Monday, March 25, 2013

Zombies and the resurrection


Watch out. They’re coming. And if they bite you, you’ll soon be joining them — after you die an agonizing death, reanimate and become one of the “undead,” that is.

I’m talking about zombies, of course. You can find them stumbling around looking for their next human snack in countless comics, books, computer games and movies. “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular shows on TV, follows the grim adventures of survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they fight off hordes of mindless-but-hungry creatures in Georgia. No wisecracks, please; that’s my home state.

How did zombies become so big all of a sudden? It’s not all that sudden. George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the low-budget movie that started the flesh-eating zombie craze, oozed onto theater screens in 1968. In fact, zombies entered American pop culture long before that. American soldiers who occupied Haiti in the 1920s brought back fearful tales of dead men working the fields, controlled by evil voodoo masters — part superstition, part folklore emerging from the brutal Caribbean legacy of slavery. “White Zombie,” starring Bela Lugosi (the original movie Dracula), came out in 1932.

There are any number of theories floating around about why folks are fascinated with zombies, ranging from our timeless appetite for scary stories to heavy-duty dissertations analyzing our fear of global pandemics, terrorism, world-ending wars and even the dehumanizing effects of consumer culture.

But there’s a deeper and more universal human fear underlying the zombie obsession: our dread of death itself. And what comes after.

“The zombie’s horror is that he is … a slave forever,” wrote theologian Russell Moore in a Baptist Press column last year. “After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free. That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians. Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They’re horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And beyond that, they still crave. … [T]hey are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slave master’s will. That’s our story” — the story, in other words, of fallen human beings enslaved by sin and death.

No matter how hard our youth-obsessed culture tries to convince us otherwise, we know death is coming. I appreciated the honesty of actress Valerie Harper, whose recent announcement that she has incurable brain cancer brought a national wave of sympathy. “We’re all terminal,” she responded to well-wishers in one interview. “And we have a lot of fear [about] death.”

To allay that fear, secularists and pop spirituality hucksters assure us there are no such things as heaven, hell or a God who will judge our sins in view of eternity. We know deep down they are wrong, but many of us go along with the charade or fail to challenge it. It’s a comforting fiction for folks who reject or redefine biblical truth. It won’t be very comforting on Judgment Day.

Then there are the millions who ignore death (and any other serious subject) altogether. They also tend to ignore their own souls and consciences. They “live” for the moment — like zombies. Perhaps you have noticed this tendency among those who have turned themselves over to technology, one of our contemporary false gods. Psychiatrist Keith Ablow described one of the worst manifestations of this form of idolatry in an article about the Ohio teens who stood by and watched, even taking and posting pictures and videos, as a female classmate rendered helpless by alcohol was sexually assaulted for hours:

“Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived ‘reality TV’ programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting, and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie. They are absent from their own lives and those of others. They are floating free in a virtual world where nothing really matters other than being cool observers of their own detached existence. …”

What a pathetic way to waste a life, which is intended by God to prepare us for eternity.

Evil takes ever-changing forms, but it comes from two ancient sources: sin and death. Only one Person has defeated both. Jesus knew His beloved friend Lazarus was dead before he reached Bethany, as the story is told in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. Lazarus’ sisters had sent word, begging Jesus to hurry to the village to heal their ill brother. But He delayed His arrival. By the time He got there, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.

“Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’ (John 11:39-44, NASB).

Jesus had authority over death, and He glorified His Father by raising Lazarus. On Easter morning, God glorified Himself by raising Jesus. At that moment, the power of sin and death was crushed for all time. For all who believe and follow Him, there is no longer any reason to fear death — or what follows. What follows is eternity in the presence of God.

Our zombified world desperately needs that message.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bill Hyde: ‘John Wayne of missions’


Ten years ago March 4, a bomb planted at a Philippine airport by a Muslim rebel group killed 23 people — including one American, a Southern Baptist missionary named Bill Hyde.

It’s ironic that Hyde, 59, died at the little airport in Davao City where he’d walked countless times — a place considered safe. He had made a habit of going into some of the most dangerous places in the Philippines. Places where you could get kidnapped, shot at, or worse, especially if you were a foreigner. He’d just returned from such a place that day.

Why did he willingly go to those dangerous places? After surviving the Vietnam War more than 30 years before, he vowed never to leave the United States again — or if he did, never to go anywhere near Southeast Asia. To understand his change of heart, you have to understand Hyde.

He grew up in a small farming town in Iowa, the home state he shared with his movie hero, John Wayne. He was a big, athletic kid with a ready smile — and ready fists. “His nickname was ‘Slugger,’” his older brother remembered. “He got into lots of fights.”

He had a strong will and a fierce competitive streak, but he wasn’t a bully. Mostly, he proved himself in sports — especially basketball and baseball. When he wasn’t working at his father’s hardware and farm implements store, he starred in both sports in high school and later earned a basketball scholarship to college.

Hyde was no one-dimensional jock; his competitive instinct extended to all games, including chess, and he was a voracious reader. “I could almost see Bill looking at the world like a giant ‘Risk’ game, thinking of how the most people could come to Christ in the shortest possible time,” said a missionary in later years.

He accepted Christ as his Savior at 12 during a Vacation Bible School and renewed his commitment during college. Music eventually overtook sports as top priority, and he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and choral literature from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. While attending Bethany Baptist Church near the university, he accepted a part-time job directing the choir and met Garlinda (Lyn) Gage, an attractive young woman singing in the alto section. They married in 1966.

Their early months of married life revolved around the church and college studies. But the U.S. Army intervened with a draft notice. Hyde served at the height of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in 1967-68.

He suffered no physical wounds, but bore unseen scars. When he returned, he stepped off the plane carrying a bag. Inside was a large piece of shrapnel. During a mortar attack on his camp, the shrapnel had ripped through the top of his tent — and through the center of his cot, where he had been lying only minutes before.

“God had spared Bill’s life,” said Lyn. “We didn’t know why, but we were thankful that for him the war was over. When Bill returned from the war, he informed me that he would never leave the United States again.”

But the Word of God changed his mind and heart.

“Bill’s favorite verse in the Bible was Matthew 28:16, which says, ‘Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go,’” Lyn explained. “The verses we know as the Great Commission follow. Bill lived by this passage. … He would tell people that if they went where Jesus told them to go, they would be able to carry out the Great Commission in those places.”

For the Hydes, that meant missionary service in the Philippines. They were appointed Southern Baptist missionaries in 1978. Their first assignment fit their skills and experience perfectly: teaching at Faith Academy, a school for children of missionaries near Manila. They spent 11 productive years there shaping young lives, including those of their sons. Never one to stay inside the bounds of walls and programs, Hyde seldom missed an opportunity to take students and choir groups on mission trips around the country.

He sensed God leading him toward a new task: teaching Filipinos studying theology at Southern Baptist College in M’lang, on the island of Mindanao.

“He had a passion to equip Filipinos for ministry and leadership,” says former missionary Don Phelps, a friend and co-worker in the Philippines. “On the weekends he would go out and invest himself in their lives and ministries. He had such a rapport with them; he was a natural at spending time with them and encouraging them.”

A grand vision began to grow inside him: to equip believers to train other believers, to equip churches to start churches, to multiply the Gospel throughout Mindanao and beyond. In 1997 the Hydes transferred to Davao City, and Bill began to focus all his energies on training church planters.

“Bill could be kind of intimidating until you got to know him,” said another missionary friend. “He was tall and barrel-chested, with a deep voice that boomed with authority and confidence. … He had an extensive collection of John Wayne movies, and we would always want to watch the Westerns while our wives would want more ‘sensitive’ selections. Bill even developed a theory on how John Wayne had influenced American theology.

“Bill himself was much like an ‘apostolic John Wayne.’ … Aside from the physical similarities, he approached life and ministry in a similar way. He took on the devil and refused to accept defeat, with a vision to expand the kingdom that was as big as the West. As big as Bill was, he was doing something that was bigger than himself.”

The key to his church-planting strategy was simple: like the Apostle Paul, he multiplied himself in other faithful men, who could in turn multiply themselves in others. He started by training a core group of seven Filipino men committed to church planting. As they became trainers, the circle widened into a network of hundreds.

He never went anywhere alone. He always took at least one young Filipino or missionary — and usually as many as he could pack into his vehicle — on his trips into the hinterlands. He trained Filipinos to start churches, then let them take the lead while he observed and encouraged. Most important, he flatly refused to do anything in ministry leadership that Filipino believers could do themselves.

One of those Filipino men was Eddie Palingcod, a member of Hyde’s original core group. Palingcod became the leading Baptist church-planting trainer for an entire province in the Philippines.

Hyde’s approach departed from the traditional idea of starting one church at a time. “He said to me, ‘Eddie, you need to train others to plant churches. It’s not that you’re doing the wrong thing now, but you need to multiply,’” Palingcod recalled after Hyde’s death. “It was hard for me to understand at first, but when I applied it, I got excited.

“Even though he is now living in heaven,” said Palingcod, “I told Bill, ‘It works!’”

Today Hyde’s legacy lives on in the hundreds of churches started through his ministry of multiplication. In the thousands of Filipinos won to Christ. In the ongoing ministries of missionaries he mentored and encouraged. In the ministry of his life partner, Lyn, who courageously returned to the Philippines in early 2004 and continued her work until retiring in 2009. In the lives of his sons, who followed in his mission footsteps.

Perhaps most of all, it lives on in the hundreds of Filipino men like Eddie Palingcod, who continue to live out the passion for church multiplying Hyde instilled in them.

“Every day I read the Bible Bill gave me before he died,” said Palingcod. “He was my discipler, but he was also just like a father. After his death, it was hard to continue. But at his memorial service, I told him in my heart, ‘Bill, I will continue.’
“Bill died, but his ministry is still alive.”
(To read more about Bill Hyde and other contemporary missionaries who have given their lives for Christ, read "Lives Given, Not Taken: 21st Century Southern Baptist Martyrs." Order the book at