Learning To Count Right: Loss As Gain

Hot air balloon tethered with one rope to ground
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Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Philippians 3:8a

If I’d Have Known

If you would have told me 10 years ago that this is where I’d be, I think I would have collapsed in a heap.

If you would have told me, as I gazed down at the beautiful rosy-cheeked, long-lashed baby feeding from me, that this child would be the first and last from my womb, I’d have wept.

If I had known how the sought-out son who came from God on a plane and wowed us with his memory and wit and thrilled us with his skillful hands would have this years-long fallow season, I’d have cried.

If I had known that the speaking gigs with the book deal, the bright, sunny home on the prairie, and the Sunday dinners with missionaries were mostly fantasy, I’d have crumbled.

I would have. But I’m not. Because my non-coddling, loves-me-to-the-end God is with me and in me and for me. So please know that I’m not looking for sympathy, nor, at least as I write, in a funk of self-pity.

I’m actually rejoicing.

I know that sounds a little crazy. But it’s not.

At least not once we start to count right.

Re-Learning To Count Loss

How can you possibly count the loss of a child, the death of a dream, the loss of wealth as gain?

Great question. That is why I’m writing. I want to show you the right way for a Christian to count. Let me hasten to add, I am learning to count. Learning. Sometimes I still count the old way. I count loss as loss, not as gain.

But Apostle Paul is teaching me. The syllabus is his life, condensed into a few verses in Philippians, chapter 3:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know him…

I bolded so you would notice how Paul is counting. He just finished recounting the things in his life that had given him purpose and meaning—his Jewish heritage, moral excellence and religious upper-crustness, for three. Then comes verse 7, quoted above, “But whatever things were gain to me…”

So what exactly is this new, right way to count?

Count, Consider, Think

First, we’ve got to know that in the Bible, counting means much more than simply numbering. It means considering and reckoning. Turns out, it’s an accountant’s term for balancing the books.

When James wrote, Count it all joy when you face trials of all kinds (James 1:2), Peter wrote, Count the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and when Paul wrote, I count all things as loss (Philippians 3:8), they all used the same Greek word, hēgeomai.

The word can mean to deem or consider—to account, suppose, or think. To think. Christian growth demands we think rightly. We must train ourselves to frame the circumstances we face biblically. We must discipline our minds to think, to consider and count certain things as loss and a certain thing as gain.

In other words, we need to build new associations in our minds. Here’s a fitness example.

Retrain Your Brain to Reframe the Pain

We need to know that there is good pain and there is bad pain. To grow strong in our faith we must be able to differentiate between the two.

After decades of regular exercise, I have trained my brain to actually crave a certain kind of pain. After I do a squat and lunge workout, I want to feel sore. When I lift weights, I want my muscles to quiver. After 40 real push-ups, I want my biceps to sting.

When I train for a marathon, I want to feel the sore legs and lung burn that come from a fast(-ish) 10 mile run. If I get a cramp in my side, I don’t panic—I run through. In fact, if I don’t hurt, I’m not getting my money’s worth.

Over the years, I have trained my brain to know that these are good pains. They are pains I associate with endurance, speed and strength. You could say I’ve learned to connect this sort of “suffering” with growth.

Therefore, I welcome the pain. I don’t count it loss, but gain.

Build Up Useful Associations

Now let’s go beyond the realm of exercise. I love this bit from Oswald Chambers about making associations.

We have to build up useful associations in our minds, to learn to associate things for ourselves, and it can only be done by determination. For instance, learn to associate the chair you sit on with nothing else but study: associate a selected secret place with nothing but prayer […] If we learn to associate ideas that are worthy of God with all that happens […] our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.

When we become accustomed to connecting things, every ordinary occurrence will serve to fructify our minds in godly thinking because we have developed our minds along the lines laid down by the Spirit of God. It is not done once for always; it is only done always. Never imagine that the difficulty of doing these things belongs peculiarly to you, it belongs to everyone. The character of a person is nothing more than the habitual form of his associations 

The Moral Foundations for Life

Don’t you love that? Even more than the word fructify, I love the idea that Chambers normalizes this mental training. It’s done always, for all believers who want to count right. When we learn to build useful associations, “our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.” In the context of Philippians 3, that means that rather than wallow in self-pity’s mire when our life isn’t the life of our dreams, we press on to know Christ.

We look to him for comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) and healing for our broken hearts (Psalm 147:3). In other words, we learn to associate our losses with deeper intimacy with Christ.

And that is gain.

The Intimacy Factor Prepares Us For Loss

In a message on Philippians 3, Pastor John Piper calls this “the intimacy factor.” When the saints suffer in faith, their relationship with God becomes less formal and distant, and more personal and deep. At least if they count right.

Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and writing “LOSS” over everything else in the world in order to gain him. “He sold all that he had to buy that field.”  (Matthew 13:44).

Then Piper asks, Why is writing “LOSS” across everything in your life but Christ a way of preparing to suffer?

His answer? “Suffering is nothing more than the taking away of bad things or good things that the world offers for our enjoyment—reputation, esteem among peers, job, money, spouse, sexual life, children, friends, health, strength, sight, hearing, success, etc. When these things are taken away (by force or by circumstance or by choice), we suffer.”

But if we’ve been learning from Paul, we are already counting our losses as gaining fellowship with Christ. This prepares us for life’s inevitable suffering and loss.

4 Ways to Count Loss as Gain

These four guidelines from Pastor John have been so helpful to me.

  1. It means that whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
  2. It means that I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world.
  3. It means that I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
  4. It means that if I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all.

That is what it means in practical terms to count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. When my mama dreams, and wifely hopes, when my author aspirations and fall away, or are delayed, I’m learning to rejoice.

Because in their void Jesus Christ, the treasure that will never rust, fail or fall away. But that doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. Jesus wept. He sweated blood in Gethsemane.

But we grieve with a measure of hope. We cry with a twinge of joy. Jesus rose from the grave and he meets us in our loss and pain.

What’s Up With The Balloon?

We’ve seen that suffering is losing what gives us pleasure. Losing these things, even these relationships and people, is a very real loss. But when we learn to count them right, we gain. We gain freedom to be content whatever the circumstances.

Now, about that balloon up top. What in the world does a hot air balloon have to do with counting right?

It’s my visual for loss and gain. The ropes that tether the balloon represent earthly enjoyments my heart gets set on. Each rope released is a loss of a pleasure—a child, a spouse, my health or a dream.

But the ropes released are also gain. Because their release frees me to soar heaven-high.

I’m starting to make helpful, “fructifying” associations, to reframe the pain of loss, and to taste the sweetness of knowing Jesus Christ better as the ruins fall.

In sum, I’m learning how to count loss right.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:2-3

Graphic of counting loss as gain

He Staggered Not: How to Grow Strong in Your Faith

man of faith looking at stars

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.

 Romans 4:20

I didn’t plan to write this post today. But then came a 1:30 AM wake up with another parenting struggle that nearly made my faith stagger and did keep me from falling back to sleep.

Then came new mercies: a text from a kind niece who mentioned my “strong faith” and these words from Romans 4—which just happened to be on the reading plan this day I woke up plumb-tuckered out.

And here we are.

How To Grow Strong

Now here is that text I read this morning. The last verse talks about how Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God. He trusted God would do what he promised. Another word for that is faithfulness.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver (stagger) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised

Romans 4:18-21, ESV

It’s like the chicken and the egg. We grow strong in our faith as we give glory to God. We give glory to God by trusting him, by having faith.

So how do we grow strong in faith? In four words: Have faith in God. The missionary Hudson Taylor explained those four words in these seven: Hold on to the faithfulness of God.

And why?

Because it is in the midst of these trials that faith has stood out most gloriously. It is just when everything is going against them that would make them despair at the natural level that they most glorify God, because they still go on believing. They’re unshaken. They don’t stagger because of unbelief.

Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, “Faith Glorifying God

In fact, the more severe the test, the more they give glory to God.

Then I heard how the strong men and women of faith are the very same people who endure so many trials and troubles and that no one more glorifies God than a person of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

In all these things, you will grow strong. In them, I’ve shared before, not despite them. Because of our trials our strength grows.

Even if our trials are too tender and near for our friends to know, God knows. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Hold On to the Faithfulness of God

Faith does not look at itself. It looks at God. People who grow strong in faith, to borrow Paul’s words, are “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Acts 4:21b) People with strong faith learn to glance at their troubles and the gaze at their God.

That’s exactly what Abraham did. God had promised that he and Sarah would have a son. Twenty-five years passed and in Romans 4:19 we read, Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.

Oh, sure. Abraham knew all about his age and Sarah’s senior body. He knew babies aren’t made in people at that age. But He did not stagger because of unbelief. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He knew that God had spoken. God had made a promise and because of that, as Lloyd-Jones puts it, Abraham said to himself, “Nothing else needs to be considered at all.” And so he gave glory to God.

It’s as if they put all their seemingly irredeemable weakness and trouble on one side of the balance and God’s faithfulness on the other. No surprise: the divine faithfulness drops weighty, like lead.

So Abraham hoped against hope and glorified God and Isaac was born.

Trust Issues: How Faith Gives Glory To God

Faith in God’s promises, John Piper explains, glorifies him as supremely wise and strong and good and trustworthy. Conversely, Lloyd-Jones notes, There is nothing more insulting to God than not believing him.

Martin Luther would have agreed, for faith he wrote, honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers him truthful and trustworthy.

All that to say, most of us say we’re here on earth and the “chief end of man” is to give glory to God. When we believe God’s promises we do exactly that.

I’ve told you before that I have trust issues. Maybe it’s a firstborn thing, but I really like people to trust me. If it hurts my puny fail-and-drop-the-ball-self how much more it must grieve the faithful God’s heart when His people don’t trust Him.

In “The Theology of Rest” Oswald Chambers imagines how that must feel, felt. 

“O ye of little faith!” What a pang must have shot through the disciples — “Missed it again!” And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced downright joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead. 

At rock bottom, our anxiety and fear are staggering in faith. They reveal that a small faith. They show we distrust God.

Which means we don’t know him as well as he wants us to know him. 

2 Ways To Strengthen Your Faith

It’s not surprising then, that Lloyd-Jones identifies these as the main factors that determine the strength of our faith:

  1. Our knowledge of God.
  2. Our application of that knowledge.

So we’ve got to know God and his unflinchingly faithful character. Then we’ve got to apply that knowledge.

3 Go-To Promises

I am learning both: to know God better and to apply my knowlege of him. And from 1:30-2:30 AM last night, I felt like a failure at both. But I desperately want to help you press on, and grow strong, in your faith.

So after some anxious thoughts and tossing and turning and feeble prayer, here’s what finally came at about 2:30 last night:

  1. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:7) These parenting troubles are not futile or wasted. They are productive. They are producing glory.
  2. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is steadfast toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Even at 1:30 AM, God is looking to help me.
  3. The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11) I make God happy when I hope in his love. (I wrote about this before.)

I took God to the bank on these. They weren’t complete in my head with chapter and verse at 2 AM. But the essence was there: I trusted that the trial was productive, that God was looking to help me and that as I hoped in his love— for me and my son—God would be glad.

He brought them to mind and I spoke them and I fell back to sleep.

I staggered not, and slept.

What are your go-to, hope-against-hope promises?

A go-to promise is not, for the record, a talisman or lucky charm. It’s a way of getting hold on the faithfulness of God, of taking him at his word.

I just told you a few of mine. What are yours? What promise of God do you trust when you hope against hope?

Would you leave that promise in the comments? It might be a great distrust antidote for another JoyPrO reader.

Then maybe you’d like to insert your name in the blank below and say this one aloud:

__________________ staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.

That’s you, friend. As you give glory to God, you grow strong in faith and stagger not.

All God’s giants have been weak men and women who have gotten hold of God’s faithfulness.
Hudson Taylor

What Is The Purpose Of Grace?

Father holding daughter's hand grace

We all need refreshers. We need to hear the old and familiar explained again so it doesn’t become stale and taken for granted.

That’s what this quote was for me: a timely reminder of the purpose of grace; the reason for the grace in which we—and that includes me—stand (Romans 5:2). It’s from a chapter called, “These Inward Trials,” in J.I. Packer’s classic, KNOWING GOD (IVP, 1973). The spacing, bolding and italics are mine. 

 

What is grace?

In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty one might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. “(God) made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

 

What is the purpose of grace?

Primarily, it is to restore man’s relationship with God. When God lays the foundation of this restored relationship, by forgiving our sins as we trust His Son, He does so in order that henceforth we and He may live in fellowship and what He does in renewing our nature is intended to make us capable of, and actually to lead us into, the exercise of love, trust, delight, hope and obedience Godward- those acts which from our side, made of the reality of fellowship with God, who is constantly making Himself known to us. This is what all the work of grace aims at. At an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.

 

How does grace prosecute [go about] this purpose?

Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from the burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor by shielding us from the troubles created by our own temperament and psychology. But rather by exposing us to all those things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another. It is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.

The reason why the Bible spends so much time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defence, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off. But when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him.

 

Why is life rough and perplexing? 

And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself—in the classical biblical phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life, “to wait on the Lord.”

One of the most startling applications of this truth is that God actually uses our sins and mistakes to this end. He employs the educative discipline of failures and mistakes very frequently. It is striking to see how much of the Bible deals with men of God making mistakes, and God chastening them for it. Abraham losing patience and begets Ishmael… Moses killing an Egyptian…David seducing Bathsheba and getting Uriah killed… Jonah running away from God’s call… So we might go on.

But the point to stress is that the human mistake, and the immediate divine displeasure was in no case the end of the story…God can bring good out of the extremes of our folly; God can restore the years that the locust has eaten.

 

You know what they say about those who never make mistakes? 

They say that those who never make mistakes never make anything. Certainly these men made mistakes, but through their mistakes God taught them to know His grace, and to cleave to Him in a way that would never have happened otherwise. 

Is your trouble a sense of failure? The knowledge of having made some horrible mistake? Go to God, his restoring grace waits for you.

For that, after all, is the purpose of grace: an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself. 

To be near the Creator, Redeemer and Lover of my sinful, selfish soul and to know and be known by the one who loves me most.

What could this be, but grace?

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.

2 Timothy 1:9

 

Power Outage, Power Source

Power source melting candle on table, dripping wax looks like man

When’s the power coming back on, Mom? the 13 year-old called from somewhere down the pitch black hall.

By 8 o’clock, I hope. For Roboman from the electric company had assured me of that time when I called at 4:45.

Well, Roboman was wrong. He was off by almost a day. We did homework by candlelight, ate sandwiches by candlelight, played euchre by candlelight and by the time we brushed our teeth by flashlight, all the candles had burned out. In the morning my husband rigged up a generator to power the fridge. By noon—guess what?— the gas had run out too.

It all got me thinking as I ran along. Admittedly, I may have been thinking more since—for the first time in months— I ran without my (stone-cold dead) phone. And as I did, I grew downright glad. I was the gladdest jogger around because I have a power source that will never go out. It will never burn up, fizzle out, or run dry.

Do you tap the same source?

Our Power Source

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises… 2 Peter 1:3-4a

Candles burning in dark power outage

Our power source is a divine. Do you see that in verse 3?

Divine power is available to us through knowledge. Namely, it comes through knowing Jesus Christ, who even as I type, is upholding the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Have you ever stopped to think about this?

Every day God lights up the Milky Way with yottawatts of power and he never has an energy crisis. And the amazing thing is that His divine power- this power- is available to you. If you are a Christian you have power to progress. This power is available to you! Before you were a Christian you lived you lived your life in the condition of a power cut. You were powerless to please God. But now you have power to progress.

Colin Adams, The Pilgrim’s Progress

All this power is on tap for us who know Christ. And He never has an energy crisis.

No Charge, But You Must Plug In

Here’s more glad news: we don’t pay for this rich source. It is given to us. Gratis, granted. That means it’s a gift.

Knowing God and trusting his precious promises is, if you will, the electrical wire that empowers our life and growth in godliness. In case you wondered, the growth doesn’t come to us when we work like a hamster in a wheel, Kevin DeYoung explains. But neither does our growth in godliness come while we stand still as if riding up an escalator.

No, we cooperate with him. We work out because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). A vacuum won’t work unless you plug it in. A car won’t run unless you turn the key. We access, if you will, divine power through the twin outlet of our knowledge of him and our trust in his promises.

Promises like it is more blessed to give than receive, and like we will reap a harvest if we don’t stop doing good. Promises like these empower me to give and do good when I’d rather give up and receive.

So God gives the power, but we turn the switch. The car and vacuum are a gift and the outlet and gasoline are too. But to make progress in godliness, we get in the car and push the gas pedal. We make every effort to supplement our faith (2 Peter 1:5). And here’s another empowering precious promise: our effort in this struggle is productive and good.

But that’s not the point of this post. This post is simply to remind you, as I reminded myself in the dark, that we have a power source that will never go out. Oh yes, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power. First Peter 1:3 says that his divine power comes to us through our knowledge of Jesus. We know the gospel, that we are more sinful than we realize and God loves us more than we realize. Both. That while we were still in our sins, Christ died for us. If we know Jesus Christ we won’t be powerless. Growth is possible. Hope is possible. Change is possible.

But we won’t have this power without knowing him. So we press on to know him. In His power, we press on.

That’s why my three non-negotiables for health in any fraught—or not—days stay the same. Especially #3: Go hard after God. I mean seek His face. I mean listen to him speak in his Word. Put down your phone, turn off the news, and press on to know Him.

I have too many impoverished friends. Friends, we will never—never— experience divine power if we don’t know Jesus Christ. Oh you might be a “strong person” and carry on with lots of props. But when the cords are pulled— when your health fails, your nation fractures, and your family is all a shambles —what then?

What is your power source? From whence then comes your help?

God Wants To Be Known

Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He is our keeper (Psalm 121). God’s power never goes out.

Advent Candles burnt to nothing

But we unplug from the power of God when we leave our Bibles on the shelf. Going about life without striving to know God is like unplugging from the power source then complaining that we feel anxious and alone in the dark. Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it: Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff is about how God does speak and how when we listen we gain divine power when we seek.  

That’s the one thing. It’s the one habit I hope I never shed. Till kingdom come, I want to keep knowing Him and his power. Because all other powers, even the sun itself, will grow dark.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? Then Peter answers his own question: You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Don’t Make Excuses

So we’d best not make excuses. First Peter 1:3 doesn’t allow it. We cannot say, “If only I had more time or more money or a better church or better family I could be more godly and have a stronger spiritual life.” There is no good excuse.

Because God promises that you have ALL YOU NEED for life and godliness. Which means if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

But we can’t expect God to give us what he did not promise us. He did not promise us the power to cure disease, or create world peace or even to change a child’s heart. But take his promises to the bank. If he tells us, Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you, believe it. Seek first his kingdom.

And keep seeking. His Kingdom and Himself. Don’t settle. Because Christ wants us to grow- in spiritual life and godliness.

Don’t Make The Fatal Mistake

Because God’s powerstore is always available through our knowledge of Him and of his precious promises, we can’t slack. I’ll leave you with C.S. Lewis.

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.

But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 201-202.

The Father intended us to be remade in true righteousness and holiness, to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

And to that noble end, He freely gives us all the power we need.

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Ephesians 3:16