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Archive for April, 2015

practical

In Colossians chapter 1 Paul emphasized the supremacy of Christ.  In chapter 2 he told the Colossians what not to do and whose example not to follow.  Chapter 3 is full of practical instructions on how to follow and serve Christ.  Let’s let the format of Colossians sink in, teachers and preachers.  There is great wisdom in leading the church this way – especially in a culture where everyone has their own opinion and instruction on what being a Christian looks like.  Here’s how Paul demonstrates:

1. Preach the gospel; magnify Christ

2. Debunk heresy, false teachers, and misinformation that is plaguing the church within your culture.  Be specific.

3.  Give practical, specific instructions for the persons you are ministering to.  I cannot stress this point enough.  Be practical. Be practical.  Be practical.  Do not stop teaching at #1.  Do not stop teaching at #2.  Be practical.

Since I have come to the second portion of Paul’s practical instruction, I have to stress the dire importance of not only these particular instructions, but equally importantly, these kind of instructions.  They are invaluable to those listening.

Today I will talk about why practical teaching is so important and tomorrow I will deal with the specifics of this text.

Many men have amazing theological minds.  They are well read and can answer almost any Bible question one might have.  They preach the gospel in its entirety and do so very systematically and extremely well.  They tell you who Christ is, what he did, and urge repentance.  They refute false ideas.  They tell you what Christianity is as well as what it is not.

Consider yourself unduly blessed if you can find a preacher or teacher like this in our culture of confusion and misinformation in the church today.  Still, if door #3 – specific, practical application – is left unopened by that good man or woman, the sheep are still left meandering for their own food on many occasions.  When we are told what to do but not how to do it, nine times out of ten we do not “get it.”  If I do not know how you apply the text in your life, I often do not know how to apply the text in my life.  Tell  me.  In so doing, you teach me.

 Sheep need stories, parables, personal accounts of when and how these truths were learned and understood by our teachers.  Otherwise, as my very practical, straight-shooting mechanic husband says, it feels a lot like someone is trying to tell us how to build a shelf.  We have step by step codified instructions, but we do not have a model.  There is no hammer in our hands.  No nails or screws with which to build.  All we have is a how to lecture and Mr. Vila and all his tools and example models have left the building.

Sheep need practical application.  Sheep need for instances.  Sheep need not only a picture of the finished framework of what the end result is supposed to look like, but also a picture of all the half built stages in between.  When we set out to put this thing called Christianity together, we need a lot of help – especially if there have been no close master builders in our lives.

Therefore, I cannot stress Paul’s example enough.  After preaching the gospel, what it is and what it is not, we must tell others how to apply it.  We must tell about when we fail.  We must tell about what overcoming has looked like in our own lives.  We must be specific and practical in preaching and teaching.

Colossians 3:17-25 is practical application of that which Paul has just painted with a broad brush.  He told his readers to set their minds on the things above and to forsake sin.  He told them to be compassionate, humble, forgiving, loving, and unified.  He said to do everything for Christ.

Now, he puts some practical flesh on the bones of his outline of spiritual disciplines.  Here’s what he says:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters,not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Here are some real life situations, guys.  Here are the most common and important relationships you are all in.  Here’s how to act in those relationships.  Here’s how not to act.  Here’s why.

Wives, submit.  Husbands, love.  Children, obey.  Fathers, be patient.  Slaves, obey.  All of you, work hard, always.  Masters, be fair.  God will bless.  God will repay.  Trust him.

I will go further into what these instructions look like in our lives in my next article…practically.   I believe Paul did not go further because his words needed to be timeless.

That’s our job.  That’s our job.  That’s our job.

 It is the job of a good teacher to apply the Biblical text to their cultural situations and problems.  The reason we have so many knowledge infused non-action taking Christians is because we often fail to give practical instructions.  We go through the text and we stop.  We cannot afford to do that.  Christians need challenged in very specific ways.  We need very clear pictures of what a submitting wife and a loving husband looks like.  We need very clear pictures of what a rebellious wife and a loveless husband looks like.  We must use every means available.  Yes, we are the very pictures ourselves.  We are witnesses.  But we must also open our mouths and share our lives lest we live them in obscurity and fail to bring glory to Christ clenching tightly to our illegitimate right to privacy.

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crunchy

I’m into health and natural alternatives as much as (probably more) than the average American mommy.  I exercise daily.  I try to eat relatively healthy.  I home school.  I nursed.  I opt for a homeopath, supplements, and essential oils before a traditional doctor and pharmaceutical drugs whenever possible.  I even used cloth diapers for three whole months with my first baby.

But…yes, my kids and I still eat fast food on occasion.  Even though I think midwives are neat, I gave birth in the hospital.  I eat already baked and sliced bread.  All of my children were vaccinated.  My kids eat candy.  (Isn’t that what candy is for?!)  I don’t usually buy organic.  My babies only slept in my room until they started eating solid foods – about four months old.

So what?  Why am I telling you all this?  Well, it seems that there is an ever growing culture of holistic women who will read this and balk.  If they know me, they will begin devising a plan on how best to show me my sins.  Call it part of the mommy wars or just plain arrogance, but either way I feel like someone needs to blow the whistle.

Before I get my foot stuck too far into my mouth, I must say that I do realize that some crunchy moms mean very well.  I understand that when we find good things that work well for our families, we often want to share them.  We want others to be helped as much as we are.  We want them to feel as good as we do about our lifestyle decisions.  I think that’s great, noble even.  It is good to share ideas and help one another become better…however…

I do have one question gnawing in my mind for these gatekeepers of world wellness.  Like I said, I’m into health and natural alternatives as much as the average American mommy.  But my question and biggest concern for this group is, “Is it ok if I am not?”  Because it often feels like these women’s eyes bulge when I see them in the grocery store and I have Fruity Pebbles, pre-sliced white Wonder bread, and disposable diapers in my buggy.  Since when did making ultra natural decisions for our own families become a woman’s pass to be a power hungry police lady of all the rest of us – complete with guilt trip lectures and constant hinting reminders that we aren’t doing things as right as they?  I don’t know.

I believe it is good to encourage wellness, whatever that looks like and is working for your family.  But I also believe that there is an extreme over proselytization going on from the holistic community these days.  It reminds me of Christians who point disgusted, condescending fingers at unbelievers every chance they get and then expect converts.  I don’t know.  I just think conversion – in both wellness and Christianity – is much more natural – dare I say “organic” than that.

Here’s my advice for those who most like to share advice with the rest of we defiled citizens.  Ask yourself whether you really care about me and my family.  Find out why my health matters to you.   Does it?  Or could it be that pointing at me makes you feel proud and superior?   If you come to the conclusion that you genuinely love me, great.  Stop preaching at me.  Instead, hang out with us.  Bring your kids over to play with mine.  Show me how you do things by your example and let me determine for myself whether it is better.  I will ask you questions because you are different.  I will notice if you are healthy and your family is thriving and mine is not.  Give me some dignity and I will listen to you.  Otherwise, I just feel like you think I’m a jerk and a failure.  Maybe you do and maybe I am, but love does not approach that way does it?

Wait, would you hang out with me?   If you did, would I be a project or a person?  Ask yourself how you came to the conclusions you did.  Was it by force, shaming, and nagging?  Or was it something else that changed you?

Lastly, accept that people make different decisions for their family and stop looking down your nose at them for it.  Love them anyway and celebrate your differences.  A world where everyone is the same would be terribly boring, wouldn’t it?

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mom

Home school moms, it is worth the sacrifice.  Some days it is difficult to keep that in mind.  I know the weird looks you get when a brood of children are in tow mid-day.  I know the rude and ridiculous remarks people make to you.  I know how you smile and answer kindly.  I know the forfeited picture of how you were going to spend your K-12 days.  I know the fear of the imaginary spelling monster coming to the door with a citation.  I know how frustrating it is that the house isn’t spotless, the textbooks are not completed, and the yard is not mowed.  Yes, I know how easy it is to lose sight of the grace given us to do this amazing work.  But if I may, allow me to encourage you…and me.

I also know some other things.  I know, that at least right now, for you and for me, that this is our call.  I know that this is our ministry.  I know that this is our greatest opportunity.  John 12:7-8 preached yesterday reminded me what I know most certainly.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

How strange it is to find within a group of people all professing to follow Christ alike, some who would criticize others for how they choose to do so.  In John 12 we find Judas Iscariot criticizing Mary for her devotion and sacrifice to Christ.  When we look closer at Judas, we find that he was much less willing to serve and honor Christ than Mary was.  Therefore, he sought to steal her honor, steal her praiseworthiness, and, ultimately, steal her money.

Jesus would not let it happen.  Neither will Jesus allow these things we know all too well to rob us.  John 12:8 reminds us.

It occurred to me in the listening that this contrast of attitude still goes on within the church today.  I guess that was the pastor’s point.  When I consider the call to home school and the sordid reactions people give, I cannot help but think of this passage.   So I want to encourage you, home school friends.

This opportunity will not always be available to us.  This ministry has a definite expiration date.  I know that you know this.  I know this.  But we do tend to forget, don’t we?  Instead, let’s remember.  And let’s remember too, that those girls I want to counsel at the pregnancy care center will always be around.  Those inmates will still need Bible studies when my kids are grown.  The business will still need a secretary/janitor when they are old enough to help.  But my little girls will not always be little girls.  They will not always need me the way they do today.  I will not always have the chance to serve Christ in this very special and particular way.   I have wisdom and knowledge to impart and I know that if I do not, the world will impart something else.

Whatever your call, there will be some in the church who are less willing to serve Christ criticizing your sacrifice.  They will send you on a guilt trip and  try to tell you what, when, how, and why you should be doing something – anything – else for Jesus.  Keep on.  If you take care of your call, Christ will take care of their gall.

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wait

The truth that God’s Word is living and active fleshes out in many practical ways, but there is one way which, to me, is really exciting.

Usually, whether during personal study or a sermon or a bible study, the subject has a main idea and focus.  Sometimes, though, God is pleased to cause a completely different truth to, in a sense, jump out at us.  I liken it to the disciples who mused that their hearts “burned within” them as a disguised Jesus talked with them.  Surely this is what they felt!  It is a knowing, a burning in the soul that will not be ignored.  Our God – the consuming fire as he refers to himself – is speaking.  God is speaking.  God is speaking.

And he is speaking directly to us, individually.

Before everyone packs up and heads for the hills, I should add the disclaimer that no, not all tangents from the appropriated lesson are words from the Almighty.  Let’s face it, sometimes we are just daydreaming or so deaf and dull that we are severely disinterested in what is being taught us from the scriptures.  Therefore, these things are marked by 1. being true and 2. corresponding with what the rest of the Bible teaches.  I am not talking about Susie’s mystical hour of cultish extrabiblical revelation and flippant use of the terms “God told me” or “God said” thus and so.  I’m talking about Holy Spirit inspired understanding of the scriptures in a way – albeit an orthodox way – in which one has not understood or recognized beforehand.  This is one way God teaches his children through the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, this happened to me last night.  I was sitting, listening to Beth Moore speak on the tabernacle and as she began to read a passage from Hebrews 6, a verse that I had never considered in any kind of extraordinary way “burned” in my heart and mind.

Afterward, I had a difficult time tracking with her because this verse so puzzled me.  It says this:

“And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”  Hebrews 6:15 (emphasis mine)

The second I heard that verse read I began to question what on earth it could possibly mean.  Thoughts move rather quickly when attempting to apply logic.  The first thought I had was to take the verse at face value.  Abraham did thus and so and the effect was obtaining the blessing.  Suddenly, my logic came to a screeching halt.  I began to break down the verse with my historically centered thinking cap on.  The progression went something like this: Did Abraham wait patiently?  Did he?  He did?!  He did not!  This cannot be a face value kind of verse.

Abraham.  A childless man whom God called to father a great nation at age 75.  Yes, he believed God.  He even moved without a clue where he was going just because God said so.  But Abraham, in my estimation was anything but patient!  Why does the scripture call him patient?  And let’s not even get started on how full  of doubt and fear this man often proved to be.  Yet God called him both righteous and patient?!

Why?  How?  How is this possible and if it is possible is there hope for an impatient, anxiety-ridden, stressed out doubter like me?

I looked over the story of Abraham spanning from Genesis 12 – 21.  This is the time between the call and the promise and the first fruits of fulfillment with the birth of Issac.

From the time God called Abraham until Issac was born was 25 years.  Twenty-five.  That is a long time boys and girls.  Hold on to your hope.

After God called, Abraham obeyed.  The next thing he did was lie.  He rolled his wife under the bus to save himself.  Apparently that did not faze God or his promise.  Consider the mercy in this verse:

 “And for her sake he dealt well with Abram…” Genesis 12:16

For her sake.  God cares about the spouses of doubting, sin stuck, insecure men and women.

Next, Abraham questions.  Hey.  It’s been a long while since that promise, God.  No son here.  What’s the deal?

In his mercy, God confirms his promise and Abraham believes him.  Unfortunately, Abraham and Sarah decide they should “help” God fulfill his promise.  In other words, even though they believed God, they did not trust him.  Moreover, they trusted themselves more.  Talk about a split personality!  I feel you, Abe.  Abraham has an illegitimate son born out of – you guessed it – his own self-sufficiency, unbelief, and sin.

Finally, God again confirms his promise, giving detail this time.  He tells Abraham and Sarah how and when the promise will be fulfilled.  This is twenty-four years and a whole lot of impatient waiting after the promise was made.

Still, Abraham feared.  Even after the confirmation and the details were given, Abraham again lied about his wife and said she was his sister.  He says this:

 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought,‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. ~Genesis 20:11-12

Funny how Abraham justified his disobedience to God by pointing at others’ disobedience to God.  He accuses his enemies of not fearing God when all the while he is the one actually failing to fear God and obey him.  If Abraham believed the promise, how could he have simultaneously feared imminent death?  He did.  He lied to avoid being killed on account of his beautiful wife.

Finally, Issac is born, which was of course only the beginning of the fulfillment.  God blessed in the exact way he said he would.  Abraham is counted both righteous and patient.  Is that amazing to anyone else?  Does Abraham’s behavioral history seem patient to you?  As the mechanic says, are you pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down?

Skip to Hebrews 11:8-12.  Abraham and Sarah believed God.  They did not obey perfectly by any means.  They made a manure load of mistakes.  But they went when God said, “Go.”  They believed despite all odds.  They left their world behind and sought God.  They doubted.  They feared.  They even laughed at God’s ridiculous news.  But it was all true.  Nothing they did wrong disparaged God’s absolute determination to keep his promises to them.  And at the end, God honors Abraham calling him righteous and patient.

That is an amazing God.  That is a God of great, great mercy.  Do you see Him?  Surely he is good.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust. ~Psalm 103:8-14

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sights

Paul has just warned and exhorted the Colossian church to deny legalistic and superstitious practices that were being taught by misguided leaders at best and impostors at worst.  In place of earthly, fleshly, external rule keeping, Paul goes on to encourage them tin spiritual disciplines that will drive them to the mind of Christ.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. ~Colossians 3:1-2

Here’s a pretty easy to understand challenge, Christians.  If you died with Christ – if you live in him – act like it.  Concern yourself with the spiritual things, not the earthly.  If you are his, you are dead to the world.  Act like it.  Here’s how:

 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…~Colossians 3:5-9a

Kill sin.  Like our old teacher John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  If you are tempted in any or all of these areas, you must cut them off.  Stop.  Stop doing them.  Stop participating.  Stop getting close to them.  Avoid them at all personal costs.  Get help.  Be accountable.

Little wonder why his next admonition is, “Do not lie to one another.”  When we refuse to repent we must instead work at the art of deceit and deny our sin to both self and others in order to keep it alive and thriving. It can be as subtle as down playing sin’s severity and effect in our lives, avoiding conversations about it, and hiding it away from others who will surely not approve.  Do not lie to yourself about your sin.  Kill it.  Put it  behind you.  That is the old you, says Paul.  You are a new person in Christ – if you are in Christ.  He is all and in all for you.  Act like it.

By the way, Paul adds,  since you are God’s chosen people and you are getting rid of all that mess, replace it.  Replace those evil things with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, thanksgiving, admonition, and wisdom.

In other words, instead of selfishly using others to fulfill your own evil desires, honor them with the love of Christ.  Instead of getting angry and holding grudges, forgive and be patient.  Instead of lying and envying, admonish and encourage the good of others.  It seems that the first list is rooted in self worship for our own benefits and the second is rooted in serving others for their benefit.

The principle is the same thing I always tell my kids, “Others first.”  Christ rules.  I do not.  If Christ is not all to you, find out what is and kill the sin which makes it so by setting your mind upon Him.

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obey

Paul is instructing the Colossian church on the importance of keeping their focus on Christ alone.  He has reminded them who they are in Christ and of the sufficient power of Christ and the cross.  He reinforces the truths pertaining to their cancelled debt of sin, the forgiveness of their sin, the removal of their legal obligations, and his victory over all that seeks to oppose and accuse them.

In chapter 2:16-23, Paul goes on to warn them about listening to or trusting in those who were seeking to obligate them to man-made religion and rules.  He encourages them to take hold of the freedom they have been given and to use their knowledge of Christ’s finished work to avoid the traps their false friends were setting in the church.

Many of these false obligations are still being used by those who think themselves religious superiors in the church today.  Let’s consider them.

1.  Restrictions and obligations about food and drink.  No one has the right to disqualify our sincerity for Christ or pass judgement on us over what we choose to eat or drink.  This was a roadblock in the early church because the Jews had always had very strict dietary regulations and obligations.  Christ’s new covenant did away with all of those rules and regulations.  He declared all foods clean.  Therefore, to obligate others to abstain from certain food or drink is unsupported by the New Testament scriptures.  Yet there are still those who obligate their churches to abstain from meat, forbid certain drinks, and pass judgment on those who do not conform.  Paul says do not listen to them.  There is no such thing as a forbidden food or drink, rather, the issue lies only in whether we use them appropriately and glorify God with our bodies or inappropriately dishonor him with our bodies.  In other words, when it comes to food and drink restrictions it is not about quality, but quantity.  Gluttony and drunkenness are the food and drink related concerns and they are not found in those who eat and drink all things in moderation.

2. Obligatory observance of certain days, feasts, or Sabbaths.  Again, these were part of the Old Testament law carried over wrongfully into the early church.  The people in Colosse believed that observing these special days would earn them spiritual favor and bring them superstitious things such as good fortune.  Many today still consider certain days and dates more holy than others.  They insist that others observe.  But Paul insists that these things are past.  Christ in all his fullness is here.  Therefore, every day is a special day for Christians.  We get to worship, serve, and obey him in everything we do.  Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for not observing and participating in their self-made religious days.  Our gathering together with other believers is what is important.  The day is irrelevant.

3.  Asceticism, or the very act of denying oneself in food, drink, recreation, etc.  Asceticism is just another form of works religion.  If we could earn merit with God through our own self denial, we wouldn’t have needed him to save us.  Denying self may make people feel superior, more holy, or super spiritual compared to those who do not, but this type of self denial is rooted in pride and self worship.  The self denial that Christ encourages is that which he exemplified and it is always rooted in humility and concern for others.  Therefore, it does not demand and command rules and regulations and place them upon others, rather, it allows each to determine how to put others first as a result of their own conviction.  It does not boast about its sacrifice out of obligation like asceticism does, but offers self sacrifice willingly out of love.

4.  The worship of angels.  Whether these men and women thought they were worshiping Christ through angels or simply worshiping angels themselves is irrelevant.  We need no mediator between we and God but Christ.  To use another spirit, angel, person, or thing to mediate between we and God is to deny Christ his rightful place.  He is our only mediator and he lives to intercede for us.

Those who were doing these things were puffed up in pride and always speaking of spiritual visions rather than of Christ and his true Word.

 Paul says no to all of these worthless religious practices.  He asks the Colossians why they seek to be enslaved by those things to which they have died already.  He says they are of no value and they they are not going to help anyone stop sinning.  All of these efforts were vain according to Paul.

If anyone forbids food or drink or marriage, or emphasizes certain holy days, or practices prideful, outward, showy self-denial, or makes his main focus personal visions rather than Christ’s Word, or instructs the worship and mediation of anyone or anything besides Christ, do not listen to them.  They are not teaching the truth.  Do not let them intimidate or disqualify you by their obligations or condescension.  Show them Colossians 2 and keep on.

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cross

And, can it be that I should gain?  The hymn sneaks into my consciousnesses like a well known friend.

I stop.  I close my eyes.  For a moment, I am with him alone.  If there is a thankfulness greater than mine in this moment, I have not known it.

I have done everything wrong.  I have been the prodigal, the persecutor, the problem, the pride-filled.  Nevertheless, he sends me a song.  It repeats in my mind; my heart.  I give thanks and I seek to worship him.

He has placed a child within me.  A child who was not supposed to be in a marriage that was once condemned to certain death.  This is God’s doing.  It can be no one and nothing else.  He alone saved.  He untangled my rebuttal, my refusal, my rebellion, my resistance.  His love won, and I get the reward.

 I get the reward?  What joyful pain these realities bring.  My sin so apparent placed flush against his mercy so magnificent.  It is overwhelming; almost unbearable.

When all goes wrong we ask, “Why, Lord?  What have I done?” never acknowledging the wrong we have indeed always done.  But today, while all is right in my world I find myself asking, “Why, Lord?  What have I done?” once again.  So undeserving.  So unbefitting, unbecoming, unfit, lesser than, lower than, improper, imprudent, unwise, inept, and inappropriate.

I do not deserve this.  I never did.  Yet you gave it still.  You love me still.  You bless me still.  You do not fail.  You do not renege.  You do not abandon.  You do not forget, me.  Even me – the ever foolish one.

Oh, Lord.  How can I express my gratitude?  There is not a way.  If I climbed the highest mountain and sand the longest hymn and stayed the latest night and prayed the most holy prayer – naught would be enough.  You amaze me.  You are relentless.  You surprise me immensely.  I cannot describe your goodness.  Surely you love the most broken.  You reach for the rotten; the reckless; the wretched; the self-righteous.

Thank you, Daddy.  My mouth has no words for the gratitude in my heart today.

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