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How Does God Measure Generosity?, Part 1

From the series Genius of Generosity

What is God looking for from you when it comes to being generous? Join Chip as he explores the answer to that question in this message from his series "The Genius of Generosity."

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Message Transcript

So how does God measure generosity?

Well, Jesus has a way of taking what we believe and what we think and how we evaluate and literally turning it upside down. And the way He does that is to bring life and it’s to bring freedom but we just get used to seeing things and evaluating things in ways that are very, very subtle, that lead us down paths that ruin relationships, that hurt people.

In fact, the word “miser” comes from the root word for miserable. Miserly, non-generous people are miserable. And yet there’s something when we think about generosity when we self-evaluate we say, “Oh yeah, I think I’m pretty generous.”

This series is not about money. This series is about generosity and being smart, about living your life in a way that brings about the highest and best results for you and the greatest glory for God.

So, Jesus has a teachable moment with His disciples. There’s a treasury over there, it’s outside the temple, people are coming and dropping large gifts in it. And a woman comes by and drops something very small. And Jesus stops everyone and says, “Wait a second. Don’t miss this moment.”

Luke chapter 21 verses 1 to 4 pick up the story. “As He looked up Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.” And, by the way, I think He was very thankful. I think when He gives people a lot and they’re giving gifts I think it brings great joy to His heart. There’s not a good person and a bad person in this story. There’s a comparison.

“He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.” And so He’s looking at the balance. Some very, very large gifts, two small, copper coins. Then notice what He does.

“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others.” And then He gives the explanation because I don’t know about you but that’s not good math. Right?

A lot of money versus two small, copper coins, they physically gave more but according to Jesus she gave more. And then He tells us why.

“All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth but she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.” Now, the breakthrough concept here, I put it right up front in the notes. This is how God measures generosity. God measures generosity not by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice.

What He was saying was that it cost her more to put in two small, copper coins than it cost them. Why? Because it impacted her lifestyle. She basically had the faith to believe and had a heart to say, “I love You, God.”

By the way, when we give that’s the message. This isn’t a performance. When we give to God it’s an act of love. And this woman said, “I don’t have hardly anything left but I want to give what I have and I believe and I trust that once I’ve given all that I have to live on that the God that I serve is kind and generous and powerful and He’s going to meet my needs.”

See, when Jesus sees sacrifice that impacts our lifestyle what He sees is a heart of love. And that’s why He said she was more generous.

I actually taught this at a conference once. And it was one of those, like, four-day conferences where you give four or five messages and on the very first day of the conference I told people, “I want you to know, even the title, Genius of Generosity, it’s really not about money.”

And you know how you’re in a line at the buffet, at one of those afterwards and I hear these two people talking and they’re kind of leaning, one over to the other and didn’t know I was behind them.

“Wow, this guy says it’s not about money but generosity, you know where this thing is going, right?”

And it was really interesting when I got done with this message at the very end that lady came up to me. She didn’t know I ever heard it. She said, “You know, when you said that this wasn’t about money, I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’” She said, “When you finished this on how God measures generosity,” she goes, “it’s really not about money, is it?” I said, “Ma’am, it’s really not.”

It’s really about heart. It’s about life. It’s about how smart people live who understand who God is and want the highest and best for their life and for others and to honor Him and not waste their life.

See the whole point of generosity – you know this intellectually. God really doesn’t need your money. He owns everything. But steps of generosity are a part of His plan so that intimacy and relationship with Him can increase.

And the only way that intimacy ever happens with God is this mechanism called faith. The conduit of relationship with God is not knowledge. Knowledge puffs up. Love edifies.

The conduit is faith. You can have knowledge and never put it into action. But when I believe what God says to the point that I trust and I act, I respond to light and He gives more light and the relationship and the intimacy…

So one, not all, but one of the primary ways He develops intimacy is by teaching me to be like Him. To trust that God is who He said He is, that His Word is really true, that when I give my money or my time or we’ll see, our reputation, our future, or even my life or the most precious thing that I deem precious to me, when, by faith, I say, “Lord, it’s all Yours and it’s available whenever, however You want,” it cultivates this amazing thing where the love of God gets deposited in you and it overflows into relationships.

I was thinking about this whole area of generosity. It was the, sort of the background for this book several years ago.

And as I was thinking about generosity, I was just sitting at my desk and Christmas is a tough time for pastors on messages, okay? Because have you ever heard this story before? I mean, right, you know like, “Okay, let’s go to church.” Okay let’s see, there’s Maggi, we got shepherds, we’ve got Mary, we got Joseph, we got the manger. I mean, what am I going to say?

And I was thinking about generosity and sometimes I just put my feet up on my desk and had a good cup of coffee and I just sort of mentally thought about, “Lord…”, I don’t know why this question came. “…why did You come to this planet the way You decided to come and why did You introduce us to the very characters…”

The Christmas story is very interesting where you have these probably Persian or Babylonian studiers of the stars who see a star probably eighteen to twenty-four months before the baby was actually born. They see it and they go on a journey.

And then you have these low-life kind of, actually sort of a disenfranchised social group of shepherds. They get in the story. And then you have a teenage girl, Mary, probably fifteen, sixteen years old. And a blue-collar worker who is betrothed to her. Well, they become a big part of the story.

And then pretty soon you have angels involved and I just started thinking about… and I just laid the story out and as I did I thought, “It’s a graduate level. Each step of each person introduced into the story, all the way to Jesus and God the Father is a snapshot of what the Bible teaches about the heart of God and generosity.”

Now normally I would have you get in those Bibles and follow passage to passage with me, but I want you to listen through the story through the lens of generosity. We pick it up where, far beyond money, the Maggi come and that’s what they give.

“On coming to the house, they followed the star for almost two years, and they saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and they worshipped him. Then they opened their treasuries and they presented Him with gifts of gold and incense and of myrrh.”

And so the first people in the story are people that they literally get the least revelation, right? It’s not an angel it’s just a star. They’ve studied the stars, they’ve done some research, they follow it, it lands over Bethlehem, here’s a couple, they know the star is about the King of the Jews, they inquire about the King of the Jews, they see the child, and they give and they give money. It’s great. Lots of good reasons and they’re generous. They want to worship. And it’s an act of worship. Notice it didn’t say they gave. It says they worshipped Him. Like David said, “I will not worship God with anything that costs me nothing.” There’s a sacrifice. There’s a, “We want to honor Him.”

But here’s the catch. When you get generosity just in the financial realm you can give and not be generous. You can give regularly, systematically, the first fruit, and not be generous. I got an interesting email. Someone boldly went online because I asked you to kind of tell me your story. And she wrote, “The last few sermons have been very convicting,”

It says, “But when you talked last week and you said everyone thinks they’re generous, I knew in my heart that I was not a generous person. Oh, my husband and I, we give regularly to the church and when you went through those steps about giving the first and the best and systematically and proportionally, we do all that.

“But I knew at the personal level, in my heart, there still existed the greed of a child looking at a birthday cake always wanting the biggest piece and the best one. This showed up often any time our money was at risk and especially when people showed up at my door and asked me for things.”

It’s kind of like you know the boxes we play in? Generosity, give first, got that done. Then you miss the point.

Generosity is an issue of the heart, always tied to relationships and it’s a sense of, “How do I love people?”  And so the email is pretty long and she goes on and says basically, “Lord, I believe now that You really do own everything. And even my own kind of personal money. And these people that sort of irritate me when they come to the door and want me to give them something and I just want You to know that I want to learn to become generous.”

So she actually prays and says, “Send someone to my door and I want to give to them.” And so of course God answers those prayers pretty quickly. And she was at the door right in the middle of dinner and had a ministry meeting that night, had to be there by seven o’clock, the door knocks, and she comes and here’s someone from Teen Challenge, you know it’s the, it’s a Christian group that does drug rehab.

And she looked at him and her supper is there. Everybody is eating. She’s got to go. All the things that make you want to be what? Non-generous. And she remembered her prayer. She listened to their story. And then the little girl said, “I just want to thank you for listening to us. You know, it’s kind of like we’ve gone door to door and it’s not going real well.”

And she said, “Well actually, you’re an answer to my prayer.” She goes, “Our pastor is talking about generosity and I prayed God would send someone to my door today that I could give to.” And she goes, “I gave to her,” and she goes, “Wow, you’re going to go on the top of our ministry report and…”

And here’s what I want you to get.  The end of the email says, “Joy welled up in my heart. I went back, I had only five minutes to eat my dinner. I ate my dinner in five minutes. Everyone had already eaten theirs. I was going to be a little late for the meeting. I was a little late for the meeting. But my countenance and my heart and my joy, who showed up to that meeting was a different person.”

Do you see the difference between just giving your money and being generous?

Now what I want you to see in the Christmas story is I think God introduces us to the Maggi. They know Him the least and they get the least clear revelation. But they respond to what they know.

But after they respond to that the next group is the shepherds. And you know the story of the shepherds, right? The sky lights up. It’s a chorus. I mean they’re singing. Can you imagine you’re just sort of a regular guy, you’re out on the job, “Hey, Bob, it’s your turn. It’s the night watch.” “Gah, okay.” You know and it’s kind of in the middle of that and then whom! Right? The sky lights up and there’s singing and you’re going, “What’s this about?”

We pick up the story. It says, “When the angels had left them and went into heaven the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go! Leave work? Yeah! Let’s go! Where? To Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So, they hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger.”

And when they had seen Him they didn’t just worship by giving a gift, it says they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. These shepherds probably didn’t have anything to give. They didn’t have any money to give. These are people that are, like, way below our welfare. I mean they just had subsistence living.

They couldn’t get into good restaurants. They smelled. They had a bath once every one month whether they needed it or not.

And God chose to reveal the child to them and then notice they got a story. Because they went around and they were the first evangelists, were the first people to say, “The Messiah has come and we’ve seen Him.”

And so the Maggi were generous with their money and their hearts were open but they got a star. The shepherds, they get an angelic choir with clear direction. And they hear from the parents, “This is the Messiah,” and they get the privilege of taking what they had and sharing it. For the first time in all the earth the awaited God-Man who would come to save the world shepherds get to give their time. For most of you, not for all, but for most of you your time is more valuable than your money. When we’re talking about generosity please don’t think writing a check, as good and wonderful as that is.  My question would be, “How are you doing in your growth of generosity of giving your time?”

I want you to know money is the training wheels. When you begin to say, “God, I want to give You the best of my time.” I don’t know what that looks like for you. It’s the early morning for me. “I want to give You the best of my time.”

And if you’re like me you’re going to get a call from someone and it shows up on your phone and I have about three people in my life, when their name comes up it’s like, “This is not a short conversation.” It’s never a short conversation. In fact, it’s a conversation where I can ask one or two questions and forty-five minutes later I’m not sure…  if I hung up they wouldn’t know it.

But you know what I’ve realized is? Jesus loves unlovely people. Jesus made time for people that most of us don’t want to make time for. And what I’m really saying, see what generosity is, it breaks your pride.

Generosity says, “This person, where this dysfunction, with this conversation, with this baggage matters to God so they matter to me because He lives inside of me and giving my money is a pretty high control, I can do it on my terms. I give my time, it gets messy.

The shepherds left work. It’s one thing to write a check but to leave work? To not work so much? To give time to family or a friend or to minister or to open your home in a small group? “Oh, but I’d have to leave work early and other people will get ahead while I…”

Yeah. Takes faith, doesn’t it? Do you, are you starting to see? Time is way more valuable.

But it goes beyond that.  The Christmas story then introduces a new character and we get Joseph who is engaged. And as you read this the engagement period in the Jewish culture is the families would be involved and the families would agree this is the right man, this is the right girl and in this culture it would be a semi-arranged marriage.

And then there would be what’s called the betrothal and so you would get engaged and then you’d have up to sometimes a year and the man would then get the house ready and get financially responsible and where they’re going to live.

And the betrothal period was very official. It wasn’t like today when you’re engaged and say, “Hey I’m not sure this is really right. Let’s break the engagement.” The only way to break an engagement then was to have a divorce.

Now listen to Joseph’s story and think of what it would be like, especially guys. Think of this as your girlfriend and you hear this story about her.

Matthew chapter 1 beginning at verse 18 it says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace but he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

“But after he considered this, an angel of the Lord,” that phrase often, “angel of the Lord,” is the pre-incarnate Christ. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son. You will give Him His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’

“And all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call Him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God is with us’).

“When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and he took Mary home to be his wife.”

Now just, you talk about your reputation, all right? Guys? Those of you that, think about way, way back for some of you when you were engaged. And your girlfriend comes to you and says, “Hey, I just want you to know, I’ve never been with another man, but I’m pregnant.”

And you say, “Well how can this be?” And she says, “Well it’s God.” “Oh, really?” “Yeah, it’s God. Angel told me.” “Ohhhhhh!”

Yeah, okay so let’s get now you have an angelic visit. And this angel, literally, I mean, in the middle of the night, you have this dream and he speaks to you and says it’s okay and then he says, “This is the Savior of the world. The Messiah is coming. Mary told you the truth. This is the real deal. I want you to do it.”

Now sometimes we read these Bible stories like Joseph is some wind-up religious robot. “Oh yes. God said it, I will do it. God said it, I will do it.” He’s a guy. He’s thinking, “Now wait a second.” This is when the sexual morays were way different than they are now. You could get stoned for adultery. You don’t have babies out of wedlock.

So now Joseph is going to marry a girl that’s pregnant? What are the guys down at the bar going to say? “Joseph, you fool! Joseph, you idiot! Can you believe that?

I mean, all of his life, the suspect. The suspicion. How in the world could any man marry some woman who is pregnant with someone else’s kid? In that day his reputation…gone.

Let me ask you: When you start thinking about money or time or reputation what’s the most valuable? What’s the hardest to give? I’m going to guess, with a group this size, we have people that probably give your money faithfully. And I bet there’s people in this room that actually are pretty willing to give your time.

But I bet there’s some of us that, as relatives come in, or when a topic comes up at work and it’s one of those black and white issues and you know the Bible says this and it’s really clear and your personal convictions are here but you know if you would fly your flag and verbalize that, they would think you’re one of those Bible-thumping, anti-intellectual, evangelical weirdoes and you know what you do? You don’t say anything. Because what people think of you matters more than what God thinks of you. And how you appear and it might impact your career and it might impact the future, right?

You tell people you go to church here and they look at you like, “So, you’re just not smart or what? You’re not a thinking person? You’re, you’re not an intellectual?”

Are you willing to give God your reputation? Are you willing to kind of go out there on the limb and say, “You know, Lord…?” And by the way, I don’t mean be stupid. I don’t mean be argumentative. There’s a lot of Christians that, please, act in ways that actually hurt God’s reputation.

I’m talking about you know those areas when the Spirit of God is prompting you to step up and verbalize and model what you really believe and all this pressure that you are so afraid of what people think.

Generous people. Joseph gave his reputation. For Mary it was beyond her reputation. I mean, her reputation was ruined but she gave her future.

We pick the story up in Luke chapter 1. It’s in the sixth month. God sent the, now notice the angel, Gabriel, he’s the great messenger of God who announces the greatest announcements in Scripture.

“Gabriel goes to Nazareth to a town of Galilee to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin’s name was Mary and the angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you.’”

I just, I don’t know how or where this happened but I just picture it had to be in a private place and you know maybe Mary was just getting ready for bed or maybe she couldn’t sleep that night and all of a sudden, whoo, an angel is in the room. I mean light emanating out of him. He starts to speak to her. Her response is, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” Wouldn’t you?

“But the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you’re to give Him His name, Jesus.’” This is really good because at least Joseph gets a dream that says Jesus is the name and Mary gets a visit says Jesus is the name. So when they talk together they’re on the same page.

Then notice, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will never end.”

Mary understood what was going on here. The throne of David. His kingdom. Later in the same book she has this prayer, this magnificent prayer and she talks about how God is faithful to the humble and she quotes twelve to fifteen different parts of Old Testament passages.

This young girl was godly. Maybe fifteen, sixteen years old. Knew God, loved God, found favor. Those words, “The throne of David,” He’ll be called The Son of God, she understood, “The long awaited Messiah, God visiting the earth, fully God, fully man is going to take up residence inside my body. And I will give physical birth to the Son of God and I will be the mother of the Messiah.”

But she sort of had a methodology question. And so her response is, “How can this be since I’m a virgin?” And the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you so that the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”

And then almost as though, can you imagine a little fifteen, sixteen-year-old girl trying to take all this in and it’s like the angel said, “You know, by the way, let me give you a little touch of reality. You know Elizabeth, your aunt?” “Yeah.” “You know the old lady who can’t have kids?” “Yeah.” “I mean way past child bearing?” “Yeah.” “Right now, she’s six months pregnant.”

And what we find is after this Mary goes and visits her and I think it was a great encouragement to her faith especially when she walked in the room and John the Baptist would leap inside of Elizabeth in recognition of, “This is the mother of the Savior of the world.”

And he says, “For nothing is impossible with God.” And then I love her response because now I want to talk to you ladies. And I don’t know much about this except I have one daughter and one wife. And I talk to my wife a lot about the dreams she had someday and what the wedding would look like and this guy that she was going to marry and the kind of person he would be and maybe two or three kids or…

When you’re a young girl, don’t you have dreams about your future and what it’s going to look like and who he might be and where are you going to live and back then I don’t think they had white, picket fences but I, you know?

Mary gave her future away. Her life was never normal. And her response was, “I am the servant of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Your Word.”

Here’s what you've got to grab. God who actually made all that there is wants to do things in you and through you beyond your wildest imagination but He doesn’t have your heart and can’t start to guide you until you can demonstrate you trust Him and you say, “Lord, I’ll trust You with the training wheels of my money.”

And then you begin to say, “I’ll give You the best of my time,” and then it’s your reputation and then here’s, a lot of people get there and what they say is, “Now, God, here’s what I want You to know, inside this box for my future, as long as I work at this kind of job, marry this kind of person, never get geographically beyond where I am. You know, I just want You to know inside this box You could do whatever You want with my life.”

And you know what God does with most people’s lives? He does exactly what you let Him do inside that little box and you can go to church and you can write your first check to the Lord and you can read your Bible and you can go to a little Bible study now and then, and even share your faith now and then and feel like…

But God’s been tapping on your shoulder and saying, “What about your future? What about your future? You willing to go anywhere?”

Eighty percent of all the people in America have a job they hate. But they won’t leave it because the economic income is greater than doing what they were made to do.

See, it’s a scary, you’re starting to get generous when you say, “God, I want to do with Your future anything You want done in my future.” And that usually requires some sort of step of faith and then people that we interview or people that you know that have this sort of winsome, attractive love for God that oozes out of them and it’s the kind of Christians we all someday kind of want to be.

I will tell you what, they’ve given their future to God. And they’re doing some things and experiencing things they never dreamed would ever happen. They thought it only happened to “really spiritual” people, or really smart people, or really holy people.

And what I will tell you is the Bible is filled with only ordinary people through whom God does extraordinary things and the prerequisite isn’t gift, or talent, or smarts, or heritage, or background. The prerequisite is trust and availability.

And that’s why the Christmas story is a graduate level in generosity because it’s unlikely people who God does improbable, impossible, amazing things as increasing levels of generosity.

And she gives her future and then Jesus does what? He gives his life. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life for many.” The word “for” there means “in the place of, as a substitute for.”

And you can kind of see, I sort of picture down here they see a star. Little bit of revelation, they respond to it. They get an angelic visit. Over here, wow, he gets a dream with an angel of the Lord. She gets a visit from Gabriel. Jesus, before the foundations of the earth, looks through the portals of time in the eternal now and who, for the joy, not reluctantly, who for the joy. Was it hard? Yes. Did He anguish in his soul? Yes. Was it, in the garden was it a struggle? Completely.

I like that because it is for me too. But when He gave His life it wasn’t a reluctant, it was: who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, offering Himself so He could pay for you and you and me and you and you and whosoever would believe in Him.

The Father goes beyond that. The Father gave His Son and that window in that moment of time when Jesus hung upon the cross. For the first time in eternity the Father would turn away from the Son and the just wrath of God, your sin and my sin and the sins of all people of all time would be placed on Him as a sin offering and so He would cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

And, whoo, and He would take on your sin and mine and the Father would give.

And for some of us, as you learn to become generous, and God uses you there’s an Isaac in your life. That’s why that picture’s in the Old Testament. There’s been times when one of my kids has been an idol in my life and God, “Are you willing to let him loose?” And go away and pursue this career that I thought he’s never going to make any money, he’s never going to have a life, and it’s probably not going to work out. And it’s a long way from here. Yes, Lord. Or letting your kid go to a mission field.

There’s another time in my life when my wife was an idol. And she would tell you now that’s one of the hardest, most difficult times but what God did in and then through…

What precious possession, what are you hanging on to that God just wants to pry your little fingers off of so He could let you experience His love?

Last night at the end of the service there was a guy waiting around for quite a while and he, I thought, “What’s up?” And he said, “I just came here to thank you.” I said, “What for?” He said, “Well I’ve been kind of involved in ministry and twenty-nine years old, I’m in a graduate program now and I do some teaching in my church and I’ve told people all kind of stuff for lots of years. But in the last two weeks, three of the biggest things happened that just shattered my life.”

And he said, “You know something? There were two or three things that I’ve always held back even though I was involved in ministry and read the Bible, and two or three things that were just, ‘Mm, mm, God. I’m not trusting You with those.’

And I, for the first time in my life, told God I’m all in. And I surrendered my life. I mean, I’ve been a Christian for years but I surrendered all that I am, all that I have. God, I want you to know, I’m afraid. But I believe that You are good and that You’re kind; You’re a sun and a shield. You give grace and glory. You won’t withhold any good thing. But now I’m taking that step.”

And he said, “I just can’t tell you what’s happened in my life and my heart. And I’ve been a Christian most all my life but the power and the experience of God and the love of God that I’ve heard about but never experienced came because I gave.”

Why? What’s the Scripture teach? Give and it will be given, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, run over back into your lap. But it’s not about money. Money is the training wheels. Yeah, when you give, yeah but time, same. Reputation, future, life, precious possession.

There are three little things I want you to fill in. I’ve shared these but I want you to just jot down three observations about the Christmas story and graduate level generosity.

Number one, generosity is not so much a virtuous act as it is a virtuous response. Each time it was God. God put the star. God sent the angels. God was in the dream. God appeared to Mary. He loves you! He’s reaching, He’s drawing you. So, generosity isn’t something great you do. You respond.

Second, God doesn’t measure generosity by the size of your gift but the size of your sacrifice. And I would just ask you to begin to ponder what would it look like to go from the step that I’m on to the next step on this journey? There’s a sacrifice but not as some legalistic, “I’ve earned God’s favor,” but “I want to respond to God’s love at a deeper level of love.”

And finally, increasing levels of generosity bring increasing levels of reward and blessing. I mean, each time the blessing is greater and greater and greater and greater and greater. Because you give and God always gives back.