Are you a Pharisee or tax collector? Do you know any Pharisees or tax collectors? Stick with me a minute, and we’ll both learn.
Pharisees were a dedicated bunch. They were very strict in interpreting and obeying Old Testament rules and commandments. Their very identity was demonstrated by how they lived their life in accordance with their faith. They were very legalistic. Pharisees held themselves as examples of how best to live your faith and judged others for failing to do the same. Before you dismiss them, consider one you might know. His name was Saul, and he describes himself as a Pharisee of Pharisees. You know him better by his Christian name, Paul.
What about the tax collector? First, don’t think IRS or any government or political process. Tax collectors then and now are very, very different. Don’t apply politics of today to the time then, or you’ll end up with Woke Pharisees enforcing Cancel Culture or the Moral Majority.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were Jews who worked with the Roman authorities to collect money from fellow Jews. Romans were occupiers who enforced their will upon defeated nations. The tax collectors collaborated with their Roman occupiers. They were despised. Imagine a Ukrainian working with Russian forces in occupied parts of Ukraine to collect money from fellow Ukrainians to fund the Russian war effort.
Right about now, you’re thinking that you are in the clear. You’re not strictly interpreting and exemplifying your faith while judging others for not doing the same, and you’re not collaborating with an enemy occupying force. Any worries you might have had about falling into one or the other category are fading away.
Not so fast. In the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14, Jesus shares a parable in which a Pharisee and a tax collector go down to the temple to pray.
The Pharisee gives thanks to God that he is not a sinner “or even like this tax collector.” Furthermore, he lives his faith by fasting and tithing.
The tax collector, with head bowed, simply states, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Jesus lifts up the humility of the tax collector’s faithful statement in contrast with the self-righteousness of the Pharisee.
So herein lies the real question: Are you self-righteous in your faith and life or humble in your sins?
That is a much more difficult question. What if we’re a little bit of both?
I bristle at self-righteousness of any sort. However, if left to my own devices, I can be very self-righteous about others I see as self-righteous. It’s a curiously easy trap. I also know that I have made mistakes, consumed humble pie (or my foot) and sought forgiveness.
Some lessons to take to heart: Be wary of your own and other’s self-righteousness. Leave the judging to God and courtrooms. Be humble before God and others. We’re all flesh and blood, capable of success and failure. Give grace to yourself and to others.
The Rev. Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed is a pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and Chaplain for Police and Fire departments. Insight is sponsored by TVCC.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on October 21, 2022
Have you ever read (or heard) a passage of scripture for the hundredth time and suddenly heard it a completely different way? I recently had that very experience. Sit with me a minute and see what you think.
The passage is very familiar. It is the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha. Mary sits listening to Jesus while Martha is very busy. We have all been Mary and Martha. We’ve been Mary as we listen to hear and learn. We’ve been Martha as we do, and do, and do. I have always felt for both Mary and Martha. Churches, work and families are often made of a Mary and a Martha. The world needs Mary and Martha. Have you been each or both?
I always thought that. Then I read the passage again and thought about church and life. The passage is from the Gospel of Luke chapter 10 verses 38 to 42:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (ESV)
Martha is demonstrating hospitality. She invites Jesus into her home and gets busy. Mary sits and listens to Jesus. I always ask my congregation where they are in a Biblical story? I’ll ask you the same. Where are you? Would you invite Jesus into your home? Once in, would you sit and listen to him, or would you get busy?
All this side steps the issue, the insight that I hadn’t really noticed. In addition to being busy, what does Martha do? She complains to Jesus about Mary. We call it triangulation when someone goes to another to complain about a third party. We see triangulation at work, at church and at home. We hear it on the radio, and we watch it on television. Triangulation is practically a national pastime.
Martha is focused on being busy and complains. She misses out on Jesus. Is complaining what Jesus calls us to do? Will the world know you are a believer by your complaints, judging and self-righteousness? No. Jesus calls us to love God, love our neighbor and even love our enemies. In these polarized times, imagine a world in which people love and show that love through care. I see that love at the Food Bank, Rescue Mission, Helping Alaska, the Door, Fyndout Free and beyond. We’re called to love, not to complain, not to fight.
Focus on listening and following Jesus.
The Rev. Stephen Reed
Rev. Stephen Reed is a pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and chaplain for Police and Fire. Insight is sponsored by TVCC.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on September 3, 2022
By Rev. Stephen Reed
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3)
Time has passed since my last article and people have passed in massacres.
If news reports are correct, law enforcement was already “well aware” of the latest shooter, having responded to his home when family called 911 about him (allegedly) making suicidal and homicidal threats (to kill himself and later to kill his entire family) in 2019. That is very sad.
According to the same reports, the shooter’s dad subsequently sponsored the son through the process to get a Firearm Owners Identification Card — a requirement to purchase guns in Illinois. Consider that for a moment. The dad gets his son through the gun control process to purchase and possess guns, though the son had previously threatened suicide and later homicide. Illinois also has “Red Flag” laws, which had no effect on this previously suicidal and homicidal person getting a Firearm Owner Identification Card.
In my perfect world, when a person threatens suicide and/or homicide, that person would be banned from (legally) buying or possessing any gun. The idea of a parent circumventing the law to arm their child is not unique to this case. The mother of the Sandy Hook shooter (allegedly) bought her son an AR-15, which he then killed her with prior to attacking the school. The parents of the (alleged) Michigan school shooter (allegedly) bought their 15-year-old son a 9mm pistol, defended him after he made threats and ignored that he was armed when he left the principal’s office and began shooting.
I believe that some parents ought to be charged like they were in Michigan. I believe that suicidal and homicidal people ought to be banned from buying guns, not armed by parents.
I also believe that no one should be publishing anything of these shooters: not their name, not their image, not their social media, not their words. Nothing. No one should make the violent and mentally ill famous or infamous. That fame/infamy only inspires others to go and do likewise and spread the contagion of mass shootings.
It seems as though we are living in dark and difficult times. We need to take personal responsibility as parents and members of the community to stem this tide of random acts of violence. If we see something, then we most certainly must say something. If our own child is acting in a self-destructive or violent manner, then we must get them the needed help, not guns.
For much of my life I have participated in pistol and rifle competitions and recreation. I have also been trusted with securing guns of suicidal people. As a parent and shooter, I have never armed a suicidal or homicidal person. If your instinct, gut, intuition, feeling, sense or whatever else you call it, gives you a bad feeling, then listen to that and act upon it. The life you save may be your own (and your neighbors).
The Rev. Stephen Reed is a pastor at St. Paul Church next to Musher’s Hall on Farmers Loop and a Chaplain for Fairbanks Police and Fire.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on July 8, 2022.
This past Sunday was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekend is usually a time to give thanks for those who have died fighting for our country. It is also a time to give thanks that winter is behind, and summer is ahead.
Instead, like much our nation, I was in shock over an apparent attack upon an elementary school on Tuesday, May 24. The attack occurred in Uvalde, TX, a small town where my wife’s college roommate grew up. Nineteen children and two teachers were murdered and others wounded.
This past Sunday I preached on the assigned readings from the revised common lectionary including one about a child possessed by a spirit. As I prepared the sermon, I couldn’t help but think of the horror of the attack upon an elementary school and the poor response at the time and afterwards.
The more I thought about it the more I wondered. I have always known that there is evil in the world. It’s clear whether you are in church or not. Evil is present whenever children are trafficked to pleasure others or when children are abused by their own parents. Evil is present and clearly on display in Ukraine, with multiple war crimes against humanity.
Just as there is good, there is also evil. I preach on the good. I preach that God loves you so much that God send his only Son and that Jesus loves you so much that he talked and laughed and healed and ultimately went to and died upon the cross and rose again! I preach that the disciples grieved his loss, even while denying him, and the women visited his grave, but that Jesus rose again from the dead! I preach hope while praying against evil.
This past Sunday I could not help but wonder if the shooters in Uvalde (and Buffalo, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland …) were not also possessed like the young person in the reading assigned for the day. Possession is not an excuse for doing evil. It is instead an attempt at understanding the presence of evil in the world.
I cannot fathom what inspires a person to do such evil as attacking a school, grocery store, theater, worksite, hospital, party, office building, or any of the other places that have been attacked.
I cannot understand how people can read or hear threatening statements made before such attacks and not report them. Lives could have been saved. Lives. I believe that not reporting threats is negligent, obstructive, and costs lives.
I cannot understand the evil that attacks people and I cannot come up with how to prevent this in the future. Simple answers and empty promises are not working. I am not writing this to advocate doing this or that, but simply to stop and really think through the possibilities, including the ones with which you are not comfortable. Lives hang in the balance.
Pastor, St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall. Chaplain, Fairbanks PD and Steese FD. Insight is sponsored by TVCC.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on June 3,, 2022
I think about heroes every time I watch the news of Ukraine. I think about a comedian turned actor turned political candidate. He won the presidency by a landslide.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Russians started camping on their borders. They sent everyone, and then everyone else. Tanks, artillery, transports, trucks, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers kept gathering on the border. In February of this year the invasion and bombardments began.
The comedian president was advised to leave and offered a ride. Many expected him to flee with riches, friends and family. Instead, he declined the ride, requested military support, rallied the people and stayed in the fight.
Ukraine was predicted to collapse in a week. Terrible atrocities were alleged and committed with thousands of civilians slaughtered. It looked more like 1942 than 2022. The Ukrainians have been heroes by demonstrating incredible courage and amazing perseverance. The Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, and over two months later the fight continues.
It is easy to look to Ukraine for heroes. It is likewise easy to look to Hollywood, Seal Team 6, and sports figures for heroes. But what about right here in Interior Alaska? We sometimes miss the heroes in our own community. I think of the people who stand in the gap to respond to crisis situations and help people.
I have met many, many heroes here. I have met people who answer the call to go into burning buildings, provide emergency medical care, and run toward the sound of gunfire. Each of these first responders goes toward danger while everyone else runs for safety.
I have also met the people who answer emergency 911 calls and dispatch first responders in times of extreme stress. These heroes hear the need of the person in crisis and send the appropriate assistance. These dispatchers are literally the very first responder with whom a person in crisis speaks.
I have also met brave men and women serving in our nation’s military. I have had the honor and opportunity to listen to soldiers and airmen and their families talk about the stresses and strains of being moved across the nation, or the world, every few years and adjusting to a whole new community. Many of these same people have deployed multiple times. Military and first responders sacrifice greatly to serve.
Stress and sacrifice are big aspects in the life of our first responders and military. Stress is an even greater factor for families of first responders and military. Many of these families simply pray that their hero will return home safely. Sadly, not everyone does.
A police memorial service will be held at Trooper Gabe Rich and Trooper Scott Johnson Memorial Park in North Pole at 11 a.m. May 13.
Take some time to thank and appreciate our heroes for the tremendous difference each one makes every day.
Stephen Reed is pastor of St. Paul Church, 949 Farmers Loop Road. He is also the Fairbanks police and fire department chaplain. Insight is sponsored by Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on May 6, 2022
‘It’s not fair! It’s just not fair!”
How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that?
Some respond with, “Who said life is fair? It’s not." That’s not helpful. It’s like the response, “You think that’s bad; I guarantee you there are others who got it far worse than you!” That may be true, but the thought of others suffering doesn’t really help when it feels like you’re suffering.
“It’s not fair!”
Some say, “It’s God’s will!” Is it? How do we know? And if it’s all God’s will, then what does that say about God? Sometimes bad things happen over and over. Wars have been happening in Europe for centuries. That history doesn’t make it any easier for the people of Ukraine right now. Elementary schools, maternity hospitals, apartment buildings, residential neighborhoods, and shelters housing children have all been bombed. It’s way past unfair. It’s crimes against humanity.
I don’t believe it’s God’s will. Job wrestled with this same question and in the end discovered that he was not on an equal plain with God. That is true. The first day of seminary we learned a valuable lesson with which there was total agreement: God is God and we are not.
It amazes me that in the midst of chaos and tragedy that is Ukrainian life today, people are still falling in love. That too is somehow unfair.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died from or with Covid-19 and that too is tragically unfair. Many have died of preventable causes left untreated out of fear of Covid-19.
Another annoying quote is that God will never give you more than you can handle. If only that were true. Suicides argue against that quaint expression.
In all this we’ve learned the following: life is not fair, we are not God, God’s will is more excuse than explanation, good and bad happens, and quaint expressions aren’t helpful.
I’d like to conclude this with a few thoughts. Was it fair that God sent his son? No. Neither was it fair that Jesus taught many, healed some, and raised a very few. It wasn’t fair that he was captured, tortured, and killed. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be an early follower or disciple and see the long-promised Messiah who had done so much for so many taken away. It was not fair. Then again it wasn’t fair that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to a few and then to more and finally to many.
Although life is not fair and the unfairness can be overwhelming, things do change. The darkness eventually gives way to the light. We know this all too well. We’ve made it through the short days and long darkness of November through January. Soon all this snow will melt, and swarms of mosquitoes will rise up. Keep the faith even when it seems out of reach. We’ll get through this together.
The Rev. Stephen Reed is the Pastor, St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and the Chaplain for Police and Fire. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on April 1, 2022
Does it ever seem like 2022 is another repeat of 2020? These past few years have been like this winter: relentless.
As I write this article many things are occurring simultaneously.
Russia is in Day 14 of its war on Ukraine.
Gas, oil, and inflation are all rising.
I am home in Covid-19 isolation having tested positive on Saturday.
In a normal world, the last item listed above, testing positive for a disease that has killed millions, would be the primary concern. It certainly was this past weekend when I was experiencing “air hunger.” Before you ask, yes, I am vaccinated and no, I haven’t had a fever. Despite being vaccinated and taking precautions, I caught the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Go figure.
It began last week. I wasn’t feeling well on Thursday. I called for an appointment on Friday. Following an examination, I was referred for a chest x-ray. The next day (Saturday) I was still having difficulty breathing. I went to a Covid testing site and learned that I was positive. I have never felt so negative for being positive. Today, I am beginning to feel better.
Second on the list, inflation, affects everyone. The poor do not have the money to pay more for less. Everyone is having to make changes as costs increase daily.
Finally, the Russian war on Ukraine. Each day brings with it devastation, shock, and inspiration. Devastation in response to constant shelling, bombing, and missile strikes. Shock in response to seeing apartment buildings, neighborhoods, nuclear power plants, elementary schools, and hospitals attacked. It is shocking to see millions of women and children fleeing warfare in their community for shelter in neighboring countries. Inspiration is the amazed response at watching Ukraine’s leader refusing to abandon his nation in its time of need, instead asking for ammunition to continue the fight. It is inspiring to see the determination of so many to fight for their homeland.
How are we to respond to this trinity of calamities: war, inflation, and ongoing pandemic?
We respond with faith and with grace. Our faith is in God who remains God, no matter the circumstances. There are those who will point to these circumstances as challenges to faith in God. I believe that God remains God, no matter what we think or do. It is we who are changed by our faith, not God.
We also respond with grace. Grace can be demonstrated by reaching out to people. Reach out to people who grew up in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, or Russia, or have family there. Reach out to Soldiers, Airmen, and other Active-Duty military and to their families. Reach out to the struggling with donations of time or money to the Food Bank, Rescue Mission, or the Door. Reach out to the sick and the grieving with empathy.
We are living in interesting times. The trinity of calamities above may seem insurmountable. We have made it through hard times before and we will do so again, by the grace of God.
The Rev. Stephen Reed is the Pastor of St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and the Chaplain for Police and Fire.
Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on March 11, 2022
Greetings! Valentine’s Day is almost upon us.
Today I would like to talk with you about the most famous New Testament writing on love. This writing is so famously associated with love that it is often read at weddings.
I refer is the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. It is a chapter that, appears, to be dedicated to the romantic notion of love.
But not so fast. I fear that I will burst some well-intentioned bubbles.
Paul wrote the letter to the church at Corinth, a church that was in conflict. Imagine that, a church in conflict!
The church at Corinth was in conflict over a variety of issues mostly having to do with gifts and their exercise. It seems that people were in conflict over their gifts. Some thought that their gifts were better than all other gifts.
You may not have experienced conflict in the church. Sadly, it’s not that uncommon. Some might say that church conflict is rather routine. Sometimes church conflict is over doctrine, tradition, interpretation, and the like. Other times, the conflict is over the same (toxic) people who are always in conflict with someone.
Paul starts 1 Corinthians 13 by talking of the importance of love over all other gifts. Paul continues by speaking of the attributes of love. Finally Paul speaks of the constancy of love.
Paul even goes so far as to proclaim that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Paul is trying to get people to focus on love first before anything else.
Paul speaks of the importance of love over prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 13 by saying that faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
What does Paul say for us today? He says that all faith is based upon love. When Jesus was asked, he said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus goes on to encourage that we love even our enemies.
This is quite powerful, especially the idea that the love chapter is written to a church in conflict with itself. As such, the chapter can speak to us in our conflict with each other and ourselves.
In our marriage and in our lives our focus is to be on love: for God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and our neighbors.
Love, love, love.
Love is never about who is better. Love is never about power or control. Love is about love!
Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on February 11, 2022
Yup, that's how it's spelt. Stick with me here and it'll be profound (and extremely timely).
Imago Dei, it's been around since the beginning. Literally, the beginning. Yet it's hard to imagine a time in which Imago Dei could be more relevant.
Imago Dei. It sounds funny, but it means so much more than one can imagine.
Imago Dei. What does it mean? The definition is simple. The meaning might just change your life.
Imago Dei: Image of God. Where does that come from? Genesis 1:26-27. Read below from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation: "Then God said, `Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness ...' So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
Go back and read it again. "`Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness ...' So God created humankind in his image, in the Image of God he created them; male and female he (God) created them."
God created people, male and female, in God's image. Consider what it says and what it does not say. It says that God created people in the Image of God. It does not say that God created one race or nationality in God's image. No, it says that humanity, that means all of us, each of us, every single one of us, is made in the Image of God.
What are the implications? If humanity is made in the Image of God, then your loved ones, family, friends and all you care about are made in the Image of God.
But what about the other? What about the people you know and avoid (in-laws? People you used to work, worship, and / or fellowship with). Yes, people you know and avoid are made in the Image of God.
What about the people you do not know and avoid without even thinking about it? What about people with a skin tone different than yours, who speak with a different dialect or language, who worship differently (maybe even on a different day and using different words and maybe even drums!!!)? The answer is yes, also made in the Image of God.
Now the hard part. Imagine for a moment the person you most want to win the 2020 election - very clearly made in the Image of God. Yes, absolutely, no question about it. What about the person you least want elected? Yes, also made in the Image of God.
What about Minneapolis murder victim George Floyd? Made in the Image of God. The suspect charged with his murder? Made in the Image of God. The others who stood by? Made in the Image of God. The protesters, made in the Image of God. Everyone in uniform (and out of uniform)? Made in the Image of God.
Everyone is made in the Image of God.
Now imagine a world in which we treat each other as equally made in the Image of God. Today, this weekend, every day, try viewing everyone you see, think about, know, or avoid as made in the Image of God. Everyone. What a beautiful world it could be.
Rev. Stephen Reed is the Pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and the Chaplain for Police and Fire.
Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on June 5, 2020
By the time you’re reading this article Thanksgiving 2021 will be history. That does not mean that one stops giving thanks. Having an attitude of gratitude is helpful year-round. Many gratitude exercises are recommended for reducing one’s stress and improving one’s mental health. You might begin by giving thanks that all the preparation and cooking associated with Thanksgiving is done.
Some reading this might be having a difficult time thinking of things for which to be thankful. That’s understandable. It’s been a hard couple of years. We’ve lost friends and family to a variety of causes including, but not limited to, Covid-19. To deny that darkness is somehow dishonest. If you know someone grieving losses, then make some calls and check in. Maybe even invite people over to share a meal and the gift of time. There are no right words to say, but sometimes simply listening and being present makes a tremendous difference.
Some friends have engaged in a challenge to list three things for which they are grateful daily, even when they’re experiencing difficult times and challenges. The lists are at times very, very basic: I woke up today (not everyone did), I am breathing on my own (not everyone is), and I am able to feed myself (some go hungry and others are on feeding tubes).
The first thing that I am thankful for is God. Not enough can be said of God, the giver of all good things. God so loves us that he gave his only son that all who believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). In some churches, the communion service is called a Eucharistic Feast; the word eucharist comes from eucharistia which is Greek for Thanksgiving.
The second thing I am thankful for is my bride and our children. We have made it through many years, long moves, life changes, and several dark cold Alaskan Winters.
The third thing I am thankful for is the outstanding work done by many through this time. Area law enforcement agencies serve and protect our community, as well as collecting food for the Food Bank more recently. In case you hadn’t heard, there was a competition between area law enforcement agencies to collect food for the Fairbanks Food Bank. Over 50,000 pounds of food was collected for people in need. I am likewise thankful for all first responders (dispatchers, fire fighters, law enforcement, and ambulance crews). We can all give thanks for the outstanding nurses and doctors who are helping our community through Covid-19.
I leave you with this thought: Thanksgiving is more than one day a year. Thanksgiving is an attitude of gratitude. Honestly, sometimes Thanksgiving can be very stressful as people try and make the turkey turn out just right and the conversations remain peaceful — that’s easier unsaid than done. Yet even when life is challenging and difficult, there are still things for which we can be thankful. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, no matter the day!
The Rev. Stephen Reed is the Pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and the Chaplain for Police and Fire.
Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Married 27 years, 2 kids, 1 cat and 1 dog. Ordained & Chaplain for 20 years. Ministry philosophy - we're all in this together and Jesus leads the way. Hobbies: working in the woodshed, teaching, and competitive shooting