Signs of the Times (3/4/17)

Jesus Film Project Announces 1,500th Translation of ‘JESUS’ Film

Jesus Film Project® announced Friday during the annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention the completion of its 1,500th language translation of “JESUS,” the most watched film in history according to “The Guinness Book of World Records.” The 1,500th language, Daasanach, belongs to an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. Since 1979, Jesus Film Project’s resources and strategies have been utilized in 7.5 billion gospel presentations in more than 230 countries, and for many individuals in remote areas around the world, “JESUS” is the first motion picture they have ever viewed. The powerful impact of seeing the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in their heart language has resulted in more than 490 million indicated decisions for Christ following a film showing.

  • And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

Islam Growing Faster than Christianity

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the religion of Islam is growing rapidly and there will be more people who identify as Muslim than as Christians by the year 2070. In 2010, there were about 2.17 billion Christians in the world and 1.6 billion Muslims, but the study found that, by 2070, there will be 2.92 billion Muslims and 2.76 billion Christians. In the U.S., Muslims are expected to make up 2.1 percent of the population by 2050. Currently, they make up about one percent. One of the reasons why Islam is growing at such a fast rate is that Muslims have the highest fertility rate (3.1 children per woman) and they also have the youngest average age (34 percent are under 15).

Trump Addresses Congress, Promises Economic Acceleration

President Trump declared Tuesday that a “new chapter of American greatness is now beginning” as he made economic revival the centerpiece of his first address to Congress – issuing a clarion call to “restart the engine of the American economy” through tax cuts, better trade deals, immigration enforcement and a $1 trillion infrastructure program.  He also called on Congress to replace what he called the “imploding ObamaCare disaster” with legislation that lowers costs and expands access, an ambitious goal for GOP lawmakers still trying to come together on a plan. He offered a decidedly upbeat vision for the future of the country that stood in contrast to his at-times foreboding inauguration address. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope,” Trump said, urging lawmakers to “join forces” to deliver.  Declaring “the time for small thinking is over,” Trump appealed to the country to “believe, once more, in America.” President Trump began his first address to Congress Tuesday by acknowledging the apparent recent surge in anti-Semitism and the fatal attack on an Indian immigrant in Kansas, saying the country “stands united in condemning hate and evil.”

AG Sessions Defuses Media Uproar, Recuses Himself from Russian Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself being forced to decide whether to resign or recuse himself after a Washington Post story ignited a media firestorm over his past contacts with the Russian ambassador. He chose to recuse himself from any FBI investigation of Russia and the campaign. The question of whether the attorney general misled Congress is fueling the controversy that utterly dominated the news, especially with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi holding press conferences to say Sessions should step down. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions said, “I did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions maintains that his two contacts with Sergey Kislyak, one of them a meeting in his Senate office, had nothing to do with his role as a key Trump surrogate. Sessions recused himself from the probe that is looking the question of whether Moscow was involved in hacking the Democrats. A perjury investigation could be the next hurdle faced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with Democrats and civil liberties groups unimpressed by his decision to recuse himself from any investigations involving the presidential campaigns. Russia’s top diplomat says the uproar over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador is a replay of McCarthyism.

Dems Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton Also Had Russian Contacts

Even as top Democratic lawmakers demanded the attorney general’s resignation over past meetings with Russia’s ambassador, after pictures emerged of the same lawmakers in similar meetings, exposing them to “hypocrisy” charges. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in particular, has egg on her face after she told Politico reporters that she had never met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Not with this ambassador, no,” she said. But Politico unearthed a 2010 photo from a meeting of congressional lawmakers with then-Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, at which both Pelosi and Kislyak were present. Trump tweeted: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” Many of those sounding the loudest alarm bells over Russian influence in U.S. politics were curiously silent when far greater concerns were raised about the Clintons, notes Fox News.  Unlike the revelations so far concerning Russian ties in the Trump camp, the Clinton deals involved hundreds of millions of dollars and enormous favors that benefitted Russian interests. Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of a small energy company alongside Russian officials that received $35 million from a Putin-connected Russian government fund, a relationship Podesta failed to fully disclose on his federal financial disclosures as required by law, reports ConservativeByte.com

Majority of Voters say ‘Move On’ from Protesting Trump

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets since Donald Trump won the presidential election.  But a majority of voters would tell protesters: “it’s time to move on.”  That’s according to a Fox News Poll of registered voters released Thursday. The poll asks, “What message would you like to send to people who are protesting President Trump and his policies?”  Over half, 53 percent, would tell them “it’s time to move on,” while 44 percent would implore them “don’t give up the fight.” Not surprisingly, these results are highly partisan.  Fully 81 percent of Democrats want the protesters to keep fighting, while even more Republicans (87 percent) say it’s time to move on. women are split on protesting Trump:  49 percent would tell protesters to move on and 48 percent would say “don’t give up.” By a 57-38 percent margin, men say it’s time to move on.

Christian Street Preachers Convicted for Quoting the Bible in U.K.

Two Christian street preachers have been convicted of religiously aggravated harassment after quoting from the King James Bible when asked questions about Islam and homosexuality by hecklers. The prosecution claimed that in the context of modern society this “must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.” After the trial their solicitor, Michael Phillips said: This prosecution is nothing more than a modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the public order act.” A Barnabas Fund staff member who acted as an expert witness for the defense affirmed that what the men said was an orthodox biblical understanding of the Christian faith as it has been historically understood. Both the conviction and the claims made by the CPS prosecutor raise considerable concerns about the UK’s longstanding constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

  • This is a harbinger of Christian persecution to come in the U.S. where even speaking Biblical truths will be labeled hate crimes.

European Union Threatens Visa War with U.S.

In what has been called a “visa war,” the European Union’s parliament on Thursday called on the bloc to force American tourists visiting Europe to first obtain visas because the U.S. excludes five EU countries from its no-visa policy. The Wall Street Journal reported that the request is unlikely to change policy, but reflects “hostility among some European politicians to the Trump administration.” U.S. citizens can travel to all EU countries without visas but the U.S. hasn’t granted visa-free travel to citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. The legislature urged the European Commission to act within two months. The Commission has cautioned that suspending the visa waiver for Americans would also hurt trade, tourism and the European economy.

Muslims Unite to Help Fix Vandalized Jewish Cemeteries

Once again, dozens of Jewish headstones have been vandalized, stoking fears of heightened anti-Semitism. And once again, members of the Muslim community are rallying to help. The latest spate of destruction came over the weekend at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, where 75 to 100 tombstones were toppled over. A week earlier, at least 170 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi, who had started a fund-raising campaign to help clean up the St. Louis cemetery, sprung to action again after the Philadelphia attack. “We must stand together against these acts of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia,” he wrote. As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had raised $138,000 — nearly seven times the original goal of $20,000.

Pro-Life Activists Begin 40 Days for Life Outreach

Roughly two dozen pro-life activists, students and clergy held a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood facility in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, kicking off an international campaign to hold around-the-clock outreach efforts outside abortion clinics during the season of Lent. In its 11th year, 40 Days for Life estimates that it has saved more than 12,000 lives by peaceably assembling outside abortion clinics and ministering to patients and employees as they come and go. The biannual campaign has teams in 340 locations in 40 different countries this year.

Thousands of Virginia Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

When Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall asked the state’s 133 local governments to provide numbers on noncitizens and jury pools, Loudoun County produced some alarming figures. Between 2009 and 2014, the Washington, D.C., exurb of more than 350,000 residents had disqualified more than 9,000 of them for jury duty because they were not U.S. citizens, reports the Washington Times. Loudoun County jury pools come from two sources — voter registration lists and Department of Motor Vehicle driver’s license applications. The county’s 9,000 juror disqualifications mean that a potentially significant number of noncitizens vote illegally in Virginia.

Colon/Rectal Cancer Rate Rising for those Under 55

Colon and rectal cancer rates are rising sharply for Americans under age 55, according to a study published Wednesday. Someone born in 1990 has twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Because routine screening is generally not recommended for most people under 50, these cancers are often found in more advanced stages. The surge of younger diagnoses contrasts with the overall trend of colorectal cancer, which has been dropping for several decades. The data looked at nearly 500,000 cases of colorectal cancer from 1974 to 2013, but the reasons behind the increase was not discovered.

Pension Funds Drying Up

The New York Teamsters Road Carriers Local 707 Pension Fund reportedly has officially run out of money as the federal insurance company has taken over payments to retirees at a reduced rate. As it has with 70 other bankrupt union pensions, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. stepped in. However, under the maximum benefits provided by the PBGC, many former Teamsters said their monthly retirement checks have been slashed by two-thirds.  Sadly, the (PBGC) itself is also running out of cash funds to cover union pensions, its director said Wednesday. PBGC has $2 billion in assets built up over 42 years, Reeder said. Last year, when PBGC was supporting 65 bankrupt plans, it paid out $113 million a month. PBGC is projected to run out of money in eight to 10 years. Many union pension plans are projected to run out in 20 years. The federal agency’s limited liquidity “is part of the spiraling U.S. pension crisis that threatens to wipe out the retirement savings of more than a million Americans,” the New York Daily News reported.

  • Underfunded pension liabilities are an increasing problem nationwide, not just for unions but for many municipalities who are being forced to raise taxes to pay the pensions of retirees who are living longer

Manufacturing Back, Good Jobs Not

Manufacturing output is at an all-time high in the U.S., according to one government statistic (others indicate it’s near a record). While manufacturing has roared back, the jobs — especially $30-an-hour jobs — have not. America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Some blame robots and machines for replacing humans; others say the jobs went to Mexico, China and beyond. Many think trade deals like NAFTA have caused manufacturing jobs to disappear and wages to go down. NAFTA, the deal with Mexico and Canada that allows goods from those countries to come into the U.S. tax free, went into effect in January 1994. U.S. manufacturing actually did well for much of the 1990s. But it’s been a different story since 2000, the tipping point when manufacturing jobs began to disappear rapidly. The Detroit auto industry is booming and unemployment in Michigan has been 5% or less for the past year. It’s the lowest level since 2001. But workers say there’s one big problem: A lot of the jobs around now don’t pay well. There were 103,000 American UAW workers employed by Ford in 1994, the year NAFTA took effect, according to a UAW spokesman. Now there are just 56,000.

Economic News

Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said Friday that the Fed was likely to raise its benchmark interest rate this month, barring any unpleasant economic surprises. Fed officials put investors on notice that a rate increase was coming sooner than had been widely expected.

American banks raked in record profits last year as they continue to rebound from the meltdown of 2008. FDIC statistics published this week show that loan growth was strong and the number of “problem banks” fell to a seven-year low. Banks made $171.3 billion in profits last year, while the percentage of banks suffering losses dipped to 8.1%.

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post. The EPA’s annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion, just one of anticipated cuts need to pay for the $54 billion expansion in defense spending in Trump’s budget proposal.

AT&T has agreed to bring 3,000 outsourced jobs home to the U.S. The union that represents AT&T workers, the Communications Workers of America, said Thursday that it’s reached a tentative agreement with AT&T Southwest — a regional landline arm of the company — that includes a commitment to hire American workers to do jobs that were previously done by contractors overseas.

President Trump talked up his plans to help American coal and steel workers in his address to Congress. Meanwhile, China is planning to cut half a million jobs in heavy industries this year. That’s on top of 726,000 jobs that were axed in the coal and steel industries last year. It’s all part of a plan announced a year ago to shed 1.8 million coal and steel jobs over a period of years as China tries to reduce excess capacity in industries dominated by bloated and inefficient state-owned enterprises. The government is spending billions of dollars to help redeploy workers who are affected. In stark contrast, Trump believes America needs more steel and coal jobs.

One of Mexico’s biggest corporations says it’s willing to provide the cement for President Trump’s proposed border wall. Cemex, one of the world’s largest providers of building materials, said Wednesday that it would provide building materials for a border wall — if a client asks for it. If Cemex does get involved, that could test Trump’s promise to “buy American, hire American,” notes CNN Money.

Persecution Watch

According to a new report from US-based NGO Freedom House, persecution of Chinese Christians and other faith groups has “intensified” in recent years. “Combining both violent and nonviolent methods, the (Communist) Party’s policies are designed to curb the rapid growth of religious communities and eliminate certain beliefs and practices,” the report said. Its release comes amid hot speculation over whether the Vatican and Beijing will strike a potentially historic deal on the ordination of Chinese bishops, ending decades of frosty ties. Since President Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, Freedom House said, the scale of religious oppression has increased at all levels of society. Religious practice in China is tightly controlled by the government, with the five recognized faiths — Chinese Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism — supervised by official organizations such as the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Buddhist Association of China.

A German man was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines after a deadline to pay his ransom passed. Philippine and German officials confirmed that 70-year-old Jurgen Kantner had been killed after being held for three months by the Islamist militant group. It was the second time Kantner, 70, had been abducted. He was held along with his partner, Sabine Merz, by Somali pirates for nearly two months in 2008. Abu Sayyaf posted a gruesome video of its militants beheading Kantner.

New Orleans’ transgender community is on edge after two transgender women were murdered within 48 hours of each other. Chyna Gibson was gunned down Saturday night, while the second woman was found with multiple stab wounds Monday morning. No arrests have yet been made in the cases. Police Commander Doug Eckert said the two crimes in two days showed an increase in violence against transgender people in the city.

Islamic State

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has admitted defeat in Iraq and ordered militants to either flee or kill themselves in suicide attacks, it has been claimed. The terror mastermind is said to have issued a statement called ‘farewell speech’ which was distributed among ISIS preachers and clerics in parts of Iraq it still controls. According to local media, he urged supporters to run and hide and told ‘non-Arab fighters’ to either return home or blow themselves up with the promise of ’72 women in heaven’.

Lt. Gen. Raid Shakir Jaudat said the militants were increasingly cut off from each other and that their leaders were fleeing the remaining pockets of militant control. Iraqi forces retook the eastern part of Mosul from ISIS a month ago, completing a key phase in the effort to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from the terror group. Jaudat said government artillery was targeting remaining “terrorist dens” in the western half of the city. Islamic State terrorists desperate to save their lives have tried blending in with the growing crowds of innocent men, women and children escaping Mosul.

Some of America’s most critical allies in the fight against ISIS have made a deal to cede territory to Russian and Syrian government troops in northern Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Friday. The Manbij Military Council, a key US ally in Syria, has permitted Russian and Syrian regime forces to take over villages near the town of Manbij. As a result, U.S. military advisers could soon find themselves in close proximity to Syrian and Russian troops. The advisers are currently training local forces in Manbij to combat ISIS in the vicinity, part of the approximate 500-strong contingent of American Special Operations Forces in Syria.

Yemen

For the second consecutive night Friday, US drones and jets continued striking Al Qaeda militants in Yemen, in a sign the Trump administration is ramping up operations as part of a broader campaign against the terrorist group long considered the biggest threat to the United States. The U.S. military conducted over 30 airstrikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula across three provinces in Yemen. According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal, the U.S. military has averaged 30 airstrikes a year since 2012. In only two nights this week, the U.S. military has already the five-year average. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in Yemen numbers slightly more than 3,000 fighters, according to official estimates. U.S. officials say AQAP represents a greater threat to the US homeland than ISIS, because of its history pursuing “non-metallic” bombs which can slip through airport screening.

Pakistan

A Taliban official says a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan the previous day killed a top commander of the militant Haqqani network — the man who in 2014 accompanied U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when he was handed over to U.S. authorities. The Taliban official identified the man as Qari Abdullah, saying he died in the “area of Khost.” Pakistani intelligence officials had earlier said a suspected U.S. strike hit in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan’s Khost, a Haqqani stronghold, killing two militants.

Jordan

Jordan on Saturday executed 15 men convicted in a series of bombings and shooting attacks since 2003 that killed a British tourist, an outspoken critic of Islamic extremism and members of the Jordanian security forces, the government spokesman said. It was the largest round of executions in recent memory, and the first since pro-Western Jordan launched a crackdown on Islamic extremists two years ago, after the killing of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot by the Islamic State group. Jordan is a part of a U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, which holds territory in Syria and Iraq.

Afghanistan

A gun fight reportedly broke out between Afghan security forces and several gunmen in Kabul on Wednesday after an explosion rang out on the western side of the city. The fire fight was near a district police headquarters located near a military training school. At least one person was killed and 35 wounded, The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted three sites in Kabul, according to Al Jazeera.

Earthquakes

Oklahoma and southern Kansas’s earthquake risk is now equal to that of California, with 3 million people at risk from man-induced tremblors, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey forecast released Wednesday. The agency noted that the increase in earthquakes in the region is thought to be the result of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, and the disposal of wastewater deep underground, a byproduct of the oil extraction process. “Injected fluids cause pressure changes that can weaken a fault and therefore bring it closer to failure,” the report notes. Before 2000, there were only about two earthquakes per year of magnitude-2.7 or greater, but that number has jumped to 2,500 in 2014 and 4,000 a year later. The largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma occurred last year near Pawnee, measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale. In November, a 5.0-magnitude temblor shook the town of Cushing, known as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.”

Environment

The rural West has seen more-persistent smog over the last 20 to 25 years, despite laws limiting the emission of smog-forming chemicals from cars, airplanes and factories. A study published March 1 in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics determined that the culprits are an intrusion of pollution from Asia in the western U.S. and more-frequent heat waves in the eastern U.S. Asian countries – China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and India – have collectively tripled their nitrogen-oxide emissions since 1990, and this is traveling across the Pacific Ocean in the spring, when winds are generally out of a westerly direction, and settling into western U.S. Smog, or ground-level ozone, is harmful to human health and can increase the risk of asthma attacks or cause difficulty breathing. Sensitive trees and crops can also be harmed from too much exposure to ozone. Smog-forming chemicals, such as nitrogen oxides, have been cut in half in the U.S. over the past quarter century. This has led to an overall decrease in ozone in the East – though it typically increases during heat waves, which have become more frequent in the past few decades – but ozone levels have actually climbed in the rural West.

Weather

Winter pushed its way back into Northeast Friday, with much colder temperatures that will linger through the weekend. Light snow is possible in a few areas. After a break, another Pacific storm will pile another foot or more of snow in California’s Sierra Nevada and northern Rockies this weekend, adding to what’s been a near-record snowpack for late winter.

Several record highs were tied or broken last week across the country, including Springfield, Missouri (77 degrees), Shreveport, Louisiana (85 degrees), Tyler, Texas (68 degrees), Jacksonville (87 degrees), Tampa (86 degrees), Scranton, Pennsylvania (64 degrees), and Binghamton, New York (58 degrees).

At least four people have died from a severe weather outbreak Tuesday and Wednesday in the Midwest, from Missouri and Illinois to Michigan and Tennessee. Some 30 confirmed tornadoes at least EF3 in strength, have been reported across four states, according to the National Weather Service. Dozens of homes were destroyed. Near Perryville, Missouri, at least a dozen vehicles, including a semi-truck, were blown off Interstate 55 after a tornado was spotted in the area. Buildings and structures in the area were also damaged by winds. A large and dangerous confirmed tornado killed one person in Ottawa, Illinois. In Ottawa, a town of about 19,000 located 80 miles southwest of Chicago, At least 14 people were transported to a local hospital with injuries Minor injuries were also reported at an Ottawa nursing home. In Naplate, Illinois, about one-quarter of all structures in the town of 500 residents were damaged from winds up to 155 mph.

An unusually damp Arizona winter has triggered a temporary salad mix shortage in the nation’s groceries. According to Bloomberg, bags of baby spinach and spring mix largely originate from Yuma County in the winter months. But things are a little different this year. The shortage, which will hit stores in about three weeks, is being blamed on mildew that came from wet weather. As a result, growers were forced to pull vegetables from fields, ending the harvest earlier than usual.

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