Ravi Zacharias: God’s Man For Our Times

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Hey TD’ers, this Friday, I’m excited to give you a deeper look into the life of one of the most influential people in my life, a hero and friend, Dr. Ravi Zacharias.  Known by many as the world’s leading Christian apologist, Ravi has a truly one-of-a-kind ministry and impact that God has used uniquely and strategically to “help the believer think and help the thinker believe” across the globe.  But it was not always so.  Ravi’s story will inspire you and give you hope for your life.  I can’t wait to share with you this Friday!

In the meanwhile, it would be really helpful if you could listen to these messages before Friday.  They are landmark messages that the Lord used to propel Ravi from a relative unknown onto the world scene as a defender of the gospel of Christ.  “Invested Dignity, Reflective Glory” and “Absolute Truth in Relative Terms” were given at a Ligonier Ministries National Conference, while “Is Atheism Dead? Is God Alive?” was given at Harvard University’s Veritas Forum.

If you listen to these before TD on Friday, what I will share will impact you more fully.  So, please listen!  See you Friday! – Arthur

Invested Dignity, Reflective Glory, Pt. 1

Invested Dignity, Reflective Glory, Pt. 2

Absolute Truth in Relative Terms, Pt. 1

Absolute Truth in Relative Terms, Pt. 2

Is Atheism Dead? Is God Alive?, Pt. 1

Is Atheism Dead? Is God Alive?, Pt. 2

 

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The Pernicious Lie: Waxy Images

Sadly, one of the most important questions of our times is, “What does it mean to be human?”  Only a generation or two ago, that question wasn’t so difficult to answer. However, with the current mass-level assault on the uniqueness and specialness of humanity, transcendent moral values, and the Creator Himself, the broad waters are certainly murkier than they’ve ever been.  The Enemy is at work.  

In our continuing series, The Pernicious Lie, Robert helps clarify some of the smoke screen and enables us to see the real issues at hand.  Your comments are welcomed! – Arthur

            “That’s not Hercules,” Kathy said, “That looks like Tarzan in the jungle!” In the Hollywood Wax Museum there were some figures that made us wonder if they had been molded by the latest laser technology, then there were those that were authentically… fake. You could almost imagine wax dripping from what was supposed to be the face of Jackie Chan. Some statues were beyond our recognition because we didn’t know the real people they were representing—does that really look like John Wayne? I’ve never watched his movies. However realistic those images were, they could only capture a physical appearance. Though we were surprised every once in a while, not one of the wax figures stepped out of its display to greet us. A wax museum is not the place to make new friends.

While you can’t (or shouldn’t) be friends with a wax statue, you share more in common with it than you might realize. It stands as a representation of something greater than itself, its substance was molded and shaped to look the way it does now, and it rarely does its job well. We too are image bearers. We were made in the “image of God” (Gen. 1:27), to represent not a physical appearance but the character of God. That image has been marred by sin so that it is hardly recognizable in us.  I look at God’s holiness, his love, his faithfulness, his patience, and I see how often my life stands in testimony to the exact opposite characteristics. When I get impatient with my mom, or when I selfishly judge others to stroke my own pride, I’m vandalizing the image of God in me.

Praise God that there was one who came as the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), the “exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3), our perfect “high priest… who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15)—Jesus. He did the impossible for us by taking the penalty for our sins and by being the perfect representation of His Father. As Christians, we have been buried with him in baptism and we have been raised with Christ in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Now we have the double duty of representing not only our Heavenly Father but also His Son (Rom. 8:29)! God commands us to be “living sacrifices,” who fight to not be “conformed to this world” and to represent Him well by being “transformed by the renewal of [our] minds” (Rom. 12:1-2).

You see, there’s an important difference between you and our waxy friend in the museum. You are a living, breathing, moving image! A statue’s representation is only skin deep, while your imitation of Christ reaches to your actions, your thoughts, and your affections. You have much more power to represent something well—the catch is that this ability is a double-edged sword. Here’s the ugly side: the world is also trying to mold you into its image. We can become so good at looking like the world, sounding like the world, and even smelling like the world without even trying.

There is a war going on: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:24). That is why Paul exhorts us to continually put off what is earthly in us and to put on Christ (Col. 3). Our flesh, the devil, and the world are doing all that they can to shape us into their image. The only way to battle that is by fixing our eyes on Jesus and clinging to His Word. The Psalmist says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:9, 11). Only through God’s Word will fulfill our mission as “His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

One question I like to ask to my close friends is: “What was the hardest thing that happened to you this week?” I realized the importance of the answer to this question when one friend answered, “Nothing hard happened this week.” That same week I had been wrestling with discontent and restlessness in my heart. That struggle was hard, but it pushed me to depend on God. I realize now that, while struggling with my old nature is not fun, it’s better than the alternative because there’s a war going on. If I’m not struggling with sin in my life, then either 1) I’m dead, 2) I’ve become numb to the battle for my soul, or 3) I’ve given up and given in. But we must not give in, for our momentary struggle here on earth is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 7:17)—the privilege of being a pure picture of our Lord Jesus in heaven.

– Robert Chan

When Did You Choose to Be Straight?

How would you answer if someone came up and asked you this question?  Roger Patterson of Answers in Genesis addresses this in a way that is Scripturally faithful and reasonable.  It will help you think through and articulate the issue cogently.  Keep renewing your minds!    – Arthur

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T. J. from Belgium recently asked the question below on Ken Ham’s Facebook. Roger Patterson responds to help people answer one of the many attempts of skeptics to discredit the authority of God’s Word over every aspect of life. As Christians, we must be prepared to look to Scripture as the sufficient source of truth as we exalt Jesus Christ as the hope of the world.

Ken, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts and wisdom on this silly video which came to my attention recently. In it, members of the public are asked “when did you choose to be straight?” How should we respond to this question as born-again believers?

– T. J., Belgium

T. J.,

Thank you for your question and for your desire to stand up for truth in a wicked and perverse generation.

With the ascending popularity of embracing homosexual lifestyles as normal, many Christians find it difficult to argue against the different approaches from those who support homosexual marriage and other aspects of the homosexual or any other sexually deviant lifestyle.

There is no doubt from Scripture that living a homosexual lifestyle is a sin—a truth that has been clearly demonstrated by many people’s explanation of the relevant passages. Knowing it is a sin, Christians must be prepared to call those who are practicing this sinful lifestyle to repentance and faith in Christ to forgive that sin as well as all of their other sins so that they can be made righteous before God and enter His kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).

The interviewers in the video ask people on the street in Colorado Springs, “Is being gay a choice?” and then follow up with “When did you choose to be straight?” Based on their reactions, it appeared that many of the people had never considered such an idea. Many responded to the second question and another follow-up question by acknowledging that being gay might be just as “normal” as being straight. However, none of the people in the video (one man is wearing a cross necklace) even bring God into the argument. This should never be the case for a Christian. To be a Christian is to be identified with Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed that His followers would be sanctified by the truth of the Word of God (John 17:17). Therefore, we should be prepared to defend who and what we are on the basis of God’s Word.

The Myth of Neutrality

The questions being asked presuppose a neutral state from which you choose to be gay, straight, transgender, bisexual, a fornicator, an adulterer, etc. So, we must reframe the question since it does not align with reality. God made us male and female and designed us for heterosexual activity within the bounds of marriage (Genesis 2:18–25). That must be the defined normal position from which anyone chooses to wander or hold fast. We must start our arguments from the truth of God’s Word, not from the presuppositions of a worldview that rejects God.

I did not choose to be straight; God made me straight. All people are born within the male and female order of creation.1 If I choose any other possibility (e.g., LGBTQ, an adulterer, a fornicator, etc.), I am choosing a perversion of God’s good design. I am willingly choosing to act on sexual desires that God has called sinful rather than embracing what God has commanded. All of these choices are made by turning away from God’s intention of normal, not away from some mythical neutral position based on an evolutionary view of man.

Morality Requires an Absolute Authority

Without the foundation of a moral absolute, there is no basis upon which anyone can call any kind of sexual behavior wrong; they can only call it different and pass no moral judgments. Christians look to God for the absolute standard and trust in His revealed truth to make our judgments.

Arguing that people are born gay and that it is not a choice is arguing against what God has clearly revealed in the Bible. Even if people are born with a propensity to seek sexual affection from the same sex, that does not make it right. To argue from this position, the people making the argument would have to excuse other moral wrongs because certain people are born with a propensity to lie, murder, rape, steal, and so on. That is, if they were to be consistent. Any moral perversion, from a tendency to lie to a tendency to be a psychopathic serial killer, would be justified from the same “born-that-way” argument. The problem is that their worldview is inherently inconsistent because they do not acknowledge God as the absolute authority when it comes to morality. They borrow from the Christian worldview when they like to condemn rape and murder, for example, but then reject God’s commands regarding homosexual sin, fornication, adultery, drunkenness, and other sins where they do not prefer to follow God (Ephesians 4:17–5:21).

How to Respond Biblically

Bottom line—do not let those who stand against God lead you into a discussion that dismisses God from the arguments (Colossians 2:1–10). First, reframe the question to begin your argument from God’s truth. Explain that God’s Word clearly defines human sexuality and that homosexual behavior is sinful in God’s eyes. Then, ask them upon what basis they would judge any sexual behavior to be wrong. By so doing you are exposing the failure of their worldview to even account for the categories of right and wrong, showing them that if their actions were consistent with their thinking, they could never condemn anything as wrong. This is an implementation of the “don’t answer/answer” strategy described in Proverbs 26:4–5. If they appeal to some moral argument, simply ask them, “Why is that the correct standard?” until they have realized that they have no authority upon which to make such moral claims. Then point them to the God who is that authority—Jesus Christ.

Those who reject God as the ultimate moral standard are thereby also rejecting Christ. They have suppressed their knowledge of the true and living God to serve an idol that they have made in their minds (Romans 1:18–32). It is the privilege of a Christian to serve as an ambassador for King Jesus and to herald the offer of freedom from sin to all those who are at enmity with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20–21). God has promised to all those who repent and put their trust in Christ that He will deliver them “from the power of darkness” and grant them a place in “the kingdom of the Son of His love” who has provided “redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14).

Christian, you were once an enemy of God but have now been reconciled to Him in Christ (Romans 5:10–11; Colossians 1:21–22). Boldly proclaim that there is hope in Christ and share the gospel with all who will hear.

– Roger Patterson

Joni: An Unexplainable Life

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Hey TD’ers!

I want to invite you to be inspired, enriched, and, honestly, made better.  There are few lives I can think of lived better than the life of Joni Eareckson Tada.  Francis Chan calls her the godliest woman on the planet that he knows of.  Her life isn’t can’t be explained by anything less than the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The world has no answer to it.

Join us this Friday as we continue our summer series, “Standing On the Shoulders of Giants.” In unpacking Joni’s life, Sandra will show us the character and ways of God.  Sandra has been preparing hard all week, and because Joni is a dear friend of ours, she will be able to share personal insights and observations not many can give.  Come learn from these great Christians women!  – Arthur

Total Devotion: An Inside Look

Ever want to take a closer look at the roots of Total Devotion?  Here’s an opportunity.  In light of our TD summer biography series, I thought it would be neat to give you a biographical sketch of … TD!  Originally written for MBCLA’s 50th anniversary magazine (not yet released), read on for an inside look at the foundation upon which TD is built.  Comments and questions welcomed! – Arthur

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There are so many directions I could take when writing about Total Devotion (TD) – its place as one of God’s choice tools in growing my spiritual life, the history of TD, the success stories of TD alumni, a description of the meetings and activities, etc. … but those are for future articles.  Instead, I’d like to give you an inside look at the heart and soul of TD.

Author and pastor, John Piper, has commented that “books don’t change people; paragraphs do, sometimes even sentences.”  Though perhaps slightly overstated, his point is well taken as certain truths wrapped in powerfully packed phrases have certainly impacted my life and ministry at Total Devotion. Allow me to share a few phrases that have been catalytic in my life and in shaping the direction of Total Devotion  over the last 29 years.

“Arthur, you take care of the depth of your ministry and God will take care of the breadth of it.”

That charge to go deeper, not wider was given to me over 15 years ago by apologist and author, Ravi Zacharias, and has provided a framework for everything we do in TD.  In an age where surface level outreach is equated with successful ministry, if unsupported by a strong and deep foundation of Bible-saturated discipleship, we will leave our youth unanchored and unequipped to represent and contend for Christ both in spirit and in truth in the future.

Yet you cannot give what you don’t have.  If as Christians we are not increasingly deepening our relationship with God, and deepening our apprehension and savoring of the glorious beauty of God ourselves, it will be impossible to reflect that beauty to our communities, our families, our own souls, and most importantly, back to God Himself. (1Cor. 10:31) Indeed, that is the Spirit’s ministry in our lives, as He “searches all things (for us), even the depths of God.” (1Cor. 2:10)

Stopping to relish, savor, and enjoy the beauty of God is becoming more challenging as our growing technology races to fill every last slot of our time and mind space with more “stuff.”  We are rapidly becoming more shallow, finding it increasingly more difficult to think, dig, reason, thoughtfully consider, and pray through issues, deferring instead to quick sound bytes/video clips or witty one-line Facebook comments to address the issues of our day.

And the church hasn’t been immune. Theologian and author, JI Packer, once made the comment over 20 years ago that the church in the US is 3,000 miles wide but only a half inch deep.  That is even truer today.

One only needs to spend a few minutes scanning the news headlines to know that we live in a world in desperate need of real and deep answers to address real and deep issues that are ravaging the soul, and that are engendering a wanton disregard for essential human worth, dignity, sexuality, purpose, and so on.  It’s painfully obvious that our world needs and demands more than our classic Christian slogans or Christian moralism to satisfy the deep struggles of the soul that are resulting in a moral and spiritual lostness of unprecedented proportions.

What we need is a truer and deeper understanding and view of who God is, what He values, what His plans are, and how He governs this world.  The rest will take care of itself.  And this is our starting point at TD.

“Teach them who God is.  Teach them of the true holy character of God.”

Theologian and teacher, RC Sproul, charged me to help our youth come to understand that God is the core of life itself, and is ultimately the starting point of all things. To have an accurate, breathtaking view of who God truly is as revealed in Scripture, nature, and life itself is foundational to viewing life and living life as God intended.  It was Jonathan Edwards who wrote, “Of all the knowledge we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are most important.” And the only way to accurately understand ourselves is to accurately understand the One who fashioned us in His own image.  The more we understand God, the more we understand His world.  He is the beginning, the middle, and the end of everything.

Attempting to live life and pursue anything without the Lord at the center is “meaningless, a chasing after the wind,” as Solomon wisely concluded after relentlessly trying to live like that himself, writing that  “… with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” (Eccl. 1)

As our apprehension of the gorgeous beauty of God and His inspiring righteous and holy character increases, so will the quality of our thinking, observation, discernment, feeling, decision making, joy, happiness, relationships, and loving.  As CS Lewis once stated, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun, not because I can see it, but because of it, all things are seen.”

Our hope is to help our TD’ers begin the journey of knowing and experiencing the power and joy of living with this great God, learning to look at life through His lenses and then live under His unction and leading.

“Teach to the top.”

That was the advice given to me by pastor/teacher John MacArthur, who said that it was important to not lose the top students to boredom or a “lower shelf” treatment of Scripture.  If we could make sure our teaching reaches our top students, and not keep it too simple, helping them to see and experience the “depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33), their challenge could be to help the younger or less knowledgeable students understand and experience the joy of knowing this God too.

We have taken that to heart and have strived to not only impart more biblical knowledge, but have aimed to display the beauty of Scripture and develop a greater perseverance and capacity within the TD’ers to be able to stay with biblical thoughts and engagement longer.  We do no favors to our youth in giving them sugar coated, nicely packaged sermonettes.  We are trying to help them “cook” for themselves, especially before heading into college.

“Those who need God more get Him more.”

This was shared with me by Joni Eareckson Tada 12 years ago and was powerfully demonstrated in the lives of those affected by disability – those who needed God more – at Joni and Friends Family Retreat.  There was a power, depth, and joy to their lives that defied human logic and demonstrated to me that there was a lot for us “normal” people to learn.  I saw God’s promise in action that He “has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the wise, and has chosen … the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.”  1Cor. 1:27

This has propelled our Luke 14 initiative over the last several years, where we are trying to merge mind and heart, trying to develop sharp biblically-driven minds with tender and compassionate Christ-like hearts for those perhaps socially different but equally valuable – like those affected by disability. Our testimony must not only be propositional but incarnational as well.

Our 24 year ministry with the residents at the South Pasadena Convalescent Home and our growing partnership with Joni and Friends has helped us to foster this kind of culture and has made life-changing impact in our youth. There are now there are well over a dozen TD alumni and current TD’ers who are choosing related career paths in which to serve Christ, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, etc. I am particularly excited about this because I know that not only will they be able to serve Him in those fields with tender hearts, but with a strong intellectual and spiritual  apologetic for the inherent value of those they are and will be serving.

TD’s theme verse:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.  For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Though TD continues to evolve and adapt to our ever-changing times, as TD’s lead counselors, my wife, Sandra, and I are committed to thorough, passionate, expectant, Spirit-dependent study of God’s priceless Word.  This will remain at the very core of our ministry.  We will continue to strive to train, equip, confront, challenge, and inspire our youth for a lifetime of loving and serving God, His gospel, His people, and His world with their whole-hearted and … total devotion.

We will continue to help them plant their roots deeply by the streams of the Living Water.  We are confident that as they live their God-ordained lives in the decades to come, when the heat of life’s trials come, they will be sources of hope and refreshment in a parched world; their leaves will remain green and they will not cease to produce quality, life nourishing, abiding juicy fruit that points people to the life giving Vine Himself. (John 15)

Thank you so much to the MBCLA family, especially TD’s many counselors and interns, past and present, for all the years of support, service, encouragement, and blessing!

To keep up with TD, please visit us at http://www.td.mbcla.org and http://www.totaldevotionmbcla.wordpress.com.

– Arthur Hsieh

TD’s Summer Series Announced!!!

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Hey TD’ers!

I’m absolutely thrilled about our summer series that will begin this Friday!  It’s like no other series we’ve ever done. It’s called, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” and will introduce you to current giants and heroes of the Christian faith who have profoundly impacted and shaped not only my life, but those of countless others; giants on whose shoulders we stand on so we can be who we are and where we are today.  These are giants who have profoundly impacted your lives too, even though you may not even know it.

During each of these biographical sketches, we will be highlighting one of  these faithful titans during each TD meeting, bringing you into their world, their mind, their heart.  I believe you will be challenged, encouraged, and inspired to follow God more faithfully and fervently.  Each portrait will be real, though, and will not paint a fairy tale character.  If you’re a Christian today, these are people you need to know about.

Please make plans to be at TD this Friday, July 5, as I open our series exploring the heart and ministry of my friend, in a message entitled, “RC Sproul: LIving Before the Face of God”!  See you there!

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– Arthur