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About this series
Keep Pressing Ahead
How to Make it Through Anything
There are times in our lives when we simply get to the point that we say, "I can't take it anymore!" This depression is just too dark. This marriage is just too hard. The job I lost, the family member I buried, the junk I'm going through. And deep, down inside your heart you say, "I quit. I'm done." And though you may go through the motions on the outside, you've just had it. Your mind says, "I've got to trust God," but your heart says, "I've heard it all before and it's not working for me." You begin to drift - from people and from God. This series, drawn from Nehemiah, will help you overcome adversity and keep you pressing ahead no matter what.More from this series
I want to talk to you about the adversity that comes through personal failure. When you’re in that journey – and we’re all – some of the greatest people in Scripture have made devastating steps of personal failure. And no one is immune.
God speaks to me and says, Do this, Chip, and, you know, No. And when you sin, or when I sin – and whether it’s an internal motive, or whether it’s something I look at, or something that I say, or an action that I do – the Spirit of God will convict you. And you’ll have this experience; you’ll lose the sense of peace and connection with God. And the whole goal of that connection broken is to let you know, something is wrong.
The Spirit acts as an umpire, an arbitrator in your heart, and so the moment you get that – I’m praying, nine out of ten days – that light goes on inside you, Oh Lord, I’m sorry. And you claim that promise, “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive you your sin, cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” Fellowship is broken. God still loves you. And then, you get back on track.
Sometimes personal failures aren’t so small, they’re not so temporary, and we’re not so quick to respond. The Spirit convicts, and we just push it away. We pull away. We drift. We harden our hearts. Those occasional sins begin to become patterns. Relationships deteriorate. Guilt increases. Denial sets in. You start rationalizing what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. You blame other people. You find yourself unconsciously staying away from people and places that bring truth into your life.
You begin to live a lie of secrets and lies. Your conscience, like mine, little by little, becomes dull, and things that so clearly violate God’s Word, they don’t register, hardly at all, in your soul. It’s just a tiny, little, dim uncomfortableness.
And then, intellectually, you rationalize it, and I rationalize it, where we just decide that’s okay, for now. And then, God does something, because He loves you. God brings what I call the “velvet vise” of discipline and love into your life. And He is watching you, and He watches me, go into these times of denial, and these hardening of hearts, and then He’ll bring some financial pressure. Hmm. That didn’t get your attention. Might bring some health issues, might bring a conflict in your marriage. He might have one of your kids go through something.
But I will tell you, He will bring pain, and increasing levels of heat and adversity, to get your attention. And then, when He gets your attention, and you start thinking, I wonder if God is trying to speak to me through all these things, then He’ll bring truth into your life. And all the denial goes away, and you realize, I have failed God. I have betrayed Christ. I have hurt people.
And then, this just overwhelming sense of, I have ruined this. I have ruined that. I have hurt them. Can God really forgive me?
One of the greatest men in all of Scripture was David, and he sinned. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in an impulsive moment, he had an affair. And then, to cover his affair and his adultery, he had a man killed.
And in one of the most intimate recollections ever recorded in Scripture, he shares about somewhere between a twelve- to fourteen-month period when he was keeping this under wraps, and he was in the velvet vise of God’s grip. And he shares what it did to his heart, and what it did to his body, and what it did to his emotions.
And you can follow along if you’d like to, I put on the front of your notes, I read, in Psalm 32, where David is talking about the personal pain that has come from his failure. And he said, “When I kept silent” – talking about his sin with Bathsheba, talking about murder, talking about the violation of his conscience – “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” The adversity that God will bring sometimes will be very physical. “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me.” God loves you. He won’t leave you alone. “My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” He’s talking about feeling depressed. No energy. “I can’t go on.” He doesn’t like himself.
Then, verse 5, we get a turning point, and it’s the turning point God brought some of you in this room today to break out of this, because He loves you.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to You, I did not cover my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord.’” And notice what happened: “And You forgave the guilt of my sin.” And so, in a moment of time he realizes, I’m coming clean. I see it. I’m going to own it. I’m going to just get absolutely honest before You. Will You forgive me? He does.
And then, after that pain, notice, he talks about the path of restoration, and he talks not only about himself, but for you and me. He says, “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to You while He may be found.” The inference is, there are times He may not be found. There are times where you can go into such denial, and have such patterns, that you won’t hear God’s voice later.
So, some of you, He brought you today to give you one more chance.
“Surely when the mighty waters rise they will not reach Him.” And then, as he begins to experience this release, this sense of forgiveness, he says, “You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
He is a king, and he’s going to have to face the people, and he’s going to have to own his stuff. He’s going to have to admit he’s committed adultery. And he’s a leader. And then, he’s going to have to own up to murder. And he has no idea what the consequences of God will be.
And then, we get, in verse 8, God’s response to him. And by the way, it’s His response to you. God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way in which you should go; I’ll be with you. I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” I’ll take you through this. I’ll coach you through this. You can make it. You’re not the first person that’s really blown it.
But He makes a warning: He says, “Don’t be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by a bit or bridle or they won’t come.” Don’t make Me keep yanking on your life. It could get worse. He says, “Because many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man” – the woman – “that trusts in Him.”
What God brought you into this room, on this day, to grasp, at maybe a level that you never have, is, despite anything you’ve done – secretly, or in your mind, or in your heart, or in your behavior, or what someone may never ever know – He still loves you – His unfailing, steadfast, loyal, forgiving love.
But the issue a lot in my life, in the past, has been, how do you experience that when you know you’ve messed up? How do you get out of projecting, and protecting, and how do you get where you experience what David experienced – new life, a fresh start?
Turn in your notes, if you will, because Nehemiah, in this last section, is going to be our model. He is going to show us exactly how to be restored. And he’s going to say, in this passage – chapter 8 – there are three conditions. He’s going to say it’s going to start with a return to God’s Word. Then, he’s going to tell us, we have to respond to that truth. And then, he’s going to say, when you return to His Word, respond to the truth, from the heart, he says, you’re going to have to apply it to your life. And when you do, you can be clean. And when you do, He’ll walk with you. And when you do, He can take some of the worst times of your life and turn them around.
And chapter 8 opens: “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate.”
Then, notice who takes the initiative. “They told Ezra” – remember? He’s the priest; he’s the teacher of the Law – “the scribe, ‘Bring out the Book of the Law of Moses,’ which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.”
So, children that were old enough to understand as someone would read and explain something what was going on. “He read it out loud from daybreak until noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, the women, and the others who could understand. And all the people listened intently to the Book of the Law.”
And so, imagine thirty to fifty thousand people out there. And we pick it up: Ezra opened the book, and all the people could see him because he was standing above them. And he opened it, and the people stood up. And it was on this wooden platform, “And to his right were Mattithiah and Shema and Anaiah and Uriah and Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah and Mishael and Malkijah and Hashum and Hashbaddanah and Zechariah and Meshullam. And all the people could see him because he was standing above them, and he opened it and they stood up. And Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and they responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ as they heard the Word of God being taught. And then they bowed down and they worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
And then, the Levites. The Levites are the people that instruct people. They’re the people that help with the Temple. And if you list them, what you’ll find is, there are thirteen key Levite leaders.
And then, notice what they do: “They instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God” – here’s the key line – “making it clear” – literally, the Hebrew word means, “to separate.” It means, “to break down.” It has the idea of “translating,” of “giving the understanding, the meaning,” so that the people could understand what was being read.
So I put some notes together, if you have a pen, follow along. Let’s just look at, so what do they do? First and foremost, they return to the Word.
So, what did they actually do? They took initiative. They took the initiative. They said, “Ezra, you’ve been here.” Historically, he’s been there about fourteen years. And he’s had Bible studies, and he’s been teaching, but the enemies have been bad, and the walls haven’t been rebuilt. The Temple is going kind of slow.
And so, Ezra has been teaching but there has been no momentum; there’s been no traction. There’s been no, “We are the people of God.” And after fourteen years, and things are aligned, they take the initiative, and they say, “Ezra, the Book of the Law, would you read it to us? We want to know God’s plan.” So, he does.
Notice, second, they invested time. I don’t know about you, but when is the last time you spent six straight hours standing up in reverence to hear God’s Word? From dawn until noon.
Third, they listened attentively. This wasn’t like, “Okay, we’re supposed to do this; couple chapters a day, or a few hours a day, keep the devil away.” This is like, “We want to hear, what is God’s plan? What does He say?” So, that’s what they did.
Now, notice how they did it: They came before God in families – men, women, and those who could understand. These parents understood that it’s not enough to tell your kids what you learned somewhere else.
And so, they read the Word publicly. At some point in time, they just wanted to know: what did God say? Then, they explained the word privately. What does it mean? Can you imagine? They worshipped idols. They turned away from God. The heavy hand of God was upon the nation. It was His discipline. Hebrews 12 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful. Yet those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
The Proverbs and Hebrews 12 both teach that when we sin, the discipline, the velvet vise of God – He brings consequences into our life to get our attention, to draw us back to Him. And so, the consequences were, seventy years they went into captivity. And then, another hundred years, they’re working their way back.
And so, these are people that don’t – they’ve never heard. And they’re hearing stories about the exodus, and they’re hearing stories from Deuteronomy 6 about, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind.” “Fathers, teach your children to walk when you rise up and when you lie down.” And they would read Numbers, and they’d read the laws in Leviticus. And for six hours they are hearing things many of them have never heard. And then in these smaller sub-groups, they’re getting it explained, “This is what it means.” Then, finally, they worship God reverently.
I came across a verse that is in Isaiah 66. It is very, very powerful, and it was written at a time when people were far from God. And God says, “This is the one that I esteem.”
These are the people that find favor in His eyes: “…those who have a humble and contrite heart, and who tremble at My Word.”
“…who tremble at My Word.” Who understand, the God that spoke into nothingness, and the galaxies came into existence, is the same God who sent the Second Person of the Trinity, His Son, to be the Living Word, and to walk among us, and that He gave us His written Word, and that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction, and righteousness; that the man of God, the woman of God could be adequately equipped to live the kind of life that would enjoy God’s love, and fulfill His mission. And Jesus would say that, “Hey, you’ll never live by physical issues, and physical fulfillment, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
And so, when these people heard the holiness of God and His Word, they raised their hands. And when they said, “Amen! Amen!” they were saying, “We agree that what has been spoken is true, from the high and holy God.” And then, it says, “They bowed low,” and they prostrated themselves, and they humbled themselves and were saying, ‘We’re returning our life, our dreams, our values, our children, our family, our money – we’re returning under the authority of Your Word.’” And they worshipped.
I would ask you, as we go to the second condition, what would it look like for you to return to God’s Word? I would encourage you, just go down through the list and say, Am I taking initiative? Am I investing time? Is there a level of attentiveness? For some of you in families, I would ask, Are our families coming before God and His Word corporately? Is my family coming before God’s Word privately, in our home? Am I pursuing the understanding of God’s Word? Am I in some sort of smaller group community, where it’s explained, and I can learn it?
So many of the issues that you face, and I face, are so far away from God’s best for your life. But if you don’t know what His best is – because it’s in His Word – and you neglect it, and you disobey, you receive these consequences. And these consequences – this holy, loving God will bring the velvet vise into your life to get your attention, to bring you to a day like this, to say, Stop! Turn around. Repent. Listen. Let Me love you. Let Me restore you.
The second condition isn’t just returning to the Word. They didn’t just listen. They didn’t just hear it. They didn’t just pray a prayer. Notice, the second condition is: we must respond to the truth.
Look what they do in verses 9 through 12. “When Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and the scribe, and the Levite who were instructing the people said to them, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” When they saw who God was, when they saw why they were where they were, when they saw the consequences, when they looked around and said, “We’ve married foreign wives. We’ve disobeyed. We don’t honor the Sabbath. We have our priorities out of whack. We’ve leveraged ourselves; we have amazing debt. All the things You’ve said that You would bless – You said to us, ‘Live this way, there will be blessing; live this way, there will be a curse. Before you today, I give you life, or death.’”
They’re hearing this, and they are realizing, “We chose death,” and they’re weeping. They’re weeping. For some of us, it would be, “I am experiencing this depression because I’m in disobedience.” “My marriage broke up because of my disobedience.” “My kids are experiencing this because of my disobedience.” When you face that kind of stuff, you weep! You’re broken.
But notice what they’re doing. “Nehemiah said to them, ‘Go and rejoice, enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”
And the Levites, now, they’re coming out in these, I think, medium-sized groups, and they “calmed all the people, saying, ‘‘Be still’” – “stop crying” – “‘for this is a sacred day.’ Then the people went away to eat, and drink, and to send portions of food and celebrate with great joy, because” – here’s the key word – “they now understood” – they didn’t just hear – “they understood the words that had been made known to them.”
You need to know something about the Jewish calendar. You might have skipped over it. It says, “It’s the seventh month, the first day.”
That’s when the new year starts. And God commanded the new year starts on October first, in the Jewish calendar, and they were to – the harvest is coming in, and so, on that very first day, what obedience looks like is, the harvest is coming in, and it’s a day to celebrate and rejoice what God has done, and what He’s provided.
And the people understood, they couldn’t focus on all their past failure, because God’s will, on this day, from His Word, is this, and it’s to celebrate.
And it says the reason why is, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” The word strength, there – the joy. When you experience the connection, the byproduct of being reconnected with God, it is that connection with Him that gives you strength.
Notice what, exactly, that they did. Number one, they wept over their sin. And for some of you, an application is going to be to maybe open your journal, and write out, God, I’m really – I’ve got to deal with some stuff.
Second, they received a word of grace. God said, “You just don’t understand. I’m a just God.” But the will of God today is, “I want to bless you. I want to love you.” Romans chapter 2 has this great line, “It is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.”
Most of us have a view of God that His arms are crossed; His toe is tapping. He has a long, boney finger. And anything you’ve ever done, He is really ticked off. And I don’t know where you got that picture of God, or where I got it, and don’t get me wrong, He doesn’t gloss over sin. But whenever a person has a contrite heart, whenever a person is genuinely, deeply sorry, and you own your stuff, and you blow it, the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and those that are crushed in spirit.
And when you come like that, you will meet a God who is like this: who loves, who forgives, who cleans you off, who puts His arm around you. Oh, He’ll deal with the consequences – He’ll be fair. But He’ll go through it with you.
And notice, they experienced the joy of obedience. See, for many of you, the next step – God’s will for you is just to take the next step of obedience. What is it that He’s showing you?
He’s bringing things to your mind, not because He’s down on you. He’s bringing things to your mind – it’s called “conviction” – so you could own them, and you could bring them. And you could turn from them. That’s what they did, but notice how they did it. They responded from the heart. This wasn’t perfunctory. This wasn’t, “Oh, yeah, God says this. I guess we’re supposed to do that.” This was deep! This was honest! This was real!
You know those different times you have in your life, and I have in my life, the times where your prayers are short, and they’re superficial, and you’re playing games. And you don’t have a deep connection with God. You don’t hear those little promptings that He gives you. And many times, what it is, He keeps bringing the same thing back over and over and over. I don’t know what it is with you.
But it’s a sensitive issue, and you don’t want to deal with it. And so, you keep this superficial thing going. And then, you’ve had those times, like I have, where you get before God, and you call it what it is, and you see it for what it is, and the tears come, and you own it, and you just feel like the lowest, worst person. “I am desperate, and I’m sorry,” and there’s this guilt that comes. And there’s this amazing release as you bring it to Him, and you experience, None of this surprised Me. I love you.
Notice, they focused on God’s mercy, rather than on their failure. Isn’t this amazing?
Once you get real, you need to focus on His mercy, and how great a love the Father must have for regular people, like you and me, that He’s called us His children.
And so, you own your stuff, and then you focus on what He’s done. This is the Luke 15; this is the son who has squandered his life, and realizes, he brings nothing; he doesn’t deserve to be a son. But the moment he turns from the pigsty, the moment from his life, and he returns to the father.
What’s the father like? What was Jesus’ picture there? What was He trying to tell? That wasn’t some story. That was for you! What’s He want you to know?
He can repair people that have had affairs! He can repair people that have addictions. He can repair people that have squandered, and your greed has cost you your life fortune. He can repair people that are gossips, and workaholics, and people-pleasers, and codependents, and sex addicts, and rigid, narrow, Bible-thumping Pharisees who are judgmental of other people. All of us.
You come, and when you come to that Father, what’s He do? He’s waiting. And He puts a ring on your finger, and sandals on your feet, because you’re not a slave, you’re a son. And He takes His robe and He wraps it around you, and He walks through it with you.
Notice what they did: They obeyed God’s Word for today. We have this mental catalogue that we play, is that – you know you need to return to God, you know you need to get right with God. And then, the catalogue is, you have this list of seventeen things that need to be addressed, that’s a lie from the enemy of hell. They just obey. You obey today. What’s God saying today? What’s His will today? And so, they did. And their “today” response was – what? “Today we’re supposed to, it’s the first day; it’s the new year. We’re to thank God for the harvest. We’re to thank God for this, and we’re to look forward in faithfulness, and celebrate.”
So, where do you need to respond to the truth? What’s the next step? You want to hear the answer to a prayer that comes, like –whoo! – really quick? Pray this prayer in your heart and mind right now: Dear God, please show me the next step. Whatever You show me, I will do. And I don’t care if you don’t listen to me the rest of the time. Dear God, show me just the next step. I will tell you – whoo!
Now, many of you will not like what the next step is, and many of you actually already know what the next step is. But you’re playing this game, “I don’t want to – I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I hope he – don’t miss God’s grace. See, you don’t deal with it today, if you’re fortunate it’ll come back around in a month. If you’re fortunate, it’ll come back around. But it may not. Sometimes God says, You want your own way? Here it is, in spades, with all the consequences that come with it.
So, we return to the Word in our response to personal failure. Then, we respond to that truth, from the heart. And then, third, we must apply it to our lives. We’ve got to get it operational. It’s when you act on the Word; it’s when you abide, when you take the step. Jesus says, “That’s when you’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
So, let’s find out what they do. Pick it up at verse 13. Verse 13 – now, notice, it was the first day of the seventh month. Now it’s the second day. “The heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, they gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention” – literally, the phrase is, literally, “to gain wisdom” – “to give attention to the words of the Law.”
And so, the next day – this is like the very first advanced Bible seminar. And all the leaders and the heads of the families say, “Hey, Ezra, before we go on, could we talk? Because we’ve got to figure out how to apply this to our lives.”
“So they found written in the Law of the Lord that Moses had commanded that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month.” Of course, they’re in the seventh month. “And they should proclaim this Word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: ‘Go out into the hill country and bring back branches of olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles and from palms and shade trees, to make booths’ – as it is written.”
So, what do the people do? “The people went out and they brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, and in the courtyards and in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and by the one by the Gate of Ephraim.
“And the whole company that returned from the exile, they built booths and they lived in the tent. And from the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.” And then, notice the very last line: “Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God.”
And then, notice, there’s this joy. “And they celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.”
So, what did they do? The fathers and the leaders came to be equipped.
And notice, the second thing is, they discovered a command to obey.
What you found is, day one was the Feast of the Trumpets. Well, then the tenth day would be the Day of Atonement. And then, on the fifteenth day, they were supposed to go out and get these branches, and they’d build these little huts, and they would sleep outside for seven days, to remind them of their wilderness wandering.
Why did the people of Israel end up in the wilderness? Can anybody remember? Because they disobeyed God, right? So, the wilderness wandering is – what? A time of discipline.
And so, what they learned was, “We’re supposed to do this every year to remember that God wants us to be in the promised land, but if you disobey – part of our heritage is, our fathers failed to believe, and trust, and take the steps of faith, and this is what happens.”
And guess what they do – they obey. They went out – notice – immediately. They build it on the roof; the build it in the courtyards. They build it in the house of God.
Well, then, how did they do it? First, they recognized their need for spiritual insight.
Second is, they focused on present obedience, instead of past failure. See, if they were in a modern counseling session, they would have been unpacking the last hundred years of how they got there: “I did this. I did this. I did this. I did this. I did this. I did this. And I think this is the reason for that.” Now, there is a place and a time, personally, but some of you, you could spend the rest of your life unpacking baggage and remorse. There’s a thing called “the cross.” And it covers your sin. And you come to the cross, and you receive the atonement, or the covering, of your sin.
And then, the thing is – what’s obedience look like today? “Wow, I’m upside down financially. I’m going to get out of debt. I’m living with someone – ah, let’s see, I’m not real – actually, I am really sure. That’s not part of God’s – well, we love each other. Yeah, yeah, deet, dat, boop, bap, beep, beep. Those are my excuses. This is God’s will.”
You know what it is, right? Obey. Immediately. Today. What’s the next thing He wants you to do? And by the way, when you take a step of obedience, that joy kicks in. Is it hard? Of course it’s hard! Did you get where you’re at overnight? No. Is everything going to change overnight? No. But it starts with this first step. And then, notice, they developed a pattern of intake and obedience to God’s Word. It said, “Day after day.”
Some of you need to make some big steps. But all of us need to begin to walk. For some, you’re here today, and this is the greatest day of your earthly life. You just didn’t know it when you got up. I’m serious. You came. It’s about adversity. You’re getting some help. But you’re outside of Christ. If you were to die today, you’d be eternally separated from the living God, because no amount of your being nice, or a little bit more moral than other people.
God does not grade on the curve. Sorry. You have to have a hundred points of absolute perfection to have a relationship with an absolutely holy God. You can be a ninety-six, a ninety-seven, or a minus ten – it’s pass/fail. And the only way you can have a hundred points is to allow Christ to do for you what you could never do for yourself. When He died upon the cross, He paid for your sin, my sin, and the sins of all people, of all time. He atoned, He covered for them, and He says, “Whosoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
And for some, the will of God the next step in this room is, right now, for you to say, God, I need You. I have missed the mark. I have sinned. I’ve got lots of stuff in my life. And I want You to know, I want to turn from that sin. I’m going to ask You to come into my life, and make me Your son or Your daughter, and I want a new life. And He will do that. And you’ll need to tell someone. And about eighty or ninety percent of the people, at some point in their life, have done that, and they have all the same struggles you and I do. But I will tell you, they are new people. There has been a transformation, and He wants that for you.
For others, you’ve been thinking the whole time I’ve been talking, and fighting with it. You need to decide; you ask God, What’s the next step? Is it getting into His Word? Is it deal with a sin issue? Is it get in community? I don’t know what it is! You take that step, and the process of restoration will occur.