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by  / June 24, 2017

An American college student returned to the United States with severe brain damage after being held in a North Korean prison camp died last week. When Otto Warmbier, 22, arrived back home earlier this month he was reported to be in stable condition, though doctors said he had severe brain damage. Warmbier was accused of entering the country with the intent of “bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity” and charged with subversion and a “hostile act” for purportedly attempting to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel. After a one-hour trial Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Here are nine things you should know about North Korea, the most repressive nation on the planet:

1. North Korea was created after the country was divided in the aftermath of World War II. Following the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied powers, issued General Order No. 1. In this order, the Japanese empire was required to surrender all portions of Korea north of 38 north latitude to the Soviet Union and all of Korea south of that marker to the United States (the arbitrary choice of the dividing line, which has affected international relations for more than 70 years, was “recommended by two tired colonels working late at night”). That December, the Soviets installed a communist guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung as the chairman of the North Korean branch of the Korean Communist Party. When the DPRK was formed in September 1948, the Soviets recognized Kim Il-sung as the leader of Korea, both North and South. The autocratic Kim family—Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and grandson Kim Jong-un—have ruled the country every since.

2. Attempting to make his dream of unification a reality, Kim Il-sung launched the first military action of the Cold War by invading the Republic of Korea (ROK) in July 1950. The United Nations came to the aide of South Korea, with the United States providing more than two-thirds of the military forces. After four months of fighting, the DPRK was on the verge of losing when China came to their rescue. The fighting continued until 1953 when an armistice was signed that created the Korean Demilitarized Zone, separating North and South Korea. Because no peace treaty was ever signed, and because the United States has a mutual defense treaty with the Republic of Korea, the United States is positioned to go to war if the DPRK resumes attacks on South Korea.

3. Soon after taking control of his country, Kim Il-sung developed such a strong personality cult that under the DPRK constitution he remains, even in death, the “eternal President of the Republic.” Within a year of being appointed premier, Kim Il-sung was referring to himself as “The Great Leader” and erecting statues of himself (the country now has more than 500 statues of him). His birthday is a national holiday known as the “Day of the Sun,” and in 1997 Kim Il-sung even created a new calendar that recalculated time from the year 1912, when he “came to earth from heaven.”

4. In 1972, after he surrendered his Soviet premiership and became president of North Korea, Kim Il-sung instituted the ideology known as Juche, a form of hyper-nationalistic self-reliance. As the DPRK explains, “The Juche idea means, in a nutshell, that the masters of the revolution and construction are the masses of the people and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and construction. The Juche idea is based on the philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Writing in the Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Grace Lee explains how this official autarkic state ideology is used to keep the North Korean population under control:

The Kim Il Sung regime instructed the North Korean people in the juche ideology using an analogy drawn from human anatomy. The Great Leader is the brain that makes decisions and issues orders, the Party is the nervous system that channels information, and the people are the bone and muscle that physically execute the orders. This belief system, inculcated in North Koreans since early childhood, made them docile and loyal to Kim Il Sung even in the face of famines and energy crises that have devastated the country.

5. Kim Il-sung placed his son in positions of power so that in 1994 Kim Jong-il would become the “supreme leader” of the DPRK. Over the next three years, Kim Jong-il’s agricultural system would cause a famine that killed 3 million of the country’s 22 million people. (Under the idea of JucheThe Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann says, “Farmers were expected to overcome mother nature and grow enough crops to feed the entire population.”) In 2012 North Koreans again suffered from another man-made famine that led to mass starvation. According to a credible report by Asia Press international, North Korean authorities even imposed severe punishment for suspected acts of cannibalism and selling human meat.

6.  As his people starved, Kim Jong-il focused on a policy of songun (military first), spending about one-third of the nation’s income to maintain the world’s fourth-largest army. The citizens of the country are extremely poor (annual GDP per capita in 2014 was $538, compared to $27,221 in South Korea and $55,836 in the United States), so to keep control of the population the Kim family has maintained a massive system of kwanliso (gulag-like political prison camps). As Human Rights Watch explains:

Between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are estimated to still be in kwanliso, which are characterized by systemic abuse and deadly conditions, including torture and sexual abuse by guards, near-starvation rations, back-breaking forced labor in dangerous conditions, and executions. Working conditions at these sites are extremely difficult, including exposure to harsh weather, rudimFor the entary tools, lack of safety equipment, and high risks of workplace accidents. Death rates in these camps are extremely high, political prison camp survivors told Human Rights Watch.

7. Knowledge of the outside world is limited for most North Korean citizens. All legal televisions are tuned to state-controlled domestic programming, and outside of a closed domestic network, there is no internet access. The state maintains a network of informants who monitor and report to the authorities fellow citizens they suspect of criminal or subversive behavior, USA Today notes, and unauthorized access to non-state radio or TV broadcasts is severely punished.

8.  Freedom of religion or belief does not exist in North Korea and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed…

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 Last year the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the health effects of marijuana use. The committee considered more than 10,700 studies for their relevance and arrived at nearly 100 different research conclusions related to marijuana (cannabis) or cannabinoid use and health. Their findings were recenty published in a 400-page report.

Here are nine things about the effects of marijuana you should know based on this report:

1. The terms marijuana and cannabis refer to all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., including the seeds, the resin extracted from any part of such plan, and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, or resin. The compounds that cause intoxication and may have medicinal uses are cannabinoids, a class of chemical compounds that acts on cannabinoid receptors in cells that represses neurotransmitter release in the brain. The marijuana plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids. Currently, the two main cannabinoids from the marijuana plant that are of medical interest are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

2. There is substantial or conclusive scientific evidence for only three medical benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids: treating chronic pain in adults; treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and nausea after chemotherapy; and improving symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

3. There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.  Self-reported cannabis use or the presence of THC in blood, saliva, or urine, has been associated with 20 to 30 percent higher odds of a motor vehicle crash.

4. In states where cannabis use is legal, there is increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children. There is insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis use by adults and death due to cannabis overdose.

5. Recent cannabis use (within the past 24 hours) impairs the performance in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention. A limited number of studies also suggest there are impairments in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention in individuals who have stopped smoking cannabis. Cannabis use during adolescence is related to impairments in subsequent academic achievement and education, employment and income, and social relationships and social roles

6. Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses—the higher the use the greater the risk. However, cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder.

7. The evidence suggests that any cannabis use is related with increased suicidal ideation (i.e., suicidal thoughts or preoccupation with suicide), augmented suicide attempts, and greater risk of death by suicide. Studies reveal that heavy cannabis use (used 40 or more times) is associated with a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts.

8. There is substantial evidence that initiating cannabis use at an earlier age is a risk factor for the development of problem cannabis use. There is moderate evidence that during adolescence the frequency of cannabis use, oppositional behaviors, a younger age of first alcohol use, nicotine use, parental substance use, poor school performance, antisocial behaviors, and childhood sexual abuse are risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use. Anxiety, personality disorders, and bipolar disorders are not risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use.

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by   / December 16, 2016

The recent struggle for control of the Syrian city of Aleppo has brought renewed attention to the ongoing war crimes that have devastated this Middle East nation. Here are nine things you should know about Aleppo and the Syrian crisis:

1. In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest, and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion that has spread across the country. Although the conflict was originally between factions for and against President Assad, the civil war has broadened into a battle between the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The conflict has drawn in neighboring countries and world powers and led to the rise of jihadist groups, including Islamic State (ISIS).

2. Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and contains the country’s largest population of Christians. Aleppo is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world behind only Damascus (also in Syria) and Byblos (Lebanon). Prior to the Syrian civil war, Aleppo contained about 10 percent of Syria’s population (roughly 2.3 million people).

3. The battle for Aleppo began in mid-July 2012, when anti-government rebels gained control of several districts within the city. Since then the city has been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east. Beginning at the end of 2013, the Syrian government began aerial bombing of the eastern sections of the city, a tactic that has caused a humanitarian crisis that has disproportionately affected the city’s children.

4. Syria has a young population (median age is 24.1). While about half of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria are children, Unicef estimates that about eight million children remain in the country. Save the Children also estimates about 40 percent of the besieged population in eastern Aleppo are children. As Save the Children spokeswoman Carol Anning told the BBC, in war you should expect to see a much higher population of adult males being killed in frontline action. “But what we have seen in Aleppo in the last couple of days is totally indiscriminate bombing from the air,” Anning says. “So children are impacted just as much or more than adults in those situations.”

5. A 2015 report by the UN’s Human Rights Council notes “the conduct of an ever-increasing number of actors is characterized by a complete lack of adherence to the norms of international law.” A prime example is the use of sexual violence against girls and women. The report says, “Women and girls were found to have been raped and sexually assaulted in government detention facilities, in particular in the investigation branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate and prisons administered by the General Security Directorate in Damascus. State officials have perpetrated rape, a crime against humanity.” Rebel groups have also committed similar atrocities, with girls and women kept as slaves and “subject to horrific and repeated sexual violence. Girls and women in ISIS-controlled areas live in fear of forced marriage to the fighters.”

6. Since 2012, the Syrian government has used aerial “barrel bombs” (aka “flying IEDs”)—often dropping them on civilian populations. According to the Weapons Law Encyclopedia, a barrel bomb refers to an improvised container (e.g. an oil drum or gas cylinder) dropped from an aircraft and filled with explosive, incendiary, or other substances and often includes additional materials to increase fragment projection. The UN claims the Assad regime has dropped barrel bombs containing chemical agents, likely chlorine, on “crowded areas, such as bakery lines, transportation hubs, apartment buildings, and markets.” The use of such weapons against civilian populations or containing chemical weapons clearly violates international laws.

7. Throughout the conflict, anti-government forces have relied on a variety of terrorist tactics against civilians. The groups have kidnapped women and children—sometimes holding them hostage for years—to use them for ransom or prisoner exchanges. They have also used suicide and car bombs attacks against civilian and government targets. Rebel groups associated with ISIS have executed civilians who refuse to recognize their self-proclaimed rule, publicly amputated limbs as punishment for theft, and whipped residents for smoking and trading during prayer times.

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 by / November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, the former dictator of Cuba, has died at the age of 90. Here are nine things you should know about the long-ruling Marxist leader.

1. Fidel Castro was born Fidel Ruz in 1926 near Birán, Cuba. His father, Ángel, was a Spanish migrant who moved to Cuba and became a wealthy sugar plantation owner. His mother was a household servant and Ángel’s mistress. When Fidel was age 17 his father married his mother and formally changed his son’s last name from Ruz to Castro.

2. Castro was baptized a Catholic at the age of 8 and attended several Jesuit-run boarding schools. After graduation in the mid-1940s Castro began studying law at the Havana University, where he became politically active in socialist and nationalist causes, in particular opposition to U.S. involvement in the Caribbean. By the end of the decade he became interested in the writings of Marx and Lenin and the cause of revolutionary socialism.

3. During his law school days Castro began to adopt the practice of revolutionary political violence. In 1947 he journeyed to the Dominican Republic to participate in a failed attempt to overthrow of the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. That same year Castro was also accused of instigating an assassination attempt on Cuba’s president, Ramón Grau. When in 1952 General Fulgencio Batista seized power, Castro began making plans to overthrow him too. Castro’s use of political violence continued even after he seized power. The Cuba Archive project has documented almost 10,000 victims of Castro between 1952 and today, including 5,600 men, women, and children who died in front of firing squads and another 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations.” Thousands more Cubans also died trying to flee his repressive regime.

4. In 1955, Castro traveled with his brother Raul to Mexico, where he met up with other revolutionaries in exile, including an Argentine doctor named Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The next year the group returned to Cuba to instigate an overthrow the Batista government. Castro’s insurgency succeeded in 1959, and he was installed as prime minister of Cuba. A few months later he implemented “socialist” policies that were similar to those of communist countries.

5. In 1962, while still declaring his country to be merely a socialist state, Castro worked with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, on a plan to install Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuban soil. When aerial reconnaissance detected them it sparked the 13-day (October 16 to 28) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro wanted Khrushchev to threaten to use nuclear weapons if the United States attacked Cuba, but the Soviet leader refused and ultimately conceded to U.S. demands to remove all the missiles from the island nation.

6. In 1965, Castro merged Cuba’s Communist Party with his own Integrated Revolutionary Organizations and installed himself as head of the party. This move officially made Cuba the first Communist country in the Western Hemisphere. Over the next few years Castro founded several organizations to promote revolution and communism throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Castro also allowed several violent revolutionary groups from across the world, including America’s Black Panthers and the Vietnam’s Viet Cong, to train in Cuba.

7. During the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, the U.S. government had a policy to overthrow Castro (which included the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, led by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles). The CIA also made several attempts to assassinate Castro. The Cuban government claimed that 638 attempts had been made on Castro’s life, but the 1975 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the “Church Committee”) substantiated eight assassination attempts that had been made between 1960 and 1965. Some of the attempts reportedly included the use of exploding cigars, cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, and a fountain pen with a hidden needle capable of injecting lethal toxin into a victim without his knowledge.

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/ November 22, 2016

 Today is the 53th anniversary of the death of Clive Staples Lewis, one of the most well known, widely read, and often-quoted Christian authors of modern times. Here are nine things you should know about the author and apologist who has been called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”

1. Lewis is best known for his seven children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. But he wrote more than 60 books in various genres, including poetry, allegorical novel, popular theology, educational philosophy, science-fiction, children’s fairy tale, retold myth, literary criticism, correspondence, and autobiography.

2. Lewis’s close friend Owen Barfield, to whom he dedicated his book The Allegory of Love, was also his lawyer. Lewis asked Barfield to establish a charitable trust (“The Agape Fund”) with his book earnings. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Lewis’s income went to charity.

3. Lewis had a fondness for nicknames. He and his brother, Warnie, called each other “Smallpigiebotham” (SPB) and “Archpigiebotham” (APB), inspired by their childhood nurse’s threat to smack their “piggybottoms.” Even after Lewis’s death, Warnie still referred to him as “my beloved SPB.”

4. In 1917, Lewis left his studies to volunteer for the British Army. During the First World War, he was commissioned into the Third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his 19th birthday and experienced trench warfare. On April 15, 1918, he was wounded, and two of his colleagues were killed by a British shell falling short of its target. Lewis suffered from depression and homesickness during his convalescence.

5. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland. He became an atheist at 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically “very angry with God for not existing.”

6. Lewis’s return to the Christian faith was influenced by the works of George MacDonald, arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.

7. Although Lewis considered himself to an entirely orthodox Anglican, his work has been extremely popular among evangelicals and Catholics. Billy Graham, who Lewis met in 1955, said he “found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious.” And the late Pope John Paul II said Lewis’s The Four Loves was one of his favorite books.

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Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, red states and blue states—the political divides in our country tend to fall into binary structures. The ones we are most familiar with tend to be firmly established, and we often know, through intuition or experience, what side we align with.

But over the past few months there has been a new political divide, an intramural division within American social conservatism. And this discord has been felt most prominently within the evangelical wing of this movement.

Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity, and there have always been differences and disagreements on politics. Still, within the social conservative faction (which accounts for around 60 percent to 75 percent of evangelicalism) there has been a general sense of unity. At least there was before this election season. The candidacy of Donald Trump has caused a split within this group that has grown increasingly rancorous as we inch closer to the election.Even by the standard of partisan politics, Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure. Before this year few could have predicted he’d bisect socially conservative evangelicals into warring camps.

Witness vs. Justice

In an attempt to bridge this chasm I want to explain the reasoning of both sides (at least as I have observed the debates), examine their strengths and weaknesses, and propose a way forward. While the two sides may not agree on much before November 8, we can at least attempt to seek a modicum of understanding and reconciliation.

There are differences and disagreements within each group and just as many areas of overlap between the two sides. By painting their outlines with a broad brush we will miss many important aspects and nuances. Still, doing so will help us focus our eyes on a few of the most essential elements.

To give a label to each side, we can identify the division as between those focused on Witness and those foregrounding Justice. Let’s start with by explaining the Justice side.

Justice Side

The concern of this group can be summed up in two words: Supreme Court. Many of the issues they care about most are matters of justice that will likely be decided by the court—abortion, marriage, transgenderism, religious liberty, and so on. They’re legitimately worried that if the liberal party candidate, Hillary Clinton, is allowed to choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia it will set us back decades, and even push us to a point from which our country may never recover.

Although Trump might not have been their first choice of candidates, they see him as the lesser of two evils. They don’t necessarily know what he would do in office, but they are quite certain how Hillary will govern. For this reason they are willing to take a chance on Trump. To reverse an old saying, “Better the devil you don’t know than the one you do.”

The strength of this position is its clarity and simplicity. This group reasons that even if Clinton and Trump were to govern in the exact same way on every issue and differ only on Supreme Court nominations, we would be no worse off and would, in many ways, be much better off since the Court would be returned to its former status quo.

This is form of minimax strategy, which is often used in two-player, zero-sum games (like presidential elections). Minimax is a strategy of always minimizing the maximum possible loss that can result from a choice a player makes. The Justice side believes by supporting and voting for Trump they are minimizing the maximum possible loss of justice that would result from a Clinton presidency.

For the Justice side, the timeline we should be thinking on is decades, rather than the next four to eight years. My TGC colleague Bethany Jenkins summed up this rationale when she said, “As a lawyer who has read hundreds of cases, I’ve found one thing certain: Presidents come and go, but a SCOTUS Justice lasts a lifetime.” (NB: Bethany is not a Trump supporter, though she is sympathetic to the concerns of the Justice side.)

That is the main strength of the Justice position. The drawback is the trade-offs they have to make to endorse Trump, specifically sacrificing the “character issue” not only from this current presidential election but also from every election in the future.

A prime example of a champion on the Justice side is Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. After hearing Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, Jeffress said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.” But he said he’d still support Trump for President. “I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday school teacher,” he said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”

The implication is that there is not even a minimal biblical standard of character for a man or woman seeking a leadership role in America’s government. While integrity and a reputable character might be preferred, it’s a luxury good, not a prerequisite to receive the political support of evangelicals.

The result of this decision to disregard character is likely to live longer than even the most robust Supreme Court Justice. No longer can we credibly claim a lack of character is a disqualifier from public office. If Hugh Hefner decides to run for president and chooses Larry Flynt as his running mate, they could credibly claim to be the candidates for evangelical “Values Voters,” so long as they promised to appoint conservative judges.

Witness Side

Now let’s examine the Witness side. This group is also concerned about the long-term threat that will result from allowing Clinton to choose Supreme Court justices. In fact, on this matter they share all of the same concerns as the Justice side. Where they differ is in fervently believing the damage done to our gospel witness in choosing Trump outweighs the potential devastation caused by a liberal Court.

This side rejects the concept of the “lesser of two evils” as being unbiblical since Scripture calls us to reject all evil. They believe the character of both candidates has made them unfit for the highest office in the land, and that voting for either to be President would violate their conscience. Additionally, they believe Trump has made comments that reveal him to be racist, sexist, and/or anti-life—all while claiming to be a Christian. For this group, turning a blind eye to Trump’s character for the sake of political expediency betrays our calling as Christians.

The strength of the Witness position is its integrity and faithfulness. They contend that by supporting Trump (or Clinton) evangelicals are sending the message that we’re willing to sacrifice our witness as ambassadors of Christ, and that we’re willing to choose evil on the chance it will lead to a good outcome.

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9 Things You Should Know About the ESV Bible

Last month the publisher and translator team that produced the English Standard Version (ESV) announced the “text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions.” But after public debate about making the latest edition the “permanent text” they announced this week, “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake.”

Here is what you should know about the ESV, one of the most popular English translations of Scripture:

1. The idea for the ESV Bible originated in the early 1990s when Lane T. Dennis, president of the nonprofit book publishing ministry Crossway, discussed the need for a new literal translation of the Bible with various Christian scholars and pastors. Near the end of the decade, the translation committee began work. The ESV was released in 2001, with minor revisions being released in 2007, 2011, and 2016.

2. The starting point for the ESV translation was the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Each word of the text was also checked against and based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.). Crossway adds that in “exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text.”

3. The three general philosophies of Bible translation philosophy are formal equivalence, functional equivalence, and optimal equivalence. As Dave Croteau has explained, formal equivalence (“word-for-word” translation) attempts to translate the Bible as literally as possible, keeping the sentence structure and idioms intact if possible (examples: NASB, KJV); functional equivalence (“thought-for-thought” translation) attempts to translate the text so it has the same effect on the current reader as it had on the ancient reader (example: NLT); and optimal equivalence falls between the former approaches by balancing the tension between accuracy and ease of reading. As an “essentially literal” translation, the ESV most closely aligns with a formal equivalent translation philosophy in that is “seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer.”

4. The translation was overseen by a 15-member Translation Oversight Committee (including TGC Council member R. Kent Hughes) and another team of more than 50 Translation Review Scholars (including TGC Council member Ray Ortlund).

5. On the Christian Booksellers Association 2014 listing of top selling Bible translations, the ESV ranked fifth in dollar sales and fourth in unit sales. During the past 15 years, he ESV has distributed more than 100 million print copies as well as more than 100 million electronic copies.

6. In 2013, Gideon’s International—a ministry that distributes free Bibles to locations including hotels, motels, hospitals, convalescent homes, medical offices, domestic violence shelters, prisons, and jails—announced it would be transitioning its modern English version from the New King James Version (NKJV) to the ESV. This change will make the ESV one of the most widely distributed versions in the world.

7. The readability level of the text of the ESV is around 8th grade (7.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and 74.9 on the Flesch Reading Ease). In comparison, the NIV is also at the 7th-8th level, the KJV at the 12th grade level, and The Message at the 4th-5th grade level.

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Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. Here are nine things you should know about what happened in the aftermath of the events on September 11, 2001:

1. It took 99 days—until December 19, 2001—for the fires at Ground Zero to be extinguished.2. Cleanup at Ground Zero wasn’t officially completed until May 30, 2002. It took 3.1 million hours of labor to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a total cost of cleanup of $750 million.

3. There were 20 people pulled from the rubble in the two days after the attack. On the day following the attacks, 11 people were rescued from the wreckage, including six firefighters and three police officers. Two Port Authority police officers were also rescued after spending nearly 24 hours beneath 30 feet of rubble.

4. The total number of 9/11 victim deaths rose to 2,752 in January 2009, when the New York City medical examiner’s office ruled that Leon Heyward, who died the previous year of lymphoma and lung disease, was a homicide victim because he was caught in the toxic dust cloud just after the towers collapsed.

5. In 2010, Congress created the WTC Health Program to provide medical monitoring and treatment for emergency responders, recovery, and cleanup workers, and volunteers who helped after the terrorist attacks. As of 2015, the number of Ground Zero responders and others afflicted with 9/11-linked cancers has hit 3,700. Those suffering cancers certified by the WTC Health Program include 1,100 members of the New York fire department, 2,134 police and first responders, and 467 survivors such as downtown workers and residents. Many have more than one type of cancer.

6. Most of the steel from the World Trade Center wreckage was sent to New Jersey salvage yards where it was broken down and sent all over the world for reuse. Nearly 350,000 tons of the steel was sent to be reused in small and large scale tributes, including 7.5 tons for use in the navy battleship USS New York.

7. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded for three days. The lack of condensation trails (contrails) from jet aircraft caused the average temperature across the U.S. to rise by an average of 1.8 degrees celsius.

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On Sunday, at a Roman Catholic canonization service in Vatican City, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa a saint.* Here are nine things you should know about the Nobel-prize winning nun who became renowned for serving the poor and dying:

1. Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in what is now part of modern Macedonia. At the age of 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, a group of nuns in Ireland. It was there she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. A year later, in 1929, Mother Teresa moved to India and taught at a Catholic school for girls.

2. In 1946 Mother Teresa received what she would later describe as a “call within a call.” She said Jesus spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city’s poorest and sickest people. In 1950 she received Vatican approval for Missionaries of Charity, a group of religious sisters who took vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” By the late 1970s, the Missionaries of the Charity had offshoots in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

3. Mother Teresa and her religious order gained international attention in 1967 when the famed journalist Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed her for a BBC TV program. Because of the popularity of the interview, Muggeridge traveled to Calcutta a year later to make a documentary, Something Beautiful for God, about Theresa’s “House of the Dying” (Muggeridge would also write a book by the same name in 1971).

4. During her life Mother Teresa received more 120 prestigious awards and honors. In 1971, Paul VI conferred the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize on Mother Teresa, and in 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee writes in their motivation: “In making the award the Norwegian Nobel Committee has expressed its recognition of Mother Teresa’s work in bringing help to suffering humanity. This year the world has turned its attention to the plight of children and refugees, and these are precisely the categories for whom Mother Teresa has for many years worked so selflessly.” She also received the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1985.

5. During her 1979 Nobel Prize Lecture, Mother Teresa called abortion the “greatest destroyer of peace”:

We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child – I will not forget you – I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible – but even if she could forget – I will not forget you. And today the greatest means – the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here – our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us. Our children, we want them, we love them, but what of the millions. Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you kill me – there is nothing between.

6.  Mother Teresa was frequently denounced by secularists because of her oppositionto contraception and abortion. But she was also widely criticized for her allowing her charity to provide inadequate care for the poor and for potential mismanagement of charitable funds. Although she leveraged her fame to raise tens of millions of dollars for her charity, the orphanages and care centers run by her religious order were often substandard. After visiting Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in 1994, Robin Fox wrote about the experience in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Fox reported that doctors only occasionally visited the patients (the care was mostly provided by untrained volunteers) and that pain relief provided for the dying was inadequate, leading them to suffer unnecessarily. In 2008, another observer reported, “I was shocked to see the negligence. Needles were washed in cold water and reused and expired medicines were given to the inmates. There were people who had chance to live if given proper care.”

7. Mother Teresa has also been criticized by Christians for downplaying evangelism and espousing universalist views of salvation. For example in her book, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, she says:

Our purpose is to take God and His love to the poorest of the poor, irrespective of their ethnic origin or the faith they profess. Our discernment of aid is not the belief but the necessity. We never try to convert those whom we receive to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.

When a Catholic priest asked if she attempted to convert people, she reportedly answered, “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.’ ”

8. After her death, Mother Teresa’s letters revealed that she spent almost 50 years in a crisis of faith…

For the rest of the post…

by Joe Carter

During the recent Democratic National Convention the delegates voted to adopt their party’s platform, a document that outlines the statement of principles and policies that the party has decided it will support.

Why should Christians care about a document that few non-politicians will ever read? Because of the influence the two major party platforms have on public policy. While the platform is not binding on the presidential nominee or any other politicians, political scientists have found that over the past 30 years lawmakers in Congress tend to vote in line with their party’s platform: 89 percent of the time for Republicans and 79 percent of the time for Democrats. For this reason we should be aware of what is proposed in these documents and how they may affect the welfare of our nation (Jeremiah 29:7).

This article will provide, without commentary, an outline of the Democratic platform as it relates to several social issues. Every statement is either a direct quote or a summary of the platform’s position. (Last week, we examined the GOP party’s platform and stance on these and related issues.)

Bioethics Issues

Supports appointing judges who defend abortion rights.

Opposes efforts to limit or prohibit taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

Opposes any laws that limit abortion.

Supports the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion services.

Supports free abortion and contraceptives for all women.

Supports “sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe.”

Opposes the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment that bars American assistance to abortion throughout the developing world.

Criminal Justice Reform

Supports reforming mandatory minimum sentences and closing private prisons and detention centers.

Supports working with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force.

Encourages better police-community relations.

Supports requiring the use of body cameras.

Opposes the use of “weapons of war that have no place in our communities.”

Opposes racial profiling that targets individuals solely on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

Supports a requirement to make the Department of Justice investigate all “questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings.”

Supports states and localities “who help make those investigations and prosecutions more transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process.”

Supports assisting states in providing a system of public defense that is adequately resourced and meets American Bar Association standards.

Supports reforming the civil asset forfeiture system to “protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to ‘police for a profit.’”

Supports removing barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by “banning the box” (persuading employers to remove from their hiring applications the check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record). Supports executive action to “ban the box for federal employers and contractors, so applicants have an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before being asked about their criminal records.”

Supports expanding re-entry programs, and restoring voting rights for felons.

Supports, whenever possible, prioritizing prevention and treatment over incarceration when tackling addiction and substance use disorder.

Endorses the use of effective models of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and other diversionary programs that “seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.”

Supports abolishing the death penalty.

Discrimination and Racial Issues

Supports ending discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Supports promoting “racial justice through fair, just, and equitable governing of all public-serving institutions and in the formation of public policy.”

Supports removing the Confederate battle flag from public properties, “recognizing that it is a symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future.”

Calls for a “societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country.”

Supports U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Supports adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Drugs and Drug Abuse

Supports the federal government removing marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1” federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, “providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

Supports states that want to decriminalize marijuana or provide access to medical marijuana.

Supports policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to “allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.”

Supports expanding “access to prevention and treatment, supporting recovery, helping community organizations, and promoting better practices by prescribers.”

Supports expanding access to care for addiction services, and ensuring that insurance coverage is “equal to that for any other health conditions.”
Education

Supports making community college free for all students.

Supports the federal government pushing “more colleges and universities to take quantifiable, affirmative steps in increasing the percentages of racial and ethnic minority, low-income, and first-generation students they enroll and graduate.”

Supports “ensuring the strength of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions.”

Supports refinancing of current student loan debt.

For much more…

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