The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: November 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Abomination of Desolation

P.AllanIn 66 A.D. the full-scale revolt began.  Jews in Jerusalem, infuriated by Roman rule that buried them with taxes and blasphemed their holy places, united, rose up and drove the oppressors out.  The Romans soon returned, this time from the north, 60,000 strong.  They crushed Galilee.  One hundred thousand Jews were killed or enslaved.  The Romans then swept south through the country and laid siege to Jerusalem.  In the summer of 70 A.D. they finally breached the city walls.  The temple was burned and hundreds of thousands were executed, many who had fled into the city for safety.    When Jerusalem fell, the Jewish state collapsed, not to be established again until 1948.  (The video above is a 59-minute, dramatized BBC version of the conquest; I found it worth watching.)

Forty years earlier, it’s Tuesday in Jerusalem, three days before Jesus’ crucifixion.  It had been a day of verbal conflict in the temple courtyard as chief priests, scribes, elders, Herodians, Pharisees and Sadducees unsuccessfully tried to ambush Jesus into incriminating himself (Mark 11:27-12:37).

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately,  “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (13:1-4).

Before leaving the temple, Jesus had prophetically warned many deceivers would come in his name; disciples must not be misled.  Wars, earthquakes and famines would strike; disciples must not fear or presume the end is near.   Deadly persecution would arise; disciples must continue to preach the gospel to all nations and endure to the end (13:5-13).  Then Jesus prophesies an unthinkable coming disaster:

 But when you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong– let the reader understand– then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out.  Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter,  because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now– and never to be equaled again.  If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.  At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect– if that were possible.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:14-23).

What is “the abomination that causes desolation”?  That ominous phrase comes from Daniel’s prophecy in the 6th century B.C.   Here’s one of several texts referring to it  . . .

“And the people of the prince who is to come
shall destroy the city and the sanctuary . . .
Desolations are decreed . . .
And on the wing of abominations
shall come one who makes desolate,
until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
(Daniel 9:26,27b)

The prophecy was fulfilled in 167 B.C. when a Greek-influenced Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”) offered sacrifices to Greek gods in the Jerusalem temple in order to put an end to Judaism.  Now in 30 A.D.  Jesus picks up Daniel’s prophecy and predicts another fulfillment when another “abomination” will desecrate the temple and bring desolation to the city.  Forty years later Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled by the Romans as cited above.

I take three lessons from this.

One, tribulation marks the end of this age.  False “messiahs”, wars, famines, earthquakes, and Christian persecution characterize these last days (Jesus’ Incarnation to his Second Coming).  It’s obvious from history and current events that the end of this age is full of tragedy and troubles.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal
that is taking place among you to test you
as though something strange were happening to you.
(1 Peter 4:12, NKJV).

“We must go through many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God”
(Acts 14:22, NIV).

Two, Jesus prophesied to warn us.  Biblical prophecy isn’t given as a game or for insider-information.  It’s given to encourage us and warn us.  This one Jesus gave to warn his disciples, so they might be ready and kept safe from “the abomination of desolation.”

“. . .let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Let no one on the roof of his house go down
or enter the house to take anything out.
Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.
How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women
and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter . . .  

if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’
or, ‘Look, there he is!’
do not believe it . . .
So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time”
(Mark 13:14b-18,21,23)

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence,
they still would not believe in him
(John 12:37).

Three, Jesus’ prophecies come true.  This one certainly did.  The disciples saw it.  30 A.D. prophecy.  70 A.D. fulfillment.  Of course, people who disbelieve the miraculous manufacture “reasonable explanations”—like the disciples wanted us to believe their gospel so Mark composed this prophecy after Jerusalem fell!

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence,
they still would not believe in him.
(John 12:37)

 

These are pretty dark words.  Let’s leave off with words of light.  Tribulation does mark these last days.  Jesus gave this prophecy to warn us.  And his prophecies do come true.  So let’s hear his prophetic words given to encourage us, which will indeed come true (and which we’ll consider next time) . . .

“But in those days after that tribulation,
the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in clouds with great power and glory”
(Mark 13:24-26, ESV).

AND THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
WILL BE FORGOTTEN HISTORY!

 

 

 

 

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Thank Who

O PreacherI’ve always wondered who most people thank on Thanksgiving.  Christian Smith’s research (Soul Searching:  The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers) shows we’ve pretty much made God a moral–therapeutic deity, who sits in his heavenly firehouse ’til we sound the alarm.  So, unless he put out a holocaust for us last year, whom will we thank tomorrow?

Perhaps in some homes where parents want to instill a gratitude attitude in their children, everyone in turn will say thanks to someone else at the table.  “I want to thank Mom for feeding us all year.”  “I want to thank Dad for working hard so we can have what we have.”

That’s a far cry from the apostle’s admonition . . .

” . . . be filled with the Spirit . . .
giving thanks always and for everything
to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . ”
(Ephesians 5:19a,20)

Thank who?  God the Father.  Practically from cover to cover, the Scriptures make God the “who” of giving thanks.

But the unregenerate heart balks.  In fact, the apostle makes refusal to thank God a step downward to depravity.

“For although they knew God,
they did not honor him as God OR GIVE THANKS TO HIM,
but they became futile in their thinking,
and their foolish hearts were darkened”
(Romans 1:21).

Therefore, we need the regenerating work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to awaken us to the reality of the “giving-ness” of God and to enable us to respond with heartfelt thanks.

Of course, this “thank you” to God shouldn’t be reserved for one American holiday.  ” . . . giving thanks ALWAYS and FOR EVERYTHING”, Paul urges us in Ephesians 5:20 (above).  Earlier he wrote similarly to the Thessalonians . . .

” . . . give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18).

In all circumstances.”  “For everything.”  The latter phrase might mean for every good thing.  But the former makes it uncomfortably clear that no matter the circumstances, God wants us to thank him.  Does that mean I should thank God for every circumstance, as in “Thank you, God, for this illness”?  If “for everything” means literally what it says, it does.  That’s lunacy, unless we believe Romans 8:28 (which is not always easy to believe!).  But, even if God isn’t telling me to thank him for my illness, he is telling me to give him thanks in all circumstances.  “Thank you, Father, for Jesus, through whom you have reconciled me to yourself and thank you, Father, for the Spirit who indwells me with your holy, transforming presence.”

Question.  Does God “will” us to thank him because his ego needs massaging?  (“Hey, look.  I’ve given you lots of good things and I’m not feeling real appreciated.  So, how ’bout a great big THANK YOU, GOD!”)  Or does he want us to say thanks to teach us good Christian manners?  (“It’s not polite to not say thank you to me!”)  No, he wants us to thank him, because he deserves our thanks.  But, perhaps even more, he wants us to thank him because it does our heart goodThere comes a sense of fullness–of fulfillment–that makes the joy of receiving from God complete when we thank him.

This isn’t a commercial brought to us by God for a happy American Thanksgiving.  As we always hear, we should give thanks all year.  True.  But perhaps we can in some way make tomorrow a particular, even memorable, thanks-giving to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because . . .

“Every good gift and every perfect present
comes from heaven;
it comes down from God,
the Creator of the heavenly lights,
who does not change or cause darkness by turning.”
(James 1:17, TEV)

Okay, everybody sitting round the table.  Before stuffing mouths with turkey stuffing, let’s give one big shout-out to God . . .

THANK YOU, GOD!

Oh, we can do better than that!  One more time—bigger!

 

THANK YOU, GOD!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving

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Squanto: A Thanksgiving Miracle

O PreacherMaybe you’ve heard this story before.  Even so, it’s worth reading again (as it was for me).  You may even want to read it around the Thanksgiving table.  I’m indebted to Eric Metaxas who brought it back to mind on the  “Wall Street Journal” Opinion page today (http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-miracle-of-squantos-path-to-plymouth-1448406073).

About 1608 (12 years before the Pilgrims arrived) an English ship arrived at what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Friendly Patuxet Indians welcomed them.  But the sailors’ intention wasn’t friendly:  they brutally captured a number of the braves, took them to Spain, and sold them into slavery.

One became the property of some Catholic friars, who treated him well and set him free.  He began dreaming of somehow returning to the New World.  He managed  to get from Spain to London where he stayed with a man named John Slany who taught him English.  In 1618, the he found a ship that would take him to the New World, if he would work as an interpreter.

So it was that after ten years, the Indian returned to his village.  But when he arrived, he was shocked to find it deserted.  The Patuxets had all died from a disease (smallpox?) brought by ships from Europe.  Captivity almost certainly saved his life.  But for what?  To live alone in the woods?

Two years later, in 1620, Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in England, arrived on the Mayflower.  Their original destination was Virginia.  But, unable to go that far, they chose instead to settle at Plymouth.  It was November.  Harsh conditions—frigid temperatures, wet ground, little food—brought illness and death to many.  How could God have led them to such suffering?  They considered returning to Europe.

Then after the dark cold winter, one spring day in 1621, an Indian walked out of the woods.  He spoke English.  He had lived in London.  And he had grown up on the land where they now stood.  He knew how to plant corn and squash, how to find fish, and how to survive in the wilderness.

His named was Squanto.

Lucky for those Pilgrims, huh?  In Metaxas’ telling of the true story he calls it “an outrageous miracle of God.”  The Pilgrims certainly believed so.  The Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford wrote in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God.”

We can be sure on that first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims gratefully gave thanks for more than food.  In a typically mysterious God-way, he provided for his people’s survival  in the New World.

Outrageous miracle indeed!

Oh, we should remember that God—our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ—
still acts “outrageously” today.

reenactment of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Mass. (AP/Plimoth ...

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20,21)

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Alone with Jesus

P.Allan My private prayer time is suffering.  Whenever I pray, my illness tugs at my mind—like metal to a magnet—and won’t let go.  I need help to return to God-centered praying.  The following blog, published by “Desiring God,” spoke to me.  Perhaps it will to you too.

One thing.  I wish Chan had shared lessons he’s learned about private prayer.  Here are a few of mine.  (1) Begin with a minute or two of quieting down to become conscious of coming before the Lord.  (2) Dump your read-through-the-Bible-this-year program.  (It’s valuable, but, I, at least, tend to rush through the reading.  Instead, pick a Bible book you’re interested in.  (3) Ask the Lord to speak to you through it.  (4)  Read a small portion or until something “stands out” to you.  (5) Be still and meditate on that portion or your “stand out” verse.  Repeat it over and over in your mind.  (6) Ask the Lord to enable you to believe it or obey it or whatever the appropriate response .

Okay, enough from me.  Here’s what Chan wrote (with thanks to “Desiring God”) . . .

The Greatest Thing You Could Do Today
Francis Chan / November 23, 2015

Imagine walking up a mountain alone. But it’s no ordinary mountain. The ground beneath you is shaking, and the entire mountain is covered in smoke. At its peak is a thick cloud with lightning and thunder. God descends onto the mountain in fire, and each time you speak to him, he responds in thunder. This is what Moses experienced in Exodus 19.

Now compare that experience to your last time in prayer.

Distracted, obligatory, ordinary — I doubt any such words came across Moses’s mind as he ascended the mountain. But some three thousand years later, we rarely marvel that God permits imperfect humans into his presence.

How did the shocking become so ordinary to us? Is it even possible for our experiences with God to be that fascinating?

Going Up the Mountain

A mentor of mine lives in India. Last year, he called me on the phone crying, distraught over the state of the church in America. “It seems like the people in America would be content to take a selfie with Moses. Don’t they know they can go up the mountain themselves? Why don’t they want to go up the mountain?”

When was the last time you enjoyed meaningful time alone with God? Time so good that you didn’t want to leave. It was just you, reading God’s words, in his holy presence.
I was fifteen years old when my youth pastor taught me how to pray and read the Bible alone. Now, more than thirty years later, I still can’t find a better way to start my days. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t refocus daily by going up the mountain.

It is alone with him that I empty myself of pride, lies, and stress.

• Pride: standing before a Person clothed in unapproachable light has a way of humbling you (1 Timothy 6:16).
• Lies: speaking to an All-Knowing Judge tends to induce honesty (Hebrews 4:13).
• Stress: kneeling before the God who causes men to fail or succeed replaces our anxiety with peace (Psalm 127:1).

Professional Gatherers

We often spend a lot of time and effort gathering believers together. We’ve become experts at gathering Christians around great bands, speakers, and events. Where we have failed is in teaching believers how to be alone with God. When is the last time you heard someone rave about their time alone with Jesus in his word? Gathering believers who don’t spend time alone with God can be a dangerous thing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:

Whoever cannot be alone should be aware of community. Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God’s voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray, and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has called you out. If you do not want to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.

The word community is thrown around quite a bit in Christian circles today. But our gatherings can be toxic if we do not spend time alone with God. I’ve been in many groups where people share their insights. The problem is not only that our insights are not as profound as we think they are, but that we’re so eager to share thoughts originating in our own minds, when we have a God who says,

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9)

I want to know the thoughts of God. I want to gather with people who have been reading God’s words, people who have prayed and interacted with him. I want to fellowship with those who fellowship with God. I couldn’t care less if you have a doctorate in theology or sixty years of life experience. I would rather talk with a fifteen-year-old who has been in the presence of God.

Can You Love Sermons Too Much?

There is so much discussion around books, sermons, and conferences. I’m not against those. After all, I’ve given a significant portion of my life to preaching sermons and writing books and going to conferences. But sometimes I wonder if it’s time to shift our focus.

We have to look at the facts. American Christians consume more sermons and books than any other group in the history of the world, but consider the state of the church. Has the increase in resources led to greater holiness? Greater intimacy with Jesus?

You could argue that the state of our churches would be even worse without the resources. Maybe that’s the case. Or could it be that these resources (and even this article) has the potential of distracting people from the Source itself? Maybe all of these books and sermons about Jesus have actually kept people from directly interacting with him. It may sound blasphemous to suggest our prayer lives may be weakened by all of the consumption of Christian material. Nonetheless, I want to throw it out there.

We live in a time when most people have a difficult time concentrating on anything. We are constantly looking for the quick fix and for faster solutions. So the thought of sitting quietly to meditate on Scripture and praying deeply in silence can be eagerly replaced by listening to a sermon while driving to work. While it’s definitely better than nothing (considering all of the other messages we are bombarded with daily), the point of this article is to say that there is no substitute for being alone with God.
We must learn to be still again.

Something Has to Go

It was simple for Paul. He loved being with Jesus. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Knowing Christ deeply consumed him (Philippians 3:8). There is no substitute for being alone with God. If you don’t have time, you need to quit something to make room. Skip a meal. Cancel a meeting. End some regular commitment. There is literally nothing more important you could do today.

God literally determines whether or not you take another breath. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Could anything be more important than meeting with the One who decides if you live through this day? Could anything be better? How can we not make time to be with the Maker of time?

What plans do you have today that you think so important that you would race past the Creator to get to them?

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Labor Pains

P.AllanI couldn’t believe my eyes.  A World Trade Center tower, hit by an airliner, its  fuel a blazing inferno, was collapsing under its own weight in a thunderous cloud of ash  (see video).

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down”(Mark 13:1,2).

The Jerusalem temple described by Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian: “The outward face of the temple in its front lacked nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. This temple appeared to strangers when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white.”

For 40 years King Herod had been rebuilding Solomon’s temple (destroyed by the Babylonians, 586 B.C.—Jeremiah 52), more stunning and secure than ever.  Magnificently ornate,  it occupied 1/6 of Jerusalem’s land area.  Here sacrifices for sin were made.  Here God’s presence dwelt among his covenant people.  From here his blessings flowed.  The temple was the religious center and capital of the nation.  Its destruction was as unthinkable as terrorists taking down the towers.  Were it to happen, it would mark a life-change for Israel too dreadful to contemplate.

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (13:3,4).

Jesus with his disciples had walked east-southeast out of the city through the narrow Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives where they enjoyed a panoramic view of Jerusalem and the temple.  Mount of Olives 259x100 Mount of Olives

Four of them pulled Jesus aside and whispered anxiously, “When will this happen and what signs will show they’re about to happen?”  Jesus’ answer challenges correct interpretation because, like all biblical prophets, he mingles the immediate future with the distant, so we have what scholars call “double fulfillment.”

I hold the view that Mark 13:5-23 applies to the first century believers.  Within that segment, Mark 13:14-23 predicts the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 A.D. (about 40 years after Christ).  And Mark 5-13 describes events characteristic of the time leading up to that fall and after.  Here are those three paragraphs . . .

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.    Vissarion, the false messiah, and the members of his mountain commune ...When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains (13:5-8).

 

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  And the gospel must first be Pro tip: When pulled over, dumping your beer out in the floorboard ...preached to all nations.  When you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.  ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved ()13:9-13).

The Fall.  “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong– let the reader understand– then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out.  Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in ... ’ Prophetic Denouncement <b>of Jerusalem</b> and It’s Religious Leadersthose days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now– and never to be equaled again.  If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.  At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect– if that were possible.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (13:14-23).

At the same time, I believe in Mark 13:5-8 and Mark 13:9-13 Jesus gives signs that indicate all history’s movement toward its end.  Signs: (1) false Christ’s (or spreaders of false “truth”), (2) wars, (3) earthquakes and famines, (4) Christians’ persecution; (5) the spread of the Gospel toward the end of all nations’ hearing.

In view of those signs, Jesus gives his disciples and us these exhortations:

“See that no one leads you astray” (13:5).  The spirit of antichrist is in the world.  False worldviews, false philosophies and false “truths” abound.  The media pound them into our minds.  The only objective truth we can trust is the Bible, God’s Word.  We must not be misled from it however popular the alternative and however few hold to it.

“Do not be alarmed” (13:7).  America’s main security threat is terrorism.  We drift  between assuming it can’t happen here again to fearing it will happen to me.  Jesus tells us not to be alarmed, because the worst they can do is kill our bodies.

“Be on your guard” (13:9).  I don’t think I’m being fanatical when I say Christianity is being less and less tolerated in America.  By this warning Jesus doesn’t mean, “Keep your faith a secret”, but, “Know that going public may get you in trouble.”

“Don’t be anxious . . . what you are to say” (13:10b).  We may be questioned, interrogated even.  The questions may be honest or hostile.  In any case, Jesus couples his encouragement with this assurance: 
” . . . say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (13:11b).

” . . . the one who endures to the end will be saved” (13:13b).  This is an eye-opening warning—endurance may be required.  “Endurance” is “the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time.”  This is also an eye-opening promise—the consummation of God’s saving work through Christ awaits those who endure!

Finally, Jesus makes a compelling statement at the end of 13:8—“These (false Christs, wars, etc.) are but the beginning of the birth pains.”  By this Jesus cautions us not to look at world conditions, then grab our white robes and stand waiting on the highest hill for his imminent coming.  At the same time “birth pains” is a glorious term.  Every mother knows labor pains are excruciating.  It’s the one time I say, “Thank God I wasn’t born a woman!”  I haven’t felt your pain, but I’ve heard your screams.  Its Birthing Time | Earth End - New Beginning However . . .

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (Jesus, John 16:21).

So Jesus’ caution contains a full-of-wonder expectation.  Breaking into the darkness and death of this age’s last days ” . . . they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with power and great glory.  And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (13:26,27). 


T
he new creation will be born!

DAILY GRACE: BRAND NEW

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poached Egg

O Preacher“Robins fly south for winter over sprinkled ice cream cones so tasty on a warm summer’s day.”  I used to think Jesus’ teaching to the temple courtyard crowd seemed almost as loony.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight. (Mark 12: 35-37).

Who is “The Lord” and who is “my Lord”?  Who’s putting whose enemies under whose feet?  David calls who Lord?  What’s the point of the whole lesson?  And what difference does it make to me?  Hint:  It all has to do with who Jesus really is.

It’s still Tuesday.   In the Jerusalem temple courtyard air hangs heavy with excitement and tension.  Since Sunday, when Jesus “triumphantly” entered Jerusalem, Jewish authorities have vainly  tried to verbally beat him into self-incrimination.  Friday they’ll do far  more:  crucify him.

The words Jesus quotes are the first verse of a familiar messianic psalm.  Here it is in its entirety . . .

1The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”  2The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.  3Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.  4The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  5The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.  6He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.  7He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head (Psalm 110:1-7).

In 110:1-3 King David prophesied how the Messiah-King would fight and rule over his enemies.  In 110:4 David prophesied how the Messiah-Priest would intercede for his people forever.  And in 110:5-7 how the Messiah-Warrior would fight and crush the rulers of the whole earth.

We know the Jews expected a political Messiah who’d deliver Israel from Rome and establish a David-like kingdom in Jerusalem.  However, when Jesus says, “David himself calls him ‘Lord'”,  then asks, “How then can he be his son?”,  Jesus is identifying Messiah as both king and priest forever who will extend his rule beyond the Middle East to “the whole earth.”

Unlike most preachers (and bloggers) today who wish to leave no question unanswered, Jesus leaves the crowd with a question to answer for themselves:  “If King David calls this one Lord, how can he be his son?”  Answer:  the one about whom Psalm 110 speaks is far greater even than King David.  He is David’s descendant, but David bows to him as Lord because he is THE LORD!

In this teaching to the temple crowd, Jesus identifies his lineage (he’s the son of King David) and his destiny (to provide sacrifice for his people’s sins and to rule the whole world).  In short, he will be enthroned as the divine King-Priest of (the new) creation forever.

I have trouble connecting that to “the real world” today.  For example, when I see TV news reports of the Middle East wars, of radical Islamist terrorist attacks (like Paris, the Russian airliner, the hotel in Mali West Africa), of the massive migration from Muslim countries into Europe, of famines and floods on the African continent,  and of  ever-present racial and political divides in America, Jesus the Messianic Warrior doesn’t come first to mind.  I think, “Trump or Hillary would make the mess worse” or “Which Republican would be best equipped to deal with these crises?”.

I remember I mustn’t think of Jesus as merely a religious king.  I must see him as the King who is the world’s only hope.  Just as first-century Israel groaned for a leader to free them from Roman oppression, I should be groaning for the Leader to free us from the oppression of this evil-one empowered world.  Sound fanatical?  That brings me finally to this profound quote from C.S. Lewis . . .

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Or is there a Rapture at all?

 

 

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God’s Highest Law

 

P.Allan“You will have died and resurrected three times and still be trying to figure out [how many federal criminal laws exist today],” said Ronald Gainer, a retired (U.S.) Justice Department official (The Wall Street Journal, 2011.  In the first century Jews could and did count Torah laws (Genesis–Deuteronomy):  615 commandments—365 “You shall not’s” and 248 “You shall’s”.  A pittance compared to the U.S., but still formidable.  And a daunting challenge to determine the most important one.

Should I care?  Since God created the heavens and earth and all that’s in them (Revelation 10:6), and will hold each of us personally accountable regarding how we have lived as his creatures (Romans 14:10b-12), we’d betterKnowing God’s highest law, then,  isn’t academic, but life and death

It’s Tuesday before Jesus’ Friday crucifixion.  Conflict between Jesus and Jewish authorities publicly is boiling.  A failed onslaught in the temple courtyard  from authorities trying to prove Jesus a fraud has quieted (11:27-12:27).  Now a law-teacher, impressed at Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, asks,  “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions (Mark 12:28-34).

Jesus answers immediately.  No research hours at the seminary library.  No search time at Google.  “The most important one is this:  ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Jesus takes his answer from Deuteronomy 6:4,5.  Known as the Shema (sha-ma), from the Hebrew for “hear”, this was the signal creed of Israel’s faith recited by devoted Jews every morning and evening.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

When I think of “love” I think of Lois—53 years of married love.  I think of my three adult children —and reminisce about raising-experiences.  And I think of my 8 grandchildren—the joy they bring, the treasures they are.  “Love” is affectionate, emotional.  I get teary-eyed with wonder.  “Love” is also protective, strong.  I’d lay down my life for them.

When I try to grasp what Jesus means by “love the Lord your God”, I page back to Deuteronomy since Jesus answered from there.  The book records the renewal of the Sinai Covenant with the second generation that came out of Egypt.  I read what P.C. Craigie wrote about ancient covenants:  “A number of scholars have argued convincingly that there is a relationship in form between the Hebrew covenant and the ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty . . . The Hebrews adapted the treaty form for their own use in order to express the nature of their relationship to God” (The New International Commentary, The Book of Deuteronomy).  I read William L. Moran’s insightful statement”  “‘Love’ in ancient Near Eastern political covenants means allegiance to a sovereign, the opposite of which is treason” (“The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy”).

And I remember learning how, after conquering another tribe or nation, a Near Eastern king offered them a treaty.  He would provide them with all the benefits of his reign, if they would “love” him—that is, if they would pledge their allegiance to him.

It’s then I begin to understand God’s highest commandment.  His law declares, “Love me with all your being—heart, soul, mind and strength.”  That love is emotional.  How could it not be?  But at its core it’s allegiance to the Lord our God who has conquered me and pledged to provide me all the benefits of his reign.  And that allegiance isn’t like a Nazi swearing devotion to his fuehrer; it’s a sinner pledging devotion to the God who first loved him.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus takes this answer from Leviticus 19:18–“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”  No self-justifying question here as in Luke 10 (“Who is my neighbor?”)  The law-teacher is impressed.  “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 

The answer reveals the ceremonial religion opposed by this connected-commandment.  To love God and to love my neighbor are more important than water baptism or the Lord’s Supper, just as they were more important than Israel’s burnt offerings and sacrifices.  To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is to love him with all our being.

And to love my neighbor as myself is to want the same good for my neighbor I want for me.  Is my neighbor poor?  I should share.  Is my neighbor ill?  I should bring chicken soup.  Is my neighbor lonely?  I should bring myself.  Wanting the same good for my neighbor as I do for me implies helping him have it.

A young couple recently moved in next door.  Lois met them.  I’m ashamed to say I don’t even know their names.  But God’s most important two-part law is love them!

“Lord it is my chief complaint that my love is cold and faint;
Yet I love Thee and adore; O for grace to love Thee more”
(William Cowper, 1773-1800).

“Lord, most days I don’t even think about my neighbors:
Yet I want to obey your highest law;  O for grace to love the people next door.”
(Allan Babcock, 1943–)

 

 

 

 

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Is Paris Burning?

P.AllanThat’s the title of the latest commentary from Ravi Zacharias.  I greatly respect him and the perspective he brings as a world-traveling defender and advocate of the Christian faith.  I can’t read him in bed at night, though.  My mind can’t swim as deep as his.  I have to re-read to follow his thoughts and understand his insights.  So, if your mental swimming is as limited as mine, don’t give up.  Read it again.  It’s worth it.

* * * * *

RZIM_Is_Paris_Burning_Ravi_Zacharias_Paris_Attacks_blog

The layers that obscure the truth are burying humanity in large numbers. Yes, Paris was burning again and those flames and the dead bodies may well be a grim foreshadowing of what the future holds. I was in neighboring England the night the massacre scattered across Paris took place, as people going out to enjoy a dinner or concert or a football game were the targets of hate-filled and ruthless killers. The newspapers the next day had similar words: “Carnage”; “massacre”; “assassination”; “murder”; “blood”; “death”; “screams”; “terror,” and so on. Television programming was preempted and viewers were cautioned that some of the scenes of the slaughter were graphic. It was real. A few hours later, names and pictures of the dead were shown. It was like we had heard this before. But it was new and real: the victims’ lives cut short in the peak of their careers. Children who weren’t going to come home. People looking for their loved ones. Marriages suddenly broken by death. A young graduate with life ahead of her. And so on. One doesn’t have to know the individuals to feel helplessness and pain. This is twenty-first century murderous man. War in small increments can be deadlier than large scale war because it doesn’t just desensitize the killers; it desensitizes all of humanity.

Killers who do not represent a country and whose belief is debated ad nauseam as to whether it is a version or a perversion are truly sinister and are the cancerous cells of our time. They are protected by having no roots either in country or belief. The West is being taken down in small portions till one day the lie of the murderers being protected by smooth-talking power brokers with a bodyguard of lies will be seen for the terrifying belief that it is. No contrary view will be allowed then. For now, the layers of distortion cover the graves of the murdered. The whole world has become a courtroom where clever lawyers make truth unattainable. Whether it be 9/11 or the carnage at the Boston Marathon or blown-up planes or Paris, we will not find answers because to ask the question is either to receive a lie from some politicians or many in the media, or to invoke the wrath of hate-filled killers.

So we ask! What is the belief behind all this that kills with such callousness? We do not get any answers. We are told by some that it’s a religion of peace. Others call it a political theory at its core covered with the garb of religion to give it maximum protection as it invokes the laws of blasphemy. What is the answer? We had dare not unpack the truth. In one sense, strangely, one feels almost pity for these murderers. The possessor of hate loses the essence of life much more than the victim does. Living with a heart so deceived breeds a decimating misery within and spreads the venom globally. There must be scores of young men within the belief who do not wish to inflict such pain but who now live with the pall of suspicion over them. Such is the contagion of a poisoned soul.

But the quest for answers still haunts. In one Middle Eastern country, an awful thing happened. Two young Muslims turned atheists were on a program. They argued for the reality that blood had been spilled across the centuries and that there was no denying that from its earliest days to the present, this was the same blood-letting in the name of the belief as originally given and carried out. Then one of them asked the cleric a question that was as pointed as could be. It was a powerful question with an irrefutable fact within the question. The question laid bare a reality that was deemed blasphemous. The next day that man and his family were murdered, just for asking a fact-laden question that was unanswerable without conceding the truth. For that, he and his family paid with their lives.

That’s the depravity of our age. It is death to ask the pointed question because the answer, if true, betrays the real truth. The masquerade is on and it is deadly. We watch hundreds die. We hear speeches full of distortions; we tolerate deceit and even reward it. Some in power and in the public eye whitewash the reality while the blood of the murdered cries out from the ground. Our children and grandchildren will inherit the whirlwind because our media pundits and misguided speech-makers have sown to the wind by trading in lives for their power.

It would be easy to lose heart and become cynical. But No! There is One who sees all things, knows all things, and will ultimately triumph over all things. There is only one message that addresses the truth as the truth. The Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, came to this earth and was also the victim of hate. Lies sent him to the cross. Power overruled reality, as politics and religious demagogues once again made the lie seem noble. But the Lord who sees the beginning from the end amazingly conquered not in spite of the dark mystery of evil, rather, He conquered through it. James Stewart of Scotland, pointing to the cross, said it in the most powerful terms I have read. Commenting on the verse from Psalm 68:18, “He led captivity captive,” he said,

It is a glorious phrase—“He led captivity captive.” The very triumphs of his foes, it means, he used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to subserve his ends not theirs. They nailed him to a tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet. They gave him a cross, not guessing that he would make it a throne. They flung him outside the city gates to die, not knowing that in that very moment they were lifting up the gates of the universe, to let the king come in. They thought to root out his doctrines, not understanding that they were implanting imperishably in the hearts of men the very name they intended to destroy. They thought they had God with his back to the wall, pinned helpless and defeated: they did not know that it was God himself who had tracked them down. He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil. He conquered through it.

The lie has a shelf life. The truth abides forever. God can even conquer through our perversion.

One more thing. I would be remiss if I left the guilt and darkness out there. That is the seduction of a fake righteousness. We all have to look at our own hearts and see the evil that is within each one of us. Only then can we find the answer from which all other answers flow. Some time ago, I was in Romania. A sculptor had some of his works on display. One was a horrific, fierce-looking, long nail. When you picked it up, as rusty and jagged as the nail was, the head was polished and shiny. And when you looked at that polished head, you saw a reflection of yourself. It is sobering. Very sobering.

You see, the nails that cause hurt and pain and death ultimately point to our own hearts. Only when we as individuals see the evil that is within will we find an answer for the evil that is around us. Maybe, just maybe, someday a carnage will take place that might cause everyone in power to see their own hearts as God sees them and tell us the truth of what these killings are all about. Only then will truth triumph and we find real answers. Until then, the flames will gain ground and not just Paris will burn, but the next story of scorched lives in another city will make us forget this one… or possibly, awaken us to the cost of a lie. More than ever we need the Savior. Lord have mercy!

Ravi Zacharias

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Bathroom-Fall Theology

O Preacher

I fell last night.  Good thing I fell on my head.!  I was standing by the bathroom sink, my walker at my right side.  I turned, somehow lost my balance and fell, my right temple hitting the ceramic tile floor, my legs twisting in my walker, and my glasses breaking.  (If my blog seems dark, it’s my prescription sun glasses!)

I’m okay.  Not as well-dressed as this guy, but okay.  Just a minor bump and a darker-than-usual day.  But it got me thinking.  Questions.

How do persecuted Christians handle suffering?  Even though my hard head meeting hard floor hurt (the fall didn’t hurt, just the sudden stop), some of my brothers and sisters suffer far worse.  When a man’s wife is raped, when his daughter is kidnapped, when he cries to God and gets silence, how does he maintain faith?

The only answer can be 2 Corinthians 12:9 . . .

“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s not the strength of the man’s faith; it’s the gracious power of the Lord.  It’s a gift of faith from the Holy Spirit that surpasses our “normal level” of believing (1 Corinthians 12:9a).  It’s the shield of faith which smothers all the flaming darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16a).

The 5 Types of Power Revisited | The Fast Track

He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b).  In other words, when our suffering is great and our “normal” faith seems small, our Lord is with us throwing the punch of his power into us, so we can keep trusting even when the agony is beyond reason.

Is all our suffering ordered by our Father?  Somehow it’s easier to believe that persecution-suffering—or even judgment-suffering—are ordered by God than suffering from falling in the bathroom.  After all, we’ve got biblical warnings of persecution and judgment.

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20).

... continue to face persecution from their Communist slavemasters

The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter (Isaiah 34:2).

PostHaste - Wrath of God - YouTube

But we have no biblical warnings of bathroom falls or flat tires or broken air conditioning.  Does our Father order the “big stuff” but the “little stuff” just happens?  I remember Jesus’ encouraging words . . .

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29,30).

Many versions, such as the NIV, translate “apart from your Father’s will.”  But the ESV (above) correctly omits “will” because it’s not in the original Greek.  So what exactly did Jesus mean?  That our Father wills even the fall of an insignificant sparrow or that our Father knows about the fall of each insignificant sparrow?  Does Matthew 10:30 mean our Father determines the number of our hairs or knows their number?

Charles Spurgeon beautifully answered this way . . .

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

So did our Father order my fall?  Did he command that only my glasses break and not my arm?  Or was my fall devil-inspired or merely the natural result of my disability?

Such questions lead to others:  Does God really work for the good in all things?  If so, how in the world does my bathroom fall conform me more to the likeness of God’s Son?

And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.
For those God foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified;
those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

Honestly, I find it hard to believe that our Father will use my fall for good, especially to conform me more to Christ’s likeness.  Yet maybe one good thing is this:  someone who reads my blog may be encouraged in their suffering.

When it comes down to it, in a situation like this, while I don’t fully understand, I’m like Peter.  To many of his followers, Jesus made some hard statements.   John recorded what happened next . . .

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68).

 I choose to believe that persecuted Christians endure suffering by God’s grace and gift of faith.  I choose to believe that all suffering is ordered by our Father (even though I don’t understand).  But my bottom line, when I’m hurting and confused and tempted is Peter’s statement:

“Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68).

No one else–no place else–to go with my hurt and pain and ignorance, but to Jesus.  Because he alone speaks the words that lead to eternal life.

Jesus Open Arms photo: Jesus' Arms JesusArms.jpg

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Paris Prayer

O PreacherNews from Paris last night (http://www.nytimes.com/) seemed surreal.  Were terrorist attacks really erupting throughout one of the world’s major cities?  Were over 100 people really slaughtered as they went about a typical Friday night?  It didn’t seem as frightening as “our” 9/11 (partly because it didn’t happen here); but it seemed more threatening.  Maybe because after 14 years we assumed we had better control of our own safety.  Maybe because it darkly warned, “This can happen anywhere, anytime.”

Politicians urge us, “Don’t be afraid.  Live life as normal.”  I’m not trying to stir up fear, but we should at least be aware of how tenuous life has become.  Terrorists are rocking the world.  Yes, the Lord is sovereign.  He is in control.  But that doesn’t mean that we casually dismiss evil, or that we watch a news report as if it were a movie. 

One thing we can do is pray.  How should we pray in the face of the Paris attack?  In his blog today, Denny Burk suggests Psalm 10:12-18.  Good idea. I’ll include verse 1, because in such times the Lord seems absent.  Or it seems he really isn’t involved in these “real life” tragedies.

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? . . .

Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

The above is taken from the ESV.  Or you may wish to pray from the TEV below . . .

Why are you so far away, O LORD?
Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble? . . .

O LORD, punish those wicked men!
Remember those who are suffering!
How can a wicked man despise God
and say to himself, “He will not punish me”?

But you do see; you take notice
of trouble and suffering
and are always ready to help.
The helpless man commits himself to you;
you have always helped the needy.
Break the power of wicked and evil men;
punish them for the wrong they have done
until they do it no more.

The LORD is king forever and ever.
Those who worship other gods will vanish from his land.
You will listen, O LORD, to the prayers of the lowly;
you will give them courage.
You will hear the cries of the oppressed and the orphans;
you will judge in their favor,
so that mortal man may cause terror no more.

When I pray “Bible prayers”, I often find their words spur additional thoughts.  So, rather than sticking strictly to the text (which is fine), I often pray what it has jogged in my mind.  You may find it so too.  Either way, let’s pray.

God shapes the world by prayer.  The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil…
                                                                                ~ E.M.Bounds

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