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.
In a recent blog entry, I referenced those lists I had you make back at the beginning of the summer. I’m wondering if any of you have given them any more thought. Have you improved a daily routine, added a goal to your long-term aspirations, or even started a new venture this summer? This is, in part, what I was hoping you would all do. While our spiritual lives are important, so, too, are the personal lives behind all that we do in church and for God. We need to have a strong sense of self as well.
I am encouraging everyone to go out and find a new interest this summer or take on a new initiative, whether that is making a new friend, taking a class, changing an attitude towards a co-worker, starting a new exercise routine, etc. I simply want us all to challenge ourselves. When the weather is good and time is abundant, we should add to our lives, enriching them more than we do when we are inundated with work, bad weather, and other responsibilities.
Today, as soon as you read this, I want you to pick something from your list. I want you to engage yourself immediately and act on step one of this new initiative. If it is simply to pay down some bills, then make those calls to your credit card companies and create a payment schedule for the next several months. If it is to start a new workout routine, get those workout clothes on or pack them with your work items and plan that walk at lunchtime, that after work trip to the gym, or that exercise tape at home. Maybe you would rather be more social and begin to interact with others more. Decide what you want to do and make that dinner party list or leave a voice mail for the head of a certain ministry at your church. And, while we’re all doing this, I think we should make it a habit to tackle something on our lists at the beginning or end of each month. Continuous improvement was always a “buzz word” in business, and it worked. Now, it can translate to our personal lives and transform those as well.
What have you done for your community lately? I understand excuses for not getting involved when the weather is snowy or schedules during the winter months keep you from committing time aside from school, work, and other responsibilities. I do not, however, understand continual excuses all year long that prevent any of us from getting involved or taking one day to reach out to others or to participate in worthy causes.
Recent events in the news have sparked many people into action for race relations, community awareness, and advocating for both urban and suburban youth. For many of us, giving our time to our children’s schools is a “no-brainer”. Taking that a step further to mentor, coach, or provide other enrichment is an easy movement for those who are truly serious about civic responsibility. Similarly, the movement to go from signing petitions to getting involved by notifying relevant political offices is also an easy step.
If family and church are more important to you, then consider simply assisting a ministry at church or joining a new one. Maybe there is someone in your neighborhood who has had a death in the family, an illness, or a new baby and needs dinner and some conversation. These are all easy things to add into your already busy weeks. Take just a small amount of time out of your busy day to provide dinner for a family in need or visit someone that you know is sick or perhaps in a long term nursing facility. I had you all write up some “improvement” lists at the beginning of the summer, and I’d like you to check on those lists now. Have you done what you said you were going to do? Have you given any thought to the items you want to accomplish? Add this community service component in, and the world will seem like a friendlier, more faithful place.
We all have it in us. It is time to ignite that sense of responsibility to others. No excuses.
How many of us waver in our defense of our own beliefs every now and then? As we spend time with family and friends this summer, we will have many opportunities to defend and even promote our faith in God. Will we take those opportunities to praise Him when things go well or suggest His guidance when friends need our input? Will we even think, in our conscious minds, that He is the reason for all that is good in our lives? Will we turn to Him when things get rough?
These are questions that we ask ourselves throughout the year—daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Is our faith strong? Do we test ourselves in our faith? Do we understand our relationship with God? During the summer months, as we take time to enjoy life a little more with the warm weather, vacations, and more opportunities to be with friends and family, we should remember to spend time with God. Certainly, we pray and we attend church services, but do we really spend time thinking about how committed we are to God and to our faith and, ultimately, to our relationship with Him?
It never hurts to test ourselves now and then—to push our own boundaries a bit and make sure that we understand our own commitment to our faith. If we are pressed, would we defend our own beliefs? Can we describe how—to use a reference from my book—we have nailed our shoes to the floor in battle, like the soldiers during biblical times who would literally screw their shoes to the ground to face their enemy, unwavering in their stance? Can we provide testimony to the fact that we take what we hear in church each week to our daily lives? Can we promise ourselves and God that we will always defend Him and our beliefs about Him? Will we really stand up, nailed in position, at the company picnic or at a child’s school event and defend our beliefs if they are challenged?
I’m not suggesting that we get confrontational with people, nor am I suggesting that we will be challenged, but, in these quiet moments or moments of celebration when we are not expecting a challenge, that is when we need to test our faith. When we do that, we are ready for what the enemy has for us later when things are not so quiet or not so celebratory. When we test ourselves and deeply question our own faith to the point of defending it, we will be ready for whatever the enemy has in store for us now or in the distant future.
In my book, I talk quite frankly about how we need to be honest with ourselves in order to have effective relationships with others and with God. This means we need to remain vigilant regarding our prayer life, our sense of family and community, and our commitment to personal discipline—financially, professionally, and emotionally. Even if summer means “down time” to most of us, we can incorporate our daily disciplines and routines into more relaxed summer schedules.
For me and for others, workout time is key. I suggest using these times during which we run, lift weights, take an exercise class, or do other activities to reflect and give some much needed conversation with ourselves and with God. We can think about where we need some guidance in our lives and to offer those issues and concerns to God. A part of our armor against the enemy, we always keep our “belts of truth” on, therefore, we must remember to stay honest in our prayer and our interaction with God. When interacting with Him honestly, we are able to pray and think on things that we might want to let go of a bit during the more laid back summer, but, through our conversations with Him, we are able to prioritize things in life, see it all more clearly, and make sure that we do not neglect any responsibilities, initiatives, or future goals.
On a similar note, when we are honest with our families and communities, we benefit as well. I’m not suggesting that summer is going to prompt us to abandon our values and goals in life, I’m simply saying that with the more relaxed lifestyle, the temptation to leave finances unattended or to slack off a bit at work is more prevalent as is the desire to often “play” more and work less. Another summer activity that I enjoy is dining out with family or barbecuing. Just as we can multi-task and pray during our summer workouts, we can use these gathering times over meals to actually talk to our families—find out what our kids are doing or discuss vacation or other plans that involve finances and planning with our spouses. Recalibrating or touching base with our loved ones several times a week will help us focus on what is important.
If we look at summer as a time to jumpstart our faith and our personal disciplines, and if we make that jumpstart fun and part of a healthy, laid back summer lifestyle, the planning becomes pleasant and, as a result, more long-term. So take out that grill and those new recipes and plan to have some sit-down time with the family over a nice dinner. Put on those running or exercise shoes and plan to have a quiet, one on one dialogue with God over a healthy, invigorating workout. Honesty and discipline do NOT take the summer off, and making sure that our “belt of truth” is in place and ready for use in prayer and reflection is a sure way to keep our personal lives and faith active and interesting during the summer months.