Upside-Down Kingdom: Why Everything You Think Is Wrong, and How Jesus Can Make It Right


In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, this is the typical response I’ve seen on Facebook from Christians:

“We need to send in our troops and let them send those evil men in ISIS to hell.”


I’ve been a Christian for almost 40 years. I don’t pretend to be a very good Christian, by the standard of examining one’s sins and one’s ability/inability to live the Bible perfectly. Still, as I grow older, I cannot escape the truth that the Kingdom of God runs antithetical to just about everything you and I think.

Let me restate that: I guarantee that if we have a thought, it’s likely counter to the Gospel.

There’s a reason Jesus can’t just remake us and that we must die instead to be truly born again. Everything we do and think is wrong. A makeover won’t fix anything, because our entire being is tainted to the most granular level. We will never live in the Kingdom of God if we don’t die to ourselves and to the world’s ways.

Case in point:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
—Matthew 5:43-48 ESV

Jesus comes into the world and turns it upside down. His Kingdom is the opposite of the conventional wisdom, the status quo, the way things are and should be. He messes with everyone’s thinking.

Upside-down churchIn the Gospels, whenever we see Jesus starting with “You have heard it said…, but I say to you…” we know His upside-down Kingdom is on display.

Do we love our enemies and pray for them? Do I need even to ask that question?

I want to unpack the strange aside in that Matthew passage because it plays into another of our wrong thoughts.

Jesus talks about good and evil and how the same daily events happen to both. I want us to think about that a different way. Not that there are two groups at all, but only one. That nature itself reveals only one, those who get wet with rain and then dry in the sun. Those who receive one justice. Those who are, at once, both insiders and outsiders. There are no true distinctions between men.

Why is the Gospel offensive and scandalous? In part because it crashes into our notions of good and evil. Because it says the sinners get into Heaven and the religious get locked out. The peacemakers blessed, not the warriors. The poor raised up and the rich brought down.

The scandalous Gospel goes on to say that the worst bastards the world has ever known are forgiven. Pedophiles, murderers, sex traffickers, pimps, whores, assassins, terrorists–you know, the evil people. And we good people hate that. We want justice.

But wait a second…

Jesus concludes His statement on loving one’s enemies by reiterating that we must be as perfect as God. And suddenly, all these labels of who is good and who is evil, who is neighbor and who is enemy, are pointless, because compared to a holy God, even the greatest of our saints is a feces-encrusted douchebag.

With the Gospel, Jesus defenestrates all this talk of who is good and who is evil. The “good” man who calls another a fool murders his victim just as readily as the “evil” ISIS commander does. Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Jesus shows us that it isn’t just that we love our enemies, but that we are the enemy as well. Enemies of God. Enemies of each other. Evil down to the core, even the so-called best of us. One mankind, wickedness personified.

The Kingdom of God is here, and everything we think becomes darkness against its light.

When we are born again in Jesus through grace, He burns “us” down because we can’t think anything but darkness. The only way to get right is to start over inside a Kingdom with rules utterly incomprehensible to normal thought.

When you and I think X, the Gospel is likely saying the opposite of X. To think rightly is to go against everything that makes sense within a fallen worldview and to embrace what seems like foolishness.

The Bible supports this:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
—1 Corinthians 1:22-29 ESV

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 2:7-16 ESV

People who are not in Jesus cannot comprehend the upside-down Kingdom He rules. Only those who have His mind, because they have His Spirit, can.

The unbeliever cannot comprehend “love your enemies.” The unbeliever will only see justice against the wicked enemy—and yet will also miss that the wicked enemy is the face staring back from the mirror of God’s perfection.

In conclusion, I offer this…

We live in confusing times, when the foolishness of the Gospel in the world’s eyes will only grow in contrast. People who call themselves Christians will be deceived by the message of the world’s fallen way of thinking. Christians will support ungodly responses to the world’s problems. Christians will use the Bible to back up those fallen ways of thinking. This is happening even now.

More than ever, I think we Christians need to do what the early Church did. When that Church encountered seemingly intractable problems, it convened meetings, and with Scripture, personal experience, and the speaking of the Holy Spirit, worked out answers as a group. See Acts 15, for instance.

I don’t believe we do this. We certainly do not do it in our local churches.

How should we Christians think about X in a confusing world? Our answer most likely will be the opposite of the way the world thinks, and getting on board with that countercultural thinking among the assembly of Spirit-filled believers is the only way we will navigate the confusion that now lies before us.

Otherwise, we stand ready to run down the world’s wide path, mistakenly thinking Jesus is waiting for us at the end.

Confusing Dross for Gold


As I write, 53 is staring me in the face. I used to think that was old. Or at least, likely to place you in the group of “not with the times.” Out of touch. Maybe even a little confused by all the cool, happenin’ stuff the kiddies dig. You with me, man? Groovy.

So, recently…

I watched a 47-minute video on the simplicity of the Gospel in which the preacher didn’t once, to my recollection, state what the Gospel was. And if I was somehow lost in my befuddled dotage for the one time he may have briefly zoomed through it, he certainly did not go into any detail. Instead, he regaled us with numerous stories about the bang-up job he did personally ministering this mysterious gospel-thingy to random people he encountered. I wondered if those people got a clearer picture of the Gospel in those encounters with him than I did in the video.

My son said that in a similar meeting his group talked about the origins of Cain’s wife. Because teenagers around the world are giving up on a personal relationship with Jesus and wandering away from the faith because no one shared with them the facts behind Mrs. Cain’s being.

I sang a “worship song” that had me beseeching for the rain to fall on me. Or us. The plurality of the intended recipient(s) of that wetness is unclear to me now (again, the beginnings of dementia, I believe), as is the intent of being rained upon by what/whom and for what purpose. Still, after I was done singing, I felt like a full-blown pluviculturist.

Meanwhile, the media is telling me that Christians are up in arms—heaven knows my arms are tired from always being up about something—because of Starbucks’ red holiday cups. Of course, this has friends of mine who aren’t Christians belittling that up-in-arms-ness, whether actual Christians are upset by this or couldn’t care less. Somewhere, a Christian is miffed, so this is news and must be reported upon.

Somewhere else, a pastor is up-in-arms (there we go again) about consumeristic Christians picking and choosing churches like they pick which roast of coffee (served in a Christless red cup, no doubt) they prefer. Then those ingrates stop coming every week, like they’re supposed to. Because, consumerism. What sinners in need of repentance! This, of course, blames the people in the pews for reacting to the various marketing ploys hatched up by certain church leaders in an effort to draw more folks to their church rather than to the church across the street. Call it “The Great Church Growth Arms Race” (or “Mutually Assured Destruction, Christian Style”—as the case may be), as church leaders add one more thing they think will grab folks and then blame those folks for succumbing to the lure.

{ Insert colorful expletive here }

SlagWhen I was a kid, my brothers and I collected rocks. We even had a cool display of different types of raw gemstones and minerals.

One day, I encountered one of the showiest hunks of rock I had ever seen. It had layers of color, shimmered in the light, and featured weird, bubbly extrusions. Fascinating, but I could not identify it. A meteorite? Whatever it was, it just HAD to be priceless.

At a gem and mineral show, a lapidarist informed me it was a piece of slag.

The term the Bible employs for slag is dross. It’s waste left over from smelting precious metals. As leftovers from the real thing, it may look cool, but it’s still waste and therefore worthless.

I wonder if somewhere along the line, we Christians, in an effort to refine what we knew to be gold, wound up valuing the dross instead. I can’t make sense of life anymore unless I come to this conclusion. Nothing else fits.

After a while, you wonder if you’re the one off-kilter. That there’s something wrong with you when you find dross and recognize it for what it is, but everyone else thinks it’s beautiful and valuable. You begin to doubt if you still have all your aggies, jaspers, and swirlies.

I think the world is getting stranger, especially for the discerning Christian. More and more fellow Christians will confuse dross for gold as life gets more bizarre, and the discerning folks will be left baffled by their fellows’ confusion.

Nothing good ever comes to the person who says in public, “Hey, wait a sec, that ain’t right….” At least from an earthly perspective that’s true.

At one point, I questioned whether we should say anything. Perhaps silent, internal acknowledgment proved the best response.

But now, I think born-again Christians who are led by the Spirit must graciously, winsomely, and lovingly point out to fellow Christians that that object of admiration their fellows hold in their hands is most likely waste and not the pure gold they should treasure.

In an age when all correction meets with anger, it is certain that such speaking will not generate thank you’s, but it must be done. Again and again and again. Or else, we will all lose our minds, and quite possibly our souls too.

How Christians Spellbook the Bible and Miss the Gospel Entirely


eye of newt potionAbout the only time you’ll hear Christians talking about witchcraft is around Halloween. Then, you’ll be warned why trick or treating is associated with village crones who practiced earth religions and had a thing for mandrake. Loose associations with the Devil will be discussed. Handwringing will be commenced. Dire warnings of hell will be proclaimed. Passive voice will be used. Horrors.

Specks, actually.

And by that, I mean this speck:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
—Matthew 7:3-5 ESV

If you’ve been a Christian even a couple months, you’ve probably read or heard that passage. It’s common. But how often do we see the relevance?

I find it interesting that Halloween and Reformation Day coincide. Protestant Christians celebrate the day that Martin Luther pounded his complaints against the unbibilical practices of the Roman Catholic Church to the door of his local Catholic cathedral, thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.

The key to the Reformation was the Gospel. Somehow, buried beneath all the crap of religious performance and “do this and don’t do that” pseudo-Christianity, the truth that Christ brought with Him in Himself mouldered, dormant. What came of the Reformation is that many a Christian died to resurrect that neglected truth.

The Presbyterian Church arose due to the Reformation. The Presbyterians have long been a church that gets the authority of the Bible correct, one of the hallmarks of Reformation thinking and the rediscovery of the Gospel of Grace.

So yesterday, I’m listening to a podcast from a noted Presbyterian church, and the speaker is telling me that effective prayers follow the format that King David prayed in the Psalms. That God answers the kinds of prayers that are humble, that start by invoking God’s name, that mention God’s glory before anything else is prayed. To be an effective prayer, one must pray that prayer with a specific attitude, that the prayer cannot be too needy or too self-centered, so it must contain little of oneself and a whole lot of what is not oneself.

I listened to that podcast for a half hour as the preacher went on and on about how to pray perfectly before I finally had enough and switched it off.

Since we started with a reference to witchcraft, let’s do a little comparison:

Witch thinking: For me to get what I want from the elemental spirits of the earth, my potion needs to brewed under a full moon and have mummified bat wings, a drop of hippopotamus sweat, some tincture of hemlock, and a hint of eye of newt. Stir for an hour counterclockwise while envisioning the outcome. I should probably be naked while I concoct it, too.

“Christian” thinking: For me to get what I want from God, my prayers need to be done in the morning, and I should praise God first, then follow the pattern of King David in the Psalms, sprinkle in the prayer of Jabez for certainty, and pray with faith, while also being humble, with totally pure motives, thus being naked in spirit before the Lord.

Between you and me, I’m not sure I see the difference. Both are formulas designed to get something from a power, which will only happen if performed and brewed correctly by the supplicant. And we know what the formula and ingredients are, because the pastor told us on Sunday.

Earlier, we saw the speck. There’s the log.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even do a grocery list right. I write down a dozen items, shop for an hour, and still come home missing the corned beef and mayonnaise. How in the heck am I going to get the “10 Steps for a Perfect Christian Marriage” right? How will I recall the “12 Keys to Raising Godly Children”? I mean, even if I get it right Monday, Tuesday is another day.

What if I forget the eye of newt?

I can understand why a lot of people don’t want to go to church anymore. Too much of what we give people resembles a spellbook. If we just combine the right ingredients the right way, the way the pastor and elders say, a perfect life will pop out of the cauldron.

But what we don’t ever allow for is the frailty and fallenness of human beings. We don’t give people a way to be real and flawed.

The truth is, I’m never going to go into prayer with pure motives because nothing about me is pure, ever.

I’m not going to remember how David or Hezekiah or Jesus prayed. And I’m not going to perfectly replicate their life situation at the time of that prayer either.

I’m not going to recall the steps for doing such and such the godly Christian way. Heck, I’m not sure where I parked the car in the church parking lot.

I’m not always going to be on. Sometimes, I’m going to be off. Most of the time, honestly.

We no longer appear to understand those truths about ourselves. The Reformation? The Gospel of Grace? What are those? Somehow, we Christians today are reburying the Gospel under a pile of performance-based crap to moulder for some other generation to find.

A reminder of what that Gospel is: Jesus did it all perfectly so we don’t have to.

We don’t have to gin up perfect motives when we come to God in prayer because Jesus’ motives were always perfect.

We don’t have to say the formula perfectly because Jesus said it all, and just in the right way.

We don’t have to get the order and ingredients right because Jesus took care of everything for us.

If we’re in Jesus, we’re set. It is finished. Jesus did it all. Period.

People are lost because they’re still trying to make the recipe themselves, the way they think it should be, if they can find that recipe at all. For the Christian, none of that matters. Finished, all of it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to go to church to hear how I’m doing it wrong and need to fix my recipe. I need to hear how Jesus perfectly did it all for me, so I no longer need to worry about getting it right, ever.

Because that’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News. That’s the Bible being used the right way, to tell the story of Jesus and what He did for you and for me so we can stop all our striving and rest in Jesus’ finished work—not the wrong way, as the ingredient list and formulas we need to spell up the solutions to our problems.

Because the real witchcraft is relying on ourselves to get it done and done right. And that’s not just relegated to Halloween but to nearly every day of most people’s lives, even far too many “Christian” lives.