Explaining the Lord’s Supper through Deuteronomy 6

…we should want to provoke the inquisitive nature of our children by exposing them to things they don’t understand.

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There was a time not so long ago that kids sat with their parents during a church service. My history is fuzzy but I think it was in the days after child labor laws but before we discovered the retarding effects of acute pediatric boredom (APB).¹ But societal evolution marched on and our ecclesiology eventually caught up so that programs like “children’s church” have nearly eradicated APB (and similar disorders) from our gatherings.

Of course, societal evolution rarely comes without a trade-off. For us, the boon of children’s church meant the absence of young children when we observed the Lord’s Supper. So, in what I hope was a small, first step, our leadership decided to change the service order once a quarter so that our children’s church kids (K5-3rd grade) could experience the sacrament.

Better minds have attempted to work out their corporate worship according to the text and pattern of Scripture only to reach varying conclusions on practices like children’s church. I have no desire to jump into that discussion here except to make one observation.

It’s interesting to note that a full understanding or appreciation of God’s commands are not prerequisites for obedience. Or, to put it another way, sometimes we obey so that we may understand (Psa 119:100; Jn 7:17). For our current discussion the point is that one of the ways God would have our children learn the faith is by experiencing things they don’t understand.

And that brings us to Deuteronomy 6 where God prescribes a parent’s answer to a child’s question:

Deuteronomy 6:20-25   “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’  21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand.  22 ‘Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; 23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ 24 “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.  25 “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.

At the risk of stating the obvious [A besetting sin in your teaching ministry. –Shive], this proverbial son is watching, if not participating in, things that seem strange to him; and his lack of understanding is what draws him in. I take it, then, that in we should want to provoke the inquisitive nature of our children concerning our faith by exposing them to things they don’t understand.

To that end we might even consider keeping a fidgety kid in the pew every now and then on a communion Sunday just to pique his curiosity.

And if your son asks you, “What is the Lord’s Supper and why are you doing this?” then maybe you could say something like:

 ‘We were slaves to sin, and the Lord freed us from the curse with a mighty hand.  Moreover, through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has shown us great and distressing signs and wonders against death, the devil and all his works;

God brought us out from the domain of darkness in order to bring us in to the kingdom of his Son, to give us an inheritance which He has promised to us.’

“So Jesus commanded us to observe the Lord’s Supper, to fear Him for our good and for our salvation, as we are doing today. “It is a sign of our righteousness when we keep this command before our LORD and Savior, just as He commanded.

 


¹We now know that APB is merely the symptom of bigger problem–excitement deficit disorder (EDD).

Advice for a new mother

In the hope of offering something worthwhile to the hardest working people on the planet, I’ve concluded the best thing I could do is . . . shut-up and let someone speak who actually knows what they’re talking about.

Another Mother’s Day is behind us and millions of moms across the land find themselves back at the grind. Then again, for some moms (i.e. new, single, and/or military) the grind didn’t abate at all on Mother’s Day–or Sunday as they call it. But I digress.

In the hope of offering something worthwhile to the hardest working people on the planet, I’ve concluded the best thing I could do is . . . shut-up and let someone speak who actually knows what they’re talking about. Therefore, I eagerly give the platform to a squad leader who is already on her way to a highly decorated career. Currently in her fifteenth year of active duty, my wife had this to share with two of her sisters-in-law who have recently been assigned their own commission.


Time is strange.  According to Einstein, the closer a body moves to the speed of light, the slower time moves, which theoretically allows for time travel into the future.  As a mother I have experienced the miraculous way that days (and minutes and hours) seem to last an eternity while the years fly by.  I think that is because as a mom, you are moving near light speed all day, everyday, so time sometimes sssslllllloooooowwwwwssss to a crawl; but because you are moving so fast, you look back and years are gone. I am still in the thick of child rearing but our baby years are over and since I have  some time to think again, here are some things that I have learned along the way.

  1. God’s power has already granted to you everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Peter 1:3).  I cling to His power because as much as I want to live a holy life before my husband and children, it is impossible without this.  The sanctification process that God ushers in through his gift of children requires a desperate and humble dependence upon God’s power-which you already have.  That means in Christ you have the power to be patient, generous with your time, kind, gentle, selfless even when the demands of motherhood seem endless.
  2. The relationship between parent and child mirrors the relationship between you and God.  I am thankful for all of my “mirrors” who have revealed and even magnified so many flaws.  As I continue to teach and train my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so the Lord uses this same teaching in my own life to train me.  Christ-likeness is a goal for everyone, not just the children (II Peter 1:3-11).
  3. Something’s gotta give!  In spite of what you see on…you name it–Pinterest, Facebook , your neighborhood–no one has it all together.  I have found that something always has to give.  So the house is super clean but we are all a tense mess because I have been barking at the kids all day, or the yard is looking spotless but the laundry is piled to the ceiling, or we completed a lot of school work and had a good home cooked meal, but I have no energy for my husband.  Since something has to give, make sure it is something with no spiritual or emotional significance.  A messy space is ok; expect it and learn to accept it. Use your time to build and maintain relationships with the Lord and your family (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
  4. Put down the parenting books.  You have real life references in all of us!  No one corners the market on wisdom in child-rearing.  Find someone who is doing well the thing you need help with  and seek advice from that person.  Your mom is a great example of how to give someone your attention.  It always amazes me when she stops whatever she is doing and turns to face the billion grubby, grabby, begging grandchildren and calmly and cheerfully listens to all of their stories and answers all of their questions. Very instructive.  We are always glad to help however we can (Titus 2:3-5).
  5. PRAY!! PRAY!! PRAY!!  Do not believe the hype that you wont have time to pray. Everyone has time to pray–you must obey and do it.  Pray for your husband, yourself, your children, your church, church leadership, country, country leadership, Christians around the world, the future–then rest in God (James 5:16, Eph 6:18).
  6. Make time and save energy for your husband.  Children need and demand so much of both!!  It can be depressing for a husband (and a marriage) when the focus is too much on the children. Love him. Cherish him. Encourage him.  As you both grow in Christ-likeness, it will be impossible for you to get too far apart (Song of Sol 6:3a).
  7. Learn to love your children.  That seems like a given and with some children it is really very easy.  But with others, and in very difficult times it’s not so simple.  You have to learn to love as Christ loves-knowing our flaws and working to fix them but loving us because we are His image bearers and because He has a covenant with us.  Accept that some children will be like you, easy for you to understand and relate to, some will be very different and more of a challenge to get along with.  Each one is a gift, each one is a mirror, each one is a new soul to train for Christ (John 13:34).

This is not an exhaustive list, of course; just a few of the things that God has taught me along the way.  Remember that while you and your husband are just beginning a new path, you are not alone.  God is with you always and WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU!   -Chris

 

On childhood conversions: measured responses

When a pygmy anarchist makes a claim to salvation the knee-jerk response tends to move in one of two directions…

The foremost desire of all Christian parents must be the salvation of their children. So it’s more than a little ironic that a paedo-profession of saving faith will often produce more hand wringing than hand raising. How do we navigate the murky and mystical waters of childhood conversion?

Nothing I write on this topic is from the vantage point of proven expertise [You should preface all of your posts with this disclaimer. -Shive]. My wife and I are still frantically trying to figure out this parenting thing which, as Christians, includes the goal of leading our children to Christ. Two of our kids profess (and give evidence of) saving faith and we’re actively waiting on the other four. But I think I’ve thought about this enough to arrive at some informed opinions since our personal experience is also supplemented by an inordinate number of nieces and nephews, friends with similar parenting experiences, and dabbling in our children’s ministry at church.

A few qualifications are in order. First, most of what I share is drawn from personal experience. That is, I’m not offering a definitive guide to child evangelism as much as contributing to “the conversation.” Second, while I can’t find a minimum age requirement for salvation, for a number of reasons I think early elementary is the floor for childhood conversions. Third, I’m all but assuming that, like me, many Christian parents devote so much time and effort to leading their little reprobates to living water that they’re caught flat-footed when the parched beggars actually begin to drink.

So what do you do when your little mini-me announces that he “asked Jesus into my heart.”?

Offer encouragement but leave room for discernment. When a pygmy anarchist makes a claim to salvation the knee-jerk response tends to move in one of two directions: (1) naive acceptance — “if the kid said it, it’s gotta be true!”Incidentally, childhood professions are one of only two scenarios in which a doctrinaire Southern Baptist becomes a practitioner of name-it-and-claim-it theology* (2) jaded skepticism — “Until the kid can pronounce and explain propitiation he has in no way entered into the kingdom of heaven!

But both of these responses need to be tempered by Scripture. On the one hand, not everyone who claims (or appears!) to be alive is actually alive (Mk 4:17-19, contra #1). On the other hand, the bar for entering the kingdom has been set very low (Rom 10:9-10, contra #2)–low enough for a child to clear. Even the wisest parent isn’t omniscient so we ought to be wary of assuming too much one way or the other.

Exactly how we spiritually encourage our children even as we attempt to discern the genuineness of their claims will vary depending on the family and the individual child. However, I think we can make some general statements that would be applicable and relevant across the board. I’ll consider these in a future post.

In the meantime, feel free to share any comments or questions on this topic that you’d like to see addressed.


*The other scenario occurs when the eligible bachelor assures the gorgeous Christian girl that he too is a Christian in the absence of any bona fides

The sights & sounds of family devotions

Christians have grown far too comfortable with social media’s call-and-response liturgies, many of which you can find in your help menu filed under the subject heading “Pride & Envy.” As such, I’d hate for a recent allusion to family devotions to (a) feed my animal pride or (b) leave others with a false impression of our family life.

So in the interest of creating a more complete picture of Merritt family devotions¹ I include here a sample list of the sights & sounds experienced during these holy times:

  1. Dad: call for family devotions
  2. Kids: pre-devotion moaning & groaning²
  3. Sit down!
  4. Sit up!
  5. Sit still!
  6. Be quiet!
  7. Pay attention!
  8. {icy glare from parent(s)}
  9. Leave that alone
  10. Leave your sister alone!
  11. {post-devotion lecture from parent}
  12. Put that away
  13. Take the blanket off your head
  14. Speak up
  15. Speak clearly
  16. Put your feet down
  17. Focus!
  18. Dad/Mom: post-devotion discipline (infrequent but sometimes necessary)
  19. Wife: offer much-needed advice to husband on how to communicate with his kids
  20. Dad/Mom: wonder if the kids are “getting it”³

¹My better half reminds me that while our devotion time is primarily for spiritual formation, social graces are acquired during these times, too (i.e. sitting still, giving someone else your attention, conversing, etc).

²‾³Their complaining and/or apparent confusion may signal the need for a change in our communication. More likely, it’s a reminder that kids don’t know what’s best for them. Be a responsible parent and feed them like their life depends on it (Deut 8:3; Jn 6:48, 50).

Good medicine for parents

I was skimming a sample from a new small group study, The Gospel-Centered Parent, when I came across some good reminders about how the gospel–rightly understood and applied–shapes our parenting. [theological terms added]

[Justification] Since we are declared not guilty, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We let go of the pressure of trying to prove ourselves through good parenting and right kids. We’re free simply to love our children because our worth comes from Jesus, not them.
  • We are humble, openly admitting our sins, deeply aware that we too are big sinners (just like our children) and are righteous only because of Jesus.

[Adoption] Because we are God’s children, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We aren’t consumed with building our family’s reputation or image, but instead find joy in being part of God’s family.
  • We are dependent and child-like parents, praying often as we trust our own heavenly Father for every family need.

[Sanctification] Because we are growing to be like Jesus, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We are confident and patient with our children, even when they persist in disobeying. We keep teaching them God’s ways and humbly showing them his love.
  • We use the Spirit’s tools with our children—prayer, the Word of God, and the gospel message—rather than our own wisdom or nagging.

[Resurrection & Reward] Since we have eternal life, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We don’t live for our children’s success or worldly happiness, and we teach them not to live for it. Our hope is in Jesus.
  • We are not undone by suffering or family disappointments. We know these will not last.

Doris Louella Finch Merritt (1925 – 2015)

Gen50_20_you-meant-evilFor years Genesis 50:20 has, in my mind, epitomized the theme of my grandmother’s life. She leaves behind a legacy of life but the legacy didn’t come cheap. She suffered for it. She had evil done to her in order to preserve life.

“Grandmother” as we called her (not Grandma or some such derivative) was a military wife with three children–my father, his sister, and his brother–none of them angelic. I’m still not certain on all the details but I think it was while my father was in college that my grandfather left the family for another woman eventually divorcing my grandmother.

It was a devastating betrayal. But to her dying day I never heard Grandmother say a bad word about her husband. Whenever the grandkids would ask questions about Grandfather and his Air Force career she always spoke of him in glowing terms. She never tried to excuse his sin but on the rare occasions in which she responded to it, she always expressed her sorrow for him–for him!–over what he lost by walking out.

This was not cheap talk. I remember riding with my grandmother as we discussed Romans 8 and Paul’s claim that the Spirit intercedes for us with “groanings to deep for words.” In a brief but poignant moment she acknowledged firsthand experience with a pain that reduced her “prayers” to inarticulate groaning. Her legacy did not come cheap.

But the suffering & wounds of a failed marriage were not in vain. Where sin abounded grace abounded even more. God’s grace took root in heart and brought slow healing. As His grace grew and choked out roots of bitterness in her heart, it sent runners out to her three children. The off-shoots of that work of grace took root in their hearts. In time His grace drew in three godly spouses and in the place of one failed marriage grew three thriving marriages.

Jesus said “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). That proverb was abundantly true for Grandmother. Three marriages brought about 16 grandchildren. Those 16 grandchildren have resulted in 11 more marriages (so far) which have produced 27 great-grandchildren (we anticipate cracking 30 before the year is over). The evil that Grandmother suffered has brought about “this present result.”

How do you measure the impact of 3 children, 16 grandchildren, and 27+ great-grandchildren? How much life has sprung up from the soil of her suffering? Every spiritual birth her family delivers and every blessing they bring is the enduring fruit of a woman who has now died.

God was so good to my grandmother. He gave her beauty for ashes and He changed her mourning into joy. She was blessed to see His goodness in the land of the living. But even if she had died with nothing to show for her suffering it still would not have been in vain. She knows that now.

The Mighty One has done great things for our grandmother, and Holy is His name. (Luke 1:49)

I don’t connect with my family by reading ‘Little Critter’ books

Donald Miller has posted a follow up to his recent confession that he doesn’t go to church very often. Miller’s enlightened abandonment of the institution of the church has finally given me the courage to leave my wife and kids. Indeed, the cogency of his arguments opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities. So here goes:

Dear Chris & Children,

I’ve long since checked out of our home so I’m pretty sure this confession isn’t a surprise. While I was reading ‘Just Me in the Tub‘ to the little girls for the 4th time in 2 days I realized that I just don’t connect with my family in the traditional way. I mean, even if we were to read the best kid’s book out there I would only enjoy the quality of the story rather than the time I’m spending with my daughters. What I’m saying is that I’m just not wired to build intimacy with you all through the trappings that come with the traditional nuclear family: birthday parties, family dinner, date nights, summer vacation, etc. I know I’m nearly alone in this but like most men (no, that’s not a contradiction) I find monogamy & parenting somewhat unnatural and tedious.

But I’m ok with this (and you should be too). I’ve read enough anthropology books to know that the nuclear family isn’t for everyone. Research tells us that there are all kinds of viable alternatives to institutional marriage and our Western family tradition. My friend Gob says that when a man tries to build familial intimacy by watching his kids play or taking note of his wife’s interests that man is little more than a stalker & voyeur. I know you don’t want that kind of creep hanging around you & the kids.

In my spiritual growth & maturity I’ve come to realize that our family can’t be defined by the confines of a 4 bedroom-2 bath house. In fact, our relationship with one another will grow as we give each other the space to flourish as individuals. Call me crazy but I actually feel more connected to you & the kids when I’m out working to provide for my family. I really feel God’s pleasure when I’m earning a paycheck to mail to my family.

I know this may be hard for you. For you the nuclear family is still meaningful & fulfilling. I know members of our extended family won’t get what I’m trying to say. This letter will likely be misquoted & mischaracterized in an effort to demonize me. I get that. That usually happens when a man is honest about his thinking feelings. In time, I hope that this letter will help us to dialogue in ways that will draw us closer together. I don’t fault anyone for not seeing family in the same way I do. Most people are only equipped for binary thinking whereas I think about issues from at least a dozen different angles. (Incidentally, most of the other influential heads of households I know don’t spend much time with their wife & kids either–I’m talking about famous people that you would instantly recognize if I mentioned their names. That’s not insignificant).

I know that your chief objection to this transition will be that it seems to step outside the biblical definition of “marriage” and/or “family.” First, it’s quite a stretch to say that the modern, nuclear family (with all the modern-day trappings) is what we find when we look into Scripture. The Bible doesn’t provide specific instructions on how a family should look or behave. Let’s be honest, our marriage institution hardly resembles the marriages we see in the Bible: we didn’t wed when you were a teenager, neither of our families had a hand in putting us together, you have equal standing with me in society, and you rarely grant me the honor Scripture commands (when was the last time you wore a head covering in church? have you ever called me “lord”?). The point is that Scripture doesn’t give us a complete manual on how to build a home.

Second, beyond a few general commands to love your wife (I do) and not to exasperate your children (I don’t) God has granted much freedom for the family to evolve in form and function. By giving us shared agency in creating the family God would have us understand that he sees just one large family of mankind in which we live & move as we please.

Please don’t let my departure reflect poorly on you. I’m sure that there are plenty of other men who would thrive in such a family setting but I’ve progressed to something better.  I will always love you and the kids & you don’t need me around to know that.

Love,

Jonathan

PS-I trust God will continue to love the world through us both inside & outside our family.

Let them cry

I don’t doubt that legalism is a genuine threat to the Christian life. “Work out your salvation” can easily degenerate into “work for your salvation.” But we’re imbalanced creatures given to violent swings from one extreme to another and as such the fear of legalism can be just as dangerous as its true form. Speaking from personal experience, Christian parents are particularly susceptible to oscillating from legalism to laxness as they wrestle to lay hold of the elusive “law of liberty” (an oxymoron for the culture and, sadly, for many in the church) on behalf of their children.

But wrestle we must. Scripture doesn’t afford us the opportunity to choose law or grace as we raise our children–it must be both. Precisely how law and grace can coexist is a discussion for another time but I take it that Paul speaks of this paradoxical harmony when he commands(!) us to bring up our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4) yet not in such a way that we cause them to “lose heart” (Col 3:21). In the words of one commentator, “There should be firm guidance, not servitude.”

On this notion of firm guidance I came across a great quote by B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) in a piece entitled “Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile?” (ht: Voddie Baucham). The passage concerns the Westminster Shorter Catechism but that’s not the reason I offer it here. My interest is the larger point behind the statement which is that parents shouldn’t shirk religious instruction just because the learning involves work:

No doubt it requires some effort whether to teach or to learn the Shorter Catechism. It requires some effort whether to teach or to learn the grounds of any department of knowledge. Our children – some of them at least – groan over even the primary arithmetic and find sentence-analysis a burden. Even the conquest of the art of reading has proved such a task that “reading without tears” is deemed an achievement. We think, nevertheless, that the acquisition of arithmetic, grammar and reading is worth the pains it costs the teacher to teach, and the pain it costs the learner to learn them. Do we not think the acquisition of the grounds of religion worth some effort, and even, if need be, some tears?

Requiring our children to carry the “burden” of religious instruction isn’t legalism. Be faithful to your calling. It’s OK if it makes them cry.

Should kids ‘ask Jesus into their hearts’?

I’m moving more & more to answer “no” on this question. It’s not that I think children are unable to genuinely respond to the gospel but that that particular expression is ambiguous–sometimes dangerously so–on a point where clarity is essential. If you’re a parent whose child has already “asked Jesus into his/her heart”–praise the Lord! Press on in wisdom as you disciple them and exercise discernment as you affirm evidence of their conversion. What I offer here is simply a brief explanation for a shift in my thinking as a parent which is starting to shape my ministry as a pastor.

A little background. My wife and I were talking about baptism for a couple of our kids. She was confident that their profession of faith represented a genuine conversion. I was more hesitant. As a pastor’s kid myself I grew up in the church & have seen firsthand how social conditioning can be erroneously interpreted as conversion. I didn’t want to make that mistake with my kids. Still, I’ve come to recognize that my wife has exceptional insight into the lives of our children so I was a bit perplexed at our differing assessments. Her sage advice: talk to them. Brilliant!

I’ll spare you all the talking points but I found that when I asked our kids questions like “What is a Christian?” or “How is a person saved?” almost inevitably the answer had something to do with asking Jesus into one’s heart. Pressed further, the explanations varied greatly in terms of why someone should/would ask Jesus in or how that invitation secured salvation. Following on these family interactions here are some of the reasons that I think the “ask Jesus into your heart” lingo needs to be retired:

  1. It lacks a “biblical pedigree” (i.e. chapter & verse).
  2. It requires no real grasp of the gospel message.
  3. It fails to articulate our need of a wholesale exchange–His righteousness for our unrighteousness.
  4. It says nothing of repentance.
  5. It emphasizes the (subjective) sincerity of the heart rather than the (objective) certainty of Christ’s work.

I don’t doubt that the phrase has been & will be used by genuine converts. Further, I wouldn’t argue with the claim that the expression need not signify ignorance of the gospel message or an inability to articulate it. But when it comes to the salvation of a soul surely we want to do more than give someone the benefit of the doubt. In light of eternity that may be no benefit at all.

‘That strange grief which has no focus for its tears and no object for its love’

Approximately 10% (6.1 million) of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant according to the CDC . Beyond clinical infertility we’re also told that about 15-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. It seems inevitable that a married couple will experience some heartache when it comes to childbearing which makes the church’s (relative) silence on the matter even more puzzling [as a pastor, a self-indictment].

The sorrow that accompanies infertility has been described somewhere as “that strange grief which has no focus for its tears and no object for its love.” For the Christian this strange grief carries additional frustration and confusion due to Scripture’s praise of child rearing in marriage. Thus, the couple dealing with infertility (and particularly the woman) is left to wrestle with the notion that God is withholding a blessing (Psa 127) they have been commanded to pursue (Gen 1:28).

Many others have reflected and counseled on infertility far better than I could hope to do so for the sake of sensitivity & encouragement I’ll limit my thoughts to a few key affirmations:

1) Infertility is cause for grief and mourning. Children are a divine blessing we hope to receive (Psa 127:3) but hope deferred makes the heart sick (Prov 13:12).

2) Infertility is not God’s punishment on you–that punishment was already placed on Christ. Those who have been ransomed from sin have no debt left to pay, no account to settle (Col 2:13-14). Infertility is painful but it’s not punishment (Rom 8:28ff).

3) Infertility is rendered impotent when the sovereign Creator commands the barren to bear fruit. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord (Gen 18:14; 25:21; Psa 113:9; Jer 32:27).

4) Infertility is not a broken promise. The Christian has been promised many things but conception is not one of them. We are promised, however, that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psa 34:18), heals the brokenhearted (Psa 147:3), and provides a grace sufficient for our time of need (2Cor 12:9). You can trust Him.

5) Infertility should be a shared grief.
As fellow members of Christ’s body we should weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).

6) Infertility brings a sorrow which was most acutely felt by our Savior. Christ knows what it means to labor through futility
(Isa 49:4; Heb 4:15-16).

7) Infertility is a pain to be conquered by a greater joy. In the end, the pain & loss of this life should drive us to find better, lasting joy in God’s presence (Psa 16:11; 73).