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Ruthless Trust

Ruthless Trust

Today is quite an exciting day for me. I start recording on my first musical project since 2013. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but a lot has happened in our world since then. Back then, when we were working on Mirrors, my friends and I, on both sides of the Atlantic, had no idea what would happen to each of us, to people we love and care for, and to the world at large over the next few years.

In the intervening time, I’ve become quite, ahem, busy, with my Church work and all the other things I’m privileged to do. I’ve also missed music. A lot. Writing about something is not the same as actually doing it, so I’m really excited to record these songs and see what everyone else thinks of them. I’m really glad and grateful, too, to be working with some fantastic people on this project. What’s best is that all of us have other things going on in our lives, so we can make this album at our pace, release it when we’re happy with it, and make sure that, as best as we can, we capture what we feel needs saying at the moment and how it needs to be said. It’s a sign of the times in my life that we’re beginning this recording with a three day session. That’s the time I have spare…

A couple of years ago now, I was at Lee Abbey in Devon, and Simon, who was the warden of the house at that time really grabbed my attention when he used the phrase ‘ruthless trust’ about how he felt I would need to live in the months and years to come. A lot of people say a lot of things to me. I say a lot of things to people, too. It’s interesting though that the odd phrase or few sentences of all of the conversations we have can really stick with us and either change the course of our lives or at least give them a renewed focus and vision. That’s what Simon did for me that day. He probably didn’t even realise it, either.

More than anything else that this year has demanded from all of us, a ruthless trust in the people, institutions or gods we follow has to be one of the most important. All of us follow something or someone, from a football team, to a political party, to the calendar of the social club or group we belong to. Or a religious faith. For me, leading the Churches I serve and trying to support the huge and wonderful community it is my privilege to work with as part of my ‘job,’ from the schools I visit, to Northampton Town, Weston Favell Centre Foodbank, to MPs and everything in between, a ruthless trust is the thing that has kept me going, even as I’ve been doing most of it over the last 7 months from an office at home. I would be lost without the confidence that the One I trust most of all is actually worthy of that trust, that it really is worth basing my life around being a friend and follower of God – what a gift that is – and so it seems like a good time to be making an album of songs that reflect that trust. The songs are also angry, aggressive, disappointed, frustrated and plenty more besides. They will, I hope, be pretty loud, and I’m so fortunate that I have a great team of people joining with me to bring them to life. I have no idea when the songs will see the light of day but I’m posting this so that whoever reads this can see that my intention is there and that I’m getting started on the endeavour. There’s something good about admitting publicly that you’re doing something. It brings with it a sense of purpose, but also an accountability that the aim is to see this through to completion and bring whoever chooses to give time to listening to the songs something to actually enjoy.

So, this is Ruthless Trust. It’s just getting started but I feel like we’re all going to need a lot of it before all this is over.

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2020 Bible Reflections

May 4th 2020: Psalm 112

Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.

Their children will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.

10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
    they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
    the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken….
How do you know if you’re one of the ‘righteous’? It’s a real challenge for many of us who are people of faith. The confidence, the trust, the relative certainty needed to know that you are in the right place, facing in the right direction, living in the right direction, being the kind of follower of God that will enable you to know and trust that all is ok, that you are ok, that people around you are ok. It causes a lot of people real angst when they aren’t sure. Is there anything we can do to help them?
I think so. When talking about people who speak of God and the way we should live, Jesus said ‘you will recognise them by their fruit’, that is, does your life and the way you live, what you say about God, end up with good outcomes? Are people helped? Are they shown love? Are they welcomed? Are they pointed to the hope and freedom that only God can give, ultimately? If, to one extent or another you can say these things about your life, then I think you can be counted as one of the righteous. If your trust isn’t just in yourself only, but in God, then ultimately that is the greatest sign of all that you are one of his people. We are told that faith that is planted first as a seed can grow in people so that they become oaks of righteousness, planted in the Lord as a display of his splendour (Isaiah 61:3). Later in the Bible we’re told that God himself is the gardener (John 15:1). If you put your trust in God, a seed of faith is planted, a new creation is made, the old has gone and the new has come  (2 Corinthians 5:17). If that is the case, God tends the seed and watches it grow and you are never out of his sight (in a good way). Seeds that God is tending may get pruned sometimes and the bad bits that bear no fruit thrown in to the fire, but they are never forgotten or given up on.
Put your trust in God and you can know that when a storm comes, it might make you wobble, it might make it seem like you are flailing about with barely anything to hold on to, but the true foundation at the core of your life will never be shaken or uprooted. That is the power of the love, mercy and passion of God, that we might grow up as trees bearing good fruit and be displays of His splendour, to point people to him.
Something to Do
What ‘branches’ of you are there to celebrate today? What do you think might need to be pruned off?
Something to Pray
Pray for all those afraid today, including you if you are, asking God to bring peace and calm. Maybe someone comes to mind as you pray. Get in touch with them and ask them how they are.
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2020 Bible Reflections

April 27th 2020: Psalm 61

Psalm 61

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings
For you, God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
    his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
    appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
    and fulfill my vows day after day.

When you are ‘growing faint’, what do you do? For me, I often get to the end of a day and am so worn out, or weighed down by things that have happened during the day just gone, that I long for sleep. Not David, the psalmist and King though, no. As he seems to be reaching the end of himself, he is praying, desperate for God to listen, to hear, to answer, to save and free him.

I wonder, is there a model for those of us who pray to follow here? Rather than a quick prayer before a meal, in the morning and at bedtime, prayer can be something which we turn to throughout the day. We can turn to God at good times, bad times, all the times in between. If we pray, it’s because we want God to listen, whether we’re thanking him for something, asking him for something, lifting someone or something to him or any other reason you might be praying, follow David’s example. There is a rock that is higher and firmer than him, that’s what he realises. God is the rock. He is the rock that doesn’t change or fail, whatever else happens, whatever what is happening around us or inside us looks or feels like. God is the rock and firm foundation of the lives of the ones who trust him. We all need hope and a firm foundation. All of us.

Something To Do

How are you feeling today? Are you ok? Anxious? Happy? Joyful? Spend a few moments thinking about how you actually feel within yourself.

Something To Pray

‘lead me to yourself, the rock that is higher than I’.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 25th 2020: Psalm 148

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And he has raised up for his people a horn,[b]
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

Sometimes these reflections are more challenging to write than others. Today’s is pretty straightforward. Praise the Lord. Praise Him all the time. Whatever is going on. Good, bad, indifferent, the best ever, the downright most disgusting; praise God anyway, all the time, during the things that make up our days, at the times when we wish we could sleep but the past is playing like a movie, condemning us anew. Whatever, whenever, through all circumstances, praise the Lord.

It is only God and his name that is lifted up, higher than both the Earth and heaven (that’s pretty high, I’m sure you’ll agree). We are not God. We are friends of God if we trust in him. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus if we accept his invitation to be so, but we are not, we ourselves, God. I say this so that we get things in the right and proper order. When we praise God we are praising the one who made heaven and earth, the one who put the stars in their place, the one for whom we exist, the one who the earth and everything in it belongs to. That God. That’s the Lord who we are praising. He is high and lifted up. And deeply, massively and completely in love with each one of us. It seems silly, almost beyond comprehension that God would love us, but love us he does. He wants us to praise him not just because he is worth it, but because he has loved us from before we even knew anything about him, before we were born even, and called us to be his children. When we are praising always it is because that is absolutely the very least we can do. We praise in singing, in praying, in spending time reading psalms like this but also in how we live, what we make our priorities (put God and other people first and that will be a good start). And we praise God with where we place our trust. Is it in Him and Him alone, or are we keeping some of our trust for ourselves, other people, other relationships, other institutions? We’ll be truly free, truly who we’re meant to be, when our trust is in Him and Him alone.

Something To Do

Make a list of things from the last 24 hours that you are thankful for.

Something To Pray

Ask God to help you trust Him more.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 7th 2020: Psalm 55:13-23

Psalm 55:13-23 New International Version (NIV)

13 But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
    let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
    for evil finds lodging among them.

16 As for me, I call to God,
    and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
    because they have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
    into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
    will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

Listen to Psalm 55 here: Psalm 55 audio

Have you ever looked at someone else and thought ‘I used to really like that person but now I’m really glad I’m not like them anymore’? That seems to be what’s going on in today’s reading.

Even though the outcome at the end of it all is fantastic and something that is an ideal aim for any of us in these pressing times – ‘But as for me, I trust in you’ – as I read these words today I want to sound a note of caution. It’s a note of caution that when we look back in a few years’ time might not seem rational or relevant but which I think is key now. We have been asked to live a certain way at this time for the good of one another. One another = both ourselves and everybody else. It’s perfectly easy to look about us and see people who are not living to the standards that we think they ought to at the best of times, but that is especially so now. Have any of us tutted as we’ve seen people walking past our houses less than 2 feet apart recently? That’s a bit like the psalmist and his companion. Both once worshipped together in the temple and expressed love for God and one another, but then the psalmist reckons that he kept to the rules he’d been given whilst his companion certainly did not.

This is all well and good except that right and good, or righteousness looks different in different people depending on who is looking. What I mean is this: I have quite a high awareness of my faults. You reading this might know about some of them but I’ll bet you don’t know all of them. I might look at you and think that you’re brilliant, but you might tell me that that’s only because I only see a certain side of you and if I really knew then I would lower my opinion.

I hope what I’m saying is making sense…Whether we puff ourselves up, do ourselves down, or do the same to other people, the Lord looks on he heart, the motivation we have, where we put our trust, as well as looking at our actions. Where is your heart today? What are you trusting? Don’t worry about what others are doing as much as you make sure that the log in your own eye is being attended to. Then when you say you trust God, when I say I trust God, it will have a better chance of actually being more fully true.

Something To Do

Think about whoever you live with or who you most regularly talk to. What is great about them? Make a list. If you’re feeling brave (!) tell the person what’s on it. It might surprise them!

Something To Pray

Pray that God would help you to see others the way He does and pray that He would increase your trust in Him today.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

March 26th 2020: Psalm 53

You can read today’s passage here: Psalm 53

You can listen to today’s passage here: Psalm 53

The message today is stark and straightforward: God is looking to see who trusts Him. I think it is implicit that if He looks and finds people trusting Him then they will be invited to do good things in the name of God, to make God known to other people and to set am example in how with how they live so that people don’t just see them as ‘nice’ or ‘good’ but godly too.

The corresponding outcome for those who ‘say in their heart there is no God’ is pretty stark. In short, the outcome is not good. However every person has the choice in whether they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God. I’ve always found it fascinating how respectful God is of the human ability to choose or reject Him. That is until the end of it all, when ‘every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ Or that’s how it appears to me, at least. So is it a real choice or just an illusion of one? I wonder….Either way, it seems pretty clear that the better choice to make now, today, is to be God’s person and follow His ways. I’m doing my best.

Something To Do

Be aware of the choices you make today. Where you know that God would have you do something in a particularly way, do your best to take that choice.

Something To Pray

‘Help me to trust you, even and especially on the days it’s hard.’

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2020 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings March 2020

March 17th 2020: Psalm 38 and Hebrews 6:13-20

As my ramble through some of the daily readings offered by the lectionary (the set readings many Churches use throughout the world for their daily prayers) you’re welcome to join along if you would like to. You can read today’s readings here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+38&version=NLT

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+6%3A13-20&version=NLT

18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.’

What a fantastic promise we’re given from the letter to the Hebrews today. God bound himself with an oath and he’ll never change his mind because it is impossible for him to lie.

It all feels very uncertain in our world today. I’ve been ‘isolating’ at home for three days already and it has to be said that the initial shine of having plenty of time to do all the things I’ve been meaning to do for ages hasn’t taken long to start wearing off. When times are scary, uncertain, or just very different from what we are used to, the easiest thing for us to do is to look to ourselves for the strength and the force of will to get through things, to make it out the other side of whatever issue we face – Covid 19 at the moment – and to think about how much we’ll congratulate ourselves when the troubles of this moment are over and things return to ‘normal’. The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I realise that there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ at the best of times, even less so now. This can send me into a spiral of doubt and uncertainty about what’s at the centre of my life. What am I about? What is this life for? What should I be aiming to do with the time I have? Of course there could be not much of it left, so how do I make the most of it? It’s tempting to flee, but if I was going to do that, the only place to flee to that truly makes any lasting, life-giving sense is to flee to God. He is firm and unchanging in uncertain times

I love Psalms. Songs, prayers and hymns from a time long ago, but a time when people seem to be just as disgruntled and discombobulated as we are often today. David writes the one that we have today and he is not happy. Everything is going wrong in his life and, a little bit like I do when I list my various entirely justified complaints to God, my wife, my family or anybody else, the majority of the song today is about how it’s all falling apart, but David is clinging on to God, clinging on to the hope that he believes will see him through. I wonder how many of us feel like we’re already clinging on. Or perhaps we feel like we’re rising above it all, but have a little note in the back of our minds that we might need some kind of safety net if it all eventually goes wrong.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews that the second reading up at the top of the post is from points to Jesus as the proof of the truth of God’s promise. His goodness, or holiness,  is astonishing enough, but the invitation that he extends to us to follow him, to take refuge in God and to invite others to take refuge in God too, that is all the more astounding. Who would give their whole life so that others could experience what it was like to be truly free, truly loved, truly the people that they were made to be? As we try and love and serve our families, our communities and ourselves in these testing times, perhaps there’s a moment or two available to us each day to ask the question what if? What if Jesus really is not just good, but Good? What if the hope and peace we’re all searching for is within touching distance? If it was, wouldn’t you want it? Wouldn’t you want it for all the people you are concerned and fearful for and about at the moment? I know I would.

Something to pray for

Pray for all people who are scared and fearful at the moment, that they would have the courage to ask God for help and peace.

Something to do

As you’ve been reading this, I’m fairly sure at least one person has crossed your mind. Phone or message that person and give them some of one of the most precious gifts you have to offer: your time and attention.

 

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April 2016

April 4th 2016: Romans 5:12-21

With apologies to those who have been waiting, and probably given up, for these posts to return after a two-week break. I decided to pare down what I worked on in the week before Easter, and have then been on holiday this past week. Normal service will now, I hope, be resumed.

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

 ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’

Do we believe what Paul says about the saving work of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection) here? People have spent whole lifetimes trying to work out the salvific value of the cross, to whom it applies and what must be done in order to benefit from its consequence (or, to be crude, to be saved). Who’s in? Who’s out? What do we do to get ‘in’?

There are things that Christians are expected to do. We are to love others at least as much, if not more, than we love ourselves. We are to love the poor. We are to partner with God in building his new way of life here, because has given us that privilege. We are, primarily, to love God with everything we have, worshipping him, but not just with Rend Collective songs, or Charles Wesley hymns, with who we are and how we live. We’re to prioritise service, with everything we have, including our money. We’re to pray for those in authority, speaking the truth in love to power.

But none of that, in and of itself, gives life to anyone. Jesus Christ gives life and justification, purpose and all that goes with it, to everyone. Not just some people, his one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all, Paul says. All. Not just some. There’s no contraction or contingency here based on us behaving rightly in order to receive the undeserved consequences of the act of righteousness. We don’t even have to say a special prayer at a particularly emotive moment in our lives. Jesus has brought justification and life to all.

If this is true, and I can see already the sharpening of keyboards everywhere quoting various scriptures that might argue against it, doesn’t this have a monumental impact on everything? Perhaps Paul misunderstood salvation. Well, wouldn’t that be interesting. Some of us would struggle with that even being possible. Perhaps he’s journeying with his thinking on the issue. Perhaps what he really meant isn’t what has been communicated to us by the translation here. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about what he is asserting here.

But what about this: what if the greatest lie the devil uses in this age to confuse and concern people, aside from the one about not existing at all, is that Jesus did not know what he meant when he said ‘it is finished’ on the Cross? Wouldn’t that be a neat and powerful trick? See, I believe Jesus did know what he meant. Exactly what he meant. He meant that we have life and justification. Not so that we could build edifices, power structures, empires, whole industries, around his name and following him. We have life and justification so we can share it with everyone, those who know the life Jesus has won for them and those who do not.

A time is coming when evil’s complete annihilation and the total, final victory of love will become plain to all. This is the promise of the Cross and the wonder of the grace and mercy of God. So, lots of fine and fancy words, but what difference will they make to how we live today?

 

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March 2016

March 22nd 2016: Luke 22: 39-53

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Have you ever prayed so earnestly that it was as if you were sweating blood? In our comfortable Western context, prayer can easily lack intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where someone sweated like great drops of blood blood in anguished prayer. If they did, we’d probably try and calm them down, make them sit down so as not to distress other people. Jesus, as he does this, is entering the most intense moment, not just of his life, but arguably of all of human history. Still, it’s a detail that can sometimes get brushed over in our cultural of appropriateness.

Jesus finds his disciples sleeping ‘because of grief’ and demands that they pray ‘earnestly that you might not come into the time of trial’. If we do pray like this, it’s easy for us to slip into feeling selfish or to descend into self-absorption. Recently, the concept of the enemy ‘prowling like a lion that he might devour some’ has been much on my mind. As I write this in front of the backdrop of the unfolding event of the terror attacks in Brussels this morning, I find myself thinking again of how accepting I have become of ‘times of trial’, moments when evil rears its head and wreaks as much havoc as it possibly can, seeking not just to devour individuals, but whole communities, cultures and ideologies. Evil is part of our world, our lives, but it is never acceptable. We should do all we can to stand against it, recognising, especially this week of all weeks, that we have one who is for us and who went to the Cross to defeat evil. In our own lives, in our thoughts and actions, in our words, in our politics, in the choices we make with money, let us not be people who repay evil for evil. Let’s instead be people who pray earnestly for those who find themselves in a time of trial, that the merciful love of God would enfold them. Let’s be people who, when faced with evil, repay it with good. Where there is hatred, let’s bring love. Easy in theory, but all so very hard in practice.

Let’s be people who hold true to the one we believe in and love, the Prince of Peace.

 

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March 2016

March 10th 2016: Hebrews 10:19-25

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

One of the primary points of this series of blogs is encapsulated in this passage. As we live the life of faith, as we wonder and question, as we doubt, let’s be people who are provoked to, and provokers of, love and good deeds. Love and good deeds are not the exclusive preserve of those who have a Christian faith, but as Christians, it seems logical that they should be something that flow from us as the joyful obedience of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the value we place on one another and ourselves as we are able to see people from the Spirit’s point of view.

And then, look at verse 25! Even in the days of the preparation of the New Testament, it seems that there were people who had designed that meeting together as Church wasn’t for them, for whatever reason. Some things never change. I’m increasingly convinced of the importance of gathering together as the family of faith, to eat, to worship, to pray, to have fellowship. We can’t be one as Jesus and the Father are one and not be together. People get hurt by Churches (usually people within Churches who take on the visage of representing the whole organisation). Churches are not perfect. They never will be. Recently I watched the film Spotlight. It’s a harrowing portrayal of an institution which failed in every conceivable way. The Church, with a big C, failed. It is no surprise that people want to have nothing to do with a Church that behaves this way, nor with the God that they purport to represent. Spotlight is an extreme example, but many of us have had things happen to us that might well justify us never darkening the doors of a Church again. There are days when the last place I would choose to be is in Church, honestly. While each person’s experience is their own, I do get why Church is a very difficult place for a lot of people to be in.

The closest I’ve come to seeing perfection enacted in a Church is watching people from virtually all walks of life and experiences gathered together around the table at Communion. It’s here that we remember that Jesus has broken every barrier down. Churches will fail. We will find reasons to leave. Sometimes they will be good, entirely understandable. And yet, ‘all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place’, as the song (repetititively) goes. We who are the Church have a huge job to do to make our families welcoming and accessible to all. Particularly so because any barriers that exist now are those which we have erected ourselves. God took them all away. Nothing should stand in the way of people coming together to worship him.

Don’t exclude yourself from one of the most important, and best, elements of being a follower of Jesus. Changing things from the inside is always more satisfying in the end anyway.