June 28 2011

23. Turn The Whole Thing Upside Downphoto © 2009 Melissa Gray | more info (via: Wylio)
Most of my life, religion has existed in my head. A list of things to know, facts to get straight, specific opinions to hold about life and politics and morality.

The last few years, God has opened my eyes to the story wrapped around the bare bones facts. God reveals Truth to us through stories, through the lives of real people and ultimately in Jesus, a person who walked and talked and lived among us. Meeting the One who restores and redeems and forgives isn’t supposed to turn us into catalogs of facts. We’re supposed to become God’s hands and feet, the Good News with skin on.

Jesus turns the world upside down. He taught that the things we cast aside as insignificant are, in fact, the most important in God’s world. He said that helping the needy is so significant that it’s as if helping Jesus.

I’ve been reading the book of Isaiah, and instead of depressing me with gloom and doom, it has knocked the wind out of me with its relevance. As I wrote on my blog last week, God nailed me in chapter one where it says that being “church-busy” is sin if we’re not also defending the homeless and defenseless. Ouch.

Then I got to Isaiah 58, where I found myself again – the church-busy one who looks all bright and cheery on the outside, but who knows that something just isn’t right.

Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

God answers their questions about fasting, and then God says:

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Did you catch that?

Of all the things God could tell Christians to do, he says to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and give shelter to the homeless.

That isn’t what I expected. I expected extra-credit assignments like “memorize the entire New Testament” or “don’t drink or smoke or chew and don’t hang with boys who do” or “be in church every time the doors are open” or “go stand on street corners and proselytize.”

But this? Feed the hungry? Help the poor? Upside down.

And I haven’t done it.

I’ve ignored His call to reach out to the unlovely because it’s awkward, and I feel impotent and frail in the face of the widespread suffering around me. I’ve insulated myself from suffering instead, filling my calendar with music practices and planning meetings and play dates with people I know well. Besides, I think to myself, I have plenty of time, and surely God doesn’t expect a young woman with little children to do anything.

The truth is, I’m a slave to comfort and consuming. It’s an addiction stronger than my need for caffeine. I know this because every time I try to overcome it and make sacrificial choices with money, within hours something in a store aisle or flickering screen beckons me back to gorge at the feeding trough of instant gratification.

I’ve watched the lives of people who leave the cocoon of suburban U.S. life and enter the “real world” of poverty and hardship, even for a short time. Those people experience something that turns them upside down and transforms them into the kind of minister of mercy that I want to be.

Their lives show me that I can’t beat my addiction by learning information. If I’m really serious, I need to go and be changed.

So when I received the invitation from World Vision to go with a group of bloggers to see first-hand their projects in Bolivia, I knew two things: God is giving me a chance to escape my slavery and get into his upside down world, and I must take it.

Nish and I, and the rest of the Bloggers for Bolivia team, will fly to Bolivia on July 30. Our task is to report first-hand on the work World Vision does among those trapped in poverty there. Each of us will write on our blogs every day, Nish and I trading off between our personal blogs (The Outdoor Wife and Joy in This Journey) and Deeper Story. We return home on August 7.

Will you pray for each member of the team, as we work out the remaining logistics and prepare our hearts for what we will experience? Pray that God would give us the privilege of being his hands and feet while we’re there, and that he would give us the words to share with you? And will you pray about making room in your life to sponsor a child and enter the upside-down world too?

Thank you.

Click here to get the scoop on the trip and the rest of the team from World Vision.
All photos ©2011 Jon Warren/World Vision


  1. Wow nothing like having the scriptures be completely applicable to our lives. It’s so easy to get caught up with religious busy work and miss the simple heart of the gospel. A lot of times I’m presented with choices that show me where my heart really is. In a few weeks I’m going to be spending a week with a bunch of abused and abandoned kids. Every time I do that I’m reminded of how precious they are to God. In the midst of reaching out to them through the years, my life has been transformed and they have been an incredible gift to me. I’m thankful to World Vision for allowing all of you to participate in what they are doing there and for being our eyes so we can experience God’s work there too. I have no doubt that you all will come back transformed, and that many more children will get the care they need because of your combined efforts. Thanks for letting us be a part of that.

    • That is my prayer, Linda — that we can be a part of bringing help and hope from God to many more children and their families… and that it will be the start of a new way of looking at and living life for our family too.

  2. “surely god doesn’t expect a woman with little children to do anything.” i think i get caught up in this mindset. it’s a cop out. an excuse not to get my hands dirty. thank you for this post. very encouraging.

  3. awesome. just awesome. “The truth is, I’m a slave to comfort and consuming. It’s an addiction stronger than my need for caffeine.” this line really resonated with me. i read someone’s blog in the last week that asked, “how have you and your family served others this summer?” ummmm. took a few bags to goodwill. sigh. thank you for the challenge. for allowing god to use you to bring truth to my world.

    • Kendal, you summed up my thoughts exactly. I could simply type “ditto”. Took some stuff to goodwill, gave some money to charity. Sigh. I appreciate this wake up call and challenge to do better.

      great post, Joy. Will be praying for you and the others.

      • Thank you, Annie. I think we underestimate what our little efforts can do. It’s that whole upside down thing again. But that shouldn’t become an excuse not to do more when we see an opportunity. I’m really good at making excuses! :)

    • It’s a start Kendal, and we all start somewhere. I pray that we will take baby steps out of love and not out of guilt — guilt will only take us so far. It could be that getting rid of the excess clutter in your home is the best place to start. I know I need to do that, and teach my kids to do the same.

  4. joy, i love that you and nish are both doing this trip — and that you get to do it together. what an amazing gift. i can’t wait to see how it unfolds in your heart and on the pages of deeper story. it’s gonna be so so good…


    • Thank you Alece! And if you have any tips or suggestions for how we can bring encouragement to those we visit, please send them our way!

  5. Oh, how I idolize my comfort. Just blogged about it today. So good to answer the call of stretch and challenge and let God turn our lives upside down, but I let fear grip me with excuses. Thanks.

    • Oh how I know that grip of fear – it so convinces me that my life will be empty without all the stuff, when nothing could be further from the truth. God give us courage to shake off the fear and the excuses.

  6. Ooh, yeah – the siren call of comfort and consuming. Isaiah is really a great one for hitting us upside-the-head (and heart) with truth! Thank you, Joy, for doing this – and many blessings as you move through the turmoil of packing and getting ready to leave your family and traveling across time zones and cultures. May you find grace above and beyond anything you can ask or imagine!

    P.S. There IS a line in Isaiah’s litany about caring for our families, too – so don’t ever feel like what you’re doing with and for your husband and kids (and parents and sibs, if you’ve got them) is somehow ‘less than.’ ALL of this loving service is asked of us — and there are all kinds of ‘hungry’ and ‘poor’ out there, too. ABSOLUTELY, we need to be joining God in direct ways to help those who are hungry and poor physically…but there a lot of folks in my community who are rich as Midas and literally starving to death spiritually. I guess the point is – we’re called to serve others, not just ourselves. SO glad you’re doing this!! Can’t wait to read your reports.

    • “There IS a line in Isaiah’s litany about caring for our families, too – so don’t ever feel like what you’re doing with and for your husband and kids (and parents and sibs, if you’ve got them) is somehow ‘less than.’”

      YES. Thank you for reminding us of this, Diana. I appreciate it!

  7. I am so grateful that I stumbled upon this blog! Thank you for sharing with truth and integrity how God is speaking to you through His word. He is so amazing and His word is alive! I recently started volunteering at a shelter/resource center in my community. I went there with the mindset that I was going to be a blessing to those that frequent there. Instead, I was the one who was blessed. As I sat there listening to their stories, God began to deliver me from the judgment that has plagued me regarding “those people.” He filled me with His love and grace and empowered me to just be with them; to love them and pray with them. Gone was the awkwardness, gone was the fear, and gone was the judgment. All that remained was Him.

    If you haven’t yet, you should read the book, “Radical” by David Platt. It’s a profound book about how the pursuit of the American Dream and all of its comforts is counterproductive to following Jesus. He called all of us to serve the needy. No excuses. I can’t wait to read more of your journey!

    • Hi Heather! I have to be honest — I’m afraid to read “Radical.” It’s on my list, but I haven’t picked it up yet because of that fear of being turned upside down. Perhaps it would be good pre-Bolivia reading…. or post-Bolivia reading… :) Thanks for the nudge.

  8. Joy, I love this today. It makes me want to go home and read Isaiah! (Even though we are currently reading Ruth). I think you are amazing. I can’t wait to read your reports, and see your pictures, and feel your spirit. I am so happy for you!

  9. It’s such an irony that we are drawn to our comfort like being tethered to a weight that not only is heavy but drowns us. Our comfort so often kills us. I’m not saying be guilty for the food on our plates or 1298 choices of cereal at the grocery store, but rather to to take root in “to whom much is given much is expected.”
    It took me a longggg time to realize the power…the FREEDOM that comes in stepping out of my box. A box I could barely see life,much less Jesus through but gave me such a sense of false safety.
    But the beauty is when you lift that lid with shaking hands to share the light within in your own broken life…GOD IS THERE.
    To love the homeless,the orphans…heck, to simply love our family(often our hardest mission field) unconditionally is to taste the sweetness of God…all else is just aromas,nibbles….
    And the beauty of what you are doing is that these people of Bolivia will be blessing you in ways that will open up a fifth chamber of your heart.
    Prayers…God bless you for not being a shiny,plastic Christian but one that shows the powerful, redeeming LOVE of Jesus.

    • “I’m not saying be guilty for the food on our plates or 1298 choices of cereal at the grocery store, but rather to to take root in “to whom much is given much is expected.””

      So true — God gave us the excess so we could share it, not so we could horde it and serve it instead of God.

  10. “If I’m really serious, I need to go and be changed.”
    Yes and it’s a frightening step. Thank you for saying it and taking it.
    Lifting you & the others as high as my arms will reach.
    God’s speed.

    • Thank you so much, Cin. We so appreciate your prayers.

  11. Joy,
    Good for you for being brave and stepping out! This exact topic is so close to all of the ideas that have been bouncing around my head for a long time. . .stepping out of our comfort zone and really seeing.

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  12. Thank you for writing this. Thank you, thank you. We always complicate, and it is so painfully simple. Thank you for calling me out this morning and refocusing my heart on God. It was a punch in the face to both myself and Max (@maxdubinsky) – it was so good I read it out loud to him. :) You have my prayers, encouragement, & support on the trip.

    Thank you for doing what God has asked all of us to do, and for sharing your heart along the way. It’s needed, noticed, appreciated and respected.

  13. So excited for you guys to get to go to Bolivia! What a powerful tool you both will have to SEE and then to TELL the rest of us what is going on there and how you see God among the littlest of these. Can’t wait to follow along. I love World Vision and what they do. :)

  14. Ugh, convicted! I just took action to reach out to people right around me I’ve been ignoring. Thanks for the kick in the butt.

  15. What a great writer you are! I enjoy reading your stuff. I’ll be writing from Europe while you write from Bolivia. Would love to keep up with you.


  16. I think this is a great reminder that the bible is a living word that must be put to use in our lives in our service for others. I believe genuine compassion, love and influence will be achieved when Jesus is living in our hearts and we experience a personal relationship with Him. This way service and being the positive influence in our surrounding community and abroad will be motivated by our own impulse because we would have been in conformity with His character and our desires would align with His.


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