As this year comes to an end there are best of 2014 lists made by many people in many categories. People reflect on the highlights and the major events of the year. For me as I look back over 2014 I would have to say that there were certainly more difficult times this year than good times. In 2014 there were too many people we watched lose struggles to sicknesses and diseases. We had to say good bye to too many too early. Fortunately these I speak of were in the Lord so they are truly in a place of peace and comfort, but those left behind are still left with a void and questions. Why aren't are prayers always answered?
2014 also brought more than it's share of struggles in relationships. This shouldn't surprise us Jesus says in Matthew 10:... “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. When there were just 2 brothers Cain and Able, they couldn't get along. Jesus Himself was questioned by His own family and it was the religeous leaders, the church, who had Him arrested and crucified. Our lives will include struggles in relationships.
In 2014 I believe we also saw our nation, our society and culture move deeper into darkness. Our government continues to pass laws against Christian values. Our public schools push a progressive amoral agenda to even our youngest children. The church, the institutional church, faces difficult decisions about how it will respond to the changing social, moral and political pressures. Yet as the society and the culture fall farther into this darkness we know that Jesus sees a different future for His church. Ephesians 5:27 says this of the future of the church. that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
That is our challenge in all things. To see things as God sees them. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight(2 Corinthians 5:7) We have a choice to make each day as the storms of life rage around us. Look at this account from Matthew 14:
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. 23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
Jesus calls us, like Peter to step out of the boat in faith. Each day we need to constantly choose to keep our focus on Jesus, the object of our faith. As long as we look into Jesus face we can walk through the storm. We also have the confidence of knowing that if we, like Peter begin seeing the wind, become frightened and begin to sink, we can call out Lord save me! Immediately Jesus will stretch out His hand and take hold of us.
I don't know what 2015 holds. But this I do know, whatever comes I will walk through it looking into the face of Jesus. I invite you to join me on the journey. In 2015 I will again use the One Year Bible as my primary devotional study and my reflections in "nuggets". I am amazed at how even though I have read through the Bible year after year since the late 80's, there continues to be new revelation and fresh manna in God's word. From Genesis to Revelation we see God's plan to restore His creation.
Jesus has called and commissioned us as believers. He says in Matthew 28:
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Mark 16 says this: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
We are not called to a passive faith. Jesus calls us to step out of the boat. Will you join me? Will you join Him?
Ready or not 2015, Here I come!
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
The New Jerusalem
10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper... 18 The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Once again as we read John's description of the vision he saw of the new heaven and earth I don't want to get to involved in the details of interpreting the imagery of the various things he sees. Rather, I want to focus on what some of the words themselves speak to us. In the first 7 verses we see many of the statements about this new heaven and earth mirror the promises we have in the present kingdom of God on earth. The text says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,...". Jesus says "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him."(John 14:23) The text says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. The difference is that in this new creation, this new heaven and earth there are no longer any evidences or effects of sin at all. Everything is as God intended it to be from the begining. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
Before we finish with an additional element of this new heaven and earth. I feel I would not do justice to either this text or to us if I didn't acknowledge verse 8 and what it says tp us. We have a natural tendency to categorize sin, separating by the degree of seriousness. Let's look at what heads up this list of things that prevent us from inheriting the promises of the kingdom. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” The cowardly and unbelieving, some translations say fearful and doubters, these are the sins that head up the list of things which will prevent us from being counted among the overcomers who inherit the promises of this new heaven and earth. This is not to say that anyone who experiences fear, unbelief or doubt will not experience eternal life in Christ. In truth, anyone who says they have no fear or doubt is probably one of the last things mentioned, a liar. What we need to acknowledge though is that to the extent that we allow fear and unbelief to control our lives it is sin, and sin separates us from God. Fear is the opposite of faith. It is really believing more in what we don't want than what we do want. Jesus finished work on the cross is the only solution to our sin and it is the solution to every sin listed in verse 8. We overcome fear and doubt in Christ. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God's love. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God's love is perfect and There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.(1 John 4:18)
In closing today let's look at verses 22 and 23. 22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
In the present kingdom of God here on earth we are the temple of God. Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16) In the new heaven and earth God's omnipresent character will be so complete that He will truly be present every where. His glory will truly fill the whole earth as Isaiah spoke of in his vision. Isaiah 6:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
It says there will be no need for the sun or the moon, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. In the begining God said "let there be light" Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”(1 John 8:12) 1 John 1:5 says, This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
Amen, so be it. Come Lord Jesus. Give us the grace and the strength, in You, to walk in the kingdom of God now until You establish Your new heaven and earth, Thy Kingdom come... Amen.
A cab driver reaches the pearly gates. St. Peter looks him up in his Big Book and tells him to pick up a gold staff and a silk robe and proceed into Heaven.
Next in line is a preacher. St. Peter looks him up in his Big Book, furrows his brow and says, "Okay, we'll let you in, but take that cloth robe and wooden staff."
The preacher is shocked and replies, "But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely I rate higher than a cabbie!"
St. Peter responds matter-of-factly, "This is Heaven and up here, we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabbie drove his taxi, people prayed."
There are hundreds of jokes and stories centered around this idea of entering heaven based on our works or accomplishments. The sad thing is that many people believe that is how it works. They think that some how the good is weighed against the bad and perhaps if there is enough good things on the list they will make it in to heaven.
Let's take a look at what scripture says in today's reading from the One Year Bible(link available on links page of this site).
Revelation 20 Judgment at the Throne of God
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This text does in deed say that "they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds". Let's look a little closer though. It says in verse 12 "and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life". We see then from this scripture that there are two sets of books which are used for the judgment. There are those who are judged according to their deeds and there are those who's names are wriiten in the book of life.
Regardless of what is written in the accounts of our deeds, the only basis for eternal life is for our name to be written in the book of life. We can not accumulate enough good works or deeds to enter into heaven. If there were one question that would be asked at the entry way to heaven it would be the same question Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Jesus asks that question of each one of us. Who do you say that I am? The only answer to the only question that matters is the one Peter gave, our answer must be “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
Acts 4:10-12 says by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Philippians 2:10-11 says at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There are many who will argue that this Christian view is narrow and unfair. They ask why God would exclude those of other faiths and beliefs? My answer to them is only that I don't have the answer, it's not my problem because I am not the one who set the standard. God did. 2 Peter 3:9 says The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. God set the standard and God desires that none should perish. I believe therefore that He has determined a way that all people will have an opportunity to recognize and answer Jesus, saying as Peter did “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” God was able to reveal His salvation to those of faith even before the birth of Jesus. He was able to give a revelation of Christ to the thief on the cross. Luke 23:
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
With that acknowledgment, "Jesus, Lord", the thiefs name was wriiten in the book of life. I am glad it's not up to me to reveal Christ to every person, but I trust that God has it figured out.
One final thought, as Jesus asks that question today, who do you say that I am? Recognize this that your answer to His question is also the answer to every need in your life. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord and Savior. He is also I Am, the all in all.
The Fourfold Hallelujah
19 After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.” 3 And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And a voice came from the throne, saying,
“Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” 6 Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Marriage of the Lamb
7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
9 Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God.” 10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he *said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
The Coming of Christ
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
As we read this portion of scripture from the prophetic vision, given to John, we need to recognize that because it is a vision, John is attempting to describe some things he sees in the spirit, in human terms. So it is not as important for us to fully comprehend and rationalize all of the imagery as it is to understand the meaning and the events themselves.
I was drawn to this text in part because of it's begining with the four Hallelujahs. We talked about the word Hallelujah yesterday, that it is a combination of the Hebrew word hallal, which means to give praise and Yah, the Hebrew word for God. So it is the highest praise of which only God is worthy.
The first Hallelujah is by the multitudes in heaven, this could include both angelic beings and the eternal souls of those who are in Christ. They say, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous;"... That's something that many people in the world don't want to accept. God will and does judge. Unlike any system of justice operated by man God's judgment is righteous and true. Because God knew we could not measure up to His standard, He provided His Son, Jesus Christ, to take our place and be judged for us, so that in Christ we could be judged as righteous. God's judgment is righteous and true. We can be judged for our own acts or we can be judged in Christ's righteouness. Each person has the choice. In the end the result will be this truth which John sees and hears, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
In the next portion of the text we see the reference to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It says, "His bride has made herself ready.” This is part of what we are doing in this life. We, as Christ's church, His bride, are to be making ourselves ready for eternity with Christ. It says, It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. We are told in Isaiah 64:6 , For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; How then are our righteous acts this fine linen?
According to Ephsians 4:24 we "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created
in righteousness and holiness of the truth." This righteousness is ours in Christ. Then in obedience to Christ we follow Jesus words from John 14:15. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. We first put
on the righteousness of Christ, then our deeds become righteous in Him.
I am not going to get into the interpretation of the imagery of the final portion of this text. Whether Christ will return literally on a white horse or whether that is symbolic of conquering kings in prior times is not what matters. What matters is that He, Jesus Christ, is “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” and He will strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. That's the judgment which awaits those who are not in Christ.
We have a choice, each one of us, the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast, or the truth of His righteous judgment.
Tell everyone what the angel told the shepherds the night Christ was born. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The end times are not to be feared! The good news is for all people! There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous...Hallelujah! ... And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” ... Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3 Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
5 How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
7 Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
8 The Lord opens the eyes
of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
9 The Lord protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Do we really know and understand what it is we are saying when we read aloud verses such as these? It easy to allow our familiarity with words to soften and minimalize their true meaning. The word praise which opens the psalm above comes from the word hallelujah, which is a compound word in Hebrew, combining hallal, an exhortation to praise and Yah the Hebrew name for God. So this praise that we are called to or call others to when we read and declare this psalm, is a praise that God alone is worthy of. It is not like the praise we have for people, it is the highest form of praise. The psalmist then directs this praise to none other than the Lord. We in the U.S., in particular have a difficult time with the concept of a Lord or a Sovereign. Our political and social belief and value of equality of all people causes us to lose the understanding of what it means for some one to be a Lord over us, to have sovereign authority. It is no wonder then that we have difficulty with our ability to submit fully even to the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and must be our Lord. There can be no casual tone or meaning when a true believer, a follower of Christ utters the words Praise the Lord.
The psalmist then follows the opening line by repeating the words Praise the Lord and adding, O my soul. We can not call others to this highest praise of our Lord unless we ourselves are going to praise Him at the level of our soul. This again is not an emotional expression, this is a deeply, heartfelt conviction and decision. God desires that we worship Him in Spirit and truth as John 4:24 says. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. This worship, "O my soul", is the truth part of that worship that God seeks.
Verse 2 continues, I will praise the Lord while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Each of us has a number of days which we will spend here on earth in this physical realm and life that we know. After that there will be eternity, something which we again have little or no ability to comprehend. This much we know, there is eternal praise and worship of God in the heavenly realm. Revelation 4:8-11 ... and day and night they do not cease to say,“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
There is and will be unceasing praise and worship of God in heaven. If we are to experience that we need to, like the psalmist, praise the Lord while we live;
sing praises to my God while we have our being.
We could go on line by line and even word by word through this psalm. We can apply the same examination to every word of scripture, taking time to fully comprehend the depth of what it says to us. We need to apply the same principle when we sing hymns or praise and worship songs, not allowing our familiarity with words to lessen our praise and worship. When we pray we need to recognize that we are addressing and having conversation with the Most High God.
God seeks those who worship in Spirit and Truth. He encourages us to pray, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.(Philippians 4:6) We are encouraged to come to God boldly, Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.(Hebrews 4:16)
Let us never though forget what a privilege that is. Let us never become casual about the price that was paid by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior to obtain our place in the presence of the Most High God.
So, Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
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