Signs of the Times (12/21/13)

Millennials Share Christ More than Any Other Generation

A Barna study is revealing the truth about U.S. Millennials, the generation born after 1980. Skeptics argue that Millennials put social justice above their faith and are leaving the church in droves But Barna’s study shows Millennials are sharing the gospel more than any other generation. “By a previous generation’s standards, they seem low-key, a little disengaged or disinterested,” notes Greg Jao with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “But when you actually watch their behavior, you begin to see the Millennial generation … is highly engaged with their faith.” According to Jao, Millennials are embracing a message known by the mission’s community all along, based in James 2:14-17. “An authentic Christian witness in this era requires both word—the proclamation of the gospel and an invitation to receive Jesus Christ—as well as the need to live out the implications of the gospel, both personally and socially,” he says.

  • What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Duck Dynasty Star Suspended for Anti-Gay Statement

Phil Robertson, of the A&E hit reality series Duck Dynasty, has angered the gay rights group GLAAD with comments he made about homosexuals in the January issue of GQ and has been suspended from the show. When asked what is sinful, the 67-year-old Robertson family patriarch answered, “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there—bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” Paraphrasing 1Corinthians, he said, “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” The Duck Dynasty family issued a statement Thursday evening supporting patriarch Phil Robertson and threatening to quit the show if he’s not reinstated.

  • The intolerant gay activists failed to note that Robertson condemned all sexual sin, not just LGBT. But in these anti-Christ, pro-gay end-times any hint of disapproval is widely and loudly condemned.

Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

A federal judge struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban Friday in a decision that brings a growing shift toward allowing gay marriage to a conservative state where the Mormon church has long been against it. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying Utah’s law passed by voters in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way. “In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens,” Shelby wrote.

  • The effects of same-sex marriage are not micro but macro, moving the U.S. further and further away from God’s sacrosanct foundation of family structure, clearly delineating the overall decline in end-time morality

School Choir Omits Key Lyrics from ‘Silent Night’

You might wonder why a school choir would even choose to sing “Silent Night” if they intended on cutting key lyrics from the song. But, that’s exactly what happened at Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School in Long Island, N.Y., reports The Blaze. The Kings Park Central School District has since apologized after parents complained about the missing words during the fifth grade concert. “Christ the Savior is born,” “Holy infant so, tender and mild,” “round yon virgin, mother and child” and “Jesus, Lord at thy birth” were all removed from the student rendition. One parent, Kevin McDonald, spoke to Newsday about the incident. “’Silent Night’ at its core is a religious song. It’s a sacred Christian hymn that tells the story about the birth of Jesus,” he said. “What was performed was inappropriate and disrespectful to the Christian faith.”

  • The absurd lengths that Satan and the anti-Christ spirit will go to is so transparent that it’s mind-boggling that people can’t see it for what it is, but “delusions” have “seared their consciences” just as the Bible foretells. (2Thessalonians 2:11-12, 1Timothy 4:1-2)

Children in Fatherless Families Suffer Wide Range of Negative Consequences

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre recently conducted a study on the effects of fatherlessness on children, and the results are startling: The absence of a father during critical growth periods leads to impaired social and behavioral abilities in adults and even causes a misshapen prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making and moderating social behavior. Dr. Paul Vitz further shows the adverse effects of fatherlessness, or “defective” fathers, on the social and behavioral skills on prominent atheists in his controversial, updated book, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. He documents how being disappointed in one’s earthly father, whether through death, absence or mistreatment, often leads to a rejection of God. A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries — Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, among many others — shows that this “defective father hypothesis” provides a consistent explanation of the “intense atheism” of these thinkers. A survey of the leading defenders of Christianity over the same period — G.K. Chesterton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edmund Burke, among others — confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers.

Obama Urged to Sharply Curtail N.S.A. Data Mining

A panel of outside advisers urged President Obama on Wednesday to impose major oversight and some restrictions on the National Security Agency, arguing that in the past dozen years its powers had been enhanced at the expense of personal privacy. The panel recommended changes in the way the agency collects the telephone data of Americans, spies on foreign leaders and prepares for cyberattacks abroad. But the most significant recommendation of the panel of five intelligence and legal experts was that Mr. Obama restructure a program in which the N.S.A. systematically collects logs of all American phone calls. The experts briefed Mr. Obama on Wednesday on their 46 recommendations, and a senior administration official said Mr. Obama was “open to many” of the changes.

Budget Deal Wins Final Approval in Senate

The Senate on Wednesday approved a two-year budget deal, sending it to President Obama’s desk and staving off the threat of a partial government shutdown. The bill cleared the Senate on a 64-36 vote. It passed despite the objections of Republican senators to a provision that cuts billions from military retiree benefits. The majority of lawmakers, though, were eager to avoid another budget brawl two months after the last showdown. The bill earlier passed the House on a strong bipartisan vote. The bill would set in place a spending plan for the next two years, while undoing some of the sequester spending cuts — to the chagrin of fiscal conservatives. Unclear is how lawmakers will address a looming deadline, early next year, to raise the debt ceiling.

Obamacare Mandate Relief Criticized by Insurers

Americans whose insurance policies were canceled this year will be excused from paying fees due to the individual mandate, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a letter sent to lawmakers. The Affordable Care Act already included a “hardship exemption,” and several lawmakers had argued that having a policy unexpectedly canceled because it did not fit the coverage requirements of the new law should qualify as a hardship because it comes through no fault of the consumer. Those whose plans were canceled will also be able to buy catastrophic coverage, which previously had been available only to people younger than 30. Those policies tend to cover fewer things and cost less than the policies now required by the law. The move, though, was criticized by the insurance industry as a shift that would cause “tremendous instability.”

Affordable Health Care Not So for Middle Class

The New York Times reports that the Affordable Health Care act clearly benefits those at the low end of the income scale, and rich people can continue to afford even the most generous plans. But many people are caught in the uncomfortable middle: not poor enough for help, but not rich enough to be indifferent to cost. The NYT analysis shows the cost of premiums for people who just miss qualifying for subsidies varies widely across the country and rises rapidly for people in their 50s and 60s. In some places, prices can quickly approach 20 percent of a person’s income. Experts consider health insurance unaffordable once it exceeds 10 percent of annual income. By that measure, a 50-year-old making $50,000 a year, or just above the qualifying limit for assistance, would find the cheapest available plan to be unaffordable in more than 170 counties around the country. Americans scrambling to secure health insurance under the nation’s health-care law must sign up by Monday if they want their new coverage to start on Jan. 1.

Massive Data Breach at Target

Target says that its stores have been hit by a major hack attack involving up to 40 million credit card accounts. The retailer said that the unlawful access to customer information took place between Nov. 27 and Dec.15. Earlier, the Secret Service confirmed that it is investigating the massive data violation involving shoppers’ personal credit-card information. The breach involves the theft of information stored on the magnetic stripe on the backs of cards used at nearly all of Target’s stores around the country. A cybersecurity expert who discovered the breach of credit card information from Target says the stolen information is already being used and those responsible may never be caught.

More Cities Ban Polystyrene Foam

Polystyrene foam – commonly referred to by the brand name Styrofoam — is cheap, strong and light and used in everything from consumer goods packaging to take-out food containers. And it’s increasingly unwelcome in communities across the USA. The New York City Council last week passed a ban on polystyrene foam food containers, as well as the sale of loose polystyrene foam “peanuts” used in packing. Both go into effect July 1, 2015. Albany County, N.Y., passed a law in November banning use of polystyrene foam food containers, joining the ranks of such cities as Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; and Amherst, Mass. Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray is also proposing a ban there. The bans are the result of decades-long campaigns by environmental advocates who maintain that it’s not very good for the environment. Polystyrene foam doesn’t break down well, and it’s easily dispersed by the wind creating a litter problem as well.

More US Sailors Sick from Fukushima Radiation

When the USS Ronald Reagan responded to the tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, Navy sailors including Quartermaster Maurice Enis gladly pitched in with rescue efforts. But months later, while still serving aboard the aircraft carrier, he began to notice strange lumps all over his body. Testing revealed he’d been poisoned with radiation, and his illness would get worse. And his fiance and fellow Reagan quartermaster, Jamie Plym, who also spent several months helping near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, also began to develop frightening symptoms, including chronic bronchitis and hemorrhaging. They and 49 other U.S. Navy members who served aboard the Reagan and sister ship the USS Essex now trace illnesses including thyroid and testicular cancers, leukemia and brain tumors to the time spent aboard the massive ship, whose desalination system pulled in seawater that was used for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew at a solid 4.1% annual rate from July through September, the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed. Much of the upward revision came from stronger consumer spending. The Commerce Department’s final look at growth in the summer was up from a previous estimate of 3.6%. The economy expanded at a 2.5% rate in the second quarter.

Stocks jumped Friday after the government said the economy grew at a faster-than-expected rate in the third quarter, with the key benchmark indexes finishing the day at record highs. The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 48.68 points, 0.3%, to 16,227.76 — a record high. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed up 9.09 points, 0.5%, to 1,818.69 — also a record high.

The Federal Reserve finally did what it had hinted about doing way back in May: It announced that it was going to start dialing down, or “tapering,” its market-friendly $85 billion-per-month bond-buying program in January. Starting next month, the nation’s central bank said it would start trimming its purchases by $10 billion per month. Despite fears that the stock market would crumble at the first sign that the Fed’s quantitative easing program, or QE, would start going away, the Dow Jones industrial average rallied 293 points, or 1.8%, to its biggest gain since Oct. 10, and to a new all-time high of 16,167.97. The private economy “has largely completed its healing process,” New York Federal Reserve Bank president William Dudley said.

Persecution Watch

The Archbishop of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako, has called on the West to help put an end to the “mortal exodus” of Christians from the Middle East. Sako, who is also Patriarch of Babylon, told a conference in Rome, “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives”, that the West must assist the Muslim nations of the Middle East in “modernizing Islam’s approach to religious freedom” and “convince Muslim nations that their repression and persecution of their minority Christian communities is not only harming the Christians, but is harming the societies themselves”. Sako, a keynote speaker at the conference run by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, said the situation in Iraq over the past 10 years has gone from bad to worse, and that he can see similar situations unfolding in Egypt and Syria. Sako said that more than 100 Egyptian churches have been attacked. In Syria, he said 67 churches have been attacked and 45,000 Christians have left the country.

Iran

A bipartisan group of senators will soon introduce legislation that would level new sanctions against Iran, defying pleas from President Obama for Congress to wait while the administration works toward a comprehensive deal. Lawmakers are circulating legislation to impose additional sanctions that would kick in after the six-month negotiating window to reach a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program runs out, or if Iran fails to hold up its end of the bargain in the interim.

Iraq

Two roadside bombs exploded at an outdoor market in northern Iraq Friday, killing nine people and wounding 23 others, police said. The blasts occurred in quick succession in Tuz Khurmatou, according to Tikrit police officials. The city is located about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Baghdad.

Syria

The commander of Syria’s main Western-backed rebel group appealed for unity in the insurgency’s ranks Friday, trying to ease rifts with Islamic extremist rivals ahead of an international peace conference for Syria in January, over which the opposition is sharply divided. In a sign of the bitterness over the talks, the leader of one of the most powerful militant factions, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, vowed to torpedo the talks and branded as a traitor anyone in the opposition who joins the gathering with the government of President Bashar Assad. The contrasting rhetoric underscored the enormous difficulties that lie ahead even as officials meeting in Geneva confirmed attendance by both the opposition and Assad’s government at the first face to face talks to try and end a savage, 3-year-old war that has killed over 120,000 people and uprooted millions of others.

Egypt

Egypt’s prosecutors have referred ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to a third trial, on charges of organizing prison breaks during the 2011 uprising and abducting policemen in collaboration with foreign militants. These charges are separate from two other trials that Morsi already faces — over inciting the killings of his opponents and for conspiring with foreign groups to destabilize Egypt. Saturday’s case refers to Morsi’s jailbreak with other Brotherhood leaders that took place in January 2011, during the uprising against his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

India

India’s foreign minister has demanded that the U.S. drop federal charges against an Indian diplomat who was arrested and strip-searched while being held on visa charges. The demand came one day after a federal prosecutor defended the diplomat’s treatment, saying that she was given coffee and offered food while detained. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said diplomat Devyani Khobragade was afforded courtesies most Americans wouldn’t get — such as being allowed to make phone calls for two hours to arrange child care and sort out personal matters — after she was discreetly arrested by State Department agents outside her children’s Manhattan school. Khobragade was arrested last week on charges she lied on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper, an Indian national. Prosecutors say the maid received less than $3 per hour for her work.

Central African Republic

Former rebels in the Central African Republic killed almost 1,000 in a two-day rampage earlier this month, Amnesty International said, as together with Human Rights Watch it warned of a surge in sectarian violence. The country has seen violence and chaos since the Muslim-backed Seleka militia and other rebel groups from the marginalized northeast seized the capital Bangui in March. President Francios Bozize fled to Cameroon, and Michel Djotodia, who had been one of the Seleka leaders, made himself President. Djotodia later officially disbanded the Seleka, but as many as 15,000 kept their arms and instead continued to wreak havoc in Bangui and elsewhere. They mainly targeted Christian communities, which in turn formed their own vigilante group, the anti-balaka (literally “anti-machete”)

South Sudan

Attackers killed two Indian army peacekeepers in South Sudan and wounded a third one in the chest, the United Nations said Friday. In addition at least two of the 30 civilians who took refuge at the United Nations’ Akobo base were killed in the attack Thursday. It may have been as many as 20 who died in that attack U.N. officials estimated. Deadly clashes have raged South Sudan for days after a reported coup attempt in the capital over the weekend. The government of neighboring Kenya will send troops into South Sudan to help evacuate 1,600 Kenyan citizens.

Uganda

A spokeswoman for Uganda’s parliament says lawmakers have passed a long-shelved law that punishes “aggravated homosexuality” with life imprisonment. The new law does not have the death penalty, which was in the draft legislation when it was first introduced in Uganda’s parliament in 2010. The original bill was condemned by world leaders who said it was draconian and United States President Barack Obama described it as “odious.” Homosexuality already had been illegal in Uganda, but the lawmaker who wrote the bill that passed Friday argued that a tough new law was needed because homosexuals from the West threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were allegedly “recruiting” Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.

Philippines

A mayor from the southern Philippines, his wife and two others have been fatally shot in a daring attack at a Manila airport terminal that also wounded four other people. Men on a motorcycle fired at Labangan Mayor Ukol Talumpa and his wife as they stepped out of Terminal 3 on Friday. Gun crime and political violence occur with grim frequency in the Philippines. But the shooting Friday at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport appeared particularly brazen.

Weather

After several weeks of brutally cold temperatures, eastern residents are in for an early Christmas gift this weekend: The thermometer is forecast to go UP, not down. After weeks of back-to-back winter storms and cold air outbreaks, the pattern will turn to record warmth ahead of a storm system in the nation’s heartland this weekend. Saturday, highs in the 70s will spread as far north as the Nation’s Capital, and 80s will warm much of Florida, south Georgia and south Alabama. Almost 60 locations will flirt with, or break daily record highs Saturday.

A snowstorm blasted northern Utah on Thursday, causing power outages, dozens of traffic accidents and the temporary shutdown of Salt Lake’s airport after a cargo plane slipped on a runway. The storm moved in before dawn with freezing rain, then left 8 inches of snow around Logan before heading south. The system has hovered over Salt Lake County, and forecasters predict the area will see half a foot of snowfall by Saturday.

 

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