Deo Gratias

Scripture Focus: 1 Peter 3.17-18
For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

From John: After celebrating Thanksgiving yesterday in the United States, we continue to focus on giving thanks over this weekend by looking back at this post from 2019 offering praise and thankfulness to our God.

Reflection: Deo Gratias
By William Cooper (fl. 1653)

St. Augustine inaugurated that ancient custom among Christians, in whose mouths you should always hear these words: Deo Gratias, “Thanks be to God!” When they met and saluted one another, Deo Gratias, “God be thanked.” When they heard any tidings of persecution or protection, favor or frown, gain or loss, cross or comfort — still Deo Gratias.

“What,” said Augustine, “shall brothers in Christ not give God thanks when they see one another? What better thing can we speak, or think, or write, than this? God be thanked! Nothing can be more compendiously spoken, nor more gladly heard, nor more solemnly understood, nor more profitably acted, than this; God be thanked!”

Such a frame of heart had holy Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

And such a one was in the sweet singer of Israel: “I will bless the Lord at all times.” Notable is that of Chrysostom: “There is nothing, nothing we can study, more pleasing to God than to be thankful — not only in good days but also when things fall cross. This is the best sacrifice and oblation we offer God.”

This made Jerome say, “It is peculiar to Christians to give thanks in adversity. To praise God for benefits, this [anyone] can do. To give God thanks in dangers according to the apostle’s sense, and in miseries — to always to say, ‘Blessed be God’ — this is the highest pitch of virtue. Here is your Christian; such a one takes up his cross, and follows his Savior: no loss or cross can dishearten him.”

To give God thanks for crosses and afflictions is to be numbered among those singular things which Christians are bound to excel in. We ought excel beyond [those who do not believe] in loving our enemies and blessing those that curse — which our Savior exhorts and commands.

We must thank the Lord for afflicting us, and for laying the cross upon us, because it is so far below what we deserve at his hands. To drink as He drank it we cannot — we need not. Thank God, then, that you have such a little share of it — when all was your portion by right and justice. This is worthy of our thanks.

Text excerpted from How Must We In All Things Give Thanks? 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Oh God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 22 (Listen – 3:25)
1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 23 (Listen – 4:20), 1 Peter 4 (Listen – 2:50)
1 Chronicles 24-25 (Listen – 7:01), 1 Peter 5 (Listen – 2:11)

Read more about A Thanksgiving
Deny me wealth, fear, far remove
The love of power or name;
Hope thrives in straits, in weakness love,
And faith in the world’s shame.

Read more about Thanksgiving Stirs God’s Heart
If we could only see the heart of the Father, we would be drawn into praise and thanksgiving more often. — Richard Foster

Missing the Son of David

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 18.14
14 David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people. 

Reflection: Missing the Son of David
By John Tillman

David is described as doing what is “just and right for all his people.” This does not mean that the author is in denial about David’s errors and human mistakes. The writer is speaking in generalities but is also speaking of David as a model of a ruler to come. 

Soon, we will enter the season of Advent, in which we await the coming reign of the Son of David. Jesus is this ruler we are looking for. He will bring a kingdom with justice and righteousness for all his people.

We have written before about justice and righteousness. Justice, or mishpat, is the law being upheld. Righteousness, or sedeq, implies the actions that uphold it. At times, sedeq is even translated as “justice.” The accomplishment of justice is righteousness and righteousness accomplishes justice. To advocate for one and deny the other is like claiming fire is cold or ice is hot.

Many looked and longed for justice and righteousness that they believed would come with the Son of David. Many of those same people missed Jesus when he came. They were looking for something else.

They looked for wealth and status. They missed him because he was poor. They looked for political empowerment and military might. They missed him because he eschewed power. They looked for violent overthrow. They missed him because he chose non-violence.

As we read the gospels, we need to examine the descriptions Jesus gives of his kingdom. We have the benefit of hindsight. We can see what the religious leaders should have seen. As we notice their blind spots, we should think about our own.

What type of righteousness and justice are we looking for from the Son of David? Are we looking for the right things? Could we miss him because we are focusing on the wrong qualities?

Like the two blind men, and the foreign demoniac’s mother, let us call out to the Son of David to save us using this prayer based on our reading from James 5.1-6:

Make us generous so that no worker would cry against us…
And our lives would not be fattened with luxuries…
Make us a shield that covers the innocent…
Make us a sword that cuts free the oppressed…
Lord, clothe us in your righteousness…
May our footprints leave justice behind us.
May we be true Sons and Daughters of David.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
He will keep safe all his bones; not one of them shall be broken. — Psalm 34.15-20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 18 (Listen – 2:36)
James 5 (Listen – 3:01)

Read more about Justice to Wormwood
Justice is very much the business of people of faith and when people ignore it or frustrate it…God notices.

Read more about God’s Sufficient Justice
Being righteous before other humans is easy. We just have to be slightly less evil at heart than the next guy.

What We Do For God

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 17.9-10
9 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 10 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies. 
“ ‘I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you:

Reflection: What We Do For God
By John Tillman

When we feel thankfulness towards people, it is natural to want to do something for them in return. This is the motivation David has in wanting to build a “house” for God.

“I have a house,” David thinks, “surely God wants one too.” It’s a natural thought for someone who spent years running for his life, living in caves and tents. Permanency and place are a comfort David has not often known. He longs for a more permanent sense of God’s presence.

God eventually allows David to plan and Solomon to build the Temple. However, God emphasizes that he neither needs nor desires a “home” and tells David that, rather than David building a house for him, God will build one for David.

As well meant as Solomon’s Temple was, it was insufficient. It became corrupted. It failed. It was deservedly destroyed. We cannot build a house for God any more successfully than David did. Our hands are also bloody. The generations following us will likewise be sinful. 

How often do we keep trying to build God a house? How often does he say to us, as he said to David, “No. I will build a house for you.”?
I will plant you and protect you.
I will cause you to bloom and grow fruit.
I will walk with you through darkness.
I will lay a table for you amidst your enemies.
I will prepare a place for you to be with me.
I will come and bring you to myself.

Every house has a builder. The house we are destined for is one built by God. (Hebrews 3.4; Isaiah 62.5) To enter it, we will have to put on the righteousness that is won for us by Christ. Nothing we have built will enter it.

What we might do “for God” cannot compare to what God has done. And, at times, what we do “for God” turns out to be just something else for ourselves. Rather than attempt to do great things for God, we should simply do godly things for others.

Do we want to do something for God? Then we should do it for the least of these, the brothers and sisters of the lowly Jesus. (Matthew 25.40, 45) When we do things for the least of these we are doing those things for God. These acts of worship are the Temple, the “house,” God desires to build as his church.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. — Psalm 18.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 17 (Listen – 4:14)
James 4 (Listen – 2:25)

Read more about Prayer of Devotion from the USA
Give me the courage and strength to follow Christ’s example, and to share the abundance of my blessings, now and forever.

Read more about Wake-up Call
Don’t push “snooze” on the alarms sounding in these passages. Their intention is not to terrify us, but to guide us to action.

Perishable and Imperishable Kingdoms

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 12.17-18
17 David went out to meet them and said to them, “If you have come to me in peace to help me, I am ready for you to join me. But if you have come to betray me to my enemies when my hands are free from violence, may the God of our ancestors see it and judge you.” 
18 Then the Spirit came on Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: 
“We are yours, David! 
We are with you, son of Jesse! 
Success, success to you, 
and success to those who help you, 
for your God will help you.” 

Reflection: Perishable and Imperishable Kingdoms
By John Tillman

Chronicles might seem like a book that looks back, longing for the “good old days,” but in reality it uses the past to think about the future.

David’s kingdom is idealized partly because one purpose of Chronicles is reminding people that a king “like David” is coming. Its readers had seen a Temple and a wall rebuilt, but not a kingdom. They wrestled with God’s promises of the past and past generations’ failures to fully realize those promises. Did God mean what he said about David’s kingdom having no end? Would God really bless the nations through them? When would this “Son of David” arise?

Chronicles gives a more thorough account of the slowly growing support for David after Saul’s reign. These men from many tribes transferred allegiance to a homeless, wandering king and a kingdom not fully realized. Many brought their entire families. 

Amasai is the chief of David’s elite fighting force. They are known more for feats of battle than prophecy. Yet, Amasai was also a Levite and God’s Spirit came on him to proclaim that he, and those with him, were for David. By God’s Spirit he prophesied success and peace.

Many times in my life I have idealized “Mighty Men” like Amasai, Joab, and the other “sons of Zeruiah.” There are good things we can draw from these men and their many brave actions. However, too much teaching in the church about these men invokes “spiritual warfare” in twisted ways that allow Christians to cloak political violence in spiritual language.

These men and their lifestyles are not ideals for the Christian life. Many who served David, such as Joab, relied on violence, shrewdness, and political assassinations. They shed their own country members’ blood in service of their own power and to cover up David’s sins.

There are kingdoms of this world, like Saul’s, that are passing away. These earthly kings, tribes, and parties demand our attention, our fealty, our loyalty. They ask us to shed others’ blood by endorsing, normalizing, or embracing violence. We might fight…except that, as Jesus said, our kingdom is from another place (John 18.36) and our battles are not against flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6.12)

Let us not be goaded by kings, like Saul, who may be destroyed by their own violence. By God’s Spirit, may we forsake perishing, worldly kingdoms and prophesy success and peace for the imperishable kingdom of Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear. Down the middle of the city street, on either bank of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are cure for the nations. The curse of destruction will be abolished. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And night will be abolished; they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign forever and ever. — Revelation 22.1-5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 11:59)
Hebrews 13 (Listen – 3:31)

Read more about The Superior Bravery of Tenderness
Bad spiritual takeaways from these “Mighty Men” passages “baptize” men’s sinful, violent tendencies as honorable spiritual qualities.

Read more about Not So Random Acts of Kindness
Jesus is a greater king than David, never failing to minister to those in need. He did more than honor the outcast, he cured their disease.

Sheerah the City Builder

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 7.21-24
Ezer and Elead were killed by the native-born men of Gath, when they went down to seize their livestock. 22 Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him. 23 Then he made love to his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his family. 24 His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah. 

Hebrews 11.13-16
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 

Reflection: Sheerah the City Builder
By John Tillman

Most readers probably don’t remember Sheerah because her only mention is in a genealogy. Genealogies typically go father to son, father to son. Mentions of females are notable.

Genealogies seem boring to modern readers. Name after name parades down the page (often names we have difficulty pronouncing) and we just don’t see the point. 

The extreme individualism of our age is one reason for this boredom. We don’t typically feel connected to our ancestors. We see ourselves as solo artists or heroes, not a part of a whole. However, genealogies go beyond record-keeping. They tell stories.

Reading these passages was a way to re-experience the stories of those mentioned. Readers knew the stories from the other scriptures and the prophets. Their memories would light up as they read even just the names. Like a cameo of a Marvel character appearing briefly in a post-credits scene, these lists of names have exciting tidbits for those with the patience to read them.

The miniature stories we find in genealogies are hints of a larger tale. They are like open windows installed in a stairway, and it is worth pondering what the architect, the writer of the genealogy, hoped we would see.

Sheerah is a leader and architect. She built multiple cities, one of which bore her name. The other cities were twin cities on a border between two Israelite tribes: Ephraim and Benjamin. Upper Beth-Horan and Lower Beth-Horan, were not typical farming settlements. They were extremely important militarily and as part of the country’s religious life. 

Beth-Horan guarded an important ascent toward Jerusalem and was a city dedicated to the Levites amidst those tribes. The “upper” part of the city was Ephraim’s and the “lower” part was Benjamin’s. Levites from these cities would serve in Jerusalem’s Temple on a rotating basis.

The writer of Hebrews says all the faithful long for another land, another city. This includes the men and women listed in the genealogy of faith called the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. 

Our genealogy of faith is full of imperfect, broken, and flawed humans leading to Jesus. God is not ashamed to be called their God and he is not ashamed to be ours either. We are not alone in our walk of faith. Connection to and knowledge of our “cloud of witnesses” can inspire more Sheerahs to build cities leading others to God’s city.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. — Psalm 119.54

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 7-8 (Listen – 9:04)
Hebrews 11 (Listen – 6:22)

Read more about No Such Thing as God Forsaken
May we not lose hope in our God or hope for our cities.

Read more about Faith of the Flawed
The purpose of this passage is to demonstrate how ordinary people overcame difficult situations through their faith in God.