LISTEN: Urban Christian News Weekend Report #91

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1. According to The Atlantic, North Korea said on Saturday that U.S. accusations indicating it was involved in a cyberattack on Sony Pictures were “groundless slander” and warned of “serious consequences” for any possible retaliation against it. But at the same time, the isolated nation offered to prove its innocence by proposing a joint investigation into the incident with Washington–a move that Pyongyang knows the U.S. is not likely to take seriously. The statement, which was attributed to an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesperson and carried by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency, is in response to President Obama’s statement on Friday that blamed North Korea for the hacking and the suggestion that the U.S. would retaliate.

2. According to NBC News, A majority of Americans now say that race relations in the United States are bad, according to the latest NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, which showed the most pessimistic assessment of racial issues in almost two decades. In the wake of protests over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, just four in ten Americans told pollsters that they believe race relations in the United States are “good,” while 57 percent disagreed. And nearly a quarter–23 percent–classified the current state of the country’s racial issues as “very bad.” The data showed a dramatic slide from just 18 months ago, when a July 2013 poll indicated that a majority–52 percent–offered an optimistic view of race relations.

3. According to Reuters, President Raul Castro demanded on Saturday that the United States respect Cuba’s communist rule as the two countries work to restore diplomatic ties, and warned that Cuban-American exiles might try to sabotage the rapprochement. U.S. President Barack Obama this week reset Washington’s Cold War-era policy on Cuba and the two countries swapped prisoners in a historic deal after 18 months of secret talks. Cubans have treated the end of open U.S. hostility as a triumph, especially the release of three Cuban intelligence agents who served long U.S. prison terms for spying on Cuban exile groups in Florida. U.S. officials will visit Havana in January to start talks on normalizing relations and Obama has said his government will push Cuba on issues of human and political rights as they negotiate over the coming months. Castro said he is open to discussing a wide range of issues but that they should also cover the United States and he insisted Cuba would not give up its socialist principles.

4. According to Reuters, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday urged countries affected by the Ebola virus to avoid discriminating against healthcare workers fighting to end the disease. Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic. According to the latest World Health Organization figures, 7,373 people have died of Ebola in the three worst-affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

5. According to The Independent, Police have identified the eight children stabbed to death in Cairns, Australia, as the mother of seven victims remains under arrest on suspicion of their murder. Four girls aged two, 11, 12 and 14, and four boys aged five, six, eight and nine were found dead yesterday morning by their 20-year-old brother inside a house in the suburb of Manoora. The mother of the seven youngest children, 37-year-old Mersane Warria, was found suffering from stab wounds to her chest and neck and is under police guard in hospital. She was arrested hours after the bodies were discovered but has not yet been charged. Warria is also the aunt of the oldest girl killed, who had been staying at the house, police said.

6. According to Baptist News Global, Most Baptists in the United States with personal connections to Baptist communities in Cuba applauded President Obama’s surprise announcement of plans to normalize relations between two nations separated by only 90 miles of water but five decades of political tension. The new policy eases restrictions on travel for specific reasons including religious exchange, something of particular interest to Baptists in the two countries who have fostered friendships since Cuba relaxed restrictions on religious freedom in 1992. Rubén Ortiz, pastor at La Primera Iglesia Bautista in Deltona, Fla., and current moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, said, “We never expected this Christmas gift.”

7. According to CNN, The U.S. government continues to shrink its ranks of Guantanamo Bay detainees, announcing Saturday that four more have been repatriated — this time to Afghanistan. In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul expressed appreciation to the Afghan government — which, since September, has been led by President Ashraf Ghani — “for helping to reintegrate these former detainees.” The embassy said, “We have full confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to mitigate any threats these individuals may pose and to ensure that they are given humane treatment.” The move was also made to further President Barack Obama’s goal of drawing down the number of those held at the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba, something that has been ongoing for years.

8. According to USA Today, As a record number of Americans prepare to hit the road for the holidays, a massive storm is poised to disrupt travel plans for two-thirds of the nation. Starting Tuesday, the system — stretching from the Midwest down to the South and up the East Coast — will bring heavy rain, thunderstorms and strong winds that are likely to cause travel headaches on the roads and flight delays from the Great Lakes to the Mid-Atlantic and New England. The heavy rain will begin in the South and Southeast on Tuesday hitting Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Montgomery, Ala., before marching north to the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes to batter Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Detroit. On Christmas Eve, the storm will gather strength, lashing areas from Tampa to eastern North Carolina up to D.C., Philadelphia and Boston.

9. According to TIME Magazine, an oil boom has pushed gas prices at some stations, as of Saturday, down to as little as $2 a gallon. Price tracking service found that pockets of low prices below $2 have also cropped up across the country, while average prices across the U.S. are tracking at $2.43 a gallon. GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst said that “as of this morning, there are 24 states with prices under $2 a gallon.” Commuters in Missouri have reaped the biggest windfalls, with gas dropping to $1.96 a gallon in Springfield-and even lower in some outlying towns.

10. According to CNN Money, Major Hollywood studios have led a quiet campaign with Mississippi’s attorney general to slam Google with lawsuits for linking to illegal content. Now Google is striking back. In a blog post Thursday, a top Google lawyer criticized the Motion Picture Association of America, claiming it has been making secret deals with Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood to target the technology company. The company says the studios have been actively working with Hood to sue Google, demanding that the website filter out illegal content that their search engine points to. On Friday, Google sued Hood, asking a federal court to block his demands against the company. In Google’s view, the MPAA’s campaign is a response to the search engine’s fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act. If passed, the legislation would have dramatically changed the way websites deal with illegal content. Studios supported SOPA, which would have forced sites like Google to automatically remove links to pirated music, movies and TV shows. Currently, movie studios must ask websites to take down stolen content.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind. Luke 2:1, 4-5 says, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

As always, we want you to know that God loves you. He loves you so much that the Bible says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, why don’t you get to know Him today. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose by the power of God for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening. May God bless your day.

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