Ludwig van Beethoven died on this day in 1827. Personally, I’m more of a rock man, but LVB’s phenomenal contribution to his art places him at the top of the tree in the eyes of many. He was a Catholic and, by all accounts, a deeply spiritual person who believed his work was a mission of divine art not simply a creative process. Throughout the centuries people have reinterpreted his work as simply ‘spiritual’ denying his own assertion that it was a response to a personal faith in God.
On the October 6th 1802, he wrote a now famous letter to his brothers expressing the agony he was experiencing over the onset of deafness. It must have been heart-breaking for someone who did what he did to face something like that. Nevertheless his faith came through over and over again. Towards the end of his life he would write these words to his closest friend “I know that God is nearer to me than to others. I go without fear to him. I have constantly recognised and understood him”
Ludwig van Beethoven was a rare genius, but also one who lived with tremendous personal struggles that seemed to give him an empathy for others. Like Jesus, and many who have followed in his footsteps, he identified with the poor and the forgotten. Beethoven’s music fills the concerts halls of the world and his short life of 56 years was one that contained a profound knowledge of God, his love and his mercy.
On March 19th 2003, British troops were about to enter Iraq. More specifically it was the same regiment that was immortalised as the Desert Rats during WW2. Their commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins and this is an extract from the speech he gave to his men from the bonnet of a British armoured vehicle as they prepared for battle.
“We are entering Iraq not to conquer but to free a people. The only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Iraq is steeped in history, it is the location of the Garden of Eden and the birthplace of Abraham so tread lightly there.”
The Iraq War remains a highly controversial operation and I write this not to make any kind of statement about the rights and wrongs of it. But Tim Collins clearly sensed the enormous significance of that Biblical land as his men were about to enter. It is true for so many of the places on earth that have been, and continue to be, ravaged by war and conflict. My countless visits to Normandy and other battle sites across Europe lead me to conclude that there is a spiritual imprint in those places that is caused by a catastrophic loss of life. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his glorious church can turn the tide of evil and the wickedness that flows from the human heart.
“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.” (US General Douglas McArthur)
World renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking died on this day in 2018. It would have come as no surprise to anyone that his position as an atheist appeared in his book ‘Brief Answers To The Big Questions’ shortly after he passed away. His final words were these “There is no God. No one directs the universe.” Some years ago, he was asked what his response was to Christians who have a different view to his, he graciously replied “I think that God is the name people give to the reason we are here. I believe the answer is in the laws of physics rather than someone we can have a personal relationship with.”
Stephen Hawking was probably one of the greatest minds we have encountered and his immense presence, despite his titanic struggle with the debilitating effects of ALS, was truly inspirational, but what about his position on whether there is a God or not? Ultimately, no one can prove or disprove the existence of a Creator because it is all about evidence and what each person does with that evidence. An amount and type of evidence may constitutes proof for one person but is not enough for the next. It is the reason why we have 12 members of a jury in a court of law. Each member decides if the evidence presented forward is enough to convict, the verdict is read out and then the judge declares the outcome.
In the case for the existence of God and particularly the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his son, Jesus Christ, I have seen way too much evidence of changed lives over the last 35 years to have any doubt. For me, it provides irrefutable proof that God not only exists, but changes lives that are surrendered to him and transformed through the power of Christ. I have seen the lonely loved, the hungry fed, the sick healed, the addicted set free, the shattered mended and the lost found. Jesus in Alive!
On March 7th 1936, a radio broadcast was transmitted to the United States from Great Britain. The man holding the microphone was not a DJ or a chat show host but the king of England, Edward VIII. It was an historic moment but not everything would go to plan, in fact it almost ended in disaster. Just a few moments before the king’s voice was heard, someone tripped over a wire in the control room of the radio station and severed the only line of communication between ‘king and country’. The engineers went berserk sensing the catastrophe that was about to play out.
With only a couple of seconds remaining before going on air, a quick thinking apprentice grabbed the two ends of the broken wire and bridged the gap. Seconds later, the connection went live, the king delivered his address across the airways and no one knew what had gone wrong. In a very real sense, the words of the king were transmitted through the body of that man.
2,000 years ago, God sent his son into this world to fix the connection between him and us that had been severed by our rejection of him and his will. Through Jesus, the voice of the King of Heaven was transmitted through the body of a man. When that guy grabbed the two wires in the radio station on this day in 1936, all he could do was come up with a temporary solution. But Jesus did something far greater restoring the connection and the relationship to its original condition.
This is how the Bible describes the permanent repair that Jesus made possible “God’s gift was poured out through one man, Jesus Christ. The breathtaking recovery is for those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life that Jesus Christ provides”
On a cold morning on March 5th 1936 the prototype of a fighter plane was put through its paces at an airfield in Eastleigh near Southampton. At that time, the threat of war was hanging in the air, once again, and within four years the Spitfires would be rolling off the production lines in their thousands, destined for the frontline of a desperate struggle for survival.
Throughout the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain raged as Nazi Germany fought for air supremacy over Southern England. The hopes of the British people rested on the young shoulders of the pilots who risked their lives in the defence of our nation. The battle was ultimately won but at tremendous human cost. Winston Churchill, the British wartime leader, honoured the daring pilots of RAF Fighter Command with these words - “Never was so much owed, by so many, to so few”
Jesus spoke of an aerial battle waged in heavenly places that is fought out on the battlefield of people’s lives. Even in the midst of the beauty and wonder of creation, evil seems to exist and sometimes it seems to win. This is what the Bible says about the spiritual air supremacy that Jesus established through his victory on the cross “He made us alive when we were spiritually dead, separated from him because of our actions and following the ways of this world and the prince of the power of the air”
Without the mission of Jesus through his life, death and resurrection, we were all destined to live our lives alienated from our creator God. The freedom, forgiveness, peace and purpose we can each lay hold of today, only exists on the other side of the sacrifice of God’s son. By choosing to humble ourselves and surrender our lives to his plan, we get to have our slate wiped clean by the author of life himself. In all of time and eternity, never was so much owed to one man – Jesus Christ.
On this day in 1954, an auditorium in London known as the Harringay Arena swung open its doors to the 10,000 people who were outside in the rain who had come to hear American evangelist, Billy Graham proclaim the message of Jesus. That colossal barn-like venue was normally used for circuses and boxing matches. Not exactly your average setting for a series of Christian meetings, to say the least.
No one had ever filled Harringay for more than one night, but that was all about to change. Within three months, two million people had turned up to the venue, tens of thousands of them would respond to Billy Graham’s invitation to leave their old life behind and follow Jesus, many of them having never been near a church before.
People have often said to me that Billy Graham spoke to audiences that already agreed with him and that was the reason for his success. That may be partly true but it is not the full story. Back in the early 1950’s whole areas of London were still a bomb site after the devastating effects of the Blitz during WW2. 70,000 buildings had been demolished and 40,000 people had died. To say that many were switched off to religion is an understatement.
The press and even segments of the church were not supportive of the idea of a ‘flashy American preacher coming over to save them!’ One Anglican Bishop famously declared “Billy Graham will fall on his face in London and return to America with his tail between his legs.” A well-known tabloid journalist described him as ‘a religious racketeer’ and a ‘profiteering American capitalist.’
History would tell a different story as the multitudes descended on Harringay. Millions more tuned into the audio signal that was broadcast throughout the nation into churches, cinemas and theatres 40 years before the internet. I’ve met people who were there in 1954 as choir members, voluntary stewards and even those numbered among the masses who made their way to front and were converted. I believe with all my heart that we are about to see something similar in our time, we need it!
Perhaps the most iconic wartime photograph was taken on February 23rd 1945 on the remote Pacific island of Iwo Jima. It portrays 6 US Marines raising their flag over a battle-scarred landscape. In 36 days of fighting 50,000 men were killed or wounded, half of them American. It is the highest casualty rate of any battle in the history of the US Marine Corps, forever cementing that image as a symbol of sacrifice and freedom.
Many stories that emerge from our wartime past have profound parallels with the message and mission of Jesus on earth. Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese soldier stationed on another Pacific island to fight Allied forces in 1945. His orders were soon rescinded as the Japanese unconditionally surrendered and their troops were ordered to turn themselves in.
Onoda was deep in the jungle and never received the news. Mass leaflet drops were carried out announcing the end of the war but the Japanese officer believed they were fake. Lieutenant Onoda, along with many others, were only officially declared dead in 1959 but it wasn’t the end of the story. After many years, a search party stumbled on Onodo who had now existed for almost 20 years somewhere between war and peace without knowing that hostilities were long over.
When Jesus died on the cross, a war was won and a debt was settled. It was the ultimate remedy for our rejection of God and resulting separation from him. It all happened 2,000 years ago, but many still live in the battlefield, failing to realise they can walk free from it. Just like Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, people come along, announcing the Good News that freedom is available and there is no longer the need to live in fear and imprisonment. It is usually our pride that means we continue living life independent of God.
The Bible says we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and are ‘more than conquerors’ as a result. Those who humbly choose to accept God’s gift of his son and follow him become flag bearers of peace and reconciliation in a world that is disconnected from its creator. Choose today to live in the good of Christ’s victory on the cross and emerge from the wilderness of self-imposed separation from God!
The switchover to decimal currency on February 15th 1971 ended centuries of tradition and it wasn’t an easy transition for the British people with many refusing to adopt the new money. Previously there were 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound, but now it was 100 pennies to the pound. A huge national campaign was launched to help millions of people and thousands of businesses to adapt. Families were confused, coin machines were obsolete and cashiers were retrained. Even the world famous London store, Harrods, employed ‘Decimal Penny Assistants” to assist confused customers with the new coins!
The transition to decimalisation took five years of planning. February 15th was chosen as it was thought to be a quiet time for banks and shops who were closed for 5 days ahead of the big day to allow cheques to be cleared and accounts to be converted. Don’t forget that this was before computers so the whole thing was done manually! Even though the new currency had arrived, the old stuff was still legal in banks and stayed around for a long time.
When someone encounters God for the first time, believes and understands that when Jesus his son lived, died and rose again, something extraordinary happens. We are quite literally born again into a new life and we begin to live with a new currency. Giving your life to Jesus happens in a moment but the process of transitioning from an old life to a new life is a process that takes a lifetime. The Bible says that if anyone in in Christ they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. But don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a religious thing, it really isn’t. Becoming a follower of Jesus is a life thing!
On February 11th 1990, the most famous prisoner in the world was freed after 27 years. The majority of his sentence was in the brutal Robben Island Prison and in a cell with no bed and not even the most basic of plumbing. Upon his release, Nelson Mandela would live for a further 13 years making a colossal impact on the world.
He was jailed in 1964 for resisting the vicious apartheid system in his native South Africa that denied black people even the most basic rights. Throughout Mandela’s years in jail, a global campaign to free him was gaining momentum. When he was finally let out, President FW de Klerk took a huge personal risk, opening the door for an election that gave every South African the vote. It would ultimately lead to Mandela’s party gaining power and him becoming president of a united South Africa. The turnout that day was unprecedented and the emotional scenes were shown across the world as people, who previously had no voice, were able to cast a vote for freedom and equality.
Throughout the five years of his presidency, Nelson Mandela led an anxious and previously divided country with grace, forgiveness and dignity continually resisting calls for retribution from his own supporters against those who had wronged them. The South Africa of today is a not without its problems, of course, but the remarkable ‘Rainbow Nation’ shines as a beacon of hope and reconciliation in a troubled World. Many church leaders have spoken of Mandela’s deep personal faith in the God of the Bible. Some of them visited him in prison and told of the times they prayed together in his cell as well as in his later years as president. A life-long friend was with him the day he died and emotionally recounted seeing his face light up moments before he passed away when he spoke the words of the blessing that the great man loved so much:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace.”
The Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a gunman on this day, 75 years ago. There’s so many stories about the iconic statesman who rose from the brutal scars of abuse to become a man with an almost god-like reputation among the Indian people and a fearless champion of the ‘untouchables’ often being seen in some of India’s worst slums. Gandhi insisted on living a humble life in contrast to other heads of state, wearing simple clothes, travelling third class and staying in basic accommodation.
Gandhi believed he was living without the need for security guards but in reality they were everywhere dressed as slum dwellers. The train carriages he travelled in, were only attached to the engine unit, so he was actually travelling solo with just a guard onboard. Not really a budget option, more like a very expensive one. Many obstacles were overcome to allow such a powerful man as him to be so accessible. After he died, one of his closest aides was quizzed about the way Mahatmas Gandhi had lived. The answer was very interesting “You have no idea what it took to keep that old man in poverty!”
A quick glance at the Bible could give the impression that Jesus lived the same way as Gandhi, refusing the privileges of a respected rabbi in exchange for a life on the street. He certainly spent his days travelling on foot among the dust and the dirt and was frequently seen among the destitute and discarded people. Even the harshest critics of Christianity who reject the claims of Jesus, would concur that he lived a very humble existence. But it was far from a political demonstration or to attract attention to himself, his teachings or his miracles. Jesus lived out his life as a signpost back to God the Father, revealing his heart for the people at the end of the queue who were shunned by the religious system of the day. The shadow of the cross was being cast upon the street everywhere he went. Jesus didn’t simply live a good life, he died the death of a common criminal for the sum total of human failure. Then he rose to life again, opening the way back to an eternal relationship with God for all of us.