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.

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Praying for the Persecuted

John 16.2
The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

Reflection: Praying for the Persecuted
By John Tillman

There are troubling signs in the way the media downplays or ignores the persecution of Christians overseas.

Western privilege blinds them. They seem to think if Christians have it pretty good in America, stories of Christians suffering overseas aren’t relevant. But in our efforts to get the stories of modern Christian martyrs heard, we must be careful not to take their mantle of suffering for our own.

We must be careful not to claim persecution, when we experience the slightest discomfort or pushback from culture. We must not be “Snowflake Christians” who get our feelings hurt when governments don’t rubber stamp our religious convictions as law, or when prominent voices call us names, call out hypocrisy, or attack us intellectually. (This doesn’t mean we must abandon our convictions. Too many have done so. This doesn’t mean we don’t attempt to winsomely engage with other philosophies or ideas. We must continue to speak the truth in love and speak truth to power.)

The vast majority of you, our readers, are in “safe” countries for Christians. Our difficulties are not comparable to those suffering true persecution.

Our readers outside the United States are twelve percent of our email subscribers but over twenty-five percent of our web traffic and social media. As we pray today, using Christ’s words to his disciples before his crucifixion and considering our reflection from yesterday, may we keep in mind and hold up before God’s throne in prayer, members of our community and of God’s church in countries where they are threatened by the state, by religious militias, and by other dangerous forces.

Praying for the Persecuted
Lord of the suffering and the outcast, we pray the words of your Son regarding the suffering of our brothers and sisters…

“I have told you so that you will not fall away. The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.
I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. Your joy will be complete.”

Turn our brothers and sisters’ grief to joy. And turn our mourning into action on their behalf.

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

Today’s Readings
Exodus 37 (Listen – 3:14)
John 16 (Listen – 4:14)

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Read more about Prayer for the Church from Indonesia :: Worldwide Prayer
We confess, our God, that in the comfort of your blessings and abundance
and in the safety of the blessing of peace in our land,
we too easily forget others of our body, your Church,
who pray today for your daily bread to feed their hungry children,
who pray for signs of peace in their land,
who pray for freedom to pursue a life worth the living.

Read more about Jeremiah, the Unpatriotic Prophet
When religion gets mixed up with patriotism, things turn ugly. The most patriotic thing Christians can do is see the problems of our nation and speak the gospel to them.
Let them throw us in a cistern like Jeremiah.
Let them burn our words rather than listen to them.
May we be faithful to Christ and his kingdom alone.

In a World of Trouble, Peace :: A Guided Prayer

John 16.33
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Reflection: In a World of Trouble, Peace :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

John’s gospel, throughout Advent has been revealing to us many gifts from Jesus. Gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace.

As Advent moves into the twelve days of Christmas, we participate in the revealing, the epiphany, the manifestation of Christ. Through the end of this year, we will read and pray through some of Christ’s most revealing teaching to his followers.

The synoptic gospels spend much time on what Jesus taught the crowds. John draws us close—making a seat for us at the last Seder. He places us in Christ’s inner circle for the longest passages in the gospels of Christ teaching and ministering to his closest followers.

We belong here. We, the disciples of the future were in Christ’s thoughts at this time. Christ was preparing his disciples for the immediate trouble of his betrayal, arrest, and death, but the peace he offered and the victory he declared is for us today, in our equally troubled times.

In a World of Trouble, Peace

Lord, our hearts and our times are troubled. Immediately after celebrating “Peace on Earth” we are still troubled by all that is happening around us.

The aftertaste of our culture’s saccharin, Christ-less Christmas, is unsatisfying and cannot soothe the schisms, the divisions, the brokenness of our relationships on every level.

Lord, we are scattered and broken.

“Strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered — Zechariah 13.7

A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered. — John 16.32

Confess ways we have allowed this world and it’s systems to scatter us, moving us away from community and Christ.

Lord, you sacrificed being with us physically in order to send the Holy Spirit to us. Help us to value him accordingly.

Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you. Listen. Sit with him. Walk with him.

You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices…but your grief will turn to joy…I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. — John 16.20 22

There is much in our world for us to mourn, Lord. May we not neglect weeping in prayer. But thank you, Lord, that we have joy that no one can take away in your presence.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. — John 16.28, 33

Rest in Christ’s promise. Walk with Christ’s presence. Carry Christ’s peace with you into a world that is rightly his.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31:1

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

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 13.2-9 (Listen – 1:40)
John 16 (Listen – 4:14)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Peace of Christ :: Peace of Advent
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Prince of Peace, and we are his heirs. Yet, how many Christ-Followers have come to fully understand the divine reality that peace is our inheritance?

Read More about Silent Night :: Advent’s Peace
Silence and stillness were not present that night for the reasons the affluent find them, but because God’s presence filled our barren world with radiant sufficiency.

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