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Love Languages, Ears, and…Tongues?

Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” opened my eyes to how people are different in the way they perceive and receive love. It sounds simple, but I really didn’t fully appreciate that what makes one person feel loved may be completely misinterpreted by another. As a married man, I frequently misunderstand my wife (HAH!). However, this was more than simply “I didn’t mean it that way”.

Everyone is a mix of the five love languages, but there is always a primary. For example, my primary love language is words of affirmation. My “happy file” (every preacher needs one) is filled with notes, cards, and letters from people upon whom I’ve had an impact with something I said, did, or shared with them. I revisit these memories often. Likewise, if you’ve ever received something like that from me, know that it came from a very deep and tender part of my heart. I’ve always felt most comfortable expressing myself in carefully-chosen words. Imagine my shock when I learned not everyone (even my own wife!) feels the same. Her love language is acts of service. It’s terribly inconvenient. I would much rather spend an hour thoughtfully constructing a hand-written note to show her my love and appreciation instead of unloading the dishwasher. But that’s not how she feels loved. I’ve always been puzzled when she asks me in a pained voice: “Can you do me a huge favor?” I say, “Sure, what?” It usually turns out to be something simple like opening a jar, or getting something out of a bottom cabinet. Then she showers me with praise and gratitude for this “huge favor” while I think to myself it’s no big deal. But to her, it IS. I finally realized why the other day.

She was telling me this long and involved tale about how she had called the IRS about a nagging tax issue. It meant waiting on hold forever, being transferred multiple times, and even being cut off once. I was getting a bit irritated by the intense DETAIL of the account and was struggling against making the “move along/get to the point” hand gesture because that’s just rude. After she was certain I had shared all of her frustration to a sufficient degree, she ended by saying, “So I just wanted you to know that I took care of that today.” Then it finally dawned on me after 25 years of marriage. She doesn’t just receive acts of service as her love language. She also SPEAKS in them. This was her way of telling me she did something which is supremely uncomfortable for her (talking on the the phone) for me. For ME.

Once I realized this I felt very loved. Even though I often receive acts of service with a quick “Thanks”, for her it was like writing me a five-page dissertation on what a great husband I am who deserves this level of effort on her part. Not only is it important to understand how people receive love in their love language, but it’s also tied to how they give it and show it. This was an epiphany for me. I am sharing this because maybe it will be for you as well. Maybe I will be a little more attentive to her actions now. Even though we may be speaking our love languages better, my wife would probably still prefer an unloaded dishwasher to a gushy poem. Eh, slow progress is still progress.

You Will Never Regret Doing the Right Thing

please helpDISCLAIMER:
This is not a humblebrag post. I am only sharing it because I ALMOST didn’t do the right thing because I am a jaded, cynical jerk who thinks he’s seen it all and knows everything. Pulling out of Walmart and I see a family across the street in the grass next to Wendy’s. Mom is standing next to a 10 year old boy and is holding a toddler and a sign which says: “Need food, need gas, need money. Please help. God bless.” I think to myself, “Yeah, right.” 99.9% of the time, if someone has a sign they are scamming. Experience has borne this statistic out.
Still, as I pull away and turn the corner. I can’t shake a feeling. So what if they’re scammers. That’s between them and the Lord. My responsibility as a Christian and basic human being is to help if I can (and I could). Especially when there are kids. AHA! The scammers know that and use kids as props to play on your emotions! Look at what a grifter lifestyle they are teaching their children!

Still…..I had a prickly nudge. Before I talked myself out of it, I turned around because two wrongs don’t make a right but three rights make a left. I figured I would ease my conscience by offering to pay for their food at Wendy’s. When they refused and would only accept money, I could then drive off in smug self-satisfaction at being right and NOT being taken advantage of because I am nobody’s fool, dontchaknow.

Much to my surprise, the boy gladly accepted and agreed to walk over to Wendy’s. His mom didn’t want him to go in with me (totally understandable) and I said I would get some food and bring it over (it was maybe 80 feet away). As I approached, Dad had pulled up in their um…”well-traveled” minivan. It had California plates on the front. I introduced myself and he said his name was Florin. He was very grateful for the food and cold drinks (it was pretty warm this afternoon). I asked if they were traveling and he said they had moved to Pennsylvania but that area was a hotspot for Coronavirus and they were worried for the children. They decided to move back to California. I asked him where in California and he said Salinas. I was stunned. “No way! I was stationed at Fort Ord and we dromve over to Salinas all the time!” He was equally stunned. He expressed his thanks again and I said, “Now that we have you guys some food, has anyone given you any money for gas or hotels?” He said no, not really much. So I lit him up with a little cash. He again thanked me profusely. I told him I would pray for his family and a safe trip. He said, “God bless you.”

Here’s the point. I almost let my cynicism and assumptions frost my heart enough to avoid helping someone asking for help. That’s wrong. I’ve been scammed before and as I said above, that’s not my problem. It’s their problem. It’s my responsibility to help when I can. That’s the lesson Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was pleased I could help him but I was also ashamed I ALMOST didn’t. Even if your efforts go unseen or are met with ingratitude,
DO IT ANYWAY.
Also, when he mentioned they were traveling because of coronavirus it was NOT the  time for me to roll my eyes, call him a paranoid sheep, or make any other unkind judgment about his decision. It doesn’t matter how I feel. It doesn’t matter if I think his current situation (or anyone else’s for that matter) is a result of what I see as poor life choices. He needs help, I can help, therefore I become obligated. P.E.R.I.O.D.

A wise friend *cough*Neal Pollard*cough* once gave me perhaps the single best piece of advice I’ve ever received. I was in the midst of a very complex and painful dilemma and was sorely tempted to be selfish and follow my hurt feelings and lash out to protect myself. He gently urged me not to and said. “No matter how hard it may be TODAY, you will never regret doing the right thing later on.”
Boom.
He was right then, and he’s been right every time I’ve applied that wisdom afterward (which is often).

Don’t assume you know someone’s situation or story. Instead, why don’t you ask them and find out? You may be surprised at what you discover. You may meet a new friend like Florin. You may have the scab peeled off your heart. Whatever happens, it will benefit you. You won’t regret it. Trust me.

“I’m Glad You’re Here!”

church-greeting-1
Whenever I preach, wherever I preach, I have developed a habit before I begin a lesson. Some preachers begin by saying, “Good morning” or just dive right into the sermon text. I always say, “I’m glad you’re here.” I say it for many reasons. For one, I am glad not to be alone and that there is someone present to hear the lesson which I’ve prepared. Another is that it encourages me to see other Christians dedicated to worshiping our Lord and making the effort to be present. I realize that work schedules, raising children, and numberless distractions can often torpedo those efforts. I genuinely appreciate their commitment to the church and to edifying one another. My wife, who is my most valued critic and confidant, has suggested that I break the habit. She says sometimes it comes off as insincere when I say it as I am organizing my notes or opening my Bible to the passage on which I am speaking. I may appear distracted or it might simply sound scripted. Listeners may think, “Well, that’s just what Rob always says before he begins.” I understand that viewpoint, and her suggestion is not without merit. There may indeed be times when my heart is not fully into that greeting. It is possible that I may say it out of habit, occasionally, rather than from a place of sincere joy.
But here’s the thing:
I am too afraid NOT to say it. If I did not say those words, I would feel I had changed just for the sake of change and I would feel my preaching effort was incomplete somehow. The real reason I say “I’m glad you’re here” is because every Sunday I wonder if someone needs to hear that message . Maybe someone is a visitor and wonders if this is a good fit for them as a church family. Perhaps someone has had a trying week and needs a bit of a shot in the arm. It might even be that someone has been too hard on themselves and needs to reminded of their importance and value to God and His church. It would be easy to find a million reasons to stay away from the assembly. Because that one person didn’t, because they chose to get up, get dressed, and drive in to be with us in God’s presence, I am glad for their effort. I am proud of them for taking that step. If there is one who enters the building weighed down by their own unspoken sin, know that I am glad you chose to be here. I am proud of you for facing that discomfort in the hope that God would help you bear that load. I am glad you are here and not vainly struggling with that burden all alone. I am glad WE are here to help you shoulder that load. So if you hear me say that familiar phrase and roll your eyes a bit, I understand. But I want you to know, really know deep in your bones, that I am truly glad you are here when you could be so many other places. Your presence alone encourages me. Thank you.

Fire the Canon!

star_wars_comic.jpg

No, that’s not a typo in the title of the article. As a former English Major and one-time Army artilleryman, I would never commit such an egregious error. I will explain in a moment, but first I want to address some recent squawking from certain movie audiences. My wife and I went to see “Justice League” last night. On the drive to the theater, I told her, “Okay, I need to fill you in on some backstory.” This was primarily information from the previous movie “Batman vs. Superman” which she had not seen. Without this update, she would not have understood the next installment. There needs to be some continuity between episodes for the story to make sense. There have been many versions of DC Comics stories (primarily Batman and Superman) over the years in many formats. There have been iterations on radio, TV, movies, and of course, comic books (where it all began). In the movies alone, there have been several different storylines by different directors/screenwriters with different visions of how the story should be told and seen. Fans of the comics often spend a great deal of energy evaluating the new storylines against the original comic versions. The original version is seen as “canon” or the standard by which all others must be measured. Faithfulness to the original story is applauded when it adheres and criticized when it departs.

This phenomenon is on full display in the controversy over the latest Star Wars movie. Many fans of the original three movies, (i.e. what they consider “canon”), feel that the new story is a betrayal and disappointment of what came before. They feel there is no continuity with the older storylines. That flow is important in any story.

The word “canon” is also comes up frequently in theological discussions about the Bible. “Canon” refers to the 66 books which make up the holy scriptures. These were evaluated and accepted after great debate over which books/letters met the criteria for divinely-inspired writings. The Bible was written over a period of 1600 years, in several different countries, by some forty different writers from all walks of life (kings, shepherds, fisherman, priests, doctors, slaves, etc.). Despite the writers’ personal differences, the story of the Bible is completely unified and consistent even in the details. There is remarkable accuracy of prophecies and their fulfillment. If continuity is important in superhero and spaceship fantasy stories, it is infinitely more so for the most important story of all time. If human writers in Hollywood can’t even get these fairy tales aligned properly over the course of four decades, how could we explain dozens of people separated by sixteen centuries recording a story with flawless attention to detail and perfect unity of theme and purpose? We couldn’t, unless God was directing this process.

People are upset that Luke Skywalker would never have acted in such a way. Some complain that Batman would never have used that particular piece of equipment or formulated such a plan. Wolverine’s origin story didn’t include that ridiculous detail, purists howl. Costume elements are criticized as heresy. These stories don’t ultimately matter. The ONE story of humanity’s creation, fall, and redemption has been preserved in painstaking detail so you might have the vital information about your future. Learn about the true “canon”, the Bible, and what the story means for you.

Broken Chords

rhoads-acoustic

An arpeggio is a sequence of notes played on a stringed instrument, most notably, a guitar. A chord is when several notes and strings are strummed together. An arpeggio, on the other hand, is a group of notes and strings which are played individually, letting each note ring on its own (even if just for a short time). Arpeggio comes from an Italian word for “plucking the harp”. A musician may place his hand on a guitar’s fingerboard in the position of a chord but then chooses to pluck each string individually. For this reason, arpeggios are often called broken chords.

I have always been drawn to arpeggios and players who use them, even before I knew what they were called. There is just something melodic and pleasing about the progression and pattern of them. It allows notes to stand out that might otherwise be lost in the din of a chord. Pulling them apart reveals a sort of hidden beauty that could easily be missed. Life pulls us apart sometimes. We often wish everything would be smooth and consistent. We want the notes of our life to come together in lovely harmony. Rarely does that happen, however. More often, we pluck at pieces and bits hoping to make something that passes for a decent tune. When things fall apart, that supplies the most fertile ground for us to grow. We grow wiser from mistakes. We grow more compassionate for those now suffering what we previously endured. We grow more aware of opportunities easily missed.

Those lovely notes can only be discovered by breaking the chord apart. Don’t worry if the song of your life seems broken and discordant at the moment. It is in those times that God is more perfectly revealed to us. Often, it is only in those times that we truly listen for His voice. The apostle Paul wanted to strum the chord of healing for himself in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10. “[A] thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (NKJV).

Life may “sound” more pleasant when all the notes are working smoothly together. But don’t forget that some beautiful music can be made from broken chords, broken hearts, and broken roads. Let God put His song into your heart and show you that you are a pleasing sound in His ears. Let Him pull something wonderful from your strings. May the Lord shine upon you.

Cement Trucks and Good News

cement_truck_crash

Nobody likes getting bad news. It is for this reason many put off going to the doctor. They fear the discovery of some terrible illness. But until the doctor makes a diagnosis identifying the problem, treatment cannot be started and healing cannot begin. The bad news must come first. Some people may be resistant to read and study the Bible because it will confirm their worst fear: they cannot measure up to God’s standard. Scripture will point out very quickly that we are all failures in the righteousness department. It is much easier, albeit foolish, to simply ignore that report.

Imagine a road construction site. One lane is cordoned off with orange cones and a cement truck sits alongside the curb. For whatever reason, the truck slips out of gear and begins rolling down the incline towards the intersection. A young woman is making her way through the crosswalk as the signal has instructed her. A man off to the side sees the truck rolling toward the woman and picking up speed. He dashes to intercept the truck and jumps into the empty cab. At the last moment, he shoves the brake pedal down and stops the truck within a few feet of the woman. She is blissfully unaware of all these happenings because she was engrossed in the song playing through her earbuds. Her life has been saved, but not changed or bothered in the least. Now consider another scenario. This time, the young woman is between the man and the runaway cement truck. He sees the danger to her, but knows he cannot stop the truck before it strikes her. Instead, he runs with all haste towards her. Again, at the last moment, he leaps at her, knocking her from her feet. They both roll to safety as the truck plows into an empty parked car. When she realizes how close to danger she was and what the man did for her, she overflows with gratitude. Initially, she was threatened by this stranger leaping at her as if he was attacking. The tumble on the street was not pleasant in the least and seemed a great unkindness. It wasn’t until she saw the truck narrowly miss that she recognized the depth of her danger and his sacrifice.

We had a “truck” hurtling toward us as well. It was loaded with the weight of our sin and the condemnation that accompanies it. Our death would bring that penalty to bear upon us. Jesus didn’t just stop the truck (as in the first scenario). That would have allowed us to go on in ignorance and unrepentance. We would not have seen the other trucks that await us, nor would we have been thankful for that rescue. Instead, Jesus knocked us out of the way and stood in the path of the truck Himself. Imagine watching a stranger push you out of the way and take the hit so you could be spared. Would that not fill your heart with gratitude? Ah, but first it would likely break your heart with guilt. We don’t like feeling guilty. Some people don’t want to think about what Jesus did because it makes them feel bad about themselves. They don’t want to read the Bible because it points out their weakness and need for a Savior. The gospel is literally the “good news”. But the good news of salvation is meaningless without first recognizing the NEED for salvation. We must understand the bad news of our lostness first.

The gospel is defined in 1st Corinthians 15:1-4 as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although tragic, the death is the first and most necessary part of the “good news”. He died for our sin on the cross. We must understand, accept, and appreciate this before it does us any good. Of course, the BEST news is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He was resurrected on the third day. Because He was raised, scripture tells us those who believe and obey Him will also be raised.

Christians must be mindful of this when seeking to guide others to Christ. Sometimes we may be guilty of emphasizing the “bad news” and making sure people understand how lost they are. We may be too harsh in condemning sin in the world and not kind enough in sharing the good part. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NKJV). Let us never be guilty of focusing on the bad news to the neglect of the good news. Let us not be like a doctor who diagnoses a terminal disease without offering the cure. Let us always “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). People may forgive us for tackling them if we are quick to help them back up.

The Greatest Injustice

not-fair-stampThe accused is brought into the courtroom. He is shuffling feet which are not only dragging because of the manacles, but also heavy with the guilt of what has brought him here to this court. The prosecutor, Satan, smirks at the defendant certain of a slam-dunk conviction. He has all the evidence lined up and has been eagerly anticipating this trial date. He plays his role well as “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10). Now all his hard work is about to pay off. The defendant slumps down into his seat, shackles rattling against the chair leg. He is not alone at the table, however. His advocate (1st John 2:1) is seated next to him and offers a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He seems as equally confidant of acquittal as the prosecutor does of a conviction. The accused does not share his defender’s optimism. He knows full well the weight of the evidence against him. Suddenly the bailiff announces: “Hear ye, hear ye, court is now in session with the Honorable Jesus Christ presiding!” The prosecutor’s head snaps up from his opening argument notes as does the head of the accused. Both watch in shock as the defense attorney stands up, buttons His coat and strides to the bench before sitting down. He raps the gavel once and the trial is set to begin.

 

The prosecutor jumps to his feet and angrily sputters, “Objection! You must recuse Yourself from this case! This is not fair!” The Judge responds, “Overruled. ‘For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son’ (John 5:22). Is the prosecution ready to begin trial?” Red-faced and flustered, the prosecutor grudgingly gathers his notes and says, dripping with disdain, “Yes, your honor. The prosecution will show beyond any doubt that the defendant did on many occasions willfully and knowingly violate the laws and clear commands of God. I am prepared to offer irrefutable evidence of these crimes to the court.” With these words, he waves a minion at the back of the courtroom forward pushing a hand cart piled high with several file boxes. As the stack is dropped near the table, one box tips over and spills its humiliating and vile contents onto the floor. The Judge holds up a hand and grimly states, “The court is familiar with all the evidence. There is no need to present it. It is accepted into the record as fact.” The defendant flinches as the gavel cracks from the bench. What hope can there possibly be now?

The Judge takes a deep breath and stares for a long moment at the stack of boxes. “The evidence is more than adequate to establish guilt. The court is ready to render a verdict. Does the defendant have anything to say before sentence is passed?” Head bowed, the accused knows there is no defense to be made. He is indeed guilty of every charge. He whispers a nearly inaudible “No, Your Honor” aimed at the floor. “Then the defendant is found guilty and sentenced to death per the demands of the Law.” The gavel falls like a thunderbolt and the accused clenches his eyes shut, not seeing the prosecutor pump his fist in victory.

But then, he hears the sound of a chair scooting back and looks up with sodden eyes to see the Judge taking off His robe and coming back to stand behind the defendant’s table. “If it pleases the court, a plea agreement has been reached. I move that all charges be dropped.” The stunned prosecutor barks, “Wait, what plea agreement? I made no agreement!”  The Advocate then strides back up to the bench and sits down. “A plea agreement has indeed been reached. The defense attorney has agreed to accept the sentence of death on behalf of the defendant. The accused is absolved of all charges and is free to go. Court is adjourned.” This time it is the prosecutor who recoils at the rap of the gavel. “This is outrageous! This is a gross miscarriage of justice! I call for a mistrial! You can’t do this!” The Judge replies, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Romans 9:15).  “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down’” (Rev. 12:10).

The cross was the most unjust thing that ever happened in human history. An innocent Man was killed and the guilty went free. How could a just God allow this to happen? God Himself told us when He revealed His heart in scripture. “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).  A scene much like the one above played out in the Old Testament book of Zechariah in a vision of God’s mercy to a rebellious Israel. “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes’” (Zech. 13:1-4).

God found a way to satisfy His justice and still extend mercy. That way was the cross. It was, as Satan objected, a great injustice. But when it comes to God’s love for you, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Sermon Sketches #4

brody_2Last Sunday I preached from Ephesians 4:11 about the gifts Christ gave to the church for her establishment. The roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher were for the growth and development of the church. In my Powerpoint, I had a slide of DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” which features Jesus at the table with the twelve apostles. I assume that is the image Brody Morton was trying to recreate. I was struck by the image he drew. Jesus is alone at the table. He seems none too happy about this by His expression. Please notice the 12 empty place settings. A point I made in the sermon was that we still fulfill these roles today in some fashion. The word apostle means “one sent”. It can refer to the twelve, but not exclusively. I asked the question: are we also not sent into the world as salt and light as well as ambassadors for Christ? Brody apparently understood this and drew Jesus as if He is asking, “Will you be My apostles? Will you join Me at this table and go where I command teaching My gospel?” What a deep and poignant question for every Christian! I am constantly amazed at the understanding of our young people. Too often we underestimate their wisdom and grasp of important things which we can easily miss. Keep teaching us, kids. We must become like you in order to enter the kingdom, after all!

Sermon Sketches #3

I love my little sermon illustrator buddies! Brody Morton did a great job listening to my lesson on Joel. You see how the plague of locusts was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the temple/Jerusalem by the Babylonians (sometimes rendered “Bablonens”) and the captivity. This event was itself a prophecy of another army–the Romans– later destroying Jerusalem (or, Jurslem) again in 70 A.D. All of these point to the ultimate “Day of the Lord” when the final judgment and destruction of the world will come. Very astute observation and analysis. What I love most is the note of encouragement by his brother Jackson. They are so supportive of each other and could teach us all a lesson about brotherly love. Great job, buddy!

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Arise! Awake!

daffodils.jpgWhen God has determined the time to be right, He begins to stretch out the days. The sun warms the ground and soon tiny green things begin to appear. The daffodils are first: the heralds of spring. They blow their golden trumpets in announcement. “Awake! Arise!” All nature hears the call and begins to shake off its dreary, winter slumber. The forsythia erupts in brazen glory launching out tendrils of flaxen fire. Next, the pear trees determine to shame all whom have not yet heeded the trumpet’s call. They burst forth in pale, fluffy clouds among the somber branches. The husky aroma fills the breeze to declare: “Spring is here!” Tulips snake their way up from the dark soil and sit like stately decorations in a gentleman’s lapel. The redbuds stealthily ease their lavender jewels until one day they seem to have appeared everywhere overnight. Just as the pear blossoms begin to fade into green, the lilacs come on the scene to replace the lost aroma with their own magnificent perfume.

All the trees have now begun to bud and resurrect. Soon the air will be filled with maple seeds helicoptering their way down to the ground much to children’s delight. The leaves elongate and widen. The breeze is now filled with the symphony of their melodious rustling. Phlox creeps across the barren ground and overcomes the brownness. Rose of Sharon bushes stack their pale blossoms atop one another. Not to be outdone, crape myrtle elbows in with its vibrant reds and purples. It will stand its ground deep into the hot summer, for God has made it hardy and beautiful. The world is alive again and it makes the winter seem to have been far longer and darker than it was because of the glorious contrast.

Why did God make the world so beautiful? Why did He make us able to appreciate beauty? None of the animals acknowledge God’s masterful handiwork. I suppose it is because we are made in His image and He Himself appreciates beauty. Let us revel in the cascading waves of God’s artistry that He sends to us at this time every year.

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