Against the Odds: The Sandals Of Peace
I love the story about the Indian tribe gathered together in a tribal council. They wondered what the Great Chief in the sky had in mind for them in the land beyond this land and so they appointed their greatest warrior to go up on the high Holy Mountain to confer with the Great Chief in the sky. He was gone for several days. When he returned, all of the tribe clustered about him and asked, “What did the Great Chief say about what’s going to happen to us after we die?” The warrior replied, “Well, I have good news and bad news and awful news and wonderful news.” The people drew close to hear.
“First the good news”, said the warrior. “The Great Chief has reserved for us one hundred thousand acres of the finest land in all of Heaven.” The people cheered, “That’s great! But what’s the bad news?” The warrior said, “The bad news is the Great Chief has reserved ten thousand acres right in the middle of our land for the Baptists to build a church.” The people groaned, “That’s bad alright but what could the awful news be?” The warrior replied, “The awful news is that the Baptists are growing like wildfire. There are thousands and thousands of them and they are starting churches everywhere!” And the people groaned again, “That’s awful, so what in the world is the wonderful news?” The warrior smiled and said, “The wonderful news is that the Baptists taste a whole lot like good buffalo!”
Well, now that I have offended about half the population of the United States, let me get on with this sermon. For I have some good news, some bad news, some awful news and some wonderful news. The good news is that we have a Christ who has come into this world to save us. The bad news is that we are living in a world where evil is a powerful force. The awful news is that we are living in a time and a society which stands against our Christ and His Gospel message. But the wonderful news is that in the end our Christ and all who belong to Him will win!
Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus contains that same good news, bad news, awful news and wonderful news. That is why at the end of the letter, he called those Christians who were standing for Christ in the midst of a society standing against Christ, to put on the whole armor of God. That’s the secret to ultimate victory in the faith and the third piece to which Paul alludes is the Christians’ footwear. He writes, “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the Gospel of Peace”. I like the way the New Century Bible translates that verse. “On your feet, wear the good news of peace to help you stand strong”.
The Roman soldier needed good footwear. A soldier that couldn’t keep his footing was a vulnerable soldier. Josephus, the ancient historian, described the Roman soldier’s footwear as “thick soled sandals studded with sharp nails”. They were like spiked or cleated athletic shoes. Thus they could keep their footing in all conditions. We know that the military successes of Alexander The Great and Julius Caesar were due to their armies ability to undertake long marches at great speed over rough terrain. They could not have done that unless their feet were well shod.
The same holds true for the spiritual battles in which we are engaged today. We must keep our footing no matter how treacherous the ground. The image of the soldier’s sandals is a helpful one. The sandals were a matter of grip, a matter of grit, and a matter of gumption. The sandals secured traction; they provided protection and they enhanced mobility. Let’s translate that into living the Christian life in a time like ours.
Look first at the matter of grip.
The sandals of the Gospel of Peace secure our traction. They help us to keep our footing. They enable us to stand assured of our victory in Jesus Christ.
George Beverly Shea, the great baritone, who has sung for so many years with Billy Graham, lives at Montreat, North Carolina. I remember visiting with him there and in the course of the conversation, he told me how people were forever sending him songs that they had written and they would always say, “This song was given to me by God so you ought to sing it on the radio.” Bev Shea told me that he keeps all of those songs, some of them are bad, some of them are even worse, but he keeps them anyway. He went on to tell me that recently, a woman called him and wanted to know why he had not sung her song.- He said, “Well, if you will give me the title of the song, I will get it out and we will discuss it,” The woman said, “Well, alright, but I want you to know the Lord gave me that song and He told me that song was going to turn out to be greater than ’How Great Thou Art’.” Bev Shea was surprised. He said, “That’s remarkable. So you just tell me the title of your song and I’ll get it out.” The woman said, “The name of my song is His Grip Don’t Slip.”
Now, laying aside the fact that our perfect Lord doesn’t speak in butchered grammar and laying aside the fact that Bev Shea said the music in that song was even worse than the grammar, the fact is there is sound theology in the title! You see, “His grip don’t slip”. Because when God grips us in His saving embrace, He never slips, He never loses that grip, He never lets go of us. Remember, how when Jesus was speaking of Himself as the Good Shepherd, He said, “No sheep is ever taken from my hand”. Oh, my beloved, when you know that to be true; when you know that Christ is yours and you are His; when you know that nothing in this world can pull you out of the loving hand of God, it gives you incredible strength. You can take a lot of set-backs along the way. You can even take a lot of bashing if you know that in the end, you are going to win. You can lose lots of rounds. You can give up a lot of yardage (or insert here any other metaphor which comes to your mind). But when you know that ultimately the victory will be yours in Jesus Christ, then you can stand firm in the face of anything life sets against you.
It’s not easy—no one ever said it would be. Sometimes, in the face of life’s difficulties we quake in fear and we feel as if we are going to collapse but through it all, God never lets us go. His Grip Don’t Slip! Therefore; if our spiritual feet are shod with the Gospel, then we can stand secure no matter the terrain.
Now the second function of the sandals had to do with grit.
The soldiers had courage. They had true grit because they knew that the thick soles of their sandals provided protection for their feet. You see, in those days, they used to try and hurt soldiers by taking thorns or sharp sticks, dipping them in poison, then burying them just beneath the dust surface of the roads. The soldiers who did not have protective footwear would step on those sharp thorns or sticks. The poison points would pierce their skin and wound or sometimes even kill the soldier. That’s the second function of the sandal in the Christian’s armor. To protect us from the things that can hurt or wound us.
For so long a time now, the Los Angeles riot and the events surrounding it and flowing from it, have captured the headlines in our daily news. We know only too well the stories of horror and brutality and violence and destruction associated with that cataclysmic explosion of human evil. But we may not know so well the stories of faith and grace arising from that riot. Here is one of them. We have heard about Reginald Denny being jerked out of his truck and severely beaten but he wasn’t alone in that experience. There was another man, a Hispanic named Fidel Lopez, who was also dragged from his truck and beaten senseless by the rioters. He was being hit mercilessly with sticks and bats and bottles. He was being kicked repeatedly and pummeled with angry fists. A crowd of people stood by and watched. Suddenly, an African American preacher, his name is the Rev. Bennie Newton, happened onto that scene and immediately he ran out into the street, dove onto the ground and covered Fidel Lopez’s body with his own. He screamed at the wildeyed mob, “Stop it!” They turned on him. He had nothing with which to protect himself except the Gospel of love in Jesus Christ. He said to the attackers , “To kill him you are going to have to kill me, too.” Bennie Newton turned back the rioters. Then he picked up the unconscious Fidel Lopez and drove him to the Daniel Freeman Hospital. Later, the Rev. Newton took up a collection at his church to repay Fidel Lopez the $3,000 the looters had stolen from him that afternoon. Some days later, the two men met again. They hugged each other and cried. Fidel Lopez said to Rev. Newton, “How can I ever thank you? You saved my life but why, why did you risk it?” Newton replied, “Because I am a Christian. I believe in sowing love not hate. I believe in helping not hurting. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Love.” By the way, the Rev. Bennie Newton is the Pastor of the Light of Love Church in South Central Los Angeles. Tell me he isn’t living up to the name of his church and standing up for the sake of his Lord!
My beloved, we are living in a time when there are those who lie in wait to destroy us as Christians. Sometimes, it’s overt and violent, like those thugs who went after Bennie Newton. Other times, it’s much more subtle and quiet. Make no mistake, the powers of evil are attacking the Church of Jesus Christ today. Sometimes the scriptures are attacked. Sometimes our faith is belittled. Sometimes the Christian life is ridiculed. That’s why it is imperative that we have upon our spiritual feet the sandals of the Gospel to protect us from the traps and the thorns designed to bring us down. We can be Christians of grit and courage, like Bennie Newton, when we know that we are protected by the Gospel of peace and love.
Now what is the third function of the sandals?—To give us gumption.
The sandals give us the gumption to move, to move quickly and effectively. All great military tacticians have been masters at the art of moving their troops. Mobility, more often than not, is a key to victory. That was the great secret of Alexander, with his phalanx method of attack. Napoleon was so effective in moving his men that he sometimes fought two or three battles in the same day in different places. Robert E Lee kept the North on edge for three years with a much smaller army because the North could never figure out where he was going to be next. You remember how many troops we had to send to North Africa to try to catch Rommel, the Nazi General who moved his forces so rapidly. Patton did the same thing with the Third Army and it was their mobility that enabled them to capture large portions of Europe. Of course, Eisenhower’s military genius was summed up in the “D-Day” expedition- when so many were moved in such a short time to undertake such a large task.
The Christian soldier is mobile. He is on the move. Two reasons. First, it’s hard to hit a moving target. Second, a good offense is often the best defense. Go back to the Old Testament with me. You remember when David faced off against Goliath? King Saul had tried to give David his set of armor. Now David was just a shepherd boy and the full sized armor was way too big for him. It was so big that he couldn’t move. So David said to Saul, “I can’t wear your armor. My whole secret of success is my dependence upon God and my ability to move quickly. Goliath is stumbling around out there like a big blundering dinosaur but I’m going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” Sure enough. David’s ability to move won for him the victory.
That’s what this message of the sandals is all about. In a world which stands against Jesus Christ, we are not to hunker down and hide. We are not to retreat behind the walls of the church and pretend that the world isn’t out there. Instead, we are to move out into the world with the Gospel of Peace. That’s our task and our ministry. To tell every person on this planet, that that person can have peace with God. We are to go to every person on this planet and introduce them to the One who is the Prince of Peace. We are to be the agents of God’s peace on this plundered planet of ours. That’s why in this Church in 1994, God willing and our people giving, we are going to be moving out in wonderfully new and creative ways to fulfill our mission as a Church. And what is that mission? Here it is: “Our church’s response to the call of God is to create within the heart of the city, a community where people are confronted by the power of the Gospel and learn to live their lives through Christ in the world”. May God help us to achieve that goal.
So: I have some good news, bad news, some awful news and some wonderful news. The good news is that we have a Christ who has come into this world to save us. The bad news is we live in a world where evil is a powerful force. The awful news is that we are living in a time and a society which stands against our Christ and His Gospel of Peace. The wonderful news is that if we stand for Jesus Christ in life, in the end, we cannot lose.