Kerry still confident on Iran nuclear deal; ISIS gains ground in Iraq (UCNN #619)

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Obama lets Congress have say in Iran nuclear deal; Chicago to give $5.5 million settlement in police misconduct cases (UCNN #618)

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Mass abduction of girls by Boko Haram marked 1 year later; Russia lifts ban on missiles to Iran (UCNN #617)

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ISIS releases new video threatening America; S. Carolina police officer will not face death penalty (UCNN #616)

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Thousands mark Orthodox Easter with Holy Fire ceremony; Clinton officially launches presidential bid (UCNN Weekend Report #124)

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1. According to the AP, The dark hall inside Christianity‚Äôs holiest shrine was illuminated with the flames from thousands of candles on Saturday as worshippers participated in the holy fire ceremony, a momentous spiritual event in Orthodox Easter rites. Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected at the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands in the Old City of Jerusalem. While the source of the holy fire is a closely guarded secret, believers say the flame appears spontaneously from his tomb on the day before Easter to show Jesus has not forgotten his followers. The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years. Continue Reading…

Interfaith initiative aims to end extreme poverty by 2030; Overflow crowd at Walter Scott funeral (UCNN Weekend Report #123)

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UN launches appeal to raise money for refugees fleeing Boko Haram; ISIS demands $30 million for release of Christians (UCNN #615)

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Iran says no deal without lifting of sanctions; 30 million in path of severe U.S. storm system (UCNN #614)

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S. Carolina cop charged with murder in shooting of black man; Memories Pizza reopens after threats (UCNN #613)

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1. According to the AP, Dramatic video that shows a white South Carolina police officer shooting a fleeing black man after a traffic stop has led authorities to file a murder charge against the officer amid public outrage over a series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement agents. Protests were planned Wednesday in North Charleston, led by a group formed after the fatal shooting of another black man in Ferguson, Missouri. The video, provided to the dead man’s family and lawyer by an unidentified person who shot the footage, shows North Charleston Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager firing eight shots at the back of Walter Lamer Scott as he runs away. The 50-year-old man falls after the eighth shot. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced the charge at a news conference Tuesday. Summy said Slager had made “a bad decision.”

2. According to One News Now, A pizza shop owner in Indiana, who became the center of controversy in recent days, is going back to work today. Memories Pizza in Walkerton closed down temporarily, and its owners went into hiding, after homosexual activists targeted owner Kevin O’Conner and his daughter, Crystal. The staff of The Blaze began a fundraising campaign at GoFundMe.com, resulting in over $842,000 in donations for the father/daughter team. Part of the funds will be used to offset losses during the past week but most will be donated to charity.

3. According to the ERLC, President Russell Moore hs issued a call to prayer for marriage. He said in part, The Supreme Court will soon decide whether states can legally choose to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It is a watershed moment in our nation’s history. As an organization, we have filed briefs with the court, argued in public and in private about why marriage, defined as the union of one man and one woman, matters as a social good, and more than I have space to list in one post. But beyond all this we as Christians and churches need to pray–because marriage is not just another culture war issue. … Let’s pray that the Court gets this right and stays within the limits of its authority–recognizing that the state did not create the family, and cannot recreate it. And at the same time let’s pray with confidence in the knowing that regardless of how the Court decides, on the other side of our culture wars there is a sexual counter-revolution waiting to be born–again.

4. According to Religion News Service, Decrying Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley’s “sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” a gay Jewish group is protesting the Jewish National Fund for plans to bestow a high honor on Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The controversy reflects the sometimes awkward embrace between American Jews and evangelicals — fervent partners in support of Israel but also outspoken opponents on many domestic social issues, including homosexuality and abortion rights.

5. According to The Progressive National Baptist Convention, the homegoing service for Dr. Gardner C. Taylor will be held on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. James C. Perkins, President of PNBC said, “As we mourn the loss of Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, we know that the world has lost a preaching giant. The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC) family has lost the man who most embodied the Progressive spirit and ideals. We will greatly miss him, but his influence will live on through our work and our witness.”

6. According to Pew Research Center, The global Christian population has been shifting southward for at least a century and is expected to continue to do so over the next four decades, according to new demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. Overall, the share of Christians in the world is expected to remain flat. But Europe’s share of the the world’s Christians will continue to decline while sub-Saharan Africa’s will increase dramatically. Nearly half of the world’s Christians already reside in Africa and the Latin America-Caribbean region. By 2050, according to the Pew Research study, those two regions will be home to more than six-in-ten of the world’s followers of Jesus, with just a quarter of Christians living in Europe and North America.

7. According to Christianity Today, The religious council of the University of Arizona unanimously voted to ban three clubs affiliated with Faith Christian, a ministry that some former members have described as a cult. The University Religious Council said, “The number, seriousness, and pattern of red flags raised compel URC members to no longer believe that Faith Christian Church and its affiliates operate at the highest level of integrity, transparency, safety for students, and respect for students, standards required for URC membership. This has come to light via numerous letters and testimonies recently sent to URC members which have brought to a head historic and current concerns related to the campus activities of Faith Christian Church and its affiliates.” Faith Christian’s 3 campus ministries–Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ, and Providence Clubs–are among the university’s approximately 15 evangelical clubs.

8. According to BBC, A Palestinian man stabbed two Israelis in the northern West Bank before being shot dead, the Israeli military says. The attack took place near the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Maale Levona and the Palestinian village of Sinjil, on Route 60. Medics said one of the Israelis was in a serious condition in hospital, and that the other suffered light wounds. Their identities were not immediately clear, and there were conflicting reports about who shot the Palestinian.

9. According to the AP, The Islamic State group released more than 200 Yazidis on Wednesday after holding them for eight months, an Iraqi Kurdish security official said, the latest mass release of captives by the extremists. Gen. Hiwa Abdullah, a peshmerga commander in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, said most of the freed 216 prisoners are in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect. He added that about 40 children are among those released, while the rest were elderly.

10. According to the AP, An Afghan soldier opened fire at a group of U.S. troops in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing an American soldier and wounding at least two others before he was shot dead. The incident happened after a meeting between Afghan provincial leaders and a U.S. Embassy official in the compound of the provincial governor in Jalalabad. All U.S. Embassy staff were accounted for and returned safely to their mission headquarters.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind: Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Erasmus said, “Length of life should be measured not by the number of years but by the number of right actions.”

Oklahoma puts hold on religious freedom bill; GOP, religious groups file briefs against same-sex marriage at Supreme Court (UCNN #612)

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1. According to Reuters, Oklahoma lawmakers have put the brakes on a religion bill similar to ones in Indiana and Arkansas that were overhauled last week after facing a storm of criticism for being seen as discriminatory against gays. Oklahoma’s decision on Friday to shelve a bill that would have expanded its religious freedom law to allow people to deny services to same-sex couples made it the latest state to back away from proposed legislation that critics say targets the LGBT community. Sixteen states have introduced legislation this year to create or alter their religious freedom bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Analysts said lawmakers may scrap a number of those bills over concerns about backlash from powerful U.S. businesses and civil rights advocates.

2. According to Religion News Service, Republican officials and religious organizations dominate a growing list of more than 60 groups urging the Supreme Court to uphold state bans against same-sex marriage. The flood of “friend of the court” briefs arriving at the court by last week’s deadline easily made the upcoming case the most heavily lobbied in the court’s recent history. Sixteen states led by Republican governors were among those calling for the bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee to be upheld. Among them were nine states where same-sex marriage bans have been struck down by federal courts — an indication that the battle there and elsewhere will be renewed if the justices uphold the bans.

3. According to USA Today, Chaplains who are part of the Army’s first line of defense against suicide say they need more training in how to prevent soldiers from killing themselves, according to a RAND survey published online Tuesday. Nearly all the chaplains and chaplain assistants surveyed said they have dealt with suicidal soldiers, and most said they encourage troubled soldiers to get help. Because of confidentiality, roughly half said they would be reluctant to alert someone in the chain of command about the soldier, and roughly a third said they would not call a crisis hotline for the GI. In addition, Forty-four percent of chaplains and 57% of chaplain assistants said they need training in suicide prevention treatment.

4. According to Euro News, Relatives of the 148 victims who died in the al-Shabaab attack on a Kenyan University have been identifying the dead. Afterwards several described the young students as humble and studious. All had been trying to forge careers not only for themselves but for their families too. In Kenya’s first major military response since the attacks its air force said it had destroyed two al-Shabaab camps in neighbouring Somalia. Al-Shabaab has denied the camps were hit, saying the air force bombs fell on farm land.

5. According to The Associated Press, The Palestinian UN ambassador is urging the UN Security Council to take action to ensure safe passage for up to 18,000 Palestinians besieged in a refugee camp in the Syrian capital. The council held an emergency meeting Monday on the crisis at the Yarmouk camp, which is now mainly controlled by the Islamic State group. The Palestinian ambassador, Riyad Mansour, told reporters that saving the refugees is his government’s top priority. He appealed to all nations to help the refugees relocate to safer areas in Syria or in other countries. Mansour said about 2,000 of the estimated 18,000 refugees in Yarmouk had made it to safety on their own.

6. According to Newsweek, Cyber activist group Anonymous has released an internet video which threatens Israel with an “electronic Holocaust” on April 7, in a massive cyber attack planned to fall just over a week before Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 16. The video shows a masked figure in a suit and tie delivering a prepared statement, warning that the group will eradicate Israel from cyberspace “for… crimes in the Palestinian territories”. Benjamin T. Decker, senior intelligence analyst at Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, says that the hacker collective makes the threat every year and, thus, Israel has acclimatised to the cyber threat, with less damage.

7. According to the AP, The man charged with killing three Muslim college students will face a death penalty trial after prosecutors told a judge they had strong and incriminating evidence that includes the blood from one of the victims found on the suspect’s pants. Senior Resident Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. of Superior Court ruled Monday that the man, Craig Hicks, is “death-penalty qualified.” Hicks is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Feb. 10 killings of Deah Shaddy Barakat; his wife, Yusor; and her sister, Razan. The police have said that Hicks appeared to have been motivated by a dispute over parking at a condominium complex near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To support the death penalty in NC, prosecutors must show the crimes had aggravating factors — in this case that one of the murders was committed during a second murder, and that there was an act of violence committed with a second act of violence.

8. According to the AP, A florist in Washington state who was fined $1,000 for refusing to sell flowers for a homosexual wedding and is facing a consumer-protection lawsuit has netted more than $85,000 in a crowdfunding campaign. The Seattle Times reports that nearly half of the money on the gofundme.com page set up in February for 70-year-old Barronelle Stutzman came in the last several days. Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, received the fine in March after refusing to provide flowers for a homosexual wedding in 2013. Stutzman said same-sex weddings go against her Southern Baptist beliefs.

9. According to the AP, The package deal has delivered Duke another national championship. Tyus Jones scored 23 points, his good buddy and freshman teammate Jahlil Okafor added a couple of key baskets in the closing minutes, and the Blue Devils beat Wisconsin 68-63 on Monday night to give coach Mike Krzyzewski [sh?-shev-ski] his fifth national championship.

10. According to Reuters, Islamic State insurgents blew up an 80-year-old church in Syria’s northeastern province of Hassaka on Easter Sunday. SANA News, which did not report any casualties, said the militants had planted explosives inside the Church of the Virgin Mary in Tel Nasri, an Assyrian village in an area where Christian and Kurdish militia have been battling Islamic State. Islamic State controls the village.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind: Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Erasmus said, “Length of life should be measured not by the number of years but by the number of right actions.”

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