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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

PRAYING YOUR PURPOSE

Do your prayers reflect your purpose in life? I suspect they usually do. If the purpose of your life is success, your prayers will be driven by your ambition. If you just want to have fun, that purpose will certainly taint your prayer life. Is your ultimate purpose luxury or comfort? Do you live for pleasure? Is your life driven by fear or avoiding pain of any kind? Is your goal to always be at peace in yourself? That was not the purpose of our Lord.
In Matthew 12:27 Jesus said,
“Now is my heart troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”
Scripture could not declare that Jesus was tempted in every way we are, (Heb. 4:15) if He were spared inward disturbances. Does that mean we should never pray to be delivered from them? Not praying such prayers may never have occurred to you. But I think this is an important question to ask.
We know that Paul prayed for his thorn to be removed. (2 Cor. 12:8) Whatever Paul's thorn was, it disturbed him. He prayed three times for the Lord to take it away. Then he heard the Lord telling him that His power was made perfect in weakness.
Let me suggest some principles of God's purpose in our prayers.
First, you need to understand that God has a purpose for your life too. His ways are certainly as far above ours as the heavens are above the earth. (Isaiah 55:9) And we may need God to shake us pretty hard before we can can understand that pain may be an important part of His will, even His joy in us.
And we need to know that God will tell us what His will for us is. This may be too small of a way to look at this. God may be telling you His will for all the earth, for all of history or eternity. Such cosmic perspective is crucial to our prayers and even our comfort in difficult and painful situations.
We need to trust that God's will is good. But to see problems as good we have to see the larger picture. You have to cultivate a whole life view of happiness. You need to see your growing faith and promised hope to properly rejoice in God's grace. The life of Annie Johnson Flint was crushed by grief, sorrow, disease and physical pain. I am convinced that God used her suffering to show her glories the rest of us hardly glimpse. Among many others she wrote this hymn.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater.
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.
Here is the chorus.
His love has no limits. His grace has no measure.
His power no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again!
Is God molding your perspective and growing your prayers? Are you praying for or against God's purpose?

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Monday, August 7, 2017

WHY THE STORM

In Mark 6:45 Jesus made His disciple get into the boat and sent them into the storm. Why did he do that? Why does God insist that we go through storms in life? It is a principle that storms will come into our lives. We are not likely to understand the reason for many of the storms that we face until we stand before our Lord in glory. But you can at least understand that this is the will of God for you. Every Christian ought to be aware of the series of commands beginning in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. There God says, “Be joyful always.” Rejoice all the time. To do this you need to be able to reason with God's reasoning. Joy does not come because everything is easy in your life. Real joy depends on considering the reality of God, the intervention of God in your life and His clear purpose for you. To do that you have to spend time in God's word, prayer and in the worship and the true fellowship of church.
When Jesus sent His disciples into the storm, He went up on the mountain and prayed for seven hours. Do you ever pray that long? Of course we are so much stronger than Jesus that we can get by with a couple of minutes. Do I need to tell you I am being facetious? The next command in 1 Thessalonians 5 is “Pray continually.” This is the key to thanksgiving and joy.
God's third instruction there is, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Here we are given the reason we can and should give thanks in or out of the storm. “For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” God is not surprised by your situation. He still has His loving hand on you.
God has strengthened me again and again from John 12. In verse 27 Jesus said, “Now is my heart troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. 'Father, glorify your name!’”
In Mark 6 Jesus came to His disciples in the storm. But they didn't recognize Him. “It's a ghost!” While storms are inevitable in life, Jesus will come to believers in the storm. And even though that storm may be no benefit to you, God will work powerfully through it. He will teach you more in the storm than He would in a hundred seminars. He will strengthen your faith in ways He could not do in the sunshine.
This relates to God's whole purpose in creation and redemption. When God created the earth He knew Satan would tempt and we would fall into sin. Why didn't He refrain from creating us. He also knew the extent He was willing to go to to redeem us.
When your sports team is far behind, you might say,”This is a terrible game.” But when they come back to win against amazing odds, your joy abounds! We have a friend who occasionally says, “I started out with a disadvantage.” In fact, we all begin life with moral, physical and spiritual disadvantages. In this God has set us up for His incomproble love and redemption. His grace in our lives is greater than it would have been had we never sinned. When we come to know Him, He receives us into the embrace of forgiveness. We have been adopted into His family. We become children of God! We are now set up to receive the glory only God knew from before creation.
When storms blow up on your sea, you can be sure Jesus will come bringing His rescue, your redemption and your ultimate joy!
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Sunday, July 30, 2017

PRAYER FOR HEALING

HEALING PRAYER
“If anyone among you is sick let him call for the elders of the church to pray over them anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
James 5:14,15

Few things that we do in the church are more Christlike than praying for God to heal the sick. For a number of reasons there has been much controversy over this in the church in the last 50 or so years. As much as possible I would like to avoid controversy that may arise.
Possibly because of the controversies I have seen very little written about this. I think it might be most helpful to draw some principles from the healing done by the church in Scripture. Let's look at the final healing recorded in the book of Acts. Paul was being taken as a prisoner to Rome. The ship was caught up in terrible storm. They were tossed across the sea for days and days. Then Paul stood up and assured them all that God had told him they would be saved. But they would have to land on a certain island. The ship indeed crashed on the shore of Malta completely destroying the ship. But all those on the ship, 276 souls, were saved. The rain continued to pound on them but the islanders received them and gave them shelter. And they learned that the father of the Roman official on the island was sick. So we read in Acts 28:8,
“His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.”

Let me suggest two principles that might guide our activity in praying for the sick. The first is
Compassion. Compassion ought to be a driving force in the church. Again and again the gospels tell us that Jesus looked on people crowding around Him with compassion. And Paul said, “The love of Christ compels us.”(2 Cor. 5:14) If Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth to die for us, how can we hold ourselves above or apart from the needs of others. If we care enough we will pray for people even when it embarrasses us or them. The compassion of agape will drive us to pray publicly for them even if we have little confidence in our prayers.

Compassion gives birth to faith, and faith acts in love. Galatians 5:6 speaks of faith that expresses itself through love. The faith required here is not simply faith in miracles. It is faith in God. It is faith that God loves the hurting person more that we love her. It means believing in God even if we do not see the miracle we long for. It means trusting Him to help us suffer with those who are ill and infirm. God calls us to trust Him enough to pray especially in dire circumstances and painful conditions. He calls us to trust Him in this world that has not yet been healed of all tears.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

THE BENEFIT OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE

Have you ever noticed that before a mission trip or some great event or in fact before a great work of God in your life, you have intensified spiritual attack?

I believe there is a reason God not only allows but arranges attack in your life. There are a number of benefits that come to us through spiritual attack. Toughening strengthening of faith, the necessary humility, the development of character, and compassionate empathy are wrought in us through trials and yes, spiritual warfare.
I believe the primary or all encompassing reason God allows those things is the preparation of Prayer. We need prayer for that mission trip, for that great gift of God, for the work God wants to do around us. And spiritual warfare drives us to pray. We pray far more consistently because we are under spiritual attack. We pray more fervently because we are in spiritual attack. We pray listening prayers under spiritual attack. We pray more faithfully because we're in spiritual attack.
Of course when you are in spiritual attack the goal is to be obedient. But in addition to any general obedience you need the specific obedience of prayer.
And God is allowing spiritual attack because you simply need more time in his presence. You need the imprint of His reality and majesty, His power and nearness. When you are facing spiritual attack you have to pray as you have never prayed. And you can pray with anticipation because of what God is preparing to bring about in your life. And that kind of praying is necessary for us to walk in the work of God.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

LISTENING IN PRAYER

Nothing is more important for praying together than a listening heart. Do you remember the story of Solomon's prayer in 1 Kings 3? The Lord told Solomon He would give him whatever he asked. In 1 Kings 3:9 Solomon asked God for a “discerning heart.” The Hebrew word translated “discerning” is “shema.” Some of you have heard of the Jewish prayer called “The Shema.” Shema is the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Shema means to listen or to hear. I do not object to translators rendering this word, discerning, here. But literally Solomon was praying for a listening heart. Listening is the foundation of spiritual discernment.
Listening is crucial for praying together. If you come into prayer full of what you want to say, you will miss what God is saying to you. C.S. Lewis gave us a poem in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

They tell me, Lord, that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since but one voice is heard, it’s all a dream,
One talker aping two.

Sometimes it is, yet not as they
Conceive it. Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say,
But lo!, my wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talkers, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

When we pray, especially when we are trying to pray together, we need to be able to listen for what God wants to breath through our lips and into the group prayer. And of course, God will speak to you as others in the group pray. As you learn to listen to others you will hear what God is showing others in the group, and what He is saying to them. Soon you realise that God Himself is speaking to you through the prayers of the others.
Such listening hearts are indeed a work of God in our midst. And it is a thrilling evidence of His holy presence in our prayers.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

HOW DID THEY DO THAT?

Have you ever been in a dynamic prayer meeting, a heart stirring, life changing, earth shaking prayer meeting? I know of a number of such prayer meetings in history, some even in my own lifetime. And there are several prayer meetings in the book of Acts that I would have given anything to be part of. Fortunately the Holy Spirit inspired them and Luke communicated them to us in such a way that you can almost step into them simply by reading the book of Acts.
We see one of those prayer meetings in the 4th chapter. Peter and John have been released from arrest by the Sanhedrin where they were beaten and warned not to speak again in the name of Jesus. When they finished reporting, the prayer meeting erupted. We read beginning from Acts 4:24.
“When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:’
“‘Why do the nations rage
   and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
   and the rulers band together
against the Lord
   and against his anointed one.’
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God Boldly.”
The Bible says they raised their voices together and prayed this long prayer. Now tell me, how do you think they did that? Did they all have it memorized so they could quote it like The Lord's Prayer? I think this is what happened. John said ‘Sovereign Lord!’ With that Peter said, 'You made the heavens!’ James said, ‘And the Sea!’ Bartholomew added, ‘and everything in them!’ As a 10 year old girl Mary the wife of Clopas had memorized some of the Psalms to sing as she did her chores. As they prayed David’s words filled her heart and she began to pray them. And one at a time the believers prayed off one another’s prayers.
We could pray the same way. Notice 3 crucial things we can see in this prayer and as we pray together ourselves.
First, we see the Fellowship of praying together. They were binding their hearts together in prayer. The person who is nervous can listen to someone else and something will come to her mind or his mind. In fact, someone who has never prayed can be taught to pray by being part of this body of Prayer. To do that everybody has to be paying attention to one another. Have you ever been in a prayer meeting and while others were praying you were thinking about what you were going to say? I have. And I'm ashamed of it. God will stir your heart with the prayers of others.  When you pray together you can come into a deep bond of love and fellowship.
And we can see the Faith of praying together. Not only do you trust God in praying together but you have to have faith in God who is working in other people. They encouraged one another's faith as they prayed off each other and really prayed one prayer together. If you think you're the only one that has a word from God or knows how to pray to God you'll miss out on this kind of praying. When you're praying together you can trust Holy Spirit working in the whole group.
Finally this passage shows dramatically the Effect of praying together. When they got through praying the place where they prayed was shaken and they all began to speak the word of God with boldness. There is something very symbolic about this. That doesn’t mean it didn't happen. In fact this is how God revealed himself all through history. There was something symbolic about God coming down in the fire to Moses at the bush. But it was much more powerful symbolism because it really happened. When the Jordan River damned itself so Joshua could lead the children of Israel across it was symbolic, but it was powerful symbolism because it really happened. They piled Stones up to remind future generations of what God did. When God shook that place and even the shyest person spoke the word of God boldly, they knew God was at work. And the symbolism of that prayer meeting continues to this day as God works mightily when His people pray together.
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Sunday, July 2, 2017

PRAYING SPIRITUAL WARFARE

Prayer is one of the most important factors in effective spiritual warfare. Prayer climaxes Paul's battlefield instructions in Ephesians 6. You must receive the Lord's armor from His hands. You can only be strong in the power of His might by spending time in His presence.
You have been frustrated from time to time by things you’ve seen that are wrong in your school, or your workplace, or your family, your neighborhood, or nation. There are primarily two questions here. (1) How do you cope with frustration, keeping a sweet spirit in the trial, loving people with God's love. And (2) how do you make a significant impact on things that are wrong around you. Both of these are spiritual issues. The enemy laughs when you deal with these problems as if they could be handled in your own strength.
We do not wrestle against human strength or the force of human ingenuity. We are up against the schemes of a spiritual enemy. We do not merely face human politics or earthly authority. We are up against principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.
And our warfare is not just defensive. We pray for the gospel to be spread, for lives to be changed, for the earth to be shaken by the mighty hand of God.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

FEELING OUR PRAYERS

When I was in high school there was a mature Christian who worked with the youth in our church. He encouraged young people to go through The Navigators’ Bible memory program (TMS) and led what were called deeper life Bible studies. While I was away at college I heard he was extremely ill and nearly died. During that time I prayed sporadically but earnestly for him.
Several years later I saw him again for the first time after his recovery. I was thrilled to see him back at his work. And I told him I had prayed for him. His answer seemed strange to me. He said, “Brother, l felt those prayers.”
I cannot think of any place in the Bible that links prayer with feeling. I think of prayer like Elijah at Mt. Carmel. When fire fell from heaven the people felt Elijah's prayer like you might feel a tornado. Trembling with fear they fell on their faces crying, “The LORD He is God!”
The Children of Israel had to be frightened when the Red Sea parted. Nothing less than the Armies of Pharaoh could have made them walk out into that canyon between two towers of water held in place by the wind. They felt the power of God, but it was certainly not just internal.
Still, in a way I understand what my friend might have meant. The God who works by parting seas and healing the sick also comforts His children. People can feel God's embrace as we pray. I believe someone can be assured of the presence of God because others are praying. And people can know God holds them tightly in His hands because we are praying for them.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

PRAYING IN THE AFTERMATH

Have you ever been too sick to pray? I doubt it. Unless you were unconscious, you were not. You were probably never hurting too much to cry out to God. You were never too upset to pray. When you most upset you had to tell God.
But did you pray as much or as fervently after you began to feel better? I seldom have, and that is a shame. God often speaks clearly to us through illness, even if it is no more than a cold. But it is hardest to hear His voice when we are distracted by discomfort. When you are feeling a little better, you need to pray for sound insights. That is the time you will be able to fathom the depth of what God has been saying in the time of illness.
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Sunday, May 7, 2017

THE SINNER'S PRAYER

I have tremendous respect for David Platt. I pray nearly every day for God to continue to use him mightily. I recommend listening to his sermons. You can find many of them on YouTube. David has shocked people by preaching against telling people to pray a sinner's prayer. He rightly notes that we have been guilty of communicating to people that they can be right with God by praying those words as a sort of ritual without becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I agree with David. But I also believe a person cannot become a disciple without a direct connection with the Lord. That is prayer. We respond to God's embrace in prayer. If we look at the words we use as a conversion prayer, we see this intent.
We encourage people to pray a prayer of the conviction of sin.
Lord I know I am a sinner.”
We also include repentance.
I want to turn from my sins to you.”
If we are going to lead people to invite Christ into their life, we should warn them that they are doing business with Almighty God. They need to be fearful of praying such words without meaning them.
And inherent is the gospel is the fact that we cannot even repent without God's help. People do not come to God by their sincerity. We must come receiving His forgiveness.
I know You died for me. I accept your forgiveness, and Your gift of eternal life. I trust myself to You.”
One of the problems with using the “sinner's prayer” for evangelism is that it is so easy. It is tempting for us because we don't have to enter into a life-long relationship with the person praying. Just get them to pray these words.
It is also too easy for the person coming to Christ. Someone can pray those words without even thinking. I also believe a person can come to Christ and truly be born again without saying the right words. We might suggest that a person think about the decision she is making over night before she prays such a prayer. Of course, we will need to be sensitive to the person and to the Holy Spirit in the situation. But You can trust Him to bring to completion the work He has begun in a person who has heard the gospel.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

IDEAL PRAYER

I want to speak to you today about ideal prayer. I want you to see the nature of the prayer life we are growing into. Before I begin, I need to say that you do not have to be mature in your prayer to connect with God and affect the world. The Bible calls us to pray all the time whether you know what to pray or not. Although we are weak and shallow and immature, we're praying to a God who is infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful.
At the same time it is important to see what our prayer is growing toward. One of the passages that give us the best picture of the prayer available to us is John 15. Look with me at John 15:7,8.
“If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
This verse begins, "If you remain in me." It is important to see that this is part of the same thought as John 15:5.
“I am the vine you are the branches. If anyone remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus is talking about ultimate continual intimacy. This is related to Paul's command for us to pray without ceasing. Remaining in Him is to live every day in constant awareness of His presence, in constant intimacy with Him. John 17 is essentially in the same context. There Jesus prayed a powerful prayer for us. Toward the end of that prayer He prayed that we would be unified with Him and with the Father, “I in them and you and me.”
John 15:7 continues, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” Do His words dwell in your mind and heart? Do you see how this is essential to prayer? You and I are bombarded with influences on every hand. To weed out those influences we need God's voice speaking to us, His word influencing us. What are the Lord's words to us? Are His words only the words Jesus spoke while He walked on Earth? His word certainly includes those. But His word would also include the entire Bible. Everything in the Bible focuses on Him. In John 5:39 Jesus said “You search the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life and they are they which testify of me.” All Scripture is about Him. We see and connect with Him in Scripture.
His word will speak to you in any situation. If you wish to remain in His word, you need to memorize Scripture. I have sometimes had a scripture come to my mind that I had not memorized. That is a work of the Holy Spirit. However, I can multiply the occurrence of that by memorizing verses. Let me tell you something about the very passage that I'm writing to you about right now. These verses struck me some time ago. At the time I really wasn't exactly sure what He was saying to me. But I memorized the verses. Then I put them into my prayer guide that I pray through every day. And I begin to sense God speaking to me more and more.
Strangely enough, I remember getting glimpses of verses like this as a young Christian, and feeling like there was something wrong about them. It it seemed to me that God was saying, “If you pray what I want you to pray, you can have what you pray for. And there is a sense in which that is true. But of course I did not take into account that I didn't know what I would enjoy and what would be best for me nearly as well as God who loved me with everlasting love. It is a little like a child wanting to drive a car. He thinks being in control of that car means he can drive anywhere and anyway he wishes. But to really be in control he needs to stay on the road rather than the sidewalk or the front room of your house. Prayer is more powerful than any car. Remaining and his word matures our thinking. We begin to want what is best for us what is right what pleases God even if we do not understand it.
And the answered prayer that flows out of abiding in Him glorifies Jesus. Many wise people down through history have discovered that selfishness is the source of bitterness and heartache. But in fellowship with Jesus we discover the joy of glorifying our heavenly Father. Nothing else breaks our selfish perspective. And we are able to glorify Him as our prayers bear fruit. As God blesses others through our prayers, people will recognize that we are truly His disciples.

Monday, March 20, 2017

HUNGERING FOR GOD

Do you pray because you hunger for God? Or do you want what you are praying for more than you want God? I recently heard someone tell about being so desperate for something she wanted, that she spent days hunting for things she was doing wrong to repent of so God would  answer her prayer. And she said God did answer.
Do you hear the theology behind that? The notion that we need to get as right with God as possible so he will give us what we really want is not Christian. It is typical religion. You can find this thinking in every religion and cult group. Pharisees would have wholeheartedly endorsed this theology. But Jesus did not teach this kind of devotion. He taught some things that might be mistaken for it. He taught us to pray for what we want and need because He loves us. And He certainly taught repentance because we need it.
But we are to be devoted to God because we love Him. We should be willing to give up what we want in order to draw nearer to our Lord, rather than trying to draw nearer to God, so He will give us what we really want.
Suppose you passed on and left an inheritance for your daughter. And she fell in love and got married. Shortly after they were married her husband discovered he couldn't get his hands on the inheritance. And he told her plainly he was leaving because he really didn't love her, he only wanted her money. Would she feel used? How would you feel in that situation?
I made one of the most important commitments of my entire life as a young person at youth camp. Several years later at the same camp a friend asked me to come off alone with him because he needed to get right with God. One of the first things he told me was if he came home from camp without making a decision for Christ, his dad wouldn't let him get his driver’s permit. Would it surprise you that that his decision didn't make any difference in his life that next year?
How might it change your prayer life if you prayed because you needed God and wanted Him more than you wanted to be healed, or needed help in trouble, or whatever you want God to give you?


Monday, March 6, 2017

PRAYING YOUR SABBATH

I believe we have to some extent lost the concept of observing the Sabbath in these days. I believe we still need a Sabbath rest. Hebrews 4 indicates that Jesus is now our Sabbath. Whatever other applications there are to this truth, it certainly means we rest in our relationship with Him. And the most important facet of observing a Sabbath rest is prayer.
By prayer we come to intimacy with God. It is worth something to devote a day once a week to prayer. I don't think I should never have recreation on my Sabbath. But recreation shouldn't take precedence over prayer.
A Sabbath should include some physical rest. Jesus taught and healed on the Sabbath. But He also took His disciples off for an occasional vacation. But I can pray while I am resting physically.
Are you praying a Sabbath rest?
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