The Death of Chairman Mao – History for September 9

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On this date in 1976, Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, founder of the communist People’s Republic of China, died at the age of 82.  Some look at Mao’s death as a positive turning point for Christianity in China, since under Mao China had expelled all Western Christian missionaries between 1949 and 1953.  However, while it is impossible to come up with precise numbers across a 3.7 million square mile country, Christians probably were about 1 percent of China’s population when Western missionaries were kicked out, but by the 1980s about 5 percent of the population went by Christ’s name.  The Christian population grew by ten times, while the overall population doubled.  How did this happen?

Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, authors of the book “Clouds of Witnesses” say the key to this growth was “the resilience of the Chinese believers themselves…securely rooted in Chinese life before Mao.” [1]  In expelling missionaries, Mao was in part responding to “treaty ports” created at the end of the 1839-42 Opium War.  Through these ports foreign powers had extra territorial rights, allowing influences including missionaries to come in, but these ports also allowed opium to flow freely into China from Western countries.  Therefore, in the mind of many Chinese, Christianity became linked with both Western imperialism and opium addiction.  When Karl Marx said “religion is the opiate of the masses” he may have been thinking of this connection.  But native Chinese believers, sometimes planted by Europe-based evangelizing organizations like China Inland Mission, remained behind and spread resilient forms of Christianity that were attractive to the Chinese population.

John Sung
Several of these Chinese Christians are profiled by Noll and Nystrom, including John Sung who lived from 1901 to 1944, before Mao’s communist revolution.  Around Christmas 1926, Sung heard child evangelist Uldine Utley preach a sermon at Calvary Baptist Church in New York, near where he was attending Union Theological Seminary.  This sermon, along with other influences, countered the liberal Christianity he was being taught where the Bible was just “a collection of myths.”  He returned to China, determined to spread the gospel in the land of his birth with frenetic energy.  In a one-year period in 1931-2, Sung and a small group of missionaries “traveled over 50,000 miles, held 1,200 meetings, preached to more than 400,000 people in thirteen provinces, registered more than 18,000 ‘decisions’” for Christ.  Many of these new Christians formed traveling bands themselves.  Sung is considered the last great evangelist in China and Southeast Asia before Mao’s reign. 

Dora Yu
Even earlier, another driver of this resilient, Chinese Christianity was Dora Yu (1873-1931).  Dora’s ministry benefitted tremendously from a 1905 decision by Dowager Empress Cixi to replace China’s traditional Confucian civil service examinations with general public schools.  Under this system, mission-run schools became a valued option, and one of Dora’s early ministries was to train “Bible women” to not only educate women generally, but also to teach them the Bible, pray with them, and teach them to live by faith.  Mostly traveling by foot, in “1903, Dora Yu visited with 925 women and 211 children.”  Later, her ministry grew and she became famous for itinerant preaching, reaching many others who would carry on the Lord’s work.

Because of our proneness to look at
the bucket and forget the fountain,
God has frequently to change His
means of supply to keep
our eyes fixed on the source

Watchman Nee

Watchman Nee
In 1920, Nee Shu-Tsu would hear Dora Yu preach.  Later known as Watchman Nee, he “planted at least four hundred Christian churches over a thirty-year period of active ministry.”  He died in 1972 in a Communist prison after spending 20 years there.  Watchman Nee wrote that “Because of our proneness to look at the bucket and forget the fountain, God has frequently to change His means of supply to keep our eyes fixed on the source.”  Whether it is a European missionary, a child preacher in New York City, a Chinese man temporarily studying in New York City, or a Chinese woman walking miles through the countryside:

How beautiful upon the mountains
            are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
            who publishes salvation,
            who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” – Isaiah 52:7

As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  This rock is the gospel of the kingdom of God, and not even a brutal regime like that of Chairman Mao could prevail against it.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Noll, Mark A.; Nystrom, Carolyn.  Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia (2011).  This post is drawn from chapters 12 and 14.

Letting God Pick Our Battles II

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The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” yet he also wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 that “to keep me from becoming conceited,” a “thorn was given me in the flesh.”  He writes: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

The nature of Paul’s “thorn” has been disputed for centuries, but Galatians 4:13 suggests it was a physical problem, a “bodily ailment” rather than a moral shortcoming.  So, the lesson of the “thorn” is not that God prevented Paul from overcoming some specific sin to keep him humble – He wants Paul (and us) to be satisfied with nothing less than righteousness.

However, one lesson of the “thorn” is that Paul didn’t mean by “I can do all things” that he could do whatever he wanted and succeed.  Instead, the “thorn” is an example of a battle Paul would not win, because this “thorn” had a purpose in bringing Paul closer to God’s grace and power.  In God’s wisdom, Paul was better off with this ailment than without it.

Yesterday’s post said “Picking your battles, rather than trying to fight and win every fight that comes your way, is a good piece of advice.  However, who should pick which battles to fight?”  In the case of the “thorn”, God picked a battle for Paul not to fight, telling him instead to focus on growing in faith.  The thorn had a purpose in Paul’s striving toward righteousness, which was more important than any physical ailment.  Had Paul continued to insist to God that the thorn should be removed, he would still have the thorn, but he would also not grow in his relationship with his Lord.

Sometimes there are battles He wants us to fight in His strength for His glory, and sometimes there are battles He tells us not to fight so we can focus on His grace and power while in this life, in light of His promises to heal our physical ailments in Paradise.

Today’s post closes the same way as yesterdays: “Sometimes life is hard on purpose, so that God alone may be glorified in victory, and also so that we may grow in our faith in His strength.  When we let Him pick our battles, we learn that His righteousness is the only thing that will satisfy us.  Nothing less will do.”

Letting God Pick Our Battles

Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay

Picking your battles, rather than trying to fight and win every fight that comes your way, is a good piece of advice.  However, who should pick which battles to fight?  The Old Testament book of Judges is a record of the consequences of Israel’s failure to completely conquer the promised land, a battle God gave them to fight and win.  Judges also shows more generally what happens when anyone picks the wrong battles to fight: they end up with less than what God intended for them.

For example, Judges 1:19 tells us: “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.

This verse, especially the second part, is written from a human perspective.  God did not tell Israel to conquer all of the promised land, except for the plains.  God is not afraid of chariots.  He told them to conquer all of it, but Israel thought that chariots couldn’t be defeated, so they decided not to fight in the plain.  By using their own judgement and preferring to fight in hills or forests where chariots were less effective, they failed to fully receive what God had promised them.

An application to us is that our inheritance is Christ’s righteousness, and Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.[1]  Jesus is telling us that righteousness is like food and drink.  We can never have enough because no matter how much we eat and drink, our hunger and thirst soon return.  We are all in different places, at different levels of knowledge and maturity, but in Christ we are all on the same path and have an appetite only He can satisfy.

To be satisfied, we cannot settle for what we have already accomplished, the hill country we have already taken.  To be satisfied, we must fight the chariots in the plains if that is what God wants us to do, so that we learn to rely on His strength.  To be satisfied, we move from only fighting battles we choose based on our own wisdom and ability to choosing the battles we will win in His strength.

Sometimes life is hard on purpose, so that God alone may be glorified in victory, and also so that we may grow in our faith in His strength.  When we let Him pick our battles, we learn that His righteousness is the only thing that will satisfy us.  Nothing less will do.


[1] Matthew 5:6

A Detour into the Total Perspective Vortex

In the previous post in this series on our Master’s voice, I wrote that: “We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.”  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes great illustrations come from strange fictional places, like Jim Carrey movies and Douglas Adams books for example.

In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,[1] the sequel to the sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams imagines a technology that harnesses full awareness of the universe as a profoundly cruel torture device.  When Trin Tragula invented the “Total Perspective Vortex” to annoy his wife who kept accusing him of blowing things out of proportion, he found that when he tested it on her, “the shock completely annihilated her brain.”  A victim is placed in the TPV and presented with a realistic model of the entire universe, with a tiny dot on top of a tiny dot that says, “you are here.”  He concluded that “a sense of proportion” in such a massive universe would only make someone feel completely insignificant, hopeless, and insane beyond all hope of recovery.  It’s a sci-fi comedy, but still, be careful what you wish for.

Another example from a different angle is the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty.  This hilarious (but irreverent) comedy is based on Carrey’s character Bruce Nolan raging against God about his frustrating life.  God, played by Morgan Freeman, appears and challenges Bruce to do any better, giving him “the job” for a temporary period to teach him a lesson.  The 3-ish-minute video embedded here is my favorite part of the movie, where Bruce tries to figure out how to deal with his new awareness of all the prayers of the world.

If God thought it was possible, or a good idea, for us to know it all, we would.  After all, even Nipper the dog from the “His Master’s Voice” painting would be distracted and unable to get anything done if he saw this picture, even though it contains only good news:

Our Master speaks to us as our creator, knowing both our limitations, but also what we are capable of as His marvelous creatures if we trust Him!

This post is fourth in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…


[1] Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  (1980).  P. 79

God Tells Gideon a Secret

Photo by Byron Johnson on Unsplash

Today we come back to the topic of our Master’s voice, which began with the painting “His Master’s Voice” and continues through the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7.  So far, Gideon has done his best to discern whether God was really talking to him, then set out with an army of 22,000 soldiers, which Gideon faithfully whittled down to only 300, at God’s instruction.  Against an army “like locusts in abundance,” Gideon might have needed a little reassurance, because outside of a miracle[1] his army was going to fail miserably.

That very night, God spoke to Gideon, saying: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.  But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.  And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.[2]  We know Gideon was still afraid because he took Purah and went down into the camp.  We also know that God made provision for Gideon’s fear, instead of counting on Gideon to have perfect faith.  Should Gideon have needed extra reassurance?  No, but God provided what was needed to overcome Gideon’s fear, which was a bit more insight into God’s plan.  Victory in battle is never a matter of how many soldiers are on God’s side, as if spiritual warfare was determined by democracy, but by whose side God is on.

When Gideon snuck into the camp: “behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’  And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’”[3]

Victory in battle is never

a matter of how many

soldiers are on God’s side

Some commentators suggest that the “barley” reference means that an inferior army would win, since barley was considered inferior to wheat and other grains, but what we know is that this dream put fear into the Midianite camp and emboldened Gideon to trust God, even though he didn’t understand Him.  Overhearing these words in the camp let Gideon know that that God was at work in far more ways than he could imagine, that victory belongs to the LORD, and that he can trust that God has the knowledge he lacked.  God is trustworthy, even if we don’t fully understand Him.

We only know part of our part in God’s plan.  He knows all of our part, and also all of everyone else’s part.  Each of us are but one of millions of Christians trying to figure out our relationship with God, and we have no idea what those other millions are up to.  But God does, and if we insist God tells us everything before we act, we not only disobey God, but lose out on the opportunity to impact those other lives and see how awesome God’s plan really is!

Our ability to hear and obey our Master’s voice is not a question of complete knowledge, but of wisdom.  Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”  Since “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,[4] from the story of Gideon, we learn that God was teaching Gideon to revere Him above any desire to see the “ends of the earth.”  Wisdom keeps us on the path of life but doesn’t always mark it out for us far into the future.  We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29


This post is third in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…


[1] Or a certain action film directed by Zack Snyder…
[2] Judges 7:9b-11a
[3] Judges 7:13-14
[4] Proverbs 9:10