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Evangelicalism’s Golden Calf

There’s a sound of discontent among Christians this week. Oh, come on – we’re ALWAYS discontent about something. So what is it this time? This time it’s because of First Baptist Church in Dallas. They held a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” during 4th of July weekend.

And during this 2-hour glut fest of raw patriotism and nationalism, the choir unveiled a new anthem called “Make America Great Again.” That’s really not what has people so upset – churches do patriotic services ALL THE TIME. I think what really got people’s knickers in a twist was how fast the song was copyrighted and listed on CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International), the organization that “provides information and resources for churches and copyright owners around the world, relating to copyrights of Christian worship songs” (THEIR WORDS, NOT MINE).

Their launch screen is all about worship!

CCLI Home Screen

Worship planning starts here? Really? But “Make America Great Again” is not about God.

Like, not at all. It’s only about the country and restoring its greatness and glory.

MAGA

In a word, it’s idolatry. Any time you elevate something and worship it as equal to or in place of God you’re committing idolatry. Sure, it wasn’t a “worship service.” Well, it was, just not a worship service where God was the object of worship. Evangelicals have a bad habit of conflating patriotism and faith. Loving America does NOT make us better Christians. Loving God does NOT mean we’re going to love America (otherwise, Christians all over the world in foreign countries are in for a WORLD of disappointment when they reach heaven).

America has become our Golden Calf.

And, sadly, this is not new. A quick search for the word “America” on CCLI and I have a results list of 192 songs.

Really? This is supposed to be our worship archive, guys! The Bible is pretty clear that our worship belongs to God and God alone. He got pretty ticked with that whole calf in the wilderness incident. And if this idolatry has become the norm for Evangelicalism, then I am ready to call American Evangelicalism a dead religion. I’m done with it and all of the garbage that comes with it.

Jesus transcends nations. His worship demands WE transcend nations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be patriotic. I’m saying we’ve lost the ability to see the line between patriotism and idolatry.

And that’s not okay.

golden-calf

Hymnals? We don’t need no stinkin’ hymnals!

A couple days ago I read a blog post from Tim Challies called, “What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals.” Mr. Challies is quick to point out that he is not advocating a return to hymnals, but wants us to consider what happens when we switch media in the church. With no malice or animosity, I wanted to take a brief moment to respond to his article. He writes:

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time.

True, a book of songs is quite restrictive on a congregation’s musical repertoire.  The idea that all of the songs in a given hymnal were vetted carefully and after careful consideration is not quite true. Have you ever gone through a hymnal? I have. I have a copy of the hymnal my church used when I was growing up. And lemme tell ya, THEY AREN’T ALL GEMS!

Sure, there are the greats that we all know and love. But my 50 year old hymnal has 504 songs! That means that, within our musical canon, there was a functional canon of songs we always did and songs that we NEVER did. Many of those we never did are not great music. they aren’t memorable nor are they especially inspired. I’m not even going to mention the patriotic songs that wound up in many hymnals. 😦

Finally, the Bible never calls us to an “established” body of songs. Psalm 96 encourages us:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!

SOMEONE’S gotta write the new songs. And when the Apostle encourages us to singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, there’s no mention of the old standards which were appropriate for use. Since God is a Living God who is actively involved in the lives of believers, it seems perfectly normal that our worship can reflect what God is doing here and now. Hymns of old? Great! Songs extolling the ongoing work of God in the world? Wonderful!

Mr. Challies continues:

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts.

Sure, we don’t remember the songs of old any more. But they aren’t Scripture – there’s nothing sacred about one generation’s worship music. There are powerful songs written today that are rich with good theology and musicality. They aren’t any less wonderful just because they were written 150 years too late. This kind of ageism says that “older is better” when it isn’t. Older is older. We venerate the songs that were powerful when we had a tremendous religious experience and we look down on songs from other people’s experience. But radio, Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes has give people a wide variety of options to fix wonderful music in our minds and hearts.

We lost the ability to do harmonies. Hymnody grew up at a time when instrumentation took a back seat to the voice. Hymns were most often written so they could be sung a cappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts. The loss of the hymnal and the associated rise of the worship band has reduced our ability to harmonize and, in that way, to sing to the fullest of our abilities.

Okay, this is just bunk. I’ve been part of hymnal-using churches, and some of them were simply awful with no ability to harmonize. Since most people cannot read music, having notated music means nothing. Churches that utilized hymnals would have a couple people who could harmonize, and others would follow the examples of others to learn voice parts.

This can STILL happen with worship bands. Many modern worship bands have 2-3 part harmonies. People in the church simply have to follow the vocalist that fits their range. But please continue, Mr. Challies.

We lost the ability to sing skillfully. As congregations have lost their knowledge of their songs, they have lost the ability to sing them well. We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment.

Again, just because a church uses a hymnal does not mean anything about the skill and ability of the church. I know of many worship bands that spend a lot of time practicing so that they can be skillful and lead people skillfully. Perhaps Mr. Challies hasn’t spent enough time with the hymnal-using churches that sound like dying cats, but trust me – they’re out there!

We lost the ability to have the songs in our homes. Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well. Families would often sing together as part of their family worship. It is easy to imagine a family singing “It Is Well With My Soul” after eating dinner together, but almost impossible to imagine them singing, “Oceans.”

oceansAh, there it is – the crack against “Oceans.” It seems to be a common theme among Reformed believers. This comes across and being petty and merely personal opinion. I know for a fact that families can sing “Oceans” together because I have witnessed my wife doing it with our children. We utilize Spotify and YouTube to bring worship music into the house. Our kids are growing up around it, and the music they hear at the church is reflected in the home. The issues is not so much about hymnals versus modern media as it is about Christian parenting, and it’s less than honest to blame media for parenting failure.

Mr. Challies finishes his article with this line:

That little change from book to screen changed nearly everything.

overhead-projectorI really don’t think it did. Before the PowerPoint revolution, churches decades ago made the switch from hymnal to using overhead projectors and transparency pages.

The hymns of old and the “new” choruses of the 70s-80s were printed on the overhead transparencies and one poor soul was designated to change the overheads, making sure to slide the page up or down so that the words were never cut off! HAHA – good times! And people complained then. I heard one octogenarian refer to the choruses from the 80s as “ding-dong-ditties.” HE HATED THEM! But people have always been complaining against new songs and media in worship.

But isn’t God bigger than a hymnal? Isn’t God bigger than your favorite 150 year old song (that used to be one of them new-fangled worship songs all those kids are singing)? Instead of lamenting the loss of old forms of worship, let’s embrace new ways to worship an unchanging God.


How about you? What’s your favorite hymn? What’s your favorite non-hymn worship song?

Andy Stanley Thinks His Church is a Better Parent Than You Are

Some churches are big.

stadium-1082235_1920REALLY big.

Like, “fill a soccer stadium on a Sunday” big.

Still, most churches are not.

And, like it or not, there is often a rift between the small churches and the mega-churches. The big churches have more money and more ability to reach the masses. Smaller churches promote the idea that they are more able to impact lives on an individual level, helping mature people in genuine Christian discipleship.

So you can imagine the hubbub in church circles when mega-church pastor Andy Stanley said in a sermon:

When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.

There was a large outcry from ministers and ministry workers across the country. To his credit, Stanley apologized and said:

“The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

But he went on to explain that he was so proud of his church’s youth ministry reaching 4,600 teens. Just imagine if every teen could experience that kind of connection!

Sure, reaching teens is great. And I appreciate Stanley’s attempt to pacify the little guys, those of us who minister to groups of fewer than 100 people, but his apology doesn’t realy do much for me. It’s an “apology but….” He’s sorry to offend, but if you really understood his heart then you would see why he said it.

I call shenanigans.

In a nutshell, Stanley believes that his church and their teen outreach can do a better job of parenting than Christian parents can. He said:

You drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church.

Did you catch that? If we can’t give kids an incredible, big-church experience then they’ll grow up hating the church. You owe it to your children to attend a mega-church with the mega-church resources so that they don’t hate the little church that can’t provide as much.

Barf.

baby-17342_1920I don’t believe parents ought to relegate the spiritual development of their children to the church (mega 0r small). Parents ought to be the PRIMARY source of spiritual development for children. And when children are raised seeing their parents engage in authentic Christian community, they will grow up belonging TO that community. What Stanley is really saying is that his church is full of parents who have abdicated their responsibility to spiritually lead and direct their children.

But what about the Bible? What does the Bible say?

Actually, it doesn’t say anything about church size. There are no directives, just examples. The example set in the Bible is that outreach and evangelism events have HUGE reach (in the thousands) but that the local church was small enough to fit in homes and local synagogues (the early church was made up of Jewish converts, so the synagogue was the natural place to meet).

The church is about Christian community. Acts tells us that they got together daily in homes to eat, worship, and listen to the apostles teach about Jesus. I get the sense that kids would have been part of this early community.

No youth ministry.

No separate area where parents allowed others to do their jobs for them. The family was involved in worship together.

Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about church size I won’t condemn mega-churches. They do a lot of good work. but Stanley is WAY off-base in his beliefs and comments. Stop worrying about the church raising kids. How’s about the church worries about making authentic disciples of the entire family unit? How can we raise mature parents in the faith so that they in turn can rear godly children?

And this is something that any sized church can do.

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How about you? What size church do you attend? What are the merits of the small church? Of the large church?

5 Manly Christian Ideas That Belittle Christian Women

The other day I read an article from a pastor called, “5 Ways Your Church Can Be More Bro Friendly.” While I had hoped it would offer unique insight into ministry to men, it rather was merely the resounding gong against the “feminization of the church” – an accusation that is not new in conservative Christian circles. The answer to this horrible, horrible problem is to create a more masculine culture within the church.men don't cry

Barf.

Barf for a couple of reasons. First, the notion of what is masculine or feminine is not entirely static. It is fluid and changes from era to era and from culture to culture. Our notion of what it means to “be a man” today isn’t the same as it has been in our history or in the history of other cultures. This means that the ideals we’re promoting as “masculine” are not about biblical values but about our OWN notions and comfort. Second, the Bible clearly says that, in Christ, the cultural distinctions that exist in the world no longer have any value.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

It really shouldn’t matter how one does church, then. What we’re talking about is purely STYLISTIC differences and preferences, not anything that has a foundation in biblical truth. But for the sake of argument, let’s look at the author’s notions of what makes church better for men as opposed to a woman’s church.

1. Cast Compelling Vision – Pastor, if you want to keep men interested (especially men who are leaders), you must give your people a clear picture of where your organization is going and why you believe God is leading you to go there.

He fails to prove that this is a masculine characteristic. Rather, this is a HUMAN characteristic. Who wants to follow an aimless person? Men AND women want a clear picture of where and why organizations are heading in a particular direction.

2. Masculine Design – From the titles of sermon series, to the church’s logo, to the stained concrete replacing the carpet, even special parking for guys on motorcycles…

Ah, here it is. This is “preference central.” It’s not about any universal truth. It’s about stereotypes of what the author considers masculine and feminine. It’s about design, not truth. Now carpet is feminine? I happen to LIKE cushioned seats, but I guess real men prefer to have a numb butt by the end of a manly sermon – no cushions for those bros. And the stereotype about motorcycles? Yikes! I need to introduce this guy to my friend Junie, one hard-core female biker who attended a church I pastored. This guy’s stereotypes are ridiculous.

3. Involve Men in Projects – we are naturally fixers and doers.

Another laughable stereotype. I’ve known many women who are fixers and doers (and if my wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law are reading this, please know that I love you very much and I’ve got some projects that need to be finished when you have the time). Really, it’s a personality thing and not a gender thing.

4. Avoid Being Overly Emotional – Spiritual matters are emotionally heavy. Emotion should certainly be expressed in healthy ways. Too much of it from pastors or worship leaders may be perceived as weak and become a turn-off to many men.

manly-manYes! We want manly men to lead our churches. We don’t want any sissy poetry-spouting men. Give us real men like King David. Hey, wait a minute….

I’m emotional. I know emotional pastors, professors, even military commanding officers. Gimme a break.

And finally…

5. Challenge/Truth – Men starve to be given truth– good or bad, and typically are insulted by a shallow watered-down approach.

Pure garbage. I’ve known many men that prefer a shallow, feel-good message as opposed to a challenge. I’ve known many women who step up to challenges and HATE hearing shallow drivel.

Please STOP the stereotyping. People are people, and people are more unique than your gender stereotypes allow for.

But if you want to argue about it, let’s step outside and settle this like men.

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on social media or email.

What Christians Can Learn from the Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl 49

Like millions of other people around the world, I was watching the Super Bowl Sunday night as the Seattle Seahawks took on the New England Patriots.

Of course the entire world is talking about the final Seahawks play of the game. With mere feet to the endzone and a renowned running back, the Seahawks opted to throw the ball rather than run it. What looked like a sure score and Super Bowl victory turned out, well, disappointing for the Seahawks.

For the last couple of days I’ve heard lots of criticism and jokes made at the expense of the Seahawks coaching staff. But it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback – to criticize things from the outside looking in – even though we have never (and will never) spend a second playing in the big game.

There are others who point to the fact that the play call was NOT, actually, a bad call. The New York Times posted an article looking at the Super Bowl through Game Theory and posited that the call was actually the smart move.

Fox Sports said something very similar:

So what’s the lesson Christians can learn from this whole debacle? Cross-apply the principle of armchair quarterbacks to armchair church members and the lesson is this:

We shouldn’t be so quick to criticize play calls made by Christian leaders.

It’s easy to be removed from the situation and criticize the play calls and the ones making the calls. I see this kind of behavior on social media and in real life. People are quick to criticize the decisions made by pastors, elders, or ministry leaders. It’s easy to stand back and, in hindsight, say, “That was a terrible decision! You should’ve done it differently!”

But in the middle of living life we don’t get to make decisions with the luxury of hindsight. Sometimes a play can be a perfectly viable play and still go horribly wrong. If the Seahawks had made the play and scored, Pete Carroll would have been a hero instead of a goat and the brunt of internet jokes:

Pete Carroll

Yes, I know that the coach, pastor, leader (whatever) takes the heat for bad calls. It’s the reason why the project manager of the losing team usually gets fired by Donald Trump in The Apprentice. But Christians can act with grace, knowing that sometimes people can make viable decisions that have poor results. It doesn’t make the leader a bad leader. Sometimes it just means that the other team’s defense stepped up and made a better play.

Instead of blaming church leaders every time we perceive a bad call, let’s act with love and grace.

‘Cause that’s kind of how the Bible calls us to act.

When the Pastor is a Glory Hog

I’m sure there are pastors who really are glory hogs. A lot of guys want to be “THE guy” – the one the church depends on and looks to as the supreme religious leader. The church becomes a personality cult around this kind of pastor.

Glory Hog

On the flip side there are churches that actually expect and demand that the pastor be the go-to guy for all things religious and spiritual. Some church members find it unacceptable to be visited or called on by anyone other than the senior pastor.

I remember one time as a pastor I tried to create a pastoral care & visitation team, The idea was to help others who had a gifting and calling for this kind of ministry assist the clergy. I was accused of trying to pass the buck and shirk pastoral responsibility. One person even told me,

“It’s fine to be visited by others, but people really want the big dog.”

But this idea of a clergy-based ministry isn’t biblical. In fact, the Bible shows us that healthy ministry is carried out be everyone. When there was a need that wasn’t being met, the 12 Apostles (the first church leaders and preachers), said, “We can’t be distracted from our God-calling. Let’s find other godly people to assist.” Thus the early church appointed its first deacon team. We read about in Acts 6:1-7 ~

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The Apostle Paul talks about the Church being like a body. It’s made up of many parts, but each part needs to function well for the whole body to be healthy.

If you have never taken a spiritual gifts inventory, it is a good place to start asking how God might have gifted you to serve and minister (it’s not the end-all, just a starting place). Try this one

As Christians we’re all in this together. We are co-ministers for Jesus. Though we all have different roles to play, everyone should play a part. So step up to the gift God has given you and begin serving!

I Won’t Do That – That’s the Pastor’s Job

pastor

The other day I noticed some folks I know playing a game they called Pastor’s Job. In a nutshell, they were coming up with things people expect of the pastor that they themselves wouldn’t do.

While these people were trying to be funny and witty, there is truth in what they were saying. Many times we seem to place the major responsibility of ministry on the pastor. The truth is that we’re all called to be ministers. Peter writes:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

We have a calling to be a part of the priesthood of believers, that we may proclaim the praises of God!

While the pastor may be the lead shepherd of a local church, each and every member has a part to play in ministry.

Sometimes we stop and say, “Well…I can’t do anything.” You’d be surprised. It takes a lot for ministry to function. There is always something for you to do. And if you have a gift, a talent, or a calling that is not yet part of your church’s ministry, maybe God is telling you that it’s time to start one. Yes, you!

There should be no benchwarmers in the Church. We are all called to play a part.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12)

Time to get in the game!

‘Cause Nobody Likes Having Less Money

hobo

The issue of giving money to the church is often a touchy subject for many. Even within Christianity there can be great division regarding the tithe. I’m reminded of an old joke:

Three ministers are out playing golf and they’re trying to decide how much to give to charity. So the first says, “We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money way up in the air, and whatever lands inside the circle we give to charity.” The second says, “No. We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money up in the air, and whatever lands outside of the circle – that’s what we’ll give to charity.” The third and most senior pastor says, “No, no. We’ll throw the money up in the air and whatever God wants he keeps!”

Tithe is an old word for tenth, and the overwhelming model in the Bible is that people of faith give back to God (via the local place of worship) one-tenth of all our income. For example:

This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me. (Genesis 28:22)

Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:30)

You are to bring there your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tenths and personal contributions, your vow offerings and freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. (Deuteronomy 12:6)

Sometimes it’s hard to think about giving away 1/10 of our income – a dime of every dollar. So I asked on Twitter: Do you tithe to your local church? Why or why not?

And responses came pouring in:

There is no promise in the Bible that if you tithe then God will repay you with worldy riches. God doesn’t have a savings plan – you give 10% and you’ll see dividends 100x what you paid. It doesn’t work like that.

Giving says several things:
1) God, I give you this as an act of worship.
2) God, I recognize that all I have is from you.
3) God, I trust that you can take care of me even if I give my income away.

I believe that God will be faithful to us even if we give away 10% (or more) for his kingdom.

What’s your gut reaction? Are you a tither? How does the idea of giving a dime of every dollar sit with you?

Related Posts:
Fat, Greedy, Money-Grubbing Churches
How to Get Money From God

I Can’t Come to Church

© Michael Jastremski for openphoto.net

The other day I was involved in a hashtag game with some friends called #ICantComeToChurch.

It was highlighting some of the excuses we have heard (or used) to avoid going to church. Here are just a few of my faves:
– I can’t come to church because of all the hypocrites.
– I can’t come to church because the youth pastor is filling in while the senior pastor is on vacation.
– I can’t come to church because so-and-so always shoots me dirty looks.
– I can’t come to church because last time I skipped no one notices, so now I’m too offended to come back.
– I can’t come to church because __________________________ (insert lame excuse here).

There were a lot more, some were plain silly and fictitious – some real – but it highlights the fact that we’ve all heard (and used) examples of why we can’t be in church.

I’ve frequently heard people argue that you don’t have to be in church to be a Christian- that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. And that’s true. But church isn’t about you and what you get out of it.

In his book, “The Good and Beautiful Community” James Bryan Smith points out that how you feel about church and the feeling you get from church isn’t the point. It’s not about your inspiration, but “rather the ‘transformation of the person within, by, and for the community.”

Being part of the community of faith transforms us. It teaches us. It holds us accountable. It allows us to participate in God’s story, other Christians’ stories, and to share our story with others. When all is said and done, while salvation is by faith in Jesus and not dependent on your church attendance record, we are missing out on the chance to grow and mature into the kind of person we could be if we would participate in the life of God’s Community.

So when Sunday rolls around next week try something different. Don’t look for excuses why you CAN’T go. Look for reasons why you SHOULD go. Engage. Plug in. Start participating in the story. Let others influence you. Influence others.

We all get better because of it.

And together we start to look like the Community God designed us to be.

SOUND OFF! What excuses have you used…er…I mean heard others use to get out of church?

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