On Sharing the Gospel

 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-5

We often put so much pressure on ourselves when we consider sharing the Gospel.  We worry if we’ll say that right things, or get stumped by a question we can’t answer.  In our desire to represent Christ well, we freak out and get silent, shamed by our own sin.

But there’s never any shame in sharing the Gospel of Christ.  It’s not supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to be scary. Just as we breathe by the grace of God the oxygen He provides, so too, should we share the glorious news of Christ Jesus as Savior.

When Paul and his companions brought the Gospel to Thessalonica, they knew their purpose.  Because they had joyfully received the salvation of Christ, they were driven to share it with boldness!  Not for their own honor, not for praise among men, not by any personal motivation.  

Having undergone incredible adversity and rejection, they continued to move forward with confidence, no matter what they might have been thinking. It wasn’t strategy, logic, or even fear that compelled them.  It was love. Love received by them from God through the forgiveness of sin, and desirous love for the lost bestowed on them by Christ.

 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:6-8

They loved like a mother loves her infant child.  They sought to care for, endure, and speak into the people in Thessalonica because they loved them.  They shared deeply of what Christ had done and also shared deeply of themselves! They opened up and got vulnerable. They were real people who likely tripped over hard questions, said stupid things, and feared potential judgement from the people they were sharing with.

It sort of puts things into perspective doesn’t it?  I know I am so guilty at times of looking at the apostles as “super” Christians, infallible Bible scholars with infinite debate and oratory skills.  Especially with Paul and all that talk about learning under Gamaliel and being a Hebrew of Hebrews. They were all so well qualified, right?  

Me? Well, I’m just a pretty girl from Texas who got saved at five and never took a Bible class, and that’s all I need to make me qualified.  I let Jesus become the Lord of my life. At five years old, I knew very little, if anything, about the sinful nature of man, or anything about the Bible.  But what I did know was that Jesus died for me and saved me from my sin, and I wanted everyone else to learn what I had learned! I wanted to run up and down my street, knock on every door, and share with everyone about Jesus and how He had saved me.

Oh, the faith of a child!

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar!  You don’t have to be “called”! The moment you accept Christ you are meant to share it!  You’re meant to be real with the people you come in contact with, give of yourself with love and compassion, and let everyone know that you are who you are because Jesus saved you. 

That’s not supposed to be hard, my friends.  

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12

They followed the example of their savior and leaned on Him.  They portrayed Christ in their own bodies by diligently and faithfully allowing Him to work through them.  Everything they did mirrored their personal recognition of who Jesus was to them, how He had saved them from their sin, and empowered them to serve others as He did.

When Christ is in you, it’s okay (and even encouraged!) to let Him do the talking! I promise you, He will say what needs to be said.  You can’t screw it up. Christ will be glorified.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men[e] but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,[f] 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

When we speak the Gospel of Christ, He will defend it Himself.  No hindering will stop it. And people we find Him. They will find Him and follow Him regardless of the cost because they will see the fruit of His love fulfilled and advanced through you.  

The testimony of your own life with Christ is all you will ever need to share His Gospel.  Just like when you found Him, He will work through you to find others. So, don’t let fear of failure, lack of Bible knowledge, or insecurity of calling deter you from giving your whole testimony of what the Lord has done for you with every person you can.  That will be for His glory and joy as well as your own!

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

 

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Complete Joy

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

Sometimes I just get tired and defeated and I want to give up.  It hurts. I have war wounds that never seem to heal. I get delivered from one thing only to be devoured again by something else.  What’s the point of fighting? 

I say these things to remind myself that it’s okay to fall short.  It’s okay to be broken and sad about it. Really. It’s okay. This isn’t actually about you.  At least not in the ways you might think. The suffering of the Christ follower always has purpose.

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I stumble and fall, but I get back up again, even when I don’t want to.  I get up because I am weak and broken and yet I am triumphant. Yes, you heard me right.  It’s about triumph. It’s about trust in that triumph. Pain and failure are always an opportunity to need God desperately and find that He is utterly faithful, utterly strong, and utterly victorious.  Always.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37:39-40

Jesus looked really, really defeated on that Roman cross.  I think Satan thought he’d actually done it: defeated the King of Kings.  But we all know what happened next. After suffering horrifically, after scourging and mocking and humiliation, after slowly bleeding out and getting weaker and weaker, after agonizing asphyxiation, Jesus allowed himself to die. 

And that looked like the opposite of deliverance. Especially when we recall Psalms 37  “…he delivers them from the wicked and saves them…” 

Jesus couldn’t have victory over death until he’d experienced it.  

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:21-24

Death wasn’t the end for Jesus, and it’s not the end for us.  

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Luke 24:1-7

That pretty much says it all, right?  

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31

So when the time has come to suffer again, and I’m feeling weary from the pain, I will look to the cross of Christ and find my strength.  I will remember the suffering that leads to victory, and my joy will be as Christ’s.  Death isn’t the end.  

john-1511

Mabel

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:24-25

My dog died yesterday.  At my request, she was given a fatal dose of medicine that stopped her heart. I held her close to me as she took her last breaths, whispering “good girl” into her ear with all the courage I could muster, and gently knuckled the side of her face the way she always loved me to do. 

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:27-28

I had dominion over my dog, Mabel, for most of her life.  She lived to be 17. I wasn’t expecting to adopt a dog the day I adopted Mabel.  I’d had an argument with my husband and I went to the human society to love on some dogs to make myself feel better.  While all the other dogs barked at me, Mabel stood in her kennel quiet, dejected, resigned to her fate.  

I asked if I could take her outside for a little walk.  It seemed like a kind gesture since all of the smaller dogs were confined to tiny kennels.  She loved it. She trotted alongside me, sniffing the wind, wagging her tail, and then sniffing some more.

When I brought her back to the building, the volunteer told me she was due to be “put down” the next day, and I heard myself say promptly, “I’ll take her.” 

Regular people didn’t have cell phones back then, which means I didn’t have a cell phone.  And so I adopted a dog without talking to my husband, without considering the consequences, without thinking about anything but saving that dog’s life.  

That was my contribution to God’s gift of dominion over the animals.  Her life was in my hands and I made the decision to let her live.

My husband never said a word.

19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed[f] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
Genesis 2:19

I named her Mabel.  And for the fifteen years that we were together, she devoted her life to me: to my protection, my comfort, my friendship, my life.  I saved her life and she would never stop thanking me for it.

Yesterday I ended her life.  

Jesus, thank you for Mabel.  Thank you for the years of loyal friendship and companionship.  Thank you for letting me steward that wonderful life. I am and will be forever grateful for the time we had together.  Thank you, God. Thank you for Mabel.  

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Sound asleep by my side.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

13 For You formed my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Marvelous are Your works,
and I know this very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was woven together
in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all my days were written in Your book
and ordained for me
before one of them came to be.
Psalms 139:13-16

I think sometimes I look at myself, remembering the verses above, and marvel at what God did fifty years ago when He knit me together in my mother’s womb, and then forget to recognize that God isn’t finished with me yet.  The God of all creation made me. He designed every part of me and wrote out my days in advance.  

He has a perfect plan for me, even knowing that I would be torn from that path a million times by a world ruled by sin and death.  He accounted for every fall and scrape, every mishap, every rebellion. He accounted for it all. And He has a plan for it!

I’ve lost my way a million times.  The ordained path of my destiny has been obstructed by my ego, my selfish desires, the cruel actions of others, or other circumstances outside of my control.  The list could go on forever. Some of it was my fault. Some of it wasn’t. All of it took me off of God’s perfect path for me.  But none of it robbed me of God’s perfect plan to handle every free will challenge I faced.

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:19-24

Because of God’s great love and mercy, I have been continually led back to the path of God’s ordaining for my life. I’ve stumbled around in the dark like a drunk woman: unsteady, uneasy, and uncertain, and His perfect plans have remained in effect. His perfect plan brings me back into the light of His path.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
    for his name’s sake.
Psalms 23:1-3

Life is one trial after another.  It’s pain and sorrow, joy and laughter.  It’s accidents and mistakes amidst victories and honor.  It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s one day at a time, one moment at a time, learning and learning and occasionally maybe teaching a thing or two.  It’s gaining confidence and losing it again. 

God knew that’s how it would be for us, once we stopped trusting Him way back in the Garden.  And even still He loved us, and He had a plan for us, a plan to give us the power to choose to make our way back to Him.  We were never going to find Him on our own. Not once the world had us. But God had a plan for that. He had a plan for me.  His name is Jesus.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16-17

So, while I’m walking through this world I’m in.  While I’m falling down and crying my eyes out, or singing His praises at the top of my lungs, He is with me.  He’s leading and guiding and teaching. Each adversity is a chance to trust Him more. Each trial is a lesson in humility, endurance, and strength.

There’s a great song from the 70’s that goes like this:

“The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” 

And I like to think that song is about Jesus and us. Jesus looks and sees our burdens and he says to the world, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (sister).”

I will let Him carry me.  And I will work hard to obey His voice, and follow the path He has ordained for me.  As I go I will be transformed. I will learn to hear Him and discern His path for me.  I will present each and every moment of my whole being to Him as an act of worship and be transformed.

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] 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. [d]
Romans 12:1-2

Song lyrcs from He Aint Heavy, He’s my Brother by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott 1969

 

Are You a Child of Promise?

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
Genesis 17:1-4

Have you ever thought of yourself as part of a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham?  Not a topic of conversation at the water cooler lately? Maybe it should be. If you have faith in Jesus Christ as your Salvation, you are the living fulfillment of God’s promise.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9

It can get pretty easy sometimes to build a case for or against yourself to God.  You put more money in the offering plate or you don’t; you remember to pray for a missionary or you scroll through social media; you share the Gospel with your neighbor, or you close the garage door as fast you can.  You either begin to pat yourself on the back or condemn yourself to Hell.  Like God is going to judge your eternity based on those things.

That was the problem people were having back when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians.  They were getting caught up in circumcision (among other things) because God had commanded circumcision of Abraham and his offspring as part of His promise.  

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:9-11

Abraham made an agreement with God and it had been followed faithfully by the children of Abraham.  They set themselves apart through this physical act. And so the law began, and man began to learn the heart of God for humanity.

But the act of circumcision was not God’s promise.  The act of Salvation through God was God’s promise.  All humanity had to do was trust God with that promise.  It was Abraham’s faith that God called righteousness.  His faith.  Not his actions. Though his actions were an outward sign of his faith.  But if he had relied on his own actions, he would never have had any faith, and never been counted as righteous by God.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Galatians 3:10-11

The only physical act that could count to us as righteousness was something only God could fulfill: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus’s perfect act of obedience was faithful to the Law and fulfilled the Law. In this act He offered all of humanity full reconciliation with God through faith and the “circumcision of the heart” that comes from that faith.

12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[e] through faith.

Galatians 3:12-14

Christ did what we could not.  Christ gave what we could not earn.  Only faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham gives us the eternal life and inheritance that we long for and were promised.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Galatians 3:19-22

The law was a type of placeholder for Jesus. The law came to give us a way to show obedience to God through faith in what God had given.  But the law couldn’t give life. It could only give death (through disobedience).  

Faith in Christ, however, brings life.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:23-29

There you go.  If you have faith in Christ as your Savior, you are a living, breathing, heart-circumcised, testimony of God’s faithfulness to His promise. You are a child of promise.

 

Just Show Up

I can really get frustrated when God doesn’t tell me His plan.  Doesn’t He understand that I need to know? I’ve got things to do, people to see!  How am I supposed to do that effectively if I don’t know the details of His plan?

God has a chuckle every time I talk to him like that.

The sad thing is, I know full well I don’t need to know every detail of His plans for me.  I just don’t. How would I ever learn to trust Him if I always knew what was going to happen?  But I’m ornery. I’m stubborn. I wanna know, dangit!

God is so gentle, though, isn’t He?  He’s patient and kind. He knows how much I love Him and how much I struggle with trusting Him.  So He shows me love instead of wrath.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

When I was in the hospital, God did something that I can’t stop thinking about.  (To be honest, He did a lot of things I can’t stop thinking about!) He showed up, faithful and true, while I was sedated and saying all kinds of weird stuff.  

I wasn’t really there in my mind.  I was intubated, sedated, in terrible pain, and I definitely didn’t know the plan.  But God did. And He showed up. 

Over and over again, people have been telling me how the Glory of the Lord was there with me in the ICU.  It overwhelmed people with love and peace and light.  

I didn’t need to know all the details.  I still don’t know them all. I will likely never know.  Propofol and Fentanyl did a great job in handling my pain (apparently) and giving me solid amnesia for two weeks.  Like John Snow, I knew nothing.

And God showed up. 

That was all I had to do, too.  I showed up. I showed up in delirious pain, full of drugs to keep me “comfortable”, and I demanded nothing.  I was just there.  

God is so good.  All we have to do is show up.  Really. We don’t need to know anything else.  I’m learning this slowly. But God is patient with me.  I will forever worship Him for His love is enduring and patient and kind.  

 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8-9

Stiff necked as we are, God shows up.  Why should we try do anything more?

 

Modern Miracles: Controversy Alert!

I spent a good portion of my adult life in churches that believed that miracles were something that only happened during “Biblical Times”.  The idea that the giftings of the Spirit of God were only true in a long time ago when the Church really needed it to advance the Gospel. (This view is called cessationism if you were wondering.)

Never having learned anything else, I accepted this as fact even though it twitched in the back of my head as not feeling right.  Now, I’m not trying to start a debate with anyone, and I’m not trying to say that millions of people with this point of view are wrong. I’m just saying it didn’t sit right with me.

As I grew in my relationship with Jesus, and grew in my love and reading of the Bible, I began to experience things in my life that could only be described as miracles.  And I didn’t know how to partner these experiences with the teachings I heard from the pulpit.

I watched my devout Muslim husband come to Christ.

I experienced physical, instantaneous healings.

I knew things about people that I couldn’t possibly have known and was somehow able to speak to them in that knowledge and offer supernatural encouragement and wisdom.  

I began to hear God speaking to me in my “heart”.  I heard scripture that I didn’t know but googled to discover was in the Bible.

I got comfort when I should have felt nothing but pain.

I felt freedom when horrible things in life had enslaved me.

I could go on and on and on about this stuff.  And the older I get, and the more I “grow” in my love affair with Jesus, the more experiential and miraculous my encounters with the Living God become.  It has become undebatable to me. I know what I know. It’s my testimony.

God has empowered us, gifted us, to do miracles.  Ya, that’s what I said. And He did it for His Glory and for His bride and for His Honor.  In other words, He did it for us and for Him.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

Do you hear that?  Those are miracles.  Miracles that glorify a Good God, a Worthy God, a Loving God.  Miracles we might miss if we are too busy questioning the validity of such things.

Lord, teach us to see the miraculous.  Teach us to see Your Power. Teach us to be Your Bride and Your Sons, with full inheritance to what You offer us.  Teach us to listen better to You and test everything against Your Word and Your Spirit. Lord teach us to think and listen and learn through Your Spirit, so that we can be more conscious of the miracles you want to perform through us and for us.  Amen.