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

Heroes in mission: William Carey

William CareyWilliam Carey was a poor Northamptonshire shoemaker who is better known today as the ‘father of modern missions’.  Despite his humble origins he was an intelligent though uneducated man, who taught himself several languages, acquired skills as a craftsman, and became a schoolmaster and a Baptist minister by the time he was 25.

His studies lead to him becoming convinced that the mandate to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20) was binding not merely on the original 11 but on all subsequent disciples of Jesus.  In support of this argument he published in 1792 his influential essay An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, a powerful apologetic which challenged the received wisdom that God was perfectly capable of saving unbelievers without the help of his followers.  This discussion led to the foundation of a mission society which later became BMS World Mission.

Despite his bad health, low social standing, and rejection by the British authorities in Calcutta which forced him to move inland to live and work in a Danish colony, he was a determined plodder who achieved a great deal simply by working hard and keeping going.  Yet he was also a man of faith, and his maxim “Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God.” continues to be popular.

Many of the attitudes and values pioneered in the mission field by Carey have formed the bedrock of missionary practice over the last two centuries, such as:

  • Campaigning against cultural practices that harm people such as the caste system, suttee and child sacrifice;
  • Establishing educational establishments to help people out of poverty;
  • Language and culture acquisition as a means to sharing the gospel in a relevant way;
  • Bible translation and printing as a means of propagating the word of God;
  • Promoting agricultural development to improve people’s quality of life.

However, one practice of Carey’s which has remained largely unemulated by subsequent generations of mission workers is his willingness to support himself financially.  Carey worked for a living, earning money from planting indigo while also translating the Bible into a number of Asian languages for the first time.  The practice of mission workers taking employment to support themselves is only recently taking off again.

Hard-working and modest, one of Carey’s actions towards the end of his life indicates the quality of his character.  When disputes within the mission he had founded proved to be irreconcilable, rather than become dictatorial and contend with those who disagreed with him, he walked away, leaving the mission and continuing his work independently.

Among his great legacy to the world of missions, one that stands out is the words that he and some friends wrote together in the founding statement of their mission society.  They echo his wholehearted service for God and stand as a challenge to the values of mission workers to this day:

 “Let us give unreservedly to this glorious cause.  Let us never think that our time, or gifts, our strength, our families or even the clothes we wear are our own.”