My Son the Computer Programmer or Honey Don't Worry About Retirement! Mood:
celebratory Topic: Homeschool Product Review
Last year we had the great opportunity to review a couple of beginner computer courses. One was on how to design a web page and the other was on how to make your own games. Both were great and John Allen loved them. This year, when we heard that we were going to review another computer programming course, John Allen and I were both really excited. There was only one problem. I had to pick which course to review. The KidCoder course, designed for students in 4th-8th grade, or the TeenCoder series, written for 9th-12th graders. John Allen was in 8th grade, so the KidCoder course made sense, but after I read the descriptions of each, I felt that John Allen was ready for the older TeenCoder course. The fact that the final project was designing a computer chess program, a game that John Allen loves, really helped seal the deal. I'm glad I ended up choosing the older course. John Allen is really enjoying it.
Homeschool Programming Inc. has really done a great job in preparing this course. The teacher's manual says that it is written by actual software programming professionals but, although it is very thorough, it is very easy to use and understand. Each of the 17 chapters has 3-6 lessons in it along with a chapter review and an activity. The chapters start with the very basics. Chapter one is an "Introduction to Window's Programming" and it's project is how to install Studio C# Express Edition. C# is the "language that they will use to write all of their programs in. Chapter 17 is all about the final project, which I've already mentioned is the Chess game. Along the way they will learn all about such things as an "Introduction to C#", "Working With Strings" and "Inheritance and Polymorphism". In fact, here are some of the topics covered (taken from the website):
Introduction to the C# programming language
Creating Windows Forms
Using dialog controls
C# data types and variables
User input and flow control
Math functions and string operations
C# debugging and exception handling
Object-oriented programming concepts
Classes, inheritance, and polymorphism
Collections, sorting, and recursion
Now, when I saw the chapter titles, I thought that this would be cinch for me. After all, I was a pro at making things with strings in school. I could make a mean "Jacob's Ladder" and "Cat's Cradle". In high school I was really into music and knew all about C#. And, I went to Bible College and learned about Polytheism. That's a lot like Polymorphism isn't it?
In fact, I was soon to find out that none of the things that John Allen was learning had anything to do with the things I learned in school. And the meager computer course I took back in '86 and the HTML stuff that I dabble with on my blog don't hold a candle to what is contained in this course.
What was I to do? Was I up the creek without a paddle?
Really, this course is written so well that you almost don't need the teacher manual at all. In fact, most days I just told John Allen to do the next lesson or activity and left him to work on his own. Only once or twice did he ever call for my assistance. But, I say you "almost" don't need it. The Teacher's Edition does include a Chapter Summary, Activity Solution and Chapter Test for each chapter, and the computer disk that comes with the manual has printable "Hint Files" that give extra helps to a student who may be having problems with an activity. It also has printable versions of the tests if you wish to print them out to use them.
There's also a student disk that has some activity starters and other things to help the student along.
Thankfully, I didn't need to know much (if anything) about computer programming for John Allen to use this course and, besides, it is written so well that even if I did know something about it, my knowledge wouldn't be needed much.
John Allen is having a great time with this and can't wait until the second part of the course.
What? I haven't mentioned a second part? OH YEA! The Windows Programming stuff that I have talked about above is only the first semester of this year long program. The second semester is all about GAME PROGRAMMING! Yep! John Allen will learn how to make games complete with animated graphics and sound effects. His projects will include multi-player games and even games with artificial intelligence. Here are some of the other things that he will be learning (again taken from the website):
Introduction to the XNA Game Studio
Game design, game engines, and timer loops
Screen coordinates and color concepts
Drawing, scaling, and rotating images
Handling keyboard, mouse, and XBox 360 Gamepad controller inputs
Creating Sprite objects
2D animation techniques
Playing music and sound effects
Maze generation and solution algorithms
Menus, overlays, and deployment models
Multi-player scrolling games
Game artificial intelligence (AI)
We only began reviewing TeenCoder in November, so, even without a major death in the family and computer problems, we wouldn't be quite done with the first half of this course anyway. Truth is, we are about half way done with the Windows Prgamming section, and hope to finish it this school year so that we can start the Game Programming part in the fall.
I am really pleased with Homeschool Programming's TeenCoder course! John Allen has really had fun with it and, as I've mentioned, it really doesn't need much teacher intervention at all. I'm thinking about ordering the KidCoder course for myself - I probably better start a little simpler than John Allen .
We got to review the First Edition of this great product, I just found out that the Second Edition is now out and there are some added things that you can get! Starting at the end of May, you can order instructional videos for both Windows Programming and Game Programming. They won't replace the student textbook, but will be an added thing that a student can use if he needs more reinforcement or may need something explained a little bit more.
So, you would think that something like this would cost 2 or 3 hundred dollars at least. Wrong again. The full year course is only $130 without the instructional videos. The instructional videos will cost $45 and can be purchased separately if you think you may need them. You can also purchase each semester separately if you would like. Both Windows Programming and Game Programming can be purchased for $75 each for the teacher manual/student manual set and $30 for the instructional video CD. If you think you will be doing both courses, however, I would suggest purchasing both sets together and save money. You can find out more about all of Homeschool Programming's products by clicking here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. Others from the TOS Homeschool Crew reviewed TeenCoder and KidCoder and you can find out what they had to say by clicking here.
Now, since this product can be used in a school setting, a co-op setting, with a homeschooled student or even with a public school student at home, I will close this post by wishing you "Happy Home Educating"!
As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was sent the first edition of both TeenCoder Windows Programming and TeenCoder Game Programming in order to try out and review on my blog.
Big IQ Kids - I've Got A Secret Part...Umpteen and a Half! Mood:
a-ok Topic: Homeschool Product Review
Bet your wondering where the "umpteen" came from. That was one of my mother's sayings.
Anyway - yes, I'm about to reveal another secret. Of course, these days I don't remember what secrets I've revealed and what secrets I haven't. You may already know this, but, for eleven years in Florida, I was an educational therapist. I worked with kids who had learning disabilities. Of course, when you are in the teaching profession, especially in a teaching field that works with some type of disabled child, you are constantly going to inservices and seminars. We went to a lot of seminars on the brain. They were fascinating. I could tell you some hilarious stories - those, however, I will save for another post.
There is one fascinating tidbit that I will tell you now - you can improve your IQ. Many people will tell you that you can't, but that is simply not true. It can be done. It's not easy, but you can do it. Isn't that neat to know?
Now, even though Big IQ Kids isn't a website that claims to improve you IQ, it certainly can improve your learning. And you'll have a good time doing it to boot (another one of my Mom's favorite sayings).
Although the Big IQ Kids website has a lot of fun free things to choose from, I'm going to focus on the four special areas that you get when you purchase a Premium Membership - Spelling, Math, Vocabulary and State studies.
Now, before I start, let me tell you that we had mixed reactions to Big IQ Kids in our home. Joshua loved it, but this was not John Allen's favorite at all. It may be because John Allen is going through a teenage "hate anything that has to do with school" stage or it could be because Big IQ Kids really does challenge you.
The first thing that you do after you've created an account is to make your own "Big IQ Buddy" if you want. It isn't required, but is a lot of fun to create. After that your child is ready to go. When you register your child, you put in the grade level, so everything is set for whatever grade you choose. One thing that was a little inconvenient was that you can't choose a different level for different subjects. Joshua, for example is on different levels for spelling and math, and he has limited experience with working with states. I would have liked to have chosen different levels for different subjects, but I found that it really didn't matter, because the Big IQ website uses an artificial intelligence program that can gauge how your child is doing. After the first couple of lessons with each subject, the program automatically adjusts to fit your child's needs. It won't move on to something new until your child has mastered that particular level.
Another really neat feature is that you can customize each program to match what you are learning. If you have a separate spelling or math curriculum, for example, then you can plug in the words or problems that you are working on in the separate program. So, you can either customize Big IQ Kids or you can use their already set program.
I hadn't been using a preset spelling or vocabulary program for either John Allen or Joshua, so that wasn't a problem. I also found that the math that they presented to Joshua was exactly what he was already doing so I just switched to using Big IQ which he really enjoyed. John Allen's math was a bit different. He had already learned the things that they presented, but needed to review those concepts, so instead of customizing his math, I just used Big IQ kids as a supplement to his regular math program. The state program was a plus for each of them. Joshua is just now learning his states, etc. and, although, John Allen already knew most of the things in the state program, it was a good review for him.
I really like the set up of this program. You have your own personal tutor that is pictured right on the screen. They talk to you and their lips actually correctly form the words. This may not seem like a big deal to most folks, but to a person who can't read well, or even a person who can't hear well, this is a real bonus. The only drawback is that the voices are very "computery". You can tell they are computer generated. The pronunciation is clear, but, although it isn't monotone, it isn't flowing like an actual human voice.
With the spelling, they give you a list of words - Joshua's list was 10 words - that are phonetically similar (dad, lad, bad, etc.). They then give the words very much like the way that a classroom teacher would give the words - say the word, use it in a sentence, say the word again. However, Big IQ Kids has a lot of fun online activities that they give you to help review the words such as "Word Scramble", "Spelling Bee" and even a spell your words with a Robot feature! Joshua really loved doing those activities.
The math program is very similar to a math drill. For Joshua it was working with addition and subtraction. They would give him a list of 20 addition problems that he could either answer using the numbers on his computer keyboard, or clicking on the correct answer using the on the screen keypad, then switch to 20 subtraction problems. They also have printable worksheets that you can print out and use with your child.
In the state/geography section you learn the usual things like the location of the state and the state capital, but you also learn a lot of facts about the states such as major cities, industries etc. They even teach you some fun facts. Did you know that Pennsylvania is considered the weather capital of the world just because of that silly groundhog that appears once a year?
The vocabulary section was probably the most difficult for Joshua. Along with asperger's syndrome, Joshua has ADHD, which makes it very difficult to focus on something if it takes a long time. When Big IQ Kids presents a new word, it is very thorough. They give the word, use it in at least two sentences, give at least two definitions, then give antonyms and synonyms for the word. After that, they spell the word and encourage you to spell it as well. That was just too much for Joshua. He got lost in the process. John Allen did much better, but (typical teen) didn't necessarily like the tediousness. Personally, I think it's good for him .
The format is very easy to use. I sat down with Joshua to assist him in using it the first time. After that, he was able to maneuver around with very little difficulty. John Allen was able to use it with no help from the start.
Another thing that I really like is that your "tutor" is very encouraging. It never rushes you and gives a lot of "kudos" when you ddo well. AND...each time you complete a lesson, no matter how well you do, you are rewarded with a coin. The coins can be used to play fun online games. You can either go and play the games right away, or save your coins to play games that cost more than one coin to play. The online games are also educational but fun. Both boys really enjoyed them and each had his favorite games to play.
Now, I must say that you can get each of the above things for free on the website, but the premium version has many, many extras that I feel are well worth the cost. The website has a really good comparison of the free version and the premium version.
Which brings me to the big question. How much does all of this cost. Well, you can purchase a premium bundle of all four of the above things for $19.99 a month or $99.99 for twelve months. Each item, except for the US State program, is also available separately to purchase per month or per year if you only want a premium membership for that particular subject. The state program can only be purchased in the bundle or separately per year. There is also a one week free trial that you can choose to see if you like it or not. At any rate, go to the website to check out some of the really neat free things that they have to offer. You can find out more about Big IQ Kids by clicking here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. And, as usual, others on the TOS Homeschool Crew used Big IQ Kids and you can find out what they had to say by clicking here.
Now, since this is a wonderful program to use as a supplement for a child that learns in a traditional classroom or for a child that is homeschooled, I won't say "Happy Homeschooling", but I'll close by saying "Happy Home Educating"!
As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was given a one year premium membership to Big IQ Kids to try out and give an honest review on my blog.
Do you have a heart of Compassion? Mood:
a-ok Topic: Compassion International
We got a surprise in the mail a couple of days ago. Our first letter from Yvone (Rwanda), our newest correspondence child arrived! What a precious girl she is. Then, the next day, we got a letter from Marcelo (Bolivia), our first Compassion child. He is a wonderful young man as well.
We have grown to love all of our Compassion kids very much. The letters made me realize that I hadn't posted anything about Compassion in quite a while. I love their videos. They are constantly coming out with a video that tells about a new aspect of their great organization. Their newest video just came out a few days ago. Enjoy!
New...well...really old...Prayer Letter has been Posted! Mood:
a-ok Topic: Ministry
I just realized that I hadn't posted our most recent Prayer Letter written by Sarah. She wrote it in February soon after my mother passed away and during the time that her mom was in the hospital. It has been posted now, just click on the Prayer Letter link in the left hand column.
Lucky - A First Wild Card Blog Tour Book Mood:
a-ok Topic: Book Reviews
You all know that Sarah and I direct a ministry to low income folks in the town that we live in. In fact, our house and our building are located right across the street from the low income housing area. We know and love the folks that live there. We know what many of them are going through. Some are there because of their own mistakes. Some are there because of the hard knocks of life. From the outside, many place blame; a few have pity; but none would call them "lucky".
But are they lucky? Is luck Biblical? Before reading this book I never believed in luck much less thought that the folks that I worked with were lucky. Glenn Packiam, however, has begun to change my perspective.
I would highly recommend this book to you all. It will really challenge your way of thinking. Read more about it below.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Glenn Packiam is an executive pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he oversees spiritual formation and serves as the teaching pastor for New Life Sunday Night. As one of the founding leaders and songwriters for the Desperation Band, Glenn has also been featured on several Desperation Band and New Life Worship albums and recently released his debut solo album, Rumors and Revelations, also with Integrity Music. Glenn has written a few well-loved worship songs like “Your Name,” “Everyone (Praises),” and “My Savior Lives.” Glenn is also the author of Butterfly in Brazil: How Your Life Can Make a World of Difference and Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith. Glenn, his wife, Holly, their two daughters, Sophia and Norah, and their son, Jonas, are enjoying life in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.
Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People, Glenn Packiam uncovers how the poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted are lucky because the kingdom of heaven, its fullness, comfort, and reward, is theirs despite their condition. Packiam redefines the word lucky by studying the word’s context as used in Christ’s beatitudes in Luke’s gospel.
List Price: $14.99 Paperback: 208 pages Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2011) Language: English ISBN-10: 1434766381 ISBN-13: 978-1434766380
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Bud had had a run of bad luck. When he was eight years old, his mother died. His father, unable or unwilling to raise him, later sent Bud to an orphanage. When he got out, he struggled to adapt to society and earn a decent living. He spent most of his adult life puttering on different jobs, from spray painting pipelines to being a cook and truck driver for circuses and carnivals. He had never owned a home or a car. Money had been hard to come by. Things had gotten so bad that he had even served a twenty-eight-day jail sentence for writing too many bad checks.
Then one day, Bud decided to buy a lottery ticket. At the time, he was on disability and had a grand total of $2.46 in his bank account. He had nothing to lose and over sixteen million dollars to win.
It happened. William “Bud” Post III won $16.2 million dollars in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. Luck, it seemed, was smiling on him.
Who do you think is lucky? Who, in your estimation, has it made?
Is it the person with lots of money and Hollywood good looks? Is it the one who spends afternoons on the golf course or at the five-star health spa? Maybe it’s the one with the perfect job and ideal marriage and dutiful children who make the von Trapps look like vagabonds. Whoever it is, you may say, it’s not me.
When we think of a lucky person, we think of someone like Bud Post, an average guy who grew up like we did, with challenges and adversity, who somehow happened to buy the winning lottery ticket. There’s just enough about them that makes you believe they are just like you. They may have had modest talent, sure, and a solid work ethic, yes. But they had a few big breaks you didn’t have. They got lucky. They were born into the right family, at the right time, in the right city. They grew up with the right connections and were given the right opportunities. And that’s how they got where they are.
We’re not far off. We were this close, you say. But then … The divorce. The kid who got your son to try that drug that left him addicted. The cancer that came like a thief in the night and stole your wife’s health and vandalized your finances. The downturn in the economy that turned into a recession. The investment you leveraged everything to make that was just a few months too late. The bubble that burst and left you mired in debt instead of swimming in wealth. You’re Bud Post pre-1988, with a losing lottery ticket and no stunning reversal of fortunes.
Successful people, people who have made something of their lives, usually try to deflect any association with luck. Gary Player, the South African golfer who won nine Majors, famously shrugged off an accusation of being lucky on the golf course by saying, “Well, the more I practice, the luckier I get.” People on the outside looking in believe in luck—because they are sure that’s all that separates them from the successful and because they hope that their fortunes will one day be reversed. People on the inside prefer to credit talent and hard work.
Malcolm Gladwell is known for offering a paradigm-shattering, contrarian view of social trends and behavioral norms we take for granted. In his book Outliers, Gladwell tackles the subject of the extraordinarily successful. The conventional view is that, if you add talent to hard work, you’ll get a fairly predictable outcome: success. And because this is true for the moderately successful, we assume it’s also true for the outrageously successful—the outliers like professional athletes or world-renowned violinists or Bill Gates.
Gladwell, however, demonstrates that, while all outliers have a base of talent and a history of hard work, that’s only enough to get them to a certain point. What pushes them over the edge are things we may not have thought to consider, like date of birth, country of birth, access to education or technology, a family with disposable income to afford road trips and other creative-learning environments. His book is stocked with stories that make the point. Talent and hard work may get you some success, but to be an outlier, to be extraordinarily successful, you also need a little luck.
Gladwell’s theory only reinforces what we’ve always suspected deep down: Others have it made, but not me. A deep divide runs between the glamorous, wealthy, successful people out there and the ordinary, average, unspectacular you and me. We’re always on the outside looking in. And those others, well, they may not admit it, but they’re just plain lucky.
They bought the winning lottery ticket.
If only we could be so lucky.
But that sort of luck isn’t what it seems.
Bud Post chose to get his winnings in twenty-six annual payments of roughly half a million dollars. Within two weeks of collecting his first installment, he had spent over three hundred thousand of it. Three months later, he was half a million dollars in debt—thanks to, among other things, a restaurant in Florida he had leased for his sister and brother, a used-car lot complete with a fleet of cars he had bought for another brother, and a twin-engine plane he had bought for himself even though he didn’t have a pilot’s license.
A year later, debt wasn’t his only problem. He became estranged from his siblings, and a county court ordered him to stay away from his sixth wife after he allegedly fired a rifle at her vehicle. Bud Post was Dale Carnegie in reverse: a millionaire losing friends and alienating people while accruing a mountain of debt. When his former landlady sued him for a portion of the winnings to pay off old debts, Bud was finished. The judge ruled that she was entitled to a third of his lottery winnings, and when Bud couldn’t pay it, the judge ordered that all further payments of his winnings be frozen until the dispute was resolved.
Desperate for cash, Bud sold his Pennsylvania mansion in 1996 for a miserable sixty-five thousand dollars and auctioned off the remaining payments of his winnings. With a little over two and a half million dollars remaining, Bud hoped that people would finally leave him alone. But the person who created the most trouble was the one he could never escape: himself. He squandered it on two homes, a truck, three cars, two Harleys, a couple of big-screen TVs, a boat, a camper, and a few computers. By 1998, ten years after winning $16.2 million dollars, Bud Post was once again living on disability payments.
“I was much happier when I was broke,” he lamented.
William “Bud” Post III died at age sixty-six of a respiratory failure, broke and alone.
An Unexpected Word
We think of luck as simply a positive reversal of fortune or chance occurrence that worked out in our favor. Like winning the lottery. Jesus sees it as far more. He knows it takes more than changing your conditions and surroundings to make you lucky. It takes more than money or comfort or success. It takes the arrival of the kingdom of God. And that is no chance occurrence.
When Jesus raised His eyes to address the crowd that had gathered that day, He must have seen some interesting people. These were not the important big-city types. Those would come later when Paul joined the team and traveled to various cities. No, these first followers were country folks. Simple, well-meaning, kindhearted peasants. Luke, the gospel writer, doesn’t mention a name we might know or even a grouping—like Pharisee or Sadducee or scribe or lawyer—we might recognize other than “the disciples.” This is simply a crowd. A crowd of ordinary, unspectacular people. Sure, the twelve He had chosen were there, but they may not have looked like the most promising bunch either.
So when Jesus began to speak, it’s important to remember who He was looking at. He wasn’t sermonizing, delivering a prepared oratory masterpiece to a mass generic audience. It wasn’t a canned speech He had taken on the circuit. Jesus, full of compassion, sat on the plain and spoke. To them. To the unlucky, to the outcast and insignificant, to the overlooked and undervalued.
And He began with this word: “Blessed.”
Except it wasn’t quite that word.
Both Luke and Matthew chose the Greek word makarios to capture our Lord’s opening word in the Beatitudes.2 Makarios simply means “fortunate, happy.” In secular Greek literature, it is used to describe the blissful state of the gods. It is not an inherently religious word.3 The Greek word more like our words “blessed” or “blessing” is eulogia. Eulogia is often used to invite or invoke God’s blessing and also to bless God. That word was, of course, available to Jesus—and Luke and Matthew. But He—they—chose makarios instead.
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament—the version of the Scriptures many in Jesus’ day would have used—makarios is the word used most often to translate the Hebrew word asar. But asar is not the word for a “God-blessed” person or thing or action. In fact it is rarely used of God blessing anything or anyone.4 Asar is simply “happy, favored, prosperous” and has the connotation of one whose paths are straight, which is a way of saying someone for whom things always unfold neatly and nicely.
The psalmist in Psalm 1 uses asar to say, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” It’s also the word the queen of Sheba used when she exclaimed, “How happy your men must be!” as a way of praising Solomon (1 Kings 10:8). Even though asar has the implication, by the context of its use, that God is the true source or reason for the person’s blessedness, it is not inherently a religious word. It’s a marketplace word, used to simply say that a person is fortunate, that he “has it good.”
If we were to use a word today for makarios, we would choose the word lucky. Not lucky as in the result of randomness. Not lucky as in the reward for properly acknowledging a superstition or a charm. It is neither the product of erratic chance nor the result of currying favor with some capricious god. It is simply lucky as we use it conversationally: You lucky dog, you get to take a vacation next week! Or, Lucky you! You just got a promotion in the middle of a recession! Makarios, as one New Testament commentator suggested, is akin to the Aussie slang, “Good on ya, mate,” which is rather like the American, “Good for you!” Which are both like saying, “Lucky you!”
The irony of this word choice is heightened when we imagine Jesus looking at these ordinary, unspectacular people and exclaiming, “Lucky you!” He might as well have said, “Lucky are the unlucky!”5
Lucky are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Lucky are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Lucky are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Lucky are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.6
Why would Jesus say that? Why would He call these unlikely and unlucky people, lucky?
An Unlikely People
The Jews of Jesus’ day knew that they were the lucky ones. They were Abraham’s descendants. They were the insiders. They were God’s special covenant people.
Abraham’s family had been chosen to be God’s people—by grace! And because it was Abraham’s descendants who were enslaved in Egypt, God heard the cries of His people and sent Moses to rescue them—again, by grace! Then, after they had been chosen as God’s people, after they had been saved from Egypt, Moses gave them the law.
The law was not how they became the covenant people of God; the law was how they were to live as the covenant people of God. For the Jews of the first century, the Mosaic law itself was not seen as a means of becoming God’s people; rather it was a sort of badge of honor displaying that they were indeed God’s people. You might say that the law was a sign of their luckiness. And yet the law was also a clear reminder of how far they had fallen short. They were well aware of their transgressions against the law. Even worse, their history was stained by their covenant unfaithfulness. Still God’s steady faithfulness to Israel remained. And because of that, hope that Israel would be “lucky” again—that they would be delivered from their enemies, be freed from exile, and have their calling fulfilled—was alive in their hearts.
All that history and drama of privilege and failure and faithfulness and hope and expectation are the backdrop for Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5—7 and the condensed but parallel Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. The Sermon consists of quite possibly the most written-about passages of Scripture in church history.
One of the most common views is to see the Sermon as a new law. There are indeed striking parallels between the story of Moses and the story of Jesus. Moses came out of Egypt, went through the waters of the Red Sea and the wilderness on Sinai, and ascended the mountain and came down with the law; Jesus came out of Egypt (as a child), went through the waters of baptism and the wilderness of temptation, and ascended the hill7 to deliver this sermon. Matthew’s phrase “He opened His mouth and began to teach them” (5:2 NASB) is not filler. It’s a Hebrew idiom to denote one who speaks with divine authority, one who utters the very oracles of God. The view of the Sermon as a new kind of law can help us see something that was likely part of Jesus’ point: He means to say, to those who thought they were so good at keeping Moses’ law, that unless they kept it even in their hearts they would not enter the kingdom. This is certainly clear in Matthew 5:20 when He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In the later sections of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “You have heard … but I say unto you …,” it becomes clear that Jesus meant for them to internalize the law of Moses. The truth is, the law was always meant to be internalized, written on their hearts, and obeyed out of love for God and neighbor. Moses had said as much in his day, and later the prophets revisited the theme. Jesus, revealing the Father’s intent, was giving the final word. It’s not enough not to murder; you cannot hate. It’s not enough not to commit adultery; you cannot lust. And so on. For the first listeners, the Sermon would have led them to realize the futility of their efforts and to respond with some version of the question “Who can live like this?” And that would have been exactly the thing Jesus was after—to show that no one could truly fulfill the law alone.
This is where some of our modern teachers have made the mistake of throwing the whole thing out. “It’s all there just to frustrate us, to lead us to a Savior who will forgive and redeem us,” they say. But that is only half true. Jesus does mean for us to live in the way He describes in His Sermon: He wants us to be righteous from the inside out. In fact, if we draw a parallel between when and why the Mosaic law was given and this so-called “new law” of Christ, the point becomes clearer. Just as the Mosaic law was given to a people who had already been chosen by grace and saved by grace, so for those who are in Christ, this new, inside-out way of living is for those who have already become God’s people by grace. It would be impossible to treat it as simply good moral advice and discouraging to attempt to obey it as a means of “getting in.” Jesus meant for His Sermon to be viewed as the way to live as the people of God, not the way to become the people of God. The great teachers throughout church history, from Chrysostom and Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries to Luther and the Reformers in the sixteenth century, understood that the entire Sermon must be read from the perspective of one who has already been saved by grace through faith. Martin Luther said, “Christ is saying nothing in this sermon about how we become Christians, but only about the works and fruit that no one can do unless he already is a Christian and in a state of grace.”8
Because we are in Christ, we are now the covenant people of God regardless of our ethnicity and national identity. We are “in”—by grace! We are rescued—by grace! Feeling lucky? But wait. There’s more. We have received the Holy Spirit, which means that living this way—this way of inward righteousness—is not merely up to our own strength. We don’t simply say, “Thanks, God. I’ll take it from here.” It is God’s design that, once we are saved through Him, we receive the power, through His Spirit, to actually become the kind of person He is describing.
The Sermon, far from being a list of conditions for entry in the kingdom, is an elaborate description of how this new people of God, empowered by grace through the Holy Spirit, are to now live. Not only have we—outsiders and onlookers—been brought into the kingdom because of Jesus; now, because we are in the kingdom, because we are living under God’s rule, this is the kind of life that God the Spirit produces in us.
Feeling lucky, yet?
This is all well and good for the bulk of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, but what about the first few verses of each, the Beatitudes? Some have suggested that the Beatitudes are a “ladder of virtue,” an ascending list of qualities to be attained, a sort of growth chart for the Christian. But that would make persecution the final stage in our maturation, an idea that would have made perfect sense in one era and none in another. And it would create a sort of hierarchy, distinguishing between the “serious” followers of Christ who obey the full list and the “casual Christians” who choose not to.
Others have said it is a pronouncement of the way things are, an unveiling of the mystery of life. But this would be odd, for we know that not all who mourn are comforted. And the daily news is proof that the meek never inherit much of anything.
Many teachers have taken a more moderate path, shying away from calling them a ladder of virtue or a pronouncement of the way things are and seeing them, instead, as prescriptions on how to live. Should we pursue poverty and sorrow and persecution? To read the Beatitudes as blessings that are being given because of something these people have done requires a sort of spiritualizing of the text. We would have to take being “poor in spirit” as a way of saying “morally bankrupt” and make “mourning” synonymous with “repentance.” We would emphasize that to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is to desire and long for the kind of inward “rightness of being” that only God can give us in Christ. This sort of reading of the Beatitudes has been emphasized through the centuries, from Augustine in the fourth century to the esteemed Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones in the twentieth century, and with good reason. It is hard to miss the progression from admitting our state of spiritual poverty to mourning in repentance to beginning to crave for an inward righteousness, and so on. Reading the Beatitudes as blessings on certain spiritual virtues would certainly be consistent with what the Scriptures teach us about growing in Christ.
But the bulk of writing and teaching on the Beatitudes has zeroed in on Matthew’s list rather than Luke’s. Luke’s list is half the size of Matthew’s (four instead of eight) and leaves no room for reading it as a list of spiritual virtues. Luke simply has Jesus announcing blessing on those who are “poor,” not those who are “poor in spirit”; those who “hunger now,” not those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness”; those who “weep now,” and who are hated, excluded, and insulted. Luke’s rendering is terse and dry. They resist spiritualization and require another way of hearing them—not a way that is in conflict with the much-written-about way, and not a way that was altogether absent in the historical expositions, just one that is not as heavily stressed. Often overshadowed by Matthew’s spiritual “Blesseds,” Luke’s shorter, sparser Beatitudes suggest another lens for Jesus’ words:
What if Jesus was announcing blessing on these people not because of their state but in spite of it?
Could it be that Jesus is not saying, “Blessed are you because you are poor,” but rather, “Blessed are you in spite of being poor, for the kingdom has come to even such as you”? Reading it this way begins to make more sense. In this light, those who are mourning are now blessed because they will—in God’s kingdom that Jesus is bringing—be comforted. They are not considered lucky because of their mourning; they are lucky because they are receiving—and will receive in fullness—the unexpected good fortune of God’s comfort in spite of their mourning now. The focus of the blessing—especially in Luke’s gospel—is on the latter portion of each Beatitude, not on the opening phrase. Luck is not in their initial conditions—of poverty and hunger and mourning and persecution—but rather in their unexpected outcomes: The kingdom of heaven in its fullness, comfort, and reward is theirs.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who paid a great price for living out his convictions and opposing an immoral military regime in World War II, wrote a landmark book called The Cost of Discipleship. Experiencing the high cost of following Jesus and His teachings in his own life, Bonhoeffer has us read these words of blessing in the shadow of the cross. Referring to Luke 6, he wrote:
Therefore Jesus calls His disciples blessed. He spoke to men who had already responded to the power of his call, and it is that call that made them poor, afflicted and hungry. He calls them blessed, not because of their privation, or the renunciation they have made, for these are not blessed themselves. Only the call and the promise … can justify the beatitudes.9
Only the call and the promise can justify the beatitudes. Not their condition but Christ’s call; not their poverty but God’s promise. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was echoing his German theological forefather Martin Luther, who also would not narrow his reading of the Beatitudes as merely a list of virtues. In Luther’s lectures on the
Sermon on the Mount, he pointed out that the people—even the crowd in Matthew’s gospel and not only the disciples in Luke’s—are not being praised for being poor or for mourning. Those are not virtues in and of themselves. They are being called blessed because the kingdom of God has come even to such as these.
The Beatitudes are chiefly an announcement, a proclamation that now, because of Jesus, everything will be different. Indeed it is already becoming different. If we can use our modern conversational expressions, we might sum up Jesus’ message like this: “Lucky you, for the kingdom of God has come to the unlikely and the unlucky.”
There is something about being the unlikely and unlucky, the marginalized and the overlooked, that sets us up perfectly to receive what God is offering. By paying attention to what that is, we can gain the right posture of heart even if our earthly circumstances are grand and prosperous. It does, to an extent, like the rest of the Sermon (whether in Matthew or Luke), paint a picture of the type of person we become when the kingdom comes to us, the type of life God’s reign will produce in us. That is how we make sense of the blessing in Matthew’s Beatitudes on the pure in heart or the peacemakers.
To keep this book within my scope, I will not attempt to add to the already rich and historic writing on Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Instead I will constrain our conversations to the four Beatitudes found in Luke’s gospel. This will help our focus to be on how the unlikely have become lucky because of what Jesus has done and is doing in us. As we talk, in the chapters that follow, about each of the four Beatitudes in Luke 6, we will unpack two dimensions: how these particular people are lucky in spite of their conditions, and how their precise conditions prepare them to surrender to God’s reign. Woven through our conversation will also be a recovery of the call that comes with the blessing: Since we’ve become the lucky ones, we must become carriers of this blessing to others who are unlikely and unlucky in our day.
For now it is enough to see that these people, the unlikely and the unlucky, are suddenly lifted to the level of admiration—how happy for you!—because the kingdom of God has come to them. This is Christ’s announcement: The kingdom has come to unlikely, unexpected people. And for that, they are lucky indeed. Lucky with a capital L.
When Eugene Peterson, known now as the translator of the well-known and well-loved The Message Bible, pastored in the Baltimore area, there was a woman who came in a bit late, sat at the back, and sneaked out before the service was over. She had never been to church before. She was in her forties, and she dressed like a hippie whose time had past, but the joy on her face was new. Her husband was an alcoholic, her son a drug addict, and her friends relentless in persuading her to come to church. Week after week, she repeated this pattern of being fashionably late in arriving and serendipitously early in leaving.
Then Peterson taught a series on the life of David. One week in the midst of it, she decided to stay. The benediction was spoken, and there she was, still in her seat. When Peterson stood at the doors to greet people on their way out, she came to him with a look of astonishment. “Pastor, thank you. I’ve never heard that story before. I just feel so lucky,” she said. Week after week, this became her new tradition: to greet the pastor on her way out and say, surprised by the hope, the forgiveness, the redemption she had learned were hers, “I feel so lucky.”
It was that experience that made Peterson want to use the word lucky as the opening word of each Beatitude in his new translation. But he was not particularly well-known then, and the publishers were already taking an enormous risk allowing for such a modern colloquial translation. The editors got nervous and suggested he stick to the conventional word blessed even though the Greek makarios, as I’ve already noted and as Peterson insists, is not a “religious” word. It is a street-language word, not one reserved for hymns and prayers and blessings from God.
Either new editors came along or Peterson earned a little more latitude. When The Message translation of the Old Testament Wisdom Books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) rolled out five years later, the word lucky showed up eight times. Then the rest of the Old Testament was finished, and it showed up eleven more times.
No passage to me is more beautiful than this:
I dare to believe that the luckless will get lucky someday in you. (Ps. 10:14 MSG)
If Jesus were sitting across the table from you and said to you that you are blessed, that He counts you as lucky, what would you think?
That’s crazy. No, I’m not, you would insist. I’m ordinary, unspectacular. And besides, I’m too messed up; I’ve made too many mistakes. I’m the person on the fringes, the margins, the outskirts. I’m not admired or applauded, respected or rewarded. I’m just … me. And whatever that is, it’s not lucky.
Or you would be tempted to think—as so many TV preachers do—that what this means is that everything you touch will turn to gold. You are blessed, and from here on out, everything is going to work out right. You’ll never get sick, never be broke, never be troubled again. You’ll live a charmed life. Things are going to get better and better until you fly away to glory. That’s what it means to be lucky.
Both responses would be wrong.
Jesus took an inherently nonreligious word, a word from normal everyday conversations, and filled it with divine implications. It turns out the ones we ought to call lucky are the ones God is blessing with the arrival of His kingdom. In doing this, Jesus redefined who the lucky ones are. They are not the ones culture lauds as successful, not the ones we secretly aspire to be. He turned our appraisal of the good life on its head. There is a great reversal coming; indeed it has already begun. And the ones who are receiving and participating in the kingdom of God are the ones who are truly lucky, deeply blessed.
Just like the people Jesus addressed, you are called lucky not because of your poverty or your hunger or your mourning or the persecution you’re enduring. You are lucky because in spite of it, you have been invited into the kingdom. It may not mean that your circumstances will immediately change. Many who heard Jesus’ words didn’t go off and all of a sudden “discover their purpose” and become influential world changers. Many, if not most, of them kept farming. And fishing. And raising their kids and going about their lives.
And yet everything had changed. They had seen a glimpse of God at work. Their hope was now rooted in the belief that Messiah had come. All that was wrong was beginning to be undone.
So it is for you. God has come to you in the midst of your mess and mistakes. He is announcing His arrival into your ordinary unspectacular life and inviting you to follow, to surrender, to live in a different way. God is rescuing and redeeming the world, and you—unlikely you!—have somehow gotten in on it. The trajectory of your life has been altered. You now have a part in the future that God is bringing. Like Abraham, you have been blessed to carry blessing, to live as a luck-bearer to the unlikely and the unlucky. You are receiving and participating in the kingdom of God.
And for that you are lucky. So lucky!
1. Who do you consider to be lucky? Who is living a charmed life? Why do you think that?
2. How does this chapter reshape your picture of the person who is to be admired?
3. How is this exposition of Luke’s Beatitudes different from the way you’ve read it in the past?