Monthly Archives: January 2015

Residing in the Right Shadow: What Lessons Do Suffering Bring?

  1. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

The risk we run is to camp out in the shadow of our afflictions. If we take residence there, the fallout will be harrowing:

  • We become engrossed in the hurt, replaying the issues in our heads over and over.
  • Then, we act out in that hurt in blasting toward those who we feel are responsible, and (worst of all)…
  • Deflect all responsibility that needs to lie at our doorstep, failing to see any the part we played in those unfolding events.
  • We become bitter, angry, narcissistic, anxious–and dangerous.  To others.  To self.

I’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.  And it leaves you a hot mess that stinks to such a degree that others won’t want to be around you.  In fact, you may not want to be around you.  See what I mean?  Dangerous!

Edwards gives us perspective.  Wednesday night, we looked at Edwards’ Resolutions on the subject of ‘Suffering and the Glory of God.’  With Resolution #67, Edwards does not deny that afflictions will come. And none of us should deny them as well.

At the core of each of Edwards’ Resolutions is a denial of self.  In this instance, Edwards refuses to camp out in its shadow, playing the blame game.  He refused to be victimized.  He would not wallow in the pool of pity.  And he refused to commiserate with people who would fan those flames and feed that pity.  Romans 8:28 was an active ingredient in his spiritual life.

He realized that afflictions are often the canvas God uses to show His glory in a fallen world.  Good comes out of these.  Painful lessons for our benefit emerge once we move past ourselves away from the shadow of afflictions (and bitters, anxiety, pity, and narcissism) and into the shadow of His throne, where we can find mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  Afflictions and suffering develop character, endurance and hope (Romans 5:1-5).  James has the audacity to tell us to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds, because of the benefits that come from those trials (James 1:2-8).

As I stood behind the podium in our chapel Wednesday night, I remembered the emptiness and hopelessness I felt when my wife was diagnosed with lupus, a disease for which there is no known cure, and wondering how much longer I would have her with me (thanks, WebMD, for listing all the possibilities).  I remembered how three weeks after her diagnosis, her father died at a young age.  Hoo-boy!

I then looked out an saw:

  • One who is struggling with a significant form of cancer, but is still glorifying and praising God in the midst of asking God to heal and grant wisdom for the decisions ahead.
  • Others who groan at troublesome family issues, but aren’t just groaning but praying and praising.
  • Another whom doctors thought would not live past infancy but just celebrated his 47th birthday this past Monday–and never misses a worship gathering time.
  • Another who still grieves over the loss of her husband and daughter that’s taken place in the last seven years, along with others who have lost children as well.
  • Another who is sight-impaired, but still leads our singing on Wednesday nights with a contagious joy.

And this was in a room of 25 people.  If I cast the net to the church proper, you’d be here reading endless commentaries of our people’s hearts of how God brought glory through adversity.  The maturity and spiritual stability that the cross and resurrection bring give testimony that suffering has a purpose and can bring glory to God.  Our Teacher longs to teach us lessons during suffering that we would never learn otherwise.

You have a choice.  You can choose camping in victimhood and blaming all others and even God for what’s happened, or claiming the victory that Christ has purchased for you, knowing that God is in control and has you in the palm of His hand.

Reflect on your adversities and afflictions and look at “how I am better for them.”  Whether now or later, you’ll be amazed at how none of this surprised God.

 

 

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Your Prayers Matter, Church: The Connection Between Praying and Not Losing Heart (or Not Praying and Losing Heart)

In reading through Luke 18 this morning, Luke tells us the point of the upcoming parable of Jesus by saying, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  I believe this connection is lost on many populating the pews in our churches–and maybe even the pulpits as well.

When we fail to pray, we fail to connect with the perspective and purpose of our Heavenly Father.  Therefore, all we focus on are the frailties, failings, and foibles that happen in us in all around us.

I love what the study notes in the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible say:

Our perspective is limited and our vision is clouded.  Holy Scripture continually reminds us that God is truly for us in Jesus.  We need this constant reminder of God’s kind heart and great power toward us as we fight against our inherent unbelief.  We now belong to him.  He is our advocate.  He delights to care for us and to defend us.

Without Christ-centered prayer focused on God’s will and way, we leave ourselves to our own devices.  We, in essence, believe we are “god enough” (if you will) to handle the day-to-days.  We rest in our own knowledge, rely on our own wisdom, and recognize our own wonder in moving things forward.

And yet, when our failings rise, we could listen to Osteen who would tell us basically to draw deep from our own goodness and destiny that God has planted in us.  How unsustainable!  We can take his advice and plow our own future–and lose heart when we come to the end of that highway (and yes, I said when–it will happen).

Or we can pray out of our frailties, feebleness, failings, and foibles, trusting in the One who is able, and not lose heart because our rest is in Him.  He is our Father and will listen to us (Luke 18:8).

In a beautiful scene in Revelation 8, the Lamb is opening the seventh seal–after which heaven was silent for one-half hour.  The seven angels stood before God and were given seven trumpets.  But verse 3 is a joy to read:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throneand the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

I cannot add to what John Piper preached in a sermon on this very topic, and rejoice that not only does God hear our prayers, but they are an instrument for the judgment to come at the end of the world.

The utterly astonishing thing about this text is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments. It pictures the prayers of the saints accumulating on the altar before the throne of God until the appointed time when they are taken up like fire from the altar and thrown upon the earth to bring about the consummation of God’s kingdom.

In other words, what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.

So the continued connection between praying and not losing heart is that not only will God hear, but He will judge in righteousness at the consummation of all things, and will vindicate His people based on His righteousness purchased at the cross and seal at the resurrection.

Do not lose heart, church!  Pray!  God will hear.

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A Pastor’s Primary Preoccupation

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5).

Pastor have no shortage of issues with which we are occupied.  Sermon preparation, hospital visits, counseling, leadership, strategizing, vision casting, meetings, encouragement, etc.  And, no, I’m not sending out invitations to a pity party–far from it. But I’m continually amazed as I’ve read through Acts over the past week how laser focused Paul was in Macedonia.

Focused on what?  He was “occupied with the word.”  He was occupied with telling others about Jesus.  When the Jews refused to hear, being occupied with other matters of less significance, he shook out his robe and proclaimed that he would go to the Gentiles. He was occupied with the word–and if those to whom he continued to preach refused to share that occupation as listeners, he moved on.

The aforementioned occupations listed can all be accomplished without this preoccupation with the Word.  I can visit, counsel, oversee staff, cast vision, meet, and encourage–all without the Word even being in the neighborhood. But that’s not my calling ultimately.  My ultimate calling is to be, in reading further in Acts, “competent (KJV: mighty) in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). From the Scriptures flow the issues of the life and the church.

Pastors (and Christians, mind you) easily find themselves preoccupied with other things.  But a pastor’s primary preoccupation is with the Word, which emboldens for the truth, and softens the heart toward those away from truth.  God is more than capable in accomplishing what He desires (Isaiah 55:11-12).

What’s your primary preoccupation? What steps will you take to be occupied with the Word?  What’s keeping you from doing so?

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Our Desperate Desire to Justify Ourselves

And yet again I come across that phrase in Luke 10:29, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”  That steady drumbeat of desiring to justify ourselves when confronted by a truth that strikes a bit too close to home.

The context is this: a lawyer stands up with a motive of putting Jesus “to the test,” asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life.  Given the lawyer was an expert in the law, he asked the lawyer what the law said.  “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  He got it right!  He knew what the Bible said. He spoke correctly, affirmed it, and passed the test (wait a minute!  Wasn’t Jesus the one who was put to the test?  Well, Jesus would have none of it.).

But that’s not the end of the story.  This is where Luke 10:29 comes in. Did the lawyer become defensive? I’d say so. He wanted to show that, yes, he was truly loving his neighbor in such an appropriate way, that God would welcome in and grant him eternal life. He felt right in his own mind and heart that he was in right standing.

Christ has a way of exposing our hearts.  It’s here the Parable of the Good Samaritan comes in.  A man is beaten and robbed, left on the side of the road for dead.  A priest and a Levite come upon him, but pass him by.  Yet, a hated Samaritan has “compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:33b-34).  He even paid his expenses, but present and future!  Clearly, the Samaritan demonstrated what it meant to be a neighbor.

We do not know if this man learned his lesson.  Sure, twice he gave the right answers.  He received a 100%!  But it’s not enough for us to know the right things, but to take that knowledge out of the garage and roll it out on the proverbial highway.  If I know biblical truth, and even hear truth from brothers and sisters all around me about my walk, but continue to justify my actions, I prove that I am blind and not self-aware.  No, I’m self-absorbed.  Justifying myself will stand as my kneejerk reaction!

As Jesus told the lawyer, so He tells all of us, “You, go, and do likewise.”  Go, and do likewise is potent.  That emphasis of “you” puts it over the edge.  I must not justify myself–I must stand in the shadow and listen to the one who is just and who justifies (Romans 3:24).

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Brought Forth Into the Clearest Light

But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God… If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

(Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

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Taking Private Thoughts Public: Why Some Bloggers Blog

Hello, my name is Matthew Perry, and I’m a blogger.

I confess, I do not read many blogs (below, I’ll give a list of ones I read–it won’t take long), I myself do indeed blog: I blog here and I blog each Monday at a sports blog called Burgundy Wavea blog for my beloved Colorado Rapids.

I often wonder why or any of us who blog do, well, blog? If it’s our job, then there you go–that paycheck is an awfully nice incentive. But most of us do not receive a paycheck.

Through Blogspot, WordPress, Squarespace, and other free (or not-so-free) platforms, anyone may sign up with this service and begin posting.  And post we do. Sure, picking just the right domain name is key, requiring a lot of thought (and for a few bucks, you can purchase a slick domain name that doesn’t have xxx.wordpress.com or the like behind), but no matter.  Having that wide open space of an empty blog template is an opportunity to let our thoughts fly.

Ah, yes!  The content. Actually typing out the blog post itself.  What should we write?  Why should we write it?  My intent is not about what we write, but why we write what we write in such a public place–choosing this over, say, a journal or a simple, private, word-processing program.

  1. Some write to inform.  My friend John Divito has a blog that’s written once a month to inform his ‘followers’ about what’s happening with his next steps in ministry.  He informs, then asks for prayer–always lacing the post with Scripture.  Other blogs do this, serving as news outlets.
  2. Some write to sharpen their thinking.  This stands as a significant reason as to why I write, but not the only one.  But I have to ask myself, “Do I need to write on such a public forum to sharpen my own thinking on a matter?  Could I not just pull out my Moleskine or legal pad, or type on a word processing program?  Why do I or any other bloggers feel the need to put these private musings out in public?”
  3. Some write to work out that which stirs in them.  Many times, when the fingers hit that first keystroke, something’s a-stir in the heart and mind of that blogger, and as the writing commences and continues, clarity breaks through the fog (#2 was an intellectual fog, this is an emotional one).  This, again, is difficult in such a public forum.  What’s stirring?  The purple mountains majesty that we in Colorado see out our window every day?  The awful/ awesome movie we saw last night?  The angst we have over an anonymous figure, public or personal?  A passage of Scripture?  A passage of Elizabeth Barrett Browning?  What’s stirring, and (again) why share it publicly?

In taking private thoughts public, what are done inherent dangers?

  1. Inevitably, bloggers seek to draw attention to themselves.  I’m not saying that the motives are always bad–but sometimes they are.  We want to be read.  We hope someone reads us.  Why else would we put our thoughts on the Internet for the world to read?  Some draw attention to themselves in hopes for a response, some affirmation, some attention.  We all love and, yes, need encouragement.  But do we write to engender sympathy when the tone of that post is more melancholy?  Do you write to have people complement us for that scrumptious turn-of-phrase in the second paragraph?  Again, I’m not saying these are the motives of every blogger, but this can certainly come into play, especially given the public nature of this forum.
  2. Some write to draw attention to others.  From venerating to venting, when some write blog posts about others, they (obviously) fall into this range.  Sadly, blogs that have a benevolent tone receive less hits than those with a malevolent tone.  Blogs that have a thread of hurt, melancholy, and even identifying the person that caused the hurt and melancholy (named or otherwise) lures readers who possess a mix of sympathy and morbidity, waiting to see what’s next and, sadly, what train wreck awaits–thus increasing hits.  This doesn’t interest me as a motive.  The only time this happens on this blog is when a public official takes to Scripture or aims to interpret Scripture in a way that is out of bounds hermeneutically (so, hopefully, this will fall into the next category). In fact, writing like this would be better shared in a journal/diary, along with close friends who love and understand.
  3. Some write to help others.  Springboarding off #3, do we write in an effort to help others?  Sorting through your thinking and emotions in a public space can be (can be) helpful if the true end goal is to help others sort through similar issues. This is a fine line, isn’t it? If this isn’t approached deftly, blogs that step past informing about personal ministries or about (in my case) correct understanding of the biblical text could turn into the sad sympathy blog, or the angry soapbox blog–but it can all be under the ‘look-at-me’ umbrella, if as the aim may be to help others.  For while helping others, do we deep down hope readers will say, “Wow!  Look how insightful that writer is in helping others!”  Even this can feed a blogger’s pride.

My goodness, is there no hope?  The narcissistic, self-promoting aspect of gaining a following and building a platform is fraught with danger.  It’s a question every blogger must ask themselves: why do we voluntarily write on a public space?  Is the end goal to truly help others, or to bolster our standing before a watching world?  Writing in journals or other private modes may serve as a more appropriate outlet.

Pride can be a subtle sin. Is it Christ we want others to see …

… or us?

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Why Pray? Spurgeon Helps Us Out

The way some walk away from our preaching and teaching, we wonder (1) whether we need to pray, since God already has all things planned out, or (2) we have to pray if God is to act–otherwise, He will not.

And so the pendulum swings. When some hear that God has all things planned out, without a balance that Jesus commands us to pray and how this prayer connects us to the will of God which is ordained before the world began, then folks wonder what the point is. Sadly, this lack of balance robs folks of the necessity and the joy of prayer.

Yet, if the pendulum is swung the other way, then God is sitting in heaven waiting on us to give Him the go-sign.  God waits for no man to act, for He was acting before the foundations of the world (Psalm 90:1-2; John 1:1-3; Ephesians 1:3-4, etc.).

How do we reconcile this?  Spurgeon helps us.  Please read closely:

We never regulate our actions by the unknown decrees of God; as for instance, a man never questions whether he shall eat or drink, because it may or may not be decreed that he shall eat or drink; a man never enquires whether he shall work or not on the ground that it is decreed how much he shall do or how little; as it is inconsistent with common sense to make the secret decrees of God a guide to us in our general conduct, so we feel it would be in reference to prayer, and therefore still we pray. But we have a better answer than all this.

Our Lord Jesus Christ comes forward, and he says to us this morning, “My dear children, the decrees of God need not trouble you, there is nothing in them inconsistent with your prayers being heard. ‘I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you.’ ” Now, who is he that says this? Why it is he that has been with the Father from the beginning—”the same was in the beginning with God” and he knows what the purposes of the Father are and what the heart of God is, for he has told us in another place, “the Father himself loveth you.”

Now since he knows the decrees of the Father, and the heart of the Father, he can tell us with the absolute certainty of an eye-witness that there is nothing in the eternal purposes in conflict with this truth, that he that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth. He has read the decrees from the beginning to end: hath he not taken the book, and loosed the seven seals thereof, and declared the ordinances of heaven? He tells you there is nothing there inconsistent with your bended knee and streaming eye, and with the Father’s opening the windows of heaven to shower upon you the blessings which you seek. Moreover, he is himself God: the purposes of heaven are his own purposes, and he who ordained the purpose here gives the assurance that there is nothing in it to prevent the efficacy of prayer. “I say unto you.” O ye that believe in him, your doubts are scattered to the winds, ye know that he heareth your prayer.

So pray, dear children of God.

Pray.

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What Exactly is the Fear of God–and Why Should We Have It?

This morning, I touched on the topic of the fear of God.  Peter speaks to the “elect exiles” (1:1) to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1:17).  What is this fear of God? A  Dutch theologian Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635-1711) gives a wonderful definition in a sermon entitled, aptly, The Fear of God:

Filial [Godly] fear is a holy inclination of the heart, generated by God in the hearts of His children, whereby they, out of reverence for God, take careful pains not to displease God, and earnestly endeavor to please Him in all things. It is a motion of the heart.

Below is an extended excerpt regarding the applications and implications of this holy fear:

You will indeed observe your deficiency in this, but you will also be able to perceive that the Lord has put the principle of His fear within you.

(1) Do you not desire that disposition of the fear of God as we have described it in the foregoing? You do not only acquiesce in this, judging it to be good and fitting, but you grieve that you have so little of it and are desirous for a greater measure of it. This is an indication that you are already a partaker of it, for the servants of God are described as such. “…Your servants, who desire to fear Your name” (Neh 1:11).

(2) Do you not perceive heartfelt intentions and initiatives to walk in the fear of the Lord? Can you find any delight in having subdued a sin and in having done some good, unless this has been done in the fear of God? And perceiving your deficiency and impotence toward that which you love, is it not frequently your earnest prayer to God—that He would fulfill His promise to you in putting His fear in your heart? Behold, there you have evidence that you have the nature of those who fear God. This was David’s prayer: “Unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11).

(3) Is your desire for the fear of God entirely impotent and your prayer entirely fruitless, or do you perceive the principles of it in your actions? Does not God reveal Himself to you in His majesty? Does not your heart say that the Lord is indeed worthy to be served? Are not reverential motions stirred up within you toward God? Do you not at times bow in reverence before Him? Has it not been your experience that, due to a sense of His majesty, you have cast your eyes downward, closed your eyes, and covered your face with your hands? Did not a holy trembling come upon you at times, and was it not your delight if these motions became more sensitive—yes, did it not cause you to rejoice when thinking upon this afterwards, wishing it to recur and that it would always be thus? Would you not have committed many sins, and neglected many holy things—if the fear of the Lord had not prevented you? Does not the fear of God nip many sins in the bud, and does not this motivate you to perform your duty? If these things are within you—you must be convinced of the truth, even though the measure is yet small. You will observe your disposition in Job: “I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things” (Job 31:23). Such was also true for Nehemiah: “…but I did not do so—because of the fear of God” (Neh 5:15). Acknowledge therefore this received grace, and it will render you capable to read the following rebuke and exhortation, with benefit.

The fear of God is, yes, in a sense holy terror, but it shines from a reverence and awe for His holiness and our desire to conduct ourselves accordingly by His Spirit.

May God grant us a holy, godly fear by His grace and for His glory!

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Trace It Back: Wisdom from Edwards’ Resolutions

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

In 1722-23, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote his now-famous Resolutions which have benefited believers since they were penned. Of significance, Edwards wrote these when he was 19-20 years old–how mature of him in Christ to pen such resolutions at such an age.

In reading through these, I found an interesting phrase that occurred in both Resolutions 23 and 24:

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

Here, we see the positive and negative aspect, all with the glory of God as its end.  The phrase?  “Trace it back.” If something was done for the glory of God, trace it back to “the original intention.”  If an evil action was done, trace it back to “the original cause.”

These Resolutions smack not of impulse, like many of our New Year’s resolutions, but of intentionality. He looks not simply to the ends, but also to the root and to the means as well.  He looks at the heart of the action, not simply the habits.  Habits come from the resolve of the heart.  The heart of the resolutions are found in the preamble:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

The original cause and mission of all believers is the glory of God and the gospel good of humanity (see Matthew 22:37-40).  But none of this is possible outside of God’s help.  That Mylon LeFevre song found in our hymnals speaks truth:

Without Him, I could do nothing;
Without Him, I’d be enslaved;
Without Him, I would be drifting
Like a ship, without a sail.

So live with a gospel intentionality and trace back your actions, good or bad or indifferent, and see if they bring glory to God or not.  What may look glorifying to God to many may well be fueled by a desire for the glory of self.  Trace it back to the original intention and cause.

Yes, wise words from an old, dead guy (who may well be the greatest mind America has ever produced).  May we stand on the shoulders of giants like these.

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John, Paul, and Peter Agree: The Doctrine of Election is Pastoral

The doctrine of election elicits extreme reactions, but yet that does not seem to happen in the New Testament. I’ve preached through the Gospel of John (John 6), large portions of Romans (Romans 9-11), and am now going through 1 Peter–all of which deal with the doctrine of election without apology. John, Paul, and Peter weave this doctrine all through, not to start a theological brouhaha, but as a pastoral method for comfort and hope.

“Comfort and hope?”  Absolutely! Given how the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1) were scattered due to persecution, Peter had to remind them that before they do not stay in His hand by their own strength, but by the One who foreknew them before time began (1 Peter 1:2) and who “caused them to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3).  He starts off with a doctrine that most pastors, preachers, theologians, and Christians leave out.

We feel scattered.  But in the economy of God, we are held.  We journey through this world knowing how God began our eternal lives, and how he will continue them long after this terrible world is done.  Why?  God chose you, foreknew you, and “predestined you to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

Find comfort, dear Christian, in this glorious truth!  You are held!

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