Signs of the Times (10/13/17)

Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?… For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25, 32-34)

Thousands of Christians Gathered in D.C. for Prayer and Worship Event

Thousands of Christians from all over the country gathered this past weekend in Washington, D.C. to worship and pray for a “spiritual shift” in America. The event, called America’s Tent of Meeting, brought together some 30,000 at the National Mall. The ATM event was sponsored by Awaken the Dawn. Speakers at the event included Mike Bickle, of the International House of Prayer and Francis Chan, of We Are Church. Attendees prayed in shifts for 24 hours a day until the event ended Monday morning. There were 58 prayer tents— one for each state and eight more regional tents. “I see Awaken the Dawn as part of a bigger story that God is telling,” said Michael Beardslee of Phoenix, Arizona, in an interview with The Christian Post. “With our country and the mess that it’s in and the disunity, I thought ‘Lord Jesus, thank you that somebody got a vision of unity and of what that would look like.'”

Trump Pledges Fealty to Religious Freedom, Traditional Values

President Donald Trump assured a high-profile gathering of Christian conservatives on Friday that his administration will defend religious organizations, promising a return to traditional American values. Trump pledged to turn back the clock in what he described as a nation that has drifted away from its religious roots. He bemoaned the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” as a secular seasonal greeting and vowed to return “Merry Christmas” to the national discourse. He noted, as Christian conservatives often do, that there are four references to the “creator” in the Declaration of Independence, saying that “religious liberty is enshrined” in the nation’s founding documents. “I pledged that in a Trump administration, our nation’s religious heritage would be cherished, protected and defended like you have never seen before,” Trump said. “Above all else in America, we don’t worship government. We worship God.” President Donald Trump defended his pro-life views and actions as president, saying, “To protect the unborn I reinstated a policy first put in place by President Reagan, the Mexico City Policy.” He added, “We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life. We are all made by the same God in heaven.”

AG Sessions: Respect Christian Business Owners’ Rights

While people debate whether a religious business owner should be forced to conduct business in a way he or she does not agree with, the attorney general of the United States believes that Americans too often ignore what the United States Constitution actually says about the issue. During an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Faith Nation, host David Brody asked whether a Christian cake baker has the right not to sell a cake to someone if they’re having a “gay” wedding. “The matter is in litigation, but I would just say to you that too often we have ignored what the Constitution actually says,” Sessions responded to CBN’s Brody. “It says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. So, the question is, the cake baker has more than just a personal view here. He has a religious view and he feels that he is not being able to freely exercise his religion by being required to participate in a ceremony in some fashion that he does not believe in.”

Gay Coffeeshop Owner Kicks Out Christian Group

A pro-life Christian group was told they had to leave a Seattle coffeeshop by the business’s gay owner. The Washington Times reports that members of the pro-life group Abolish Human Abortion came into Seattle’s Bedlam Coffee to order drinks following their time distributing pro-life pamphlets around the community. Once Bedlam’s owner found out that a pro-life Christian group had entered his business, he told them to leave. “I’m gay. You have to leave,” Ben Borgman says in the video of the encounter, posted to Facebook by Abolish Human Abortion. Many who watched the video called out the hypocrisy in our society today between those who approve of this gay coffeeshop owner having the right to kick this pro-life group out of his business and many of the same people who accuse Christian business owners such as bakery owner Jack Phillips of discriminating against gay people when he refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

  • Tolerance only seems to work in one direction both in society and in the courts where it’s okay to be biased against Christianity but not anything else

Judge Upholds Congressional Prayer Despite Atheist Challenge

Congress will continue opening sessions in prayer after a challenge to the tradition by an atheist. A federal court ruled against the lawsuit brought by Daniel Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Barker argued he was denied the opportunity to give an opening invocation in Congress while other guest chaplains were allowed to do so. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said in her decision that House rules didn’t allow Barker to lead the prayer because he had left his faith. Collyer also pointed out opening prayer has been a part of Congress for more than two centuries and it doesn’t conflict with the establishment clause according to the United States Supreme Court. House Speaker Paul Ryan was quick to applaud the decision. “Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated. The court rightfully dismissed the claims of an atheist that he had the right to deliver a secular invocation in place of the opening prayer,” Ryan said.

Trump Refused to Re-Certify Iran Nuclear Agreement

President Trump, who has called the Iran nuclear agreement the “worst deal ever,” has found a way to distance himself from it symbolically without causing an immediate rupture with Iran or U.S. allies who want to keep the accord in place. Trump announced Friday his refusal to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 agreement, which prevents Iran from trying to develop nuclear weapons for at least a decade in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. But Trump will not ask Congress to re-impose sanctions right away, a move that could prompt Iran to back out of the deal and resume its nuclear development program —much to the dismay of other world powers who signed onto the deal along with the U.S. Congress requires the president to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement every three months. Despite Trump’s refusal to do so this time, there are many reasons why Congress may be unwilling to take punitive action against Iran on its own. For one thing, U.N. inspectors say Iran is in compliance, and there may be little appetite for a new crisis involving nuclear weapons on top of the mounting tensions with North Korea’ over its nuclear program. In addition, the deal has strong support among businesses eager to sign deals with oil-rich Iran. Boeing has a $3 billion contract to provide commercial aircraft.

Iran’s Nuclear Program Not Halted Says New Report

President Donald Trump is expected this week to “decertify” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known simply as the Iran deal, declaring that the agreement reached in 2015 by the U.S. and five other international powers is not in America’s national interest. The matter will then be tossed back to Congress, which will have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose hefty pre-2015 sanctions. While the President’s likely move has generated wide condemnation from foreign policy leaders — who reiterate that the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has maintained Iran is in compliance — a new 52-page investigative report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), entitled: “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” asserts that the country’s nuclear weapons program has far from halted. “It has been known for years that Iran has two nuclear programs — one is civilian and the other, the military, has the goal of giving Iran its first nuclear bomb,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the Washington office of the NCRI. “The civilian sector of the nuclear program has systematically provided a plausible logistical cover for the military sector, and acts as a conduit for it. The military aspect of the program has been and remains at the heart of Iran’s nuclear activities.”

German intelligence agencies have warned German companies that Iran is still trying to circumvent restrictions on the sale of dual-use items for its rocket and missile technology program, according to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday. The BfV domestic intelligence agency reminded German firms in the document that sales of certain technologies remained illegal despite sanctions relief triggered by the landmark Iran nuclear deal of 2015. “It is important to note that Iran continues to pursue an ambitious rocket and missile technology program which is not affected by the sanctions relief,” the document said.

Trump Issues Executive Order on Health Care

The White House announced Thursday that President Trump has taken executive action on health care as Congress stalls on efforts to overhaul ObamaCare, calling for a plan that could let employers band together and offer coverage across state lines. The executive order aims to offer “alternatives” to ObamaCare plans and increase competition in order to bring down costs. According to officials, Trump will direct the secretary of labor to consider expanding access to Association Health Plans, which could allow employers to form groups across state lines offering coverage. The order also calls on other federal agencies to consider expanding coverage in less-regulated, low-cost, short-term insurance plans not subject to ObamaCare rules. The move comes after congressional Republicans repeatedly have been unable to pass legislation repealing or reforming the Affordable Care Act, which critics say has led to rising premiums and diminishing coverage options – in some cases forcing consumers to lose their previous plans and doctors. Trump’s executive order could clear the way for cheaper, more bare-bones insurance policies. The president, though, used the overnight decision to up pressure on Democrats to negotiate a “fix” to the “imploding” health care law.

Trump Plans to Immediately Halt Payment of Subsidies to Insurers

President Trump announced plans Friday to halt essential payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act “immediately,” in a major blow to ObamaCare that is likely to draw a legal challenge. The White House said in a statement that the Department of Health and Human Services has determined there is no appropriation for so-called cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers under the ObamaCare law. Trump’s decision was expected to rattle already-unsteady insurance marketplaces. The president has previously threatened to end the payments, which help reduce health insurance copays and deductibles for people with modest incomes, but remain under a legal cloud. The Justice Department took swift action, notifying a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., in connection with a related lawsuit that an upcoming Oct. 18 payment “will not occur.” The decision is the latest effort in the president’s bid to ultimately “repeal and replace” what’s considered the signature legislation of his White House predecessor.

DOJ Issues ‘Last Chance’ Warning to Sanctuary Cities

The Justice Department on Thursday delivered a “last chance” warning to cities suspected of having “sanctuary” policies to drop their resistance to federal immigration officials. The DOJ announced that five jurisdictions “have preliminarily been found to have laws, policies, or practices that may violate” a key federal statute concerning cooperation with federal immigration officials. They are: Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Cook County, Ill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a written statement that sanctuary cities “adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law.” Sessions earlier this year said any cities and counties out of compliance could lose certain federal grant money. However, a federal judge in September blocked Sessions from withholding those grants for now, while a Chicago lawsuit against the department plays out in the courts.

U.S. to Pull Out of UNESCO

The Trump administration said Thursday it is pulling out of UNESCO, citing concerns over financial issues and an “anti-Israel bias” among other problems at the cultural organization. The withdrawal will take place at the end of next year, according to a State Department statement. “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” according to the statement. The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011. UNESCO’s World Heritage program protects cultural sites and traditions around the world, according to the AP. The agency also works to improve education for girls in desperately poor countries and in scientific fields, to promote better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and to defend media freedom, among other activities, the AP said.

Puerto Rico Still Struggling After 3 Weeks

More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, more than 80 percent of the island is still without power. Just 63 percent of the island’s residents have access to clean drinking water, and only 60 percent of wastewater treatment plants are operating, according to FEMA. Organizations and charities on the U.S. mainland trying to send supplies to the island are facing a series of bottlenecks that are keeping help from reaching those most in need. The barriers range from a lack of communication to blocked roads to a shortage of vehicles and drivers to make deliveries. Tangled power lines across roads, washed out bridges and highways and knocked out cellphone towers and radio antennas across the island add to the difficulty. The backlog is impeding the delivery goods and equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, such as food and bottled water, bucket trucks, front-end loaders and 275,000 gallons of diesel and 75,000 gallons of gasoline.

Unanswered Questions in Las Vegas Massacre

Jesus Campos, the Mandalay Bay security guard shot by Stephen Paddock in the moments leading up to the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, was set to break his silence Thursday night with five television interviews. But, when the cameras were about to roll, and media gathered in the building to talk to him, Campos reportedly bolted, and, as of early Friday morning, it wasn’t immediately clear where he was. New discrepancies about the timeline of the attack — for which Las Vegas Police and MGM Resorts have given conflicting accounts – doesn’t dispute Campos is still a hero for saving a maintenance worker and possibly stopping additional shots. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Paddock fired about 200 bullets from his room at the resort starting at 9:59 p.m. on Oct. 1 — the volley in which Campos was hit — and then began opening fire on the music festival crowd six minutes later. Police had earlier said the opposite – that Campos was struck after Paddock started firing out the window.

Economic News

The International Monetary Fund upgraded its estimate for the pace of global economic growth in 2017 and next year, citing stronger growth in the first half of the year in the eurozone, Japan, and some emerging markets. Globally, the IMF upped its growth forecast to 3.6% in 2017 and 3.7% in 2018, which were both 0.1% higher than projections back in July. Global growth in 2016 was 3.2%. In July, the IMF lowered its forecast for U.S. growth to 2.1% for 2017 and 2018, down from earlier projections of 2.3% and 2.5%.

The United States in 2015 collected $14,794 per capita in tax revenue, according to data from the OECD, which is a group of 34 democracies with market economies. That’s well below what many other OECD members collected. Luxembourg took the top spot, with $42,655 collected per person. Norway came in second, collecting $30,140. As a share of the economy, the U.S. collected 26.4% of its gross domestic product in total revenue, well below the 34.3% OECD average. By that measure, Denmark takes the top spot at 46.6%. However, the top U.S. corporate rate is 35%. When combined with state and local business taxes, it’s just over 39% on average. That’s higher than the average rates of countries in the OECD. It’s also higher than that of the 15 largest economies in the world, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Social Security recipients will get a 2% increase in benefits in 2018, which is slightly lower than projected this summer but up sharply from the past two years. The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) covers more than 61 million Social Security beneficiaries and more than 8 million recipients of Supplemental Security Income benefits. Some people get both. The average person will get about $25 more per month. The rate of the increase is tied to the Consumer Price Index. The Social Security Board of Trustees had projected in July that this year’s increase would be 2.2%. While it fell short of that amount, it came after an increase of 0.3% for 2017 and no change in 2016.

Middle East

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas announced a deal Thursday that could end a decade long rift. The agreement between moderate Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, also could help relieve mass suffering in Gaza and reduce chances of another war with Israel, officials say. Under the terms of the agreement, announced in Cairo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could resume governing Gaza a decade after Hamas overran the territory. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist group. Egyptian-led talks between Fatah and Hamas have been taking place since September. The two Palestinian parties — the secular, internationally-recognized Fatah and the Islamist, militant Hamas — have been at odds since Hamas swept the 2006 Gaza elections and engaged in violent street battles, ultimately ousting Palestinian Authority officials from the enclave.

Islamic State

Islamic State suicide attackers killed at least 50 people in a triple car bomb attack on Thursday among a group of refugees in northeast Syria, a medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said.  A large number of people were also injured by the three car bombs set off by the attackers, the source said. The attack took place at Abu Fas, near the border of Deir al-Zor and Hasaka provinces, said a war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The U.S. military is ramping up operations and bombing raids against the Islamic State in Libya, where the terrorist group’s fighters have increasingly found refuge as their territorial base shrinks in Syria and Iraq. U.S.-backed militias largely crushed the Islamic State’s Libya operation in late 2015, but signs that the group is gaining a new foothold in the North African nation began emerging last month. Images of Islamic State fighters moving through the vast deserts around their former stronghold in Libya’s northern coastal city of Sirte circulated through the terrorist group’s social media and online propaganda sites in mid-September. Libya is seen as a promising base for the terrorist group because a deep factional split has prevented the creation of a functioning national government in Tripoli since the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. While the Trump administration has publicly resisted a major U.S. military role in Libya, the Pentagon wasted little time responding to the flurry of Islamic State activity there. On Sept. 22, military officials announced that American fighter jets had been dispatched to pound an Islamic State encampment roughly 150 miles south of Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown.

Afghanistan

An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children who were kidnapped by a Taliban-affiliated group in Afghanistan five years ago have been freed, U.S. and Pakistani authorities said Thursday. The Pakistani army said its soldiers recovered the family in an operation based on U.S. intelligence. Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle were abducted in 2012 while traveling in Afghanistan and were held captive by the Haqqani network. Coleman, 32, from Stewartstown, Pa., was seven months pregnant when she was captured after travelling to Afghanistan via Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Fox News reported. The couple had three children while in captivity. It is believed the family’s captors are holding two other American hostages: Kevin King, an university professor who taught in Kabul and was captured in August 2016, and Paul Overby, a Massachusetts writer, who vanished in May 2014. The news of the release comes a month after President Trump announced a new strategy to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the Taliban and other militant groups would no longer find safe haven in Pakistan.

Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suspended his controversial war on drugs this week, ending a bloody campaign that claimed thousands of lives and brought international condemnation. “This is better for the bleeding hearts and the media,” Duterte said in a speech Thursday. Duterte ordered the country’s police to disband anti-drug units and cease Operation Double Barrel, a campaign that targeted high-level dealers and street pushers. The crackdown resulted in almost 3,900 deaths, according to official police figures. However, rights groups and critics claim that thousands more have been killed in vigilante campaigns and extra-judicial killings. The moves comes amid a public outcry over the brutal police killings of three teenagers. It comes also a few weeks before the Philippines will face international scrutiny as the Southeast Asian country hosts the regional ASEAN economic summit Nov. 10-11. A delegation of European lawmakers held a press conference in Manila on Monday to condemn the drug killings. Duterte threatened to expel European ambassadors who have been critical of his drugs war tactics.

Volcanoes

Scientists working in and around Yellowstone National Park say that the supervolcano sitting under the tourist attraction may blow sooner than thought, an eruption that could potentially wipe out all life on the planet. Until now, the magazine reported, geologists had thought it would take centuries for the supervolcano to make the transition back to a more active state since its last eruption. According to National Geographic, researchers, from Arizona State University The discovery, which was presented at a recent volcanology conference, comes on top of a 2011 study that found that ground above the magma reservoir in Yellowstone had bulged by about 10 inches in seven years. analyzed minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent mega-eruption and found changes in temperature and composition that had only taken a few decades. About 630,000 years ago, National Geographic reported, a powerful eruption shook the region and created the Yellowstone caldera, a bowl 40-miles wide that forms much of the park. A previous eruption occurred 1.3 million years ago, — meaning that the system might be ready for another explosion. The researchers have determined that the supervolcano has the ability to spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash — 2,500 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980 — an event that could blanket most of the United States in ash and possibly plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter.

Wildfires

More than 140,000 acres are burning in large, wildland fires throughout California. The wildfires exploded Wednesday, fueled by the return of strong winds, as authorities issued new evacuation orders and the death toll rose to 31 – a number officials believe is bound to grow. The series of 22 fires is already the worst in California history, and authorities say the situation is going to continue to get worse before it gets better. Firefighters will be struggling with windy conditions through the weekend. The fires have destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses. The blazes have left at least 180 people injured with nearly 400 still missing. More than 4,400 people are staying in shelters. At least six wineries have been destroyed. In just the past two days, fires in California’s wine country have produced as much small particulate air pollution as all the vehicles in the state produce in a year. The wildfires are also burning up marijuana farms in the so-called Emerald Triangle right before legal recreational sales were slated to begin in California.

Weather

Summerlike warmth is expected to continue in parts of the Midwest, South and East over the next one to two weeks, making many residents of these regions wonder if it’s October or August. The weather pattern that has persisted to some extent since mid-September is forecast to remain in place through at least mid-October, possibly into the end of the month. This consists of a large bulge in the jet stream, or upper-level ridge of high pressure, across the eastern U.S., allowing warmth to build and persist.

Hurricane Ophelia may strengthen into Friday and remains no threat to the United States, but could potentially brush parts of the Azores this weekend. From there, Ophelia may head for the Irish Coast. Ophelia is the 10th consecutive Atlantic named storm to become a hurricane in 2017. This ties the record for the most consecutive Atlantic named storms reaching hurricane strength.

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