Archive for October, 2012

Scripture: Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Luke 18:15-16 (NKJV)

Observation: Jesus is teaching in parables. Many people come to listen to Him and are immediately attracted to Him not just because of His words but because of His welcoming demeanor. It is this loving, welcoming attitude that prompts the parents to bring their children so they can be blessed by Him.
The disciples’ response is interesting and somewhat understandable. With people pressing on Him from every side, and with such a busy schedule as Jesus had, they wanted to “protect” Him. Jesus was not a campaigning politician looking for a photo opp holding a child. They felt that holding and blessing the children would be a distraction from the important message He needed to present and the miraculous healing people were waiting for.
Jesus reminded them that in His priority list children rate very high and that we should remove anything and everything that may keep them from approaching Him.

Application: We would shudder today if we were the parents who tried to bring our children to be blessed by Jesus only to be met with such harshness on the part of His disciples. Of course, we’re always more critical as we look at what others do and not so harsh with ourselves, even if we’re doing the same thing. If we were His disciples, would we keep children from approaching Jesus? I want to suggest that many parents act just like the disciples and worst.
When we consider rules, policies, regulations, traditions, practices or anything more important than helping our children come to Jesus, we display the same attitude as the disciples did.
When we fail to spend time with our children teaching them through word and action about Jesus, we are keeping them from knowing Him. This is one of the reasons why daily worship, morning and evening, is so important to our children, because it is during those moments that we bring them to Him for them to know and love Jesus.
I would suggest that our words, actions, and attitudes, and how we practice our faith, can be the vehicle to bring Jesus to our children or the barrier that keeps them from knowing Him.

Prayer: Father, forgive us when we have kept our own children from knowing You, and help us that from now on we will do everything in our power to make sure they know You and love You.

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Jesus Loved Them

Scripture: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 (NKJV)

Observation: Jesus was told that Lazarus, His friend, was sick. In order to make a connection as to who this Lazarus is, John writes that he is the brother of Mary, the woman that anointed Jesus with oil and wiped His feet with her hair. As we trace her history back, this evidently was the same woman that was caught in adultery and was brought to Jesus as they were about to stone her – not that they cared about her or what she did, but rather in order to catch Jesus and accuse Him.
Evidently the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, mary and Martha, was a place of refuge for Jesus and His disciples. Ellen White writes, “Jesus had often found the rest that His weary human nature required at the house of Lazarus, in Bethany. His first visit there was when He and His disciples were weary from a toilsome journey on foot from Jericho to Jerusalem. They tarried as guests at the quiet home of Lazarus, and were ministered unto by his sisters, Martha and Mary”(Daughters of God 57).
Now, the place that had offered Jesus and His disciples some respite from their hectic life, had become a place of sorrow and sadness at the passing of Lazarus.

Application: We can draw many lessons from this precious story. We could talk about the foretaste of the resurrection day, when Jesus returns, and how families will be reunited with their loved ones. We could talk about Jesus sympathy, not just empathy, for these two sisters – He didn’t simply feel for them, He felt with them, that is, He Himself felt the pain they felt. . . and He cried (vs.35). We could talk about the hardness of the hearts of those Jewish leaders who, in spite of being witnesses to the most powerful of all of Jesus’ miracles, refused to believe in Him and instead went out to plot how to destroy Him.
But today, I want us to focus on the words of our text, “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary and Lazarus.” Evidently they knew and felt that love, so that when Lazarus became ill they didn’t hesitate to call on Jesus for help. It is also evident that they loved Him and were delighted to have Him and His disciples visit anytime. Their response to Jesus’ love was at least partly the natural response to His forgiveness and delivery from prostitution, and demon possession, of Mary. She went out of her way to demonstrate her gratitude to Him by purchasing the most expensive perfume to anoint Him. The tears with which she washed His feet, at a later time, demonstrate her added love and appreciation for bringing her brother, and probably sole support of the family, back to life.
At the same time, the fact that Jesus loved them does not mean that death would not visit them, that sorrow and hardship would never knock on their door, that pain and suffering would be absent from their lives. And this, I think, is one of the most important lessons from this story. No matter who we are, we will be touched with pain, suffering, sickness, and even death, at some point during our lives – after all, none of us is immortal yet. The fact that any of these things happen is not proof that God doesn’t love us. On the contrary, what this story teaches us is that Jesus loves us before, in the midst, and after we experience pain and sorrow, and even death. It was the knowledge of that love that encouraged Mary and Martha even as their hearts were breaking. We, too, can bask in His love for us even while our minds worry and our hearts break!
Prayer: Dear Father, thank You for surrounding us with Your love even during those times when we have a hard time seeing You and when the tears covering our eyes feel as if they are about to drown our hearts. Halp us to feel that love when we feel so lonely, helpless, and hopeless.

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God Hates Divorce

Scripture: “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.” Malachi 2:16 (NKJV)

Observation: In order to safeguard His relationship with His people, God commanded them not to intermarry with the surrounding nations who worshiped other gods (Deut. 7:3–4). But this forbidden practice had now become so widespread that the prophet could legitimately say that the whole nation of Judah had ‘profaned’ the Lord’s institution (Mal 2:11). What was Malachi saying? The Lord’s institution was His covenant relationship with His people, whom He loved, and that relationship was now being contaminated by the men of the nation treating their marriages so casually and marrying women who worshiped foreign gods.
To make things worse, the men of Israel were divorcing their wives so they could be joined in these mixed marriages. This blatant disregard for their marriage vows, prompted God to say that he hates divorce (v. 16). It violates his ideal of oneness (vv. 10, 15; Gen. 2:24).

Application: To say God hates divorce is to say that he hates everything that leads up to divorce, which means he also hates all our failures to work towards real companionship and oneness in marriage. We may be tempted to think that what goes on in our homes doesn’t have any bearing on the rest of life, but it does. Here in Malachi’s day we find men going to meet the Lord at the temple, and the Lord points them back to their homes. Family life influences every other part of our life.
What is it about divorce that causes so much concern? Here are just a few of the many harmful results of this drastic decision to end a marriage:
Each year, over 1 million American children suffer the divorce of their parents; moreover, half of the children born this year to parents who are married will see their parents divorce before they turn 18. Mounting evidence in social science journals demonstrates that the devastating physical, emotional, educational, spiritual, and financial effects that divorce is having on these children will last well into adulthood and affect future generations. Among these broad and damaging effects are the following:
1. Children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of abuse. They exhibit more health, behavioral, and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in sex and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide.
2. Children of divorced parents perform more poorly in reading, spelling, and math. They also are more likely to repeat a grade and to have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation.
3. Families with children that were not poor before the divorce see their income drop as much as 50 percent. Almost 50 percent of the parents with children that are going through a divorce move into poverty after the divorce.
4. Religious worship, which has been linked to better health, longer marriages, and better Family life, drops after the parents divorce.
5. The divorce of parents, even if it is amicable, tears apart the fundamental unit of American society. Today, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s 1995 Survey of Consumer Finance, only 42 percent of children aged 14 to 18 live in a “first marriage” family–an intact two-parent married family. It should be no surprise to find that divorce is having such profound effects on society.
When you are in the middle of a very contentious relationship you may feel as if the only way out is to get a divorce. Here’s an interesting bit of information: University of Chicago sociologist Dr. Linda Waite says, “For most people, marital unhappiness is not permanent.” Recent findings indicate that two-thirds of all unhappy marriages are repaired within five years.
Researchers examined data on 5,232 married adults and “found that 645 [of the] subjects reported marital dissatisfaction. When the unhappy spouses were surveyed five years later, those who had remained married were more likely than the divorced subjects to state that they were happy. In fact, the most miserable marriages had the most dramatic turnarounds: 78% of people who stayed in very unhappy’ marriages said that the marriages were currently happy.” The study also showed that only 19% of those who had divorced were happily remarried.
God hates divorce because of what it does to His children, the people He loves, the people He sent His Son to die for. But He also hates divorce because of what it does to their relationship with Him. Don’t give up on your marriage; fight for it as if your very life and salvation depended on it.

Prayer: Father, please help those couples who are in the midst of that horrific decision to separate and divorce, help them to see the life-lasting results to their children, and help them to mend their relationship for their sake, for their children’s sake, and for Your honor and glory.

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The Father’s Heart

Scripture: So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (NET)

Observation: The parable of the Prodigal Son is probably one of the best known, best loved stories of all times. It is much more than a fable, such as those written by Aesop, or a bedtime story, like the ones written by the brothers Grimm. Many of these stories have a moral or practical lesson to teach children, and some of them have become part of life and culture and even common parlance. The difference in Jesus’ parable is that it is not simply a nice bedtime story but a beautiful allegory of the love and forgiveness that God extends to us.
While we tend to look at the father’s forgiveness for the wayward son, who wasted his inheritance, we often overlook the father’s love and forgiveness for the other son. In reality, the father loves both of his children – the one who left and the one who stayed – because in their heart both failed to love their father. The younger son, by asking for his portion of his inheritance, was basically expressing his wish that the father were dead. The older son, with his anger and unforgiving spirit, did not reflect how generous the father had been with him all his life. The younger son, selfish though he was, accepted the father’s generous offer of love and forgiveness. The older son, self-righteous as he was, rejected the same father’s love and forgiveness.

Application: As much as we as parents would love to see our children be obedient, loving, and to listen and follow our word and advice, as they grow and gain their independence often they do things that are contrary to anything, and sometimes everything, we have taught them. Nothing breaks the heart of a parent more than to see their children turn their backs on their faith and beliefs, and to watch them live a life contrary to the principles they were told from childhood. At the same time, nothing brings parents more joy than to see they wayward children come full circle back.
In order for children to be able to come back home, they need to have grown with the knowledge that their parents’ love for them is unconditional. We may not like the decisions they take or agree with the choices they make, but we can still extend to them our love and the assurance that as much as nothing we do can separate us from the love of God so nothing they do can separate them from our love for them. How we relate to our children will show them how they view God and can determine how they will relate to us and to Him.

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your generous love and forgiveness toward us. Help us, as parents, to be as generous with our love and forgiveness toward our children.

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The Strong Family Building

Scripture: “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48, ESV)

Observation: Ellen White describes in wonderful details the scene where the words of Jesus (from our text0 were spoken: “As the people sat upon the hillside, listening to the words of Christ, they could see valleys and ravines through which the mountain streams found their way to the sea. In summer these streams often wholly disappeared, leaving only a dry and dusty channel. But when the wintry storms burst upon the hills, the rivers became fierce, raging torrents, at times overspreading the valleys, and bearing everything away on their resistless flood. Often, then, the hovels reared by the peasants on the grassy plain, apparently beyond reach of danger, were swept away. But high upon the hill were houses built upon the rock. In some parts of the land were dwellings built wholly of rock, and many of them had withstood the tempests of a thousand years. These houses were reared with toil and great difficulty. They were not easy of access, and their location appeared less easy of access than the grassy plain. But they were founded upon the rock; and wind and flood and tempest beat upon them in vain. (This Day with God, 215)

Application: While the words of Jesus apply first of all to our own personal life and underscores the importance of establishing a true foundation on the Rock, Jesus Christ, His words also tells us how important it is that our home be built on that same foundation. What that means is that the daily devotional time and prayer times are not simply a tradition or a habit but the daily formation of the spiritual life of the members of the family.
It is interesting that Ellen White also connects these words of Jesus to our first parents: “Had Adam and Eve heeded the words that God spoke to them in the beginning, they would not have fallen from their first estate” (Ibid.). The foundation of a strong marriage and family is the same, The Rock, Jesus Christ, and when the storms of life come, that sure foundation will hold the family together. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). The storms of life come to all of us – illness, loss of a job, death, conflict, accidents. All those storms that come our way can break up any relationship. But if we are built on the Rock, as hard and painful as any storm may be, they will not destroy us or our family.

Prayer: Father, Help us to build our foundation daily on Your Son, Jesus Christ, and when the storms of life come and threaten to destroy us, may His strength be ours, and may he keep us together while the world tries to tear us apart.

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A Home Divided

Scripture: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25, ESV) (cf. Luke 11:17)

Observation: As Jesus heals people and casts demons out of them, some among those who witnessed the events accused Jesus of doing it by the power of the devil. Our text today is Jesus’ response to those accusations.
Basically Jesus was asking, what benefit is there for the devil to cast out his imps? How does it help a government or kingdom when there is infighting? The implied answer is that togetherness is stronger than divisiveness.

Application: While Jesus uses the example of a kingdom, this principles can also apply to the relationships at home. Here are a few things we can do to make sure our home is not divided.
1. Marry a believer. The most personal, intimate part of a person’s life is their spirituality. If you can’t share that with your spouse because your faith is very different, how can you truly be one? Many studies have shown that the more differences that exist in a marital relationship the greater the chance that they will lead to problems and even eventual divorce. Those studies also reveal that religious differences are very difficult. When you marry a believer, someone with whom you share your faith and spiritual beliefs, it will bring you closer and keep you close to each other and to God.
2. Worship together. One of the most powerful tools God has given us to brings us and keep us together, as a couple and as a family, is daily worship. As we study and pray together not only are we drawn toward each other but we’re certainly drawn closer to the source of our power, to God Himself. Weekly, habitual church attendance also accomplishes the same affect. When one member, say the father, decides to stay home while the wife and children go to church, a very important member of the family is missing from the fellowship they could or should have enjoyed together, but his example will prove detrimental to his children’s faith.
3. Decisions at home should be taken together. This is particularly true of financial decisions (tithes and offerings, home budget, expenses, investments, savings, etc.), and any other decisions that have to do with the well-being of the family. These would include such things as the education of the children, buying a home or a car, health (diet, medical care, etc.).
4. Children’s discipline should be agreed on by both parents together, and it should be done privately, not in front of the children.
5. Spend quality and quantity time together in recreational activities (playing games, vacations, etc.). The memories we collect during these times keep us together and will remain even after death takes a loved one away. Some of these memories go on through generations.

Prayer: Father, Keep our family together in the bonds of mutual love and within Your arms of love.

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Mercy in the Family

Scripture: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7, ESV)

Observation: The first part of this chapter of Matthew speaks of Jesus and His disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath where they picked some of the grain to eat. The Pharisees immediately began to criticize the disciples for doing something which was contrary to their views or traditions on how the Sabbath should be kept. Jesus responds by pointing them to the time when Kind David entered the house of God and ate some of the showbread, which was not to be consumed. Jesus then adds the words of our text today.

Application: In the family, with our spouse and children, we could become very strict with rules and customs. While the children need a clear structure so they know how to conduct themselves at home and outside, and children, particularly small children, need consistency with the rules and boundaries, we also need to be somewhat flexible with them as they grow up and learn what is expected of every member of the family. A very strict rule of law which does not allow for any options, or freedom to grow and make mistakes may produce children who rebel and resent their parents and the way they were brought up.
In marriage, as well, spouses need to be gracious and merciful with each other knowing that we’re all bound to make mistakes at some point or another. Particularly early in the marriage, as couples learn to live together, there needs to be more mutual flexibility and mercy.

Prayer: Father God, help us to remember Your mercy toward us, and may extend ours toward our spouse and children so that we may have a close relationship toward one another and with You.

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Healing the Pain of Grief

Scripture: When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. (Matthew 14:13, NKJV)

Observation: Matthew 14 begins with the sad story of the beheading of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. John had been thrown in prison for declaring Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife immoral, something that made Herodias, Herod’s wife, very angry. She found the best opportunity to get rid of John on the day of Herod’s birthday. Using her own daughter as the bait, she caught Herod in a moment if weakness, when lured by the sensual dance of his step-daughter he offered her anything she wanted. Prompted by her mother, she asked for John’s head. . . the death sentence was passed and carried out immediately.
John’s disciples took his body to be buried and then hurried to give Jesus the news of his death. Today’s passage tells us that when Jesus heard the news, He departed to a deserted place. Evidently, while this took place, the disciples had also come back from their first missionary journey with various degrees of success and lots of stories to tell. People were constantly surrounding Jesus, so His desire for some time away from them was not just for His own benefit but also for His disciples’ benefit.

Application: Those of us who are introverts can appreciate Jesus’ need to go away by Himself when He heard the news of John’s death. We need to keep in mind that John was not only His forerunner, the one who baptized Him, and a powerful, compelling speaker; he was also Jesus cousin. Losing John was not simply losing a colleague in the ministry, it was losing a close member of His family.
Ellen White writes, “In a life wholly devoted to the good of others, the Saviour found it necessary to turn aside from ceaseless activity and contact with human needs, to seek retirement and unbroken communion with His Father. As the throng that had followed Him depart, He goes into the mountains, and there, alone with God, pours out His soul in prayer for these suffering, sinful, needy ones (The Ministry of Healing, p.58).
As a police and hospice chaplain I have had to attend to people who have just lost a loved one. Many are assisted by well-meaning relatives and friends who give them words which sound encouraging but do nothing to alleviate the pain. Words like, “I know how you feel,” or “You should be glad. . . at least they’re not suffering anymore,” or “He/she’s in a better place and they’re watching over you,” or “My father/mother/sister/friend died of the same thing.” I wish they would understand that at moments of sorrow it is not what you say what your presence and willingness to listen that can make the greatest difference for those grieving the death of their loved one. Others, afraid that the living will suffer beyond their ability to survive will offer them some medication or suggest they ask their physician for a prescription. Someone said that a lot of the mental challenges stem from unresolved grief, because people didn’t give themselves or others didn’t allow them time to grieve.
Jesus’ example is best. In His grieve, He took some time to be alone. And he also understood that His disciples were tired and the news of John’s death, as well as the constant pressure of having to take care of people, could be detrimental to their health, faith, and well-being, so He took them appart for a while. We, too, need some time off, after a traumatic situation, after the death of a loved one, to release our grief and to recharge our emotional batteries. Allow yourself to feel the pain, the void left by your loss, to sorrow and grieve. Live and express your emotions without hurting yourself or others; this is part of the normal process of grieving and healing.

Prayer: Father, thank You for allowing us to see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity and the sorrow He felt at the death of John. During our time of sorrow, help us to feel and to live out our pain so that healing will come naturally and faster than if we suppress it all.

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Who Do You Love Most?

Scripture: Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:34-37, NKJV)

Observation: Jesus is spending some time in teaching/training His disciples, particularly in what it means to be one of His disciples. The section for our consideration today is one of those that has come to be known as “The Hard Sayings of Jesus.” Here it seems as if Jesus is telling His disciples to not love their family, although that is not the case. The Andrews Study Bible provides this insights: “In this passage Jesus seems to be contradicting His teaching on nonviolence and loving enemies and family. Rather than contradicting Himself, He is making two points: First, He is saying that the gospel at times engenders conflict because of the deep differences and disagreements that arise by those who accept it and those who don’t. Second, family and its place in society are redefined in its popular social understanding. The blood family is no longer at the top of the hierarchy in the setting of the gospel. Acceptance of, and love for, Jesus must be primary. To be sure, the Scripture teaches the importance of the family bond; but not at the expense of following Jesus.”(1)

Application: Conflict is part of any human relationship. What is sad is that sometimes conflict in the family exists due to our differences in religious beliefs and convictions; this is what Jesus speaks about. It is not that He causes conflict in the home, but rather that accepting His teachings may set us in opposition to family members who either reject or have a different understanding of Jesus’ teachings.
One of the most important lessons we can learn from this section, however, is that Jesus demands that He have first place in our lives. In the Ten Commandments God had written: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3, NKJV). Anyone (or anything) who takes the first place in our lives becomes our god. The first place is, or should be reserved for God!
This does not mean we stop loving our family members. Instead, by placing God first in our lives, our relationship with our family changes and our family takes on a more exalted place. No longer are they simply blood relatives but also faith relatives.

Prayer: Father, by accepting You to have first place in my life I am not relegating my family to last but rather giving You and them the place each rightly deserves. Father, be first in our lives, always and forever.

(1) Andrews Study Bible Notes. 2010 (J. L. Dybdahl, Ed.). Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.

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The Most painful Death

Scripture: While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, “Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher.” 50 But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.”
Luke 8:49-50 (NKJV)

Observation: Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, pushed through the crowd waiting for Jesus’ return from the other side of the lake. He came to see Jesus and to ask Hi, beg Him, to come to his house because his daughter was ill, in fact, dying. While he was asking Jesus, someone from his home came to tell him his daughter was dead. What would be the point of troubling Jesus now. Instead, Jesus said to Him, “Don’t be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well” (vs.50). Jairus must have had every fiber of his body focused on believing the unbelievable, fighting every possible doubt that crept into his mind. . . the life of his only child depended on him not accepting death but receiving the gift of life from the Life-giver.

Application: I have always heard that the most painful death is the death of a child. We all sort-of expect that our parents, maybe even our siblings, will more than likely die before we do. It isn’t a pleasant, comforting thought to know we will probably have to attend many a funeral of loved ones. But none of us expect our children, or grandchildren, to die before we do. Ellen White had that experience twice, and from experience she speaks of the death of her fourth child, three-month-old John Herbert: “After we returned from the funeral, my home seemed lonely. I felt reconciled to the will of God, yet despondency and gloom settled upon me.–1 Testimonies to the Church, p. 246.
Jairus was blessed to receive his daughter back from the grip of death. The widow of Nain also received her son back from the dead. Every other parent has to wait until the morning of the resurrection to receive their children back. Ellen White describes that awesome moment when, “Little children are borne by holy angels to their mothers’ arms. {Child Guidance, p. 566}. There’s probably nothing that can make the parents’ grief any easier to bear, but the hope of the resurrection and being reunited with their children gives parents something specially joyous to look forward to.

Prayer: Father, may we as parents never have to experience the pain and sorrow that comes from losing a child. But if that time were to come, remind us of the family reunion which will take place when Jesus return so we can look forward to that glorious event with even greater anticipation.

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