THURSDAY REFLECTION – Faith expressing itself in love

Thursday Reflection – July 04, 2019

Faith expressing itself in love    

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6

Greeting friends!

Today’s reflection takes us to Galatians chapter 5 and more specifically verse 6. We are more acquainted with this chapter, because it speaks about the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh, however it is the discussion that took place earlier in the chapter that led up to these popular verses. The discussion begins with freedom. At that time there were persons arguing that circumcision was needed in order to be saved, however Paul countered that argument by stating that Christ’s death and resurrection has set us free from the bondage of the Jewish law. This freedom does not mean we are free to do whatever we want. So, we cannot use it to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh. Instead we must use this freedom to serve another in love. Verse 6 summarizes beautifully this text, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

As I examined this text, I began to reflect deeply on this verse. Paul was addressing a misnomer created by Christians who believe that circumcision is the most important thing in salvation. These Christians began to confuse others (verse 7) by focusing on the non-essential. It makes me wonder how often we focus on the non-essential within our own churches… and how often do we allow these non-essentials to take priority over what is truly essential? What is the non-essential? This is anything that is not crucial to your faith in God and the salvific process. So when we argue about the length of service this is a non-essential. If we make it to heaven we’ll be praising God for the rest of our lives. Whether we paint the church in white or blue is a non-essential. Whether we cover our head or not in church is a non-essential. The use of the litany every Sunday is a non-essential. If you use it that is okay. If you don’t use it that is still okay. I doubt you’ll go to hell for not using it.  

What is important though is faith expressing itself in love. I share the commentary on this verse from the New Living Translation. “We are saved by faith, not by deeds. But love for others and for God is the response of those whom God has forgiven… Because faith expresses itself through love, you can check your love for others as a way to monitor your faith.” We know that we are saved by grace for it is a gift from God, but we accept this gift through our faith. Now as a result of this acceptance we are required to demonstrate our love for God and our love for others. THIS IS WHAT IS CRUCIAL TO THE SALVIFIC PROCESS. Anyone who does not love does not know God for God is love (1 John 4:8). If we say we love God, but do not love others then we are a liar and the truth is not within us (1 John 4:20).

How we treat God and others is what is truly important. So we cannot say we love God, but we run the beggar that comes to church every Sunday. We cannot say we love, but our focus is only within Church and there are people within the community that need help. We cannot say we love, but there are those who have not heard the Good News of Jesus. We cannot say we love, but we look down on others or speak maliciously of them. We cannot say we love God and speak down to others and mistreat them, because you’re in a better position than they are.   

I charge us not to make the non-essentials a priority; instead let us focus on the essential and show love to everyone. In the words of Shaneka Raymore-Euphfa “Love is an action word” so let us do it.

Until next week remember faith expressing itself in love is truly what is important.

Christopher Euphfa 

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION – Managing Our Time

Wednesday Reflection – July 03, 2019

Managing Our Time

Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.Psalm 90:12  

Arthur Jackson writes, “Psalm 90 is a worshipful conversation Moses has with God. The superscription reads, ‘A prayer of Moses, the man of God.’ But even if we weren’t alerted that this psalm is a prayer, the language and tone clearly indicate the psalmist was talking to God. This prayer was spoken during a rough period in Israel’s history. It appears the people of God had experienced discipline (vv. 7–11, 15), which prompted Moses to talk to God about the brevity and fragility of human life in view of God’s eternal nature (vv. 1–6).” The psalmist makes several references to time, such as generations, years, days, morning and evening. For Jackson, “…tough times can compel us to talk to the Lord about our brief time on earth and appeal to Him for His help. They can also cause us to ask who may need the gift of our time.”

There is an African proverb that says, “Westerners have watches. Africans have time.” How many times have we said, ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I can’t find the time’? It seems as if our very busy schedules and many deadlines to meet is dominating our lives. We seem to not even have time for ourselves. In the midst of all this, Moses prays in today’s Watchword, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ Paul writes, ‘Be very careful, then, how you live . . . making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil’ (Ephesians 5:15–16).

Bill Crowder shares that he suspects that Paul and Moses would agree that our wise use of time isn’t just a matter of clock-watching. For Crowder, ‘The situation may call for us to keep a tight schedule—or it may compel us to give someone an extended gift of our time. We have but a brief moment to make a difference for Christ in our world, and we need to maximize that opportunity. That may mean ignoring our watches and planners for a while as we show Christ’s patient love to those He brings into our lives. As we live in the strength and grace of the timeless Christ, we impact our time for eternity.’

We are urged to be mindful that our time is limited so we have to make use of every time we have. Yet, we are challenged to recognize that what some people desire most from us is not our money or other physical possessions, but our time. Our time to give them a listening ear, our time to empathize with them, our time to extend a word of encouragement. This may be our greatest gift to others. God has given us all the time we need to fulfill all that he has given us to do.

Till next week, let’s remember that time management is not about clock-watching, it’s about making the most of the time we have.

Jermaine Gibson

TUESDAY REFLECTION – Lord, do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil

Tuesday Reflection – 02 July 2019

Lord, do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil. Psalm 141:4

David’s prayer is indeed one that is often on our lips, as we pray The Lord’s Prayer “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It is a thought that many times we struggle with, hoping to stay on the narrow way. But David prays that he would be not be drawn to temptation. He asks God to protect him from every form of temptation, for godly correction that may continue to live the holy and sober life that we have been called to live.

Hear Psalm 141:3-5 from the Message Translation

“Post a guard at my mouth, God,
    set a watch at the door of my lips.
Don’t let me so much as dream of evil
    or thoughtlessly fall into bad company.
And these people who only do wrong—
    don’t let them lure me with their sweet talk!
May the Just One set me straight,
    may the Kind One correct me,
Don’t let sin anoint my head.
    I’m praying hard against their evil ways!”

David’s earnest intention is that he would not fall into the trap of sin, and it is a prayer that we all would share as believers. We know, that the devil is as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour but David asks God to guard his thoughts, his words and his actions so that he may never ever yield to temptation.

My brothers and sisters, we will be tempted. In fact, Christ himself was. The sin is not being tempted, it is in yielding to the temptation. Christ was tempted but never fell to temptation. So, we guard our hearts against actions that are contrary to God’s standards and his will and purpose for our lives. But it’s not just saying, we need to yield to God, to his Holy Spirit to guard us against the wiles of the devil. David prayed as he asks God to help him, to guard him against temptation. We need Jesus on the inside, working on the outside to bring about that change in our lives.

Then my brothers and sisters, we strive to live as children of God. Paul puts it this way “You are dead to sin and alive to God.” (Romans 6:11) And you, may ask, how then do we do that? The Apostle Paul gives an answer to that question in Romans 6: 12-14 (MSG) “That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live.” We then have the power through Christ Jesus to be dead to sin and alive to God. David’ prayer is a request that he be so guarded so as to not slip. Not by his thoughts, his deeds or his lips. Then David in the latter text of Psalm 141 (MSG) writes;

“But God, dear Lord,
    I only have eyes for you.

Since I’ve run for dear life to you,
    take good care of me.
Protect me from their evil scheming,
    from all their demonic subterfuge.
Let the wicked fall flat on their faces,
    while I walk off without a scratch.”

Fix your eyes on Jesus on not on the things of this world. Keep focused on the things that are true, the things that are honest, the things that are just, the things that are pure, the things that are lovely, the things that are of good report; where there is virtue, or where there is praise. (Philippians 4:8)  James says “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Until next week, let our prayer be like David, “Lord, do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil.” May our song be “Jesus be a fence all around me, every day. “We cannot on our own, live this Christian life so let’s invite and allow Jesus to indwell us to show us the way. I leave with you today’s doctrinal text “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Then we can say with every authority “Get thee behind me Satan.”

Dominic J. Blair 

MONDAY REFLECTION – True Wisdom

Monday Reflection – July 01, 2019

True Wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. James 3:13  

Wisdom? What is that? While there are many persons who walk around boasting about how wise they are, there are some who struggle to come to grips with what it means to be wise. The latter becomes real when we reflect on the many foolish thoughts and ideas that we have had; the many foolish words we have spoken; the many foolish things we have done. Some of us wonder whether we can claim any measure of wisdom. I have always believed that wisdom is grounded in knowledge; there is no wisdom without knowledge. Wisdom therefore is the capacity to use knowledge appropriately.

The straight-shooter James clarifies for us what wisdom is and outlines that there are two kinds of wisdom. Hear him in chapter 3: 13-18:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

For James, when it comes to wisdom:

1.      It must be shown by our good life – Wisdom is not hidden or kept a secret, suppressed nor buried. Wisdom is shown, more so revealed by and in the way we live. We need not declare to anyone that we are wise, it will be seen.

2.      Our works must be done with gentleness – Those who are wise are not arrogant and boastful, but humble and gentle. This gentleness recognizes that others may not be as mature and developed as we are. In any case, the wise know that all that we are and all that we have is because of the manifold grace of God. The wise are disciples of Christ who walk alongside others and help them to grow and mature in Christ.  

3.      The signs are the Fruit of the Spirit – James distinguishes the earthly, unspiritual and devilish kind of wisdom from the heavenly and godly. The former may be described as the works of the flesh, while the latter is the fruit of the Spirit. The truly wise are those who bear the fruit of the Spirit in their daily lives, including love, joy, peace, purity, gentleness, willing to yield, mercy, impartiality and honesty. True wisdom comes from God and is dispensed by God in differing measure to whom he chooses.   

As we pursue wisdom, a good place to begin is to join with David in today’s Watchword, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”Psalm 139:23-24

Jermaine Gibson

FRIDAY REFLECTION – Function in your own gifting do not concern yourself with the gift of others

Function in your own gifting do not concern yourself with the gift of others

Good morning friends, 
Peace be with you as you journey towards the end of another week. I trust that this week has been very productive thus far. I share these words with you and my prayer is that you will remember them as you continue your journey into a new week. 

“There is no person like you, you are the best fit for your function; only you can do it”- unknown.
Let us hear this in another way, very well said by a man whom Jesus met on the road to Damascus. 
Hear Paul in the text for reflection today: 
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;
Romans 12:4‭-‬6 NIV
https://bible.com/bible/111/rom.12.4-6.NIV

Just as we have one body with different parts having its own function, so are we members of the body of Christ and we have our own function. What is your function? Are you clear on what is it that God has called you to do? 
Are you the eyes that should be discerning the good and the evil?
Are you the ears that should listen to the cries of the people, and make petition on their behalf?
Are you mouth that should prophesy? 
Many of us today are still struggling to operate in the gift given to us by God. Why you may ask? I can give two reasons why this might happen:

1. You are more concerned with the gift of other members, than with your own gift: Too many times we try to be the mouth, when God has called us to be the eyes, or the ears, or the fingers and even the feet. Instead of operating in our own function/gifting, we think it too small and we meddle in the gift of others. This my friend will cause confusion and  malfunction in the body of Christ. Why? because the there are no two body parts with the same function. To each it’s own, and if one is functioning as another there will be great confusion and disunity

2. You do not think that your gift is of importance: Some members struggle with being accepted among other members, because they feel that their function is of no importance. Today I want to remind such a member , that every part of the body has its own function, and one cannot function with the other. Whether you are the head or the feet your function is important. If the feet be cut off from the body, it weakens the overall function of the body, *including the head. 
So do not count your function as of no importance, whatever you are called to do, is of great importance to the body of Christ. 

Therefore, Do not concern yourself with the function of others, find your function and do it well . Do not look at your function as not important, all the body parts are needed for the overall function of the body of Christ 

Untill next week, function in your own gifting, do not focus on the gifts of others

Blessings,
Shaneka Raymore-Euphfa

THURSDAY REFLECTION – Declare the works of God

Thursday Reflection – June 27, 2019

Declare the works of God    

God says, “From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known.” Isaiah 48:6

“Outward conformity to Yahweh, but their real interest and concern is for their gods.” This comment from Pett’s Bible Commentary gives the essence of the text in Isaiah 48. God, speaking through the prophet to Judah, in a sarcastic manner condemned the people for their pretentious religion. The people of Judah pretended they believe and honor God, but their worship and religion was a fraud. They are called by the name of God, but do not act as people of God. They swear by God’s name, but this also is false.

God told them what would happen before it happened, but they did not declare it. God revealed himself to them in many ways, but they ignored the Lord and worshipped idols. As I thought about this passage I wondered how many people who are called Christians are living a pretentious life. They call themselves Christians, but they have other gods that they worship. These other gods are not necessarily carved wooden images. No! These other gods is their money, fame, status, lifestyle etc. So even though they come to church and call themselves Christians it is a fraud for they do not truly worship God.

The text continued as God stated that these pretentious Jews who have witnessed and heard of the wonders of God fail to declare it or fail to admit it is the working of the Lord. The Lord speaks over our lives and tells us things before they happen so that when they do happen we will know that it was God. “For I know the plans I have for you.” Declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. Give God credit for what is doing in your life.

The Lord went further to say that he will make the Jews hear new things; things that have been hidden and that they have not known. Hear the Jews are presented with another opportunity to see the Lord at work. So the Lord is once again showing that He is God by declaring that he’s going to do something new, but it is up to us to believe the Lord and declare it.

Let us no longer live pretentious lives if we are living pretentious lives. God is at work in our lives and we have seen it. Give God the credit that is due his name and worship him in Spirit and Truth.

Until next week live righteous lives before a righteous God.

Christopher Euphfa 

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION – In the Midst of the Storm

Wednesday Reflection – June 26, 2019

In the Midst of the Storm

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. Psalm 31:9  

I’ve always said that one of the main reasons why I so love the Bible is that it is a real book, with real people, facing real situations, in the midst of a real God. Whichever characters in the Bible we pick out, they all faced real issues; they had their storms to go through. Even Jesus had to deal with real-life issues such as the temptation in the wilderness, and his agony in Gethsemane as his gruesome death became imminent.

David faced a myriad of challenges and storms in his life, from childhood to his reign as king. Psalm 31 paints a picture of a man in great distress and trouble. This Psalm is a prayer by David who suffers unjustly and in that suffering puts complete trust in God. The Psalm begins and ends with petitions for God’s favour and protection. In today’s text, David cries to God to be gracious “for I am in distress.” The word for distress may apply to many circumstances. It derives from a verb that means “to bind” or “be restricted.” Thus the noun communicates the idea of being in dire straits, with no possible escape. He is facing yet another storm.

But what’s the nature of this storm? David describes it as a trap, wicked actions of the enemies, abandoned by friends, slander, conspiracy, plot to kill him, and lies. Then he gives a litany of symptoms of this distress that suggests sickness, depression, anguish, sorrow, grief, and shame. The Psalmist is overtaken with the forces of death that rack the body and spirit and allows his enemies to have their way. Thus, he asks God to intervene and deliver. For David, his problem warrants action from God; his distress is reason enough for God to act.

What are the lessons here as we face our own storms?

1.      Entrust ourselves completely in the care of the Lord. David voices complete trust in God despite the dire circumstances. He declares, “you are my God,” which is to say, “you control my life” (verse 14). Verse 15 uses the word “hand,” which refers to power and authority to describe the locus of the Psalmist’s hope. David acknowledges that he has no power to affect the future. This power is God’s alone. We would do well to put God in charge of our storms and trust him for the outcome.

2.      Remember God’s steadfast love. David says that he remembers God’s steadfast love when he was besieged in a city and felt he was cut off from God’s sight. But God heard his cry and helped him. God’s steadfast love refers to his covenant faithfulness, as one who does not abandon those who rely on him. We can rest assured that the God who has been faithful in the past, remains faithful forever.

3.      Praise God. When we praise God and celebrate his goodness, our sorrow is transformed into joy. Praise has a way of stirring our spirits, while confusing the enemy. Praise is an antidote for sorrow and anguish.

May God take us safely through our storms.

Jermaine Gibson

TUESDAY REFLECTION: NEVER ALONE

Tuesday Reflection – June 25, 2019 

NEVER ALONE 

Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” John 14:18

Have you ever felt alone in this world? No matter how many people are around you, you still feel lonely? There is a disconnect between you and everyone else resulting in you feeling alone. Those who have lost loved ones are quite aware of this feeling. Children who have lost their parents are very familiar with this feeling. The death of a loved one has a way of making us feel alone in this world, and Jesus was quite aware of this.   
In John 14, Jesus was having his last supper with his disciples when he explained that he would be with them no longer and where he is going they cannot come. By now we know Jesus was speaking of his death and resurrection. The disciples were still clueless as to what Jesus meant by “You soon will see me no longer”, but Jesus was quite aware of how it would eventually make them feel. The disciples would feel alone and abandoned. They spent the last three years with Jesus, whom they grew to love dearly. Now Jesus was saying he was going away, and even though at that time they did not understand, Jesus knew they would eventually get it. As such he told them he will never leave them orphaned. 
Jesus promised that he would send the Comforter; the Advocate; the Encourager; the Holy Spirit. Whatever name is given to him in the various translation of the bibles, the Holy Spirit is all of them. In other words, the Holy Spirit is an advocate for those in need of advocacy. The Holy Spirit is an Encourager for those who need encouragement. The Holy Spirit is a Comforter to those in need of comforting and the list goes on. The Holy Spirit is a Teacher for those needing knowledge and wisdom. In simple terms, the Holy Spirit becomes what you want so that you are not alone. Jesus knew that his physical absence from this world would create a void so he sent the Holy Spirit to fill that void. 
Today I want to remind us that we are NEVER ALONE. Whatever situations that cause you to feel lonely or to think that you are alone I want to remind those who love God that you’re NEVER ALONE. If the death of a loved one has caused you to feel alone, I want to remind you that you’re NEVER ALONE. If it is emotional sadness, you’re NEVER ALONE. If it is abandonment by friends and family, you’re NEVER ALONE. To those who love God and obey his commandments (John 14:15) God will send you the Comforter; the Advocate; the Encourager; the Holy Spirit to be your company. 
I am always amazed by this passage in St John 14. Jesus saw that being with his Father after his resurrection would create a void in our lives, and so even thousands of years after his ascension he prepared us for this moment by sending us the Holy Spirit. Thank you Jesus!
Until next week I want to remind you that you’re NEVER ALONE. 

Christopher Euphfa 

MONDAY REFLECTION – In the Midst of the Storm

Monday Reflection – June 24, 2019

In the Midst of the Storm

Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad? Job 2:10  

Hurricane Gilbert hit Jamaica in September 1988. This was my first experience of a hurricane; and I believe for many persons in Jamaica at that time. So many of us never had a clue what to expect, so we waited with great anxiety and fear. It was customary in my home to sleep when it’s raining, so while Gilbert was raging, many of us were fast asleep. I was awakened by the sound of other family members urging us to get up, and also the feeling of water pouring down upon me. As my eyes opened, I was in shock to see a large section of the roof gone. The level of fear and anxiety was heightened. I also witnessed Hurricanes Ivan, Dean, Sandy and Matthew, all in varying degrees, but all posing a serious threat to our lives and livelihood.

While these physical hurricanes and storms have come our way, with the possibility that others will, we also face other storms of life. These storms come in many ways and in varying degrees. They range from ill-health to financial difficulties, to loss of a loved one, to divorce, to a troubled child, and the list goes on. More than that, while some experience a storm now and again, some experience it ever so often, while some experience more than one at a time. Many of us struggle to figure out what to do in the midst of the storm.  

Job was one who experienced many storms at the same time. It was as if he woke up one day and lost everything and his entire world came crashing down. He lost his livelihood, his wealth, his servants, his house, his children, and then his health. How would he survive? What would he do now? How does he make it through these storms? As if that was not enough, Job’s wife questioned the sense of him still serving God and maintaining his integrity. She obviously thought that he was mad and foolish. How could he still serve a God who allowed him to be going through this mayhem? In fact, she told him to curse God and die. For her, this God was not worthy to be served. I feel that Job also lost his wife, not physically, but spiritually and emotionally.

In Job’s response, we find some thoughts as to how to survive during the storm. He told his wife,

“You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” Then the text says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

  1. Be careful who gives us advice and what kind of advice we get in the midst of the storm. We have to sift through advices that we receive at this most vulnerable stage of our lives and seek divine guidance in how we discern and respond.
  2. Serving God does not mean that we are immune to life’s challenges and pain. We receive the pleasant experiences of joy, success, and achievements. Yet, we also receive the sorrow, pain and hardships – the good and the bad.
  3. Life’s pain does not have to lead us to sin and give up. We can overcome by the help of God. He is able to see us through!  

Jermaine Gibson

THURSDAY REFLECTION – The forever faithful God

Thursday Reflection

June 20, 2019

The forever faithful God

Even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and I will save.  Isaiah 46:4

The Lord was speaking to the people of Israel as he proved that the gods of Babylon were worthless and no comparison to him. They trusted the gods of Babylon for protection, but these same gods were taken into captivity with all who placed their trust in them.

It was God who took care of them before birth and after birth. It wasn’t the idols of the Babylonians. God also made it clear that he will be the one who takes care of them when they turn old and gray.

The Lord said this for he was ready to save them and rescue you them from bondage, but they had to put their trust in God. So the Lord reminded them that he is God and that his faithfulness will never change.

As we look on the verse the Lord makes a prophetic statement; one that is for the future. “Even when you turn gray I will carry you”. As I reflect on this statement it makes me wonder how do we treat the elderly- those who are unable to help themselves as before. In some instances we grow weary in caring for them. In extreme instances we neglect them. The reality is barring death at an early age, we will all grow old and for some of us we will reach the stage where we will not be able to help ourselves as we used to. For some of us we’ll become a burden to others and others of us will be neglected.

Despite this we do not have to be afraid of being gray and old. Here is the assurance of God’s faithfulness, “Even when you turn gray I will carry you.” In other words even when you become a burden to others in your gray state, you’re not a burden to God. Even though others might abandon you, God will not abandon you.

Instead God says he will carry you. When you’re not able to go on your own and face each day on your own God will carry you. God will bring you through each day. God made us so God will care for us throughout our entire lifetime once we put our trust in God. God said it in the verse before. He made you and has been caring for you from before your birth. So why would he stop caring for you when you’re old and gray?

God is forever faithful! Throughout the lifetime of our ancestors God has been faithful and God will be faithful throughout our lifetime and he will be faithful throughout the lifetime of those not yet born. All we need to do is put our trust in God and God will take care of the rest. God will save us.

Until next week put your trust in God who is forever faithful.

Christopher Euphfa