A Deep Dive Into the Gospel Of Mark with Rev. Karen Bruins

 

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 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 post 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 tools and resources to make your study of Mark more impactful:

1. 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)

 

2. 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

 

Running With Mark 29

Day Twenty-Nine – January 26, 2020  

Read: Mark 5:1-20 New Revised Standard Version

Here is some background that will help put Mark 5:1-20 in context.

  • Region of the Gerasenes – was an area outside of the holy land. It was made up of a group of cities called the Decapolis which means 10 cities.  The region was populated by Gentiles, non-Jewish people.  Keep in mind that Mark’s gospel is geared toward non-Jewish and Jewish listeners.  By including this story, Mark is including them.
  • Immediately – there’s that word again. Not only does Jesus move fast, people who approach him do too.
  • Tombs – For a Jewish person, any contact with a dead body, or a graveyard rendered them “unclean” or “contaminated”.
  • Unclean spirit – this man tries to harm himself with stones. He was so strong that he broke through the chains that held him, and no-one could subdue him.

 

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright provides one interpretation of the scene.

Why Jesus went to that bit of territory we’ll never know.  But what he did was not only dramatic; it was deeply symbolic. Many in the area, Jews and non-Jews alike, must have longed to see the Romans pushed back into the Mediterranean Sea.  If they read books like Daniel, they would (as we saw earlier) understand the sea as the place where the monsters came from – and the monsters were like cartoon characters standing for the big hitters on the world’s political scene.  Rome was the Monster of all monsters.  Rome was unclean.  Rome was a nation of pigs.  The best place for Rome was back in the sea.

 

So what was going to happen when the man who was announcing God’s kingdom, God’s sovereign rule over all human rule, came face to face with someone obsessed, and ‘possessed’, by Rome and her unclean legions?  God’s kingdom is to bring healing, restoring justice to Israel and the world.  If unclean beings are fouling up human lives, the answer is plain.  Into the sea with them.

 

But it’s not as easy as that.  Again Mark is telling us to look at the bigger story.  At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, his flesh torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash.  And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with.  That is how healing takes place.  Jesus is coming to share the plight of the people, to let the enemy do its worst to him, to take the full force of evil on himself and let others go free.[1]

 

Questions to ponder:

  • Do you think the disciples were afraid of the man with the unclean spirit? Was Jesus afraid of him?
  • What do you suppose the day in-day out life of this man was like living among the tombs?
  • How does the healing take place?
  • What do you make of the unclean spirit being driven into pigs, an animal considered to be unclean by Jews?
  • What do you think was the swine herder’s response to having his large herd of pigs driven into the sea? Was he mad? Amazed? Confused? Broke now that his resource was gone?
  • What was the reaction of the crowd when they saw the man, now fully clothed and in his right mind?
  • Why do you think the begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood?

 

Music:

Who Am I? by Casting Crowns

Call on Jesus by Nicole C. Mullen

 

Prayer Focus:

Jesus continually goes out of his way to be with people who were different, people who were outsiders.  Do you stay in your comfort zone?  Take a step and immerse yourself in a culture that is different than your own.

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

[1] Wright, T. (2004). Mark for Everyone. London: Westminster John Knox Press, pp.56-57.

 

 


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Running With Mark 28

Day Twenty-Eight – January 25, 2020  

Read: Matthew 13:13-23 New Revised Standard Version

 

I have an app on my phone called, “Picture This” that instantly identifies plants.  You take a picture of the plant, and the app pulls the name of the plant and gives you details.  This app was very helpful when I moved into our new house, because I couldn’t always tell if something in the garden was a plant or a weed.

 

In today’s passage Jesus is like the plant finder app.  He helps the people make sense of the parable of the Sower.

 

For today, please read and ponder these poems.

 

Good Ground by Malcolm Guite

 

I love your simple story of the sower,

With all its close attention to the soil,

Its movement from the knowledge to the knower,

Its take on the tenacity of toil.

 

I feel the fall of seed a sower scatters,

So equally available to all,

Your story takes me straight to all that matters,

Yet understands the reasons why I fall.

 

Oh deepen me where I am thin and shallow,

Uproot in me the thistle and the thorn,

Keep far from me that swiftly snatching shadow,

That seizes on your seed to mock and scorn.

 

O break me open, Jesus, set me free,

Then find and keep your own good ground in me.

 

 

 

What I Have Learned So Far by Mary Oliver

 

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I

not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,

looking into the shining world? Because, properly

attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.

Can one be passionate about the just, the

ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit

to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a

story, all kindness begins with a sown seed.

Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of

light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

.

Be ignited, or be gone.

 

Music:

 The Lorax – Let It Grow by Dr. Suess

Thrive by Casting Crowns

 

Prayer Focus:

What would help you to thrive in your life, your work, your relationships and your faith?

Pray to be good soil.

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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Running With Mark 27

Day 27 – January 24, 2020

Read: Matthew 13:9-12

Listening

“Let anyone with ears listen!”

 

The disciples, who spent tons of time with Jesus, still didn’t understand his ways.  “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

 

New Testament and Jewish Studies scholar, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine in her book, Short Stories by Jesus writes,

Jesus told parables because they serve, as Song of Songs Rabbah notes, as keys that can unlock the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: how to live in community; how to determine what ultimately matters; how to live the life that God wants us to live.  They are Jesus’s way of teaching, and they are remembered to this day not simply because they are in the Christian canon, but because they continue to provoke, challenge and inspire.

Jesus knew that the best teaching concerning how to live, and live abundantly, comes not from spoon-fed date or an answer sheet.  Instead, it comes from narratives that remind us of what we already know, but are resistant to recall.  It comes from stories that prompt us to draw our own conclusions and at the same time force us to realize that our answers may well be contingent, or leaps of faith, or traps.  It comes from stories that community members can share with each other, with each of us assessing the conclusions others draw, and so reassessing our own. 

The parables, if we take them seriously not as answers but as invitations, can continue to inform our lives, even as our lives continue to open up the parables to new readings.[1]

 

 

  • How is God inviting you into the parables we have been reading in the Mark series?
  • Is it comforting to you to know that the disciples, who spent all of their time with Jesus, still didn’t understand him or his teachings?

Our youngest son has worn hearing aids since he was in the first grade.  One day, when he was a preteen, he was in the other room.  I called him and called him to get him to come into the kitchen to empty the dishwasher.  I finally raised my voice to a very loud volume and he heard me.  It was my own parable, because I felt like God smacked me upside the head with the message that for Michael to be able to hear best, I needed to be right in front of him, looking him in the eye.  In Jesus, God has done just that.  After centuries and centuries of trying to get the people to listen through prophets, God decided to come look us in the eye, face to face, so that we can hear God.

  • How can you put yourself face to face in front of God so that you can hear?
  • Does God ever tell you something (through Scripture, a friend, a song) that you don’t really want to listen to?
  • Why don’t we always listen to God?

 

 

 

Music:

Baba Yetu (The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili)

I’m Listening by Chris McClarney

 

Prayer Focus:

Sit with God, listen and simply be.

 

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

[1] Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2014.

 


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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 Workofthepeople.org

 

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 nub 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.

 

Music:

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

 


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Running With Mark 25

Day Twenty-Five – January 22, 2020  

Read: Mark 4:35-41 Jesus Stills a Storm

What is the biggest storm you have ever been in?

dark stormy sea with a dramatic cloudy sky

I love a good storm.  Some people are quick to take shelter (as they should), but I am the one that is often watching the wind and rain and lightning.  We have an 11 year old basset hound named TY who is terrified of storms.  This poor dog shakes, and paces, and drools.  We’ve tried everything to help calm him.  We bought him one of those Thundershirts, which he wore quite proudly, but it didn’t help his fear.  We have tried turning on loud music to drown out the storm, but that didn’t work.  We tried a “calming” essential oil, to no effect.  We talked to our vet who finally prescribed some medication for him which we are to give him “30 minutes before a noise event”.  So then we have a stoned basset hound who is still frightened but doesn’t care quite as much.  (Check out this video of my sweet old guy when he was still recovering from dental work.  Slightly Stoned Basset Hound)

 

Just picture in your mind the droopy eyes of a basset hound who has been sedated. It breaks my heart to see him so frightened.  The only thing that really helps him, is to pull him up on your lap and to hold him very, very tight.  Sometimes I’ll pull him up on the bed, pull him right next to me, and fold my body over his. 

Jesus and the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee.  It is surrounded by mountains.  It is not uncommon for storms to kick up quickly with wind blowing from the mountains.  But several of these guys were fishermen.  Hadn’t they been through storms before?

The guys are panicking.  Meanwhile, Jesus is fast asleep in the boat.  They wake him and say, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”  Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves and the storm disappears.  He says to them, “Have you still no faith?”

 

  • What are the current storms in your life? Are you having trouble at work?  Struggling in a relationship?  Are you ill or living with disease or chronic pain? 

 

God is with you,

God is with you in the boat,

God is with you in the boat, even while the storm rages on.

God is with you in the boat, even while the storm rages, and says “Peace be still”.

 

Peace to the wind and the waves.

Peace to the storms in your life.

Peace when our hearts are frightened.

 

Music:

Bigger Than Any Mountain

Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns

Prayer Focus:

Storms in your life, storms in the world

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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Running With Mark 24

Day Twenty-Four – January 21, 2020  

Read: Mark 3:31-35 New Revised Standard Version

Today’s reading is very short, and very confusing! 

Jesus’ mother, sisters and brothers, are outside asking for him.  It’s pretty clear that they do not understand who Jesus is and what he is about.  How can we blame them?  Mary had given birth to him.  His siblings had grown up with him. 
 
Mark 3:20 tells us that his family had gone to Capernaum to get him. The NRSV says they have come to “restrain him”.  The NIV says they came to “take charge of him”.  Why, because they think he is “out of his mind”.

 

We can understand their confusion.  Here was this guy they had grown up with.  He is telling people he has the authority to forgive sins.  He is debating with the religious leaders.  He is hanging out with fishermen, tax collectors and sinners.  It’s been reported to his family that he is casting out unclean spirits and healing people.  It’s hard for them to fathom.

 
Imagine their surprise when they confront Jesus and he says to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Family was everything in that culture.  Multiple generations of family often lived under the same roof.  Caring for one’s parents was a strong culturally held value.  Refusal to care for one’s family would have been a cultural taboo.

 

Jesus says that “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

God is starting a new family; a family made up of not of biological family, but of spiritual family, and this family will extend out into the world receiving any who would follow Jesus. 

St. Paul, in Galatians 3:28 paints a picture of this new family when he says, “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.”

 

Interesting theological tidbit for today – the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin, in other words, she did not have a normal marital relationship with Joseph, and therefore would not have had other children.  The “sisters and brothers” mentioned they believe are cousins of Jesus, or that they were half-siblings because they were Joseph’s children.  To learn more about the Catholic understanding of the family of Jesus click on this link Did Mary Have Other Children?

 

Questions to ponder:

  • What would it have been like to be Jesus’ sister or brother? Do you think they were ever embarrassed by him or jealous of him? 
  • Mary sometimes lost her patience with him, as when he stayed in the temple in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old, instead of traveling home with his extended family.
  • Did Jesus hit a growth spurt like most teenagers? Was he always hungry?  Did he get acne?
  • At what age do you think Jesus understood who he was? A toddler? A boy? A teen? a man?

 

Visual Liturgy:

Family

 

 

Music:

We Are Family by Sister Sledge  (going old school here!)

No Longer Slaves by Brian Johnson Joel Case Jonathan David Helser

 

 

Prayer Focus:

Family relationships

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins


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Running With Mark 23

Day Twenty-Three – January 20, 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
 

 

Psalm 126 is a joy-filled song of praise for the good things God has done. The image of “mouths filled with laughter” is so vivid.

 

We’ve all experienced times in our lives when we’ve laughed so hard our bellies ached and our eyes leaked tears of joy. After those moments of such deep laughter, our bodies feel a physical release and a deep contentedness.

For today, think of some things that God has done in your life that have brought you that deep joy.

 

My family brings me joy. I remember being on a family vacation in Alaska one summer with my husband and all of our boys. There was a point at which I looked around at these five men that I loved, and I was overwhelmed with feelings of deep gratitude and joy.

Diverse babies sitting on the floor

Babies and children bring me joy. I love the photos from family court on the day of an adoption, or meeting a newborn baby and celebrating with the parents. I am that person in the grocery store that waves at toddlers and coos over babies in car seats.

It brings me joy to laugh at silly dog videos on Youtube.

It brings me joy to watch hugs and reunions at the airport.

What brings you joy?

 

Can you imagine the joy both in heaven and earth if the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was finally fulfilled?

 

Click on the link below to watch Dr. King’s speech. Watch, as he with passion and purpose, points us toward a vision of God’s kingdom here on earth.

Visual Liturgy:  I Have a Dream Speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Music:

Free at Last

We Shall Overcome – Morehouse College Choir

Prayer Focus:
Racial reconciliation

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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Running With Mark 22

Day Twenty-Two – January 19, 2020

Read: Mark 4:1-34 Common English Bible

Visual Liturgy:

A tiny mustard seed is held between the index finger and the thumb. A perfect illustration of Jesus’ teaching in the Bible.

 

 “With many such parables he continued to give them the word, as much as they were able to hear. 34 He spoke to them only in parables, then explained everything to his disciples when he was alone with them.” Mark 4:33-34

 

Why would Jesus speak to them only in parables?  Why then later explain it only to the disciples?  I often wish that there would have been times recorded in scripture when Jesus “gave the answer” and said what the parable meant.  Parables are stories that invite us into the story and to draw our own conclusions about the meanings. 

 

In Crazy Book – A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Biblical Terms, the authors say that a Parable is a story with not only a point, but a skewer.

 

In the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Steve Martin’s character launches (and we mean launches) into some good advice: “When you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: Have a point!  It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

 

Because admit it.  We have all been there, listening to a story and wondering, “Why is he telling this?  There is no point!”

 

A parable is a story designed not to be entertaining or amusing, or to pass on family history. It is a story with a point.  In fact, the biblical parables are often pointed.  You might say that they have lance-like point – a sort of “gotcha” moment in which we realize that the point of the story has, in fact, punctured us.  While there are parables in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, most of the biblical parables occur in the Gospel because Jesus often taught using parables.

 

sticks for canape and kebab isolated on white background

A key to reading Jesus’ parables is to realize that we are the ones who are being skewered by Jesus’ parables.  He pokes a hole in our illusions about ourselves in order to let the hot air out and the Holy Spirit’s healing breath in.”[1]

 

 

Parable of the Soils – what does the soil mean to you?

Parable of the Lamps – what does the lamp mean?

Parables of God’s Kingdom – what does the mustard seed mean?  Why would Jesus choose it?

Who is the best storyteller you have ever known?

How can you use stories to share your faith?

 

Music:

Jesus Be Near to Me – Tommy Walker    

 

Build Your Kingdom Here – Rend Collective

 

Prayer Focus:

A parable is like a skewer, poking holes in our illusions about ourselves.

Where are the holes in your life that God would invite you to consider?

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

[1] Jacobson, Rolf A., Karl N. Jacobson, and Hans H. Wiersma. Crazy Book: a Not-so-Stuffy Dictionary of Biblical Terms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019. pg.212

 

 

 

 


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Running With Mark 21

Day Twenty one – January 18, 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?

 

Music:

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

 


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Running With Mark 20

Day Twenty– January 17, 2020

Read Mark 3:13-19a New Revised Standard Version

Right away we know something important is taking place because Jesus goes “up the mountain”.  Remember that mountains are place of great spiritual significance in the Bible.  They are places where people encounter God. 

Jesus calls twelve people up the mountain.  Why twelve?  The number corresponds with the twelve tribes of Israel in the Hebrew Scripture.  He is calling the twelve out of the world, and into the kingdom of God.  So who were these people?

  • Simon, whom we call Peter he would do some great things for Jesus, and some painful things too.  His brother was Andrew.  Andrew’s name is always listed with at least another disciple.  These brothers were fishers who lived in Capernaum.
  • James and his brother John (who with Peter make up kind of an inner circle among the disciples.  These two were the Sons of Thunder, a bit fiery and tempestuous and they often were competitive.  They were fishers too, and likely came from some means because when Jesus calls them, they leave their father and their hired men. John is often referred to as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”.  He would write 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and Revelation.
  • Philip and Bartholomew Philip brought Bartholomew to Jesus in Mark 3:18 but that’s really all we know about either one.  The gospel of John lists a man called Nathanael who was likely also known as Bartholomew.
  • Thomas and Matthew Thomas the one who wanted proof of the resurrection. Thomas had moments of doubt, as do we all, but he was also incredibly loyal to Jesus and was willing to die for him.  He declares Jesus, “My Lord and my God” in John 20:28.  Matthew collected taxes for the Roman government, which meant he was equally hated by the Romans and the Jewish people. 
  • James who is identified as the son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus who is sometimes called Jude or Judas.  He is not often mentioned in scripture.  We know that his mother’s name is Mary and that he has a brother named Joseph.  Some of the most faithful followers of Jesus are never in the spotlight.  They humbly and consistently do their ministry of loving God and serving others. 
  • Simon the Zealot  He was a hot-tempered, right wing extremist. He was a political activist.  He believed that Rome should be defeated, even if that meant violence. 
  • Judas Iscariot. He is the one who will betray Jesus and eventually take his own life. 
    After the death of Judas, and after the resurrection of Jesus, Matthias will be called to be the twelvth disciple. You can read more about him in Acts chapter 1.

 

Why would Jesus call these twelve? They are not leaders or scholars.  They come with some of their own baggage, questions, doubts, gifts and skills.

 

These 12 are called both disciples and apostles.  What is the difference?

Disciple means “learner”.  They are an apprentice or pupil attached to a teacher.  Followers of a rabbi were called “disciples”. When the word disciples is used in the New Testament it is used to refer to these twelve students/disciples of Jesus.  One of the best descriptions I have ever read for disciple is someone who walks so closely behind their teacher that they are covered in dust kicked up by the rabbi’s footsteps.

Apostle means “one who is sent out.”  In this chapter Jesus sends them out to do three specific things: 1) to be with him 2) to proclaim the message 3) to have authority to cast our demons.  An apostle is a messenger or an ambassador.  Paul never met Jesus in the flesh, yet he became an apostle.

 

You and I are called to be both a disciple and an apostle.

  • How are you learning more about God? Are you walking in the dust of the rabbi?
  • Where are you being sent in the world to serve?
  • Who was an apostle who brought God’s message to you? A church school teacher? grandparent? parent? friend?

 

Visual Liturgy:

 

Music:

Follow You by Ben Rector

I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin

 

Prayer Focus:

Talk to God about your desire to learn more and grow more in your relationship.

Ask God to help you discern where you are being sent as a messenger?  With whom will you share the good news?

 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Karen Bruins

 


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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:

Music:

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

 


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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

USE YOUR BEST SKILLS

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

 

 

Music:

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

 


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