Andrew Brunson: When persecution or testing comes don’t become offended at God

Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Brunson: When Persecution Comes — Take Seriously The Danger Of Becoming Offended At God
  • During difficult times, a real danger for the Christian is to become offended at God. I struggled with this. In fact, I came close to losing my friendship with God. My imprisonment, the isolation, the loneliness, the fear that I would never be with my family again—all these were difficult, but I understood intellectually that this was persecution. I didn’t like it, but I understood it to some degree.
  • Objectively, I can say God did not abandon me, but it felt and looked like He had. It was agony to my soul.
  • I questioned God’s existence. Then I questioned His character.
  • This is what Jesus warned about when He said that “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Many will turn away because they become offended at God
  • I made a decision with my will—not with my emotions—and said:
  • “God, whatever You do or don’t do, I will follow You. If You do not let me sense Your presence, I will still follow You. If You don’t speak to me, I will still follow You. If You don’t show me Your gentleness or kindness, I will still follow You. If You leave me in prison, I will still follow You.”
  • And He started to rebuild me.
  • I had to make this decision again and again. Every time I was in a pit, at every setback, I chose to turn toward God rather than away from Him.
  • The truth is, God tests His children. And one of the tests is overcoming offense.
  • I think part of my testing was that I not have a sense of the presence of God, that I not have His voice. God wanted me to learn to stand in the dark, to lean into Him whatever my feelings, whatever my circumstances.
  • Please, take seriously the danger of the offended heart. You must not allow offense to take root in your heart. Decide: “I will turn my eyes toward Jesus and not away.”

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Pastor Andrew Brunson: Majority are not ready for persecution

1 Peter 4:12-14 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Brunson: ‘The Majority Of Believers Are Not Ready For The Pressures Of Persecution, And This Is Very Dangerous’
  • I thought of myself as a relatively tough missionary—we had faced threats before; I had even been shot at once. But I was not prepared for what I experienced in prison. It was much more difficult than I imagined it would be, and I almost didn’t make it through. Persecution almost knocked me out.
  • Many Christians do not think this can happen in the United States, but it can. Followers of Jesus throughout history and in countries around the world have experienced persecution. In fact, our experience of very little persecution up to now is the exception.
  • What Will Drive Persecution?
    • I think two wedge issues will drive persecution. First, the exclusivity of Jesus in salvation—that Jesus is the only way to God. Second, that Jesus demands obedience from His followers in a number of areas that are hotly contested in our culture, such as sexual morality, gender identity, marriage, family, life and Biblical justice. Those who are faithful to Jesus in upholding Gospel exclusivity and obedience to Christ are going to be labeled as evil people, and those who persecute us will justify themselves by saying that we are a people of hate, that we carry a message of hate.
  • Here’s how we can start to prepare to stand under pressure:
    • We need to talk about persecution, be aware of it and plan for it. If we don’t talk about it, then when that dark wave hits, it is going to shock many people, and that places them in danger of being knocked out.
    • First, read the New Testament with a different eye. It’s full of exhortations to prepare and also examples of people living victoriously under persecution.
    • Read the Gospels with a focus on what Jesus says about persecution, how He Himself deals with persecution and how He prepares His disciples.
    • Second, begin to pray now that you and your loved ones will have enough faith and strength to stand. This is what Jesus urged His disciples to do.
    • Third, learn from persecuted Christians, those who have gone before and endured faithfully.
  • The Hard Truth
    • The hard truth is that God allows His children to suffer persecution, and it can be more difficult than we think.
    • Because this can be a discouraging subject, we need to keep before us the truth of the supremacy of Jesus, the image of Jesus as the Lion. He will not be defeated.

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Turkish court rules to release U.S. pastor Brunson

Norine Brunson, wife of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, departs for her husband's court hearing in Izmir, Turkey October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Ezgi Erkoyun

ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Friday to release the U.S. evangelical Christian pastor at the center of a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, a move that could be the first step toward mending ties between the NATO allies.

The court passed a 3 years and 1-1/2 month sentence on Andrew Brunson, who had been charged with terrorism offences, but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.

Witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced. Before the judge’s ruling, the pastor told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”

The case against Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years and was arrested two years ago, had led to U.S. tariffs against Turkey and drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump.

Brunson was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.

Earlier, witnesses told the court that testimonies attributed to them against the pastor were inaccurate, heightening expectations that Brunson could be released and returned to the United States.

Brunson appeared in the courtroom in the western coastal town of Aliaga wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors’ seating area as he listened to testimony from defense and prosecution witnesses.

“I do not understand how this is related to me,” Brunson said after the judge questioned one of a series of witnesses. He said the judge was asking the witness about incidents Brunson was not involved in.

The lira was little changed on the day. It had firmed 3 percent on Thursday on expectations that he would be released. It stood at 5.910 at 1336 GMT.

(Adds dropped name in para 2.)

(Writing by Daren Butler and David Dolan; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dominic Evans)

U.S. pastor’s lawyer says new Turkish prosecution witnesses irrelevant to case

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of the jailed pastor Andrew Brunson, talks to media outside the Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

By Yesim Dikmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – New prosecution witnesses expected to testify on Friday in the Turkish trial of a U.S. Christian pastor on terrorism charges lack relevance as their testimony will focus on incidents after Andrew Brunson’s arrest, his lawyer said.

The case against Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, has become the flashpoint in a diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, triggering U.S. tariffs against Turkey and condemnation from U.S. President Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of the jailed pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of the jailed pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 and has been under house arrest since July, is due to appear in court for the next hearing in his trial on Friday. The prosecution is expected to introduce two new secret witnesses, but Brunson’s lawyer Cem Halavurt said their testimonies were not germane to the case.

One of the witnesses, called “Sword” by prosecutors, claimed to have seen Brunson’s wife at a Christian gathering in Western Turkey, according to testimony to prosecutors published by the Hurriyet newspaper. The meeting made Sword feel “uncomfortable”, according to the Hurriyet’s account of the testimony.

“The incidents took place when my client was in jail,” Halavurt told Reuters. “These incidents are not relevant to my client.”

The court in Izmir, the coastal province where Brunson ran his small church, will decide whether it will hear the testimony from the new witnesses at the hearing.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that Brunson’s release on Friday would be an important step and the right thing for Turkey to do.

Brunson is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. He has denied the accusation – as has Gulen – and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

Jailed or held under house arrest since October 2016, Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. Last month the main prosecutor in his trial was replaced, a move his lawyer cautiously welcomed, saying it might be a sign of changing political will.

Despite pressure from the Trump administration, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that he has no sway over the judiciary and that the courts will decide on Brunson’s fate.

(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Turkey will resist U.S. sanctions over pastor, Erdogan says

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with his wife Emine are seen in a car as they arrive in Berlin, Germany, September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

By Gulsen Solaker and Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will resist U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Ankara over the trial of a Christian pastor who has been detained for two years, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, accusing the preacher of having “dark links with terror”.

The case of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, whose next court hearing is on Oct. 12, has plunged ties between Ankara and Washington into crisis, leading to U.S. sanctions and tariffs which helped push Turkey’s lira to record lows in August.

Brunson is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. He has denied the charges and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

Relations between the two NATO allies were already strained by disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey’s plans to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the jailing of a Turkish bank executive for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“We are deeply saddened by the current U.S. government, a strategic partner, targeting our country without any logical, political and strategic consistency,” Erdogan said in a speech to a new session of parliament.

Erdogan said Turkey was determined to fight, within legal and diplomatic frameworks, “this crooked understanding, which imposes sanctions using the excuse of a pastor who is tried due to his dark links with terror organizations.”

Brunson’s case has become the most divisive issue between the two countries. U.S. President Donald Trump believed he and Erdogan had agreed a deal to release him in July, but Ankara has denied agreeing to free the pastor as part of a wider agreement.

Brunson, who has been jailed or held under house arrest since October 2016, faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. Last month the main prosecutor in his trial was replaced, a move which his lawyer cautiously welcomed, saying it might be a sign of changing political will.

In his speech to the first session of parliament since its summer recess, Erdogan held out the possibility of better relations, while adding that there was still much work to do.

“We can say that we started to make progress towards reaching a common understanding (with the United States), although it is not at the desired level,” he said.

He also repeated Turkey’s accusation that Washington is protecting Gulen, who has been based in the United States for two decades, and said the conviction in a New York court of an executive of state-owned Halkbank for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran was “an example of unique unlawfulness”.

Tensions with Washington contributed to a meltdown in the Turkish lira in August, when the currency hit a record low of 7.20 to the dollar. It had already weakened over concerns at the extent of Erdogan’s control of the economy and opposition to raising interest rates to combat double-digit inflation.

Erdogan said Turkey’s economy was overcoming what he described as “midnight operations” designed to break it.

“Our economy started rebalancing with measures we have taken, meetings we have realized and programs we have developed,” he told parliament.

The lira <TRYTOM=D3> firmed more than 2 percent on Monday, reaching its strongest level in more than six weeks, on growing optimism that Brunson might be released and following a hike in interest rates and the govenrment’s new economic program.

Turkey’s exports also rose sharply in September, the trade ministry said, but Turkish manufacturing activity slid to its lowest level in nine years, a business survey showed.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

U.S. official warns of more actions against Turkey if pastor not freed

FILE PHOTO: U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir, Turkey July 25, 2018. Picture taken July 25, 2018. Demiroren News Agency/DHA via REUTERS/File photo

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is warning more economic pressures may be in store for Turkey if it refuses to release a jailed American pastor, a White House official said on Tuesday, in a dispute that has further strained relations between the NATO allies.

The tough message emerged a day after White House national security adviser John Bolton met privately with Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic about the case of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. Bolton warned him that the United States would not give any ground, a senior U.S. official said.

The White House official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said “nothing has progressed” thus far on the Brunson case.

“The administration is going to stay extremely firm on this. The president is 100 percent committed to bringing Pastor Brunson home and if we do not see actions in the next few days or a week there could be further actions taken,” the official said.

Further actions would likely take the form of economic sanctions, the official said, who added: “The pressure is going to keep up if we’re not seeing results.”

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been soured by Brunson’s detention, as well as diverging interests on Syria. Trump doubled tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum last week, contributing to a precipitous fall in the lira.

The United States is also considering a fine against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank for allegedly helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Earlier this month, the United States imposed sanctions on two top officials in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet in an attempt to get Turkey to turn over Brunson.

Brunson is accused of backing a coup attempt against Turkish Erdogan two years ago, charges that he has denied. He is being tried on terrorism charges.

Brunson has appealed again to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish)

U.S. pastor appeals for release, lifting of travel ban: lawyer

FILE PHOTO: U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir, Turkey July 25, 2018. Demiroren News Agency, DHA via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Christian American pastor standing trial in Turkey on terrorism charges has appealed to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban, his lawyer told Reuters on Monday.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have spiraled into a full-blown crisis over the trial of pastor Andrew Brunson, who was in custody for 21 months in a Turkish prison until he was transferred to house arrest last week.

President Donald Trump last week threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey unless it frees Brunson, who is accused of helping the group Ankara says was behind a failed military coup in 2016. Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty of the charges, which he denies.

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Ismail Cem Halavurt, lawyer of pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo

The appeal document seen by Reuters said although Brunson was freed from jail, the pastor was still deprived of his freedom and was unable to return to his normal life and carry out his religious duties.

Brunson’s lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said it would take the Turkish court in Aegean province of Izmir, where Brunson stood trial, three to seven days to make a decision on the appeal request.

His next hearing as part of the trial is scheduled for October.

Brunson was accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in which 250 people were killed. He was also charged with supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.

Gulen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Speaking to reporters during his trip to South Africa, Erdogan said Turkey would stand its ground in the face of Trump’s sanctions threat.

It was not clear what would be the nature of sanctions threatened by Trump but Washington was already working on bills related to Turkey.

The U.S. Senate has demanded a block on sales of F-35 jets to Turkey unless Trump certifies that Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. citizens.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams)

Two-thirds of U.S. Senate pushes Turkey to release pastor

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sixty-six U.S. senators signed a letter released on Friday urging Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan to release an American pastor on trial in Turkey on charges he was linked to a group accused of orchestrating a failed military coup.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for a failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

The letter, led by Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who represents Brunson’s home state North Carolina, and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, said the Senate backs efforts to strengthen cooperation between U.S. and Turkish law enforcement.

“However, we are deeply disturbed that the Turkish government has gone beyond legitimate action against the coup plotters to undermine Turkey’s own rule of law and democratic traditions,” it said.

U.S. President Donald Trump also voiced his support for Brunson on Twitter this week, writing, “They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is.”

The senators warned that unspecified measures might be necessary to ensure the Turkish government “respects the rights of law-abiding citizens” of the United States to be in Turkey without the fear of prosecution.

Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.

Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.

Overall, the letter was signed by 43 Republicans and 23 Democrats.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Tom Brown)

U.S. pastor denies allegations of coup links as Turkey trial begins

FILE PHOTO: Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS

By Ezgi Erkoyun

ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) – A U.S. pastor denied allegations of links to a group accused of orchestrating a failed military coup in Turkey as he went on trial on Monday in a case that has compounded strains in U.S.-Turkish relations.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

“I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want truth to come out,” Brunson told the court in the western Turkish town of Aliaga, north of the Aegean city of Izmir.

Brunson has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city.

Turkish gendarmes patrol outside of Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sadi Osman Temizel

Turkish gendarmes patrol outside of Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sadi Osman Temizel

“I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never involved in any illegal activities,” said Brunson, wearing a white shirt and black suit and making his defence in Turkish. His wife was in the courtroom, as were North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis and the U.S. envoy for religious freedom, Sam Brownback.

Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.

Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.

Gulen denies any association with the coup bid. Tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or lost their jobs over alleged connections with the coup bid.

“The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey,” Brownback told reporters during a recess at the trial “That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated.”

RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

Brunson’s lawyer said the pastor, detained 18 months ago, was in custody because of his religious beliefs. Turkey is a majority Muslim country though constitutionally secular.

“There is evidence that shows Brunson was arrested due to his faith,” Ismail Cem Halavurt told Reuters on the eve of the trial, saying Brunson’s religious role had been “classified as aiding terror organisations”.

The Izmir prosecutor’s office said that sufficient evidence had been obtained to charge Brunson with aiding armed terrorist organisations and obtaining confidential government information for political and military espionage.

A copy of Brunson’s indictment seen by Reuters accuses him of working both with Gulen’s network and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group which has waged an insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Halavurt said on Sunday he believed Brunson would ultimately be acquitted and there was no reason for his continued detention during trial. “Our prior expectation from the hearing is ending the arrest,” he said. “We want Brunson to be freed immediately.”

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan/Mark Heinrich)