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Friday, February 27, 2015

Weeding Out The Distractions So I Can Hear

In review of Luke 8:14 it says, “The seed that fell among the thorny weeds is like those who hear God’s teaching, but they let the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life keep them from growing and producing good fruit.”

Bottom Line:
Listening to God’s word, but letting things of this life; worries, riches and pleasures crowd it out, will keep you from producing good fruit.

What this means to me:
Seeds that fell among thorns is similar to me hearing God’s message, but then letting the worries, riches and pleasures of life crowd in and choke it out, keeping it from making a difference in my life, growing me into maturity and allowing me to produce worthwhile fruit.

God truly wants to speak to me, however I must first eliminate the distractions of this life so that I can hear from him.

I won’t be able hear God when my mind is crowded with worries, plans, and activities. I won’t  hear God when my mind is filled with TV, the Internet, and my cell phone. Culture today, has a lot of noise going on, and it can keep me from truly hearing from God.

This is the soil with weeds. In Luke 8:7 Jesus says, “Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it” (MSG). In this case the seed does get to sprout and actually starts growing. But after awhile the weeds choke it, so it never bears fruit.

In verse 14 Jesus explains the meaning: “The seed that fell among the thorny weeds is like those who hear God’s teaching, but they let the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life keep them from growing and producing good fruit” (NIV).

One of the biggest distractions that will keep me from hearing from God is busyness. It’s easy to confuse activity with productivity. These are not the same. I can be always on the go but still going in circles. If I’m always busy but not really making any progress, then there won’t be any fruit from my life.

There are three common weeds that tend to choke God out.

The first is worry. The word “worry” really means “pulled in different directions.” I end up forgetting God because I’m filled with anxiety and stretched to the limit.

The second is riches. I can be so busy making money that I forget God. I put in a full day’s work, come home exhausted, and then get up the next morning and do it again. I’m so busy making a living that I’m not making a life with God.

The third is pleasure. What’s wrong with pleasure? Nothing, except when I’m so busy pursuing fun that I forget God.

There are lots of different kinds of weeds. A weed is anything that I allow to take first place in my life instead of God. A weed is anything I allow to choke God out of my schedule.

How much effort does it take to grow weeds? None. Weeds are a sign of neglect. Whenever I neglect time with God and my small group, guess what? Weeds are going to grow. It may not be these three, but there will be some. They’re going to grow up and strangle out my spiritual life.

God is trying to make contact with me. Will he get a busy signal when he tries? I’ve got to be proactive and eliminate the weeds so that God can speak to me and produce fruit in my life.

As I reflect on my current schedule, I’m glad that I do make time each weekday morning to have some quiet time. I really look forward to it, even though it means getting up even earlier in the morning so that I can maintain it.

I am however guilty of allowing a busy schedule and day keeping me from producing good fruit and making a difference in the life of others.

I am going to need to prioritize getting together and spending time with others so that I can get further encouragement from and can encourage them.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Was Created to Be Productive

In review of Deuteronomy 8:18 it says, “Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

Bottom Line:
Remember is it God who gives you the power to succeed and produce wealth.

What this means to me:
I am to remember that it is God alone who gives me the power to be successful and the ability to produce wealth.

The versse in Deuteronomy 8:18 reminds me to, “Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (NIV).

God designed me to create wealth, to produce wealth; he designed me to be productive. Thus God wants me to be productive, and his plan for my will life include wealth creation; not wealth redistribution.

There are some fundamental differences between capitalism, communism, and Christianity.

Capitalism says, “What’s mine is mine, and I’m going to keep it.” Communism says, “What’s yours is mine, and I have a right to take it.” Those two are called redistribution of wealth.

However in Christianity we learn that, “What’s mine is really God’s, and I’m willing to share it.”

One of the reasons the economy has collapsed is because for many years, huge numbers of people; particularly on places like Wall Street, were making outrageous amounts of money without really creating anything. They didn’t create services. They didn’t create benefits. They didn’t create products. They didn’t create jobs. They simply made money on money.

What I’m learning is that this is not what God wants me to do. God wants me to provide benefits, services, and protection to others. He wants me to create opportunities to help others.

If somebody taxes me to help the poor, I won’t get any credit for it. But when I’m voluntarily generous and help others, it builds my character. It helps me grow. Becoming more productive and generous helps me to become more like Christ.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Life Is About Relationship, Not Acquisition

In review of Psalm 17:15 it says, “But as for me, my contentment is not in wealth but in seeing you and knowing all is well between us. And when I awake in heaven, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face-to-face.”

Bottom Line:
A contented life is not about wealth, but rather about spending eternity with God.

What this means to me:
My contentment in life will not be about gaining wealth, but rather spending my eternity with you God and seeing you face to face.

My life should not be about things. I need to get and maintain the right perspective about possessions, otherwise I’ll be possessed by my possessions. I need to keep in mind that none of the material things in the life are going to last.

Jesus warns in Luke 12:15, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be” (GNT).

I should never judge my own self worth by my net worth. I should never think my value is related to my valuables. I need to keep in mind that the greatest things in life aren't things. I didn't bring anything into the world, and I’m certainly not going to take anything out of it. This life should not about acquisition or achievement. This life is about relationships and learning how to love God and others.

One way I can remember this is to build my life on eternal priorities. Focus on what will last forever. Every possession is temporary, so don’t build a life on acquiring possessions. Only two things are going to last forever: the Word of God and people.

So each day, I have a choice to make. The world is telling me that I've got to get more to be happier, more successful, more important, more valuable, and more secure. I’ve got to decide if I’m going to listen to the Media or the Master. Am I going to listen to culture or Christ? Am I going to listen to the world or the Word?

One will make me dissatisfied the rest of my life; one will make me truly happy. So that I can continue to move toward financial freedom, I’ll need to ask myself, “What is the primary purpose of my life? To just get more? What do I think about, talk about, and give my most to? What am I living my life for?

The myth of the world and culture is that you can have it all. The truth is that I can’t have it all. And, more importantly, I don’t need it all to be happy. I’ll be as happy as I choose to be.

The secret of contentment is finding my security and satisfaction not in what I have, but in who I am by being united with Him. I find it in Christ.

Psalm 17:15 reminds me, “But as for me, my contentment is not in wealth but in seeing you and knowing all is well between us. And when I awake in heaven, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face-to-face” (TLB).

Today I will consider how I’m building my life. To what purpose, and what will be my focus.  I will seek to build my life around eternal priorities.

Monday, February 23, 2015

When Times Are Tough, Thank God

In review of Philippians 4:4 it says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!”
Bottom Line:
Always be full of joy and rejoice in the Lord
What this means to me:
The sum total of my life should be characterized by the Joy that comes from my relationship with God. I should rejoice always whether things are good or bad.
When the Apostle Paul says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord,” He’s not only saying to be joyful in good times, because that’s easy. I need to have joy even when things are tough. I can do his by following this simple strategy:
First, I shouldn't worry about anything. Worrying does not really change anything. It only equates to stewing without doing. There are no such things as born-worriers. Worry is a learned response. I learned it from those around me and from experience. What’s good is that means it can also be unlearned.
So in order to unlearn it I can look to what Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (NIV). He’s saying don’t open your umbrella until it starts raining. Live one day at a time.
Secondly, I can then pray about everything. Instead of worrying, use that time for praying. If I prayed as much as I worried, I’d have a lot less to worry about. Is God interested in paying my bills and meeting my financial obligations? Sure he is. He’s interested in every detail of my life. That means I can take any problem I face to God.
Thirdly, I need to display and feel gratitude. To do so, I need to remember to thank God in all things. When I pray about things, pray with thanksgiving. The healthiest human emotion is not love but rather gratitude. It can actually increases my immunities. It can make me more resistant to stress and less susceptible to illness. People who are grateful are always happy. On the flip side, people who are ungrateful are miserable because nothing makes them happy. They’re never satisfied. It’s never good enough. So learning to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, of being thankful in everything, will reduce stress in life.
Lastly, I should think about the right things. In order to reduce the level of stress in life, I need to change the way I think, because the way I think determines how I feel. And the way I feel determines how I’ll act. The Bible teaches that, if I want to change my life, I need to change what I’m thinking about. This will involve a deliberate, conscious choice where I choose to think about the right things. I need to choose to think on the positive and on God’s Word.
Paul promises this great result I can learn to do these. He says I’ll then “experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NLT).
As I reflect this morning on what I worry about, it tends to be around work related items. I really need to engage God in my thoughts on these and pray for his guidance and insight. Instead of being concerned about things, I should turn those into prayers of request. I’m sure when I do, the stress level with be greatly reduced. Afterwards, I should thank God for what I have, knowing that he has my best interest at heart. I should thank him, even when I don’t readily understand what’s going on or what he’s up to in this situation.

In regards to what I think about most, I find myself either thinking about work and all the things that need to be done for our upcoming move and all the things and factors that need to be considered. In thinking about what God would want on my mind, it should be Kingdom things and helping others. I believe I need to avoid putting my life on hold while I wait for our upcoming move. Rather I should work diligently knowing what I need to do. Obviously, what I’m doing and what I should be doing are not in alignment. However as I convert more of my worries and concerns into prayers, I can have the time to concentration on Kingdom priorities. Ultimately I need to remember be joyful and thank God always not matter what’s taking place.

Friday, February 20, 2015

My Pain Will Often Reveal God’s Purpose For Me

In review of 2 Corinthians 1:4, 6 it says, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things.”

Bottom Line:
God will use us and what happens in our lives to help others. We share the comfort he gave us to help others patiently endure what they may be experiencing.

What this means to me:
Nothing is ever wasted. God will use me and what takes place in my life to help minister to others. I can share the experiences and comfort God gave me while I went through it, to help others patiently endure what they may be experiencing.

At the core, my pain will often reveal God’s purpose for my life. What I’m learning is that God will never waste a hurt! Any hurt I've gone through, he wants me to use to help others who might be going through the same hurt. He wants me to share it and my experience. God can use the problems in my life to give me a ministry to others. In fact, the very thing I’m most ashamed of and resent the most could become my greatest ministry in helping others.

In retrospect, who can better help somebody going through a financial problems than somebody who went through a financial problems? Who can better help somebody struggling with an addiction than somebody who’s struggled with an addiction? Who can better help parents of a special needs child than parents who raised a special needs child? Who can better help somebody who’s lost a child than somebody who lost a child?

The very thing I hate the most in my life is what God wants to use for good in my life and helps to fulfill my purpose.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1, verses 4 and 6, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things” (NLT).

Rick Warren calls this “redemptive suffering.” Redemptive suffering is when you go through a problem or a pain for the benefit of others.

This is exactly what Jesus did. When he died on the cross, he didn't deserve to die. He went through that pain for my benefit so that I can be saved and go to Heaven.

There are many different causes for the problems, pains, and suffering in life. Sometimes the stuff that happens I bring on myself. When I make stupid decisions, then it causes pain. If I go out and overspend and buy things I can’t afford and presume on the future, and then I go deeply in debt and lose my house, I can’t say, “God, why did you let me lose my house?” I can’t blame God for my bad choices.

But for some problems I’m completely innocent. It could have been a hurt by the pain, stupidity, and sins of others. And some of the pain in your life is for redemptive suffering. God often allows us to go through a problem so that we can then help others.

So today, I should consider problems I've faced in life, ones in which I've questioned God about or wondered why they ever happened. I should consider how could I use these painful experiences to minister to others.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Change Something, Change Myself

In review of Lamentations 3:40 it says, “Let us examine our ways and turn back to the Lord.”

Bottom Line:
We should think about our ways, ask for forgiveness and turn again to the Lord.

What this means to me:
I should really look at and examine my ways and the way I’m living. Then change from it and turn back to the Lord.

In this life I can’t change everything around me, but I can change myself. When life feels like it's falling apart, knowing what I can and can’t change will make a big difference.

I should keep in mind that I can’t change the past or my immediate family. I won’t be able to change the gifts and talents God has or hasn't given me. And I won’t be able to change a handicap I’ve been given.

So given this I might as well accept all of those things. In doing so, I can find peace in the midst of troubles accepting that which I can’t change. Failure to do this will only make myself and the others around me miserable.

There’s much I can’t change, but there’s something important I can change: myself.

Amongst everything that was going on in his life and with his people Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3:40: “Let us examine our ways and turn back to the Lord” (GNT).

This verse reminds me that I should consider what’s going on in life that doesn't line up with what God wants. Depending on how I react, a crises can help me learn to focus my eyes on what matters: Jesus.

To reorder my life God’s way, will take some real gut-level self-evaluation. I’ll need to do an inventory of every area of my life. Looking closely at my relationship with God, my spouse, my daughter, and my co-workers. I’ll need to look at hurts, habits, and hang-ups that may be bringing me down. Nothing should be off limits.

What I’m realizing is that it will be impossible to find healing otherwise. Healing apart from repentance won’t last. When it seems the world is falling apart, I’ll be tempted to express discontent at every area of life, which would be a waste of time. I’ll need to remember that I can’t change everything around me, but I can change myself.

As I think about this, I believe one area of my life that I can change right now to make a positive impact on myself and others is to not let the external details and concerns of life, our upcoming move, and changes at work drain on me. These often get me side-tracked from what’s really important. What is important for me is to do what I know I need to do, put God’s Kingdom and his priority first above everything else. I may also consider who I can ask to help peer into my life and ask me the hard questions about my priorities, relationships, and secret sins so that I can take a valid spiritual inventory of  my life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Learning to Be Honest with God

In review of Lamentations 3:4-6, 8 it says, “He has made my skin and flesh grow old. He has broken my bones. He has besieged and surrounded me with anguish and distress. He has buried me in a dark place, like those long dead .… And though I cry and shout, he has shut out my prayers.”

Bottom Line:
It seems God has allowed problems; he seems to have surrounded me with hardships and trouble, leaving me alone in the dark. Even though I cry and pray for help, he seems to have shut off my requests.

What this means to me:
At times it can seem things are all going against me. Troubles and problems come, my goals seem to get blocked and delayed. It even seems my attempts to pray have not provide me with any immediate relief or signs of changing.

I think we all go through a time when life seems to be falling apart. Health can take a turn for the worse, money and jobs can be easily lost, relationships go wrong, and it seems we may never reach our dreams or goals.

When this happens, it tempting to think that God has abandoned me. But he hasn't.

The prophet Jeremiah was in the same boat when he wrote the book of Lamentations. His country, Judah, endured an economic tailspin and was terrorized by a foreign enemy. He witnessed incredible inhumanities committed against his people. People were out of work and starving to death.

So Jeremiah started by telling God how he felt. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah says: “He [God] has made my skin and flesh grow old. He has broken my bones. He has besieged and surrounded me with anguish and distress. He has buried me in a dark place, like those long dead .… And though I cry and shout, he has shut out my prayers” (NLT).

This verse is somewhat surprising. Jeremiah had felt that God had forgotten him. But Jeremiah didn't ignore what he was feeling. He didn't sugarcoat the situation. He told God what was on his heart. In fact, Jeremiah spent five chapters telling God what he thought about the situation. In essence he told God, “This stinks!”

I think this passage of complaining and hopelessness is here to let me know that it is ok to let God know about my anger, gripes, and grief. Jeremiah spends this entire book, blowing off steam. What this teaches me is that If God was big enough to handle Jeremiah’s pain, he’s big enough to handle mine as well.

So, If I swallow my emotions, and I’ll just end up hurting myself.  Instead, I need to learn to unload them on God.

God doesn't love me any less when I throw a temper tantrum. However, He is never afraid of what I have to say. So I shouldn't be afraid to tell him. Telling him how I feel can actually be the beginning of the healing process.

One thing I can do is write out a letter to God about what I’m struggling with. Writing it out can help to sort out and clarify my thoughts. Just listing it out often helps me with my perspective. I just need to be completely honest with God on how I’m feeling. Then as I look to His Word, I can see the promises he provides and even how he has come through for me in the past. I can gain new perspective on my situation and what he might be doing in and through the situation.

Lamentations chapter 3 seems to center on learning how to put my hope in God’s Faithfulness, even when things don’t seem to be going my way. In reality however, it is my own rebellion that  often leads me down the wrong path resulting in actions and outcomes I don’t like. Also, just because I have accepted Christ as my leader doesn't mean that I will never face difficulties or experience undeserved oppression. It is important for me to focus and put my hope in God. God is faithful and will never turn his back on me. What I need to learn and appreciate is that he does things in his timing, not mine. His timing will always be for my best interests. So it is best for me to wait in patience knowing his faithfulness and love will provide what I need.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Learning Why God Sometimes Says 'Not Yet'!

In review of Hebrews 10:36 it says,“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
Bottom Line:
You need to be patient, so that you will please God and receive what he promises.

What this means to me:
I need to learn to be patient. Meanwhile I should continue to do what pleases God, he’ll provide what I need in his timing.

I should not become discouraged if God delay’s in answering my requests. Delay does not necessarily a denial. Just because an answer or the miracle hasn’t come yet doesn’t mean God isn’t going to answer or that he’s forgotten me or that he doesn’t care about me. It simply means “not yet”!

Part of becoming spiritually mature is learning the difference between “no” and “not yet,” between a denial and a delay.

God’s delay may likely be a test of my patience. Anybody can be patient once or twice, and even three times.

What I’m learning is that he doesn’t do this just to see how patient I am. Rather He does it so that I can see how patient I am; so that I’ll know what’s inside me, and so that I’ll be able to know my level of commitment. God can test me so that I can know he is faithful, even if the answers I seek are delayed.

I may face difficult times, I may be discouraged because the situation seems unmanageable, unreasonable, or unfair. I can stay with it longer because God is with me. He’ll enable me to press on. I’ll never be a failure until I quit. So I should resist discouragement, and finish the race God has set before me.

So when I’m feeling discouraged, I should turn it around by remembering that God teaches me patience during delays. I can ask him to transform my discouragement into patience.

This is such a great reminder to me especially as my wife and I await a buyer for our home. We are anxious to move on, however God can also be saying, I need you to trust in my timing.

Meanwhile, during the delay, I am not to put my life on hold. I am to proceed doing his will and what I know is right.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Peace: the Antidote To Worry

In review of Ephesians 6:15 it says, “On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong.”

Bottom Line:
Like shoes, wear the peace that comes from the Good News and have the desire and readiness to tell it to others.

What this means to me:
There is such a great peace that comes from knowing and living the Good News. This should affect my attitude and demeanor each day. This peace and Good News should prompt me to share this with as many around me as possible. I should live with a great joy and smile on my face.

On the flip side of peace is conflict. Conflict can make me an easy target for Satan’s attacks. It doesn't matter where the conflict comes from, whether it is with God, others, or even myself. Conflict will open the door for Satan to tear me apart making me a pushover for his plans.

If I’m fighting myself, others, or God, I won’t be able to fight against what Satan is doing in the world. Its difficult to fight a multi-front war effectively. I was never meant to do so. All levels of conflict leave me flailing for support and searching for a firm footing, as if I’m being sucked into quicksand.

I believe this is why Paul urges, “On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong” (Ephesians 6:15 NCV).

Roman soldiers had things called “hobnails” on the bottom of their shoes. These little spikes/nails helped them get a better grip with their shoes, like cleats for football players. Without them, soldiers would slip and slide in battle. They wouldn't be able to hold their ground.

Without putting on the “peace that comes from the Good News,” I too will slip and slide my way through life. Paul is writing about three different aspects of peace: with myself, with others, and with God. It’s called reconciliation, and I need it in all areas of my life. If I wake up each morning at peace with myself, God, and others, I’ll find myself on strong footing. I’ll be able to stand strong against the attacks of Satan.

What I’m learning is that Satan will try to attack my peace through worry. Worry is a common thing, as I can worry about anything (i.e. future, finances, relationships, what others think.) Worry is an indicator that some area of relational peace in my life may be out of whack in one of the three areas. It means I’m shoe-less, and not letting the peace of God’s Word take control.

A verse in Psalm 119 says, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165 NLT). This reminds me that the more I love and obey the Bible, the less I’ll be offended by what others say. The more I love God’s Word, the less I’ll be offended by what happens to me. The more I love God’s Word, the less my walk with God can be disturbed.

I need to choose to believe what God’s Word says about me, others, and, most importantly, about God himself. I need to choose to believe because when I obey God’s Word it brings me peace. I should choose to believe because Jesus did. I should choose to believe because what God’s Word says about me and the world around me is true.

When it comes to worry in my life, I’m not sure I have any major worry, but there is something that causes some anxiety. It is related to the next steps for my wife and I and our relocation for Southern to Northern California. Mostly it’s because we have no idea when it will happen. My wife and I have resolved ourselves to knowing and leaving it in God’s hands, however we are still anxious and will feel better when we better know the timing.  For now we just need to enjoy life and the peace the Good News gives us and just do what we need to do.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Learning to Not Give in to My Fears

In review of 2 Corinthians 1:10 it says, “From such terrible dangers of death he saved us, and will save us; and we have placed our hope in him that he will save us again.”

Bottom line:
God saved us from the threat of death, and we are sure that he will do it again and again.

What this means to me:
Even when things get really tough and I see no way out, God will come through and shower me with his comfort if I turn to him. He will save me in his own ways, providing comfort, and I can be confident that its not just a one time thing, but rather something he will do over and over again. His comfort will allow me to patiently endure anything I can come across. The key is to stop relying on myself and learning to rely on God.

So it is comforting to know that God is watching over me. I do not need to listen to any of my fears. Doing this is a choice I have. I Trust God, and not give in to my fears.

Today’s verse in 2 Corinthians 1:10 says, “From such terrible dangers of death he saved us, and will save us; and we have placed our hope in him that he will save us again” (TEV).

This helps to reinforce that God’s does promise to believers that, no matter what might happen to me, he is working for my good; as long as I love and follow him.  As a believer, the Bible explains that all things are working together for good; not that all things are good but that they are working together for good.

That means I can stop listening to my fears. I will never face a difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster that God can’t ultimately get some good out of. Therefore there is no need to fear the future.

Fears that I have only reveal places where I do not trust God. It would be beneficial then for me to make a list of my fears, and then ask God to help me identify why I have a fear in those areas. Then, ask him to help me replace that fear with trust. Afterwords, expect God to start helping me learn to trust him with each fear.

As I reflect on this question this morning, I think the biggest thing I fear is not knowing what will or when something will happen in the future; then not knowing what to do when it happens. I also fear that I have way too many things on my plate at work to possibly accomplish and one of those areas I’m not able to get in control will come back and bite me negatively (i.e. cause us to look back, be under a microscope/micromanaged or worse yet be replaced.)  However, in reality, I know that God has given me peace and direction when the major things have occurred. I think I also fear about my health. Last year something hit me that took me out of commission for several months and I do have some fears that If I’m not careful it may come back. I also fear that some of my prior afflictions are starting to return that I can’t control or alleviate (i.e. Psoriasis, some arthritic pains.) There are some areas I completely trust God, so I’m not sure why I let these fears get in the way. He has proven faithful in some really difficult things in the past. I can be assured he will in the future.  So today I ask you God to help me let go of those fears and learn to trust you even more. I really want to just relax each day, and give it all to You. I will just do what I know needs to be done with the energy he gives me.