“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!”

“Not even God could sink the Titanic!” – White Star Line employee

RMS Titanic, the jewel in the crown of the White Star Line, disappeared beneath the waves, having been ripped open by an iceberg, on this day in 1912. Almost 1,500 people were drowned in the icy waters of the North Atlantic that night. The most famous ship in history had set sail from Southampton bound for New York four days earlier to the sound of popping champagne corks and the cheers of well-wishers. 

Titanic slipped her moorings with a scandalous disregard for safety and a captain on deck who was determined to smash the trans-Atlantic speed record held by White Star’s arch rival Cunard. There was a lot more consideration given to smoked salmon and caviar than lifeboats for the masses of lower class passengers and poorly paid crew who would ultimately lose their lives.

The opulent liner was built at Belfast’s world-famous Harland & Wolff shipyard and was the finest ship the world had ever seen. Two thousand men were involved in the two-year construction project. No one could have imagined that Titanic would sail for just four days of her maiden voyage before plummeting two miles to the ocean floor, a thousand miles short of her destination. Some of the richest people in the world went down with the ship having paid the equivalent of £50,000 for the privilege.

Titanic’s name is now in the history books for all the wrong reasons, synonymous with one of the deadliest ever maritime disasters. The ship’s owners, designers and builders were convinced she was completely disaster-proof. One man recklessly boasted that “not even God could sink the Titanic!”. The tragic story is hallmarked by the pride, arrogance and greed of that era in British history. The Bible says, those things normally go before both national and personal disaster. Better to put your life in the hands of God than in the reckless claims of people with dodgy motives. 

“Without publicity, a terrible thing happens – nothing!” – PT Barnum

The great circus impresario, PT Barnum died on this day in 1891. His highly controversial ‘American Museum’ once stood on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York. The blockbuster movie ‘The Greatest Showman’, tells the story of Barnum’s meteoric rise to fame. Within five years of opening, the museum was attracting half a million visitors every year until a devastating fire reduced it to rubble and ashes. He then teamed up with James Bailey to form the Barnum & Bailey Circus, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ took America and the world by storm for the next 146 years. Barnum was seen an icon of American spirit and ingenuity.

In the 1920’s a flamboyant female preacher called Aimee Semple McPherson was being called the ‘Barnum of the pulpit’ as she dramatically presented the message of Jesus to the waiting masses of Los Angeles and Hollywood. They were no ordinary presentations, more like music hall performances than the religious liturgy of the day. The ‘Barnum of the Pulpit’ attracted three times more visitors than the ‘Barnum of the circus’ ever did.

She believed that the Bible was the ‘divine drama’ and it deserved to be presented and illustrated extravagantly not simply taught from an old book in the dreariness of church services. She drew her inspiration from the theatre and people were cut to the heart, turning their lives over to Jesus Christ in vast numbers. Her 20 presentations a week culminating in the lavish Sunday Night Service which attracted thousands every week.

PT Barnum’s critics came from those who detested the freak shows and the abuse of animals, Aimee Semple MacPherson’s critics came from the religious establishment. Several leaders of LA’s most powerful churches thought she was turning her nose up to decorum and the traditional ways of ‘doing church’. Her response was typically forthright “Show me a better way to get willing people to come to church and I’ll try it, but please don’t ask me to speak to empty seats!”

I’ve never been big on practical jokes but I love comedy and some of the stunts that have been pulled on April 1st are hilarious, although some were criminal! Like the Oxford University students in the 1970s who nicked a gas van at night, set up a diversion through the town and dug up the road for three hours until the council and the police worked out what was going on!

Another famous practical joke was done to a guy who lived in a flat with a lounge and kitchen downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. While he was away over April Fool’s Day, his mates swapped the floors round including the plumbing. When he returned and opened his front door he was now in his bedroom and upstairs was the lounge and kitchen. He thought he was losing his mind!

The Bible says if Jesus never rose from the dead, Christians are fools not just on April 1st but all year round. But this message has transformed billions of lives across the world for 2,000 years. It’s an invitation to be reconciled to a father through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus his son. It seems foolish to refuse an offer like that? Someone famously said, “It is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

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 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 heartbreaking 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 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 world’s concert halls 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 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. 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? 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. Any amount and type of evidence may constitute 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 is 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”

Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, was born in 500 AD and died on this day 59 years later. He was born into a privileged Welsh family but gave it all up to devote his life to the advancement of the message of Jesus Christ. David was a hero among the early Celtic Jesus followers, an indigenous band of radicals who loved God and loved the Gospel. They were a people deeply committed to ensuring everyone they encounter got to hear how much they were loved by their creator. 

David was a powerful preacher who founded churches in Britain and then over sea in Brittany. One of the stories suggests he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, bringing back a stone from the Holy Lands that now sits in St David’s Cathedral on the site of his original monastery he founded. David was a man who believed in the miracles of Jesus and in his promise that Christians would do similar and even greater things. He frequently saw the sick healed and witnessed miracles over the laws of nature. 

On one occasion while speaking to a vast crowed in Llanddewi Brefi, people at the back complained they could not hear him. As David prayed, the ground he was standing on rose to form a hill! Throughout his relatively short life, Wales’ patron saint helped to found well over 1,000 monasteries that became powerful sending bases for the message of Jesus and his rescuing power for all people everywhere. Many of those establishments were built in the remote places where the followers of Jesus felt closer to God’s creation and could experience the wild wind of his presence. These are David’s final words to his people, translated into modern English “Brothers and sisters, be constant and single-minded. Continue to the very end with the mission we have started for Jesus”

On this day in 1945, a famous photograph was taken of 6 US Marines raising their flag over the battle-scarred landscape of Iwo Jima. More marines died in that battle than in any other in history and so that image was enshrined 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. At the time of the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda’s orders were rescinded but he never received the news in  the remote jungle area where he was based. Mass leaflet drops were carried out announcing the end of the war but the Japanese officer believed they were fake. A search party stumbled on the Japanese officer who had now lived for 30 years stranded somewhere between war and peace. 

When Jesus died on the cross, a war was won and a debt was paid for our rejection of God. It 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 news that freedom has arrived. It’s usually our pride that means we continue living life independent of God. The Bible says we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ but we have to choose to accept it. 

Those who accept God’s gift of new life become flag bearers of peace and reconciliation in this world. 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.

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