Reports are coming in saying ISIS took a small western Iraqi town called al-Baghdadi and burned 45 people alive. The victims' identities remain unknown, but local police told the BBC that some of them might be part of a resistance movement that had been battling ISIS for control of the city. The rest of the security personnel and their families are housed in a compound that is now reported to be under ISIS siege.

Al-Baghdadi is only a few miles from Ain al-Asad air base, where 400 U.S. military personnel are training Iraqi fighters. Discuss

Pastor Saeed Abedini has been in prison in Iran since the summer of 2012. His story is long and heartbreaking, and you can read the entirety of it here, but, suffice to say, all attempts to secure his release have thus far been fruitless. In the midst of deplorable prison conditions, he has written this Christmas message to his family, and it is absolutely worth your time.

These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me. These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? ... Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today, we, like Him, should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world ... It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

You can read the whole thing here ... Discuss

In the United States, IQ scores of "approximately 70" are generally considered to constitute a level of mental disability severe enough to preclude the death penalty—the idea being that the person in question's mental level is too underdeveloped for execution to constitute a proper "punishment."

Those guidelines are clearly not set in stone, because they were defied twice on Tuesday. In Georgia, a man named Robert Wayne Holsey, who has an IQ of 70, was executed after a court denied his appeal on the grounds of his mental ability (and also the fact that it turned out his lawyer had been drinking "a quart of vodka a day" during the trial.) Holsey was executed for killing a sheriff's deputy named Will Robinson in 1995.

In Missouri, a man named Paul Goodwin with an IQ of about 73 was also executed. Goodwin beat a 63-year-old woman to death in 1993, and his execution marked Missouri's 10th execution this year, tying it with Texas for the most in America ... Discuss

In March 2011, the military forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protestors seeking government reforms. Violence between police and demonstrators sparked a rebel movement seeking to ouster Assad, and the nation soon became embroiled in an ongoing civil war that’s left millions displaced. Peace talks between opposition leaders and Assad’s government have repeatedly broken down as the people of Syria continue to suffer. Read More

The Rise of the New Persecuted Church

The numbers show Christian persecution is not a thing of the past. What can the Western Church do to help? Read More