Tag Archives: Victory

Oracle

Oracle (CaD Ps 21) Wayfarer

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
Psalm 21:8 (NRSVCE)

In the movie The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is told that he must visit “The Oracle” who is the person who will tell him if he is “the One.” I love how the movie builds up suspense about the identity of this powerful person only to find out that it’s a chain smoking African American grandmother baking cookies. Brilliant.

The word “oracle” comes from the Latin word meaning “to speak.” It’s same root word from which we get the word “oratory.” Oracle could refer both to the person and the message he or she uttered. Oracles in the ancient world were considered portals through which the divine spoke, typically predicting what was going to happen. An Oracle was different from a Seer, who interpreted signs kind of like the reading of tea leaves.

There is evidence of a specific type of oracle in the ancient world that was specific to battle and it was the “oracle of victory.” It was a prediction given to the king of what would happen in the battle. For the Hebrew people, prophets served as oracles and would predict the outcome if the king was proposing to ride out to battle an enemy.

In today’s psalm, David begins the lyrics of his song by praising God for all the God has done for him and acknowledging his trust in God. But then, in verse 8, the voice changes from “you are” to “you will.” The rest of the song is an oracle of victory, a song of faith that God will destroy David’s enemies.

One of the things I’ve learned to look for when reading through the texts of the Great Story is recurring patterns or themes. The theme I’ve noticed in the last few of David’s songs is the fact that the great king and warrior, the famed slayer of the giant Goliath, is intent on making God the focal point. David ascribes his victories to God. David’s oracle of victory is about what God is going to do. While David had every opportunity to bask in the spoils of his position and track record, he chooses time and time again to point all the attention and give all the credit to God.

That has me thinking about my own life, my accomplishments, my successes, my little victories. Do I want the attention on me, or do I want the attention on God? To take it even further, will I still trust God, praise God, and make God the focal point even in life’s defeats? I can’t help but think of the scene in The Matrix when the Oracle surprises and disappoints everyone by telling them what they didn’t want to hear. There’s a very similar story in 1 Kings 22 when the prophet Micaiah gives the king an oracle of defeat. Sometimes life delivers an oracle of victory, and sometimes it gives us an oracle of defeat. Am I willing to accept both, and trust God for the ultimate outcome?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Walking Humbly

The Lord Almighty planned it,
    to bring down her pride in all her splendor
    and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
Isaiah 23:9 (NIV)

The autumn season it a busy time for my business. We begin looking the coming year, preparing proposals for clients, and forecasting what the coming year will look like for us. Over a quarter century I have experienced both the highs and lows of business. For a long time it seemed that our company’s business would continue to grow at a fast pace. I can remember a number of years of continuous expansion when it seemed nothing could stop us.

I’ve learned, however, that things can change in a hurry. It’s amazing how quickly a person can go from dreaming big to scrambling to make ends meet. It’s a humbling experience.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah turns his prophetic eye on the city of Tyre which was a powerful port of trade on the Mediterranean. The trading ships of Tyre did a lot of business, and they had been on a good run for a long period of time. Isaiah prophetically warned them to get ready for a devastating change in the business forecast.

Isaiah points out that the coming devastation was intended by God to teach humility. It was another one of the ancient prophets, Micah, who said that what God really requires of us is to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.” I like the image of walking humbly. Humility is not momentary. It’s not like a coat we put on for a chilly day. It’s an everyday mindset for every stretch of life’s journey, both the  bears and the bulls, the peaks and the valleys, the good times and the bad.

This morning I’m thinking again of our nation. Some are feeling smug and assured in victory. Some are feeling devastated in the sting of defeat. Days like these bring out the absolute worst that pride produces in us, both in triumph and tragedy. I am thinking about Tyre in its booming heyday, and impending decline. I am remembering my own pride when I believed nothing could go wrong, and the painful days when it actually did. I am reminded this morning of walking humbly every step of this journey.

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featured image by antrover via flickr

…For 30 Minutes

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged….”
Joshua 8:1a (NIV)

Everyone who knows Wendy and me knows that we are baseball fans. In particular, we’re fans of the Chicago Cubs. Right now there is a lot of excitement in our house as the regular season opens next Monday night. The first game against Anaheim will start at 9:00 p.m. CDT. We will just be getting back from rehearsal. We’ll see how much of it we actually watch before we fall asleep. (Thank God for DVRs!)

Of all the major league sports, baseball’s season is truly a marathon. In the NFL’s 16 game season, every game is technically important, as one loss can come back to bite you when it comes time to the playoffs and home field advantage. In baseball, there are 162 regular season games between the beginning of April and the end of September. The best of teams will lose about a third of their games and occasionally suffer humiliating defeats. Even the worst teams in the league will win a third or more of their games and occasionally beat the best teams.

The Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, instituted a tradition in the Cub’s clubhouse last season. When the Cubs win, there is a party in the clubhouse for 30 minutes. Loud music, disco ball, dancing, shouting, and basking in the joy of the moment….for 30 minutes. Then, it’s back to work thinking about the next day’s game. Likewise, when the team loses, they are allowed to grieve for 30 minutes. Mope, scream, cry, commiserate, and feel the discouragement…for 30 minutes. Then, its back to work thinking about the next day’s game.

Our life journey is more like baseball season than football season. We all will experience our share of victories, and our share of defeats. No one, no matter how good the press and social media make them look, runs the table and is exempt from suffering loss and hardship. Everyone strikes out.

In today’s chapter, Josh and his team have just suffered an unexpected defeat after the huge victory at Jericho. It was the let down after the big game. Reality check. There is a sudden sense of gloom permeating the clubhouse. God, like a good manager, only lets the grief last for 30 minutes. It’s time to get the team’s focus on the next game: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. We’ve got a game against the King of Ai today, and I’ve got a game plan for one you’re gonna love!”

Today, I’m thinking about victories I’ve experienced in this life, and defeats. No matter how bad the loss, there are victories ahead. No matter how great the victory is, I’m going to strike out again at some point. As sure as the sun is going to rise and set. I need to let myself enjoy the victories…for about 30 minutes. Then I get back to work. I need to allow myself to grieve the losses…for about 30 minutes. Then get back to work.

Go get ’em.

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featured image by yozza via Flickr

Victory Song

Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying….
Judges 5:1 (NRSV)

For centuries, nations celebrated key military victories with song. Back in the Exodus, Moses’ song was sung after the victory over the Egyptians. Psalms 18, 20, and 118 are examples of songs of victory in David’s day. Today, the practice is more apt to be associated with athletic victories. When our beloved Cubbies win (over 100 times this past season!) I can’t help but break out in the refrains of “Go, Cubs, Go! Hey Chicago whattaya say? The Cubs are gonna win today!”

The practice had several practical elements.

First, it united the people in celebration. There’s nothing quite like everyone joining together in song. We do it in almost all communal events. In church we have hymns. In pubs we have drinking songs. At sporting events we have fight songs. Songs bring people together as one in the moment, and a victory is a key moment for such an event.

Second, it helps assure historic memory. I’m sure most ancient victory songs are forgotten in time, but the victory songs of Moses, Deborah and David have lasted millennia and I myself remember singing the song of Moses in Sunday School. A good victory song was a way that a victory might be memorialized forever.

Third, it would encourage future generations. As victory songs were sung through time, they inspired and encouraged soldiers that victory was possible for them, too. “If them, then why not us?” soldiers would think as they sang the familiar victory songs and shored up their anxious souls.

Also, the victory song could be instructive. Armies feeling good about themselves, basking in the glow of their achievement, could be reminded to be grateful and humble. Battles can go either direction and there’s no sense in gettin’ the big head. Thank God for the victory. There’s a great scene at the end of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V after the historic battle of Agincourt. Outnumbered 5 to 1, the British pulled out an improbable victory over the French.

Shakespeare penned this dialogue between Henry and his Captain (and cousin) Fluellen:

KING HENRY V

Come, go we in procession to the village.
And be it death proclaimed through our host
To boast of this or take the praise from God
Which is his only.

FLUELLEN

Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
how many is killed?

KING HENRY V

Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
That God fought for us.

FLUELLEN

Yes, my conscience, he did us great good.

KING HENRY V

Do we all holy rites;
Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’
The dead with charity enclosed in clay:
And then to Calais; and to England then:
Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.

“Non nobis” and “Te Deum” is the latin version of “Not to us, but to Thy name be glory.”

Today, I’m thinking about victory and encouragement and community and humility. I enter today with a handful of songs on my lips.

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Blind Spots

Davids Family TreeWhen King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved first born son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light of our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

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Prepared for Success: Connecting the Dots

david-warrior-and-kingKing David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold from all the nations he had subdued…. 2 Samuel 8:11 (NIV)

Yesterday I was in my client’s office and he was sharing with me a little bit about his background. He took me through a brief overview of his professional journey and resume. At the end of it, he had connected the dots to reveal how his entire career had uniquely prepared him for his current role in his company and industry. Laughing, he told me “I guess I learned a thing or two along the way.”

I thought about that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. David was on a roll. Bent on expanding and establishing his kingdom, his energies were focused on conquest. Connecting the dots, I recognize how all those painful years on the run from Saul now benefitted him greatly. Those difficult years prepared him uniquely to be a successful leader. He had been forced to live in foreign territories and had gathered around himself an international military team. He knew how to lead a diverse group of men. His understanding of neighboring nations, their politics, their militaries, and all of the geopolitical nuances of the region allowed him to be shrewd in his decisions as a general and a king. Like my client, David had learned a thing or two along the way.

I have to believe that all of those years depending on God for daily strength, courage, provision and perseverance also prepared David with humility. He knew what it was like to be an outlaw living life in a cave. Now that he was king and the military victories were stacking up David had not lost sight of God who made those victories possible. The trophies of victory he dedicated to God, refusing to take the glory for himself.

Today I am reminded to place credit where credit is due in my own life and victories. Like my client, like David, I can connect the dots in my journey and see how God has led me to this place. I’ve learned a thing or two as well, and have been prepared for my calling. Though my victories are relatively small and insignificant in the scheme of things, there is no doubt that I have been richly blessed. God has been good to me and I never want to lose sight of that nor take credit for what has been graciously given.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 44

English: Compact Disc player carousel for thre...

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Get up! Do not reject us forever.
Psalm 44:23 (NLT)

Go through almost any CD and you’ll generally find a wide mixture music. A fast paced, energetic song will be followed by an introspective ballad. The next song will have driving intensity and a powerful social message, but the following track will be a sweet song of love. Record producers know that you can’t put together a CD with ten tracks that all sound the same. Variety is the spice of life. As life’s journey contains both peaks and valleys, we need music to express the breadth of the human experience.

When reading through the book of Psalms, we can never forget that it is a catalog of musical lyrics. It was carefully compiled by ancient record producers. Like the CD that slides into the dashboard of our car stereo, the psalms contain a diverse selection of songs which speak to an immense variety of life circumstances.

Everyone experiences crushing defeat from time to time. The greatest sports teams of all time still lose some of the time. Watch the Biography Channel and you’ll see that every person who has reached the heights of success has had to experience tremendous loss on their way up. There is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory, and there is a time for defeat.

The lyric of today’s psalm come out of the confusion and questions which rise up in our hearts and minds after a crushing loss. In those acute moments of despair we remember past victories and when things were good. We feel the injustice of the defeat in light of our self-righteousness. We feel alone and abandoned as if God decided to sleep in and forget about us.

Music reminds us that we’re not alone. Turn up the blues and we find encouragement that others have been there before us. We sing along and our negative emotions find a healthy outlet of expression. Keep listening. Keep singing. The next track on the CD reminds us that these feelings of abandonment and despair are momentary. Better times are just a song away.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 20

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
    May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
Psalm 20:1 (NLT)

The other night as Wendy and I sat at the I-Cubs game, the score was tied at 1-1 going into the bottom of the 9th inning. On the park’s video screen they played a montage of 40 different locker room and pre-battle speeches from famous movies. As the scenes, some familiar and others less so, played on the music swelled underneath. It was the pre-battle music from one of my favorite movies: Henry V. The crowd began to cheer as the music and words combined to pump everyone up for the bottom of the 9th (though it took the Cubs three more innings to score the winning run).

The first thing I noticed about the lyrics of today’s Psalm is that much of it is not directed as a personal prayer to God, as most of the Psalms are written. The voice of Psalm 20 is directed as a prayer of blessing and encouragement to another person. In this case, the song was sung to bless and encourage the king as he prepared to go out to battle. Psalm 20 is an ancient locker room speech set to music.

Every day can feel like a battle. In fact, Jesus warned every follower to be on guard because our spiritual enemy and the spiritual forces of darkness are constantly on the prowl to devour and destroy. That’s one of the reasons I’ve made a habit of starting my day this way. A chapter-a-day is often my spiritual locker room speech and battle cry before I enter the day’s fray.

Today, as you enter your own daily battle, receive this blessing from one wayfaring stranger to another:

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
    May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
    and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he grant your heart’s desires
    and make all your plans succeed.

May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
    and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Now go out there and win one for the Gipper!

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 66

Rally cap. You'll see all this and burst with joy
   —you'll feel ten feet tall—
As it becomes apparent that God is on your side
   and against his enemies
. Isaiah 66:14 (MSG)

A couple of years ago Wendy and I took Taylor and Clayton to an Iowa Cubs game. The game looked to be a real downer as the I-Cubs were losing by three runs going into the bottom of the ninth. Then, the four of us witnessed the quintessential baseball moment. It was Casey at the Bat come to life. The Cubs loaded the bases, and with two outs and the count full at 3 and 2, there was just one pitch to determine the outcome of the game. Everyone was on their feet. The crowd was going crazy. It happened. Our hometown boy knocked it out of the park for a Grand Slam to win the game. We walked out of the park that night feeling ten feet tall. I will never forget that game.

There is nothing quite like the moment of victory for an athlete or a fan. I think we all have experienced the thrill of victory at one time or another. The last second shot goes in. Coming from behind against impossible odds to win the match. A Hail Mary pass is caught in the end-zone.

God promised salvation through Jesus, and delivered in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. He has also promised an ultimate victory for any who would believe. We will all know a bottom-of-the-ninth Grand Slam to rival no other. We will stand and feel ten feet tall as we witness God victorious.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and dim7chord

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 15

Ticker tape parade. And the people complained to Moses, "So what are we supposed to drink?" Exodus 15:24 (MSG)

Since I was a teenager I've held a number of leadership positions for groups large and small. It's always fascinating for me to watch and experience group dynamics. I've exerienced first hand how quickly you can feel a shift in the winds of popularity and approval. I can see the same thing in today's chapter.

The 15th chapter of Exodus spends 21 verses describing the victory song of the Israelites. Can you imagine how Moses must have felt as the Red Sea parted to save them, then fell in to destroy their enemies? Can you imagine the praise that was heaped on him by the people at the post-game pep rally? Even as the people praised God, they knew Moses was the man God ordained as their head coach. 

"Moses is the MAN!" "Way to go, MO!" "Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo!"

Then, three days and two verses after the most miraculous victory in recorded history, the honeymoon is over. People are thirsty and the waters of Marah weren't fit to drink. In three days Moses approval rating plummets from all time high to unforseen lows.

Crowds are fickle. Popularity is fleeting. Those who build their lives on the approval rating of their family, friends and peers will experience the life draining insanity of that roller coaster. God's words to Moses at the end of the chapter were a timely reminder for Moses, for Israel, and for us. Whether you are riding a wave of popularity or trudging through a valley of criticism, God's call is the same: Listen to me, and obey.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Jery McNutz