Why I Want An Empty Manger

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I walked into one of my pastor-friends churches and saw the creepiest painting of Jesus ever – it totally freaked me out.  I think about the hilariousness of 21 Jump Street and Korean Jesus not having time for the white people’s problems because he was busy with Korean problems.  I watch Talladega Nights and think about Jesus singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd. And then I hear Megyn Kelly announcing that we all know that Jesus was white.

Megyn Kelly brought to light recently the issue of what Jesus looked like, and a recent Christianity Today article took the opportunity to propose the idea of even eliminating pictures of Jesus from Nativity scenes.

Truth is, Jesus wasn’t white or black or Sioux or Korean – he was Jewish.  How tall was he? I haven’t the slightest idea.  I guess we could do some archaeological digs and find the median height of males in the first century Middle East, but what if he was taller or shorter than the average guy?  We could depict him with curly sideburns, but what if he cut his off?

My point in all of these questions is that we do not know what Jesus looked like, and any attempt to depict him is going to go wrong somewhere.  But what if we did know what he looked like – if we could know for certain exactly what color skin tone and precisely what kind of facial structure he had?  I still think we’re off base trying to depict God.

We could depict him as a little baby, but is he?  We could put him on the cross, but is he still there?

Every time we depict Jesus, we are selling him far short.  When we make him a little baby in the Nativity scene, we can carry him around the house and put little baby Jesus in the manger and maybe even drop him on the floor.  If you have an inside dog, you might run the risk of something awful happening to Jesus.  Isn’t that why the story of Dagon is so funny and informative? (1 Sam. 5:1-4) The simple truth that we can all recognize is that that little baby Jesus isn’t Jesus at all.  But what do the kids say? Or for that matter, what do the parents say? “Bring little baby Jesus in here and put him next to Mary and Joseph.” So if we’re going to talk about him that way in real life, it’s hard for me to say that he’s not a little idol.

I’m fine with making statues of the rest of the Nativity scene or art that depicts whatever other Christian figure. I don’t mind having two white magi and one black one.  Because I don’t care if we get that wrong.  They’re not God, and making mistakes about them is fine.  But selling God short is wrong.

And we will always sell God short when we make art or figurines out of him.  That helpless baby in the manger cast out demons as a grown man.  That sad, sullen man on the cross rose again three days later – he’s not suffering there anymore, he’s reigning in heaven, ready to come back soon.

One of my friends said that we should think of Jesus as a baby during this Christmas season.  I don’t totally disagree, but I disagree with the wording.  We shouldn’t think of him as a baby, we should think of him as having been a baby.  We shouldn’t think of Jesus as being on the cross, we should think of him as having been on the cross. If we think of him as a baby right now, if we think of him as being on the cross right now, we think about him incorrectly.  He’s neither of those.  Jesus was born as a baby, Jesus was on the cross, but he’s neither of those now – He’s reigning in heaven.

Another issue I have is something that I have encountered here in Latin America.  Latinos talk about “Diosito” (Little God or God in the diminutive) and ask for things from “niño Dios.” They’re not just talking about that time long ago when Jesus was a baby – they’re talking about Jesus now as if he were still in diapers.  As if he were some sweet little helpless babe throwing up on Mary.  I’m not saying he didn’t do those things, I’m saying that he’s not doing them now.  We need to read and hear the stories in their gory detail for sure, but we do not need to turn Jesus into a cuddly little baby that we can carry around the house.  The Nativity scene and the crucifix only play into this idea even more.

This all comes back to the commandment though.  I doubt I would have ever even considered this idea if I hadn’t read the 10 commandments and what happened in the story of the golden calf.  We are commanded not to make or worship any image or idol to worship on things in heaven or earth.  I think that includes both God the Father as a spirit and Jesus as the man on earth.  And when did Israel disobey? In Exodus 32, Aaron made a golden calf for the people and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” He didn’t make a calf and ask the people to worship the God of another nation, he made a wrong image of the God who is real. That calf didn’t lead them out of Egypt, the God of heaven who is spirit did that.

Not only is the issue about what we are commanded not to do, there is also the example of the whole Bible.  I have seen no positive examples of images of God in the Bible but only stories of the sin of false idols. Even Gideon’s ephod turned into sin for the people.

With clear prohibitions against making idols and no positive examples of images of God, I simply cannot see any reason why we should incorporate them into our worship or even our decoration.  Sure, there may be plenty of philosophical reasons why it would be helpful, but are there any biblical justifications for depicting God? Until I see more than human reasons why we need to see him, I’m going to keep trusting in the Jesus I read about in the Word.

Preaching Jesus From the OT

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Too often, we fall into the trap of reading the Old Testament like a first-century Jew. I’ve even had seminary professors promote the idea as the proper method of understanding it. However, what we often forget is that the Old Testament is not the end of the story, that there is more of God’s Word to help us understand it, and that reading the OT like the average first-century Jew might just lead us to reject the Messiah. Is there a better way to read it?
In Acts 7, Stephen defended himself against the Jews and in the process teaches us about the true meaning of the Old Testament. Some Jews out of jealousy for the miracles he was performing and the wisdom with which he explained the Scriptures had accused him of speaking against the holy place, the law, and Moses. His defense has a great deal to teach us about how we should read the Old Testament and understand these fundamental ideas.
Stephen answered the accusation of having spoken against the holy place in two ways – speaking of the land of Israel and of the temple. In defending his theology of the land, he explained how God had met and spoken with the patriarchs outside of the Promised Land and the God was not confined to a certain country. His treatment of the temple is even more illuminating in helping us to read the Old Testament better.
The Jews of Jesus’ day held the temple in extremely high esteem. They were beside themselves when they thought that Jesus or anybody else said something against it, as if saying something against the temple were blasphemy. But the question isn’t “How did Jews view the temple” but rather “How should we view the temple?”
In order to view the temple rightly, we have to understand that God never asked for it to be built. God had specifically told Moses and the Israelites to build the tabernacle (or tent), but the temple doesn’t come on the scene until much later in the time of David. David loved God and didn’t want to see the house of God humiliated by being in a lowly tent while David lived in a nice house, so he asked to build the temple, or a house for God. The importance to biblical interpretation of God’s answer to David can hardly be understated.

The Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. … And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. 2 Samuel 7:11-16

As Stephen explains in Acts 7, while Solomon built the temple, God does not live in houses made by human hands. Solomon and his temple are not the fulfillment of the promise to David. The promise of God building a house, establishing a kingdom, is only fulfilled in Jesus. David’s earthly kingdom was never “established forever.” Instead, God always had in mind his Messiah, the coming one that had been promised to Eve, Abraham, Moses, and Judah. This was not a new idea to Stephen, but was exactly what God had promised in David in Samuel and explained in Isaiah 66:1-2.
We simply cannot understand what God or the writer of Samuel meant in the promise to David apart from the Messiah. The Old Testament leads us through many people and events that at first appear to be the fulfillment of promises about the Messiah. But what we eventually find out is that all of these “partial fulfillments” are really indications that the promise has not yet been fulfilled but is waiting on the Messiah. When we read the story of Solomon building the temple, we might at first think that he is the fulfillment of this promise. But as we continue to read the Old Testament, we find out that God had something bigger and better than Solomon in mind the whole time.

Moses and the Law

They had also accused Stephen of speaking against Moses and the Law. Once again, though, it was the unbelieving Jews who were wrong about both. They were trying to understand Moses apart from the One that Moses wrote about. Stephen explained to them that it was actually the general practice of the physical sons of Abraham to reject Moses and the Law. They rejected him in Egypt, in the wilderness multiple times, and they continually rejected the Law during their time in Israel.
God had promised to bring Israel a prophet like Moses who would know God face to face. God told Israel that they needed to listen to and obey that prophet. But just like they had rejected Moses, the majority of Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
The Law is filled with prophecies of the coming Messiah, from Genesis 3 to the end of Deuteronomy where it tells us that even after Joshua (who some might have assumed was the prophet like Moses), there still had not been a prophet like Moses. In order for us to understand the Law and the rest of the Old Testament, we have to be looking forward to Jesus.
They accused Stephen of speaking against the temple and Moses, but Stephen showed them (and Acts shows us) the true meaning of both. The temple was not something to be worshipped, but rather the God who sanctified it. Moses was not the savior, just his forerunner. Neither of these was the end – God had always intended these to point toward Jesus.
If we want to understand the Old Testament, we can try to read it like a first century Jew, or we can read it like Jesus, Paul, and Stephen read it. We need to know that God’s plan was always Jesus – and He told us all about it in the Old Testament.

Hope In The Face Of Tragedy

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I’m a long ways away from home right now, but I am truly hurt by the devastation from the tornados in Oklahoma this week. I wish I could be there to help and comfort and put life back together. I wish I’d done more when this happened in ’99. I hurt that my friends and family hurt.
As I was praying for the people of Oklahoma last night, I wished God had never allowed this to happen. I wished that the world was a better place where people didn’t have to go through things like this. But then I remembered that this world is not my home. I realized that this life will always be filled with suffering and sadness, but that there is something better waiting for me. I took comfort in two things: knowing that God is still good and in control, and that I have a true home, a better home, a pain free home in heaven awaiting me.
I don’t want to try to explain God’s reasoning for this. I know He has them, and I know they are good. What helps me most in times like these is knowing that it won’t always be this way. Bad things happen, but God works them for good to those who love him. (Rom. 8:28) In Revelation, things get worse and worse at the end, but the end of this world is not the end of the story.

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:1-5)

There is hope in dark times. There is eternal life that we are looking forward to. That’s the greatest news ever – believers have eternity in the presence of the Creator waiting for them after death, no matter how tragic their death may be. That’s why I’m so excited to see people reaching out in Oklahoma to rescue and take care of those in need – many of them are doing it in the name of Jesus. We have been rescued from our sin, and now we will do whatever we can to serve our Savior and rescue those who are just like we were.

Jason Collins, Chris Broussard, and the Intolerance of Jesus

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For those of you non-sports fans, Tim Tebow was released yesterday and NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay. I’ll save the Tebow trouble for another day.
Collins is the first active professional men’s athlete in the States to come out of the closet before his playing days were over, and he has been widely praised for his heroism and standing up for the gay community.
But then some crazy fundamentalist went and started spewing hate speech on Fox News. He said that he despised Collins and wished America would just get rid of all the gays.
Oops, that’s not what happened at all. An ESPN NBA commentator shared his views about where homosexuality fits with Christianity on a show designed to discuss topics about sports and athletes not directly tied to the score of the game. It’s called Outside the Lines, and its designed for discussions just like this. Check out the video here http://tinyurl.com/boeu8vp .
Broussard shared a gentle but firm Christian stance calling homosexual sex sin, just like any other form of sex outside of a one man-one woman marriage. He then went on to say that anyone who would continue in any lifestyle of sex outside of marriage would be living in open rebellion to God. By their fruits you will know them, and anyone displaying these fruits is showing that they are not a Christian. Is this any more intolerant than what our Savior said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
All in all, Broussard said that anyone who is living a homosexual lifestyle or any other lifestyle that encourages sex outside of marriage is showing that they are not a Christian. Nothing groundbreaking, but certainly not anything that should be said on TV. People are even wondering if the guy should be fired for this outlandish talk.
Broussard is getting killed in the media, and ESPN issued a short apology for his statements. Check this out on Yahoo! Sports. They have shown very clearly that there is plenty of room for tolerance on “alternative lifestyles” but not on biblical Christianity. The media in general has applauded a man for openly declaring his sin and shunned another for saying that to be a Christian the sinner would have to repent.
Sinners need to repent?!? I guess that’s the real problem. Anything is acceptable until it gets to that. But here’s the good news for me, Jason Collins, and every other sinner out there: “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God is in the business of saving sinners. I’m so glad He saved me – who do we all know that needs this salvation?

Witnessing to a Witness

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I had a Jehovah’s Witness come over to my house the last two weeks to talk with me.  I wish this was the story of how he got saved, but we’re still going to be praying for Gilberto.  His visit prompted my sermon in church last week about Jehovah’s Witnesses and how we as Christians can know that Jesus is truly God.  He’s not part God, He’s not God’s first creation.  He is God, YHWH, the Great I AM.

But how can I be so sure of this?  There are tons of Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims that thoroughly disagree.  While I’d love to address the others at some point, this post is focused on showing Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus is truly God because that is exactly what the Bible clearly teaches.

What’s really unfortunate is that this is not what the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible teaches.  Their Bible has been altered to include the same books as the Protestant Bible but with several important changes in the wording.  These could be chalked up to translation differences were it not for the systematic and intentional nature of the changes related to the divinity of Jesus.

Before we get to who Jesus is, we have to understand what the Bible says about God.  In Exodus 20, we are instructed to have no other gods but God.  In Deuteronomy 6, God tells Israel that YHWH is God, and that He is one.  There are not many true gods, only the one true God who created the world.  In Matthew 4, Jesus was being tempted by the Devil.  The last temptation was that Satan would give Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow down and worship him.  Jesus answered Satan, “Worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve.” There is one true God, and He alone is worthy of our worship.

Just a few chapters later in Matthew 14, Jesus walked on the water with Peter.  After seeing this miracle and Jesus calming the storm over the lake, the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus.  They did the same thing again in chapter 28 just before Jesus ascended into heaven – they worshiped Him.  “But I thought we were only supposed to worship God?” – says the astute listener.  This is exactly the point.  God is the only one worthy of worship.  It would be a sin to worship anyone else.  Therefore, if Jesus is worthy of worship, then he must be God.  He cannot be a lesser God, because he would not be worthy of the worship that only the one true God deserves, and that would also violate the teaching of Exodus and Deuteronomy.

While that may seem like a slam dunk case right there, with Witnesses it’s a bit more difficult.  They have Bibles that use different words when worship is directed at God the Father than when it is directed at Jesus.  (See v. 33 here where worship is changed to “did obeisance.”) The only solution I know of in this situation is to go to the source – the Greek text.  I don’t usually like this option, but with a Bible that has been intentionally altered to hide clear teachings, I don’t see a lot of other options.  The Greek word for all three of the Matthew passages is proskuneo (προσκυνέω).  It’s not necessary for you or the witness to study Greek to look at one of their interlinear Bibles and show them that we are forbidden to proskuneo to anyone other than God and that the disciples did proskuneo to Jesus and He accepted it.  Now back to English.

Other passages where people worship Jesus are the visit of the Magi and Jesus healing a blind man.  I would also look at passages like John 5:18, where Jesus is persecuted for claiming to be equal with God (which the Jehovah’s Witnesses say He is not) and John 10:28-30, where Jesus says that He and the Father are one.  One last but very important place to look is John 1:1, where the Bible very clearly states that the Word (Jesus) is God.  In this passage once again the New World Translation changes the wording to make Jesus a god and not simply God Himself.  This presents problems theologically with multiple gods and the commands of Exodus and Deuteronomy, as well as being completely against the clear understanding of the original Greek text.  I’m not here to give a Greek lesson, but if you have any questions, let me know.

What I really want in writing this is for my Christian friends to not fear Jehovah’s Witnesses but rather to engage them and share the good news with them.  There is truth that they desperately need.  Let’s love them and bring them the gospel that God loved us enough to come to earth and die for our sins.  He didn’t just make another son and send him to die – He loved us so much He did it Himself!

*Special thanks to Ronny Rogers for his work at Trinity Baptist Church of Norman, OK for presenting much of this material and so much more to all of us. May God bless him for his ministry.

Testificando a Los Testigos

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Ayer vino a mi casa un evangelista – pero él no tenía el evangelio. El vino con algo que parecía una Biblia, pero era una Biblia cambiada. El tenía una Biblia que su iglesia había cambiado – La Traducción Del Nuevo Mundo. Como muchos falsos profetas, el no creía que Jesucristo era Dios verdadero. Hablaba del conocimiento de Dios, pero él no conocía al Dios verdadero, porque estaba equivocado sobre Jesucristo.
El era parte de la iglesia de los Testigos de Jehová. Ellos son muy áctivos como evangelistas. Ellos les asombran a los evangélicos que no están listos con todos los versículos que han memorizado, y tratan de confundirles con muchas cosas que no son importantes. Les hablan de fiestas, de un cielo y un infierno diferente. Pero la cosa más importante es esto – ¿Quién es Jesucristo?
Su literatura que se llama La Atalaya habla de Jesucristo como una creación de Dios. Dijo que sí era Hijo de Dios, pero también así Adán era Hijo de Dios.
Muchas veces, ellos confunden los cristianos, y les causan dudar. Pero no tenemos que dudar. Cuando decimos “Jesús es Dios verdadero,” no estamos equivocados. Vamos a buscar dos historias bíblicas para contestar la pregunta “¿Quien es Jesús?”

La Tentación de Jesucristo

Jesucristo es el ejemplo perfecto. En todo esto, Jesús no pecó. Cuando el diablo lo tentaba, el siempre respondió con respuestas de la Biblia. Y nosotros podemos hacerlo también.
¿Que hizo Jesús cuando el diablo quería que Jesús lo adorara? El respondió que solo hay uno quien debemos adorar y servir. ¿Quién es? Dios, nada más. Solo adoremos y nos postramos ante Dios. No adoramos el diablo, ni un espíritu, ni un hombre bueno. Adoramos a Dios, nada más.

Jesús andaba por el agua

En esta historia, Jesús andaba por el agua con Pedro. Pedro empezó a dudar, pero Jesús lo salvó y después calmó la tormenta. Despues de haber visto eso, ¿que hicieron los discípulos? Lo adoraron.
¿Qué mostró Jesús en este historia? ¿Qué tipo de poder tiene Jesús?
El tiene poder sobre este mundo. No solo es un hombre bueno. El es más que un profeta. No solo hablaba de Dios. El es Dios. Y por eso, no necesitamos más. No necesitamos otros profetas con otros evangelios. Conocemos Jesucristo, quien es Dios verdadero.
Cuando Pablo empezó a caer en el agua, ¿Qué le dijo Jesús? “¡Hombre de poca fe! ¿Por qué dudaste?” No hay que dudar. Confiamos en Jesucristo, y el si puede porque él es todopoderoso.
¿Qué hicieron los discípulos después de que Jesús había caminado sobre el agua? Le adoraron y le dijeron: “Verdaderamente eres Hijo de Dios.” Los que encuentran a Jesús encuentran a Dios, y por eso le adoran.
Solo Jehová es digno de nuestro adoración. No debemos adorar a los otros. Pero los discípulos adoraron a Jesucristo, porque Jesús es digno de nuestro adoración. ¿Qué muestra esto sobre Jesús? Nos enseña que Jesús es Dios verdadero. Solo Jehová es digno de adoración, Jesús es digno de adoración, y por eso aprendemos que Jesús es Jehová y es Dios verdadero.
Y esto no es el único pasaje en que ellos adoraron a Jesús. ¿Conocen ustedes la historia de los reyes magos? Ellos vinieron a ver al niño Jesús y a ofrecerle regalos. Pero también hicieron otra cosa. Ellos vinieron a adorarlo. Después de haber sanado a un ciego, el ciego lo adoró también. Y después de la resurrección de Jesús, cuando él les mostró su poder sobre la muerte, los discípulos lo adoraron. Muchísimas veces recibió Jesús la adoración del hombre. La Biblia dice que debemos adorar solo a Dios. El solo es digno de recibir nuestras alabanzas. ¿Y que dicen todas estas historias de Jesús? Que él es digno de recibir alabanza. Que él es Dios verdadero. Y como el salvó a Pedro en el mar, él nos puede salvar por fe en su nombre.

*A veces es muy dificil hablar con los testigos de Jehova porque quieren buscar pasajas en sus Biblias, las cuales son cambiadas.  Hay otros metodos para compartirles el evangelico.  Seria necesario buscar pasajes del Antiguo Testamento que hablan de Jehova y mostrarles los lugares en que el Nuevo Testamento aplica estos pasajes a Jesucristo.  No es facil testificar a un testigo, pero son seres humanos con almas que necesitan a Jesucristo.  Por eso, hagamos lo que sea necesario para su salvación.

Whose 10 Commandments are Right?

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I was talking to a missionary in Mexico the other day and he mentioned that Catholics use a different set of 10 commandments than we use.  I was shocked (and didn’t believe him really) because I have been around Catholics all my life and had never heard anything about this.  I went home and did some research, and in fact he was right.  While most Protestants describe the first two commandments as “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make an idol to worship it,” Catholics since Augustine consider these to be one commandment and split the final Protestant commandment about coveting into two different prohibitions against coveting.

We could sit and argue all day about the numbering, but what really concerns me is the results.  I don’t care which is the historic numbering or whether some people think that Catholics are trying to hide something by “changing” the second commandment.  What I’m most worried about is the effect on obedience to the commandments, and especially how our Spanish-speaking Catholic friends are attempting to obey them.

I am not an expert on what Hispanic Catholics believe, but I have found two things very troubling when it comes to the 10 commandments.  The short form (I would assume the one that most people know) does not prohibit making graven images or bowing down and worshiping them.  If this exact thing were not a problem in Latin America, I wouldn’t care so much about the short form.  However, making idols, bowing down and worshiping them are extremely prevalent in Southern Mexico.  We can quibble about whether these people are paying homage to a saint or whatever other words you would like to use, but the truth is that many Catholics here are worshiping, praying and offering sacrifices to wooden images, all with the support of the Catholic Church.  I’m afraid many of them have never been told the long form of their first commandment, and therefore their religious practice plays out in what appears to be idol worship.

The other troubling item in the 10 commandment only applies to Hispanics.  That’s because the English version found online is significantly different (and much more biblically faithful) than the Spanish version.  Here’s the difference, straight from the Vatican: “Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day” vs. “Santificarás las fiestas.” Most Americans can probably tell the difference between these two after our two years of high school Spanish.  The short form of the 10 commandments in Spanish completely loses the idea of Sabbath rest in favor of keeping the fiestas holy.

This may not seem like that big of a deal until you understand what a Southern Mexican or Guatemalan thinks of when he hears “Santificarás las fiestas.” The church’s holy days may be a great reminder of a real biblical celebration in some countries, but around here it’s a little different.  A fiesta is likely to be for one of the apparitions of the Virgin or an extra-biblical saint.  And I have had Hispanic Catholics tell me straight from the horse’s mouth that they felt uncomfortable at the fiesta because they were forced to drink more alcohol than they wanted to.  They live with the idea that if they don’t get drunk enough, they are not good members of their community and are disobeying the church.  And the church promotes this idea through the blatant changing of the command to show that the Bible says that fiesta participation is mandatory.  That’s right – Catholics around here believe it is their religious duty to get drunk on holy days.  If they don’t, they’re violating the 10 commandments.

I’m not here pretending that I can reform the Catholic Church and get them to change their numbering of the commandments.  I do, however, see how the Spanish version of the 10 commandments is helping to support a system that keeps Hispanics in bondage to drunken fiestas and idol worship, all the while distracting them from the saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  After all, He’s in their Bibles too.

Why I Don’t Believe in Lucifer

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I have been working on putting together sets and lessons for Bible storying recently, and I had to make the decision about what to do with the creation of Satan and the angels. The traditional story that I grew up believing went something like this: God created the angels, and three of them were archangels. One of those, named Satan or Lucifer, wanted to be like God. His pride caused his fall, and God cast him out of heaven along with a third of the angels who followed him. Lucifer then was the mortal enemy to God, who was more powerful, but His ultimate victory over Lucifer seemed in doubt at times.

I remember one time in high school I was preparing a Bible study (scary thought) and went looking in the Bible to find the passages that talked about Lucifer so that I could retell the story that I knew with some proof-texts. I was really surprised when I couldn’t find anything in my Bible about Lucifer. I did some searching on the ancient internet and found out that there were a couple of passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel that talked about the history of Lucifer. I read the passages for myself and had absolutely no idea how they were talking about the Devil. I was glad that I had the internet there to explain to me why these two passages that I thought were about a king and a prince were really about Lucifer. I would have never figured that out on my own, and I happily took the internet’s advice and taught my lesson about the history of Satan.

I have several problems with the traditional story and with my own horrendous Bible study that even I didn’t understand. I’ll start off with my most basic problem:

1. The word Lucifer* is not in most people’s Bibles. That’s right, if you read your NIV or NASB or ESV Bible through in a year (a very good idea) you will not once encounter the name Lucifer in the text of Scripture. Your study notes may say something, but if you go straight by the Bible searching for Lucifer, you’re coming up empty. The only English Bibles I have found that use Lucifer are the King James and New King James Bible. The reason this is such a big deal to me is because it confuses Christians and discourages them from reading their Bibles. They go looking for God’s mortal enemy in the Bible and simply can’t find him! When we use the term Lucifer, we are creating an unnecessary barrier between people and God’s Word.

2. The traditional story gives Satan far too much credit. Truth is, there’s not a whole lot about Satan in the Bible, and even less about his life story. You’re never going to see him called an archangel, and the Bible is very clear that God never lost authority or control over Satan. The Devil may think he has a chance at winning, but the Bible consistently describes him as being accountable to God. In Job, he presents himself before God and attacks Job’s character, but can do nothing unless God sends him to do it. In Revelation he is bound by God until God wants to let him back out. He is certainly powerful, and clearly the leader of other powerful demonic beings. But he never has any mention of being better or more powerful than other angels. More importantly, he is nothing close to God.

3. Telling the traditional story of Satan makes us interpret our Bibles poorly. We have this preconceived notion about the way that the story is supposed to go, and we interpret all these passages in light of that overall story. The problem with this is that if we were to go into the Bible knowing nothing about this story, most of us wouldn’t come up with it from Scripture. If we didn’t have a KJV, we’d never come up with the name Lucifer (unless we were reading from a Latin text, which I don’t suggest). We would lose the idea of Satan’s fall from heaven, since this idea is based on several passages which have no indication that they are talking about something that happened thousands of years earlier. Instead, we would have the consistent picture of Satan as being stronger than our flesh, but sad and weak in the presence of God, who has to give him permission and consistently makes him look foolish. We wouldn’t see him as God’s mortal enemy, but the sinner for whom Hell was designed as punishment. If we just read the Bible, we’d know that Satan is the loser, and he always will be.

When I have to teach on Satan, I have fewer passages to teach on than some other people. I have a less complete story to tell, less details, less biographical information. But in truth, I think that’s okay. If I’m going to teach someone about the Bible for an hour, Satan doesn’t deserve 30 minutes. He probably ought to get about a minute, with the emphasis being on God and his perfection, man and his sinfulness, and the good news of Jesus Christ. Satan’s real, but he’s not that great.

*Notes on important passages

Isaiah 14 – The text specifically says that it is addressed to the king of Babylon, a real historical person in a real historical place. There are several indications that this is talking about a man, with no indication that a non-human spirit is in view. Verse 12 calls the king the Hebrew word heylel, meaning day star. The first Latin translation translated this lucifer, meaning either star or shining one. This was then taken as a proper name, hence one of our English names for Satan being Lucifer. However, we should not use this term since we are not generally in the habit of speaking Latin. Using Hebrew terms for the Old Testament or Greek for the New is one thing, but Latin for the Old Testament just doesn’t make sense.

Ezekiel 28 – The primary reason to take this text as referring to Satan is that it refers to the king of Tyre as having been in Eden. The only ones in Eden were Adam, Eve, and Satan in the serpent, so the logic is that it must be calling him Satan. However, a better understanding is that God is comparing the king of Tyre’s destruction to Adam being cast out of Eden. The multiple references to pride in his trade (Tyre was a major shipping port) and the fact that he is called a man, a prince, and a king all point to this not having a hidden reference to Satan, but rather being simply about a historical person like all the prophecies around it.

Luke 10 – This is often taken as Jesus describing the prehistoric fall of Satan. While this could be true, we have no textual reason for the disciples to talk about what happened last week and Jesus to answer randomly with what happened 4,000 years before. Instead, Jesus is saying that as the disciples preached and healed, He saw Satan’s kingdom being defeated.

Revelation 12 – Once again, Satan is being thrown down from heaven. Revelation is generally talking about what happens in the end times, except for the first couple of chapters written to individual churches about their current situations. In chapter 12, there are three possibilities. 1. This is referring to Satan’s prehistoric fall from heaven 2. This is talking about a battle yet to come in the end times 3. This is a timeless, symbolic word picture of Satan’s defeat. I don’t know whether 2 or 3 is more likely, but they are both far more reasonable exegetically than 1.

El Nacimiento de Nuevo

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Había un hombre de los fariseos que se llamaba Nicodemo, un principal entre los judíos. Este vino a Jesús de noche, y le dijo: Rabí, sabemos que has venido de Dios como maestro; porque nadie puede hacer estas señales que tú haces, si no está Dios con él. Respondió Jesús y le dijo: De cierto, de cierto te digo, que el que no naciere de nuevo, no puede ver el reino de Dios. Nicodemo le dijo: ¿Cómo puede un hombre nacer siendo viejo? ¿Puede acaso entrar por segunda vez en el vientre de su madre, y nacer? Respondió Jesús: De cierto, de cierto te digo, que el que no naciere de agua y del Espíritu, no puede entrar en el reino de Dios. Lo que es nacido de la carne, carne es; y lo que es nacido del Espíritu, espíritu es. No te maravilles de que te dije: Os es necesario nacer de nuevo. El viento sopla de donde quiere, y oyes su sonido; mas ni sabes de dónde viene, ni a dónde va; así es todo aquel que es nacido del Espíritu. Respondió Nicodemo y le dijo: ¿Cómo puede hacerse esto? Respondió Jesús y le dijo: ¿Eres tú maestro de Israel, y no sabes esto? De cierto, de cierto te digo, que lo que sabemos hablamos, y lo que hemos visto, testificamos; y no recibís nuestro testimonio. Si os he dicho cosas terrenales, y no creéis, ¿cómo creeréis si os dijere las celestiales? Nadie subió al cielo, sino el que descendió del cielo; el Hijo del Hombre, que está en el cielo. Y como Moisés levantó la serpiente en el desierto, así es necesario que el Hijo del Hombre sea levantado, para que todo aquel que en él cree, no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna. Porque de tal manera amó Dios al mundo, que ha dado a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo aquel que en él cree, no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna. Juan 3:1-16

Este pasaje nos ayuda mucho para que entendamos como podemos ver el reino de Dios y como podemos obtener la vida eterna. Pero al principio de esta historia, también nos dice de las personas que no entrarán al reino de Dios.

Nicodemo era un hombre de los Fariseos. Es decir, era un hombre religioso. El creía que la Biblia era la palabra de Dios. Pero ¿Qué le dijo Jesucristo? ¿Le dijo que entrara en el paraíso? No, Jesús le dijo que necesitaba un cambio, un cambio de alma, un cambio de corazón. “El que no nace de nuevo no puede ver el reino de Dios.” Jesús no lo alabó por su religiosidad, ni sus diezmos, ni su asistencia al templo. Jesús le contestó que era necesario un cambio. Le dijo que era necesario que fuera hombre nuevo. Y cuando Jesús le salva, es lo que pasa. El crea un hombre nuevo, un alma justificada que puede conocer a Dios.

En versículo 5, Jesús le dijo a Nicodemo que era necesario nacer de agua y el Espíritu. En este versículo, Jesús mira detrás al Antiguo Testamento, al libro de Ezequiel. En el capítulo 36 de Ezequiel, el profeta habló de este nacimiento de nuevo. Dios nos prometió que nos daría su Espíritu Santo, que nos limpiaría de todos nuestros pecados. Jesucristo le dijo a Nicodemo que sí Dios no le limpiara y no le diera su Espíritu, la persona no vería el paraíso.

Pero ¿Cómo podemos ser nacidos de nuevo? Es una cosa que hace el Espíritu, y es por medio de la cruz de Jesucristo. “Es necesario que el Hijo del Hombre sea levantado.” Es por nuestra salvación, por nuestra vida que necesitaba Jesucristo venir al mundo e ir a la cruz. Y porque Jesús pagó el precio de nuestros pecados, nosotros podemos estar en la familia de Dios, amigos de Dios. Merecemos la ira de Dios, pero Jesús la tomó cuando sufrió en la cruz. Y por eso podemos ser perdonados de nuestros pecados.

Pero, ¿Qué es necesario que yo haga? Leímos otra vez los versículos 14-16.

Y como Moisés levantó la serpiente en el desierto, así es necesario que el Hijo del Hombre sea levantado, para que todo aquel que en él cree, no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna.

¿Quien tendría la vida eterna? Los que creen en Jesucristo. La Biblia no dice que todos que tienen el nombre “cristiano” van al cielo. No dice que los que son muy religiosos, como Nicodemo, van al cielo. Dice que los creyentes en Jesucristo que han nacido de nuevo obtienen la vida eterna.

Y usted, ¿qué va a hacer? ¿Va usted a seguir rezando, asistiendo la iglesia para aumentar a sus hechos buenos? No vale nada sin el nacimiento de nuevo. ¿Va a creer en sí mismo, en sus propios hechos para ir al cielo? No hay persona que merezca la vida eterna. Dice el libro de Romanos capítulo 3 que todos pecamos y estamos destituidos de la gloria de Dios. El único en el que debemos confiar es Cristo Jesús. “Porque de tal manera amó Dos al mundo, que dio a su hijo unigénito, para que todo aquel que cree en él, no se pierda, más tenga vida eterna.”

Civil Rights, Historical Hypotheticals, and Fautly Logic

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I’ve noticed a growing trend in Civil Rights discussions as I’ve read the news, seen comments on my wife’s website, and now even on my own website. Many people tend to lump anything in the conservative realm of political and/or religious thought in with whatever sentiments they have about past conservatives, whether the two have anything to do with each other or not.

Historical Hypotheticals

For example, I’m very conservative on gender roles by today’s standards. I believe that men and women have different roles in the home. This causes many to throw me in with a negative conservative they think of from the past. Since I am what they consider conservative about this issue, they figure I probably beat my wife before I go to preach on Sunday morning. If my wife then tries to give me constructive criticism about my sermon, I probably beat her again.
I’m also one of those crazy right-wingers politically who thinks that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Since I hold that view and therefore deny the civil right of marriage to same-sex couples, I’m pretty much the same in some people’s eyes to the right-wingers who thought that African Americans were less than human. In fact, they assume that if I had been alive in the 1850’s, I would have promoted the idea that the Bible supports slavery. If I had been alive in the early 1900’s, I would have supported prohibition.

Why Not Just Take Me At My Word?

But here’s reality – I wasn’t alive during the time of American Slavery. I wasn’t there for prohibition or the Roe v. Wade decision. I was born in ’83, and I have very strong opinions about a great many religious and political issues, past and present.
So instead of trying to figure out what I would have done if I lived in a time that I never lived in, why not just take me at my word. The Bible teaches that humans are made in the image of God, and that masters should respect their slaves. Therefore, knowing what I do about American slavery, I can strongly say that it was a grave sin that I am so thankful no longer exists in my country.
I also am not convinced that we should try to completely moralize our society, so I don’t see much point in prohibition. I think women and men are created equal and have equal levels of intelligence, so I’m glad that men and women both have the right to vote. I don’t believe (like many did) that there are different levels of worth and intelligence among whites and blacks, so I am so thankful for the results gained from the Civil Rights movements.
Just because there were some Christians among the many who were on the wrong side of these issues doesn’t mean that I would have done the same. Just because there are some Christians on the right side of an issue today doesn’t mean that I’m on the same side as them either.
In fact, I consider myself as a conservative Christian to be fighting against the liberals on the most important Civil Rights issue of our day. Women are being massacred by the millions, and it appears to be the liberals who are fighting to protect this institution of torture and death. Abortion in the United States is a Civil Rights issue. The issue is whether or not unborn baby boys and girls have the same right to life that their mothers and fathers do. And I will continue to support their rights from those who are taking them away.
See, just because you’re a liberal doesn’t mean you have a monopoly on Civil Rights. Just because a Baptist in Kansas today or in Georgia in 1950 was wrong about Civil Rights doesn’t mean that I agree with them or that all of my political thoughts are backward simply because I’m a Baptist from the Bible Belt. Evaluate my thoughts against the Bible and common sense, not against what you think I would have done in a situation I’ve never been in.

Women in Combat

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I’ve heard a bit about the women in combat issue recently, and thought I’d throw in my two pesos.
The issue that seems to be at stake here is equality. If women want to be involved in military combat, they should have the same rights as men. It is an obvious outgrowth of the feminist movement. Many men and women are pushing for the disappearance of gender roles, and in the process are denying that men and women should be treated or thought of as being different at all.
Before touching on women’s equality, I just want to mention a few problems with women in combat.
Women will lose rights by gaining the right to participate in combat. If women are included in combat, how long is it until they lose the right to be exempt from the draft? So many of our rights that we take for granted go out the window when the draft comes into play. Do the people who are pro-women in combat want more rights for women, or less?
Women have different hygiene issues than men. It is not as simple as just making the rules the same for everybody. Men’s and women’s bathroom needs require different facilities and often different clothing to accommodate. There is also the issue of what happens to women’s bodies once a month. A combat situation out in the middle of nowhere doesn’t seem to fit very well with female hygiene. The female body is simply not the same as the male body.
What will the military do about strength requirements? Will they have different sets of strength standards for men and women? If so, this does not seem to be bringing equality to the sexes, but rather reinforces inequality.
The problems of sexual harassment seem so obvious that they could go without discussion, but apparently that’s not the case. I saw a woman post on Facebook the other day about the problem of men and women in combat needing to undress together: “what’s the big deal, they’re just bodies!” I imagine the following scenario would be the “big deal”: men and women for some reason are forced to change together, men see a woman undress, and at least one of them has something to say (or worse, wants to do something) about it. If there were 30 men in this situation who have been separated from their wives or girlfriends, you can’t tell me that at least one of them won’t do something inappropriate. Is this really worth it for the women who now “get the privilege of being involved in combat?”

Those may be problems, but we’re just trying to be fair, right? For many of us, we fail to understand that there can be a difference between fairness and common sense. We also forget that being different in some things doesn’t necessarily mean a difference in value.
Exclusivity based on physical characteristics is inherent in the military, even among men. Tall men can’t be on submarines or be fighter pilots. Fat men shouldn’t be Marines. Scrawny guys can’t be Army Rangers. Some of these things are genetic and exclude people from the military. That’s not sexist, it’s just real life.
Equality vs. sameness
Fight as we may, men and women are different. They are not the same. We shouldn’t be fighting for sameness, which doesn’t exist, but equality. Equal value, equal pay for equal work. We shouldn’t be fighting for a man’s right to give birth or a woman’s right to be in combat.
1 Peter 3 talks about gender roles in a way that shows us that God views men and women as being different, yet reminds men that women are “fellow heirs of the grace of life.” Women must be respected as equal human beings for whom Christ died. That does not stop the Holy Spirit from speaking through Peter to set up gender roles. Just because I am not a soldier does not mean I am a less valuable citizen. Just because women shouldn’t be in combat doesn’t mean they are less valuable either.
“In the beginning, God made them male and female.” These differences are created by God, not some result of sin that we should try to overcome.

Magical Prayers and Holy Water

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I was in a Christian bookstore the other day looking for some tracts to give people after I share the gospel with them. A lot of careful consideration is necessary when picking these out, especially in Spanish. Some were better than others, but I was very sad to see a certain tract. It more or less had the gospel in it, but when it got to the end and called people to salvation, I was truly appalled at both the spirit and the wording of the tract. “If you want to go to heaven, recite the following prayer …” Shocked, appalled, saddened – there are far too many negative words I have to describe how I felt when I read that tract.

Later that night, I was watching Lost with my wife. (I know I’m running several years behind – that show is crazy!) Charlie was freaking out about Claire’s baby and how he could protect him. After talking to a priest, he realized what he had to do. The only way to protect the baby was to baptize him.

I was struck by the strange similarity of these two rituals. One of them is the unfortunate misunderstanding of many in my own denomination. The other is in fact the teaching and popular understanding of the church I was baptized into when I was a baby. What did they have in common? They were both magical ways of ensuring people go to heaven. These both come from Christian traditions, and neither of them is Biblical or demonstrates the true gospel of Jesus.

If you’re in a Baptist church, you’ve probably heard a call to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer.” I think the Sinner’s Prayer is great. If someone is repenting of their sins and trusting in Jesus, it only seems appropriate that they would pray something like that. The problem comes when we treat it like a magical incantation: “If you want to go to heaven, just recite this prayer.” You don’t actually have to have faith in Jesus, repent of your sins, or commit to Him as your Lord. You just have to say the right words. Unfortunately, I have yet to encounter this secret passphrase into heaven anywhere in the Bible. Hopefully I didn’t pray the wrong words when I got saved!

Catholic baptism can be the same way. I know I’m drawing my illustration from a TV show, but the official teaching of the church shows that Lost wasn’t that far off base. The cold hard fact is that Catholic baptism does not require true faith. No one involved needs to be a true believer for baptism to be effective. If it turns out that the priest was not a true believer, that doesn’t nullify the baptism. If the parents aren’t believers, it’s still okay. And if the baby dies after baptism but before faith, his baptism has ensured salvation. (I do know that Catholics have many official and unofficial beliefs about things that may precede heaven, but heaven will be the eventual outcome of the child in this situation) In the end, baptism serves as a magical way to ensure entrance into heaven for your child.

The biggest problem with both of these magical rites that get people into heaven is that they are not Biblical. I think the Sinner’s Prayer is great; same with Baptism (that’s why I’ve had it twice!). I do not, however, believe that either of these is a pass into heaven. They both ignore what the Bible says about salvation in favor of easy rituals that humans can perform.

Salvation is by grace and is not a result of human effort. Salvation is by faith and cannot be achieved by works. There is no prayer or ritual we can do to get into heaven. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

There is no way to heaven without faith. (Heb. 11:6) Both of these practices have come out of years of relying on what works; people forgot to compare these practices with the Bible and instead compared them with what this pastor or that priest said and did. We have God’s Word – let’s use it to evaluate what we think and do.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

I’m not trying to pick on Catholics any more than I am on Baptists. I want us to watch out for tricking people into thinking that they are saved when they have never actually been born again. There are practices like these in both denominations that obscure the Gospel. What I really want is for us to proclaim the good news that God came to earth, died for sins, and rose three days later. If men will repent of their sins, trusting and turning to Jesus, He will save them. But magical incantations just won’t cut it.

*Below are some quotes from the Catechism that demonstrate that the Catholic Church does in fact teach that Baptism has the power to save someone who does not have faith. Despite other quotes clearly to the contrary in the same document, Baptism is regarded as effective for salvation for a child who never does believe in this life. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a1.htm

“(Baptism) signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity” (1239)

“The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” (1250)

“By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.” (1263)

If God Catches Me Drinking When I Die, Will I Go to Hell?

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I was riding in a taxi last week in Mexico and talking to my taxi driver.  I like to try to share the gospel with taxi drivers here, since they’re stuck with me until I get to wherever we’re going.  I found out that he belonged to a Seventh-day Adventist church here.  Not knowing much about Adventists, I asked him a few questions.  Everything seemed fine when I asked him what it takes for a person to go to heaven.  He simply and clearly said that you need to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus.  However, as I continued to talk to him, several things troubled me.

When we talked about what repentance was, we both agreed that it meant turning from your former lifestyle of sin and humbly asking Jesus for forgiveness.  However, what Miguel described in practical, non-theological terms was something quite different than what I expected.  “For example, if you were to die smoking or drinking, you have not truly repented and will go to hell.  You may say you believe in Jesus, but you have shown that you truly don’t.”  I was shocked – and I don’t even smoke or drink!

Miguel’s view of salvation was one that seemed to imply that if a person “believed in Jesus” and later committed the same sin that they had (in his view) pretended to repent of, his repentance was false and his salvation had never really happened.  But what does the Bible say about this?

The first thing that came to my mind was the story of Peter.  When I read the Bible, it seems that Peter was saved some time around his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (Mt. 16:16) After this clear statement of faith (not to mention his lifestyle of giving up everything to follow Jesus), Peter was still not the perfect saint that we would expect him to be.  He denied Jesus multiple times during Jesus’ time of suffering, swearing that he did not know Him. (Lk. 22) Even if we were to say that Peter’s sinless life as a believer did not begin until after Jesus’ resurrection, we would still fail.  Peter continued to have problems, refusing to eat with non-Jewish believers (like me) until Paul had to publicly call him out. (Gal. 2:11-14) While I do not think Peter is someone to look down on, we would be rewriting Biblical history if we were to ignore the truth that this believer continued to struggle with sin from time to time.

In addition to the stories of imperfect followers of Christ, this view of salvation troubled me because it cheapened Christ’s sacrifice.  Miguel told me that he now had the “fear of God” since becoming an Adventist (from a Baptist).  When I listened to him though, it seemed like he was afraid, afraid that if he sinned God would take away his salvation.  He was sure that he had it, but wasn’t so sure that he could keep it.  When Christ died for sins, He did it once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. (1 Pt. 3:18) We weren’t righteous before, we were sick.  The reason that believers are righteous now is not our church attendance or perfect obedience to the law.  We have been declared righteous because of the perfect obedience of Jesus, because Jesus fulfilled the law.  “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly” Paul says.  But we are “justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.” (Gal. 2:21,16)

Finally, this view of salvation that is so dependent on my own obedience simply doesn’t mesh with the clear teaching of Jesus about where our salvation rests.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (Jn 10:27-29)

We don’t get to go to heaven because we’re good enough.  I have received the gift of eternal life because Jesus died for my sins, and only He is powerful enough to keep me saved.  That’s good news, because if salvation relied on me, I would have lost it several times by now.

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