August 30, 2014

About Tonya Ellison

Tonya Ellison — Blog Contributor
Tonya comes to us from Rio Rancho, New Mexico where she lives with her four favorite people, three kids ages 4, 6, and 9, and her husband of seven years, Jamel. Her hobbies include writing and reading, crocheting, and spending time with her family. She earned her BS in Human Services/Management and works as a Bereavement Counselor.

He Is Our Strength

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Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Psalm 81:1

It is the simplicity of this sentence that grabs my attention—a simple act that makes such a difference.  In life there have been countless times when God has proven His love for me, countless times when the only way I made it through a situation was by relying on God for my strength.

I look at what God for Jacob and for Israel.  I look at the battles won, the victories celebrated, and I know that the glory for those victories belongs to God.  He gives strength in the tough situations, He gives strength in day-to-day life…and everything in between.

Shouting for joy is a simple request compared to what He has accomplished in my life.  I’ll sing His praises to my kids, to my husband, to my friends and family.  I’ll thank and praise Him in my quiet time, when I’m driving, during soccer practice, while working, and whenever I can because it is in these times when His strength sustains me.  It’s in the everyday when His strength surpasses the weakness of my flesh.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, Lord, teach us how to sing Your praises! Thank You for accepting our songs and shouts, for reminding us that what we have to offer in thanks is good enough.  Thank You for the victories in the everyday and in the tough spots.  Your love gets us through it all.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Life Can Be an Idol

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Not to us, O Lord, not to us, But to Your name give glory
Because of Your loving kindness, because of Your truth.
Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?”
But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.
O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their Help and their Shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord; He is their Help and their Shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their Help and their Shield.
Psalms 115:1-11

“Their idols are silver and gold…” —and jobs and people, and money, and dreams, and aspirations, and things, simple things.  We place these things above our Heavenly Father; and we put a value on these things that we shouldn’t.  There are days when I ask myself where my cell phone is…but have I asked myself when the last time is that I prayed?  I wonder if my check is going to be on time…but was I on time when God nudged me to minister to that woman the other day?

This passage reminds me how easy it is to fall into the trap of letting life and all that it entails become our idol; and the trap of looking to other people and to other things to fill the void only the Lord our God can fill.  This Scripture also reminds me that through it all, He is still there—His loving-kindness, His truth. When we find ourselves focusing on other things around us, we need to step back and remember that He is our Help and our Shield; we trust in Him and not in the things of this world.

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Let’s Pray – Dear Heavenly Father, life has so many distractions that it is easy for us to place them higher in our life than we should.  Thank You for Your loving kindness, for Your grace, and mercy. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

Who Do We Put Our Trust In?

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Praise the LORD!
Let all that I am praise the LORD.
I will praise the LORD as long as I live.
I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.
Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their Helper,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The LORD frees the prisoners.
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are weighed down.
The LORD loves the godly.
The LORD protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but He frustrates the plans of the wicked.
The LORD will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 146

I can say that I don’t recall reading these words before but, as I read them I thought to myself, who do you put your trust in? So many times our society places individuals on pedestals (I do it myself). These individuals can include celebrities, politicians, preachers and pastors, our significant others, family members, friends, anyone. We raise them up and then raise our expectations of them. We ask things of them that they cannot deliver. We think they can do no wrong and, when they do so, we find ourselves hurt. Why do I do this? Why do we do this? I’m honestly not sure, but we are reminded of something…

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.
Verses 3 and 4

They breathe a last breath…they are only human. I learned that thinking like this does a few things—it places unnecessary (and often unwanted) pressure on the person, and it takes away God’s glory. We place others in His position. This Scripture reminded me that we need to only place our confidence, our hearts, and our lives in One.  God.  He is our Helper, He is our hope, He is our peace, and He is the only One Who will never fail us.  As this scripture says

He keeps every promise forever.
Verse 6

This isn’t said to ruin relationships or break trusting connections; it is said to remind us that those around us are as human as we are, and when they will fail…they deserve grace and mercy. There is One who will never fail us, and that is our Heavenly Father.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, so often we take our eyes off of You and place others higher than we should.  Remind us and guide us to remember that out of everyone, You will never fail us, and You will never break the promises You’ve made.  Thank You for those who You have placed in our lives as role models, but it is You, Lord, who we need to put our trust in.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray, Amen.

His Faithfulness Continues….

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Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
Worship the LORD with gladness.
Come before Him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God!
He made us, and we are His.
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving;
go into His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the LORD is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and His faithfulness continues to each generation.
Psalm 100

I’ve heard this passage my entire life…in church, in songs, through preaching, and in regular conversation.  A wonderful thing about God’s Word is that with each reading, a passage can reveal something new.  It may seem as if you’re reading the words for the very first time—when in fact it may be the hundredth time.

This passage did the same for me this time.  As I read the words, the last line stood out.  I know that God’s Word speaks to you in your seasons; and in this season of being a mother I need as much guidance from God as I can get.  For those of us who are sending our children back to school, or off to work, or out in the world—whatever stage of life our children may be walking into—there can be a good deal of worry associated with the actions of our kids.  “…And His faithfulness continues to each generation” (verse 5).

This line alone makes me want to shout thanks to the Lord!  It reminds me that He will be equally as faithful to my children as He has been to me.  Sometimes when I’m reminded of His promises such as this one, all I can say is “God is good! The Lord is good!”  Simple words that say so much. His promise to myself and to my children is reason enough to live this passage on a daily basis…but He has done so much more than that.  He has done more than I could ever imagine.  I want to live these verses not because of what He has done in my life, but for who He is to the world.  He is faithful, He is loving, and for this I thank Him.

Let’s Pray: Lord, Your words bring peace…they bring joy…they bring security. Words could never truly honor You as You deserve; but, Lord, we promise to make the best effort we possibly can.  I pray these words are written on the hearts of all the women reading this, and that we live these words in good times and in bad.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

The Condition of the Heart

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My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise You, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of You among the peoples.
For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let Your glory be over all the earth.
Psalms 57:7-11 NIV

The first two lines of this week’s passage struck me the hardest. It wasn’t about what God was doing for me or about my enemies or the adversities I was facing. It was about me. It was about my heart.

I looked at some other versions of this week’s selection and saw other descriptions of the condition of our heart—the word, steadfast.  Some of these other descriptions were“fixed, ready, confident.” Although they have different definitions they sum up well what we need to possess in order to be able to live out the rest of the passage.

Steadfast
• firmly fixed in place
• not subject to change
• firm in belief, determination, or adherence

Now here in other versions, ‘steadfast’ is translated a little differently:
Fixed (KJV)
• placed or attached in a way that does not move easily
Ready (MSG)
• prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action
• prepared for immediate use
• willingly disposed
• likely to do something indicated
• displayed readily and spontaneously
Confident (NLT)
• having a feeling, belief that you can do something well, succeed at something
∙ having confidence
• showing that you have confidence
• certain that something will happen or that something is true

As with most instructions God gives us, along with the directives He places on our lives, there is one thing we need to make sure of— that our hearts are where they need to be. And that the condition of our hearts allows for the task to be completed. That is an example to others of the love of God and of His influence in our lives.

This week I want to focus on my heart.

I want to focus on what it looks like…to God and to others.

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Dear Heavenly Father,
The condition of our hearts may not be something we look at on a daily basis, it may be something that we take for granted. But Lord, this week I pray that we take a closer look. I pray that we take the steps needed to have our hearts be a reflection of You. I pray that we work towards becoming steadfast, fixed, ready, and confident. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Through the Praise of Children and Infants

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Psalm 8
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
You have set Your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Growing up in church, I participated a great deal in children’s programs, and my relationship with God grew and became a source of strength.  But the impact that a child’s faith could have on me changed greatly when I had my own children.  When I saw them praising God, and sharing their faith with their peers…and when I can use the Word of God to help direct their daily journey.  My own journey has a different impact and takes on a different meaning when I look at it through the eyes of my kids.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers….”  When I look around at the beauty of the world…at the beauty of my family and my home…when I look at the wonderful people around me…I am thankful.  God has created beauty. And He has given us the gift of caring for this beauty.  There are times when my husband or kids ask to borrow something of mine, something that perhaps I treasure, I am not as willing to share as I should be.  I worry that what I lend may be lost or broken. God is not like this.  He created beauty, His most prized possessions, and He placed us in charge.  He gave us the honor of caring for what He created.

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Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for using the innocence of children to silence Your enemies. Their untarnished love and honesty can bring a clarity to situations often that we need. Thank You for the responsibility of raising these children, the responsibility of looking after Your magnificent creations—the beauty all around us. Please help us to care for these creations as You would have us care for them. In Jesus’ Name, we pray, amen.

Thank You

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Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep His statutes
and seek Him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow His ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying Your decrees!
Psalms 119:1-5

I remember growing up and receiving praise from a parent or teacher…that is one of the best feelings out there!  I see the delight in my children’s eyes when I thank them for listening, and when I let them know how much I appreciate their good behavior.  Even as adults we enjoy hearing “Way to go!” when we are recognized for doing well.  This is what God is doing here.  He is praising those who are blameless, those who follow His direction, and those that obey.  Now, He isn’t condemning those who may not be doing these things.  This is a sign of His unconditional love!  This verse wasn’t followed by a reprimand; it is a special message to those who are intentional in following Him, intentional in their obedience.

David ends this particular passage with these words:

You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!

David is stating his intentions—his desire to be obedient.  God didn’t simply tell us to listen to Him.  He has given us detailed instructions on living life.  He gave us an entire ‘how-to’ book, a manual for life.

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Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your instructions, for the ‘how-to’ guide that You have made available to us. Like David, I pray that we are steadfast in obeying Your commands and unwavering in following Your instructions. In Jesus’ Name I pray, amen.

Through It All

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I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
Psalms 34:1-3

Work…
Husband…
Home…
Soccer practice.    Dance practice.    Basketball practice.
My school…kid’s school…
Running here.   Running there.   Running everywhere.

This would make a great Dr. Seuss poem, now that I think of it, but in reality it is just part of my weekly to-do list. Constantly moving…and my brain constantly working. And I know that other women out there have this schedule and then some. We are a generation of women on the move. I say this to point out that when we are always moving we may, at times, forget to praise the Lord because the busyness takes over.

Last night I was folding laundry. I laid back, sighed, and was about to voice a complaint…as I often do when the piles are taller than my head! But this time I thanked God for the clothes I was folding and for the people who wore those clothes. The situation could be different—I could have no clothes to fold, no dishes to wash, no practices to taxi kids to, no life in me to live.

Life tends to entice us to complain, and other people motivate and model to us how to gripe and groan. But as children of the Most High we have the ability to move past this. We have the ability and the gift of being able to praise God continually—through good, bad, busy, and slow.  Through all of life.  So ladies, through life and all that it brings, let us exalt His name together, and let us praise Him for all He does in our daily comings and goings.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, through all we see in our day, we can forget to thank You for what You do. The word continually means all the time—driving, walking, drinking coffee, cheering our kids on…continually. Thank You for the gentle reminder through David. Lord, I pray that we practice intentional praise, and continual praise.  In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Handcrafted

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The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
The LORD looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
He fashions their hearts individually;
He considers all their works.
No king is saved by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for safety;
Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
Psalms 33:11-18

How often do we see commercials advertising products that will make our appearance stand out?  We seek out hairstyles, makeup, and clothes that will make us unique and that will define our own “look.” I think about individuality in our appearance, the car we drive, our performance at work—we want to be unique.  In a quest for uniqueness, and in being our own person, this verse paints a picture:

He fashions their hearts individually…
Verse 15

Our Heavenly Father values our individuality. He values that we are all different and because of this He created our hearts differently. He is not concerned with our outside appearance, but rather with what is inside. He gave us different passions and desires, different strengths and weaknesses, different characteristics—all which make us the unique creation that we are.

They call America the melting pot, where we respect and admire others for their differences, and our differences make us who we are. It is a gift to have the ability to impact others and the world in only a way we can. It is a gift to have been handmade, crafted, and designed individually. We have had God’s hands forming who we are now and who we will continue to grow to be.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for making us one-of-a-kind. Thank You for making each of us who we are—individually and in Your image. Please give us the courage and strength we need to use our individual skills to make a difference for You. And to impact others how only we can. Thank You for the freedom to do these things as well. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

The Safe Place

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I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out before Him my complaint;
before Him I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is You who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
I cry to You, LORD;
I say, “You are my Refuge,
my Portion in the land of the living.
Psalms 142:1-5

The beauty of David’s words paints the picture of where he was in that time of his life.  We see his pain and hear his cry for help.  I have never been in a cave or running for my life, but I can relate to David’s words…I think we all can to some extent.

I know that there have been times when I felt alone, unsure of what lies ahead in my next step.  Similar to David, I have felt tired and worn down by the weight of this world.  Through all of the struggles and pain of life David remembered one thing:

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who watch over my way. (verse 3)

When it seems as if there is no one on our side and loneliness is closing in on us, we should remember David’s words—it is God who watches over our way.

I cry to you, LORD; I say, “You are my Refuge, my Portion in the land of the living. (verse 5)

One of our basic needs in life is the feeling of safety—a place where we can breathe and release our cares.  God is that safe place; He is our Refuge.  After a stressful day at work…when the kids seem to be pushing every button you have, when that impossible situation arises and you don’t know what to do…turn to your Refuge and He will give you peace.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, life can lay snares in our path that we don’t see until it is too late.  But, despite what happens on our journey, we can take relief in knowing that You are here…You are our peace, our joy, our refuge! Thank You for this.  Thank you for being our safe place.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.