Declare His Glory

Delivered October 29, 2000 by Dr. Neil Thompson.

Sermon Text:
Psalm 96:1-6

I want to welcome all of you who are joining us by radio today. We are glad that you could be with us and we pray that this is a time of blessing for you. This is our missions celebration this week. In fact, today wraps it up and we have a special treat for you with a special preacher. We hope this time is a time for you when you can truly feel that you are one with us in heart as we worship our Lord together. Thanks. And now I would like to ask Neil Thompson to come forward. Wannee Thompson, the wife of our preacher, is going to be reading in a different translation from what you will find in your pew Bible. Although if you would like to read along you can find it on page 426 of your red pew Bibles, but you may have some trouble following along. But rest assured, there are some people who actually would understand this and many people actually would have read this about 12 hours ago in their morning worship on the other side of the world.

(Verses read in the Thai language and then singing)

Amen. Well, we have a special treat this morning because bringing the Word of God to us and preaching to you this morning is Dr. Neil Thompson. Neil to most of us, the Doctor comes because he is a medical surgeon and has been practicing surgery in Central Thailand for 20 some odd years. He has also been associated with Central for more than 20 some odd years so it is really a privilege to have Neil, Wannee, and the family with us. It is also a privilege of mine to call him a good friend, and let me also give one more quick announcement which will be the first that most of you have heard of this. Although it will be a loss for Thailand, Neil has accepted the position of National Director of OMF, the mission agency that began as China Inland Mission some 150 years ago. So we also pray for him and God’s richest blessings upon him as he now leads that mission agency as they seek to be faithful to God in Asia. And so, Neil, it is a pleasure to have you with us and to be able to hear the Word of God through you. Thanks.

Thank you Jerry. First things first. First thing I need to do with my Central family and Central home is to say thank you. Nathan, Kevin, Wannee and I have felt very closely part of you and your lives. Many of you are close personal friends, encouragers, letter writers. You have done many things to encourage us and we thank you for it. What we call, what we have is really kind of a partnership. I can’t do all the things that you do and you can’t do all the things that we do, but we are working together to glorify God’s name and to declare his glory in Central Thailand. We are here this morning to celebrate who God is. We are here this morning to worship the God who created the heavens and the earth. We have been giving, we have been taking. We have been teaching, we have been doing a lot of learning in your midst. We have made withdrawals and we have made deposits and we appreciate our life together with you.

There is a small group that headed out of South Jersey, about, ohhh, a long time ago. Thirty-six years ago. The small group left by car the day after Christmas on their way to the Midwest. Have you ever started a trip whether you were driving or flying or in a bus or whatever you are doing and thought to yourself, “What in the world am I taking this trip for? Why am I going here? Why am I doing this?” Well, we certainly felt that way because this was Christmas vacation for me, Christmas vacation for our friends and some of us were missing practice, sports practice. We were all missing chances to sleep in and yet, I was on the way to something which was a life-changing experience. We were going to the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship Urbana conference held at the University of Illinois. This was 1964. It was a life-changing experience for me. It was fantastic. I don’t really know all the reasons that I went because at that point in my life I wasn’t really interested in being a missionary. I don’t think I had really even thought about it, but one of my high school advisors, (I grew up in a Methodist Church), and one of the MYF counselors became a friend and had me over to his home for meals. When I went off to college he sent me His magazine, which dates me right there. His magazine was the magazine of the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship back in the 60’s and by reading this, I read about people like Eric Fife, Paul Little, Arthur Glasser — men who were giants in evangelical Christianity and missions in those days. They were my heroes for that period of time and I wanted to go to Urbana first of all to listen to these men speak. Another man who spoke was John Stott and I was enamored by his teaching. He was a little hard to understand in the beginning. He was focusing on teaching about what God’s glory meant as he expounded II Corinthians 3-6. Just fantastic.

The main issue of going to Urbana for me was not, Was I going to be a missionary, but What was I going to do with Jesus Christ in my life? Couldn’t Jesus just be a Savior? Couldn’t Jesus just be my signing on the dotted line kind of an insurance policy to get me to heaven? What was all this about Jesus being Lord of my life, all of my life, every compartment of my life? That was a little bit hard. That is where I struggled throughout that whole week. I had to come to grips with who was Jesus and what did he mean in my life. I reflected on the things I had read by C.S. Lewis, reflected on many things. Our family had devotions about two weeks ago and one of the topics of the devotion was a young fellow who was applying for a job and for his references he listed his pastor, his youth pastor and several elders of his church. And the man who was interviewing him said, “That was fine, excellent references. Now I know what you are like on Sunday. Where are your references for what you are like for the rest of the week?” This was kind of what I was going through at Urbana in 1964. But then I went to some medical missions seminars and some other things and got interested in missions. This was a turning point in my life.

Well, the theme of Urbana in 1976 was “Declare His Glory”. “Declare his glory among the nations,” from Psalms 96. And I would like to read the first 6 verses of that Psalm to you this morning and focus on some aspects of that Psalm.

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.”

As I have read this Psalm many times, while I focus on “declare his glory” in verse 3, I began to wonder what was the “new song” in verse 1? “Sing to the Lord a new song, Sing to the Lord all the earth.” Maybe it was new in that the Psalmist had just had a new experience of the Lord. He understood some new aspect of who God was. Or it could be that he had just seen that God, the God who created the heavens, wasn’t just a God of the Jews, but that he was a God of all the nations. Maybe he saw that back then. This Psalm has been called the great commission of the Old Testament. Many times we think that the great commission originated in the New Testament. The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and then Luke writing in Acts again all give their version of Jesus’ last words before he left us. The Great Commission. We know from reading the breadths of Scripture from the beginning to the end that God was calling all the peoples of the world to him from the very beginning. He called Abraham who became the Father of the Jews, but his name really meant the Father of all nations. So we know God’s heart. God’s heart from the very beginning was for all people to come to know him, all peoples, all nations, all tongues to come to know him.

To learn the early use of this Psalm, we need to go back to the Old Testament. As we read through Chronicles, we find out that the chronicler- who many scholars think is Ezra- used this Psalm and quoted it at length in Chapter 16 of First Chronicles. As you remember, Ezra was one of the scribes who was leading the people of Israel toward the end of one of their most difficult times in history. They had been slaves. They were exiled for 70 years. A portion of them went down to Egypt, the rest up to Babylon. In this place, they knew the meaning of shame and uncertainty and fear. Their lives were shattered. What did it mean to be the people of God if they were slaves in another land? But Ezra, toward the end of that 70-year period, could hold this psalm in front of the exiles and say something new is happening in your midst. You are the remnant. God isn’t finished. His purposes are not yet finished in this world. Praise him.

In the first 3 verses, we see God’s glory among the nations in all the earth for all peoples. In the second 3 verses, there is a contrast. We see for the gods of the nations are idols and we read about the idols throughout Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament. We don’t see the idols quite so clearly in our own culture, but if we look for them closely enough, they are there and they are in our lives. I first went to Thailand when I was a medical student about 30 years ago. I saw idols. I saw more than that though. I saw people that I came to love, tremendous hospitality, smiling much of the time. Siam, or Thailand, has been called the “Land of Smiles”. Beautiful temples, ornate buildings. It was fantastic. I made friends. They were dear. Some knew the Lord, some didn’t, but there was an easy friendship. There was an easiness about life and yet, as I you got to know the Thai people, you found out that behind the smiles there was more. There was fear. There was uncertainty about the future. Nobody really knew where they came from or where they were going.

In Thai, the word Thai means free. Thailand means “Land of the Free”. But freedom can be a tricky concept and for most Thai it meant freedom to make merit or to try to earn your salvation. Earn your way to heaven. Earn your way to happiness. Because to the Thai, Buddhism teaches that life is suffering and misery and you need to withdraw from that, get off on your own, look into yourself. The Thai say “Dong peung dua eng” (You must rely on yourself), the answer is within yourself. You need to save yourself and this is what the Buddha taught over 2000 years ago as he left his family and went into the wilderness and meditated and looked for the answer inside. Buddhism is the faith of close to one half billion people in the world. I can’t comprehend that number. That’s a lot of people. And there is not active aggression against the gospel, but there is a passive resistance. To be Thai is to be Buddhist. To be Thai is to be loyal to your religion, loyal to your king, loyal to your family, to be loyal. To follow Christ is to leave these things, to be seen as disloyal. Tremendous passive social pressure to conform. Tremendous pressure.

It was into this spiritual vacuum many years ago- in the early 1950’s- that a young man by the name of Christopher Maddox left China when all the westerners, all the missionaries, all the Christians, everybody who was western, had to leave China after World War II. The Red Army ran rampant across the country. Everyone had to leave. But Dr. Chris didn’t go home and retire. He was in his mid-40’s then. He went to Thailand to survey the spiritual need, the medical need. And he found that in Central Thailand there were probably no Christians at that time and there were only maybe 3 or 4 hospitals between Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, and ChiengMai, 500 or 600 miles to the north. Virtually no hospitals at all. Some people at Manorom donated some land and that was the beginning of a ten-bit wooden facility in the mid 1950’s that became Manoram Christian Hospital. Over the years, radiologists, laboratory technologists, surgeons, internists, obstetricians, gynecologists, moved in with their specialties and set up a program that gained a reputation throughout a large part of the country. By the time I got there in the late 1970’s, it had a great reputation in many areas; but the first area that Manoram Christian Hospital gained a reputation was in caring for people with leprosy. Touching them, taking care of their ulcers. And the fruit of that care which hadn’t been shown in a large part up to that point was a leprosy church. The first church in Central Thailand was a leprosy church. What was known as the Well Church came later and then in the 1970’s, the churches merged, they blended together.

Well, Manorom Christian Hospital has been the focus of my life for the last 20+ years, trying to take high-quality surgical care, introducing endoscopy, doing some other things to try to show people that we were there because Jesus through us was loving them. But in the last three years, God has had a different story for our lives as we have moved into administration, leadership, spending time trying to help other people reach their potential. Seeing our lives not just for what we could do with our own hands one-on- one, but stepping back in leadership and trying to arrange a situation so that people could grow in the Lord, grow in their professional ministry and excel at what they were doing. We began to focus on our objective, our mission, our values. Who we were. What kind of people started a place like Manoram Christian Hospital. And then thinking about vision. Sometimes we think it is really bull to think about vision when sometimes we are afraid the hospital might have to close within a year or two, and there have been several times in our history when we were close to closing. But God has blessed us and we still talk about vision, what God has for us in the future. Psalm 96:2 — “Proclaim his salvation day after day”. We do that at Manoram Christian Hospital.

Wannee has worked as secretary at the hospital since we have been married and went to Manoram together about 10 years ago. But from the very beginning her real focus was on young people and she wanted to spend time with them and she found that opening, that opportunity, during our last term. Spending time at Manoram Church, praying once per week with the pastor’s wife and then some other time with other missionary wives. (Nathan and Kevin, “Hi.” I have to wake them up again like I did in the first service.) One of the hardest things we had to do during our last term was to decide about schooling for Nathan and Kevin. We home schooled them for about half a year and they went to Thai school for a while, but we knew for meeting their needs the best, that they would probably have to go away to school. And we sent them to Chang-Mai International School, where the hostel parents were an American-Canadian couple who were working with a tribal group in North Thailand, and we really experienced for the first time peer pressure from a positive standpoint. Positive peer pressure, getting them to study, to read, to do the things that they needed to do to grow up to be the young men that they needed to be. We saw great things happen in their lives. Well, that’s the Thompson family.

In Thailand after centuries of proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord, only maybe 2 in 1000 to 5 in 1000 Thai believe in Jesus Christ. For the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heaven. Wannee, Nathan, Kevin and I have been in Thailand telling them about the God who created the heavens and the earth in the name of our God.

Things are changing. It’s changing at home, it’s changing in your midst. Thailand is changing, cultures are changing, communication information technology, computers, all these things are changing. It is mind-boggling. I think one of the reasons that culture shock is not getting any easier over the years is because there are so many changes on both sides of the ocean, East and West.

In the midst of these changes, in the midst of the information overload, where are we? Let’s think inward as well as thinking outward and over the seas to the other side of the world. What is God doing in your life now? One friend of mine in Central Pennsylvania that I had a chance to visit awhile back told me that he elected to not go into computers. He is a little bit older and he thought, I need to protect my time with the Lord. Before 8:00 in the morning, it is my time. And he wanted to protect his quiet time, his prayer time. He didn’t have the time to go into computers. He said, “Sorry we haven’t been able to do e-mails.” Still uses snail mail. Most of us can do computers and do e-mail and maintain these things as well, but the point is, Is the new technology our slave or are we the slave to the new technology?

Do you know what God wants you to do with your life? Whether you are a teenager, whether you are at the peak of your career, whether you are looking to within 10 years of the end of your career. What does God want to do in your life? In the midst of all of these changes, the message that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord of all the nations is unchanging. This is perhaps said best by John Piper who wrote about 6 years ago in “Let the Nations be Glad”. He wrote, “Missions isn’t the ultimate goal of the church, worship is. Missions exists where worship doesn’t.” That pretty much says what the church is all about. Where someone is not worshipping God, that’s the mission field- family, neighbor, downtown, interstate, in the country or overseas. What does God want to be doing inside of us? Let’s focus on who we are and what God wants to do with us at our stage in life at this time.

There is a poem, it’s not really a poem, I’m not even really sure what it was. I saw a plaque in a friend’s house a couple of months ago that states this very clearly in a fun kind of way. It’s called “Why were the saints, saints?”

“Why were the saints, saints?
Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful,
patient when it was difficult to be patient.
And because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still, and
kept silent when they wanted to talk, and
were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable.
That was all.
It was quite simple and always will be.”

The Jews of the 5th century BC sang a new song to the Lord. The world around them was cruel and full of uncertainty. Now they could see a glimmer of hope and they praised God. They were singing a new song. There have been many new songs in my life. Unexpected new songs when I went to Urbana in 1964, then going to Thailand in the late 70’s, now making a switch from surgery to administration and home side. Many, many new things.

I would like to close with a story about a young man by the name of Mark. Mark visited our hospital about two years ago after his father wrote an e-mail and said, “My son has gotten interested in medical missions. Can he come and visit you? He is not a doctor, he is not even a medical student yet. But maybe he could help you with computers.” So I said, “Yes.” I learned what Mark’s story was. When Mark was in college, he was a brilliant student at Duke. He studied business management and his goal in life was to make money. He was going into international finance. He figured the way you get happy is to make lots of money. It’s the American dream. But before he graduated, he had an opportunity to go to Central America with Habitat for Humanity and when he went to Guatemala, he saw poor people and he saw poor people who were happy. And poor people who had spiritual faith and vitality. It shattered his image. It shattered the whole stereotype and he began to think what kind of a foundation had he built his life on. Well, he was mulling over these things for a long period of time and he continued on with his plan- which was to go to Hong Kong and work with some people in international finance. He got there and he did that, but he wasn’t enjoying it and he knew that was not what he wanted to do with his life. So he wrote home to his dad and said, “I really think that maybe I want to be a doctor and maybe find some way to serve in the third world. Would you find out what courses I need?” So his dad did the research for him. Mark went back and when Mark finally went to our hospital toward the end of 1998, he was still searching for who he was, where he was spiritually in life and what God meant. Mark prayed publicly for the first time at our hospital at a prayer meeting on a Thursday night. It was an exciting time. Mark is now a freshman at the University of Virginia Medical School. Pray for Mark. He is looking for God’s will. He is singing a new song because his stereotype was shattered and he got a new experience of God. That’s exciting.

Does God have any new songs for Central Presbyterian Church today? Are there any new candidates from Central to serve the Lord among the hill tribes of North Thailand? More short-term workers to survey the needs around the world? Some new commitment to reach an unreached people group? Maybe some of you will retire early to use your skills in missions. On the homeside perhaps. Maybe even going overseas. There are lots of needs.

When I saw “all the earth” in Psalm 96 this time, I was reminded in another portion of Scripture where there is a “new song” and where it speaks of “all the peoples”. I was drawn to Revelation 5:9, which says, “And they sang a new song. Men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”. In this passage, we see men from every tribe and language and people and nation worshipping the Lamb around the throne in heaven. How do you think they got there, these people from every tribe and nation and people? Somebody went and maybe translated or provided medical care, explained the gospel, discipled those who believed, saw a church emerge. From this people, from that people until all the peoples of the earth are represented around the throne of the Lamb in heaven. This is the climax of all of history. Praise God. Amen.