The "Real" Upside Down — Part 1

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Any Stranger Things fans out there?

For those who’ve been living on another planet, Stranger Things is a hit series developed by Netflix.

In that sci-fi series, “The Upside Down” is an alternate dimension that exists in parallel to our human world. It contains the same locations and infrastructure as the human world, but it’s much darker and colder. It’s clouded by an omnipresent fog and devoid of human life. And, it’s dangerous… Really dangerous.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 contains what could be called the original or "real" Upside Down. But it stands in stark contrast to Stranger Things. Because the Upside Down Jesus introduced is actually Jesus walking onto the scene and turning everything back "right side up."

The "real" Upside Down Jesus introduced is a place of beauty, grace, growth, happiness, and “blessed-ness.” It’s a place where human beings flourish and become all that they were meant to become. It’s what LIFE looks like when we start living “in the Kingdom of God.” When we start living life in “the range of God’s effective will” — “in the presence of God and under the power, rule and reign of God.”

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Jesus begins the SOTM with a really radical word. He begins it with the word, "blessed." Here's the definition: 

BLESSED — MAKARIOS —HAPPY, BLISSFUL, FORTUNATE, FLOURISHING

Scholar, Jonathan Pennington, has written a book titled, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing. He says that’s what the word, “blessed” actually means is "to flourish" or "flourishing." 

Think about what flourishing means? It means to thrive, prosper or to grow vigorously. That’s the invitation that opens the Sermon on the Mount.

While pronouncing a blessing over people wasn’t unique in terms of Jewish custom and tradition. It was radical in the first century, because most teachers spent a significant part of their teaching time harping on rules and regulations that made life more difficult for the people they were speaking to (See Matthew 23).

But Jesus stepped on the scene! He announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God and then said: “You can flourish. You can be happy. You can be blessed. Here’s the promise of what life looks like when you live under the range of God’s effective will. Here’s what life can look like when you live in the presence and under the rule, reign and power of God. This is what life looks like in the kingdom of God!”

The Beatitudes are all about the UPSIDE DOWN, RADICAL and RELENTLESS GRACE of God and how it gives us the power to do what we couldn’t possibly do. They're about how we can live in the "real" upside down. The Beatitudes contain eight principles for living in the "real" upside down. Over the next few days, we'll walk these out. 

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So, what does it look like to live UPSIDE DOWN?

1. Admit your NEED. We’re spiritually bankrupt and totally dependent on God.  (See Matthew 5:3)

That’s the gist of the first Beatitude. "God blesses those who are poor…"

The word for “poor” refers to abject poverty. Poverty on a scale most of us can’t imagine.

Poverty is cruel. It breaks people.  It’s horrifying. It makes you feel absolutely and completely helpless and hopeless.  You crave dignity and dream about the possibility of some kind of breakthrough. But Jesus isn’t just talking about actual poverty, He’s talking about SPIRITUAL POVERTY. I love the way the NLT reads:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3 NLT

A flourishing life begins with a realization: “I’m desperate for God. I’m desperate for Jesus. I need God to break into my life and do in me, thru me and for me what I can’t possibly do.”

To be “poor in spirit” isn’t just about saying, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the ability to say, “Even the good things I’ve done were probably done for bad reasons. Even my good deeds were done as a way of me staying in control, of being my own god, earning my own self-respect, of getting people to like me…”

Dallas Willard said this verse actually means: “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars.” 

In other words, “blessed” are those who don’t know anything about the Bible.  Who don’t know heads or tails about God, the Holy Spirit or spiritual gifts.  Who would throw up if you asked them to pray out loud.

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Because it’s when you don’t know the first thing about God and ADMIT IT, that you’re most ready to actually experience God.

I love the way Colin Smith said in his excellent book Momentum: When you know that you have nothing to offer God, you are in a position to receive all that He offers to you.

A great example of what this looks like is the prophet Isaiah. Some say he's the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. But in Isaiah 6, he was in the temple when he experienced a vision where he saw God, sitting upon a throne, exalted — high and lifted up, surrounded by angels who are constantly crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” (Isa 6:3).

The voices of these angels were so loud and filled with power that they shook the temple to its foundation. Then the glory of God filled the temple in the form of smoke. Isiah was watching all of this and knew instantly that he was in the presence of God. His immediate response was awe-inspired, reverential fear that overwhelmed him. So, he cried out:

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”  —Isaiah 6:5 NLT

The Message reads like this: “I’m as good as dead! Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted — blasphemous even! And the people I live with talk the same way…”

This is what “poor in spirit” looks like. It’s the opposite of pride. Here’s the way Colin Smith describes it: 

“Pride can only live in the soul of a person who is far from God. It puts its foot on the gas to get you as far from God as possible because pride cannot exist in the presence of God. When God comes near, pride has to go. So picture this: the smoke of God’s presence coming down into the temple of your life, and pride staggering out from your soul, coughing and spluttering because it cannot live in the awesome presence of God. This is what happened to Isaiah. In the presence of God, the gifted prophet became poor in spirit.”  —Colin Smith, Momentum

"Poor in spirit" is the opposite of religion!

Religion always leads to one of two things: pride or despair. Pride says, “I did something for God, and now God owes me something bigger and better back!” Despair says, "I'll never cut it. God could never love anyone as messed up and broken as me."

But Christianity, on the other hand — unlike religion — leads to humility and gratitude that responds to God like this: “God owes me nothing. He has given me everything! I'm overwhelmed by His extravagant and amazing grade.”

People who struggle with pride make a big deal about themselves. People who are walking in humility and gratitude make a big deal about GOD.

To be “poor in Spirit” is where the blessing of God begins! It's where the flourishing life starts. It’s how we start moving from the little kingdom of me to the BIG KINGDOM OF GOD!

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3 NLT

Don't miss the word, “is.” In other words, RIGHT HERE! RIGHT NOW! The moment you admit you're desperate for God and totally dependent upon Jesus, you start living in the BIG KINGDOM of GOD! You start experiencing life "in the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done gets done!"

I believe that most of our relational problems — marriage problems, friendship problems and workplace conflict — could be healed, if we began pursuing “poverty in spirit.” If we delivered a death blow to our pride and began cultivating humility and gratitude

How are you doing on this one?

Are you desperate for and dependent on God?

Are you dealing with pride and cultivating humility and gratitude?

We'll continue this series tomorrow, with more principles about how you can live in the "real" UPSIDE DOWN