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Category Archives: Romans

Romans 16 – Greetings

A Look at the Church in Rome

The way Paul writes these greetings seems to indicate that the house churches in Rome were organized into what we would today call congregations.  He greets Prisca and Aquila and the church that meets at their house.  He also greets those who meet with two different groups in verses 14 and 15.  I think it’s neat to see the early church already organizing.  We often think of them as a ragtag group who met all over the place and lacked organizational structure, but that’s not the case.  They met consistently in small groups that allowed them to be very close to one another and minister to each other. They had habits, traditions and structure.

Phoebe

Some words weren’t really translated when the Bible was printed in English.  For example, baptism is simply an English pronunciation of a Greek word rather than a translation.  If it were translated, it would be immersed or immersion.  Deacon is the same way.  It should have been translated into English as servant, but since it had already become a traditional position of church leadership, it was carried over in its Greek form.  So, the same word (deacon/servant) that describes the men appointed to feed the widows in Acts 7 is used to describe Phoebe in Romans 16.  Does that mean they were simply all servants, that in Acts they were appointed leaders and Phoebe wasn’t, or was Phoebe an appointed leader of the church as well?  Some recent translations have decided that it is the latter by changing the word describing Phoebe to deacon (instead of servant).  I personally think they should have changed it to servant everywhere it was used.  It wouldn’t resolve the problem, but I think it’s a more consistent approach.

That being said, Phoebe is important whether she is an appointed office holder or not.  It appears Paul instructs the Christians in Rome to welcome her because she is delivering his letter.  It’s significant that Paul would entrust her with one of the most important letters he ever wrote.  It also shows that the church in Rome would be willing to receive her with the letter she is delivering.  The information that she is a benefactor tells us that she is not only independently wealthy, but that she had used her finances to support and fund Paul and other ministries.  Maybe she was a “deacon” and maybe she wasn’t, but it is clear that she has the respect of Paul and other Christians.  She is a strong and faithful woman who has made a significant impact on God’s Kingdom.  In a world that wasn’t structured to empower women, the church was a place where they could be influential and be significant contributors, and that’s saying something.

I’ve enjoyed our month in Romans.  I have such an appreciation for Paul’s passion and commitment to sharing his faith and making sure other understand the Gospel.  I also respect his awareness of his calling to preach to the Gentiles while he still longs to proclaim the Gospel to the Jews.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 15 – The Value of Being Flexible

The Strong Must Bend

When we think of strength, we think of huge men or towering oak trees.  And yet, Paul begins this chapter with a different idea entirely.  It’s easy for strong people to look down on those around them.  It’s easy to walk all over people who don’t match your abilities or prowess.  But Paul expects something different from Christians who are strong in the faith.  Paul expects them to use their strength to be flexible and accommodating to those who are weaker.  Certainly the greatest example of this is Jesus Christ, who showed each of us how to use our strengths to be a blessing to others, even when it is difficult and requires personal sacrifice.

Of course, there is a little bit of brilliance here as well.  Paul is concerned about the ability of churches to manage conflict, especially in the face of merging cultures.  So imagine two individuals in a Christian community who have some disagreement with one another.  It has become a matter of pride and they both feel that they are arguing from a position of being in the right.  Clearly the stronger Christian of the two will persevere in this matter.  And suddenly Paul says, “Whichever of you is the stronger Christian will humbly allow the other to have their way.  In doing so you reflect the attitude of Christ.”

Suddenly winning looks like losing and losing looks an awful lot like winning.  When people embrace this way of living that is almost forgiveness in advance of wrongdoing, that you are so committed to putting others first that you are humbled for their benefit, Christian communities thrive.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and…Paul?

At the end of this chapter Paul notes that he is travelling towards Jerusalem with a large sum of money to give to the Jewish believers there.  This money has been donated by the Gentile churches Paul has been working with.  Clearly his request for prayers shows that he is concerned about how he will be received by non-believers and even other Christians in Jerusalem.  We know from the book of Acts (chapters 21-28) that Paul was right to be worried.  His arrival was met with trials, beatings, stonings, and eventually an imprisonment of two years followed by an armed escort aboard a ship for Rome.

Paul speaks here of his plans to go to Spain (the westernmost frontier of civilization) and Rome (the center of civilization) to continue advancing the Gospel.  It’s clear that he is passionate about this cause and feels very called by God to go on these trips.  In fact, the book of Romans was written largely to help prepare the church for his arrival there.  Paul doesn’t seem to suspect that he would only see Rome under house arrest and never travel to Spain.  But even when Paul’s plans were radically changed he continued to be flexible and allow God to use him in the best way under any circumstances.  After all, just his desire to go to Spain and Rome led to him writing the wonderful book of Romans.  And it’s likely that he spent a considerable amount of time with another Christian author named Luke during those years of imprisonment possibly working on other literary projects that we benefit so much from today.  It’s remarkable how much God can use us even when we feel like everything is going wrong.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 14 – CAUTION STUMBLING BLOCKS!

A Word of Caution

Paul’s entire purpose in this chapter is to bring about unity in Christian communities.  One of the great challenges of living in Christian community is that people bring all of themselves, their culture, their personal identities, views and baggage with them.  Then we have to make it all work together.  In a Roman context where Gentiles were worshiping in a way that would have looked terribly pagan to Jewish converts to Christianity, Paul writes this letter about how to get along with one another.  Unfortunately, the very same passage has so often been used as a weapon in church bickering.  It is sadly misused in forms that often sound something like, “Well what you are doing or proposing if offensive to me and would be a stumbling block to me so Romans 14 says you can’t do it.  So there.”  While this uses some of Paul’s words, it ignores their meaning.  Paul didn’t intend for people to use these teachings to get their own way, but to see the value of putting other’s first.

Stumbling Blocks

The Christian life is often viewed as a journey or a walk.  One of the great blessings Christianity offers is a clear path to walk on and we are often able to toss our obstacles off of the path.  What Paul is warning us about here is that we must be careful not to through stumbling blocks off of our path and on to somebody else’s.  Another way of putting this is that things that are not bad in and of themselves can become unclean or evil because of the perception they cause in those around us.

For Paul, he has already spoken at length earlier in Romans about how Gentile converts should not strive to live and behave as Jews.  They are not called to live under the Old Covenant and it would be harmful for them to try to do so.  On the other extreme, they shouldn’t flaunt their former pagan habits and practices in the faces of Christian Jews who would be extremely offended by those actions taking place in Christian community.  We see an example of this later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.

There’s an old saying that used to be very common in Churches of Christ that stated, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love (charity)”.  What Paul is saying in this chapter is that when something is a non-essential to Christian living we should allow people to do as they choose.  However, when their liberty begins to affect the unity and love among the believers, that moves the problem into the arena of being essential.  While the original source of contention might not be essential to anybody’s salvation, the unity of believers is an essential.

So, when you are shoveling snow out of your spiritual sidewalk, make sure you aren’t just piling it up in your neighbor’s.  If you are, even though you can freely walk down your path, they can’t.  And that makes you a jerk.

 

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 13 – Respect and Honor for Leaders You Disagree With

Romans 13

A day doesn’t pass that I don’t have to delete an email that is badmouthing one political leader or another. I may not agree with everything our politicians say and do but they are our leaders and Paul reminds us that we are supposed to submit to their authority that has been given by God. We are to give honor and respect because it is due. We see Paul doing this as he goes before different authorities.

But what if the government is oppressive? What if they are not doing what is right in the eyes of God? Should we still submit to them?

To help answer these questions I have provided a context for the government that was in authority while Paul wrote these commands for us to follow. This is out of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:

“The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that ‘he wished the ruin of all things before his death.’ Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.

This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.”

We can disagree with the policies and decisions of our leaders but we must do so respectfully. We live in a country where we have the right to vote and can change things but we need to be careful how we talk about our leaders. Paul calls us to be outstanding citizens who follow the laws of the land. God has put authority in place to keep order in the world. Give respect and honor where it is due. This is not relative to whether we think they deserve respect or not.

This also goes for within the church as well. There are times where you may not agree with decisions that have been made by church leaders but they answer to God and we are under their leading. This is something I try my best to live by as a minister who is under the guidance of an eldership. I’ve seen a lot of churches badly damaged because the ministers were at odds with their leadership. This is something I feel like I’ll have to answer to God for if I ever undermined their authority.

There is no law that needs to be put in place for the Christian that has clothed themselves with Christ and lives in love. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Continue to clothe yourself with Christ. Take on his attitude in every situation and you won’t have to worry whether or not you are following the law, being a good citizen, or submitting yourself to authority. Remember where your true citizenship is and don’t become too consumed with the worries of this country.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Bible Blog, Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 12 – Instructions for Christian Living

Everybody Live This Way…

One of the common misconceptions about the Bible is that it is an entire book telling people how to live and what to do, a book of rules.  It’s much more the story of God and his relationship with people.  Now that being said, Romans 12 is actually a bunch of rules for good Christian living.  This chapter is also a great place to talk about how Christian living isn’t just rules.  It’s not right and wrong, black and white.  Paul’s instructions here are wise principles that will bring our lives more in line with what God wants for us.

The first principle is to make ourselves living sacrifices.  In a culture like ours that admires self-sacrifice for the greater good, this is an appealing call.  However, it means something completely different if you are a first century Jew who has watched the streets of Jerusalem turned red with the blood of sheep burned on the alter as a gift to God.  The image of living life like a slaughtered sheep is more poignant than what we often envision.  This is one of several passages in Paul’s letters where he radically calls people to die to their own desire so that they might come alive to God’s will for their lives.  He indicates that this is an ongoing transformation of continually making God’s will our will.

Paul then makes one of his many pleas for Christian unity.  In this case, he tells us that the key to unity is humility.  If we think back to any argument in churches (or any group for that matter) at some point it probably involves at least one person who thinks they are more important than they ought.  When we prioritize our wants, goals, and opinions above others, we set ourselves up for division.  However, when we recognize that what we have in common is more important than anything that divides us and humbly set those things aside, we can live in a unified family.  In this section, Paul finds about five different ways to say “Be humble.”  He definitely thinks its important for Christian living.

I think this chapter is a great place for Christians to look and find areas they can improve.  There are a dozen or so different instructions in this chapter alone.  I would encourage you to take time today and find the one that really sticks out to you as the one you have the most room to grow.  For me, at this moment, I need to work on hating evil.  It’s easy for me to become complacent about sin and evil in the world and ignore that which doesn’t affect me, but I need to remember that part of seeing the world through God’s eyes and conforming to his will is seeing evil as God sees it.

Which of the instructions that Paul gives in this chapter do you need to work on right now?

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 11 – Who is the True Israel?

Romans 11 has to be one of the hardest passages to wrap your mind around. Is Paul really saying ALL of Israel will be saved? No matter what?! This is why context is important. If you only read chapter 11 then you can deduce that national Israel will be saved. One of my approaches to reading Paul is that he is not slow in the brain. What I mean is that I don’t think Paul would sit down to write a letter to the Church in Rome, pouring out his heart in concern for the salvation of his people, Israel, saying that he would rather be cut off from Christ just so that they would be saved…and then, forgetting he had said all of that, writes that every single person who makes up his people, Israel, will be saved no matter. So…with chapter 9 in mind, lets see if we can make some sense out of chapter 11.

I’ve done some reading, listened to lectures at different points over the years, and Kent and I even discussed this at length yesterday…here’s “my” stab at what is going on here. God, since the fall of man, has set out to redeem His creation. He chose one group of people (through one man) to be His Chosen people through whom He would work to bring about this redemption. While Israel was supposed to be part of the solution, they really just became part of the problem. God still kept His end of the covenant with them and brought Christ up through them. The ones who were called to be part of the saving are now in need to being saved. This places them in the same situation as the rest of the world; they are cut off from God and in need of saving. “God has handed all people over to disobedience.” The only way they can be saved is the same way the rest of the world is going to be saved, through Christ.

So what do we make of the “all Israel will be saved” passage? God is going to save Israel. The only way to become part of Israel is to enter through Christ. In my words, the Church is the true Israel…which I guess makes us true Jews.

One other thing that needs to be pointed out here is that Paul is writing to a predominantly Gentile Church. There seems to be some arrogance in the Gentile Christians that Paul seems to be addressing. Just because God has rejected the Jews as His Chosen, does not mean that they cannot be brought back through Christ. A good rule of thumb…we were all sinful and in need of Christ’s saving. Now that we have entered into the Family of God, it is best to not see yourself as above anyone else…which seems to be an ongoing theme through the teachings in the New Testament.

I’d like to end our time in this passage by reflecting on the doxology that Paul writes and really captures the appropriate prayer and praise we should give to God after reflecting on His Word:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

 
 

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Romans 10 – An Ancient Invitation

Romans 10

In this chapter, Paul is working through the final chapters of Moses’ book, Deuteronomy.  He wants to go back to Deuteronomy 28-30 and show how all of that is being dealt with through the Gospel.  Chapters 28-29 Moses is warning Israel that while obedience to God’s law will result in blessing, that disobedience will result in a curse.  In addition, Moses tells them that either by his own experience or God’s revelation, that he knows that they will disobey and become enslaved by foreign nations and eventually removed from the land of Promise.  This, of course, is what happens.

Fortunately, the is some good news in chapter 30.  Moses tells Israel that God will not completely abandon them, but that if they will turn their hearts back to him and repent that God will go wherever in the world they live and renew the relationship and restore his people.  Even when Israel is unfaithful, God will continue to remain faithful to them.  This chapter also tells them that God will make the external sign of circumcision internal through the circumcision of their hearts, a phrase Paul uses as well.

Paul now wants Israel to see that God is offering the invitation of Deuteronomy 30 to his people Israel through Jesus.  If you will return to God, put your faith in Jesus and live obediently, then you can come into the right relationship offered by God through Moses at the end of Deuteronomy.  However, as Paul makes clear through the Old Testament references in this chapter, Israel has disobeyed the law and ignored God’s prophets.  And now, on top of all of that, Israel is now rejecting God’s Son and his plan.  God is offering them everything they have longed for and been begging for, it’s right there in the Gospel.  And yet, they are rejecting God again.

And it breaks Paul’s heart.  Yesterday Ryan really talked about how heartbroken Paul was about his lost countrymen.  He is pleaded with Israel to give up their pride and their own self-serving sense of self-righteousness.  Turn to God and receive all of the promise.  Ignore him and stay in the curse promised by Moses.  Bill did a great job Sunday of calling us to recognize the “lost-ness” of our friends, family members, and neighbors and agonize over their salvation.  It’s easy to get comfortable about people’s salvation when we assume their are fine or simply don’t think about it.  Paul sets a much different example.

It’s also interesting that the most often quoted passage from this text is “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It’s surprising that so many people stake so much on this single passage since it is couched inside of a large section of Romans where Paul is agonizing over people who are following God incorrectly and whose misunderstanding of what God has done and is doing is going to cost them their salvation.  If calling on the name of the Lord is all salvation requires, then Paul has no reason to feel so badly for all of the God-fearing Jews he spoke of in Romans 9.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 9 – Paul’s Desire for His People. Who is the True Israel?

We begin this section, 9-11, with Paul in anguish about the condition of Israel. He believes wholeheartedly that they are lost. Paul is at an odd crossroads in his life. He is looking at all of his friends who were in Pharisee school with him and sees them as having gotten everything wrong. They look at him and shake their heads because he’s gone off the deep end. Imagine being in a situation where you were with a group heading down a trail and after turning left at the fork in the trail you look back in horror to see that everyone who was with you stayed to the right. They think they are on the right trail but from where you stand you can see that they are all doomed to die. In that situation…I don’t think I would have any holdup about giving up my life so that the rest of them could live. This is where I have deep admiration for Paul. It is one thing to say you would die in order that someone find Christ, it is a completely different story when you are willing to be damned in order for them to know Christ. I can’t say I’ve ever had that level of care and concern for a group of people. Paul cared deeply for his fellow Jews and desired them to be saved.

…Or Monday

Paul, in v6, begins to retell the story of how Israel came to be because this is where the Messiah came from. He assumes that his readers know these stories and only briefly mentions them. It is important, even as a gentile Christian, to know your history. Paul begins by distinguishing that not everyone who is descended from Israel are Israel…just because you are a descendant of Abraham does not make you one of his children. I think Paul is distinguishing that those who are in Christ are Children of the promise and are the true Children of Abraham. Everyone else is illegitimate.

Paul continues to look into the history of Israel to point out that God’s plan was to love the Gentiles too. He reiterates over and over that his fellow Jews are lost and not part of the true Israel. Because of their obsession with the law as the way of righteousness, they have no attained their goal. They lack faith and have stumbled over the stumbling stone. Tuck all of this away for when we get to a controversial passage in Chapter 11.

 
 

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Romans 8 – Why Are You Acting Like a Slave? You Are Free!

There was an Israelite, who after establishing himself in the Promise Land, started getting up at 5 in the morning. He would make bricks out of straw and mud for the next 7 hours. For lunch, he would eat a stew that had no substance to it. His house servants ate better than he did. After finishing lunch he would go back to brick making till he had to come in to finish his nightly chores. This confused his neighbors greatly. Why was he making bricks? Why is he acting as though he is lower than a house servant? Does he not realize that we’ve entered the Promise Land and we’re not slaves to Egypt anymore?

Just as odd as it would be to continue to act like a slave when you’ve been set free, it is equally odd to continue to be a slave to sin. The Spirit you have been given makes you a Child of God so stop living as though you are His enemy. You are in the Promise Land now!

As Children of God, our present sufferings fail to compare to the glory that will be revealed in us. What are these present sufferings? This is the question I often ask non-Christians…What would you change in the world to make it perfect? Those things that need to be changed, those are our present sufferings, death being the main one. Paul reminds us that this brokenness that we have within us is also apparent in the world around us. There is a reason there are tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. The earth longs to be fixed and be made new again. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

We have the seed of this New Creation within us, the firstfrruits of the Spirit groaning within us for our adoption to sonship (inheritance), the redemption of our bodies (physical). This is the hope that we have, that death has been conquired and our bodies will be made new again! I do want to point out that Paul doesn’t say that our hope is that our spirits or souls will be taken up into a heavenly realy where we’ll sit on clouds playing harps (that’s a discussion for another time).

Do you still hope to receive the Spirit? Why? This is like looking for something and after finding it you keep looking for it! You have it! The full redemption of our bodies has not yet happened, but we wait for it patiently. We have the Spirit within us and the Spirit intercedes for us.

I think 31-39 is the most powerful passage in the New Testament, especially if you read it as the climax of chapters 5-8. If there was only one chapter in the Bible you could memorize, chapter 8 is it! I think it encompasses the power of the Gospel. When I read the end of chapter 8, I just want to stand tall and take on the world. Go back and read that last section with passion in your voice. Doesn’t that just get you excited!?

We’ve finished this section of Romans that begin in chapter 5. On the whole, Paul has argued that the true Exodus has come about in the Messiah and by the Spirit, which were messianic expectations before Christ came. Paul appropriately moves to the problem of Israel in Romans 9-11.

 
 

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Romans 7 – The Do-Do Passage

Kent talked yesterday about the comparison to Israel coming out of Egypt. Keep this image in mind as we look into chapter 7. When Israel came through the Red Sea on the other side, the defining moment of liberation from Egypt, they went to Sinai and were given the Law. In Romans 7 (and continuing in to 8:11), Paul proclaims that those who have been renewed (brought out of bondage of slavery) are given the Spirit (the new law) which does “what the law could not” (Romans 8:3).

The first part of 7 is an analogy to the laws that they had on marriage. He is illustrating what it means to be in Christ and what has happened to the law. I’ve honestly never stopped to think about this passage before. It seems as though Paul is saying that just as a husband and wife are bound together as long as they both are alive, so you are still bound to the law as long as you are alive. You have been put to death in Christ and the law is no longer needed. You are now “married” to the Spirit, who does what the law could not do.

The end of chapter 7 is what I have always called the “do-do” passage. When Paul wrote it, I don’t think he intended for anyone to read it outloud in English. This has also been a passage that has been hard to get my mind around in the past. I’m going to lean on an article I was reading on this section. While I feel like I can talk about this fairly well…I really like the way this was constructed.

“He [Paul] argues (through the device of the “I,” speaking of himself as the embodiment of Jewish history) that when the Law was originally given Israel recapitulated the sin of Adam (Romans 7:7-12, looking back to Romans 5:20), that in her continuing life under the Torah Israel finds herself simultaneously desiring the good and unable to avoid the buildup of sin, and that Israel, despite her great vocation, remains “in Adam” (Romans 7:1-6, 13-25). God, however, has dealt with sin and given new life, to those who share the resurrection of Christ through the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11).”

While the law points out our sins, we have victory in Christ. Not to continue sinning, but to live a life free from the slavery of sin to be slaves to Christ. With Paul, we enter back into Israel’s story and follow Christ out the other side!

 
 

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