Not the Messiah They Were Looking For

As a young Christian, I wondered why Jesus came incognito, so to speak. Why didn’t He go on a hilltop or to the temple and proclaim Himself: “I am the Messiah you’ve been waiting for all these years!”

There may be a variety of reasons. But in my current I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time through the Bible, I happen to be in John after having read the other three gospels. I’ve enjoyed going over all of Christ’s life on earth during the month of December, not just the “Christmas” portions. I’m using the ESV Study Bible, and its notes often remark that Jesus did not declare Himself openly because most of the Jews at that time were expecting a military ruler who would throw off Roman oppression. Several times in the gospels Jesus had to get away from the crowds because they wanted to make Him king immediately. Some, Jesus said, followed Him because of the loaves of bread He miraculously reproduced in the feeding of the 5,000.

There is a sense in which Jesus does fulfill all those roles already. He is the King of Kings, and some day the whole world will be under His righteous rule. Someday the crooked will be made straight and rights will be wronged. But these roles will be fully manifested at His second coming.

And there is a sense in which we do depend on Jesus for our daily bread and all other needs. But, as He told the crowds then:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:26-29, ESV).

Before He could declare Himself openly, He had to teach them the true nature of the Messiah. By many signs (miracles), by His claims (“I am the bread of Life,” “I am the light of the world,” etc.), by His declarations and teachings, bit by bit He showed them exactly who He was and what He was about. And some understood and accepted Him for who He was. They came to understand that His kingdom is a spiritual one.

But some left Him when he started to share “hard things.” Others realized He didn’t fit their image of what the Messiah would be and do, they rejected Him and sought to destroy Him.

Don’t people still do that today? Instead of learning from God’s Word the true nature of the Savior, they’ve imagined their own version of what a Savior would be like. He wouldn’t let evil happen. He’d take care of the bad guys. He’d answer every prayer just the way they want Him to. And when He doesn’t perform according to expectations, well, then, who needs Him?

We all need Him. But we need Him as He truly is, not as we think He should be. Even those of us who are Christians, even those of us who have been for a long time, still have to continually “renew our minds” and adjust our thinking according to truth. We come to know Him as Savior and Lord, but then we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better and adjusting ourselves away from our preconceived notions and expectations and toward who He really is. And we’re not disappointed, because in the end He’s a much better Savior than we could ever have imagined.

Do you know Him today as He truly is? Get to know Him through His Word. If you’re new to the Bible, start reading the gospel of John. See what He does and what He says about Himself.

And if you’ve known Him for years, keep getting to know Him better. Keep learning more and more what a wonderful Savior He is.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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The Potter’s Loving Care

We walked into church one morning to see the entire platform covered with plastic sheeting and a potter’s wheel in the middle of the stage. One of our missionary deputees was planning to go to a country closed to the gospel. He and his wife were gifted artists and planned to use their skills to work in the country, establish relationships, and and look for ways share the gospel. He was going to actually throw some clay on the wheel that morning and bring out some parallels to God as a potter.

We get that imagery of God as a potter from a few passages in Scripture. Isaiah 29:16Jeremiah 18:1-12, and Romans 9:20-21 assert God’s right to do as He will with the vessels He made and the ludicrousness of the vessel answering back or questioning the potter. In Isaiah 64, the people understand that they are under deserved judgment for their sin, but they issue a plaintive appeal in verse 8, reminding God “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

An experienced potter’s hand are skillful and sure. The potter, in his wisdom, know just how much pressure to exert where in order to make the shape he has in mind. He wants to make a vessel that’s useful but also pleasing. He has nothing but the best results in mind for the vessel. This particular potter, Mickey, wanted to make excellent and beautiful vases and vessels not only to open doors of ministry, but to reflect his own Creator. Many potters have a distinct style: one can see certain vessels and sculptures and know at a glance who made them. Our Creator wants the vessels He makes to reflect His own glory, not because He “needs” to be glorified, but because it’s by beholding His glory that we’re changed to be more like Him.

But the one picture that stood out the most to me at this demonstration, the one that had not occurred to me in any thoughts of potters, was what Mickey called the intimacy with with he shaped his vessel. He pointed out that the wheel and vessel were practically in his lap, he was bent over it, and both hands were shaping it. His attention was riveted and almost his whole body was involved, surrounding the vessel he was shaping in the closest proximity.

What a picture of our Father’s attention and care as He shapes us! He’s not “watching us from a distance,” as one song used to say. He’s up close, surrounding us, intimately involved in every detail of our shaping.

The pressure the potter exerted on the clay might not feel good, if the clay could feel. But that pressure is necessary to shape the clay into something besides a useless lump.

It’s comical to think of a piece of clay standing up to talk back to the potter, to ask him if he’s sure he knows what he’s doing, to make suggestions. And yet we’re prone to do just that.

How we need to just yield to His wise, skillful, and loving hands.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

 

Don’t Plug In: Abide

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In our era, we’re used to plugging technology in to recharge. We have to bring power cords on trips and search for a place to plug in. We keep an eye on our phone so it doesn’t conk out on us at important moments. Our vocabulary has grown to include phrases like “recharging our batteries” when we need rest or refreshment or “plugging into” a power source. Some have even used the latter in connection with God and His power and provision.

In yesterday’s reading from Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada, she notes the differences between plugging in and abiding.

Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Joni comments:

We don’t get charged up in God in order to unplug and live on our own–until it’s time for the next charge. No. We never disconnect from Him. We are living branches connected to the living Christ. His life is our life.

Then, in probably the best definition for abiding that I think I have heard, Joni says:

Abiding is living in constant awareness of total dependence on Jesus. It involves a constant flow of life-giving sap from the Holy Spirit–not a spiritual charge that takes us up to 80 percent. Abiding in Christ is a 100 percent relationship.

It’s true that the Bible likens God’s Word to spiritual food, and our relationship with God, our love for Him, and our Christian character all grow as we spend time in the Bible. Our time in the Word of God helps cultivate that awareness of our dependence on Him. But we don’t, as Joni notes, “sit down for our quiet time and ask ourselves, How long do I have to be plugged into God today to get a good spiritual charge?

No, once we believe on Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we’re a vine connected to His branch. His life flows through us. He doesn’t charge us up and then us send us off to live independently til we need another charge. We don’t have to worry about becoming disconnected to Him. He’s always with us, constantly empowering us to live for Him.

I need your presence every passing hour.
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1847

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

 

Don’t lose the individual in the community

The last few years have seen a marked increase in discussion of and emphasis on Christian community. Perhaps it has been spurred by the continual drop in church attendance or the tendency, in America at least, toward individualism.

God has ordained that we operate withing the realm of Christian community, meeting together regularly, sharpening each other, practicing all those Biblical “one anothers” on each other.

I’m thankful for Christian community. I love singing in church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I love group Bible studies and the way that discussion there stimulates my own thinking. I so appreciate being able to share prayer requests and burdens with others in the family of God. I don’t know how many times someone has shared a word of encouragement or conviction at just the right moment. I appreciate that God uses other people to sandpaper off my rough edges, though I don’t enjoy the process.

But I wonder if sometimes we lose the individual in the group. A few years ago a Christian leader wrote that “We will not know God, change deeply, nor win the world apart from community.” I disagreed. Though God uses community in each of those ways, the first two occur for me most often when alone with God. Recently I saw on Twitter a retweeted comment that we should change the pronouns in our hymnbooks and Christian songs from “I” and “me” to “our” and “we.” That particularly struck me because our church has been reading through the psalms together, and I had noticed over and over again that, though they were meant to be sung together, most of the psalms speak of individual experience. We don’t need to deemphasize our individual experience with God to reinforce the idea that we’re a group. Instead, we share with each other what God did for us individually, for the psalmist or songwriter or preacher or church member,  so that we encourage each other as we go back out into our individual lives that God will help us in the same way. An article I read which shared ways to incorporate Bible reading and study offered among its suggestions that of reading or studying with another person. Though studying the Bible with someone else is a great thing to do, it shouldn’t replace time alone in God’s Word.

We can’t imagine a family in which the father relates to the children just as a group and never one-to-one. Though we enjoy much time spent together as a family, we know that our father loves each of us, with all our foibles and quirks, individually. We know that we can talk to our father alone and ask for help or advice.

The same is true in our spiritual life. We shouldn’t worship or pray or read the Bible only with other people, as great as those experiences are.

God formed us individually. We’re born again individually. When we stand before God some day, we’ll give account only of ourselves. In-between those events, there will be times we have to stand alone. David encouraged himself in the Lord when everyone was against him. Joseph stood true and faithful to God when forsaken by his brothers, torn from his family, thrust into a new living experience foreign to everything he had grown up with and opposed to everything he believed. Notice in the psalms how many times the writer speaks of communing with God alone, remembering God’s kindness while lying awake at night. In Psalm 107, amidst the description of what God has done for the nation, the psalmist notes that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Soul – singular. We’re not lost in the crowd. God sees us, loves us, and meets our personal, individual needs.

God is our Father: we need to get to know Him personally. God has blessed us with the gift of community, but that doesn’t replace our personal relationship with Himself. We need to feed on His Word and speak to Him ourselves. There will be times we have to stand alone, times when no one else is near to support or advise or lean on. When that happens, we find that He is more than sufficient for every need.

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

What is worship?

We often hear about “worship wars” concerning whether the singing at church should be contemporary or traditional, hymn or praise song, choir or worship team.

But what I wonder is: how did we come to associate worship just with the singing at church? And how did we come to decide that the worship at church was good or not depending on how we felt afterward? We can worship via singing, but is worship just singing? And, for that matter, is worship just done at church, when we attend a “worship service?”

Dictionary.com defines worship as:

  • reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
  • formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage
  • adoring reverence or regard

Years ago I heard a preacher define worship as “worth-ship,” thinking about and ascribing to God His worth. Someone else said something to the effect that God does not “need” our worship, but we need to give it to Him.

I decided to to a study of the word “worship” in the Bible. Let me hasten to say that such a study is just the beginning of a study of worship. There are passages where worship occurs, but that particular word is not used (many of the psalms, for example). There are synonyms to worship: I wondered, for instance, whether “praise” is an element of worship or a synonym. I didn’t take the time at this point to look up the Greek and Hebrew words for worship. I did look up many of these verses in context and found that often the whole chapter they were in was an expansion of what occurred in worship. I just searched through the ESV and not other translations. So, again, this is not a complete study or “the last word” in what worship means and involves. But it was an enlightening start.

I don’t think you’d want me to reproduce all eight pages of notes I accumulated here, but here is some of what I found.

Instruction regarding worship (not including OT ceremonial worship):

  • Don’t worship any other gods. Exodus 34:13-15, Deuteronomy. 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:13-17; 32:15-20; Psalm 97:7; Jeremiah 25:3-6; multitudes of other places
  • Worship only the one true God. Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:7-8; Revelation 14:7
  • Turn from sin. Jeremiah 25:3-6
  • “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” 1 Chronicles 16:29-30a; Psalm 29 and 96
  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
  • Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28:29

Who worshiped when (not including OT ceremonial worship):

  • Abraham’s servant when God answered his prayer for Isaac’s wife. Genesis 24:25-27
  • The children of Israel when they heard that God sent Moses to deliver them. Exodus 4:30-31
  • At the institution of the Passover: Exodus 12:26-28
  • When Moses went to speak to God: Exodus 33:9-11
  • Moses after seeing the Lord’s glory: Exodus 34:1-8
  • Jacob when blessing the sons of Joseph: Hebrews 11:21
  • Joshua on meeting the commander of the Lord’s army: Joshua 5:13-15
  • Gideon after hearing reassurance in the interpretation of a dream: Judges 7:14-16
  • Samuel’s father and family: 1 Samuel 1:3, 19
  • Samuel after being left with Eli: 1 Samuel 1:27-28
  • David after his child died: 2 Samuel 12:20
  • Dedication of temple: 2 Chronicles 7:1-3; Psalm 132:1-7
  • Jehoshaphat and Judah after God’s promise to fight for them: 2 Chronicles 20:18
  • When Hezekiah reestablished temple sacrifices, after first burnt offering: 2 Chronicles 29
  • First Passover after Israel returned to Jerusalem after exile: Ezra 6:19-22
  • When Ezra read the law: Nehemiah 8:5-7
  • Job after losing everything: Job 1:20
  • Wise men: Matthew 2
  • Disciples after Jesus walked on water and stilled the storm: Matthew 14:22-33
  • Man born blind: John 9
  • Women followers after resurrection: Matthew 28:1-10
  • Anna: Luke 2:36-38
  • Disciples after Jesus’ ascension: Luke 24:50-53
  • Disciples when Barnabas and Paul were set aside by the Holy Spirit for ministry: Acts 13:2
  • Lydia: Acts 16:14
  • Men of Athens: Acts 17: 22-34
  • Titius: Acts 18:7
  • Paul: Acts 24: 11, 14; 27:23
  • Israel: Acts 26:7; Romans 9:4
  • Visitor who is convicted: 1 Corinthians 14:24-25  
  • In the future: Egyptians: Isaiah 19:19-23; 27:13; Creatures in heaven: 24 elders (Rev. 4:10); elders (Rev. 5:14; 19:4); everyone (Rev. 5:14); angels, four living creatures (Revelation 7:9-12; 11:15-18; 19:4; Revelation 11:15-18); All nations: Rev. 15:4; In heaven: Revelation 22:3

Elements of worship:

  • Praise: too many references to list
  • Thanksgiving: ditto
  • Awe: ditto
  • Singing: 2 Chronicles 29:25-30; Psalm 96:1; Revelation 15:2-4 re God’s great deeds, His just and true ways, holiness, righteous acts
  • Cleansing, purifying: Ezra 6:19-22
  • Hearing the Word of God: Nehemiah 8:5-7; 9:1-8
  • Acknowledging who God is: Psalm 29:2, Psalm 96; Matthew 2 +; His holiness: Psalm 96:9; 99:5, 9 +, His exclusivity: Psalm 97:7 +;
  • Sacrifice, offerings, vows: Isaiah 19:21; Zephaniah 3:9-10
  • Amend ways, stop sin, disobedience, stubbornness: Jeremiah 7:1-3
  • Holiness: 1 Chronicles 16:29
  • Humility, truth: Zephaniah 3:9-13
  • Giving: Matthew 2
  • Fasting and prayer: Anna:  Luke 2:36-38; disciples: Acts 13:2
  • Joy, blessing God: Luke 24:50-53 +
  • Faith: John 9:38
  • In spirit and in truth: John 423-24; Philippians 3:3

The posture of worship

Interestingly, of the 15 times any posture is mentioned, 11 passages speak of bowing, often bowing the head, sometimes “bowed down with their faces to the ground.” The others speak of rising and standing (Exodus 33:9-11; 2 Chronicles 20:19), falling to the ground or on one’s face (Joshua 5:14; 2 Chronicles 20: 18), kneeling (Psalm 95:6).

False worship

God warns against false worship multiple times in the Bible, usually involving idols or false gods, but also the sun, moon stars, planets, angels, other people, creatures (Romans 1:25), Satan (Matthew 4:9-10; Luke 4:7-8), the dragon and beast in Revelation. Wrong worship was often accompanied by sin, stubbornness, not listening to or obeying God’s Word (2 Kings 17:6-23; Jeremiah 7; 13:9-11), asceticism (Colossians 2:18), “murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Revelation 9:19-21). Also, the Pharisees were said to worship God in vain by teaching for commandments the doctrines of men (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:7). A few times people worshiped deceptively (Absalom: 2 Samuel 15:7-12; Jehu 2 Kings 10; Herod: Matthew 2:8).

I know that outlines and lists are not considered the best blog writing, but it seemed to me in this case to be the most efficient way to present a lot of information.

But this little (and again I stress, incomplete) study did reveal a few things to me. Worship can include singing, but it is more than singing. It can occur with others or alone. It can occur in joyous or grievous circumstances. It won’t always result in our feeling warm and fuzzy or revved up: often it is accompanied by a deep humility, repentance, changing one’s ways. Though emotions are involved, worship that honors God must be based on truth, thus involving the mind. And the turning from sin often mentioned indicates we worship with our will as well. The characteristics most often involved in worship are acknowledging who God is, what He is like, what He has done, and thanking and praising Him.

This brings to mind the last line of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Love Divine, A Loves Excelling”: “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Erwin Lutzer’s quote reminds me of warnings about the Pharisees worshiping God in vain: “Worship that is not based on God’s Word is but an emotional encounter with oneself”

And this quote from Archbishop William Temple (about whom I know nothing beyond this quote) seems to sum it up nicely: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his place.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth;

    yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
1 Chronicles 16:27-32, ESV
(See verses 8-36 for a stupendous example of worship)

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories)

Why should we sing?

I don’t go looking for posts about congregational singing, but a couple of blogs I follow comment on or link to blog posts on the topic fairly often.

The prevailing consensus is that congregational singing is declining. I have not noticed that myself, but apparently others have.

Naturally, people want to find the problem and fix it. A number of possible reasons for this decline have been proposed.

Some say that the congregation doesn’t sing as well since the advent of worship teams. Some blame this on the atmosphere seeming more like a concert than a church service. Others point blame at the number of instruments on stage, the loudness of the music, the singing of new songs that no one knows, the difficulty of some of those songs for a congregation to sing. Some have blamed the professionalism or the commitment to excellence of the musicians, because that makes us “average Joes” feel like we don’t measure up. Sadly, many churches are eliminating performed music (what we use to call “special music”) for these reasons. The most recent article I saw said the problem started way back even before the worship team advent, when churches had choirs that “drowned out” the congregation.

My own experience is limited, of course. We’ve only visited one church where I truly felt like the stage and musicians were set up for a concert rather than congregational singing. This church had a choir and a worship team, multicolored lighting, a stage covered with instruments. I don’t think any of that would have been insurmountable, though. The one main problem was that the songleader or worship leader never told us as a congregation when to join in or invited us to sing along. As we looked around to see whether others were singing, we noticed that some were and some were not. So we didn’t know quite what to do.

Most of my church experiences have involved one songleader on stage with a choir behind him, sometimes with musicians on stage or nearby, sometimes not. The choir helps keep the pace and provide the melody for those who might not know a song. I have never been in a church where the choir “drowned out” the congregational singing.

I have been in two churches where the songleader was an actual professional in the sense of having a PhD not just in music, but in voice. In both of those churches, the singing was robust. No one seemed to be intimidated by the professionalism of the leader and others in the choir and church. Ordinary, untrained people sang special music as well as the trained ones. So I don’t think professionalism in and of itself is a factor, or at least it shouldn’t be.

There is one factor, however, that overrides any problems with congregational singing: the fact that the Bible tells us we’re supposed to sing.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2, ESV

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. Ephesians 5:18b-19, ESV

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16, ESV

We shouldn’t use these verses as clubs to beat people over the head with their responsibility, but we should encourage each other to obey God in this respect. Some have tried to encourage thinking about the songs we sing by almost preaching a small sermon between songs, sharing long Puritan readings, etc. There might be a time for that kind of thing, but usually I find that, rather than encouraging singing, it takes away from it. People get weary mentally and their minds wander (or even physically, if they’re made to stand through all of that).

I’ve long wanted to do a study of music in the Bible. I notice that in many of the psalms, singing is associated with thanksgiving. The passages above speak of singing as an outgrowth of being filled with the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Could it be that poor congregational singing is a symptom of a lack in these areas, rather than a problem in itself?

One of my soapbox issues is that our responsibility to do right before God should not depend on other people or circumstances. I can’t stand before God and blame other people for my sin. They are responsible for their influence, and they’ll have to answer for their failures and temptations. But God has promised each of His children that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is true not just for avoiding sin and resisting temptation, but also for doing right. I should do the right thing whether the circumstances are conducive or not, whether anyone else is doing so or not.

Sure, it’s good to study what helps and hinders good congregational singing. But we as a congregation need to realize that whether the song is too old or too new, too high or too low, too fast or too slow, too soft or too loud, whether there is one musician or many, whether others sing better or worse or not at all, we need to sing as unto the Lord. He is worthy of our praise. Let’s overlook the petty hindrances to our comfort level and think about His greatness and goodness and all He has done for us. It will be hard to hold back from singing then!

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
Psalm 28:7, NKJV

The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous.
Psalm 118:14-15a, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Because My Father Is My King

But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Our church is going through the psalms together and discussing a few at a time on Sundays. In many psalms, the writer pours out his heart to God pleading for mercy, justice, protection, forgiveness, revival. Often the writer comes to God out of sorts, but after a few moments of meditating on who his God is, he is set to rights and sees things clearly.

Other psalms (like 95-100) set forth God’s majesty, holiness, and greatness and our response of awe and worship.

On those occasions in Scripture when someone meets a heavenly being of some kind, like an angel, that person often falls to the ground in worship that the angel has to correct. If just an angel causes that reaction, we can understand God answering Moses’ request to see Him by saying Moses would not be able to withstand seeing the full scope of His glory and splendor. John had been the closest disciple to Jesus during the Lord’s time on Earth. Yet when John saw Jesus in all His glory in Revelation 1:17, he didn’t shake his hand, slap him on the back, cry out, “So good to see you again!” He “fell at his feet as dead,” overwhelmed.

It’s good for us to meditate on and remind ourselves of just Who our God is in all of His aspects. We don’t often think of His majesty, splendor, and greatness unless we encounter those traits in Scripture. Sometimes a glorious sunset or huge waterfall or massive lightning storm will give us a glimpse of His powerfulness and immensity.

Yet sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the greatness of God that would immerse me in awe and bring me to my knees in worship with the closeness and intimacy of my Abba, Father, described in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. It’s not that the Old Testament presents God as massive and majestic and the New Testament portrays Him as close, personal, and loving: no, both aspects are presented all through the Bible.

So one day, this illustration came to mind of a child of a king.

A beloved child played on the floor with his father and sat in his lap to read a book.  His father rocked him to sleep and comforted him when he was hurt or afraid. The child knew his father was something called a king, but he didn’t quite understand what that was or what his father did at work every day.

But one day, an affair of state required his father to wear his full royal regalia and address the nation. As the child stood with his mother and siblings, the king’s entrance was announced, accompanied by a trumpet fanfare. When the king came in, the child hardly recognized the man as his father. He looked so different in his crown and royal robe, standing so erect, receiving the applause of the audience, speaking in such authoritative and measured tones, followed by his entourage. The child was awed, but a little afraid of the king. But as his father finished speaking and turned to go back to the family residence within the castle, he searched for his son, and smiled. And then the child recognized the love in his father’s eyes and knew that he was indeed, the same daddy who had comforted him and played with him so often before.

It’s an imperfect analogy, and it wouldn’t carry over in every single point. But the gist of it helps me to reconcile how the Lord whose full holiness will overwhelm me is the same Abba Father who comforts and cares for me now.

Because my Father is my King, I can rest in His power and authority. He’s in charge, and He is just. He is both kind and righteous. He employs all the sources of His kingdom to protect me and provide for me.

Because my King is my Father, I have the closest access to Him. I can rest in His love and know He cares about every detail of my life. I have a glorious inheritance.

He is worthy of my worship, my trust, and my love.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12, ESV

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. 1 John 3:1a, ESV

O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, Whose canopy space,
Whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

~ Robert Grant

(Revised from the archives)

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When Little Trials Give Us Big Trouble

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Sometimes it seems easier to trust the Lord for the big trials of life rather than the little irritations.

When a major crisis comes my way, I realize it’s too big for me. I’m acutely aware of my need for God’s grace and strength. I feel myself sinking, like Peter, and cry out for help almost instinctively.

But when I encounter some smaller provocation — when someone interrupts what I am doing; when my computer acts up; when I am running late to an appointment and hit every red light along the way; when another driver cuts me off; when I am in a hurry at the grocery store and the customer in front of me has some time-consuming problem; when I give dinner a quick stir and slosh red sauce over the side of the pan and onto the stove, the floor, and/or myself — then too often I react with simmering impatience, carnal anger, unloving harshness, discouragement or depression.

Amy Carmichael once wrote:

The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. (1)

“Well, I was provoked.”

Love…is not easily provoked. I Corinthians 13:5

“I’m only human.”

Yes. That’s the problem, not an excuse. With the exception of One, all humans have a sinful nature. Our natural reaction is likely to be a selfish one. As Christians we’re called to have a supernatural reaction.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Galatians 5:22-23.

Even on the highway or in a check-out line.

Thank God there is forgiveness with Him, His mercies are new every morning, and if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness(I John 1:9).

But how can I get the victory over wrong reactions to little provocations and react in a right manner the next time?

  • First of all, instead excusing it, recognize it as sin and confess it to Him.
  • Carefully evaluate and use my time better, such as such as stopping whatever I am doing early enough for an appointment so that a few red lights will not cause me to be late (or agitated), slowing down and take the necessary time to accomplish something so haste doesn’t create more problems, etc.
  • Fix the issue, if possible. Find out if there is something wrong with the computer, gently ask the other person to refrain from or change whatever they are doing, etc.
  • Put it into perspective. A little thing is just a little thing. Being a Christian doesn’t mean every little bump in the road is going to be removed.
  • Relinquish control of my life and time and schedule into the Lord’s hands will help me to handle interruptions better. Have you ever studied the life of Christ with an eye toward how much He was interrupted? It’s enlightening. Even when He was interrupted during prayer or on his way to perform a miracle, He never reacted harshly or impatiently.
  • Relinquish the “I” factor as well. Some of the agitation I experience is simply my thwarted desire for things to go my way. I mentioned in an earlier post that another of Amy Carmichael’s experiences that helped me was when she felt the “I” “rising hotly” in her toward one who was unfair and dominating, and she realized that moment was a chance to die to self. “See in this which seems to stir up all you most wish were not stirred up — see in it a chance to die to self in every form. Accept it as just that – a chance to die.” (1)
  • Do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I need to remember that I’m probably unwittingly irritating someone else sometimes who is graciously (I hope) being forbearing with me. I need to handle the irritations that come from other people as graciously as I would want them to handle mine. Instead of focusing on the irritant, I need to focus on that person as another child of the Father whom He loves every bit as much as He loves me and seek ways to serve him or her.
  • Forbear. A former pastor used to say forbearing was just good old-fashioned putting up with each other. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Not just forbearing, but forbearing in love. “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Peter 4:8). Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
  • Remember that my testimony before others is at stake. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:25). I sometimes think of Satan standing before God and accusing that Job only served God because God blessed him, but let Satan take away Job’s blessings, and he would curse God. I envision Satan saying of me, “Yes, she acts like a nice Christian at church, but let me trip her up here and there and see how she reacts.” We’re not only a testimony to others in our homes and at check-out lines, but we forget that our testimonies are as far-reaching as heaven. Rosalind Goforth was a missionary wife to China during years when the Chinese were quite suspicious of and disdainful toward “foreign devils.” To try to alleviate those feelings and establish relationships with the Chinese, the Goforths would allow crowds of the curious into their home to look around and to talk with them. This resulted in some agitation and disruption as well as theft of some of their belongings, but overall they felt it was worth it. Of one particular day, Rosalind writes:

The day had been an unusually strenuous one, and I was really very tired. Toward evening, a crowd of women burst through the living room door and came trooping in before I had time to meet them outside. One woman set herself out to make things unpleasant. She was rough and repulsive and– well, just indescribably filthy. I paid no attention to her except to treat her as courteously as the rest. But when she put both hands to her nose, saying loudly, “Oh, these foreign devils, the smell of their home is unbearable!” my temper rose in a flash and, turning on her with anger, I said, “How dare you speak like that? Leave the room!” The crowd, sensing a “storm,” fled. I heard one say, “That foreign devil woman has a temper just like ours!”

Now, I had not noticed that the door of my husband’s study was ajar, not did I know that he was inside, until, as the last woman disappeared, the door opened and he came forward, looking solemn and stern. “Rose, how could you so forget yourself?” he said. “Do you realize that just one such incident may undo months of self-sacrificing, loving service?”

“But Jonathan” I returned, “you don’t know how she — “

But he interrupted. “Yes, I do; I heard all. You certainly had reason to be annoyed; but were you justified, with all that is hanging in the balance and God’s grace to keep you patient?”

As he turned to re-enter his study, he said, “All I can say is I am disappointed!

Oh, how that last word cut me! I deserved it, yes, but, oh, I did so want to reach up to the high ideals he had. A tempestuous time followed alone in our inner room with my Lord. as I look back now, it was all just one farther step up the rocky hillside of life — just climbing! (2)*

One time when I posted Rosalind’s experience, a commenter took offense at Jonathan’s response to his wife, thinking he should have been a little more sympathetic and suggesting that the lost need to understand that we’re not perfect. But Rosalind felt that what Jonathan said and how he said it were just what she needed to bring her to conviction. A theme she deals with all through the book is her lack of love and tendency toward wanting her own way, and by the end of the book the nationals they interacted with had a much different testimony of her. Yes, lost people or new Christians need to understand that though we are changed we’re not sinless, but this was a matter of first impressions. Jonathan was right that a harsh reaction could undo much positive ministry. Though understanding her annoyance, his point was that it was not an excuse and she could have accessed God’s grace to react in a right manner.

  • The verses mentioned above in Galatians 5 say that gentleness, long-suffering, self-control, etc., are all a part of the fruit of the Spirit. Maintaining time in the Word so He can speak to me through it, yielding to His control throughout the day, memorizing verses in the areas I am having trouble with, sending out a quick prayer for help when I feel that agitation and frustration building up will all help in gaining the victory.
  • Pray. Part of a prayer I often pray from Colossians 1:9-14 is I might be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (verse 11). That’s also a reminder to focus not just on avoiding irritation but to also cultivate the positive: longsuffering and patience with joyfulness.
  • Remember “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5, KJV). Even the little tribulations can be used by God to grow and sanctify us. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Lamp For My Feet (and it encourages me that she felt this way about some people, too, sometimes):

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

This is true of irritating situations and intimate objects as well as people. Like sandpaper they can help rub off our sharp edges.

  • Behold our God. II Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed more and more into Christ’s likeness as we behold Him. When I look inside and tell myself I need to be more kind, loving, forbearing, etc., I get discouraged and fail because I don’t have it in myself. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). But when I look at Him, that irritability seems to just melt away. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.  The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:8-9).

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16.

___________
(1) Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87.

(2) Goforth, Rosalind. Climbing. (USA: Bethel Publishing, 1940), 45-46.

(Revised from the archives)

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How to Have a Steady Soul

Unsteady.

I became well acquainted with unsteadiness after contracting transverse myelitis 23 years ago. For a few months afterward, I couldn’t walk on my own. I progressed from a walker to a cane to finally walking without support. But for a long time afterward, anything from uneven ground to someone walking by me quickly or brushing against me would throw me off balance. I had a few falls if I couldn’t grasp anything firm. Though my internal balance mechanism has vastly improved since then, I still have moments of unsteadiness now.

So the phrase “unsteady souls” stood out to me in a recent reading of 2 Peter 2 in the ESV. Other translations say unstable, unestablished, unsettled.

Peter is talking in this chapter – throughout this whole epistle, really – about false prophets and teachers. Chapter 2, verse 14 says “They entice unsteady souls.”

How do false teachers entice these souls? 1 Peter speaks of the false prophets’ sensuality, lust, greed, passion, so they “entice by sensual passions” (verse 18). James 1:14 uses the same Greek word for “entice,” which carries the idea of baiting, alluring, deceiving, when it says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” They “despise authority” (verse 10). “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption” (verse 19). They “exploit you with false words” (verse 3). They’re blasphemous (verses 10-13).

Probably most of the people who fall away to false teachers are not saved in the first place, but weak or new believers are susceptible as well. A true Christian can’t lose his or her salvation, but a believer can get tangled in false doctrines to their own confusion as well as that of everyone on their sphere of influence. But even those of us who think we’re strong need to “take heed lest we fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

How can we make sure we’re not unsteady or unstable spiritually? Peter tells us:

  • Believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord . “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10).
  • Know His Word. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4, ESV). Know it not just for facts, but to know Him (2 Peter 1:2-3)
  • Live out God’s Word. Be doers, not just hearers. Because of the above, “make every effort to supplement your faith” with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love (2 Peter 1:5-7, ESV)
  • Rest on the Bible’s sure foundation. Know that God’s Word is not “a cunningly devised fable,” but is a “more sure word of prophecy” than even the transfiguration Peter was an eyewitness to. (2 Peter 1:16-19, KJV)
  • Know that Scripture comes from God. “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV)
  • Look to Him. After listing several instances of punishment coming to wrongdoers, Peter assures us “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (verse 2 Peter 2:9, KJV).
  • Confess sin to Him, seek His grace to overcome and resist it: “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:14, ESV).
  • Don’t twist the Scriptures as the unstable do. “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). The unsteady twist (wrest in the KJV) the very thing which could stabilize them. We read it in context so we understand its meaning. We don’t wrangle it to make it say what we want it to say. We don’t adjust it to us: we adjust ourselves to it.
  • Be watchful. “Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (2 Peter 3:17, ESV).
  • Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)
  • Listen to sound teaching. Contrast the characteristics Peter lists of false teachers in 2 Peter to what he says about godly shepherds in 1 Peter 5. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Seek to feed our souls His truth rather than feeding our own desires.

Jesus said the one who hears his words and does them is like a man who built his house on a rock which was unshaken by winds and flood waters.

So we watch ourselves, that we’re not being led away of wrong desires. We read and listen to God’s Word as it’s written, in context, not trying to twist it. We listen to pastors and teachers who faithfully proclaim God’s Word. We we obey it. We get to know our Savior better and better and remind ourselves of His truth. and we keep growing spiritually. Doing all of these things might bring persecution, which Peter discusses often in both of his letters. But we can trust God to keep us and deliver us.

Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Psalm 119:133, ESV

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The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

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