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On Strong Personalities And Real Strength

Strong Traits List
You do know you have a strong personality, don’t you? Megan half asked, half stated. You are intense.
I furrowed my brow. Not the first time the words were applied to moi. But I winced a little still.
I love you, but you do. 

Guilty As Charged

Don’t mind the context, only know that Megan’s comments were wrapped with love. I might even have left this topic alone, but a friend forced the issue when she used the phrase in a different way last night. It was a <whistle and head shake> “Whew, she’s a strong personality!”

It might just be semantics, but to these ears there’s a world of difference between being strong and having a strong personality.

I’m all about strong. In fact, a couple hours before Megan pegged me, I had inscribed a gift book to a friend. You know what I wrote inside the cover? “Be strong in the Lord,” Ephesians 6:10. Not to mention practically every other JoyPrO post is about growing stronger in faith and being strengthened by graceSpiritual strength is definitely something I seek. 

So, yes. That shoe fits. I grant that.

Strong in the Lord vs. Strong Personality

But strong personality? I wasn’t so keen on having that attached to me. Because to these ears, it smacks of character traits I don’t want to claim, like domineering  and stubborn and mulish. And you know how I feel about mules.

But I am convinced that God wants all his children to be strong, that we should all pray for our “strength of soul” to increase (Psalm 138:3), and that the call to be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might is not just for those naturally inclined. It is for all God’s children.

But “strong in the Lord” isn’t the same thing as a strong personality. So, Let a righteous man strike me; it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Megan’s comment was oil. I dare not be defensive. Because when it comes to criticism, we the redeemed by his blood, ought to be the least defensive people on the planet.

But I did do some web-surfing and some Word-searching.

Strong Personality Traits

The “strong personality” results first.

Online, “strong personality” turned up mostly positive traits. Which is probably not surprising at all. Because like Megan said as I promptly pulled out my phone to get the terms defined– a sign, I’m sure, of a strong personality- That must have been written by a strong personality.

This Lifehack was the first one I read and I concur- it must have been. Because these traits, for the most part, I own. The shoe fit again, and honestly, it felt pretty good. I read that strong personalities don’t often waste time whining, don’t fear risks as much as others and don’t much like small talk. Check, check, check. Especially about small talk.

Then I landed on the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. I liked that list, too. Traits #1 and #4, for example, are great:

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves

Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.

4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control

You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.

The more I surfed, the more I liked Megan’s assessment. It felt more like a hug than a strike. But, honestly– as a strong personality would say– what Megan thinks of me or even what I think of myself matters very little (1 Cor. 4:3). 

What matters most is what God thinks of me.

The Word On Strength

As it turns out, God has a lot to say about that. John Rinehart sums up some of those identity-building truths here. This paragraph especially sheds light on the strength God wants his children to have:

Don’t live by your own power or understanding. No, live by my Spirit within you (Zech. 4:6Prov. 3:5)…The Spirit will guide you into all truth, help you to obey me, and empower you to do my work (John 16:713Acts 1:8Gal. 5:16).

God wants his people strong and he empowers them to be. In the span of 12 verses in Joshua, God tells them to “Be strong,” no less than four times. Why? For I am with you. And you’ll find verses like “Be strong, all you people of the land,” and “Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong,’ and “He will keep you strong to the end,” scattered throughout his Word (Hag. 2:4, Joel 3:10, 1 Cor. 1:8).

If you spend much time studying it out, you’ll see the source of all that strength.

Be strong. God is Stronger.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 

That’s 2 Timothy 2:1. Kevin DeYoung launchea recent message on 2 Timothy 2:1-15 with those five words. His summed it up with five words this strong personality loves: Be strong. God is stronger

We are made strong because of God’s grace to us. And that grace is active. Titus 2:11-14 says it trains us to say no to ungodliness and yes to self-control, for example. But the bottom line is that the spiritually strong, those with strength of soul, are only made strong in union with the Almighty God.

Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:10, Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. That’s real strength.

Real Strength

But real strength is shown not in the power to control or dominate others by force of will or with persuasive words. Rather it’s shown in the ability to control ourselves. Spiritually strong people learn not to let negative thoughts and yo-yo emotions steer their ships.

It’s also not shown in living my way or the highway. Rather it’s prefer each others interests to your own (Philippians 2:3). Whenever I try to steam roll the show, I prove I’m not so strong. And I prove that far too often- just ask my husband, my sons, Megan.

Growing truly strong is a process. But by God’s strong grace, I am empowered to fight those dark sides of my strong personality. I can be really strong because God is stronger, and his Spirit lives in me.  

So call it strong or call it strong personality, but whatever you call it– if it’s the right strong, if it’s real strength- it is a divine gift of God.

In fact, it is God. 

The LORD is the strength of his people.

Psalm 28:8

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5 Myths About Self-Control

I’d always assumed my trim senior friend Gwen was just that way. That she was one of those blessed few, those naturally thin ones, who needed no self-control.

Until the other day as we walked, and Gwen confided,

Oh, those Sweet Lane cakes are so good! I could have eaten all eight slices. It was all I could do two stop at two.

Then Gwen told me how the cake was a gift and how she almost didn’t accept it. She shared how sometimes she struggles with food: too late at night and too often to soothe. Then she told me how she makes herself step on the scale each week.

I hoisted my jaw off the sidewalk, Seriously? You, Gwen? I always thought thin came easy. You’d never know.

And so Gwen’s cake confession busted my myth #5. Here are the other four that crumbled too.

#1: Self-control means restraining behavior.

A month ago, I would have said it was all true. But I’ve been studying the Paul’s letter to Titus lately. And self-control comes up a lot.

And restraining actions and behavior isn’t the whole truth.

One of the Greek words translated self-control is sophron. The first part of the word, so, means “safe or sound.” The second part, phren, means” mind.”

So sophron means “having a safe, sound mind.” It’s also translated “sensible,” “sober,” “temperate” or “discreet.” Sophron allows us to have self-controlled behavior, but it starts with a sound and self-controlled, sensible mind.

Put on the Brakes of Your Mind

I’ve read that modern Greek uses the word phrena for car brakes and that in Spanish the term for handbrake is phrena demano. That word for brake– phrena- comes from the same root as that second syllable of sophron 

So, self-control means we “put on the brakes” in our mind and we don’t we don’t let our mind sit in park while our emotions drive us around. This sophron kind of self-control is what we all- men and women, young and old are called to be (see Titus 2). 

And the prerequisite for sound, self-controlled living is sound thinking that is based on sound doctrine (Titus  1:1, 9, 13, 2:1).  

Find The Why

But when we think of self-control as behavior only, we rush in to fix what we’ve done– or failed to do without delving into why we did it. We ignore the gap in sound thinking that led to the lapse in behavior. To grow in self-control we must probe the why.

Mary Kassian shares some real-life examples of how a “why-probe” might go,

Why did you lash out at your mother?

Well, because she made a cutting, sarcastic comment.

No. What happened is that the situation revealed your unsound thinking. You think you have the right to retaliate for past hurts and return tit-for-tat. You do not have a sophron state of mind.

Why did you scream at your child?

Well, because he drew a mural on the wall with a permanent marker.

No. What happened is that the situation revealed your unsound thinking. You think life should be easy and blame fatigue and stress for your over-reaction. And your child to blame for the way you react to him. You do not have a sophron state of mind.

It’s a lie that we have the right to return evil for evil and a lie that we deserve and easy life. A self-controlled mind knows this.

Sophron helps us take those thoughts captive so we’re not taken for a ride.

Myth #2: Self-control is about saying no.

It is. But it’s only half the truth.

Mary Kassian again– Self-control is the “I will” power to say “yes” to what’s good and the “I won’t” power to say “no” to what’s bad.  As in, Yes to bed by 10  pm, no to ice cream then.  

So it’s wrong to think of self-control as only denial, It is that. But that’s not the ultimate goal.

Self-denial is the just the means to the end. And the end is love. Self-control is the grace that allows us to say no to indulging ourselves for the sake of others. You could call it love… Even Alcoholics Anonymous has discerned that there is a connection between how we live with others and the flare-ups of addiction. Love others and you will be fighting your tendencies to self-indulgence. (Ed Welch, Self-Control: The World’s Secret Desire)

Love others and you’ll fight self-indulgence. Yes to seconds for your guests means no to your second helping. Yes to teaching Sunday school means no to sleeping in.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:14). 

Self-control does say no to self. And yes to Christ.

Myth #3: Self-control confines us.

This one’s another half truth. Self-control is restrictive. In fact, I’ve heard it said that the best way to define a Christian is a slave of Christ. 

But self-control also frees us.

The Psalmist wrote, I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free (Psalm 119:32). Peter put like this: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1Peter 2:16). The greatest freedom comes when we’re under God’s control.

And living self-controlled frees us to enjoy life. It’s those without self-control, who stray off the path of God’s good ways, whose lives will sooner or later fall apart.

Because we all will be slaves to something. J. Hampton Keathley III brings that humbling truth home,

Simply put, without self-control, we become the slaves of all our enemies (the world, the flesh, and the devil) and become incapacitated, unable to serve God and one another or even our own best interests. We end up not only serving ourselves, but we become slaves to our appetites. “By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).

Do our thoughts take us captive or do we take captive every thought? Self-control frees us from rebel thoughts and enemy masters so we are free to serve a loving- and forgiving– Master.

Myth #4: Self-control is self-taught.

Wrong. We need help.

Self-control, the Christian kind* anyway, the kind that brings freedom to humbly love otherscannot be self-taught. We cannot muster it up. Which is why God’s Word specifically calls older women to teach younger women to be self-controlled.

Human Teachers

I struggle with overeating and I needed Gwen to teach me. I struggle with resentment and I’m so grateful for older women- who’ve been hurt far worse than I’ve ever been- who teach me seek a pure heart and forgive. 

You teach, too. We all have a sphere of influence. And our godliness or ungodliness- our self-control or indulgence- teaches others. How we live is never neutral.

Pastor Christopher Ash explains,It matters to others that I cry to God for his help and his grace, that I may begin show the beauty of God to others. No one lives to himself alone. It is a wonderful thought that by the way we behave this week people who see us…will get a glimpse of the goodness and kindness and beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is a wonderful thing. And a little daunting too.

Divine Teacher and Enabler

Thankfully, we have a greater teacher than the best human mentor.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age… Titus 2:11-12

God’s grace is our teacher. He teaches us to keep in step His Spirit so self-control’s fruit will grow.

But a self-controlled life, “does require effort and vigilance on our part. And we tap into the enabling grace of God as we take advantage of the means He has provided for our transformation and growth” (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Adorned). In other words, self-control involves both God’s mighty power and our responsible effort.

It’s what Paul wrote “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” And Peter said so too, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control... (2 Peter 1:5-6)

Self-control doesn’t just come. Grace teaches us- and enables us- to Make every effort, and Be diligent, and Work out. To cultivate the soil where self-control will grow.

Myth #5: Self-control will be easy when I’m older.

I used to think that if we fought sin hard when young, later on we could coast right through.

Remember Gwen? She’s around 70 years old.

If anything, the urge to cast off restraint and indulge comes hotter and heavier as we get older. From what I glean in my relationships with fading saints, the struggle never ends. Until our flesh is finally stripped away, the need for self-control remains.

D.A. Carson recounts how this truth hit home one day when read a page in his father’s diary. His dad was about 80 years old when he wrote,

Merciful Father. Save me from the sins of old men. Too much looking backward. A tendency toward self-pity. Whining because of aches and pains. The ease with which I turn on the television. Save me from the sins of old men.

The sins of middle-aged women are not the same as those of young ladies. But, oh, I feel the need to be saved from mine.  I feel my need for a sound, sophron mind.

The battlefronts will differ and the temptations may change. But we will struggle with sin and need self-control until we see our Master face-to-face.

Till then, we can pray. 

Dear Lord, Help me lean into you and learn from your grace so I can live self-controlled, love others well and run free in your good ways. 

 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…

Titus 2:11-12

 

*Strong souls who don’t know God are capable of a certain kind of self-control. For sure, there’s that remarkable kind of discipline that Olympic athletes and great musicians must have. But it’s not the same strain as Christian self-control because the goal of control different.

One can subvert or sacrifice one’s lazy or indulgent side for the sake of another side that seeks fame and praise from others and is driven by ego or pride. For many, that sort of self-control for the sake of self can be mustered up. It needs no teachers.

But the goal of Christian self-control is to bring all of oneself under the control of Christ, for the sake of Christ. That kind of self-control- the kind that brings freedom to humbly love others– is only learned with help.

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Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. 

Zechariah 4:10a

Hi, Mom. This is Sam, our introvert ten year-old announced. You told me to call at two o’clock. It’s two o’clock.

It may seem a small thing, Sam’s call. But it’s big, because Sam isn’t much for talking on the phone. Besides that aversion, he was digging deep in Minecraft when the appointed check-in time came. In days past, he forgot. He lacked self-control. This time, Sam called. It was big small step.

Sorry for whining, Mom, our eight year-old reluctant writer confessed. I just don’t want to write it all again, but I will. 

That after self-cues to take three big breaths. And so Mr. Emotion took a small step toward perseverance. Instead of the usual moan-and-groan act we see when he’s asked to redo, Gabe took correction. Without a whine or tear, he rewrote the note. A small thing, and big. 


Small things are there for the seeing, if we look. Resisting an ice cream urge at nine at night is small. And big. Refraining from, I told you so, when you did tell him so is small. And big. 

Saying I’m sorry and Thank you and I forgive you are all small statements. But they have potential to cause huge growth, both in the speaker and the listener. The lips of the righteous nourish many.  

Eyes To See Small Things


It was 520 B.C. The Jewish exiles had come home to Jerusalem. Decades after their temple had been destroyed, the rebuild restarted. The foundation was laid. But the sight of the stacked stones struck onlookers as small and scant, at least compared to the former glory of Solomon’s temple. 

So friends of Israel wept while her foes jeered. Many doubted the project would ever be finished. It was a day of small things. 

Enter the prophet Zechariah and the angel who spoke God’s word. To the Prince Zerubbabel and the mournful or scornful around him, Zechariah (4:6, 9-10) offered big encouragement: 

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts…The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands shall complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel

Just you wait, Zechariah assures. It’ll get done. Zerubbabel will soon drop the plumb line down those straight temple walls. And when he does, you will rejoice. This little foundation, this groundbreaking, isn’t the sum total of the work God is doing. It’s the mustard-seed-small start of something big. 

The temple of the LORD will be rebuilt, because the Spirit of Almighty God is at work. 

Learning Zerubbabel’s Lesson


In some ways we’ve learned Zerubbabel’s lesson. We celebrate small beginnings of big buildings. We dig with silver shovels and cut ribbons and mark the new house starts with smily photo ops. 

We mark physical growth in all sorts of festive ways, too. Staggered lines and dates on the doorframe, walking, talking milestones in baby books, very big birthday bashes for very little people. We do these things-we celebrate and commemorate- because we know that big things start small. 


But what about the spiritual starts? Do we celebrate days of spiritual small things? Do we rejoice when the son shows growth in self-control? When he shuts off the iPad without being told and reins in complaint all on his own? Or the day the daughter uses words to build up and not bully her little brother? 

How about the day your friend chooses gratitude over grumbling, or timeliness over tardiness? Or when- after a quick fit of anger- a spouse turns and asks forgiveness? Do you rejoice? Do you praise the small actions borne of godly wisdom and fear of the Lord? A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30), and A man shall be commended for his wisdom (Proverbs 12:8). 

So maybe we should celebrate Spirit-led small things more.  Because, writes C.S. Lewis, 

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature into a hellish creature. 

Sow an action, reap a habit. Nail is driven out by nail; habit is overcome by habit. Sow to the flesh, reap corruption, sow to the Spirit-the mighty working Spirit that builds God’s temples-reap eternal life (Galatians 6:8)Little seeds grow into big weeds or fruitful trees. 

So, who will despise the day of small things?

Worth Doing Badly

It’s not ours to judge how great the growth. We don’t even know the starting point. But it is ours to see-and celebrate- progress in the faith (1 Timothy 4:15, Philippians 1:25). It’s not the size of the thing we see that really matters. The world knows, Every journey begins with a single step. 

More and more I mouth this motto-as I scratch out a short note rather than a long letter or stop in for a 20-minute visit rather than stay for the day- A little bit is better than none at all.

When we say, I don’t have enough- we despise the day of small things. Not enough time to listen, enough money to make a dent, enough wisdom to teach, enough wit to put in a word for Christ, we despise the day of small things. If you find yourself here, take heart.

Because, Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. 
 G. K. Chesterton didn’t intend the line to be an excuse for laziness or low effort (though possibly for poor results). Instead, to a culture plagued both by not gonna bother if it can’t be perfect, and drive for good results with minimal effort-or someone else’s effort- Chesterton says, in effect: Be an amateur. 

Do the thing for love and not for money. Do it imperfectly, but do it still. If the things is worth doing, do it, even it’s not perfect. Don’t wait for weekend at a waterpark, head to the beach for an hour. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Heed the Spirit and do the small thing.


Or do you despise the day of small things? The day when sons wash windows and multiply streaks and husband humbly bears wrong-size, wrong-color peace offering? Do you begrudge the hour because it’s not a day? 

Seek More Grace

Maybe you do see and celebrate the small things around you. But, what about in you? Do you despise the day of small things by not seeking more small things from yourself? I worked harder then them all, wrote Paul to the Corinthians, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me. 

In 1871, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on Zechariah 4:10, titled Encouragement for the Depressed. In it, he pushes us who do see and do rejoice in small things to do so yet more. Don’t settle. Don’t despise the day of small things by standing still, satisfied. Seek more grace. 

On the one hand, do not despond because you have the day of small things..but prove your value of the little by earnestly seeking after more grace. Do not despise the grace that God has given you, but bless God for it: and do this in the presence of his people. If you hold your tongue about your grace, and never let anyone know, surely it must be because you do not think it is worth saying anything about. Tell your brethren, tell your sisters, and they of the Lord’s household, that the Lord hath done gracious things for you; and then it will be seen that you do not despise his grace.

So I say-to the praise of His glorious grace-last week I was on time to the ladies’ group and went to bed without my Bear Tracks and didn’t say Told you so, when I did

Small things, all. But I rejoice. And want more grace.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you 
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 
Philippians 1:6
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Warring the Sinnabon

If there be a man before me who says that the wrath of God is too heavy a punishment for his little sin, I ask him, if the sin be little, why does he not give it up. – Charles Spurgeon


I just finished The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler, MD.  Besides a inside scoop on the food industry and the marketing of overeating, or its alias in the book,”conditioned hypereating,” Kessler provides in-depth analysis of the biology and neurology of overeating.  He details the inexorable links between the flavor stimuli designed to tempt a gluttonous response.  

Now I know why it’s all I can do to walk past the Cinnabon trailer at the county fair.  (Beyond the sensational scent-it has to do with neurochemistry.) And why a “succulent, seared Italian seafood filet” looks and tastes better and even fills you up more than a simple “seafood filet.”

An informative read for sure.  My food radar is definitely up as I scan menus and ingredient lists.  I am not unaware of the food industry’s schemes! More importantly, I’m tuned in to the mental rehearsal and intentional planning that is essential to maintaining a healthy weight.  I know that haphazard eating, without thought to the stimuli-response-habit cycle often result in overeating.  


But what impressed me more than anything else in The End Of Overeating, I’m quite sure, was totally unintended by Kessler.  Near the end, he examines what “success” in the face of the overeating battle looks like.  Here are a few excerpts (bolding and underlining, mine):

…you see that food has kept you trapped in a cue-urge-reward-habit cycle.  Only then can you accept that food rewards are short lived and that their more enduring effect is to sustain your desire to keep eating.  That’s when you realize that if you stay trapped, you’ll never eat enough to feel satisfied, and that’s when you’ll stop expecting food to make you feel better.    -pp. 234-235

Soon you’re inventing excuses for pursuing reward.  “I’m entitled to this…It will cheer me up…I’ve been good this week…I can eat just a little.”  In a series of small steps, you put yourself into a position where it becomes easier to access a reward, an internal battle begins (“Should I eat this or not?”), and your determination to say no eventually buckles.

…For others, the greatest challenge comes after reaching their sought-after weight, when they recognize that their struggle will never be completely over and that the battle with conditioned hypereating is lifelong.  Accepting those realities helps to keep you vigilant. -pp. 232-233

The slave to sin/hostage to overeating analogy was inescapable. Justifying the “little” sin snack. The internal battle-I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate. Feeling entitled to “just a little” sinful pleasure. Realizing that sin keeps us trapped by its fleeting “rewards.” Moses lived it for us.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the children of God, rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

Both my dear friend Julia and a committed co-worker have lived this war in the past year.  Looking for a greater reward, they demonstrate unceasing vigilance to overcome.  Each has lost >80 pounds.  Both have confided that they see the battle against overeating will require lifelong vigilance.  Their reduced calorie diets, minimal sugar and refined carbs, and self-control are not temporary, but new norms.  

I’m getting it, too. Behind C. H. Spurgeon, who knew

The reigning power of sin falls dead the moment a man is converted, but the struggling power of sin does not die until the man dies.  

With Oswald Chambers, who knew

Life without war is impossible whether in nature or in grace…Health is the balance between physical life and external nature, and it is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside.  


There’s really only one way out of bondage.  In all the tantalizing forms Overeating and her sneaky, spiritual cousin Sin take, defeating them requires embracing at least these two truths: 

  • the short-term pleasures of partaking are just fleeting compared to the eternal reward. Yup, as I inhale the aromatic scent of the Cinnabon, I must think: A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.  Delightful going down, but not so much 730 calories later.
  •  that epic victory and real freedom are simply impossible without war.  I realize I’ll have to fight the Sinnabon until the day I die! It’ll be easier to resist the more I do, but I’ll probably still be tempted decades down the road. 

When the grace of God appears, he teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passion and lead self-controlled upright and godly lives as we await our glorious Hope.  In his marvelous, matchless grace, our Lord Jesus  promises us even greater rewards when we keep fighting the good fight, with his mighty power- our “sufficient vitality” at work within.   

Death to the Sinnabon!