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The Upside Down

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Disclaimer (aren’t you tired of these?): If you haven’t watched much or any of the show, “Stranger Things” on Netflix, and don’t want spoilers or details you haven’t reached yet, STOP NOW! Or forever hold your tongue!

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David and I got totes hooked on a Netflix original this last fall called “Stranger Things”. Take the 80’s, mix it with a bit of The Goonies and ET and Independence Day…take the feel of a Spielberg movie, fill it with the horror and suspense of a Stephen King novel, and then edit it with 30 years (give or take) worth of hindsight…and you’ve got “Stranger Things”.

We fell in love with it, hated it desperately when the season came to an end, and are equally desperate for Season 2, whenever that comes about.

In this show (here’s where the disclaimer applies…), a couple of characters go missing and the doggedly (there’s that word again) pursuant friends and family members that are NOT missing, find out that these missing people are in what is called “the upside down.” It’s their world, but their world…you guessed it…”upside down.”

It’s a fascinating concept for a tv show. And very much worth watching if you haven’t already and don’t mind that I basically just told you the main plot-line.

Last night, I was watching a documentary on Netflix entitled “Minimalism”…rather boring, really, but very informative…and inspiring, in that it makes me want to completely and literally minimize my life and stuff.

A lady was talking about that, in today’s day and age, if we don’t want certain clothes, we can give them away or consign them or sell them. But the bottom line is this…that used clothes are worth practically nothing. That a pound of beans or rice are asking a higher price than a pair of designer jeans at the local thrift store. She said it like this…”Used apparel has become worthless…rice and beans cost more than used apparel. In historical terms, that’s the world upside down.”

Hey, I’ve heard that phrase before.

This is true, but isn’t that actually the kind of world we have become? Where things that ought to be valuable are not…and things that are not important are highly valued?

Enough about that though…this is the point of why I’m writing this.

The world we live in is a broken world. When Adam and Eve sinned, and kicked the door stop away and prohibited us from experiencing a perfect world where we walk and talk with God on the daily…and we live in peace and harmony with nature, and sin doesn’t exist, and women don’t hurt when babies come out, and men don’t have to work their butts off to provide for their families…and terrorists don’t attack us, and lions lick our faces…and the bill collector hasn’t even been invented yet (neither have bills, for that matter), and evil people don’t run amok (“Amok, amok, amok!”) and children don’t die and accidents don’t happen and marriages don’t break up and friends don’t stab us in the back and the air is completely safe to breathe and we don’t get headaches and we don’t get our feelings hurt…

BEFORE ALL THIS…God had THAT in mind.

But we blew it. And just face it; if Adam and Eve hadn’t done it, you or I would have. It was inevitable.

So with this idea of “the upside down”…in the story of minimalism and the show Stranger Things, the upside down is the bad part of how life is supposed to be…its the opposite of life as we know it.

And if life as we know it is full of evil and hurt and pain and strife and war and work and death and separation and sin…then what is “the upside down” for us?

It’s living this life out of the norm…opposite of the way most people live their life…it’s responding to bad things in an “upside down” way…

Let me explain….

When Jesus was born, he began a process of turning this broken world upside down. We didn’t know it at the time, because He was just a wee one and hadn’t started his ministry. But at the age of 30, he started it. He started at a wedding (which is another whole blog, so I’m not going there yet.)

But when Jesus started teaching His disciples how to live a different life than the life they were used to…how to react and love and respond and act TOTALLY OPPOSITE of how their world/society reacted and loved and responded and acted…He was teaching us, His followers, how to live in “the upside down.”

Here are some examples.

We are born wanting to be first. We are born wanting to win. We are born wanting to get higher grades, run faster, jump higher then the next person. Nothing really wrong with wanting to be and do the best that we can, to be excellent at things, unless it becomes the whole focus of our being and we crawl all over others or shove them to the ground to do it.

When Jesus started teaching, here is what he taught on the subject.

In Matthew 20:16, He said, “…the last will be first and the first will be last.” That doesn’t sound fair, does it? We want to be FIRST…BEST…TOP. But Jesus teaches the upside-down way.

In Mark 10:43, Jesus taught us, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant.” What? Ok, still totally unfair.

Jesus taught that the one who humbles himself or herself, who takes the last spot, who lets everyone else go first at the family dinner buffet, who parks farthest away from the church building so others can park close to the door, who lets someone else get in front of them in line at WalMart, who takes what’s left so others can get the first and best…THOSE are the ones who are living the upside down. And He blesses that!

All of Matthew 5 is full of upside-down teachings, beginning with the first 12 verses…The Beatitudes. I won’t go through each one individually because that’s like a whole other blog post.

But allow me to give you verses 38-48 in The Message paraphrase. Watch for all the upside downs in just these 10 verses alone.

38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

And here’s the kicker. We are to do all of these upside down things without want or need of applause or recognition. Which goes completely against our culture. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all want credit for doing the right thing, even Christians who do what Jesus tells them to do. After all, it’s what we humans do, right? Yes…it is. And that’s why Jesus said, do it the upside-down way.

In 413 AD, Augustine wrote in “City of God” that Christians were vilified by society because they were so different from what the culture “expected”. You can go back and read for yourself how the earliest Christians were criticized by the culture: Christians are bad citizens; Christians don’t march; they don’t fight; they don’t build; they don’t help govern; Christians are mixing the classes and races at common meals in common living quarters; they’re destroying the social structures of the society; they’re not patriotic; they’re not loyal to the Empire; they say we are to serve one God instead of the State; they advocate forgiveness toward our nation’s enemies.

Those are the teachings of Jesus. And those teachings and that way of life is completely upside down to the ways of this world. It got Christians in trouble back then. And it still gets Christians in trouble today.

So here’s my question to you today?

How upside-down are you living?

Are you blending in so much to the culture and expectations around you that no one knows you actually live in The Upside Down? Because if you DO live the upside down way, people will notice.

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