Looking down on others?

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“How could they? What’s wrong with them?”  Ever uttered those words about somebody else? It’s quite common to get agitated about the sins of another generation, another society, while being oblivious to our own. Somehow the blemish in our own life turns into just ‘being human,’ but a similar one in the life of someone else is inexcusable.

In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees, a sect of Jews whose focus was on a strict adherence to the Law of Moses, were proud of their detailed rules for life. The tragedy of their attempts at righteousness, Jesus said, was that they managed to look great on the outside while on the inside they were an ugly mess of sordid sins!  Among Christians there can be a tendency to the sin of the Pharisees. He told them, at one point, that in their attempt to be clean they strained the gnats out of their drink but swallowed camels.

Jesus used humor another day driving home the serious point about the sin of hypocrisy. He reminds us that we need to take care of our own sins and failures before we attempt to ‘clean up’ those in the lives of others. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV)

Too often Jesus’ words get twisted. “Do not judge,” is turned into a way to avoid accountability. Some feel that the Lord is telling us that we have no right to hold standards about the behavior of anyone else. Read the whole passage carefully. The true intent of His words is to call us to compassionate care for one another. “First take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck.” Remember that we when quickly offer an opinion about the way another is living, we are inviting the same to be done to us. When we fail to try to understand why someone is living as they are, condemning without loving, we have a major sin issue in our own life.

The message of the New Testament is centered on redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. It’s why Jesus came. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment.” (Romans 5:8-9, NLT)  God did not look at human rebellion and resistance and decide it did not matter. He acted in love to meet our need so that we could change. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:17, NLT) After the Cross, which set us right with God, He gave the Spirit to be our ‘Counselor,’ to live in us, so that we could be changed into the likeness of Christ Jesus. Think about that.

Let’s make redemption our first impulse in a world that is broken and bleeding. We can start by receiving God’s love in a profoundly healing way in our own hearts, taking away our fear of judgment. People who are loved, learn to love. Those who are secure in God’s grace are able to overflow with grace. Instead of ‘looking down’ on someone in need to give a ‘hand up,’ they choose to walk alongside of them to help them find the way out.

Here is a word from the Word. The implications of the call in these inspired lines is BIG, asking you and me to get out of our holy houses and to let the Light of Jesus shine in places where it is darkest. “We don’t go around preaching about ourselves; we preach Christ Jesus, the Lord. All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies.

So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, NLT)  “All of these things are for your benefit. And as God’s grace brings more and more people to Christ, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:15, NLT)

________

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

–              Public domain

Anxious thoughts about …

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Each morning it my habit to open the Scripture to read and meditate. Some passages are familiar and easy to understand. Others require study and thought. Some comfort, some convict. Today, the passage in my reading was familiar, clear, comforting, and convicting! Jesus is speaking on the subject of God’s provision with an invitation to trust Him. It seems like it should be so simple, but it is not.

Here are His words.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.

Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-33, NIV)

What causes you to worry? Most of us grow anxious at one time or another, wondering about the future. Will my health fail? Will my children do well in life? Is my job secure? Will I have enough money … for college, for housing, for food, for my future?  The worrying can keep us awake at night, make us physically ill, and rob us of the joy available to us in this day. You know that, I’m sure. I do, too, and still those anxious thoughts come knocking on my door from time to time.

The great wisdom of this passage is found in the last sentence:  “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  What is Jesus asking of us?  He desires that we get our priorities straight, that we make God and His rule our first concern. Instead of trying to secure our little fiefdoms in this world, He tells us to put the Lord God in charge of it all. “Well,” you say, “He is God and He is in charge whether I ‘put’ Him there or not.”  That is true. But, we cannot know the benefits of being in His care IF we are trying to manage life on our own. Worry effectively cuts us off from the peace of God, keeps us from walking intimately with Him.

Jesus does not ask us to ignore the realities of life. He does not offer us blinders that let us live in denial and/or fantasy. He asks us to make Him LORD of it all. That is a choice we must make today, again tomorrow, and the day after that, too. With the dawn of a new day, new concerns arrive. We have a choice to make – trust God for His wisdom as we actively pursue His rule; OR try to manage it all on our own which will bring on anxiety and worry.

Are you full of care this morning? Is there a situation that resists your solution, that cause you pain, that is not what it ought to be? Trust God with it. Find a quiet place and hand it over. Take those tumbling thoughts and spill them before Him as you consciously make the faith choice to live in His reign. Will it all magically sort itself out? Probably not. Will every problem find a solution by the end of the day? No, that isn’t likely, either. YOU will change and with that change, God will be able to work in you and through you to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Here is a word from Peter, an application of the lessons of seeking God’s kingdom first that he learned from Jesus. Carry these words with you through this day, in full faith expecting to see the hand of God at work.  “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. . . . May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7,10, NKJV)

____________

Rock Of Ages

Rock of Ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee
Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Save from wrath and make me pure

 Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and thou alone

 Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to the cross I cling
Naked come to thee for dress
Helpless look to thee for grace
Foul I to the fountain fly
Wash me Savior or I die

 While I draw this fleeting breath
When mine eyes shall close in death
When I soar to worlds unknown
See thee on thy judgment throne
Rock of Ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee

Augustus Montague Toplady | Thomas Hastings

© Words: Public Domain

Financial Peace

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I’ll be 65 years old in a few months. The government has sent me a reminder that I should register for Medicare. Retirement is out there on the horizon. All of that makes me think about resources, lifestyle, and money! I suppose it’s common to wonder how much is enough, given the variable of not knowing if life will extend another 10, 15, or 20 years. Questions about resources are not just for people in my stage of life. Those who consider marriage wonder if they can afford to set up a home. Those who are contemplating having children calculate the cost of raising that child. Whatever stage in life, whatever choice is facing us, we can know peace in God’s promise.

Jesus teaches us about God’s provision for our needs. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:19-24, NIV)

Do you know the Treasure Principle?
Jesus says – our life priorities are determined by what we love most.

One of the worst ‘first loves’ is money and possessions! I happen to like cars. Many years ago I purchased a new one. It was a beautiful red sedan with a leather interior and I was quite proud of it. Two weeks after I brought it home, while it was parked on the street, my teenage brother jumped into his old beat-up car and backed across the street right into the driver’s side of my new car. That’s life. I had it repaired and it looked good as new.  A few months later, while driving on the Interstate, a wild turkey jumped the guardrail and I hit it square in the front, crushing the grill, folding creases into the hood.  My red Mercury was not as much a treasure to me after that.

Such is the nature of the things of this earth. The economy will fluctuate, diminishing the value of your investments. Storms will come battering the house you have carefully built. Cars will gradually wear out. Fashions will change. That is why Jesus says we should invest ourselves in God’s work. Love endures. Lives that we influence for good are forever changed. A soul can be redirected by our love and service from destruction to eternal life! When we treasure what God values, our wealth cannot be stolen, eroded, or corrupted.

Paul reminds us of an accounting that we will give to the Lord in eternity. He says that the foundation of our relationship with the Father is Jesus, the Grace-giver. God invests in us and we have the privilege and responsibility of creating a life. Using the metaphor of a builder, he writes – “But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any other foundation than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Now anyone who builds on that foundation may use gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But there is going to come a time of testing at the judgment day to see what kind of work each builder has done. Everyone’s work will be put through the fire to see whether or not it keeps its value. If the work survives the fire, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builders themselves will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NLT)

If we build a life of inferior service, are selfish and motivated by short term gain, get taken up with image, chasing pleasure – the whole of our accomplishments will disappear in a puff of smoke! If we love deeply, worship honestly, give generously of our time and resources to make God’s kingdom grow – the true value of our brief life will emerge as we stand before Him in eternity.

The Treasure Principle is invariably true. What do you love most? Don’t just listen to your words, look at your choices. Your deepest love will be revealed by your daily choices.

Here is a word from the Word. Lord, give us faith to receive Your word and promise. “Peter said, “We have left our homes and followed you.” “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you, everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, as well as receiving eternal life in the world to come.” (Luke 18: 28-30, NLT)
_________

One of my favorite worship songs from recent times. Enjoy.

Build My Life

(A great song that points us to real faith in the Builder)

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You We live for You

 Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and
show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

 I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited) Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Fathered?

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My son, Sean, works hard at being a good father! He prioritizes family time, puts his kids first and stays engaged emotionally with them. And, in that he is blessings his children with advantages in life. Moms are wonderful and I applaud those women who love and care for kids heroically.

But, it is a fact that children who have a loving, involved Dad are doubly blessed.  Being fatherless can make a child insecure and that insecurity can become a seed bed from which self-destructive behaviors grow. Kids without a true father are more likely to live in poverty, to grow into crime, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to drop out of school. We need to strengthen families, to help parents make their relationship strong so that children can reap the benefits.

Jesus reminds us that we have a Father.  In His prayer, He begins, “Our Father in Heaven…”  What a profound revelation. Of all the names and titles of God, Jesus reveals Him first as Father. Isaiah does the same. “O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8, NIV)  Do you know Him as father, or do you see Him as King, or Boss, or Judge, or Source?

The wonder of our faith is that God is relational, knowing us, caring for us. When we believe that He is a good Father, we are ready to spiritually grow into maturity, able to trust Him, and thus to find rest in our turbulent world.  Many who worship the Lord call Him “Father” but they do not love Him as such. Perhaps this is related to being ‘fathered’ poorly or not having an earthly father. Perhaps it is because of an abusive father. Or perhaps we just fail to understand what it means to trust His Fathering love.

I often use the word, “Abba” when I pray, a word that Paul uses for God. Less formal, indicating a close relationship, it’s like calling God, “Dad.”  Here is the passage-  “You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16, NLT)  I grew up with a strong father who I naturally called, “Dad.” But, I grew into another relationship with my father-in-law over time. Bob went from being just another man and it became natural to call him, “Dad,” too. Similarly, we can grow from God, our Father, to God, our Abba.

Jesus begins by teaching us to pray to “Our Father in heaven.”   In Matthew 7, He amplifies that thought – “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11, NLT) I hope you feel His care, that you are able to lean on Him without wondering if He will show up or care!

There is one more part of fathering that I want us to think about for a moment before we go today . In a solid parental relationship, it is not all ‘bless you, wonderful child.’ Parents show love by providing appropriate boundaries and discipline. Earthly Dads don’t always get it right. I know that some of the ‘discipline’ of my children happened less for their correction and more because they frustrated me or because I was fatigued and/or impatient.

Our Abba never acts because He is in a bad mood.  He will discipline us, sometimes sternly when needed, but always for our best.  Here is the truth –  “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:7-9, NIV)

When you read of the Father-heart of God in the Holy Scripture, ask the Spirit to reveal the depth of Abba’s love to you.  That is one of the most healing truths in all of the Word.  Know this – God is not the dreaded Authority Figure who is watching for your failure so He can punish you.  He is the Waiting Father, whose grace is amazing, whose mercy is deep and wide, and who acts always for your ultimate good. When that is settled into your heart and mind, you will pray with faith, live with peace, and find richer relationships in this world that rest in the security of your intimate love of the Father.

Our word from the Word is the prayer that Jesus taught us-
“Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need, and
forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13, NLT)

__________________

Good, Good Father

(a worshipful presentation of this song by HouseFires)

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

 I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

 You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

 Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are

And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett © 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Playing a part?

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When we watch a movie or TV program, we see people playing a role. If they are good at their craft we tend to forget that they are acting.  I enjoyed the long-running series, West Wing.  Martin Sheen is forever identified in my mind as President Jed Bartlett. He slipped into that role and made it his. But, in fact, he was creating an illusion, to draw us into a story. It is play-acting and so when the show is over we all go back to the real world.

Is your practice of Christianity worthy of an Oscar, a great performance, but only that?Are you trying hard to act like a Christian, but failing to actually be one?

We are invited to be ‘born again,’ to enter the Kingdom of God by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. When we come to God, in faith, receiving His grace, the Word says that the ‘old is gone, the new is come.’   Some of us, allow ourselves to slip into playing a role. Jesus warns about that.  “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, NIV)

If we are focused on gaining people’s approval, we may do good things, even have a positive effect in the wider world, but there will be no heavenly reward. Jesus illustrates the importance of authenticity speaking to our prayers. They are not to be addressed to those who hear us praying. When we pray, we are talking to God, the Father.  He says if we make a great speech in the name of prayer, when we’re done and people admire our fine words, we have the reward we wanted. Likewise, He says when we give our offerings that we should not announce our generosity, letting God’s blessings be our true reward!

The best prayers are prayed without regard to the notice or approval of others. Indeed, Jesus tells us that praying is done best ‘in secret.’ That way we are not tempted to become actors. That is not to say there isn’t a place to pray together, to share in times of prayer. There certainly is and we can know real power in the prayer of those who gather in His Name! But, our soul work, the wrestling with our sins, our deepest worship, will be done when we are alone with God.  When there is no one to impress, we are ‘honest to God’  and our prayers have integrity. To be sure, those who refuse puffed prayers may not gain the same kind of approval that those who wear masks enjoy for a time.

It’s relatively easy to play the role of a devoted follower of Christ for a couple of hours on Sunday morning compared to walking in faith each day of the week. Real Christians don’t hide their failures or play up their successes. They don’t need makeup artists or image consultants. The only One they seek to please knows them inside out!

Remember the promise, dear Christian. God sees all and, in eternity, there will be an awards ceremony unequaled here in this world. God’s awards won’t be for the best actors. In fact, Jesus said that the least will be first, those whose service, offerings, prayers were offered in hidden places will find God’s richest reward.  Paul, near the end of his life, regarded by many as a failure, counted on the Lord’s commendation. He wrote “God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.” (2 Timothy 4:8, The Message) What a glorious Day around the Throne of God. What could compare to receiving the commendation of Christ?  Now, that’s an award worth living for!

Here is the word from the Word. This passage should bring great sobriety to those who are just trying to act like a Christian. They are of great comfort for those whose inner life and outer works are aligned, in integrity. I hope it’s a powerful promise for you that keeps you real.  “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NLT)

_____________

Satisfied

All my life long I had panted
For a drink from some cool spring
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within

 Hallelujah He has found me
The One my soul so long has craved
Jesus satisfies all my longings
Through His blood I now am saved

 Feeding on the filth around me
‘Till my strength was almost gone
Longed my soul for something better
Only still to hunger on

 Well of water ever springing
Bread of Life so rich and free
Untold wealth that never faileth
My Redeemer is to me

Clara Tear Williams | Karl Digerness
© 2012 Cardiphonia Music

Bigger Guns

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How do you find security? What is your response to growing threats? The natural way is to meet violence with violence, to counter aggression with more power. Billions of dollars are spent every year by governments to buy more armaments though we have enough war material to annihilate the world’s population already in hand. We spent the second half of the 20th century in the Cold War, a nuclear standoff that was held in check by the aptly named policy – M.A.D. – Mutual Assured Destruction! “Peace through strength” may be a good political slogan, but to my eyes, it is hard for government with a powerful army to avoid using it!

As individuals we are prone to adopt much the same attitude towards those we perceive as threats or those who bring pain into our lives. We meet force with force, harsh words with more harsh words, threat with bigger threats. Yes, it is a kind of personal arms race that leads so often to mutual destruction.

Those of us who know God as our Father, who have given our lives to Jesus Christ, have a radical calling to peacemaking. Contrasting the old Law of reciprocity with a new way of non-violence, Jesus invites us to change our lives and our world with some of His most controversial, and widely ignored, directives for the Christian life.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48, NIV)

When I read that, a part of me wants to shrug it off as hopelessly impractical for the world in which I live. Turning the other cheek seems so weak, doesn’t it? Our natural thoughts are “You hit me, I’ll strike back in a way that will make you think twice about doing it again.” But, does that really work?

Let me be clear on one thing here. Jesus words are for us personally. In God’s purposes, we learn from Scripture that there is a place for measured justice and for society to restrain evil by punishing those who do wrong. That’s for another day’s thoughts.

For today, I want to engage our minds with Jesus’ call to us to get beyond the impulse to buy bigger guns, to meet muscle with muscle! Think of someone who makes your life difficult, who says things untrue about you, who steals your joy. Are you willing to lower your defense, actively pray for them, and trust God for ultimate vindication?  Perhaps that sounds hopelessly naïve, downright stupid. In human terms, it is. Without real faith, we just cannot do it. But, when our lives are hidden in Christ, our great hope secured by His reign, we can and we must for God’s glory.

The choice for peace, active engagement with bad people with genuine love, requires a supernatural empowerment, a wisdom given by the Spirit, received by faith. What a difference we can make for Christ, though sometimes at a high cost to us personally. Will you let these words into your heart and mind today? Will you “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”

Our word from the Word comes from Romans where Paul quotes the Proverbs. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NLT)

Lord, increase our faith. Amen.

__________

John Michael Talbot sings this prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

-St. Francis of Assisi

You won’t believe it!

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Years ago I had a friend who lost his ability to speak because of a stroke. It was heartbreaking to visit and see the frustration on his face when he was unable to join the conversation, unable to ask for a drink of water, or let anyone know what he thought. For years Vince had preached and praised, encouraged, and corrected. Then, no words at all. Speech is a great gift that makes it possible for us to say what we feel, to reveal who we are. How are you using that gift?

Reading in Matthew, I came to Jesus’ words about authentic words, heart-deep words. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37, NIV)

Are your words plain, honest, and without shades of meaning? Hyperbole is not the problem. When a person says, “I’ve told you a thousand times!” we know that their words are not intended to be taken literally. The problem is word inflation, which is just plain old dishonesty. It is everywhere around us.

Job titles often have little to do with the actual work, designed to make an employee feel better about her position. Advertisers routinely mislead consumers, though carefully within guidelines that avoid legal repercussion. Every time I hear those unintelligible disclaimers that are tacked onto the end of a radio spot, I smile wryly at the idea that they have met the letter of the law while entirely missing the point of consumer protection.  Years ago, I took my grandson to McD’s for a Happy Meal™, that included a toy. He opened the package, assembled the toy, then discarded it. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “It doesn’t work like on TV!”  he replied. Deceived! How sad.

Believer, do you use words honestly? Do you not quite lie, but attempt to create impressions that are not related to the real world in which you live?  It’s a spiritual issue, Jesus says. The text quoted above involves vows and promises, but has a wider application. What comes out of our mouth, because we are representatives of the King of Glory, is to be trustworthy.  Our lives and words are to be so aligned that we have the complete trust of others, rendering the for saying things like “I swear to God!” totally unnecessary.

When you speak do others pause and wonder if there is any need to search for hidden facts? Do they feel any need to deflate your words to find the truth lost in bluster or bluff?  James, who learned from his Master, Jesus, urges us to use plain speech.  “Since you know that God cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.” (James 5:12, The Message)

Authentic words come from the heart of the person who is at peace with God and herself, who is secure in His grace. Knowing His amazing grace and His love that surpasses any human love frees us to live in reality- the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. Christians have no need for drama, nor do they desire to impress. They won’t cover up or puff up.  Jesus says they will go beyond the ‘legal’ use of words because they know God cannot be deceived by torrents of empty words. Let’s go beyond applying Jesus’ words to just what we say. Make the principle of authenticity part of all of your life so that you will honor the Lord by refusing all forms of exaggeration, dishonesty, and fluff; refusing to cultivate an image. Be the person who God, in His grace, has called you to be;  nothing more, nothing less.

The word from the Word is set in the context of Paul’s ministry. He was surrounded with preachers who polished their presentation to make themselves more than they were. Paul refused to do that. May his words encourage all of us to the choice for authenticity. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, NIV)

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Abba, I live in a world where words are cheap.
Protect my heart and mind from the devaluation of the gift You have given.
Secure me in Your love so that I can be authentic.
When I am tempted to adopt the ways of the world,
to try to impress or mislead, to shade meanings,
convict me and lead me to words that bring life and light.

Using the Psalm I pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NIV)

Amen

Truth’s sharp edge

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Remember that movie A Few Good Men? It is a story about a Marine who dies because of a code of discipline that is enforced too rigidly. In the trial of the senior officer, Colonel Jessup, (famously played by Jack Nicholson) the young lawyer, Daniel Kaffee, (played by Tom Cruise) exposes the Colonel’s false testimony by pressing him in cross-examination. He knows that if he goes for the man’s pride, he will likely get him to break. The movie’s most famous line comes from the moment when the Colonel’s contempt for the young lawyer boils over and he angrily shouts “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

The truth in life is often hard to handle, isn’t it? It is a lot easier to soften the edges, to blur the lines, to compromise or ignore the reality in which we live. In my reading from Matthew today, I came to this most difficult passage, one in which Jesus presses us to deal with sin. It is a passage subject to much misunderstanding if read without wisdom and prayerful discernment.  “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even if it is your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30, NLT)

We like to think our thought life is our own, what goes on inside our head is of no concern to anybody. Jesus challenges that idea with His words about sexual desire and God’s way for those who are His disciples. He tells us that when we make others into objects for our own gratification, even if only inside our own head, we sin. Before I go on, let me say clearly that if taken out of the context of the full Gospel these verses can induce guilt and shame, self-loathing, and fear. I do not write that to rob the passage of impact! Jesus meant these words to hit us like a punch in the face to move us past our apathy.

The truth is direct, edgy. He says, that if we leer at another, reducing that person to body parts to feed our fantasies, we are sowing the seeds of our own moral destruction. With vivid metaphor He calls on us to deal ruthlessly with our desires, making no excuses for them. Does He actually intend that we blind or maim ourselves? No!  But, He does want us to get serious about developing a mind that is responsive to the Spirit of God and that will involve some choices that demand self-denial that hurts, really hurts.

Three things need to be said to give Jesus’ challenge a context for us.

First is that apart from a new birth, the Spirit’s gift of life, we cannot even hope to live the life that God desires in us.

No amount of moral striving, rigid self-discipline, or accountability can change a sinner into a saint. When we feel the heavy weight of conviction of the Spirit, we surrender to Christ, take the grace, and find ourselves being changed from the inside out.  The beacon of hope shines out of the truth that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6, NIV) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

Second, we need to feed our thoughts with healthy food!

Monday evening I turned on a movie that I thought would be an adventure in the world of international intrigue. Within 10 minutes, the lead character, who was being pursued by a lot of bad guys, had stabbed one through the eye, split open the head of another with an axe, and killed about a dozen more in various bloody ways, all graphically splattered across my 50” screen in my living room. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and asked me if I was going to spend the evening bathed in violence and I answered by turning off the story.

I tell you that as a simple illustration of a much more important truth. What you feed your mind will become the seeds of your thought-life. What is your playlist of music? Where does it take your thoughts? What do you read? How is that forming your ideas?  What plays on your television or smartphone?  Jesus’ words about cutting off our hand finds context in the content with which we feed our thoughts.

Third, worship is a powerful means of thought transformation!

True worship, both with other Christians and individually, brings us from the world and the immediate pressing issues into the realm of God’s Spirit and eternity.  A soul that is satisfied with worship is much less likely to give in to the lures of temptation.  Worship is a life that finds greatest worth in God. Worshipers adore Him, pursue Him, choose time with Him, make Him the priority because of love. David declares the truth – “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2, NIV)

When we fail to worship, we will inevitably find other ways to satisfy the soul’s hunger. When we learn to worship, often finding ourselves in His Presence, there we will find the inner life of the Spirit making us into people who overflow with goodness.

Are Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 hard? They are, but we can handle the Truth!

The word from the Word invites us to know the truth, live the truth, and find the freedom of the Truth. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:1-6, NIV)

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How I Need You

Every day in Your hands
You were there before time began
Sovereign one I rest in Your plan
From the depths to the dawn
You are there Your promise is strong
I will trust with all that I am

 Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You stay the same
You are good in Your ways
Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You are enough
All my trust is in You Lord

 You fashioned me formed my heart
Search my soul and know every thought
Love so great but never too far
And through the storm You’re the calm
And every war You’ve already won
Life secure in Your loving arms

 You are powerful God above it all
I believe in You I believe in You
You do miracles the impossible
I believe in You I believe in You

Bethany Phillips | Chris Griffin | Micah Massey | Nicole McLean © 2018 Highlands Creative Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

I’ll kill you!

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What do you do when that person takes advantage of you for the 100th time, making life so difficult? How do you deal with that person whose actions left you bleeding and broken?  At first, we probably will feel anger as  it rises in us like a storm, increasing in intensity. In the tempest, we might say things, perhaps even take actions, that are regrettable on reflection. Over time we may choose to settle into a simmering anger. It may show as hostility. It might lie just beneath the surface as a festering resentment. It may even morph into a kind of hatred, though we would find that hard to admit to ourselves.

Jesus has some direct words about our human relationships. On first reading they can seem hard, unyielding, impossible for ordinary human beings. He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV)

Jesus also taught us that the basic choice we make in such times is to forgive. It isn’t an option! Jesus does not give disciples much wiggle room on the subject. In His model prayer there are these lines, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, NKJV) Would you want God to forgive you with the same attitude and effort that you have towards that person who has hurt you repeatedly? Jesus explains that we have the power of choice in the matter of forgiveness and that our decision to forgive really matters to God. He goes on to say, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)

If you’re ready to kill somebody (figuratively, not literally), consider these truths. Read all of them as they work together in the process of making us capable of genuine forgiveness.

Forgiveness begins with me, not the person who has offended me.
God extends the offer of forgiveness to us at His own expense and He initiates the process. We cannot be passive, waiting for someone to seek forgiveness. Followers of Christ pursue conflict resolution, at the same time. We will work at understanding our own anger, hurt, and offense- praying through those things and doing the spiritual and emotional work necessary to start towards forgiveness with the help of the Spirit. Then, we will be able to reach out graciously.

Forgiveness with God is not partial, nor conditional.

“He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  We cannot say we have forgiven if we hold onto the debt, build walls, or sabotage relationships.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event.
We offend God, He forgives…  again and again. Our sins are not to pile up. Instead, His desire is that we live close to Him, with no guilt, no shame, alienating us from His love. In our relationships, we must not wait ’til Christmas, or a birthday, or some family gathering – for example – to decide to ‘clean up’ the junk that has accumulated. We need to be forgiving, gently finding ways to keep our relationships with others close and safe and trusting. Because we live with ordinary mortals, they will fail and disappoint repeatedly, just as we do. We choose to continue to forgive.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
God offers forgiveness, but to live in peace with Him we must receive forgiveness and grace that leads to genuine repentance. In much the same way, developing a new relationship that is mutually beneficial requires the involvement of both parties, working together to find reconciliation and justice. However,  forgiveness is an individual choice to give our hurt, our sense of debt, to God and trust Him for perfect justice! In that choice, we release the other person and we discover freedom from our anger.

Are you feuding with someone, feeling offended by another’s actions, dealing with anxiety over an unresolved dispute?   How about praying about real forgiveness? It’s not easy, nor is it a ‘once and done’ moment. In the struggle to forgive you may find yourself praying in tears, asking the Holy Spirit to soften your heart. Tell Him how you feel, what you feel, why you think you’re feeling that way.  Ask Him to help you to be willing to give the offense and the offender to Him for His impartial judgment! He knows the motives, the reality of the situation better than you do. Trust!

Then, as Jesus teaches, begin to “bless those who curse you!”  You will find a new sweetness of spirit enveloping you, a sense of health overtaking you, a newly peaceful sleep pattern coming on your nights. In forgiveness you are like your Father in Heaven.

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today.  It’s a story Jesus told about being forgiven and becoming one who forgives.  “Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” “For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”
(Matthew 18:21-35, NLT)

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O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

(This hymn is one of profound faith that makes forgiveness possible.)

O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow,
May richer fuller be.

 O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be

 O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that lifted up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.

Matheson, George / Peace, Albert Lister © Public Domain

Heart-deep?

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Growing up I was one of the ‘good’ kids. My parents expected me to live the way they taught, and for the most part, I did. I never got in trouble with the law, drank to excess, or used the drugs that were increasingly common in that era. My “Christianity” was, at least in my teen years, most about keeping the rules. Though I was a church-going kid, my relationships with the Lord was largely second-hand, a borrowed faith of my parents. I did what I was taught, mostly because of fear. Mixed into my motives for obedience there was a real desire to honor my Dad and Mom, whom I loved.  In truth, however, the state of my heart often did not match the way I looked to others. As I matured, my faith grew and what was mostly a ‘religious’ experience became an expression of devotion to the God I learned loved me. His love, as John says, reached me and I learned to love.

Key question for today is this –  Is your faith heart-deep, growing out of a desire to know and serve Jesus, or is it shaped by compliance with spiritual and moral rules to avoid a pained conscience or to gain approval from your church?

In my morning reading, these words of Jesus spoke to the importance of going beyond keeping rules, becoming a transformed person. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)

Jesus says that those who desire to know Him, to enter into His life, will discover a whole-hearted love for God. “I warn you—unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all! Pharisees were excellent rule-keepers! They studied the Law of Moses and wrote long lists of rules on how to live. Jesus, knowing their hearts, understand that their true motive had more to do with keeping it legal and looking good, than actually getting to know God. In a comical, yet pointed, criticism of their hypocrisy, He said of them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV)

Jesus addressed the formation of attitudes that lie beneath our actions.  Regarding the commandment not to murder, Jesus moved the line way back and told us that the issue was anger that led to contempt for another person. When we take the stance towards another that says – “You are a worthless individual,” it is an issue of concern to our Heavenly Father.  Regarding the commandment about adultery, Jesus said that an attitude that devalues another person, making him or her into an object to satisfy our lust is as much a concern to our Father as having sexual intercourse with someone who is not our spouse. He spoke of keeping our marriage commitment and corrected the error of the Pharisees who thought divorce was acceptable as long as the paperwork was in order! “You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:32, The Message) When it comes to our words, Jesus warned about abusing words in a way that allows us to make one impression while leaving ourselves wiggle room to do what we want to do.  We need to memorize this – “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, NIV)

When we reduce our Christianity to mere compliance with the commandments, the beautiful life of faith, rich in love and holiness, gets twisted into a fear-based religion that enslaves us to guilt and fear. The Gospel is not ‘do better, be better, get better.’  Christ came to save us from our sins, not by writing stricter rules for us, but by liberating us from the old cycle of fear and failure with love.  He is not lurking in the shadows alongside the road of life, like a cop in a speed trap; divine radar at the ready, waiting to catch us so He can issue a ticket to us. He is inviting us to know and treasure Him so that the lure of temptation that comes our way pales in comparison to the glory of His love.

Let’s really ‘enter the Kingdom.’ Let’s pray for the Spirit to help us to delight in the Lord, heart-deep. Paul says that we learn to ‘keep step with the Spirit.’  “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25, NLT)  Sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, we are loved and led to lives that leave behind the idea of just ‘keeping it legal’ to discover the joy of His holiness.

Here is a word from the Word. I love the wisdom of the Spirit that encourages us to give ourselves without reservation to God, and reminds us that it is not outside in, but inside out, an overflow of that which is heart-deep. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 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.” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

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Rescue Story

(Zach Williams sings this great song hope)

There I was empty handed
Crying out from the pit of my despair
There you were in the shadows
Holding out Your hand You met me there

 And now where would I be without You
Where would I be Jesus

You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story

Lifted me up from the ashes
You carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
You are my rescue story

 You are You are
You are my rescue story

You are You are

 You were writing the pages
Before I had a name
Before I needed grace oh
Singing songs of redemption
‘Cause every time I ran away
You were louder than my shame

 You never gave up on me
You never gave up on me
You are my testimony oh

 You never give up on me
Oh You never give up on me
Oh this is my testimony oh

 You are You are
Oh You never gave up on me
Never gave up on me
You are You are
Yeah You are my rescue story

 Andrew Ripp | Ethan Hulse | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams

© 2019 Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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