The Untied Donkey

Luke 19.30-34
“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

From John:
Today, Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, is the end of Ordinary time that began following Epiphany and is the gateway to Lent. Today it also corresponds in our Bible reading plan to Luke’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Today’s reflection from Alan Rudnick concerns the Triumphal Entry and references Palm Sunday, near the end of Lent, but we will enjoy it here in anticipation of the joys to come in the Lenten season.

Reflection: The Untied Donkey
By Alan Rudnick

This donkey was born for Jesus’ wonderful work. It had not been used or ridden by anyone else. This donkey was tied up so that it could not wander away or be taken by someone else. It was waiting for Jesus to climb on to ride.

The colt (polos) has royal associations. Jesus’ riding the donkey echoes Zechariah’s prophecy. Nevertheless, to modern readers the donkey seems to be an unlikely and surprising device for Jesus’ use. That is because we see donkeys primarily as work animals capable of carrying heavy loads, or as docile creatures used for children’s rides, but certainly not as the animals of choice to transport triumphant kings.

In the ancient world, however, donkeys were used for ceremonial purposes. Whereas horses were symbols of war, donkeys were symbols of peace and often used to enact treaties.

This donkey was created for a purpose and was meant for Jesus. It was tied; it needed to be untied. Why does Luke emphasize this several times? There is an insight here.

We are often tied aren’t we? We are tied down by many things—by guilt, anxiety, and concern. Some of us are tied down with the need to forgive, but we cannot bring ourselves to do it. Others are tied down to obsessions or chemical dependence. We may be tied down to our smartphones and tablets, and be unable to put those devices down. Some need to let go and not be afraid to show love, peace, faith, joy, or the gospel to others. As Christians, we need to be untied from what weighs us down.

We need to be free to experience Jesus in our lives. We are meant to ride with Jesus: to follow him on his journey to Jerusalem, the Holy City, the city where God dwells. We were created with a purpose: to love God and love each other.

We cannot fully commit to God when we are tied. We must be released. We must surrender our burdens and our weights to God, much like the owner who surrendered his donkey to the two disciples.

By relinquishing our own burdens, we can praise and worship God freely. When we are untied, we can live a life of faith free from the pressure of trying to hold things up. When we are free, we can praise God without any hindrance.

*Selections quoted and edited for length from Lessons from a Donkey, in Christian Reflection.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. — Psalm 92.12

Today’s Readings
Exodus 16 (Listen – 5:02)
Luke 19 (Listen – 5:29)

Read more about The Community of Lent
Because we have been justified by faith we have the joy of entering into a season of reflection by God’s mercy. Together we fast. Together we engage. Together we serve.

Read more about Cultivation Starts With Destruction
The first step of cultivating faith is destruction. And we must start in the field of our own heart, not pointing across the fence at someone else.


Preparing for Joy

Luke 18-11-14
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

From John:
As we move into the season of Lent this week, we will look at selections from Christian writers about Lent and fasting. May we enter Lent together—expectant, hopeful, humble, and…joyful.

Reflection: Preparing for Joy
By Norman Wirzba

In Orthodox theological traditions, Christians are invited into the season of Lent as a time to prepare for joy. Lenten worship instructs us to begin with rejoicing:

“Let us begin the Fast with joy.
Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls.
Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit
and accomplishing them in love
that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God
and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy.” (from the vespers liturgy for Forgiveness Sunday)

This emphasis on joy may surprise us, and perhaps even strike some of us as perverse, because we are accustomed to think of Lenten observance as a time of deprivation, a time when we give up or say “No” to a host of things and activities we otherwise love. How can we be expected to rejoice in the giving up of things that give us joy?

Lent can be our preparation for joy because it is the concentrated and disciplined time when we work together to root out the blindness and deception that prevent us from receiving each other as gracious gifts from God. It is a necessary time for Christians because without it we run the risk of experiencing what can only be termed a false joy, a ‘joy’ that has been rendered false by the anxiety, hubris, and destruction that make it possible. True joy is freedom from fear and alienation. Real joy is knowing that we are loved and nurtured. Lenten practices like fasting prepare us for joy because they turn our self-serving into self-offering ways that nurture, celebrate, and share the gifts of God.

Lent teaches us that far too often we live a counterfeit life. It shows us that we have settled for a poor and degraded version of the real thing, which is life in its vibrant freshness and abundance. In the face of a culture that encourages us to neglect, degrade, and abuse each other, Lent invites us to see ourselves and our world clearly, humbly, and truly. Moved beyond the stifling scope of our worry, fear, and petty desires, we can finally be opened to receive the blessings of God.

*Selections quoted from Preparing for Joy in Christian Reflection.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. — Psalm 88.1-2

Today’s Readings
Exodus 15 (Listen – 4:11)
Luke 18 (Listen – 5:27)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Binging on Fasting
In a culture obsessed with consumption, lack of it, even for a short period, stands out. But just because our culture recognizes that fasting is a spiritual practice doesn’t mean we understand it.

Read more about Joy in The Way of the Cross
The book is full of joy, I know, but it is also full of pain, and pain is taken for granted. “Think it not strange. Count it all joy.” We are meant to follow his steps, not avoid them.

Prayer for Older Brothers :: Guided Prayer

Luke 15.31-32
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Reflection: Prayer for Older Brothers :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Mature believers must recognize the dual message in Christ’s parable of the prodigal son. In many ways it could be considered the parable of the prodigal sons. 

One son refused to stay in the home due to sinful rebellion.
One son refused to enter the home due to sinful unforgiveness.
One son squandered his father’s wealth.
One son coveted his father’s wealth.
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

Beginning our faith journey, we struggle to understand how God could love us and adopt us into his family despite our sinfulness. But after living comfortably as a member of God’s family, we soon struggle to understand how God could adopt anyone else.

There are limits to what is restored to the son who returns. His inheritance is spent and will not be restored. He will be financially dependant on his older brother. But in every other aspect, he is restored. He is restored to full fellowship, full honor, and full trust. These things are indicated by the sandals, robe, and ring. His identity is restored. His authority is restored. He is not a second-class family member.

Pray this prayer for an older brother this weekend. God the Father will come out to you, and beg you to rejoice at the scandalous sinners he has adopted as his children.

Prayer for Older Brothers

God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?
How could such a one be loved?
How could such a one be forgiven?
How could such a one be trusted?

You come out and embrace me, Father.
You invite me to celebrate
The sinful repentant,
The wanderer returned,
The prideful humbled,
The scandalous purified.

Over your shoulder I see the celebration.
And I remember…
The day you celebrated me, repentant.
The day you celebrated me, returned.
The day you lifted me up when I was humbled.
The day you purified me from my scandalous sin.

The party is not for my prodigal sibling but for me.
The celebration is not for his sins but for your mercy.
Put your arm around my shoulder, Father.
Lead me in, to celebrate mercy shared.
Lead me in, to rejoice for sinners changed.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. — Psalm 85:10

Today’s Readings
Exodus 12:22-51 (Listen – 7:31)
Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 13 (Listen – 3:30), Luke 16 (Listen – 4:27)
Exodus 14 (Listen – 4:46), Luke 17 (Listen – 4:22)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about In the Face of the Impossible
In a very real sense, not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory.

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
Seek today for what in your life causes Christ to grieve, to be angry. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and cleanse you.

Joy in The Way of the Cross :: Throwback Thursday

Luke 14.27
Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Reflection: Joy in The Way of the Cross :: Throwback Thursday
By Amy Carmichael (1867-1951)

Don’t be surprised if you are set at nought. It is part of the way of the Cross.

Mark 9.12 says, “He must suffer many things, and (as if this had to be mentioned very specially) be set at nought.”

If we follow in the way he went, we also must be set at nought. You will find this truer every year as you go on. And anything is easier. Scourging is easier.

Have you ever gone through your New Testament marking the places where the iron of suffering in one form or another is mentioned? It’s wonderfully enlightening.

The book is full of joy, I know, but it is also full of pain, and pain is taken for granted. “Think it not strange. Count it all joy.” We are meant to follow his steps, not avoid them. What if the suffering is caused by those whom we love? Was his not caused by those whom he loved?

Oh, what a book the Bible is! If only we steep our souls in its mighty comfort we can’t go far wrong—we shall never lose heart. 1 Peter 2.21: “For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps.”

You will find the joy of the Lord comes as you go on in the way of the Cross. It was one who had nobody all his own on earth who said, “If I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice.” (Philippians 2.17)

It is no small gift of his love, this opportunity to be offered upon the sacrifice and service; something you would not naturally choose, something that asks for more than you would naturally give. That’s the proof of his love. So rejoice! You are giving him what he asks you to give him: the chance to show you what he can do.

*Edited for length and language updated from Candles in the Dark.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “Now the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified In al ltruth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls on earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” — John 12.23-24

Today’s Readings
Exodus 11-12:21 (Listen – 9:08)
Luke 14 (Listen – 4:36)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about A Fight Won with Quietness :: Throwback Thursday
The fight to which we have been called is not an easy fight. We are touching the very center of the devil’s power and kingdom, and he hates us intensely and fights hard against us.

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
We can bring our doubts, but we must be willing to take up our cross. There is no other way to follow him.

Suffering and Sin

Luke 13.2-5
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Reflection: Suffering and Sin
By John Tillman

Jesus taught his disciples that they were wrong about tragedy and wrong about sin. His words don’t at first seem comforting. 

“Repent or perish,” he says. It’s not that “they” were sinful, it is that “all” are sinful.

We don’t suffer for sins. We suffer in sin.

The disciples had a hard time letting go of the cultural idea that people who suffered were suffering because of their own sin. So do we. 

We cling to this idea today because we feel less responsible for problems in the world when we can believe that only the lazy are poor, only the promiscuous are in danger of sexual assault or disease, only hedonists become addicts, and only nihilists suffer depression or have suicidal thoughts.

Our culture prefers to explain sin and suffering by pointing the finger at individuals. We prefer to believe that people are basically good and that evil is an aberration. Scripture offers a more realistic truth—that there is no one righteous. No not one. 

Our culture also is ill equipped to deal with suffering or death. When the only joys one acknowledges are limited to this life, anything that shortens life or even makes life less comfortable is evil. 

But Jesus wasn’t threatening earthly death or suffering. Earthly suffering or death holds no terror for those holding on to Christ and his cross. Our fear of death and suffering is directly related to how tightly we are clinging to things of this world for our hope.

When it comes to sin, we like to picture ourselves occasionally getting splashed with it as if we were on the shore of the ocean. But a better analogy is that we are drowning, forty fathoms deep in sin. Every part of us is soaked and our lungs are being crushed by the pressure of sin’s weight.

Our hope is not that others more sinful than us will attract God’s wrath and allow us to live comfortably in this life. Rather, there is a sinless one who chose to suffer on our behalf and who grants us his righteousness. He lifts us from the depths and no matter our sufferings in this life, offers us a new and restored life in him. 

Whatever tragedies we face, we can do so with a partner in Christ, setting our face toward our Jerusalem of suffering, knowing that Christ will walk with us every step.

Prayer: A Reading
He was telling them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the power of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him. — Mark 9.30-32

Today’s Readings
Exodus10 (Listen – 4:44) 
Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Meaning In Suffering
In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. — Tim Keller

Read more about Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent
When the disciples and religious leaders saw the man born blind, they saw only sin. Jesus saw God’s glory.

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