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Signs and Wonders

Basic_EconomicsReligious Conservatives Nearly Unanimous. To read the mainstream media, you would think that conservatives are fractured politically. However, a new survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute of religious conservatives shows remarkable solidarity—not behind candidates, but behind issues of smaller government and less debt. Reducing the federal debt is a major concern of religious conservatives. Nine out of 10 (91 percent) said they would give “a lot of support” to efforts to reduce the federal government’s $19 trillion debt. A full 97 percent said they thought the federal government intruded too much into the lives of American citizens. A near-unanimous 98 percent said the federal government has “too much power” and “is doing too many things better left to business and individuals.” Of course, these numbers represent so-called SAGECons, socially conservative Christians, which according to the American Culture & Faith Institute make up only about 12 percent of adult Americans.
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Internally Displaced Person

ID-10020083Memorial Day is almost upon us, and with it the unofficial start of summer. And with summer comes summer reading lists.

We’ve done summer reading lists before at BreakPoint and the Colson Center. The problem with summer reading lists at a place that asks “What’s a Christian to think and do?” is that they often neglect the most important qualification for a book on a summer reading list: It has to be entertaining. I’m not against “uplifting” books, and I’m certainly not against books that make you think, but not, especially between Memorial and Labor Days, at the expense of enjoyment.

With this in mind, here are my recommendations.
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Signs and Wonders

ID-100177336Vietnam and Religious Liberty. President Barack Obama, in the past week, lifted an embargo on weapons sales to Vietnam, a communist state. Obama made the move despite the fact that Vietnam has not yet passed a law on religious liberty that the U.S. said was a condition for the lifting of the embargo. Folks who care about religious liberty say Obama’s decision was a mistake. “The decision to completely lift the ban without Vietnam's unequivocal commitment to human rights improvements would send the wrong message to its leadership,” Nguyen Dinh Thang, president of Boat People SOS, told WORLD magazine. Thang testified in 2013 before Congress on continued government repression in Vietnam. According to WORLD, “The Obama administration has submitted a long list of prisoners of conscience who should by law be released—and to date only one, Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, was freed, and only a month before his sentence had been served.” Thang said, “President Obama might have just given up one of the few remaining leverages that the United States has, in exchange for practically no reciprocity by Vietnam in human rights.”
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Internally Displaced Person

12185743-xcxczxxxIf you ask me “How many ‘Terminator’ movies are there?” my answer is “two”: the original 1984 film and “T2: Judgment Day.” The others, with the possible exception of “Terminator Salvation,” are abominations. They take the open, yet somewhat hopeful, ending of “T2” and grind it into dust.

For the same reason, there are only two “Alien” films, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” only ran five seasons.

So, learning that one of my favorite smallish movies, 2000’s “Frequency,” has been turned into a television show, starting this fall on the CW network has given me agita.
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Signs and Wonders

fb_icon_325x325Little Sisters Get Big Win. The United States Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling on Monday. The Supreme Court issued a per curiam” ruling in Zubik v. Burwell, better known as the Little Sisters of the Poor case. The ruling sent all the cases back to the lower courts, saying the Little Sisters—and other religious nonprofits—could work out their differences with the federal government without the intervention of the Supreme Court. Though the ruling was not definitive, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters, called the decision a win. Alliance Defending Freedom, also representing some of the plaintiffs, said the court was right to protect nonprofits from fines for the time being and that the group would “look forward to addressing the remaining details.”
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Internally Displaced Person

4toysYou may have not known it, but April was “Autism Awareness Month.” As part of its observance, the Washington Post ran a column on April 26th by Katherine Osnos Sanford entitled “Want to know what it’s really like to have a child with autism?

The question was a rhetorical one. Most people really don’t want to know what it’s like. (As you read these words, imagine me wearing, as Horatio told Hamlet about the ghost he had seen, a “countenance more in sorrow than in anger.”) Especially when they are told, “I stay up at night worrying about who will care for my child when I no longer can.” Read More >
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Signs and Wonders

517Z1zE5RVL._UX250_Pausing For Prayer. Last Thursday, more than 47,000 groups large and small gathered for the National Day of Prayer (NDP). Since 1991 the national chairman of the NDP has been Shirley Dobson, and she convened a group in Washington, DC, that included speakers Tony Evans and author Jonathan Cahn. Dobson announced that she was going to step down as chair of the National Day of Prayer after 25 years in the role, to be succeeded by Anne Graham Lotz. (To hear my recent interview with Anne Graham Lotz, click here.) During this event, the first since last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage,” speakers called for confession and repentance.

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Priorities

Norman_Vincent_Peale_NYWTSNorman Vincent Peale, an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, was one of the most recognizable religious figures in 20th-century America. Peale, who died in 1993, achieved both renown and controversy with the publication of his 1952 book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which has sold more than 5 million copies.

Among the maxims that Peale promulgated are “Change your thoughts and you change your world” and “What the mind can conceive and believe, and the heart desire, you can achieve.”

Some called Peale a charlatan. "This new cult is dangerous,” warned Reinhold Niebuhr. “Anything which corrupts the gospel hurts Christianity. And it hurts people too. It helps them to feel good while they are evading the real issues of life." Others praised him. Billy Graham is reported to have said of Peale and his wife, “I don't know of anyone who had done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant any more in my life for the encouragement they have given me.”
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-502294944_003To Boycott, or Not to Boycott? Target Stores have declared a bathroom free-for-all, allowing men to use women’s restrooms and vice versa. That decision led some Christian groups— including the American Family Association—to call for a boycott. So far, more than a million people have pledged to boycott Target, and the stock of the company dropped about 5 percent, or about $1.2 billion, in the aftermath of the boycott announcement, though it’s not clear that the boycott is the cause. The call for a boycott has reinvigorated the debate in the Christian community: To boycott or not to boycott? WORLD’s Marvin Olasky suggests that using “just war theory” is instructive. Olasky is, as usual, helpful in thinking about such issues with a biblical worldview, though the application of “just war theory” is an imperfect analogy. By the standards of “just war theory,” it would be hard to justify the Birmingham Bus Boycott or Gandhi’s Salt March, two of the most successful boycotts of the 20th century, and two that represent moral high-water marks for their respective movements. Still, I commend Olasky’s article to you as a helpful exercise in biblical worldview thinking. Oh, and in case you’re interested: I was not a regular Target shopper, so it will not be hard for me to stay out of their stores from now on.
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Signs and Wonders

ID-100281874Corporate Hypocrisy. PayPal has pulled out of North Carolina because the state has put in place a common-sense law, H.B. 2, to protect children from sexual predators. More than a dozen other companies have threatened to leave North Carolina, though so far none of them have actually done so. The Daily Signal took a close look at the companies that have been critical of North Carolina, and discovered some interesting information: Many of the companies that have criticized North Carolina for its law preventing men from using women’s bathrooms do business in countries where homosexuality is illegal, sometimes punishable by death, yet these companies have been silent there. PayPal, for example, does business in Saudia Arabia, Yemen, and Somalia—where homosexuality can bring the death penalty. Nigeria is also an important market, in part because it is the largest country in Africa, with more than 100 million people. But in this country with a 50 percent Muslim population, homosexual conduct is punished by caning and imprisonment. Unilever, Microsoft, and Time Warner are among a dozen or so companies speaking out against North Carolina while still doing business with some of the most oppressive regimes on the planet.
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Semper Quaerens

Kimberly-GenauNot long ago Kimberly Genau of Gaithersburg, Maryland, saw a need and answered it: a ministry for members of Congress and their spouses. As Kimberly points out on the Alabaster House website, "Most of our leaders have substantial workloads, coupled with significant time away from family and home. This creates great strain on their lives emotionally, spiritually, and physically." Alabaster House was created to address these needs.

I recently sat down with Kimberly to find out more about this new bipartisan ministry.

Anne: How does Alabaster House work?

Kimberly: Alabaster House provides spiritual resources to government leaders and their families through confidential prayer, biblical devotions, and friendship. As you know, the higher in leadership one ascends, the [more] opportunities are diminished for leaders to genuinely share their prayer requests. The last thing these leaders need is a gossip article in the newspaper. Many people interacting with leaders have an agenda and there are fewer opportunities where government leaders can trust. Alabaster House is a safe place for leaders to be encouraged in their faith.
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Internally Displaced Person

the_new_pilgrimsIn 2 Kings 6, the prophet Elisha has become the object of the king of Syria’s ire. The king has sent “horses and chariots and a great army” to rid himself of the man of God. When Elisha’s servant sees the host arrayed against his master, he understandably freaks out and cries, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” to which Elisha replies, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

I suspect that the look on the servant’s face told Elisha everything he needed to know because he then prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” Then his servant saw what Elisha saw: “The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” The Syrians never stood a chance.
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Signs and Wonders

ID-100143745SAGE Cons. Back in the ’70s, it was the Moral Majority and the “born again vote.” Then they were called the “Religious Right.” Then evangelicals. Today, it’s SAGE Cons. “SAGE Con” is an acrostic for “Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives.” It’s a designation popularized by pollster George Barna to describe evangelicals who actually believe what evangelicals are supposed to believe—and who vote. “One of the worst ways to find out who is evangelical is to ask them if they are evangelical,” Barna told me at a meeting of conservative activists in Dallas this week. Barna instead took the assertions in the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals and asked people those questions. He found that if you ask Americans whether they self-identify as evangelical, between 25 and 40 percent will do so. But if you ask them if they believe Jesus is God, or if there is a real devil and a real hell, the numbers fall off dramatically. Barna says fewer than 10 percent of Americans believe these core tenets of evangelical theology. That’s why he and other evangelical activists are using the SAGE Con designation more and more. And in case you’re wondering, SAGE Cons think Donald Trump would be a mistake. In a survey conducted by Barna, almost half said they would be “disgusted” if Trump was the GOP nominee. The most common adjectives they used to describe Trump were “arrogant” (77 percent) and “rude” (61 percent). Only 1 percent described Trump as having a “godly character.”

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Signs and Wonders

ID-100173637Didn’t See That Coming. People “of a certain age” often speak disparagingly of younger generations: They are slackers. They are addicted to television (or their smart phones, or whatever). But whatever else you want to say about the younger generation, you can’t say they don’t read. Millennials in the United States read more books than do people over the age of 30, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. Pew surveyed more than 6,000 U.S. adults. About 88 percent under the age of 30 said they read a book in the past year; only 79 percent of those over the age of 30 had.

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Priorities

51vdsGwFoZL._SX326_BO1204203200_Responding to Islamist terror attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels, many observers continue to believe that the religion of Muhammad needs a reformation. Nabeel Qureshi has bad news for them.

“What they may not realize is that radical Islam is the Islamic reformation,” Qureshi writes in “Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward” (Zondervan, 2016). “Just as the Protestant Reformation was an attempt to raze centuries of Catholic tradition and return to the canonical texts, so radical Islam is an attempt to raze centuries of traditions of various schools of Islamic thought and return to the canonical texts of the Quran and Muhammad’s life.”
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Radical Life

American_Idol_logoWhen actress Natalie Portman was asked in an interview about where she displays her Oscar, she replied, "I don't know where it is. I think it's in the safe or something. I don't know. I haven't seen it in a while. . . . I was reading the story of Abraham to my child and talking about, like, not worshipping false idols. And this is literally like gold men. This is lit­er­ally worshipping gold idols—if you worship it. That's why it's not displayed on the wall. It's a false idol."

Idolatry? Please. This is 21st-century America here. To apply the word “idolatry” to components of the modern American Dream seems anachronistic and naïve.

But is it really?
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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-484040802That’s the title of a recent blog post by the Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld. It’s presumably a reference to the saying “whom the gods would destroy, first they make mad,” which is attributed to Euripides but whose exact provenance is unknown. The object of the gods’ ill intent is, in van Creveld’s telling, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and, with it, the existence of the Jewish State.

The occasion of the piece is the killing of a wounded Palestinian terrorist by an Israeli soldier. To Israel’s credit, the shooting has, in van Creveld’s words, “sent the country into a turmoil.” Some people have decried the shooting, while others “lionized the soldier and accused the [IDF’s] chief of staff of failing to back his troops.” Whatever happens to the soldier, “the fallout from the case is splitting Israeli society from top to bottom.”

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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-184220993Global Warming? Bring It On. Others can argue about global warming: Is it happening or isn’t it? Is human activity causing it or is it just a part of Planet Earth’s normal, cyclical heating and cooling process? The folks in Nome, Alaska, have all the evidence they need that it’s happening, but they aren’t complaining; they’re adapting and hope to profit from it. Bering Sea warming is making the north and west coasts of Alaska ice-free for longer periods each year, but there are no deep-water ports there. Nome hopes to fix that. This historic mining town with about 4,000 people is preparing to build a deep-water port that can handle the extra traffic already plying the nearby waters. A deep-water port in this part of the world will enhance emergency response in this part of the world, but it could also be a destination for cruise ships that want to give tourists a taste of true Alaska living. So far, the plan is just that: a plan. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released a study for public comment as an early step in the process.
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Internally Displaced Person

Featured_Atlanta_Problem_2To the surprise of no one, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia vetoed House Bill 757, a.k.a The Free Exercise Protection Act, saying that “We do not need to discriminate against anyone in order to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”

As the saying goes, I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the gentleman from the great state of Louisiana, and the people he quotes—with the caveat that what prompted the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act wasn’t, as Ryan Anderson puts it, “our contemporary over-active progressive government,” but things like anti-drug laws and prison wardens valuing good order in prisons over the free exercise of religion.

But I quibble. Rod Dreher is correct when he says that “We have to fight as hard as we can to hold what little ground might be available to us, but orthodox Christians and other religious conservatives must face the fact that we are in trouble.” Actually, we’re in more trouble than this implies. That’s because of the way questions of religious freedom have historically been determined in this country.

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Signs and Wonders

ID-100209675Hurting the Poor. California lawmakers and labor leaders have reached a deal that, if passed, would raise the minimum wage there to $15 per hour over the next six years. According to The Daily Signal, “The deal would raise the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour next year, with increases of $1 per hour taking place annually until the minimum wage hits $15 an hour. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees have until 2023 to comply.” Economists warn, though, that such a wage increase will cost the state jobs for at least three reasons. First, California businesses will relocate, shutdown, or fail to form in the first place. Secondly, the implementation of automation will accelerate, especially in service industries that were once labor-intensive. Self-service gas pumps, for example, now ubiquitous, were once rare. Automation is now coming to fast food and other industries that used to provide entry-level jobs. Thirdly, higher minimum wage laws make it harder for people to get that vital first job. As economist Jay Richard says, “Artificially raising wages hurts most the very people such policies are supposed to help: the poorest of the poor and the least skilled workers. Minimum wage and living wage laws raise the lowest rung of the ladder so high that those on the ground can no longer reach it.”
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