Reliance; August 13, 2022

Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

I have liked this verse ever since I learned the little chorus that was made from it, along with verses 6 and 8. The Japanese says “boast,” rather than “trust in,” but I think the meaning is clear. The whole point is the matter of who or what the nation is depending on. (Incidentally, this Psalm, along with some others that are attributed to “of David,” seems much more like it was written for or to David, rather than by him.) This is a matter of major importance for every nation in every age, as it is actually for every individual who has ever lived. The issue comes up fairly frequently throughout the Bible, but we are all too prone to boast of/trust in/depend on what we can see, and all too often that comes up short. Just this year Putin has trusted in his tanks and artillery, and has been shamed by the much less equipped Ukranians. Actually, any nation or any individual that trusts in anything less than the Creator is doomed to eventual disappointment at the very least. Militarily, right now the US is on very thin ice because, despite having the best military technology, the top brass is boasting about “woke” nonsense like Critical Race Theory and gender ideology. I just pray that the military won’t be put to the test before that is straightened out. On a more personal scale, we all tend to rely on physical, temporal things, like our job or our 401K or even our social network following. All of those are ephemeral at best. We can have everything the world teaches us to desire and still come up desperately short when push comes to shove. Knowing God and walking in obedient fellowship with Him is the only true security, and it is eternal!

I was raised to trust in God over material things, but I still have had a persistent tendency to trust in the abilities He has given me, rather than in God Himself. That can be subtle at times, but it is dangerous. Right now by God’s grace we are more comfortable financially than I can remember in our 53 years of marriage, but part of that comes from reduced material ambition: we don’t want so much. That is a blessing, but the core issue is still the matter of what we’re depending on. After all, even government pensions are uncertain, and the value of money itself is sliding. I’ve got to keep my eyes on my Lord, who has been more than generous and dependable. That includes making whatever use He indicates of whatever He places in my hands, be it finances or anything else.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for how things are going with the photo show. We haven’t had the numbers we might have liked, but You have given us some interesting interactions. I continue to pray that those who see the show would go away impressed far more with You and Your creation than with the abilities You’ve given me. Thank You. Praise God!

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Words; August 12, 2022

Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

It is very difficult to choose just one part of this Psalm to write on, because it is so loaded with glorious truth. The first verse is justly famous, and it would be a fitting label for the images that are coming from the James Webb Space Telescope, or even for some of the sky and cloud pictures I take. Then there’s the section from verse seven and following that has been well set to music, to engrain the truth expressed into people’s hearts and minds. Then the last three verses of the Psalm deal with sin and our capacity for deceiving ourselves into ignoring it. That’s why I finally settled on this last verse, because it is an appropriate prayer not only when reading this Psalm but at all times in every situation. As Jesus pointed out, it’s not what we put into our bodies so much as it is what comes out of them that defiles us – and He wasn’t talking about digestive elimination. (Matthew 15:10-20) David is here talking about words and the thoughts that generate them. Just as God spoke the universe into existence, (Genesis 1) our words have tremendous potential, both for good and for evil. Jesus famously said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) That doesn’t mean never to speak; language is an essential part of our humanity. It does however mean that we are to submit our words to God even before they come out of our mouth, just as David prays here. Words are a powerful gift from God, and we are to be faithful stewards of them just as we are of all His other gifts.

This is particularly appropriate to me since I am a man of words. I sometimes say that I make my living with words, as a school teacher and as a pastor. I haven’t consciously prayed this verse daily up until now, but I’m feeling it would be a good idea to do so. I’ve just finished a book that popped some bubbles about some well-known saints of the past century whom I had admired – and still admire – greatly. None of us are perfect! When words are such a big part of my life, I have all the more reason to focus on keeping my words submitted to my Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. I have quite a track record of hurting people with words carelessly spoken, and as Jesus said, I will have to answer for that. I am seen as an oddity because I preach in Japanese and English together, but that linguistic ability means nothing if the content isn’t from God. I am certainly careful what I say from the pulpit, but I must be more careful what I say in my daily interactions, because they form the vast majority of my influence on other people, and I want to represent Christ and nothing less. My wife Cathy takes the brunt of my careless words, and I need to do better about that. I have shown myself to be very capable of wounding others with my words, and I cannot depend on myself not to do it again. I need to keep growing as an accurate conduit for what God wants to say, so that His perfect will may be accomplished through me for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It has certainly focused and put a point on what You were already indicating that I was to speak on this coming Sunday. I ask for clear guidance and anointing as I prepare the notes for that message, but more than that I ask for You to enable me to put this truth into consistent practice, not deceiving myself but applying Your truth for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Values and Priorities; August 11, 2022

Psalm 16:2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

This Psalm is special to me because verse six was a favorite of my father and his father before him, verse 10 was referenced by Peter at Pentecost, and verse 11 has been very pleasantly set to music in Japanese. However, in a sense all of those are dependent on the attitude expressed in this verse. This verse is in a very real sense the key to David’s life; he got into trouble only when he forgot it momentarily. Our lives are filled with all sorts of things both good and bad. David, and countless saints before and after him, recognized that, as James said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) When we get into trouble is when we think we can have anything good apart from Him. Actually, as I mentioned a few days ago, apart from Him we would be nothing more than random atoms, if that! Life is ultimately a matter of priorities and choices; that’s what free will is all about. It is when we recognize that God is Lord, that He has absolute authority over us, and that every genuinely good and desirable thing is bound up in Him that we start fulfilling the purpose for which we were created and so experience the blessings that He has intended for us all along. The devil tries to keep us from that awareness any way he can, convincing some people that God “made us wrong,” or that we were “born into the wrong time,” or something of the sort. There are many things about our life and circumstances that we don’t understand, but everything becomes immeasurably better when we come to the awareness David expresses here.

I was thankfully raised with this as a given assumption about life, but I can’t say I haven’t deviated from it more times than I could count. I too have listened to the devil’s lies about some “good thing” that God was “keeping from me.” That has never ended well! At this point in my life I’m blessed to say that this principle is pretty well worked into me, but I’m still vulnerable to complaining at times, not to mention dragging my feet even when I know God wants me to do something. As James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) I need to apply the truth I know with my whole heart, not entertaining the devil’s lies but walking in God’s truth alone, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Thank You also for the book I’ve been reading that has shown me the humanity and fallibility of some people I had idolized. Help me never condemn myself or anyone else for mistakes, but rather operate fully in Your grace, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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The Activities of Fools; August 10, 2022

Psalm 14:4 Will evildoers never learn–
those who devour my people as men eat bread
and who do not call on the Lord?

I somewhat stole my own thunder yesterday by quoting the content of verse one, (even though I referenced Psalm 53:1) but that made me look deeper, to see this verse that I hadn’t previously underlined. I find this extremely descriptive of a lot of people who are in the news these days, as they ignore inflation and increase taxes to the detriment of the “little guy” they claim to support. “Devouring people like bread” is a horrible but remarkably apt image. They are acting in willful ignorance, knowing they are doing evil but doing it anyway because they think they will get some personal advantage from it. That certainly fits the adjective of “fool” used in verse one! By inference, the way of wisdom is obviously to do the opposite, to care genuinely for the oppressed and seek to lift them up, to call on the Lord out of an awareness of our dependence on Him. One thing this verse says to me is that human nature hasn’t changed since the Garden of Eden. There will always be short-sighted, self-centered fools like this, just as there will be those who humbly seek and find their Creator the way He desires and intends. The former will ultimately be dealt with in the Last Judgment, and the latter will be comforted and lifted up to glory, just as the Revelation to John expresses so dramatically. The question for us will always be which group to join. The choice might seem vague if we are focused on the material world, but when our spiritual eyes are opened it is very clear-cut.

I have learned over the years that this is a choice that must be made frequently, sometimes several times a day, because the devil is always out to pull us down with him. It is very easy to feel self-righteous when looking at others, all the while ignoring my own sins. I need to live in humble openness to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to show me where I need to repent, what I need to do to be more available to God. Pride is always a trap – even being proud of my own humility! I have proved to be quite adept at deceiving myself, (James 1:22) so I need to depend on the only One who can keep me straight.

Father, thank You for this reminder. The Internet is certainly full of information about the activities of the kind of people described in this verse. Help me respond as You intend, in prayer and not pride, so that Your will and Yours alone may be accomplished in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Depending on God; August 9, 2022

Psalm 9:10 Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

The Japanese here gives a slightly different nuance that is worth noting. Where the NIV says “trust in You,” the Japanese says “depend on You,” with the specific implication that God is the “first resort,” rather than the last thing you turn to. We fall down at that all too often! We tend to depend on a lot of things, when the good ones were all provided by God in the first place! Just like animistic religion (of which Shinto is one example) worships things in nature, we tend to depend on things God has provided instead of on God Himself. And often enough, we go one step further and depend on things God has enabled us to make out of the things He has provided. Finances are the prime example here, and the current economic situation should teach us how foolish that is! Of course depending on God requires faith and awareness that He is, and that we are His creation. Sadly, many people try to deny that, and so deprive themselves of countless blessings in this life, and of course the hope of eternal life to follow. In Psalm 14 (actually, tomorrow’s reading) and echoed in Psalm 53 it says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 53:1) Declared atheism is often an attempt not to depend on God, because such dependence includes a moral obligation to obedience, and we want to do what we want to do. That ignores the logical reality that we are only aware of a small subset of the facts about any situation, and often we’re mistaken about those! Intellectual honesty requires acknowledging our ignorance, and too many people don’t want to do that. Claiming to be wise, we display our foolishness! The genuinely wise person will indeed depend on God, making full use of what He has provided but knowing that He is the Source.

This is something I have struggled with over the years. I was raised to know of God, and indeed to know God, but at the same time I was entranced by this mind I had been given. I loved discovering things and knowing things, which wasn’t bad, but then I tended to feel I could decide what to do with it all, rather than inquiring of the One who created it. That was, in a word, hubris, and even the ancient Greeks knew that was a bad thing. One of the advantages of the physical deterioration that comes with age is the awareness that we are indeed dependent and not independent, whatever we like to think. I would certainly enjoy having the physical faculties I had 50 years ago, but from this perspective I realize I was actually just as dependent on the grace of God then as I am now. I often tell people that apart from the grace of God, none of us could take a single breath. (That’s a little easier to relate to than saying that without God’s grace and will we would all be just scattered atoms.) I am in no way to rebel against that dependence, but rather rejoice that God is so gracious and loving as not only to allow me to exist, but to call me into fellowship with Him by His Son and His Spirit. That’s a dependence that’s worth celebrating!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for enabling us to get the photo show set up yesterday, and that it indeed went very smoothly despite my back pain. It starts today, which is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. That makes it a little awkward that I, as an American, will be interviewed by cable TV this morning! I pray that my pictures, and my words about them, will indeed point people to You, who make everything possible. May many come and be touched, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God’s Guidance; August 8, 2022

Psalm 5:8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies–
make straight your way before me.

It’s interesting how word order in a sentence changes the feel of it, even when it doesn’t change the actual meaning. The Japanese renders this as, “O Lord, because there are those who lie in wait for me, lead me by Your righteousness. Please make Your way straight in front of me.” That doesn’t feel the same as the well-known musical setting of this verse! David had plenty of visible human enemies. We might have that, but even if we don’t we certainly have the devil who is always out to “steal, kill, and destroy.” (John 10:10) And then we have our own ignorance and foolishness to contend with! We have plenty of reason to ask God for His guidance. With us, the perennial problem is whether we will follow God’s guidance when He gives it. That goes back to the verse I preached on just yesterday: “For God does speak–now one way, now another– though man may not perceive it.” (Job 33:14) God can be guiding very clearly, and we still decide to take a left turn! Men are notorious for not asking directions, but this problem doesn’t respect gender. It all boils down to pride, just as it did in the Garden of Eden, when Eve thought that disobeying God might make her be like God. (Genesis 3:5) Joy Dawson, who died recently, wrote an extremely helpful guide to hearing from God, and one of the main points was “dying to the issue about which you are praying.” In other words, completely surrendering the issue at hand to God. That’s more easily said than done! We have our own ideas and desires, and when God’s guidance conflicts with those we are all too likely to ignore God. We need to remember that we indeed have an enemy who is lying in wait for us, and his intentions are never good. With that awareness, we need to submit fully to the only One who can truly protect and guide us. (James 4:7)

I am eternally grateful for the way God has guided me, often in spite of myself. I referenced some of that in yesterday’s message! I have issues every day where my choices make a difference. I’m not to abandon the mind God has given me, but I must always remember that my mind is never enough. I need God’s guidance! However, I’m not to be anxious about it, but rest in the assurance that God will indeed guide me, if I will simply be quiet enough before Him to hear Him. I am fairly often asked for advice, for guidance if you will. I must not reject such requests, but always seek to point those who ask to the only One who can be completely trusted. I know that God has used me many times in such situations, but I must never presume I already have the answers. Guidance is ultimately God’s business, because only He knows the true destination and what we will encounter along the way.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for yesterday and all that You did in it. Thank You for today, and Your plans for it as well. My schedule looks very full, but You always make enough time for everything You intend for me to do. I do ask for discernment as I evaluate my Speech Therapy students this morning in their performance examination, that I would be fair and accurate. I ask also for skill and guidance as I set up my photo exhibit this afternoon, and also for things to go smoothly as Cathy meets the piano tuner this afternoon for him to evaluate the piano we received. May all of Your plans be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Physical Stewardship; August 7, 2022

Psalm 4:8 I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

This is a very important declaration of faith, particularly with the current increase in sleep disorders. Sleep has been an issue for as long as we have records, but these days people are not only busy, they have constant electronic distractions that can rob them of proper rest. David’s impediment to sleep was the fact that he had many enemies, some of them quite literally out to take his life. That would be true for some occupations today, particularly on the battlefield, but the ordinary “road warrior” often has sleep problems too, anxious about whether he will make his quota and earn enough commission to support his family. The answer to all such circumstances boils down to faith. We need to accept how little of our lives we actually control, and choose to trust the One who not only can control it all, He has our best interests at heart. What we can control is how we respond to all the distractions that are thrown our way. We don’t control the distractions as such, but we can control how we respond to them, turning devices off, limiting screen time, and that sort of thing. Many studies have shown the great importance of our sleep schedule in terms of physical and emotional health. Choosing to do all we can to get appropriate rest is part of the stewardship we owe our Creator. It’s like someone gave you a car but you only added fuel when necessary and never changed the oil or had other maintenance done. Not only would the car not last very long, the person who gave it to you would be none too happy either. The best maintenance plan for human beings is to seek the Manufacturer’s instructions and trust Him to follow through.

I learned automotive maintenance the hard way, starting from total ignorance. I knew that oil had to be added when low, but I had no idea it, and the filter, had to be changed periodically. I drove one car to the point that the oil filter was completely clogged, the oil couldn’t circulate and so boiled, and the engine block cracked and caught on fire. I certainly don’t want to do that with my body! I have had times of insomnia, but I have learned that choosing to thank and praise God in my heart as I lie in bed is far and away the best way to get to sleep. Verse four of this chapter is very applicable: “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” (Psalm 4:4) Any strong emotion can keep me awake, and failing to release it to God is sin. I need to let Jesus be Lord of every moment of my life, both internally and externally.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the good night’s sleep I just got! Help me be a good steward of everything You place in my hands, from my body to my time to my abilities to my possessions, so that Your purposes may be fulfilled for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Infinite God; August 6, 2022

Psalm 2:11 Serve the Lord with fear
and rejoice with trembling.

This verse captures some of the complexity of fallible, finite creatures like us relating to an infinite, perfectly holy God. He doesn’t need us, but we can serve Him just the same. The awesomeness of His majesty is more than we can fully contemplate, but there is incredible joy in it. By very definition there are problems to the finite relating to the infinite, but God, being Love as well as being infinite, makes it possible anyway. However, ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has tended to take those issues lightly, presuming on God’s love and grace and assuming a level of equality with Him that is absurd even to think about. God, being Love, truly wants us to rejoice on many levels, but to do that fully we have to grasp just how amazing His grace really is. A Christian song from within the past few years says, “I am a friend of God,” based on John 15:15, but when we presume on that we get ourselves into deep trouble. As this verse says, we need to serve Him with fear and rejoice with trembling.

I could be a poster boy for this issue. I was raised to love Jesus and know that God loved me, and I am more than grateful for that. However, that didn’t translate into a sufficient fear of the Lord for too much of my life. I can’t say I’ve got it down perfectly even now. As a pastor I seek to help people understand God’s love for them, but to do that they’ve also got to understand how totally holy He is, and how hopeless they are without the atoning work of Christ on the cross. I’ve never been a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, and in general I think such preaching is counterproductive, but I must not neglect teaching people about the penalty for sin, and specifically their sin. One of the messages from the Pastors’ Conference in June was on that subject, but I have been unable to resurrect it properly in my memory, and I have no recording of it. I need to be quiet enough before the Lord to let Him speak it directly to my heart, just as He caused it to resonate in the conference. I too need to serve Him with fear and rejoice with trembling!

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for constantly working on more levels than I could possibly grasp. Help me not overthink things, but obey You fully and rejoice with childlike simplicity as Your child, purchased with the blood of the Lamb. Thank You. Praise God!

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Hearing God; August 5, 2022

Job 33:14 “For God does speak–now one way, now another–
though man may not perceive it.”

Elihu is something of a mystery because he wasn’t one of Job’s “three friends,” and he appears suddenly from chapter 32 and gives a long discourse that runs all the way through chapter 37, longer even than the space given to the Lord, who is recorded from chapter 38 through 41. 32:6 calls him “son of Barakel the Buzite,” and says he was younger than Job and his friends (as does 32:4). He isn’t mentioned in the Lord’s rebuke of Job’s friends (42:7-9), so who is he? A young man in our church over 20 years ago was fascinated by Elihu because he was a young person speaking wisdom (which is how our church member liked to think of himself) and he advanced the idea that Elihu might have been a manifestation of Christ. I’m not at all sure about that, but he does speak some good truth. This particular verse is something I’ve tried to get through to people for as long as I’ve been in ministry. The world says that people who “hear from God” are mentally unstable at best, because the devil is terrified that we will learn to listen accurately to God and do exactly what He says. That is of course a huge lie, as is everything the devil does. You could say that learning to hear God and obey Him is our prime purpose in being on earth! Most of the ways God speaks that are listed in this chapter aren’t very pleasant, but God speaks in pleasant ways as well. He tells us of His love through the love of parents or other family members, for example. The devil wants us to be afraid to hear God, much as the Israelites were afraid at Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 20:18-19) Moses said that was to teach them to obey God, (Exodus 20:20) but the devil distorts that to make us not want to hear God at all. And then there are the lying spirits that do such things as tell mothers to kill their children, all the while claiming to be God. If you’re afraid you’ll mishear God, then immerse yourself in the Bible; He’s not going to contradict Himself!

The idea of hearing God has never seemed strange to me, but then my upbringing wasn’t exactly ordinary, being an MK and all. I have long thought, and stated, that the first time I heard God speak to me in what might as well have been an audible voice was about 35 years ago, but I now realize He, or at least an angel, was who said “Don’t do that” when I was seriously attempting suicide as a college student. Distinct voices like that have indeed been rare for me, but looking back I can see that God has spoken to me countless times in various ways, and I’m deeply grateful. I only wish I had been more obedient! I remember one time when I had been praying in tongues by myself for a while and I asked the Lord for the interpretation. I’m not sure if what followed was an interpretation as such, but I was blown out of the water by the words that came from my mouth, as God told me He was pleased with me and my faithfulness, and He would use me. I am at times sharply aware of my weakness and foolishness, but God is strong enough and wise enough to use even me, so that’s more than enough reason to listen to Him as well as I can.

Father, thank You for Your incredible grace and faithfulness. That You would care so much about such insignificant creatures as we are is indeed mind boggling. Help me communicate Your love and grace effectively to those around me, so that they too may learn to be aware of You speaking to them, and respond with gratitude, obedience, and joy. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Accountability; August 4, 2022

Job 22:21-22 “Submit to God and be at peace with him;
in this way prosperity will come to you.
Accept instruction from his mouth
and lay up his words in your heart.

As came out yesterday, the problem with Job’s friends was not that what they said was wrong so much as that it wasn’t submitted to God before it was said, and then spoken in love. Eliphaz’s remarks in this chapter are true enough, but they are spoken down to Job, when it is clear that Eliphaz himself didn’t have an intimate relationship with his Creator. “Conventional religion” is entirely prone to becoming a matter of slogans and prescribed steps, when God desires our hearts so that He may express His heart to those around us through us. That said, His heart isn’t weak in the least, and at times He can be a rather strict parent, so we must not confuse His grace for permission to do whatever we like. The Book of Job as a whole is an exposition of Jesus’ statement that “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) as I brought up two days ago. We aren’t to let the troubles of living in a fallen world distract us from the reality that God is our Creator, and He loves us.

I have been convinced of God’s love for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always walked in obedience to Him. I had the huge advantage of living with parents who lived out their faith on virtually every level. They weren’t perfect any more than I am, but their commitment was complete, and I was greatly blessed by that. However, there were things I could “get away with” in living with them, and I tried to “get away with” things in relation to God as well. That doesn’t work! As Paul said very clearly, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12) Jesus went so far as to say we are accountable for every word we speak! (Matthew 12:36) Being definitely a man of words myself, that hits close to home! I need to be very careful that my words aren’t speaking down to my hearers, but rather lifting them up, even when they are words of correction. I’m giving a final examination to one of my classes this morning. Such things are definitely a type of formalized accountability. Even now I can predict with a high degree of accuracy which students will do well and which not, not so much for their performance in class as their attitude. The subject is Medical English, which will be important to them as medical professionals whether they like that fact or not. I too have things I have to deal with that are important whether I’m happy with that fact or not! I am to deal with my students with compassion, but still grade their tests fairly, knowing that’s how God deals with me.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I hadn’t expected it! Thank You for knowing what I need to hear when, and for speaking to me so faithfully. May I apply and live out all that You say to me, and not deceive myself (James 1:22) but act as Your agent for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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