By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
December 4, 2019
“You are going into a hostile world. You will be challenged. I guarantee it,” the Rev. Andrew Brunson warned a group of teenage missionary kids at Black Forest Academy on Nov. 20. He said loving God with all they’ve got will be the only way they can stand when hardship comes.
Just over a year after his release from a Turkish jail cell, the Black Mountain, North Carolina, native who was falsely accused of terrorism and spying was addressing students at an international Christian boarding school in Germany (his wife’s alma mater), but his words hold wisdom for believers of all ages and nations, according to Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“I don’t believe true religion, a genuine expression of a Christ-filled life, has ever been fashionable. Nevertheless, I can remember when it was easier to be a Christian in America. More and more, it’s becoming a different day in this country and other places around the world,” Creech said. “It appears that we may be moving into a period where much of the wheat will be separated from the tares by persecution. Authentic faith in Christ will require a resolution to swim against the stream, and to stand for the Lord when most will not.”
“If our nation falls into the hands of some of the people who are currently seeking to run it, marginalization and intense pressure to compromise with an ungodly world system of values will mount. Religious leaders who preach to itching ears, who preach what people prefer to hear rather than what they should hear, will abound,” he added. “This is already happening on many fronts, and some would rightly argue it’s about to happen full-scale. Jesus warned about this, admonishing that those who put their hand to the plow but look back will be deemed unworthy of the kingdom. Only those who endure unto the end shall be saved.”
Brunson talked about his own endurance test, having been jailed for two years with the threat of three life sentences hanging over his head, and he told the students that the decisions they make today could help seal their identity in Christ and bring everything in their lives into alignment with God.
Showing them a photo taken of him in prison in which he is holding a cross over his heart, Brunson said the image makes him happy because it reminds him of how he was standing for Christ and not ashamed of his faith. But he was also brutally honest about his doubts and struggles with God before arriving at that point.
“It took me about a year of fighting to surrender my will, to say again and again ‘God, if your assignment is for me to be in prison, if this is what you want for me, I don’t want to be here, but give me the strength so that I can then persevere and endure. And I did this every day,” he said.
Brunson said when faced with persecution, people can react with fear. They can also be easily deceived, turn to escapism, or become offended. Fear and offense were his initial reactions.
“I’m an expert on fear. I was really afraid. I had waves and waves of panic attacks,” he said. “And I am also an expert at being offended at God because I had a very hard time in prison.”
Brunson said, unlike Paul and Silas, who sang while they were incarcerated, he didn’t feel the joy of God’s presence.
“I was so angry and so disappointed and felt so betrayed, and my heart became offended by God, all of my questions, my unanswered questions … God, why have you left me? Why are you silent?” he said.
Although Brunson and his wife had spent more than two decades in Turkey, planting churches in the heart of a Muslim country, and were no strangers to taking risks for the sake of the Gospel, he said prison was “too much.”
“I couldn’t handle it. I was broken,” Brunson said. “But then there came a turning point during the second year.” He said that’s when he realized that even though he could do little to fight for his freedom, he could fight for his relationship with God, which he feared was slipping away.
“I had a lot of questions: Why, why God? Where are you? Why, why, why?” Brunson said. “Then I began to realize that God had questions for me: Andrew, Will you love me when you don’t feel my presence? Will you be faithful to me even when you are disappointed with me? Will you still follow me?”
“So, I had been questioning God’s love. I had been questioning his faithfulness. But God’s love and faithfulness were not being put to the test. It was the other way around. My love was being put to the test. My faithfulness was being put to the test. I was being tested. And the truth is that God allows his children to be tested.”
Brunson warned his audience to be ready for those tests, which can come in the form of persecution.
“Those who stand with Jesus, who are not ashamed of him, who do not apologize for identifying with Jesus are increasingly being marginalized. They are being pushed to the side. They are told they are evil. And this is a tremendous pressure, especially on young people,” said Brunson.
“I don’t say that my generation is ready for persecution, but yours certainly is not,” said Brunson to his young audience. “And I am concerned about what is coming, because it is increasingly difficult to stand for Jesus, there is increasingly a cost. People will say that you are a bigot. They will try to silence you and marginalize you, and increasingly in large companies, if you say that you are a Christian, you may be pushed out. So how are you going to deal with that? Are you going to stand for Jesus or not?”
Brunson said one of the techniques he used to build his trust in God was to imagine a lockbox.
“I took these questions, and these doubts that I had that were suffocating my relationship with God, and I just imagined putting them in that box, and then I closed it, I locked it. … I said, ‘God, you and I are the only ones who have access to this box. You can open this box if you want. If you want to deal with all my questions and doubts, You open it, but I make the decision that I will not open this box. I will not entertain these questions or doubts anymore, because I don’t need the answers to follow you. I don’t need the answers to have a relationship with you.”
Rather than focus on his circumstances, Brunson began focusing on his love for God.
“This takes me to what I want to emphasize to you as you are defining your identity, as you are determining what road you will follow, whether you will stand for Jesus in your generation. The most important thing and what will define your identity and shape you is loving God,” he said, urging students to be honest with God and to ask Him for help.
“Maybe you don’t love God, and I completely understand, because if you don’t love God, there is a way to begin loving him, and this is what I did. I began to say, ‘God, make me hungry for you. I don’t love you, but I want to love you. Make me thirsty for you. And I started to do that every day, and as I did that, love began to grow in my heart,” Brunson said, reminding students that although love does include emotions, it is much more than emotions. “It is also obedience, and it is devotion, it’s persevering.”
Brunson’s perseverance got the attention of the White House, which helped secure his release as the world looked on. The Christian Action League secured a resolution for his freedom from the N.C. House and a statement from the N.C. Senate calling upon the Turkish government to release him.
To view Andrew Brunson’s message at Black Forest Academy, go here