Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let them go, and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will be on your cattle in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep—a very severe pestilence. And the LORD will make a difference between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. So nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel.” ’ ” Then the LORD appointed a set time, saying, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.”
So the LORD did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the children of Israel, not one died. Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go. (Exodus 9:1-7, NKJV)
Many of us know the Exodus narrative. How God called Moses from birth to deliver the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt. How Pharaoh ordered all the male Hebrew babies killed, but Moses’ mother hid Moses in a basket in the river. How Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses and rescued him. So, Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace, saw the bondage of his people, killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, fled to the wilderness of Midian, and lived as a shepherd. Then, at Moses’ lowest, God spoke to him through the burning bush, and despite all Moses’ protests, God was adamant that He would deliver the Hebrew people through the leadership of Moses. And here, in this passage, we read how Moses, with Aaron’s help, is waging God’s war against Egypt through the plagues until Pharaoh finally lets the Hebrew people leave.
Tomorrow begins a new year. Many of us are thinking about resolutions. Maybe you want to lose weight, manage your money better, be a better mother, father, sister, brother, friend. Find a job. Get a promotion. Whatever it is, there’s probably something on your heart you’d like to see happen in the New Year. I’d like to suggest one additional resolution for each of us to make.
When God started the plagues in Egypt, they were a sign to Pharaoh about God’s power, an attack against Egypt’s God’s that would ultimately provoke Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt. But with some of the plagues, like the flies and the livestock, God adds another element: a difference between His people and Egypt.
Spiritually, we can look at Egypt as a picture of the world and the Hebrew people as a picture of the church. As believers, we live in this world, working alongside believers and unbelievers, providing for our households and improving our communities. But even though we live in and work among the world, God has called us to come out from the world, to be different—to come and worship Him.
Our worship offends the world because our world doesn’t understand God. But God doesn’t call us to change this world by Christianizing governments, arguing with skeptics, or slaughtering unbelievers. God instructs us to go and make disciples. He commands us to love Him and others with our whole being and to show that love by our actions toward others. And He describes those acts of love as being light in a dark place, salt to preserve the world (Matt 5:13-16).
As we begin this new year, I want to encourage you to let God’s invitation to His people—to come and worship—be your invitation as well. God wants to make a difference between you and the world, bringing His light into this dark world through you. But He makes that difference by changing your heart and renewing your mind (Rom 12:2). How does He do that? By His Spirit, through prayer, through the Word, through fellowship with believers, and through circumstances, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, as you yield your heart to His presence in your life.
Let God change your life. Let Him make a difference between you and the world. Let God bring His light into this world through you. Let God be your resolution this new year.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for You. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NJKV)
The ancient city of Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province Macedonia, making it a hotspot for Roman travel, trade, politics, and religion in the region. And when Paul preached in Thessalonica, he quickly encountered much hostility from local non-believers. After Paul left, the Thessalonians continued to experience similar hostility and persecution in the city. Against this backdrop of hostile daily life, we read Paul’s isntructions to the Thessalonian church.
Confession time. When God lets my life get uncomfortable, I get upset. Personally, my issue is anger. When life starts piling on the difficulties, even the small annoyances that I can usually shake off feel like red-hot iron pokers burning away sanity.
Maybe you’re like me and your issue is anger. Or maybe your struggle is with discouragement, doubt, and despair. Or, perhaps, when life closes in around you, you detach from the world and run away. Whatever your response, all of us at various times experience the pressures of life weighing heavily on us.
But imagine being a Thessalonian believer. You’re living in the center of a pagan world that worships their gods with gluttonous parties, drunkenness, wild orgies, and so forth. As a Thessalonian, you used to do those things, too. But now, as a believer in Jesus, He has set you free from those lifestyles of sin and you don’t do those things anymore. But your old friends aren’t ok with that. They won’t sell you food, clothes, or other necessities. They won’t socialize with you anymore. And if you start telling them about Jesus, they literally drag you and your family out of your house and beat you.
As a Thessalonian, your first pastor, Paul, and his ministry team were forced out of town by such hostility. But he has heard about your struggles and he has written you a letter, encouraging you to give thanks in everything. How absurd!
But Paul doesn’t say, “rise up and slaughter the offenders,” or “take them to court and squeeze every penny from them,” or “run for office and force Christian morals on society.” Those are the methods of men. They’re not our mission from God.
God’s will for us is to let Him transform our hearts and minds into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s mission for us is to go out, into all the unbelieving world, preaching the gospel and making disciples of the nations. Both God’s will and God’s mission require us to remember the single most important fact of every believer’s existence:
Jesus Christ died for our sins, saved us from death, and gives us eternal life.
It is this reality that enables us and impels us to be thankful at all times, in all things. One author explains the situation this way,
[Remember] Rom. 8:28, [how] all of which cooperate for good to God’s children and thus call forth our thanks to God. We need to learn this secret of the happy Christian life—thankfulness. If everything actually conspires to do us good, how can we do otherwise than always rejoice? 
Our thankfulness is not based on external circumstances. It flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we begin looking at life through the lens of salvation, we see God working through the hardship in this life to make us holy. That holiness grows in us, making us more like Jesus, focusing our hearts toward heaven, filling us with joy, and turning our frowns upside down.
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 358.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV)
Pardon my bluntness, but sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it? You make these plans and they seem so important, but as the time approaches one thing after another just starts tearing them down. You have these people in your life, people you care about so deeply, that you’re ready to do almost anything for them, but when you need them, they seem to let you down. Maybe it’s your job, or you just can’t seem to find or keep a job. Maybe it’s a loved one who has fallen on hard times, illness, or death. Or maybe your own health burdens you on a daily basis. Whatever your situation, I am confident that each of us, whether presently or in times past, has experienced these kinds of discouraging situations.
I believe these kinds of situations can, depending on the circumstances, qualify as what the Bible calls “anxieties,” or “cares.” The Greek word has a long history and it has a double-meaning, very similar to our English word “cares.” In the positive sense, it can refer to any kind of heart-felt motivation to help someone else, “caring” for someone else when they are sick, weak, or in some kind of need. In the negative sense, it can also refer to any kind of heart-felt need that goes unsatisfied, like if you are sick, weak, or in need, but you feel as though you’re alone and no one is helping you. Both kinds of “cares” are strong enough to demand our full attention. And therein lies the problem—for when we fix our eyes on the situation, we take our eyes off Christ.
But there is a remedy for that feeling of discouragement and despair. You see, that feeling comes from a false perspective. You may feel alone, but you aren’t alone. God is with you. So, Paul says, the remedy isn’t to focus more on the situation, but to fix your eyes of the Lord. And prayer is the single most effective strategy for doing just that. And if you are willing to go to God in prayer, Paul gives a promise—the Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say might or probably. He says will. That’s not just a style of translation—that’s the literal rendering of the Greek. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, we can be absolutely sure that His peace will guard our hearts and minds from the efforts of the Enemy and the world to discourage us.
During the Last Supper, I think the disciples were feeling some anxieties. For at least a few days, Jesus had been telling them about how he would be betrayed and killed. He was going to leave them. In my mind I can imagine reclining at the table among the disciples, thinking, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you supposed to be the King of Israel? But you say you’re going to die. And what’s this business about rising in three days?”
While Jesus and the disciples were talking after the meal, Jesus instructed them about many things, including peace. As John 14:27 says,
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
The peace of God is a gift given to us by Jesus. It was made possible by the death of Jesus, which paid the debt for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. In this way, Jesus made peace for us with the Father (see Rom 5:10-11). And now, the peace of God can rule our hearts. But God does not force his peace on us. As Colossians 3:15 says, we have to let his peace rule our hearts. How? By fixing our eyes on the Lord through prayer. And how is this possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.