Signs of the Times (4/10/15)

Belief in Jesus Waning Among Millennials

With Bible-themed movies and programs hitting the big screen and flat screen in unprecedented numbers over the past few years, the Barna Group research company set to find out what Americans really believe about Jesus Christ. On Sunday, March 29, National Geographic Channel premiered its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus to 3.7 million viewers — the channel’s biggest audience in history, Barna reports. CNN’s Finding Jesus miniseries has also sustained impressive viewership. Google searches of Jesus Christ climbed by 53 percent in the week leading up to Easter. Barna found that the older the generation, the more people believe in the historical account of Jesus as a man who walked on earth. Here’s the breakdown: Elders (born in 1945 or before) ─ 96 percent; Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) ─ 95 percent; and Gen-Xers (born between 1965 and 1983) ─ 91 percent. Most adults — not quite six in 10 — believe Jesus was God (56 percent), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha (26 percent). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18 percent). Barna also found that “younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe Jesus was God. Millennials are the only generation among whom fewer than half believe Jesus was God (48 percent).”

“Day to Praise” Calls on Christians and Jews to Thank God for Israel’s Protection

The Center for Jewish and Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) has launched a bold initiative calling for a day of praise of God’s name around the world. Coinciding with Israel’s Independence Day on April 23, the “Day to Praise” calls on Jews and Christians around the world to recite Psalms 113-118 in celebration of God’s covenantal love for the Jewish nation. The organization is founded on the proposition that each of the two great faith communities is rooted in one shared Bible, which both accept as the eternal and living word of God. The CJCUC is holding this worldwide praise initiative as part of its larger mission of bridging the relationship between Jews and Christians.

  • The Bible exhorts all believers to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:6-7)

New Abortion Law in Kansas

A new Kansas law banning a common second-term abortion procedure is the first of its kind in the United States. The law, signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday, bans what it describes as “dismemberment abortion” defined as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus.” Supporters of the measure described it as a groundbreaking step, while opponents warned it was dangerous and among the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Planned Parenthood Wants More Taxpayer Money

In the last 42 years, 61 million innocent unborn lives have been snuffed out by abortion, reports the Pro-Life Alliance. Planned Parenthood already receives hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to perform abortions – 327,000 in 2013 alone. Now, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards claims she wants to share “a simple way to save lives.” Her proposal? More taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood.

Indiana Pizzeria Reopens After Receiving $800,000 from Donors following Gay Backlash

An Indiana pizzeria will reopen its doors after receiving $800,000 in donations. Memories Pizza in Walkerton recently closed after owner Crystal O’Connor stated that the restaurant would not cater same-sex weddings. Charisma News reports O’Connor and the company received threats after making the statement and police were forced to heighten security in the area. O’Connor told the Daily Mail, “I wasn’t trying to score points. It is something I believe in from my heart and my faith about gay weddings. But I don’t regret what I said. I have been scared, but God is giving me strength. I think it is nothing compared to what Christ had to suffer.”

A Tale of Two Cakes: Tolerance a One-Way Street

Back in 2012, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, refused to bake a “wedding” cake for a homosexual couple. The ACLU got involved, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Phillips had violated anti-discrimination laws. Phillips is currently appealing. In March 2014, Bill Jack from Castle Rock, Colorado, walked into Azucar Bakery and asks for a Bible-shaped cake with the phrase “Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2,” and a picture of two men holding hands and a big red X over it. Owner Marjorie Silva refused to add the anti-homosexual messages. Jack filed a discrimination complaint, and now the Colorado civil rights division has ruled that Silva did not violate the law by following her own conscience.

Federal Judge Denies Request to Lift Hold on Obama Immigration Order

A federal judge in Texas denied a Justice Department request Tuesday to lift his temporary hold on President Obama’s executive action shielding potentially millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen refused to set aside his Feb. 16 decision granting a preliminary injunction requested by 26 states. The U.S. government wants the injunction lifted — allowing Obama’s action to proceed — while it appeals Hanen’s ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans. The coalition of states leading the challenge filed a lawsuit to overturn Obama’s executive actions, which would prevent as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally from being deported.

Obama Gun Control Push Backfires as Industry Sees Unprecedented Surge

The American firearms industry is as healthy as ever, seeing an unprecedented surge that has sent production of guns soaring to more than 10.8 million manufactured in 2013 alone — double the total of just three years earlier. The 2013 surge — the latest for which the government has figures — came in the first full year after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, signaling that the push for stricter gun controls, strongly backed by President Obama, did little to chill the industry despite the passage of stricter laws in states such as New York, Maryland, Connecticut and California. Interest in guns appears to be at an all-time high in California, which shattered its previous record for gun-purchase background checks last month, with nearly 200,000 processed, suggesting a vibrant firearms market in the country’s largest and most liberal state.

Historic Election in Ferguson, Missouri

Residents in Ferguson, Mo. Tuesday elected two black city council members, transforming the political body’s racial composition after months of protests over racial profiling and police brutality. When the two new African-American council members take their seats it will be the first time that blacks have controlled half of the council, despite the fact that two-thirds of the city’s 21,000 residents are black. Demonstrations gave way to increased civic activism with 29% of eligible voters casting more than 3,700 ballots. That’s more than double the 12% of eligible voters that came out for last April’s mayoral election.

More than 1,200 in Arrested in Nationwide Gang Raids

Targeting gangs across the country, teams from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested more than 1,200 people, while seizing weapons and drugs directly used by international crime syndicates. Members and associates from 239 different gangs were arrested in 282 cities across the U.S. during what’s been called Project Wildfire, a six-week operation that included 215 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Those arrested include 650 with violent criminal histories, including 19 individuals wanted on active warrants for murder and 15 for rape or sexual assault. There were 200 foreign nationals arrested in the raids. The operation targeted transnational criminal gangs and others associated with transnational criminal activity. The majority of those taken into custody were affiliated with the Sureños, Norteños, Bloods, Crips, Puerto Rican-based gangs and several prison-based gangs, with the greatest activity taking place in the San Juan, Puerto Rico; Dallas, El Paso, Los Angeles and Detroit HSI areas.

Russians Hacked the White House

Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, reports CNN. While the White House has said the breach only affected an unclassified system, that description belies the seriousness of the intrusion. The hackers had access to sensitive information such as real-time non-public details of the president’s schedule. While such information is not classified, it is still highly sensitive and prized by foreign intelligence agencies, U.S. officials say. The FBI, Secret Service and U.S. intelligence agencies are all involved in investigating the breach, which they consider among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against U.S. government systems. Investigators found tell-tale codes and other markers that they believe point to hackers working for the Russian government.

Economic News

It’s going to be harder to find a Walgreens – the drugstore chain is closing about 200 stores in the U.S. out of a total of 8,232 locations. You’ll also have to look harder to find office supply sellers and some apparel sellers, too. Walgreens drugstore, is just one of 14 major publicly traded companies that are reducing their store counts the quickest even as the economy is growing, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Capital IQ. The closures show just how some bricks-and-mortar retailers are contracting as online shopping grows. Department store Sears Holdings, office supply seller Office Depot and teen apparel retailer Aeropostale reported the largest percentage declines in the number of stores in their most recently reported annual counts compared with a year ago.

Since June, American companies have disclosed 51,747 job cuts directly attributed to falling oil prices, according to CNNMoney. The vast majority of the layoffs — 47,610 — have been announced this year as oil prices have struggled to climb back up from the depths. Oil job layoffs in the first three months of the year rose an eye-popping 3,900% from the same period a year ago. In addition, the mining industry, which includes support for oil and gas extraction, has lost 30,000 jobs in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Anglo-Dutch oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell agreed Wednesday to buy Britain’s BG Group in a $70 billion cash and stock deal that creates a massive European energy giant in one of the biggest deals for the sector in a decade or more. The deal is expected to save $2.5 billion a year and comes after oil prices tumbled around 50% since June last year on sluggish global demand and amid a glut in supply. Conflicts across the Middle East as well as nuclear negotiations with Iran have further added to volatility.

Greece’s government has given the order to repay a $485-million loan instalment to the International Monetary Fund due Thursday — a debt Athens had insisted it will honor despite being severely cash-strapped. The debt stems from Greece’s international bailout, under which the country was extended rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the IMF to prevent bankruptcy. Greece’s new left wing-led government has been locked in strained negotiations with creditors since winning elections in January on pledges to abolish the deeply resented budget austerity measures required by the rescue program.

Islamic State

Hackers claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group seized control of a global French television network, simultaneously blacking out 11 channels and taking over the network’s website and social media accounts. The message on the TV5 Monde website read in part “I am IS” with a banner by a group that called itself Cybercaliphate. The attack appeared to be an unprecedented step in the extremist group’s information warfare tactics. The Islamic extremist group has claimed complex hackings before, but experts and a French official said the ability to black out a global television network represented a new level of sophistication for the group. Previously, hackers claiming to work on behalf of the Islamic State have seized control of the Twitter accounts of other media, such as Newsweek, and in January they hacked into the Twitter page and YouTube site of the U.S. military’s Central Command.

ISIS militants destroyed a historic church on Easter Sunday, according to Breitbart. Terrorists placed explosives inside the Church of the Virgin Mary in Tal Nasri and detonated the bombs. The church was one of three main churches in the Assyrian village. Local news outlet Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) said the church was “levelled” in the bombing. Sunday’s attack was not ISIS’ first church destruction, as the group previously burned the church of Tal Hurmoz in Syria, in addition to three more churches in Tal Tamer.

An Iraqi Kurdish security official says the Islamic State group has released more than 200 Yazidi elderly and children after eight months of captivity. Gen. Hiwa Abdullah, a peshmerga commander in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, says most of the 216 prisoners freed Wednesday are in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect. No reason was given for the release of the prisoners who were originally abducted from the area around Sinjar in the country’s north. Tens of thousands of Yazidi people fled in August last year when the Islamic State group captured the town of Sinjar.

Syria

Labeled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, the conflict in Syria has now entered its fifth year. According to the UN, 18 million people are in need of urgent help as conditions have worsened dramatically and violence continues to escalate. While four million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries, another 7.6 million are displaced within Syria. And an entire generation of children is growing up with no experience of a peaceful existence. Christians face the double problem of the war itself and of the persecution they face as Christians.

Iran

Tehran will not sign a final nuclear deal unless world powers simultaneously lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran, the nation’s president said Thursday. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany — the so-called P5 +1 group — reached an understanding with Iran last week on limits to its nuclear program in return for lifting crippling economic sanctions. The U.S. has previously said the sanctions would be lifted in phases, but the details have not yet been negotiated. President Hassan Rouhani appeared to rule out a gradual removal of the sanctions, which have hit the nation’s energy and financial sectors hard — and devastated its economy. “We will not sign any agreement, unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” he said.

Iran will begin using its latest generation IR-8 centrifuges as soon as its nuclear deal with the world powers goes into effect, Iran’s foreign minister and nuclear chief told members of parliament on Tuesday, according to Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency… If accurate, the report makes a mockery of the world powers’ much-hailed framework agreement with Iran, since such a move clearly breaches the US-published terms of the deal, and would dramatically accelerate Iran’s potential progress to the bomb. Iran has said that its IR-8 centrifuges enrich uranium 20 times faster than the IR-1 centrifuges it currently uses.

Yemen

Iran dispatched a naval destroyer and another vessel Wednesday to waters near Yemen as the United States quickened weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition striking rebels there, underlining how foreign powers are deepening their involvement in the conflict. The maneuver comes amid an intense Saudi-led Sunni Arab air campaign targeting the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, who come from a Shiite sect. Critics say Shiite Iran backs the Houthis, though both the Islamic Republic and the rebels deny any direct military assistance. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that an al-Qaeda branch is making “great gains” on the ground amid the chaos in Yemen, and that the U.S. will have to rethink how it prevents the group from launching attacks against the West. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia deepened on Thursday as Iranian leaders lashed out with rare vehemence against the continuing Saudi air campaign in Yemen

Nigeria

Islamist Boko Haram militants disguised as clerics killed at least 24 people and wounded several others in an attack near a mosque in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, a military source and witness said. The attackers arrived in cars late Sunday and gathered people at a mosque in the remote village of Kwajafa, pretending to preach Islam. They then opened fire on them. The group fighting for an Islamic state has killed thousands and kidnapped hundreds, although a military operation against it by Nigeria and neighbors Chad, Cameroon and Niger in the past two months has wrested back much of the territory it controlled. The group’s six-year insurgency, and President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to end it or protect civilians, were factors in the victory of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari in last week’s election.

Cuba

PANAMA CITY — Cuba’s first-ever inclusion into the Summit of the Americas was expected be to the headline-grabbing news at the two-day gathering in Panama City that starts Friday. So far there have been fisticuffs between rival Cuban protesters, an angered Cuban delegation over credentials and reports of the killer of Cuban icon Che Guevara mingling with opposition leaders outside the meetings. And that’s all before President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro have even set foot in this tropical city. In the most talked-about incident, a group of anti-Castro Cuban demonstrators on Wednesday planned to lay flowers at a bust of Cuban patriarch José Martí near the Cuban embassy here when they were confronted by a group of pro-Castro activists. TV newscast images showed the two factions clashing in fistfights. For only the second time in more than 50 years, the presidents of the United States and Cuba have talked by phone Thursday. No additional details were reported.

Environment

Scientists are working to reveal the source of a methane mass half the size of Connecticut currently hovering over the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The Associated Press reports that researchers with the University of Colorado, the University of Michigan, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are teaming up to conduct a month-long study. Last year, researchers with NASA and the University of Michigan released a study that showed the methane mass was the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas in the U.S. Now, these scientists are coming together to piece together how the “hot spot” formed. According to NASA, the likely sources of the hot spot include the region’s many coal mines and the oil and gas activities in the area.

Weather

Drought-plagued California received multiple rounds of wet weather this week, but it’s nowhere near enough to squash all of the thirsty state’s drought issues. The first storm rushed ashore on Sunday, bringing snow to some areas in the higher elevations and even reports of small hail in northwestern California. The pea-sized hail covered roadways and yards in several towns, according to the National Weather Service. A second wave came through Monday and Tuesday, bringing more much-needed rain and snow to the Golden State. Even though some areas in the higher elevations received more than a foot of snow, according to local storm reports, it’s merely a drop in the proverbial bucket of a years-long drought gripping the state.

A multi-day severe weather outbreak lashed the Midwest, knocking out power for thousands and killing one person. Grapefruit-sized hail was reported around Sullivan, Missouri Wednesday. A tornado touched down in Comanche County, Kansas. Minutes later, the same storm spawned another tornado, which lasted 3 to 5 minutes, in rural Barber County, Kansas. Roofs were damaged and some tree limbs were down following a storm near Kincaid, Illinois Wednesday morning. Rescue crews worked into the night to pull 12 people from the rubble of a Rochelle, Illinois, restaurant leveled by a large tornado Thursday night. The Illinois towns of Fairdale, Rochelle and Kirkland sustained major damage from a massive twister that reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble Thursday. Authorities say a couple of people are still unaccounted for. Two animals at the Summerfield Zoo in Belvidere, Illinois, were killed in Thursday’s storms.

The same system responsible for a severe weather outbreak this week also brought downright hot temperatures from the Plains to the South and parts of the Midwest. Kansas City set a record high on Tuesday of 85 degrees and Joplin, Missouri tied their record high of 84 degrees. Fort Myers, Florida also tied their record high when temperatures reached 89 degrees. On Wednesday, Atlanta reached 87 to set a new daily record; Athens, Georgia, also set a record at 89. Daily records were tied in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (87), Greenville, South Carolina (85), Naples, Florida (89) and Tallahassee, Florida (91). On Thursday, a record high was set in Columbia, South Carolina, also at 91 degrees.

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