communion with his Father. And he has poured out his Holy Spirit to be our Comforter, Teacher, Guide, Mentor, ....you name it. Here is someone you can be real with.
What might this look like? Let me give you this analogy. In Mockingjay the third book of The Hunger Games trilogy, Peeta one of the main characters has been brainwashed by the folks in the Capitol. When he is restored to Katniss (who he really loves) he attacks her because he has been brainwashed and does not remember what is real or true.In order to restore their broken relationship (and cleanse his mind) they come up with a plan where he will simply ask her real or not real. He will have to trust and it will be very hard because his mind has been filled with lies; but gradually their relationship and their love is restored.
Might I suggest this is exactly what God desires of His brainwashed children? Walk with me...trust me....ask me...live in union and communion with me and I will be your guide, your teacher. Just this week I read how Dallas Willard* said he gets up in the morning and asks the Lord "what do you want me to do today, what do you want me to learn today. He is the teacher I am his student". Life in the Kingdom of God is that simple. And when you come to a sign that needs interpreting just be real and ask real or not real. The one who gave his life to restore the relationship and bring you into the Kingdom doesn't care about your rules; he cares about His union with you.
*Dallas Willard is the author of The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and Hearing God.