In our house right now there are a lot of “first.” First words, first time swimming without a float, first time eating real food, first steps, and the list goes on. Now that Valerie and I are raising our second child, the firsts have become more regular. If it’s not our oldest giving us some amazing first, it’s our youngest daughter doing something for the first time. I grew up an older brother so I never saw the view point of my younger sibling, but now that I have children I get to see the viewpoints from both. What I have noticed in our youngest is that the firsts have come quicker than they did with our oldest. Maybe its because she has an example to follow in her older sister or she wants to keep up, but whatever the case, she seems to be wanting to do the “first” much sooner than her older sister. What is impactful about her actions is that she starts and continues, as clumsily as that might be, right where she is. What I mean by this is that she doesn’t fall down trying to walk and just say, “well when I’m older give this another shot.” No, she falls down and then almost instantly pulls herself back up and tries again.
In our society today, we don’t like the process. Overnight success, going viral, or instant fame are words used to describe many of the celebrities and famous "influencers" in our world. The process of hard work, learning your craft, and staying the course have been exchanged for right now or never. The acronym YOLO (You only live once) is a phrase that has only been coined in the last decade or so, but GOD never intended life to be this way. God is a God of process. He likes plans, precision, and processes. The birth of Jesus was a process that started in the garden of Eden and moved all the way through the Old Testament up until that night in Bethlehem. Thousands of years, millions of people, and the process from the beginning came into manifestation. Process. Plans. Precision.
In Acts 6, Luke describes Stephen, a man who understood the process. He was a gifted man: “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” but even in his gifting he was humble enough to serve where the church needed him the most. At this time in Biblical history, the church was just beginning. The traditions, rules, and orders of service that we have today did not exist back then. Many of Paul’s letters in the New Testament speak to how a church service should go and who should lead. In Jerusalem there were many people coming to know Christ at a rapid pace and the heart of the early church was to take care of these people not just spiritually but also physically. When the disciples saw that the care of many of these new believers physical needs started to become burdensome to them, they appointed 7 men to oversee what we would call a soup kitchen or food distribution service. Stephen was one of these men. Full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, God chose Stephen to help serve food to widows and children. Instead of getting prideful or angry, Stephen shows us a great example of how we should live our lives in service: He started right where he was. Even though Stephen was very talented in the faith, many people didn’t recognize this yet. God saw his talent and ability, but in order to be used Stephen needed somewhere to start and the soup kitchen was the perfect place. Look at what verse 8 of Acts chapter 6 says:
“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Acts 6:8 NKJV
Where did Stephen do great wonders and signs? Among the people. And what people? Probably the widows and families he was serving in the soup kitchen. Stephen was being used by God right where he was serving. Stephen didn’t need a big platform or large instagram following in order to do signs and wonders for God. All Stephen needed was someone who needed to be served and that is where God showed up in a big way. Stephen’s service put him in a position to be used by God. Stephen would eventually be the first martyr for his faith in Jesus, but what he taught us about service is a great way to start off the new year.
1. Service brought Stephen closer to God.
“And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.” Acts 6:15 NKJV
Stephen was so close to GOD that his face beamed with the glory of GOD. The other mention of this sort of thing happening is in Exodus 34 when Moses went up on a mountain to spend time with God and when he came down, his face radiated the glory of God. Apparently, Stephen had the same encounter Moses did and his face radiated the glory of God as well. But where was Stephen when God visited him personally? He was still serving food in the soup kitchen. This just proves to me that GOD isn’t concerned about your instagram followers or facebook friends, but He is concerned with your impact. Are you impacting people right where you are?
2. Service allowed GOD to work miracles and great wonders
“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
Acts 6:8 NKJV
The Bible isn’t clear about where Stephen was when GOD used him to perform great miracles and wonders, but we can probably assume that he was doing his job. If Stephen had been too prideful to serve in the soup kitchen, how could GOD have used him to perform miracles? Maybe a widow came in for food who had been sick for many months and Stephen prayed for her and she was healed. Or maybe a little child was there who couldn’t walk and Stephen prayed and this little child was healed instantly. Whatever the signs and wonders were, GOD used Stephen right where he was. GOD can and will do the same thing through you. Are you willing to serve right where you are?
3. Service gave him opportunities to share the gospel
“And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council.” Acts 6:10-12 NKJV
Stephen was actively sharing the gospel not only where he served but throughout the community. When he was confronted by the religious leaders of that day (the same leaders who crucified Jesus) he proudly proclaimed the gospel and through the Holy Spirit his wisdom confounded the wisest of the wise. Stephens service in the food kitchen brought him to a place where he was sharing the gospel with the people needing food, but it elevated him to where he was sharing the gospel with the most influential leaders of the land. These were men who could change laws, customs, traditions, and now Stephen (the soup kitchen guy) was sharing the gospel with them. GOD elevated Stephen from a humble position of service to an influential position of leadership. Are you willing to serve right where you are to influence your community?
The story of Stephen ends with his martyrdom, but his example lives on forever. Stephen served where GOD needed him the most and from that point of service, GOD elevated him to a point of great leadership. Going into the new year, lets serve people right where we are. How can you impact those closest to you for Jesus? At your job, school, or church, look for simple ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This is what Stephen did. He didn’t look to be elevated, he looked to be a servant. I want to be a better servant in 2020. How about you?
In 2009 I was a wide-eyed, holding the world by the tail, 23 year old graduate from the University of South Florida. With a BA in Business Administration, I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me. What I didn’t know was what actually laid before me: falling in love, marriage, having children, building a thriving business, adopting two puppies, traveling the country, losing family, moving 5 times, and settling in to life as a husband and dad are just the first 10 years since walking across that stage back in 2009 with diploma in hand. 2019 was its own unique year: gaining our second child, moving again, starting a new job, and learning what it truly means to trust GOD in every situation. As the years have passed from 2009 and my responsibility as an adult has grown, I’ve learned that this life can become quite heavy. The weight of being a husband, raising a Godly family, earning money, and navigating the ups and downs of each day felt like they were placed on my shoulders every morning when my feet hit the floor. Many mornings I would stand in the shower and just let the water run over my head hoping that the heat would somehow alleviate the tension that resided between my shoulders. Each year would add more responsibility and with that more weight. I felt like Atlas in greek mythology who was banished by the gods to hold up the world for all of eternity. If this was life, I felt crushed. I remember a distinct moment driving in my car thinking about work, family, and other responsibilities and my chest began to tighten. Not like anything I had ever experienced before, it felt as if an elephant was sitting on my sternum. After a few minutes the pain subsided, but that feeling never left me. I knew what the problem was. It wasn't my health. I had just been to the doctor and everything had checked out fine. This was deeper than physical health. The weight that I had been carrying was slowly crushing my soul. A change needed to be made. But how?
As I write this, the final days of 2019 are fading away and 2020 is fast approaching. My wife and I have been praying about this next year and decade and what direction GOD would take us with Anchor Movement. The more we prayed and talked the more we kept coming back to the theme: “This isn’t my weight to carry.” Valerie and I would find ourselves discussing something, whether it’s the kids or work or bills and we would both just eventually say, “This isn’t our weight to carry.” What was that weight? Everything that was causing me pain, stress, and anxiety in the years before. Jesus knew what it was like to face situations of great stress, fatigue, and anxiety. In the garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified His blood vessels ruptured and He sweat drops of blood because of the mental anguish He was experiencing. Hebrews 4:14-16 in the message version puts it like this:
“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG
Jesus literally carried the weight of the world on His shoulders. When He went to the cross, he not only carried all the sins of the world, but He carried the curse of death, hell, and the grave. If He did this for me, why am I worrying about how much money is in my bank account or whether or not certain people like me? Jesus gave this invitation in Matthew 11:28:
“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NLT
I like that phrase, “Let me teach you.” Teach me what: how to rest. If I am resting in Jesus than I’m not carrying any of my weights. You can’t lay in bed and do pushups at the same time. It just doesn’t work. In the same way, you can’t rest in Jesus AND carry the weight of your entire life. Too many Christians today, myself included, try to carry all our responsibilities and miss this amazing promise from Jesus. I even sometimes try and justify my stress or anxiety by saying things like, “I’m just working for the Lord” or “ If I don’t do it, nobody will.” But that is not what Jesus is saying in the verse above—He is offering me rest if only I will come to Him.
I love the visualization of this verse and Jesus using a yoke to compare and contrast His burden versus our burden. A yoke is a large wooden harness used to connect two animals for plowing fields. We don’t see this much anymore because we have tractors and advanced technology, but in ancient Israel, yokes were a necessity to be an efficient farmer. GOD showed me something in this verse that I had never seen when I was studying to write this blog. Jesus said come to me and I will give you rest. Have you ever seen an animal take anything off of them? If a horse has a saddle on their back, the only way that saddle is coming off is when the farmer takes it off. As Christians we believe that we need to come to Jesus and give Him our burdens and stress and anxiety, but that is not the picture GOD showed me. Jesus is the one who takes the burdens off of our backs and He puts His burden, which is light and easy, in replacement of all the weights we are carrying. All we have to do is come to Jesus and He does the work. My prayer for you in 2020 and for the years and decades that follow is that you will come to Jesus and let Him carry your weight. Stop trying to navigate or bear the weight you were never meant to carry. Come to Jesus. Let Him carry your weight. Learn to start saying what Valerie and I say when we begin to stress about certain situations, “This isn’t my weight to carry.”
For the next several weeks and maybe even months, Valerie and I want to blog and podcast a series we are calling, “New Year, Transformed You.” Our theme verse is Romans 12:2 which says:
“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.” Romans 12:2 TPT
We are praying that through this series, we all will discover the power in transformation—not just outwardly, but inwardly as well. Jesus has promised us a life in abundance and not just any life—His life. It’s time for Christians to stop living in defeat, dysfunction, and destitution and start living the life Jesus died on the cross so we could have. Some of the topics we will cover will be stress, comparison, finances, serving, giving, and anything else the Holy Spirit gives us. Together we can see the goodness of GOD in our homes, communities, and cities, but it starts with us. Stay tuned!