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The Target of our Thinking

by Patrick Oden  
12/13/2006 / Christian Living

One of the bigger lessons about studying sin is that our study is about us. If we make someone else the target of our emphasis on sin then we've almost certainly wandered off into the weeds of the more dangerous sins. It's quite hard to be consumed about what another person or group of people are doing without becoming a) a blowhard b) a sanctimonious blowhard c) a boor or d) a very insightful, very intelligent, very though-provoking person entirely consumed by and journeying to hell for the vices of pride and vainglory.

Not impossible I imagine.

Which comes to my tangent. Why is it every time, since I was quite young, someone says nothing is impossible I always, first off, come up with the image of someone trying to snow ski across asphalt through the automatic doors of a grocery store.

I've no idea where that image comes from, and even if it is certainly likely impossible for a number of reasons, one would think I would have a little less odd image of an instance of impossibility.

Psychologists, go to work. There is a picture of my mind.

Back to the point above. We spend a great deal of time thinking about things or people who we don't manage. We spend a great deal of time thinking about issues and evils and problems which are not our issues and evils and problems, while at that same time ignoring our issues and evils and problems.

This to me seems like a good tool for Christian development. Come up with a list of things that really do in fact matter to your life. Worry about those things. If you have time after this worry then pray about the other things.

My suspicion, however, which isn't really mine but comes from folks much wiser than I, is that if we made such a list and got to really thinking about how silly we are and how we could try to be less silly in and for this world, we'd be a lot less judgmental about how silly other people are. Since we do, in fact, control ourselves and can make a real difference in what we do, and generally listen to our opinions on the subject of ourselves, it makes sense to bother with what is going on in my world rather than in a world far distant.

Maybe I am called to worry about that other place or that other person. But I don't get the sense this is true for the vast majority of folks who obsess about wars and rumors of wars in places where they couldn't even identify the major highways.

I also don't get the sense that judging anyone is my responsibility, so to worry about that is merely exercise for my vainglorious tendencies, which as a deadly sin should be starved not fed.

Not that I'm accusing you of doing that, of course. Who am I to say?

But then, one may come back accusing me of postmodern relativism or some other generational snipe about my dedication to faith and truth.

Which I'm fine with because being accused of such things only can affect my soul if I want to return the accusations and bolster my pride with an intellectualized, nuh-uh!

The fact of the matter is that when I die I'm not going to be measured by how earnest I was in coming to an opinion about matters far distant from my own life. Instead, I'll be asked other things, and the pictures of those in my life and my deeds will be displayed so that I will realize the race I was called to run.

I think that one of the more curious tactics of spiritual warfare is getting us to be really concerned about what may be very impressive problems and thus getting us to feel the emotions and thrill of spirituality in action. Only, it's like playing a video game. We get the emotions and the thrill and not a single thing is changed, except for the fact we're a little more dazed, a little more paunchy, and a lot less willing to get up and act in our own environment.

The Christian way, as taught in the Gospels, the Letters, and the various other writings of early on, suggests the way to wholeness is to think about our own sins and how we can help bless others. The contemporary spirituality, however, has flipped this around. We think about how other people's sins and how we can be best blessed.

A person can become quite successful in the spiritual marketplace with that mentality. I suspect, though, such people will be with those who tell Jesus they healed in his name, and cast out demons in his name, and he replied rather harshly.

The curiouser thing to me is how those who do in fact think a lot about their own sins and how they can bless other people are often struggling with their faith and/or church-going. I'm not sure if questioning Jesus in a struggle of faith goes hand in hand with the more Jesus like approach, but I do imagine there is something to the fact that those who are struggling with the identify of Christ do, in fact, have less of a tendency to see themselves as neo-Jesus. That's sort of the problem, isn't it? Folks who think about the sins of others and live to tell others how to live get into the mindset that they are essentially Jesus.

Of course, the really, really good evangelists, the ones who actually do change people's lives rather than tell all their friends about how many lives they'd like to change are the ones who worry about their own sins, how to bless others, and have waded through the often lengthy thicket of darkened faith. On the other side they have both passion and purpose, coupled with the power of the Spirit for having persevered.

But, who wants to wait that long and look within at the mess nearby? Much more comforting to realize and ponder how terrible that other person is. I can do that from the comfort of my office chair, and still have time to make the Wednesday night prayer meeting.

But, I can't change those kinds of people, and who knows what God is doing in them. I've only myself to blame for my sagging soul, and really should get to work doing what I can do to most fully resonate the work the Spirit is doing in my life.

That is my part. That is my gift. That is my concern.

Or at least I'm working on that latter bit.

Patrick Oden lives and works in the mountains of Southern California. Education web design pays the bills. Writing and enjoying the beauty of God's Creation fills his soul.

Visit his website at

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