Signs of the Times (3/7/14)

Entire Families Coming to Christ in Saudi Arabia

Charisma News reports that “We’re hearing of women and whole families coming to Christ, which is significant. Normally we would know of individual men but, as the culture places such importance on the family unit, this is a major step forward.” The report cites several examples of the many different ways Saudi Arabians are coming to Christ, from Internet chat rooms to blogging sites to visions and dreams. See the report at: http://www.charismanews.com/world/43000-report-entire-families-coming-to-christ-in-saudi-arabia

Ukrainians Also Turning to Christ Midst Turmoil

As the situation in the Ukraine shifts from one moment to the next, Christians in the country continue to pray and work for peace. Prominent church leaders and missionaries report that even amid the tensions, many people are turning to Christ. Viktor Hamm, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s vice president of Crusades who was born inside a Soviet labor camp, is in Ukraine to encourage churches and meet with Ukraine’s temporary president, who is a Baptist pastor. “[President] Turchynov is a member of an evangelical church in Kiev, a solid evangelical believer, a Brother in Christ and a great political leader,” Hamm said. “With all that he has on his plate right now, he needs our prayers for great wisdom, stamina and peace.” The Mission Network reports that many people are looking to Christ for stability: “From Crimea, we have reports that former Muslims or Muslims are coming to our churches and saying, ‘Can we pray together to God?’” says Radchuk. “They don’t want to die without hope.”

German Homeschool Family Allowed to Stay in United States

The Romeike family, who left Germany in 2008 seeking a safe asylum to homeschool their children, has just been granted indefinite deferred status to remain in the United States (as long as they remain law-abiding). Just this weekend the Supreme Court declined to hear their case, headed up by HSLDA and Mike Farris. This afternoon on the HSLDA Facebook page, Farris announced that the Department of Homeland Security contacted HSLDA with the good news. He writes, “This is an incredible victory that can only be credited to our Almighty God. We also want to thank those of who spoke up on this issue–including that long ago White House petition. We believe that the public outcry made this possible while God delivered the victory.”

Missionaries Hit Bourbon Street for Annual Mardi Gras Outreach

Thousands braved the cold and rain Tuesday for the annual Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The day, known as “Fat Tuesday,” refers to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Known for debauchery, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity, hundreds of missionaries have been in the Crescent City this past week sharing the Gospel on Bourbon Street and the neighboring French Quarter. Since 1996 Raven Ministries International has hosted teams in New Orleans for its annual Mardi Gras outreach. Answering the Cries is another ministry hosting young adults from across the nation for outreach activities during Mardi Gras. “Mardi Gras Outreach is an opportunity to see people saved for the first time,” said Pastor Lloyd Zeigler of Relevant Church in Addison, Texas.

Downward Trend in Number of Abortion Clinics Continues

The ever-decreasing number of abortion clinics continues its decline with the announcement of the closing of abortion clinics in Texas, Florida, and California. This continues the trend of abortion clinic closures documented by Operation Rescue, which maintains the most accurate list of abortion clinics in the U.S. In 2013, a record 87 surgical abortion clinics and 6 abortion pill-only clinics closed. The closures are attributed to new laws that are weeding out abortion clinics that cannot meet minimum standards. Also, an increase in pro-life sentiment and greater reporting of abortion abuses by pro-life groups have also contributed to the closures, according to Operation Rescue.

Planned Parenthood Puts Profits before People

“Arizona’s largest abortion provider has once again put profits before the health and safety of women by challenging common sense medical standards in Court.” states the Center for Arizona Policy. “Planned Parenthood is suing the state because our elected officials believe that the dangerous and deadly abortion pill should be dispensed pursuant to Federal Food and Drug Administration rules,” says Cathi Herrod, CAP President. The abortion pill has been responsible for at least 21 deaths, yet Planned Parenthood is taking the state to court in order to dispense this dangerous medication outside FDA protocol (FDA protocol says the abortion pill should only be dispensed through 7 weeks of a pregnancy. Planned Parenthood is suing to dispense the pill through 9 weeks).

  • Calling it the “morning after” pill is deceptive because many women are using it to induce abortions many weeks after the morning after.

Pope Francis Leaves Door Open for Same-Sex Unions

Marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but the Roman Catholic Church could tolerate some types of same-sex civil unions, Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in an Italian newspaper. The interview with Corriere della Sera suggested that Francis viewed the unions as a practical way to protect property rights and access to health care. The news service notes that a year ago the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of non-married couples.

  • Perhaps Pope Francis is the end-times ‘last pope’ as prophesied by Saint Malachy

FBI Data Shows Crime Down while Gun Sales Are Up

The FBI’s semi-annual uniform crime data for the first half of 2013 confirms once again what the firearms community already knew, that violent crime has continued to decline while gun sales have continued to climb. The report says murders declined 6.9 percent from the first half of 2012, while aggravated assaults dropped by 6.6 percent nationwide and robberies were down 1.8 percent. Forcible rapes declined 10.6 percent from the same period in 2012 and overall, violent crime fell by 10.6 percent in non-metropolitan counties and 3.6 percent in metropolitan counties. This new information reinforces the notion that not only do guns save lives, their presence in the hands and homes of law-abiding citizens just might be a deterrent to crime. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has been reporting a steady increase in firearm sales for the past few years.

  • The tired argument from the anti-gun lobby that more firearms in the hands of private citizens would result in sharp increases in violence has run out of traction.

More Obamacare Delays

Insurers can keep their customers on policies that don’t comply with Obamacare for another two years, the Obama administration announced Wednesday. The change could prevent Americans from receiving a new round of termination letters just before the November midterm elections. The cancellations last fall created a public relations nightmare for Obama officials, leading them in November to allow insurers to extend these plans into 2014. These plans, which often carry high deductibles and offer skimpy coverage, were originally supposed to end and be replaced with Obamacare-compliant policies. Obamacare plans set an annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses and cover many more benefits, including drugs and maternity care.

ObamaCare Signing Up Few Uninsured

ObamaCare appears to be making little progress in signing up uninsured Americans, one of the law’s primary goals, according to two new surveys. Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new health insurance marketplaces enrolled as of last month, according to a survey by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The McKinsey survey found that only 27 percent of people who have selected a plan on the exchanges described themselves as having previously been without insurance. A second survey by researchers at the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, found that Americans with lower incomes and those who are uninsured are less likely to know about the ObamaCare marketplaces than others, the Post reported. Gary Cohen, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services official who oversaw the insurance marketplaces through their troubled rollout, told an insurance industry conference on Thursday that the administration doesn’t know how many uninsured Americans are signing up.

  • That’s the government for you – set a goal and then don’t measure it. That way they can’t be held accountable, or so they believe.

ICE Silent on Release of 2,228 Immigration Detainees

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are still refusing to disclose the names, criminal histories and whereabouts of more than 2,200 detainees the agency suddenly released a year ago. Citing public-safety concerns, an array of public officials have demanded that ICE turn over details about the detainees. ICE officials have trickled out only limited information, including some documents obtained by The Arizona Republic that show that several detainees who were released had more serious criminal histories than ICE officials originally disclosed. Other documents obtained by The Republic show that dozens of the detainees were later taken back into custody, including four of 10 detainees deemed Level 1, the highest risk. At the time of their release, all were facing deportation.

Alzheimer’s Deadlier than Believed

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for many more deaths than health officials realized, a new study concludes, making it nearly as lethal as the Nation’s two biggest killers, heart disease and cancer. Death certificates record immediate cause of death, but often miss the underlying cause, which is why Alzheimer’s has been undercounted. The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, found that annual death rates from Alzheimer’s should be closer to 500,000 than the 85,000 currently counted by the government. Alzheimer’s is always lethal, but because most people think of it as a memory disease, they do not always connect the disease with death. Dementia cuts five to 10 years off the lifespan and is not a normal part of aging. Dementia can lead to lethal falls that would not have happened otherwise. Pneumonia is also common among with people with Alzheimer’s, whose bodies have literally forgotten how to shift the throat muscles to keep food from the lungs.

Obama’s Budget Proposal Ominous

President Obama’s latest budget proposal paints a bleak picture of America’s fiscal future. Here’s a troubling snapshot: by 2024, the total national debt would rise from $17.4 trillion to nearly $25 trillion; by 2020, U.S. taxpayers would be paying more in interest on the debt than they would on the entire Defense budget; by 2017, those interest payments would be bigger than the budget for Medicaid, Under the budget blueprint, the 2015 deficit would shrink to $564 billion from $649 billion this year. That’s a sharp fall from year after year of $1 trillion-plus deficits during Obama’s first term. But even when the deficit shrinks, the national debt will continue to grow. A lot. And every year the debt grows, the interest on that debt also grows, crowding out needed funding for everything from the military to education to infrastructure to entitlements.

Economic News

The job market rebounded from a two-month slump in February as employers added 175,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate rose to 6.7% from 6.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 162,000 jobs. Federal, state and local governments added 13,000. December’s job gains were revised to 84,000 from 75,000 and January’s to 129,000 from 113,000. Monthly job gains averaged 200,000-plus last fall.

A booming stock market and recovering home values boosted Americans’ household wealth by nearly $10 trillion last year, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday. The net worth of households and non-profits was $80.7 trillion at the end of 2013, a 14% increase from 2012. More than half of the increase — $5.6 trillion — came from stocks. Real estate holdings rose $2.3 trillion in value. Household wealth reflects the value of homes, stocks, bank accounts and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

Home prices rose in January, breaking a string of three straight monthly declines, despite a weather-related slowdown in sales. Prices increased 0.9% vs. December and were up 12% from a year-ago. Despite the advances, home prices remained about 17% off their April 2006 peak. The states with the largest year-over-year increases in home prices were Nevada, at 22.2%; California, 20.3%; Oregon, 14.3%; Michigan; 13.7%, and Georgia, 13.4%.Despite Nevada’s increase, the state is still 40.1% below its peak price, the most in the nation.

One week after the popular Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox mysteriously shut down, another exchange is also closing following an attack by hackers. In a statement posted to their website Tuesday, Flexcoin says it was “robbed” of all 896 of its Bitcoins. Based on Tuesday’s price, the stolen Bitcoins are valued at more than $600,000. Flexcoin’s demise follows last Friday’s announcement from Mt. Gox that it was filing for bankruptcy following a similar theft of Bitcoin. The number of Bitcoins stolen from Gox is valued at $425 million.

Persecution Watch

Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, has called for the execution of 33 people for reportedly working as accomplices to South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook and planning to help him create 500 underground churches. Last October, Kim Jung-wook was arrested and placed in jail for his plan to set up underground churches. Part of his plan was to distribute bibles, Christian instructional materials, and movies. In a press conference held last week, he apologized for committing “anti-state” crimes with the hope of being released from the North Korean prison cell where he is being held.

Seven Egyptian Christians were rounded up by suspected Islamist militants in Libya, taken away at gunpoint and shot dead. Their bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs on a beach on the outskirts of Benghazi on 24 February. A group of masked men had raided the building in which the Egyptians lived the night before. They went door-to-door asking if the residents were Christian or Muslim before abducting the seven Christians, who were aged 17-25, at gunpoint. The militants spray-painted a message on the apartment building and on other buildings in the area offering a reward of 10,000 Libyan Dinars (£5,000; US$8,000) for anyone who turns a Christian over to them.

Middle East

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it intercepted an Iranian shipment of “advanced” weapons bound for “terrorist organizations” operating in Gaza. The Israeli navy stopped a Panamanian-flagged civilian cargo ship and boarded the vessel, the IDF said. The weapons found were identified as Syrian-manufactured surface-to-surface rockets. The boarding took place about 1,000 miles off the coast of Eilat, Israel, between Sudan and Eritrea in the Red Sea in international waters. The IDF spokesman said Tehran was doing everything possible to cover up its role in the shipment of weapons. Iran has already provided the anti-Israel terrorist group Hezbollah tens of thousands of missiles in southern Lebanon despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers there, say Israeli military analysts. The IDF says the Syrian missiles would have been a “game-changer” with longer reach and bigger warheads.

The Palestinian president says there’s “no way” he’ll recognize Israel as a Jewish state and accept just a portion of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Mahmoud Abbas said in comments published Friday by the official WAFA news agency that he withstood U.S. pressure when he sought U.N. recognition for a state of Palestine and suggested he would do so again. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to present ideas Friday for the contours of a deal to Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gaps between the sides remain wide after seven months of Kerry’s mediation, and a framework by an April 29 deadline appears elusive.

Egypt

A Cairo court has banned all activities by Hamas in Egypt, calling the Palestinian movement that runs Gaza a terrorist organization. Hamas member Izzat Rashq denounced Tuesday’s ruling by the Cairo circuit court as a “political decision aimed to undermine the Palestinian people and their valiant resistance.” Egypt’s relations with the militant group have been on the decline since the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsy. The nation’s military government has been cracking down on Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ukraine

Western powers increased pressure on Russia Wednesday to talk to the new government in Kiev, in a bid to de-escalate tensions over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region. The European Union announced Wednesday it will offer Ukraine an aid package worth at least $15 billion (€11 billion) as the country struggles with dwindling cash and a military standoff with Russia. The diplomatic maneuvers come as world leaders met in Paris for talks that were intended to focus on Lebanon. Instead, Ukraine dominated the agenda. Russian forces remain in effective control of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula where Russia has a huge naval base, in a tense standoff with Ukrainian forces loyal to the new interim government in Kiev.

Russia has been warned that economic sanctions may be employed if no progress is made in ending the high-stakes showdown. In return, Russian lawmakers are drafting a law that will allow Russia to confiscate assets belonging to U.S. and European companies if it faces sanctions. Crimea’s pro-Russia administration in Simferopol has announced a March 16 referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia. Critics fear the move is a pretext toward secession and the eventual annexation by the Russian Federation. The parliament in Crimea enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law. Referendum voters will choose between joining Russia or remaining part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers. Russia’s parliament gave its full support to Crimean lawmakers who want to see their region split from Ukraine and join Russia.

Weather

A parade of powerful storms this winter has lashed Europe and the United Kingdom, leaving in its wake record rainfall, flooding and widespread damage. But beaches across the U.K. are feeling the effects of the country’s devastating winter storms, too. According to The Guardian, strong winds from the storms have pushed litter and debris onto many beaches in the U.K. The most recent run of bad weather has changed beaches drastically,” Claire Wallerstein, the chairman of a UK environmental group, told the Cornish Guardian.  “(It’s) giving us a scary glimpse of how much trash is really out there, which sea life has to contend with.” But it’s not just trash washing ashore. The Marine Conservation Society, which is undertaking next month’s beach clean-up, tells The Guardian that hundreds of thousands of dead and dying seabirds being washed ashore onto the English, French and Spanish coasts. The birds have become entangled with a large amount of trash, including plastic materials.

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