Fighting Discouragement

fighting-discouragement-1Yesterday’s sermon dealt with Discouragement that comes upon all of us. Hopefully the short 20 minute or so message will help you and you can listen to it here.

See if you can’t relate to this: Everything is going well, perhaps you had a great victory, accomplished a milestone, or did something you can take pride in and then BAM!….out of nowhere someone says something that feels like cold water being thrown in your face.

Perhaps we think of Job who, in one day, goes from being a healthy, wealthy man with sons, daughters, cattle, camels, sheep, respect and honor to having nothing except an unsupportive wife and three “friends” who are determined to find out what Job did wrong and make him admit it! Yet, for all that Job did not sin with his lips and we have a book that shows us how to deal with suffering and pain and still honor God.

We realize what was happening but Job did not. We know Satan was behind the pain, and that God held him back from doing more harm, but Job did not. And that is the way it is with those things that cause discouragement, we don’t always know the back story but there are things we can do.

Consider Elijah as we read about the challenge on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:16-40. As you read this you will see the challenge he set up. Let’s see which “God” is God! Baal or the Lord?  A simple test. Set up the sacrifice and call on your God to light the wood!

All day Baal’s prophets tried and nothing happened! Then Elijah set up the altar and went a step further….he soaked the altar 3 times with 4 containers of water. Then he prayed and BOOM! God answered with fire that consumed everything, even the stones! God made it clear that Baal was no god and the prophets of Baal were put to death.

Such a victory would stick with you and should make you feel invincible but it was Jezebel’s threat against Elijah that caused him to run in fear down to Mt. Horeb. Read through the next chapter and see what happened.

  • Elijah was afraid and ran
  • Then he complains to God that he is the only one left
  • God tells him to go back and assigns him several tasks
  • God also tells Elijah that, contrary to what he thinks, there are others who have not bowed down to Baal.

How does this help us out?

We all become discouraged. If Elijah did after such a great victory, why not us too? But God did not seem to rebuke him for that, he just sent him back to take care of business and reminded him that he was not alone….God was still in control!

Others have felt that way too.

  • Moses thought Israel would follow him after he killed the Egyptian but they didn’t.
  • Joshua conquered Jericho and then was defeated at Ai
  • Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.
  • Paul often was in despair about this or that congregation.

We should also realize that not all situations of discouragement come from spiritual causes. Jobs can be moved or taken away, friends can disappoint us, politicians and campaigns can cause anxiety {sidenote: we should pray to be able to accept whatever result God allows to happen.}, and especially, discouragement can come from within when we say the wrong thing, let someone down, fail to meet the expectations we have of ourselves.

Some, of course, do deal with the spiritual life we live. Sometimes Christian brothers let you down, sometimes someone leaves the church or just moves to a different congregation, sometimes a family moves to another city and the departure is noticed keenly.

It is easy to feel discouraged sometimes but here are some things that I hope will help us minimize that discouraged feeling.

First, God is your first stop!

Job certainly desired to talk to God about his situation and Joshua fell down before the Lord in prayer after the defeat at Ai. This is a good action to take. We need to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)

Second, get busy to do something.

Elijah was sent to do a task. Joshua was told to get up and remove the sin from Israel because IT had led to the defeat. Moses had to spend time in the wilderness tending sheep before he was ready to lead God’s people. We are created in Christ to do good works for the Lord (Ephesians 2:10) and we have never promised a rose garden. In fact, we are told we will have bad days from time to time. Still, the reward of an Eternal Day awaits us.

Third, we need to press on!

Paul could have been discouraged by those preached the Gospel out of envy to cause him distress but he rather rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached. (In other words, he was no skin off his nose if someone else preached the Gospel.)

Paul simply continued to try and accomplish the goal of getting to Heaven. To do this, he forgot the things that were behind and pressed on toward the high calling that he, and all Christians, have.

Forgetting what is behind allows us not to focus on past victories and get complacent or past failures which sabotage our efforts with discouragement and keep us from serving God.

So when we do have those feeling so discouragement, let us go to God in prayer, seek to do His will, press on in His Kingdom….”and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1b-2)”

Question: What are the steps you take when you feel discouraged?

Become a lawyer of God’s word

ezra-7Becoming a lawyer is hard, I imagine, based on all of the movies I have seen. Even the challenge of passing the Bar exam frightens good students. Of course, it might be nothing like in the movies and the Bar exam might be easier than portrayed but, after all that,  being a lawyer of the country’s law can’t exactly be a cake walk.

But being a student of God’s word should be easier, because unlike laws of the country, God’s law doesn’t change. Murder is still wrong and Adultery is still bad. Unless you belong to a church group that has boards and conferences where they discuss which of God’s laws needs to be updated for the modern times, then, indeed, God’s laws do not change. (Not that God’s laws ever do-though people do try to make us think that God’s laws can be changed.)

Ezra was a priest of God and it is noted about Ezra:

Ezr 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

This is a good idea for all of us.

The OT priests were assigned by God to teach and instruct the people. They did not do a good job of doing this and many times, (like today), corrupted God’s word, sometimes for gain, sometimes for popularity.

Today, Christians are said to be a Royal Priesthood and a Holy Priesthood in 1 Peter 2.

1Pe 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Sure, Christians have other characteristics but being part of a priesthood is one of them. Priests, at their core, are to be a guide and bridge to God; in the NT we can say that we are bridge to Jesus. This is not the prerogative of a few but of all Christians.

The challenge then is to be able to be someone who can instruct in God’s laws. Are you, like Ezra, setting your heart to know God’s law? Are you setting your heart to DO it? Are you setting your heart to teach it?

The sermon on this thought can be heard here.

 

Guard your heart-part 2

be-careful-little-handsThere is a song that is song by many young children in Bible schools: “O be careful little hands what you do…” and each verse talks about being careful for our little eyes, mouth, and feet. The passage under consideration in this post and the first part, remind me of that song.

Pro 4:20-27 My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. (21) Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. (22) For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. (23) Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (24) Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. (25) Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. (26) Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. (27) Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Having looked at verses 20-23 last time, let’s look at the verses that follow.

Be careful little mouth what you say.

Part of guarding your heart is to remove certain words. Because those words reflect a worldly thought process. When James says that a man who does not bridle his tongue has a vain religion (James 1:26-27), he affirms the need to control what we say. (And he does a good job of that in Chapter 3.) This would, of course, include profane and blasphemous words but we should not stop there because for the most part those who practice Christianity do not engage in that kind of language. Let us also include lies, crude humor, gossip, rumors, and even complaining (grumbling) which are more likely to trip up a Christian who finds this type of tongue use used even by Christians.

{While I am on this topic, allow me to point out a pet peeve. It is to repeat a joke or a funny incident in which one says “Now he said something that I can’t say” or ” he used words I don’t use” and then go on with the story. We all find funny things that, if cleaned up, can be repeated but why plant in the listener’s mind, leaving it to a very powerful imagination, to hear bad words in their head? If you can’t repeat it without pointing out that you have edited it for bad language, then don’t repeat it at all!}

Be careful little eyes what you see.

A couple of times in my youth, I was fortunate to go fly in a small Cessna plane and even more fortunate to be allowed to fly the plane. I was advised to find a point far off in the distance and focus on that. In other words, “look in the direction that you want to go.”

Perhaps you have seen video of people who fall into pools, off cliffs, or nearly get ran over in traffic because they were texting as they walked. If your eyes are not focused on where you are going then you will not easily arrive at your destination. In fact, if you do arrive, you may be worse off than if you had paid attention. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Heb 12:1-4)

The world is good at distracting us. Even logging on to check email can be a challenge with this ad over here or that captivating caption over there. Let us not get so caught up in the world that we do not see the finish line ahead of us.

Be careful little feet where you go

Ponder the path you are on. This is always good advice. We need to test ourselves and be sure our feet are on the strait and narrow, not the wide and easy way. Sometimes we envy the wicked and wish to have what they have, considering perhaps whether it is worth it to live for God. Banish that thinking and set your feet to the path that Jesus walked.

Avoid evil companions who will entice you to walk in darkness. If we walk in the light as He is in the light then the blood of His Son cleanses us. (I john 1:7)

Solomon encouraged his son with word of wisdom to live a life that was a good one. We also can find good advice for our lives in his words. The sermon for part 2 is available here.

 

 

Don’t Worry about the election

It is infuriating to me how addictive this election is! Even in spite of the sermon presented, the concern and worry and anxiety still seem to affect me. Yes, it is true…everything in the sermon is true.

It is true that God is Sovereign and He is in control!  God raises up nations and brings nations down. Just because the USA is the nation I live in and want to see continue (although, the direction should make a shift back toward Godly principles), it doesn’t mean that God is going to let it continue. Nor do we know how this country will end (or if it will end) nor what plans God has for the leaders that are currently in power. However, God does.

Daniel shows us in chapter 2 and 4 that God gives the rule to whom HE WISHES! Of course, government is to serve a purpose such as punishing the wicked and upholding the obedient even though it does not always do so. Babylon was 110% a moral (by God’s standards) government but He raised it up and used it to punish Israel and other nations for what had become a moral decline in the world at that time. Then He brought the Medes and Persians against Babylon. All this plays out on a stage that we cannot see clearly. We might glimpse bits and pieces of it but to understand it…we don’t have the perspective to do that.

Who will win the election? Honestly, does it matter?  Yes, it does and No, it doesn’t! It is true that the right leader might allow more peace than the wrong one. Such a result could be a good one for those trying to do God’s will. However, on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter because a Christian’s life is not focused on the things of this world and that does include politics in the country you live.

You see, Christians are not first, citizens of a nation in this world, but rather of the Heavenly Kingdom of God. As such, our focus is to please our King and Savior. It is not that we do not have an interest in the welfare of our country but it is secondary to promotion of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Our primary mission is to preach the Gospel and live for Jesus. If we allow ourselves to become too tied up or preoccupied with politics, there is a danger that we can become unfruitful in the things of God.

Whatever our political opinions are, we should all agree that expanding the borders of God’s kingdom is more important than who becomes President!.

The sermon can be heard here.

 

Guard your heart-part 1

guard-your-heartSolomon offers his son advice for living in Proverbs 4:23-27. This post, and part two, center on this advice which is appropriate for all of us.

The Scriptures reveal to us that God knows the hearts of men. He knows the character of a person even if the rest of the world cannot see it. As Samuel was at the house of Jesse to anoint a new king for Israel, he saw the oldest son, Eliab, and thought that he would make a fine king. God said that Eliab was not to be king and reminded Samuel that He looks on the heart of a man not the outside.

Even though we like to think of our hearts are hidden and our thoughts a secret, they are not so from God. So Solomon’s advice to his son has a lot of activity for us to do or not do but it starts with the heart. Because from the heart flow the issues of life. The downstream consequences of our thoughts will be seen by the actions we take.

What happens when the heart is not guarded?

The problem we have is that our “bad” thoughts tend toward selfishness. It is not always as extreme as Genesis 6:5

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

But, even the shortsightedness of the rich man shows that his thoughts were  on himself when they could have included others.

Luk 12:17-21 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ (18) And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19) And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ (20) But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (21) So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Most of us, are interested in the “what’s in it for me?” part of anything. Unfortunately, when we focus on that, we will find ourselves wandering away from God.

How can we guard our heart?

It begins by what you put into the heart. So we need to pay attention to that carefully. Jesus said in Luke 8:18 “take heed how you hear”.  So we need to pay attention to the advice given by Solomon and, by extension, God.

Children are commanded by God to obey their parents. There are many reasons for this but one that fits in this context is “Parents have more experience.”  Why reinvent the wheel? Learn from those who have gone on before you.  As children, we often think, “I know better” but later on, after we grow up, we realize that our parents were not so ignorant after all.

Parents, then, have the responsibility to train their children correctly. Yes, this even includes telling them “how” to think: what is a good way to think and a bad way to think. We train them in God’s ways so they can live to God. Don’t think that they will just find it on their own.

Of course, as adults, we need to realize that God is our Father and we are His children. So we need to be willing to let Him train us as well.

First, Guard your heart!

The sermon dealing with this topic can be heard here.

Behavior to model-Part 2

follow-meLast Sunday, the sermon presented continued in the book of Philippians chapter 2 with the example of two individuals who are worthy for us to follow in their footsteps: Timothy and Epaphroditus.You can listen to the sermon here.

In Timothy’s case, his is a behavior of service. Imagine being spoken of the way Paul spoke about Timothy.

Php 2:19-21 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. (20) For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. (21) For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

What an endorsement!  I don’t know about you but when I read that, I want to stand up and shout: “I want to be like Timothy!”

Where do your affections lie? Are they divided between Christ and the world?

In the case of Epaphroditus, here was a Christian who had come from Philippi to bring support to Paul and who stayed to help Paul with what was still lacking! Even to the point that he nearly died.

Php 2:25-30 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, (26) for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. (27) Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (28) I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. (29) So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, (30) for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Here was a man who would be willing to be spent in service to God. Sometimes we will put aside our health for an important thing but Epaphroditus chose to risk his life for the most worthy thing possible: the preaching of the Gospel.

What other things would consider important enough to risk your life for?

 

Behavior to model

humble-732566__180A few weeks ago, I preached a lesson from Philippians chapter 2 in which we discussed the behavior of some individuals which are worthy of imitating. In the third chapter of this book, Paul writes:

Php 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

How many times have we heard as we grew up: “You need to be a good example for….”? Just fill in the blank. A younger sister, a new student, co-worker, or anyone who would be likely to imitate you and pick up your bad habits if you displayed them. Parents learn this lesson real quick with their children who watch and imitate them, sometimes to the embarrassment of the parent.

The idea, of course,that Paul wants for the Christians at  Philippi, and even for us today, is  to follow and imitate the behavior of those who follow God well.

He begins with the example that Jesus set for us in verses 5-11.  This is an example of humility. Possessing so much and yet being willing to set it aside. Then, not just laying aside all of His glory in Heaven but being born into the world of man as a lowly carpenter’s son. As He began His ministry, He was totally dependent on those who would support Him. He had nothing in this world even though He created it all…and it was all His. Then the one thing which you could call His, His life, is the one thing that He did not withhold….He gave that up for us too.

For His humility, God has rewarded Him richly. He has been exhaled on High. It is an important example that we should strive to follow. The Scriptures teach in several places that humility is honored by God.

Jas 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

The rest of the chapter has more examples we can look at in another lesson. The sermon can be heard here.

Who are the Biblical characters that you most relate to and what behavior do they model for you?

Taking a knife to God’s word

jeremiah 36Last Sunday’s sermon was taken from Jeremiah 36 and you can listen to it here.

In the days of King Jehoiakim, Jeremiah sent his scribe to read to the people in the temple a message from God. Eventually, that message was brought to the King and his response was not too different from the response many people, both inside and outside of the Church, have today…he took a knife to it.  Whether people do this literally or figuratively, they cut out from their life words that they find offensive, insignificant, or of no use in their opinion.

As you read Jeremiah 36, you will notice that God sends a message to the people which might cause them to change their ways. This message is heard by some God-fearing men who then want the message read to the King. Jehoiakim, on the other hand, as he listened to the scroll being read to him, took a knife and, every so often, cut what had been read from the scroll and burned it. God told Jeremiah to have it rewritten and added more words to it-specifically condemnation of Jehoiakim.

So what can we learn from this? Here are a few lessons.

First, God is a merciful God who wants all to be saved. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17) and so God sent His word to the people and to the king with the hope that they would repent. If you read from 2 kings 22, you will see what happened when Jehoiakim’s father Josiah had God’s word read to him; he humbled himself and made reforms to cause the people to serve God. God’s word will lead us in the ways we should go, if we will only humble ourselves, listen and do.

Second, God’s word remains. Even though Jehoiakim cut and burned the scroll with God’s word on it, God had it rewritten. 1 Peter 1:22-25 tell us that God’s word lives forever. It is relevant and is able to save us. We can try to fight against it but there is no way to change it, it will either change us…or we will break ourselves against it.

Third, people today fight against what the Scriptures say and cut out or ignore God’s word. Here are somethings they do:

  •  Ignore God’s plan of salvation- Mk 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, 2 Thes 1:8
  • Ignore God’s plan for marriage-Eph 5:22-33
  • Ignore God’s plan for assembling with the saints- Heb 10:24-25
  • Ignore God’s plan for modesty- 1 tim 2:9-10

And many other passages people cut out of their life and ignore. However, God’s word is still there. Perhaps if we would spend more time reading it and doing it, our lives would be more at peace….Certainly, we would be more at peace with God.

 

Four mistakes in prayer

The sermon yesterday morning dealt with mistakes we sometimes make in prayer. You can listen to it here.

Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. It is a discipline that can not only bring us closer TO God but one that brings us closer to being LIKE God. Still, being human, there are times that we may pray in a way that is not appropriate. Sometimes it happens in our own weakness, other times, in our zeal for good things to happen. In no particular order, here are four mistakes we should avoid in prayer.

First, praying for our own selfish motivated reasons. In James 4:1-6, James chastises those who fight because they don’t receive, says they don’t receive because they don’t ask and then even when they ask…they don’t receive because they ask with wrong motives to spend it on their own lusts. Why would a Christian pray that God let him win the lottery when there is no reason a Christian should be gambling in the first place? Yes, we can ask for things we want but we need to check our motives. God is not mocked.

Second, we may ask that God intervene in the free will of another. God, who wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), is able to ‘force’ us to do His will but He created us in His image and gave us the opportunity to choose good or evil.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
(Deu 30:19)

So, in our desire to have others become Christians, praying that God would make this child or friend a Christian is something God won’t do against that individual’s will. A better prayer would be that God would guide/lead us to be sure that we do not put a stumbling block in the life of any individual. Still, be careful, God won’t make YOU do good either!

Third, we sometimes put God into our own conception of what He needs to do or not do. It goes like this “God, if you don’t want me to do this, then stop me!” (see the point on free will above) or “God, if you will do….XYZ by tomorrow at 2pm then I will know that you want me to do this or that”

You might say that Gideon (Judges 6) did this so “Why can’t I?” While it is true that God did respond to Gideon’s request to verify the message given to him by an angel, I would suggest that we would do better if we stopped trying to be Gideons and simply asked God for wisdom in the choices we are going to make, something He promises to give us. (james 1:5) And if God does send an angel to tell you that you take on a particular task, then maybe at that time, you might ask for an appropriate sign for verification.

Fourth, we can use prayer as a substitute for other spiritual activities. There is a time for prayer and there is a time for action. Jesus says that those who hear his words and DO them will be blessed. (Matthew 7:24-25) There are times when we need to get off our knees and do what is set before us to do.

This is especially true when it comes to studying the Scriptures. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by God’s word, not by pray. (Rom 10:17) When the Bereans  wanted to verify Paul’s message of Jesus being the Christ, they did not pray to God about it, they searched the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11)

I have made some of these mistakes in my prayer life and I imagine you may have too but if we can recognize these mistakes, we can avoid them.

 

 

The Resurrection in the Old Testament

comfort one another(The sermon with this post can be heard here)

In the book of 2 Samuel 12, Nathan is sent to David by God to condemn him for his sin with Bathsheba. It is probably one of the most famous scandals in the Old Testament. In this chapter, David is told that he will be punished for the sin and one of the consequences was that the child which was the result of his affair would die.

The story shows us a few things about David that are worth noting.

First, David did admit that he had sinned. He did not do as we sometimes/often do-deny the sin. In this David shows his humility before God. David shows his heart and desire to be right with God.

Second, David pleads with God for the life of the child. David had an advantage that we do not have. (If you want to call it an advantage….) He knew that the child would die based on what God told him. Still, he fasts and prays and humbles himself for the 7 days in which the child was sick. Although God had said the child would die, David knew that God has relented from punishments in the past. (cf 2 1 Sam 21:14-15) So he sought the Lord’s favor.

Third, When the child had died, David accepted the situation and went on about his life. It is important to note however that David did this with two thoughts in mind: First, the past can not be changed. Two, there is a future for David with the child after death.

He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2Sa 12:22-23)

The concept of the resurrection is not so clearly laid out in the Old Testament as in the New Testament but it is clear that people living with the law of Moses believed in it.

Not only David here speaking of going to his son but in the Psalms, the sons of Korah speak of being bought back (redeemed) from the grave.

Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah. (Psa 49:14-15)

Also, we see of others who believed this.

Martha told Jesus about her dead brother Lazarus:  “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (Joh 11:24) and while we read of this account in a New Testament Gospel, Martha grew up in an Old Testament world. Yet, she believed.

Also, Paul standing before the counsel in offering his defense cried out “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” (Acts 23:6) It is true that Paul, as a Christian, believed in the resurrection and had even written about it by this time in First Thessalonians and First Corinthians. However, such a statement would mean nothing if the Pharisees did not hold a belief in the resurrection…a belief they would get from the Old Testament writings.

It is true that we have a better understanding and belief in it. After all, Jesus has already conquered death. They saw it dimly, we see it more clearly; They waited for the hope of Christ, we live believing He has already come…and will come again.  Death is never a happy event for those left behind yet I am pretty sure it is a happy time for those that pass on. Still, we do not grieve as those who have no hope, we know that Jesus will return with those who have passed on before and take us with him to dwell with Him forever more. ( I thes 4:13-18)

Comfort one another with these words.

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