Four guidelines for literary evangelists

compassion-rhetoric

For my apologetics and outreach course, I’ve been reading Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church, which is a wonderful study of the evangelistic practices of Christians during our first three centuries of existence (even if it’s got a couple of points I’d question). But in it, there is something deeply troubling. It’s not one of the author’s views; rather, it’s the author’s assessment of the work of the Apologists of the second century.

In the earlier generation, such what we find in the work of Luke, there is a deep desire to persuade people of the truth, and to do so in a way that is “loving, tactful,” and “subtle.” (352). However, Green notes a marked turn in the character of the Apologists. Where once Christian literary evangelism was in the spirit of Luke, something ugly had crept in. And though they desired their readers to come to know Christ, “the tone in which the writing had been couched would have effectively stood in the way of such an outcome” (351-352).

You understand why this is troubling, I hope.

Reading this hurt a little bit, not because I disagree, but because I can see it’s still a problem today. I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into this trap. In less than thoughtful moments, I’ve certainly been guilty of doing so. And I’m tired of that. I’m tired of Christians arrogantly running around as “jerks for Jesus”—being apparently so concerned for the faith, all the while failing to use words that reflect it. I’m tired of it, again, because I recognize how easily I can fall into this pattern of thinking and writing. But when we act in this fashion, it doesn’t win people to Christ—it pushes them away from the truth.

This has been weighing heavily as I consider how to respond to a very serious issue in my home province, one that’s got a lot of people riled up to the point that there’s nothing but angry rhetoric coming from either side. (And for that reason alone I’ve shied away from any public commentary at this point.) However, in watching it both sides have at it, it makes me consider how to best address any controversial issue. Here are a few guidelines that may help:

First, understand the issue firsthand, as best as you are able. Don’t rely on commentary from others.

Second, determine what issues are truly matters of first importance. We should always discuss secondary matters civilly, and likewise we should always affirm whatever is good and true in any circumstance (for if it is true, it belongs to God).

Third, pray for wisdom and clarity. More often than not, we put our feet in our mouths because we are rash with our words, or we overlook an important point in our opposition’s argument. However, God will not leave us in the lurch if we are faithful to ask for his help in communicating well.

Finally, seek to be truly evangelistic in my approach. I’m not interested in winning an argument (as much fun as that may be); I want to win the person reading. Fiery rhetoric and angry polemics won’t do this. Genuine love and compassion for the people involved in any given issue, however, just might.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week’s Kindle deals from Crossway are focused on apologetics:

Get all of them, if you can.

Why Jerram Barrs read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows six times in six months

This is really interesting:

HT: Justin Taylor

A Good Prayer before Preaching

Erik Raymond:

Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!

On the word “porn”

Douglas Groothuis encourages us to only use this word for what it actually communicates.

Let’s Bring Conversation Back

Jonathan Parnell:

Conversation has fallen on hard times.

Let’s face it, most of us find talking to strangers to be a rarity. This is our new societal reality. The in-between moments of life — running errands and picking up carry-out — are now filled with checking our mobile devices. We’d rather scroll through our Twitter feed than venture out with the risky words of a bygone era, “Hi, what’s your name?” But more than that, when we actually make plans for conversation apart from business, it can sound more like a threat than an invitation.

The way Christians live

one-step

Don’t worry about the future. In fact, don’t worry at all. This is one of the most challenging things the Bible tells us—and consequently, one of the ways we most struggle to obey Christ. It’s so easy to become anxious. To worry. To play the what-if game.

Or is it just me?

So how do we get out of this pattern? What does it take to end the cycle of anxiety and worry? Of trying to predict all things before they happen? It takes a right perspective, one that comes only when our eyes are set upon the Lord. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his exposition of Psalm 16:8:

How do we feel as we look into the future? What is going to happen? I do not know; nobody knows. I shall not waste your time trying to predict what will happen or telling politicians and statesmen what they ought to do in order to govern the future. I am in no position to do that, and I know of nobody else who occupies a pulpit, whatever position he may hold as an ecclesiastic, who is in a position to do so. I have a much higher calling. My business is to prepare you for whatever may happen. We do not know what that may be. Look back over the past year and consider the things that have happened to you. How many of them did you predict? How many of them did you anticipate?

I thank God that as Christian people we do not need to know the future. Christians should never desire to do so. Christians live in this way: one step at a time. And this principle, if they put it into operation, will enable them to say, “Whatever happens to me, I know that all will be well, because ‘he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.’ ” Come what may, “I shall not be moved” because I am living in the light of this principle: “I have set the Lord always before me.” (Seeking the Face of God, 141)

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken,” David wrote. And David knew of what he wrote. He suffered through tremendous difficulties and trials. He often ran for his life. He frequently made his bed in caves. But he could write “I shall not be shaken” because the Lord was with him.

And this is true of the Lord Jesus, as well. He suffered beyond anything we can imagine—being rejected by those he came to save, being sentenced to death, feeling the wrath of God poured out upon him… becoming sin, though in himself there was no sin. Yet, he was not shaken, for his Father was always before him.

This is the way Christians are to live. And because he was before Christ, and because we are in Christ, he is before us, as well. So do not worry about tomorrow. Take today one step at a time.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is the last day to take advantage of this week’s deals from Crossway:

4 Marks of a Good Mentor

Mike Leake:

The younger we are in our faith the more likely we are to view God like Monty Hall. I’ve especially noticed this in working with teenagers. They stress out (and in someway rightly so) about big decisions like where to go to college, who to marry, how to get rid of zits, and what career to strive for.

SaskatcheWHAT?

This is clever:

Let Boys be Non-Medicated Boys

Greg Gibson:

My story is a common story for many boys. I talk with parents often about their intentions in medicating with Ritalin. I get it. They want their boys to succeed, have good grades, and not get in trouble, but there is a considerable complication with this manner of thinking. Sometimes, though, it might be needed. For instance, there are times when this sort of medication is medically necessary. I’m not a doctor, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know all the ins and outs, but I do think that because we live in a fallen world, there are cases where it might be needed. Even the goodness of boyhood energy is broken by the fall. But in most cases, I think we are getting the diagnosis wrong.

But if I Preach Christ in Every Text

David Prince:

Hands immediately began to go in the air with questions that presuppose preaching Christ in every sermon can only be done at the expense of credible exegesis and hermeneutics. Students begin to ask questions like: If we preach Christ in every text how can we avoid allegory? What if the text isn’t about Christ? What if the sermon is on a particular doctrine? What if the sermon is simply advocating a biblical moral principle? Will all of my sermons begin to sound the same if I preach Jesus every week?

Christian bakery that refused to make cakes for same-sex marriage closes

Fearing future legal battles, the owners of a successful Christian bakery in Indianapolis who declined to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples have decided to shut down their business.

The best of February at Blogging Theologically

top-10

Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in January:

  1. 3 reasons why reading the Bible feels like a chore (February 2015)
  2. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  3. 5 books our kids should read (February 2015)
  4. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  5. When a group member may not actually be a Christian… (February 2015)
  6. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011/rewritten in September 2014)
  7. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  8. New and noteworthy books (February 2015)
  9. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  10. Six books every Christian should read on prayer (August 2014)

And just for fun, here are five favorites written over the month:

  1. The one really good reason I serve in children’s ministry
  2. Who will remove the stain of cognitive sexual self-abuse?
  3. Brief thoughts on Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (vol 1)
  4. The incomprehensible evangelist
  5. Sometimes it’s enough to stick a rock in someone’s shoe

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • Romans by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible (ePub) 
  • Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (hardcover)
  • Knowing Scripture teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

Paganism in today’s culture

This is an excellent talk by Peter Jones:

What Are We After?

Aaron Earls:

Because I’m concerned that too many Christians do not actually long for Christ to work in our present culture, but rather are more concerned with Him bringing back a previous one. By that I mean, the primary desire of many is the idealized culture of the “good ol’ days,” not a biblically faithful modern day.

Who are “the least of these”?

This is a really good article.

Can We Really Be Free from Excessive Fears?

Jon Bloom:

But for most of us, fear often does not function as it was designed. It is not under the governance of our trust in God and therefore wields an excessive, distorting influence over our thinking and behaviors. If fear is misplaced we think and act wrongly. Misplaced fear becomes a tyrant that imposes constrictive limits and leaves us debilitated in some or much of our lives. Under its rule we don’t do what we know we should because we are afraid.

We all desire to be free of this tyrant. But is this possible? Can we really be free from excessive fears? Jesus’s answer is yes.

The Secret Shame of Abortion in the Church

Julie Roys:

According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in every five women who gets an abortion identifies as a born-again, evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist Christian. Given that more than a million women abort each year in the US, this means a staggering 200,000 Bible-believing Christians annually. And according to Christian ministries working with this population, a vast majority of them will never reveal their secret.

In interviews with about a dozen post-abortive Christian women, I heard each say they deeply regret their abortions and experienced profound emotional and spiritual trauma as a result. Without a place to confess and seek recovery, women who’ve had abortions remain shackled by fear, grief, and guilt.

Links I like

Links

What Difference Does an Inerrant Bible Make?

R.C. Sproul:

Does it matter whether the Bible is errant or inerrant, fallible or infallible, inspired or uninspired? What’s all the fuss about the doctrine of inerrancy? Why do Christians debate this issue? What difference does an inerrant Bible make?

What if Wes Anderson directed X-Men?

Stunning:

New Spurgeon bio by John Piper

20 years ago, John Piper shared a message drawing from the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon. Now, Desiring God has turned it into a small book, Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity, which you can get for free.

How Do We Engage Someone Who is Neglecting the Gathering?

Good advice from Lore Ferguson.

We Are Called to be Irritating

Erik Raymond:

Christians are commanded to consider (pay attention to, be concerned for, look after, etc) someone and something. We are to be concerned for one another. This is a church directive for body life. And, we are to be concerned with stirring each other up.

What does this mean? It is an interesting word that means to irritate, provoke, or even exasperate. It’s actually used most frequently in a negative sense as in provoking someone to anger or irritation.

You Don’t Need a Bucket List

Randy Alcorn:

The term “bucket list” was popularized by the 2007 movie of that name. It’s an inventory of things people want to do before they “kick the bucket.” The idea is, since our time on earth is limited, if something is important for us to do, we have to do it now, because this is our only chance to do it.

This makes sense from a naturalistic worldview, one which doesn’t recognize any afterlife. It also makes sense from various religious worldviews that maintain there may be existence after death, but without resurrection and physical properties, and with no continuity between this life and the next. The one worldview in which the bucket list makes no sense is biblical Christianity.

5 books Christians should read on Islam

books-islam

What do Christians really know about Islam and Muslim people? It’s tempting to view them solely in light of what we see in the news, and hear in the rhetoric of many commentators. While it might be easier to treat all Muslims as though they are sleeper agents for ISIS, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to help us actually reach them with the thing they need most: the gospel.

And if we’re going to do that, we need to have a better idea of what they actually believe, the questions they are really asking, and the objections they hold about Christianity. So, here are five books you should read that will help:

The Gospel for Muslims by Thabiti Anyabwile

This was the first book I read on this subject years ago, and it’s still one of the best I’ve found. It offers a great deal of thoughtful explanation and critique as well as pastoral encouragement. This combined with Thabiti’s personal story of converting to Islam and then Christianity, make it a must-read. (For more, read my review).

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an by James R. White

White, one of the finest apologists and debaters of our day, has spent a great deal of time investigating the claims of Islam and the particulars of the Qur’an, and it shows. As one review puts it, “Dr. James White has exemplified how Christians should speak to Muslims in accordance with their respective worldviews.”

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

Breaking the Islam Code by JD Greear

Born out of his personal experience living within a predominantly Muslim community for two years, Greear writes this book to help us “see what questions Muslims are asking, and how the gospel provides a unique and satisfying answer to them.” (15) Trevin’s written an excellent review of it, which you can read here.

Buy it at: Amazon

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

This, like Thabiti’s, is worth reading because of the author’s personal experience with Islam. A formerly devout Muslim, Qureshi “describes his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, complete with friendships, investigations, and supernatural dreams along the way.”

Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi’s inner turmoil will challenge Christians and Muslims alike.

Buy it at: Amazon

Jesus, Jihad and Peace by Michael Youssef

My wife found this book particularly helpful. She says, “If you want to get a first-person take on what it’s like to live in a Muslim world and understand the worldview underpinning the militant Islamic world, and the passages used to support, this book will help.”

Buy it at: Amazon

Those are a few of the books I’d suggest checking out. What would you add?

Links I like

Links

Free resources for March

This month’s free book for Logos Bible Software is 1 Corinthians by Roy Harrisville. Over at Christian Audio, you can get The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel free (along with a number of other titles reduced to $4.98).

Free Gospel Project live event

Register here for Gospel. Life. Ministry, a live-streamed event hosted by The Gospel Project on May 11.

Concerning Those Crusty Calvinists

Mike Leake:

What I see is a growing movement of gracious Calvinism…at least in regards to how we relate to non-Calvinists and others who differ. I praise God for a growth of humble Calvinism. But I believe there is still room to grow as humble Christians. What I mean is that we’ve figured out how to be humble—or maybe appear humble—to those who aren’t Calvinists. But I wonder are we being gracious and seeking to help crusty Calvinists?

3 Muslim Misconceptions about Christians

JD Greear:

Many obstacles stand in the way of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus—theological confusion and the cost of conversion being two of the most daunting. And of course the most common reason why Muslims are not coming to Christ is that most have simply never heard the gospel.

How Honey Helps Us Taste God

Joe Rigney:

Why did God make honey so tasty and sweet? So that we would have some idea what wisdom is like (at least, that’s one reason). The sweetness of honey points beyond itself to the wisdom of God. Honey is “good,” and we are exhorted in Psalm 34 to “taste and see that the LORD is good!” Our souls have taste buds, just like our tongues, and we can train the soul-buds by exercising the tongue-buds. When we savor the sweetness of honey or sweet tea or pumpkin crunch cake, we engage in a fancy bit of “reading.” We transpose the physical enjoyment of taste onto our souls and offer thanks to God, not only for the simple pleasures of food but also for the spiritual pleasures to which the food is but a fitting echo.

You’ll want these stock images

How could you not enjoy using Vince Vaughn in a business-y editorial blog post?

George Verwer’s Conversion

Justin Taylor:

To say that George Verwer Jr. (b. 1938) has a larger-than-life personality is probably an understatement. It would have been obvious if you could have seen him running around at Ramsey High School in Ramsey, New Jersey. Of the thousand or so students at the school, George stood out.

Articulating unbelief

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A letter.

You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard to write a letter, but this one has a very specific purpose, because it’s also my term paper for my apologetics and outreach course. I am to write a letter to a friend, a family member—someone I am close to—bridge the gap between their beliefs and my own, and encourage them to pursue Christ.

And until last night, I’ve been stuck.

Every time I’d start, I’d hit a wall. I didn’t know where to begin. So I started thinking about a different person, our relationship and what they believe. And then I’d hit another wall. And then another. And another…

My problem is probably not entirely unfamiliar to some reading this: I’ve struggled to get a good sense on what exactly some of the people in my life actually believe. Although with many I have ideas and observations, when it comes down to brass tacks, I can’t definitively say what this person or that believes.

And that’s the challenge I’ve been facing.

But I might have been looking at it the wrong way. Sometimes the fact that we can’t articulate what we believe is itself telling. Maybe it’s that we don’t give it any serious thought. Maybe it’s that we have thought and don’t like the conclusions we’ve come to, so we choose to say nothing. Maybe those whose beliefs I struggle to articulate are having the same problem?

(Unless, of course, this winds up being an attempt to justify myself for not digging deep enough. Which I hope it’s not.)

And then I was able to start.

It wasn’t until I had a good chat with my wife about these challenges that I was able to turn the corner and really put anything meaningful into my document. Where it will go, I’m not entirely sure, but I’m thankful that so far, I’ve not felt the urge to delete everything and start fresh. (Though, there’s still time.)

Articulating unbelief—especially doing it in a way that is honoring to the individual to and about whom you’re writing—is no easy task. But the results, I trust, will be worth it.

Have you tried an exercise like this before? If so, what was the fruit of it?


photo credit: Few Words..Forever and a day! via photopin (license)

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H’s Perspectives series is on sale for $2.99 each:

Also on sale:

Misconceptions from the Internet

3 Reasons Why Your Church Should Hire a Millennial

Chris Martin raises an interesting point here.

Why children don’t think there are moral facts

A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

Your Facebook Gender Can Now Be Anything You Want.

And the march toward Oneism continues…

Do You Love Books More Than People?

Kevin Halloran:

Books may seem preferable because we can control them. They don’t bother us with problems or need special attention. Books are good, but they are a means to which we perform our duty of loving others by feeding our flock God’s Word. How do we know when our love for people is not where it should be?

6 thoughts on 6 years of blogging

6-years

Last week, I celebrated six years of doing this whole blogging thing. By “celebrating”, I mean I said, “Have I really been at it that long?” And then I looked at how many archived posts there are. And shortly after that, I realized this blog is older than two of my children. So, yes, it really has been that long.

In light of this anniversary of sorts, I thought I’d take a moment to share a few thoughts about the last six years:

1. Content curation matters. Probably the best thing I’ve done in the last three years was adding the “Links I like” daily article, collecting the most interesting material that came into my RSS reader. I’ve always been thankful whenever someone has liked something I’ve written enough to share it with their readers (bloggers) and friends (social networks), and it’s nice to return the favor.

2. I don’t have to write about everything. Sometimes I don’t have anything to say about a specific topic. Sometimes I do, but it’s best left to myself. Knowing when to speak and when not to has been something I’ve struggled to learn how to do, but I hope I’m at least starting to do well.

3. Schedules are tools, not masters. Although there’s no real pressure (it seems) from you all to post daily, I do enjoy doing so. However, with travel, school, illness, and a few other projects that came up, I definitely felt the crunch in February. As a result, I didn’t write as many new articles, though I did still have something up every day. In my silliness, I don’t know if I would have done the same a few years ago. Correction: I know I wouldn’t have done the same a few years ago. I’d have probably had a mild panic attack or something.

4. It’s easy to forget what I’ve already written. Seriously. I had an idea for a post just today, and realized I’d written it three years ago. That said, I’d probably say it differently now, so I may still revisit.

5. Blogging has opened up a number of new opportunities. I’d have never written a book if I hadn’t started blogging. I wouldn’t have spoken at a conference if I hadn’t started blogging. I wouldn’t have met some terrific people—including Dan Darling, Chris Poblete, Nathan Bingham, Matt Smethurst, Dave Jenkins, Steve McCoy, Joey Cochran, and a ton of others who I hope won’t be offended because their names aren’t in this list—if I hadn’t started blogging. I am very grateful for all of these things, and more besides.

6. I’ve got really great readers. I know it’s a bit cliché, but it’s true. I really do have some terrific readers here.(And if this is your first time here, “hi!” Be sure to go here to see what I’m all about.) Some email me to let me know when there’s a typo (which I appreciate). Others are willing to offer correction when I’ve made an error. Others still occasionally let me know how something they’ve read has helped them in their walk with Christ (which, to me, is pretty much the best). The fact that you read however often you choose to read is very encouraging to me.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s put a number of titles for women on sale:

Also on sale:

What is Your “Go-To” Pitch?

Erik Raymond (now blogging at TGC, incidentally):

As Christians we have something of a spiritual go-to pitch. When we are in a jam or need answers we shake off other pitches in favor of what we think will get the job done. Whether at work or in the home, physical or emotional, in the church or in your neighborhood—we get into jams. What do we do?

10 tips for making a great cup of tea

This is for all the tea lovers out there.

The Two Guys to Blame for the Myth of Constant Warfare between Religion and Science

Justin Taylor:

No one deserves more blame for this stubborn myth than these two men:

  • Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and
  • John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

“What Season Was Adam Created in?” And Other Questions That Make Us Giggle

Derek Rishmawy:

How many of you would think to ask the question and argue at length over the question of “What season was the world created?” I mean, really, was it spring, fall, winter, or summer when Adam popped up in the Garden of Eden? Were the leaves just turning red, gold, and brown, or were they newly in flower? Was it harvest time, or were the flowers just blooming? Would Adam have to knit a sweater soon, or were things nice and balmy? Or maybe Eden was just perpetually living in summer–kind of like Orange County?

A Pattern Among Fallen Pastors

Garrett Kell:

Prof’s study was of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period of time. As far as he could discern, these full-time clergy were men who were born again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an extra marital affair.

The secret to spiritual health

David Murray-happy christian (1)

One of the many books I’m reading (though neglecting at the moment due to trying to keep on top of my school reading) is David Murray’s delightful new book, The Happy Christian. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about reading this book, aside from its the fittingly positive approach, is the reminder that spiritual health and happiness doesn’t come from looking to ourselves, or pursuing your best life now. We become spiritually healthy when we stop looking at ourselves and start looking at our Lord. Murray writes:

I sometimes imagine that if only I can get the whole world, including God, to orbit around me as the center of the universe, I will be happy, but that’s the way to end up in a black hole. By putting God’s Word and works at the center of our religious experience, of our Bible reading, our preaching, our worship, and our churches, we begin to orbit around the heat and light of His divine Son.

It seems to defy common sense, doesn’t it? Surely if I have a problem, I need to focus on myself to get that fixed. That may be the case with medical issues. But with spiritual issues, the remedy can be found only by looking away from self to God. That’s why Bible reading that keeps asking, “What does this reveal about God?” will put us and keep us in the trajectory of spiritual health and strength. God’s person and God’s works will cure us of over-focusing on ourselves and our works. (54)

A spiritually health—and happy—person looks not to him- or herself, but to God. When reading the Bible, the question is not, “what does this say about me,” or “how can applying this help improve my life?” Instead, when we reorient ourselves to first ask, “What does this reveal about God,” as Murray suggests, we will find answers that are far more satisfying—and find ourselves satisfied as a result.