Although Paul was happy every time he recalled the reception of the gospel in Thessalonica, still he was worried what might be happening to them under persecution (1 Thess 3). Persecution may have been coming from Jews, the local Greek townspeople or the Roman authorities. At that time it could have included beatings and stonings, torture, crucifixion and death. If believers weren't strong in their belief in Jesus, they certainly would not have risked any of these punishments even once, much less every day.
For Reflection: As I've said before, most of us don't face these types of persecution today. But if the early Christians could face these for believing and witnessing about Jesus, why can't we face the type of persecution we do experience - rejection for witnessing about Jesus? The number one reason most people don't speak to anyone about Christ is the fear of rejection.
Yes, we will experience rejection on behalf of the gospel message. It's a given. Jesus himself was rejected. Why should we expect to be treated any differently? Scripture says, though, that we should cast our cares, including our fears, upon the Lord (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7). Let's do that today.
Let us pray. Jesus, we do give you our fear of rejection, our fear of loss, our fear of persecution, and all other fears that we have. We trust that you will hold us and care for us and protect us. Renew our joy in you and in talking about you and what you have done.
And we remember today all those people in the world who are suffering extreme persecution. Give them the strength only you can provide, Jesus.
After Paul and Silas left Thessalonica they tried repeatedly to return to the young church there. But, Paul says, "Satan stopped us" (1 Thess 2:18). He is not specific about how Satan stopped them. Perhaps it was the persecution, threats from the authorities, illness or some direct attack by Satan; we don't know. Nevertheless, Paul has hope and joy just thinking about the Thessalonians. It gave him great joy just to remember how they had received the gospel, how they had turned from idol worship to worshiping the one true God, how they had stood under persecution. Paul's reward in life and before God was knowing that he had brought people to Christ. That was his hope, his joy, his glory. No matter what came against him in life, no one could take away what God had done through him - the salvation of more people for the kingdom.
For Reflection: What is keeping me from remembering the great things God has done?
Let us pray. What can keep us from recalling the great works of God? Sickness or depression? Persecution or danger? Loss of job? Criticism by a loved one? No, we are more than conquerors through Jesus. Nothing in creation can separate us from God's love. Jesus, you are my sunshine on every cloudy day (based on Romans 8:35-36).
In chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians Paul makes a defense of his ministry in Thessalonica. Possibly one prong of the persecution the church was under was a discrediting of Paul, Silas and Timothy. People may have been saying to them, "Oh, you were just taken in by their trickery and flattering ways. They are not sincerely interested in you. After leading you astray, look how quickly they left you." And so Paul reminds them of the truth. We had no impure motives; we were not trying to trick you; we didn't use flattery nor were we greedy. We shared our hearts and our lives with you. We worked alongside you while we preached to you the Gospel of Jesus. We treated you as a father treats his own children. And we are still concerned for you.
For Reflection: Paul and the other disciples did not suffer only from the physical persecution of those who wanted to kill them, but also from the slanderous tongues of those who would discredit them and their message. Although some Christians in the world today are being killed for believing in Jesus, most are not. But many suffer the whispered criticism, being thought less of or outright ignored. Jesus taught us, though, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Let us pray. Jesus, we pray for all people who are persecuting Christians around the world. Touch them, Lord, with your mercy and forgiveness and let their minds be open to your truth.
"Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Upon hearing the good news that Jesus was the Messiah, that he died to set them free from their sins and to bring salvation to them, many people came to believe in Jesus. These words of the gospel message delivered by Paul and Silas were accompanied by powerful works of the Holy Spirit to heal and deliver people. People's lives were changed. They were set free from the power of sin and eternal death to live in the freedom that Jesus brought. They received the good news with such conviction that they were able to suffer persecution without faltering, even as new believers. Paul thanked God for the way in which they had received the good news. He said, "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
They had set their lives on a new path. What lay around the bend was unknown but they knew that with the power of God they could face anything. The word of God was at work in them.
For Reflection: What changes has the gospel, the word of God, brought in my life?
Let us pray. I thank you, Father, that someone preached your word to me and I too came to believe in your word and the power of your death and resurrection. I thank you for all who have preached your word to me and I thank you for opening my heart to receive it.
So let us look at an early church group in Thessalonica. We know something about them because Paul wrote to them after he established a church there around the year 51 A.D. It is a port town; therefore it's a town of influence where people came and went from various parts of the Mediterranean world. There were Jews in Thessalonica and Paul, as was his custom, first preached about Jesus in the synagogue. Three weeks in a row on the Sabbath, Paul, as well-educated visiting rabbi, explained the Scriptures to them, proving to them that Jesus was the Messiah who had to suffer, die and rise from the dead. Some Jews were convinced along with a number of Greeks (and even some women!).
Although they established an early church there, all did not go well for Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. The Jews who were not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah started a riot in an effort to get Paul and Silas arrested. Paul and Silas escaped and went to Berea, but Jason their host did not. He was arrested and had to post bond.
The Thessalonian Jews chased Paul and Silas all the way to Berea and stirred up trouble there, so Paul moved on to Athens. Persecution kept Paul on the move but also served to spread the good news about Jesus around the Mediterranean.
For Reflection: For Paul, preaching, persecution and pursuit were the normal Christian life. How does my normal Christian life look in comparison?
Let us pray.
Many may be unfamiliar with the story of a Jewish woman who was forced to watch her seven sons be killed in the space of a single day. The story is told in 2 Maccabees 7 that the king was trying to force the family to eat pork. The account is extremely gruesome.
But the mother is lauded for combining "womanly emotion with manly courage" while she spoke words of encouragement to each of her sons. She reminded them that it was God who created the universe and gave them life, that God was merciful and would reward them with eternal life. She encouraged them to their death.
Lastly the mother died.
For Reflection: For all the mothers who send their sons (and daughters) off to war. For all the mothers who offer encouragement in times of persecution. For all the mothers who receive back the wounded and the dead, let us thank God.
Let us Pray. We do not know your ways, Lord, nor understand why some suffer so much for believing in God the Creator. But we thank you for the mothers who give life and encouragement to their families to keep to the laws of God. We entrust these mothers in their love and their sorrow to your care.
It is hard to imagine living under persecution for being Christian (or any faith belief), but Christians have the words of Jesus who tells us to "fear not." That's much easier said than done; however, I think Jesus meant it.
If we know that when we die we will spend eternity in the Kingdom of God, then we need not fear death. So for Christians fear should not arise from death itself. Many of us, though, may fear what comes before death - suffering or pain. Is Jesus telling us not to fear suffering or pain?
Well, Scripture says that perfect love (God) casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), but it appears to me that verse is meant for the day of judgment. If we consider Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus is concerned about something. But what is it that overwhelms him? Is it death itself? or the pain of the whipping and crucifixion to come? or the weight of the sins of the world?
For reflection: Honestly, I don't know but I don't think it was the prospect of death itself that caused Jesus such anguish. I think it was either the physical pain to come or the weight of the sins of the world. What do you think?
Let us pray. Jesus, only you know what the persecuted Christians around the world are facing. We thank you for being with them in their time of testing and temptation, and we thank you for holding them like the Good Shepherd you are. Strengthen their faith in the face of the enemy. May your Name be always in their minds, and on their lips and in their hearts.
Two more brave women, largely unsung, figure into the story of Moses. Jochebed and Miriam were Moses's mother and sister. Since the Hebrew midwives wouldn't kill the boy babies when they were born, Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew women to throw their newborn sons into the Nile River. Jochebed didn't throw her son into the river. Rather she wove a small boat for him and placed him in the river where she knew he would be found by someone from Pharaoh's household. Then she posted her daughter Miriam as a watchwoman to see what would become of him.
When Pharaoh's daughter found him and wanted to keep the baby as his own, Miriam bravely stepped up and suggested that a Hebrew woman nurse him. So Jochebed got to keep him for a few more years (Exodus 1:22-2:10).
Jochebed, had to give up her son twice. First, when she put him in the river. Second, when she sent him to live with Pharaoh's daughter. She desired life for her son enough to go through all that so that he could live. Shiphrah and Puah had to stand up to Pharaoh and disobey his orders. Miriam, just a slave girl, had to speak to the princess of the land and make a suggestion. It took the courage of these four women to bring to life a man who would change the world. Without their tenacity, Moses's mission would not have come to fruition.
For Reflection: What sacrifices or decisions have I made that I didn't understand at the time, but later realized they made a big difference in my life? When have I had to be courageous?
Let us pray. Lord, I struggle to be courageous like Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed and Miriam. I don't know that I could defy someone as powerful as Pharaoh if an unlawful order is made. Would I be as resourceful as Jochebed? As brave as Miriam? I don't know.
Many Christians around the world today are under persecution as powerful as that of Pharaoh, Lord. Help me to stand with them in prayer at least.
(Note: Many Christians will be standing in prayer for persecuted Christians in various nations on August 1. Won't you join us in prayer?)
The image of light runs throughout the Scriptures - both Old and New Testaments. So let's stay with it for a little bit. Our text is Matthew 5:14-16. If we are the light of the world, and Jesus said we are, why do we hide our light?
One reason is we fear being rejected. We are afraid that we will say something to someone about Jesus, or even Christianity in general, and they will reject what we say and thereby reject us. Does this happen? Of course it does. As Christians we come from a long line of people who have been rejected. The Old Testament prophets were rejected in their day even though they were Jews speaking to Jews. Moving to the New Testament, John the Baptist was rejected. Jesus was rejected. Peter and the other disciples were rejected.
Rejection did not stop them from letting their light shine, from doing what God told them to do, and saying what God told them to say. Which takes us back to verse 11 of Matthew 5: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." To this we can add these verses from 1 John 4: "God is love. . . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."
So being rejected sometimes should not be unexpected for us. Knowing that we will be rejected sometimes helps to take the fear out of it. It will come in the normal course of events. But we won't be rejected every time, and people really need to hear the message of Jesus from us. Let's not hide our light.
For Reflection: What is greater in me - the love of God or the fear of rejection?
Let us pray. God, you are perfect love. I give you my fear of rejection. I trust that even when I am rejected you will take care of me. Help me to let my light shine today.
Often when I pray with people it seems that they think God has "put them through tough times" deliberately in order to develop their character, help them grow, or whatever.
Let's take a look at this concept through the lens of Joseph's story. If this concept is true, then God meant for Joseph to be sold into slavery in order to punish him for sin, or develop his character and turn him into a great leader, or even just to get him to Egypt from his homeland.
First, if all God wanted was to get Joseph from Canaan to Egypt, God could have done that any number of ways without putting Joseph through turmoil and suffering.
Second, Joseph's suffering helped to develop his character and abilities as a leader, but God is not the one who sold him into slavery, or falsely accused him, or put him in prison. People did that, not God.
Third, clearly God was with Joseph throughout this time. Genesis 39:2-3 tell us that God was with Joseph in Potiphar's house and that Potiphar recognized this fact and that Joseph was a blessing to him. In Genesis 39:21, it clearly says that God was with Joseph in prison where he rose to a leadership position and he had favor with the warden. When Joseph went to work for Pharaoh, it became obvious that God had raised him to that position to save Egypt from the famine. God was continually blessing Joseph, not punishing him.
Finally, Joseph himself recognized that what his brothers had done to him was not the work of God. "You meant evil against me; but God has used it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive," Joseph tells his brothers after they are reconciled (Genesis 50:20). The evil, the slavery, the imprisonment were not God's doing. As with Joseph, God is with us in our trials, with us in our suffering.
For reflection: How has God been with me in my trials? For what problems am I blaming God?
Let us pray. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.