Signs of the Times (12/24/13)

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men! (Luke 2:10-14, NKJV)

Troops Told Not to Say ‘Christmas’

Don’t say Christmas. That’s the message that was conveyed to a group of soldiers at Camp Shelby by an equal opportunity officer from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, according to a soldier who attended a recent briefing. Two weeks ago, a routine meeting was held at the Mississippi base with various leaders of the 158th Infantry Brigade. During the meeting, they discussed an upcoming Christmas football tournament. The equal opportunity officer immediately objected to the usage of the word “Christmas.” “It’s unbelievable that the Army would ban ‘Christmas’ like it’s a bad word,” said Michael Berry, an attorney with the Liberty Institute, a legal firm representing the unidentified soldier.

Huge Reprieve for Ministries Fighting Abortion Mandate

A federal judge granted almost 200 evangelical ministries relief from the Obamacare abortion mandate while their cases proceed through the courts. The Becket Fund announced the ruling calling it an early Christmas present that came just more than a week before the January 2014 deadline that would have forced the ministries to either abandon their beliefs about the sanctity of life or face crippling fines. The class-action lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate include all the non-exempt religious  organizations providing health benefits through GuideStone Financial Resources of the South Baptist Convention and are included in the courts protection. Attorneys are calling the ruling released Friday a tremendous victory for the ministries and for religious freedoms.

Utah Turns to Higher Court to Halt Gay Marriage

Utah state lawyers have again turned to a Denver-based federal appeals court in their bid to put a stop to gay couples getting married, saying the state should not be required to abide by one judge’s narrow view of a “new and fundamentally different definition of marriage.” About 700 gay couples have obtained wedding licenses since U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby on Friday declared Utah’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, but lawyers for the state are trying every legal avenue to halt the practice. Shelby on Monday denied their bid to temporarily stop gay marriage while the appeals process plays out, and they quickly went to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Utah is the 18th state where gay couples can wed.

Christian Group Plans 100-Foot Jesus Statue in Muslim-Dominated Nazareth

As Christians from across the globe flock to the Holy Land in time for Christmas prayers and ceremonies, some in the community in Nazareth are seeking to reaffirm the historical importance of their town by erecting a statue of Jesus that would tower more than 100 feet above the city. The plan is for the statue of Jesus to be sit atop Mount Precipice, also known as the Mount of the Leap of the Lord, the promontory where according to Luke 4:29-30, a mob attempted to drive Jesus off the hilltop only for him to pass through them without injury. The statue is inspired by the iconic Christ the Redeemer figure that dominates the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, but would be even taller. The demographics of Nazareth have changed considerably in recent years, with the Christian community becoming a minority while the Muslim population has grown to 70 percent of the 80,000 residents of the northern Israeli town. Muslims and Christians have co-existed in Nazareth for many years, but lately many of Nazareth’s Christians have left to live elsewhere, uneasy at the changing face and apparent new direction of their town.

Satan is Leading War on Christmas

Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, says Satan is leading the war on Christmas in the United States through judges, pastors and all sorts of other people. Jeffress maintains that the war on Christians is real and anyone who says it isn’t is either being very “naïve” or “intentionally deceptive. “But it is also part of a larger war against Christianity that’s being waged around the world. We’re not suffering as Christians who are being martyred in other countries. Not yet, anyway, but make no mistake about it. This is all part of the same war and we’ve got to push back against it on every front,” Jeffress said in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

Backlash over A&E’s Ouster of the Duck Commander Grows

The fallout from A&E’s decision to suspend Phil Robertson from the hit reality TV show Duck Dynasty continues to be the dominate story on the Internet. As we reported yesterday, Robertson’s interview with GQ magazine and the subsequent outcry led to his ousting. The backlash has been growing. Within minutes of A&E’s announcement, websites, Facebook pages, and petitions sprang up in support of the beleaguered star, including the “We Stand with Phil” page that has attracted 1.2 million likes as of this writing. Governor and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is encouraging people to “Stand with Phil and Support Free Speech,” According to Huckabee, “In recent days, a small, but vocal and militant group of same-sex marriage advocates have co-opted religious liberty to force industry and government to go beyond tolerating homosexuality. Any deviation from Biblical and traditional marriage is to be embraced, but there is no deviation tolerated from those who want to force acceptance, approval, and activism of same sex marriage.” With the reality show’s future in jeopardy, Daystar has extended an offer to air Duck Dynasty during primetime hours. Cracker Barrel on Sunday reversed its decision to pull some Duck Dynasty-themed products from its shelves. Meanwhile, “Duck” merchandise is flying off the shelf at many other retail outlets becoming one of the season’s top sellers.

Pastor Sentenced to Jail for Bible Teaching on Homosexual Behavior reports that Swedish pastor Ake Green was sentenced to a month in jail on June 29, 2004, for showing “disrespect” to homosexuals in a sermon at his church in the small town of Borgholm that he titled “Are people born with homosexual orientation or is it the result of influence by evil powers?” In 2002, the Swedish Parliament had enacted a law that criminalized expressions of “disrespect” against homosexuals. Just before the law was enacted, the Swedish Prime Minister made it clear that referring to homosexual behavior as “unnatural” would be a criminal act. With a growing intolerance for religious teaching on the subject following “hate crimes” legislation in 2009, could American ministers soon find themselves in the same position? also observes, “It is amazing that Leftist hero and Obama buddy Louis Farrakhan can talk about beheading and stoning gays to death and you won’t hear a word from the media.”

  • Socialistic European countries foreshadow the future of the U.S.

NSA Declassifies Documents to Justify Snooping

In the face of growing skepticism over the National Security Agency’s practice of collecting bulk phone and Internet records, the director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified several documents detailing the program. The latest declassification of documents comes during a week in which a federal judge ruled the NSA’s bulk collection was likely unconstitutional and a White House task force questioned the effectiveness of the program. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement announcing the release that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in October 2001, as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Approval for the bulk collection was eventually shifted to the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court, a secret court that considers government requests for electronic surveillance for intelligence-gathering purposes. The documents released include legal arguments by two former national intelligence directors under Bush who state their legal case for why it was essential to keep secret the practice of bulk data collection. The unclassified documents are part of an ongoing court case that was filed in 2006. But in recent days, both advisers of President Obama and a Bush appointed federal judge have offered very different assessments about the utility and legality of the practice.

Deadline Extended to Sign Up for Obamacare

The deadline to sign up through the federal and state health exchanges for insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1. was extended to Christmas Eve. If you want insurance starting on starting on Jan. 1, you need to sign up today. surpassed 1 million visitors as of 5 p.m. ET, Monday. More than 60,000 people hit the landing page when it was too busy to accommodate them, and left an e-mail address so they could be alerted when the site wasn’t busy.

Obamacare Support Drops to New Low

Support for the country’s new health care law has dropped to a record low, according to a new national poll. And the CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also indicates that most Americans predict that the Affordable Care Act will actually result in higher prices for their own medical care. Only 35% of those questioned in the poll say they support the health care law. Sixty-two percent say they oppose the law, up four points from November. Sixty-three percent say they believe the new law will increase the amount of money they personally pay for medical care, which may not be a good sign for a law known as the “Affordable Care Act.”

Surge in Children Crossing US-Mexico Border

The number of children caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has surged over the last two years, raising questions about whether the Obama administration’s changing immigration policies are creating a magnet. Statistics released late last week show 24,668 “unaccompanied alien children” were placed last year in the care of the federal agency that, by law, is responsible for them. That’s nearly double the number from 2012, and nearly quadruple the number in years past. Chris Crane, who heads The National ICE Council immigration officer union, said agents are being “overrun” with children crossing the border.  As is often the case with immigration statistics, it’s unclear what is driving the increase. The surge could be driven in part by better enforcement, and immigration officers doing a better job catching border crossers. But critics point to other factors. A federal judge in Texas claimed earlier this month that the Department of Homeland Security has been delivering children smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border to their illegal immigrant parents. In June 2012, the administration decided to give a reprieve to young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Weak U.S. Credit Card Security

The U.S. is the juiciest target for hackers hunting credit card information. And experts say incidents like the recent data theft at Target’s stores will get worse before they get better. That’s in part because U.S. credit and debit cards rely on an easy-to-copy magnetic strip on the back of the card, which stores account information using the same technology as cassette tapes. “We are using 20th century cards against 21st century hackers,” says Mallory Duncan, general counsel at the National Retail Federation. “The thieves have moved on but the cards have not.” In most countries outside the U.S., people carry cards that use digital chips to hold account information. The chip generates a unique code every time it’s used. That makes the cards more difficult for criminals to replicate. Just days after acknowledging a massive hack of customer credit card data, Target is now facing several class-action lawsuits. And more could be on the way.

Economic News

Shopping in stores just crawled along this holiday season, leaving a pile of unsold inventory. That means bigger-than-usual after-Christmas sales.’s “2013 After-Christmas Sale” is already rolling with such offers as 70% off on select clothing, shoes, watches and jewelry. Old Navy launched its “After Holiday Sale” on Sunday with markdowns up to 75%. Sales growth this year is likely to be the weakest since 2009: 3.2% according to some experts. However, online retail sales are projected to grow 13.5% over last year.

Planned fee increases that would have added to the cost of millions of mortgages will be postponed. Currently, borrowers seeking loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are set to pay higher upfront fees starting April 1. The fees, ordered by the Federal Housing Finance Agency earlier this month, are meant to help safeguard banks against risky borrowers who might default. But housing experts say they will add thousands of dollars to the cost of all mortgages insured by Fannie and Freddie, with the biggest hits taken by borrowers with less than perfect credit histories. On Friday, the incoming chief of the FHFA, Mel Watt, said he intends to postpone the fees — and perhaps even cancel them — until more analysis is done. The FHFA oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Persecution Watch

A group of rights lawyers and churchgoers supporting a jailed Chinese Christian pastor were attacked by hired thugs on Christmas Eve at his house in central China, his wife and a lawyer said. Wang Fengrui, his wife, said dozens of thugs kicked and punched members of the group on Tuesday when they attempted to leave the house in Henan province. Three lawyers and an assistant had traveled to Nanle County to seek meetings with Pastor Zhang Shaojie and his aides, who were arrested more than a month ago over a land dispute and have been denied access to lawyers. Five churchgoers who were at Zhang’s house along with the lawyers had hoped to hold a prayer meeting on Monday to rally support for him, but were prevented by authorities.

Middle East

A bomb police say was planted by Palestinian terrorists exploded on a public bus shortly after it was evacuated Sunday, resulting in no serious injuries. A passenger on the No. 240 bus in Bat Yam, a town south of Tel Aviv, spotted a suspicious-looking backpack and alerted the driver. Detecting wires inside the bag, the driver evacuated the passengers and called the bomb squad. The blast comes at a difficult time for U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who returned to the negotiating table during the summer for the first time in five years. Although not claiming responsibility, the Islamist terror militias Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued statements that they “welcomed” the attack.

A bitter winter has descended on the Middle East region, bringing heavy snow, rain and sub-zero temperatures. This is just the start of what meteorologists are forecasting will be one of the harshest winters in Syria for 100 years adding to the misery of the war-torn country.


A powerful explosion believed to be caused by a car bomb ripped through a police headquarters in Mansoura, a Nile Delta city north of Cairo early on Tuesday, killing 12 people and wounding more than 100, leaving scores buried under the rubble. The country’s interim government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, branding it a “terrorist organization.” It was the first major bombing in the Nile Delta, spreading the carnage that has marked Egypt’s turmoil over the past months to a new area and bringing it closer to Cairo. Previous deadly violence has mostly taken place in the volatile Sinai Peninsula and in Suez Canal-area cities east of the Egyptian capital.


The issue of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has always been alive in the public discourse and an attraction for the media not only in Pakistan, but internationally, too. Now it will be reverberating even more around the corridors of power after the Federal Sharia Court of Pakistan ordered the Pakistani government to remove the option of life imprisonment for blasphemy. This means that crimes of blasphemy should be punished exclusively by the death sentence. This was the conclusion of a five-member bench headed by Justice Fida Hussain, which was formed to explore this question after a contempt of court petition was filed by lawyer Hashmat Habib on December 4. Habib’s complaint was that the 1990 decision had not been implemented and so the court should now issue orders to rectify this, as well as initiate court proceedings against those who have hitherto failed to implement the decision.

South Sudan

American citizens were safely evacuated from a war-torn South Sudan city on Sunday, one day after four U.S. troops were injured when their aircraft drew fire during a failed airlift attempt. An unspecified number of Americans and citizens from other “partner nations” were flown Sunday from Bor, the scene of intense fighting for the past week, to the capital of Juba on United Nations and U.S. civilian helicopters. About 380 Americans and 300 citizens of other nations have been evacuated in recent days to Nairobi and other locations. About 150 U.S. Marines are poised to enter turbulent South Sudan to help evacuate Americans and provide security for the U.S. Embassy. Also Sunday, South Sudan’s central government lost control of the capital of a key oil-producing state as renegade forces loyal to a former deputy president seized more territory in fighting that has raised fears of full-blown civil war in the world’s newest country.


Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Thailand’s capital on Sunday, paralyzing traffic and facing off with police outside the prime minister’s residence in their latest bid to force her from office. The rally came a day after Thailand’s main opposition Democrat Party announced that it would boycott early elections called for Feb. 2, a move that appeared to have emboldened the protest movement. The protesters split into more than a dozen groups scattered around central Bangkok, including in some of the capital’s main shopping areas. One of the groups gathered outside Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s home, but she was not inside at the time. Hundreds of riot police blocked the flag-waving crowd from moving past the home’s outside gate.


A storm system swept across the central and southern U.S. on Saturday, bringing tornadoes and wind gusts that ripped roofs from barns and hurled trees into power lines. At least two people were killed. Wind caused the roof of a fitness center in a strip mall to collapse in Senatobia, 40 miles south of Memphis, Tenn. At the storm’s height, more than 22,000 people lost power in northern Mississippi. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of residents lost electricity after heavy rain and strong gusts of up to 60 mph whipped northern Louisiana. Some areas had as much as three inches of rain.

Monday morning started slowly, as communities from the Midwest to New England continued to recover from a winter storm that brought a mix of snow, ice and severe weather. The storm threw a wrench into a busy pre-Christmas travel weekend as hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled. By Monday morning, airlines were beginning to recover. Power outages continues for chunks of communities in Michigan and northern New England. The storm left at least nine people dead and more than 400,000 without power this weekend before it began pushing up into Canada. The weekend storm was a study in extremes. Its northern edge featured sleet and freezing rain that sparked travel advisories in New York and New England. Several inches of snow fell from Wisconsin to Oklahoma. On the other hand, many eastern cities saw record high temperatures. However, a cold front is now moving eastward. Thousands of Ontario, Canada, residents made do without power Monday in the aftermath of storms that toppled trees and brought down power lines. Meanwhile, residents in the upper Midwest prepared for bitter cold wind chills.

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