Growing In Grace

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Lk. 2:40

That’s talking about our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice the Bible tells us that Jesus grew. Elsewhere, the Apostle Peter tells us:

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” (2 Pet. 3:18)

I have an interesting illustration to go with this scripture. It is a true story. And, as always, it involves me, God bless my poor soul!

Many years ago, I was invited to attend a 5-day religious conference and, when I arrived at the venue, I was led straight to my sleeping quarters. When I saw the spot where I was to sleep, I was less than impressed. In fact, I remember, I was livid. It was not the best living quarters that anyone could desire, least of all me! Apparently, it was the best they could do for me; but even such a thought would not appease me.

A short while later I was invited to the same conference. When I received the invitation (sent via text message), I immediately called the sender, who happened to be the secretary of the conference. I was smarting from the last “putting down” they had given me. Without mincing words, I gave the man specific instructions about where I wanted them to put me up, including the distance the residence had to be from the conference hall. The secretary faltered for a minute, then he finally gave in and said okay.

Years passed and then, one day, I received the very same invitation. But something had been going on in my heart…

I boarded the bus and headed for the conference venue, a 6-hour journey. As the bus sped across the countryside, somewhere along the way the thought popped up in my head, “What about the sleeping quarters?”

It was at this moment that I knew for sure that a change had taken place in my heart. The answer came automatically: I would gladly sleep anywhere they put me.

The questioner persisted, “What if they put you up in a far-off place where you might need to walk for half an hour to reach the conference venue?”

Again the answer came smoothly: “So much the better. In fact, I would want them to put me up in exactly such a location.” I felt so free! And I rejoiced greatly that I would be willing to suffer rather than be a burden to my brethren.

It was then that I recalled clearly my attitude the last time I had attended this conference. As I looked at how my heart had been then, I was appalled – appalled at my selfishness. In fact, I felt so embarrassed I wondered how I could ever face my hosts again. Unable to do anything else, right there in the bus I closed my eyes, bowed my head and said quietly, “Lord, forgive me.”

The burden of guilt lifted off me. It was like the Lord said, “You are forgiven.”

When I arrived at the conference venue, I found that a brother from a foreign country had also attended the conference. The hosts told me, “Brother Mwita, you are the man best suited to give our foreign visitor company, so, please, you will be staying with him.”

Without so much as a shot fired, I found myself staying at a more comfortable residence than all those I had fought for before. But then, it really did not matter. I was ready for anything.

In this account, I feel that there is nothing for me to be ashamed of. The Bible says that Jesus grew. And the Apostle Peter exhorts us to grow. There is nothing wrong if we are growing, no matter how afield our growth might appear. It becomes a problem with God, however, when the years pass and we are not growing, not changing through dying to our selves.

Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:1-2

“1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

And in verse 3 he goes on to remind us:

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (v.3)

That is growing in grace.

[To grow in grace… is to not think of yourself more highly than others]

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The Testimony Of Philemon – Part 2

Brother Philemon’s testimony.

Back in 1993, I was a regular guy who loved drinking beer in the local pub. One day, I remember I was drinking in the inner room of the pub with two of my friends. I happened to know that both these men were once saved, but they had backslidden. And so on that day, I asked them why they had backslidden.

One of them told me, “Pal, salvation is a very difficult thing.”

“But”, I countered, “I have heard them teach that there is a hell?”

“Yes”, he answered, “there is a hell.”

“Don’t you fear going to hell?” I pressed further. But they did not answer me and we continued drinking.

But something had grabbed at my heart. Hell. I cannot say it was fear; rather, it was like the word “hell” made a big impression upon me and it just would not let go.

I had a neighbor who was saved and when I woke up the next morning, I knocked on his door. I asked whether he had a Bible and whether he could lend it to me.

“Most gladly”, he said, and he went inside and came back with a Swahili language copy of the New Testament.

I took the book back home and began reading it. But all I was searching for was the word “hell”. I wanted proof from the Bible that hell exists and that every sinner would end up there.

In the course of reading that small Bible over many days, I found plenty of that proof. There was a lot written there concerning hell! Whatever had grabbed my heart concerning hell continued to tighten its grip. Gradually, a conviction formed in me that I ought to get saved. As the days went by, that conviction grew and grew.

One day I came back home and called to my wife. I said to her, “I am thinking of leaving you.”

“Why?” she asked, surprised.

“Because I am thinking of getting saved.”

“You?” she scoffed. “How can you get saved while you are drinking in the pub all day long?”

But, unknown to her, I had already made up my mind. One Sunday morning, I went to my neighbor’s house, the one who had lent me his Bible. I told him, “Here, I brought you back your Bible. See you later,  I am going up to the shops.”

“Wait”, he said. “I am going that way, too, to church.”

We walked on together, and when we reached his church, I made to pass on. But the man reached out and said, “Welcome in. Come on in and let’s worship together.”

“Oh, okay”, I said, and without much ado, I turned and walked into his church.

The service went on and, at the very end, the pastor called to anyone who would want to get saved. I stood up and walked to the front. I could feel everyone staring at me. But this was a decision I had made for quite a while, and I was simply delivering on it. And so, on that day, I got saved and became a born-again believer.

Soon after, my wife followed suit and gave her life to Jesus.

In those days, unlike today, the fear of God was in church, and the pure gospel of Jesus Christ was preached. We knew what it was to live a holy life.

But, as the years progressed, things began to change. Gradually, the pure gospel we had been hearing was replaced by something else. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was a definite change. There was an emphasis on the outside man rather than the spirit. There was, for example, an emphasis on how one dressed; and on being financially stable. In church! Now, today, as I speak, the church that I got saved in is a circus. There is little of the Spirit there. The services are a circus, geared towards entertaining the flesh. And, in preaching, there is a lot of emphasis on money. Today, when the bishop comes to visit, women lay down clothing for him to walk on, all the way from his car to the inside of the church! That was not so in the early days of our salvation. Moreover, back in the diocese in town, the churches are ranked according to how well they treat the bishop when he comes and the leaders make a huge thing out of it.

But the worst part are the broken lives of believers. The lives of believers are a joke; and so are those of the leaders themselves. There is more discord and enmity amongst church members than there is in the world.  Leaders are jostling – actually fighting – for positions in church. Me and my wife were leaders in that church, but we arrived at a point where we decided it was far much better – and safer – to just stay at home rather than go to church even if we were members of the church leadership.

That was when I met Dude here. He told me he had met some brethren who preached a different gospel, the gospel of the cross. He told me that the gospel of the cross revealed the problem of the church today, which is the flesh.

What he said made sense to me and I desired to hear more about this gospel. That was when you came to Minyughe.

In my life, I have seen much in the church, and I am convinced in my heart that the gospel of the cross is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing would budge me and my wife from this belief. We have witnessed the grace of God through the revelation of the cross in our lives. Today, our lives are filled with joy and purpose in the Spirit. We have changed! We look at our brethren in all these Pentecostal churches, fighting and living defeated lives, and we simply thank God for the revelation of the cross.

What do I believe? I believe with all my heart that this revelation will cover the entire earth, and then Jesus will come. When I read scripture, that is what it tells me. Jesus will not come back until the truth – the gospel of the cross – has been preached everywhere, to prepare God’s people.

I will forever be grateful for the revelation of this revelation in my life.

[Brother Philemon]

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The Testimony Of Philemon – Part 1

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Mat. 5:6)

The week following our visit to the churches in Lighwa (see my recent post, “An Unforgettable ‘Safari’”), the Lord granted me the immense pleasure of visiting yet another village. This time, it was the church in Minyughe, where our very first village church is located. I was delivering on a promise I had made to the local pastor, Paul Dude, some months back. This church is growing at a very satisfactory rate, both in numbers and in spiritual stature and we regularly send pastors from our pastorate in Singida Town to minister there. But I personally had not visited for a considerable while, and it was with much pleasure that I finally found myself on a bus headed to Minyughe.

When I arrived, Pastor Dude took me to see Brother Philemon and his wife, two of the people that we have ‘fished’ from the big charismatic denominations. We fish out –without apologies – people who are tired of going to these and other dead or dying churches. These are people who are tired of all the lifeless hype and the twisting of scripture to serve men’s selfish purposes that goes on in these churches. For this reason, we have become enemies of very big church people here – pastors, bishops, self-appointed apostles and every kind of self-serving preacher. But we march on unfaltering and unfazed.

That does not mean we do not evangelize and bring in brand new converts, people who are receiving Jesus into their lives for the first time. But it is the former group that I wish to talk on for a while. Jesus said,

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Mat. 5:6)

There are two groups of believers: those who hunger for the truth; and those who don’t. According to scripture, there people in church who will hunger after other things other than the righteousness of God. That is what it says in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

That scripture right there is talking about people who are in church! But the gospel of Jesus Christ is for those who thirst and hunger for the truth. There are people who hunger for the truth of God’s Word, praise God! These people are not satisfied by the lies and theatrics that go on in much of so-called churchdom. Nor by the signs and wonders. Of signs and wonders, Jesus said tiredly,

“Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.” (Mk. 8:12)

In fact, let us read the entire account.

“11 And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. 13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.” (Mk. 8:11-13)

Notice verse 12. So tiring, this business of seeking after miracles.

Notice also verse 13. It says He left the sign seekers. It does not say that He left them and came back some time later.

When someone who thirsts and hungers for the truth hears God’s Word – the gospel of the cross (as so clearly stated forth by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:23) – they throw off everything and go for it with all their hearts. Such a man is Philemon and his wife.

I arrived late in Minyughe and Pastor Dude took me to see Philemon that same evening. Even before we arrived at his house, the stars had already began peeking out of the clear sky. In the fading light of the evening we found Philemon seated outside, shaving his daughter’s head ready for school the next day. How happy he was to see us, and how glad we were to see him! It was like an old family reunion.

We thought we would be staying at his house for ten minutes or so, but we ended up staying for more than an hour. Philemon had a story he wanted to narrate to me. He wanted to tell me the story of his conversion, and I gladly obliged. I blocked out everything else, including the time of night, and gave myself wholly to his audience. The following is Philemon’s testimony of his salvation, told in his own words.

[Night had already began setting in when we went to see Philemon]

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[We found Philemon shaving his daughter’s head]

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Grace Only In The Cross

This post is based on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Imagine Jesus was speaking these words to people who did not know anything but law! What hope did He have that His words would change them? Could the law they were under change them even by hearing such beautiful words?

But Jesus was speaking of a time that would come, after His crucifixion, when there would be a revelation of the cross in the hearts of God’s people through the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, before the Holy Spirit was shed forth on the day of Pentecost, the risen Jesus spent forty days with His disciples talking to them the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. But after the Holy Spirit had come, Jesus left the scene.

The gospel can never be about law. Just because you tell someone not to do something does not give them the ability not to do the thing you told them not to. Just tell a man not to look at a woman lustfully and all you end up doing is to make him aware that there is a woman around. And once he becomes aware of the woman’s presence, his carnal nature kicks in. Without the revelation of the cross in our hearts, we can only fulfill the letter of the law. But the law is powerless to defeat sin.

On the contrary, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a revelation; the Holy Spirit revealing to our born-again spirits the incredible power in the cross of Jesus Christ – power over sin and death. That is the grace of God.

That is why, when we are people of law, we easily get angry at people who are not changing. We short-charge and quickly get impatient with them. Which, of course, is an indication that we ourselves have not changed one iota!

Grace, on the other hand, can wait it out. It can give all the rope to a man.

Jesus would not have expected the people in His time to change instantly because back then, grace was given only in a measure. In other words, during the era of law, grace was scarce! That is difficult to comprehend today with all that we know about the abundance of God’s grace. But before Jesus died on the cross, it was all law; but God, because He is merciful, still gave measures of grace to His people.

After Jesus had come, though, grace was given without measure. The Bible declares that even before Jesus was crucified, He Himself was given grace without measure (John 3:34)!

In our present time, therefore, we do not need law to teach us how to worship God in true holiness. In the first place, as we have said, law cannot perfect us. On the contrary, today, what we need is a revelation of the cross in our hearts. This was the revelation that was given to the Apostle Paul as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1Cor. 2:2 and elsewhere).

This revelation makes available to us the abundance of God’s grace in our lives. We can therefore live a life that is pleasing to God, and to men because our spirits have grasped the power in living a crucified life. The Apostle Paul said,

“I am crucified with Christ…”

Let us also read about the life of Jesus who, during His life here on earth, had grace without measure:

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Lk. 2:52)

As a result of the grace of God upon His life, Jesus gained in wisdom and in favour with both God and man. That is our calling as children of God.

An Unforgettable ‘Safari’

… And he went round about the villages, teaching. Mk. 6:6

I know I have stated this elsewhere in this blog; but I cannot say it often enough. One of the greatest blessings that I count in my life is God placing me in the Tanzanian hinterland. I live in the big of the Tanzanian interior where the towns are small – and the bush land expansive. Here, just a few miles outside of town, one dives immediately into the villages, and into the bush. And for me, the bush is second only to heaven – an infinitely far second, I hurry to admit; but a second, nonetheless. If you took me from the African bush to a place, say, like central New York, NY, it would be a waste of air fare. I would just have to find a way of coming back to the place I love with all my heart. For me, living in the Tanzanian hinterland is an inexpressibly big and enduring adventure.

So it was with much excitement that on Saturday afternoon, me and my fellow pastor friend, Mwendo, took a bus – the old rugged type – to journey to a village some 30 or 40 kilometers outside of town, to preach the gospel of the cross. My heart beat with excitement as we plunged into the countryside, I hungrily taking in all the sights outside; and savoring the smells and voices of the village people inside the bus. Being inside the bus was like being in a large outdoor market; everyone knew everyone else and people gathered together in groups, some opting to stand rather than sit, in order to join and share in the camaraderie. My friend Mwendo, a local Turu man, was seated next to an engaging lady and they talked throughout the two hours it took us to arrive at our destination. (The bus stopped nearly every hundred metres or so!)

I, being the kind of guy who can never make conversation and unable to communicate in the local dialect, sat quietly alone but, unknown to anyone else inside the bus, tremendously enjoying myself.

And then, finally, we arrived at our destination, the village of Lighwa. Here we found our host, Peter, with some of his elders, awaiting us. He warmly welcomed us to his home and it was a joy to meet his lovely wife and younger children. Some of the older ones are married and live elsewhere.

At night we sat outside and watched the stars. For the first time, I had a real audience for my favorite subject, space. I showed them the ‘clouds’ of stars. I told them, “Those are not the clouds from which we receive rain. They are layers upon layers of stars. And each one of those stars are millions, probably billions, of miles apart.”

My listeners were unaware of such information and they sat there deeply entranced by what I had to say about space. They were seeing the starry night all anew.

I noticed that in Pastor Peter’s large compound there was no sign of a dog. This appeared unusual to me, so I asked him where the dogs were. He told me, “I had very fierce dogs, but the hyenas carried them all off.”

Hyenas have an insatiable taste for dog meat and, when they come to a homestead, they will hunt the dogs rather than the goats or sheep. I asked Peter how he guarded his large herd of cattle and goats. He showed me his incredibly tall ‘Trump wall’ built out of trees and huge branches and said, “Hyenas can’t climb over that.”

I asked him, “Are there no lions about?”

“No”, he said. That was a great relief for me. I have absolutely no fear of hyenas; but with lions it’s a completely different story, because I happen to know what they are capable of. Lions are not to be tangled with.

Anyways… The next morning, Sunday, we attended church. This was the climax of our visit to Lighwa. The church is a small mud building which seats about 40 people. A fellow pastor, Antony, had joined with his small congregation also.

Once the service started, we were treated to the usual run of entertainment – a gutsy choir and very loud pre-recorded music. Mwendo and I weathered it all patiently.

Finally, it was time for the preaching of God’s Word. Pastor Peter took the podium and read from Acts 16:9:

“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”

He turned to Mwendo and I and said, “Brethren, you have crossed many villages to come here. It is because we need your help. Please, welcome, and do help us.”

Mwendo was the first to go. Extremely fiery, as usual. One hour later, I stood up to preach. We preached to them

“Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

We’ve been to many churches but I have to say that the church in Lighwa excelled them all in their acceptance of the gospel. The response was spontaneous, and extremely fulfilling. After we had done preaching and praying, the pastor stood up and let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. He told us of how they had been robbed blind by preachers and how when they first invited us, they did so with much trepidation and many misgivings. But now, he could see no way forward for the church except for the gospel they had just heard, the gospel of the cross. The church’s response – and ours – was worth a million dollars!

Very late in the evening, we commandeered a lone motorbike to take us back home since there are no buses on Sunday… and we had to be back in town that very evening because I had an important appointment. Mwendo sat behind the driver and I sat behind Mwendo. The driver then took off at a very high speed and I quickly had to decide whether to ask him to slow down or I start praying. Considering the distance we had to travel, I opted for the latter. I prayed silently, but with my eyes open; somehow I could not bring myself to close them. In the fading light of the evening, trees and bushes flashed by, and the adrenaline pumped in my blood as I realized that at the speed at which we were going, if anything happened, the next day they would be singing funeral songs at my house. But this was a risk we had decided to take.

But the man was a pro. He had years of experience on these roads. Finally, at 8 p.m. I arrived home, exhausted but unharmed. And there, in warmth of the kitchen lights and fire, I found my ‘appointment’ waiting for me. It was my wife, who had dashed from her station in a distant village where she had been for the last one week, to come and visit. She would be leaving early Monday morning.

[Our bus arrives at Lighwa]

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[Pastors Peter and Antony welcome us]

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[An indefatigable man of God, Pastor Peter]

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[The church and congregation]

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[Pastor Antony expressing himself with unbounded joy]

 

[Pastor Peter’s ‘Trump Wall’]

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[My Sunday evening ‘appointment’]

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God’s Grace Revealed

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:19

The account of Elijah and the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17:13-14:

13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.”

After Elijah had eaten, the widow and her son would eat. Isn’t it wonderful that God puts us so close to Him? Immediately after God, man follows in importance. God does not place cows, or horses and, most certainly, not dogs or cats, in second place! No, He places man.

Writing to the Philippians in Philippians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul follows the same pattern that we see with Elijah and the widow of Zarepath. After telling them about the importance of their offering to God, he then tells them,

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)

When it comes to importance, there is nothing that can supersede God; certainly not us with our well-documented failings and shortcomings! The Bible says of God:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (Jam. 1:17)

He alone is perfect in holiness. That is an attribute that no creature can lay even the shadow of a claim to. Why should God not be first in everything? In the world, men are put first because of the qualities they possess. In the Spirit, God has that peculiar attribute that puts Him first above everything else.

And yet… God has gone even further than we could ask or think. In giving His Son Jesus Christ for our sins, He has of His own will put us ahead of Himself! That is unimaginable, but it is true. It is in this difficult-to-comprehend line of love that Paul writes the Romans:

1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” (Rom. 9:1-3)

That is unimaginable love. God has put us first!

It is in this regard that we should count it an immeasurable grace to have God think of us the way He does. We are not worthy of it, yet God regards us. Job had this revelation, for in Job 7:17-18 he says:

17 What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? 18 And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?”

Oh, the power and grace in these words! Notice Job understood that God not only magnifies man and has set His heart upon him but, in order for this state of affairs to be manifested, God visits man every morning and tries him! Should we therefore not rejoice when various trials come our way? As the Apostle James says:

“2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Jam. 1:2-4

That is how God has set His heart on man. He has not set His heart on man so that man can have his fill of money and worldly material things. On the contrary, it is so his soul may prosper.

And that is how we can truly appreciate the grace of God upon our lives.

[Amidst a tangle of assorted greens, a lone sunflower plant provides a graceful contrast]

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It Is All About God!

… I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. Phil. 4:18

There are worldly facts and there are spiritual facts; and we, as spiritual people need to get our spiritual facts straight. With regard to the issue of giving and receiving in church, therefore, it is not so much the financial or material aspect of it but the spiritual aspect that is of importance to us.

The Apostle Paul does not say, “You are going to receive ten-fold of whatever you have given”. No, he says of the Philippians’ offering:

an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

Clearly, it is not so much what we give does for us; rather, it is what it does for God! That is the spiritual perspective.

Do you remember the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarepath? It is one of the most exciting stories in the Bible. Well, in this account, Elijah asked the widow to make the cake and give it to him first!

As God’s people, we have to put God first. Have you ever stopped to think how selfish we spiritual people are? It is always about me first!

Let us all thank God for the Apostle Paul. That this man could give his life to the extent that he did and have God reveal to him these rich spiritual secrets!

[I am training to be a fashion model photographer and, when you are training, you have to start from scratch!]