Obedience and Freedom

Hi everyone. Rob here.

The readings in The Revised Common Lectionary on Sunday included an abridged version of the 10 Commandments. I had the privilege of leading the liturgy on Sunday and I made the comment that modern society sees the Commandments as rules that restrict. Ancient Israel, on the other hand, would have seen them as a statement of liberation. They were no longer slaves to Pharaoh. They were now God’s people. This is how God described the relationship to Moses in Exodus 19:4-6:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

That’s quite a promotion! In our western culture we have made the mistake of thinking of liberation as being free to do what we want, when we want and how we want to do it. We believe we are free when we are only responsible to and for ourselves. But that is not biblical freedom. It is, in fact, a new kind of slavery. It’s a slavery to self and, therefore, to sin. Biblical freedom is when we are obedient to God who made us and loves us. Obedience is when we say Yes to God. When we say yes to God we enter into his freedom and that is what makes us free in return. Jesus’ victory was to defeat all the powers that get in the way of us saying Yes.

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We see this freedom at work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As he walked up and down the land of Israel you could see that he was free. No so-called authority figure could rein him in. Pharisees would confront him and leave with their metaphorical tail between their legs. Neither Rome nor Herod could intimidate him. Demons couldn’t stand up to him and the Devil couldn’t tempt him. Peter tried to tell him how good Messiahs should act and was thoroughly rebuked. The soldiers fell back before his authority and Pilate was troubled by it. Jesus chose to be arrested and chose to die. We then discovered that death couldn’t contain him either. Heaven can’t contain him. His life flows to us even now. Don’t you want to enter into that freedom?! Then bow the knee, surrender, submit and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into an obedient life. Freedom will follow.

Do I experience this all the time? Am I totally obedient to the Spirit of Jesus? No, but perfection isn’t really the goal. Union with God is the goal. Intimate connection with God is the goal. He is our life and he must become our life. A good thing to measure our progress by is our desire. Are we wanting more of God in us, through us and around us? Is it his freedom, his love and his life we desire to be in us? If yes, then we are making progress. If not, ask for that desire. Where we place the eternity set in our hearts will dictate how we live and who we love for.

So, let us all bow the knee and give the King our yes today. Grace and peace everyone.

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Shaken but Strong

Hello everyone. Rob here.

It’s my daughter’s birthday today and my son’s next week. They are growing up and their parents are growing older. It’s a reminder, once again, that life is constant change and transition. 2020 has been one long lesson in that regard hasn’t it!? This has been a year where it feels like the world is being shaken up. We can no longer take anything for granted.

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Allow me a metaphor. Yesterday I experienced a small earthquake. While that was nothing it reminded me that the safest buildings are those that flex with the quake. Being stiff and rigid is a sure sign that in a big quake, it will snap. In times of change and transition there is a strength in being able to move with the times, go with the flow and sway with the breeze. The key is to have a secure foundation. Paul prays this for us in Ephesians 3:15-19,

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

It’s an absolutely stunning and beautiful prayer. Rooted and established in love is a phrase that is both inviting and challenging. One of the things that gets tested in me in times of great change is my ability and capacity to love. It makes me wonder just how deeply rooted in love I am? Paul sees this as the key to living a life of power and faith. The true power is being able to grasp the endless dimensions of Christ’s love for us. When we do that we are “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” There’s a lot of God in us when there’s a lot of love in us because God is love.

Change challenges our ability to grasp God’s love because it turns our eyes, hearts and minds away from God and onto the circumstances of our life. It’s like when Peter went to walk out to Jesus on the water (see Matthew 14:25-32). He was fine when he had his eyes on Jesus but when he noticed the storm raging around him he began to sink. It’s hard to keep your eyes on Jesus in the storm and 2020 has been a storm. The storm, however, did not change the reality that Jesus was right there. When Peter began to sink he cried out and he was saved. Jesus is right there and he hears our cries. His love for us is present to us. We just have to remember that and take it to heart!

So take Paul’s prayer and pray it for yourself, your family, your friends, your church and your neighbours. God wants us to be filled with his love, filled to overflowing. he wants us to know the power of that love working in and through us. That is the Spirit-filled life. It is the life of Christ in us.

This week, may you know that you can be shaken but strong. You can hold firm and go with the flow. The world may make you tremble but God will give your courage. And may the love and peace of God be with you.

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He Is Always Good

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

As I thought about today’s blog, the question came to me:

What would be really good to know right now?

The answer, I believe is that God is and always will be good. A helpful daily practice for God’s people right now would be to affirm the reality of God’s goodness. I suggest this because believing that God is good is actually quite difficult when you’re surrounded by things going from bad to worse. It’s also helpful in times of uncertainty. God’s permanent goodness is a rock where we can place our feet. It leads to hope and hope is a fuel that energises us when giving up seems like a viable option.

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The failure to believe in God’s goodness, like most human failings, is rooted in the story of the garden. The serpent comes to Eve and says this:

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’ For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

What he’s really saying is,

God is holding out on you. He’s not good or trustworthy. You can’t be free when he’s in charge.”

The problem is that going our own way and trusting in our own best thinking has never really worked for us, has it? I really like Isaiah 26:3

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

The path to peace is to trust God, especially when times are hard. When you feel like the whole world is against you, God says, “Trust in my goodness.” The question is, how do we do it?

There’s the short daily practice of agreeing with God’s goodness:

God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit I agree with your goodness today. I affirm your goodness in all circumstances and in everything that happens to me and around me today. Amen.

It’s also good to make a habit of stopping and thanking God for anything good that happens in your day. You can thank God for the sun shining, for a bargain at the supermarket, for a kind word from someone, for having enough today, for having breath.

Something that helps me is to remind myself that it’s all going somewhere. Things may feel hopeless but in reality it’s all going somewhere. That phrase helps me to know that God is in control, he has a plan and it’s good.

Another really good thing to do is to break any agreements with the idea that God isn’t good. Any variation of, “God is holding out on me,” needs to be renounced and broken. Otherwise you start viewing your whole life through that lens and you fail to see the goodness of God in your midst.

There will be other practices and you know what helps you. Time in creation, worship music, cuddling your kids or your pet, getting some exercise and more. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the goodness of God. Reading your favourite scriptures really helps too. Just do it and keep doing it. The world needs you to be in touch with God’s goodness because they need to see it, hear it and feel it.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Naming the Grief

Hello everyone. Rob here.

There is a sense right now that the world is grieving. We are seeing the stages of grief being played out in the public sphere – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – as we come to grips with a world being shaped everyday by a global pandemic and all its associated consequences.

Here in New Zealand we have gotten off very lightly and yet the impact of the pandemic is still real. The grief is real. I was reminded in a podcast today that the initial human reaction to change is to experience it as loss. There is a grief to every change. How much more so when there is real loss to contend with? The losses may be small like missing out on sports games or your annual overseas holiday. Or they may be much more soul-affecting like not being able to farewell a lost one properly or losing your job or business. Whether they are big or small, the losses all add up. We tend to minimise these losses knowing that people are in much worse situations or we dramatise the losses as if we’re the only ones to have suffered such a fate. I suggest a much better action is to name the losses, big and small, take them to Jesus and invite the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and counsel to us. We also need to collectivise the losses; that is to acknowledge that we are feeling loss as a community as our normal communal acts are, out of necessity, removed.

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Paul writes in Romans 12:14-16,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

This is a call to empathy for the people of God. It’s a reminder that we wear masks to protect the vulnerable and we keep our distance for the same reason. It also reminds us that people who are participating in lockdown protests and voice their displeasure online are grieving too. It’s coming out as anger and denial but it’s still grief. It’s also a warning against cursing others, pride and conceit. If that’s your attitude you are standing against God’s purposes for community. We see that when leaders adopt those attitudes they create and enable a divided society and no longer work for the common good. Paul puts out a different call for God’s people. He calls us to humility, empathy, harmony and love. These are the attitudes that enable people to flourish and communities to thrive.

So, what will you do with your grief? Can you put a name to it? What is it that you are grieving? Human touch? Church meetings? Inability to travel? Financial security? Feeling in control? The more specific you can be the better. Ask the Spirit to help you name your grief. Then take it to God. Father, Son and Spirit welcome you into their intimate life of loving unity. It’s a safe place, the best place for a grieving soul. You will find much healing there, maybe some correction, maybe some interpretation, but always love.

What stage of grief are you in? There is no right or wrong answer here. It’s only a question of what you’re doing with it. Lockdown protests, online trolling and unfounded rumour spreading is no place for your grief and it only adds to the grief of others. Being stoic and silent with your grief is no good either. Find someone you can be safe with and let it out. Not just for your sake but for us all. We’re in it together and if we all grieve well, with empathy and love, then we can get through it and even thrive a little.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Good Question

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’m thinking about a question. Here it is:

What is the change I want to see in the world?

Before that question I was thinking about another question.

What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

I prefer the first question. Here’s why.

The second question is self-absorbed. It’s about me. What do I want to do with my life? It’s inward looking and it looks to me to generate an answer to it. The second question is outward-looking and it implies that there is some greater work that I can participate in. The second question has an implied question of, what will give me pleasure? The first question has at its core, what will give me purpose?

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As a man of faith I have a core desire that lies behind both questions. That is, I want to be about God’s work in the world. The first question helps me get in touch with that desire. The second question, less so. The desire is related to belief. In particular a belief that Ephesians 2:10 is true.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

By asking, what is the change I want to see in the world, I am acknowledging several things. One is that the world needs to change. That seems obvious but we can become very much at home in this world. Our true home is the kingdom of God. And so Jesus prays…

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

The change needed in the world is for God’s kingdom to come into it and take it over. There will come a day when this happens in totality and life in all its fullness will be ours. For now it happens in part and it especially happens when God’s kingdom representatives (that’s you and I and many, many others) bring God’s kingdom to bear in our sphere of influence.

One friend of mine does this in the world of media and social media. Another does it in the classroom. Another does it in the world of science. Others do it by leading churches and ministry organisations. My wife does it through prayer and kindness in our neighbourhood. The list goes on. They see a change they want to see in the world and they go about God’s work in God’s strength to see his kingdom come and his will be done on earth in their sphere of influence.

As for me I’m feeling the need to name the change I want to see to help me focus my activities and be more in touch with what truly energises me. Because God gives us different eyes to see the different changes that the world needs. If we all answered the question of the change we want to see in the same way there wouldn’t be enough change.

So, what is the change I want to see in the world? The answer has always been there. I just need to look at the evidence of my life. As I look at what has energised me, stirred my passions and unlocked my gifts, the answer is freedom. I want people to be free. Free from lies, oppression, religiosity, small-mindedness – anything that keeps people from walking in freedom with God as sons and daughters. Free for worship, intimate friendship, the ability to love and be loved, purposeful activity, joy and so much more.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Ask yourself the question,

What is the change I want to see in the world?

Then look at your life and see what it is you’ve already been working towards. God prepared your work in advance so you’ve probably already been doing it!

Grace and peace everyone.

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Good Trouble

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In Christianity we often talk about becoming Christlike. We think that becoming more like Jesus is to become nicer or calmer, more serene. The reality is that becoming more like Jesus is to become a righteous, yet subversive, troublemaker. Jesus managed to upset everybody at some stage. He certainly upset the powers and principalities. he died on a Roman cross after all. He upset religious leaders. He upset many who followed him, including his friends. One of them was so upset with him he betrayed him to the authorities. I don’t know about you but I hate getting into trouble. I hate upsetting people and I hate people being against me. People pleasing has held me back in following Jesus. I need to become more like him who only ever obeyed the Father and was never bound by the opinion of others.

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Jesus was only a trouble maker because the powers of the world stood squarely against the kingdom of God that he was announcing. His announcing of the kingdom happened because God loved us so much he sent his Son to bring us the good news of God’s rule. If trouble making isn’t done in the name and power of God’s love then it’s just another self-serving way of being in the world. Trouble making is good if it means challenging the old creation to make way for the new. It’s good if it challenges earthly powers to take note of heavenly mercy.

John Lewis was a hero of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s who went on to become an effective and well-respected congressman. He was also a friend of Jesus. A couple of years ago he tweeted this:

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

What kind of good trouble is the Spirit inviting you and I to get into? I know that I’ve been getting increasing upset by a form of Christianity that keeps God in a box, keeps things in nice tidy categories and by doing so it seems to turn the Good News into bad news. What do I do with the agitation I’ve been feeling? I know that I need to press into it prayerfully, seek wisdom, but also seek courage. Some of you may be feeling the need to stand up for racial justice. Good! The earth itself needs advocates right now. The gap between rich and poor is ridiculous. Maybe it’s to be like Barnabas who stood with Paul (then Saul) and helped him get accepted by the disciples even though he was trying to kill them not that long before. Maybe you need to stand alongside someone and let the consequences fall. I don’t know but I do know that God knows the good trouble we need to get into.

It’s a time for the friends and followers of Jesus to become more like him. We become obedient to God’s words and free from the influencing power of words that don’t belong to him. We advocate for God’s kingdom and let the world (or the church, your family, your organisation) feel the weight of who we are in Christ.

Grace and peace everyone.

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He Is Our Help

Hi everyone. Rob here.

This morning I found myself thinking about Psalm 121. It starts like this:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

I love the picture of the Psalmist pausing, taking a deliberate moment, and reminding himself that his help comes from the Lord and no one else. It is a good reminder to us to do the same. There are a lot of voices trying to tell us that they are our help. This is especially so in election season, as it is here in New Zealand and in the United States. And it’s true that an effective government is a very helpful thing. Many things, many people and many institutions are helpful, but God alone is my ultimate help.

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The Psalm tells us why. He is the “Maker of heaven and earth.” He is personally invested in his creation. John 3:16 tells us how far this personal inestment goes:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

We know that God’s help comes because God’s help came. Through Jesus God came for us. He came to invite us home; to take our place in God’s kingdom as restored human beings, forgiven, free and alive.

Like you, I need help. Often. I need help to be courageous and not give in to fear. I need help to be kind and loving and not selfish and self-protective. I need help to live by faith and not by sight when the heartbreak of the world starts to create cynicism and despair in me. I need help to be hopeful, joyful and trusting. I need help when I’m tired, sad and angry. I need help always. And I can’t find the help I need anywhere except in God.

So I look to Jesus:

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

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:4).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).’

Jesus is our help. In these uncertain times there lies an invitation. Cling to Jesus. Jesus knows the way from death to life. He is the good shepherd and the king of the kingdom. He is our hope and our life. He knows the way.

I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).

Yes he is. Emulate the Psalmist. Take a deliberate moment and ask yourself – “where does my help come from.” Where are you looking for your help? To whom are you looking for your help? If your answer isn’t Jesus then it’s time to change course and make that correction. You’ll be glad you did.

Grace and peace.

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Love and Joy

Hi everyone. Rob here.

John Eldredge was once given this bit of advice:

The enemy is out to steal your joy.

In a year like this one – pandemic, lockdowns, economic upheaval, race protests, climate protests, school shutdowns and the normal hard stuff of life – how is your joy?

woman doing hand heart sign

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The thing about joy is that we don’t have to conjure it up. It isn’t generated by us. It is given to us by Jesus. Reflect on this from John 15:9-12:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Keeping commands is deeply connected to maintaining intimacy. Jesus kept the Father’s commands because he kept on receiving and believing the Father’s love for him. He then passed that love on to his disciples and to you and to me. We are invited to follow the same pattern. We keep presenting ourselves to God so we can receive God’s love in order to pass it on. By doing so we keep the Father’s commands, especially the commands of loving God and loving one another. When we live this kind of life we receive joy, the same joy that Jesus has. Jesus gives us his joy. It’s a joy that is the fruit of a life of love.

When we feel that our joy is being stolen it is often because we are losing our capacity to love. This happens to all of us. The world drains us. the enemy assaults us. Every day we hear that we need to be more and do more. This is why it’s so important to pursue a life of loving intimacy with God. We come to Jesus because he’s our brother and friend and the lover of the church. We come to the Father because we are his beloved children. The Spirit brings this love to our hearts and nurtures us with maternal care. We remember Jesus’ invitation:

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

May you know joy, the joy that Jesus knows. It is his joy and he wants to give it to us. May we be anchored in his love and live a life of love so that his joy may be in us. May nothing and no one steal our joy or our capacity to love today.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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I Agree With Love

Greetings everyone. Rob here.

God is love.

I wonder how well you’re believing that this year? Do you believe that whatever God is up to in our world right now is being done out of perfect love? Do you believe that whatever God is up to in your own life and in the life of your family is being done out of perfect love?

Because it is.

God can’t do it any other way. Love is the only way he knows. He can’t help but act out of perfect love.

But it sure can be hard to believe sometimes.

man kneeling while praying

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Did Jonah know that God chased him down and put him in the belly of a fish because he was acting out of perfect love?

Did Jeremiah know that God was acting with perfect love when he had him keep prophesying in the face of intense persecution?

Did Jesus know the Father’s perfect love on the cross?

Do you know that God loves you perfectly right now despite your circumstances and despite your struggles to believe that it’s true?

I suggest that you stop reading right now and take a moment to agree with God’s perfect love for you.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, I agree right now that you love me perfectly. You are love and I agree with your love. Amen.

Right now, in a world that is increasingly full of hate and division , agreeing with God’s love is the best and most radical act of faith you can do. It sets your heart right, renews your mind and gives the enemy nothing to work with. It helps you love others with God’s perfect love too and the world desperately needs us to do that.

This week may you agree that God is love and that his love for you is perfect and unceasing. May you keep on agreeing with that most beautiful truth.

Grace and peace.

 

 

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Believing What God Believes

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I was irritable last night. I was grumping at my teenage son for having expensive ideas after a week where we’d had to pay some big bills. Behind my irritability was fear and shame. Brand New Heart Ministries doesn’t pay the bills and my search for part-time work has been fruitless so far. Some of the shame is the masculine ego that says, ‘you have to be the provider.’ Behind the fear of running out of money is the fear that I didn’t hear God correctly when he said (twice!) ‘be patient. I will provide.’ My irritability eased when my wife calmly said, ‘our finances are fine and your activities did contribute this week.’ I sense the enemy at work and I’ll pray into that more today, but for now let’s confess that just below our very real faith, fear and shame lurk.

This scenario is not unique to me. This is common territory for people venturing into the unknown of new ministries and new businesses. It’s also being played out around the world as people lose their jobs or see their businesses suffer hit after hit. It’s a fragile and scary time. This is a time that requires us to have a lot of kindness and compassion, not just for others, but for ourselves. But it’s also a time that really requires us to put our faith into action.

grayscale photography of people worshiping

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One of the definitions I use for faith is, “believing what God believes.” Or to go deeper, “taking to heart what God has taken to heart.” Part of this act of faith is believing what God believes about us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:15)

Those verses are but a small fraction of the beautiful things that God believes about us. If we can come to a place where we take those beliefs to heart it brings constant assurance and security. We also come to see more clearly and regularly that these verses apply to every other person also. We are all invited to take our place as God’s children. Like the son in the story all we need to do is wake up and come home.

I just spent my lunchtime walking around a park and declaring these things to be true in my life. I chose to believe what God believes about me. Tomorrow I need to believe it again. Fear and shame may lurk but I get to decide who and what I open the door of my heart to. When I believe what God believes I become a much better guardian of my heart.

This week may you meditate on the above verses and take to heart what God believes about you. May that truth give you courage and strength to live and love in his name. Grace and peace.

P.S. If you are wanting to support this ministry here’s a great way to help and grow at the same time.

https://www.patreon.com/brandnewheart

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