Month: September 2021

How the grace of Jesus enables us to say no to pornography

Ray Ortlund

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a practical tool to begin a journey toward freedom, visit SBTC’s Crave Web site at cravefreedom.com.

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place.

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men.

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands.

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

Social, yes; media no: MLS player makes his faith, relationships personal

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (BP) – Cal Jennings may be among the rarest of professional athletes.

He’s 24. He lives in southern California. He’s a forward for LAFC, the city’s newer Major League Soccer club alongside the LA Galaxy. At this point in life, Jennings should be building his brand through social media. After all, he’s a member of Generation Z, the first to be digital natives and who literally can’t remember a time when technology at today’s level didn’t exist.

In his final Instagram post May 1, 2019, Jennings cited his desire to grow in his relationship with Christ and others for leaving social media. Photo from Instagram

But in May 2019, his “focus” became less about photos and more about relationships. Until that point, Jennings had checked all the stereotypical Gen Z boxes when it came to technology. But since then, one box has remained blank due to his decision to step away from social media.

For 28 months now, Jennings, who grew up at First Baptist Church in Roswell, Ga., hasn’t posted a single tweet or snap. He hasn’t shared one picture of his lunch on Instagram and, since Facebook is out as well, is clueless as to what he would look like as a Disney prince.

And yet, somehow, he carries on.

Jennings said in an interview with Baptist Press that this wasn’t a stunt for attention. He had already made that clear in a May 1, 2019 Instagram post.

“Over the past few years, I’ve taken notice at just how much social media and technology have consumed my time and my life,” he wrote. “I feel like as humans we are trending towards being the consumed rather than the consumer when it comes to technology. With the time I get back from getting off social media I plan to invest it more in my friends & family, my beautiful girlfriend, my faith and relationship with Jesus, and experiencing the beauty that this world has to offer.”

The benefits he has experienced are worth considering, he said, even if others don’t take it to his level.

Earlier this year, Jennings returned to First Baptist Church in Roswell, Ga., to co-lead a Bible study for students. Photo courtesy of First Baptist Roswell

“You can get caught up in this online world and it can be overwhelming,” he said. “It can foster comparisons with others and bring anxiety and depression. You start to wonder why someone else’s life is going so well and yours isn’t.

“There are positives to social media, but it was good for me [to stop] and could be very good for others, even if they just limit their time on it. You can use the platforms, but we need to also consider if they’re taking up too much in our lives.”

Jennings’ comments echo those of researchers finding a greater level of anxiety among his peers. For all of its connectivity, Gen Z is also considered the loneliest generation. Only 45 percent of them classify their mental health as good or very good.

His parents provided a Christian home that accompanied Jennings’ involvement at First Roswell as his soccer prowess grew. He played for Roswell High during his freshman and junior years, but was also active with his club team and received an invitation to play for Georgia United, an academy team affiliated with the MLS’ Atlanta United that featured top young talent.

Those experiences built him as a player and propelled him to the pitch at the University of Central Florida. In Orlando, though, he was also challenged deeper in his faith by a representative of Athletes in Action (AIA), Jeremy Reddy, who would become a spiritual mentor.

Jennings was a decent kid in high school, “but I don’t think I fully grasped what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus,” he said. “I went to youth group and Sunday School, but wasn’t making much of an effort to invest in my relationship with Christ outside of that.”

At UCF, he and Reddy split time leading Bible studies in the locker room, where close to a third of his teammates would join. Jennings’ leadership also became more apparent on the field. After scoring one goal his freshman season and seven during his sophomore year, the forward exploded in 2018 with 20 goals while starting all 18 matches, ending his junior season as the NCAA Division I top scorer.

His senior year, Jennings scored 18 goals in 20 matches. He would go on to receive several individual honors and be named a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy, awarded to the country’s top men’s and women’s soccer players.

Selected as the 17th overall pick by FC Dallas in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, Jennings would later that year join Memphis 901 in the USL Championship league, which is one level lower than MLS. He caught fire late in the season, earning his first hat trick Oct. 3 during a run of four straight games with at least one goal and eight in all during the streak.

On Dec. 4, 2020, Jennings joined another USL Championship club, Indy Eleven, but wouldn’t play a match for them as months later LAFC traded a 3rd round selection in the 2022 SuperDraft to FC Dallas for Jennings’ college rights.

At UCF he also became involved in AIA camps, working with students to develop not only their soccer skills but also their faith in Christ. Not long after joining LAFC he was visiting his parents in Roswell and took the opportunity to co-lead a Bible study for teenagers alongside Robert Turnbull, First Baptist’s minister to students.

Leaving social media has been beneficial in itself, but the act has also become a conversation starter that leads into discussions about his faith.

“A lot of my reasoning was to invest more in my relationship with Christ but also to share the Gospel more with others,” he said. “It’s led me to ‘get out there’ and be able to do things like lead the Bible study at my home church. It was pretty awesome to see students grow and help high schoolers face challenges that I faced in high school. I really enjoyed that opportunity to encourage them to start growing early in their faith.”

Jennings still has a smartphone. He texts and makes calls. Around other people, though, he’s not looking down at a screen. He’s making eye contact and speaking face to face.

“Communicating online has gotten so convenient that it’s become tougher for us to talk to others in person,” he said. “I’m really trying to focus on being present with whoever I’m around. Whether that’s my girlfriend, teammates or family members – I want to be intentional in those relationships.”

Texas heartbeat ban takes effect, breaks barrier

AUSTIN, Texas (BP) – A Texas law that prohibits abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected became effective Wednesday (Sept. 1) in a barrier-breaking development hailed by pro-life advocates and decried by abortion-rights defenders.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block enforcement of the measure in response to a last-ditch request by abortion-rights organizations meant the law became the first heartbeat ban to take effect in the United States. The Texas Heartbeat Act’s prohibition on abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected can bar the procedure as early as five to six weeks into pregnancy.

The Supreme Court did not indicate its view of the constitutionality of the Texas law by declining to issue an order in the case. The justices have already agreed to rule in their next term on a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions of unborn children whose gestational age is more than 15 weeks. The high court has not scheduled oral arguments in that case for this term, which begins in October.

Unlike other heartbeat bans, the Texas law enables citizens to enforce it. The law authorizes a person to bring a civil lawsuit against someone who performs an abortion in violation of the law or assists in the performance of such a procedure.

Southern Baptists welcomed enforcement of the Texas law.

“This law takes a novel approach to limit abortion in Texas,” said Elizabeth Graham, vice president for operations and life initiatives with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments. “We should appreciate every step that can be taken – whether through legislative channels, court decisions or cultural developments – to save one additional preborn life while supporting vulnerable mothers and families.

“Ultimately, we believe the state has a duty to protect every life, and the church must not rest until every level of government recognizes that responsibility.”

Texas Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican sponsor of the ban, said the “silence from the U.S. Supreme Court marks a giant step forward for protecting the sanctity of life.”

“Each day it remains in effect, the Texas Heartbeat Act will save the lives of more than 100 children known and loved by their Creator since before the foundation of the world,” he said in a written statement. “I can’t think of a higher honor than having had the opportunity to joint author this legislation and cast my vote toward making it the law of the land.”

Hancock is a member of Restoration Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Southlake, Texas.

Tony Wolfe, associate executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), described it as “an important mile marker for the sanctity of life in the Lone Star State.”

“The 2,682 churches of the [SBTC] are firm in their conviction that life begins at conception and ends at natural death,” Wolfe said in written remarks. “While we believe the Texas Heartbeat Act is not a comprehensive answer to the problem of abortion in Texas, we celebrate it today as another important step in the right direction.”

Other pro-life supporters also welcomed the new law going into effect.

Chelsey Youman, Texas legislative director for Human Coalition Action, called it “a historic and hopeful day” and expressed confidence in the law’s constitutionality.

“While today we are hopeful for the thousands of babies whose lives will be saved, we are also hopeful for their mothers,” she said in a written statement. “Regardless of whether abortions are available or not, pregnant women in Texas will face the same challenges in their lives they face now. These women will still need health care; they will need emotional support, resources, and assistance to create safe and stable environments for themselves and their families.”

In the last 15 years, Texas has instituted support services for pregnant women and adoptive parents, Youman said, adding that the state also has increased Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and postpartum mothers.

Human Coalition Action is the public policy advocacy arm of Human Coalition, a Texas-based organization that oversees a network of pregnancy care clinics nationally.

Herbie Newell, president of Lifeline Children’s Services, described enforcement of the law as “great news for Texas and the thousands of human lives that will be saved. Even as more human life is protected, we cannot rest.”

Lifeline, the leading evangelical Christian adoption agency in the country, “will continue caring for pregnant women in crisis as we provide alternatives that support the sanctity of life while showing dignity to women and children,” Newell said. Lifeline has offices in Texas and 15 other states.

President Biden joined abortion-rights leaders in criticizing the Texas law. In a written statement, Biden said the ban “blatantly violates the constitutional right established” by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout the country. His administration is “deeply committed” to the right to abortion and “will protect and defend that right,” he said.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), said enforcement of the law means Texas politicians “will have effectively overturned” the Roe ruling. “It’s cruel, unconscionable, and unlawful,” she said in a written release.

The CRR, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the ACLU were among the organizations that made an emergency request of the Supreme Court Aug. 30 to halt the Texas law’s enforcement. The abortion-rights advocates asked for the high court’s intervention after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, rejected their Aug. 29 request for such action.

Texas joined at least 10 other states with fetal heartbeat bans, although courts have blocked the others from going into effect. With its population of more than 29 million people, Texas became by far the most populous state to approve such legislation.

The Texas ban, which was enacted in May, includes an exception for a medical emergency in a mother but none for rape or incest.

In Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban case, the ERLC and other pro-life organizations urged the Supreme Court in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in late July to reverse the 1973 Roe opinion. The state of Mississippi also called for the high court to overturn that decision.

Understanding Global Realities, Celebrating Global Highlights and Progress

Editor’s note: This is the first post in a 10-part series that highlights information found in IMB’s Annual Statistical Report. The report is based on 2020 research data. A full copy of the report is available at imb.org/asr.

From 1700 to 2000 AD, 15.9 billion people have lived on the earth. However, we estimate that over 24.9 billion will live between 2000 and 2100 AD. This means that 9 billion more people will be alive in the next hundred years than were alive during the previous 300. In this century, the need to sow the gospel abundantly, make obedient disciples and plant healthy, multiplying churches is unparalleled.

79.8 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Forcibly displaced peoples are refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) and are among the estimated one billion migrants on the move today. Unfortunately, the number of forcibly displaced people is expected to increase in the coming decade due to global economic and political realities.

 

Making up only 8% of the total people on the move worldwide, the forcibly displaced represent the majority of the remaining Unengaged Unreached People Group (UUPG) population. Forcibly displaced peoples tend to resettle in countries more accessible to missionaries, potentially opening the door for these UUPGs to have access to the gospel for the first time!

Forcibly displaced peoples often move through unsafe informal corridors and require unique ministry approaches. 60% of refugees and 80% of IDPs settle in urban areas. Mission strategies are adjusting to target these groups with the gospel where they have settled and to mobilize any existing believers within the groups to engage their own people.

Global Highlights and Progress

We’d like to take a look back at the extraordinary ways the Lord moved in 2020.

 

Last year, 144,322 people committed their lives to Christ, and 86,587 were baptized. Growth also came in the form of leadership development — 127,155 people received leadership training. These men and women who received training are furthering the gospel and growing their communities of faith. Through your IMB missionaries, 769,494 people heard the gospel message. Join us in praying for those who heard but have not chosen to follow Christ.

We believe that a faithful reading of Scripture applied to practical missiology denotes six basic components that we’ve labeled the core missionary task: entry, evangelism, disciple making, healthy church formation, leadership development, and strategically planned exit to partnership. We believe that all mission effort — whether exerted by missionaries or partnering churches — should focus along these lines.

In a year marked by a worldwide pandemic and nationwide-lockdowns and political and social strife, our numbers increased rather than decreased. Throughout 2019, 12,368 new churches were planted and in 2020, 18,380 new churches were planted.

The spread of the gospel was not stopped in 2020.

Thank you for your investment. Thank you for giving, for going and for praying.

Together, we’re bringing hope and help to those who need it most.

Thank you for your continued giving to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® to support the work of more than 3,600 missionaries around the world.

The post Understanding Global Realities, Celebrating Global Highlights and Progress appeared first on IMB.

Andrew Pearle, pastor and TEXAN photographer, dies of COVID-19

GRAPEVINE  Andrew Clayton Pearle, 38, family life pastor at Talty Baptist Church, died on Aug. 19, 2021, in Rockwall, following a battle with COVID-19.

Pearle served numerous Texas churches, including First Baptist Venus, First Baptist Quitman, Calvary Baptist of Wells and Talty Baptist.

A gifted professional photographer, Pearle was a frequent contributor of photos to the TEXAN and other publications. He frequently donated his photography services to veterans’ organizations, too. Gary Ledbetter, TEXAN editor, said of Pearle and his work: “Andrew was a joy to work with. He had a great eye and a sweet spirit. He was always willing to help us at meetings. I’m so sad for his family.”

Pearle leaves behind his wife, Stefanie, and four daughters. He is survived by his parents, Bob and Deborah Pearle; his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Lyle and Nicole Wallace, numerous nephews, nieces, aunts, cousins and friends.

A celebration of life service was at Birchman Baptist Church, Fort Worth, on Saturday, Aug. 28. 

TEXAN PHOTOS BY ANDREW PEARLE
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David Dykes closes out 30 years at Green Acres, Tyler

TYLER—Sunday morning, Aug. 15, marked the last sermon Pastor David Dykes would preach as pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler. Dykes has served as pastor there for 30 years. He preached a sermon many in his congregation requested, called “Lifting High the Name of Jesus.” 

“That’s the unusual nature of the Word of God, it doesn’t ever go out of style or out of date,” Dykes said in the sermon. “Say it with me, ‘Jesus.’ Do it again, ‘Jesus,’” the congregation responded.

Tyler’s KLTV quoted long-time member Jeanine Grimes as saying, “The love of God just weeps from him all the time, and his love for Jesus is so genuine and very, very real.” 

Dykes’ retirement was marked by a “passing the mantle” service on Aug. 29.