One verse is enough!

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index card

I recently changed my workout system so that I no longer walk in the mornings. For years I had used that time to review/rehearse scripture from memory. Walking and talking come naturally to me. But concentrated breathing and floor exercises have prevented me from doing any more than focused movements and counting of reps!

So I had to come up with another way to chew on God’s word.

Thinking of my two busy daughters-in-law who don’t have the luxury of choosing how they want to meditate on passages of the Bible reminded me of the power of one single verse. With little children demanding mom’s immediate attention, these young parents need to be able to grab one verse, write it on a card and put it front and center so they can quickly return to this source of life after the interruption ceases.

So I decided to pick a verse a day, write it down and carry it with me wherever I go – at first on the 3×5 card and then quickly in my immediate memory. And when I arose the next day, I would select another spiritual morsel to munch on and not feel obligated to hold on to any previous ones by rehearsing them. Packing and carrying with me one verse a day would guarantee I’d have something the Holy Spirit could use to correct, encourage and guide me.

Lest you think that one verse is not very much, come with me and see for yourself how much one can squeeze out of a few living words. Here is one of my favorite promises and exhortations:

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

First – let’s look at the description of God as the ‘God of Hope’. What alternatives could there be, if our God were NOT a god of hope?   ‘Elpis’ or hope (Strong’s Greek 1680) means ‘joyful, confident expectation of never-ending safety with God’

Well – he could be a god of vengeance, a mean god, a god that is picky or incomprehensible or impersonal or …..you get the idea.

Second – Paul doesn’t just pray that we receive a bit of joy, or a taste of joy, but ALL joy. This term ‘all’ or ‘pas/3956’ means the highest degree or maximum amount.

Third – what kind of peace is this? Is it connected to our temporal (literally ‘secular’) earthly circumstances? No! The Blue Letter Bible website describes Christian peace (Greek ‘eirine’/1515) as the “tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ and so fearing nothing from God (is) content with its earthly lot…,”

Fourth – How do we actually receive this joy and peace? Instrumentally through/as we take God at His word, as we rely on Him, as we ‘put all our eggs in the God-basket’, so to speak. And what exactly are we relying on God for? For everything. For whatever we do or say in our daily life is only considered ‘good’ by God if it is done and said in faith, in dependence on Him. God does not want self-reliant children. Then He would get NO credit and we would implode. Humans are created to reflect God’s glory, not absorb glory. Lest we are tempted to think that relying on God is an action that we DO, to our credit, it really is just a matter of resting, of ceasing to strive via our own efforts. We get to rest and receive all we need from our Daddy just as a weaned baby snuggles safely next to mom.

Psalm 131:2 – But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Fifth – what is the outcome of trusting God in everything? We will overflow with cheerful expectation of a happy and good God-infused future. And that spill-over hope will refresh, entice, intrigue, annoy?, stimulate, confuse others so that some will be drawn to God.

Sixth – just to reinforce or remind us that the joy, peace and hope truly are not linked to anything WE actively do (besides ‘abide’), Paul reminds us that the outcome from reliance is achieved BY the Holy Spirit’s power and strength working in us. Because the HS has lived in each believer since their spiritual birth day, He is always present to strengthen the child of God with Christ’s power to do the daily works the Father has prepared for each of His sons and daughters.

So do you see, that just by taking each bit of God’s word and asking questions about what it means and what it DOESN’T mean we get rich spiritual food, enough to last an entire day?

Which of God’s promises is nourishing you these days?

Resting in Doctrine – God’s in charge!

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Job 14:5A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Psalm 139:16Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

News of a recent hostage death has caused me to think through whether God is in charge or not.  What we believe about God is called doctrine and doctrines DO matter.  They affect our thoughts, which influence our feelings.  These rational and emotional aspects reside at different layers within us, some conscious and others beyond our conscious awareness.  It’s apparent to me that we are guided by thoughts and feelings originating in both camps, whether we know it or not.  Who hasn’t been appalled at a choice comment that slipped out before we could filter it: ‘Where did THAT come from?” we genuinely exclaim in horror.

Garbage in, Garbage out: ‘right’ thinking about God matters.  So what is ‘right’ thinking or doctrine when it comes to whether God is in control of all that happens in our universe? The Bible, the definitive source of doctrine, affirms that He is in fact the first cause* for all that happens. The term for that 100% authority and rule that belongs to God’s is His Sovereignty.

If a king is sovereign over his lands, then what he says is the law of the land.  How much more is it with God who is the author (hence – authority) and creator of all that IS.  And if He is sovereign, by definition then, that quality of being in charge includes the notion of having and exercising all power.  There is no such thing as impotent sovereignty.

Back to the hostage who died.  My heart goes out to the family who is dealing with pain and loss. If they are followers of God, there is one comfort that should hold them up in their grief:

God’s plan for their dear one was not thwarted.  Therefore, they need not take on all the piercing, painful ‘what ifs’ that often assault survivors.  Rescue attempts did not succeed because God sovereignly ordained the day the hostage would die.

This is NOT fatalism because that would mean that it doesn’t matter what one does, that regardless of our actions, the outcome is the same. God’s sovereignty is different because He chooses to carry out His will in our lives through both our human actions and His divine workings.  Rescue attempts ARE appropriate because they might be the means God uses to save lives.

We have an example of God sovereignly determining different outcomes with two of Jesus’ apostles.  James, son of Zebedee,  was the first to be murdered by the Romans.  Wasn’t anyone praying for his rescue?  Undoubtedly!  Then there was Peter, also imprisoned by the Romans.  This time similar prayers led to his miraculous rescue from jail. What made the difference?  God and His sovereign will!

So, why is this doctrine so important?  For one, it is PEACE-producing.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up with the ‘what-ifs’.  That self-inflicted torture implies our actions are sovereign.

So sweet is this aspect of God!  His unchanging character guarantees that His sovereign decrees will always be done.  This in turn lifts the immobilizing burden of possible mistakes off of me.

  • What if I make a wrong decision?
  • What if I should have known better than to make that trip to the Holy Land and fall prey to a terrorist attack?
  • What if I had taken a different route to the bank?
  • What if I had chosen a different spouse, a different job?
  • What if I hadn’t indulged in that immoral behavior?

I can easily wallow in regrets, if I start thinking that I am in charge of my life.

Jesus breathes comfort and peace into our troubled minds:

  • John 14:27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

*Although God is the First Cause of all that happens, there are other doctrines that exclude Him from being charged with the evil we do. Even though God is sovereign, we are still guilty for bad stuff we do. That’s a complex theological discussion that I cannot take up here.

 

Do sheep ever worry?

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sheep

 

Obedience, aka the humility to hand over my troubles, to my Heavenly Father has been this season’s lesson.

In the last two blog posts I  detailed how I can now see that the injunction to ‘Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7) can NOT be taken in isolation, as we Christians are wont to do.

What is missing is the all-important context without which we will MIS-understand God’s message to us.

So what DOES precede this comfortable command of letting go of our distracting worries? Oh..just..the fact that handing over these concerns and anxieties is one way God wants us to humble ourselves.

 

Ambassador for Christ

And what follows the command? Just the reminder of our mission and duty as an ambassador of Christ – that we are to be clear and single-minded so we can watch out for our enemy who is on the hunt for distracted Christians. We are actually assigned to be our ‘brother’s keeper’, our ‘brother’ being those dear fellow believers who are distracted by their worries.

 

With that review, let me give you a peek at Part 3 of God’s lesson plan. The Holy Spirit used a couple of teachings by John Piper to give me some concrete practice in trusting God.

In a series of talks about faith in future grace, Piper reminded me of the only way to prevent distracting worries. Power to hand over concerns and live single-mindedly and focused, as God commands, is only possible if we take as true and sure God’s promises of His adequate provision.

I need to recall that God’s interactions with me until now have been ALL GRACE. Two ways I see His past grace:

  • First – I was saved according to His unearned favor given me
  • Second – Everything I have received ….from energy, to eyesight to education to equipping for tasks has come as a gift from God

So there is a pile of past grace I can look back to for encouragement. But that is not all! His Word looks forward and announces brand new mercies and grace-giftings to come to me.

All I have to do, and I’m practicing REMEMBERING this throughout the day, is breathe in the assurance that whatever lies ahead in the next 5 seconds or 5 minutes is known by Him. And AS life unfolds both in the ordinary daily tasks of teaching French and tending my home as well as the crises, God IS providing what I need.

Simple to grasp, challenging to practice.

Jar of clay

To you, I can admit that I am the clay pot WITH cracks. I don’t HAVE to pretend that I am competent and have it all together. It’s only the world around me that clamors for proof of my self-exalting independence. What a trap!

 

Down to where the rubber meets the road: we’re on a trip to Mike’s alma mater for his 35th class reunion. So many all the many details and circumstances appear ARE out of our control. As I notice my tension, I breathe out my anxiety and breathe in Holy Spirit oxygen and relax. Everything from preparing the substitute plans, to packing, to cat-minding considerations as well as the travel and healthy food arrangements can easily overwhelm me.

I do the above, relax and then MORE concerns pop into my mind. For example, even after God provided for situations that occurred during the day, (rental car, NJ Turnpike, arriving at reunion events reasonably on time) later that night other future situations loomed large. I had to STOP thinking about those details and hand over my ‘right’ to worry. Hasn’t God promised to provide for the next day ON the morrow? Is He not trustworthy?

You’d think I’d come into my heavenly inheritance a week ago and was still getting used to the idea!

What patience Abba Dad exercises with His little kids! I’m thankful He sees this as training for the responsibilities that await us as co-heirs with Jesus.

May you and I trust Him enough to accept with relief and rest that each lesson does have a divine objective. Nothing is wasted or without purpose. Even the suffering.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What promise of future grace can you place your faith in right now?

PS: I have let this post percolate over our travel days. Early this morning as I lay in bed, the first faith skirmish of the day commenced. I started to worry about arriving home late with little time to repack and head off first thing Tuesday morning as a teacher/chaperone for the two-day 8th grade class camp experience. Would I be able to fix dinner, repack, sleep enough and head out the door at 6:45 am on Tuesday morning ready to extravert some more?

What finally settled my anxious heart and scattered mind was Psalm 23.

  • The Lord IS my shepherd
  • He WILL provide
  • There are still waters and green blades of grass in fields I don’t yet see

Good shepherd

I rested easier in bed as I meditated on these facts of future grace and mercy.

No more taking pride in those bleak ‘Ecclesiastes’ moments!

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“The specific quality of faith is extraspective and in that respect is the diametric opposite of works. …….Faith looks to what God does; works have respect to what we are……,” John Murray on Romans

Psalm 131:2 – Instead, I have kept my soul calm and quiet. My soul is content as a weaned child is content in its mother’s arms.

I think I was approaching 50 when I started occasionally detaching and viewing myself and others around me in a kind of surprise.  I’d be at a red-light at a major commercial intersection looking at fellow drivers to the left and right.

drivers all together

 

 

 

 

I would start to wonder, “What is the point of life? ”  Now, don’t get me wrong; I was a Christian then, well-grounded in my Bible.  I’m just sharing how I was feeling.

Ennui animal

Soon I started going further down this ‘pseudo-sophisticated’ and semi-existential path.  It was a kind of mild depression. It had to do with the daily sameness of an ordinary life, thinking that there was nothing exciting to look forward to.  Maybe it was a kind of weariness of life.

I would even indulge in a bit of superiority in my own special ennui, knowing that buying new stuff  or going on a vacation wouldn’t satisfy me, like it would many of my mid-life peers.  I was one of those ‘deep thinkers who needed much more!’

I infected my husband.  He was in a similar boat in a job that brought no joy.  And when I named my feelings, my unoriginal term, ‘Eccleasisates Moment’ (as in ‘all is vanity’ à la King Solomon) resonated with him.

Not much good comes from all that introspection except for the helpful and salubrious-to-the-budget realization that spending money is no antidote to what is immaterial, namely a feeling.

Recently I have been helped by God’s word to me about taking joy in the simple provisions of life.  I have stepped down from indulging in those super-serious but unfruitful thoughts about the meaning of life.  More and more I am content to settle into and accept  what God says is the meaning of life.

If all life is a gift from God, no matter the form it comes in, then I am meant to live moment by moment with the anticipation that little kids have who are about to receive a treat.  God the good Father via His Spirit implanted in me is growing my feelings of love, joy, and peace.  He is giving me practice (through trying circumstances) to develop the habits of restful waiting, of being kind, of offering grace, of faithfulness in work, of  gentle words and responses to others and most of all teaching me how to control my emotional reactions to life.

Peace - Dove

 

 

So just as the Psalmist himself had finally realized, I am finally learning as a young weaned child of God simply to rest my head on Him.  It is enough to know that I belong to the Eternal God as an adopted daughter.  My good Father plans out my daily events and walks by my side to provide the helping hand and steadying I need as I depend on Him and practice keeping pace with Him.  Our Father is very much like Corrie Ten Boom’s dad who quieted her anxiety about an upcoming train trip and her need of a ticket. He assured his young daughter that he would hand her ticket when she was about to board the train.  So too, God – our Father will give us what we need when we need it, not before. I don’t have to know more than what He has told me and shown me today.

And when I start to fret about the seeming ordinariness of life, I try to remember that Jesus celebrated daily life by living it with bickering fishermen and complaining housewives and restless children.  He didn’t hang out too often with the Important People who were doing ‘big stuff’. He liked good food and physical labor and walking over hill and dale and camping out.  He celebrated with the wedding party and accepted people’s gifts.  He was a mensch.  May we be ones too!

Jesus and kids

 

‘Dem Bones’- what’s connected to your mouth ‘bone’?

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Knee to thigh to hip bone and so on

Jesus has harsh words about body parts and their connections.  And He isn’t talking about bones!

Matthew records Him directly criticizing the spiritual heads of the Jews –

        You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:34)

It’s pretty clear, what we put into our heart, comes out of our mouth.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been horrified at the remarks that have slipped out of your mouth.  It’s like they bypassed the sentry at the gate, or the guard wandered off AWOL!

“Where did that expressed sentiment come from?”, you wonder.

Actually, from your heart.  What we think……. about we talk about. It’s pretty simple.

The Bible uses the the ‘heart’ to refer to our mind.  So it’s what we think about, that produces feelings that spill out as words.

How have MY thoughts damaged relationships?

  • I’ve uttered hurtful remarks to various family members and friends
  • I’ve divulged confidences and passed on criticisms ABOUT family members and friends…all because I was meditating on those thoughts
  • I’ve lost a potential  job because in the stress of an interview, I burbled something stupid that actually WAS in the background of my conscious mind (Note to self – you can’t push thoughts far enough back)

But we can’t help what we think, can we?

Yes and no.

  • Thoughts DO pop into our conscious mind unbidden.  When they are sinful, we need to yell out to God, “HELP!!!” What we can pray is something like this: Father, remove this thought from me.  It’s NOT kind or helpful or true.  Give me something to replace it – and PRONTO!”

  • We can practice ‘tasting and seeing that the Lord is good’ (Ps 34:8) and then thanking God FOR all His creation.  Today in church, Patrick explained that the remedy for NOT getting drunk on wine (Eph 5:18) was to move toward a positive action.  “Be filled with the Spirit” (i.e. the Truth).  Exhorting yourself to STOP DOING THAT BAD THING! never works.

I’m sure you can think of lots of verses that speak to how our thoughts, feelings, words and circumstances bear on one another.

My birth date Proverb is 23:7 (23 July) ….For as a man thinks within himself,  so he is;

……and I would add, so she speaks out to others without a filter!!!

What verses about the heart or thoughts or words are dear to you?

Blessed Contradiction – Psalm 68:19

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Bless the Lord who daily loads us with blessings.         KJV/ Darby/ Websters/ Youngs

Bless the Lord who daily bears our burdens.        NIV/ NASB/ God’s Word/ASV/ERV

Bless the Lord who daily carries us.         NLT/ ESV

Psalm 68:19

Welcome to the wonderful world of Blessed Contradictions!  I heard RC Sproul teach today that there are no contradictions in the Bible.  If one account or fact SEEMS to contradict another in the Bible, it is either a paradox or a mystery.  Paradoxes are seeming contradictions which resolve themselves when more information is provided.  Mysteries however, are just in the pre-resolved state. We don’t YET have enough information which will untangle the ‘so-called’ contradiction.

So what is a truth-loving Christian to do, given 3 different possible translations of Psalm 68:19?  Which translation is the correct one? It all depends on the definition of ‘amac’  (6006).  The Hebrew verb ‘amac’ can either mean:  to bear a load or to load onto.

So which is it?  And how are we to know?

I will offer a solution to our di- or ‘tri-lemma’ by asking a question? Would it be so wrong if we allowed for all three?

Think about Jesus’ theology.  In his high-altitude sermon, He gently chastises listeners (and us!) for holding onto anxieties, however real and legitimate they might be.  Who among us older than 9 doesn’t identify?  His invitation to come and rest is balm for many hearts. Shoulders sag with relief as He calls the weary and stressed out to come & off-load weighty matters at His feet.

If I asked you right now, ‘Friend, what wears you down, what wakes you up in the middle of the night, what is on your mind today?’ would you have to ponder long?  I bet you could tick off 10 concerns before I muttered ‘fish and loaves’ or ‘water into wine’! But whoever invites THAT kind of transparent sharing?  Each of us is preoccupied with his own ‘what ifs?’.  At most, we seem to invite honest off-loading by asking each other, ‘How are you doing?’  But few are they who listen lovingly, with patience.  We all understand social conventions.

Should you be worried that since YOU are NOT going to be worrying anymore, then nothing will get fixed, Off-loading at Jesus’ feet is in nowise neglect.  Jesus Himself will pick up our problems and sort them out from His perfect perspective. He might hand them back, one at a time, but they will have been lightened and infused with new insights into how we might deal with.  Or some will be permanently taken from us with the promise that He will solve them with His resources. (They were ‘above our pay grade’.)

Recently I was worried about finding someone to cat- sit our three cats.  The regular sitter was gone and I didn’t want to ask our neighbor who occasionally feeds them when we are away for a weekend.  I actually kept writing down this problem as a prayer request, off-loading the burden each morning, exercising trust that Jesus would come up with a solution.  About 3 weeks before we left to go hiking, one of my students called up and mentioned that she heard we were looking for a cat sitter.  She works part time at our Vet and our normal sitter had mentioned to someone who had mentioned to someone……..who worked at the Vet who then said to Monica, “there is a lady who needs a cat-sitter, would you call her?”   When Monica asked the name, it turned out to be me, her French teacher.  And when Monica phoned and we started to work out details, I asked her what she would charge.  She ‘just happened’ to still need funding for a missions trip to Japan.  Our budgeted amount for cat-sitting helped make the difference in her financial support.  Now THAT is creative.  I would not have thought of Monica.

So you see, Jesus does not suggest we ‘go Buddhist’ and pretend that we don’t have any needs.  He actually proposes a swap: His concerns for our concerns – His yoke for our yoke.  But how different from our cumbersome and heavy backpack is this Heavenly Load!

We get to wear a yoke that is custom fitted, with all the right padding in the right places. If you’ve ever hiked with a backpack, you might know the blessing of having a strap that goes across your chest and one across your waste to distribute the weight.

And what goes in our Backpack by Jesus? Do we get world-sized problems? By no means, we actually get presents!!!  Spiritual gifts for every situation: think wisdom and courage and strength and material resources.  Some of the best supplies we get to pack are Bible truths. God’s promises remind us of His love for us and His always-available supernatural power.  His forever love and permanent Holy –Spirit-power are down payments of future grace due us, given our ‘new-birthright’.  So instead of meditating on all our problems, we meditate on God’s character, His past help and His future promises.

Best of all, among all the items we carry when we are yoked to Him are His surprise gifts.  Our God is infinitely creative and as Jeremiah reminds us, God’s blessings are new every morning.  So let us meditate on the ‘loads us with blessings’ promise of this tri-fold truth.

May we NOT be perplexed by what seems like a contradiction or tri-lemma.  Since the Holy Spirit inspired King David to pen the Hebrew word ‘amac’, we can be sure that God intends good for us whether by removing the load from us, actually carrying us or giving us rich and weighty blessings.

It’s God who sends the trials

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“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you” Psalm 55:22a

If God is sovereign over all of life, then all things come from or through Him.  Our trials are included in these ‘all things’.  This knowledge comforts me. Horrifying would be the thought that life is random, that I am exposed and subject to cosmic, cold, uncaring CHANCE!

But no, trials (‘peirasmos’ in Greek) are ‘any adversity, affliction or sorrow which God brings His people through in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him’ (my NASB study Bible notes).

Since all my trials are from God, I can draw several conclusions. (Let me offer two of my more ordinary, but painful recent experiences):

  • Last week God allowed/authorized my ailing cat and my broken computer.
  • God has two goals for my life:  His glory and my transformation into the image of my older brother Jesus (if I am a Christian).
  • Since He plans trials, He knows the end and has prepared resources that I will need.  I call these pre-positioned stockpiles of grace.
  • There is nothing to fear if everything good & bad comes from God.
  • (I had to remind myself of the above point when I read about 3 local traffic deaths/serious accidents in the local paper).
  • Since chance and luck and randomness don’t exist, there is nothing to fear or to hastily maneuver away from.

These trials are the ever-changing variables of daily life.  They never end.  The circumstances just vary.  Why isn’t life free of trouble? Two reasons are given to us and God conceals the others.  One, we live in a world marred by the Fall. Two, troubles are used by God to grow our faith which is ‘more precious than gold or silver’.

But take heart. Trials are just the ‘light and momentary’ afflicting variables.  They pale in comparison with the unmovable big things.  Let me summarize these sturdy pillars.  I’ve organized them into blessed words that begin with the letter P.

These P-words jumped out at me as I was meditating on the seamlessness of the Bible.  The Old Testament presents us with many promises of God’s PRESENCE and PROTECTION and His ‘all-mighty’ POWER.  The psalms are rich with these kinds of verses.  Psalm 46 talks about God being a very PRESENT help in time of trouble.  Psalm 146 focuses in on the POWER of almighty God who is head of the angel armies.  And the man or woman who has the present PROTECTION of the God of Jacob and the hope of El-Shaddai (God Almighty) is blessed, that is happy and blissful (‘asher’ in Hebrew).

Now couple those promises with rest of the story in the New Testament and we get the PRIZE and the PURPOSE.  If you are a Christian, the greatest inheritance you have is summarized in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (and remember, this is not the “I–wish-it-were-so-hope”, but the “sure-rock-solid-it’s- going-to-come-to-pass” expectation. You can take it to the bank!)

So I look at these 5 P-words (Presence, Protection, Power, Prize and Purpose) as forming the frame work of our life here on Earth.  They do not change, for they are based on God who does not change.  All that changes are the new and passing trials that come and go based on God’s good plans for our eternal nature.

Do I like trials?  NO!!! Do I fear them?  Yes, and that is why I have to continually re-orient my thinking to line up with God’s word.  I get out of kilter and my feelings follow my thoughts.  But thanks be to God who has given us His precious Word.  So eat up, feed on His promises, and not just once a day. If you are like me, you eat some kind of food 3-4 times a day.  It’s just as reasonable to think that we need spiritual food as often.  Both the Old and New Testaments remind us that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’.   Bon appétit!

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