Compounding Interest

Get excited, it’s tax season!!! Imagine if you will, like all holidays Christmas has just wrapped up, you’re returning a gift that you awkwardly tried to act excited about just days before and your favorite store starts gearing up and preparing their seasonal aisles by filling the shelves with this years tax season must haves. You peruse through saying to yourself, “it’s not even New Years yet!!”. As you’re mulling over that perfect card that truly captures how you feel during this wonderful time of year, there it is, a life size poster of Uncle Sam holding out his hand, ready with a smirk on his face for you to fill it up with the money you made the previous year.

This is one season I’m thankful the big box stores doesn’t celebrate. I’m not against paying taxes. I’d rather not pay as much, but that’s for a different blogger to write about. What makes me cringe most about this time of year is my seemingly never ending “Groundhog Day” moment that has been playing out year after year since I started earning a decent paycheck. The moment when I enter in my income for the year and I inevitably ask the same question, “where did that money go?”.

This year I hope to end that cycle. I’ve been taking a financial training class through my church over the past five weeks. It’s been immensely beneficial on so many different levels. Besides building a budget, I’ve started to gain awareness and realize what I truly desire while filtering out what I thought I desired. What I thought I desired was mainly derived from what our society told me what I should desire, blinding me from seeking out what I desire that is specific to the heart God gave me. We worked through exercises, discussed money matters in small groups, and watched some videos that helped me navigate toward a path of financial discipline that I’ve always desired to have, but never actually tried to achieve.

Then last week I received a different message from God while watching a video based on saving. A portion of the video began to discuss one of the benefits of putting your money in a savings account. One item highlighted was the ability to build upon the money you put into this account through compounding interest. The message being that your money grows at a faster rate off of the interest, or interest on interest. But what I heard was in the form of a question. What if I strived on a daily basis to invest in someone in way it created such a positive and impactful experience that they did the same in their own life? Or what does compounding interest look like in creation? The whole “pay it forward” model comes to mind. Is a goal of creating a moment for one person each day a lot to ask? Maybe… but imagine a place where we all took on that goal? Based on the idea of compounding interest, I imagine a place where everyone will eventually have the same goal, and we’re all living in a manner that looks like service to each other. Rather than what can I GET from this person, it’s looks more like what can I GIVE to this person.

I was given another visual this past Sunday from one of our church leaders. He shared a story of a group he was with walking a nearby neighborhood in an area that was being rebuilt. As they walked through each began commenting on some homes, giving each their own person critique. Some of the homes you could tell were fully finished while others where still “under construction”. As you can imagine the comments for each home ranged from positive to negative based on the progress of each. One of the guys pointed out that the negative comments that were carelessly being thrown around mimics what we all tend to do to each other. Carelessly, for one reason or another, critiquing (or judging) all that we see. Forgetting that we all are still under construction and God is still at work in all of us.

Can I see past what I perceive as ugly and see God? Can I look at everything and see “under construction” and lend a hand. Can I give without knowing what came of that investment?

If I do, so will you, and so will they!

In The Light

So what are you going to do now TJ? Are you going to repent and restore or are you going to retreat?

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭7‬:‭9-10‬ ESV)

I know I am broken and I fall short of fully living into my new life that God has blessed me with everyday. But I recently fell in a way that brought about immense guilt and grief. In my past I turned to using drugs in order to mask the afflictions in my life that I didn’t know how to overcome. When I started this quest to die so that I could truly live in Christ, I boldly stated I would never again retreat and turn back down that dark and unfulfilling road. I wanted to face these afflictions and surrender myself to the only thing that I knew could overcome them; the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. Well I retreated, and turned down that dark road a few days ago. I took a trip to a place I used to think of as home for Christmas. A place where at one point I thought I was totally known. When I arrived I felt like a stranger, and it seemed like some of these familiar faces looked at me as a stranger too. I wasn’t home, and I wasn’t totally known here. I lost site of who I am and the changes of my heart that have taken place while on this journey. I forgot that I wasn’t in this alone and reverted back to a place where I knew I wouldn’t feel the pain of being unknown and cared for. I didn’t seek God’s help or help from my community that has been walking this path with me. I forgot to find strength in God in the midst of this weakness. I turned to my own failing strength to see me through and it got me no where I wanted to be. I immediately felt guilty, ashamed, and burdened with something I never wanted to carry again. When asked if I had gone down this path again, I lied, I retreated. When asked again, I lied again. Hoping this would never come into the light out of fear that I would be seen as weak and not good enough in my brokenness. I finally broke down, only after this person lovingly and graciously continued to offer the opportunity to bring this burden to the light. That’s where I found peace, forgiveness, and redemption. The enemy wanted me to keep this in the dark. Riddling me guilt to hide my transgression. Satan wanted me to keep it to myself. To hold me back, to separate me from God. God however blessed me grief, lovingly offering an opportunity to repent and break the shackles of a burden I didn’t have to carry. Now God can restore. Blessing me to freely move forward down the path that He has given me. He has forgiven, and I no longer have this heavy burden weighing me down from pursuing Him. I no doubt will find myself lugging a burden of shame from falling again, AND in light I will find redemption.

Ohhhhhh, So This Is Christmas.

Woke up earlier than usual this morning. May have been due to sleeping in a recliner last night. But I think it was God. I literally felt his presence take on the form of a young child on Christmas morning. “Wake up! Wake up! It’s Christmas! I have a present I want you to open”. After peeling myself off of my leather bed I picked up my phone and opened the bible app and started catching up on a devotional that I let slide for a couple of days. One days entry was centered around where do you find your strength (always appropriate and always needed) the first present I opened was

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭3‬:‭5‬ ESV)

“Shewwww! What a relief” I thought, “these burdens are heavy and I can’t remember the last time they did anything for me”

Finally, the second gift (or “the” gift really), the one that’s unwrapped and the first one you see when you look under the tree. You know, the one that’s “from Santa”. But not this time, It doesn’t have a label on it telling me who it’s from, but I have to have it. I feel this sense that it’s been waiting for me and that I don’t have to do anything to earn it. God whispers, “This is how much I love you TJ, Merry Christmas son”

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (‭1 John‬ ‭4‬:‭10‬ ESV)

Salvation… Redeemed… Forgiven… Totally Known… Forever Loved

Freely given

Thank you Father! You really do love me.

The Good Fight

One of many things I’ve discovered over this year is that when I seek God, actively pursue his path, and obedient to His call… Satan gets to work on me. Like a boxer, he subtly starts with the body blows to soften me up before throwing haymakers to try and knock me out.

The body blows come in the form of daydreaming about what the future holds while walking the path that God is calling me to. Distracting me from being present with God, and causing me to be impatient while waiting for God to deliver me the next step of obedience. The enemy knows me too well, and attempts to entice me to dictate the path that is not mine to control. I enviably get focused on the outcome and lose site of what it is I need to be doing in the present moment for God when I fall for satan’s tricks. When I stay true to God’s call, and maintain my focus on where He needs me, the sucker punches begin to be delivered.

These sucker punches come in the form of lies that the enemy uses to distract me from living out how God made me. Satan lies telling me, I’m not strong enough, I don’t have the ability to take on a role of spiritual leadership, I’m not good enough to handle this particular situation, I will let people down so why try, my brokenness is too broken to do any good for God, basically I’m not the man that God made me to be.

I’ve believed these lies for the better part of my life. Which shows just how little I believed in God. These lies destroyed me so much I didn’t even attempt to fight the good fight and stand up to the one that has already been defeated. Well not this time. I know God’s love. I know God’s truth. I know the enemy is real, and I know he has been defeated. I know I don’t have to take on this fight alone. I have an army (my community) eager to stand by my side and God is with me even more eager to fight along side me. I believe in God and the promises he’s made to me. He will never leave me, He is greater than anything that may stand in the way, and His love will never fail.

Im imagining the PA announcer right now. “Now entering the ring, the prince of peace, the Loooooooord of Lords, the true and undisputed heavyweight championnnnnn of the universe, our Father in Heaven… Gooooooooooooood!!!

Then God, the ultimate corner man, passionately encourages me saying, “Tape up and get your gloves on, this time we FIGHT back TJ”

Intentional Not Careless

Intentional: done on purpose; deliberate.

What are the intentions of your actions, your behaviors, your words… Where is your heart TJ?

I’ve been given a gift from God that I wasn’t expecting and I don’t know how to proceed. What I once hoped and prayed for has been answered by God, and I don’t want to be careless with this blessing. I need to know how to proceed in order to keep my desires in line with God’s. If I act on feelings, I would be doing the exact opposite. But if I act according to his word, only then will I be intentional and mindful of His plan. So that’s where I found my strength in the midst of my weakness tonight. In his word, and he lead me to a verse that made clear how I need to proceed.

2 Corinthians 7:2 (ESV)
“Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one”

If you have followed along from the beginning of this blog you know that I lost someone that I love, someone that is very special to me. I lost her in the midst of myself being very lost in my brokenness. During this quest I hoped and prayed that one day we would reunite. When God asked me to let go of her in order to be closer to him, I did. It was not easy and one of the hardest acts of obedience I ever embraced. God was there every step of that process. Constantly providing, loving, and caring for me during this time. Simply and powerfully put, He was faithful in his promises to me. Then about three weeks ago he began to relentlessly remind me of her. I was really confused by these thoughts and interactions with others that brought her back to mind. I didn’t understand, I thought I was supposed to let her go? Was this God, or am I twisting His message to fulfill a desire that is mine? Well last Sunday, exactly a week ago, he urged me to send her some words of encouragement. I wasn’t expecting anything from this, but then the unexpected happened, God reunited us. We spent the next couple of days emailing before we decided to get together to share with each other our journey since we went our separate ways. It was one of the more beautiful moments of my entire life. We were free to be our new selves that God had created. Sharing how God has redeemed and loved us throughout our journey of seeking Him. Each path looked different, yet undoubtedly painted with the brush of the master artist that is God. Going into this meeting we both shared a similar concern to be intentional with our interaction. That our actions would be encouraging and not careless. We both share the same fear that we do not find ourselves back in our own uniquely dark places. Our desires are to remain present with God through all of this and to remain in step with His heart and His desires. Even though this is my true desire, to remain focused on God’s plan, I have found myself dreaming of what could happen at times. Wondering if his plan is for us to begin a new life together. At times hoping that this where he is leading us. I’d be lying to myself, to those in our community, and to God if I said otherwise. This is careless, and not what God wants. I’ve recently had a reoccurring prayer that God make His path straight for me. Well he did tonight. Make room in my heart for God to work, to wrong no one, to corrupt or take advantage of no one. I will not be careless and and I will be intentional. Be bold in my faith in God and His plan. Be open handed with his gifts, and relentlessly seek Him in all I do. Throughout this quest he’s never left my side and has always delivered on His promises. As long as I have sought His desires and acted intentionally on His path rather than the feelings or emotions of my desires.

I’m Thankful For Toilet Paper

What comes to mind when you think of luxury? It’s different for everyone and the circumstances that surround their life, but I doubt the first thing you thought of was toilet paper (it sure wasn’t for me). This thought struck me this morning while watching a documentary on two Cuban born baseball players that defected, left everything that they new as normal, in hopes that they may realize their dream here in America. Towards the end of the documentary, there was a scene of one of the ball players enjoying a celebratory parade as his team had just won the World Series. They showed him and his family, along with the rest of his teammates, being showered with confetti and toilet paper as they slowly passed through a sea of fans. Looking back on that moment, the wife of the Cuban ball player said, “there was toilet paper streaming down and we had none in Cuba”. What?!!! My American mind can’t imagine such conditions, and even more embarrassing, too often I forget how blessed I am to have the opportunities I have because I was lucky enough to be born in this country. Instead of being thankful and cherishing what God has blessed me with, I’m ashamed to admit that I find myself asking for more at times. The ball player in this parade scene went on to realize his dream, but it didn’t come easy. He, along with seven others left Cuba on a boat that took them to an island in the Bahamas. From there, they were to picked up by a different boat and taken to America. The first boat ended up stalling out at sea, leaving them stranded until they could get it fixed. Once they reached the island where the second boat was to pick them up, they found themselves deserted there for several days because that boat never showed up. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself on a deserted island, you have very little to no food, and no one knows you’re there. Just imagining this puts fear into my heart. I also imagine all you literally have in a moment like that is faith. A coast guard boat ended up finding them and took them to another island in the Bahamas where they were to be taken back to Cuba. Their dream of getting to America, crushed. Until a Cuban American stepped in and helped them all get visas. Everyone’s view is different, but all I saw was God working through every seemingly insurmountable mountain that got in the way of their journey. They went through all that in order to have a life in a country that I take for granted. I hope lessons like this don’t fade away and I lose sight of all the blessings God has given me. Also, I hope I never lose faith that God will overcome any mountain that will show up on my journey. Even though I have a new found respect for the luxury item that is toilet paper… I am thankful for so much more today. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without the freely given salvation made possible through the sacrifice of our savior Jesus Christ.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (‭Psalm‬ ‭100‬:‭4‬ ESV)

We Smile When We Hug

I noticed something, or for the first time became aware of this, while sitting at a local coffee shop tonight. Knowing this may or may not be new to you, but the result of seeing a particular interaction among different sets of people was a light bulb type of moment for me. Before I get into what I realized, I feel obligated to come clean about something. I really enjoy watching people interact. I prefer to think of it as observing. Describing it as watching, kind of sheds a different kind of light on it. It seems more appropriate to observe rather than to watch, don’t you think!? Anyway, my intentions, I hope, are good! Well like anything, it depends on where your heart is in the midst of any behavior. But I’m sorry, we are extremely fascinating creatures, and at times I just can’t help myself. So back to my light bulb moment. I frequent this coffee shop quite a bit to get out my apartment to read, journal, or fulfill my coffee cravings. During tonight’s trip, I “observed” three people that obviously knew each other, and they seemed to arrive without any prior planning. When they realized this they gravitated towards each other and wrapped their arms around one another with a hug, and immediately began to smile as they embraced a person that you could obviously see knew them very well. Almost minutes later, in the area I was sitting, a man and a woman stumbled upon each other. They didn’t seem as close as the three amigos did, but the same result occurred, they immediately smiled in the midst of their embrace. All smiles express different things, but I believe rooted in most (minus the sarcastic variety) is a sense of connection that is crucial as we walk our earthly home. Relationship, a deep longing to be known, to love and be loved. We all crave this because this is how God made us. It warmed my heart seeing this unfold before me tonight, and I can only imagine how much more each heart was warmed during each embrace. I began to think that this must be how God feels when we embrace Him, and long for a hug from Him every chance we get. In my head I imagine him so excited, literally sitting on the edge of his seat, not able to contain himself so much that he leaps off and runs toward us. Lifting us off our feet, clutching us tightly as he spins us around, and smiling as he lets you know that you are known and that He loves you.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! (‭Psalm‬ ‭139‬:‭1‬ ESV)