Categories
Bible study meditation prayer

Meditation: What is it? Why do it? How do I do it?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

The concept of Biblical mediation is viewed as a mystery to many of us. The simple answer to “How do I do it?” can seem frustratingly vague. Common answers are—

“you read a passage that stands out over and over and then you think about it.”

Or maybe…

“you find a verse and then pray about it.”

Here’s what you should know about true Biblical meditation.

Three Facts About Biblical Mediation

1. It does not involve emptying your mind, but rather filling your mind with God’s mind.
2. It’s not a complex ritual in which you must reach a higher “spiritual place” to accomplish. It’s a simple act that God intended for everyone to be able to do— in order to bring you to a better spiritual place.
3. It is an intentional act. You won’t find yourself meditating accidentally. We must make time for God.
Here’s why we should all be doing this.
Four Reasons To Meditate
1. For Improved Worship
2. For Perfect Instruction
3. For Needed Encouragement
4. For Spiritual Transformation
Here’s what you will need to accomplish it.
Three Tools For Great Meditation
OBSERVATION – What does the text say?
INTERPRETATION – What does it mean in context?
APPLICATION – What does it mean for me?

Note: Combine With Prayer before and after for best results.

Here’s what you will get out of it.
Ten Benefits Of Biblical Meditation
1. Proven to lower blood pressure
2. Decrease anxiety
3. Improve heart rate
4. It enables your to relax
5. It brings peace
6. It draws you closer to God
7. It gives us confidence
8. It offers an escape from temptation
9. It provides helpful correction
10. It makes us better Bible students (Psalm 119:11)

Finally, here’s an exercise to help us see the many categories on which we can mediate. Simply answer the questions in your mind, and try to develop a habit of asking yourself personal questions about what you’re reading.

A Meditation Exercise From The Psalms
You could meditate…

On His rules (Ps. 119; look up in the ESV)
• What rules do you tend to break?
• Why do you break them?
• What’s the point behind His “rules”?

On His Promises (Ps. 119:148)
• Which of His promises bring you the most comfort?
• Has God kept His promises to you? How?

On His mighty deeds (Ps. 77:12)
• Which specific mighty deeds has God performed in the history?
• What mighty deeds do you believe God has performed in your life?
• What could God do with you today if you allowed Him to?

On His unfailing love (Ps. 48:9)
• There has never been a moment in your life when God hadn’t loved you.
• What does that tell you? What does it expose about yourself?

I hope this helps clarify what real mediation is— and how it can change your life!

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Categories
assemblies commitment faithfulness Uncategorized worship

AREN’T WE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

  • I’ve never heard the avid fisherman say, “Do I have to go back to the lake?”
  • I’ve never heard the shopaholic say, “How often do I have to go to the store?”
  • I’ve never heard the committed sports fan say, “How many games do I have to watch?”
  • I’ve never heard the foodie say, “How often do I have to try a new restaurant or dish?”
  • I’ve never heard the head-over-heels-in-love say, “How many times do I have to see him/her each week?”
  • I’ve never heard the devoted mom say, “How often must I hold my baby?”

We’ve lost the battle when our sermons, articles, and classes center around answering the question, “How often must I assemble? How many times a week do I have to come to church? Are Sunday night and Wednesday night mandatory?”

How unnatural for a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus who is in love with Him and who has such a relationship with Him that He is priority number one, to approach the assemblies in such a way! Must? Have to? You see, the question is wrong. The mentality and approach is where the work needs to occur.

When Jesus and His church are my passion, the thought-process becomes “I get to,” “I want to,” and “I will!” Neither parents, grandparents, spouses, elders, preachers, siblings, nor anyone else have to get behind anyone and push the one who has put Jesus at the heart and center of their lives.

Not a legalistic or checklist mindset. Instead, an outgrowth of what’s happening in my life between my God and me. Church “attendance” is but one evidence of this, but it certainly is an evidence of this. Church and religion are not just a slice of the pie of a committed Christian’s life. Christ is the hub in the wheel of their life, and each spoke of the wheel is attached to that hub. The difference could not be more dramatic!

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Categories
Christian living church growth faithfulness

DAFFODILS THAT DON’T BLOOM

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Like the robin, daffodils are a harbinger of spring. They begin blooming in late winter and create anticipation for the pretty spring flowers following. We planted our place in Appalachia with daffodils nearly 30 years ago. Today, we get few flowers in places where we planted them. We do have healthy-looking, green blades but no blooms. By their nature, a single daffodil bulb becomes an entire colony of bulbs within a few years because it reproduces by dividing at the bulb. Once so many bulbs are packed into a small space, the plant cannot receive enough moisture or nutrients to produce the desired flower. So, on the one hand, it’s great because just a few daffodil bulbs can yield an entire daffodil garden in a few years. On the other hand, to keep daffodils flowering one must periodically dig up these new bulbs and space them out so conditions remain conducive to their overall health.

When we think about Jesus’ parable of the sower, we likely think of the various soils presented therein. We pray we find the good soil as we go to plant the seed but realize since few are finding the strait gate and narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14), most of our seed falls on the other three poor soils. Of those poor soils, Jesus highlighted a group in whom the seed never produces fruit since they become choked by thorns (Luke 8.14). These thorny-soiled hearts didn’t recognize how detrimental their thorns were since they took the form of the cares and riches of the world. In like manner, we don’t see the problems posed by a bunch of healthy-looking, green blades where our daffodils ought to be. We keep hoping they will put on blooms, bringing us the testimony of God’s wondrous creation. Yet, conditions underground won’t allow for that.

Might I suggest those possessing thorny-soiled hearts can have a similar problem as the daffodil? It may be they don’t just wither and die (i.e. fall away). It may be they are sitting on the pew, where we planted them, looking as if they hold promise, but never producing blooms. Why? It may be their fruit is being crowded out by conditions at their root. We see no prickly thorns gathered around them. Yet, there are cares and concerns on the inside choking out God’s Word all the same. It is confounding since they may even greet us with a smile on their faces while being inwardly consumed by such things as anxiety.  If we do nothing, though, the results will be the same as if it were thorns.

It may be we need to lift these unproductive Christians to help them settle in a better environment conducive to their growth. We need to help them remove all the things choking their heart. We need to nurture them. Though we’re more considerate of the newborn in Christ, the overcrowding of the heart is a challenge potentially taking place even in the one who obeyed the Gospel years ago. Be your brother and sister’s keeper (Galatians 6.1; James 5.19-20). If you see a pretty green blade that never flowers, dig a little deeper. If one’s heart is being crowded out, help him find the space to bloom (Hebrews 3.13).

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Categories
peace

A PROVEN RECIPE FOR PEACE

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Peace conjures a number of different images in our minds; from hippies to nature’s beauty to inner calm to lack of anxiety. Nearly every group of people in the world craves peace – no rational human being wants to live in constant upheaval. We all want to have peace, but our world somehow is still getting worse and worse. Why is this? The prince of this world is not a being who desires peace (II Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 2.2; John 12.31). His very existence is dedicated to bringing down anyone who believes in God (I Peter 5:8) and he has no care or concern for the fate or well-being of anyone on this earth. Total, lasting world peace will never be possible as long as time continues (see Romans 8.18-25: sin caused the earth to be subjected to futility). 

Total, lasting world peace may not be possible in this life, but this does not mean the world cannot experience any peace at all. How can we experience peace in our lives? 

Firstly, it has to come from us. The world will never act in a way that brings peace. Anytime the world wishes to better its conditions, it incites civil unrest, riots, protests, and other not-very-peaceful behaviors. Christians, however, are called to be different. I Timothy 2.1ff tells us that praying to God on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority will allow us to lead quiet and tranquil lives in all godliness and dignity. We can have peace by being obedient to government authorities – even if we do not agree with them politically – because God put them in place (Romans 13). If we want peace, we have to show that peace by how we live. Since man is naturally attracted to peace, our quiet, godly lives will draw others to Christ. 

Secondly, even if our world is in chaos we can have inner peace. Philippians was written to break up a nasty fight between Euodia and Syntyche. To have the “peace beyond what we can understand,” they had to rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable, not be anxious, and reach out to God for their every need. The same applies to us today! Do we get our joy from God or from worldly pursuits? Are we worried about meeting personal needs or do we rely on God (see Phil. 4.19; Matt. 6.25)? Do we try to fix our own problems, relying on our own strength, or do we place them in God’s hands and work with His guidance and providence? The Christian life is not easy, nor is it always peaceful, but the inner peace that a faithful Christian experiences, knowing that their name is in the book of life and that nothing in this short life can disrupt God’s love for them, makes every struggle in this life worth the pain. 

If we want peace, we have to be that peace. We have to live peaceful lives. We have to submit to governing authorities (as long as it is within the parameters of godliness). We have to be unified as a church. We have to look to God for all of our needs. We have to trust that He will take care of us, even if that isn’t in this life. If we can do these things, we will have peace.

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Categories
God (nature) prayer priorities Uncategorized

The Mouse And The Cups 

Thursday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

In the pantry there’s a package of white foam cups. A small gray mouse struggles to carry a cup out into a man’s front yard one at a time. Just one cup and one each day. The man sticks to a normal routine. He goes to work early, and he comes home late. He watches TV, cooks a meal, tinkers on projects in the garage, and goes to bed. It’s mindless, it’s robotic, but day in and day out the cycle repeats itself. He leaves for work and the mouse drags yet another cup out onto his lawn. It isn’t until his yard is filled with foam cups that the man takes notice. What a mess! He walks through the yard and picks a few of them up. As he examines them he says, “What a waste. Perfectly good cups, now useless and dirty. We have a limited amount of foam cups in our package, and there’s a day when the mouse will grab the last one. We better put them to use. ”

If God came to you and gave you the chance to make a single request, what would you ask for? Our prayer lives are usually filled with our personal wants and needs. There are countless things that tug at different areas of our heart as we approach our Father, the Creator of the universe. He can do anything, He has all the power, and in one way or another we all desire some Divine intervention. I would like my family to be healthy and happy. I would like to live out the rest of my days with no more worries or anxieties. I would like the peace that comes with total financial stability. I wish my dog would live to be one hundred and five. I would like to be successful in everything I put my mind to.

There are five hundred wants in my heart, but what do I desire more than anything? The answer to that question is deeply connected to our spiritual life. What my heart chases after, where my time and energy goes, and even what I ask God for spreads my top priorities before me. David writes in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty and inquire in His temple.” David is known as the man after God’s own heart, simply because his heart was after God. David’s one desire was to form a deep and meaningful relationship with God. He understood what truly matters in this life. He even makes that his specific and singular request of the Lord. He puts his faith in action as he seeks that relationship with God. His life was built around this, and everything else is secondary to him. His seeking was that hopeful expectation— the effort he put in to this pursuit was a demonstration of that belief in God’s ability to grant him his one thing. David spent his time wisely. Almost every day that was granted to him he used as an opportunity to seek His Lord.

God is the Alpha the Omega, the beginning and the end. His eyes can see the very point in time in which He decided to create everything. He can also step back and look at His timeline and see the exact moment in which He will bring all things to an end. The Bible is a gift and glimpse into His mind. In it we can see the powerful beginning to the world we live in. We can see how God works in our present, and we can read about a grand event that will come when the days run out.

What is that one thing you want more than anything else? Don’t let the cups pile up in your yard. Let’s all use the time we have to pursue the only thing that matters.

 

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Categories
modesty purity

MODESTY AND THE MEDIA SEXUALIZATION OF OUR GIRLS

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

In 2008, M. Gigi Durham wrote a blunt book entitled: The Lolita Effect: the Media Sexualization Of Young Girls And What We Can Do About It. Durham is not at all writing from a Christian worldview, being a militant, secular feminist instead. In the book, she writes about several myths created by the media and the culture.

  • The “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” myth: Fashion magazines and media urge girls to dress in a way that’s “hot” and as such sets up the danger girls will attract harmful sexual attention.
  • The “anatomy of a sex goddess” myth: The runway model or the Barbie doll is projected as the ideal body, but both are unnatural.  They are genetic anomalies.
  • The “pretty babies” myth: “Ideal sexiness is about being young—very young it seems.”
  • The “what boys like” myth: “The ideal spectator is said to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.”

Durham is definitely on to something, even if it serves her own and different agenda. She is not alone in the secular world, worrying about the unhealthy consequences of the sexualization of our girls, even at the youngest of ages (Read more here).

Christian families, who believe and follow the Bible, already had these warnings in place. Consistently, God calls women (and girls) who profess godliness to reflect that by how they project themselves (cf. 1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:3-4).  Many preachers and Bible class teachers through the years have taken great pains to try and define and describe modesty, but what we have observed above would have been indisputably immodest in most people’s eyes in the world just a generation or so ago.

Too many parents, including Christian parents, have been swayed by the world’s fashion standards.  Even girls being raised in a Christian home have at times been encouraged and allowed to dress in ways that can easily produce lust. Jesus says that those who lust after a woman are committing adultery with her in their hearts (Mat. 5:28).  Men, young and old, have a responsibility to combat lust in their hearts, but Christian love would seem to dictate that women, young and old, would make that as easy as possible for them.

Fashions that are marketed as hot, sexy and daring, that reveal the body in a sexual way, are immodest!  The world, even without the Word, sees and understands that. We dare not rationalize it!  The world sexualizes everything from Cheetos to plant food and everything in between.  God commands purity of His people, but His Word must inform our standard of purity rather than what we think is pure.  Proverbs 30:11-13 says, “There is a kind of man who curses his father and does not bless his mother.  There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness. There is a kind—oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance.”

It’s important for us to ask, “What kind am I?”  Fashion choices and body obsession that say “if you’ve got it flaunt it” must be honestly examined and carefully avoided. God bless our homes which thoughtfully consider and decide with hearts set to honor Him.

Categories
attitude heart prophesy prophet salvation Uncategorized

THE HEART OF JONAH

TUESDAY COLUMN: “DALE MAIL”

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Dale Pollard

The book of Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Unlike other prophetic books, God chooses to focus on the prophet himself rather than the message being preached by him. While many lessons can be pulled from this four chapter book, there’s one in particular that we can all benefit from hearing from time to time. That lesson is that in order for true change to occur in our lives there must be a genuine transformation of the heart.

The book begins with God’s call to Jonah to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh and then closes with God’s response to Jonah’s anger at the penitent hearts of the Ninevites. Between these two divine speeches you read about the prophet’s incredible experience in the belly of a great fish. Many artist’s have painted pictures of Jonah desperately trying to keep his head above the waves while a terrifying monster breeches the surface with its mouth wide open preparing to swallow him. While this may be the image that comes to mind, Jonah gives us an interesting detail in his prayer. He recalls how the waters closed over him and he eventually reaches the sea floor where he is helplessly tangled in the weeds. While the murky waters cloud his vision his fate seemed very clear. Jonah admits that he called out to the Lord provoked by his great distress and this mental plea was a desperate attempt to preserve his life. God answers this cry by sending him a slippery savior. Jonah, while known to be a little on the dramatic side, will later recall how it was in the moment when his life was fainting away that he “remembered the Lord.” God saved a blatantly rebellious man who in no way deserved that salvation but He also allowed Jonah to reach great depths and come face to face with his own spiritual reality. Jonah was a long way from God, but not geographically.

Before Jonah became soaked by the stormy seas, he was soaked in a sin problem that had taken root in his heart. God allowed Jonah to physically experience rock bottom so that he could acknowledge some spiritual issues that distanced him from God. While Jonah may have desired to run from God, he came to the conclusion that being away from God was not the relief he thought it would be.

As traumatic as this event was, Jonah seems to emerge from the belly of the fish with lingering spiritual issues. Though he preaches to the city of Nineveh, there is still anger and hatred dominating his heart. The last chapter gives us a glimpse of this as he directs this anger towards the very God that saved him. In order for true change to occur, there must be a genuine change of heart. While low points can help us examine our heart health for a moment, relentless determination to live life differently is the key to success. A hopeful reminder for anyone who may find themselves in the depths of sin, there is no place too dark where God is not able to hear your prayers. 

Categories
Uncategorized worship

Reflections On Worship, From A-Z

Neal Pollard

How great to say with David, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).  Another psalm also urges, “Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (95:6).  Both verses are the attitude of a redeemed, transformed heart.  Worship is not a substitute for daily living, and we may find ourselves primarily or solely focused on assembling to the neglect of Christian duty or evangelism. But, though those be true, we cannot lose sight of the importance of fulfilling God’s command for His people to faithfully worship Him (John 4:24; Heb. 10:24ff).  More than that, as recipients of His grace, we will want to come before Him with what He wants, giving Him our best from an enthusiastic heart. What can help us do that?

A–TTENDANCE (It puts us in the right position–for ourselves, each other, and God)
B–
RETHREN (There’s a community, communion, and camaraderie in worship)
C–
HILDREN (Is there anything sweeter than seeing and hearing them worship?)
D–
ELIVERANCE (Delivered for a few moments from the profane, delivered for a lifetime by the Prince of Peace)
E–
FFORT (Hardwork, dedication, and preparation truly pay off!)
F–
AITHFULNESS (Obedience, consistency, and holiness fuels acceptable worship)
G–
OSPEL (Bible-centered worship highlights the best news of all time)
H–
EAVEN (Worship better prepares us for it, reminds us of it, and gives us a foretaste of it)
I–
NTEREST (See “attendance” and “faithfulness”; At some level, you can’t fake this)
J–
ESUS (We lift Him up, obey Him, and center everything around Him in every service)
K–
NOWLEDGE (We seek to know God more and understand Him better, in part, by worship)
L–
ISTENING (To God, through His Word, and each other, through the various acts)
M–
EMORIES (Young or old, each occasion provides an opportunity to make more of them)
N–
OTHING (What’s more special, important, fulfilling, and encouraging)
O–
PPORTUNITY (Different places and times have been forbidden from what we get to do multiple times per week)
P–
ARTICIPATION (Not just in the door and in a seat, but actively taking part)
Q–
UALITY (Not measured by voice quality or dynamic speech, but the very best we can with what we bring)
R–
ESPONSE (Each time we assemble to worship, we are responding to God and His gospel)
S–
ACRIFICE (You cannot properly define worship without it; It may be a sacrifice to come, but it must be an offering when you do)
T–
OGETHERNESS (Worship means fellowship and building our common bond)
U–
RGENCY (Feeling a pressing need to be here, and then to act on what we hear)
V–
ISITORS (These take note of how much worship means to us; They can see and sense it)
W–
ONDERFUL (God knew we needed worship, and that can touch us deeply)
X–RAY (Worship should lay our hearts bare and show us ourselves)
Y–OU (The presence of everyone, including you, spells the difference!)
Z–EAL (Passion and enthusiasm is observable, by others and, most of all, by God!)

Maybe we cannot fully grasp all of why God wants us worshipping Him, but He, as our Creator, knew we would need it to draw us closer to Him and each other. Let’s never let anything occupy a higher place in our hearts!

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Categories
prayer Uncategorized

Learning To Pray From A Man After God’s Own Heart

Neal Pollard

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), they were asking the most qualified instructor. However, they had a good teacher from the background of their own heritage in David. The book of Psalms is at times a songbook and at other times a prayer journal. Numerous examples of David’s prayers are contained in this beautiful book of Old Testament poetry. In Psalm 141, for example, we have several characteristics of prayer from a man after God’s own heart (cf. Acts 13:22).

First, David’s prayer was urgent (Psalm 141:1). He writes, “Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me!” David saw prayer, not as a last resort, but as a first retreat. Since David knew God was able to help, he wasted no time in bringing matters into God’s own hands.

Then, David’s prayer was intense (Psalm 141:1b). He continues, “Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.” You will not hear rote memorization of prayers or lackadaisical lethargy in David’s prayer. David cried out to God. He is pleading with God. These are indicators of a fervent prayer life, which God includes as typical of righteous people of prayer (James 5:16).

Further, David’s prayer was sincere (Psalm 141:2). He treated his prayers as if they were actually offerings or sacrifices. He says, “Let my prayers be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” He was willing to lay open his prayers to the All-Seeing eye for His scrutiny. The entirety of this psalm reflects no superficial piety or pretentiousness. David simply laid his heart before God.

David put obvious trust and hope in the power of prayer. He had confidence in God’s ability and he had cognizance of his own dependence upon God’s ability. Never wait to turn to prayer until the need is desperate. The man after God’s own heart made prayer a staple in his religious diet. So should we.

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Categories
eldership Uncategorized

What Preachers Wished All Members Knew About Their Elders

Neal Pollard

While there are doubtless men who wear the name “elder” that do not meet the biblical qualifications, many of the church’s greatest heroes and biggest assets are her shepherds. I have been privileged to serve under a total of 21 elders in 26 years of full-time preaching, and what I am about to say applies to each of them. Part of their work is public and visible, but I dare say so much more of it is conducted before the eyes of only a few or one sheep or even at times only before the eyes of God. My experience with elders is that they are humble men and they will never tell you what I am about to tell you.  Here are a few things elders wish all members knew about them.

—Elders do…

  • Care.
  • See people at their messiest.
  • Sometimes get the brunt of the lashing out people do when in pain.
  • Always, always put people first.
  • Give generously of their time.
  • Agonize.
  • Hard things none of the rest of us can or will do.
  • Have insight into sensitive situations that others may not.
  • Have feet of clay.
  • Pray fervently for the needs and problems of the flock.
  • Desire to communicate to the church as much as they feel they can.
  • Want to have a relationship with every member.
  • Love God and seek to please Him above all else.

—Elders don’t…

  • Give up on sheep.
  • Defend themselves.
  • Do it for the glory.
  • Seek the praise of men.
  • Hold a grudge.
  • Play favorites or have double standards.
  • Read minds or judge motives.
  • Want to lose a single sheep.
  • Publicly share everything that’s on their plate or comes their way.
  • Want to lead God’s people away from Him and His will.

In an elders meeting last night, one of our shepherds was asked to read Hebrews 13:17. The elder chairing the meeting said, “This passage encourages me.” The elder who read said, “This passage frightens me!” As each of them discussed the sober meaning of that passage, I thought back to things I’d seen each of them do recently. It made me so thankful to serve under an eldership that takes their work seriously. Are they perfect men? Impossible! Are they God’s men? Absolutely! Please pray for the eternal work elders do in congregations around the world every day!

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