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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Better Than Billy?

Two Groups
Consider two passages John 4:15 and John 6:34.  The first is the reaction of the Samaritan woman to her conversation with Jesus.  The second is the reaction of those who follow Christ across the Sea of Galilee after being fed from a few loafs and fish.
Better Than Billy?
Core Needs
In both cases Jesus had tapped into a deep desire, a deep core need in both the woman and those from the feeding of the 5000.  Both the woman and those following after Jesus wanted the benefits that He promised from living water and living bread.  But there were two vastly different outcomes for the woman and those who sought out Jesus for the bread.

Reaction #1
The woman left her water pot at the well and went to the city to tell anyone she could find what she had experienced at the well.  The result?  Many trusted Christ because of her testimony.  She introduced her city to Christ.

Reaction #2
On the other hand as those who followed Christ after eating the bread continued to question and probe what He was saying, they turned away.  Both the woman and those who were following Christ were offered eternal life.  The woman responded and led others to Christ.  Those who ate the bread turned away.

This Was the Best
I cannot imagine that there is a better evangelist than Jesus, not Billy Graham, no one.  He was able to tap into core needs with His words.  I have no hope to duplicate His ability to do that.  But the good news is that even with His skill more turned away than came – well that is not good news for them.  Why is that?  Look at the thread through John 6:37, 39, 44, 45, and 65.

What’s The Difference?
The apparent difference is that the Father gave the woman and the people in Sychar to Jesus and did not give those who ate the bread to Him.  Although Jesus spoke to their core needs only those who the Father gave came to Him, the others turned away, grumbling.

Rest and Humility
We must do our best to share the Word of God.  But it is not because of the skill or eloquence with which we speak that will determine the response of those who hear.  It is whether they are drawn by the Father.  In that we can rest.  Further, in that we remain humble when the Father does draw.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Accurate Handling

The Challenge
It seems to be a global challenge.  Last night I was meeting with a group of men in Eastern Europe on line.  We are seven weeks into a 10 week workshop to equip them to do more effective inductive Bible study.
Accurate Handling
The Question Overseas
As we finished our time together one of the men shared that his pastor is back-filling his sermons – that was not his term but mine.  What that means is that the pastor has something he wants to say so he finds some passages that either directly or tangentially support his thoughts and adds them to give his thoughts some “Biblical” cred.  That is bassackwards.

What the Bible Says
2 Timothy 2:15 tells us that we are supposed to handle the Word of Truth accurately.  In Jeremiah 23:16 – 24 Jeremiah describes back-filling in contrast to what should be done, standing in the council of the Lord.  For us that means that we need to be engaged in studying the Word of God with what we share emerging from our time with Him.

The Question at Home
Earlier in the week there was a similar conversation with a group of men closer to home.  Same issue.  Speakers who were only adding scripture to topics about which they wanted to speak that may or may not have Bible as the driving force behind it.

The Struggle to do it Right
Between these two conversations I spoke at length with a pastor who is currently working through a book of the Bible.  He is proceeding in his messages verse by verse.  It is hard work.  When one approaches the task of proclaiming the Word in this way, it makes it really hard to dodge difficult and controversial issues.  Issues with which the church has or is in danger of compromising with the World.

What Should We Do
At the end of the conversation with the men in Eastern Europe, they asked what to do when their leader speaks with a back-filled sermon.  I suggested that they talk to him.  Ask him how what he shared came from his study.  That has to be done in love, but it needs to be done.  Further, I suggested that when he does well in proclaiming the Word that they tell him and tell him specifically why they were encouraged with what he shared.

We all should do this with our pastors.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


A few days ago I was reading through Proverbs 4 – by the way you probably know that there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, one devotional practice that I have found helpful is to read the Proverb of the day.  That is, on the 4th of the month read Proverbs 4, on the 5th, Proverbs 5, and so on – this time through Proverbs 4 I was struck by 23 – 27.  I just checked, four years ago Proverbs 4:23 was a passage that commanded a lot of space in this blog.  Today though, there is a different issue I wish to explore.

Absolutely Hopeless
As I read and prayed through Proverbs 4:23 – 27 the hopelessness of the assignment overwhelmed me.  I know myself well enough to know that my eyes will wander from the path, I often turn to the right or left, and sometimes I hesitate or do not turn my foot from evil.

Overwhelming Hopelessness
The idea that this is what it means to watch over my heart leaves me with a feeling of hopelessness.  I know that no matter how determined, disciplined, focused I may be for the next few minutes, hours, or days, at some point I will fail.  It is pretty much guaranteed, history tends to repeat, so does my sin.  I identify with the words of Paul in Romans 7:24, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

Hopeless Cry
Paul’s hopeless cry and by extension mine is answered in Romans 7:25 – 8:17.  It is Christ.  His completed work in me.  He is the deliverance and the watch over my heart.  When I fail, He does not.

Triumph over Hopelessness
Our failure and His triumph over that failure is the essence and the excellent news of the gospel of grace.  I forget.  I tend to try to do this on my own.  In that I am hopeless.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Source of Strength and Courage

My Warped World View
It has been mentioned in this blog previously the fact that I am not a patient person.  I tend to act first and think later.  I am not really big on long lines.  I will drive miles out of my way to avoid traffic snarls.  Action is much preferable to sitting.  For me action, using one’s resources effectively, has been strength and courage.  I have admired those who did so.
The Source of Strength and Courage
The Not So Subtle Correction
Long ago I memorized Psalm 27.  As a matter of fact Psalm 27:4 is the first verse of Scripture I ever memorized.  Sometime later I committed the entire psalm to memory.  I missed something in the process.  This afternoon I was working through the psalm again, it is familiar territory, so I was enjoying reviewing the content.  As I finished the psalm, and was about to go to the next one on my list, there was check in my spirit.  It was as if the Lord was telling me, “Look again.”  So having already turned to the next psalm, I turned back to Psalm 27.  The spotlight was on verse 14.

The Specific Correction
Wait.  Do not move, do not take action, do not figure out how to fix the problem, wait.  Wait on the Lord.  Twice that phrase in Psalm 27:14.  The phrase is like the opening and closing parentheses around “be strong and let your heart take courage.”  Strength and courage come from waiting on the Lord, not from planning how and using my strengths and abilities.

The Wait Before Me
So I need to wait.  That is not easy for me.  I am learning that I have to have the Lord’s help to wait.  I spent some time chasing down the Hebrew word group that is translated wait or hope here.  When I finish I may share what I have seen.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Familiar Story
We all know the story of John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well.  Most of us can tell the story without reading the text.  Working through that passage a day or so ago I was struck by John 4:19.  The woman’s response to Jesus, was consistent with most of our actions.  When she was confronted with her sin, she deflected, changed the subject, and began to talk about religion.
Familiar Response
We do that a lot, do we not?  Rather than deal directly with an issue, we will change the subject, deflect, and or we will launch into a discourse about how to deal with issues in different religions or what really is a sin based on what we think or believe.  Anything to keep from really facing who we are.

Better Response
In contrast to the woman’s response, look at 2 Samuel 12:1 – 15.  When Nathan confronted David with his sin, David immediately admitted his adultery.  He repented and penned Psalm 51 as a response.

Choose Better
Deflection or repentance?  The woman at the well or David’s response?  It seems like we should follow David in this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Asking Questions – 2

Yesterday I posed some questions about the events in Acts 9:10 – 19.  The concept is that when something in scripture seems odd, it isn’t.  It is there for a reason.  In this case, I suggested that one purpose might be to have the individuals, Paul and Ananias, learn from the events.  So I posed that question.
Asking Questions – 2
Here are my responses to the questions.
  1. What was the lesson for Saul?
    • The call of God for redemption is through the Body of Christ.  Individual believers are instrumental in the propagation of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:14ff.
    • Forgiveness is not dependent on the heinous nature of an offense, 1 Timothy 1:15
    • God will sometimes intervene and stop persecution, thus if He allows it, it is part of His plan and has purpose.  (see further note "God's Sovereignty" below)
  2. What was the lesson for Ananias?
    • He is useful to the Lord
    • The Lord’s assignments do not align always with logic.
    • He cannot prejudge a person’s usefulness to the Lord
    • God allows us to question Him without retaliation, He is gracious.
  3. What is the lesson for me?
    • A person’s known behavior past or present is not an indication of their value to the Lord in the administration of His Kingdom.
    • I can know that even in the midst of a group of very bad people God may have His hand on someone.
    • God is sovereign over the events in my life.
God’s Sovereignty
Note: Saul was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  We read in Acts 9:19b – 22 that he immediately began to proclaim Christ.  However, before he was converted God used him.  Look at Acts 8:1 – 3, Saul was leading the persecution of the church in Jerusalem, it was that persecution that caused the scattering of the disciples and the initial spread of the gospel including the gentiles that came to Christ in Antioch.  God was using Saul to accomplish His will before Saul trusted Christ.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Asking Questions

The Source
Working through Acts 9 this afternoon, 10 – 19 raised some questions for me – does that happen to you?  When you are reading do you wonder what is going on and why?  Do you write the questions you have down?  You should.
Asking Questions
The Context
You know the context of Acts 9.  Saul, the chief persecutor of the Church is on his way to Damascus to wreak havoc on the Body.  But, Jesus stops Saul in his tracks by meeting him on the road, blinding him, and instructing him to go into the city and wait for instructions.

The Questions
Here is where the questions came for me.  Rather than show up again He sends Ananias.  Why?  If He could stop Paul on the road why not come to the city and give instructions?

This was intentional.  There is purpose here.  There are implications.  But what are they?  So my questions are:
  1. What were the lessons for Paul in this?
  2. What were the lessons for Ananias in this?
  3. What are the lessons for me in this?
What do you think?  Take a shot.  I will share my thoughts tomorrow.

Monday, January 18, 2016


What comes to mind when you hear or read the word, “sanctuary”?  Big building?  A safe place? Something else?
The Sanctuary
I ran across the word in Ezekiel 11:16 a day or so ago.  The context caused me to stop and consider what was actually being said.  The Lord is describing exiling His people.  Moving them to a hostile land.  Yet in that place He was their sanctuary, their place of worship, their safe place.

In some of my travels I have been in places that are less than appreciative of Christianity.  I normally do not tell the entry officers why I am coming to their country.  If I did, most likely they would invite me to leave on the plane that brung me.

In those situations I tend to be somewhat nervous.  Yesterday, I mentioned Proverbs 3:5 – 6.  Seeing the Lord as a sanctuary in difficult or life threatening situations is trust.  Sanctuary may not mean physical safety.  Sanctuary may be a subset of the reality that we have been chosen by Him to be with Him forever.

Challenged to Trust
I am challenged by this passage to trust.  To trust Him to be the sanctuary that He says He is.  Sanctuary by His definition, not mine.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Leaning on What?

My Background
My undergraduate degree is in Civil Engineering.  My first job was to learn to fly and then teach others to fly Air Force jets.  I have worked in conceptual cost estimating for a large southern utility.  I worked in project controls, project management on several large construction contracts including the largest road project ever done in Texas.  I helped to start and develop the infrastructure for a company, I have consulted several others.  Bottom line I am a problem solver and solution implementer.  I am good at it.
Leaning on What?
So when I encounter challenges my first response is to figure out how to fix it.  I am also a type A, driver/driver, high D, or how whatever personality instrument with which you are familiar describes a bull in a china closet.  I have a bias for action and do not like to sit still when there is a problem to be solved.  There is one major flaw in all of this – well probably more than one…

Why My MO is Wrong
Proverbs 3:5 is the one.  Although I have a lot of understanding in some areas, I am not to lean on that understanding.  Fact is, in most cases, that is exactly what I do.  But, that runs counter to what the Lord commands and what Solomon recommends here.

David’s MO
David was a fairly good warrior.  He had a ton of experience in fighting the enemies of Israel, especially the Philistines.  In 2 Samuel 5:17 – 25, twice, the Philistines came against Israel.  Each time David did not develop the battle plan.  Rather, David, who had the ton of experience in battle with this enemy, asked God what to do.  David did not lean on what he understood about battle with the Philistines, an understanding that was deep, nearly second nature.  No, he leaned on what God told him to do.

Be Like David
My suspicion is that we should all do what David did rather than what I typically do.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

How to be a Fool

Some Context
A while back I wrote about how those who do not acknowledge Christ are fools.  However, there are those who say that they do acknowledge Christ who are fools as well.  Read through Proverbs 1 – 3.  Note what Solomon says his purpose was in writing the book, Proverbs 1:1 – 6.  Note his exhortation on how to get wisdom in chapter 2.
How to be a Fool

How to get Wisdom
Now take a closer look at Proverbs 1:7, specifically the second half of that verse.  Where do we get wisdom?  If you read Proverbs 1 – 3 as suggested, you held the source in your hand, unless you were reading on line.  The importance of the Bible in our gaining wisdom is one of the purposes of Proverbs.  Chapter 2 describes what we should be doing with the Bible to mine wisdom out of it.  The mining metaphor that Solomon uses looks a lot like work, does it not.

What We Gain
We do not gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom by osmosis.  It takes work.  We will not get to know Christ through His Word if we are not, as He requires in John 15:7, abiding, remaining, dwelling consistently, in His Word.

What Doesn’t Word
It is not enough to have others, like our pastor, Sunday school teacher, or favorite Christian author, study and tell us what they found.  They got the primary benefit from their study, we get the crumbs.

The Importance of the Bible
2 Peter 1:2 – 3, tells us that through His promises, which by the way are in His Word, we become partakers of the divine nature.  One implication of that is that when you are reading His Word you are being exposed to His nature.

Our Choice
Solomon’s advice in Proverbs 1 – 2 is to dig, mine wisdom out of the Word of God.  Admittedly it is work.  What in life that is worth doing is not?

Solomon has a term to describe those who do not take his advice, fools.  All it takes to be one is to leave your Bible closed.  All it takes to move away from that category is to open and learn to study your Bible.  Your choice.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Your Glory

Reading this morning in Ephesians when I came to 3:13 I nearly stopped and about the same time a question formed in my mind.  The passage is stunning to me because of Paul’s reference to the source of the Ephesian’s glory.  The question that formed for me was whose tribulations on my behalf are my glory.
Your Glory

Who is it that has labored in my life to hone my walk with Him?  Who has labored to make me aware that there is more?  Our glory is from the Lord but it seems to me that the Body has a major contribution.  We do not – probably better – cannot stand on our own.  We have a desperate need for each other and for those saints who went before.  Isaac Newton may have captured the thought well, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

So maybe the question is what giants have contributed to our glory.  Maybe we should thank them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Priority of Observation

The Starting Prayer
Psalm 119:18 is a good place to start in your Bible study.  It is David asking God to help him observe in God’s Word.  That is the primary task in Bible study, good – no check that – great observation.

The Priority of Observation
Don’t Skip Steps
We too quickly pass through a passage, especially one we know well, and move either to analysis, interpretation, or application.  Doing so can create some significant opportunities for misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the text.  The reason?  We do not spend enough time observing the structure of the passage.

Observe First
In a recent Bible study one of the participants did some great analysis of the passage we were in for the week.  The challenge was that he dove right into parsing the Greek verbs and looking up definitions, without having made observations on the text as a whole.  Now his work was excellent.  I was loath to correct his approach for fear I would discourage his zeal.  However, however for several days I struggled with how to communicate the reason for the need for observation first.  A few days later I got some clarity.

If we dive into analysis before we observe – full disclosure here, I have been guilty of that myself – we may be diving into the wrong end of the pool.  What I mean by that, observing the passage, looking for the repeated words and phrases, noticing the literary structure, gives us clues, insight into the purpose of the passage.  If we have a handle on that purpose, there will be verses that are central to that purpose, terms and or phrases that the author uses to communicate that purpose.  It is at those points where we should begin our analysis.  We may get to all of the other verses in the passage, but we must deal with the central purpose initially.  To do otherwise may put us in jeopardy of emphasizing things we see in analysis that are tangential to the purpose of the passage.

So I would encourage us, me included, to observe first, then analyze what we see.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Getting the Most from Your Pastor’s Sermon

The Source
Prof was one of the main reasons I went to Dallas Seminary.  I took all of the courses he taught and graded his leadership course for two years.  I was privileged to travel with him and his wife to a conference in which he spoke.

The Recommendation
My son, John, has listened to a lot of Prof’s messages.  Discipleship Library has an extensive collection of his messages that have been moved from tape to mp3.  In response to yesterday’s post, John called with a recommendation of one of Prof’s messages that I had not heard, “How to Get the Most Out of a Sermon.”

The Suggestion
Rather than write something, I will let a better voice prevail.  The message is on this page, the easiest way to find it is to search the page for “sermon” (on a PC type ctrl+f and then type sermon in the search box and then enter).  You can then download the message or listen to it online, if you want to bypass all of that and listen to it now click here.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Catch Your Pastor Doing Something Right

The Charge
Hebrews 3:13 tells us that we are to be intentional about encouraging one another.  We are to do that daily.  Not weekly, daily.  There is someone in your life that needs that desperately, your pastor.
Catch Your Pastor Doing Something Right
The Data
From March to May of 1991 I talked to around 1000 pastors.  I was doing surveys and marketing for the Fuller Institute.  I discovered that being a pastor is an isolated job.  Most of them are out on a limb without a safety net.  They cannot really share what is going on in their lives with anyone in their congregation, if they do, it will backfire on them.  Most of the communication they receive consists of criticism or complaints.

My Experience
In my church we had a pastor that followed the founding pastor.  I knew he was in for a rough time.  Following the founder is not a choice assignment.  I calculated he would last about three years.  He beat that by six months.  During that time I would find things that I liked about what he did and write a quick note to him.

The Impact
Just before he left we met, I do not remember the reason for the meeting, but during our conversation he opened the left hand drawer of his desk and pulled out all of the notes that I had written him.  He said that they had sustained him during some of the difficulties he experienced.

Make the Time
Take time to find something you like about what your pastor is doing.  Then tell him.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Getting the Most out of Meetings

In Church
This morning I visited a church that I do not usually attend.  The pastor is working through 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  He working through these books as a unit.  Last week he did an overview of the three books as a unit.  It so happens that within the last year I have studied these three books as a unit as well.
Getting the Most out of Meetings
My notes this morning

In Step
This morning as he worked through the first paragraph of 1 Timothy, I was following along in the study I had previously completed.  I have the pdf of the study on my iPad.  I have an app on the iPad on which I take notes as well as the Bible app I use for Bible study.

So as he was speaking I was taking notes and comparing what he saw with my study.  To say that was interactive would be a significant understatement.  I was in a constant dialog with him.  It was excellent.

In Acts 17:11 we are told that it is noble minded to check speakers against the Word of God to make sure that they are aligned with what the Holy Spirit has inspired.  What would it be like in your community if all had studied the passage the pastor is speaking on and were working through the passage with him as he spoke?

What If?
It seems to me that the learning and assimilation of the text would be far greater than what most of us currently experience.  I know that today drove me further into the text and opened new avenues of investigation for me in 1 Timothy.

Try it.  You’ll like it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What is Good?

There are a couple of issues with which I have been struggling for the past several months.  I have been praying through them but I do not have resolution on them as yet.  Concurrently, I have been reading D. A. Carson’s book on Philippians.
What is Good?
In the first part of the book he has been identifying principles with which Paul lived his life and made his choices…  One was to put the needs of those whom he was privileged to serve first.  Carson’s comments bear repeating:

The lesson to be learned is startlingly clear: Put the converts of the gospel at the center of your principled self-denial. Paul’s deepest hopes for his own immediate future turn neither on the bliss of immediately gaining heaven’s portals nor on returning to a fulfilling ministry and escaping the pangs of death, but on what is best for his converts. Often we are tempted to evaluate alternatives by thinking through what seems best for us. How often do we raise as a first principle what is best for the church? When faced with, say, a job offer that would take us to another city or with mortal illness that calls forth our diligent intercession, how quickly do we employ Paul’s criterion here established: What would be best for the church? What would be best for my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Don’t know about you but that criterion is not what I usually apply.  His encouragement has made the decisions I need to make more daunting.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Clear Understanding while Missing the Point Entirely

They Got It
Take a look at John 5:16 – 18.  When the Jews were told by the man that he had been healed by Jesus, rather than acknowledge something miraculous had transpired, they persecuted Jesus.  Why?  His behavior did not fit in their theology.  Never mind that a man who had been crippled for 38 years had been comprehensively healed, the Sabbath, at least their understanding of the Sabbath, had been broken.  That was what mattered here, keeping everything the way it is supposed to be.
Jesus Ups the Ante
There are other times Christ chooses not to confront.  This is not one of them.  In John 5:17, He tells them that He was working because His Father was working.  They understood Him.  He was claiming to be the Son of God, claiming that God was His Father, thus making Himself equal with God.

Completely Missing the Point
That was a whole lot worse than breaking the Sabbath, did not really matter to them that the miracle validated Christ’s claim, it was not possible, His claim was counter to everything they believed, so they decided to do the only rational thing, kill Him.  The amazing thing here is that Christ and His Father knew this would happen.  This was not an unintended consequence.  Think about that for a minute.  The Father was leading His son to push the leaders to the point that they wanted to kill Him.

Where are we Scandalized
That makes me ask where the Lord is challenging what I think I know about Him.  What “truth” am I holding so tightly that I miss the point, miss what God is doing, because it does not align with what I expect of Him?

That seems to be a question that I need to continually ask.  It is similar to the question I asked yesterday, but it bears repeating, probably every day.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus
"Strange" Question
Commands and Response
The Immediate Effect
Sadly Predictable Reaction

Saturday, January 2, 2016


The Question on the Table
Three days ago I asked what were some of the implications of the dialog between the Jews and the man healed by Jesus.  Here are some that I saw.

What I saw
  • First, Jesus is greater than the Law.  Matthew 12:6 alludes to this.  God is the source of the Law.  It reflects His nature and character, Jesus is fully God, He is greater than the Law and cannot, based on who He is, violate that Law.  Thus His actions did not violate the Law.
  • The man was more important than the Jews understanding of the Law.
  • The healing was intentionally done on the Sabbath in order to provoke the Jews.
  • Jesus did not seek credit for the healing.  He did not stay with the man and only came to him after he was challenged by the Jews.
  • The Jews ignored what had been done for the man.  They were more concerned with keeping what they understood to be the law than the fact that someone had comprehensively healed one who had been lame for 38 years.  Their narrow focus caused them to miss what was really happening.
I have to ask myself how I am behaving like those Jews today.  How am I missing what God is doing because it does not fit with what I expect Him to do?  How am I fighting God because what He is doing does not fit my expectations?

There is a bit more to cover in Matthew 5:1 – 18, I will try to wrap this up tomorrow.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus
"Strange" Question
Commands and Response
The Immediate Effect
Sadly Predictable Reaction

Friday, January 1, 2016

Taking the Priesthood to Heart

New Year’s Resolution?
Yesterday I asked how last year went.  I am not big on resolutions.  They smack too near legalism and performance rather than living by grace for my taste.  However, this evening I spent some time in Malachi 2.  That was not where I started, but that is where the Lord took me.
Taking the Priesthood to Heart
The Charge to Priests
I was challenged by Malachi 2:2.  In the context the Levites have not taken their duty seriously, they have not taken it to heart.  Malachi 2:7 outlines what the Lord expects of His priests.  He tells them that when they do not take their responsibility to heart, He will curse them.  It is not a good thing to be cursed by God.

We are Priests
As I was working through this passage several other passages came to mind, namely 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 12 and 1 Peter 2:5, 9.  The import of those passages is that as believers we are all priests.  It occurs to me that I need to, as the Lord tells the Levitical priests, take that to heart.  I need to both pray for others 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 12, as well as pray that for myself.

Our Charge
Like the priests in Malachi 2, I need to honor the name of the Lord with my life.  If 1 Peter 2:5, 9, is true all of us as believers are responsible to do the same.

Might be something to consider as we go forward this year.