Building Strength

The Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Apocalypse of John is.. quite diverse. But ultimately, if you could condense the purpose, you could say that the Bible is an invitation. An invitation firstly, to enjoy an intimate fellowship with God, despite our sins, through Christ Jesus, now and forever. Secondly, an invitation to walk in His Way. An invitation to trace His footsteps, as we walk through the days of our life.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

‭‭John‬ ‭15:12‬

In His final message, mere hours before His arrest and crucifixion, and knowing fully well all that was awaiting Him, the Lord leaves those who follow Him with a ‘commandment.’ Jesus commands, “love one another as I have loved you.” We’re commanded to live like Jesus. We’re commanded to love like Jesus. And most of us in Christ, know this.

WWJD..? What would Jesus do..? That’s a question we often find that we ask ourselves in situations that confront us. And that perhaps is a good start, but.. how many times do we find that we know what Jesus would’ve done, yet find ourselves unable to do the same..?

Love the unlovable, He said and He did. Forgive the unforgivable, He said and He did. We know that Jesus loved, and that He forgave. But how many times, do we fall short of His standards..? At times, knowing what we are to do, and at times even desiring to do, but still.. unable to find the strength within to be like Him. While our minds know all we are to do, the strength to live like Jesus, comes not from the mind, but from our hearts…

..for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Nehemiah 8:10

Is the joy of the LORD reigning in your heart..? Striving to be like Christ, is a noble pursuit, but.. we will only weary ourselves undertaking the impossible, without the strength of His joy. We may strive to keep ourselves pure and free from sin as He is, only to end up in frustration. We may desperately will ourselves to be more loving people, and maybe, just maybe.. we can turn our ways around to the eyes of those around us. But when we haven’t truly changed in places where the eyes of people cannot see.. in our hearts, it’ll only remain a sapping yet vain endeavour.

Joy though, does something that our meticulous efforts could never do. When we abide in His joy, the command to live like the Christ, no longer has to be seen as something that needs to be worked on, but instead as something that flows from within…

Have you ever noticed how in our moments of mirth, all that the Bible commands us becomes a little easier..? When we’re in a mood to celebrate, loving one another seems like the logical thing to do, doesn’t it..? We’re quick to give. We’re even quick to forgive. We’ve all had such moments in life, haven’t we..? Now joy is similar to mirth, except.. it is ever in our reach, even when the lights of our life have seemingly gone out, and all we could see around is darkness. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

In your presence there is fullness of joy;

Psalm 16:11

There is fullness of joy in His presence. And to all who desire to enter, in search of that ever available joy, the Holy One says, “Do not be afraid.” He says, “Come As You Are.” Through His work on the cross, the Lord has made a Way, where even the worst of sinners can enter into His presence and delight in His joy, taking away the yoke that was upon us. The unrighteous are freely welcome into His presence, for only His joy can lead us into a life of righteousness. And this is where the ‘command’ to live like Jesus, becomes an ‘invitation’ to live like Him. Nowhere is this message more apparent than in the tale of the Christ and a man named Zacchaeus, from Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus – the man who is remembered for climbing a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus – was a tax collector. To most of us, the term would hardly ring a bell. But to people in the New Testament times, those words spoke too much about the moral standing of a person. People held a tax collector in the same regard as a prostitute. They were commonly referred to as sinners…

When Jesus saw Zacchaeus perched on a branch, He calls him by name and tells him that He will be staying at his house. People around Jesus expected the righteous to avoid the presence of sinners. They grumbled among themselves, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” as though the Lord who can look into our hearts, hadn’t a clue. But Jesus was here with one purpose. To seek out a man lost in sin…

So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:6‬

..and Zacchaeus received Him joyfully. The crowd could only see his past. They had no clue as to the heart of this man. Within him there was something new. Within him there was a heart filled with joy. Like the people in the crowd Zacchaeus must have expected Jesus to seek out the righteous, but to his surprise, he realised, “The Lord has come in search of a sinner like me…”

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:8

And the joy that flooded his heart, produced something so beyond the belief of the people who branded him a sinner. Zacchaeus, who until now had extorted money from his people, no longer desired unrighteous wealth. He not only ventured to repay those whom he had defrauded, but even that which was rightfully his, he chose to share with the poor…

The message, “Come As You Are,” once again repeats itself over here, doesn’t it..? The Christ did not wait for Zacchaeus to make atonement for his sins before He welcomed him into His presence. Zacchaeus was welcomed as a sinner. But more importantly, this sinner no longer remained a slave to his sin. And how did that happen..? Was it the fear of the fire of hell to lead him into righteousness..? Nay, it was joy that did what fear could never do. Joy in Christ set Zacchaeus free from his sin…

Are you filled with the desire to be righteous..? Does the pursuit leave you feeling worn out, without the strength to take another step..? Remember, this was never something to be done in our own strength. Remember Zacchaeus. Remember the Lord who comes in search of those lost in sin, to welcome them into His presence. Remember the joy in His presence. Remember the strength to be changed that that joy does produce. Look to Him. His arms are open wide…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Philippians 4:4

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Come As You Are

“The friend of sinners,” we call our Lord. But do we really believe that He is..? I mean, of course, as Casting Crowns would have us reminded, we do tend to forget that in dealing with others who we would be quick to label as a ‘sinner.’ Like we are any better..? That is a common failing, I agree. And we, in humility, need to seek His grace to help us be wiser to our faults, and compassionate toward those of others. But I wonder, are we quick enough to believe that He is a friend of sinners, when it is us who happen to fall into sin..?

Could we..? Should we..? At the end of it, I’ll leave it to you to decide. But there are certain things from the Bible that I feel lead to share. About us. About the nature of sin. With tales of guilt and shame. And with tales of love and grace.

There is something about sin, that the Bible finds is common among those who have fallen under its weight. The first to fall under sin in the Garden of Eden felt the same, so did people in the times of the Christ and so do people in our times.

When God created Adam and Eve, even though they had the will to choose, they were sinless. All they had to avoid to remain sinless and choose God over sin, was to abide by the one restriction He placed on them, saying “..of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” But even then, they sinned. And once sin ensnared them, something changed…

..and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:8‬

The couple who enjoyed fellowship with God in Eden, could no longer dare to be in His presence. According to the Bible, they hid from His presence, even before God could confront them. They hid, being confronted by their own conscience.

At another point in time.. when the Lord began His earthly ministry, He went about to gather His disciples. And one of them was Simon Peter, a fisherman. After speaking to a crowd that was gathered on the shore to hear Him, Jesus lead Peter to fish in the deep. Peter and his companions had toiled all night, and found nothing in those waters. Even if he weren’t too eager, Peter decided to follow, where Jesus lead.

That decision transformed the life of this fisherman. But before the transformation, there is something that happened in the boat, that once again brings to light the nature of sin. When Peter hauled in a large catch of fish, which by all logic should not have been there, he could see that the One who was with him was more than a mere man. And at that realisation, the familiar feeling returned…

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:8‬

Sin that made Adam and Eve hide from the Holy One in the Garden of Eden, made Simon Peter, plead for the Lord who’s presence he believed he did not deserve, to leave him. There is one thing in common between these tales from both Testaments: God comes in search of people lost in sin. Sin makes people turn away from God…

How often do we find that we, like Peter or the couple from Eden, shy away from God, because of our sins..? Even though we have access to the knowledge of the Good News that Christ Jesus brought into this world, when we fall into sin, how easy is it to fall into the same spiral of guilt and shame..?

Even if we know that our God is love, the memories that we carry remind us of how undeserving we are of His love. We’re reminded of the last time we had a fall. Maybe, the dozens of times we’ve fallen before then too. We’re reminded of His loving embrace that took us in despite our sins. But here we are again…

“Surely, my Lord deserves better. How many times will I disappoint Him..? If I come to Him now, He will forgive me and take me in, but what if I fall into sin once again..? Let me not trouble Him. I have to make myself better before I return to Him. I will deal with my sin, and then I will come to Him with some good deeds in hand, to show for the love and faith He has shown in me,” we may find ourselves saying. An appreciable desire perhaps, but we know where that pursuit takes us, don’t we..?

Further away from God we go, as we refuse to turn to Him. Either persisting in the same sin, or finding our condition worsen. All the while forgetting, that our Lord, He is a friend of sinners. All the while forgetting that He isn’t looking for good deeds of ours in return for His mercy. All God desires from us, is all Peter had within him in that boat with Jesus…

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

When God sees us, His children, broken in spirit and our hearts crushed by guilt and shame, He yearns to embrace us. And to embrace the sinner, the Holy One came in the form of a man, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross. The blood that He shed, He shed to cleanse us from our sin. Sin that once had the power to turn us away from the love of God. Power that sin has no more…

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Are you troubled by your sin..? Are you unsure if you’re to turn to Him or not..? Are you afraid of God..? Are you afraid of being a disappointment once again..? Remember the words that the Lord spoke in reply to sinful Peter’s guilt filled admission:

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;”

Luke 5:10

In the end, knowledge defines our relationship with God. The knowledge of good and evil, causes us to turn away from God, knowing that by ourselves, we fall short of His holiness. The knowledge of Christ Jesus though, helps us turn to Him, knowing that in Him, we are made holy, as He is. Know Him: Jesus, the friend of sinners. Come to Him as you are. He will make you, what you are meant to be…

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬

And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:31-32

Immersed in the River

Last week, I happened to listen to a sermon, and in the course of the message the preacher mentioned an account from the Bible: the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman commanded the army of Syria and was held in high favour by his king. But he also happened to be a leper.

In a journey of faith, Naaman headed from Syria in search of Elisha, a prophet of God in the land of Israel, who he believed could lead him to healing. And Elisha did lead him, but Naaman couldn’t readily accept the path. Naaman’s rejection of the way prescribed by Elisha, I feel, gives us a glimpse of our own nature as people….

So he turned and went away in a rage.

‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭5:12‬

Have you ever been in a position when someone offered you something that just seemed, ‘too good to be true’..? More often than not, our decision would be to pass on the proposition simply because we could never believe that someone would offer something so precious, for something far too little. And you see, Naaman wasn’t unlike us….

When he received word from Elisha that all he had to do to be healed, was to dip in the Jordan seven times, Naaman felt mocked. Which of us could blame him..? Naaman came to Elisha, expecting some religious rite to be performed over him. Perhaps, Elisha would lead him to some acts of penance, where he would have to inflict suffering upon himself in order to be healed. Or maybe he would have to make an offering to God or give them away in the name of alms, for the sake of his sins..? Naaman came from Syria carrying quite a load of wealth: nearly a dozen kilos of gold and over three hundred kilos of silver. If Elisha had set a price for his healing, I wonder, would he have sounded more authentic in the eyes of Naaman..?

Through Elisha though, God offered Naaman healing from his disease, without any religiosity or penance, and even without a price. All God asked of Naaman, was to believe in His word, and do the most simplest of acts and he would be healed. And this certainly was one occasion where an offer that was ‘too good’, happened to be true too.

And his servants came near, and spoke unto him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?'”

‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭5:13‬

While Naaman’s reaction was typically human, another act that wasn’t typically so is what lead him eventually to his healing. As Naaman turned away to leave, he paused to listen to his lowly servants, as they pleaded with him to take up Elisha on his offer. While the Jordan was – and still remains – powerless to heal, Naaman witnessed the power of the One who could heal him, in a single act of faith….

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

How much similar is the healing of Naaman to the healing that God offers you and me, from the burden of our sins, through Christ Jesus..? Without religiosity..? Without acts of penance..? Without price..? All that He asks of us, who are burdened by our sins, is this: To believe in the message of the Christ, that He has borne all our sins – past, present and future – once and for all, when He died as an eternal sacrifice for us on the cross. To those of us who deeply repent of our sins, can there be any other offer that is as good, and yet so true..?

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

God.. through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:18-20‬

Do you see the Church as an abode of the righteous.. or as the refuge of sinners..?

Seeking A Pure Heart

Are you facing a battle with sin..? One where you constantly face failure after failure as you wish to overcome the sin..? Are the failures hurting you.. deep down, to the very bottom of your soul..? Convicted in that soul.. you may feel a heaviness that you’d be quick to acknowledge as a nudge from your conscience. The desire may exist, to leave behind this pattern of ‘sin and repent’. Yet, you may find yourselves unable. Some of us may even feel like we have become numb to sin.. that we can’t even believe that own heart is capable of repentance.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

But trust me when I tell you, no matter how far you feel you’ve gone.. you are still capable. No matter what you’ve done or for how long you’ve done what you’ve done, your heart is not destined to stay hardened forever.. it can still return to days when it was tender.. when repentance came naturally. Despite all your failures, you can still taste victory over sin. How would I know all this, when I don’t even know you, you may ask..? Oh, I do know. I may not know you, but I do know because this battle is not about you, but the One who died for you.. who arose from the dead and is with you, even today. I do know, because I know Him.. He who is faithful, even when we are not….

Why strive against what is too powerful for you and prolong this path of pain..? How can man defeat his own nature..? Jesus didn’t die on the cross, facing all the pain in the world, to see you wrestle in futility, the burden of sin.. the consequence of our fallen nature. As He died shedding every ounce of blood that flowed through His veins, sin lost the battle over your soul, forever. No longer does your sin have the voice to utter words of condemnation against you, if you will believe. Live life in that freedom. That is the Good News for which God strived in the form of man, so that man need not strive. That is the Good News that I as a Christian am commanded to share. Believe. Live free….

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Now you may wonder.. what about sin from this point on..? How does knowledge of the redemptive power of the cross, work in our life..? If sin no longer condemns us, do we then have freedom to indulge freely in sin..? If not, what really is the point of it all..?

Firstly, I’ll state this – the claim I made, that ‘sin no longer condemns’, I whole heartedly believe, is true with no variation. So then, should we keep on sinning, now that through Jesus we are no longer weighed down when we do..? Logically, that can be a mind set that flows from the knowledge of the freedom we have in Christ. While the other mind set can be one of gratitude to the One who gave you that freedom, to live a life that pleases Him. Before I go on though, I will pose this question: If you suffered so much at the hands of sin, why would you want to return into it’s hands..? This is a question I wish I had asked myself, early on in my post-salvation life….

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-9‬

So.. how does freedom in Christ Jesus work..? Do we go on to live without a trace of sin..? Or do we just go on sinning with no fear of the consequence..? I’ll share with you the kind of mindset I entered as I embraced the Good News….

I received salvation as I read through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. That was a time when I read the Bible only because I believed it to be a healthy habit. Not to hear the voice of God.. who’s love for me I hadn’t yet tasted. I struggled alone with my secret sin.. one I just couldn’t share with another soul. I knew that God is forgiving in nature. I knew when I did sin, His forgiveness was a prayer away, if I repented. And I did repent. I never liked the man that I was for my dark indulgence. But, even as I saw God as forgiving, I would still fear.. what if I die before I have a chance to repent..? I knew that God could see the umpteen times I kept going back to sin after repentance. What if God decides to punish me by taking my life right in the moment when I’m yet to repent of a terrible sin..? What if I’m destined to the fire of hell..? And it was to this anxious soul that the Book of Romans spoke comfort to.. that no matter when I die, or what I do from this time till then, my salvation is secure.. that my salvation is not dependant on me living a good life nor on my pious prayers, but is dependant of my unchanging Lord who offered that hard earned prize of eternity with Him, for free.

There has never been such a moment since in my life, when I felt such happiness and joy bubble from within. I smiled. I laughed. I cried, as tears over flowed. I could not have contained such emotion even if I had been in public with the eyes of the whole world on me. What if they thought I was a mad man..? I couldn’t care less. God loves humanity so much. God loves me so much. What more do I ever need..?

You’d think I’d have been quick to choose the way of God. You’d have thought I’d have no taste for sin from then. But that wasn’t the way things turned out. I flirted with sin once again. The flirting turned into a deep affair, that in my mind, I legitimized though my knowledge of God’s grace. Now when I look back, I know that what I did then was abuse the freedom that I received. I abused God’s grace….

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17

Can such knowledge lead to anything else..? Wouldn’t man who is already broken, be lead to more sin with such a freedom granted to him..? Is any other way even possible..? That’s where the Good News finds it’s completion. You see, the Truth that sets us free is not just a statement or a verse, but the Truth is Christ Jesus. The Truth isn’t just life giving, but the Truth is living. Along with the freedom that comes with salvation comes the promise of God, that He Who Lives will live with you, forever. The Holy God will indwell sinful man; who He has atoned for with His blood. The Helper – the Holy Spirit – will actively work to transform our hearts to be able to handle that freedom that comes with His grace. And when all your thoughts fail you as you wonder how man can handle such freedom, He shows us that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

God’s love for us didn’t end at the cross. He still extends His love into our lives by transforming our hearts and minds each day as He draws us closer and closer to Him. And that is a love that I have tasted.. a love that I can testify to.. a love that patiently guided me.. me who abused the very grace that saved me, to teach me how to rejoice in the liberating Truth that I found in Him.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

1 John 2:1

Today, I am still far from being a perfect man. At times, I still sin the same sins, which in extension are against the Law of Love. But no longer do I justify my sinful thoughts or actions using the grace of God.. no longer do I embrace sin. When I am tempted, I lean on Him for strength to overcome. If through a moment of weakness I fall, I am reminded that in Christ Jesus my Lord, my sins no longer have the power to condemn me. I may live in brokenness still.. as long as I live in this body of flesh, but in the eyes of my Lord I know that even in my brokenness I am precious. I live life in the unshakeable hope that one day, all that is broken in me will be made whole. Now, I truly live free….

Hear Me, Please

“Is the God of the Bible really a loving person..? Christians keep parroting the words ‘Jesus Loves You’, yet all I see when I look into their message is a pistol pointing right between my eyes saying, ‘Believe in Jesus or Die’. How is that love..?”

That is a question I am pleased to hear as it means one thing – the one posing the question has considered the message of the Bible. At the same time, there is a sense of failure when I realise how lousy us Christians are – me included – at sharing the Good News.

In this post, I’ll explain why as a Christian I feel this falls short of the truth. In the end I know that it’ll all come down to faith – believing if the Bible is true or not is a matter of one’s own choice. But my purpose for writing this is to explain what the Bible has to say as an answer to this question – which I believe it does with absolute clarity.

Firstly, what is my stand on that statement mentioned above. According to the Word of God is it true that ‘unless you believe in Jesus you will die’..? Frankly, yes. Plain speak – the way Christians are commanded to share the Truth in 2 Corinthians 4:2. But still, I do not agree with the quoted text above. And I hope you’ll bear with me a little as I tell you why.

I’ll start off with a little story….

There once broke out in a city a fever that affected all – both young and old, rich and poor, the strong and the weak, men and women. At least one person was affected in each household. Leading doctors in the city concurred that the fever was caused by a virus known to exist elsewhere in the world. They began to administer medication as per their diagnosis. All was going well – or so they thought.

In the same city lived an old man – a scientist. Through his own private research he noted that the virus was not the same as the doctors had observed it to be. This in fact was a previously unknown, lethal cousin. Having understood the nature of the virus, the scientist developed a cure in quick time – spending a fortune. He took the cure to the leading hospitals in the city, but to his astonishment he faced rejection everywhere.

Disturbed at the thought of the fate of the people, he decided to reach them directly. With the little money he had left, he set out to spread the message of the nature of the disease and how it wasn’t as benign as the people thought it to be. He spoke about how his cure tackled the disease and offered the life saving medicine for free. He stood on the streets and cried, “Hear me, please. Unless you believe me you will die”.

The people he so loved, shunned him. He was mocked and humiliated – despised of all. In the end only a handful of people gave ear to him – people who had hit the depths of poverty that they could not afford the medication sold at the hospitals. To all who came to him, the scientist with a glad heart gave the medicine for free. And the poor lived.

I guess you see where I am getting. ‘Unless you believe me you will die’, the line used by the scientist in the story is similar to the condensed message the Bible shares with us today. As much as people must have hurt the scientist by rejecting his message, they did not die because of him but because of the disease that spread. So too, people will not die a spiritual death because Jesus has judged them for rejecting Him. Jesus Himself says in John 12:47 – “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Spiritual death however will come because of the disease of sin.

But is there really such a disease..? Can I prove to you that humanity is dying in sin..? Perhaps not. But the fact that I want to state is that that is what is said in the Bible. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Then we head on to see in Romans 6:23 that the ‘wages of sin is death’. 

And where in the Bible do we find the cure to our deadly illness..? The Scripture from beginning to end – from the prophecy in Eden’s Garden to the apocalyptic vision of John in the Book of Revelation where he looks upon the slain Lamb standing in the center of the throne – points us to that. Jesus Himself testifies to that at the Last Supper. In Matthew 26:28, the Lord says that His blood is ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’. His contemporary John the Baptist in John 1:29 proclaimed, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’. The clincher though comes from a text far ahead of the time in which John lived. In the Book of Isaiah Chapter 53, Isaiah prophecied in the 7th century BC of all that Jesus would have to go through in the years of the 1st century AD. In verse 5 he says, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed’.

Before I conclude, let’s shift our gaze for a moment back to a verse I mentioned earlier, having touched upon the first part – Romans 6:23. The verse that begins as ‘For the wages of sin is death’ – which is the core of the Biblical message – continues, ‘but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Like the good scientist in our little story, our good God – having done all that is required to win it – is calling out to offer eternal life as a gift to anyone who would come to Him.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

The message of the Bible – Not a threat with a pointed gun. But rather, an invition dressed with love to receive a gift beyond price.

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