Signs of the Times (12/23/16)

Muslim Refugees in UK are Having Visions and Dreams of Jesus

Many Muslims who came to the UK as refugees are converting to Christianity after having visions and dreams of Christ. According to ChristianToday.com, a Christian church in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent in the UK has been instrumental in ministering to these refugees and leading them to Christ. Rev. Sally Smith is the vicar of St. Mark’s–the church. She says the church was a rather stagnant community until the UK’s Home Office began resettling dozens of refugees nearby. The church now has a ministry welcoming Muslims who are new to the area and their community is thriving. Although those who minister to the refugees do not try to proselytize, many Muslims have accepted Christ due to the warm welcome and the kindness they are shown. Many also have testified that they have had visions and dreams of Jesus. Recently, St. Mark’s hosted a live nativity scene. The particularly incredible thing about this nativity was that all but one participant was a Muslim convert to Christianity.

Thousands of Christians Excluded from Refugee Camps

Barnabas Fund reports that thousands of Syrian and Iraqi Christians are being excluded from the normal refugee camps, either through fear – with a long history of massacres of Christians in the region – or through prejudice. Some time ago Barnabas Aid asked Christian leaders in the Middle East if they knew of any Christians in refugee camps. One told us, “we did once have a couple who tried to live there, we had to get them out in the middle of the night when we heard people were planning to kill them.” Barnabas notes that, “the genocide in Syria specifically targets Christians and other non-Sunni Muslim minorities such as Yazidis and Shi’a. Yet, the extraordinary thing is that the refugee policies of Western countries such as the USA and UK admit only a tiny handful of Christians. This number vastly under-represents the proportion of Christians in Syria’s pre-war population.

  • The anti-Christ spirit is growing stronger as the end-times ramp up

Repeal of North Carolina LGBT Law Fails

A deal to undo the North Carolina law known as the “bathroom bill” fell apart Wednesday night when legislators couldn’t agree on a plan to repeal the measure, a sign of the bitter political divide within the state. The North Carolina General Assembly was called into a special session about nine months after they passed the law, which tarnished the state’s national image as major corporations decided to pull up stakes, entertainers canceled concerts and the NCAA and ACC moved sporting events away. The wide-ranging law’s best-known provision required transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. Opponents of the law called it discriminatory. Republicans have defended the bathroom provisions as providing privacy and safety by keeping men out of women’s restrooms.

Man Kills Transgender Girl-Friend

In the first case of its kind, a Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime Wednesday for murdering his ex-girlfriend because she was transgender. Joshua Vallum, 29, knew Mercedes Williamson was a transgender teenage girl when they began dating, the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. Vallum said he killed her because she was transgender, making him eligible for prosecution under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for two of the country’s most infamous hate crimes. The federal law criminalizes violence based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Vallum’s prosecution is the first to involve a victim targeted for being transgender, the Justice Department said.

  • Christians are called upon to love everyone no matter how much we might disagree with them, even our enemies (Matthew 22:37-40).

Texas Defunds Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has officially been cut off from government funding through Texas’ Medicaid program. Misconduct and violations of acceptable medical standards were among the causes cited in the final legal notice delivered to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) this week informing the abortion giant of the state’s intent to cease its Medicaid funding. Stuart Bowen, inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), said in the letter that the undercover videos from the Center of Medical Progress (CMP) showed “that Planned Parenthood violated state and federal law.” “Your misconduct is directly related to whether you are qualified to provide medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” Bowen stated. “Your actions violate generally accepted medical standards, as reflected in state and federal law, and are Medicaid program violations that justify termination.”

Police Kill Tunisian Migrant Responsible for German Truck Attack

Video has emerged of the Berlin Christmas market attack suspect Anis Amri pledging allegiance to ISIS. The footage appeared hours after he was killed in an early-morning shootout in Milan on Friday morning. The Tunisian man, who had been the subject of a Europe-wide manhunt since Monday’s market truck attack in which 12 people were killed and 48 injured, was stopped in Sesto San Giovanni — a district in the northeastern part of Milan — just after 3am local time, Italian police said on Twitter. When the man was asked for his papers by Italian police, he pulled a .22 calibre gun out of his backpack and fired at them. The video released Friday on ISIS-affiliated website, Amaq, shows Amri pledging allegiance to the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Amri repeatedly slipped through the fingers of German authorities. He was reportedly on the U.S. no-fly list months before Monday’s deadly attack, reports Fox News. A fingerprint in the cab of the truck used in Monday’s attack was found on Thursday to belong to Amri. He piqued the interest of U.S. officials after it was discovered he had researched the construction of explosive devices and communicated with ISIS leaders on at least one occasion via the group’s Telegram Messenger, officials told The New York Times. But while the U.S quickly moved to keep Amri out of the country, Germany couldn’t get him to leave. There were red flags galore surrounding the Tunisian-born Amri. Germany had hoped to deport Amri after learning he was plotting a “serious act of violent subversion,” an official told The Washington Post. Amri was reportedly arrested in Germany on at least three occasions after his asylum rejection. However, he was released each time.

Trump’s Latest Tweets Shake the World

President-elect Donald Trump long ago earned a reputation for being unpredictable in his statements, but he outdid himself on Thursday. In the span of just a few hours, Trump shook international relations by undercutting the Obama administration over a UN resolution on Israeli settlements, indicated he would ramp up nuclear competition with Russia and then jolted a major defense contractor — and its shareholders — by suggesting he would ask Boeing to replace a fighter jet being made by Lockheed Martin. Trump pressured the Obama administration to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, an unprecedented move by a President-elect who has not yet moved into the White House. Egypt delayed the potential vote at the Security Council, putting off a potential standoff between the US and Israel. An Israeli official later tells CNN his country reached out to Trump for help in pressuring the Obama administration.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump tweeted. Hours earlier in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a defense speech in Moscow that Russia needs to “enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems.” The exchange appeared to raise the prospect of a new arms race between the US and Russia, which between them boast more than 14,000 nuclear warheads, the still deadly legacy of their four-decades long Cold War standoff. Trump cost millions in market value to Lockheed Martin and caused thousands of people to now worry they may lose their jobs after tweeting that the Pentagon’s costly new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could be replaced with a modified version of a less expensive plane, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Ebola Vaccine Proven Effective

Final test results confirm an experimental Ebola vaccine is highly effective, a major milestone that could help prevent the spread of outbreaks like the one that killed thousands in West Africa. Scientists have struggled to develop an Ebola vaccine over the years, and this is the first one proven to work. Efforts were ramped up after the infectious disease caused a major outbreak, beginning in 2013 in Guinea and spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone. About 11,300 people died. The vaccine was developed by the Canadian government and is now licensed to the U.S.-based Merck & Co. which is expected to seek regulatory approval in the U.S. and Europe sometime next year.

Obamacare Enrollment Jumps, Even as G.O.P. Pledges Repeal

About 6.4 million people have signed up for health insurance next year under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration said Wednesday, as people rushed to purchase plans before Republican promises to repeal the act can be achieved. The new sign-ups represent an increase of 400,000 over the same point last year. Hundreds of thousands of other people who took no action will be automatically re-enrolled by the federal government in the same or similar plans, officials said. Consumers still have until the end of January to enroll.

Healthcare.gov Approves Fake GAO Applicants

Healthcare.gov and its state marketplaces approved health care coverage and subsidies for nine fake applicants in another Government Accountability Office sting, according to a report from the GAO. The investigative agency created 12 fake identities and sought to obtain coverage for them during the special enrollment period. “For all our fictitious applicant scenarios, we sought to act as an ordinary consumer would in attempting to make a successful application,” the investigative agency said. The Affordable Care Act requires that the Marketplace validate application information to determine eligibility by checking Social Security numbers, citizenship or immigration status, and household income. The 12 applications included fictitious copies of Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, and proof of income.

Obama Bans Drilling in Much of Arctic

The bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean are indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing, according to President Barack Obama. Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.” The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review. The White House said it’s confident the president’s order will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to undo permanent withdrawals.

Trump’s Plan to Save U.S. Jobs

On Wednesday, President-Elect Trump announced he is forming a new White House National Trade Council that has one goal: To stop the “exodus of jobs” to China, Mexico and other countries. The council is expected to “make American manufacturing great again.” It’s a tall order. The U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. But Trump campaigned as a businessman who knows how to make global deals. Already, his tweets have pressured CEOs of companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin to respond. Trump is tapping economist Peter Navarro to head up the new trade council. Like Trump, Navarro believes the Chinese do not play fairly on trade. “It’s not trade that’s the problem, it’s the bad trade deals,” Navarro said. Navarro produced a documentary titled “Death by China” about how America lost its manufacturing base to the Chinese.

Economic News

America’s economy grew faster last quarter than first projected. The U.S. economy grew 3.5% in the third quarter — July to September — compared to the same time a year ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. It’s the best quarter of growth in two years. The first estimate, published in October, had the economy growing at 2.9% in the third quarter. Despite the improved reading in the quarter, it won’t change much for all of 2016. The U.S. economy grew at a sluggish pace in the first half of the year, averaging 1.1%, and many economists still forecast around 2% growth for the entire year.

In October, there were 322,000 job openings in manufacturing — about the same level as in 2007. It has tripled since hitting a low of 99,000 during the recession in 2009. Earlier this year, openings rose as high as 400,000 in April, one of highest marks since the Labor Department first started counting the figure in 2000. Hiring has picked up a little but it hasn’t kept pace with openings in recent years. Economists caution that the rise in job openings doesn’t compensate for the millions of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000, reports CNNMoney.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the percentage of Americans in the 18 to 34-year-old age bracket that are currently living with their parents hasn’t been this high in 75 years.  At this point, nearly 40 percent of our young adults in that age range are living at home. In the U.S., more than 60 million people now live in multi-generational households. Normally when a recession ends, the percentage of young adults living with their parents starts to go back down.  But this has not happened this time around.  Instead, the percentage of young adults that live at home has just continued to rise. The result is that there is far less demand for housing than would be expected for the millennial generation, now the largest in U.S. history. The number of adults under age 30 has increased by 5 million over the last decade, but the number of households for that age group grew by just 200,000 over the same period, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Since the global financial crisis, the world’s largest banks have agreed to pay close to $60 billion in fines just to the U.S. Department of Justice for creating and selling toxic mortgage-backed investments. That doesn’t include the tens of billions that the banks have also paid in connection with lawsuits from investors or other federal agencies. The web of complex mortgage-based financial products they created were largely to blame for creating the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, which ultimately led to the Great Recession.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the U.S. Wednesday to use its veto power to block a United Nations resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement activities in Palestinian territory. The resolution declares that all existing settlements “have no legal validity” and are “a flagrant violation” of international law. The draft resolution, circulated by Egypt, also stresses that “the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution” which would see Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace. The U.S. vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, but it was not immediately clear how U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power would vote Thursday. Egypt later postponed the vote.

Syria

Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to work toward a political accord to end Syria’s nearly six-year war, leaving the United States on the sidelines as the countries sought to drive the conflict in ways that serve their interests. Secretary of State John Kerry was not invited. Nor was the United Nations consulted. With pro-government forces having made critical gains on the ground, the new alignment and the absence of any Western powers at the table all but guarantee that President Bashar al-Assad will continue to rule Syria under any resulting agreement, despite President Obama’s declaration more than five years ago that Mr. Assad had lost legitimacy and had to be removed… At the meeting, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to “the Moscow Declaration,” a framework for ending the Syrian conflict… Iran’s presence is significant, as well. The Syrian city of Aleppo returned to complete government control Thursday after the last remaining opposition fighters and civilians evacuated, ending a four-year rebel hold over parts of the country.

Iranian officials have boasted about their fighters’ role in Aleppo and that of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which helped besiege eastern Aleppo before the evacuation deal. “As Russia has allied with Iran in the region, it is the coalition of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah that has caused Aleppo’s liberation, and very soon Mosul will also be liberated,” Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said last week. “It shows that this coalition has an upper hand and the U.S.’s president-elect has to face its weight.” Outrage over the carnage in Aleppo has so far been directed at Moscow and Damascus, but activists on the ground say Iran has a top general on the scene and has established secret camps where Iraqi mercenaries are trained to root out rebels in the Syrian city.

Libya

Two hijackers who diverted a Libyan plane to Malta and threatened to blow up the aircraft have surrendered themselves to authorities after releasing everyone on board and leaving the plane. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the hijackers had been taken in custody, bringing the dramatic incident to an end. The Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320, on a domestic service in Libya, was carrying 111 passengers, Muscat said. While it is unclear who exactly the hijackers are, Libya has become a center for political tribal violence. Deadly clashes still erupt there between tribes loyal to Gadhafi and anti-Gaddafi groups. Gadhafi, who was a member of the Gaddadfa tribe, was ousted from power and assassinated by rebels in 2011 in the Arab Spring uprising. Libya has struggled to install a stable government since then, and the leadership vacuum has allowed militant groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda to flourish there.

Volcanoes

A supervolcano under the Italian city of Naples appears to be waking up and may pose a threat to some 500,000 people, according to a new study. Italian and French scientists say data from the Campi Flegrei supervolcano indicates the situation may be reaching a critical point. Campi Flegrei is a collapsed volcano, meaning it does not have a singular vent or a central peak typical of most volcanoes. Instead, there is a huge magma chamber deep underground known as a caldera, according to geology.com. The Yellowstone caldera is an example of another supervolcano. Lying mostly underwater, the Campi Flegrei caldera is comprised of 24 known craters and volcanic vents. The last time the mega-volcano underwent an uplifting was in 1983-1984, when swarms of more than 10,000 earthquakes were recorded and the caldera rose by about 6 feet over the two years of activity, after which the volcano quieted down.

Wildfires

Homes were threatened by a wildfire that was burning in the Wood Ranch area of Simi Valley, California, Tuesday afternoon. No residents were ordered to evacuate, but some were told to shelter in place while crews fought the fire from the ground and the air. The wildfire burned about 60 acres, the Los Angeles Times reported. Firefighters stopped forward spread of the fire by Wednesday.

A restaurant fire whipped by high winds spread to at least 140 buildings Thursday in a small Japanese city on the Japan Sea coast. The blaze started in the morning at a ramen shop in Itoigawa city, Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Fanned by winds gusting to 56 kilometers (35 miles) per hour, it had reached about 140 houses and other buildings by mid-afternoon. Authorities issued an evacuation advisory for about 300 households.

Weather

An ill-timed storm system hit the West, including Southern California, at a time when hundreds of thousands of residents were attempting to travel into or out of the region’s biggest cities. Hundreds of collisions were reported on wet Los Angeles roads Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Those problems continued on Thursday as holiday travelers packed the already busy roads. Meanwhile, at Los Angeles International Airport, hundreds of flights were cancelled. Despite the headaches, the rain was definitely welcomed in Southern California. Much of the area remains in the grip of a nasty drought that has lasted for five years. In Arizona, flooding escalated quickly in some areas. More than an inch of rain fell in Phoenix between Wednesday night and noon on Thursday, which swamped some roads and filled desert washes.

Winter Storm Europa will dump heavy snow in the West, then become a dangerous blizzard in the Plains over Christmas weekend. If that wasn’t enough, a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain could also slicken roads in parts of the upper Midwest and northern New England. The National Weather Service in Rapid City, South Dakota, issued a blizzard watch Wednesday afternoon 3 to 4 days ahead of the potential impact in their forecast area. Winter storm watches and warnings have also been posted in a sizable swath of the West from the Plains of Montana to the Sierra of California and Great Basin, including the Salt Lake Valley.

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