Category Archives: Culture

It’s Time to Brag on the Bride of Christ

The church is not perfect. Never has been. Never will be. Not in this life.

That’s why I’m not surprised when folks go through a period of disillusionment with the church, even reveling in bitterness and cynicism. I’ve written two popular posts on this here and here.

As I’ve written before, experiencing a season of cynicism can actually bring forth a renewed vision of the church and a deeper commitment to the gospel if we are willing to let the Spirit transform our hearts. I’ve been there.

Are you upset at the hypocrisy and nominalism in the church? Are you tired of judgmental Christians who look more like the Pharisees than the Messiah from Nazareth? Fed up? Angry? Cynical? I get it. I really do.

So if this describes you, please allow me to speak very candidly.

I understand the cyclone of cynicism has blown through your life. But hear me… please. There is simply no excuse for isolating yourself from the saints and making yourself at home in your storm of bitterness.

Consider this before making any more slanderous attacks against Jesus’ fiancé.

In Acts 9 the very pious Saul of Tarsus, who had been “breathing out murderous threats” against the church, meets Jesus on his way to persecuting God’s people. All of this in the name of God. For the “love” of God.

Here is how Jesus responds to Saul’s words and actions in vs. 4-5:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Clearly, the language of the church being the body and bride of Christ are more than mere metaphors (1 Cor 12:27; Rev 21:9). Instead, they are ontological facts. It’s a mysterious new reality set forth in Scripture. I’m afraid that for many in the church this has become nothing more than theological jargon.

The words of Jesus to Saul are a sobering reminder that the church is not only the physical representation of Christ on the earth (i.e., what the church does she does as his ambassadors), but also that what is done to/against the church is done to/against Christ, the glorious bridegroom.

Therefore, we must be carefully aware of the aims in our criticisms.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Do we seek to build up, or to tear down (2 Cor 13:10)? Saul became Paul. His very identity changed. He moved from tearing down to building up. What about you? Are you helping or hurting?

We need prophetic voices in the church, no doubt. But it’s a problem when every social networker and savvy blogger thinks they’re a prophet.

Have you noticed what happens when the majority thinks they’re a prophet? We end up lacking the edification of apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

You may win some loyal fans and followers, but at what cost?

I admit that I’ve grown weary of the constant flow of criticisms (many of them unfounded) against the church from within by those who profess Christ as their Lord. It’s time to change the channel. We have to do better.

Whether you’re in an intentional community, a house church, or a larger organized fellowship, don’t give up meeting with the church (Heb 10:24-26).

Detach yourself from that which feeds your cynicism. Repent of the individualism that threatens the bond of Christian community. Reimagine the church with others. Get involved with broken people who need your real presence. For it is there you will find restoration for your own soul.

Trust not in blog posts and Facebook statuses to change the world. Instead, get involved in your local church. Bless the body of Christ. Be the hands and feet of Christ to your neighbors. Don’t wait. Do it now.

I pray you will find encouragement in the following video. Listen to the talented Greg Denie brag on the body of Christ… just to say thanks.

Are you walking with Christ in community? What are you doing to build up the Bride of Christ? Stand with her today in word and deed.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Paul Rhodes Eddy is Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Bethel University (St. Paul). He holds a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies (Bethel University), a M.A. in Theological Studies (Bethel Theological Seminary), and a PhD in Theology (Marquette University).

Paul also serves as Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN. He resides in White Bear Township, MN with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons.

His primary research interests include methodological issues in historical Jesus studies, John Hick and religious pluralism, and Christology and the Atonement. He has coedited several successful multi-view volumes and is the author or editor of a number of other books, including The Jesus Legend.

Among other projects, Paul is currently working on a book entitled Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-Centered Theology of Human Sexuality. The book will be a further development of an extended working paper that is currently available online at Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

After reading Paul’s current manuscript, I asked if he would be willing to share with you some of his biblical and historical research on marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman for life, as set forth in Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:1-11; and Ephesians 5:25-31.

I’m thankful that Paul was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to present us with some of the material from his upcoming book, Kingdom Sex.     I believe his insights are already helping to bring some much-needed clarity to God’s divine intentions for conjugal marriage.

Notice that I’ve divided Paul’s article into two parts.

The first part proves that marriage has been understood as a one-flesh covenant throughout all of church history. The second part will address common arguments that the Bible isn’t clear on marriage being a covenant relationship. On the contrary, Paul argues that marriage is portrayed as a sacred covenant throughout the entire biblical corpus.

Your feedback is welcome. Feel free to address Paul in your comments. He would be happy to respond to any thoughts or questions you might have.

Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Is marriage a covenant? For many people today, especially evangelical Christians in the U.S., the answer to this question will seem absurdly obvious. Of course marriage is (or at least is suppose to be) a covenant.

If it’s not – then what in the world is?

But things aren’t quite that simple. More than a few voices have questioned whether marriage – at least in certain historical contexts, including biblical times – is, in fact, properly to be construed as a covenant.1

These voices force the question upon us today: Should we understand the divine intention for marriage as covenantal? Are there good biblical and church historical grounds for seeing covenant relationship as the norm by which Kingdom people should shape their theology and practice of marriage?

I propose that the answer to these questions is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ Let’s look at the some of the challenges to the claim that marriage is best understood as a covenant relationship and see how they stand up to analysis.

Some suggest that the idea of marriage as a covenant is a late-comer within church history. In fact, some claim that this idea was unknown within the Christian tradition until John Calvin originated it in the 16th century.2

This claim is simply historically incorrect.

It is certainly true that in Calvin’s mature thought, his theology of marriage is anchored in the concept of covenant (prior to which he had based it upon Luther’s ‘two kingdoms’ notion), and that he is the first Christian theologian to flesh out marriage as covenant in anything like a thorough fashion. However, he is hardly the first in church history to equate marriage and covenant.

For example, the fourth-century Arnobius writes of “conjugal covenants” (Latin = coniugalia foedera; see his Adversus Gentes, 4.20). Interestingly, in the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I uses the term covenant (foedus) of both marriages and betrothals (Responda ad Consulta Bulgarorum, III). And both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries allude to marriage as a covenant.

In fact, Augustine himself unambiguously refers to marriage as a “covenant” (foedus) and a “bond of covenant” (viniculum foederis).3 It is important to remember the context here. The Roman concept of marriage (with its conviction of the necessity of not merely initial but continuous consent) allowed for relatively easy divorce.4

Taking their cue from Jesus and the NT authors, the early Christians on the other hand viewed marriage as a solemn and permanent relational bond. They sought to find language (Greek, Latin, etc.) that captured this counter-cultural reality. Latin terms such as pactio, pactum, confoederatio, societas – and yes, foedus (covenant) – were among those chosen to describe the marriage bond.

So why then did the church refrain from developing a robust theology of marriage as covenant until Calvin? The reason seems fairly clear.

While the Bible does provide solid evidence that marriage was designed by God to function as a covenant relationship (on which see below), the New Testament does not explicitly link the Greek terms for covenant (diatheke, syntheke) with marriage, but rather uses other images and terms to express this relationship.

One predominant instance is Paul’s description of marriage as a “mysterion” (mystery) in Ephesians 5:32. A key moment came when Tertullian translated the Greek term mysterion into the Latin term sacramentum. Jerome followed Tertullian’s move in his Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, and the rest is history.

From the fifth century onward, increasingly marriage was known primarily as a “sacrament” (sacramentum) in the Latin-speaking Western church, a tradition which continues to this day within Roman Catholicism.

In other words, it was originally due to the historical contingencies of textual translation that “sacrament” became the favored term in marital theology for much of the church’s history. Once Calvin made the decision to frame his “Protestant” theology of marriage in terms of covenant, the counter-Reformational Catholic Church had virtually no choice but to reject it.

Now, on both sides, it was not simply about a theology of marriage – it was about ecclesiastical boundary-marking and theological polemics. It took several hundred years, a growing spirit of ecumenism, and the Second Vatican Council for the Catholic Church to officially (re-)embrace the language of covenant within the theology of marriage in the 1960s (e.g., Gaudium et Spes, 48).

Suffice to say that the idea of marriage as a covenant was not missing in the early church, and that today both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are quite comfortable with this ancient equation.

But we must return to Tertullian for a moment – the original fount of “sacrament” language. Once again, Tertullian was simply translating the NT’s Greek mysterion with Latin’s sacramentum. An important question arises: What was involved in the idea of sacramentum in Tertullian’s world?

Within the Roman context, the concept of sacramentum had a double connotation: (1) the taking of an oath, and (2) a monetary guarantee.

What they had in common was that both attached to the notion of self-obligation, and both were quite likely to involve the divine (i.e., oaths/promises frequently appealed to the gods). And with this, we are in the same conceptual/semantic realm as covenant relationship.

Thus, we see that the sacramental – when understood in its original context – is a close cousin of the covenantal.

So if church history is quite favorable to the concept of marriage as a covenant, what about the Bible? Some have questioned whether we can legitimately ground the notion of marriage as a covenant in the Bible. Next, we will consider several of the most common arguments that have led to this conclusion.

Paul Rhodes Eddy

Stay tuned for Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

____________________
1 See e.g., Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple, trans. Neil TomKinson (Lund: Gleerup, 1965), 27-34; Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 278; Michael G. Lawler, “Marriage as Covenant in the Catholic Tradition,” in Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective, eds. John Witte and Eliza Ellison (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 70-91; Jacob Milgrom, Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 129-37; Tyler M. Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage” (February 17, 2014), http://thejesusevent.com/2014/02/17/stutzman-sex-and-secular-marriage/.
2 E.g., Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”
3 Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.11; idem, On the Good of Marriage, 6, 7, 15, 17, 32; idem, On Adulterous Marriages, 1.12; 2.9-11.
4 On which, see Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Boston: Brill, 2001), 22-38.


Thoughts on Privilege & Equal Rights

It simply can’t be denied that a great deal of our society, including the church, suffers from an ignorance of history and an inability to utilize logic when discerning truth from error, on all fronts. Just turn on the news (any network) or check your Facebook newsfeed. There is much to cloud our thinking today.

With all of the voices in our head and the messages bombarding us in our world (many of them cynical and angry), it seems that we’re no longer taught to think about things rationally (or from a faith perspective), but strictly from our gut and fickle human emotions.

Even the rationalists aren’t so rational anymore.

British comedian and actor, Ricky Gervais, tweeted this last February:

“Same sex marriage isn’t gay privilege, it’s equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes, like churches don’t.”

Well, there you go. What’s unfortunate, and should be recognized, is that humor often has the power to slip misinformation by you, perpetuate nonsense, and get you laughing at the comedic rants of an atheist activist on an issue that is emotionally charged, without even stopping to consider if it’s a fair and reasonable assessment.

And notice that the church (the body of Christ) becomes the target.

It’s one thing to disagree and have an opposing opinion. It’s quite another thing to create bogus comparisons in order to get a laugh to stroke your own ego and gain followers to your cause. It’s not OK for any of us to do it.

I can’t help but notice the hyper-sensitivity to all things “privilege” in what is being passed off as a concern for social justice. I’m not denying that certain people or groups are (or have been) unfairly given an advantage over others.

I’m also not denying that some concerns about the so-called privileged are legitimate. I too feel a righteous indignation when a person is being treated unjustly because of race, gender, economic status, or creed.

What I want to challenge is the spirit of pervasive (albeit cryptic) individualism that turns every issue into one of privilege. Like the man who only saw nails to be pounded because all he had in his tool-belt was a hammer, so has become our society, even those “progressive” Christians who are upset about their fundamentalist upbringing and want to make a difference.

Those of us who were formerly conservative fundies, are in danger of becoming progressive fundies, which I’ve noticed is just a Liberal (in the theological sense) with a make-over. We can do better than that.

But still I see scores of Christians, many of whom I know personally and deeply love, leaving fundamentalism for what they believe to be a more authentic Christianity, but it’s really nothing more than ego-centric spirituality.

These folks struggle to envision a revitalized church that still maintains orthodox Christian teaching, so they take cues from the culture and join ranks with the growing mass of individualists who are becoming more self-centered and agenda-driven, even as I type up this blog post.

And in some cases… many have just left the Republican party and joined the Democratic party in their thinking. Hardly the Kingdom revolution that is needed in our personal lives and for a counter-cultural church practice.

So what is so wrong with Ricky Gervais’ comment?

I think Gervais is a funny guy, but I do wonder if Ricky knows anything about the historical reasons for privileging male-female marriage, and then why the church doesn’t pay taxes according to US law. After all, he is British.

It has nothing to do with “privilege” in the popular and polemical sense of the word, as it has been used to demonize those who affirm conjugal marriage.

The real reason is, like the historical institution of marriage, stretching back and affirmed by the ancient Greeks (i.e. Socrates, Plato & Aristotle), who were well aware of same-sex relationships, the church in America was given tax exemption status because it was recognized and affirmed as a private institution that served the public good of a democratic nation.

Therefore, there are historically certain “privileges” that have been afforded male-female marriage and the church because they are (or at least were) thought to be socially advantageous to society (e.g. procreation, broad domestic sharing, holistic human formation, moral & ethical stability, etc.).

That is the historical reasoning behind it, particularly the motivation behind US constitutional law. That’s not my opinion. That’s the fact of the matter. It has nothing to do with bigotry or deprivation of rights.

As far as Western civilization has been concerned in ages past, same-sex “marriage” infringes upon the moral and civic fabric of society and has nothing to do with “equal rights” for individuals (or same-sex attracted couples, threesomes, polygamists, etc.) but instead it’s about the good of the whole society, which means far more than one individual’s idea of personal freedoms and rights. This flies in the face of our self-absorbed culture that wants to believe we’re on the cusp of a great gay liberation, totally oblivious to history.

The ancient world understood this much better than we do today. And the church of the New Testament operated out of this collectivist mindset—putting the interest of the whole before individual “rights” to personal fulfillment.

This is what has been lost in the church discussion, as individualism and an obsession with personal freedoms, especially when it comes to sexual expression, has trumped the greater good. As the apostle Paul said, “I’m free to do anything, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12) for himself or for the whole of any group, especially those who belong to Christ.

In this case, and cases like it, I submit that “privilege” and “privileges” are not the same thing. Western society and culture has largely lost the ability to discern the difference between the two, as it has championed individual “rights” over and against the good of the collective whole.

It is my observation that this pervasive individualism, and the “personal freedoms” mentality, is currently the greatest threat and obstacle to churches in America maintaining New Testament Christianity. It is a battle between the Bill of Rights and the Christ of the Gospels—America vs. the Kingdom.

In the end we know who wins. So the question is… what side are you on?

Are we for Christ or against him? For the Kingdom or culture? I know… I know. That sort of language isn’t always right or helpful. But that’s now where we’re at in our churches. Let’s not forget that it’s the rhetoric of Jesus (Lk 11:23).

There is a growing segment of society that is deaf to this logic and moral reasoning. Nevertheless, we need to know that this goes far beyond the teachings of Christ and the beauty of the Christian faith.

I highly recommend reading What is Marriage?: Man & Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George.

The book was first published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. It is a formidable defense of traditional marriage that is based purely on reason, offering a philosophical and historical case for conjugal marriage.

The follower of Christ ought to be aware of Scripture—from Moses, Jesus, to Paul (e.g. Gen 2:18-24; Matt 19:1-11; Eph 5:25-31)—and the historic Christian tradition on marriage, but it’s also helpful to hear what reason and experience have to say—including the experiences of those who haven’t embraced the gay identity in order to remain faithful to their belief in Christ and the Scriptures. Those voices have been drowned out by the noise of LGBT activists.

As Paul said, walk as the wise in this dark world, not as the unwise (Eph 5:15-17). Brothers and sisters, rise above the culture and its use of words like “privilege” and “equal rights” to distort the truth. Instead, speak the language of Christ and the Kingdom and join a different movement that doesn’t shift the blame, point fingers, and use shame to get its way in the world.

We’ve not been appointed as moral guardians of society, but we are called to be moral guides by way of our example.

May the world look to our local congregations and see the difference, and hear real liberating language as we bless the poor of all races, the outcasts of every group, and those who demean us, even persecuting us for our faith.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


The Kingdom Effect On Human Sexuality

A couple weeks ago I began preaching through a 9-week sermon series entitled, The Kingdom Effect: How Christ & the Kingdom Changes Everything.

The series is building off the idea of the butterfly effect, and the mustard seed as Jesus taught about in Matthew 13:31-32. The point being that something small and seemingly insignificant can make a huge impact and have lasting effects. The intent of the series is to survey the sweeping impact Christ and the Kingdom makes on us and the world.

Here is an outline of the series:

The Kingdom Effect…

  1. On the Individual
  2. On Human Sexuality
  3. On Marriage (One Flesh Unions)
  4. On Family
  5. On the Church, pt1
  6. On the Church, pt2
  7. On Society & Culture
  8. On Worldly Powers
  9. On the Future (of Heaven & Earth)

The first sermon addressed the new identity that believers receive upon repentance. The flesh or “sinful nature” is a lie that has been hurled upon us as a result of the Fall. I discussed this in my last post, Farewell to the Flesh.

As Paul wrote, the “pattern of the world” seeks to conform us to an identity of flesh and a distorted way of living in the world. But Christ has the power to transform us by changing the way we see and think about ourselves as “new creation” living in the present evil age. The Kingdom Effect begins with you!

Last Sunday I extended the first message to include human sexuality.

In the following post, I will touch on a few points from the sermon “On Human Sexuality” and elaborate on others.

Sexual Confusion Meets New Identity

Contrary to some of the cultural messages we receive today, we are not neutered souls residing in bodies that are inconsequential to personhood. We are a union of spirit/soul and body (Gen 2:7), and God made us male and female (Gen 1:27). The “real you” can only be discovered by first recognizing this union in God’s created order, even in our brokenness.

We seriously need to recognize this today. While we have been made in God’s image, we are broken and not as we should be. Christ and the Kingdom’s effect is to dispel the lies and deceptive voices that would have us root our identity in anything other than the person of Christ—the perfect image of God.

In coming to know Christ we discover that he is Lord of spirit, soul, and body. We are not our own, we were bought at a price. Our bodies belong to him for they are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:18-20).

It’s clear in the Old and New Testaments that sex is good within a monogamous marriage between male and female. While biblical characters often deviated from this pattern, the design is there, and it’s affirmed by Jesus.

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus says a man is to “cleave” or to be united with his wife as one flesh, referring back to Genesis 2:18-24. Paul also references this passage in Ephesians 5:25-31. This is the divine design: Sex is good and to be enjoyed between a husband and wife for life.

Neuroscience has been confirming this for several years now. Chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters & hormones) are produced in us to “bond” us to one sexual partner, even producing a sense of fidelity. When a person defiles the body through pornography (detached from bodily union) and promiscuous sex (bonding & de-bonding), or other sexually deviant behavior, the brain and body are utterly shocked by the experience. I explain further in my sermon.

So this isn’t antiquated Hebrew religion talking. No, the idea of sex being between a man and woman in marriage is built into God’s design for human sexuality. Therefore, everything else is in time destructive to individuals and society at large for it goes against the natural order of things (Rom 1:18-32).

[Watch this TED talk on the terrible consequences of viewing pornography.]

This dysfunction ultimately leads to addictions, mental and emotional instability, and even more unhealthy thinking and behavior. And the physical side of this sexual confusion and chaos is putting oneself at risk for STDs.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.”  Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:12-14 NIV

Paul says the body isn’t meant for sexual immorality (Gk: “porneia”). Paul uses porneia in his letters as an umbrella term to speak of all sexually deviant behavior outside of the one flesh union of husband and wife (1 Cor 7:1-16,39). The culture may think “casual sex” or having “the right” to do whatever sexually is liberating, but the Scripture teaches that it’s quite the opposite.

We may not claim as a “right” what God has not given to us.

I submit to you that I think a good bit of the culture’s sex-drive is only symptomatic of a deep longing and desire for real intimacy. Seen from this perspective, the church’s response should be different than years past.

God’s design isn’t meant to harm us or to keep us from human wholeness. But this has become difficult for folks, even in the church, to hear and to heed. Sexual fulfillment has become an idol in the culture and the church.

“The idol of sexual fulfillment has two faces: One face says that each person has the right to be sexually satisfied and that having sex is a necessary part of happy, mature adulthood (or even adolescence). The second face is a Christian one that says the reward for premarital sexual virtue is great marital sex.” Jenell William Paris, The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are

As strange as it may sound in our hyper-sexualized culture, sexual experience isn’t necessary for human wholeness, but being in covenant relationship with others in the church is vital to our health as image-bearers who have embraced a new identity in Christ. We don’t need marriage or sex to be happy.

Will we idolize sexual fulfillment, finding our identity in our sexual impulses and attractions, or will we let Christ and the Kingdom have their effect on us?

Marriage, Sex & Singleness

Jesus radically “redefined” marriage by placing it within the mission and purpose of the church and the Kingdom, but not by undermining Genesis 2:18-24. Instead, where the OT command was to marry and make babies, the NT command is to pledge to the Kingdom and make disciples (spiritual babies).

For those called to this biblical marriage, you and your family are to now serve the Kingdom, not your own interests. And for those persons who, for whatever reason, don’t enter marriage, Jesus has exalted singleness.

Jesus said that some should choose to “live like eunuchs for the kingdom” and be single (Matt 19:11-12). He’s not only making an argument for the legitimacy of his own celibate life, he is encouraging others in the same way.

The Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus has brought about a new relational and familial dynamic to the world through the Body of Christ. It declares that no one is destined to live a life of “singleness” apart from fulfilling relationships.

“The church is composed of the single and the married. Both are called to a life of faithfulness. All are called to be friends, defying the loneliness that threatens anyone not married.” Stanley Hauerwas

Singleness isn’t a disease that needs a cure. Some, like Jesus, may choose to live as eunuchs for the Kingdom, for one reason or another. The church needs to quit idolizing sex and marriage, along with the biblically confused in the church who press for political changes. It’s not the Kingdom way.

Sex is good within the context of a marriage that Christ affirms, but it will not bring fulfillment when there is desire for intimacy that runs deeper than sexual release. Sex only works as relational glue in a Christ-centered marriage.

Church, let us rise up and create communities where our deepest desire for intimacy with the divine and others (male and female) is being met within the family of God. It’s all a part of the Kingdom effect.

Both the married life and the single life are hard. Remember this: neither married life or sexual licentiousness guarantees intimacy. We are broken and only Christ offers living water that quenches the thirst (Jn 4:13-14).

Let this Water be found in our local churches, overflowing our lives in grace, among the married and those who are eunuchs for the Kingdom. This is our counter-cultural response to a sex-crazed and intimacy-deficient world.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

 


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