Category Archives: BGCT

Texas Baptist Executive Board makes wise decision, yet heart-breaking.

Yesterday the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas face once again a very trying and difficult decision. In response to the actions of three prominent churches who decisively choice to affirm “same sex unions” and to be open and affirming to those who have chosen to openly live a homosexual lifestyle, the Executive Board voted 63-6 that these three congregations were “outside of harmonious cooperation.” This action terminates long standing and cooperative relationships with these congregations much to the dismay of many who long to find a better way.

Wilshire Baptist Church of Dallas, First Baptist Church of Austin, and Lakeshore Baptist in Waco, all three churches, knew without doubt that their actions would lead to this showdown of values and principles, yet they moved forward putting the relationship at risk. There are no victims here, except for those who will be disillusioned once again as the sons and daughters of God squabble over love, grace, truth and holiness.

On a personal level, I believe the actions of the Executive Board were right, yet difficult beyond measure. Standing firm for one’s convictions about revealed divine truth cannot be for the faint of heart in our day. What decades ago seemed to be timeless principles and standards are now all called into question, yet truth stands the test of time.

Our partnerships with Wilshire, First Austin, and Lakeshore will be missed, but choices have consequences especially in relationships. I wish them well. I pray God will continue to manifest Himself in their midst and guide their actions. I only regret they choose the path that divides rather than seeking ways of greater cooperation and understanding.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.–Jesus (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV)

Once again we feel the cutting edge of division in the ranks. I pray I will be found in step with the Lord.

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Commencement Address: Dallas Baptist University

President Cook, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Faculty, Servant Leaders, Parents, Friends and most importantly the class of 2013, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today on this wonderful occasion—this rite of passage for you.

Let me begin my expressing my sincere appreciation to President Gary Cook. Thank you so much for this opportunity to celebrate this very special day with my daughter Kalie. Dr. Cook, you have been a wonderful friend to me over the past decade and thank you for your lifetime achievement here upon this hill. Dallas Baptist University shines brightly into our world today in large measure due to your undying devotion to this school, and the amazing team of professors and servant leaders you have assembled in the place.

Dallas Baptist University has held a special place in my heart from the first time I stepped on these grounds when this university granted my father an honorary doctorate some nearly forty years ago, and as of today there will be three DBU graduates in my immediate family and one to go.

As we begin let me take us back to the year 1973—some forty years ago. Most of you who sit before me were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye forty years ago so unless you paid attention in the history class much of what I am about to share with you will be news to you. In 1973, I was entering my teenage years at the ripe old age of thirteen years old, but I can still vividly remember that year. In 1973 the long struggle in the jungles of Vietnam ended as American soldiers returned from war not to ticker tape parades but with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths and wondering why 49,000 of their comrades had to die in this senseless conflict against Communism. I can still remember as a child watching the evening news as the names of fallen soldiers filled the screen. A whole generation of American’s lives were marred and shattered and our nation was divided along a generational divide in those dark days. To make matters worse in Washington the Senate began hearings about the activities of President Nixon and his men in the Watergate Hotel during the election. These hearings and the uncovering of the Watergate tapes led the next year to the unprecedented resignation under duress President Nixon.  From that day forward Americans have not looked at the president in the same way. As the Supreme Court deliberated and rule in favor of abortion in the Roe vs. Wade case that has shaped our nation ever since and led to the deaths of countless numbers of babies.

Meanwhile in the Middle East Egypt and Syria teamed up to attack Israel in what has come to be called the Yom Kippur War and the tensions in that region reached a critical stage. In the movie theatres across the land Linda Blair filled the big screen as a demon-possessed teenager in the haunting film entitled “The Exorcist” the story of a priest who eventually kills himself after a struggle with the devil himself.

During these dark and difficult days when we as a nation struggle to find our way Andrae Crouch and his sister Sandra sat down at the keyboard to pick out a tune for the lyrics that God had laid on their hearts. Andrae was the pastor of an African-American church in California and knew instinctively that the people of our land needed a word of hope. Often times music has the ability to bring hope to people as the words and melody imprint themselves upon the human heart.

There at the keyboard they began to sing—and I will spare you my rendition—“ Jesus is the answer for the world today—above him there’s no other—Jesus is the way. Jesus is the answer for the world today—above him there’s no other—JESUS IS THE WAY.” In a world turned upside down by chaos and confusion Andrae Crouch called a young generation back to reality by reminding them all by the sounds of his music that JESUS IS THE ANSWER.

You see Andrae Crouch was right then and he is right today. Isn’t strange how history seems to repeat itself over and over again. Today, after ten long years of struggling, bleeding and dying, in Afghanistan a generation of young American warriors is making their way home to a nation that hardly remembers that we are at war. The Middle East continues to be aflame with violence and hatred. Our political world has ground to a halt with spiraling deficits and strong division down the aisle as Democrats and Republicans treat each other as enemies rather than as partners in this struggle we call American democracy.

As a parent I wish we had given you a better world, but I am so thankful as a father and as a pastor I can say to you and to my daughter this morning—there is an answer and his name is Jesus. If there is one thing we want you to take home with you today after your years of sitting the classrooms on this beloved hill—it is the truth that JESUS is the answer.

As a teenager I memorized these words of Jesus that have been a beacon of light for me through all the twists and turns of my journey. Looking deep into the eyes and hearts of a generation of highly religious yet confused young men, Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 KJV). Jesus understood that life at its essence is a life and death struggle. He knew that “happily ever after” was found only in Fairy Tales.  He knew we struggle with real enemies within and without.

For most of my life, I believed when Jesus spoke of the thief in this statement He was referring to the devil himself, and there is no doubt that our arch enemy prowls about seeking who he may destroy, but at a closer look I have come to the conclusion that the real threat Jesus was referring to in this statement was “empty, life-sapping, religion.” You see Jesus came to show us that religion full of rituals and rules would slowly but surely destroy us from the inside out. Jesus knew that going through the motions and playing games with God and those around us would numb and deaden our hearts and souls. Jesus knew that putting on the “mask” on Sunday morning and going to church to keep up appearances while you lived an estranged life from your creator and the lover of your soul would eventually only lead to spiritual death and separation from the God who loves you.

You see life on this planet does not revolve around religious rules and rituals. Life on this planet truly begins when you have a day to day personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone. At the end of the day life does not come down to how much you know. It comes down to do you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Simply put it is not about religion—it is about a relationship—a real, personal, loving, intimate relationship with God.

In simple terms Jesus declared to all who would hear him “I have come that they might have LIFE.” Who is the they? It is anyone and everyone who hears His voice and is willing to come and follow Him. Jesus gives life. Jesus does not want you to settle for the American dream that seems to be fading, or some arbitrary definition of success. Jesus wants you to be “fully alive”

As the father of four girls I am become an expert at “chick flicks” and I must admit on occasions I learn something from them. A number of years ago Will Smith starred as Andrew Hitchens in the movie Hitch. He was a love doctor. He helped men in their efforts to win the hearts of the young women who had captured their souls. I loved this line from the movie. Hitch instructed his pupil. “ Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

I cannot over sell this point. Life with Jesus can and should be a breath taking experience. Jesus called his standard of life—abundant—that literally mean “beyond measure”—“exceeding your imagination.” I fear we settle too easily for a cheap empty imitation of life. We play it safe. We are like toddlers who play with the boxes and the ribbons on Christmas morning when the wonderful colorful gift of Christmas rests at our feet.

What does it mean to be fully alive? I believe it means to live your life with your eyes wide open and your heart aflame. For years I was a bit embarrassed by my middle name Lawrence—that is until I discover the amazing life of T.E. Lawrence, known to many as Lawrence of Arabia. T.E. Lawrence was an Oxford trained scholar who traveled to the Arabia as an archeologist who as an army officer got caught in the military struggles of the Arabia. He lived a life of danger and adventure, but he was also a prolific author and writer in his book he made one of the greatest observations about life lived as it is meant to be. When he wrote:

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.

What does it look like to follow Jesus and to have a personal relationship with Him? What does living more abundantly look like? I believe it means living a life of abandonment. It means living by faith and not by sight. It means taking risks and being fully alive. It means not playing it safe, but living the adventure even being a bit dangerous. It means living a life of no regrets.

Please never forget JESUS is the answer—trust Him—follow Him—serve Him and you will be fully alive and you will leave your mark on our world. Don’t take from this place an empty dying religion—take home with you a vibrant living personal relationship with God that will transform you day by day into the person God created you to be! Remember JESUS IS THE ANSWER no matter what you face!

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Bike Out Hunger El Paso

Do you remember when you first learned how to ride a bicycle? Did you have training wheels or just a parent breathlessly running behind your bike? Or were you like me…did you have both?

For a child learning to ride a bike means freedom and adventure. Soon you find yourself on the open road, and you feel all grown up.

Of course riding a bicycle also can come with its own risks and dangers. I will never forget the afternoon I rode my bike back home from elementary school as a first grader. I felt all grown up as I navigated my way back home that was until I had encounter with the beautiful rose bushes out in front of our house!

I can close my eyes today and see myself in slow motion wobbling toward the rose bushes with their thorns at the ready to make their mark on me. In an instant I went from all grown up to a crying little boy running to his mommy! I must admit that bloody encounter with a rose bush put a damper on my biking adventures for a little while.

Recently I have noticed many of my peers have climbed back on their bikes in sleek spandex uniforms that make them look younger and fitter. I fear if I donned such a suit you might see my chocolate fed “love handles” a bit too much.

These young at heart riders hit the roads and highways of our region and even the mountains of New Mexico for fun and exercise. Our city is filled with great bicycle clubs like EP Cyclists and the El Paso Bicycle Club.

This weekend watch out on the roads for many of your friends and neighbors as they participate in the 2013 Bike Out Hunger Ride in El Paso. Juan Ortiz, one of our own, will mount his bike and hit the road to “bike out hunger.”

His desire to join this fund raising effort that will directly benefit “El Pasoans Fighting Hunger” began one afternoon when God opened his eyes to hunger. Let Juan share his story in his own words:

“Last week as I was getting gas at Albertsons by UTEP, I saw a man going through the trash can looking for food; he was eating out of the trash. It broke my heart. Took the man and bought him food. I know God put me there for a reason. If I can help one guy then riding my bike would help more people. I always ask the question, what would Jesus do? He has done for me more than I deserve. We all can make the difference.”

You can join Juan on his ride to “bike out hunger” in our area by being one of his financial sponsors. You can sponsor him per mile or by a generous one time gift. He will be riding nearly 50 miles on Saturday, May 25 across the hills and plains outside of East El Paso.

Robyn and I will be sponsoring him and hoping he avoids all the “rose bushes” and cactus along the route, and I hope you will join us.

You can give on line by logging on to:
Or you can give a designated gift to our church. Your gifts will help “bike out” hunger in El Paso so no one will have to dig in the trash for dinner. Thanks Juan!

NOTE: You can still support Juan online. He did his part! Let’s do ours!

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Filed under BGCT, El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso, First Look

Suzii Painter: The Right Choice for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

When I heard the news Suzii Painter had been named by the search committee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to be selected as the next Executive Coordinator, I must admit I was saddened for Texas Baptists but thrilled for our brothers and sisters in the CBF. In recent years the CBF has struggled on many fronts in their attempts to find the “Kingdom assignment” and their place within within what God is doing around the world.

Clearly I am not a CBF insider by any stretch, but what I do not about Suzii Painter gives me great joy about the future of this important fellowship of Baptists. I had the honor of getting to know Mrs. Painter when I served as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Even though I had been a Texas Baptist my whole life, I knew little about the inner workings and vital work of the Christian Life Commission in Austin.

During my days as president I came to realize how vitally important it was for Texas Baptists to have a prophetic voice in Austin to keep before our lawmakers the claims of the gospel and the values of a Christian worldview. Suzii and her team were amazing at their work. They took on lobbyists groups that outnumbered them and could outspend them by the millions and won battle after battle like David against Goliath.

The CLC under Painter’s leadership also served as a conscious for our Texas Baptist family. She kept before us the needs of the “least of these.” Under her visionary leadership the Texas Hunger Initiative took wings and countless Texas families moved out of the world of food insecurity and fewer and fewer children in Texas went to bed hungry.

I don’t know where Suzii Painter will lead the CBF in the future, but because I know her and have confidence in her walk with the LORD, I am excited to see. The search committee needs to be affirmed for making a bold visionary choice. I pray God will use Suzii to continue to make the world a better place by living out the claims of Christ.

Suzii we will miss you!

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BGCT Chooses the Right Team for Tomorrow

When news reached me in Paris, France that Jeff Johnson, Bryon Stephenson, and Kathy Hillman had been elected officers for the Baptist General Convention of Texas I was thrilled. I cannot imagine three people who better represent the best of who Texas Baptists are and will become in the years ahead.

Jeff Johnson has paid his dues and  will do an amazing job bolding leading the convention into the future. If you study his resume you see he has experience at every level of Baptist life from BSM director, professor, executive board director, and pastor. During his days in Del Rio Jeff amazed me with his passion to engage the culture and to reach agressively across the river into Mexico often at personal peril and cost. Even thought Jeff is an “Aggie” he has a good head on his shoulders. He reads widely, thinks deeply, listens and learns, but most importantly he puts his passion and ideas into action. I can see Jeff being a huge asset to David Hardage during the days ahead.

Bryon is an amazing leader and his church has one of the best choirs in Texas. It must be mandatory for him to bring them to San Antonio. I had the honor of being in his church and I witness his amazing blend of humble bold leadership among his people. He is the real deal. Recently I spent time with him in New Orleans at the SBC Convention. He is a quick learner, and is passionate about advancing the cause of Christ as a Texas Baptist. He will push Jeff to be at his best and will help us keep our eye on the ball.

Kathy Hillman has deep roots in Texas Baptist life. I had the honor of serving under her leadership when she chaired the Committee on Convention Business (COCB). Kathy loves the BGCT. She represents what is best about the heritage and history of the WMU. Kathy will speak up and has the courage to lead. She has deep convictions. This summer I discovered that Kathy and her family have deep roots in the pioneer spirit of Texas Baptist as we met under the stars at the Paisano Cowboy Camp in far West Texas to sing the old Cowboy songs of years gone by.

Even though as Marv Knox noted it was a “quiet” convention in Corpus Christi, don’t for one minute think that quiet means nothing of significance happened. Texas Baptists chose three leaders ready and willing to help us embrace our future with courage and boldness.

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James Semple: A Texas Baptist

This afternoon I heard the sad news for Texas Baptists that one of our giants went home to glory. Dr. James Semple passed away on July 22 after a long battle with esophageal cancer. When the news sank in my mind raced to a handful of conversations I had with Dr. Semple over recent years that shaped and changed my life as a leader.

One of my favorite sayings attributed to Dr. Semple is:

“You cannot run a revolution on spare time and spare change.”

He had an amazing gift for cutting to the chase and getting to the point. Dr. Semple was far more than a simple man–he stood tall as a man of God noted for his character, courage and leadership. He will be greatly missed.


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Who Will?

As a young pastor I observed a rather interesting phenomenon when I would visit in the homes of many of my senior adults—especially those who grew up during the Great Depression. Most often when I would enter the home I would be greeted with the question, “Have you had anything to eat today?”or “Can I get you something to eat?” Of course not wanting to be seen as rude or ungrateful I would often share a bite to eat with them. It was part of my church growth plan—I was “growing” right along with the church!

These persistent encounters piqued my imagination so one day I asked one of my trusted friends and mentors why this kept happening over and over again. With a gentle smile and a wise tone I was instructed in the patterns of the Great Depression. During the Great Depression far too many people ran out of food and lived much of the time hungry. A growling stomach became a daily reality for far too many people, so those who had food to share asked everyone who entered their home—“Have you had something to eat today?”

This simple kind inquiry may seem out of place in our apparent day of plenty, but the harsh reality remains that many people all around us live day to day worrying about the next meal. Social workers call this plight “food insecurity” but for the average person we call it poverty. Yes, Jesus warned us that we would always have the poor among us, but his insight did not suggest that we should simply embrace this reality as an acceptable norm.

The early people of the “Way” stood out in the ancient world by their acts of generosity and kindness. In the book of Acts you find the people instinctively sharing the food with one another in love.

James, the brother of Jesus, noted in his thoughtful practical letter that true faith revealed itself in actions saying:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17 NIV)

 One of the great challenges we face as believers in El Paso is our response to hunger—both spiritual and physical. Over 200,000 people in our neighborhoods live with the challenges of “food insecurity” and it has been reported that two out of three of our city’s children show up to school hungry.

During the school year, our local schools address this need by feeding the children a filling breakfast and lunch, but the question our Missions committee wrestled with recently is “what happens during the summer?”

Sadly, this is not a problem faced only on the border. Texas ranks near the top in the nation for hungry children.

In answer to this question emerged the “Spiritual and Nutritional Summer” ministry. For $40, we discovered that in partnership with the local food bank, that we can help make sure the children of our neighborhood have breakfast and lunch throughout the summer months. On April 29th, you will have the opportunity to stand in the gap for these children by donating $40 toward this noble cause. The question remains—“Who will?”

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Filed under BGCT, El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso, First Look, Uncategorized

What’s in a Name?: The Challenge Facing Houston Baptist University

The board of directors of Houston Baptist University have taken the action to study the possibility of changing the name of the university. In the Houston Chronicle article on this study the following was reported:

At the town hall meeting, one of two held last week, HBU board member Ray Cox Jr. argued that “the name Houston and the name Baptist are somewhat limiting to a national Christian university. … That’s why we are considering changing the name.”

In recent history the name “Baptist” has come under a great deal of scrutiny and judgment. Many new Baptist churches are not willing to bear the name of the denomination that funds their efforts. Some churches keep the legal name, yet hide it in their publication and advertising.

So what is in a name? How do you make a good name? How quickly one can destroy a good name?

I have served as the pastor of Baptist churches now for over thirty years and most of those years I served the “First Baptist Church” in local Texas communities. When you are the pastor of the “First Baptist Church” it is very difficult to hide your identity, nor have I ever tried. A long time ago I learned that your name reflects the reality of who you are and who you seek to be. If you hide your name to reach others and then they discover you are  “really Baptist”–does this not create a moral dilemma for the new member who must now question why you were so ashamed of your roots and heritage? I think so.

I believe the better and healthiest approach is to strengthen the scope and influence of your name by the scope and influence of your actions.

Houston Baptist University has a good reputation in Houston and within the greater Baptist family. It was founded by men and women of deep personal faith and conviction. The founders established the school to be a distinctively Christian University shaped and directed by Baptist theology and values.

In fairness to HBU–many of their sister schools do not bear the name Baptist in the name. Schools like Howard Payne (where I serve on the board), Hardin Simmons,  Mary Hardin-Baylor and the flagship Baylor University are distinctly Baptist school from their earliest days but Baptist is not in their name. So in fairness it is very possible to be a Baptist school without bear the name Baptist in the name. However, in the process of dropping Baptist from the name the board of trustees must be very careful to make sure they are trustworthy leaders of the heritage placed in their hands.

The HBU board has cut new ground in recent years by adding non-Baptist trustees to its board. I have gone on record as supportive of this Kingdom move, because I am very much aware the Kingdom of God’s scope and reach are much broader than the Baptist family alone. In trailblazing new ground, I would encourage the board to remember that in their efforts to position the school for the future they must also stay true to the historic roots and values entrusted to them. This tension is one every board must wrestle with as they live between yesterday and tomorrow.

Knowing many of the board members I am prayerful that they will make a wise decision about the future of Houston Baptist University. I would strongly encouragement them to continue to make a good name rather than simply trying to find a good name.


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A Good Choice for Children: Eron Green to South Texas Children’s Home

Hallway conversations at church for a pastor come in all kinds of shapes and forms. In the hallway a pastor learns everything from the condition of the restrooms to the quality of his sermon. A few days ago I had one of those conversations that brings a smile to my face.

When I saw Rod walking down the hall I could tell he had a skip in his step. He greeted me with a smile and asked if I read the article. I confessed my ignorance and with a smile on his face Rod informed me his son-in-law Eron Green had just been named the director of the South Texas Children’s Home to fill the shoes left by Todd Roberson. As he spoke my mind raced by to a conversation I had with Eron and his wife Shelley. They were visiting in El Paso, and Eron asked to visit with me about this position and the lay of the land in Texas. Since they would be moving from Florida, they had many questions about the Baptist family in Texas. They had heard rumors but they wanted to talk with someone who they hoped would shoot straight with them.

The hour we spent together inspired me, and I whispered a prayer that God would open the door. Eron and Shelley possess the qualities we long for in young leaders. They love the Lord. They love each other. They love children. They love serving others. I am thrilled that South Texas Children’s Home will have a leader at the helm who embodies the best of what it means to follow Jesus and serve others.

In the Baptist Standard, Eron summarized his vision as follows:

“My heart is to help children and families through the saving message of Christ…”

Too often we make life and ministry far too complicated.  Helping children and families make all the difference in the world. Eron understands he is not the savior of the world–Jesus is! We would all be wise to keep in perspective we are the helpers and Jesus is the Savior.

Jesus observed:

“Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…” Luke 9:48 NIV

Add Eron and Shelley and their little ones to your prayer list and they become the hands and feet of Jesus for the children of South Texas.

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Open Door for Texas Baptists

Yesterday Dr. David Hardage began his work as the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Under David’s leadership I believe great days lie ahead.

As Marv Knox noted in his article about Hardage, David does not come into this post with all the answers, but he will tackle this assignment like every other opportunity God has placed before him. He will pray, listen, work hard, and will seek to lead us from His heart for our Lord and for the great state of Texas.

In his address to the troops, David called on the Executive Board staff to open their doors and open their hearts to all Texas Baptists. David wants the Baptist building to be a place where every Texas Baptist pastor and layperson feels welcome and invited. His door is open, but I don’t believe David is going to sit and wait on people to make their way to Dallas. No, David will be out knocking on your door, and sitting down over a cup of coffee in your hometown to listen to your heart about how we can and will reach this state for Christ.

Great leaders don’t have all the answers, but they help their organizations discover the answers together. We need leaders who listen to those on the front lines before making strategic moves rather than sending out orders from some lofty perch in relative safety.

Pray for David. Talk to David. Give him time to get his feet under him and learn the lay of the land, but most of all be busy in the work God has called you to. The BGCT is not a building in Dallas, it is you and me working together for the glory of God. So let’s get to work.

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