Signs of the Times (10/15/15)

Another Denomination Slips Into the Great Falling Away

The latest denomination to fall at Jezebel’s hand is the Dutch Reformed Church. In a landmark vote, the church has decided to recognize same-sex relationships. Jesus warned the church not to tolerate the spirit of Jezebel, which teaches and seduces God’s servants to commit sexual immorality and engage in idolatry (Rev. 2:20). Sixty-four percent of the church voted in favor of this strong delusion, which also opens the door for ordaining gay ministers, reports charismanews.com. But they are not the first to fall away. The United Church of Christ, which considers itself a mainline Protestant denomination and claiming over 1 million members and about 5,200 congregations in the U.S.—proudly announced last year that it will serve as a major sponsor of the Gay Games. Even denominations that don’t consider themselves part of the Progressive Christianity movement are falling into this deception. The Presbyterian Church (USA) last year voted to allow its ministers to perform gay weddings in states where it’s legal and the Moravians also voted to ordain gay clergy.

  • Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2Thessalonians 2:3-4)

Planned Parenthood Will No Longer Accept Reimbursement for Fetal Tissue ‘Donations’

Planned Parenthood released a statement Oct. 13 (Tuesday), saying it will no longer receive reimbursement from fetal tissue donations. There has been an ongoing debate regarding the legality of Planned Parenthood’s practices after undercover videos were released by the Center for Medical Progress, reportedly showing that the organization profited from fetal tissues sales – ‘fetal tissue’ being a euphemism for baby body parts. Fox News reports that while it is legal for Planned Parenthood to be reimbursed for expenses incurred while preparing fetal tissue parts for donation to a medical research facility, the undercover videos purport to show that Planned Parenthood actually profits from the fetal tissue sales, and that they are not donations at all. Since Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization, profiting from fetal tissue sales is illegal.

  • In other words, Planned Parenthood is now giving away baby parts for free

FBI Issues Terror Alert

The FBI on Sunday issued the strongest warning to date about possible attacks by the ISIS terrorist group against the U.S. military inside the homeland, officials told ABC News. In a joint intelligence bulletin issued overnight by the FBI with the Department of Homeland Security, officials strongly urged those who serve in uniform to scrub their social media accounts of anything that might bring unwanted attention from “violent extremists” or would help the extremists learn individual service members’ identities. Officials said they fear copycat attacks based on what happened in Canada last month, when two uniformed Canadian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents by young men who claimed they were ISIS followers. Some in U.S. special operations and other military branches have told ABC News they deactivated, scrubbed or locked Facebook and other personal social media accounts months ago at the urging of security officers as the U.S. began bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria last August. But the government on Sunday night indicated they had obtained fresh intelligence that ISIS wants to recruit or inspire sympathizers inside America to hurt military members where they live.

FBI Sex Trafficking Sting Saves 149 Children

A nationwide FBI sting focused on combating sex trafficking involving children, resulted in the arrest of 150 pimps and other individuals, and the rescue of nearly as many sexually exploited children. The youngest victim was 12-years-old. The operation is the result of a collaboration between the FBI, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and state and local law enforcement partners across the country. Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost program, which started in 2003, and has resulted in the conviction of more than 2,000 pimps and others, and the recovery of 4,800 sexually-exploited children, according to the FBI.

FBI Uses Hackers to Bust Bank-Robbing Botnet

American and British police have managed to stop a massive hacking operation that infected computers worldwide, stealing at least $10 million from the United States alone. Law enforcement — with the help of several cybersecurity firms — took control of a network of machines that distributed malicious software known as “Bugat,” “Cridex” or “Dridex.” This malware preyed on unsuspecting people by slipping into their computers, stealing passwords and siphoning money from bank accounts. For distribution, it relied on a network of enslaved computers. Experts say the botnet infected maybe 125,000 computers a year. The botnet sent official-looking spam that tricked people to open poisonous email attachments. Using that method, they were able to steal $3.5 million from Penneco Oil in Pennsylvania in 2012 and send that to bank accounts in Belarus and Ukraine, according to the indictment.

4.2 Billion People are Still Offline

There are currently 4.2 billion people — 57% of the world — who are still offline on a regular basis, according to the United Nations Broadband Commission. Around 70% of mobile and internet usage is concentrated in two regions: Asia-Pacific and the Americas. In poorer countries, nearly 25% fewer women than men have Internet connectivity, and this gap rises to nearly 50% in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. They are also less likely to own mobile devices. Even though the report estimates that 60% of the world population should be online by 2021, the gap between the richer and poorer nations will most likely remain wide. Growing audiences in linguistically diverse areas, such as Africa, India and Southeast Asia, still proves to be a challenge. Most of the world’s languages are not not represented online. The internet mostly caters to those who understand the Latin “a to z” text and digits “0 to 9.” Over half the websites are in English. European languages — Spanish, French, German — and Japanese are used in less than 5% of websites. Many national languages like Swahili and Hindi appear in less than 0.1% of websites.

Medicare Premiums Expected to Surge Next Year

Congress and the Obama administration are frantically seeking ways to hold down Medicare premiums that could rise by roughly 50 percent for some beneficiaries next year, according to lawmakers and Medicare officials. The cost of avoiding such big premium increases could be as much as $7.5 billion by some estimates. White House officials have discussed the issue with congressional aides, but said they were also considering administrative action to moderate the increase in premiums, perhaps by establishing a Medicare contingency fund. Premium increases could affect about 30 percent of the 51 million people enrolled in Part B of Medicare, which covers doctors’ services, outpatient hospital services, some home health care and other items. Spending for these services grew slightly more than expected last year, officials said.

Government Employees Make Much More than Those in the Private Sector

While pro-big government liberals argue about “class warfare” and “income inequality,” they should consider taking a look at a recent study that shows a staggering gap in pay between private sector and government employees, reports patriotupdate.com. According to the study from the Bureau of Economic Analysis reviewed by the Cato Institute, average government employee pay is a staggering 78 percent higher than private sector employee pay. “Federal civilian workers had an average wage of $84,153 in 2014, compared to an average in the private sector of $56,350,” the study noted. And when you add in benefits packages, the difference is even higher. Overall federal compensation averaged $119,934 in 2014, which was 78 percent higher than the private-sector average of $67,246, the study reported.

Economic News

Retail sales edged up just slightly in September as consumers pulled back after opening their wallets in previous months. Purchases at stores and online rose 0.1%, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Even excluding volatile autos and gasoline, sales were virtually flat. And retail sales in July were revised from a 0.2% increase to unchanged. Consumer spending had been a bright spot in the economy in recent months, offsetting weakness overseas, a strong dollar and low oil prices, all of which have hampered factory output and business investment.

  • The lack of increase over the past two months indicates the tepid economic recovery is slowing even more.

Consumer prices fell for the second straight month in September as cheap gasoline more than offset a higher grocery bill. The consumer price index slipped 0.2%, the Labor Department said Thursday. Gas prices fell 9% after dropping by 4.1% in August. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy items, picked up 0.2% and are up 1.9% the past year. Besides the sharp drop in gas prices last month, also falling were apparel prices by 0.3%, used car prices by 0.2%, and airline fares by 0.1%.Those were partly offset by a 0.4% rise in food prices, the biggest increase since May 2014.

The U.S. dollar is not having a good October. It’s value has sunk along with uncertainty around when the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate. These recent losses come after the dollar surged against most currencies for much of this year. Indonesia’s rupiah has gained 10%, the Brazilian real is up nearly 5% and the Turkish lira has gained 3.3% against the dollar in October. The euro and the British pound have also gained more than 1.5% against the dollar in October.

Seniors and other retirees across America got some disappointing news on Thursday. For the first time in five years, they will not get an annual raise in their Social Security benefits in 2016. The reason? A decline in inflation caused by falling gas prices. The amount of money that Social Security pays out is adjusted each year to take into account the rate of inflation. This is known as the cost of living adjustment, or COLA. The inflation measure used by the Social Security Administration was down 0.3% for the 12 months that ended in August — largely due to a 23% drop in gas prices.

Twitter said Tuesday it would jettison up to 336 people — roughly 8% of its workforce — as part of a restructuring CEO Jack Dorsey says will place the social network “on a stronger path to grow.” Dorsey says the company is working “around the clock” on a streamlined roadmap for Twitter, its video app Vine and live broadcast service Periscope. But Dorsey also warned this roadmap will feature a smaller Twitter team. Twitter is struggling to attract new users and restore confidence on Wall Street. The main challenge: Twitter faces growing competition for advertising dollars and people’s attention from Snapchat, Facebook and the Facebook-owned services Instagram and WhatsApp. About 300 million people sign in to use the service at least once a month, making Twitter about one-fifth the size of rival Facebook, which has nearly 1.5 billion users, and smaller even than Instagram, which recently surpassed 400 million users.

Persecution Watch

The Christian Post reports that under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Christians in China have experienced the worst persecution in 20 years, particularly in the last couple years. Some reports even state that last year Chinese Christians experienced the worst persecution they have experienced in a generation. In addition to the campaign to take down all crosses on church buildings, the Chinese government has demolished around 1,700 churches and imprisoned prominent Christians and their advocates. Zhongguo Mingzu Bao, the Chinese Communist Party’s official paper, has announced that this crackdown on Christians will continue and even intensify.

The Islamic State terrorist group has threatened to kill 180 Assyrian Christians because its ransom demands have not been met. According to The Christian Post, the Islamic State is demanding $12 million for the release of the hostages. The Assyrian community, however, does not have sufficient funds to pay this price. The 180 Assyrians are part of a group of 230 hostages kidnapped by the Islamic State in February in villages in the Khabur river valley in Syria. Just last week, the terrorist group released a video showing the brutal executions of three of the hostages.

Middle Eastern Christians who have lived in Sweden for decades are being threatened by Islamic State (IS). The Arabic letter “noon” (equivalent to N) has been painted on the walls of two shops owned by Assyrian Christians in Gothenburg. The bakery and next door pizzeria were also painted with the IS logo and messages in Swedish saying “The Caliphate is here” and “Convert or die”.

Middle East

Israel’s military began deploying hundreds of soldiers to cities on Wednesday to assist police forces in an attempt to quell shooting and stabbing attacks on Israelis by Palestinians over the past several weeks. At least three Israeli Jews were killed and more than a dozen wounded by Palestinian attackers in shooting and stabbing incidents in Jerusalem and Ra’anana on Tuesday, ominous signs of escalating violence that has plagued Israel for weeks. In Jerusalem, two assailants opened fire and stabbed people on a bus in a city neighborhood, killing two men, Israeli police said. Witnesses said the Palestinian attackers locked the doors of the bus to prevent passengers from escaping before police and a security guard killed one attacker and wounded the other. Both of the terrorists were already sitting, and didn’t look suspicious said one of the survivors. Almost simultaneously, a driver rammed his car into people waiting at a bus stop in Jerusalem, exited the vehicle and began stabbing the injured and others, killing a 40-year-old man, Israel’s Walla news site reported. The attacker was shot dead.

There were also two stabbings in Ra’anana, a city of about 80,000 in central Israel, where one Israeli died and five more were injured. Jerusalem sustained two more terrorist stabbing attacks on Wednesday evening, one at the Damascus Gate to the Old City and one at the Central Bus Station. The first attacker was shot and killed by police before he could harm anyone but the second wounded a women in her 70s before being shot and killed by police, who later identified him as a resident of eastern Jerusalem who had previously served time in prison for security offenses.

Islamic State

Iraq’s military claims its air force struck a convoy in western Anbar province that included ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The fate of Baghdadi is unknown, as he was “carried away in a vehicle,” the military statement said. But nine ISIS officials were killed in the airstrike, along with a “large number” of Baghdadi’s bodyguards, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said. The site of the meeting was also struck, and several ISIS leaders were killed and wounded. Baghdadi is enemy No. 1 in the fight against ISIS say U.S. officials.

Syria

Insurgents have fired two shells at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital as scores of pro-government supporters gathered outside the compound to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties. Opposition fighters in the suburbs of the capital have targeted the embassy in the past but it was not clear if Tuesday’s attack targeted the rally. Russia began launching airstrikes against insurgents in Syria on Sept. 30.

Iran

Iran’s parliament approved the nuclear deal the country struck with world powers in July, state media reported Tuesday. A council of senior clerics will now review the accord before its final approval, Iran’s IRNA new agency said. The clerics have the power to send the deal back to parliament to reconsider. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on key policies, but he has indicated that it is up Iran’s parliament to approve or reject the deal. The nuclear deal calls for curbing Iran’s nuclear activities in return for lifting economic sanctions. Iran maintains its nuclear program is only used for peaceful purposes such as power generation and for medical treatment, but it has balked at the idea of giving inspectors unfettered access to its nuclear sites to confirm that claim.

Afghanistan

President Obama announced Thursday that the United States will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan for most of the next year, and maintain a force of 5,500 in 2017, a policy reversal that prolongs American involvement in the longest war in its history. Obama, who had planned to reduce the number of U.S. troops to around 1,000, made the decision at the recommendation of his national security team following a months-long review of security challenges in Afghanistan. The remaining troops will continue the current mission of counter-terrorism activities and training and advising Afghan security forces. They will not engage in ground combat.

Even as the Taliban are winning major victories against the government this year, including the capture of Kunduz, they are not exerting monolithic control. The Islamic State has made major inroads in turf battles against Taliban commanders, particularly in places in Nangarhar Province like the Maamand Valley. And the result, rather than weakening the overall insurgency, has mostly been to inflict more chaos and misery for Afghan civilians, reports the New York Times. The fighters were suddenly flush with cash. Rumors circulated that they were paying a signing bonus of $400 to $500, a persuasive offer in a country where a lack of job prospects is pervasive.

Ukraine

The Dutch Safety Board has concluded that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed over Ukraine in July 2014, broke up after it was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from eastern Ukraine. The investigators found the surface-to-air missile exploded less than a yard from the cockpit, killing three crew members. The front of the plane broke off and the aircraft came down over eastern Ukraine, where a conflict was raging between Russian-backed separatists and government forces. Ukraine should have closed its airspace to civil aviation, Dutch Safety Board Chairman Tjibbe Joustra said. “None of the parties involved recognized the risk from the armed conflict on the ground.” Russia has denied involvement in the incident that killed all 298 people aboard.

Wildfires

Multiple homes and other structures have been destroyed by a wildfire in rural Wyoming that moved rapidly across dry land, aided by strong winds. Hundreds were forced from their homes after at least 10 homes and several outbuildings were charred by the flames. Casper College set up an evacuation center for those pushed out by the inferno. Winds gusted as high as 50 mph Monday as the flames spread into grasslands and thinly populated areas near Evansville. The fire burned several thousand acres. The cause of the fire that began at a composting area Saturday evening remains unknown.

A series of small fires burned across multiple states Tuesday, prompting evacuations in Louisiana and Texas cities. Damage from the blazes in all the states is limited, but a dry forecast for the rest of this week could still spell trouble ahead. Hot, windy conditions have sparked several grass and brush fires in the Plains, with one particular fire in the Lone Star State threatening dozens of homes. The Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop County, Texas, had burned 4,200 acres and destroyed nine homes as of Thursday morning. The fire was only 15 percent contained, a worrisome drop from an earlier estimate of 50 percent containment. New evacuations were ordered around Cottletown, Texas, as the fire worsened Wednesday afternoon.

A relentless wildfire season has stretched all year in the Western states. Hundreds of homes and millions of acres have been burned, and some lives have been lost. According to the federal government’s National Interagency Fire Center, 2015 is the most devastating year for wildfires since at least 1960. Fire seasons that seemingly stretch year-round have drained budgets and require so much manpower to battle that state officials have enlisted the help of international crews at times. Through Oct. 8, the NIFC notes that more than 11.2 million acres of land have been burned in the United States since the beginning of the year. For comparison, in the same span a year ago, just over 3 million acres of land had burned, though that was the lowest number of any year since 2005. From 1960 to 2003, there wasn’t a single year when wildfires burned more than 8 million acres of American land. Since then, that milestone has been achieved seven times.

In the 21st century, there’s been far more damage despite lower numbers of wildfires because hotter, drier conditions have given rise to more numerous mega-fires. A wildfire becomes a mega-fire when it burns at least 100,000 acres of land, according to National Geographic, and these massive infernos are causing irreparable damage to our forests, especially in the West. They push species of trees to extinction, destroy animal habitats and wipe out plants before they have a chance to fully regrow from the last fire.

Weather

Sunday took late-season heat to unheard-of extremes in parts of Colorado, Nebraska and the Dakotas. For much of the region, temperatures were higher than any on record for so late in the year. A few places were so hot that October 11 will go down as the hottest day of all of 2015 – an extraordinary feat in the central and northern Plains, where October is typically part of a rapid transition from summer’s heat to winter’s chill. Fargo, North Dakota, was one of the places where Sunday was hotter than any other day in 2015, surpassing the city’s high of 96 from Aug. 14. The mercury hit an astonishing 97 in Fargo. It was by far the latest 97-degree or hotter day in any calendar year in Fargo, beating the Dust Bowl-era record from 1936 by a margin of 19 days.

Strong winds howled across the nation’s northern tier Saturday through Monday, whipping across a broad swath from the interior Northwest to the northern Plains and Upper Midwest. At least two major traffic pile-ups were blamed on the winds, which kicked up dust leading to poor visibility in southeast Washington. The winds were caused by a strong pressure gradient between low pressure in Canada and high pressure over the West, resulting in gusts topping 60 or 70 mph in many locations. State route 221 was completely shut down due to a multi-vehicle accident and reports of lots of blowing dust around the area. A total of 20 cars were involved, and that the accident led to one death and multiple injuries. An earlier accident was also caused by dust on Interstate 82, about five miles west of Benton City.

Officials say an EF0 tornado hit a busy Tampa Bay, Florida, bridge Sunday morning, causing serious damage to a U.S. mail truck. While driving on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Sunday morning, motorists were surprised to see a waterspout come onshore and completely destroy a U.S. mail truck. Driver Randy Leaver said the force of the waterspout thrust the truck onto its side, which flung him into the passenger seat of the semi. He tried to exit the truck, but the door was stuck, and shortly after, the twister lifted the vehicle again before setting it down on the bridge. Leaver suffered only minor injuries.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

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