LISTEN: Hagel: U.S. may need ground troops in Iraq; Houston pastors get day in court (UCNN Weekend Report #103)

1. According to Reuters, Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview on Friday that the United States might eventually need to send non-combat ground troops to Iraq to help turn back Islamic State forces. Hagel, who announced his resignation under pressure in November, told CNN all options must be considered in Iraq, including sending troops for non-combat roles such as gathering intelligence and locating Islamic State targets. He said, “I think it may require a forward deployment of some of our troops… I would say we’re not there yet. Whether we get there or not, I don’t know.”

2. According to ­the Baptist Press, Houston pastors finally began to get their day in court in their lawsuit against the city and Mayor Annise Parker for dismissing thousands of voter signatures to repeal a controversial pro-LGBT ordinance. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andy Taylor, will seek to convince the jury to overturn the city’s actions, challenging defense contentions that the signatures were penned to a bad document and duly disqualified. Geoffrey Harrison, lead counsel for the city defense, claimed that the petition circulated by the anti-ordinance No UnEqual Rights Coalition was “fatally flawed.” Ordinance opponents created the No UnEqual Rights Coalition and in 30 days collected nearly 54,000 voter signatures, far more than the 17,269 required to put the ordinance into citizen review.

3. According to Reuters, Ukrainian and Russian representatives and separatist envoys met in a new round of peace talks on Saturday as fighting between Kiev’s forces and the Russian-backed rebels raged on in Ukraine’s east, claiming more civilian and military lives. The main members of the so-called contact group — Ukrainian former president Leonid Kuchma, a Russian diplomat and an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe official — met at a state residence in the Belarussian capital Minsk, where they were joined by two separatist officials. The sides have held only one inconclusive meeting since agreeing to a ceasefire last September as part of a 12-point blueprint for peace. Much-violated from the start, that truce collapsed completely with a new rebel advance last week.

4. According to Christian Post, close to 300 Muslim students armed with iron bars and sticks attacked a Christian boys’ school in northern Pakistan, reportedly in retaliation to French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s controversial drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The attack left four Christians injured. Nasir Saeed, director of the NGO Center for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement said, “It is very sad that Islamic radicals attack Pakistani Christians because of Charlie Hebdo. Christians condemn the blasphemous cartoons. It is a shame that even after 67 years since the birth of Pakistan, Christians have not yet been considered Pakistani citizens, but are seen as ‘Western allies.’”

5. According to Morningstar News, Muslim Fulani herdsmen on last Friday killed a father of two in Taraba state, Nigeria, whose pastoral ministry had brought education, medicine and clothing to thousands of impoverished people. Pastor Joshua Adah was returning to his mission station from an evangelistic outreach to some villagers when his vehicle broke down. Armed, ethnic Fulani cattlemen, who had invaded the area’s Christian communities in the weeks prior, found him and killed him. Pastor Adah is survived by his wife and two children, ages 8 and 6.

6. According to AP, the family of a Jordanian fighter pilot held by the Islamic State group said Saturday it has received no word on his fate since the militants threatened to kill him earlier this week. The Islamic State group purportedly threatened to kill Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh by Thursday unless Jordan released a female al-Qaeda prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, from death row. Jordan has said it cannot release her without proof the pilot is alive. The fate of the 26-year-old airman has been linked to that of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who also is being held by the militants. Japan’s deputy foreign minister said late on Friday that efforts to free Goto are “in a state of deadlock.” He said, “The deadline has passed, and it is a reality that several hours have passed since then, so we are doing our utmost to gain more information.”

7. According to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama will be at the National Prayer Breakfast next week in Washington, the first time the two men have been together in nearly a year. While the president and the Tibetan spiritual leader could have a chance encounter at the event Thursday, the White House played down any official engagement between the two. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, “As he has done in the past, the president will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don’t have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce.” The Dalai Lama does not have a speaking role at the prayer breakfast and will be seated with the audience. Obama, a speaker, will be at the head table.

8. According to the New York Times, on a ski lift high above the powdery slopes of Deer Valley, Utah, Mitt Romney made it clear: His quest for the White House, which had dominated nearly a decade of his life, was coming to a close. Donors who supported him last time refused to commit to his campaign. Key operatives were signing up with former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. The Republican establishment that lifted Mr. Romney to the nomination in 2012 in the face of scrappy opposition had moved on. The news on Friday that Mr. Romney would opt out of the race revealed as much about the party in 2015 as it did about the former Massachusetts governor’s weaknesses as a candidate. Republican leaders, especially the party’s wealthiest donors, are in an impatient and determined mood. They are eager to turn to a new face they believe can defeat what they anticipate will be a strong, well-funded Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

9. According to the BBC, in his first remarks since a deadly attack in the Sinai region, Egypt’s president has said that the country faces a long and difficult battle with militants. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi spoke a day after a group linked to the Islamic State said it killed at least 32 soldiers and police. In comments broadcast on state TV, Sisi said, “This battle will be difficult, strong, evil and will take a long time.” He cut short a visit to an African Union summit to return to Egypt in the wake of the Sinai attack.

10. According to AFP, the Washington Post has reported that the CIA and Israel’s spy agency Mossad were behind an elaborate plot to kill Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in a 2008 car bomb attack in Syria. Citing former intelligence officials, the newspaper reported that US and Israeli spy agencies worked together to target Mughniyeh on February 12, 2008 as he left a restaurant in the Syrian capital Damascus. He was killed instantly by a car bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of a parked car, which exploded shrapnel in a tight radius. The bomb, built by the United States and tested in the state of North Carolina, was triggered remotely by Mossad agents in Tel Aviv who were in communication with Central Intelligence Agency operatives on the ground in Damascus.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind. Psalm 86:5 says, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.”

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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