February 09, 2007

Commercials ...

I'm an advertising geek -- I admit it. And I'm one of those people who proudly admits to watching the Super Bowl for the commercials. But this year, Madison Avenue let me down.

Now, I've got to admit that I wasn't able to watch the game this year. We didn't get home until VERY late in the 4th quarter, so I'm having to watch the commercials on the internet. The 'Beer-stealing Crabs' ad from Budweiser just made me hungry (where's that Old Bay, anyway?). The Blockbuster commercial with the mouse was pretty funny. But my real favorite was the Doritos 'Live the Flavor' ad. A budget of less than $15, and only 4 days from concept to final cut. Brilliant! Doesn't hurt that it was made by fellow LU grads, either.

And there's the rub. The big, expensive ads were eclipsed by an amateur production whose budget was less than the catering bill for the other guys. Once upon a time, the Super Bowl was as big an event for advertisers as it was for football teams. Not anymore, it seems. The big boys aren't willing to field their best stuff for the Super Bowl anymore, it would seem.

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February 04, 2007

Book Review: Does God Still Do Miracles?

Does God Still Do Miracles? is written by Dr. Brad Burke, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. In other words, it's written by someone very familiar with medicine. That's a valuable viewpoint to have in the debate about miracles.

Dr. Burke's premise is that there are a lot of people claiming miracles where they don't exist. He doesn't say that God doesn't do miracles today -- he is simply saying that a lot of what we think are miracles are not. The problem lies in how we define a miracle.

C.S. Lewis defined miracles as "... an interference with Nature by supernatural power." Dr. Burke goes a bit further, agreeing with John MacArthur's definition of a miracle as "an extraordinary event wrought by God through human agency, an event that cannot be explained by natural forces." For the purposes of the discussion in this book, with the types of miracle claims Burke is examining, MacArthur's definition serves the purpose better than Lewis'. Burke is attempting to examine specific miracles of healing, especially as manifested among faith-healing televangelists like Benny Hinn.

Many people have examined the faith-healing phenomenon before. The value in a book such as this is that the faith healers are being examined not by an agnostic or an atheist, but by a Christian. The goal is not to debunk belief in God, but to show that the "miracles" wrought by faith healers do not fit the definition -- they are explainable by natural forces, when they are verifiable at all.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the discussion of the psychological aspects of healing, especially when connected with faith healers. We tend to forget that we've been designed by the ultimate Designer, and He has equipped us with the ability to heal ourselves in many, many cases. Dr. Burke presents a very persuasive case that many people who experience miraculous healings have, in fact, simply allowed their bodies to do what God designed them to do.

Word of faith folks will not like this book -- Burke skewers their "name it, claim it" theology quite well, giving examples of people whose faith is never in doubt but who did not receive the expected physical healing. He reminds us of faith healers who apparently didn't have enough faith to be healed themselves, because they died of heart disease, cancer, etc. And we're reminded that Christ's miracles were done with one purpose -- to give glorify God. Too often, modern miracles are done to glorify the man. That, in and of itself, should be a warning sign to discerning Christians.

Dr. Burke has done the Christian community a valuable service with this book, and the series that it's a part of, An MD Examines. The books are very easy to read, but contain important information that all Christians should have.

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February 03, 2007

This Week in Church History

February 4, 1555.

John Rogers was a good Catholic, born when everyone was a good Catholic (or a heathen). He also lived at a time when many were questioning the unscriptural practices of the established church.

Rogers was given a church position after he finished his education, but soon resigned. There were things that he was being taught that he could not reconcile with Scripture, and felt he could no longer serve the church. And that was where he was very wrong.
more...

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January 27, 2007

The State of the Pew

So, I haven't posted anything for a long time. Nothing of any real substance since November. And many of you just might be asking yourself questions. Like "When is this goof going to start blogging again?" and "What's this Pew thing in my RSS reader?"

Good questions. more...

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December 04, 2006

Just Sticking My Head Up

I've had a few people asking me if I was ever going to blog again (ok, it was just one person), so I figured I would take advantage of being home tending a sick child (she's resting right now, as is the baby) to post something to remind the blogosphere I'm still here.

There's a quote from Universal Music Group's chairman that's been making the rounds lately, and I wanted to rant about it for a while now. Since my wife really doesn't care about DRM and tends to ignore me when I go on those kinds of rants, I figured I'd post it here -- isn't that what a blog is for, after all?

Dear old chairman Doug Morris said that ""These devices [portable MP3 players] are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it. So it's time to get paid for it." Probably the stupidest thing I've read in a very long time.

Currently on my MP3 player I have 50 random music MP3s, plus another 19 that I intentionally added. That's 69 songs. 4 sermons that I intentionally added (two I've listened to and need to remove so I can get to the next part of the series, actually). 70 podcast episodes that I need to listen to (wow -- I'm a bit behind!). 71 pictures of my kids. And about a half a gig of free space.

So, according to Mr. Morris, those 69 songs must all be stolen, right? Well, let's see. 6 are songs I bought from iTunes. 8 were offered by Jamie Rowe" on his website for free. 17 are from CDs that I bought years ago. The rest (38 songs) are songs I downloaded from the artist's websites to play on my podcast -- songs I've been given permission to distribute on the podcast and am in possession of totally legally. And from talking to other portable MP3 player owners, I'm not unusual. Most people are walking around with totally legal music on their players.

Of course, you don't have to go far to find out what Morris' true motives are. He managed to get UMG $1 from the sale of every Zune Microsoft sells, and now he's optimistic that 2007 will be UMG's biggest year ever. Wonder why. Maybe it has something to do with getting paid for something that you haven't delivered to the vast majority of your "customers."

I'm not stupid enough to think that nobody with an iPod has illegal music on it. I taught high school -- I know how much piracy goes on. I also know that there's a lot less piracy than the RIAA and the labels want you to believe. They don't want to accept that there is quality music out there that people are buying that they don't have control over, and aren't getting any money for. They don't want to admit that people aren't fond of the garbage that they're putting out.

That's why the RIAA doesn't like podcasts. Nobody is podcasting their music -- most of us don't really want to. There's better music out there, and it's fun to find a band that's getting little attention and see them succeed because of the exposure they're given on podcasts. It's fun to "discover" a band that the big label A&R people have missed. And that's what people are doing, thanks to the Internet and podcasts. Bands can record their own music, put it out where people can hear it, produce and sell their own CDs. They can promote their own concerts. They can make a living playing music, and they don't need RIAA's help.

And I'm not going to say that all labels are bad, or wrong. I've had some contact with some labels, and some A&R people who have been really supportive of podcasting. I've actually been treated like a valuable partner, which is pretty cool. Better than the "Aw, look at the kid playing radio station. Isn't that cute?" think I've gotten from a few labels. But there are many labels who look at podcasting and digital music as competition. They don't see that their sales will increase when their artists' music is played and heard by larger groups of people. All they can see is that they aren't selling as many units -- cases of CDs are no longer flying off the shelves. Musicians will survive the "digital music revolution," but I'm not sure the music industry will. Or that it even deserves to, in it's present form.

{edit}And in a related story, I know that this from BBspot is a parody, but the scary thing is how realistic it sounds. I know people who have thought it was true

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November 06, 2006

Haggard, Hypocrisy, and The Rest Of Us

By now most of the blogosphere has dissected the Ted Haggard allegations and revelations. I've been on a hiatus (not entirely unneeded, but very unplanned), but I've got to break the silence on this one, because there's something important going on. Popular opinion on the left seems to be that Haggard is a hypocrite -- his secret life contradicts his public stand on many issues, clearly, but their contention is that because of the conflict, he's a hypocrite.

According to dictionary.com, a hypocrite is:


1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, esp. one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

The problem is that I'm not sure that Haggard was faking his beliefs. I see him as someone who was striving to be what God wanted him to be, and struggled with hidden desires that he couldn't tell anyone about. Ted Haggard is genuine in his beliefs, and genuine in his faith. The problem is that he struggled, and just as with so many high-profile preachers before him, he tried to handle things on his own. Rather than turning to God to help him defeat the temptation, he gave in.

I'm reminded of what the Apostle Paul had to say to the Roman Christians. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Rom 7:15)" Was Paul, then, a hypocrite?

I would challenge anyone, right or left, to allow your every action to be examined. Is there any of us that are consistent with the things we say we believe? Darwinists who are conservationists are hypocrites -- they SAY they believe in natural selection, survival of the fittest, and all that, but they WORK to preserve species that cannot (or at least, have yet to) adapt to their surroundings. People who are pro-life often advocate the death penalty -- isn't that at the very least a bit inconsistent? Christians say they're committed to God, that they love Him, but only show up at His house once a week, for an hour. Treat your spouse that way sometime, and see what happens.

The point is, we are all inconsistent. We all believe things, and believe them strongly, that we cannot live. We all hold to ideals that we fall short of. And that's where grace comes in. That's where God sends us the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to live according to our beliefs when we are filled by Him. The key is recognizing that we cannot do it on our own.

If inconsistency is hypocrisy, then we're all guilty. The fact that Ted Haggard's inconsistency was broadcast to the entire world is only an indication of how powerful and influential he is. The rest of us should be thankful that our own inconsistencies aren't available for public consumption.

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September 27, 2006

The Story of My Life, So Far

OK, maybe not quite, but I relate to WAY too much of this song:

New Weird Al-ness is out, and I've already bought two songs off the CD (thanks, iTunes and Blingo!!).

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September 18, 2006

Church And State -- Gotta Keep 'Em Separated

(title apologies to Apologetix)

The IRS is demanding that All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA turn over all their documents and emails so that they can determine whether the church violated any campaign laws and should lose their tax exempt status. The church is notoriously liberal, and is very active in social causes, so government policy is often mentioned in sermons.

From this Sunday's response to the IRS:

... we would argue that this entire case has been an intrusion, in fact an attack upon this Church’s first amendment rights to the exercise of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
...
Our faith mandates that always stopping short of endorsing or opposing political candidates, the church can neither be silent nor indifferent when there are public policies causing detriment to the least of these.

I'm sure that I wouldn't fit in at All Saints. I'm sure that I disagree with the folks there on matters of politics, morality, and theology. But I have one thing to say after reading the statement from yesterday.

Amen.

Our faith requires us to speak out. Our faith demands that we are not silent. And that is what the rest of the world refuses to hear, or understand. Faith is not an option to us -- it's an integral part of who we are. We can't not speak out and be consistent with our faith.

And so, while I would most likely stand opposed to All Saints and rector Ed Bacon, I want to let them know publicly that I am 100% behind them in this. This is an attack on freedom of religious expression that should alarm people of all faiths everywhere. We must speak out on this, or we will all lose.

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September 11, 2006

One More Reason to Hate the UN

THIS is absolutely stupid. It's a lousy idea, and it needs to be fought. The fact that the American representatives seem to be backing this thing is embarrassing to me. The UN proves that it is completely irrelevant. It's time (past time, actually) for the US to withdraw and kick them out of New York.

In my own humble opinion, of course.

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September 09, 2006

Revelation's Seven Churches Part 1: Ephesus

This is a rough transcript of a message first delivered on September 6, 2006 at Fairlawn Baptist Church.

Revelation 2:1-7, ESV
2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

more...

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Veggies on NBC

So Veggie Tales has come to NBC, with a few ... edits. And I've been wondering how I felt about those changes. From Phil Vischer's blog:

At first we were told everything was 'okay' except the Bible verse at the end. Frankly, that news really surprised me, because, heck, we're talking about NBC here. God on Saturday morning? It didn't seem likely. Since we've started actually producing the episodes, though, NBC has gotten a little more restrictive. (I think they actually sat down and started watching a few VeggieTales videos. "Hey wait - these are religious.") So it's gotten trickier, and we're having to do a little more editing. More than I'm comfortable with? Frankly, yes. But I had already committed to helping Big Idea with this, and I really didn't want to leave them in a tight spot. Plus, the new stuff we're coming up with is really fun, and at least some new kids will meet Bob and Larry on NBC, and maybe wander into Wal-Mart and buy a video with all the God still in. So it could be better, but overall it's not a total loss. The new stuff is really cute. You'll like it.
Sounds to me like NBC didn't do their research. They figured that Classic Media would provide them some nice, safe, kid-friendly stuff to air, and Classic decided to promote their hottest new product. Then NBC got cold feet.

We watched this morning -- the Veggies were on at 9 eastern, and 3-2-1 Penguins was on at 10. Would I have liked to have seen more Bible, more of the "God stuff" that NBC wanted cut? Absolutely. But I think we're losing focus here. Watch the rest of what passes for kids TV these days. The Veggies have an opportunity to offer a ray of light, a more positive alternative to what's being shown already. There isn't enough decent programming for kids on TV, and complaining that they had to edit the Veggies is really a tad counterproductive. When Big Idea was bought by Classic, there were fears that the religious nature of the shows would be compromised. Well, the next video they're doing is about Gideon, and they're promoting the one after that about Moses, so I really think that we over-reacted there, and I think we are now as well. Let's be happy that NBC is airing some decent programming.

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September 04, 2006

Quick Note

Just to let you know that I'm still around, and that I WILL be continuing to blog here. Between work and the new church, I haven't had a lot of time, but I'm working on a schedule that will include time for both blogging and podcasting.

For those who miss it (and I know there are a few of you, judging from the emails I've gotten), This Week in Church History will be returning as a semi-regular feature, and the Mark study will be continuing. I may be moving the Mark study to another blog, depending on whether that works out or not -- I've got some ideas for the Fairlawn website that may include a church blog, I just have to explore options for hosting, etc.

This Wednesday at Fairlawn I'm starting a seven part series on the letters to the churches in Revelation. I'll be posting some sort of transcript of those here as well -- I say 'some sort' because I don't preach from a manuscript, even though I often write out a lot more than just a simple outline. What I post will be close to what I preach, but won't contain any rabbit trails that I decide to run down as I preach.

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August 17, 2006

CD Review: Stephen Langston

I originally published this over at Blogcritics, but I think that the readers of this blog will be interested in this CD. I think it will be a worthwhile addition to your CD collection.

When I heard that Stephen Langston's EP was an "alternative Christian" release, I had something specific in mind. Relient K, perhaps, or something in the Tooth and Nail tradition. Alternative as a genre is pretty well defined.

But stylistically, Langston has more of a Michael Card meets Glass Harp sound. You can hear the classic rock influences throughout the CD, especially in "Behind The Scenes," which only makes sense as Langston lists Grand Funk Railroad, Cream, and the Beatles among his early influences. So where is the "alternative Christian" sound?

Langston is striving to provide an alternative to popular Christian music in general — a genre that has become as over-commercialized as its secular counterpart. At a time when popular Christian music seems to be revisiting the "If you like Motley Crue, you'll like Stryper" days, Stephen Langston is creating music, not copying someone else's style. While you can certainly hear his influences, the way he puts those influences to work is completely unique.

And then there are the lyrics. Back in the day, you could measure how "Christian" a song was by tracking it's JPM (Jesus Per Minute). The more often Jesus was mentioned, the more Christian the song was supposed to be. But Langston's lyrics are much more spiritually mature — there's no preaching, and you won't be knocked over the head by a Bible when you listen.

But you can tell that it's Christian music. Lyrics like "Yeah the force of water is a powerful thing/A symbol of the power and the force of the King ... So dip me in the water — Cleanse me in the water" from "It's A Powerful Thing" are pretty clearly Christian, but there's no bumper sticker sloganeering here. This is a faith that's meant to be lived, and shared, not plastered on the back end of your Ford.

At a time when so much of what passes for Christian music is incredibly shallow lyrically (and usually theologically as well) and derivative musically, Stephen Langston is a breath of fresh air. Singer/songwriters like him are reclaiming the heritage of Christian music, and providing a great alternative to cookie-cutter music in the process.

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The Mistake

If you listen to Stacy Harp's podcast, you know I'm a Mark Dever fan. I've been devouring his Message of the Old Testament (which I will review here soon, promise), and the 9Marks site has been a real benefit to me lately. So when I saw a post by him titled "Southern Baptist Mistake," I was more than a little curious. more...

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August 13, 2006

The Vote is In

... and I have been called. I am the pastor of Fairlawn Baptist Church in Dunbar, West Virginia.

I'm still a bit numb. Earlier this year, I spoke repeatedly at a church near here, and was sure they were going to vote me in as pastor at any time (in fact, I stepped down as Books editor at Blogcritics in anticipation). Never happened. I'm still not sure I was ever actually voted on.

So I'm not sure I ever really thought about the vote happening. And now it has, and I'm there. We're going to stay in Ohio until the end of September, when the baby is due (a boy!), and then move. I've got to give notice at my job, and then I'm going to commute a couple times each week.

And I've got to find some work there, since I'll be bivocational (at least to start). Shouldn't be a problem -- schools always need good substitute teachers, after all.

I appreciate all your prayers, and will need them now more than ever.

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August 12, 2006

And a Week Later

sigh.

Blogging seems to be something that I'm doing when real life isn't intervening. And real life has been all over me lately.

I've been working a new job (I sorta mentioned that before). I get up at 4 in the morning, leave by 5, and get home after 6 in the evening. NOT much blogging time left in that, when you factor in eating and sleeping.

PLUS -- last Sunday I preached a trial sermon at Fairlawn Baptist Church in West Virginia. Tomorrow they vote on whether to call me as their pastor. It's a small church, and I'll be bi-vocational at least to start with if I end up going (and if they call me, I'll go. That much is clear to me right now). So I'm stealing time here and there to blog, until I get a firmer schedule worked out.

I would appreciate everyone's prayers. I find out tomorrow at about 1:30 what the results of the vote are, so I'm a bit ... distracted today.

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August 05, 2006

Greg Boyd and Politics

So everyone is going nuts over Greg Boyd and his statements concerning Christians and politics.

Never mind that the sermon series in question was delivered in 2004 (Church Marketing Sucks picked it up almost a year ago, and it was old news then). It's news because a "mega-church" pastor lost 1,000 members over what he said, but anyone familiar with Greg Boyd would know that he's not worried about building a big church -- he's more concerned about ministry than numbers for their own sake.

It's news because mega-church pastors aren't supposed to work that way. Mega-churches are built based on modern marketing campaigns and catering tot he whims of everyone who might attend, supposedly. But Boyd's church bucks that trend.

I've written about Christians and politics before. I tend to agree with Boyd that modern Christians put a lot of faith in the political process, and forget that Jesus saves, not Washington. Legislation can change society temporarily (as we saw during Prohibition) but Christ can change people permanently, and impact society one life at a time. That's the way we need to work.

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July 28, 2006

Friday Morning Musings

I'm supposed to be headed to work.

All this week, I've been hard at work at my new job. I'm a vendor rep, working in the Hardware departments of three different Lowes stores in Columbus. I get there at 7, and I leave at about 3:30 or so. The length of my drive means that I'm dead tired when I get home, and that's why I haven't been blogging lately. I normally leave the house at about 5 am.

But this morning, the car won't start. At all.

So at about 8 or so, I get to call the towing company and have the car towed to the garage where it will be fixed. And since I'm up, I hit the Internet, looking for blog-worthy topics.

And I found a few:
more...

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July 20, 2006

Reviews Coming Soon!

Just to tantalize a bit, these are the books I'm going to be reviewing in the next few weeks/months:


  • The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever. This is a huge book, but I'm looking forward to digging in.

  • Triumphant Christianity by Martin Lloyd-Jones. Part 5 of his "Studies in the Book of Acts" series. Now I just have to buy the other four!!

  • Numbers: God's Presence in the Wilderness by Iain M. Duguid. Part of the "Preaching the Word" series -- which I also will probably have to have.

  • No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God by John S. Feinberg. Another huge book, but this one looks like it will be fascinating.

Since I've been on a somewhat enforced absence from Southern (you kinda need money to go to school there, you know!), my theological reading has been a bit lax. I've read a lot of computer/web design books (thanks to the folks at O'Reilly really liking my reviews) and some mystery (Maisie Dobbs especially). I have never actually stopped reading, but my reading list hasn't been what you would call intellectually challenging -- even though the books I've been reading have been awesome. I'm looking forward to digging into some more scholarly fare, secure in the knowledge that I have Season 3 of Superman: The Animated Series on DVD to review.

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July 14, 2006

On Baptism: Round Three

I've been giving a lot of study lately to ecclesiology. When I started seminary, I focused a lot on historical theology -- the development of doctrine, especially as it was impacted by history and had an impact on history. I'd planned on teaching church history and historical theology at a seminary, after getting my M.Div and my Ph.D in fairly rapid succession. But God has other plans -- I'm meeting with the pulpit committee of a church in West Virginia on Saturday to talk about becoming their pastor. So matters of ecclesiology have become important to me, and I've been realizing exactly how much I've neglected its study.

Baptism as it relates to church membership has become a topic of interest to me lately, as well. Especially with all the controversy about the question of baptism as a prerequisite for church membership at Henderson Hills Baptist Church. I want to first affirm the autonomy of the local church. The elders and pastor at Henderson Hills are ultimately the only people who will stand to answer for what they decide (whatever they end up deciding). Their local association, their state convention, and the SBC as a whole do not tell them what to do. But we all have the responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ to express concern when another Christian is making a decision that we think is not biblical. We also have the responsibility to discuss the matter as Christians, which I think has been done so far.

The elders at Henderson Hills aren't making the motion without thought and study. Their reports are all available on the church's web site. And there are a lot -- I certainly haven't had the time to read them all, so I won't be trying to respond directly to what they've decided. What I want to do instead is set out what I believe are the biblical motivations behind requiring biblical baptism for church membership, and a bit about why I think the Bible isn't as clear as we'd like for it to be in this regard. It will probably be a long post, and a lot more serious than I've been lately, but I think it will be valuable for all of us.
more...

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