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.

A Clay-Footed People


In my Dad’s childhood days in Price Hill, a tough neighborhood in Cincinnati, he lived next door to the Roses. Like the neighborhood, his neighbors were a gritty sort of people. In a wager over a pair of steel-toed boots, that neighbor boy shot my Dad in the foot with a .22 rifle. Fortunately for Dad, the steel in the toe of his boot caved but didn’t allow the bullet to pass through. They built things better back then, I think.

That boy went on to become quite a football player in his day, but that wasn’t the sport that earned him the moniker “Charlie Hustle.” Yeah, that Rose—Pete.

Despite the fact that he could have done my father a serious injury all those years ago, Pete Rose was my boyhood idol. I had posters of him all over my room. He epitomized a hero through his work ethic and lived up to his nickname. He was one of those granite-jawed, working-class, westside Cincinnatians, people who could wither you with a gaze, but who were the choice picks if you needed to storm the gates of Hell.

When Rose nearly killed Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse in that infamous final play of the 1970 All-Star game (in Cincinnati, BTW), I was watching the game and just went wild. My hero scored the winning run. Didn’t matter that Fosse was never the same after that play. Rose did what Rose had to do. That was Rose. He played the game hard. That’s what made him the all-time hit leader, nearly saw him catch Joe Dimaggio’s consecutive hitting streak record, and gives him the near mythic quality he enjoys in Cincinnati.

Now if only there wasn’t that betting on baseball thing.

I say that because Rose’s betting on baseball pretty much ended whatever hero-worship he enjoyed from me. That was the first in a series of “welcome to reality, naif” disappointments with that saw the young adult me pretty much abandon the whole idea of finding heroes in celebrities of any kind.

A recently deceased Christian rock musician is garnering a bit more attention because of a scandal. It’s a bad scandal, though, in a way, it should surprise only those people with a whacked-out worldview. I suspect, though, that the people with that worldview would not be the ones you would first consider to be  out-of-step.

And that’s the point of this post. I write this because I see a fundamental flaw in reasoning among many American Christians today.

An old saying that makes some of us sigh goes like this: “Only Christians bury their wounded.” In too many cases, that’s true. Someone screws up and they’re as good as dead in the midst of too many church bodies, ESPECIALLY if the screwup is a pastor.

I have a theory about this. As much as most Christians adamantly say they believe that all people are sinners, they just as adamantly don’t practice that belief. Too many of us practice the faith as if everyone were born good, as if original sin never existed.

What else explains the utter shock, the profound horror, when Elder Joe Smith winds up in a sordid affair? Oh, how the tongues wag and the old ladies fan themselves hoping to stave off an attack of the vapors! Well, maybe 'feet IN clay' if not 'feet OF clay'Everyone just dies and goes into convulsions. Our church splits, people leave, and in many cases, Elder Joe Smith crawls off to die somewhere—or at least that’s what a good chunk of us wishes he would do.

And why do we believe that? Because no matter what creedal confession rolls off our lips, we simply don’t believe that people are sinners.

The odd thing about this is that worldly people aren’t shocked when sinners act like sinners. We Christians, though, stuck as we are on the foundational lie of the innate goodness of other Christian people, go belly up like a lake full of dynamited fish when yet another Christian stalwart proves spectacularly that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

One of the most well known pastors/authors out there today, a man respected throughout the Godblogosphere, revered almost—I know people who know him well. I’ve heard the stories. They’d cause a few of his fanclub to spontaneously combust, I suspect.  But you know what? His issues are no worse than yours or mine.

I’ve got to believe that nothing would profoundly change the focus, direction, praxis, and reflection of each Christian in this country than to stop asking the question, “How is it that good Christians can do bad things?” and start asking, “How is it that any of us can do even one good thing?” If that latter question ever caught on, we’d stop propping up Christian heroes who inevitably fail (and then suffer our public savaging) and start acting like humble servants who know our place. We would comprehend and embrace that each of us, should we stray from grace for even a moment, would be capable of the most vile evils. We’re lying to ourselves if we practice Christianity otherwise.

If 45 years of living has taught me anything, it’s that there’s not a person out there who doesn’t have feet of clay. I know I do. (Heck, I aspire to clay feet at this point in life!) Why should I expect otherwise in other people?

Isn’t it about time we Christians stopped spending all our free time attempting to hide our clay feet, started living under grace, and actually extended genuine forgiveness to others?