Follow Me

By Tom Wacaster

The invitation that Jesus extended to Matthew is as timely today as it was almost two-thousand years ago. “Follow me” is the standing invitation that heaven extends to all men. It is an invitation to enter into a relationship with God and Christ that is far and above any and every human relationship. That same invitation is expressed is some of the most beautiful language imaginable in at least two other passages in the New Testament: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and by burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Yet there is something about those two words, “Follow me!” Two words, yet the implications of those words could fill a dictionary, and when expounded upon would surpass the largest of encyclopedias. Consider the following.

From the standpoint of the Master Who uttered those words, it is a call to submit to His leadership. He does not lead from behind, but rather, as the Captain of our faith, He marches forward leading His army into battle, ultimately to rest on the banks of the Jordan having once and for all conquered every enemy, not the least of which is death itself (1 Cor. 15:26). Having “been in all points tempted like as we” (Heb. 4:15), He now sits on His throne taking “captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8), and assuring us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward” (Rom. 8:18). “Follow me!” No coercion, no force, no high-handed tactics. Only two simple words: “Follow me!” With those two words He has captured the minds and hearts of men for generations; men and women who are willing to die for Him. Willing to go where He leads without question, complaining, or murmuring, they go forth conquering and to conquer. John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.” Jesus was, and still is, the ultimate leader, and from Matthew Levi to the lowliest saint in the kingdom of God, the acceptance of the invitation to follow our Lord has never disappointed those who have truly heeded that call and followed in obedient faith.

That brings us to the second point. From the standpoint of the disciple, those two words, “follow me,” present a challenge to the one and only thing that can keep us out of heaven – our self-will. So far as the disciple is concerned, he must be willing to consecrate himself fully to the Lord, “deny himself, and take up his cross daily” and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24), “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). The element of self-sacrifice is an absolute essential if we are to accept the invitation to follow Jesus. Without full and complete surrender to the will of God and the determination to weather the storms of persecution that come our way, following in the steps of Jesus will soon become wearisome and complete abandonment will follow as sure and night follows day. James Hastings is credited with the following:

In every life there must be a cross. ‘Follow me’ came the call to those early disciples, and they arose and followed Him. And as His road led Him to His Cross, so for some of them their following led them to their crosses. And for all of them their following of Him meant increasing self-sacrifice. They emptied themselves of their own desires and wishes that they might fill them with the desire for His purposes. They saw the Cross along the road they had to travel, but they did not shrink (Hastings, quotes in my file system).

“Follow me” is the call that comes to all men through the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:14). There is more to this call than simply claiming to follow Jesus. It is more than having our name on some church roll, for even some of the most devoted ‘followers’ of Jesus later learned that their “mighty works” were of no avail (Matt. 7:21-23).

“Follow me” is not a frivolous call, nor is it a futile call. It is one filled with promises and blessings the likes of which we may never fully appreciate this side of heaven. We may have to “suffer hardship…as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3), as we attempt to “walk in the light as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7), but fellow-sojourner, be assured that the promises that stand behind the call to follow Him are as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar.

No, we cannot see heaven with the physical eye; but neither did Abraham see that “city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10) with the physical eye. It has been said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Thank God that Jesus spoke those two words to Matthew. And thank God that He continues to speak those words to all of us, and to generations yet unborn. “Follow me!” The question is, “Will you?”


Dealing With Stress

By Tom Wacaster

Believe it or not, the United States Post Office does not have a monopoly on stress, and their employees are not the only ones who “freak out” from time to time. Occasionally each one of us faces stressful situations that tax our patience and test our resolve to maintain self-control. In 1991 Steve Martin starred in a Hollywood blockbuster titled ‘Father Of The Bride.’ It was a remake of the 1950’s movie by the same title, and starred Spencer Tracy. In the newer version of the movie, Steve Martin plays the part of George Banks, the owner of a successful athletic shoe company called ‘Side Kicks,” whose daughter Annie (played by Kimberly Williams) comes home with the news that she is engaged. As the story unfolds,  George Banks encounters situations that produce undue stress, not the least of which is the cost of the wedding itself. It all takes its toll and George becomes so stressed out that he makes an absolute fool of himself at the local super market where he starts removing hot dog buns from their 12-packets so as to match the 8-packets of hot dogs.

Have you ever had one of those days? And if so, how do you survive it? Over the years I have come across little articles providing suggestions on how to handle stress. This notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England: “We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next.” Another has suggested a mathematical equation for dealing with stress:  To work out life’s problems, we need to: Add love, subtract hate, multiply good, and divide between truth and error. I particularly liked the suggestion that one brother made.  In answer to the question, “What is the key to surviving all the stress we encounter?” he noted:  “Simply this – we must decide that we will not allow people and circumstances to determine our attitude (I said it was simple, I didn’t say it was easy).”

Among other things, deadlines are a sure recipe for stress. I have several dates before me that will eventually culminate in settling into our new home in Olive Branch, MS. Shortly after we made the decision to accept the position at MSOP, I began earnestly praying that God would grant us a smooth transition. So far He has graciously answered that prayer with regard to obstacles that might otherwise have interfered with the process. We now have a closing date on the house here, as well as the house we are seeking to purchase in Mississippi. Between the two closing dates the shipping container with all our household goods will be making its way toward its destination, scheduled to arrive two days after we obtain possession of our new house. Meanwhile we continue to pack our boxes and our bags, determined that we are not going to get stressed out, no matter what unexpected situation might come our way. 

Stress is a condition that exists when any combination of factors come along that disrupt the psychological balance in a person’s normal daily life [by the way, have you ever noticed how often we find ourselves saying, “Boy, I’ll sure be glad when things get ‘back to normal’?”].  When dealt with improperly, stress results in “anxiety.” Yet Jesus tells us that a lack of faith lies at the taproot of anxiety (Matt. 6:30). That being the case, it is important to realize that anxiety is not just a little problem that has no bearing upon my spiritual well-being. Interestingly, like any other “temptation” that might come our way, God has provided a means of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). Contrary to popular opinion, stress can be managed. Suzanne Kobasa, a psychologist at the City University of New York, has identified three characteristics of individuals who effectively deal with stress: (1) They feel in control of their lives, (2) they view the unexpected as a challenge, and (3) they are committed to what they do. I suppose it is the realization that God is in control of my life, along with my commitment to Him and His Son that provides the ability to thereby face the unexpected things in life that might come my way.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages is Isaiah 40:31 - “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings of eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Like an eagle that soars above the mundane things of life, able to see the overall picture rather than the immediate storm that might threaten, the child of God can take life’s circumstances and deal with them in a most healthy way. He realizes that God is in control, and that in the long run, all things will work together for his good (Romans 8:28). Clovis Chappel once told this interesting story:  Many years ago, a pilot was on an extended flight when he recognized the gnawing sound of a rat. If the rat chewed through a cable or a vital electrical wire, it could bring the small plane down. Knowing he was still two hours away from any landing field and unable to locate or neutralize the creature, he remembered that the rodent was designed for lower altitudes. So, he put the plane into a climb until he attained 20,000 feet. The pilot had oxygen, the rat had very little, and the gnawing ceased. Two hours later, upon landing, he found the dead rat.

You see, my friend, when you trust in God, and mount up with wings as eagles, those things that worry us the most seem so insignificant in the overall scheme of things. So, if you are stressed out over the stupid politicians in Washington, the unreasonable folks with which you work, or with someone in your family, why not take a deep breath, say a prayer, and decide now that you are not going to allow people and circumstances to determine your attitude. Life’s unexpected situations may be a recipe for stress, but those who remain in the fold of God can manage that stress, and turn it into stepping stones for greater service to God.