Published 9:46 am Monday, March 6, 2017

by Andrew Book

Each day, we use the word “form” for many things. We use “form” to talk about a page we fill out to file our taxes or the “form” (mold) we use to create a Jell-O salad made in the “form” (or image) of a bunch of grapes. We use “form” to discuss the shape of most anything, from a “form-fitting outfit” to asking about the “form” of the new ramp connecting Courtland to Route 58. We also use the word “form” as a verb. We “form” clubs and teams, we also “form” clay into a clay bowl. We use the word “form” to discuss how we shape the word around us, but there is one type of forming we do not pay enough attention to: the form-ation of lives (our own and others).

We do not often talk about how we are forming our own lives or the lives of those around us, but each day, with each action and each decision, we are shaping ourselves and those close to us. Each time we make a decision, we are declaring to ourselves and our children, “this (whatever we have chosen) matters more than that (whatever we have rejected).” A single decision does not form us, but as single decisions lead to repeat decisions that develop to habits, we are forming in ourselves an understanding of what really matters. Those commitments will form us in ways that we may not expect or intend if we are not paying attention!

As a pastor, I am most aware of those decisions as they relate to the life of the church. As with any church, Courtland United Methodist Church has people with varying levels of involvement in the church and varying levels of commitment to following God. Over my decade-plus in full-time ministry I have been amazed to watch how powerfully the habits of faith shape whether people (especially children) are growing more committed to following Jesus or moving toward the kind of faith that claims Jesus, but does not follow him.

I have seen families who were passionate followers of Jesus make a decision to place something (often sports) ahead of their involvement in the community of faith and watched as a single decision turned into a habit. Those habits resulted in a life where decisions based on following Jesus gradually took a smaller and smaller role until their lives looked no different than those of the people around them who did not profess to follow Jesus. Because I see the power, hope and abundant life that come from truly living for Jesus, my heart breaks when I see those first decisions made because I know how they often end.

Jesus, as is often the case, put this truth simply and powerfully be saying “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Matthew 6:21). Those things that we treasure (put first in life) by devoting our money, time and priorities will gain our hearts. It is not enough to say we value something. We must live lives that prioritize those things we claim to value or we will soon discover that our hearts have changed to line up with those things are actually treasuring. Ebenezer Scrooge’s love of money in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a perfect example. Scrooge treasured money. He made decisions that led to habits which put money above all else in his life. Eventually, he discovered there was not room in his heart for anything else — even the woman he claimed to love — because his decisions and habits had rooted a love of money deeply in his soul.

James K.A. Smith, in his powerful book “You Are What You Love,” describes what happens. Every activity we take part in had some picture of the ideal “good life” in mind. If the activity is sports, the “good life” looks like your child becoming a professional or the thrill of your team winning it all. If the activity is making money, the “good life” is a life where you have the finances to purchase what you want when you want. If the activity is school, the “good life” is having the education you need to get the job you want (to make the money you want). Every activity we do has some goal even if it is as simple as the call to brush our teeth so we can live the “good life” of no cavities and healthy teeth!

Because each activity comes with a picture of the “good life,” each activity is also shaping us to love that idea of what is good. Choose an activity once and it probably won’t form you (or your family) too deeply. Choose an activity repeatedly and you will eventually discover that your picture of life’s goal — your idea of the “good life” — has been formed by those things you have chosen to treasure.  Each time we make a decision, join an activity, or (especially) develop a habit, we are commit ourselves to different versions of “The Good Life.” Eventually that picture of life will claim our hearts whether we intend it or not.

The Good News for us is that Ebenezer Scrooge was redeemed. Despite his years of treasuring money and the version of the “Good Life” he had bought into, Scrooge was given a moment of grace (Christmas Eve in his case) where he could see the pitiful state of his heart and change his life and his habits.

In the closing section of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge throws his money into caring for the people around him, creates time for family and commits to new habits like paying Bob Cratchit a living wage. We too are afforded moments of grace where we can see what version of “The Good Life” we have bought into and reshape or lives. Maybe this is such a moment for you! 

I hope you will take some time to look at the habits and decisions in your life. What version of “The Good Life” are you forming in your heart and the hearts of your family? What habits do you need to break or re-form so that “The Good Life” looks like the kind of life you want to spend your days pursuing?

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or