Monthly Archives: January 2019

Shaping and Forming

Shaping & Forming

“Faith and Family”
January/February 2019

by Marcus J. Carlson

We are all familiar with Jesus’ Great Commission to go and make disciples. In essence, we are to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. That is how this movement known as Christianity spread from
12 ordinary followers to the millions who call themselves Christians today. Discipleship happens primarily in relationship. It is both individual and corporate. It is all based on God’s action but invites our participation. Even our desire to participate in discipleship comes from God.

The reality is that each of us is being shaped and formed every day. There are people and things that shape and form who we are, what we believe, how we see the world, what we say, and what we do. If you are not aware of who or what is shaping and forming you, it will be the culture, the world around you, that shapes and forms you. As a parent, I think about this a lot when it comes to my children. I wonder who or what is shaping and forming them. I keep certain bad influences or unhealthy things away from them because I want them to be shaped and formed in the best way possible. The truth, however, is that I often do not pay as much attention to what is shaping and forming me as I do for my children. We do not grow out of being influenced by the people and things around us. As I have thought and prayed about how I want my own children to be shaped and formed, I have found myself thinking more and more about how I should be shaped and formed and how I talk to those in my church and community about who or what is shaping and forming them.

The truth is, whether we are Christians or not, but especially if we are Christians, we are being discipled and formed in some way. As Christians, we should be discipled and formed through the Scriptures, relationships, and Jesus. The reality is that in the United States today most people are discipled by their cable news station and formed by their social media feed. Most Christians in the U. S. spend more time with their television and social media focused on politics and the news than they do in prayer, study of the Bible, and with other Christians. This is deeply problematic in so many ways, and is idolatry. Added to the idolatry is the deep bias of most news stations. That is not healthy even if we agree with the bias. The news is sensationalized or too short to give us full and accurate information. Even if it were accurate, truth is ultimately only found in Jesus. I find Christians have ignored the Scriptures for their politics whether conservative, liberal, or something in between. We are called to worship and imitate Jesus, not a political party, figure, or ideology. The other day I was on the social media page of a Christian who had more pictures of a political figure on their page than of their own children. The reality is that both major parties have beliefs that are both consistent with and directly contrary to the Scriptures and the life and ministry of Jesus.

Christians’ perspectives and moods can be shaped more by politics than by Jesus. This is idol worship, heresy, and an insult to what Jesus did on the cross. Is your cable news station shaping and forming you, or are you being shaped and formed by the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? This is a question that Christians should be regularly asking themselves. As Christians, as followers of Jesus, as Lutherans, we are to be shaped and formed by the Triune God. Our shaping and forming must come from God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Again, this happens in relationships: relationship with Jesus, and relationship with other Christians. It is an intentional act. Every follower of Jesus should have someone that is discipling them, and each should be discipling at least one other person. This is the heart of the great commission and at the center of the purpose of the church.

If you are not intentionally being shaped by God, then you are being shaped by someone or something else and even if that someone or something else is good, it is not God. So often, we simply do not pay attention to our spiritual life, and while discipleship is not about our works, it is intentional. Are you intentionally in at least one discipleship relationship?
This is firmly connected to our children and families. Chances are, if we are not being shaped and formed by Jesus, then they aren’t either. We cannot expect them to follow what we do not model to them. The stakes for them, for the church, and for the world could not be higher.
Are you spending more time with Fox, MSNBC, or other network personalities than you are with Jesus? Are you spending more time consuming the news of the day rather than spending time resting in the word of God? Again, it is not our works that save us or even make us disciples, yet we are called to be intentional about our faith formation and our growth as disciples. Are you spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in worship, and engaging in other spiritual disciplines? These are not matters of work, but a lifestyle. Discipleship is the continual pursuit of Jesus; it is a matter of the heart. Discipleship is paying deep attention to what or who is shaping and forming us and making sure the things that shape and form us are things of God.

I once had a professor note that one-fourth of the people in the United States proclaim to be Christians. He challenged that because he failed to see the fruit of it in the culture. He noted, “If I had one pound of steak and a quarter of it was salt, I would certainly notice.” He made a valid point. Perhaps many of us claim to be Christians, but we are not really disciples. We are not being shaped and formed by God, but rather by something or someone else. Who is shaping and forming you? Who are you imitating? If the answer is not Jesus, it might be time to take a look at what it means to be his disciple.