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10 Characteristics of a Blameless Life

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Monday Minute in the Word, devotionThis post was the most-viewed post of 2013! And it originally posted in September 2012!

Imagine entering heaven and approaching God’s throne. Picture yourself as you kneel at His feet and bask in the joy of His presence. All the struggles of life fade away as you praise Him who sits on the throne.

Do you long to enter God’s holy presence and joyfully worship at His feet? The woman whose “walk is blameless” (Psalm 15:2, NIV) may dwell in God’s sanctuary and live on His holy hill. I long to enter God’s presence, but I’m not sure I would describe myself as “blameless.”

According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Hebrew word translated as “blameless” in Psalm 15:2 describes a person with “nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God.”

Good definition, but that’s too general for me to get my mind around. I need some specifics about what a “blameless” life looks like. Thankfully, the Bible tells us. Psalm 15 and 102 describe a “blameless” life (Read them now if you have time. They are not long.) The following list of characteristics is derived from these two psalms of David.

  1. She practices praise – Regularly contemplate the holy nature of God. Recognizing His worthiness will not only foster praise, we will also be moved to obedience.
  2. She lives with integrity at home – Sometimes we fail to purposefully watch our words and actions at home like we do other places. We tend to let our guard down; to allow our first, sinful instincts to rule. We need to be as careful at home as we are away from home.
  3. She turns away from everything vile or vulgar – “Blameless” woman do not compromise with the sinful ways of the world. We don’t allow ourselves to become desensitized to immorality, crudeness, or risqué humor by watching it, reading it, or listening to it. For a sad example, read my recent post “Holiness is not a Shade of Grey.”
  4. She ruthlessly guards against evil thoughts and behavior (vs 3b-4) – We must proactively rid our lives of every thought and action contrary to the nature and character of God.
  5. She does not use her words to tear others down – Our speech should be edifying and encouraging. That doesn’t mean everything we need to say will be easy. But it does mean it will be helpful to the hearer.
  6. She does not collaborate with ungodly, wicked people (vs 3-4) – The only way to never encounter ungodly people is to leave this life and transfer to heaven. However, we can choose not to enter into agreements, projects, or business dealings with people whose worldview is not Christ-centered.
  7. She embraces honesty – Satan is the father of lies. Anytime we are less than honest we have yielded to the tempter! Let’s commit to total honesty in our own lives and conduct. We should also expect honesty from the people around us and distance ourselves from those who refuse to be honest.
  8. She does not seek gain that brings harm to others – God wants us to use our God-given skills, talents, and gifts to support the Kingdom, serve others, and provide for ourselves and our families. However, any effort for gain or advancement that takes advantage of others is sinful.
  9. She squashes pride and conceit – Pride fosters an abundance of sin. Those who want to live blameless before God will seek humility by keeping both God and ourselves in proper perspective.
  10. She helps, encourages, and protects the godly – God calls us to serve others and meet the needs of those who cannot help themselves. Do we respond when they cross our paths?

This may not be a complete list of “blameless” characteristics, but it’s a start. Let’s keep searching God’s Word, applying what He shows us, and enjoying His holy presence!

Which of these 10 characteristics do you struggle with the most? Why is that, do you think?

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5 Tips for Setting Spiritual Growth Goals for the New Year

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This was the #2 post of 2013. All the principles still apply to 2014!

What do the following things have in common?

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Improve my relationships
  • Pay off debt
  • Get organized

New Year, 2014 goalsEvery year these items pop up in lists of the Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions. Do you plan on making resolutions for 2014? The first of the year is a great time to start fresh, set goals, and begin something new. In fact, it’s the perfect time to evaluate our spiritual health and set some goals for growth.

We can’t cause our spiritual growth. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). But God does expect our obedient and active cooperation (1 Cor 9:24-27). One way we can purposefully “train ourselves to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7-8) is through spiritual evaluation and goal-setting.

Resolutions and goals are often hard to keep. Statistics show that, at best, only 46% of New Year’s resolutions are still kept six months into the year. People lose their resolve quickly because they set unattainable goals.

The following five tips will help us set personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year:

  1. Concentrate your efforts. Set just one, two, or three goals at a time. Don’t spread yourself too thin. When you experience success then add another goal.
  2. Be realistic. Set goals that are attainable. If you don’t read your Bible regularly now, don’t set a goal to read the entire Bible in three months. Instead commit to read it 3 to 5 times per week.
  3. Think concretely. Set goals so progress can be measured. For instance, this goal is too ambiguous: I’m going to spend more time with God. Instead be concrete: I will read one Bible chapter and pray for 10 minutes five times a week.
  4. Include strategies. Develop strategies designed to move you toward your goals. If one goal is to memorize Scripture, determine how you will do that. What verses you will memorize? How often you will tackle a new one? What memorization techniques you will use?
  5. Create manageable steps. Break your overall goal into a series of smaller goals that are doable and will foster success.

How do we begin? First, take a serious look at your spiritual health. You may use the free “Discipleship Evaluation” download. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas can be great growth areas in 2014.

Next, set spiritual growth goals using the five tips above. Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. The free “Spiritual Goals” worksheet walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education.

Most importantly, ask God to guide you as you evaluate your spiritual health and set goals for growth. He will bring the spiritual transformation as you strive to live a live that pleases Him.

What kind of spiritual growth goals have you had in the past? How did it go?

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Question Raised by Duck Controversy: Grace or Truth?

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the Duck Dynasty controversy heated up last week over Phil Robertson’s comments in a GQ article. (Albert Mohler’s post gives a good summary of the controversy in case you’re one of the three people who haven’t heard.) Many Christian bloggers and posters defended Robertson. They applauded his bold stand for God’s truth and tossed their support his way.

Phil Robertson, Duck DynastyAlthough I’m a Duck Dynasty fan, I wasn’t going to blog about it. I didn’t feel a need because there was so much being said already. That was before I read Jen Hatmaker’s post.

It’s beautiful and thought provoking. She writes about the need for Christians to extend Jesus’ love and grace to a lost and suffering world, how public words of condemnation only cause hurt, and that conversations within the context of relationship are best. And I wholeheartedly agree. Christians must lovingly share the grace of God, which He so lavishly poured out on us.

Hatmaker proposes that Christians must extend love and grace. And her comment section shows that many agree with her. This past week, many Christian bloggers also wrote that we must extend God’s truth.

So which is it? Grace or truth? Yes!

It’s not grace or truth. It’s grace and truth. As Christians, we cannot leave either by the wayside. Jesus, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), is our example.

The Effects of Sin and The Need for Truth

Yes, the suffering world desperately needs the love and grace of Jesus. But it’s sin that has caused the suffering in the world. Our culture is saturated with its devastating consequences.

Sin is a cancer eating away at the fabric of our society. We see its effects everywhere. Our prisons overflow. The family is disintegrating. Sex fuels the popular culture. This cancer needs a cure before it’s too late for the patient. We need God’s grace and His truth.

In her post, Hatmaker wrote she chooses to “preach the scandalous love of Jesus in the face of any issue, demographic, or debate.” Yet, how can we share the love of Christ without sharing His greatest act of love.

“But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  The Gospel isn’t the Gospel without the “Jesus died for our sins” part (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jesus died for our sins. He died because we are sinners. Without the acknowledgment of sin, there will be no recognition of a need for a Savior. And there will be no salvation. No spiritual healing.

Gracious Truth

The world needs both grace and truth, but they also won’t respond to a dogmatic diatribe of right and wrong. While we must not hesitate to share God’s truth, our conversation must always be “full of grace” (Colossians 4:6), presented with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let’s focus on the grace and mercy of Jesus and the forgiveness of sin He offers. And let’s be bold but gracious when God’s truth must be applied to specific topics.

Robertson obviously responded to direct questions about specific issues. While I agree that Robertson spoke words of truth, they could have been more gracious and gentle. Even the Robertson family alluded to that in their official statement.

Duck Dynasty, Robertson familyOf course, there will be times – no matter how graciously we present God’s truth – that the hearers will respond with anger and hate. The message of the Cross is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). For some, it is a sweet aroma of life, but to others it is the smell of death (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). But that should not keep us from sharing the Good News. And we should not water it down to make it more palatable. (Jim Daly’s post at Focus on the Family elaborates on the offense of the Gospel.)

Come as you are!

The Gospel is good news because Jesus will receive any and every sinner! There is no sin too great, no background too sordid, no heart too rebellious. Jesus’ sacrificial death covers it all. The cross is able to heal all wounds.

Yet on the redeemed side of the cross, He calls us to live holy lives. Just as He lifted the woman caught in adultery and said, “Go and sin no more,” He raises us up in new lives and tells us to “live a life worthy of the calling we have received” (Ephesians 4:1).

Yes, Jesus invites us to come to Him just as we are. But, He doesn’t want us to stay just as we are.

  • God calls the prideful to humility.
  • God calls the selfish to give.
  • God calls the gossip to speak only word that build up and encourage.
  • And calls the sexually immoral to purity.

In other words, God calls believers to holiness (Ephesians 4:24). We cannot sweep continued, unrepentant sin under a “rug of grace.” Jesus died for our sins because they were heinous enough to separate us from God. Our sins cost Jesus His life. How can we simply continue to live in them? But that’s what we do when we ignore the truth about what God calls sin.

Yes, Jesus is loving, but He is also just. Jesus is merciful, but He is also holy. We must not misrepresent Jesus to either the world or the Church.

It’s not grace or truth. It’s grace and truth. Both/and. Amen and amen.

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8 Tips for the Perfect Re-gift

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Have you ever received a re-gift? Have you ever re-gifted? The term “re-gift,” first coined by Jerry Seinfield on his hit TV show, means to give as a gift something one previously received as a gift. For instance, on my 40th birthday a teacher friend of mine gave me a nice bath salts ball neatly wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon. The gift label firmly stuck on the cellophane read, “To Mrs. Smith, from your student Susie.” Whoops! (By the way, names were changed to protect a not-so-savvy re-gifter.)

Christmas, regiftMy re-gifting friend could have benefited from the re-gifting rules below. Please keep these in mind as you finish up your Christmas shopping – whether at the mall or in your closet. (Keep reading to the end of the post to find out about the perfect re-gift!)

Rules for Re-gifting

1.      Check your motivation – do you have good intentions? Don’t re-gift simply because you ran out of time. Make sure the item will be desirable to the recipient.

2.      Update the wrapping – do not re-give a gift in its original gift bag if crinkled or torn, or even worse, in the wrapping paper it was in when given to you. Most importantly check for original gift tags and cards. These are a dead giveaway as I well know.

3.      Don’t re-gift something you’ve used – this includes partially used gift cards; one gift receiver found a few grains of rice in a “new” rice cooker she was given. Read more

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Messy Christmas

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Christmas treeThis post originally ran December 2012.

Christmas often comes with high expectations. We think everything has to be just so. Perfect decorations. Perfect family. Perfect gifts. Perfect meal.

Our culture perpetuates this fantasy. In the dozens of made-for-TV Christmas movies, the girl always finds her soul mate, the estranged father is always reunited with his family, the boy always gets the puppy, and the table is always laden with beautiful food (which must have been made by Christmas elves because you don’t see anyone slaving away for hours in the kitchen).

But here’s the problem with high expectations: many of us will be disappointed. Life will never be perfect – not even at Christmas. Maybe especially at Christmas. The arrival of December 25th does not magically heal broken relationships or ease the pain of loss or pay the bills.

In fact, Christmas tends to intensify any grief, anxiety, and sadness we feel because we compare our imperfect, messy lives to that unrealistic perfect image. When our lives don’t measure up, we lose hope. Without hope, Christmas becomes a time we have to get through instead of a joyful celebration.

Here’s the good news: Real hope for Christmas is not in a golden turkey or a new Kindle or a happy family gathered around a gorgeous tree. Real hope is in a babe in a manger. God come to earth to be with us. Immanuel.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us… In Him was life and that life was the light of men… We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God.  John 1:4, 12, 14

This life is messy and will be messy until Jesus comes back for His children. In the meantime, we will encounter trials, pain, death, sickness, divorce, heartache – oh, just name! However, in the middle of all our mess we can find strength, joy, and peace in the Savior. The birth of that one tiny baby long ago provides hope – for this life and eternity.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

Does your life feel messy this Christmas? Lay it all at the manger. Find your Christmas joy and peace in the Child of Christmas. In your Savior.

Are you struggling with a messy life this Christmas season? Share a thought about the hope, joy, and peace you can find in Christ!

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