Martin Collins, reminding us that God's love does not shield the believer from sickness, pain, sorrow, or death, focuses on several scriptural contexts in which Jesus shed tears and expressed grief. Though no wimpy sentimentalist, Jesus chose to experience the often disrupting vicissitudes of human life, having the capacity to feel empathy. Like all of us, He felt weariness and exhaustion, grew in wisdom and knowledge, and felt anger and indignation. The short clause, "Jesus wept," conveys both His anger at the consequences of sin and His compassion for those who suffered, prompting observers to say, "He loved." Jesus was made like us so He could empathize with our weaknesses, qualifying Him to be our High Priest and Mediator. Unlike the religion of Ancient Greece, or Judaism, God's true religion shows God as having the capacity to feel, to empathize, and to have love for others. God meticulously keeps track of our tears and promises to wipe them away in the fullness of time. But, before God transforms our tears of sorrow into tears of joy, He commands that His called-out ones be the same kind of living sacrifices as were Moses, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
Martin Collins, arguing that the subtle infiltration of secularism is the major cause of fissures in the greater Church of God, warns church members how secularism threatens spiritual growth. During our pre-Passover period of self-examination, we must focus on what the Father demands of us and embrace His truth with all our might, esteeming God's words over everything else. Sadly, mainstream 'Christianity' gives little heed to God's Word, valuing consensus (a plurality of 51%) over doctrinal truth as revealed by the Scriptures. We seriously err if we rely on the secular media to give us spiritual understanding. God sends strong delusion to those who do not love the truth. We cannot reject obeying God, but we must reject the world's theology, as it defends degeneracy. The dominant world culture militates against God's Sabbath, allowing sporting events, shopping, and entertainment to take its place. In the latter days, secular concerns have increased; "everybody does it." Being set apart requires we become an example (which will appear alien to the world), serving, metaphorically, as lighthouses in a dark world. Thankfully, Christ has our back by sanctifying us with His truth and giving us the will and power to do His work thorough the means of God's Holy Spirit.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an article by Dave Berry, who suggests that the Post-Truth, fake news norm has created a milieu where people appear to be hallucinating, warns God's called-out ones against feeling the same kind of frustration as the rest of society as we become immersed in negative and false news. If we accept our Elder Brother Jesus Christ's invitation to be protected by His name, becoming an Ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe, we can rise above the swamp of negativism and evil which threatens to envelop us. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are members of God's family, metaphorically a component of God's Temple and a constituent of the Kingdom of God. In the current world, we are sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, and ambassadors, living among, yet separate from, the peoples of this present world. Our loyalty must be to the family to which we are called—the blood of Christ's sacrifice being thicker than water. We cannot be half-hearted Christians, attempting to take the narrow and broad way simultaneously. If we are not sure we are really committed to our calling, we should consider: (1.) Do we feel that we are an outsider when we are with our brethren? (2.) Do we feel more comfortable in "wordly" social contexts? (3.) Do we understand the argot of the Church family or does it seem foreign to us? (4.) Do we understand the subjects discussed and feel prepared to take part in the discussion or does everything seem like its in secret code? (5.) Are we in on the mysteries of the fellowship, or do we feel clueless? (6.) Do we feel comfortable with the laws of our fellowship or do they seem a burden? (7.) Do we have a spiritual birth certificate—God's Holy Spirit—that we carefully guard? If we are led by God's Spirit, having the spirit of adoption, we are the children of God and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, taking the apostle Paul's cue that persecution expresses our relationship to Christ, suggests that persecution involves a wide spectrum, ranging from torture, physical beating, social excommunication, imprisonment and death—fates endured by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Paul did not ask for the harassment and persecution he endured, but maintained that everything which befell him proved to be for the ultimate good of spreading the Gospel. Because of his impeccable witness, the entire Palace Guard at Rome received testimony, some persuaded to the point of conversion. Ironically, jealousy from other 'Christian' factions probably led to Paul's execution rather than persecution from the outside, a harbinger for those living in end-time persecution. The churches in Revelation 2-3 all receive their portion of persecution, but God promises deliverance and reward for those who endure. In the current diaspora of the Greater Church of God, the trials and problems are not much different than those of the first century, and Christ still promises boldness to those who see the big picture. Our boldness and confidence should match that of Paul's trusting in God to give us strength to overcome or endure, following Christ's example of esteeming others above ourselves, even those who maliciously abuse us, realizing that God will open their eyes at the right time. God will never disappoint us, but will give us His Holy Spirit and mind to navigate the spiritual minefield. Like Paul, we need to realize that all things, horrible and pleasant, will work God's ultimate purpose and our good.
Martin Collins, continuing the exposition of the Book of Joel, reiterates that the locust plague serves as a vivid precursor to the impending Day of the Lord. Joel assures the victims of the devastating plague that, if they would repent of their sins, returning to the covenant, the land would become refreshed, prosperity would return, the political threat would be averted, and the years lost to the devastation would be restored. What God promised to physical Israel He promises to the Israel of God—the Church. On Pentecost, 31 AD, God typically fulfilled Joel's prophecy of His Spirit being poured out on all flesh; in the Millennium, He will finally fulfil it. Throughout the Old Testament, God's Spirit was poured out on selected servants who had specific commissions to lead and warn God's people. In the future, a healing of the land, national security, and the restoration of lost years will accrue to the remnants of Israel and ultimately to all mankind. As members of God's royal priesthood, we need to humbly look out for the wellbeing of others, not like Diotrephes, who desired to have pre-eminence, but rather like Jesus Christ, who willingly sacrificed Himself for others. When God's Holy Spirit dwells in us, the most convincing manifestation is our repentance and yielding to God's direction, as manifested in the servant who always carried out his master's will faithfully.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the widespread belief in many pagan cultures that local tribal deities claim territoriality over their adherents' land, maintains that God had to disabuse Israel from believing such nonsense, using scattering and exile to partially accomplish His purpose. God is sovereign over the entire earth; His power is not venue-dependent. When Nebuchadnezzar had enough of Judah's rebellion, he transported the entire ruling class to Babylon, including Daniel and his companions. God used this event to scatter Judah and Benjamin through the prominent cultures of the earth. Jeremiah sent a letter in 597 BC, giving specific instructions to the captives as to how to conduct themselves in Gentile cultures, assuring them that they would be in this predicament for seventy years, after which God would rescue them. They were to improve their skills, buy houses, plant gardens, raise families, and be model citizens. Although they were not to assimilate inwardly, they were to blend in wherever God's Law was not violated. They were not to make a nuisance of themselves by proselyting, a principle still in effect today for God's called-out ones. In post-exilic times in Persia, God used concealed Jews (exampled by Mordecai and Esther) to ascend to levels of prominence on behalf of their people. Esther (her Persian name, a variety of Ishtar) and Mordecai (his Persian name, a variety of Marduk, a Babylonian deity) served as a kind of protective covering, enabling them to quietly carry on God's purpose. Paul applied the essence of Jeremiah's letter to Christians living in this present evil age, admonishing them to lead a quiet life, mind their own business, stay aloof from governmental affairs and set a godly example through diligence and good works.
Martin Collins assures us that we are not alone in our faith, but we have an overwhelming cloud of witnesses, both from the physical and spiritual realm. Christ's trial and crucifixion were not historical accidents, Rather, God prophesied both events in minute detail in Old Testament Scriptures. In the incident of Barabbas, the Scriptures amplify the message in quadraphonic sound. Barabbas, whose name means "the son of a man," likely represents all of us who have experienced redemption from death because of Christ. Pilate, who realized that Jesus was innocent, gave the mob the opportunity to request freedom for Jesus as one of his stratagems to free Him. However, the angry mob instead asked for the freedom of Barabbas, an insurrectionist, thief and murderer, a representative of every sinner who has ever lived. Barabbas must have considered himself "lucky" or perhaps was profoundly grateful to the man who died in his place. Like Barabbas, we also deserved to die, but do we consider ourselves lucky or are we profoundly grateful? Herod, Pilate , Pilate's wife, the thief in the cross, and the centurion knew that Christ was innocent, but the angry mob, filled with carnal nature could not countenance the gap between its lack of righteousness and the absolute sinlessness of the real Son of God. The Pharisees fabricated a half dozen false charges against Jesus to pull a bait- and switch con on Pilate, who ultimately submitted to the mob's demand that Jesus be crucified for 'blasphemy,' having declared Himself to be the Son of God, a claim corroborated as the truth by His own Father, His own testimony, angelic beings, shepherds in the fields, the four Gospels and many human witnesses who boldly risked their lives for their testimony—truly a great cloud of witnesses which we should seek to join
Martin Collins, reminding us that we, as followers of Christ, may suffer persecution, provides encouragement by reminding us we are promised boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit, making it unnecessary to prepare a response against the persecutors. When the laws of God conflict with the laws of man, civil disobedience is the only correct response, as was patterned by Peter, Paul, and the apostles, who boldly proclaimed Jesus' resurrection from the dead despite intimidations and threats from the religious establishment, terrified at losing their power base. The disciples knew, however, that with the power emanating from the Holy Spirit, the gates of hell could not prevail against their work. Peter was not in the least intimidated, boldly proclaiming to these religious leaders that: (1) they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, (2) Jesus rose from the dead, (3) the purpose of God was completed despite opposition and God's purpose alone will stand, and (4) Jesus is the only means of salvation, a statement which seems 'harsh' and 'intolerant' to most of the world. If we are following God, we will be compelled to disobey civil authority at some point. We cannot reclusively join a monastery nor should we become secular, cowardly assenting to evil laws, but we must fear God rather than man, righteously performing what God requires of us, realizing that our citizenship has been registered in Heaven. We should entrust ourselves to God for safe-keeping, realizing that the just shall live by faith.
Martin Collins, characterizing the scoffer as a dangerous mixture of pride, malice, ignorance, and shallowness with a high degree of combativeness, suggests that scoffers will increase exponentially as we approach the time of Jacob's trouble, the dreadful day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment upon mankind when evil will be utterly expunged forever. Peter warned of scoffers in the church, apostate tares, devoid of God's spirit, ridiculing the doctrine that Christ would return or doctrines of judgment, treating lightly those things we should take seriously. Apostates want to be able to live comfortably in their own sins. Peter assures us that God's Word is true, God's Word is consistent (the world is being reserved for fire as it was previously reserved for a cataclysmic flood following creation), and God's Word is consistent all the way through, focusing on a future day of judgment. God's good creation has been turned into a groaning creation, polluted and desecrated by man's horrific sins. The only reason God has not brought the destructive antics of mankind to an end earlier is that He is merciful and longsuffering, desiring all to repent and embrace salvation. In Peter's sermon on Pentecost, he explains Joel's prophecy of God's Spirit poured out on His saints, given to those who repent, with the expectation that this spiritual gift would be used to edify the Body of Christ—the Church. Peter encourages us with the assurance that, though the elements will burn with fervent heat, we will be given protection if we yield to God, allowing Him to carry out His will for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an administrative decision about care of the widows in the early Church (mentioned in Acts 6:1), suggests that dual languages and dual cultures (Greek and Hebrew) led to at a perceived "double standard" in the way welfare was distributed to Jewish and Hellenistic widows. The solution was to select deacons with leadership or organizational capabilities. These deacons were largely of Greek extraction. The necessary qualities of deacons are patterned on the servant-leadership model established by Jesus Christ; a deacon is a servant. Christ does not want His staff to exercise Gentile patterns of tyrannical, top-down leadership, but to humbly serve people without striving for greatness. Jesus taught His disciples how to be servants by washing their feet. Stephen proved himself one of the most effective witnesses, forgiving his enemies just as Christ had previously given the example. His recorded sermon proved a powerful witness outlining the connection of the Old Testament (Israel's History) to the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant, as well as launching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Throughout Israel's history, prophets have been persecuted; Moses had been rejected by his people. According to Stephen, the Jewish leaders had taken on the rebellious attitude of Joseph's brothers. They had murdered the prophets, resisting the Holy Spirit, and had not followed the Law of Moses (as they claimed to have done). The day of the physical temple, according to Stephen, had ended; God is omniscient and omnipotent, dwelling in all locations, choosing representatives from all peoples of the world. Stephen was full of faith, grace, power, light, scripture, and love. Jesus stood as an Advocate and Mediator for Stephen. He will do no less for us. God will, through His Holy Spirit, provide the extraordinary strength we need, giving us the power to be living sacrifices and true witnesses.
Every Christian understands what the Holy Spirit is, right? Wrong! Even long-time theologians admit in their commentaries that, in the end, the Spirit is an incomprehensible mystery to them. David Grabbe lays out some of the reasons for their confusion, showing that, if they would only believe the Bible, they could learn the truth about God's Spirit.
David Grabbe, reminding us that God's Holy Spirit is an integral part of Pentecost, clarifies some understanding about the term "spirit," a word which has been interpreted into 14 different words throughout the Scriptures. On Pentecost AD, God began to pour His Holy Spirit upon the Church, enabling His called-out people to receive the very essence of His Mind. Spirit refers to the intellectual part of man's center of reason, alternately referred to as heart and mind. In this context, spirit determines a mood and frame of mind. The world also has a spirit; it is the world's attitude. God's Holy Spirit refers to the mind of God/mind of Christ which is added to our human spirit, to create a sound mind, extinguishing fear with God's love, and giving us the power to achieve spiritual goals according to God's purpose for us and to witness for Him by thinking and acting as He does.
With great privilege comes great responsibility. The nation of Israel was clearly privileged, for God tells her, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). God says that because of His blessing and favor, Israel was to be a living testimony to Him and His sovereign power--a great responsibility indeed...
The Two Witnesses have once again become a hot topic in the churches of God. Richard Ritenbaugh narrows the field regarding who will fulfill the roles of these two end-time prophets, and uses Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4 to shed light on their early work and fundamental character.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the five parakletos sayings of Christ, affirms that the Holy Spirit is the essence, mind, and power of God and Christ in us, providing us assistance and counsel. Many of the definitions of parakletos, a verbal adjective in the masculine gender, connote distinctive legal or judicial dimensions: advocate, counselor, advisor, intercessor, mediator, or proxy. Many Old Testament figures served in the capacity of an intercessor for others before God. The apostle John, the other Gospel writers, and the apostle Paul emphatically declare that Jesus Christ, the Lord, is our intercessor or parakletos. Jesus describes the function of the Holy Spirit as 1) helper, 2) teacher, 3) witness (proof of Jesus living in us), 4) prosecutor (convicting of sin and prompting to righteousness), and 5) revealer and guide (making God real to us, preparing us for eternal life in God's Family).
Pentecost is known for its stupendous signs, particularly the display of power in Acts 2. David Grabbe shows that Pentecost teaches us of another, more personal witness: our own display of Christ's way of life in us.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the redemptive process, indicates that redemption obligates us to glorify God in our bodies and our spirit. Spiritually, we are literally owned by Christ and are duty bound to do what He asks. Hair length and clothing are outward indicators of a person's inner spiritual condition. Clothing serves as a testimony of what we are on the inside, reflecting our attitude and conduct. As Adam and Eve discovered, the intents of the heart cannot be hidden from God. Their clothing, consisting of sacrificed animal skins, to conceal their shame prefigures Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins. We advertise the contents of our hearts by what we wear. Unfortunately lust and sexual perversion fueled by discontentment drive the tastes of much the fashion industry. What we wear automatically influences our behavior. Like hair length, our clothing also indicates God ordained gender distinction.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Two Witnesses seem to have carte blanche authority from God to annihilate those who interfere with their work as well as power over weather patterns and natural elements in the spirit, power, and manner of Elijah and Moses. These miracles dramatize just how far mankind has turned from God. The lack or pollution of water signifies the lack or the defilement of God's Holy Spirit. The pattern of two witnesses (God often works in pairs) was established as a precedent from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 19:15), and is repeated many times throughout the scriptures.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the first major concern of the Two Witnesses will be directed to the church rather than to the world at large, expunging worldliness out of the church. Their work to the world will last 1260 days, 42 months, or three and one half years (Revelation 11: 2-3, 13:5). Christ will endow them with power to do miracles, to communicate or give testimony (evidence) to what they have seen about the Creator God, testifying against the evil of the world and the necessity for Christ's coming. The symbolism of the olive trees, lampstands and golden bowl in Zechariah 4:1-5 is connected to Revelation 1:20 and 2:1.
In beginning a series on the Two Witnesses, Richard Ritenbaugh, wary of previous abuses of prophecy, asserts that God wants us to recognize them as they occur or shortly after they have occurred. For individuals to cling dogmatically to an interpretation before the events happen has perennially led to debate and missing vital details. It is more important to know the prophecies than their interpretation. This sermon explores Revelation 10:8-10 and Ezekiel 2-3, focusing on the symbolism of eating the little book (ingesting God's Word) and its link to the ministry of the Two Witnesses of Jesus Christ.
In this Pentecost message and the conclusion for the "What Does God Really Want?" series, John Ritenbaugh insists that God's Spirit comes first before anyone is empowered to do anything. God's gifts are in reality tools to do His work. In every situation, God provides the gift before it is actually needed so that when it is needed, everything is prepared for the person to do as he has been commissioned to do. As God had handpicked Bezaleel and Aholiab, He knows exactly whom He wants to do His work and will empower that person with spiritual gifts to carry it out.
What is a witness? Martin Collins shows how the term was used in both Old and New Testaments. He also briefly covers the Two Witnesses and the everyday witness of a Christian.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the unique emphasis made by the apostle John in his gospel. Unlike the emphasis on Christ's humanity, shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John's depiction of Christ seems to be more spiritual, depicted in the image of the eagle, whose ability to soar, having keen eyesight and the ability to transport its offspring out of harm's way, gives Christ His proper God-dimension. John realized that he had been in the presence of God Incarnate—a Being indescribably transcendent?the very source of eternal life. Christ provides a model of how to live a godly life in the flesh, living life the way God lives it. Using His light, we can negotiate our way in this dark, hopeless world, finding eternal life and partaking of His divine nature.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
John Ritenbaugh refutes the erroneous belief that glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) constitutes a sign or condition of having received God's Holy Spirit. The dramatic manifestations in Acts 2 (cloven tongues of fire, rushing wind, and the miracle of speaking and hearing extant languages and dialects) were event specific, and not to be a perennial spectacle in so-called "Tarry meetings." Adherents to the Pentecostal movement try to mimic some of the superficial surface manifestations (noise, commotion, and unintelligible gibberish) rather than follow the teaching given on that day- including repentance, unconditional surrender of our will to God, and keeping His Commandments through the power of His Holy Spirit. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the power to subdue our carnality and live righteously) is dependent upon repentance and baptism. The ability to speak in tongues, although a legitimate spiritual gift for a very specific purpose, is not the identifying hallmark of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh explores the possibility that the book of Acts, in addition to its role in continuing and advancing the Gospel or Good News, could well have been assembled as an exculpatory trial document designed to vindicate the Apostle Paul and the early Church, demonstrating that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman Empire as Judaism had asserted. The book of Acts also serves as a conciliatory, unifying tool, endeavoring to heal breaches that had emerged in the church through rumor or gossip. A key theme of Acts (appearing more than 70 times) concerns the particulars of receiving and using God's Holy Spirit. Acts also provides insights on the Commission to the Church, the relationship of Jesus with His physical brothers, significant contributions of women in the Church, and the emerging roles, organizational patterns, and responsibilities of the disciples.
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
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