Archive for March, 2012

March 30, 2012

Let Your Requests Be Made Known to God

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Phil. 4:6
Full Text: Prov. 17; Phil. 4
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Pray | It is astounding that the omniscient and omnipotent Lord and Creator of the universe wants and asks His people to pray. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” [1]. James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask” [2]. Why does God repeatedly remind us to pray? Martin Luther once said,

“He knows that we are timid and shy, that we feel unworthy and unfit to present our needs to God. We feel the needs, but we cannot express them. We think that God is so great and we are so tiny that we do not dare to pray … That is why Christ wants to lure us away from such timid thoughts, to remove our doubts, and to have us go ahead confidently and boldly. Though I am unworthy, I am still His creature; and since He has made me worthy of being His creature, I am also worthy of receiving what He has promised and so generously offered to me. In other words, if I am unworthy, He and His promise are not unworthy. You can venture on this vigorously and trustfully, you can put it in His lap joyfully and confidently” [3].

How | How do we pray? Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” [4]. First, we pray “in everything” – that is, we stay in a mindset of prayer, not just in crises [5]. Second, we pray “by supplication” – that is, by asking for help. Third, we pray “with thanksgiving” – that is, we make requests with contented hearts that thank God for whatever He chooses to wisely and lovingly give us. What is the result of this type of prayer? Paul continued, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” [6].

Prayer | Lord, We care about having your peace in our hearts and minds because we struggle with worrying and know that your peace surpasses our understanding. Since your peace comes through our prayer, awaken our love for you so that we want to talk with you as vigorously and joyfully as we do our most intimate friends and family. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Matt. 7:7 ESV  |  [2] James 4:2 ESV  |  [3] The Sermon on the Mount, trans. Jaroslave Pelikan, Vol. 21 of Luther’s Works [Concordia, 1956], p. 234.  |  [4] Phil. 4:6 ESV  |  [5] See also 1 Cor. 10:31; Matt. 6:9.  |  [6] Phil. 4:7 ESV

March 29, 2012

Treasuring Christ Above All Else

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Phil. 3:7-8
Full Text: Prov. 16; Phil. 3
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Colonial | Several years ago, my friend hosted a dinner party when her mother came in town from Tennessee. Her mom was a Colonial Dame – that is, a woman who is descended from an ancestor who lived in British-America. One guest asked, “What’s the difference between a Colonial Dame and a Daughter of the American Revolution?” In a strong, highbrow Southern accent, she kindly replied, “Oh, bless your heart. About 150 years, sweetie.”

Hebrew | Paul was the equivalent of a Colonial Dame. He was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews” [1]. In other words, he wasn’t an immigrant or a convert. His parents were Hebrews and their parents before them. They circumcised him according to the Abrahamic covenant and named him after the great king of Israel, Saul, who was also descended from Benjamin, one of only two sons of Jacob and his beautiful wife Rebekah.

Accolades | Yet Paul didn’t just live off the wealth and reputation of his family. He worked and achieved and performed. Thus, not only was he a Colonial Dame, he was also a Supreme Court Justice. He attended prestigious schools, excelled beyond his classmates, and received professional accolades. As he said, “as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” [2].

Reversal | When Paul met Christ, however, everything flipped: “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” [3]. Why was Christ more valuable to him than everything he had inherited and achieved? Because “being found in Christ” meant that he was saved from eternal death unto eternal life [4], “sharing in his sufferings” meant that he was being made more holy [5], and “attaining the resurrection from the dead” meant that he would rise again with Christ [6]. These are the immeasurable riches of knowing Christ – treasures that eclipse everything else and rewards that cannot be inherited, bought or achieved.

Prayer | Lord, We long to live like Paul – practically and daily living out the reality that we value knowing Christ more than anything we could ever have or achieve. Therefore, help us love the eternal riches of Christ and teach us how to treasure him above all else. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Phil. 3:5 ESV  |  [2] Phil. 3:5-6 ESV  |  [3] Phil. 3:7-8 ESV  |  [4] Phil. 3:9 (justification)  |  [5] Phil. 3:10 (sanctification)  |  [6] Phil. 3:11 (glorification)

March 28, 2012

The Incarnation: “The Grand Miracle” (CS Lewis)

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Phil. 2:5-7
Full Text: Prov. 15; Phil. 2
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Incarnation | Jesus was both fully man and fully God. As man, he walked and breathed and, as deity, he healed sickness and forgave sins. Even his contemporaries knew that he was claiming divine status. In one instance, Jewish scribes heard Jesus forgive a man’s sins and said, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [1]. In his doxology, Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” [2]. Jesus gave up the status and privilege that was his in heaven for our sake and came to live as a man.

Miracle | The grand miracle, according to C.S. Lewis, is the Incarnation – that is, God becoming man. He wrote, “If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth – the very thing that the whole story has been about” [3]. He asks, “What can be meant by ‘God becoming man’? In what sense is it conceivable that eternal self-existent Spirit, basic Fact-hood, should be so combined with a natural human organism as to make one person?” [4]

Necessary | Why was Jesus’ deity necessary? In Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem offers three reasons: “(1) only someone who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all the sins of all those who would believe in him – any finite creature would have been incapable of bearing that penalty; (2) salvation is from the Lord [5], and the whole message of Scripture is designed to show that no human being, no creature, could ever save man – only God himself could; and (3) only someone who was truly and fully God could be the one mediator between God and man [6], both to bring us back to God and also to reveal God most fully to us [7][8].

Prayer | Lord, The incarnation is the grand miracle because our faith hinges on its truth. We worship the person of Jesus because he is fully God and, therefore, worthy of our worship. As man, he lived a perfect life of obedience so that you accepted his sacrifice as sufficient on our behalf. Thank you for making atonement for us and remind us daily of the beauty and the mystery of the incarnation. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Mark 2:7 ESV  |  [2] Phil. 2:5-7 ESV. See also J.I. Packer. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Tyndale House Pub. 2001 Kindle Edition. Locations 1225-1230. (“Paul quotes from what seems to be a hymn that declares Jesus’ personal deity (Phil. 2:6); states that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9; cf. 1:19); hails Jesus the Son as the Father’s image and as his agent in creating and upholding everything (Col. 1:15- 17); declares him to be “Lord” (a title of kingship, with divine overtones), to whom one must pray for salvation according to the injunction to call on Yahweh in Joel 2:32 (Rom. 10:9-13); calls him “God over all” (Rom. 9:5) and “God and Savior” (Titus 2:13); and prays to him personally (2 Cor. 12:8-9), looking to him as a source of divine grace (2 Cor. 13:14). The testimony is explicit: faith in Jesus’ deity is basic to Paul’s theology and religion.”)  |  [3] C.S. Lewis. Miracles. Harper Collins, Inc. 2009 Kindle edition, p. 174  |  [4] Id. at p. 174  |  [5] Jonah 2:9 NASB (orig. footnote)

March 27, 2012

Slow Anger – Not No Anger – Is God’s Ideal

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Prov. 14:17, 29
Full Text: Prov. 14; Phil. 1
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective 

Danger | Anger has a dangerous power. Not only can it harm the body and ruin relationships, it can also threaten wisdom because it distorts reality. As Solomon wrote, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly … Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” [1]. Yet notice that Solomon didn’t condemn anger itself; he condemned hot tempered and quick anger.

Goodness | Slow anger – not no anger – is God’s ideal because it reflects His character. As the Lord proclaimed about Himself, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” [2]. In fact, Tim Keller has said, “It is a sin never to get angry” [3], and John Christenson said, “He who is angry without cause sins. But he who is not angry when there is cause sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices” [4]. Anger is an essential part of a loving God because anger is an outgrowth – not an opposite – of love. As Becky Pippert wrote, “Think about how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it … Anger is not the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being” [5].

Order | Our problem, therefore, is not that we get angry; our problem is that we get angry at the wrong things. Our anger is disordered because our loves are disordered. How often do we ask ourselves, “Why am I angry in this situation? Because my own ego has been wounded? Or because the name of my Lord and Savior has been disregarded and His people have been the victims of injustice?”

Prayer | Lord, Let us be like you – slow to anger and abounding in love. For this is true wisdom that has rightly-ordered loves. Give us hearts that echo the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” [6], so that your glorious name and your beloved people are the treasures of our hearts. Then, our slow anger will rise up only when the precious things that you love are dishonored. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Prov. 14:17, 29 ESV  |  [2] Num. 14:18 ESV  |  [3] See Eph. 4:26  |  [4] See Tim Keller, “The Healing of Anger.” 17 October 2004.  |  [5] Becky Pippert, Hope Has Its Reasons.”  |  [6] John 3:30 ESV

March 26, 2012

Standing Against the Evilness of Evil

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Eph. 6:12
Full Text: Prov. 13; Eph. 6
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

United | Harry Potter is a great story that reminds us “how evil Evil is” – as Christian singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson put it [1]. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, three wizarding schools – represented by their chosen champions – compete for prize money and a trophy. At the end, however, just as two champions simultaneously grab the trophy, Lord Voldemort – the most powerful Dark wizard in history, who up until this moment has been merely a rumor – appears. He kills one champion, but Harry escapes. Voldemort once again disappears into the darkness and the head of Harry’s wizarding school, Dumbledore, gathers all three schools together for an address. Although they had been competitors throughout the tournament, he encourages them to stand united:

“Every guest in this Hall,” said Dumbledore … “will be welcomed back here at any time, should they wish to come. I say to you all, once again – in the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open” [2].

Enemy | As the Church, our differences of worship styles and denominations are nothing at all since our aims are identical and our hearts are open. We have a common enemy – the Evil One. As Paul reminded the Ephesians, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” [3]. His gift for spreading discord and enmity is great and, therefore, we must stand firm – in truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word, prayer, readiness, perseverance and boldness [4].

Prayer | Lord, Jesus prayed that we would be one, as the Father and the Son are one [5]. Let us, therefore, not argue with one another about non-essential things. Instead, remind us how evil Evil is and how important it is for us to put on the armor of faith. Give us sensitivity to the presence of evil, especially when discord and enmity spread among us. Root us in the Word, prayer and community, as we continually exhort one another toward love and good works. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Andrew Peterson. Harry Potter, Jesus and MeRabbit Room. 11 July 2011.  |  [2] J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. p. 723.  |  [3] Eph. 6:12 ESV  |  [4] See Eph. 6:13-20  |  [5] See John 17.

March 23, 2012

Why the Gentiles Can Claim the Old Testament Promises

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Eph. 3:6
Full Text: Prov. 10; Eph. 3
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Decision | The early church leaders – who were mainly Jewish and circumcised – had a hard time deciding what to do about the new, uncircumcised Gentile believers: Should they require circumcision as the mark of belonging to the people of God according to the law? Then came Paul. He was the Lord’s “chosen instrument … before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” [1]. What was his message? That the “mystery of Christ” was that Jews and Gentiles – alike and on equal terms – were in the family of God: “That the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel[2].

Importance | Yet this issue was about more than race and culture. It was about whether the Gentiles – that is, most of us – can claim the promises that were made to Israel. After all, if we are not heirs to the promises that God made to Abraham, then we have no claim to his inheritance. If we are not part of Israel, then we cannot say that, for example, Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you … to give you a future and a hope” – applies to us. Thus, this is of great importance to us today.

Old | This wasn’t new, however, to the first century Christians. The law and the prophets pointed to circumcision of the heart, not the flesh, as the mark of “true Israel.” Jeremiah even put Israel in the same category of unbelief as the pagan nations because their Jewishness was meaningless without their being circumcised in heart [3]. Then Paul later said that “true Israel” was by faith, not circumcision, and that the Jewish and Gentile believers were the true heirs of the promise. Therefore, all those who believe in Jesus as Lord – Jews and Gentiles – are heirs according to the promise, which means that every Old Testament promise can be claimed by every Christian. For we are the true Israel, heirs according to the promise.

Prayer | Lord, We praise you for not keeping us far off, but bringing us into your family. We thank you for circumcising our hearts so that we are the true Israel. Even today, as we read your promises, show us how much Christ is the linchpin of our being able to claim those astounding truths – in the law, the prophets and the psalms. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Acts 9:15 ESV  |  [2] Eph. 3:6 ESV  |  [3] See Jer. 9:25-26

March 22, 2012

The Reality of the Universe: BUT GOD

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Eph. 2:5-6
Full Text: Prov. 9; Eph. 2
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

But God | We were dead in our sins, BUT GOD made us alive together with Christ. We followed the course of this world, BUT GOD raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, BUT GOD brought us near to Him by the blood of Christ. We had no hope and were without God in the world, BUT GOD made us fellow citizens with the saints and members of His household, where the foundation is the apostles and prophets and the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.

Everything Possible | When our situations seem hopeless, we must wrestle with God and His promises. BUT GOD will always be our declarative truth. The reality of the universe is BUT GOD. In Christ, He has showered us with kindness, not wrath: “By grace you have been saved … so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus[1]. BUT GOD freed us when we were slaves. BUT GOD made us alive when we were dead. We must hear the BUT GOD that Mary heard from the angel who told her that the Messiah was in her virgin womb: “Nothing will be impossible with God” [2].

Gracious Giver | If God can rescue us from death, then nothing is impossible for Him! And if He didn’t even withhold the sacrifice of His only Son in order to save us, then He won’t withhold anything from us! As Paul wrote to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” [3]

Prayer | Lord, Your promises are more real than our apparent reality. When everything seems bleak in our lives, remind our hearts to say, BUT GOD – for nothing is impossible for you and nothing can separate us from your love. Work the gospel deep into our hearts so that, when we see the cross, we remember that we were dead in our sins, BUT GOD made us alive in Christ. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Eph. 2:5-6 ESV  |  [2] Luke 1:37 ESV  |  [3] Rom. 8:31-32 ESV

March 21, 2012

Living Your Way Into a New Way of Thinking

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Prov. 8:32-35
Full Text: Prov. 8; Eph. 1
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Wisdom | The Lord repeatedly exhorts His people to gain wisdom. Why? Because we simply don’t have the knowledge or ability to make decisions about how to be most effective in accomplishing His kingdom purposes in our lives. In other words, if we care about joining Him in His work to save sinners, transform lives and glorify His name, we must seek out His wisdom.

Obedience | Yet wisdom is not merely reading a set of statutes and laws; it is also knowing how to apply them to our lives and then living them out. As Lady Wisdom says, “Blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life” [1]. Thus, our obeying the Word actually leads to more wisdom than our merely reading it. As the Psalmist said, “I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” [2]. Why does he have more understanding? Because he obeys the precepts. As Henri Nouwen reflected, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking” [3].

Prayer | Lord, We long for wisdom because we know that it is essential for our knowing how to make your name holy in our lives. We also know that fearing God [4] and knowing Christ[5] are at the heart of being wise. Therefore, as we seek wisdom and spiritual understanding, give us delight in who you are – even when your ways may seem foolish to us [6]. Let us be doers of the Word, not hearers only [7], so that we may grow in our understanding of wisdom as you change the habits of our hearts, minds and lives. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Prov. 8:32-35a ESV  |  [2] Ps. 119:100 NIV1984  |  [3] Wikipedia, Henri Nouwen.  |  [4] See Ps. 19:9; Ps. 34:11; 2 Chron. 26:5; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:29; Prov. 8:13; Prov. 10:27; Prov. 14:26; Job 4:6; Ps. 128:1; Prov. 22:4; Is. 11:3; Ps. 112:1.  |  [5] See Prov. 8:22-31 (God as the source of wisdom.) See also Phil. 1:9-11  |  [6] See 1 Cor. 1:18 (the cross is foolish to the Greeks)  |  [7] See Jms. 1:22  |  [8] Lady Wisdom is a personification of wisdom.

March 20, 2012

The Thrill of Monotonous Living

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Gal. 6:9-10
Full Text: Prov. 7; Gal. 6
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Boredom | Monotony. Monogamy. Monochord. Monochrome. Monotone. Most New Yorkers just fell asleep while reading those words. We despise monotonous schedules and monogamous relationships. Monochords make boring music, monochromes create forgettable palettes and monotone speakers bore us. We have an amazing capacity for getting tired of things – even wonderful things like snowfalls or sunrises. In time, we complain about the snow and rarely wake up to see the sunset. We lose interest. The thrill is gone.

Encouragement | The Galatians were new believers who had already grown weary of doing good. Specifically, they had stopped supporting their church teachers financially [1]. So Paul exhorted them, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” [2]. Not only did Paul know that the teaching of the Word was essential for true worship and real affection, he also knew that supporting their church teachers fulfilled the law of Christ [3]. Therefore, he encouraged them not to grow weary and, in so doing, reap eternal life.

Children | How can we do this? We can look to our Lord, who never grows tired of doing good. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon … It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we” [4].

Prayer | Lord, Let us not grow weary in doing good – fulfilling the law of Christ by serving and supporting others. Give us the eternal appetite of infancy so that our morning thought is, “Do it again today! Make us instruments of your good will to others!” Help us to exult in the monotonous work of doing good so that we may reap eternal life. Keep our hearts young in our enjoyment of obedience. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Gal. 6:6. See also 1 Cor. 9:11; 1 Tim. 5:17-18. Matt. 10:10  |  [2] Gal. 6:9-10 ESV  |  [3] See Matt. 10:10  |  [4] G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy.

March 19, 2012

Christ Died to Make Us Free

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Gal. 5:1
Full Text: Prov. 6; Gal. 5
Photo of the Day: #TPFperspective

Enjoying | We sometimes get anxious about decisions that are – simply put – not great issues with God. What city we live in, what person we marry, what job we take – these are not the most crucial issues of our lives. What should we be most concerned about? Enjoying our freedom in Christ. As Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” [1]. God wants us to enjoy our freedom – this is why Christ died and rose again and sent his Spirit. There’s nothing He wants more for us than to enjoy what He has done for us in Christ.

Depending | How do we do this? We obey what He commands with hearts that take joy in the cross. When we deal with God as if He needs our work for Him to accept us [2], we live as slaves who merely want God in order to escape punishment [3]. That creates drudgery in us and brings dishonor upon His grace. When we admit, however, that we have nothing to add to the gospel – not even our obedience or good works – we live in freedom because we utterly depend on His magnificent grace to us in Christ. This magnifies the Lord and His mighty work. How does this look? As Paul wrote, “Through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” [4]. Being free means we wait “through the Spirit” who makes the obedient life a life of joy in partnership with the Lord [5] and “by faith” as we eagerly await “the hope of righteousness” that will be revealed at the end of this age.

Praying | Lord, We confess that we oftentimes neglect some of the most important issues of our lives. Faith is not merely a past decision; it is an ongoing way of living in freedom for the hope of our righteousness in Christ. Therefore, we pray that you would grow in us a desire to enjoy our freedom, as we increasingly learn to depend on you. Turn our obedience into a joyful pursuit – for we know that Christ died to make us free. Therefore, do not let us submit again to a yoke of slavery. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Gal. 5:1 ESV.  |  [2] Gal. 2:21.  |  [3] See Gal. 2:2-5.  |  [4] Gal. 5:5 ESV.  |  [5] See Gal. 5:16-26.

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