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
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!
– Arthur Hsieh