No Tender Voice Like Thine

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. – Jesus

If he’s the Good Shepherd, he knows us completely. I can do nothing to surprise him. When I cry out to my Good Shepherd, there is never a time where God looks at me and says, “Joe Chambers? Name sounds familiar. Gabriel, pull the file on Chambers and let’s see what his story is.”

He knows me and he calls me by name.

Do you know why the greatest force for changing me is my wife Lynette? It’s because she has seen me at my very worst. She has seen the darkness of my soul and when very nearly everyone had given up on me—she stepped towards me and said, “I’ve seen the real you. I’ve seen you at the bottom, and I know you are an idiot. But, by God’s grace, I will love you anyway.”

Have you ever known the glorious release of realizing your Shepherd knows you to the bottom and yet loves you to the skies?

At the Colorado Baptist Convention in 2018

Back in the nineties I served on the board of trustees for Lifeway Christian Resources. (Back then it was called The Baptist Sunday School Board.) I served there for several years and got to know the President, Dr. Jimmy Draper. He always remembered my name and asked me about my wife and boys.

Due to my sinful choices in 1999, I resigned my pastorate in Littleton and from the Board of Trustees. It was a dark time for all of us.

Over the last twenty years Lynette and I have worked hard on our relationship and have tried to help many ministry leaders along the way.

Last spring, I was invited to speak and minister to Church planters and their wives in the Pacific Northwest. Lynette and I both spoke to this gathering of leaders. The denominational paper for the Northwest Convention wrote an article about what we shared. It was very honoring.

About a month after we returned, I got a letter in the mail and inside the envelope was that article that had been torn out of the magazine and a handwritten letter was paper clipped to it. It was from Dr. Jimmy Draper.

Here is what it said,

Joe,

Great word you gave to the church planters in the NW! Always proud of you and praying for you! God’s best blessings in 2019 to you and Lynette!

Jimmy Draper

Jer 9:23-24

If my family, my wife, and a man I greatly admire are willing to see me at my worst and call me by name and step towards me in grace and love, how should I live every day knowing that my Shepherd calls me by name and I am in his hand, and I will never be in danger there—how shall I live for this Good Shepherd?

Here’s how: I live moment by moment in complete and intimate dependence on my Shepherd. Why? Because he is good and I am a sheep.

I am learning to rest in him, and I find myself singing, if not praying these words,

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord.
No tender voice like thine,
Can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee!

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Spiritual Blindness

“Surely we are not blind, are we?” John 9:40

Blindness can take many forms. For instance, I don’t obey the rules very well. That is especially true about wearing seatbelts. There were only two circumstances in which I would actually wear a seatbelt: One, when the car had an incessant alarm system that would not ever cease going off until you buckled up. Just to shut up the irritating and incessant alert, I would put my seatbelt on. The second reason I would buckle up is when my wife would ride with me—for the exact same reason as I have already stated above.

Then about six years ago, I got a phone call when we lived in the Pacific Northwest from a church member who frantically told me that her daughter, Hannah, had been in a car accident a block from my house and asked if I could be there for her. I ran down the street and saw a ragtop jeep on its side, Hannah was in the back of a police cruiser, and the sheet-covered lifeless body of her boyfriend was lying on the shoulder of the street.

According to Hannah, they were taking the corner too fast on a rainy night and the Jeep rolled over, throwing her boyfriend, who was not wearing a seatbelt, out and then the Jeep rolled over the top of him. He died instantly.

My primary mode of transportation at that time was a ragtop jeep. Do you know what I started doing from that evening on—even when Lynette was not in the car with me? I buckled up.

Did I learn anything new that night that changed my behavior? New statistics? No. What happened to me? I realized I was being dumb. Did I learn something new? No.

Look at that word realize. What does realize mean? It means it got real to me.

Those of us who have spent decades in the church and have gone to Sunday School all our lives have a real danger of growing spiritual cataracts. We have been looking at the Bible since before Kennedy was president. We have been singing the hymns since they were played on the harpsichord. We have a huge advantage and with that advantage comes the danger of religious arrogance. And the more religious arrogant I am, the blinder I am to my own sinfulness.

Several years ago, I lost everything about my life except my family. That was when the emptiness of my faith got real to me. I had a religion, but I didn’t have an intimate relationship with Jesus. And I learned, the hard way, that religion without intimacy with God causes spiritual blindness.

It is so much harder for a birthright Baptist to admit that there are specific areas of distorted and unspiritual thinking present in our lives.

I talked with a counselor friend of mine recently and we discussed how the people that can actually be helped the most by Biblical counseling or soul care are those that are in deep pain in their life. Do you know why? Because they realize that life is out of control and that their best thinking has gotten them in the mess they are in and all of their illusions have been shattered.

I have to admit I’m blind in order to get the help I need because my deepest blindness is the blindness to my own blindness. Without some sort of activating event, that usually takes the form of pain, I will never realize what God is trying to say to me about my life.

I love what Frederick Buechner says,

God speaks into our personal lives, if he speaks anywhere at all. And if we were not blind as a bat we could hear him.

I need to hear from the Holy Spirit if I am ever going to see anything. And if I live for anything other than Jesus, I will fumble around in my spiritual darkness because I can’t see things clearly. I can’t see myself clearly. I can’t see the world clearly.

I need the anointing balm from the lips of Jesus on my spiritual eyes if I am ever going to see and live the life I desperately want.

I hope you realize that.

Dear Lord,

Because I spend so much time in the things of faith, I get jaded to the stillness of your sweet voice. I elevate the Bible to the fourth person of the Trinity. Sometimes I love the book more than I love the author. Forgive me, Lord. Anoint my eyes with the vital truth that I am your beloved son. That sometimes you would just sit in silence with me and enjoy my company. Help me to see that.

Amen.

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I Will Change Your Name

I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. Revelation 2:17

Nearly thirty years ago I was asked to give a devotional to the Executive Board of our state denomination. It was a high honor for such a young pastor like me. I wrote out what I thought was a touching ten-minute tribute to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I wanted it to have a powerful ending and decided that I would close the devotion the way one of my preaching heroes, Chuck Swindoll, sometimes would do by starting a familiar chorus and then when the congregation caught on, go sit down.

My first concern was what song did I know that this mostly older group of men would also know that they would recognize and sing along so that I wouldn’t be singing a solo. I decided on a Gaither song that I was confident everyone would know.

My second concern was being able to remember the words and the tune of the song. My brother got all the musical talent in our family. He can sing and play several instruments. I can play the radio.

I stood up and delivered my touching tribute to Jesus and when it came time to close I said, “Now, I want you to bow your heads and close your eyes and join me in singing this song to our Lord.”

Everything was going so well, just according to plan.

“Sing with me,” I said.

“Jesus. Jesus, Jesus.”

Nothing but silence from the men.

“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” I sang in the most monotone, flat, off-key voice ever uttered before God and man.

No one could recognize the tune.

“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” I droned. “There’s just something about that name. Master, Savior, Jesus…”

Finally, they recognized the words, if not the tune, and finished the song for me as I slunk red-faced to my seat.

My friend, Andy Hornbaker, leaned over to me and said, “I’d don’t believe I’d a done that if I were you.”

Jesus, there’s just something about that name.

I love that place where God named his Son, sending a message to him and to the world what his purpose would be in his life.

…an angel of the Lord appeared to (Joseph) in a dream, saying, “…you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

Jesus began with his name and purpose untrammeled. Me and you, not so much. We often need a name and course adjustment. It has happened before.

God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, Abram’s name to Abraham, Jacob’s name became Israel, Simon’s name to Peter by saying, “This is the kind of ministry I’m going to give you. These are the kinds of gifts I’m giving you. This is the kind of service I want you to have.”

People are always asking, “What am I supposed to be doing.” But there is a question that goes before the “what”…it is the “why” question.

When we fully understand our “why” then the “what” or the “how” comes pretty easy. Years ago, I began to see an emerging pattern in my life of restoration. Then there came a time when I needed my own restoration. I’m even living in a mountain cabin that is in constant need of restoration. My “why” is restoring God’s world, one soul at a time.

I have been restored and restoration is my life’s calling. Whether that is marriages, churches, ministries, or souls. The “how” can take shape in lots of different ways: Storytelling, listening, prayer, writing, teaching, or just sitting with someone as an empathetic witness to what God is doing in their lives.

It has taken years of reflection to notice this pattern. And lots of cul-de-sacs along the way.

A few years ago, my brother and I were having a conversation and he told me about a crisis time in his life. He was struggling with his significance, so he went on a retreat in the mountains. After fasting and praying, he felt as if God revealed to him: “You are my artist.”

I was impressed by that. I wanted that kind of term of endearment from God.

I didn’t go to a mountain cabin and fast, but I prayed and prayed. I wanted to hear from God a word that was so intimate and so unique. I got nothing. That hurt. I felt as if I didn’t measure up and that somehow, I was inadequate; maybe even damaged goods.

Then one evening my wife and I were entertaining friends in our home, and after a wonderful meal, we began to share stories with our friends.

We laughed a lot and cried a little.

Suddenly my wife started to tell a story and then turned to me and said, “You tell it. You’re the storyteller.” Later that night I asked God if that was my purpose. Was I his storyteller? I got a deep sensation that seemed to say, “No.”

My heart sank.

Then I felt that He said, “You are the story.”

God is writing a story out of my life and I get to tell about it. How amazing is that?

Author Ann Voscamp tells the story of a…

Tribe in Africa called the Himba, and when a woman of the Himba tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they wait till they hear the song of the child to come.

Because they know that every heart has its own unique beat … it’s own wild purpose. And when the women attune to the song of the coming child, they sing it out loud.

And then they return to the tribe and teach this child’s unique song to everyone else.

Then when the child is born, the Himba tribe gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. When the child begins school, when the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, when the time comes to get married, at each milestone the village gathers and chants the child’s song.

To the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits sins, falls short, or loses her way, the individual is called to the centre of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

They sing their song to them because the Himba believe that change most happens when we remember who we are — remember our identity — Whose we are… that change most happens when you are named out of the chaos, when your name is sung into the cosmos.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want a new name at some deep level. The good news is that you have one. You are the Beloved of God.

Let this old song wash over you for a couple of minutes:

Jesus.

There’s just something about that name.

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The Sacred Journey and Soul Care

For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses (misplaces) his own soul? – Jesus

Christian leaders are in trouble. And when the leaders are in trouble the church is in trouble. Our culture, both inside and outside the church is grinding down Christian leaders.

According to Thabiti Anyabwile one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Southeast DC, in an article he wrote for the website 9Marks back in 2014:

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.

4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.

Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.

Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

In my view, if the church is going to thrive in our post-Christian age then soul care is going to be essential for the ongoing vitality of the leaders of our churches.

My specific denomination has put a great deal of emphasis on the Great Commission found in Matthew 28: 19-20,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.

Historically, we have been all about the Word of God, evangelism, and missions. And the Great Commission has driven all of that. And, by no means, would I want to dismiss that axiom. It is our calling card as a denomination.

And yet what do we do with the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22:37-40?

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

If the statistics cited above are true, we are not doing a very good job at this commandment. Especially if our neighbor is a minister of the Gospel.

I believe Soul Care could be part of the solution.

While I completed my two-year certification program called The Soul Care Institute at Potter’s Inn, I was introduced to the following soul care model and I owe my avocational ministry called The Sacred Journey to these concepts. This is my personal spin on these ideas.

:: Discipleship

This discipline is about basic doctrine, theology, and practices of the faith. In many cases, this is an information transfer from a person who is a veteran in the ways of the faith and Bible to a novice. However, would it surprise you to know that I have encountered several ministers who believe in their head that they are saved by grace through faith, but spend almost all of their life feeling like they need to earn their standing with God? Would it surprise you to know that many pastors don’t know how to pray, read their bibles for soul nourishment, tithe, and even to share their faith in a relational way? I see it a lot.

:: Life Coaching

This discipline is primarily around life management skills. Things like conflict management, interpersonal communication skills, and goal setting. It might include analytic decision-making skills and assertiveness training. Certainly important tools for your toolbox.

:: Counseling

Often a presenting issue disrupts the functional life of a person causing stress and they want relief. Here is where family of origin issues may need to be processed. Is the person increasingly becoming self-aware? How does emotional intelligence come to bear in life? In counseling is where addictions are addressed, obsessions uncovered, and personal identity struggles explored. And many other areas of felt needs would be properly analyzed and solutions pursued.

:: Spiritual Direction

This discipline is a bit of a misnomer. Because in spiritual direction there is very little, if any, actual directing. Spiritual direction is more about being a witness to what God is doing in the soul of another person. It’s about asking probing questions. It’s about sensing and discerning what is being triggered in the soul. It’s about being present to someone as they pursue an intimate relationship with the Almighty. It’s about prayer and discernment. This is a vital and missing piece of the journey of most of the ministers with whom I work.

Soul Care is Different

Soul Care is the confluence of all of those disciplines. It is a hybrid of all four. It is not one thing. There is an amazing amount of overlap, because it is not just the compassion of Spiritual Direction, it also might be the doctrinal or heteropraxy correction of discipleship. It sometimes is the thinking through a father-wound that goes back decades. It might be coaching through how to resolve a conflict with a church or family member. It might be an extended prayer for healing from past church-wounds or toxic relationships.

Soul Care is a holistic approach to being an empathetic witness to what God is doing in the deep places—down where the knobs are—of a person’s heart.

Our ministry at Sacred Journey is about helping the helpers. It’s about shepherding the shepherds. It’s about praying with and for those that pray. It’s about reminding ministers who have spiritual attention deficit disorder that they are beloved of God and are saved and kept by grace. It’s about sharing our stories of how we found the abundant life Jesus promised.

It’s about showing the way to an unhurried and reflective life.

A life of flourishing.

A life of shalom.

A life others would want to live.

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Encountering Jesus

“You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas”   – John 1:42

Sometimes you encounter someone in your life that you know you will never forget.

A little over a year ago, Lynette and I boarded a plane in Denver and flew to Munich, Germany. The first leg of our trip to Israel. I was stuffed into a middle seat and my knees were shoved into the kidneys of the person sitting in the seat right in front of me for the nine-hour flight. I felt like a size 14-foot stuffed into a pair of size 9 stilettos.

When we boarded our flight from Munich to Tel Aviv, our assigned seats were right in front of the exit row for that 5-hour flight. Again, a huge man in a little seat.

In the exit row sat a pint-size woman dressed in a long flowing black robe and habit. She had a window seat next to the exit door with no seat in front of her. She had enough leg room for Shaquille O’Neil.

I remember thinking, Dear Lord, what have I done to displease you on this flight to your homeland? Why does she get a seat with leg room she will not need, and I get stuck in the size 9, kidney-crushing, knee-bruising seat?

She said, “Sir, have you said your prayers today?”

I said, “Yes, I have spoken to God.” (thinking about my whining poor-is-me thought a moment before)

“Well, I am the answer to your prayers today,” she said.

Then she got up and gave me her seat and took mine beside Lynette. I stretched out, and despite my chagrined heart, fell asleep.

Lynette learned that she was from California and her twin sister was an actress in Hollywood. Her name was Mother Catherine and she served at The Church of Mary Magdalene which is a Russian Orthodox church located on the Mount of Olives, near the Garden of Gethsemane in East Jerusalem.

When we got off the plane in Tel Aviv, she invited us to have lunch with her at the Church of Mary Magdalene. She said the tour will take us down the route Jesus took on Palm Sunday and we would walk right past her church.

“Just knock on the big green door and ask for me and we will have lunch together,” she said.

Sure enough about a week later we were walking down that road and walked past a large green gate that was ajar and I asked one of the ladies inside if Mother Catherine was available. The lady said she didn’t know who I was talking about until she said, “Oh, Mother Katarina! No. She was unavailable right then.”

I asked her to tell Mother Katarina that a very large American man and his beautiful blond wife wanted to say hi and to thank her again for her generosity on the flight from Munich to Israel.”

She promised she would.

That is an encounter I will never forget with a woman who reminded me of Jesus.

In the New Testament, there is a place where Jesus meets the Apostle Peter for the first time.  When He looks at Peter and more than that—looks into Peter—he says in essence, “You have been called Simon all of your life but from now on I am going to call you Peter.” 

In the ancient near east names defined and described your life. They could be descriptive, or they could be prescriptive.

The name “Simon” meant “shifting sand.” It was a descriptive name depicting a man who vacillated and was highly impulsive. Over and over in the New Testament, we see that Peter is often the very first one to speak and the last one to think. He was often wrong, but never in doubt.

But Jesus looks Simon full in the face and gives him a prescriptive name, Cephas or Peter which means “Rock.” Peter must have gulped at the thought of becoming something so stable and strong as a rock. He understood what Jesus was doing. Jesus was saying to Peter that intimacy with me is going to change who you are. And that is exactly what happened to Peter.

Sea of Galilee

Peter started out with such promise and possibilities and yet at the end of the Gospels, we find him dejected, defeated, depressed over his failure of failures in denying Jesus three times. And then on the shores of the Sea of Galilee Jesus offers him breakfast and says to him once again: Follow Me.

By the end of the story of Peter’s life, we see somebody who has become a church leader, we see someone who possesses a calm humility and deep confidence in Jesus. We see somebody who is willing to stick his neck out for the Christian story. And then at the end of things we see somebody who eventually lays down his own life for his allegiance to Jesus.

When Jesus encountered Peter for the first time he easily could have said, “Simon Peter, have you said your prayers today? Because I am the answer to your prayers.”

Dear Lord,

I get easily gigged by so much in this world. My emotions run hot and often I speak before I think. I want to encounter you at such a deep level that my thoughts are your thoughts and my words are your words. Come deeper into my life so that I can avoid the firey darts of the evil one and the arrows thrown by our culture that cause me to react in ways that dishonor the grace you have given me.

Amen

 

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My “Wants” for 2020

You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”  – James 4:15

Predictions for the coming year are often fun and interesting. My friend Jamie Greening has written a delightful article about his predictions. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

Predictions for 2020

I’m not good at that stuff so I am going to set down a few of my “wants” for 2020.

10. That I will hold in my hand a finished and printed copy of my cowboy novel about two young men who are just discovering their sexuality and how their friendship develops in spite of their sexual confusion.

9. I want to hike the Rainbow Trail from Music Pass to Poncha Springs. And I want to bag a couple of fourteeners along the way.  The wilderness calls my name. I love the sense of accomplishment and the simplicity of the trail. Not to mention the fascinating people you meet along the way.

8. I want to interview someone who works with their hands (a plumber, farmer, or mechanic) about their journey with Jesus on the Potter’s Inn Soul Care Conversation podcast.

7. I want to be a gentle yet bold prophetic voice to white evangelicals who have lost their way and call them back to love of character and decency. And I am going to spend more time in prayer for white evangelicals and myself in order to minimize how much I get triggered by them.

6. I want to increase my soul care practice for ministry leaders, especially young pastors.

5. I want to hold my newest granddaughter, Cora Lee Chambers,  in my church on Mother’s Day for her baby dedication.

4. I want to read more novels this year.

3. I want to love and serve my wife in such a way that she thinks that I finally got religion and she feels deeply loved down to her bones.

2. I want to develop my Galilean accent so that with every laughter, conversation, prayer, lament, and sermon I utter—folks will wonder.

1.  I want to live my life in such a way that people who know me will hunger and thirst for more of God.

I can’t predict if any of those things will come true, but I will arrange my life in such a way that they have the best possibility to occur, Lord willing.

#ComeAtMe2020

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Finding My Freedom

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven…”          John 20:23 (NIV)

In October 1914, Thomas Mott Osborne entered Auburn Prison in upstate New York, and like all the other prisoners, issued a set of prison grays, and led to a cell, four feet wide by seven and a half feet tall. The only difference between prisoner number 33,333x and the other 1,229 inmates was the issue of freedom. On his command, he could leave the prison anytime he wanted.

After his appointment to the Governor’s State Commission on Prison Reform, Osborne made it his mission to live as one of the inmates, study their experience, and emerge as their advocate. He voluntarily laid aside his freedom to experience life behind bars. He slept in a dank, drafty cell just like theirs. He ate their food and worked like they did. He even endured their most dreaded punishment, a night in “the box.” While he could order his own release at any time, he was nevertheless confined. He wrote,

“I am a prisoner, locked, double locked. By no human possibility, by no act of my own, can I throw open the iron grating which shuts me from the world into this small stone vault. I am a voluntary prisoner, it is true; nevertheless even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door to his own cell.”

When I read that I wondered how many ways am I a voluntary prisoner of my own pathologies. Issues of narcissism, of self-medication, of willful blindness to the truth about myself, others, and the ways of the world. The truth is that while I may be much harder on myself than you will ever be, you can see my blind spots where, by definition, I can’t even get a good glimpse.

Talking to God about it is one thing but sharing my sin with someone else…no way.  Why can’t I just tell my sins to God and leave it like that?  Why do I have to drag someone else into this? Well, you can. But I think part of the reason it is vital to have a trusted spiritual friend is, like Mr. Osborne who was a volunteer in prison, we need someone else to open the door to self-revelation.  And beyond that, because it is the way God chooses to communicate forgiveness.

God has given us our brothers and sisters to be Christ’s ambassadors and make God’s presence and forgiveness real to us.  It is through the voice of our brothers and sisters that the word of forgiveness is heard and takes root in our lives.

When you risk honesty with one trusted person you will be amazed at the freedom that invades your life.

I am only as sick as my secrets. If you feel like there is a steel door between you and joy and wholeness, find a trusted spiritual friend soon so you can know what it is like to lay your burden down. There is nothing like telling someone trustworthy all your darkness. Remember what Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!”

Who is a good candidate to help me out of my self-imposed imprisonment? Somebody you trust and who can keep a confidence. Someone who understands the value of what you’re doing and will respect the weight of your confession. Someone mature enough that they won’t be shocked. Someone who knows God well enough that they can reflect His forgiveness to you.

I love what Jesus’ half-brother said at the end of his practical little letter about the reciprocating nature of relational healing, “Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed…” James 5:16

My wife and I watched the Netflix original film The Two Popes starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Price as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (later Pope Francis). Towards the end of the film, Pope Benedict asked his eventual successor to hear his confession. They went through the specific rituals and rites of proper Catholic confession and absolution then Pope Benedict said to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in almost a whisper, “Thank you.”

In many ways, the film described how one man helped another man out of the confinement of his role as the Pope of Rome. I loved the story.

The truth is I can’t find my way out of my confinement without you. I need you or someone like you and you need me, or someone like me.

And we both need Jesus to set us free. Remember, even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door to his own cell.

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