Signs of the Times

Parents Plus Church Equal Success for Children

ASSIST News Service reports that children who live with their married biological mother and father and attend church once a week or once monthly have fewer problems in school, home and their personal lives, a new study says. The Family Research Council’s Mapping America Project found that children in these circumstances “are five times less likely to repeat a grade, less likely to have behavior problems and more likely to understand other’s feelings and be cooperative when necessary.” The FRC study mirrors findings about the benefits of marriage and church in multiple other studies.

Spirit of Giving Lasts All Year at New Church

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — The members of Waterfront Community Church attend weekly services in a high school auditorium. Their contemporary Christian music rock band practices at someone’s home. And the pastor relies on a laptop and Starbucks for an office. The nondenominational suburban Chicago church operates on a shoestring budget and under an unusual financial setup so it can stick to a mission: Give 100% of offerings gathered from the collection plate to those in need. Churches typically use at least part of the money collected at worship services for administrative costs, including heating the sanctuary and paying the pastor’s salary. Not only does Waterfront give away what it collects, it also develops relationships with the people who benefit. Since the church started in October, it has raised about $11,500 for a 29-year-old single mother to help her get on her feet, a cause church members chose together. For Christmas, they also decided to help a single mother of two who recently had her salary cut in half, and a woman who needs brain tumor surgery.

  • JJ Commentary: This is more like the first century Church reported in Acts which should become the model if we hope to have more of an impact in the world around us. Too much money goes into maintaining expensive buildings and paying salaries. The Apostle Paul continued to make tents to support himself.

Atheists: No Praying at Inauguration!

WorldNetDaily — Atheists are planning to crash the inauguration invocation, claiming the government is choosing between “believers” and “those who don’t believe” and imposing religion on atheists and agnostics.Michael Newdow, a California attorney who pushed a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful effort to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is joining Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a lawsuit to stop the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s sponsorship of prayer on Jan. 20. Their 34-page grievance, filed Monday in Washington, D.C., District Court, names Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts Jr., officials in charge of inaugural activities, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, pastor Rick Warren and others as defendants. It also aims to prohibit Roberts from using the phrase “So help me God” in the traditional oath of office, Fox News reports. “We’re hoping to stop prayer and religious rituals at governmental functions, especially at the inauguration,” Barker said. “The inauguration is not a religious event. It is a secular event of a secular country that includes all Americans, including those of us who are not Christians, including those of us who are not believers.”

Crisis in Gaza Rages On

WASHINGTON — The White House’s call for a cease-fire Monday in the Gaza Strip went unheeded as Israel broadened its attacks against key targets of Hamas power in Gaza, and Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel. The war of words also escalated. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament, “We have a war to the bitter end against Hamas,” the militant group ruling the 25-mile-long Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. And Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, said the goal of the offensive against Hamas is to “destroy completely” what she called a “terrorist gang.” She told the Associated Press that returning to the recent cease-fire with Hamas that expired Dec. 19 would not be enough.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told reporters Israel is “committing a holocaust as the whole world watches and doesn’t lift a finger to stop it.” The four-day death toll rose to at least 390 Gazans with over 1600 wounded, according to the U.N. The Israeli Defense Force said four Israelis have died by rocket fire from Gaza. Rocket fire into Israel intensified after Hamas declared an end to the six-month truce, triggering the Israeli offensive, which began Saturday. Israel turned Monday to destroying symbolic sites for Hamas: part of International Islamic University, a security compound and a house next to the residence of the Hamas prime minister, AP reported. Monday, Israeli warplanes smashed a Hamas government complex, security installations and the home of a top militant commander.

Palestinian militants, armed with deadlier missiles than ever before, kept up their rocket assaults on Israeli border communities on Tuesday, despite relentless Israeli air attacks against Gaza’s Hamas rulers and unwelcome word from Egypt that it would not bail them out. Israel rejected international pressure to suspend its air offensive against Palestinian militants whose rocket barrages are striking close to the Israeli heartland, sending warplanes Wednesday to demolish smuggling tunnels that are the lifeline of Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers.

Iraqis to Take Charge of Green Zone in 2009

BAGHDAD — When the calendar flips to 2009 on Thursday, Iraq’s government will gain control over the Green Zone and its own airspace and some jurisdiction over security contractors under the terms of a deal that will fundamentally change how the United States operates here. The changes, outlined in a landmark security agreement the Bush administration signed in November. The most visible changes will take place in the Green Zone, the fortified section of Baghdad that has been the U.S. headquarters since the invasion in 2003. The changes represent “a palpable shift in power,” said Daniel Serwer, former executive director of the Iraq Study Group, a panel appointed by Congress in 2006 to assess the situation there.

Troop Deaths at Lowest Levels in Iraq/Afghanistan

BAGHDAD — As 2008 ends, U.S. troop deaths for the year in Iraq and Afghanistan are the lowest combined total since the Iraq war began in 2003. In December, at least 15 U.S. servicemembers died of combat and non-combat injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lowest combined monthly toll since the Iraq war began, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon data. The previous low was 18 in November. Deaths for the year as of Tuesday were 467 in both wars, lower even than the partial year of 2003, when fighting in Iraq began in March. Bombings remain a daily threat in Iraq, mostly hurting civilians. Military deaths have gone down significantly in Iraq since the buildup of U.S. troops in 2007 and a push to recruit former Sunni insurgents into Iraq’s security forces.

Christian Refugees from Iraq Pack Pews in Lebanon

The Chicago Tribune reports that Iraqi Christians with enough means are fleeing to Lebanon, preferring the longer journey for the greater freedom at the end. Lebanon’s population is 40 percent Christian – much greater than Syria or Turkey, where many Iraqi refugees go. Rev. Joseph Malkoum in Beirut says the number of refugees is only increasing. “There was a period when we felt the numbers were going down, but after the recent troubles in Mosul the movement is picking up again,” said Malkoum, who holds a special mass every Sunday for Iraqi Chaldeans. “Five years from now there won’t be any Christians left in Iraq. It’s happening quietly but also very quickly,” said retired Gen. Michel Kasdano, a researcher and spokesman at the Chaldean Archbishopric.

Roadside Bombs in Afghanistan Doubled in 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The number of roadside bombs and kidnappings doubled in Afghanistan in 2008 from the year previous, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, grim statistics that underscore the country’s deteriorating security situation. The number of roadside bombs rose from roughly 1,000 in 2007 to 2,000 in 2008, while the number of kidnappings jumped from about 150 to 300, said Ambassador William Wood. Violence has risen and the Taliban insurgency is spreading once again throughout southern Afghanistan. Because of that, the U.S. next year will send up to 30,000 new forces to the country to reinforce the 32,000 American soldiers already there.

Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive. The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.

400 Dead in Congo Massacres

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ugandan rebels have killed more than 400 people in northeastern Congo since Christmas, an aid agency said Tuesday. The Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group and the Ugandan government have accused each other of being behind recent attacks in the remote area, where the rebels have bases. The allegations are the latest reports of attacks in the area near where the armies of Uganda, Sudan and Congo began an offensive this month to root out the Lord’s Resistance Army. On Monday, officials and witnesses said attackers had hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church the day after Christmas, and the United Nations said the rebels had killed a total of 189 people in three villages in the area on two recent days.

Russian Leader Signs Law Extending Presidential Terms

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a law extending presidential terms from four years to six, the Kremlin said Tuesday, a move seen as paving the way for Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. Medvedev’s final endorsement of the legislation follows its quick approval by the Kremlin-controlled parliament and all of Russia’s 83 provincial legislatures. Putin, who remains very popular, was barred constitutionally from seeking a third straight term as president. He tapped his longtime protege Medvedev as his favored successor, ensuring Medvedev’s landslide election in March. Putin then became prime minister and leader of the United Russia party, which dominates the Duma, and he is still seen as the man calling the shots in Russia.

  • JJ Commentary: Why is this important? Putin has worked closely with Iran, taken anti-America positions, dismantled democratic reforms and waged war in Georgia to begin restoration of the U.S.S.R. These are all end-time alignments prophesied by Scripture.

After Getting $5B in Federal Aid, GMAC Expands Lending

DETROIT — GMAC said Tuesday it will begin providing auto financing for more consumers, after announcing late Monday that it received $5 billion from the government, selling that much in warrants to the Department of Treasury through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. On top of that, Treasury will lend $1 billion to General Motors so it can invest that money in GMAC. GMAC said it will immediately provide financing to retail buyers of cars and trucks who have credit scores of 621 or higher. In October, it had restricted loans to borrowers with scores of 700 or higher as the credit crisis deepened. Many analysts consider a score of 620 to be the dividing line between “subprime” borrowers and those considered more creditworthy. Credit scores generally range between 300 and 850.

December Consumer Confidence Wilts to All-time Low

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumer confidence hit an all-time low in December, dropping rapidly in the face of layoffs and deteriorating markets for housing, stocks and other investments. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November. The present situation index, which measures how respondents feel about business conditions and employment prospects, fell to 29.4 in December from 42.3 in November. It is now close to levels last seen after the 1990 to 1991 recession. Those saying business conditions are “bad” increased to 46.0% in December from 40.6% in November, while those saying business conditions are “good” declined to 7.7% from 10.1%.

Home Prices Continue to Drop

NEW YORK (AP) — A closely watched index shows home prices down by the sharpest annual rate on record in October. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index released Tuesday was off a record 18% from October last year. Prices are at levels not seen since March 2004. Prices in the 20-city index are down more than 23.4% from their peak in July 2006. None of the 20 cities saw annual price gains in October — for the seventh consecutive month.

Philly to Close 11 Libraries to Cover Budget Deficit

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter drew a loud chorus of “boos” when he announced that the city will close 11 libraries this week because of a budget deficit, but hopes to turn at least five of them into public-private “learning centers,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Nutter told a news rowdy news conference Monday that the city will lease the buildings to  new operators, which include community groups, foundations, corporations and others, that will provide funding and staffing for the facilities. He pledged that the new public centers will include free computer access, the paper says. The Associated Press quotes the mayor as saying he expects books, computers and other materials to stay at the “knowledge centers,” but  could not say if they will be staffed by librarians.

Off-Road Vehicle Use Fuels Tension, Violence Across U.S.

Clashes over the sport of off-roading are becoming more violent for riders, property owners and law enforcement officers as conflicts about the use of all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) escalate, federal officials, landowners and advocacy groups say. Property owners across the country report that they have been threatened and their homes vandalized by off-road-vehicle users. In Nevada, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, rangers say riders have punched them or charged them with their vehicles. Riders also are becoming victims. In June, 13-year-old Nicholas Parisot of Wilton, Conn., died of neck injuries after riding his two-wheel dirt bike on private property and hitting a rope tied between trees. Wilton police are investigating whether someone sabotaged the trail. “We see a growing amount of aggressive and lawless behavior taking place on off-road vehicles,” says Harrison Schmitt, executive director of Responsible Trails America, a national group that calls for off-road vehicles to use designated trails. “We’re starting to see people tired of the abuse and beginning to take the law into their own hands.”

Yellowstone Quake Swarm Worries Scientists

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —  Yellowstone National Park was jostled by a host of small earthquakes for a third straight day Monday, and scientists watched closely to see whether the more than 250 tremors were a sign of something bigger to come. Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it’s very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah. “They’re certainly not normal,” Smith said. He said the quakes have ranged in strength from barely detectable to one of magnitude 3.8 that happened Saturday. A magnitude 4 quake is capable of producing moderate damage.

Winter Storms Continue to Pound Northern USA

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane residents were trying to dig out Tuesday after a record-breaking month of snow collapsed roofs and clogged streets. Bismarck, N.D., also set a snowfall record. The center of a snow-laden supermarket roof in north Spokane collapsed Monday evening, prompting the evacuation of that store and adjacent businesses. A fire official said only one minor injury was reported. Two more collapses were reported Tuesday morning, at a church gymnasium and a hardware store. No one was injured. The collapses came as Spokane set a monthly record for snowfall, at 59.7 inches, after 8.3 inches were recorded in the 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Monday.

In Bismarck, North Dakota, the National Weather Service said the overnight storm brought the city’s December snow total to 33.5 inches, more than any month on record. Grand Forks and Fargo each set records with more than 30 inches of snow for December.

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