Running with Mark 26

Day Twenty-Six – January 23, 2020  

Read: The Parable of the Sower Matthew 13:1-8 New Revised Standard Version


Visual Liturgy: The Sower by



Are you a gardener?  Have you raised vegetables?  How was your harvest?


When we were first married, we lived across the street from a community garden.  Every day and evening there were people hoeing, planting, and dragging jugs of water to their plots.  I loved watching their gardens grow.  The only time it was ever a problem was at the end of the garden season.  I would be out walking the dogs and invariably some gardener would try to give me a zucchini that had grown to be the size of a baseball bat.


Some years my garden has done well.  One year Japanese Beetles invaded my garden, destroying all of my raspberry bushes and decimating my shrub roses.  I’ve planted tulip bulbs, only to have the rabbits chew them down to the numb once the bulb had broken through the service.  And there have been years where my garden flourished and things took off.


Good soil

We lived in our last house for 25+ years.  Every year I worked more soil and manure into the front flower bed.  I used to call it my “black gold” dirt because it was so rich and healthy.  Things were able to grow in that good soil, that never even sprouted when we moved in.  Now I am in a new house, with lots of trees, and I need to learn new ways of gardening.  I’m excited to get to work on the soil and turn it into black gold.

In Matthew 13, the crowds are pressing in around Jesus, so that he climbed into a boat and taught the people who were on the shoreline.

  • What are the four types of soil Jesus mentioned?
  • What characterized each type of soil?
  • Why did that type of soil make a difference?
  • What helps a person of faith have deep roots?
  • What kinds of things in your life “choke out” the good seeds? What fertilizes the seeds?
  • I think there is a reason it is called, “working” the soil. Whether that is a garden or our discipleship, it requires effort.



Good Soil by Handt Hanson

For the Beauty of the Earth – Mormon Tabernacle Choir


Prayer Focus:

How is the soil of your spiritual life?

What can you do to “work” your soil?



Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


Running With Mark 21

Day Twenty– January 17, 2020

Read Mark 3:19b-30 New Revised Standard Version

Have you noticed who is responding to Jesus?  The crowds continue to grow in fact to the point that it is difficult for him to move about freely.  They have heard him teach and have received healing.  The unclean spirits have called him out by name as the Son of God.  It is clear to them that Jesus has a power and authority that is not of this world.

Have you also noticed who is troubled by Jesus?  The religious leaders aren’t sure what to with this many who invites tax collectors to follow him, touches a woman, heals on the sabbath and challenges their teachings.

In this chapter his family “…went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”  (Mark 3:21). Mark uses a literary device known as intercalation––a story within a story.  You’ll see it again in the story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage.   

Jesus’ family thinks he is having mental health issues and go out to try to restrain him.  Suddenly the Jerusalem scribes show up and try to discount Jesus––to undercut his authority––by saying that Jesus works by the power of Beelzebul (3:22) and that he has an unclean spirit (3:30).  They want people to think that Jesus has no authority. 

They accuse him of being the Tempter (which is sometimes translated as Satan, or the accuser, or sometimes as Beelzebul who was an arch-demon) in order to cast out demons.    

“Some also thought that false teachers could speak by demons.  If this association is at all in view here, it suggests a serious charge, since the penalty for leading God’s people astray was death.”[1]  You can already that a movement to stifle Jesus has begun.  What is not clear yet is just how far they might go.

Jesus asks them how can Satan cast out Satan? Their argument makes no sense.   They have labeled Jesus’ work as from the Tempter.  Jesus’ ministry is really the work of the Holy Spirit.  That’s why he says it is blasphemy, because they are calling the work of God, the work of the Tempter. 

Jesus is really firm.  “Truly I tell you…….” Pay attention when you hear Jesus say those words, “I tell you” or often “they say this, but I tell you….”

“I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”(Mark 3:29-30).

To blaspheme means to speak evil against, to speak slander or abuse, or to speak ill of God.  According to Torah law, blasphemy was a capital offense (Leviticus 24:16).
What do you think he meant when Jesus said, “They can never have forgiveness”?  Most of us have been taught that there is no sin beyond forgiveness.  I did some reading this week that has been helpful to me on this topic.  Scholars say that this blasphemy is about refusing the Holy Spirit, refusing the gift of grace and forgiveness that is offered to us by God. Those who call Jesus Satan are not open to receiving his help.

Can grace be refused?  What do you think?  If grace is a free gift, offered to us without price, without having to earn it, can we refuse to accept it?  If someone gave you a new car, you could choose to accept it, or you can turn it down.

Faith is not something you can make someone else have.  It’s a really strange thing to acknowledge that the God of the universe, who created us in love, has given us free will to choose not to love God back.

I find the writing of Brennan Manning to be powerful.  In his book, All is Grace, a Ragamuffin Memoir he writes, “This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”
― Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

Here’s what I believe about those who refuse to accept or receive God’s love, I believe that God offers us many, many opportunities during our lifetime.  It’s not a once and done sort of deal.  I do believe that a person can refuse grace during their lifetime here on earth. 

If God is the God of unfailing love and grace, and I do believe God is, then I wonder what it will be like when we die.  When we come face-to-face with the great I AM, when we finally experience the fullness of God, I think there will be lots of people who says, “Oh, I get it now.  This is God.  This is holiness.  This is Shalom. This is what I have needed. This is what will set me free.  Oh yes, Lord, oh yes.”  But I guess until we die, we will not know for sure.

Standing in line

I once visited an elder who was approaching death.  As we were chatting, she said that she sure had a lot of questions for God and that as soon as she got to heaven she was going to go right to the front of the line with her questions.  She died a few days later and I couldn’t help but think that now she had her answers.  It also made me chuckle to think of this dear soul budging to the front of the line so she could talk with God.


What do you think will happen when we die?

What will God be like for us then?

Is heaven a place? A relationship? A state of being?  Who will be there?



Your Grace is Enough by Chris Tomlin


Great is Your Love by the Walls Group


Prayer Focus:

Jesus’ family worried about him.  Do you have any worries about your family?

Talk to God today about your family worries, relationship struggles, concerns etc.


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

[1] NIV Cultural Backgrounds, Study Bible.  ©2016 by Zondervan.  pg. 1690


Running With Mark 19


Day Nineteen – January 16, 2020

Read Mark 3:7-12 New Revised Standard Version

This map shows the regions in which Jesus’ ministry took place.  Many of the names are familiar, with the exception of Idumea.  Herod the Great was from this region and many people from Idumea would one day come seeking Jesus.  Herod the Great died around 4 BCE.  After he died, Caesar Augustus divided the kingdom between Herod’s sons, but he refused to give the sons the title.  The sons were known as Herod Archaelaus, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip. It was Herod Antipas that will feature prominently in the gospels.  Jesus referred to Herod Antipas as “that fox” in Luke 13:31.   

Jesus’ authority has expanded to include women, men and children, and diverse crowds of Jewish, Idumean, and Gentiles (beyond the Jordan, Tyre and Sidon. 

The crowds are now so large that Jesus fears being crushed, so he asks his followers to get him a boat.  The people pressed around trying to touch him. 

Jesus’ Identity

The unclean spirits continued to recognize him as God’s own son.  Jesus tells them not to tell.  Why?  This pattern of asking for silence is found in several places in Mark.  Did he tell them not to tell, knowing that they would tell anyway, and his message would spread even more quickly?  Did he tell them not to tell because he was not yet ready to fully reveal who he was and what he had come to do?

Jesus is certainly healing people on a physical level, but it is deeper than that.  Jesus’ powers were spiritual.  They were about restoring people’s souls.
  • What is the largest crowd of which you have been part?
  • How do you think Jesus felt about the crowds?
  • Do you think the crowds were earnest seekers? the curious? those who were against Jesus? of perhaps a combination of all 3?
  • Who is Jesus to you?


Visual Liturgy:



You’ve Always Been by Unspoken


Give Me Jesus by Fernando Ortega


Prayer Focus:

In both yesterday’s reading and today, people were seeking to touch, or be touched by Jesus.  Where do you need to experience God’s touch in your life?



Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


Running with Mark 18

Day Eighteen – January 15, 2020

Read: Mark 3:1-6 New Revised Standard Version

We are only 3 chapters into the gospel of Mark and look at the miracles Jesus has already performed;

  • A man with an unclean spirit (1:21-28),
  • Simon’s mother-in-law and many other people at Simon’s house (1:29-34)
  • Cleansed a leper (1:40-45)
  • Healed a paralytic (2:1-12)
  • Now he will healed a man with a withered hand (3:1-6). Perhaps most notably, when the crowds pressed around him at the side of the sea, unclean spirits “fell down before him, and cried, ‘You are the Son of God!’” (3:11).


Jesus was in the synagogue on the sabbath.  “They” watched him to see if he would cure the man with the withered hand on the sabbath.  “They” were likely a couple of groups of people.  One group was made up of some of the Pharisees.  The second group was the Herodians, who worked and supported Rome.  Pharisees and Herodians rarely worked together.

Jesus “….looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). Have you ever thought about Jesus being angry?  Mark’s gospel will often point out the humanity of Jesus.  Like us, he got angry sometimes.  Unlike us, he probably handled his anger in a more healthy way.


Did you catch what he is angry about?  He’s not angry with some tax collector, or a woman caught in adultery, or little children who keep pushing through the crowd to be near him.  He is angry with people who have hardened hearts.

Have you ever had a hardened heart?  I must admit that sometimes when I have been hurt by someone, or they violate my trust, my heart becomes hard toward them.  And….I can tell myself stories about their behavior and motives that may not be at all true.  Have you read the book Crucial Conversations?  Al Switzer, one of the writers of Crucial Conversations says


Unfortunately, when it matters most, we do our very worst. When moving toward silence or violence, we choose destructive skills over the more helpful ones. We quickly become very adept at sulking, showing offense, debating, interrupting, stacking the deck and preparing our rebuttal while pretending to listen.

While they may not come as quickly or as naturally, we do have other skills better suited to dialogue. We know how to ask, probe, listen, rephrase, take turns, give the benefit of the doubt and diagnose. As soon as you notice that the conversation has turned crucial, make a conscious choice to activate your best skills.


What can you do to prevent having a hard heart toward someone?  In a sermon I once had a backpack filled with heavy rocks.  I walked around with it for a while as I was preaching.  Then I took off the backpack and dropped it onto the floor.  It made an incredible thud! 

As soon as I took it off, I was literally no longer carrying around a heavy weight.  My shoulders felt lighter and my body stood straighter. 


There’s a verse in the Hebrew scriptures in Ezekiel 36:26.  God says, “ A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”


When we are able to let go of anger, hurt and a hardened heart toward someone, God gives us a new spirit, a lighter heart, one that is made not of stone but of flesh.


Visual Liturgy:

Heart of stone




Lord Let My Heart Be Good Soil


Prayer Focus:

Pray that you can drop that backpack full of heavy emotional “stones” and experience freedom, liberation and a soft heart.



Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


Running With Mark Series Post

Welcome to “Running with Mark,” a 16-week deep dive into the Gospel of Mark. This series will ask the question that is central to Mark’s Gospel, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27).  Hopefully after spending these next few months discovering Jesus, his life, ministry, teaching and miracles, you will be able to answer that question for yourself.


There are daily readings that begin on December 29. Pick up a bookmark at church of the daily readings or download one here.  Each week’s readings include the reading for Sunday, plus some supplemental reading in the Psalms or other books from the Hebrew (Old Testament) Bible. The Psalms are a collection of prayers in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus, as a first century Jew, was deeply steeped in the Psalms and we hear him quoting and interpreting the Psalms throughout the Gospels. 


Each day I will be posting a reflection on the assigned passage of the day. It may be a written reflection, a video, a piece of art or poetry. There will be places for you to interact with me and with the Bible text in the comments section. Please note that the comments section will be monitored to ensure positive and productive conversation, and to ensure no trolls take over the site.


Here are some tools and resources that will make your study of Mark more impactful:

  • A good Study Bible. If you are still using the Bible you received in 3rd grade, or you’ve never had a good study Bible, consider making this important investment. Study Bibles typically include maps, a concordance, topical index and commentary. It’s important to remember that the commentary is just one author’s or authors’ perspective on the Bible. Commentators are all along the spectrum from very conservative to very progressive in their theological interpretation of Scripture.

Here are a few options to consider:

Wesley Study Bible

New Revised Standard Version ©2017 Abingdon Press

Joel B. Green, (Editor) and William Willimon, (Editor)



CEB Women’s Study Bible

©2016 Common English Bible, publisher

Jaime Clark-Soles (Editor), Judy Fentress-Williams (Editor), Ginger Gaines-Cirelli (Editor), Christine Chakoian (Editor), Rachel Baughman (Editor)


  • Bible Dictionary is an alphabetical listing of major topics, people, and places found in the Bible. Here are two helpful dictionaries:

Crazy Book: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Biblical Terms

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary


This book has maps and color illustrations.


Nan Merrill has re-written the Psalms into prayers in contemporary language. This is a great tool for personal devotions.


You may wish to purchase a new notebook or journal to record your thoughts and reflections on the daily readings, sermons, group discussions etc. 


I look forward to beginning this journey with you!


Grace and peace,

Pastor Karen Bruins