Running with Mark 53

Day Fifty-Three – February 19, 2020  



Mark 8:14-21 New Revised Standard Version

The disciples had forgotten to bring any bread and had only one loaf of bread in the boat. 

Even though they had witnessed miracles of Jesus multiplying loaves and fish, it sounds like they were still worried about not having enough bread.
Jesus says to them, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”  He is not talking about literal yeast (I always wonder how people who claim they take the Bible literally understand passages like this.). What do you think he meant by the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod?
Here’s what I think he may have meant.  The Pharisees were religious leaders who sometimes got stuck on the interpretation of the law, rather than the spirit and the people behind it.  They also had a tendency toward judging others.  Herod, as the Roman King of Judea represents power and oppression.  Both the Pharisees and Herod missed opportunities to show love, to demonstrate compassion, to show grace. 


I also wonder if Jesus meant that the thinking and the attitudes of the Pharisees and Herod are like bad yeast that can get into us.  Bad yeast can slowly dissolve our values and beliefs.  Bad yeast can make us hard hearted.  Bad yeast can make us judgmental. 

Anytime we put someone above God we are committing idolatry.  Bad yeast means the bread will not rise.  Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. 
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) For today, make a conscious choice to feast on the bread of life.  Read Scriptures that fill you with comfort.  Sing songs that bring you hope.  See if feasting on these things prevent you from being distracted by the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.



One Bread, One Body

Eat This Bread – Taize


Prayer Focus:

Take a few moments today to eat a piece of bread.  Savor each bite.  Ask God to be as real to you as that slice of bread.


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

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Running with Mark 52


Day Fifty-Two – February 18, 2020  



Mark 8:11-13


I asked Siri on my Iphone, “Is God real?”  Siri replied, “It’s all a mystery”.  I wondered if Alexa, my smart speaker, might indeed be smarter.  “Alexa, is God real?”. She said, “People all have their own views on religion.”

It feels like that’s what the Pharisees are doing with Jesus.  “Give us a sign Jesus.  Show us you are real.”  They (and we often) look for a God they can codify, define, dissect and observe under a microscope, a God who will fit neatly in a box.


I like what Blaise Pascal said,  “Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a gift from God.”  I think he is right.  Faith is a gift from God.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” says Hebrews 11:1.


What if, for today, we focused not on proof of God, but in trust of God?


Author Brennan Manning, in his book Ruthless Trust writes:

Ruthless trust is an unerring sense, way deep down, that beneath the surface agitation, boredom, and insecurity of life, it’s gonna be all right.  Ill winds may blow, more character defects may surface, sickness may visit, and friends will surely die; but a stubborn, irrefutable certainty persists that God is with us and loves us in our struggle to be faithful.  A nonrational, absolutely true intuition perdures that there is something unfathomably big in the universe, something that points to Someone who is filled with peace and power, love and undreamed-of creativity – Someone who inevitably will reconcile all things in himself.”[1]

Maybe all we can do is keep walking down the road, trusting in God.

  • “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” Isaac Newton



Herod’s Song from Jesus Christ Superstar

Trust in You by Lauren Daigle

Prayer Focus:

Trusting in God


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

[1] Manning, Brennan. Ruthless Trust: the Ragamuffins Path to God. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2010. p.180


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Running With Mark 51

Day Fifty-One – February 17, 2020  



Mark 8:1-10 New Revised Standard Version

This story is also found in Matthew 15:32-39.

Another day, another miraculous feeding, this time of 4000, with seven baskets of food left over. 

The feeding of the 4000 is important because of where it took place.  The feeding of the 5000 took place near Bethsaida, on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.  This is the Jewish side.  The feeding of the 4000 took place near Decapolis on the south side of the Sea of Galilee.  This was the Gentile side. 

In the feeding of the 5000, there were twelve baskets of food leftover.  Twelve represented the twelve tribes of Israel.  In the feeding of the 4000, there were seven baskets leftover.  In Judaism seven is the number of “completeness” or perfection.  In the creation poem found in Genesis, God creates the world in seven days.

I’m hungry .

Have you ever known hunger?  Not the, “I haven’t had a snack since breakfast and it’s 11:00 am hunger”.  Have you experienced that deep hunger that makes it hard to concentrate? A hunger that can leave you without energy?

At any given time, approximately 9.7% of Minnesota households are experiencing food insecurity.   “If all Minnesotans struggling with food insecurity lived in one place, they’d nearly replace the populations of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul combined!”[1]  That statistic is staggering and really puts the problem of hunger into terms we can understand. 

Spend a little time learning about food scarcity in Minnesota.  Here are a few websites:


How are you being led to help fight hunger and food insecurity in Minnesota?



I Am the Bread of Life – Notre Dame Folk Choir

Let Us Be Bread – sung by children



Prayer Focus:

  • Those who are hungry


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins



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Running with Mark 50


Day Fifty – February 16, 2020  



Mark 7:1-23 New Revised Standard Version


Check out this video clip.  Address the Mess


I’m sure there are lots of us who have garages that are so full of stuff there is no room for a car.  The thought of cleaning out all of the junk can be so overwhelming that we just close the door. 

Do you have a junk drawer?  Do you know everything that is in it?


The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus.  They observed that some of his disciples did not wash their hands and were eating with “unclean” hands.  This isn’t a story about hygiene.  There was no understanding of germs back then.  The handwashing they are talking about was a ceremonial one.  It involved just a small bit of water poured onto the hands. 


Jesus receives their criticism and responds by quoting Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  His critique is that they are doing what looks “right” on the outside, but not paying attention to what is going on inside.  They are like the stuffed-to-the-rafters-garage or the overflowing junk drawer.  From the outside everything looks neat and clean, but inside it’s a mess.


Jesus tells them that have let go of the commands of God and are holding onto the traditions of people instead.  That can sure happen in people and in churches.  We can hang on so tightly to our traditions, that we forget why we do them or what the meaning behind them originally was. An older friend of mine grew up in a family where she was not allowed to dance, but she was allowed to do square dancing, which they referred to as “social games”.  Did you grow up with religious rules and traditions? 


Lots of religions have traditions about alcohol, or eating pork, or gambling, etc. 

  • Why do you think those traditions were begun?
  • What is the meaning behind them?
  • How do we know when a tradition has become an idol?
  • How do we know when to let go of a religious tradition?
  • Are there any traditions at Lake Harriet UMC that have become idols?
  • Do a gut check. What kind of junk is going on inside of you?


Prayer of Confession

God of Sarah and Abraham, God of Rebecca and Isaac,

God of Rachel and Jacob, Heavenly Parent of Jesus the Christ,

we come before you to confess that our world and our lives are like that special night long ago when there was no room.

We have rejected your life because our home space is full of unnecessary furnishings, and so we are cluttered and confused.

We have rejected your love by filling our heart space with thoughts and feelings that have no room in your inn.

We have rejected your Son by living in church space that is confined and shortsighted.

We have rejected each other because we had no room in our lives for anyone else but ourselves.

Hear us, we ask, and fill us full of room for you, your Son, your Spirit and all the world’s people.
Words of Assurance

Do not be afraid, God says, for I am sending you to do my work.

Do not be afraid, God says, go forth and serve. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick, and visit the lonely.

Do not be afraid, God says, for I am always with you.



Lord, I Need You

Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy


Prayer Focus:


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

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Running with Mark 49


Day Forty-Nine – February 15, 2020  



Mark 7:31-37 New Revised Standard Version


Ephphatha – be opened

Our son Michael is 25, almost 26 now.  When he was in kindergarten we discovered he was having hearing difficulties.  At first we chalked it up to ear infections and hoped it would resolve, but it did not.  So we began a journey that many of you have taken, of working with an audiologist and an ENT doctor.  Michael’s hearing loss is caused by both a conductive issue (bone problem) and a neurological problem. He has had some surgery on his “bad” ear.  When he was in elementary school the audiologist discovered that he had a hole in his “good” ear drum.  It was surgically repaired, and sadly a hole remained.  Michael needed yet another surgery.


Michael has always had a good sense of humor about his hearing loss.  We would joke that he was the only teenager who could truthfully say, “Mom, I didn’t hear you tell me to take out the trash!”.  He was always given a choice of what color his ear mold would be for his hearing aid.  When he was young he always chose wild colors, or school colors and proudly showed them off. 

Technology changed with each new set of hearing aids he received.  This photo was taken on the day he received new hearing aids.  I remember him making sounds “ssss”, “ffff”,  “ppppp”.  He would say to me, “Can you heart that?” He was hearing those sounds for the first time.  I hadn’t understood what he was missing.  He also received a wireless FM unit that allowed him to  hear his ipod through his hearing aid, and also hear phone calls.  He was talking to his dad on the way home from the audiologist.  He kept saying, “Dad, I can hear you on the phone for the first time in my bad ear.”  Ephphatha – be opened. Technology allowed Michael’s ears to be opened and it was miraculous for us. 

In the story from Mark the man is unable to hear and his speech is difficult to understand, which makes sense because it’s hard to know how to make the word “sounds” when you cannot hear them.  After Jesus heals him, the people can’t help but tell the story of the miracle, even after Jesus tells them not to tell.


Ephphata – be opened.

Our hard-of-hearing-ness isn’t always a physical issue.  Sometimes we are hard of hearing because we are just too busy.  We may be caught up in our own lives and miss the opportunity to really listen to another.  There are so many people who are lonely and aching for someone to spend time with them and listen to their stories. 


Ephphata – be opened.

Sometimes our ears are closed to the message God has for us.  Some are so bound up in shame, that they cannot hear God’s message of love and grace.  Some are so prideful that they miss the call to repentance and humility.  There could be a sin, usually an unconfessed sin, that we want to cling to, a sin we want to keep committing.  When this happens, we plug our ears with our fingers like a little child trying to ignore their parents.


Ephphata – be opened.

This could be a powerful prayer.  Ephphata – be opened.  Open my ears to hear your voice O God. Open my heart to feel your love.  Open my mind to the new things you would teach me.  Open my hands to the ways you are calling me to serve.  Open my feet to walk the road of discipleship.


This week, challenge yourself to be more of a listener than a talker.  Allow others to speak first.  Don’t jump in quickly when there is a moment of silence.  Allow those who are more introverted to speak without being rushed or talked over.  Consider going out of your way to spend time with someone who may be lonely and need a friend.  Pray that you would be opened!



Word of God Speak

Speak to Me (from the Color Purple) sung by the Argentina Gospel Choir


Prayer Focus:

Ephphatha – be opened.


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

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Running With Mark 48


Day Forty-Eight – February 14, 2020  



Mark 7:24-30 New Revised Standard Version

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,

there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.

Galatians 3:28



Here’s some background to give context to the passage.
  • Tyre was a major city. In this city God answered Elijah’s prayer to heal a woman’s child (1 Kings 17:9-24).  Jesus is in this Gentile city, trying to go unnoticed, but of course he is spotted right away.  There was no time off for Jesus.
  • This story is really more about politics than it is about healing. Pay attention to the descriptors used about the woman.
  • Syrophoenician woman – Mark calls her a Syrophoenician. Matthew calls her a Canaanite.  It refers to her political background.  She was Greek.  The Greeks were the ruling class in the republics of Tyre and Sidon.
  • Children’s Food/Children’s Bread – The Greeks of Tyre and Sidon did well economically, even as those who lived outside of the city suffered. 
  • Some scholars suggest that, in a sense, she belonged to a class that had been taking bread that Jews and Gentiles in the outlying region could have used to feed their children.
  • Dogs – is a reference to Gentiles. It was a harsh insult, but keep in mind that Gentiles had equally harsh and uncomplimentary slang names for the Jews. 
  • Jesus however, was not degrading the woman when he used this term. His is trying to explain to her God’s plan to present God’s message first to the Jews.  Jesus wants the Jewish people to see that their long-awaited deliverer, their messiah has come.  This was his primary task.
  • Jesus had just been teaching about cleanness and uncleanness. The old ideas about who was “clean” or “unclean” were no longer important.
  • In healing the woman’s daughter, Jesus is living out that he is the Messiah, not just for the Jews, but for the whole world.
  • Her differing faith, her differing politics, her differing identity do not keep her from approaching Jesus in faith. She presses on, willing to kneel at the feet of Jesus, even if others from her “group” would disapprove. 
  • This is another miracle where Jesus does not have to touch, or even be physically present with the ill person.

Imagine that this scene took place today.  Who might the Syrophoenician woman be?  Might she be a Muslim? A person of another race or culture?  The people of Jesus’ own faith tradition did not recognize him as Messiah, yet she did.  How do you suppose that is?

What does it mean to you that Jesus’ message is for all people, not just those who are like you?  Do you think Jesus already understood that his mission was for more than just the Jewish people? Or did this event change his thinking?  Does it make a difference to you either way?


What does Galatians 3:28 mean to you?  What would the world be like without the divisions of Jew/Greek, Slave/Free, Male/Female?  For we are all one in Christ Jesus.  How would you re-write this verse for today?



We Are One in the Spirit

Christ Has Broken Every Wall

Draw the Circle Wide


Prayer Focus:




Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 47

Praying at Gethsemane by He Qi.


Day Forty-Seven – February 13, 2020  



Mark 6:53-56 New Revised Standard Version

The Sea of Galilee was also called Lake of Gennesaret. 

This section of Scripture reminds us that it is impossible for Jesus to go anywhere and not be recognized.  Jesus gets out of the boat and people start rushing to reach him.  People from the whole region came to Jesus, carrying people on mats, so that he might heal them.  Word must have spread about the healing of the woman with the bleeding, because now they are asking to touch Jesus, or even touch the fringe of his cloak.


It is interesting that there are no physical descriptions of what Jesus looked like in any of the gospels.  We have no idea if he was tall or short.  Did he have any unusual features like a big nose or scars on his body?  Think of the disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John, who met him while they were working their fishing boats.  They had never seen him before.  Now people on the plains near Gennesaret recognize him, without having met him.


For today use your imagination.  How do you see Jesus? 

Pinterest – Jesus Around the World   The Pinterest link shows lots of images of Jesus from around the world.  Check it out.  Which images do you resonate with?  Why?


Some Children See HIm – Six Pence version

Some Children See Him Lily White – James Taylor


Prayer Focus:

Use your imagination in prayer.  Picture Jesus sitting across the table from you.  What does he look like?  What is his facial expression?  What would you say to him?  What do you suppose he would say to you?



Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 46



Day Forty-Six – February 12, 2020  



Mark 6:45-52 New Revised Standard Version

This familiar story comes immediately after the feeding of the 5000.  “Immediately” (there’s that familiar word in Mark again), they get in a boat and head across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida.  Bethsaida was a fishing village.  It literally means “House of Fishing” in Hebrew. 


After they arrived in Bethsaida, Jesus went up on the mountain to pray.  Jesus continues to model, for the disciples and for us, the need for prayer. While Jesus is praying, the disciples head back out on the Sea of Galilee to do some fishing. 


Jesus spent much time in Bethsaida.  Peter, Andrew and Philip were all from Bethsaida.  Even though he performed many miracles there, the village was cursed for their lack of faith. (Mark 6:51-53, Mark 8:1-26, Luke 10:13-15)

A storm popped up and the disciples were straining against the wind and the waves.  Suddenly Jesus appears to them, walking across the water.  Did you notice this sentence? He intended to pass them by. (Mark 6:48).  Why do you think he intended to walk past them? 


The disciples see him and think he is a ghost.  They are terrified.  Jesus tells them not to be afraid and then climbs into the boat with them.  The wind stopped.

“And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves,

but their hearts were hardened.” Mark 6:51-52


Can you imagine being one of the disciples?  You see Jesus performing miracles, feeding crowds, calming the sea, even walking on water.  Mark says that they did not understand about the loaves and now their hearts were hardened.  For the remainder of Mark, this theme of the people not understanding, and having hardened hearts, will be repeated over and over again. 


  • What kind of storms (thunderstorms, personal storms, spiritual storms, health storms) cause you to panic?
  • Why do you think the disciples “did not understand the loaves”?
  • In the midst of your storm, can you hear Jesus saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50) If you can’t hear him, why do you think that is?
  • It is one thing to not understand Jesus’, he was after all performing miracles, and turning the social conventions upside down. We get why this was confusing.  But why do you think their hearts were hardened?
  • How can you tell when your heart is becoming hardened against someone? I think of people with whom we have strong disagreement during this political season.  It is very easy for my heart to become hardened against them.  I need to guard against this.

Has your heart ever been hardened toward God? 

Read these words of hope from Ezekiel 36:26 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.



Change My Heart O God

Whole Heart (Hold Me Now) by Hillsong



Prayer Focus:

Pray to have a soft and pliable heart that God will touch.


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 45



Day Forty-Five – February 11, 2020  



I have spent many years working in children’s ministry.  Music is a great way to teach children the Bible and the faith.  The only problem is that those songs get stuck in my head.  During VBS week, I will wake up in the middle of the night with  that year’s theme song running through my head.


Music has always been a powerful way for me to memorize Scripture.  I learned the Books of the Bible by singing a song, so if you ever see me at the front of a sanctuary, turning pages in the big Bible, chances are good I am singing the Books of the Bible song to help me find the right page.


A simple song that I use with preschoolers contains big Biblical truths.  You can see the silly pastor singing it here – 2 Fish, 5 Loaves


What did it take to feed 5000?  Well, probably many, many more than 5000, since 5000 was the number of males who were fed.  With the women and children included the number would have been much, much higher.


It was late and the people were getting hungry. The disciples came to Jesus telling him to send the people back to their homes, but Jesus tells them to give them something to eat.  Right away the disciples started listing all the reasons they couldn’t feed them.  It would cost so much money Jesus!  Jesus says, “How much bread do you have?”.  In John’s version of the story John 6:1-15 the disciple Philip says, “Six months wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them.” 


Andrew chimes in, “There is a boy who here who has five barley loaves and two fish.”  This detail about the kind of bread is very revealing.  Barley bread was the bread of the poorest of the poor.  2 Kings 4:42-44 tells the story of a man who brought twenty loaves of barley, as an offering of the first fruit, to the prophet Elisha.  Those twenty loaves fed over 100 people and there was food left over.  Would the disciples think of this story when the boy gave Andrew his two fish and five loaves of bread?


Jesus tells the people to sit down, and they do in groups of fifties and hundreds.  He looks up to heaven, blessed and broke the bread (are you seeing another Bible story here?).  The food was passed around and all ate to their fill. There were twelve baskets of food left over. 


  • If you were the little boy, would you have shared your lunch? Why?
  • What is the significance of the boy being poor (as evident in the barley bread)?
  • Do you think it is harder for a rich person to give or for a poor person? Why?


Some people are called to work systemically to eliminate poverty, homelessness and hunger.  Others are called to provide direct relief by serving meals, working at shelters, etc.  Which are you called to do?  Why?


Challenge: Consider fasting for one meal, or one day this week.  Give the money you would have used on food to an agency that provides hunger relief.

In Minneapolis, please consider giving to the Joyce Uptown Foodshelf.

If you are outstate, check for local agencies that are providing hunger relief.

National and international groups to check out include:


Bread for the World



God of Justice by Tim Hughes


Prayer Focus:

On the day you choose to fast, when you begin to feel hunger pains, or your stomach growls, turn to God in prayer. 


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

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Running With Mark 44


Day Forty-Four – February 10, 2020  


Psalm 122

 My spirit soared when a Voice

                        spoke to me:

            “Come, come to the Heart

                        of Love!”

How long I had stood within the

                        house of fear

            yearning to enter the gates

                        of Love!


The New Jerusalem, the Holy City,

            is bound firmly together;

All who seek the Heart of Love,

            those who have faced their fears,

Enter the gates in peace and with

                        great joy,

            singing songs of thanksgiving.

There, in harmony with the cosmos,

            the community gathers united

                        in love.


Pray for the peace of the world!

            May all nations prosper as one!

May peace reign among all peoples,

            and integrity dwell within

                        every heart!

Then will friends and neighbors, and

                        former enemies as well,

            cry out, “Peace be within you!”

For the good of the universe and

            in gratitude to the Beloved,

Let us serve the Holy One,

                        of all nations

                        with glad hearts.


From Psalms for Praying © 2007 Nan C. Merrill

Continuum International Publishing Group


Jerusalem was the site of the first temple and referred to as the “holy city”.   In Matthew 23:37 Jesus lamented over Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The image of Jesus as mother hen is a tender one.  How Jesus longs to gather all of God’s children under her wing, but we are unwilling.  Yet Jesus will over and over again in the gospels, set his sights on Jerusalem, knowing what was in store for him there.


What does it mean to you that Christ would choose to go to Jerusalem?


How does the image of Jesus as a mother hen speak to you?



The Holy City sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Made to Worship by Chris Tomlin


Prayer Focus:

Pray to God as a mother hen covering you with wings of love and grace.


Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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