Upside Down

Upside Down
Lots of things can be upside down. There is the Kamikaze carnival ride, a kid on the monkey bars, a pineapple upside-down cake (one of my favorites) or a home mortgage. How about the world?  In Acts 17:6 (NKJV), Paul and those with him were described as those “who have turned the world upside down.” That was really quite a compliment that a small band of men bringing the truth of God’s Good News was in fact impacting the whole world.

We live in an upside down world. Drugs and violence are celebrated. Purity and honesty are ridiculed. In truth, the Gospel turns the world’s thinking upside down. Jesus taught “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16), “Whoever wants to be great must be the servant of all” (Mark 10:43), “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus loved to rattle the religious cage of the leaders of His day. His teachings such as the Good Samaritan or the widow’s mite were contrary to accepted thought. He healed on the Sabbath. He was the king who comes riding humbly on a donkey instead as triumphant on a horse. And the biggest upside down of all: the cross. It was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1Corinthians 1:23)

1Corinthians 1:27-29 (WEB) says, “God chose the foolish things of the world that He might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that He might put to shame the things that are strong, and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that He might bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should boast before God.” We are living examples of that. When God called us to start Your Personalized Bible, our reaction was “What do we know about publishing? What do we know about binding? What do we know about marketing?” I guess we kind of sounded like Moses arguing with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3). Am I willing to align my thinking with God’s Word even when it seems upside down, that is, contrary to the world’s way?

The beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-9 (NKJV) are a good example of how Jesus turned the religious thinking of His day upside down. He changes the very framework of how we look at life. Before we look at each beatitude, let’s see how the Amplified Bible defines “blessed”: happy, enviably fortunate, and spiritually prosperous—possessing the happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His grace, regardless of their outward conditions.” In other words, a joy that is not shaken by circumstances, that goes beyond surface emotions. With that as a background, we will look at the beatitudes:

–“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”–

The world looks for happiness in the next new thing: a shiny car, a new romance. Those things bring momentary bits of happiness but they lose their shine and we have to look for the next fix of some kind. Jesus teaches that happiness comes from humility. We must recognize our absolute need for Him. Our culture teaches self-reliance; God demands a poverty of spirit.

–“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”–

Blessed and mourn: isn’t that an oxymoron? We mourn the separation from God caused by sin. We mourn the direct connection to Daddy God that was lost through disobedience. Nothing can fill that void except a loving God and the eternal Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

–“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”–

The world views meekness as synonymous with weakness. The Biblical meaning is quite different. Meekness brings the picture of a powerful horse trained to a bridle, in other words, power under control. In Numbers 12:3, Moses was called the meekest man on earth, yet he stood up to Pharaoh demanding his people be released and then he dealt with the rebellious nation during 40 years of leadership. Jesus faced the cross without lashing out at His tormentors. That was power under control. A.W. Tozer said, “The rest Christ offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.”

–“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”–

The Pharisees taught that righteousness was a matter of externals: ritual washings, following a set of legalistic rules, fasting, etc. Jesus brought righteousness to a question of relationship with the Father and accepting the gift of right standing by faith. 2Corinthians 5:21 brings the truth home: “For Him (Jesus) who knew no sin He (the Father) made to be sin on Gill’s behalf; so that in Him Gill might become the righteousness of God.”

–“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”–

From Genesis to Revelations, God reveals His mercy culminating in the greatest act of mercy in human history – the cross. We are called to show that same mercy to others. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Gill is to be kind to others, tenderhearted, forgiving others, just as God also in Christ forgave Gill.”

–“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”–

The Pharisees were all about the externals. God is interested in right motives. Acceptance of Jesus as Lord means I became a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17). The stains of the past were wiped away. To maintain that purity I need single minded devotion. A pure heart begins with Jesus.

–“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”–

The world celebrates the warrior: Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Patton. As Christians we celebrate the Prince of Peace. Man has no ability to achieve peace of himself. There can be no peace until we are at peace with the One who created us. Philippians 4:7 promises, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard Gill’s heart and thoughts in Christ Jesus.” With that peace in our being we can become ambassadors of peace, thereby peacemakers.

A Boy Scout is taught to find the North Star to navigate at night. It is the only one that is not going to move. Orion may be easy to spot with its bright stars and distinctive pattern, but it will be in the east at one time, in the west later. We need the solid rock of God’s Word to navigate this life. The world wants heroes. They look to sports stars, movie stars, even politicians.  Jesus says, “Follow Me.”

Jesus was willing to reach out and touch the leper (Matthew 8:3). As ministers of the Gospel (that’s every Christian) we are challenged to see the person, not a label. Today’s leper, the outcast of today’s society, is the sex offender. A few years ago, I was invited to minister in a group home that was transitional housing for men coming out of jail. As a jail chaplain that seemed an easy transition until I was told many of them were sex offenders. I wanted to pull back but I felt God calling me to meet that need. In the ensuing years that I have worked with that home I have come to know those men not as a label but as good-willed men searching for God.

Take something that is upside down and turn it upside down what do you get? Right side up! That I think is the key of the Gospel. To the one who has lived upside down long enough the one who is right side up looks upside down. Several years ago the U.S. military conducted an experiment. They gave each participant special glasses that inverted what they saw. At first they were disoriented and nauseous, but remarkably quickly their brains adjusted and they were able to function normally with the ground up and the sky down. It became the norm for them.

We face a choice: to live like the world upside down or to stand on the rock of the Word and live upright before God. Do you have the courage to go against the world’s way? James 4:4 warns to be friends with the world is to be an enemy of God. To paraphrase Romans 12:2, “Don’t be conformed to the upside down world but be turned right side up by the renewal of your mind.”