Signs of the Times (3/26/12)

Growth of Christianity in Iran ‘Explosive’

The number of Muslims coming to Christ from Islam — often called Muslim Background Believers or Secret Believers — is growing faster and faster in Iran, especially among young people, Open Doors USA reports. Forty years ago, an estimated 200 Muslim Background Believers were living in Iran, but today the number is around 370,000. The growth is happening in all regions, but mostly in Iran’s larger cities, and the house church movement has triggered many secret meetings. According to Open Doors workers, the growth of Christianity “has everything to do with Iranians getting to know the real face of Islam, the official religion of Iran, and the mistrust of the people toward the government and leaders.” Open Doors is using discipleship training to strengthen the Iranian church, and many are also coming to Christ through Christian programming on satellite TV. The government of Iran sees Christianity as a threat, but despite increasing crackdowns in attempts to stop the growth, the network of Iranian Christians has only become stronger.

Pope Calls for Less Violence in Mexico

Pope Benedict XVI landed in Mexico on Friday to throngs of faithful who gathered at the tarmac and lined more than 20 miles of his route into the city. From the time the pontiff boarded his plane in Rome, he took on the subject of Mexican drug war violence that has killed more than 47,000 people in the last six years, saying it is “destroying humanity and our youth.” Benedict called on Mexicans to conquer a materialistic culture that feeds drug trafficking and said the church can be a healing force. “The great responsibility of the church is to educate the conscience, teach moral responsibility and strip off the mask (from) the idolatry of money that enslaves mankind, and unmask the false promise, this lie that is behind” the drug culture, he said.

Religious Rallies Across USA Protest Birth-Control Mandate

Thousands of people rallied Friday in an estimated 140 cities nationwide to protest mandatory insurance coverage for birth control, which opponents say threatens religious freedom. Crowd estimates ranged from dozens to hundreds to thousands, according to various news reports. Protesters were characterized as being mostly conservative Catholics, evangelicals and abortion opponents. In several, bishops, priests, other religious leaders and lawmakers excoriated crowds to fight the employer mandate, which would require Catholic hospitals and universities and other religious organizations to provide contraception coverage to their employees. The protest, timed to mark the second anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act, was organized by “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” and local groups.

  • This real issue isn’t contraception, but the intrusion of federal government into private, religious affairs

Healthcare Law Reaches High Court

Health coverage for more than 30 million people. The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. President Obama’s re-election. The reputation of the Supreme Court and the legacy of its chief justice. And to hear some tell it: liberty itself. All that and more could be at stake today when the Supreme Court begins three days of historic oral arguments on a 2010 health care law that has become a symbol of the nation’s deep political divide. Passed by Democrats along strictly partisan lines and still two years short of full implementation, the law is designed to extend health coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people, ban insurers from discriminating against those with expensive ailments, and require nearly all Americans to buy insurance or pay penalties. Americans remain divided on whether the law was a good or bad idea. Many Americans also are confused about the law’s standing: A poll this month by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation found 42% were either unsure of the law’s status or believed the Supreme Court had already overturned it.

  • In all of human history, health insurance only came into being over the past century. Now the entitlement generation considers it a fundamental right. The key issue here is federal enforcement of what should be individual choices within a private industry.

New Counterterrorism Guidelines

The Obama administration has approved guidelines that allow counterterrorism officials to lengthen the period of time they retain information about U.S. residents, even if they have no known connection to terrorism. The changes allow the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the intelligence community’s clearinghouse for terrorism data, to keep information for up to five years. Previously, the center was required to promptly destroy — generally within 180 days — any information about U.S. citizens or residents unless a connection to terrorism was evident. The guidelines have prompted concern from civil liberties advocates.

  • Counterterrorism will be an excuse for the federal government to exercise unlawful constraint and restraint against those opposed to its socialistic, globalistic objectives

Arizona’s Illegal-Immigration Population Plunges

The size of Arizona’s undocumented-immigrant population has dropped significantly in recent years and is now near its lowest level in a decade, according to new government estimates. Based on 2010 census data, estimated there were 360,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona as of January 2011. That is down 110,000 from a year earlier. It also is down 200,000 from the peak in 2008, when an estimated 560,000 illegal immigrants lived in Arizona. Experts say the the primary factor behind the exodus was the lack of jobs during the recession, but tighter border enforcement and tough immigration laws also played a role.

State Lawmakers Push to Take Over Federal Land

Another “sagebrush rebellion” is spreading through legislatures in Arizona and other Western states with a series of formal demands that the federal government hand over title to tens of millions of acres of forests, ranges and other public lands, but not military bases, Indian reservations, national parks and some wilderness areas. If the federal government fails to comply by the end of 2014, the states say they will begin sending property-tax bills to Washington, D.C. While the original sagebrush rebellion grew out of conflicts over management of federal lands, often as specific as keeping a forest road open, the new takeover movement owes more to “tea party” politics, with a strong focus on reducing the scope of federal influence and opening land to more users. Supporters say federal agencies have mismanaged the land and blocked access to natural resources, depriving the states of jobs and revenue from businesses ready to develop those resources. With the state in control, the backers say, loggers could return to forests where endangered species halted work decades ago and miners could regain access to ore outside the Grand Canyon.

  • We have moved so far away from Constitutional states’ rights that any move away from federal encroachment is a good thing on principle alone

Few U.S. Cities Ready for Aging Baby Boomers

Few communities have started to think long term about how to plan and redesign services for aging baby boomers as they move out of the workforce and into retirement. Even more troubling, dwindling budgets in a tight economy have pushed communities to cut spending on delivering meals to the homebound and shuttling folks who can no longer drive to grocery stores and doctor’s offices. These cuts, advocates for older Americans say, are coming when the services are needed more than ever. And those needs will grow tremendously over the next two decades. The nation’s population of those 65 and older will double between 2000 and 2030, according to the federal Administration on Aging. That adds up to one out of every five Americans — 72.1 million people.

Soldiers Diagnosed with PTSD Returned to War

It is still not known if the soldier accused of killing 17 Afghans was ever diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder — but even if he had been, that alone would not have prevented him from being sent back to war. The Army diagnosed 76,176 soldiers with PTSD between 2000 and 2011. Of those, 65,236 soldiers were diagnosed at some stage of their deployment. Many returned to the battlefield after mental health providers determined their treatment worked and their symptoms had gone into remission. For some Americans, Bales is the epitome of a soldier afflicted by war’s psychological wounds, pushed by the Army beyond his limits. Military officials say they have to rely on their mental health experts to decide whether someone is mentally fit to go back into war, and they cannot make a blanket policy of not redeploying troops diagnosed with PTSD.

  • The military has been stretched thin by two long wars and no draft. They have unconscionably pushed servicemembers and reservists into multiple deployments, severely compromising psychological boundaries

Navajo Nation Eyes Grand Canyon for Development

The vast 27,000-square-mile Navajo reservation abuts Grand Canyon National Park. Generations of Navajo families have grazed livestock on a remote but spectacular mesa that overlooks the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. No significant development has occurred at the eastern flank of the Grand Canyon where the rivers meet. But ancestral tradition and the tranquility of the landscape could change. That’s if the Navajo government’s proposal for a resort and aerial tramway that would ferry tourists from the cliff tops to water’s edge is realized. Tribal leaders say they’re losing out on tourist dollars and jobs for Navajos by leaving the land undeveloped. The National Park Service and environmental groups, are opposing the large-scale development.

U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence

All across the USA, the oil and gas industry is vastly increasing production, reversing two decades of decline. Using new technology and spurred by rising oil prices since the mid-2000s, the industry is extracting millions of barrels more a week, from the deepest waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the prairies of North Dakota. At the same time, Americans are pumping significantly less gasoline. Taken together, the increasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal of energy independence that has eluded policymakers for decades. In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.

  • Good start, but still a long way to go. Even more important than economic considerations is the security of not having our fate in the hands of OPEC.

Economic News

Sales of new U.S. homes fell in February for the second straight month, a reminder that the depressed housing market remains weak despite some improvement. New-home sales dropped 1.6% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 313,000 homes. Sales have fallen nearly 7% since December. While a mild winter and three months of strong job growth have lifted re-sales, those conditions haven’t benefited the new-home market. The current pace is less than half the 700,000 that economists consider to be healthy. However, the median sales price for new homes surged in February more than 8%, to $233,700. That’s the highest median price since June.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the U.S. job market remains weak. “Despite the recent improvement, the job market remains far from normal,” Bernanke said. “The number of people working and total hours worked are still significantly below pre-crisis peaks.” Bernanke cautioned that he doesn’t expect the unemployment rate to keep falling at the current pace without much stronger economic growth. He is concerned that the recovery could falter again as it did last year. Americans aren’t seeing big pay increases, gas prices are rising, and Europe’s debt crisis could weigh on the U.S. economy.

The amount Americans owe on student loans is far higher than earlier estimates and could lead some consumers to postpone buying homes, potentially slowing the housing recovery, U.S. officials said. Total student debt outstanding appears to have surpassed $1 trillion late last year, said officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created in the wake of the financial crisis. That would be roughly 16% higher than an estimate earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank. CFPB officials say student debt is rising for several reasons, including a surge in Americans going to college in recent years to escape the weak labor market. Also, tuition increases—which many colleges say are needed to offset big cuts in state funding—have many students taking out bigger loans.

Middle East

The former head of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau revealed this week that jihadist groups around the world have joined together to attack Israeli targets and Jewish people wherever and whenever they can. General Nitzan Nuriel said that Iran is pushing these terrorists, many of whom it has funded and trained, to launch these attacks as an attempt to derail a possible military strike against their nuclear program. The brutal murder of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in France this week was just the latest and most deadly in a string of recent attacks.

The Palestinians will receive $88.6 million in U.S. developmental aid, more than half the assistance that has been on hold for six months, after top Republicans who control the House of Representatives dropped their opposition. Republicans said the money could be spent with the understanding that they are not used for assistance and recovery in Hamas-controlled Gaza; road construction projects in the West Bank, except if directly related to security and projects with permits from Israel in other areas; and trade facilitation, tourism promotion, scholarships for Palestinian students and other aid for the Palestinian Authority agencies and ministries. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said she will continue to block the remaining $58.6 million because part of the money is for Gaza assistance and recovery.

The high-profile Christ at the Checkpoint conference of evangelical leaders from America was held in Bethlehem earlier this month. The conference slammed Christian Zionists for the plight of the Palestinians. Speakers called the “occupation a structural sin” and said that Christ would be standing with the Palestinians, not the Jews in the conflict. The conference did not address the murder of innocent Jewish men, women, and children by brutal terrorists.

  • Christians are falling prey to New World Order media hype and abandoning Biblical foundations. Satan is using any excuse to eliminate Israel. Christian complicity is shameful and sinful.

Syria

Streets of Damascus that used to be crowded until late at night stand mostly empty after sunset as Syrians stay home, fearing robberies and kidnapping. Reports of thefts, armed robberies and house break-ins have swelled, an apparent sign of criminals taking advantage of the turmoil as the regime of President Bashar Assad wages a bloody, nationwide crackdown against an opposition demanding his ouster. The government blames members of the opposition or army defectors for much of the crime. The opposition, in turn, blames the regime, saying it is allowing the lawlessness so it can tell the public that the uprising has brought chaos.

  • The real culprit is the end-time spirit of lawlessness that is rapidly expanding its influence as God’s hand of restraint is being removed (2Thess. 2:7)

Syrian troops backed by tanks stormed the northwestern town of Saraqeb Friday amid intense shelling in the latest push by regime forces in their attempt to regain rebel-held areas. The troops were accompanied by pro-government gunmen known as shabiha and plainclothes security agents who arrived in buses and started conducting raids and detaining people. Saraqeb, in the northern province of Idlib that borders Turkey, has been held by army defectors for months. The attack on Saraqeb came 11 days after troops retook Idlib city, the provincial capital, which had been under rebel control for months.

Libya

Libyan tribesmen have closed the country’s main border crossing with Egypt, complaining of a rise in crime and rampant smuggling of drugs and weapons across the frontier. Tribal elders and residents affected by the lawlessness decided the only solution was to take matters into their own hands. The closure of the Salloum crossing reflects of Libya’s new leaders’ struggles to fully secure the country and stamp their authority on the former rebels who helped topple Moammar Gadhafi’s regime last year. The transitional government has trained a number of security officers in border protection, and some have already been sent to work on Libya’s main crossing on its western border with Tunisia.

Afghanistan

A man in an Afghan army uniform shot and killed two British soldiers Monday inside a NATO base in southern Afghanistan. The attack appeared to be the latest in a string of so-called “green on blue” attacks in which Afghan security forces have turned on their international colleagues or mentors. Such attacks have become increasingly common over the past year, particularly since the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in February and the massacre of seventeen civilians by a U.S. soldier.

Mali

Demonstrators in Mali’s capital are demanding a return to constitutional order days after mutinous soldiers claimed power in a coup. About a thousand people, including members of youth movements and political parties, gathered Monday in central Bamako. Junta spokesman Lt. Amadou Konare on Sunday warned demonstrators to “exercise prudence” on Monday, which marks the 21-year anniversary of the last coup. The ouster of President Amadou Toumani Toure just two months before he was to step down after elections threatens the cause of democracy. Many of the rebel troops who toppled Toure had just returned home from fighting as mercenaries for ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI is set to land in Cuba Monday for what will be a delicate exercise in diplomacy between the country’s dissidents, who are anxious for their voices to be amplified by a papal visit, and the historically atheist government that is in need of an air of legitimacy. Dissidents have complained of threats from authorities. Oswaldo Payá claims that members of his Christian Liberation Movement have received threats from state security, banning them from taking part in papal ceremonies. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and is one of the country’s foremost dissidents. The government expelled priests and nuns as well as seized church property after the revolution in 1959. There are no plans for Fidel Castro to meet with the pope, though Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that the pope would be available if the elder Castro — who was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII in 1962 — desired an audience.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck central Chile on Sunday night, prompting authorities to urge evacuations for a long stretch of the coast as a precaution against a tsunami. There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage. The quake struck 20 miles north-northwest of Talca, where residents said it lasted about a minute and was the strongest they had felt since the city was rocked hard by the huge quake that devastated central Chile two years ago. Panic struck in other cities, with people running out of skyscrapers and many places were left partly or totally without electrical power. Phone service collapsed due to heavy traffic.

Weather

Heavy rain that pounded Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast brought the threat of flooding to some areas, but it also put an end to an already diminishing drought.Between 4 and 10 inches of rain fell across the area — with the heaviest rains on the Gulf Coast. That and more regular rains during the late winter ended a drought that extended back into 2010.

Maple syrup producers across the North have had their season cut short by unusually warm weather. While those with expensive, modern vacuum systems say they’ve been able to suck a decent amount of sap from their trees, producers who still rely on traditional taps and buckets, have seen their year ruined. Maple trees generate the most sap when cool days are followed by freezing nights. The flow begins when daytime temperatures creep into the 40s, but in some areas, nighttime temperatures have been warmer than that in the past week. Once trees bud, collection stops because hormones produced in the trees spoil the sap’s taste.

A grapefruit-sized hailstone that hit Oahu, Hawaii, on March 9 has been confirmed as the largest hailstone on record in Hawaii. The final measurement of the hailstone was 4 1/4 inches long, 2 1/4 inches tall, and 2 inches wide. The previous state record hailstone was 1 inch in diameter. The record-setting hailstone was dropped by a supercell thunderstorm on the windward side of Oahu and produced large hail in Kaneohe and Kailua. Supercells are the largest, strongest and longest-lasting thunderstorms. Numerous reports of hail with diameters of 2 to 3 inches and greater were reported.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme. “And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.” (Rev. 16:21)

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