- 2016 (9)
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July 21, 2016
Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your Law.” Imagine that it is not only possible but inevitable that those who pursue God’s Word would find themselves amazed at the wonderful revelation that God has left His people! I never cease to be amazed when God uses the Word to give me a glimpse of His majesty and glory revealed therein. Such was the case recently as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark, chapters 7 and 8.
The overview of the headings in Mark 7 and 8, according to the ESV, looks like this: Traditions and Commandments, What Defiles a Person, The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith, Jesus Heals a Deaf Man, Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand, The Pharisees Demand a Sign, The Leaven of the Pharisees, Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida. As is often the case, we tend to look at these headings and focus on the few versus that are placed under them. While this may be helpful at times, it can distract us from the greater context which Mark has included in order to more fully reveal his (and God’s) intention. Remember, the headings (as well as chapter and verse numbers) in your Bible were placed there by an editor and are not part of the inspired text.
On this particular occasion I was considering Mark’s recording of Jesus’ healing of the deaf man. It’s one of those stories that you read and wonder, “what am I going to do with this?” The details of the story are striking and raise numerous questions. Why does Jesus place his fingers in the man’s ears? Why is it important for us to know that Jesus touched the man’s tongue after spitting? While I would agree that the details are significant to Mark’s purpose, I concluded that the greater significance is found in the conclusion of the story with the quoted response of the people. “They were astonished beyond measure saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (emphasis mine). My mind immediately went to the occasion in Luke 7:22 where Jesus told John’s disciples to tell John that the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, etc. in response to his question about who Jesus really was. It is clear that the miracles that Jesus was performing were about more than Jesus meeting felt needs in this life. They were a demonstration of the fulfillment of God’s promise to send Messiah. So, I turned my attention toward the Old Testament to find where in God’s promise this expectation would have arisen. To my surprise there were few verses that came up in my search. If you do a simple search for “deaf hear” in the Old Testament, it will result in only three verses: Psalm 38:13, Isaiah 29:18, and Isaiah 42:18. If you are familiar with or have read the greater context of the story contained in Mark 7:31–37, you might recognize as I did that this isn’t the first time Isaiah 29 arises in this text. In the earlier episode with the Pharisees, Jesus rebukes them and quotes Isaiah 29:13, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” At this point, my interest was piqued but even though the healing of the deaf man seemed to be related to Isaiah 29:18, that verse speaks also of the blind seeing and therefore might not be directly connected. If you keep reading through Mark into chapter 8, although you will find several intervening episodes recorded by Mark, we eventually arrive at Mark’s recording of the blind man healed at Bethsaida in 8:22–26.
Mark 7 begins with an episode pointing to Isaiah 29:13 and ends alluding to Isaiah 29:18. At the very least this warrants a serious consideration of Mark’s interest in this particular text. Isaiah 29 begins by building upon God’s people’s inability to see or hear God’s truth leading to God ultimately pouring out a spirit of deep sleep upon them (vs. 10). God’s Word is as a sealed scroll and cannot be accessed by them. While the hearts of God’s people were far from Him, God promised to do wonderful things with His people. In verse 17, God reveals that “Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field.” It is this verse that makes Mark’s use of Isaiah 29 almost certain! The intervening story in Mark 7 that connects Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees and His healing of the deaf man is the account Jesus entering Tyre and Sidon. It is here that He is met by a Syrophoenician woman who believes. Interestingly enough, Tyre and Sidon are geographically located in southern Lebanon (see Judges 3:3) and it is here, above all other places, that faith in Christ is revealed.
It seems more than coincidental that Mark seeks to order the selected events of Jesus ministry in such a way to closely align them with the Word of God by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 29. In fact it seems that (at least) this portion of Mark’s Gospel is very much like a sermon on the text of Isaiah. There is, however, more support provided in the intervening text between Mark’s recording of the the deaf man (7:31–37) and the blind man (8:22–26).
Among other clear themes in Isaiah 29 is the theme of those who lack the ability to see, hear, and understand. It is a clear expansion of Isaiah’s initial commission in Isaiah 6:9–10;
“And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
The episodes that lie between the deaf and the blind miracles serve to emphasize the above reality. Jesus once again proceeds to feed a crowd of people with little resource. Although Jesus had done this very thing in 6:30ff, the disciples can’t seem to understand how this is possible. Somehow they developed a kind of spiritual amnesia. Yet, Jesus once again provides for the people in abundance and they are ‘satisfied!’ Then the Pharisees come on the scene for another brief moment demanding a sign. Look around! What exactly did they consider to be a sign? The deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk, etc., etc. Seeing they were unable to see. No sign would be given to this “unbelieving” generation. Finally, with a bit of irony, the disciples get in a boat with only one loaf of bread (an interesting detail). When Jesus warns them of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, they can’t understand. Why did they need to be concerned about leaven? They only had one loaf of bread. Jesus responds to them, “Do you not yet perceive or understand?” Jesus’ concern was the leaven of spiritual stupor resulting from unbelief. Jesus commands faith, but even the disciples were missing it. Jesus, therefore, proceeds to remind them of both the crowd feedings concluding with yet another question, “Do you not yet understand?”
These intervening episodes provide further support and emphasis to the underlying text of Isaiah 29. In fact, Mark 7 and 8 are a clear picture of God revealing His Word through the person and work of Jesus Christ the Messiah. Isaiah was God’s prophet. A prophet was one who spoke the Word of God. Mark views God’s spoken Word as now being “fleshed” out in the person and work of Jesus during His ministry. In the words of yet another Gospel writer we could say, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory. . .” (John 1:14). What Mark fleshes out through historical narrative, John summarizes and states emphatically. John goes on in 1:18 to say, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (exegeomai).” In other words, Jesus has exegeted (revealed clearly, unpacked) God. And this is absolutely worth getting excited about!
May 26, 2016
Every church has a mission. Ultimately that mission has been determined by the church's designer, God. While the particular landscape of each church may differ in some ways, the mission is the same. The mission of the church is the mission of God. Many have attempted to articulate the church's mission in a variety of ways. It is a necessary exercise in order for us to begin to grasp and comprehend the task before us. The danger, however, is over simplifying God's designed mission for his bride. We must, therefore, seek to articulate this mission in light of the broad scope of God's mission to all people, everywhere, throughout all ages. This means that any mission that is confined to any one people, place, or time is too narrow to be cast as THE mission of the church.
That being stated, how are we to understand the mission of the church? In order to provide an answer, I want to offer a simple yet comprehensive statement of the mission: "to proclaim the word of God for the glory of God to exalt Christ and redeem sinners." This statement is by no means a breakthrough of any sorts. It does, however, provide a simple gauge by which to measure the vision and function of the church. This statement flows from a biblical foundation and serves to summarize God's design for his people in a way that can be grasped. This mission statement articulates a means, motive, reason, and result.
The Word of God alone is the means which God has ordained to accomplish his mission. It alone stands above every other aspect or activity within the community of God's people. It must saturate and direct all the activity within the community of the faithful. If God's people are to fulfill God's mission, it will be by means of the proclamation of His word.
There are many things that may very well motivate us to a variety of tasks within the community of faith. It isn't that there aren't other worthy motivations by which the community is compelled into action. There must be, however, a clear and ultimate motive. We do not exist for ourselves or even "for" our community ultimately. We exist "for God." He alone is to be our treasure and goal. He is the only audience we are to strive to please. Our motivation for ministry must rise above the temporal and mundane to the extreme heights of the glory of God. Greater men than myself have said it this way, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The collective out working of that statement remains the same. If that is the chief end of man, then it too will serve as the chief end of the community of faith devised of individual believers.
Motivation and reason are almost synonymous. In like manor, the glory of God and the exaltation of Christ are almost synonymous. By God's purposed design, his glory is bound up in the exaltation of Christ. If Christ is not exalted then God is not glorified. It stands to reason that those motivated by the glory of God will make every effort to exalt Christ in word and deed. Any activity that doesn't magnify the person and work of Christ falls short of the glory of God. It is for this reason that Paul said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). The community of faith must be intentional in the efforts to exalt Christ in all things. Any activity that doesn't expressly magnify Christ goes beyond or stands outside the mission of the church. While there is some room for activity within the community of faith that doesn't expressly seek to fulfill the overall mission, it must be promoted as such. The gospel is not served by our attempts to do what we want and pass them off in some way as fulfilling the mission just to make them fit. In addition, we are called to make the most of the time we have. Therefore, we most certainly will need to leave out some things for the sake of the main things.
While the community of faith exists for God and not expressly for others, others are in view. The goal of mission is worship! God issued his ultimate mission because worship didn't exist. We are commissioned to pursue people for the sake of worship. That is, that they might become worshippers. This will only be the case if they come to experience the redemption that is available for all who repent of sin and follow Christ. It must be clear, however, the redemption of the lost is the result of the mission as we pursue the glory of God.
The mission of the church is to pursue the glory of God above all else. God's glory is revealed in the Words of the revelation He has gifted to us in the Bible. We therefore pursue His glory by means of the proclamation of His Word. Faithful proclamation of God's word will lead to the exaltation of Christ since He is the goal of Scripture. The result of this pursuit will be the redemption of sinners. Therefore, the mission of the church is:
To Proclaim the Word of God for the Glory of God; To Exalt Christ and Redeem Sinners!
May 05, 2016
It has been difficult to avoid the media onslaught over the past several months as the political campaigns have been growing more intense. It seemed for a while that things settled down, but now there is yet another wave as the Republican party has been narrowed to one candidate.
It is not my desire to offer any particular political opinion in order to persuade anyone concerning their personal choice as we look forward to the upcoming election. It is my desire and hope to remind us all of our primary allegiance in the midst of the controversial and often heated battles that stir in the midst of the moral and political chaos of our beloved country.
The state of politics and morality in the early days of the Church was not anything worth cheering about. There were many undesirable issues going on in the 1st century context of the believers who were striving to be faithful to the gospel. Yet, I don’t recall the writers of Scripture panicking or getting up in arms about the political or moral state of the world which surrounded them. While there is much truth offered in the divine text from which we can draw a great deal of application for our own context, the primary pursuit of the the early church was not to force political change, but to remain faithful to the truth of the gospel within the moral and political chaos in which the Church existed.
Sure, we should not detach ourselves from the goings on of the culture around us. Most definitely we should seek to remain a voice as believers within the country God has graciously allowed us the privilege of living in. But we must never forget that Christ never determined to bring his Kingdom to fully and finally bear upon the present kingdom of the world through political prowess! Christ’s primary plan for engaging any and all cultures regardless of their governmental status, military might, or moral ambiguity was and continues to be the Church!
Imagine if we were as concerned about the state of the church as we are about world and national government. Imagine if we stood up and spoke up as much about the compromising state of the church as we often do about lost sinners living like lost sinners. If we are not committed to the Church living like the Church and striving to be a clear and decisive testimony of the gospel, then how could we ever imagine the Church convincing the lost world around us to stand on truth that we, the church, are not even striving for.
Our hope is not in the political process even while we pray for the best case scenario (as we should). Our hope is in a crucified and risen Savior who now reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. Our allegiance must be clearly to him! I can only imagine the power and impact the Church would possess if those who identify with Christ in word would live it and hold one another accountable to do the same.
We are the radiant Bride of Christ. We have been granted a privileged status among the people of God by the Sovereign Creator of the universe. We have been set free from the bondage of sin to live to please another master who is worthy of our worship. We have been called out of the kingdom of darkness into his marvelous light. We have been given the power to be his witnesses in the midst of the darkness. We have been given a hope that far surpasses anything this world can offer us (even in a free country).
LET’S BE THE CHURCH! LET’S PURSUE THE GOSPEL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD! LET’S STRIVE TO BE THE RADIANT BRIDE OF CHRIST THAT WE ARE AND SEEK TO PENETRATE THE DARKNESS SO THAT MANY MIGHT SEE THEIR DESPERATE NEED FOR A SAVIOR!
WE ARE THE CHURCH! IT’S TIME TO ACT LIKE IT!
March 31, 2016
The calendar is passing us by quickly! We have already experienced both many joys of ministry as well as burdens of grief this year. We continue to pray for those who have experienced the painful loss of loved ones and know that Christ is indeed enough in all things!
As we rapidly approach the summer months, I continue to become acquainted with life here in Conway and ministry along side the community of faith here at Conway Baptist Church. While many events and ministries are old hat to most of you, every one of them are new experiences for me and my family. That will continue to remain true for the next six months.
As I grow to know this community of faith more and more, my vision and desire for Conway continues to grow and develop. I anticipate marvelous things in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. While ministry is not new to me, the ministry that has begun to shape here at Conway is somewhat unique to me. I continue to wait with expectation to see how God will direct me in the ministry here in the future. I still have a lot to learn, but believe I also I have a lot to offer the body here. Please continue to pray for me as I joyfully pursue God’s purpose for Conway Baptist Church in the immediate future as well as the long term outlook.
Now that April has arrived, the majority of our focus and efforts will be on Operation In As Much scheduled for April 30th. Please consider how you will choose to involve yourself on this day. No effort is too great or too small. A variety of opportunities will be presented to you in the near future. Please pray now about how and where you will serve. There is something to be learned and offered when the entire body serves together! We NEED to experience unified ministry efforts and this is a great opportunity for just that. In addition, we get to serve others around us in such a way that may afford us the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel!
On May 10–17, I will have the privilege of returning to Haiti to serve and teach leaders in the Haitian church. I love the ministry that God has allowed me to participate in over the last 12 years and look forward to see how God will continue to magnify Himself in Haiti. Our purpose for this trip is much the same as it always is. Our primary goal is discipleship and equipping the leaders there to do the work of the ministry. Over the years we have held two of these trainings each year. One in the spring and one in the fall. In addition, we are trying to raise $3000 to do some necessary maintenance to the solar power system at our mission house. This system is crucial for us to be able to host mission teams and pastor conferences. Please pray for us as we continue to work out all the details.
As the school year comes to an end and many turn their attention to vacations and such, I pray that you will seek to be faithful to gather with the saints. I know we all have plans and limited time, but it is important for you and for the rest of our community of faith to remain faithful to one another. We love when we step out our back door and see part of our family of faith playing in our yard or hanging around the playground talking and enjoying one another (both children and adults). You are welcome anytime to come and just hang out with us. Let’s try to make the amazing weather serve to bring us together rather than keep us apart.
Finally, I am considering some things for the summer that may or may not develop into anything, so pray as I determine what things I should pursue on our behalf and what I should allow to be nothing more than a fleeting thought.
Thank you for allowing us to serve the glorious gospel along side of you here at Conway Baptist Church.
For His Glory Alone,
March 02, 2016
As you all know, next week begins a month focused heavily on missions. With the On Mission Connection events, Revival, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and Resurrection Day (Easter) all just around the corner, it is worth considering our place in the work of missions.
Missions is a broad term that incorporates everything from sharing the gospel with a neighbor to going to an unreached people group somewhere across the globe. The mission of the church (and each member who constitutes the church) was handed down to us from the Lord Himself. We didn't think up the idea of engaging others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus commissioned all of us to, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19–20). It is because of Christ and for Christ that we seek to fulfill what has become to be known as the Great Commission.
We must remember, however, that missions is not the goal! It is the means. Ultimately the goal is the glory of God which includes the redemption of the lost in order to create a new nation from among every nation under heaven. A nation of the redeemed passionately pursuing the honor and glory of the Creator.
We have all been commissioned to play a part! Our roles may not look the same, but we must nevertheless seek to determine how we will participate whether we are faithfully sharing the gospel with our friends and neighbors in the community, seeking to serve a people in some distant place, investing in those who do, etc.
At the very least we can take advantage of the opportunities afforded us through our community of faith. I hope that you will enter the month of March with an expectant heart! Be present with us as we consider missions through the On Mission Connection events on Saturday, March 5. Make every effort to join us Sunday morning March 6th and see how God might use our guest missionaries to encourage you. Determine to set aside some time to join us nightly at 7:00 for our Revival services with Terry Stockman March 6–10. Consider how you might invest in missions by giving to the Annie Armstrong offering for missions. Our goal is $2000 but I believe we can far exceed that goal.
Finally, be mindful of what makes all of this possible as we look to celebrating the resurrection of our Lord on March 27. The resurrection makes all of this both possible and worthy! We are able to proclaim new life in Christ because of His victory over death, sin, and the grave. He is worthy of our efforts because His resurrection testifies to His Lordship over all creation and is deserving of our worship. Because He Lives we can face tomorrow . . .Life is worth the living just because He Lives!
March 02, 2016
The Bible helps us to understand the church by describing her as a body. God uses such illustrations because we are familiar with them. We get that our hands and feet are fundamentally different and have different purposes. We also get that our many parts must function together. If our brains started firing different random messages to our arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. all at the same time, we would recognize a serious problem and would seek help. While Christ as the head of the church does not issue differing random messages to the body (church) all at the same time, we sometimes portray that he does. Our many parts begin to operate all on their own in their own way, going their own direction. Imagine if your right leg/foot decided to go right while at the same time your left leg/foot decided to go left. You could find yourself in a painful situation.
The church's ability to communicate between the many parts operates very much like the nervous system in the body. If we fail to communicate with all the other parts we might find ourselves doing a split and hindering ourselves rather than moving in the right direction together. In order to help this process, I am asking that all ministry groups in the church place any and all their activities/ministries on the church calendar in advance. Our church calendar is viewable from our website by anyone who wants to see what is going on. It also allows other groups to productively plan ministry without conflicting with other parts of the body. If you are wondering whether your group fits the status of group/ministry of the church, then assume it does even if your activities do not affect the entire church, put it on the calendar.
You can have your activities/ministries placed on the church calendar by calling the office (585-1752) or emailing Tracy (firstname.lastname@example.org). Doing so will help us to plan and execute ministry in a more productive and efficient way.
February 08, 2016
For as long as the church has been around, she has attempted to pursue effective ways to engage the surrounding culture. The Church has at times sought to utilize common cultural means to attract outsiders. Some of those times seemingly pay off, others do not. There are an endless number of "vehicles" that the Church may use to engage outsiders. There are both 'come and see' approaches as well as 'go and tell' approaches. As the Church continues her quest to reach the world for Christ we will likely see even more "vehicles" utilized. Some old and some new. But my point here is that the issue begins to get far too complicated and confusing the more we try to decide what exactly we are supposed to do and look like. At least as long as we are the ones trying to decide.
I have chosen to use the word "vehicle" intentionally because much of what we do is designed to be the means or "vehicle" by which we remain faithful to that which we are clearly led to embrace by Scripture. The "vehicles" are nothing more than ways to transfer the message and engage God's people in worship. We have created a great deal of "vehicles" in the Church. So much so that sometimes we can't distinguish between the "vehicle" and the precious "cargo", the gospel. We have Sunday School, concerts, Awanas, drama, coffee houses, small groups, seminars, and the list goes on and on. We often find ourselves committed to the "vehicle" more than we are committed to the Lord Himself. We fight harder for the existence of our "vehicles" than we do for the Word of God! Many churches get far more fired up about their "vehicle" than they ever do about whether or not a Bible is cracked open, much less read. We need to be reminded what remains when all the trappings of our well intentioned "vehicles" are stripped away.
The Bible does not call for most of our modern "vehicles" but it does continue to make clear what is necessary no matter the time or place or culture. Jesus Christ died for the Church. The Bible makes clear that there is a tangible expression of the universal Church in the local Church. The Church is called upon to gather together regularly (and from its inception has done so on the first day of the week). The church is provided the responsibility it bears when she is gathered at such times. These basic necessary responsibilities can be summed up in four words: sing, pray, preach, see. What is it that these four simple words seek to convey? They remind us what our time being gathered together as the Church should be centered around and filled with. They help us to understand that we cannot maintain every kind of "vehicle" in the Church and still major on the fundamentals. We are limited! Limited by time, resources, and command! If we do not accomplish anything else, we must strive to accomplish these four things when we are the Church gathered.
Scripture is replete with exhortations to sing unto the Lord. It is a way in which we express our hearts by design. We see this in both the sacred and secular realms because it is inherent in our design as those created in the image of God. When we gather for worship, we extend the expression of our hearts to a corporate level. Something we cannot do on our own. It is an opportunity for the Church to corporately express our hope in the gospel in a united, singular voice. So we sing TOGETHER! Singing in our gathered services is designed to be something we all participate in. Not as a performance, but as an expression of worship. What do we sing? We sing about the majesty of our God and His gospel which is made known to us in His Word. So we sing the Word. Not just catchy lyrics about our joys and sorrows but eternal truths revealed by God in His Word. The Word of God compels us to faithfully sing the Word of God as a corporate expression of our trust in Him.
Few would dispute the significance of prayer (at least not in word). We are commanded to pray throughout Scripture. And we are compelled to do so more than by ourselves. When we come together as the Church, we unite our individuality into one voice through corporate prayer, a united expression our our hope in God. With so many personal needs and struggles it would be difficult to cover them all when gathered, so what should we pray? Jesus makes this clear in His teaching to the disciples as He proceeded to say, pray like this "Our Father …" Notice the corporate aspect of that prayer, "Our!" In our corporate prayers we are affirming our confidence in God to master our lives, a truth revealed in Scripture. If our confidence is in God and that confidence is rooted in Scripture, then we can confidently pray God's Word! With all the trivial things we can focus on, when we gather together we unite our focus around the Word. We should therefore affirm this by praying the Word.
While most people in church would typically say that preaching is the most important part of our gathering, it isn't necessarily true. If all the other elements of gathered worship are present then they will equally serve a significant part of our corporate worship. The difficulty is that we often digress from the Word in our singing and praying, therefore preaching often stands alone as the sole means of corporately sharing in the Word. In that case, preaching is likely the most important part, so long as it is faithful to the Word and not our finite agendas. Preaching, while significant, should be supported by the other corporate elements. When this is the case, corporate worship is more biblically accomplished. Preaching then serves as the explanatory aspect of a variety of exercises (along with singing, praying) in the Word of God. Just as the other elements should always serve as a significant part of our gathered worship, we must preach the Word as well.
This is probably the least understood element and possibly the only variable in our corporate gatherings (although that as well is debated). Often we hear how a lot of people are visual learners. It is this conclusion that leads many to include drama, videos, etc. as a part of their corporate gatherings. God created us and knows exactly what we are like and what we need. He too agrees with the need for visual expressions of the Word and therefore gave us some. They are called baptism and communion. While it is understandable that these elements are not always a part of the corporate gathering, it should be the goal. Who wouldn't want to experience baptism every week? Unfortunately we don't possess the control over that though we could be more passionate to pursue it responsibly. We could make communion a part of each gathering and many churches of all denominations do. I would personally love to see communion a regular part of worship, though it raises a number of other difficult questions. The point, however is that God has provided the visual expression of the gospel and we cannot improve upon it. Therefore, we should seek to make this element a part of our corporate gatherings as often as possible.
Sing the Word, Pray the Word, Preach the Word, See the Word. These are the basic elements of the Church gathered and must serve as the center of our focus in our main corporate gathering. In order to do so, it might mean that we have to make decisions about the many other "vehicles" that we have added. It isn't that the "vehicles" are necessarily bad in themselves. If they, however, cause us to decrease the fundamental prescribed elements of corporate worship, they become a hinderance to the work of the Word in the Church. Someone once said, "a good thing becomes a bad thing when it gets in the way of the best thing." May God grant us the pursuit of singing, praying, preaching, and seeing the WORD!