Comparing Ourselves with Others

Life can be toughYesterday in our Bible class we examined the Scriptures and challenged our human tendency towards ingratitude. Among the possible “cures” for ingratitude some suggested was the idea of comparing ourselves to those less fortunate. On the surface, I accepted the idea, because I’ve been around poverty and I’ve been in prisons, and I always feel a great sense of relief that God has not brought me that low (so far). And I do thank God because I am not hurting like those I’ve just seen.

However, today I’m rethinking the wisdom of comparing myself to others in this way. Isn’t that similar to the Pharisee in Luke 18.11 who prayed, “God, I thank  you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”? I realize he was comparing his (perceived) righteousness with the wickedness of others, but he thanked God for it! He gave God the glory (in a sense) for his high righteousness, thinking he was blessed to be good while others were cursed to be evil. What he didn’t appreciate was that he was unrighteous and filthy. How would he have thanked God if he had realized his true moral state and spiritual standing?

If we flip it to a positive side, when we thank God that we are not like our poor neighbor, diseased uncle, or handicapped cousin, what are we really thinking? When we tell ourselves and God “it could be a lot worse,” how does that make us treat our fellow man and how does it prepare us for possible future misfortunes? I’m trying to think of an Old or New Testament saint who prayed to God in this way: “God, I thank you that I’m not like my poor neighbor.” They certainly thanked God for all the blessings in their lives and for His providential care keeping them from various troubles…but I can’t think of a place when they thanked God for treating them better than others.

Leggless BeggarWhat will happen when you are the one in the wheelchair, the one who loses “everything” to a fire, the one who loses the person dearest to you on earth? Will you still turn to the Lord with thanksgiving in your heart? I pray you will–but it won’t be because you’re comparing your wonderful situation to that of another less fortunate. You’ll praise God’s name and thank Him for who He is, for the relationship you have with Him, and for all the blessings you still recognize in your life despite the terrible pain currently on your heart. Like Job, you will affirm:

“The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1.21)

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…” (Job 13.15)

Perhaps, like David in Psalm 30, you’ll reflect on God’s goodness as you remember His faithfulness:

1      I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
2      O LORD my God,
I cried to You for help, and You healed me.
3      O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol;
You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.
4      Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
5      For His anger is but for a moment,
         His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

6      Now as for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I will never be moved.”
7      O LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong;
You hid Your face, I was dismayed.
8      To You, O LORD, I called,
And to the Lord I made supplication:
9      “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?

10      “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me;
O LORD, be my helper.”
11      You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
12      That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

I’d love to read your comments on this.

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Lessons from a Blind Man

Blind ManIn thinking about the blind man in John 9 today, I considered the following:

1. Blind from Birth

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth (Jn. 9.1)

This man was messed up from the beginning of his life. There was not a time when he wasn’t enslaved to his blindness, and he obviously could do absolutely nothing about it. The man lived in the dark and, not doubt, expected to live out the rest of his days as a blind beggar.

2. Not a Result of His Sin

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (Jn. 9.3)

Why are some people dealt what we might call an unfair hand? They enter the world handicapped, and their entire life becomes a struggle. Jesus explains that it’s not because of their sin, and it’s not necessarily because of their parents’ sin, either. Is there no good reason, then? Well…the reason was, in this man’s case, that God’s works should be revealed in him.

Do you balk at this? It’s almost like his blindness was intentionally devised by God. At the very least God allowed him to be born blind. He is an object lesson for us. Blindness represents sin. God glorifies Himself when He works to heal people who are trapped, enslaved, unable to help themselves!

3. Faith Came When the Lights Came On

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He , Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. (Jn. 9.35-38)

See the LightHow awesome is Jesus’ statement “You have…seen Him”?! He had heard Jesus’ voice before but had never seen Him. But now, by the power and grace of God, the man’s eyes work and he sees the Lord! Because of the great work which Jesus has accomplished in his life, the man professes his faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

4. Jesus Chose Him

Not every blind person in the land was targeted and healed by Jesus–but this man was. Jesus chose this guy to work the mighty works of God in him. Jesus chose to enlighten him. And this does not violate the fact that God is no respecter of persons. Perhaps we don’t understand what that really means…that God is no respecter of persons. It does not mean God treats every person the same, grants every person the same gifts, heals everyone, or saves everyone. It simply means God does not grant us gifts based on who we are, whether male or female, rich or poor, ebony black or lily white. The one thing all men and women have in common is that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But Praise God that He opens the eyes of some!

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Why Does God Save Us?

Amazing GodEvery time I read through Deuteronomy I chew on a couple of God’s statements to the Israel. Deuteronomy describes who God is:

  • The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4.24)
  • The LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor foget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them (Deut. 4.31)
  • The LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him (Deut. 4.35)
  • The LORD, He is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other (Deut. 4. 39)
  • “I am the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Deut. 5.9-10)

Notice how God characterized Israel, His people:

  • “You are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7.6)
  • “On your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day” (Deut. 10.15)

Promised LandSo it is amazing to me what God wanted Israel to know concerning their entrance into the Promised Land and their victory over the idolatrous nations within:

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out be a mighty hand a redeemed your from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7.7-8)

Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. (Deut. 9.4-6)

When we enter our Promised Land of heaven, we will say the same thing: it was not because we were so strong or because of our amazing righteousness or because of the uprightness of our hearts. It’s because God turned His gaze upon us, drew us to Him, and saved us despite ourselves. For we are a stubborn people.

Thank you, Lord God, for loving us through Jesus Christ in spite of our wickedness. Thank you for sanctifying and giving us the victory as Your beloved children.

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Law Can’t Save

GavelBible students always study the question of Law, because, since the beginning of time, God spilled so much ink and blood on it. Paul wrote extensively about the purpose and place of Law and how it relates to the disciple of Christ. As we discern God’s message across both major covenants, He teaches us that Law cannot save or transform anyone.

If you receive a speeding ticket and stand before the judge, how can law help you? It can’t, can it? Law only defines your sin and specifies a punishment. Those who administer law should make decisions based on the letter; they cannot rule one way for one person and another way for a second simply because they feel different that day or they happen to esteem girls over boys. No, the law is the law, and it must be followed.

Is the law bad, then? Not at all! Law is good and necessary. Just after he wrote that “apart from the law sin is dead” (Rom. 7.8), Paul affirmed “the Law is holy” (7.12), “the Law is spiritual” (7.14), and “the Law is good” (7.16). However, because of God’s righteous commandments (which are good), sin produced in Paul transgressions of every kind (7.8) and, he said, sin “deceived me and through [the Law] killed me.” God’s holy standard results in our deaths because of our sin! Law condemns us all to death.

Broken ChainSo God saves us apart from law. This is why Jesus had to come, had to die, and had to rise from the dead: to conquer sin for us! “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you may be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead…” (Rom. 7.4). Notice, please, that God did not make us die to one law that we might be joined to another law–that is certainly not the point, and it would oppose God’s teachings. Paul could easily have written that, but he never phrases it that way. No, we die to LAW that we might be joined to CHRIST. We die to a system of commandments in order to live with a Person.

Does this mean we are no longer under law? In one sense, yes (Rom. 6.14). In another sense, no (1 Cor. 9.21). Our relationship to Law has changed in Jesus Christ. For those who are in Christ Jesus, “there is now no condemnation” (Rom. 8.1) because God has truly set us free from Law by forgiving our sins past, present, and future through Jesus’ blood. But He sets us free from the condemnation of Law in order that we might fulfill the Law (Rom. 6.12ff; 8.3-4; 10.4; 14.8-10; Gal. 5.14; Eph. 2.8-10)!

Next time you receive a punishment you rightly deserve, don’t direct your anger at the law or at those who administer the law–God created law and established its enforcers to punishing law-breakers (Rom. 13.1-4). Be penitent; accept your punishment. But seek God and glorify God because, no matter the earthly consequences of our sins, He actually forgives every transgression through Jesus Christ–that is, if you are IN Jesus Christ and are walking in the light as He is in the light. God children bear no condemnation in Jesus Christ!

Thank God we are not judged by Law!

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Don’t Forget Your Salvation

Walking the DesertHow could I ever forget my salvation? God freed me from my bondage and called me to the path of righteousness that I might live no longer for my flesh but for God.

But I grow tired, and I sometimes trudge through periods of complacency, focusing more on the difficulties of my path and my own weariness than on the bright, shining goal of Him who continually beckons me.

The rocky wilderness spreads around me. My parched throat and cracking skin long for sweet water and oil…and hasn’t God promised me good things? When I diligently seek those good things He promised me–health, food, clothing, honor, pleasure–I forget to seek HIM, His kingdom and His righteousness. Lost among the hills and valleys of life’s desert, I cry out for the milk and honey…but all I find is manna. I’m sick of manna! Give me delicious meat, onions, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables!

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people; and many of the people of Israel died. (Numbers 21.5)

WearyHave I forgotten my bondage? Why does Egypt now seem so sweet to me? Why does my mind decorate my old ways of sin, making it beautiful and enticing? Remember the whip on my back! Remember the slaughter of my children. Remember the sweat, the forced labor, the forced submission to a harsh task-master. Life now is so simple–all I must do is follow God and believe in His promises that one day He WILL grant entrance into a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. I must remind myself: God is always good. Always. Even when I can’t see the end of this rocky path He sent me on.

Remember Him who leads me. In His own words:

“The LORD, the LORD God,
merciful and gracious,
longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,
keeping mercy for thousands,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
by no means clearing the guilty,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34.6-7)

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What Trouble Women Can Cause

Paula with HusbandGod endowed women with power over men, and women can cause serious trouble for their men if they so desire or if they are not careful. Notice the following historical cases:

  • The women of Moab seduced Israel: “and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab…So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25.1-3)
  • Delilah seduced Samson: “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and have not told me where your great strength lies.” And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart… (Judges 16.15)
  • Solomon’s wives turned his heart away from God: “But King Solomon loved many foreign women…For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God…” (1 Kings 11.1, 4)
  • Athaliah influenced King Jehoram to wickedness: Jehoram “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 21.6)

Solomon illustrated the power of the seductress in Proverbs 7.6-23. Here is a portion of that passage:

With her enticing speech she caused him to yield,
With her flattering lips she seduced him.
Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks.
Till an arrow struck his liver.
As a bird hastens to the snare,
He did not know it would cost his life.

Messy JessieWhat power a woman can hold over a man, if she chooses!The wisest man in the world fell to women; the strongest man in the world fell to a woman.

Men, we must be on our guard, keeping away from the immoral woman who does not share our faith and who will lead us to the grave–sometimes quite literally. Keep close to the woman who pushes you towards righteousness.

Women, you must use your powers for good and not evil! My wife once revealed how often she could have “persuaded” me one direction or another if she’d have wanted to. I don’t doubt that’s true, but I trust her because her heart leans towards Christ. Be the woman of wisdom, the woman of righteousness, and influence your man towards heaven.

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Feeling Oppressed?

Smiling oppressedA favorite American prayer goes something like this: “Lord, thank you for the peace and freedom we enjoy to worship You without fear of oppression.” Sometimes it seems we U. S. citizens believe God’s greatest gift to His children is that we get to go to church in broad daylight, heads held high. But…

  • What would happen if we really were oppressed for our faith?
  • What might you and your family do differently if the government outlawed Bible preaching and teaching?
  • What if the government told us we can’t be considered legally a “church” if we preach against same-sex marriage?
  • What if following Jesus actually had real-world financial and physical consequences?

In fact, most of the world’s Christians follow Jesus under difficult circumstances. Why should we be different? Has God not blessed us to the point of suffering for His sake?

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.'” (1 Pet. 3. 14)

“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet. 4.14)

Praying boyAre we better than our Master?

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” (1 Pet. 4.1)

Let’s not let suffering for Christ take us by surprise. It’s certainly not a failure on God’s part; it’s according to His plan.

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Pet. 4.12-13)

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3.12)

We should continue to pray for peace but also for strength and courage to endure coming persecutions. I remember my parents years ago told me they feared my generation would see oppression and loss of freedom. It’s happening. “Evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3.13).

RefugeHold on to Jesus Christ, the one who suffered first. Surrounding you with His presence and power, He will help you through the difficult, dark times and make you stand in places you never dreamed you could! Trust in His promises and stay the course. At the right time, Jesus will put out His hand to stop the nonsense. Keep the end of the story firmly in your mind:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev. 20.7-10)

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Same-Sex Marriage and Separation of Church and State

Marriage EqualityLast night I read a New York Times article which presented an overview of the Supreme Court’s discussions yesterday: will the Federal Government officially recognize male-male and female-female relationships as belonging to the realm of “marriage”? Some of their argumentation caught my attention. According to the article, Justice Kennedy may be a defining vote in the decision:

“I don’t even know how to count the decimals when we talk about millennia,” he said. “This definition [of marriage–nw] has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ” He added that “the social science on this” — the value and perils of same-sex marriage — is “too new.”

Again he asked,

whether “there has not been really time” for “the federal system to engage in this debate.”

Justice Antonin Scalia asserted:

“The issue, of course, is not whether there should be same-sex marriage, but who should decide the point.” The right answer, he said, was the people or their elected representatives, not the courts. “Suddenly you want nine people outside the ballot box to require states that don’t want to do it to change what marriage is to include gay people,” he said. “Why cannot those states at least wait and see whether in fact doing so in the other states is or is not harmful to marriage?”

A lawyer fighting against the gay-marriage agenda, John J. Bursch, made the case that the purpose of marriage is to procreate. To that, Justice Ginsburg asked

If the purpose of marriage is procreation…why are two 70-year-olds allowed to marry?

Mr. Bursch brought up the fact that so many kids today are being born out of wedlock. Justice Kennedy said he thought that fact worked completely against Mr. Bursch’s case:

“You’re the one that brought the statistic up,” he told Mr. Bursch. “And under your view, it would be very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt some of these children. I think the argument cuts quite against you.”

And Justice Elena Kagan agreed:

“More adopted children and more marital households, whether same-sex or other-sex, seems to be a good thing,” she said.

Marriage?Many intelligent minds cranked into overdrive yesterday to debate this issue in the highest court, yet the debate was doomed from the beginning. Don’t hold your breath to see if this court rules “right.” Their foundation is all wrong! Whatever they decide, it will not be founded on the authority of a Supreme God who reigns above all peoples and governments; it will be founded on the authority of the Supreme Court or the authority of the U. S. Constitution.

The Constitution of the United States is not Scripture! It was written by fallible men, not by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In matters such as this, matters of morality, matters of authority and headship, the knowledge and wisdom of men will fail without divine guidance. You may like some of the arguments above and dislike some of the others, but every one of those statements is rooted in human thinking–what is good, best, expedient? None of the Chief Justices or the lawyers on either side is arguing from anything other than their own heads, experiences, desires, and knowledge of social issues. Though they stand erect and dignified before the country, they are like “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4.14).

ConstitutionThey have no fixed anchor. Society shifts and slides. The Constitution requires amendments and adjustments. Their own sinful hearts sway with the pressures of the moment. These cannot provide solid decision-making ground. So, like Jesus’ foolish man, the sand under their house will shift, the foundation will crack, and the whole institution will crumble.

Because they’re not building on Jesus Christ, they are doomed from the start.

Having a moral government completely divorced from the one true and living God is an oxymoron and a complete pipe dream. Separate Church and State? Maybe so. But don’t separate Faith and State!

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Practice the Skill of Listening

ListeningChristians are listeners by definition. God calls; we answer. “Everyone,” Jesus said, “who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (Jn. 6.45) and “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10.27).

Before we can effectively teach, we must first listen to and learn from the Master by sitting at the feet of faithful disciples.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

(Prov. 12.15)

Would you say we need more preachers and Bible class teachers or more counselors? Please don’t picture a guy jotting notes on a notepad while someone pours out his past. I mean Biblical, wise women and men who can share the gospel and apply pertinent Scripture to life situations. Everyone needs a counselor whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1.2).

Where there is no guidance the people fall,
But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

(Prov. 11.14)

Intense ConversationPicture yourself sitting on a sofa in a living room or across a small table at the corner coffee shop looking into the tear-streaked eyes of a friend who called you for help. Perhaps her mother just died and she doesn’t know how to fill the void. Perhaps her teenage son just told her he hates her. Perhaps she’s been experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety. Perhaps her relationship with her husband is spinning out of control. Whatever the reason, she called you to help. What do you do? How do you most helpfully speak into her crisis?

Listen first! God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and wouldn’t we want someone else to listen to our story, our plight? Before we can effectively speak into this woman’s life, we must discover the inner workings of her mind. Too often, we rush to toss out Bible verses, attacking perceived surface issues so we can be back about our business–because we’re too busy to listen. True love is hard work. Take the time to listen.

Thoughtful ConversationListening shows you genuinely care for the person. And I mean true-connection, locked-in, eyes-on-the-face listening. We shortchange our friend by not giving her our complete attention. Zero in on the root causes of her feelings. Is there sin involved which needs to be addressed? Does she simply need someone to sit and listen and not speak? Is there a broken relationship which needs reconciliation and healing? Does she need a deeper connection with the God of all comfort?

He who gives an answer before he hears,
It is folly and shame to him.

(Prov. 18.13)

Try practicing the skill of listening today. Ask guiding questions and genuinely attempt to learn about someone else. You show love this way, and you will uncover opportunities to share Scriptural words of comfort and encouragement! Be a blessing.

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Bad Marriage Advice and the Key to Fixing Your Marriage

LovebirdsAs I was studying and thinking about marriage, I came across this article on the Huffington Post: “The Relationship Advice that Wrecked My Marriage.” In it, Laura Doyle attacks three well-known and often-heard marriage advice statements:

  1. Institute a date night
  2. Communication is the key to a good relationship
  3. You should go to marriage counseling

That’s BAD advice? Read it and evaluate it for yourself. I think she’s on to something.

She shows the focus should be on loving each rather than on applying specific marriage-fixing techniques. Seeking and applying godly wisdom is what’s missing from most bad relationships. Too often we get our marriage advice from radio programs and magazine articles, most of which apply base human reasoning to the problems instead of Scriptural solutions.

What’s the main key to fixing your marriage and living in a healthy relationship? Be the right kind of husband. Be the right kind of wife. Don’t worry about fixing your partner–fix you! Read Ephesians 5.22-33 and, if you’re a husband, apply the verses which apply to you…and if you’re a wife, apply only those verses which are directed to you. God doesn’t call us to fix each other; he calls us to love each other.

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