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Posts from February 2012

Becoming a Debt Free Church. . .Seriously!

I know that we live in an era where finances are the major stressors for many. Just a little over a year ago, we were considering how to cut salaries and ministries just to pay bills. We were sinking into the red at a pretty alarming rate.

Well, at that point, I laid out the financial circumstances to the church and after and through much prayer, God moved us to a place of ministry as a church where finances were no longer the biggest worry.

Now, just a little over 16 months later, we are in a real position to truly practice what we preach (or at least tell all good Christ-followers) regarding finances. 

The following is the text from an email being sent to all church members tomorrow, but I felt that sharing it here was appropriate. 

I want this to be clear. I share this information for these reasons only:

  • To the glory of God and God alone. That means, there is no glory here for anyone else, not me, not First Baptist Church, not the bank (definitely) but God alone.
  • To show that we cannot proclaim a biblical truth as a church and refuse to ever acknowledge that we, as a church, must also seek to live by the same truth.
  • To encourage those (other churches, families and individuals) going through difficult financial circumstances.
  • To express our desire to not only proclaim freedom, but to experience it. In this case, the freedom from debt.
  • To share my personal doubts and publicly repent for not believing.

I fully recognize that what I'm sharing here for some may seem like "putting the cart before the horse." In truth, we're not there yet. However, for the first time in my ministry I feel that we have a good, prayed over, biblically based, strategic plan as a church to become debt free in an amount of time that is actually very exciting. It's exciting because there's a good chance (unless God calls me home or elsewhere. . .no I'm not interviewing or seeking to go elsewhere) that I will be able to celebrate this future event with the people of God here at First Baptist.

So. . .here's the story:

Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel (Becoming a Debt Free Church)

 

Debt-free

It has been a pretty amazing year for First Baptist in so many ways. One way that God has blessed beyond our understanding has been financially. As you know, we were able to bless some incredible ministries and church plants last fall as well as pay off the loan on our bus and use some funds for capital improvements. As we move through the beginning of 2012, we continue to seek God's leadership for His church here as we strive to be the very best stewards possible of His resources.

 

We have proclaimed for years through messages, emails, blog posts and financial classes that the goal is to avoid debt. We are reminded of Solomon's wisdom in this area. . .

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)

Yet, the reality is that most of our church members carry much more debt that they (i.e. we) should. While most of our debt is often wrapped up in our home mortgages, there is often added debt in the form of lines of credit, credit cards, car loans, etc.

My wife and I are doing what many of you are. We are systematically and intentionally working to pay off outstanding debt. Why? Because "the borrower is the slave of the lender." Debt keeps us from being able to use the finances God has blessed us with to do more ministry.

Remember when I read the list of stressors last Sunday showing the stressors that many in America face today? The top three had to do with finances (personal finances, work and the economy.)

As a church, we have collectively fallen into the pit of debt. While I am very pleased that over the years the church saw fit to purchase the property we now have and build the facilities we use each week, the truth of the matter is that the monthly payments keep us from using our funds to their fullness.

So, I'm excited to share with you that not only are we advocating as a church that people (especially Christ-followers) work toward being debt free, but we are modeling this.

Here's how.

Over the last seven years, we have focused on paying off debt and God has blessed with the ability to do so. We paid off a loan we came to call "The Giant" (i.e. the imagery was of David and Goliath), we paid off loans for homes on our property that are being used for the Korean Church and the Haitian Church. We were able to pay off the outstanding bus loan last fall. All in all, that's been very relieving and has moved us strategically to the place we are now.

Currently, we owe approximately $2.2 million in loans for our facilities. This is the total payoff for the worship center/music suite complex built in 1994 as well as our education/administration/gym facility built in the early 2000s.

Our loan currently has a 7.5% interest rate and is up for renewal on April 15.

Due to the economic state and lower interest rates now, our Stewardship & Finance Committee went to three banks to see if we could negotiate for a lower rate. The end result has us refinancing a 15 year note beginning in April for a little over $2.2 million at only 4.5% interest. We will keep our loan with our current bank (Well Fargo) and only pay somewhere between $600-$1000 in closing costs. There is no prepayment penalty.

That's a savings of 3% on $2.2 million. In layman's terms, "That's a chunk of change!"

Not only that, our current monthly mortgage payment is $22,262.83. With the new loan, our monthly payment will be $17,178.45. However, our plan is to continue paying the $22,262.83 rate. Here's why.

By paying the higher amount (which is what we're used to paying now) plus the extra $4,000 or so that is given monthly by church members designating a portion of their regular offering (over their tithes) toward the "Building Fund," we can pay off our remaining debt in about 8.5 years.

Let that sink in a moment. . . .8.5 years.

That's 7 years before the loan will come due.

The amount of money to be saved in interest alone is astronomical. It's six to seven figures, literally.

While 8.5 years may seem like a long time for some (mainly those who are about 10 years old) it truly isn't. As I think about how long I have been serving here at First Baptist (17+ years) it really comes into focus as being a short time. I never thought I'd see the day when these millions of dollars in loans could be paid off, but I believe God is leading us to to this and providing us the way.

This means that we are working to not add any more debt during this time. Though houses come up for sale (one is for sale right now) that could be used by our church for a variety of things such as staff housing, missionary housing, classroom space, storage, etc., we do not plan on purchasing any homes if another loan is needed. In other words, if homes come available and church members wish to come together and purchase a home or fund the purchase, we will see that as God providing the means. If we have to take out a loan. . .well, God will have to give us very clear instructions to do so, otherwise we will pass and wait upon the Lord.

One other thing - our Stewardship and Finance Committee has put in place an accrual account where we "pay" ourselves as we can into savings to fund the future replacement of church facilities and vehicles. This will, hopefully, put us in a place to not have to take out other loans for "emergency" upgrades and replacements.

This is the plan. We plan to work the plan and stay on course. I pray that as a church, we will all continue to give faithfully. As the church moves from being a "slave to the lender" so too can we as individual Christ-followers. It takes time. It's takes steadfastness. It means we must stay the course. We will not stop or slow down in the doing of ministry, but as we have seen in the past twelve months, as we serve and live and give faithfully, God provides all that we need for His sake.

To God be the glory!

I'm really looking forward to that day when we can "burn the note" and celebrate God's faithfulness and our obedience in this. Then, the $22,000+ that has been used monthly for mortgage payments can go directly to ministries and Kingdom growth. Oh, in case you need perspective, the monthly mortgage payment is larger than our preschool ministry annual budget. It's larger than our children's ministry annual budget. It's larger than our student ministry annual budget. It's larger than our senior adult ministry, single adult ministry, men's ministry, and women's ministry annual budgets combined. It's larger than our music ministry annual budget. Did you catch that? The monthly payment is larger than the annual budgets mentioned. Just think of the ministries we feel call to fund now (adoption, church planting, missionary placement, etc.) that could be done with the available funding. Well, I know, God always provided the funding for the work He is doing. It's just that the practical numbers side of me sees this and becomes excited about what God is going to do next.

I said it earlier, but let me repeat this - To God be the glory! Just want to make sure we don't think we deserve any of the glory here.

Keep praying. Keep serving. Keep giving. Keep doing ministry. . .for the glory of God.


What Do We Do Now?

With the events of the last couple of days, Clay County has once again been in the news and unfortunately, our collective hearts are grieving.

On Thursday, February 16, Clay County Sheriff's Office deputies raided a suspected meth house in Middleburg. Shots were fired and Detective David White was fatally shot. Detective Matthew Hanlin was shot and seriously wounded (he is currently recovering at Orange Park Medical Center after surgery.) The alleged shooter was also fatally shot.

 

Det david white

The death of Detective White has shaken our community. White was a "hometown boy," graduate of Middleburg High School (1995), veteran of the US Army (joined the Reserves and served in Bosnia, 1997-1998), nine year veteran of the Clay County Sheriff's Office, 35 year old devoted husband and father of two, and friend of many.

 

This is the first shooting death of a CCSO deputy in 99 years. 

What are we to make of this?

How are we to respond as believers?

Our first response is to pray. . .seriously pray. . .for Detective White's widow, children and other family members. Idon't pretend to know the range of emotions they are feeling right now, but they are off the chart. They need the prayers of all believers during this time. Only God can offer the "peace that passes understanding" and the healing needed.

The prayers do not need to stop once the flags currently flying at half mast are hoisted full again. When others seemingly get back "to business" this family will not. There is no "getting over this." They never will. However, through the grace of God, they can get through it, even if they do not see how. That's why our prayers are so vital. They need others standing in the gap for them.

Pray also for Detective Hanlin and family. He is recovering, but the memories of the day will linger. Emotions will run the gamut. 

Pray for all who serve with the Clay County Sheriff's Office as well as surrounding police departments & sheriff offices (Orange Park, Green Cove Springs, Jacksonville, etc.) An event such as this stays with the men and women who wear the badge for a very long time. Different emotions and feelings emerge and come seemingly from nowhere. Many of you have friends in law enforcement and some of you serve. Here's some insight from Police Chaplain David J. Fair. (Chaplain Fair is immediate past chair of the International Conference Police Chaplain’s Educational Committee and a former board member. Dr. Fair is Chaplain Emeritus of the Brownwood, Texas Police Department and a Chaplain for the Texas Department of Public Safety and a reserve officer/chaplain for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.)

A line of duty death. There is no bigger crisis in law enforcement than an officer who has been killed in the line of duty. The death affects the officer’s family, the extended family of the agency and/or department, and the community at large.

When an officer dies it sends shockwaves throughout the department and causes major trauma. And, with this trauma comes the repercussions of traumatic stress.

Two of the most likely immediate reactions are shock and disbelief/denial. One might struggle with thoughts such as “This just couldn’t happen to him/her” and/or “I was just talking to them last night. He/she can’t be dead!”

Then the guilt. “I shouldn’t have taken the day off. If I had been working he wouldn’t have died”, and/or “If we wouldn’t have argued he/she would have been focused on his/her job”. The tormenting thoughts of guilt can be endless.

The ever present bargaining with God. “If you will only let him/her live, I’ll never touch another drink” and/or “I won’t ever complain about the paperwork again”.

The best thing an outsider can do is move patiently through the process. Listen, listen, and listen. When you are done listening, listen some more. Be a sounding board. The key thing is that you must be comfortable with silence, something many of us aren’t.

Chaplain Fair gives some more pointed advice on how to minister to the officers who serve. There really is no formula, so it's more than a "Do this. . . then this. . .and finally this, and everything will be OK." 

I know many of you have friends who serve and Chaplain Fair's advice as stated above is best. "Listen, listen. . .and listen." Sometimes just being the sounding board is best. God heals. God fixes. Let Him use you, but don't jump ahead of him.

Unfortunately, we often only think of police officers when we see the blue lights. At that moment, we hit the brakes, even if we're not speeding, and pray they're not pulling us over. Unfortunately, for many, that's the only interaction they have with those who serve.

I know during this time, many of our men and women wearing the badge are being told how much they are appreciated. Continue to do this, but do so regularly. . . not just as a response to tragedy.

There's more that can be done. Prayer is not only where we begin, but where we remain. The "Shield a Badge" prayer strategy has been used by some communities. It is a concerted effort to pray by officers by name on a regular basis for a period of time. I believe it's time to begin this strategy here - not as a program, but as an extension of the church for those who put their lives on the line every day.

Some may be led to give toward a fund for the Mrs. White and family. For those wishing to donate to White's family, the Clay County Sheriff's Office has set up an account. It's as follows:

  • Clay County Sheriff's Office Deputies Humanitarian Fund at Heritage Bank in Orange Park.  The account number is 1520387212.

We must remember that no one is promised tomorrow. Live each day to the fullest. Live each day for the glory of God. 

May God bless our officers and public servants.

Details for Detective White's funeral service:

Click here for the "Officer Down Memorial Page."


Orphans, Adoption, and Fostering. . . Not An Option for the Church

Over the past few months, God has been revealing to me and our leadership team His plans for our church to enter into a story already being written. This story involves something that for many has been reserved as a "private matter." It's something that some have a difficult time understanding why the church would be involved.

It has to do with children. Most churches are very positive toward children. We promote "family friendly" activities, events and ministries. Many have distinct children's ministries that feature camps, children's church and the mainstay of Baptist life - Vacation Bible School.

It's not that we do not love children. In fact, we do. It's just that there is a group of children in our community and throughout the world that we often do not talk about. These are the children living in orphanages and foster homes.

The question we are asking is "What is the church to do?"

 

Adoption-photo

I am convinced that God desires us not to simply give an offering a couple of times a year for orphan care (though we will continue to give financially.) I am saddened that many churches have left care for children in our society up to governmental agencies.

 

Why is it that we allow the Angelina Jolie's of the world to be the image of adoption? Isn't adoption and rescuing children a mandate for the church?

Many in our tribe are pro-life, as we are. We are adamently opposed to abortion, feeling that life begins at conception. However, beyond protesting abortion and advocating for the unborn, what do we do for those who have been born, but have no home? What about the child who is put up for adoption? What about the child that is in need of a safe home for a season, or a foster family?

Why does it seem that, for the most part, the church is satisfied with leaving orphan care and adoption up to others? 

I read this verse recently while studying. I had read it before, but this time it really struck a chord. God spoke through His Word to me when reading this verse and it was very clear. 

James 1:27(ESV)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 

Pure and undefiled religion. Now that's religion that God loves. Notice that the first item listed has to do with orphans. Visiting orphans. That is not all, there is also listed the ministry to widows and ultimately remaining unstained from the sin of the world (i.e. in the world, but not of it.)

If our commission as Christ-followers is to share the Gospel and make disciples, then wouldn't it make sense for Christians to be heavily involved in the ministry of adopting children who need homes. To rescue children and bring them to Christ is a worthy undertaking. 

I'm not sure how this will look for First Baptist Church, but I do know that we will be "all in." I see a day when there are no children in need of adoption in our county. Why? Because Christ-following families will rescue these children and bring them into their homes. Men and women will become "Mom and Dad" for children who have never known such a relationshiop. Some will experience the love of Christ through a family that heretofore they have never known.

In talking with our friends at the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, this step is vitally needed in our area.

So, the ball is rolling now. Steps are being taken. We will not rush in unprepared. . .but we will rush in. 

Why? Because we must.

Is it any different for believers in our culture to ignore the needs (phsyical, emotional, mental AND spiritual) of children and allow others to deal with it than what the Jewish people did in the Old Testament when they offered up children to false gods such as Molech? That may be an extreme comparison and will probably offend some, but in truth, there's not much difference. 

We, the called out ones, the rescued, the ransomed hearts, the children of God are to offer pure and undefiled worship to the Father. To ignore this aspect (and no, it's not the only one) eliminates our worship from being as pure as it could be.

What will this look like? I'm not sure, but here are some ideas:

  • We will offer regularly scheduled MAPP classes here at the church (Apparently, these will soon be called PRIDE classes, but are the same thing. Required by the state in order to adopt.)
  • We will offer connection groups for families wishing to adopt or foster children. This will enable couples to talk with and get answers about difficult questions from others who have previously gone through the process.
  • We will upgrade and enhance our preschool and children's ministries to be more "user friendly" for families with foster children or children through the Safe Families program.
  • We will offer training and information for any wishing to adopt or foster children. 
  • We will educate church members about this mission and even those who cannot adopt of foster will be invited into the story. Every Christ-follower can be an advocate.
  • Hopefully, through partnerships with other ministries, we will be able to offer scholarships or donations for families wishing to adopt. (This will be a huge faith step and maintained by an off site ministry.)
  • International adoption will be an option and we want to help in the process. Whether this is through the China Nest of Hope or our mission in Haiti or some other location, we will offer step-by-step information on how, why, and what needs to be done.
  • We will celebrate births of babies in our church family. We will celebrate the adoption of babies into families (regardless the age of the child.)
  • We will be more involved in orphan care through the Children's Home here in Jacksonville as well as international orphanages.
  • We will be an advocate for special needs adoptions.
  • We will be an advocate for multi-racial adoptions.
  • Etc. (This covers all the many things we haven't even thought of, but God already has in the works.)

We understand that adopting or fostering a child doesn't make a person a "super Christian." We do believe, however, that all believers can be involved in this mission. It's not a new mission. It's living the Gospel where God has placed us.


Death Always Surprises - Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

The news reports came out yesterday and many, like me, who grew up in the 1980s listening to the smooth, powerfully soulful voice of Whitney Houston were shocked. Whitney Houston - Dead at age 48.

In 1985 when her debut album "Whitney Houston" was released I was in high school. This album sold millions and spawned hit after hit such as "Saving All My Love for You", "How Will I Know", and "Greatest Love of All". The music world and fans knew that Whitney Houston had arrived and would make an impact for years to come.

For a while it seemed to be the case. More hit records, such as her second album "Whitney" which released in 1987 solidified her standing in the music world and ensured she would be no one hit or "one album" wonder.

She faced criticism following her pop music success. According to AP Music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody, her foray into the pop music world left some believing she had sold out her black roots to reach white audiences. She was even booed during the Soul Train Awards in 1989.

Houston stated in a 1996 interview with Katie Couric, "Sometimes it gets down to that, you know? You're not black enough for them. I don't know. You're not R&B enough. You're very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them."

The inner turmoil, sometimes spurred by public perception seemed to be getting to her even then.

 

Whitney-houston

Most know how Houston's story began to shift. She had ups and downs. She found love with musical "bad boy" Bobby Brown and they wed in 1992. Their marriage was a popular celebrity gossip story. The wedding shower for Houston featured friends and relatives such as Dionne Warwick, Jasmine Guy and Gospel singer CeCe Winans. The news stated the gifts as being "contradictory" with the strangest item being a Bible given by Winans.

 

Houston and Brown stayed together for a number of years. They had one daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Their marriage became tabloid fodder and with stories of domestic abuse as well as alcohol and drug use, the pop princess soon became the butt of comedians' jokes and just another subject for celebrity voyeurism.

Houston's story is tragic. Her beautiful voice was changing due to alcohol and drug use. No longer were the high notes hit smoothly. While her 2009 hit "Million Dollar Bill" was good and album "I Look to You" sold millions of copies, it was obvious that the voice just wasn't quite the same. Yet, there was a sense of hope for her fans. Maybe Whitney was coming back?

Then, the news from yesterday. Even though the ups and downs of Houston's public and "almost" private life had been known for years, the fact this 48 year old woman was dead was shocking. While no cause of death has been released, speculation is that it was drug or alcohol related. I hope this is not the case. 

The death of Houston is especially shocking to people of my generation.

All around the nation men and women in their 40s (like me) look to this and are reminded once again of their own mortality.

No one likes to talk about death.

Most people do not like to attend funerals.

Consequently, we are most often surprised by death. Life seems to roll on as routine until a death notification comes. Houston's death impacts many, but mainly as a "I can't believe she's dead" moment. There is concern and prayers should be offered for her family, especially her daughter, during this time. However, most of us will respond by listening to some Whitney Houston songs, maybe Redbox will restock "The Bodyguard" or "The Preacher's Wife" for rental, but by and large, most fans will just get back to living their own lives.

Life moves fast.

So fast that a woman in her twenties that hit the pop scene seemingly just a couple of years ago is now no longer here. Could this be the woman who wowed the world with the best rendition of the Star Spangled Banner ever at a televised sporting event during the 1991 Super Bowl? Sadly, yes.

Therefore, a generation of 40-somethings are forced to think about death.

So, I am taken back to the wisdom of Solomon as expressed in Ecclesiastes 7.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4(ESV)
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 

Funerals and surprising death notices serve to remind us that no one, not even popular celebrities, are promised tomorrow. "The living will lay it to heart" - this means we recognize that each day is a gift. Each relationship is important. Each moment matters. We are only here for a little while. 

While I have no idea about Houston's spiritual life, her untimely death serves as another great reminder to us that putting off for tomorrow that which should be done today is foolish. 

Some are putting off thinking and dealing with Jesus Christ until later. 

The love and grace of God and chance at life that has been offered is here now. I pray for those who are waiting until tomorrow to get things "right with God." I pray for you if you have not considered your life at this level.

James 4:14(ESV)
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 

Whitney Houston's story is so very sad. I pray for her family. I also pray that her startling death will serve as a reminder to all of us of the fragility of life and that God offers hope. He offers life. He offers a way. That way is Jesus Christ alone.


Life. Simply Put.

One of our senior adult men was asked by his son recently to write an "Ethics Will." Honestly, I have never seen one printed out before, but I think it's a valuable document to pass on to the next generation.

Hands - senior
There was a portion of the will that I thought summed up life pretty simply and is definitely worth sharing.

At the request of my much-loved son I will attempt to write an "ethics will." I have tried to build my life around two things - "love" and "prayer." 

Because I love, I pray; because I pray, I love. I pray to God, THROUGH Christ, about ALL THINGS.

So much has been written about love there is nothing new I can say. However, there is a certain order in which I feel we should love. Let me list them for you:

  1. Love God supremely.
  2. Love your spouse above any other person living on this earth.
  3. Love your children with the understanding that they are not your personal property but are a gift from God.
  4. Love your parents and other family members as well as your in-laws - no exceptions.
  5. Lastly, love your friends, neighbors and enemies.

He wrote more, but I won't share it at this time. 

There is wisdom in the ages. There is value in having a fellowship full of members from different generations.

Job 12:12(ESV)
Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. 


You Never Know a Person Until You Know Their Story

I remember about seven years ago I stated this in a sermon "You never know a person until you know their story." My point was that everyone has things in their past that work to impact the present. One of our senior adult men called me the next day and said "David, I want to take you to lunch. We need to talk." Now, this is kind of an ominous lunch invite. Normally when church members "need to talk" it involves some form of complaint or "concern."

BOOK
Nevertheless, we went to lunch. Over some really good Bar-B-Q, this gentleman said to me, "You said you never really know a person until you know their story. Well, I want to tell you my story." 

For the next hour he shared much about his life. He told me about a short time he had spent studying at seminary before realizing God had not called him to do that. He shared about his wife, how they met and their lives together. He shared about his career teaching and impacting the lives of students, as well as the frustrations of working in the public school system. He shared about his children and their stories. This man was a good friend before this lunch. Following this lunch, there was a deeper bond developed between us.

Stories matter because they give us insight into who a person truly is. Those idiosyncracies that may seem odd to some, most often have a story behind them.

The restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has a purpose. Oh, they make it plain they wish to honor God through their business. That premise is honorable and true, and based upon the faith of founder Truett Cathy and his family. However, the ultimate business purpose is to sell chicken. Humanitarian and community impact aside, if Chick-fil-A didn't sell enough chicken, then they wouldn't have the impact they are able to in these other areas. So, ultimately, "Eat Mor Chikin" is the goal for Chick-fil-A.

There is a video produced by Chick-fil-A available on YouTube. It states in the description "A video we created to remind us that everyone we interact with is a chance to create a remarkable experience." It's a moving clip. Not as funny as cows parachuting into a football stadium, but more impactful.

I showed this to our deacons last night. Then, we discussed the implications.

If a company whose purpose is to sell chicken gets this, then how much more should the church?

Every person in our community, in our church, in your small group, in the choir, the youth group, etc. has a story. Each story has some great parts, some celebrations and victories. Each story has some difficult times, heartbreak, sorrow.

Knowing the story changes how we interact. Knowing the story often leads us to understand, to love.

  • Why does that kid always disrespect the adults around him? Maybe there's a story there. Is he abused. What's his home life like? 
  • Why won't she commit to a relationship? Perhaps she did once, only to be betrayed.
  • Why is that old man so cantankerous? Oh, his wife died ten years ago and he's been so very lonely since. 
  • Why is that guy always giving away things to the poor? Maybe as a teenager he visited an impoverished country and God continually reminds him of how blessed he is.
  • How come that family spends so much time with special needs children? Years ago they lost a child diagnosed with special needs before birth.

Why? The questions continue. While it's not a search for excuses, a person's story can reveal much about an individual.

As Christ-followers, take the time to get to know others' story. By the way, we don't have time to do this. . .yet, we need to make time.

It matters.