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square-academic-cap-999418_640Sam Blackledge was the 2018 valedictorian of Illinois’ West Prairie High School. As per tradition, he had prepared a speech to give before his classmates during the graduation ceremony. Minutes before Blackledge was to take the stage, however, school administrators demanded that the 18 year old modify his speech. The ordered alterations included the removal of any reference to Jesus, God or Blackledge’s Christian faith.

Blackledge was heartbroken. “I never felt that feeling before. It was terrible. I felt like I wanted to cry,” he said. For months, Blackledge had planned to reference Jesus during the speech because Blackledge’s Christian faith is a core part of his identity. Instead, as he prepared to take the stage, he was told that he could not speak to his assembled classmates at all. Eventually the school administrators agreed that Blackledge could give a “very generic” speech so long as it contained no religious references.

Blackledge, however, saw that as deeply problematic. “The most important thing in my life is Christ,” he said. “Christ is the only reason I was a valedictorian. He’s the reason I got that 4.0. If it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be up there. I was giving Him credit for that.”

In response to the discriminatory censorship, Blackledge is considering taking the issue to court. He has retained attorney Jeremy Dys from the non-profit group First Liberty Institute. Dys agrees that West Prairie High School’s actions violated Blackledge’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. “They actually violated the Constitution,” Dys said. “They’d do well to remember, as ‘Tinker v. Des Moines,’ the case in 1969, reminds us, that students do not shed their constitutional rights when they walk through the schoolhouse gates.”

Sadly, Blackledge is far from the only student in recent years to have been banned from referencing religion on graduation day. There has been a disturbing rash of similar censorship over the past few years, but Blackledge refuses to back down. “There’s always people out there that will go against what I have to say, and nobody always agrees, but I believe this is the truth,” he said. “It’s impacted my life.”

Blackledge is set to meet with the superintendent, Carol Kilver, but no one is entirely sure how the meeting will go. The school is also speaking with legal counsel and has refused to comment on the issue of violating Blackledge’s First Amendment rights. Still, Blackledge said that he has received the support of many in his community, and whether he is aware of it or not, he also has the support of Americans across the nation.

jesus-3149505_640Trenton McKinley was out with a friend in March. The two were playing with a dune buggy. McKinley took a turn being pulled behind his friend in a utility trailer. Suddenly, McKinley’s friend hit the brakes. McKinley managed to toss his friend’s four year old niece to safety, but his heroics meant he was caught under the trailer and thrown head first into the concrete. McKinley was rushed to the hospital with seven skull fractures and a traumatic brain injury. While doctors fought furiously to save his life, McKinley flat-lined four times. One of those instances lasted for 15 minutes.

While his mother hoped and prayed for her son’s survival, McKinley was experiencing something other than panic and pain. According to McKinley, he was walking beside God. McKinley claims to recall walking through an open field with a shadowy, bearded figure. “I don’t remember faces,” said McKinley. “I saw a shadow, and I was walking through the field with the shadow.”

McKinley was not alone with God. McKinley was holding a baby, a baby that might have been his sibling. “Mom thinks it could have been my little brother [she miscarried,]” McKinley said.

Near Death Experiences, or NDE’s, like those McKinley described are hotly debated among researchers. Some researchers claim that such experiences are nothing more than extraneous brain activity as the body shuts down. Other researchers disagree. The people who have Near Death Experiences, however, tend to disagree with what are seen as attempts to explain away their experiences. They claim that the deeply spiritual nature of such moments are too numerous and widespread to be simply brushed aside.

Regardless of what a person believes causes NDE’s, McKinley’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle. The teen has recovered his memories and begun shooting basketballs into a hoop at the hospital. A month after his accident, he was able to walk with the assistance of a nurse.

McKinley still has a long way to go with his recovery. He needs additional surgeries to fix his skull, and he still suffers from nerve damage and seizures. Despite the long road before him, McKinley feels that what he experienced in the hospital is proof of both God’s existence and His love. “There is no other explanation but God. There’s no other way that I could have come back,” McKinley said. “Jesus is watching you at all times. He’s with you. Believe. Never lose faith.” Wisdom from the mouth of babes, indeed.

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Pixabay

Over the past week, several well-known evangelical preachers and megachurch pastors have spoken out about a possible link between Biblical prophecy and the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

The opening of the embassy was a huge political statement from the U.S., and occurred on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel.

Senior pastor of Cornerstone Church John Hagee, who also founded Christians United for Israel, was at the inauguration of the embassy and delivered the closing benediction.

“Jerusalem is the city of God. Jerusalem is the heartbeat of Israel. Jerusalem is where Abraham placed his son on the altar on the Temple Mount and became the father of many nations,” he said on Monday.

“Jerusalem is where Jeremiah and Isaiah penned principles of righteousness that became the moral foundations of Western Civilization. Jerusalem is where Messiah will come and establish a kingdom that will never end,” Hagee continued.

“We thank you, O Lord, for President Donald Trump’s courage in acknowledging to the world a truth established 3,000 years ago that Jerusalem is and always shall be the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

The Reverand Franklin Graham also noted the prophecy surrounding the return of Christ, writing in a Facebook post:

“70 years ago today, the State of Israel was established. In fulfillment of prophecy, God brought the nation into being, and He is sustaining them for the day when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will return and establish His throne in Jerusalem as Scripture tells us. I believe it is significant that the United States has formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and is moving our embassy there. This has been promised by past U.S. presidents and administrations, but it had never become a reality, until now.”

Robert Jeffress, a pastor who preaches the rapture, delivered the new embassy’s opening prayer. He prayed, “We thank you everyday that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, and more importantly on the right side of you, oh God, when it comes to Israel.”

Trump was even compared to the Bible’s King Cyrus for the decision to move the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital. Fox News host and former Judge Jeanine Pirro believed Trump was fulfilling prophecy.

“Donald Trump recognized history. He, like King Cyrus before him, fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the gods worshiped by Jews, Christians and, yes, Muslims, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state and that the Jewish people deserve a righteous, free and sovereign Israel,” Pirro argued in an op-ed in Fox News published last weekend.

For those who preach on the rapture, Jerusalem is a fundamental part of their teachings. Part of prophecy states that all of Jerusalem (currently split between Arab and Israeli-held territory) must be returned to the Jewish people, and then the rest of the world must go to war.

For Christians awaiting end times, Israel “is at the center of the end of history,” said Greg Carey, a professor of the New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary. “History will culminate with this great battle” in Israel, Carey said.

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Gage Skidmore

American President Donald Trump has welcomed home three Christian American detainees that were released from North Korea last week.

The White House stated the gesture was a sign of goodwill ahead of the planned meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump is hopeful about the meeting, earlier stating that he believes the summit would be a “big success.”

Trump and the first lady Melania entered the plane bringing the prisoners home at 2:45am. They emerged a few minutes later with the three men to wave to the media.

The president said he appreciated that Mr Kim had allowed the men to leave as “frankly we didn’t think that was going to happen before the meeting”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had traveled this week to meet with Kim Jong Un and secure the release of the prisoners, Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song, and Tony Kim, all who had been held on various charges relating to espionage and their Christian faith.

Two previously worked at a private university in the country’s capital. The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is mostly staffed by Christian professors who are forced to keep their faith private due to the dictatorship’s severe restrictions on religious expression.

Kim Dong-chul was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor after his arrest in 2015; Tony Kim was detained in April 2017, while Kim Hak-song was arrested in May 2017.

Trump tweeted that all three of the released prisoners “seem to be in good health,” a contrast to the last American released—college student Otto Warmbier—who was in a coma and died days after arriving back in the United States last June.

In an impromptu chat before the media with Mr Trump, Kim Dong-chul said: “It’s like a dream and we are very, very happy. We were treated in many different ways. For me, I had to do a lot of labour. But when I got sick I was also treated by them.”

The three had released an earlier statement saying: “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and the people of the United States for bringing us home.

“We thank God and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return.”
North Korea ranks as the worst country for Christian persecution on the annual Open Doors World Watch List, and the organization estimates that beyond the foreign nationals detained there, many of the country’s own citizens—including around 50,000 believers—are being held in detention centers, prisons, or political camps.

Christians have been praying for months for the upcoming meeting and the possibility of peace on the Korean peninsula.

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Gage Skidmore

The Trump administration has opened an embassy today in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, completely erupting decades of previous US policy towards Jerusalem. The embassy is being viewed by those that both love and hate it as a major departure from traditional US diplomacy.

U.S. administration officials and senators are in Jerusalem for the inauguration of the new embassy. The event comes after President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Today also marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

“By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital on the [election] campaign and making it happen in the first part of his presidency signals to everyone, including the North Koreans, that there’s a new sheriff in town,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), who is leading a delegation of four Republican senators attending Monday’s celebration.

The ceremony solidified Trump’s pledge to offer diplomatic recognition to Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as it’s capital. European allies continued to denounce the move as a serious blow to peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, who also view part of Jerusalem as capital for a possible future state.

Jerusalem declared sovereignty over the city 51 years ago following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, but most countries do not recognize Israel’s rule over the city, where a third of the residents are Palestinian. And most states say their embassies will remain in Tel Aviv until Israelis and Palestinians reach some sort of peace agreement.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, started the inauguration by recalling the declaration of the state of Israel by then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion almost exactly 70 years ago.

“Seventy years later, the United States is taking the next step of moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said. “Again the United States leads the way in taking this step.”

While these celebrations have been going on, protests have been popping up. More than 40 Palestinians were killed in mass protests along Israel’s border with Gaza. The demonstrations were part of a weeks-long protest, dubbed the Great March of Return. Palestinian annually mark their resulting displacement on Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, on May 15.

The protests were not limited to the border. More than 500 demonstrators rallied near the ceremony clashed with Israeli forces, and police made at least one arrest. Demonstrators chanted “Jerusalem is ours!”

Safa Yasin, 19, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, said the embassy move “cements Israeli control over Jerusalem” and shows complete disregard for the rights of the Palestinian people.

Others came out in support of the embassy. Among the supporters, who were separated by a police barrier from protesters, was Elisha Haas, 74, an Israeli professor of biophysics at Bar Ilan University.

“I came here to say thank you to President Trump,” Haas said, adding that he has no sympathy for the Palestinians being shot along the border. “I don’t care how many are killed because they are using these protests to terrorize Israel. The despair of Gaza is fake news.”

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) repeated claims that the embassy move would actually aid peace efforts.

“We are today witnessing history,” Cruz said. “A restoration of a nation and a people that existed for three millennia. Jerusalem is and was and will remain the capital of Israel. For the past 70 years, the United States operated on a fiction – a fiction that did not recognize this capital.”