Autumn in New England

Mystery Trip 2018 is off to a great start! 21 of us from First Baptist Paducah landed in Boston on Wednesday, and we hit the ground running. The USS Constitution was one of our first stops, where we climbed aboard to get a taste of the harbor and the history which make the city famous. Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, dinner at the Bull and Finch (home of “Cheers”), and the kickoff of our highly competitive cell phone photo contest rounded out Day 1.

With the entire region experiencing near-ecstasy cheering on their beloved Red Sox, we began yesterday at the Paul Revere House, and walked from there to “The Old North Church” … then it was across the Charles River to Cambridge and Harvard University … then it was a gorgeous drive out to Lexington and Concord. It was more than a full day, and more than a few bowls of clam chowder mysteriously disappeared along the way.

Today we’re diving head-first into the history and charm of Providence, Rhode Island. We’re soaking up a renewed appreciation for religious liberty in America by exploring the profound influences of Roger Williams. Launching from a guided tour of the First Baptist Church in America, we’re taking in some of the most beautiful sites in the Northeast, including the mansions and coastline of Newport. We’ll enjoy walking, shopping, and dinner by the sea.

Tomorrow we’ll take in Plymouth and the Monument to the Forefathers, rich with even more church history. Then we’ll check into our hotel on Cape Cod. There will be much more to see and do there, including an island tour on Martha’s Vineyard.

Truly grateful to our gracious God for the amazing gift of Christian fellowship, we are having a blast simply hanging out together. And, should any Redcoats appear on the horizon, Glenda is more than ready!

 

Pastor Charles

 

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Fake Faith?

Yesterday I received an Email from one of our church members who relayed a conversation she had at work. In a nutshell, her coworker was talking about “faith,” but it was apparent to our fellow church member that the “faith” being described was suspect at best. Because I believe that this issue of “faith” impacts so many of us who are engaging in the public square, I wanted to share with you an expanded version of my Email response which I penned yesterday. I hope that you find this helpful, as you seek to know Christ and make Him known.

First of all, let me say that our culture largely misunderstands the word “faith.” It’s about as common to misunderstand faith as it is to believe that we become angels when we die, or to believe that good people go to heaven. The workplace conversation relayed to me typifies that.

Let me try to break this down. Many people out there think that “faith” is the goal – as if there were something of value in simply having “faith.”

The Bible presents faith as the means by which we know Christ – so the matter of ultimate importance is Christ, not “faith.” We evangelicals contend for “faith alone” – that was a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation. Absolutely we do! But what makes faith saving faith is its object: CHRIST! If the object of a person’s faith is not Christ, then there’s not enough faith in the world to merit or produce one thing of value.

Faith is the instrument that God uses to bring us into a saving relationship with Himself. But that does not make faith the basis of our salvation. Faith is merely the channel by which God grants us salvation. B.B. Warfield once said: “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests … It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but that Christ saves through faith.”

You can think of our faith as the conduit by which we know Christ, and that’s important to understand so that we never think we’re earning God’s favor by our own works. But that doesn’t make “faith” the object: the object must always be Christ.

Please don’t ever forget this part. Biblical faith has three essential aspects (I’ll include the Latin word for each):

  • Our faith must include content (notitia). What we believe matters. For example, I must believe that Christ is the Son of God, that He is my Savior, that on the Cross He provided an atonement for my sin, that He rose from the dead in victory, and the like. I must believe the gospel.
  • Our faith must include conviction (assensus). I must believe that the gospel is true. A person can know about the Christian faith and yet not believe that it is true. I’m not implying that you and I can never have a doubt, but I’m simply saying that our “faith” will be accompanied by intellectual affirmation and conviction if we are saved – if we truly belong to Christ. Before anyone can really trust in Jesus Christ, that person must believe that Christ indeed is the Savior – that He is who He claimed to be.
  • Our faith must include personal trust and reliance (fiducia). This means more than mere intellectual assent. It means that I’m all in. I’m trusting with all of me. I’m trusting with my life.

So you can see why we might need to ask more questions when somebody tells us they have “faith.” Faith in what? Faith in whom?

Furthermore, many people today misunderstand “faith” to be nothing more than positive or wishful thinking. The notion is something like this: if you believe it sincerely enough, it’s true. More sincerity equals more faith. Think about how ridiculous that is. No normal person operates under that assumption for five minutes when it comes to determining whether or not the elevator is safe, or what day the tax bill is due.

This is why our culture now demands moral relativism in the area of “religion.” From every corner, we hear cries of: “Don’t you dare claim to tell me – or even claim to know – what is true and what is not!” We have actually come to believe that “he has his truth” and “she has her truth” … and that both “truths” can be true – even when they contradict. Nonsense! We’ve lost our mind, and – as a relatively civilized society – we’re drowning in this stuff.

Again, the weakness is the belief that “faith” in and of itself is where the value lies. The value lies in Christ.

“All it takes is faith and trust.” Wonderful words of Jesus. When did He say that? What’s the verse? Oh … that’s right. That wasn’t Jesus. It was Peter Pan.

So glad that you’re out there sharing THE TRUTH (John 14:6)!

 

Pastor Charles

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Ain’t Gonna Study

Last night I was captivated by Isaiah 2:1-5.

The Prophet Isaiah, more than seven centuries before the birth of Christ, was sent to warn the nation of Judah – the southern kingdom – that God was very displeased with them. Israel, Judah’s northern neighbor, was being threatened by a growing, aggressive Assyrian military. In a bold political move, Israel’s king joined forces with the kings of Aram (now Syria) to thwart an Assyrian takeover of Israel. This new coalition asked Judah’s King Ahaz to get on board. But Ahaz chose instead to make a deal with Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria. In 722-721 B.C., Assyria overran Israel and dispersed the northern tribes. Judah survived, but at the steep price of having betrayed her own kinsmen.

As this chapter begins to unfold, God’s heart is broken over Judah’s behavior. Remember, Judah is where Jerusalem was located – the city of Solomon’s temple. Isaiah calls Jerusalem and the temple “the mountain of the Lord.” This is God’s mountain, but the people occupying it are acting like they don’t even know God. They’ve made a diabolical deal to serve their own foolish and short-sighted interests. Their selfishness has resulted in war. Tens of thousands are now dead.

If you have your Bible open, go back and read Chapter 1 as well. The displeasure of God over the wickedness of Judah is deep. The Lord is not pleased with the people’s services or their sacrifices, because neither is accompanied by a sincere desire for God’s justice. Nor are the people striving to implement God’s justice when it comes to their own actions. They are not caring for or defending the oppressed, the fatherless, the widows, and others over whom society has trampled. They have grown cold. Their love is gone.

I would point out that Verse 18 is a ray of hope. It’s almost like God just “can’t” dish out bad news without offering the hope of the gospel. I love that about God!

So Chapter 2 contains this new vision …

  • God’s mountain will be chief among all mountains.
  • All  the nations will stream to it.
  • Many peoples (from all ethnic groups) will come.
  • God will show all of them who He really is, and He will teach them how to find life – and to live – in Him.
  • Instead of fighting with each other – their natural impulse – the people will be brought together by God.
  • There will be no need for military strategy or prowess anymore, because “the light of the Lord” will bring Peace on Earth!

I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like good news to me!

Not just because of the events surrounding the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, but certainly highlighted by them, I don’t have to tell you that our own nation is sorely divided. Is that the understatement of the day? You don’t have to be a dictator or a demonstrator – you don’t have to be a Hutu or a Tutsi, or a Democrat, or a Republican – to be at war with your neighbor. Just look around. Regarding our current American landscape, quite frankly, I don’t think we stand a chance at reconciliation without Jesus.

Without a clear victory of Christ’s glorious gospel in our divided day, there may be no turning back from our national anger.

My only hope is in the mountain of the Lord. There, and there only, do I stand.

 

Pastor Charles

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The Spat in the Hat

Sometimes, as the senior pastor of this amazing congregation, I’m forced into debates I don’t like. At all. This is one of them. However, if I don’t address this, I will be forsaking what God has called me to do: to lead this body of believers into understanding and applying God’s Word as it relates to us here and now. So I will wade in, kicking and screaming …

This Sunday my text will be Esther 2:19-23. As we continue to explore the depths of this great story, my intention is to focus on the wisdom of Mordecai as he learned to always THINK AHEAD – both for his sake, and for Esther’s sake. And ultimately for the sake of the people of God.

As the Holy Spirit has been dealing with me this week, He has forced my hand to make an application of this text as it relates to a debate which has arisen among some of our church members regarding the propriety (or not) of men wearing hats in a worship service. What are we to do?

You may be thinking, in regard to your particular position on this issue: “Most people at FBC Paducah see this the way I do.” If that’s what you’re thinking, may I say something to you in love? You’re making a factually incorrect assumption. We have about as many opinions on this as we have people, all the way from “that’s the most disrespectful thing I can imagine” to “who cares, as long as they’re wearing pants.”

You may also be thinking that this is only a generational issue. That’s true in part, but not entirely. These emotionally-charged issues are deeper than older vs. younger. But I would say this: if we don’t learn how to work through controversies like this as a family of faith, then we will quickly lose one of our greatest assets, and that is the fact that we are a multigenerational church called to serve Christ together in love.

So, on Sunday, we will drink deeply not only from the Old Testament Book of Esther, but from the New Testament Book of First Corinthians. We need you to be part of the journey. You matter.

Maybe you’re not worked up about hats, one way or the other. Fine. But you will be able to apply this teaching (“Lord willing,” said the pastor, humbly) to other areas of church life and ministry about which sincere sisters and brothers in Christ find themselves in disagreement.

Please be in prayer for an outpouring of God’s Spirit “for such a time as this!”

If you were thinking of skipping or sleeping in, don’t.

 

Pastor Charles

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On Reading Well

I’m devouring On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior. Maybe you don’t miss high school English as much as I, but I’ll bet you your lunch money that you won’t be disappointed if you give this new release a try (Brazos Press).

Here’s the format: Professor Prior explores Christian virtues as they figure prominently in twelve key selections of Western literature. From Henry Fielding to Flannery O’Connor. Perhaps you’ve never read The Great Gatsby. Here’s your chance to get up-close-and-personal with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald by exploring the “ongoing tension that has always defined American culture.” Prior is referring to the struggle which you and I face every day: will I deny myself some pleasures so that I can pursue what matters most (am I willing to trade the good for the best?) … or will I live far beyond my means so that I can — like the credit card companies promise — have it all now?

You’ll learn how to read closely, and you’ll learn how to read slowly. You’ll learn how classical and Christian thinkers have contributed not just breadth and depth to modern civilization, but artistry and grace as well.

You’ll learn how to appreciate words. That’s good for us as a people formed (and being reformed) by the Word (John 1:1), don’t you think? Is there a difference between being kind and being nice? You bet your bottom dollar there is! Sound etymology leads to … well, I’ll cut to the chase, a better life.

You’ll meet Ethan Frome, as you think about what C.S. Lewis called “the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.” Here’s my favorite part of Prior’s commentary: “In his desires for beauty, friendship, affirmation, and respect, Ethan is like all of us. His situation is hard. He is a man born into hard conditions, with untapped potential, exposed to just enough of life beyond the narrow constraints of the life he inherited so as to dream, only to see those dreams frustrated.”

As you fall in love with literature you may have missed, you may find yourself befriending more than a few of the characters. There’s even a section of probing questions at the end of On Reading Well, in case you want to explore this book as a family, with a friend, or as part of your book club. So grab your copy and get going!

I think you’ll be drawn in from the moment you dive in. Happy reading!

 

Pastor Charles

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One Small Step

What a week!

We are a fragile lot, you and I. Yes, we sprint along like strong and steady gazelles, but then everything turns on a dime. That was our Monday, and our Tuesday. And … well, you get the point.

What we thought was a simple infection ended up becoming, for my bride, an emergency surgery. Already trying to recover from surgery, it felt like: one step forward, two steps back. Can you relate?

Because of you, friends, Eileen and I could not have experienced more love, support, and encouragement. Thank you. You have been terrific compatriots. You have been the rainbow beyond the gray clouds. You ARE grace extraordinaire!

It is more than comforting to know that every one of our steps is ordered and established by God (Psalm 37:23-25; Proverbs 16:9). Even the steps which feel to us like baby steps. Even the steps which feel backwards.

This morning we are more than grateful for a few steps down a hospital corridor. Thank you, Jesus. As by faith we run the race of life, the “stumbles” along our road surely and stealthily bless us with renewed appreciation for our seemingly minor victories.

One day soon we shall take what seems like one more small step. But it will be in reality like Neil Armstrong’s giant leap. We will leap into eternity. Because Christ first stepped forward in our place … to a cruel cross, a borrowed grave, and then into Paradise … you and I will leap into an eternity free from sin, sickness, and even death.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Shake a leg ’til then.

 

Pastor Charles

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#sicem

Sunday I preached on the wonder of work! Based on the Bible’s cultural mandate found in Genesis 1:26-28, I tried to present a strong case for the revival of the Protestant Work Ethic. I contend that we, as Christ followers, need to recover our calling to lead in culture, government, industry, and plain-old hard work in general.

In case you think this subject is irrelevant, that very afternoon a once-famous actor from the 80’s Cosby Show was publicly shamed for his “menial job” at Trader Joe’s (a grocery store). So Geoffrey Owens makes $11 an hour as a cashier? Friends, that might be the most honorable job on Earth – just like yours. As far as I’m concerned, shame on the shamers. We thought Bill Cosby was the example we ought to follow. Turns out it was Owens.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We are to have dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential. As God’s image-bearers – and this was reiterated in abbreviated form to Noah in Genesis 9:1 – you and I are the only ones who can fulfill the cultural mandate as it was truly intended – because we know that God’s glory is the bottom line. The end goal. The prize! Unbelievers don’t (can’t) understand that.

We were not purchased by the blood of Christ so that we could cocoon ourselves off in some corner fearing the “secular” world and its dangers, but we have been uniquely commissioned to bring the light of Christ into every sphere of the public square. We are to light up the marketplace with creativity, ingenuity, and gospel passion. Through hard work and perseverance at whatever temporary post where we’re divinely assigned, we are to lead by example. Soli Deo Gloria.

Then I noticed Chip and Joanna Gaines on Twitter. What were they doing? Just enjoying a Baylor football game. Against Abilene Christian, if you’re interested in the details. I’m super proud of our “Fixer Upper” friends, not just because they’re brave enough to take their new baby, Crew, to a game (along with siblings Drake, Ella Rose, Duke, and Emmie Kay, of course) – but because they’re brave enough to live out their Christian faith before a watching world.

They’re willing to lead in a winsome way. They’re willing to take the hits that come their way when they’re charged with antiquated notions of morality. They’re willing to stay the course as a family of faith. And, may I add – and this is just as important – they’re willing to work hard as excellent home designers. That is ministry.

I stole “#sicem” from Joanna’s post on social media. Being the son of an diehard Texas Aggie, I certainly know what “Sic ‘Em” means! It means “go get ‘em.” And, I realized in the moment, that that’s what I’ve been wanting to tell you all week.

You are where you are supposed to be, at least for now. Your job as a high-profile exec, or a janitor, or a mom of five is a high calling in Jesus Christ.

I’ll close with something Burt Reynolds, who died just yesterday, said at age 82: “I don’t know why I think this, but maybe I’ve got my best work ahead. Maybe I’ll be putting my teeth in the glass, and maybe it will be a very different kind of role, but I want to do something.”

Sic ‘Em!

 

Pastor Charles

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Wounds of the Heart, Part 7

Eileen and I are praying for a young man in Southern California who has recently been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. Jason is a youth pastor, and this situation has transpired very quickly. Jason’s pain became so severe that he had to be in the emergency room instead of present with his precious wife for the birth of their third child.

Even for God’s people, sometimes the disappointments of this life defy explanation. Our Lord is always with us — we know that both intellectually and theologically — but at times our griefs and sadnesses are overwhelming for even the strongest among us. Who has never asked God, “Why?”

Thank you for hanging in there for this series on healing for our broken hearts. I have learned some things putting these communications together, and I hope that you have as well. You may not be facing a situation exactly like Jason’s, but I know that you understand how quickly Providence can land any of us in an unexpected place where we now have to live — even though we’re unsure what our “new normal” will mean for us or for those we love. Maybe your heart is broken even as you read these words.

For most of us, life includes its share of desperate trials and crippling defeats. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus taught us to focus on today, and to leave tomorrow in His hands (Matthew 6:34). Life can be difficult at best, and even our most life-giving relationships can inflict on us the most profound pain that we’ll ever experience. Love is risky, but well worth it. C.S. Lewis observed: “Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?”

On our journey of trusting Christ with the harshest wounds we’ll ever have to face, here’s where we’ve journeyed so far (our road to recovery, of sorts) …

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

IGNITE YOUR IDENTITY.

WAKE UP YOUR WONDER.

In my final chapter of this blog series, I’ll add one more: DREAM YOUR DREAMS!

We serve a big God, a God who is able to do more for us (and for His own glory) than we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20) — do we not? He specializes in rescuing the helpless, and in the last-minute deliverance which no one anticipated. What I mean to say is that we can trust Him even with our lingering pain and grief. If someone has hurt you, choose to love again. That may include many changes on your part — even a real repentance from seeing God as less than Sovereign and able. When it comes to God’s love, you are never out of bounds! By the power of the Holy Spirit, you can choose to pour that love into others (Romans 5:5).

The Bible mentions the heart nearly 300 times, and it’s not talking about the muscle in our chest. It’s talking about the core of our most authentic self. The heart is the place where we love with all we’ve got (even our enemies), where we discover our wellspring and our joy in Christ, and where we dream our most gigantic dreams for the future! It is the center of who we are.

If Christ is in you, you already have everything you need. Your heart is His, so love is yours. Sometimes the love we desperately need is ours only when we give it away. When we need Him most, surely we can trust our Savior for the healing we desire. “He heals the broken-hearted, and bandages their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

As always, Christ is more than enough.

 

Pastor Charles

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Wounds of the Heart, Part 6

Charles Spurgeon said it like this: “There are many kinds of broken hearts, and Christ is good at healing them all.” I love that quote. It is truth on steroids.

Nothing can feel more isolating than a broken heart. The pain can seem unbearable (Proverbs 14:10). But we – as God’s people – have been called into community. How do we “do” community when we really want to be left alone? For that matter, how do we commune with God – even worship Him – when we really don’t want to be in the company of anyone?

Here’s the good news: a broken heart is an open heart. Hosea had to learn that. Before him it was King David. And before David – among many others who had to feel the sting of life’s bitter disappointments – it was Sarai (later known as Sarah). Each Biblical account reinforces the trajectory of God’s faithfulness to meet us in our moment of absolute despair. When we find our refuge in God, He never lets us down. He is the strength we’re missing. He is the solace we’ve been looking for.

But the reality is: God often chooses to heal us through the ministry of others. We bear each other’s burdens and pains (Galatians 6:2). What we most need when we’re hurting most profoundly is something that we’re tempted to pull away from: each other! Don’t let that happen.

The same goes for our time with God. Don’t let it slip away, friends. Find yourself in the company of God’s people. Even if you don’t feel like worshipping, worship anyway. Even if you don’t feel like singing, sing anyway. Even if you don’t feel like reading your Bible, read anyway. There’s something about worshipping the God of the universe that puts our personal pain in its proper perspective. Look up! Like the Israelites who were snake bitten in the wilderness, we must look up in order to live.

When it comes to healing your broken heart, here are the steps of faith which you’ve taken so far …

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

IGNITE YOUR IDENTITY.

And today you’re adding:

WAKE UP YOUR WONDER!

When you are recaptured by the greatness of God, you will be well on your way to a renewed heart.

Let’s suppose for a minute that you have no idea how to begin. I’ll offer three simple suggestions. Choose one or all three. 1. Spend time with a young child (not an infant). Have conversation in their language. Seek to see the world through their eyes. You’ll be stunned by how much of you gets reignited in the process. 2. Go outside and take a long walk. Pull out your cell phone and take pictures of God’s creation. If you do social media, post your pictures and give God glory. You’ll be prompted to worship. 3. Spend at least half an hour with an old friend. Drink in the goodness that comes from just being around a person who has invested in you for years. Savor the moment. Like sweet tea for the soul.

Remember that verse I gave you earlier (Proverbs 14:10)? Read it again. The same heart that was once broken can be filled with unspeakable joy! Our Helper is here. Healing is on the way. I’m rooting for you.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Wounds of the Heart, Part 5

Heartbreak doesn’t just hurt, but it often feels downright insurmountable. So many questions come along with our pain: How can I move on? How can I get through this? Will I ever feel better?

It’s an unfortunate truth that heartbreak in any form, whether a mild rejection or a full-blown life-changing trauma, can propel us into an emotional tailspin. Just getting through the day can feel like: I don’t understand anyone around me, and now I don’t even understand me.

Other self-imposed questions tend to interrogate us. What did I do wrong? Can I ever fix this? Why am I such an idiot? Questions like these prance through our minds as if they own the place, and can take a toll on our emotional and spiritual health. It’s hard not to let these post-traumatic emotional experiences negatively define our character. That’s what I want to address today.

Sometimes, as evangelical Christians, we fear our emotions – as if to allow for emotion is to be less than a devout follower of Christ. But the Bible reveals a Triune God who is rich with emotionality. As we unpack the New Testament, we discover a Holy Spirit who not only manifests rich emotions Himself – but who is given to every believer so that we may enjoy a profoundly significant emotional life. Our emotions are closer to us than air, and must not be avoided. Being created in God’s image is not just the impetus for our ability to think and to reason – but it’s also the impetus for our ability to feel. Since we can’t (and shouldn’t) run from our feelings, we must deal with them in a Christ-honoring way. Since God has given us emotion, He has the power to heal our damaged emotions (and our unhealthy emotional reactions). We can trust Him for this.

When it comes to our true identity, if we attempt to re-define ourselves, we will self-destruct. But if we will embrace our identity IN CHRIST, we will be on the road to real recovery.

IN CHRIST, who are we?

  1. We are God’s friends (John 15:13-15). As I offer you each of these truths for your contemplation, my hope is that you’ll look up each text, and meditate on its glorious applications to your own emotional well-being. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you delight in these realities as personally applied to you!
  2. We are new creations (Second Corinthians 5:17).
  3. We are children of God, reflecting His own character, nature, and love (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  4. We are forgiven and free, even in our suffering (Romans 8:15-17).
  5. We are saints. Our lives have been divinely set apart for holy purposes (First Corinthians 1:2).
  6. We are recipients of wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (First Corinthians 1:30-31).
  7. We are Christ’s brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:1-12).

In terms of our identity, that’s only a start. But it’s a good one.

So here are our steps so far:

FACE YOUR FALLENNESS.

SPEAK YOUR SADNESS.

And today we’re adding:

IGNITE YOUR IDENTITY.

We’ll pick up there next time. As always, I am grateful for your many contributions to my life – and to my own understanding and enjoyment of my identity IN CHRIST.

 

Pastor Charles

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