Archive for the 'Characteristics of Believers' Category

A New Year’s Resolution

new year

I’ve been thinking about the one thing I would tell followers of Jesus Christ to start off the New Year, and my decision will shock you!

Did that introduction make you want to click on a link to see more? Well, the good news is that you don’t have to click on anything to read what I’ve written, and I won’t bombard you with ads in any event (you can tell I’m getting a bit sick of the Internet lately, can’t you?). So let’s get to the point. The one thing I’d like to tell followers of Jesus to start the New Year is this: remember the Judgment Seat of Christ!

“Oh no, he’s going to preach! And if it’s about some sort of judgment, then I’m hosed. I don’t want to be judged, and, frankly, I’m not really keen on anyone else being judged either!”

I suppose at least one person out there may be saying or thinking these very things right now. Give me just a minute, though, and I’ll explain why you should really look forward to this particular judgment and why you should try to remember it every day.

I’ve been thinking about the Judgment Seat of Christ (also known as the Bema Seat of Christ) because I’ve been trying to figure out why God has me working so hard on criminal justice reform when I’m not so sure that we’ll even see true reform before the rapture and tribulation. If it’s true that we’re really that close to the end (like I think we are), then why bother, right?

The answer came to me as I awoke the other day. And it starts with an understanding of the exciting judgment for followers of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

We know that there’ll be judgment even for believers of Christ because in the Bible, Paul wrote:

We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  (2 Corr. 5: 8-10)

On its face, this judgment can seem a bit intimidating, but if you read other parts of the Bible and various commentaries, it becomes clear that this judgment is only for determining a believer’s rewards in heaven. It doesn’t include judgment for sin, because sin is taken care of by Jesus’s death on the cross. I repeat – it doesn’t involve judgment for sin. Jesus is your proxy on that matter through your belief in him. Like Denise says, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the golden ticket. Leave it to Denise to dream up a Willy Wonka reference.

So even though the passage above says that you’ll receive what is due to you for things done “good or bad,” it doesn’t mean morally bad. Instead, it means that certain things have eternal rewards in heaven (the good) and certain things don’t (the bad).

Think of it this way. You’re going to do a lot of things during your walk in the world, and you might consider some of those things to be really, really good things. For example, you might think that holding down a particular job your entire life is a pretty good thing. And to the world, it is. But it might not be the thing that gets additional rewards in heaven. That makes sense, right? The Bible talks about building a foundation on Jesus, and if you build your foundation on anything else, a fire will burn away all that is worthless, which will include things you may have thought were pretty good but that simply don’t measure up to reward-giving status.

Paul often likened our journey on earth as a race to be run, so imagine it that way for a minute. As a runner, you might do tons of good things to get ready for the race – lift weights, stretch, practice your starts – but in the end, you get a reward for winning the race. Those are the rules. It’s not that stretching was a bad thing – heck, it may have been crucial to winning – it’s just that you don’t get the reward for stretching. You get it runnerfor crossing the finish line first. Likewise, there are certain things that God finds deserving of rewards, such as winning souls, developing your spiritual gifts, showing love and sacrifice to others, etc., but there are also things that you might think would be deserving of a reward and aren’t. So when you think of the distribution of rewards for “good and bad” things done in the body, think of it simply as receiving rewards for eligible things that you actually did in the world. If those things weren’t eligible, or if you didn’t do them even if they were eligible, then you don’t get the additional rewards.

Remember when you were a child? I don’t know about you, but when I was a child and I did something I thought was a big deal, I went running to some adult to tell it to. Usually that was my mom or dad. And when I told them what I did, I found out that sometimes it wasn’t a big deal at all to my mom or dad. But sometimes it was. And when it was, I got a reward. And man, I wanted to get those rewards! Even when I was fifty years old, taking care of my dying dad in the world, I was constantly trying to impress him, looking for those rewards – like a smile or a laugh. Believe me, when I get to heaven I want that same feeling of “reward getting” from God as I got from my dad here on earth.

“Hey wait, does all of this mean that I’ll be compared to other people?” No, so you should think of the race as being your own personal race, like running against the clock. This is between you and Jesus. You won’t be envious or jealous of others getting rewards, and, in fact, whatever regret you may think you feel from not receiving a reward that you could have received will ultimately be wiped away from the overwhelming joy of being with God. As Denise often says, it’s like having tickets to the Super Bowl. Your seat may be right on the 50 yard line, or your seat may be up in the nosebleed section. Either way, though, you’re at the freakin’ Super Bowl!

Now when it comes to figuring out what God will deem pleasing or not so pleasing in your life, I’ll leave it up to you to do some further biblical research. But you should remember the following cautionary note that has people like me needing constant reminders about what God thinks matters: Throughout the Bible, people were told that because they received an earthly reward for something they did in the world, they’ll receive no reward for it in heaven. Holy smokes! This makes everything a bit more complicated, doesn’t it? Oh well. As I’ve said before, Christianity is simple, but it isn’t always easy.

So what does all of this have to do with my criminal justice job and whether that job even matters? It matters because every day God gives us opportunities to add to the tally of things that will bring us rewards when we stand before Christ. That’s how much He loves us. And that love and those opportunities will continue right up until the day of Jesus’s return. Every day God allows us all to decide whether or not to do something that is pleasing to Him and worth eternal reward. And my work, helping people to see why we need criminal law reform, is just one more opportunity that God is presenting his children – through me – to do something eternally worthwhile.

opportunity

You and I are basically in the same earthly business when it comes to other followers of Christ – the “opportunity for eternal reward business.” Every day you will likely give someone an opportunity to do a good thing, and I or someone else will likely give you the same opportunity. And because every opportunity will only help the body of Christ, it should be our intense desire to keep expanding our business. Every day, look for opportunities to do things pleasing to God. Every day, look for ways to give other people those same opportunities.

So this year, remember the Judgement Seat of Christ! Work each day on earning your rewards. And, please, work each day to help me earn mine!

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The Pattern of the World

I’m way off track on my goal of switching from full-time criminal justice reform to creating a new album and studying more about God. It’s super frustrating, but I can see some light. Plus, I consider everything I do with criminal justice reform still to be doing God’s will – in fact, I call what I do “God’s Project,” because of all the things He’s done to make it happen. So if He wants me to keep it up, I will. Part of walking in the supernatural is to hear God and do what He says no matter what else you think you want to do. We’ll see.

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Last week I watched with amusement the Family Leadership Summit, where each of most of the Republican candidates for president answered questions about pretty much everything, including God. I watched a lot of strange answers, including a guy who said that he never asks for forgiveness (apparently he doesn’t need it), but that he enjoys eating that “little cracker.” Most of the answers made me think that everyone was just trying to find that perfect balance between talking about God and not saying anything too crazy to lose votes. Political Christianity.

A lot of America is probably content with these kinds of answers. But if you’re a follower of Jesus, you have to get used to living in a foreign land – the natural world, where everything Jesus said and did often seems crazy to most everyone else. For a moment, I wondered what it would look like if a candidate for president was truly someone who believed in all that Jesus taught and modeled. Someone who believed in the supernatural. Someone who understood the transcendent force of love for all persons, even those who are unloved by the world. What would he say? Would he be called a “Republican?” Would he even be there?

In my opinion, if Jesus himself were in Ames Iowa that day, he wouldn’t have been labeled as either a Republican or a Democrat. If he spoke to anybody, he probably would have spoken of things that people simply wouldn’t have understood. Just like before, he would have spoken of wonderful things to give hope to all humanity, but he also likely would have spoken about things that would have made people want to kill him. The more I think about it, the more I believe that he wouldn’t have even gone in to the Summit – I think he would have spent his time looking for the poor and displaced people that were somewhere in the backstreets of Ames.

If you’re like me, and you want to follow this radical named Jesus, you have to realize that some things he said might be labeled ultra-conservative, while other things might be considered downright socialist. And so to truly follow Jesus, you’re going to have to get used to feeling like a complete outcast in the natural world. That’s to be expected. In Romans 12, Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Jesus mentions being “not of this world” a few times, and one commentary explains one of those statements quite succinctly: “The Spirit of God in true Christians is opposed to the spirit of the world.”

If the whole political thing just frustrates and confuses you – especially when they talk about God – then that’s a good thing. In my opinion, that’s just you listening to the Spirit of God and not conforming to the pattern of the world.

Be blessed, everyone!

Belief

Denise and I were flying back from New York City this weekend, when it suddenly seemed like I was being bombarded by atheism. It started that morning with CNN running a story called, “The Friendly Atheists Next Door,” and extended into the night with 60 Minutes interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson (who is claimed by atheists but who really isn’t one, as I’ll show you later), and through a variety of shows on FOX written by Seth MacFarlane (who is claimed by atheists and who really is one). I didn’t watch any of the shows, but it made me sad to think about the fact that there are people out there who not only don’t believe in God, but who really, really, want you, me, and our families not to believe in God either. It made me feel really distant to those people; the chasm between people who believe and don’t believe in the same thing seems awfully wide.

The CNN story was really a story about a couple who lost faith in the Catholic religion, and who then extended that unbelief in their church to unbelief in God. The sad part was that after they made their decision, they suddenly felt that they needed to share and promote this non-belief, and so the story documented how the couple was forming Sunday gatherings (yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird for atheists to come together on Sundays) apparently to talk to others about how and why they don’t believe in God. The story mentioned some things that atheists have in common: apparently they are mostly white, upper-middle class, college educated, and male, and most of them used to be Catholics. I’ll add another: They are also often handsomely rewarded by the natural world, and especially by other atheists, for “coming out.” For whatever reason these days, if you decide to become an atheist, even if you aren’t fully sure what that means, you’ll quickly find acceptance and apparently become newsworthy.

As Denise said in her book, though, there are really extremely few actual “atheists” in the world. That’s because it really takes a ton of work and research to even get close to coming to such an absolute stance, and even then there’s so much evidence for God that it’s hard to ignore. That’s why noted “atheists” like Richard Dawkins have said that they’re not really atheists – instead, for example, Dawkins says he’s agnostic. Same thing with Neil deGrasse Tyson, if you look here, you’ll see he doesn’t like being called an atheist, or any “ist” other than a scientist, and instead says that if you had to label him, he’s more likely agnostic: http://bigthink.com/think-tank/neil-degrasse-tyson-atheist-or-agnostic.

In fact, he finds the word “atheist” itself odd, since virtually nobody else tends to belong to groups mostly identified with what they don’t believe in. He’s got a point.

belief

All of this really boils down to our worldviews. We all have one, whether we know it or not, which makes up the entirety of our points of view. Knowing your worldview is handy because knowing what you believe can guide you through all of life’s tough times. Now, people who call themselves atheists have a worldview that perhaps partly includes unbelief in God, but I just wish they’d focus more on what they actually believe through their overall worldview instead of the thing or things they don’t believe. Agnostics have a worldview that involves saying they just aren’t sure what to believe about God, but you don’t see them holding meetings or actively trying to convince others also to claim ambivalence.

When I was younger, I went through a phase where I was probably best described as an agnostic because I simply wasn’t sure about what to believe, spiritually or otherwise. But then I decided to do the work needed to form a decently purposeful worldview. I ended up forming the spiritual part of my worldview after years of studying a variety of other spiritual worldviews and putting together the evidence that I needed to live my life based on what I believed to be the Truth. I suppose my worldview includes not believing in certain things, like eating gluten or maybe even atheism, but I’d rather focus on what I do believe. I believe in Jesus Christ, who was God come in the flesh. Because I’m a follower of Jesus, I believe everything about who he said he was.

If I could get atheists to focus on the things in which they believe, instead of the things in which they don’t believe, they might say something like, “We believe in human beings.” If they do, then this chasm between me and atheists might not seem so wide, because I believe in God, and God believes in human beings, too.

What is Stewardship?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, Stewardship means: the conducting, supervising or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.

If you’re like me, you recognize that everything that you have in life is a gift from God. But it’s more than that, because a lot of time people will give you gifts and then forget about them – they simply don’t care what you do with them (as long as they don’t see them up for sale on eBay). God’s gifts are special, though, because He expects you to exercise responsible management over them for work in His Kingdom. In God’s eyes, we don’t own anything. Not our health, or money, or earthly resources, or spiritual gifts, or love. Nothing. But we’re stewards over all of those things.

Stewardship is important to God, and in the Bible it comes with a warning: be a good steward over everything that is given to you or don’t be surprised if it gets taken away. Just look at the parable of the talents in Matt 25:14-29, where the master gives each of three servants a specified value of talents and rewards the ones who showed earnings on the talents. Or look at the parable of the ten minas in Luke 19: 11-26, where a man of noble birth gives ten minas to ten servants, and does the same thing. In each case, the servant who did nothing with his gift loses that gift to the one who did more. Each parable ends by saying, essentially, “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” So stewardship has at least two components: first, you have to recognize that everything you have is God’s, not yours. And second, you must do something with it to further God’s Kingdom.

It’s easy to think about stewarding tangible, worldly things, like money. After all, most of us were brought up in the world to faithfully drop our offering in the plate and give to the needy, etc. But I often try to think beyond money and how I might go about stewarding everything else in my life. I have a house that was given to me by God. Do I use it to further the Kingdom? I have a car, which some people don’t have. Do I use it to show God’s love or do I just use it to get back and forth to work? And what about my time? Do I offer up an hour here and there to others with no real expectation of return? And here’s a good one – spiritual gifts. I imagine that God is especially interested in how I manage those.

Managing God’s gifts often means doing a lot of things that the worldly you would rather not do. My husband, Tim, was given the gift of being able to write papers, books, letters, etc. Even though he’s worked hard at writing his whole life, he knows that his ability to write is a gift from God, and that he must use it to Glorify God. Recently, however, a person asked him to write a really difficult paper, for free, that was going to take about two or three weeks to complete. Needless to say, natural world Tim didn’t want to do it at all. So while we were talking about it one night, we asked ourselves, in the spirit of Charles Sheldon, “What would Jesus do?” The answer was clear. Jesus would write the paper and use it to glorify God. And as a steward of God’s gift of writing, Tim would do the same thing. It was hard, time consuming, and unprofitable, but it helped someone out and led to a pretty long discussion about God.

I believe that faithfully stewarding God’s gifts means abundance in this world. But I also know that someday I’m going to meet God. I’m going to bow down before Him with the hope that I tried to do everything during my life to please Him. I just don’t want to be saying, “Oh, that? You gave me that? I didn’t think that was anything.” Like the servant who invested his minas, I want to hear, “Well, done, Denise! Because you have been trustworthy with everything I gave you, including the little things, I’m giving you more!”

Think about what you have that you can steward better to make our world a better place and to display the love and grace of our Father.

What does Obedience mean?

I recently heard a pastor talk about other pastors who mostly speak about favor and abundance to people. I don’t think the pastor I heard had a problem with the message. What he didn’t like was that there was no mention of the obedience that precedes favor and abundance. This same observation has been on my heart for the past week, so I knew that I had to speak about obedience and what that means to us Christians.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that we Christians feel that we are called to strive for perfection like Christ, when clearly perfection is unattainable on this earth (as evidenced most directly by Jesus having to die for our sins on the cross). Knowing what we know about grace, we get up each morning and understand that Gods mercies are new each day. He knows we’re imperfect – He showed us perfection in His Son. But does that mean we should just give up? Doesn’t all this somehow let us all off the hook?

When writing to the Romans, Paul spoke about this very thing. He wrote: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Rom. 6:15.

To Paul, being a slave to righteousness was a supernatural step-up from being a slave to sin. Indeed, he said that we were set free from sin so that we could become obedient and thus slaves to righteousness, leading to holiness that, in turn, results in eternal life! Whenever I hear talk about trading one form of slavery for another, I always think of Bob Dylan, who sang that it didn’t matter who you were or how high up in the world you had climbed: “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” We Americans don’t like to think about serving anyone. But, really, that’s just us thinking about life in the natural world with Kings and Presidents and what-not. In the supernatural war for your soul, however, there’s no sitting on the sidelines. If you don’t pick a side to serve, you’ve already picked the devil. Obedience to God opens up the supernatural doors to everything God has to offer, including favor and abundance in this world.

I prefer to serve God and to be a slave to obedience, and I believe that true obedience has several basic parts.

1. Obedience is about knowing who God is and His direction and promises for your life. Do you know God personally or just through someone else?

To really know God, I believe you have to really read His word. Don’t just depend on your Sunday service and Pastor’s teaching to tell you who He is. He speaks to us through His word and gives us insight that is special and personal to you. You simply can’t get this kind of personal insight in corporate teachings. Every day, spend some time (even 5 minutes) reading the Bible to see what treasure the Lord has to tell you.

2. Obedience is Giving of Yourself for others – How do you treat God’s people?

Even if you don’t have a call on your life for full-time or part-time ministry service, you are still called to be an ambassador for God. I saw a man with a walker trying to get up some steps and having just spent many weeks on a walker my heart broke that no one offered to help him. I asked if he would like some help, and he was so relieved and grateful. I didn’t have to mention God or Jesus, but God definitely touched that man through me!

Look for people to bless – get out of yourself and your own way and try to actually do something to help those around you! Really, it’s not enough to notice some acute societal need and then post a comment about it in your status box on Facebook. At the very least, smile at people and be prepared to give a kind, positive, and uplifting word to everyone. People are starving for the love we have – do not be stingy. And YES, be prepared to tell people about how great our God is and give them an example of something amazing that He has done for you. Plant the seeds of what we have and let God water them.  And, if you can, MEET THEIR NEEDS! Remember that Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of God’s children, we do to Him. Matt. 25:31-46. If we ignore the homeless, we ignore Jesus. If we say “good riddance” to those in jail . . . well, you get the point. Loving one another isn’t always easy. It’s all about obedience.

 

3. Obedience means doing what He tells you to do.

I think many times God withholds his favor and abundance simply because we don’t do what we’re told. I’m not just talking about the 10 Commandments, or the “greatest commandment” to love others. I’m talking about something maybe you were told to do personally. I was recently having a difficulty at work with one of my co-workers. He thought I had said something bad about him and he told others I was a hypocrite because here I was, a Christian, speaking badly about him. Honestly, I didn’t know what I had even said, but I prayed to God about what to do. God told me that I had talked about this person, and that whether or not he took it out of context, I was to go and apologize to him. Believe me, I didn’t want to apologize, but I did. And that person was surprised and grateful! I don’t know if it healed everything, but I know that God told me to do something and I did it. For that reason alone, I felt peace.

 

Here are a few questions that I periodically ask myself to check my obedience and to ask God to help me clean up my act.

a. Am I holding un-forgiveness towards someone for any reason? If so, I need to release it!

b. Do I know that I was told to do something and I haven’t done it yet?  If so, I need to DO IT!!

c. Have I sinned and not asked God for forgiveness? If so, then I need to get on my knees and ask. Then I need to forgive myself. I can’t continue beating myself up  — if the God of the universe forgives me, then surely I can forgive myself too!

d. Am I ungrateful? If so, I remind myself to be grateful and say “thank you” to God, who loves me more than I can imagine. I give praise and thanks in even the smallest things, so that He constantly hears how much I love him!

If being a “slave” to obedience leads to righteousness and holiness, then bind me up and tell me what to do! If it also leads to God’s favor and abundance, then tie those knots even tighter!

Measure of Favor

We just talked about walking in favor, but today I was given an additional message. I never discount additional revelation on a topic whatever the source – radio, books, the Word, a message from my pastor, dreams and visions, or speaking with another believer when the topic is brought up and discussed. So I was pleased this morning as I was getting ready for worship to see a church TV pastor, Joel Olsteen, talking about us having “a flash flood….of favor of God profusely abounding in our lives.” This reminded me that in addition to our faith and belief, our measure of favor is limited only by our own level of obedience.

The entwining of obedience and favor should not be unfamiliar to us because it’s depicted in nearly every supernatural event in the Bible. Sometimes, its’ portrayed in negative terms – that is, through disobedience and the removal of favor, such as the sacking of Judah and the delivering of the Jewish people into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Nevertheless, our Lord prizes obedience more than any other work we can do to please Him, and he rewards obedience in the same measure. You might recall that Daniel wasn’t eaten by the lions when thrown into the lions’ den. Daniel 6:22 states, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.” Like Daniel, Joseph was also given a flood of favor through his obedience. Recall how Joseph was promoted and treated while a slave in Pharaoh’s house because he continued being obedient to God and didn’t dwell on revenge on his jealous and wicked brothers.

So let’s continue to walk in obedience to God and call forth and walk in the flood of favor our Lord has reserved for us! Think big, ask big, walk big, and receive a big measure!

Walking in Favor

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the

knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord

2 Peter 1:2

Did you know that, according to the New Testament Greek Lexicon at www.biblestudytools.com , the Greek meaning of grace, or Charis, includes “goodwill, loving-kindness, and favour”?

What this means is that when Peter wrote the words at the top of this page, he was endowing those of us who know God and Jesus with multiplied grace and peace – in other words, multiplied or abundant peace and favor. When we believe and embrace the fact that our Heavenly Father wants us to have abundance in everything in our earthly lives, we can call upon it and activate it in our lives. That’s what it means to “walk in favor.”

I sort of stumbled upon activating favor in my life when I realized that if I asked and believed in favorable treatment because of who the Bible says I am – a princess of the Most High God – I would receive it. Remember that we’re told by James, “[y]ou do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2) What we also know is that when we ask, we must believe; Jesus himself said “If you believe [i.e., have faith and do not doubt], you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matt. 21:22) Our only limitation seems to be that our requests must follow the will of God, for even Jesus asked God in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39). I am a princess of the most high God, and you are all princes and princesses of the same God. Your inheritance is abundant favor, which is the will of God, but only if you ask for it.

I found that activating favor is as easy as speaking out loud and testifying to others my anticipated and my realized favor. I don’t do it in a manner that seems smug, lording my blessing over others, or bragging – more like just a statement of the blessings of the Lord. It’s not bragging when you give God the glory for everything in your life. After all, He is responsible. If someone says they like my house, I say that God blessed me with my house. If someone praises my work, I say that God gave me the gifts and talents to do my work. I activate favor in everything large or small. If I barely make my bus or find a good parking place, it’s God’s favor and I tell people that. If I am supernaturally healed, it’s God’s favor and I testify to it. Every bit of God’s favor is the same, and it’s all equally and supernaturally amazing! The bottom line is that God wants to be actively involved in EVERY aspect of our life, and He loves to show His hand at work in each of our blessings.

So here’s what I do:

1. I verbally thank the Lord for the blessing I’m about to receive (out loud – the enemy hates this!). I say something like, “Thank you, Lord, that you always give me the perfect parking space.” By the way, don’t laugh, everybody knows I always get great parking spots, and now you know why!

2. I believe and expect the blessing to be given. This isn’t as hard to do as it seems. True believing faith comes from actually seeing God’s hands in little things so that you can begin to expect His hand in the big ones. In my book, I talk quite a bit about faith not necessarily coming from believing in the unseen, but rather in believing in the glorious things that you have actually seen.

3. I thank the Lord for fulfilling my request and I tell others how great He is!

As followers of Jesus Christ, you are all royalty, abundantly blessed. So go and walk in favor. See every good thing you experience as a gift from your Father, who loves you. And when you receive those things, be grateful and testify to the amazing grace/favor or our Lord!



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