Signs of the Times

As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:36-37)

Persecution Watch

Parents in Orange County, California may not opt their children out of lessons related to gender identity or sexual orientation, according to a memorandum written by the school district’s general counsel. “Parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction,” read the memorandum from Ronald Wenkart to the Orange County Board of Education. “However, parents are free to advise their children that they disagree with some or all of the information presented in the instructional program and express their views on these subjects to their children,” the attorney wrote.  The legislation requires school districts to provide students with comprehensive sexual health education. The law mandates that schools “teach about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes. The courts have held that parents do not have the constitutional rights to override the determinations of the state legislature or the school district as to what information their children will be provided in the public-school classroom.”

  • What this implicitly means is that the state had more rights over children than their parents, a chilling foreboding that is yet another step down the end-time path of ungodly secular dominance

Concordia Publishing House has been in business since 1869 as the official publishing arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod denomination but is now banned by Google AdWords. Apparently, the Christian content of its website, particularly an ad for an upcoming Vacation Bible School, is too much for Google AdWords, the online advertising service. Concordia CEO Bruce Kintz said in a Facebook post Monday, will no longer do business “because of the faith we express on our website.” Kintz said one of his associates was told by Google AdWords, as an example, that the “Bible challenge” on the publishers Vacation Bible School Web page “would clearly need to come down before they could consider us for ads.”

PragerU is a conservative educational non-profit that reaches millions of young people on the internet every day. YouTube has chosen repeatedly to restrict and/or demonetize over 40 PragerU videos for violating their “Community Guidelines.” Those guidelines are meant to protect users against viewing sexual, violent, or graphic content. The PragerU videos contain nothing remotely close to any of these categories. And yet, YouTube has restricted videos on topics ranging from religion to the history of the Iraq War to free speech on college campuses. PragerU is currently fighting for freedom of speech through a lawsuit against YouTube for its systematic censorship of their videos.

A picture posted on Facebook by a California journalist of a group of high schoolers has sparked unexpected controversy among social media users. The picture shows prom-ready high schoolers praying before a meal. The picture and the positive remarks about the praying teens drew some highly negative and judgmental comments from Facebook users. Many of the commenters attacked the implied Christianity of the students in the photo. Some used the photo and the journalist’s praise of the students as a platform to complain about the arrogance and pushiness of Christians. “This story is another example of how easily even the appearance of Christianity attracts hostility—especially hostility from groups that would likely consider themselves welcoming of diverse viewpoints,” notes ChristianHeadlines.com.

GQ Magazine is under fire for publishing an article titled “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read,” which list included the Bible. The editors claim that the Bible “is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” Relevant Magazine writer Jesse Carey noted that, regardless if someone is a Christian or not, suggesting we stop reading the Bible shows a lack of understanding of how “The Bible has helped shape western philosophy and provided the basis for many of modern history’s most pivotal moments.”

  • Persecution of all things Christian will only increase as we move deeper into the end-times (Revelation 13:5-7)

North/South Korean Leaders Vow to Denuclearize

The leaders of North and South Korea vowed Friday to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and start a “new era of peace,” after a summit that saw Kim Jong Un become the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended in 1953. Kim and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said they had “sincere, candid” talks and would do everything in their power to denuclearize the region. Kim pledged to dismantle the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, in the north of his country in May. The two Koreas also said they hoped to declare an official conclusion to their decades-long war by the end of this year. North and South Korea are still technically at war, as an armistice was signed that stopped the fighting, but not a peace treaty. The two sides said they would transform the Demilitarized Zone that has separated them since 1953 into a “peace zone” and would end provocative acts such as propaganda loudspeakers along the military demarcation line. They also pledged to improve inter-Korean ties and “reconnect the blood relations of the people” through steps such as economic cooperation and restarting a stalled family reunion program that will allow separated families to meet again. The reunions will start again on August 15.

Israel Presents Concrete Evidence of Iranian Lies About Nuclear Intentions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed Iran’s big lie for all the world to see—the one their leaders have meticulously spread for years: that they are not interested in producing a nuclear arsenal—that it goes against their moral, ethical and religious beliefs, reports Breaking Christian News. Speaking from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv Monday, Netanyahu said the half ton of material Israel has in its possession proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran lied “big time.” The presentation included video clips, graphics, charts, photos and blueprints, all proving that Iranian leaders lied about their nuclear ambitions, which culminated in the nuclear deal signed with world powers in July 2015. The prime minister went into some detail about Project Amad. “We can now prove that project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” he said. “We can also prove that Iran is secretly storing project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

Federal Judge Orders Restart of DACA

A Republican-appointed federal judge delivered another blow to President Trump’s attempt to roll back the Obama-era DACA program, ruling Tuesday that last year’s revocation was illegal and the entire program would have to be restarted. That goes beyond other judges, who had also ruled the phaseout illegal but had only ordered Homeland Security to accept renewal applications from people who’d already been awarded DACA before. Judge John D. Bates’s ruling would require a full restart, meaning even illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who’d never been approved before would now be able to apply for DACA. The judge imposed a 90-day delay on his own ruling to give the government a chance to reargue its case, but for now the ruling stands as the most severe blow yet to Mr. Trump’s phaseout. Judge Bates said the government never gave an adequate justification for revoking DACA, so its decision seemed “arbitrary and capricious” — which makes it illegal under the Administrative Procedures Act.

House Panel’s Russia Report Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Collusion

The House Intelligence Committee on Friday declared that it found “no evidence” of collusion between the Russian government and Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, releasing a heavily redacted final report on its yearlong Russia investigation. The Republican-authored report — released over Democratic objections — stated the committee “found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.” The committee did, however, “find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns.” The more than 250-page report was heavily blacked out, however, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the leader of the committee investigation, slammed the intelligence community for their “overzealous redactions.” Many of the redactions include information that is publicly available, such as witness names and information previously declassified,” Conaway complained. The report also accuses the intelligence community of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings,” suggesting that Russia’s main goal was to sow discord in the United States and not to help Trump win the election. The top committee Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., blasted Republicans last month for “prematurely” shutting down the panel’s Russia probe and renewed that criticism on Friday.

Social Media’s Negligence Continuing to Enable Terrorism

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter continue to provide a platform to extremism, from ISIS-related videos to white nationalism. Even though this content clearly violates these companies’ Terms of Service and Community Guidelines, too little is being done to permanently remove it from their platforms. During a six-week period, from March 8 until April 18, 2018, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) found no less than 853 ISIS-related videos on YouTube, which garnered a total of 99,361 views. 221 or 26% of those videos remained online for more than 2 hours and no less than 84% was uploaded more than once. On March 10, 2018, a video titled “Hunt Them O, Monotheist” was uploaded to YouTube, calling for firearm and vehicular attacks in Western Europe. The video was originally uploaded by a Somali ISIS-affiliate on December 25, 2017. On March 10, it was available for 1 day 5 hours and 3 minutes before it was removed – amassing 405 views. The following day, the same video was re-uploaded and stayed online for 1 day 15 hours and 29 minutes –In the following days and weeks, the video was re-uploaded six more times, garnering hundreds of extra views. And this isn’t just an isolated incident, according to CEP.

Driver Kills 10, Wounds 15 in Canada

Alek Minassian, 25, used a rented Ryder truck to mow down pedestrians along Toronto’s iconic Yonge Street, leaving10 people dead and 15 seriously injured. The suspect was charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Minassian turned to a blunt killing method that Islamic State group, or ISIS, terror suspects have employed repeatedly in recent years. ISIS backers have used trucks or vans to carry out mass casualty attacks on Bastille Day revelers on a crowded promenade in Nice, France; shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin; a popular tourist area in Barcelona; on London Bridge in the United Kingdom; and on a busy bike path in New York. In 2015, a Somali refugee carried out a similar attack in the Canadian city of Edmonton using a rented U-Haul truck.

Finland’s Basic Income Program Failed

Finland’s basic income program that drew international attention was a failure, the Finnish government announced Tuesday. The pilot program that paid about 2,000 randomly-chosen unemployed Finnish people a monthly check of €560 ($685) will be shut down by the end of the year, the BBC reported. The program, which started January 2017, was the first of its kind in Europe. The government hoped the extra money would fuel the economy, but that failed to materialize. The unemployment rate in Finland exceeds 8%. By comparison, the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 4.1%. A study published in February by the think tank Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said the country’s income tax must increase by almost 30% to fund basic income.

Economic News

The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.3%, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists had projected 2% growth. The economy grew at a healthy 2.9% pace in the fourth quarter and more than 3% in the final nine months of 2017 on the back of a free-spending consumer and a surge in business investment. “The economy is in fine shape,” says Gus Faucher, chief economist of PNC Financial Services Group. “We will see stronger growth the rest of 2018.” President Trump has promised to deliver at least 3% growth on a sustained basis, up from a 2.2% average during the nine-year-old economic expansion.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which helps set rates for auto loans, mortgages and other lending, climbed to 3% on Tuesday for the first time since 2014. For Americans, that means borrowing costs are on the way up. For Wall Street, it’s a warning that higher interest rates may eat into corporate profits and that faster inflation is coming — both of which could eventually hurt the economy. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term interest rates at least twice more this year and three times in 2019, in an effort to tap the economy’s brakes. That will probably lead to even higher rates on longer-term Treasuries. In another potential warning sign in the bond market, short-term rates have also been rising. The difference in yields between short-term bonds and the 10-year note is narrowing, a phenomenon known as a flattening yield curve. If short-term rates move higher than long-term rates, that creates something known as an inverted yield curve — and that has often happened just ahead of recessions.

It’s getting increasingly difficult in the U.S. to be a home buyer. Home prices are up 6.7% from their peak in July 2006, and have been rising continuously for the past 70 months. Home buyers in Seattle, Las Vegas and San Francisco are facing the biggest gains. Seattle prices rose the most with a 12.7% year-over-year price increase, while Las Vegas prices jumped 11.6%. Low housing supply has been pushing up prices as demand surges. With a flourishing labor market, steady economic growth and wages finally starting to rise, home prices aren’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Mortgage rates have also started to creep up, which adds even more pressure to the affordability problem that many homeowners face.

Ford Motor’s announcement that it is killing almost all of its traditional car models is dramatic proof that sedans have lost their luster for U.S. automakers and drivers. Ford’s rival, General Motors, isn’t ready to call for last rites. “Although passenger car segments have declined over the last number of years, they’re still very important,” said Chuck Stevens, GM’s chief financial officer. “The compact crossover segment globally is the biggest, and then it’s compact cars.” Ford’s plan, announced Wednesday, is for the U.S. to stop selling the Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta and C-Max, leaving only the Mustang. Ford’s Focus will become a beefy five-door hatchback that looks like a crossover, the Focus Active.

Middle East

The death toll following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in several locations along the Israel-Gaza fence Friday rose to 10. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 700 people were hurt in the clashes that saw Israeli soldiers firing live fire, rubber-coated steel pellets or tear gas. Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinians participated in the clashes and the Israeli military said some of those protesters rolled burning tires and threw stones at forces stationed at the border. Israel said troops opened fire at the “main instigators.” On Friday, mosques across Gaza called on Palestinians to join the protests. Buses took protesters to the border area, and, by noon, thousands had arrived at the encampments.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly has a message for Palestinian leadership: “agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.” The blunt comment from the next-in-line to the Saudi throne, made during a meeting with Jewish organizations in New York in March, comes as the Trump administration works to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given,” the crown prince said. Bin Salman was also quoted as saying the Palestinian issue is not at the top of the Saudi government’s list of concerns, and the Gulf state “has much more urgent and important issues to deal with,” such as Iran’s growing influence in the region.

Syria

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, missile strikes hit two military targets in Aleppo and Hama provinces late Sunday. The overnight missile attack struck weapons storage bases in Syria, destroying some 200 surface-to-surface rockets, a regional official told The New York Times Monday. The official said the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians.

Islamic State commanders fleeing Syria are conspiring with extremist groups in Africa to foment a new migration wave destined for Europe, the head of the UN World Food Program said. David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, said Europe needed to wake up to the extremists’ strategy in the Sahel region. Those forced out of Syria were uniting with local terrorist groups to use as a vehicle to push millions of Muslim Africans towards Europe, he said.

Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the Middle East on his first international trip since being confirmed by the Senate last week, accused Iran of “behaving worse” since signing the 2015 nuclear deal President Trump has repeatedly threatened to tear up. Pompeo hammered away with the administration’s recurring theme: Iran destabilizes the Middle East by supporting terrorist groups, ruthless Houthi rebels in Yemen and the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region — and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East,” Pompeo said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. “The United States is with Israel in this fight.” Israel has never supported the deal between Iran and the West that eased sanctions against the Shiite nation in return for Iran’s pledge to halt nuclear weapon development. Trump has said he will decide in the next two weeks whether the U.S. will pull out of the deal. Iranian media gave conflicting reports about the overnight incident amid speculation that the attack was carried out by neighboring Israel. Regional officials said that Tehran can be expected to hit back at Israel for the bombing.

Turkey

A Turkish court sentenced staff members of the country’s leading opposition newspaper to lengthy prison terms on Wednesday on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. The high-profile trial, criticized as unfair by rights groups and supporters of the newspaper, was seen as a bellwether for thousands of political prisoners swept up in a crackdown on dissent following Turkey’s failed 2016 military coup. Fourteen staff members of Cumhuriyet, a secular, nationalist newspaper, were found guilty on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. Prosecutors alleged the staff had supported terrorist groups, including both the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an outlawed Kurdish militant group, and the conservative movement led by Fetullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric who Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement with the failed coup.

Nigeria

Gunmen opened fire during a Nigerian church service last Tuesday, killing at least 19, including two priests. State police told CNN the attackers were most likely Fulani herdsmen who continued their crusade by burning down 50 homes. “They attacked the venue of a burial ceremony and also attacked the church where the two reverend fathers were holding mass,” police commissioner Fatai Owoseni says. “We were able to recover 16 bodies from the scene of the attack and those of the two priests.” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted, “This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.” U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet with Buhari this week.

China

A man has killed at least seven children and injured at least 12 others at a middle school in northern China, according to local officials. The deadly rampage is the latest in a string of knife attacks against school children to happen in the country in recent years. A local newspaper reported that the students were stabbed on their way home from school. Previously, a man stabbed and wounded 11 children with a kitchen knife at a kindergarten in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang region in January 2017. In February 2016, another man wounded 10 children with a knife on the southern island province of Hainan before he committed suicide.

Environment

Researchers have found an alarming amount of plastic particles deep in the ice of the Arctic Ocean. Ice samples from five regions across the Arctic Ocean contained up to 12,000 of microplastic particles per liter of sea ice, researchers say. More than half the particles trapped in the ice were less than 1/500th of an inch wide — less than one-tenth the thickness of a credit card. The study raises concerns about the impact on human and sea life say researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute of the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research. “They could easily be ingested by arctic microorganisms,” said biologist and report author Ilka Peeken. “No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

An explosion at a Wisconsin oil refinery chased residents from their homes on Thursday, and now, pollution experts say there were probably all kinds of toxins in the smoke that blew downwind. Although the fire was put out by Thursday evening, officials ordered an evacuation of a wide area around the Husky Energy refinery to reduce the public’s exposure to the plume. The asphalt fire sent chemicals into the air in gaseous form, and those tiny particles can stick around long after the smoke has dissipated. This includes volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause dizziness, breathing problems and nausea. In more extreme cases, liver damage and cancer can occur if the exposure is more prolonged and extreme. Also present in asphalt smoke are microscopic particles of chemicals that stick together as visible smoke. Those particles carry cancer-causing benzene and other contaminants that can lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled.

Several sinkholes opened up in the central Florida town of Ocala Wednesday and Thursday, and some residents had to be evacuated from eight townhouses. Officials were testing the ground and said they wouldn’t lift evacuations until it was determined that residents were safe to return. “There was at least four to five of them that happened,” resident Shannon Cole told ClickOrlando.com, describing what he heard while the sinkholes formed. “It sounded like a bomb going off. It was very loud.”

Flooding and storm surge from last year’s spate of hurricanes not only displaced thousands of people, it also relocated hundreds of invasive aquatic species to new locations. In response, the U.S. Geological Survey spent the past six months creating new “flood and storm tracker” maps to help biologists monitor where the more than 200 non-native aquatic species, including alligators and snails, may be setting up new residence after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. The maps indicate where lakes, rivers, streams and other waterways merged during the storms, which may have offered aquatic species the opportunity to spread.

Volcanoes

Volcanic eruptions on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island have forced officials to order a mass evacuation, and weather conditions haven’t cooperated in recent days. The archipelago nation east of Australia is attempting to evacuate all 11,000 people who live on Ambae Island to nearby Santo Island because of ongoing eruptions at the Manaro volcano. A state of emergency was declared and many people began having respiratory problems as the smoke and ash from the eruption filled the air. Evacuations were even more difficult because of heavy rain that triggered flooding and mudslides. Santo Island officials agreed to house the evacuees after a reconciliation ceremony last Thursday; Ambae Island evacuees reportedly were critical of Santo in social media posts following a separate evacuation last year, which soured relations between the two islands.

Weather

Ten teenagers died, and several others were seriously injured in flash floods that struck Israel near the Dead Sea. The teenagers, all of whom were 18 years old, were hiking near the Dead Sea with a group of 25 students in a pre-army course. Police and army helicopters were among nearly 700 people who searched for the missing until nightfall, when the search was halted. On Friday, three youth leaders were arrested on charges of negligence following the tragedy.

Snow fell in upstate New York and northwest Pennsylvania Sunday morning as record lows were set in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, putting an exclamation mark on what has a been a difficult April in those regions. Accumulations were light in most areas, but the snow was a fitting end to one of the coldest Aprils on record in parts of upstate New York. Indianapolis and Cincinnati saw their coldest April 29 on record as the low temperature in both locations dipped to 30 degrees. For Cincinnati, the previous daily record low of 31 degrees was more than 140 years old, set in 1874. Chicago tied its daily record low for April 29 of 31 degrees Sunday morning.

Blowing dust and high winds led to a multiple-vehicle crash Sunday evening that shut down Interstate 80 in southern Nebraska. The National Weather Service in Hastings reported that the westbound lanes were closed near mile marker 332 just before 6 p.m. local time. The Nebraska State Patrol then shut down I-80 in both directions between Aurora and York.

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