Here we are, December 31st.  This is my 261st post of the year.  Averaging more than 400 words per post, I’ve written and posted somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000 words this year.  I feel like that puts a little bit of pressure on these last few.  But hey, I’m clutch.  They don't call me the Knowledge Dropper for nothing.

First, I want to offer a bit of thanks.  I made it my goal to post a spiritual message each weekday of this year, and thanks to your support I have pushed through to reach that goal.  Many of the messages were things that I was personally interested in.  Others were put on my heart by the Holy Spirit.  A few were suggested by friends. And some…were just for fun.

Since I will be moving to a weekly post format in 2013, I feel like this is the end of an era.  So I want to leave you with one final message that I hope sums up my work this year.

Friends, we are way off from the work of the early churches.  Their passion in their pursuit of spreading the gospel is unidentifiable in the vast majority of churches today.  We focus way too much on meeting our own needs, fitting in with popular culture, and trying to satisfy the “tradition” of what has come before us.  We seek to please ourselves and keep our church members content before we think about pleasing God and meeting the needs in our communities.

I really think that we all see this problem.  We notice the missed opportunities and the ministry needs that are not being met.  We identify the church practices that are self-serving and do nothing to advance the Kingdom of God.  We are convicted when we realize that we are living with Christ in our lives, and not living our lives for Christ.

The issue is that we believe that it is bigger than us.  And I agree with that.  Our culture of complacency and selfishness is far bigger than you or me.  Yet, our lack of faith keeps us from realizing that it IS NOT bigger than God.  We say all the time that all things are possible with God.  But we do nothing to show that we believe it.

If you see the mess that I see in the modern church, then the change starts with you and me.  To cause change, we must change.  If we want to see a different brand of Christianity, then we ourselves must be different. 

It is going to be awkward.  It is going to be uncomfortable.  It is going to be painful.  But it must be done.  Join me, will you?

Everyone makes excuses.  They have unfortunately become a staple of our culture. 

I didn’t get the promotion because my boss doesn’t like me. 

I got a bad grade because the teacher is bad. 

My hair doesn’t grow because my brain is too big. 

Okay, maybe that last one is just for me.  But it makes it so easy for us to accept our shortcomings if we can somehow pin the responsibility on someone else.  If it wasn’t all my fault, then it wasn’t my fault at all.  Regrettably, we often do the same thing with our sin.

Think about it.  What causes us to sin?  Our sinful nature…sure.  But what do we say usually precedes a sinful act?  That’s right, temptation.  We always talk about being tempted, or giving in to temptation.  We act as though temptation is some great entity that controls us.

And since we know that temptation does not come from God, we usually assign it to the devil.  And as soon as we make that decision, we have our scapegoat.  We have our excuse.  If we can blame Satan for our temptation which leads to our sin, we are giving up the responsibility of our own decision making.  Just like we put Eve’s sin of eating from the tree on the serpent, we blame the devil for tempting us and tricking us into rebelling against God. (FYI:  That’s kind of the definition of sin.) 

As I mentioned earlier, this makes it easier for us to dismiss our own mistakes.  If we blame Satan for our sin, we feel better about ourselves.  Far too often, we use the devil as a scapegoat to ease our conscience and allow us to ignore our lack of obedience

If we want to grow closer to God, if we want to see His Kingdom here on earth, if we want to be holy, we must stop using Satan as a scapegoat. 

Be obedient.  

Own your decisions. 

Take responsibility. 

Stop making excuses.

I once saw an alternate definition for the word “feet."  The definition stated that feet are “devices for finding legos in the dark.”  I can personally attest to that.  And boy does it hurt.  However, I am coming to find that there is an even more painful way to step on a toy.

You see, when I walk around in the dark, I am very cautious.  I know that tiny toys and elusive pieces of furniture are out there, and I try to be light on my feet just in case I am lucky enough to encounter one.  However, when the lights are on, I throw caution to the wind.  I mean I can see what is in front of me, so there is no need to be careful.  Right?

That’s where Chewie comes in.  My son has a very small Chewbacca action figure that just happens to be a perfect match to the color of my living room rug.  About three out of every five times, I completely look over Chewie when I am cleaning up toys.  Then, inevitably, I will be stomping through my living room on my way to get a donut and get a sole full of Wookiee.  The pain is indescribable.

The parallel to Christianity is obvious on this one, right?  No need for me to go any further.  But if you insist, I’ll elaborate. 

I feel like the greatest dangers that we face in our faith are hidden in plain sight.  Whenever we talk about temptation or sin, we dramatize it and make it out to be a predator lurking in the dark or an assassin hiding behind a bush.  So when we feel like we are in a shady situation or in a moment of weakness, we are quick to put our guard up.  If we have been soaking in righteousness and living out our faith, we will be prepared to withstand that temptation and defeat the sin that threatens us.

However, there are troubles waiting all around us that are so easy to ignore.  There are temptations around every corner than we barely notice anymore because we have allowed them to blend in with our environment.  There are stumbling blocks everywhere in our path that we don’t see because we aren’t cautious enough to watch where we step.

Affairs don’t begin in sketchy hotel rooms.  They start by spending a few extra minutes every day in a coworker’s office.  Losing your sobriety doesn’t just happen in an old country bar.  It begins with a decision to turn down a familiar street or to hang out with some questionable old pals. 

The enemy is sneaky and very cunning.  It’s like Keyser Söze (Kevin Spacey) said in The Usual Suspects, "The greatest thing the devil ever did was convincing the world he didn't exist." 

Unfortunately, we fail to recognize the dangers that are right in front of us every day.  We lack the awareness and constitution to distinguish these stumbling blocks from the background of our everyday routines. 

Personally, to avoid the pain and suffering that comes with ignoring those dangers in plain sight, I plan to paint Chewbacca bright red so that he will never go unnoticed again.  Perhaps we should do the same with those temptations and sins that always seem to blend in so well. 

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! (Matthew 18:7 NIV)

I am not a very political person, and I have no intent to use my blog as a political platform.  Especially considering the fact that Al Gore invented the internet, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to criticize his ideas on an internet blog.  So rest assured, this post has nothing to do with our climate.  This is a commentary on our culture.

We live in a crazy world.  Of course I am less than thirty years old and my experience is limited, but based on my knowledge of history and world culture I believe that our society acts more selfish, obsessive, and entitled than ever before.  People seek power, pleasure, and immediate gratification.  The line between rights and privileges is so blurry that many people feel entitled to whatever they want.  Being a part of this culture often makes me feel shameful, and seeing others buy into it breaks my heart.

As Christians, we are supposed to be different.  We are called to remain pure and true in the midst of whatever mess we find ourselves in.  Without selfish motives, we are supposed to stand out in such a way that God can be seen through our actions.  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)
However, we are also called to share the gospel.  Christians are responsible for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone that will listen.  With Paul being one of the greatest evangelists of all time, we often follow his lead.  In 1 Corinthians, he writes: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

So wait…we are supposed to be different from everyone else and not conform to the patterns of the world.  Yet, we need to be able to fit in with everyone in order to share our testimonies.  Is it just me, or do those two strategies seem to conflict with each other?  Sure, there has to be a way to fit in and stand out at the same time.  But for most, finding that balance is like trying to find a vegan at a Baptist potluck.

For many, the effort to find the perfect mixture of blending in and repping Christ can be a little too much, and we just end up seeking the status quo of going through the motions.  However, from what I get from scripture, that is exactly what God wants us not to do.  “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16 NIV)

Our culture is so spiritually cold that, if we are not careful, our efforts to be different can lead us right into the comfort of being lukewarm.  In trying to balance standing out and fitting in, we need to be very clear that we are doing both for the glory of God and not for our own comfort or peace of mind.  The moment we start making our efforts about ourselves or even about the work that is being done, we drastically compromise our potential to exceed lukewarm temperatures.

How do you balance trying not to conform to the patterns of the world with Paul's strategy of becoming all things to all people?

_I have a confession to make. I’m scared of the dark.  There, I said it.  Ever since I was a kid, I could not stand to be alone in the dark.  It wasn’t the dark, necessarily, that I was afraid.  It was the things out there that the dark did not allow me to see.  Don’t lie, you know exactly what I am talking about.

While I still keep the Flashlight app on the home screen of my phone just in case, a friend of mine said something a few years ago that gave me a new perspective on darkness.  He said, “darkness does not exist.”  Apparently, he has never heard of blackout curtains…and he did not watch UK play football last Fall. 

Actually, he had a good point.  It is 100% impossible to produce darkness.  What we perceive as darkness is simply the absence of light.  Light, I might add, is very powerful and even the least bit of it can overcome a vast amount of so-called darkness. 

At the risk of being painfully obvious, allow me to directly apply the light versus darkness paradigm to the good versus evil discussion.  While saying “evil does not exist” feels wrong and even a bit scary, it seems fitting that anything we perceive as evil can be more aptly described as a lack of good.  Or, for us Christians, evil can be thought of as the lack of God’s presence in any given situation. 

If you are saying, “but God is everywhere, Jamie, there should be no evil at all according to your argument,” hold your horses.  I’m getting there.  Of course God is everywhere.  However, due to the free will He gives us, we can choose to exclude God from our lives.  We can choose to remove Him from the situations we are involved in.  When we do that, evil starts to creep in.  The lack of God’s presence in any circumstance leaves the door open for evil to have a fighting chance against us.

Luckily, God desperately wants to be a part of our lives.  He wants to be close to us so badly that He sent His only Son to die and be raised again so that we can have a relationship with Him.  Just like light, the presence of the Lord in any situation can easily eradicate any amount of evil.  But it is up to us to invite God into our lives.  It is our responsibility to put God first and be as Christ-like as possible so that the only true good, the only pure light in the world, can eliminate all darkness and evil that tries to latch onto our lives. 

What have you done to help brighten the place up lately?
_ What are some words you would use to describe Satan?  Evil?  Destructive?  Powerful?  Scary?  These may not be the words you were thinking of, but they are very common responses that I have heard from Christians on this topic.  But during a lesson with the teenagers at my church, our youth pastor used some different words to describe the evil one.  Weak.  Powerless.  Defeated.  Is that the perception you have of the devil?  Should it be?

Far too often, we give Satan more credit than he deserves.  It’s like we view Satan as just slightly weaker than God.  That is not even close to true.  God is omniscient (he knows everything), omnipresent (he can be everywhere at the same time), and omnipotent (he has unlimited power).  Satan is none of those things.  Satan has limited knowledge, limited power, and he can only be at one place at a time.

Take a moment and let the implications of that sink in.  How often do you hear people saying that the devil is trying to interfere with their Christian walk?  But if he can only be in one place at a time, how many people can Satan be personally responsible for deceiving?  (Note:  I know very little about the average speed of evil beings, and thus very little about their travel capacities).  If he has limited knowledge, then he definitely can’t know everything about every person.  In fact, this makes it seem unlikely that he would use his limited knowledge on any Christian that does not pose a major threat to his purpose (turning as many people as possible away from God).  So…what are the chances that Satan even knows that you exist?  For the vast majority of Christians, I would say the chances are not very good.

To go a step further, it seems very unlikely that he even cares that you exist.  I believe that most Christians do so little to advance the Kingdom of God that Satan would not even bother wasting his limited resources on them.  Is that an insult?  I sure take it that way.  It should be a goal for all Christians to get Satan’s attention by leading people to the Lord. 

For some, though, it is easier to believe that Satan is more powerful than he is.  Think about it.  If you can blame some of your sinful behavior on the devil, it is easier to look yourself in the mirror.  If you use him as your person scapegoat, you tend to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions. 

There seems to be one aspect of this debate that we all tend to forget.  Through Christ, we are stronger than the devil.  With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome evil.  The enemy has already been defeated.  The battle has already been won. 

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)