Posts Tagged ‘circumcision’

The mark of God. In that day, this command was a monumental request, an everlasting mark on the body that could not be reversed. No male would enter this covenant lightly. No God would ask it without cause. The offer God was making was a forever offer. And then what happened?

Genesis 17:11; 13b
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. . . . My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.

Certainly, in today’s western world, circumcision is no longer seen as a mark of God. For modern generations, it has been a norm, perhaps a health issue, but primarily, a cultural one. That is not to say that all cultures practice circumcision, they do not. But even where it is practiced, in the United States, for instance, it’s not at the command of God.

But then, the covenant that God made with Abraham (his name change happened at the same time), did not, ultimately, go forever as a mark from God anyway. With the coming of the Christ, the mark of God had evolved away from circumcision (this is confirmed by Paul, who extended the range of Christ-knowledge to the gentiles who had never been circumcised). The plan for the everlasting covenant altered.

Perhaps even back then, this mark of the flesh had lost its significance. I do not know. But clearly, by the time of Christ and thereafter, it was no longer required for the gentiles who accepted Christ. And, as we know, this mark was never intended for women, even then. They were covered by the marks on the men who “covered” them.

But Jesus began raising the value of women, they were treated with more importance. Jesus had conversations with women and taught them.

So, what is the new mark of Christ’s covenant on our flesh? None. The mark is within.

Have I allowed this mark to change me? Is my heart, like the circumcised flesh of men in Abraham’s time, transformed by it forever? Or, is it just cultural?

Wasn’t this the point all along? “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” [Deuteronomy 30:6]


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That should get your attention. It got mine. The symbolism begins with the origin of the word: cutting around. This rite is performed by Jews, Muslims, and many Christians. Its been in practice for centuries. Circumcising the heart and soul, not so long.

Colossians 2:11-12
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

By aligning myself with Christ, by submitting to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, I am allowing Christ to complete that process by cutting around and cutting off, the coverings of my heart and soul. I am laying myself open and bare to Holy Spirit. I am different.

The longer we wait for spiritual circumcision, just like physical circumcision, the more painful it becomes. Adult men who choose to be circumcised have a long recovery (up to six weeks) as well as the potential for unforeseen complications and infection. Spiritual circumcision is no different because we resist the process. We become used to the way it was. We may know we don’t have a robust relationship with the Christ Spirit and we understand intellectually that this circumcision is necessary to really experience and feel the Spirit, but we cower under the threat of pain and discomfort. The pain comes from what we try to hold onto and the habits that secure the layers of narcissism.

I’m afraid, unlike physical circumcision which is a permanent change, spiritual circumcision is not so everlasting. We have to actual pay attention and participate. It’s not strictly passive. I think my heart and soul have been covered over by my fears, my disappointments, my anger, and so forth. I’ve had a series of circumcisions of the heart.

I can only be grateful that Jesus is a good, kind, and patient medicine man.

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What do I want to consider about Abraham today? Faith in the face of overwhelming challenges. Faith in the face of boredom and the mundane. Faith in the face of sin and stupidity.

Romans 4:11a
And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe . . .

Abraham gives me courage to have faith outside the box. I can be wrong. I can go astray. I can lose it. But also, I can count on God because, above all else, I do have faith.

I can be fallible. That doesn’t sound like much except that I constantly struggle with my perfectionism. God is gentler with me than I am with myself.

Abraham screwed up big time . . . with Sara, with with Hagar, with Lot, with Isaac. He did damage. And yet, he was covered. He confessed. He talked to God. And God responded with promise.

That’s all, just hope in face of my mistakes, especially with family. I know I have discouraged when I could have encouraged. I have disappointed when I could have applauded. I have talked when I should have listened.

Still I hope that love will grow stronger than fear, mercy will trump judging, and faith will wipe out doubt. that’s the legacy I believe Abraham is giving me.

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Acts 16:3a
Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area…

Well, this certainly took me off guard. First, all those promises of freedom for the gentiles who were coming into the faith (including release from having to get circumcised), then, that freedom was tweaked and the gentiles had to follow at least “some” of the laws and it was assumed they would attend synagogues for ongoing instruction. Now, poor Timothy, who was already well respected by the all the believers in Lystra and Iconium, is tapped by Paul to join their band of merry men and become a leader among the believers. Paul wanted to bring Timothy along on the missionary journey. But… and there it is … but!… Paul insisted that Timothy be circumcised!

And the reason? Apparently, it was known that Timothy’s father was Greek and appearances required that he be circumcised. They all agreed that Timothy’s new leadership position required stricter adherence to the laws and traditions of Judaism. He basically needed to “go under the knife” to give himself additional legitimacy.

This outward act did nothing to bring Timothy any closer to God. Its primary purpose was to ease the perceptions of others.

Do we do this with our own leadership? Do we require the outer trappings in order to feel more confident of the person’s heart?

No one does well under the microscope. There is a fabulous episode of Twilight Zone called “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” The entire story is built around the power of speculation and interpretation of innocent events which lead to distrust and tragedy. In the end, the aliens really have landed and they discover how easy it was to create paranoia and panic, concluding that the easiest way to conquer the Earth is to let the people of the Earth destroy themselves, one “Maple Street” at a time. We can destroy one another with our assumptions based on appearances.

This is human nature. But, as believers, shouldn’t we look beyond appearances? Let us not put heavier “expectations” on our leaders for the wrong reasons: for appearances’ sake. Let us, instead, look to the heart.

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Acts 15:19-20
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Well, this threw a little wrench in my understanding today. By only looking at small pieces of Bible text at a time, at one moment there seems to be complete freedom and then the next chunk adds the strings. This shows how important it is to have the ability to see the forest and trees.

But I am not a bible scholar. Each day I’m just trying to find what God might be saying to me through the Word and how to apply what I read to my heart walk.

The verses of Acts 15:19-23 put unexpected boundaries around the freedom I had felt in earlier verses. I would need to do much more reading, but from the little I did read this morning (Here a Little, There a Little website), I realize that it’s important to understand more about that time period and culture.

The believing Jews did not expect or want the incorporation of Jesus into their world and faith to separate them from their Judaic heritage. Jesus was/is the Messiah and therefore the completion of many prophecies. He was a Jewish phenomenon and, from their perspective, Jesus was providing a way for the gentiles to be adopted into the faith.

As mentioned in the “Here a Little, There a Little” article, James released the gentiles who were coming to Jesus from circumcision but they would enter the faith with the same restrictions as “strangers” who wanted to live among the Jews (as written in Leviticus 18). And then, they would learn about the law of Moses (verse 21) in their local synagogues. In other words, the disciples expected everyone who came to Jesus to ultimately become a Jew with faith in the Messiah.

This makes sense. But, history shows that things did not work out that way. Instead, over the years, the “Christians” or Christ followers who were gentiles, absorbed their faith in Jesus into their own traditions and faiths.

The strings that James attached to the Christ followers of Asia Minor were not strong enough and Jesus faith morphed and morphed and morphed. Many bible readers say we are following the word of God literally… but if that were true, then we would all be Messianic Jews. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it hasn’t happened that way. And at this point in our world, I doubt it ever will.

So, where does that leave us gentiles today? Hanging onto grace… that’s all we can really do.

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Acts 15:5
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”

Circumcision was one of the most important signs or acts that a Jewish man did. It went way back and it was sacrosanct. And yet, here was Jesus turning something else inside out. I mean, at this point in all the conversions, there were even Pharisees who had become believers. The Pharisees were taught to obey the law to its “nth” degree. And yet, here was Paul, who had also been a Pharisee, saying that gentile believers did not need to be circumcised just because Jewish believers were circumcised. That’s huge!

The question that comes to my mind is how many customs and traditions have Christians developed over the years that are just like circumcision? For some it’s baptism of a certain type, for others it’s speaking in tongues (or other manifestations), for others it’s going to church, for others it’s communion specifics, for others it’s designations of priest or pastor to sanctify various things, for others it’s certain social issues, for others it’s sexual orientation, for others it’s certain types of prayers… you get my point.

If God pours out the Holy Spirit on someone who does not match our rules and customs, what then? Is it any different from giving up circumcision?

Jesus turned the Jewish world upside down… but I think Jesus is still turning worlds upside down.

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Acts 7:51
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

It’s such a temptation to use a public forum like this to pontificate about the condition of the church or the condition of all the “others” who are not in God’s will or plan. But today I realize again how important it is for me to show my own heart. Oh sorrow, it is buried again beneath the layers of self-deception.

The heart is tricky because it regrows layers even after it’s been circumcised. These regrown layers may start out very thin and almost indiscernible at first, but eventually, layer upon layer forms and the heart is back to where it was before the Holy Spirit touched it. As the layers accumulate, the hardness begins to set in and although the mind and body can go through the motions of worship and service, the heart is no longer involved.

Some of the symptoms: a cavalier attitude toward corporate worship, missing times with God, a quick temper, a judgmental cattiness, overwhelming tiredness, forgetfulness, looking for change for the sake of change, putting others under the microscope, dropping responsibilities, indulging the body, resisting the Holy Spirit, just to name a few.

I don’t think I’m at the totally hardened stage yet … obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing today.

Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” It’s really quite simple, acknowledge what is happening and be chastened by the truth of it. It goes right along with repent. It goes right along with choice.

God does not come in with a sledge hammer or a fancy butcher knife to do heart work. Instead, like a child who runs to a parent and shows the injury, God brings comfort and then gently removes the harmful effects. God cleans the layers of dirt and grime and if necessary, the scab that his holding in infection. God uses truth with love.

I don’t like being vulnerable. I don’t like placing myself in places where I might get hurt. I hide my fears with layers of humor and bravado and chameleon-esque behaviors. In this way, I can keep people out of the tender places, I can control the connections. I know how to hide.

Oh, “refiner’s fire,” come and burn away the dross. Give me courage to be transparent and authentic. Give me courage to accept my tender places.

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