Son Exposure

A picture of how our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit and NOT by striving

When a fair skinned person spends time in the sun, they are visibly affected – they get a tan. Does it matter if they are lying in relaxation, or running in sport or working on a project? No. What matters is that the skin is exposed.

You cannot stop the sun from affecting your skin if it is exposed.
You cannot stop the Son from affecting your heart if it is exposed.

Can you get sun burned on a cloudy day, when the light is blocked and you cannot feel its heat? Yes.
So can you be changed by the spirit during dark seasons, even when you feel like something is separating you from God

Consistent exposure to the sun ultimately causes change at a cellular level; your skin cells no longer function the way they used to. Yes, this is aging and cancer and not good, BUT—
Consistent exposure to the Son ultimately causes change at a spiritual, soul, heart, and yes even the cellular level of your brain; you will no longer function the way you used to — you will be more like Him and that is incredible.

The key is exposure. We need to let the Son do HIS work in us, to change how we function, to make our completion look like His.
When are you exposed? Whenever you open your heart to

– during a teaching

– during musical worship

– while reading a God-centered book
– at bible study
– on a walk

– while you enjoy His creation and actively praise Him for it
– during a good conversation
– when you have a joy-filled moment with your family, and you thank the Lord for that blessing in that moment
– when you share how he’s gifted you in His name

– when you ask Him for wisdom
– when you forgive
– when you love someone just because He does

There are so many opportunities for Him to do this amazing work in us! 😊

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Release and Receive

Last weekend I had the privilege of listening to a very wise woman of God speak, and she began her session with the verse, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Matt. 11:28-30).

She pointed out that this is a two-part invitation: first, to release the stress or burden or frustration on your heart, and second to receive His rest and peace instead. We held out our hands, palms down, to signify the release of our worries, mentally naming them all, and not until we had truly let go of each weight upon us could we turn our palms up and receive the Lord’s rest.

For the last five days, I have been continually tired. I am five months pregnant and constantly chasing a 14 month old, but this week I felt a new level of weariness that additional sleep and additional cups of coffee have not been able to touch. Everyone knows that when you are tired, every task in front of you seems so much harder and bigger than usual, and so that is how I have been living most of this week – as if every task was a hard one, and not producing any joy.

Today, as I attempted to take a nap before yet another night of exhausting tasks, the Lord reminded me of the two-step release/receive rest proposal. As my mind went back to this process, I realized how terrible I am at step one. Suddenly I could visualize myself going to God, hunched over with the weight of the yokes I had stacked on myself, and then said, “Okay, Lord, I’m here, ready to receive your rest – go ahead and plop it on top of this stack, and I’m sure I’ll feel it soon.”

Pretty ridiculous, right?

I can see Him just shaking His head at me, wondering how many cups of coffee it would take before I realized how illogical I was being! I cannot have my burdens – all of which are rooted in either sin or a lie from the devil – and have His rest at the same time. I cannot go begging for Him to fill me with peace if I have not first emptied myself of worry, because there is not room for both.

Then, as I began to unload my burdens before Him, He showed me that they were only burdens because I was allowing them to be. I was feeling weighed down by my roles and duties because I had once again lost sight of His truths. I allowed old thought patterns to creep in and tell me that there are standards that I must meet, and if I don’t, I have failed. Every time a goal or task is set before me, my flesh responds with an instant list of the ways I can fail to achieve it. But today my spirit finally cried out louder,  saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13) and “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28).

I am blessed to be a wife. I am blessed to be a mother. I am blessed to be in every loving relationship in my life. I am blessed with talents and gifts and I am blessed with the ability to use them according to His purpose. And I cannot fail so long as I am using His strength and direction and not my own. “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:9-11)

So if you are feeling tired, mentally or physically, and have not received the rest your have asked for, I recommend this simple process, and pray that it will help you to hear the truths that the Holy Spirit is trying to teach you today.

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Pursuing a Pagan King: Part 3

Part 3: The God of All Kings

I am blown away by the ways God worked to get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention and show him that He is the only sovereign being. But what I really love is how he not only displayed His power, but that he knew Nebuchadnezzar’s heart.

First God gives this pagan king His people, but Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t realize that. Then, when Nebuchadnezzar seeks to fill his service with the best men, the Lord says, “Okay, here you go – take my very best and faithful men, and see that they surpass yours in every way!” Nebuchadnezzar does see this – but he does not acknowledge that they are great because of their God. If they were great because of their God, that would mean their God was better than his own, and that was a truth better left alone – though it did not keep him from using the gifts of these men.

How often must God endure this treatment! How many times a day do each of us enjoy something wonderful without taking a moment to thank the One who provided it? Most mothers know what this feels like – that moment of triumph when, at the fifth store you go to, you finally find not just a doll, but the doll, not just a pair of shoes, but the pair of shoes, and when you give them to your child they say, “Wow, awesome!” and run away to enjoy it without ever even looking at your face. In one second the triumph turns to disappointment and hurt, because your beloved child accepted only the material gift and none of the love and devotion that was attached to it. I believe this is what God experiences daily, yet instead of becoming angry and bitter from the constant denial of praise, He says, “okay, you don’t see me in that – I’ll show you in a different way.”

Here is where we can see that God definitely knew this king’s heart. He gives Nebuchadnezzar a dream that rocks him to his core, and that makes him doubt the people he trusted most. He didn’t even understand what the dream meant, but it is obvious that the Holy Spirit did a work, and it left him questioning the power of his magicians and sorcerers and gods. But he did not want that feeling – we have already established that this is not a man prone to doubt or second-guessing. So to ease his mind, he makes an impossible demand on his men.

Let’s pause here a moment – this, too, is such a common response to the promptings of God in a person’s life! When the Lord moves in a way that makes a person feel that something is missing in their life (Him!), they set out to fill that hole with the love and acceptance of a man, woman, child, or group. We see people fall madly in love and rush into marriage, but as soon as their spouse lets them down and isn’t able to meet their every emotional need, the marriage falls apart. Many will assume the problem was that they did not find the “right” person, when the truth is that there is no person who will ever make them feel as fully loved and accepted as their soul longs to be, because only the Lord can do that.

So Nebuchadnezzar’s advisers make it clear that he has asked too much, and he orders their execution. It is said he does this out of anger, but I think it was a rage fueled by fear that he had found a vulnerability, an uncertainty, and an unfixable problem in his life. When Daniel comes to him is able to both tell him his dream and interpret it, Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge that the God Daniel serves must be better than the other gods, but heaps his praise on Daniel rather than the source of his power.

I think Nebuchadnezzar participated in a common mental game that day. He set up a test with a desired result: if his advisers could meet his demands, it would prove he was still in control of the highest authority. The other half of that, of course, is that if they could not, then he had finally discovered something outside of his authority. When it looks like his test has failed, he is freaking out, not even knowing what to think past his anger. So when Daniel steps in, rather than hearing that the real answer to his test was that the Almighty God was in control and was trying to get his attention, he grasps on  to the tiny straw that said, “Your test was passed! Your demand was met by this man! You ARE in control!”

People play this cyclical game in bad relationships, and they use it with God. Their truth-seeking spirit points them towards God, and He does make Himself known – but their fearful and broken soul creates false examples of how God has already proven himself unfaithful, incapable, or undependable. An encouraging encounter with a stranger makes them wonder about what role God might have played, so they decide to send up a prayer that night before bed: “God, if you are really there and care about me, give me the job I interviewed for today.” When they don’t get the job, their hope in God is popped like a balloon and they assume they have proven that there is not a God that cares about them. Some remain in this cycle for their entire lives, never daring to knock down that wall holding them back from embracing the love of their Father and even actively building it up to protect their heart from getting hurt. God was not content to let Nebuchadnezzar remain behind that veil, so His pursuit continued.

Nebuchadnezzar was not in want of anything, and as the most powerful ruler in the known land, he had few real threats. So the Lord decides to demonstrate His power by meeting the needs of someone else in a way that Nebuchadnezzar would have to notice. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had become very important to this king, and I’m sure their loyalty to him padded his ego in a much needed way. To hear of their refusal to follow an order cut straight to his heart, because it reminded him that he was not their highest authority – their God was. I can imagine the battle going on in his soul as the guards led the men to the furnace: “They must die! It will prove my authority and greatness over all! But they are some of my wisest men, and if that is because of their God, what if He turns on me? What if He is more powerful than my gods of protection? But no! I am in control, and they have broken my decree, so they will pay!…”

I think that a part of Nebuchadnezzar, the small, hidden part that was exhausted from being great all the time, was relieved when those men walked back to him unharmed. So he acknowledges that the God of these men was actually worthy of his own praise, because He was obviously more powerful than any force he had ever encountered. Worthy of praise and worthy of a nation-wide decree not to speak a word against Him – but still not worthy of the full and humble surrender of Nebuchadnezzar’s heart.

The bible says that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), and will not accept just a portion of ourselves – He wants it all. Why? Because He wants His love to touch and heal every part of us. Anything that we hold back remains in the dark, and God is the God of light. He requires our complete humility because it is the only way He can fully restore us to himself and shape us into the incredible creatures He intended us to be. He wants this for every person, and He wanted it for Nebuchadnezzar. So He cut to the chase, and made His plan known – did that get his attention? I think that by this point Nebuchadnezzar had reached a point that many people are at, where the truth is directly in front of them, but they don’t even know how to not step around it. It is too engrained in them, too uncomfortable to even consider. So they go the hard way.

God proves His faithfulness to His word and does as He promised to this king whose heart He wants. Nebuchadnezzar’s life now stands as an incredible example of how ruthlessly the Lord seeks out his beloved, how we can throw every kind of obstacle in His way, but He will never give up: He needs only for us to give up our fight against Him.

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Purusing a Pagan King: Part 2

Part 2: A Man We Know Well

Nebuchadnezzar was not a completely extraordinary person. He was very successful because he sought the best in everything in his life – food, education, temples, gods, advisers. He was a man who wanted everyone to know and celebrate his achievements with him, as seen by the statue he created in his own honor. He was a man who was loath to make a mistake or to achieve second-best, so when he had even a moment’s doubt about the ability of his advisers, he went to extremes to ensure that the best would not be held back from him. Here we also see how even though he sought to be wise, when left to his own devices he allowed his emotions to rule and makes rash decisions.

The world is full of Nebuchadnezzars: people who are driven to succeed at all costs and account all achievements to their own superior abilities, and people who live in constant suspicion that someone is devising a way to undo everything they have worked for. Beneath the cutthroat exterior, however,  I believe lies a soul so afraid that they are not who they project – not as powerful, not as intelligent, not as well-loved – that they lose sight of the lines of morality, and even miss huge messages from the God trying to show them the truth. Nebuchadnezzar ordered hundreds of men to be executed in his anger and insecurity – today, we see people cheat co-workers out of promotion or use blackmail to keep others from reaching the top. Nebuchadnezzar ignored the fact that the Israelites were God’s people and made a focused effort to make them his own – today people ignore the wedding band on an attractive person’s hand and casually take what is not theirs. This pagan king witnessed the power and authority of the true God, but refused to admit that he himself was under that authority. How many people do you know who attend church on major holidays, willing to acknowledge the existence and possible power of God on these days, but unwilling to give up any other time or control of their life? Humans do not want to be told that the things they worked hard to achieve were not accomplished alone, but Nebuchadnezzar’s story proves that claiming glory for oneself is not okay with God.

I don’t think there are many people who don’t struggle with pride at some level. We are created in God’s image and to praise and seek goodness. But as sin enters and we turn that praise to earthly things, people like Nebuchadnezzar are created. Pride at the level of a Nebuchadnezzar is destructive because it believes that it cannot fail, which is why I believe God went after him and remained determined to show him the truth.

Is there an area in your life where you are struggling with pride? Can you say with your whole heart, as Nebuchadnezzar finally did, that the Lord of Heaven deserves all praise and exaltation and glory because everything he does is right and all his ways are just? Or do you sometimes think that you might have a better way? Do you sometimes think that you are responsible for at least some of the good things in your life?

“For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created,” (James 1:17-18). This verse leaves no room for error; everything good in your life – and even the fact that you have one – has been designed and given by Him. May you not fall into a trap of pride set for you by the devil, but live in heartfelt praise for your Father and a desire for everything you do to bring Him glory. For this is what he promises to the truly humble:

Psalms 147:6
The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Psalms 149:4
For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

Proverbs 3:34
He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.

Proverbs 22:4
Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.

Proverbs 25:9
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

Proverbs 28:25-26
A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper. He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 23:12
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

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Pursuing a Pagan King: Part 1

This study of King Nebuchadnezzar will be posted in three parts – first his story; second what we learn from him; third what we learn about God from their interaction.

Part One: His Story

The story of Nebuchadnezzar begins in the in the book of Daniel when the Lord allows him to take over Jerusalem, putting it under the rule of the kingdom of Babylon. “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand,” (Daniel 1:2). Then this king sends his officials to get the very best of the noble Israelites, that they might be trained in the customs and language of Babylon to become a part of the king’s service. Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah (later renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were among these men, and they quickly rose to the top of their class and entered the king’s service. “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom,” (Daniel 1:20).

About a year later, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that disturbs him so much that he decides to test his advisors. He calls all of his enchanters, magicians, sorcerers, and astrologers and demands that if one of them is not able to first tell him what he dreamed and then interpret it, they will all be executed. “The astrologers answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men,”” (Daniel 2:10-11). In his anger, the king orders all wise men of the nation to be killed, but  before this can take place, Daniel goes to see the king and this is what he says: “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these,” (Daniel 2:27-28).  So Daniel is able to interpret the dream because his God had revealed it to him. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered than an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’” (Daniel 2:46-47).

The next we hear of this king is his decision to build a huge image of gold, meant to impress and stand as a symbol of the greatness of his kingdom, and it is commanded that whenever the royal music  plays, all must fall down and worship the image or be thrown into a blazing furnace as punishment (Daniel 3:1-6). Word is soon brought to the king, however, that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – three highly trusted and esteemed members of his court – are not worshiping the statue. As we all know, these men claim that their God is able to save them and are thrown into the furnace, only to be seen inside with a fourth man and come back out completely unharmed. “Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any other god except their own god. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’” (Daniel 3:28-29).

The final story about this man was written by his own hand, in the first person. He tells of how he had yet another disturbing dream that he once again calls on Daniel to interpret. Daniel is actually hesitant to let Nebuchadnezzar know what it means, because it does not predict a good future for the king. “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue,” (Daniel 4:24-27).  It is then said that exactly what was interpreted came to pass.

“At then end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” At the same time as my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of Heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble,” (Daniel 4: 34-37).

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Surrendering to His Goodness

One day a friend and I were talking about one of those questions in life that only God knows the answer to – the kind that tempt humans to turn worry even though it is out of our control – and when I wondered what to think about it, she said something that has stayed with me ever since.

“How good do you believe God is?”

If God is good, as we’ve all heard said, then He isn’t just a little bit good, or sometimes good – he is always one hundred percent perfectly good. That means His will is good, his judgment is good, his love is good. This pure goodness is hard for us to grasp because we often see so little of it in this natural life, but this is a truth of who God is. In the face of that truth, worry should be put to ease, because our  God promises to take even the things Satan intends for evil, touch them with His goodness, and bless us. In matters of life, health, finance, goals – our good God wants to share His goodness with us. So changing one’s mental framework so that everything is grounded on this knowledge of God’s goodness allows us to replace worry with a restful peace.

However, God does not request that we live at peace under his control – he would not have given us free will if that was His ultimate desire. What he wants is the full surrender of our will to his own.

“But If Not” – The Indicator of Surrender

Many are familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from hearing it told in Sunday school, but reading it as an adult reveals the key to having a life fully surrendered to the goodness of God.

King Nebuchadnezzar is furious to find out that these three men are refusing to bow down and worship the statue that he created, and when he threatens to throw them into a blazing furnace as punishment, this is what they say:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” – Daniel 3:16-17

There are two key parts to this response.

The first is this: regardless of the situation in front of us, our God is almighty and powerful, and can save us from anything. These men were totally confidant in this fact and were relying on God’s goodness that He would use that power to save them. We must have this same confidence in the power of God today.

The second is held in this phrase – “but even if he does not,” we will not be unfaithful to our God. This is where the surrender lies. This is where they acknowledged that they could not know the mind of God, and there are many times when He allows things that they could not understand. This story does not hinge on that second sentence – they could have simply spoken of the power of their God and walked confidently into the flames, and God still may have saved them. But I believe that the humility in those three words – the acceptance of their mortality and the Lord’s sovereignty – is what saved them.

These three words, if applied to your prayer life, will change you. It is necessary that we bring our requests to God – asking for healing, for softening of hearts, for the ease of pain. God wants us to confidently trust that He can handle these things, and He wants to carry those burdens. But true surrender to the Father, which leads to a beautifully intimate relationship with Him, requires that we also add “but if not, I will continue to love and follow and trust You, and look to You for strength.”

This is easier to do in some situations than others. But when your heart resonates with a passion to see God’s perfect will done even when it is painful for you, oh how the Lord delights! How He will bless you, so that the blessing becomes more real than the pain you are having to endure. This is the picture of a life fully surrendered to the goodness of God.

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Labor Pains

I was thinking about this coming Christmas, and how I will be six months pregnant with my second child. It led me to think about Mary, and the Lord gave me this vivid image of what it was really like to be Mary.

She was just an innocent girl, honorable enough to have been promised to an honorable man. She was hopefully excited and looking forward to this next chapter in her life – wife and someday mother. Then out of the blue, she has an encounter with an angel from heaven, and nothing is the same. But she loves her God, she knows her encounter was real, and she accepts that she will give birth to the Son of God.

She loses her place in her society and is, I’m sure, deemed a tainted  woman, which will never really leave the minds of the people in town even though Joseph decides to marry her. She almost loses the husband to  which she is betrothed. It is hard to imagine that her mother, sisters, or friends believed her story – why would they?

Then, when she is most alone and has only a man she barely knows on her side, her body turns on her as well! She is nauseous, throwing up, and exhausted. Her feet hurt all the time. The heat of her climate that would normally be bearable becomes intolerable. By the time Joseph tells her she must get on a donkey and travel for days, her back throbs, her joints hurt, and she has to go to the bathroom every twenty minutes – and that is without the bumpy mule! I truly cannot fathom how she made that journey.

Then she is told she has to try to sleep – which really is a joke anyway – on hay with the animals in an open barn. When her labor pains started, she had to be thinking “you’ve got to be kidding me!”  And all mothers know the joys of labor. But she endured it all, knowing that in the end there would be a baby. And he would save the world.

This is what Mary, the esteemed mother of Jesus, went through to receive her reward. She didn’t even know that there would be a day when she would watch him die the most painful death imaginable. She didn’t even know that there would never be a day in her lifetime when he would sit with a crown on his head, acknowledged as the King of the World.  She did know what she was called to do, so she did it.

Just as God used Mary to give birth to his Son, he wants to use his people to give birth to His radical love for the world. He has specific ways for all of us to do this, and we get excited when we think about having a special call and purpose – as we should. But when it gets hard – when the nausea kicks in, when your bladder turns the size of a pea, when the labor pains start – are you still committed? Do you let doubt set in? Have you ever let the pain actually stop you?

Here’s a question – if God did not spare the mother of his child the pain of a natural pregnancy and birth and ostracism from her society, are you somehow more deserving that he should spare you the trials and hurts in your life?

What is God trying to birth in you? What is He trying to teach you through the hardships along the way? Is there anything you think you can’t endure for His sake? I’m sure there were moments when Mary thought she could not possibly make it another day. But I’m also sure that the Lord never left her side, and constantly reassured her if she let herself hear Him.

When God puts a call on a life, he is waiting to birth more of himself to the world. Labor is never easy, but just as the knowledge that she will get a baby drives a woman through the process, we must fix our eyes on our heavenly goal and reward, knowing with certainty that each pain is a sign of progress and brings fulfillment.

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