I love Christmas.
I love the music, the lights and the surprises. I love being with family and exchanging gifts. I love reading again the humble beginnings of our Lord Jesus Christ. I love to think about the promise delivered by the angel: "Dont be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:10, HCSB).
But fighting long lines at department stores, maxing out our credit cards and becoming exasperated distracts Christians from focusing on that "Good News." At best many give cursory thought to the baby in the manger. However, that baby in a manger could not save us from our sin and allow us to escape the judgment that awaited us. It was a man on a cross - a martyr - who believed the message He had to share was more precious than life itself. How my heart aches praying that more Christians lived with that intensity of focus. Thank God many have - and it has cost them their lives as well.
It was nearly three years ago (Dec. 30) that a gunman slipped into the Baptist Hospital in Jibla, Yemen, and killed Bill Koehn, Kathy Gariety and Martha Myers. In the blink of an eye, three Southern Baptist workers passed into eternity, literally giving their lives so that the Muslims of Yemen could hear the Good News of the Savior proclaimed by the angel.
Less than three months later (March 2003) a terrorists bomb killed Southern Baptist missionary Bill Hyde. The big missionary with a big heart full of love for the people of the Philippines was dead after 25 years of service, but thousands of Filipinos not only heard the Good News but experienced the joy of knowing the Savior who was born in Bethlehem.
Just a year later (March 2004), Southern Baptist workers David McDonnall, Karen Watson and Larry and Jean Elliott were killed when terrorists opened fire with high-powered rifles on their small truck. The four, along with Davids wife, Carrie - who survived - were in northern Iraq surveying potential water purification projects in the area around Mosul. Their hope was to bring the Good News of the Living Water to a spiritually dry and thirsty land.
Jan. 8 will be the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, and Peter Fleming. The five were killed while taking the Good News to the Waodani people deep in Ecuadors jungle.
The deaths of David Mankins, Mark Rich and Rick Tenenoff, three missionaries with New Tribes Mission, were confirmed in early 1996. Colombian guerillas had kidnapped them three years earlier from their home near the Colombian-Panamanian border where they shared the Good News among tribal peoples.
Its been nearly 64 years since New Tribes first missionaries - Cecil and Bob Dye, George Hosback, Dave Bacon, and Eldon Hunter - ventured into Bolivias jungle to share the Good News with the Ayor tribe. They were buried near where they were killed.
There is the expression that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, but some say these missionaries died in vain. I say we shame ourselves if we even think in that manner. Spiritual fruit continues to be harvested from the sacrifice made by each of these mentioned above. We cheapen the proclamation of the angel when we live in the comfort of a "domesticated Christianity," as Erwin McManus calls it. We too often miss the point. The church does not exist for us. Most seem to feel that the church exists to provide for them, please them, and satisfy them. It isnt for us - it is for those outside and away from God. Gods intention is that we inside the church leave our domesticated Christianity and go to them.
But the church has lost its sense of mission. It has accommodated herself to cultural climate. Church is no longer changing culture. Instead it is being changed by culture. The average church member has little or no awareness of mission as a Christian. We have two purposes in this life: To worship God and to make His name known among the nations. Sometimes making His name known is dangerous. Countless common people beyond Americas borders die a martyrs death everyday because they realize the joy theyve found in Jesus Christ is greater than any harm man can bring against them.
In a note to his wife shortly before going into the jungle, Cecil Dye wrote:
"I dont believe we care so much whether this expedition is a failure so far as our lives are concerned, but we want God to get the most possible glory from everything that happens, and we know that the powers of Hell are marshaled against anything that would bring about this desired aim. On the other hand, it seems that it would be a real testimony to the Lords power to make this expedition successful. Then again, perhaps, more Christians would become more aware of their responsibility to lost men and less concerned over the material things of this life if the expedition failed and we lost our lives. Maybe they would pray more for the next group that went to the same tribe, and maybe, there would be more "all out" volunteers so that every tribe would be reached in our generation. I believe the real attitude of every fellow in this group is that they want, at any cost, that which will glorify God most."
This Christmas, Im not calling you to martyrdom; only God can do that. What I am praying is that through this column you "would become more aware of [your] responsibility to lost men and less concerned over the material things of this life." We honor the deaths of those who have shed their blood by pressing forward into the world with the same Good News proclaimed by the angel. (Southern Baptists have a great opportunity to do that through the International Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering). More importantly, we honor Jesus Christ.
This Christmas, take a few moments to consider whether or not the gift youre giving is worth your life. Arent you glad the gift Jesus gave was worth it? Now share His gift with someone else.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 9, 2005.]