Christianity 201

May 4, 2020

The Book of Job and Worship Song Theology

If today is controversial to some of you, remember this is Christianity 201, not 101, and look at it on that basis.

Earlier today I was preparing a response to a friend concerning the Matt Redman song, “Blessed be the Name” which contains the line, “You give and take away.”

In checking what others have written on this, I came across the blog of former pastor Dr. Paul Ellis who lives in his native Australia currently, and has also resided in Asia and California. His site is called Escape to Reality (or E2R.) There were a number of more recent articles, but on discovering that we’ve only covered this once here (rather superficially in 2011) I decided to share with you the piece which got my attention earlier this morning.

As always, send some traffic to our contributors by clicking on the header which follows.

Does God Give and Take Away?

The entire Bible is good for you, but you won’t get much out of it unless you know Jesus Christ. To understand the written word, you need to know the Living Word. Try to read the Bible without an appreciation of Jesus – who he is and what he has done – you may end up taking someone else’s medicine. Some verses will appear to contradict others and you will get confused.

In the first part of this study on God’s gifts, we looked at a sincere lady in the Bible who mistakenly believed that God gives us bad gifts like death and poverty. Today I want to look at a man who had a different problem. He believed that God gives us good gifts only to take them away again. You can probably guess that I’m talking about Job. Job had this one really bad week when his livestock were stolen, his servants were slain, and his kids were killed when a house fell on them. For some reason, Job thought God was behind his loss for he said:

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

If there was ever a scripture that has led to some screwy notions about God’s character, it’s this one. Anyone who has suffered loss has probably heard this verse. It’s quoted at funerals. We sing songs about it. For some strange reason people seem to find comfort in believing that God is responsible for their loss.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love Job’s attitude. He’s saying that whatever happens in life, he’s going to praise the name of the Lord. But Job said some dumb things about God. Later on Job would come to regret his choice of words. “I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3).

The question stands: Does God give and take away?

Any picture we have of God needs to be informed by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). To get a good understanding of God’s character, we need to look to Jesus, not Job. Can you imagine Jesus stealing or killing? Of course not. So how is it that some people think that God was responsible for Job’s loss?

“But Paul, it’s in the Bible, it’s right there in black and white.” Let me put it to you like this. If you want the very best insight into God’s character, are you better off looking at:

(a)    Jesus, who said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or
(b)    Job, who had only heard of God but did not actually know him  (see Job 42:5)?

Jesus is the better choice! Jesus came to reveal God the Great Giver. Have you been given something good? Then see God as your source:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (Jas 1:17)

Who’s robbing you?

But what if you have suffered loss, like Job? He lost his health, his wealth, and his family. The temptation may be to blame God for your loss, as if God had a change of heart. But God is not fickle. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is an extraordinary giver who never takes back his gifts.

God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never canceled, never rescinded. (Romans 11:29, MSG)

So if God is doing the giving, who is doing the taking? Again, Jesus provides the answer:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

We ought not to be confused about these two different roles. One is a giver, the other is a taker. If you have been given something good, give thanks to God. But if you’ve been robbed, don’t blame God. He’s not behind your loss. And Satan is not his sheepdog.

Humans are spectacularly slow learners. From the beginning of human history the devil has been trying to steal or ruin everything God gave us and yet there are still some who think that God is the thief. God gave us authority over a planet and the devil took it. God gave us freedom and the devil somehow got us to choose the way of slavery. God gave us eternal life, health and glory, and we lost it all. But thank God for Jesus who took back what the devil stole.

Karma versus grace

If you think that God gives and takes away, you’ve missed the point of Jesus. Jesus came to reveal a generous Father and to destroy the work of the thief (1 John 3:8). Jesus came that we might have life to the full, not to the half.

If you think God gives and takes away, you have more faith in karma than grace. Karma says what goes around comes around. If you’re healthy now, you’ll be sick tomorrow. If you’re prospering now, poverty’s waiting around the next corner. When disappointments and hardships come, you won’t be surprised. You’ll just throw in the towel and say, “I knew it was too good to last.”

The world works according to the principle of give and take, but God just gives. The only thing he’ll take off you – if you let him – is your sin, your shame, your sickness, your worries, and your fears. He takes away those things that harm us and gives us good things that bless us.

Are you Job or David?

Both Job and David were robbed. Both were greatly distressed and surrounded by foolish men who gave bad advice. But unlike Job, David did a Jesusy-thing and took back what was stolen. Why did David fight back when Job quit? Because David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam 30:6). In his pain David considered God’s goodness and realized that God was not behind his loss. He understood that it was not God’s will for him to suffer and, so strengthened, he fought back and prevailed.

I wish I could go back in time and get to Job before his friends did. I would say, “God didn’t kill your kids! He didn’t steal your livestock and make you sick. You’ve been robbed! The devil is having a go at you. Don’t sit there in the ashes and cry about it, get up and fight! Are you a victor or a victim?”

The church will never see victory if we think God is behind our suffering. If we think God is robbing us we won’t even resist. We’ll let the devil waltz in and plunder our families all the while singing “He gives and takes away.”

Funny, but I can’t imagine Jesus or David doing that.

 

April 22, 2020

The Forgiveness/Bitterness Dichotomy

Simon the Pharisee throws a party: The painting, Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens, c. 1618. (via Wikipedia) Notice the woman at Jesus’ feet. See scripture below.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (in the Sermon on the Mount)

“Detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.” – Lord’s Prayer as translated from Aramaic (full text in C201 1.27.19)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Also Sermon on the Mount

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians (4:32, NIV)

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. – Dialog found in Matthew’s Gospel (18:21-22, The Message)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Jesus teaching, as recorded by Mark (11:25)

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke’s account of Jesus responding to Simon’s objections to Jesus reaching out to a disreputable woman at a party Simon was hosting. (Full account in 7:36-50)

So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him...
When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
– Paul, in a second letter to the Corinthians on reshaping their approach toward a man in the church who was the object of church discipline. (2: 8,10,11 NLT)


Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul. The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory. – Russell Young (C201 9.5.17)

Maybe we’re afraid that by demonstrating grace and mercy we will seem weak on sin. Need that be so? Jesus spoke to the heart, not to the behavior. As demonstrated in the John 8 story, He told [the woman caught in adultery] to sin no more, but by His act of mercy, He also demonstrated love! – Rick Apperson (C201 1.18.15)

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship… – Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Matt Tullos and today we’re back at his site again.

Forgiveness is More about You Than Them

All was well in the Amish community in Lancaster Pennsylvania until a deranged man mercilessly shot 10 Amish girls and then turned the gun on himself in 2006. How did they respond to this shocking loss? Amazingly, the Amish community didn’t blame. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. They understood the importance of forgiveness, not for the killer’s sake. He was dead. But for themselves. Why? Because living in unforgiveness is debilitating.

Most of us will not have to endure that depth of offense. Most bitter people didn’t become a bitter person through the act of a single dagger. Most bitter people are dying from a thousand paper-cuts. The girl that rejected him… The backroom deal in the company that cost him a promotion… The humiliation experienced years ago from a father’s rage… Whether we can reconcile the relationship or not, we must forgive.

We get stuck. We fantasize about vindication. We look at relationships surrounding the offense with malice. We cling to bitterness as our beverage of choice. We talk about it to people who have no business hearing of it. We dream about going back, doing things differently, saying something more damaging, or avoiding the offense. For many, this becomes a lifestyle that poisons every relationship they enter. It’s insidious.

Jesus is clear on this. In order to be forgiven, you must forgive. That’s easy to say but hard to do. And yet this is a primary hallmark of Christian manhood. It’s a heart issue. Who knows? Forgiveness might just save your life.

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” – George Herbert


 

February 9, 2020

Keeping Moral Purity

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The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
 – Jeremiah 17:9

For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.
– Mark 7:22-23

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.
 – Romans 1:21

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

Moral Purity

The news and the courts seem crowded with disturbing cases of sexual impropriety involving people of all social levels of wealth, fame, power and commonality. The number of women who have been violated is staggering. One wonders how so many have been so vulnerable, and where their parents, siblings, friends and associates were while all this was happening? It is not a happy commentary on family and social responsibility. After all, we really are our brothers’ (sisters’) keeper!

One thing is very clear: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Jesus spelled it out bluntly, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man (or woman), for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile . . .

Painful is the number of clergy and those of Christian profession who are found among the reprobates. Nothing reveals the depths of human depravity more than a person who proclaims the Word of God with its clear commands, calls for obedience to its truths, and warns of the consequences of disobedience, while living in moral hypocrisy. Great harm has been done to the cause of Christ because of it. No place on earth should be safer to be, nor persons safer to be with, than the church and its leaders. Thankfully, for the most part that remains true; but that is little comfort to the abused.

…I wish to underline some Scriptural/spiritual principles that bless and protect one’s moral purity. In a world that is increasingly becoming a cesspool of moral failure, misinformation, indecent dress and selfish unrestraint, we need biblical disciplines with boundaries strong and true. So . . .

1. KEEP YOUR HEART – with all diligence for out of it come the issues of life. Our Creator has set the standards and fixed the values governing sexual behaviour. Moral purity is suppose to be the norm. To aid and abet that, marriage is a sacred and exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. Sexual acts outside that bond are wrong. It is critical that we fill and guard our mind with truth. Learn the biblical principles and illustrations that teach and enable purity, loyalty and faithfulness. Meditate on them day and night. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obey Him, while making no provision for the flesh. The Word of God, the work of Christ and the voice of the Holy Spirit are sufficient protection and guidance for every temptation we face.

2. KEEP YOUR EYES – Our eyes feed the thoughts which motivate our body. What and who we allow our eyes to look at indiscriminately will make a huge difference in how we think and what we do. A life informed by Scripture and yielded to the Spirit bears the fruit that starts with genuine love and ends with the strong disciplines of self-control. God wants us to see others as those He values and loves. No one is a commodity.

3. KEEP YOUR SPOUSE – Next to God, Himself, our relationship with our spouse is critical to all we are. There is a reason why God has instructed us to leave father and mother and to cling to our wife/husband in order to become one flesh. That takes time, love, togetherness, forgiveness, communication, trust, commitment, wisdom and understanding – a lot more, but nothing less! No one else is half as valuable to our well-being, and certainly not to the maintenance of moral purity. Nurture, build, protect, value and reward the spousal relationship.

To a large degree we are living with the consequences of a society that places little value on purity. Our laws, educational systems and social values have increasingly looked the other way as immorality infiltrates behaviour, especially among vulnerable youth. It is taken for granted in sex education that immorality will occur, to the point of aiding it in the hopes of limiting pregnancies or STDs. Little emphasis or consideration is given to the serious physical, psychological and social consequences of unleashed sexuality. The acceptance of homosexuality as normal behaviour has hugely complicated the issue. Its influence and demands are spreading at an alarming rate

Only a profound revival of biblical influence into our culture will save us from the devastating consequences of rampant, moral impurity. Critical to that will be strong, godly marriages and faithful churches committed to teaching and living the whole counsel of God. We desperately need to put on the whole armour of God, holding firmly the shield of faith to protect us from every flaming missile hurled at us. Sorely needed are prophetic voices warning of the consequences of moral impurity, and a multitude of saints demonstrating what it looks like.

January 20, 2020

Devotions: Breaking Out Into Song(s)

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This is an archived article which appeared on the writer’s blog in 2016. Julie Meyer is the author of Singing the Scriptures (Chosen Books, 2018) and we were referred to her blog, Into the River.

Spontaneous Worship

For years, part of my personal devotions have been to simply open the Bible and sing the Word. I have found that it is possible to be in the most depressed state of mind – where hope is far away and frustration is knocking at the door of your heart —then I begin to sing the Word – suddenly that song – those words of life actually get inside of me and literally  begin to stir up my heart, mind and spirit to take hope in God. Spontaneous worship and singing the Word of God are powerful tools we all need in our tool belt.

David says it over and over in the Psalms. He writes with complete honesty regarding his feelings, his hopelessness, his discouragement, his despair. Then David begins to sing beyond his feelings. It’s as if this spontaneous song, this prayer that David in complete honesty is writing and singing before God – he begins to stir his heart, his emotions, his mind to remember God. He begins to sing out and write down the questions that he is feeling. He writes down & sings out the answer to the questions. Remember to hope in God. Don’t forget God!

In Psalm 42, David bring us into the whole journey. As I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 42, he writes the titles do not tell us who the penman of this psalm is, but most probably it was David. And then David presented it to the ‘Sons of Korah’ to sing this song to the congregation.

David writes,

‘My heart is breaking’. He goes on to write, ‘I am deeply discouraged, yet I remember you God.‘

In this Psalm, we go on a journey with David in his spontaneous prophetic worship where he writes down every emotion and sings our every discouragement, but he does not stop in his downcast state. He also gives the answer to his discouragement.

He is writing down quite possibly what his eyes are beholding, a storm over the seas;  he sees the raging seas and the storm.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Possibly his emotions identified with that storm and he began to sing of the storm within his soul, his heart and his emotions. But he doesn’t just write the negative – he also – because of the spontaneous worship that he lived a life of – he began to sing the answer.

Then suddenly the Psalm begins to turn and he begins to sing the answer, bringing great hope to His soul, heart, mind and emotions.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I so sad?
I will put my hope in God;
I will praise Him again!

David was possibly encouraging his own heart from the Torah. The Word of God that He had in his days. We have David’s songs, prayers, and cries today so we can sing the same words. They do the very same thing to our own heart, emotions, mind, and soul.

This is the powerful effect of prophetic spontaneous worship. We can simply open the Living Word of God, sing these same words, and have an encounter with Hope that will bring anyone out of the deepest despair. This is the power of singing the Word; the wonderful simplicity of just opening the Bible and beginning to sing Words that are already written down.

This Spontaneous Prophetic Worship is for everyone.

Oh Lord, make us like David!

September 9, 2018

Psalm 23 Readings

by Ruth Wilkinson

“An hour is coming, and is already here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and Truth.
The Father wants such worshipers.”
~ Jesus

 

To worship “in truth”, we must know who it is we worship.

So who is he?

He is our Sustainer.
The one who provides what we need, who carries us when we’re weak, who comforts us in our dark times.
Who helps us to understand our past, to live well our present and to have faith for our future.


The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes green pastures,
He makes me lie down in them.

He calms and quiets the waters,
He leads me beside them.

He carves out the right paths
and guides me along them for his name’s sake.

Even when the path goes through the darkest place,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

For ever.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you come alongside us, bringing your comfort for our past, your peace in our present, and not only that – but your hope that we will live this life to the full, and come out the other side alive.

Thank you that you, when the dark road is the right road, you never leave us alone, give us strength to keep on going and not only that – but to stand, to walk, to run toward the gates of hell and, no matter what defenses they throw up against us, no matter what attacks – not only to survive, but to overcome.

Thank you that you battle in this world against sin, hunger, fear, enslavement, loneliness, revenge and not only that – but you choose us to do battle in your name.

To walk in your footsteps, to follow your voice and to be your hands and feet, to be bold, be strong, be courageous and to be yours because as long as we are with you, you are with us.

Thank you.


We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:



For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.

July 19, 2015

It’s Not a Vacation if You Take Everything with You

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Maybe it’s the pace of life increasing generally, but more and more devotional writers are turning to the theme of rest. Today’s thoughts are from the blog Inspire a Fire, appearing here for the first time. The author of this post is freelance writer Cathy Baker. Click the link below to read at source.

Why Soul Rest Begins With Leaving Our Laptops At Home

 “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

What marks the beginning of your vacation? Is it the moment you fill your gas tank and begin merging with fellow vacationers onto the highway? Or maybe the sound of satisfaction that comes as you slam your car trunk for one last time before heading out?

For me, vacation actually begins a week prior to the filled tank and loaded trunk. If you’re a list-lover you know the release that’s felt while listing out all the needs for the trip, followed by the sense of accomplishment as each one is checked off before packing it away. Books, magazines, laptop and reading glasses always top off my list. Last year, however, I felt the tinge of a holy adjustment coming my way every time I glanced at the word laptop.

Granted, with three grandchildren in tow there wouldn’t be a desire nor the time to peruse the internet, check and respond to email, or write blog posts during the day hours. I do, however, admit that skimming the internet before bedtime is one way I relax so taking the laptop has always been a no-brainer.

Then I came across Emily Freeman’s post Why Rest Takes Courage. Her final paragraph clung to my soul like a child refusing to leave her mother:

The details of soul rest may look different for each of us, but probably includes some combination of silence, solitude, nature, your people, and the willingness to come into the presence of Christ and simply be ourselves.

The Holy Spirit spoke tenderly and clearly—I was to leave the laptop at home. And I did, which resulted in a few unexpected discoveries along the way:

  • I felt ambushed by the uneasiness that crept up on my holy adjustment as our departure day drew near. What did I think I’d really miss in 7 days?
  • A new-found freedom emerged as I carried out my beach days with little to no thought of the laptop. I felt no obligation to check Facebook or email. I tried to rest in the fact that if someone didn’t receive an immediate response from me, all would still be well in the end.
  • I lost nothing by leaving my lap top behind but I did gain a type of rest that was both soothing and energizing, leaving me with a renewed appreciation for God’s promptings as well as His people.

I’m not suggesting everyone should leave their laptop behind, but I don’t see it reappearing on my family beach trip list again. Ever. The soul rest Emily eluded to in the above quote was mine for the taking in the combination of silence, solitude, nature, my peeps, and most of all, in trusting that the presence of Christ was enough. More than enough.

So, how about you? Have you left your laptop or other device behind while on vacation, and if so, what’s one thing you learned as a result?

 

Taking time off is not a punishment or a dare or a rule. It is a gift.

– Emily P. Freeman

It’s taking a day to open your hands toward heaven and acknowledging that you don’t make the world go around.

-Emily P. Freeman

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

September 17, 2012

Working Out Your Salvation With Fear and Trembling

Two days ago we looked at the operation of grace, so this may seem a little bit of a contradiction but we are now looking at our response to God in light of the grace we have received.  This is also from the book 101 Most Puzzling Bible Verses (Harvest House)

Keep on Keeping On

NIV Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

When Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation, he did not mean they were to work for it or acquire it through their own efforts. In fact, they were already secure in their belief and salvation. (Phil 1:1) No one, ourselves included, can work for salvation because it is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation involves deliverance from the penalty and eternal consequences of sin, but every Christian is responsible for his or her own spiritual development and struggles with the daily consequences of the sin nature. While the Holy Spirit actively works in our lives, success or failure is up to us (Rom. 8:9,14,16).

Paul command the Philippians to put into practice through the aid of the Holy Spirit the results of the salvation they received from God. God would enable them to do it, (Phil 2:13) but they needed to actively pursue the ramifications of having eternal life and the benefits of living Godly lives. Spiritual progress is a cooperative effort between the Christian and the Holy Spirit. It is an outworking of a person’s rebirth as a Christian.

Paul was certain that just as God worked in his life and through him, so too would God work in the Philippians’ lives (Phil 1:6; 4:9). Because of this they were to be joyful in daily life (as should be all Christians), but they were also to understand the enormous responsibility and obligation of serving Jesus Christ. They were (and we are) to serve with “fear and trembling.” Being joyful and being fearful might seem to be contradictions, but they are not.

Paul uses the phrase “fear and trembling” several times to indicate a positive emotional response to understanding God’s desires for those He loves (I Cor 2:3; II Cor 7:15; Eph. 6:5). It is an attitude of obedience and awe rather than freight. To experience God’s best in our lives, we must have complete trust in Him and in the unique plan he has for each of us. As we journey with God, we work out our salvation, fully realizing the magnitude of the gift He has given us. In much the same way that the gift of luxury automobile is fully understood  and appreciated only as the new owner drives it, so too is salvation more fully comprehended as a person daily lives according to God’s plan and God’s word. Fine automobiles are not meant to stay in the garage, and salvation is not meant to be dormant or static.

~ Tim Demy in 101 Most Puzzling Bible Verses, chapter 77

emphasis added

May 5, 2012

Spreading Your Abundance

Before you begin reading: What do you think the disciples did with the “12 baskets left over” when Jesus fed the 5,000? …

…Pentecostal monk (!) Jim Thomber’s blog is called Thinking Out Loud, which I think is rather great name for a blog!  This appeared a few weeks ago under the title, Nothing Is Wasted.

“After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.’ So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people” – John 6:13 (NLT)

In this very familiar passage – the only miracle that is mentioned in all four Gospels – Jesus fed 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five small, flat cakes of barley (the cheapest of grains) and two small fish (probably pickled fish served as hors d’oeuvres). After everyone had enough to eat, Jesus instructed the disciples to gather the leftovers, filling twelve large baskets, “so that nothing is wasted.”

This story is a great picture of our God who not only provides but also over-provides, and by doing so teaches us not to waste the over-the-top supply. This passage challenges me to ask, “What am I doing with my extras?” Specifically, what am I doing with my extra time, treasure and touch? And every person I know has extras in at least one of the areas, if not all.

Time – What do I do with my extra hours? Do I spend it working more so I can earn more? Do I use my extra time to watch more television? After the people ate and were satisfied, Jesus likely distributed the extra for the blessing of many. On the other hand, I like to picture twelve grown men marching behind a young boy and delivering the baskets to his family in Capernaum. Jesus produced the over-abundance but He shared the results. Am I using the blessing of my extra time to be a blessing to others, or am I finding extraordinary ways to waste it on myself?

Treasure – What am I doing with my extra money? After I’ve tithed, paid my bills and put a little away in savings, what am I doing with the rest? Am I spending it on what is not bread and laboring for stuff that does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2)? Do I have to have that latest iPhone? Does it satisfy? Is the newest Wii game something my soul will delight in? Is it the richest of fare? Where my treasure is, there is my heart, also (Matthew 6:21). Do I pay more attention the bells and whistles of my latest gadget than I do to maintaining my relationship with my family? Do I know where the games apps is on my phone but don’t know where my child spent the night? If I’m quicker to get angry at someone who has scratched my car than someone who uses a racial slur, I’ve just shown my heart is with my stuff, even though God’s heart is with His people.

Touch – Am I stingy with my personal self? Do I have a limited amount of hugs and affection I can share with people? Do I seek out the people I want to be associated with and withdraw from the unlovely or unpopular? Am I cold with someone who has recently criticized me and overly enthusiastic towards someone who likes me? Do I coddle up to the rich man in church and compliment him on his new Mercedes Benz while giving monosyllabic answers to the poor man who smells of stale cigarettes?

When I look at my life, I can see waste in every area I’ve mentioned. But as I think about the twelve baskets of leftovers and how Jesus made sure they were picked up, I’m starting to have trouble with waste. I want God to show me creative ways of using my time, treasure and touch, and maybe some day He’ll choose me to bring a basket full of abundance to a family that needs it most.

~Jim Thomber


Here’s an unrelated bonus item for today, a classic contemporary Christian song, I Wish You Jesus by Scott Wesley Brown. This is from a rather obscure album, Songs and Stories, and is the concluding song Scott gives his audience. You can do no better than to wish someone Jesus. If you can’t see it here click this link.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere.  An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives.  The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green because the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 1, 2012

Basilea Schlink Quotations

Okay, for this one, I know the first question some of you are asking is, “Who?”

Mother Basilea, born Klara Schlink (October 21, 1904, in Darmstadt, Germany – March 21, 2001, in Darmstadt) was a German religious leader and writer. She was leader of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, which she cofounded, from 1947 to 2001.

Basilea Schlink was a sister of Edmund Schlink, a professor in theology. Her father Wilhelm Schlink was a professor of mechanics. After finishing high school in Braunschweig and Darmstadt, she was educated (from 1923) at the Fröbelseminar in Kassel, from 1924 at the Inner missions girls’ school in Berlin. In 1929 she became a teacher at the Mission House Malche in Bad Freienwalde (Oder) in German, psychology and church history. After matriculation in 1930 she studied psychology, art history and philosophy in Berlin and Hamburg. This study was completed by a religious-psychologic thesis about “Consciousness of Sin in adolescent girls and its significance for their battle of faith.”

Some years later Schlink was living in a badly bombed Germany with few resources, but it was important for her to repent for Germany’s cruel treatment of other nations during the war, especially the Jews. She felt the temptation to marry like other young women did. Instead she gave her mission the first priority, and so she became a Sister of Mary.

On March 30, 1947, she and Erika Madauss founded The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt. In 1948 both the founders and the first seven sisters became nuns. From then on, Dr. Klara Schlink called herself Mutter Basilea and Erika Madaus called herself Mutter Martyria. Today, The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary has 11 subdivisons all over the world, with in total 209 sisters, and about 130 of these are situated in Darmstadt.

~Wikipedia

Basilea wrote at least six books (that we have in English) Bride of Jesus Christ, My All for Him,  Fragrance of a Life for God,  Father of Comfort, Israel – My Chosen People and Repentance – The Joy-Filled Life


Do not lose yourself in your everyday work and activities. Rather, lose yourself in God. When you are doing work, let your innermost heart be centered on Him. Live in His presence and abide in Him. Then your work will follow you into eternity, and you will reap a rich harvest.


Many people have a personal faith in Jesus Christ and call God their Father. Yet they are unfamiliar with childlike prayer, which God promises to answer. They fail to turn daily from their pride and self-sufficiency, their rebellion against chastening, and their desire for power or prestige. With such an attitude how can they pray in a childlike way and receive God’s gifts as true children of His? God gives grace only to the humble. The prayers of the humble and lowly pierce the clouds. Be willing to bear humbling experiences, so that you become a true child. Then your prayers will have power.


When human reason has exhausted every possibility, the children can go to their Father and receive all they need. … For only when you have become utterly dependent upon prayer and faith, only when all human possibilities have been exhausted, can you begin to reckon that God will intervene and work His miracles.


How different the world would look, how different the state of our nation would be, if there were more sanctified priestly souls! These are souls who have the power to bless, for they intercede with sanctified hearts. They never begin their daily time of intercessory prayer without having first brought to the cross all that is unholy in their lives, so that their old self can be crucified there with Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb.


The heart of the Father is the source of all love. If a person refuses our plea for help, we appeal to his heart, to his sympathy, to his compassion. Who can express what God the Father’s heart is like! Before His love all human love pales. No one calls upon the divine heart of the Father in vain. It overflows with compassion and mercy. Those who appeal to the heart of God in the assurance of His love have never been disappointed.


You are troubled and anxious. Yet you cannot solve your problems and difficulties by yourself. Your own restless thoughts and aspirations are making you weak and incompetent. They clog the channel of your heart through which God wants His help to flow. Leave everything to God. Let all your restless thoughts, worrying and frenetic planning come to rest. Rest in God and in His sovereign rule in the knowledge that He will act. Then you will discover that ‘in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’. So choose this course and you will experience help.  Isaiah 30:15 RSV


God wants His wonder-working power and glory to be revealed before all the world. This happens through people who have faith in Him. He is waiting for this to happen through you too. There is a risk-taking element about faith. Dare to put your confidence in Him in a hopeless situation. Then you will be honouring God, bringing joy to His heart and magnifying His name in the sight of others. This in turn will enrich your life and make you happy, and the miracles you experience will strengthen your faith.


Sources: Christian.com, Today’s WritingRefined in the Fire, Kanaan.org*

*official website of The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary with 365 quotations as daily readings

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

November 2, 2010

How We Approach Worship

Joshua Harris has noticed a disturbing trend in his church with people arriving later and later, even for the “late” 11:30 AM service.   “I’d rather have you guys looking bedraggled on time than looking beautiful late.”   He also introduces a pre-service prayer time.

His three points are:

1. Come Eager to sing to him, fellowship with other Christians, hear his word.
2. Come Expectant that he will speak, change us and refresh us.
3. Come Early —not walking in late, but in our seats and ready to go [when the service starts].

Is this message applicable to the place where you worship?   Do we need reminders like this to avoid the risk of complacency?

October 30, 2010

We’ll Get Mikey To Try It, He Hates Everything

If the title of this post means anything to you, then it means that you remember a certain Life cereal commercial.   Besides, I didn’t think people would get my first choice:

We’ll Get Micaiah to Prophesy, He Hates Everything

King Ahab was convinced that Micaiah was a bad news prophet who never had anything good to say.  I was just listening to a sermon which referenced him when today, I discovered that Stephen & Brooksyne Weber devoted TWO devotional posts to him this week.

I decided to combine them as one long one here because this is all worth reading:


Only What God Says

But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13).

“What’s popular is not always right and what’s right is not always popular.”  This is a quote that hung on a banner in the youth room of our church in New England for many years.  More to the point, “What’s popular in the world is usually not right for those seeking to please God and what’s right for those who seek to please God is usually not popular in the world.”

This is an issue that others have faced in previous generations. In fact many of the Biblical giants were not popular in their time.

When we think of prophets in the Bible we likely first consider those who have books named after them. But there were other great prophets such as Elijah, Elisha and Nathan.

One of the lesser known is a prophet by the name of Micaiah (we pronounce his name like Isaiah since its spelling is very similar). His story is told in parallel accounts in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. He was a prophet to the apostate Northern Kingdom and was known for telling it like it is. People like that may not be popular in their time but their boldness is sorely needed for their generation!  Their words and actions may not just be for their time but may affect many other generations as well.

Jehoshaphat, king of the southern Kingdom (Judah) and Ahab, king of the northern kingdom had entered into an ungodly alliance and were preparing for an attack. Jehoshaphat had agreed to proceed but then remembered that he should seek the will of the Lord. His “Charge Ahead” attitude got ahead of Moses’ command, “Listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:20b)!

King Ahab got together four hundred prophets that assured them of victory in battle. News of victory surely was a “sign” that God was in this but Jehoshaphat, on the face of such news, detected that these were false prophets.  Exercising discernment he asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” 2 Chronicles 18:6).  For Jehoshaphat the untampered truth was more important than false assurance.

Indeed there was a prophet of the Lord but Ahab did not want to consult him! It seems even Ahab had some discernment but tried to ignore it, hoping to get his way.

His response is like many who don’t want to hear what God says.  He had gathered around him those who said what he wanted to hear. The apostle Paul in the New Testament warned: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).  I think we live in such a time as well!

Ahab probably spoke just above a whisper through clenched teeth when he finally revealed, “There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD”. Surely his eyes were full of deadly venom as he went on to confess, “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

So Micaiah was called and pressured by the messenger to give a prophetic word agreeable to the other 400.  He told Micaiah, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king.  Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

But Micaiah didn’t succumb to the messenger’s ungodly counsel. He reasoned that kings on earth do not have the same authority as the King of heaven. His response, although obscure, is one of the greatest statements of faith and acts of obedience in the Bible, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”

Today we need to take some lessons from Micaiah. He didn’t go along with the crowd just to accommodate others’ ideology, even though they represented great authority on earth.  Our counsel and lifestyle must reflect the principles set forth in Holy Scripture, not the ever changing values and evolving definitions presented in our present society.

Mark My Words

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (2 Chronicles 18:27).

Our last message was about a little-known prophet who took a stand for the Lord.  Today we want to share another insight from the account. The kings had consulted the prophets regarding their battle plans.  “Go,” they answered, “for God will give it into the king’s hand.” In fact one of them by the name of Zedekiah added some flamboyant visual effects, similar to the style of some very showy evangelists of our time!

But Micaiah stated, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13). What God had directed Micaiah to say was certainly not well received. His prophetical word is summed up in this simple pronouncement: “The LORD has decreed disaster for you.” That’s certainly not what Ahab wanted to hear,  yet his riches, his alliance with Jehoshaphat, and his kingly position did not change such a deadly pronouncement!

After receiving Micaiah’s news of disaster Ahab attempted to silence the prophet with these orders: “Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.”

The king’s order for imprisonment and food deprivation would surely force Micaiah to modify his original prophecy.  And yet in his parting prophetic statement he boldly added: “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (2 Chronicles 18:27).

Notice the responsibility Micaiah took. He forthrightly stated that if Ahab did not return safely, “the LORD has not spoken through me.” Over my lifetime I have heard some who claim to speak for the Lord and miss the mark in situations that parallel our story today. Yet they make excuses or go on to try again and again. Guess enough on the issues and at some point they’re going to get it right!  This is true of astrologists as well.

Ahab ignored the counsel and died on the battlefield, validating Micaiah’s prophecy.  An amazing detail about Scripture that intrigues me is that the very last we read about Micaiah is that he’s in prison. There’s no record of what happened to him after Ahab’s body was recovered from the battlefield.  Micaiah is one of the lesser known prophets that I want to talk to when I get to heaven. I’m anxious to hear “the rest of the story”!

The main encouragement to end this message with is this:  Let us be faithful in declaring God’s Word regardless of the cost.

~Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

October 28, 2010

Some People Get Paid for Being Anxious, and Some People Are Anxious For Nothing

The post title is a play on the King James Version’s rendering, “Be anxious for nothing.”   …I know, it’s a bad pun…

…Some of us might get defensive if we were challenged concerning the depth of our faith by any one of a number of criteria; but if you challenged my faith on the basis of worry and anxiety, I would often concede spiritual defeat.   Worry is my Achilles’ heel.  Can you relate?  So I really appreciated Jon Swanson’s paraphrase of a well-known verse from Phil. 4 today at his blog, 300 Words a Day

I understand being anxious.

Not in the “looking forward to” sense or the “can hardly wait” sense but in the “aaaiiieee” sense. And I understand that what I’m about to write is easier to say than to do. But that isn’t a reason to not write it.

Paul makes a very simple statement in Philippians 4. He says, “Don’t be anxious about anything.”

That sounds like scolding, a little bit. “Buck up. Everything will be okay.” Or, “Quit yer whinin’, ya wimp.” Or, “If you really were a Christian, a good Christian, you wouldn’t be anxious.”

I’ve been told things like that. I’ve probably been understood to say them.  But Paul’s not saying those things.

He says,

“You know how it helps sometimes to have someone to talk to? You know how saying things out loud clarifies them? You know how asking the right person often means that something can be done? You know how when you finally quit trying to fix everything and ask for help, you might get help? You know how when you take one little step of trusting, sometimes everything changes?

Take everything you are thinking about and everything you are keeping inside your head and heart and tell God about them. Out loud. However it comes out: incoherently and angrily and passionately and stream of consciously and interspersed with laughter and incredulity that you are talking to God about huge and tiny things all together.”

Okay, technically he says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

But I’m pretty sure that what he means is what I said. Because that’s what it looks like when I actually stop running and troubleshooting long enough to find a soundproof room and do what he says.

~Jon at 300 Words a Day

October 27, 2010

We Breathe a Different Air

I ran into her when she left some comments at Thinking Out Loud.  She calls herself Cloudwatcher.  Her blog is called Meeting in the Clouds.   It’s a devotional blog that’s written in a style that would hook your kids or teens.   This one presents an interesting analogy dealing with one of the implications of being “strangers and aliens” in this world.   Analogies often break down at certain points, but I like the care went into writing this.

It turns out Cloudwatcher is in her 70s, was born in the UK but lives in Australia.   I’d say she’s a rather cool blogger, and I look forward to reading more…

One Essential

Q.  What is the ONE ESSENTIAL thing an astronaut needs to take with him when he ventures outside his spacecraft?

A.   An astronaut would be in deep trouble if he did not take with him the atmosphere of his natural environment.

Q.  What is the ONE ESSENTIAL thing that a born-again CHRISTIAN must take with him during his pilgrimage on earth?

A.  The atmosphere of his natural environment.

Q.  What IS the natural environment of a Christian?

A.

  • We belong to the kingdom of God.  Col 1:13
  • We are citizens of heaven  Phil 3:20, Eph 2:19
  • We belong in the heavenlies  Eph 1:3
  • We are pilgrims and strangers on earth  Heb 11:13
  • This world is NOT our home  John 17:16, 2 Cor 6:17

When we take the atmosphere of our heavenly home into the world, the devil and his forces will be defeated and the people of this world will see the living Christ in us.

When we do NOT take the atmosphere of our heavenly home and our spiritual life with us, we are doomed to defeat.

  • Nothing is more contrary to a heavenly hope than an earthly heart.
  • If we do not put the love of the world to death, the love of the world will put us to death.  ~ A W Tozer
  • The world is enemy-occupied territory  ~ C S Lewis
  • When we stand on the Word, we cannot stand with the world.  ~ Vance Havner
  • KNOW the Bible in your mind; KEEP it in your heart; LIVE it in your life; SHARE it with the world.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s Gospel, we are the mocker’s creed.
We are the Lord’s last message, given in deed and word:
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?

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