Signs of the Times (3/27/14)

‘God’s Not Dead’ Makes Millions, Surprises Box Office

The low-budget Christian movie “God’s Not Dead” surprised the box office when the film brought in $2.8 million on Friday alone in a limited 780 theaters nationwide. In contrast, “Divergent” played in 3,936 theaters over the weekend. By the conclusion of opening weekend, the Indie film exceeded $8.5 million. “God’s Not Dead” placed third for per-screen average earnings with $3,613; only “Divergent” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” topped the fictional story of a college student who challenges an Atheist college professor with faith.

O’Reilly Book “Killing Jesus” Sparks Criticism

Renowned author and Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly recently released Killing Jesus, a history of the crucifixion of Christ, co-written by Martin Dugard. Since the release of the book, O’Reilly has faced criticism from members of the secular-progressive movement. “The problem with the secular-progressive movement is it simply cannot accept any people of faith and take them seriously,” O’Reilly told the Washington Post. “They’re so condescending and they’re so arrogant that, even though you might be a brilliant person, if you believe, you’re an idiot.” O’Reilly was raised Catholic and publicly states his faith in what is written in the Bible. He said, “I’m going to accept it, because there’s no reason not to.”

World Vision Division

The Family Research Council reports, “In its 64 years, World Vision has been exactly that — a kingdom view on a globe in need. Yesterday, the organization walked away from one of the greatest legacies in Christian ministry, trading a vision to reach the world for the world’s vision of marriage. In an announcement that continues to shock and dismay its supporters, President Richard Stearns closed the chapter on six decades of an incredible witness, driving a deep and irreparable stake into the heart of Christian outreach. The billion-dollar organization, which has served more than 100 million people, will, in its words, “no longer require its 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.” But 48 hours later, World Vision admitted it had made a “mistake” and reversed itself, saying it was never the board’s intent to undermine the charity’s commitment to biblical authority due to the avalanche of protests and said it will go through a leadership shakeup

Ruling to Strike Down Michigan Same-Sex Marriage Ban Put on Hold

A U.S. appeals court on Saturday temporarily put on hold a federal judge’s ruling Friday to strike down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, a move that followed issuance of more than 300 marriage licenses to gays and lesbians by state officials. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a temporary stay until Wednesday, directing those who challenged the state’s gay marriage ban to respond to Michigan attorney general’s plea to place the lower court’s decision on hold pending an appeal. State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s spokeswoman Joy Yearout said Saturday the stay was intended to preserve the state Constitution pending the appeal’s outcome. Michigan’s 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which was approved by 59 percent of voters, was challenged by a Detroit suburb lesbian couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who wanted to jointly adopt each other’s children but could not.

Wisconsin Governor Refuses Atheist Demands to Remove Scripture from Social Media Pages

The governor of Wisconsin is refusing the demands of a prominent atheist activist organization to remove a Scripture citation from his Twitter and Facebook pages. The Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Walker this past week after becoming aware that he had simply posted “Philippians 4:13″ as his status on his social media accounts last Sunday. The Scripture reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. “This braggadocio verse coming from a public official is rather disturbing,” FFRF wrote in the letter. “To say, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,’ seems more like a threat, or the utterance of a theocratic dictator, than of a duly elected civil servant.”

  • Intolerant atheists seem to think they can impose their belief on others, specifically Christians

Gun Control Measures Met with Defiance from Law Enforcement Officers

The head of a nationwide sheriff’s coalition is calling on Vermont’s law enforcement officers to defy three controversial gun control measures passed by Burlington voters three weeks ago. On March 4, Burlington voters joined a push by elected officials throughout northeastern states to enact stiffer gun control measures. By a 2-to-1 margin, they banned the carry of firearms in bars and restaurants, authorized police to confiscate guns during domestic disputes and required gun owners to keep firearms locked up at home. The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association claims that 17 police associations and nearly 500 sheriffs nationwide have pledged to defy unconstitutional gun control measures. Sheriffs in Colorado are refusing to enforce that state’s new background checks and ban on high-capacity magazines. In Connecticut, tens of thousands of residents are refusing to comply with a new state law that requires registration of guns and high-capacity magazines.

Supreme Court Clashes over ObamaCare Contraceptive Mandate

One of the most controversial provisions of ObamaCare — the mandate requiring employers to cover contraception — was debated before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, as activists on both sides of the issue clashed outside the courtroom in Washington. The justices appeared divided in the case, which is the highest-profile challenge to the health care law since the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012. The case argued Tuesday involves family-owned companies, including Hobby Lobby, that provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs. But the Obama administration and its supporters say a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the businesses could also undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.

  • The essence of the battle is religious rights versus government mandates, which our increasingly socialistic, federal administration sees as a speed bump along the path to greater and greater government control over every aspect of our lives

Another Obamacare Deadline Extended

The Obama administration will give more time to people who try to apply for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace by Monday but encounter difficulty, administration officials said Tuesday evening. Monday is the deadline for people to enroll in order to have coverage for this year or face penalties under the Affordable Care Act. Administration officials said this move, similar to the one in December for the large number of people who were trying to sign up by January 1, will accommodate people who face special circumstances or complex cases and need extra time to complete their enrollment.

Obama Unveils Plan to Change NSA Data Collection

The Obama administration laid out a new set of surveillance rules Thursday that would transfer the storage of millions of telephone records from the government to private phone companies. The plan, developed in response to protests about the reach of National Security Agency surveillance tactics, requires a sign-off from Congress. Obama said the new plan would end the government control of bulk data but preserve the ability of agencies to conduct counter-terrorism investigations. Government officials could still access the phone data with court approval, according to the plan. The idea of ending government storage of metadata appears to have bipartisan support.

Rich Chinese Overwhelm U.S. Visa Program

A dramatic surge in interest from wealthy Chinese is threatening to overwhelm a U.S. program offering investors green cards in exchange for cash. The number of applicants is now so great that the government might run out of permits. Any foreigner willing to commit at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs in America can apply for an investor immigrant visa — also known as an EB-5. The demand from mainland Chinese eager to move abroad has already led the U.S. government to warn the program could hit a wall as early as this summer. Chinese nationals account for more than 80% of visas issued, compared to just 13% a decade ago. That translates to nearly 6,900 visas for Chinese nationals last year, a massive bump up from 2004, when only 16 visas were granted to Chinese.

International Adoption Rates Plummet

Rates of international adoptions have decreased dramatically in recent years. According to the Associated Press, Americans adopted 7,094 children from other countries in the 2013 fiscal year, the lowest number of international adoptions since 1992. The year 2004 held a record of 22,884 adoptions, over three times higher than the current level. Executive director of programs at American World Adoption Ryan Hanlon told the Christian Post that part of the issue is Russia’s ban on international adoption. But there are other factors contributing to the problem as well. “I do think a big part of that is the failed role of the Department of State to work in cooperation with other nations,” Hanlon said. Hanlon explained that the State Department has focused too much on the prevention of fraudulent adoptions. “They have neglected to encourage and support potential adoptive families and adoptees,” he said.

Worldwide Executions Rise in 2013

Virtual “killing sprees” in Iran and Iraq led to a spike in the number of executions globally last year, according to Amnesty International, at odds with a steady decline in the use of the death penalty around the world over the last two decades. China executed more people than any other country last year. Although Chinese authorities treat official execution statistics as a state secret, Amnesty International estimates thousands are killed under the death penalty every year, more than the rest of the world combined. Iran came in second, with at least 369 put to death by the state, followed by Iraq (169), Saudi Arabia (79), and the United States (39).

UK Hospitals Burn Aborted, Miscarried Babies for Green Fuel

Hospitals in the United Kingdom are getting attention for their practice of burning the bodies of hundreds of aborted and miscarried babies, World Magazine reports. Though the UK Department of Health declared an immediate ban on fetal incineration Sunday, the practice has purportedly been going on for several years, across at least a dozen medical facilities and hospitals. Ten medical facilities operated under the National Health Service as well as two hospitals admitted to burning fetal remains along with trash. Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge incinerated 797 babies under 13 weeks of gestation at its waste-to-energy plant after telling mothers the bodies had been “cremated.” The Addenbrooke’s incinerator is part of the hospital’s “Think Green” program to reduce waste and cut carbon emissions.

  • The end-time ‘culture of death’ continues to exhibit a chilling disregard for the lives of throwaways who do not fit the notion of earth’s ‘sustainability’. Worldwide abortion and euthanasia are also on the rise.

Use of Supplements Declining

Every year, half of all Americans take some kind of pill as insurance against their diets. But recently, researchers have noticed a surprising trend: Use of some of the most popular supplements is waning, possibly because of recent reports questioning their benefits and raising awareness about risks. In a study by the independent research group ConsumerLab.com, calcium supplementation declined among women, from 58% in 2012 to 46% in 2013. Vitamin C purchases were off by 4.2%. Even sales of fish oil — once the hottest supplement on the market — dropped, according to the report. The one category where supplementation is actually growing? Probiotics, or live bacteria that work by “recolonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing bacteria, thereby restoring balance to the intestinal flora,” according to ConsumerLab.com. From 2012 to 2013, use of probiotics rose from 31% to 37% among regular supplement users.

Economic News

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 311,000, the lowest since late November and a hopeful sign hiring could pick up. About 3.3 million people received benefits in the week ending March 8, the latest data available. That was about 43,000 fewer than the previous week.

Minimum-wage employees must work on average 2.6 full-time jobs to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment in the USA without paying more than 30% of their income, according to a report released Monday from the National Low Income Housing Coalition based on federal data. Perhaps more surprising is that the inability to afford rent is not limited to big cities with high housing costs. In California, for example, a minimum-wage employee must work 130 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental.

The Obama administration has backed efforts to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Congress has not passed any wage hike and is unlikely to do so. Last month’s Congressional Budget Office report found raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 workers above the poverty line but cost 500,000 jobs.

Graduate school debt is playing a key and often overlooked role in the ballooning of overall student loan debt, new research suggests. Students who went to university for a graduate degree borrowed $57,600 in 2012, a 43% increase from $40,209 in 2004, according to new research released Tuesday by the New America Foundation. Overall student loan debt is a little more than $1 trillion, outpacing all other loans except mortgages.

Persecution Watch

The population of a Christian town in north-west Syria was forced to flee when it was besieged by Islamist rebels; 80 people were killed, at least 13 of whom were beheaded, churches desecrated and homes looted. Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham attacked Kessab on the Turkish border early on Friday 21 March. Around 3,000 Armenian Christian residents fled for their lives, taking refuge in neighboring Latakia and Bassit. Some are staying with relatives and friends, but the rest are sheltering in over-crowded church buildings. A dozen or so families with members too elderly to leave remained in Kessab and were subsequently taken hostage.

Two gunmen stormed a packed church near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday and opened fire on worshippers, killing five people and wounding others, in what police called a terrorist attack. Blood-spattered Bibles and overturned plastic chairs lay strewn across the church’s floor after the attack. The attackers tried to raid a second church nearby but fled when armed police on patrol in the neighborhood appeared. The violence comes at a time of heightened warnings of Islamist attacks against the east African nation and days after prosecutors charged two Somalis with terrorism-related offenses after police seized a car packed with explosives.

Middle East

Security forces in Jerusalem were on high alert Thursday following a shooting attack against a police checkpoint in the area of Atarot, just north of the capital. 13 shots were fired at a border police guard post, causing damage to the post but no injuries. The attacks came two days after the Israeli Navy engaged two alleged smuggling boats off the Gaza coast as they were headed to Egypt. As the boats were being escorted back to the Gaza coast, gunmen on the beach opened fire at the Israeli vessels, causing no injuries. Four persons were reported wounded on the smuggling boats.

Yunis Al-Astal, a Muslim cleric and member of the Palestinian Parliament went on Palestinian television earlier this month and openly called for a campaign of mass murder against the Jewish People. He said, “We must massacre them, in order to break them down and prevent them from sowing corruption in the world. They are the ones who still spark the flame of war, but Allah has taken it upon Himself to extinguish it.” Mike Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team says, “This man is a member of the government the Obama Administration is pushing Israel to make a peace deal with—it is an outrage!”

  • Obama continues to be the most anti-Israel president in U.S. history

Russia

President Barack Obama and other world leaders have decided to end Russia’s role in the group of leading industrialized nations, the White House said Monday. The move to suspend Russia’s membership in the G8 is the latest direct response from major countries allied against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force,” the statement said. “To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. We also strongly condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations.”

Ukraine

Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from Crimea Monday, citing Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families. Russian troops have seized most of Ukraine’s bases in the peninsula, including a naval base at Feodosia on Monday. Russia annexed Crimea last week after a controversial referendum that Ukraine and the West say was illegal. The International Monetary Fund has stepped in to provide the troubled Ukrainian economy with a loan of up to $18 billion, payable over two years, the international organization said Thursday.

Egypt

A court in Egypt sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death Monday as part of a mass trial that highlights ongoing attempts to squash the Islamist movement. It’s the largest death sentence in history. More than 150 of 545 defendants stood trial on charges of killing a policeman and attacking police. The others were tried in absentia. Sixteen defendants were acquitted after hasty hearings lasted only two days, and defense lawyers complained they never had a chance to present their case. The verdict precedes another case set to open on Tuesday in which nearly 700 defendants are facing similar charges. Monday’s ruling comes nearly nine months after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted from the presidency. Massive Brotherhood-led protests were violently dispersed in the coup’s wake and the Brotherhood was outlawed. Thousands of the group’s supporters, leaders and members have been thrown in jail while others fled the country.

Afghanistan

Four people were killed when militants stormed an election commission office in the Afghan capital Tuesday. After a five-hour gun battle with Afghan security services, the five militants who carried out the attack were also killed. Two of them had blown themselves up as they entered the compound in the Darul Aman area, he said, while the remaining three went into the election commission building. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes less than two weeks before Afghanistan holds presidential elections.

Environment

Crews are working to clean up 170,000 gallons of oil that spilled into Galveston Bay after two ships collided Saturday. The nearly 170,000 gallons of oil that has spilled into Texas’ Galveston Bay has put one of the nation’s most crucial bird habitats at risk, experts say. Biologists said they have found dozens of oiled birds on parts of the Bolivar Peninsula, and expect the situation to get much worse. Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time and place. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area. traces of oil have still been detected as far out as 12 miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Weather

A handful of people were miraculously pulled from the wreckage in Washington right after a mountain of mud rolled over two towns there Saturday. But no one has been found alive since, and the grim toll rises by the day. At least 24 have been confirmed dead. And on Wednesday, rescuers will work to salvage another eight bodies they believe they have located under rubble of the landslide that covers about a square mile. In some places, the debris is 30 to 40 feet thick. At least 176 people are unaccounted for. But officials have stressed that some names of those missing have been duplicated, so there is hope the actual number may be smaller. A scientist working for the government had warned 15 years ago about the potential for a catastrophic landslide in the fishing village where the weekend collapse of a rain-soaked hillside. The 1999 report raised questions about why residents were allowed to build homes on the hill and whether officials had taken proper precautions.

Several tornadoes touched down during storms in Northern California, including one twister near Sacramento that damaged a dozen homes and left a path of debris about 300 yards long. The National Weather Service says a funnel cloud touched down near Roseville shortly after 6:15 p.m. Wednesday. The weather service says a tornado also touched down in Ordbend, in Glenn County. KNTV says there are reports of at least four twisters, which are rare for California. The northern half of the state is experiencing wild weather including thunderstorms packing heavy winds.

California’s historic drought has been a nightmare for many. But it could be a dream come true for a few gold prospectors. Record-low water levels are leading prospectors young and old to areas that haven’t been touched by human hands in decades. One such area is Placer County, where prospectors first made their mark during the Gold Rush of 1849. Gold is trading at $1,300 a troy ounce, which is an incentive for families to spend their weekends digging in the dirt.

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