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Pastor disarms man during church service

Larry Wright preaches at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries. (Credit: Larry Wright)Larry Wright is a pastor in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was preaching last New Year's Eve when a man walked into his church carrying a rifle.

Wright, a former Army sergeant, walked up to the man and asked, "Can I help you?" The man asked Wright to pray for him. The pastor took the rifle and handed it to a deacon. One by one, the deacon and three others hugged the man, then led him to a seat at the front of the church. The pastor continued his message and gave an altar call. The man "stood right up, came up to the altar, and gave his life to Christ," Wright said later.

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What do 'Star Wars' and 'Downton Abbey' have in common?

Downton Abbey's 6th season premiered January 3rd 2016 (Credit: Downton Abbey via PBS)Star Wars: The Force Awakens has earned $686 million in American theaters, passing Titanic over the weekend to become the second highest-grossing movie domestically. Up next: Avatar, at $760 million.

What do the movies have in common? Both make heroes out of underdogs who must defeat overwhelming odds to save the universe (Star Wars) or the planet ("Pandora" in Avatar). And neither plot includes the need for God.

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You can rent a friend for $23 an hour

Two young women holding hands and their shopping bags do some window shopping at a shopping mall (Credit: Pressmaster via Fotolia)People are making a living hugging people. Several companies now employ freelance huggers who charge $60 to $80 an hour to give purely platonic hugs. You can also rent a friend for $23 an hour. There are more than 500,000 people to choose from on the website RentAFriend.

This phenomenon is a symptom of our times. In 1980, twenty percent of Americans said they were lonely. Today the number has more than doubled.

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Six surprising Christmas Eve traditions

Firewood with Christmas shoes on wooden floor background (Credit: Africa Studio via Fotolia)Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation. People there especially love giving books as presents on Christmas Eve, so recipients can spend the evening reading. In nearby Finland, people spend a long time in the sauna on Christmas Eve. In Norway, people hide their brooms so Christmas Eve witches don't steal them.

Today in southern Louisiana, people will light massive bonfires to guide Santa Claus to their homes. Families in Italy will gather for a feast of seven different seafood dishes. In France and Germany, children will leave their shoes by the fireplace or the window to be filled with presents from St. Nick.

Some Christmas surprises are not just tradition, but fact. Consider the most neglected member of the cast of Christmas. And accept God's invitation to join him in his ministry today.

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What was the top news story of 2015?

 A woman has taped her mouth displaying the word Freedom on the tape as she gathers with several thousand people in solidarity with victims of two terrorist attacks in Paris, one at the office of weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo and another at a kosher market, in front of the Brandenburg Gate near the French embassy in Berlin, January 11, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)The Associated Press has released its list of the top ten stories for 2015. Here they are, in order:

1. The Islamic State
2. Gay marriage
3. The Paris attacks
4. Mass shootings
5. Black deaths in police encounters
6. Terrorism fears
7. The U.S. election
8. Climate change
9. The Charleston shooting
10. Europe's migrant crisis.

Apart from the election and its uncertain outcome, each of the stories is discouraging for evangelical Christians.

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