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Saturday, June 13, 2020

When the Foundations Are Destroyed, What Can the Righteous Do? (2020.06.14 Pastoral Letter and Hopewell Herald)


Hopewell Herald – June 13, 2020

Dear Congregation,

When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Psalm 11:3–4 asks and answers this timely question: the Lord is on His holy throne.

In a different way, our (much longer than usual) passage for tomorrow morning’s sermon does the same. It holds before us God’s unyielding determination to bless all who belong to Him through Christ. Whatever else occurs, God’s grace is unstoppable, unassistable, unimprovable, unlosable, and unfakeable.

Only those who have this confidence can be freed from fear of circumstances and failure to respond to God in thanksgiving and love by a life of zealous service unto Him, and a life of zealous love and service unto brother and neighbor.

So the first thing, as always, is to get a proper view of our God Himself in His worship!

Looking forward to doing so with you,

Pastor
God's unstoppable, unassistable, unimprovable, unlosable, unfakeable grace overcomes the weakness and wickedness of His saints.

2020.06.13 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 26:34–28:9

Questions from the Scripture text: Whom does Esau take as wives in Genesis 26:34? What do Isaac and Rebekah think of them (Genesis 26:35; Genesis 27:46–28:2; Genesis 28:8)? Whom does Esau take as wife in Genesis 28:9? What was Isaac’s condition (Genesis 27:1–2)? What does he want to do for Esau (Genesis 27:4)? But what does he need Esau to do for him first (Genesis 27:3-4)? Who was listening (Genesis 27:5)? And what plan does she share with whom (Genesis 27:6-10)? What concern does Jacob have about this in Genesis 27:11-12? What does Rebekah suggest as a solution to that (Genesis 27:13)? Upon whose activity do Genesis 27:14-17 focus the most, as the plan is carried out? How do you know, from Genesis 27:18-24 that Isaac is actually pretty suspicious? What is Jacob even willing to do in his deceit in Genesis 27:20? With what things is Isaac quite pleased in Genesis 27:25-27? How does this relate to the first set of blessings in Genesis 27:28? What is the focus of the blessings in Genesis 27:29? How soon does Esau come in (Genesis 27:30)? Of what do Genesis 27:31-32 remind us? What are his and Esau’s reactions in Genesis 27:33-34? What does Esau now want (Genesis 27:25-36)? Why doesn’t Isaac think this is possible (Genesis 27:37-38)? Where does Isaac bless Esau to dwell (Genesis 27:39)? What relief does Esau’s blessing in Genesis 27:40 occasionally provide from Genesis 27:29? What does Esau plan to do when Jacob dies (Genesis 27:41)? What is Rebekah’s new plan for this situation (Genesis 27:42-45)? How does she initiate the new plan in Genesis 27:46? What does Isaac do, openly and conscientiously, in Genesis 28:1? Where is he sending him? What does he call God in Genesis 28:3? From where is the language of this blessing taken (Genesis 28:3-4, cf. chapters 12, 17, 22, 26)? How does Esau try to increase his own blessing in Genesis 28:6-9?
Through the sinful chaos in this passage the Spirit teaches us that God’s grace to us is unstoppable, unassistable, unimprovable, and unfakeable.

First, God’s grace is unstoppable because it comes by His own plan and power.  Nothing that Isaac could come up with can stop Genesis 25:23 from coming true. Joseph’s brothers cannot stop God from blessing and using him. Satan himself cannot unconvert Job or prevent Jesus from completing His mission to save. In fact, everything they do ends up being used by God to carry out His gracious plan! The same is true with God’s gracious plan to save each believer, and to glorify Himself in each of their walking with Him.

Second, God’s grace is unassistable, because He doesn’t need our help. Rebekah goes into full problem-solving mode, trying to figure out how to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead. How ridiculous! The Lord had made a promise concerning Jacob, of which she could have reminded her husband (see the previous paragraph!), and it was impossible for this promise to fail.

Her unbelieving conclusion that God’s plan needed a little help led not only to her own sin, but also to Jacob’s sin (which curse she of course cannot take upon herself!), even to the point of the blasphemy in Genesis 27:20, attaching the name of Yahweh to a lie!! When we jump into pragmatism as a form of problem-solving, rather than seeking to follow strictly according to what God requires of us in His Word and leaving the result to Him, we open ourselves to all sorts of well-intended but ultimately evil actions.

Third, God’s grace is unimprovable. Since Isaac tried to makes Esau’s blessing over-against Jacob’s, there was no real blessedness left for Esau, once the two of them realized what had happened. The blessing of God in Christ is so great, that once it is given, what more can be left? In fact, it includes such great defeat of all of His enemies that the only hope of being blessed is to be included in His own blessing. How great is God’s unimprovable grace to us in Christ! Indeed, when God gives Isaac a second chance, and he intentionally and conscientiously pronounces a blessing on Jacob in Genesis 28:3–4, he uses words from chapters 12, 15, 17, 22, and 26 that remind us that truly the heart of this blessing is that God Himself is giving Himself to Abraham and all who are with Abraham in his faith in the promised Seed, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, God’s grace to us is unfakeable. We almost feel badly for Esau as Isaac tries to come up with a blessing for him: “you’ll live outside where all the good stuff that ultimately belongs to your brother is, and every once in a while you’ll get tired of him and successfully rebel, only to bring upon yourself the curse at the end of Genesis 27:29” (Genesis 27:39–40). We almost feel badly for Esau as he realizes that Hittite wives are the very opposite of the path to blessing, so he hurriedly goes out and gets himself an Ishmaelite too (Genesis 28:9). But any attempt to imitate blessedness apart from Christ cannot produce genuine blessedness. His blessing is unfakeable, and we need to pursue belonging to Christ: first, last, and everywhere in-between. In such a life, everything becomes blessing. Without such a life, nothing can be blessing.

Glory and praise and thanksgiving and love and service be unto our God of unstoppable, unassistable, unimprovable, unfakeable grace!
Of whose grace are you jealous? In what situations might you not be trusting that God is already bringing good out of it? In what parts of life are you more focused upon increasing what good the Lord gives you, than you are upon enjoying Him and His goodness in His good things? 
Suggested songs: ARP181 “God Our Only Good” or TPH446 “Be Thou My Vision”

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Christ-hating Pharisees saw the Sabbath as a burden to be borne. But the sinner-loving Lord demonstrated that His Day is a blessing, and His Word has in it the power to enable us to keep His blessed commands!

2020.06.12 Hopewell @Home ▫ Luke 6:6–11

Questions from the Scripture text: What day of the week was it in Luke 6:6? Where did Jesus go, and what did He do? How was one of the men there afflicted? Who were watching Jesus closely (Luke 6:7)? What did they expect that He might do? What did they want to do? What did Jesus know (Luke 6:8)? What did He tell the man with the withered hand to do? What did Jesus ask the scribes and Pharisees in Luke 6:9? What does He do first in Luke 6:10? Then what does He do? How do the scribes and Pharisees respond in Luke 6:11a? What do they discuss?
Perhaps it is because his gospel most particularly targets the Gentiles, who had not previously had God’s Word and its instruction about the Sabbath, that Luke focuses so much upon our Lord’s keeping of the Sabbath (His custom of always attending public worship on the Sabbath), and the glorious development brought to our Sabbath-keeping by His coming and redemptive work.

In Luke 6:1–5, the Spirit emphasized to us that the Sabbath is kept holy by spending it in fellowship with the Lord of the Sabbath, on His day—that the Lord’s Day is especially for communing with Jesus. At one point, that meant that if He was in a grainfield, you should be in that grainfield. Now that He sits on the throne of glory, it means that we ought to spend the day especially in the means by which He most draws near to us, and by which He gives us to draw near to Him—especially that holy assembly that He leads from His seat in glory!

Now in Luke 6:6–11, the Spirit focuses not so much upon the content of the day as upon the pleasantness of it. Because Jesus is the ever-blessed God, who gives Himself to us to bless us, and gives all other blessing to us, we must see the Lord’s Day as a day in which He is seeking to do us the greatest good, and in which we should rejoice both to receive that good and be an instrument by which it comes to others.

The scribes and Pharisees began this particular Sabbath day looking for an opportunity to accuse Jesus (Luke 6:7) and ended it looking for an opportunity to harm Jesus (Luke 6:11). But they knew our Redeemer to be One who was always looking for an opportunity to do good to others. They knew that the sight of a man with a withered hand might be something that Jesus’s compassion refused to resist (Luke 6:6-7a, cf. John 11:5–6, John 11:14–15John 11:21John 11:32). 

The Pharisees saw the Sabbath as a burden that must be borne to show thee greatness of their zeal. But the Scripture teaches that the Sabbath is a gift that has been given to dispense God’s great goodness to us. Building upon what He had revealed about Himself on the previous Sabbath in Luke 6:1–5, Jesus now puts to them and to us the question: “just what do you think I, the Lord of the Sabbath, created it for in the first place? To heal or to harm, to save or to kill?”

If we have Pharisaical attitudes toward others that spend the Lord’s Day looking for reasons to accuse them, let us grieve to observe that this goes hand in hand with the Pharisees’ attitude toward the Lord of the Sabbath—viewing it as a burden that He has lain upon us rather than one of the greatest gifts that He gives us in this season of our walking with Him.

When we desire for others to keep the Lord’s Day well, let us do so as those who see the Lord’s law as something magnificently pleasant, and who wish for others to enjoy this pleasantness too!
How can we learn the pleasantness of keeping the Lord’s Day as something sacred and holy? What will our attitudes about it be like, the more we grow in this? How might we describe it to others, or encourage them to keep the day, if this is how we feel about the 4th commandment?
Suggested songs: ARP92 “It’s Good to Thank the Lord” or TPH153 “O Day of Rest and Gladness”

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Resisting the Devil by Drawing Near unto God in Prayer (James 4:7–9, 2020.06.10 Prayer Meeting Devotional)

The devil flees when we resist him by submitting to God and drawing near to God. In drawing near, we must turn away from those sins and disproportionate pleasures that have occupied our hands, hearts, and minds. But, when we come thus in humiliation, we find that rather than shrinking back from us in condemnation, God Himself draws near to us in grace!
We ought to rejoice in whatever stewardship God gives us in His Spirit's glorious work of bringing people from all nations to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

2020.06.11 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 3:1–6

Questions from the Scripture text: Whose prisoner does the apostle call himself in Ephesians 3:1? For whom? How does the apostle describe his call to be apostle to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:2)? What did God make known to the apostle (Ephesians 3:3)? How did God make it known to him? How does he expect the Ephesians to learn it (Ephesians 3:4)? When was the mystery of Christ not made known to whom (Ephesians 3:5a)? And by Whom has it now been made known to whom (verse 5)? Who would be heirs (Ephesians 3:6)? With whom and of what? Of what would they be partakers? Through What?
This passage brings up (again, cf. Ephesians 1:9) the mystery of the gospel—not a spooky secret that we have to figure out, but rather a deep truth that we can only know by God’s revealing it to us.

It is this glorious mystery that is going to provoke the apostle first to prayer in Ephesians 3:14, and then to exhortation in Ephesians 4:1, ff. The apostle begins to say, “for this reason,” and he will pick up that line of thought again in verse 3:14 with “I bow my knees…” And the apostle begins to say, “I, the prisoner of Christ Jesus,” which he will pick up again in verse 4:1 with, “beseech you to walk.

But before he gets to those things, he is going to reflect upon how marvelous it is that he even knows this mystery, can pray this prayer, and can make these exhortations. In these six verses, he presents to us himself as the writer of the mystery, all (and especially Gentile) believers as the receivers of the mystery, the Spirit as the revealer of the mystery, and Christ as the revealed One in the mystery.

Paul is the writer of the mystery. How glorious! At one point, his life-mission was to make into his prisoner anyone who honored Christ as Lord. Now, he is content to be made a prisoner for the sake of Christ (Ephesians 3:1), who is his Lord. At one point, he despised the Gentiles as worthless. Now, he preaches the gospel by which the Lord gathers them in as His treasured people. What glorious grace God has shown to Paul!

And the Gentiles are the receivers of the mystery. God is now telling them with full clarity what He had previously told only in darker shadows even to the Jews. Paul wrote briefly of it in Ephesians 1:9, but now he is opening up this wonderful truth that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, even the Gentiles are of the same body, and even the Gentiles are partakers of the promise. What God began to promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 has turned out to be a glorious blessing indeed upon all the nations!

Further, the apostle tells us of the Spirit, Who is the Revealer of this mystery that he is writing and the Gentiles receiving. It is God the Spirit Who has revealed the mystery to the apostle (Ephesians 3:3) and God the Spirit Who has revealed the mystery to the other apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5), and by implication God the Spirit Who is revealing the mystery through what Paul is writing (verse 3). Paul knew that his letters, which were to be read in the churches just as the other Old Testament writings, were Spirit-inspired Scripture. What a glorious thing it is to have our copies of the written Word of God, the revelation of the mystery of God, by the very Spirit of God!

Finally, the apostle writes of Him who is revealed in the mystery. Many focus on the Gentiles as the “content” of the mystery. And it is a wonderful discovery that the Spirit here makes to us of just how abundant is the world-wide international spread of God’s redemption in the gospel age. But, the mystery itself is the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4)—that the promise is partaken of in Christ through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). In this sense, the mystery is something new and glorious to the Jews, even as much as to the Gentiles. God Himself has become our Redeemer; God Himself is the cornerstone of His own temple, having become a Man in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And, it is by virtue of the fact that salvation comes through union with Christ that we become “fellow heirs, of the same body.” Salvation is through Christ, Who is God in the flesh, come to unite us to Himself, in Himself. Hallelujah!

No wonder that, before getting on to how this makes him pray, and how this calls for us to live, the apostle first spends a little time, urging us to remember and reflect upon the glorious mystery of the gospel!
Why is it amazing that your people (whomever they are) would be included in the church? Who is speaking to you when you read the Bible, or hear it truly preached? In Whom are you redeemed?
Suggested songs: ARP87 “The Lord’s Foundation” or TPH87A “Zion, Founded on the Mountains”

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Lord shows Saul, and us, that He has appointed His servants for their part in His plan to redeem His own inheritance. And they can carry out their role only by His Spirit not their strength, and only in obedience to His Word not their supposed wisdom.

2020.06.10 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Samuel 9:25–10:16

Questions from the Scripture text: What did Samuel and Saul do after the feast at the high place (1 Samuel 9:25)? Where was Saul staying, and what happened the next morning (1 Samuel 9:26)? What did they do with the servant and why in 1 Samuel 9:27? What did Samuel do to Saul in 1 Samuel 10:1a? What did he say Yahweh had done, and what does he call Saul (verse 1b)? Whom does he tell him he will find where (1 Samuel 10:2)? What will the two men say his dad is worried about? Then whom will he meet where (1 Samuel 10:3)? What will they have with them? What will they give him (1 Samuel 10:4)? Then to which hill will he come (1 Samuel 10:5)? Whom will he meet there? What will they have? What will they be doing? What will happen to Saul (1 Samuel 10:6)? Then where must Saul go (1 Samuel 10:7-8)? Who will meet him there? When? To do what? What did God give Saul in 1 Samuel 10:9a? What happened (verse 9b)? What did Saul do in 1 Samuel 10:10? And what did those who knew him think of this (1 Samuel 10:11-12) What did they ask? What Saul do after prophesying (1 Samuel 10:13)? What did Saul’s uncle ask him in 1 Samuel 10:14? How does Saul answer? What else does Saul’s uncle ask in 1 Samuel 10:15? What does Saul tell him (1 Samuel 10:16)? What doesn’t Saul tell him?
In the strange account of Samuel’s anointing, the Lord teaches us that He works by His Spirit and Word.

God works by His Spirit. That’s the point of all of this strangeness. It must have been odd to the servant (1 Samuel 9:27) when Saul returned maybe dripping with oil, and definitely smelling “anointed.” But Saul was meant to connect that anointing with the most astonishing event of his day: when Saul the shy guy suddenly became a prophet at the center of attention.

Samuel had told Saul that these events were going to happen in details that ordinary huckster fortune-tellers would never have included. But he included one thing that could not be verified by observation: that it would be the Spirit of Yahweh (1 Samuel 10:6) Who would produce that which confused all who observed or heard it (1 Samuel 10:11-12). What they couldn’t guess, Saul definitively knew: this was only by the Spirit of God, wielding the power of God.

In our baptisms, when the water is poured upon us, the Lord tells us the same thing about our coming to faith, or growing in grace: this is only by the Spirit of God, wielding the power of God. Saul was to reign as king and deliver God’s people, not by Saul’s might or Saul’s power, but by God’s Spirit (cf. Zechariah 4:6).

But God the Spirit most often exercises His power not in showy displays but ordinary obedience. Our flesh tends to prefer the scintillating over the steady and faithful. So, it is very important that we receive the message of this text about how God honors His Word. God’s Spirit especially works by His Word.

Saul is about to be king over the most important (though not the most impressive) nation on earth. But he is to operate in patient obedience to what comes out of the mouth of the prophet. God will now be ruling His people by a king, but He will be ruling His king by His Word through His prophet (1 Samuel 9:271 Samuel 10:8).

Samuel could have given Saul the subsequent instructions right then. But, God wanted Saul to experience seven days of waiting (verse 8), seven days’ worth of feeling in every fiber of his being that he needs the Word of God and must submit to the prophet of God, if he’s really going to live and rule by the power of God from the Spirit of God.

Our Lord Jesus, who is our righteousness, did this perfectly. He waited upon His Father’s pouring out His Spirit to begin His public ministry, and then He did only that which came at His Father’s initiative and Word (cf. John 5:19, John 8:29, John 12:49). He constantly referred with complete submission to God’s Word, and often said or did things “so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

We who would live in union with this Christ, who would live by God’s power as wielded by God’s Spirit, must do so through steady and faithful obedience to God’s Word!
Where do you find God’s words, as you seek to live by God’s power? What are you doing in order to know His Word better? What are you doing to live by what you know?
Suggested Songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH429 “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

2020.06.08 Session Meeting Digest

Hopewell Session Meeting Digest
Stated Meeting, June 8, 2020
The Session is grateful for your prayers, service, and encouragements. The following are some highlights of important items and actions from this month’s regular (stated) meeting.

▪The elders continue to study the Scriptural teaching on delighting in the Lord in and by means of His day. Each month, Elder Patterson assigns to each elder a portion of that month’s chapter in the book, The Day of Worship. This month’s chapter was on thinking through the idea of “Legalism” in connection with the 4th commandment and the Christian life:

2020.06.09 Hopewell @Home ▫ Philippians 2:3–11

Questions from the Scripture text: How should nothing be done (Philippians 2:3)? How should each view others? If we esteem others better than ourselves, for whose interests should we look out (Philippians 2:4)? Whose mindset was like that (Philippians 2:5)? Who is in the form of God (Philippians 2:6)? What was not robbery for Christ Jesus? What form did He take (Philippians 2:7)? What likeness? How low did Jesus humble Himself (Philippians 2:8)? Who exalted Him (Philippians 2:9)? What name did He give Him? Which knees will bow at the name of Jesus (Philippians 2:10)? What will every tongue confess (Philippians 2:11)? To whose glory? 
Next week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, and Confession of Sin come from Philippians 2:3–11 in order that we will see that we are singing God’s thoughts after Him with Join all the Glorious Names.

Here, we learn about Christ’s humiliating Himself for our sakes. Becoming a man. Enduring weakness. Suffering trials. And, of course, the greatest was submitting Himself to death… particularly death on a cross.

Our passage from Philippians points out something shocking about His doing this. When Jesus gave Himself for us, He was treating us as if we are as important as He is. He was attending not only to His own interests but also to ours.

We have two required responses.

The first way to respond to how Christ humbled Himself for us is to humble ourselves. Not just a little, but completely. Overlooking offenses, backing out of rivalries, treating everyone as better and more important than ourselves.

Of course, there are some people with whom that is easier than with others. If we’re imitating Christ, and examining ourselves, it’s the hardest people that we have to focus upon. With whom are we having difficulty? Nursing an offense? In a rivalry? Those who are sinning against us (as we have done to Him!) are the ones with whom we must most imitate Christ.

The second way to respond, the eternal way, is to worship. Every mention of His Name should be precious to us. We shouldn’t be able to tolerate any misuse of His Name. It is the Name that should always make our knees to bend, always make our tongue confess that He who gave Himself for us is Lord.

Finally, let us consider that it is not only the Son who has given all. God the Father, for our poor sakes, has given the humiliation and death of His beloved Son, with whom He is pleased!
With whom do you most need to humble yourself? How are you honoring Jesus? 
Suggested songs: ARP110B “The Earth and the Riches” or TPH376 “The Head That Once Was with Thorns”

Monday, June 8, 2020

2020.06.08 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 26:26–33

Questions from the Scripture text: Who came to Isaac in Genesis 26:26? With whom? What does Isaac ask them in Genesis 26:27? What do they say they’ve seen (Genesis 26:28)? What do they want Isaac to do? What do they claim that they have done in Genesis 26:29? What does Isaac do for them in Genesis 26:30? What do they do, at what time, in Genesis 26:31? What do the Philistines do then? Who come in Genesis 26:32? When? What do they tell him? What does he call the well in Genesis 26:33? What was the city called? 
In this passage, we learn both of our dependence upon Christ for all of our blessedness, and of the privilege that we have of being ones through whom others are blessed.

Isaac is a picture of Christ, and how we depend upon Christ for all of our blessedness. Abimelech comes with great show. His name is “my daddy is king.” He comes with his friend “possessor” (Ahuzzath), and a commander who represents his army. We empathize with Isaac who sees this delegation and wonders why they are even there. But that’s just the point: Abimelech has all of this, but real blessedness comes from Yahweh. And, since Yahweh’s blessing is currently with Isaac, he needs covenant with Isaac more than Phicol or Ahuzzath or even Gerar.

Isaac has been sinned against, but enters into covenant anyway. He is in the position of power. Christ is almighty. He has been sinned against in a small way. We have sinned against Christ in an infinite way, because of the glory of His Person against Whom we have sinned. But Isaac makes peace instead of the revenge to which he had a right. And this is what our almighty and justly offended Lord has done. He has a right to revenge, but has made peace instead.

The difference is that instead of an animal being slaughtered for the cutting of covenant between Isaac and Abimelech, Christ Himself has been sacrificed for the covenant between Himself and us. He who has a right to vengeance upon us has endured that vengeance upon Himself instead!

So, in one sense, we find ourselves in the position of Abimelech, as it relates to Isaac. But, in another sense, we find ourselves in the position of Isaac as it relates to Abimelech.

God is with us for the sake of Christ, just as He was with Isaac for the sake of Christ. However weak our position might look in any situation, we are in a place of ultimate strength, where everything must work together for our good, and we are more than conquerors already, and nothing can separate us from God’s love, and we shall certainly be glorified at the last—perfectly holy and perfectly happy forever and ever.

We ought to live in a manner of diligence and hope that shows our confidence that God is with us. And, we ought to seek from the Lord that our blessedness in Him would be visible to others, just as Isaac’s was visible to Abimelech—whether by earthly blessing, or by godly character, or by our repeatedly offering public worship to God. We are to seek the good of those around us, and there is no greater good for them than to realize that blessedness is in Christ, and to come Him for that blessedness.
How have you responded to Christ being the One in whom is all true blessedness? How are you continuing to respond? How can others see that He is your blessedness?
Suggested songs: ARP2 “Why Do Gentile Nations Rage?” or TPH265 “In Christ Alone”

Sunday, June 7, 2020

2020.06.07 Evening Sermon—Ephesians 2:19–22, "How Near Christ Brings Us to One Another and to God"

Christ brings us near to one another as fellow citizens, family members, and building blocks; and, near to God as those built upon the foundation whose cornerstone is Christ, for a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. [PDF] [MP3]

2020.06.07 Morning Sermon—Genesis 26:26–33, "Living among Others When God Is with Us"

Believers must be those who know that all true blessedness is only in Christ, and who wish for their lives to be displays of that true blessedness which is in Christ. [PDF] [MP3]