The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Introducing ‘Worship’

Genesis 4:1-16

What is worship? I suspect when we think of worship, we tend to think of giving thanks, praise and adoration to God, and praying to God. This is absolutely right, worship is all these things. But here’s the thing: we can so easily distort worship, and twist it into something else as we give thanks and praise and pray to God. For us, worshipping God can become a means of scoring brownie points with God. Doing things to make God happy so he will bless us, or give us what we want. Ultimately, this kind of worship becomes about us trying to manipulate God. This kind of worship is a major problem, because it doesn’t reflect God’s character. God is a God who blesses. Who provides. Who is gracious. God doesn’t sit back and wait for us to do the right thing, and then he blesses us. God has blessed us. God has provided for us. Abundantly! When we worship God, and pray to him, his blessing and his provision need to be reflected in our worship.And this is where a man by the name of Cain came undone.

Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, and he had a younger brother named Abel. One day, both Cain and Abel worshipped God. God accepted Abel’s worship, but not Cain’s. And it’s not immediately obvious why it was so. But I think it’s got to do with their motives. It’s an issue of the heart. You see, when Abel worshipped God, he was whole-hearted. Abel recognised how much God had blessed him, and he gave the best thing he had to God. He didn’t want anything back. He just wanted to acknowledge God’s blessing on his life.

Cain on the other hand, he was half-hearted. Cain gave some of what he had. It wasn’t the best. Actually, to me, it sounds like Cain gave God his leftovers. Does God give us his leftovers? No! He gives us what’s best for us. So Cain’s worship of God didn’t reflect God’s character, and how much God had given him. Cain wasn’t truly thankful for how much God had given him. The problem with half-hearted worship is we’re not really focused on God. We’re actually focused on what we want. And that’s what sin is, wanting what we want, and not wanting what God’s wants.

Because we’re not really focussed on God, we end up trying to manipulate God to get what we want, and we become frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. Then we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. This can have terrible consequences.

Cain took matters into his own hands, this led to the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain was envious of Abel because God accepted Abel’s worship, and not his. Cain was so angry about his brother, he actually planned his murder. Cain had it all figured out – when and how to murder him, and how to get rid of the evidence. Perhaps Cain thought if he bumped off his brother, God would have no choice but to accept his half-hearted worship, and bless him with what he wanted.

The thing is, God won’t be manipulated. God won’t let himself be accountable to us. God is God, and we are accountable to him. He can see straight through us. Cain was a worker of the ground. He knew how to dig a hole and make a body disappear. He could con his parents into thinking Abel was alive and well, but not God. Cain relied on his expertise as a man of the land to cover up his sin. No one could ever tell what happen, except God. God saw straight through it. By burying his brother’s body, he thought that would cover his sin. Instead, the act actually convicted him. And the question was never about how well Cain could cover his sin. It was a question of the state of his heart. When God questions Cain about where Abel was, a very cold and hard heart is revealed. Cain couldn’t have cared less about Abel. All he could care about was himself, and what he wanted. Cain’s worship was half-hearted from the beginning, and that’s why God didn’t accept his worship.

What about our worship? Is our worship whole-hearted like Abel? Is our focus on God? Are we thankful for everything God has given us? Or has something else got our attention, so we end up trying to manipulate God like Cain to get what we really want. Because the thing is, God has given us so much more than what he gave Abel. God has given us Jesus so we could have a personal relationship with him. Jesus worshipped God the way God deserves. Jesus didn’t just give his best to God. He gave everything to God. Even his life. And Jesus did it with us in mind. Jesus worshipped God for us, and God accepted his worship. That’s how we can have a personal relationship with God now. That personal relationship needs to be reflected in how we worship God. Our worship of God doesn’t just involve praising God and praying to him. It involves our whole life – how we treat people, and what we do. It’s worth asking the question, “How does your personal relationship with God affect what you do?” This is your worship as well!

Worship is not about earning brownie points with God, to manipulate him and get what we want. We can’t be half-hearted about it, wanting something else as well. Neither is worship about us, and what we want. Worship is a whole-hearted response to what God has given us. Especially as Christians who know that God has also given us Jesus. Worship is recognising God’s character – that God is a God who loves us and has blessed us. He has already provided what we need. Finally, worship is made possible by Jesus. Jesus alone has worshipped God as he deserves. True worship begins when we put our faith and trust in Jesus.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012


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June 1, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Genesis | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remaining Faithful in Times of Trouble

The Student’s Desk Devotion

Psalm 40:1-5

I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man

who makes the Lord his trust,

who does not look to the proud,

to those who turn aside to false gods.

Many, O Lord my God,

are the wonders you have done.

The things you planned for us

no one can recount to you;

were I to speak and tell of them,

they would be too many to declare.

Prayer

Lord, what are mercy to know in the mist of hard times, stressful times, that all we need do is wait patiently on you, to lift us from out struggles, and provide a firm place for us to stand. Not for our sake, but for your sake. Lord, since it is for your sake, help us to turn away from the ways who do not know you. Instead, may we have every confidence in Jesus, and remain faithful in the midst of our hard times.

In his name we pray, amen.


Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Remaining Faithful in Times of Trouble…

As Christians, we all get the idea that we shouldn’t be selfish. We should be on the look out for others and putting them first. And it’s easy to be charitable when things are going well and our needs and desires are being met.

But what happens when things aren’t going so well. What happens when there are things going on in our lives that are completely out of control? When even our very lives are under threat, either from sickness, or someone else’s stupidity? All of a sudden, it becomes very hard to be charitable, to be giving.

The disciples found themselves in such a situation. A situation that I can kind of relate too. Last summer, I took up sailing. I loved it. There’s something special about being pushed along by the wind, gliding along the water’s surface.

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. One time, the wind was getting up to gale force, the waves were crashing over my boat, and I don’t mind saying I was really scared! I don’t know much about boats, and I know even less about the water. But I knew that if I kept a level head, and kept doing what I had been taught, I’d be OK. The situation was still in my control – if only just!

Not so with the disciples in this story. Not all, but a number of them were fishermen. They knew boats. They knew the water. They were expects in their field. They were the best kind of people to have on a boat. But the wind they encountered that night caused these experienced fishermen to loose the plot. The situation was completely out of control, and they panicked! This was a big wind, beyond the experience of these men.

Now, the disciples heard Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of God that day. But this wind was so big, all that teaching was blown straight out the disciple’s heads! All they could think about was saving their own sorry little butts! Never mind the other boats that were with them. They could all drown for what they cared!

In the midst of this storm, the disciples failed to notice who Jesus is. Did they really think they were going down in a boating accident with the world’s saviour? I mean, get with the program, boys! Then they tried making demands on Jesus by saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” The Bible doesn’t say what the disciples expect Jesus to do, but perhaps they were thinking that the least Jesus could do was grab a bucket and bail water! He most certainly shouldn’t be sleeping!

The thing is, we can laugh at the disciples, but don’t do the same. When we get into strife, don’t we start making demands on Jesus, and forget the demands Jesus makes on us? Don’t we start thinking more about our own kingdom, and less about God’s kingdom? Don’t we expect Jesus to grab a bucket and start bailing, and loose sight of who we are in relationship with?

Well Jesus gave his disciples a very vivid reminder of who they were dealing with.

As I said before, when I was out on the water in that wind, I was scared. But do you know what would’ve scared me even more? If the wind and the waves suddenly stopped. And it was dead calm. And I just heard someone on my boat say, “Stop. Be still.” Who or what do I have on my boat!?

Clearly, this person the disciples had with them in the boat is God himself. Isn’t interesting that the disciples took no notice of who Jesus is. But the wind did. Whoa! Who else can control the wind like that? No-one!

And Jesus’ actions don’t merely meet the immediate needs of his disciples. Remember the other boats the disciples couldn’t care about? They would’ve been impact by Jesus’ actions too, as the water became calm.

See, when Jesus works in our lives, it’s not just us who are impacted, but it’s the people around us as well. Especially in the midst of a crisis.

Is it any wonder Jesus rebuked his disciples saying, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”. How dare they accuse him of not caring? How dare they make demands on him? How dare they not take any notice of who he is? These are all the hallmarks of having no faith.

Faith is recognizing who Jesus is. Doing what Jesus commands. And trusting in Jesus’ love and care. And this is no more evident to others than when we have to deal with issue beyond our control.

In life, we will experience times of great stress, and things will be beyond out control. During such times, we’ll be tempted to be selfish. To only see things from our perspective, and get our demands met.

But times of stress are also a call to faith. A call to remember the promises of God. That God has promised us redemption, to take us out of this world of struggle back to himself. And we know God will come good on his promise, because the way he has done this is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since we’ve been redeemed, we should not give in to the temptation of becoming selfish, but to continue to seek after God’s kingdom, to seek to keep God’s standards. Not just because we should, but because such times present an opportunity for us to grow ever more deeply in our relationship with God.

These times also present an opportunity for others to see our faith, both for the believer and unbeliever. For the believer, it will be a time to be encouraged in their faith. For the unbeliever, it will be a time to be convicted of their sin, and be encouraged to turn to God.

Jesus has redeemed us from being selfish. So in times of stress, let’s not give in to the temptation to become selfish, but to answer the call of faith, trusting Jesus, and seeking his kingdom.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

December 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Miracles of Jesus | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jesus’ miracle for the Lonely…

The Student’s Desk Devotion

Psalm 103:1-5

Praise the Lord, O my soul;

all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins

and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for your holiness. That you stand above all things, and as such, you have authority over what happens. So we praise you that you forgive our sins. You heal our diseases, and you do not abandon us in our struggles, but you restore us. Lord as we continue to look at Jesus’ miracles, may we learn something more of Jesus. Help us understand how Jesus helps us in our struggles, especially with loneliness, and may we yearn to be in relationship with you.

In his name we pray, amen.


Mark 5:24-34

A large crowd followed [Jesus] and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Jesus: the end of loneliness

Have you ever felt lonely? Have you ever felt like you’ve been pushed to one side? Have you ever felt exclude, or not welcomed?

Perhaps it has been as a result of the way we’ve been treated by family, or friends, or work mates. Perhaps it’s come from the people who care for us. Wherever our loneliness has come from, it is real.

We feel loneliness because we are social creatures. We want to feel and know that we matter to someone. And so often the relationships we crave are just beyond our grasp. And it’s not just because we have a severe disability or a speech impairment that we can’t access a fulfilling relationship. All of us crave more than what another person can give.

We feel loneliness because we are designed for relationships that we either can’t access, or are not fulfilling, or both.

So let me tell you about the ultimate relationship. A relationship that is accessible, and is fulfilling. What relationship would that be? A relationship with a Jesus. In this particular instance we’ve just read, it starts with a woman. Let me tell you about this woman.

This woman is on the outside of outsiders. Mainly because she has a severe medical condition. Because of her medical condition, she is not to come in contact with anyone. In fact she is not to be anywhere near anyone. She is not permitted even to talk to anyone! She can’t go shopping. She can’t worship God with other people. She can’t even see her own family! Would you agree that this is one of the most lonely people ever to have existed?

Yet, she has heard something about Jesus. She has concluded that Jesus can heal her. She’s got it in her mind that if Jesus can heal her, then, she will not be lonely anymore. She wont need to live on the outskirts of town anymore. She’ll be able to live like anyone else. Yet Jesus is about to give her something much better than what she has conceived of. Yet before Jesus takes her there, she is about to go on an extraordinary journey of faith.

Faith begins by recognising who Jesus is. This woman recognized that Jesus possessed a God-like character, and all she needed to do was touch his clothes. And this belief leads her to do extraordinary things.

In the story, we read there was a crowd around Jesus. And remember I said before that because of her medical condition, she wasn’t to be anywhere near anyone? Yet we find this woman in the middle of the crowd. Whoa! How did she get there? Her faith got her there.

But then she does another extraordinary thing. She touched Jesus. Remember I said before because of her medical condition, she was not to come in contact with anyone? Now Jesus was known to be a teacher, a healer, someone doing the work of God. Jesus was the last person she should have been touching. How DARE she deliberately touch Jesus??? She dared to touch Jesus by faith, and she was healed.

Faith is audacious. Faith is daring. Faith goes against convention. Faith is belief put into action. And this is the kind of faith that this woman had.

It is this faith that Jesus builds on to bring this woman to a greater understanding of who he is.

While the basis of the woman’s solution to her loneliness was being healed of her medical condition, Jesus solution was to bring her into a relationship with himself.

Jesus knew power had gone out from him, and he stops and asks the impossible. “Who touched my garments?” Jesus asked this because he wanted this woman to know that what just happened matters. That she matters. That her faith matters. And Jesus does this in the most incredible but simple way. By speaking with her.

Do you realise that this is probably the first time in 12 years that someone spoke with her? It’s an extraordinary moment for this woman. For once this woman was being treated like a person, not like a medical condition. The relationship that she had craved was fulfilled by Jesus. Notice that Jesus called this woman his daughter! To call someone ‘daughter’ is very intimate. And it’s entirely appropriate because she has entered into the ultimate relationship. This is why Jesus says to her “…your faith has healed you.” Being physically healed to resolve her loneliness was not going to work. She needed to enter a personal relationship with Jesus founded on faith. The kind of faith this woman had. And now she had the ultimate relationship – friendship with God.

Loneliness is a problem we all face. Even we who know Jesus will struggle with loneliness from time to time. Maybe allot. It’s not because we are faithless. But because as Christians we still crave relationships with each other we can’t access or are unfulfilling. The difference Jesus makes is he brings an end to our loneliness by drawing us into a relationship, into friendship, with God. This relationship is founded on faith. Faith that recognises Jesus for who he really is. Faith that is radical. Faith that allows us to be daring even in the face of adversity.

The Bible makes it very plain that we matter to Jesus. We matter so much to Jesus that he died for us and paved the way for a new life, and in that new life, loneliness will be a thing of the past. So as Christians, when we feel lonely, our loneliness should not end in despair, because we know we matter to Jesus. We know we matter to God. We know the things that are happening in our lives matter. We also know we have new life with God where loneliness will be no more. So when we feel lonely, what a gift, what a mercy, we have in being able to reflect upon the relationship we have with God. Not only that, but we can also help others who struggle with loneliness. We can say to the person we understand their struggle, and we can tell them about the friendship with God made available to them by Jesus and bring an end to their loneliness.

Loneliness has its end in Jesus. What a mercy that we matter to Jesus!

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Miracles of Jesus | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When God Comes to Town

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion

Psalm 71:14-18

But as for me, I will always have hope;

I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteousness,

of your salvation all day long,

though I know not its measure.

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD;

I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,

and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Even when I am old and gray,

do not forsake me, O God,

till I declare your power to the next generation,

your might to all who are to come.

Prayer

Lord, we thank and praise you that you are concerned for all who call on your name. As we look at Jesus’ miracle with the catch of fish, may we yet again see the greatness of your Son. May we understand that your desire is for us to be in relationship with you, and to be involved in your activity. May we also be enabled to respond by faith.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen!

Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

When God comes to town…

How do you know God? And, who are the people that really know God? Perhaps we can have the idea that the people who really know God are church leaders, and people who go to Bible college and study the Bible. And so first hand knowledge of God isn’t really for us. It’s only those special people who really know God and get involved in his work.

People in Jesus day people had the same kind of idea. The people that really knew God were in Jerusalem, the capital city, where the temple was. These people certainly weren’t to be found in backward areas like Galilee which was like Campbelltown or Redfern today in Sydney. You just don’t go there.

Yet this is where we find Jesus, in the backwaters of Israel teaching people God’s word. Or in other words, he was telling people about himself and God’s kingdom. And he did anything he could to get God’s word to everyone who would listen – even teaching from a boat while everyone else remained on shore so they could all hear.

Jesus takes this elitist idea, and throws it out the window. Knowing God and hearing God’s word is for all people. But, by what authority is Jesus teaching the common people about God? How do we know that Jesus isn’t some idealist that’s out of control? This is where the miracle of the fishes comes in.

First, let me tell you about Simon Peter, or just Peter. Peter is a commercial fisherman. He knows all there is about fishing, boats, and the sea. He’s an expert, and his livelihood depends upon his skills. Peter has been up all night, on the boat, trying to catch fish. He’s caught nothing, and he’s back on shore packing up his gear. Peter had already met Jesus before when Jesus healed his mother-in law. Peter knows Jesus is a great man, but he’s yet to learn who Jesus really is. So to Peter, it was a bit rich for this carpenter, Jesus, to tell him how to fish! Especially when he’s been up all night, and has just packed up everything!! On top of that, Jesus wants Peter to fish in an unlikely spot, at an unlikely time. So Peter is slightly confused. On one hand, Peter wants to tell Jesus where to go! What would a carpenter know about fishing? On the other hand, if Jesus is half the man Peter thinks Jesus is, maybe he better listen to him.

So Peter sets up his boats again, and heads out under Jesus’ direction. Despite being in the most unlike spot, at the most unlikely time, they net the biggest catch of fish they ever have. They could hardly handle the amount of fish. Then the cogs in Peter’s head begin to click over. How was it possible for Jesus’ to know that those fish would be there at that time? Further, could it be possible for Jesus to command the fish to be there? Where Peter is an expert, Jesus is sovereign. Then the penny drops. Peter realises that Jesus is God. Jesus is telling common people about the word of God by God’s authority.

Peter becomes sharply aware of his own inadequacies and pleads for Jesus to leave him. Peter doesn’t fit the bill with religious society. He’s a sinner, and he knows it. True this may be, Jesus is not deterred. Instead, Jesus involves Peter, someone who was not regarded as a religious person, in the very activity of God.

I began by asking how do you know God? We know God because God has revealed himself and told us about himself in the person of Jesus. And it’s not just Church leaders who God involves in his activity, it’s all kinds of people. While Jesus had a specific job for Peter, it is still true that God involves common people, even us here this morning, into his activity. Hence we to ought to be encouraged to follow Jesus, despite our own inadequacies.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

October 11, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Miracles of Jesus | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Love your WHAT!??

Somehow I looked over this one at the time, so it’s a little out of order…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 36:5-9

Lord, we marvel at the tremendous love you have for all people. That you send rain, and provide food, clothing and shelter. How is it that we think it’s ok to be less loving than you, less giving than you, less merciful than you? Father, humble our hearts, take away our stubborn minds, and teach us your ways. As we look at what Jesus taught, help us to listen, and to understand. Ma we be prepared to do as Jesus taught.

Love your WHAT!??

Read Matthew 5:20, 43-48

Last time we looked at Jesus’ teaching of not seeking retaliation. Instead, we’re to ‘turn the other cheek’ and seek the good of the other person by doing the extra bit. Jesus teaching on loving enemies follows on from this, and Jesus doesn’t let up in making us feel uncomfortable here. Jesus words stretches and challenges us to live godly lives.

As I mention last time, there are people around today who use the Bible for their own selfish desires, and it was no different in Jesus day. It is against this misuse of the Bible we need to understand Jesus’ words. Again, when God established his people as the nation Israel, he gave them laws to live by. Laws that would reflect God’s character. By keeping these laws, God’s people would be a light to all the other peoples on earth. Part of this law said you weren’t to hate anyone of your own people, or bear a grudge against them. But it doesn’t say anything about enemies! That must mean we only need to love our own people. Anyone else we can treat like dirt, right? Sounds fair enough. Well, no. They got it wrong. How can you be a light to people when you are treating them like dirt? Simple really – you can’t!

It is against this we need to understand Jesus teaching. Instead of hating our enemies, Jesus says to love them. What does it mean it ‘love our enemies’? It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to get warm, fuzzy feelings every time we think about our enemy. What it does mean is those expressions of kindness that we extend toward our friends, even our closest friends, we are to extend toward out enemies.

But why? What’s the point? Have you ever noticed when it rains, it rains on everyone. And the same with the sun? It doesn’t rain on this or that person because they’ve been good or bad. And it’s God who sends the rain isn’t it? God extends kindness to everyone. So we ought to be doing the same.

Further more, God did something very special when we were still his enemies. Can anyone think what that might be? God sent Jesus to pay for our sins by dying in our place. That is the ultimate act of kindness, isn’t it? When we didn’t deserve it at all, God gave us Jesus. So really, there’s no end to loving people, even our enemies, to show what God is like.

Rather than trying to work out a minimum standard of behaviour where we can tick the box and be accepted by God, we need to understand we have been accepted by God, and we are to be ever moving in the direction of being like him – holy. Instead of asking ‘who do I have to love?’, we need to be loving everyone and asking ‘how can I extend kindness to them?’. It is by this way our friends and even our enemies will see what God is like.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008

October 8, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments