Archive for August, 2009

From The Message translation: 1 Tim. 4:1-2:

The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they’ve lost their capacity for truth.

On the other hand, note vv.7-10, in the NIV: train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.


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                           WHY WE LIFT OUR HANDS TO THE LORD

                                      Brad Matthew Abley, M.Div.


If you raise your hands in worship, do you often think about the significance of what it is that you’re doing (thus worshiping God with your mind, as well as with your emotions)? 

We really miss out in our times of praise and worship if we’re not fully engaged with God in conversation, in listening and in understanding what it is that we’re doing.  Would you agree?

The purpose of this article is to explain why the people of God in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and throughout Church history have worshiped and prayed with hands extended to our Lord – an act which is extremely biblical – and to show you, the reader how cultivating a lifestyle of lifting your hands to God will greatly benefit you.


                        The Lifting of Hands to God in the Old Testament


In the following Old Testament passages hands were raised in prayer, symbolizing the following:  humility and repentance (Ezra 9:5; Lam 3:41); praise and rejoicing (1 Kings 8:22; Ps. 63:3-5); an expression of dependence (1 Kings 8:38; Ps. 28:2; Lam. 2:19); worship and adoration (1 Kings 8:22; Ps. 63:3-5); thanksgiving and the ability to “bless the LORD” (Ps. 134:2), broknenness and intercession (Lam. 2:19) and faith in answered in prayer (Ps. 141:2). 

We’ve just examined twelve extremely important aspects of what it means to lift our hands to the Lord!  And the root Hebrew word translated “lift” in Ps. 28:2; 63:4; 134:2; 141:2 has a wide variety of applications, including to extol, to magnify, receive, regard, respect and yield.

Thus, I count 18 reasons for why we lift our hands to God in worship.

But they’re not only reasons; they’re results of interaction with Him – and that’s what worship in song – or any form of worship, for that matter, is all about.

In effect, these OT saints were communicating each of the above actions to God as they prayed and variously, they simultaneously extolled, magnified and asked Him to receive from them; they held Him in regard and respect and they yielded to Him. 

What was the result of these acts of prayer?  These believers physically and spiritually expressed love for God and they demonstrably fulfilled the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:37) by worshiping Him with all of their heart, soul and mind and strength.

Think of it, loved one: when we express all of the above through the lifting of our hands to our Lord – and understand what it is that we’re doing and why we’re doing it, how might this impact your relationship with Him? 

Powerful as this is, there’s more.  The OT saints also raised their hands in glad adoration to God for His Word (Ps. 119:47-48; Neh. 8:1-8).  If you practiced this as well, how might that affect your time spent in God’s Word?  Do you think you might get more out of it?

Friend of God, do you ever raise your hands to Him in humility, for praise and rejoicing, for worship and adoration, in dependence upon Him for understanding and accurate interpretation of His Word, to bless Him, to express faith in Him answering your prayers and to thank Him?

According to an article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on “Gesture,” the one who stood praying may have begun with palms cupped together, followed by the raising of arms and the spreading out of hands.[1]

Moreover, one of the Hebrew words translated “to give thanks” (e.g. Ps. 118:21, 29) is yadah, whose secondary meaning of the root word meant to throw the hands (in thanksgiving).  According to Strong’s Concordance, this word was used especially to revere or worship, with extended hands.

It was used in a public proclamation or declaration of God’s attributes and His works.  The concept is at the heart of the meaning of praise (the synonym is halal).  Praise is a confession or declaration of who God is and of what He does.[2]

However, when thanking God, the verb form is hodah, an intensive form of yadah; this word is only used of giving thanks to God: it is never used of giving thanks to man.  Thus, hodah is a way of praising.[3]

In Ps. 100:4, we’re called to “enter His gates with thanksgiving.”  This Hebrew word is todah, which in Strong’s is an extension of the hands in adoration, praise or thanks. 

Todah is a cognate (related in nature) noun, derived from yadah and it basically means “confession,” either of sin or of God’s character and works.  It was used of a “thank offering” or of a “praise offering.”  In this case, it was accompanied by joy (Jer. 17:26; 33:11; Ps. 95:2; 100).[4]

Singing appears to have been a common means through which one confessed God’s greatness (Ps. 147:4).[5]

 When Solomon dedicated the temple to the LORD (1 Kings 8:1-61;), the climax of that dedication resulted in him being on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven in great worship, adoration, thanksgiving and contrition (vv. 22, 54) and when he stood to bless the people, he would have lifted up his hands over them (v.55; cf. Lev. 9:22; Luke 24:50).

Moreover, the lifting of one’s hands to the LORD symbolizes the directing one’s entire being to Him (Lam. 3:41; Ps. 25:1; 86:4; 141:2; 143:8). 

Thus, this simple act – sometimes easy to do and sometimes a choice and act of our will — is once again a spiritual exercise to express the deepest adoration, surrender and dependence upon our God.

Speaking of dependence upon God, during those times when I’m down, discouraged or frustrated – during those times that God seems so distant and prayer is therefore difficult – I often choose to raise my hands to Him.

Literally, I might be walking somewhere in my home (and this happens often, though not often enough) and just raise my hands in worship, adoration, thanksgiving or rejoicing to the Lord and I can tell you honestly and by experience that this simple act really does change me on the inside!

The result of this spiritual exercise is the proper worship of God, but His people also come away having been in His presence, also resulting in joy (Ps. 16:11) and strength (Neh. 8:10).  This practice, which is also a tangible means of thanksgiving is one sure means of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).


                        The Lifting of Hands to God in the New Testament


We might be surprised to find only one instance where someone is called upon to “lift up” their hands in prayer to God in the NT (1 Tim. 2:8), but on the other hand, the NT writers saw all of Scripture as a unity and the OT as an example for NT believers (1 Cor. 10:6).

In addition, the book of Psalms essentially served as the hymnbook for the Church as well, so they were quite familiar with the raising of hands in prayer.

In 1 Tim. 2:8 there is a clear connection (and perhaps a contrast with Is. 1:15) between the lifting up of hands for the purpose of prayer and the cessation of “wrath and dissension”: when one is praying in an attitude of dependence and submission, one must also respond in humility before God – and it takes humility to forsake wrath and dissension.

Thus, the lifting of hands is also a display of reverence to God: “holy” (hosios) meant “unpolluted” or “unstained by evil.” 

It “stood for that which was in accordance with divine direction and providence.  The word describes the pious, pure and clean action which is in accordance with God’s command.  The hands are holy which have not been given over to wicked lust.”[6]

Friend, what I’ve just written is not for the purpose of good or interesting information; it is for our lives to be changed.  And now, for many of you, lifting your hands during a worship service will take on new meaning – it will be a proper emotional response to the presence of the Lord – but it will also be an act of intelligent worship.

Practice this spiritual discipline at all times and you’ll be amazed at how it greatly affects you – and most importantly, when you do it for the right reasons and with a right heart – God will be glorified!




[1] “Gesture,” D.G. Burke in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2: E-J, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 450.

[2] Ralph H. Alexander, “ידה” (yadah) in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 364.  Hereafter, TWOT.  The primary meaning of yadah is to acknowledge or confess sin.

[3] Alexander, op. cit., 365.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon Rogers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 620.

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One of the things that so many in our culture highly value is “finding” themselves.

But one can never truly “find” himself apart from God. John Calvin writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (I.1.38) that “no man can survey himself without [first] turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God.”

Thus, the only way to really “find ourselves” is to look to the One who made us — to the only One who can save us from our sin and feed and nourish our spirit with His words of life –Jesus, the Creator of heaven, earth and all that exists (Col. 1:16-17).

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I try to pray for the entire Church daily as I move through the Lord’s prayer, on my prayer walks.

When I get to our Lord’s part of the prayer where He calls us to pray, “Forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Mt. 6:12), I always ask the Lord to move upon us to choose to forgive anyone we need to forgive.

Friend, please do not hold onto bitterness against anyone; it only hurts you and the sobering thing about any refusal on our part to forgive is that if we do not forgive, Mt. 6:15 warns us that God will not forgive us!

“But if you do not forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

That is the most powerful motive I need to quickly forgive and to forgive as often as I need to until I no longer need to forgive!

So practically, how does one successfully forgive another? Just say to God, “Father, I bring _____________ before Your throne of grace and I choose to forgive __________ and release ___________ to You, in Jesus’ name.

Say this out loud and as often as You need to to Him. Do not ask Him to help you to forgive; His grace is already there for you to obey Him.

Instead, tell Him that out of obedience you are going to choose to forgive. And again, you do this as often as you need to (sometimes it will take months, even years) until you no longer need to.

And friend, when you live this way, you will truly be free (John 8:31-32); but if you do not, I can assure you that you will live in bondage.

Grace, grace and peace to you, in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Through his book Velvet Elvis and through his Nooma teaching videos, Rob Bell has become quite popular among young evangelicals. Bell has a “hip” approach in his teaching and in his writing, which certainly makes his ministry appealing as well.

But I want to examine those teachings here: do they line up with biblical truth or do they undermine biblical truth? I’ve been reading through 2 Timothy and am impressed with how often Paul refers to “the truth” in this epistle.

For example, he calls Timothy to be diligent to handle “accurately” the “word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

He cites Hymenaeus and Philetus as having “gone astray from the truth” and that as a result of their teaching that the resurrection had already taken place, “they upset the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18).

He tells Timothy to correct those who are in opposition to the truth with gentleness, “if perhaps God may grant them repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).

Then Paul boldly calls out two more false teachers in 2 Tim. 3:8, saying that “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regards to the faith.”

Does Bell’s teaching hold to the apostle Paul’s standard? Is he firm in “the truth” (the biblical writers and Jesus saw the entire Word of God as inspired directly by Him and therefore inerrant and infallible)?

First, Bell’s understanding on how we even got the Canon of the New Testament is entirely faulty and I will demonstrate in this article the utterly damaging effects that his premise leads to. In Velvet Elvis, he writes,

This [that the canon was not settled until the 4th century] is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that “Scripture alone” is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible from the church voting on what the Bible even is” (pp. 67-68).

In fact, it was far more than a mere “group of believers” during the Reformation who decided on the principle of Sola Scriptura – that the Bible is the objective standard of faith that regulates the teaching of the Church – not the other way around, as Bell argues wrongly.

Secondly, the Canon of Scripture was never “voted” on by any Church council; the councils merely recognized and affirmed what all the churches agreed upon: those NT writings that were from the apostles or from close associates of the apostles (e.g. Mark and Luke), in order to weed out many “gospels” and “epistles” that allegedly came from the apostles but which clearly contradicted canonical writings.

Thirdly, being inspired by God, Scripture alone can inform the Church of its doctrines and morals – the Church being always led by fallible men and women.

As far as interpreting Scripture, it will be shown here that Bell’s thinking is steeped in Post-modernism – that idea that there can be no objective truth – only “your” interpretation.

Rather than relying on the universally accepted grammatical/historical approach to interpret Scripture, Bell trusts that in some manner the Holy Spirit is “enlightening us” (p. 68).

In order to disrupt thousands of years of sound Systematic Theology, Bell uses his book to undermine it through the clever but simplistic use of the metaphors of bricks and trampolines to advance his own theology.

First, he refers to “brickianity” from theologians. Somehow, their painstaking study and exposition of Scripture (which he calls “brickianity”) is not good news but bad news that erect “walls” and keep people out of the faith (28).

Instead, Bell prefers to see the entire body of Scripture as “mysterious,” but he misleads the reader with this term: in the NT, the Greek word translated “mystery” refers to something that was hidden but is now revealed by God.

But Bell’s use of the term comes from our modern-day meaning – that a concept is too ethereal to be understood and therefore is left to the subjectivity of the individual. He holds that “The Christian faith is mysterious to the core” (32).

Contrary to what Paul wrote to Timothy (recall the passages cited above), Bell contends that “the truth” is not objective at all: “The mystery is the truth” (33).

It gets worse: as he moves into describing God’s Word through the metaphor of a trampoline, Bell avers that “It’s not so much that the Christian faith has a lot of paradoxes. It’s that it is a lot of paradoxes. And we cannot resolve a paradox” (34).

As we’ll see momentarily, the trampoline metaphor means that the Christian faith is like jumping in the air – it turns out to be a leap into the dark—the unknown and unknowable. Paradoxes are like square circles: you can talk about them but such talk reveals precisely nothing.

Having established that we cannot validly know enough to build a wall or foundation with theological bricks, Bell invites us on a journey. But how do we know that a Christian journey is a better one than a Muslim one?

For Bell, we don’t. We know that Christian ethics and social action are very good things, and if we engage in these practices our Muslim neighbors will be better off—even if they stay Muslim.

One writer puts it this way: Since Christianity is mystery and paradox (according to Bell’s thinking) we cannot build a foundation with any theological bricks because they are too inflexible. That is where he brings in his trampoline analogy:

“A trampoline only works if you take your feet off the firm, stable ground and jump into the air and let the trampoline propel you upward. Talking about trampolines isn’t jumping; it’s talking. Two vastly different things. [sic] And so we jump and we invite others to jump with us, to live the way of Jesus and see what happens. You don’t have to know anything about the springs to pursue living ‘the way’” (34).

Of this quote, author Bob DeWaay writes, “How do we know that a Christian jump (in the absence of any a priori knowledge of truth) is better than jumping on a trampoline and living the way of Ghandi or the Dali Lama? The answer is we do not, other than possibly by pragmatic means which always fail as tests for truth.”

Bell further undermines Scripture as settled truth – as defined by Jesus and His apostles themselves – with this quote:
“When you embrace the text as living and active,” he writes, “when you enter its story, when you keep turning the gem, you never come to the end” (60). Bell uses the typical postmodern argument that because documents (like the Bible) must be interpreted, that they therefore can have no fixed meaning.

Instead of seeking to use the accepted means of interpretation of all literature – the historical-grammatical principle (what did the text mean to its original recipients, what was the historical and cultural condition in which it was written) — Bell’s method is once again entirely subjective and ignores the biblical writers’ original intent: “The Bible has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made about what it means now, today” (55).

This leads, naturally, to dramatic mistakes by Bell in interpreting Scripture and setting up a new, false paradigm:

The most hideous of all is his false teaching on hell: Bell makes it clear that he is more concerned with “hell on earth” than with what happens after this life: “What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now” (148).

Bell’s teaching that heaven and hell come to earth depending on how we live now simply is not biblical. He says, “As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies” (Ibid.).

If there is no eternal hell — with eternal suffering — and no objective truth, then why go through the trouble of evangelism (with its inevitable rejection)?

Ideas have consequences and false teaching changes behavior.

DeWaay, in his critique of Velvet Elvis, points out that the term for hell, Gehenna, is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 of them by Jesus.

Not once did He use the term to describe something that is now on earth or now coming to earth. He used it in this manner: “And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30).

In Bell’s usage, losing body parts would be hell on earth. But Jesus’ point was that it would be better to go through this life (which is temporary) maimed than to have a perfect body that is cast into hell (which is permanent).

But Bell says, “For Jesus, this new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jesus isn’t to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here” (Ibid.).

But this is decidedly not what Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

DeWaay again notes: The gospels simply do not teach Bell’s ideas about heaven and hell coming to earth now depending on certain actions. They teach the importance of eternity and the relative unimportance of our status now other than in how it affects us in eternity. But Bell continues to explain his “repainting” of “Elvis”:

True spirituality then is not about escaping this world to some other place where we will be forever. A Christian is not someone who expects to spend forever in heaven there. A Christian is someone who anticipates spending forever here, in a new heaven that comes to earth. The goal isn’t escaping this world but making the world the kind of place God can come to. 34

To do this, according to Velvet Elvis, we need to become our “true selves”: “And Jesus calls us to return to our true selves. The pure, whole people God originally intended us to be, before we veered off course. Somewhere in you is the you whom you were made to be” (150).

This embracing of our identity and trusting we are loved supposedly brings heaven to earth: “That is what brings heaven to earth.” (151).

These types of statements, issued universally to all people, are not the universal call of the gospel.

Bell’s message, unlike the gospel found in the New Testament, is not how God has chosen to make dead sinners alive.

A dead sinner is not going to bring heaven to earth by believing such things about himself or by returning to his “true self.” The fact is that our “true selves” are wicked rebels who deserve hell.

In a section where Bell describes Jewish education and educational techniques, Bell misquotes a Scripture (128): “Jesus later says to his disciples, ‘Remember, everything I learned I passed on to you’” (emphasis his; he footnotes John 15:15).

He then asks, “Did Jesus go to school and learn like the other Jewish kids his age?”

But that is not the point of John 15:15! Here is what the passage says: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

The Greek said “heard,” not “learned.” Furthermore, his learning was from the Father, whom John claimed Jesus pre-existed with (John 1:1). Jesus was no typical Rabbi.

In Velvet Elvis, discussing the incident of Jesus walking on the water and Peter starting to do the same, Bell offers this incredibly errant interpretation: “And Jesus says, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; Jesus is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself” (133).

That is astonishing terrible exegesis! Furthermore, Peter did have faith in himself later on and it was a bad thing: “Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You’” (Matthew 26:35a).

Shortly after that self-sufficient statement of faith in himself, Peter vehemently denied three times – once by pronouncing an anathema upon himself – that He ever knew Jesus!

Throughout the gospels, “great faith” or “little faith” had to do with people’s belief about Christ. For example, the centurion who did not consider himself “worthy” for Christ to come to him had a very high estimation of Jesus’ authority (Luke 7:2-10). He had “great faith” according to Jesus. His faith was in Christ, not himself.

Author DeWaay notes that according to Bell, what frustrates Jesus is “When his disciples lose faith in themselves” (134).

Bell makes a serious error in assuming that when an ordinary rabbi chooses disciples based upon his perception of their own abilities and potential to be like the rabbi himself that, therefore, Jesus must have had faith in the abilities and capabilities of His disciples.

But this is not the case. No one will ever be conformed to the image of Christ because of his own innate human abilities. Bell’s humanistic teachings disregard the biblical doctrine of human sinfulness and inability.
Bell makes it clear that we are not misunderstanding his point:

God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things. I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. [sic] But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me. I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. [sic] But what I am learning is that God has faith in me (134).

Is man the object of God’s faith? Here is God’s testimony about man:
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” (Romans 3:9 – 12)

The Bible tells us in John 2:24-25: “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.”

Thus, it should be clear that our Lord most certainly did not have faith in man.

It is apparent that Bell is leading people away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and instead is advocating a man-centered faith that believes in self as the appropriate object of faith and not to God Himself as the only object of faith.

I’ve seen the fruit of Bell’s teaching among some college students I pastored – two of whom have opted to focus on social justice instead of fulfilling the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) and they led the way in getting many more to follow them.

Social justice certainly ought to be part of fulfilling our Lord’s command, insofar as we help people in tangible ways toward seeing the God who wants to give them eternal life.

But one of those two students brazenly told me that she had heard the call to fulfill the Great Commission all of her life, but had instead opted to focus on social justice.

This prideful point of view is now popular among this generation of young evangelicals and is a clear return to the Social Gospel of the liberal mainline denominations of the 20th century – and those denominations are quickly dying out!

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For the next several days in this blog, I will write some pastoral and theological commentary on 1 Peter 2:4-5, excerpts on a fourth commentary I’m working on in A Heart After God Bible Study Series (Revelation, Romans, Ephesians and Philippians are published by Xulon Press and can be purchased online at Amazon for around $10).

Here is the passage and below it I’ll offer a few paragraphs per day of commentary:

v.4 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, v.5 you also as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

1) Peter resumes his theme of the believer’s identity in Christ in vv.4-5 (cf. 1:14 and the word “children”) and he shows more clearly the intent of Jesus’ earlier teaching of true worship to God (John 4:20-24).

2) The word “coming” is a present participle, meaning that Peter is talking about a continual coming to Jesus, still through His Word, but prayer and worship would of course hold true as well (cf. v.5).

3) This participle was used as a special term in Hebrews for “drawing near” to God in worship (4:16; 7:25; 10:1, 22; 11:6; 12:18, 22). This is reinforced all the more with the Greek word translated “to” in v.4: pros (προς) has the connotation of intimacy.

4) Calvin sums up v.3 and introduces us to v.4 well:

Let it then be noticed, that Peter connects an access to God with the taste of his goodness. For as the human mind necessarily dreads and shuns God, as long as it regards him as rigid and severe; so, as soon as he makes known his paternal love to the faithful, it immediately follows that they disregard all things and even forget themselves and hasten to him. In short, he only makes progress in the Gospel, who in heart comes to God.

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God doesn’t need our prayers to accomplish His will, but He does indeed give us the pleasure and privilege of working through them, when we ask according to His will.

John Wesley put it this way: “God does nothing on earth, save in response to believing prayer.”

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