To Whom It May Concern (music from The Civil Wars)

Lately I’ve come to the realization that I’m a fan of good music.  I have also lately been looking for more mellow music to read and write to.  Over the period of several days, several different random acquaintances have suggested a newer crew called “The Civil Wars” and I put it on my wait list until I got done with my slow-hand blues kick that I was on.  Had I known I was missing their haunting harmonies and mellow free-flowing folksy tone, I would have tarried not.

Anyway, I must say it’s been quite a while since the last song that truly took my breath away when I realized the lyrics.  Although I enjoy music, it rarely touches my soul – but when I was listening to the downloaded Civil Wars Barton Hollow album, I was struck speechless at how close the lyrics to “To Whom It May Concern” came to a rarely-pricked piece of my heart.

I’ll post some more of my thoughts on this topic here pretty soon, but I just wanted to share this sweet song with you.

Here are the lyrics:

“To Whom It May Concern” by The Civil Wars

Why are you so far from me?
In my arms is where you ought to be

How long will you make me wait?
I don’t know how much more I can take

I missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh how I want to
How I do

Slowly counting down the days
Till I finally know your name

The way your hand feels round my waist
The way you laugh
The way your kisses taste

I missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh how I want to
How I do, How I do

I missed you
But I haven’t met you
Oh how I missed you
I haven’t met you
Oh but I want to
Oh how I want to

Dear whoever you might be
I’m still waiting patiently.

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Accusation and Rebuke (Hosea Part 5)

Last week we walked through Hosea chapter 3: we saw that God pursues us in the midst of our sin and redeems us from it in a precious demonstration of his redemptive love.  Chapter 3 ends with a sweet promise of restoration and hope as we look forward to a coming King (Jesus) who will bring healing and unity to God’s people.  As we leave that brief glimpse of a bright future, God wrenches Israel’s heads back around to see their sin so that he can directly confront her leaders who have led her astray.  We’ll pick up the action in Chapter 4.

Accusation and Rebuke

God introduces the next section of Hosea by way of a ‘controversy’ that he has with the inhabitants of Israel (verses 1-3).  This does not bode well for those inhabitants.  And I don’t know if you know this or not, but God – who is all-knowing and all-sovereign and all-awesome doesn’t lose or give up ground to those he has controversies with in the Bible.  Ever.  Which is pretty cool, but also lends an utterly serious tone for where we’re going today.

The grounds of God’s contention with Israel is that there is no faithfulness, no honoring of the covenant, no love on Israel’s part.  Furthermore, there is no knowledge of God in the land, denoting that the leaders (parents and priests) have not commended the Lord to the next generations.   So the first thing that we can really dig into and run with Is that when there is a failure to lead spiritually, moral failure is close behind.  We can see this in families, churches, my own personal life, and a whole ton of other contexts.  Whenever those who lead abdicate their responsibilities, it’s only a matter of time before that one sin leads to whole host of others.  It’s what we see in the Garden of Eden (Adam not leading like he should), throughout Scripture with evil kings and priests, and we see it everywhere around us in daily life.

Who does God hold responsible for these sins?  Who does he call out to in the Garden of Eden?  Who does he say is the head of the household and the elders of the church?  Spiritual leaders, husbands, and elders, respectively.  God’s indictment is that Israel is full of inappropriate oaths, lies, murder, stealing, adultery, and many other generationally compounded sins.  He levels that indictment at the priests in this particular context – the spiritual leaders of Israel (verse 4).

Men, as the spiritual head of your household how are you leading your family? Single men, how are you preparing to lead your family? God tells us very plainly in the examples given and also in James 3:1 that we will be held to a higher standard, and that God expects us to lead well for his glory and the good of those under our leadership.  Let us act accordingly by the power of the Spirit under the authority of Christ.

So God announces a judgment for the spiritual leaders of Israel – he will punish those who have not led his people correctly.  To be clear, this isn’t God just being angry because of sin.  He is expressing the highest concern for his people, which isn’t reflected in the leaders’ lives.  Therefore God will bring the gravity of the situation to them by taking away what is most dear to them – their children (verse 6).  One very important aspect and reason for God’s judgment is the people’s (including the leaders) rejection of knowledge.  Rejection of knowledge in this context is a rejection of God because the people have no knowledge of God.  We must know our God!  And the primary means by which he has allowed us to know him (and the only authoritative one, I might add) is Scripture.  He has put himself in us, and we do live in community, and he has given us good minds with which we can worship him.  But the only authoritative self-revelation of God is his Word – the Bible.  So then, we as Christians must study, we must dig and learn and get to know our God more deeply so that we grow in him and reflect his glory in our lives.  This must not be seen as some legalistic pursuit for self-righteous purposes; quite the opposite, in fact.  Our pursuit of God’s self-revelation and self-expression in Christ and Scripture must be for the growth, for sanctification, for encouragement, for sharpening.  We study and we pursue that we may know him more deeply and be impacted by that relationship.

We know and learn about things that we love – think about what you know about your wife and/or girlfriend, your kids, your job whatever you’re passionate about… for me it’s history and theology and a bunch of other random stuff.  I study these things (to clarify I’m not talking about your wife or kids… I’m talking about history and theology and stuff), I enjoy knowing more about and keeping up with things that interest me.  So why do we who profess the name of Christ and claim his lordship over our life not take the time to know him more deeply in prayer and study of what he has spoken to us in Scripture?

Do you study the Word for the glory of God in your life?  Do you know Christ?  Are you conforming your life to Scripture, or are you bending Scripture to what you want it to be?

As a quick aside, I would also say that if you have absolutely no desire to study Scripture and know God more deeply, then your walk cannot be growing in a Scriptural way, and you will remain stagnant in your faith.

Getting back to Hosea, the accusation that God levels at the priests and his people is that they have forgotten the Law, which is the equivalent of forgetting God.  Now, even though we have the New Testament and Christ, we must be mindful not to repeat this sin and forget the Law that God has revealed himself in.  You see the Law expresses God’s character and holiness, and it is in the Law that God gives us our understanding of the need for Christ and the grace we receive in him.  Also, we have no biblical grounds to disregard or forget the Law – Christ fulfilled it; he in no way abolished it.

In verse 7 God declares that he will turn the priests’ glory (money, popularity, etc.) into shame by exposing the fleeting pleasures of their sin as ashes.  They’ve been feeding off the sin of the people (verse 8) – that is, literally getting fat from eating their portion of the sacrifices, fueling their greed and spiritually manipulating people for their own personal gain.  I wonder how this would read if God were to address the more modern examples of this idea: televangelists selling prayer shawls to ‘make people’s prayers more effective’ or even the pre-counter-reformation Catholic Church who profited from people’s sin by selling indulgences to free souls from purgatory and ‘absolve’ sins.

Or if I were to bring it closer to home for me (and many others), what about pastors of churches (the modern-day priests) who are caught up in scandals and moral failures?  Could we classify this as an example of those men having their own glory turned into shame?  Those men who thought they deserved the fleeting raptures of sin, or who considered themselves impenetrable bastions of God’s glory for the church – were they brought down because of that pride?

In the next part we’ll dig into the rest of the chapter and revisit the theme of God’s redemptive purposes in discipline.  So get excited!  Just kidding – tune in again soon, and let me know what you think and what questions you might have.

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Q&A: What should we really pray for?

My dear friend Cam submitted a question to me through the site a while back and I’ve just now gotten around to answering it.  Along with being very gracious and patient in waiting for my response, Cam has also allowed me to post our exchange (below).

Question from: Cam Beck

Every day I pray for my will to be conformed to God’s. In the abstract, this is very easy to say. “What do you want?” – “I want for God’s will to be done.”

When I get to what is typically called “prayer requests,” or supplication, I struggle, because I want to have joy in whatever happens, as long as I have a deep and abiding relationship with our Lord. I find myself asking for something and then backing up, wondering if I should be asking for anything but God’s will, for I don’t know if what I’m asking for is, in fact, God’s will, whether my request be for myself or for others.

From my own perspective, of course I WANT this or that situation to go well for my friends… even my enemies… as long as THEIR relationship with God be established or strengthened rather than the opposite outcome. He always knows better than I do. And I don’t ever want to presume that He doesn’t.

So, applying the example of Jesus at the Mount of Olives to submit to God my heart’s desire while still truly wanting “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” may appear as a contradiction of my heart’, as it did in Christ’s case (The cup was not removed as Jesus requested, but the perfect will of our Father was done).

This is not to say that God does not care for our needs. I am confident that He does, even if those needs are not as we define them in our prayer requests. If we love the Lord and lack any material comfort or blessing of this world, I’m equally confident that we didn’t really need it, and we can still rejoice in His goodness and presence.

How would you recommend I reconcile this dichotomy to lead to a more fruitful prayer life, in the sense that it ultimately would conform my heart to His will?



First off, thanks for the question!  It’s a good one, and I think a lot of other people struggle with this concept – especially those of Reformed conviction.

My response and comments above should in no way be misconstrued to say that we shouldn’t pray – Scripture is very clear to the contrary when Paul says pray without ceasing, James tells us to pray in all situations, and Christ himself prays constantly.  But we should offer our prayers up to the Lord and let him answer them as he sees fit.  This is, I think, the epitome of faith in prayer.  If we pray and become dissatisfied when God doesn’t answer our prayer the way we want or expect, then we’ve essentially told God that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and that we do.  And if we don’t pray because of a defeatist mindset (‘God will take care of it… I don’t have any bearing on the situation’) then we have gone against Scripture.  So then I think the Scriptural way to pray is to say “God, here is what I am feeling – I desire that this should happen and that you would get glory in this way, but I submit this supplication to you because you are the one who hears and you are the one who has dominion and sovereignty over this situation.  Shape my heart to come into alignment with what you are doing, and let me see the glory that you are getting in this situation, and to trust you when I cannot see.  I have these wants and desires, but it is not my will but yours that will be done.  I want to trust you more – let me trust you more in this prayer and whatever your answer may be I pray that I would worship you in it. If I am sinful in my wants, show me how so that I can know you and your will more deeply.

The long and short of it is that the more you grow in your knowledge of and dependence on God, the more robust and earnest your prayer life will be.  I know I’ve become much more conversational, confessional, and intimate in my prayer with God over the past few years and it has been a huge blessing for me.  I know my God who speaks to me in a myriad of ways, and he has built in me a trust that I can know his voice and follow where he leads, even if the road is uncertain and the path seems hard to follow.  And then there are times where I still disobey and reject him – and he disciplines me and rebukes me.  But as you grow you’ll find that God’s voice is familiar, comforting, and brings much wisdom and peace.  I have found that praying in this way has made me more patient, more relaxed, and more confident in my walk with Christ, and I am truly thankful for how he has grown me in my communication with him.

I think you said it best when you mentioned “I want to have joy in whatever happens, as long as I have a deep and abiding relationship with our Lord.” That is the excellent priority – this is where you should stay, and the joy will come out of that close relationship.

As far as your concern over whether what you’re praying is right or not, This is a good concern… but God doesn’t call us to be 100% accurate with our prayer requests; he does call us to be holy and to bring our concerns to him.  It’s his business how he answers them – we are only called to submit them and relate to him in his response.  And that goes along with your next thought, that God knows better than we do and we can’t presume otherwise. Exactly – you are right-on.  God’s wisdom is infinitely higher than ours, and we cannot know everything in our limited perspective.  But there’s nothing wrong with wanting or thinking… it just matters whether you exalt that and say ‘God should do this’ and then get frustrated or angry when he doesn’t.

My response to you wondering how to resolve the dichotomy of praying to know God more deeply rather than for specific things is that I think you’ve got a good understanding of prayer… but I would challenge you to think in the following way as well. C.S. Lewis’ example from ‘the efficacy of prayer’ is that of a man who kneels down to propose to a woman who accepts his proposal.  Is her acceptance of that proposal the result of him initiating the question, or is it more that all along she acted in such a way as to elicit that question being asked?  Basically, did the guy ask her because he felt the desire to, or was it because she didn’t turn him down for a ton of dates and conversations? In other words for the situation at hand, do we pray for an effect (does God respond to our prayer), or is our prayer an effect of God working in our lives to build dependence on him?  To put it yet another way, does God act so that we must pray to come into alignment with him, or are we praying to affect God’s actions?

I hope this makes sense – Enjoy.

– nj

To my current reader(s), what do you think about this?

Did I miss anything?  Any other thoughts?

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Q&A: The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

1. How is the old covenant different from the new covenant?

The Old Covenant is different from the New Covenant in that Jesus is the hinge – he is the substance of which the Old Testament is the shadow.  By that I mean that everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus and tells us about him.  From Genesis 3:15 on we see that Christ is present and echoes throughout the Old Testament.  We also see that the Law given to Israel in Exodus points to Christ (priests, sacrifices, a temple, etc. – Hebrews talks about this, especially chapters 3-10), and that he is their fulfillment – see Galatians, Hebrews, etc.  We also see in Romans 3:21-26 that under the Old Covenant God’s grace is seen in forbearance of sins – that is, he put off judging them until Christ so that they would be holy and in heaven, and also so that their sins would be punished in Christ on the cross.  The New Covenant is realized in Christ – there is no forbearance… Our sins are already atoned for.  There are many differences, but just like the Bible they all point back to Jesus in some way shape or form.

2. In the old covenant, did people receive the Holy Spirit?
> If people did receive the Spirit, then how is that different from how we receive the Spirit now?
> If people did not receive the Spirit, as Ezekiel 36:26-27 seems to hint, then how did they have faith to believe in God? How were they able to follow God apart from his Spirit?

They did receive the HS temporarily, but not in a lasting way.  We see the Spirit of God on his prophets, David, some of the judges (Samson), and Moses – but the Spirit doesn’t stay with them.  In the New Testament we see that the Spirit of God is sent by Christ (see John 14-16) and is our helper, our teacher, the one who rebukes, convicts, encourages, intercedes for, and leads us.  While both Old Testament believers and New Testament believers were regenerate believers in Christ (the work of the Spirit), I believe that the Spirit was sent to dwell in humanity after Christ sent him following his death and resurrection.  So in the OT we see the Spirit at work around and through humans, in the NT we see the Spirit at work in us as well.  I believe that regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit are not necessarily one and the same.  This doesn’t mean that I believe in a second baptism, etc.  But what it does mean is that I believe that in the Old Testament before the Holy Spirit is sent by Christ to dwell in God’s people, the Spirit regenerated believers and helped them, but not from within – not from dwelling in believers. I don’t know that I’d die on that hill, but that’s the best answer I’ve got for right now.
I guess I don’t understand how the people in the OT were able to follow God if they didn’t have the Holy Spirit inside them. Do you mean that for certain tasks God filled them with the Holy Spirit, but not for daily life? For example, God gave his Spirit to those who were building the temple for that specific task. But, after they had built the temple he took his Spirit away?

Did God give his Spirit only to some special people, like prophets, for certain tasks, but then took his Spirit away?

I guess, I don’t really understand what you mean by, the Spirit “helped them, but not from within”, what do you mean?

If God regenerated them, but then didn’t permanently give them the Holy Spirit, how could they follow him in daily life?

If they were regenerated they would want to follow God, but without his Spirit wouldn’t they be powerless to actually follow him?

That’s a great set of questions.  Remember that we Christians walk by faith and that’s how we please God.  Now at regeneration God gives us the faith to follow him, so that’s how we walk with him.  The Spirit is definitely at work and present in NT Christians’ lives, but people in the OT still followed God and not necessarily by the Spirit (think Abraham with Isaac and the almost sacrifice).  So in the OT we can see that God gives the Spirit for brief periods for certain tasks (prophets, etc.), but it’s not in a lasting way as though the Spirit was indwelling them like we see in the NT.  What I mean by the Spirit helping but not from within is that the Spirit came upon them and gave them the supernatural power to do something great for the glory of God, but it was not from a permanent indwelling – it was a temporary help or enablement.

3.  When the Bible talks about doing something in the flesh versus doing something in the spirit, what does that look like practically speaking? For example, what would it look like to repent of sin or to read the Bible in the spirit versus in the flesh?
> What is the difference between doing something in your own strength versus in God’s strength?

We walk in the spirit, but we are tempted in our flesh; we make decisions based on our will which is a mixing of the two… We are led by the spirit, but we are also tempted in our motives.  I think it all boils down to motive – are we obeying for God’s glory or because of a sinful tendency?  Are we reading the Bible so we can look awesome at home group or on our blog, or are we doing it so that we can know him more deeply and commune with our God on another level? Are you repenting for others to see or are you repenting to be nearer to God and put away your sin?  I believe that it all boils down to motive – whatever is good in us is the Spirit at work in us, but we can definitely screw that up by letting our flesh take over and give in to temptation.

Can I have good motives, like wanting to be closer to God, but still be doing that in my flesh?

Absolutely – think legalism here.  In a legalistic mindset we have a great desire to please God and to obey, but it if all we do is ‘white-knuckle’ it and redouble our efforts without prayer, dependence on the Spirit, or even acknowledging God’s role in bringing himself glory through us, we’re going about it in all the wrong ways.  So we say ‘I will be sinless in X way so that I can bring glory to God’ and then we completely ignore the Spirit working in us and we deny the cross by trying to circumvent it – we essentially say ‘the cross is not enough – I must do more to please God.’  Do you see the good motive (wanting to please God) and the sinfulness of trying to do so in the flesh, rather than relying on God to lead and leaning wholly on the cross?

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Restoration and Hope (Hosea Part 4)

Restoration and Hope – Hosea Part 4

It has definitely been a while since I’ve posted anything in the Hosea series, so I’d like to return to that this morning.  So far we’ve seen God and – by way of allegory – Hosea take prostitute wives, care for them, love them, and pursue them in their sin in order to rescue and restore them.  We’ve also seen that the loving disciplining hand of the Lord toward his people (Israel) as they walk in sin is an extreme form of love that he uses to bring them back to himself.  His jealousy over his wife is a precious example of his perfect spiritual leadership, and his mercy in alluring his wife is an excellent picture of redemption and restoration.  But that wasn’t enough – Israel and Gomer both return to their idolatry and are neck-deep in it when God decides to act again, and decides to send Hosea to depict yet another aspect of God’s love as he pays the price for his bride.  Let’s pick up the story in Hosea chapter 3.

The Redemption Price

The first thing we see in verse 1 upon learning that Israel and Gomer have returned to their prostitution and adultery is that God’s love is pursuing – he commands Hosea to ‘go and love’ his prostitute wife.  So even in her sin, even in her junk God sees something of worth and value – he issues a command, but it is a command to love, a command that affects the heart and emotion.  And it is also an act of redemption.

So we see that Hosea obeys because of his great love for her – and he doesn’t do it begrudgingly or with resignation.  In verse 2 he goes and pays the redemption price for his bride because he loves her, she is his, and he wants to see her come out of the pitiful circumstances she’s put herself in.  Hosea redeems his wife – he buys her out of prostitution for fifteen shekels of silver and some barley, which isn’t very much cash, showing the sort of worthless state she has fallen into.

God also redeems his prostitute wife out of slavery in Egypt, and he paid a dear price to redeem the Church from its bondage to sin with Christ on the cross.  Where Hosea paid just a small amount to buy his wife back, God paid the ultimate price – he sent his son to die in a shameful way so that his people’s sins would be atoned for and so they would be redeemed and reconciled to him.

Men who are married, what might your wife be struggling with or running to that you need to help lead her out of?  To be sure, Jesus is our redeemer, but as her leader, pastor, and spiritual head it is your duty to shepherd and steward her to flourish under your leadership.

Women who are married, what might your husband be struggling with that you can help him walk through as a helpful, wise, crown to your husband?

What slavery has God redeemed you from?  What does the redemption price that God paid in Christ on the cross mean for your sin?

Covenant Restoration

The second main topic we see in verse 3 is that God restores the covenant between himself and his bride – he claims what is rightfully his.  This ‘you are mine’ language – how does it hit you?  Do you see this as an oppressive husband cutting into his wife’s freedom and fun?  Or perhaps do you see this as a great example of a husband loving his wife for her own good and removing her from her sin so that she doesn’t lead herself into destruction?  Israel, as God’s bride, is rightfully and solely God’s.  Gomer is solely and rightfully Hosea’s wife.  They are covenant brides, not flavors of the week.  When – like in this case – the going is very difficult (a wife is turning to prostitution and destroying her marriage), the faithful covenant husband fights for his marriage, fights for his wife, and fights for what is rightfully his.

Men and women – are you fighting for your marriage?  Do you see your spouse as your covenant bride or groom to whom you are devoted?

One thing I also noticed that is not in the text is that with God and Hosea there is no turning of the head, no sidelong glances at another who isn’t their wife.  They have only wholehearted devotion, love, and pursuit of their respective wives.  This is not a wooden response to an order, but rather a conviction based on a commitment or covenant to have their bride as a lily among thorns – the only one desirable for them.  From what we can see in this particular instance, we can see that this particular lily in question is not looking like a lily; she looks more like a prostitute.  She has found herself running back to the shameful activities, unsanitary surroundings, and wicked people from whom she was redeemed.  This lily, though, is seen as a precious lily in a couple of ways.  First, she is his standard of beauty, his devotion, the object of his faithful covenant love.  Second, to her husband, all other women are thorns – she is the only desirable one for him.  If you’re married or engaged, all other women aside from your fiancée or wife are thorns to you.  That doesn’t mean you can’t be cordial and talk with them, but I does mean that your wife is the recipient of your love and affection.  Period.  Not most of it, or some of it, but all of it.  We’re reminded that God’s love is the pattern for us – he does not command us to go where he has not already been.  When he says ‘so I will be to you’ he is renewing his covenant, demonstrating his faithful covenant love yet again, and ensuring his devotion to his bride.

How might you make all other things thorns and make the Lord your true devotion?

How might you make all other women or men thorns and make your husband or wife your devotion?

Undivided Attention

After saying that he will secure Israel and renew the covenant with her, God then declares in verse 4 that he will arrest her undivided attention for her good.  She will have no king, no princes, no household gods or priestly garments.  This is to prevent her from being distracted by anything other than her faithful covenant husband – all temptations will be silenced. There will be no ruler over her, save for her King.  There will be no temple activities and there will be no idolatry in her homes.  Essentially God is removing everything that Israel has struggled with or been led astray by – he will have her devotion because it is for her good and his glory.

So God purges his wife’s life of her idols.  This will most definitely cause much pain and turmoil, but as he said in verse 3, he will be with her throughout the process.  God does this same thing with us personally.  He whittles down our lives at certain times and chips away our sinful tendencies in order to show us how much we truly need him.  He demonstrates how we must be devoted to our loving King and Bridegroom; it is painful, but he is with us and he is for us.

Have you ever been exhausted by God and led into the spiritual desert?  Has he taken things away in your life that led you away from him? What were those things, and what was that time like?

Future Restoration

The third chapter rounds out with verse 5, a precious promise of future restoration – all Israel will seek the Lord and will have the hope and expectation of a King like David (Jesus).  Now, Hosea is written quite a while after David reigned and died.  Furthermore, this kind of a reference is also strange because it’s written to the northern kingdom (Israel) who revolted against the south.  The cool part about it is that it denotes God’s plan of redemption, healing, restoration, and reunification for the whole nation of Israel.  He will reconcile his people both to each other and to himself.  The first half of the verse states that Israel will return to seek the Lord – they will turn their affections to him because he has wooed them in this peculiar but perfect way.  The second half of the verse prophesies that Israel will come to fear – or ‘revere’ and know the awesome power of – the Lord and his goodness.

God’s realignment of Israel’s thinking mainly affects the way his people fear him.  They had grown entirely too comfortable with the fact that God loved them, and they had taken him for granted to the point that they led themselves astray and had completely rejected their faithful covenant King.  So the Lord loves his bride to the extent that he will give her what is best for her – himself.  This is why the prophecy of the King like David is so immensely important – we see that God will provide for his girl and he will bring lasting joy to her in Christ Jesus.  This is the love that we experience as those who claim the name of Christ, and this is the joy that we have in our God.  Not only do we have joy in him right now and hope in his goodness while we dwell on this earth, but one day we will see him and dwell in his presence forever.

I long for that day, and I look forward with eager anticipation for those who claim the name of Christ to join in worship of our true King.  Then will we truly be home at last.  But in the mean time there is much sin and tribulation, and God still has much to say to us about it.

More on that coming soon…

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