Thoughts From Corey

Worship Together: The Light has Come!

Below is a Christmas reading.

As you join together on Christmas day, designate one person as the leader. That person reads the bold sections. 

Everyone reads the italics section together. 


A Christmas Reading

Leader:
Thousands of years ago, in the town Bethlehem, the Savior was born. His love made manifest in bodily form, no longer are we separated from the Light. Hallelujah! Our King is here!

Together:
Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Leader:
Our Light has come, our Great Emmanuel. Spoken of by the prophets and watched for through generations, the Light of the world became incarnate through the Virgin Mary. Joyful, joyful, our hearts are freed!  Hallelujah! Our King is here! 

Together: 
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Leader:
This babe, laid in a manger, scatters the darkness and brings peace to the Earth. This wailing baby boy, born that we can live again. His Light is life! Hallelujah! Our King is here! 

Together: 
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!” 

Leader:
Our King is here! The Light has come! Hope for all mankind born on this day, he came to set the captive free, to heal the broken, and to cure the land. He came to fold us into his love and set our hearts free again. 

Together: 
As we open our presents and raise up our glasses, let us remember the hope of our Lord.  Let the flicker of his Light burn bright in each and every moment of our Christmas and the days ahead. May our hope in this season set our lives alight by the power of this newborn King.  

Merry Christmas! 

Merry Christmas!
 

Tuesday: Pray for Peace

Lord our Light, 

We stand in awe of you. You not only calmed the seas and rescued Israel, you brought restoration to all mankind. You descended from heaven, experiencing trauma and sorrow for the sake of humanity. You suffered the mocking voices and open disrespect for the redemption of those you love. 

Help us recognize our brokenness. Show us how to live this season with repentant hearts. In your loving kindness, help us find our path back to your peace. Help us to break our perfume jars at your feet and weep from the knowledge of your love. Let us set aside our titles and our worldly reputations. Let us embrace who we are in you. 

You are our righteousness, our only need. 

May we forever sing your praises. 

Amen  
 

Monday: We Need Peace

Peace seems an unlikely treasure in this age of darkness. We say our prayers and cross our fingers in hopes that life will get less chaotic and Light will reign in our lives in the midst of such brokenness. The war between light and dark wages both in our world and in our hearts. 

Luke 7:36-50 tells an impossibly beautiful story about Jesus, some pharisees, and a sinful woman. In this story we find Jesus, the God Incarnate remembered at Christmas, reclined at a table with a group of Pharisees. We learn in these verses that the Pharisees disrespected Jesus openly by not washing his feet nor giving him the customary welcoming kiss. They even went so far as openly mocking him. 

As Jesus is reclining in the midst of such hostility, a woman enters the scene. This woman, shackled by her reputation and sins, came in search of her savior. Seeing him, she stood behind him weeping and washing his feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed them pouring expensive perfume over them.  This woman, steeped in dark sorrow and shame, bares her soul, her income, her reputation at the unclean feet of Jesus. 

Unlike the Pharisees, this woman understood who she was. She recognized the gap between her and God. She understood her depravity. The learned men of the age mocked her calling her “sinner” and proclaiming her brokenness, never once contemplating their lack of faith, their brokenness from The Divine. They ridiculed Jesus for claiming to be a prophet, yet allowing her touch. How could he not see who she truly was?

How did Jesus respond?   

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
— Luke 7: 44-48; 50

Your sins are forgiven. 
Your faith has saved you. 
Go. 
In. 
Peace. 

As we look toward Christmas and our Jehovah-Shalom (The Lord is Peace) being born in Bethlehem, we must also look to his life. As we contemplate the Light of the season, we must look to the stories of his ministry. Too many times we read scripture and place ourselves in the roll of the faithful servant or the repentant sinner who understood their brokenness. 

But if we were to truly look at our lives, inspecting our Christmas season, could we really say that were true? Are we not Pharisees openly mocking the Light in our own ways? Where is our repentance in this season?

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation 

 

Let us go forth, in the recognition of our brokenness, and let us live this season with repentant hearts. Let us fill our lives with the Light, recognizing who this baby we are celebrating truly is. Let us fill our hearts with the acceptance of who we are, breaking our perfume jars and kissing the feet of Jesus.  May we become undignified in our response to our Savior. 

Go in peace, my brothers and sisters. Your sins are forgiven. 
 

Monday: We Need Joy

It’s that time of year again when “joy” is plastered on our decorations, our trees, our commercials, and our clothes. Joy is forced upon us as the only appropriate response to our cultural ideals of all that is good: excess and happiness. To experience anything other than a “joyful” response to presents, food, family, or Hallmark movies is seen as an affront to the season, one that cannot and will not be tolerated. 

Somewhere along our journey joy morphed from a response to The Divine to a cultural obligation. Our holiday has shifted from a religious experience to a cultural expectation. 

My own life is a testament to this. Over and over in this season, I’ve chosen my own light to provide joy, rather than the Light of the World. I’ve chosen to put my efforts and time into cultivating a beautiful reputation and beautiful traditions while neglecting my connection to The Divine.

I’ve chosen performance over being known. 

The chaos of life is too much for me in this season. I often believe the lie that God desires my pageantry and false narratives because, though Jesus came to know and be known, I am somehow excluded from that. My messiness is an exception to the rule. My darkness is too big and too bad for the God of the Universe to handle.  Manufacturing cheap joy is far easier than confronting my trauma, embracing my weaknesses, and accepting my messiness. 

But, eventually, that facade of cheap joy cracks for all of us. We find ourselves screaming through clinched teeth at children just wanting attention or drowning our sorrows in decadent food until we lose all emotions. And we wonder where Jesus is in all of this. Where is that joy we’ve been proclaiming? 

The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.
— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Too many times we shrink from the light, assuming that our darkness will consume it. We accept our fear and relinquish control to it. But what if we changed our course this Advent season?  What if we dedicated this time to seeking knownness, vulnerability, and intimacy instead of performance and pageantry? What if we dared to trust that the light is far greater than the dark? 

What if we had the audacity to think that Jesus came to Earth as a baby to know and be known? Not just theoretically, but intensely, personally, and completely known. Not just for people 2,000 years ago, but for us. Not just for that one guy with the perfect reputation, but for you with all of your mess and me with all of my mess. 

We are not a people of the shadows. We are people of the light. 

If we decide to concern ourselves with gratitude, adoration, and praise instead of the paralyzing pressure of creating a perfect holiday or being the perfect person, we won’t  need to manufacture joy or cling to our charades. Everything we need is in the Light of the season. Everything we hope for is born on Christmas day.   

Jesus isn’t interested in our Pinterest boards or popularity contests. That’s not the point of the manger. That’s certainly not the point of the cross. 

This Advent season, may we have the courage to experience true JOY and may we proclaim to the world the words of Henry Van Dyke’s great hymn:   

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!  



 

Monday: We Need Love

Writing about love seems impossible. We have songs about it and movies declaring its virtues. Our souls long for it and our culture misunderstands it.  But if we were to be honest, for many of us love seems like an unrealistic expectation. We walk through our days dragging long personal histories of not being good enough for our family, our friends, or our communities. Allowing the shame to wash over us, we isolate ourselves accepting that the best we can offer is simply not enough to garner the love we so desire.  So we hide our lives away, cultivating picturesque social media platforms, and ignoring our need for connection.  

But why does this plague us so? From an early age we are taught that to receive love, we must earn it. The very idea of Santa cements in our minds the concept of a greater being patiently waiting to punish us for misbehavior. Even though the years have long passed since we found out he’s not real, the thought of his judgment still lingers. At the heart of it, we are still little kids wondering whether we’ve been nice or naughty. Have we earned enough love to get presents from Santa Claus? Have we earned our spot at the table? Is this the year we get coal? 

Or to put it in adult terms:
Will this present make him/her love me? 
Will I wake up Christmas morning to find that I am truly alone? 
Will they visit me again if I have a flawlessly ornate tree?  
Will my family finally accept me if I bring the perfect cinnamon rolls? 

But is this what Christmas was supposed to be?   

We can have our junk together in a thousand areas, but if we don’t have love, we are totally bankrupt.
— Jen Hatmaker (For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards)

 

We can have the most beautiful tree.
We can have the best presents. 
We can have the ugliest Christmas sweater. 
We can have the most delicious sugar cookies.

But if we don’t have love, we’re bankrupt. 

In that truth is the miracle of Christmas. It’s the miracle of John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God so loved the world that he came as a helpless babe into a world of hatred, a world that eventually crucified him. He didn’t create a naughty or nice list. He didn’t wrap up coal and give it to you in exchange for your sins. He simply asked all “who are weary and burdened” to come to him for rest. His burden is light. (Matt 28-30) 

That is Christmas. That is our story. A story we don’t deserve and a story most of us don’t intimately understand. 

So this Advent season let’s lay down our hatred and let’s get rid of our lists and our expectations. Let’s stop dragging around our inadequacies and shame. 

Let us exchange that for the truth of the season:

You, my friend, are dearly loved. Not for your accomplishments or your niceness. But for you. You are loved enough that Jesus laid in a manager and won the fight against darkness so that you might have life in the fullest, so that you might have love in the fullest.  

Live that truth. Spread that truth. Love in that truth. 
 

Remember

Thanksgiving is weird to me.

I am naturally a person of short memories and long desires. High in energy and intensity, I blissfully seek out “the next best thing.”  I run full throttle through my life, checking off all the ways I fail or succeed compared to those around me. It's an exhausting and often painful cycle of self worship. 

We are simply not a culture of gratitude and I buy into it without a second glance. Seldom do I look past my desires to appreciate life in the moment and the God that brought me here.  Seldom do I pause long enough to understand the depths of God’s provision in my life.

And yet, ironically, every year I gather around the table with family and friends to say a prayer and discuss what I’m thankful for. I live in the land of great abundance and provision, but I set aside time to give thanks only once a year. Digging deep into gratitude is shamefully the last of my priorities and I suffer all the more for it. 

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.
— G.K. Chesterton

The book of Deuteronomy reminds me of the struggle with recognizing and worshipping God in the land of plenty.

Over and over, Moses preaches to the Isrealites to “Remember the Lord”. He urges his people to dwell on the provision and providence that is their God. He is the God that brought them out of slavery. Through plagues and miracles, they were set free. He is the God that brought them through the wilderness. Raining down manna for their sustenance, they did not starve.  

But Moses knew they were facing their harshest challenge yet: the land of plenty.

Moses knew what we know so well. When you have everything you need, it’s easy to get lazy.

These people, who for a generation had intimate recognition of their God, were about to be delivered into a land of great provision. No longer would they see manna raining from the sky. No longer would they be wanderers dependant on the moment. They were about to live in  “a land with large, flourishing cities [they] did not build,houses filled with all kinds of good things [they] did not provide, wells [they] did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves [they] did not plant.” (6:10-11) Their lives were about to drastically change.

So what did Moses urge them to do? Remember.

He urged them to write God’s laws on their door frames and on their gates, to teach them to their children and their children’s children. He urged them to love their God well and pass on the stories of God’s provision.

We, too, are like the Israelites.

We are surrounded by plenty in cities we did not build, with wells we did not dig, with vast Super Markets of items we did not create, hunt, or farm. We have option on option on option. For generations there has been no end to our excess.

So what should we do? Remember.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
— G.K. Chesterton

Let’s take this day of Thanksgiving and use it to remember our God.

That car you are embarrassed to be seen in? Remember that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob blessed you with it.

Those chubby thighs you desperately try to hide under your jeans? The same God that created the world, blessed you with strong legs that bring you through the world.

That menial job you dread going back to on Monday? The God who rained down manna for provision for his people, blessed you with the provision of employment.

Life is desperately hard whether you are in the wilderness or surrounded by provision. The only thing we can truly control is our response to it. As we sit around fancy tables with our decadent food, let us dig deeper than the bright and shiny things we are thankful for. Let us see our lives with new light.

It is easy to make false idols of our things and of ourselves, especially when we’re under the illusion that we are in control. This is our chance to tear down our altars to greed and excess. This is our opportunity to remember life in the wilderness and who our God truly is

We do not worship or follow our new cars, our big houses, or even our families. We do not worship our reputations, our social media pages, or our aspirations. 

We worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We worship the God who made David a king and Mary a mother. We worship the God who would humble himself to a manger and deliver himself to a cross. HE is who we worship. He is the one who provides for us. From our first day, to our dying breath, he is the core of it all.

Remember and give thanks. Tell your children and your children’s children of how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob provided for you. Write it on your door frames and shout it from the rooftops. Hallelujah! YAHWEH-JIREH has kept his promise!

Favorites: Summer Edition

It's that time of year where all our favorite shows are on hiatus and we're sloshing though the hot Texas summer season. Here are my recommendations for dealing with the dog days of the year. 

Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Captivating and beautiful, it's a hauntingly gorgeous poetic memoir.

The Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny. These books have brought back my faith in humanity more than once.

Pastrix: Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz Weber. I loved this book. It put so many things into words that I never knew I needed to hear. I laughed. I cried. I felt deeply known.

Television and Movies:

Community. (TV) I can't believe I never watched this show when it was on air. It is hilarious and creative in so many ways. If you like shows that explore how people change and transform through being known, then I highly suggest. It is so funny. (Hulu)

Hasan Minaj: Homecoming King. (Stand Up Special) This stand up is pure poetry. Funny, enlightening, and creative. (Netflix)

The Big Sick (Movie). It's not every day that I recommend a romantic comedy but this is it. Possibly my favotire movie in the genre. It tells the story of a Stand Up Comedian dealing with his girlfriend who just went in a coma. It's a true story of a married couple who went on to write the movie. It deals with illness, family dynamics, following your dreams, and interracial relationships.

Games and Places:

What do you Meme? This is the ultimate game for millenials and those who love memes and laughing.

Peticolas Brewing Tap Room. The perfect spot for playing the above game and hanging out with your friends. The beers are amazing too.

A Little Something About My Anger

I want to say something: I’ve tried to be forgiving. And yet. There were times in my life, whole years, when anger got the better of me. Ugliness turned me inside out. There was a certain satisfaction in bitterness. I courted it. It was standing outside, and I invited it in.
— Nicole Krauss

The first time I told someone I hated them, I was in 1st grade. It was my teacher. That same year, I peed on her brand new carpet. I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure she shared the same seething emotion towards me. This was just the first sign.

You see, ever since I can remember, I've held tight to one particular sin.  

I've nurtured it. I've celebrated it. I've laughed about it, made excuses for it, clung to it. I've welcomed it to my life like a trusty companion. It was my strength. It was my god.

Anger will do that to you.

When my parents divorced, I survived in anger.

When my friends were murdered, I clung to anger.

When my dad got sick, I thrived in anger.

When my mentors died, I cultivated anger.

When life after college wasn't all that I thought it would be, I wallowed in anger.

‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
— Ephesians 4:26-27

Is it a sin to feel angry? No. Not anymore than it is to feel sad or happy or any other emotion. You will get angry in life. That’s inevitable.

Hear me now, it’s not that I felt an emotion, it’s that I let that emotion become me. It breathed death into me, every fiber of my being poisoned by its control.

If you’re reading this article and don’t know me, by this point you probably think I’m like a raving lunatic who yells at strangers in the grocery store. Let me assure you that if you saw me on the street (or in the grocery store), I’d look like any other mild mannered, slightly eccentric 20-something. I rarely raise my voice in anger. I giggle almost constantly especially when I’m in a tense situation. The last thing I punched was my pillow… and that was to make it fluffier. 

I am not the poster child of anger.

I am not the Hulk. I am not Mike Tyson.

But she said, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.”
— Ruth 1:20-21

I was Naomi and now I am Mara.

I have suffered and now I am bitter.

In the midst of my bitterness, in my lowest of lows, the unthinkable happened. My father died.

Just like that. In the blink of an eye, in the smallest of breaths, my father left me here. Alone and scared. Bitter and angry.

Just like that.

 

Just.

Like.

That.

----

Days went by. He sent me laughter.

Months went by. He solidified my community.

A year went by. He gave me wisdom.

----

And just like that, with the biggest tragedy of my life, my Heavenly Father, did the unimaginable. He began softening my heart. Just like Naomi, I have had blessings in front of my face all these years. And just like Naomi, I was blind to them. I cloaked myself in bitterness and it became my identity. It became my name.

He has taken my bitterness. He has nailed it to the cross. He has redeemed my life for His glory.

I hated Him and He loved me. I yelled at Him and He whispered my name. I have forsaken Him and He has welcomed me back with open arms.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
— Galatians 5:1

I write this confession, this warning, knowing full well that some of you are struggling with bitterness and anger. You are living in bondage of sin because you don’t know how else to live. Hear me now brothers and sisters, you are not alone. Life is hard, it is cruel, it is unfair but our God is good. Perhaps you’ve lost friends. Perhaps you’ve been through divorce. Perhaps you’ve been assaulted. Whatever those burdens might be, and they may be many, we have a God big enough for all of them.

I beg you brothers and sisters, don’t burden yourself again by the yoke of slavery. Don’t waste your years fighting a battle that has already been won.

Hear me when I say:

Your name is not bitter.

Your name is redeemed.

Your name is rescued.

Your name is freedom.

You are a child of the One, True King. Your victory is won.

 

The Good Samaritan and Me

Have you ever been humbled by God? Not just experienced hard circumstances, but rather, had a mirror reflected to show the disfiguring blemishes in your faith?

Last spring, in the midst of our study of Luke, my house church discussed the parable of The Good Samaritan.  We dissected and debated the parable, leaving us satisfied that we knew our neighbor. Resting in the comfort that my faith and love were purer than the Levite or the Priest. I settled into a smug acceptance that I was, obviously, the Samaritan.

It only took a short while to discover that I could not be more wrong.

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus.

“Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

There was a woman who immigrated from Asia to America. Finding her home here, she fought to learn English, become a nail technician, and build a life of her own. Every day she bent over and scrubbed the feet of strangers. Every day she avoided eye contact while pampering those whose lives were unlike her own.  Every day she fought to live with dignity. And all the while, she held the death of her son deep in her heart.  A pain so deep and debilitating, it seeped into every aspect of her life.

A Christian woman sat before her checking her Facebook app and texting whomever would text back. Avoiding conversation, she convinced herself reading the subtitles on the national news was a better way to save both of their dignities. She held as still as possible while getting a pedicure so as not to be engaged in conversation. It was just easier that way.

A gay man came along and sat beside the woman. Seeing the pain in the beautician’s eyes, he engaged her in conversation and sought the answers to the pain he saw hiding in the recesses. He held her as she cried and told her that she was loved and cared for. He salved the pain of her wounds with his friendship. He tipped her well and promised to come back to continue their friendship.  

“What do you think? Which of the two became a neighbor?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same”

You see, I was exactly what I railed against. I was too busy, too conceited, too prideful to step down to heal. It took a sweet friend, a friend who in most religious circles would be rejected, to show me what truly loving my neighbor was to look like. May I seek to be less like the religious elite and more like my friend.