Martin Collins, examining Jesus' purposeful delay in going to Lazarus' side as his friend succumbed to death, reminds us that 1) God's delays are always motivated by love, 2) the delayed help always comes at the right time, and 3) God's best help is never delayed. We dare not project the human traits of obstinacy and pre-occupation on God's delay. If God does not answer a prayer immediately, it is purposefully done to strengthen faith, as we can see from God's delay in giving Abraham a son until his faith had sufficiently matured (as he neared 100 years). Similarly, our faith grows when we are forced to wait. Like Mary and Martha, we should never judge God's use of time by ours, which rarely can envision end results. The apostle John made us mindful of how meticulously Christ calculated the passage of time, leading up to the awareness that His hour had come. Like our Elder Brother, God gives all of us a certain amount of time and will not cut it short until we have fulfilled our purpose. Even though we have sufficient time, we cannot afford to waste even 60 minutes. Because time is precious and nothing we can do will lengthen it, we must walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, using this window of opportunity to do good. Realizing that Christ is the Light of the World, having the power over life and death, we should be sobered that the gift of Eternal Life has been extended exclusively to believers. The lesson of the resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that because Christ has the power to regenerate life, physical death is no terror to the believer, but something beneficial, a temporary refreshing rest, a doorway or prelude to our exciting responsibilities in God's Kingdom. Paul assures us that for God's called-out ones, death will never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
David Grabbe, marveling that over the past 25 years the Church of the Great God has assembled a massive library of electronic resources as a service to the Greater Church of God, as well as to the world at large, asserts that God performed this work at a fraction of the cost incurred by our previous fellowship. Though our main focus has not been "to preach the Gospel to the world," we nevertheless provide prodigious quantities of spiritual food to anyone who requests it. If people are hungry, there is plenty of nourishing food to satisfy them. CGG.org received 1.7 million visitors last year and BibleTools.org 2.3 million. These figures testify that the world at large is receiving a witness. The things that we can quantifiably measure are not really important, the Head of the Church decides subscribers, members and income. Noah's warning was fruitless; Jesus Christ's ministry netted meager results. Without Christ, we could produce no fruit. What is important to God is faith—faith which He gives and by which we live. As technology becomes more affordable and available, the material world threatens to crowd God out of the picture. The information age will destroy us unless we learn to manage it properly, discarding carnality and diligently focusing on the Word of God.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Bob Dylan's lyrics in "The Times They Are A-changin'," reminds us that within hours of Herbert W. Armstrong death, destructive heresies were imported into our previous fellowship by false teachers and ministers. Paul warned Timothy of perilous times to come about at the end of the age, when the character traits of individuals would become predominantly selfish, unforgiving, and unable to control their own impulses. Sadly, the mindset of society has begun to infiltrate the church, causing some of us to leave our first love by compromising the Sabbath and falling into the Commandment -breaking world, God's called-out ones need to wake up and strengthen those things which remain, yielding to God's sovereignty, rejecting the rule of the god of this world, Satan.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the apostle Paul's response to the bitter altercation between Euodia and Syntyche, women church leaders at Philippi, who succeeded in polarizing the congregation by their contentious pride, placing their obsessive desire to be right over unity. Paul urges them to follow the example of Christ, who emptied Himself of His divinity, assuming the role of a bond servant, exalting others over Himself, prompting God the Father to exalt Him above all others. Godly leadership is a function of submitting to the covenants God has made with us, including the marriage covenant, setting the proper pattern of all forms of institutions, including educational, governmental, medical, and religious institutions. Secular, progressive humanists, inspired by Satan, in their hatred toward God's covenants, through their endorsement of moral relativity and the new morality, fostering adultery, fornication, as well as feminism, homosexuality, polygamy, and transgender aberrations, have savagely attacked God's marriage covenant. Progressive humanists over the years have succeeded in making divorce as easy as falling off a log, and murder on demand (abortion) a convenience attended with no longer any trace of resistance. Paradoxically, hedonism, a philosophy which holds that pleasure is the highest aim in life, can never lead to real pleasure, but seeking to please God by serving others brings maximum pleasure. The marriage relationship, becoming totally one with one another as God the Father and Jesus Christ are at one with one another, provides the pattern of the true meaning of love—not feelings, but actions (consisting of serving and caring). Keeping God's Commandments demonstrates the highest form of love. Along with all the other gifts in the universal Edenic Covenant, identifying God as our benevolent Creator, who designed this earth for mankind to tend and keep, providing the marriage covenant as a God-plane relationship, the Sabbath Day educates us for service in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, suggests that, although humanism as a philosophy came onto American campuses approximately 50 years ago, it has been a part of the world's culture since 1600, when technology enabled secular universities to counter-attack the explosion of Biblical knowledge, unleashed by the Protestant Reformation. Actually, humanism has been alive and well for thousands of years. American culture, steeped in materialistic humanism, is decidedly non-Christian in its current outlook, as Satan has achieved a measure of success by twisting and distorting the information disseminated by secular universities, savagely destroying faith and creating doubt in God's existence, let alone His ultimate authority.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
David Grabbe, cuing in on II Peter 3, asserts that there are good reasons why Christ has not yet returned, reminding us that scoffers and false teachers will test the faith of those who once accepted the truth. Some will yield to their natural desires, finding an excuse to forget about their commitment to God. In their desire to live for the moment, the warnings of the prophets will fade into ineffectiveness. We are in danger of becoming desensitized to righteousness. We need to keep a long-term perspective, suffering long while our Elder Brother Jesus Christ tends to our process of repentance until we finally become fully in His image. Jesus Christ will not wrap things up until we have completed our process of salvation. All material things will dissolve, to be replaced with a new Heaven and Earth in which righteousness will dwell. This world is passing away; we must focus on permanent spiritual priorities, reflecting God's righteousness in our lives. When Christ returns, we cannot be at odds with Him in any manner, but must have been following through on the salvation process, putting our spiritual houses in order.
Bill Onisick, maintains that in one context, evolution is absolutely real—that is, in the transition of one of God's called-out ones from a state of abject fear to a state of transcendental agape love. Every human being fears that he is going to lose something of value and develops a flight or fight protective mechanism to maintain a stable self-image. In our spiritual development, we shed our spirit of fear and take on a spirit of self-control as we ingest God's Spirit and take on a Spirit of Godly wisdom, displacing the fear of death with a craving for Eternal life. The way of get disappears and the way of give leads to godliness.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the times we are about to go through will be unparalleled history, suggests that we need to keep our vision before us. We have the obligation to be loyal to Jesus Christ. We cannot, as our forebears did on the Sinai, harden our necks in disbelief and disobedience as a result of flagging faith. Our forebears were charged with enthusiasm as they left Egypt, but their faith ultimately waned. Our current day fellowship faced a similar attenuation of faith, leading to a precarious decline in membership. We have an obligation to place our faith in a Living Being. Christ is not going to draw back from us, but we might allow something to come between us and our High Priest. The people of Hebrews, like us, were living in an end time, prior to the destruction of the temple. For the recipients of Hebrews and for us, faith is a use it or lose it proposition. God sought us out; we didn't find Him by our seeking. What God has given us He has given to very few people. Humility must be at the foundation in the relationship between us and Jesus Christ. The church exists solely because what God has purposed and done, not because anything we have done. When pride exists within us, God can do nothing with us. God dwells with those who exhibit contrite and humble hearts. In His spiritual creation, God has demonstrated extraordinary planning and foresight, planning and caring for the destinations of billions of individuals. With God, nothing happens randomly; even mistakes we have made can work for our ultimate good. As God's called-out ones, we are special.
John Ritenbaugh, asking which of God's spiritual gifts is most important, answers that faith seems the most important. Loss of faith is the primary reason people have left the greater Church of God. Rejecting the Sabbath or embracing Christmas requires rejecting fundamental biblical truths. If we do not do what Christ did, we cannot claim to follow Christ. Sadly, many professing 'Christians' believe the law has been done away, including the mandate to keep the Sabbath. Some people dismiss Sabbath-keeping by twisting Paul's pronouncements about fasting in Romans 14:1-9. If we are able to understand, experience, and practice truth, we will be set free. We must continue to build on the truths we already have, enabling us to build and strengthen our faith. If we continue in God's word, then we strengthen ourselves as His disciples.
"Gnosticism" sounds like an old and very dry Greek philosophy, the subject of a somnolent college lecture. Not so, says David Grabbe. Gnosticism is very much in vogue today in books and movies—and in the belief systems of a great many people who profess to be Christian.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the metaphor of eating as a symbol of fornication or the regarding of something as profane, illustrated by the harlot dismissing her affair as if she were consuming a meal,(Proverbs 7:18) and Esau, who regarded his birthright as profane, preferring the immediate gratification of a meal. (Genesis 25: 29-30). Jacob, on the other hand deceptive and cunning as he was, realized the intrinsic holy value of the birthright, willing to curb his appetites and delay his gratification as Christ curbed His appetite in His temptation from Satan to qualify as our Savior and High Priest. Like Jacob and Christ, we must learn to delay gratification, learning to distinguish holy from profane.
John Ritenbaugh, using the term "malignant narcissism" (from M. Scott Peck's book "People Of The Lie") to describe the blind Laodicean pride which denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection by means of clever self-decptive quibbling and equivocation. Accepting one of the most pernicious gifts of Protestantism (no works mentality), the Laodicean doesn't know that it takes mental work and exertion to produce faith; it does not come by magic or by mere acceptance of certain knowledge. The Good Samaritan parable teaches that unless one practices doing good rather than just knowing good, his faith will be severely compromised.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the atmosphere of disorder which has emerged in the greater church of God, caused by individuals (ministry and lay members alike), obsessed with the urge to change doctrine, convinced that God was too weak to control Herbert W. Armstrong. The unspoken accusation is that God raised up a messenger, sent him with His gospel, and then allowed us to use a faulty calendar. Because no proponents of the calendar change are in agreement, any calendar change will produce more confusion. The priorities in Matthew 6:33 (The Kingdom and His righteousness) indicates that the primary emphasis should be on repentance and overcoming rather than mastering some inconsequential technicality.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
John Ritenbaugh shares the significance of Herbert W. Armstrong's role in the church. Increasingly, some fail to realize Herbert Armstrong's stabilizing role in God's church. The scattering we have experienced since his death has been a blessing from God, revealing our collective, pitiable spiritual deficits. God deliberately engineered the scattering to save us from our precarious spiritual condition. Like the virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we have all slumbered. In the meantime, God has been working on His spiritual creation, fashioning us in His image. At this juncture, we are not being scattered because of persecution, but because of punishment brought about by our wholesale lack of obedience, requiring loving, firm corrective action. We are not victims of Satan, but bear much of the responsibility for this dismantling from our failure to discern false doctrine. The division of Israel and Judah (between Jeroboam and Rehoboam), occurring because of disobedience, was engineered by Almighty God, and was designed as a lesson for us. If we sin, God will scatter us. He who scatters the church will re-gather it in His good time. Herbert Armstrong, while not perfect, not infallible, and not sinless, nevertheless served as the custodian of the precious truths of God - occupying the role of God's servant and messenger. To reject the message from God's messenger is to reject God. We need to collectively repent and go back to the first works and the faith once delivered to the saints.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the scattering of the greater church of God, examines this event within the context of a larger global disintegration of religious influence. The moral agenda of this country and others is set by non-religious organizations and groups. The disintegration of the Catholic Church (described by Malachi Martin) and the disintegration of the greater church of God (the systematic destruction of its uniqueness and vision) have eerie parallels. The declining vigor and looseness of religious conviction will eventually be pulled together and galvanized by the power of the Beast—the mystery Babylon of the Bible, the Mystery of Iniquity—the real objective of those who would create a new world order. The antidote is to desire the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 1:26).
In the last few years, turmoil and confusion have run amok in the church of God. Many feel they were misled by individuals who taught them doctrines they later came to understand were untrue. Some have yielded to the tendency to become cynical and suspicious of nearly anyone who claims to be a teacher of God's Word. Why all the distrust? Do Christians need a church?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that prayer is perhaps the most important thing we do in terms of maintaining our salvation. The purpose of prayer is not to overcome God's reluctance, but rather to yield and conform us to His will. The oft quoted slogan 'Prayer changes things' is only true if the prayer conforms to God's will (James 4:13-15). Unlike indulgent tolerant parents, God does not give into the whims of His children, but instead grants petitions which lead to greater spiritual growth and conformity to His image.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that under both the Old and New Covenants, refusal to keep to keep God's Law severs our relationship with Him. Like loving parents who give rules to their children to protect them from danger, our Loving Father has given us His Spiritual Law to protect us and bring us quality life. In the manner of Satan the Devil, who convinced Adam and Eve that God's commands restricted freedom, the misguided proponents of the anti-law bias or mentality have convinced many in our former fellowship that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and food laws are harsh and restrictive elements of Old Covenant bondage. New Covenant justification does not do away with God's Laws (nor with human nature or carnality for that matter) but creates the circumstances through which faith is enhanced, producing sanctification and purification, bringing God's purpose (to restore all things) to perfection.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the subtle changes made by the Worldwide Church of God have contaminated and corrupted virtually every doctrine we have lived by. Alterations in 'the package' affect the whole of what is produced. Proponents of these doctrines fail to see that God is doing more than merely saving people; He is producing sons in His image. Naively thinking that grace was something unique to the New Covenant and law unique to the Old Covenant, these misguided proponents of the 'do away with the law' mentality fail to see that the difference between the two covenants was in the quality of the the faith. The obligation in both covenants consisted of commandment-keeping. Justification denotes alignment with God's Law- not an excuse to break it.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
The faith of God's people has been severely tested in recent years. We need to be working on increasing our faith and ridding our lives of attitudes that block faith. Then we can begin to be profitable servants.
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
John Ritenbaugh warns that benign neglect of the Sabbath covenant can incrementally lead us into idolatry, as it apparently led Solomon into idolatry. We are admonished to respect or treat this holy time as different from the other days of the week, forsaking our mundane concerns, but allowing God to perform intense spiritual work, redeeming us from spiritual bondage, increasing our faith, and working out salvation in us. The Sabbath provides us the necessary time to systematically inculcate God's Word into our inner beings, fellowshipping with God and other called-out brethren. We need to carefully prepare for the Sabbath, making careful use of this precious preparation time for future service in His Kingdom. The Sabbath typifies the time of full redemption of Salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth- a millennial rest for this creation.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the importance of exercising faith and hope, patiently plodding along day-by-day toward our spiritual goal. Many of the pillars of faith had to wait many years (Abraham, for example, waited over 25 years before he saw the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise) for the fruition of their faith's target. With godly hope, we need to envision the possibility of successful accomplishment of God's purpose for us, realizing that God has bound that promise with an oath and that Jesus Christ (having empathy for us) intercedes for us as High Priest. Melchizedek, a prototype as well as equivalent of Christ, establishes the validity and dignity of Christ as High Priest. The divine appointment of Jesus as our High Priest precedes our divine calling, more important than genealogy or external physical characteristics.
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