Remembrance Sunday is a day each year to be thankful for freedom and to honour the fallen and the scarred from our Armed Forces. With that as the backdrop, there was an important moment last week when the Queen honoured 96-year-old Johnnie Johnson, one of only two still living that flew with 617 Squadron during the Dambusters Raid of May 1943.
Nineteen Lancasters, each carrying a specially adapted bouncing bomb, flew at low level across occupied Europe and into the history books. Their mission was to breach the great dams near the hydroelectric power stations, vital to the Nazi terror machine. Eight of the four-enginned heavy bombers and their crews failed to return.
Remembrance Sunday holds a particular significance for me as I have grown up with such a deep connection to our wartime past. Those historic events that have shaped our destiny must never be airbrushed out. Throughout the last 100 years we’ve seen unbroken conflict from the poppy fields of Flanders to the beaches of Normandy and from the deserts of Iraq to mountains of Afghanistan.
People often ask me “where on earth is God in all the chaos?” it’s a very difficult question to answer as I have my own struggles watching the news every day. Jesus didn’t come to explain away human suffering, he came to fill it with his presence. In the confusion and the pain there is great hope to be found in the timeless message of Jesus and the certainty that God loves us.
“The truth is that God loves you, that he carries your name tattooed on the palm of his hand. That even if a mother should forget her own child, God will never forget you” (Mother Theresa)
30 years ago this weekend a woman phoned the BBC to say a hurricane was on the way. Brushing aside this fanciful amateur weather forecaster with a chuckle, weatherman Michael Fish predicted sea breezes and a showery airflow during the night. Within hours Britain was struck by winds approaching 150 mph that ripped through 300 miles of power cable, plunged a quarter of the nation into darkness, blocked 200 roads and felled 25 per cent of the trees in Kent.
Far more accurate were the predictions in the Old Testament of the coming of Jesus Christ. These great Messianic prophecies pinpointed the precise location of Christ’s birth, the nature of his mission, the friends he would make and the events surrounding his death. When God opened the Heavens and Jesus stepped into time and space he was the living fulfilment of over 300 of those prophetic predictions. A mathematician said the likelihood of that happening without Jesus being the Messiah was equivalent to covering Great Britain in 50p coins and turning over a preselected coin first time at random. Jesus is alive, he is the Christ, the Messiah and the Hope of the World.
Following the great storm of October 1987, the Met Office admitted that it was the strongest hurricane to hit the UK since 1703. Michael Fish was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman for the infamous weather expert issued the following statement “It is really all a question of detail” I don’t think so somehow!
The War Effort
Not much remains now of the Supermarine Works on the banks of the River Itchen in my hometown of Southampton. In 1940 the factory looked like all the others from the cockpit of a German bomber but intelligence had confirmed that within its walls was the production line for their most formidable opponent, the Spitfire. During the Battle of Britain the Supermarine staff were doing 18 hour shifts to produce desperately needed Spitfires as RAF Fighter Command fended off the threat of invasion.
On September 26th 1940, German bombers carried out a daring daylight raid across the Solent towards the Spitfire factory. In spite of anti-aircraft fire, many planes got through and dropped their deadly cargo. Many bombs landed in the vicinity of the Supermarine Works, one scoring a direct hit. The factory was in ruins and many men lost their lives. Bill Bull said in 2010 “I’m very lucky to be alive, many of my mates were killed. After the planes had gone we began digging out the injured and the dead"
The following day there was a radical rethink. Lord Beaverbrook, the minister of aircraft production, ordered the dispersal of the entire Spitfire assembly line away from the south coast to areas harder to identify from the air. Garages, factories and warehouses were requisitioned and Spitfire production was operational within days. The war effort from 1939 to 1945 was truly a combined effort. While the armed forces were on the front line, businesses and civilians all played their part on the ‘Home Front’ without them the war would have been lost.
I’ve spent more than half my life engaged in spiritual battles at home and overseas, taking this Gospel of Jesus to some of the most volatile environments. I could never have done any of it without the relentless support of so many who have prayed, given financially, practically served and walked this journey but my side. The Church really is God’s answer to this war torn, battle scarred world in which we live.
Dieppe 75 Years On
75 years ago today 6,000 troops, the vast majority Canadian, boarded assault boats to carry out a surprise ‘coup de main’ raid on the French port town of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was intended to be a precursor to the D-Day Landings and the first attempt by the Allies to gain a bridgehead on the northern face of Hitler’s Europe and begin to rid a continent of the Nazi terror regime.
Within hours news of Operation Jubilee broke to a waiting world and the news was very bad. The raid on Dieppe was a catastrophe of mammoth proportions. While still miles out at sea, the invasion fleet had been intercepted and the element of surprise completely lost resulting in a full scale land to sea bombardment from German heavy artillery. As the Canadians desperately tried to get out of the landing craft the causality figures were already piling up. The ramps were littered with bodies and the sea ran red at the waterline. The total number of wounded, killed and captured reached over 4,000. On the beach the tanks struggled on the shingle unable to breach the concrete sea wall and in the air, three fighter squadrons attacked the RAF resulting in the loss of 106 aircraft.
An attack on a fully defended port would never be attempted again in WWII. Lord Louis Mountbatten who masterminded the D-Day Landings 2 years later said that for every soldier lost at Dieppe 10 were saved on D-Day. Some comfort for the families of those who fell in Dieppe on August 19th 1942.
The Air Raid
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” The timeless words of Winston Churchill in tribute to the daring young pilots of RAF Fighter Command who took to the skies during the long hot summer of 1940. This week Ken Wilkinson one of the very last of the ‘The Few’ passed away just shy of his 100th birthday.
My mum once told me about the day the air raid siren went off during a maths lesson at her school in Worthing, were I grew up. The town was on a flight path for the waves of German bombers as they crossed the south coast en route to London. On that particular day in 1941, the Spitfires went up from RAF Tangmere near Chichester to engage the fighter escort and the infamous ‘dogfights’ ensued over the Sussex Downs. With all the children in her class under the reinforced tables, my mum remembered the moment the window came in and broken glass was strewn everywhere. As the all clear sounded they stood to see the strafe of bullets across the blackboard. The teacher clapped her hands, told the children to sit down, the caretaker came in with a broom and the lesson continued. It’s almost unbelievable that young people experienced such danger and then went on to live normal lives. Mum was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force after the war so her run in with a couple of fighter planes didn’t put her off!
A few years before her lifetime of adventure, generosity and kindness to others came to a close my mum experienced the love of God for herself. She connected with this deep well of joy that flows from the cross on which Jesus died that we might all know a father in Heaven. Finally she had that inner peace from knowing Jesus as saviour. It is a wonderful thing to know that despite the scrapes, conflicts and battles we all face, there is one who has gone through it all and sits at the right hand of God waiting to welcome us home when our life’s journey is done. Never in human history was so much owed by so many to one man!
Today marks 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of Passchendaele during WWI, a senseless three month struggle for control of a ridge in Flanders. It was hugely controversial with accusations against General Douglas Haig that authority was not given by Prime Minister David Lloyd George until the fighting was well underway. The casualty figures from Passchendaele were horrendous, 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German soldiers who perished in the squalor and mud of trench warfare. The ‘Great War’ of 1914 to 1918 was described as the war to end all wars. It has a horribly ironic ring to it considering the 53 million that died between 1939 and 1945 when the spark of hatred was fanned into flames once again. Winston Churchill famously said, “When war is over, it matters not who was right it only matters who is left”
2018 marks the centenary of the armistice that ended WWI and many commemorations are planned all over Europe. I’ll be making a number of trips to France and Belgium next year to produce Miracle Street ‘Big Story’ videos retelling some of the history on location as a powerful backdrop to the Gospel and the hope that is only possible when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Freedom Of Speech
Last week I was privileged to be at Emirates Stadium in London for J John’s JustOne event www.justone.co.uk It was the boldest mass evangelistic endeavour in this country for over 30 years. I believe we must rediscover large scale proclamation evangelism but it probably needs to be reimagined in its format. What disturbed me was the critical and at times sarcastic comments directed at the most prominent evangelist in the UK at a time when so many leaders are saying we need to rediscover the clear presentation of the Gospel.
I remember something Dr Billy Graham said in response to a Bishop’s harsh criticism in 1954 of the famous Harringay evangelist events. He simply said, “I like the way I do it better than the way others don’t do it!” Several weeks later at Wembley Stadium the same Bishop said “We may never see a sight like this again, this side of Heaven” I just hope those who have criticised JustOne are doing a very good job themselves in articulating this wonderful Gospel to the hurting and the forgotten.
As I see it, the church has two great responsibilities to society, firstly to create multiple and varied community projects and secondly to communicate the Gospel message clearly. I want to constantly find new and creative ways of explaining the timeless message of Christ whist endorsing every attempt to demonstrate his love and mercy. Let’s speak well of our generals and trailblazers. God Bless you J John!
The Gospel Rediscovered
I’m in London today and full of anticipation for J John’s JustOne Stadium event at Arsenal. I believe this is the boldest attempt to touch London and the nation with the simple proclamation of the Gospel in over 30 years. Whether the place is full or not this afternoon, it will be a ‘pebble in the pond’ moment that will build. I’m privileged to stand with my fellow evangelist J John who is, without question, the most prominent evangelist in the UK. We are living in an era when society is in total meltdown and the church appears to have mislaid the Gospel somewhere in the complexity of its wonderful projects. J John has been part of igniting something in me these last six months that is reconfiguring everything I am doing. I feel God leading me to draft plans that are bigger than I have ever done before, believing we stand on the brink of this simple old Gospel message returning to the church and shaking the nation. #JustOneStadium #MiracleStreet
Within A Yard Of Hell
“I got down on my knees and said thank you to God. And right then and there a peace came into my soul. I knew then what it was to be ‘born again,’ and the Bible which had been so dry to me before, became everything to me.”
Charles Thomas Studd was a brilliant opening batsman for the England cricket team and played in the first ever Ashes test match against Australia in 1882 but it was only the precursor to his life’s work. While he was still a young man, Studd committed the whole of life to serving God. This is how he defined his calling as an evangelist “Some want to live within the sound of a church bell but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell”
CT Studd devoted his life to the work of the Gospel in China. He married and had four daughters, inspiring him to continually defend the rights of Chinese baby girls who were consistently discarded as worthless. CT Studd the evangelist was the same as CT Studd the cricketer, an overcomer and a winner. Towards the end of his life he said, “Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly out without having blown the trumpets loud and long for our Blessed Redeemer. At the very least let us see to it that the devil holds a thanksgiving service in hell when he gets the news of our departure from the field of battle”
Jesus said “There is a thief who comes to steal and destroy but I have come that you might have limitless life in all its fullness” A robbery takes place when we lose connection with our father in Heaven and exist independently of him.
Yesterday I shot a video at Bridego Bridge, scene of the Great Train Robbery, with my mate Gary, my son Jordan and his mate Ben who are with me on work experience.
On August 8th 1963 £2.6 million in used bank notes, equivalent to £50 million today, was snatched from the High Value Packages carriage that formed part of the overnight Royal Mail train from Glasgow to London. The train was stopped by the gang who manipulated the signals on the railway line before loading 120 mailbags full of cash into two army Land Rovers that had been stolen the week before. It was then driven 25 miles to Leatherslade Farm, the prepared hide out location. They say that crime never pays and that was certainly true for the Great Train Robbers. Most of them spent many years in prison, or living as fugitives. Some died prematurely while others went on to do time for subsequent crimes. Psalm 62 warns us not to become rich by robbery but so many are intoxicated wealth at any cost. The lure of bags full of cash or jewel encrusted crowns will probably never go away.
In the early weeks of the Christian church after Jesus had died, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, his disciples were in Jerusalem at the time when the power of the resurrected Jesus was being poured out into the streets. They came across a disabled man begging at one of the famous old gates into the city. He begged Peter and John to help him. They told the man that they had nothing of any material value. No gold or silver or sacks of money, stolen or otherwise. But what they did have they would share with him. At that they reached laid their hands on him in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ and he was healed. Into a world that was on the take, God gave his son so the robbery could end and we could receive the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Riding The Wave
This last week I have presented the Gospel every day and seen many respond to Jesus. There are weeks when I am consumed with more mundane things, of course, but there’s nothing like doing what you were born to do. Last week I read about the passing of Jack O’Neill, founder of the iconic O’Neill brand and inventor of the wetsuit. Jack died peacefully at the ripe old age of 94 in his house of 50 years on the wild Pacific coast overlooking the waves. He surfed daily well into old age and for the last few years took nearly 100,000 deprived kids out on his catamaran to experience and learn about the ocean. A life well lived and a reminder to do what we were born to do.
Today is the 73rd Anniversary of D-Day. It was a day when the very essence of freedom hung in the balance for several hours and rested on the shoulders of 150,000 young men. Some jumped out of planes, some crash landed in gliders and some ran out of landing craft but practically all of them were thrust into brutal combat for the very first time. I heard a veteran speak about his recollections of being part of the assault wave on the Normandy Beaches that morning. This is what he said, “My lasting memory was hearing an 18 year old amputee crying out for his mother” Many died in France that day and many came home but not many of the 150,000 who took part ‘survived’ June 6th 1944.
Honouring My Roots
Many years ago I spent some time in the Salvation Army, it was a fascinating season in my life as I was exploring what my life’s calling was all about. I remember stumbling on some of the archive material about William Booth, the founder of that movement. His devotion to the Gospel and his driving passion to take it beyond the walls of the church affected me very deeply at that time. I have experienced so many expressions of church in my time and worked closely with most of them. The seeds of what I have done these last three decades in communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ were certainly planted in my heart in the Salvation Army. I’ve never fully understood that until recently.
Pray For Manchester
Like so many of us, I’ve been following this unfolding and horrific tragedy on the media today. The reports that children have lost their lives seems to add to the depth of sorrow and outrage we feel. It is truly every parent’s worst nightmare. I remembered this afternoon these words from this Graham Kendrick song we used to sing across the churches many years ago:
“Dark powers are poised to flood our streets with hate and fear, yet Lord, your glorious cross shall tower triumphant in this land, evil confounding”
Some years ago I sat down next to an old guy on a park bench in Herne Bay. I couldn’t help but notice his war medals. We talked about the past and his involvement in the fighting in France. He told me some of the things he had witnessed and how it had defined his life, then he asked me this question “What was it all for as nobody even cares what we did?” I told him that although I was too young to remember WWII, I knew a lot about it and live with a constant sense of gratitude to a generation who fought and died in the defence of our nation. Not many of these old boys are left now and their legacy is “Known only to God”.
During recent building work at Lambeth Palace, workmen unearthed a chamber containing the remains of five Archbishops and a gold mitre. It reminded me of the story of two bishops, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley who burned the stake in Oxford in 1555 for the cause of the Gospel. As they died Latimer shouted across to Ridley “Be of good cheer brother Ridley, for tonight by God’s grace we light a flame in England that will never be extinguished!” Remarkable faith-filled words in the face of such horror. Latimer’s words were inscribed onto the hull of HMS Latimer, formerly the SS Ridley as it laid the PLUTO Pipeline (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) in 1944 from Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg in Normandy. Through that pipe flowed millions of gallons of petrol that were crucial to the Liberation of Europe and the end of WWII. How badly we need the flame of the Gospel that Latimer spoke of to burn across our spiritually stricken continent. A beautiful story and a finer legacy of two old bishops than a pile of coffins and a golden crown.
One Million Guineas
By the time John Wesley died in 1791 he had travelled 250,000 miles on horseback, preached 40,000 sermons and written 5,000 gospel pamphlets. By the turn of the nineteenth century the Methodist Church had 600 full time evangelists, most of who had come to faith directly through John Wesley’s preaching. The momentum of the Methodist Church increased and at dawning of the 20th Century they planned for an unprecedented drive forward.
On January 1st 1899 the One Million Guinea Fund was launched to encourage 1 million believers to invest a Guinea or 1 pound & 1 shilling. for evangelism and church planting to the ends of the earth. The mammoth target was reached by June 30th 1904.
The money raised, equivalent to £120 million today, was channelled directly into the proclamation of the Gospel, the training and releasing of evangelists and the construction of mission halls and Sunday schools to reach thousands of children being rescued from the workhouses.
Normandy24 is an initiative I dreamed up with my lifelong friend Ian Mayhew as a way of exposing guys to the horrors of war in Europe in a way that motivates them to seek after the greater things in life. I have just returned with an amazing bunch of guys from St Toms Church Fair Oak from the Beaches of Normandy. It was quite a time.
One Message One Church
It drives me nuts when one expression of the church
thinks it’s superior to the rest. It makes ordinary people shake their heads in
disbelief! This inspiring story from the London Marathon yesterday is a
reminder that we stand or fall together. He ‘gave up his own race’ to help
another runner over the line.
Easter Is Decisive
I was watching Match Of The Day one Saturday evening in late December 20 odd years ago when Arsenal were 10 points clear at the top of the league. People were saying the title was won but Arsene Wenger said this “Christmas is important but Easter is decisive” I never forgot it. He was talking football and the title race of course but he was so right. Easter Sunday is a game changer. Joy to the World!
Over The Top
Another centenary today of another awful battle on the Western Front. Up the road from Calais and Dunkirk. 100 years and still the land cries out. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought by the Canadians and it is where the phrase ‘Over the Top’ was first used.
The Forces Sweetheart
Vera Lynn, the ‘Forces Sweetheart’ is 100 years old today. What a key role she played all those years ago lifting the morale of the troops and the nation at a time of great fear and danger. She is an amazing lady.
The Old Cinema
day yesterday with leaders and the church at VLC Newport. They are about to
move into their new building, the converted cinema in the centre of the island.
We have plans together to fill it! Something very big is happening on the
Island and it’s pretty awesome to be a part of it.
59 years ago today Lego patented it’s famous brick that is still on sale today. Some years ago Lego came back from the brink of disaster turning £100 million debt into £12 billion profit by investing in innovation. When Kodak filed for bankruptcy it was the end of 130 years of being the global standard in photography. It failed to embrace change.
Liberated Death Camp
On this day in history the Americans were suddenly confronted with the dreadful reality of the holocaust. No one dared believe the horrors that would be uncovered as ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ sunk to previously unfathomed depths. Never again.
Great Grandad The War Hero
Interesting few hours with my Dad talking about the past and seeing my great grandfather’s WWI service medals. He was a warrant officer in the Royal Navy and then in charge of St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. Maybe that’s why I love that place!
Harringay Arena 1954
This is Billy Graham at London’s Harringay Arena in 1954. The Arena is now Sports Direct and Homebase and the great man, now 98 years old, has long since hung up his preaching boots. Seasons change but the days when people gather in large numbers to experience the life-changing message of Jesus are on their way back.
A Pride Of Lions
Friendship is a powerful thing in the Kingdom of God. I aa very grateful for the close ‘Band of Brothers’ that is around me right now as we drive forward a vision to see many thousands come to Christ and the power of the Gospel to effect our towns and cities.
A Sign Over Southampton
I looked up and saw this last week at the very spot on Southampton shopping precinct where Miracle Street was born all those years ago. Spoke to me of God’s unbreakable promise and that we are all about ‘construction’
In Attack Most Daring
These words were spoken by the great man in response to the heroic and desperate battle to drop a whole airborne division deep behind enemy lines in Holland in an attempt to seize the bridges over the Rhine and end WWII by Christmas 1944. History tells its own story of the the extraordinary valour of the British and Allied Airborne troops in Operation Market Garden.
Day Of Days
Few days have had such a dramatic and profound effect on human history as D-Day. It was the moment when the Allies gained a toehold into Hitler’s ‘Fortress Europe’. This photo was taken on D-Day plus 2 on Omaha Beach. In 48 hours a toehold became a foothold and a foothold became a bridgehead.
A Miracle Of Deliverance
The miracle of deliverance that Churchill spoke of was the evacuation of 338,000 soldiers off Dunkirk Beach from under the nose of an advancing army. It was nothing short of a miracle and was exactly what hundreds of intercessors had prayed for having been mobillised by the great pray-er Rees Howells.