Throughout my travels, I sometimes find myself in places that are more familiar than others, and sometimes I find myself in entirely new places. I enjoy staying physically active and aim to jog or walk daily, even when I find myself in places that are new to me. A daily walk can be a good time to reflect, clear your mind and even spend some quiet time with God. Even though I make my living sharing the Word with others, I strive to set aside time daily to spend with God, whether during a morning walk or at other quiet times throughout my day. I check my armor and faith for weak spots, all while enjoying the one on one conversation that I like to have with God.
In my book, Dressed For Victory: Putting on the Full Armor of God, I reference Paul and his revelations about God. Checking to make sure that our armor is fit and ready for battle with the enemy is always a good thing. In the Bible, when Paul is imprisoned—and, keep in mind, he was imprisoned for two years with Roman soldiers standing guard—he uses his time to reflect, examine and analyze the armor of his captor. He watches and learns from the very people who have him in jail. He surmises the use for all of the pieces of the Roman soldiers’ armor, and he applies the rules and uses for each to his own spiritual and physical life, preparing himself for what may await him and using the benefits of the armor for his own life.
In examining our own needs, we should be able to see where we can apply the Armor of God. Are we firm footed in our position as Christians? Do we have the helmet of salvation to show the world our allegiance to God? And, what can we do to strengthen our armor?
I talk a lot about having a dialogue with God as well as a strong prayer life. Maybe we need to check our armor and gain some reassurance in living strong with God. Maybe we want to recalibrate with God and check progress on what He has in store for us next. It makes sense now, especially since I am asking for so much reflection and introspection this summer, to find a way to pray that will allow us to achieve the one on one connection with God that He wants to have with us. It doesn’t always have to be in church or when we feel scared or worried. It also does not always have to be in a quiet room. It can be on a walk while visiting a new city or while enjoying a calm evening at home on the porch. Anytime that we can reflect and spend quality time with God and in introspection with ourselves will only serve to make us stronger and more prepared for the challenges that may await us in our daily lives.
"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes" (Ephesians 6:11 NIV)
In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about the Armor of God as “vigilant righteousness”. He says in Romans 13:12 (NIV): "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." In many ways, we can interpret this metaphorically and bring light to where we see it is needed.
During his captivity, Paul observes a Roman soldier in his grandiose yet utilitarian armor. It is grandiose in that it is a proud reminder of just who the man who wears it is – a defender of his country, his faith and his people. It is utilitarian in that, at first, all Paul sees is metal and leather, components used to keep swords and other weapons from harming the man who wears it. The armor for this soldier, then, serves a couple of purposes. Logistically, it is made to protect him and, as a secondary function, it is recognized as part of the precise uniform that only a Roman soldier would wear. It is recognizable, honorable, and subtle in its function. Metaphorically, Paul sees it as something we all wear to protect ourselves spiritually. Every component has a specific function, from the nail holes in the boots meant to keep the soldier at his post in battle to the helmet that protects and provides a layer of security. The components allow the wearer to be what they need to be at any given time in battle with the enemy or in showing their faith and strength.
I wear my Armor of God in the pulpit. I openly speak about God and encourage others to live their lives in His image. I wear the Armor of God as the pastor of a large urban church. Of course, I also wear the armor as a father, son, husband, and friend.
How do you wear your armor? Are you a teacher who brings a love of learning to children, providing them with strength for a lifetime? Are you a caretaker who stays at home and tends to children and possibly others, fostering a feeling of nurturing and fellowship that people will use to get them through their days? Are you a friend who listens even when the story has already been told and even when you know your friend is wrong, allowing trust and faith to grow in those who are close to you?
We wear our respective armors in many ways. Be brave and confident in your abilities. Take heart in your Armor of God. We all have our strengths, and we don’t often give ourselves enough credit for them. Walk and live strong knowing that the individual you are is very much appreciated by those around you and by God.
August 14, 2015
Consider this: occasionally, when you help yourself, you open the door to helping others and contributing more deeply to your church, your family, your community, and the world. Does that sound like a selfish statement, a bold assumption, or permission to indulge yourself? Honestly, it might be all of the above, but it is also advice to heed. When you make yourself the best that you can be, taking time for prayer or making time to relax with your family, you can also offer advice and support to others in the same way.
When we take care of ourselves, we are better at a lot of things. Well-rested parents are more patient, children who are allowed to pursue their interests do better in life in the long run, and professionals who eat right, take walks during the day, and have some fun now and then are more effective in their jobs. We know these are facts, but we often have a hard time believing them. Why? Because we want to believe that the executive who only goes to church and never has fun is the one who is going to do well. After all, haven’t we always heard that hard work, and only hard work, pays off? We want to believe that the parents who stay up all night with new babies and keep going all day long with no rest and no help are the ones who are doing everything right. Why? We want to believe that denying ourselves is going to help us achieve our life goals. In my book, Dressed For Victory: Putting On the Full Armor of God, I directly address what we need to do to prepare and enforce our armor against the enemy and against anyone or anything that challenges our fortitude. We need to do some self-exploration and find out where our strengths and weaknesses lie.
Depriving ourselves of detrimental activities is obviously beneficial and remaining disciplined in the way that God wants us to be disciplined is key. We need to pray or have some sort of introspection and conversation with God in our day, and we need to be the best that we can be in every situation. What does that entail? As Christians, it means that we need to honor and obey God and live a life that will be pleasing to Him. This includes the use of the strengths that God has given us and enjoying the unique interests He has gifted us with. It should also include fellowship with others, keeping in mind that we continue to provide an example to those who may need to know what it is like to be closer to God. This is a tall order sometimes, but I think we are all up to the task of giving of ourselves, even when we might need to be gracious to those who are not as gracious to us.
By enjoying ourselves, I simply mean that at the end of a long day or week, if we allow ourselves to read a book that we want to read, take a trip that we want to take, or even watch a favorite show while eating some ice cream, we might be more focused in our jobs, happier in our relationships, and generally more rested and well-rounded in life.
Resting and rejuvenating ourselves leads to better productivity. Allowing others to enjoy themselves without judging is also a more open and productive way to live. We can still go to church, but we might want to stop at the local barbeque place on the way home. We can still work hard, but it’s okay to meet friends for dinner and conversation at the end of the day. And when we see others eating lunch at a nice place on a day that we’re working or watch people take off for the beach while we stay in the city, we should wish them well and understand that taking care of ourselves and understanding our own needs and interests is one way we can become more focused, well-rounded, and better at what we do everyday, from worship to work and from family time to personal development. Take that time for yourself and learn to relish the introspection and preparation for the challenges that life will, inevitably, send your way. It’s like polishing the “Armor of God.”
August 7th 2015
As we strive to improve our lifestyles, we must remember to take stock of what we already have. Often, when we set personal goals like weight loss, greater community involvement, or advancement in our careers, we already have the attributes we need to make these things happen.
Anyone who has ever played a sport knows that, many times, coaches will remind us that athletes are very disciplined and competitive people who work day in and day out towards achieving their final goal. Regardless of what sport or activity you participated in, someone at some point told you to do what you needed to do to get ahead. After all, all competitive sports or activities require some amount of discipline. You have to commit to a team, long practices, grueling workouts, and more. Perhaps you are involved in an academic endeavor like an advanced degree or a job-related challenge. Any activity in which you find yourself deeply involved requires you to think outside the box, devote large amounts of time and force some discipline into your life. For the moms and dads out there, taking on parenthood and all the sacrifices it entails is enough to instill the highest level of daily discipline into your lives.
In my book Dressed for Victory: Putting on the Full Armor of God, I talk about how wearing the Armor of God prepares us to walk through our daily lives. When we pray, we create a dialogue with God. When we go to church, we honor God and hope to obtain the spiritual nourishment that will help us continue to live disciplined lives. Add to that all that we do and sacrifice daily as parents, as students and athletes who work hard to achieve greatness or in any other role we may be committed to and we have a pretty good formula for keeping distractions and negative influences at a minimum in our lives.
So, as we examine our goals and chart our progress this summer, I urge you to tap into your strengths and recognize the work that you have already done to shape the person that you have become and the stronger person that you know you have inside. Remind yourselves daily to use discipline and the pride of knowing that you have already come so far to push even further. Above all, remember that with God, you can achieve even greater things.
July 31, 2015
In my last post, I asked you all to think back on that mid-June blog entry when I asked everyone to “pick FIVE things that we need to do better or more often and FIVE things that we need to begin scaling back or stopping in our behaviors and daily activities.” I made a brief reference to recalibrating a bit and asking ourselves how we were doing on our lists. So, how are we all doing? In all seriousness, and to recap what I’ve been saying about this season of summer, we do need to give attention to our own initiatives and improvements during this season that notoriously provides us with more downtime due to longer daylight hours, better weather, and assumptions made by businesses and schools that this is when people will take some time off to be with friends and family. When we have these seasons and opportunities that may enhance our success in any endeavor we might try, we need to seize the day, so to speak, to take advantage of those opportunities and make it happen for ourselves!
This summer, I am trying to spend some more time with my college age daughter, who will be leaving for school in a few weeks, and maintaining my workout schedule, as I usually do. I am also taking steps to make sure that I hold myself to these items on my personal to-do list. While I feel professionally and personally fulfilled most days, I know there is always room for improvement. I need to worry less and have fun more often. Many of us in leadership roles within the church find that we work too often. I’m sure that most of you feel the same, whether your work is in an office or in an industry of some kind—home-based, retail, or customer service, that work can dominate our lives. While we need to pay our bills and uphold our responsibilities, time needs to be spent on how we take care of friends, family, and ourselves. Again, in my case, I am spending more time with family and maintaining my healthy lifestyle. How many of you are trying to actually make the positive changes in your life a part of a new lifestyle change as opposed to something you might monitor for a week or a month, and only when Dr. Curtis holds you to it?
These changes can be health-related, such as resolving to eat less red meat everyday or joining a gym. They can be career-related, such as resolving to ask for a promotion by the end of the summer or to finish a degree in the next few years. They can even be personal and include a resolution to pray more and gossip less, or to reach out to the community more with service in some way. Whatever they are, I do believe the result will be positive, especially if we all resolve to make sure we keep up our daily routine and make these changes integral parts of our day, our week, our month, and even our year. Rest assured, I will be asking for some year-end commitments to change and improvement in a few months.
For now, I’d like to take this initiative a step further. I want everyone to begin monitoring progress in a journal of some kind. You can use plain notebook paper, a datebook, the “Notes” section on your iPad—whatever works best for you—to record progress for the next month. By the first of September, I want everyone to have at least a couple of weeks of daily journal notations on record. Maybe you can jot down your prayer intentions for the day, or maybe you want to note the times you reached out to friends or spent an entire day eating healthy. Maybe the runners out there want to record miles, and, at the same time, note when they took time to relieve stress from work or spent some time with themselves aside from running or exercising. Maybe the home cooks out there can record new recipes and how those recipes brought family or neighbors together, or how preparing them made him or her feel. You can reflect in the evenings and jot some things down then, or you can get up each morning and set a list of objectives. It’s your plan for improvement, and it’s your journal. I am just asking that you give some attention to maintaining it in the spirit of improving, living strong, and enhancing that commitment to build your armor of God. The busy season will be upon us again soon, and we want to be primed and ready.