Blog Archives


The Lessons The Broccoli Tree Have for Easter

Easter Sunrise Service One spring day a photographer living near the Southern shore of Lake Vattern, Sweden took a picture of a tree and posted it on Instagram because he thought it looked like a stalk of broccoli sticking up out of the ground.   Forty-three people hit “like” on the photographer’s Instagram post. Over the next several months, the photographer began uploading more pictures of the tree and life that took place around the tree in the park. Nearly a year after he took the first photo, the tree had its own Instagram and was being photographed through the seasons showing all kinds of life of the Swedish people.  The audience grew into the thousands. The photographer staged an exhibition of his photos of the Broccoli Tree at the Broccoli Tree. A Broccoli Tree calendar was published and was well received.  People all over the world began to purchase Broccoli Tree prints for their homes. Three years after the first Instagram post, a tree that most people just ignored was now famous.  People who went to Sweden went to this park just to photograph the Broccoli Tree. It could easily be found on Google maps.  Its Instagram followers grew to nearly 30,000. The Broccoli Tree became the Internet’s single most famous tree… until last September when someone or multiple people entered the park and sawed the tree down. The next Instagram post made by the photographer contained these sad but true words: “You cannot unsaw a tree.”–broccoli–tree-a-parable/ Today we live in a world where we have become afraid to share what is good, beautiful, and pure for fear that some person with evil intentions... read more

This Is How People Know You Are a Disciple

For most of us, the thought of washing someone’s feet is repulsive unless it is someone we know really, really well and even then we are not very willing. A few years ago, I served as the camp pastor at a youth camp at Ricks Institute, which is sixteen miles outside Monrovia, Liberia.  We ended our time together with a foot washing.   My son John and one of the camp counselors helped me wash the feet of the campers and the leaders. It didn’t take long before the clean well water turned the color of chocolate from the dust everyone collected from walking the dirt trails on the campus.  Most of the students and the campers wore sandals or flip-flops. It reminded me of the dirty job Jesus had washing the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room the night he was betrayed.  He assumed the role of a servant who typically did that foot washing task as people entered a room for a customary meal.  But on that night, there was no servant and no one volunteered for the job. The disciples were taken aback that Jesus would lower himself to do that job.  Peter protested vehemently.  But Jesus told Peter unless he washed his feet he could have not any part of his life. After that, Peter was all in. It’s almost as difficult to allow someone to wash our feet as it is to wash someone’s feet.  We are proud.  We are afraid of intimacy.  We don’t like people knowing that we might smell or be dirty.   We don’t like for people to know that we have... read more

The Mystery of Quieting the Babies

One of the favorite services of the year for most of our members is the candlelight Christmas Eve service.   It’s amazing how much musical talent we have in our church and some of this talent is always on display at this service. Latecomers missed Hannah Safley singing “Away in a Manger.”  I wonder how many of those great talents on “The Voice” got their start singing in church at age four.  In case you missed it, here is a link to her debut:  Just think, just a few years ago, she was a part of the chorus of babies crying during the Christmas Eve service. This is one service we have resisted having a nursery for because it’s difficult to get people to work on Christmas Eve.  We want the service to be as family oriented as possible and we try to make it brief. However, this year by 6:10 P.M., the babies were having their way.  They were letting their presence be known and while it gave us all reason to be thankful that 2016 and 2017 have been fruitful years for many of our young couples, we were also starting to be more thankful for nurseries during our services. Then, the remarkable happened.  When I stood up to deliver the Christmas Eve message, there was quiet.  There wasn’t a single sound coming from a baby.  I almost called attention to it, but I just made note of it.  While there is no such reference in the Bible, I am reminded of the words in “Away in a Manger,” which say “no crying He makes.” As I began to... read more

Finding Life After Loss and Grief

Almost every day my life crosses with someone who is living with some form of loss. One day I am standing in a driveway talking to a man who is slowly watching Alzheimer’s claim his wife one memory at a time. Another day I am visiting a woman in a nursing home with  the same disease that has advanced so far with her that she has lost all cognitive ability to recognize me, carry on a meaningful conversation, or even acknowledge my presence. I have listened to people that have lost their jobs, prayed with people that have lost their health, heard stories of the emotional trauma of miscarried babies, and shared the anger of those whose children have been wounded and violated by others. Not long ago I was preparing messages from the Sermon on the Mount.  When I came to the passage about divorce I thought about the many friends I have who have gone through the loss of relationships because of their divorces, not just from their spouses, but of other family and friends because the promises of a long life together came to an unexpected end. Eight times this past year I have gone to the graveside with members of my church.  Life on this earth ended for their loved ones.  No longer could they reach out and hold that person, talk to her, ask for advice, sit quietly and be comforted by his presence, or be frustrated because they could not agree or get along.   Let’s be honest.  Not everything about a loved one is missed. However, any person or anything of value that... read more

Mia, Irma, and the Butterfly

I was playing outside with Mia, my 18-month-old granddaughter, a few weeks ago when a butterfly decided to join the party. At first, it just circled, to Mia’s delight. Then, it decided to land, not more than a foot from Mia’s hand. While the butterfly was harmless, Mia was not sure that her visitor had friendly intentions. She hid behind me in delightful fear. The butterfly took wing, and Mia was again in awe and filled with joy. The butterfly came back for another visit. Mia watched but kept her distance until it flew away again. Mia and l enjoy looking out the back window of the house at our butterfly bush. The window provides a safe distance from these strange winged creatures that Mia is beginning to warm up to. She hasn’t graduated to three-syllable words yet, but her pointing and garbled gibberish communicates that she knows when one of our winged friends has come for a visit to our favorite bush. After we experienced wind gusts of 60 miles per hour as Hurricane Irma, then a tropical storm, moved through Georgia, we had three houses on our street with tree damage. The butterfly bush had a few broken limbs but maintained most of its blooms. The day after the storm, Mia was back at the window looking for butterflies. Before long, one appeared. It made me wonder, where did a creature that weighs only about a half-gram take refuge in such a storm? The resiliency of the butterfly is seen in the people of the U.S. and all of the other nations impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and... read more

The Most Difficult Part of This Job

Less than two hours after landing in Monrovia, Liberia, a land that had been devastated by civil war, I stood in the pulpit of Second Providence Baptist Church in 1995 to preach a sermon. As I looked into the faces of people that had waited three hours for us to arrive, I saw the tired, worn faces of people traumatized by war and famine.  They were also hungry for words of hope.  What words could I say that would make a difference in their lives? I took a deep breath. I opened my Bible and I began to preach.  But for the first time in my ministry I asked myself, “Do I really believe what I am about to tell these people?” I forged ahead believing that the word of God transcends cultures and every human situation. After all, oppressed people wrote much of the Old Testament during times of the exile. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his letters from prison and John wrote The Revelation while exiled to the Island of Patmos.  If so much of God’s word was birthed out of oppression, it could certainly speak to oppressed people. I had just come from two of the most difficult days as a pastor. I had spent those days with members of my church who had lost three loved ones in a house fire. As the news trickled in about the tragedy, it was discovered that the fire was not an accident. The man had shot his daughter, shot his wife, set the house on fire, and then shot himself. The members of Second Providence Baptist had... read more

Recognizing Those Behind the Scenes

Every year the Jefferson City Schools begin the year by inviting the community to a breakfast, which is followed by a gathering in the Performing Arts Center.  The community joins the faculty, administration, and the school board, in a pep rally of sorts. Dr. John Jackson, the longest serving superintendent in Georgia, reminds every one of the ingredients needed for the kind of success that places the Jefferson City Schools in many of the top academic categories in the state.  Chairman of the Board, Ronnie Hopkins, introduces his chosen speaker for the year who brings the pep talk or words of inspiration to teachers as well as the community about the importance of educating our students. This year, as in other years, members of the drama department were on the schedule to perform.  The scene to be performed was from the play, “Hairspray.” “Hairspray” is a musical that features rhythm and blues from the 1960’s and the story line is laced with social issues concurrent with that era. The community breakfast served as the perfect backdrop to show off the drama talent of our high school students.  The curtain went up.  The set was revealed.  The lighting was warm and inviting.  The actors walked out on stage.  And there was silence.  And more silence.  Then the silence became uncomfortable. Finally, one of the actors said, “Does anyone know any jokes?”  The audience laughed, but not with much volume.  A little later the spotlights dimmed.  The actors stepped off stage.  The curtain lowered.  Apologies were made. A lot of disappointment was felt by all. We were disappointed for the students... read more

There is No Greater Love: A Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day is a day to honor men and women who went into battle but did not survive. With their lives, they paid the ultimate price. The late U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” I cannot imagine the feeling of going into a battle knowing you may not live to see the sunrise. Some at different times have had a fatal premonition of pending death, but most go to battle with the attitude of another late U.S. Army general, George Patton, who said that the goal was to make the enemy pay the ultimate price. Even so, only those who live in denial ever sling a rifle over their shoulder and step into enemy territory without some fear of death. Even with all the training soldiers have, until the bullets start flying, no one knows what soldiers are made of until they are battle tested. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” You cannot bankroll valor. You can’t put it in a holding tank and call it forth on demand. You can’t categorically say what you will or will not do in all situations of war. However, people of valor are usually people of character, people with a moral compass, people with a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. They... read more

Looking for Tom

Turkey Season.  Opening Morning.  Temperature 56 degrees.  Overcast.   The alarm went off at 4:00 A.M., three hours before sunrise. My son John and I got our gear together and we ate breakfast on the go.  We drove to a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) “destination top secret.”  Once arriving we had to sign in at a WMA checkpoint.  Then we drove to our spot, hoping to beat other hunters that might have had the area picked out.  The small field we wanted to hunt was up the mountain about a mile away from where we parked. As we walked up the mountain I was reminded that I was walking with a Marine.  His days in the Marine Corps made simple hikes like this seem like a walk in the park.  He opened up a huge lead on me within the first minute and several times I had to run to close the gap.  A few times he had mercy on me and stopped and waited for his old man.   I was breathing hard by the time we got to the top of the mountain. We timed our journey perfectly as the daylight was just breaking. The small opening in the woods matched up perfectly with the aerial view on John’s Google Maps.  John put his decoys in the field and we set up on the west side of the field about thirty yards apart from each other. As light began to break, John began to make circle motions over his slate, making some soft, “yelp, yelp, yelps.”  When there was enough light to see the decoys, I took my hat... read more

Removing the Johnson Amendment Would Make Us “Great Omission” Churches

I prayed for President Trump during a recent Sunday morning worship service. The prayer prompted one man to ask following the service, “So, did your man win the election?” His wife tried to rescue me by interjecting, “Now you should not put the pastor in that position. He’s not supposed to tell who he votes for.” And I didn’t. I did tell him that whoever is elected is my president, and we are scripturally obligated to pray for that person and our leaders. We continued a brief conversation about some of the changes and challenges ahead. Little did we know. Little do we yet know. The political arena is making it harder to lead a church, not easier. Politicians on both sides are polarizing, and they find little common ground on issues. There is little decorum, common courtesy or respect for the opinion of the other side. Politics trumps the common good of almost any problem. This kind of demeanor has had a trickledown effect from Washington into state and local governments. When we see this at the local levels, it becomes personal and painful. Local churches, large or small, can be filled with their own internal politics. There is a huge difference between serving out of the power of love and serving out of the love of power. When people get in the church and use a bunch of Jesus language but their motivation is power, there’s trouble coming. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves,” Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15. On the flip side, when God’s... read more

Are You Listening?

On a recent early morning walk in the woods, I was captivated by the sounds around me.  The frost-covered rye grass crunched beneath my feet.  The wind swished through the loblolly pines.  The crows “cawed” to each other in a language only they understand. We would understand each other if we spent more time listening to one another, trying to see and understand the world through each other’s perspective. In the movie, “The Social Network,” founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is portrayed as brilliant and arrogant.   While at Harvard he and some friends launched what is now the world’s most used social network. Since his Harvard days, Zuckerberg sees the world much differently. The arrogance of his former years is giving way to a more humble and open-minded approach. He sees the enormous good that his company and wealth can have in the world.  He and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to give away 99 per cent of their wealth to philanthropic causes! This year Zuckerberg will complete a tour of all 50 states.  He is meeting with people in small towns and universities, offices and churches. He is meeting with teachers and scientists and taking suggestions from people along the way about where he should go and with whom he should meet. Mark realizes that he has a special job to do, which is bringing people together during a time when we have difficulty listening to one another. While technology has helped bring us together on many formats, Mark wrote on his Facebook page that it has also contributed to “a greater sense of division... read more

Looking to the Amish for a Lesson in Humility

Last October Tina and I vacationed in Maine. For three days, we stayed on a working Amish farm. I learned that the Amish dress alike because it provides less opportunity for vanity.  If everyone is wearing the same thing, no one worries about how much to spend for dresses or shirts.  It helps keep them humble.  No need to look at catalogs from Macy’s or Belk. Also, there’s no such thing as an Amish megachurch and it’s not just because Amish churches meet at people’s homes.  In Amish country, you go to church in the district where you live.  And this is not just about convenience. A district averages about 135 people or 20 to 40 families.  When the membership grows larger than that, a new district is created.  Just like that, a new church is born.  (“A Pocket Guide to Amish Life,” Mindy Starns Clark, Harvest House Publishers: Eugene Oregon: 2010, p. 36) They keep these districts and their churches small for two reasons: 1) For spiritual intimacy; 2) It prevents any one district from becoming too powerful or too prideful. (Ibid, p. 37) The Amish care about relationships, but the relationship they care most about is their relationship with God. They are willing to break up and downsize their religious gatherings to keep groups from becoming too powerful or too prideful. That’s so unlike many of us.  We like to say, “Supersize it.  The bigger the better.”  Most Baptists can’t even get a Sunday school class to divide for the right reasons.  However, many Baptist churches were planted and started with this kind of pioneer spirit. To... read more

What Charlie Brown and Linus Teach Us About Christmas

As a boy, I looked forward to all the Charlie Brown specials the way an astronomer looks for the return of comets. Charles Schulz knew how to pull empathy from us as we rooted for Charlie Brown to win at least one baseball game.  This natural born loser had children all over the country begging him not to trust his sister as she held the football for him to kick. We hoped along with him that he’d get at least one valentine on Valentine’s day or one card for Christmas.  While we knew no Great Pumpkin would appear on Halloween, we waited with him and Linus in the pumpkin patch anyway. It was a cartoon, after all.  Anything can happen in a cartoon. But the Charlie Brown Christmas TV Show was received with great excitement because I knew Christmas Day was near. Charlie Brown was a gift to me.  Charlie Brown was a worrier.   I could identify with that because there were some things that I fretted over as a child, evidenced by the fingernails that I kept bit to the nubs and the nervous stomach that plagued me. You might say Charlie Brown was a worrier with good reason.  Rarely did things turn out well for him. While Lucy put up a good front, she seemed to be infected with this problem, too.  Lucy longed for someone to call her beautiful and when Schroeder didn’t, she just got angry and bullied him.  She didn’t have much true joy.  It must mostly a front. Compare their personalities to Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy.  Charlie Brown didn’t understand him and Lucy hated... read more

Making Room for the God’s Spirit

December 11 Most of us are busy, especially this time of the year.   In addition to work, school, family, church, sports, the time we volunteer, and sleep, there’s parties, shopping, decorating, and lots more stress. But even then our days are not full. We might tell people our schedule is full, but there’s so much more to life than this. Need I remind you of all the smaller things you do every week: washing clothes, paying bills, studying for finals, preparing meals, getting dressed, driving children to school, raking leaves, cleaning house, taking care of the pets, and grooming. All of these things and so much more are important parts of our lives, and they all have to be done. That fills up our lives, right? Of course, not.  There is so much more to life than this.  We aren’t robots running around just doing things.  We are filled with emotions. We have hopes and dreams.  Our days are filled with love, fear, doubts, anger, empathy, trust, anticipation, and surprise. Sometimes we filled with sadness, but hopefully most to the time we are happy and filled with joy. But what is the secret to joy?  Is it filling our life with stuff? Is it marrying into wealth?  It is winning a state championship or landing the job you want? Our lives become so full, even of good things, that it is a big temptation to say we have no room for the One that promises to bring us lasting joy, the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears... read more

Coulrophobia Has Me in a Tizzy

I doubt I will ever play this fool again, Tizzy, my alter ego.  Even before the recent insane outbreak of scary clowns that have terrorized children across the country, coulrophobia has been on the rise, mainly because of the use of clowns in a deranged way in movies, like Stephen Kings, “It.”   Even McDonald’s has officially put their icon, Ronald McDonald, in hiding.   What’s Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus supposed to do? This is a sad day for me.  I have entertained thousands of children over the last 30 years as Tizzy the Clown. I was trained in makeup and costume by Daisy Rademaker in Louisville, Kentucky. At graduation, our class marched in the Pegasus Parade which is held before the Kentucky Derby.  Daisy was famous for walking behind the horses and taking a daisy from her hat and planting it in a freshly deposited pile of horse manure.  As for Tizzy, he debuted by riding his unicycle in the parade. Tizzy once had his picture on the front page of the Northeast Georgian riding his unicycle in the Mountain Laurel Festival.   That didn’t seem novel enough.  By the next year’s parade, he was on a six-foot unicycle. That day Tizzy was riding high, waving to the crowd, soaking in the applause, but he drew the most laughter when he lost his balance and fell.  Instead of just dropping to his feet, he fell sideways and the bracing of his fall dislocated his shoulder.   He pushed the unicycle the rest of the parade with a dislocated shoulder as people shouted, “Hey, clown, why don’t you ride that... read more

Life Lessons from Jose Fernandez’ Death

This week the Florida Marlins and major league baseball lost two-time All-Star and 2013 Rookie Pitcher of the Year, Jose Fernandez, who was killed along with two friends in a night-time boating accident in Miami. Sportswriter Tom Verducci said that Fernandez is the most accomplished young player to lose his life in the majors. His death sent shock waves through the baseball world as players sought to continue playing baseball as they also grieved.   Because their jobs are on display for all of us to see, so were expressions of grief.  Here are some of the things we learned from this tragedy. It’s okay for men to cry. Many boys are taught that crying is for babies, girls, and sissies.   However, when tears are associated with loss and grief, they can help us heal.   When tears come as a part of grief, we should let them come, not stifle them, nor be ashamed of them.  It is part of what makes us human. In the first game after Fernandez’ death, Dee Gordon was chosen to bat leadoff.   He went to the plate wearing number 16, with the name “Fernandez” on the back of his uniform.  In fact, every player wore the same kind of jersey in memory of his friend. Gordon took the first pitch from the right side of the batter’s box in honor of his teammate who batted right-handed.   Then he walked around the catcher to the other side to bat left-handed.  He took a second pitch for ball two. Then with a 2-0 count, Gordon hit a fastball off the Mets pitcher into the second tier... read more

Tractor and Implements Donated to Ricks Institute

After a decade of faithful giving, enough money was saved to buy a Mahindra Max 24 4WD HST tractor and three implements for Ricks Institute, a 700-student Baptist school 16 miles outside Monrovia, Liberia.  The purchase was made through The Bricks for Ricks Foundation, Inc., which was established in 2008 to help in global relief efforts to aid people in Third World countries with life-sustaining efforts. This gift will help Ricks Institute grow food in their garden plot, cut the grass on their large campus, and repair their roads that eroded out each year during the rainy season. Dr. Olu Menjay, principal of Ricks Institute was in Atlanta recently to receive the tractor, the bush hog, box blade, and tiller, where it was loaded in a container for shipment to Liberia. Sunday, September 4, Rev. James Blay, a recent graduate of McAfee School of Theology, spoke at First Baptist Church Jefferson and received a symbolic key to the tractor on behalf of Ricks Institute. After completing his Masters of Divinity degree, Rev. Blay is returning to Liberia where he will work at Ricks Institute, the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary, and with pastors around the country.  James is one of the bright leaders of Liberia.   We pray for God to bless and use him to bring people to Christ and to strengthen churches throughout Liberia. We also pray that God will use this equipment to help feed students, make life on the campus easier, more productive, and efficient. Thanks to everyone that have given to the Bricks for Ricks Foundation through the years, making this gift possible. Donations to the Bricks for Ricks Foundation can be... read more

Our Work is About the Stewardship of Our Gifts

According to one recent report, one in twenty Americans lost their job in the last five years.  Imagine what the percentages are over a lifetime. Yet most think this will never happen to us.  We don’t think our company will close, downsize, or move jobs overseas.  We don’t think we will fall out of favor with the boss or underperform to the point that we are fired; that we will ever commit a moral transgression or that our company will ever be caught in an ethical scandal; that a robot will ever take our job or that new technologies not yet invented will make our job obsolete; that we will be the target of someone’s jealousy, revenge, or false accusations. However, every day something like this is happening. The day has long been gone when a person retires from the same company he or she started with.  In addition, if we never develop relationships in the office or in the workplace or with colleagues throughout our industry, this does not bode well for people in times of transition. Back in 2009 in his fourth year of teaching, a cousin of mine was informed that he would not have a teaching job at his school in South Georgia because of major cutbacks.  He eventually entered into that deep valley of the long-term unemployed. For six years he filled out applications and interviewed for teaching jobs.  While he worked at Walmart, he continued to substitute teach in two different school systems. He and his wife have prayed for years that he would get another teaching job.   He considered giving up many... read more

Boudia and Johnson Find an Identity Outside of Diving

During the Olympic opening ceremonies 205 countries and two independent teams participated in the parade of nations. Teams were identified by their national flags, colors, and distinctive uniforms. Rio is awash in jerseys, uniforms, flags, t-shirts, hats, and pins that identify fans and athletes by their home country. One reason we love the Olympics is because these athletes remind us of our identity as a country and the spirit we have as Americans. The America dream is embodied in many of these athletes. Americans are driven. We believe in sacrifice.   We believe in hope. We believe in second chances and many of these athletes have failed or come up short of their dreams more than once, but now they are Olympians. Two of our Olympians, David Boudia and Steele Johnson, were silver medalists in the 10-meter platform synchro competition. While they came in second to the Chinese, who synchro divers dive together for years, amazingly, David and Steele’s first competition together took place recently during the Olympic Trials. During an interview following their second place finish, David Boudia, the 10-meter platform gold medalist in the London Olympics spoke about an identity crisis he’s had in the sport. “When my mind is on this (pointing out to the diving well) and I think that I’m defined by this, my mind goes crazy, but we just know that our identity is in Christ. We’re thankful for the opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and the United States and it’s been an absolutely thrilling moment.” His comments took me back to the days that Tina and I followed... read more

Pedaling Through Life Alone Leads to More Burnout

August 8, 2016 Here’s a life lesson from the Cycling Road Race at the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro–“Trust Others, Work Together, Reap Results.” Rafal Majka of Poland (men’s event) and Mara Abbott of the United States (women’s event) were both overtaken in the final stage of the race by cyclists that were working together, feeding off each other’s draft, something NASCAR fans understand well.  Apparently, it’s important with cyclists, too. Both had built up substantial leads until the very end of the race. At one point in the women’s race, Mara Abbott was riding in tandem with Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands. Both of the riders are excellent climbers and both added to their lead as they climbed the summit of Vista Chinesa, a 635-meter climb. From the summit the riders had only 14.8 kilometers (9.2 miles) to go but the 5.3 (3.3 mile) kilometer descent was a twisting breathtaking road where the bikers’ speeds exceeded 50 miles per hour before it flattened out beside Copacabana Beach for the final 9.5 kilometers (5.9 miles). Vieuten accelerated her descent down the mountain leaving Abbott behind, or perhaps Abbott was more cautious with her descent.  As a light drizzle began to fall, the more cautious approach proved wiser.  With a chase motorcycle behind her, the live camera caught Annemiek van Vieuten’s crash for the world to see, knocking her unconscious and out of the race. Her misfortune likely cost her a medal, but it may have cost Mara Abbott a medal as well.   With Vieuten out of the race, Abbott was now in the lead all by herself.  The... read more

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