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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-488536262The Electoral College and the Depravity of Man. If you think we’re going to elect a president on November 8, you’re wrong. In fact, the Electoral College will meet to elect the president about three months from today and a couple of weeks after the general election. Over the years, especially in the late 20th century, we’ve debated whether to keep the Electoral College. Personally, I’m in favor of it. It is a safeguard our nation’s founders put in place to protect us from mob rule on the one hand, and the concentration of power in the hands of the elite on the other. It is not an exaggeration to say that the separation of power we see codified in our Constitution is a response to a theological understanding: that man, though made in God’s image (with rights endowed by our Creator) is nonetheless broken and therefore wicked because of the Fall. That’s why we have three branches of government, and why we have an Electoral College. For a thoughtful defense of the Electoral College, listen to my interview with Trent England of the organization Save Our States. You’ll be better equipped to talk about the Electoral College next time someone asks why we have one.
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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

ThinkstockPhotos-81714357In 2005’s “Hitch,” Will Smith’s title character gets into a conversation with a buddy at a bar about relationships. His friend, recently married, gushes about how the love between his wife and himself is on a different level from the philandering these guys once enjoyed. “You know what your problem is?” the friend asks. “You’re all about the short game.” As two attractive women stroll by, Hitch smiles and retorts that married life isn’t for everyone: “Just leave me to my hot, sweaty, totally varied, wildly experimental short game.”

To be fair, the movie ends with Smith’s character swearing off his womanizing ways and settling down with the girl of his dreams. But you don’t have to look far to find movies, TV shows, bestselling novels, and political organizations touting no-strings-attached sex as the good life. It’s fun, exciting, and so much better than being stuck with the same person night after night. Casual sex on screen is the purview of sophisticated, attractive, career-focused urban socialites. Everyone has a good time, goes to work the next day, and laughs about it over cocktails come Friday. At least, that’s how it goes in the movies.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-4818840249/11 Journalism. The 15th anniversary of 911 has come and gone, and one of the things that was striking to me is how we look at the event differently today from the way we did even five years ago. That is in part because the sites of the 9/11 attacks are no longer gaping wounds, but beautiful memorials. I notice that the subject and tone of the journalism about 9/11 has also changed, I think for the better. I commend one piece in particular to you, from Politico. It’s a minute-by-minute account of the recollections of those aboard Air Force One on Sept. 11, 2001: The Only Plane in the Sky.”
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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-485685046In late July, six Michigan state employees were charged with various crimes connected to the Flint Water Crisis. The allegations in the indictment “show a concerted effort to cover up warning signs of lead poisoning.”

Lead poisoning, as you probably know, is linked to a host of cognitive and behavioral problems, so much so that you can make a plausible case that much of the social pathologies we associate with poverty and what was once called the “underclass,” including violent crime, originate, to a significant degree, in high levels of lead exposure.

This made what happened in Flint more than a catastrophe, although it was certainly that for Flint residents. It was a crime.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-76763312Technology in the Classroom. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, writing in TIME Magazine, has gone public with an inconvenient truth about a modern trend in education: that technology is not helping kids, and may be hurting them. He says the trend toward technology in the classroom is inspired not by educational outcomes, but by the marketing departments of tech companies. And he adds that educational technology is a $60-billion-a-year industry, and that money is behind the edtech boom. “In almost every classroom in America today, you will find some type of screen—smartboards, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones. From inner-city schools to those in rural and remote towns, we have accepted tech in the classroom as a necessary and beneficial evolution in education,” Kardaras writes. But he concludes: “This is a lie. Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.” I commend this important article to you.
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Priorities

ThinkstockPhotos-515922640Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, author of books such as “Happiness Is a Serious Problem” and “The Ten Commandments,” and founder of Prager University, which produces short videos on important social issues from a conservative perspective. Prager is one of only a handful of conservative figures I can actually listen to these days.

Prager, a Jew, is that rare media voice advocating belief in God and moral clarity. His respect for evangelical Christians comes through loud and clear. In fact, Prager respects people with all sorts of beliefs—but that respect doesn’t preclude him from asking them some tough questions every now and again.

In recent months, Prager has issued a terrific challenge to atheists. Before digging into the minutia of their arguments against God’s existence, he asks: “Do you hope you are right or wrong?” This is the $64,000 question. It bypasses the supposed intellectual reasons for their atheism and goes right for the moral jugular—their motives.
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Signs and Wonders

floodsThe Power of the Middle. It took some chiding for President Obama to finally visit flood-ravaged Louisiana. Donald Trump flew in for a photo-op. But the real story there is neighbor helping neighbor. Nearly a third of the homes in Baton Rouge were affected by the flood. Many residents did not have flood insurance. Some of the uninsured dropped flood insurance because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) re-drew flood maps in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and sent letters to thousands of Louisiana residents telling them they no longer needed flood insurance.

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Semper Quaerens

612z-9cvnEL._SX330_BO1204203200_Terrorism is not yet a daily occurrence, but this summer, it almost began to seem that way. On July 26, a Catholic priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvay had his throat slit. A few days earlier, nine people were murdered in a Munich shopping mall. A few days before that, a terrorist attempted to hack to death four people traveling on a German train. And a few days before that, in Nice, 84 innocents celebrating Bastille Day were mowed down by a terrorist in a truck, who swerved back and forth to kill as many people as possible.

And that was just in July. Just a few days ago, ISIS terrorists blew up a wedding party in Turkey, killing fifty people, around half of them children, and wounding the bride and groom.
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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

ThinkstockPhotos-180407702In part 1 of this piece, I concentrated on ways in which the Internet has harmed our sexuality. Now I want to look at some other areas of concern.

It’s destroyed news.

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show doesn’t often deviate from the late night liberal choir-preaching format that Jon Stewart pioneered. But in a recent segment, Oliver makes some incisive points about the state of journalism, particularly the sad fate of the local newspaper. No surprise, the Internet is the driving force behind this extinction event.
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Signs and Wonders

Ebola-Free. Two years ago this week, Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, who had contracted Ebola while working with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia, were released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Just over one year ago, Liberia was declared Ebola-free. Ebola is a terrible, frightening disease that is almost always fatal, so both these statements—that these two Americans were cured and that the country is now Ebola-free—are remarkable testimonies to God’s grace and the heroic work of Samaritan’s Purse, SIM (Nancy Writebol’s missions agency) and Doctors Without Borders. To commemorate these accomplishments, I am in Monrovia, Liberia, this week, observing the work, doing interviews, and trying to understand what happened and how we can keep it from happening again. I’ll be posting more on this in the days ahead.

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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

ThinkstockPhotos-122584470Late last month, the World Wide Web quietly celebrated its 10 thousandth day of existence, making it almost exactly my age. This information space makes up the vast majority of the Internet, which, though technically much older than the Web, didn’t become popular until my lifetime. At this juncture, the two terms are synonymous for most people, and no one knows or cares what “HTTP” stands for anymore. The point is, the slice of the Internet where billions of people spend most of their screen time has had a lengthy test run, and it’s reasonable to evaluate the effect it’s had on us.

The diagnosis isn’t good. And for all its benefits, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’d be better off if the Internet had never been invented. Here’s why.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-77749524China’s Revival. Despite relentless persecution for at least the past 70 years, China’s Christian church continues to grow dramatically. According to WORLD’s Mindy Belz, “China’s Christian population has grown from half a million to more than 60 million, arguably one of the greatest stories of the century.” But, Belz also says, “the current nationwide crackdown on the church is real,” because President Xi Jinping “seems rather insecure. He is suspicious of civil society and sees Christianity as a threat: It is the largest force in China outside the Communist party.”

Little Impact. The mainstream media in North Carolina and elsewhere have said repeatedly that the state’s sensible law regarding transgender bathrooms is costing the state money. They cite the National Basketball Association’s decision to pull the upcoming All-Start Game from Charlotte as an example. But the state’s budget director begs to disagree. Andrew Heath said on Monday that the North Carolina economy is doing just fine, thank you. The state has added 300,000 new jobs in the past two years. And even with a recent tax cut, the state will take in 3.9 percent more in revenue next year than this year.
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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-537605938“El día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las 5.30 de la mañana para esperar el buque en que llegaba el obispo. Había soñado que atravesaba un bosque de higuerones donde caía una llovizna tierna, y por un instante fue feliz en el sueño, pero al despertar se sintió por completo salpicado de cagada de pájaros.” —Gabriel Garcia Márquez, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The Nobel laureate's novella tells the story of a crime everyone (save the victim) knew was going to happen and no one did anything to prevent, largely because they thought that it couldn’t happen. The victim, Santiago Nasar, woke up having dreamt that he was strolling through a forest in a gentle shower, only to discover that he was covered in bird poop.

Sort of like us. We are all stunned at the speed with which religious freedom, which for our purposes means the ability to practice your faith outside your home and church, has unraveled. Yet, we shouldn’t be stunned—this state of affairs has been at least 25 years in the making.

What follows is a chronicle of a death we should have all seen coming.

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Signs and Wonders

51PYIlQCRTL._SX333_BO1204203200_R.I.P., ObamaCare? The Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, is perhaps the most significant legacy of the current president. However, that legacy may be unraveling. According to an article in Investors Business Daily, Aetna, one of the nation’s largest insurance providers, said it was abandoning plans to expand into five new states, and is “reviewing whether to stay in the 15 states” where it currently sells ObamaCare plans. Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini said the company will lose $320 million on ObamaCare plans this year, which was a year it expected to break even after already incurring huge losses to ramp up its ObamaCare program. UnitedHealth Group, Humana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield have already announced plans to scale back or abandon ObamaCare plans. Not only that, according to IBD, this announcement follows “the failure of most of the 23 government-created insurance co-ops . . . and news that insurance companies are putting in for double-digit rate hikes that in some cases top 60 percent, and news that the Congressional Budget Office has sharply downgraded its long-term enrollment forecast for the exchanges.” The IBD says ObamaCare should move toward “free market competition.” It concludes: “How about instead policymakers listen to the original ObamaCare critics? For decades, they've been calling for reforms that lift myriad anti-competitive government regulations, as well as fixes to the tax code so that it no longer massively distorts the insurance market. The resulting free market competition in health care would do what it does everywhere it's allowed to function—improve quality while improving affordability. In other words, it would achieve the things ObamaCare promised but miserably failed to deliver.”

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Priorities

ThinkstockPhotos-516602074It’s been a rough few years for religious liberty, the global church, and world missions, to say the least. Unfortunately, the road ahead looks even rougher.

The recent execution of an 86-year-old Catholic priest in Normandy, France, is just one of the more recent attacks against Christians by the Islamic State or its surrogates. Christians worldwide cheered in the spring when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry finally admitted that ISIS attacks against Christians in the Middle East amounted to “genocide.”

According to Open Doors, Christians are being martyred at an accelerated pace over the last three years, by a variety of groups, including ISIS. Open Doors counts more than 7,000 Christians killed for their faith last year, a substantial increase from 4,344 in 2014 and 2,123 in 2013. These figures do not necessarily include Iraq, Syria, or North Korea, where accurate numbers are hard to come by.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-486796916A Day in Court. After all the hubbub and drama, North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” is finally being heard in court. On Monday, according to WORLD, “a district judge [was] considering whether to block its enforcement while courts determine its constitutionality.” The North Carolina law says men must use men’s restrooms and women must use women’s restrooms, regardless of “gender identity.” The law became necessary when Charlotte, the state’s largest city, passed an ordinance that would allow transgender people to choose which bathroom and locker room they wished to use in schools and government buildings. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder will preside over the case in November. The purpose of Monday’s hearing was to give him enough information to make a decision about implementation of the law until there can be a full trial. “I will endeavor to make a decision as soon as I can,” he said. “I know school is about to ramp up.”
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Signs and Wonders

21X-T3RU9CL._UX250_Tim LaHaye Dies. Pastor, author, and activist Tim LaHaye died yesterday at the age of 90. I had the privilege of knowing Dr. LaHaye a bit. One day about 15 years ago I was at a conference with him, and I had my then 10-year-old son Cole with me. Cole was reading "Left Behind" in those days, and on the first day of the conference I introduced him to Dr. LaHaye, who greeted Cole warmly and signed his book. There were a lot of big-name Christian celebrities at this conference, but every time we saw Dr. LaHaye the rest of the weekend, he would pause his conversation with whomever he was talking to and greet Cole by name. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Tim LaHaye because of that weekend and the way he treated a 10-year-old boy.
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Signs and Wonders

ID-100137511A Grim Anniversary. Last week marked the first anniversary of the release of the first videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The videos captured Planned Parenthood officials bartering and selling body parts of unborn children. Sen. Ted Cruz released a statement on the anniversary, July 13, saying, “The horrifying videos released last summer revealed the grim reality of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices. The footage shows senior Planned Parenthood officials laughing and swilling chardonnay as they casually and callously discuss the killing of unborn children in order to sell their body parts.” Since the release of the videos, however, not much has happened to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood. The organization still gets hundreds of millions of dollars each year in government funding, despite the efforts of Cruz in the Senate, and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in the House, to defund Planned Parenthood. We did recently see one positive development, however: David Daleiden, the man responsible for the videos, recently had criminal charges against him dropped—charges that most legal observers say should never have been brought in the first place.
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Signs and Wonders

Abdu_Murray_750x499Societal Breakdown. Key indicators of social wellness in the black community are discouraging. As a percentage of the population, abortions among African-Americans are two or three times the national average. Nearly 75 percent of African-American children have unmarried parents. Many commentators say these melancholy statistics are the residue of slavery and other forms of racism. Others point to a breakdown of civil society—churches and other institutions—within the African-American community. Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute, blames the “New Deal” and the “Great Society” of the 20th century. His new book is “Not Tragically Colored: Freedom, Personhood, and the Renewal of Black America,” and it’s worth a read. If you want to sample before you buy, our friends at WORLD have posted an excerpt here.
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Priorities

papyrus_front_lgWhen it comes to conspiracy theories about Jesus, sometimes fiction really is stranger than truth.

Just ask Karen King, who allowed herself to be taken in by one of the most spectacular forgeries related to the academic study of Jesus and early Christianity. An unmasking of the fraud is recounted in Ariel Sabar’s article “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife,” in the June 23 edition of The Atlantic.

King holds Harvard University’s 295-year-old Hollis Professorship of Divinity and is author of the 2003 book “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.” She sent shock waves through the academic and religious worlds nearly four years ago when presenting a 1,300-year-old papyrus fragment that she had dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” to a conference in Rome.

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