This was taken from a talk entitled, “On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian” (from Emily’s Blog) but it pertains to all of us.
[A]void what is called the temptations from the left and the right. Temptations from the left are laxism, weakness, compromise, indifference. Temptations from the right are censorious judgement of others, the stuck-up zeal of the Pharisee, ‘zeal not according to knowledge’. These temptations are equally dangerous and equally to be combatted. Both waste an enormous amount of time and energy on sideshows like the discussion of irrelevant issues like ecumenism, rather than praying. Being in society is the way in which we can get to know ourselves, see our failings and avoid being sidetracked into theoretical concerns.
“This is a resurrection for purity from impurity,” says Arvo Pärt. He was talking about the use of dissonance and open fifths, and by extension, the difference between tonality and atonality. Pärt is Orthodox and writes Orthodox music–Christian music, understanding that Christ is all in all and that nothing is outside Him or us-in-Him. Like Bach before him, Pärt understands that music means something, that intervals and tonal relationship affect the hearer and are not neutral things, but spiritual and real.
It’s supposedly a Chinese curse, though no one has ever supplied the Chinese original. But it’s true. We live in interesting times, and that is not always a good thing.
What I find most fascinating, though, are the decisions to legalize marijuana use in Colorado and Washington. These two decisions by voters, seemingly “liberal” and palatable by the Democratic party are not so in fact. What they represent is a state’s rights issue which will be much a bigger issue than four more years of Obama.
The Feds will fight the law and sue, and maybe try force to bring the states back into line with federal drug policy. But the libertarians, tea partiers, and even Republicans siding against the health care mandate will take up this fight against the power of the federal government and then we will be in for a fight like we haven’t seen in 150 years.
These two states’ moves are in fact a shot over the bow of the federal government and will prove much more significant than anything else.
So much change and work a pastor does is “behind the scenes.” It’s the way he talks to you in the hospital, the things he emphasizes or doesn’t; it’s the hints he drops, sometimes unbeknownst to even himself; it’s the observations he makes in conversation, sometimes when talking about something else. These occasions do as much to work change and influence as anything else. Maybe even more than the content of sermons and the topics of Bible study.
Working such influence of presence means having a presence. It means being an integrated person, having an ethos or “vision” whether you want to call it that or not. Call it a “identity of self-confidence”. Call it an identity in Christ-confidence. A pastor must know who he is in Christ and find confidence in Him and in Christ’s work in him. He must know who he is and what he is doing. He must be fed, and not just by reading one author, from one time period, but reading widely and deeply. He should gather wisdom and pray the prayers of the church and saints.
Then what he breathes in will come out in all kinds of times and places, and in those dark hours or casual conversations, in those quick answers or sudden thoughts, the wisdom of God and of His Saints will pour forth.
There is a great balancing act pastors pursue. When facing challenges in the Church, some lay leaders want pastors to act, to be decisive leaders, and to do this right away. When you have these people, appreciate them–they desire good things from you and from their church. Sometimes this is possible. You call the member who is hurting or offended. You make the effort. God has given you a cleansed heart and will and empowers you by the Holy Spirit to act and do.
But often, waiting is the best bet. It drives people crazy, but sometimes you just have to wait. Listen to the challenges and challengers. Pray continually. Listen some more. Talk about the issues and give a pastoral, theological perspective on the problem. Listen some more, and pray more than that.
Why is this the case? First, God is the true leader of the parish and of the Church. He is in control. Pastors, the office you hold belongs to Jesus. Laity, the congregation belongs to Jesus. The health and prosperity and faithfulness of the congregation does not depend on us, but ultimately on Him. Second, people are a mess, and you can’t lead the church like a CEO, making decisions and implementing them. We have volunteers, not employees. Workers have calls and are not hirelings. Third, we are dealing with sin and the devil. Our battles are won spiritually, not physically. Our solutions must be spiritual solutions, not policy-based, not Law-based. We are church.
At the same time, remember that our justification is by Christ alone, but our sanctification and vocation involves our sanctified wills and gifts. Passivity is not how God describes our Christian life, that is, living as justified sinners. No, God describes it as a “race” (1 Cor. 9:24), a fight (1 Cor. 9:27; Matt. 11:12; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7; et al.). All this language exhorts us to live actively as His people, relying on His help and strength.