Let All Within Us Praise His Holy Name


O holy night! 
The stars are brightly shining 
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth! 
Long lay the world in sin and error pining 
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. 
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices 
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Refrain:
Fall on your knees 
O hear the angel voices 
O night divine 
O night when Christ was born 
O night divine 
O night, O night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming 
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand 
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming 
Here come the wise men from Orient land 
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger 
In all our trials born to be our friend.

Refrain
Truly He taught us to love one another 
His law is love and His gospel is peace 
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother 
And in His name all oppression shall cease 
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, 
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Refrain

 

From /www.songsforteaching.com/christmas/oholynight.php
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To the untrained eye, it was not a Holy Night– The streets of Bethlehem were crowded and dusty. The night, even if the stars were shining, was filled with noises and smells that fell far short of anything sacred or glorious. There were strangers clogging the city’s streets and inns and homes– extra animals to shelter, extra mouths to feed, extra waste everywhere. It was a weary world, it was in error and it was pining– but it was also noisy, angry, distracted by petty inconveniences and worried by chaos and upheaval and oppression.

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There was nothing special about the night itself. It was NOT a Holy Night until Holiness arrived in the form of a squalling infant born to a teenage mother and a carpenter/stepfather who were compelled to beg for shelter in an unfamiliar city full of squalor and resentment. People had come from all over to be nothing more than numbers in an unpopular bureaucratic nightmare. This child might have been no more than a number to the governor of the region, or to the Roman Empire, or to the Herod, the hamstrung pseudo-ruler of Judea–but His coming split history in two; it redefined the value of a single, simple soul! This was the night when the creator entered His creation AS a member of the creation– a child among other children; a helpless baby in a fallen and depraved world, vulnerable to disease, cruelty, abuse, starvation, exposure and exploitation. This God/Man would see and hear, and smell and feel the ugliness of leprosy, poverty, hunger, homelessness, despair, grief, madness, war, slavery, loneliness, betrayal, and death.

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In His lifetime, He had no home of his own. He built no monument, founded no schools or hospitals, fought no (physical) battle, and toppled no governments. But, in the years since that otherwise ordinary night, majestic cathedrals have been built and have stood for hundreds of years; nations and governments have been transformed; hospitals, clinics, shelters, sanctuaries, universities, and institutions have served the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the weary, the forgotten, and the lost. The world is still fallen– there is still injustice, slavery, weariness, sickness and sin around us. But, because of that night, we are not waiting in utter darkness–as the Apostle John writes:

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16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life… 19 This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.

John 3:16, 19-21 Christian Standard Bible
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We live on the other side of that ordinary, Holy Night– we will never know the darkness of a time without a Gospel of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men–we are witnesses to the power of Divine Love in human flesh. We have reason to “fall on (our) knees” and “let all within us praise His Holy Name!”

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My prayer is that we would all “hear the angel voices” this season and be able to worship in the fullness of joy this Christmas.

I-Bug

It started out small– a glItch, really.
Every tIme I began to type, the same thIng would happen.
At fIrst, I barely notIced.

After all, It wasn’t lIke I couldn’t read my own wrItIng.
It wasn’t In every lIne or word;
It was a sIngle letter.

But then It began to spread.
As tIME passed, It becaME more dIffIcult.
I notIced a theME.  I could stIll read the words,
But theIr MEaning was gettIng lost In
SoME way I couldn’t quIte deterMINE.

It was begInnIng to spIll Into MY speech;
IMpossIble to MEnd; MEldIng Into MY mInd’s
NIches, MErgIng wIth MEdIocre comMEnts
And MYsterIous MEltdowns.

I I I I I,

ME ME ME ME ME.

As I and ME took over, yo_ went mIssIng.
ThIngs were s_ddenly less peacef_l…
Even Jes_s seemed sIlent In the dIn of ME and MINE.
SIn and prIde– I co_ld always be fo_nd there.

It was a fast-spreadIng vIr_s– s_rely leadIng to MY r_In:
_ntIl I lIstened to a stIll, small whIsper…
A Holy breath of fresh, clean, wholesome change.

AAAHHH!

Exhaling the I’s and ME’s, and breathing in YOU–
Brought hope and healing; renewal,
Perspective and life.

A Brief Word About Shoes

I’m really sick of hearing about shoes in the news lately.  But, surprisingly, I think it’s time for a brief word about shoes— from a Biblical perspective.

man reading a book
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The Bible has a lot more to say about shoes than most of us realize.  Way back in Exodus, when God called Moses from the burning bush, He commanded Moses to take off his shoes.  Later, in Deuteronomy, the Israelites are reminded that during their years of wandering, their shoes did not wear out– God took care of even the smallest and lowliest of details in providing for their needs in the wilderness.

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Boaz secured the right to marry Ruth through an old ritual involving an exchange of sandals.  The prophets used shoes to indicate the coming exile, and the need for people to be prepared to leave their homeland.

 

 

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In the New Testament, John the Baptist declares Jesus’ superiority by saying that he (John) is not worthy to latch Jesus’ shoes!  And the Apostle Paul includes shoes (or sandals or boots) in his list of spiritual armor, asking us to wear on our feet the readiness of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).  A Christian’s shoes are to be used to bring good news and peace– not anger, protests, and divisiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

brand trademark cobblestones community denim pants
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Shoes are meant to serve a useful purpose.  They protect our feet from surfaces that are hot, cold, wet, dusty, or rough.  They provide traction, allowing us to start and stop moving on pavement, gravel, rocks, and flooring.  Some shoes even provide arch support so we may stand and walk for hours with minimum damage to our bones and nerves.  Shoes allow us to walk farther, run faster and with more confidence, and stand firm.

man person street shoes
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The most ridiculous thing about all the fighting over a shoe’s ad campaign is that it’s not about the SHOE–and no one is entirely clear on what it IS about– is it about race, police, injustice, patriotism, lack of patriotism, residual guilt over slavery, respect (or lack of respect) for military and/or rescue personnel, the NFL, Black Pride, White Privilege, income inequality, all of the above, something entirely different?  Mostly, it seems to be about anger, hurt feelings, hatred, and generic outrage.

None of that seems like a shoe I want to wear.

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Lord, from my head to my toes, I want to bring peace, hope, and love to this world in YOUR NAME.  Help me not to be blinded or distracted by all the world’s empty substitutes.  Let me wear the shoes that make my feet ready to bring your gospel of peace and reconciliation to others.  May I walk and run and climb and stand in Christ’s name and for His sake.  Amen.

 

“Peace Be With You”

John 20:19-21 New International Version (NIV)

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Have you ever noticed that God like to use repetition to get our attention?  In the book of Joshua, chapter 1, God says to Joshua “Be strong and courageous” (v.6)– but then he says it again, and again in the next few verses.  In Genesis, God sends Pharaoh two dreams, which Joseph interprets.  Joseph points out that the two dreams are the same, and that God has used them to grab Pharaoh’s attention.

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The Apostle John took great notice of Jesus’ use of repetition.  In the final chapters of his Gospel, he points out two instances where Jesus repeats questions and phrases to his disciples.  Three times he asks Peter, “Do you love me (more than these)?”  And three times, he gives him the charge to “feed my sheep/lambs”.  Earlier, to all of the disciples, Jesus greets them with the phrase “Peace be with you.”  Three times over two separate appearances, Jesus uses the same words.  To this day, these words are used as a greeting in many churches around the world.

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Often, this phrase is used as a blessing or a benediction–almost as a prayer FOR peace.  Certainly, when Jesus used it to greet his disciples, they were in dire need of peace.  They were holed up in an upper room, hiding from the Romans and Jewish leaders, in fear for their lives.  The words may be interpreted as “Peace be given unto you”  or “Peace come to you.”

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But I think there is another meaning; a slightly different way to interpret this phrase.  I think Jesus is announcing that peace actually resides WITH them, and will soon be within them (through the Holy Spirit).  There may be chaos in the streets and all around us, but God’s Peace should go with us wherever we travel, wherever we are.

When we pray, we can do so in peace and confidence that God will hear our prayer, grant us the grace sufficient for our every need, and keep that which we have committed to him (our souls, our dreams, our hopes, and our burdens) safe.

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Our culture is flooded with false assurance, and substitutes for the “Peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).  In fact, a popular cultural phenomenon– the Star Wars saga– offers a similar phrase, used as a benediction by the Jedi adherents:  “May the Force be with you.”  The Force referred to is a nebulous thing–energy that exists all around and can be tapped into, controlled, and used for good or evil, healing or power.  The idea in Star Wars seems to be that there are two sides to “the Force”; presumably the person using “the Force” in a benediction is referring to its better nature, as the “dark side” of the Force brings violence, destruction, greed, and hatred.

God’s peace is a perfect peace.  And it is one that should always be with us, even as it is poured out on us.  Jesus adds: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  We are not just praying for peace to enter our lives and stay with us.  We are to be the bringers of peace, the ambassadors of peace, and the beacons of peace in a dark and chaotic world.

antique art beautiful blur
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The apostle Paul includes peace in his analogy of “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6, where he describes having our feet “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  We need to walk in peace, march in peace, and stand firm in peace!  Peace isn’t like a sword or shield that we take up or lay down.  Peace needs to be part of our wardrobe– literally “with” us everywhere we go.

Let’s get moving!

The Seven-Layer Prayer

Growing up, I loved going to pot-luck meals at our little country church.  Neighbors, family, and friends would bring large dishes of home-cooked deliciousness for all to feast on as we chatted, laughed, and encouraged one another.  There were certain dishes we all could count on–homemade yeast rolls, courtesy of Lulu M.  Jello with fruit was my mom’s standard.  Another lady almost always brought meat loaf.  Baked beans, candied carrots, fried chicken, chocolate cake, scalloped potatoes– my mouth still waters just from the memories!  The wonderful woman who has since become my mother-in-law brought her famous cookies, and often, a seven-layer salad.

Bethelchurch

I love Mom’s seven layer salad, and I have learned to make my own variation.  It’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthful, and it travels well.  I’ve seen other recipes that use different vegetables, don’t use eggs or meat or mayo–I’m sure they’re ok, but I’m happy to stick with the basic outline that follows below.

I was thinking about the seven-layer salad the other day– it’s a wonderful dish for this time of year– chilled and utilizing fresh produce, and I realized that you can use a similar “recipe” for prayer.  So here’s my modified “Seven-Layer Prayer” recipe:

 

  • First, start with a layer of “Let Us”
    • Prayer doesn’t happen without an act of the will.  We must be deliberate about setting aside time and thought for prayer every day.  We should “leaf” the busyness and chaos of the day and “romaine” in fellowship with the Father!

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  • Next, add a layer of “Care”-rots (shredded).
    • 1 Peter 5:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
      casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
    • Give your worries and cares over to the One who cares most about you and all those you love.
  • Now you can add the “Peas” that passes all understanding
    • Trust that God hears and answers prayer.
    • Trust that God is in control.
    • Trust that God is Good, Wise, and Loving.
    • Rest in the knowledge that “God’s Got This!”

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  • Here’s where I like to add some “Meet” (usually bacon!, sometimes ham or chicken)
    • While it’s vital that we spend time in personal, private prayer, God also wants us to meet regularly with others for fellowship, mutual encouragement, accountability, PRAYER, and guidance.
  • Now it gets a little dicey–diced onion (sometimes I substitute green onions or sliced or diced mushrooms)
    • Time to peel back the layers, and cut through to the root of anything that is getting in the way of a closer walk with God–confess it and give it over to Him.
    • Sometimes, this process may cause tears, or involve a little dirt– clean it up before you proceed!
  • Time for some dressing– mayonnaise or salad dressing.  Annoint your salad, and your prayer, with oil.  Remember, God has annointed you to spread His love and grace to others.  Don’t forget to add this to your prayer life.  Just as the dressing will coat all the elements of the salad, so God’s Spirit will surround and influence your words and actions done for Him!
  • “Cheese!”  It’s a “gouda” idea to round out prayer with a time of joyful thanksgiving.  Pile it on– God’s given us a LOT for which to be “grate”-ful!

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  • Finally, the garnish– Hard-boiled eggs.  These remind me of the new life we have in Christ, the Triune nature of God (we used to have lessons in Sunday School about the egg having three parts but being a single egg.  We don’t use the shell in the salad, of course, but you can’t make a boiled egg without all three parts…), and also, the yolk reminds me of Heaven’s streets of gold.  In prayer, we should remember God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, and the hope we have in Him.

That’s the basic recipe for a seven layer salad– enough of each ingredient for a healthy “layer”.  I’ve added extra layers a couple of times–diced tomatoes or peppers are good if you are planning to eat the salad quickly, but they will cause sogginess  if you let the salad sit.  (Also, if you use peas, use fresh if you can– drain canned peas, or get rid of any ice crystals if using frozen peas. )

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A good seven-layer prayer should also be presented fresh, and savored.  It’s delicious, it’s good for you, it feeds others, and it travels well!  Try some!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I saw an interesting site the other day about “Plant (ing) Your Spiritual Garden.”  Spiritual Gardening

I’ve seen different versions– one version had some rows of “P”s, instead of “peace”– Peace, Prayer, Patience, and Positive Thinking.  Another talked about keeping Be’s near your garden– Be Faithful, Be Loving, Be Kind, Be Anxious for Nothing, etc..

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I love figurative language– parable and metaphor and such– the Bible uses it generously.  Jesus used parables about gardens, planting, fruit trees, harvest, and vineyards throughout his teachings.  He knew that we can listen on two levels and that we remember concepts better with visual and figurative examples.

girl wearing white floral dress beside grass plant at daytime
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Prayer is something we must cultivate–we can grow and produce fruit if we develop the pursuit and practice of prayer.  Remember to pull out the weeds of busyness and doubt.  Plant seeds of praise and trust, dig deep in the fertile soil of faith; allow for the key ingredients of the light of God’s Word and the Living Water of daily fellowship with Him.

There are a lot of other great tips to keep healthy growth happening.  Need some more tips– check out this page.  Proactive Prayer Points

If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them– please leave a comment or suggestion!

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Every Wall Has Two Sides

A mighty fortress is our God;
A bulwark never failing…

 

bulwark:

noun
    1. a wall of earth or other material built for defense; rampart.
    2. any protection against external danger, injury, or annoyance:The new dam was a bulwark against future floods.
    3. any person or thing giving strong support or encouragement in time of need, danger, or doubt:Religion was his bulwark.
  1. Usually bulwarks. Nauticala solid wall enclosing the perimeter of a weather or main deck for the protection of persons or objects on deck.

see Dicionary.com for further synonyms, etc.

Walls, fences, borders, barriers– there are many reasons to build them, and many ways to view them, but they have only two sides, and we can be only on one side or the other.  I enjoy visiting castles and forts, monasteries, and mansions.  Nearly all have impressive walls.  From the outside, they look imposing, intimidating, and often unfriendly (especially those with armed guards and cannons!).  But inside, the walls provide protection, insulation from any outside threats, and often peace.

black cannon in front of the brick wall building
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Most walls provide protection– from nature, from floods or winds, from predators, and from enemies.  But there are a few walls that are built, not to keep danger out, but to keep people trapped within.  Such walls are used to isolate, punish, and imprison.

God is described in the Psalms (and elsewhere) as a fortress, a rock, a safe place, a hiding place, and a sure defense.  But those attributes and qualities are for those who chose to come inside the fortress; to ask for protection and defense.

Sometimes, we approach God as an adversary, rather than a defender and protector.  We find ourselves on the outside, facing dangers unprotected and alone.  The very walls that can shield us and give us peace rise up as barriers,   We feel locked out and vulnerable.  The only difference between peace and peril is where we are in relation to the wall.  We are no stronger, our enemy is no weaker on one side or the other– only the wall makes the difference.  And the level of peace and confidence is related, not to our own ability, but to the stability and strength of the wall between us and disaster.  The higher and stronger the wall, the safer we feel.

Other times, we approach God as a jail-keeper.  We have lived inside the walls, and resent His protection.  We have forgotten, or we deny, that there is danger outside the walls.  Or we assume the walls are too close or too restrictive to offer us peace.  But God hasn’t built a wall to keep us near Him or to control us– He IS the wall, the fortress, the bulwark.  To approach Him is to be protected.  To resent His protection is to resent His very presence.

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Earthly walls will eventually crumble and return to dust.  Even walls that have stood the test of centuries, like the Great Wall in China, or the Tower of London, or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem– they are not perfect, nor will they last forever.  But our Bulwark, our Sure Defense, will never fail.  Not only will He never fail to stand, nor fail to protect us, He will never fail to let us in when we seek His salvation.

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Where’s the Joy?

I love puns– friends from all over the world send me the craziest puns, “punny” images, silly videos, and awful jokes.  Except for those that are patently offensive and find their humor at someone else’s expense, I really enjoy them all.

Someone has said that puns are the lowest form of humor, but I disagree.  In fact, I often find that puns, like humor in general, can cause us to explore a serious topic in ways we would otherwise avoid.  The image above tickled my funny bone, but it also caused me to think.  Where is my Joy?  Do I bottle it up and hide it down in my cart, or does it bubble up, iridescent and smelling of sunshine (and possibly lemons) from deep down in my heart?

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Prayer is a serious topic, but it shouldn’t be joyless.  Even in our troubles, we can be confident that we are loved, cherished, and precious.  In our grief and sorrow, we are not overwhelmed (though it often feels as if we are) when we have this kind of joy.  It will wash away despair, anger, doubt, and weariness, as it rises up.  We pray for so many other things– health, wisdom, forgiveness– we should also pray for Joy.  Not the false and fleeting joy of a silly pun, or the veneer of joy that lies and says that “everything is great.”  We need the kind of joy that sings through tears, laughs at storms, defies despair, and shakes the rafters!  And we need the quiet, blessed assurance that God is in His Heaven and even if all is not well with the world, God still has everything well in hand. Such joy, lodged deep in our heart and soul can keep us from buckling under the weight of loss, the exhaustion of stress, and the threat of chaos.  We need a new “Dawn” of “Joy” (yes, I had to include another pun). We need to pray for joy. We need to cherish it.  And we need to pass it on.

The world could really use it!

Full Disclosure

I like to know things–I like to solve puzzles, figure out mysteries, learn trivial facts.  I want answers.  So when I go before God in prayer, I often ask questions.  Why is this person suffering?  When will their suffering end, and how?  Where were you in this disaster (as though God had stepped out for a minute and wasn’t aware of what happened)?

God stays silent.

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I can grow frustrated in the silence or I can learn to trust.  That doesn’t mean that I no longer want answers; just that I am willing to wait on God’s sovereign timing.  It also means that I am need to more about God’s nature–God doesn’t keep secrets or withhold knowledge because He wants to torment me, or frustrate me, or play some cosmic mind game (though some people accuse Him of doing just that).  God withholds full disclosure of His plans, His reasoning, and His nature out of love and compassion.  Suppose I could see into the future, even give out warnings, but had no power to stop disaster from coming.  Not only would I be haunted by the disaster itself, but by the full knowledge of its coming.  Suppose I could see a miracle in advance; know when and how it would unfold.  There would still be joy, but it would be muted by the foreknowledge– of course there would be a happy ending; of course there would be a miracle– I saw it all from afar off.

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The Apostle Paul touches on this in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.  This is commonly known as the “Love Chapter”, and the first half is frequently quoted at weddings and church sermons.  But the end of the chapter is a wonderful message of hope and faith, ending with Paul’s triumphant statement about all three:

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

monochrome photography of a man looking in front of mirror
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God loves us with a perfect love.  Because of that, I can trust Him, and have hope in the midst of my questioning.  So when I pray with questions, I can know that God has “filed them away”– He is fully aware of my situation, questions and all, and He is fully faithful to answer them all in His perfect wisdom and timing.  Someday, I will know– not only all that I don’t know now, but why I had to wait.

God will provide full disclosure. with compassion, love, and wisdom that only He can give.

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