4 Christian Afghans Killed by ISIS (UCN 9.23.21)

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According to Mission Network News, Four Christian men have been killed in Afghanistan; not by the Taliban, but by ISIS. An extended family was traveling to join a larger convoy trying to escape the country, reports Nehemiah with FMI. “ISIS asked them, ‘we have tape about you that you are no longer Muslims. So is it true that you are not Muslim?’ They said, ‘Yes, we are not Muslims anymore. We are Christians.’ So the men of this family were killed at the spot. The children and women, they let them go.” Nehemiah asked his contacts how they knew it was ISIS that committed the violence. “The family told them that they were holding the flag of ISIS and they were wearing black uniforms.”

According to PEOPLE, Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has stepped down from his position on the board ahead of his upcoming court case in Australia. The Global Senior Pastor, 67, confirmed the news in an email message to Hillsong congregants on Friday, obtained by PEOPLE. “I also wanted to let you know that I’ve made a decision to step aside from my role on the Hillsong Church boards that oversee the governance of our operations. I did this so that these boards can function to their fullest capacity during this season. This doesn’t change my role as Global Senior Pastor. I thought it was important to let our church family know in the interests of transparency, and I wanted you to hear it from me directly,” Houston wrote. Hillsong Church provided no further comment to PEOPLE. Houston has been accused of covering up abuse allegations against his father, late preacher Frank Houston. PEOPLE previously confirmed Australian authorities began investigating the Hillsong founder in 2019 after receiving “reports a 67-year-old man had knowingly concealed information relating to child sexual offenses,” according to an August police statement.

According to the Associated Press, The Rev. Marshall Blalock feels the weight of his new responsibility. The South Carolina pastor serves as vice chair of a recently formed Southern Baptist Convention task force charged with overseeing an investigation into how a top denominational committee handled sex abuse allegations, a review that comes years into the SBC’s public reckoning with the scandal. Blalock thinks the work of the task force, set into motion in June by a vote of Southern Baptists at a national gathering, could be a foundational part of how the SBC addresses the issue in the future. “If the task force does what the convention’s asked us to do, if the Executive Committee responds favorably, I think we’re making huge first steps toward really setting the future toward preventing and appropriately responding to and caring for sexual abuse survivors,” Blalock said. The sex abuse scandal was thrust into the spotlight in 2019 by a landmark report from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged perpetrators remained in ministry. Appointed by new SBC President Ed Litton, the seven-member task force of pastoral, legal, counseling and advocacy professionals is charged with overseeing an outside firm’s probe of allegations that the Executive Committee mishandled abuse cases, resisted reforms and intimidated victims and advocates. “We’re tired of abuse, and it has to be dealt with,” Litton, who was elected in June amid divisions over race, women’s roles in the church and how to address the abuse issue, said during a recent event. “But I also think a clear message came out that this is not a witch hunt. That this is an opportunity for us to pave the way for the future.” More than two months in, the task force has completed two key tasks: picking Guidepost Solutions to be the third-party firm conducting the probe, and asking the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege for the purposes of the investigation at its upcoming business meeting. “It’s all about uncovering the truth so we can deal with it,” said the Rev. Bruce Frank, a North Carolina pastor and task force chair.

According to the Daily Mail, FBI officials announced that human remains consistent with the description of missing van-life girl Gabby Petito have been found at the Bridger-Teton National Forest, where authorities had been searching for her. Charles Jones, supervisory senior resident agent for FBI Denver made the announcement at a news conference Sunday evening. A cause of death has not been determined, he said, while authorities work to confirm that the body is Petito’s. On Sunday night, Petito’s father, Joseph, shared a tribute to his daughter on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with a photo of her adorned with a pair of angel wings, and the caption: ‘she touched the world.’ ‘As every parent can imagine this is an incredibly difficult time for the family, and friends, our thoughts and prayers are with them,’ Jones told reporters. ‘We ask that you all respect their privacy as they mourn the loss of their daughter.’ Meanwhile, Florida authorities called off the second day of their search for her fiancé Brian Laundrie – the person-of-interest in Petito’s disappearance – at an alligator-infested Florida refuge after he fled his parents’ home. He has refused to cooperate with police and on Tuesday, he disappeared from his family’s North Port, Florida home. After Sunday’s announcement, the Laundrie family attorney released a statement, saying, ‘The news about Gabby Petito is heartbreaking. The Laundrie family prays for Gabby and her family.’ Petito, who last spoke to her family on August 25, was reported missing on September 11 after Laundrie returned home from their trip alone.

According to NBC Chicago, Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson will leave a rehab center Wednesday, the family said in a statement, more than a month after he and his wife contracted COVID-19. Jackson, 79, had been hospitalized shortly after confirming the diagnosis last month and had been moved to a rehab center to continue his treatment for Parkinson’s disease. His wife Jacqueline, who had not been vaccinated prior to testing positive for the virus, was released from the hospital earlier this month. “Both my parents are ever so thankful for all of the prayers, cards, and calls they have received during this very trying period of their lives,” their son Jonathan Jackson said in a statement, per WMAQ. “Our father continues to stress the importance of being vaccinated, wearing masks, and obeying the COVID-19 protocols including social distancing and the washing of the hands.”

According to Christian Headlines, Christian author and apologist Josh McDowell has issued an apology for his recent remarks at a gathering of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), where he implied that most African Americans and minorities had not been raised to value education and hard work. McDowell, who has authored or co-authored over 150 books, delivered a message on Critical Race Theory (CRT) on Saturday at the AACC event. During his remarks, he asserted that African Americans and other minorities do have equal opportunities like most Americans. “I do not believe blacks, African Americans, and many other minorities have equal opportunity,” McDowell argued, according to The Christian Post. “Why? Most of them grew up in families where there is not a big emphasis on education, security — you can do anything you want. You can change the world. If you work hard, you will make it,” he said. “So many African Americans don’t have those privileges like I was brought up with,” he added. In a statement on Sunday, McDowell issued an apology and clarified his previous comments after he received backlash for his words on social media. “My statement as quoted does not reflect my own beliefs, and I want to begin by apologizing for my words and the implications they had,” he wrote. “My statement started by saying, ‘I do not believe blacks, African Americans and many other minorities have equal opportunity.’ I do believe this.” “Racism has kept equality from being achieved within our nation,” he continued. McDowell asserted that his remarks, particularly regarding minorities growing up in families that did not place emphasis on education and security, were a “generalized statement that does not reflect reality.” “I apologize and reiterate my Christian love for all races, nationalities and people groups,” he continued. “My desire is that we as Christians would deal with both racism and inequality as the sins that they are in order to restore the unity that God desires for all.”

According to Christian Headlines, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of the world’s largest megachurch, passed away on Tuesday morning. He was 85. According to a press release by his church, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, Cho had been receiving medical treatment at the time of his death because of a brain hemorrhage he suffered in 2020. Cho was born to a Buddhist family in 1936 and grew up during the Korean War. When Cho was 17 years old, he converted to Christianity after doctors told him that he was going to die from a severe case of tuberculosis. According to Cho, God healed him of the disease in a “miraculous” recovery. “I will never forget God’s blessing and grace over my life, through which He chose me to be His Servant when I was just an insignificant child with lung disease, and He saved me by His grace through the atonement of the Cross of Jesus Christ, so that through prayer I might receive wisdom and preach by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wherever He placed me,” Cho wrote in a statement published on his church’s website. In February of this year, Cho’s wife, Kim Sung Hae, passed away. The Chos are survived by their three sons.

According to AP, Pope Francis urged European bishops on Saturday to listen to survivors of clergy sexual abuse and consider them partners in reform, warning that their failure to do so risks the very future of the Catholic Church. Francis issued a videomessage to Central and Eastern European bishops who are gathering in Poland starting on Sunday for a four-day child protection conference organized by the bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s child protection advisory commission. The location is significant, given around a dozen current and retired Polish bishops have been sanctioned by the Vatican in recent months for their repeated failures to listen to victims and take action to sanction the priests who raped and molested them. “Only by confronting the truth of this cruel behavior and humbly seeking forgiveness from victims and survivors can the church find the way to once again be considered and trusted as a place of welcome and security for those who need it,” Francis said. He said bishops in particular must be the first to listen to victims, not the last, and must be at their service “seeing them as companions and protagonists of a common future.”

According to Daily Mail, SpaceX’s first civilian crew has successfully returned to Earth after three days in space. The Inspiration4 crew splashed downed in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida on Saturday night shortly after 7 pm, bringing an end to their historic three-day mission orbiting earth. The Dragon capsule descended towards Earth on four chutes before gently landing in the water as the module floated on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. ‘Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,’ SpaceX Mission Control radioed the crew. ‘Thanks so much SpaceX, it was a heck of a ride for us,’ mission commander Jared Isaacman responded. And SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted: ‘Congratulations @Inspiration4x!!!’ The four crew members all safely made if off the capsule and boarded a helicopter to reunite with their families.

According to Faithwire, Bella Taylor Smith, a member of the international megachurch Hillsong, won the Australian version of “The Voice” Sunday alongside her coach, who is also a Christian. During an interview on the Aussie morning show “Sunrise,” Smith said she is “shocked and thrilled” to have won the singing competition, adding she still “can’t believe” her victory. A music teacher by trade, the 23-year-old singer emerged the winner after performing Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” with coach Guy Sebastian, who described Smith as “a phenomenal talent” with “one of the purest voices I have heard.” “I really can’t believe it,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to see what incredible things are ahead for me. I’m really grateful for you, [Sebastian], for everyone who voted and for my beautiful family, whom I love.” In a Facebook post the night before the finale, the contestant thanked her friends, family, and church community for their support, “and honestly and most importantly to Jesus for giving me hope and a beautiful life to live.”

According to Christian Post, Rapper Bill Kahan Kapri, popularly known by his stage name “Kodak Black,” was one of 73 people granted pardons by former President Donald Trump before he left office earlier this year. On Sunday, the rapper announced his acceptance of “Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” The announcement from Kapri comes days after Christian ministers Kevin Louidor and Annia Icart, who both attend King Jesus Universal Ministry, prayed with the artist at a gas station in Florida last Tuesday. On Facebook, Louidor also shared how shortly after they helped the rapper pray, God protected their lives in a grisly crash.

According to Christianity Today, Lawyers in Georgia battled over access to the financial records of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) on Monday. In the first hearing of a proposed class-action suit, representatives for donors Derek and Dora Carrier argued they needed “expedited discovery” to allow them access to the hundreds of thousands of financial documents they say will prove that “RZIM allowed donated funds to be diverted for use in Zacharias’s schemes to perpetrate sexual abuse.” The federal judge denied the motion to expedite the process, but the legal team is expected to make their case for access again after proving the grounds for the suit. The Carriers’ attorneys are asking for records of all donations made to RZIM since 2004, when Zacharias became part owner of Touch of Eden, a massage therapy spa located in a shopping center near RZIM headquarters. They also want documentation of how those donations were used, particularly if they went to payments made to defend Zacharias against allegations of sexual abuse, to pay off accusers and hush up allegations, and to hire public relations and crisis management professionals to protect RZIM’s reputation. “RZIM is sitting on a pile of money, and no one knows how RZIM is spending that money,” Drew Ashby, of the firm Ashby Thelen Lowry, told CT. “Our clients view this as God’s money, not their money, and they want that money back to invest in legitimate ministry purposes to build the kingdom of God.”

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In closing, remember, God loves you. He always has and He always will. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know Jesus as your Saviour, today is a good day to get to know Him. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening and may God bless your day!