Living Hope

Our Victory

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

“‘O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He came down from heaven to win the war for us.

Jesus Christ, born of Mary, the incarnate Son of the Heavenly Father, took the field for us and defeated the enemies of God and His people. He did it willingly so we could be brought back into the family of God. And when our enemies thought they defeated Him when they killed Him on the Roman cross, Jesus walks from three days later from the tomb.

The empty tomb symbolizes the great victory Jesus won for us.

Death no longer has control over us. Jesus victoriously walked free since death’s grip was overcome when He rose from the dead.

The victory over death is our victory, imparted to us because our Lord wants us to be with Him forever. He did it all on our behalf so we can stand as victors over death, sin, and Satan and gain eternity with our God. Jesus won the war for us.

It is a great feeling to know that our God has done this all for us and has given us the fruits of His victory. Though we may feel like we don’t deserve it, He gave it to us any way because our God loves us.

As we go through this time of immeasurable struggles with the coronavirus and see so many people lose their lives, we know that our redeemer lives and that all of God’s people will stand with Him for eternity. Though we cry today, our tears are wiped away by our Savior who redeemed us from eternal death.

Living Hope Morning Coffee

More Than Seeing

John 20:29

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

When we think about believing in things that you can’t see, it takes a lot of trust, doesn’t it? 

There are so many people who believe in UFOs and intelligent life on other planets. Have they seen an alien from a far away planet walking around the streets? No, but they still believe that somewhere in space there is intelligent life on some planet we haven’t discovered yet – life they believe is more intelligent than anyone of us – and one day their space ship is going land here on earth wanting to speak to our President.

There are some who believe the narrative in the “War of the Worlds” novel, movies, and television shows, that these intelligent beings are going to arrive here one day and try to kill all of us.

How much real evidence do they have to prove their beliefs? None.

They haven’t been privy to any real evidence, only conjecture and imagination, yet they believe.

To believe in God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is a completely different understanding of seeing is believing. Historical and archeological evidence has proven that the stories of Holy Scripture are accurate. 

The evidence is there. No need to dream that this evidence exists.

The question of faith and believing in Jesus is a deeper spiritual topic. Proving faith is not possible; it is all about believing and trusting in something greater than what we can see. And at the core of this faith is a deep-rooted living hope that the Creator of the world wants us to be with Him forever and He will do and has done everything to make this a reality. 

Faith is not touching the man Jesus and believing. Faith is believing the story of God that He loves us. And by the Holy Spirit, we say we believe and trust the God who created us, redeemed us, and sets us apart to be His own. 

We Christians who believe in Jesus don’t need to see the nail marks in His hands or the spear mark in His side to believe. We trust Him that when He said He came to fulfill the Law of God on our behalf and redeem us, He did just as He promised.

It is a wonderful feeling to live my life by my faith in Jesus Christ. Seeing this world through the prism that things can get better if all people come to faith in our resurrected world is a great feeling. So all of us work in tandem to bring this living hope of Jesus to all people on this blue ball floating in space. 

Gospel Life

Telling the Story

I readily admit that I’m not the greatest at doing online worship or devotions. Maybe I’m getting a bit better each time I write and record audio and live stream, but I’m not good. Yet.

After online worship this Sunday, I poured myself my third cup of green tea and sat down in a chair in the living room. Usually I spend time reflecting on worship, thinking about things I did well and not so well. My sermon may have been too long or contain a longer story than normal. The prayers could have been a little long or too short or were missing that “something something” that would make a petition pop. 

And then I complain to myself that I could be better.

As I was reflecting Sunday morning, my phone rang. The out of town number wasn’t in my contact list so there I sat for a few seconds trying to figure out who was on the line. Taking a deep breath as I put my earphones in, I tapped the green icon on my iPhone’s screen. After saying “hello,” the person on the other line was a pastor friend.

Surprised to hear from him on a Sunday morning, we chatted a bit about how things are going in our respective communities. Here in Bergen County, things have been tough for a while. Where my friend lives, not so much. His town has seen single-digit coronavirus cases. That’s a good thing.

He complained about online learning and couldn’t understand how parents can be homeschool teachers with children who want to play on their phones all the time. We laughed that now parents see their children in their true light…and thus we pray for their teachers.

My friend told me that things were going OK for him and his families – his wife and kids were fine as were the members of his church. I told him my story of funerals, death, life’s struggles, and worship issues being locked up at home. Overall, I’m fine and doing well.

“Anthony, I gotta ask you something.”

“Sure. Go right ahead.”

“Do you think we pastors can be so focused on orthodoxy we miss what’s going on around us?”


He went on to tell me that he records his weekend divine service on Friday morning. Over the course of the day, he takes the video and edits it, taking out blunders and reducing the time between parts of the liturgy. For example, he cuts out the time when he walks from the altar to the pulpit to preach. When he’s done, he uploads it to Vimeo and places the video on his church’s website. Congregation members then watch it at their leisure over the weekend.

“I got this call from a person in my congregation yesterday,” he said, “and it disturbed me. She told me that my sermons are difficult to watch because the house is on fire, people are dying, and you’re talking about how it’s our fault for the fire.

Ouch. As soon as he said that, I knew exactly what that member of his church was thinking. 

Lutheran pastors are trained to preach sermons that are supposed to balance “Law and Gospel.” The Gospel is easy – Jesus is your Savior. The Law is harder for the focus is on the individual listening or watching the sermon and their sin. So, in a nutshell, the sermon is supposed go something like “You’re a sinner. Thank God for Jesus for saving your wretched soul. Amen.”

The pattern can be switched up, but the basic foundation is there – Law, you the sinner have broken it; Gospel, Jesus came to save you. 

This hermeneutic structure is fine – nothing is wrong with it. But what happens in times of crisis that we’re living in? Do people want to hear that they are super sinners in every sermon? Is it possible to switch up the formula a bit to put the church in the midst of the crisis and encourage the living of the Gospel to make lives better? 

I think “yes.”

Here in Bergen County, the infection rate of the virus is well over 13,000. In the grand scheme of things, 13,000 infected people in a county of 932,000 people doesn’t sound overly horrific. The numbers of deaths – 741 – when compared to the population sounds less significant. But as Bergen County people, we see the impacts of the virus around us daily. We see the sadness and the heartbreak.

People are getting really sick. Even those who never need hospitalization or spend time in an ICU, the sickness they are dealing with is terrible. A friend of mine from New York went to the testing drive through in New Rochelle a couple of weeks ago because his wife was feeling ill and had symptoms of the coronavirus. Their doctor gave them a prescription to get a test. They went, got tested, and they found out later that she was fine but he was sick. It shocked them because he was feeling good. On the orders of their doctor, he isolated himself at home in his garage (it is like a family recreation room with a 85 inch TV). And as the days went on, he was feeling great, until Thursday of this week. He started coughing and feeling terrible. His fever had spiked to 101. On Saturday morning, he was thinking of heading to the hospital. “I felt like dying.” 

He didn’t die or go to the hospital. When I spoke to him Saturday night, he said his fever had dropped to 99 and he was able to eat something (Doritos). He still felt bad, but was getting better.

The numbers of unemployed people are beyond astronomical here in New Jersey and around the country. More than 700,000 people in the state have filed for unemployment. And do you think that the unemployment system is able to keep up with this massive flood of filers? Of course not! So many people in Bergen County are struggling to get food on their tables because they have zero income. Food banks and pantries are being overwhelmed. 

Most of these people work paycheck to paycheck. Without a paycheck, they’re in a deep crisis. 

A week ago I was online at the ShopRite supermarket in New MIlford when a woman came out of the store crying. The supermarket was out of peanut butter. Most people will think, “What the heck? I’ll get almond butter instead.”  However, almond butter is much more expensive than peanut butter. While they told her that they expected a shipment, they were still out of the one thing she needed to feed her kids. She was unemployed and without an income. She was fighting to make ends meet, and she couldn’t as she waited for her unemployment check.

I know a businessman who had to layoff all of his employees because he couldn’t afford to pay them while his store was closed. While he applied for the PPP loan, his bank told him they couldn’t approve it because the system was overwhelmed. He then had to lay off his employees because he couldn’t pay them any more.

For pastors, we see the crisis all around us – at least we should see it. Not just from news stories on TV or in the newspapers but in our daily ministry. If you’re a pastor sitting at home spending more time editing videos or reading books in this time of crisis, you’re missing the point.

When a pastor can’t see the forest through the trees, or see that the house is burning down and he’s focused on something else, then they need to reassess the state of their ministry.

Sermons are supposed to be impactful with the Gospel, but also with the knowledge that the pastor gets what is going on around the people in their community. And in these times of crisis, pastors need to show that we’re all in this together – congregation, pastor, and Jesus. 

I get critiqued plenty of times when my stories drag on or that somewhere in my sermon I didn’t make sense. It happens. But in every sermon I try my best to make the Word of God impactful by connecting the Gospel to the people sitting in the pews or watching at home. And sometimes, I don’t talk about sin or Satan in these times of crisis because the fallen nature of the world we live in shows our greater need for the Gospel and for God.

Culture Uncategorized

We Should Be Better Than This

This is horrific. Wishing that someone gets infected with the coronavirus shows a sickening character flaw. People are suffering and dying from this virus. I am at a loss for words with what Rick Wilson tweeted. As Katie Pavlich responded.

Church Gospel Life LCMS Living Hope

‘Young People Don’t Go to Church’

“Young people don’t go to church.”

Ask anyone in the church today, the common refrain about the state of the established church on earth is that younger people – millennials, Gen Z’ers, Gen X’ers – don’t have a regular worship life. They could be the “high holy day” Christians, showing up on Christmas Eve or Easter morning. Or they be part of the “well, I was baptized and I believe in God, so I don’t need a church” crowd.

As recent news shows, a growing number of younger people are not only rejecting regular worship, but are rejecting God.

Church, as an institution, is frowned upon by our culture. The pedophilia priest issue in the Roman Catholic Church stained the entire Christian Church. I’ve been called various evil things about my role as a “priest” and questioned as to why hasn’t “my church” done anything to stop the abuse of children, even though I am not a Roman Catholic priest, but I wear the same type of black clergy shirts with a plastic tab in the neck. Other churches including my own Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod are called out for holding onto beliefs that are archaic and don’t have a place in the modern world. “Why doesn’t your church have women pastors,” I am asked. “Why do you hate gays and transgendered people,” is thrown at me even though I nor my church doesn’t hate gays or transgendered people.

Yet, even in mainline churches who embrace a modern view of the culture within the church are finding out that they, too, are seeing fewer and fewer people in their churches every Sunday.

“Young people don’t go to church.”

So the question of the viability of individual smaller churches is growing within the Church as a whole. Small churches can’t afford regular clergy leadership or any of the modern ways of worshipping that larger church institutions are making due with today. These smaller places of worshipping God can’t do the things larger churches do because there isn’t a support system to make them a reality. Every year, thousands of smaller Christian churches close because making a financial go of it is impossible.

And everybody blames the young people who don’t go to church.

The church, as a whole, needs to take the time to ask themselves questions about how they worship, how they do ministry, how they teach, how they evangelize, and how they serve their neighbor before they reflexively jump to the easy answer to the church’s problems that “young people don’t go church.”

We need to really take time to look at our churches and how we operate. Have our churches become social clubs where people in our churches meet for coffee and cake every week and do little on outreaching into our communities?

My LCMS, on a local level, is struggling. Small churches are closing. Where our urban churches are located, they are barely hanging on. And in many urban centers, our LCMS churches have just given up.

Some have ideas in which to save the church. Smaller churches could close up and join other churches so they can form slightly larger churches. More people would be in the pews every weekend, giving the newer church a chance at making it for a while.

Another idea is to close smaller churches in the suburbs and make them come together with a larger church so that this new, much bigger church can support missions within the urban areas.

Yet within our struggling churches, the people have the answer to all their problems – young people just have to come to church.

Maybe it is time for a new way to look at our local churches and how we “do church.” We need to begin to question our local church governance and our how we center our lives and our mission on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The time of the social club church is at its end.