Inner and Outward Circumcision

Scripture Focus: Genesis 17.23-27
23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. 

John 16.1-4
1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.

Acts 7.51
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

From John: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The purpose of this day is to encourage service to one’s community. Along with that purpose, we also acknowledge that many have wrongly thought that they were doing “a service for God” (John 16.2) when they committed acts of violence. May our service bring about a loving community on Earth that mirrors that above and may we redouble our efforts to counter violence and the normalization of violent language and threats in our world.

Reflection: Inner and Outward Circumcision
By John Tillman

Every male in Abraham’s household was circumcised. Not just his offspring. Not just his blood relatives. Not just those of his race or country. Everyone. Abraham did not yet have the son God promised, but all those with him were marked as children of this promise.

Even though it set Abraham apart from the rest of the world, from the very beginning circumcision made one people from diverse peoples. It was intended as an external physical marker of an internal spiritual reality. 

Eventually, circumcision, and other distinguishing marks of faith, went from being about inclusion to being about exclusion. “Holiness” became just another kind of sinful show.

Jesus warned his disciples of what they would face in the immediate future from the religious elite. Paul and Stephen would soon live out Jesus’ words. (Acts 7.51-60) Stephen called out “uncircumcised” hearts and ears of those deaf and blind to God’s Word and his work. Their inner spirituality did not match their outward ritual purity.

With any religious practice, it is easy for the ritual to become a replacement for the spiritual. Our legalistic holiness can become a sinfully prideful show. If we are not careful, we can lose our love for the Lord, and other humans, amidst our liturgies. 

But without ritual or liturgy or law our “spirituality” is just a mush of feelings—ecstatic highs and depressive lows. Liturgy, law, and the rhythmic rituals of worship are tools to remind us that we are included. They are intended to set us apart from the world and, at the same time, hold out an invitation to the world. We, like the foreigners in Abraham’s household, can be marked as children of the promise alongside Christ, Abraham’s true son.

Faith can start outwardly. Nonbelievers may begin reading the Bible, coming to church, singing worship songs, or changing outward behaviors of their lives. This can be a path to inward faith.

Faith can start inwardly. People may have sudden or life-altering conversions of heart. These may lead to disciplines such as Bible reading, worship, and lifestyle changes.

Wherever faith starts, may every part, inward and outward, be changed. By God’s grace, may our ears, hearts, and every part of our lives bear the mark of a “circumcision” that is more than skin deep. May our inner spirituality and outward reality match.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Be exalted, O Lord, in your might; we will sing and praise your power. — Psalm 21.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 17 (Listen 4:02
John 16 (Listen 4:14)

Read more about The Necessity of The Spirit
Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
January is a great time to become a monthly donor. Please consider becoming a monthly donor for 2023. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

A Time of Peace and Favor — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Revelation 14.6-7
6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Acts 17.30-31
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

2 Corinthians 6.1-2
1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.” (Isaiah 49.8)

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

Reflection: A Time of Peace and Favor — Peace of Advent
By John Tillman

Advent, arguably, is more about Christ’s second advent than his first. His first advent is used by the church to teach us how to anticipate his second. We look back to look forward. He came in meekness but one day will come in power. He lay in a manger but one day he will sit on a throne. He rode in on a donkey, with open hands, but one day he will ride on a horse, wielding a sword. Just as he was unexpected at his first advent, he will be unexpected at his second.

The angel in Revelation flies across the sky with “the eternal gospel.” The hour of judgment is coming but the hour of proclamation precedes the hour of judgment. The hour of salvation precedes the hour of damnation. The hour of invitation precedes the hour of separation.

This is the time in which we live. We are, in a sense, in midair, hanging between Heaven and Earth, poised between proclamation and judgment. 

Christ’s eternal gospel has a time and that time is always and ever now. His gospel is ever-reaching, ever-welcoming, ever-wooing. Now is the time for us to proclaim. Let us proclaim it faithfully.

Now is the Time
Now is the time of favor.
Now is the time of grace.
Now is the time God in Heaven has a baby’s face.

Now is the time of birthing. 
Now is the time of life.
Now is the time when death foresees perishing in strife.

Now the manger holds him
Now the child sleeps
The cross will one day hold him. There he will make peace.

Now is the time of calling. 
Now is the time. Shalom!
Now is the time prodigals find feasts and love at home.

Now is the time of mercy.
Now is the time. Repent.
Now ruffians and scoundrels are forgiven and sent.

Now is the time to witness. 
Now is the time to woo.
Now is the time to expose idols that make us fools.

Now is the time of appeal.
Now is the gospel spread.
Now we must bear witness. Telling what he said.

Now won’t last forever.
Now is just today.
Now is opportunity to choose the narrow way.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 5 (Listen 3:29
Revelation 14 (Listen 3:51)

This Weekend’s Readings
Nehemiah 6 (Listen 3:19Revelation 15 (Listen 1:29)
Nehemiah 7 (Listen 6:37Revelation 16 (Listen 3:17)

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a one-time or monthly donor! Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Read more about Peace from Labor
“What Child is This?” speaks to the unexpected form of our Savior. Good Christians, fear, for sinners here / the silent Word is pleading. His labor of love never ceases.

Facing Wolves

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 4.1-5
1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Acts 20.29-31a
29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard!…

Reflection: Facing Wolves
By John Tillman

Paul’s warning about false teachers echoes the words of Jesus. (Matthew 24.10-11; Mark 13.22) Paul would give similar warnings to the Ephesian elders in person. (Acts 20.28–31)

These were leaders who loved Paul well enough to travel nearly 50 miles to see him for the last time, as he journeyed to Rome. Yet some of them would become false teachers. Paul described these false teachers as “savage wolves” who “will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20.29)

Passages like this can make us paranoid and conspiratorial. “Anyone could be a false teacher—a demonic influence!” We can become obsessed with rooting out “demonic” false teachers. It can be exciting to think you are fighting demons and hunting wolves. However, in hunting for “wolves” we can injure a lot of sheep. People who hunt wolves often become wolf-like themselves.

What makes a wolf?

“Things taught by demons” sounds spookily supernatural, and it may be, but the lessons are mundane. The demonic teaching Paul is worried about isn’t exotic child sacrifices. It’s rule-following legalism and salvation by works: “Don’t marry,” “Don’t eat certain food.” (1 Timothy 4.3)

Legalism always ends in hypocrisy because legalists, and everyone else, fail to live up to their own standards. Hypocrisy and lies burn away people’s consciences. This is what makes a wolf. 

With consciences burned away, wolves refuse correction and scoff at compassion. A lack of humility or sensitivity makes them brutish, savage, and proud of it. A wolf glories in his teeth. Blood on his lips is a badge of honor. 

Like Timothy, we face “wolves” today. With hypocritical pride and calloused hearts, they are unsparing and brutal. However, Paul doesn’t seem to suggest that Timothy should hunt the wolves. He certainly doesn’t say, “mercilessly troll them on Twitter” or any 1st-century equivalent. I don’t want to minimize the danger of false teaching. We should take Paul’s warning seriously. We can’t ignore wolves or pretend they don’t exist. However, we do not have to worry about “exposing” wolves. They will expose themselves.

Rather than hunting wolves, Paul’s warning, given with tears, is not to become one of these wolves ourselves. (Acts 20.31) Paul tells Timothy to just keep feeding the sheep. (1 Timothy 4.6) Let’s hunt our own wolfish tendencies. Let’s resist legalism and hypocrisy with grace, truth, humility, and compassion.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O Lord:
In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help.
Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.
Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me. — Psalm 69.14-18

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

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 32 (Listen 5:30)
1 Timothy 4 (Listen 2:05)

Read more about Praying for Repentance
As we think of these people Paul writes of, who will gather teachers to suit their own desires, we need to think about our desires.

Read more about Learning from the Suffering
Deconstructing people are not wolves to be hunted but fellow sheep—often attacked and wounded sheep.

A Destroyed Barrier—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on August 3, 2022, based on Acts 21.17-24
It was selected by reader, EN: 
“This was a good word for us when so many Christians attempt to divide and exclude.”

Scripture Focus: Acts 21.17-24
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.

Reflection: A Destroyed Barrier—Readers’ Choice
By Karen Yarnell

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, came to Jerusalem, bringing offerings from the Gentiles for the poor, gifts from Gentile to Jew. It was the festival of Pentecost, several years after the Holy Spirit was given following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2.1-4). The Jews’ most sacred space, the Temple in Jerusalem, was filled with Jews celebrating. 

Seeing Paul in the Temple, some Jews from Asia, the province that contained Ephesus, stirred up the crowd saying that Paul was a threat to “our people, our law, and this place.” They falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the courts reserved for Jews. The Roman-enforced law stated that any Gentile passing the barricade into the inner courts would receive the death penalty. Amid this uncontrollable mob, Paul was beaten, troops were brought in, and Paul was arrested. 

Later, from a Roman prison, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church these words: At one time, you were “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2.12-14) A physical barricade existed, but the spiritual barricade had been destroyed! Now, the redeemed people of God were being built into the Temple for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. 

The gospel entrusted to Paul was not a threat to Israel. The inclusion of all nations was God’s intent all along, from the covenant with Abraham to the formation of the Church. As Jesus said, his people were to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8

God desires his followers to worship in the Spirit and truth (John 4.23). Otherwise, we may find ourselves practicing our religion in a way that does not please God and in a place where He cannot be found. We may find ourselves not only missing where God is working but opposing Him. 

In our religious fervor, have we erected or enforced barriers in the Church? The Jews were zealous to keep God’s Law, yet they were missing God’s work. Are there ways in our zeal to keep God’s Word that we misunderstand God’s intent and find ourselves opposing His Holy Spirit?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101.6

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

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 41(Listen 3:36)
2 Corinthians 1 (Listen 1- 3:52)

Read more

Read more about Sewing up the Veil
We don’t have a literal Temple veil, but we each stitch up a veil of our own cultural assumptions…what it takes to approach God.

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Tell us about your favorite post from the last 12 months. We will repost it in September.

Seeing And Believing

Scripture Focus: Acts 28.25-28
25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “ ‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

Reflection: Seeing And Believing
By Rev. John Paul Davis

In a Special Edition of Scientific American Magazine, Sharon Guynup asks, “Is Seeing Believing?” Her article addresses how sensory illusions shape our reality. 

Acts 28 documents the latter stages of Paul’s ministry. After approximately 28 years of rejection from Jewish leaders and followers, 28 years of debates among false apostles, 28 years of preaching and teaching to Gentile believers, and 28 years of hardships, trials, persecutions, and slanderous accusations, Paul now finds himself under house arrest, in Rome. Yet, he remains committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If seeing is believing, why was it so difficult for many Jews to accept Jesus as the manifestation of the Law and the Prophets after seeing and hearing of Jesus’s resurrection? If seeing is believing, why did many Gentile converts revert back to their previous ways of idolatry after seeing and hearing of Paul’s miraculous healing abilities (Acts 20.7-12)? If seeing is believing, why was it not evident to many that Paul experienced a life-transforming event so dramatic that he changed his name and ceased being a Christian-despising Pharisee to become a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Saul claimed to have had a unique and personal experience with Jesus, which transformed him and thus his life. One could venture to say the truth lies in the fact that it is our personal experiences (what we encounter) and not our senses (what we see or hear) that shape our realities! So then, the question for us to answer is what personal experience have we had with Jesus that points to a transformative experience in our lives today? If there is none, try praying for someone, meditating on a bible verse, or even taking a moment to reflect on the good in your life. It just may be that reading or hearing the Word of God may not be enough to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. We need to show people Jesus.

Father God, I pray that every reader of this devotional will have the opportunity to confess to others your life-changing abilities in having Jesus Christ as Lord over their lives so that others may continue to see and believe through their actions and behaviors that you are the God of all creation and there is no other like you! Amen!

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there is where your heart will be too.” — Luke 12.33-34


Today’s Readings

Jeremiah 4 (Listen -5:23)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

Read more about The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer
Shema implies not just hearing words but carrying them out. In The Lord’s Prayer, action is also implied.