And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
This summer, my oldest son and I went on a mission trip to Hungary. We were serving in the little town of Tóalmás, a rural community surrounded by endless acres of farmland. One of the crops Hungarians grow is the sunflower and they caught my attention. The flowers were in full bloom, creating a sea of brilliant yellow as far as the eye could see.
Sunflowers are a unique flower; they get their name because they follow the sun across the sky. In the morning they face the east and track the sun to the west. Then through the night, they turn their heads back to the east in anticipation of the next sunrise.
All flowers need the sun to grow, but most do not follow the sun throughout the day like the sunflower. The sunflower is one of the fastest growing and tallest flowers in the world. In fact, the tallest sunflower ever recorded stood over 30 feet tall. In order to become what it was created to be it must soak up as much sunlight as possible, so as it grows it follows the sun across the sky.
Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your mind on the things above not on the things of the earth.” The way the sunflower keeps its face turned toward the sun reminds me of how the Lord wants us to keep our focus on Him. This is the way we grow and mature, by spending time with Him, learning to trust and follow Him.
The farmer grows sunflowers for several reasons, here are just a few. They replenish the soil, the flowers have a deep root system and when it is allowed to die in its place the decomposition adds nutrients to the soil. A wheat crop grown after a crop of sunflowers typically produces a bumper crop. The seeds are crushed to make oil, which is used in cooking and even medicine to prevent high cholesterol and heart disease. They are also grown for animal feed and human consumption.
As the sunflower follows the sun it matures into a beautiful flower, and a vast field of them is breathtaking. But its true purpose is not fulfilled until it dies. Luke 9:23 says “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” In this verse Jesus is saying following me will look like sacrifice, it will demand more than you think you have to give. At times it will take you to places of rejection and isolation.
In the next verse Jesus says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” In these two verses Jesus says the way to follow me, to live out what I have created you to be, is to lay down your life. Lay down your pride, lay down the way you think you should be treated, lay down your desire to serve yourself, lay down what you want others to think of you and follow Me.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus is the example, He loved us and laid down His life, and He is calling us to do the same. But in order to do this we must keep the eyes of our heart fixed on Him.
So when we see a beautiful sunflower let’s be reminded to follow the Son.
Weekly Memory Verse
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
It (David’s throne) will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.
My husband and I have been “empty nesters” for almost a year now. This summer we are only part-time empty nesters as our youngest son is home from college. But soon he will be going back to school and the house will be quiet and the piles of laundry will be smaller and the refrigerator will contain less food and our two puppy dogs will be sad for a time. I will be sad for a time as well.
When our youngest returns to college in Virginia, we will once again have five grown children living in five different states, none of them living in our home state of Alabama. Oh, this momma can get to them with a ticket from an airline or a long car drive if need be. But having them over for a spur of the moment dinner or an afternoon cup of coffee just doesn’t happen. Thankfully, their leaving and moving about has come in stages. My husband and I have adapted; we visit them whenever we can and we are thankful for technology that allows us to have video calls often. But sometimes I still miss their presence.
Often times, in the evening after the sun has gone down, I will step outside of our quieter-than-it-once-was home and look up at the sky. The stars are in their places and the moon is in its place, giving off its reflected light. Looking up at the bright shining moon gives me peace and quiets my momma’s heart because of a Bible verse from Psalm 89. In Psalm 89, the moon is described as God’s faithful witness in the sky.
The verses of Psalm 89:36-37 refer to Israel’s King David, God’s anointed who led God’s nation for a time. David was the man God described as “a man after His own heart.” The verses read: “His (David’s) dynasty will go on forever; his throne is as secure as the sun, as eternal as the moon, My faithful witness in the sky!”
King David’s kingship will live forever because God’s very Son would be born in the lineage of David. Jesus will forever be King on God’s throne, as sure as the sun and moon hang in the sky day after day.
The moon serves as a sign, a faithful witness to God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. So, when I look up during nighttime skies, I think about God’s faithfulness. I think about the fact that the very same moon, the same faithful witness in the sky, that I see is the moon that my children see, in Texas and in Minnesota; in Georgia and Ohio and in Virginia. When I physically cannot be with the people I love, My Heavenly Father can be and is with them.
The moon that we can look up and see from anywhere in the world, reminds me that God can surely see me and the people I love from His abode in heaven, no matter how far we may be separated geographically. God is watching over me and mine, no matter where in this country or around the world we may be…and that is a comforting thought to me.
Weekly Memory Verse
He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.
Do you like to do puzzles? I am not patient enough to do the 500 piece puzzles, but I enjoy one in the 30-60 piece range. Just for the record, I do those with some of our grandchildren, not by myself! It’s fun to find the corners and straight edges, filling in the border of the picture.
Sometimes, when I am reading God's Word, I feel like the Lord gives me puzzle pieces. I will read a verse or passage and meditate on it. Then He seems to give more understanding through other verses as the days go by. Eventually He brings the puzzle together for me.
A few weeks ago, the Lord began to lay out a new puzzle for me. My Sunday School class, studied Psalm 23. I continued to think about verse 23:2b-3a, “He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.” In other translations the waters are described as, “quiet or peaceful”, and our souls being, “refreshed or renewed.”
What a beautiful picture that can awaken strong emotions. We know that we are led to this place of refreshment by drawing near to God in His Word and through prayer.
Soon after my study in Psalm 23, I read Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The Lord prompted my heart to camp on the last part of the verse.
“Ok Lord, you want my words to be filled with grace to others.” Then I was reminded of some wonderful times of fellowship I have spent with a dear mentor in my life. Whenever my friend and I part ways, I am usually challenged and excited to experience what the Lord may have in store for me. There have also been times, though, when she helps me move from fear and self-pity to see God’s hand in the situations of my life.
This dear friend speaks God’s grace into my life. I leave being refreshed, or in process of being restored. The Lord revealed to me that He first and foremost brings renewal through His Word. But He also allows us, as His children to be His voice of grace in the lives of others. It amazes me that by giving the gift of time and words, led by the Holy Spirit, our Lord will use us to lead others to quiet waters.
Here lies the question for our hearts today, “Do we allow our words to be part of God’s will to help others be refreshed in Him?” We learn from Proverbs 18:21a, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” May we all strive for tongues that are filled with life!
How can we work toward having words that are filled with life and grace? We seek the Lord each day, in His Word, knowing The Word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12a). The Lord will guide us and empower us through the Holy Spirit, and we must rely on His wisdom.
James 3:17-18 reveals how our words, filled with God’s wisdom, will help us speak life into one another, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Lord, make us instruments of Your grace and life!
Image by 9883074 from Pixabay
For the eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.
Years ago, I heard a pastor say, “You will know how important God is to you, by how important His Word is to you.” The Bible, God’s love letters to us, is one of the most important ways for us to get to know our Heavenly Father and how much He loves and values us. Recently, I memorized 2 Chronicles 16:9a “For the eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him,” (NIV). One author stated that “if your heart is loyal to God, you do not have to look for Him, He is already looking for you!”* Isn’t that exciting?
The desire of my heart is to have a fully-committed heart and experience the strength of the Lord! This past July, my husband and I attended a worship service that was held in a convention center. When we entered the auditorium, there was a posted sign, “NO OUTSIDE DRINKS ALLOWED.” Certainly, that didn’t apply to me! We had just come from dinner and I had a fresh water - it was in a cup, with a straw and a lid on it. I wasn’t going to spill it. And, besides, I didn't want to pay $3.25 for bottled water at the concession stand. So, after justifying why I could and should keep my water, I walked to my seat and carefully set my water down so I could sing and worship the Lord.
We began singing, “LORD, fill me....” I was thanking the Lord for His goodness… Praising Him for who He was and is….Asking Him to fill me, pour out His strength on me as my heart was fully committed to Him….. Really?…. A heart fully committed to Him?…. Did willfully sneaking in a cup of water against the request of the host organization reflect a heart fully committed? Did that honor the LORD?….. Finally, after an internal struggle, I realized that a heart fully committed to the LORD does not include justifying actions, or making excuses for the things I am doing or not doing in my life. A heart fully committed is completely surrendered to the Lord, seeking Him, thanking Him for His love and all that He has done for me and doing what I know is pleasing and acceptable in His sight. There is no condemnation in Christ, and on that evening, I felt the Lord lovingly reveal to me that there are areas in my life that are not fully committed to Him - He used the cup to get my attention.
Having a heart fully committed to the LORD reveals itself in obedience! So, I picked up my cup, found the nearest trash can, surrendered other areas of my life that I was justifying, threw away the cup and then continued singing, LORD, fill me with a fully-committed heart!
My precious husband, Bill, and I have been planted in Fort Myers, Florida for almost 35 years. As a newly married couple, God most graciously had placed people in both of our jobs to share Christ with us. Its hard to believe it has been almost 34 years since we asked Jesus into our hearts! Bill and I have been blessed with four children, 3 daughters, then a son. These blessings came quickly, all within 6 years!! During these years I'm so thankful I was able to be part of women's ministry classes at our church, helping me to grow in my walk with Him. Then came the day when I was asked that question that stretched me way outside of my comfort zone...will you teach a class? Its hard to believe that I have now been teaching more than 20 years. Bill and I love to travel, most of the time going to visit our 9 grandchildren, oh ya, and their parents! I also love reading, walking and hanging out with some very special young moms in Beloved that bless my socks off!
Julie is a Kansas girl who resides in sunny Southwest Florida. She's been married to her husband Sean for 23 years and they share two boys ages 21 & 17. She enjoys baking and biking, but her absolute favorite thing is snow skiing which is a little difficult to do in a sandy 80 degree land.
She became a follower of Christ at age 10. She loves studying and teaching God's Word. She has a passion for encouraging moms to love and follow Jesus.
Beth grew up in a loving home; however, in her early 20s she faced a very lonely time. During that time, she cried out to God and asked “If You are real, please show yourself to me!” God met her where she was and she trusted in the Lord Jesus at that time. Her life verse and desire is “no matter what happens, to conduct herself in a manner worthy of the gospel.” Philippians 1:27
Beth now resides in Tampa, Florida with her husband Larry. The Lord has blessed them by blending their family of five children. They currently have eight grandchildren and are hoping that there will be more grandchildren in the future.
Donna accepted Jesus as her Savior at the age of nine and has been amazed at God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout her life. She has been blessed to have had many mentors through each season of life, who have shown her what trusting God looks like. Donna and her husband, Bryan, have five children, one son-in-law, one soon to be daughter-in-law, and one wonderful grandson. Donna and Bryan have recently moved back to their home state of Arkansas after livingin southeast Alabama the past 23 years. Donna enjoys spending time with her family, laughing with friends (usually over coffee), going for long walks with her husband, and reading a good book (which may also be accompanied by a cup of coffee).
Sarah is a true Florida Cracker. She was born and raised in Southwest Florida. At the age of 6, Sarah accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and she hasn't looked back since. Hebrews 13:8 is one of her favorite verses, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Eating delicious desserts, spending time with her family and friends, and teaching people about Jesus are a few of the things she enjoys to do in her spare time.
Sarah has been married to her best friend and husband, Brandon, for 7 years. They have been blessed with one beautiful, determined son, Asher, who keeps them on their toes. Sarah and her family live in the Tampa area. They love exploring their community together, family hugs, and eating pizza whenever possible.
Katie Flint just recently moved back home to Fort Myers, Florida with her husband, Ryan and two children, Collins and Madden. At the age of 5, Katie accepted Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of her life, after attending Vacation Bible School. Through each phase of her life, God has shown her that He alone is trustworthy. The verse that has been her life source is Psalm 46:10- “Be still and know that I am God.”
She is a stay-at-home mom and enjoys exercising and baking. She has been married to her husband Ryan for almost 9 years, who is her high school sweetheart. They enjoy trying new restaurants, family trips to the beach, and relaxing at home.
Marsha grew up in a small rural town in upstate New York. In 2006, after finishing college, she moved to sunny SW Florida where she met her, now husband, Shawn. Together they enjoy spending family time with their two fun-loving toddler boys Zachariah and Kairos.
Marsha enjoys living an active lifestyle, which is helpful, considering that her favorite hobby is baking.
Though she attended church as a child, Marsha was not saved until adulthood when her eyes were finally opened to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Since being saved, God has placed a loving burden on her heart to share the truth about God’s healing grace with those who may feel like forgiveness is not possible for them.