Glenn Packiam redefines the word lucky in the context of Jesus’ beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel.
Lucky uncovers how the poor, hungry, mourning and persecuted are blessed because the Kingdom of heaven—its fullness, comfort, and reward—is theirs in spite of their condition. This is Christ’s announcement: the Kingdom of God has come to unlikely people.
Like the people Jesus addressed, we are called lucky not because of our pain or brokenness but because in spite of it, we have been invited into the Kingdom. The trajectory of our lives have been altered. What’s more, we now have a part in the future that God is bringing. Like Abraham, we have been blessed to carry blessing, to live as luck-bearers to the unlikely and unlucky.
|Publisher:||David C Cook|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Glenn Packiam is executive pastor at New Life Church, where he oversees spiritual formation and serves as the teaching pastor for NewLifeSundayNight. Glenn is also the writer of several well-known worship songs including "Your Name" and "My Savior Lives." He is the author of Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith and Butterfly in Brazil: How Your Life Can Make a World of Difference. Glenn and his family live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
HOW THE KINGDOM COMES TO UNLIKELY PEOPLE
By GLENN PACKIAM
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Glenn Packiam
All rights reserved.
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. 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. 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. 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!"
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.
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 hill 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."
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?
Excerpted from LUCKY by GLENN PACKIAM. Copyright © 2011 Glenn Packiam. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Eugene Peterson 17
Chapter 1 Feeling Lucky? 21
Chapter 2 Luck's Beginner 41
Chapter 3 The God-Dependent 67
Chapter 4 Those Who are Empty on the World 89
Chapter 5 Those Whose Best Life Isn't Now 109
Chapter 6 Those Whom the World Rejects 131
Chapter 7 Luck-Bearers 153
Epilogue: Good. Luck. 177
Excerpt from Secondhand Jesus 191