Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
This discussion will continue the posting of Presidential Prayer Team alerts for 2017. I encourage you to post prayers or pray on your own in response to the alerts. Many Christian leaders believe that we are at a crossroads in the path of the United States - will we once again become a country that God uses for his purposes in the world, or will we continue down a path that takes us further away from God's purposes? This is not primarily a political question - it's a spiritual question. And prayer is our best spiritual weapon. Please join in praying for our country!
The U.K.-based group's annual Persecution Trends report says that apart from the rise of brutalities against Christians in the Middle East, there's a reason to worry about the safety of Christians also in India and China.
"In India, recorded attacks from Hindu militants have increased dramatically, and in China, pressure is building on unregistered churches," Release International says.
"Around the world Christians face an increasing array of violent persecutors. These include the brutal Islamic State in the Middle East, heavily armed militants in Nigeria and Hindu extremists in India," says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson, adding that the trend should serve as "a wake-up call to take our prayers and practical support for our persecuted family to a new level."
The Islamic State terror group, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, has tortured, sexually abused and even crucified those who refuse to renounce their faith in Syria and Iraq.
Persecution in the Shia Muslim nation of Iran is also on the rise, and the clampdown on underground churches will likely carry on, the group warns.
Last month, Pope Francis said the church has more martyrs today than the early church did.
"But why does the world persecute Christians?" the pontiff asked. "The world hates Christians for the same reason it hated Jesus: because He brought the light of God and the world prefers the darkness to hide its wicked works."
The terror group said through its Aamaq News Agency that the attack was carried out by a “heroic soldier of the caliphate who attacked the most famous nightclub where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast.”
Turkish authorities believe that the gunman came from a Central Asian nation and is likely to either be from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan, Turkish media reported citing unnamed sources.
Police had also established similarities with the high-casualty suicide bomb and gun attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport in June and was investigating whether the same ISIS cell could have carried out both attacks, the papers reported.
The unidentified gunman, who is still at large, killed a policeman and another man outside the Reina club in the early hours of 2017 before entering and firing at about 600 revelers partying inside with an automatic rifle.
The bomb went off in a fruit and vegetable market that was packed with day laborers, a police officer said, adding that another 52 people were wounded.
During a press conference with Hollande, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the bomber pretended to be a man seeking to hire day laborers. Once the workers gathered around, he detonated the vehicle.
ISIS claimed the attack in a statement circulated on a militant website often used by the extremists. It was the third ISIS-claimed attack in as many days in and around Baghdad, underscoring the lingering threat posed by the group despite a string of setbacks elsewhere in the country over the past year, including in and around the northern city of Mosul.
The attack took place in Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The House is almost certain to reelect Speaker Paul D. Ryan as its first order of business, dispensing with the messy political infighting that has hobbled Republicans in the past. Meanwhile, the Senate will swiftly begin vetting the president-elect’s most controversial Cabinet picks, ready to confirm some when Trump is inaugurated as president on January 20.
Once Trump takes office, Republicans will face enormous pressure to score some legislative wins after six years of trying to block most of Obama’s initiatives.
Lawmakers will vote this week on a GOP measure to rein in the executive branch by requiring congressional approval for new federal regulations with an economic impact of more than $100 million.
The measure, which passed the Republican House three times since 2011, is a GOP priority. Its supporters say it would have prevented nearly all the climate and employment rule changes of the Obama era.
The House and the Senate are also expected to move quickly to repeal President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law. These first steps to unravel the Affordable Care Act have been years in the making, and will mark a symbolic victory for the conservative movement.
"We felt it was very important this year that we highlight three countries where religious discrimination and persecution are deemed unusual but have reached a certain threshold of concern. These are Mexico, Russia, and sadly, the United States," explained in a press release Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
"While conditions in the U.S. are in no way comparable to other countries on the list, a certain segment of the culture and the courts seem to be intent on driving faith out of the public square. There have been too many court cases with bad decisions to miss the clear trend line."
The ICC report divides the 12 countries into three categories. Nigeria, Iraq and Syria were listed among "the worst of the worst" countries for Christians, due largely to the rise of Islamic extremism and the ongoing terror attacks throughout these nations.
North Korea was also included in this category, although government crackdowns, executions and the mass imprisonment of between 40,000-70,000 Christians were the prime drivers of persecution.
India, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were listed as "core" countries of persecution, where Christians are targeted often by blasphemy laws, while the rise of Christian populations is suppressed because it is seen as a threat to the government or religious majorities.
Finally, the U.S., Mexico, and Russia were identified as "new and noteworthy" nations where Christians are facing increased persecution.
"This past year has been tough. In my lifetime, I can't recall humanity being more divided. Plenty of folks are sad and scared and angry and there are sound bites being fed to us that seem fueled by judgment, fear and even hatred. Jo and I refuse to be baited into using our influence in a way that will further harm an already hurting world, this is our home. A house divided cannot stand," Chip Gaines wrote as part of a post on Magnolia Market titled "New Years' Revelation."
"Joanna and I have personal convictions. One of them is this: we care about you for the simple fact that you are a person, our neighbor on planet Earth. It's not about what color your skin is, how much money you have in the bank, your political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, nationality or faith," he wrote.
"That's all fascinating, but it cannot add or take away from the reality that we're already pulling for you. We are not about to get in the nasty business of throwing stones at each other, don't ask us to cause we won't play that way."
The "Fixer Upper" star then reiterated his point that the world must learn how to "lovingly disagree."
Not long after the incident, reports emerged of a second possible shooter in Terminal 1 by a man described by police at the scene as a white male wearing a white T-shirt. According to police radio traffic, an "active shooter" was in the upper floors of the terminal.
The Transportation Security Administration alerted on Twitter that there was an "active shooter" at the airport and cautioned people in the area to "shelter in place." The airport remains closed for the investigation.
The second incident sent passengers dropping to the ground and cowering behind cars. SWAT teams descended on the airport, accompanied by an armored personnel carrier.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, told MSNBC the initial gunman was identified as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago and was carrying a military ID. CBS News, quoting law enforcement sources, reported Santiago was born in New Jersey.
The shooting broke out around noon beside the baggage claim area at Terminal 2, which serves Delta Airlines. Witnesses said the gunman fired randomly at people gathered near a baggage carousel, reloading several times.
One passenger, Mark Lea, told MSNBC the man was "just randomly shooting people" with a 9 mm pistol, without saying a word to anyone. After emptying about three magazines of bullets, the shooter then got down on the ground, spread-eagled and waited for police to come and subdue him.
"He wasn't targeting anyone particular, just random shooting at people," Lea said.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken – who recently met with his counterparts from key U.S. allies Japan and South Korea – said the North conducted nuclear and missile tests with new intensity during 2016 and that the threat it poses grows by the day. The North Koreans learn from every single test, including failures, he said.
"They apply what they have learned to their technology and to the next test, and in our assessment we have seen a qualitative improvement in their capabilities over the past year as a result of this unprecedented level of activity," Blinken told a news conference.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Sunday preparations for test launching an intercontinental ballistic missile have "reached the final stage."
If such a missile were wedded to a nuclear warhead it could pose a new level of threat to the U.S. mainland, but it remains unclear when the secretive nation might achieve that goal.
Blinken said that the U.S. and its allies were not "sitting still," and had bolstered defenses to stay ahead of the threat with additional missile defenses and radars on sea and on land.
North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and more than two dozen ballistic missile launches.
Legislative moves this week in Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and Virginia represent the latest efforts at the center of a broader public debate over transgender rights.
Additionally, lawmakers in Alabama, South Carolina and Washington filed so-called bathroom bills last year for introduction during the upcoming sessions.
Since 2013, at least 24 states have considered restricting access to restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities on the basis of biological sex, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The American Civil Liberties Union in May filed a lawsuit challenging Mississippi's religious freedom law, which critics say will discriminate against gay and transgender people. Part of the law, known as HB 1523, allows employers and school administrators to dictate access to bathrooms, spas, locker rooms "or other intimate facilities and settings."
North Carolina is the only other state to enact the controversial legislation banning people from using public bathrooms that don't correspond to their biological sex as listed on their birth certificates.
Already, backlash against House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, has caused huge economic losses for the state, such as businesses canceling plans to expand and the NBA moving its All-Star game from Charlotte to another city.
The economic costs, however, have not deterred other states from following suit.
The controversial bills come after the Obama administration in May issued guidance directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
The campaign – which consisted of hacking Democratic groups and individuals, including Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and releasing that information via third-party websites, including WikiLeaks – amounted to what the intelligence report called "a significant escalation" in longtime Russian efforts to undermine "the U.S.-led liberal democratic order."
The report was the first official, full and public accounting by the U.S. intelligence community of its assessment of Russian cyberhacking activities during the 2016 campaign and the motivations behind that hacking.
"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said.
"We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," it goes on to say, and nursed a "grudge" against Clinton "for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging [Putin]."
The report said that Russian intelligence agencies "conducted cyberoperations against targets associated with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including targets associated with both major U.S. political parties."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly denied that emails hacked from Democratic officials and published on the site were obtained from the Russian government.
The book, A Time to Grieve, which the troopers paid for with state funds, was automatically mailed to accident victims’ families, just days after their loved one’s death.
According to American Humanist Association Legal Director David Niose, last year troopers sent the book to an atheist whose father perished in a wreck. Horrified by the content, which included a chapter titled, “If God Seems Far Away,” the woman threatened to sue state troopers, citing the state-funded book as a violation of the separation of church and state.
In all, the troopers spent only about $7,000 in state funds, reserved for administrative costs, accident reports, and “miscellaneous duties,” to publish the book. Since litigation costs would likely exceed the cost of publication, they jettisoned the program.
The book includes a Bible scripture from Psalm 6 with the passage: "O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony" and tells people that even if their grip on God slips during their grief, He has a firm hold on them.
Troopers will continue to send sympathy cards and instead give out a booklet with practical advice for grieving families, Public Safety Department spokesman Sherri Iacobelli said.
"Our troopers and officers see firsthand every day the terrible human toll of losing a loved one, and we have compassion for these families," Iacobelli said.
Federal prosecutors filed the charges, which include violations related to firearms, in Broward County, Florida.
Earlier, the FBI announced that Santiago apparently traveled to the airport for the purpose of carrying out the bloody rampage.
Terrorism may have been a "potential motivation" for the attack on Friday that killed five people, Special Agent in Charge George Piro said during a news conference, adding that officials would release specific charges later Saturday.
Later in the afternoon, police in Alaska said they had returned a handgun to the Florida airport shooting suspect which was temporarily taken from him when he underwent a mental evaluation late last year, according to a Reuters report.
Anchorage Police Chief Christopher Tolley said it was not immediately clear if it was the same gun used in Friday's deadly rampage. Officials told a news conference the gun was returned to the suspect because the Iraq war veteran had not committed a crime.
Why the gunman may have chosen South Florida was unclear.
The suspected shooter had a history of mental health problems – some of which followed his military service in Iraq – and was receiving psychological treatment at his home in Alaska, his relatives said.