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Category Archives: Church History

2015/16 Summer Reading

As with previous Summers I have stayed away from social media (blogs, FB, Twitter, etc.) from Christmas through January. As in previous Summers I have thoroughly enjoyed the time and wonder why I would ever go back…

Technically January isn’t over yet and I am still staying away from social media with the exception of this blog post. 🙂

I have enjoyed a fruitful Summer of reading.

Like previous Summers I read a book requested of me by my wife. This year that book was, Amazing Grace : William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End SlaveryA superb read, encouraging, challenging, and convicting. I pray I will stand faithful in my generation against all odds trusting in Christ fully as Wilberforce.

In addition I read the following books. I will just list them here rather than make comments. They have all be helpful and are books I would recommend.

Baptist Foundations : Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age

The Baptist Story : From English Sect to Global Movement

God’s Glory Alone – The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life : What the Reformers Taught…and Why it Still Matters

Grace Works! : And Ways We Think It Doesn’t

The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther

The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield

The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

Onward : Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel

The Thunder : A Novel on John Knox

Fool’s Talk : Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (I am nearly finished with this book. It is easily the most significant book I have read this Summer. Truly profound, excellently written, deeply thoughtful, immensely helpful. Ought to be required reading for anyone who thinks they are interested in apologetics.)

Oh, yeah I forgot… I was given a pre-publication e-copy of Christopher Ash’s new book, Zeal without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice, which I also read with real benefit. (This book is based on a talk he gave at the 2014 Truth for Life Conference. You can listen here, or watch here.)

I managed to finish another book before my “Summer Reading” time concluded, Knowing Christ by Mark Jones. This book as been described something like, “the book J.I. Packer could have and perhaps should have written but wasn’t able to.” It is truly magnificent. Unlike any other book on the person of Christ I have ever read. Each chapter is very short. It would be an excellent book to read slowly, one chapter a day or something, over the course of a month or so.

On the last day of my “Summer Reading” I was able to finish a classic. One I’ve read before many years ago. John Marray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied has been recently republished with a forward by Carl Trueman. This is a significant and important book for understanding the fullness of a believer’s redemption in Christ and the benefits in daily life.

 
 

John Wesley’s Instructions for Singing

I’m reading Fred Sanders’ Wesley on the Christian Life with great interest. This is the third volume in this seriesI’ve read and I found the other two very helpful. Additionally I know less about Wesley than the subject of the previous two volumes read, Luther & Calvin.

Of course, John’s brother Charles was a great (arguably second only to Isaac Watts in the English language) hymn writer. Sanders says the following regarding Charles’ hymns:

“Charles Wesley seems to have memorised the Bible and to have had it always on the tip of his tongue. A really dense Wesley hymn can somehow manage to fit three Scripture references in two lines. It zips along without clutter, but if you stop to unpack how much is being said, suggested, and alluded to, it takes a full page of exposition that exhausts the reader but not the hymn.” (Sanders, Wesley on the Christian Life, pg. 92.)

John Wesley penned the following instructions regarding congregational singing:

Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

 
 

John Wesley’s “Twelve Rules for Helpers” – 1744

I’m reading Fred Sanders’ Wesley on the Christian Life with great interest. This is the third volume in this series I’ve read and I found the other two very helpful. Additionally I know less about Wesley than the subject of the previous two volumes read, Luther & Calvin.

As Wesley began to train and equip lay men for the task of preaching, he outlined for them “12 Rules for Helpers”. They are worth reading and considering seriously even in our day.

1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed a moment. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time; neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.

2. Be serious. Let your motto be, “Holiness to the Lord.” Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.

3. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women; particularly, with young women.

4. Take no step toward marriage, without first consulting with your brethren.

5. Believe evil of no one; unless you see it done, take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction on everything. You know the Judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner’s side.

6. Speak evil of no one; else your word especially would eat as doth a canker. Keep your thoughts within your own breast, till you come to the person concerned.

7. Tell every one what you think wrong in him, and that plainly, as soon as may be; else it will fester in your heart. Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.

8. Do not affect the gentleman. You have no more to do with this character than with that of a dancing-master. A Preacher of the gospel is the servant of all.

9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin: Not of fetching wood (if time permit) or drawing water; not of cleaning your own shoes, or your neighbour’s.

10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And in general, do not mend our Rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

11. You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.

12. Act in all things, not according to your own will, but as a son in the Gospel. As such, it is your part to employ your time in the manner which we direct; partly, in preaching and visiting from house to house; partly, in reading, meditation, and prayer. Above all, if you labour with us in our Lord’s vineyard, it is needful that you should do that part of the work which we advise, at those times and places which we judge most for his glory.

You can download a beautifully scripted version of these “12 Rules” here. (HT:Jonathan Andersen)

 
 

Charles Spurgeon’s Down-Grade Controversy and the Church Today

The more I consider the issues being debated in most church denominations in New Zealand (and elsewhere) today, the more I find myself thinking, “this is Spurgeon’s ‘Down-Grade Controversy’ all over again!”

If you are not familiar with this controversy of Spurgeon’s day, you will find a great collection of primary source materials here.

If you were to only read three items, I would recommend these:

  1. Another Word Concerning the Down-Grade
  2. The Case Proved
  3. Attempts at the Impossible

As you read them think about the current theological and culture debates raging in most of today’s denominations. There is nothing new under the sun.

Like Spurgeon I can’t understand how one can stay in “fellowship” with those who deny even in practice the authority, sufficiency, and inspiration of Scripture.

 

Charles Spurgeon Writes to a Child

Late in life & very unwell, Spurgeon models for us true pastoral care as he sits down to write to a child. More than that, he models for us the type of gospel love and pleading all Christian parents and pastors ought to have for the children in the care.

Written on July 1, 1890, Spurgeon was said to have been sick, tired and very busy. His hand “was swollen and probably painful as he held the pen.” (Dallimore, p 225)

My Dear Arthur Layzell,

I was a little while ago at a meeting for prayer where a large number of ministers were gathered together. The subject of prayer was “our children.” It soon brought tears to my eyes to hear those good fathers pleading with God for their sons and daughters. As they went on entreating the Lord to save their families my heart seemed ready to burst with strong desire that it might even so. Then I thought, I will write to those sons and daughters, to remind of their parents’ prayers.

Dear Arthur, you are highly privileged in having parents who pray for you. Your name is known in the courts of heaven. Your case has been laid before the throne of God.

Do you not pray for yourself? If you do not do so, why not? If other people value your soul, can it be right for you to neglect it? See, the entreaties and wrestlings of your father will not save you if you never seek the Lord yourself. You know this.

You do not intend to cause grief to dear mother and father: but you do. So long as you are not saved, they can never rest. However, obedient and sweet and kind you may be, they will never feel happy about you until you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and so find everlasting salvation.

Think of this. Remember how much you have already sinned, and none can wash you but Jesus. When you grow up you may become very sinful, and no one can change your nature and make you holy but but the Lord Jesus, through His Spirit.

You need what father and mother seek for you and you need it NOW. Why not seek it at once? I heard a father pray, “Lord, save our children, and save them young.” It is never too soon to be safe; never too soon to be happy; never too soon to be holy. Jesus loves to receive the very young ones.

You cannot save yourself, but the great Lord Jesus can save you. Ask him to do it. “He that asketh receiveth.” Then trust in Jesus to save you. he can do it, for he died and rose again that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.

Come and tell Jesus you have sinned; seek forgiveness; trust in Him for it, and be sure that you are saved.

Then imitate our Lord. Be at home what Jesus was at Nazareth. Yours will be a happy home, and your dear father and mother will feel that the dearest wish of their hearts has been granted them.

I pray you think of heaven and hell, for in one of those places you will live forever. Meet me in heaven. Meet me at once at the mercy-seat. Run upstairs and pray to the great Father, through Jesus Christ.

Yours very lovingly, C.H. Spurgeon. (Dallimore, p 224,25)

 

Holding Your Eschatological Convictions with Grace

For quite some time, as a family, we have been reading Richard Belcher’s Theological Novels. We are nearly finished with A Journey in Eschatology.

Of the seven volumes read thus far, this has been the most challenging to read out loud to the family. The material presented is quite complex and thorough. Yet, the narrative storyline has been sufficiently interesting to keep the children’s attention. They regularly ask if we can read more!

I found the chapter titled “Can We Agree on the Second Coming?” very encouraging, challenging, and helpful.

“I suggested to him that we list some principles concerning the Second Coming of Chris that whereby Christians who hold various views could find strong agreement. I began to list them as follows:

  1. The doctrine of the Second Coming should cause our hearts to rejoice because we all would agree that Christ is coming back physically, bodily, visibly, suddenly, and gloriously.
  2. As we study this doctrine, we should focus on Him, and not on minute intricate details, demanding that all agree with us, or we will not fellowship with them.
  3. As we study this doctrine, we should study it humbly and graciously, not academically and theoretically, seeking to apply that which we learn to our hearts and lives in a manner that it will lead us to godly, Christ-like living.
  4. Thus we should be able to judge our hearts as to whether or not we are studying this doctrine correctly, as we see what attitude it is producing in us – humility, graciousness, love for Christ and others, worship, praise and adoration, or pride, sharpness of attitude, loss of love for Christ for others, division, grieving of the spirit of worship, and vile passions rather than godly passions.
  5. Thus we should be able to judge our actions to how this study affects us, as we see whether we have a pride of knowledge, longing to be able to out-argue others, become offended because others cannot see it the way we do, and feel a sense of superiority because we have it all put together (we think) in a fullness of knowledge from which others must draw and agree.
  6. Are there not some key ideas that all views should see alike and emphasize?
    1. Christ is the only Saviour and only Lord who will come back someday in power and great glory to defeat and judge all of His enemies with an eternal separation from Him, and to bless and reward all of His saints with an eternal presence with Him.
    2. God’s people in the meantime should live holy and godly lives preaching the truth to every creature and to every corner of the earth whether the lost world around us receives or rejects the gospel, or whether they receive or reject us or even kill us.
    3. God’s people should be ready and watching for His coming, because it will make no difference if we are perfect in our interpretation of Biblical prophecy if we are not read for His coming. All the expertise and knowledge will be to no avail, if we are found wanting in the day of His coming.
    4. The enemy is the devil, not other Christians, and our energy and efforts should be forged against him, not against other Christians with whom we may disagree in these areas of Bible prophecy.
  7. That there are some views that would set one in a camp of heresy, such as the following, though we cannot possibly give a complete list:
    1. To deny Christ is coming back.
    2. To deny Christ is coming back bodily.
    3. To deny Christi is coming back victoriously over all His enemies whether men or angels or demons, whether Satan and all his power.
    4. To believe that anyone can state the day or the hour [of His return].
    5. To believe that His coming will not include the resurrection of lost to their eternal damnation nor the resurrection of the saved to their glorification and His eternal presence.”

I happily & heartedly commend this entire series to everyone and every family!

 

Justin Taylor – Are you Serious?? – Questioning Creation

I would have thought Tim Keller’s (one of the founders of The Gospel Coalition) participation in BioLogos, a group which affirms full-fledged theistic evolution and even denies an historical Adam, would be a real concern for church leaders (has been for me) but Justin Taylor thinks its “young earth creationists” who need to be taken to task… REALLY!?

To make matters worse he quotes R. C. Sproul at the opening of his article clearly in a way to give strength to his argument. However, Taylor fails to acknowledge that Sproul has publicly changed his view and published this in 2006.

I left the following comment on Taylor’s blog:

I don’t think I have ever commented on one of your posts and I am unlikely to again. However, I feel compelled to based on your opening quote.

Justin, I would, at least place a footnote to your R. C. Sproul quote to the following:

Sproul, R. C. Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2006.

Pg. 127,28

“For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four hour periods…”

Most of your other points have been addressed by others over the years, so I am not going to repeat those critiques here. However, I do think one ought to be careful when quoting well known figures from one period of their life when their view has changed.

Update (30 Jan 2015)

Taylor replied:

Thanks for the comment, Joe. The quote I gave from Dr. Sproul was actually made after the book you quote above: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/age-universe-and-genesis-1-reformed-approach-science-and-scripture/

I replied:

Hi Justin,

Thank you for the link… I now remember reading that myself a couple of years ago.

However, a more compete quote would be, “When people ask me how old the earth is I tell them “I don’t know,” because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible does not give us a date of creation. Now it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth.”

Yet, this quote from Sproul seems to be completely irrelevant anyway. Your title deals with the length of “day” in Genesis 1 as does most of the article along with the conclusion. However, your introduction addresses the question of the age of the earth.

You seem to be implying that those who hold to “day” in Genesis 1 being 24 hours also claim to know how old the earth is. Or, at least, you’ve introduced one subject just to switch to another for the rest of the article.

As for a quote from Sproul that is related to the title of, content of, and conclusion of your article I would suggest the quote I gave above is more relevant. Though it would lead in the opposite direction of your article.

Based upon Sproul’s published statements it is clear he would not agree with most of your article, but including a quote by him in the introduction seems to imply he would.

I am no Sproul “fan boy”. I am concerned though when “names” are quoted as though they would agree with something when, in fact, it is unclear they would.

Joe

A friend pointed out on FB:

Also, Tim [Keller] affirms a literal Adam – http://samluce.com/2014/07/ask-tim-keller-transcript-via-cambassador21/

I replied on FB:

Keller may hold to a literal Adam but there are many within the BioLogos community who do not.

There are other issues at stake with BioLogos than just a literal Adam. The attempt to integrate the mindless, random natural selection of Macroevolution with the Bible is deeply concerning.

There are folks within the BioLogos community who have moved from YEC to denying even an historical Adam. I would be greatly concerned for anyone who has willing aligned themselves with the organisation and its teaching.

 
 

Why I don’t find the term Evangelical by itself terribly helpful

In recent years I have seen a bit of a trend for Christians to simply refer to themselves as Evangelical.

Personally, I don’t find this terribly helpful and as I have ventured toward the adventure of what is called church planting, I have reflected on this a bit more lately.

In mentioning reasons why I don’t find it helpful, I could mention something like the phrase “Evangelical Catholic” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Catholic) – There’s a combination one would not normally put together.

In actual fact this highlights one of my reasons for not using the term Evangelical by itself. Alone, the term doesn’t say a whole lot really. Often when I use the term a follow-up question comes, something like, “Evangelical what?” What kind of Evangelical. This question shows a bit of insight on the one asking in that they clearly recognise the term alone doesn’t really say a whole lot.

Historically the term has generally meant someone who is committed to the gospel. To the centrality of the truth of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. However, the existence of a phrase like Evangelical Catholic shows that this isn’t always as clear as one would desire.

Even more than that, the term doesn’t really say anything else. One can be Evangelical and be charismatic or non-charismatic, complementrian or egalitarian, Arminian or Calvinistic. One can call themselves Evangelical and believe in inerrancy or not. Once can call themselves Evangelical and deny the existence of Hell and hold to universalism.

Interestingly enough I do hear some attempting to go by the label Evangelical by itself and then describing themselves as Calvinistic and complementarian. Of course the problem is Evangelical doesn’t mean those things. To do this is to confuse vocabulary.

However, to do this, I would suggest reveals another significant (actually I think the most significant) problem with trying to use just the term Evangelical to describe oneself. To do so, may be saying more than one intends.

If you attempt to describe yourself as simply Evangelical but then define that in ways that go beyond what the term really means you are implying that those who do not define the term your way are not Evangelical. That is both historically and linguistically confusing.

I have found this recently in discussions related to planting a church. Rolleston Baptist Church will not be the first Evangelical church in Rolleston. I don’t want to do anything to give the impression that it is.

Rolleston Baptist Church, Lord willing, will be an Evangelical church. However, it will be a Baptist Church and even then Baptist doesn’t necessary say a whole lot anymore either. 🙂

This post as nothing to do with the name of a church as it is not possible to put in a church name enough adjectives to describe where one falls on the Evangelical spectrum. I think the name of a church is important and am quite happy with the name Rolleston Baptist Church.

Thoughts on church names is for a later post, in this post I am just thinking about what terms Christians use to describe themselves.

 

Psalm 46 – “Be still and know that I am God”

This Sunday AM I will be preaching one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 46:

ESV  Psalm 46:1 To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

As a church we will also begin memorizing the next hymn in our monthly, hymn memorization project, again a favorite – A Mighty Fortress Is Our GodThis is Luther’s hymn loosely based on Psalm 46.

The first part of Psalm 46:10 is a much loved statement, one often included on cards or little trinkets to hang on your refrigerator.

“Be still and know that I am God”

Is this meant to be a a soft word of calm and assuring comfort or a word of rebuke?

Is it “Be still and know that I am God” to those who are suffering, or “Be Still! Know I am God!” to those who are raging against God?

Which fits the context of the Psalm? Which do you think Luther saw in this Psalm?

I’ll give my answer Sunday morning… 🙂

 

Does Man have “Free Will” or God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

(Something I wrote up about 10 years ago, I just dug up for this Sunday night’s topic on “What is Man?”)

God doesn’t even have “Libertarian Free Will” => A person is freely able to choose any of all available options.

Let me explain…

The Shorter Catechism asks the question, “Can God do all things?” the answer is “Yes, God can do all His holy will.”

See, to say God is omnipotent is to say He can do anything and everything which is consistent with His nature – HOLY.

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), He cannot tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), in short God cannot sin.

Theologically, since Augustine this has been known by the phrase, “Not able to sin.” God, by His very nature is “Not able to sin.”

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God unmarred by sin.

In the garden, Adam and Even were told not to eat.

Adam and Eve were created “Able not to sin.”

In God’s covenant with Adam, Adam had the ability not to sin and his relationship with God was dependant on his continued obedience.

However, Adam disobeyed. He sinned. God promised on the day he ate of the fruit he would die (literally the Hebrew reads, “dying you will die”).

Adam died that day spiritually and began dying physically.

As a result all mankind is born with an unregenerate nature. They are created in the image of God, but with a nature that is completely sinful, dead, depraved, unregenerate.

From the time of Adam’s sin, he and all mankind became, by their nature, “Not able not to sin.”

Just like God in His actions and even His omnipotence is “restricted” by His nature, man being created in the image of God, but being Spiritually dead is also “restricted” by his nature.

He can only act and exercise his will within the boundaries of his nature – which is dead.

Therefore, yes he does have a free will, but it is not a “Libertarian Free Will” – man cannot freely choose God, he can only freely choose to do things consistent with his nature (just like God, being in the image of God), but in his unregenerate nature his is “not able not to sin.” Everything he does is sin – even his good deeds are “filthy rags.”[1]

Therefore, no one “seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11). They can’t, it is not possible for them to choose anything outside of their nature.

Unregenerate people seek after all kinds of things, many of them religious or even “spiritual” in nature. They are looking for something to fill the hole in their soul which only God can fill. However, no man on his own is seeking God. He may be seeking a solution to his pain, but it isn’t God.

That all changes when God, by the ministry of His Word and Spirit, begins to draw a man to Himself. But, even then, it is not the man who is seeking God, it is God who is seeking Him!

Only God’s Spirit can change a man’s heart, regenerate his soul and give him a new nature! By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the Glory of God alone.

Once God has regenerated a man he has a new nature. However, he still has within him the flesh, the old man.

Now, consistent with his new being, and with the fact that he is a creature created in the image of God, he is “able not to sin” – we are now like Adam in the garden – but even our ability not to sin is not really our ability as it is “he that works in me both to will and do His good pleasure.”

So:

Adam in the garden                                                                                                        Able not to sin

Adam and all mankind since the Fall                                                                        Not able not to sin

Adam and all mankind who are given a new nature by God/regenerate   Able not to sin

All of God’s children in eternity with Him                                                             Not able to sin

We all long for the day of total redemption when “we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” – we will finally have the unmarred image of God and like Him we will be “Not able to sin!”

So how does all of this – God’s sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility “make sense” this side of Glory?

Have you ever stood in the middle of a set of railroad tracks and looked way off in the distance?

Now, you know railroad tracks are parallel lines and parallel lines don’t cross do they? But your eyes tell you something different. If you look one direction, way off in the distance the two railroad tracks seem to cross. If you turn around and look the other direction, they seem to cross in that direction too.

Well, in actual fact they don’t.

Just like parallel lines and the optical illusion of those railroad tracks God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility are completely compatible.

They are both equally true, both clearly taught in Scripture.

Parallel truths that crossed in Eternity past and will cross again in Eternity Future.

The really cool thing is those concepts are only in our minds – we live in time and space – God does not – so Eternity Past and Eternity Future are non-differentiated time descriptors for Him – these things are just true in the same way as He just IS.

Isn’t our God awesome!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!


[1] Luther wrote, The Bondage of the Will while Edwards wrote, The Freedom of the Will. These books seems to have conflicting titles, but in fact were arguing the same point, just looking at it from differing perspectives. Man’s will is free, but not in the libertarian sense. Man’s freedom to express his will is in bondage to his nature.

 
 
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