Grace turned outward

th-27Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God.

It is the knowledge that you are pleasing to God right now regardless of what you have or haven’t done.

Grace is the realization that you have already earned a place in the kingdom of God, but you didn’t do anything to get it.

Grace is knowing that the law has already been fulfilled. There isn’t anything more you can do or anything you can add on to make it any better.

Grace is knowing you’re forgiven.

Grace is receiving the gift of being everything you wanted to be.

Grace is looking in the mirror and liking what you see, only because you know that’s what God does.

Grace is a starting point. It’s starting at a point at which you never thought you could be, even if you spent your whole life working for it.

Grace is the absence of judgment.

Grace is utterly and completely received. There is nothing you can do to get it.

Believe it or not, we don’t like this. Grace, as wonderful as it seems, gets turned down every moment of every day. We don’t like it because we have nothing to do with it, and that doesn’t set well with us. We don’t like receiving free gifts; we get very nervous around that. We feel much better being in control of something. We were made this way — made to earn our way.  We want to get somewhere by following the rules or sit around and complain about how we can’t. But to start out where we are already pleasing to God … what is that? That doesn’t compute using the math we learned in school. It just doesn’t add up, and that makes us nervous, because if this is true for us, it’s true for everyone. And if this is true for everyone, then it changes dramatically how I see and treat other people.

Or as a friend of mine just taught me: “How dare I judge anyone that Christ gave His life to forgive.”

How dare I lay on other people burdens that Christ has not laid on me.

How dare I have one set of rules for me and another set for everyone else.

How dare I make a big deal about anyone else’s sin except my own.

These last few observations are all about grace turned outward. Once I realize and accept God’s grace for myself, I must of necessity apply it to everyone around me, or I am merely showing that I have, in fact, not received it for myself. You can’t turn grace outward without fully taking it in.

Surrender. Receive. Jesus paid it all; there’s nothing more you can do but accept it. And once you’ve accepted it, you won’t look at anyone the same way again.

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‘Turn, turn, turn…’

th-26We have a dear neighbor, a retired school teacher named Anne with an “e,” just like our daughter. She’s a fixture around Laguna, having served this community for over 50 years in any number of volunteer capacities, and even now has a regular shift as receptionist at the Friendship Center for homeless families. Last year she was honored at a well-attended reception for her years of service to the community.

Anne is wry, feisty, and very funny, and she’s lived alone all of her life, but for the companionship of her dog, Stanley, who is a stand-in for her beloved Hannah who died a few years ago. Like Hannah before him, Stanley is part of her telephone voicemail message stating, “Stanley does not do phone.” Cracks me up every time I hear it, even when I know it’s coming.

Anne fell last night, and when I returned from being out with Chandler, I found Marti next door tending to her. Well, I didn’t exactly find her; she came home, solving the mystery of where she had been for the last 45 minutes. She had left no note and her cell phone and glass of wine were out on the counter as if she had simply vanished. I was about ready to put out an all-points bulletin when she showed up. So, after about an hour, she went back over to check on Anne and took me with her.

It was a little embarrassing being in an elderly woman’s bedroom where she was sitting on her bed in a nightgown, her bare white legs hanging over the side. She didn’t seem to mind. And after calling our Anne at the hospital and determining she did not need to come to emergency, Marti and I set about helping her get ready for bed.

As you can imagine, an older person, alone, as she is, had a specific routine around her bedtime that included, much to our surprise, readings from two devotional books and a section out of the Bible. A regular at what I would call a non-evangelical Christian church, we didn’t know if her church involvement was more social than spiritual. I noted with joy that she was very connected to this ritual, receiving comfort when the words were comforting and anxiety when they were not. It was a little like being at the lottery, waiting to see what the words of that day’s reading would bring her, especially in light of her current affliction.

When she started to struggle with the fine print in the faint light of her bedside lamp, I volunteered to read for her, and for a while she allowed me to, but then she took the book back, because I could tell, she wasn’t getting as much out of it when I read as when she did. Struggling with the words as she read out loud to us was much more engaging than hearing me read and getting easily distracted by the many things around her that were not just so. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was reading out of the wrong month when so much of what was read seemed to apply directly to her need at the moment. My superstitious self told me I needed to set that straight, but my spiritual self told me God probably directed her to the wrong day because that was the message He had for her today. God’s truth is not relegated to calendar days; that’s our limitation, not His.

Marti and I remarked later what an honor it was to be ushered into someone’s intimate devotional life with the Lord, especially when we had no idea she had one.

Of course the Bible reading was from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “To everything there is a season…” th-25“Turn, turn, turn…” I sang, thanks to Pete Seeger and the Byrds. Don’t you love moments like this when unrelated, God-ordained elements converge to show the obvious direction of the Holy Spirit on our lives? Such is life within the Gospel of Welcome. You just never know what might happen.

Before putting these treasured books away, Anne went back a few days in one of them to show us one of her favorite messages. Apparently the Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters: one means “danger,” and the other “hidden opportunity.”

I thought maybe you could use that today. Truth is everywhere. If it’s true, it doesn’t matter whose name is on it, it’s God’s anyway.

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Person laureate

th-24Think of everyone you meet today as someone for whom Christ died. And He died so that person could be saved — rescued — reclaimed as a good idea, the way God intended.

Christ would have died to save that person were he or she the only person on the face of the earth. It’s not that together, enough people make enough reason for Christ to die. The value of a person is not cumulative, i.e. enough of them will tip the scale and make them all worth saving. No, each one is worth saving were he or she the only one. The value is not in numbers, the value is in the individual.

Each person is holy, sacred, made in God’s image and therefore valuable, like God is valuable. In that way, each person is an end in themselves, not like forming a church or making converts where enough people make it worthwhile, but worthy of their existence no matter who they are or what they believe.

It’s not that added together, enough people make an institution, it’s that each one is an institution. This is true regardless of ethnicity, social status, intelligence, or personality development. A roomful of retarded children is just as valuable as a roomful of CEOs or scientists or nobel prize recipients.

Realizing this should have a profound effect on how we think about and treat people. This makes every relationship a national treasure, every encounter, a photo op. We should be getting everyone’s autograph. Collect them all, because they’re going to be famous someday, or perhaps it should be that someday, we will realize how famous everyone really is and always have been. We will meet that homeless person shining like a star in heaven, and say, “Hey … I remember you; I got your autograph.”

Knowing this makes you want to pay attention to everyone. Listen; take it all in; find out who this person is, and why he or she is so important. This is why followers of Christ should be continually astonished — astonished at their own salvation, and astonished that the grace which has been extended to them has been extended to everyone around them. This is grace turned outward. This is the way we want to live — turning every good thing that has been extended to us, inside out to everyone, regardless.

I grew up learning that I had to find out something about a person before I could attach worth to them. I’m growing older trying to forget what I learned.

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Switched on

th-22For the last two Catches, Marti has been asking us to think about the kingdom of God. Nothing new about that. We’ve always talked a lot about the kingdom of God especially when it comes to being out in the world. The kingdom is always part of the discussion when we talk about Christians in culture. It’s the kingdom of God we look for when out in the world. It’s how we’re going to be “in the world and not of the world.” Focus on God’s rule in the world and you will always comes away with worship, because this is indeed “My Father’s World.”

But Marti brought a new perspective. She started to play “small ball” in light of her newfound baseball expertise (now that she has her own baseball card!). She brought the kingdom of God home, and applied it to our nearest, most intimate relationships. She called us to see our responsibility to bringing the kingdom of God to our marriages, our households and our closest relationships.

I know for me, there has been a consistent temptation to miss my responsibility at home especially in light of a traveling ministry where I was “on” when bringing my message on the road, and “off” when coming home and giving myself the luxury of resting from that. Unfortunately my spiritual leadership at home has suffered greatly from that kind of thinking. It’s as if I have a right to unplug at home. Like a husband who doesn’t want to bring his work home with him, I have been an “on” and “off” spiritual leader.

I am called to bring the kingdom of God first to my house, then to my neighborhood and finally the world outside my community. I assumed that if I was serving the kingdom of God out in the wider world it would somehow follow me home without any effort on my part. Not true. No trickle down for the spiritual leader.

A number of our faithful male readers wrote in about how Marti’s Catches had “caught” them unawares and was a timely inspiration to them. On of them wrote: “Marti’s message has illuminated my shortcomings as a husband and Jesus follower, yet, because of her self-reflection and very wise and and surgical exposition of this most, most important truth from the author of all truth, I feel a hope and sense of clarity that can only be from the Spirit of Jesus.”

I am adding myself to this group and asking for prayer for all of us, that we start seeing and serving the kingdom of God right here closest to home. It’s a matter of being available to God’s power all the time. It’s a matter of keeping that switch switched on.

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Thy kingdom come

Click on Marti’s baseball card to catch her being a good sport.

Click on Marti’s baseball card to catch her being a good sport.

Regular Catch readers are well aware of how much I dislike baseball, and yet my husband loves it, so if I am going to love him, I need to pay attention to what he likes. This kind of bending instead of bickering is required in all relationships because we are all so different. We are never going to pair up with someone just like us; in fact, we are most often attracted to our opposite. People almost always marry their flip side.

The disciples all had unique personalities. Like you and me, their personalities could both drive them crazy and at the same time endear them to each other. In this, they remind us so much of ourselves. There was among the disciples, the controversial, loud and brassy, Peter who, like me, had his foot in his mouth most of the time. Then there were James and John referenced by Jesus as the “Sons of Thunder,” because they lost their temper easily and were ambitious and fiery. And then there was Philip, the quiet, deep, and rather mousey man who hung around in the background all the time, but probably was the most advanced in the lessons of faith, and likely the one who would understand all that was underneath the very dramatic surface phenomena the others were experiencing every day. Today, Philip might be a geek. The kingdom of God brings all these diverse people together. It overcomes.

Once the kingdom of God is in place in our closest relationships, it is bound to expand, as the kingdom of God is always expansive, never regressive. With the kingdom of God in place in our homes and in our marriages it is bound to expand to our children, our neighbors, our community, and our places of work. I do not think it can operate in the reverse. A ministry outside the home is not going to trickle down into the home. Rather it is a matter of light increasing and darkness decreasing, beginning with those closest to us and working out.  The key is to bring the kingdom of God to these relationships first, bless them, embrace them, and bear the power of God on the areas that require miracles, as in our differences and our disappointments. The point is to always be moving forward and moving out.

Jesus is always telling us to “Go out.” That means: Go out beyond yourselves and stop looking the other way. Go out, and when there is an obvious need for extraordinary power, operate on the power I, the Lord, give you. Go out after the destiny I have created for you that is greater and better than your present circumstances. Go out and connect with my vision — connect to my assignment for you. (My paraphrase, obviously.)

Lets look at the assignment Jesus gave 70 of His followers:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them,“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:1-3)

Jesus sent out an advance team. He had a plan for reaching the local communities in which He traveled. We have a plan, too.

When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:8-9)

We are the kingdom of God. Wherever we are, the kingdom of God goes. The kingdom of God is where we are aware of God and what He is doing, and are ourselves a part of that, all the time. There is no off season for the kingdom of God. No winter ball somewhere else. We are the functioning part of the kingdom of God on earth.

We can no longer let our circumstances keep us from seeing God’s purpose for our lives. We can no longer be people that allow our homes to be “kingdom-less.” We are the kingdom. Wherever we go, whatever we do — even when we blow it — we bring an awareness of God and His purposes (in spite of us) to everything. He wants the world to see how we react to our mistakes. You see, there’s nothing exempt from the kingdom once you are in it. Out in the world, we are lambs among wolves. But as the late Bob Briner wrote, that doesn’t mean we can’t be roaring lambs.

We believe the enemy’s camp can and should be overrun, the goods looted, and the former captives trained to go out and bring liberation to people in other camps until at last they are free themselves. This is what I want — to reclaim over and over again that the kingdom of God has come, beginning first with my marriage and never letting circumstances prevent me from seeing and acting in God’s purpose for my life.

Join, embrace, improve, go deep, and when miracles arise, give praise to the Lord — His kingdom come.

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Bringing home the kingdom of God

th-20Do we let our circumstances keep us from seeing God’s purpose for our lives? I would wager that we all would agree that we believe that God has a purpose for our lives. But I wonder how many of us are convinced that God has a destiny greater and better than our present circumstances?  I ask because I am not sure I am living to its fullest extent, the life God has designed for me to live among the relationships given to me to embrace. If I am not connecting His purpose for my life with those who are the closest to me, how can I expect to suddenly fulfill His purpose when I answer His call to “Go out” and make a difference in the world?

I see dysfunctional relationships where what’s comfortable has superseded any hope of change for the better. But I don’t want to make peace with the enemy camp; I want to overrun it. I want to reclaim over and over again that the kingdom of God has come, beginning first with my marriage, and never letting circumstances prevent me from seeing and acting on God’s purpose for my life.


“I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here. Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:40-42 NIV)

The Lord was apparently frustrated with the disciples over their lack of connection between the assignment He had given them and what was going on around them. They were constantly grumbling with each other, causing Jesus to keep reminding them that each was God’s gift to the other — just as I am God’s gift to John, and he is God’s gift to me. Grumbling about the relationships that God has given us is undoubtedly an issue of attitude — an attitude of disapproval and/or resentment.  Our attitude towards someone always determines our altitude. If you think you have married the wrong person, like Esther, but choose to treat him/her like the right one, that person will turn into the right one. On the other hand, if you married the right one, yet treat him/her as the wrong one, that person will turn into the wrong one. This holds true with the motley crew we have been given in the body of Christ. If you think you have been partnered with a brother or a sister, how you think about that person will determine who they become.

“How long should I stay and put up with you, who think you deserve separateness from the people around you?” the frustrated Lord said to the disciples of their apparent lack of connection with what was going on. (Luke 9:41 paraphrased.) Or Jesus could have said, “Get over yourselves – get beyond your circumstances – stop trusting in your own resources – operate on the power given to you by me and stop looking the other way when there is an obvious need for my extraordinary power now!

In spite of the disciples and ourselves, Jesus asks that we bring the kingdom of God to everyone, beginning first with stopping the endless bickering among each other – those closest to the family. The disciples were to bring the kingdom of God first to each other. That’s why He asks that we bring the kingdom of God to our marriages. We are to bless the relationship, embrace it passionately, and bear the power of God on the areas that require miracles, always looking to the hope that lies ahead. We are to put our arms around each other, never rejecting a spouse or pointing out flaws of the other.  We are to eat and drink what has been put before us. We are to improve the conditions of the other by conveying a deep appreciation and when improvement is the result, tell her or him that it’s because the kingdom of God has come.

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Date night


It’s been around for a while.

Yes, if you were wondering, we have a challenge to the women, and guys, you’re gonna love this!

Marti has designed the following:

Jesus is always challenging us to “Go Out” and my message is no different, except I want the women of our community to create a special date night that will surprise your husband or an important male friend (if you are unmarried) with an evening totally designed for him with you and no kids. Send me a selfie of the 2 of you as “proof of purchase” to

I’m not sure that’s what Jesus meant by “going out.” Chandler and his friends talk about who they’re “going out” with in the same way we used to use “going steady.” It always turns my head because they will say something like, “Jason and Sarah are ‘going out’,” and I always ask, “Where are they going?”, and they will look at me as if to say, “That’s not even funny.”

So Marti has employed the more traditional definition of going out by challenging the women to arrange for a date night.

Date nights are essential for marriages. If you can do it, the best thing would be to designate one night a week as date night. Marti and I do not set a very good example at this. Probably why she came up with it. She likes it so much and we rarely do it. We have a local theater in town and if I can, I will buy season tickets because that will at least guarantee those nights as date nights. Sometimes date night comes when we are at each other’s throats. No way you can keep that up. You have to let the argument go (and usually forget it by the end of the evening).

Most coffeemakers have instructions about running a solution through their system once a month to remove corrosion buildup from all the minerals and chemicals in the water. (A couple tablespoons of vinegar in a full pot of water works just as well.) Date night is like that.

Relationships have a certain corrosion buildup over time that needs the vinegar treatment — something that takes us away from the normal run-of-the-mill activities that foster bad habits over time. Even the best of relationships fall prey to corrosion. Date night is like a vinegar treatment for a coffeemaker. It’s corrosion prevention.

That’s why, if you take Marti up on her challenge and it goes well, you might want to look into how to make it a regular event in your schedule.

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