Hey there, thanks for listening to the Greg Laurie Podcast, a ministry supported by Harvest Partners. I'm Greg Laurie, encouraging you.
If you want to find out more about Harvest Ministries and learn more about how to become a Harvest Partner, just go to harvest.org. So I want to talk to you about how to live a meaningful life. But first, let's pray. Father, we ask You to bless this time as we open up the Word of God. Your Word You've given to us, it tells us everything we need to know about You, everything we need to know about life itself. Lord, we want to live meaningful lives. We want to live lives with purpose. So speak to us from Your Word, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen. Well, we're in a series in the book of Acts, and we're in chapters 19 and 20, so I hope you have a Bible nearby or an app on your phone or tablet.
Go to Acts chapter 19. Again, the title of my message is How to Live a Meaningful Life. So guess where I've been? I've been back in Alabama, y'all, and I'll tell you what, I love Alabama. I love the people of Alabama, and I love the food of Alabama. Like only in Alabama do you find biscuits and gravy everywhere, even at the airport, biscuits and gravy for breakfast, deep-fried catfish, blackened, of course, shrimp and grits. In fact, to be honest, a lot of their stuff is deep-fried, and they always sweeten the tea.
You have to ask for your tea unsweetened, but the friendliest people ever. You say, why have you been in Alabama? Well, we're shooting this new film called Jesus Revolution, so they are very friendly to the film industry there, and so we've shot a lot of the scenes from this film. And I have to tell you, watching a feature film be shot, especially based on my life, has been a surreal experience. It's not even like deja vu. It's like I'm seeing my whole life in sort of a flyover, and to be honest, it's given me a whole new perspective on the life that I've lived.
It starts when I'm just a little boy. This is what I looked like when I was in military school as a little boy, and there's this very talented young actor. His name is Jackson Robert Scott. Here I am with him on set, and this little guy does an amazing job playing young Greg.
There's one scene in the film where a little Jackson playing Greg is sitting at a table in a bar, and he's drawing. And that's what I used to do when I was a little boy. I would draw and create my own little cartoon worlds as I waited for my mother to go home. And in this particular scene, my mom is being picked up by some guy which happened in real life, and she was inebriated, and she was walking out, and this little actor stops. I'm like, Mom, what are you doing? And I was sort of reliving my life all over again. My mother is played by the actress Kimberly Williams Paisley. She has done an absolutely amazing job.
And I think this is gonna be a very special film, and I'm excited to be telling you more about it later. But anyway, so I'm watching my life being played out on a screen from my childhood to the moment of my conversion, and it's been a stunning experience. And it caused me to think, you know, God has let me go through these things in my life for a reason, hopefully to bring some kind of encouragement to other young people that are facing it.
What was then the exception has now become the norm. In other words, being a boy who came from a divorced home, my mom was married and divorced seven times, most of my friends had their parents at home with them. So I was the exception, but now so many young people, I'm sure a lot of you have come from broken homes, and you've had a tough childhood, and you wonder, is there any hope for me, and the answer is yes. And I hope by telling my story, and the story of how God transformed a generation in this new film called Jesus Revolution, that it will bring hope to people literally all around the world. And I wanna talk about how you can live a meaningful life, how you can live a purposeful life, how you can live a life that matters, and you should think about it right now. Even if you're young, this is really a good time to think about the course your life is taking, why? Because the evening of your life is determined by the morning of your life, the end of your life is determined by the beginning. You decide what course your life is going to take.
So I wanna talk to you about how to make the right decision. So we're gonna look at the words of the apostle Paul to the elders of Ephesus as he gives to them his final message. And one day, we're all gonna give our final message, if you will, we're gonna have our last meal, we're gonna share our last words, and let's make those count, let's make our life count. But before we dive into that, let's go to Acts 19 and sort of talk about what's happening in the narrative. So here's the apostle Paul, and he is on his third missionary journey. God is using him powerfully, and miracles are happening. Not just miracles, but extraordinary, unusual miracles.
Look at Acts 19, verse 11. God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles when handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people. They were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.
So this is really fascinating. These garments that Paul came into contact with were being used to bring healing to people. Now, again, I wanna emphasize, these are unusual miracles.
There was no power in his clothing. I think what it was was that people thought, if I could just have this shirt that Paul wore touch me, I would be healed. I would call that sort of like a faith release, that they're ready to be healed, but that sort of triggers their faith.
It reminds us of the story of the woman who had the medical problem where she was constantly bleeding. And she reasoned, if I can touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed, speaking of Jesus. Jesus didn't say, hey, whoever touches the edge of my robe gets healed today.
On your mark, get set, go. No, he's just passing through a crowd. This woman came up with this idea, and sure enough, when she touched his robe, she was healed. I think this is one of the reasons why Jesus buried his methods of healing people from person to person. Sometimes he would touch a person, and they would be healed. Other times, the person would touch him, and they would be healed. And even other times, he would speak the word, and a person would be healed. How about that time when there was a man who was blind, and Jesus spit on the ground? I mean, how would you feel if you came for prayer and the preacher spit in the dirt and wiped it in your eye?
Well, that's exactly what Jesus did, and that guy was healed, so he buried his methods of healing. And God is at work, and listen to this. Whenever God is at work, the devil will be at work, too.
Look at how the devil now opposes the work of Paul and others. We have a new group of guys introduced to us called the Sons of Sceva. There were seven of them in total.
Now, they were hardly the magnificent seven. In fact, they made some big blunders, so we read about them in Acts 19, verse 13. It says, The sons of Sceva tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in their incantation, saying to a demon-possessed person, Wow.
A few take-away truths from this little story. Number one, Satan is real and powerful. It's not unusual to read of people who are possessed by demons having superhuman strength, as illustrated in the text we just read.
And also, we read the story in the gospels of the man who is possessed by demons hanging around in a graveyard, and they would put chains on them, and he would break the chains apart, and he was constantly shrieking. Satan is powerful. Satan is real, and we should never take on Satan in our own strength.
That's what these sons of Sceva did. Number two, the power of Jesus is more powerful than the power of Satan. The power of Jesus is more powerful than the power of Satan. Yes, the devil has certain power.
He is a fallen angel. But on the other hand, God has ultimate power, and Jesus was God walking among humanity, and Jesus himself said, All power is given to me in heaven and on earth, and so he has the ultimate power. So when we're walking with Jesus and standing in his strength, then we are under his protection. Don't ever try to take on the devil in your strength.
Third and last point about this, the best defense is a good offense. The Bible says, Submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. See, the problem with these sons of Sceva, as they had no relationship with God, they were just throwing the name of Jesus around like it had magical powers in it, but they did not know the Lord. Interesting that the devil said, Yeah, Jesus I know for sure.
Paul I know, but who are you? Reminds us that the devil knows the people that are being used by God. There was one occasion when Jesus was with Simon Peter, and he turned to him and he said, Simon, Simon, the devil has been asking excessively that you would be taken out of the care and protection of God. Question, will it freak you out if Jesus said that to you? Oh, what?
He's been asking for me by name? Yes, Simon, that's true. But then Jesus adds these words, But I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail. Again, Peter was under the protection of Jesus.
So are we when we come to Christ, but these sons of Sceva did not have that protection in their lives. Another interesting incident happens here in the book of Acts before we get to Acts 20. It's the story of a young man named Eutychus, and he's at a meeting where the apostle Paul is preaching. So Paul was preaching a pretty long time on that particular night, and Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of the window to his death. So someone stops while Paul's stopped.
Eutychus fell out the window and he's dead. Paul says, okay, let's go see him. Paul goes over to Eutychus, raises him from the dead, and then Paul does what any normal preacher would do. He finishes his sermon.
I love that story. But now we come to Acts chapter 20, where Paul is giving his final words to the leaders of Ephesus, the elders of the church that he had established. And in this message that he gives, he compares the Christian to five different kinds of people, five pursuits that a believer should be engaged in.
And in doing so, he shows us how to live a meaningful life. So let's read Acts chapter 20, starting in verse 17. We landed at Miletus and sent a message to the elders at Ephesus asking them to come and meet him. When they arrived, Paul says, You know from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now, I have done the work of the Lord humbly with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews.
I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear publicly or in your homes. I had one message, says Paul, for Jews and Greeks alike, the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God and having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don't know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit has told me that suffering and jail lay ahead. But none of these things move me, says Paul in Acts 20, 24. Nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, underline that phrase, we'll come back to it, so that I may finish my race with joy in the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus Christ to testify of the gospel and the grace of God. This is an emotional moment for the great apostle. He's giving them his last message. You know, it is worth noting that this is the only sermon in Acts that is addressed to Christians.
All the other sermons in the book of Acts are effectively addressed to non-believers. So Paul says, okay, here's what really matters to me. And Paul compares this to these different categories of people. Number one, Paul compares himself to a runner in a race. He compares himself to a runner in a race, verse 24. None of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, but I want to finish my race with joy in the ministry which I received from the Lord. Now this was a favorite illustration of the apostle, the idea of running a race. He told us in 1 Corinthians 9, 24, we must run the race of life to win. He says, remember that in a race, everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize, so run in such a way that you will win. Look, when you run a race, run to win. Go for the gold as they say. It's great to win the bronze or the silver, but the gold is best for sure.
And so you give your best efforts. You know, one of the problems that we have today in sports is we have in little kids' games or like soccer games for children and other athletic pursuits that sometimes they don't keep score. I know this because I've gone to my grandkids' soccer games, and I'll say, what's the score? Someone will say, we don't keep score. Everyone's a winner.
Oh, brother. Then some guy will say, it's five to two. You know, so I think it's important to keep score. You know, there's going to be a winner and loser of a game. There's going to be a winner and loser of the boxing match. There's going to be a winner and loser of the race. We should run this race to win. Another thing Paul says about running races is that we can get off track in the race of life. He wrote to the believers in Galatia, and he said, you guys were running a good race who cut in on you from obeying the truth. Sometimes people get us off track. They cut in on us, so to speak. It's a good thing to periodically evaluate the friends that I have, the people I spend time with, and ask myself the question, is this person encouraging me in running the race of life as a Christian, or are they discouraging me?
Another way to look at it, are they a wing or are they a weight? Are they encouraging me or stopping me? So reevaluate who your friends are. You know, someone says happy is the man or woman who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scornful, but instead their delight is in the word of the Lord. Don't hang around with ungodly people that may encourage you to do ungodly things. Then Paul also uses the analogy of running a race when he tells us we should never look back. In Philippians 3, 14, he says, I've got my eye on the goal where God is beckoning us onward to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. The idea is I've got my eye on the prize. I'm not looking back. You know, Jesus said, no man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Why? Because the first step to going back is looking back. Have you ever been driving and you notice that a cop pulls up behind you? I'm sure your first reaction is to slow down. Even if you're driving the speed limit, you slow down. Have you ever noticed, like on a freeway, if there's a cop out ahead, no one wants to pass the cop. Even if he or she is going under the speed limit, we all slow down behind them and wait for them to take the next off-ramp, then we go back to speeding again, right?
But if you're driving and you're looking in your rearview mirror at the officer behind you or you're distracted by something else, you could hit a car, hit a person. So you need to keep your eyes on the road. In the same way as Christians running a race, we need to keep our eyes on the prize. But it's not just enough to run the race. You want to finish the race. And Paul says, I want to finish this race with joy in Acts 20, 23.
You know, I've been running this race as a Christian for over 50 years now, and I'm going to tell you a little secret about running this race, and it's simply this. It's a joyful thing to know and walk with God. In Isaiah 55, it says you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace. There's joy in knowing Christ. There's joy in reading the Bible. There's joy in knowing other Christians who are your fellow brothers and sisters. There's joy in sharing your faith as well. Joy in all of these things. In fact, the Bible says the joy of the Lord is your strength. Another thing, we need to play by the rules when we're running the race of life.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9, hey, I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified. You've got to play by the rules, so if I enter a race and tell me what the rules are, I have to follow those rules or I will be disqualified. For instance, if I'm doing a long-distance run, I can't, you know, take a bus. I have to actually run with everyone else.
I bring this up because someone actually did that. It was a big race, and so the starting pistol was fired, and one guy took off running with everyone else, and then he disappeared into the forest when he caught a bus to where the race was ending, joined up with the runners at the very end of the race and came in. One runner in particular noticed this man did not look winded. He wasn't sweating.
He wasn't tired. And he placed, I think, third in the race, so they found out what he had done, and he was immediately disqualified. So if you're running a race, you can't take the bus. And if you're running this race of life, you gotta play by God's rules, and you can run it with joy, and you can finish this race with joy. Here's a little secret found in Hebrews 12. It says, For the joy that was set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and now He is set down at the right hand of God. Question, what kept Jesus going as He carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem? People were screaming at Him. They were beating Him. They were mocking Him. Yet He carried that cross all the way to the spot where they crucified Him.
The answer is there. He did it for the joy that was set before Him. What was the joy that was set before Jesus? Answer, it was you.
It was me. He knew that He was going to pay the price for the sins of all of humanity, pay the price for your sins and for mine, and that's what kept Him going. So Paul compares himself to a runner.
Now he uses a new illustration. Now Paul compares himself to a steward. Verse 24, The ministry which I received from the Lord. In other words, this ministry was given to me from God. I didn't even choose it, but I received it as a gift from God. Every one of us is effectively a steward or a servant.
Let me put it another way. Everything I have has been given to me by God. Everything you have has been given to you by God. Your career, the roof over your head, your family, your breath in your lungs right now, the beat of your heart, your very life itself has been given to you by God. So my objective is to find the will of God and walk in it. So I need to realize that I am the purchased property of Jesus Christ. He paid a price for me. First Corinthians 6, 20 says you're not your own.
You've been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. Heard about an old man who was asked the secret of his spiritual longevity. Someone said, old man, you've been walking with the Lord all these years.
How have you done it? He says, well, let me tell you something. Whenever I'm getting tempted by the devil, I just look up to heaven and I say, Lord, your property is in danger again. You're the property of Christ. He paid for you with His own blood. You belong to Him.
You know, it's interesting. Paul would often start his epistles with these words. Paul, a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What did that mean? A bondservant. Well, slavery was big in Rome in these days. But there could be a time where a master would free his servant. And on certain occasions there would be a servant that loved his master so much he would say, okay, I'm no longer your slave as I have been, but I want to be your bondservant. A bondservant was someone who served their master because they wanted to, not because they had to. So Paul would often refer to himself as a bondservant.
I want to do this, going back to his phrase, finishing this race with joy. So we are a servant. I'm a servant. You're a servant. I'm just doing what I'm called to do. Sometimes people say, oh, Greg, thank you for all the times you've preached the gospel and thank you for doing this and doing that. And I say, well, thank you for saying that.
I appreciate it. But I'm just doing my job. In fact, Jesus told the story of a servant who had done what his master told him to do. And their response was, we're unworthy servants. We've only done what our duty is to do. That's Luke 17, 10. That's all I'm doing.
That's all any of us should be doing. Now, number three, Paul compares himself to a witness, a witness. So he said, I'm a runner in a race. I'm a slave or I'm a servant, and I'm also a witness.
Verse 24, testifying to the grace of God. You're a witness. So let's say that there's an automobile accident, a fender bender. So the cops come, and they try to find eyewitnesses. So they will say to you, an eyewitness, tell me, what did you see in here?
And can you describe it to me? And they put that in the report. Now, my job is not to make up something. It's not to exaggerate what I saw. It's not to edit out things that I saw. It's to simply be a good eyewitness and describe what I've seen.
We are to do the same. The apostle John said, that which we have seen and heard, we declare to you that you may have a relationship with God. So I think when you're really walking with Jesus Christ, telling others about him comes naturally.
You're sort of like a sponge filled with water. It comes out easily, and you just overflow with your faith and what the Lord has done for you. So we are called to be a witness before others. But it's interesting because there's a seriousness to this statement because the word testifying, when Paul says in verse 24, testifying to the grace of God, it means to solemnly give witness. It's really important that I'm accurate in what I say.
Going back to you talking to a police officer, if you ID'd the wrong person as a criminal or you gave false facts, it could result in someone being sent to jail or even prison if they weren't guilty. So we need to be solemn in this. We need to get our facts straight. We need to know what the Bible says and be a good witness of what Christ has done. Now, number four, Paul compares himself to a herald. Verse 25, I know that among you I've gone preaching the kingdom of God, and he will see my face no more. So now he's a herald. So a witness talks about what they have seen. A herald proclaims a message his master gives him.
We have a message to declare. I used to be a paperboy, and I had a pretty cool bike. It was a Schwinn Stingray with a stick shift, and I liked that bike, and I had these big bags with the newspapers on it, and I would ride around, and I would throw those newspapers, and they were wrapped in sort of a plastic, and so I got pretty good.
I could clear hedges. I could get them right on the doorstep, and so my job as a delivery boy was not to write the news. It wasn't to make the news. It was simply to deliver the news, and that's our job as well, except we're delivering the good news of the gospel to others.
So we're a herald getting this message out. Now Paul says in verse 27 to the leaders of Ephesus, I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. The job of a pastor in teaching the Bible is to declare God's counsel to you on every topic, not just pick the subjects we like to talk about.
It's to feed the flock of God. So Paul's saying, hey, guys, I told you the truth. I didn't hold it back. I said it publicly, and I said it privately. By the way, that's a really good friend, a friend who will tell you the truth, and we all know people like that.
We don't always like it because sometimes they'll see something we don't wanna hear, but if you have a friend who will honestly tell you the truth, that is a true friend. Finally, Paul compares himself to a watchman. Verse 26 of Acts 20, I testify to you this day, I'm innocent of the blood of all men.
So now he compares himself to a watchman on a wall. By the way, my name Gregory actually means watchman, and I feel that God has called me to be a watchman as he has called you to be as well. This is an interesting phrase when Paul says I'm innocent of the blood of all men.
What does that mean? Well, over in the book of Ezekiel chapter three verse 17, we read the Lord saying to the prophet son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. I warn the wicked, and I tell them they're under the penalty of sin, but if you fail to deliver this warning, they'll die in their sins, and I'll hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. So that's the origin of the statement of Paul.
I am free of the blood of all men, or I'm innocent of the blood of all men. In other words, I've been a good watchman. I've delivered the message God wants me to deliver. We need to do the same, be faithful in giving this message to others. To fail to do so is to be a poor watchman. Now Paul closes this message to the leaders of Ephesus with the motive for doing these things. Look at what he says in verse 35. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ who said, it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.
Have you found that to be true? By the way, the word blessed can be translated happy. So if you wanna be a happy person, be a giver. There's three things that we can give to God, talent, treasure, and time. God has given you certain talents, certain abilities.
Dedicate that talent to the Lord. Secondly, he's given you treasure, your resources, your finances. Give those treasures to the Lord. Invest in the work of the kingdom of God. And finally, time. Every hour of every day is a gift to us from heaven.
Don't waste your time. And understand that speaking of finances, you cannot out-give God. Jesus said in Luke 6, 38, if you give, you will receive your gift or return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more and running over.
Whatever measure you use in giving, large or small, it will be used to measure what is given back to you. Be a generous giver and God will bless you and replenish you as a result. Sadly, so many believers are keeping this all to themselves. There are some Christians that can't remember the last time they initiated a conversation about Jesus. They can't remember the last time they invested a dollar into the work of the kingdom of God.
You're missing out on so much. Remember, it is more blessed or happy making to give than to receive. So let's wrap this up. We're runners in a race. As Paul tells us in verse 24, we need to finish this race with joy.
We need to run this race to win. Number two, we're stewards or servants. Our sole responsibility here on earth is to praise and serve our master. Thirdly, we're witnesses. Like we're in a court of law, we are to give witness, solemnly give witness, tell the truth. We're also heralds. The witness tells what has happened to him, but the herald gives the message the king wants him to declare. And finally, we are watchmen. It's like we're on a wall of a city and we're given a message and we faithfully deliver that message to others. Listen, if you do these things, you will live a meaningful life. You never know when you're gonna give your last message.
Paul knew this is it. I'll never see these guys again. So this is what matters to me. And one day, as I said earlier, you are gonna give your last message. What if this was the last message you would ever hear? What if this was the last message I would ever give?
If you were gonna give a final message, what would you say to someone else? In an interview for his book called Nearing Home, one of the last books that Billy wrote, he was in his late 90s when he wrote it, he said this, God doesn't want us to waste our latter years or spend them in superficial, meaningless pursuits. Instead, writes Billy, he wants us to use them in whatever ways we can to influence those that will come after us, end quote. God wants us to finish well.
He wants us to finish our race with joy. Listen to this, the greatest legacy you can pass on to your children and grandchildren is not your money or material things that you have accumulated in your life. The greatest legacy you can pass on to them is the legacy of your character and of your faith. One day, the most precious things you have will fit in a hospital drawer. The only wealth that will endure is that which has been invested in others for the sake of Christ and His gospel. I said earlier, what if this were your last message to hear?
I wanna make sure you hear what I'm saying. Everybody has a beginning, middle, and end of their life. God determines the length of our days.
God determines when we're born. He determines when we will die and we have everything to do with that little dash in the middle. But I want you to be prepared for the afterlife because heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Why did Jesus come to this earth and walk among us as a man and then go and die on a cross? He came to die for your sins. Jesus said, for God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son and whoever believes in Him should not perish but they will have everlasting life. Are you ready to go to heaven?
If you died today or tonight, would you go to heaven? You say, well, I believe I would because I'm a good person. Are you really?
I'll give you the answer. You're not as good as you think you are. Oh, I'm sure you're a nice person. I'm sure you're kind and considerate.
Then again, maybe you aren't but there are a lot of nice people out there. Being a nice person will not get you to heaven. Being a good person will not get you to heaven because you and I, we have sinned against God. We've broken His commandments.
We have fallen short of His standards. So heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for forgiven people. So here's my question. Have you been forgiven of your sin?
You say, well, how does that happen? The Bible says that we will confess our sin. He's faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again from the dead and is alive and He's with us right here right now is standing at the door of your life and He is knocking. He's saying if you'll hear His voice and open the door, He'll come in and if you'll say, Lord, I'm sorry for my sin, I turn from it now, He will forgive you and you can know with certainty that you will go to heaven when you die and in the meantime, you can live a meaningful life. Would you like to ask Jesus to come into your life? If so, I'm gonna pray a simple prayer and I'm going to ask that you would pray this prayer after me, you could pray it out loud if you like, you can pray it quietly in your heart but pray this prayer and mean it and Jesus Christ will come into your life to be your Savior, your Lord, your God and your friend. If you would like Him to come into your life, if you would like to be forgiven of your sins, if you would like to know that you will go to heaven when you die, if you would like to find the meaning and purpose of life, pray this prayer with me right now. Just pray these words. Lord Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner but I know that you are the Savior who died on the cross for my sin and rose again from the dead. I turn from my sin now and I choose to follow you from this moment forward. In Jesus' name I pray, amen. Hey everybody, thanks for listening to this podcast. To learn more about Harvest Ministries, follow this show and consider supporting it. Just go to harvest.org and to find out how to know God personally, go to harvest.org and click on Know God.
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