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Archive | From the Pulpit

He said wut?!

Pastor Bill Dixon. Solon Center Wesleyan Church. 15671 Algoma Ave, NE, Cedar Springs

Have you ever heard someone say something so shocking that it made you take a step back and say to yourself, he or she said wut?!. A few weeks ago, I started a series called, He Said Wut?! As a church, we began to look at a few shocking things that Jesus said about everyday stuff like, anger, lust, marriage, promise-keeping, retaliation, and loving our enemies. 

Throughout this section of scripture, which begins in Matthew chapter 5 verse 21, Jesus follows a pattern. He always starts off by saying, “You have heard it said…” or something similar to that and then He goes onto mention an Old Testament Law. After this, Jesus always goes onto say, “But I tell you…” which is Jesus’ way of saying, listen to what I’m about to tell you. 

I want to do is share with you just one of the topics that Jesus addresses. It is a topic that is out of control in our world today—anger. Listen to what Jesus has to say and then I will point out a few things for you to chew on. 

21 “You have heard it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, Raca, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You Fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (NIV)

Jesus equates being angry with…murder. Here is what I believe Jesus is getting at. I believe that He is saying that if you are angry with your brother (could mean anyone) you are no better in God’s eyes than someone who literally takes an innocent life. I believe He is saying that if you are angry with your brother (again, could mean anyone), you are a murderer. So, are you a murderer? Maybe not in your own eyes, but in God’s eyes you are. 

Before you decide to stop reading hear me out on a few things. 

1: Jesus is not saying that all anger is bad. There is such a thing as good or righteous anger. We know this because the Bible clearly teaches that God gets angry. And we know that God is good so there must be such a thing as good or righteous anger. In fact, if you look at the Gospels, Jesus gets angry. Go and read Matthew 21:12-13. Not long after Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, He entered the synagogue (Jewish Church) and looked around and saw that a lot of people were doing things that they should not of have been doing. So, what does Jesus do? Listen to what was written… 

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling droves. It is written, he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” Matthew 21:12-13 (NIV).

There are plenty of things going on in our world today that should make us angry, especially as Christians. The problem is our anger often times goes off the rails and becomes unrighteous/sinful. Jesus is talking about the type of anger that holds grudges towards others. He is talking about the times when we say and do things that are meant to hurt others—maybe not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. 

Here is the second point I want you to chew on. 

2: Jesus is clarifying (making known) the spirit of the law. 

The spiritual leaders of the day had the letter of the Law down pat. They knew and understood that God did not want them to murder folks. Many of us have the letter of the Law down pat as well. We get it. Murdering people is bad. But here is the thing. Jesus makes it clear that stopping short of murdering people is not good enough. He is making it clear that, like the leaders of His day, we are missing the spirit of the law. 

God is not interested in us becoming people who just stop short of literally murdering each other. No. He is interested in us becoming people who constantly value others. In other words, God is interested in us becoming people who constantly treat others with dignity, respect, and love. This is the spirit behind the law of ‘Do not Murder’ (Exodus 20:13). 

Let me end with a few questions: 

1: Are you in need of open-heart surgery? The reality is, unrighteous/sinful anger is a heart problem. Matthew 15:19 makes this clear. If this is you, if you are struggling with anger (valuing others), do this. Stop what you are doing and go to the Lord. Ask Him to do what only He can do, and that is this, to forgive you and to begin to transform you inside out by the power of His Holy Spirit. 

2: What is one relationship that you have that needs reconciling? Have you done or said something to someone in the past or maybe recently that has caused an offense? Instead of ignoring that you have wronged someone, here is what you need to do. First, ask God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9) then, go to the person, acknowledge your error, ask them for forgiveness, and then do everything in your power to bring about reconciliation to that relationship (read again verses 23-26). 

God wants us to become people who constantly value others. Who constantly treat others with dignity, respect and love. 

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Tragedy Strikes

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church


The Cedar Springs community has the marks of a haven of peace with history, quality of life and deep roots. We love our traditions and relish the predictable customs. People retreat from the rat race in major metro area some 20 miles south of Exit 104. We engage with the big city when we must, for work or entertainment, or maybe school; we tolerate, but don’t really choose more time than necessary there. We chose to live here.

And then our world explodes. 

As I prepare this week’s column for the Post, our community is reeling with the news of multiple fatalities in Solon Township. Tragedy, especially when children are involved, upends our way of life. We wonder how such horror can visit our quiet community. This doesn’t happen here! There is no way to prepare for such an invasion of our peaceful environment. It is simply unconscionable. 

The details are still forthcoming, but the scenario is all too familiar. We know that mental health played a role, and that whoever took life, out of grief, or anger or depression, could not bear the turmoil and so chose the only way that seemed possible to end the pain.   

The Psalmist knows the story: “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints” (Psalm 77:1-3).

What word shall people of faith speak in these times? Can we offer hope for a hurting world when hell breaks loose so close to home? Yes, we can. Thoughts and prayers are always appropriate but the complexities of mental health require more. Communities of faith can model openness toward dealing with mental health crises. 

We can offer acceptance to those who live on the margin, demonstrating our belief that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 NLT). 

We can be present with those who are afraid, or are in pain. 

We can advocate for increased public money for research in the causes and prevention of mental illness.  

We can walk with those who appear to be struggling. We can listen for cues of sadness, anger or confusion. We can make room for conversation, showing we are not afraid to talk about it. 

We can encourage people to get help. We can get help for ourselves. 

We can resolve to avoid the temptation to sweep mental illness under the rug and instead face it with compassion, justice and mercy. Each of us can pledge to listen more. 

The author of the New Testament Letter of James reminds us “Someone might claim, ‘You have faith and I have action.’ But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action” (James 2:18).

What is God saying to you? 

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What love looks like

Pastor David Ward | Pilgrim Bible Church | 361 Pine Street, Cedar Springs

What does love look like? According to pictures at your local jewelry store, love features white sand beaches, happy faces and, of course, a big shiny diamond! Reality programming suggests loves comes in limited sizes and shapes. However, such thinking has yielded more terms like “photoshopped” and “catfishing” than actual enduring relationships. Too many people are left feeling rejected, isolated and alone.

A healthy relationship starts with a healthy self-image. The Bible teaches us that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). He knows our name and developed a plan for us before we were ever born (Psalm 139:16). Regardless of whether anyone else knows or notices us, in spite of the circumstances that preceded this moment, God knows us and values us individually. How could and how much does God love us? John 3:16 tells us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus to rescue us from the curse of sin’s punishment and make a way for us to share eternity, together with Him.

God demonstrated that a quality relationship is based on giving rather than on getting. True love flows out of voluntary service rather than abusive demands. Spouses are taught to submit to each other, to look out for each other’s needs (Ephesians 5) because love is patient and kind, not demanding its own way (1 Corinthian 13:4). A truer picture of genuine love is the elderly couple leaning on each other after a lifetime together. Their age and ailments amplify, rather than diminish their love. 

The best way to find such a love for your life is to start with loving God first. Jesus told us, if we put our relationship with God first, the rest would follow (Matthew 6:33). As we learn to love Him, we learn how to love others, what healthy love looks like. As we are confident in God’s love, we are less susceptible to unhealthy distortions that surround us.

The country songwriter warned of “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Too many have felt the sting of unrealized dreams and expectations, the pain of broken hearts and homes. The good news is that God is a God of second chances. He specializes in taking the wreckage of broken and battered hearts and rebuilding them into something beautiful. May I challenge you to rediscover God’s love for you? It’s there you will find the real love you for which you are searching!


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Heart of Faith

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson Church 9024 18 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs MI. 49319 | (616)- 696-0661 | eastnelsonumc@yahoo.com

I was blessed to visit the place where it is believed that Jesus fed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fishes. I was on a tour of the Holy Land and we’d taken a picturesque boat ride across the Sea of Galilee to where the Church of the Loaves and Fishes stands in commemoration. It is not far from the town of Capernaum. 

I thought about the people who chased after Jesus and met up with him the next day asking for yet another sign. “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NIV).

The people shook their heads in disbelief. They were stuck in their old thinking and couldn’t really hear Jesus. I thought about the trust needed to accept the life- giving bread of Jesus. It means we need to have faith that God will provide all we need. It also means that by trusting in God we will be satisfied but the problem is some of us always want more.

We need real soul food. The questioners ask Jesus for a sign but they had already received a sign. This story, told in all four gospels, tells of people being fed by a few loaves and fish and it is so similar to the wilderness story of bread. Manna was plentiful and easy to receive for the wandering Israelites.   

Are we eating from the bread of today? Are we stuck on our ways of worship, our political thought, our ideas of strength and opportunity? Are we eating a low calorie kind of diet of religious convenience that satisfies our own particular wants, rather than dining at the table loaded with the food that endures. Are we holding on to our manna overnight only to discover it’s spoiled and we are hungry again in the morning?

You see, this is not a just past tense story of how Moses gave bread and Jesus fed the thousands. It is a current story of how God gives bread even today. Those questioners of Jesus may have eaten bread (and fish) the prior day on the hillside but they missed the miracle that happened then and was still happening because the true “Bread of Life” stood directly in front of them. They missed it.

Martin Luther tells us that the whole of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are summed up in just two little words—for you. The body of our Lord Jesus Christ given for you. The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ shed for you.

This is the heart of faith! The God of all creation is the same God who loves us so much that he gave his life for ours on the cross and gives himself in simple bread and wine. Don’t go hungry! Don’t starve yourself! Come to the table and eat.

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A Simple invitation

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

 It’s not that difficult, but for some reason it’s terrifying. We know it’s important and a good thing, but every time we plan to do it, the fear talks us out of it. It could change that person’s life, but we don’t know if it will upset them. What am I talking about? I am talking about the simple action of inviting someone to church. 

We all know people who don’t go to church, yet the sad reality is that many Christians interact on a daily basis with non-church attenders and never invite them to come to a Sunday service with them. The list of reasons varies as to why we don’t invite others to church, but if I am being honest, none of the reasons are good. 

A simple invitation to join you in church could forever change the course of someone’s life. It could be the spark that heals their marriage or brings healing in a relationship that is strained. It could be the very nudge they need to come back to church or to give it a try for the first time. 

We often believe the lie of the enemy that if we ask someone to come to church they will be offended, but that is simply not true. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with people who showed up at church and had their life changed simply because someone personally invited them. Sometimes they come that very week they are invited, and sometimes it takes a few months or years before they accept the invitation, but whether or not they come isn’t our responsibility. Our job is simply to take the risk, and ask the question. 

So, let me ask you a couple questions. Who in your life do you know that doesn’t go to church? When are you going to invite them?

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Today salvation has come to this house – Luke 19:1

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd

Cedar Springs, Michigan 49319

616-696-3904



With the Christmas season over, we return to the ordinary of our lives. A reading of Luke 19: 1-10, specifically the calling of Zacchaeus, reminds us that the love of God is exciting, powerful, and extraordinary. 

When Jesus passed through Jericho, Zacchaeus the tax collector sought to see him. Short in stature, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Lk 19:4). Reaching the place, Jesus “looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5). The Gospel indicates: “he came down quickly and received him with joy” (Lk 19:6).   

The two actions of Jesus were to look up and to speak to him, and the two actions of Zacchaeus were to come down and receive the Lord with joy. Together, these four actions changed the life of a person. For the interest of length, let us focus on one action of Jesus, namely his “looking” up at Zacchaeus. 

The verb to “look” is unique in biblical language.  It is the kind of looking that would change the reality being seen. Jesus looks into the depth of the soul of Zacchaeus.  

The contemporaries of Zacchaeus looked at him with ill regard. In fact, as a tax collector during that era, people would have regarded Zacchaeus as a cheater, because tax collectors normally collected more than what they should for their own personal gain.  

Jesus, however, gave Zacchaeus a redeeming look. Reaching into his soul, Jesus saw a wounded man who was open for healing; a greedy man who was also open to absolute generosity; and finally, a sinful man that was capable of total transformation. Jesus saw Zacchaeus’ weaknesses, but also his potential. Jesus’ look conquered the heart of Zacchaeus and led him to receive Jesus with joy. “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19:9).

We are all longing for that redeeming look from the Lord. Amen. 

 In addition to being the priest of St. John Paul II Parish, Cedar Springs, Father Lam also proudly serves as Pastor of Mary Queen of Apostles Parish, 1 W Maple Street, Sand Lake, MI. 49343. Phone 616 636 5671.

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The First Question

Pastor Kristi Rhodes of Hillcrest Community Church 5994 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

Aaah, a new year! Each year is an opportunity for a fresh start. But then, so is each week. Actually, so is each DAY! Today is the first day of the rest of your life! I am certainly not the first one to say that, but the question is, why do we wait even another minute to make positive changes in our lives?

One of the things I have done each year for several years now is to read the entire bible in a year. There is actually an app on my phone to keep me on track with this. A few days ago, I was reading about when doubt first entered the world. Did you know that the very first question in the Bible was presented by Satan to Eve in order to cast doubt on the goodness of God? Look it up, it is in Genesis chapter 3. “Did God really say…?”  

Do you ever find yourself doubting whether God’s way really is the best way? Do you find yourself wondering whether, even though God says it is wrong, something is worth trying anyway?

God gave humankind everything they could possibly want. The entire created world was made for us to enjoy. Every possible need was provided for us. Yet despite God’s perfect provision of everything good, humans looked for something more and gave in to the temptation to take the forbidden fruit. It all started with doubts about God planted by the enemy of our soul in the form of a question. Behind the question, “Did God really say…?” is the demonic lie that God is withholding from you something that is really exciting.  

Eve’s first mistake was to even engage with the snake in conversation in the first place. We are created to converse with God, not the devil. The devil fools Eve, like he still does with us today, that there will be no consequences to her sin, to disobeying God.  The consequences to this one choice changed the entire course of mankind in the world.  

But Jesus made a choice that would change the course of life for all eternity! He chose to come to earth and pay the penalty for all the sins of the world, restoring a perfect relationship with the Father for all who will believe and receive Him.

There are certainly consequences to the choices we make. Each day as well as each year is an opportunity to choose the journey God has marked before us. On this journey, He promises to lead us, to guide us, to protect us, to provide for us, to show us mercy, grace and love. There is an excitement for life with God unmatched by anything the world will ever be able to even come close to.  

My prayer for every one of you reading this today is that you will make a firm commitment to follow God’s path marked out for you this year. If you stay the course, I guarantee God will not disappoint you.


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Made new through Christ

Pastor Ryan Black – Cedar Springs Christian Church

As we end one year and look to a new one, we pause to take inventory. In a rare moment of reflection and honest self-assessment, we admit our failures. We pledge to learn from them and move toward a better future. We all want to be better, to live our lives more fully and to love one another more selflessly. So, we make resolutions. The question is—why do we do it? I suggest that they reveal something of our deepest longing. They present us with an invitation to exercise our human freedom and to choose a better way of life. But, we cannot do it on our own. We need God.

Jesus can make all things new within us, and then continues His work of making all things new through us. Even though our human freedom was fractured by sin, the splint of the wood of the Cross is the lasting and life changing remedy which brings healing to the wound. Jesus alone can fulfill the desire which is really at the heart of the New Year’s celebrations, and help us, by His saving grace, to make them become reality.

I pray we may all find the fullness of grace and the new beginning which comes through entering into a living relationship with the One who makes all things new, Jesus the Christ. (Rev. 21:5) There is a universal longing in every human heart to be made new, to begin again, because the Holy Spirit prompts it. It leads us back to the One who created us and who can re-create us through Jesus Christ. 

In and through Jesus Christ, there is a path to being made new. He walked that path up the mountain of Golgotha, and through the tomb to the Resurrection. That promise of being made new, being born again, is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News! Paul reminded the Christians in the City of Corinth and reminds every one of us “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

New Year’s Day is a global existential moment, ready with anticipation and expectations. It invites a spiritually liberating time of reflection, offers us hope for change and invites us to make new choices. Resolutions can become reality, when we turn to the One who makes it possible, the One who truly makes all things new, Jesus Christ the Lord. Our choices make us become the persons we become. In our choosing we not only have the potential to change the world around us, we change ourselves. In 2019, may we choose to live our lives in, with and for Jesus Christ. That is the way to turn those resolutions into reality and experience a real New Year.

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Re-gifting

by Pastor Dick Nichols, Cedar Creek Community Church, 2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta


If you are reading this article, then you have made it through what Charles Dickens would call “it was the best of times, the worst of times…” Not that the season advent should in any way be identified with the worst of times. One thing most of us can agree on is that Christmas is a time of giving.  

There is no better time than now to consider how blessed humankind is that giving is characteristic of God, and the greatest gift that could ever be given; a gift promised from the beginning and fulfilled in the first century AD. Scripture tells us “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,” (Galatians 4:4 King James version). A time that Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 KJV).

Throughout history, God has shown his extravagant desire to give grace and faith, the greatest being what we celebrate at Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, who brings the promise of hope, peace, joy and love. But why don’t we see more evidence of these in a world that is suffocating in bad news? Why don’t we hear more good news?   Maybe you’ve wondered some of the same things.  

I have been allowing my thoughts to consider how much of the billions of gifts given and received just might be identified by the recipient as being in the category of what was he or she thinking?  This is one of the main reasons that this new season has morphed into our culture: the season of re-gifting.  Statistics show that this has become more than just an occasional time for a few people; it’s a celebration of its own.   

There was a time when returning a gift to the place of purchase and re-gifting were done quite secretly, with just a smear of guilt because it seemed so inconsiderate to reject something that someone has put thought and expense into purchasing. Now, according to polls, more than 40 percent of Americans own up to having returned or regifted in the last two years, a trend that will only increase with time.  

As Christians, we are known to have a history of murmuring that “Christmas isn’t like it used to be,” or some other phrase we may have learned, like “people have forgotten the Reason for the season.”  Now, today is the time to start working toward the next celebration of Christmas. God’s gift of salvation, to be born again, is the ultimate gift for mankind. Jesus stepped away from the majesty of heaven to touch and heal this broken, sin-sick planet, coming as a helpless and vulnerable baby, to die for the pardon of our sins. This is a gift that keeps on giving.  

You see, there’s more! God’s gift of grace is the basis and foundation of the story, “God so loved the world,” but like any gift, the transaction isn’t complete until the recipient (us), receives and keeps the gift given. The wonderful thing about God’s giving is that even though we have received his promise, God’s gift is one we can re-gift repeatedly. His salvation freely given is enough that his promise is for “whosoever;” the promises of hope, love, joy and peace, can be found only when the gift is truly received in our heart.  

This isn’t meant to be something we keep to ourselves, it’s meant to be a gift from such an extravagant God, that when we give of the love he has given us, it can’t diminish the love we have received from God.  By my simple calculations, if we would truly take this to heart, we have over 350 days before Christmas rolls around again, and if we desire to see Jesus in the Christmas season, then this is ample time to make a world of difference. How Christmas plays out depends on what people do with the gift God has given. 

Jesus is the one gift meant to be re-gifted, over and over. The message of Christmas is love and forgiveness; God’s peace that passes understanding, bringing love, joy and hope to those who freely receive.  We can’t fix the past, but we can surely be about our Father’s business today.  

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Words

Rev. Dallas Burgeson | The Springs Church | 135 N. Grant St, Cedar Springs

Words. There are a lot of them. And I’m not talking about the ones in the dictionary, but the ones being spoken all over the place in the world. In our homes.

These words can be a problem. Proverbs 10:19 explains part of the issue: “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.(NLT)

James talks about another part of the problem with all those words that are often being so carelessly spoken into the air: “…a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.” – James 3:4-5 (NLT).

Can you see the truth of this at work? In the world? In your home? As a pastor, I’ve learned to recognize how words set stuff on fire—yes, out in the world as well as in people’s homes, but also from positions of leadership.

Most of my ministry career has involved holding a certain level of authority, but also sitting one step below the position where “the buck stops.” I think this has allowed me to observe from a unique perspective just what happens when a leader says things. I knew long before I came to The Springs that the tongue can start things on fire, and it seems to me now that part of a pastor’s job is to start the right things on fire, and then to avoid lighting lots of other things.

Figuring out what is “too much talk” is tricky sometimes, depending upon on who you are, what your relationships look like, and what you need to do in life. Too many words in your close relationships or at work can be a real problem, but sometimes not speaking enough can be trouble, too. I’ve learned I have a tendency to not encourage people enough: my wife, my kids, my leaders, my congregation. That takes more kind words, and I don’t always speak them when it would really help if I did. That, and fewer harsh ones.

This time of year during the season of Advent, we start looking again for a Savior to come into our world and save us. And when He comes to us in a manger, the Gospel of John says He comes as a warming Word (check out John 1:1-5 for more on that). The prophet Isaiah told us ahead of time just what our Word would be like:

“He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle” (Isaiah 42:2-3).

Jesus knew how to do words. He was and still is our warming Word—starting the world on fire, yet never burning the wrong things.

Lord Jesus, come to us again this season. Replace our careless words with goodness and light, we pray. Amen.

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