New Sermon Series – Isaiah: Judgment and Hope

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Bonus Content from March 17th

Sermon Questions from March 17th  (“An Answer for the Anxious,” Philippians 4:6-7)
 
1)      How does this message apply to those with a diagnosis of clinical or chronic anxiety?
 
In the sermon, what was being addressed was not clinical or chronic anxiety but rather the everyday anxiousness that comes from the circumstances of life. Every person will experience occasional anxiety throughout life. This may be the result of issues at home or work, fear before taking a test or having a hard conversation, an unexpected life change, etc. In all these examples the anxiousness is real but also temporary. However, for those who have clinical anxiety – significant impact to one’s ordinary functioning on a regular basis over a period of time – it often carries a significant physiological component and is hard to break free of on one’s own. That is not to say that the everyday anxiousness we experience has no physiological effects on us, but they are not to the same degree and length.
 
If someone does think that clinical anxiety may be an issue, then we would suggest seeking a medical evaluation to know for sure. With that said, the power of prayer in being able to overcome anxiousness through the receiving of divine peace is something that we would strongly encourage, even to someone who does have a clinical diagnosis. While there may be medications or other forms of medicine that will be needed, prayer still is an important part of gaining victory over anxiousness.
 
2)      If it’s God’s will to bring cancer or sickness, why did Jesus heal or why would we go to the doctor? Both would go against the will of God.
 
In order to properly answer this question, it is important to define what is meant when we say, “the will of God.” Traditionally, there are at least two different meanings to the “will of God” in the Bible. The first is the sovereign will of God. This means that God is sovereign over everything that comes to pass in human history. Another way to say it is that God has ultimate power and control over everything that happens (see Psalm 115:3; Acts 4:27-28). The second is the moral will of God. This will of God consists of God’s moral commands to act a certain way (see 2 Peter 3:9; Exodus 20:1-17).
 
My reason for defining these two wills of God is to show that everything that comes to pass in one sense does come from the hand of God, while in another sense there are things that take place that are contrary to the will of God.
 
Now, you specifically asked if cancer and sickness are God’s will. I would say that they are a part of His sovereign will but not His moral will. A great passage to look at as it relates to this question is found in Acts 2:22-23. In the passage Peter is delivering his sermon at Pentecost and he says, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” What we see here is the mystery and tension of God’s sovereign will (delivered up by God) and God’s moral will (that the innocent should not be murdered).
 
Now, we don’t know every reason that God wills for some to get cancer or Cystic Fibrosis, but we do know that in Ephesians 1:11 it says, “He works all things according to the counsel of his will” and that in Daniel 4:37 it says, “All his works are right and his ways are just.” And so, as believers we live in faith that God is both sovereign and good.
 
You also asked, “Why would Jesus heal or people go to the doctor? Wouldn’t that go against God’s will?” First, in the Gospels we see on multiple occasions Jesus physically healing people, not only spiritually healing people. This is a strong reminder to us that Jesus truly is the Great Physician. However, what needs to be noticed is that in the Gospels, the healings that Jesus performed were done to authenticate/verify that He truly was the promised Messiah. This truth is clearly seen in Luke 5:17-26. The physical healings that Jesus performs do show the heart of our Savior, but they point to something even greater: the ultimate healing He provides for our souls. A great passage to consider on this issue is in John 9, where we see a man born blind. The disciples ask if it was the man or his parents that sinned which led to the blindness, but Jesus states that it was neither: God sovereignly gave him blindness for His glory to be made known. So we can say that it might precisely be God’s will that we get sick SO THAT God can get glory by healing us, whether that be supernaturally or by a doctor. Knowing that God is the great physician and that he has given us doctors, the concern for us may be (rather than violating God’s will by seeking healing) that we’d violate God’s will by avoiding seeking healing.
 
Throughout the Scriptures we actually read of multiple occasions where references are made to medical treatments, and Luke himself was a physician. God created us in His image, and that means with intelligence. One manner that we use that intelligence is in the realm of medicine. Doctors can rightly be viewed as a gift of God. Our seeking the help of doctors does not in any way hinder or go against the will of God. As we have seen, God is sovereign, and it is often through medical treatments that He works in and through to teach us more about Himself and our need of Him.
 
3)      Are all circumstances good? Or, rather, will God bring good out of all circumstances, regardless of how bad they may be?
 
In order to properly answer this question, I will need to define what was meant by the term “good” in the sermon as it relates to all circumstances but especially those which seem so “not good.” In Romans 8:28 we read, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The good that Paul is talking about here isn’t that of comfort but of being conformed into the image of Christ, being drawn into closer relationship with God, expanding the Kingdom of God, and preparing us to be glorified with Him in heaven. In that sense, every circumstance that a follower of Jesus is put in can be viewed as good because it is working toward that great purpose, that “eternal good.” That means that God can and will bring good out of every circumstance, no matter how difficult it may be. However, this is where the follower of Jesus needs to be pursuing a close faith-filled intimacy with God, because the further we are from God the less we will be able to see the good that God is doing. I do want to add that there are going to be circumstances that happen in our lives where we will not be able to perceive any good, but that doesn’t mean God is not at work. A reading of the book of Job shows us that there is a whole other spiritual realm of things happening that we are not privy to know about.
 
So, in closing, yes, all circumstances for the believer work together for “good” when viewed from an eternal and redemptive perspective. This is no way means that God in His moral will is not grieved about many things that happen in the achieving of this good.


Join Us in a Day of Fasting and Prayer for BMA

This Summer, we will be sending a team to the Czech Republic to minister alongside our Global Partners Paul and Sharon Till at Bezkydy Mountain Academy in Frydlant.
 
More immediately, the Till family and BMA have some urgent prayer requests, and they’ve asked us to join them on Tuesday, March 19th, to participate in a day of fasting and prayer. Below is an explanation from Paul. Please do consider joining us in fasting and prayer on Tuesday.
 

BMA is seeking the Lord in a day of prayer and fasting.

      Thanks for all you have done to support the mission of our school. We’d like you to know about another opportunity coming up this week. The board and the administration are inviting members of our community around the world to fast and pray on Tuesday, March 19th. We are asking Him for some specific breakthroughs as well as the blessing, resources and protection He has always provided.
      Here are some of the specific things we will be praying about.

The Expansion.
      To bring more students to the school, so that more students and their families can meet Jesus, we’ll need permission from the government and a bigger building. To increase the size of the building, we raised money with the Lord’s grace and your help. Now we need building plans to be approved by various local government agencies. They are backlogged and facing many months’ delay. Our desire to act sooner rather than later comes from our understanding of the political system. We want to move while political leaders sympathetic to BMA are in office, before the next elections. 
      The Lord is the Lord of the government at every level, and the Lord of this timetable. We are seeking Him.

New Students.
      This season, we have a tremendous number of applications for September: 71. We are thankful for the increased interest. We already grieve for the more than forty students whom we will have to disappoint. We are seeking the Lord’s choice for who will be in the next class.

New Administration.
      We are in the process of possibly hiring a critical new staff member who  could join the leadership of our school. We hope this is the Lord’s choice. We ask for His people and His timing.

      Thank for praying as you always do. If you are able to participate in a special way on March 19th, we’ll be grateful.
      Paul for Beskydy Mountain Academy.


Bonus Content from March 10th

There were no sermon questions texted this week. However, as promised, below is a fuller explanation of the debate regarding the word “go” (“Therefore go and make disciples…).

If you’ve been around church for awhile, you’ve probably heard multiple sermons on this passage that present different ideas on this word “go.”
 
One preacher titles his sermon “put the GO in the gospel” and says, “You can’t obey the command to make disciples until you follow the first command of verse 19 (in our English Bibles) to leave behind your normal daily life and go!”
 
Another preacher points out (rightly) that “go” isn’t technically a command here in Greek, so (they say) the sense is more like “as you go.” In other words, “Just go about your daily life, doing what you already do, and if you happen to get an opportunity to make a disciple, go for it!”
 
For the average Christian who hasn’t taken Greek, it’s a bit frustrating to hear two sermons making opposite points about the same verse with high conviction. So which one is it: first you have to go? Or just keep doing what you normally do, and “as you go,” make disciples?
 
Good news! We actually don’t need to be Greek scholars to adjudicate this one. Sure, it’s true that “go” is not a command here in the Greek technically speaking. But does that necessarily mean that the sense is something like a casual “as you go” about the life you’re already living?
 
Look at the rest of the sentence. “Go therefore and make disciples of” whom? All nations. How are we going to make disciples of all nations if all of us just make disciples “as we go” about the lives we were already living? How would disciples ever have been made in Samaria? How would disciples ever have been made in India or Ireland or in any of the farthest reaches of the earth if Christians would have treated this part of the sentence as a casual “as you go”?
 
“Go” doesn’t need to be a command in order for it to be a necessary action for us to carry out the command to make disciples. Making disciples of all nations is going to require some intentionality on our part, going to places we wouldn’t normally have gone, seeking out relationships we wouldn’t normally have sought out, and sending other Christians on missions to places outside of our own culture.
 
So here’s an application on the “going.” There may well be opportunities for disciplemaking within your everyday rhythms of home life, work life, and recreation or leisure activities. But if you’re just going through the motions hoping to stumble upon disciplemaking opportunities without making any alterations to those rhythms, you need to give some more thought to this “go.” Maybe you need to proactively prioritize time with a coworker you don’t ordinarily spend much time with. Maybe you need to intentionally work out or visit Starbucks at the same time of day so that you start developing relationships with the same people you see there. You don’t just stumble into disciplemaking any more than you just stumble into discipleship.


Bonus Content from February 10th

Bonus Content from February 10th (“Extending Grace,” Luke 9:51-56)

The following questions were raised after Sunday’s sermon.
 
1)  Someone says, “That is good for you and I am happy for you, but I have my own [beliefs].” They are implying, “Your way is no better than mine, so don’t criticize.” There are so many ways to reject. What is our next possible response in love but truth? Can we have a class on how to share the gospel?
 
We’ve all probably had a conversation like this! Thank you for raising these very practical questions.
 
I’ll answer the last question first: you’re in luck! Starting next Sunday (2/24), Pastoral Intern Brandon Harris will be teaching a class on how to share the gospel! Keep your eyes on the Adults page on our website for more information upcoming, but his class will be called “Tactics” and will give us practical work on how to share the gospel in situations just like the one you’ve laid out here.
 
As for the first question of how to respond in love but truth to the person who thinks that no way is better than any other way, I have been influenced by Randy Newman’s book Questioning Evangelism to respond with questions whenever possible. In the situation you shared, the dialogue might go something like this:
 
Friend: “What works for you works for you; I’m happy for you.”
Me: “Have you heard the story of the blind men and the elephant? Each of the blind men feels a different part of the elephant and draws different conclusions based on what part of the elephant’s body they had approached – to one it was a wall; to another, a spear or a snake or a tree.”
Friend: “Yes! That’s a perfect description of what I believe about religions. They all provide insight about one aspect of reality, but no one religion has a claim on the whole truth.”
Me: “So how do we know that the blind men were all touching the same thing, and that the thing they were all touching was an elephant?”
Friend: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Doesn’t someone have to be able to see the whole picture in order to summarize that each blind man was actually touching a different part of an elephant?”
Friend: “I guess so. What are you getting at?”
Me: “I guess that’s my problem with the blind men and the elephant story. It is used to criticize religious people for being arrogant (for saying ‘we have the truth!’), but the nonreligious person ends up making the same claim! After all, the one telling the story is claiming to have the truth as he or she asserts that there is in fact an elephant and that the blind men are in fact touching different parts of the elephant and drawing incomplete conclusions.”
Friend: “I never thought of it that way.”
 
This is one way to help our friends see that somebody’s ideas have to be better than somebody else’s. We’re all making absolute truth claims – even those of us most opposed to absolute truth claims make the absolute truth claim that it’s wrong to make absolute truth claims! The question then becomes, “Which of these truth claims best explains reality?”
 
2)  As a believer, it is often harder to extend grace to fellow believers when they sin against us than it is when we are rejected by the world. What should this Mark of a Disciple look like in this type of situation?

 

When we have a particularly hard time extending grace to anyone (believer or unbeliever), it is important to examine why this specific situation is so difficult. When we find it hard to extend grace to a fellow believer, it may be so challenging because of our expectations for them. For example, we might think, “He’s a believer; he should know better!” or “We were supposed to be on the same team!” We expect a degree of rejection from the world; we don’t expect it to come from within the church.
However, the New Testament doesn’t paint such a rosy view of the church. Paul is constantly grieving rejection, abandonment, and slander from fellow believers whom he considered friends. The letters to the New Testament churches are filled with rebukes for heinous sins – sins taking place among Christians! When we are saved, it doesn’t automatically make us perfect. Believers can have major blind spots in their discipleship.
 
For that reason, one part of the answer to this question might be, “Work toward more realistic expectations for fellow believers.” We ought not be surprised when fellow believers reject us or mistreat us; in fact, a read-through of the New Testament should make it more surprising when fellow believers don’t mistreat us. And most importantly, we need to grow more aware of our own sin – both potential and actual. The more we believe just how capable we are of mistreating our own brothers and sisters in the faith, the quicker we will be to extend grace to them when they do the same to us. When we think we’re above that sort of sin is when we have the hardest time extending grace.

 

3)  Can you explain more thoroughly what Luke means when he says that Jesus “set his face” toward Jerusalem? Why does he use that language?
 
Jesus isn’t the first one in scripture to “set his face” somewhere. There’s actually a history of this phrase being used in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets often set their faces in one direction or another, and interestingly, it almost always was to pronounce judgment on a particular city or a particular people group. You can see it in Isaiah 50, Jeremiah 21, and multiple places in Ezekiel. God will say, “Set your face toward such and such a group and prophesy against them.”
 
When you read the following chapters in Luke’s gospel, you can see why Luke uses the “setting his face” language. He’s doing it to connect Jesus to the prophets of old who called down judgment, because on Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem, he talks a lot about judgment, too – the judgment that is coming on God’s own people. He warns over and over again that destruction is coming to Jerusalem once the Jewish people reject Him.
 
And of course, that’s not a popular message. The prophets were rejected for proclaiming those warnings of impending judgment, and Jesus is going to be rejected for this message of judgment, too. Nevertheless, Jesus sets his face toward the place where He will be rejected once and for all – not that he actually made a certain face or that he took the straight line, shortest path possible to get to Jerusalem, but rather that in all of Jesus’s words and actions from here on out, he’s advancing the mission that will take him to the place of His rejection and death, and he won’t let anyone stand in His way.
 
The fact that “setting one’s face” carries such connotations of pronouncing judgment makes it even more striking that Jesus refrains from pronouncing judgment on the Samaritan village at this point. His harshest words during this phase of his ministry are reserved for Jerusalem and especially the Jewish leadership there.


Bonus Content from January 13th

Question from January 13th (“Inviting” – John 1:43-46)

Although no questions were texted in this week, I was asked a few questions in person. Below, I respond to one comment that was raised in some form by multiple people.
 
But I’m not sure I want people in my home, especially unbelievers! I’m not sure that will be a “win” for the kingdom of God, because I’m not sure I have anything to offer! I’m afraid they won’t see anything in me or in my home that points them to Christ.
 
The honesty of this comment is just what we need. I so enjoy these conversations, because they help us get closer to the root of our issue at North Sub, and therefore closer to making a turn that leads to us actually living out our mission!
 
And the comment is certainly understandable. Anyone who asks a question like this rightly grasps what a massive task I presented on Sunday – that we would effectively say to those we love, “Come watch me and see what it looks like to follow Jesus.” That is a heavy mantle!
 
Much damage has been done by churches and pastors who have suggested that there is a way to walk the Christian life without picking up this mantle. As a result of this deficient teaching, many Christians think that inviting someone to “come watch me” is an optional part of the faith reserved only for a class of super-spiritual people. All the while, our enemy wins, because he knows what we are all supposed to know: that this is the way our Lord called for the kingdom to expand! One of us meets Jesus and says “come see what I’ve found” to another, over and over again.
 
However, much damage has also been done by churches and pastors who have suggested that we must carry this mantle alone. No! If the gospel is as glorious as we say it is, then Christ’s death and resurrection don’t just have the power to forgive our sins; they have the power to enable us to walk a new way – so much so that we can say “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20)!
 
It is ironic: the comment above sounds very humble. It seems on the surface to be dripping with humility – “who am I for such a task?” But upon deeper explanation, it actually reeks of the pride that comes with a trust in works-righteousness. In order to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not living my faith well enough that I would want anyone else to see it and learn from it,” I must believe that there is some standard, some bar, some threshold above which someone is a higher level of Christian (acceptable to make disciples of others) and below which someone is a deficient level of Christian (not acceptable to make disciples of others). I’m really saying, “If I’m good enough, I can be a follower of Jesus; if I’m not good enough, I better stay on the sideline and hope that my profession of faith was good enough for a get-out-of-hell-free card.”
 
That attitude betrays a fundamental lack of understanding the gospel! None of us is good enough to make disciples! Paul wasn’t, even when he said repeatedly, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ!” The fact that we aren’t good enough is the point of our faith! We don’t extend that invitation because we’re good enough but because Christ is good enough – good enough to make beauty out of our ashes and fruit out of our thorns.
 
The people whom we invite into our homes will see a mixture of good example and bad example in us! But by God’s grace, He will use it, refine it. And what He may use most powerful of all might be our repentance as people see our warts but then see us humbly turn from those over time and seek to walk another way.
 

Let’s leave behind the false gospel of works righteousness that prevents us from opening up our homes and our lives to others! Let’s acknowledge our lack, and then trust the power of Jesus to do what He promises to do using our feeble efforts.



Join Us in the Czech Republic!

Right now, Genevieve Mar is building an intergenerational team to visit Global Partners Paul and Sharon Till in Frydlant, Czech Republic, in June 2019. The team from North Sub will be supporting the ministry of BMA (Beskydy Mountain Academy) in order that BMA can be more effective in reaching unchurched Czech students for Christ.
 
We are looking for students who are eager to connect with their Czech counterparts. We are also looking for adults who are eager to follow the Tills’ lead in ministering to a wide range of people, including parents of BMA students. Anyone 14 and up is eligible to join the team.
 
In order to make this trip happen in 2019, we need a minimum number of registrations by January 20th. Thank you for praying about joining this team!
 
This missions opportunity only comes around every other summer – you won’t want to miss it. Secure your spot now by emailing Genevieve Mar by January 20th: mar_genevieve@comcast.net.


Bonus Content from December 9th

Sermon Questions from December 9th (“Covenant”)

Below are two wonderful questions I was asked following Sunday’s sermon.
 
1)        What about the covenant God made with Adam (covenant of works)? I know some debate surrounds it, but Hosea 6:7 seems to place it as a covenant.
 
Time restrictions presented me from providing an exhaustive overview of the covenants spoken of the Bible. With more time, we could have talked about the priestly covenant with Aaron’s descendants, Job’s covenant with his eyes, and others. I began my sermon with God’s covenant with Noah and said it was the first use of the word “covenant” in the Bible. While that is true, many have understood God’s pre-fall relationship with Adam to involve a “covenant” of some sort (sometimes called a “covenant of works”).
 
The arguments for speaking of God’s arrangement with Adam as a “covenant” include that Hosea 6:7 seems to mention a covenant with Adam, and that Adam and Eve were given obligations and suffered consequences when they did not fulfill those obligations. The arguments against speaking of God’s arrangement with Adam as a “covenant” include that Hosea 6:7 may be talking about Israel breaking the covenant at a place called “Adam” (see Paul Williamson’s Sealed with an Oath for this case), that Genesis never uses the word “covenant” with regards to God’s relationship with Adam, that covenants ordinarily seal existing relationships instead of creating new relationships, and the implication (that some find uneasy) that Adam and Eve would have lived forever in a non-glorified state if they had never tasted the fruit.
 
Whether or not we use the word “covenant” to talk about God’s arrangement with Adam (I didn’t speak of it this way in my sermon to avoid taking a controversial stand on something that is less than clear), it may not matter much either way, practically speaking. Theologians on both sides of the debate agree that Adam was given obligations, that breaking those obligations had consequences with respect to his relationship with God, that breaking those obligations had disastrous effects for all of humanity and for the cosmos, and that Jesus is the second Adam who inaugurates a new humanity.
 
 
2)       You were specific about how you saw the bow in the clouds (Genesis 9) and God’s walking between the pieces (Genesis 15) fulfilled at the cross. Are there other possible understandings of these texts?
 
An unfortunate dynamic in a sermon like this is that I didn’t have a chance to make a case for my interpretive decisions; I only had time to present them. It is right to question a preacher’s assertions like this – thank you for doing so!
 
I made the following claim: the bow was pointed upward in Genesis 9 because God knew that thousands of years later, the arrow aimed at the heavens in Genesis 9 would pierce Jesus on the cross. On this understanding, God was able to make His unconditional covenant with Noah only at great cost to Himself. The covenant sign, in hindsight, was a subtle pointer to that reality. However, other explanations have been offered for the bow in the clouds. For example, perhaps the bow was just a human way of viewing that semicircle shape, but God was really just restoring his “firmament” or “vault” in the skies to hold back the waters. Or perhaps God was intentional about using a weapon as His sign, but placing it in the clouds was meant to be a picture of His “hanging up his weapon,” so to speak, as He promised never to kill in this way again.
 
These are reasonable interpretive possibilities. I do believe that every word in Scripture is there for a reason, that nothing is accidental (Mt. 5:18). I also do believe that it becomes clear in the New Testament that God couldn’t make a promise like He made in Genesis 9 without something having to give – passing over generations of sin opens Him up to the charge of injustice/unrighteousness (Rom. 3:21-26)! In other words, a just God could only promise to pass over generations of sin if He planned to demonstrate His righteousness by punishing that sin another way. With the benefit of hindsight on this side of the cross, we can see that the “another way” was in the propitiation Jesus accomplished on the cross.
 
So then, the question for me becomes this: if we’re right that God knew He could only make the promise to Noah because He planned to take the punishment Himself on the cross thousands of years later, what does that mean for the bow in the clouds? To me, it seems that it could only mean one of two things: (1) God had this in mind as one of the reasons why He chose a “bow in the clouds” pointed upward as his covenant sign, or (2) This is a fitting meaning assigned to the bow in the clouds, but God wasn’t thinking of that meaning when He placed it in the clouds as His sign. The second seems unthinkable to me! How could we humans think we came up with a good idea for a fitting meaning of His bow that God Himself didn’t have first? It seems more likely to me that this was one of many intended layers of meaning God had in mind when He chose the bow in the clouds as His covenant sign with Noah.
 
You can probably imagine, then, what I’d say about Genesis 15. Sure, it’s possible that all God intended when He walked through the pieces was the claim, “If I don’t keep my end of this covenant, may this happen to me.” But with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that God actually intended to let that fate befall Him even though He knew He would never break the covenant like Abraham’s descendants would. So it stretches belief for me to think that the God “who declares the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:10) didn’t realize how, by walking between the pieces alone (in two forms!), He would paint a perfect picture of a promise to take the covenant curse for any breaking of the covenant that would subsequently occur.


Photo Directory: Submit Your Photos!

In response to popular demand, we are resurrecting the photo directory for North Suburban Church members and regular attenders.
 
Our goal is that in early 2019, our current directory would be expanded to include photos for each family!
 
Here is how you can help us have a photo for you and your family:
 
Send us an existing electronic copy of a photo of your family that you like. Be sure that it is good quality and everyone’s face can be seen clearly!  Pictures from shoulders up work best so faces are the focus. Please email the picture as an attachment to northsub@northsub.com.
 
The deadline for submitting pictures is January 13th, 2019. Thank you for helping us create a complete directory!


Thanksgiving Eve 2018

 
Wednesday, November 21, at 7pm, we will have a brief Thanksgiving service with some treats afterward. The service helps us to remember what Thanksgiving Day is all about by giving us the opportunity to come together and give thanks to God!
 
Come participate in uplifting songs of thanksgiving, receive a short message from God’s Word, and consider briefly sharing what you are most thankful to God for during this past year. After the service, hot apple cider and goodies will be served in the foyer.
 
This is a wonderful opportunity to invite your family and friends (children and adults!) to join you in celebration. Come start your holiday weekend by focusing on thanksgiving to God.