Signs of the Times (8/7/14)

Millions of Muslims Converting to Christ

Extraordinary stories about the massive number of Muslims converting to Christ are appearing around the world. Recently at World Magazine, writer Warren Cole Smith interviewed 25-year missionary David Garrison who has documented his findings about the Muslim phenomenon. “There is a revival in the Muslim world,” Garrison says. He believes between 2 and 7 million former Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past two decades. His book, A Wind in the House of Islam, contains impressive research to back up his claim. Why is this happening? Nabeel Qureshi, a popular speaker and author, explains in his book and online testimony that the gospel is being proclaimed with greater effectiveness. Qureshi affirms that the Holy Spirit works primarily by and through Scripture. And in his own experience, he says that subjective visions about Christ were also steps in his conversion from Islam to faith in Christ.

Pastors Not Speaking about Current Issues

Ninety-percent of America’s pastors are not addressing any of the salient issues affecting Christian people’s political or societal lives On Thursday, George Barna–research expert and founder of The Barna Group–shared with American Family Radio’s ‘Today’s Issues’ about new information he’s compiling at American Culture and Faith Institute over the last two years, gauging where theologically conservative pastors are at politically. “What we’re finding is that when we ask them about all the key issues of the day, [90 percent of them are] telling us, Yes, the Bible speaks to every one of these issues. Then we ask them: Well, are you teaching your people what the Bible says about those issues?–and the numbers drop…to less than 10 percent of pastors who say they will speak to it. So the thing that struck me has been that when we talk about the separation of church and state, it’s that churches have separated themselves from the activities of the state–and that’s to the detriment of the state and its people,’ stated the researcher.”

  • The end-times “lukewarm” Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22) is largely to blame for the decline of America’s Christian roots and principles

Judge Overturns Alabama Law Requiring Abortionists to Have Hospital Privileges

The Alabama law that required doctors performing abortions to have privileges at local hospitals was ruled unconstitutional. Judge Myron Thompson declared that the law forced an “undue burden” on women who were planning to undergo the procedure. Life News reports that the law would have closed the doors of three out of five abortion clinics in the state if it had not been overturned. Operation Rescue President Troy Newman was outraged by the decision. “Following Thompson’s flawed logic, he would rather keep open an abortion facility open – even if it was the likes of Kermit Gosnell and his filthy ‘House of Horrors’ – than close an abortion facility, no matter how dangerous it is for women. This puts the fabricated ‘right’ of an abortionist to operate whatever kind of shoddy, dangerous back-alley business he wants above the lives and health of women. This ruling must be appealed by the state in the interest of protecting women from substandard practices that endanger their lives every day,” he said.

Obama (and Congress) Hit New Poll Lows

President Obama has hit another low in another poll, but so have many of his critics in Congress. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll gives the president an approval rating of 40%, a record low; Congress has a rating of only 14%, also a record low. NBC News reports that six in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, more than 70% believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly 80% are negative about the country’s political system.

Millions of Uninsured Americans Exempt from ObamaCare Penalties

A new congressional report has estimated that more than 25 million Americans without health insurance will not be made to pay a penalty in 2016 due to an exploding number of ObamaCare exemptions. The Wall Street Journal, citing an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, reported that the number of people expected to pay the fine in 2016 has dwindled to four million people from the report’s previous projection of six million. Under the Affordable Care Act, the fine for not purchasing health insurance is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. That amount is set to increase to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income in 2016, with a total family penalty capped at $2,085.

Approximately 30 million Americans are believed to be without health insurance. The latest report is likely to spark fresh concerns among insurers, who have maintained that the number of exemptions to the law’s individual mandate are resulting in fewer young, healthy people signing up for health insurance. An insurance pool skewed toward older, comparatively unhealthy people is likely to result in rising premiums.

Schools Brace for 50,000 Migrant Children

Schools across the USA are bracing for as many as 50,000 immigrant children who would start school this fall, most of them unaccompanied by their families. Under federal law, all children are entitled to a free public education, regardless of their immigration status. It’s nothing new for public schools to serve immigrant students. But Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Board Association, says, “One of the challenges here, though, is the large number of unaccompanied minors.” “This is a whole new wave of immigrant students that are coming without any guardians whatsoever,” Negron says. Public school officials in Florida, Texas and Georgia know the unaccompanied minors are already in their states, mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But they don’t know how many will end up enrolling and where.

97 Bodies of Deceased Immigrants Found In Arizona Desert

The U.S. Border Patrol has found the bodies of 97 undocumented immigrants in the Arizona desert over the past 10 months, the latest being that of a 19-year-old youth who was struck by lightning. Despite the decline in the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border and the number of arrests in Arizona, people are still dying in the desert. Besides having to endure the high summer temperatures they also have to weather the monsoon storms, which can strike at any time and very quickly move on. Most of the deaths occur in remote, hard-to reach areas. If people fall and hurt themselves, they are left behind by the other immigrants to die. Immigrants like to come over the mountains to avoid detection by the Border Patrol, but that’s the most dangerous way to go and it’s hard to rescue them. To date in the current fiscal year, 83,115 undocumented immigrants have been detained, while in fiscal year 2013 there were 111,570.

CDC Issues Highest-Level Alert for Ebola

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its highest-level alert for a response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Level 1 means that increased staff and resources will be devoted to the outbreak, officials said. It is the first time the agency has invoked its highest level alert since 2009, over a flu outbreak. The World Health Organization, which convened a two-day emergency meeting of global health workers to discuss the crisis in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, said Wednesday that the death toll had jumped to 932, an increase of 45 fatalities in just four days. Next week, the WHO will convene a panel of medical ethicists to explore the use of experimental treatments.

Russian Crime Ring Hacks IDs & Passwords on 1.2 Billion Internet Accounts

A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses. The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems. Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable. At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic.

Russia Enacts Import Ban as Retaliation for U.S./Europe Sanctions

Moscow formally moved Thursday to impose a ban on imports of meat, fish, milk and fruit from the United States, European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. The ban, effective immediately, is expected to last for one year. The diplomatic move, following a decree signed Wednesday by Russian President Vladimir Putin to “protect Russia’s security,” follows the latest round of sanctions by the U.S. and EU that targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy. The U.S. and the EU have accused Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March, of fomenting tensions in eastern Ukraine.

Economic News

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000. The four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility, also fell to 293,500. That’s the lowest since February 2006. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it suggests potential income gains, active hiring and confidence that the economy is growing.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services fell to a five-month low in June as imports fell sharply and exports crept up. June’s trade deficit narrowed by $3.2 billion to $41.5 billion. June imports were $2.9 billion less than in May while exports rose by $300 million.

Walgreens says it will base its corporate offices in the Chicago area when it completes its acquisition of European drug store operator Alliance Boots. The move dispels expectations that the combined company would be located in Europe to reduce its tax bill.

Persecution Watch

Boko Haram militants have attacked five more churches in northern Nigeria. The Islamic extremist group attacked churches in the Hawal Local Government Area with bombs on July 30. While the churches were destroyed, there were no knowns deaths in the incident. Boko Haram continues to defy the laws of the government and resist Nigerian law enforcement. Nigerian President has faced criticism from Nigerians as well as world leaders for failing to curb Boko Haram’s violence. Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Boko Haram continues to commit war crimes by wilfully destroying churches…Moreover, the sect has illustrated once again its disregard for every religion and for the sanctity of human life, not only by targeting the innocent as they pray, but also by indoctrinating vulnerable girls for use as disposable commodities to fulfil its murderous purposes.”

Attacks in Cameroon are causing many to worry that Boko Haram militants may be expanding their reach of violence outside of Nigeria. Militants that are suspected to be Boko Haram members brutally attacked the towns of Kolofata and Baragaram at the end of July, killing at least 25 people. In the first attack, Jean Marcel Kevere, a Lutheran Brethren Church pastor was also kidnapped; he was later found dead. In the next attack, the wife of the Kolofata Deputy Prime Minister was kidnapped, along with her maid.

Three months after Chinese officials ripped down the gigantic Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, the number of churches facing persecution—whether that means demolition, cross removal, or threatening notices—in Zhejiang province has reached into the hundreds, according to Texas-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid. Every few days, news of cross removals and confrontations between church members and police streams out of the region. The government claims the demolitions are part of a three-year campaign to deal with “illegal structures” in Zhejiang, but authorities have only focused their attention on churches. Many fear this is a beginning of a nationwide campaign to slow the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.

Middle East

The longest cease-fire in a war between Israel and Hamas that has left nearly 2,000 dead on both sides appeared to be holding Wednesday as indirect talks on a broader deal began in Cairo. Israel’s military said Tuesday it has withdrawn all of its troops from Gaza, effectively wrapping up its ground operation, although the situation is still volatile and the four-week-old conflict has not ended. Israeli officials announced on Wednesday that the Jewish State has agreed to extend the 72 hour cease-fire which began at 8 AM on Tuesday morning for an undefined period of time, even as a senior Hamas official posted a flat denial of the Islamists terror group’s agreement to an extension. Previous cease-fires have been short-lived and ended with both sides blaming each other for undermining peace efforts. The truce — if it holds — will be followed by indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo aimed at creating a deal that would prevent future conflict between the two sides. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift their seven-year border blockade on Gaza and has called for international funds to rebuild the shattered coastal territory. Israel is reluctant to open Gaza’s borders until Hamas is disarmed.

Even as the war appears to draw to a close, the battle over casualty statistics rages on. No other number is as contentious as the ratio of civilians to combatants killed, widely viewed, including in Israel, as a measure of whether the commanders in the field acted proportionately to the threat posed by militants — or, in the eyes of Israel’s critics, committed war crimes. Palestinians and their supporters contend Israel massacred innocents with indiscriminate assaults with heavy weapons, citing numerous strikes that killed multiple family members in their homes and several that hit schools sheltering those who had sought refuge. Israel, in turn, says that Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, purposely sacrifices its own citizens by fighting in their midst, in order to raise the world’s ire against Israel. It says that the ratio of combatants killed in a densely populated urban environment supports its assertion that it conducted the attacks as humanely as possible. Some 40,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed during the month-long conflict with Israel that has displaced nearly half a million Palestinians.

Ukraine

A new buildup of Russian troops along the Ukraine border raised concerns Tuesday that Moscow might be contemplating another intervention like the one that annexed Crimea earlier this year. According to a NATO official, Russia now has about 20,000 troops stationed “in an area along the entire border with eastern Ukraine.” The buildup nearly doubled the troop deployment in the last week by adding 8,000 more forces to 12,000 already there, the official said. It comes a week after the United States and the European Union increased economic sanctions on Russia for supporting pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine government forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, along the border with Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine government security officials said Monday they were preparing for a “massive assault” on Donetsk city, state media reported. Inside the city, a rebel stronghold for months, shelling has already pushed some residents underground into cellars and half-built basements.

Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Afghanistan late Thursday on an unannounced visit to press the country’s two feuding presidential candidates on the urgency of ending a bitter dispute over June elections and forming a new government by early September. Kerry’s arrival in Kabul follows Tuesday’s killing of a U.S. general by an Afghan soldier at the national defense university, an incident that underscored the tensions that persist as the U.S. combat role winds down. Three officers from the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed by an attacker in an Afghan uniform at a military training academy in Kabul.

South Sudan

An ongoing civil war in South Sudan has caused a severe famine in the region reports Christian News Journal. The shortage of food is affecting 3.9 million people; the U.N. Security Council is calling the famine the “worst in the world.” The combination of political unrest, farmers forced to abandon crops and drought has brought about a “perfect storm” of circumstances for famine said Baptist Global Response (BGR) director Mark Hatfield. “Hunger due to cyclical drought is a growing problem all across Africa, especially in the Sahel. When there is political unrest, the situation is exacerbated due to the lack of ability to get into the fields to cultivate crops and manage herds.” UNICEF and World Food Program (WFP) fear that one million children will need medical treatment for malnutrition by the end of 2014. 50,000 children are at risk of death.

Environment

The Gulf of Mexico has a “dead zone” the size of the state of Connecticut. Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found an area of 5,052 square miles of “low oxygen water” or hypoxia in their annual survey. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is caused by nutrients that wash into the Gulf’s waters, which in turn boost the growth of algae blooms that suck up the oxygen. These nutrients come from “human activities, such as agriculture and wastewater” according to NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The nutrients end up in the Mississippi River which deposits them into the Gulf. Scientists first discovered a dead zone in these waters in 1972. The patch varies in size from year to year. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the world’s second largest. The number of Dead Zones throughout the world has been increasing in the last several decades and currently totals over 550.

It took a slug of toxins and the loss of drinking water for a half-million residents in Toledo, Ohio, to bring home what scientists and government officials in this part of the country have been saying for years: Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year. Flooded by tides of phosphorus washed from fertilized farms, cattle feedlots and leaky septic systems, the most intensely developed of the Great Lakes is increasingly being choked each summer by thick mats of algae, much of it poisonous. What plagues Toledo and, experts say, potentially all 11 million lakeside residents, is increasingly a serious problem across the United States. Poisonous algae are found in polluted inland lakes from Minnesota to Nebraska to California. Five years ago this month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state water authorities issued a joint report on pollution of the nation’s waterways by phosphorus and other nutrients titled “An Urgent Call to Action.” “Unfortunately, very little action has come from that,” said Jon Devine, the senior lawyer for the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

Earthquakes

An earthquake shook buildings in Johannesburg and surrounding areas in South Africa’s most populous province on Tuesday. At least one person was killed and three were injured. The magnitude-5.3 quake was centered in Orkney, 105 miles southwest of Johannesburg. One man died when a wall of a disused mining building fell on him. Mine managers ordered the evacuation of workers from shafts and there were no immediate reports of casualties underground. Three people were hurt when the quake damaged a training center at another mine.

The death toll in southern China’s earthquake rose to 589 on Wednesday as search and rescue teams worked to clear debris from isolated mountain communities struck by the disaster. The Yunnan provincial government said more than 2,400 people have been injured in Sunday’s 6.1 -magnitude quake in the mountainous Yunnan farming region of Ludian county — the country’s deadliest in four years.

Wildfires

As the West continues to deal with a relentless summer fire season, three states in particular are fighting life-threatening blazes. California, Oregon and Washington are currently dealing with dozens of wildfires that are torching drought-ridden land, making the battle even tougher for firefighters. In the coming days, temperatures are expected to rise yet again, while rainfall will be rare for much of the region, complicating firefighting efforts. In Oregon, families in at least 70 homes in Rowena, a community in the Columbia River Gorge, were told to evacuate Wednesday afternoon. Another 100 homes were put on standby if the conditions worsened. The homes are threatened by a fire that started in brush and timber overnight about six miles west of Dalles, a city of more than 14,000 people.

In Washington, officials fighting a new wildfire complex on a northeast Washington Indian reservation issued an urgent evacuation notice Tuesday for about 20 homes. The Devil’s Elbow Complex of three wildfires was detected Sunday on the Colville Reservation. Officials say it was likely ignited Saturday by lightning. It has burned across about 2,000 acres. Elsewhere, fire managers prepared for extreme fire conditions as hot, dry weather kept several wildfires burning in Washington. Weather conditions allowed two fires in central Washington to grow, including one blaze that was pushing closer to Highway 97 between Blewett Pass and Leavenworth. Residents of about 15 homes near Highway 97 have been told to evacuate, and dozens more have been advised to be ready to leave.

In California, fire crews increased their control over the nearly 45-square-mile Eiler Fire that has destroyed eight homes and threatened a little more than 700 others, some of which were evacuated. Meanwhile, officials lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for residents who live in about a dozen homes near the larger of the Lassen National Forest blazes, which has burned through 62 square miles. Officials had been warning of dangerous conditions because of the drought. But the speed and fury of the Eiler Fire was disconcerting and terrifying. “Trees were just exploding,” said Dennis Hoffman, who left the community of Cassel last week as flames roared through forests on either side of his home. “It was like a big monster — just unbelievable how bad it was.”

Weather

Flash flooding hit Naples, Florida, Monday as more than 6.5 inches of rain fell in about 5 hours. It was the city’s wettest day in over 29 years. Flooding turned Interstate 75 and the heavily-traveled U.S. 41 into a nightmare. Hunter Boulevard was under 15 inches of water at one point.

This week two tropical storms, Iselle and Julio, are threatening the Hawaiian Islands. Tropical cyclones impacting the Hawaiian Islands are not a typical occurrence. In data dating to 1949, there is only one case where tropical cyclones were even 10 days apart. A pair of tropical cyclones affecting Hawaii in just two to three days’ time “is unprecedented in the satellite era.” By mid June, the eastern Pacific season had gotten off to a record start with two Category 4 hurricanes. Hurricane Iselle became the third major hurricane of 2014 in the Eastern Pacific basin Sunday. As it churns west toward the Central Pacific, it could hit Hawaii Friday with Julio expected to strike 2-3 days later. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation which allows the state legislature easier access to emergency funding and personnel. Residents emptied shelves of water and supplies while tourists fled home

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