Signs of the Times (2/22/13)

For those of you who’ve been asking, book 7, The Beginning of Forever of The End series is now available as an e book on Amazon (Kindle) & Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Megachurches Thriving in Tough Economic Times

A new survey shows that despite the tough economy, many of the nation’s largest churches are thriving, with increased offerings and plans to hire more staff, the Religion News Service reports. Just 3 percent of churches with 2,000 or more attendees surveyed by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, said they were affected “very negatively” by the economy in recent years. Forty-seven percent said they were affected “somewhat negatively,” but one-third said they were not affected at all. The vast majority — 83 percent — of large churches expected to meet their budgets in 2012 or their current fiscal year, and a majority also reported that offerings during worship services were higher last year than in 2011. Even though some churches have ministries that provide other income, such as schools or wedding chapel rentals, an average of 96 percent of their budget comes from members’ donations. Most megachurches surveyed spend 10 percent or more of their budget beyond their congregation on causes ranging from local soup kitchens to world missions. Most large churches also reported that they expected to give staff at least a 1 percent raise in the next budget cycle. Most also expect to modestly increase staff, and just 6 percent expect to reduce the number of staffers.

Obama Administration May Ask Supreme Court to Overturn Prop 8

The Obama administration is considering asking the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the voter approved-measure that defined marriage in the state as only between a man and a woman, CBN News reports. President Obama raised expectations for gay marriage supporters last month when he declared during his inaugural address that gays and lesbians must be treated like anyone else under the law. The administration has one week to file a “friend of the court” brief, and while an administration brief alone is unlikely to sway the Supreme Court, the government’s opinion does carry weight with the justices.

UK Trial Reveals New al Qaeda Strategy to Hit West

The trial of three Birmingham men convicted Thursday of plotting to launch a “catastrophic” suicide bombing attack in the United Kingdom revealed that al Qaeda has developed a new strategy to target the West. The new strategy involves a teacher-training approach in which a select few Western operatives are taught bombmaking and other aspects of terrorist tradecraft in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are then instructed to return back to the West to “spread the knowledge” to a larger body of Islamist extremists keen on launching attacks. The new approach is a response to the growing toll of drone strikes which have made travel to the tribal areas increasingly perilous for Western recruits and significantly diminished al Qaeda’s ability to orchestrate terrorist plots from the region.

Al Jazeera Launches Major US Expansion

Al Jazeera, the cable news network owned by the government of Qatar, has big plans for its American operation despite being criticized by the U.S. government for airing videos from Osama bin Laden. Al Jazeera spent $500 million last year to buy Current TV — which can be seen on cable channels in 41 million homes — from former Vice President Al Gore and other investors. Cable operators have the option of dropping Al Jazeera, which Time Warner has suggested it might do. Al Jazeera English, which launched in 2006, has until now been available on just a few cable systems or online. Al Jazeera America plans to increase its staff of 13 to some 200 people across the country. It is building a new broadcast center in Washington, expanding its space at the UN in New York, and setting up bureaus in Detroit, New Orleans, San Francisco and five other cities.

Massive Sunspot Rapidly Forming

A giant sunspot that’s at least six times the diameter of Earth has formed on the sun in less than 48 hours, according to NASA. Sunspots form when the sun’s magnetic fields rearrange and realign. They tend to be unstable and can lead to solar flares. The agency says it could even be larger than six times the diameter of Earth. Sun activity goes through cycles that stretch about 11 years. Currently the sun is moving toward the peak of a very energetic cycle which scientists expect to last through the middle of this year.

Economic News

If you’re expecting last minute action from Congress to avoid the March 1 spending cut deadline, think again. Congress isn’t even in session this week, and lawmakers and aides from both parties say they don’t expect anything to pass anytime soon. The cuts can be phased in over time, and leaders on both sides of the aisle know they can act after March 1 to undo any reductions in the months to come. Also, some Democrats and Republicans aren’t totally unhappy with many of the cuts, $85 billion of which will be split between Pentagon and non-defense programs this year.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday that if automatic government spending cuts kick in on March 1 he may have to shorten the workweek for the “vast majority” of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian workers. They would lose one day of work per week, or 20 percent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

Smarting from smaller paychecks, consumers are tightening their budgets and looking for other ways to save money, according to a survey released Thursday. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were cutting back to cope with tax changes this year. Consumers are seeing smaller paychecks after a two-year payroll tax “holiday” expired this year. The rate returned to 6.2% on the first $113,700 of annual income, up from 4.2%. For workers earning $30,000 a year, that means about $50 less in their paychecks each month. For those earning $100,000 annually, it’s about $167 less a month.

Stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve’s resolve to keep juicing the market. The sell-off began Wednesday afternoon in New York after the release of minutes from the Fed’s latest meeting suggesting that some policymakers want to wind down bond purchases and other measures aimed at boosting the economy.

Eurozone

France is poised to drag the Eurozone into a fourth quarter of recession as business activity slumps in the region’s second-largest economy. The Purchasing Managers’ Index flash estimate fell to 47.3, from 48.6 in January, as the decline in French output hit a near four-year low. France’s performance in the first quarter of 2013 was shaping up to be the worst since the same period in 2009. Germany, by contrast, saw a further improvement in business activity in February for a third month running, although the pace of expansion slowed slightly.

The ailing Eurozone economy will shrink further in 2013, making it harder still for governments to reduce borrowing and promising more misery for millions of unemployed. The European Commission said Friday it expected combined gross domestic product across the 17 members of the Eurozone to contract by 0.3% this year. The region’s economy shrank for a third consecutive quarter in the last three months of 2012, leaving it 0.6% smaller than at the start of the year.

Many Spaniards are bartering, or trading, their way through a recession that has lasted years and left more than a quarter of the workforce unemployed. Tens of thousands of households have no wage earners, but they have skills and time on their hands to do work that can be traded for things they need but have no money to buy. Trading produce for other services and merchandise is one of the many unconventional ways the Spanish are making ends meet in what has been described as the new “sharing economy” that has developed here since the economic crisis hit more than four years ago. More than half a million families have no income. The unemployment rate has climbed to 26%, but among young workers it is as astonishing 55%.Spain borrowed massively to lend the banks money to survive, but that put the national government in a severe budget deficit.

  • This is the socialistic model Obama and the New World Order folks want to follow because it weakens the masses and makes them more dependent on an elitist government (and therefore more manageable)

Persecution Watch

Authorities in New Jersey allege a Muslim man beheaded two Coptic Christians, burying their bodies and heads and hands in separate graves near Philadelphia, bringing the horror of the persecution of Christians in Islamic nations to the United States. The report said the victims were from the Coptic Christian community in the area. One of the victims had come from Egypt not many years ago.

An evangelical group that digs wells and provides clean water to 11,000 people in Uganda risks losing Canadian government money because it also teaches that homosexuality is a sin, WORLD Magazine reports. Thomas Mulcair, a leader in Canada’s liberal New Democratic Party, said Crossroads Relief and Development, which received $389,000 from the Canadian government to help fund its relief work, was “completely against” Canadian values and law because of its stance on homosexuality. Crossroads’ water project partner group in Africa, Victory Outreach Ministries, states on its website that while homosexuality is sinful, gays are “created in God’s image, and we condemn the activities of those who are violent toward gays.” Canada has frozen $156,000 in Crossroads funding until it can review the organization’s work.

Mathayo Kachili, pastor of the Assemblies of God church in Buseresere, Tanzania, a church affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God of Canada, was beheaded when a group of religious extremists attacked Christians at the church on February 11, Christian Press reports. “Escalating hostility and violence toward Christians in various places in Africa causes us grave concern for our brothers and sisters, and especially our pastors,” said Mike McClaflin, AG World Missions regional director for Africa. “Our prayers are with the family of Pastor Mathayo Kachili as well as the other pastors of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Tanzania and missionaries from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada laboring in East Africa.” Barnabas Mtokambali, the Tanzania AG general superintendent, encouraged Christians in Tanzania to remain Christlike in their faith. “Our response as a church is not one of violence and hatred, reflecting the attitude of those committing such crimes, but that of Christ and reflecting his image by loving and praying for those who humiliate and persecute us, and not holding such sins against them,” he said.

Four foreign Christian workers in Libya have been arrested on suspicion of spreading Christianity and giving out Christian literature in Benghazi, CBN News reports. Police said one of the suspects is a Swedish-American, and the others are from South Africa, Egypt and South Korea. “We are still holding interrogations and will hand them over to the Libyan intelligence authorities in a couple of days,” police spokesman Hussein bin Hamid said. The four workers were arrested Tuesday, and police confiscated some 45,000 books in their possession. Another 25,000 reportedly were distributed. Preaching the gospel is against the law in the Muslim-majority nation. Prior to the 2011 revolution that ousted Moammar Gadhafi, Libya was home to approximately 100,000 Christians, but now only a few thousand remain.

Christians gathered in Cairo on Sunday to protest the destruction of a church that was attacked by Muslim villagers over the weekend in Egypt’s Fayoum province — the second attack on Christians in the province in a little over a month, International Christian Concern reports. Twenty to 30 Muslims, most from an extended family, attacked Mar Girgis church in the village of Tamiyyah following a 3 p.m. service on Friday. The villagers pelted the church and four worshippers with stones, tore down the cross erected on top of the building, and threw Molotov cocktail-type explosives at the structure with the intent of setting it on fire. About a hundred Christian protesters rallied in the Shubra district of Cairo on Feb. 17, demanding that the church be rebuilt and that those responsible be brought to justice.

Saudi authorities on Feb. 8 arrested 53 Ethiopian Christians, mostly women, who were attending a worship service in the private, rented home of an Ethiopian believer in Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, ASSIST News Service reports. The Christians — 46 women and six men, including three church leaders — were arrested around 10 a.m., and the three church leaders were produced in an Islamic court in Dammam the same day when authorities alleged they were converting Muslims to Christianity. Authorities are likely to release two of the Ethiopian Christians who have residential permits, and the others are expected to be deported.

Middle East

Iran is “closer than ever” to the ability to build a nuclear bomb, Israel said on Thursday, as a new UN report said Tehran has begun installing next-generation equipment at one of its main nuclear plants. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s report said Iran started installing new and advanced centrifuges at Natanz, which would enable it to speed up the enrichment of uranium. “Iran is closer than ever today to obtaining enriched material for a nuclear bomb,” said a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Syria

A car bomb shook central Damascus on Thursday, exploding near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party and the Russian Embassy. Opposition activists say at least 35 people have been killed. Syrian state TV also reported the blast in the central Mazraa neighborhood, calling it a “terrorist” attack on a heavily populated area. A car exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian Embassy and the central headquarters of the ruling Baath party of President Bashar Assad. The Damascus car bomb was one of at least three attacks in the heart of the city. A second blast shook another neighborhood and mortar rounds exploded near the Syrian Army General Command.

India

Indian police investigating a dual bomb attack that killed 16 people outside a movie theater and a bus station in the southern city of Hyderabad were searching for links to a shadowy Islamic militant group with reported ties to Pakistan. India’s recent execution of an Islamic militant is being examined as a possible motive for the bombings. Police have not yet detained anyone in connection with the Thursday evening attack, the first major terror bombing in India since 2011.

Bulgaria

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov tendered his government’s resignation Wednesday after eight days of nationwide protests over high energy bills. The protests morphed into wider discontent over austerity and the way the country is being run. Parliament will vote Thursday on whether to accept the Cabinet’s resignation. If it is accepted, the president will announce an election date. Bulgaria, a country of just over 7 million people, held its first free multiparty elections since the Second World War in 1990.

Kenya

Every five years or so, this stable and typically peaceful country, an oasis of development in a very poor and turbulent region, suffers a frightening transformation in which age-old grievances get stirred up, ethnically based militias are mobilized and neighbors start killing neighbors. The reason is elections, and another huge one — one of the most important in this country’s history and definitely the most complicated — is barreling this way. In less than two weeks, Kenyans will line up by the millions to pick their leaders for the first time since a disastrous vote in 2007, which set off clashes that killed more than 1,000 people. The country has spent years agonizing over the wounds and has taken some steps to repair itself, most notably passing a new constitution. But justice has been elusive, politics remain ethnically tinged and leaders charged with crimes against humanity have a real chance of winning.

Weather

A powerful storm roared across the nation’s midsection Thursday, threatening 20 states and 60 million residents in its path. Parts of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas have been blasted with more than a foot of snow, with sleet and freezing rain exacerbating treacherous conditions. Winter storm warnings and advisories were issued from eastern Colorado to southwestern Virginia. A whiteout was reported on the Kansas Turnpike, and 90 miles of Interstate 70 was shut down. Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport shut down, and almost 200 flights had been canceled. Outside St. Louis, hundreds of drivers were stuck on roads for several hours. Officials feared the storm would be the worst in the central U.S. since the Groundhog Day blizzard in 2011, which killed dozens and left hundreds of thousands powerless.

A winter storm brought California much-needed rain and even a rare tornado, but the breadth and severity of snowfall in much of the state caught drivers by surprise and left hundreds stranded on mountain highways. A late barrage of snow forced the shutdown of a 60-mile stretch of Highway 58 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield late Tuesday. Dozens of cars were either stuck in the snow or involved in accidents near the rural community of Sonora. About 50 to 75 vehicles became stranded or were in collisions on Highway 49 and nearby roadways when it started snowing heavily in the Sierra Nevada foothillsThe storm from the Gulf of Alaska brought the first significant rainfall to the region in several weeks.

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