DEVOTIONALS

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Faithful Love

I recently read the story of author Mary Ann Bird. In the article, she shared this very personal story in The Whisper Test. She wrote, “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.”

“When classmates asked, ‘What happened to your lip? I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.”




“There was, however, a teacher in the second grade that we all adored—Mrs. Leonard [was her] name. She was short, round, happy—a sparkling lady.”

Annually we had a hearing test . . .

Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back—things like “The sky is blue” or “Do you have new shoes?” I waited there for those words that God must have put into her mouth. [They were] seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said in her whisper, “I wish you were my little girl”

Ever feel alone? Left out? Different? Rejected? Less valuable than others?

Ever wonder if God REALLY wants you in His family? After all… you did or said what you did or said. Can’t take it back and can’t change the past.

Worry no more.

God wants you.
God won’t reject you.
God won’t send you away because you’re different.

God loves different. God CREATED different.

It doesn’t matter how you think you look today. Or how badly they made fun of you. Who you are in Christ is defined by the One who knit you together not by the ones trying to pick you apart.

You could have broken dreams, a broken heart, or be broken in spirit… imperfect or all-together wrecked.

God wants you to know something today.

You are not an accident.
You are not less valuable than anyone else.
You are loved.

“Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 136:26

Let that sink in a second… the one Who started your heart beating is in love with it. He declares His devotion to you over and over in scripture. He doesn’t have you confused with your overachieving brother… or the rich lady down the street… or the perfect parent at the pediatrician’s office.

He is talking about you.

He wants you to know that your past doesn’t define you and your future has yet to be written.

You are loved.
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Good Choice

The story has been told of a shoe salesman who was sent to Africa.  He was there a couple of weeks and quickly became frustrated.  His first letter back to his company read… “Please bring me home, nobody wears shoes over here.”  So the shoe company did just that.  Soon after, they sent a second salesman.  Same people.  Same situation.  The new salesman wrote a letter too… His said “Please send all the shoes you can, nobody wears shoes over here.”
Spot the difference?
Same situation.  Same shoes.  Different viewpoints.  One saw futility while the other… opportunity.  The first missed out on making a difference and his replacement changed the paradigm.
The second man had a choice and seized his opportunity.  
Have you ever kicked yourself for missing a chance that could have made a difference in life?  One decision that could have altered your course in a positive way?
Jesus’ disciples did.  The night He was betrayed, Christ asked His closest friends to stay awake and stand watch while He prayed… Here’s the result:
“Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, ‘Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?   Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”  Matthew 26:40-41
They didn’t seize the opportunity that Jesus gave them.  They had a chance to be obedient and slept through it.  
I think we’d be amazed at how many chances per day we get to make effective and Godly decisions.  From what we eat, to how we interact with others, to our attitude when things get difficult…. we are presented with countless occasions to honor God with our choices.  
So many of us want our situation to change.  We try to bargain for miracles… we wish things were different… we hope God will come through.  We want different life results while making the same old decisions.   We want things to be different but we either aren’t ready or can’t execute on the God-given opportunity to make it that way.  
Some make the wrong choices and expect God to do it all.  
“Maybe He will make a deal with me and things will change.  I’ll be good so He will bless me anyway!”
“Maybe if I close my eyes and blow out the candles… God will grant my wish and my reality will change.”
“Maybe God will see that I want to change and hopefully do the work for me.”
Change doesn’t come from any of these… it comes from being ready and choosing to seize opportunity.  In his book, Visioneering, Andy Stanley says, “We don’t need to pray for more miracles, we just need to be more sensitive to the opportunities that God brings our way.”
What does this mean?
We want our friendships to get deeper yet we continue to choose close friends who don’t share our same convictions.  
We want our finances to change but we refuse to move ourselves (through obedience in tithing) to where He is already pouring out His blessings.
We want our children to have integrity but when people call the house we tell them to tell the caller that we aren’t home.
We want our spouse to be the man/woman of our dreams yet refuse to trust, communicate, or honor in the home ourselves.  
We want God to bless us, but when given the opportunity, we aren’t obedient to what He says in His word.
Time and time again, God gives us chances to make good decisions, be obedient, and grow… to change the world… to change ourselves.  
Are we squandering them?  Are we telling God to send us home and we’ll stay the same?  Or send shoes and we can change things?  What opportunity do you have in front of you that you’ve been hesitant to act on?   It may not be the easiest thing to do… but it will impact your life in a positive way… 
What choice can you make right now that will change you and affect the world around you?
A deeper prayer life?
Breaking a habit?
Reading your Bible more?
Getting baptized?
Figure out what opportunity God is giving you… and be bold enough to seize it.   Commit to moving forward in what you know He is leading you to do.  Be a world changer… proactive… growing in your boldness to do what you know you’ve been called to.  
Life is full of choices… I’ll be praying for you as you seek God’s guidance in the opportunities that are in front of you.

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Biggest Weakness

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.” – Romans 8:26a
I read the story of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo although he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.
The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. He was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”

“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.

Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”

Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.  On the way home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind: “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”

“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

What the boy had seen as his biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.
You’ve lived with what you have perceived to be a weakness for a whole long time.  Anger, abuse, depression… divorced parents… migraines… OCD… doubt…  
What are we supposed to do with our weaknesses?  The Bible has a reply.
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9
Scripture tells us that when we are weak… God is strong.  We shouldn’t shy away from or blame away our weaknesses… but instead… recognize them and realize that those areas of our life are where God’s power will get us through.  Is God enough to get you through those depressing days?  Does He have enough power to help you come to terms with past abuse?  Can God REALLY heal?  Can you really trust Him?  
Yes… He is more than enough… and He is always good… and He is always love… and He is never-changing… and He is forever faithful… and He is everywhere at one time… and He is the beginning and the end… and He loves you… and He will never stop… and He always knows what’s best… and He knew we’d be weak in some area… and He created us anyway… and He has a purpose for us… and He wants us to turn to Him when we run out of our own power.
God made you for a reason… weaknesses and all.  
Don’t let the devil trick you into thinking you’re irreparably broken.  Leverage that part of your life and allow God to fill those dark spaces with light.  He doesn’t love you any less because you’ve had setbacks… you are His child and He loves you with the warm embrace of a father who cares.
Why do we have weaknesses?  To show God’s power in and through them.  And once we persevere through the trials… we are able to assist others through those same issues in their own lives.   We may be weak in the situation… but the pain becomes useful when we help others realize that they aren’t alone… and remind them that they will get through it… and that God still does what seems impossible.

Sounds like strength to me.

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Reputation

“People with integrity walk safely,
    but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.”  Proverbs 10:9
Reuben Gonzales was in the final match of a pro racquetball tournament. In the 4th and final game, at match point, Gonzales made a super kill shot into the front wall to win the game. The referee called it good. Two linesman affirmed that the shot was in. But Gonzales, after a moments hesitation, turned around, shook his opponents hand, and declared that his shot had hit the floor first. As a result, he lost the match and walked off the court. Everybody was stunned. They couldn’t believe that a player with everything officially in his favor, with victory at hand, disqualified himself at match point and lost!
When asked why he did it, Reuben said, “It was the only thing that I could do to maintain my integrity. I could always win another match, but I could never regain my lost integrity.”
One of the most precious things we possess is our reputation.  Our good name.   It takes a lifetime to build it up… but just one poor choice to ruin it.  Most of us have daily opportunities to do one or the other… We either show the world that we have genuine Christ-like character or compromise our values and prove otherwise.  
Think about your last five major decisions… were they God-honoring?  Aligned with scripture?  Honest?  
…or did they damage your name (and the name of Jesus)?

You can always make more money, play another game, seize another opportunity, or take another chance.   You can’t easily rebuild your reputation once you’ve damaged it.  Today you will be faced with choices… opportunities to shine or shame… which will you choose?   If you are a Christ-follower, remember that people are watching what you do when you have the opportunity to be dishonest.  Stand tall… focus on Christ… and take the high road.  God will bless you for your integrity and the world will learn from your example.  
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Lived Out

Do you remember the “Peanuts” cartoon strip?   One of the recurring scenes had a determined Charlie Brown trying to kick a football held by Lucy.  Time after time he’d run at the ball… and at the very last minute Lucy would snatch it away and Charlie would go flying past.  Lucy would apologize and Charlie would accept… draw back.. and run at the ball again only to find the same outcome.  
Flat on his back.  No football.  Only air.  
Why did Charlie Brown stay at it so long?  Why repeat the same behavior again and again with the same outcome?  He knew it was never going to change if he kept on doing it the same way… why didn’t he adjust?  Why didn’t he change his ways?  Why didn’t he do something to make things different?  Young Mr. Brown forgot a simple truth that so many of us do…
It’s one thing to know something’s not working… it a whole other thing to actually do something about it and make a change.   Knowing isn’t enough.  
The Bible addresses this.  Let’s look at what James says about this in Chapter 1 and verses 22-25.
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” (James 1:22-25)
We read so much in scripture that guides us toward our God-potential…
Love God first
Love your neighbors
Control your anger
Give to those that need
Don’t worry
Trust when you don’t see it
Serve others with your talents…
We know what we need to do… but is it happening?  Are we living it out?  
The Bible is a life-changing book.  But knowing what the Bible says is only half of what’s necessary.   We’ve got to apply it.  Ever feel like Charlie Brown?  Ever wonder why things aren’t changing?  Why the scenario isn’t playing out like you hoped it would?   
In many cases it’s simply a matter of living out what we read… adjusting our lives to God’s plan rather than asking Him to approve our own.   
We can quote scripture… have highlighted key passages in our Bibles… take pages of notes during the weekend teaching… but if we fail to apply it, make some changes, and actually live out God’s word… we find ourselves flat on our back.   Again.  
The Bible’s not just informative… it’s transformative.   It gives us hope, strength, the power to endure, wisdom, creativity, changes our perspective, teaches us right and wrong, and is the textbook on how to love God and others.  
In printed form it’s powerful.  When it’s lived out by those that read it… it’s world changing.   
It’s time to stop seeing the Bible as an ancient book of advice meant for others to follow.  It’s God’s love letter to us… His directions… His plan for success… His reminder that we are His masterpiece and He wants what’s best for our lives.  It is as relevant today as it has ever been.
 God has huge blessings for those that are committed enough to read, internalize, and actually do what He tells them to.  Are you ready to change the world?   We have God’s plan… let’s make the adjustments… live out every word… and go for it!   

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Solving the Problem

Toward the end of the movie “Forrest Gump”, Forrest’s lifelong friend Jenny returns to the site of where she grew up.  Memories of her past abuse and neglect flood back into her mind… and she begins to pick up rocks and throw them at the walls of her old house.  Finally, Jenny quits throwing the stones and breaks down into sobs…  
Forrest’s response?  “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”
Some of you reading this today have been hurt.  Deeply.  The kind of pain that makes you cry out when nobody’s looking and withdraw emotionally when nobody seems to understand.  
God wants you to hear some words of comfort today.
Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
All the rocks in the world won’t solve the problem.  But God, the Savior, the Alpha and Omega hears your cries… and He wrote that verse for you.  You aren’t alone.  You do matter.  What happened in your past wasn’t something you deserved… it wasn’t something that you caused… and it wasn’t something you were meant to carry for the rest of your life.  
Today, I invite you to take that burden and lay it down at the foot of the cross.  Jesus is strong enough to handle it… and is calling you to do so.  Don’t turn back to get it… leave it there.  Take that scenario that has been playing over and over in your mind and replace it with the words of today’s verse.
Or this verse:  Phil. 4:13  “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Or this one: Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
Or lastly, this one:  Isaiah 40:31 “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Take some time today, and allow God to comfort your soul, start to heal your wounds, and dry your eyes.  
He’s the only Rock you’ll ever need.  

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Ignored Problems?

In an earlier century, there lay a large boulder in the middle of the roadway. Traveler after traveler walked past the boulder, veering off the side of the road to get around it. All the while, they were shaking their head and muttering, “Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way. What an inconvenience!”  Finally, a man came along and, seeing the boulder, took a branch from a tree and pried the boulder enough to get it rolling and rolled it off to the side of the road. Lying underneath the rock, he found a small bag with a note. The man picked up the note and read it. It was a letter from the king and it read as follows: “Thank you for being a true servant of the kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the problem and spoken of what ought to be done. But you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler have walked by simply because they didn’t care enough about the kingdom to serve.”
So many complain.  So few do anything.
You’ve seen it at your child’s school… in your workplace… maybe even where your bed is.  Problems as big as boulders sitting square in the middle of progress… and nobody does anything to make the necessary changes.  It’s frustrating isn’t it?  They may yell at the problem.  Gossip about the problem.  Write Facebook posts about the problem.  Talk to their spouse about the problem.  Maybe even pretend the problem isn’t there. 
Truth is… ignored problems don’t go away.  Side-stepped issues don’t solve themselves.   
We know that there is a difficult conversation that needs to be had… or a really nice person let go from a position that they simply can’t do… or a relationship issue that needs to be dealt with…Or maybe it’s something simpler…
…providing assistance to someone who no longer can help themselves.
…preparing food for the homeless in the area
…lending a shoulder to cry on 
…sharing the Good News of Christ with a hurting community (or a judgmental family)
The Bible talks specifically about the role of the Christ-follower regarding acts of service:
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Acts 20:35
God doesn’t tell us to step around it… avoid it… ignore it… or dismiss it.  He tells us to dive into it.  Get our hands dirty.  Own it.  Jesus gave each one of us gifts, abilities, and talents.  The catch is… they aren’t for us.  They are for glorifying God, removing boulders, mending fences, enhancing lives, and serving those that can’t return the favor.  “Christian” isn’t a word describing those that believe… it’s a directive to be the one to act.  
Believers do – not just say… 
Move forward – not around… 
Get involved – not lost…  
God-followers are servants.  The minute we forget that, we slip from disciple to disobedient.  I want to challenge you today… if you see a problem…step in.  Get involved.  Share the love of Christ.  Serve those God puts in your path.  Help people who haven’t earned it.  Stand out and be counted as the person who always puts themselves second. And someday, when Jesus says “well done”… you can smile knowing you always put Him first.  

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Maintain or Create?

Ephesians 4:22-24 (NLT) “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,  throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
Both the artist and the gardener start their work by thinking… they look at what they have and decide how to proceed.  The gardner looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls, and so on. The artist sees their subject, the canvas, the paint that they have at their disposal, and the brushes or chisel that sit idly by.. After they’re done thinking, the artist and the gardener begin their work… they both bring their creativity and effort to their respective projects.  The gardener tends what has gone before, making the most of what is beautiful and weeding out what is distracting or useless. The artist can be more daring… they start with a blank canvas or a solid piece of stone and gradually… ever so carefully, they take the paint to the canvas or the chisel to the stone and make something out of it that wasn’t there before.
Maintain what was there before… or create something that’s never been.
Which does God want us to do in our lives?  Pull weeds or blaze trails?   Tidy up what’s already in place or make moves to create new?  The short answer?  both.
Gardener, think back to yesterday.. what worked?  What didn’t?  Keep the good thoughts and actions and ask God how you can sift out the bad.  What needs to be replanted or moved around in your life?  What needed to take priority that didn’t?   What (or who) could use a little more TLC?  What was neglected and is withering away?  If it honored God…if it helped you move forward in your walk with Christ…if it reflected God’s character… water it.  If not, it needs to be uprooted and eliminated from your precious daily minutes.
Artist… today is a blank canvas ready to create something brand new…  What are you planning?  What is something you’ve been putting off that you’ve never done before but want to or should?  How about one full day of fasting and prayer about that challenge in your life?  Maybe a phone call to the person you struggled to forgive and tell them you’re moving past it?  Perhaps your blank canvas could be filled with giving your troubles to God…and not taking them back.   Something new…something you’ve never done before during a day.  Be creative! 
God wants us to maximize our lives… both by weeding out and beautifying what has been and looking for brand new things to do that help us become the person we were created to be.  Keep what honors God and moves us to be more like Him, dig out and throw away what’s getting in our way from doing so.  Be bold enough to take new ground. To create a new masterpiece… to fill the empty canvas of today with brand-new, beautiful and God-honoring thoughts and actions. 
You are both caretaker and world-changer… manager and pioneer… gardener and artist.
Two roles.  One day.  One you.  Are you ready?

Let’s go.   
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Big Results

        In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. According to Leon Jaroff in Time, the satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and beam data to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, for at that time no earth satellite had ever gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target. 
  
     But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Swinging past the giant planet in November 1973, Jupiter’s immense gravity hurled Pioneer 10 at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; and Neptune at nearly three billion miles. By 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun. 
     And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. “Perhaps most remarkable,” writes Jaroff, “those signals emanate from an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light, and takes more than nine hours to reach Earth.”
That satellite wasn’t supposed to do what it did.  It was built to last 3 years… it went over 25.  It’s 8-watt transmitter… underpowered even at its launch… continued sending signals and data back to Earth at an unexpected rate.  Tiny power… big results.
If it had disintegrated after it’s expected 3 years, we would have lamented it’s demise but applauded it’s efforts.  After all, that’s what it was supposed to do.  Launch…Jupiter data… done.  But it didn’t.  It kept going.  Never quitting.  Always pushing ahead.
So many of us have settled for what others have told us we’re designed for…  
You are average
You are ordinary
You are plain
You are medium
Do what you get to do in your life… but don’t expect much more…
You’ll never make it.
You don’t have the contacts…the skill set… 
The dream is dead… buried… disintegrated 
Don’t listen to them.  Keep going.  Push past the limits others put on you.  Go beyond people’s expectations and prove to the world that God knows far better than anyone what you are capable of.  
The engineers at NASA built Pioneer 10 for three years of usefulness.  It went thirty…
You were built by the Creator of the Universe for a lifetime of excellence… and have the opportunity to spend an eternity in His presence.  
It doesn’t matter where they say you should stop.
It doesn’t matter if they think you’ll never make it.
It doesn’t matter what others say about your dream.
It doesn’t matter how young or old you are…what your past looked like…or their definition of your success.
It matters where you are headed and what it would take to stop you.
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  Galatians 6:9
Stop at nothing.
Keep going.  
Blessings are coming.

Don’t quit. 
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Eternity

“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor 
      and gave him the name above all other names, 
 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
      to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:9-11
There is a place that was never designed for human inhabitants… where there is no joy… no light… and no friends.  It’s name?  Gehenna.  Hell.   What’s there?  Separation of Creator from creation… A division between humanity and hope… an eternity where all is lost forever. 
If you are reading this post today… there’s still hope.  And that hope has a name.  Look at today’s passage.  Paul tells us that God called His Son Jesus… “name above all other names” and that when we hear it… “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”   Scripture tells us in Romans 10 that all who call out this Name and believe that He is Lord will be spared the eternal separation and pain of hell.  When we call out and confess Jesus Christ as Lord… name above all names… we are saved forever.
What does eternity look like for you?  Take some time to think about that.  We have a lot riding on what side we take.   I urge you to investigate the claims of Jesus… and it is my prayer that one day you might confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and spend eternity with Him.  

It’s the best and most important decision you will ever make
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