"How Beautiful Are the Feet . . ."

Missions Emphasis Sunday
March 1, 1998

Where were you on January 28, 1986? If you’re having trouble, let me ask it another way: Where were you when Challenger exploded?

Only 74 seconds into what had appeared to be a flawless launch, a terrible explosion blew the space shuttle apart in the skies over Cape Canaveral, Florida. Crew families and NASA officials watched in helpless despair when a fireball above the Atlantic Ocean signaled the death of the seven people aboard Challenger. Debris from the crash rained into the Atlantic for more than an hour.

I was in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on that date. I had left Nashville on January 24 and flown to Rio de Janeiro to lead a conference for missionaries working in that country. About 150 people — including mates and children — were together for the annual conference.

Two days after the tragedy, I saw a group of people huddled around a Portuguese newspaper. The famous photograph of the exploding shuttle was on its front page. They were getting details from the printed story and relaying them to me. The fact that it was by then "old news" of 48 hours earlier — there was no CNN at the conference center in Belo — did not diminish its impact on us. We reacted with the same stunned silence that greeted the event everywhere.

On that trip, I taught a series of lessons from Ephesians. I met Max Lucado for the first time. And I was about as sick as I have ever been in my life! With the daytime temperature at 108° Fahrenheit, I made the mistake of eating a big, greasy, double-decker hamburger. Did I ever pay for that!

I left Nashville at 4:30 Friday afternoon and arrived in Brazil Saturday morning at 10:20 — with no luggage. Sunday came and went. Still no luggage. I preached for a Portuguese church that night in the clothes I had been wearing for 60 hours by then. They made sure to stand upwind of me! I thought I was going to spend the entire ten or eleven days of my trip in clothes I was washing out at night, hanging over chairs, and putting on still damp the next morning.

Monday’s classes and teaching sessions went well, and everybody was beginning to feel sorry for me — or was it them? — for being stuck in those clothes now for over 80 hours. Our day was finished, and I had retired to my room for the night. The comb, razor, and can of deodorant I had bought were with me. I was filling up the sink to do my laundry again before retiring for the night.

Then a knock came on my door. A young night manager was telling me that the airline people had finally located my bags and sent them by cab to the hotel. My luggage was safe, and we were about to be reunited.

Whatever misgivings the hotel manager had about Americans may have been confirmed by my reaction. I went a little crazy! My face lit up. I reached out for his hand, started pumping it for all I was worth, and thanked him profusely.

Startled by my reaction, the young man smiled and said, "But I didn’t do anything. The airline found your bags for you. I am only giving you the message that they have arrived."

In the instant the words came from his mouth, I thought of Paul’s use of these words from Isaiah: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news" (Rom. 10:15b). I shot a quick glance at the man’s feet and couldn’t resist a little laugh. How ironic that such a thing should happen in the middle of a missionary conference. And what an insight it gave me.

People like those 50 missionary families in Brazil are delivering the best possible news to people around the world. A preacher standing up in a little group of 20, 35, or 60 somewhere stateside today — a preacher with no impressive training for his task but with a passionate love for the gospel! — is bringing good news to people. A 16-year-old in Alabama who sent me a tape last week of a couple of his first sermons wants his life to be given over to telling the story of Jesus.

Those of us who preach the gospel don’t perform redemptive acts. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection — not our reporting of these wondrous deeds — is our theme. We just carry the message of what Jesus had done already. Like the man at the Brazilian hotel: We haven’t done anything. It was God who provided the free gift of eternal life. We are only giving the message that it is here and available for the taking.

What an honor to bear the good news. And what a thrill to see the excitement generated in the face and life of someone who hears it in faith.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom. 10:14-15).

Today you are not going to have to listen to me preach. You are going to get to hear about and hear from some of our missionaries to countries around the world. When you see them and their families up close, glance down at their feet. They’re beautiful to behold!

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