Author: Baptist Press

Ministries ponder future after Haitian kidnappings

PORT-AU-PRINCE (BP) – Even the 2019 kidnapping and torture of two team members, the 2015 kidnapping and brutal beating of his wife Laurie and the 2018 murder of a base manager did not sway medical missionary David Vanderpool to close shop in Haiti.

But the escalating violence, including the weekend kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries east of Port-au-Prince by a gang identified as the 400 Mawozo, threatens to end Vanderpool’s work there as the cofounder of LiveBeyond, a Gospel, medical and humanitarian group on the island since 2013.

“This episode is just the most recent in many, many, many hundreds of episodes that have been going on since the United Nations left in 2017. We’ve taken pretty stringent security precautions because we’ve been attacked ourselves many times,” Vanderpool said today (Oct. 18). “The problem is, this really represents an escalation, kidnapping this many Americans at one time is a departure from what they’ve done in the past.”

Southern Baptist missionary Roland Norris, who partners with the Georgia Baptist Convention, keeps a small staff of Haitian ministry workers on the island, but hasn’t led stateside mission groups there since 2019 as a Look to the Nations missionary with his wife Mary.

While Norris is stateside, a small staff of seven Haitians in Haiti provides supplies to families displaced by the August earthquake, works with a group of nine pastors to minister at an orphanage, and leads Vacation Bible Schools and similar ministry outreaches.

“The whole time that we were there, I’d always told our staff … there may be one day that we may not be able to come back,” Norris said. “And I said but now you have been trained for the same mission that we’ve been doing together all this time. Through that, praise the Lord, we’ve been able to train disciples to continue carrying on what we were doing by bringing in short-term teams.”

Keny Felix, a Haitian American pastor who has helped mobilize Christians, humanitarian and government groups to minister to Haitian migrants in the U.S., said the escalating violence underscores the plight of Haitian migrants.

“Unfortunately, the abduction of our brothers and sisters definitely shows the great instability that exists in Haiti as we speak, and the complete disregard for human life, including religious workers who are in the country trying to aide those in need,” said Felix, senior pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Miami Gardens, Fla. “We’ve seen this over the past few weeks with the killing of a deacon in Port-au-Prince and the abduction of another minister a few Sundays ago. The situation in Haiti is quite dire.”

The 17 missionaries kidnapped included 16 U.S. nationals and a Canadian working for Christian Aid Ministries, among them five children, who were taken while visiting an orphanage. The Ohio-based group provides a worldwide ministry outreach for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups, according to its website.

Conditions have deteriorated since the UN pulled peacekeeping forces out of Haiti in 2017, with violence escalating since the July murder of Haitian President Jovenel Moise and the August earthquake, both of which further shredded the economy.

Kidnappings and murders have increased 300 percent in the past month, Vanderpool said, with numerous gangs operating with heavy weaponry including machine guns. Thousands are being kidnapped.

“Haiti unfortunately is in complete chaos, and unless there’s some kind of foreign intervention, I don’t see that Haiti is going to survive this particular problem,” Vanderpool said. “It would just be complete anarchy, which is pretty much what we have now.”

Norris looks forward to a day when U.S. mission groups can return to Haiti in relative safety.

“Right now, with the civil and political unrest, and the kidnapping,” Norris said, “I would recommend that those that are there continue to be there, but work safely, as safely as possible. But we haven’t been able to take any others since then (February 2019). … My hopes are that things will settle down and we can start taking teams again.”

Prayer is the main weapon keeping missionaries safe now in Haiti, Norris said, as well as restrictions in travel and visibility.

“We as Americans, we stand out everywhere we go because of the color of our skin,” Norris said. “People can point to us a lot quicker than they can a Haitian staff member.”

The greatest tragedy Vanderpool sees is that children and the poor will suffer the most, not getting the education, food and medical care only available through volunteer missions.

“We need prayers. The answer to this is the love of Jesus Christ. He’s in control. The enemy is definitely exerting its power down here,” Vanderpool said, “but the power of Jesus is definitely what is needed here, and when that happens peace will reign.”

Study: Most self-proclaimed Christians don’t practice faith

PHILADELPHIA (BP) — Over half of self-identified Christians in the U.S. don’t actively practice their faith, the American Bible Society (ABS) said in its latest release from the 2021 State of the Bible.

“Across all traditions, the Church needs to recognize that there are a growing number of people who call themselves Christians but don’t actually know how to interact with the Bible or live a life dedicated to Christ” ABS Director of Ministry Intelligence John F. Plake said in releasing the findings. “The data show us a real opportunity to step into that gap to actively encourage and disciple believers to engage with God’s Word.”

Only 42% of evangelicals, 31% of historically Black Protestants, 28% of mainline Protestants and 22% of Catholics qualified as practicing Christians in the study conducted in January. The study defines practicing Christians as those who meet three criteria of identifying as a Christian, attending a religious service at least monthly and strongly agreeing that faith is important in their lives.

Among those who fit the description of practicing Christians, ABS found that two-thirds regularly engage with the Bible, thereby connecting to God and finding wisdom and comfort.

“When we deeply engage in Scripture, we find hope in Jesus and an invitation to be part of a vibrant Christian community that brings restoration to our world,” Plake said.

Generationally, Baby Boomers are more likely than Gen Z to practice their faith. Among practicing Christians, Baby Boomers comprise more than a third of historically Black Protestants (35%), evangelicals (34%) and Catholics (36%). About of quarter of millennials and Gen Xers are practicing Christians, outpacing the 15% of Gen Z Christians who practice their faith. Just 6% of practicing evangelicals are Gen Z.

Practicing Christians who regularly engage with the Bible cited several benefits of Scripture engagement, with feeling “closer to God” most often cited. Among evangelicals, 42% said Scripture engagement helps them feel closer to God, followed by 34% of mainline Protestants, 33% of historically Black Protestants and 38% of Catholics.

Experiencing various positive emotions, being encouraged to do positive things and an increased ability to forgive are also benefits of Scripture engagement practicing Christians cited. Among positive emotions cited, a third of practicing historically Black Protestants and 25% of Catholics cited comfort; 21% of mainline Protestants said they feel hopeful through Scripture engagement, and 25% of evangelicals said they feel encouraged through the practice.

Through Scripture engagement, 71% of practicing Christians in historically Black Protestant churches said they are led to welcome immigrants into their community, 63% of evangelicals and 60% of mainline Protestants feel compelled to prioritize friendships with people of other races and 59% of Catholics emphasized care for the environment, ABS reported.

Engaging with Scripture also helps practicing Christians forgive others, with 91% agreeing somewhat or strongly with the notion.

The findings are in Chapter 7 of the study, with previous chapters showing additional characteristics of practicing Christians. Specifically, practicing Christians are about twice as likely as non-practicing Christians to say the Bible encourages civic engagement, and 53% say the Bible encourages such self-care as living healthy lives, caring for mental and emotional health and managing their money.

Some practicing Christians said they didn’t have time for Scriptural engagement, including 22% of practicing evangelicals, 22% of Catholics and 20% of mainline Protestants. The fact that non-practicing Christians most often said they didn’t know where to begin in Scriptural engagement suggests they need encouragement or discipleship, ABS said.

The study divides Protestants into subcategories of evangelical, including Baptist and such groups as Pentecostal, Adventist and the Presbyterian Church in America; mainline, such as Episcopalian, Lutheran, Congregationalist and the Presbyterian Church USA; and historically Black Protestant, including Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal denominations.

The online study included 3,354 complete responses from a sample of adults representative of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The first seven chapters of the study are available at StateoftheBible.org (https://sotb.research.bible/), with additional chapters due for release in November and December.

9/11: Southern Baptist Disaster Relief left legacy at Ground Zero

Oklahoma DR chaplains minister at Ground Zero in NYC

NEW YORK CITY (BP) – Twenty years after spending weeks in what could only be called a war zone, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are reflecting on their experience working in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and how it affected their lives.

Sam Porter is the national director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for Send Relief with the North American Mission Board. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Porter was serving as the disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. He said he remembers the events surrounding 9/11 “very vividly.”

Chaplains organize their shifts for work at the temporary morgue at Ground Zero. File photo by Bob Nigh

Even before the second World Trade Center tower collapsed, Porter was on the phone with NAMB’s national disaster relief director making plans to take a relief team to New York.

Because a majority of flights around the country were canceled after the day’s events, Porter and his team flew to New York on a private plane Sept. 12.

The pilot had to ask the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to fly. Permission was granted due to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief’s efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, when Porter and his team had served in the days following the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Their service was remembered, and the government asked the team to fly to New York as soon as they could, something Porter said is just one example of God opening doors for them to be able to minister at Ground Zero.

Once the team arrived in New York the morning of Sept. 13, they steadily established a relationship with the head of security for the New York Police Department, who observed the way they were caring and praying for first responders. He gave them permission to minister any way they saw fit, despite their not having official clearance to be at Ground Zero.

From left, BGCO Chaplaincy Specialist Leslie Sias, BGCO Disaster Relief Director Sam Porter and Oklahoma City Police chaplain Jack Poe visit with firefighters near Ground Zero in New York City. File photo by Bob Nigh

Porter was eventually asked to be one of the leaders of the chaplaincy efforts at Ground Zero. Southern Baptist DR teams from around the country were slowly but surely given access to come volunteer, and Porter said teams were volunteering in the area until it was closed off in May of 2002.

SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd praised the way Southern Baptists around the country responded to the shocking and challenging time in the nation.

“9/11 sent shock waves across the nation and around the world,” Floyd said. “On this day, it seemed everything stopped as these horrific events unfolded before our eyes. Churches across the nation were moved to urgent and deep prayer for America.

“While fear gripped the nation and the world, pastors and churches joined a unified call, placing our faith and hope in the Lord. Attendance to local church worship services grew in the weeks following as America focused on the need to talk to God and depend on His power in this national time of spiritual need. Through our cooperative work as SBC churches, we did whatever was needed to be done at the time. I have not seen America more unified and resolved since 9/11 and the weeks and months following.”

A demolished firetruck is lifted out of the debris at Ground Zero by a crane. File photo by Bob Nigh

Porter said ministry at Ground Zero generally involved caring for and praying with first responders and serving food in partnership with The Salvation Army.

One of their main ministries was connecting with first responders and simply asking them to tell them their story. Often, a connection was made when volunteers said they were from Oklahoma and were acquainted with some of the trauma that can result from terrorist attacks.

Porter said the ministry work included many difficult things, such as praying over the remains of every person who was uncovered from the wreckage before the remains were moved on for attempted identification. Still, the team was grateful for the opportunity.

“We knew God had us there for a reason to make an impact. … It was a great honor for us to be there and tell people about the hope of Christ Jesus,” Porter said. “I’ve never prayed as much or cried as much in my whole life, but God made a big difference.”

While Porter was a DR veteran when he went to Ground Zero, Nancy Hubbard was not. In fact, it was her first assignment.

Hubbard, who was 62 at the time, first heard about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief from a presentation at her Georgia church. She later visited a DR effort going on in Florida and was immediately “hooked,” she said.

“Being a Christian, I always wanted to do things to help people, and this was ideal for me,” Hubbard said. “I like to be out working so this was perfect. I was able to meet new people and new Christians that you have something in common with. It was just God-sent for me.”

Hubbard has been on at least 50 DR deployments in the last 20 years, but 9/11 – her first – is fresh on her mind.

“I went not knowing a soul,” she said. “When we went up there, we didn’t know what we were going to do. We just said, ‘We’re here; where can you use us?’ It was devastating to watch what was left, and it was eye-opening.”

Hubbard, now 82, is retired, but has no plans to stop volunteering in disaster relief. Just this week, she was in Louisiana, helping clean up after Hurricane Ida.

“I hope the Lord will allow me at least a couple of more years of doing this work because I truly love it,” she said. “It seems like when I go on these trips, I forget my age and my energy just hits the top rung and I’m just ready to go.

“You just meet the most wonderful people with the best attitudes that you could ever even imagine, the people that run into just makes it worthwhile. You know you’ve helped somebody that really needs it.”

Porter said the impact SBDR teams made at Ground Zero is still felt today, as disaster relief efforts increased throughout the states over the next 20 years, and Southern Baptists now have “a seat at the table,” among national relief agencies.

He added that the unity displayed by the country in the aftermath of 9/11 is the type of unity that is now desperately needed for Southern Baptists as followers of Christ.

“We have to base our beliefs and our ministry on the Word of God, and realize that we serve God, not each other,” Porter said. “We serve because He’s called us, and there’s so much we can do now through Send Relief to bring help, hope and healing.

“For the Southern Baptist Convention to come together, we have to go back and see what the Bible says about us going forward. If we go (to fulfill the Great Commission) in any other power expect the name of Jesus Christ, we will not be together, and we will be divided.”

3 SBC leaders reflect on 9/11

Pre 9/11 Lower Manhattan Skyline

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, three Southern Baptists leaders who held significant leadership roles on Sept. 11, 2001, help us to remember that infamous day in American history and consider its impact on the convention and our world.

At that time, Dr. Richard Land was the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Dr. James Merritt was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Dr. Jerry Rankin was the president of the International Mission Board. Each man shared his experience and reflections with us. Their words remind us of the difficult decisions during that time, the preciousness of our religious liberty, the value of every human life, and our call to take the gospel to the nations.

Jill Waggoner: Where were you when you heard the news on Sept. 11, 2001?

Richard Land: We were in the middle of our trustee meeting. I was getting ready and listening to the news when I saw the first plane hit. I called Bobby Reed, our chief financial officer, and I said, “Have you heard? Call the rental companies and get every rental car you can find, because they are going to shut everything down.” We ended up carpooling some of our trustees home who were there from more distant states.

It was astonishing. It’s hard to describe how shell-shocked everyone was. I had flown out of LaGuardia Airport, right past the Twin Towers, back to Nashville, just the Friday before. So, it was surreal.

James Merritt: Amazingly, I was getting ready to go upstairs and work out before flying to speak at the ERLC! I got a call from Teresa, my wife, telling me that a pilot had flown a plane into the World Trade Center and I might want to turn on the TV. I went back downstairs, and the moment I turned on the TV, I never left my bedroom for eight hours. During that time, I called the church to dismiss everyone to go to their homes immediately.

Jerry Rankin: When I arrived at the IMB office on Sept. 11, there was a notice that Genessa Wells, a journeyman in the Middle had been killed the night before in a bus accident two weeks before the completion of her term. At 9 a.m., I assembled our executive team for the purpose of activating crisis action procedures of notifying and ministering to family, responding to the trauma of the team on the field, and managing the media response. One of our vice presidents came into the room and suggested we turn on the TV monitor. He had just passed the one in the communications office, and something was happening in New York.

We watched the live events unfold in horror and disbelief for the next two hours and realized this would have global ramifications. Out of that day-long crisis mode, we realized the U.S. would retaliate on any number of Muslim countries and that Muslim population groups all over the world would then reciprocate, not necessarily against missionaries, but any American in their country. Although we have a policy that the decision to evacuate a country was to be made by local missionaries and their field leadership, we realized this was a larger global issue, and there was no way they could have the overview of the situation.

The decision was made to immediately evacuate missionaries in the 20 most dominant Muslim countries, which entailed moving 400 personnel and their families, most of whom were resistant to leaving, already cognizant of the risk in serving in a hostile environment. This was a massive logistical challenge. Where do they go? Where could we immediately provide accommodations for such a large number on nearby fields, not knowing how long they may be displaced or if they could ever return? How do we arrange travel, and how much time should we allow for them to make arrangements for sustaining their ministries and protecting property?

JW: How did 9/11 affect your role at that time?

RL: On a personal level, it made travel permanently more difficult and arduous, as it still is to some degree. It’s hard for people who are younger to understand how much easier it was to travel before 9/11.

The difficulty of the moment was that you wanted to protect your country without infringing on religious liberty and how to navigate that along with the threat posed by terrorists. We had to constanly remind people that 90% of the victims of the jihadists were fellow Muslims who refused to accept this as sole interpretation of Islam. We spoke to these issues, and when there was consensus among Baptists, we relayed that to Congress and the courts. We argued for sunsetting (when specific provisions cease after a certain time) for some of the legislation that was passed so that they would be reviewed every 10 years. We had to recognize legitimate security concerns, but we didn’t want laws set in place that would violate constitutional liberties permanently.

I got a lot of flack for coming out against waterboarding. Congressmen would ask me in private why I was against it. The shorthand definition of torture is something that is likely to produce permanent pyschological or physical damage. Having viewed waterboarding on films used to train our special forces, it was hard for me to imagine that this would not produce permant pychological damage This would be torture. If we engage in torture, then we become no better than our enemies.

To us the big question was: How do you defend religious freedom, including the freedom of Muslims? We said we are all free to advocate for our different faiths and to proselytize . . .

We also said we disagree with everything Muslims say, but we defend to the death their right to say it. When we defend the rights of those of the Muslim faith, we are defending the rights to our faith.

JM: It was out of that terrible tragedy that I was actually invited to the White House along with 25 other religious leaders to draft an ecumenical statement on praying for the nation. Then, I was one of seven selected to meet with the president in the Oval Office. That led to one of the most fascinating conversations and historical moments I could ever have envisioned or experienced.  It also helped to cement a nice personal relationship with President George W. Bush.

JR: Any time mission executives have to take authoritative action, contrary to the wishes and desires of the missionaries, a morale problem evolves as well as a mixture of criticism and praise from their stateside families and churches. The crisis put emerging strategies that grew out of “New Directions” in 1997 on hold in terms of redeploying personnel to engage unreached people groups, provide creative access strategies in countries restricted to missionaries, and maintaining the momentum of new missionaries being appointed. (2001 had the highest number of missionary appointments in the history of the IMB, with more than a thousand being commissioned!)

September 11 impacted international relations, the safety and security of missionaries around the world, and exacerbated the danger and reality of what it meant to give of one’s life for the sake of the gospel and obedience to the call. The next year, three veteran missionaries were assassinated at our Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen; Bill Hyde, a church planter in the Philippines, died in a terrorist bombing at the Davao City airport; and four pioneer missionaries seizing the opportunity to minister to the suffering in Iraq were gunned down by insurgents.

JW: How should Southern Baptists view 9/11 from this vantage point, 20 years later?

RL: Of first importance, we must defend our core values of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, particularly in times of great stress like that was. There’s the temptation to sacrifice those liberties on the altar of security, and that’s always a devil’s bargain. We need to practice and defend those “soul freedoms” for everyone at every opportunity.

September 11 told us — and our theology tells us this too — that we live in a world that is wracked by demonic and evil activity. The devil is a roaring lion “looking for someone to devour” as we read in 1 Peter. Paul tells us to redeem the time, “because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). The word here for “evil” is the word for an active, aggressive evil. We need to understand that the devil and evil people are up to things that we need to be vigilant against, and we are involved in spiritual warfare. Sometimes in the United States that is easy to forget because we have been spared many of the trevails that have been common to the rest of the world.

Once again, 9/11 reminded all Americans of the transitory nature of life. Churches were full right after 9/11. Then, things went back to “normal.” A lot of Americans have been lulled into a sense of “semi-immortality.” Events like this intrude upon Americans’ false sense of security. Life is a fragile thing, and none of us are guaranteed any set number of years. We need to keep our minds on eternal things and help fellow Americans keep their minds on eternal things, as well.

JM: Like any tragedy, I believe that we should always look to a sovereign God who is in control of everything that happens in the universe and wants to use everything for his glory, for the good of his people, and to turn people toward his Son, Jesus Christ. I still believe that events like this should remind us of the fragility of life and the urgency of sharing the gospel to a world that desperately needs Christ.

JR: Amazingly, these events and 9/11 resulted in a burgeoning pool of missionary candidates volunteering to take the gospel to the Muslim world. Over the next two years, the IMB global strategy coalesced around a vision of Muslim evangelism, seeing the gospel as the only power to counter the rise in terrorism. This was met by criticism and resistance of some of our Southern Baptist constituency who insisted we were wasting resources, missionaries should not be allowed to go to dangerous places, and Muslims deserved to go to hell.

In the last decade of the 20th century when the former Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia and Eastern Europe opened to the gospel. Unprecedented church growth swept China in spite of persecution and restrictions. The Muslim world was the one remaining formidable barrier to global evangelization. After 9/11, personnel in Muslim countries reported people expressing disillusionment in the Muslim faith that would endorse terrorism; they asked questions reflecting a search for hope and security they could not find in their traditional religion. September 11 caused the barriers to begin to crumble. Now, 20 years later we should remember what’s at stake and redouble our efforts to call out more missionaries and pray Muslims into the kingdom; after all God loves them, Jesus died for them, and his power is able to save them!

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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.

Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday recognizes volunteer efforts

ALPHARETTA, Ga.—Every year, thousands of volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) bring tangible help and spiritual hope during the trying days that follow disaster. This Sunday, August 22, Southern Baptists will celebrate them by recognizing Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday.

Most people rightfully think of the legions of yellow shirts that travel from across the nation to respond to the devastation wrought by major hurricanes or tornadoes, but SBDR routinely respond to a great diversity of events that do not make national headlines.

“I continue to believe the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the best volunteer disaster response groups in the world,” said Coy Webb, who recently joined Send Relief as crisis response director after leading SBDR with Kentucky Baptists for 13 years. “It is filled with volunteers who sacrificially serve to bring compassion to those reeling from disasters.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) is one of the top three organizations in the United States that provides disaster relief. Any time disaster strikes, SBDR volunteers are among the first to arrive and the last to leave. NAMB photo

In 2020, a year marked by COVID-19 and the historic Atlantic storm season, volunteers invested 673,000 hours, prepared 754,000 meals, presented the gospel 7,000 times and witness more than 875 people profess faith in Christ.

A record 30 named storm systems formed in the Atlantic in 2020, including Hurricanes Laura, Sally and Delta. Laura and Delta hit Lake Charles, La., merely six weeks apart while Sally directly hit the Gulf Coast. There were 28 state SBDR teams that responded to those hurricanes, serving approximately 15,000 people in 7,200 homes, according to Sam Porter, national director for disaster relief for Send Relief who served more than 19 years as SBDR director for Oklahoma Baptists.

“The pandemic forced us to do things that we’d never done before,” said Porter. “I think it was the best year for SBDR because we had to think outside the box and do whatever it took to get it done, encouraging SBDR teams to connect to communities in need through the local church. We had thousands upon thousands of churches jump in to serve, responding to their own local communities.”

There has not been a nationwide disaster response so far in 2021, but volunteers have been hard at work throughout the year responding to local events such as ice storms, floods, fires, tornadoes, the pandemic and other crises.

“Now we are in early hurricane season, and we know that if something hits, we will be there to serve,” said Porter. “We have a nationwide network of SBDR leaders and volunteers who are ready to go. We’d rather not have to go, of course, but if we need to, we will be there.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief provides a number of services in the aftermath of natural disasters and other crises. They prepare meals, remove trees and pray with survivors. These efforts give them the opportunity to share the gospel and see people respond. NAMB photo

Volunteers with SBDR have served 123,000 hours served and prepared nearly 75,000 meals. presented the gospel nearly 5,000 times this year with more than 300 making professions of faith in Christ. Nearly 200 of those professions have occurred as Southern Baptists have worked together to minister during the migrant crisis at the United States’ southern border.

“We do what we do to earn the right to share the gospel,” Porter said. “When people ask our volunteers, ‘Why do you do what you do,’ they have a chance to share their faith and invite people to believe the gospel.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the top three volunteer disaster relief providers in the United States and has one of the largest trained, volunteer forces. This includes teams capable of conducting mass feedings for storm survivors and crews capable of helping to remove downed trees, storm debris and repair roofs following natural disasters.

Send Relief is a collaborative effort between the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) that provides an opportunity to serve through compassion ministry around the world. The primary partner for conducting disaster relief is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief brings practical help, a healing touch, and the hope of Christ to countless people when disasters strike,” Webb said. “Send Relief counts it a privilege to serve beside our partners with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and with them to fulfill both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.”

In a recent video, NAMB president Kevin Ezell thanked SBDR leaders and volunteers for their efforts in bringing help and hope to disaster survivors.

Send Relief, World Relief working together to resettle Afghan refugees

ALPHARETTA, Ga.—In the aftermath of the sudden, tragic fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, thousands of refugees have been fleeing the landlocked nation to escape persecution and retaliation from the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has begun the process of helping Afghan refugees as they resettle around the world by working with World Relief and other ministry partners.

Tensions heightened in July and August 2021 as the United States withdrew troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban overtook the nation, leaving thousands of Afghans scrambling to flee for fear of persecution by the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has been finding ways to serve these refugees in the United States and other nations to which they are fleeing. International Mission Board photo.

Photos of packed aircraft and video of desperate Afghan people surrounding planes as they take off have captured the world’s attention in recent days. Those who served alongside the United States military in some capacity are among the groups in the direst situation, but there are thousands of others whose lives and livelihoods are now at risk because of the Taliban.

“We need to pray for the Afghan people as many are fleeing with nothing but the clothes they have on,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief. “Any remaining Christians will be targeted. The women and girls who are left behind will lose the freedoms they’ve gained over the last 20 years. May the church minister to any refugees our government allows in who have supported American efforts or faced persecution there.”

Thousands of Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in the United States in the coming days and weeks, and World Relief—a global Christian humanitarian organization that partners with local churches to serve vulnerable populations—has 17 offices across the United States where they aid refugees who will settle there.

As churches seek to respond, Send Relief will provide training and materials to equip churches that want to serve refugees in their communities and connect churches with organizations, like World Relief, that will help make direct connections with refugee families.

Most refugees arrive in the United States and need to find places to live, figure out how to enroll their kids in school and purchase basic household and hygiene items. Many also need assistance with learning English. Organizations like World Relief often work with local churches to help meet some of these needs.

“We don’t view this through the lens of politics or even the through the lens of the images coming out of Afghanistan right now,” said James Misner, senior vice president of strategic engagement for World Relief. “We view this through, and we respond through the lens of the commands of God in scripture—which tell us over and over again to welcome the stranger in need.”

Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy, also addressed concerns about the vetting process for refugees entering the United States with Baptist Press.

The U.S. government has, in recent decades, taken steps to ensure that those applying for refugee status receive background checks against several databases, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Afghans who provided assistance to the U.S., and are seeking to flee Afghanistan apply through a process called the Special Immigrant Visa program, a long vetting procedure that often takes more than two years to complete. Christians, women and other religious minorities are likely to flee the nation and seek refugee status in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Along with assisting in the refugee resettlement process in the United States, Send Relief also coordinates with international partners in resettling refugees in other nations around the world, helping those forced to leave their homes adjust to life in what is oftentimes a strange, new land.

To learn more about how you can give or serve refugees in this current crisis, visit sendrelief.org.

IMB and Houston’s First Baptist Church to Host Free Missions Mobilization Events

Southeast Asia crowded city

IMB’s South Asia leadership and Houston’s First Baptist Church will host two free missions mobilization events, An Intro to South Asia and Becoming a Sending Church, October 4-5, to highlight the lostness in South Asia and how local churches can partner in the no place left vision.

As an epicenter for lostness, South Asia’s need for laborers grows daily.  These mobilization events offer local churches the opportunity to see how they can get involved.

At Intro to South Asia, participants will learn about the biblical foundation for missions as a priority, South Asia field realities, the IMB’s Affinity of South Asian Peoples vision and strategy with stories from the field, and ways local churches can get involved through prayer, projects, partnerships, and pipelines for sending.  Intro to South Asia will be held October 4 from 9 am to 2:30 pm at Houston’s First Baptist Church.

Becoming a Sending Church will focus on biblical missiology, a brief overview of the South Asia vision and strategy, team structure in South Asia, a brief report of the progress of the Core Missionary Task, gaps and needs, priorities for goers and senders including a pipeline case study, and a job fair.  Participants can meet South Asia affinity leadership to discuss specific jobs.  Becoming a Sending Church will be held from 2 to 5 pm on October 4 and 8:30 am to 4:30 pm on October 5 at Houston’s First Baptist Church.

Preregistration is required for both An Intro to South Asia and Becoming a Sending Church, and seats are limited.  For information about how to register, send an email to asapconnecting@imb.org.

International Mission Board (IMB) exists to serve Southern Baptists in carrying out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

Houston’s First Baptist Church is a thriving and diverse community of real people experiencing real life together.

The post IMB and Houston’s First Baptist Church to Host Free Missions Mobilization Events appeared first on IMB.

Why objective truth is the issue at hand in the transgender debate

weightlifting image

Every four years, the summer Olympic Games take center stage. And while impossible-to-believe feats of strength and athleticism, camaraderie, and sportsmanship regularly wow its global viewership, the Olympic platform has sometimes also thrust prevailing social and cultural issues to the foreground. In some ways, the Tokyo Olympics may have done so more than ever.

As a prime example, one of the cultural issues that took center stage this summer was the transgender debate, seen most notably in the participation of Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old weightlifter from New Zealand who competed in the women’s heavyweight competition. Though admittedly reluctant to be a mouthpiece for the transgender community, Hubbard, who formerly competed in the sport as a male, has garnered a great deal of attention and sparked significant controversy by participating in Tokyo’s games.

Much of the conversation on this particular controversy revolves around the question of fairness. Namely, is it fair for a person who has undergone a so-called gender transition, especially from male to female, to compete athletically in their “new” gender classification? But while the issue of fairness is critically important in sports and athletics, the truth is that fairness is downstream from the real crux of the issue. At root, the issue at hand is whether we, as a society, will continue to recognize and accept objective truth.

A web of delusion

We are suffering from a self-deception of our own making. The widespread acceptance of transgenderism reflects the fact that our culture has traded objective truth for subjectivism. In effect, we have crowned the self the ruler of truth. And in the midst of this, Sir Walter Scott’s memorable line, “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” has become uncomfortably poignant. Our culture has woven a destructive web of delusion, allowing feelings to supplant facts and preferences to replace realities.

Human beings do not decree what is or is not true. We are not God or gods. As limited and finite beings, our duty is much more modest. We recognize truth. We share truth. We stand for truth. But we do not fashion or alter what is true. And in our culture today, perhaps our hubris and propensity for exceeding the boundaries of our own authority is nowhere better displayed than with regard to gender.

Rejecting reality

In the case of Laurel Hubbard, we are witnessing the downstream consequences of our culture’s rejection of objective truth. Hubbard’s example demonstrates just how quickly we’re beginning to encounter the consequences of decades of emphasis on self-supremacy and self-actualization.

Any rational person can acknowledge that it is generally unfair to ask biological females to compete against biological males in physical athletic competition. This is especially true when the activity is weightlifting. The reasons why are self-evident but bear repeating. Males and females are distinct. Among other things, males and females have different musculoskeletal makeups: “Muscle size and bulk is less in women, due to the effects of the normal sex hormones. Men, given their greater levels of testosterone, have larger and stronger muscles, with a greater potential for muscle development.” Importantly, these physiological distinctions are not able to be altered apart from serious medical intervention — and even then clear differences persist.

The decision to allow Hubbard to compete against biological females because of Hubbard’s current female “gender identity” reflects just how deeply we’ve imbibed this cultural delusion. There is no doubt that Hubbard, and many others, experience true feelings of gender dysphoria, “a condition where a person senses that their gender identity (how they feel about being male or female) may not align with their biological sex and experiences emotional distress as a result.” Indeed, such people deserve tremendous mercy and compassion. But validating an identity that is not merely flawed but antithetical to Hubbard’s true identity is neither merciful nor compassionate. It is a rejection of reality and a repudiation of the concept of objective truth.

Eroding the foundations

When it comes to sex and gender the answer is not to capitulate to the winds of culture. Instead, it is to affirm that which is apparent by observation, attested via biology, and most importantly revealed in Scripture. It is no accident that the first pages of our Bible clearly describe God’s pattern for human beings in the words “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). And it is equally important for Christians to affirm that gender is inextricably linked to sex. Regardless of whether a person may “feel” like a man or a woman, their gender is not determined according to feeling but according to a fixed and objective reality. Only males are men; only females are women.

Athletic competition reveals these distinctions acutely. Men and women typically compete in separate categories to ensure a fair and equal playing field. One need not subscribe to the Bible’s view of anthropology to recognize this. We can recognize the injustice of allowing biological males to compete against biological females because alongside our innate sense of fairness is our perception of these biological distinctions.

Beyond sports, we can only guess just how damaging the eradication of these boundaries will be for both individuals and our society as a whole. What we do know is that this widespread rejection of objective truth will continue to erode the foundations upon which our common life is built. As Christians, we must strive resist the tides of culture and hold fast to the truth about what it means that God creates human beings as either male or female. These distinctions are critical, not merely to preserve the wonder that captivates us at the Olympic Games but to honor the pattern of God’s design for those he created to reflect his image back into all creation.

Lifeline remains rooted to the Bible as adoption, pregnancy care culture shifts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) – Churches are called to uphold justice for the marginalized and vulnerable, but must include the motivation for such actions. It begins with a relationship with Christ.

Herbie Newell

That focus, says Herbie Newell of Lifeline Children’s Services, is the difference in doing good for its own sake and doing good that addresses the root issues. “The Church needs to see that God has called us to do justice. But, doing justice is only part of our Gospel proclamation. Lifeline goes into the hard places for ministry while staying rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Lifeline grew out of Sav-a-Life crisis pregnancy center to address the needs of vulnerable children and families through adoption, family restoration, orphan care, education and counseling. Co-founders Wales Goebel and John Carr wanted to show the Gospel to those clients, Newell said. In addition to educating pregnant women about their options and sharing the Gospel, Christian families were also available to adopt the child should the birth mother make the choice to carry the baby to term.

“The secret sauce of what we do is found in the discipleship aspect of our ministry,” added Newell, Lifeline’s president and executive director. “It creates a generational ripple effect. When you work with one young person and provide Christian families for a child, then you provide healing for the future.

“It’s never been just about the child, but discipleship. If we took that out of our statement of faith, then we change everything about our ministry.”

Like other Christian adoption agencies, Lifeline has felt the pressure as culture has shifted on sexuality and marriage. When Bethany Christian Services, one of the nation’s largest evangelical adoption providers, declared earlier this year it would now serve gay parents, the announcement sparked phone calls to Lifeline’s offices.

“A lot of people wanted to know where we stood,” Newell said. “People who knew us already knew the answer, but I was asked if Lifeline was going to stay biblically-minded as opposed to adapting to the culture.”

Lifeline will remain rooted to its biblical convictions regarding the family, he said. And adopting such a change would be difficult to say the least. For any change in Lifeline’s statement of faith to take place, it was first need to be unanimously approved and submitted by its executive team. It would then be put before its national board, which also requires a unanimous vote for approval.

“If one person objects, it doesn’t change,” Newell stated.

In 2015, Lifeline also made the decision to never accept government funding on any level – local, state or federal. Last year the organization’s board did vote to accept funding from the Payroll Protection Program, Newell said, after a lengthy discussion that included legal and pastoral advice. The final decision came after establishing that the funds went toward the organization’s staff, not its mission, and also be for one time rather than ongoing funding. It was paid back by the end of the summer, Newell said, and in the end the funds were not really necessary to continue operating as normal.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Lifeline’s ministry in other ways. An online tutoring ministry for foster children that Lifeline established in 2018 came into high demand last year after practically all schooling went digital. Although most schools have gone back to meeting in person, the online tutoring program remains popular and the need for tutors has increased.

Just as the ministry’s roots go back to discipleship and the Gospel, they also go back to educating clients on the sanctity of life. According to Lifeline, the first child placed for adoption through the agency went on to be a Journeyman missionary through the International Mission Board and eventually became a business owner in Birmingham. In another case, a young woman suffering through domestic violence made the decision for her baby to be adopted by an IMB family serving in India. That young woman became a believer and, after marrying a Christian man, would choose to adopt a child as well.

That generational impact of the Gospel drives Lifeline and likeminded ministries, Newell maintained.

“We follow the Great Commandment and Great Commission. As we serve others, we make the Gospel known and if we ever took that out, it would change our whole ministry model,” he said.