“I put up my thumb and it covered  the Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant, I felt very small” (Neil Armstrong)

On this day in 1969, Apollo 11 reached its climax as Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the surface of the moon. His footprints are still there in the dust. I was five years old that summer, glued to our black and white television set. I’ve been fascinated with space and the night sky ever since. Sometimes, on dark nights, I look up at the stars, marvel at the enormous expanse of it all and the wonder of God’s creation. 

People look up at the stars for all sorts of reasons, of course, especially for navigation and direction. Some take it way further anchoring their lives in astrology, their particular star sign and what the planets were up to when they were born. But here’s something people are often not told, the horoscope charts were drawn up when everyone thought that the earth was flat and the other planets revolved around it not the sun. It’s all nonsense but I guess people look into their horoscopes rather than look into the ‘black hole’ of depression. 

Jesus came to fix the massive problem of the crater in the human soul. From the universe to the inner-verse, he reaches out for us and we can respond by reaching out to him. ‘One small step’, but it’s the best step that you could ever take, the step towards the God who made you for purpose and relationship with him.

“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” (CT Studd)

On this day in 1931, England cricketer Charles Thomas Studd died. He played for England against Australia in 1882 when they lost for the first time on home soil. The ‘Sporting Times’ reported “In memory of English cricket which died on 29th August 1882. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia” And so every two years to this day, the two nations compete for a tiny urn known as ‘The Ashes’ in one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in the world. 

So what of the prolific English batsman CT Studd? He retired two years after that ill-fated test series to the Aussies at the age of 24 and was never seen a cricket field again. He responded to a call from God to become a missionary alongside the great Hudson Taylor, devoting most of his life to the people of China.

CT Studd married and had four daughters. He believed that God had given them to him to educate the Chinese about the value of baby girls who were continually discarded as worthless. This is how the great man summed up his life’s work “Some want to live within the sound of a church bell but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell”

My parents, especially my father, discussed the question of my brothers’ education as a matter of real importance. My education and that of my sister were scarcely discussed at all. (Emmeline Pankhurst)

Emmeline Pankhurst, pioneer of the British suffragette movement died on this day in 1928. She devoted her life to fighting for women to be given the right to vote. Her relentless quest for justice has great parallels with the mission of Jesus on the street 2,000 years ago. He told stories that disrupted the status quo and elevated the most marginalised groups in society. 

Pankhurst’s used her bold actions and forceful speeches to grab attention in her fight for gender equality. She was driven by a restless energy to resist discriminatory laws and inherited ideas. Her tireless efforts to uplift and empower women reflected the persistence of many who Jesus encountered. Often it was the persistent who got his attention, like Bartimeaus who wanted his sight back and the woman who had been suffering in silence for many years.

On one occasion, Jesus told a story about a widow who was before a corrupt judge. Ultimately he was worn down by the woman’s persistence and granted her request. Emmeline Pankhurst, who was also a widow, refused to take no for an answer continuing to fight despite numerous setbacks, time in prison and being violently force-fed while on hunger strike. She helped to transform the landscape of women’s rights at a time when they had virtually none. Her example and legacy have inspired generations of women over the last hundred or more years.

You must put your trust in me and your life in my hands” Charles Blondin to his assistant 

On 30th June 1859, Charles Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a 1,000 foot long tightrope. 100 feet below him, the raging waters were ominously waiting to sweep him to his death. Added to that, the wind that blew through the gorge that day would bring a helicopter down if it happened today. Crowds turned out to watch the stunt, lining the cliffs on both sides of the Niagara River. At 5pm, Blondin stepped onto the rope and after 30 minutes he was safely across. 

To everyone’s amazement, he then handpicked a spectator to accompany him on the return trip. The man clung on for dear life as Blondin made his way inch by inch along the tightrope only to stumble with exhaustion halfway across. The acrobat told his terrified passenger to put his trust in him and in return Blondin carried him safely to the other side.

Throughout history, millions of people have chosen to put their trust and faith in the God who created them. If you do that today, he will lead you safely through this life whatever it sends your way. God has carried multitudes across the great divide of time and eternity and he hasn’t lost anyone yet!

“We were told to love our Mother Country but we found out that our Mother Country didn’t love us”

On June 22nd 1948, a ship called the Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks in Essex having sailed from Jamaica. Onboard were 492 Caribbean people who had responded to the invitation to settle in post-war Britain.

A young Jamaican lad had left with this request from his Mum. “When you arrive in England, find a Post Office to send me your first letter, find a welcoming church to thank God for your new life and find a friend to walk by your side.” He wrote back with these sad words “Dear Mum, I’ve found a Post Office.” Clearly friendship wasn’t forthcoming and the less said about the church the better.

Thank God that young people today are resisting the toxic soundtrack of a society that rejected so many people with no justification. It’s so important that we all play our part in exposing the ludicrous notion that skin colour defines value. ‘Windrush’ refenced the wind depicted in the Bible when the Holy Spirit blew through a group of Jesus followers propelling the Gospel across the world. A message that invites us all to be forgiven, renewed and transformed by God whatever out ethnic or cultural background.

“There are laws that enslave people and laws that set people free”

On this day in 1215 a charter was signed in a field by King John of England in the town of Runnymede near London. It was the result of a fierce rebellion by 40 landowners determined to resist the king’s demands for higher and higher taxes. His corruption was driving the common people into poverty and deprivation. The content of that famous document lines up with the teachings of the Bible and some say it is the foundation stone of democracy.

Magna Carta Libertatum, a Latin expression meaning Great Charter of Freedoms,  stipulates that even the monarchy and the government are not above the law and are accountable to God. It protected the ordinary people of the land from being exploited by those in power. As the king’s seal was embossed upon the Magna Carta on June 15th 1215, a written record of English law was laid out for the first time. 

One of the most famous Bible accounts records the words of Jesus to an outdoor audience known as the Sermon on the Mount. Some call it the Magna Carta of the Kingdom of God. In this short but hugely important address, Jesus lays out the foundations for how God would have us live as individuals and as a society. His words predate the Magna Carta by over 1,000 years and have remained the cornerstone for countless lives and societies.

As June 6th dawned 80 years ago, over 150,000 British, Commonwealth, American and Canadian troops were in landing craft and transport planes heading for Nazi occupied France. The vast majority of them had never seen combat before. It would be the greatest amphibious assault in history. The sheer scale of the logistical operation was equivalent to transporting a medium sized city 100 miles across the sea in one night and in complete secrecy.

Everyone knew that D-Day would be the turning point of World War Two one way or another. General Erwin Rommel, the man charged with protecting the coast of northern Europe believed that if an Allied invasion were to take place on the coast of Normandy that could not be repelled back into the sea in 24 hours, Germany would lose the war. He was right and it came at tremendous cost to both sides, to say nothing of the thousands of civilian casualties.

I’ve been to the beaches and the fields of Normandy so many times over the years to retell the D-Day story to groups both big and small. It must never be airbrushed out of our national story. Every time I stand on that battlefield, and others across Europe, I am more convinced that a spiritual imprint exists in those places, caused by a catastrophic loss of life. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can change that.

“We should attempt to carry the spiritual experience of the mountains with us everywhere.” Sherpa Tenzing Norgay

Mount Everest was summitted on this day in 1953 by New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary alongside Nepali, Jamling Tenzing Norgay. However, there are some suggestions that George Leigh Mallory reached the peak over 30 years earlier. His preserved remains were found in 1999, just 200 metres from the summit of the ceiling of the earth. Some believe he perished on the way down rather than on the  way up! 

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s only the world’s elite climbers would attempt Everest but now thousands have successfully made it up. The dangers are still very real and hundreds have died from altitude sickness, exhaustion and accidents. Undoubtedly Edmund Hillary was a hugely gifted and intrepid mountaineer as was Tenzing Norgay who represented a people with a proud tradition of assisting climbers to summit the Himalayan peaks.

Nowadays the Sherpas go ahead of the organised parties to fix ropes, pitch tents and carry equipment and supplies. In some situations eager adventurers summit Everest carrying nothing more than a light rucksack! Not many dare to attempt the climb without the crucial role of those brave, and often grossly underpaid, Nepalese climbers who make the way safe.

Our journey through this life can feel like a dangerous climb navigating treacherous challenges as we make our way towards our eternal home. I’m often reminded of these timeless words of Jesus “I am going on ahead to secure the way. When everything is ready, I will come and get you”

“We have witnessed a miracle of deliverance, but wars are not won by evacuations” Winston Churchill

By May 27th 1940, Europe was being overrun by Hitler’s menacing armies. Half a million British and Commonwealth troops had been sent to France in an attempt to halt the devastating mechanised advance. Within weeks, they were driven back and encircled at the port town of Dunkirk. The complete annihilation of the British Army and the imminent invasion of England seemed the only outcome. 

Into that moment of dread, King George VI called the British people to seek the face of Almighty God, the response was unprecedented. Churches, that had been empty for decades, were packed to the rafters with queues outside lining the streets. The rest, as they say, is history. Over a third of a million troops were evacuated off the beach at Dunkirk by an armada of 800 privately owned boats that sailed beneath the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. 

Even the most sceptical believed that God had sovereignly moved as a response to the prayers of so many. Today, we have airbrushed the God of the Bible out of our national life and it has led us down a cul-de-sac of chaos. Now is the time for us to return to him, placing our trust in the epic the rescue carried out by Jesus on the cross. If we will humble ourselves and return to him, we will see miracles of deliverance once again.

“Your Life Will Always Matter More To Me Than My Own” - Ethan Hunt, Mission Impossible

On this day in 1996, the first instalment of the epic movie series ‘Mission Impossible’ premiered to a waiting world. At the time of writing this, there are now seven films with an eighth well on the way. It’s all thanks to the enduring appeal of the silver screen and the evergreen sexagenarian, Tom Cruise. Current box office revenue of well over $4 billion, rather suggests the franchise is alive and well. I guess we can all look forward to the great man saving the world from impending disaster a few more times yet.

Pretty soon after becoming a Christian, I had a life-defining sense that God was inviting me to commit my days to the greatest mission of all. Unlike good old Tom, it didn’t come in the form of a sealed envelope with an explosive timing device that was about to detonate, but a mission nevertheless. Like many others who have walked a similar path as a communicator of the Gospel, I chose to accept the mission and it has defined my whole life.

So much has happened throughout the decades since that profound God-encounter on a small island off the south coast of England called the Isle of Wight. I’ve seen so many people embark on a life of faith and transformation through Jesus. I’ve also helped many of them to walk in his footsteps having been reborn into a relationship with God as Father. It’s all possible because Jesus fulfilled a ‘mission impossible’ 2,000 years ago. No one was equipped to carry out that task but God’s only son. The completed mission of Christ’s death and resurrection remains the pivotal moment in human history when God and humanity were reconciled.

God sent me to do something and nobody can stop me. If God wants to stop me, then I’ll stop, but man can never stop me” Bob Marley

The truly iconic Bob Marley died on this day in 1981 at the tragically young age of 36. Very few artists carry the mantle of providing the soundtrack for a people and a generation, but he surely did. All these years after his passing, Marley’s music and legacy is a strong as ever. He was born shortly before the end of WW2 on the Caribbean island of Jamaica to an white father and a black mother.

Brought up with a strong Christian influence, Bob Marley reflected the devout faith of his mother, Cedella. While his interest in the Bible and Christianity remained throughout his life and music, he is most associated with the Rastafarian religion that asserts that Africa is Zion and the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie and the second incarnation of Jesus Christ. What is lesser known is that the great man was baptised in a New York hotel room in 1980. 

Bob Marley’s funeral was a celebration deeply rooted in Christian songs, Bible readings and prayers. Some have suggested that his baptism and apparent conversion to Christianity was more about his fear of death and a desire to honour his mother, who urged him continually throughout his life to return to Christianity. 

Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq, the man who baptised Bob Marley has a different view. He said “Many people think he was baptised because he knew he was dying, but that is not so. He did it when there was no longer any pressure on him. A former backing singer for the Wailers, said that when Marley was dying he stretched out his hand and said, “Jesus take me”. She said that he did not die a Christian Rasta, but a Rasta-turned-Christian. 

“In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God. He has been our strength and shield”  King George VI

I was about five years old when I came across a tatty old drum in the attic of the house I grew up in. The skin of the drum had rotted away and the wooden frame was broken. To be honest, I thought it was completely worthless but my mum dusted it off and told me an amazing story. On this day in 1945, she had played that drum in a band that marched through the streets of our home town on VE Day at the end of World War Two.

Photographs of that incredible day when peace was finally celebrated went across the world. Flags were waved and people danced in the streets throughout the land. In London, a huge crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square, close to where the bombs had fallen causing terrible loss of life and displacing thousands of families. The hope in the hearts of everyone that day, was that war would never come again. But, hatred still blights our world because more is required than a cessation of violence.

The Bible tells us that the enmity in the human heart is caused by the ‘dividing wall of hostility’ that separates us from God. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, went to the cross to make a way through that wall but we have to personally respond to it. Every brick in the wall is an act of rebellion against God’s plan. If we will only open our hearts to God today, we can get through the dividing wall and march to tune of a different drum. It begins with a simple act of humility as we receive God’s gift of forgiveness and limitless life in relationship with him.

“I no longer have a home, only a place where I sleep.” - Voices from Chernobyl

At 1.23am on this day in 1986, a steam explosion destroyed the core and blew the roof off reactor building number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. Within minutes, lethal amounts of radioactive gas was released into the atmosphere. The fallout would leave a death-trail covering vast areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. It would be many years before scientists would fully understand the extent of that catastrophic accident.

Shortly after the explosion a gaping hole was identified within the reactor that was leaking radiation into the environment. The team overseeing the disaster recognised that it was time to act decisively. A team of specialists was recruited to enter the stricken site with heavy plant and equipment to fill the hole. Knowing they could die or even worse live, with the appalling effects of exposure to the radiation, they signed up for the mission in order that many lives would be saved. Although just two workers died as a result of the initial blast, many more of the emergency team would die in the first three months after the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station.

I’ve often reflected on that dreadful event and the selfless intervention of the recovery team, as I have communicated the rescue mission of Jesus that is recorded in the Bible. 2,000 years ago, God sent his son to fill the crater within the human soul that had been caused by our rejection of him and his plan for our lives. Jesus was the only person who could do the job. He was spotless and free from the things we have all done that have spoilt our lives and separated us from a perfect Creator God. The Bible says Jesus willingly laid down his life as a ransom for many and through his completed work on the cross, we can be salvaged and reborn into God’s eternal plan for our lives.

“Fair Saint George, inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons!” – William Shakespeare

April 23rd is the day we mark good old Saint George of England. But what’s the real story behind the man and the myth? In answering those questions, we cannot really side step the small matter of a slightly controversial flag that has become a symbol of English nationalism and even a splash of football thuggery thrown in for good measure! Most of us know that George is the Patron Saint of England and that he killed a fire-breathing dragon. Unfortunately, that’s about where the primary school recollections and pub quiz knowledge comes to a grinding halt. So let’s try and fill in a few of the blanks and ink in some of the gaps in the story.

Legend has it that old Georgie Boy was a pretty zealous Christian in his day. Some stories say the main event took place in, what is now, Libya while others insist it happened on a Berkshire rooftop in England! Anyway, the story goes that he freed a town from the control of a dastardly dragon, released a fair maiden in the process (obviously!) and loads of people converted to Christianity as a result. Having said all that, it took place during the time of the Crusades, a particularly dodgy period in history when the English didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory and all in the name of religion! That’s perhaps why many people have an uncomfortable reaction to the flag with the red cross on a white background. It rather conjures up images of painted shields and brutal assaults on foreign lands!

It’s not always easy to square some of our confusing and often dubious history with the real message of Jesus but the Bible tells of a similar mission to that of Saint George and his battle with the dragon. Jesus came to break the control of evil through his sacrifice on the cross. Because he died and rose again we can be set free, not from a fire-breathing dragon, but from the things that have power over us that create a firewall between us and God.

“Among the scenes impressed on my mind are forests filled with the God of Nature. No one can stand in those places and not feel that there is more to man than breath.” – Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin died on this day in 1882. He was a leading naturalist, biologist and author of ‘On the Origin of Species’. Darwin was not exactly as ‘church-goer’ but he seemed to acknowledge significant flaws and conflicts with his theories on human existence. He was very honest about troubling questions towards the end of his life about the ideas he had put forward and the explanation he’d written regarding the origin and meaning of life. I often smile when I recollect a conversation I had some years ago with an enthusiastic Christian who told me Charles Darwin had become a Christian - he didn’t!

I’ve spent my life defending the Bible’s clear definition of the purpose and destiny of human life and the towering presence of a Creator God who has relentless loved this world and the people in it. Often I’ve done that with people I’ve genuinely respected but who held very different views to mine. To be honest, the most challenging people are often ‘religious types’ who insist that God put fossils in the ground to confuse wicked scientists! Not all that helpful to be honest. So, in the spirit of levity, here’s a story I’ve used a few times:

A group of scientists got together and decided that mankind had fully evolved and no longer needed God. The spokesman broke the bad news to the Almighty “Listen God, we don’t need you now because we can clone human beings ourselves.” God listened patiently to the scientist and then responded “Let’s put your theory to the test. But we’ll do it the way I did it back in the day, with nothing but the dust of the earth.” “No problem,” said the scientist and bent down to grab a handful of dirt. God just looked at him and said, “No son, you get your own dirt!”

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