Monday, November 26, 2012

More of Your Grace, Dear Lord


Grace.

It’s such a simple word, and yet it is so very deep. I started realizing its vast importance less than two years ago, and yet it is beginning to define my life.

Grace: God riches at Christ’s expense, God giving us what we do not deserve – statements that try to explain an immeasurable divine attribute in an understandable way. And yet until Jan. 25, 2011, I knew the right answers but not the trueness of God’s Grace in my life.

I’ve written about this a couple of other times earlier this semester (here and here). But I’m writing about it again because it’s still a lesson God is teaching me.

This morning, the sermon at my church in Dallas came from Romans 8:1-13, one of my favorite passages of Scripture. The teaching focused on the fact that we *can* have victory in the battles of our lives, reflective of the victory that Christ has *already won* in the war. Our victory is already AND not yet. And we can choose whether to live and walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.

Mr. Wright focused in on the fact that positionally, our fate as children of God is sealed: We are declared righteous in God’s sight through justification. But in our daily lives, we have a choice to make: Practically, we can choose to be slaves of God, sold out to Him, being sanctified – or we can choose to continue trying to live in this world on our own.

God’s Grace does not change one iota either way. And yet my decision of which man (old, fleshly man or new, spiritual man) to feed and encourage makes a huge difference in my outlook on life. Learning to let go of my attempts to improve myself and of the belief that I had to meet God’s expectations of me before He would continue loving me has been, in some ways, a slow process. God’s faithfulness throughout this time has been a huge testimony to His continued Grace.

A couple of other comments Mr. Wright made that stood out to me…
  • Christ *has already* fulfilled the requirements of the law. I do deserve condemnation under the law – but He has fully removed that.
  • The Holy Spirit comes to indwell us so that we may more fully reflect God’s character, NOT so that we can then fulfill the law.
  • The newness of our spiritual life is to be defined by Spirit-walking, not Law-keeping.
  • Our walk and our mindset are closely connected. What is it that I focus on? That heavily impacts how I will act.
Thanks for reading this rambly rant. I hope and pray that you too may learn to experience the Grace of God, even in your moments of personal failure and weakness. Seek to grow and to make choices that are pleasing to God, YES. But never forget that there is nothing you can ever ever do to earn God’s love. Through His Grace, His Love is constant – regardless of how you feel about yourself.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Living in His Shadow

This morning I read another section from 31 Days of Power: Learning to Live in Spiritual Victory by Ruth Myers that I wanted to share. This is definitely something I need to be working on - but God is faithful to point me toward Him!

"Glory and Shadow"

Father, help me not to give Satan any advantage or delight by seeking my own glory in people's eyes. Instead let me constantly give glory to You in new ways. May I keep You at center stage as I speak of Your perfections and let You manifest Your presence through me.

Cause me to dwell day by day in Your shadow. I long to live my whole life there, with You in the bright foreground in every situation, in every opportunity. When You work through me, may be praise be Yours. May You be in the limelight as I give all the glory to You and remain in Your shadow. (Psalm 91:1, 86:12; Matthew 5:16)

Enable me to glorify You as I pass through each situation in my lifeeach time of blessing or progress, as well as each river I must cross, each desert I must pass through, each season of flood or drought, of pain or pleasure. May my responses honor You, not me. Deliver me from drawing attention to myself either by moaning and complaining or by subtle boasting and trying to impress. Not ot me, O Lord, not to me, but to Your name give glory. This prayer is according to Your will, so I can count on You to answer it! (Psalm 115:1; 1 John 5:14-15)

O my awesome God, I worship You for Your gloryglory that excels all othersa radiant outshining that makes all other glories fade and ultimately flicker out in oblivion. Thank You that no one has ever been able to rob You of Your glory or share it with You. I shout for joy that Lucifer lost out when he rebelled against Your rule and aspired to steal Your glory and be like the Most High. How he and his legions cringe at the thought of Your glory! How they resent it when we ascribe to You the honor and glory due Your name and refuse to seek glory for ourselves. How the devil hates it when we enthrone You as Lord of our lives and situations, and when we learn to give You the recognition You rightfully deserve. (Isaiah 48:11; Daniel 4:37)

I worship You for Your Majesty as the Most High God, exalted far above all. I worship You for Your brilliance that causes people to fall on their faces before You. I praise Your mighty dignity and awesome beauty as King of all. yours is a splendor not limited to majestic parades but one that rides forth and wins battles. You're the awesome, glorious Champion, the all-powerful Warrior who prevails against Your enemies. (Psalm 86:9; Isaiah 42:15; Psalm 45:3-4)

To You be the glory, both now and forever, Amen! (Romans 11:36, Jude 24-25)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weeping may endure for a night...

...but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

"Anointed with Power" - from 31 Days of Power: Learning to Live in Spiritual Victory by Ruth Myers that I "just happened" to read this morning.

Father, I praise You that Christ, anointed with Your Holy Spirit and power, continues to conquer new territory within me, filling me afresh with Your fullness, Your love, Your power. (Acts 10:38)
Thank You that Christ is my risen and victorious Lord and that in Him I've been anointed with Your Spirit to reign in lifeto triumph over sin and over the evil one with his lies and deceptions. How wonderful to know Father, that right now Your Spirit intermingles with my spirit in a permanent oneness. I look to Him to continually fill me and to keep me under His influence so that His gracious and immeasurable power will be at work in me, overcoming my flesh and the world and the devil. (2 Cor. 1:21-22, 1 John 2:20)
I rejoice that Your Spirit is here to convict me of sin, to protect me from Satan, and to strengthen me with might. Thank you that this anointing I've received from You abides in me and continues to teach meand His  teaching is true, and not a lie. And through His truth I've been set freefree from the mastery of sin and the snares of Satan, free to reign in the realm of Real Life. I rejoice that the truth counters Satan's lies. It cancels out his subtle deceptions. (1 John 2:27, John 8:52)
I'm especially grateful to You for giving me power to be effective in serving You. I praise You that I can serve by Your Spirit's power mightily at work within me, rather than having to depend on my own strngth and abilities. (Acts 1:8, Col. 1:29)
I pray for myself and for the many Christians I know, both individually and in various groups, that we'll be enriched through a growing knowledge of You. And may it dawn on us afresh that You have been made rich because we belong to Youwe are Your inheritance! Encourage us through Your Word and the enlightening of Your Spirit. Make us more aware of the tremendous power available to us, to assure victory over all the evil powers we encounter. (Eph. 1:17-19)
And Father, I praise You that this close relationship with You can also knit me together with other believers by strong ties of love. I realize that loving, harmonious unity with other believers is always one of the great needs in our lives as Your children, and we can count on You to accomplish it. I praise You for the great protection this provides against the attacks and deceptions of our enemy. May Iand those I pray forincreasingly understand and experience the rich fullness and oneness that is ours in Christ. Col. 2:1-2

"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever" (Ps. 30:11-12).

God is Good - I'm still broken


God is good. I believe this with all of my mind. He is still teaching me to trust in that truth with all of my heart. My Savior is beautiful, and He loves me – regardless of anything. Because this was never about me. It’s about Him and His glorious, amazing character.

If you haven’t read my post about brokenness from this summer, you should go read it before you keep reading this…

I was in a dark place this evening…darker than any I’ve been in before. I’ve been in dark places before, but not for a while. This one caught me off guard and dragged me under deeper than I expected. And I felt stuck.

I was praying, I was begging God for His mercy and His grace. My head knew nothing had changed in Him – but my heart refused to accept it.

God knew I was getting a big head I guess. I felt as though I’d come a long way from high school, that I knew the truth and that the truth had freed me. But I was and am still holding on to that idea that I can make myself good, that I can make my life look like I expect it to. And when I fail, I still hesitate to accept His grace.

I can’t dig myself out. I can’t make my life “work.” He calls me to let go, to lose myself in Him.

Sarah pointed me toward this song, and it fit my situation perfectly. And since this post is still focusing way too much on me, we’re just going to end it here.



Lord God, You are grace. You are peace. Father, You see me. You know me more deeply than I will ever do. Break my selfishness, my self-sufficiency. God, You alone have the words – You alone are the way.



He gave me the rest of the post!

My Lord God is victorious. He has already overcome ALL THINGS. There is nothing I or anyone can do that has not already been dealt with and answered to by the sacrifice of Christ.

Tonight at the scholarship dinner, one of the speakers mentioned three things. I don’t remember quite the exact context…but she said that God looks at us and says three things about us:
1. I created you.
2. I love you.
3. I died for you, so that someday you shall live with Me.

And that someday isn’t now. It isn’t yet. “In this world you will have tribulation – but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)

We are not left here to earn our way. We’re not left until we deserve anything. We are left to learn trust, to learn grace.

Grace: I can’t even begin to define it. God is gracious. He has overwhelmed us with His grace, freeing us from our earthly guilt. He knows. He sees. And yet He loves just the same. Because of Grace. Because His sufferings wipe us clean. Because when He looks at us, He sees the beautiful end result of His plan – not the just-begun reconstruction.

Grace. Contentment. Trust. Giving up the control I think I have.

Love – undeserved, unearned, a free gift.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 7: Earning vs. Grace


I’ve written about this issue a couple of times in a couple of places….. One was last November as I started looking back over the personal revival which God had been working in my life over the past 11 months. The other is a post  I wrote last month (posted a couple days ago) for Thrive80, a website by Moody Publishing targeted at Millenials. In both of those posts, I focused on what happened on the day God revolutionized my perspective. In this post, however, I want to step back and look more at the big picture. So check those out for the snapshot version/resolution of this issue  J

I’ve always been a perfectionist. Partly as a result of this, I also grew up focused on feeling the need to earn people’s love/acceptance/approval/whatever. Yes, I knew my parents and other people loved me no matter what. But I still put pressure on myself to behave in a way that would impress them and ensure that I kept their love. I still worry far too much about people’s opinions of me. This approach to my human relationships affected how I approached God as well.

Sure, I knew I was saved by grace and not by what I did. But that didn’t keep me from thinking that I needed to make sure I was behaving myself properly so that He would keep on loving me and approving of me. Looking back now it seems so simple and rather silly – but it was the trap I was stuck in.

In Galatians 3:3, Paul asks “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” And in Titus 3:4-5 he writes “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” I knew these verses. I had heard the latter one quoted often during a season of Bible Quizzing.

But somehow, the truth of the former verse did not make its way from my head to my heart. I tried to have a relationship with God in which I earned His pleasure. I failed to recognize that Grace extends beyond salvation, that it is at work in every moment of my life.

I knew I was a miserable failure at keeping myself “good enough.” What I guess I didn’t realize or want to accept was that even in those moments when I have messed up, God’s Grace covers that. No, this is not a license to sin (Rom. 6:1ff). I know that very well. I want to live a life of holiness, to seek to become more Christlike. My problem is that I often base my self-acceptance and my idea of whether God is accepting me on my actions alone. I tried to live by Rom. 6:1, but I forgot about Rom. 8:1.

Yes, there is a delicate balance here. It is easy to go to either the extreme of pietistic legalism, as I tend to, or to go to the other extreme of flippant licentiousness. God calls us to neither. We do not earn His favor by what we do, but we are to constantly seek to draw closer to His will for our lives.

This summer at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (see my first summer post for more about the church) they had a mini-series from Galatians 3. It seemed as though every week after that there was some mention about how we don’t earn God’s favor by our good deeds. Maybe it’s that I was finally at a place where I believed that, but I don’t remember hearing that truth emphasized in church very much ever before, if at all.

I’m thankful God spoke that truth over me 21 months ago. I wish I had learned it sooner…I wish I had been able to hear it from my church. That would have saved me some heart ache in high school. At the same time, I know God knows what He is doing. If I had learned it without struggles, I wouldn’t have the same testimony of God’s work in my life. It was the struggles I lived through that made the lesson so real and applicable.

It’s the clouds that make the sunset beautiful J


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 6


Well…..that was over a month ago now…but I am finally enough into the swing of my semester that I am going to take some time off from school work and try to finish this up.

On our way back from D.C., my parents and I visited a church in Virginia. We literally went to the town’s visitor center and asked the lady there where a church was located. You can’t get much more random than that, right?? But guess what? The God who created the Universe can orchestrate even seemingly chance happenings. And the church we visited “just happened” to be doing a sermon that relates to this same topic which has been the theme of my summer.

The pastor used Matthew 6:24 as his jumping off point. His sermon centered around the question of “Who is Your Master?” which tied in well with both this summer’s main idea and the Spiritual Emphasis speaker from last year (this post talks some about that).

Now, I have naturally heard about the whole idea of not being able to serve two masters before. But God knows I can always use a reminder! This pastor made a point of saying that there is no middle ground. “You are not free,” he said. “You are owned by someone—either God OR Satan/Sin/Self.” The question is not whether I will be a slave, but rather who I will be a slave for.

Christ redeemed us from our enslavement to the world, the flesh and the devil. The word redemption, he said, refers to purchasing a slave out of the market. God is not an evil Master. He redeems so that we can have a relationship with Him, not only so that He can benefit from our slave labor.

At the same time, the natural reaction of someone purchased out of slavery to an evil master is to want to serve the giver of freedom, the pastor said. We should be eager and willing to serve God because of everything which He has done for us!

When we do not choose to put Christ first and above all else, that means that there is something else to which we are giving that priority. He pointed to Deut. 6:4-5 as a call that we cannot simply coast through life. The choice to serve God must be an active choice throughout our days, months, years.

He did also make a point of saying that what we receive from Christ (salvation plus!) is many times more valuable than anything we can ever bring to Him. This ties into another topic (the focus of my next post) which has been an issue for me and which I have finally heard this summer explicitly stated from a church pulpit for the first time that I can remember.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 5


It’s a good thing I put at the end of my last post where I was intending to take this series, because as you can see my month got away from me! Now I am in the car in the middle if hilly Tennessee as my dad drives us back to Dallas, through a rainstorm at the moment.

As I stated previously, this post will cover the sermon I heard my first Sunday in the DC/Maryland area, which was June 10. The pastor was finishing a series about Samson, and his focus was on Strength and Weakness – the fact that our Failure can lead to Opportunities. Anyone who knows the story of Samson knows he messed up plenty. (Sounds familiar to my life!) As the pastor pointed out, Samson broke every part of the Nazarite vow that he was supposed to live by.

Rather than conquering the Philistines, he ended up as their slave. Rather than being a moral leader for the Israelites, he engaged in almost every type of detrimental behavior possible. I can’t imagine how disappointed and confused his parents were about all of this. Samson was a failure because he did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it rather than following God’s leadership.

And so as a consequence of his failures and his focus on himself, Samson found himself at the bottom, in a position of forced humility and servitude. Samson had chosen not to submit to God, and as a result he became enslaved and in a position of submission to the morally depraved Philistines.* They naturally saw their sudden victory over him as a sign that their god was more powerful than Yahweh.

BUT God was not done with Samson. Even though he had decided to depend on himself (and to some extent on his hair perhaps?), God did not write him off as useless. Yes, Samson’s actions had serious consequences, which God did not save him from. He lost his eyes – he lost the freedom he thought he had. During those long days circling around and around grinding the Philistines’ corn, Samson evidently came to a clearer understanding of how he should relate to God.

What happened next was proof that God doesn’t force us to be defined by our failures. Yes, failure impacts our relationship with God and with other people – but it doesn’t confine us to fail forever. Instead, God provides forgiveness and grace for those times when we depend on ourselves and as a result fail. As the pastor said, “We cannot undo the bad things we have done, but we can choose to be faithful from this point on” – though I would add that choice cannot be something that we drum up based only on our own strength.

The whole point of this sermon was that depending on ourselves leads only to disappointment. But at the end of the day, it is still so very easy to look at ourselves as the solution! In reality, only God’s strength and indwelling Paraclete Holy Spirit can save us from the failure into which we so easily stumble. But that does take action on our part: We must recognize our deep need of God and actively choose to submit – as contradictory as that sounds sometimes.

At the end of Samson’s story, God got the glory. As the pastor pointed out, Samson’s self-sacrificial choice to bring down the temple on himself and the Philistines was a heavy blow to that nation. The Philistines are not mentioned another single time in Judges. Through Samson, God brought an end of an era to a people who had turned their backs on Him. Out of Samson’s initial failure came an opportunity for God to be glorified. When Samson chose to give up his faith in himself, God used him to bring about His plans and purposes.

God can do the same for every one of us, and for anyone who surrenders.

*This ties in perfectly to the sermon I heard today, which is what I will talk about next!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 4: Living in Brokenness


{This one’s on the long side, sorry!}

The fact is that we like being good, complete, “perfect” people. Showing any sign of weakness or shortcomings is so often seen as a bad thing in our western world. We all know deep down inside that we are living a lie when we try to come across as faultless…but we do it anyway. We compare ourselves to other people and wonder why our life is such a mess compared to how put-together they appear.

But the reality is that every single one of us is just as broken.

We try to hide it from the view of others.

We try to ignore it, stuffing it deep.

But we can’t run away from it.

We know all about it.

We hurt from it.

Broken.

This ties into the sermon because Leeman talked about how we should submit not only to God but also to one another by being authentic with one another. I know I am broken. And if I stop to think about it, I naturally realize that other people are not exempt from failings in their own life.

So why do we try to keep up the fa├žade? Why don’t we – especially within the body of Christ! – be willing to open up with trusted brothers and sisters and share our struggles? The reality is that often it can be beneficial rather than detrimental!

This whole idea really came home to me in April. It was just a tough month for me all the way through. Twelve pages in my diary are filled with a whole lot more questions than the detailed solutions I would love to have as a set pattern follower. And yet I can honestly say that month was one of the best months of my life. Because even though there were hard times, God was so gracious and He never deserted me (naturally!).

One evening a friend texted me asking for prayer. Long story short, I ended up sitting with her wishing I had the words to say to make everything all better in her life. That experience really opened my eyes to the fact that others have just as much pain bottled up inside of themselves as I have in me. Why do we hold it in? 
Why don’t we release it by admitting our feelings to trusted friends?

That evening, I journaled about the thoughts that flowed from the experience:

“We are all such broken people. We do NOT like admitting it, we do not like sharing it. We expect ourselves and one another to have life all put together. We think we have to be perfect in order to impress one another and often, I think, in an attempt to win God’s favor—to deserve God’s grace.
But that’s not how He works. He works through, not only in spite of, our brokenness. He calls us to come with humble hearts in recognition of our moment by moment, desperate need of Him….
Honesty is NOT easy. It is hard to let those safety walls we have built around us slowly come down.
It’s scary because we fear people’s opinions, we fear being hurt. And when we fear, it does demonstrate a lack of trust.* But it also points to a lack of experiencing true love. Because when people love one another as God loves, there is no torment—there is no fear. There is no uncertainty of how the other person will respond to what we do or say.
And so tonight has been a humbling reminder for me, because it calls me not to forget that I can love {another person through their} pain by God’s love and power alone.”

Over the next couple of days I kept thinking about this topic, and I came back to it in my next journal entry:

“Life here on this earth is hard. It really does just {stink} sometimes. When I’m confronted with how much pain & brokenness there is, especially in other people, it’s hard.
Hard to see why God would allow that—hard to understand why this is part of His plan. And yet it is! And that is the beauty in the midst of the pain; that is the reason we can hope through the hurt.
God is still sovereign, and He does see the end. He knows what we feel. He does not beat us up and leave us lying there broken. Yes, He allows BAD things to happen—but even those things are part of His bigger plan. He uses those experiences to grow us, to bring us into deeper and deeper dependence on Him….”

It’s tough to see beyond the pain of the moment to the amazing goodness which God has in store. And yet I firmly believe that if we would be open and real with one another and learn to accept and love one another, even as the broken beings we are, we could help one another to remember how God sees us. Because God doesn’t see His children as ugly, ruined objects. In His eyes, those who have been accepted into His family are clean and beautiful individuals. Flawed? Yes. Hurting in a world still full of pain? Yes. But that is not their real identity.

That’s what has been rolling around in my heart/head for a while. So friends, if I ask you how you are doing, I really do want to know. If you trust me and are willing to share your struggles, I pray He will overflow His love and grace upon you through me. If I open up and be vulnerable with you about what I am going through, I hope you will accept me as I am and point me back to what truly matters: Christ alone.

Next time I’ll rewind a bit to my Sunday at a friend’s church in Maryland, because the sermon there tied into this same subject {Funny all the various things God can pull from to make a point, isn’t it? :D}

*This had been a theme of my experiences last summer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 3


Sorry, my week got away from me!

The sermon I talked about last time was, as I mentioned in the first post, very convicting to me. It holds a lesson that I just need to keep being reminded of over and over because I am a spiritually forgetful being. I know good and well that God is the one with true authority over my life. And yet again and again I find myself making my own plans and staking my happiness on that rather than being willing to surrender to God’s will.

There are several areas of my life where this is particularly difficult. God is awesomely patient with me. So often though, I blame myself for having to surrender once again in an area that I thought I had taken care of before.

I guess the big picture truth behind my frustration is my need to accept the fact that I will never arrive at a perfect attitude here on earth. Rather, the Christian life is a process. It’s that moment by moment handing over of my will to His. But I am frequently too distracted to notice His outstretched hand, waiting for me to let go of my flurried feelings and childish plans.

As I was writing this, a song I had heard before but hadn’t really paid attention to the words of came on my mp3 player. It’s so applicable here {I love it when such “coincidences” happen J}. So watch this video of it and think about the words J

Speaking of songs – as I mentioned before I love the music at CHBC! In my two Sunday mornings of experience, they do a great job of picking songs that match with the theme of the teaching. On June 17 we sang one called “Speak, O Lord” which I appreciate. We also sang one I had never heard before but was absolutely applicable: “O Great God.”

All of these songs so accurately describe how I so often feel. I do want to listen and obey – and yet my tendency is to go on about my own business as though God doesn’t have time to be involved in each moment of my life and I have to do it on my own.

The offertory that morning was another great hymn – “Day by Day.” I’ve heard it in three different services this summer, I think. Must be that God’s trying to get that lesson through my thick skull…. J


The next segment will be a bit of a spin-off of from the sermon – something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of months but haven’t gotten around to blogging.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Who's In Control? Pt. 2


Picking up from where we left off last time – summarizing Leeman’s sermon...

He went on to discuss six attributes of God’s authority:
  • 1.       Protects the lowly, gives to the needy – so often we think of authority as being involved in doing the opposite! Authority figures should use their power to lift other people up, thus creating an atmosphere of faith and trust.
  • 2.       God opposes those who oppose Him and shares the plunder with His people – Government must be used to pursue justice, or God will judge it! Any authority people have has been given by God, and we need to remember that!
  • 3.       God shares His authority with His people! – Christ is the center of God’s power on earth, and the church is God’s Kingdom. When people submit to God, He demonstrates His character through them.
  •       Under this point, Leeman talked about how Godly authority flows from Godly obedience. People must first be in submission to God before they can use authority in a God-honoring way (John 6:38-39). We need to learn to submit our autonomy* to God and the leaders He has placed in our spiritual lives. Once we are in submission, then God may trust us with more authority, as contradictory as that sounds on the surface.
  • 4.       God’s authority saves and justifies! – So often we think we can choose our own rule and determine our own path. We think that is what authority means. But for Christ, authority meant laying down His life, giving it up for others. We need to turn away from our false authority and follow God’s rule!
  • 5.       God draws diverse people into united praise – Here Leeman talked about the importance of worshiping together as a unified body of Christ, regardless of social class, ethnicity, married vs. singleness, etc. True freedom and true justice should be on display in God’s Kingdom.
  • 6.       Destroying those who hate God – God empowers those who recognize their own helplessness, but He resists the proud! Leeman encouraged us to ask ourselves whether we are acting as a foe towards God based on two questions: Do I believe God has the right to judge? Did I spend the last week rejecting/ignoring God’s rule, or did I rejoice in it?

Most importantly, Leeman concluded, God has used His authority to conquer sin and death for all people, and that saving power is available for all people (Eph. 4:7-8, 11, 15). In Ephesians 4, Paul quotes from Psalm 68 – but with a slight twist.

Psalm 68:18 says:
“You have ascended on high,You have led captivity captive;You have received gifts among men,Even from the rebellious,That the Lord God might dwell there.”

Ephesians 4:7-8:
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:‘When He ascended on high,He led captivity captive,And gave gifts to men.’”

See it? Psalm 68 shows God receiving gifts from men (which is His due as God), while Paul changed the verse to show God giving gifts to men.

So that is a summary of the sermon. Next time I’ll talk about its application to me personally.

*Interestingly, in the ethics class I’m taking we’ve been discussing philosophical theories of ethics, and Kant’s big point in his ethical formalism theory is that people are autonomous and it is immoral to do anything that goes against their autonomy.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 1


Well, it’s summer time so you would think I would have more time to invest in writing…but the reality is that I am having a busy summer – and also that there are times when I feel too lazy to take the time to write about all the things I would love to share that God has been teaching me.  I’ve been putting off writing something for here for at least two weeks, and I’m finally going to do it!

The last several months have been hectically busy in all areas of my life, and as a result I have a long list of topics I want to cover in this blog but haven’t gotten around to writing yet. So here’s to a beginning to cover the list! This first group is going to be a short series simply because it’s on a couple of different but connected topics.

I moved into an apartment in DC on June 10, and the next week I visited a church that my aunt had suggested and that a family friend’s son happened to also attend.  I can honestly say that the two Sundays I have been there have been my favorite church services ever. The church is Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and it is just a few blocks from the Capitol building.

The service is two hours long. The first half, the worship section, is set up slightly like a liturgy.  We alternate singing (mostly hymns – which I enjoy!), praying, and reading Scripture. The prayers are focused on a specific topic, so there’s one for praise, one for confession, one for petition, and one for thanksgiving.  The offertory and the sermon come next, followed by a closing hymn. Then we have a few moments of silent reflection before the service is over.

The first week, one of the pastors was teaching on Ps. 68, and I think it was one of the most convicting sermons I have ever heard.  Both weeks the pastors have worked their way exegetically through the text, but they are also very intentional at making the sermon applicable to both believers and also those who are unsaved.  It is such a blessing to have this service available for the time I am here!

Anyway, back to June 17.  The speaker, Jonathan Leeman, emphasized God’s authority during the sermon.  The Psalm divides into several sections
  • a prologue (1-6)
  • God leading His people out of captivity (7-10)
  • Routing the enemies of His people (11-14)
  • bigger mountains being jealous of Zion because that is where God dwells (15-18)
  • God’s people vs. God’s enemies (19-23)
  • God’s people entering in joy (24-27)
  • enemies either bringing tribute or being scattered (28-31)
  • and an afterward focused on praise (32-35)
Leeman pointed out that we as humans tend to question authority, and especially to want to take God’s place of authority. One of the points that he made is that Christians should be living transparently and authentically, both before God and before our fellow believers.

Tomorrow I’ll post the conclusion of a summary of Leeman’s sermon, looking at six characteristics of God’s power.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Celebrating Pentecost


A Joyous Pentecost to you, my friends!

What, wait – we mainline Protestant Christians don’t typically recognize the significance Pentecost…….  But why not?

Pentecost started off as an ancient Israelite festival held fifty days after Passover, to celebrate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.  When Jesus rose from the dead centuries later, He began instituting a new order of things.  Forty days after Resurrection Sunday He ascended to heaven, leaving His disciples with a promise and a command: That the disciples would receive power from the Holy Spirit and that they were to be Christ’s witnesses to all the earth (Acts 1:8).

Ten days later was Pentecost, and early that morning as the disciples were gathered together in prayer, the promised Power arrived in vivid form.  The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to fulfill the Great Commission given by Christ.  It is interesting to me that the Holy Spirit, the seal of the new covenant in Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14), came on Pentecost – a festival which had previously celebrated the giving of the law which was the foundation of the Mosaic covenant.

The Spirit of God came mightily to seal God’s chosen people in the new covenant on the same day that the Jews were celebrating the letter of God’s law—delivered in the Ten Commandments—that had established the old covenant.  God knows what He’s doing, doesn’t He?  :-)  The disciples probably started praying for the promised power soon after Jesus ascended.  They probably didn’t understand what was taking so long as they waited ten days with no (recorded) apparent progress.  But God’s timing is always perfect – and by waiting, He established an object lesson of yet another step in the institution of the new covenant: replacing the Letter of the Law with the Spirit of God.

So…all that was just introduction – and I’m just getting warmed up! ;-)  What I really intended this post to be about is the Holy Spirit in general, and more specifically looking at His character as described by one of the names Jesus used for Him.  {And it’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit really is a HIM and not an IT!}  This was the topic of my final research paper for one of my classes last semester.  The paper was 20 pages and ended up being a rush job…so this is more taking that topic and writing what I want to write about it, although I’m going off of the background I studied for my paper.  So while I may not cite anything in particular, my thinking has been influenced on this topic by the sources I used for that assignment.

In my opinion, the mainstream Church today {“Church” here referring to the universal body of Christ} – or at least the segment of the Church with which I grew up being most familiar – tends to downplay the role of living power from this third member of the Trinity in the day-to-day life of a Christian.  This is partly a reaction to the experiences of the Pentecostal/Charismatic branch of the Church.  Too often we seem to try and put God in general and the Holy Spirit especially into a box, to nail down what it is that He can/cannot do in our experiences.  And yes, I am particularly thinking of Cessationism – a viewpoint which I have grown up hearing and believing.  But in my paper and in this post, I did not and am not going to argue about which spiritual gifts are or are not valid practices today.  I’m not going to use Galatians’ list of the fruit of the Spirit to demonstrate how He is involved in our lives, or what particular areas He impacts.

Rather, I am encouraging us to zoom out, to view the Holy Spirit from a broader perspective than those narrow boxes we so often seek to fit Him into.  We like having things in understandable, manageable nuggets.  But God doesn’t come like that.  He comes as a holistic being who seeks to invade every part of our lives, conforming our whole selves to His image.  But He does not typically overrun our free will.  He awaits our invitation.

Regarding the Holy Spirit, I believe there is a term which ought to frame our conception of Him.  As I mentioned earlier, this is a name that was given to Him by Christ.  The setting was the Upper Room Discourse, in John 13-17 {or as I have also heard it called, the Valedictory Address of our Lord}.  The term is only used five times in the entire New Testament, four times in the John passage (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) and once in 1 John 2:1 referring to Christ.  The Anglicized form of this Greek word is Paraclete.

So what does Paraclete mean??  Earlier translations use words such as “Comforter” and “Advocate” for the term, while some later translations simply Anglicize the word.  The latter do so because the original Greek term encompasses a variety of meanings which are not easily boiled down into one English word (“Paraclete.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary.)  One possible meaning of the term is “One Called to Stand Alongside.”  It is this all-encompassing view of the Holy Spirit that I think I personally and also the Church in general – from Cessationists to Charismatics – tends to lose sight of.  Instead, scholars seem to spend most of their time nitpicking over details such as the execution of particular gifts.

The early Church didn’t worry about that.  As I researched the writings of early apostolic fathers, I couldn’t help but notice that they frequently used Paraclete as a name with which to refer to the Holy Spirit.  As time went on, theologians began to philosophize about the details of pneumatology {does the Spirit proceed from the Father or the Son or both???  That relatively minor detail caused the first major schism in the Church} and the use of the name Paraclete seems to have died out.

In the class I wrote the paper for, we had a dual focus on orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  The first has to do with what you believe, the second deals with the practices you engage in.  In today’s world, the emphasis seems to be placed primarily on theological beliefs (orthodoxy), with the details of practice (orthopraxy) subsequently flowing out from that.  For the early Christians, however, the opposite was true.  They were taught and experienced certain things (the orthopraxy), and only later began to build frameworks of understanding (orthodoxy) around what they were already experiencing.

Now, I do realize that orthodoxy and knowing what I believe about certain things and why is very important.  Without theological frameworks, how is one to know what is biblical belief and what is heresy?  However, an increased emphasis on the details of doctrine can and has easily led to something of a downplaying of experience and living practice.

So what is my point in all of this?  Simple: While the study of theology is clearly important, don’t let that stifle your hunger for and experience of what God has in store for you.  Don’t get so bogged down in stridently insisting either that the gift of tongues cannot be given today or that the gift of tongues is a required mark of a believer that you miss the prompting work of the Paraclete in the simpler moments of your life.

In past eras, this third member of the Trinity was referred to as the Holy Ghost.  I was thinking about this recently, and I couldn’t help but be glad that we now typically use the term Spirit instead.  To many modern people, a ghost raises up the picture of a dead being, come back to haunt the world – a wraith that is not fully present.  This is not at all an accurate picture of God’s Spirit.  As God, the Holy Spirit is fully ALIVE and active.  Though we cannot see Him with our physical eyes, He is totally present nonetheless.

So friends, I hope you can take a moment today to celebrate the meaning of that Pentecost 2,000 years ago.  The Paraclete, God the Holy Spirit, dwells within you.  He has come to stand alongside you, always providing an available source of God’s total, living power.  He is not limited to a list of His gifts or fruits.  Rather, He is our Paraclete to meet whatever spiritual needs we have.  No matter what the situation is, He is abundantly adequate.

And for that, we all ought to praise God for His good gift!

Looking back.....

Clearly the increasing work load of the semester caught up to me and I allowed it to prevent me from writing more posts for this blog.  Last semester was the hardest semester of my life for a variety of reasons......but in many ways it was also the best semester.  Throughout all the tough stuff that I went through, God proved His faithfulness and His abundant grace over and over and over again.  He led me on a path of working through a variety of things, a process which included lots of thinking and journaling.  So just because a cataloging of the journey sadly didn't make it into my small corner of the web here does not mean nothing was happening.  I would like to write some more posts about this process, but becoming an increasingly independent adult and bearing the resultingly greater responsibilities of life makes it more challenging.  If you want the bite-sized, more frequently updated version of what God is doing in my life, check out my Twitter feed.  My posts from that are linked to also show up as Facebook statuses :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gut-level honesty

Sick and tired. The thought of homework and papers to write (three due this week) makes me want to puke. God, where are You in this mess? Why is this rat race my life right now? How am I supposed to bring You glory when all I want to do is throw in the towel?


Simply put, I hit a real low spot Friday afternoon. Being a student stinks sometimes, you know? Why is it so much easier to get down and get stuck in the lows than it is to keep in mind the high places? Why do the lows seems so much lower than the highs do high? Why?


What am I doing here? What am I supposed to be doing here? What can I do?


Where am I headed? Where should I go?


Why? Why so many questions?


Why so few easy answers?


What comes next?


I don’t know.


I don’t.


IDK!!!!!


And sometimes I really don’t care.


But then I come to my senses and realize that the reason I feel like I don’t want to care anymore is because I do care so much.


Life is annoying like that. It’s not all laid out in a smooth path. It’s not a simple road map with obvious, unambiguous road signs. It often seems as though there’s a lot more left up to me than I would like.


My head knows the facts. That’s part of what I’m tired of. I know God loves me. I know He has a plan for me. I know He wants me to be like Him. I know the Holy Spirit’s power is available. I know, I know, I know!!! But how do I get it beyond the head? How is all that knowledge supposed to be lived out??


How do I keep my life from being meaningless? How do I keep from settling for something less than God’s perfect plan for my life?*


I believe that I do want God’s will. I believe that I do want to surrender to Him. But in some ways I’m still left in charge of my life. It’s so easy to turn the stewardship He gives back to me back into the ownership I would have had in my flesh.


“Look up Esther,” comes the call. But how am I supposed to look up without tripping and falling flat on my face and failing at my responsibilities?


Certainly makes me understand why some would want to escape from it all and go be hermits. To be free from stress, free from worry, free from the messiness of day-to-day responsibilities.


But I know that’s idealizing it. Even hermits have struggles. And that’s just it. Life is a struggle. No matter how I try, there will always always be times in this life that are filled with struggle.


Perspective. The struggle is NOT the end. It is merely the means. Will I trust that there is a reason, even if I can’t (or don’t want to) see it?


I don’t have more than head-knowledge answers. I don’t have “nine tips to live the perfect life.” I don’t believe they exist.


Right now, I’m just a tired, deluded college girl. And yet even with all these questions, all these self-doubts, all these stresses…….deep down inside that knowledge is what keeps me going. I DO know that He is more, that He is better. I DO know that He has a reason for everything, even if I don’t see it. I DO know that someday, Lord willing, I will look back – I will read this – and I will be able to thank Him for what He has done in my life.


I am His. He is mine. His strength is available. His grace is sufficient. His power is omnipotent. His love is unending.


And all this fluff is merely temporary, simply a hint at something greater that will come when there are no more deadlines, when there is no more time.


Believe it Esther. Feel it, my heart. Fight for it, my soul. Look to the light. Don’t be swayed – press on toward HIM, not toward any measure of earthly success.


He alone satisfies.


*Noah Mitchell, a recent JBU alum, came and spoke in chapel on Thursday about this. Definitely convicting.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Process of Healing

Yesterday was a heavy day. It was a good day, but it was heavy.


The Lord’s showing me that there are some areas of my life where there is deep deep hurt. I’ve been praying that He will continue working in my life to bring healing to those areas, but I’m now being reminded that part of healing is admitting the pain and the problem.


Healing is not an easy process. When wounds are made, it takes much time and care to restore them to health. It’s so much easier to stuff things, to put a bandage on and pretend nothing’s wrong. That might work with minor physical injuries, but with emotional injuries it just allows infection to fester and the wound worsens.


I’ve been stuffing for a long time. And yesterday I finally saw that certain things in my life aren’t going to change by my just wishing that they would get better. The Lord showed me that I really need to work through the feelings and the hurt and the bitterness before it can be cleansed. And the scar will probably be worse because I’ve let it go so long.


My heart’s aching as I write this.


This isn’t something I can do. I’m a broken person. I’ve tried to fix it my way, and it ain’t working. It will have to be the Lord’s work in me to slowly and gradually bring healing. I’ve also realized yesterday that I need to be open to the Lord using other people as His tools in the process.


As humans, we like to think that we are perfect. We like to stay on an even keel, to make our way through life without too many upsets. Seeking out help is not our idea of a good plan. We want to do things all on our own. This is mainly due to our fallen nature (as TJ was talking about in Sunday School this morning!).


Asking for help is immensely humbling, because it requires that we admit that we are faced with a problem that we cannot fix. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to let others into my rather deep dark secrets because I’m afraid that I’ll then start relying on the people instead of relying on God. That’s a danger for me. But this isn’t something that’s going to fix itself, or that I can fix on my own. I know I need to look to God to guide the healing, and I think that’s going to include opening up to someone who’s trained in counseling.


Please pray for me. There’s a lot here. It’s way too big for me to handle. My eyes have finally been opened up to just what a big problem it is…to just how much damage I’ve done by ignoring it and trying to function without working through my feelings. I need to seek God’s truth rather than giving in to my faulty, selfish interpretations.


Last night I watched Facing the Giants. And I definitely identified with it. There are lots of things that are involved with this that I could fear if I allowed myself to do that. Working through the pain is not going to be easy. But I know that in order to flourish and to become the woman that God desires for me to be, it must happen.


Last night I also happened to see a friend’s Facebook post about Whitney Houston dying. They mentioned one of the songs she’s evidently famous for (not that I could have told you that before…): When You Believe from the Prince of Egypt. I listened to that song a lot my second semester here because I was part of a dance that used it. So I looked up the video and watched it again…..and although one could certainly argue it’s not explicitly theologically correct,* it was still an encouragement to me.


God can work miracles. He uses broken people. He looks past our brokenness and sees instead what He has for us to become. He’s an amazing God, in case you didn’t know. Perfectly just, perfectly merciful (one of the things Mark Galli talked about in chapel last week). When I fail (which happens often), He does not judge me for my failure. He sees me not as a dirty wreck of a person but as a person who has been washed clean. That being said, we must still deal with the consequences of our choices. And often that causes pain.


The part of the song that is sung in Hebrew is the most correct theologically. According to the lyrics that I looked at, the translation of this is as follows: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously. Who is like You, oh Lord, among the celestial? Who is like You, majestic in holiness? In Your love, You lead the people You redeemed. I will sing, I will sing, I will sing.” This comes from the song by the Red Sea in Exodus 15:1, 11, and 13.


I know God’s got me. I know I am His. I also know that He wants me to become more like Himself. He wants to make me into the image of His Son. And that process is not always easy. But through the pain comes healing.


I will sing.



*I say this because it talks about miracles as through people will them to happen by believing, and it rather leaves God out of the picture there. I don’t believe miracles happen just because I believe they will. God’s will is supreme, no matter what I try to make myself believe.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Happened at the Cross?

In my Integrated Theology class, we've been studying Soteriology the past couple of classes. Last Thursday we were talking about Atonement theories - what happened when Christ died for us - looking at how it works. Our main textbook is called The Mosaic of Christian Belief by Rogers Olson. He discuses four main theories which he says fall within the realm of orthodox Christianity. They are listed below.

  1. Ransom/Satisfaction - Christ's death 'paid Satan off' to some extent so that we were freed from bondage to him. Mark 10:45, 1 Tim. 2:6, Heb. 9:15
  2. Christ the Victor - At the cross, Christ forever defeated Satan, sin, and death. Rom. 8:2, 1 John 2:1
  3. Substitution - Christ took the punishment that we deserved because of our sin. Gal. 3:10, 13, John 15:13, 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 3:18
  4. Moral Influence - Through His life, Christ became our model of how to return to a right relationship with God. Phil. 2:5, Rom. 7:4-6, Gal. 2:20
Now, I personally think that #4 is getting closer to the edge of what I would typically consider solid theology, but that may be because I don't entirely understand it.

One of the things that was mentioned in class was the question of "why does this really matter?" Although Christ's death on the cross is clearly one of the most important doctrines of Christianity, does it really matter how God accomplished our salvation through Christ's work?

While this was still somewhat in the back of my mind, that Sunday in church we sang a song by the Gettys called "Power of the Cross." {Can I just add that I appreciate their lyrics a lot?} As we were singing it, I couldn't help but compare it with the various theories we had talked about. I think this particular song lines up mostly with the Substitution theory, although it does refer some to a couple of the others.

In the end, the important thing to remember about Christ's death is what it accomplished, not necessarily how it was accomplished. At the same time, as we were encouraged in class, it is important to ask the how and why questions. Through searching for the answers to those deeper questions, we can come to know God's heart and His workings more fully.

So...I don't have any deep insight here to share with you, but I did just want to encourage you not to be afraid to search out why you believe what you believe. When approached from the understanding that God and His Word have the correct answers and are the final authority, I think it would be hard to go wrong on that quest.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Do I really mean it?

This morning we sang this song in church. The lyrics are below.
As we were singing it, I couldn't help but wonder how much I really meant what I was singing. This evening as I was journaling I reflected on it some more.....here's some of what I wrote.

Christ wants me to be holy and broken and faithful. But do I really want to be broken? Am I really willing to do what it takes to be holy? Am I ready to sacrifice my will for the sake of being faithful to the One who owns me?
Even when my heart's cry wants to say yes, my flesh wants to run the other way. I do want to be all Christ's. I know that's the only way to truly live with any real meaning. And yet, so often I still want to do my own thing, be my own person, go my own direction. It's moment-by-moment relying on God and dying to myself. Dying is hard---but I must in order to LIVE in the resurrection power of my Savior!
On that glorious day when I bow before His throne, I certainly won't look back and wish I had done more things that only brought earthly pleasure. On the contrary, I will wish I had been a better steward of the talents with which my Lord has entrusted me. If only I could always live with that end in mind!

Holiness:
Holiness, holiness is what I long for.
Holiness is what I need.
Holiness, holiness is what You
want from me.

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.
Holiness is what I need.
Holiness, holiness is what You
want from me.

So, take my heart and form it.
Take my mind and transform it.
Take my will and conform it.
To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord.

Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I
long for.
Faithfulness is what I need.
Faithfulness, faithfulness is what.
You want from me.

Brokenness, brokenness is what I
long for.
Brokenness is what I need.
Brokenness, brokenness is what
You want from me.

Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmania.com/holiness_lyrics_sonicflood.html
{interestingly, one version I looked at substituted "righteousness" instead of "brokenness" in the verse.}

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Philippians 3 Revisited

A little over three years ago, I started this blog. My first post was mainly an essay that was part of the application process to JBU. You can read it here if you want. I had originally written that essay on September 19th of 2008. I was just starting my senior year of high school. My, but that does seem like a long time ago!


What I didn’t say then because I wasn’t really willing to admit it is that I had tried to write the essay the night before. I clearly remember sitting there reflecting on what a relationship with God should look like and realizing that mine did not at all look like I wanted it to. This was one of the nights I talked about in a recent post. But that time I turned to Philippians, with 3:10 ringing in my ears. Reading through it that night framed my essay the next day.


Back to the present – God’s brought me a long way since that night, and JBU has definitely been a piece of that transformation. This month I’ve been chewing through Philippians again, in small bite-sized chunks. I’ve decided Philippians 3 is probably my favorite chapter in the whole Bible (although I like John 17 a lot too!), and I think 3:10 and the section around it is basically my life verse/s. So tonight I just wanted to share some of what I wrote down the other morning as I was reading Philippians 3 after spending a few days in it.


“This chapter is like a definition of the Christian life,” I wrote.

  • · Don’t strive for fleshly/earthly things
  • · Count all earthly stuff a loss for Christ
  • · Seek to grow in Christ’s righteousness, not your own
  • · Most important of all is knowing Christ!
  • · Keep pressing on toward Christ! In a way, forget everything that it past – failures and accomplishments
  • · We do NOT do this {life} alone – we are to do it with other like-minded people
  • · We are citizens of heaven, not of earth. We await the coming of our Savior and the renewal of our bodies.

Hmm….looking at that list it almost looks like it forms a chiasm of sorts. Haha, Dr. Blankenship would be proud of me ;-)


But seriously – if you haven’t read Philippians recently I would definitely suggest chapter 3. Don’t you think it sums everything up pretty well? I’d also certainly advise taking little bits at a time rather than trying to gulp it down. I don’t think reading through the Bible in a year is a bad thing (I just did it in 2011!), but I personally think it’s better to take more time to look into passages more deeply. I know that I “get” a lot more out of my Bible reading time when I do smaller sections rather than a large chunk.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Called to Love

Well, break is over and I'm back at school. It was good to have a time without studying. I still worked a good bit, but I also had time to just relax and to reflect. God is continuing to remind me of things. One of the things in the past month has been what His call on the lives of His people is.

I've been spending time in Philippians for a little over a week now. The last couple days I've been in chapter 2, and God used it to remind me that each of us is called to love others sacrificially, as Christ loved us.

God's love for us is SO amazing and SO unconditional. But we should not keep that love for ourselves. He loves us so that we can in turn pour out love onto others. We are not here in this world for us. We are here to bring glory to God and to shine as His lights (Phil. 2:15).

Just today I was reading a chapel talk that Chip Pollard, the president of JBU, gave a while ago and put into his book May It Always Be True. This particular one was focusing on kindness, based on Mark 12:28-31 about the greatest commandment being to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In the section about loving God, President Pollard writes:
"We should love the Lord our God with all aspects of our being. Our love for God should move us emotionally...tax us intellectually...stretch us physically...shape our spiritual character...define the inner core of our personality. There is no part of our being that should not respond to God's character. Moreover, to love God with all [of your being]...means being willing to surrender [all of your being]...to His calling." pg. 46

As often happens, God has been using multiple sources to remind me of His truth on this issue. Love is a powerful force. It can change the world - turn it upside down. And we have been given this "secret weapon" if you will. The devil doesn't understand love. How could he? It's antithetical to him and who he is. If Christians would only be willing to sacrifice our own self-pleasure enough to unleash the full power of God's love through us, we could be His tools to transform this globe.

Something else God reminded me of as I was out walking this afternoon is that it isn't enough for me to think about these things, or to write about them. I must act. So, you are more than welcome to keep me accountable on this. When you see me, you could ask me "what have you done to love someone else?" Thanks :)