Relationship Rules of Engagement

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Last week I introduced “plank-in-eye syndrome.” This syndrome is the tendency to believe the things we do are right or justifiable, but not extending that to others (see Matthew 7:3-5). Think about the last time you experienced road rage. Most likely whatever driving offense set you off is one you, yourself have done. That is an example of plank-in-eye syndrome. The slogan for this disorder would be, “Everyone’s an idiot but me.”

Hopefully, after reading the last blog, you have been looking at Jesus and trying not to focus on what you see as flaws in others. But while you are in recovery, I want to offer some rules to help navigate your relationships until that pesky plank is removed.

Rule #1: You have a right to ask others for help, but you do not have the right to critique how they help you. Remember, with that plank in your eye you will suffer from the delusion that you have cornered the market on how to do just about everything. And you may be tempted to share your knowledge base with others. Resist! There are many, many ways to fold a towel. Even if your way provides more storage space and looks better, that doesn’t make it right.

Rule #2: If you can’t stand the way others do things, you have every right to do it yourself. But please don’t martyr yourself in the process. Grumbling during your towel folding about how “nobody does anything around this house but me” is not okay. If you opt out of rule 1 and go for rule 2, just so you can have your perfect linen closet, you are the one who made that choice.

Rule #3: You cannot combine rules 1 & 2. For example, having someone help fold the towels, then going back and re-folding them is as bad an infraction as martyring yourself. It silently shouts out the “everyone’s an idiot but me” slogan. It also makes others resistant to helping you. Why bother if you are going to critique and re-do? Resentments will grow in your household, and you won’t even know why. So what if your linen closet is a wreck. Seriously, so what?

If your idea of being right makes someone else wrong, you are not operating like Jesus. Jesus died to make wrong people righteous, not self-righteous. Wouldn’t you rather suffer a messy linen closet than crush the spirit of an eager little helper? I say this with love, but your way is not superior if you are hurting others in the process. To quote Bob Goff, “burning down others’ opinions doesn’t make us right, it makes us arsonists.”

Jesus said that we will be called to give an account for every careless word spoken (Matthew 12:36). Not for every towel folded. The people in your life matter way more than your linen closet, your house, your car, and even your bank account. The Bible tells us we are called to be good stewards of what God’s given us. Do you think He was just talking about money and possessions, or do you think maybe He was talking about the people He’s given you to love?

Magnifying Glass or Mirror?

By: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Today I am going to get up in your business. How is your marriage going? Is it full of turmoil, strife, and nitpicking? Maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you are going through life carrying a magnifying glass or a mirror.

Luckily, this is an easy check. Do you think you do things better than your spouse? And if so, do you like to editorialize about their inefficiencies? Does your spouse accuse you of being critical? Do you tell them how to do everyday tasks without being asked for your opinion? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, odds are you have a magnifying glass.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news; you are not fun to be married to if you have a magnifying glass on your spouse and editorializing about their “flaws.”. If your criticisms are loud, relentless, or peppered with obscenities, you are verbally abusive. You also suffer from plank-in-eye syndrome.

Jesus told us in Matthew 7:3-5, “why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’, and look, a plank in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The plank in our own eye is our self-righteousness. When we are self-righteous, we are critical, opinionated, and secretly believe we are better than others. Sometimes those are hard traits to see in ourselves. If you are in doubt, ask your spouse, they will be able to tell you.

God offers us a cure to plank-in-eye syndrome. It is a special mirror. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us about the miracle mirror. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

While that may seem confusing, it is quite simple. What God wants us to look at is Jesus. He does not want us concerned about the faults of others; He wants us consumed with Jesus. How loving and full of grace He is. As you observe Him and His traits, we are miraculously transformed, and become more like Him. If changed into His image, you are a dream spouse. Jesus’ traits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Aka, the Fruit of the Spirit.

Take it from me, your friendly neighborhood Christian counselor, if you see yourself reflected in this article, go make amends to your spouse. Set down your magnifying glass, and pick up your mirror. You will be happier, and a lot more pleasant to be around.

So Long, Sucker

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Ever had someone you put on a pedestal let you down? Yeah, me too. But God, in His mercy and grace, has used these hurts to help connect some scriptural dots that needed connecting.

Bottom line is, we cannot count on people. I know that sounds crass, but hear me out. Isaiah 2:22 says “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” You see, we are designed to worship, but we are often foolish about what we worship. We are prone to put people above God, and place our hope in them. We do it with celebrities, loved ones, and ministry leaders. Then, when one of our idols fall, we are offended and shaken. How do I know? I’ve done it. Repeatedly. It never goes well.

But we are warned because Jesus taught about pruning. He said in John 15:2 that God lovingly prunes unproductive branches off our lives. I think those are our “sucker branches.” A sucker branch “occurs when, under stress or after injury, a tree attempts to grow an unproductive branch” (gardeningknowhow.com). These branches are destructive to the tree’s growth and must be pruned.

Isn’t that interesting, since the Bible often refers to us, believers, as trees. Like real trees, we also have a tendency, especially under stress, to try to grow things that are harmful to our well-being. Such as a dependency on someone other than Jesus. These relationships must be pruned. They don’t necessarily need to be removed, but our hero worship has to be eliminated. That often requires a painful letdown. Being pruned hurts, but it does not harm us. It is for our good.

Here is where we differ from trees. After a tree is pruned, it does not hold a grudge against the sucker branch. It does not feel let down, build walls around its heart, or trash talk the branch that was just cut off. The injury heals, and it thrives. Fruit follows the pruning. If another sucker branch grows, this too will get pruned, and the tree will flourish. I think we could learn a lot from trees.

This is what I have figured out from my current pruning. Those branches/people did not mean to let me down. Even if they did, I do not have the right to hold it against them. Why? Because I, too, have been someone’s sucker branch that had to be pruned. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Indeed, I wanted to be their hero. But eventually, my being human got in the way, and I let them down. Then it was sayonara, sucker! I was pruned. That’s okay, I am now relieved. Through this process, I have learned that being someone’s hero is exhausting. I prefer now to point them to Jesus. He’s the only hero that never disappoints. So go ahead, put Him on your pedestal. That’s our safe dependency. Let our Heavenly Gardner prune neediness on others from our lives. Now, repeat after me, “So long, sucker!”

The Tale of the Cracked Pot

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I read a story by Brennan Manning that has been on my mind, so I thought I would share. It is the tale of a water-bearer and his two pots. Every day the water-bearer would walk to the river, fill his two pots, and carry them back to his Master’s house. One of the pots had a crack in it, so by the time he finished his trip, it would only be half full. The pot without the crack worked flawlessly, and never lost a drop. After a while, the cracked pot began to feel ashamed.

One day the cracked pot spoke to the water-bearer. It said, “I am deeply ashamed, and want to ask your forgiveness .” The water-bearer asked, “What are you ashamed of and why should I forgive you?” The pot replied, “Each day you carry both of us to the river and fill us, and each day my flaw causes me to leak. You work so hard, and I can’t even hold the water you put into me.” The water-bearer told the cracked pot that he wanted it to look along the path the following day and tell him what it saw.

Upon their return the next day the cracked pot reported what it observed. “I saw nothing on the trip to the river, but on the trip back I saw beautiful flowers on my side of the path leading to the house.” The water bearer told him, “That’s right. I planted the seeds there. You see, I knew about your flaw, and that’s why I picked you. All of this time I have been using you to water the flowers along the path. I pick them and put them on the Master’s table. In that way, you bring Him much pleasure.”

So one would think the moral of this story is that God loves crackpots and the Holy Spirit is using our flaws to leak Jesus out to the world. That’s true, but the real lesson is that the pot with the flaw could have saved itself a lot of pain had it not compared itself to another. It would have been confident and content. It could have performed it’s chosen role without the torment of insecurity.

Every day I have beautiful souls, people God is madly in love with, tell me how inept, unworthy, and unqualified they are. I ask them how they came to that conclusion. The answer is universal. They were watching themselves and others instead of looking to Jesus. As Lysa TerKeurst says, “How dangerous it is to hold up the intimate knowledge of our imperfections against the outside packaging of others.”

Here is the bottom line. We are all crackpots, or we would not have needed saving. Accept yourself. Jesus thinks your need for Him is beautiful, and He finds you irresistible. Give yourself to Him fully, flaws and all. You may discover that your crack is what He uses to leak His Kingdom into the lives of others.

The Anchor in the Storm

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Faith is strange. Sometimes it’s so tangible we feel bulletproof. Then, a tragedy occurs, and we are left wondering if God exists. If that’s never been you, quit reading. This one is for those of who have had their faith shattered, and have wondered if God is real.

My faith rests on having satisfactory answers to two questions; is God real, and if He’s real, does He care? If I go to science or circumstances for answers, I come away more puzzled. Neither satisfies my soul or intellect. But when I look at history, I find the Nazarene.

Jesus is what I can’t rationalize away. He is not a made up character; there are historical accounts of His life, death, and the empty tomb. People who claimed to see Him after His resurrection were willing to die for that belief. History has validated His existence, His claims to be God, and the mystery of the empty tomb.

So I ask myself, liar, charlatan, madman, or God? He backed His claim to be God with very public miracles. If He was a liar he would not have been able to perform the miraculous, so that one doesn’t hold up. Charlatan? Maybe. But that would require elaborate staging and people willing to die to back a lying illusionist. Last I checked, no one is willing to die for David Copperfield. So that option doesn’t hold up, either.

As a therapist, there is no way I can even consider the madman option. I am state certified to spot crazy, but as we all know, that’s one thing you don’t need a license for. The disciples lived with Him. If Jesus’ cheese was not firmly affixed to His cracker, they would have bailed. They were recorded as asking “who is this man?!” but they never questioned His sanity. No, He could not have been crazy.

That leaves one option. He was who He said He was. He was/is God. That means that God is real. He walked around with skin on to prove it to us. Jesus’ death and resurrection also answer the second question that anchors my faith; God cares. Jesus cared enough to die for us. God cared enough to set the whole thing in motion. John 3:16 says that God loves us so much He sent Jesus so even when we die, we don’t die, we have eternal joy and peace with Him who loves us.

There you have it, the anchor of my faith is Jesus. I can’t rationalize Him away, even during the darkest hours of my faith. I also believe nothing can separate us from His love. Not sin, not death, not even our crisis of faith. If He wasn’t holding that crucifixion thing against us, I think He’s a whole lot more understanding than what we give Him credit.

And I bet my life on His faithfulness. He is faithful to us, even when we have lost faith in Him. It says so in 2 Timothy 2:13. He will not and cannot, forsake us in our weakness. If His death could not keep Him from us, neither can our human frailties. So, if you are in a weak place, I ask you to reach out and get some help. But remember, no matter what you are feeling, He is still faithful. He is real, and He really cares.

Beware the Joy-Suckers

by Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Ever heard the phrase ‘you need a check-up from the neck-up’? Here’s a DIY method. When you feel stressed, check in with your head. See what negative thoughts you are dwelling on. Write them down and look for a theme. For myself, when I’m stressed, I’m usually worrying about ‘what if’s’ or I’ve relapsed into people pleasing. Those are my chronic joy-suckers.

We all have joy-suckers. They are the habitual thought patterns that sneak in and steal our peace. Often we believe that people and problems are the joy-suckers, but it’s the way we think about people and problems that is the real culprit.

Psychology calls these destructive thought patterns ‘cognitive distortions,’ but in the bible they are called strongholds. In ancient times a stronghold was a place where the enemy could dig in and launch an assault. They operate the same way in our minds. We develop a habit of ‘stinking-thinking,’ and those thought patterns assault our good mental health.

For example, we believe worry is disaster preparedness. We convince ourselves it is prudent to worry, so when disaster comes, we are ready for it. We overlook the fact that 99% of the time what we fear doesn’t happen, and worry is dominating our lives. It’s a joy-sucker, but we are too entrenched in the pattern to realize it’s destructiveness.

These thought patterns are like mental shorthand. We take offense before considering how much simpler, and less emotionally taxing it is, to let it go. We over-commit, when we should say no, then feel stressed and angry. We self-deprecate without knowing we are damaging ourselves. We watch a news channel obsessively, convinced that staying hyper-informed is helpful, while in truth it is causing fear.

So what’s your joy-sucker? Is it constant worry, an over-packed schedule, or too much time watching the news? The thing joy-suckers have in common is they don’t leave room for God. Since the “Joy of the Lord is our strength,” then His joy can become ours. We need to invite Him in to crush our joy-suckers.

Here is my favorite joy-sucker buster verse for worry, “You need not be afraid of sudden disaster…for the Lord is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap” (Proverbs 3:25-26). Now, take that verse and speak it out loud 3x a day, just like you would a prescription, and see if it’s not better than a tranquilizer. And while it may be habit-forming, it’s a good, life-enhancing habit. Plus, you will like the side effects. Now, find scriptures that combat your other joy-suckers, and apply liberally.

Can We Get Real About Porn, Part 2

by Cris Corzine-McCloskey

The great thing about God is that even in our defeats, He is never embarrassed or ashamed of us because He doesn’t do shame. ~ Graham Cooke

Last week I opened a dialogue about the prevalence of porn usage in our Christian culture. I know how destructive it is, but the condemnation has to stop. As Graham Cooke points out, God doesn’t do shame, but unfortunately, we do. It’s time we get in line with the ministry style of Jesus.

There is a story in the Bible about a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees (her church leaders) took her to Jesus to see if He would have her stoned. Instead of judgment, He gave mercy. Let’s suppose that previous to that she had been struggling with conviction and desired to get out of the destructive relationship. Do you think she would have been able to go to her church leaders for help? Heck no! They were ready to stone her.

Nowadays our stones are invisible, but still capable of breaking spirits, reputations, and families. Condemning looks, cold shoulders, or veiled innuendos on prayer lists. We have our ways. Each one of these says “Jesus may not condemn you, but I think you are a dirty perv.”

So, the first step to helping our fallen brothers and sisters is for the Church to get transparent. Most of us know we are a mess, but we gloss it up and go to church and pretend we are perfect. That does not invite transparency. God works best through wounded healers. Someone who is sporting some battle scars and not afraid to talk about them.

At the Last Supper Jesus told Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, and when your faith returns, strengthen your brothers.” When we go through a sifting (porn, abortion, addiction, etc.) Jesus has already prayed us through. He desires that we use that sifting to help others. I bet Peter told his story of how he ran out on Jesus countless times to others when they were struggling with their faith. It encourages us even to this day. Why do we think our failures and struggles are to be any different?

Porn, lust, and hypocrisy are huge problems facing the Body of Christ and people are afraid to talk about it. Remember, we are only as sick as our secrets. Sin cannot stand being exposed to light. James 5:16 gives the antidote to sin, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for each other so you can be healed.”

I double dog dare all you who have overcome the struggle of porn, or are in the process of overcoming, to stand up and take your place on the front lines of this battle. Trust God with your reputation. If we are protecting our reputations, we are nowhere near denying ourselves or picking up our crosses to follow Jesus. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” ~ John 15:13.

Can We Get Real About Porn?

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Well known Christian author and speaker, John Bevere, recently went public about his struggles with pornography. Some gasped in horror, while others, myself included, whooped and applauded. Finally, someone was brave enough to be transparent!

As a Christian therapist, I have men and women sneaking to me in private, needing help for their porn addiction. Why do they need to sneak? Because the church has made this topic so taboo that people are ashamed. Yet a recent poll in Charisma magazine said that only 3% of Christian men said they never view porn, and only 25% admitted to viewing it only a few times a year. So, in our average church service, only 3 out of 100 of our men, are NOT viewing pornography. That leaves 97% that are. Don’t blame them, though. Our society sets us up for failure.

Porn permeates our culture. We watch stuff on primetime that would have been R rated a few years back. And our men, susceptible to visual stimulation, are inundated with these images. Everything from billboards to TV commercials are designed to arouse. Most guys are already viewing porn before they hit adolescents. It becomes their norm. Then they get married, thinking its behind them. It usually isn’t.

You are only as sick as your secrets. That’s what makes this addiction so insidious. Most spouses will tolerate a drinking problem, a gambling addiction, even a drug abuse, but if it’s a porn addiction, watch out! We take that personal. Clearly, it must have something to do with us, right? Wrong. Odds are, your spouse was stuck in this cycle long before you came around. It is not because they don’t love you, it’s an addiction.

We all crave honesty in our marriages. But if you crave honesty, you must become a safe person to be honest with. Most Christian men fear they risk divorce when they are honest about porn. Women risk being labled a pervert. And they all risk being treated differently at church if they admit they need help. Men will even gossip about men who have admitted they struggle. What the what?! Let whoever is without sin sling a stone, otherwise, support your brother and shut up! It takes a tremendous amount of courage to come clean about a porn addiction. I think the ones who are brave enough to speak up should be leading support groups, not sat down under church discipline.

Next week we will begin talking about some solutions. This week I wanted to open the dialouge. As you can tell, I get salty about this topic. It hurts my heart to see Christians shoot their wounded. And there is nothing that will get someone in front of a firing squad quicker than admitting to this particular problem. Let’s stop the lunacy and get our folks some help.

Attitude Makeover Step 2: Accept Others

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

In a culture that thrives on hurt, disappointment, and offense, could you dare to be different? How would it feel to walk around wearing emotional Kevlar, letting all the negativity bounce off without affecting your attitude? Sound impossible? It shouldn’t because as Christians, that is exactly what we are called to do.

Jesus’ earthly ministry was radical. If you don’t believe that, read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). He said as far as He was concerned, lust and anger were the same as adultery and murder. He also said only the merciful obtain mercy, and if anyone has anything against you, you need to go make amends with them before coming to God. And He said if you judge others, you will be judged.

In other words, Jesus wants us to realize that whatever someone has done to us, or anyone else, we stand just as guilty. In a sin-sick world, the odds are by the time a child hits pre-school they have already developed a history of lying, cheating, stealing (even if it’s just a cookie) violence and anger. By the time we reach adulthood we are oblivious to how jacked up we are. We can spot it on others, but we are blind to most of our own sin. Why? Because we have a log in our eye.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

When we are looking at the sins of others, and feeling offended by them, the log in our eye is self-righteousness. If you read last week’s article, you may remember that self-stuff is stinky to God. That is why it is important to accept ourselves by receiving His grace, and then handing the gift of acceptance out to others. Freely we receive, freely we give. Receive His love, give it to others. Be amazed at His grace for you, become amazingly gracious to others.

Brant Hanson, the author of Unoffendable (a MUST read!), says it like this: “Yes, the world is broken, but don’t be offended by it. Instead, thank God that He’s intervened in it…recognize our current state, and then replace the shock and anger with gratitude. Recognize our brokenness, then gaze at the beauty of God’s manifested love and grace breaking into the world…When we recognize our unsurprising fallenness and keep our eyes joyfully open for grace, we’re much less offendable. Why? Because that’s the thing about gratitude and anger; they can’t coexist. One drains the very life from you. The other fills you with awe and wonder. Choose wisely.”

Attitude Makeover Step 1: Accept Yourself

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I’m a bit of a mess. I procrastinate, so I’m always in a hurry. I’m an Olympic over-thinker. That leads to sleepless nights and emotional eating, and I often feel overwhelmed by my own life. In other words, I’m normal.

I wanted God to change me into a calmer, sweeter, thinner version of me that was always on time and never too busy to chat with a friend. I prayed about that. A lot. Then it dawned on me, what if I was asking God to make me into a person He didn’t want me to be. If so, I was destined for non-stop disappointment with myself and God.

Sound familiar? I think most of us have areas we don’t like about ourselves. And the self-help industry is making billions off our insecurities. But if we were good at self-improvement, we would not need a Savior. The truth is, He’s the only one good at transforming us, and He is the only one with the blueprint of the finished product. Trying to change ourselves is like trying to put together a 3D puzzle with no picture of the finished product.

Remember, the only things we control is free will and our attitude, and those two are linked. I believe God wants us to freely choose to hand over construction rights to Him, accept ourselves as we grow, and receive lots of grace from Him throughout the process. He wants us to love ourselves. Why? Because we can’t give grace to others if we aren’t receiving it ourselves. The Bible says “Freely receive” (from God), “freely give” (to others)” Second, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are nitpicking and critical of ourselves, odds are we will be that way with others.

What makes this work is the Cross. God does not want me to ignore the fact that I’m a mess, He just doesn’t want me stuck there. What He wants is for me to have an honest appreciation of how large a price was paid for me on the Cross. As I become aware of my humanness and failures, I can’t help but look at the Cross and say “Wow!” and “Thank You!!” That is what pleases God.

He wants us to make a way bigger deal out of Jesus, and we start this by accepting the gift of His grace. We are not supposed to be self-occupied, but instead be Jesus occupied. If I self-loathe or self-aggrandize, I am self-occupied with a bad attitude. If I’m honest, I realize I’m a messy masterpiece that’s still being painted. Then I say, “Wow, Jesus, wow.” Being aware of Him and His grace makes me Jesus-occupied with a good attitude. So give yourself an attitude check. Self-occupied or Jesus-occupied? One will give you a case of the nasties, and the other a case of the happies.