Dr. Keith Wagner
In the “GO” section of Friday’s Dayton Daily News they listed some alternative activities for New Year’s Eve celebrations. For example: an all-night nature walk, a concert with the Philharmonic, family night at a church. They were all healthy alternatives to the traditional “eat, drink and be merry” parties that are so commonplace.
These alternative activities are good for us. But, when we are so used to traditional and popular ways of doing things it is hard to change. Those who do select alternatives find them very rewarding. Unfortunately they are sometimes heckled by their friends.
Alternative lifestyles are appearing more and more in society. Among your people there is a trend of “alternative clothing” and another trend is “alternative music”. There are other signs of folk who march to the beat of a different drum such as “vegetarians” or “alternachics”. There is a definite movement afoot to go against the norm in society.
In our lesson this morning Paul is suggesting an “alternative” lifestyle for the believer. In that day there was a tendency toward ritual and religion. In other words, to be faithful meant that you subscribed to a traditional practice of prayers, liturgies and practices. When a person is truly transformed as a person of faith their lives are evidenced by “virtues” not religious practices. These were compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. In verse 14, Paul singles out “love” as the one quality that stands above all the rest.
Paul specifically focuses on “forgiveness” as one of the primary ways we live as alternative people of the faith. He says, “If one of you has a complaint against another, forgive, as the Lord has forgiven you.” In a society that criticizes anyone who is different, one that has more law suits than any country in the world, we are not a very forgiving people.
To forgive is not to forget. To forgive is to choose not to remember. Now that I am one year older I find myself becoming more forgetful. Perhaps that is the way God has planned it. As we get older we tend to be more mellow, flexible and tolerant. Do we really forget? Or, are we simply choosing not to remember the little stuff that holds us back.
To forgive does not mean that the other person is okay. To forgive is to be willing to let God deal with who is okay and who is not. All my brothers called me on my birthday last Sunday except one. When I talked with my mother on Christmas I took a jab at her number three son for acknowledging my birthday. She didn’t make an ex use for him but did tell me he attempted to E-mail me. The next day I received the E-mail note with an apology that he had misplaced my address. We are so quick to judge when that has to be left up to God. The more I thought about it, I owe him a note for sending me a bushel of Florida fruit.
Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to do. It doesn’t mean we owe anyone. It is not something we can truly offer to another. We have the capacity to forgive only because God has forgiven us. The only way we can forgive is to first experience God’s forgiveness in our own lives. How does one go about experiencing God’s forgiveness?
One way is God’s Word. The gospel tells us again and again that we are forgiven. We therefore must read it or listen to it. A second way is to experience it through some other person. When I was a teenager I had a minor accident with one of the family cars. Fortunately no one was hurt. But, the car was totaled. My parents never held it against me. I can honestly say that I felt forgiven from the very first moment. When others forgive us for something we have experienced the forgiveness of God.
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There is another way. It’s the personal cleansing we feel, a oneness with God, when our lives continue in spite of ourselves. Last Sunday I was upset since our radio program did not get on the air. I knew we had a break down in the system and I was feeling personally responsible. When I arrived at the church and began seeing the familiar faces arriving, the vast beauty of this place, sensing that the spirit of God was here, I realized it was not worth worrying about. The next day I found the tape which had never left the building and started to listen to it. It turns out that part of it was technically not up to our standards. I realized again that we are not always in control and God is working on our behalf even when we don’t know it.
Today, many are thinking of the new year that will soon be upon us. Some have made resolutions that will improve their health, their lifestyle, their financial position, their personal well-being. Paul is saying that there is also a need to improve the spiritual condition of our lives. That real transformation will take place when we realize God’s forgiveness in our lives.
Think of it like this. This is the season when millions of people are making journeys; visits to relatives in other states, trips to Grandma’s house, returning to colleges, taking vacations to Florida or Arizona. When you travel you carry luggage. Just about everything you pack you will bring back home. Your luggage may in fact be heavier when you return.
That is exactly the problem. We are all carrying too much baggage with us. There is no room for anything new. And we are burdened with too much excess weight. That is the weight of guilt, grudges, disappointments, failures, hurt, anger, sorrow, mistakes, etc. We cannot continue on a journey into the future until we get rid of our excess baggage.
That is what Paul is trying to tell us. Transformation results in being free of all the stuff we are carrying from the past. And, it is God’s forgiveness that makes it possible for us to let it all go. My wife’s horoscope said yesterday that its time to clear out the closets. That’s a good way to begin a new year. And, it also time to clear out our lives. The best alternative lifestyle we can live is to leave that baggage behind and begin with a suitcase filled with love and forgiveness.
Copyright 1997, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.