How to Fight Discouragement

Recently, I have received several questions from our web site on the subject of discouragement. One person writes, “I am an evangelist but I feel let down, not wanted?” Another writes, “I am really confused right now. Everybody I ask is going to give me a different answer and I don’t know which one is the right one.” One person asked multiple questions specifically on this subject: “What does the Bible say about discouragement? Is failure and discouragement the work of Satan or due to our disobedient and foolishness? How about those who strive to be good people yet fail in their life? Why do good Christians get discourage? What can we do to get rid of discouragement?” Having these statements and questions in mind, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about this subject.

Let’s note what discouragement is. Webster’s dictionary defines the word discouragement as the depravation of confidence, hope, or spirit. The obvious antonyms to discouragement are encouragement, edification, and exhortation. How can one be depraved of confidence, hope, or spirit? The answer to that question will help us understand how to battle discouragement itself.

One may be discouraged due to the influence of sin and Satan in one’s life (Matthew 13:39; Acts 10:38). When a person commits sin, he/she ought to feel guilty (because one is truly guilty) and be discouraged for doing such (Romans 3:19). Such discouragement is designed by God to aid one in coming to the conclusion that a sinful lifestyle is not the appropriate course of action to pursue. There are many today, however, who are discouraged in such a fashion, but fail to come to the appropriate conclusions regarding what to do. Instead of rejecting their sin and changing their lives, they choose to ease their consciences through “counselors” that persuade them to accept that their life choices are not truly evil. These seek to rationalize sinful behavior instead of confront and eliminate that behavior. Redefining good and evil may temporarily deal with discouragement, but ultimately this cannot provide the right solution (Isaiah 5:20). Those who do such end up continuing to be discouraged and wondering why they are in such a depressing situation. The sad answer is that it all began with their own sinful choices. The good news for this person is that one may repent, accept God’s standards for behavior, and have a happy life (Acts 26:18-20; Hebrews 10:22), however, such discouragement is not going to go away until one does so.

One may be discouraged due to a concerted effort on the part of another. Sometimes this effort is intentional and sometimes it is not. For example, a man may suggest an idea and another may intentionally discourage the idea because he doesn’t like it. On the other hand, someone may unintentionally discourage an idea by bringing up obstacles to the idea. It may not be the intention of this individual to squash the idea, but nonetheless, he can discourage the one who suggested it by so behaving. In such situations, the discouragement is not necessarily the fault of the individual who is discouraged (as it would be if sin were involved), but rather, it is due to the circumstances surrounding his personal confidence, hope, and spirit.

In the case of one who has been intentionally discouraged, one may fight such discouragement by prayer, pleading one’s case, trying again, or going at it in a different way. Just because we have been discouraged, doesn’t mean we have to quit in our efforts. Recall Jesus parable of the unjust judge who daily refused to hear a woman’s pleas, but because of her much pleading he eventually ruled on her behalf (Luke 18:2-5). Jesus said this parable was to teach us always to pray and never to faint.

In situations where the discouragement is not intentional, one should look for other explanations as opposed to assuming that the discourager merely does not want to help. Are we all working toward the same goal? If so, then we should view words that discourage in a positive light, not as destructive criticism, but constructive. Knowing that another’s intentions are not to discourage goes a long way toward battling personal discouragement. When we love our brethren, we “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Sometimes, however, there seems to be no one individual “cause” to discouragement. One simply gets discouraged due to the many pressures, stresses, and unfortunate downturns of unpredictable life. Sickness, layoffs, accidents, and even death, whether of near relatives or distance friends, can all take their toll on our personal optimism. Many times discouragement is not the result of one thing, but the combination of many things. What can the Christian do to fight this type of discouragement?

First, we should recognize that we always have reason to rejoice. Paul wrote from a prison cell “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). When we are suffering trials and temptations, the Christian is to rejoice (James 1:2, 3). Even in times of persecution, the attitude of the Christian is to be to rejoice (Matthew 5:10-12). It is encouraging to note that there is nothing that the Christian can do (as long as he is following Christ) that God cannot use for good (Romans 8:28). And as long as we are serving the Lord, then we can KNOW that our actions are profitable (1 Corinthians 15:58). With such things in mind, we can proclaim along with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Second, there is no such thing as failure with the faithful Christian. What we perceive as failure should be viewed with optimism, not pessimism. The old sayings are true: All sunshine makes a desert, and you’ve got to have a little rain to make the flowers grow! When we fail (and that failure is not associated with sin) we should look at that as an opportunity to grow and learn. Even failures that are associated with sin can be turned into something positive if we learn from those failures and cease to behave in the ways which lead us to those failures, i.e. we repent. Tom Landry was once overheard saying, “We don’t learn very much from the games that we win.” There is truth in that. Failure has many lessons to teach us, and we can grow stronger from it if we are open to allowing God’s truth to work in our lives. Don’t look at failures as “setbacks” look at failure as “opportunities!” Paul the apostle wrote, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Third, the best solution to discouragement is to get to work. I heard someone say a long time ago that dreading is worse than doing. If we allow our discouragement to stop us from doing the work that God has set before us to do, then we have allowed dread and discouragement to overcome our actions. However, if we say to ourselves, “Yes, I feel miserable right now, but I am going to do God’s work anyway,” then we will be able to overcome. We must not allow dreading to prevent us from doing. Hebrews 6:9-20 is a great passage to encourage us to continue faithfully in God’s work as we press toward the goal of heaven. If you want to get rid of discouragement, then get busy doing something productive in the kingdom of God! Visit the sick; go to a nursing home; volunteer at school; help some orphans; go on a mission campaign; sweep out the church building; anything that you can do for the Lord, do it!

Discouragement is a reality with which every Christian must deal, however, let us remember that we are not mere animals, that simply react to every stimulus with which we are presented; we are made in the image of God, and that means when confronted with discouragement, we have a choice. We can choose to mope, groan, and laze about, or we can choose to act positively toward such situations and resolve to be invigorated and seek to overcome the causes of our present distress. As Christians, let’s choose the later and not succumb to the former.

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The Little Ones

I heard a story this week about a little boy in Texas who is currently residing in a children’s home. When I inquired about why he was in the home, I was told that his Father placed him there on account of a new wife who didn’t want to be bothered by the boy. When I asked whether there were someone else who could take care of the child, I was told that the Father forbad the child being in any other situation other than the orphanage, even though, there were other relatives willing to care for the child and even adopt the child.

Sadly, this is just one story of neglect and abandonment of many that could be told in our nation today. If the tears and crying of the neglected children in our society were audible, we could cover our ears and still hear the cacophony of anguish louder than the loudest roar of pain. Paul the apostle listed such among the most repugnant of sins in Romans 1:31: “without natural affection.” No doubt you are asking, “How could someone be so calloused and cold as to do such a thing, to neglect and abandon one’s own offspring?” Well, it didn’t happen without other sinful influences. What are some of those influences?

First, there is disbelief in God. Jean Paul Sartre said, “If there is no God, then anything goes.” If there is no God, there is no right and wrong, no morality. Humanists and Atheists would have us believe that people can be good without God, but society has proved them wrong over the years. If individuals are not taught what is right and wrong, then they will not behave accordingly. They will simply act according to their own animal instincts and do what they “feel” is best to preserve their own existence. And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Second, there are those who tolerate the erosion of moral values. It used to be the case that when someone committed adultery, divorced, got pregnant out of wedlock, or committed any other act of shame, that they were shunned from society for their impenitent sins, and rightly so. But today, we have come to a point where it is a sin to point out someone else’s sin. Because of such a situation, evil has silenced good. And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Third, there is the attitude of selfishness. We live in a society that panders to the wants and desires of the individual. We don’t have time to serve others because we are too busy serving self. “Have it your way” has become our true national motto instead of “In God we trust.” And if we don’t get our way, then we just “take our ball and go home.” And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Fourth, there is failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions. We are a society that loves to place the blame on someone else instead of ourselves. We blame McDonald’s because we are fat. We blame the President because we are lazy. We blame the righteous, because we sin. It’s always someone else’s fault. And who suffers because of such an attitude? The little ones.

Jesus said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Who will “defend the fatherless” and “plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)? Not those who behave as outlined above. The only people we are hurting by our behavior today are our own children and do we think God will not notice? Brethren, awake to righteousness (1 Corinthians 15:34)!

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Observing All Things

In Matthew 28:18-20, we have these words: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20″teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”

The universality of this passage of scripture cannot be denied. Jesus begins with stating that “all authority” has been given to him. Not some authority, not authority over religious things only, not authority over morality only, but ALL authority. The life of the Christian is to be characterized as living under the authority of Christ. Indeed, that is the essence of what it means to make Jesus our Lord. This universal forever excludes the notion that one may be a Christian and still be a worldling.

What Jesus tells the disciples next is to make disciples of ALL the nations. Again, another universal command. Jesus didn’t say, make disciples of the nations that would hear you. He didn’t say not to worry about the nations that don’t have Bibles. Jesus said ALL nations. Again, the collective obligation of Jesus’ disciples is to spread the gospel to ALL nations. Not some, but all. Christianity is to be characterized as sending the gospel into the utmost reaches of the earth, because, every knee will bow. This universal forever excludes the notion that one may be a Christian, yet believe that all of those who have not heard the gospel will somehow be “saved.”

Jesus tells his followers how to make disciples. Baptizing them and teaching them. These words are, in the Greek language, participles. Unlike verbs, participles contain no time of their own. The action of the participles are carried out in the lead verb (“make disciples”). The inescapable conclusion is that one cannot be a disciple without having been taught and having been baptized. The description, however, of the things to be taught in this verse is indeed universal. Jesus said, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” It is incumbent upon us, as Christians, if we are going to respect the words of our Lord in the great commission, to teach those who would be Christians to observe ALL of the things that Jesus commanded. There can be no exceptions. This universal forever excludes the notion that we may observe some things that Jesus commanded, but other things we don’t have to observe (as some are suggesting today).

Now, I wish to point out a couple of distinctions here that we often fail to recognize in this passage. It doesn’t say, “teaching them all things that I have commanded.” Some mistakenly suggest that if we must make disciples by teaching, then we must teach them everything that Jesus commanded before they become Christians and that is simply impossible to do. But, it doesn’t say that we are to teach everything that is commanded, but to teach them to observe everything that is commanded. That can be done relatively quickly, by letting those who would become Christians know that they are to faithfully hold to the commands of Jesus in their life, as they continue to learn those commands, and that whatever may come, they are to always observe those things.

Another thing that the passage does not say: it doesn’t say “teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded.” It says, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This is a distinction upon which I wish to focus for the remainder of this article, namely, that Jesus didn’t tell us to “obey all things.” Neither did Jesus tell us to teach all things. Jesus told us to teach them to observe all things. Why make such distinctions?

Now, before we even get started, I’m not suggesting that because Jesus didn’t say that we have to “obey” that therefore we do not have to obey Jesus. Yes, we do have to obey if we want to be saved (Hebrews 5:9). However, there are some who ridicule the idea of obeying Jesus and say things such as “which commands are we supposed to obey?” And they point to things such as washing feet, the holy kiss, women wearing veils, and other things that indeed were commanded, yet obviously are not practiced today. Then these who so criticize very smugly conclude that there is something wrong with our hermeneutic because we do not obey these commands. I would like to point out the fallacy of this thinking.

Jesus said to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The word “observe” is not the same as the word obey. I must admit that if Jesus had said, “Obey all things,” then it would be impossible for me to do such, namely, because some commands in the Bible are given to women, and I am not a woman; I am a man. It would be impossible for me to obey the command, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). I simply cannot obey that command, but I can OBSERVE that command. I can respect the fact that God desires wives to submit to their husbands. I can teach that fact of the gospel to others. I can expect out of Christian women for them to obey this command. I cannot directly obey that command, but I can observe that command.

Now, having said this, I believe that we often use the word “obey” in the sense of “observe.” That is, often times in our desire to be pleasing to the Lord and to submit to His will and not our own, we tell others that they must “obey the Lord,” “keep the commandments,” and etc. Now, if one were to take such things to the extreme literal of their interpretation (as do our critical friends), then one must obviously come to the conclusion (as I have illustrated above) that such things are impossible to do. However, if one understand by “keep the commandments” and “obey the Lord” and other similar imperative statements, that we are saying exactly what Jesus told us to do in the great commission, namely, “observe all things,” then there can be no criticism. For one does not necessarily have to literally obey all things in order to observe all things.

Let me illustrate. For one to literally obey Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14), then I would of necessity have to wash someone else’s feet on a more or less regular basis. However, for me to observe this command, doesn’t necessarily imply that I must wash another’s feet. I may do that to observe this command, but I also may recognize that this example was one that Jesus took from the culture of the day, and that the lesson that Jesus was teaching was in regard to serving one another, not necessarily, specifically, washing one another’s feet. I can observe this command that Jesus gave by being a servant.

Another example, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Cor.16:20, 2 Cor.13:12, 1 Thess.5:26). In some parts of this country, we do not greet each other in such a fashion. Some parts do, I understand. However, for me to literally obey this command, then I must greet everyone with a holy kiss. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with doing that, but that was more or less a cultural practice of the day equivalent to our “hand shake.” I may not literally obey this command, but I can observe this command, by practicing the cultural equivalent of our day.

One more example: when we read in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 of Paul’s direction for women to wear a veil and for men not to wear coverings, the context clearly indicates this practice to be related to culture (as verse 16 indicates). To literally obey in this context would mean that women would have to wear veils in the assembly today and that men would not be allowed to cover their heads. However, to observe such, would not necessarily mean that we must do exactly what they do, but recognize the principle involved in this passage, namely, that women are to respect the authority of their husbands and whatever cultural practices indicate that respect and men are to respect their equality with one another particularly in reference to their head, Christ.

This distinction between “obey” and “observe” really makes all of the difference in the world in understanding how we can literally obey some things that are within the scriptures (such as “This do in remembrance of me,” 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25) whereas, we are not required to literally obey other things in the scripture (such as, “Salute one another with a holy kiss”). We are required to observe, but not necessarily, literally, obey. Understanding this preserves the integrity of the “Command, Example, Necessarily Inference” hermeneutic, because being obedient to commands becomes not so much literally obeying ALL commands, but without a doubt, observing ALL commands. “Obeying” examples, (examples can’t really be “obeyed” per se, but followed) means observing those examples. “Obeying” implications (the term “necessary inference” isn’t really correct, but implication is) means that we must observe the things that the scriptures imply. You can see, that one can definitely “observe” “commands, examples, and necessarily inferences” (or more accurately, 1) direct statements, 2) examples, and 3) implications) without being strictly, literally, obedient to them. So let’s observe what our Lord commanded be done in Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

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“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The above saying of Jesus introduces within its context the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees had devised their own system of salvation based not upon the teaching of scripture, but upon the doctrines and traditions of the rabbis. Jesus illustrates this in the next few verses by pointing out to those who were listening, “You have heard that it has been said�.” He uses this phrase in verses 23, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43. After he tells us the phrase that was heard in rabbinical Judaism, he then exposes the fallacy of the use of such phrases to create a system of one’s own righteousness. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of creating such a system.

Jesus calls attention to this system more than once and in Matthew 15 comes into direct conflict with it. The Scribes and Pharisees here ask Jesus why he transgressed “the tradition of the elders.” In response, Jesus asked them why they transgressed “the commandment of God because of your tradition?” Their concern was not to submit to the commandments of God, but to devise ways in which one could excuse oneself from such commandments. In this way, they created a righteousness of their own.

One should recognize in this that it was not so much a system of salvation that Jesus was rejecting, but rather, a system of salvation that was based upon traditions that set aside the word of God and that replaced the righteousness contained within the legitimate observance of God’s word with a righteousness devised by mere men. Romans 10:1-3 teaches this quite clearly. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”

There are those today who suggest that the idea of having ANY system whereby one may suggest that one is righteous, is an effort to establish one’s own righteousness. This, however, is NOT what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that the system of righteousness by which the Scribes and Pharisees proclaimed their own righteousness must be EXCEEDED for one to be righteous. And truly, we have a system of righteousness by which we must be saved today and which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Romans 1:16, 17 states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'” God’s righteousness today is found in the gospel.

To hear what many say today regarding the subject of righteousness, one would think that there is nothing that one may do, whether given by God or not, that is involved in making man righteous. Such is not the case. The fact of the matter is that one may be righteous when one follows the system of righteousness that has been given to us by God. John writes, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). It is not in the fact that one accepts God’s system of righteousness and follows it that one is self-righteous, but rather, when one invents/devises one’s own system of righteousness that one is self-righteous. This is what the Scribes and Pharisees did. They invented/devised their own system of righteousness.

There are those today who say that because we worship upon the first day of the week, partake of the Lord’s supper upon the first day of the week, refuse to use instruments of music, suggest that the church has a system of worship which she must do, that the church has an organization that we must observe, that the church has a mission which she must keep, and many other things�that because we demand that such things be practiced and observed, that we are creating a righteousness of our own, that we are creating a system of righteousness which God did not create. Such is not the case. In fact, it is just the opposite. The things that we demand that others observe and practice are things that are found within God’s word. In contrast, it is those who suggest that we NOT practice such things that set aside the word of God that they may keep their own tradition.

Where, within the scriptures, is it suggested that the Lord’s supper may, by the church, be observed upon any day other than the first day of the week? There is no such passage. However, those who suggest that we may so observe the supper state that it is due only to our “tradition” that the Lord’s supper be observed upon Sunday. What they fail to recognize was that the scriptures record that the Lord’s supper was observed by the church upon Sunday (Acts 20:7), and not upon any other day of the week. Those who suggest that we may observe the Lord’s supper upon some other day of the week, transgress the word of God to keep their own traditions.

Where, within the scriptures, is it suggested that singing, by the church, may be performed as accompanied by mechanical instruments of music? There is no such passage. However, those who suggest that we so sing without their accompaniment, suggest that it is only due to our “tradition” that we do not use the instrument. Again, these fail to recognize that the scriptures record that the church sang praises to God (1 Cor.14:15; Col.3:16) and that nowhere in scripture is it recorded that they played instruments. Those who suggest that we may sing praises to God as accompanied by the instrument transgress the word of God to keep their own traditions.

Example upon example could be multiplied to show that it is in actuality those who suggest that we abandon our scriptural practices who are seeking to transgress the word of God so that they can keep their own traditions. We wonder, who is seeking to establish their own righteousness and who is seeking to submit to the righteousness of God? If we desire for our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, then we will be satisfied with the answers that we find within the word of God, and not seek to supplant such answers with the traditions of men.

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Love and Loving God

When my wife and I got married close to thirteen years ago and my parents asked us why we wanted to get married, we replied, “because we love each other.” I will never forget the words that my dad told me that day. He said that we had a love, but that we really did not know what it meant to love each other, but that as the years went by, we would learn more and more of what it means to truly love one another. I confess that I did not completely understand what he meant at the time. However, thirteen years later, I think I am beginning to understand. Loving another person doesn’t just mean that you have “positive feelings” toward them all the time. It means that whatever feelings you do have for another person, whether those feelings are positive or negative, you do not forsake that other person; you remain steadfast, loyal, and true regardless of what comes your way, and always seek the best for that person (as God defines “best”) regardless of their circumstances.

This past week, I received e-mail from our web site in which the questioner stated, “I am not in love with my husband.” It was sad for me to read that statement. Part of the reason that such a statement is made is that people in our society today simply do not understand what the word “love” truly means. And so, when they stop having the “feelings” of love, then they assume that they no longer “love” someone. Such does not have to be the case. I don’t have tremendously wonderful feelings for my enemies, but I must love them nonetheless (Matthew 5:44-48). Could we not then love those who, while they do not engender the greatest of feelings, nevertheless are undoubtedly not our enemies? Surely if loving our enemies means being children of our Father in heaven, we can love those who are undoubtedly not our enemies.

Society, however, places a premium not upon this kind of love, but upon the kind of love that is defined by emotion only. If there is no emotion, then there is no love. It is no wonder that we see so many in our society today who seek for divorce due to “incompatibility.” They are “incompatible” because they do not want to be compatible; because they do not want to do what it really takes to love someone else. Jesus’ words on the subject ring loud and true, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). I’m convinced that the reason Jesus said this was because if we can love our enemies, then we can certainly love our spouse. There is, therefore, no excuse for divorce, save for the one Jesus himself gave (Matthew 19:9).

Not only, however, does society define love as mere emotion in the marriage relationship, but in many of our relationships today. One is said not to love his friend if he opposes something that his friend desires to have in his life and bad feelings result from that opposition. One is said not to be loving his fellow man if one points out wrong behavior and incorrect attitudes in another person, due to the negative feelings that one has as a result from having to face one’s own problems/mistakes. Even among those who claim to be Christians, if one does not project a positive, sappy, syrupy emotionalism toward his fellow Christian, then one is immediately labeled as being “unloving.”

This “unloving” label often comes as a result of someone pointing out that another is either not living right, or is incorrect in some point of doctrine or religious practice. However, in such a situation, the “unloving” label begs the question, “Should one love his fellow man above God?” The immediate answer to that is, of course, no (Mark 12:30). However, is this not, in essence, what one is saying in response to someone who is seeking to resolve incorrect beliefs or behavior? “If you make me feel bad about my spiritual condition, or practices, then you just don’t love me.” What about loving God first? The very fact that God demands that we love Him above all others means that there are going to be some whose feelings that we have to hurt in order to please God. It doesn’t mean that we intentionally want to hurt other people’s feelings, or that we even like to hurt other people’s feelings. It is merely a matter of doing what is right in the eyes of God.

One cannot sustain love as mere emotion and love God in the way that God demands that we love Him. Sooner or later, God’s will is going to come into conflict with those emotions. If we take, as our foundation, love to be mere emotion, we will end up compromising God’s will in the long run. However, if we understand that true love involves more than mere emotion, then when the emotions come, whether good or bad, we will stay with our commitment to God and His will. It is upon these grounds that Jesus can demand of us, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, see also 1 John 5:3).

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