The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: May 2016 (page 2 of 3)

Kick ’em Out!

O Preacher“Having begun in the Spirit, can you be so stupid as to end in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3, NJB).  The apostle Paul understood that the Christian life begins by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not the result of a preacher’s persuasive sermon or moving music or a hand raised or prayer prayed.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit brings believers to a successful end of the Christian life, not the result of keeping the Ten Commandments or daily devotions or church attendance.

Jewish Christians were trying to convince the Galatia churches otherwise.  Yes, faith in Christ.  But to succeed in this life as God’s people a Gentile must be circumcised and adhere to Jewish law.  Paul was furious and wrote this letter to call these new believers back to faith in Christ crucified working through the Spirit.  This next section of Galatians divides into three parts headed by a summary question . . .

How can you go back to slavery?

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods.  Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?  You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.  I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted” (4:8-11).

For Paul, law-submitting is slavery.  Who can keep all God’s laws all the time?  No one.  And “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them” (3:10).  How can these new believers go back to that?  Faith alone in Christ alone saves and keeps saving to the end.

Have I become your enemy?

The heretical teachers not only drove a wedge between Paul’s gospel and theirs; they also drove a wedge between Paul and the people.  “What has become of the goodwill you felt?” he asks.  “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”  Paul is pained . . .

Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong.  You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you;  though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.  What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.  Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?   They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them.  It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you.  My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (4:12-20).

TV preachers have more charisma than our pastor.  More clout.  More success.  More power.  (After all, they’re on TV!)  Beware!  99% of the time the TV preacher’s a heretic and our ordinary pastor has the truth.

What does the Scripture say?

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman.  One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise.  Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery.  Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written, “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.”  Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac.  But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.  But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.”  So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman” (4:21-31)

This is an allegory, says Paul.—“a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).    This is not the normal way of interpreting Scripture.  Paul uses it here to make his point.  Hagar, Sarah’s slave-maid, had a son, the result of Sarah wanting a child and urging Abraham to produce one with Hagar.  Hagar, in Paul’s allegory, is like “present Jerusalem” still in slavery, trying to live under law.  Sarah, had a son as a result of God’s promise.  She is like “the Jerusalem above.”  When Paul writes, “Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac”, he is saying that believers in Christ are descendants of Abraham, right with God by faith.

The child born according to the flesh (Ishmael and his descendants) persecuted the child born according to the Spirit (Isaac and his descendants).  So it is now, says Paul.  “But what does the Scripture say? . . .Drive out the slave and her child”.  Kick out the false teachers!

How are we to apply this passage?

  1.  Trust that ” . . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  In the new earth we will praise Jesus for saving us, for keeping us, for sanctifying us and, ultimately, for glorifying us.  We’ll know then that all was of grace and nothing was of us.
  2. Don’t treat the TV pastor or popular book author as your buddy while giving less credence to your pastor.  The Lord has set your pastor in place to study and pray over and serve you his Word.  Don’t be awed (and misled) by the “superstar”.
  3. “Kick out” the false teacher.  More often than not, the really popular guys preach a popular gospel, not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Don’t watch them on TV.  Don’t buy their best-selling books.  “Kick ’em out”.  Be a good student of the man God has placed in your church.  And feed daily on the bread of God’s Word.

 

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Piper On Transgenders

O PreacherI’ve heard and read a lot lately about transgender people.  The North Carolina law that people must use rest rooms according to their sex at birth.  President Obama’s “decree” that public schools, colleges, etc. must allow people who identify as men or women use rest rooms, locker rooms, sports teams according to their chosen identity (or lose federal funding).  And so on.

There’s much I’d like to say, and may at some point.  But I found this article by John Piper that provides solid biblical grounds for the entire issue.  I hope it helps us all better understand the current battle from the Scripture’s point of view . . .

 

“Genitalia Are Not Destiny” — But Are They Design?


“Genitalia Are Not Destiny” — But Are They Design?

Riding in the wake of the cultural speedboat of the destigmatization of same-sex intercourse is the mainstreaming of “gender non-conformists.” Witness the June 9 issue of Time. Laverne Cox, born a boy, is on the front page, in his chosen female identity.

Cox, the star of the Netflix drama Orange Is the New Black, gives a lengthy and illuminating online interview with Time reporter Katy Steinmetz. It is a sad story of a very painful childhood, an absent father, an emotionally disconnected mother, an attempted suicide, and a marginally significant church.

Up until the third grade, Cox says, “I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys. I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty and I would start turning into a girl.” He had one twin brother. No sisters.

The supreme treasure Cox longed for was fame. “I wanted to be famous, I wanted to perform. Those things I really, really wanted more than anything else.”

“My mother just had an inability to fully emotionally connect. . . . I never knew my father. He was never married to my mother, he was never a part of my life.”

Today Cox is “touring the country giving a stump speech titled ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ When Cox says it, that refrain is not a question.” Cox claims, “I’m happy that I am myself and I couldn’t imagine my life if I were still in denial or lying, pretending to be a boy. That seems ridiculous to me. That seems crazy at this point. . . . It’s nice to be done with transitioning.”

Are Genitalia Destiny?

The subtitle of the interview reads: “On politics, happiness, and why genitalia isn’t destiny.” That’s the question I want to deal with.

Is gender set by a preference of the individual, or a providence of God? Or to put it another way: Is my sex determined by my decision in my mind, or by God’s design in my nature?

To find God’s instruction about this, we turn to Romans 1:19–28.

In a stunning way, the apostle Paul draws a parallel between the way nature teaches about God and the way nature teaches about male and female sexuality. And the point is this: Nature is one of God’s methods of revealing what we should prefer, even if we don’t.

In other words, Paul shows that preference is to be guided by God’s design in nature. It’s not independent, as though you can simply choose your essence.

But Laverne Cox maintains the exact opposite:

Folks want to believe that genitals and biology are like destiny! All these designations are based on a penis, . . . and then a vagina. And that’s supposed to say all these different things about who people are. When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous. People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently.

Without God, this reasoning is compelling. If there is no God telling me what is wise and good, then my own preference will assume that role. It will seem “ridiculous” to say “biology is destiny.” The modern man thinks otherwise, as William Ernest Henley says, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

But in Paul’s mind, the issue is not what nature says “inherently,” but what it says as God’s revelation of his design for male and female. God, the wise, loving, purposeful creator and designer of human life is the one who connects biological nature and sexual identity.

Let’s watch him do it.

Nature Revealing the Will of God

Romans 1:19–20 says that “what can be known about God is plain, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, . . . in the things that have been made.”

In other words, God’s divine nature is revealed in the physical, material universe. So much so that verse 20 says, “So they are without excuse” when they “exchange the glory of God for the glory of the creature” (verse 23), or when they “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (verse 25).

Paul is saying that the material, physical universe reveals God’s true nature, and his design for humans to worship him.

Then Paul draws the parallel with human sexuality. Just as physical nature reveals the truth about God, so physical nature reveals truth about sexual identity. Whom we should worship is not left to our preferences, and who we are sexually is not left to our preferences. Both are dictated by God’s revelation in nature.

Thus in Romans 1:26–27 Paul says, “Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.”

The parallel Paul is making is this: On the one hand, cosmology is designed by God to reveal truth about God’s identity (as powerful and divine); on the other hand, biology (anatomy) is designed by God to reveal truth about our identity (as male and female). This truth is so plain, Paul says, that we are “without excuse” if we don’t see it and agree with it.

So if a human looks at the world and chooses to worship a creature rather than the Creator, he is without excuse. And if a man looks at his own body and chooses to play the part of a woman, or a woman looks at her own body and chooses to play the part of a man, they are without excuse.

Because in both cases (in divine worship and in human sexuality) God has given nature (cosmological and biological) as a revelation of his will: Humans should worship God, males should act like men, females should act like women.

God has not left us without guidance in these matters. His declaration in Romans 1 and his design in nature intersect to make clear: A biological male who gives himself over to his passion to act like a female is acting against God’s revealed will (Romans 1:27). The passion does not make it natural. The biology makes the passion unnatural.

God Knows Best

Now we can see why the subtitle of the Cox interview — “Genitalia isn’t destiny” — is misleading. That is true: Laverne Cox has created another destiny contrary to his genitalia. But it is not the whole truth. Here is a greater truth: “Genitalia is a revelation of God’s design.”

God knows what is best for humanity. He also knows the painful disordering of our sexual desires that came with the fall. We are all disordered in some measure in different ways. He promises to help us with our disordered loves so that we can enjoy measures of contentment in the midst of our necessary self-denial (for example, Hebrews 13:5–6).

He also sent his Son to die for our sins, so that, even if we have spent the last twenty years of our lives trying to be a man when God gave us the body of a woman, or trying to be a woman when God gave us the body of a man, God will forgive us if we turn to Christ for mercy and embrace him in repentance as our supreme treasure.

It will not be easy — certainly not for Laverne Cox — but it is possible. For all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26).

Thumb author john piper John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

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My Own True Faith?

P.Allan“Enjoying one good year is better than suffering two bad ones.”

So said my wife while driving me to a doctor’s appointment.  We were talking about getting a prescription with possible long-term, unpleasant side effects.

I was somewhat taken aback by her remark.  “I was hoping to live longer than a year.”

“I know,” she said.  “I was just using that as an example.”

“Oh.”  (Not feeling too encouraged.)

I have primary lateral sclerosis, which as you know if you’re a regular reader (and more than tired of hearing about my health issues), isn’t fatal, just chronic without a cure.

I’ve admitted before that this whole thing has been a major test of my faith.  I was raised in a church that believes the gifts of the Spirit are still given today.  I still believe that.  So I’ve prayed much for healing, as have others for me.  It hasn’t come.  So I limp around, struggling with the worsening limitations the disease lays on me.

I understand that healing isn’t the norm, though the Lord still does heal.  Disease and death are in the world because sin is in the world.  Victory over death comes in the last-day resurrection.   Nevertheless, norm or not, we pray for healing—and trust the Lord’s grace to be sufficient if he doesn’t give it.

Still, it tests my faith.  Sometimes makes me question my faith.  And never am I able to obey James 1:2-4 . . .

Count it all joy, my brothers,
when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

COUNT IT ALL JOY?  Most of the time I’m working on a little smile!  I’m not even in the ballpark for counting it joy!  If this is a faith test, I think I’ll be good to get a D.

In his book, Everlasting Is the Past, Walter Wangerin tells of his college years when he feared his faith had left him.  Worse, that he believed the faith, but he’d never made it his own.  He writes . . .

Was this my own true faith?  My own fear and loving and trusting in the Almighty Father?  Not really.  It was the faith, that which I could deliver word for word.  A static thing.  I had learned about the commandments and the creed of the Church.  I believed they were true—as I believed the stars are true.  But I did not cling to this creed.  Rather, I wore it like a badge . . . If, however, you asked me then if I had faith, I would brightly answer, “I do.” (p. 17).

Wangerin’s confession confronted me.  I had served as a pastor 44 years.  Prayed, studied God’s Word, preached it, taught it, counseled with it, loved it, believed it (so I thought).  Wangerin’s words, though, made me ask, “Has my faith been a static thing? Did I wear Bible doctrines like a badge without clinging to them?”  I always supposed that in every congregation (including those I pastored) sat some who said the right words but in their hearts really didn’t know Jesus.  Had I been one of them?

Finally, I decided no.  No I wasn’t one of them.  My faith had not been a static thing.  I didn’t wear the faith like a badge; I really did cling to the truth.  Why, then, from time to time now did I struggle so much?  I came up with two reasons.

One, I no longer pastor.  That means I don’t spend my waking hours in the Word, in prayer, in meeting people to encourage them in the faith.  When I lay in bed at night, I don’t think about the coming Sunday’s sermon, how I might better make a point or illustration.  For 44 years I was like boiling water in a cup with a teabag steeping away, turning the water into tea.  Now, for the most part, I am just water in a cup.

One of my friends at church used to call me a professional Christian.  A joke, I think.  I got paid to be a good believer.  The money didn’t make me want to be a leader others could follow.  It was Jesus who did it, plus my desire to be used for the good of others.  But no longer a “professional”, my “normal” Christian life was suddenly without much structure.  Besides, it’s always easier to have faith for somebody else.  Which brings me to the second reason for my struggle . . .

Two, this was my trial and it was serious.  Not that I hadn’t endured some tough times before, both in ministry and family life.  But this was (is) different.  It’s my body that’s (to use Paul’s graphic phrase) “wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16).  Not a pretty picture.  Reminds me of “the walking dead.”  This body, that I’ve tried to take care of by eating relatively well, by all sorts of exercise and working out, is eroding—like a wave-pounded beach.

And, in this life, it will never be better (short of a miracle).  What encouraged me through several surgeries was the expectation that once this is over I’ll be better.  Not this time.  That’s a punch to the stomach of my faith.  Oh, I know, a new body in the resurrection.  And that does help.  But the thought of never running again with my grand-kids on this earth leaves me very sad.

I cling to Jesus.  Wangerin confessed, “I did not cling to this creed.”  Well, I am clinging.  I could cite numerous Scriptures I’m clinging to, like . . .

. . . fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
(Isaiah 41:10).

But, bottom line, I’m clinging to Jesus.  I don’t understand (though I want to).  And, yes, there are days every so often when my clinging fingers slip and he holds me.  But, my faith, though a bit battered, is my own true faith. And I’m clinging to the one who loves me and gave himself for me.

And, as long as I do that, it is well with my soul.

 

 

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God-Adopted (2)

O PreacherNowhere does the Bible teach that we are all God’s children.  Yet I say with confidence, “I am a son of God.”  “So,” writes Paul, “you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4;7).

Paul, for the sake of the new Galatian believers, has argued against “the circumcision party” who insisted that Gentiles believe plus be circumcised and follow Jewish law to be right with God.  Paul countered, “Now before faith came, were we held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” (3:23-26).  From slaves to law.  To justification by faith.  To sons by adoption.

“I mean that the heir (to all God’s saving promises) as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:1,2).

Under Roman law, a child—heir of his father’s estate—lived under a tutor’s supervision.  The child, in Paul'[s view, was “no different from a slave”, because he had to follow the tutor’s rules.   But at the son’s 25th birthday,  he inherited everything that was his.

“So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic [elemental] principles of the world” (4:3).

We were children pre-Christ.  And Paul sees that  life as “slavery under the basic principles (Greek, stoykaia) of the world”.  For Jews stoykaia was the Hebrew Law.  For Gentiles concepts of pagan religions.  So our “designer religions” today.  Whatever we design—a little Christianity, a little Judaism, a little New Age—has rules to follow, ceremonies to attend.  All of it to merit a right-standing with God.  But how can we be sure it’s enough?  And how to compensate for falling short of our self-made rules?   In Paul’s mind, it’s childhood slavery.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of [adoption as] sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (4:4-7).

When God’s calendar said, “Time!”, he sent his Son.  ” . . . born of a woman” to represent us humans.  ” . . . born under law to redeem those under law.”  That is, God’s Son was born under law, lived under law, and fully obeyed the law without transgression.  He did it so we might stand before God justified by faith.  He did it so we might receive his righteousness as a gift of grace.  And he did it “that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Or, as the NIV interprets huiothesian. “that we might receive the fulls rights of sons.”  Like the child-“slave” now turned 25.  All the “estate” God has for his Son, his sons share in.

Adoption as sons—-it’s more than a “legal” transaction.  “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.”  The Spirit applies adoption to believers.  Adoption is an experience in our inmost being.  God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.  And the Spirit calls out “Abba, Father.”

Gordon Fee, theologian and Professor Emeritus at Regent College, writes, “The jury is still out on the precise meaning, and therefore the significance, of the term Abba.   Most likely the word was in fact an expression of intimacy, used by children first as infants and later as adults, reflecting what is true in many such cultures where the terms of endearment for one’s parents are used lifelong” (God’s Empowering Presence). The Son prayed in Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  The Spirit witnesses in our spirit that we are  God’s adopted children, sharing in the Son’s relationship with the Father.

Fee writes, “Here is the ultimate evidence that we are God’s children, in that we address God with the same term of intimate relationship that Jesus himself used . . . The Spirit has taken us far beyond mere conformity to religious obligations . . . For Paul—and for us—this is the ultimate expression of grace” (God’s Powerful Presence). 

And, since we are sons, God has made us also heirs of all his promises.  What we enjoy with him now is just a taste of what’s to come forever.

I am an adopted son of God.  The Spirit of God’s Son lives in me.  And what I will be has not yet appeared; but I know that when he appears, I shall be like him, because I will see him as he is (1 John 3:2).  If you belong to Christ by faith—you too.

Listen to the video.
Let the Spirit of the Son stir your heart with his love . . .

 

 

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God-Adopted (1)

O PreacherWe never considered adopting Anthony or Tina.  Just foster-parenting them.   But, we soon realized we couldn’t do even that.  Stress on our own three-child family and frustration with the byzantine bureaucracy became unbearable.

In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul tells us a happier story.  God redeemed us “so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5).
God’s redemption-aim was to adopt us!  We’ll unpack that next post.  For now, let’s follow Paul’s words as he concludes his argument against “the circumcision party” (2:13).  They were the Jews troubling the Galatia churches (Acts 13:13-14:48), insisting that circumcision and law-keeping (think:  Ten Commandments) must be added to faith in Christ to be justified.  No, cries Paul.   ‘ , , , if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (3:21).  Rather,  ” . . . the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”  Faith in Christ plus works of law?  No.  Faith in Christ alone.

Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.   [for] You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (3:25-29).

Faith’s coming was an objective, historical event.  We can mark it, date and place.  We know that because Paul’s words in Galatians 4:4 are parallel to his words in 3:25—“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . . ”  When Christ came, faith came.  And when faith came, law’s supervision ceased.

I’d have expected Paul to write, “Now that faith has come . . . . you are all justified through faith in Christ Jesus.”  Wouldn’t you?  After all, justification has been his topic.  Instead, however, he writes, “Now that faith has come . . . you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 

Imagine a courtroom.  Now a family room.  That’s the difference between justification and adoption. In justification God grants us right “legal” standing before him.  He declares us “NOT GUILTY” for our sin.   He gavels the decision final. Justification is a courtroom word.  In adoption God makes us members of  his “household”.   He WELCOMES us home from our lost-ness.  His arms open to pull us close.  Adoption, therefore,  is a family word.   Even though Paul doesn’t use the word “adoption” until 4:5, it lies behind Paul’s announcement here:   “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Like justification, adoption comes by faith.  We express this faith in baptism, which, Paul writes, is like clothing ourselves with Christ.   Was Paul thinking of the prophet when writing that?  “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness . . .  ” (Isaiah 61:10).  By faith expressed in baptism, the Lord strips off the filthy rags of our “righteousness” and dresses us up in Christ’s.  His righteousness becomes ours.  

When I read this image I see the dozens and dozens I baptized as a pastor.  Every one I pulled up—whether in a lake, pool or baptistry—came back out dripping, covered with water.  By faith expressed in baptism, Christ covers us with himself.   He is the Son of God; we become sons of God.  Members of our Father’s family with Jesus as our older brother.  Jesus the “natural” Son, we the adopted, through him.

Suddenly our identity is changed.  Secondary now is our race, social standing, sex.  We’re still Jew or Greek or German or American.  Still free or a prisoner of an unjust economic system.  Still male or female.  But first we’re Christ’s.  The distinctions that divide us are swallowed up by the Son.

And this family is big.  Bigger than our church.  Bigger even than the world-wide church today.  We have brothers and sisters from all times and places, even way back to Abraham.  For ” . . .  now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and now all the promises God gave to him belong to you” (NLT).

I can think of two problems with all of this.

One, we’re sin-nature-wired not to believe.  Or, we’re sin-nature-wired to work.  It’s hard for us to trustingly accept the free gifts of justification and adoption.  Maybe it’s our pride.  Can I really be so lost that there’s nothing I can do to save myself?  We’re always wanting to tinker a bit with what God is doing, so we feel as if we’ve contributed.  But we have nothing to bring but our sinful selves.  All is God’s grace in Christ.

Two, God’s family seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  The church in American society is of no account.  Fellow believers aren’t always the cream of the crop.  But we are still waiting for our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  Meanwhile, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).   Let’s not be fooled into thinking that what we see of God’s family now is all we’ll ever be.  There’s a day coming when the Son of God will come again.  Then we will all be like him, “because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Let’s end this on a majestic note.  Celebrate in praise with the video above!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Happy Mother’s Day, Daughter MXJXCX

P.AllanNotice I’ve changed my code this year.  Can’t keep the same one.  The Internet is awash with all sorts of skullduggery.  So even though I bravely insert my picture (which really is completely unlike me—my hair is more like Chris Archer’s actually and I don’t usually suck my forefinger), I don’t want to compromise you.  (These first two paragraphs are vaguely similar to your sister’s, because my creativity is dwindling.)

Wonder why I risk wishing you Happy Mother’s Day so publicly?  Two reasons.  One, everyone who reads this gets to know what a wonderful daughter and mother I believe you are.  You deserve it.  Two, I get a blog out of the way.  I deserve it.  Killing two birds with one stone, you know?  Come to think of it, that may be an inappropriate reference, since today I’m thinking of you as . . .

a mother hen.  Not a glamorous image, is it!  But I mean it in a good way.  I watch you with your children.   (Nameless and numberless here—security, you know.)  I watch you stopping what you’re doing to shut everything else out to listen to them.  I see you hugging them.  I listen to you explain why what they said or did was wrong and how they should have done it.  I listen to you tell how proud you are of how they did do it.  I hear you encourage them and firmly discipline them in love without anger or belittling.  I see the tears in your eyes when you look at them realizing the years are quickly passing and it won’t be long before they’ll be out reflecting to their children the good you’ve instilled in them.

Most of all, I know you’ve faithfully and sacrificially taught them about Jesus.  With words.  With attitude.  With actions.  Your commitment to Christ is commendable, and to your children life-giving.  They know they’re safe in your arms, because you show them you (and they) are safe in the arms of Jesus.

I’d be the first to say church is crucial.  And living out the faith in the marketplace is part of our calling.  But nowhere is faith and faith-lived out more vital than at home.  Inside our four walls we are who we are.  No pretense.  Hair down.  (Bad illustration.)  Inside your four walls your children see, not a perfect mom, but a God-honoring, Jesus-following, Holy Spirit-filled mom who is solidly there for them because she loves the God who is for us who are his.

And, though you don’t put your hands to the distaff (?–I don’t think) or hold the spindle with your hands (Proverbs 31:19), your “children [will] rise up and call [you] blessed; [your] husband also, and he praises [you] (Proverbs 31:28). 

Me too.

Happy Mother’s Day, MXJXCX!  I love you so very much.

Chicken with chicks Stock Images

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Happy Mother’s Day, Daughter MQLQDQ

P.AllanNotice I’ve changed my code this year.  Can’t keep the same one.  The Internet is awash with all sorts of skullduggery.  So even though I bravely insert my picture (which really is completely unlike me—my hair is more like Chris Archer’s actually and I don’t usually suck my forefinger), I don’t want to compromise you.  (These first two paragraphs are vaguely similar to your sister’s, because my creativity is dwindling.)

Wonder why I risk wishing you Happy Mother’s Day so publicly?  Two reasons.  One, everyone who reads this gets to know what a wonderful daughter and mother I believe you are.  You deserve it.  Two, I get a blog out of the way.  I deserve it.  Killing two birds with one stone, you know?  For some reason today (maybe it’s that horse in my backyard), I’m thinking of animals—and of you as . . .

a mother lioness.  (Not wanting to appear illiterate, I had to look up “lioness” to be sure it didn’t mean mother lion.  It doesn’t.  Just female lion.  Otherwise, I’d be redundant.  Better look that up too.  Come to think of it, I guess “mother lioness” is a bit redundant ’cause you can’t have a father lioness.  Oh well, get what I mean?)

Mother lioness.  Not very glamorous.  (Maybe I have to stop watching that “Animal Planet” channel.)  But she’s strong.  And protective of her cubs.  Also surely sly and slightly sneaky.  “Sneaky” doesn’t fit you, especially since you almost always come right out and say what you mean.  (A good thing.)  “Sly”, though, meaning “wise” and “ingenious”.  Sharp insight into people and situations and with almost always discerning advice.

The rocky times you’ve endured have made you stronger.  You never gave up or in.  You’ve grown in the Lord, sometimes startling me by your words of faith when I’m looking on the dark side.  “[You] lift up your eyes to the hills” (quite  an art in flat Florida) and know “[your] help (and strength) come from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1,2).  So you’re able to stand in the testing day and embrace your children with your protecting love.

Not  having been a mother, this is just a father’s guess:  Watching your children grow well must satisfy, but hurt too, knowing your influence over them is fading.  But it doesn’t (ever?) end.  The relationship you’ve forged with your children as their mother and best friend continues.  They have no one as loving, faithful, giving, and wise as you in their lives.  You have imprinted yourself on their souls.  The marks of who you are are deeply etched in them.  And, be assured of this, the Christ-life you’ve lived before them and the prayers you pray for them will bear fruit.  God is faithful.  I know.  I’ve found him to be so in my parenting.  (though I’m more like “Ol’ Yeller, than a lion these days).

Have a Happy Mother’s Day, MQLQDQ!  I love you so very much.

daisy pollen flower

 

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Recipe for Tyranny

O PreacherBeneath our feet, the political—and, therefore, ultimately, the governmental—ground is shifting.  Political junkies know.  Christians should.  The lives of unborn children.  The societal foundation of traditional marriage.  Religious liberty.  These critical issues and others are caught up in the seismic change.  Can we sleep through an earthquake?  We mustn’t!

Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptism Seminary wrote the essay below.  Following that are links to two blogs.  Making time to read them and become more aware of the world in which Jesus says we are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) is crucial.

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 CRISIS IN AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

For nearly two and a half centuries, Americans have enjoyed the enormous privilege and responsibility of forming our own government—a privilege rarely experienced throughout most of human history. For most of history, humanity has struggled with the question of how to respond to a government that was essentially forced upon them. But Americans have often struggled with a very different reality; how do we rightly respond to the government that we choose?

To put all of this in historical perspective, the Framers of the American experiment understood that a representative democracy built on the principle of limited government would require certain virtues of its citizens. These would include a restraint of passions and an upholding of traditional moral virtues, without which democracy would not be possible. As the idea of limited government implies, the citizenry would be required to carry out the social responsibilities of the community without the intrusion of government and, thus, citizens would be expected to have the moral integrity necessary for such an arrangement. The Framers of the American Republic also agreed that it would be impossible to have a representative democracy and a limited government if the people did not elect leaders who embodied the virtues of the citizenry while also respecting and protecting society’s pre-political institutions: marriage and family, the church, and the local community.

Thus, the idea of a limited government requires that society uphold and pursue the health of its most basic institutions. When a civil society is weak, government becomes strong. When the family breaks down, government grows stronger. When the essential institutions of society are no longer respected, government demands that respect for itself. That is a recipe for tyranny.

Much of this was essentially affirmed until the early decades of the 20th century when progressivists began promoting an agenda that fundamentally redefined the role of the federal government in public life. By the middle of the 20th century, the Democratic Party had essentially embraced this progressivist agenda, becoming committed to an increasingly powerful government—a government whose powers exceeded those enumerated in the Constitution. At the same time, the Democratic Party also began advocating for a basic redefinition of the morality that shaped the common culture. By and large, however, the Republican Party continued to maintain a commitment to the vision of America’s founders, advocating for a traditional understanding of morality while also upholding the principle of limited government.

By the 1980s, the two parties represented two very different worldviews and two very different visions of American government. For decades, each party has acted rather predictably and in ways that accord with their fundamental principles. All of that, however, has now changed.

The 2016 presidential campaign has developed in an entirely unpredictable manner and, in many respects, represents a crisis in American democracy. This crisis is not limited to either party. Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, has won several stunning victories in the primary season over presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. While it is still extremely likely that Clinton will become the Democratic nominee, Sanders support among voters represents a populist flirtation with Democratic Socialism. This pattern is something few Democrats could have imagined just one year ago. What this foray into Democratic Socialism represents, then, is a radical adjustment of the Democratic Party’s basic economic principles. Thus, even if Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee, the process will likely drag her even further to the left, eventually redefining the Democratic Party before our very eyes.

But if it is remarkable to see what is happening in the Democratic Party, it is absolutely shocking to see what is happening among Republicans. Traditionally, the Republican Party has established its reputation by standing for the principles advocated by the American Founders—limited government upheld by the health of society’s primary institutions such as marriage, family, and community. Yet Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, represents virtually everything the Republican Party has typically defined itself over against. Clearly, both political parties are now redefining themselves. What is not clear is where each party will ultimately end up. What is also not clear is whether the American experiment can survive such radical political change.

As already noted, the American experiment in limited government requires that the citizenry and those who hold public office honor certain moral virtues and respect the institutions that are crucial for a society to rightly function. Yet, we now find ourselves in a situation where the three leading candidates for president show little to no respect for such institutions in their articulations of public policy.

This fundamental redefinition of the American political landscape requires Christians to think carefully about their political responsibility. Make no mistake; we cannot avoid that responsibility. Even refusing to vote is itself a vote because it privileges those who do vote and increases the value of each ballot. In truth, we bear a political responsibility that cannot be dismissed or delegated to others. Every Christian must be ready to responsibly steward his or her vote at the polls.

To put the matter bluntly, we are now confronted with the reality that, in November, Hillary Clinton will likely be the Democratic nominee and Donald Trump the Republican nominee. This poses a significant problem for many Christians who believe they cannot, in good conscience, vote for either candidate. As a result, Christians are going to need a lot of careful political reflection in order to steward their vote and their political responsibility in this election cycle.

Headlines from around the world tell us that other representative democracies are at a similar moment of redefinition. Political turmoil now marks the United Kingdom and also nations like France and other key American allies. Perhaps democracy itself is now facing a crucial hour of decision and a crucial season of testing. It is no exaggeration to say that democracy is being tested around the world; it is certainly being tested here at home. Yet if this is a moment of testing for democracy, it is also a crucial moment for Christian witness. This election cycle is going to be a particular test for American Christians—and we are about to find out if Christians are up to this challenge.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/how-do-the-courts-define-religion/480903/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/434831/religious-liberty-christian-colleges-title-ix-exemptions-under-fire

 

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“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving
be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority,
that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 
This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all men to be saved
and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God
and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus . . . ”
(1 Timothy 2:1-5)

 

 

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Devising a Diminishing Life

P.AllanA bit of overkill that title, huh?  Diminishing life?  I took it from Walter Wangerin’s book, Letters from the Land of Cancer.  Though my health condition is far easier to bear than his,  “diminishing” fits me too.

I’ve posted more than a half-dozen “Personal” blogs (see “Categories” bottom right),  most of them sharing my faith-struggles over Primary Lateral Sclerosis.  That’s a chronic, incurable neurological disease that weakens legs and arms and inflicts an assortment of other symptoms.  Far worse is Wangerin’s.  After finding a lump and undergoing a series of tests, he heard his doctor’s blunt report:  “This kind of cancer doesn’t go away.  It will kill you.  Sooner or later, this will be the cause of your death.”  Since that diagnosis in 2006, Wangerin has continued to write, teach, and preach, all the while on a roller coaster of “treatment”.

I’ve read two-thirds of his book.  Compelling.  Fascinating.  Challenging.  And I’ve found this we have in common:  “a diminishing life.” More about that in a moment.

I wish I had this book forty years ago.  It might have changed the life-outlook of a thirty-two year-old.  Every young pastor should read it.  It will better equip him to serve his aging and ill “sheep”.

Now:  halfway through Letters I came upon these thought-provoking statements . . .

” . . . perhaps fifteen years ago, I mentioned an odd ache to my father, who was then in his seventies.  Mine was just a passing comment.  But he responded with an old man’s wisdom and a complete lack of sympathy.  He said, ‘Get used to it.’  These pains come.  Sure enough, they stay.

It’s the staying that takes the getting-used-to.

“I mean:  until now I’ve met most diseases with the assumption that I would get better.

“Now, however a different kind of mentality is required.  I will never again be able to draw a full two-lungs worth of air.  I will ever puff at a flight of stairs.  This body will nevermore be what it has been .

“We’re not really talking about aging itself, the plain passage of the years.  We are talking about the breaking down of bodies, which begins earlier or later, depending on each person’s various experiences and constitutions.  We’re talking about another way to live, about devising new methods for confronting old Time and physical degeneration.

“In fact, it presents an irony.  When we are young we strive forward, peering toward and planning for the better things to come.  But we base the presumptions of our forward-peering-planning on the experiences of our past, such as getting sick and getting better every time
. . .

“Now I have fetched up on the shores of those ‘forward’ years.  Here there is only a strip of beach before the sea, only a limited distance into which to peer, for which to plan . . . .

“One gets sick and then does not get better again.  A fellow finds himself boxed in:  fewer future years, fewer promises to be drawn from all those many former years.

“Nevertheless, this thing is fresh and new, this devising methods for living the diminishing life.  It can (it probably has to be) as creative a passage as any writer ever wrote.  And that grants it the possibility of depth, gravitas and fulfillments and joy.

“Well, there are those who, their lives tightening around them, act as if it were prison walls closing in, intensifying their more unhappy qualities.  Whereas once they might have been able to control their natural angers, anger becomes the strongest response–and can finally be nothing but a failing device, a lion devouring all the remaining years.

“Get used to it.

“I don’t have the hang of that yet . . .

My project, then.  To get good and old.  Spiritually to approach my losses with the same craft and talent and devotion which I bring to the writing of a novel, a poem, a sermon.”

The first eight paragraphs above are hard to swallow.  I’ll never be able to run with my grandchildren again.  My body is breaking down.  Only a strip of beach before the sea.  Apart from a miracle, no getting better for this sickness.

But then these enlivening sentences:  “Nevertheless, this thing is fresh and new, this devising methods for living the diminishing life.  It can (it probably has to be) as creative a passage as any writer ever wrote.  And that grants it the possibility of depth, gravitas (seriousness) and fulfillments and joy.”

My last chapter?  Only God knows.  But it is “fresh and new, this devising methods for living the diminishing life.”  Besides, Jesus is still calling, “Follow me.”  I just have to be patient with myself as I limp behind.  I can’t “preach the Word” behind the pulpit anymore.  Now it’s preaching by blogging (and reaching more people!)  Everything takes more time.  But, ” . . . no one has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).  The “all things” are fewer, but Christ still strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).  And, to top it all . . .

“Though [my] outer nature is wasting away,
[my] inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for [me]
an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as [I] look not to the things that are seen
but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Product Details

(Walter Wangerin, Jr., Letters from the Land of Cancer, p. 136-139).  This book is available from Amazon for $10 in either hardcover or Kindle.  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_24?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=letters+from+the+land+of+cancer&sprefix=Letters+from+the+Land+of%2Caps%2C559

 

 

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One Story: Abraham to Moses to Christ

O PreacherIn 1992 Daniel Fuller authored The Unity of the Bible to show that Genesis to Revelation tell one overarching narrative.  That’s often hard to see when we open that big 66 book Book.  It  can seem  rather disjointed, even contradictory.  Take, for example, the apparent disconnect  between promises to Abraham to believe and commandments to Moses to obey.  Well, which is it—faith or obedience?  Can we just pick and choose the passages we prefer?  Or,  is there an overarching narrative, a unity which we can trust?

Judaizers (professed Christian Jews who preached justification  with God comes through faith in Christ plus Jewish circumcision and law-keeping) were troubling the new Galatia churches (1:6,7).   Paul passionately pushed back.  Look at Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, he said.   He believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness . . . Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:6,7).  And  ” . . . we (Jews, descendants of Abraham) know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).   Justification comes by faith alone in Christ alone, as God’s covenant with Abraham (before circumcision and the law) reveals.

Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case (2:15).

Paul illustrates from the legal system of his day.  Once a man-made covenant was ratified it was unmovable and unchangeable, written (we might say) in stone.  So, says Paul, with God’s covenant with Abraham.  Righteous-standing with God comes by faith in God’s promises.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say,                                
“And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person,
who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later,
does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise;
but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.(2:16-18).

Even though God promised Abraham offspring as uncountable as the stars (Genesis 15:5,6), Paul pointedly uses “offspring” “to one person, who is Christ.”    (Check Matthew’s non-exciting genealogy that starts with Abraham and culminates in Christ–Matthew 1:2-16.)  Paul claims that when God made promises to Abraham, he made them also to his offspring, Christ.

Remember the Judaizers are trying to dump law-keeping into the justification mix.  So Paul makes his point about Abraham plain.  “My point is this:  the law, which came four hundred thirty years later (through Moses) , does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God (see Genesis 15), so as to nullify the promise.”  Righteousness/justification/right-standing with God– comes through God’s promise to Abraham culminating in Christ.

But why the law?  If the Scripture narrative is a unity and runs from promised justification through faith to Abraham to promised justification through faith in Christ, law seems to intrude and shatter the unity.  No, Paul insists.  The four-centuries-later law doesn’t annul God’s covenant with Abraham.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.  Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (3:19-24).

Through Moses the law was added, the Ten Commandments forming                                                                                                           
the core (Exodus 20:1-17).  The Lord gave this preamble to Moses
on the mountain:  “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians,
and how I bore you on eagles’ wing and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).

Though the Lord had saved them from slavery by his grace, if the Hebrews were to live as his treasured possession they had to obey the law of the covenant.  Worse than telling a seven year-old child who’s been coddled and cuddled he has to start doing chores to be part of the family.  Abraham:  promises by faith.  Moses:  promises by obedience.

In this paragraph Paul explains critical distinctions about the nature of God’s law.  First, it was temporary.  “[The law] was added . . . until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.”    Second, “[The law] was added because of transgressions.”  By that I take Paul to mean, “The law was added so I might know my transgressions.”  This is what he wrote later in Roman 7:7— ” . . . if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’.”

Third, the law was “put in place through angels by an intermediary.”  The role of angels in giving the law appears to exalt the law.  But Paul means the opposite.  In some way God used angels to mediate the law to Moses who then announced it to the people.  But when God made his promises to Abraham, he spoke directly to Abraham.  Thus the promises hold a “holier” nature than the law.

Does the law, then, interrupt God’s narrative unity.  Is Moses an intruder?  Not at all.  God’s concern here is not to demand obedience to law but to “impart [a righteous, justified] life.”  Law cannot do that.  A lawfully-given speeding ticket may lighten my foot on the accelerator for a while, but soon I’m doing 60 mph in a 50 zone again.  And even when keeping the limit, my insides are frustrated by the ticket and crying, “Speed it up!”

Paul gives us two final purposes for the law.  Fourth, law “imprisoned everything under sin.”  “Imprisoned” suggests sin is a power we can’t overcome.  Prison bars restrain.  Lock us in.  No escape.  God gives Ten Commandments and, in almost no time at all, we realize we not only don’t keep them, we can’t. 

The fifth purpose for the law flows from the helplessness of the fourth.  The law is a guardian.  The NIV translation above translates the Greek noun, paidagogos, as a verb to describe its function.  A paidagogos was a slave who conducted a freeborn boy to and from school.  The ESV translates, ” . . . the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”  The law kept us reasonably on God’s right path.  It identified danger and sin.  It promised blessings and reward.  But it left us fallen short.  The road to right-standing with God wound up to a high and rugged holy mountain.  Our very nature rebelled against it (to say nothing of the devil stalking us every step of the way).

But note the narrative unity here.  God’s promises righteous by faith to Abraham and ultimately to Christ.  He gave us law so we could see our wretched transgressions against his holy and good will and to lead us to the only One who could put us in right-standing  with the holy God—Jesus Messiah.

 

So, you see, not only is the Bible one overarching narrative, so is the Gospel of our salvation.  It began when God gave his promises to Abraham.  Continued when he gave the law through Moses.  And it climaxed in the coming of Christ.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13).  “And, if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:29).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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