Take The Step Tuesday, Dec 31 2013 

Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,  he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:29 (NRSV)

29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.

DEVOTION – Ciara Lilly (South Carolina)

Most of us are familiar with the scene depicted in the Bible passage above.  We may have read or heard it many times, but usually our focus is on how Peter became afraid and started sinking.  Today, I was introduced to another perspective.  We know that Peter became overwhelmed with fear; we all can identify with that experience.  But how many of us can identify with Peter’s first action: taking a step?

Taking that first step required, faith, and risk.  Sometimes we may feel like we’re in a storm with raging circumstances surrounding us.  We know God is there, but sometimes we’re too afraid to leave the comfort of our boat to follow him.  What if we choose to be like Peter and take a step?  We may be afraid, but we can find comfort when we pray and hear God’s response: “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

We may step out and meet a flood of obstacles.  But just as Peter was rescued, God will be there with an extended hand to save us as well.  We can trust God, take that step and never look back.  We will soon discover that one step can change the course of our entire life.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Like Peter, I can trust God and step out of my boat.

PRAYER: Mighty God, help us to take that first step toward you.  Let us experience your love and grace as we walk in relationship with you each day.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE FEARFUL OF CHANGE

God Leads Us Still Monday, Dec 30 2013 

Psalm 46:1-11 (NRSV)

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present  help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Selah) 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city;  it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Selah) 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Selah)

Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)

10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

DEVOTION – Abelardo Flores Zertuche (Nuevo Leon, Mexico)

When my wife was in the intensive care unit, everyone told me to have faith that she would get well.  But I had my doubts.  My father recently died, even though I had placed my faith in God, trusting that my father would survive.

If my wife were to die, it would be a profound loss for me and my family.  In addition, our medical insurance was drying up.  The ensuing weeks saw my wife on the verge of death.  In my desperation, I found the verse from Psalm 46 above.  Even if I could not have faith in the outcome, I found I could have confidence that whatever  happened, God would be in the midst of it all.

The long-term effects of my wife’s hospital stay made her recuperation slow, and my emotional health had been wounded by the crisis.  Even so, not once did I feel abandoned by God.  God was there through the support of our church; God was there to provide our family nourishment; God was there to assist in our financial needs.  Today I feel at peace.  Psalm 46 showed me how to be still and to trust God to heal the wounds of body and spirit and to restore life and faith.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: When troubles come, be still and wait for God.

LINK2LIFE:  Go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog to see a photo of Albelardo and his wife.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for being our guide – leading us through stormy and dark paths to a place of quiet solitude and the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE HOSPITAL.

A Real Resolution Sunday, Dec 29 2013 

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 (NRSV)

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

DEVOTION – Vince Beaver (Ohio)

In the Sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27),  Jesus was giving the disciples their purpose her on earth, instructing them on spreading the message of salvation and eternal life.  When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth [and ]… the light of the world,” he was calling us to make a positive difference in the world.  Salt adds flavor and preserves food.  Light dispels the darkness so that we can instantly see the way ahead.  In a similar way, we can add flavor to the lives of others just by being encouragers.  By sharing the message of salvation, we can shine light into dark situations.

As we come to the end of the year we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions, about making a decision to fix something, change something, or resolve something.  What if this year we resolve to follow the Sermon on the Mount?  Telling others about Jesus can be difficult – especially in today’s world.  We often fear rejection, mockery, and even persecution.  But if we resolve to let Christ live through us, we can be salt and light in the world.  We can make a difference in our homes. our families, our work places, and our communities.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: With God’s help, I can make a difference in someone’s life today.

PRAYER: Dear God, give us the courage to stand for you in the face of mockery or persecution.  Give us opportunities to help spread the good news and to see lives changed.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

We Serve The Lord Saturday, Dec 28 2013 

Luke 24:13-32 (NRSV)

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles  from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,  who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah  should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us  while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

DEVOTION – Jim M. Quint (Kansas)

For many years as a family, my wife and I did not pray at meals.  But as we have grown older, our faith has grown deeper.  So when we had grandchildren, we decided that the best thing we could give them and their parents is a good example.  So now we give not only food and fellowship at the table; we give glory to God for all God gives us.  As Joshua said to the people of Israel, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Jesus was recognized for who he was as he shared a meal with two of his followers he had met on the road to Emmaus.  When Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks, their eyes were opened; they knew who Jesus was.  At our table I also want to reflect who I am in my faith and give thanks to the Lord.  Now, when the table is set, as we serve the food we also serve the Lord.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: There is no better time than now to serve the Lord.

PRAYER: O God, may we thirst and hunger as much for your holy word as we do for the food and drink that is before us.  We give thanks for your natural and spiritual blessings.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: TO SET A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS

Looking Ahead Friday, Dec 27 2013 

1 Kings 3:3-15 (NIV)

3 Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” 6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. 7 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke–and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

DEVOTION -Terry Cobb (Missouri)

During the last week of every December, many magazines and television shows devote special editions to the “year-in-review.”  I too conduct a year-in-review.  Before I stash my old calendar in the kitchen drawer, I thumb through the months of scribbled appointments and activities.  This helps me reflect on the events of my personal and spiritual life.

While I tack up my shiny new calendar, I wonder, What do I need to do differently to make this a better year and to be a better Christian?  This reminds me of the passage in 1 Kings when God asked Solomon, the newly crowned king, what gift he would like from the Almighty.  Solomon realized that he lacked maturity and needed help  in ruling a kingdom.  Rather than wealth, long life, or revenge against his enemies, Solomon asked God for wisdom.  God was pleased and gave him the wisdom he needed to lead his people.

Our Creator has already given each of us gifts.  As I look ahead to the new year, I pray for wisdom to recognize my gifts and to seek opportunities to use  them in God’s service.  I hope that when I thumb through the calendar this time next year, the dates will be filled with scribbled notations of days spent serving God.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: This year I resolve to use my gifts to serve God.

PRAYER: God of all times, give us wisdom to serve in your kingdom.  Teach us to love others as you love us.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: SOMEONE SEEKING A FRESH START

The Women Of Christmas Thursday, Dec 26 2013 

Luke 1:39-48, 56; 2:22-38 (NIV)

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 1:48-49 (NIV)

48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.

DEVOTION – Linda Jeffrey (Kentucky)

As a window, I struggle after the holidays.  The family has been together, and I have stayed up too late and entertained too much.  Now I have to go back to work, and the aura of festivity is overtaken by Kentucky’s gray skies.  Yet when I read through the Christmas stories again, I find my spirit renewed.

In particular, I am struck by the bravery and joy of the women of the Christmas narrative.  Upright and devout, Elizabeth had spent a lifetime longing for a child, perhaps wondering if God had forgotten her.  Mary, a young girl full of the excitement of new birth and the dedication of her firstborn son, was taken aback by Simeon’s declaration that a sword would pierce her heart.  Anna the prophetess, whose marriage ended in her husband’s death after only seven years, had spent the rest of her life serving God in the temple at Jerusalem.  And one day, when she was very old, she saw Jesus.

These women were the first to really know – firsthand – about the birth of a Savior.  These women declared God’s goodness and authority though each had endured the agony of unfulfilled dreams.  What examples they are for us in this season!  They overcame personal sorrows and received the best gift of all.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: God sends hope into our unfulfilled dreams.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, this holiday season, draw near to those who are lonely and fill them with your kindness.  In our Savior’s name.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE ALONE AFTER CHRISTMAS

Christmas Day Wednesday, Dec 25 2013 

Colossians 1:15-20 (NIV)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

John 1:14 (NIV)

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

DEVOTION -Troy Holloway (Florida)

Years ago, I heard someone say that Jesus is the window through which we see God.  Even though Jesus came to live among us as a person and was in some ways just like us, he also embodied all the qualities of God.

During Advent, we reflect on what Jesus has meant to the world since the time of his birth.  The more we learn of Jesus, the more we learn of God.  God loved the world and sent Jesus so that we would experience new life through him.

On Christmas Day, when I was a child, we set an extra place at the table for Jesus.  My mom baked a cake in honor of his birth.  Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and gifts were part of our Christmas tradition; but we had no doubt that Christmas was about Jesus.

This Christmas season, let us stop to consider the difference Jesus has made in history and in the lives of people everywhere.  Thinking of him as the window through which we see God may make a huge difference in the way we celebrate Christmas.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:   Jesus is the window through which we see God.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for all he has done for us and all he has enabled us to do through his love and grace.  May we believe with heart and mind that Jesus shows us the way to you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: TO SEE GOD MORE CLEARLY

Christmas Eve Tuesday, Dec 24 2013 

Isaiah61:1-4 (NRSV)

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;  he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,  to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes,  the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations;  they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Romans 15:13 (NRSV)

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

DEVOTION – Melanie Gordon (Tennessee)

I remember my mother’s last Christmas Eve.  I spent the day with her in her hospital room; and after the worship service at night, friends accompanied me to the hospital.  One person pulled out his guitar, and we sang “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  My mother, who had not spoken in days, began to sing softly and clearly, “all is calm, all is bright.”  Stunned and overwhelmed, we continued, singing “Joy to the World.”  I remember the peace on my mother’s face as we gathered around her hospital bed and sang songs about the coming of our Lord and God.

Christmas joy is not a given for those who mourn the loss of a parent, child, sibling, or good friend.  Looking at an empty place  at the table brings unimaginable pain, pain that is deep and not always fleeting.  Such pain rooted in suffering will come, as it should; but so will joy.  Joy came to us in the birth of God’s love – love so divine that I now find joy in Christ’s presence with me even as I look at the space on the couch where my mother sat every Christmas day.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Today I will celebrate the presence of Christ in my life.

LINK2LIFE: To see a picture of Melanie and her mom, go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog.

PRAYER: We praise you, God, that in our mourning, we will be comforted and that our pain will turn to glorious joy in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE MISSING A LOVED ONE AT CHRISTMAS

PAssionate Noise Monday, Dec 23 2013 

Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Acts 2:15 (NIV)

15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

DEVOTION –  Philip Polo (Nairobi, Kenya)

A colleague invited me to a function about a business opportunity.  Though I went, the event held nothing of interest for me.  And to make matters worse, the room was filled with deafening noise from presenters and attendees.  But, determined not to disappoint my host, I looked for something I could enjoy about the evening.  Suddenly, the noise in the room that so closely resembled a bar of drunken revelers reminded me of Peter’s words on Pentecost:  “These people are nor drunk, as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning!”  The noise grew from people’s enthusiasm.

The memory of Peter’s sermon enabled me to enjoy the rest of the event.  Watching the passion with which the speakers delivered their messages about the  opportunities to earn extra income, I no longer saw the participants as only a noisy throng.  Instead I wondered about the impact I could have for God’s kingdom if I pursued my Christian calling with the same vigor!

This is what god calls all believers to do – to venture out into the world with courage and exuberant commitment to tell others that Good News.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: How passionate an I about sharing my faith in Christ?

PRAYER: Almighty God, thank you for your loving care and concern for us.  Give us passion and enthusiasm to venture into your world fearlessly to seek and love those who do not know you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: FOR COURAGE TO SHARE MY FAITH

4th Sunday Of Advent Sunday, Dec 22 2013 

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

James 4:8 (NIV)

8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

DEVOTION -Linda Barrett (Alabama)

I have a wonderful nativity set crafted in beige and brown ceramics that I put on display during the Christmas season.  It sits on a table at the perfect height for my youngest niece, Grace, to reach the figures.  Each time she visits I notice that all the figures have been squished up close to the baby.  All are touching each other, and many of the animals’ noses touch the manager as they look at the Christ child.

Grace’s instinct is to place everyone close to Jesus.  I, on the other hand, place each figure at an artistic distance from that central character.   This last time, as I looked at the distance I placed between the figures, I asked myself, Am I placing distance between God and me?  Why do I shy away?  Little children never seemed to have a problem running to Jesus.  He never turned them away.  And so today I come as a little child.  I’m peeking over the edge and looking into the hope that lies before me – Jesus Christ, the approachable, incarnate God who is humble and able to save.

LINK2LIFE: To see a picture of Linda with her nativity set, go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Today I will draw close to Jesus.

PRAYER: Great and glorious Lord God, help me to remember that you are also a tender Father who sent Jesus Christ to earth to demonstrate that tenderness and love to us.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: CHILDREN”S MINISTERS

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