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Godly Grief – 07.20.14

Ezekiel 16:1-22, 59-63 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Friendship:

Imagine yourself in the position of an exile. How would you describe your situation? What would be your emotions? Your fears? Your hopes?

Repentance/Confession:

Ezekiel was called to deliver God’s message to the first wave of exiles brought from Judah to Babylon in 597 B.C. These exiles were the prominent citizens of the land—the king and his family, the soldiers, the priests, and the skilled craftsmen—and so the exile would have been a particularly humiliating experience for them. But a humiliating experience does not necessarily lead to humility. God’s call to Ezekiel was to deliver His Word so that the people would truly humble themselves before Him for their sins. Why do you think God is concerned that we are truly sorrowful for our sins?

Read Ezekiel 16:1-22. Based on verses 1-2, how would you summarize the message that Ezekiel is sent to proclaim? The people of Judah, like us, had the tendency to downplay their true condition in sin—they boasted when they should have been ashamed. Therefore, the prophet is sent to reveal to them the true state of their hearts. In what ways is the allegory in these verses shocking? How does verse 15 help us understand what sin is really like?

At the end of all their wickedness, the people of Judah were brazenly arrogant, ignoring the humiliating beginnings from which God had raised and enriched them (see verse 22). Why are we so inclined to forget or downplay our sinfulness? How are you tempted to forget your true condition as a sinner in need of God’s grace?

Faith:

God calls us to bear the shame and disgrace of our sin (see Ezekiel 16:52, 54). If we do not humble ourselves by sorrowing over sin, then we will never know the sweetness of His grace (see Matthew 5:2-6). Read Ezekiel 16:59-60. In these verses, God says that He is committed to dealing with us in ways that will lead us to feel the misery of our sins. What is surprising about these verses?

God is committed to remembering His covenant with His people even though they had despised it. This is the very definition of grace: God treating us far better than we deserve. Grace is always surprising, and, when we hear of it, it motivates us to turn from anything that keeps us from experiencing it. How can you daily keep your heart amazed by grace? How would this help you in your struggle against sin?

Focus:

After He announces His faithful remembrance of the covenant, God describes what the experience of repentance will be like for His people. Read Ezekiel 16:61-63. Seeing our sinfulness and God’s surprising grace leads them to ongoing, deep humility. How does Ezekiel describe this humility in these verses? Although the people will be silent because of the shame of their sins (v. 63), God will provide a reason for them to boast again. Now they will boast in Him and not in themselves. God announces atonement—complete covering—of all their sins, a promise He fulfills at the cross of Christ. What’s the result of this rich gift? Instead of proudly trusting in my righteousness, possessions, status, position, etc., I can forever boast in His righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption—all of which are mine in Christ (read 1 Corinthians 1:28-31)! Can you see why it’s necessary for us to remain humble and appropriately grieved by our sin throughout our lives? Why is it equally important to boast in the cross of Christ (see Galatians 6:14)?

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His holiness, faithfulness, and mercy. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for consistently acting towards us in keeping with these marvelous attributes.
  2. How do you struggle with forgetting your need for God’s grace? Ask God to forgive you for your pride and restore in you a healthy grief over your sinfulness.
  3. Give thanks to Jesus that He died on the cross to atone for all your sins. Praise Him for His sinless life and willingness to identify Himself with your repulsive state—even when it meant bearing the full weight of God’s wrath that you deserved.
  4. Who do you know that doesn’t regard themselves as a sinner in need of grace? Ask God to open their eyes so that, seeing the shame of their tragic and irrational rebellion and self-exaltation, they would turn to God’s mercy in Christ.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to develop in you a godly sense of sorrow for your sin. Pray that He would help you feel your “poverty of Spirit,” “mourn” over your sin, and “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (see Matthew 5:2-12).

Great Is Thy Faithfulness – 07.13.14

Lamentations 1:14-18a; 3:19-27 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Friendship:

When have you suffered and it was your own fault? What happened, and why is it significant to move toward God in your grief?

BOUND BEFORE THE LORD

Fallen we want to preserve our autonomy and evade accountability. We might try to avoid failure or deny guilt, but what do you do when they become undeniable? Read Lamentations 1:14-18a. What are some of the expressions that the author uses to express being bound, pinned down or stuck? When have you faced an adversary who was clearly more powerful than you are?

Read Jeremiah 33:2-5, James 4:6, and Luke 18:14. What themes do these passages share? What had Jeremiah warned Jerusalem about? The LORD is just and insurmountable in His holiness. He exposes our autonomy for the sham it is, arresting us in our guilt.

BROKEN IN OUR GUILT

The Bible clearly teaches us that we are helpless and lost because of sin’s curse. We’re helpless to remedy our condition. Neither our guilt nor our brokenness is something that we can remove or repair. Read Lamentations 3:19-20. Wormwood and gall speak of something extremely bitter. How is being humbled in your guilt and wreckage bitter?

To wander is the same as being lost. When have you either been lost or known of someone dear to you who was? Why is being lost such a troubling experience? In v. 20 the expression the author uses can also be thought of as being weighed down. Read Galatians 3:10. How is sin’s curse something that weighs us down? Confronted with your own failures, how have you lived as if either 1) you’re not that bad (living in denial), or 2) you can’t be saved (unbelief)? Confess your guilt and ruin to Jesus, asking Him to change what only He can.

MERCIFUL, FAITHFUL, SUFFICIENT

Read Luke 19:10 & Lamentations 3:21-27. What has the LORD promised to all who trust Him? In vv. 21-23 how did Jeremiah cling to God’s grace and mercy? In vv. 24-27 how do you see God’s sufficiency and His kindness to the humble and contrite? Read Jeremiah 33:6-11 & 14-16. Jeremiah (the author of Lamentations) had to have recalled the LORD’s promises to save. Notice the promise that the LORD will save His people by a descendent of King David (a righteous Branch) and that His name will be “The LORD is our righteousness!”

Read Galatians 3:13 and 2 Cor. 5:21. How do these passages help us see Jeremiah’s prophecies fulfilled in Jesus? Imagine no relief from the torment of your guilt or ruin… and then consider the promise of Jesus’ saving grace! If you trust Him, what difference does it make to realize that ALL of your guilt is covered by Jesus’ death in your place? And how does it secure you to know that ALL of Jesus’ righteous record is credited to you in the Father’s eyes? Jesus saves all who trust in Him!

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His justice and His mercy. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that no evil will escape His judgment and yet all who trust Him in Christ will be covered by His grace.
  2. Confronted with your own failures, how have you lived as if either 1) you’re not that bad (denial), or 2) you can’t be saved (unbelief)? Confess your guilt and ruin to Jesus, asking Him to change what only He can.
  3. Give thanks to Jesus for His love and power to seek and save the lost! Thank Him for His death as our substitute to cancel out our guilt and for His obedient life to replace our ruin with His righteousness.
  4. Who do you know that is bitter and lost? Pray for them, asking the Lord to work in their life to move them to turn from their self-will and to genuinely trust Jesus as their God and Savior.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to own your own guilt and brokenness and to trust Jesus for the fullness of His promises. Read Galatians 3:10-14 and pray for the Spirit’s assurance of Jesus’ sufficiency vs. sin’s curse.

Jeremiah Sees Jesus – 07.06.14

Jeremiah 31:31-37 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Friendship:

Think of a time when you longed for something new. What circumstances led to your longing?

Confession/Repentance:

Read Jeremiah 31:31-32. Jeremiah would have longed for God to do something new in his day. The nation of Judah was filled with idolatry and injustice in spite of the reforms of King Josiah. Jeremiah identified that the reason for this brokenness was the rebellious and hard hearts of the people (Jeremiah 3:10). What details in verses 31-32 indicate that this was their true problem? Why was it so important for the people to understand this?

Think about how we share the same problem with the people of Judah. How have you lived denying your need for God’s grace or the sufficiency of His work? Confess the ways in which you can identify with the people of Judah (see Jeremiah 3:19-20; 5:23; 17:1, 9; 13:23; 30:12-13) because of your hardness of heart, stubborn refusal to obey God, unfaithfulness to the covenant, and inability to solve your problem.

Faith:

Read Jeremiah 31:33-34. God’s announcement of a new covenant in these verses implies that the old covenant had not been able to address the heart problems of the people adequately. God will intervene, however, to address the deepest needs of the people: the transformation of their hearts, the restoration of their relationship with God, and the forgiveness of their sins. Why do these needs matter so much? How do you feel your need of these everyday?

Jeremiah writes that God’s promise in these verses would be fulfilled “after those days,” referring to the time after the exile when the Messiah would come. The New Testament makes it clear that God accomplished this promised work through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jeremiah foresaw the work of Jesus and embraced the promises that God made in reference to Him. What difficulties challenge your trust in Christ? Do you struggle to live with confidence in God’s faithfulness and your salvation? What are you doing to overcome these struggles?

Focus:

The result for Jeremiah of embracing the promise of God’s new covenant was a life of assurance and hope—even in spite of the anguish that he often endured. What gave Jeremiah such confidence?  Read Jeremiah 31:35-37 for the answer. God taught Jeremiah to reason according to God’s character rather than according to his experience. In other words, he was to use God’s character to evaluate his experience rather than using his experience to evaluate God’s character.

When are you tempted to evaluate God’s character by your experience? How could delighting in God’s faithful and powerful grace give you hope in all circumstances?

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His faithful commitment to His glory and His people! Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for never failing to fulfill His promises.
  2. How have you lived denying your need for God’s grace or the sufficiency of His work? Confess the ways in which you can identify with the people of Judah (see Jeremiah 3:19-20; 5:23; 17:1, 9; 13:23; 30:12-13) because of your hardness of heart, stubborn refusal to obey God, unfaithfulness to the covenant, and inability to solve your problem.
  3. Give thanks to Jesus for giving Himself for us to make the new covenant a reality. Praise Him for bringing you forgiveness of sins, a restored relationship with God, and a new heart to obey His perfect commandments through His life, death, and resurrection.
  4. Who do you know that struggles with assurance of God’s love (it may be you)? Pray that God would help them (you) reason in light of His promises and proven record of faithful covenant-keeping.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to increase your delight in God’s design for your life. Read Romans 8:1-11. As you give thanks to Him for His grace, ask Him to work in you through the fullness of the Spirit in your life.

Called to Suffer – 06.29.14

Jeremiah 27:1-2, 5-6, 8, 11, 14; 28:10-17 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Friendship:

Where have you been faced with hard consequences of your own foolish behavior? What happened and how did you handle it?

AN UPSIDE DOWN PLAN

Read Matthew 11:28-30, Luke 9:23-25 & Isaiah 55:6-9. How would you summarize these verses? Jesus calls us to bear His yoke, and to take up our cross daily to follow Him – a call to die and to be raised. But He is good. So how have you seen that His ways that are not like the ways of this world?

Read Jeremiah 27:1-2 & 5-6. Remember the context: God was disciplining Judah for their sin and idolatry. What does this say about the LORD’s sovereign rule over all the earth and its kingdoms? Where has humbling yourself before Him and His plan been a good thing even if it was not comfortable or pleasant at the time? Read Revelation 7:9-10. How would you describe to someone God’s plan for all the nations? How does this trump nationalism or any superiority of race?

PRIDE & UNBELIEF

Read Jeremiah 27:8, 11 & 14. What does the LORD promise in these verses? (If we could write it as a formula: “Honor His plan > live. Defy His plan > perish.”) Where have you seen your own capacity to believe what you want to believe, while defying what God had plainly revealed?

Read Jeremiah 28:10-17. How have you behaved or at least thought like Hananiah? When you learned of His cross-centered Plan for the first time, how did you think His ways were foolish? How have you lived doubting God’s Word as if you know better than He does? Confess your pride and unbelief to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you for your folly, self-deception and destructive ways.

WHOSE WORD PREVAILS?

When others twist God’s Word or tempt you to question it, what does it mean to trust Him? Compared with Hananiah’s folly in ch. 28, read John 10:17-18. By contrast, Jesus submitted to His Father’s terrifying call (in the Garden of Gethsemane) trusting His Father’s promise of resurrection. Read John 14:18-20 & Romans 8:28. What does Jesus promise to those who seek God or treasure Him? In His discipline how does God work to kill your comfort in what will kill you if it’s left unchanged? In unbelief how have you lived as if He’s trying to kill you? What lies are you trusting that promise comfort but actually result in your perishing?

Only Jesus is Truth, and however inconvenient the truth is, He gives life!

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His goodness and wisdom. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that He is good in all that He does and in all that He calls us to, even when it to a hard assignment.
  2. How have you lived doubting God’s Word as if you know better than He does? Confess your pride and unbelief to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you for your folly, self-deception and destructive ways.
  3. Give thanks to Jesus for His work to turn evil on its head by His death and resurrection! Thank Him for draining evil and death of their power and for His ability to work all things together for good to His people.
  4. Who do you know that by unbelief implies that they know better than God does, or that He is insufficient for their needs? Pray for them, asking the Lord to show them mercy and open their eyes to their peril.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust God’s work through death and resurrection. Pray for a faithful trust in His discipline that the LORD is not attacking you, only your comfort in what would kill you if it’s left unchanged.

Josiah’s Repentance – 06.22.14

2 Kings 22:8, 10-13, 18-20; 23:1-3, 24-25 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Friendship: What is it like to suddenly realize you’ve been really, really wrong?

EXPOSED BY GOD’S WORD

Why does it matter that the LORD knows that we are often clueless? Read 2 Kings 23:24-25. As this is a great case study in spiritual leadership, what does it mean to build what is good? And at the same time, what is it like to engage in the work of tearing down what is bad? How is the Gospel God’s work both to secure what is good and remove all that is evil?

Read 2 Kings 22:8, 10-13. What was Josiah’s starting place in this work? To have hope, read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 & 5:17 & 21. How does Jesus promise – to all who trust Him – to give us power for the fight? But why is it also significant that He has to remove all that’s wrong?

HUMILITY & GRACE

So how does this work of tearing down and building start within our own heart and character? Read 2 Kings 22:11-13 & 18-20. How did Josiah humble himself? How is he prayerful (v. 13)? How is he respectful of Scripture, and hopeful in God’s promises?

Read Luke 18:9-14. As it dawns on you that you’re worse than you ever imagined, what do you do? How does Jesus offer hope? How have you been made aware that you’re wrong (and how have you resisted admitting it)? Ask Jesus for mercy – that He would forgive you, but also soften your heart to turn away from your autonomy and turn back to Him to join Him in His mission.

BEING AN INSTRUMENT FOR REDEMPTION

Read 2 Kings 23:1-3. While everyone – anyone has an opportunity for influence (within your family, in marriage or parenting, at work, with His people at church, and in our city), how is love a move in the opposite direction from autonomy? How is the work of building good and tearing down evil a community project (“Are you with me in this?”)? How is it centered on and defined by God’s Word (see v. 2)? And how does it take an intentional plan (v. 3)?

God doesn’t make guarantees for an easy life!! Josiah stood as a high-water mark for character and influence, and then he died young, killed in battle. And his legacy was soon forgotten. So why is this work still a worthy pursuit, even if you faced a similar kind of fate?

Do not forget the “Now & the Not Yet.” Read 2 Cor. 4:1 & 5:4-7. In Christ we walk by faith, not by sight, secure in God’s power and wisdom to work resurrection through death. While the work of evil can be fierce and discouraging, we do not lose heart. We are not alone because of His indwelling Spirit and His Body the Church. We are not aimless because we have His Word, fulfilled in Jesus (the Word made flesh). And loving Him with all our heart is now actually possible because of His work to give us new hearts in Christ.

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His mercy – to make known to us our sin and move us to repentance. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for His gift of hope in the face of evil because of His power, faithfulness and love!
  2. How have you been made aware that you’re wrong (and how have you resisted admitting it)? Ask Jesus for mercy – that He would forgive you, but also soften your heart to turn away from your autonomy and turn back to Him.
  3. Give thanks to Jesus for His compassion when we humble ourselves before Him. Thank Him that He not only truly humbles the exalted, but also raises up those who humble themselves.
  4. Who do you know that is clueless about their sin? Pray for them, asking the Lord to open their eyes to their need for Him (and that He would give you courage to love them enough to help them see the truth even where it’s hard).
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to seek Him more in prayer, and to help you seek the aid of other believers. Pray for the Spirit’s help in being revived in prayer and your readiness to be built up by and to build up other believers.

Hezekiah’s Faith – 06.15.14

2 Kings 19:10-19, 32-37 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Friendship:

Have you ever had a rival – especially in any kind of enduring struggle? What is it like when they appear powerful and intimidating? In this story, the superpower that destroyed Israel threatened the southern Kingdom of Judah

MAN VS. GOD

Read 2 Kings 18:13 & 19:10-13. Recall from a few weeks back, we looked at our capacity to be antagonistic toward God (sin). Read Romans 8:7-8. How does this describe the antagonism? The challenge of unbelief is between the word of man vs. the Word of God. How is doubt an attack on God in His holiness (comparing Him to others when He truly is incomparable)? And how is it an attack on you in your trust of the LORD? Read Genesis 3:1-5. How does the message from the Assyrian king sound like Satan in Eden? How have you felt intimidated or mocked for your faith? And how do you typically handle this challenge?

TAKING THREATS SERIOUSLY

Read 2 Kings 19:14-19 & 1 John 4:4. What is it to humble yourself before the LORD (in true prayer)? In faithfulness we take threats seriously, but we also take them where they belong. In vv. 17-19, how can you see Hezekiah being sober that the threat was greater than him? And at the same time, in vv. 14-16, how can you see Hezekiah calling upon the LORD in His holiness?

So in the face of threats, we can foolishly move away from God rather than toward Him. But notice how, even on the cross Jesus moved toward His Father (He cried out after all, “My God” and dying He prayed “into Your hands I commit my Spirit”)! In Christ we can worship and pray, “Save me!” in even the most serious threats. We can be hopeful because God is able to change what we cannot. What threats have humbled you (i.e. the economy, cancer, marriage, your child, your own heart)? How have you been plagued by doubt, especially your confidence in God’s power to answer what threatens you? Confess your doubts to Jesus, asking Him to forgive your unbelief and to secure you in His unrivaled power.

THE LORD’S DELIVERANCE

Read 2 Kings 19:32-37. As He is the only One who changes what we cannot, what has God done to vindicate our trust in Him? As Satan has led us in the vain quest to want to be God, how is it good news that rebel creatures can’t fulfill their ambition? In v. 34, how is the LORD being true to His covenant promises? And from vv. 35-37, how is that a foreshadowing of the Day of Judgment when Jesus will finally and forever put down all who oppose Him?

Never forget! Even by His plan for our redemption, Jesus was cornered with threats from pure evil with only His Father’s Word to trust. Yet He was raised! For a time still, evil is still raging – real and dangerous. And yet, to all who trust Him, Jesus is our Shield and Defender. He is greater than all creatures; no one can snatch us out of His hand; He has sealed us with His indwelling Spirit; and He will finally destroy (as the Catechism says) “all His and our enemies.”

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His faithfulness and grace to defend us from all threats, even our sin and judgment. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for His holiness in that He is unrivaled in His power and goodness!
  2. How have you been plagued by doubt, especially your confidence in God’s power to answer the critics of our age? Confess your doubts to Jesus, asking Him to forgive your unbelief and to secure you in His unrivaled power.
  3. Read 1 John 4:4. Give thanks to Jesus for His wisdom against evil. Thank Him for never giving in to temptation or Satan’s deceptions; and thank Him for conquering all evil by His death and resurrection.
  4. Who do you know that lives under oppression or threats because of their faith in Jesus? Ask the Lord to sustain them and relieve them, to be their Shield and Defender.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray as you should – to motivate you, help you, and guide you in seeking Him. As Jesus turned to His Father in all things, ask for help by His Spirit to rely upon Him more and more.

Meeting & Representing a Holy God – 06.08.14

Isaiah 6:1-10 (ESV)

Listen to the sermon here.

Intro:

What does it mean to be sued (other than lots of trouble)? If prophets were like Covenant attorneys, suing God’s people for breach of contract, what does that tell us about 1) God? and 2) us?

GOD’S HOLINESS REVEALED

Read Isaiah 6:1-5. This is a classic Bible passage where God’s holiness (His incomparability) is revealed. That God is incomparable requires that He reveals Himself! If He was totally like something created we could figure Him out on our own. So why can God’s holiness not be discovered (like some medical breakthrough or a new land)? And why can it not be demanded (like He owes it to us to show us what He’s like)?

Clearly as Isaiah saw the LORD in a vision, God was highly exalted yet how was this also overwhelming? Some of the terms used to translate the word Isaiah uses about himself in v. 5 are “lost,” “undone,” or even “shattered.” Why do you think this is strange? And why would this make sense? How does meeting the Living God completely re-boot Isaiah’s life? Has your life ever been similarly “re-booted”?

GUILT & ATONEMENT

Read Isaiah 6:5-7. Even where we have violated God’s holiness, and God’s judgment upon our guilt is just, with the LORD there is forgiveness. In v. 5, what was Isaiah basically doing? Read 1 John 1:9. What is God’s disposition toward people who go on record against themselves in His Presence?

In vv. 6-7, fire from the altar may not be too clear but what is clear about what God was doing through the angel? Why was this inexpressibly good news (compared to v. 5)? In the early 1800’s Horatius Bonar was a Scottish pastor and poet. This is one hymn he wrote dealing with how God’s just judgment reveals both our guilt and His Grace:

Upon A Life I Have Not Lived

Upon a life I have not lived,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life; Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.

Not on the tears which I have shed,
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears; Another’s griefs
On these I rest, on these alone.

O Jesus, Son of God, I build on
What Thy cross has done for me
There both my life and death I read
My guilt, and pardon there I see.

Lord, I believe; O deal with me,
As one who has Thy Word believed!
I take the gift, Lord, look on me,
As one who has Thy gift received.

How have you lived as if God is replaceable by you, your possessions, your loved ones, or almost anything? Confess your arrogance to Jesus agreeing with Him that to do so is to insult Him as well as to be a fool.

THE HOLY COMMISSION

Read Isaiah 6:8-10. What does it mean to be commissioned to represent a God who saves? And what does it imply about being commissioned to speak to a people who don’t want to change their ways?

Clearly from v. 8, Isaiah was highly motivated – he was a forgiven man! So how does seeing the LORD’s worth affect your eagerness to join in His mission? Yet God told him that many if not most would refuse to respond, vv. 9-10. Even if that is tragically sad, why is that not surprising?

Read 2 Cor. 4:3-4 & 6. By His surpassing value, why is Jesus worth talking about even if most people think you’re an idiot? There is the pervasive danger of being hardened in unbelief; still, there is a possibility of turning, 2 Cor. 4:6. So with whom do you need courage? And with whom do you need hope?

Prayer:

  1. Worship the LORD for His holiness – for His surpassing worth – that there is no other Creator, Owner, Judge or Savior. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that He truly unparalleled by anyone or anything.
  2. How have you lived as if God is replaceable by you, your possessions, your loved ones, or almost anything?
  3. Confess your arrogance to Jesus agreeing with Him that to do so is to insult Him as well as to be a fool.
    Read Romans 8:1-4. Give thanks to Jesus for His work to atone for your guilt. Thank Him for consuming all your sin so that by His punishment in your place, He promises to remove from you what would eternally kill you.
  4. Who do you know that fears God but they do not trust that with the Lord there is forgiveness? Ask Jesus to “send fire from His altar” as it were to them – that He would blot out their sin.
  5. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you resolve in His worth and courage to be His ambassador even if people around you don’t respond. Pray for words and hope He is able to give new life to those who are spiritually dead.