The emptying and filling of ministry

I am emptied.

I am filled.

I often wonder what I thought ministry would be when I first felt impressed upon the calling of God on my life.  It definitely was not what ministry has proven to be.

Oh I knew ministry would be difficult, having been raised in a pastor’s parsonage for the earliest part of my life.  I just didn’t know the kind of difficult it would be, if that makes sense.

You see there is a sort of dance that takes place….

I am emptied.

I am filled.

I feel burdened; weighed down by many things.  Oh I’m used to dealing with my own questions of inadequacy for the calling God has placed upon me.  But I did not fully grasp the weight that the brokenness of a people – God’s people, thus my people – would bear on my heart and soul.

People share with me and their pain, their hurt, even their sin and the sins of those bruising and scarring them, presses onto my heart.  It twists and rips it.  My gut is wrenched as if I were kicked and punched repeatedly.  Tears fill my eyes and spill over onto my cheeks.   The brokenness that is hurting them, hurts me.  It is as if I eat the sin of those I love as I bear their burdens with them.  Some kind of John Coffey moment.

But as the stress and the pain and the weight push out all confidence in myself, push out all thoughts that I can handle the role of pastor – emptying me… I am filled.

I am filled with the joy of the Lord.  I am filled with the idea of suffering servant who is happiest in eating the bad, shouldering the burden and wielding the sword of prayer in a spiritual battle on behalf of my faith family.  How is possible that the depths of love for people I barely know resonates so deeply in my soul that I would gladly trade my life so that they may live?

I am emptied…

I am filled…

It is both the hardest thing I have endured and the most blessed thing at the same time.  Emptied of the idea that I could do it and filled with the reality that He – only Jesus Christ – can, is a glorious and painful blessing.

The process is like a hammer refining me; it’s like a pendulum that swings, sanctifying me through and through and through and through…

I am emptied…

I am filled…

I am emptied of me.  I am filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is a dance, gloriously painful, but gloriously blessed.

It is beautiful, it is glorious, it is death but it is life…. death to me, life in Him, again and again and again.

Oh! That some might be saved! Oh! That some might be restored! OH! That He might gain glory from this life; what a privilege.

I am emptied.

I am filled.

Peace gracefully fills my soul.  It is well, because of Him.  Because of Jesus.

Amen.

 

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Wesleyan-Arminian in thought, Calvinist in practice?

Note: This post is designed to engage those who self-identify as Wesleyan-Arminian in theology

During a recent conversation after a Sunday worship gathering, a friend and I discussed the second/third/fourth (you get the idea) fiddle discipleship plays in many churches today.  Even with the renewed emphasis, attention, writing, questioning, etc. that has gone on recently in Evangelical circles about the topic, there doesn’t seem to be a reworking of the current model that people operate within.

The current model is aimed primarily at getting people saved.  Now don’t hear that I’m saying the being saved isn’t important, because it is.  The idea of being “born again” as Jesus coined, is foundational to the Christian life and experience.  The issue that many others before and I am reiterating here is that we don’t do so well after that.  Sure we have classes and small groups which are important too, but often we leave it at that. Again, not diminishing the value of any of this, but trying to recognize it only addresses a small part of the life of a disciple of Christ.

So we practically leave the Christian life after conversion to Sunday messages and knowledge transfer in a classroom setting.  Small groups often look to create more life on life discipleship, but accountability is often low as many fear creating an awkward situation or seen as “being judgy.”

Discipleship and growth is largely left to the individual and their ability to grow as well as discover is applauded but rarely well aided.  It also is largely unintentional and often just the case of meeting the right person at the right time to be a Paul or Barnabas to you.  Whether it’s Western Culture or something else, we let the individual drive their growth rather than the family and body.  If this were a human baby, we would do the most prep and attention to the birth and then leave it to the child’s desire to mature and grow.

This was apparent as I talked to a ministry leader this weekend.  They are going to be coming to a currently running outreach to do a few things and said they would only do it if they could “present the Gospel.”  I said that was obviously not a problem, but was their plan for those that responded?  Not what was the plan immediately but after the experience.  He said, “Well, I will invite them to our church and suggest they start attending or attend another church near by.  Hopefully then they will plug in and get discipled.”

All the planning is upfront and only hope for afterward.  This isn’t unique or unusual.

This leads me to the title of this post.  We Wesleyan’s have bought into and have been operating in this model, that is by practical accounts, Calvinist.  This would make us practical Calvinists in that a model that is primarily concerned with new birth and leaves everything else as an afterthought matches perfectly with an Eternal Security doctrine.  A doctrine that says once you are saved, you are always saved until and after death.  That doctrine produces things like a Billy Graham crusade that comes into town and is the highlight as people come to the altar and get saved.  (Again, not diminishing the way in which God has worked through my Calvinist brothers and sisters, nor Billy Graham.  I also understand that the crusades worked with local churches to try and have them bring new converts into the Body).

The issue is everything becomes not as important as conversion.  Why don’t people volunteer for things? Their saved, everything else is optional.  Why don’t some people chase after a closer relationship with Christ? Their saved, their ticket is punched and the other stuff is extra credit.

My suggestion is that discipleship and evangelism after new birth are very important, not afterthoughts that are minimally important.

First, Christ’s charge to the Church is to go and make disciples.  Not go and simply convert.  Go and make disciples.  Go and run alongside people as they grow and mature, not simply telling them what they do wrong but encouraging them as they grow in grace and obedience to Christ.  When do we see the disciples saying the Sinner’s Prayer and when in their time with Jesus are they “saved?”

Second, this creates an identity crisis within Wesleyan-Arminian circles because we have taught one theology (thought) but focused most of our efforts to a different doctrine (practice).  If we believe that salvation can be lost due to disobedience and continuing in sin without repentance, then we have to elevate the post-salvation experience.  Not at the expense of the conversion or diminishing it, but instead placing discipleship to be primary in attention, as well.

This is not a small undertaking, but I believe if we want to live out a theology that we say we believe, it is necessary.  A tearing the model down to the studs and foundation (Christ), is necessary.  Praying and seeking the heart of God about how we would practically live out the theology we believe, as a local community of faith, is necessary.  Can we as Wesleyan-Arminians stop being comfortable with simply perfecting our ways to lead someone to Christ and start asking God how to run alongside someone and let him use us in the process of making disciples?  Can we stop leaving discipleship to only mean classes and small groups?

If we’re going to say we’re Wesleyan-Arminian in thought, let us think practically what that means, and pray and move in that direction.  Otherwise, let’s stop the charade that we don’t believe in Eternal Security.  Let us not live a life of confused theological identity.

American Sniper Review & Giveaway

AMERICAN SNIPERIf you don’t already know, American Sniper is a movie based on the life of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and releases today on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital media.  (You can purchase it here or your retailer of choice)

The synopsis from the press release says:

“From director Clint Eastwood comes “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, whose skills as a sniper made him a hero on the battlefield. But there was much more to him than his skill as a sharpshooter.

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield, and as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world.

Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to “leave no one behind.” But upon returning to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.”

There are a lot of emotions that this movie evokes and I don’t know that I’ve fully unpacked them all.  To see a man so capable in warfare be virtually incapable of engaging life at home was difficult to come to terms with.  I found myself rooting for him to stay home and engage the very lives he is seemingly protecting.  But then the movie would show him again in Iraq, on his next tour.

You also had the times where his frustration at not being able to protect the Marines for which he acts as the “overwatch.”  Or the times the Iraqis who helped the US military are harmed.  I found this frustration and Cooper’s Kyle easy to identify and empathize with, in these times.

Make no mistake though, this movie is violent, the emotions are raw, and seeing Kyle wrestle with the decision to shoot or not shoot people, women and children included, that are intending to bring harm to troops, is not something I’ve seen many movies wrestle with.  You sense no satisfaction from Kyle to take these lives, but he does none-the-less take them.  He sees himself as what his father described as a sheep dog; one that protects the sheep from the wolves.

There are a lot of people who would say Kyle is an American hero.  There are some who would not say many flattering things about the war or Kyle, because of his involvement and their view on such things.  I don’t see this movie changing anyone’s minds on either of these points.  What this movie may do, however, is allow you into the toll war takes on the lives of the military and their families.  Maybe you’re familiar with this and maybe not, but the depth at which the impact of battle ripples and reverberates through lives long after the context is changed cannot be ignored (at least by me).

As bullets fly and souls die, the family is asleep at home
The shot is quick but the impact will stick, as wounds are felt on both sides
A man, a wife, children, and life, will never be the same
No love is lost, but counting the cost, takes years to unfold

I wrote that after watching the movie but I’m not sure why.  it’s not all that profound or developed and I’m no poet.  For some reason though, I could not walk away from this movie without those words echoing in my head.

Because of this, I recommend the movie to anyone interested.  Not so much for its entertainment value, but more so that you can get a glimpse of what families of veterans are probably all familiar with.  Maybe too, so that you will wrestle with the impact war has on both those in and out of the context of battle. It is rated “R” and the violence and language are what you would expect from a wartime movie.  Also of note, $1 from every sale of this movie will go to the Wounded Warriors Project.


Thanks to Grace Hill Media and Warner Bros., I was given this 3 copies of this movie.  One to watch for this review, one to give to a veteran, and one to give away to one of my readers.  If you are interested in winning a copy of this movie, leave a comment below about the best movie, series, or television show you’ve seen about war.  (A winner will be chosen at random on Thursday, May 21).


 

random CONGRATULATIONS to Veronica S!  You are the giveaway winner.  Thanks to everyone who read the review and entered the contest!

VeggieTales NOAH’S ARK – Review and GIVEAWAY

Imagine a world where vegetables build an ark made of wood from a fruit bearing tree, that is in the shape of a slice of that fruit, and the animals inside have an Old Testament version of Kalahari Water Resort to spend the duration of the rains and floods with Noah and his family.

Whether you can imagine it or not, your need for it stay in your mind is no more!  Dreamworks Animation has delivered a new VeggieTales adventure that happens in the context of the above paragraph.  The subtitle of this movie is “A Lesson in Trusting God” and you see that throughout the movie again and again.

Noah's Ark 1The general story is as Shem (voiced by Wayne Brady) and his new wife Sadie (voiced by Jaci Velasquez) return from their honeymoon they come face to face with Noah’s project giant ship being built in the exact place Shem had planned to start his new life.  He constantly questions the reasoning behind the plan and if he can add to the plan for the ark, but doesn’t embrace the plan from God until later in the film.  This is all set on the backdrop of the general story of the ark.

There is the typical VeggieTales humor and even a silly songs piece in the middle, but generally if you’ve seen a VeggieTales movie before you know what to expect from one of their movies.  Now that doesn’t mean it won’t entertain the little ones – my 2 1/2 year old has sat through the majority of it more than once.

So this movie is great for kids.  It had some humorous places for adults as well, but I found it on par with most kids shows where I wasn’t engaged the whole time.  No problem, as I’m not the target audience!

Some purists may have a beef with varying from the Biblical account in a few ways, but I think you may be missing the point of the story.  That doesn’t make you wrong – that just may mean you won’t enjoy it.

Noah's Ark 3Like I said though, if you have kids that enjoy cartoons, especially ones that enjoy VeggieTales, then this movie is a fun animated adaptation of the story in the Bible.  It had some different takes on things from a VeggieTales standpoint that kept it fresh and the subtext of trusting God was a good message to hang around even after the movie stopped.  I think kids will enjoy the movie and the parents will enjoy the message!

For the GIVEAWAY! Comment below what you remember most about Noah’s Ark from when you were a kid.  I will let Random.org select 1 lucky commenter (or maybe it’s commentator) to win a free DVD copy of this movie that releases on Tuesday, March 3 at retailers everywhere and for digital download.

** I was provided a free copy of this movie from Grace Hill Media and Dreamworks Animation.  I was asked to write a review and given a second copy of the DVD to give away.  Thank you GHM and Dreamworks Animation!

*** Randomized Winner Has Been Picked (after randomizing 40 times)!  Lisa Jennings was our winner!  Congrats Lisa!! random

But will it keep me from going to heaven?

gate

When discussing the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ with many Christians there is often a question on the minds of those in the discussion.  They want to know if what you’re discussing is a requirement to go to heaven.

For example, I was in the middle of a discussion a while back about forgiveness and someone who has been a Christian for probably 30+ years said towards the end, “Ok, but do you think not forgiving is a hurdle to getting to heaven?”

Just to be honest, I hate that question and that line of thinking.

What I hear in that questions is, “Ok, I get the concept, but is it something I really have to do to get to heaven.”  Or “Thats great, but do I get what I want out of it?”

I don’t like it because it’s made the whole thing a “If I do ____ I’d better get _____ out of it.”  It’s a transaction.  It’s work for pay.  It’s a hope that the gratification I get is bigger than the sacrifice that concept requires.

I liken it to getting married just to have sex; only participating in something because in the end you’ll get something you really want.  A good marriage will have sex, but if that’s all it is, then it will usually fade and fall apart.  And if that is the motivation, then the relationship is a throwaway.

The same is true for a Christian.  If we’re only a Christian to protect us from some super scary image of a fiery hell that comes to mind, then you’re in it primarily for the afterlife.  Everything you do or don’t do is viewed through the context of “Does this put me in the queue for heaven or in the pit of hell?”

Getting back to the question from the gentlemen about forgiveness, you see how he’s primarily concerned about forgiveness as it relates to his status as the “in” crowd when he dies.  That doesn’t mean he’s not concerned with other facets of it, but he’s revealed his primary facet and that’s going to heaven.  That’s what motivates him, consciously or subconsciously.

My response was simply that unforgiveness is a hurdle to relationship, which is the primary issue.  It not only keeps us out of relationship with others, but in doing so, keeps us from a whole relationship with God.  Isn’t that what we always been told, it’s about relationship?  If Jesus says we must forgive to be forgiven (Matthew 6:14), then that makes it clear.  Not because it will keep you from heaven, which it will, but because it keeps you from relationship with God, which is the whole point of life now and the afterlife.

It’s simple, but it’s not necessarily easy.  In fact, the truth is that you cannot properly and wholly forgive everyone without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  But when you start to live out of the fact that you can forgive because you have been forgiven by God (despite being set against him in your will versus his will, making your king instead of him in your life, before surrendering to him in your repentance) and that it’s not about your rights and what you deserve, but about His glory then the door is opened to forgiveness for the “unforgivable.”

Jesus said eternal life is to know the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3).

I emphasized that word because it means an intimate knowledge born out of an intimate relationship, like what you see in a marriage.  A relationship that grows and deepens over time.  A relationship that you treasure and would give anything to keep healthy and whole.  A relationship that requires you to take your eyes off yourself, to put them on what the other party needs and wants, and joins you to one another – two becoming one.

If the relationship is the point, you don’t have to wait to “get into heaven” for that to begin.  You can have that now.  You can have that today.  If you are a Christian, you have been grafted into the family of God as co-heirs with Christ.  Now.  Today.  You don’t have to wait until you die to begin celebrating and have your actions demonstrate that truth.

In John 10:10 we read Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Life abundantly starts the moment you enter into the relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, not just when you die.  He didn’t say so you could have abundant afterlife!

Sure, heaven will be fantastic, but if that’s the point to you, then I think you’ve missed the point.  You’ve missed years to celebrate what has already been done, hoping for what is to still come, and live out of the identity and abundant life Christ gives.

Don’t ask if this or that is a hurdle to heaven.  Instead, ask if it is keeping you from relationship – whole, deep, intimate relationship – right now.  Then ask God to source you to forgive, to bring reconciliation, and redemption to this life.  Ask God for His Kingdom to be seen here on earth, in your relationships, as it is in heaven.

“Noah” movie thoughts and giveaway

I was recently offered the chance to get a free BluRay/DVD copy of the movie “Noah” in exchange for reviewing it and also giving a copy away (details after my take.)

So I sat down and watched this movie expecting the worst, based on some reviews I had read. I thought it was going to be ridiculously ignorant of the Biblical text and probably completely unwatchable.

I was wrong in a few different ways.

First, it wasn’t the worst.  It wasn’t the worst movie I had seen.  It wasn’t the worst movie “inspired” by the Bible.  It honestly wasn’t even that bad.  And by “that bad” I mean in the aspect of entertainment and special effects and other things I would rate any other movie on.

Second, it wasn’t “ridiculously ignorant of the Biblical text.”  Was it spot on? No.  Was it way off on everything? No.  Rarely have I seen depicted the sinful nature of man captured so well.  Rarely too have I seen an all too familiar attitude of Christians in their purpose to subdue the earth, held up to a critical light.

Along these lines, let me also say I grew up watching Christian cartoons for kids that were as “extra-Biblical” if not more in some regards.  Side stories were added to these childhood cartoons to involve characters from the future or maybe just to interact with the main Biblical characters and no one batted an eye.

Third, it wasn’t unwatchable.  I was interested in a good part of it, but I also checked out on a couple of things (checking email, FB, thinking about Gladiator, etc.)  That being said, it was long.  At times it was a little “out there” with an environmental and vegetarian message that could be felt as heavy handed.  The rock monsters/fallen angels and possible baby killing also weren’t highlights.

I came away wondering what the big fuss was.  I get that God was only referred to as “The Creator” but that’s more than many making films might give God.  Methuselah seems to have performed a miracle but there was no mention of it being God sourced, but that was more confusing to me than anything.

It filled 2 hours from a small portion of Scripture and while a lot of the movie was obviously expanded and “extra-Biblical,” I think some of the narrative of the flood – especially the sinfulness of man and God’s promise afterwards – make it through the movie, sometimes powerfully.

You might watch it and think it is dull.  You might watch it and keep a scorecard of what’s not in the Bible or what’s different than the Bible (you’d have a lot to work with).  You might watch it and find out someone’s take on the story of Noah – from it’s main themes and characters, to the main message from God, The Creator.  You may be able to watch it and think about sin and man’s depravity in a new way. Maybe you’ll decide you have no interest or you may decide you cannot watch it.  Whatever the case may be, I’m not sure the reaction we’ve heard in Christian circles matches the material.

Maybe I’m looking too hard for what’s redeemable rather than what’s condemnable, but I think there’s a possibility for conversation.  What do you think?

**ENTRY INFO: If you want to get a copy yourself for free, leave a comment here or on my facebook share of this link (if we’re facebook friends) about why you want a copy of the movie and what you’ve heard other people say about it. **  Entry deadline has been extended to Wednesday, August 6, at noon EST.

**Note: Noah was provided free from Grace Hill Media for review and give away purposes.

 

** UPDATE ** Congrats to Corey on winning the drawing based on Random.org random selection.

Maybe we’re in exile?

I was discussing a few thoughts with a friend recently about the things facing the Church in America and it hit me; maybe we’re in exile.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, you have the Kingdom of Judah exiled in Babylon.  There is a lot to be said for why that happened, mostly it centered around Judah’s inability to care about their covenantal relationship with God, as a whole, but the what resulted was that Jerusalem is destroyed and many Jews are carried off to Babylon.

Add to that the fact that the western world is, by and large, coming out from a long established period of Christendom, where Christianity was the dominant force in culture and held influential sway over everything.  This has led many in the last few years to say today in our culture is closer to Babylon than Jerusalem.

So what’s my point?  What if instead of lamenting where America has gone and how the church is no longer holding the majority of cultural sway, we looked to engage society and culture from the point of view of someone exiled?  Instead of saying we need to recreate 1945 what if we started having conversations about engaging 2014?

The thought that struck me is that instead of being carried off to exile, basically exile has come to us.  Babylon has grown up all around us but we as the Church keep acting like we’re in our version of Jerusalem.  A lot of what we decide to do is window dressing as we paint the same structure with different colored paint, thinking that makes it different.

More and more we, the Church, not just those with the title “pastor” are going to have to think as if they were in Babylon.  More and more, Christians are going to have to see things through the lens of reality and that we are exiles.  I believe, more and more, we are going to have to realize we are missionaries to a culture that doesn’t know God through Jesus Christ; our culture all around us in America.

So are we as the Church in exile?  Did we get so comfortable in growing our churches, becoming affluent and similar to our culture that we missed being in the dynamic Kingdom partnership God created us for and sent Jesus Christ to pave the way for?  Has the King of Babylon laid siege to our strongholds because we’ve put our safety and comfort above the Mission of Christ?

It was a powerful thought for me and maybe it’ll open you to thinking about ministry a little more.  These questions aren’t perfectly answered but feel free to offer your thought in the comments.

Happy enough with being good

happy

I sat and heard a story from a Christian who talked about his boss who previously “cursed like a sailor.”  He talked about how that boss started by not cursing around him because he knew he was a Christian and he didn’t want to offend him.  He talked about how over time the boss stopped cursing all together and that brought this Christian joy.  He said he recognized that his boss wasn’t a Christian, but basically, at least he didn’t curse any more.

Few things pain me as much as hearing how happy Christians are with people being good.  Happy to the point of contentment.  Happy to the point of satisfaction.  Happy that people’s behaviors are not offensive.

The problem is that you are reinforcing a different religion.  Now, those practicing that religion might not call it that, but that’s essentially what it is – a religion of humanistic moralism.  (Maybe you prefer I call it humanism or something else to be technical, but this is not a technical blog).

The neo-atheistic movement claims that people can be pretty good and overly moral without religion.  I wouldn’t disagree completely.  So why is this such a powerful statement?  It is because we’ve made Christianity, and all religions, about being good.

So when Christians are happy to have “good kids” come out of years of sunday school, children’s church, and youth group, we’ve settled for being moral over being Christian.  For many, being good equals being Christian but in anything that is not fueled by Christ we cannot call Christianity.  It may look similar to Christianity from the outside, but that’s just the behavior.  It may even look better than some Christians, nicer, more graceful, but it’s not Christian; it’s being good.  It’s being nice.  It’s reliant on your ability to be these things.  It ignores Jesus in John 15:5.

Being a Christian means you are reliant on Christ not only for your salvation, but as the whole motivation and transforming power in your life.  He changes you on the inside and that works it way out into your behaviours.  There are behavioral implications of being a Christian, but they are the outworkings of an inward working.  They are secondary to what primarily is happening, ongoing, to your heart and mind as you are filled with Christ by the Holy Spirit.

If you’re good, that’s great.  But I want you to know Christ.  I want you to behold Him and rely on Him.  I want you to lay down your ways, to turn from the path you’re on, even if it’s a good path, for The Way – Jesus Christ.  Give up good for the greatness of God.  I am interested in you becoming a follower of Christ.  Maybe you’ll be a good person, but that’s because Christ has transformed you, motivating you inwardly, empowering you through the Holy Spirit, to act differently.

I’m sure your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are all happier when you’re moral and good.  I’m sure you feel some self satisfaction at your comparative goodness when you look around.  But my brothers and sisters in Christ, we call that self-righteousness because you are righteous in and by your self.  This is not Christianity, and if Christianity is your banner and your claim, then you cannot be simply be happy enough in being good.  If you could, why did Jesus have to come and die on the cross?  If you do, you’re missing the transforming power of Christ.

“Son of God” movie giveaway

SON OF GOD - Prize Pack Graphic

SON OF GOD comes to us from producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the husband-and-wife team responsible for the record-setting and award-winning miniseries THE BIBLE. It’s the first major studio film about Jesus’ teachings and ministry in over half a century!

In honor of the film’s release, we’d love to provide you with an official SON OF GOD prize pack. Each package will include a copy of the SON OF GOD soundtrack, the SON OF GOD companion novel, as well as a 1000 piece puzzle that is sure to entertain the entire family! – Grace Hill Media

The film comes out tomorrow, do you think you’re going to see it?  What interests you about the movie?  Leave a comment below and one randomly selected person will receive the prizepack!

Entry deadline is tomorrow, February 28, 2014 at 7 AM EST.

Good luck!

 

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