Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mars Hill's Narrative Theology - What's Missing in This Story?

First, let me start by clarifying something that confused me from the beginning. We're not talking about the Mars Hill of Seattle, WA where Mark Driscoll preaches. When my uncle first approached me asking, "What do you think about this 'Mars Hill' thing?" I immediately thought of Driscoll's church in Seattle.

No, instead, this is Mars Hill Bible church of Grandville, MI where Pastor Rob Bell has championed his statement of Narrative Theology, coupled with the New Exodus teaching, with great popularity (an estimated 10,000+ weekly attendance). My question is this: What's missing in this "story?"

As I first began to read their statement of Narrative Theology, I was admittedly pleased. The narrative approach to developing theology and doctrine is quite fond to me. In fact, many might say that my first book, Thy Kingdom Come: A Prayer of Victory, was itself an expression of Narrative Theology. Obviously I don't think that the approach is altogether without merit. For a more in-depth look at the topic of Narrative Theology at large, I recommend this answer by Ra McLaughlin (though I've not explored any of the other claims that may be found at that URL).

So, what IS missing in Rob Bell's story? What left me—at the end of just one single PDF page—writhing in my desk chair? Allow me to offer a surface-level critique of this increasingly popular statement of faith, and then I invite you, the reader, to share your own take on the matter. Perhaps some of you have more first-hand experience that may shed light.
  1. The statement is devoid of any affirmation to the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ. The statement, found in paragraph 6 of the aforementioned statement of Narrative Theology, reads: "His path of suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection has brought hope to all creation. Jesus is our only hope for bringing peace and reconciliation between God and humans." It seems that this is just strong enough to preclude anyone from holding only to the Exemplary Atonement theory, but it (and the entire narrative as I read it) is devoid of the concept of wrath, atonement, death as penalty for sin, etc.
  2. My second critique was a little less obvious and it took me a while to find this. Read the document again, if you can, through the eyes of a total non-believer. Do you see how the plural first-person "we" would include you, the non-believing reader, in the narrative? I have no confirmation that Rob Bell preaches, or even holds this position, but this theological statement is extremely friendly to the Universalist.

In summary, I must conclude that this statement of theology is unique in it's ability to say so much while affirming nothing at all. The purpose—in my opinion—of a doctrinal statement should be to guard sound doctrine and affirm that false doctrines are not propagated at your church. By Mars Hill Bible Church's statement, what could be refuted? Universalism? No. Legalism? No. Pelagianism? No. Yikes!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

A Tweetable Creed

I came accross an interesting challenge and decided to take it up. In his blog, Lingamish, David Ker asks readers "Can you write a meme in less than 140 characters, the equivalent of a Twitter 'tweet,' that results in a statement that every Christian could confess?"

Hows this (taken from 1 Corinthians 15) ...

I beleive that Christ died for my sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day as the firstborn among many brothers, of which He has made me one.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

1 Peter 3:18-22 - The Rocky Gospel

For three straight weeks in our class we've been studying various forms of the meek, submissive, and suffering aspects of Christian living. If the story were to end there (candidly speaking) I'm not sure how much appeal the God of ages would have for me. The Apostle Paul, I dare say, would agree with me. He wrote, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor. 15:19).

The way Peter frames the passage we'll study this week, 1 Peter 3:18-22, reminds me of the dramatic set-up for all 5 of Rocky's great come-backs. Submit to authorities, Submit to one-another, even be prepared to suffer when you don't deserve it... and then WHAM... "put to death in the body but..." (drum roll please) "... made alive by the Spirit."

From there, we see some unique perspectives on salvation that have historically been de-emphasized in today's evangelical circles. First, a comparison of the New Covenant ordinance of baptism to the Old Testament flood. The suffering and submissive nature that Christ took on ultimately resulted in the death of His flesh, as it will also in ours. But, more than the inevitable physical death, we're called to put to death our own sinful flesh, which we symbolize with baptism. In Genesis 6, water destroyed the wickedness of creation. In Romans 5, we read that water symbolizes the destruction of sin in our own flesh.

Next, with that comparison in view, Peter then explains that our salvation is from Christ's resurrection. Where we as evangelicals typically emphasize the atoning death, we must be careful not to neglect the salvific significance of Christ's resurrection. Even though our bodies will die, we will be made alive in the spirit. The life that Christ's atonement makes possible was actually initiated in His resurrection, making Him the firstborn among many brothers. 1 Corinthians 15 expounds on this truth in detail, telling us that our new bodies will be like his in nature.

It is only with this understanding of death to our sinful bodies that we can understand the relationship of suffering to sinlessness made in 4:1. Once again, on this same basis, Peter encourages his readers in 4:6 that even those who have died awaiting Christ's return have died in the body according to judgment but will live, as He did, by the spirit.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Days - Warning Passages & Eternal Security

Today's post comes in response to a recent question on where Anonymous writes (gross misspellings corrected):

"[I am] Trying to prepare a sermon for the body of our local church. I feel that [we're] living in what the Bible calls the last days before the coming of lord Jesus Christ. [I am] looking for some Biblical answers that show that many will fall from [their] faith in these days. To show them that this is a very bad thing to do, and [their] salvation is nothing to be playing around with.
Where do I begin. Let's start with basic hermeneutic principle: "I feel that..." followed by "I am looking for Biblical answers that show..." will always yield the answers you seek, but it may not be the answers that the Bible gives. Let me rephrase: if you enter into a study of Scripture with a foregone conclusion in mind and seek only to find the scriptural evidence to build your case, you will succeed in finding what you want to find, but that does not necessarily mean that you found truth.

However, we must all acknowledge that we do this to some degree. Covenant Theologians assume certain facts about Old Testament prophesy. Evangelicals de-emphasize the gospels and emphasize Paul. And Calvinists assume softer interpretations of the word "world" as well as the many warning passages, of which our anonymous inquisitor is expressly interested in.

Lucky for anonymous, I'm not a Calvinist... [clears throat] I'm just reformed [grin].

First, in regards to the present day being the last days. I'm not very certain about that. I do not claim to be an expert on eschatology, but there are several descriptions of the "last days" in scripture, even signs that they are near, and we haven't seen all of them come true. One of my friends and colleagues once commented that for at least 200 years, every generation has believed theirs to be the last. My wife's great grandfather recently passed away, yet right up until the day of his death he was so certain these were the last days that he swore that he would be taken in the rapture. Was the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD the abomination that causes desolation? It's not so cut-and-dry.

However, that wasn't really the basis of anonymous' question, and if he would like to preach a sermon with that assumption in mind, I would not fault him in the least. The more troubling assumption I see is that many will fall from their faith (that's nearly verbatim, but slightly skewed) and that this is an event that the presumably saved members of anonymous' congregation will do via "playing around" with their justified status before God.

Let's look at the text in question here, Matthew 24:9-25. In describing the events, Jesus toggles between specific you's and general many's. In verse 4, He warns His disciples specifically about deceptive prophets. But in verse 5, it is an ambiguous group that is misled by them. Again in verses 6 and 9, Jesus gives specific predictions of what will happen to "you," His followers. The warning of falling away in verse 10, then, is once again generic.

What does it mean that many will fall away, or as the NIV puts it "abandon the faith?" Just as Christ, the stumbling stone, caused many Jews to disbelieve, so will the turmoil and seemingly unjust cruelty cause many to abandon any hope in Yaweh, the god of Israel. But there is no evidence in the text that tells us these who fall away are the elect, having been justified through faith by Christ's blood, now abandoning their own salvation.

On the contrary, Jesus actually speaks some comfort to His followers. He declares that these deceiving prophets will try, "to deceive even the elect—if that were possible." Through my lens of interpretation I assume the unspoken truth here to be that it is indeed not possible. Jesus continues saying, "See, I have told you ahead of time," as though these warnings would be used to prevent His elect from being fooled.

So, anonymous, how would I preach this sermon if I were you? Do not use fear of damnation as a deterrent for sin. Instead, challenge the body of believers to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 2:10). Sure to whom? To God? Certainly not. If you fear the certainty of your eternal security, prove it to yourself by living out the life that only the Spirit can enable. Then, you can face tribulation and even death in the last days with confidence in:
"an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5; emphasis mine).

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Good Scotch and Fine Cigars

Last Thursday, I was invited by a client and friend to Cigar Night at a local country club. I gladly accepted. After several hours of smoking the same cigar that seemed to never expire and a few glasses of scotch that I couldn't dream to afford on my own, I decided it was time to get home and see my wife.

Now, this client was no stranger to my outspoken faith and Christian principles, yet he had no reservations in inviting me to cigar night. In fact, I don't think he was even surprised when I accepted. None the less, at the end of the evening, just before I left, he commented about my behavior in contrast to other Christians that he has encountered, or at least the impression they left on him, "You're a Christian, but you actually enjoy life!"

Wanting to be careful about what he may have been implying, I added, "Of course I do, but you know you won't catch me drunk or going out to strip clubs with you. I'll sip some whiskey and puff a cigar with the best of 'em."

"Oh, of course, of course... yeah I know that." He said almost apologetically. But before I left he invited me to a Christmas party at his house next month. How many legalistic and/or fundamentalist Christians have the rapport and trust of those outside our Christian bubbles like that? To hear the surprise in his voice as he commented on how I live my life like a normal person is really a commentary on the way the world views Christians in general.

Now, sure, we're called to be "holy" which means "set apart," but you have to ask yourself how characters like Levi (the tax collector) and Mary Magdalene (the former prostitute) were attracted to Christ and desired to be in his presence while Christ maintained perfect holiness. If caricatures like the SNL "church lady" played by Dana Carvey are really how the world views us, its no wonder adult conversions and evangelism are nearly extinct in the American church.

Many years ago, I taught a small men's group out of my home and one of the studies we most enjoyed was this book, "Too Christian, Too Pagan: How to love the world without falling for it." I can't honestly remember the specific theological positions of the author, Dick Staub, but in the context of the book it was somewhat irrelevant. His whole point was to help believers to see ways in which they can engage culture without sinning. We had quite a few great discussions that were very helpful for us as we grew in our walks. If for no other value, the book provides excellent fodder for discussion and debate.

So, how do we live in the world without being of the world? Was my glad acceptance of cigar smoke and ethanol disrespectful of my body as a temple? I think not. Moreover, I think the fact that our bodies are temples bears more significance than just a staunch position on personal hygiene and wellness. Shouldn't the Temple be there for all to see, not hidden behind the four walls of a church?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Layman's Library

I've had several people ask me where I get my resources. It's well known that I'm not seminary trained, Bible-school trained, nor did I even grow up in Christian school. My dad's not a pastor, I don't live near a university library, and I don't even know my Greek alphabet by heart. So, what resources are there available to "joes" like me who want to dig into the Word without spending thousands on a small library? Tons! So, I'd like to share a few of my favorites.

First, if you're looking for commentary that's worth the read, check Now, there are a lot of things on this website, and to be honest, I've never looked at any of it other than the study notes. Click the link to visit study notes and you'll find Dr. Constable's entire set of notes on every book of the Bible. Constable is a professor at Dallas and evidently a thorough researcher. I like his notes because in them I actually find cited commentary from countless other theologians.

Next, and probably my favorite, has to be This is how I end up sounding like a Greek scholar on Sunday mornings. Now, here again, there are tons of resources on this website. The only one I utilize is the Strong's concordance, which you find by clicking the tiny little "C" in the midst of those six links that appear next to every verse. Once the Greek is displayed, also be sure you click the Srong's code, not the translated word itself. You want to find the Greek definition of that word and where it's used elsewhere in scripture. Clicking the English word gives a word search of the english translation, which is not always as accurate.
Finally, one of the most influential self-study resources that I have found in all my life has been Here, you can essentially audit a complete track of seminary MDIV courses via mp3. As an auditory learner myself, I've taken systematics I & II, some Biblical Theology, a smattering of Greek, etc. Best of all, it is free. Now, you'll find two links, one called "foundations," the other "leadership." The latter is the deeper, more detailed of the two and the one that I recommend.
Aside from that, I also frequent for a quick look at various translations of a text, and from time to time I even venture on to wikipedia for a secular view of Biblical and Church history topics.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Adam, Eve, and Incest

This post comes in response to a question on where anonymous writes: "the bible doesn't say, as far as I know, if there were any other people unrelated to Adam and Eve's family on the earth when Cain got married. So, where did Cain get his wife from? Was she related to him?"

This is not a bad question. First, I'll answer the easier of the two questions: yes, you are correct that he Bible makes no mention of any other humans being created. So, the logical conclusion is that Cain must have married his sister.

Troubling? Why? In today's family structure where there may be 10 or so 1st cousins at a Christmas dinner, it's a bit disturbing to consider marrying any one of them. Not to mention the genetic disorders that result (I'll address that in a moment). But, try to imagine life outside the social stigma of incest we have today. Adam lived 930 years. Which, assuming he was virile from creation, means he could have fathered over 900 children in his monogamous relationship with Eve.

So, Cain didn't grow up with his sister. He's not in family photos with her. They didn't play together as children. In fact, she may be as strange to him as any other person in a crowd of 900. In that sense, it's not quite so... well... icky.

What about the Biblical ban on incest? Remember that law was not given for several thousand more years in Leviticus 18. It is not uncharacteristic of God at all to provide new or revised Laws to protect His people as time progresses. For whatever reason (and scholars can speculate that genetic devolution was the cause) God saw fit to forbid that which He once approved (Abraham married his half-sister).

I appreciate some other works on this topic found at: (particularly if you do the math as he suggests)


Friday, November 7, 2008

1 Peter 3:1-7 - Wives & Husbands

This Sunday, I'll be teaching out of 1 Peter 3:1-7 on wives and husbands. By God's providence, in my 3 years as leader of the 20-somethings ministry at Faith, the topic of male/female relationship (and related topics on church structure and function) has come up at least 4 times that I can remember. On top of that, I've spoken to a group of men at a CBMC meeting on the topic from 1 Corinthians 11. I don't believe in coincidence, so there's either something God wants me to learn about this or some message He really wants people to hear through me. Either way, I'm humbled and hope to exposit the text responsibly this weekend.

A few things stand out to me. First, as I so tactfully argued in my last post, is Peter's call for the 1st century Greek women to follow the example set out by a Semitic nomad from over 2000 years prior. Think about it, that's the same separation we have today from the setting in which 1 Peter was written. In a doctrinal debate where "cultural contextualization" comes up so often, I think we have to acknowledge the way in which Peter presents his teaching as what theologians call a "transcultural normative," which basically means it is a standard that transcends cultural barriers because of the overarching authority of God's intended order.

That said, we must also be responsible in this text to see what those transcultural principles are, and be careful not to add to them. Peter doesn't describe a 50's housewife here. He doesn't say women should be perceived in lesser value, nor give husbands permission to demean and manipulate wives (in fact, quite the opposite). But, implied in this passage (and stated explicitly elsewhere in the New Testament) is a truth about differing roles and a definite hierarchy—not hierarchy of value or worth, but of civil, familial, and even church authority.

Two more things stand out to me that build on this principle of complementary roles. First, Peter's praise for women "who put their hope in God," and his call for all women to "not give way to fear." Fear of what? Their husbands? Perhaps. What about social pressures to adorn oneself instead of relying on "inner beauty?" Women in the church who accept a Biblical view of their complementing roles need to be recognized, admired, edified, and encouraged because this behavior requires a faith and hope in God as their sole measure of worth, outside of worldly standards, to a degree that I declare many men struggle to have as they assess their own self-image.

And finally, the last verse really personalizes that call for recognition, admiration, edification, and encouragement and places it directly as a burden on each husband individually. Do not underestimate the magnitude of Peters first phrase, "in the same way." In the way that we place hope in God and strive for value according to His standards, we should lay down self, pride, personal agenda in pursuit of understanding and honoring our wives. Where the NIV uses "considerate", the NASB says to live "in an understanding way." And, lest there be any perversion of this hierarchical order into a hierarchy of value in God's sight, Peter assures that our believing wives are co-heirs and will receive an inheritance by the same measure as their husbands.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Women in Ministry

I'm currently reading a book called "Women in Ministry: Four Views" which combines essays and responses from Christians on the topic of women and their role in church ministry that range from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal. As usual, I tend to fall somewhere in between.

If you can get past the fact that you're reading a book that was not designed to keep your attention, but is rather an assimilation of academic arguments made from 4 different people... then it isn't a bad read. Don't expect, however, to be riveted with entertaining content.

I happen to be reading this book as we, as leaders at our church, prepare to implement a new adult course system and must address the question: who is eligible to teach? Ironically, I'm working through that topic while simultaneously, the class that I am teaching at present has reached chapter 3 in our study of 1 Peter. As I've been preparing, a quote from the book matched very nicely with a quote from the passage, and I thought I'd share to see if you find the same connection.

In response to the often touted argument that Biblical restrictions on women in ministry were merely outgrowths of the culture in which they were written, Susan T. Foh (yes, a woman advocates male headship in the book) writes:

"Another cultural setting must be noted in the interpretation of Scripture: that of the interpreter.... Equality is a current banner held high (it is un-American to speak against equality) and it is assumed to be an indisputable theme in Scripture. But is it?"

With that very intriguing thought fresh in my mind, I began reviewing the text for my lesson this Sunday and a verse jumped off the page at me:

"For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful" (1 Peter 3:5).

Wait, you mean to tell me that the actions of Semitic tribal women circa 2000 B.C. living in a different time, place, and culture can actually be relevant to serve as a model for 1st century Greek women? That must mean that the 1st centry Greek culture wasn't so enlightened, so advanced, so liberated from the shackles of history that it could dismiss culturally irrelevant issues of days gone by. Phew, but it's a good thing we've reached the pinnacle of civilization today so we can do just that, eh? Er... umm... wait a sec....


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jesus and Homosexuals

This post comes in response to a question on where anonymous writes, “Did Jesus like homosexuals and condone it by his actions?”

Shortest blog post ever: “No.”

Ok, so I’ll go ahead and expound a bit. I think what anonymous is getting at is a recent campaign by the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) entitled “Would Jesus Discriminate” and promoting The campaign included newspaper ads, billboards, and a slew of other media outlets citing alleged Biblical support of the so-called LGBT lifestyle.

Among the Bible verses that I personally saw advertised was Matthew 19:10-12 where Jesus tells his disciples that some men were born eunuchs. The MCC contends that in this context, eunuchs somehow represent a parallel to homosexual persons. To be honest, it is difficult to construct an argument against such a proposition that lacks any grounds at all. There are no alternate meanings of the text, there is no ambiguity in the Greek word eunouchos (Greek for eunuch), and there is no reason to see this connection other than a desire and effort to justify sin by twisting the meaning of Scripture to suit one’s own agenda.

Another account of Jesus in the gospels that is often touted as a supporting text for homosexual lifestyle is found in Matthew 8:5-13 where a centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. The MCC contends that in this context, the sick servant was not really a servant to the centurion, but his homosexual partner. Once again, it is clear that this interpretation requires a tremendous stretch of the imagination, not to mention a twist of the text.

In short, there is absolutely no evidence that Jesus condoned such sin as homosexuality. In fact, the strongest evidence supports that he would not have done so. Jesus told his followers, “Not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matt. 5:18). This Law that He referred to was the same law that reads, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

The book of Job: Suffering and God's Sovereignty

This post comes in response to a question posted on where anonymous writes: "Why did Job suffer? What examples of suffering were given in the book? Is Job's behavior questionable at times?"

I could spend years studying and writing on the book of Job and never totally unpack all that can be found entwined in it's passages. One of the most insightful studies is to read the seemingly logical observations about God and His righteousness that Job's three friends offer, consider how they are subtly flawed, and realize how commonly we make the same mistakes in our own theological judgements. But, anonymous has asked some very specific questions about the suffering we see in the book, so let's take a look.

Allow me to answer these questions a bit out of sequence. First, what examples do we see? Job lost pretty much everything but his own life, and even that he began to wish would end. In the first test, 1:13-19, raiders from nearby tribes destroyed his farm implements (donkeys and oxen) and his merchant vessels (camels). Meanwhile, it was natural disaster that destroyed his inventory (sheep) and even his own family. Now, I do not wish to downplay the value of human life lost, but I want to make sure we understand the economic meaning that a large family had in Job's day. While we can personally relate to his loss of loved ones, we might not directly relate to what this meant for Job's social status at the time. In essence, the first test was a stripping of all material blessing. The second test, 2:3-8, is where Job loses even his own health, the last shred of status that he could have. In his culture, to suffer skin boils was the curse of people on the lowest rung of the social ladder.

So what kind of suffering is this? It's tangible. It's something we can all comprehend, and some can even empathize. Some argue, however, that this is not related to the suffering of the New Testament, which was religious persecution and warranted endurance for a greater pragmatic significance than just the unfortunate dealings of so-called fate. However, was Job's suffering not a religious persecution? Who instigated it and why? It was Satan (literally the Accuser) who sought to oppose God by accusing a the ultimate character of Godliness in his day, Job, of disingenuous faith. It is clear by the narrative that none of this calamity would have befallen Job had he not been so "blameless and upright" (1:8; 2:3).

So, with that said, let's consider the first question posed by anonymous. Why did Job suffer? If we carry my last statement to the logical conclusion, it can be said that Job suffered as a result of his righteousness. How unjust is that! What an atrocious and wrong outcome of Job's obvious devotion to God. To deepen the mystery, no matter how you slice it we cannot absolve God of the ultimate responsibility for Job's suffering. God permitted Satan to implement the torment, but when he was petitioned "why" by Job, He did not skirt the responsibility by pointing blame on Satan. God, in essence, responded, "Sure I did, and what are you going to say about it. I'm God. Period."

In order to understand the book of Job without becoming inflamed with anger towards God, it is imperative that we accept by faith a truly Biblical view of God. In studying this story, you must understand that the original writer and original readers, monotheistic Hebrews, viewed God as unquestionably righteous. Therefore, Job would have been in utter sin to call the character of God into question. It simply wasn't an option. We look at these accounts through our Westernized lenses to the world and ask "why would God do this" as though we have the right to ask. Job, his friends, and the Israelites that studied this text did not share the same outlook. (See the "BSL - Righteous" download for a deeper understanding).

In fact, the book of Job carried the Hebrew doctrine of God's righteousness into a new level of understanding. Most of Israel's wisdom books (the Pentetuch, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) presented the theme of blessing from God as a just outcome of one's righteousness, and likewise curses were for those who lived unrighteous lives. This was the crux of Job's friends' advice as they thought surely he must have sinned to deserve this. The book of Job, however, does not allow the Hebrew to predict and influence God's judgements in a pattern of justice that WE as mere humans deem appropriate. The conclusion is that He is God, He will do what He pleases, and we dare not question. God is sovereign.

This is not an easy conclusion. In fact, it is precisely what frustrates most readers of Job. It's so unsatisfactory to us in our Westernized minds that we continue looking and thinking "surely there is more." I am reading "Come Next Spring" by Jim Welter, and while we obviously share differing theological views and hermeneutic methods, his treatise of Job is worth the read for anyone struggling with the unquestionable sovereignty of God.

So, to the third question, was Job out of line in his response? In one subtle way, yes, and God shamed him for it. Job, like his friends, understood God's justice to be tit-for-tat just as many people today demand that He be. In 42:4-6, Job finally understood how incomprehensible God really is, and therefor how incomprehensible His judgements, and therefore repented for presuming that he could comprehend how God should and would honor Job's righteousness.

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