Bread – Opposites

June 16, 2017


Psalm 70

“May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You!  May those who love Your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’  But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!”  Ps. 70:4-5a

We have all heard the phrase, “two sides of the same coin.”  We know that “heads” and “tails” are opposites and, if we are betting, have different results, but we also recognize that they are bound together on and in the same coin.  This basic understanding has been extended to different philosophies, where there is proposed a balance in the universe, equally between good and evil, yin and yang, the good side and the dark side of the force, etc.

And one might be inclined to read the above quote from Psalm 70 and, given that David wrote the Psalm, he was expressing two opposites in his personality, one joyful and upbeat as he considered his salvation and the other “down in the mouth” as he considered his poor condition.  The question is, is joy the opposite of depression?

I think the answer to this question is “yes” from one perspective and “no” from another.

When is it “yes?”  When joy and depression are opposites is when man is in control of both.  If we are to look for the measurement solely to our feeling, what we think, how we behave, then clapping your hands in gladness is certainly the opposite of wringing your hands in despair.  In the first instance, we feel upbeat and ready to take on the world.  In the second instance, we feel downbeat and ready to retreat from the world.  Both are our feelings, and joy and depression cannot occupy the same feeling space.  One crowds out the other.  They are opposites.

When is it “no?”  When the Lord is involved.  When God is in our life, is possible to say “I am poor and needy” and “Praise be to God” in the same breath.  It is possible because, by saying we are poor and needy, we are accurately describing our situation.  When we say “Praise be to God” we are accurately describing the source of our overcoming power.

What is the combination of depression and joy in the Christian life?  It is hope.

When we acknowledge Christ as Savior and King, we become new.  And this newness is a transformation of opposites into wholeness.  Oh, it takes a while for the complete integration to occur, and for most of us will take our entire lives.  But when we become Jesus’ sheep, the sheep of His pasture, we no longer have to suffer the opposites of feeling good or feeling bad, because we now have hope.

So, was this juxtaposition of David between joy and being poor and needy an expression of opposites?  No, it was an expression of God’s involvement continuousy in all circumstances to bring about His purposes and His glory.  In these verses, God is present.  He is present in the praises and He is present in the delivery from David’s poor condition.

The expression of “Help me … Praise You!” is not an expression of opposites but an expression of unity of spirit and the ascendancy of hope, a gift from God.

“Help me … Praise You!” is merely an expression of a great truth … we are radically poor and radically saved, all at the same time with the grace and mercy of God.

In Christ, with the flip of the coin we have heads I win and tails I win too.  It is the same coin, but it is different than it was.  So are we, in Christ.

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

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Bread – Singing

June 9, 2017


Psalm 69

O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah …”  Ps. 69:32

Just like in the Bread on Wednesday, today we have another sentence fragment followed by “Selah” or “pay attention.”

This fragment comes after a long set of verses extolling God’s power, and it would be tempting to say that this is just the conclusion of that set of verses.  But I think there is something more going on here, because of the use of the word “kingdoms.”

The idea of kingdoms involves the entire realm, the entire nation-state to which it relates.  Often a kingdom is headed by someone called a “king” and is identified by that person, but it can also just be a large collection of people organized around a particular government.  Today, the United States might be a “kingdom,” as well as China or Chile.  Kingdoms have existed in ancient times and might even cross today’s borders.  For example, the kingdom of Assyria cut across modern Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and other places.

Kingdoms may also be a place-concept.  What I mean by that is that some places are associated with both a geographical location and also a particular philosophy of living.  Babylon was both a kingdom of place and concept (evil, as in Revelation’s reference to Babylon).  The United States is both a kingdom of place and concept (opportunity, individual liberty).

There may well be kingdoms of things.  For example, higher education in the United States might well be a kingdom, with its own leaders, thought structures, requirements for citizenship, etc.  Another kingdom in the United States might be the media, again with its own leaders, thought structures, and requirements for acceptance.

Finally, there are kingdoms of ideas, where large numbers of people declare allegiance to particular ways of thinking.  For example, there is the kingdom of science and there is the kingdom of evolution.

All of these are kingdoms of the earth and all are instructed by the Psalmist to sing to God, sing praises to Him.,

Perhaps this is why the word “Selah” is right here, to cause us to stop and ask ourselves the question, “Are the kingdoms of the earth singing to God?”

And, of course, the answer to this question is a mighty “No!”  I probably could have put in a thousand exclamation marks and still not come close to speaking clearly that, although God has shown us great blessing in the creation of the world and its preservation through time, and in the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we fall very, very short in giving Him the praise to which He is due.

Which leaves me to the last kingdom, the Kingdom of God, which is both an earthly kingdom and a heavenly one.

Does the Kingdom of God sing to God?

Before we say “yes,” ask yourself two questions.  The first is, “are you a citizen of the Kingdom of God?”  If the answer to that is “yes,” then ask yourself “what song have you sung already today to God?”

At the end of the day, kingdoms only do what their people do.  If the kingdoms of the earth are to sing praises to God, it is only because the people of the earth sing praises to God.

And we be the people.  Are we singing in our heart thanksgiving for our salvation, for our blessings?  Are we praising with our mouth the same things?

“O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God.”  O citizens of the kingdoms of the earth, sing to God.  O you, sing to God.  O me, sing to God.

Your song begins right now.

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Melting

June 6, 2017


Psalm 68

God shall arise … as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!  But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” Ps. 68:1-3

As I read “as wax melts before fire” a couple of images came to mind.  None of them were candles.   Another image was from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where the Nazi soldiers are melted away in the blast which came from the Ark of the Covenant when they dared to breach it.  A third image was of the Wicked Witch of the West, when a bucket of water was poured over on her, and she dies screaming “I’m melting.”

Now these images have one thing in common.   The wicked perish.  In the first, God is clearly the agent.  In the second, you have to realize that God is the author of nature to realize that the water used to douse the wicked witch was itself a gift from God.

We are sinful people.  What will happen to us on that day of judgment, when God arises to judge the earth and us?  Will we melt away as wax melts before the fire in the heat of wrath?

While you meditate on that question, I actually had a third image which came to mind as I read this verse.  That image was the one of a great steel mill where the iron ore was smelted in great furnaces, melted into big buckets, to be poured into objects useful for construction and building.

This third image also involves melting as wax melts before the fire, because the ore was hard until it melted in the great cauldron, only then to be converted.

What happens in this second kind of melting?  We have a reference to that in Psalm 66, where it is said “For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined.” [Ps. 66:10; NASB translation] (the word “refined” means to melt, to purge precious metals by fire).  God, through His cross and the daily dose of the Holy Spirit in our lives, refines us by removing the impurities in our lives and pouring us as living sacrifices into useful objects for His purposes on earth.

So, at the judgment day, when faced with the wrath of God, do we melt “as wax melts before fire?”  The short answer is “no” for the simple reason that Christ is with us and, literally, He is our shield.

So, when God arises, are the righteous glad because the wicked melt in the face of wrath or are we glad because, by the grace of God, we do not melt?

As I write this, it strikes me that this last question is the heart of the gospel, of the good news.  We do not rejoice in others’ suffering, because but for the grace of God go we.   Instead, we celebrate in thanksgiving because we have received and accepted the gift of eternal life from the only One able to give it and empower us to receive it.

The heart of the gospel is this:  God shall arise, the wicked shall melt away, and the righteous shall rejoice.  Who are the righteous? “And he (Abraham) believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:22-25.

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Praise

June 2, 2017


Psalm 67

Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You!  The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.  God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him!” Ps. 67:5-7

The first verse of these three verses ends in “praise You” and the last verse ends in “fear Him.”  There is a structure here, like two bookends between which is repeated twice, “God shall bless us.”

We normally connect the word “praise” with joyful outpouring of emotion in a happy, exuberant way; and we normally connect the word “fear” with the exact opposite, where we shrink or run away in terror.  With praise we approach the throne of God in our minds; with fear we run away from the throne of God, again in our minds.

We praise either in thanksgiving for our blessings or in anticipation of them.  Since we have gotten those blessings, are getting them now, and will get them in the future, praise of our Benefactor is to be expected.

We fear in comparison to power.  When someone has a gun pointed at us and we don’t, our natural and appropriate reaction is to fear.  When we contemplate our sinfulness in comparison against a holy God, our Judge, then fear may well be an appropriate response.

So why are blessings in the middle between praise and fear?  It is because that is where they belong.

We cannot fear that which we do not comprehend.  We fear a pointed gun because we understand its power, having seen its use on television.  We fear a mighty God if we understand His power; we understand His power in comparison to us if we are given wisdom to see by the same God.  When God gives us the power to see Him, we see ourselves for who we are in comparison, and the natural reaction then is fear of condemnation.  We are unworthy; He is worthy.  We are sinful; He is not.  We are promise-breakers; He is a promise-keeper.  We make some things; He makes everything.  We think in time; His thoughts are timeless, for all eternity.  When we see what God ought to do to us, we are rightly fearful and in awe of the coming Judgment.

But once we fear Him, once we fully comprehend who He is and who we are, His grace and mercy appears to us through Jesus Christ.  And once we understand the eternal blessing we have received through faith in Him, our fear turns to praise.  We may properly fear God for what He could do and what He should do, and simultaneously we may exult in joyful praise God because He has turned is righteous wrath away from us and dumped it on Jesus Christ, who stands with us, for us, and in us for eternity.  What God could do to me and should do to me because of my sinfulness, He chooses not to do because of the death of Jesus for my sins.  All I have to do is to recognize Him and have faith in Him, which I could not do but for God’s power.

The very thing which causes me to fear God is the very thing which causes me to praise Him, which is why fear and praise are bookends to blessing.

Now, why call this “Bread” “Praise” instead of “Fear?”  It is for a simple reason.  We cannot fear God unless we see Him and acknowledge Him for who He is.  And what better way to praise God than to recognize who He is in the world and in me?

We think of praise as raising joyful hands, but praise is also on our knees, in awe of Him, bowed before our King.

“Let the peoples praise You, O God … God, our God, shall bless us.  God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him.”  Between praise which acknowledges the sovereignty of God (fear) and praise which acknowledges the graciousness of God (praise), there is a double blessing.

Thank You, Jesus.

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

Bread – Awake

May 22, 2017


Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise!  Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your deeds!’”  Ps. 66:1-3

This morning, when I got out of bed, I made coffee, got the newspaper, showered, shaved, and prepared for the day.  Very routine, almost tiring.  And probably something very similar to what you did this morning.

And then I sat down to write Bread and read Psalm 66, the first three verses of which are quoted above.

And the first thought I had after reading “Shout for joy to God…” was, “How would my day be different if I woke up shouting for joy to God?  Instead of the mundane and the routine, what if I woke up every day with praise on my lips for the new day ahead of me, reveling in the majesty of God’s creation?

I think that if I awoke with a “shout for joy” on my lips, I would have started the day truly awake.  I would have been awake to the possibilities.  I would have been awake to the miracles.  I would have been awake to the overflowing blessings of God in my life and through my family and friends.  I would be awake to the mighty roar of welcome which the Lord presents us every day in His sunrise.

What does it take to be truly awake in this life our ours?  I think it is all contained in our quote for the day.  If we shout for joy at the awesomeness of God’s deeds, we will be very, very awake.  The other people around us are likely to be awakened as well.

Satan would have us fall into the trap of daily grind, making the rounds of the daily newspaper, the daily coffee, the daily teeth brushing, and the daily dressing for work.  Satan would have us focus on our “to do list” and all the labors before us, grinding us into submission and joylessness.

God on the other hand would have us wake up to Him and His – His creation, His majesty, His glory, His hope, His blessings, and His creatures – me and you.

“Rise up like a lion in the service of the Lord!”  This should be our war cry every morning.  But to even make this, we need to be awake to the glory of God around us, in us, and through us.  If we wake up with a shout for joy, we can then follow with a shout for service.  If we wake up with a shout of truth, we can then follow with a shout of love.

“Wake up and hear the birds sing?”

No.  Wake up and know God.

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Loud

August 29, 2016


Psalm 33

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!  Praise befits the upright…Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”  Ps. 33:1,3

I was at a non-profit banquet the other day when the speaker said to us, “stand up and shout!”  I thought she was crazy and, looking around, I think that most of the people around me had a similar opinion.  But, obediently, we stood up and, after some further prompting, we sort let out a loud-ish kind of sound, which was pretty pathetic given the number of people in the room.  She then called for more enthusiasm, which was not forthcoming.  She then said to all the men in the room, “imagine yourself in a battle line and you want to scare the people you are against…Yell as loud as you can!”  At that point there was a great shout from the room which might have well been heard throughout the venue.

And what was amazing about that was that I no longer felt foolish or stupid, but I felt powerful.  I no longer had a downcast countenance, but I was looking up at the speaker.  I was no longer embarrassed, but strong.  And, again, looking around the room, I think most people joined me in those feelings.

But what was even more amazing was that people were smiling.  What was a tone of seriousness and contemplation turned into a ruckus and a tone of joy, excitement, and, actually, even happiness among everyone.  And when we sat down we were more attentive to what the speaker had to say.  We were more open to each other and to her.

We have a lot of names for this.  “Get out of your comfort zone.”  “Step out in faith.”  “Get out of your shell.”  “Turn outward, not inward.”  And probably 10,000 more ways of saying the same thing.

The Psalmist even says it – Shout to the Lord, Sing a new song – Do it all with loud shouts.

Now I was in a crowded room where I was surrounded by a lot of people yelling at the top of their lungs, so it was easy for me to do the same thing.  In a church where I am surrounded by joy, it is easy to sing a new song (one from the heart, even if the words are already printed).

But think about this…Isn’t a word spoken about Christ and love to an unknown person in an elevator a shout of joy into the silence?  Isn’t the stopping and taking time to listen to someone who needs an ear a shout of love into that person’s life?

Why don’t we do it?  Are we afraid of looking out of place, of appearing to be crazy, of not being serious or restrained enough?

Or are we afraid of the explosion of happiness and wonder which might happen when we shout out our joy into the people and circumstances of our lives?

Are we afraid of failure or, really, are we afraid of success?

“Praise befits the upright.”  Stuffed in the middle of our verse today is a profound statement.  Normally, we think of the upright as reserved, formal, or “proper.”  If we are upright, we are well-behaved which means, in company, that we follow the etiquette of the situation.  But upright here means, in its simplest sense, saved for eternity.  We are upright not because of us but because of Jesus Christ.

And what the Psalmist tells us is that, if we are upright before God, in Christ, then “praise” befits us, it fits us…it is part of us…it follows from our position in Christ.

So, this week, I think we need to ask ourselves a question in every circumstance we find ourselves … are we being loud enough as befits our position as saved?  And this doesn’t necessarily mean yelling out “Christ is King” in a crowded theater – what it may mean is speaking about the gospel in a way which will be heard to someone who needs to hear it.

Sometimes just speaking is shouting.  Sometimes just touching is shouting.  Sometimes just loving is shouting.  And sometimes shouting is shouting.

Lord, help us to discern the amount of shout of praise we need to speak into every circumstances, and Lord help us to actually do it.  Amen.

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

Bread – Foundation

March 16, 2016


Psalm 11

“…if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  Ps. 11:3

This verse is quoted a lot among my political friends, because they (and I) see the crumbling of the society arising from the increasing secularization of our culture, the redefinition of language, the rise of selfishness over selflessness, the increasing dominance of government in our lives, the loss of liberty to security, and the removal of God from the public square.

When the universities no longer teach but propagandize, when the churches no longer proclaim but entertain, when government no longer protects but burdens … when the foundations are destroyed, what can we, the righteous, do?

Our inclination is to become even more involved in civic affairs, from attending organizing meetings to listening to speakers about topics of interest, reading more books, showing up to vote, and discussing the state of affairs with our friends.  Our inclination is to run to the rescue, to try to shore up the foundation with various designs to give it strength and stability, to patch the cracked foundation to keep it from cracking further, and to enlist our friends in the rebuilding effort.

And for many of us, we respond to the clarion call to fix the foundation by saying, “we can do it.”

But, of course, we can’t.  If the foundations are destroyed because sin runs rampant, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.  If the foundations are destroyed because people are becoming more selfish, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.  If the foundations are destroyed because we see our society, our life, running off the cliff, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.

The righteous can do  what they are called by God to do.  They can proclaim Jesus Christ, they can live lives which gives honor to Him, they can teach others, they can pray and they can love their neighbors.

That’s it.  That’s what the righteous can do.  And, oh, one more thing.  The righteous can stand on the one foundation which can never be destroyed, Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

In a sense, this is a trick question because the one foundation which matters is the one which can never fail, and the many foundations built by man are temporal, weak, and capable of being destroyed.  And the question is not “if” the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do.  The question is “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The foundations will be destroyed; the Foundation will not.  Therefore, in season and out of season, the righteous need to do the same thing – praise God, glorify Him, grow toward Him, and proclaim Him … and God has promised that He will take care of the rest of the foundations.

—————-

© 2016 GBF    All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Intend

February 29, 2016


Psalm 9

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;

I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in You;

I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.”  Ps. 9:1-2

“I will” are perhaps the most abused words in the English language.  “I will pray for you.”  How many of us have said that and then not?  “I will take out the garbage.”  How many of us have said that and then not?  “I will call him/her/it when I get a chance.”  How many of us have said that and then not?

When I read this Psalm, which is described by many as a “praise” Psalm, I asked myself the question of why David didn’t just do it.  Why didn’t he say “I give…,” “I recount….,” “I am glad…,” and “I sing…”?  Why did David say “I will” when he could have just done it?

There are perhaps several potential answers to this question.  One is that David may have been thinking about the future, about a variety of circumstances to occur in the future, and in a sense be committing himself now to praising God in those circumstances then, because he knew himself and knew that, in those future circumstances, he would not be inclined to praise God unless he remembered that he said he would.   And, indeed, that is a good thing – for us to contemplate today what may happen tomorrow and to steel ourselves today for what we will do tomorrow when something bad happens.  For example, if a bad person says to you “Deny Jesus Christ or die by having your head chopped off,”  what will you do then?  Rather than waiting for that to happen and then thinking about it, it might be a good time today to ask of yourself whether, in a crisis, you would deny Jesus.  Just like we plan today for tomorrow in our personal and business lives, maybe we should plan today for tomorrow in our spiritual lives.

Another potential answer is that David meant something by the word “will.”  I used the word “intend” to describe Bread today because, in modern English, there has been a softening of the word “will” to mean “intend.”  Today, when we say we “will” do something, it often means that we “intend” to do it, so it is OK if we don’t.  In David’s time and in our not-so-far distant past, the word “will” though meant something much more like a “firm intent,” a “promise,” a declaration of what we will do “come what may, in all circumstances.”  At a time when a promise means something, then to say “I will” is a form of “bond oath” which will not be broken if at all possible.  Today, we might even say that people of integrity will keep a promise, pay a debt, do what they say they “will” do, no matter what.  But if you only “intend” to do it, then it is OK if you change your mind or just forget.  Therefore, for modern man, it is easier for us to say “I will” when we really mean “I intend” than it is to say “I will” and mean it.  For David, however, the statement “I will” probably meant something like “You can count on me to do it no matter what.”

But neither thinking and planning for the future nor a discussion of the strength of the commitment of “I will” really deals with the question of, if David says “I will,” then why didn’t he also then just do it.  Rather than say, “I will pray for you,” why not just pray for the person?  Rather than say, “I will take out the garbage,” why not just take out the garbage?

This is typically where I begin to wonder if the translation is complete and so I go to more basic sources.  However, in this matter, I hit the wall on my ability to use the Hebrew reference materials I have access to.   Although I was able to find the Hebrew symbols and a simple English letter translation of those symbols, I could not find a translation of the “words” themselves which I could understand.

So, like so many things, we are left to wonder – when David said, “I will,” is the correct interpretation that he will in the future or that he has in the past, is in the present, and will in the future?

And then it hit me, what difference does it make?  God is a God of new beginnings.  If I have not praised Him in the past and am not in the present, then what is keeping me from doing it tomorrow?  Nothing, really … unless I only “intend” to and am using tomorrow as the opportunity to avoid today.  And why would I do that if my “I will” has meaning?  If my “I will” has meaning, then now is the perfect time.  If “I will” is but a wisp of a promise, then tomorrow will never come.

And then I realized the truth – “I will” means now, this minute.

“Will”you praise God now, or only intend to tomorrow?

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Peal

February 22, 2016


Psalm 8

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”  Ps. 8:1

It is in verses like this where I see the value (to myself) of capitalizing all references to God.  By capitalizing “Your Name,” God is emphasized both at the beginning and at the end.  “Your Name,” God’s name, is not something to be trifled with, ignored, subordinated, brought to earth … but exalted, raised up, worshiped and adored!

The word “peal” struck me because we normally use it in the phrase “peal of thunder,” but this one sentence strikes me as a “peal of praise.”  It is a word typically used with the sound of bells and generally a loud ringing of bells.  So thunder is a loud noise, a peal.  So praise as expressed by David is a loud outcry, a loud worship, a loud statement of truth, a proclamation – it is a peal.

The dictionary actually says that the word “peal” means not only loud, but prolonged.  In other words, it lasts a long time.

And, indeed, the phrase “How majestic is Your Name in all the earth” does seem to prolong itself in our mind as we listen to it – it seems to bounce off the recesses of our soul and echo deep within.  It is not just a fleeting statement, but one which resonates over and over and over again as we say it, as we speak it, as we sing it, as we shout it, as we yell it.

What a great way to begin the week!  With a peal of praise from our mouths.  “O Lord, our Lord, You are majestic, holy, and Your train fills the temple!”

What vision do we have of “majesty.”  What visions do we apply the word “majestic” to?

When I think of “majestic,” I think of the mountains, reaching to the sky, standing in permanence, full of color and life, full of adventure and opportunity.  Others may think of the sea, its vastness and regularity, its depth and breadth, its power and, in the times of storms, its unruliness.  Others may think of the stars and planets of the universe, their number and distance and balance and seeming endlessness.

What a way to begin the week!  Offering a peal of praise to our Maker, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Restorer, our God.

A reminder of who He is, who we are, and whose we are.  One we sorely need every day.  One to set us in our proper place.  One to set our compass correctly.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”

Amen.

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

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