Unwrapping the Perfect Gift, Part 2

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

It’s Christmas, and Jesus is the reason for the season. He is the only perfect Christmas gift the world has ever known. He came with a gift tag that reads, “To the world, with all my love, Daddy.” If you don’t believe me take a look at John 3:16. “For God so loved the world He gave…” Yep, a love gift from our Heavenly Dad.

Further in John 3:16-17 we find the gift tag also reveals the purpose. God gave us His Son “so everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world…” In our Western culture, we translate ‘save’ as eternal life, aka heaven. In response, we believe and say a prayer. We then try to live moral lives and wait to go to heaven. Guess what, we’ve been robbed! Thanks to our English language we have missed out on the full use of our Gift.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the word we translate to ‘save’ is the Greek word ‘sozo.’ If sozo-ing is the main purpose of our Gift, it might behoove us to know what sozo means. The brief definition of Sozo is: to save, i.e., deliver or protect—heal, preserve, do well, be (make) whole (Strong’s). That is a lot more than heaven. Moreover, ‘eternal life’ isn’t even translated in the Bible to mean going to heaven. Jesus says eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Don’t get me wrong, there is a heaven, and believers are going, but God wants us to know Him and His benefits so we don’t get the snot kicked out of us while we wait to get there.

This is important because if we don’t know what we have we won’t use it. I have a Smartphone that does amazing things, but I have never learned how to use it fully. Therefore, I carry around a costly machine that I only use to text and send selfies. I am missing out on the benefits. It’s not the phones fault. It’s loaded with good stuff. It’s my fault for not learning what I have and using it.

God loves partnering with His people. He has this principle called ‘by grace through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8). It’s how we are saved (sozod). In other words, He provides the blessing and wants us to believe him to receive it. If we know it’s ours, then we can have the faith to receive what God has provided by His grace.

If McDonald’s shorts us an order of fries we will go back, show a receipt, and demand what is rightfully ours. God wants us to be just as aggressive and assured of the things our Gift, Jesus, provided. Through Him we are sozod. The cross and empty tomb is the receipt. We hold that up to God and say, ‘I want what is rightfully mine.’ Protection, healing, deliverance, and being made whole. That’s here on earth. Then afterward, heaven. The purpose of the perfect Gift is to save you completely. Don’t be like me with my Smartphone, learn what you have and enjoy it to it’s fullest!

Unwrapping the Perfect Gift, Part 1

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Last week I wrote about how God gave the only perfect gift the world has ever known, Jesus. Let’s start unwrapping the ‘Gift.’ Jesus is such a big deal people were talking about Him centuries before His conception. For example, in Isaiah 9:6 there is a prophecy about His coming birth: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder.” Before you doze off, let me unveil how cool this verse is.

Hundreds of years before there was a virgin birth, this verse tells how unique He will be. The beginning (a child is born, a Son is given), is a proclamation of both the humanity and divinity of Jesus. While Mary gave birth to Him (a child is born), God gave His Son (a Son is given). Jesus is 100% man and 100% God. This verse is the first indicator of the dual-citizenship of the coming Messiah. Clearly, this would be no ordinary child.

This child was to have authority because the “government will be upon His shoulder.” Now if that meant our world systems, Jesus would get a terrible performance review. Our world governments are hot messes! No, the government this is referencing is God’s government, a.k.a., the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was born in Roman-occupied Judea, which was arguably one of the worst political climates in history. But He did not speak of the Roman government or re-establishing Jewish rule. He spoke of His kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. His Kingdom operated on the one thing the world is still in desperate need of, the love of the Father.

What rests on Jesus’ shoulder is the Kingdom of Heaven, and the currency of that Kingdom is love. The ‘Gift’s’ purpose was to bring love and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. How do I know that? It’s in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10). “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

For centuries Christians have believed the primary purpose of God’s greatest Gift to humanity was to get us into heaven. But according to the Word of God, that’s only part of it. Jesus didn’t tell us to ask the Father to get us into heaven but to pray the Kingdom of Heaven is established here on earth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to ‘gain heaven and miss hell,’ but “if the sole purpose of Jesus were to get us into heaven, we would have been born there” (Jason Forby, SRCC). He desires to put so much of the Kingdom into you, that you infect this world with the currency of that Kingdom, love.

Wow, talk about a Gift that keeps on giving! Way better than an X-Box, huh? And we haven’t even taken the bow off! Next week we will unwrap a little more. Until then, put away your credit cards and spend Kingdom currency (love, love and more love). That’s what the world needs for Christmas.

The Perfect Gift

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

We are well into the holiday season. How’s everyone holding up so far? I ask this because I know that Christmas can cause people’s ‘cheese to slide off their cracker’ as the saying goes. Why? Some suffer loneliness and broken family relations, but many suffer from something far more treatable…holiday perfectionism.

The funniest example of holiday perfectionism is found in the character of Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation. Clark is a nice man with a normal family, but he suffers from perfectionism. Every movie in the Vacation series features Clark trying to give his family something wonderful, but it always goes awry. In Christmas Vacation Clark’s idea is to give his family the ultimate gift (a swimming pool) and the perfect family Christmas. That launches a series of Clark’s misadventures as he tries to make his imperfect family and messy life fit his idea of perfection.

Hilarious on film; not so funny in real life. Parents stress over getting their children the perfect gifts. They often go into debt for these gifts, then get angry at their kids the rest of the year for being materialistic. They want the Normal Rockwell painting, forgetting that Norman was probably painting his dreams, not his experience. Reality is, we live in a broken world full of flawed people, so guess what, perfection will always elude us. Besides, Chrismas isn’t about us anyway!

There has only been one perfect gift given in this world, and it came from God Himself. It was His Son, Jesus. That’s the point of the holiday. The perfect gift from God, given to this imperfect world. He was born in a smelly stable and placed in a feeding trough for barnyard animals. That didn’t bother Jesus because the Perfect One was not a perfectionist. I find that very strange, but He absolutely was not.

Brennan Manning wrote that Jesus loves us as we are, not as we should be because chances are, we will never be as we should be. And while the book of Ephesians says that God loves us to wholeness, the truth is, on this side of heaven we are always going to be a little off. Not as we should be. Imperfect people in a fallen world.

So this Christmas give yourself the gift of lightening up! Quit spoiling your kids so much that you don’t like them the rest of the year. We came from the generation of apples, not iphones, in our stockings, and we were better for it. If you want to give someone the ‘perfect gift,’ tell them about Jesus, because He was, and always will be, the only Perfect Gift this broken world has ever know.

Maybe I Don’t Want A Normal Family After All!

by Cris Corzine-McCloskey

As a therapist, I believe much of what breaks our hearts are unmet expectations. Especially when it comes to family. We get bitterly disappointed by that kind of betrayal and rejection. My clients often lament “why can’t my family just be normal!” But what is a normal family? Let’s go to the scriptures and find out.

First husband and wife: Adam threw Eve under the bus when God questioned him about his sin. First sibling relationship: Cain murdered his brother in a fit of jealous rage. First recorded parent/child relationship: Noah’s sons shamed and disrespected him after he had too much to drink. From there, things got more interesting. Abraham (our father of faith) lied about his wife to save his own skin. He also slept with another woman. Ishmel, Abraham’s son from that affair, persecuted his brother Issac, so Abraham sent the boy and his mistress packing. Then Issac became a father. His son Jacob swindled and stole the blessing and birthright of his older brother Esau. Jacob went on to play favorites with his boy Joseph, and it resulted in Joseph’s brothers throwing him down a well and selling him into slavery. There you have it, family relationships throughout Genesis.

Things got worse after that. Moses’ brother and sister tried to stage a coup to steal his ministry. David’s family relations were pitiful, and his son tried to kill him. Job had a nagging wife and bad friends. It goes on like that until we get to Jesus. It says in John 7:1-5 that because they did not believe in him, his brothers tried to get him killed. See, even Jesus did not get a pass on family dysfunction.

Sad as it is, we shouldn’t be surprised. Our family relationships exist in a broken and hurting world. But in Psalm 68:6 it declares “God will set the lonely in families.” What family? His family! Because of our faith in Christ, we are adopted into the Family of God. How cool is that?! We automatically get a new Dad (the Lord Almighty is His name, the Maker of heaven and earth) an amazing big brother, Jesus (aka the Prince of Peace) and a world full of brothers and sisters who have been born again by His spirit.

So, if your blood relationships or marital relations are full of betrayal and pain, guess what, you have a normal family. And if you have a warm and loving family, praise God! I ask you to spread that love outward to those who have thorny branches in their family tree. Seriously, don’t hoard the love, you are meant to extend it. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I encourage all of you who have a close family to set an extra place or two at your table and share the love. Your family is not normal (Yay God!), and you are abundantly blessed. So share that weirdness with the less fortunate who happen to be more normal than you! Thank you and God Bless.

What We Really Need, Part 2

by Cris Corzine-McCloskey

This week we are using Philippians 4:19 and Psalm 23:1 as our focal verses. Nearly everyone knows Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in need.” Philippians 4:19 is it’s New Testament counterpart, “God is supplying all your needs according to His riches.” Beautiful verses, but how much do we believe them?

Part of my job is to minister to the brokenhearted, and often our hearts are broken by our ‘need’. Lonely singles feel they ‘need’ to be married to be happy. Disillusioned marrieds feel they ‘need’ to be single. We often feel we are missing some crucial ingredient in our lives. We believe that element is essential to our emotional well-being. When we don’t have the coveted thing, we go through life feeling cheated and bereft. I see it daily. People cry out to me with broken hearts,”if my family would come back to me I could live again,” or “I am so lonely that I cannot make it.”

Ephesians 1:3 declares that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms…” That means now, not in the sweet by and by. Our spiritual blessings are in part the same things David was talking about in Psalm 23. We are never alone; we are divinely led, protected, given rest, peace, anointed and loved beyond our wildest dreams. Part of that protection is protection against emotional vulnerability to the wrong things (i.e., needing something or someone in your life to be okay).

When I was a drug addict, I felt I needed my drug to be okay. When I didn’t have it, I would go through withdrawal. The withdrawal was very real, but the thing I felt I needed was a lie. What I really needed was Jesus and sobriety. It took me losing everything to discover that you will never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. He did not die a horrific death, rise from the grave, and put His spirit inside you to leave you vulnerable and needy to anything other than Him!

Not only do you have everything you need inside your born again spirit, but you also have what the world needs; Jesus. We are so consumed by thinking we are not okay and thinking of all the things we think we need that we forget we have the answer. If you feel lonely, encourage others and love them, even if they aren’t who you are aching for. If you feel you are missing something in your marriage, quit looking to your spouse to fill you. They were not designed to be your source. Look to Jesus, and receive from Him the love you need. If you start renewing your mind to this truth, you will begin to realize you don’t need anything other than what you have, but there is a broken, dying world that needs what you have. Freely you receive, freely give.

What We Really Need

by Cris Corzine-McCloskey

There is a scripture in Philippians 4:19 that promises us that God is supplying all our needs according to His glorious riches. As a Bible purist, I tend to take God at His word. Recently, after someone close hurt me deeply, I went to God, pointed to that scripture, and told Him I ‘needed’ an apology from the offender. A few days went by without that apology. I went to God to figure out why His promise had not worked. He showed me that while I ‘felt’ I needed an apology, what I really needed was the grace to forgive them without their apology, and He was supplying that grace. I forgave the individual, and learned a big lesson on the difference between real needs and felt needs in God’s economy.

A classic example of this is found in Psalm 23:1. David wrote this well-known stanza: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in need (or want, depending on your translation). We are so familiar with this verse that we rarely stop to think about it. As a therapist, I know human nature, and as I read that verse, I do not believe David was having a good day. I picture him alone in a field, watching his sheep, feeling very alienated and lonely. So what does he do? He did not whine to God and tell God what he needed. Instead, he began reminding himself that no matter what he felt, God was richly supplying all of his needs.

David then listed in the remainder of Psalm 23 what our real needs are, and how God is supplying them. We need the ability to rest from worry and live in peace. We need our strength renewed. We need leading along the right paths, protected and comforted. We need the ability to be fearless in the face of our enemy and to be anointed with God’s blessings. Most of all, we need God’s presence. Those are our needs, and God supplies them. Moreover, Psalm 23 goes on to tell us that God’s goodness and unfailing love hunt us down, and with God, get assured of eternal life. Dang!! I don’t know about you, but I think that list is pretty impressive!

Not included on that list is the need for my husband to tell me I look good in my new dress. I also don’t need the praise and esteem of others. I do not need anyone to help me clean the house. I want those things (especially the house cleaning one!), but I do not need those things. What I truly need is to learn to give the grace I receive from God out to others in their weaknesses. God does not want me to look around and feel needy, but instead, to see the endless supply of His grace to help me in every situation I come across. Next time I will show you how to apply this concept to your daily life so you, like David, can begin to boast that the Lord is your Shepherd, and you are not in need!

Death by People Pleasing, Part 2

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Last week I came out of the closet and admitted my secret addiction…the addiction of people pleasing! From the feedback I received, I am not alone in my struggle. What we call people pleasing (aka co-dependency) God calls “fear of man,” and He does not consider it a virtue. Indeed, our memory verse for this series (Proverbs 29:25) warns: Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

Fear of man is so commonplace in our culture that it has created its own niche in the self-help industry. We love books about overcoming co-dependency and gaining self-esteem because deep down we know something is not right. It’s not natural for a need for anyone or anything to control God’s people. The issue with people pleasing and co-dependency is that we operate out of a need for people (their acceptance satiates our insecurities) rather than loving them in a way that glorifies God. And if we are afraid of people, what they may say about us or do to us, we are not trusting God. Psalms 27:1-2 reminds us that “The Lord is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid…when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.”

I promised last week that we would explore this topic from a biblical perspective, so the first example of how to live a life unaffected by these issues is Jesus. Jesus was completely unmoved by what people said about Him. It’s a good thing, too, because the buzz on the streets during His earthly ministry was more polarizing than Trump’s presidency! People called him a prophet, a glutton, a drunk, the friend of sinners, a demon-possessed Samaritan, the Messiah, a law-breaker, a blasphemer, and the Son of God, just to name a few. His first introduction to ministry was not very well received; they tried to throw Him off a cliff. And you thought Joel Osteen had it rough?!

Jesus is and was living proof that people do not need to think highly of you for you to be okay with yourself. And before you start protesting that it was easy for Him, I just want to remind you of a couple of pieces of wood and three nails. Jesus never hit the ‘easy button’ on anything. He is our example of loving people without needing anything from them. He completely trusted the Father, and from that, viola, he lived free of the opinions and schemes of others.

However, I know this is a huge topic, and it’s going to take more than just a few stanzas of “Jesus loves me” to free you from your fears. So I leave you with a Jesus quote from Luke 6:26. He said, “What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds.” Maybe he said that because he knows that you have to kiss a lot of backsides to gain the popular vote!

Death by People Pleasing

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

It’s confession time; I battle a secret addiction. The addiction is of people pleasing. It sneaks up, and before I know it, I’m busier than a one armed plate spinner. It makes me ooze with guilt and shame. Who have I disappointed? Who have I offended? If I spend too much time spinning my ministry and marriage plates, my friend plate suffers. I start spinning that one, my family plate starts to fall. I sit and ponder who I have let down and how I can make it up to them, knowing tomorrow I am doomed to fail someone again. As a therapist, I fight this because I recognize it as co-dependency, but the Bible calls it the “fear of man.”

The fear of man, aka people pleasing or co-dependency, is stealthy. It can masquerade as love and ministry, which means that it runs rampant in the Body of Christ. Let’s do a quick check to see if you suffer from this life sucking disorder: *Do you suffer from peer pressure? *Are you over-committed and can’t say no? *Do you “need” something from your spouse? (Do you “need” them to listen to or respect you for you to be okay?) *Is self-esteem an issue? *Do you second-guess decisions based on fear of what others will think? *Do you feel empty or meaningless? *Do you experience “love hunger”? *Do you worry what other people think of you? *Do you diet for your health, or how you appear to others? *Are you shaken when you believe others are not happy with you?

That is just a short list of symptoms, but it gives an idea of some of the various flavors of this disorder. While it may have a variety of hues, the common core is the same: a need for people to be okay with you or treat you well for you to be okay. The co-occurring problems that often accompany ‘fear of man’ are anxiety, depression, paranoia, guilt, shame, obsessional thinking, and manipulation, just to name a few. It also robs us of the ability to enjoy authentic relationships, because instead of being able to love someone for who they are, we need them to love us. That means the relationship becomes all about us and what we need from it.

Remember, in 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, it says that real love does not seek its own way. In other words, authentic love does not seek self-satisfaction in the relationship, it just loves. If you are thinking that sounds impossible, you would be correct. With man, this is impossible, because we are designed to worship. When your focus is on pleasing people and getting your love needs to be met from man, you have made man your idol. Here is your take away verse on what the Bible says about ‘fear of man.’ Proverbs 29:25 says “Fear of man is a snare, but trust in the Lord is safety.” Next week we will begin to explore this disorder from a biblical view. Till then, quit being so darn needy, it’s sucking the life out of you!

The End of the Walking Dead

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Today is the 12th anniversary of my passing from death to life. 12 years ago I was in a cell facing 10 years in prison, and I was going through withdrawal. The withdrawal was relentless and felt like a fingernail digging at the back of my brain. I was in on Federal charges of Conspiracy to Traffic and Distribute over 500 grams of Meth. I was an angry, foul, burned out, waste of a human being who had been a meth addict for 11 years, and a poly-substance addict for over 20.

One of my cellmates said, “if you think this is bad, wait till you see hell.” I thought of all the things my parents had said about Jesus. How I would laugh and scoff at His name. And how, as a bartender, I would make jokes about their Jesus. A good joke always upped my tip. In that jail cell I thought of those things and felt ashamed and afraid. With nothing left to lose, I began to pray. I reached out to the same Jesus I had made fun of for years.

It was not as much a prayer of faith as a cry of desperation. I asked for forgiveness; I got so much more. The fingernail stopped. For years that fingernail had been my god. It would start its relentless clawing on my brain, demanding to be fed. Its favorite food was meth, and its appetites had been my pied piper for as long as I could remember. It stopped because a new God had moved in. Where my false god had fed on my diseased and decaying soul, my new God brought my soul to life.

12 years have passed since that moment, and I never felt the fingernail again. I was healed of a lifetime of addictions the moment Jesus became my Lord. Since then, Jesus has taken immense pleasure proving His power to this former mocker and scoffer. My new life has been an ongoing display of His grace and mercy. And what a ride it has been!

I did have to do some time. 9 months and 8 days to be exact. Yet, I went in a free woman and came out on fire for the God who proved Himself so faithful during my incarceration. I discovered you will never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you’ve got. He has taken me on a journey from inmate to becoming Christian therapist, and Director of Caring Counseling Ministries. But while the career is awesome, the life I feel inside is the true miracle.

The thing about being dead is you have no way to help yourself. It’s over. That was me. I was helpless and hopeless. The true walking dead. Then I met a man named Jesus who brought me to life, and I will never, ever, get over it. So if we meet, don’t be surprised if I rattle on about the lover and restorer of my soul. He is everything to me. And that puny, false god who tried to destroy me…well, the joke is on it! Turns out addiction didn’t stand a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness I know now as grace. Thanks, Jesus! You have taught my soul to sing!

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Zipth Thy Lipth!

By: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Growing up, mom would say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Mom didn’t know it, but she was spouting theological truth. I will prove it with the story of Balak and Balaam (Numbers 22-24). Balak was King of Moab, and he discovered the Israelite’s camping in his territory. He sized them up, decided he couldn’t whip them, so he hired Balaam to curse them. Balaam had a talent that whomever he blessed would be blessed, and whomever he cursed would come to ruin.

Balaam reluctantly took the job, and joined King Balak on a cliff, overlooking the Israelite camp. However, when Balaam went to curse them, all he could say was a blessing. He told the King that he could not curse what God had blessed. The King got mad and took Balaam to another cliff; the same thing happened. Balaam again told the King he could not curse the Israelite’s because God had blessed them. This went on time after time. Balaam, nor anyone else, could curse what God had blessed.

Wow, no one could curse the people God had blessed. With that, one would think the Israelite’s would have waltzed into the Promised Land and lived happily ever after. They did not. Instead, they died in that wilderness, a cursed people. So who cursed them? They cursed themselves. They murmured and complained that God had brought them out into the wilderness to let them die, until finally, God gave them over to that fate. They literally cursed themselves because they wouldn’t shut up during the hard times.

See any parallel to our lives today? Ironically, Psychology has now validated this, and they call it the phenomenon of Self Fulfilling Prophecy. Even in the natural, people have a very hard time rising above their own negative confession. People tell their kids they won’t amount to anything, then when they don’t, they say “I knew it all along.” Did they know it, or did they help cause it? You decide.

How about this one, “I hate my job.” Tell yourself that often enough, and guess what, you will be miserable, because you are no longer seeing anything good, and trust me, there is good. The list of these common murmurings is endless, and none of it lines up with what God says or wants for our lives. Just like the Israelite’s, as believers, we are a people blessed by God, and we either need to put His word in our mouths, or at the very least, shut up, and not make a bad situation worse by murmuring and complaining. Bill Johnson, the pastor of Bethel Church, says that “We cannot afford to have a thought in our head about ourselves that God doesn’t have in His.” What would God say about you? You are a blessed person, and whatever He blessed cannot be cursed by anyone…other than yourself. So if you can’t say anything nice, just zipth thy lipth! Your future may depend on it.