Fresh Truth for Bad Fruit Part 2

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Every known cranky Christian who acts like they were baptized in lemon juice? Not only have I met them, at times I’ve been one. We all have. We accept this as normal, but according to scripture, it’s abnormal. Jesus said the world would be able to spot His followers by our love, not our stress level. What is happening to us? I believe the answer is found in “abiding.”

Last week I unveiled the scripture in John where Jesus said if we abide in Him we will bear much fruit. I defined that fruit from the list in Galatians. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We can think of this list as our “abiding detector,” because if this list isn’t manifesting in your life, no matter how busy you are with Jesus, you are not abiding in Jesus.

What does it mean to abide? The Bible Study Tools defines it as to “await, remain, lodge, dwell continue, endure.” We are to make our home in Jesus. Moreover, it says in John 15:9 that we are supposed to remain in is His love. So abiding means that we live in His love. The love of Christ is supposed to be our dwelling place.

Interesting fact, did you know there is only one place in the entire Bible where it instructs us on how to walk in the fullness of God? It is Ephesians 3:14-19. In brief, it says when we put down roots into the way God loves us in Christ Jesus, when we realize how wide, long, high and deep that love is, then we will be “filled with all the fullness of God.” If we are full of God we will be full of love, joy peace…you get the picture.

As humans, our default position is to be rooted and grounded in us. What we want, what scares us, what comforts us. We are tragically self-centered. And we bring that into our relationship with God. Think about how we talk about our faith, “I want to be used by God.” “My quiet time with the Lord.” “I found Jesus.” “I”m praying about my problem.” “I’ve found a scripture for my problem.”

None of these things are bad, per se, but when we take a step back and examine this as a lifestyle, you can see our focus is on us and whatever challenges we are facing. If we make things all about us, we will never be all about Jesus. No matter how religious or devoted we are. And as long as we are all about us, we will produce the fruit of fear, anxiety, stress, etc.

By now I hope you are convinced that you want to make His love your dwelling place. But being convinced and knowing how to get there are two different things. That is what we will cover next week. Until then pack your moving boxes, you are going to a new dwelling place. The only thing you can’t bring is your “self.”

Fresh Truth for Bad Fruit

By: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I love the process of Christian therapy. I work with people to examine real-life problems and mental health struggles, and then analyze those things through the light of God’s word. I love it so much I have a therapist I talk to on a regular basis. I never walk away from those meetings unchanged.

At my last session, I was agonizing over my anxiety about some very real and very scary things I was facing. She all but ignored my problems and asked me instead if I was abiding in Jesus. I curtly replied that of course, I was abiding in Jesus! I prayed, read my Bible, had a daily quiet time, and from there began giving her my laundry list of Christian activities. To that, she replied, “If you are abiding in Jesus, where is your fruit?”

That hit me like thunder. It says in John 15 that if I am abiding in Jesus, I will be bearing fruit. What is that fruit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Truth is, at that point the only fruit I was bearing was fear, worry, anxiety, chronic over-thinking, impatience, and fatalism. Since the Bible is my ultimate authority for truth I had to admit, according to my symptoms, I had not been abiding in Jesus. While I had been busy with Christian activities, what I was really abiding in was my problems. Can you relate?

While I can’t speak for the rest of the world, I know that in our little community we are a bunch of stressed out Christians. There is a church on every corner, willing to accommodate whatever brand of believing we have, but we are just as sick, broke and scared as our unbelieving neighbor. No wonder people don’t want what we have. Most of us are not abiding in Jesus, we are abiding in the world, it’s problems, our problems, politics, and all the rest of the junk out there. It shows in the way we act and think. I was no exception.

Jesus said that we shall know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32). But as my pastor, Jason Forby, always says, the truth will set you free, but first, it will probably make you mad, because you will have to admit that you were wrong. So here is your truth, I don’t care how much of your life that you are dedicating to Jesus, if you are easily offended, judgmental, impatient, stressed out, fearful, anxious, and angry, you are not abiding in Christ. You may be like me, mistaking your life of devotion for a life of abiding.

No worries though, because, as Jesus promised, the truth will set us free. Next week I am going to start diving into that truth and share with you what God has been teaching me about abiding in His Son. Consider it fresh truth for bad fruit. Until then, be bold and ask Jesus to prune you. All you have to lose is some bad apples.

Peacekeepers or Zookeepers?

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Last week I spoke to peacekeepers about being courageous and honest. If you know and love a peacekeeper, it’s your turn for the hot-seat, because peacekeeping is a defense mechanism derived from placating difficult personalities. Personalities I think of as alligators, porcupines, puffer fish and fainting goats.

Alligators are scary. Their victim never sees them coming. It’s fun in the sun, then chomp, and the gator has its prey! Their victim is locked in an inescapable horror, dragged underwater for a “death roll.” If you are an alligator, you know you have a bad temper. If someone missteps they experience your rage. You yell, scream, curse and belittle. For your family, this is terrifying and unpredictable. They begin placating you, lest you turn on them. You have created peacekeepers who are too frightened of you to connect.

If you are a porcupine, you shoot quills at anyone who gets close to you. These quills are poisonous barbs of sarcasm and criticism. And while they may not be as terrifying as an alligator attack, they leave your family scared and scarred. They begin walking on eggshells, living in fear of the next quill coming their way. They try to appease you to avoid the barbs. Classic peacekeeping.

Or perhaps you are a puffer fish. These creatures are small, but when they feel threatened they abruptly blow up, so they appear bigger. That intimidates and confuses the other fish, who then leave them alone. Puffer fish aren’t as dangerous as alligators and porcupines, but the result is the same.

If you are a puffer fish, you feel instantly threatened when someone tries to talk to you about your behavior. Your employ the “best defense is a good offense” strategy in times of duress. If your wife mentions you forgot to take out the trash, you fire back a list of her shortcomings. It works, because the price tag of confrontation is so high, no one dares to cross you. You mistakenly think that’s the goal, but your defensiveness destroys authenticity, and your loved one is now a peacekeeper.

And lastly, we have fainting goats. If you are one of these, you are fragile, sweet, and easy to love. But you tend to burst into tears and fears at the slightest whiff of negative emotions. This makes others feel like terrorists when they try to confront you, so they begin “handling” you to avoid meltdowns.

Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? Kris Vallotton says “if it costs a lot to be honest in your home don’t be surprised when people lie.” Quite often the lie is one of omission. Everyone is afraid to tell you that you are scary and hard to love. My guess is that your behavior is masking your fears and insecurities. Pray about this and let God show you what’s making you angry and afraid. Get some help, and please allow your peacekeeper become a peacemaker!

The Rotten Fruit of Peacekeeping

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Most of us don’t like conflict and go to extremes to avoid it. We package conflict avoidance as “peacekeeping,” as if that makes it Biblical. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, “Blessed be the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” He did not say, peacekeepers. Had he, it would have gone something like this, “Woe to you, peacekeepers, your relationship fruit will be rotten!” Why? Because there is a significant difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping is a fancy term for fear. It manifests as passivity, or passivity’s nasty cousin, passive aggressiveness. The passive person internalizes their pain, slaps on a smile, and prays things get better. The passive aggressive person also keeps their mouths shut, but they externalize their pain with punishing behavior to let others know they are unhappy (slammed doors and death stares), or they smile but complain behind someone’s back.
If this is you, you are poised to bear some rotten fruit. First, you will miss out on authentic relationships. Authentic relationships are risky and gritty and involve being courageous enough to let someone see the real you. If you’re a peacekeeper, you’re eliminating your chances of being accepted and loved for who you are. You have sacrificed unity for coexistence. That’s tragic.

The next fruit is exhaustion. Peacekeeping requires you to be a control freak. You must be ready to rush in and put out fires and keep a watchful eye to ensure everyone gets along. Shew! This kind of behavior may contain the crazy, but you are busier than a one-armed paper-hanger trying to keep everyone on an even keel. Last I checked, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not yours.

And here is the most rotten fruit of them all; if you are a conflict-avoiding peacekeeper, you can’t complain about how others treat you. Why? You are not telling them the truth. If we don’t have the self-respect to advocate for our rights, we shouldn’t be surprised when others don’t either. In my business, we have a saying, “You teach people how to treat you.” To have authentic relationships, you have to share your heart, even if it means conflict, then trust God with the result. Peacekeeping has the immediate consequence of not making waves, but it’s like a stagnant pond. There’s no life there. Peacemaking is courageous, and it requires honesty. It also recognizes that what might hurt in the immediate will cause a long-term gain. There are movement and life in these relationships.

Jeremiah 6:14 says, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” You can’t keep sticking band-aids on mortal heart wounds, smile, and hope things get better. You are called to be a peacemaker, and that requires you to man up and speak up for the greater good of yourself and others. Now, suit up and make some peace, you are God’s A-Team!

Blessed are the Screw-ups!

I don’t think there is any greater miracle than a stubborn, prideful person bending their knee to God. Luckily, with my job, that’s a miracle I see on a regular basis. Why? I am the one people come to when they have run their lives off into a ditch. It’s funny how a colossal blunder makes us aware of our need for God. For that reason, I say, Blessed are the Screw-ups!

Before you tweet that clever saying, let me cite my source. That is my paraphrase of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. In the first Beatitude (Matthew 5:3), He says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Or, as the Message translation puts it, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.” God places a high value on our brokenness, failures, and screw-ups because, without them, most of us would never enter the Kingdom.

I believe there are only two kinds of people in this world; those who are bad at their lives and know it, and those who are bad at their lives and don’t know. I’m in the first group, and I don’t worry about us. Our awareness of our tendency to mess up keeps us aware of our need for Jesus. It’s the second group that concerns me. They don’t seem to be struggling. They appear to have it all together. Success, money, nothing seems out of their reach. But what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, only to lose his soul (Mark 8:36)? My translation, the winner of the rat race, is still a rat.

So, if you find yourself at rock bottom, Jesus says you are positioned to be blessed. Rock bottom is a great place to be. We are so open to God when we are out of options. Who has room for pride in times of disaster? In our minds, we believe failure equals shame and loss. In God’s economy, those events put you on the precipice of understanding your frailty, which equals a need for Him.

I know this from personal experience. The only reason I reached out to God is I was in trouble and had nowhere else to turn. Humbled and afraid, I bowed my knee and gave my life to Him. I was more interested in a “get out of jail free” card than a relationship with Jesus. He took what little I offered Him and gave me a Kingdom in return. What started out as an association of pure usury on my part has grown into the love that defines my life.

So, my friend, I don’t know what kind of mess you might be facing. Addiction, infidelity, tax fraud. Regardless of the chaos, Jesus has ample amounts of grace to help fix your brokenness. In fact, it says in the Bible that “Sin didn’t and doesn’t stand a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace (Romans 5:20 Message).” Go ahead and bend that knee. You have nothing to lose but your mess!

The High Cost of Low Self-Esteem

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Do you have days when you feel incompetent, and you don’t think you can do anything right? I have days like that. Dark days of nit-picking, self-critique and feelings of failure. When I get on a roll, I can self-deprecate with the best of them.

Recently, when my negative self-talk was hitting its zenith, I came across a game-changing scripture. It is 1 Samuel 15:17. The prophet Samuel was talking to King Saul after Saul had made a colossal blunder. Samuel told Saul, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. And the Lord has sent you on a mission…”

Here’s Saul in a nutshell. In 1 Samuel 9 and 10, we see that Saul had been picked by God to be king. Then he was anointed for the job, given a new heart and Holy Spirit power. He had everything except one crucial ingredient that God could not give him, self-esteem. Because of that, he was a slave to peoples opinions, which led to his downfall.

Saul could be telling our story. We are chosen to be God’s children (Ephesians 1:4), we are anointed by God (1 John 2:27), given a new heart (Hebrews 8:10) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). Then, like Saul, we are given a mission. In Ephesians 2:10 it says “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

You, my friend, are a masterpiece. And what do we do with masterpieces? We display them, and that is your mission. In Isaiah 61:3 you are called an Oak of Righteousness, a display of God’s splendor. That’s your truth. Here’s the catch though, if you don’t believe it, you will never live up to your full potential. God is responsible for giving us the potential and the mission, we are responsible for believing Him and living it out.

As a former addict and felon leading a Christian ministry, I know what it’s like to doubt yourself. But, as I read 1 Samuel 15:17, I could feel God saying to me, “Cris, although you may think little of yourself, are you not called to be the leader of Caring Counseling Ministries? I, the Lord, have anointed you and sent you on a mission.” That put wind in my sails. He picked me, He anointed me, and He laid out the mission. What I think about myself is irrelevant. My life was His idea.

Now, take that and apply it to yourself. What are you called to do? Are you a parent? Teacher? Car Salesman? No matter what the role, you are a display of His splendor. He wants to shine through you. As bizarre as this may seem, it is theologically correct to say that God thinks way more of you than you think of yourself. Don’t be a Saul and pay the high price of low self-esteem. You, my friend, are on a mission from God. Now, hold your head up high, and enjoy being on display.

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.