[COME, LET US] Worship the Lord with the beauty of holy lives…(Ps 96:9, TLB)
Opening Hymn: #1 Praise to the Lord
Closing Hymn: #532 Day by Day
Scripture Reading: Proverbs 3:5,6
Lord, you want me to do what?
His name is Mr. Wong, in his day he was known to friend and foe as Glorious Country Wong. His story is told on the pages of a book titled “The Man Who Couldn’t Be Killed” published by Pacific Press and authored by Stanley Maxwell. It is a story of modern day religious oppression, persecution and divine deliverance. It takes place in China.
My kids and I read the book together from cover to cover during my time in the wilderness, we’ll come back to that a little later, and when I set the book on my desk to prepare for this sermon my son saw it and said, “Daddy, can we read that book again sometime?” I read several inspiring books about the same time as I read “The Man Who Couldn’t Be Killed”. But of all the books I read this one I found to be the most inspiring. It was a tremendous encouragement to my faith and helped increase my desire to trust more fully and completely in the Lord. The cover on the back of the book was true to its billing, “Mr. Wong’s unflinching courage for the Savior and the miracles that saved his life will inspire you to believe in a God who is greater than any problem or circumstance”. I can’t recommend the book highly enough.
Now, unfortunately this morning I can’t give you a tremendous amount of detail about his story. A lot of stuff happened in the 203 pages of this book and every page is worth reading. But, what I will do for you this morning is give you a snapshot of what this man’s life was like between 1949 and 1979. So, let’s dive in!
Glorious Country Wong acquired two copies of the Bible when he stole them from a drugstore he pillaged while he was a sniper for the Chinese Resistance operating in Shanghai during the early years of World War II. He actually thought the pages of the Bible would be great for rolling cigarettes and since paper was scarce during wartime the pages of the books could be put to use by his number one wife Whey Lu to make shoe patterns as well.
The Japanese occupation of Shanghai would eventually end and Mr. Wong would return to civilian employment.
One day a friend, for whom Whey Lu had made a shoe pattern from the pages of the Bible, thought it would be a great prank to have a series of correspondence Bible studies sent to the Wong’s home. Mr. Wong actually studied the lesson and accepted Jesus.
Glorious Country Wong was a polygamist who smoked, drank, and gambled. I am so glad that Jesus can see diamonds in the rough?
His number two wife, Soong, was an opera singer whom he came to love more than his first wife. In 1946 just before his baptism his family included two wives, 5 children, 4 children by Whey Lu and a newborn baby girl by Soong.
Through his study of the Bible and the counsel of a pastor who had graded his correspondence studies Mr. Wong understood that something had to change is household arrangement. What would do?
I can imagine Glorious Country Wong sitting on the edge of his bed. Through the paper-thin walls typical of a Chinese home he hears the bustle of a busy household. His face looks burdened and troubled. His heart is breaking. There is a heaviness in the air. Lord, you want me to do what? Jesus is whispering is his ear, “Glorious Country Wong, trust in the me with all your heart do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge me and I will make your paths straight.”
Glorious Country Wong makes one of the first of many very difficult and heart-wrenching decisions. He parts with Soong and his baby girl giving them all the family’s jewels and savings. This single act of faithfulness impoverishes his family but would also warm Whey Lu’s heart to Jesus. How can a man give up something or someone he loves? Only if he has found something so much better that he is willing to sacrifice all to obtain it. Is Jesus worth everything to you today is He worth everything to me?
World II comes to a close Mao Tse-Tung, the son of a peasant farmer from the Hunan Province, makes his Long March and defeats President Chiang Kai-Shek. This opens the way for the establishment of the Communist Party and the doors to China are slammed shut. With the so-called liberation of China from foreign domination, all of the foreign missionaries where booted out of the country. Chinese Christians were not allowed to leave the country instead those who would not abandon or compromise their faith were persecuted.
Eventually Glorious Country Wong loses Whey Lu to tuberculosis. She too has accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior and 3 days before she dies she is given a vision of what the rest of the family is to suffer. She tells her husband “Don’t scold the communist or hate them. She tells him “You’ll endure much suffering but God will arrange everything.”
In 1959 Glorious Country Wong is torn from his family and imprisoned is a reeducation camp. Really it turns out to be a death camp. The idea was to feed the prisoners as little as possible and work them to death. And because Mr. Wong was so unswerving in his faith the guards and the prisoners worked together to break him. They wanted him to abandon his faith and glorify the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao. Not only would Wong not abandon his faith but he shared his faith with any prisoner who asked. And on multiple occasions his fellow prisoners turned out to be a Judases who turned him in prison officials. And on multiple occasions he was severely beaten.
One time in the dead of winter in 1961 Glorious Country Wong was taken outside in the snow. The temperature was 38 degrees below 0 Celsius. Their breath crackled as it froze before their eyes. Wong was tied to a post and left to freeze to death in the night. It was so cold the that the guard left to monitor him in the night retreated to the safety and warmth of the heated guard house believing it was senseless to die along with Wong.
After the guard left, Mr. Wong knowing he would freeze to death prayed to Jesus for help and in moments the ropes were untied and fell from his hands. That night he alternated between moments running to stay warm and sitting to avoid detection by the guard. The next morning as dawn broke he returned to the post he prayed again and his hands were miraculously retied. The guards went out that morning expecting to find a dead man but instead they found Wong alive and warm.
Over the years each time a new group of guards would cycle through the camp they would make a pointed effort to try get Wong to abandon his faith. And each time it was as if God was saying, didn’t those other guys tell about my servant here, this Glorious Country Wong. He serves me the Real God his Friend Jesus.
The last guards were extremely cruel. In 1968 they tied Glorious Country Wong’s hands behind his back and one of the inmates a particularly vicious fellow “grabbed Mr. Wong arms and lifted them (while tie behind him) over his head and brought them down to his waist in front, ripping the tendons in his shoulders and breaking both arms.” Now here is the miraculously thing, within 3 days he was healed.
Glorious Country Wong entered the prison at Tsinghai with 1500 men from Shangai. In the 20 years he was there 3500 other men also joined him there. A total of 5000 men were imprisoned at the camp for what turned out to be a death sentence for most. In 1979, 18 prisoners remained--of those 5 where chosen for release. Each requested travel papers to return to their families. Only one was given permission, Glorious Country Wong.
Proverbs 3:5,6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (NASB)
I suggest to you this morning that TRUST in the Lord is something that gives your FAITH life changing power.
Of course most of us are quite familiar with the Hebrews’ definition of faith found in chapter eleven verse one “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” KJV
Now, let me be candid with you. I’ve always had a little trouble wrapping my mind around the Hebrews definition. Maybe I am alone in this I don’t know. But let me share with you two dictionary definitions of faith. I think these definitions are a bit more concrete. So here is some food for thought.
The first definition is paraphrased from the American Dictionary of the English Language written by Noah Webster in the year 1828. The nice thing about this dictionary it was written before dictionaries became more secular and considerably more abbreviated in their definitions, as you will see in a moment.
Now here’s how Noah defines faith:
Faith is the assent of the mind (that is, to agree to something especially after thoughtful consideration) the assent of the mind to the truth of divine revelation, [based] on the authority of God's testimony,. . . [it is] an entire confidence or trust in God's character and …[in His statements about Himself], and in the character and…[teachings] of [Jesus] Christ with unreserved surrender of the will to his guidance. . . Let me repeat that again for you.
Faith is the assent of the mind to the truth of divine revelation, [based] on the authority of God's testimony,. . . [it is] an entire confidence or trust in God's character and …[in His statements about Himself], and in the character and…[teachings] of [Jesus] Christ with unreserved surrender of the will to his guidance.
Let’s unpack this a bit. Faith starts up here (point to head) in the mind. I think about what God has shared with me about Himself through the written word or spoken word (Romans 10:17) and through nature (Romans 1:20). I thoughtfully consider and accept His testimony about Himself (John 5:39, 1 John 5:5-13). Then I put my confidence in Him and I begin to trust Him and take Him at His word. Last I put my will into submission to His. This all happens, of course, by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Ed gives us a bit more succinct definition. Here how Merriam defines faith:
Faith is belief AND trust in AND loyalty to God I really like this definition. I can understand it. Faith is belief AND trust in AND loyalty to God I can wrap my mind around this one. And, I did and here what it says to me.
In the absence trust according to these definitions one actually lacks true faith. WHAT? Say that again. In the absence trust according to these definitions one actually lacks true faith.
You can say that you believe in God but if you are not willing to trust Him with every aspect of your life. If you are not placing your confidence in Him. If you are not relying on Him for help in times of trouble, for answers to the tough questions of life, for direction when you don’t know which way to turn do you really have faith in Him? James answers that question for us when he says in chapter two verse ninteen “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”
This is food for thought. If you only believe without trust, without confidence in Him, without reliance upon Him, your faith is incomplete. You are giving lip service to God.
Again our text this morning says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (NASB)
You know the only difficulty I have with this text is the word straight. When I think of straight I think of not crocked as in the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, it’s efficient. Or when you read the text in the KVJ and it says "he will direct your path" I've always hoped it meant God was going to be my divine navigator and he was going to keep me from mis-stepping.
Well, June of last year I was at a point in my ministry at my home church and in my life where I was actually anxious about what was coming next. I was asking the question, Lord, you want me to do what? I knew something was coming and I didn’t know what it was. I had pulled away from the church and was just coasting along. Then it came. I lost my job. The day it happened I actually went home and wept because I couldn’t believe what had just happened. My wife if she were here would tell you I’m not one to cry. In the 12 years we’ve been together she never seen me cry nor do I recall in as many years as I can remember weeping as I did that day. I was grieved to the core of my being at what had happened. It seemed like I wasn’t on the straight path. And it felt like my divine navigator had put on blinders for a minute we had just flown into the side of a mountain. I know that sounds horrible, but isn’t that the way it feel sometimes when you are going through difficult times.
Straight. He will make your paths straight. I did a little research into this word straight. I consulted, yes, more dictionaries but I abandoned Naoh and Merriam and instead elected to use something a bit more orthodox. I consulted two dictionaries the "Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament" and the "Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament)"
This word translated straight in the NASB is an exciting word. It has a couple shades of meaning.
It can mean: to make (a way) straight,” i.e. direct and level and free from obstacles, as when preparing to receive a royal visitor. Who might that royal visitor be? Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Or straight can mean [to] be upright, that is, [to] be just and in a right state or association to a compelling standard. What might that compelling standard be? Jesus and His Word.
Now before I use these definitions in my verse I want to give you another Bible translation of the text. This is the Amplified version. Here’s how it reads:
“Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”
So let's put it all together now. Now please allow me some liberty here.
“Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind do not lean on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize acknowledge Him and He will make your path to Him direct and level and free from obstacles to prepare you to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Now one more time with second shade of meaning.
“Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind do not lean on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize acknowledge Him and He will make your path upright and just and in a right relationship to Him and His Word.
It’s that your what He is doing in your life? Aren’t our experiences design to fit us an prepare us for heaven? And every design is uniquely fitted to us, our characters, our experiences, our life situations.
That little word straight makes the text so encouraging. Because it says that as you are trusting in Him, and not in your talents or your intellect or your wealth or anything else we tend place our trust in other than God. And as you are laying your decisions before Him the paths you take are going to lead to a deeper relationship with Him. It doesn’t mean that everything along the trail is going to be pleasant. I doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I doesn’t mean you are not going to get hurt. But you can be assured that path you’ve taken, as you are trusting in God, it will lead to Him.
You known that’s been my experience. In spite of all the trials and tribulations God is good, and faithful, and just and I know him better today than yesterday. I expect that is same for each of us. And if we had the opportunity to talk Glorious Country Wong I expect he would say however horrific the events of his life have been He now has deeper relationship with his friend Jesus that he had first began.
Proverbs 3:5,6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”
As you trust in Him your faith will be more complete as you trust in him He will give you more of himself as you trust in him you’ll become more like Him.