Author - Donna Avant

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Ponder?
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Sinking
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The Twelfth Day: Christmas
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Day Eleven of Christmas
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The Tenth Day of Christmas

Ponder?

“Ponder” is a word that is not often heard these days.    I vaguely remember my Mamaw using the word in the context of “I need to ponder that awhile.”   As a child, I don’t think I really knew what she was referring to when she said it.

According to Webster’s, “ponder” means “to weigh in the mind, to think about or reflect on or to consider quietly, soberly, and deeply.”

Pondering is not something I do often.  I’m unsure if many of us “ponder” any more.  We are usually too busy to set aside time to “ponder.”   Instead I worry and fret as I go about my day.    In my mind, I rehearse every case scenario of any situation or relationship and usually end up exhausted about what could happen.  The “what ifs” in life lead me down a path of anxiety. 

This rarely used word came to my attention recently during worship one Sunday morning.   The praise leader led us in an updated version by Shane and Shane of the ancient hymn, Praise to the Lord, originally written by Joachim Neader in 1863.

As I sang the phrase “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,” I began to examine my heart. 

When was the last time I pondered anew what God can do instead of worrying and fretting?

Here are a few of my ponderings:

He spoke into existence every glorious sunset and sunrise, the powerful ocean waves, the majestic mountains. 

He created man and woman in His image.

He delivered the Israelites when they were in bondage to the Egyptians.

He gave His only Son as a ransom for my sin.

He healed the lame, the blind, and raised people from the dead.

He rose from the dead on the third day and conquered sin and death.

He forgives me when I’m at my worst.

He loves me unconditionally.

He heals relationships.

He restores me daily.

As I pondered all God has done and can do… create, deliver, forgive, heal, conquer, love and restore… my faith was built.  My hope was renewed that God can heal that relationship, conquer sin in my life, and advance His Kingdom in a world that is so terribly broken.

In Psalm 64:9-10 David declares, “…they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done.  Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him!”   (ESV)

Choose today to “ponder anew what the Almighty can do.”  Stop worrying and start “pondering.” 

Sinking

I’m sinking!   I opened my mouth to scream for help and there was no one in sight. My body was almost waist deep in sand.   Waves were crashing all around me.

What began as a casual walk along the beach in the early morning hours was turning into a nightmare.   As the tide had gone out, pools of water had formed between the dry hard sand and the ocean.  What appeared to be hard wet sand was an illusion.

Holding my cellphone in one hand over my head, I threw the upper half of my body into the shallow pool of water and wiggled my way out and then begin to crawl onto the dry packed sand.

When I finally stood up, I began to laugh and cry tears of thanksgiving. 

Even though I was wet and covered in sand, I was determined to finish my walk.  As I did, the Lord brought Matthew 7:26 to my mind:  “But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

Defensively I replied in my heart, “Lord, I am building my life on you.”  His response, “Go examine your life against my Word.”  The Lord never wants us to live our life in comparison to anyone else’s.   His standard for our lives is to be His word, not our neighbor, our friend, our family, or even our pastor.   Jesus’ life and His words are to be our plumb line, the tool in which we keep our lives aligned to God’s standards and not the world’s standards.  (Isaiah 28:16-17 and Amos 7:7-8)  When we measure ourselves against others, it’s an illusion, not a true standard.

Upon returning to the beach house where I was staying.  I sat down and opened His word.

Jesus uses the parable of building your house on either the rock or sand as the closing illustration of one of His most powerful sermons, Matthew 5-7.  Many refer to this sermon as “The Sermon on the Mount” because Jesus chose to preach sitting down on a mountainside as crowds of people were listening.

As I read through these chapters, the Holy Spirit began to speak clearly to my heart and convict me of areas in my life.   One of those areas is worry/anxiety.  “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34  The Greek word “worry” means to be “torn in two.”  When I worry, I am choosing to reject Christ as trustworthy and my mind is dependent on others or myself to solve problems.   My heart becomes divided.

Jesus doesn’t say not to worry when there is no more pandemic and a vaccine is found, or when the right political leaders are elected, or there is plenty of money in my bank account, or when all of my kids and grandkids have no problems.   Jesus says, stop worrying!   He says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) Care more about advancing His kingdom than my own kingdom.

Lord, forgive me!   Take my hand and pull me out of the sand and set my feet on you, the Rock. 

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”  Psalm 40:2-3

Do you feel as if you are sinking today? Is something or someone slowly pulling you under?  Does it seem as though our nation is slowing sinking?

Take a moment today to open God’s word to Matthew 5-7.  Ask the Lord to align your life to His word.  If there is any area of your life that is not set on His words, acknowledge it as sin, ask Him for forgiveness, and then choose to set your feet on the only one who will not sink!

The Twelfth Day: Christmas

The Gift of Emmanuel

As I welcome Christmas morning here on Rocky Top, a dense fog has settled on the lake and is completely hiding it’s existence. It would be difficult at this moment for me to convince anyone that there is a beautiful lake behind my home. Yet, I have seen the lake and experienced its beauty and wonder. I believe the lake is there even though it can’t been seen this morning.

My prayer for you this Christmas morning is that you will believe God is with you .  No matter what. Dense fog may be enveloping your life right now and you are unable to see your way forward. Believe. It is the very reason we celebrate today: Christ is with you!

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel—which means, “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23

He is with you when you didn’t complete everything on your Christmas To-Do list.  

He is with you when the kids are out of control, whining, and even ungrateful for their presents.

He is with you when the new recipe you attempted flops.

He is with you when the car breaks down.

He is with you in all the inconveniences of life.

He is with you when the promotion/raise you hoped for fell through.

He is with you when your heart aches in loneliness because you will not be with those you love today.

He is with you when those you are with are difficult.

He is with you when the one you loved betrays you.

He is with you as you continue to grieve those you have lost.

He is with you as your body aches and you long for healing. 

He is with you as you beg God for your prodigal to return to Him.

He is with you when you reflect on this past year and it appears there were more trials than joys.

He is with you today and will be with you tomorrow! 

There is no suffering too big or too small that He will not be with you in.  There is no fog too dense that He will not see you through.  He will hold you.  He will comfort you.  He will speak to you. 

So whatever happens on this Christmas Day, take time to be with the very One who came to be with you! Believe.

He is Emmanuel. Our Christmas gift.

Merry Christmas!

Day Eleven of Christmas

The Gift of a Savior

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:8-11

A Savior, according to Merriam-Webster, is one that saves from danger or destruction or one who brings salvation.   To have a Savior, one must be in need of being saved from peril and recognize their need for salvation.

One Sunday as a six year old girl, I heard the good news of Christ for the first time as I sat in church with my mom and dad.  Ironically, neither of them were followers of Christ then.  My dad noticed that I was crying and asked if I wanted to go talk to the pastor.  I nodded and his  strong arms picked me up and carried me down the aisle.   I told the pastor I wanted Jesus to forgive me of my sins and that I wanted to follow Him for the rest of my life.  I met my Savior that day.

Walking out of the church, holding my dad’s hand that day, I remember looking up at him, knowing that He did not have my Savior in his life.   He did go to church occasionally, but there was no fruit, no other evidence of salvation.  Dad was a strong man who did not think he needed a Savior.

I began to pray at six years old for my Dad to come to know Jesus.

At the age of 58, my Dad’s life began to unravel.  His fourth wife was threatening to divorce him; he was being laid off from his job and facing financial ruin.  Dad was beginning to realize that he did need a  Savior.

After thirty years of calling out his name to the Heavenly Father, my dad received Christ in February of 1995 – and his life changed radically.

Christmases after that were different.  Dad usually came to visit a few days before Christmas Eve. We would exchange gifts, share meals and then he would announce his departure early Christmas Eve morning.  We would always beg him to stay and we never understood why he wouldn’t.

One Christmas Eve we received the following email from him. 

To My Girls:

As I sat down to write, it is Christmas Eve night. I attended a candle light service and was feeling a loneliness that I never felt before.  Because I have no Christmas tree, I came back to my apartment and placed the candle in a bowl and lit the candle again.  As the light from the candle begin to glow, I knew that I was not alone.  Christ was by my side and I began to rejoice in His Love.

From the light of my small candle, I knew that God had not only given His Son to guide and love me, but also has given me a gift of very precious daughters. The gift that each of you have given me is more priceless than any material thing on this earth, and that is my grandchildren.  Each one of them holds a very special place in my heart.

You have taken the love you have in the Lord, and placed it in the hearts of your children. I know that you could not have accomplished this without the help and love from your spouses.  I feel very proud and blessed to know these fine men of yours.  For each is a very loving husband and father.

My candle is just about out. Although it will stop burning, the love I have for the Lord, you, your husbands and the grandchildren will burn forever.  I pray each day that God will guide and protect you, and that He places an Angel by the side of each grandchild to protect them.

May Christmas be alive in all our hearts each day and may the Son of God always be with you.

With All My Love, Dad

Dad’s Savior was with him.  He went to live eternally with Christ about ten years later. 

As Christmas Eve arrives, is there anyone you know who needs a Savior?  Never stop praying for them.  It is the very reason He came!

The Tenth Day of Christmas

The Gift of Worship

At the Avant household the rule has always been “No Christmas music before Thanksgiving.”  We broke it this year.  With my surgery scheduled for December 2 and the outcome unknown, we decided we needed to worship.  So on the way to celebrate Thanksgiving in South Carolina with Preacher’s family, we cranked up the Christmas music. 

We sang at the top of our lungs old favorites:

O Come, All Ye Faithful:  “Come all ye faithful; Joyful and triumphant; Oh come ye, oh come yet to Bethlehem; Come and behold Him; Born the King of angels; Oh come let us adore Him….”

Silent Night:  “Silent night; Holy night; Son of God; Love’s pure light; Radiant beams from Thy Holy face; with the dawn of redeeming grace; Jesus, Lord at thy birth…”

We also lifted our voices as we sang new Christmas songs:

Make Room (Casting Crowns):  “A family hiding from the storm; Found no place at the keeper’s door;  It was for this a child was born; To save a world so cold and hollow;  A Savior King who had no home has come to heal our sorrows; Is there room in your heart for God to write His story?”

Until You (Danny Gokey):  “We were hopeless looking for an answer until You; We were hurting, calling for a helper until You; You put a star up in the sky and the angels on high; Declaring the goodness; We were desperate for a savior until you.”

Worship has always been a gift to me.   It’s not always easy, yet it is always healing.

My favorite definition of worship is to “declare God’s worth”.   In the face of heart ache, the unknown, pain, betrayal, or any difficult circumstance, if I will stop and spend time declaring God’s worth, my heart becomes peaceful.    Worship doesn’t change circumstances or make pain stop, but it does change my heart.

Worship enables me to remember the truth of who God is, all He has done in the past and what He is capable of doing in the future.

Preacher’s definition of worship is “what will you do when you see Jesus face to face.”   His definition embraces what the Magi from the East did when they encountered the newborn King.  “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.  Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”  Matthew 2:11

As we draw closer to Christmas Day, let’s all stop and worship Jesus.  Take a few minutes to declare His worth.  Bow before Him and present yourself to Him as a gift.

He is waiting.

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