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Playing by the rules

The other day, I was flipping through the channels and landed on the last 15 or 20 minutes of Sci-Fi Channel's Dresden Files, an urban fantasy (as Mir nicely labels it) about private eye Harry Dresden who sees the work of the supernatural in crimes. Now, I gotta admit I’m pretty much sitting on the same couch as Mir on this one: this show isn’t the best or the brightest out there. But the closing scene of this episode caught my attention—and got me thinking some Kingdom thoughts.

Dresden was talking with Connie Murphy (a police lieutenant), who is aware of but extremely uncomfortable with Dresden’s world of magic and the supernatural. She contemplates breaking her connection with Dresden because the world feels scary enough without the presence of dark magic and villains who could wield it.

“I can’t live in your world because my rules don’t work there,” she says. “And I need my rules.”

I was struck by this comment because I think it’s the way many of us feel. There’s the moment we realize that there is more to this life—that there is another world that encapsulates ours and exists alongside us, the Kingdom of God. And that can throw us for a loop. Suddenly, things we thought we’d figured out aren’t what we supposed. Suddenly, (as Dallas Willard puts it) we realize the plane we’re flying is actually upside down. Suddenly, we aren’t as safe or in control as we thought.

The Kingdom of God is real, and walking into it we realize it is the best place we’ve ever been, but it isn’t safe—at least, not in the way we’re accustomed to thinking about that word. Safety for many of us is a world that plays by the rules we lay down: For example, if I work hard, I’ll get more money. If I have enough money, I’ll be secure. Or if I get the right promotion, then I’ll be untouchable. There are a zillion of these rules our culture plays by. But we play them in religion, too. For example, if I do the right things the right way, God will bless and reward me—with happiness, a healthy family, safety, or an easier life. Or if I read and believe the Bible and do the other disciplines, then I will always feel God’s presence and all my doubts will go away. Heh, then there’s that point system—the one where if we live up to certain standards or principles we'll make our way into heaven.

But God’s Kingdom doesn’t work that way. God’s Kingdom is all about God and what he does, not about us and what we do. God’s Kingdom is all about wide, open, thriving spaces full of abundant life, love, restoration and redemption—but to walk into that Kingdom means we surrender all our own rules, desires, control and will and accept and embrace and live out of the way it works in the Father’s Kingdom. It is like the son of Luke’s parable, who realizes doing things his way (playing by his own rules) only ends in wallowing in the mud; so he decides to go home, beg his father’s forgiveness and ask to work as a servant—only to be suddenly swept up in the momentum of a father’s rushing, embracing, utterly surrounding love. That is both an exhilarating and frightening process. It is not what we expect. The Father doesn’t operate by the rules we thought we he did.

We can’t live in the Kingdom and play by our own rules. I’m finding that an inherent part of living in the Kingdom is the routing out of false rules in our lives. When we walk with Jesus and live in the Kingdom, God begins to change us—and part of that transformation includes uncovering the bogus rules we live by. Often, these aren’t pleasant moments—for me, they are often moments of yet again giving up something that for the moment made me feel safe and in control. But, ultimately, a grand freedom continues growing from these moments as he heals me of yet another blindness. And then I can see, experience, share and drink even more deeply from that love—that over-abundant and uncontainable love with out depth or breadth.

Kingdom life isn’t an easy life or one drenched in happiness and comfort and no difficulty. In fact, Kingdom life often goes against the rules of the cultures around us, which can make from some very painful and heart-breaking seasons. But we don't live in this Kingdom under our own strength but by living out of the strength and life of Jesus. It may take a lot of effort to learn to live like that, but it's worth it.

Kingdom life is a real life—the realest life, the only life. And it is the best life.

(Image: copyrighted by Sci-Fi Channel) miscctgy

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