How free is Grace? (By John Piper)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–6) 

The decisive act of God in conversion is that he “made us alive together with Christ” even when “we were dead in our trespasses.” In other words, we were dead to God. We were unresponsive; we had no true spiritual interest; we had no taste for the beauties of Christ; we were simply dead to all that mattered.

Then God acted — unconditionally — before we could do anything to be fit vessels of grace. He made us alive. He sovereignly awakened us to see the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The spiritual senses that were dead miraculously came to life.

Verse 4 says that this was an act of “mercy.” That is, God saw us in our deadness and pitied us. God saw the terrible wages of sin leading to eternal death and misery. And the riches of his mercy overflowed to us in our need. But what is so remarkable about this text is that Paul breaks the flow of his own sentence in order to insert, “by grace you have been saved.” “God . . . made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”

Paul is going to say this again in verse 8. So why does he break the flow in order to add it here? What’s more, the focus is on God’s mercy responding to our miserable plight of deadness; so why does Paul go out of his way to say that it is also by grace that we are saved?

I think the answer is that Paul recognizes here a perfect opportunity to emphasize the freeness of grace. As he describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.

What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead! This is the meaning of grace.

The Freeness of Grace #SolidJoys http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/the-freeness-of-grace

The Christmas gift written on our hearts

christmas-heart“So the meaning of Christmas is not only that God replaces shadows with Reality, but also that he takes the reality and makes it real to his people. He writes it on our hearts. He does not lay his Christmas gift of salvation and transformation down for you to pick up in your own strength. He picks it up and puts in your heart and in your mind, and seals to you that you are a child of God.”

Making It Real for His People #SolidJoys http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/making-it-real-for-his-people

Why Jesus came

This post comes from John Piper at Desiring God. It is a really helpful explanation of the reason for the season.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15) 

Hebrews 2:14–15 is worth more than two minutes in an Advent devotional. These verses connect the beginning and the end of Jesus’s earthly life. They make clear why he came. They would be great to use with an unbelieving friend or family member to take them step by step through your Christian view of Christmas. It might go something like this…

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood…”

The term “children” is taken from the previous verse and refers to the spiritual offspring of Christ, the Messiah (see Isaiah 8:18; 53:10). These are also the “children of God.” In other words, in sending Christ, God has the salvation of his “children” specially in view. It is true that “God so loved the world, that he sent [Jesus].” But it is also true that God was especially “gathering the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52). God’s design was to offer Christ to the world, and to effect the salvation of his “children” (see 1 Timothy 4:10). You may experience adoption by receiving Christ (John 1:12).

“…he himself likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood]…”

Christ existed before the incarnation. He was spirit. He was the eternal Word. He was with God and was God (John 1:1; Colossians 2:9). But he took on flesh and blood and clothed his deity with humanity. He became fully man and remained fully God. It is a great mystery in many ways. But it is at the heart of our faith and is what the Bible teaches.

“…that through death…”

The reason he became man was to die. As God, he could not die for sinners. But as man he could. His aim was to die. Therefore he had to be born human. He was born to die. Good Friday is the reason for Christmas. This is what needs to be said today about the meaning of Christmas.

“…he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…”

In dying, Christ de-fanged the devil. How? By covering all our sin. This means that Satan has no legitimate grounds to accuse us before God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect, it is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33) — on what grounds does he justify? Through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:9).

Satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon of the devil is taken out of his hand. He cannot make a case for our death penalty, because the Judge has acquitted us by the death of his Son!

“…and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. Satan cannot overturn that decree. And God means for our ultimate safety to have an immediate effect on our lives. He means for the happy ending to take away the slavery and fear of the Now.

If we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free. Free for joy. Free for others.

What a great Christmas present from God to us! And from us to the world!

The end goal: Hope

God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8)

Notice that “demonstrates” is present tense and “died” is past tense.

The present tense implies that this demonstrating is an ongoing act that keeps happening in today’s present and tomorrow’s present.

The past tense “died” implies that the death of Christ happened once for all and will not be repeated. “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Why did Paul use the present tense (“God demonstrates”)? I would have expected Paul to say, “God demonstrated (past tense) his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Was not the death of Christ the demonstration of God’s love? And did not that demonstration happen in the past?

I think the clue is given a few verses earlier. Paul has just said that “tribulations work patient endurance, and patient endurance works proven character, and proven character works hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (vv. 3–5).

In other words, the goal of everything God takes us through is hope. He wants us to feel unwaveringly hopeful through all tribulations.

But how can we?

Paul answers in the next line: “Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (v. 5). God’s love “has been poured out in our hearts.” The tense of this verb means that God’s love was poured out in our hearts in the past (at our conversion) and is still present and active.

God did demonstrate his love for us in giving his own Son to die once for all in the past for our sins (v. 8). But he also knows that this past love must be experienced as a present reality (today and tomorrow) if we are to have patience and character and hope.

Therefore he not only demonstrated it on Calvary, he goes on demonstrating it now by the Spirit. He does this by opening the eyes of our hearts to “taste and see” the glory of the cross and the guarantee that it gives that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-love-of-god-past-and-present

Assurance for the flawed and incomplete

image

One of my most popular and most discussed posts concerns the Mercy Me song ‘Flawless’ – with the statement ‘the Cross has made you flawless’. You can remind yourself of the song here.
Today I’m sharing a post from John Piper which explains the certainty of our salvation in Christ. This salvation is not flawed – though we most certainly are. But the question remains: Has Christ truly perfected us for all time? Now?

Assurance for Incomplete People

Article by John Piper Scripture: Hebrews 10:14 

By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Two things here are mightily encouraging for us in our imperfect condition as saved sinners. First, notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He has done it. And he has done it for all time. The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever.

Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes?

There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” The ongoing continuous action of the Greek present tense is important. “Those who are beingsanctified” are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise, they would not need to go on being sanctified.

In What Way Are We Perfect?

So here we have the shocking combination: The very people who “have been perfected” are the ones who “are being sanctified.” We can also think back to chapters 5 and 6 to recall that these Christians are anything but perfect. For example, in Hebrews 5:11 he says, “You have become dull of hearing.” So we may safely say that “perfected” inHebrews 10:14 does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect in this life.

Well, what does it mean? The answer is given in the next verses (Hebrews 10:15–18). The writer explains what he means by quoting Jeremiah on the new covenant, namely, that in the new covenant which Christ has sealed by his blood, there is total forgiveness for all our sins. Verses 17–18: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” So he explains the present perfection in terms (at least) of forgiveness.

Christ’s people are perfected now in the sense that God puts away all our sins (Hebrews 9:26), forgives them, and never brings them to mind again as a ground of condemnation. In this sense, we stand before him perfected. When he looks on us, he does not impute any of our sins to us — past, present, or future. He does not count our sins against us.

Finding Assurance in Perfection

Now notice, second, for whom Christ has done this perfecting work on the cross.Hebrews 10:14 tells us plainly: “By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” You can put it provocatively like this: Christ has perfected once and for all those who are beingperfected. Or you could say, Christ has fullysanctified those who are now beingsanctified — which the writer does, in fact, say in verse 10, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Thus verse 10 says, we “have been sanctified.” Verse 14 says, we “are being sanctified.”

What this means is that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father, if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith in his future grace. Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. Hebrews 10:14 means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father, not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified” — “being made holy.”

You may have assurance of your perfect standing with God because by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfections toward more and more holiness. Our remaining imperfection is not a sign of our disqualification, but a mark of all whom God “has perfected for all time” — if we are in the process of “being changed” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So take heart. Fix your eyes on the once-for-all, perfecting work of Christ. And set your face against all known sin.
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/complete-assurance-for-incomplete-people

Seven Christmas Meditations from John Piper

Nativity_tree2011I found each of these short Christmas devotions really encouraging. You will easily find a place to share them in your home, your church, your classroom or your facebook wall this Christmas!

1. A Big God for a Little PeopleLuke 2:1–5

Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of four billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children. Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

2. Calvary Road—Luke 2:6–7

Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn. Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do. God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor.” God rules all things—even motel capacities—for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing and the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said: “He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross.” We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). To the one who calls out enthusiastically: “I will follow you wherever you go!” Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

3. Fear Not—Luke 2:8–11

The angel said to Zechariah: “Fear not!” He said it to Mary: “Fear not!” And now he says it to the shepherds: “Fear not!” It’s a natural thing for a sinner to fear. The more guilt we have, the more things we fear: fear of being found out for some little deceit, fear that some ache we have is God’s judgment, fear of dying and meeting the holy God face to face.

But even though it’s natural, God sends Jesus with the word: Fear not! Hebrews 2:14 says: Jesus became man “that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death have been held in lifelong bondage.” Doesn’t this last phrase imply something tremendously liberating for our daily life? If the worst fear—fear of death—has been taken away through the death of Christ, then surely God does not want us to fear the lesser things in life: job insecurity, not having enough time to finish a sermon, having over for lunch someone who can’t speak English, failing a test in school, being rejected by your friends, etc. The message of Christmas is fear not! God is ruling the world for the great good of his children. Believe his promises: “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will help you; I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness . . . Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear . . . Cast all your anxieties on God because he cares for you . . . The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”

4. Rejoice!

And in the place of fear Jesus puts joy. Joyless faith in Jesus is a contradiction in terms. Paul summed up the goal of his whole ministry like this: “for the advancement and joy of your faith.” And he told the Philippians and Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, and again I will say rejoice.” Always? Yes. Not without tears of grief and pain. But still joyful. When my mother was killed, I cried for about half an hour before I could stop. But as I knelt there by my bed, I was not only grieving. I was hoping. And while it is very hard to describe, there was a kind of joy in God and his sovereign goodness that later on at her funeral I tried to express.

So don’t oversimplify: it is not wrong to cry (weep with those who weep), but there is a joy rooted in God’s rule of love that is never overcome in God’s children.

5. Peace for Whom?—Luke 2:12–14

Peace for whom? There is a somber note sounded in the angels’ praise. Peace among men on whom his favor rests. Peace among men with whom he is pleased. Without faith it is impossible to please God. So Christmas does not bring peace to all.

“This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.” Or as the aged Simeon said when he saw the child Jesus: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against . . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” O, how many there are who look out on a bleak and chilly Christmas day and see no more than that.

6. For Everyone Who Believes

He came to his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to as many as believed on his name. It was only to his disciples that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The people who enjoy the peace of God that surpasses all understanding are those who in everything by prayer and supplication let their requests be made known to God. The key that unlocks the treasure chest of God’s peace is faith in the promises of God. So Paul prays: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing“. And when we do trust the promises of God and have joy and peace and love, then God is glorified. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men with whom he is pleased: men who would believe.

7. Spreading the Light—Luke 2:17–20

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him.

If you are ever granted to see that light for what it really is, you will believe it. Everybody who knows the light is like John the Baptist: we have seen the light and testify to it. We have been lifted out of the dark caverns of our sin and guilt and fear into the bright daylight of his grace. How can we help but spread the light?

To symbolize the coming of the light into our dark world and the spreading of the light through the world we will spread the flame of the Christ candle through the room.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/a-big-god-for-little-people

Go Deep in the Grace of God – Piper’s Five Points

piper 5pts“Perhaps your greatest spiritual need right now is precisely this — to let the flood of God’s prodigal grace wash over you afresh and like never before. As much as your instincts may be saying that next step is yours, what decision you make, what change you can effect, it may be that what you need most is to stand back, look outside yourself, and see the salvation of the Lord which he has worked for you  — by sheer grace.”

If you are looking for a little book to read for some encouragement in understanding the grace of God, Pipers “Five Points” will probably fit the bill. In less than a hundred pages you can plumb the depths of the irresistible grace of God, in a journey through the Five Points of Calvinism, on which the book is based. Along with Martin Luther, John Calvin was the most influential writer in the Protestant Reformation. If you have never considered the building blocks of our Protestant faith, head over to Piper’s site for the free PDF.

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/go-deep-in-the-grace-of-god

Lost in worshipping the created

I have some friends who are totally in lonature-man-in-tree-on-waterve with the beauty of the natural world. They ravenously consume nature documentaries and scientific discoveries, and relish the fascinating and amazing laws which exist in the universe. I must say I do share and rejoice in such a fascination! Yet it is possible to be lost, from God’s perspective, even with such an attitude. Linked to this love of creation is the exaltation of mankind, as the crown of creation. As mankind exalts, expresses, captures, ponders, reproduces, learns from and preserves all the wonder of creation, the wonder of the Creator (who in fact made, entered and sustains this creation!) can be, sadly, pushed aside.

Consider these words from John Piper:

“The tragedy of the world is that the echo is mistaken for the Original Shout. When our back is to the breathtaking beauty of God, we cast a shadow on the earth and fall in love with it. But it does not satisfy. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them. . . For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of the flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
(from The Dangerous Duty of Delight)

His words remind me of those penned by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 1:  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator

Piper comments further on this ‘exchange’:  How could I put my eye to some great telescope, designed to make me glad with visions of the galaxies, and notice in the glass a dim reflection of my face and say:”Now I am happy, I am loved?” How could I stand before the setting sun, between the mountain range and the vastness of the sea, and think that everlasting joy should come from making much of me? . . . “
(Don’t Waste your Life, John Piper, 2003, p.186.)

What this really boils down to is love of humanity, humanity exalting itself in bold denial of the Creator, saying ‘all this can exist and be sustained simply by the ingenuity of mankind’ – or by the evolutionary process, which apparently needs no initial designer (?!).

How sad to be so in love with the shadow of the Creator, that a relationship with the Creator is fortfeited, the Creator in whose image we are made, the Creator whose love and sense of right and justice and compassion lives in us as a testimony to his character – even if we deny him.

If this is a struggle for you, please check out my older post on a similar topic: https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/07/01/an-unwasted-life-makes-much-of-jesus/

I trust and pray you can see the God who created and sustains this universe, by His living and eternal Word, Jesus Christ. Faith in him will never disappoint!

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

Star-over-Bethlehem“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2) 

John Piper writes: “Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.”

(http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/bethlehem-s-supernatural-star)

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God’s Word leads us in prayer

prayer2Sometimes we can feel like our prayers are going unanswered, or that our feeble efforts to be consistent and persistent in prayer mean God probably doesn’t even want to answer! But God is not like us. He is compassionate and gracious. His grace is new every morning.

“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:2)

If you need help to get praying again there are plenty of books to read on the topic. There is also journalling, prayer partners and other methods to try. But today I’d like to suggest a few simple points (courtesy of John Piper) to remind you that the greatest help for the practice of prayer is probably God’s Word itself. Consider the following reasons why:

  1. Much of the Bible is prayer (most of the Psalms especially).
  2. The Bible is full of commands and encouragements for us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  3. We are told to pray according to the will of God (1 John 5:14 ), and the Bible is the revealed will of God.
  4. The Word of God cannot be truly desired (Psalm 119:36) or spiritually comprehended (Psalm 119:18) or savingly spoken (2 Thessalonians 3:1) without the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we ask for by prayer.
  5. Being saturated with the Word of God produces an effective prayer life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you , ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

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