What van Gaal is getting wrong

Goal? (Source www.freeimages.com)

Goal? (Source www.freeimages.com)

It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.

The long-drawn out death rattle of Louis van Gaal underperforming season at Manchester United prompts us to revisit this old maxim.  While Syzygy does not have much of a track record as football pundits we came across an interesting statistic in a newspaper recently: despite Man U having a whole string of terrible statistics this season, there is one in which they are top.  They have the highest percentage of possession in the Premiership.  A solid achievement, which means absolutely nothing without the ability to convert possession into goals.

Which prompts us to ask our readers, what do we possess that we are not converting?  We can suggest three things that, we may need to put to better use for the kingdom as we reflect on our lives and values during the current season of Lent.

The Gospel.  We have mentioned before the prevailing western philosophy of Moral Therapeutic Deism, in which our Christian belief is merely there to meet our needs, help us be nice people and feel good about ourselves.  But the Gospel shouldn’t stop with us.  It is meant to be shared.  What kind of selfish people keep good news to themselves?  St Paul wrote “Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16).  OK, perhaps he was a bit too driven for us to feel entirely comfortable with him, but at least he was motivated.  When are we going to go and tell somebody the Good News, whether we go to the other side of the world or the other side of the street?

Our relationship with God.  We have unprecedented, open access to the throne room of the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, and we use it to ask God to bless people, which God is probably going to do anyway, because that’s what God enjoys doing.  We have the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead at work in us and we use it to pray for a parking space.  When are we going to realise that through prayer we can change nations?  Can we get a little bit more ambitious with our prayer?  How about praying for a resolution of conflict in the middle east, freedom and peace for the oppressed church, or global revival.  Let’s get a little more ambitious with our prayer.

Significant wealth.  Yes, significant.  Since the finanical crisis of 2008, many of us in the west think we’re poor, yet in comparison to nearly half the world living on less than $2.50 a day [1], we’re filthy rich.  And even if we aren’t sure how we’re going to pay the bills or put food on the table, as William Carey pointed out “even the poor can give.”  Jesus commended not the rich putting their gold into the temple coffers, but the poor widow putting in two small copper coins (Mark 12:43).  When are we going to pour our wealth into something more precious than house extensions, foreign holidays and new cars?

So this Lent, do please consider going (or at least helping someone else to),  make a commitment to pray for mission, and put some serious funding into mission.  Syzygy would be glad to help you!

[1] http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

Who is envious of us?

The success of the work of missions and the work of evangelism depends upon the ability to arouse envy.

With these words Dutch missionary J H Bavinck hit the nail on the head.  All too frequently the church seems to be selling a product that the consumer doesn’t want.  The bulk of non-Christians simply do not believe that our faith would add anything substantial to their lives, and in fact would probably stop them enjoying themselves.  We might claim that meeting Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to us, but do we really show it?  Where in the Christian community is the real incontrovertible evidence of transformed lives?  If Jesus has made such an impact on us, why does it not show?

The reason for this is that the bulk of the Christian community, at least in the West, does not want its lives transformed.  We are quite comfortable as we are, and if a veneer of religiosity on top of our materialistic consumerism helps us find meaning in life and feel better about ourselves, that’s as far as it goes.  This increasingly prevalent attitude has recently been called Moral Therapeutic Deism, a term coined by Christian Smith of Notre Dame University.  He suggests that “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition”.

So what is our response to the lack of public interest in the Christianity we are modelling?  We ramp up our marketing.  Millions of pounds are spent on running and promoting the Alpha Course (which is arguably the most effective evangelistic tool of this generation) while we completely ignore the best marketing tool in the business: a satisfied customer.

It has long been my contention that if we were all living transformed lives we wouldn’t need to ‘do’ evangelism – our very lives would speak good news to others.  This is one of the reasons why the early church (as recorded in Acts) grew so rapidly without any preaching of good news specifically mentioned till the end of chapter 5, by which time there were already some 10,000 believers worshipping regularly together, with a fellowship fund and a soup kitchen.  Everyone in Jerusalem could see the difference in the lives of the Jesus-followers.

Nearly 20 years ago, Bill Hybels wrote:

“Authentic Christians are persons who stand apart from others, even other Christians, as though listening to a different drummer.  Their character seems deeper, their ideas fresher, their spirit softer, their courage greater, their leadership stronger, their concerns wider, their compassion more genuine, their convictions more concrete.  They are joyful in spite of difficult circumstances and show wisdom beyond their years.”

Sadly these authentic Christians still seem far too few in number.  While people see us stressed by our ministry, frustrated with our church, confused about our beliefs, heartless towards the needy, and unwilling to talk about Jesus to the lost, we will never convince them that what we have is better than what they have.