Love lifted me

It is interesting to read the obituaries of people who have recently died. Many, who are not well-known, have lived very interesting lives. The obituaries usually do not give details of the cause of death and often make no reference to the person’s faith in God. However, the Daily Telegraph recently published an obituary of Joan Winmill Brown, who died at the end of June at the age of 89. I had never heard of the lady, but her story was unusual.

Joan was a successful actress. In the years following World War II, when she was a rising star of the British stage and screen, she was introduced to Bobby Kennedy. He was attracted to the beautiful young actress and she became his secret girlfriend. When Bobby’s father, Joe Kennedy, found out about their relationship he ordered his son to end it. Their break-up, in early 1950, hit Joan hard; she sank into a depression during which she drank too much. She even considered suicide. She said, “At that time my world fell apart, but in hindsight I don’t believe I truly loved him. I think I was infatuated with his aura of wealth as much as the man himself.”

In 1954, a friend persuaded Joan to go to a Billy Graham Crusade in Harringay Arena. She recalled, “As I walked in the crowds were singing Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. I didn’t get it at all.” That night she was introduced to Ruth Bell, Billy Graham’s wife, and a lifelong friendship began that helped turn Joan’s life around. Later Joan received Jesus as her personal saviour and said, “God in Jesus showed me the way to happiness.” In 1952, she met Billy Brown whom she married. They both worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and, after they retired, lived in Hawaii. Billy died just a few months before Joan.

A hymn often sung at Billy Graham Crusades well expresses Joan’s testimony; “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I. All my heart to him I give, ever to him I’ll cling, in his blessed presence live, ever his praises sing. Love so mighty and so true, merits my soul’s best songs. Faithful, loving service, too, to him belongs. Love lifted me! Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, Love lifted me!

Pray for those in authority

This week the people of Britain will elect a new government. They will face some very big challenges, not least in how to deal with the increase in terrorist atrocities. The tragic recent events at Westminster, the Manchester Arena and London Bridge have raised grave concerns. The security services, who are doing an excellent job, are facing an unparalleled challenge. The number of people who have been radicalised, and the variety of ways in which the acts of atrocity are carried out, make it impossible to guarantee total security in our daily lives. How should we respond to this situation?

We should pray for those who govern us. The apostle Paul urged the early Christians to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Many have assured those affected by the recent atrocities that they are “in our thoughts and prayers.” Thinking about those who have suffered bereavement and life-changing injuries affirms our common humanity; we care about each other. Praying for them acknowledges that they, and we, need more than human help.

We need to have big views of God. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He created all things and sustains all things. He is the Lord of history. In the past, in times of national crisis, the British people were urged to pray. When Britain was close to defeat in World War II, and the entire British Army was trapped at Dunkirk, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer to be held on 26 May 1940. He called on the people to plead for God’s help. Millions of people responded and God heard their prayers and wonderfully intervened so that 335,000 soldiers were brought safely across the English Channel on hundreds of tiny boats.

At the National Day of Thanksgiving on 9 June 1940, people gave thanks to God for answering their prayers. Psalm 124 was read; “If the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On 6 August 1945 the United States Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. It was the first atomic bomb ever to be used. It killed 70,000 people immediately and destroyed 63% of all buildings in the city. In the months that followed another 70,000 people died from their injuries and the effects of radiation. On 9 August an even more powerful bomb was dropped on Nagasaki killing at least 70,000 people. The overwhelming majority of those who died were ordinary Japanese people. This is the only time nuclear weapons have ever been used in warfare. On 15 August Japan surrendered to the Allies. President Truman and Winston Churchill justified the use of atomic weapons because it shortened the war and saved far more lives than were lost.

Group Captain Leonard Cheshire was one of the most distinguished airman of World War II. In 1944 he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was a British observer on board an American plane when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. He was deeply affected by what he witnessed in the destruction of Nagasaki and resigned from the RAF. In 1948 he established The Leonard Cheshire Homes which provided care for disabled ex-servicemen to encourage and enable them towards independent living and the freedom to live life as they wished.

Today there are far more nuclear weapons in the world. 9 countries are known to possess nuclear weapons and several others are in the process of developing them. For the first time in history it is possible for all human life on earth to be destroyed. This is a terrifying prospect, especially because some nations and terrorist groups have hostile intentions towards their enemies and the Western world in general. Some people feel it is only a matter of time before nuclear weapons are used again with even more devastating consequences.

Jesus spoke about the course of world history. He said there would be continuing wars and conflicts, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.” He also taught that God is in control of world history and that, whatever happens, hope is held out to all people in him, “The Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

The Battle of Britain remembered

This summer we are remembering the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Britain. It was a crucial air battle early in World War II. In June 1940 France surrendered to Germany and Hitler began to plan the invasion of Britain. In order to do this the Luftwaffe needed to establish air superiority in the south of England so that an invading German army would face little effective opposition as it crossed the English Channel. The Luftwaffe had more fighter planes and bombers. The RAF depended mainly on Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire fighter planes.

During the summer of 1940 the Luftwaffe first attacked shipping in the Channel and coastal towns in the south of England and then attacked airfields, such as Biggin Hill, and radar bases. The young pilots of the RAF were in constant action flying as many as 5 times a day to repel the waves of Luftwaffe attacks. The aim was to destroy the RAF and render Britain defenceless against invading forces. It is estimated that between 10 July and the end of October 1940 the RAF lost 1023 aircraft whilst the Luftwaffe lost 1887. The RAF won the Battle of Britain and Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain and turned instead to invading the Soviet Union.

On 21 August 1940 Winston Churchill made a famous speech in the House of Commons. “The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unweakened by their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.“

These words remind us of the deep gratitude and love which Christians feel towards Jesus. By his death on the Cross he won a great victory over sin and death and hell and secured freedom and salvation for all who look to him for help. Hymnist Robert Robinson wrote, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” Since Jesus died and rose again millions of people from all nations on earth have experienced the amazing love and grace of God and have found true and lasting peace in Jesus. Never in the history of the world have so many owed so much to one man.

The man who saved 669 children

Sir Nicholas Winton has died at the age of 106. About 6000 people in the world today owe their lives to Nicholas. He was a stockbroker who became aware of the plight of Jewish families when he was on holiday in Prague at Christmas 1938. In the months leading up to the outbreak of World War II he organised the rescue of 669 Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia through an operation known as Kindertransport. He found homes for the children and arranged safe passage for them to Britain. The last group, which left Prague on 3 September 1939, was sent back because the Nazis had invaded Poland. Many of the parents perished in Auschwitz.

Nicholas kept the wonderful things he did, in saving so many Jewish children, secret for more than 40 years until in 1988 his wife, Greta, found a detailed scrapbook in the attic. In 2002, at the age of 93, he received a Knighthood for this work.

Nicholas illustrates the amazing contrasts there are in the actions of human beings. Seeing the growing power of the Nazis in Europe, which led to the death of millions of Jewish people, he took action to save lives. He said, “If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.” The death of millions of Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps was one of the greatest acts of evil in the history of the world. It is a warning to us all of the frightening capacity of the human heart for evil. The courageous act of one man in saving so many lives also shows us the amazing capacity of human beings for goodness and kindness.

The reticence of Nicholas to tell people what he did is remarkable. Jesus spoke of the great day when we will all stand before God in judgement. The King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” When the righteous say they can’t remember doing these things for him, the King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”

The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer remembered

This year we have been marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. We thank God for the many service men and women who courageously served in the Allied Forces against the Third Reich and the other Axis Powers. Many of them lost their lives in the conflict. There were also people in Germany who, both before and during the war, courageously stood against the power of Adolph Hitler.

One of them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor and theologian. As Hitler rose to power and his anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions intensified, Bonhoeffer, and others, united in opposition to him. They organised the Confessing Church that publicly announced its first allegiance to be to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer was banned from teaching theology and taught in an underground seminary at Finkenwalde until it was discovered and closed in 1937. Bonhoeffer went into hiding for two years and was banned from Berlin. Yet when synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned and demolished in November 1938 he went to Berlin.

In June 1939 Bonhoeffer left Germany to take a teaching post at Union Seminary, New York. Within a month, however, he returned to Germany and became a leader in the German underground movement. He raised money to enable Jewish refugees to be evacuated and was actively involved in seeking to undermine Hitler and his evil regime. The Gestapo arrested him in April 1943, soon after he had been engaged. In February 1945 he was transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp and was hanged at the Flossenbürg extermination camp on 9 April 1945, just days before the camp was liberated. He was 39 years old.

A camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he prayed and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

In 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship” that was a call to faithful and costly obedience to Jesus Christ. In it he wrote, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” His life and death are a great example of what it means to choose to follow Jesus Christ whatever the cost.

VE Day Remembered

This week is the 70th anniversary of VE Day when, on 8 May 1945, Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies. As World War II in Europe came to an end celebrations erupted from Moscow to Los Angeles. In Britain more than one million people celebrated on the streets of London. King George VI and the Queen, accompanied by Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were allowed to join the celebrating crowds incognito.

It is no wonder there were great celebrations. The dark years of World War II, the deadliest conflict in history, were over in Europe, and 3 months later the war in the Pacific also ended. During the War the Allies lost 61 million people, of whom 45 million were civilians. The Axis countries lost 12 million people, including 4 million civilians. Many millions of people were also injured.

The history of the world reveals the constant reality of evil and wickedness. In every generation wicked people kill and maim men, women and children in pursuit of their own evil ambitions. Every day we hear reports of the wars and conflicts in our world today. Will it ever come to an end?

The Bible answers this question and provides a coherent view of history. The universe didn’t come into existence by chance, but by the creative act of God. He created the heavens and the earth. Everything he created, including men and women, was good. In early history, however, sin entered the world as the first man, Adam, disobeyed the command of God. From that time on sin and evil have always been with us and stem from our rebellion against our Creator. The course of human history reveals the tragic consequences of this rebellion.

In his Son, Jesus, God decisively intervened in the history of the world to bring hope to the nations. By his death on the cross Jesus defeated death and the devil and brought a new age of hope for the peoples of the world. He sent his disciples into all the world to preach a message of good news and hope to all. As they have received Jesus as their Saviour, people from all nations have found peace with God and hope for the future. One day the Kingdom of God will be consummated and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” What a celebration there will be when that day comes!

Footprints in the Sand

Mary Stevenson was born on 8 November 1922 in Chester, Pennsylvania. Her life was far from easy. She was one of 8 children and lost her mother when she was just 6 years old. As a child she lived through the Great Depression that was a very difficult time for the whole family. While still in her teens, Mary married a man who became very abusive to her. She ran away with her infant son to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. After World War II she was divorced and her son was taken away from her. She moved to Los Angeles where she met and married Basil Zangare. Soon after Mary contracted polio. In 1980 Basil died following a heart attack and Mary herself died in January 1999.

When she was in her early teens Mary wrote a poem, “Footprints in the Sand”, that has become very well known and has been a help and comfort to many people. This is what Mary wrote:

“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was only one. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. So I said to the Lord,‘You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?’ The Lord replied, ‘The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.’”

Like Mary, we all experience low periods in our lives. It is so important at those times, even though we cannot understand what is happening to us, that we draw near to God and trust him. He is able to carry us, and our problems, and to give us a sense of his presence and peace. The early Christians faced great persecution; some were put in prison and many were executed. Through it all they found great comfort and strength in the promise of their Risen Lord, “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

D-Day Remembered

This week the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings will be commemorated. On 6 June 1944 the Allied Forces began a major offensive which was to prove decisive to the outcome of World War II. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The invasion fleet was drawn from 8 different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels. There were 195,700 naval personnel involved. The landings were preceded by air attacks involving 1300 RAF planes and 1000 American bombers.

My father-in-law was there. He saw many of his friends die in the fierce fighting that followed the invasion. When the war was over he returned safely to his family, but he didn’t speak of what he had experienced and seen. It was only shortly before he died, when his grandson and great grandson were preparing to visit Normandy on the 60th anniversary, that he got a map out and told them where he had landed and fought. Of the 61,000 British troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago fewer than 500 are alive today.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who gave their lives in the D-Day landings and in all the battles of World War II. For our tomorrow they gave their today. Over the past 70 years we have lived in peace and security. We also owe a great debt of gratitude to God who was pleased to spare us as a country from being invaded and occupied. The night before the Normandy landings King George VI broadcast a message in which he said the Allies faced the “supreme test” and called on the nation to pray for the liberation of Europe.

I’m sure many in Britain responded to the King’s call to pray. Certainly many of the young men preparing for the landings, and the great danger they faced, also prayed. They prayed to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and read from the New Testaments they had been given. God understood their situation and the fear that gripped their hearts. When he was a young man, Jesus had faced danger and death and had willingly laid down his life out of love for them. He also made a great promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Eric Lomax – “The Railway Man”

Eric Lomax, “The Railway Man”, served with the British Army during World War II. When Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942 Eric, then aged 22, became a prisoner of war. He worked on the Burma-Siam railway which was known as the “Death Railway.” More than 16,000 men died in the construction of that railway mainly from sickness, malnutrition and exhaustion.

In August 1943, a radio Eric had built was discovered. He and 6 others were severely punished. Two died, but Eric survived, remembering the crack of his own bones snapping and teeth breaking. As the ringleader, he was taken to another camp where he was water boarded and left to die in a small cage. One young officer, Takashi Nagase, stayed in Eric’s mind. He was an interpreter and told Eric, “You will be killed whatever happens.”

After the war Eric suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He married Patti in 1983 and she encouraged him to seek help. Halfway through his counselling sessions, Eric received a letter from a friend with a cutting from a Japanese newspaper. There was a photograph of Takashi Nagase and an article describing Eric’s tortures, and an experience Nagase had had that made him feel he had been forgiven for his sins. Eric was very angry.

Patti, with Eric’s permission, wrote a letter to Takashi asking him how he could possibly think he was forgiven. To her surprise, Nagase replied, expressing deep apologies and asking if he and Eric could meet. After 2 years Eric felt able to do this and, in 1993, went back to Thailand. On the bridge over the River Kwai two grey-haired men met and tentatively shook hands. Nagase bowed and humbly apologized for the suffering he had caused Eric, who simply nodded and said, “Thank you, thank you.” Up to that time Eric had not intended to forgive Nagase, but to kill him. He was still fighting the war and wanted revenge. Eric and Nagase became friends. The final words of Eric’s autobiography, published in 1995, are, “Sometimes the hating has to stop.”

We are all capable of committing evil acts which cause great pain to others. Guilt, anger and bitterness can consume us. In Jesus God, against whom we have sinned, draws near and offers forgiveness and reconciliation. John Newton, who had experienced God’s forgiveness for his wicked life, wrote, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear, it soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, and drive away his fear.”