Many questions and conversations begin with “What if?” It is a fascinating thought process. I watched a series based on that very question, specifically on what if the United States had lost World War II.
In the series (called “The Man in the High Castle”), the United States is occupied by both Third Reich and Imperial Japanese forces with many suffering across the country and around the world.
I have read books and essays about what America would be like if the British had won the revolutionary war, if the South had won the Civil War, if the Germans had won World War I and/or World War II. I have been amazed by the sheer numbers of Americans killed and wounded fighting for our freedom. In our own state of Alaska, I have read accounts of the battles to retake the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska from Imperial Japanese forces.
What do each of these battles and wars have in common? Each was fought and won by American Armed Forces. The price for each victory was paid in blood. As former Secretary of State General Colin Powell said, “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”
I have always made it a point to thank all who have served or are serving our nation. I have especially thanked WWII veterans. Each has been humble and pointed to the “real heroes” as those who didn’t make it home. Every Sunday in our prayers, we pray for First Responders, Armed Forces, Veterans, and their families. This Sunday I will say a special prayer for all who have fought and died in service to our great nation.
We are in the midst of Memorial Day weekend. It is not simply a day for barbecues and enjoying a day off. Memorial Day is a time to stop and give thanks for the American servicemen and servicewomen who fought and died for our freedoms as Americans.
As a Christian, I believe that Christ Jesus died for my sins and rose again. I believe that Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross with his blood. As an American, I know that American servicemen and servicewomen have fought and died for our freedom from the Revolutionary War through today in the war on terror. Each has paid the price for freedom with their blood.
Freedom is not free. I give thanks for both our Lord Jesus Christ and for those who have served our nation and those who have died in service. Though entertaining, I am thankful that we do not live in a “what if” world.
Stephen Reed is pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and chaplain for Police and Fire. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on May 28, 2023
Holy Week reflections
Every year something stands out in the drama of Holy Week, which begins with Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
On Maundy/Holy Thursday, Jesus celebrates the first Communion amid a Seder meal that commemorates Passover and escape from bondage in Egypt. Jesus then washes his disciples’ feet and commands them to love one another. People will know that we are Christians by our love. Churches are known in a variety of ways, but rarely by love. The Maundy/Holy Thursday service ends with a silent commemoration of when Jesus was betrayed, captured by civil and religious authorities, and interrogated.
On the Friday we call “Good,” Jesus goes to the cross for our sins. Jesus performed a variety of miracles, yet willingly went to the cross. On the cross, he says the most amazing thing — something that struck me as though I had never heard it before, despite having heard and read it many times. According to the 34th verse of the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
That’s a remarkable statement, especially when you consider that he is saying this to the very people who captured, tortured and crucified him.
Jesus’ statement of forgiveness raises many questions. What had the people done to deserve or earn Jesus’ forgiveness? In what ways did they repent or demonstrate remorse? They neither repented nor showed remorse. They did nothing to deserve or earn his forgiveness.
What about you and me? What have any of us done to earn Jesus’ forgiveness (and love)? In the prayer that Jesus taught us, known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “… forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us … .” That statement is not about taking a shortcut across someone else’s property. It is about you forgiving others just as you seek God’s forgiveness for yourself. There appears to be a direct connection between forgiveness given and forgiveness received.
The Good Friday service ends in silence following reading of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial.
Holy Saturday can be an uncomfortable time of waiting. As Christians, we know the Good News, yet Saturday is a time to reflect on the experience of the grief at that time of the followers of Christ.
Easter/Resurrection Sunday, we hear of the faithful followers going to visit Jesus’ grave. There were no Easter baskets filled with fake grass, jellybeans and chocolates. There was profound grief followed by shock followed by awe. Jesus was no longer dead, He had risen!
We are living through very stressful times. Faith in Christ is what keeps me going.
Rev. Stephen Reed is pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and chaplain for police and fire. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on April 16, 2023
Lent is a time to make a difference
The season of Lent began this week on Feb. 22 — Ash Wednesday. Opinions vary on when Lent ends. Some traditions believe that Lent ends with Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday, April 2. Others observe Lent ending on Maundy/Holy Thursday or Easter/Resurrection Sunday.
Lent is a 40-day period. If one counts each day on the calendar, the total is 46 days, not 40. So how is Lent a 40 days within an actual 46-day period? The key is Sundays. Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday, and we continue to celebrate his resurrection on Sundays all year. Sundays are not fasting days even within the season of Lent and thus are not counted.
Is Lent an exclusively Catholic tradition? No. Many observe Lent including Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox, Presbyterian, etc.
Why Lent? Lent is a time to closely follow our Lord Jesus Christ as he journeys to Jerusalem, trials and the cross. Lent is a time to grow by pondering your faith, asking questions and finding meaning.
What does one do for Lent? Are there cards, lights, candies and decorations? No, there’s none of that. Lent is not a joyful festival. Many give something up for Lent — that’s referred to as “fasting.” Many fast from chocolates. Lent is more about your soul than your diet.
I invite you to pray and ponder what is interfering with your faith. Answers vary and include addictions, screen time, conflicts, narcissistic self-righteousness, sin, etc. The same thing that interferes in your relationship with God is likely interfering in your relationship with family and friends. Lent isn’t easy, but it can be life changing. Pray and ask God for discernment. Taking time for self-examination, repentance, prayer, and reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word will help with your discernment.
In addition to fasting from something interfering with your faith and life, Lent is also a time to make a difference. Consider volunteering at the Food Bank, Helping Alaska, the Rescue Mission, etc. If that seems too much, then reach out to the person, or persons, that you haven’t talked with since the last funeral.
Lent 2023, like Lent 2022 and many other Lents, is in a time of war. The war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine is now over a year old. Conflicts continue around the world and polarization in America. Make Lent a little more pleasant by setting politics aside, helping one another, and praying for peace.
I invite you to the observance of a Holy (and life-changing) Lent.
Rev. Stephen Reed is pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall and chaplain for Police and Fire. Faith Insight is sponsored by TVCC.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on February 26, 2023
The power of public prayer
It’s OK to pray in public again.
What happened to restore prayer in the public square? Was it an amazing sermon, or did a notorious sinner repent at a big tent revival?
No. It wasn’t a preacher, a pariah, or a place.
It was Monday Night Football.
All it took was an outstanding safety, making an excellent open field tackle and then, shockingly, dropping dead seconds later.
Medical staff took the field as teammates and opponents took a knee in prayer. Tears flowed as CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) began and an AED (Automatic External defibrillator) was used. Seconds turned into minutes as players parted to clear a path for an ambulance. Teammates, opponents, and fans of both teams, in person (at the stadium) and watching on TV, prayed. The rivalry of two powerful teams became secondary as everyone prayed for 24-year-old Damar. The ambulance rushed off into the night leaving a void behind.
The Monday Night Football game was temporarily suspended. ESPN anticipated the players would begin warming up and play would resume. Everyone was in shock and prayers continued on the field, in the stands, in sports bars, and in homes. How else could one respond?
The Buffalo Bills requested prayers for Damar Hamlin and his family. The Cincinnati Bengals requested prayers for their young opponent. The NFL tweeted for “Prayers for Damar.”
A few tense days later doctors reported that Damar Hamlin had awoken asking, “Who won the game?” A doctor responded by saying, “You won the game of life.” Damar Hamlin took to social media to give thanks for the outpouring of support and prayers from across our great nation. Damar was discharged from the hospital and returned home. Thanks be to God! Team after team began games in prayer for Damar.
In my prior article, I reminded you of the value and fragile nature of life. I encouraged you to schedule a time for you and your friends, co-workers, church members, etc., to get trained in CPR & AEDs by calling the American Red Cross at (907) 456-5937 for training. Finally, I suggested that you pray for Damar Hamlin, his family, and teammates and for all who have lost a loved one way too soon.
A good outcome (Damar’s apparent recovery) does not change those reminders. Life remains valuable and fragile, training and equipment are needed. Does your church or job have an AED, tourniquet and trained members? Are you prepared? To be clear, I do not believe that prayer alone saved Damar Hamlin. Instead, I believe that it was a combination of trained and equipped emergency medical personnel and prayers. That is not always the case. I personally have witnessed trained and equipped medical professionals trying valiantly and unsuccessfully to save a life as prayers are said. Why some outcomes are positive and joyous and others are tragic and sorrowful, I do not know. Those are questions for God.
Stephen Reed is pastor at St. Paul Christian 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 February 19, 2023
Right in front of us
On Monday night, I was watching Monday Night Football when Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin collapsed following an open field tackle. I figured he’d be back up in a few minutes and on the sideline for medical evaluation. My mind flashed back to another Monday Night Football game in which Denver Broncos Wide Receiver Ed McCaffrey broke his leg while making a reception for a first down. It was the biggest news in Colorado and promised to be the lead story, if not the only story the next day. Events thousands of miles away completely overshadowed any mention of football on that September 11, 2001 morning.
Concern increased as care continued to be rendered for Damar Hamlin. Players from both teams knelt in prayer as an ambulance pulled out onto the field. Reports came in of CPR being administered to Hamlin, which only happens when a person’s heart has stopped.
Commentators repeatedly stated that this has never happened before in the history of football. At our house, we were all thinking of similar events that have happened in Fairbanks and across the country when young people, often high school age, collapse and die suddenly at sporting events. The point isn’t that this doesn’t happen, the point is to be prepared for when it does.
Many trained and fully equipped emergency medical professionals were present at the Cincinnati Bengals stadium on Monday night. Equipment was also present including AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators). I have been trained and certified in CPR and AEDs several times over the years. Although AEDs are becoming more common, they still are not present in many places. On a similar note, tourniquets are not widely distributed for emergency use when needed. AEDs and tourniquets are very seldom used, but when either is needed, nothing comes close to their effectiveness.
What can you take away from this article? First, a reminder of the value and fragile nature of life. A person can appear completely healthy one moment and be gone the next. Second, I encourage you to schedule a time for you and your friends, co-workers, church members, etc., to get trained in CPR & AEDs. Call the American Red Cross at (907) 456-5937 for training. The life saved may be your own. Finally, pray for Damar Hamlin, his family, and teammates. Pray as well for all who have lost a loved one way too soon.
Being a Christian is about more than just church attendance and Bible Studies. It is about making a difference in the world around you through your faith and actions. Get the training and equipment so that you can help in a crisis.
Happy New Year.
Pastor, St. Paul Christian Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall
Chaplain, Police and Fire
Insight is sponsored by TVCC
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on January 6, 2023
Mary: famous unwed pregnant teenager
‘Tis the season to remember the most famous unwed pregnant teenager of all time, Mary.
Ponder Mary in your heart this Advent season. Through the angel Gabriel, God called upon Mary to be Jesus’ mother. Apparently, Gabriel frightened her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30 English Standard Version). “Do not be afraid” is repeated 365 times in scripture, a daily reminder whenever you’re feeling anxious.
If the angel Gabriel’s reassurance was helpful his next statement might not have been. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32 ESV).
Mary’s response is very practical, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV).
Gabriel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy — the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 ESV).
I imagine a long pause prior to Mary’s response. I imagine Mary pondering the angel Gabriel, his message, and God’s plan for her life. I imagine a long uncomfortable silence of waiting. What is plan B if Mary says, “No! Get Out! Now!” to Gabriel?
Mary agrees. It’s easily the biggest decision of her young life (Luke 1:38).
What if it was today? Mary and Joseph, the most famous stepfather of all time, traveled approximately 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem where she gave birth and “laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
Stevens Village, Manley Hot Springs, and Denali Visitor Center are each approximately 90 miles from Fairbanks. Imagine Mary and Joseph traveling 90 miles to Fairbanks.
Where would Mary get help? In Fairbanks, married and unmarried women find support at the FYNDout Free Pregnancy Center. All services are free, including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, supplies and much, much more!
A modern Mary (unwed pregnant teenager) might receive support from her church, or she might face judgment and shame from her pastor and fellow church members. Jesus did not shame and judge, he showed grace. Jesus clashed with religious leaders of his day as they pronounced judgment and shame. As Christians today, are we called to judge or love?
As you look at the pretty lights and manger scenes, ponder Mary and her amazing leap of faith in answering God’s call in her life. Also ponder the plight of unwed pregnant moms today. Be graceful like Jesus. Leave the judging to God and courtrooms.
Mary was not able to stay at the Inn for lack of room. Mary might find a room at the Fairbanks Youth Advocates Door Emergency Youth Shelter.
I pray that you’ll find room in your heart to support FYNDout Free Clinic and the Door as they support modern Mary today.
The 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 December 9, 2022
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
Acting on feeling may save lives
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
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