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By Faith

Hello…Hello….is this thing on?…

Well, I had seriously considered shutting down the blog, but I held off just because I thought there might be a remote chance I would want to blog later on.  This has always been a place where I’ve shared thoughts and ideas that are swimming in my head. So although it’s been a while, here’s the latest.

leap-of-faithThis morning I was reading through Hebrews 11:8-16.  Some would call it the “Hall of Faith” because it goes through several lives of people in the Bible that lived and took action “by faith”.  In fact, that phrase “by faith” appears 4 times in this short passage.

You can read the passage for yourself.  While I’m always struck by the amount of faith each person had and acted on, in my mind, Abraham’s always stands out: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (v8)

That is incredible faith.  It’s not just incredible, it’s dangerous.  It’s the kind of faith that would make some look at you like you’ve lost it.  Even other believers in Christ will think that of you.  It’s not “prudent”. It’s not “wise”.  I’m not throwing out wisdom and prudence.  It’s just that so often faith seems to go against the grain of what would be deemed as wisdom and prudence.

They were all living for “the promise”, “the promised land”.  They were all living for the inheritance that God had promised to Abraham in the beginning.

I thought about that some.  “What promise have I received, have we received, as believers in Jesus that would cause us to take such big steps of faith?”  It’s not the promise of a new land here on earth, although I guess for some it could be.  It is a promise of a “land” not of this earth in Heaven.  But while we’re still “here”, it’s the promise that He goes before you and will be with you (Deut. 31:8, Matt 28:20). From what I’ve experienced in my faith journey following Jesus, it means He is the constant companion.  It means He is working things for my good ultimately, and that in the event that I “step in it” so to say, He is big enough and even IN that mess, He is working THAT for my good and will guide me to make a course correction. (somebody help me preach this! :) )

I think this is true for your life personally, I think this is true for your family, if you’re a business owner/manager/employee, it’s true for you.  If you’re in ministry as a fulltimer or volunteer, it’s true for you.  It’s true for our lives.  Following Jesus = taking action and living our lives “by faith”.  It’s not nice and tidy, but it’s what discipleship looks like.

Last thing, vv 15-16: “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return…I don’t know why, but that phrase just kind of hangs there for me.  I think the principle in that is that once you take the step of faith, you can’t spend time and energy focusing on where you came from, what if you had made a different decision, second guessing taking action in faith, etc.  In fact, spending a lot of time focusing on all of those questions seems like the “anti-faith”, it’s not faith at all.  Here’s my takeaway from this:

Faith remembers the promise, but focuses on what is forward.

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Small Groups and Church Staff

Let me preface this post by saying that this is in no way meant to be an attempt to tear down church leadership nor is it directed at any church leadership in particular.  Rather, this is a post to speak about the reality of being on a church staff, some retrospect in my own journey and to possibly be a voice for some church staff who have and are going through this reality.  This Augusta 31st marks one year since my last day (for now) as a vocational church staff member.  I’ve had some time over these past 9 months to process my experience as a full time church staff member, and it’s been particularly interesting during that time to view things as now we’re plugged into ministry and our church from a non-staff person’s perspective.  Let me say that I believe fully that the local church is God’s Plan A and there is no other plan.  I love the local church.

As Kim and I have become small group leaders at our church, it’s been so exciting to be able to meet together with a group of people each week and dig in to the Bible, get to know each other, and slowly be transparent about life….the good and the bad.  It’s about being involved in Biblical community.  Probably one of the best phrases I’ve heard to describe this is “doing life together.”  That’s what small groups and Biblical community should be like.  It’s about being real, being authentic and where appropriate, transparent….get the picture?

Now, here’s what I would say from my observation and experience over the years: A lot, if not most, church staff members (and their spouse if married) struggle with “doing life together” in Biblical community and small groups within the church they serve.

I almost put all, but that wouldn’t be accurate I’m sure….but it sure seems pretty close.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read surveys on pastors and staff members who have left a church or ministry altogether and one of the consistent reasons is that they feel alone…no community.  I’m sure leadership in other areas such as business struggle with this at times.  Yet, how ironic is it, and sad, that we as church staff members are constantly pointing people toward authentic community, being real, being transparent, “doing life together” and yet fail to experience that firsthand within the community of people we love and serve?  I’m speaking from my own experience as well as number of conversations I’ve had with other pastors and church staff members.

Here’s why I think that happens from a church staff member’s perspective…and I’m going to try to be as “real” as I can here:

1. Loyalty to leadership…..and afraid of being fired – If you’re on a church staff, you know how it is.  You can’t just hit the 9 to 5, go home and turn ministry off.  For most, it’s not just a job…it’s your passion.  It wakes you up in the middle of the night with inspiration…and sometimes terror.  It’s a part of your core.  It possibly is one of the most unique professions in the world as when most other believers in Christ are worshipping at a church on Sunday, you’re doing the same….and going to work.  One of the most important core characteristics of a staff member should be, in my opinion, loyalty to the pastor (and your boss) and the vision God has given that local body of believers through this pastor.  However, there are times as a staff member that you will have struggles “in your job”.  Struggles even with “your boss” and leadership or other church staff members.  Maybe you’re having difficulty with some volunteers or with some other people at your church.  These things can get all over you because again, it’s not just a job: it’s a calling.  Yet, if you’re involved in a small group, you’re hesitant to share about what’s going on because of that loyalty.

I know this personally.  Here’s what this has looked like at times for me.  Maybe you can relate.  You’re at your small group, it’s prayer time when you’re going around the room and people are sharing prayer needs.  If something was going on in my ministry area or among the staff that I was really struggling with, I wouldn’t say a word.  Instead you ask for prayer for your great aunt’s corn on her foot to be healed…not that there’s anything wrong with praying about that.  The fear of saying anthing is this: “I don’t want to be disloyal.  I want to honor my pastor.  I don’t want to make the church “look bad”.  I want to work under the authority structure of church leadership (which is right), and I don’t want to undermine that at all….Plus, I don’t want to get fired if word should somehow get back that I’m really struggling right now.”  Now, some might say, “Come on, no church would let you go because of that.”  Well, I think a lot of churches wouldn’t.  The problem is that in a lot of churches, among even the staff, there is a lack of transparency and authenticity and even worse, a culture that doesn’t welcome “real talk” and anyone that is having a difficult time may just need to “move on to a new calling” (that’s churchy language for “You need to find a new place to work or we’ll help you along”).  So, the thought of “doing life together” in my mind at that point, was just not going to happen in a small group.

2. A lot of pastors and church staff members are great communicators and great at “their job” but stink at real friendships and relationships at times – I can say that because I was one.  I’ve heard some incredible messages in my lifetime by some great pastors.  Yet, try to have a conversation with them or have some “real talk” and they just can’t get there.  I think some are afraid to let their guard down because as a staff member/pastor, you want to come across as a strong leader.  Some struggle with the idea of being a “bad example” of what a “good Christian” should be (even though we’re all broken, depraved and needy of Jesus in every way).  Others I think just had a REALLY bad example set for them by a mentor or other leader growing up in ministry, and they are possibly just going down that same path.  Whatever the reason, so many pastors just struggle there.

I don’t have an answer for how to make this better other than to say that I think a start is among our leadership, church staffs and the culture around that, there needs to be a culture where real conversations are happening, where staff members can deal with issues between each other, and where “real talk” about ministry can happen.

For church pastors and staff members in small groups, I’m not sure what the answer is there either.  Some have found their small group community among other staff members.  For some, that can work.  For others, probably not.

For me, I often found “community” over my 17 years of vocational ministry in a number of places.  Sometimes it was hanging out with a friend that was not a part of my church.  Sometimes it was in an online community of others in ministry, although some would question whether or not you can have “community” online.  Honestly, I don’t care.  If it helps me connect with others ultimately to grow in my faith, share about life, and encourage people, I’m good with that.

Anyway, my hope is that this has been encouraging to staff members out there who have and are going through similar struggles to know that it is a shared experience.  My hope is also that our church staff cultures can grow to the point where Biblical community is not only encouraged in our churches but is also modeled by our pastors and staffs as well.

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What’s in 15 minutes…

The start of a new day.  Work projects are on the docket and are calling for attention.  The temptation is to throw back some coffee and dive right on in.

This is my morning routine and struggle.  Has been ever since I was a teenager.  The distractions have changed, but the pull is that same. It’s that temptation to totally forego any time alone with God and dive right into work…or even Facebook or Twitter.  Don’t hate.  You know you’re there to.

This morning, like so many others, the voice of the Spirit is sure: “There is nothing more valuable that you will read in your email, facebook or twitter, nor is there anything else that will be more worth the 15 to 30 minutes you spend with Me.”  So today I turn it all off except God’s Word and some time in prayer to start it off.  Repeat this same and quick struggle every day for the rest of my life.

So what would I have missed THIS morning if I hadn’t listened to the Lord today?  Here it is:

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life. Isaiah 43:1-4

As I’m reading this, I hear this in my head once again: “There is nothing more valuable that you will read in your email, facebook or twitter, nor is there anything else that will be more worth the 15 to 30 minutes you spend with Me.”

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Don’t Forget

It’s that thing that you’ve been praying about for weeks, maybe months or years, that you REALLY want.  If God would answer this prayer in a “Yes!”, life would be just that much better.  Ever been there?  I have.  In fact, I’m there right now.  I’m asking for something that I really hope the Lord will answer in the affirmative, but I’m trying my best to stay at the place of “God, I’m asking You to do this, but not my will, Your will.”  Maybe you can relate.  I think we all have been there on a regular, sometimes daily, basis.  Some things small, some things life critical.

I came across Joel 2 today verses 18-27, and Joel is talking about answered prayers…big prayers.  Joel in fact is talking about how God is going to answer their big prayer for deliverance from an oppressive enemy.  Joel not only says, “Yes, God is going to answer your prayer the way you want”, but then he even describes just how great this answer to prayer is going to be: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..” (v25)

That’s not what grabbed me this morning though.  Instead it was this phrase right in the middle of all this prayer-answering:

Surely he has done great things! (v20)

The whole chunk of verses is talking about how incredible God’s future answer to prayer WILL be, but this phrase is an important reminder: Don’t forget, He has already done great things.

God may or may not answer our current request or desire the way we want.  He can do that because He is God, we don’t see it all, and I’m okay with that even though it isn’t always easy.  The reminder to me though is to not forget.  Don’t forget how good God has been to me.  Don’t forget how MANY times He has delivered me when I was dead meat.  Don’t forget that only He knows the stuff down deep that we struggle with and still loves us.  Don’t forget that there have been times in the past where He has said, “Yes!” and exceeded our expectation.  Don’t forget that even in the past when He said, “No” I can look back and often see the reason why over time.  Don’t forget.

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When It’s Time To Leave

Back in August I shared the news here on the blog about a big transition that we were making in our lives as I was stepping out of “vocational ministry”.  It was this time last year that we began to actively pray and plan towards our transition, and now, being on the flip side of it a year later, I’ve been thinking some back through that period of time.

If you do a search on “leaving vocational ministry”, you won’t find a whole lot of helpful insights and articles online.  There are some, but I guess for one reason or another the topic is just not widely blogged about.  One of the gems I did find was written by Ron Edmondson.  You can read the full blog post on his blog, but I wanted to share his thoughts on when it is time to leave a ministry position, an organization, a job, etc.  Not all of these were applicable to my own situation, but several of them were really helpful to me.

  • When your heart has left the organization and you don’t plan to stay permanently. Sometimes you have to reenergize your heart. If you are in a marriage, for example, you have to find a way to make it work. If you are working for an organization you shouldn’t harm the organization by staying when you no longer have a heart for the mission. If you’ve quit having fun, don’t make life miserable for everyone else.
  • When you can’t support the leadership and the leadership is firmly planted. You need to know who the power brokers in your organization are. It’s nearly impossible to change the organization working against that ingrained power structure. Ask yourself, “If it’s always going to be like this around here, would I be content staying?”
  • When your family or personal life is suffering, because of the demands of the organization. If you have to neglect one of them, your career or your family, in twenty years which do you hope it will have been?
  • When your mind starts working against the mission and vision of the organization. If you would rather see the place fails than succeed; it’s clearly time to go.
  • When your relationship with co-workers or leadership is damaged beyond repair. You should try to work out these differences, but when it is obvious the relationship cannot be mended, it may be time to move on. Life’s too short to be that miserable.
  • If the organization is venturing into immoral or unethical practices. Don’t get caught in the next news scandal.
  • When you find yourself physically ill if work crosses your mind on the weekend (or when you are off work). If the emotional stress is greater than you can handle and you must protect your health over the career.
  • You are no longer pulling your weight. For whatever reason, whether it’s because you’ve given up, you are bored, or just can’t keep up, if you are dragging down productivity and you don’t have the incentive to improve, perhaps it’s time for a change in your workplace.

From time to time I’ll be sharing some of the thoughts and resources I used and came across that were helpful in making the right decision.  Quitting isn’t always the right decision nor should it be our first decision, but sometimes it is best to move on.

PS: I’m loving what I’m doing :)

 

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A little update on us

I’m having to dust the cob webs off of this puppy as it has been so long since I posted anything.  That’s what happens when things happen really fast, and you’re doing good just to hang on :)

Much has happened in the life of my family since my last blog post.  Here’s the latest on the world of Jones and some commentary on it:

  • In November we finally got a contract on our house in Aiken.  We feel very blessed in that so many home sales fall through for one reason for another, but the sale of our home made it through.  It ended up taking right at 6 months or so to sell which isn’t too bad at all.
  • With a contract on our home, we started looking for a new house in North Augusta.  We were wanting to move to North Augusta for a number of reasons including we love the place, wanted to get more central to the rest of the CSRA (for those outside of this area, that stands for the Central Savannah River Area and includes areas in both Georgia and SC), and wanted to be closer to our new church community at True North.  So, we started looking around and didn’t find anything.  We had pretty much began to think we would end up renting until the spring.  We had two homes on a Sunday that we were scheduled to look at.  The second house we went to look at was the one we ended up purchasing.  We love the space and the location in North Augusta and are working right now on a number of remodeling projects.
  • We ended up closing on both homes December 20th which as you can imagine had a number of challenges.  Moving is hard enough.  Moving during the Christmas season is borderline insanity.  Yet, that’s the way it worked out, and we ended up making it through.  We’re still wading through the boxes, but it’s getting less and less.
  • Business is going well overall right now as we’re working with a number of previous and new clients.  Excited for the coming months for both Alive Media and 4Thought.
  • It’s been right at a year since we began praying and planning where we thought we were headed.  This time last year, we began to put down on paper where we wanted to be in life a year from now.  We were specific as we could be in some areas of that plan and general in others.  The order in which things happened changed a bit, but it’s amazing to me to look back and see that almost every single one of those goals has been achieved.  That’s a testament to the grace of God.
  • My encouragement to you would be to not just have a goal in mind but to actually put it down on paper.  Type it out, be specific as specific as you can, set out a plan of action and move forward in taking steps to accomplish it.  Spend some time in prayer as you do that and ask God to give you wisdom and direction.  Then, share your plan with a trusted friend or two that will 1. Keep it in confidence and 2. Be real with you and give you honest feedback both positive and negative.
  • That’s it for now.  Gotta go….there’s a box of stuff calling my name to be unpacked still. l8r
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Pursuing Christ, Creating Art – A Review

I was thrilled when I heard the news that my friend Gary Molander was writing a book.  I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Gary a number of times on the phone as well as admire his work for several years now.  From those experiences I’ve learned that Gary has so much insight and wisdom for creatives that are on church staffs and/or are involved in creative media production and design.  His book Pursuing Christ, Creating Art is one of those books that I find hard to put down.  Honestly, I think for any church staffing a new creative position, they should be given a mac pro, Final Cut, Adobe Creative Suite and a copy of Gary’s book.

I wanted to touch on some of the highlights for me as I read Pursuing Christ, Creating Art :

  • Gary’s Story – As I was reading the first several chapters of this book, I was amazed at how many parallels I found to my own experience of being a creative on a church staff.  I can’t tell you how many times I was reading through this book and just found myself thinking, “Yep….yep….wow, been there…..wow, I am there….yep……ok, who has Gary been talking to…”
  • Church staffs – I think there is so much to this book that every church staff member needs to read and understand.  Not just regarding creatives but some realities of being on a church staff.  Seriously, if you are on a church staff, get this book.
  • Contributors – Gary took the unique approach to this book in getting several others to contribute.  I thought this added a huge level of depth and richness to this work.
  • Short and Good Read – I don’t read a ton of books.  I read online more than anything to be honest.  This is a short read but a good read.  Also, I love the way the chapters are broken up into sections that cover several topics.
  • Speaking of those sections, I think the one that totally nailed me where I am is the one on Identity.  Before launching out on my own recently, I had served on a church staff for over 17 years.  If I were honest, my identity had become my position on a church staff.  For me, the chapter “You Are Not Your Ministry” was challenging but so liberating.  Among other truths, this chapter pointed me back to the fact that my identity is not my ministry, not my job, not even the art I create.

I think the biggest endorsement I can give for this book is that I think if you were to sit down with Gary and have a conversation about ministry, media, design, culture and the journey of a follower of Jesus, you would hear the same ideas and insights you find in Pursuing Christ, Creating Art.  I think that’s what makes this book so appealing: Gary’s ability to write a piece that is to transparent, real and needed in the church world.  So, grab a copy or two for you and those that are a part of your creative team and be sure to join Gary’s ongoing conversation at his blog.  You can also find Gary on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GaryMo

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aj mind dump

Here’s an update on things from the world of Jones:

  • I’m about to enter my 4th full week of being on my own in my businesses.  I’ve had several people ask me “how’s it going?”  It’s going well as we’re still adapting to the new setup.  I’ve been spending the first several weeks beginning to network more and do a lot of laying the ground work for business down the road.  Still a ways to go on that, but I think that it will pay off.  Not huge on the cash flow end of things but a necessity in building for the future.
  • The rest of the time has been spent on finishing up on some existing projects that got put on the backburner because of the time demands in transitioning out of Cedar Creek.  In other words, I’ve been playing catchup on those items.  We’ve wrapped several projects this week so I see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ll be posting about those here and on my facebook/twitter accounts.
  • We’re also starting to piece together our video production equipment for shoots.  The next step after that is to develop some script ideas and begin to move them from ideas to execution.
  • I know it’s early on and there will be times where it will be difficult, but as I’ve been working for myself over the past month, I have no doubt that we made the right decision.  I’ve been putting in a lot of hours (some late), trying to network more, dreaming a lot, working to meet deadlines….. and I’m really loving what I’m doing.  It’s been a long time since I could honestly say that.  I’m very thankful for that.
  • The housing market in Aiken, like most places I believe, is REALLY slow right now so not a whole lot of action on our home selling.  October offers a little more promise so we’ll see how things go.  Really looking forward to selling our home and moving into that next phase of our ongoing transition :)
  • Totally random: we’ve been doing the song below at church for the last month or so.  Has really spoken to me and where we are.  Good stuff.
  • Excited for the days ahead.

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the fear of failure

As I’ve been thinking, praying and living through the last 9 or so months of making the jump to be full time self employed, probably the biggest hurdle in my mind is fear of failure.  It’s the mental exercise you and I do where you go through in your mind all of the “what if” scenarios.  What if we can’t pay the mortgage?  What if we don’t have food?  What if nobody likes this post I’m typing? What if, what if, WHAT IF?!  As I look at my two kids’ faces, this reality of “What if” gets real.  This fear can become paralyzing, but it’s not isolated to those wanting to make career moves.

We face this fear in all areas of our lives.  There have been times as a creative that I’ve been afraid to try a new design or to bring an idea to fruition.  What if others don’t like it?  Fear.  It fleshes itself out in all areas of our lives.  What if I get honest with people about some things I’ve been dealing with? Fear.  What if put myself out there for someone and am rejected? Fear. What if no one notices what I do and it seems to matter to no one? Fear.

So how do you move past that fear barrier?  How do you deal with the reality of fear of failure?  As I’ve been working through my own “fear of failure”, here are some things that have helped and just some thoughts on that whole process:

  1. Name the worse case scenario – Spell it out, write it out, talk it out.  If this thing really went as bad as the “What If” in my mind is, what would that look like.  Face it, look it dead in the eye.  And then…realistically, work through what you would do if it did happen.
  2. Ask for the help that is already there – When I pray through my fear and then ask God for help, He gives it.  He has helped me deal with those fears.  It’s not that I forget what could be, but rather He gives me peace and confidence that in “What could be”, He’ll be there in that too.  Pretty cool how that works :)
  3. The Point of Changewhen your desire to be something different, to see a change, to do something different becomes greater than your fear of failure, that’s where the decision is made to move past your fear of failure.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to fail.  But more than that, I don’t want to come to the end of my days not having taken a risk because I was afraid to fail. That scares me more than failing.

I’ve been doing a lot of digging online and here was an article I read that addresses some of these ideas, especially for those considering making the jump to being self employed:

The Fear of Freelancing: Why You Could Be Hurting Yourself

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AJ Wired Mind Dump

Here’s the latest in the world of Jones:

  • So, it’s been a little over a week since we made our Big News public (see below).  It really was a weight off to make that public.
  • We told the staff last Tuesday afternoon at staff lunch.  That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I told them I would have to read the letter to them or I wouldn’t get through it.  I was doing okay until I hit the the thank you’s….then it went straight to ugly crying LOL.  When you’ve invested so much of your life in a place and had some incredible people invest in yours, it’s incredibly emotional making the break.  It was a hard day but a good day.
  • The reaction we’ve gotten from most people has been very positive.  In fact, no one has been negative…to our faces anyway ;)
  • Since I met with Phillip in May, I’ve had a few “What have we done moments”.  Most of those are times when I briefly forget that God’s got this.  The fact of the matter is that if our security is in anything other than Christ, it is misplaced…even for those that work for a church full time.
  • Found out in my research for getting ready to make the jump to being self employed that more businesses are started during economic downturns than any other time.  For us, we’re not starting from scratch but rather building on what we’ve been developing over the last decade.
  • Wow, is this is a bad housing market or what?  For sellers anyway.  I’ve been surprised that we haven’t had an offer yet on our home, although in this economy it’s not a total shock.  The only thing that concerns me is taking advantage of the low interest rates right now.  Just hope we don’t go to buy a home and the rates have jumped up.
  • I think as I look ahead, one of the biggest challenges is which projects to begin with, other than the current and ongoing work we have with our clients.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about what my work week will look like.
  • My hope is to establish an office presence in Aiken (which that’s looking good right now) and then also in the Augusta/North Augusta area.  We’ll see what happens with that.
  • I’m looking forward to football and fall weather but that has been on my mind a lot less than in previous years.  September 1st is approaching fast.
  • That’s all for now. l8r
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